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Mail 338 November 29 - December 5, 2004






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Monday  November 29, 2004

Subject: Overclocking

Having very belatedly caught up on this thread I have to say that in respect of Greg Cochran's list of possibilities, the one's that really worry me are

D4a. We test it on Chimps and we are not smart enough to figure out it really worked… (see Probability Broach maybe).

D4b. We use Politicians instead of Chimps...

Thanks for a stimulating website.

NickB Nick Bunyan MBCS

Greg's essay and the comments on it remain important, but I am not sure anyone else thought of that possibility...

Subject: Space Solar Power

Dear Jerry,

On numerous occasions you have mentioned Space Solar Power as a possible source of clean electricity. Can you direct me to a good, moderately technical article on the subject? If I understand the basic concept it consists of converting solar energy (via solar cells) to microwaves and beaming that energy to earth where microwave antennas would convert it back to electricity. Wouldn't wind turbines produce the same amount of energy with a much smaller earth based footprint?


Eric Buchanan

Let me get back to you on a good introduction to the subject since most of what I know comes from stuff we did long ago and there has been progress since. The short answer to your second question is no. Windmills use a good bit of space, they are ugly, and unlike solar arrays are in the flight paths of birds to whom they are often fatal. With ssps the receiver is generally where it doesn't rain much -- we call those places deserts -- and the energy intensity is such that birds fly out of the beam because they are uncomfortable, but they don't drop out of the sky. Wind mills have their places but they aren't going to replace SSPS.

Subject: Stirling Engine Solar Power

I suspect the claims are somewhat exaggerated, but it is a kind of interesting thought that Saudi Arabia could get more energy from solar power in the empty quarter than what comes out of their oil wells. I also wonder if the Stirling engine could also be used to extract hydrogen from sea water directly. I've also read about some pilot experiments using high temperature superconductors for long distance power transmission. It is another interesting thought to put a coal fired plant next to an open pit coal and dump the residue back in the same hole. If you can transmit power over long distances without loss, then your power plant can be anywhere.

http://www.eetimes.com/at/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=53700939  http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/11252004/biz_nati/50586.htm

Joel Upchurch


Subject: Hot Fusion, Penetrating Neutrons

Jerry, there are currently three competing proposals for a large scale test reactor; one in the US, one in France, one in Japan. The US has semi-officially bowed out of the bidding and put its vote in favor of the Japanese site.

The real issue with Hot Fusion is this:

The one that's closest to breakeven is a D-T reaction (Deuterium-Tritium). We've been doing a D-T reaction since the first Hydrogen bomb in the 50s.

A neutron enhanced warhead is simply an H bomb with more Tritium, and with the tritium triggers pointing "outwards".

D-T puts out around 70-80% of its energy in high energy (penetrating) neutrons, of about 14-15 MeV. Neutrons are are useless for power generation. You can't redirect them, you can't suck energy off them by running through a magnetic field. You might be able to get some energy off of them by running them through a properly configured Bragg grating...which will quicky grow radioactive and be a hazard when it needs replacing.

The same Luddites who screech about fission power plants will screech about D-T fusion plants...and will have fairly reasonable cause to, to be honest. They will be more expensive to build, and for the lifetime of the plant, will probably produce more radioactive waste per unit of energy released to the grid.

This is, in the words of some of the fusion researchers I've talked to, one of the reasons why they're "in a funk". Even if they can make a D-T reactor produce economically viable and significant amounts of power, the environmental regulations will probably keep one from being built for commercial development.

There are three aneutronic reactions:

p-p: This is what we're reasonably certain drives the Sun. This also requires temperature and pressure regimes comparable to the core of the sun, and is currently beyond anyone's estimates for how to do it.

D-3He -- This requires 3He (Helium that's short a neutron), which is scarce on Earth. One can make a good SF setting about getting 3He from the atmosphere of Saturn or mining Lunar regolith for it. Saturnian probe pilots hitting the bars of Titan... assuming it isn't all automated and remotely piloted. The other significant drawback is that it operates at temperature and pressure regimes that are an order of magnitude greater than D-T -- they still havn't /quite/ made this reaction work in the lab. One difficulty is that the temperature/pressure regime will also cause D-D sideband reactions, so it'll spit out neutrons for some element of its power.

H-11B: Even harder to ignite than D-3He, it's lower yield in the reaction. If you can make it work, you're about 70% of the way to a p-p reaction...but this one really does have no neutrons as a primary byproduct.

Some method of extracting kinetic energy by slowing down neutrons, without them making whatever's causing the slowdown radioactive, would be a major boon in making a D-T reactor viable. You wrote about one -- the Langston Field.

The engine looks like this:

Neutrons hit the Field; the Field absorbs them, converting their KE into thermals that need to be radiated away. That energy is then harnessed by the photoelectric effect, turning it into usable electricity...or it's used to energize a reaction mass (probably excess Hydrogen) into some absurdly high energy state in a double walled Field, which is used as a reaction chamber to generate thrust.

Since, alas, we aren't likely to find the Langston Field anytime soon, our best hope is probably Bigelow Aerospace's new prize and promise of $1B in contracts.

Ken Burnside




Subject: I Am Charlotte

Hi Jerry,

On the recent Wolfe thread: I recently graduated from college, and after reading Charlotte Simmons my reaction was "Damn! Getting laid was that easy? Someone should have told me." Wolfe gets many of the details right, like "tutors" writing papers for athletes and an account of what happens at frat parties, with his usual accuracy. But he assigns entirely too much importance to it. College students are concerned with "hooking up," perhaps too much so, but those who have sex with a different partner every weekend are a tiny minority. Students (even frat boys), for the most part, are actually concerned with their studies or at least with getting good grades and a good job. Wolfe seems to have taken the most prurient part of college life and extrapolated to make it the whole thing. College life is much more about grinding out a GPA than grinding on the dance floor. As for the main character, the "naive mountain girl" shtick is taken way too far. I can accept that she'd be surprised at the casualness of drinking and sex (God knows I was, as a freshman) but there's a scene where she reads a Cosmopolitan magazine and is shocked by the content. Granted, Cosmo is pretty racy (soft porn for women) but it's available in every grocery store in the US. A person being _that_ innocent is impossible to believe.

Noel Erinjeri

You are very likely right. But I come from a very different generation and tradition. In my time to find girls who believed in free love you had to go to Communist party meetings, and generally came with those beliefs an inclination to use makeup or sheer stockings...


Subject: What a great way to start your day!

For example, surveillance revealed that several dozen car bombs were going to be prepared, for use against the invading Americans. Most of these were located after they were loaded with explosives, and parked somewhere. They were attacked from the air as the attack opened, and in almost every case there was a large secondary explosion, as the car bomb’s explosives detonated.

Complete article : http://www.strategypage.com//fyeo/howtomakewar/default.asp?target=HTLEAD.HTM 

John Monahan


Subject: The not-news from Iraq

Hello, Jerry,

I saw the context-less pictures of Iraqis who show support for the American occupation. Without a story, it is hard to say what any of them means, but I am certain that there are about 25 different views of the occupation. I doubt that CNN is afraid to carry such pictures; in fact, may daughter-in-law is an Army journalist whose job is to write stories around pictures like these so that miliatary families can feel that their husbands/wives/children are risking their lives for some decent purpose. (I think I recognize the pitucre of Iraqi school kids with new supplies. She had hoped to write about them.)

My personal complaint is that the news hardly covers attacks on Americans unless someone is killed, and they downplay even the fatal attacks. Thus, the current Times has a minor story about two Marines killed today. Casually, the article mentions:

"In Baghdad, two soldiers were wounded Sunday morning when a car bomb exploded near their convoy on the road leading to the airport, military officials said. A vehicle was damaged and the road, one of the most dangerous in Iraq, was temporarily closed, the officials said."

That's a Big Deal to me, because my daughter-in-law serves at a camp near the airport, and travels between the Green Zone and the camp. I know that my son, also a Soldier, will see the Green Uniforms before anything is released to the press, so I would have heard if she were one of those injured

However, we -- the American people -- seem to have decided that wounded or dead military is small-time news. like a weather report.

(Incidentally, I am probably not unlike most family with a Soldier, Marine, or Airman in the sandbox: when I hear about an attack I: (a) check: dead or wounded, then (b) where? what type of unit; then (c) I feel a moment of relief when I read that the attack happened at the other end of the country or to a different unit, and (d) immediately I recall that the dead or wounded are someone else's child or husband or wife.)


John Welch



Subject: Good day Mr. Pournelle.

I have exchanged a few messages with you before, and again I want to tell you what a wonderful storyteller you are, one I love reading. The purpose of my email is a question, I was hoping you might be able to answer. I have been reading the books based in your CoDominium Universe. I did a great deal of hunting in used books stores both online and in the flesh to find the copies I have, I want to thank you for allowing Baen to place The Prince in their online library, it allowed me to read side by side with my copies of West of Honor, Mercenaries, the Sparta books. I just finished reading the Haven books, the four war world collaborations, the prequel back to the days of it's founding and the pair about the Seven, and their war that woke the sleeping eye as it were. My interest was sparked by the Motie books, you and Mr. Niven work excellently together, my compliments. All of which leads up to my question, along with my apology for carrying on before I got to it. Are there any other stories that flesh out the universe more? About their first encounters with alien races, the reformation of the Empire of Man, I thought I would go to the source and see if I could find out, so I could continue to do some hunting. Thank you for your time sir.

Adam Possemato

Well, thank you. I suggest King David's Spaceship. And I really do need to revise my bibliography and works in progress pages. Real Soon Now.


Subject: Saddam¹s weapon of mass corruption

Dr Pournelle,

Saddam¹s weapon of mass corruption

From today's London Times:


How the UN betrayed the poor of Iraq in what is being called the greatest financial scandal ever.

[quote] ... the secret is not only out but is being used to refight the political battles of the Iraq war. Senior American politicians are accusing France and Russia of ³contempt and greed² and charging the UN with connivance in the channelling of funds to terrorists. [end quote]


[quote] One thing stands out: among the elite, Saddam¹s ³weapon of mass corruption² was no secret. At the UN, throughout the oil trade, at the top of international corporations and foreign ministries, everybody knew.

RECLINING on a deep sofa in the busy lobby of the Al-Rashid hotel in Baghdad, the tall man with a black briefcase was a familiar sight. People called him Mr Cash.

He represented an oil trader based in Switzerland. His job was to make Saddam¹s favoured visitors rich. In his case were tightly wrapped wads of $100 bills.

In 1999-2001, the twilight days of UN sanctions against Iraq when parliamentarians from Russia and across western Europe were rushing to Baghdad to express horror at the injustice of the decade-long embargo enforced by America and Britain, Mr Cash provided some recompense for their trouble. He sidled up as each new foreigner returned to the hotel from an audience with Saddam. ³Have you been given any coupons for oil? Do you know what to do with them?² he asked.

Most had little idea what they had been handed by Saddam or his entourage. The ³coupons² were promissory notes giving the holder the right to buy thousands of barrels of Iraqi oil at a price well below market value. It was an opportunity to make an instant killing. [end quote]


[quote] Evidence has also emerged alleging that Benon Sevan, the UN official in charge of the oil for food programme, personally profited from selling Iraqi oil to the tune of $1.2m. He, too, strenuously denies the allegation.

In 1998, on the recommendation of Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, the security council voted to expand the programme to pay for bridges, power plants and water systems. Huge amounts of almost unchecked money began flowing into Iraq. Yet the population did not benefit. A recent medical survey found Iraqis suffering a high rate of colon cancer, blamed on the poor quality of the wheat imported under oil for food.

By 2000 Iraq was free to sell as much oil as it wished through the programme. Corruption went into overdrive as Saddam began insisting on a kickback from every barrel of oil he allocated. A letter written on August 3, 2000 by Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, marked ³urgent and confidential², informed fellow ministers that a high command committee wanted ³extra revenues² from the programme.

Anyone wanting to purchase Iraqi oil had to pay between 10 cents and 50 cents a barrel into illicit bank accounts. According to Iraqi oil ministry documents, Saddam¹s embassies in Moscow, Athens, Rome, Vienna and Geneva also began accepting cash bungs for oil.

