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Mail 353 March 14 - 20, 2005






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Monday  March 14, 2004

See weekend mail. More shortly.

Well, shortly turned out to be tomorrow.



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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Harry Erwin's UK Report:

Subject: Life in the UK

I generally monitor BBC, CNN International, the Register, the Guardian, the Times, and the Times Higher Education Supplement, but I don't watch TV.

The most interesting story this week has been the anti-terror legislation. The House of Lords has a longer time constant than Commons, which allows it to operate like the US Senate and the US courts. The UK courts had told the current Government that what they were doing was unlawful, so to avoid political fallout, Blair decided to ram through some new laws allowing the Home Secretary to lock people up on suspicion. A certain amount of opposition emerged in the House of Lords. The law was passed in return for a second look in a year's time, but there are some problems... See: <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1436623,00.html>  for a story on the chaos that ensued. Government paranoia: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1523646,00.html

The National Health Service wants to eliminate prescriptions for drugs to mitigate Alzheimer's, since they 'aren't cost-effective' despite allowing thousands of patients to lead independent lives. This shows you what you get when medical care is rationed. The Tories are making some hay from some of the horror stories. <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,6903,1436660,00.html>  <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4345571.stm

Luckily he landed on his head, so he wasn't hurt. <http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/03/12/uk.prince.fall.reut/ index.html

Tory politicking. This will go nowhere. <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,6903,1436621,00.html

As far as I can tell, the Tories now have a reasonable chance of beating Labour. I, and a lot of others, would like to see the middle (Liberals and Social Democrats) given a chance.

UK university education is a problem area. It's underfunded--as is research in general--and expensive courses like engineering and lab sciences are being shut down by most universities. Meanwhile, there are these quotas. <http://www.thes.co.uk/current_edition/story.aspx?story_id=2020169>  This may require a subscription. The gist is that the London School of Economics has quotas for state school pupils. The document acquired by the Times Higher Education Supplement contained the following text: "These notes should not under any circumstances be discussed with any member of the public, including students, parents and schools."

By the way, don't use the UK educational system as a model for reforming the US system. It's worse off.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." (Benjamin Franklin, 1755)

I recall when the UK began to adopt American "progressive" education methods. You can trace the decline of British education to that sad day.

The truth is that everyone knows who the Education Majors are on campus, and of those which ones go on to graduate schools in education and become professors of education. Once in a while you meet a professor of education who understands statistical inference, but it is extremely rare, and I have never met one who took his statistics classes in the math department. Psychology departments usually have their own statistics classes because their majors can't survive math department rigors; and many universities find that education majors can't even manage to survive the watered down cookbook statistics taught in psychology departments. Thus they know little to nothing of experimental design and analysis.

As Charles Murray once observed, teaching the young is itself rewarding; it takes a lot of bureaucratic guk to make it a punishing experience.


Subject: "Racial Profiling Useful": cbc.ca

Hi Jerry, thought you might be interested in the goings on on the Canadian Senate floor.


Not saying anything new, but at least saying it publicly.

- Robert

Why we are shocked, shocked...


Subject: Build your own Bluetooth rifle.


-- Roland Dobbins

Looks easy, too.

Subject: Autism _rises_ after Japan bans MMR vaccinations

This folllows after Mr, Beloff's claims in http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail349.html#Wednesday  and my contrary finding in http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail349.html#Thursday 

The New Scientist, not the most conservative of publications, documents here a study of >30,000 children showing a significant (93%?) _rise_ in multiple forms of autism in Japan after that nation banned the MMR vaccination for other reasons. MMR vaccinations were alleged in a poorly designed 1998 study to have been the cause of autism.


-- John Bartley K7AAY

http://livejournal.com/users/clackablog Clackablog

One wants to examine the original study carefully before drawing conclusions, but those are not entirely out of line with US data. My suspicion is that one cause of the "rise" in autism is diagnostic change: more kids who were just odd or unruly are being diagnosed. Then there is the drug factor: do behavior control drugs teach the wrong lessons? Learning sdelf-discipline was not easy for me, and I got my share of punishment for being unruly and disruptive largely due to boredom; fortunately the two grades to a room system in my country school allowed me plenty of time for reading, and th teachers didn't particularly care what I read as long as I was quiet about it.  When I got to High School the Brothers gave me work so challenging I hadn't time to be bored, then put me into boxing classes to use up what time I had left (and, now I know, to "build self-esteem" but they didn't think that way: they'd have said here's a big soft kid who needs to learn how to take care of himself).

I don't pretend to be an authority on autism; but I have seen at least two cases diagnosed as "borderline autistic" that I would have said were perfectly explainable in other terms (one boy had a sister who took up all the adult attention in any room both were in, so he amused himself with inner fantasies. Why not?). I also know that the number of kids drugged is enormous and that the drug companies make a lot of money on this.

Subject: Rutan's Proteus is also a bomber

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/uav-05r.html  Northrop Grumman Demonstrates Weapons Drop From New Medium-Altitude UAV

http://www.scaled.com/projects/proteus.html  Scaled Composites: Proteus high altitude research aircraft

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

I am shocked, shocked...


Subject: Some thoughts on education

A few entries back, you asked for some reader responses to your thoughts on education. Here goes:

I usually gag at the possibility that I might be agreeing with any self-labeled conservative on any issue, but reality occasionally intrudes, so, some anecdotal, and not necessarily related, thoughts ---

(1) My high school was Chaminade in Dayton, OH, run by the (Catholic religious order of the) Marianists. In its heyday, it was known as "The West Point of Dayton."

(2) The education I received in every subject that were, (in those days, 1964-68) taught in both high school and college there was at least the equivalent of what I received in a very good and very selective college (New College, Sarasota, FL.)

(3) I think that the key element in achieving (2) was rigorous tracking based on an admissions test that probably, if checked statistically, would turn out to be equivalent to an IQ test. The 1A and 1B tracks were not only aimed at college admission, but provided college-level material from the freshman year on. The school, despite many years of mutation, still has a 98% (!) college admissions rate. The 1K track, with which I had very little contact, seems to have been aimed at success in a vocational or technical school after high school.

(4) The Brothers -- of whom I had the privilege, for a short time, to be one, as a novice -- had adopted the Nike motto, "Just do it!" long before Nike thought it up. They achieved more by telling us we could do it, and demanding that we do it, than by small class sizes, individual help, or tutoring.

(5) My public school elementary education was more than adequate to let me score at the top of the Chaminade admissions test.

(6) I currently teach both computer science and philosophy at a well-regarded community college. The level of preparation of the students ranges from very good to incredible -- in the original sense, unbelievable -- e.g., the speed of light is infinite, and the District of Columbia is owned by the Colombians. Both the public and Catholic high schools around here (Tamaqua, PA) seem to be able to produce students who are superbly well prepared as well as those who never encountered any fact about anything.

(7) Education in the "hard" sciences -- e.g., chemistry, physics -- is random, if it happens at all. All are offered, nothing is required.

(8) Same for math. Some of my community college students can do advanced calculus without a second thought; some have trouble with multiplication.

(9) I know (from lots of exposure to my grand-daughter's education at a Catholic elementary school) that NCLB is forcing subjects down to lower and lower grades; my grand-daughter, in kindergarten (!) has a math book and is expected to master material that I did not encounter until the third grade of my elementary education. (The Catholic schools here are simply aping the public schools, becoming focused on "teaching to the test" exclusively.) Some kids (like her) shine, others flounder, and the teachers do not seem to be able to help them those who do.

(10) I make a point of mentioning (1) - (9), with the caveat that no individual's experience is a valid sample, because the research I have read on education all seems to tend towards "nothing we can discern makes any statistically significant difference."

So, based on this totality of experience, I venture the following hypotheses:

(1) Tracking, essentially done by IQ no matter how well disguised, is vital to educating citizens who can compete on the world market;

(2) motivation towards excellent is at least as important, and probably more important, than protecting self-esteem;

(3) public education can work, although the output, in terms of knowledge and abilities gained, seems more and more random;

(4) NCLB is, in the worst case, an attempt to destroy public education (ideological point there!) and, in the best case, a very minor improvement over what prevailed before.

