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Mail 340 December 13 - 19, 2004






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Monday  December 13, 2004

We can begin with a trenchant comment by Greg Cochran:

Subject: Norman Mineta

Norman Mineta is good for something: he serves as an existence proof. If an unquenchable desire for freedom burned in every human breast, he wouldn't exist. We'd already have torn him to pieces.

Gregory Cochran

No comment.


And here is one that stumps me:

Good Sir,

 I'll be teaching a section of introduction to American Government next semester. Is there, somewhere in cyberspace, a site or discussion group or something that chats about textbooks.

I was hoping someone like the NAS or Heritage would have a textbook-comment site. Alas.

Yours Aye, Rod

I do not remember my high school civics texts, only that they were very good; better, I thought, than Hugh Bone's text when I took Political Science in college. One needs both the formal material on just how government is supposed to work, and some comments on how it does work.

I would for instructors of government recommend three works: David McCullough's JOHN ADAMS, Chernow's Alexanander Hamilton, and The SACRED FIRES OF LIBERTY which is a biography of Madison. Those will arm the instructor with some idea of the intentions of the framers, and whatever one's views on "the living constitution" and such matter it cannot harm to know what the people who put things together thought.

Depending on the level of the course, I'd strong recommend The Federalist Papers as reading required for an honor grade (you can get a C without it, but not better). But that's me.

And suggestions are welcome on actual texts about which I know little.

See below.


This is being fixed even as I write:

Subject: Ultimate boot cd (Byte article typo)


Just an FYI. I tried the URL in your Byte article for Ult Boot CD.


And it gave me a 404.

Then I thought it might be a transposition, so I tried...


and found it

also found it here.


-- John Harlow, President BravePoint

And thanks.


Subject: 70 yr old called up -

70 yr old called up:

Dr. John Caulfield thought it had to be a mistake when the Army asked him to return to active duty. After all, he's 70 years old and had already retired - twice. He left the Army in 1980 and private practice two years ago.

"My first reaction was disbelief," Caulfield said. "It never occurred to me that they would call a 70-year-old."


Best -J

Now I am worried. But I doubt they need old cannon cockers of my vintage, given that all I know is towed howitzers and some recoilless... I doubt the old analog firing tables I know even exist any longer.


Subject: My vote is 'incompetence' coupled with 'arrogance'.


--- Roland Dobbins

I wish I had evidence to the contrary. Foolishness on stilts.


Subject: 10 year old girl arrested, cuffed, for crime of having scissors in school...

Gee, perhaps she wanted to do some work? How long before a child is seriously damaged by some such incident and a parent decides to even the score?


Scott Miller

Scissors get girl in legal trouble

The 10-year-old was handcuffed and taken to a police station after scissors were found in her book bag.

By Susan Snyder

Inquirer Staff Writer

A 10-year-old fourth-grade girl at Holme Elementary School in the Far Northeast was pulled out of class, handcuffed, and taken to the local police station in the back of a police wagon earlier this week after a pair of 8-inch scissors were found in her book bag, according to authorities and her angry mother.

School district and police officials said yesterday that they were following state law and procedures in dealing with students who have weapons on school property. They say that those rules demand police be called and that procedures call for handcuffing suspects regardless of age or crime.

Porsche Brown's mother, Rose Jackson, was outraged.

"My daughter cried and cried," Jackson said yesterday. "She had no idea what she did was wrong. I think that was way too harsh."

Jackson said principal Ethel M. Cabry had known Porsche for four years and should have called her home.

"I want something done to that principal and that teacher. They didn't notify me about my baby. They called the police," Jackson said.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard acknowledged that Cabry had not called Jackson but said that school police called her when they phoned city police.

School district officials acknowledged that the girl was not using the item as a weapon or threatening anyone with it. The scissors were found Thursday morning during a search of students' belongings after something was discovered missing from the teacher's desk area, Gallard said.

