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Monday, October 11, 2004 

Stem Cell Research. Note. Stem cells are the first to appear when an ovary is fertilised and being unspecialised and have yet to adopt a specific function


According to the current issue of New Scientist a Saudi doctor working in India has found a way of causing cells from an adult person to revert to undifferentiated stem cells. At present the only source of stem cells is fertilized human eggs which is a step on the slippery slope from contraception via abortion to infanticide and is illegal in some countries for this reason. Also many good scientists find the practice morally dubious and so research in another field. The discovery is still controversial, (loud cries of "not invented here", from the establishment), but has produced actual cures in actual patients. Since the cells are obtained from the individual patient there is no moral objection and there is no question of rejection. It is especially sad that Christopher Reeve died just when a cure appeared on the horizon.


John Edwards

This is good news indeed. As you say: use of embryonic stem cells involves a moral dilemma, not made clearer by Kerry's misstatements in the debates. Bush doesn't entirely understand the science, but he seems aware of the moral issues, which you state rather clearly.

And the slippery slope leads a lot further than infanticide. Keeping a human clone in a Petri dish as a source of spare parts isn't even the end of that game. At what point does a geruntocracy decide to sacrifice first the undeveloped, then the unborn, then the infants, then the partially grown, then somewhat grown, then the young, etc., to keep itself and its supporters alive? And why shouldn't that be done? Isn't Christopher Reeves worth more than a mass of cells? A blastopod? A 3 week fetus? A 6th week fetus? An eighth month fetus? Etc.

One of my favorite cartoons is of a dottering old man chasing a 5 year old girl, who is shouting, "Mom, Granpaw's after my stem cells again!"

The current policy is to allow (that is not forbid) most of this research but not to use tax money to fund embryonic stem cell research except for research on certain stem cell lines derived from already destroyed embryos. A new source of stem cells will change much.


TANSTAAFL There aint no such thing as a free lunch.,,170-1303426,00.html 

[quote/] The trillion-dollar question is, of course, can America continue to dine out at the expense of its Asian neighbours. For optimists, the answer remains a resounding yes. ...

But just as Bretton Woods I collapsed in the early 1970s, a growing number of commentators believe that the present “Bretton Woods II” will ultimately collapse under the weight of the burgeoning imbalances it has institutionalised. As ever, what looked like a economic free lunch will emerge as a mirage.

No one can predict with certainty if or when the edifice will crumble, but it seems more and more inevitable that, sooner or later, it will. Already, a reviving Japan has abandoned efforts to restrain a rise in the yen, removing one key prop for the system. Perversely, Washington seems intent on kicking away another, persisting in its efforts to persuade Beijing to scrap its currency’s dollar peg and revalue the yuan.

... a yuan revaluation, or even the first steps towards one, could prove the catalyst for collapse of “Bretton Woods II”, and a period of economic trauma for America.

There can be little question of the intensely painful implications for the US should the present Asian-American equilibrium unravel rapidly. A sharp fall in the dollar and the US bond market would simultaneously stoke inflation and drive up market interest rates. ... such as scenario could well spell the beginning of the end for the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Without that status, America could face an avalanche of uncashed Asian IOUs, and US interest rates could be pushed much higher, with horrible repercussions for America’s heavily indebted Treasury and households.[/quote]

I have argued in previous posts that the world's sole superpower can in effect borrow from the rest of the world almost without limit because their currency was, in effect, sacrosanct. I pointed to the fact that Britain could do this throughout most of the 19th century.

Well, that was true; Britain could and did. But I'm afraid there is one glaring difference between 19th century British Pounds and 21st century US Dollars that I had overlooked.

It is this: in these days the British Pound Sterling could be exchanged for gold at any time, which meant that the currency had an intrinsic value whatever happened to Britain or the British economy.

This is not true and has not been true for the US Dollar since the time of Nixon. Today the currency lives on confidence, and confidence alone. If all the people overseas wanted to cash in their dollars, the currency would collapse, probably overnight.

I most fervently and sincerely hope I'm quite wrong, but I'm afraid I could see this sort of collapse resembling the crash of 1929 or the Weimar great inflation of the 1920s.

With these cheery thoughts I will end this,

Jim Mangles

Economists tell me you can live off borrowed money forever, but I am not sure I know how. I always thought borrowing for investment -- as in an aircraft mechanic borrowing money to buy his tool kit -- a good idea, while borrowing for pure consumption -- say a vacation trip -- was a bad idea.  Most things like cars are intermediate, having both investment and consumption purposes.

But a whole nation exporting its manufacturing capability, running enormous trade deficits, and paying for all those imports by borrowing money, seems to be an economic conjuring trick. Smart economists assure me I just don't understand the intricacies of the situation, and you can borrow money and run trade deficits forever. Water runs downhill but it never reaches bottom. I am sure someone with more economic sophistication than I have will explain it.


Subject: Seizures demonstrate subordination of First Amendment, British freedom of speech to intl treaty

I have no love for the Indymedia people, but this is the first clear-cut example of a foreign treaty resulting in U.S. law-enforcement action against organizations who've merely engaged in activities which are protected under the First Amendment:,3604,1324244,00.html

--- Roland Dobbins

I am not sure I have got my head around the implications of all this. I need to think...

Subject: Servce Seizure

Reading the articles on the Indymedia server seizures, it appears that the seizures were requested by the FBI, but that they took place on British soil, where there is no first amendment. The whole situation is confusing, but there are no first amendment implications in server seizures in Britain.