In total, according to the records, more than $228m was handed over. Much of this money has never been recovered and is thought to have funded Palestinian suicide bombers and other terrorist activities, according to Henry Hyde, chairman of the house international relations committee in Washington. [end quote]


[quote] During 2001, with backhanders common practice and relatively well publicised, the American and British governments attempted to curtail the oil for food programme and raise the price of Iraqi oil to remove the scope for corruption.

³The people who opposed that were the French and Russians,² said Greenstock. ³We consistently got opposition in the security council from the same quarters because there were a lot of their companies involved . . . Everyone was harping on about what the Americans and British were holding up.²

By 2002 bitter infighting had brought the security council discussions to a standstill and Kofi Annan was handed responsibility for the programme. Within weeks its scope was increased to allow sports stadiums to be built and Iraqi propaganda campaigns to be funded. By then, however, in the wake of the September 11 attacks on America, the Bush administration was preparing to end oil for food once and for all ‹ by war.

As the size of the scandal now emerges, American congressmen are crying for Annan¹s head and want to suspend US contributions to the UN, which would cripple it. [end quote]

No comment necessary, I think. Except one-- read all of it.

Jim Mangles


Greg Cochran continues to tell us he told us so...

Subject: Taxis

I'm not sure what to say. $5,000 for a 15-mile taxi ride is ... special.

Gregory Cochran

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Baghdad's spiralling transport costs <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4026795.stm> : Baghdad's airport route has become a regular target for insurgents. A 15-mile stretch between Baghdad airport and the city centre is said to be the world's most expensive taxi ride. Small convoys of armoured cars and Western gunmen charge about £2,750 ($5,108) for the perilous journey. The route, known as the Qadisiyah Expressway, has become the scene of regular attacks and kidnappings by insurgents. Security costs have soared in Iraq reflecting the escalating risks for foreign workers. The high-speed drive costs four times more than the £670 Royal Jordanian charges for a one-way flight from London to Baghdad via Amman....

The airport is the hub of the US-led coalition's military activities, while the high-security "green zone" is the centre of civilian administration. "You could jump in an Iraqi taxi with a gun and get there for $20," said one security contractor, quoted by the UK's Times newspaper. But with kidnappings a daily occurrence and Westerners being sold to Islamist militant groups for about £150,000, he advised against it. A few thousand pounds will afford you two cars and four Western ex-military bodyguards, usually American, South African or British, packing MP5 submachine guns, M16 rifles and/or AK47 assault rifles.

The client rides in one vehicle at speeds averaging 100 mph, while the other, called the "gun car", travels close-by, looking out for potential assailants.Since the beginning of the resistance, this vital route has come under attack from car bombs, suicide attacks, snipers and rocket-propelled grenades...


Subject: thus far

So far, none of the key players who argued for invading Iraq had been fired or demoted. So I still see no evidence for your notion that Bush must have learned the error of his ways. And I do not believe that Jacobinism had much to do with it, except perhaps in the case of one or two people. I think that old-fashioned things like treason and stupidity were the drivers, and that dreams of forced democracy were largely an after-the-fact justification, after all the original arguments had gone sour. The timing of statements concerning Iraqi democracy supports this scenario.

As for privatization of Social Security, the current informed guess is that your notion of a very gradual introduction is quite wrong. Sure, it would be the sensible way to do it, but that's exactly _why_ it's wrong. The plan is evidently to start big ( with no tax increase), borrow something like a trillion dollars over the next decade to finance existing benefits _and_ this new program simultaneously, with the fond hope that bond markets and currency markets will believe the argument that it doesn't really affect long-term government obligations because it'll reduce future expenditures. This requires a strong faith in the long-term stability of government policy.

Gregory Cochran

First, I am not privy to what goes on in the White House, but I would be astonished if some lessons have not been learned. Second, the notion that everyone would rise up and become good democrats as soon as the dictator was removed was PURE JACOBINISM and I do not see how you can think it was not important in the decision to invade. The idea that not only would they rise up and become democrats, but also follow Chalabi the Thief and be pro-American was wishful thinking, but the entire world operates on that kind of wishful thinking. No one believes in Original Sin any more.

In every college classroom in the nation nothing is taught that is inconsistent with the view that within every oppressed human lurks a burning desire for freedom. In my view in every human heart beats a desire, sometimes burning sometimes not to rob his neighbor and possess his wife: it was once known as the doctrine of original sin.

Chesterton once said that anyone who didn't believe in original sin could not possibly be reading the newspapers.

I don't know about the Social Security schemes except that the White House proposes, but any such scheme has to get through the Congress, and the notion you put forth may be just a bit difficult to get through. Congress does have the final say, you know.

Social Security has two problems: paying off the older people taken in by the Ponzi Scheme, and somehow converting it to an actual savings and investment plan for the young people who cannot, without enormously expanding the population, get in on the Ponzi Scheme.  There are ways to get there but they are tricky. Starting small is the right way.


Subject: first thing we do, kill all the lawyers

Boy. I have two relatives in Florida. Both doctors, married with two kids. One is an ER physician and the other a surgeon. As a matter of course, ERs are hit with lawsuits like clockwork in which the aggrieved parties basically name every physician in the building as a party.

This is particularly wonderful when the person being patched up is an illegal alien or a criminal or someone without insurance (in Florida, frequently all three happen at once). Of course these immoral people have no qualms about filing spurious lawsuits to recover the costs of their drug deals gone bad. It's a lottery mentality.

Neither my uncle or aunt has ever been found guilty of malpractice. But they are now seriously considering leaving the state because now the shit is really going to hit the fan. Maybe when others follow them and Atlas Shrugs, these goddamn parasitic lawyers will find another productive class to feast on.

You know, I want a three strikes law for lawyers...three malpractice judgements thrown out of court without trial and they're branded "ambulance chasers" and lose their license!

* * *

to give you some idea of how *ridiculous* this law is, see this:

begin quote:

The number of doctors who would have their licenses revoked by the three-strikes rule is extremely small, perhaps a dozen or so at the most, experts say. Florida has slightly fewer than 30,000 active doctors....

...Lester Brickman, a professor of legal ethics at the Benjamin N.
Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York, said the lawyers "trumped the doctors" with the three-strikes amendment, because lawyers will rush to sue in the hope that doctors will settle to avoid a "strike." "In the next 10 years," he said, "virtually every doctor in the state of Florida will have been sued."

end quote.

AARRRRRGHHH. A "solution" to a nonexistent problem (a dozen doctors requires an amendment to the Florida Constitution!!?), intended solely to enrich these vultures, these vermin, these *lawyers* at the expense of doctors and most patients - who foot the bill for the ever spiraling legal bills for these worms. God, this pisses me off.

I wonder what's become of the idea mooted a while back: for doctors to refuse to treat lawyers who're branded ambulance chasers?  So...maybe we *can* kill these guys...through benign neglect when they come crawling on their knees to the physicians they've harassed....

Name withheld



Florida Passes Three-Strikes Malpractice Law By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Nov. 25 (AP) - Florida voters approved a three-strikes law this month unlike any other state's: a measure aimed not at killers or thieves but at doctors who foul up.

The newly approved amendment to the Florida Constitution would automatically revoke the medical license of any doctor hit with three malpractice judgments. The ramifications of the measure, which was supported by lawyers, could be huge.

Legal experts say it could prompt a flood of malpractice suits. Doctors say it will scare some physicians away from Florida while forcing others to reach quick malpractice settlements to avoid a "strike."

"It has branded the state as probably the most unfriendly state for physicians," said Dr. Robert Yelverton, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Tampa.

Wow. Not even California is THAT bad. Wow. First thing we do... One could get a novel out of the notion of the physicians declaring lawyers untreatable. Go away. We do not want to see you.

And see below












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Tuesday,  November 30, 2004

The silly season stays with us?

Subject: Death by lava lamp.


-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Florida Three Strikes law

While some predict dire results, the three strike rule seems to only impact fewer than a dozen doctors. The medical industry needs to make up its mind on how it wants to be regulated. Patients die when doctors are too busy with their golf game to provide the care they are charging for. This can remain a civil issue, but the doctors don't want to be sued. The only other choice is to make malpractice a criminal offense and start locking them up. That may be a solution but who takes care of the patient that had the wrong leg cut off: http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_172958.html 

--- Al Lipscomb

Anyone can sue anyone: there is a difference between between being able to bring suit and being able to threaten licenses. We will see, but I predict that thousands of doctors will now quickly get two lawsuits, both dismissed out of hand, so that the threat of a third hangs over their heads. I know I would not care to practice medicine in Florida now.

Now from the defense:

Subject: Kill all the lawyers


To address some of the topics your other readers have raised, I'd add my two cents. Mind you, as a lawyer I am unoffended by the commentary for a variety of reasons. A, my entire time as an attorney has been spent on active duty with the Army; B, I am by inclination a criminal lawyer; C, I don't like civilian lawyers as a rule. (I should amend C from civilian to non-governmental. I am currently detailed to the Department of Justice, and I find them similarly inoffensive). I like my practice because I have no financial incentive to take any particular case.

However, "tort reform" engenders such extreme arguments. Yes, there are many abuses, and there are logical reforms that can address those. However, the most frequent "cures" are really just a huge bonus for corporate America and may only fix the problem as a secondary result. Should Ford really have a cap on damages for the Pinto debacle? After all, wouldn't that make their calculation that x number of dead customers was cheaper than y dollars to fix the known problem? To put any fixed cap on a lawsuit is to invite every business (or individual, in some cases) to simply do the math and roll the dice with other people's welfare. The better solutions (too bad that Edwards proposal won't see any play now) more directly address the practioners who abuse the system. The three strikes rule however, (three failed judgments in a malpractice suit, say) would simply force attorneys to only take the sure winners. Sometimes the cases that need to be taken aren't sure winners, and sometimes they are known losers.

I know prosecutors who have that philosophy, as they see a high conviction rate as a sign of success. Me, I see success in taking the cases to court that should go there. There are very few sexual assault cases that fall into the category of easy wins, and for that reason you'll see jurisdictions with few such prosecutions. Is it because there are no such assaults? No. It's because those cases are hard. Do we want someone who was injured through malpractice to be unable to get relief because the case is difficult? I don't think that's the right result.

There exist sanctions in current law for frivolous lawsuits. Frivolous is NOT the same as simply a lost case. Those sanctions should be given teeth, and (here's the hard part) some definable standards.

Oh, and next time someone mentions the McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit as an example of a frivilous one, they need to actually look at that one. The woman did not walk away from that rich, and I'm sure she'd rather have her seven days of hospitalization back, and would probably not chosen the necessary skin grafts to her groin, thighs and buttocks in exchange for $640,000. In that case, McDonalds' expert, Dr. Knaff told the jury that hot-coffee burns were statistically insignificant when compared to the billion cups of coffee McDonald's sells annually. To date, McDonalds had settled 700 prior incidents of severe burns from their coffee (which was 20 degrees hotter than any other restaurants). Oh, and Shriner's Burn Institute in Cincinnati had published warnings to the franchise food industry that its members were unnecessarily causing serious scald burns by serving beverages above 130 degrees Fahrenheit - McDonalds served their coffee at 180 degrees.

So, keep in mind that the horror stories are not all on the side of law suit abuse, and that the ones you know aren't what they seem. This is a serious problem, with serious consequences to knee jerk "fixes".


To address your points not necessarily in order: the McDonald's coffee case depends entirely on one's view of the role of government and individual responsibility. She did what she did. Who should accept responsibility and who should pay? Why is McDonald's liable when she did a damn fool thing like put a cup of hot coffee (and if she didn't know McDonald's served hotter coffee than other driveins, it was not McDonald's fault, as they certainly advertised it)  -- to put a cup of hot coffee between one's legs and then drive is not an intelligent thing to do. Now: who should pay for her stupidity? McDonald's? The general public? Her church and friends as charity? What she would have chosen is irrelevant. No one from McDonald's came out and put a cup of hot coffee between her legs. If you don't want hot coffee buy it elsewhere; if you do want hot coffee don't put it between your legs. McDonald's was a deep pocket. Incidentally, I am unaware of how much of the award she got and how much the lawyers got; do you know?