The scissors, however, qualified as a possible weapon under a long-standing state law, and the school followed proper procedure by calling city police, he said.

Porsche will be suspended for five days, and the district will then decide whether to expel her to a disciplinary school or allow her to return to Holme, he said.

City police, meanwhile, decided not to charge her with a crime because they determined that she had no intent to use the scissors as a weapon, said Inspector William Colarulo, a police spokesman. In fact, police believe she had the scissors to unwrap a new CD, Colarulo said.

He defended the police officers' decision to handcuff the child and take her to Eighth Police District headquarters. All suspects, regardless of age or crime, are handcuffed, he said. "The officers acted in good faith," he said.

Jackson, who maintained that her daughter had the scissors for a previous school assignment, said that if the district acted based on state law, the law must be changed.

"This should be done per case," based on circumstances. She said her daughter did nothing to warrant police intervention: "She's like, 'Mom, we use scissors in school.' "

Anarcho-tyranny reigns. Isn't this the city in which the police dropped a firebomb onto a wooden house? But they have a nice Rodan exhibit. A dazzling show of culture. The Inspector should have an exciting new career in dog walking which may be a bit much for his skills, but they could let him try. Certainly he shouldn't be carrying guns. Nor should anyone involved in this.

When you let rules take the place of judgment, when

We The People will of course do nothing. But we were born free.


Eric Schwarz declares war:

Subject: OK, it's clobbering time! (a biologist responds temperately and rationally to Bethell)


On the Tom Bethell column:


This column has one good point and several bad ones.

The good point: we currently have no convincing argument to show even moderately skeptical biologists that stem cells will cure diseases. So supporting this work is a thoroughly speculative effort.

There are caveats I would point out, though.

Some very bright and serious biologists (e.g. Prof. Doug Melton at Harvard) who sometimes have strong personal stakes in the outcome (e.g., Melton again, whose daughers have diabetes) are at least putting their money where their mouth is by getting private funding and redirecting their own research agendas to seeing what stem cells can do. That doesn't involve anything except private money and the biologists' own irreplaceable time and effort. It seems to me that the Meltons of biology may be mistaken, but they're unlikely to be insincere about hoping that stem cells can be good for something.

Which takes me on to the bad points and more caveats. Bethell argues that the human genome project was "wholly hyped", and goes on to suggest that basic research in biology today is being driven solely by the urge to pump biotech share prices and sustain a political consensus. This is grotesquely wrong.

Even if your only goal is to aid physicians by giving them an efficient way to diagnose and understand hereditary diseases, the HGP was a huge money-saving win. It cost roughly $100M to map and clone a single disease gene (for cystic fibrosis) using the old pre-HGP methods. Conversely, having spent only 30 times what the CF gene alone cost us, we now have efficient ways to identify disease-causing mutations in over 20,000 human genes, as well as ways to effectively sort human diseases into clinically different groups by virtue of polymorphic genetic variations (such as those between racial groups) or by their differences in gene expression (as can already being done for various tumors).

Moreover, we've also gotten something like 20K new drug targets for the pharmaceutical companies to try working with, some of which are starting to get drugs into clinical trials now (e.g., www.myriad.com).

About the claim that this research is driven by venality: it's true that some professors in biology also have interests in biotech companies (which they often found). This sort of work was made legal by the Bayh-Dole Act of the early 1980s, and helped expand the U.S. biotechnology industry to the point where it is acknowledged to lead the world. I'd suggest that the risk of venality by some professors is acceptable if it also gives us the possibility of some people taking academic knowledge and working to turn it into things that can actually be of use to normal humans in the free market. I also know, first-hand, that at least some people in academia work hard to keep their academic and corporate interests in proper balance. Sean Eddy makes no headlines for having open-sourced HMMER (hmmer.wustl.edu) while selling expanded versions to corporations, but he's set a fine role model of what's possible, one that Bethell ignores. Meanwhile, the bulk of biological research is done by grad students and postdocs who themselves aren't rich, don't expect to get rich, and (while having plenty of moral flaws) are at least somewhat free from venality themselves, and quite sincere about believing that their work might end up mattering (sincere enough to use up their 20s and 30s working in labs, with very little job security until some of them finally get tenure).