American courts have held that French courts cannot order American companies with American soil servers shut down their Nazi memoribilia auctions because they can be viewed in France, where such sales are unlawful.

Harold Hamblet


Subject: Terrorism Grant Funds Mock Drill for school buses

Note that buried deep in the story is the name of the supposed terrorist group for this drill.

"The exercise will simulate an attack by a fictitious radical group called Wackos Against Schools and Education who believe everyone should be homeschooled. Under the scenario, a bomb is placed on the bus and is detonated while the bus is traveling on Durham, causing the bus to land on its side and fill with smoke."

Maybe as a homeschooling mom I should demand my rights not to be marginalized.


Mock attack will test terrorism response Monday, September 20, 2004By Lynn Moore CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER

Terrorists will strike a busload of students in the Whitehall area on Tuesday, killing more than a half-dozen and sending dozens more to hospitals.

It's not a crystal ball that allows such a disaster to be foreseen. It's all in the plans -- disaster preparedness plans, that is. <snip>


Subject: Not Mars mission, Mars colony!

Hi Jerry,

Big enough to inspire vision, cheap enough to be affordable.

The single greatest cost factor for a Mars mission is the cost of sending to Mars, a man rated return vessel. The single greatest impedance to mustering vision is the notion that this would be another 'one shot deal' like the Apollo moon landings. "Why go to Mars?" Is the refrain when people see it as a costly venture to send a few people there for only a brief stay.

It behooves us to consider that the cost of leaving our Mars explorers on Mars with sufficient equipment to maintain themselves there permanently, might actually be cheaper than trying to return them right away. Instead of a one shot, super expensive prestige demonstration (which is how much of the public perceives a return Mars mission) we should think rather of a Mars colony. It might well be cheaper than a return mission.

A Mars program likely will plan to send a manned mission to Mars every two and a half years (when the orbital conditions are right). If each such mission instead of having four fifths of the mission weight devoted to the return voyage, had much of that same weight devoted to long term colonist survivability, every mission would add a number of colonists to the existing population as well as add capability to the previous colony's sustainability.

Imagine the degree of vision such a program would inspire among our youth, the possibility of not just visiting Mars, but of becoming a Martian! Also the scientific benefit of a permanent presence on Mars would be far greater than that of the occasional return mission. Given that all this likely could be achieved without increasing the cost of the program above that of return missions, I believe this should be seriously considered.

Peter Cohen


Subject: DNA Library on the Moon


I can see a story about a lonely librarian in this somewhere...

David Marchman, CWT President

SKASOL Incorporated


Subject: Passing of Max Faget

Dr. Pournelle:

With the deaths of many notable persons in the news, the passing of Max Faget should not go unremarked.

Max Faget (pronounced fuh-ZHAY -- he was from Louisiana of Cajun heritage) was often called the "American Korolev." While the astronauts were the public heros, it is from the writings of astronaut Michael Collins that I learned of the importance of Max Faget's work.

While no one person had as much control in the American program as S. P. Korolev did in the Russian program, Faget pioneered the blunt-body reentry system and contributed to the design of the Mercury space craft, the Mercury (and later Apollo) solid rocket escape tower, a design credited with saving the lives of several Russian cosmonouts as Russia adopted the design for their Soyuz. He is also credited with the simple, reliable design for the descent stage for the Apollo lunar lander and with the straight-wing orbiter design during the planning of the Shuttle.

The straight-wing orbiter was controversial in that others said that it was dangerously unstable, but from reading Web transcripts of interviews with Max Faget on the subject, its mode of operation was not understood by its critics. Faget was the pioneer of blunt body reentry vehicles and of making them stable (Project Mercury had an animal flight that ran out of guidance-jet fuel and a Mercury spacecraft made a rough yet safe reentry without any active guidance), and what he had in mind with the straight-wing orbiter is a "pancake reentry" where the undersurface of the orbiter and wing was a cookie cutter applied to a blunt-body reentry vehicle, the safe operation of which was well understood.

Paul Milenkovic Madison, Wisconsin

We marked it at the time, (right in the middle of a deadline for me); thank you for the more complete acknowledgment.







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Tuesday,  October 12, 2004

Dear Dr. Pournelle, Recently you said:

--- "But a whole nation exporting its manufacturing capability, running enormous trade deficits, and paying for all those imports by borrowing money, seems to be an economic conjuring trick. Smart economists assure me I just don't understand the intricacies of the situation, and you can borrow money and run trade deficits forever. Water runs downhill but it never reaches bottom. I am sure someone with more economic sophistication than I have will explain it." ---

You are in good company. I recall a similar thought expressed by the great H. Beam Piper in his classic novel Space Viking:


He'd heard about that, on the voyage from Audhumla. Every person on Marduk would be retired on an adequate pension after thirty years regular employment or at the age of sixty. When he had wanted to know where the money would come from, he had been told that there would be a sales-tax, and that the pensions must all be spent within thirty days, which would stimulate business, and the increased business would provide tax-money to pay the pensions.

"We have a joke about three Gilgameshers space-wrecked on an uninhabited planet," he said. "Ten years later, when they were rescued, all three were immensely wealthy, from trading hats with each other. That's about the way this thing will work."

One of the lady social workers bristled; it wasn't right to make derogatory jokes about racial groups. One of the professors harrumphed; wasn't a parallel at all, the Self-Sustaining Rotary Pension Plan was perfectly feasible.

