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Mail 347 January 31 - February 6, 2005






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Monday  January 31, 2005

Subject: Iraqi blogs

Worth watching as the weekend unfolds.


Alan Clifton


Here's an interesting column about oil prices:


Mike Flynn


Subject: Interesting obit...



Made me wonder if we'll see her like again. We've turned away from generalization in science.

Mark Huth

Indeed. And I dare say we will see her like again; credentialism is a phenomenon, but it too will pass. As Possony used to say about the Soviet Union: "These tyrannies don't last." Now there's even a market in Imperial Bonds.


Subject: Enemy Prisoners


Brice Yokem

No surprises given the judge, but a District Court Judge has no real power over the US military. This won't be decided at that level.



Subject: 'If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your [unemployment] benefits'

I can't even begin to comment on this one.

As Dave Berry says, I am not making this up.


David Klaus

Why are you astonished? It is the ultimate end of the Enlightment trail. What is moral about not being a prostitute? In a thoroughly secular era, the only questions would be is it sanitary and are the women regularly inspected? Otherwise who are you to judge the merits of one form of employment over another?


Subject: The two faces of Germany

I really don't know what to make of it when these two newsitems appear the same day:

Law firm charges Heise for publishing copying software news Posted by Seán Byrne <Javascript:OpenProfile('http://www.cdfreaks.com/profile/16754');> on 31 January 2005 - 00:17 - Source: heise online <http://www.heise.de/english/newsticker/news/55705>

When Germany enforced its version of the European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD), <http://www.cdfreaks.com/news/5405> it added quite a nasty restriction that even prohibits the discussion of circumventing copy protection measures. Unfortunately, this part has now been used to charge the news website heise online for publishing an article on AnyDVD. As AnyDVD removes CSS and Macrovision from DVDs and copy-protection measures from Audio CDs, this tool is illegal within Germany, even to discuss about.

On behalf of several major music industry labels, the Waldorf law firm of Munich sent Heise a discussion accusing their news article of illegal advertising to help with the sale of the software as well as providing instructions to get around anti-piracy measures. According to the music industry, even providing a link to the software manufacturer’s website is against the law. The Firm claims that heist did not voluntary remove the offending article on request and if this warning does cause the publisher to cease and desist, then legal proceedings will begin.


'If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits' By Clare Chapman (Filed: 30/01/2005)

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe.

She received a letter from the job centre telling her that an employer was interested in her "profile'' and that she should ring them. Only on doing so did the woman, who has not been identified for legal reasons, realise that she was calling a brothel.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.

See, it's all perfectly legal. Ordnung. But see below.


Subject: THE WAY THINGS REALLY WORK: Why Plastic Aircraft Models are Going Away


THE WAY THINGS REALLY WORK: Why Plastic Aircraft Models are Going Away

January 31, 2005: For over half a century, kits have been sold that enable military history buffs to assemble scale models of military ships, aircraft and vehicles. But that era is coming to an end, as the manufacturers of the original equipment, especially aircraft, are demanding high royalties (up to $40 per kit) from the kit makers. Since most of these kits sell in small quantities (10-20,000) and are priced at $15-30 (for plastic kits, wooden ones are about twice as much), tacking on the royalty just prices the kit out of the market. Popular land vehicles, which would sell a lot of kits, are missing as well. The new U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicles are not available because of royalty requirements. Even World War II aircraft kits are being hit with royalty demands. This move grew out of the idea that corporations should maximize “intellectual property” income. Models of a companys products are considered the intellectual property of the owner of a vehicle design. In the past, the model kits were considered free advertising, and good public relations, by the defense firms. The kit manufacturers comprise a small industry, and the aircraft manufacturers will probably not even notice if they put many of the model vendors out of business. Some model companies will survive by only selling models of older (like World War I), or otherwise “no royalty” items (Nazi German aircraft) and ships. But the aircraft were always the bulk of sales, and their loss will cripple many of the kit makers.


And there are probably lawyers telling the corporate directors that they have a 'fiduciary responsibility' to charge those royalties, much as lawyers told the US Navy Institute directors that they had a right to steal Tom Clancy's characters and future income because they had published his first novel. Ain't greed grand?







