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Monday  January 3, 2005

This is both column week and CES week and my column will be filed from Las Vegas.

The following is the result of a discussion in another forum, and was written by Greg Cochran in response to discussions over the past couple of weeks. After a fairly long discussion of competing theories on the causes of homosexuality, I said:

There is another problem: is it possible that there are at least two kinds of homosexual men, and possibly more? What is the evidence for assuming that all such people have equivalent motives for their -- I hesitate to say aberrant, but no better word comes to mind at the moment -- behavior? Clearly there is circumstantial homosexuality, as encountered in prisons, and I am told of cases where men become queens and exhibit quite feminine characteristics, but on release, go back to heterosexual ways; indeed, didn't Kinsey write about such? Now that is obviously quite different from the men who have never found women attractive and have always been drawn to other men, and probably different again from the hedonistic bi-sexuals who seem to go both ways and enjoy it, and I know of at least two such people,

Perhaps in the search for the causes of homosexuality we pursue what doesn't exist, because there is no single "homosexuality" at all, but several syndromes which produce similar results -- after all, there would be cultural molding wouldn't there? Certainly in New York in the 50's there was a gay culture, easily identified, and which demanded conformity. I saw it at work from my position in off-broadway theater.

Cochran's hypothesis comes simply from statistical fact: homosexuality is such a heavy genetic burden that it ought to be bred out of the race rather quickly, and remain quite rare. Instead there seems to be a rather small but steady percentage, not Kinsey's 10% but not vanishingly small either. Infection as a cause doesn't seem unreasonable; surely no more unreasonable than postulating genetic tendencies.

My guess is that before we can learn more about this subject we have to take the trouble to define what we are studying, and examine whether or not a homosexual is a homosexual is a homosexual. I'd guess there is more than one variety and there may be more than one "cause".

Greg Cochran responded:

Sure, post away, and of course put my name on it. I'll bet you that most homosexuality has a single cause: why suppose otherwise until we find evidence for it? I can think of none. I will also bet there are rare cases of it being caused by a mutation, just a one in three hundred cases of narcolepsy are caused by a mutation. I wouldn't be surprised if someone someday managed to stumble onto a toxin that causes homosexuality, just as that China White heroin derivative caused Parkinsonianism.

A pathogen cause is much more likely than a genetic one, because natural selection tends to make silly genes like that rare. it does not necessarily tend to make us immune to a pathogen, because the pathogen is furiiously evolving counters to our new defenses.

Gregory Cochran

I point out that my "multiple varieties" hypothesis is not inconsistent with Greg's "most homosexuality has a single cause;" my caution was more directed toward designing experiments that will be not be spoiled by a few cases outside the hypothesis of the experiment. His original comment follows:

Subject:  Sheep

Right now I lean against the idea that the hypothetical bug causing homosexuality is primarily transmitted by homosexuals: it need not be a persistent infection either. Look, this is medicine, not physics: we need to look at examples at least as much as consider first principles. First principles (neodarwinism) tell us that homosexuality is not a variant behavioral strategy like hawks and doves, not a choice, unlikely to be primarily genetic. It is unlikely to be caused by new environmental insults, since it's been around a long time- although I've wondered if a fair amount of lesbianism might have such a cause: looks as if it may. Ok; this says that some bug is most likely the key cause: but that hardly tells us everything. It doesn't tell us which bug it is or how it operates. The problem is, there are _many_ ways in which a pathogen can cause trouble, and there are a number of classes of pathogens, some poorly understood

My guess is that something has happened to the hypothalamus, specifically damage to one of the hypothalamic nuclei: probably some particular subpopulation of neurons that manufacture a neurotransmitter important in male sexual behavior. The example that inspires this hypothesis is narcolepsy: we now know that narcolepsy is caused by a deficiency of a neurotransmitter called orexin or hypocretin, one manufactured in a particular hypothalamic nucleus. We know that mutations can cause hypocretin deficiency, but such mutations only account for a tiny fraction of human narcolepsy (last I heard, only one individual out of hundreds of narcolepts tested). This is what you should expect: bad mutations are generally rare, and by rare I mean a lot rarer than narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a reasonable model because it affects a particular behavior/brain system and leaves everything else intact. Look, one of the important factors to consider in trying to understand human homosexuality is that it affects a very limited set of behaviors. It changes sexual orientation, seems to change speech and interest patterns, causes some increase in what I call neuroticism for lack of a better word: but it doesn't reduce IQ at all, doesn't cause psychosis, doesn't make anyone twitch or drool. If the cause is indeed some kind of insult to the brain the consequences could certainly be a lot worse. So we're talking a very _specific_ and limited insult - and narcolepsy is like that.

We know that there is a super-strong association between a certain HLA type (carried by about a quarter of the population) and narcolepsy: 99% of narcoleptics have this HLA type. We know that identical twins of narcolepts are far more likely to have narcolepsy than the general population - yet at the same time, most MZ twins are discordant for narcolepsy. Just as they are for homosexuality. In both cases, there needs to be some environmental cause.

Now there is some reason to suspect that there is something funny going on with a particular hypothalamic nucleus (INAH3, if memory serves) in homosexual men. It looks to be smaller than in heterosexual men . The right way to investigate this is not old-fashioned dissection. If you knew the neurotransmitter you were looking for, you could look to see if the neurons making it are still there. They have done this in autopsy studies of narcolepsy and those specialized neurons are just ... gone. Nobody knows why. There were only 30,000 or so of them, but if you lose them, you can't stay awake. There's no sign of scar tissue or gliosis.

The suspicion is that this is an autoimmune disease, triggered by something or other. Could be. The something or other might well be a pathogen. It could also be a neurotropic infection that > happens to devastate this particular neuronal subpopulation. We know of things like this. Parkinson's is also caused by decimation of a particular neuronal subpopulation. As far as we know, no matter what kills those dopaminergic neurons, the result is Parkinson's. A virus can do it: happened with the big epidemic of Von Economo's encephalitis back in the 1920s: caused a lot of cases. Mutations can cause Parkinson's, but they are rare. Certain toxins hit dopaminergic neurons: a bunch of junkies in SF managed to get Parkinson's disease\ from a synthetic heroin derivative.

Problems in identification:

Homosexuality could be a rare result of a common infection. That is true of many diseases: true for polio, for rheumatic heart fever, for Burkitt's lymphoma, for nasopharyngeal carcinoma in south China. Probably true for MS and lupus, true for many cases of lymphoma, true for Kaposis's sarcoma, true for cervical cancer. You can end up with a situation in which 90% of the population has had a particular bug, while 100% of those with syndrome X have: the link isn't particularly obvious. It was that way for helicobacter pylori: in much of the world, everyone ends up infected, while only ~10% develop ulcers and ~1% stomach cancer. Yet H. pylori is the key: hard to see.

Even worse ( i.e. harder to figure out) are hit-and-run diseases: those in which the causal pathogen does not persist (or at least we can't detect it) . True for rheumatic heart fever, true for Type-I diabetes. True for a number of viral agents which cause obesity in experimental animals: something has happened to the hypothalamus, it only happens in those animals that have been deliberately infected, but there is no histological sign of it upon autopsy.

We know that cows that have certain papillomaviruses and eat lots of bracken fern often develop stomach cancer: both factors are necessary. Yet often these cancers do not carry integrated papillomavirus: probably they do at first, later become mutated enough to have uncontrolled growth without viral oncogenes, then clones that lose the viral antigens evade immune surveillance and grow big. Hard to figure out a similar case in humans, eh?

Shoot, there is a respectable notion that bacterial vaginosis is actually a weird venereal disease: phages (viruses that attack bacteria) that kill the normal vaginal flora are being venereally transmitted, allowing bad bacterial overgrowth.

It gets worse. Experimental mice often suffer from a chronic lung problem: the suspect was a mycoplasma, but it was really hard to make the case. Finally (decades later) they raised mice germ- free and exposed them to various candidate pathogens. It turns out that the mycoplasma was the cause all right: but it look half a mouse lifetime to manifest, some mouse strains were far more vulnerable than others, and microenviromental differences were important. If you were slow to change the bedding, urine released ammonia and exacerbated the lung problems. That's how complicated things can get.

And yet worse: there pathogens we have trouble detecting and cultivating.. GC mentions the first archaeal pathogen: I've been predicting that such must exist, but there must be more Every few years we find a new virus. You even have to consider the possibility of cell- line infections, as in canine venereal sarcoma.

And I'm not even considering ( not here, anyway) the possibility of host manipulation.

So, how do we look for the bug?

First, do the obvious: look, with the standard tools, for some known pathogen that exists in essentially all homosexual men. That's fraught with problems, they have a tendency to have higher rates of just about every venereal disease and some diseases that wouldn't normally be considered venereal (like giardiasis) - potentially confusing. But sure, do the obvious first, and do it with style. You might use representational difference analysis (RDA) to look for DNA that exists in the homosexual twin of a discordant MZ pair.