With a shock, Trask recalled that he was a professor of economics.


Take care, Winchell Chung


Hi Jerry,

I was wondering if you had had any contact with the Media Centre edition of Windows XP? I’ve just got a new Toshiba Qosmio laptop that has Media Centre loaded and I’m having great fun playing with the various options. The laptop has a multitude of ports all over 3 sides of the case including S-video in/out, composite video in/out, audio, scart, USB-2, firewire etc etc. It has a DVD re-writer built in too. The Media Centre interface allows you to drive the PC via a remote control using a very user friendly interface (granny could do it….almost) and view media via a TV set and hi-fi. Music, digital photos, video etc are really easy to display and it becomes the 21st century version of the slide projector show. The PC can also receive live TV via antenna, cable or satellite decoder. I’ve got mine rigged up to a Sky (UK satellite platform) set top box and the PC can drive the box via a remote sender. The PC can also act as a PVR/DVR and be set to automatically record TV shows.

On the downside I’m not entirely convinced the Media Centre interface is completely stable yet as I’ve had a few funnies occur such as interference with video on the TV and the occasional lockup.

If you haven’t already, I think you’d have a lot of fun looking at this extension to XP but you do have to buy a Media Centre PC as you can’t just install it on any old PC.

I’d be really interested to hear your opinion.



Just back from the launch of the new edition of Media Center. Perhaps you can upgrade to that. We haven't done much with any of that here yet but we probably will now.


Dvorak lambastes Business Week….and with good reason:,1759,1666117,00.asp

Tracy Walters

With good reason indeed. I can recall when McGraw Hill Business Week was a sensible magazine, even an important one. Wow.


I just heard that the UN is going to step up to the plate and take serious action regarding the Iranian nuclear threat. They are going to provide “incentives” for Iran to stop their programs.

I wonder if the UN will EVER get a clue.

Also…CNN is reporting that the US made two attempts to get the two American and one British hostage in Iraq before they were beheaded. Both times upon arrival at the terrorist safe houses, they were empty. CNN says “There is no indication whether the intelligence was faulty or the terrorists escaped” Intelligence is hardly a perfect science, and “faulty” intelligence is an awful term to use. Intelligence is gathered, decisions are made based on the believability of that intelligence, and actions taken. Of course, the media doesn’t want to hear that, it doesn’t sell commercials.

Sorry for the rants….I’m in Africa again, and my news is relegated to the local papers, CNN, BBC World, and fortunately, the Internet. It’s also difficult to discuss these issues with anyone here.









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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Another letter the Times won't publish (Goldberg )

288 Words

To The Editor of the Times Book Review:

As articles attempting to minimize the possibility that genes play a major role in determining group differences invariably do, the piece by Robin Marantz Henry (Oct. 10) makes much of the fact that groups differ in only a tiny percentage of their genes.

So, of course, do men and women. Would anyone argue that genetic differences are irrelevant to male and female differences in behavior and cognition?

Well, yes. It is testimony to the abhorrence of the possibility that genes are important that some people deny even this.

So how about gorillas? Human beings and gorillas differ genetically by only a few percent (as one would expect from the fact that human beings and gorillas share digestive, respiratory, etc. systems). But it does not take a geneticist to tell a human being from a gorilla or to realize that a tiny difference in genes can make all the difference.

The point is not that genes determine everything, a view that is never believed by geneticists, but is often ascribed to them by those who fear that genes are crucial. The point is that, unpopular as the view is, the evidence indicates that genes are crucial, not least because the social is often the dependent variable given its direction by the genetic. (Weight lifting, for example, is not primarily a male activity because we tell boys and girls that physical strength is male; we tell boys and girls that physical strength is male because genes determine that men have greater physical strength. Social factors, like males' being encouraged to lift weights, merely increases the difference begun by the genes. What reason is there to doubt that the same is true with less-physical characteristics or with differences between other groups?)

Steven Goldberg

Chairman Department of Sociology

City College

City University of New York

The really interesting part is that those who insist that genes don't matter, and all that does matter is environment and training, are systematically destroying the schools (except for the private schools and those in exclusive neighborhoods) presumably to cut down on all possible competition for their own children.

Intelligence and ability have a pretty wide spread distribution: Galton found that while it was more probable that the children of great men would become great, most great men did not come from families of great men. Of course no one pays attention to Galton now.

Subject: Honors colleges

Honors colleges appear to be all the rage...

< >

I wasn't aware of this phenomenon, but it appears to fit right into what we've been discussing. Could this be the first step in the coming bifurcation of higher education into "real" colleges, attended by real students, and "pretend" colleges which are in business simply to take money from so-called students and issue them credentials they haven't earned? And indeed it may be one of the first steps toward a bifurcation of society in general, into a tiny group who are truly educated and a huge group who have only worthless, unearned credentials.

I haven't believed for years that any degree, including a Ph.D., from any but a very few US colleges and universities is evidence of anything. Oh, a hard-science or engineering degree from MIT, Cal Tech, Duke, or a few other schools still means something, but that's about it. Even the MD has been watered down by reduced admission requirements intended to encourage diversity, whatever that means.

I wonder if schools are finally beginning to realize that they've lost all credibility and are attempting to establish new, meaningful brand names for themselves. I hope so.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

Well, if we were designing a system to return to hereditary government but didn't want to advertise that fact, how would we act differently? Mainstreaming sub-normals to be sure that the average of a class was only average, insisting on test scores and credentials -- while those who rule send their kids to private programs.  But surely it's not intentional.