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Tuesday,  February 1, 2005


Subject: 1 (lone) analyst says stay with IE, don't use FireFox

>From this note on Groklaw:


Unbelievably enough, a Jupiter analyst, Michael Gartenberg, has written an opinion piece which ComputerWorld, unbelievably enough, has printed, cautioning businesses that they might want to think twice about switching from IE to Firefox because "Firefox lacks the ability to run Microsoft ActiveX code."

I wonder which Redmond based corporation paid for that bit of 'opinion'?


-- John Harlow, President BravePoint

I don't say don't use FireFox, but it's true I have stayed with Internet Explorer to the dismay of a number of friends. I have all the latest Microsoft security updates installed, and I have a pretty good firewall system; and so far the convenience of IE and the inertia of changing to something else has kept me where most of the public is. Of course my system is more secure than most, and I have some heavy duty backup procedures in place. More on this in the column. But I don't allow Active X code except in exceptional circumstances.


Francis Hamit sends this:

Insult to injury By Mark Benjamin




Subject: How Is This A Conservative Concept?

How radicalism hijacks institutions and wears the cloaks of its victims . . .

Rice added, "That's why this is an extraordinary time. That's why the Department of State is going to be leading a tremendous effort to use our diplomacy literally to change the world."



It isn't. But you knew that.


Subject: Sunday, January 23rd, 2005 - Problems with Lacie drives and direct file transfers

Dear Dr. Pournelle

Dr Gardener's problems with his Lacie drives strikes a chord.

( http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail345.html#summers  Sunday, January 23rd, 2005.

I also have been experimenting with two Lacie 500 GB drives with sometimes bizarre results.

All fixed now. It is necessary to go to the Lacie web site and download a firmware update, and the updating software. This update is labelled as fixing a problem with firewire and XP SP2, but also corrects this anomaly.


I haven't a clue what caused it.

Since this update, I regularly shift 15 to 20 GB at a go without problems.

Best Regards

Mark Baller


Subject: UK News

UK government to build homes at flood risk < http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4224533.stm >. "Better planning is needed."

Guidance to homeowners on what they can do to burglars is due out: < http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4224473.stm 

Brain immaturity in young adults: < http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52687-2005Jan31.html >. I'm modeling this system--it involves the basal ganglia and underlies reward learning. Is the delayed maturation due to the sheer amount of time necessary for development or due to natural selection? This system seems to be able to learn abstractions--a very difficult task in AI.

Inland Revenue problems with their website: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1465640,00.html>

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



Subject: Technology checkup


Here - http://www.popsci.com/popsci/computers/article/0,20967,1020363,00.html  - is an article that reviews the current state of inkjet technology. SF stuff - and stuff no SF writer has thought of - is definitely on the way.

Ed Hume



You might find the following paper about to be published interesting in the light of the recent debate on your web regarding climate change:



For the statistically illiterate, there's a non-technical explanation here:


"Our research shows fundamental flaws in the “hockey stick graph” used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to argue that the 1990s were the warmest decade of the millennium. The original hockey stick study was published by Michael Mann of the University of Virginia and his coauthors Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes. The main error affects a step called principal component analysis (PCA). We showed that the PCA method as used by Mann et al. effectively mines a data set for hockey stick patterns. Even from meaningless random data (red noise), it nearly always produces a hockey stick.

This “backgrounder” provides a road map and summary of the 3 articles. While these papers have been under review, Mann et al. have opened up their own weblog and criticized some of our earlier work. We include some comments here on this commentary and some FAQ."

Jonathan Sturm The world's most Pompous Git according to Google

I am looking forward to reading this, but I bet some readers beat me to it.