About the claim that, in basic science, "consensus replaces competition": wrong. Just. Stupidly. Wrong. For details, I suggest reading about what life in a molecular biology lab is actually like. Examples of good books are _The Eighth Day of Creation_ by Horace Judson, _Natural Obsessions_ by Natalie Angier, _The Common Thread_ by John Sulston, or _The Genome War_ by James Shreeve. Anybody who can read those and then tell me to my face, with a straight face themselves, that biology's not "competitive" will get a gold paper star. I don't expect to have to hand out many.

Finally, Bethell seems to have a flattering sense of the time scale with which basic science can be made into practical remedies even with the best intentions in the world by honest scientists taking tax money from the public. For instance, in the last half-decade, protease inhibitors have seriously reduced the fatality of HIV infections. The development of these drugs would have been impossible without a great deal of basic research into the molecular biology of protein structures and retroviruses -- both of which were academic topics in molecular biology, paid for by public tax money, well before anybody even knew AIDS existed, let alone that we would need a way to make effective drugs to control it. But when was this basic work funded? Answer: the 1950s through the 1970s. The payoff came in the late 1980s when various academic professors helped start biotech companies to try exploiting the basic research and get new drugs made.

Another example: Gleevec, one of the first effective drugs to come out of basic research on the molecular biology on cancer. When was its target gene first observed? In the early 1970s, actually (as a chromosomal rearrangement) with the cloning coming by the early 1980s. And when did this finally get us an effective anti-leukemia drug? Twenty years later. Could that drug possibly have been invented without the basic research into DNA sequencing and cloning that allowed the ABL protein to be isolated and studied in a pharmaceutical lab? No. Would Bethell have been supporting such research in the 1980s? Apparently not, since it didn't *instantly* produce Gleevec.

Nobody chooses to spend their lives working in academic laboratories because all they want is a soft, well-funded job. Trust me on this one! Getting a Ph.D. in molecular biology is only an easy path to riches in the minds of crazy people. And anybody bright enough to not only do it well but also ambitious enough to want serious money has the brains to get out of basic research and do something that *really* brings in the money -- like, say, emulating John Edwards and becoming a trial attorney. Perhaps Bethell'd prefer that. For better or worse, though, I didn't, and neither did a number of other people, and that's what accounts for such scientists as the United States has left.

If people want a world without government-funded basic research in the sciences, please, let them at least first think long and hard about what they imagine they would get in its place. I know too well that many scientific projects end up being wastes of money that go nowhere. I also know first-hand that even the best biologists are flawed human beings. But I also know that if you aren't willing to support the effort to improve human knowledge and expand human abilities to control nature, what *are* you going to support?

--Erich Schwarz, Ph.D.

Several points come to mind. First, while people who spend their lives doing research have one set of goals, those who spend their lives administering science programs are not often made of the same stuff; indeed, the temperament for collecting the credentials for doing management of Big Science while having the desire to run such programs often results in exactly the kind of person you do not want in the job. Examples from NASA come to mind instantly.

Second, AIDS research is a terrible example to use when you talk about public money and science, since the allocation of resources always goes to those in political favor, to the point where even tiny amounts to perform experimtum crucii on popular theories are never available, in theory because doing crucial experiments to confirm or falsify current theories would take money from running full steam ahead on those theories; in practice that's nonsense, and everyone knows it. It's not the cost of doing the crucial experiments that is preventing them: it's the fear that they might not turn out well, and some fundamental theories would have to be reexamined and there might be a reallocation of public money.