But probably you want to look at sheep. You can do anything to sheep: dissect them, expose them to candidate pathogens. Clone a homosexual ram and see if the clone is homosexual: I'll that it usually is not. Look at their brains: we know that there are differences in the amygdala, but we'd do better by looking for differences in neurotransmitter expression, using a gene-expression chip. Use RDA. Look for funny 16s rRNA. See if it's catching, in sheep. And so on.

Gregory Cochran


The following is printed by permission of the author. A shorter version appeared in the Wall Street Journal on-line:

The Longest Wave

. EARTHQUAKES IN HUMAN HISTORY By Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders (Princeton University Press, 267 pages, $30)

Review By Russell Seitz

Rare is the disaster that transcends cliché. This is one—Sunday’s death toll rivals Hiroshima’s. Whether it was the Wrath of Nature or of God, there was plenty of it to go around. The devastation is total and indiscriminate.

The earthquake savaged the Islamic insurgents of Indonesia’s Aceh province, the Tamil Tiger terrorists of eastern Sri Lanka and an Andaman Sea pygmy tribe unheard of since its debut in an 1890 Sherlock Holmes story. The Nias Islanders of Sumatra—smack atop the earthquake’s epicenter—saw their Stonehenge-size megaliths bowled over like ninepins. As the Indian Ocean undulated, the Maldives, an archipelago low enough to trip over, went under and came up again before Greenpeace could blame global warming. The waves whirled trident-wielding Hindu mystics off the beaches of Madras and into Poseidon’s realm. They swept away the fleshpots of Phuket, Thailand, together with mosques and the odd teak-framed synagogue or Anglican chapter house, not to mention Buddhist nunneries and the beach huts of body-pierced surfers from the Straits of Malacca to Zanzibar.

But geologically, Dec. 26 was just another conniption of the Earth’s great plates, as the mantle’s slow turnover forces rocks down deep enough to pressure-cook jade in Burma’s basement, implode basalt and graphite into garnets and diamonds under India, and extrude granite peaks like toothpaste from the landscape of Borneo.

It all happens no faster than your fingernails grow—millimeters a month. Four thousand fathoms beneath the whale-sharks that bask in the Andaman Sea, India’s tectonic plate is shoved into the Sunda Trench and under the Pacific Rim like a wad of junk mail threatening to lift a door off its hinges. An airport paperback’s worth is wedged into the crack each year, and this Christmas the 100-foot accumulation of the centuries finally split the devil’s own doorsill. In an explosive 200-megaton jolt, the seabed snapped upward several meters along a “thrust front” more than 1,000 kilometers long. Gigantic as this impulse was—the Earth’s axis shifted an inch , 100 times more energy went into forcing the plate under.

Even before the waves arrived, some noticed GPS readings twitching in unison aboard Indonesia’s coastwise fleet. It suddenly seemed anchored to a stirring turtle’s back, and bad things began to happen. They have before, certainly, and will yet again. Heaven help relief workers if aftershocks from Sunday’s quake launch further tsunamis in the months to come.

Such are the sobering lessons of “Earthquakes in Human History,” a splendid geographical and cultural survey of how, over the centuries, the unquiet Earth has altered our sense of nature and ourselves. The authors, the geologist Jelle Zeilinga de Boer and the science writer Donald Theodore Sanders, properly make much of the events most famously prefiguring Sunday’s— like those of All Souls Day 1755, when Iberian cathedral towers crashed down on crowds at prayer and thousands perished in the Great Lisbon Earthquake.

That cataclysm’s historical aftershocks outstripped its human toll. The Marques de Pombal rose to an unenlightened dictatorship, and the Jesuits fall from power in Portugal reverberated from Paris to Paraguay. The Wrath of God in Lisbon gave impetus to the Methodist Awakening in Britain, steeled Puritan New England in its independence, ignited the Masonic zeal of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and set Voltaire’s agnostic quill aquiver like an indignant seismograph needle. Was this the best of all possible worlds?

Had it ever been? Jerusalem’s walls, like Jericho’s, have come a-tumbling down some 40 times in the past three millennia—Herod did well to use 600 ton blocks in the Temple Mount’s present foundations. A quake antedating Exodus may have trashed and burned Sodom and Gomorrah. The fifth century B.C. saw Sparta’s capital shattered and a tsunami doing what the Persian Wars could not—sending the remainder of the Spartan navy to the bottom of the Gulf of Corinth. Both catastrophes gave the fledgling democracy of Athens some much-needed breathing space.

The Crusaders arrived just in time to see the Lighthouse of Alexandria succumb to a jolt by the Dead Sea rift, a badly designed tectonic zipper that renders the Middle East as seismically unstable as its politics. In 1382, Oxford theologian John Wycliffe’s heresy hearing was interrupted by a temblor that toppled the tower of Canterbury Cathedral. Had the Spanish Armada jumped the gun by eight years, it might have joined dozens of vessels sunk by the Dover Channel tsunami of 1580. In short, Lisbon was but one episode in an epidemic of Old World cataclysms.

Seismic jitters extend all the way across the Mediterranean. One day all of Gaul may indeed be divided into three parts, as Africa’s rotation bonks Corsica into the Cote d’Azur, avenging Napoleon and Hannibal alike.

The Earth is not alone in showing signs of seismic wear-and-tear. Jupiter’s moon Io may look like an illustration from “Le Petit Prince,” but its wheezing sulfur volcanoes testify to honest-to-gosh tidal waves induced by the crushing gravity of the nearby giant planet. Earthly earthquakes, by contrast, have almost nothing to do with our moon’s motion. They are driven instead by the motion of the mantle, a deep-seated dynamo that, by providing a magnetic field, also wards off the ravening gale of the solar wind. Mars seismic peace and quiet has cost it most of its atmosphere leaving the Red Planet encrusted in green vitriol and Epsom salts. It could use a tsunami.

Life on a geologically active planet is thus a trade-off between one evolutionary challenge and another. Ours may not seem the best of all possible worlds to an insurance agent—or a pacifist—but it has its moments. The existential terror of coexisting with suicide bombers and office-building kamikazes cannot erase all memory of the exhilarating day in 1989 when the Cold War ended, leaving in its wake the last thing the peace movement predicted: large numbers of survivors. The same may be true of even the most catastrophic environmental hazards.

When this quake’s mourning has passed, like San Francisco’s (1906) or Tokyo’s (1923) before it, parents around the Pacific Rim will begin reciting to their children a new Christmas story. Far from Panglossian, it will tell of a disaster of literally biblical proportions that brought to its survivors the improbable gift of hope. Practically everyone East of Suez has lost loved ones or friends, but in days to come it will dawn that for each victim tens of thousands yet live, awaiting the Big One with the rest of us.

But what to do while we’re waiting? The Christmas Quake registered 9.0 on the Richter scale. But Richter’s scale runs on to 10--30 times more energetic than last week’s and worse still in terms of risk to the third of humanity dwelling within sight of the sea. Grouchy Poseidon has thus far overthrown or obliterated six out of seven classical Wonders of the World.

Billions of dollars are spent annually on understanding aspects of climate change too ephemeral to elicit consensus, but intellectual tools already exist, to calculate the concrete threats posed by continents in collision. Yet for sheer lack of funding, seismologists have scarcely begun the task. Unless we enable them to understand the Sunda trench better than submariners, and set our navy on guard against nature’s terrors as well as mans, it will remain akin to blasphemy to dismiss seismic disasters as acts of God.

See also http://www.nature.com/news/2004/041229/full/041229-2.html


Subject: Link to "Presenting the Bill"

In your thoughtful and tear-inducing obit of Kelly Freas http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/view342.html#Sunday  you cited "Presenting the Bill", which may be found at http://www.fictionalworlds.com/ARTISTS/Freas_Kelly/kelly-freas.jpg 

-- John Bartley

For which thanks.


Subject: Dark matter, chemistry, life

Dear Jerry:

Loy Myers writes: "Dr. Philip Benjamin, a retired nuclear physicist, has written a peer reviewed paper http://noeticcenter.tripod.com  <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 . . ." Pardon me, but while speculation is all very well in science fiction, shouldn't peer-reviewed _science_ articles deal with things that can be tested in some way? For instance, shouldn't we be looking for some evidence that 'dark matter' actually exists, before trying to figure out its chemistry, if any?

I thing this is really a serious issue. The Global Warming Hysteria was created by people who apparently think that putting out an intellectually satisfying theory is all that's needed for science. Aristotle's theories of physics, chemistry, and astronomy were also intellectually satisfying, but they were wrong. Now, we're theories of "dark chemistry, dark life, dark intelligence," all made of stuff that we have, so far as I know, no evidence for the existence of in the first place.

In this circles my father used to move in, this was not referred to as 'science.' It was called 'bullshitting.'

Best, Stephen


Novelists need plausible arguments. Lawyers need evidence. Scientists are supposed to deal with data and testable theories.

Subject: Dark Matter???