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Wednesday, February 2, 2005


Open with this from Russell Seitz, who is always worth attention:

Seitz Re: Crichton

Dear Jerry;
With Mike Crichton's AEI debut , his latest novel bids fair to rival The Hunt For Red October in its policy impact. This is unfortunate, for while It pushes all the buttons, its views on climate change are as overstated and under nuanced as Jurassic Park's on cloning and chaos theory, Congo on primatology and geophysics, or Prey on nanotechnology . Real players in the scientific disciplines involved are again laughing in the aisles or oiling their horsewhips. This time Mike has alienated his informants not just by failing to do as much homework as his scholarly apparatus implies, but by borrowing beyond the sum of what he credits.

While Dick Lindzen is merely bemused , Greg Benford has defected openly. I am not about to do anything until I read it, but 'State Of Fear' reportedly expands on Mike's Cal Tech and Commonwealth Club speeches, are cause for concern on my part as well. Both of those admirable presentations focus on the late Carl Sagan's efforts to scare the world into disarmament by marketing the 'Nuclear Winter ' software as hard scientific fact. Mike correctly notes that the public is liable to confuse the manipulation of symbols - especially long strings of uncertain variables , with 'scientific' proof .

Mike's speeches paraphrase the following account of how false perceptions of science drive policy. While my 1986 National Interest article examining Sagan's gambit, is widely available on the net, having appeared in the Wall Street Journal , this 1990 one is more germane to germane to Mike's present work . Here it is online for the first time. I hope Mike's readers find it edifying






CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, February 3, 2005

This story made quite a stir and generated a number of letters, some suspicious of the story. I received this yesterday but in a format that made impossible to post. I wanted to wait until I had it because it is definitive:

Subject: RE: Unemployment benefits and prostitution

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Like everyone, I was appalled at the story involving the young German woman told to take a job as a prostitute or lose her benefits. I have lived in Germany for five and a half years now, and I know how upset people are about the recent attempts to change the unemployment system (generally considered to be a disaster by everyone and another major blunder by the ruling coalition that the opposition is too ham-fisted to take advantage of). But after some reflection, something about it just didn't ring quite true. For one thing, in my experience German bureaucrats tend to be friendly, polite, and helpful and the service tends to run quite smoothly (especially in the eyes of native Southern Californian who knows all about California DMV). So I did some checking.

This appears to be a popular topic in chat rooms and fora all over the Internet, but every single discussion in English stems from the same article in the Telegraph that your original correspondent cited. Among other problems I found in the article, is the fact that "Merchtild" is not a real name; the attorney's name is actually "Mechthild". More suspicious is the fact that I couldn't find any sources in the German news. This is the sort of thing that ought to have been reported, by the tabloid press, if nothing else. After checking a few places, I finally tracked the original source to an article in a paper called "die Tageszeitung" or TAZ.

It is important to know that the TAZ is a radical left-wing paper founded by people with ties to the old Red Army Faction. It is rather typical of its genre and its articles should be read with a large helping of salt. I suppose it is slightly to the left of the old "LA Free Press" (but I'm a little too young to have actually read that particular journal). In any case, the article was pointing out an apparent gap in the new employment laws that could produce a situation like this and cited the attorney mentioned in the Telegraph article (spelling her name correctly). They also quoted a bureaucrat saying that since prostitution is legal, it cannot be considered offensive. Maybe, maybe not; one has to consider the source. But most noteworthy is the fact that no actual case is mentioned in the article at all, just a theoretical possibility.

I tried running some of the other names in the Telegraph article through Google and did get one important hit. The following is an article from Deutsche Welle, which is a respectable and trustworthy institution:

www.dw-world.de/english/ 0,3367,1431-184677-220493_A_951529_1_A,00.html

"A brothel owner in the historic German town of Gvrlitz on the Polish border is preparing to open his establishment next month but faces a one last serious problem -- he has no staff. Ulrich Kueperkoch's adverts seeking "hostesses for erotic services" for his Golden 3 Privatclub have been rejected by Germany's Federal Labor Office even though prostitution is legal in the country. The dispute with the labor office stems from its refusal to allow advertising for prostitutes in the network of job-placement agencies that it runs. A spokesperson said that the labor office has "decided not to be active in that market sector" due to its belief that such work could infringe on an individual's rights if he or she is forced to take the job. Kueperkoch insists he would only employ those who were interested and not those who felt they had no other choice."