I am not Tom Bethell and I can't speak for him, but I didn't read anything in his essay about private investment or contribution money at all, (other than a desire to cash in, which I found interesting and I know from experience has happened in the past) and I don't know of any prohibition on using private investment or contribution funds for any kind of stem cell research.

California, on the other hand, is about to borrow $3 billion at a time when the state debt is so high that we will have to sell bonds with a value of $6 billion to raise that much money: and while we haven't any notion of how to spend most of that effectively, there is no question of where and to whom the money will go. I predict there will be some wide cashouts of investors, and some new chairs in Universities: I will not predict the miracle cures, which may or may not be coming. I can hope for them, but throwing money at a scientific, as opposed to an engineering, problem seldom works. Technology can be created on demand; science theory may or may not be. Helmholz observed that the most practical thing in the world is a good theory; and sometimes the Edison approach (try thousands of things) works (as with light bulbs) and sometimes it does not (as with his efforts to find anti-gravity or a gravity screening substance).

The allocation of public money and its influence on science is a topic that would stand a lot more research and effort than I have time to give it: but from all I have seen, the AIDS research programs give me a less than laudatory model of the influence of big public money on science in biology; while Global Warming and Kyoto tell me more than I like to know about the influence of big public money on environmental science.

I don't say I entirely agree with Tom Bethell; but I think those views need to be taken seriously when big money allocations are at stake.

Do note that I am not at all saying there ought not be public money spent on basic research in areas with no immediate payoffs; I do question the management of those. Bell Labs was once the advanced planning department of the human race, but it was an artifact of AT&T being a regulated public utility and the far sightedness of the regulators. 

Bell Labs worked. There was another candidate: Walt Disney once hired the Pepperdine Desearch Institute (when I was President of PRI) to look into a research center to be called Experimental Program Community of Tomorrow in which actual science research was the goal: EPCOT was to be supported by tourist revenue, with Disneyworld bringing the tourists to the area, and EPCOT then taking advantage of that to attract tourists who would spend money that would then be spent on this self-supporting science community. The staff would live there, work there, and govern the place, with the revenue coming in allocated by those who lived in the community and directed its research efforts. Needless to say none of this plan for EPCOT survived Disney's death, and last time I went to EPCOT I found the only "research" was a small pool with some starfish in it, and one Ph.D. scientist on staff. Perhaps that is gone now. Certainly there are no energy research laboratories or the big biological research facilities we had planned.

Government labs have sometimes done good work, sometimes not. Los Alamos was wonderful in its day, but seems to have become a bit less than that now, with some rather odd management. I don't have a lot of experience with NIMH and such, but I gather it's not entirely the best example for science management. And of course we have NASA.

Public money shapes the direction of science research. Does it always do that in a beneficial manner?

Subject: somewhat more on the issues you raise


Thanks for your reply. For whatever reason, I find your points fairer than Bethell's.

I agree that public money doesn't always drive science research in good directions. Ironically, the most successful instance I personally know of where that money has, by all accounts, gone to reasonably good use has been the funding of university biological research by NIH. Initially, Harry Truman was highly skeptical about this idea because he had a hard time imagining that scientists would be able to peer-review one another and have the results come out well. But competition for limited funds and an ethic of scientific integrity managed to keep at least some money going to genuine merit -- certainly, more so than in almost any other country funding biological research. Conversely, cases like California's funding of stem-cell research aren't driven by scientists themselves (a tiny voting bloc) but by general public sentiment, which can be less reliable. And, on the third hand, a lot of good biological research with long-term benefits has been funded on the basis that it might help cure cancer, even though the connections to cancer were sometimes rather tenuous.

So to anybody who wants to fund biological research, I guess my advice would be: keep it reasonably abundant; keep it finite and competitive; keep it peer-reviewed, not because scientists are infallible but because academic snobs are maybe somewhat less driven by fads than popular votes like the stem-cell initiative; and require scientists to give accountings of their work, both to their funding agencies and to the public; and have a *mixture* of funding agencies, both tax-supported and privately funded, so that no one ideology can control all the purse strings. Beyond that, there are no silver bullets. Biological research is as subject to Sturgeon's Law as any other human activity. But the 10% that beats that law can almost literally turn lead into gold.

