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Mail 364 May 23 - 29, 2005






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Monday  May 30, 2005


Lots from last week; apologies for being a bit late today.

Subject: Danny Hillis and the Cone of Silence.


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





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Tuesday,  May 31, 2005

Subject: [RBT] Xandros 3.0 Service Pack 2 and kernel update

Barbara and I just returned today from visiting Brian and Marcia Bilbrey over the holiday. Brian and I discussed a great many things, of course. One of them was my concern that Xandros doesn't post security updates as often (or as comprehensively) as I'd like. So I was pleased to learn this afternoon that Xandros posted a whopper of an update last week, just before we left for DC.

Xandros 3 Service Pack 2 is huge, much like one of those Microsoft SPs that pretty much replaces the operating system. I didn't write it down, but I think I remember that X3SP2 replaces/updates/adds between 300 and 400 files. There are many core OS updates as well as various application updates included in SP2.

Fortunately, I scanned the messageboard before I visited Xandros to check for updates. Ron Morse took the arrows in the back for all of us. Here's what Ron recommends:

1. Download and install X3SP2, but DO NOT REBOOT.
2. Download and install the appropriate 2.6.11 kernel update.
3. After the kernel update completes, THEN reboot.

Read all of the material Xandros includes before you do the update, of course. They do mention that installing SP2 may bork your system and that if that happens you can probably recover by booting your distribution CD and choosing the recover option.

I installed X3SP2 and the non-SMP 2.6.11 kernel on my den system without any problems at all. Everything seems to work properly, at least the basics. I haven't tried burning DVDs, for example, but mail, browsing, OOo, and the other apps I fired up appeared to work normally after the SP2/kernel update.

There are also other app-specific updates available, including the Firefox 1.04 update, which fixes several security holes. After applying all of these updates, your system should be about as secure as it's possible for it to be.

Best regards.





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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Found this on the internet today after a long search, Dr. Pournelle. This was from the last Travis McGee (and in fact the last book) by John McDonald. Just thought you and possibly your readers might be interested. (Unfortunately the url is at work and I'm at home...) Charles Brumbelow

from THE LONELY SILVER RAIN (John D. McDonald)

***** On Life and Death

Picture a very swift torrent, a river rushing down between rocky walls. There is a long, shallow bar of sand and gravel that runs right down the middle of the river. It is underwater. You are born and you have to stand on that narrow, submerged bar, where everyone stands.

The ones born before you, the ones older than you, are upriver from you. The younger ones stand braced on the bar downriver. And the whole long bar is slowly moving down that river of time, washing away at the upstream end and building up downstream.

Your time, the time of all your contemporaries, schoolmates, your loves and your adversaries, is that part of the shifting bar on which you stand. And it is crowded at first. You can see the way it thins out, upstream from you. The old ones are washed away and their bodies go swiftly by, like logs in the current. Downstream where the younger ones stand thick, you can see them flounder, lose footing, wash away. Always there is more room where you stand, but always the swift water grows deeper, and you feel the shift of the sand and the gravel under your feet as the river wears it away. Someone looking for a safer place can nudge you off balance, and you are gone. Someone who has stood beside you for a long time gives a forlorn cry and you reach to catch their hand, but the fingertips slide away and they are gone. There are the sounds in the rocky gorge, the roar of the water, the shifting, gritty sound of sand and gravel underfoot, the forlorn cries of despair as the nearby ones, and the ones upstream, are taken by the current. Some old ones who stand on a good place, well braced, understanding currents and balance, last a long time. A Churchill, fat cigar atilt, sourly amused at his own endurance and, in the end, indifferent to rivers and the rage of waters. Far downstream from you are the thin, startled cries of the ones who never got planted, never got set, never quite understood the message of the torrent.

John McDonald was very kind to me, and gave me so very good cover blurbs for some of my early works. His books too soon went out of print. RIP


Subject: Ending the subterfuge.


- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Republic vs Empire in Star Wars Episode III

I had some thoughts regarding the latest Star Wars movie and the politics therein. You briefly mentioned seeing it, but didn't comment at all on the political philosophies underlying the plot. Of course, some of the subtext is stuff only really hardcore Star Wars nutballs like me will ever catch, so I thought I'd share. Sorry if this turns into a ramble.

I believe that when Lucas talks about The Republic and The Empire he is attempting to call out to the archetypes of these two systems. Considering that you have a whole section of your website devoted to the difference between these two systems and how the former morphs into the latter, I think you'd be very interested in this. Not that you and Lucas would probably agree on everything or even most things in the political realm, but Lucas keeps the politics in his movies fairly benign. Not simplistic, because he delves pretty deeply in these last three movies. He doesn't want to bog the story down with too much controversy. But the nature of a republic and the nature of an empire (in his opinion) are in there deeply and centrally, and it's some very good stuff.

Before I really start, this is a good time to talk about the criticism of Episode III as being about the Bush administration and Iraq. This is really not true. These movies are the fleshing out of the story he wrote 30 years ago, and if you look at the original scripts and novelizations from the late 70s that is very apparent. If current politics mirror what he wrote then he might certainly take advantage of the fact, but this movie was not written as a diatribe against Bush.