An Interesting Read

=A manual on terror tactics; interesting indeed.


With the advent of Hitachi’s new “TagmaStore” storage array that can handle 332 Terabytes, I thought it would be interesting to look at this: 

· 1 Bit = Binary Digit
· 8 Bits = 1 Byte
· 1000 Bytes = 1 Kilobyte
· 1000 Kilobytes = 1 Megabyte
· 1000 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte
· 1000 Gigabytes = 1 Terabyte
· 1000 Terabytes = 1 Petabyte
· 1000 Petabytes = 1 Exabyte -
· 1000 Exabytes = 1 Zettabyte
· 1000 Zettabyte = 1 Yottabyte
· 1000 Yottabyte = 1 Brontobyte 

bit <> nibble  <> byte <> kilobit <> kilobyte <> megabit <> megabyte <> gigabyte <> terabyte <> petabyte <> exabyte <> zettabyte <> yottabyte <>

1 bit

can be 1 or 0 (binary)



1 byte

8 bit

1 character


1 kilobyte (KB)

210 =1,024 bytes or 8,192 bits

half of typewritten page


1 megabyte (MB)

1,024KB or 1,048,576 bytes or 8,388,608 bits

500 typewritten pages


1 gigabyte (GB)

1024MB or 1,048,576KB or 1,073,741,824 bytes or 8,589,934,592 bits

500,000 typewritten pages


1 terabyte (TB)

1024GB or 1,048,576MB or 1,073,741,824KB or 1,099,511,627,776 bytes or 8,796,093,022,208 bits


Then we have:

Subject: 100,000 Wind Turbines or 100 Nuclear Reactors for the UK alone!

It's about time somebody ran this math. Not that members of the environmental religions are going to pay any attention of course... 

Thanks for doing it all so we don't have to.


Nor are the windmills all that reliable. And we have 20,000 warheads worth of nuclear fuel that we can use to power nuclear power plants.


Two thoughts:

First. If people would pay big dollars to fly into space in a Space Ship One like craft, think how much they would pay to do a space walk! Perhaps with your knowledge of the possibility of better designs for space suits a private company could resurrect the knowledge necessary to build a non-NASA 'modern' space suit and cash in on the possibility of entrepreneurial success.

Second. There is grade inflation in colleges now, but it was not so just 25 years ago. Here is a case of grade deflation. In 1978 or 1979 at Cal State Long Beach I took a cost accounting class that was only offered at night every fifth semester by a single professor. Of course every accounting major needed to pass this course. There was standing room only in the class with maybe 40 students enrolled and perhaps as many as 25 on the waiting list. The professor let everyone attend for the first two weeks and then gave a test. There were about 10 people who scored 99 or 100 percent. About 20 scored in the 70s, about 5 in the 60s and the rest failed. The Prof. scored strictly on the 90-100=A, 80-89=B, 70-79=C, 60-69=D, 59 and below was an F. At the time the dean President Horn was battling grade inflation in the School of Business and had decreed only 10% of a class could get an A. Needless to say with so many doing very badly on the first test the second week the were only 29 students left and a big problem presented itself to the professor. He could only give 3 A's. There were 10 of us that had GPAs of 3.7 and above and of course we all wanted to get an A. Unknown to us he devised two tests: one for the A students and his regular test for the others. He mixed up the order of the test questions on each and every test and numbered the tests to see if was any cheating going on. We only discovered all this when we met at the student union after class and talked about the second test. Some of the "C" student could not even understand the questions on the "A" student tests and no one's question X matched anyone else's question X. Each test got progressively harder trying to move some of the "A" students down into the "B" range. Unfortunately I got a B at 89% for the semester. OF course this was unfair but at the time the state universities were trying to stop grade inflation.

I cannot believe that in just 25 years colleges went from educational institutions to diploma mills. But on the other hand I do not know phonics as we were one of the first classes back in first and second grade to learn to read by the new and revolutionary "sight reading". Even to this day I have trouble "sounding out" new words. My youngest daughter who learned to read in "GATE" (gifted and talented i.e. smart) classes with phonics laughs at me sometimes as I struggle with a new word or name. Oddly enough they still teach the regular kids with a combination of sight reading and a small amount of phonics. I have had arguments with my middle daughter, a 5th grade teacher now for about 4 or 5 yrs., about how best to teach reading, but the School of Education at Fullerton, has brain washed her against phonics. Amazing!

Anyway, throw out the possibility of modern space suits for the new generation of private space ships. Keep pushing Roberta's reading program, perhaps I should buy one for my self and really learn to read!


Well, her program would certainly do it! I have been collecting information on what it would take to do private development of useful air suits (you would not want pure O2 suits and pre-breathing).


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

This is not recent (Monday, November 24, 2003) but it has the taste of a Report from the Front Line: "The time elapsed between the spotting and the decision to move on was about five seconds or less." (  <> )

I found this link at  <> , a Swiss Web site run by Lt col EMG Ludovic Monnerat. If you read French, I'm sure you will find his site interesting.


A. Romain

I took French as a child, but it didn't take with me I fear. Thanks.



I strongly recommend that you see Primer if you get a chance. It was filmed in Richardson, TX on a budget of $7,000.00. I saw it last night. I believe it is well worth your time. You may want to watch it more than once. 