So, the German employment services aren't taking postings for erotic hostesses and no one is threatened with losing their unemployment benefits for refusing to become a prostitute. What we have is an activist lawyer and a radical newspaper pointing up an important but probably not serious loophole in new laws. The story is picked up in a garbled fashion (let's give the Telegraph's reporter the benefit of the doubt) by one English language paper that doesn't check its facts properly, and everyone has the chance to be outraged about something new for a few days. As David Brin notes, indignation acts like a drug, releasing massive amounts of endorphins into the system. The boomers may not be smoking as much dope or snorting as much coke as they used to, but they're still getting high.

David Levinson

Thank you for clearing that up. Alas, we live in times in which it is possible to believe the story; not long ago all would have known it was myth and propaganda. Alas. BUT SEE BELOW.


Subject: A magnificent book, gentlemen

I just finished Burning Tower. It's simply wonderful. I liked The Burning City a lot, but this worked even better for me on several levels-- the characters, the settings, the story, the sense of historical context. You really outdid yourselves. Congratulations.

. png

So what are the rest of you waiting for? Get your copies now...

And a public service of some value:

Subject: State of the Union Address in askSam Database

As fast as we could....

The text from President Bush's State of the Union Address is available in a free, searchable askSam database at:


The askSam version of the State of the Union allows you to search, browse, and analyze the text of the speech.

There is no charge for the software or information; it's our hope that this will be a useful tool for those researching and analyzing the speech.

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

 We are currently working on other databases. If there is something that would be interesting for you or your readers, please let me know.

All the best from the Swamp,

Phil Schnyder President

In addition to the State of the Union, the following are also available in searchable askSam databases:

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

Selected Speeches from the 2004 Political Conventions http://www.asksam.com/Convention2004/ 

"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/ 

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act http://www.asksam.com/ebooks/IntelReformAct/ 

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act http://www.asksam.com/ebooks/Sarbanes/ 

askSam Systems



Subject: Intelligent design...

Personally, I tend to side with the Intelligent Design crowd.

Haldane's comment about God having an inordinate fondness for beetles is cute and meant to signify the absurdity of the question, but I feel he really didn't give it quite enough thought. Do beetles serve a purpose in the world, or are they purely parasitic on the overall ecology? Obviously they have a purpose- they eat stuff (I'm not sure exactly what, not being an entymologist) and in the process make it into organic substance (their bodies) which can be eaten by other creatures. They're part of the cleaning system of the world, taking refuse and recycling it, or maybe feeding other parts of the chain (I'm thinking of aphids with this one). Virtually every creature has its purpose in the world to help keep it running. Evolutionists refer to them occupying an evolutionary niche, and say that if they were wiped out something else would evolve to take their place. Maybe so, but is it that far fetched to think that there might be an intelligence of some sort guiding it?

I look at it this way: I can better get to know the nature of the Divine (insert your preferred deity's name here) by studying His greatest work as much as possible- namely, the world around me, including humans. I don't claim to know the true nature of the Divine, and couldn't swear that there is a Divine intelligence out there, but it is just as reasonable to assume that there is one as to assume that there isn't. Atheism requires just as much faith as any other religion, and is just as arrogant in terms of assuming that they have the one definitive answer to the question and that all others are foolishly wrong. I prefer to state the obvious: I don't know.

But I do like Pascal's wager.


And of course there is the Great Chain of Being. Mosse deals with these matters in his lectures; he wasn't unsympathetic, although not a believer. But as the King of Spain remarked on being told of the Ptolemaic solar system and its epicycles, it would not be difficult to simplify these matters. The real question never asked because not answerable (at least by science) is "Intelligent Design for what? To what end is all this in aid of?"

Haldane was of course being flip; the question is, should he have been?

Subject: Intelligent Design

Hi Jerry

Is "Intelligent Design" something like "Creation Science"?

I'm vain enough to consider myself moderately well educated in both theology and geology. On the balance of probability, I think it likely that we developed via some form of evolution, though I have reservations about "pure Darwinism" (although there seems little agreement on exactly what that is.)

