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Mail 325 August 30 - September 5, 2004






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Monday  August 30, 2004

Subject: Essay on Republican Future

There's an interesting David Brooks essay on the future of the Republican Party in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. I can't say I agree with everything he says, but there are some interesting ideas in the piece.

Henry Vanderbilt


A letter from Australia

Dr Pournelle,

This might represent a different media perspective than those you are used to.

Our own circus has just started with our federal election being called yesterday for October 9.

Let the games begin ...

Colin (a longtime reader of your fiction and a recent discoverer of your website)

Correspondents Report - Grieving father brings Iraq war back into focus for US electorate  One might have thought that the latest developments in Najaf – and the broader issue of Americas continuing involvement in Iraq – would be a central feature of the US presidential election campaign


Subject: Thank you

Your remarks about Homestead explain something I observed a couple of weeks ago.

I was staying at a Homestead. I'd bought a new Linksys wireless card, but for some reason it wouldn't work. When I borrowed BOTH of Homestead's wireless-to-Ethernet bridges, those didn't work either, and we'd previously established that the built-in Ethernet port on the laptop worked fine. Now I understand what the real cause probably was.

The laptop is an OLD IBM ThinkPad, with a Celeron. When we installed an OLD Dell wireless card, it worked perfectly. Oh well...

Thanks for the clue.


We do these silly things so you don't have to....

Subject: "spy" case -- interesting timing

It certainly is very interesting that a secret FBI counterespionage investigation gets "leaked" the week before the Republican National Convention. Surely it's not the simon-pure Arabists at State or bitter careerists at CIA getting a little of their own back? Oh, no, it's surely just public spiritedness that such a tidbit is released right before the convention.

It certainly is very interesting that we didn't see nearly so much press attention when a South Korean agent-in-place was busted during the 1996 Presidential election year, while Dole was pounding Clinton on his Korea policy. 

We also didn't see much attention when an agent for our Egyptian ally was busted during the 1988 Presidential election season: 

Ariel Sharon ought to know better than to spy on the US, because in his case the potential damage from getting caught is higher than the value of the information received. Beyond that, I'm not sure this story means very much.

Steve Setzer

I have no idea. But I do note that the timing of the release isn't as important as what was found, or it is?

I make no secret that my sympathies with the Middle East include Christians, some of whom have been there continuously since Tiberius, and who I think have rights at least equal to those of settlers from Russia some of whom are Jewish only by courtesy.

From: Stephen M. St. Onge

Date: August 30th, 2004 subject: Judge Posner dissents on the 9/11 Commission findings

Dear Jerry:

There's a truly excellent article on the 9/11 commission at  (registration required, but worth it). In it, Judge Richard Posner points out flaws in the Commission's conclusions.

Money quote: "The narrative points to something different, banal and deeply disturbing: that it is almost impossible to take effective action to prevent something that hasn't occurred previously. Once the 9/11 attacks did occur, measures were taken that have reduced the likelihood of a recurrence. But before the attacks, it was psychologically and politically impossible to take those measures. The government knew that Al Qaeda had attacked United States facilities and would do so again. But the idea that it would do so by infiltrating operatives into this country to learn to fly commercial aircraft and then crash such aircraft into buildings was so grotesque that anyone who had proposed that we take costly measures to prevent such an event would have been considered a candidate for commitment. Just months before the 9/11 attacks the director of the Defense Department's Defense Threat Reduction Agency wrote: 'We have, in fact, solved a terrorist problem in the last 25 years. We have solved it so successfully that we have forgotten about it; and that is a treat. The problem was aircraft hijacking and bombing. We solved the problem. . . The system is not perfect, but it is good enough. . . . We have pretty much nailed this thing.' "

Hell, it's probably still impossible, politically and psychologically. If a group of men of Middle Eastern appearance shows up at a boarding gate, no more than two can be questioned. Anything more would be "profiling." If those two have the equivalent of boxcutters without metallic parts, they won't be found without a full body search. How likely is that? If they are kept off the plane, what's the chance that we'd get the hijacking pilot each time? So at most we stop two hijackings, and two still get through -- unless they have an abort scheme, wait a week to run it again, and get all four.

One of these days, we are going to turn on our TVs, and watch live coverage of a city or four that have just had nuclear explosions go off in them. I don't think there's a damn thing we can do to stop them till it happens. Afterwards? Go reread Mr. Heinlein's _Solution Unsatisfactory_.

Sincerely (alas), Stephen


We have decided to make war on the American People rather than asking the people to participate in the war on our enemies, and the results will be predictable.

The way to prevent hijackings is to say we ain't going to put up with them. You can't stop plane crashes but you can make them rare, and you can make it impossible to use them as cruise missiles for people unable to make missiles or airplanes of their own.

I was minded of just how thoroughly we have lost the war on terror in Dulles Airport watching all the useless TSA people put the citizens through rat mazes; and watching Americans meekly put up with being herded around. The sense of loss was nearly overwhelming. And of course I dutifully did as I was told, and avoided pointing out how well they were doing the job of intimidating the American people.