If there is any one of these that I think most biologists probably don't think enough about, it's the last of those -- popularization. My personal experience is that the American public are strongly in favor of biological research *if* somebody will bother to explain to them in normal English prose what it is. My further personal experience is that biologists tend not to notice the link between tolerating poor public explanations of science (and poor public education generally) to their difficulties in making the case for more funding...

As for the management of large publicly funded projects: this is a fair and good question. I don't know if there's *any* way to avoid sclerosis of management, except to try like crazy to keep the field overall in an innovative frame of mind. That in turn may simply mean not having all the projects be too expensive. Such limited encounters as I've had with NIH management have made me hopeful that NIH isn't NASA (yet). But if NIH projects cost as much as Shuttle flights, I'm sure that we'd be in the same boat. What may have saved NIH (so far) is that funding individual laboratories for 1-5 year periods comes closer to the spirit of "X projects" than anything NASA has done in too long.

In the case of the management of the Human Genome Project, biologists themselves aren't all in agreement, even though they generally agree that the HGP itself was worth the money. The actual story of how the HGP was run is a fascinating case study: it turns on the conflict between two viewpoints of scientific management, that of the academic biologists running the public project versus that of Craig Venter and his coworkers at Celera. The two books I cited on the genome project probably give as good an overview as is currently available, and will probably convince most readers that there is no one answer to this. Without Celera's competition, the public HGP might well have dragged on for several more years before finally adopting the faster methods that let it get a draft human sequence done by 2001. Yet, without the public HGP's ethic of open access and perfectionist completion, we'd have neither a freely available genome nor a gap-free one. That's probably the only test case in history so far where two different approaches (public vs. private) were tried on a large-money problem in biology at once. I think it's telling that neither side was necessarily all right or all wrong.

In the case of California stem cells, I'm afraid you may be right: this isn't something that a state in a budget deficit should be spending three billion dollars on. I can only hope that the money ends up not being squandered and that we don't get too many other cases of such lump-sum expenditures.

--Erich Schwarz

You will note I said NIMH in my horrible examples, not NIH; I agree that NIH has done pretty well. So has NSF, which I sometimes cite as an example of what government can do right, and as one of the few agencies in government I think may be underfunded.

But if they had got ten billion for a single project you would be sure that the parasites would attach themselves and the project would cost $20 billion and never get finished. Too much money simply attracts parasites. It's a Pournelle/Niven law. Parasite control is the key to science management.

The Genome Project is a different kettle of fish: it was valuable, all right, but the hype, much of it coming from people who wanted more money for their part of it, promised far too much. Bethell is right in pointing out that what the public has been led to expect seems awfully slow in coming -- and as you say, there hasn't been a lot of explanation as to what we did get out of it either.



This week:


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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Subject: I assume you've seen this. If not,...

Schneier on same personal computing: <http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2004/12/safe_personal_c.html>

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her

I think he has gone a bit too far here. I don't do that much.

Subject: Google to start scanning for the global virtual library

Didn't Mr. Heinlein say one of the greatest challenges facing the human race was the crisis of the library? Also Jerry, this will be overkill on your prediction that any answer will be quickly availabile to anyone through computer technology.

(Sorry for the URL, but it was like that when I found it.)


Greg Hemsath


Subject: Protected Kids


Have you seen this?

http://cms.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20041112-000010.html >


I tend to agree.