However I cannot agree with those who would write off some direct form of creation as impossible. (Not that I'm accusing you of such). I believe in an all-powerful God and I don't believe that anything is beyond His capabilities.

May I recommend a book by a friend of mine: "The Essence of Darwinism" by Dr Kirsten Birkett. It is a detailed, and perhaps sceptical, look at modern (and less modern) thinking on Darwinism.

There's a review at http://www.sydneyanglicans.net/culture/reading/340a/  and the book is available at http://secure.fellowworkers.com/cgi-bin/mmstore/ted.html?id=X7Kx3TY

------ Michael J Smith

Clearly an Omnipotent God could do literally anything including faking data; there is no actual way to prove the universe wasn't created 17 minutes ago, after you sent that email (which you didn't send because it's actually a figment of your imagination that you sent it, and a planted memory in my computer that I received it when in fact it existed for all time, time being 18 minutes now). And of course we all -- at least all those reading this -- reject such absurdities.

Intelligent Design purports to be more reasonable than "Creation Science" (whatever that was/is) in that it purports to conform to all scientifically verifiable data without resorting to any special hypotheses. Perhaps so. Certainly evolutionary theory as it now exists can be asked embarrassing questions; which is not to say that it is not extremely useful in explaining much of what goes on in the world, just as Newtonian mechanics answered many questions but couldn't answer some.

Augustine theorized about creation in germinal form, and it is good Catholic doctrine that Man is a Co-Creator with God and has useful work to do in finishing the universe -- once we understand what it is for. "Have dominion" was both a gift and a command.

Subject: Darwin

I am amused with the vigor most teachers defend Darwin against the forces of ignorance while at the same time cramming socialism and green Luddism into their students.

Walter E. Wallis Palo Alto

Me too...

Subject: Intelligent Design


I don't see any evidence for intelligent design in the evolution of life, or in any other physical objects in our universe, but I have always found it intriguing that the laws of physics look like a trail of candy leading us from one explanation of reality to the next; possibly eventually to a theory of everything. String theory, Brane theory, etc. would have been inconceivable without all that went before, but we've only got to where we are today because each earlier explanation was a good enough approximation for the needs of the time.

Obviously our species had to evolve minds that could make enough sense of the world to be able to survive on the African savannah, but there's no way we could have gone from say a spear to HP's quantum crossbar latch without lots of small scientific and technological steps along the way. If we lived in a universe where the laws of physics could only be logically understood on either the level of throwing spears or on that of quantum theory, with nothing that our minds could grasp in-between, then we'd still be throwing those spears.

Best wishes

Paul Dove








Subject: News from the UK

< http://www.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/0,12780,1404449,00.html >-- with an unwritten constitution, the UK is effectively an elective dictatorship. < http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,3604,1404517,00.html >--few Labour ministers have any managerial experience, and it shows. < http://society.guardian.co.uk/asylumseekers/story/ 0,7991,1404702,00.html >--interesting...

My siblings in America will find this interesting: < http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A59136-2005Feb2.html >. TANSTAAFL.

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

The Crown holds unlimited power; it is exercised through the King In Parliament, which is to say, through the House of Commons, but legally the monarch could refuse assent to laws; and of course the army's allegiance is to the sovereign, not to the Parliament at Westminster. An interesting system.

Subject: Latest Nature Issue is Interesting

< http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v433/ n7025/index.html >

Lab relations sour as 'missing disk' charges are proved false 447 Los Alamos lab's computer disks didn't go missing - they never existed.

Cancellation e-mail shakes recipients of outer-planet grants 447 NASA notice of grant cuts was just a 'miscommunication', agency says.

Astronomy: Hot pursuit of missing matter 465 J. MICHAEL SHULL Astronomers are going to extraordinary lengths in the quest to tot up the 'ordinary' matter in the Universe. The latest initiative has probed hot gas in intergalactic space by means of an X-ray lighthouse.


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


Subject:  Marine Recruiting


earlier you had an entry from a reader noting the Marine's success in recruiting in the face of a seemingly unpopular war, which met some scepticism. I am forwarding the following, as I'm sure others will as well. It's not dire news, by any means, but does cast doubt on prior sunny estimates.