{ Loy Myers writes: "Dr. Philip Benjamin, a retired nuclear physicist, has written a peer reviewed paper http://noeticcenter.tripod.com <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 . . ." Pardon me, but while speculation is all very well in science fiction, shouldn't peer-reviewed _science_ articles deal with things that can be tested in some way? For instance, shouldn't we be looking for some evidence that 'dark matter' actually exists, before trying to figure out its chemistry, if any? }

I am curious what group peer reviewed this. If it was anything in the "Noetic" universe then we are indeed looking at a form of psudo-science fiction. A quick google on "Noetic" provides much amusement. May I recommend http://www.noetic.org/ and http://rhetorica.net/field_theory.htm for your amusement. I do however believe that research into this field would be well funded by the government in the Fallen Angels world. (but not here yet, I hope).



Subject: Stirling Engines, Space Power, and Teacher Certification

Dear Jerry:

Jim Mangles writes "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." http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail338.html#SSPS 

That may not matter. In reference to using Stirling Engines (or Rankine or Brayton or any other heat engine), I did the math once, and the result I got was that 20% was optimum for minimizing radiator surface area per watt generated. Because black body radiation falls off as the _fourth_ power of absolute temperature, beyond 20% you're better off just increasing power plant size rather than increasing the efficiency.

So unless your radiators are very low mass compared to your generating equipment, efficiency is a non-issue. We've had 20% efficient heat engines for a century or more.

Concerning teaching, I've tutored and done well at it (my students repeatedly told me "I wish my teacher made it clear like you do"), and done a lot of training in restaurants and service industries. The big secret to successful teaching, in my experience, was realizing "If at first you don't succeed, do something differently." If the student doesn't get it when you explain it one way, you find another. You inquire into what they already know. You ask them to solve a problem and observe what they do while working on it till you see what they're doing wrong.

Considering that many of my students had already been 'taught' by people with credentials, I'd agree with you that the people awarding said credentials don't know how to teach in the first place.

Best, Stephen


Haven't done the math, but it certainly seems reasonable.


I don't know if the entire article sent by frank is as misleading as the points I'll make below, but I certainly don't trust any of the factual assertions made, as some pretty substantial points are incorrect, and it relies on hyperbole for most of its argument.

First, it says, "And even though gun crime in Britain has risen dramatically since the 1997 ban on self defense..." Well, there's a small problem there. First, Britain did not ban self-defense in 1997, though there are a few gun ownership proponents that have made that argument. Glanville Williams notes in his Textbook of Criminal Law (a British Legal text), self-defense has actually been expanded by removing the necessity of "reasonableness". "The requirement of reasonableness is unhappy. Enough has been said in criticism of it, and the CLRC has recommended that it should be expunged from the law. In practice, as we have seen, the requirement may be construed indulgently to the defendant, for, as Holmes J memorably said in the United States Supreme Court, “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.” As we shall see in the next section, the requirement is now stated in such mitigated terms as to cast doubt on whether it still forms part of the law."

Second, the rate of crime, violent and otherwise, has been steadily falling in Britain since 1995. The link below is to the official statistics for 2003/2004. What has driven the argument regarding the "rise" in crime is the change in reporting method instituted (I believe it was in 95/96 the reporting change was made). The first part of his quote "gun crime in Britain has risen dramatically since the 1997 ban" is wrong. In fact, the rate of gun violence HAS increased each year since 97/98, but, for example, the increase in 2003/4 was less than one percent. And, the total homicides involving a firearm in Britain in 2003/4 was 68. Yes, 68, out of a total of 853. The total number of "serious incidents of violence against a person" involving a firearm (not including homicide) was 1,210. For the whole year. For the whole country of approximately 58 million people. New York City, with a population of ~9 million, had 540 murders by December 12, 2004. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs04/hosb1004.pdf

Third, the "a gun crime every hour" is pretty well true, but hardly a large number. In 2003/2004, there were 10,340 "firearms offences", so he actually slightly undestated the case. The inflammatory, and likely accurate quote, "knives are so prevalent in Merrie Olde England, that every two weeks, "someone loses their life as a result of being stabbed" is unintentionally hilarious. 26 deaths due to stabbings a year? In the whole country? I don't know the source of the statistic, and given the total homicides it's possible, but are 26 fatal stabbings an epidemic? Yes, if it happened in one apartment complex, or one small city, but a country?

Contrary to his central assertion, crime is not "out of control" in England. He seems somehow offended that England intends to protect the rights of criminals. Is he unaware of our system of justice and its emphasis on the rights of the accused? Due process?

I don't doubt some idiot politician in Great Britain is doing something stupid. How could it be otherwise, given their profession? But let's try to keep our hats on when it comes to alarmist assertions that support our personal beliefs. The author of that article has an axe to grind, and has selectively chosen what to present. It's better to look at the underlying facts oneself than to rely on such articles.








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On the Werther essay:

Required reading in a critical thinking class, maybe.

Werther is full of crap. What is going on is very simple: in the past, when faced with insurgencies, the occupying powers had absolutely no qualms about massacring thousands and committing destruction and mayhem on a massive scale to stop it. The Nazis in WW2 are the best example (so Werther's line about "the mystery of WW2 resistance and its inability to demonstrate the true characteristics of 4GW" only demonstrates that he doesn't have the foggiest fucking idea what he's talking about - most insurgencies wither on the vine when 10 of the insurgents' relatives and neighbors get murdered for every dead occupier). Even in the Civil War you had a similar situation: Sherman and Sheridan were absolutely ruthless - Sherman at one point said, in so many words, that the only way to win this war would be to actively murder every single member of the white slaveowning class. That is basically what happened of course, due to the horrendous casualties both sides took in the various battles, with the officers leading from the front, and also due to Sherman's stated objectives while marching through Georgia and the Carolinas.

Jordan and the PLO are a modern example of successfully crushing an insurgency. As I recall, while the PLO was operating in Jordan, there was a plot to overthrow Hussein and turn the entire country over to Palestinian control, and the Jordanians rounded up relatives of the plotters and started slowly torturing each one to death to motivate others to talk. It worked. The Shining Path in Peru is another example: people talk about how Fujimori was this horrible dictator and human rights blah blah blah, but goddamn, I REMEMBER what the news reports from Peru were like in the 1980s. Shining Path is DEAD, because Fujimori KILLED them. That's what you have to do to insurgents; you have to kill them, and you have to do it thoroughly.

Today, we are more "civilized". Until we are willing to demonstrate true ruthlessness in this fight, it will continue. After the Civil War, the mother of a Confederate soldier who'd lived in the Shenandoah walked up to Sheridan and asked him why he'd done all those horrible things. He said: "Ma'am, I did it so your son could come home alive." Mark my words, there will be mushroom clouds over Iran before this is all over. And it will have happened because, and only because, we try too hard to be too nice. We have a choice between the current course, and a clear-cut victory; but a clear-cut victory involves blood, and those - such as the people writing articles like that - who like telling other people what to think are of the opinion that blood is bad.

Werther, of course, argues precisely the opposite of the truth: that combatants were more civilized in previous wars, and that we have lost that code of conduct. This claim can only be made with a straight face by overlooking the blatantly obvious fact that it is one faction and only one that is entirely responsible for this loss, and that is the Arab fighter, who does not recognize any rules that get in the way of him killing his enemies, and does not organize himself into any formations that might fit with the previously known rules of warfare; the US, on the other hand, has been operating with one hand tied behind its back, and in fact it has taken the US 10 years to get around to recognizing that the Arabs we are fighting don't respect negotiated surrenders and treaties and restrictions on whatever it is they think they have a right to do.

(WTF is with that footnote about the US jettisoning the Geneva Convention? When's the last time you saw an Arab combat force - regular or otherwise - abide by the Geneva Convention?)

===== 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_

This is a critical thinking class. Didn't you know?

I would point out that the Confederate States of America wore uniforms and did not carry out terrorist operations, with the exception of the Quantrill/Jayhawk wars of the west, in which neither side had a monopoly on brutality. In one raid into the North, Confederates infiltrated as spies, but before taking actual hostile action they put on uniforms, and the only destruction was of public buildings. Not quite what we face in Iraq.

You state, in essence, that the way to peace in the Middle East is more war, war to the knife, warre, with torture of innocents, segregation of peoples into concentration camps (think Britain in South Africa), and various other measures: that we are not winning because we are afraid of blood. It is certainly the case that Jordan was able to use Bedouins loyal to the throne to suppress the Palestinian insurgents, and that the operation was carried out with a rather brutal efficiency. Is this the tactic the United States Marines should use? Or will it be confined only to our Iraqi Allies? At which point the question naturally arises, why are we doing that? Presumably the Iraqis who choose to ally with us will be spared the war on civilian populations? How will we know which ones are loyal to us and which ones are secretly our enemies?

I know how to pacify Iraq if the goal is to turn the place into a puppet state. It will be harder now that we have promised elections, but it is still possible. It will require employing tribal armies and client states, but the techniques are well known and have been for a long time. The question is, should we do that? Will the American people support such operations?

Perhaps so, but these are matters that need discussion. I will point out that bringing home an army taught to use brutal tactics has consequences. Armies taught to govern by any means necessary may at some point consider its options. Certainly armies so taught have done so before.