I thoroughly agree that 'reforms' ought not work to the point where only the easy cases are ever tried. On the other hand, we are nowhere near there now, and the Florida law invites lawyers to sue doctors until they get their two strikes after which they are very vulnerable. In California we have an attorney racket: they threaten suits against any small business in the name of protecting the public, and they are unashamed to say they have no real basis for the suit: if you pay anywhere between $1,000 and $4,000 the case will go away; and it will cost more than that to defend it. They were successful against Vietnamese owned manicure and nail polishing shops, until at a meeting of the shop owners (in Las Vegas, not in California) the owners invested something like $200 each to be paid to a Vietnamese street gang to make the lawsuits of a particular law firm go away. The suits went away. I am not entirely sure that was an optimum outcome.

As you note, tort reform is not always easy, and the devil is in the details.

We ALWAYS roll the dice in some ways: every high steel project, skyscraper or bridge, has a "budget" for death. It is simply nearly certain that some people will be killed. In the Pinto case you can argue that there was a matter of informed consent: people weren't told that there was a small chance of being killed in a particular way, and if they bought a different vehicle for more money that wouldn't happen (but other things might). At some point you have to decide just who done what to whom and who will pay for it; and what are the consequences of trying to protect everyone from the consequences of their decisions and actions? And what we do in this coming anarcho-tyranny is tell people they are on their own in certain criminal situations, but compensate by playing games with the civil law: often to the point that domestic manufacturers are simply driven out of business. Try to buy an American made home use stepladder; and of course we put warning labels on lawn mowers telling people not to put their hands under the mower when the motor is running. I find it interesting to speculate on just how many people can read that warning yet were so uninformed that they were given useful information by it?

I taught both pre-law and Constitutional Law for years, and you and I are not in total disagreement. No wrong without a remedy is still a good principle, and justice delayed is justice denied is another I respect. Alas, we now have remedies without wrongs, and the defense against that is interminable delay.

I would be interested in your views on just what details might be put into tort reform?  It is my understanding that California has at least managed to halt some of the spiral of increasing malpractice premiums driving the physicians from the state; surely that meets your approval? These are largely matters for the states, but do we even have models for ensuring justice through the legal system? California's attempt to allow civil lawyers to "protect the public" resulted in the extortions I described above, and the remedy of threatened gang activity directed at the attorneys. Is that a good result?

The matter is complex, but also important.

Subject: Lawsuits in Florida 

Many doctors have lawsuits brought against them, but the issue in the Florida amendment is that it requires three findings of guilt in the courtroom, out of court settlements don't count. The biggest danger in this situation is that doctors will be more inclined to settle cases rather than risk a "strike" against them. This is important to consider. The counter to that may be the cost to go to trail if there is not a clear chance of winning as the victim's lawyer would have to finance the case out of his own pocket. Juries may also be less likely to find against a doctor if they fear it may put him out of practice, we will see.

In the case of the McDonald's' coffee case and Stella, that case was a lot more complex than most people care about. Until I read the entire story it does seem like a rather stupid situation. But Stella was not driving and what she asked for initially was rather modest. The jury slammed McDonald's after their handling of this and other burn victims. A quick search of the Internet may bring some interesting facts to light on the issue. In the end nobody knows what the case ended up being settled for as the amount was secret and went to charity. In any case it is not one of the shining examples for our legal system.

The current system is still very broken and I have to agree that there is way too much abuse. One problem is that the attorney's fees are hidden in most lawsuits. If the fees were exposed, and the jury able to decide what was to be paid, the system might be fixable.

--- Al Lipscomb

It was my understanding that the Florida law counted a settled case as a strike; if not, it changes the situation, although the precise effect is not clear.

With regard to the hot coffee, the trial lawyer association summary of facts does not state she wasn't driving, and I always thought she was. It is the case that she originally asked for relatively modest sums, and it certainly would have been to everyone's advantage had that been paid. I wasn't privy to the decision process on either side. All I know is that the incident makes American law either ludicrous or makes it clear that you can act like a damned fool and still extract money from the system. Ms. Stella simply had no business putting a cup of hot coffee between her legs. What in the world good could come of doing a thing like that? Why is anyone else responsible for it?

The jury made it clear it was a sympathy award compounded by McDonald's "indifference" and "callousness" and that in itself is a fairly dangerous idea: corporate thoughtcrime will now be punished? The fact that their coffee was hotter than other stands served coffee was a selling point: their customers liked it that way. Ah well. So much for rule of law.

And now for another word from the defense:

Subject: McDonalds, Lawsuits, et.al

Her total award was $640,000 ($160k for actual, $480k for punitive). Her actual damages were reduced by 20% for her own negligence. Regarding her negligence, she was a passenger in a car, and ordered the coffee through the drive in window, getting cream and sugar. While the car was still (not moving), she removed the lid to add the cream and sugar when it spilled. It's not as if McDonalds was unaware someone was going to be adding such things in a car. The basis of their culpability was solely that the coffee temperature was unsafe, and it was easily proven that they knew that in advance.

I applaud any move to intelligently reform tort abuses. I use the McDonalds case soley because it has two sides, though most only know one side - - "old woman burned herself with coffee because she didn't know coffee was hot!!" Doctors should be safe to practice medicine without a bunch of greedy jerks abusing the courts, just as Ford should be able to make cars, but be liable when they screw up.

It's important to punish those who bring frivolous lawsuits (a separate consideration: do you punish the lawyer, the plaintiff or both? Does the plaintiff even know if the case was frivolous? Sometimes, probably, but not always.) A flat cap is a simplistic solution that causes many problems, but does have an attractive side. Clearly it would lift the burden on larger corporations and hospitals, but it would have zero impact on the extortion schemes you noted in California. Much of the abuse is in the $5k-10k range, I'd think, and caps don't help that. Nor would it necessarily help a general practitioner who is probably more likely to be hit by a sequence of $10k-100k suits rather than a 10 million dollar suit.

Long way to say I don't have the answers, just that I know there isn't a simple fix. I'm going to have to look at how other countries have approached this, something I haven't done in depth.


Crap...Sorry I didn't answer your followup question at all. Normally the split would be 50/50 after it went to trial (25-40% to the lawyer if settled). The usual crap spewed about that high a split is that the lawyer incurs the risks. Humbug. Mostly the client pays for expenses up-front, so all the lawyer is out is time. I don't view that as a risk. Setting a lower percentage for attorney's fees is not a bad idea, but tough to get past the ABA's lobby, almost as powerful as the NRA.


Not having read the transcript of the case I can only go by the summaries posted by trial lawyers in defense of their art and I have not yet found one that states she wasn't driving.

As to what is or is not a frivolous lawsuit, I have no exact remedy but I suggest a board that doesn't contain a majority of lawyers (including judges) might be an appropriate mechanism: if the non-lawyer members of the board roll about the floor laughing while the lawyer members argue the merits of the suit, I think we have a prima-fascia case.

Me, when I put cream and sugar in hot coffee I make damned sure the car is stationary, or I do it on the floor of the car, not with the now open cup squeezed between my thighs.

The solution to the extortion schemes is either to repeal the law that allows any attorney to "act for the people" but keep the proceeds of the action, or to hire more gang members to eliminate the problem at the source. In my present mood I would prefer Bloods and Crips  and Warriors to some of the arrogant lawyers; but that is probably due to a foul mood and a temporary dyspepsia.

Most countries have some penalty for filing a suit and losing: loser pays court costs and attorney fees for winner. Of course that will very much discourage law suits from some people who probably ought to sue, and discourage attorneys from taking questionable cases. I have no answer to that one either. Clearly there needs to be some means of allowing the poorest at least some access to the legal system -- dispossessed renters come to mind because I know of a couple of such cases in which I encouraged a neighbor lawyer to take the case even though not much would come of it, simply for justice -- but at the same time going to the extent of allowing random lawyers to sue "in the public interest" when they have no client and to keep the proceeds they get seems a bit much.

Would that the NRA were more powerful (with regards to firearms legislation, not necessarily in naming political officeholders); but that is another discussion.

I have since been sent convincing evidence that she was not driving. More below.



Subject: The internet is broken, but David Cheriton may know how to fix it. One man's quest to save the world Wide Web


If David Cheriton is right, then the saviour of the Internet may turn out to be an architecture based upon the much maligned Network Address Translation (NAT) protocol. Many others see 128 bit IPv6 as the way forward, but Cheriton thinks that a network of NAT machines, able to route data packets with hierarchical addresses, might not just make IPv6 irrelevant but as a bonus defeat spam and block attacks on servers.


"The smart conference suite at Stanford University in California was packed with the cream of the computing community to hear David Cheriton explain how the wired world on which we rely is on the brink of collapse. The internet, he insists, is broken."

"The internet was created when no one dreamed users would be anything but benevolent. So it was designed without thought of defeating spam or defending servers from attack."

"Controversially, he claims NAT might do a better job of securing the net against attack than IPv6's encryption features."

Best wishes

Paul Dove

Visit http://www.bupa.com  or call 0800 00 10 10 and find out what BUPA can do for you.

BUPA, the health and care people

BUPA House 15-19 Bloomsbury Way London WC1A 2BA

Internet communications are not secure and therefore BUPA does not accept legal responsibility for the contents of this message. Any views or opinions presented are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of BUPA.


Subject: Neither IPv6 nor NAT

have anything to do with security. Cheriton's proposal is not NAT, it's much more involved than that:


The reporter who wrote the story is completely ignorant of the actual problem as well as of the posited solution - typical.

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




Subject: Front end estimating, continued

Ran across this:


It's rather long to cut and paste, but if you want to follow up on that discussion it provides some good information.

Jim Woosley

I never before heard of Front End Estimation although I guess we old slide rule engineers did that a lot for most of our lives. But if someone asked me what was 1088 - 499, I would simply use a calculator to say 589; and I certainly wouldn't consider 600 as the "wrong" answer with 700 as "correct." The whole exercise strikes me as silly, since there was nothing stated in the problem as to the accuracy of the numbers. If I knew that the measurements were accurate to only one significant figure I would have a different answer from the one I'd have if told it was two-digit accuracy. But I guess it's important to teach this crap to kids now that we no longer teach them to do actual subtraction (let's see, 1088 minus 500 is 588 so the answer must be 589 is at least as the "front end estimation" they ask for. Yeeps.


Subject: Fallujah Napalmed (?)



British news sites are reporting that US troops have used napalm in Fallujah.

<header> FALLUJAH NAPALMED Nov 28 2004

US uses banned weapon ..but was Tony Blair told?

By Paul Gilfeather Political Editor

US troops are secretly using outlawed napalm gas to wipe out remaining insurgents in and around Fallujah.

This is also tied to an Al-Jazerra new item, which IMHO sounds like it may have been exaggerated to make the US look bad.


<header> U.S. uses napalm gas in Fallujah – Witnesses 11/28/2004 9:00:00 PM GMT The U.S. military is secretly using banned napalm gas and other outlawed weapons against civilians in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, eyewitnesses reported.

Both items are datelined 11-28, so I don't know which came first since the British report is not time stamped.

The evidence cited on the Al-Jazerra article (appears to be "eyewitness" accounts in which a speaker who is not familiar with artillery was influenced by the reporter to say that it looked like napalm, when many US weapons which do not contain napalm would also satisfy these descriptions (e.g. any fragmenting weapon, weapons with submunitions, etc.).

Comments? Have you heard this from other sources?

Jim Woosley

I have heard nothing. I can say that in Korea we'd have been very happy to have napalm, but I never saw any used. We did use white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon in direct fire mode when we were out of canister. But scattered submunition are better than canister.


And now the end of civilization: the Mother of Parliaments, the fountain of civilized democratic government, has fallen, and there will be no longer anything to look up to. America becomes the fountain of freedom? God help us.

..but we feel safer already

The policeman found my penknife. 'You're going down, mate,' he said By Nicky Samengo-Turner (Filed: 28/11/2004) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/

On Wednesday November 3, I was driving along the Embankment in Londonwhen a policeman flagged me down. It was 11.30 in the morning, and I was in reasonable time for a meeting with lawyers due to start at midday.

The constable was accompanied by another policeman and a group of three men in what looked a little like traffic wardens' uniforms. These, I later discovered, were Mr Blunkett's new militia, the police community support officers (PCSOs). Their task, according to Sir John Stevens, is to "perform the vital role of security patrols in central London, deterring criminals and providing intelligence to police officers".