Dr Pournelle,

Silk purses and sows ears

Way back when I was much younger than now, I read a book by a British academic, Michael Young, called The Rise of the Meritocracy. It was published in the early 1960s and today seems to be out of print and almost unobtainable; my own copy has been long since ‘borrowed’ and never returned by I-don’t-remember-who. I had forgotten about it until reminded by a reference in a newspaper article today.

It had taken me some time to realise, even then as I read the book, that this was not an academic thesis (although it is the style adopted) in favour of a meritocratic society, but rather a dystopia in the tradition of Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984.

Young’s thesis was that as education and society and the workplace becomes more and more efficient in ensuring that all the clever people rise to the top and all the thick people sink to the bottom, those and the children of those at the top will stay there and those at the bottom and their children will stay there too. It’s worth noting that Young put very little store by the ‘politically correct’ belief of his day, which was that intelligence was the result of nurture rather than nature. He was very much a ‘nature’ man.

Anyway, he contended that this will, over time, have more and more significant and serious consequences for society. It will lead, among other things, to more and more geographical segregation of the areas where the top people live and work from those where what Marx called the lumpen proletariat, the bottom people, live and perhaps work. The lifestyles and outlooks of the top people and the bottom people will more and more diverge. Those who in the past were in the ‘middle’ will increasing find they are obliged to choose (or have chosen for them) between top or bottom. The gap between the two groups will gradually increase.

I suppose the ultimate sort of future this might lead to was set out much earlier than Young by HG Wells in The Time Machine, where he visualised a humanity diverged into two species, the Elois (the ‘top people’) and Morlocks (the ‘bottom people’).

Well, perhaps in the very distant future. But in the meantime, I think we can already see the early effects of the divergence that Young wrote of.

As the education system and society in general becomes more and more effective at sorting out the wheat from the chaff, a greater and greater proportion of life’s ‘failures’ will tend to congregate together in areas that people who ‘succeed’ would not want to be seen dead in. There are other factors that Young did not know about that will help emphasise the division. One is universal mega-channel television for the Joe Six-Packs of this world. The other is cheap and powerful computers and the internet, where the social and knowledge-access divide between those with access and those without has already been pointed out by many.

The consequences of this segregational drift, based not on race nor religion nor sexual preference but ability, will be extremely serious if taken far enough. For instance, it is difficult to see how democracy as we understand it can continue for long under an extreme variation of these circumstances. But I’ll leave all that to one side for the moment and concentrate on one aspect: education.

One result of this change is that the schools in the places where the lumpen live: sink estates, ghettoes, slums, call them what you will—even rural areas as the better-abled are drawn to the pleasant circle cities surrounding the ghettoes—are going to have a harder and harder time trying to teach students who are not only have a steadily-lowering ability as time goes by, but are being brought up within a local culture where academic ability is not considered normal nor advantageous nor acceptable. So demoralising will this be that fewer and fewer able teachers will be prepared to teach in these locations.

I would suggest that this might go a long way towards explaining the declining quality of education in certain parts of the land. If so, the answer is not a question of pouring more money into education, or even pouring in less: that is besides the point. It’s more a matter of trying to make silk purses from sows ears. Has anyone figured out how to do this yet?

Jim Mangles

Modern education does not seem to realize that this is not Lake Woebegone and while some kids need classic education, generalist style, others need training in skills. Both are valuable, you can't live without the skillful any more than you can live without the educated, but as Aristotle notes, there is injustice in the way we operate now.

And see below


Subject: Silk purses and sows ears

This was the real point made in "The Bell Curve." Too bad it was obscured by the hysteria over the incidental observation that, for the very large and diverse sample studied, race was a predictor of IQ.


James Utt

Indeed. Not many seem to have noticed that. Of course most of those who denounced the book proudly had never read it.


Subject: military laser

Very interesting: defensive "directed energy" weapon: 

--Mark Allums

And other such in the wings...


Subject: John Dvorak's article on Word

I was underwhelmed by this article. It's long on handwaving and short on actual facts. He doesn't like the HTML that Word writes, so he didn't even try the XML. His Word install is broken, but others say they have a similar problem, so he didn't even try to reinstall. The "save as text" dialog has too many options. Conclusion: the Word code base should be scrapped.

Nope, not buying it.

Mind you, at one time I did work on Word and I have seen the Word code base (I doubt Mr. Dvorak ever has). Word could use a massive cleanup. But Mr. Dvorak isn't qualified to say the things he said, and Microsoft would be insane to throw out the entire code base.

All that said, I encourage people to try OpenOffice and see how that works for them. I use it myself these days and I like it. Perhaps Mr. Dvorak can test OpenOffice and write an article about how compatible it is with all his documents; that would be an article worth reading. This one wasn't.

 -- Steve R. Hastings "Vita est"

Mr. Thompson states that he can now use Open Office in Linux to write his books using the O'Reilly template that formerly worked only with Office. I have not tried that yet, but I will when I get home.

I fijnd Office 2003 quite useful, and we'll have words on that, too, in upcoming column.