Hope some of this is at least useful in stimulating further debate --



I find nothing in your conclusions I would take exception to. I am working on an essay on skill training vs. education, and which is appropriate to whom, and how to decide these matters. But insisting they do their best work is still the most important thing adults can do for children.


Subject: An interesting precedent in light of recent TSA debates...

Jerry, I thought you would find this interesting.

Aptheker v. Secretary of State was a case back in the early 60's. At that time, Communist Party members could not get passports. The Supreme Court struck that regulation down as unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment, since a fundamental right (the right to travel -- or "liberty" under the Fifth Amendment) was being taken away without due process of law.

The full opinion is at:


I ran across this case, and immediately was reminded of recent discussion about the TSA. From Justice Douglas' concurring opinion (case citations removed):

"Free movement by the citizen is, of course, as dangerous to a tyrant as free expression of ideas or the right of assembly, and it is therefore controlled in most countries in the interests of security. That is why riding boxcars carries extreme penalties in Communist lands. That is why the ticketing of people and the use of identification papers are routine matters under totalitarian regimes, yet abhorrent in the United States."

... and later ...

"War may be the occasion for serious curtailment of liberty. Absent war, I see no way to keep a citizen from traveling within or without the country unless there is power to detain him. And no authority to detain exists except under extreme conditions, e.g., unless he has been convicted of a crime or unless there is probable cause for issuing a warrant of arrest by standards of the Fourth Amendment. This freedom of movement is the very essence of our free society, setting us apart. Like the right of assembly and the right of association, it often makes all other rights meaningful -- knowing, studying, arguing, exploring, conversing, observing and even thinking. Once the right to travel is curtailed, all other rights suffer, just as when curfew or home detention is placed on a person."


I am no great fan of Justice Douglas, but he does make an exception for time of war. The United States is in a declared state of war so far as I can tell. The problem is that we don't know who the enemy is, or have any way to tell when he is defeated. The Patriot Act was hastily enacted and not well thought out.

I have no great objection to some restrictions as part of an on-going war, provided that I have some notion of who the enemy is, and that I think the authorities are serious in fighting the war. When I realize they are not serious in controlling the borders, and that every one of the 911 terrorists had official papers sufficient to satisfy the TSA, and I see the way the TSA operates, I have my doubts about how serious the authorities are, and whether or not they have a hidden agenda.

Subject: Bacevich on the Living Room War.


- Roland Dobbins







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Subject: Redmond Simonsen obit.


- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Robert Blake, Jury Nullification and "Not Proved"

Jury Nullification is completely different from the old-but-still-extant Scottish verdict of "Not Proved." Jury Nullification happens when the jury believes the defendant is guilty according to the instructions given by the judge, but nevertheless returns a verdict of "Not Guilty" because the law or the government's conduct is morally repugnant. The most famous case of this in America is the trial of John Peter Zenger, who was charged with seditious libel. Although the government clearly proved that Zenger printed the allegedly libelous statements -- the only thing the jury was supposed to decide -- it acquitted him anyway.

"Not Proved," by contrast, is the Scottish method of allowing judges to explain that they think the accused is guilty, but the case wasn't proved beyond a reasonable doubt. That's probably what the jury in the Robert Blake case would have returned, if it could have done so.

James A. Cox Dallas, TX

Actually I knew that, but it's hard to write a lot while using a pen and playing with a cat. My guess is that the jurors thought "They didn't prove their case and she had a lot of enemies and probably had it coming." If we had the "Not Proven" verdict they'd have given that one. But absent any direct evidence, and given the number of enemies she had, it wasn't astonishing.



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, March 17, 2005

St. Patrick's Day


Subject: News of the Day

More National Health Service horror stories: <http://society.guardian.co.uk/nhsperformance/story/0,8150,1439501,00.html

Anthrax story (we also have a residence in Fairfax County): <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42040-2005Mar16.html

-- Harry Erwin, PhD "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." (Benjamin Franklin, 1755)


Subj: Physics Songs

http://www.haverford.edu/physics-astro/songs/  Physics Songs .. PhysicsSongs.org

Note especially, for those of the software persuasion: http://www.haverford.edu/physics-astro/songs/infiniteloop.htm  Stuck in an Infinite Loop, by J. D. Dougherty

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

If it's not on fire, it's a software problem.


Subject: reading

Jerry, My children were taught to read in kindergarten. The principal of the school left in part because the school district came up with a policy that forbade teaching reading in kindergarten. One of our friendís children started school one year behind my daughter. She was not taught reading until first grade. Both girls were (are) quite smart. But the difference in their reading ability was very noticeable until I started teaching her phonics.

I was taught to read using phonics. My wife was taught using the ďwhole wordĒ idea. Guess who can read a book in one fourth the time?

Why do we try new ideas before we know that they will produce better results across a broad spectrum of people?

Larry Miller

It all started with a Columbia University (Education Department) study that showed that good readers do not read by sounding out words, but recognize the entire word. Now any introspective psychologist could have told them that back in the 1880's and beyond. William James could have told them that. But they seized upon this as a revelation, and declared that learning phonics inhibited good reading.

And, of course, they could find some good readers who had never encountered phonics and really did read English as if it were ideographic. Huzzah! they cried. Then they found phonics trained readers who could read and pronounce long words they did not understand. Oho! they cried.

But of  course you and I and almost no one we know reads by sounding out words with which we are familiar. Why should we? Over time we have come to recognize all the "mortar" (most common words) and many of the "bricks" by sight, and we read whole words, and sometimes whole phrases, in one leap. But when we encounter polymorphicdimetallicphosphate or diethyldiemethaltrinotrotoluene or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane we do not read those as a single word. On the other hand I doubt that anyone reading this has any trouble reading those words. I would be astonished if anyone knew what they actually mean, particularly two of them.

One of the very phonetic Dr. Seuss children's books ends with "My brother can read big words, too, like Constantinople and Timbuctoo." And of course the Seuss Hop On Pop is one of the best introductory reading books around, and a great deal more fun than the once most popular textbook in the country, "See Spot run," said Jane. "Run, Spot, run."

Use of "whole word" instruction mandates expensive new textbooks with controlled vocabulary; there were a number of "follow-on studies" funded by textbook publishers demonstrating how important "whole word" reading is, and of course there were the usual contributions to education unions and associations, sponsorship of free workshops in which teachers could win new credits for credentials by learning how to teach reading without phonics, and so forth. The result was the utter destruction of the California school system where there was an active campaign to eradicate phonics instruction at every school and level. Although many private and religious schools resisted this campaign, it was utterly successful in California public schools with devastating results.

Controlled vocabulary books are usually dull. How could they not be? There are exceptions, but not many. Real books often used language as it is really used, meaning that one encounters words one has heard but never seen in print. Children trained in phonics have a reading vocabulary that includes their entire speaking vocabulary.

The truth of the matter is that phonics equips children to read anything. We got Ruskin's King of the Golden River quite early in rural Tennessee because it was public domain and thus cheap. We got Earnest or the Great Stone Face by Hawthorne in about 5th Grade as I recall. In 7th Grade we read Evangeline a Story of Acadia and Scott's Lady of the Lake. This was in a two grades per room consolidated in Capleville. There was no need for controlled vocabulary. When I encountered Michael Graeme we probably didn't pronounce it as Scott did, but we could read it, as we could read Roderick Dhu. "Seek other cause 'gainst Roderick Dhu!" We had no need of, nor could we afford, expensive new textbooks. We made do with public domain, and although having to read Silas Marner probably soured me on female 19th Century novelists for a long time, it didn't harm me, nor did Dickens and A Tale of Two Cities.