By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON - The Marine Corps fell short of its monthly recruiting goal in January for the first time in nearly 10 years, officials said Thursday.

While it was only a one-month slip and the Marines say they remain on track to meet their recruiting target for the full year, the January numbers reflect a broader reality for the military: Recruiting is more difficult because of the highly publicized U.S. war casualties in Iraq (news - web sites).

"Now we're seeing parents resisting" the sales pitch of recruiters because they worry that their son or daughter will wind up in a war zone, said Maj. Dave Greismer, spokesman for Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

"What we're doing is working with the parents more," he added. "Whereas before it may have taken one visit and they would accept, now it may take a recruiter two, three, four" visits. In some cases parents of 17-year-olds, who are a prime target of recruiters, are insisting that their son or daughter wait until age 18, when recruits no longer need parental approval to join.

In January the Marines signed up 84 fewer recruits than their goal of 3,270. That was the first time they fell short for a month since July 1995, which also was the last year in which the Marines missed their full-year recruiting goal.

Greismer stressed that although the number of new enlistment contracts in January was short of the goal, the Marines managed to make the January quota of recruits sent to boot camp because some had been signed up previously.

For the October-January period, the Marines sent 10,222 new recruits to boot camp, or 184 more than their target number, Greismer said.







CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


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Friday,  February 4, 2005

Subject: James Tiberius Kirk, Neocon.


- Roland Dobbins

True, all true!

Subject: The fabric of the cosmos?


- Roland Dobbins

It may be so...

Subject: News flash - warriors enjoy battle!

I'm shocked, shocked!


- Roland Dobbins

"It is a good thing that war is so terrible..."  News flash indeed. Marines like to fight and shoot bad guys. Astonishing.


Subject: Intelligent Design

I am, inter alia, a biologist--my PhD is formally in computational biology. My concerns about evolution are within the context of evolutionary theory--there is nothing that suggests to me that a viable alternative exists that rejects the basic principles of evolutionary theory, and the experimental evidence for evolution appears to me to be very robust.

I attend the Church of England, but my beliefs are consistent with my scientific background. For example, I'm a monist--the experimental evidence from neuroscience and neurosurgery is that there is nothing of the mind that survives death, and any hope for that survival (whether in this universe or outside) is dependent on an actions of another. But that is a valid position and was dominant in the early days of Christianity.

I also believe God is not limited to space-time. My reasoning is that the lack of a preferred frame of reference is incompatible with omnipotence and omniscience. The universe we can perceive is finite and will always be finite, and I see no reason to assume that it is all that exists.

I believe in a positive sense that God respects the action of the causal laws that He established. Science seems to be able to make sense--using mathematics--of anything that is studied long enough, and that is rather surprising when you think about it. There is nothing about the formal syntactical manipulation of symbols that necessarily implies that they will serve to describe our reality, and yet they seem to work. I think that provides some insight into the Nature of God.

The universe appears to be unreasonably friendly to intelligent life. If I were a solipsist, I might regard that as accidental, but accidentally habitable universes are much less special than our specific universe. That is exactly as far as I will go in the direction of intelligent design--God chose a specific set of initial conditions, parameters, and causal laws for the universe and let it evolve freely. My suggestion is that God values something about that combination--perhaps intelligence and perhaps something else--and so we find ourselves in a position to speculate about His Nature.

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

I seen nothing to take adamant exception to in that. Miracles, by definition, are rare, and involve deliberate exceptions to rules; if there were no rules and laws then nothing could be miraculous. Respecting the laws of nature, and answering prayer with miracles are not inconsistent notions, nor are appearances by the Author on the stage necessarily signs of disrespect for the drama. Incidentally, I doubt that St. Augustine would have taken adamant exception to your view either, although he expected more miracles in everyday life than we have become accust0med to expect; and it is extremely unlikely that Aquinas would have been outraged by your statement.