Subject: This week's column - rechargeable batteries and digi-cams

While I agree with you that rechargeable NiMh cells are the way to go for dig-cams, it hasn't been since the days I used an old Kodak DC2120 that I've needed more than 2 sets (1 plus a spare), and the second set is for peace of mind only. These days I use a Casio Z4 (credit card sized, about 1" deep, 3x optical zoom, 4M pixels) which is good for a couple of hundred shots on a charge and a Fuji S7000 (small SLR sized, 6x optical zoom, 6M pixels) which can manage approx 350 shots from a set of NiMh cells.

Both of these cameras are spectacularly better than the old Kodak and the Fuji has finally got me to abandon my trusty Minolta Dynax SLR. I'd suggest it may also be time to retire your current model.







This week:


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Wednesday, December 13, 2004

On Rocket Science

This is an odd mail in that it's a mail from me, but it belongs here rather than in view. It begins with a discussion in another conference in which someone said, of evolution:

You really need to crack that Gillespie book that I ref'd earlier in this thread ("A concise intro to pop genetics"). I go on and on about this b/c talking to you about evolution is like talking about routing algorithms to someone who's only read Wired, yet has STRONG opinions on what network architecture should be used.

At some point, there is no substitute for actual technical knowledge. Pop sci textbooks give people the impression they've understood without the tools to do any calculations. Unfortunately this is most problematic in the "sexiest" fields, like quantum mechanics, neuroscience, and evolutionary theory.

Bottom line: referencing Dennett as an example of what evolutionary theory is about is like referencing the Science Times as an example of what string theory is about. Read the papers and the equations, not the nontechnical popularizations, and maybe then you'll understand why the appellation of "ultra Darwinian" is such a foolish misnomer.

For some reason this annoyed me, and I said:

You know, I can't do the stress dynamics for large structures, and I have long ago lost the ability to do some of the math for aerodynamic analyses, but I can see whether a bridge or a building falls down without understanding the math of those who designed it.

A long time ago I was on a preliminary design team for Boeing for the WS 110A, a very important contract for Boeing. We bid flush rivets and some of our best aerodynamic technology. North American, a fighter company, won the contract for a SAC bomber because they had done their homework with wind tunnels -- it turns out that in the critical flight regime there is a boundary layer 30 or 40 mm thick. North American had external antennae rather than flush rivets...

Yet I dare say their aerodynamicists weren't better than ours, and certainly their mathematicians and programmers (FORTRAN for the UNIVAC in those days) were not better than ours.

To which I had to add:

I included the incident of the WS-110A as an illustration of what I would have thought a fairly well known phenomenon: most complex questions can be explained to an intelligent readership without the use of jargon or resorting to the internal technical workings of the theory of the explanation.

The rocket equation is actually pretty simple math so I am unsure why "rocket science" has become a synonym for the intellectually difficult, but one can explain how rockets work, why they work better in vacuum than at sea level, ISP as a measure of efficiency, and why Single Stage to Orbit is at the edge of the possible on Earth but easily accomplished on Mars without using a single equation or resorting to jargon. Feynman does a pretty good job of showing the paradoxes in quantum theory without using mathematics: a thorough study of the most simple experiments and their result doesn't take any math at all to get your mind boggled. And so forth.

My point being obvious, or at least I hope so.


While I am on stuff from another conference, someone there asked:

Can anybody give me a rundown on the various right-wing European politicos and parties, like Le Pen, Haider, Griffin, Vlaams Blok or whatever they call themselves now that they were banned, the Northern Italian party, the Danish party, etc. and tell me where each stands on a Good Guy to Thug scale.

I can't make head nor tail out of what I read about them.

to which I replied, perhaps nonresponsively since it was mostly about Vlaams Blok:

I think you have to understand Walloon Nationalism and the fundamental division of Belgium to make sense of any of this.

The Swiss managed a confederacy of 4 languages and three confessions by leaving most matters to the Cantons, going so far as to forcibly divide one Canton as late as 1870 or so, forcibly relocating the Catholics to one half and the Protestants to the other, and giving each half canton half a vote in the national government.