It is possible to learn to read English without formal instruction in phonics, and about a quarter of the children in schools will learn: all they really need to know is that reading is possible. They'll figure it out for themselves. Formal instruction in phonics harms them only if it is rigidly applied with a program forbidding kids to try to read on their own. Any properly conducted study comparing results of systematic instruction in phonics as opposed to word recognition always shows the superiority of phonics in results, unless the study is so short that there isn't any real benefit to phonics instruction because they don't learn much.

Like anything else, phonics instruction can be done badly, and often is. But there isn't any good way to teach "whole word" reading to more than about 25 to 40% of your class. The rest will not learn to read that way.

For more from an expert see my wife's web site.


Subject: Hard drive storage rack

Dear Jerry,

Can you suggest a storage rack (brand name?) I can put in my gateway desktop computer that would hold a third hard drive. I have the power cord for a third drive but no rack under the current one that holds only two drives. There is plenty of storage room in the front of the case.

David Brown

I now use Antec cases which have plenty of slots for additional drives, as do PC Power and Cooling cases. But I don't know anything about third party add-ons.




From: Sue Stewart <hoodoosoo@comcast.net>

I regret to inform you that our "Lady" is gone. On March 17, 2005 at 2:23a.m., Andre (Norton) departed on her final journey. She left peacefully in her sleep with myself, Ollie and Mark at her bedside.

She will be missed terribly and mourned deeply. Her passing leaves a void that can never be filled, as we shall never see the likes of her again. Knowing her has made me a better person.

Andre requested that, in lieu of flowers, please send donations to Saint Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis Tennessee or Veteranarian Services, c/o The Noah Fund, P.O. Box 10128, Murfreesboro Tn. 37129, in her memory. Because of her love of animals, Andre herself contributed to the Noah Fund which is for people who can not afford medical treatment for their pets.

After coming to live with us, and, as our feelings for one another grew, I began calling her "Meemaw". This past week, she said to me, "I have won many awards in my life, I am a Grand Master, some call me the First Lady of Fantasy, and others call me The Grand Damme of Fantasy, but the title I am most proud of is "Meemaw". Eventually, everyone followed suit and "Meemaw" it was. Finally, she had gained the family she had longed for most of her life.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize Kathy Vinson L.P.N. and Jan Hoffmann who were instrumental in the day to day care of Meemaw. She developed a special closeness and friendship with them and, their feelings were mutual.

Thanks to all of you for your phone calls, cards, flowers and gifts. Knowing everyone cared so much meant a great deal to her. Her modesty made it difficult for her to fully comprehend the magnitude of the feelings her fans and followers had for her. However, near the end she finally realized how much she was loved and admired by so many.


Sue Stewart







Tim Bolgeo


Subject: Jury Rules in Favor of Temple University; Marcavage Appeals

Dr, Pournelle.

Following up.

Ron Mullane


American Family Association P.O. Drawer 2440 Tupelo, MS 38803 1-662-680-3886

For Immediate Release: 3/16/2005

Tupelo, MS - The judge incorrectly instructed the jury on Pennsylvania law and left the jury with little choice but to find as it did for Temple University and its officials, and we were prohibited from introducing our most compelling evidence.‚ÄĚ ‚Äď Steve Crampton, Chief Counsel for AFA Center for Law & Policy

Unable to reach a verdict after the first day of deliberations, the jury finally reached a verdict today in a lawsuit filed by Michael Marcavage against Temple University for attempting to commit him to a mental hospital in 1999. Stephen Crampton, chief counsel for AFA Center for Law & Policy representing Marcavage, says he will appeal based upon a number of rulings by the judge that excluded critical evidence favorable to Marcavage’s case and because of the court’s failure to properly instruct the jury on the law.

Marcavage opposed the university’s production of the controversial Corpus Christi, a play that portrays Jesus Christ as a homosexual. After Marcavage planned to counter the school’s production with his own message about who Jesus Christ really is, university officials attempted to commit Marcavage to Temple University’s mental hospital. He sued the school for violating his constitutional rights.

‚ÄúThe judge incorrectly instructed the jury on Pennsylvania law and left the jury with little choice but to find as it did for Temple University and its officials, and we were prohibited from introducing our most compelling evidence,‚ÄĚ Crampton said. ‚ÄúThe judge seemed to exclude evidence that was favorable to Marcavage and include any evidence that was favorable to Temple University and its officials. So the jury heard a completely distorted view of what actually happened.‚ÄĚ

Before the trial started, medical evidence from the doctors at Temple University’s psychiatric hospital who examined Marcavage was ruled inadmissible by the judge even though it established that Marcavage should not have been brought to the hospital.

"The jury was not allowed to hear evidence corroborating Marcavage‚Äôs claims against the university officials,‚ÄĚ Crampton said. ‚ÄúThe doctors said he was perfectly normal when he arrived at the hospital indicating no legitimate reason to bring him there in the first place.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúWe‚Äôre confident that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will reverse this decision,‚ÄĚ Crampton added.


Subj: Living room war?

The main problem I have with the Bacevich piece is that its analysis seems to me to apply equally to the Cold War of 1946-1990.

I have read, though I cannot find the citation, that Harry Truman considered a preventive war to conquer the USSR before they got nukes; and that he decided against it, not because he was afraid we couldn't win it, but because he was afraid of what we'd turn ourselves into in the process of winning it. Truman chose the Cold War instead. Did he choose wrong?

Have some parts of the Global War on Terror been botched? You bet! And there are more botches to come! But go back and look at WW2, Bacevich's paradigm for properly-waged war. Pearl Harbor was far from the last botch of that one.

Nor are grandiose initial overstatements of war objectives an innovation of the 21st Century, or of the neocons/neoJacobins: remember Truman's stated objectives in Korea, right after Inchon? Had to back off some from those. Didn't mean he was wrong to fight at all.

Machiavelli, in _Discourses on Livy_, observed that it is impossible for any man to be either perfectly good or perfectly bad, either perfectly competent or perfectly incompetent. Every human undertaking will be to some extent botched.

As far as controlling the borders is concerned, I don't doubt we could do lots better. But neither do I doubt that it'll take us some considerable time to figure out how to do better at acceptable cost. Deploying the combat troops to seal the borders might be more expensive than one might hope. Wasn't too long ago we were complaining -- and rightly so -- about Marines on border-control duty shooting down an innocent kid who wandered into their interdiction zone.

As for Iraq, my own view of the situation is that we're not doing "nation-building" so much as we are "elite-pruning".

Nation-building would try to *create* and *impose* a new ruling elite that operates on principles completely alien to the society upon which the nation-building is performed.

Elite-pruning merely tries to beat down the hostile factions of the native ruling elite, to give the non-hostile factions a chance to take control and develop the "firm seat" they need to hold it. It can only work when such non-hostile factions exist and are large enough to take and hold control. That, as I see it, is the difference between Afghanistan and Iraq and, say, Somalia: in A&I, there's something to work with (or anyway we hope so, and have some evidence that there is) -- Kurds, people with access to outside news (perhaps from relatives abroad), returning exiles, Shia who follow al-Sistani rather than Muqtada al-Sadr, whatever. In S, there's apparently not, or at least not enough.

The way I read the situation, the troops (and police) who can *win* in Iraq -- as distinct from buying time with blood and treasure -- *have to be Iraqi*. It's taking time to get them, and especially to get them competent Iraqi leaders -- more time, perhaps, than Wolfowitz or Rumsfeld or Bush may have expected, let alone have hoped. But Tommy Franks, in his pre-war plans, expected it to take five years to stabilize Iraq after the end of major combat operations: see his book. Isn't declaring quagmired failure after two a bit premature?

Some things simply take time. And time is expensive, in blood and in treasure. This is hardly new: remember Napoleon's "Ask me for anything but time."

Would putting more American troops into Iraq really have reduced the amount of blood spent? Or just have shifted the balance between Iraqi blood and American blood, reducing the Iraqi and increasing the American? Or even *increased*both* amounts? Would it have sped up the process of getting Iraqi forces on line? Or slowed it down? How about the process of getting a reasonably free (not perfect), non-hostile Iraqi government in control?