"We are conducting random stop and search under current anti-terrorist legislation," began the constable, addressing me through my open side window. "Would you mind if we searched your vehicle? We're training these new community support officers."

Although a little worried about being late for my meeting, I agreed to the search. I unlocked the doors and they went through my car and its contents: my overnight bag, my washbag and glove box. Next, they gestured towards my briefcase. As I lifted the lid I pointed out to them a Victorinox Swiss multi-tool, contained in a small webbing case, and a small collapsible baton, contained in another piece of webbing.

It is perfectly legal to buy both of these items. The penknife I carry because I find it useful for many small everyday tasks - cutting through packaging, opening bottles. The baton I bought to keep at home for security reasons. I live in a rural part of Suffolk that, although relatively crime-free, is policed very sparsely. I often hear people outside the house at night and I feel more comfortable with the baton inside the front door. A week or so before, I had discovered my young daughters playing with it and had locked it in my briefcase for safekeeping.

The community support officers reacted immediately. They behaved as if they had never seen a penknife before, pulling out the bottle-opener, the corkscrew, the thing that gets stones out of horses' hooves. "This device has a locking blade," said the constable. My goodwill towards the police began to give way to alarm. I reached for my mobile to call the lawyers and explain that I was going to be late but the constable stopped me. "Turn that phone off," he said. "You're about to be arrested for possessing offensive weapons and carrying a bladed instrument in public. You'll be allowed one call when we get you to Charing Cross police station."

I asked the constable whether this was, in his opinion, a valuable use of police time and resources. This was when the policemen and the PCSOs started to become hostile. "You've committed an offence, mate, and you'd better get used to the fact that you're going down for six months," said one policeman.

"Do you realise, sir," said another, "that behind us is the Ministry of Defence, a key target for potential terrorists?"

"But why did you stop me in the first place: do I seriously look like a potential terrorist?" I asked.

"We stop one in every 25 cars on a random basis, and, let me tell you, sir, criminals and terrorists come in many different guises," he replied.

"Shouldn't you be concentrating on men of Arab extraction?" This seemed to me to be a sensible question, relevant to the current state of the world.

The policeman said: "That is a racist comment, sir." Then the van appeared. I was locked in the back and ferried to Charing Cross. Upon arrival, I was subjected to the as-seen-on-TV rigmarole of being booked in by the desk sergeant. Most of the questions focused on my racial origin and HIV status. My belt and personal effects were removed, and after a telephone call to my lawyer I was "banged up".

By this time it was about 12.20 and I spent the next three hours dozing on a bench. At about 4.30pm, my solicitor had arrived and it was time for an "interview under caution". First, I had to be fingerprinted. The policeman who had flagged me down reappeared, and began the business of "processing" me. The man's lack of competence was comical. He had problems applying my fingers to the fingerprint-scanning machine, and with each failed attempt became angrier and angrier. Tired and fed up, I gave in to the temptation to needle him. "Having problems with your new toy?" I asked. "Shut the f*** up, you a***hole," he replied.

He was no better at operating the tape recorder used for my interview. Much fumbling of cassettes was followed by screeching noises. During the interview itself, I found him inarticulate, incompetent and only tenuously in control of his temper.

After the interview, I was re-introduced to my cell. I understood from my solicitor that the same policeman would speak to the Crown Prosecution Service, and a decision would be made about whether to charge me. I was also told that if the policeman had wanted to, he could have let me off with a caution.

In my cell, I thought a bit about the way I had been treated. For the police to be behaving like this at a time when we are all concerned about terrorism and street crime, and when resources are stretched and manpower is limited, seemed extraordinary. It was also, I decided, in direct contrast to the qualities of professionalism, endurance and discipline that are the hallmark of Britain's Armed Forces.

I have experience of two training establishments, the old Guards' Depot at Pirbright and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst: both successful in creating tough but professional men who are in control of their actions and able to make sensible decisions under pressure. Whether in Belfast, Bosnia or Basra, lieutenants and second lieutenants as young as 19 and 20 provide the linchpin between senior officers and the rank and file.

This, I suspect, is the problem with the police - they have no proper training and no officer corps. The old adage goes "There is no such thing as bad soldiers, only bad officers". The scruffy, overweight, badly turned-out, ill-mannered policemen I encountered at Charing Cross police station were desperately in need of decent leadership.

So I was not surprised when I was brought back before the desk sergeant and told that the CPS had decided to charge me with possessing an offensive weapon and carrying a bladed instrument in public. I was bailed to appear at Bow Street magistrates' court and informed that I was free to leave.

As I was about to pass through the door to freedom, I am ashamed to say that I snapped. The knowledge that we could have avoided the whole drawn-out, expensive and upsetting procedure was too much for me. I turned to the policeman and said: "You really are a prize wanker." At this point, in full view of my solicitor, he lost it. He grabbed my lapels and pushed me against the wall. My solicitor yelled: "You have just assaulted my client!"

Four other police officers rushed into the corridor, accompanied by the desk sergeant. "Right, re-arrest him: public order, breach of the peace," shouted the sergeant at me. "You'll be spending the night here." My solicitor said that she wanted the assault entered in the daybook, and that we would be bringing an action. So they let me go.

In the aftermath of my experience, I started some purely anecdotal research on the type of behaviour and attitude displayed by the police towards me. In speaking to friends, acquaintances, tradesmen, cab drivers and people in the pub, I rapidly came to realise that a quite staggering number of ordinary, law-abiding people had endured similar experiences.

The new security measures announced in Parliament last week are surely justified only in a society at war, and they might be acceptable if we were truly a nation under siege. But that is not how it feels to most of us. We have a terrorist threat to London and elsewhere, but that does not amount to a war, any more than the IRA bombing campaigns of the Seventies did, and yet we are enacting measures more repressive than in the Blitz.

Once I had been sprung from the police station, I walked back to the Embankment, where my car had been left since the arrest. It was, by this time, 6.45pm and, sure enough, there on my windscreen was a Metropolitan Police parking ticket. One further thing - I have just found out from my solicitor that the copy of the interview tape sent to us by the police is entirely blank.

This is an edited version of an article that appears in this week's Spectator http://www.spectator.co.uk/article.php?id=5308. The case against Nicky Samengo-Turner is to be heard on Wednesday.

God help us all.

And yet another revolutionary event: Intel going down?

Subject: IBM, Moore's Law and the POWER 5 chip

<snip>….Bernie Meyerson's (IBM) message was simply this: "Moore's Law is no longer guaranteed."…<snip>


Tracy Walters

Revolutions indeed


Subject: Words fail me.


-- Roland Dobbins

Indeed. Nasty little horror story...

I have been asked, seriously, what is wrong with doing this? The answer is more complex than one might suppose.

In the old Roman system, the paterfamilias had the power to kill his children until they were adults, and often after that: Claudius tells the story of a close relative walled into a room to starve because of her adulteries. That's one way to organize a society. Moving away from that arbitrary and absolute power turns out to be tricky. On the one hand you have children who are clearly doomed to be vegetables, and have to be kept alive with expensive machinery and techniques; it is unfair to burden their parents or society with maintaining life in such cases. Those cases sort themselves out, though, since without the expensive techniques the children will die. What, though, of intermediate cases? Downs Syndrome, formerly "Mongoloid idiots", who generally will never have the intelligence of a normal 8 year old. At one time such children had a short life expectancy, but now they can live fairly normal lives well into their twenties: do they deserve to live? Or an infant death sentence?

I needn't labor the situation with cases, because you can all make up your own. We prosecute the mothers of newborns who abandon their babies in trash cans (in California there are "safe haven" laws: mothers of newborns can bring the children in and abandon them with no questions asked). The laws exist to protect the innocent and helpless, and there are few creature more innocent or helpless than a human baby -- except, perhaps, a human baby with birth defects. Should the law not protect those? If not, who gets to decide? Whose job is it to determine who is human, who has a reasonable prospect of "a life of human quality" or whatever criterion is used to decide who lives and who dies?

And if the State empowers agents to decide whose expected quality of life is too low to allow them to live when they are infants, why stop there?



Subject: Bush Protests

I think you will like this one...


Brice Yokem

Heh. Thanks.







This week:


read book now


Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Subject: re: : Bush Protests

Interesting article on the Bush protests fizzling during the President's visit. NPR carried a story on 11/30 that implied the protests were massive and well attended. I think the verbiage used was "organizers estimated the number attending as over 5,000" and they interviewed a man who had driven over four hours to protest.

-- Brian Dunbar System Administrator Liftport

You must understand that I have no independent information sources and not much incentive: I really don't care a lot about the size of protest crowds, and I doubt they would have much effect on Bush's policies anyway...


More on the McDonald's hot coffee case:

I AM THE LAWYER who tried Stella Liebeck's case in Albuquerque, N.M., from Aug. 8-16. There has been a great uproar from people displeased at the size of the verdict, who see it as an example of the product of a runaway jury and a plaintiff who will not accept responsibility for her actions. Stella Liebeck, 79, purchased a cup of McDonald's coffee while a passenger in her grandson's automobile. Ms. Liebeck attempted to hold the cup securely between her knees while she removed the plastic lid. It tipped over, causing third-degree burns that necessitated hospitalization for eight days, whirlpool treatment for debridement of her wounds and skin grafting, and led to permanent scarring and disability for more than two years. The jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages, reduced by 20 percent for her negligence, and $2.7 million in punitive damages.

In my view there are two major issues here. The first, whether McDonald's was negligent, is a matter for trial by jury, and the $200,000 compensatory damages reduced by 20% for her contributory negligence is not unreasonable and at least arguably a matter of justice. I suspect if she'd had good medical insurance most of this wouldn't have come up at all; since she was uninsured, and one could make the case that McDonald's hadn't advertised sufficiently that their hot coffee was hot -- it was a selling point after all -- we can live with the result; those who like their coffee very hot can note the "chilling effect" of this. But that is arguable.

Winning the lottery for millions in "punitive" damages, a large part of which go to the attorney, is not arguably a matter of justice. "Punitive" damages are a fine, and if a fine is to be levied it should be paid to the people of the state, not to an individual with large part going to the lawyer. Furthermore, fines of that size are criminal punishments, and ought to be tried in criminal court under criminal court rules.

What we have is a lottery. Certainly the lady would rather none of this happened: but why was she entitled to millions? And why was her lawyer entitled to millions? If we think an activity is to be prohibited by heavy fines we call that a criminal action; why should any individual profit from that? But of course we will not change any of this because in our present anarcho-tyranny there is no one able to overcome the interests who like things just this way. What we have here is a law making it a criminal offence, punishable by heavy fines, to sell very hot coffee. Perhaps that is a good idea, but if so, is this the way to make such a law? Have we transferred legislative powers to lawyers arguing before a jury? For make no mistake, that is what was done here.

The Vietnamese nail salon owners, about a thousand of them, solved their problem of punitive damages being paid to private individuals by having the Gold Dragons make sure that anyone who thought of profiting understood there might be severe consequences. This is called an act of rebellion, of course, and none of it can be proved other than it was suggested that funds be collected for this purpose; but it is also one path to freedom from a plague of lawyers who have rigged the system.

Suppose a law that gave the public prosecutor a percentage of the take in criminal cases resulting in fines, and moreover, allowed suit under civil rather than criminal rules: that would sure end a lot of corporate practices many abhor. Would it be justice?

this is more for you than for the site, but I've linked several sites with factual summaries of the case.

  http://www.vanfirm.com/mcdonalds-coffee-lawsuit.htm  (Wallstreet Journal Article) http://www.citizen.org/congress/civjus/tort/myths/articles.cfm?ID=785  (this is the best, as it is footnoted extensively, including cites to the case [don't bother, just says who won, no facts])


Which I think takes care of the facts. My views are above. I do not understand a system that privatizes justice in this rather egregious way. Under the old notion of self-government, using private lawsuits as an addendum to the use of public prosecutors and police may well have made sense; but we have abolished the old Justice of the Peace system a very long time ago, and what is left of it is now merely a boon to those with legal credentials and admission to the bar. It is not at all clear that this is a good thing.