I repeat my proposal that all men who do dangerous jobs for the good of society (soldier, firefighter, etc.) be allowed to have a woman become their widow + mother of their children posthumously via sperm routinely frozen at the beginning of their service. The family of the fallen hero would have the right to select which of the women who apply to become part of their family gets the sperm (and the life insurance, pension, etc. that a widow with children would normally get), but the family could not select "nobody".

This proposal would provide more of what America needs most--financially responsible fathers who pass on societally-valuable characteristics to their progeny. It would also lessen the pain of losing a son in a noble cause--one would still have a shot at grandchildren.


Leonidas took only men with living sons to Thermopylae


Subject: The British Meritocracy

It's a modernization of the Chinese mandarin system. Secondary students are required to choose their career at 16 or 17 (prior to their A-levels), and for many their university education is so narrow that it's almost impossible to change later. There's often no continuing education requirement, so the skills and knowledge taught in a university education quickly become obsolete. Students usually choose their A-level subjects to maximize their marks, so most hard subjects are very unpopular. Trade is looked down upon (as in Rome and Greece).

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

I believe the late C Northcote Parkinson made much the same observation a generation or so ago... And see below


Subject: More good news from Iraq 

This war is far from lost.

===== Kent Peterson

"... there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past ..." - Ray Bradbury, _The Martian Chronicles_

I am more than pleased to hear that. I have less encouraging news from another source which I will put up tomorrow. The game is worth the candle if winnable.



Regarding Leander's comments:

It is probably true that any defensive shield is cheaper than the weapons which can penetrate it. Does that make defense immoral? What are the costs of NOT defending against the weapon? Both in terms of potential damage, and the strategic implications of such a vulnerability?

Jerry notes one reason why a terrorist bomb is harder to deliver than most people might suspect. There are other reasons, such as the NEST team and not-much-discussed nuclear sensors in divers places. But the bottom line is that terrorists are committeed people -- if they have a nuclear weapon to deliver, they will keep throwing people at the problem until it succeeds, or until they run out of people.

The only moral response is to do everything possible to block both sources of nuclear delivery. It is an open secret that the reason for the push for deployment of a GMD system now is to assure that NK cannot blackmail the US. The system may not be perfect, but any defense is better than no defense. And we're doing quite a bit to make sure that they run out of people...

Anon & Ibid, Inc.


Subject: I'd mention that Superiority by Arthur C. Clarke appeared inter alia in Men of War There will be War Pournelle, J.E. editor - In 1984

Too bad you can't post a buy it here link!

MEN OF WAR - There Will Be War (2) (ii) Two: The Weapon; Time Lag; On the Shadow of a Phosphor Screen; Cincinnatus; Code Name Feirefitz; Allamagoosa; Technological War; 'Caster; Proud Legions; And Baby Makes Three; In the Name of the Father; Superiority (ISBN:0812549538)

Pournelle, J. E. (editor) (Joel Rosenberg; David Drake; Eric Frank Russell; Fredric Brown; Poul Anderson; Stefan T. Possony; Eric Vinicoff; T. R. Fehrenbach; Doan Van Toai; Arthur C. Clarke; William F. Wu; Joel Rosenberg; David Drake; Eric Frank Russell), Illustrated by Alan Gutierrez;

Book Description: New York and London: Tor Books, 1984. Soft Cover. 368 pp. Cover art by Alan Gutierrez. Contains: The Weapon by Fredric Brown; Time Lag by Poul Anderson; On the Shadow of a Phosphor Screen by William F. Wu; Cincinnatus by Joel Rosenberg; Code Name Feirefitz by David Drake; Allamagoosa by Eric Frank Russell; The Technological War by Stefan T. Possony and Jerry Pournelle; 'Caster by Eric Vinicoff; Proud Legions by T. R. Fehrenbach; ..and Baby Makes Three by Doan Van Toai; In the Name of the Father by Edward P. Hughes; Superiority by Arthur C. Clarke; Final Muster by Rick Rubin; Parable of the Phantom Limb (poem) by Edward C. Garrett; Forbidden Lines (poem) by Robert Frazier; Two Poems by Steve Rasnic Tem; and To Provide for the Common Defense; and Peacekeeper by Jerry Pournelle. Allamagoosa by Eric Frank Russell won the Hugo Award for best short story in 1955.



Indeed. I thought I had reprinted it. Those were pretty good books, too.






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Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Subject: Rise of the Meritocracy, The

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Mr. Jim Mangles may be pleased to know that THE RISE OF THE MERITOCRACY by Michael Young is again at print.

Never thirst,

David K. M. Klaus

=For discussion see below


Subject: re Inferno

Dr. Pournelle --

Years ago, I read Inferno and re-read it on a whim this last year. I have to say that even though it hit the press some number of years ago, your additions to the layers of Hell were very fitting. I also find the questions that Carpentier asks are very fitting in this modern age -- and especially the questions that remain unanswered.

I was curious if you ever entertained the idea of expanding your interpretation of Dante and doing a 21st Century Purgatory and Paradise.

Henry Wyckoff

Actually, we have taken some notes on revisions, and Purgatorio would be the obvious next work; Inferno has sold well over the years, and putting it out again with a Purgatorio might be worth while, both artistically and financially. 