There is a debate We The People of the United States need to have, and that indeed we're having, about what America's role in the world should be. We probably can't have another national referendum on the matter until the next Presidential election, and maybe not then, but the debate should certainly continue.

Be kind of nice if that debate could get beyond throwing around accusations of "Isolationist!" and "Imperialist!" and "Unilateralist!" and "Multilateralist!" Maybe that's too much to hope for.

But it seems to me that the Bush administration's *not* planning to expand the Army to a size big enough to support grandiose schemes of world conquest and occupation is better evidence that they *don't* subscribe to such schemes than evidence that they *do* subscribe and are deluded, or being deceitful, about what means would be necessary to implement them.

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

Well said, and perhaps true.

In the case of the Cold War, there was much more at stake than there is in the Middle East. Communism is a chiliastic religion that has no choice but to expand or die; containment was its death. Islam has been contained a long time and springs back often. On the other hand, Islam is a formula for economic disaster about everywhere it is tried, and Islamic nations in general don't threaten the West; USSR was poised to go to the Rhine in hours and to the Pyrenees in months absent some non-European threat to stop the Red Army.

The American people were not told that the price of Iraq was to be five years, 1500 dead, the entire Reserve and National Guard system turned upside down and at least partly wrecked, and $300 billion much less what it will really cost. Had they been told, I doubt Congress would have authorized the invasion. Deterrence is a lot cheaper, and deterrence coupled with development of hemispheric resources is still cheaper.  No one paid much attention to Tommy Franks and did we not fire a general who dared say the Iraqi war would last a lot longer than the conquest of the Iraqi Army?

No one was astonished at the collapse of the Iraqi Army. Many were astonished at the aftermath. I wasn't, but I have yet to find anyone in on the invasion decision who was: they all really did believe it would be over in a couple of years at most.

Nothing you say is untrue: but I do not think the American people understood that nation building in Iraq, assuming we can do it -- and we probably can -- would take a decade, and become the national burden that it is. Whether the legacy we leave behind is worth it I do not know; I do know that Sharon can destroy all the good will we are building up over there, and I have seen no evidence that he wouldn't do so in a minute if he thought his office were at stake. I am never in favor of handing over critical paths for the nation to foreign politicians.

It is not isolationism to say "We are the friends of liberty everywhere but the guardians only of our own." It was the policy of the United States for most of our history. The exceptions -- the Philippine experiment, intervention in The Great War -- do not seem to be untrammeled successes.

As to "elite pruning", the implications are interesting: "Elect people we approve of or we will kill them and as many of you as it takes to topple them." This is a rational foreign policy, but not one to advertise, especially since we have also approved of the persecution of Pinochet, which is to say, we have told every dictator: "Get Nukes Fast, and Never Let Go Until You Are Dead." This is not the message I would send; but it seems to be the one sent.

It may well be that intervention in Iraq was the best of a number of bad choices. I am not convinced of that, but I don't pretend infallibility. Our intervention in Viet Nam was vitally necessary to Containment, despite the heavy costs. We had no choice but to commit gold and resources, blood and treasure, to the containment of world communism.

It may be that we face the same problem with World Islam. I know that many serving officers, close friends, are convinced that if we don't fight the wars over there we will be fighting them here. If that analysis be correct, then we have no choice. I'm a bit old to go to the Iraqi desert, but I'd go if needed. But so far I have not been convinced of that, and when I listen to the chicken hawks -- the egregious Frum and his vicious little excommunications -- I don't hear rational arguments. I hear twaddle, selected evidence, decisions made in the absence of data -- Wolfowitz on weapons of mass destruction is fascinating -- and decisions made on grounds other than the best interests of the people of the United States. Or so it seems to me.

And I note that while the War has been enormously more expensive than we were told it would be, the spending on entitlements goes up and up, the debt rises, and we are told to spend ourselves rich while our armies are bleeding in the desert. And I wonder if increasing the size of the Navy wouldn't be as good a way to see that we don't fight "them" over here as sending the Army in harm's way.

I grant Mr. Bush his good intentions, and some basic sense; I have more faith in his dedication to the nation over personal interest than ever I had in his opponent which is why, to the disgust of many of my paleoconservative friends, I endorsed Bush in the last election.

But I am not at all sure that expanding the paid army while allowing the Reserve and National Guard to deteriorate is the proper way to solve the Machiavellian dilemma of professionalism vs. citizen participation.

Subject: The cold war and radical Islam

You said:

"In the case of the Cold War, there was much more at stake than there is in the Middle East. Communism is a chiliastic religion that has no choice but to expand or die; containment was its death. Islam has been contained a long time and springs back often. On the other hand, Islam is a formula for economic disaster about everywhere it is tried, and Islamic nations in general don't threaten the West; USSR was poised to go to the Rhine in hours and to the Pyrenees in months absent some non-European threat to stop the Red Army."

That may be, but the Communists always understood what would happen if New York dissappeared under a mushroom cloud. The Soviets owned or controlled all the nukes we didn't, and retribution was sure to be swift upon their use.

With radical Islam it's a different matter. If someone puts 10 megaton nuke on a freighter and blows it up in Hudson bay, how will we respond? That's what makes this different and much more dangerous than Communism. Without state actors to hold accountable, deterrence doesn't work. Shall we have an official policy that all Muslims are to be destroyed if we're so attacked?

The "nuclear club" gets bigger every day, so we must attack the connection between radical Islam and states. We have a small window (perhaps a generation, maybe less) to cut the ties between the Bin Ladens of the world and the states which can supply them with nuclear weapons, and we would do well to pay the price now instead of later. I don't see how we could ever secure our borders to the point that a dedicated terrorist couldn't sneak a nuke in.

Eric Baumgartner

The question wasn't whether USSR would attack NYC, but whether the US would bomb Moscow in response to troops pouring through the Fulda Gap. In my old business of strategic analysis we used to say that a "tactical nuclear weapon is an atom bomb that goes off in  Germany. Anywhere else it's strategic and starts a full war." I had my say on deterrence and the Cold War a long time ago, and time proved that Possony and others were right.

Incidentally, France and Britain had nuclear weapons and were known to have them. So did China. There may have been other members of the nuclear club. But leave that: your point is made, that deterrence worked.

As to the spread of nuclear weapons: I once said that if you give me a billion a year and the authority to call in a B-52 strike at need -- and I'll pay for the strike out of my billion -- I could see that Iraq never got nuclear weapons. The same is true of other nations. If the fear is that nations will build nukes, we can stop them with measures a lot short of invasion. And at a far lower price than we pay at present.

If you are saying that unless those areas become liberal democracies we are doomed, then it is a different matter; but even then it is not clear that invasions are the key to their transformation. There may be no such key, but invasion, occupation, and pacification may not work everywhere. Or anywhere.

We all know why Arab countries hate us, and what US policies have led to that hatred. There is considerable question about their hatred of us if we are not over there to be hated. The enemies of their enemies are their friends. The friends of their enemies are their enemies. So has it ever been. If the US were not involved in the Middle East, would they still want to risk retaliation (as they see it) by smuggling in a nuclear weapon? And once again, properly managed intelligence operations would make that a lot more difficult than it is now. But if we had stayed home, developed our energy resources, built up the Navy, and stayed out of the Middle East entirely do you think we would have been prime targets for Jihad?

Egypt and Pakistan don't need democracy. Democracy just now would probably lead to Islamic majorities and as the Islamic ruled alliances grew so would the demand for jihad. If Turkey had a free and fair election it would likely lead to an Islamic state. The Enlightenment has not come to that area of the world. Democracy may be a fast way to situations far worse than the present one. Iran is closer to a democracy now than under the Shah. When the Shah thought he was in trouble he did what he always did and asked the US for help. He encountered Jimmy Carter, who believed in democracy. Carter enjoyed helping the Shah lose power. Are we better off for his having done so?