<disclaimer>I am not a shill.</disclaimer>

Regards, Bob Wakefield

Thanks; I never heard of it before.

They are watching you, but not me Jerry

The new Homeland Security Bill has passed. Things will be different now.  Internet surfing will be tracked by the FBI with a non-intrusive method.  The FBI says you will not notice anything different. A demonstration: 



Subject: knights templar

Jerry: Are you familiar with wikipedia? 

"On October 13, 1307, what may have been all the Knights Templar in France were simultaneously arrested by agents of Philip the Fair (Philippe le Bel), to be later tortured into admitting heresy in the Order. (Some believe this act to be the origin of superstition regarding Friday the 13th.) "

Chris C -- "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loss of fiscal responsibility, always followed by a dictatorship. The average of the world's great civilizations before they decline has been 200 years. These nations have progressed in this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage."

Alexander Fraser Tytler in "The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic" 1776.

I know wikipedia only superficially, but I know about Phillip the Unfair. Who was summoned to the bar of Heaven along with the Pope within the year after he was cursed by Jacques de Molay, the Templar Grandmaster, as he was burned alive. One needs to be careful of snippets of information without a solid framework in which to embed them, but browsing through such encyclopedic fact mausoleums can often be beneficial. The framework is even more important and that needs some systematic study.

Incidentally, on that quote, this is a repeat of something Roland sent some time ago:

The gentleman's name was actually Alexander Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee: 

To the best of my knowledge, he never wrote a book entitled _The Fall of the Athenian Republic_ nor _The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic_, the most common variations of the purported title of the work from which the quote is in question is supposedly drawn. There is no record that Tytler ever said anything of the sort, actually.

In his _Universal History_, available online here:;cc=moa;sid=377d6e902402efd7f0bb9b89d41fb39f;idno=abw5010.0001.001;view=toc  

Tytler takes issue with Montesquieu's position that virtue is a primary attribute of democracy (I tend to agree with Tytler), but in no wise makes the claims cited in the supposed quote. And while there are plenty of examples of problems in historical democracies and republics, there's not enough evidence in the record to suggest the general inferences 'Tyler' supposedly drew from this study of same; given his accuracy and astuteness in the _Universal History_, it seems to me that he would not make such sweeping and unsupported generalizations.

The sentiment is correct, but the actual quote keeps being reframed and changed.

It's still something to think about.





CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, October 14, 2004

A letter from Russia


I will need quite a bit of time to properly respond, if I can. I may not be able to do so for lack of data. However, I can say the following. At present, parts of Russia are in strong rebound. Moscow crawls (literally) with insane traffic. Commercialism is rampant. Material prosperity is improving. I saw far more people in cars than using public transportation. My Russian hosts indicated that this was probably wrong. Only 30-40% of families own cars. However, this is up from 5-10% a decade ago. The cars on the streets are decent (size, quality, maintenance, etc.).

Cell phones are universal and service is fine. Very few people appeared to be suffering in any way. The number of street beggars was very small. All were very old people abandoned by the change in system. They were not thin, but did seem to be having a hard time. Heavy construction is underway on a large scale. Much of the new stuff is of quite respectable quality.

Note that all of my comments are based on Moscow. Note that I saw quite a bit of Moscow, not just the area around the Kremlin.

One measure of the disorganization of the old system was the terrible dental work. Even quite poor people in the US have better teeth than the middle class in Russia.

People on the streets are well dressed. Nobody lacked appropriately warm clothes for the cold weather. Actually, I was the only person who didn't have a coat.

Many people spoke of serious hardships after the collapse of communism in 1991 and then later in 1998 with the default. However, these quite traumatic events are in the past.

Crime does not seem to be a serious problem. The Russian mafia has (allegedly) declined according to many people. However, at a nice restaurant my hosts identified any number of people they assumed were in the Mafia. Seemed plausible to me. The mafia is dangerous, but only if you choose to get involved. Tourists are only threatened by gypsies who steal wallets (my father was mugged by them).

Corruption and tax evasion are omnipresent. The papers were full of hair raising tales of massive official misconduct. For example, one story told of how Gadhafi paid $10/20 million to get a favorable vote at the UN. The Iraq oil for food scandal was in the news as well. Misappropriation of state assets after the fall of communism is a story that won't go away for years, perhaps decades. Tax evasion is universal at every level. Yukos may be guilty of what it is accused of. I don't pretend to know. However, having been in Russia I would not rule it out.

Vast numbers of nice restaurants have opened and appear to be doing well. The quality of the food is high and so are the prices. Prices are higher than Houston, but lower than New York.

Real estate prices have reached absurd proportions. $600 per square foot is common towards the city center. Note that mortgages are not common. Most transactions are for cash. I pointed out that houses, were I live, are only $100 a foot with a yard and pool. This observation brought amazement.

A clear negative is the state of education. Wages are extremely low. Corruption (bribes for grades) is common. Getting your kids into a decent school is a challenge. The basic US assumption that if you live in a descent neighborhood the schools will be OK, does not exist.

Family life is troubled. The usual problems of two career couples with no time or money for kids are commonplace. Of course, in rural Russia large families still exist in places. For example, many families lost several kids at Beslan. However, the modern "we can't afford a family" mindset definitely exists in Moscow.

I was told that life in the provinces is much harder. I heard people say "outside of Moscow they hate Putin". However, public opinion polls in all of Russia don't support this claim. Moscow is apparently getting more of the new wealth of Russia. That point not withstanding, opposition to Putin is apparently more political than economic.