Half of all Americans will use food stamps during adulthood, Cornell researcher's study finds

FOR RELEASE: Aug. 24, 2004

Contact: Susan S. Lang Office: 607-255-3613 E-Mail: <>

ITHACA, N.Y. -- To be worry-free about having enough food is not the norm in the United States, says a Cornell University sociologist.

"Rather, the need to use food stamps is a common American experience that at least half of all Americans between the ages of 20 and 65 will face," says Thomas A. Hirschl, professor of development sociology at Cornell who has completed a study of food stamp use.

Interesting... Not the usual picture of the proud self sufficient Americans

it is a very bad idea to allow neocons to define themselves as Republicans. Doing so risks letting the ignored Republican center (esp. on h-bd and immigration) drift even further towards what the neocons would like it to be (as Kristol puts it in his horrifyingly explicit essay: "Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable.").

On certain major issues, they are our ideological enemies, both b/c of lower emphasis & often switched focus. I don't consider myself a paleo, but I definitely don't consider myself a neo - and they must be labeled as such to stigmatize them and drive them out of positions of power if/when Bush loses.

There will be a metaphorical bloodletting in the Republican party if Bush loses, and issue #1 for *why Bush lost* needs to bubble from both the base and commentariat as immigration. In order to do that we need to know who is for the amnesty on illegal immigrants and who is against it, and we need to have labels to describe the supporters.


David Brooks and others postulate a blood bath war in the Republican Party if Bush loses.

Back in the olden days people used total head size because it was easy to measure. Now with all sorts of brain scanning devices and the continued advance in the resolution and analytical power of those devices the research is shifting toward looking at what parts of the brain are most highly correlated with IQ.

Of course if IQ research wasn't so taboo the amount of money available to do that research would be higher and we'd be getting these answers sooner. But the answers are coming nonetheless.




Subject: military laser

Very interesting: defensive "directed energy" weapon: 

--Mark Allums

And other such in the wings...


Outgrowth of star wars I bet, but of course that cannot work...

Wonder how it detects the mortar round? If it is radar then we will start seeing ceramic rounds, if it is optical then we will see reflective or sky-colored rounds.

Brice Yokem

As we once pointed out in Strategy of Technology, the race never ends. However, it gets more expensive to keep up: there were counters to most Anti-ICBM measures, as Sagan never tired of pointing out, but THEY HAD IT TO DO, and they could not afford to do it. That was the point. One never wins the Technological War unless one uses an overwhelming advantage to destroy the enemy, but you can win economically, or just outwait the enemy; he moves, you move ahead, he counters, you move ahead more; he gets discouraged. Happened to the Muslims after the second siege of Vienna.


Subject: A Paige from Pournelles book? 

During the convention's second day, speakers were expected to proclaim that the United States is on the right track, with a bright future — a theme expected to be driven home by Schwarzenegger, the first lady and Paige.

Paige rose from segregated Mississippi to become the nation's first black education secretary. However, his term has been a bumpy one since he drew anger from teachers for labeling the National Education Association a "terrorist organization."

Brice Yokem

Truth is seldom popular.

Subject: Technological Race


Regarding your comments on the Technological Race

...One never wins the Technological War unless one uses an overwhelming advantage to destroy the enemy, but you can win economically, or just outwait the enemy; he moves, you move ahead, he counters, you move ahead more; he gets discouraged. Happened to the Muslims after the second siege of Vienna

Darn if I can't remember the name of a short story by Arthur C. Clarke about two warring space-faring civilizations. In a nutshell, the story is told in the past tense by a scientist who has produced ever more advanced yet costly weapons for one side. Each weapon is more fearsome than the last, but doesn't quite have all of the kinks worked out. The end result, however, is that the less advanced civilization overwhelms the folks with the gilt-covered gimcracks.

I believe we are at this stage with the Star Wars scheme. Dollar for dollar, there are many more cost effective ways to deliver payloads over, under and around a ballistic missile defense system than there are to stop them (at least any bmd system that has been tested, proposed or is on the current R&D horizon)

I'm certainly not against research, but at a level driven by realistic expectations given the "cold equations" of physics and economics.

Best regards,


I take it you would prefer the USSR still existed, the Cold War was still on, and 26,000 nuclear warheads were aimed at the US?

One bomb or five does not knock us out as a nation. A thousand probably does, and delivering a thousand other than by missiles is problematical. Delivering one by stealth isn't all that easy: the Company will buy your bomb for a lot of money and a passport of the nation of your choosing, so you better choose your delivery team well.





This week:


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Wednesday, September 1, 200

Dr. Pournelle,

Dr. Erwin has fallen into his old trap again. He explains (quite correctly, as it happens) a few things about the English education system and then describes it as the British system.

Here in Scotland we do things a little differently, and in some ways better. As example, consider his assertion "their university education is so narrow that it's almost impossible to change later ".

Not true here. One of my sons has changed course at Edinburgh Uni, from Artificial Intelligence to Linguistics, and therefore faculty from Science to Social Science, all without starting again or even dropping/repeating a year. This is a better approach than the English one, I would suggest.