What the Middle East needs now is not democracy but a tradition of rule of law and sanctity of property. Whether that can be established is a basic question, and whether we can help that come is another. It may take Magna Charta and seven hundred years to bring that off. We don't really know how the West developed that trick. It may take a Protestant Reformation followed by a Counter Reformation followed by Enlightenment. I don't know and neither does anyone else.

What I do know is that we have at least as many enemies now as we did before the invasion. I do know that the liberal democrats in Iraq are mostly in mass graves because they trusted us to come to their aid when they were encouraged to rise up, and if I were a liberal democrat in Iraq I would not trust the United States very much. We had an opportunity for invasion of Iraq, in aid of people we had promised to help. We did not take that opportunity.

In any event most of this discussion of reforming the world is moot: as long as most of our forces are tied up in Iraq we will not have the military power to impose our will on Iran and Pakistan. We may have the ability, barely, to keep more enemies from joining the nuclear club; we certainly can't transform Syria and Iran and Saudi Arabia, at least not absent full scale war with conscription and rationing and price controls, the whole panoply of state control -- is it worth that price?

But were I al Qaeda I would be shopping for my nuclear weapon from sources other than Iranian or Pakistani development teams and arsenals. I'd buy them on the underground market.

Now: how do we attack the connection between radical Jihad Islam and states? The greatest source of power for Wahabi Islam is our friend Saudi Arabia. Now what?








 Subject: Word Reading

This "author unknown" writing illustrates word reading.

Never worry about your spelling and here is why "I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer inwaht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt."

I found this illuminating....

Will Goss

Unless you have never seen the words before and only know them as sounds. I assure you that in chemical formulae and much of science the word order and spelling is quite important.

As to reading without a problem, nonsense. It takes at least twice as long to read that as it would normal English.

According to Sun Tzu the most important thing for a general to do is send clear orders. Are you convinced that it doesn't matter about spelling and grammar?


Scientists Say Life Expectancy To Drop-Obesity could help keep Social Security solvent

Hi Jerry,

A cynical but prossibly accurate assesment...

"Obesity could help keep Social Security solvent because people will die younger. "One of the consequences of our prediction is that Social Security does not appear to be in nearly as bad a shape as we think," said study author S. Jay Olshansky."


Cheers, Rod Schaffter

-- "Lesson one is that free people almost never go to war with each other. Lesson two is that they don't let each other starve, either. Democracy isn't a slogan, and it's not a gushy feeling. It's a matter of both personal and national security: the more of it the world has, the safer we all are." --Dean Esmay


Subject: Rubik's Cube Solver

This is pretty neat




Subject: Possible Lab Black Hole


A fireball created in a US particle accelerator has the characteristics of a black hole, a physicist has said.

It was generated at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York, US, which smashes beams of gold nuclei together at near light speeds.

Jim Woosley

Gulp! That's a bit frightening, no?







CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday, March 18, 2005

Subject: Some thoughts on Andre Norton

I've been a major Andre Norton fan since I was introduced to her writing in a seventh-grade science fiction class back in 1978. Indeed, 106 of her titles take up 2-1/2 shelves in my bedroom. I've always admired her clear, vivid writing style. In earlier years I tended to think of her characters as being fairly weak and two-dimensional; only as I've gotten older have I begun to fully appreciate their depths.

Her writing has aged remarkably well. Recently I reread her classic 1950s "Time Trader" series, and enjoyed it just as much as when I was a kid. I'm struck by how she, through her characters, preached tolerance in an era when people were holding race riots and burning down entire neighborhoods. Science fiction at its best.

What astounds me most about Andre Norton is the sheer longevity of her career. Between her first book ("The Prince Commands", 1934) and her latest ("Three Hands For Scorpio", 2005) lie 71 years, spanning all or part of eight (!) decades. Surely, that must be some sort of world record. Most of her recent works have been collaborations, but it appears that "Scorpio" was a solo effort. I sincerely hope that I can be so productive with my life, should I live to be 93.

Truly, I will miss Andre Norton. But, at least she lives on in her books. Now, if I can just get my hands on a copy of "The Prince Commands" ....

Robert Shepard

Well said.


Subject: Mr. X, RIP.

Even though he went wobbly afterwards, he still had a major influence at a critical time for his nation and the world:


--- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Falcon Cameras, etc.

Dr. Pournelle,

Spring! Time to check the spy cameras and see reproductive activity!

Falcon Cams <http://birdcam.xcelenergy.com/falconcams.asp

Eagle Cam <http://birdcam.xcelenergy.com/eaglecam.asp

Owl Cam <http://birdcam.xcelenergy.com/owlcam.asp

Wolf Cam <http://www.elyminnesota.com/cams/wolfcam/index.php

Robin K. Juhl



Subject: Broken Link report

In Thursday's Mail


you posted a Harry Erwin message which contained

More National Health Service horror stories: <http://society.guardian.co.uk/nhsperformance/story/0,8150,1439501,00.html>

That link fails.

Given the evidently high volume of NHS Horror Stories, I am not certain either of these are the current link, but these seem to come close:



As time permits, you may also wish to consider the merits of somehow, gently, asking folks to at least quote the headline or the lead sentence (the latter changes less often and is more reliable) when they post.. With that small bit of added context, it's easier to find the new location of the story through a web search when publishers move links around.

73s and best regards,

-- John Bartley K7AAY http://kiloseven.blogspot.com Kilo Seven "Clearly, latrines are the forgotten Last Amenity of the Apocalypse. (Other signs.. Michael Jackson as your Best Man (?), Christina Aguilara as your makeup consultant & Cher as your personal shopper.) - ginmar

Actually I'm just grateful that so many people including you take the trouble to send me a wealth of interesting connections. I'd hate to impose requirements...

Subject: Re: Broken link report

In Friday's currentmail John Bartlett reported a problem with a "Guardian" link sent by Harry Erwin.

Making the obvious correction (deleting the embedded blank) yields <http://society.guardian.co.uk/nhsperformance/story/0,8150,1439501,00.html>  which works fine. Here's the headline and first para:


'Something is not in order here'

Christoph Schwennicke and his wife Ulrike Weidner were Anglophiles - admirers of Tony Blair and so committed to the NHS that when they moved here from Germany they resisted the option to have their child in a private hospital. But then their son Jacob's birth went catastrophically wrong. Sally Weale hears a damning criticism of the state of Britain's health service

Fred Bone


Subject: Economic warfare threat vs. China


March 18, 2005: The US trade deficit (the value of goods bought from China versus what was sold to them) reached $162 billion. That amount accounts for over twenty percent of China's GDP (total economic activity.) This has serious military implications. If China goes to war with the United States, the first impact would not be bombs, but an end to exports to the United States. Putting over a hundred million Chinese out of work would have a larger impact than any bombing campaign. Taiwanese companies also control over $50 billion of economic activity in China. Taking Taiwan, in one piece, would add about ten percent to China's GDP. But the loss of American markets would be far greater.

John Monahan

 "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts." Daniel Patrick Moynihan




--- Roland Dobbins

But it's sure cheaper than war. Of course everything is.


Subject: I know it in the original Gaelic!

I know it in the original Gaelic!

A chemist's correction...

Quote from your St. Patrick's day mail:

"But when we encounter polymorphicdimetallicphosphate or diethyldiemethaltrinotrotoluene or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane we do not read those as a single word. On the other hand I doubt that anyone reading this has any trouble reading those words. I would be astonished if anyone knew what they actually mean, particularly two of them."

Ummm... Dr. Pournelle, some of us know it in the original Gaelic! (Reference to Dr. Asimov's anecdote regarding how he memorized, "methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl") As I recall his story was that he was reciting that outside a professor's office when the secretary exclaimed "Oh you know that in the original Gaelic!"

Organic Chemistry is taught such that one learns to recognize those 'fragments', such as 'diethyl' and to note that there's such a thing as a typo in the "diethyldiemethaltrinotrotoluene" since there's no such things as 'diemethal', but that 'dimethyl' is correct and that it would be 'trinitrotoluene' not 'trinotro'. And yes I know what they mean, in that I could draw the structures (the names are really just a map to the structure) and could research what they're used for (of course the base TNT is kind of a tip off) if necessary.