On the same subject:

Subj: 4GW & Riddles of Culture -- comments

The important part of the piece is two levels down, in the PowerPoint presentation by Wilson, Wilcox and Richards (hereinafter "WWR"), cited in Note [1] to "Werther's" essay.

The rest -- "Werther's" essay itself, and Spinney's preliminary comments -- are just extensions of the core ideas in the PowerPoint. Spinney's extension is yet another of his almost uncountable all-non-Boydians-are-idiots diatribes, this time a one-sided reading of the current situation in Iraq. "Werther's" reaches back to the Lawrence of Arabia and the ineffective "Resistance" movements of World War II, which he characterizes as "false start[s] for the doctrine of popular resistance" that the Baathists are now implementing in its maturity. Both are far more polemical than analytic, and both are typically Boydian-defeatist.

WWR proper starts with an introductory sketch of John Boyd's classic Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) cycle. The rest of the PowerPoint is organized on the pattern of that cycle.

Boydians often seem to me to talk as if OODA were some fantastic new discovery Boyd made; in fact it is isomorphic both to the classical "Scientific Method" and to the "Shewhart/Deming Cycle" of statistical process control. Boyd's creative act was to apply it as a framework for understanding conflict, first in understanding why the F-86 could dominate the faster-turning, faster-climbing MiG-15, later more generally to warfare, and later still to conflict in general, not in inventing a brand spandy new pattern of thought and action.


The general argument of the 4GW enthusiasts (WWR#6-8) seems to be that the nation-state no longer holds an effective monopoly on large-scale violence, that nation-state armed forces have been proved useless or counterproductive for dealing with the new violence-initiating actors, and that consequently those non-state sponsors of violence will dominate conflict in the future -- a future characterized by "disorder" rather than by organized warfare. The best a nation-state can do is hunker down in defensive isolation from the disorderly areas, in partnership with whatever other nation-states might survive, however odious those nation-states' internal politics might be (e.g. China, Putin-esque Russia), while the rest of the world goes to Hell. The only hope for the part of the world gone to Hell is that, eventually, if left to themselves, some societies might, on their own, recapitulate the evolution from chaos that followed the Plague in Europe, and form new nation-states that might then join the defensive huddle. But the surviving nation-states cannot aid or stimulate that recapitulation: attempts to do so not only will be counterproductive, but also will produce reverse flows of disorder into the societies attempting the intervention, threatening those societies' own survival. The only appropriate role for nation-state armed forces would be the occasional annihilating retaliation -- each blow better delivered as a "spasm" rather than as a calculated act -- against any society from which the nation-state might be attacked. See Lind's essay quoted and cited in WWR#7, http://www.defense-and-society.org/lind/lind_strategic_defense.htm and also the two-part Boydian-disciple summary of 4GW at http://www.defense-and-society.org/second_level/fourth_generation_warfare.htm and http://www.defense-and-society.org/second_level/4gw_continued.htm

The contrasts between this rather amazingly (coming from Americans) dark view of the world and the pessimistic but still hopeful view of traditional conservatives -- and between both of those and the quite manic optimisms of the neocons and the "Pentagon's New Map" enthusiasts -- might be worth exploring, but not here.

WWR apply the 4GW pattern particularly to recent events in Iraq, but diverge from the relentless pessimism of Lind, Spinney and "Werther", at least towards the end of this PowerPoint.

WWR#9 characterizes the current situation in Iraq as a dilemma for the US: having smashed the old Saddamist state, all that's left is chaos, in which attempts to stimulate or aid the emergence of a new ruling elite (or, more accurately, a new dominant faction of the ruling elite) are counterproductive.

WWR#10 says "The Iraqi Insurgency is Maturing". The possibility that the current level of violence might be a surge that cannot be sustained -- as the Tet Offensive was in Vietnam -- is not mentioned.

Similarly, WWR#13 cites one botched raid in the Sunni-Arab heartland as if it set the tone for relations between American forces and Iraqis uniformly over the whole country. Nuances involving the possibility that vengeful Shia Arabs and Kurds elsewhere in Iraq might be somewhat tolerant of such botches, as long as the victims where Sunni Arabs, or the possibility that the botch-rate in other areas might be lower, due to better intelligence and local cooperation and greater availability of locally-savvy Iraqi forces, are not refuted, either by argument or by evidence; they are simply not mentioned.

WWR#19 moves on from selective citation of events in Iraq to a typically-Boydian simplistic characterization of America as "addicted to technology and technological solutions vice operational solutions." The possibility that technology might be applied to the War of Information, to speed our own OODA cycles or to counter the enemy's low-tech attacks, perhaps decisively, is not refuted, just ignored. The possibility that Americans might learn from experience, perhaps even from historical experience (as documented, for example, in the Marines' "Small Wars Handbook"), is likewise ignored.

WWR#21 characterizes Americans as being culturally (a) less warlike than the enemy and (b) incapable of understanding that "different people have different values." That some Americans might have a substantial warlike cultural heritage of their own ("from the wrath of the Northmen, Lord God deliver us!") is not mentioned. That Americans might have a countervailing cultural advantage, of being able to learn and adapt more quickly than the enemy, perhaps even of having enough imagination to grasp that "different people have different values", is not mentioned.

WWR#22 lists the classical characteristics of insurgents who survive at all: cellular networks for OPSEC, use of assasination and intimidation, choosing soft targets and seeking local and popular support via intimidation. No weaknesses are listed.

The slide, and the OBSERVE section, end with a truism: "Countering above requires obtaining and keeping confidence and support of the population so that we are able to acquire actionable intelligence on insurgents." But there has been no mention of any *strengths* we might have, that we might use to *do* that, so what are we to conclude? That there's no hope of "countering the above"?

Maybe I'm being too critical: maybe WWR (the authors) assume that their audience already understand completely all the American strengths that might be relevant, and all the enemy weaknesses.


WWR#23 summarizes the ten-meters-tall characteristics of the Baathists: infrastructure invulnerable, command and control unassailable, cellular, autonomous, diffuse, self-adapting, intuitive feeling for the cultural+religious environment. Vulnerabilities? None mentioned.

WWR#24 is the customary homage to the ever-victorious VietCong and their ever-victorious leader, General Giap. That the VC broke themselves in the Tet Offensive, and stood a good chance of staying broken indefinitely, had the Congress of the United States not lost its nerve, and opened South Vietnam to defeat by conventional armored invasion, is not mentioned.

WWR#25-27 state some principles of counter-insurgency warfare that were well-known long before the term 4GW was coined. WWR#25 does, for the first time in the PowerPoint, start to talk about something we might actually be able to *do* to counter the enemy: separate the insurgents from the population, particularly at the moral level, both within Iraq and in the perceptions of people outside Iraq; coordinate actions "over a wide area and for a long time". Intelligence and communications and "human resources" are at least as important as "kinetics". But none of this is particularly novel or exclusively Boydian: it's classical counter-insurgency.

WWR#28 asks, at the very bottom, whether cutting and running is "a viable option once committed?" Maybe the briefer who used this PowerPoint answered the question, or discussed ways of evaluating possible answers, in his oral presentation? Or maybe not.

WWR#29 is a litany of "National Leaders must..." bullet-points, mostly well-worn platitudes. But the second one gave me pause: "Leaders must support those in contact and identify with them daily." If that means anything -- and it may not -- isn't it an invitation to micro-management?

WWR#30-31 provide the platitudinous bullet-points about "Intelligence", with typical Boydian emphasis on "mind war" and deception, including the customary Boydian quote from Sun Tzu and the exhortation to cover all flavors of Intelligence.

One point did give me pause: in yellow italics, "TIME IS CRIICAL: Sometimes unprocessed information is more valuable than processed intelligence".

Well, yes. And sometimes too much unprocessed information is less valuable than nothing at all, because it distracts the recipient from using his own eyes and ears and from *thinking* about his situation. But the dangers of information overload aren't mentioned, nor is there anything about how to figure out whether a given decision-maker is getting too little info or too much, other than by post-mortem examination of a disaster.

Another curio: we have "Need high speed links..." and "Need database...". Seems to me we "Need technology..." to get either one of those, no? The authors better watch out for the enforcers of Boydian anti-tech orthodoxy!

WWR#32 moves on to talking about the enemy. He's resourceful, dedicated, diverse, adept, agile and adaptive. But no weaknesses?

WWR#33 asks three standard counter-insurgency questions, all worth asking, but provides no answers. Maybe the briefer who used this PowerPoint answered them in his oral presentation? This is of course a standard problem with merely *reading* a PowerPoint.

WWR#34 begs for a citation of Bernard Lewis's small 1998 book, _The Multiple Identities of the Middle East_, which discusses the matter quite thoroughly. And the slide's implication that real power in Western cities always resides in "city hall" should bring a wry smile to the lips of anyone with actual experience of American municipal politics and government.

The last line -- "Effects of Bond Relational Targeting (BRT)" -- is tantalizing but not very informative, absent the oral presentation it presumbly cues. Maybe it refers to the process of diagramming social network connections that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein?