I did not detect much enthusiasm for Putin, but some respect. Apparently he speaks Russian well, unlike his predecessors. According to my hosts you have to go back to Lenin to find a leader who mastered the language. The rest (Stalin, Kruschev, Gorbachev, Breshnev, Yeltsin) butchered the Russian language. This greatly offended the Russians I met (as much if not more than their policies). Shades of Bush here in the US.


You may rely on these observations...


On Energy

I read in the mail section of your web site recently about the problems with moving the UK to an electricity based transportation regime. I also took the liberty of running the numbers for what it would take to convert US transportation to run on electricity.

The numbers show that we would need 62% more electricity generation in the United States just to power our cars, trucks and trains by electricity. That's 30 hydroelectric dams the size of the 3 Gorges Dam (at $29 billion each, assuming you could find 30 rivers the size of the Yangtze) or 500 nuclear power plants (at $2 billion each).

Current US Electricity Generation Capacity: 905,301 megawatts 1 gallon of gasoline = 1.3 *10^8 Joules of energy = 36.1 kilowatt hours Current US Transportation Gasoline Consumption: 375.3 Million Gallons / Day =13,537,500,000 kilowatt hours/day =564,000 megawatts

Most stats are available from the US Department of Energy: 

The original UK analysis by Prof. Oswald and Mr. Oswald:

Simon Arthur

Well, I had nothing to say about moving the UK to electricity, but I have often said that the US needs more and cheaper electric power. For $100 billion we could build 100 1000 Megawatt nuclear power plants. The $2 billion per plant is a number that includes all kinds of lawyer extortions, easily fixed if we were serious about building the power plants. Once you have some kilowatts you will get serious research on how to use them rather than expensive gasoline.

I have often said, starting  back with A STEP FARTHER OUT in the 70's that if we were magically to convert all our cars and trucks to electric it would be a disaster because we don't have the kilowatts. That doesn't mean we ought not start using them.

As to dams, I don't know why that was brought up except to scare people or something. Incidentally, we have the fuel for nuclear plants: lots of bombs we don't need now. Each one with a couple of kilos of 90% U-235 metallic....  About 25,000 in inventory, we probably could spare half those now.

Energy independence is not cheap, but then the war in the Middle East isn't cheap, and if we had more domestic energy we wouldn't need such an expensive foreign policy.

Once you have nuclear power plants you have the resources to start serious space exploration (the foreign policy is cheaper, and a Strategy of Technology demands that you stay way ahead of an potential military rival) and that leads to solar power satellites. Solar Power Satellites have the great merit of allowing us to EXPORT ENERGY anywhere in the world (well nearly anywhere; not into places covered with rain clouds all the time; say to any desert in the world) quite cheaply; which can be sold, or used in connection with foreign policy.

Energy is good stuff, and few nations regret having lots of it at low costs.




On Deconstruction


While I substantially agree with Morningstar about deconstruction, a few of his asides need to be challenged.

1. Goedel's work was not aimed a frightening mathematicians. It was applying mathematical methods to logic in a new way. Goedel was a platonist, and he emphasized that as the source of his three biggest ideas. He was not responsible for the obscurantist interpretations of his work by bad philosophers.

2. Morningstar's article expresses an arrogant sales engineer's attitude to science. Einstein's four great papers of 1905 were understood by very few people. In spite of generations of attempts at simplification and popularization, the theory of relativity, especially the general theory, is still a difficult topic. Recent scientific advances, including mathematics, physics and biology, are also hard to understand - and not because of deliberate attempts at obscurity.

3. Deconstructionism has an important contemporary and historical relation to political correctness and also to French anti-Americanism that Morningstar doesn't pursue. That's ok, given his limited objective.


and then:

I once had an affair with a deconstructionist academic. The physical side of our relationship was more than satisfying in the usual ways with women. But the psychological side was even more infuritating than it usually is with women.

Arguing with her was sheer hell. She was always accusing me of falling back on "social constructs". Suddenly everything was a social construct set up by rotten capitalist, racist, sexists in order to put down the lesser breeds. Eventually I gave up and just poked fun at her ideas. We split up, not surprisingly, shortly thereafter.

Deconstruction is not a philosophical theory, it is an academic *game*. More specifically it is a classic left wing parlour game transported to common rooms. The idea is to show off ones cleverness, not add intellectual value. De-cons should be treated as entertainers, not informers.

Like all game players De-Cons are a creatures of fashion. I has gone out of fashion and looks pretty retro now.


And then we have

Subject: TSA

Thought you would appreciate the actions of your favorite TLA organization.

********** AP: Report Finds Lavish Spending at TSA

Thursday October 14, 2004 2:16 AM


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government agency in charge of airport security spent nearly a half-million dollars on an awards ceremony at a lavish hotel, including $81,000 for plaques and $500 for cheese displays, according to an internal report obtained by The Associated Press.

Awards were presented to 543 Transportation Security Administration employees and 30 organizations, including a ``lifetime achievement award'' for one worker with the 2-year-old agency. Almost $200,000 was spent on travel and lodging for attendees. <snip>

Earl Smith

Subject: All the way with TSA!

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


Subject: Feeling much, much safer 

I especially liked the part about the "lifetime achievement" in a 2-year-old agency.

Gives a whole new meaning to "terrible twos."


What did one expect? Did they have any of their victims there for sport?