Belgium, on the other hand, tried to centralize under a monarchy in which the monarch was to be neutral between Walloon and Fleming and that works only so long as there was a strong, genuinely neutral (more like bi-enthusiastic) monarch. Without the monarchy, centralized government of a diverse confederacy has never happened, and the Swiss model and its 19th century civil wars pretty well demonstrates what happens if you do try to centralize such a state.

If you add centralization, Political Correctness, a deeply divided state like Belgium, and democracy, the results are generally predicable, and that's what is happening to Belgium, and will happen to Canada as they try to centralize under a PC government. You can have union in diversity only so long as you have what amounts to States' Rights; or so I would argue from history.

Jerry Pournelle

=All of which got me thinking about the larger problem. See view.


And this from Bob Thompson:

Subject: Video card, video card. Who's got the video card?

If you guys want to see a bit of what I was complaining about earlier with regard to proliferation of video chipsets and video adapters, this article is a hoot.

< http://www.extremetech.com/print_article2/0,2533,a=140965,00.asp >

Note that it's talking about just one ATi chipset family (the X800) of half a dozen chipset families that ATi makes. Then, of course, there's nVIDIA, which has similarly proliferated chipset models.

I mean, with each company producing dozens of chipsets, most of which are minor variations on each other, and with a dozen or more companies making video cards based on all these chipsets, it's no wonder people can't figure out what video card to buy. The last time I looked at NewEgg, they listed 623 different video adapters, and I'm willing to bet that that's less than half of the actual number of models available, even if you only count brand-name adapters.


-- Robert Bruce Thompson thompson@technomayhem.com http://forums.technomayhem.com

And I don't have any of the latest ones. They are so busy with other stuff they don't send them out for review, and I am not about to go buy video cards in the midst of this confusion. And see below


PC has come to this:

Subject: $50K.


--- Roland Dobbins

Ye flipping gods.

And see below


Subject: Rod and Introduction to American Government

If your correspondent Rod can get the textbook used for BYU's "American Heritage" class, he'll have a good solid start. It is (or was) a well-drawn introduction to US history, constitutional theory, and basic economics rolled into a single one semester college course.


The only problem with using this text is that Rod's students will know more about the history of the US and Constitutional government than their peers or parents, and consequently will be considered nutcases.

Rod might first email Professor Pope to inquire about availability of the textbook: clayne underscore pope AT byu dot edu

Steve Setzer


Subject: All journalism is local?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A60249-2004Dec12? language=printer

-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Dark Matter/Dark Chemistry

Dr. Philip Benjamin, a retired nuclear physicist, has written a peer reviewed paper http://noeticcenter.tripod.com  postulating the idea that if dark matter exists wouldn't it have dark chemistry. Then he takes it a bit further to ask if dark chemistry exists, is a bonding of "light" matter and dark matter possible and if so, what might be the consequences? After reading his paper it occurred to me there might be a storyline in this. Dark matter may exists in our own solar system and we would not be aware of it. Or would we? Dark matter may lead to dark life then to dark intelligence and then to …

Loy Myers

I think you are trying to make my head explode.





CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


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Thursday, December 16, 2005


your comment that you can't get the latest cards to review is dead on, and is causing issues at sites more directly tech review than your own. I think you are getting fewer products for review because of the time constraints nVidia and ATI are placing on their new product reviews. I include a link to a Tom's Hardware article where they essentially declare that they will no longer review the cards they are sent, as the companies only send them one or two days before release and want a review for the release publicity. Given the less than stable initial drivers and such, Tom's has taken a stand. Would that others would do the same, we might be able to get more final products and do less beta testing as customers.



I have always had that policy. Everyone in the industry knows I do not do quickie reviews. I use stuff and recommend what I am using, assuming that I like it enough to recommend it. And I report on what happens when I use it, doing a lot of silly things so readers don't have to.