But none-the-less, it was impressive sounding and your point is well taken. My daughter was a reader in Kindergarten and was admonished to 'slow' down lest she get too far ahead of the class. This is the same daughter who went to UC Berkeley and is now a computer manager at a high-tech company. Seems we decided that we'd just let her read (and ended up buy her a book a day to feed her habit). She got so far ahead, she's never looked back.

And, as an aside, when is Mamelukes coming out? I miss Rick Galloway...

Bruce Weir Chemist

I made the first two up, complete with mistakes, and entirely at stream of consciousness "random"; the third is DDT.


Subject: Common Good: Teaching Interrupted: Do Discipline Policies in Today's Public Schools Foster the Common Good?


More bad news from the classroom...


Doug Hayden

School discipline is legalistic, not summary. The remedy for teachers who abuse their power is to fire the teacher, not to turn the whole school system into a campground for lawyers. But we all know that: it's only teacher unions and lawyers who like what we are doing. The rest of us are powerless, as usual.

Private schools do not generally have these problems. Isn't that odd? And now a Professor of Education speaks:

Subject: The status of education today

I agree that many schools are not doing the job that is needed for the future of our young people, but am not sure what the remedies are. I know that some teachers are not high quality, but the majority are excellent and very dedicated. Unfortunately, many are overworked and have to cope with incorrigable young folks who never experienced the discipline and learning they should have from their parents. Teachers are woefully underpaid. It is any wonder that bright college students don't want to teach. We are not attracting the best as teachers.

Bill Gates is naive when he thinks that all young people will succeed in college, at least for the foreseeable future. I do believe we ought to demand more of our students and I believe they can exceed their present level of achievement.

My observation is that those students who succeed had considerable support for learning at home. This occurs even among those whose parents weren't well educated but believed education was important and did everyting they could to help their youngsters succeed.

It is my belief that by the time children reach first grade, the differences between those who got support in learning at home were already years ahead of those who didn't. And the gap is very difficult to make up. The formula is simple: Good parenting leads to good and successful children. Bad parenting leads to the opposite. So what can be done? We need to work with parents and perhaps young children of parents who don't know how to help to bootstrap these youngsters up to the level of others sho have had an enormous advantage.

If I were recreating a curriculum for high school students, it would focus on:

1) Reading, writing and verbal skills 2) Quantitative skills 3) Ethics and values, particularly those important to decision-making and commitment in a democratic society 4) Principles of logic and objective, rational thinking.

This discussion was made out to be much more simple that the realities education faces.

Although money is not the answer to everything a much greater investment must be made in education if we are to succeed.

We must restore more taxes to be able to fund the changes needed. Bush's tax reductions are driving education (and other services) into the ground. This is not rocket science. You get what you pay for and we are not paying enough. Taxes are our proper and necessary investment in the future. I am afraid that today we have the "me" generation, not the "we" generation.

Roger Harrold, Ph.D. Professor of Education (Retired) University of Minnesota

I don't want to sound condescending, but I am not astonished that the remedy, as seen by a professor of education, is more money. Yet I recall my 4-room 8 grade school in Capleville in the late 1930's and early 40's, and I cannot help thinking that we got a better education in 8 years in that school, from 2-year Normal School graduate teachers, than our kids now get in High School from "credentialed" teachers who have graduated from Departments of Education.

I do NOT believe the remedy is more money. The remedy is to insist on results and only pay for results. The remedy is to forget credentials and degrees and training and look at RESULTS, and fire the teachers who cannot teach. Nothing else will work. Of course we will never do that. Our schools are not for education, they are for credentialing, and that applies to grades 1-8, high school, college, and Departments of Education. You get there, you pay your fee, you get your credential; and once you have the credentials you are QUALIFIED, and can only be removed for -- well, essentially for nothing. The number of teachers fired for incompetence in the United States is so trivial as to be lost in the noise, and the only real way to lose a teaching job is to fake your credentials; if you have the credentials you are presumed to be competent even if your pupils learn nothing whatever.

And see below.



Subject: McGill University Lectures


Its free and you feel right in the classroom with other students and the profs

Loy Myers

Thanks! Another source for home schoolers.


Subject: Gang warfare among botnets



The Germans are spying on botnets, and discovering . . . gang warfare(!).



The Sergeants are winning the war

A high school classmate sent this to me. Fascinating. Where are the reporters?


Here is a fascinating e-mail that is making the rounds in military circles. It is an account of a presentation given by one of the leaders of 1st Cavalry Division, [the Division my nephew was assigned to]. I've tried to follow Iraq stuff pretty closely, but most of this I had never heard. The notations were from a speech given at the Ft. Hood Officers Club by Major General Pete Chiarelli, Commanding General of the 1st Cavalry Division, just returned from Iraq.

1. While units of the Cav served all over Iraq, he spoke mostly of Baghdad and more specifically Sadr City, the big slum on the eastern side of the Tigris River. He pointed out that Baghdad is, in geography, is about the size of Austin. Austin has 600,000 to 700,000 people. Baghdad has 6 to7 million people.

2. The Cav lost 28 main battle tanks. He said one of the big lessons learned

is that, contrary to doctrine going in, M1-A2s and Bradleys are needed, preferred and devastating in urban combat and he is going to make that point

to the Joint Chiefs of Staff next week while they are considering downsizing


3. He showed a graph of attacks in Sadr City by month. Last Aug-Sep they were getting up to 160 attacks per week. During the last three months, the graph had flat lined at below 5 to zero per week.

4. His big point was not that they were "winning battles" to do this but that cleaning the place up, electricity, sewage, water were the key factors.

He said yes they fought but after they started delivering services that the Iraqis in Sadr City had never had, the terrorist recruiting of 15 and 16 year olds came up empty.

5. The electrical "grid" is a bad, deadly joke. Said that driving down the street in a Hummv with an antenna would short out a whole block of apt. buildings. People do their own wiring and it was not uncommon for early morning patrols would find one or two people lying dead in the street, having been electrocuted trying to re-wire their own homes.

6. Said that not tending to a dead body in the Muslim culture never happens. Yet, on election day, after suicide bombers blew themselves up trying to take out polling places, voters would step up to the body lying there, spit on it, and move up in the line to vote.

7. Pointed out that we all heard from the media about the 100 Iraqis killed as they were lined up to enlist in the police and security service. What the media didn't point out was that the next day there 300 lined up in the same place.

8. Said bin Laden and Zarqawi made a HUGE mistake when bin laden went public with naming Zarqawi the "prince" of al Qaeda in Iraq. Said that what the Iraqis saw and heard was a Saudi telling a Jordanian that his job was to kill Iraqis. HUGE mistake. It was one of the biggest factors in getting Iraqis who were on the "fence" to jump off on the side of the coalition and the new gov't.

9. Said the MSM was making a big, and wrong, deal out of the religious sects. Said Iraqis are incredibly nationalistic. They are Iraqis first and then say they are Muslim but the Shi'a - Sunni thing is just not that big a deal to them.

10. After the election the Mayor of Baghdad told him that the people of the region (Middle East) are joyous and the governments are nervous.

11. Said that he did not lose a single tanker truck carrying oil and gas over the roads of Iraq. Think about that. All the attacks we saw on TV with IEDs hitting trucks but he didn't lose one. Why? Army Aviation. Praised his air units and said they made the decision early on that every convoy would have helicopter air cover. Said aviators in that unit were hitting the 1,000 hour mark (sound familiar?). Said a convoy was supposed to head out but stopped at the gates of a compound on the command of an E6. He asked the SSG [Staff Sergeant] what the hold up was. E6 said, "Air, sir." He wondered what was wrong with the air, not realizing what the kid was talking about. Then the AH-64s showed up and the E6 said, "That air sir." And then moved out.