Thanks to Ed Hume for this:

P.C. Nativity

From http://www.strangecosmos.com/content/item/21949.html 

And Joseph went up from Galilee to Bethlehem with Mary, his espoused wife, who was great with child. And she brought forth a son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. And the angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds and said, "I bring you tidings of great joy. Unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

"There's a problem with the angel," said a Pharisee who happened to be strolling by. As he explained to Joseph, angels are widely regarded as religious symbols, and the stable was on public property where such symbols were not allowed to land or even hover.

"And I have to tell you, this whole thing looks to me very much like a Nativity scene," he said sadly. "That's a no-no, too."

Joseph had a bright idea. "What if I put a couple of reindeer over there near the ox and donkey?" he said, eager to avoid sectarian strife.

"That would definitely help," said the Pharisee, who knew as well as anyone that whenever a savior appeared, judges usually liked to be on the safe side and surround it with deer or woodland creatures of some sort.

"Just to clinch it, throw in a candy cane and a couple of elves and snowmen, too," he said. "No court can resist that."

Mary asked, "What does my son's birth have to do with snowmen?"

"Snowpersons," cried a young woman, changing the subject before it veered dangerously toward religion.

Off to the side of the crowd, a Philistine was painting the Nativity scene.

Mary complained that she and Joseph looked too tattered and worn in the picture.

"Artistic license," he said. "I've got to show the plight of the haggard homeless in a greedy, uncaring society in winter," he quipped.

"We're not haggard or homeless. The inn was just full," said Mary.

"Whatever," said the painter.

Two women began to argue fiercely. One said she objected to Jesus' birth "because it privileged motherhood." The other scoffed at virgin births, but said that if they encouraged more attention to diversity in family forms and the rights of single mothers, well, then, she was all for them.

"I'm not a single mother," Mary started to say, but she was cut off by a third woman who insisted that swaddling clothes are a form of child abuse, since they restrict the natural movement of babies.

With the arrival of 10 child advocates, all trained to spot infant abuse and manger rash, Mary and Joseph were pushed to the edge of the crowd, where arguments were breaking out over how many reindeer (or what mix of reindeer and seasonal sprites) had to be installed to compensate for the infant's unfortunate religious character.

An older man bustled up, bowling over two merchants, who had been busy debating whether an elf is the same as a fairy and whether the elf/fairy should be shaking hands with Jesus in the crib or merely standing to the side, jumping around like a sports mascot.

"I'd hold off on the reindeer," the man said, explaining that the use of donkeys and oxen as picturesque backdrops for Nativity scenes carries the subliminal message of human dominance. He passed out two leaflets, one denouncing manger births as invasions of animal space, the other arguing that stables are "penned environments" where animals are incarcerated against their will. He had no opinion about elves or candy canes.

Signs declaring "Free the Bethlehem 2" began to appear, referring to the obviously exploited donkey and ox. Someone said the halo on Jesus' head was elitist.

Mary was exasperated. "And what about you, old mother?" she said sharply to an elderly woman. "Are you here to attack the shepherds as prison guards for excluded species, maybe to complain that singing in Latin identifies us with our Roman oppressors, or just to say that I should have skipped patriarchal religiosity and joined some dumb new-age goddess religion?"

"None of the above," said the woman, "I just wanted to tell you that the Magi are here." Sure enough, the three wise men rode up. The crowd gasped, "They're all male!" And "Not very multicultural!" "Balthasar here is black," said one of the Magi. "Yes, but how many of you are gay or disabled?" someone shouted. A committee was quickly formed to find an impoverished lesbian wise-person among the halt and lame of Bethlehem.

A calm voice said, "Be of good cheer, Mary, you have done well and your son will change the world." At last, a sane person, Mary thought. She turned to see a radiant and confident female face. The woman spoke again: "There is one thing, though. Religious holidays are important, but can't we learn to celebrate them in ways that unite, not divide? For instance, instead of all this business about 'Gloria in excelsis Deo,' why not just 'Season's Greetings'?"

Mary said, "You mean my son has entered human history to deliver the message, 'Hello, it's winter'?"

"That's harsh, Mary," said the woman.

"Remember, your son could make it big in midwinter festivals, if he doesn't push the religion thing too far. Centuries from now, in nations yet born, people will give each other pricey gifts and have big office parties on his birthday. That's not chopped liver."

"Let me get back to you," Mary said.


Dr Pournelle,

Space solar power--a new way?

This article in EE Times...


... suggests Stirling engines...


  ... as a more efficient way to extract electricity from ground-based solar power farms than photovoltaic solar cell panels.

If this is true on the ground, surely it must be even more true in space, where the true measure of efficiency today is surely not KWh/M^2 of panel, but KWh/Kg to GEO?

The heaviest item in constructing any 'conventional' SSPS are its solar panels.

Using instead a closed-loop heat engine which does not expel and replace its working fluid--in other words, a Stirling engine--in the vacuum of space, where the temperature gradient between one side (in the sun) and the other (in the shade) will certainly be hundreds and possibly thousands of degrees, will make for an extremely efficient system. Then, instead of great panels of photovoltaic panels which will constitute the bulk of the considerable mass of a 'conventional' SSPS, all that would be needed would be a very lightweight concave mirror systems to concentrate solar heat on the sun-facing half of the engine. Properly designed, I imagine these mirrors, made of very thin material similar to that proposed for solar sails, could make use of solar light pressure to shape themselves correctly to reflect light upon the Stirling engine.

The biggest problem would probably be preventing the Stirling engine from melting under excessive heat!

In fact the answer to the heat problem is to have a system of looped pipes that the solar heat is concentrated upon, and through which flows the engine's cooled working fluid on its way back to drive the engine. In this manner, full use of the solar radiation available can be used without any particular point of the engine system being subjected to excessive heating.

Google comes up with little reference to Stirling engines being used in a space context. However it seems NASA has been doing some investigative work on Stirling engines in space already, as we can see here...


... but the work described here seems to be on a much smaller scale than would be needed for an SSPS. However, one page...


... concerns a Deep Space Solar Stirling, where a Stirling unit is developed to replace photovoltaic cells, which become too inefficient for use as a spacecraft's power source beyond the orbit of Mars--but Stirling technology does not.

That would seem to strengthen the case for Stirling-based SSPSs around earth, I think.

(The Stirling engine was invented by the Rev. Robert Stirling in 1816. Naturally, he was Scottish.)

Jim Mangles

Other alternatives to passive solar collectors have also been proposed. It is probably time to do a serious study of these alternatives with real cost estimates; but in every case the cost to orbit will dominate the analysis. And see below.


Subject: MORE Certification?!?

Hi Jerry,

I saw this one after a Fox News story ( http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,139682,00.html ). It says a lot for why our education systems are going to The Hot Place.


Steven Lusk of Johnson City, Tenn., writes:

My wife (BS, Education) and I (BS, Engineering) are both graduates of Eastern Tennessee State. Many of my instructors were more concerned with promoting a liberal PC agenda than teaching the course.

For my wife, it was worse. Her classes were all about PC. She majored in special education and went into the schools almost totally unprepared to handle disabled kids.

I had served 22 years in the armed forces as an engineer and had a background to work with.

Colleges and universities hire instructors who are not prepared to be instructors. They have a master's or doctorate, but aren't required to take classes in how to teach. In all too many classes, the teaching is done by a graduate student who is winging it. Where was the professor?

Maybe it's time states started requiring certification and education classes for post K-12. College is becoming too important for both job skills and the global market, to leave this chore to amateurs with political agendas.


Certification and more classes have helped our K-12 teachers so very much. Why not do the same to our colleges?

If we made you Emperor, would you accept and end this sort of nonsense? Ave Jerry AVE IMPERATOR!

Braxton Cook

I will not run if nominated nor serve if elected...

Subject: Emperors are not elected

"I will not run if nominated nor serve if elected."

Ummm...You have no choice in the matter. We simply declare you to be the Emperor. Tag--you're "it." Of course, once in the position, you can
 choose your successor. Maybe we'll even let him or her serve.

Ave Jerry! Ave Emperor Jerry!

Robin K. Juhl

I am reminded of the scene in which Claudius is carried off from the palace to the Praetorian camp, screaming all the way "But I want the Republic, long life the Republic..."  Of course he then went on to set up the civil service of freedmen that ran the empire and made imperial government possible for centuries. Made an unfortunate choice in wives, though.





CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, December 2, 2004


it's important to peek behind the call for certification and look at the underlying problem the writer complains of: bad teaching. I recently spent a year getting my Master of Laws degree in environmental law, taught by one of the most highly regarded faculties in the world. Yes, they were in fact all very, very knowledgeable about the fields they taught, but almost none could pass on that knowledge in a coherent fashion. They were great doers, poor teachers.

I agree that certification is a bad solution to this problem. Perhaps requiring some level of training in how to teach isn't a bad idea, though, for full professors. Granted, some of my worst professors were adjunct faculty, teaching because of their positions in the field, and that wouldn't touch them, but there are things to be taught on how to pass on information in a useable fashion. I spent two years in charge of instructing the army's prosecutors, and it's a different skill from actually being a good prosecutor.

Another topic that's been raised where I have no solution, but want to gripe anyway. My status as an army officer gives me the constitutional right to complain, so at least I'm on solid ground there.


Both you and Mr. Cook have a knack for rather dry humor, so it is a bit difficult to decide who has missed the point of what...

The certification industry has this problem: in general the people who are credential gatekeepers may have zero experience in doing that which they teach. Few professors of education have ever taught anyone to read, yet they teach those who are to do it. Few professors of education have ever taught math to teen age boys, but they are expected to teach those who do. In my experience the people who are best at teaching math to teen agers are US Air Force instructors who do this all the time; but on retirement they are not qualified to tech math in high schools, while someone just out of a teacher's college having been instructed by people who never taught math to teenagers or haven't done so in twenty years, are fully qualified.

The solution to all this is to abolish all "credentials" for teaching and leave the matters to local school boards; and make the school districts controlled by those boards fairly small, a few thousand students at most and preferably smaller. At the same time, reduce the state contribution to local schools and pretty well end Federal contributions to education with the possible exception of across the board grants for specific equipment. In other words, make the local community pay at least some of the costs so that local citizens will be concerned that their money is being well spent. If you give over the hiring of teachers to local boards, and end the certification madness, you will have confusion for a while, but you'll get some very good schools as examples to the rest. What we are doing now almost guarantees failure.

As to the role of the Federal Government: if Congress can make the schools of Washington DC the envy of the world, then it need not mandate its methods to the rest of the country because most will adopt them voluntarily; and in any event Washington will have shown the country why it is qualified to tell the rest of us how to educate our children. At the moment, no one in his right mind would adopt the DC school system as a model for voluntary imitation.

I will agree with your point, that teaching many subjects is not the same as teaching people how to teach those subjects: but I will submit that if you haven't taught anyone to read, there is no strong reason to suppose you know how to do it, or that you are able to teach someone else how to do it. I could say the same for dozens of other subjects. If you have never built a model airplane, you probably shouldn't be teaching classes on how to build them. If you can't fix a broken toilet, then teaching shop classes in plumbing is probably a lot easier than doing plumbing yourself, but your success is problematical.

Great pilots are not necessarily great instructors, but we don't have groundlings running pilot schools.


The more we pay, the less we get. I know; you're both shocked.



Thursday, December 2, 2004 Costly new testing program certifies few teachers

By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer, Stateline.org

More than a year after it was launched, a privately run teacher certification program backed by $40 million in federal grants is accepted in only four states and has certified only a half dozen teachers.

The program, known as the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), grew out of a $5 million federal grant awarded in 2001 to two nonprofit think tanks -- the National Council on Teacher Quality and the Education Leaders Council -- to develop a streamlined process to certify teachers.

The groups launched ABCTE, which requires applicants to pass two online tests. Its goal was to make it easier and cheaper for professionals to change careers and enter the classroom, even though they might lack a bachelor’s degree in education and the student teaching usually required for certification.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Education gave ABCTE a five-year $35 million operational grant and promised that those certified under the program would be deemed “highly qualified” under the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.

That federal law requires all of the nation’s public school teachers to be state-certified, hold a bachelor’s degree and prove their subject knowledge by the spring of 2006.

But only Florida, Idaho, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania recognize ABCTE. And only Florida automatically certifies people who pass the testing.