WWR#37-38 repeat the customary accusations that the quick take-down of the Baathist regime set the stage for the subsequent insurgency. I suppose that's fair, in the current context: this PowerPoint is focused on the current predicament, so it can properly leave to others consideration of what might have gone wrong had Something Else (including Nothing) been done instead.

WWR#39 is the obligatory warning that collateral damage, especially when amplified by media, can produce adverse effects. Again, this is well known to anyone who has read anything about counterinsurgency.

WWR#40 provides the standard bullet-point litany of "Moral/Mental Dimensions". All about problems, nothing about opportunities.

WWR#41 is the classic Boydian exhortation to be "Action Driven Not Process Driven" -- in this case, about "Intelligence and Information Sharing". The possibility that, at least in some cases, the tradeoffs between the advantages and disadvantages of process-based specialization might favor some process-based organization is not mentioned, nor are the opportunities technology might provide for expanding the availability to action-oriented generalists of capabilities previously available only to specialists.

WWR#42 moves on to "What to Expect in 2005". The items listed in white-colored text are all pretty standard, but the yellow-text "End result..."/"Cumulative effect..." items are phrased in ways that make them seem rather more inevitable than they deserve.

WWR#43 accuses the US efforts of being "out of synch ... with what is really needed." The importance of all three foci of effort to eventual success is unquestionable, but the *feasibility* of US forces providing retail-level security seems to me problematic. I recall, for example, Dr. Pournelle's suggestion, that a firing squad would be appropriate for any commander who exposed his troops to defeat in detail by splintering them into little penny-packets. The slide does not mention the possible advantages of pushing control of infrastructure security down to the Iraqis, and maybe outsourcing some security to tribes; I must admit I didn't bother to go to the cited source to see if they are mentioned there.

WWR#44 is the classic Boydian accusation that Americans fixate on physical war "to the virtual exclusion of the more powerful mental & moral levels." I find it hard to believe that anyone who has read anything about how Boyd's ideas have infiltrated the thinking of American officers, especially in the Marine Corps, can regard this accusation as just. It's accurate to say that there's still a temptation to fixate on the physical level; it's not accurate to imply that noone ever resists that temptation. Much of the "precision revolution", and even more of its recent application, have been driven by a desire to reduce the potentially counterproductive effects of "kinetics".


WWR#45 trumpets that "Center of Gravity Is The People", then lists what we have to "establish". All of it's true, none of it's particularly novel. But I question the statement that, for "collecting actionable Intelligence ... covert US controlled indigenous HUMINT is best." What, uniformly best, for all purposes, in all circumstances? That's just silly. If nothing else, it takes *time* to develop a HUMINT network; is there really nothing you can do while that's going on? Heck, even if UAV patrols were totally ineffective (which I bet they're not), couldn't we at least exploit them for *cover*stories* to shield our HUMINT sources?

WWR#46 is the classic Boydian appeal to use "unconventional" capabilities. OK, but *how*? It takes time to develop cohesive small units; they don't appear overnight.

WWR#47-50 are pretty standard exhortations to understand the local power structures, "Think Influence", understand all the "X is ammo" truths, for X = money, food, ... and especially Information, Integrate everything with everything else, etc. etc., culminating with the classical Boydian demand to maintain a "High tempo of mind numbing actions; force the insurgents to react!" Maybe the briefer answered the corresponding "HOW?" questions in his oral presentation? Or maybe not.


The OODA framework gets a little stressed here: "Act" in classic OODA means "stop talking (but don't stop thinking), go out and *do* what you decided to do." Which is not entirely appropriate to do in the middle of a PowerPoint briefing.

So this section of the PowerPoint is really just a continuation of DECIDE, moving on from more general exhortations to more specific suggestions, albeit with some backsliding.

WWR#51 provides the canonical Boydian platitudes on the importance of agility and coherent grand strategy.

WWR#52 recalls Boyd's statements, from the Sacred Scripture _Patterns Of Conflict_, of the Essence and Basis for Grand Strategy. POC and other Boydian Sacred Scriptures are available as PDF files via links from http://www.d-n-i.net/second_level/boyd_military.htm#discourse

WWR#53 outlines the "Three Block War" -- Peacekeeping / Counter-Guerilla / High-intensity, each with a different set of needs -- discussed in 1999 by Marine General Charles Krulak, the Marine Corps Commandant who effectively canonized Boyd as a Marine Corps Saint in his eulogy on Boyd's death in 1997. (The eulogy is reprinted in G.T. Hammond's _The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security_.) Do the Boydians really claim a monopoly on understanding that different forms of action have different needs?

WWR#54 says "This war will be decided by the strategic corporals and privates of both sides." But if the "strategic corporal" is the key to victory, why would one think that US forces -- which for generations have cultivated NCO effectiveness and initiative -- are at a disadvantage to the Baathists, whose Soviet-pattern military tradition assumed NCO ineffectiveness and severely punished deviations from The Plan handed down from above?

WWR#55-56 enumerate "Critical Connections". All are important, but technology can surely help with at least *some* of them? The resulting dissonance with Boydian technophobia is not mentioned.

WWR#57 outlines Boyd's "PISRR" framework for counterinsurgency. This is more compact than the outline on pages 107-108 of _Patterns of Conflict_; it may be from another Boydian Sacred Scripture I haven't found. But surely the Boydians don't claim a monopoly on the notion that one should try to penetrate, isolate, subdue/subvert, reorient and reharmonize insurgents?

WWR#58-62 contain yet more pretty general exhortations to integrate everything with everything else, develop and exploit relationships with locals, especially local leaders, not antagonize anyone, either in-country or in the international community, understand everyone, especially the enemy.

WWR#63 jumps back to the history of the Apache Indian Wars. It prompted me to ask: If it took General Crook 8 years to develop the counter-Apache Apaches he needed to defeat Geronimo, why do the Boydians characterize the corresponding effort in Iraq as abject, predictable, inevitable failure after less than two?

WWR#64 stresses the importance of training the Iraqi forces. OK, swell. But it's going to take time, probably more than even the people doing it think it will, let alone than how much the impatient ankle-biters think it should.

WWR#65 trumpets Regional Fusion Centers. Great idea! Maybe technology could help? Granted, communication is easier when everyone is under one roof; but if stress on the people is a problem, might one not apply some technology to moving some work out-of-country and on improving communication between people in-country and the people preparing to rotate in to relieve them?

WWR#66 -- the last slide -- shouts "Goal: Adapting to Chaos". Beg to differ: the Goal is Victory; "adapting to chaos" is just one of the things we have to do to get there.

My overall impression: lots of good points, none of them particularly novel, hung on -- sometimes forced into -- the traditional Boydian OODA framework. More hopeful -- or at least less uniformly defeatist -- than a lot of other Boydian commentary on Iraq, but doesn't provide much beyond general exhortations. Woefully deficient in suggestions for exploiting American strengths against enemy weaknesses.

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com







This week:


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Wednesday, January 5, 2005

From CES so there will be no replies.

Subject: Darwinian view of homosexuality


About your discussion on the Darwinian view of homosexuality. One mistake that many people make is assuming that all gene related traits are completely independent. Look at the gene for sickle cell anemia for example. A person with one copy of the gene is healthy and is more resistant to malaria than a person with no copies of the gene. A person with two copies of the gene (from both the mother and the father) develops sickle cell anemia. As the chance that all of a pairs offspring will get both copies of the gene are small the gene is of overall benefit and thus is promoted in the gene pool. It could be that if there is a gene for homosexuality that it is recessive like the gene for sickle cell anemia and that a single copy gives some benefit. At failure rate of 10% would be acceptable if a single copy gives a benefit that confers a greater than 10% improvement in survivability. It is a mistake to think that evolution is leading to a optimum. There is a current theory that sex and diversity of genes was pro-survival as a mechanism to fight disease. This model drives evolution to greater diversity rather than converging to an optimum. I think that it would make a good story to postulate a world were the upper classes can gene tailor their children and thus drive them to a more common gene pool reflecting societies idea of perfection. Then a new disease occurs wiping out all the upper classes but sparing the lower classes as some “undesirable” trait also confers resistance to the disease.

Mike Plaster

Subject: re: homosexuality and genetics

Dr. Pournelle,

I totally agree with your speculation that there are multiple “causes” of homosexual behavior. Temporary hs behavior is well known in prisons and is less intriguing the behavior of free people. Here are some various thoughts I’ve had…

It is obvious that there are many who are “just made that way”, whether from inherited genes, some mutation that is repeated relatively frequently (a structural weakness in the chromosome?), or some environmental cause which affected brain chemistry during fetal development.

About the apparent paradox of the survival of a gene which precludes reproduction, one must not forget the example of the gene for sickle cell anemia – two copies produces the disease, but having only one copy provides immunity to malaria. As to what might be the upside of such a gay gene? Perhaps the proverbial creative/artistic/sensitive nature of gay men (not counting the ultra-butch leather subculture?) is a clue. Also, on an only half-joking note, perhaps a family tree had a net advantage in raising more children if there was the occasional childless uncle? – similar to the notion that part of the difference in longevity between men and women might be due to Paleolithic grandmothers being more useful than grandfathers.