And I post this for my own reasons:

Subject: Great DRM article in Dr. Dobbs Journal

Just wanted to let you know that IMHO, in a mere two pages, you've managed to say everything that ever needs to be said about DRM (seriously!). Which won't stop vast tracts of forest being cleared over the next decades to say more, but everything that *needs* to be said is right there. Nice job.

============================ Philip A. Schrodt Dept of Political Science University of Kansas Blake Hall, Room 523 1541 Lilac Lane Lawrence, KS 66045 USA email: schrodt phone: +1-785-864-9024 fax: +1-785-864-5700 Home page: Kansas Event Data Project:


And a question:

Subject: odd hotel stuff that I've never seen discussed, perhaps your readers know about it

I suspect I've been living in a naïve world all of my own. Let me tell you what happened.

My wife and I decided we'd take the children away for a week next spring to a nice resort somewhere warm. I called the hotel in which we wanted to stay and requested a room. They allowed that they didn't have any rooms, all full sorry, long waiting list...would I like my name added to the list. I declined.

So I called hotel choice number 2 and asked for a two bedroom place. They didn't have any but would be happy to put us on a waiting list. They did have a single bedroom which would allow us to have a bed and we could put one son on a couch and the other on a double bed. Price was higher than I wanted, but children and I really want to go on vacation as a family this reluctantly I agreed.

My wife then called a travel agent, who promptly called us back with the news that she could arrange a two bedroom suite at hotel #2 with breakfast included, with airfare, and a car for less than what the original room cost. She couldn't get us into hotel #1.

Now, what gives? Do travel agents buy blocks of rooms from the hotels? Do hotels hold back rooms? For what earthly reason? Is there any way to beat this system? One would think that the hotel would want to take a deposit on a room months in advance? This is very weird, very!

How do we get into Hotel #1?

Any readers with ideas?

Mark Huth []

Me I have no idea. I know that American Express can often find me deals. It's a bazaar out there now...


Reagan was right again, it seems: 


Sure. He had read A Step Farther Out...




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  October 15, 2004

Subject: NASA redefines space hoax


Don't feel too bad about having bought the hoax article about NASA redefining the boundaries of space. There are some groups which have become impossible to parody. They have simply become better at thinking up screwy things than any parodist outside the organization.

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

Alas, alas, how fallen are the mighty...


Subject: The empire strikes back.

--- Roland Dobbins

(On the IndyMedia affair; which I have not had time to examine in enough detail to warrant having an opinion. Quote from the article above: " Maybe it's time to change that into, "Governments perceive the Internet as damage, and gang up on it."

And see below


Subject: Endangered species.

- Roland Dobbins

To wit: American programmers. Progress and Free Trade at work.

Subject: The Mag-Beam in God's Eye.

--- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Mag-beam story

"Mars is an average of 48 million miles from Earth, though the distance can vary greatly depending on where the two planets are in their orbits around the sun. At that distance, a spacecraft traveling 625,000 miles a day would take more than 76 days to get to the red planet. But Winglee is working on ways to devise even greater speeds so the round trip could be accomplished in three months."

What makes me think that the UW reporter missed some essential detail?

-Scott Miller

I haven't been up to working. Thanks for catching this.









This week:


read book now


Saturday, November 16, 2004

A letter from Turkey

Dear Sir:

Loved you articles in BYTE since way back when (193-94 I guess). Great to discover your site.

Oh, and it's also great to see people voicing this concern to which I wholeheartedly subscribe: 

We, the handful of "civilized" from lands with whose peoples, most of the good people of the West -- such as the author of this candid mail -- would probably not want to assoicate at all, know this from early on, as "illegal immigration" is only a spill-over effect. We have already drowned under the waves.

(For instance, Istanbul, where I live, was barely 1 million 40 years ago. Today it's past 15 million, increasing fast, with most of the late arrivals from your proverbial 85-IQ underclasses who multiply like rabbits, have no other law other than the "common law" of let us say Musul-mania, and have no prospects of ever becoming anything remotely baring the semblance of those capable of creating and/or supporting civilizations -- if I may indulge in a bit of rhetorical flourish here.)

Do keep up the good work, my good sir!




Subject: Re: How Not to Teach Math

I forwarded the article from City Journal, "How Not to Teach Math" to several friends -- here's a response that I got from one.

" I taught our granddaughter to add by rote using flash cards, charts, and problems and she went into second grade snapping out the answers to one digit addition and subtraction problems. I was shocked to find that she has regressed to laboriously figuring out each problem by using something called the point system that is used to replace the finger counting system she learned in first grade and requires taking the time to count the points on numbers. So 4 + 3 = snapped out as a quick 7 has become 4+3 (counting the three points on the 3) and is now 4-5-6-7. Worse, she had take the time to learn this new method when she could have progressed to a higher level."

This is the article,


Why am I not astonished?

From a B1 Source: (wouldn't make things up but might pass along unchecked information):


Please pass this along to others and beware.


Be aware of new car-jacking scheme Imagine: You walk across the Parking lot, unlock your car and get inside. Then you lock all your doors, start the engine and shift into REVERSE, and you look into the rearview mirror to back out of your parking space and you notice a piece of paper stuck to the middle of the rear window. So, you shift into PARK, unlock your doors and jump out of your car to remove that paper (or whatever it is) that is obstructing your view... When you reach the back of your car that is when the car-jackers appear out of nowhere, jump into your car and take off!! Your engine was running, (ladies would have their purse in the car) and they practically mow you down as they speed off in your car.