The other three states require individuals who pass the ABCTE tests to meet additional requirements for certification, such as completing a mentoring program with an experienced teacher or passing a series of professional development courses.

Moreover, only 13 prospective teachers have gone through the program so far, and just six of them have found teaching jobs, ABCTE spokeswoman Abbe Daly told Stateline.org.

Another 109 applicants are taking part in the program but have not completed the testing, she said.

After paying $500, would-be certified teachers can download preparation materials or sign up for online courses to prepare for a test on teaching techniques and a subject test covering elementary education, mathematics or English. They also must hold a bachelor’s degree and pass a criminal background check.

Randy Thompson, vice president of marketing and business for ABCTE, said the program has succeeded in its initial goal of creating “valid, rigorous exams” despite the small numbers of participants.

“Early on, there were those who said this is nothing more than an exam,” Thompson said. “This is not a test only, this is a process: an accelerated, individualized program,” he said.

David Griffith, a spokesman for the National Association of State Boards of Education, called ABCTE a “financial boondoggle.”

“(The program) is a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “All 50 states already have alternative certification programs.”

In fact, there are 89 alternative teacher certification programs across the nation; 60 percent of them require practice teaching and 85 percent require prospective teachers to take the same written tests for both the traditional and alternative certifications, according to a 2004 report by the U.S. Department of Education.

Eric Hirsch, a researcher at the Southeast Center for Teacher Quality, said the more demanding alternative routes to teaching are producing more educators.

Hirsch cited the Troops to Teachers program, which gives retiring military personnel $5,000 towards completing a state’s teacher certification requirements. It placed 404 teachers in classrooms within a year of its 1994 launch, and has placed 6,533 teachers in its 10-year history.

The tepid response to ABCTE may be just the start of its problems. U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) has asked the federal Government Accountability Office to investigate whether grants were awarded because of the program’s ties to Eugene Hickok, now under secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. Hickok was a co-founder of the Education Leaders Council, one of the groups that developed the testing program.

A press release from Miller also cites reports that two out of three Department of Education reviewers rejected ABCTE’s grant requests.

“The awarding of these grants to applicants who do not appear to meet the standards proscribed for grantees in the statute or by independent peer reviewers raises serious questions,” Miller said in a prepared statement. “The association of these grantees to high-ranking Department of Education officials compounds these concerns.”

Related stories: Teacher Certification plans dodge budget cuts, States to get ‘help’ on teacher mandates

Send your comments on this story to letters@stateline.org. Selected reader feedback will be posted in our Letters to the editor section.

Contact Eric Kelderman at: ekelderman@stateline.org






Energy from Space.

Jerry, I have been messing with engineering all my life and am mildly amazed that the Stirling engine can be persuaded to more than demonstrate that the principle works. Of course, in space you have enormous temperature differences over short distances which is a big advantage but you also have the problem of getting your mechanic up there to mend your engine when it wears out or breaks as it will. Would it not be better to use the mature and highly developed technology of the turbine with its fewer wearing parts and no reciprocating masses?

 Put Stirling engines on the ground and they can be fixed by a regular mechanic in a pickup truck using ordinary tools. You might get Stirling engines to work in space with Burt Rutan in charge but not with NASA as they are at the moment. Then there is the question of getting the energy back to earth. What are the power losses? What are the implications if the beam drifts or is pointed at a city by a hostile power? An essay by you or one of your readers who has studied this would be much appreciated.

John Edwards

You raise several points but not of equal importance. If significant power exists in space, getting it to Earth is a solved problem, with enough methods that the main consideration is economic. Microwaves work, and the only question are the sizes of the sending and receiving antennae. A simple feedback loop takes care of beam walking: the power to collimate the beam is drawn from power received from the ground station, having been retransmitted back up. If the beam walks off target, there is no collimating power, and the beam disperses. Other such problems have long ago been solved and the details accounted for.

I would myself think passive solar a better collector in space than any active machinery precisely because of the maintenance problem. These are matters for operations research and systems analysis once there are sufficient data to be analyzed. At the moment the cost to orbit is the driving factor: if that's cheap enough, then getting riggers to orbit for maintenance is merely a matter of developing good space suits (we don't have any decent suits at the moment) and we know how to do that.

Beam densities aren't weapons capable: this isn't a sun gun. And the answer to "what happens if a hostile power beams energy toward one of our cities" isn't a lot different from the question "what happens if the Peruvian Navy bombards San Diego," or "what happens if France bombs Washington," is it?


Space Access Update #107 12/02/04 Copyright 2004 by Space Access Society ______________________________________

Commercial Space Launch Bill Nears Final Test In Senate Urgent - Call Or Fax Both Your Senators Before Monday 12/6/04!

When last we saw HR 5382 (The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, which does useful things for would-be private space passenger carriers) it had just been approved by the House of Representatives. (See http://www.space-access.org/updates/sau106.htm  for details. ) (By the way, thanks again for your efforts! 5382 needed a two-thirds majority to pass the House under the streamlined procedure used in the last- second Congressional rush, and got it, barely - chances are good you all made the difference in that one.)

At the time, we told you that the Senate might also pass HR 5382 before this 108th Congress gives way to the newly elected 109th (at which point all unfinished 108th business simply goes away) but we were a little short on details, and asked you all to stand by.

Alas, we're still a little short on details, but the time has come to act. HR 5382 does still have a long-shot chance to pass, we know that. This Congress will be back in session one last time early next week, mainly to once again try to pass two major bills, the huge catchall "omnibus budget" spending measure and the "9/11" intelligence agencies reorganization. The situation is complicated - more about it in the "Background" section below - but what you can do to improve 5382's odds is simple:

Between now and the beginning of next week, contact both Senators from your state and ask them to support HR 5382. The mechanics of this should be familiar by now, though given that we have a bit more time (Monday December 6th is the earliest the Senate might look at HR 5382 again) you have some options:

Phone Call

If you don't have the phone number of your two Senators' DC offices handy, log on to http://www.vote-smart.org and enter your nine-digit zip code in the Find Your Representatives box, and scroll down to "Senators". Then phone both Washington DC offices (the area code 202 numbers) and tell whoever answers that you're from [your hometown], and you're calling to ask Senator [your Senator's name here] to support HR 5382. If they ask you for more info, do your best to provide it (take a quick look at "Background" below - the short version is "because it's important for the success of the new commercial space flight industry") then thank them for their time and ring off. If you get answered directly by a voicemail (more likely over the weekend) give the same basic short pitch.


If you fax, be polite, brief, and straightforward - keep it well under one page of reasonably large and readable print (a paragraph that's read is better than an essay that isn't), make your basic point at the start, support it briefly, then sign it with your name, city, and state and send it. (No paper-mail letters - word is those currently are backed up for months by security checks - and email comes in such volumes that individual emails carry little weight. If you want to write, fax it if you can.)


EVERBODY reading this who votes in the US needs to do this - every Senator counts, as the only way the Senate will consider HR 5382 in the very short time remaining in this Congress is under "unanimous consent" rules - meaning all it takes is one Senator to put an (anonymous by Senate custom) "hold" on HR 5382 and the bill is dead.

Our information is that when HR 5382 came up the week before last, several Senators did so - but we don't know anything useful about who, or why - all we have is rumor and speculation.

Our estimate of the situation is that any attempt to do precise targetting or message-tailoring would likely do more harm than good. Our best shot is to contact the entire Senate and make the positive case for HR 5382 to each and every Senator. If we're lucky, the combination of constituent interest, information, and possible persuasion from fellow Senators who've also been hearing about it will sway all the holdouts. As we said, it's a bit of a long shot - but every last one of you can help improve the odds. As soon as we've sent this out, we're going to go look up the numbers and make the calls - you do it too!

For more info on the history and content of HR 5382, see http://www.space-access.org/updates/sau105.htm  and http://www.space-access.org/updates/sau102.htm.  (HR 5382 is the latest hard-fought compromise version of HR 3752, which in turn started out life as HR 3245.)

Our Brief Supporting Pitch

This new commercial space passenger industry has huge promise. It's appropriate to have the FAA stringently regulate risk to uninvolved bystanders from the start, but the technology is still brand new and there's a lot yet to learn about the best most reliable ways to do things. Industry participants have to be able to take some risks in these early days in order to learn enough so that rockets can eventually be as safe as airplanes took generations of accumulated aviation experience to get.

Some Points From The Chair Of The House Science Committee

This bill concerns the commercial space flight industry, an industry that is now of interest only to entrepreneurs and daredevils and should not be regulated as if it were a commercial airline acting as common carrier...

The bill does give FAA unlimited authority to regulate these new rockets to ensure that they do not harm anyone on the ground and to ensure that the industry is learning from any failures. The bill also gives FAA additional authority after 8 years by which time the industry should be less experimental.

[SAS note - this new compromise provision has caused some confusion - our understanding is it allows FAA AST to regulate only specific matters that have caused actual problems for passenger/crew safety for the first 8 years.]

[Aircraft industry-style "mature technology" regulation] would be the equivalent of not letting the Wright Brothers test their ideas without first convincing federal officials that nothing could go wrong.


Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote radical reductions in the cost of reaching space. You may redistribute this Update in any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety. You may reproduce sections of this Update beyond obvious "fair use" quotes if you credit the source and include a pointer to our website. _______________________________________________

Space Access Society http://www.space-access.org  space.access@space-access.org 

"Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System" - Robert A. Heinlein


Subject: 2 questions


Please publish again the url for the nasal irrigator. I now use a cpap machine and it's time I had one.

And what is the meaning of the letters you occasionally insert at the end of a section? The lower case d and so forth?

Thanks, Fred

Fred Collington Oracle DBA

Your first is easy:

I have said this before but it is worth repeating:

I daily thank heaven for:

which is a nasal pump thing that opens up my nasal passages and sinuses enough to let me breathe. Without it I'd be addicted to nose drops, which are pretty awful things.

In fact I am not sure how I would have got through this without being able to blast open my nasal passages for a night's sleep.

As to the second, if you ever figure that out, I may have to shoot you.


More on Certification:

Dr Pournelle,

In reading the note from Mr Lusk about certifications of post K-12 teachers I have to interject something.

The certification process is a very deceptive band-aid that leads down a slippery slope that our University's have already gone down (University profit over quality of education). The premise that if the University (or school) doesn't do the job we should pay for certification testing is silly. The certification testing service (that, by the way, owns a certification testing educational service) just leaves us with an individual with lots of credentials and certifications (that they have now paid for twice to a University and a certification service) with what will likely be a minimum of education and training in their field of endeavor.

I find myself unemployed for the first time (due to the folding of my employer) and looking for a job in the IT market. I have a recent MS (Computer Science) and an old BS (Electrical Engineer) and 15 years of experience. Yet I when I talk to employers they want to know if I have a Microsoft certification or a Sun certification or a Project Management certification (PMI). These things dilute the value of ever having gone to school while padding the pocket of certification facilities. Though this type of thing is at an all time high in the IT field I see it coming in the educational field. It's been around the engineering field for a long time in the PE system. I have no argument with continuing education and I do believe it's absolutely necessary to keep technical people in a continual cycle of learning as technology moves on. However the certification system, particularly in IT, is just silliness. I passed the Sun Java Programmer Certification test about 6 weeks ago. I did a lot of hiring of programmers in my previous position and I must say, this test was utterly devoid of any meaning from the perspective of someone hiring a programmer. Yet when looking for a job that certification seems to take the spotlight over education and experience. It's really maddening... However I did have to pay to take the test so someone came out better for the experience (just not me or my future employer).

James Kimble Loveland, Ohio


Dr. Pournelle,

You state "Great pilots are not necessarily great instructors, but we don't have groundlings running pilot schools." which is barely correct... We don't have non-pilots teaching students how to fly but a percentage of USAF instructor pilots are "FAIPs", short for First Assignment Instructor Pilots. These instructors graduate from pilot training and instead of going to a major weapon system or operational assignment, they are given 6 months of focused instructor training (the same training all instructor pilots go through) and then spend the next 3 years as flight instructors.