Also, "Secondary students are required to choose their career at 16 or 17 (prior to their A-levels) ".

Not true again. Scottish secondary students don't take A-levels, they take Highers in a much broader range of subjects. The specialisation required is less, the remaining choices wider. This too seems better to me.

None of this is to say that we achieve better outcomes than the English, nor does it address the indisputable grade inflation that's going on in all British state education; but I would not like the good things the Scots do to go by default out of ignorance in the wider world.

Best wishes,

Andrew Duffin

Thank you. We do tend to forget. I recall taking a train from London to Edinburgh: at the border a schoolmaster I had been talking with shouted "Home at last! Five years." I asked where he had been. "B*oody England!"


Subject: The main reason

one encounters such poor wireless service in hotels is because of all the worm-infested Windows PCs guests bring in which pound the routers and other network infrastructure when guests turn those compromised PCs on in the morning.

This isn't speculation on my part, btw; it's fact, based by observation.

That's why you can get decent connectivity in the wee hours, but not during 'prime-time' . . .

---- Roland Dobbins

Suspicion breeds confidence.


Subject: Silicon is cheaper


Ed here. What we used to call microcomputers may allow other countries and organizations to make up one of the US's greatest edges - - the quality of its training:


August 31, 2004: Most American military technology is not very useful for potential opponents. That's because technology tends to be expensive, and few nations can afford to buy the new stuff (or even some of the older technology.) But there are exceptions, and one of them is wargame software created to train troops and commanders. This kind of software is rather recent, and is designed to operate on PCs or game consoles. This makes the software available to any nation willing to steal it. Many nations have no problem with this kind of theft. This software, like Full Spectrum Warrior, provides a lot of training value at very low cost. Even without stealing the source code (harder to do, but this allows easy modification), nations like China or India could replicate it from scratch using their own programmers.

In particular, low level combat commanders would become better at their jobs with software like this. As a result, these squad, platoon and company commanders would get better at their jobs, and reduce the losses in their units during the first few times they are in combat. While the stolen software is virtually free, the PCs needed to run it are not. But the cost of a few thousand PCs is only a few million dollars. That's enough to provide adequate training for the NCOs and junior officers of large armies like those found in China and India.


Obvious once one thinks of it.  And worth contemplating. Thanks.


I have this from several sources:

Fred Whipple RIP

Subject: Fred Whipple, RIP

- Roland Dobbins

Dr. Comet, who first said they were dirty snowballs...


Subject:  Citation Alert

Apparently yours is a name to conjure with. 

(Or is that "with which to conjure"? I can never remember....)

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


Subject: Dear God in Heaven|top|09-01-2004::09:26|reuters.html 

"MOSCOW (Reuters) - A heavily armed gang seized at least 120 hostages at a Russian school near Chechnya on Wednesday and threatened to kill 50 children for every one of their group who was killed, a senior local official said."

There are no words.

--John R. Strohm

I expect to see such things happening a lot closer to home.

And here may be the weirdest thing today; note that it will be said to be in response to the item above; note that it will do no good whatever except to reduce the citizen attachment to the nation and increase anomie, and generally make more people think the game isn't worth the candle.

A servant when he reigneth...  But this is inevitable, which is why limiting the scope of authority is important.





CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Subject: SETI Finds Interesting Signal / dishwasher

As seen on Slashdot: 

I, for one, wish to welcome our new alien overlords. :)

Speaking of dishwashers, a (dubious) suggestion would be to get a "portable" model. They aren't as desirable as a built-in, but they are made with a fairly durable exterior, which may prove to be more rat-resistant. Or, perhaps you should hire a "rodent-control engineer", feline persuasion. Of course, that has it own set of issues (e.g., is said feline husky-compatible?)

Good luck, -- Mark Allums

Well aliens are more interesting than rats. Unless of course...

Subject:  Windows XP SP2 not as secure as it looks?

Dear Dr Pournelle,

The link below contains an interesting article on Windows XP SP2 security: 

 As well as a critique of SP2 security, the article contains a long list of what Windows services, IE settings, etc. should be enabled or disabled to maximise security. I'm not qualified to comment on the accuracy of the review but the lists of settings seem worth a look.

Cheers, Simon Woodworth.

Haven't read it yet. Have to go on errands. Thanks/

Dr Pournelle,

Alien probe 'best way to find ET' 

[quote] There could be an alien spacecraft with a message for us lurking somewhere in our Solar System, say scientists writing in the journal Nature.

Until now, it was generally believed that the best way to find ET is to look for a radio signal from them as such signals can travel vast distances.

But an analysis by US researchers suggests that sending a probe into space would be more efficient.


The possibility of an alien space probe hiding in our Solar System is one of the staple ideas of science fiction.

It was used effectively by Arthur C Clarke in his 1951 story called The Sentinel which describes how an alien artefact is discovered on the Moon. The book was the inspiration for the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Perhaps it is not so science fiction after all. [end quote]

Anyone spotted any magnetic anomalies in the lunar crater Tycho yet?