Then I have in response to my last mailing, from a subscriber

did you ever apologize to your readers for giving those fake ptboat scumbags space on your site? I was very sorry to see them there, and am still sulking. best wishes, andy

to which the only reply I can make is "no, and I don't intend to." In the first place, I don't know what he means: anyone who claimed to have been on a ptboat in Viet Nam is a "fake" in that the Swiftboats were not PT Boats to begin with, but I doubt that was his intent. If he means that the people involved in that were faking their military records of service with the Swift Boats, I have seen no evidence of that, but rather the contrary. If he means that anyone who served near Kerry and did not find him admirable is a "scumbag" I fear I cannot agree.

Niven once wrote to a fan, "We in the novelist business have a technical term for those who think authors share all the beliefs of their characters. We call them "idiots." None of my best friends are idiots. Merry Christmas."

I am tempted to say "We in the journalism business have a technical term for people who assume that we agree with every statement of those to whom we give publication space. We call them "idiots." None of my best friends are idiots. Happy Valentine's Day."

But in fact the Swift Boat veterans had a number of things to say that I don't disagree with, as well as some other statements I found interesting but I don't know enough to evaluate. I do find it interesting that Kerry's experience of being in Cambodia was burned indelibly into his memory when in fact he wasn't in Cambodia, but I don't doubt his memory: it's more evidence of the good sense behind statutes of limitations. Witness memories from long ago tend to regress to the mean of what everyone else thought about the incident, so that people who were "there" will, long long after, often give the conventional account of an incident even though there is considerably documentary evidence that what really happened was substantially different, and the person "remembering" was an actual participant in events contrary to his memory.

More to the point, the Swift Boat accounts showed that while most of Kerry's actual boat crew supported him and thought him fit for command, a significant number of those in boats in his squadron, and of superior officers, had somewhat different views; and given that Kerry ran for office on a platform of  "Reporting for Duty" this doesn't seem as irrelevant as it might have had he simply ignored his Viet Nam record and run on more recent issues. Had he run on a platform of "Wrong war, wrong time, wrong place, I should not have voted for the Iraq expedition and if I am elected I will get us out of there instantly," I doubt the Swift Boat stories would have had any electoral significance whatever. I think he would have lost by a landslide, but it would have had nothing to do with his military record or the recollections of his shipmates, colleagues, or former commanders.

But for the record, I dispute the term "scumbags" applied to anyone who served in the Swift Boat squadrons, and I am not certain who are the "fake ptboat scumbags" to begin with. And I have no apologies for my election coverage beyond the general observation that I haven't the time and energy resources I wish I had, so much was left out that I would like to have included; that that will always be the case.

And none of my best friends are idiots.


A sign of the times:

Subject: Sued for dropping off cookies.


-- Roland Dobbins

No good deed goes unpunished in our legal system.


From Sue:

Subject: More Spam to Come-



After all, MCI makes lots of money out of this, so of course it is a "free speech" issue. Freedom of speech does not include the right not to listen. Be of good cheer, it's all in the name of liberty and democracy.


Subject: The brothel/unemployment thing again

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I noticed that you put a jump link to my letter on this issue (thanks for running it) referring to the whole story as a leftwing myth. I'm not quite sure that is the right way to describe it.

True, the original source was a radical lefty paper, but to be fair their story, while sensationalized, was reasonably accurate. There was an apparent gap in the law that could cause such a situation. Indeed, there still is, the Arbeitsamt could change their minds on this matter or be told to change them at any time. Still, the original source never claimed that such had yet happened. They merely wanted to voice rather shrilly their opposition to the latest reforms to the unemployment insurance crisis with a reductio ad absurdum. "See how evil this government is, expecting people to work for a living. They could make women turn to prostitution!"

(As an aside, Germany desperately needs to reduce the number of people earning unemployment, but simply bumping people off the rolls may not be the best solution in a country with rising unemployment and legal age discrimination. As things go right now, if you are over 40, you had better be damn good at what you do if you want a new job; if you are over 50, forget it. Alas, the only suggestion that has been floated by anyone in or out of government to do something about unemployment is to say that the people with jobs need to work more days and longer hours. I don't get it either, but Dick Gephardt will support across the board tax cuts before anyone here comes up with the idea of lowering the tax burden so that it is cheaper for companies to hire people. 70% of all tax literature in the world is written in German. It's a nightmare. End aside.)