Just drive away and remove the paper that is stuck to your window later, and be thankful that you read this email. I hope you will forward this to friends and family...especially to women! A purse contains all identification, and you certainly do NOT want someone getting your home address. They already HAVE your keys! This scheme has been reported to have occurred in the states of Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Michigan. We are asking that residents of major cities within these states be mindful when traveling.

M/Sgt Terry A. Granell

Illinois State Police, Zone 2/East Moline Office

From JA

I have not called the number nor am I posting a policeman's cell phone number. It does seem like a feasible scheme.

(There's a lot of needless mail on this below. If you think it's worth your time commenting go read that first.)


I would think it almost certain that you are already on Professor Singer's mailing list (& probably he on yours) but I would like to draw your attention to section 1 here on radiation hormesis & indeed to sect 7 on the Russians building floating nuclear plants that can be used in international waters. 

Neil Craig

Actually I had not been on Fred's mailing list. I first met Fred Singer at the Hoover's Open Space and Peace symposium in the 1960's, where we both presented papers. He is an old and valued friend.



CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, October 17, 2004

I have several letters on this:

Subject: "new carjacking scheme"

Hmmmm. A google search on the title phrase and "hoax": indicates that this hoax dates back at least to the beginning of 2004, with and without attribution to an LEO. Your source might want to spend a few minutes at one of the many sites that offer information on how to spot a hoax. I recommend for starters. The real issue is not whether a similar incident happened or could have (it could), but the consequences for passing along unchecked, dramatic warnings like this. In my opinion, the single factor that most allows government to expand unchallenged and run roughshod over our liberties is the ability of politicians to promote and appeal to the irrational fears of citizens. Passing on alarmist chain letters without checking facts only contributes to that phenomenon. We were born free. We weren't born scared. I don't think that a coincidence. YMMV.

-Scott Miller

Tell me, what are the consequences of passing along this story? It is not only possible, but feasible, and I assure you that in the Los Angeles area at least carjacking is no joke. The worst that happens here is that someone drives off to another place to remove papers from the rear view window; hardly a catastrophe, and probably rare since in 60 years of driving I have never returned to my car to FIND a paper blocking my rear view window.

Nor do I see a particular threat from government here; no one has be exhorted to go pass new laws, collect new taxes, or annoy the neighbors: there was a warning that an unusual incident might not be what it seemed to be. That seemed to me to be worth four inches of column space.


Go to bed - you must have a bug/flu not to check the car-jacking story.  

Get well soon

Jim P-P

New carjacking scheme


While Snopes does have an agenda, I believe this particular investigation report sounds reasonable: 


There. Have we expended enough energy on this?  I would still advise any reader who comes out of a store into an unguarded parking lot and finds his rear window has a large paper over it to drive somewhere else to remove it. It won't take long, it won't cost much, and it's not very blooming likely to happen -- and if it does happen, the conditional probability that given you have paper over your rear window it was caused by someone who means you no good is certainly significant enough to warrant driving a hundred yards before removing it.


There are stories going around on Kerry's discharge. This is from a US Army Lt. Col. JAG


just for clarification, I'll hit some of these points. The records for this are posted at John Kerry's website.

1. Pursuant to his request, Kerry was released from active duty on 2 January 1970, to pursue election to public office.

2. In March 1972, Kerry was transferred to the Standby Reserve-Inactive, automatically, as a result of his decision to decline to stay in the Ready Reserve. (His 6 year obligation ended here)

3. In February 1978, he was formally discharged with an honorable discharge.

The paperwork in question regards the 1978 discharge. A close look at the information therein shows it is not a discharge upgrade, but rather a discharge from inactive duty. While I can't find the BUPERSMAN in use at the time, the current manual ( contains the following provision:

12. Separation of Reserve officers not on active duty for lack of mobilization potential a. The Secretary of the Navy shall, when necessary, convene a board to screen Reserve officers not on active duty and who have completed the obligated service referred to in paragraph 4a of enclosure (2), for their potential and availability for mobilization to active duty. Such screening will include, but is not limited to, officers in the following categories: (1) The officer has been on the Inactive Status List (Standby Reserve) for at least 3 years.

d. The Chief of Naval Personnel or the Commandant of the Marine Corps, upon recommendation of the Board that an officer referred to in this paragraph should be separated for lack of mobilization potential, shall take the following action: (3) Recommend to the Secretary that the officer be Honorably discharged from the Naval or Marine Corps Reserve.

Much ado about nothing.


Which ought to settle that one. The election is complex enough without adding that kind of rumor.

On Outsourcing

Flu vaccine dependence

Hi Dr. Pournelle,

"In a nutshell, one country that was 14% dependent did something early on while another that was 48% dependent did nothing." 

Outsource all you can and hope for the best. Incompetence at its best.

Francis Gingras

It would seem that certain important functions ought to be kept domestic.  And when you depend on overseas sources for vital resources you better either have an invincible Navy or never get in a war. Or both.


RE:RE: the empire strikes back

Dr. Pournelle, In response to Roland Dobbins email to you I have dug up an article that ran in Wired Magazine from earlier this year. URL follows: 

It is interesting reading. Also, while surfing around the Wired website I found the link to Sealands website. It is: 

I haven't read through that one yet. Waiting for a quieter night at work.

Have a good morning, Douglas Knapp








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