12. Said one of the biggest problems was money and regs. There was a $77 million gap between the supplemental budget and what he needed in cash on the ground to get projects started. Said he spent most of his time trying to get money. Said he didn't do much as a "combat commander" because the war he was fighting was a war at the squad and platoon level. Said that his Non-Commissioned Officers [Sergeants] were winning the war and it was a sight to behold.

13. Said that of all the money appropriated for Iraq, not a cent was earmarked for agriculture. Said that Iraq could feed itself completely and still have food for export but no one thought about it. Said the Cav started working with Texas A&M on ag projects and had special hybrid seeds sent to them through Jordan. TAM analyzed soil samples and worked out how and what to plant. Said he had an E7 from Belton, TX (just down the road from Ft. Hood) who was almost single-handedly rebuilding the ag industry in the Baghdad area.

14. Said he could hire hundreds of Iraqis daily for $7 to $10 a day to work on sewer, electric, water projects, etc. but that the contracting rules from CONUS [non-Pentagon Washington] applied so he had to have $500,000 insurance policies in place in case the workers got hurt. Not kidding. The CONUS peacetime regs slowed everything down, even if they could eventually get waivers for the regs.

If we are in fact winning I will be the first to cheer.

Subject: "There was a time I could talk to the police."


-- Roland Dobbins

Or maybe this is what they mean by winning. We're safer now. And the authorities are all on your side.


Subject: For Spammers, Worms Turn a Profit

Great description of miscreant methodologies and collateral damage:


- Roland Dobbins

Readers: make sure Aunt Minnie knows about this one. Tell all your friends. As Roland notes, it's a good description of what's happening out there.

Subject: SpamBots Analysis

Dr. Pournelle:

To go along with the link from Mr. Dobbins about the Washington Post story on how spammers work, your readers might like a more technical analysis of how "bots" (remotely controlled virus-infected computers) work. Some of the programs that the "bots" use to control computers are quite sophisticated and powerful.

The bot's work can be relatively benign (relaying spam mail) or instrusive (gathering personal/financial information) or destructive (deleting information or attacking other sites).

The folks at the German "Honeypot" project analyzed how these bots worked, and the results are quite interesting. There is a great potential for misuse.


Regards, Rick Hellewell






This week:


read book now



Dear Jerry:

Thanks for keeping the Shaivo case in front of your readers. Complicating the issue is that she may not be as "brain dead" as supposed or reported: tonight on Fox News Fred Barnes quoted Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, himself a doctor, as saying that he (Frist) had spoken to a neurologist who had examined Mrs. Shaivo and believed that her condition could improve significantly with therapy which has been denied her under her husband's "care." Barnes also reported that her parents have indicated willingness and ability to care for her themselves, thus taking whatever burden there may be off the taxpayers of Florida (of which I am one, and in this case I'm happy to pay).

All your points were great ones, and impossible to argue against with any force of logic or morality. As you pointed out it's not just legal murder but torture beforehand. One of the demonstrators outside the hospital carried a sign that read "Execution - not just for the guilty anymore!" and that just about sums it up.

I'd defend anyone's right to die with dignity but it's a far piece from there to any indication or proof that that is what Mrs. Shaivo would herself prefer. Her husband has hundreds of thousands - maybe millions with the book, TV, and movie rights - of reasons for wanting her dead, and should not be entrusted with her fate.

All the best--

Tim Loeb

Precisely. "Thous can'st not kill, but need'st not strive, officiously to keep alive." But "vegetative state" has an intuitive meaning that is not present here. Neurologists have some theories about the brain and specifically where personality resides. There is considerable evidence that this is not true. Lashley's work comes to mind. As Minsky told me some time ago, we just don't know enough. But by those theories, Terri ought to be brain dead, and therefore, to those who believe in those theories, observations of her actual behavior are irrelevant. Perhaps this is correct; in which case she is a living experiment of some value, and since she is dead, she isn't feeling any pain or angst. And perhaps it is not correct. While extremely rare we do have cases of recovery after long comatose periods, and in one the patient stated that she was fully aware while unable to communicate that awareness. The physicians were ready to pull the plug on Dr. Possony, but Regina insisted on keeping him alive; and for several years he was clearly aware of what was going on, often crying tears of frustration because he couldn't communicate -- but the old fox lived to see the end of the Cold War, and die in peace knowing he had triumphed. I do not think he should have been denied that.

We have a relative who was utterly comatose, and the family unanimously agreed that it was time to let him go. The end was peaceful. But that is not the case here.

If we undertook to kill our dog by depriving her of food and water the police would come to her aid.

And see below


Dear Jerry:

I should learn to let the sleeping curmudgeon lay, but I can't resist sharing this story:

A couple of weeks ago a death in the family forced my neighbor to fly back to Boston unexpectedly, and shortened his mother-in-law's winter visit by almost a week. Lois, his wife, needed to escort her frail mother back to Philadelphia and then fly on to Boston, and because of the haste of preparations found it cheapest to buy a one way ticket. Sound familiar? You can imagine what happened next: when she showed up to board her flight in Fort Lauderdale the one way ticket flagged her for special attention from your friends with the TSA.

You have to imagine: Lois is fifty-something, has been an RN all her working life, and looks just like it - think Compassionate Caregiver, not Nurse Rachett. She's a small blonde person with big glasses and the mildest of demeanors, but that didn't count for much with the security people, who subjected her carry-on luggage to a complete open inspection and gave her a full body pat down, all while her 87-year-old mother looked on. She had to remove her shoes for inspection, power up her laptop, and open her mom's medications, all of which she took with good grace until it was over and she saw that the next person in line, who happened to be a young middle-eastern gentleman in some form of headdress or turban, was waved through with a nod.

Patience at an end Lois piped up, "Aren't you going to search Mohammed, here?" The gist of the answer was that she wasn't being helpful and any further remarks would insure that the plane left without her.

A true story which defies all logic, of course. Even if terrorists could find middle-aged Caucasian women to do their bidding I doubt they'd manage an 87-year-old to act as deep cover. Who knows what the young man could or even did have concealed under his headwear, but passengers could take comfort in knowing that Lois's sensible shoes held no threat, and her Mom wasn't packing heat amongst her aspirins and antacids!

All the best--

Tim Loeb

As I have said repeatedly the purpose of government is to hire and pay government workers; and the purpose of TSA is to remind us all that we are subjects, not citizens.

Subject: Simple Tests for Education

Jerry :

On the debate about funding and education, there's a very straightforward test to apply.

Look at the scholastic achievements of students (use almost any widespread test of achievement, and hold the silliness aside about how testing is "unfair"), and correlate this with the funding allocated per student (usually termed "per capita spending" in education circles). Use large populations of students for the tests, and ensure that the tests are not geographically concentrated (e.g., all comparisons made inside four counties in New Jersey). In short, apply rigorous statistical standards to the comparison.

There is _no_ correlation to be found. None. In fact, some of the highest expenditures per capita on education (e.g., Newark, N.J. and Washington, D.C.) show some of the lowest performances.

When I see statistically correlated data to support the endless increases in educational spending, I'll pay more taxes cheerfully. Until then, I'd like to see some more piercing analysis of educational performance with respect to other causal factors.

And I'd like to see that analysis done by qualified people, not just lobbyists in search of more pork from the carvery table. I'm sure I expect far too much rationality in this. After all, today's education isn't about learning, it's about entitlement and self-esteem.

John P.

Of course it has been done, often, but no one pays much attention. Just as the correlation between class size and results is low to non-existent. Correlation between principal involvement in the school and results is positive and pretty good. An involved principal, and motivated teachers; and of course control of the classroom, which usually correlates with community involvement (not not if it's legalistic).

We sort of know how to get good schools. But subsidiarity and fiscal responsibility are the keys. And that we will never have because teacher unions do not want them.

Subject: "What if you were Terri?"

I'm not going to take a stand on Terri Shaivo directly (I would hate to be in the position of any of her family - and lets all think about living wills). When my wife asked me what I thought about it all, besides my disgust at the political mess this is becoming and the people that are willing to continue that, my question to everyone is, "What if you were Terri?". Well so far no one I've asked says that they would like to live like that, and neither would I. No, we don't know what Terri feels right now but it seems no one I've asked feels they would like to go on if they were in her situation.