I question calling this a leftwing myth, merely because both sides of the spectrum are making political hay out of this thing. Most of the outrage I have seen on the Internet has been from the _right_wing side, using this as a showpiece for the evils of the nanny state. I have heard, though, that the English speaking left are starting to take notice of this now, too. It's everybody's latest hit of indignation, regardless of their politics.

But as you say, things have come to a pretty pass when we could even begin to believe this at all.

David Levinson


Subject: General Mattis


Lord I had a great guffaw when I read the comments of Marine General Mattis and then heard the terrific rending of garments and gnashing of teeth in the "press".

""Actually it's quite fun to fight 'em, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling," said Mattis.

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said during a panel discussion. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

I had the good fortune to serve in the Corps from 1970 - 1978, and whether in or out of combat, this very attitude is what was instilled into us as warriors. The General was making the point that it's a hell of a lot of fun to teach bullies who like to slap around weaker folks a profound object lesson. Another way to say it in Marine Corps terminology would be "No one is going to harm you tonight...not on my watch"

Semper Fidelis Etiam Invictus,


Richard Hakala

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." Orwell







This week:


read book now








CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, February 6, 2005

Subject: "There are Christians here, but they keep their heads down."


-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/then_and_now.htm

I was surfing & found this. It is a damning report of how a scientific paradigm, once established, is difficult to shift - the main example is on a non-political area which only reinforces the point re global warming, AIDS etc.


Neil Craig

This is an extremely important story, a lesson for all; than you for finding it.


Subject: Apparent SuperBowl-related DDoS extortion.


-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Very telling.

from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/06/national/


"Since global warming is our hardest problem, and we brought to bear our weakest tool, expertise, it's hardly surprising that we are getting our worst results," he said.

- Roland Dobbins

They also say "We have become convinced that modern environmentalism, with all of its unexamined assumptions, outdated concepts and exhausted strategies, must die so that something new can live," they wrote. As proof, they cite the debate on global warming and the largely unsuccessful push for federal regulation of industrial and automobile emissions. "  All in all a worthwhile piece and one wonders what it is doing in the Old Gray Lady.


This is actually relevant to another discussion entirely, but it is worth posting:

Subject: Samuel Butler.


This is why scientists have to conform.

In 1680 Samuel Butler wrote in Hudibras as follows:-

What makes all doctrines plain and clear?
 About two hundred pounds a year.
And that which was proved true before,
Prove false again? Two hundred more.

Different church, different religion, same mindset.

Regards John Edwards

Indeed. And note: " If the French boast the learning of Rabelais, we need not be afraid of confronting them with Butler."

Samuel Johnson in his introduction to a Butler work. (This is the 17th Century poet Butler, not the 19th Century novelist.)


Subject: SpaceX: "Hondas in Space" article

Fast Company magazine has a nice article in the Feb. 2005 issue and on their website about SpaceX, the company that is developing the Falcon series of rockets.


SpaceX sounds like a great place to work. I'd apply but the daily commute from the Dallas area to El Segundo would be a bit much. <grin>

--Gary Pavek


 "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." --Alan Kay, a founding member of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)

Interesting. Of course Dandridge Cole had said long before "You can't predict the future, but you can invent it," but no one much cares about Dandridge Cole and Macro-Life any longer.


Subject: What the Enviros didn't say


I note that in the NYT article covering the "death of environmentalism" declaration and its fallout, we read about harnessing the broader concerns of "progressives."

Note that they didn't consider making common cause with right-wing environmentalists, such as the Evangelical Environmental Network & Creation Care people: http://www.creationcare.org/



Subject: Win a trip to Space!! 

Hi Jerry,

It's not quite _Have Space Suit Will Travel_, but at least you don't have to buy a bunch of soap...



Rod Schaffter

-- "Three principles should be observed in legislation on this subject. ... Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."

--Franklin Delano Roosevelt, January 17, 1935






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