The system works because after spending a year learning how to fly, they then spend another 6 months not only polishing their flying skills but also learning how to instruct, which as you point out are two entirely different skills. Even after finishing the instructor course, these FAIPs are mentored and monitored as they gain crucial "real world" experience that they will then pass along to their students. A typical FAIP is skilled and takes his or her job very seriously, so their instructor skill set tends to lack only 2 items - seasoned judgement based on experience and maturity, and experience in various flying environments so they often can't pass along those unwritten "there I was..." rules and tricks. We have both regulatory policies and unwritten rules that are used to balance the experience level any given student sees through their training, so it works out well. We get the energy of these fresh pilots in the squadron, and the more experienced instructors monitor things and round out the instruction with a more mature outlook.

It's rather how a school ought to be run, but of course nowadays a fully credentialed new teacher might be offended if they were required to be monitored/mentored by more experienced teachers because that might somehow imply that they were inferior or less qualified, even though they both have the same piece of paper saying they're fully certified.

Sean Long


Dr. Pournelle,

This film will be unlike any look at the USAF anyone has ever seen. As an F-15E pilot, I STRONGLY recommend this one. I haven't seen the entire film and don't know all the details about the presentation, but I personally know some of the people doing the flying and much of the flying in this film will probably never be seen anywhere else. If you want a glimpse of my job, watch this film in the biggest IMAX theater you can find.


Sean Long



CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  December 3, 2004

Dear Jerry:

You wrote: "but creating a czar who controls all the intelligence budgets is an act of national insanity."

Why? I'm not saying you're wrong - far from it. But I just don't understand the logic of your argument.

If a bunch of independent agencies competing and reporting to the President is a good thing, why not the same situation reporting to a "czar" who then reports to the President?

Granted selection of the right person would be critical, but so is selection of the right President. And he (the President) has a lot more on his mind: domestic policies, basic politics, foreign (non-intelligence or war) affairs, even running his Party and legacy issues. Isn't it more likely that a single soul whose only concern is intelligence would be less likely to "not hear" or not notice some essential scrap of information?

On the plus side the advantages of such a czar to make things happen fast would be greatly enhanced, wouldn't it? If Agency Y is doing sterling work and Agency Z is peddling crap wouldn't a "benevolent despot" be in the best position to allocate resources based on results - in real time - rather than the Congressional budget process?

I know nothing of the innards of how this works, so I'm really just asking. Somehow I'd feel quite a bit safer with another Bill Casey in charge of everything than the situation we have now - where am I going wrong?

All the best--

Tim Loeb

Apologies for being unclear. There are many aspects to the control of intelligence. One is control of the agents and methods for gathering intelligence. Different government agencies have different needs. Consolidating control of all the budgets means that some agencies are likely to be starved while others are stuffed. As an example, HUMINT (human intelligence: field agent, spies, contacts with diplomatic sources, encouragement of defectors) vs. ELINT (electronic intelligence AKA national technical means, satellites, wire taps, satellite interception of cell phone conversations, etc.) battle for financial resources, and the one or the other expands as its opponent contracts. We have seen this happen to the extent that we have set up competing agencies because otherwise one wins out and starves the other.

Navy, Air Force, Army, State, Commerce, DEA, and the FBI all have different intelligence priorities.

Allocation of resources to these competing users needs to be held at a very high level, the White House or the Congress, because ultimately such decisions have political consequences; handing this over to "professionals" means relinquishing control from the political agencies which the public holds responsible and giving over the control to faceless bureaucrats who may or may not be more competent than the Congress and White House and Heads of Departments, but certainly are less responsible to the public.

However: once information has been gathered, then it will be interpreted by the sponsoring agencies and that is all to the good; but the tendency is to hoard this sacred gold, and that is not good. Setting up centralized interpretation organizations to receive all the information and form a national intelligence estimate makes a great deal of sense.

In practice there is always compromise; but putting all one's intelligence eggs in one bureaucratic basket seems to me the height of folly.

Subject: intelligence bill

In deciding the merits of the intelligence bill, it is instructive to remember the impact of the administration's last intelligence czar, Ahmed Chalabi.

Lloyd Arnold Winterville, North Carolina



Dear Dr. Pournelle:

In A COUNTRY MADE BY WAR, Geoffrey Perret argues that the SIOP was conceived as a first-strike plan; that upon detecting Soviet preparations for an attack on the US, the military would go to the President, present its proof, and wipe the Soviet Union off the map together with its allies before the Soviets could strike. A full-scale nuclear war without a nuclear 'exchange,' in other words.

Given that this is the best possible outcome of a nuclear war (all the damage being done to the enemy, none to ourselves), do you agree with Perret that this was the goal of the SIOP? He states that it's obvious from the list of targets, but I don't have access to that information.


Steven G. Johnson

The SIOPs -- Single Integrated Operational Plan -- were strategic war plans. For nuclear war they were target lists. There were several, one for retaliation, another for pre-emptive strikes to "win" the war. No one in his right mind thought that "win" would be a good idea. Even in the 50's when there was considerable sentiment for pre-emptive war lest Russia overrun Europe and become so powerful that it couldn't be stopped, the consequences -- loss of at least some American cities -- were too grave for Eisenhower seriously to contemplate unleashing Hell. He did order retaliation in kind, as for example when the RB-47 was shot down over international waters and Eisenhower ordered assassination of Russian officers to be carried out by Army special units and the CIA. This seemed to work: the Russians didn't shoot down any more unarmed observation airplanes over international waters.

One way to gauge the probability of war was to watch armament levels, and one gauge of that was scrap metal prices; Margaret Mead's father perfected that means of war prediction. After WW II, though, everyone was armed to the teeth; the Russians retained most of their WW II armor (much of that eventually ended in Viet Nam where USAF and the Navy blew it away until Congress declined to allow American air support of ARVN in 1975 and Saigon accordingly became Ho Chi Minh City). Since everyone was armed, arms races didn't predict wars. Satellite observations eventually replaced those. As Possony used to put it, "If a guy wants to engage in sexual intercourse with a girl, he can court the girl, he can take flowers to her mother, he can bring candy, but at some point he has to unzip his pants." In the case of the Russians in Europe, massing armor near the borders would be the key event: once they started flowing west, there would be no stopping them without nukes.

Since we'd have to use nukes to stop them short of the Rhine, we had to think about what next: would they retaliate, and if so how? Was this the trigger event for a full nuclear exchange? If so, wouldn't it be better to strike first and disarm them to the best of our ability? Perhaps if they lost most of their forces they wouldn't launch what was left. Decisions like that can only be made by the President. Unleashing Hell is not something you delegate, and not even Le May wanted that authority. We could, however, delegate the decisions if the war had started: if New York City was gone, and DC was gone, then the generals had to fight the war, and there were SIOPs for that which could be selected and implemented by the CINC SAC. But there was also a SIOP for the situation: the Russians are massing, their big soft liquid missiles are being fueled, their rocket troops have all vanished, and what do we do now? That would be a decision for the President.

There was no single SIOP; but there was one along the lines you indicate; but I do not know anyone who thought that using it would be a good thing or that the war would go well. The survivors might not envy the dead, but it would not be a world one willingly sent to. Unleashing Hell is better in fiction than in the real world.




Subject: Anarchy-tyranny in Britain, and the decline of education


Pretty bad. From what I understand, it is illegal to carry knives in public in several European nations (Sweden being one of them).

On a different subject, this is a test that was given to 11-year-old English boys in 1898:


I have read over it and I can see how each and every thing in there is useful and important as part of a real education, and I also can see how most of it I don't know how to answer. The arithmetic section is pretty much the only part I can handle (math is the one thing college actually did teach me well - I don't remember offhand how to do differential equations but I'm confident that a couple hours with a textbook would bring it back). My mother, after seeing that, commented that it reminded her of how her own mother's baccalaureate examination in Paris struck her as being far more difficult than her own - and I would definitely say that my mother is better educated than I am (although I am trying to remedy that through my own means).

===== Kent Peterson urquan@rocketmail.com

"... 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_


The Cost of AIDS:


Bad blood about black donors 02/12/2004 09:12 - (SA) Sonja Carstens

Pretoria - If you are black or Coloured, the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) does not want your blood.

This came to light in a ruling by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in a case between the SANBS and the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) over the unfair dismissal of a union member.

Poppie Bereng, a nurse, was dismissed because she opposed the SANBS's policy not to use the blood of black or Coloured donors, no matter how long they have been donating blood, because they are considered to be too much of a risk. Their blood is instead incinerated or destroyed in another manner.

The CCMA said Bereng, who is black, had conscientious objections to the policy as a Christian and she was upset because she had to lie to black donors who believed their blood was being used to save the lives of others. Bereng worked on a contract basis for the SANBS before she was given a permanent appointment on July 5.

On July 16, she attended an urgent staff meeting where the shortage of blood was discussed. <snip>


From The Economist:


Nothing exemplifies the power of the courts better than an 11-year-old case that is due to be settled (sort of) in New York City, the home of America's biggest school system with 1.1m students and a budget nearing $13 billion. At the end of this month, three elderly members of the New York bar serving as judicial referees are due to rule in a case brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a leftish advocacy group, against the state of New York: they will decide how much more must be spent to provide every New York City pupil with a "sound basic" education.

The idea that the state must provide a "sound basic" education was laid down by New York's Court of Appeals in 1995. At first blush, the term sounds obvious and modest. In practice, it is anything but. The New York courts have since said that schools must provide an education that gives "the intellectual tools to evaluate complex issues, such as campaign-finance reform, tax policy and global warming". This is a standard most congressmen probably could not meet.

And a comment from another discussion group:

The world "grandiosity" also comes to mind when I think of the pronouncements made about what teachers "should" be able to do. Besides "should" be able to make the learning experience so joyous that no child will have to apply himself to his studies, teachers also "should" be able to:

- Be effective in spite of the behavior of multiple chronically disruptive children

- Simultaneously teach the same subject to kids ranging from dull to gifted and even to those with profound learning disabilities. (Basically, teacher talent nullifies the heredity differences between kids.)

- Maintain "High, Uniform Standards", which basically means have all children be above average.

Teachers seek to be acknowledged as "professionals", but to accomplish the above would require them to be at least superhuman and perhaps divine. Perhaps teachers want to be thought of as being able to make a difference that only God could make?

As long as educational policy comes from Fantasyland, we will get nowhere fast. (Actually, "get nowhere expensively" is a better formulation...)


We have already go nowhere expensively but the expenses have only just begun.

Subject: Miltiary training verses public schools and college

Dear Jerry,

I was just reading Bryan's mail for Thursday and your response.

On Military methods of teaching:

I spent 4 years in the Army Security Agency in the early 70's. In those days, NSA had SIGINT units in each branch of the service. I learned more electronics in the ASA Training Center and School at Ft. Devens, MA then I ever learned during my EE program at College. I learned many abstract and useful concepts in college, but as far as circuit design, especially digital design, Ft. Devens did a much better job. For one thing, after class room instruction in theory, they used real systems as examples. "Here, it's broke, figure out why, you have 30 minutes". They had tangible rewards tied to achievement. I went from E1 to E4 in a year.

I also went to West Point Prep School at Ft. Belvoir in 75. For those who don't know, each service maintains prep schools for their academies. Anyone who completes the schools and meets minimum standards gets an appointment to the respective military academy. There are no quota's, anyone who makes the grade gets an appointment. In 10 months we covered ALL of high school math and English and the first year of college English and calculus. Ten months. All of us got very good SAT scores when we were finished. In addition, those of us who were not athletic stars got into the best physical shape of our lives. I was one of those.

How did they do this? They had instructors (notice I did not say credentialed teachers) who knew their subjects very well and who had taught them for several years - in some cases many years.. They had infantry officers and NCO's to handle the PT part. Most of those had combat experience. Those guys had a very unique and practical point of view on handling pain and exhaustion.

If you wanted to get out at night you had to be on the dean's list. When you screwed up, you got punishment detail. We were quartered 10 to a room. No air conditioning, plenty of heat.

Most everyone who attended got appointments to West Point. None of us were genius's. Our IQ's were probably above average, but that's all.

Phil Tharp

PS: I bought the Hydro Pulse based on your recommendation. Wow! In this season, I'm always taking Pseudoephedrine several times a day. In two weeks of having the Hydro Pulse, I've taken Pseudoephedrine only twice. Wow!