Jim Mangles

Well, there was the Great Galactic Ghoul, and The Thing In The Rings...



A project... Martin Gardner, my very close, valued, friend and brilliant star of the skeptical movement (see will have witnessed ninety revolutions of the Earth around the Sun on October 21st next. He's living in retirement in Oklahoma, still busy editing his copious literary works. Whenever I drop his name, no matter where I am, those who know of Martin's reputation are awed that I know him. He has become rather a legend in science, mathematics, and the rationalist communities. Since he has so many devoted admirers all over the world, I propose that it would be a pleasant surprise for him if he were to be inundated by birthday cards. To that end, I ask that all of you - all over the world - consider sending cards for Martin to the JREF office, right now. We'll arrange to have them all bundled up and forwarded to him together - en masse - as a declaration of our admiration and respect.

We owe much to this man. His first book, "Fads and Fallacies In the Name of Science," was responsible for getting me into the skeptical movement. Since that book, he's published almost 100 more essays, books, articles, and commentaries. He originated the Mathematical Games column for Scientific American Magazine in 1956, and his columns appeared there until his retirement from the magazine in 1986. He's earned - over and over - his fabulous reputation. Let's give him this tribute, folks. Mail cards addressed to:

Martin Gardner
 c/o JREF
 201 S.E. 12th Street
Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33316 USA.

When Martin received a telephone call the other day - initiated by me - from Penn Gillette (of Penn & Teller) he was very pleased and entertained, quite properly so. Just think what an avalanche of birthday cards from his international fans will do for him! We ask you to help us in this simple project. Please do it now, while you're thinking of it, so we can get the material all together as soon as possible. Gifts, too, would of course be welcome. Thanks.

James Randi

While I am sometimes dismayed at the extreme skepticism of Randi and company, I agree completely that Martin Gardner is a man worth saluting.


Subject: China to build 30 pebble bed reactors by 2020


Looks like someone in China heard your ideas with regards to using nuclear power in a sane and safe manner to deal with growth of their nation. Article is here on Wired: 

"Late last year, China announced plans to build 30 new reactors - enough to generate twice the capacity of the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam - by 2020. And even that won't be enough. The Future of Nuclear Power, a 2003 study by a blue-ribbon commission headed by former CIA director John Deutch, concludes that by 2050 the PRC could require the equivalent of 200 full-scale nuke plants. A team of Chinese scientists advising the Beijing leadership puts the figure even higher: 300 gigawatts of nuclear output, not much less than the 350 gigawatts produced worldwide today."

I can only hope that this plan works for China to shut up some of the pigeonheaded environmentalists in this country so we can get this country back on its technological track.

Daniel E. Spisak



I wish I was as certain about anything as Martin Gardner is about everything.

 John Edwards

Well put. Me too.







CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  September 3, 2004

Subject: As bad as Watchmakers?

"They live outside and we live inside. But sometimes they come in, and establish themselves, and getting rid of them is difficult since one female can repopulate the area rather quickly. And once in if you seal the place they can't get out..."

Too bad you can't just get into your suits and open the airlocks...



Dr. Pournelle:

Rats : Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants -- by Robert Sullivan

This book is available at rats can chew through quite a bit of metal; according to the author these rodents are responsible for many of NYC's local (single-building) power outages, as they can gnaw through metallic conduit. Some building owners, according to the author, patch rat-gnawed concrete (!) by reinforcing the patch with pieces of broken glass.

Just some light summer reading . . .


It's a puzzlement...

Subject: China's Nuclear Program

Don't know if you have seen this:

"Physicists and engineers at Beijing's Tsinghua University have made the first great leap forward in a quarter century, building a new nuclear power facility that promises to be a better way to harness the atom: a pebble-bed reactor. A reactor small enough to be assembled from mass-produced parts and cheap enough for customers without billion-dollar bank accounts. A reactor whose safety is a matter of physics, not operator skill or reinforced concrete. And, for a bona fide fairy-tale ending, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is labeled hydrogen." 

__ Chuck Ruthroff Assistant to the Bishop Sierra Pacific Synod, ELCA

We had something on that yesterday. I am in a bit of a hurry today...


"For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the chance to make scorched earth of Fallujah is even more tempting.

In exchange for a troop presence in Iraq, Russia would obtain a free hand in dealings with the countries of the former Soviet Union. It would gain leverage against a weakening Turkey in the Caucasus and Central Asia. And it would vastly enhance its leverage in negotiations over the placement of oil pipelines. Most important, perhaps, it would assert its old status as a global military power against the feckless Europeans. In short, the arrangement would benefit everyone, except of course the population of Fallujah. "

I am sure Mr Bush would love this scenario but the benefit to Russia amounts to nothing more getting the goodwill of the country that organised the cleansing of Kosovo & Krajina & if Wesley Clark's orders had been obeyed by the British would have started a shooting war with the Russians in Pristina airport - their memory would have to be short.

On the other hand if some of the terrorist bodies in today's atrocity are indeed arab & turn out to be wahabbis from Saudi Mr Putin might find the temptation to make scorched earth of Riyad much more tempting & who could disagree.