Why necessarily assume that even a genetic cause is identical in men and women? The general behavior of G vs L is different in terms of promiscuity. And what about the butch/femme and butch/queen divides? Surely something complicated is going on.

It is just as obvious that some hs behavior is part of what you described as hedonistic bisexuality.

The pan-sexuality of bonobos fails to fit the nice neat distinct categories.

In animals, the occasional apparently hs specimen which fails to reproduce is more clearly “abnormal”, maladapted, a glitch in how things ought to work. Yet such talk about it in people is now toally un-PC. “Natural” is not normal, or normative (though the vast majority ARE straight!), nor automatically successful and certainly not perfect.

Have you heard the term “LUG”? Lesbian-until-graduation, referring to girls who experiment in college yet end up successfully married to a man later. They turn it off and move on. Of course the G/L lobby would say they repressed it and caved into the patriarchical, homophobic culture. I’d say a lot of this behavior in college is “just having fun” – or even just trendy as Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon, and also as establishing ones credibility as an overly earnest feminist.

There is also the larger forbidden topic of adolescent exploration or “confusion” as teens’ sexuality develops. The PC view is that this is discovery of ones true nature, and NEVER a temporary confusion or exploration, the proverbial “phase”. I think this issue of multiple forms & causes of homosexuality is so important as G/L counselors are put in more schools. The rightwing is paranoid about “recruitment”, but their concerns are not totally groundless: what a tragedy if a young person who might otherwise settle down as a *true* (and not “repressed”) hetero gets persuaded to permanently mis-label themselves as G/L whether out of shame (joining the club means one doesn’t have to be embarrassed or guilty at all, hell, it’s even COOL!) or desperation or rebellion. Those who are truly “born that way” should get help to adjust as best they can to their awkward situation, but kids prematurely incorrectly labeling themselves at such a key time when the effects might be permanent is criminal. They might get passed the “phase”, or at least go on to marry & have children whether as bisexuals acting on it or it just being occasional fantasy of a straight (bi-curious?). The problem is that the stereotypical G/L lobby DOES have an interest in growing their numbers and pushing for a hard labeling, even if it is just an unconscious bias.

There is also the case for traumatic homosexuality. The old psychiatric twaddle about domineering mother of gay men, etc, seems just that. But my older sister, a long time social worker, reports anecdotally that the majority of the lesbian women she deals with in her practice HAVE been sexually abused by a male relative, and she says that “re-orientation” done by some of the churches does seem to sometimes work out.

On a bit of a tangent, what does it say about things given that gay pr0n is much less attractive to women than the lesbian variety is to men?

Why is a simple visceral distaste for what gays do in the bedroom – NOT hatred -- fall under the term “homophobia”? That is calling it an irrational fear, I suppose a way of discounting it. No one calls a gay man who finds the thought of personally having sex with a women repugnant (as opposed to merely of no interest) a “heterophobe”.

Thanks for reading my rambles.

Richard Johnson

Subject: Homosexuality

"is it possible that there are at least two kinds of homosexual men, and possibly more?"

I highly recommend "The Sexual Brain" by Simon LeVay. Here's an Amazon link: <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0262620936/103-7509407-4087067?v=glance>

Levay's position is that there are three stages of sexual development in the fetus: sexual organs, brain type, and sexual urge. When everything works correctly all three of these match up with the DNA. However the trigger mechanisms for each of these stages are hormonal. If something is medically wrong for a variety of reasons you can get a mismatch of stages.

The fetus may be genetically XY but if the testosterone level drops later in development it will have a male body but a female brain and a female sex orientation. A drop even later in development and you have a male body with a male brain, but a female sex drive. The reverse effect can happen with females if there is too much testosterone present.

Levay is himself gay and discusses his feelings in having to admit to himself that this orientation is a biological defect.

Gene Horr

Subject: RE: Greg Cochran, Monday January 3, 2005, Homosexuality

I think is is useful to think of sexual orientation as language. No one has ever produced a gene for speaking English instead of Chinese-- on the contrary, there are vast numbers of counterexamples. At the same time, once learned, one's native language is as the core of one's identity. They don't call it the "mother tongue" for nothing. Wars are often fought over language.

As to the issue of evolutionary fitness of homosexuality, the sociobiologists have gone into this at some length (Robert Trivers, inter alia). What it comes down to is that humans are a "high-K" species, not a "high-R" species (K for care, R for reproductivity). It is no great trick to produce far more children that you can adequately care for. Other high-K species are the great apes, and the wolves/dogs. The classic high-R species is something like a fish which spawns thousands of eggs, and, within a day of having done so, views them as potential food. Aquarium keepers have to design special apparatus to prevent the parents from eating their offspring. Of course, in open water, the parents would be eating mostly the offspring of other parents, constituting genetic competition. A high-K species, on the other hand, always has some kind of functional equivalent of birth control. Pills are one form; clerical celibacy is another; and homosexuality a third. The only key requirement is that society has to accept the permanently or temporarily non reproductive adults and make use of their services. Beyond that, all kinds of different ways work.

If you think of homosexuality as language, it might very well mean many different things, according to context. There might be as many different meanings as there are ways of forming the plural, past tense, or patronymic.

More basically, given the all-pervading nature of language, I have some difficulty with the idea that any high-level mental attribute should be disconnected from the mechanisms of language. In my experience, a lot of the people who talk about genetic this and genetic that seem strangely reluctant to put forward a genetic theory of language and integrate their genetic theories into it.

Andrew D. Todd


You wrote (referencing Cochran):

"Cochran's hypothesis comes simply from statistical fact: homosexuality is such a heavy genetic burden that it ought to be bred out of the race rather quickly, and remain quite rare."

I'm not sure this is an unassailable supposition. There are many examples in nature of extended family groups with only one breeding male or female.

For example, naked mole rat families comprise 20-30 individuals with only one breeding female and 2-3 breeding males. The non breeding individuals are available to dig tunnels, protect the young, fight other families, etc. This fits well enough into the theory of Evolution, since the non-breeding individuals are all genetically related to the breeders - the pass genes on through siblings. This works out better than families comprised entirely of breeding individuals since the biological production of the next generation is a relatively small percentage of the total "workload".

I don't see any reason human families would be different. My great grandmother had 12 children, which would have been enough to expand the population even if all her brothers and sisters were infertile. The homosexual sibling is unburdened with children and thus available to till the soil, fight, build civil structures, etc. This gives his brother's children a better chance of passing a recessive "homosexual gene" to the next generation.

We could also throw in another consideration. I remember reading news of a study which showed an increase in homosexual activity in rats as they are confined in areas of high population density (as in a prison). It seems logical homosexuality is actually a common genetic predisposition which preferentially manifests itself in the presence of high population density, where, presumably, competition for resources is more intense, i.e., in a situation where producing children is less important than protecting and feeding the ones you do produce. This would give you the benefit high offspring production under favorable resource conditions and high survivability when the resource situation is less favorable.

I'm curious whether any research has been done on the prevalence of homosexuality relating to environment. You could contrast the "scarce resources" scenario above with another where the constraining factor of population growth isn't resources but something that isn't affected by the availability of extra labor. Say, for example, an area plagued by a disease unrelated to population density which causes high infant mortality.

Eric Baumgartner

I have never said Cochran's thesis is unassailable, I said and say that the phenomenon needs explaining.  Protection by non-breeding uncles is important to wolves, but it has not been shown to be important to humans so far as I know.


On Health Care

Dear Jerry:

I'm surprised that you let Jim Mangles get away with writing: "However when you look at the general results, the statistics tell you one significant fact: life expectancy in Britain is better than in the US for both men and women, by three or four years. This says that the British health system works better than the American one, and for a lot less money to boot. " http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail336.html#Friday  Last I looked, _post hoc, ergo propter hoc_ was still a fallacy.

The United States is a very populous country, with a very diverse population, including illegal immigrants, drug users, violent criminals, and a wide variety of genetic backgrounds. To assume that one can automatically compare U.S. health statistics with British health statistics without ensuring the populations are comparable is ludicrous. To assume that any difference in average life expectancy is due to health care systems is stupid.

Best, Stephen


Oh yeah, I forgot to add this to my last message: The "health care crisis" is actually quite simple. Everyone wants the best possible health care, regardless of price. Everyone wants some else to pay for his or her health care.

The crisis is caused by the fact that many people think this can happen, generally.

D. E. S. A.!

Once again I point point out, this IS a lesson in critical thinking... Some exercises I leave to the readers.


I don't usually post press releases, but this one may be interesting:

Subject: Intelligence Reform Act in askSam Database

New Year's greetings from the Swamp,

At the end of 2004, congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act - the most dramatic reform of U.S. intelligence capabilities since the National Security Act of 1947.

We've made this 200+ page piece of legislation available in a free, searchable, askSam database. The individual sections of the legislation are divided into separate documents in the database. This allows users to easily locate sections pertaining to specific topics.

The askSam version allows you to search, browse, and analyze the legislative text. There is no charge for the software or information; it's our hope that this will be a useful tool for those doing research.