Subject: Knives in the UK

It's generally accepted in the UK that Swiss army knives are legal, so the author of the article is likely to prevail. On the other hand, police work attracts the same types in the UK that it does in America, so I'm not surprised at the story. I once had a police officer threaten to arrest me for stealing electricity at Heathrow (I had my laptop plugged in), so I expect you run into officious types everywhere.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Security engineer and analyst. http://www.theworld.com/~herwin/

That officious? Good grief.  But we were born free...

Subject: Shadow over Gravity

Subject is title of cover story by Govert Schilling in 27 November 2004 New Scientist, which can be read online at < http://www.newscientist.com >. Schilling reviews the work by Allais and Saxl & Allen and others whose pendulums showed anomalous behavior during solar eclipses, giving rise to the possibility for the existence of an "ether" permeating space and thereby questioning the Work of Einstein. In fact, the article contains a section titled "Einstein Eclipsed". Nothing definitive has been determined so far and experiments during coming eclipses are planned.


I would be much astonished if a lot came from this, but perhaps.





This week:


read book now


Saturday, December 4, 2004

Subj: Happy Feast of Saint Barbara!

As all who have read Heinlein's _Space Cadet_ know, Saint Barbara is the patron saint of all who work with explosives -- including rockets.

http://sill-www.army.mil/pao/pabarbar.htm  Saint Barbara 

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

And of artillerymen.


Subject: Capitalism in Action !

SOMALIA: Cell Phone Service to Die For


December 4, 2004: For all their faults, the warlords have created enough stability that there is a sharp growth in commercial activity. For example, three cell phone companies compete to provide service ($10 a month for free local calls, 50 cents a minute for international calls and 50 cents an hour to get on the Internet.) Each new cell phone transmitter installed requires that the local warlord get a payment. Everyone recognizes the value of the new phone service, after having gone without for years after the old government run phone company was looted and destroyed. As a result, phone company equipment really is protected by the warlords, who do not want to lose their dial tone. The new phone service is much more cheaper and reliable than the old government owned phone company. This is because there is competition, no government bureaucracy and no taxes. There is some fear that if a new government gets established, regulations and taxes will greatly increase the cost of service, and reduce reliability. Currently, all of Somalia has better, and cheaper, phone service than any of the other nations in the region.

John Monahan

Indeed. And I bet they can come up with some remedies for local spammers, too.


I hesitate to post this:

Subject: 10 years old.


-- Roland Dobbins

And I fear to comment. What would we call an American soldier involved in such matters? Had it been a Jewish girl, we know the phrase to use is anti-Semitic hate crime; do we have a phrase for this instance?

War is Hell, and Hell breeds demons.


Dr. Pournelle:

Remember the "Biosphere II" and the notion that you could reproduce the self-sustaining ecological system that occurs on the Earth's Biosphere inside a sealed greenhouse? Remember how the oxygen levels crashed and the implication was that the Earth's oxygen levels stay regulated is an even bigger mystery?

I read Nick Lane, 2002, Oxygen, Oxford, and his argument is that the atmospheric oxygen is a fossil gas much as oil, gas, and coal are the fossil fuels. While photosynthesis generating oxygen and respiration (animal metabolism, bacterial decay of dead plant matter) are in pretty close balance, the oxygen in the atmosphere is not the result of a precarious balance that "cutting down all the rainforest" is going to upset -- the atmospheric oxygen is vast and burning up the whole biosphere would hardly put a dent in it. What happens is that the small inbalance -- slightly less respiration than photosynthesis -- stems from small amounts of dead organic matter getting sequestered in sedimentary rocks every year representing a small net payment into an oxygen bank, and the net deposits over all geologic history account for the oxygen we have today.

From an accountant's perspective, the entire Earth's store of reduced carbon of biologic origin in sedimentary rock, the fossil fuels, is balanced by the amount of atmospheric oxygen. While fossil fuel is not inexhaustable, we will run out of oxygen by the time we run out of fossil fuel. Not only that, the total oxygen in the air is much easier to measure than the amount of fuel in the ground and it tells us there is a lot of fuel. Now most of the fossil fuel is low grade, the small percent of organics in ordinary sandstones and only a small amount is in the rich deposits known as oil, gas, and coal, so the chance of finding enough oil gas and coal to burn up all the oxygen in the atmosphere is remote.

I am going to try out some numbers -- these are meant to be broad "engineering" estimates to try to get a sense of the proportions involved -- nitpicks that I am off by factors of 2 will be ignored. The concentration of oxygen is 210,000 parts per million (i.e. 21 percent). In 50 years we have boosted atmospheric CO2 by 60 PPM. This is to say we we burn up not only .06 percent of the oxygen in the air every 100 years, every 100 years we are using up .06 percent of the total endowment of fossil fuel.

Also, the "oil peak" people are telling us that there really is only 100 years of conventional oil out there and we have used up half or 50 years worth. If half the CO2 rise is oil and gas, the other half is coal (there is also forest burning as well as some evidence of CO2 sequestration in enhanced plant growth -- remember I am only trying to be accurate by a factor of 2 or so), that is saying the total oil endowment is .03 percent of total fossil fuel. Is oil that rare?

There is another interesting story emerging on atmospheric oxygen in past geologic ages. Based on isotope measures, it is believed that oxygen reached 21 percent and hence the Earth must have had a full endowment of fossil fuel just prior to the Cambrian, which marks the age where geologists start looking for oil. So if people start finding oil in Precambrian rock, we may not have to invoke Thomas Gold and his abiogenic origin of oil theory. We may just have too modest a view of the amount of life before the age of visible fossils starting in the Cambrian. It is also believed that oxygen reached 35 percent during the Carboniforous Age of the great coal swamps, and these oxygen levels allowed jumbo dragonflies to take wing.

It is also believed that oxygen crashed during the Permian, connected in some way to the mass extinction of 250 million years ago. Now oxygen crashing is problematic for me. The way oxygen gets into the air is that volcanoes emit CO2, photosynthesis splits off the O2 and produces reduced carbon in solid form, and the tiny amount of carbon that escapes oxidation gets geologically sequestered. The theory is that mass emissions of methane burnt up all the oxygen -- trouble is that produces oxidized carbon in gaseous form -- CO2 -- and how a gas gets sequestered fast enough to draw down oxygen in the air has not been explained to me.

We will eventually have to do space-solar, nuclear power because we risk drawing down too much oxygen over the very long term, but current reserves of fossil fuels will hardly deplete the oxygen, suggesting that fossil fuel is less rare than we think.

Paul Milenkovic Madison, Wisconsin

Just don't take the Biosphere II experiments as useful: the reason there was an oxygen crash was they forgot that when concrete cures it oxidizes -- indeed that is what concrete curing IS. If they had simply replenished the oxygen their structure was eating they could have had a very interesting experiment; as it was, they got some decent data. Unfortunately control over what might have been a very useful facility went over to people who don't really want to use it that way. Pity, because it had real promise.

As to how they didn't realize that they were hypoxic due to being in a big sealed chamber of curing concrete, I am not sure, but apparently no one thought of it until it was too late.

Had they simply replaced oxygen to get it back to a tolerable level, measuring the amounts, they could then have calculated how much was eaten by the concrete and still had a very good experiment.

That turns out not to be pretty well wrong. See VIEW. And see below.


Doctor Pournelle

I enjoy your anglophobic fulminations, but you recent dissertation contra the ridiculous centralization of US intelligence Agency control referring to my old friend Kim Philby of the 50"s failed to give proper credit to America's own. Surely the recent exploits of Robert Philip Hanssen are much more supportive of your excellent opinions than stale old Philby stories.

Your Constant Reader


Your point is well made. Philby has been brought to my consciousness several times recently. We had no shortage of US traitors either. It is one reason to keep intelligence gathering organizations compartmentalized.

I'm not really an anglophobe. I am horrified by what Britain seems to be doing to itself.


Subject: Bush Arrested in Canada

At least that's what Google reported.



There are some interesting implications to that...


Some common sense on education problems:

Subject: Two Views.


--- Roland Dobbins


Subject: SOMALIA: Cell Phone Service to Die For

If we are serious about providing aid to Africa I suspect the best thing we could do would be put enough equipment into geosynchronous orbit to run a cell phone network covering the continent.

I suspect it could be done for what we are currently spending on aid but on the other hand it wouldn't increase either the power or the Swiss bank balances of friendly dictators.

Neil Craig





CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, December 5, 2004

Subject: America's dumbest criminals

CALLAWAY, Fla. -- Help, police, someone stole my pot!

From http://www.wftv.com/news/3971517/detail.html

A Panhandle couple is under arrest after notifying police Thursday that their quarter-pound stash of marijuana was stolen and that they needed the weed back, because they were going to later sell it.

"They're America's dumbest criminals," said Lt. Ricky Ramie, head of the Bay County Sheriff's Office narcotics task force.

Deputies arrested 18-year-old John Douglas Sheetz and 17-year-old Misty Ann Holmes and charged the duo with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia.

According to the police report, the couple returned to the home they share and found the home broken into and a quarter-pound of marijuana missing. They immediately called authorities to report the break-in and theft.

Police said the couple told them they were going to resell the marijuana and allowed the detectives to search the apartment. Investigators discovered several marijuana stems among other drug paraphernalia during the search, The News Herald in Panama City reported for Saturday editions.

They were taken to the Bay County Jail and are each being held on $17,500 bond.


And don't we all feel ever so much safer with them in jail...

And on the subject of feeling safer:

Subject: They call it a "gaffe"!!!

"Explosives Lost in Airport Gaffe—BBC News, Paris

"Plastic explosives were mistakenly loaded onto a plane at a Paris airport after security officials lost track of it during an exercise, police say. Around 150 grams (about five ounces) of explosive were slipped into the bag of a passenger during sniffer dog training at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. The bag ended up on one of 90 flights leaving at the time, and police are now trying to track it down. They stress the explosive is "no more dangerous than a bar of chocolate". But airlines, airports and police forces around the world have been alerted.

"It was a routine exercise that went wrong."

I'll say! Question is, would they cut the same sort of slack for us poor peons? And this sort of exercise is 'routine'?

full story http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4069785.stm 

Greg Hemsath


Subject: Lessons from Google's goof

Hi Jerry

There is one very clear lesson from the Google goof about Mr Bush being arrested. Information obtained from the internet is only as good as its source.

Google is not a source, it is an index. If Google points you to an article from the NY Times or the Washington Post, you can make a decision on its veracity. If it points you to Crazy Joe's Garage and News Blog, you must again make a decision.

Anybody who assumes that any information from the internet must necessarily be accurate, will undoubtedly receive some bad surprises.

- Michael J Smith michaelj(at)optusnet.com.au


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I understand your hesitation in posting the story of the Palestinian girl being murdered by an Israeli soldier. I know what I would call any soldier in such a situation. A murderer, plain and simple. This was not a situation where bullets were flying, and a bad decision was made in self-defence. This was a killing by an armed man against an unarmed girl, who was trying to get home. He should be prosecuted for his crimes, for what he has done is no different than blowing up a restaurant full of civilians. Please note that I am not anti-Israeli.

Isn't an Arab not a semite? Isn't killing an Arab in such a situation not anti-semitic?
From http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=semite:

1. A member of a group of Semitic-speaking peoples of the Near East
and northern Africa, including the Arabs, Arameans, Babylonians,
Carthaginians, Ethiopians, Hebrews, and Phoenicians.
2. A Jew.
3. _/Bible./_ A descendant of Shem.

How did this term become to only mean the Jews? I am beginning to wonder if the overuse of the term has not leached out any meaning.

Bill Grigg
Kelowna BC


Hi Jerry,

I had thought that the Biosphere II oxygen debacle was simply the concrete curing but it actually turned out to be more complex. Concrete does not absorb (or is it adsorb? - it's a chemical process) oxygen, it absorbs carbon dioxide. So, why were CO2 levels rising? Well, the CO2 levels were rising because the soils were over fertilized and microbial action was making CO2.

Good article on this here: http://www.chemistry.org/portal/a/c/s/1/acsdisplay.html?DOC=vc2%5C2my%5Cmy2_biosphere.html 

These are good lessons for future space habitat designers. I wish that Biosphere II had been handled differently as there was so much we could learn from it.

Cheers, Dave Smith


Subject: Fifth column.

Worth reading, all of it:



-- Roland Dobbins






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