After 9/11 you suggested flattening a few arab capitals & erecting monuments on the ruins which, at the time, I thought a bit OTT. Targeting the world's civilian financial elite required a serious reaction but in terms of human evil, targeting children is incomparably worse. Skilly would have done it but only if she thought it would work.

Neil Craig

Well, my monuments would have been the size of Ground Zero and made after warnings, and I said at the time it was not what you would call a serious proposal; although I wish we had done that instead of invading Iraq.


Interesting Contrast

Hi Jerry,

Compare these two stories and tell me there isn't something wrong...

"President Bush on Friday wished Bill Clinton 'best wishes for a swift and speedy recovery.' 'He's is in our thoughts and prayers,' Bush said at a campaign rally. Bush's audience of thousands in West Allis, Wis., booed. Bush did nothing to stop them."


"US President George W. Bush on Friday said his "thoughts and prayers" were with with his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who has been hospitalised ahead of undergoing heart surgery...After his announcement, thousands of boisterous supporters clapped respectfully."

/html/uncomp/articleshow/838601.cms >

My money's on the story from India.

Cheers, Rod -- "Science literacy is an understanding of what science is capable of achieving and, more important, what it cannot achieve." --Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri

SEE BELOW before you write me about this...





This week:


read book now


Saturday, September 4, 2004

Dr. Pournelle,

You should now have my renewal, via Paypal; late, but as soon as I could. I will keep this short as I don't want to take too much of your writing time. I am eagerly looking forward to the Burning Tower. There are a few authors whose books I buy as soon as I see them, You are one of those, subject not withstanding.

You may not have seen, and you haven't posted a letter where your other correspondents have referred to Fred's most recent column. You and he seem to share many views to a greater or lesser extent however, in his most recent column , he at least has some concrete solutions to problems we all see. Unfortunately, while the solutions are concrete, they are likely not practical politically. It is titled, appropriately enough, "Solutions From Fred". 

Please keep up the good work. I look forward every day to reading your site and the views of your correspondents, and unlike much of the media, I actually learn something from it. It isn't always pleasant, but it is always interesting.

Your humble and obedient servant,

Patrick A. Hoage

Thanks for the kind words and the renewal.

Fred is indispensably Fred, and as he says, we have two kinds of problems, those we can't solve and those we won't solve. While his solution to the education problem may be needlessly expensive (linoleum cement is costly) the approach is correct: stop demanding credentials, and let people look for ways to get results. Of course it won't happen.


And for the most interesting news of the month (year?):

Subject: cold fusion redux,

Mark Huth

Interesting if it pans out, anyway. I always thought there was something to the Pons - Fleischmann story. Neither had a thing to gain by being careless. Now, apparently, their results can be duplicated if you do it precisely right; which is interesting. This may not be fusion. It may be an odd type of battery. But some report getting out more energy than they put in, with every erg accounted for; and that is fascinating.

Maybe we won't need 100 1,000 megawatt fission plants. But it's a long way from a laboratory oddity to useful energy.



The author of the page below sent me the link in response to the piece about Kerry.


Well, it is true that so far the US has resisted the temptation to empire; but so did the Romans for quite a while. We already have imperial government from Washington rather than self-government (think about the Americans With Disabilities Act, No Child Left Behind, and the FCC about to fine the network stations because the bureaucrats need money and there was -- horrors! -- a bare breast exposed live during a Superbowl, and here's an excuse for Washington have some more money (I can't think of any other reason: surely no one imagines that the world is a better place because the TV stations pay money to the bureaucrats because someone decided on a cheap publicity trick to recover a sagging career by exposi--no I won't go there.)

One Washington gets in the habit of ruling the people of the US, what's to stop them from getting a taste for it and ruling others?





CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, September 6, 2004

You wrote

"For the price of the Iraqi War I could have built 100 1000 megawatt nuclear fission plants fueled with the fissionables recovered from the dismantled weapons (fuel grade is 10% enriched; weapons grade is 90%; you get a Lot of Fuel from a bomb) as well as gone a long way to cheap access to orbit: energy independence."

I could give you 50 trillion dollars and you would not have moved a single shovel of dirt on this. And never would. The only way to gotten anywhere yet would be if you can make irrational objections to nuclear power as a crime meriting summary execution. That would tend to speed up the approval process quite a bit.

To do this in the foreseeable future requires repealing a bunch of federal regulations and nationalizing the approval process. Do you have a legislative strategy to do this? As this would require getting something like 74 republicans in the Senate at a start (and even then the nationalizing bit would be tough) this would seem fairly difficult.

Look at Kerry's rant about Yuca Mountain and how he will never approve it to see the issue.

Kevin Rose

As Fred says, there are problems we can't solve, and problems we won't solve. Energy problems which put us into the Middle East when we don't want to be there are part of the second set.

Subject: Pournelle's Nuclear Solution

Jerry, You, Fred, and Kevin Rose are all correct in what you say about Pournelle's nuclear power solution. As soon as the lights go out the political and administrative barriers cited by Rose will disappear. Pournelle's power stations will switch from being one of Fred's problems we won't solve to a problem we will solve in short order. Damn it, you are Americans. You are good at this sort of thing.