To Download: http://www.asksam.com/ebooks/IntelReformAct/ 

A press release is available at: http://www.asksam.com/releases.asp 

In addition to the Intelligence Reform Act, we also have the following information available as free downloads from our Web site:

The Transcripts from the 2004 Presidential Debates http://www.asksam.com/debate1/ 

"Agenda for America" by President Bush http://www.asksam.com/AgendaForAmerica/ 

"Our Plan for America" by Senators Kerry and Edwards http://www.asksam.com/ourplan/ 

The Patriot Act http://www.asksam.com/files/downloads/patriot%20act.ask 

The 9-11 Commission Report http://www.asksam.com/911/ 

Thanks for your continued support of askSam.


Phil Schnyder President


CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


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Thursday, January 6, 2005

Twelfth Night

Column time and CES time, so there won't be answers to mail.

The link below is an English translation (with pictures) of the Mexican guide for illegal immigrants to invade our borders.


Louis Andrews Stalking the Wild Taboo http://lrainc.com/swtaboo/


Subject: TC1100 external monitor

Pop up the Q menu. Select "Internal and External" [monitor]. You may also need to tap the screen orientation button to match what's desired.

Bob Bailey

Thanks to you and several others. It's easy once you remember; but Help was no help...

Subj: Christians in Iraq need support

http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/shea_rayis200501060730.asp  Nina Shea & James Y. Ray on Christians and Iraq on National Review Online

=There is an urgent need for immediate private funding to help pro-democracy ChaldoAssyrian candidates and voters in the January 30 elections. ... Tax-deductible donations for this purpose can be sent to: Iraq Freedom Account, Assyrian American National Federation http://www.aanf.org/  , 5550 North Ashland, Chicago, IL 60640.

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com







CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


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Friday,  January 7, 2004

Subject: Correction buffy willow

Dear Jerry:

Naturally, I didn't get around to checking my math till after I'd sent you the letter concerning efficiency in space, and you'd printed it http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail343.html#Monday. The optimum is 25%, not 20%

Reasoning: for an efficiency of x 0<x<1, the heat collected per watt generated is x^-1, the heat rejected is (x^-1)(1-x), and the radiator efficiency is (x-1)^-4 compared to a radiator operating at peak temperature of the heat engine. So the radiator function, assuming reasonably constant specific heat, is (x^-1)(1-x)^-3. The derivative is (x-4)(x^-2)(1-x)^-4, which has a minimum at x = 0.25. Calculator shows that (x^-1)(1-x)^-3 gets larger on either side of x = 0.25.

The big question in this is how radiator mass is affected by temperature. If radiator mass drops off real fast as the temperature falls, then a higher efficiency could be desirable. Also, if you're talking an electric rocket rather than a satellite, you have another option: put some or all the waste heat into the reaction mass. But for satellites, efficiency won't be a problem for the foreseeable future.

Best, Stephen



Subject: Microsoft anti-spyware beta


-- Roland Dobbins

Fair warning: they send you around Red Robin's Barn to get this, but it can be done. I have installed it,, and we'll see.


Subject: Homesexuality and Darwinism

Dear Jerry:

Most of the other commentators have made the points that came to my mind when I read Greg Cochran's essay. A few thoughts:

If homosexuality is purely genetic, there are two theories that seem to make sense. One is the "compensating factor" argument, that homosexual relatives help their family members survive. A variant on this: I'm told (genetics is NOT my field) that some genes manifest differently in women than in men. A gene or set of genes that tended to make women more fertile might have the side effect of making men homosexual. With about 2-3% of men being actual life-long gays, it might not take much fertility increase. (By the way, Kinsey's famous statement was really 'About 10% of men are MORE-OR-LESS exclusively homosexual for UP TO 3 years.')

The other purely genetic theory is mutation. Why do we still have hemophilia? My understanding is that the gene responsible mutates easily, so the deaths of male carriers is offset by the appearance of new damaged genes. It doesn't seem very likely that the same gene could suffer spontaneous mutations in 2% of the population, but it is at least checkable.

But my guess is a combination of causes. In re the mycoplasma in mice that causes a lung problem, Mr. Cochran mentioned "some mouse strains were far more vulnerable than others, and microenviromental differences were important." So, add a disease, a particular set of genes that's helpful or not harmful in most cases (possibly recessive), and bad environment in the womb and you might have the cause of homosexuality, or at least most homosexuality.

But I wouldn't know how to test that if I had the facilities. Sure is interesting to bs about, though.

Best, Stephen


Kinsey's numbers are bogus. He was after sensational announcements, and he used lots of prisoners in his sample. The 10% figure is impossible. Genetics isn't Cochran's specialty -- he's a physicist -- but he has regular access to some of the best in that field, and he studies such subjects closely.

His general hypothesis is that many "genetic" disorders, such as "proclivity to ulcers" are in fact the result of infectious diseases; that disease is more prevalent than we know. There's considerable evidence that he's right.

Note: there is a problem with inviting intelligent amateurs into discussions of this complexity, and I think we'll end this here., since I fall into the intelligent amateur category myself, and we're unlikely to contribute much. Cochran points out that he is now considered sufficiently expert in genetics to be published in all the professional journals.

I do note that some of the questions posed here were in fact covered in the original letter, although that may not be obvious. Time pressure caused me to put up some mail without comment that probably ought to have been answered.

The question is one of importance, but this is a case where what's needed is data, not evidence or plausibility.


&time=07%2037%20PST&year=2005&public=1 >

Tue Jan 4 07:37:36 2005 Pacific Time

Study Reveals High Infection Rate in Teens for Virus Linked to Cervical Cancer

INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 4 (AScribe Newswire) -- More sexually active adolescent females than previous thought may be infected with a virus linked to cervical cancer and genital warts, according to a study published in the Jan. 15 issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The research, reported by Darron R. Brown, M.D., and colleagues at the Indiana University School of Medicine, found four out of five sexually active adolescent females infected with the human papillomavirus. The study said the rates observed among the 60 study participants from three primary care clinics in Indianapolis exceeded the HPV rates reported in previous research.

Human papillomavirus is a common sexually transmitted infection and its effects may range from no symptoms to genital warts to cervical cancer.

In the current study, 95 percent of the participants, ages 14 to 17 years, were sexually active, and the median number of sexual partners was two. Eighty-five percent were African American, 11 percent were Caucasian and 3 percent were Hispanic.

Participation in the study involved quarterly visits to a primary care clinic for a cervical swab test and up to five 3-month diary collection periods, during which the adolescents recorded their sexual behavior daily and performed self-vaginal swabbing weekly. Each woman participated in the study for an average of two years. Brown and colleagues collected a total of about 2,100 swab specimens adequate for analysis of HPV infection. <snip>

Sexual liberation has consequences.


See this article with graphics and related items at http://www.economist.com/world/na/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3518560


Whatever happened to the belief that any American could get to the top?

THE United States likes to think of itself as the very embodiment of meritocracy: a country where people are judged on their individual abilities rather than their family connections. The original colonies were settled by refugees from a Europe in which the restrictions on social mobility were woven into the fabric of the state, and the American revolution was partly a revolt against feudalism. From the outset, Americans believed that equality of opportunity gave them an edge over the Old World, freeing them from debilitating snobberies and at the same time enabling everyone to benefit from the abilities of the entire population. They still do.

To be sure, America has often betrayed its fine ideals. The Founding Fathers did not admit women or blacks to their meritocratic republic. The country's elites have repeatedly flirted with the aristocratic principle, whether among the brahmins of Boston or, more flagrantly, the rural ruling class in the South. Yet America has repeatedly succeeded in living up to its best self, and today most Americans believe that their country still does a reasonable job of providing opportunities for everybody, including blacks and women. In Europe, majorities of people in every country except Britain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia believe that forces beyond their personal control determine their success. In America only 32% take such a fatalistic view.

But are they right? A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age, around the 1880s. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace: would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap. The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.

The past couple of decades have seen a huge increase in inequality in America. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think-tank, argues that between 1979 and 2000 the real income of households in the lowest fifth (the bottom 20% of earners) grew by 6.4%, while that of households in the top fifth grew by 70%. The family income of the top 1% grew by 184%--and that of the top 0.1% or 0.01% grew even faster. Back in 1979 the average income of the top 1% was 133 times that of the bottom 20%; by 2000 the income of the top 1% had risen to 189 times that of the bottom fifth.

Thirty years ago the average real annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives was $1.3m: 39 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is $37.5m: over 1,000 times the pay of the average worker. In 2001 the top 1% of households earned 20% of all income and held 33.4% of all net worth. Not since pre-Depression days has the top 1% taken such a big whack.

MORE DYNASTIC THAN DYNAMIC Most Americans see nothing wrong with inequality of income so long as it comes with plenty of social mobility: it is simply the price paid for a dynamic economy. But the new rise in inequality does not seem to have come with a commensurate rise in mobility. There may even have been a fall. <snip>

Public education was once a leveling force. Now it can be argued that it serves the opposite purpose. If we wanted to keep good education in the hands of the rich  what would we do differently?