This article also caused comment among my friends and I, and was dutifully sent around to our group. The difference between our reaction and yours was that we were stunned that a sitting judge would have done such a thing in the first place and not understand why it caused problems. Were I a black defendant before him I would certainly wonder if he harbored racist ideas. Wearing black face is generally regarded in poor taste these days, but harmless poor taste, but by dressing as a criminal in the hands of a police officer, AND changing his race to black, you have to wonder why he doesn't see the issue it raises.

Had he agreed that his actions showed poor judgment, then the fact that this was the first reported incident would have likely resulted in much lighter punishment. However, he reiterated the most offensive part of his actions as a defense, e.g. that his "costume" was only meant to illustrate that he was a prisoner.

Political Correctness? No, just incredibly poor judgment by one who is expected to know better.


I must have been unclear: either this was such a lapse of judgment that he ought not be on the bench, or the punishment is far too severe. I thought judicial independence meant holding the seat during good behavior: a rather all or none function. It may well be that he ought to be impeached or removed by whatever mechanism the law provides; but this kind of "punishment" for what was not, after all, a crime, is horrifying to me.







CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  December 16, 2004

Subject: scientists finally catch up with _Fallen Angels_


I was struck by this:

"Thompson believes that the 5,200-year old event may have been caused by a dramatic fluctuation in solar energy reaching the earth. Scientists know that a historic global cooling called the Little Ice Age, from 1450 to 1850 A.D., coincided with two periods of decreased solar activity."


which is strikingly parallel to what you, Niven, and Flynn wrote in 1990:

"Lutenist beamed. 'The sun goes through sunspot cycles. Lots of sunspots, it gets warm here. Few sunspots, colder weather. An astronomer named Maunder recorded sunspots and found that the last time there weren't any the planet went through what was known as the Little Ice Age, the Maunder Minimum.' He paused dramatically. 'And in the 1980s it became certain that the planet was going into a new Maunder Minimum period.'"



We always try to incorporate the best science we have available into our stories, even when the story is an obvious satirical farce. There's nothing farcical about the science.


And on that theme:

Subject: 1 in 455 danger of human extinction!



I would have to see the math before I would believe anything like those odds. But certainly the probability is not zero, and equally certainly we have the ability to ameliorate if not prevent many disasters. Only we aren't likely to do anything.

Subject: Stefan Possony

Jerry, any possibility you could publish some of Stefan Possony's other work on your website? I remember some interesting essays by him that you published in the "There will be War" series and it would be convenient to send someone a link to read them. He's a significant enough figure that he ought to be more widely read.

Maybe another collection linked from the front page?

Steve Setzer

Well, I agree his work ought to be better known. The essays in my anthologies would be no problem except I would have to have them keyed in or otherwise turned into electronic form; those were done without much benefit of computers. I'll have to look into this.

Subject: Dark matter

... Dark matter may exists in our own solar system and we would not be aware of it. Or would we?...

Dark matter interacts with normal matter through gravity. If there is dark matter around here it is probably most common in the big gravity centers, the sun, Jupiter etc. If we could weigh the sun accurately and get a handle on how much volume it 'should' contain, then observe the discrepancy between the observed volume and the predicted volume, that would tell us how much dark matter was there.


Tom Bridgeland

Actually we have a pretty good handle on the weight of the Sun and Jupiter and any other bodies that have satellites, since given the orbital elements of the satellite we can determine the mass of the primary.


Mississippi Judge vs Wisconsin Teacher

If the judge should lose his place on the bench shouldn’t this teacher lose his place in the faculty? Amazing, two people, two yardsticks!



Hardly amazing, but then standards of humor have changed a lot. I recall in the 60's National Review publishing excerpts from "The Bosses' Song Book: Songs to Stifle Insurrection By" which contained a number of highly offensive songs and lines. Now I suppose even hinting at the existence of such things is a Federal Hate Crime.








This week:


read book now


Saturday, December 18, 2004






CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, December 19, 2004

Holidays. Back on duty Monday





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