John Edwards

I would like to think so. But I get discouraged.



Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri sent two interesting items which you posted in the Friday, September 3, 2004, Current View, regarding reporting on a Bush campaign rally.

It turns out that the AP story was rather quickly corrected to delete the (apparently maliciously) made-up part, about the crowd supposedly booing when former President Clinton's heart problems were announced. There was no formal correction noted, or apology made, just a change made to the wire service's content. A rather Orwellian approach, to my mind. Fortunately, many people caught them in the act, and documented it.

There is a real media bias and credibility lesson available with a close look at this incident. A good summary of the events and reporting is here: 

In particular, an audio clip of the crowd response is here:  and puts the lie to the initial AP report.

My take-away from this is that there are reporters and editors in the AP system that need to be bagging groceries, instead of reporting on Presidential elections.

Thanks for all you do,

Jim Riticher

P.S. I just renewed my Patron subscription, and preordered Burning Tower.

Eternal Vigilance and all that. The media are mostly part of the Enlightened who wish to educate us Benighted.

I note that the story on the Boston Globe web site has now mysteriously changed to:

"The crowd reacted with applause and with some "ooohs," apparently surprised by the news that Clinton was ill."


"Bush's audience of thousands in West Allis, Wis., booed. Bush did nothing to stop them."

as quoted by your correspondent Roy...which now better matches the India version...

Hmmm, Hmmm. -Ted


A modest proposal. Or perhaps not. Go read
xml=/news/2004/09/05/wosse705.xml  about a Syrian cleric tossed out of Saudi Arabia and currently living in Britain, who said taking children hostage is OK and the rebels were not responsible for any of the deaths in that situation. This as part of the publicity campaign for a third-anniversary celebration of September 11th.

'War on terrorism' is a misnomer, I think most sensible people would agree - we're at war with the tiny fraction of the moslem world that are violent jihadists.

Said violent jihadists depend for their ideological support, their recruiting, and some fraction of their logistics and funding on nominally non-violent (at least not-currently-convicted-criminal) but ideologically allied clerics, such as the charming gentleman in the abovementioned story.

One reason much of the rest of the moslem world doesn't clean its own house is that these people are prone to killing critics among their own people.

I think a policy change would be in order: Clerics of the abovementioned ilk should start showing up dead, as being active parts of what we're at war with. This would do a number of good things:

It would damage the enemy's logistical and recruiting support.

It would reduce the fear that helps prevent the majority of moslems from cleaning house.

It would give people like the radical clerics association in Iraq that's currently mulling over a fatwa on the permissibility of kidnapping and murder something additional to factor into their deliberations...

Mind, after this last week, we may not need to implement such a policy. The Russians may do it for us. It won't solve their problems, mind; my guess is that they're dealing with opportunistic jihadists piggybacking on Chechen nationalism. But it may simplify their problems - nationalists can be bargained with - and it will certainly make them feel better.

Henry Vanderbilt

I can see a good thriller novel in that... Hmmm.  Hmmmm.

I explain this over in VIEW:


Hello, Jerry, 

"In Iraq, the list of places from which American soldiers have either withdrawn or decided to visit only rarely is growing: Falluja, where a Taliban-like regime has imposed a rigid theocracy; Ramadi, where the Sunni insurgents appear to have the run of the city; and the holy Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf to the south, where the Americans agreed last month to keep their distance from the sacred shrines of Ali and Hussein.

The calls are rising for the Americans to pull out of even more areas, notably Sadr City, the sprawling neighborhood in eastern Baghdad that is the main base for the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr. There, leaders of his Mahdi Army are demanding that American soldiers, except those sent in to do reconstruction work, get out."


It makes sense: what do we gain by demolishing an Iraqi city, if our goal is to "bring" freedom, democracy, and peace to Iraq as a showpiece to Iran, Syria, and the other Muslim countries on the neo-con wish-list?

Is this a surprise to Rumsfeld, Kristol, Perle, Wolfowitz, and friends?


John Welch

ps, thank you for the link to Jennifer Pournelle's "Postholes" website, about archeologists working "under the battle" to recover the university system in Iraq, as well as, indirectly, to protect the articfacts left from the earliest history of our civilization. In addition to this, she is a brilliant writer.

Yes, she's pretty good, isn't she? Maybe there's something to this heredity business...


I didn't see much of the Democratic Convention, but my impression is that Kerry ran on his military record, with his supporters cheering him on for masterminding the Inchon landing far behind North Korean lines. Oh, excuse me, that was MacArthur's backers at the 1952 GOP convention. Sorry. No, Kerry was nominated for organizing D-Day. Or was that Eisenhower? Wait a minute, it's all coming back to me -- General Kerry broke the spine of the Confederacy by taking Vicksburg. Hmmhmm... Defeated Santa Anna at Buena Vista? Crossed the Delaware and beat the Hessians? Damn. Somebody please remind me. What exactly did he do that we're supposed to elect him President for doing?


Be nice, now... I wouldn't think either would want to run on his military record.






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