This week:


read book now


Saturday, January 8, 2005

There is hope, it seems:

"Welcome climate bloggers A group of just nine climate scientists is trying to change the media coverage of their discipline. Thanks to an ongoing revolution in electronic news, they might just succeed."

Nature (Vol 432, No 7020, pp. 933-1063 - 23/30 December 2004)

You need a subscription to read it all at http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v432/n7020/index.html <http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v432/n7020/index.html> .

The 'revolution in electronic news' is of course the blogs ('online news diaries penned by unpaid commentators').

The nine scientists (Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, Eric Steig, William Connolley, Ray Bradley, Stefan Rahmstorf, Rasmus Benestad, Caspar Ammann, Amy Clement) launched a website last month: www.realclimate.org  <http://www.realclimate.org/> .

Happy new year!

A. Romain

I haven't had a lot of time to look at it, but the realclimate.org web site looks like another grant protecting advocacy site rather than an objective science discussion. Their critiques of Will and Crichton are argumentative and full of value statements, but darned short on objectivity.

There are some basic facts which always seem to be overlooked:

 Greenland was inhabited by the Vikings. Any climate discussion needs to take this into account. There are theories about ocean currents and such, but the fact remains that Greenland was inhabited, Vineland was inhabitable, and Europe was warmer and had better climate.

We have had much colder periods. Alexander Hamilton dragged the guns of Ticonderoga across the frozen Hudson River to General Washington on Manhattan Island in 1776. I don't have the exact date of the last year the Hudson was frozen that solid, but it was certainly before CO2 caused any great warming.

Any discussion that doesn't at least account for such data is advocacy not science.

As to who are the "real scientists" the facts here haven't changed much. Everyone since Arrhenius has understood that increasing CO2 levels will cause some warming. Arrhenius did some calculations on the back of an old envelope, so to speak, and all our refined models don't seem to have done much better.

The situation remains: climate modelers see approaching doom. Physical scientists don't find the predicted trends in their measurements. The modelers say "it's coming, just you wait." And money better spent on getting better observation data goes to conferences, travel, hype, and "remedies" when we don't really know what is going on.

There may be a genuine crisis coming. There may not be. We really don't know, and the advocacy style of the debate isn't helping a bit.

Lawyers are advocates, and assemble evidence for their theories. Science is different. Scientists are supposed to look at ALL the data, and account for ALL the data, not select out the parts that fit their theories. They should also be demanding more and better data to reconcile contradictions. Not many "climate scientists" are doing that. For many of them, their grants and thus their livings and employment are tied to various catastrophe theories. That makes it easier to be advocates than scientists.

And see debate following.



 Toyota to employ robots 06/01/2005 08:12 - (SA)

Tokyo - Toyota Motor will introduce robots which can work as well or better than humans at all 12 of its factories in Japan to cut costs and deal with a looming labour shortage as the country ages, a report said on Thursday.

The robots would be able to carry out multiple tasks simultaneously with their two arms, achieving efficiency unseen in human workers and matching the cheap wages of Chinese labourers, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said.

Japan's top automaker currently uses 3 000 to 4 000 less advanced robots at its domestic factories but their use has been confined mostly to welding, painting and other potentially hazardous tasks, the economic daily said.

The new robots would also be used in finishing work, such as installation of seats and car interior fixtures, that have been too complex for conventional robots up to now, the daily said.

Toyota plans to become the first in the automobile industry to use the advanced robots in all production processes in the future, it said without giving the timeframe.

"We aim to reduce production costs to the levels in China," the daily quoted an unnamed company official as saying.

Toyota also took into account the looming labour shortage in Japan due to a declining birthrate, the report said.

Japan's population is forecast to peak by 2006 with the average number of children a woman has during her lifetime standing at a post-World War II low of 1.29, according to the latest government data.

Japan has so far rejected calls to open up to large numbers of unskilled immigrants, fearing the effects on the country's social framework.

Toyota has been increasingly turning to robot development and plans to welcome visitors to its pavillion at the World Expo in Japan in March with humanoid robots jamming in a brass ensemble and performing hip-hop.

Science fiction on the hoof. What in the world will the left side of the Bell Curve do to earn a middle class living? Democracies only exist when the middle class rules and is the majority.



CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, January 9, 2005


"What in the world will the left side of the Bell Curve do to earn a middle class living? Democracies only exist when the middle class rules and is the majority."

In a country where female fertility is 1.29 & has zero immigration anything they want. Of course AI will have to improve a lot before they can help them enough to turn them into good surgeons - on the other hand AI will do so. The problems we will face when somebody develops a pill to stop (but probably not reverse) aging is a whole newcan of worms.

Neil Craig


In response to the article about the advanced robots Toyota will be employing soon in its car factories you said,

"What in the world will the left side of the Bell Curve do to earn a middle class living? Democracies only exist when the middle class rules and is the majority."

Mr Pournelle, I find this a surprisingly Luddite statement from someone as erudite as yourself (I still remember reading your book Ringworld as a teenager, btw, and enjoying it immensely).

I am absolutely sure the average janitor today earns more than the most skilled hand-loom operator in early 19th century England before the automated looms took over (and were smashed by the Luddites).

As I'm sure you are aware, automation creates wealth which frees people from tedious and/or dangerous tasks to other more interesting, less dangerous things - for which they are paid much better than they ever could have been for their custom-work.

Except, of course, when that custom-work becomes a sought-after hand-crafted item, something that can only happen after most similar items are mass-produced by machines. But once again, everyone benefits: those who would rather get paid well doing other things can do so, those who are true artisans stick with the craft through the difficult times and benefit from the demand for unique hand-crafted versions of mass-produced items down the road.

And despite the advances in manufacturing robots, people will be interacting with real people in the service sector for a very, very long time.

Good paying service sector jobs abound only when there are robots to create wealth for all those right-side-of-the-bell-curve engineers and middle-curve (good looking) sales men and women.

In fact, if you read "The Millionaire Next Door", its the average-Joe-sixpack running the scrap metal business or niche service business that often becomes the true net-worth millionaire, not the doctors, lawyers or engineers (who spend most of their high earnings on cars, suits, houses, travel, toys, vacations, etc.).

I enjoy Chaos Manor very much. Keep up the good work.

BTW: I think I read in one of your posts that you and Larry Niven are collaborating on another book - I can't wait to hear about it!

Take care, -Patrick

Thanks for the kind words. Two things come to mind. Niven wrote Ringworld, not me. My early sf was about Colonel John Christian Falkenberg and the world of the CoDominium, and Niven and I together wrote The Mote in God's Eye.

Second, Ludd was an anti-technologist who smashed the spinning wheels lest they take work away from weavers. I don't think I am part of that crowd. I do believe that a society filled with people who have nothing useful to do, and who know they aren't useful, and who have plenty of time on their hands for political work, may be a bit less than stable. We can all hope I am wrong.



The Electronic Telegraph

'We don't tick boxes' Adam Lusher (Filed: 09/01/2005)

Under the slate roofs of a Lake District village, sinister figures are handling seditious literature. In a quiet café in Staveley, a man slides a pamphlet across the table. National Park Events 2004, says the cover. It gets even more disturbing inside, on page 16: "Gateway to the Lakes: a short but scenic walk. Climb through Craggy Wood to visit Potter Tarn."

Ranger Clive Langley talks to a group of walkers

The bespectacled man wants us to accompany him, to show us what free guided walks in the Lake District are like. Just how sinister he is becomes clear when he reveals his identity. He is Clive Langley, 60, a retired chartered surveyor. Quite clearly, he is white, middle-aged and middle class.

"You can't help it, can you?" he says, with a grin that suggests he isn't even ashamed.

Fortunately, someone has tried to stop all this. Last week The Telegraph revealed that a decision has been taken to scrap the national park's programme of 900 events, including all 400 free guided walks. The walks attract about 5,000 people a year, but they are the wrong sort of people.

Mr Langley and his 300 fellow voluntary rangers have received letters informing them of the decision of the corporate and financial services committee of the Lake District National Park Authority. "The strategy will take immediate effect," wrote Paul Tiplady, the National Park Officer. "We will focus on new audiences (urban young people from minority ethnic communities and disabled people)."

Mick Casey, the senior media relations adviser, explained why the free walks must be purged. "Our research shows that the majority who do the walks are white, middle-class, middle-aged people."

He didn't stop there. "In July 2002, the Government issued a report, in which it outlined what it saw as a problem: not enough ethnic minorities and young people coming to national parks.

"We have a limited budget and can't do everything. The Government gives us an annual grant of about £6 million. It is our only source of money. If the Government says we would like you to do this, what do you expect us to do?"

The Review of English National Park Authorities, launched by Alun Michael, the Minister for Rural Affairs, does indeed complain of "a lack of engagement with a wider, predominantly urban, constituency".

"This work should be accorded higher priority," it insists, adding, in Recommendation 15: "The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should encourage park authorities to develop greater understanding among a wider audience, including those from urban areas, ethnic minorities and young people." <snip>

Maybe there won't always be an England...







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