I think if you asked everyone if they would like to starve to death that would of course be no. But aside from your suggestions, which I realize are meant to provoke some thought, what are the choices? Living wills usually state something like no 'extraordinary means', so I guess they question arises as to what that is, but I hope the ones I leave behind could agree on that without resorting to public battles in the courts and the media. That would probably be my wife and while some people have questioned Terri's husband's motives, the courts in Florida continue to pronounce him the sole decision maker. Someone offered him a million dollars to walk away from it, so if he was just after a financial gain why would he not take it and leave. Or would that just have been too obvious? As for millions off the story, movie and whatever rights go, her husband could get those at this point no matter what the outcome of all these legal wranglings.

So to me the real question remains, "What if you were Terri?"

Keep up the good work as always, Dave Krecklow

1. I am not Terri. If Terri could be consulted there would be no problem here.

2. I doubt anyone made him a serious offer.

3. His concern for her right to die, and his recollection of her wishes, seems not to have surfaced at first, according to reports I have heard. But it hardly matters: her intentions are not clear, and he is not a disinterested party. And the neurologists seem to have been selected, since there apparently are others who have different views.

4. If she is already dead, the question is financial only and of no great importance; why not err on the side of life rather than death? If she is not dead, and her lawyer's report that she tried to respond to the question "Do you want to live?" is accurate --and I grant the lawyer in question is not a disinterested party either -- then we are committing judicial murder. Again, why not err on the side of life?

I do not question one's right to choose death. I question the right of others to choose it for you absent conviction of a crime. It is interesting that opponents of the death penalty want Terri to die. More below


Subject: $367M.


-- Roland Dobbins

The situation is critical but not serious.

What does one expect? Our security services are not serious and we all know it.

Subject: The Gulag: Lest We Forget.

I highly recommend Applebaum's _Gulag_, from which this article was excised and adapted:


- Roland Dobbins

It will soon be all forgotten. No one wants to recall such places, and surely it can never happen again. Just as no one will ever again be sent to a madhouse for political dissent.






CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Commonly known as Palm Sunday

Subject: Between life and death

I wasn't sure what to expect when I went to the living mortuary. That isn't the real name, of course, but no one uses the real name, Peaceful Transitions, except for the advertising people.

Row upon row of beds with ... how do you describe them? I would say people, but to me, a person is someone with some form of conciousness, and they had passed that stage a long time ago. Cadaver means dead body, but the faint beeps from the machines proved that wasn't the case. Husks? The remaining shells of bodies after the people who once inhabited them are long gone?

The worst part was the, well, I have to say it, deathly silence. I'd been to hospitals and hospices, and there were always people around, patients, visitors, and staff having all the usual conversations about life, the universe, and everything. But here, only the staff, talking quietly in a corner, and one or two visitors. They weren't saying much, and the patients were saying even less.

Then I looked at the charts. Some of them had been here for ten, fifteen years, or more. No one has any way of knowing when a patient's situation will change, so they are allowed (forced?) to linger on.

But the real reason for my visit was to interview the CEO about the outcry against the place. I noted the irony of comparing the heated arguments in the courts with the lack of anything happening at the facility.

She was pro-life, of course, and had no interest in the debates about when someone should be allowed to die. My attitude that a person incapable of life without assistance should be allowed to go went nowhere. I reminded her it wasn't just the Death with Dignity people, but the insurance companies and lots of taxpayers that were opposed to dragging out life's final chapter. Her business was starting to soak up a lot of the economy, and pressure was mounting to cut off the funding. Many insurance companies were refusing to cover such "care", and people wanted to see more money given to help the homeless and underemployed. Better to help the living than the dying, was their claim, and I agreed.

However, the courts were having a hard time coping. Each case was unique, and attempts by lawyers to use the latest ruling as a precedent toward influencing the next were just making the whole situation even harder to follow. Meanwhile, pseudo-life went on, at a cost of a hundred thousand dollars a day. Plus legal fees.

I left as disgusted as I had been when I arrived. Fortunately, I'll be spared any such fate. I signed my life away years ago.

Chris Keavy ckeavy@cox.net

What you describe is not what we see in the Terry Schiavo case. Comatose vegetative state, without relatives who care, is a somewhat different matter. And yes: the courts have a difficult time with such cases. They should have a difficult time. Hard cases make bad law, and when the state deals in death the cases are hard.

The key is your last sentence. You have made your wishes unambiguously clear; you have not left that for the state and the courts to decide. These have not. Perhaps they are being made to suffer the consequences of not making a decision for themselves, and leaving it to the state to make the decision. It is not an easy decision to make, and the state is not a disinterested party, as you point out. Neither are the insurance companies.

The lesson is starkly clear.

Dr Pournelle,

You wrote:

> 2. I doubt anyone made him a serious offer.

The offer seems to have been most in earnest. It got wide coverage in the media.

Here was the press release:


And here is some mainstream coverage:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7150458/  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4339033.stm http://www.baynews9.com/content/36/2005/3/11/74266.html 

&c, &c... Do a Google search for "Schiavo Million" if you like.

I think that it is fairly clear that this is not a financial decision. Had it been, he would have taken the million. It is also quite clear that there are a large number of people who would be willing to pay for the care and feeding required.

Mr. Schiavo clearly believes he is doing this for his former wife. And, under the same horrible circumstances, I would be doing exactly what he is doing. My wife-to-be and I have talked about it, but not signed any legal documents. And I hope that she would do the same for me. I wouldn't want to live like that.

It is also quite possible that were I one of Mrs. Schiavo's parents, I would be doing exactly what they are doing; especially if I had not talked about the issue with my daughter, and were not terribly fond of my son-in-law.

How the law reacts is a different matter entirely, and outside my expertise. I was under the impression that the Florida legislature stalled on eleventh-hour legislation; this is certainly not a Federal matter.

An independent arbiter deciding what Terry would have wanted based on evidence presented by both sides seems as if it is appropriate. This is, to some extent, what happened. I think I would want the choice of arbiter to be acceptable to both sides, though; it is very easy to get a arbiter who would be biased toward one side or another.

As far as I am concerned, it is a shame that it has become anything other than a private matter, settled quietly. For it to have become the political game that it has makes me a little bit sick.

Jeremy Manson

Thank you.

I still object to "an independent arbiter deciding what Terri would have wanted." I begin with the premise that the primary business of the state is to protect its citizens. This presumes that husbands do not inherently have the right to decide whether their wives should live or die (as perhaps they once did, and as they do in some lands to this day). To give them the power to say what their spouses wanted, absent independent corroboration, is to give them that power.

The Schiavo case is hard because she is not a comatose vegetable. She responds, but not unambiguously, to stimuli. She attempts to speak but whether that is reflexive or volition is not discernable.

It is, then, a matter of presumptions. In the case of persistent vegetative state the law is clear, and this would have been decided long ago. Other states may not have such clear laws.

But I am always reluctant to give the state very much discretion in vital matters, particularly when the state's decisions have financial impacts; and if discretion is to be granted, one wants the default decision to be for life, not death; else it is a very easy matter to go from there to "quality of life" decisions made by boards of ethicists. I would no more want ethicists to decide my fate than a board of deacons, but I would trust the religious who have led religious lives somewhat more than those whose dedication to their profession is intellectual only. I would prefer to give power to neither.

The state exists to protect rights: if in doing that it enforces them as well, that is as it is.

Mencken said that in a democracy people get the government they ask for and they get it good and hard. Absent rule of monarchs known to have been appointed by the Almighty through unambiguous means (and I am not sure what I would accept as a suitable sign of appointment in these days of special effects) we have to muddle through as best we can. Such is the case here.

I do not quarrel with the right to die with dignity. I quarrel with the right of the state to make that decision for us absent clear and unambiguous expression of our intentions.

More next week.












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