Anyway, if you don't mind, I'll take a quick look at the politics he's included in these films. We can make several observations about the Republic at the beginning of Episode I, before all this stuff started. The Republic is a federal system, as shown by the fact that each member world has its own individual government of a form the people of that planet have decided upon. The Naboo have an elected monarchy (not sure exactly how that would work, but there it is). Each member world sends representatives to this federal republic that is governed by the Senate (as we see repeatedly), a Supreme Chancellor (a parliamentary Prime Minister sort of chief executive), and a system of courts (as referenced in the dialogue).

This does appear to be a true federal system, as each planetary government seems to have retained most of true governing power over the people, and the Republic's powers seem to be that of governing the worlds. Episode I starts with a conflict over the taxation of trade routes, so we can judge that the Republic has power to control commerce between its member states (yet not necessarily the broad definition of that power that the US Federal government has usurped). This also shows they have the power to tax, making them different from a Confederation like the US pre-1789. It obviously it also has a say in interplanetary conflicts as the Senate debates the conflict between the Trade Federation and the Naboo, and Palpatine says that this would also fall into the jurisdiction of the courts. As well, the Senate controls the Jedi, who refer to themselves as "keepers of the peace."

The Republic also seems to have powers similar to that of the US government from Article IV, section 4 of the constitution – to ensure a republican form of government in each state – and that from the post-Civil War interpretation of the Bill of Rights as being federally enforceable rules applicable to all levels of government. This is seen in Padme's comments about the Republic's anti-slavery laws and her shock that slavery still exists in defiance of them.

All in all, it seems to be a pretty decent system for uniting and governing far-flung groups of people with massive cultural differences. But that's in theory. The Republic has something seriously wrong with it. The intro to the 1976 novelization of the original film put it like this, "Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside."

Padme's shock at the existence of slavery is a good starting point to discuss what is wrong with the Republic. It and its Jedi agents have been ignoring their duties to a vast swath of the population. This is also seen in that the Trade Federation, a corporate body, has representation on the council, equal to that of any of the planets – equal with the people. The Republic has grown corrupt. It has begun to only pay attention to the needs and wants of the rich and powerful, to those in the core worlds, to corporate interests and other special interests. Those in the "Outer Rim" have been ignored, to the point that criminal syndicates like the Hutts can completely control entire systems, and things like slavery can be institutionalized, and not even in secret. The Jedi – those that have taken it upon themselves to preserve freedom and justice – also completely ignore this. Even when Anakin arrives and becomes a Jedi – and his background as a slave is something that is well-known to the Jedi council – they do not do anything to fix the situation. When Anakin goes back to Tatooine in Episode II, slavery still exists there.

Is it any wonder that at the beginning Episode II large numbers of planets want to secede from the Republic? Their needs are not being served by this body. They are being exploited and oppressed by many groups out there, from corporate interests and criminal gangs to the Senate itself. They want out. This is a fight that the Jedi, had they stayed true to their principles, should have led themselves decades before. But they had become, if not corrupt themselves, at least complacent in their assessment that the Republic WAS democracy, the Republic WAS freedom, that anything the Republic did was in the interests of the people, and that anyone against the Republic was against democracy and was for tyranny.

The Sith capitalize on the Jedi and the Republic's absolute abdication of their responsibilities to a large part of the population, and stir it up some more. Palpatine, as Supreme Chancellor, makes sure the Senate and the Jedi continue to ignore these people, while Count Dooku appeals to their desire for something better, and leads them to secede. He, of course, pushes them into a more militant position then they might have otherwise gone to, while Palpatine does the same on his side, basically fostering a civil war, while playing on people's fears of the same.

All of this scheming leads up too one massive development – the institution of the Army of the Republic. Why is this so important in Lucas's philosophy? Because as you've discussed in many of your comments, a major difference between a republic and an empire is the relationship between the government, the people, and the military. Before this the Republic had no standing, professional army. There were no real external threats, and internal violence was handled by the Jedi, or by each member state through, in the case of Naboo, volunteer groups of citizen-soldiers. I'm not sure Lucas is actually advocating a return to a militia system, but that is certainly the organization we see among the Gungans in Episode I, and the Wookies in Episode III. The army of the republic is different. It is a standing, professional army loyal to the Chancellor. As we see in Episode III (and IV, V, and VI), this army is what enables Palpatine to forcibly consolidate power to himself by destroying the Jedi, taking over worlds, and ruling as Emperor.

Obviously, the army also allows him to also stir up and fight a civil war, and he uses this war to get all sorts of extra executive powers given to him by the Senate (there is obviously no constitutional limits on Senate powers, so the system much more closely resembles that of the British parliament then the US system). You get the picture that this sort of thing is the icing on the cake to him. Once he had the army made and in his control could have taken over anytime he wanted and ruled by force and fear. The war and fear mongering and everything else allowed him to manipulate it such that this power was willingly given to him and the people were happy about it. Or, as Padme says so poignantly in Ep. III, "So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause."

The Empire came into being at the end of Episode II with the creation of the army and not Episode III with the actually naming of it as such, and it came into being through the long-term corruption of the Republic and the complacency of the Jedi even more than through the evil of the Sith. Its establishment was marked by the establishment of the legions – to use your term – loyal to the chief executive as opposed to the previous system of the citizen-soldier loyal to the people. And once the potential for abuse was created abuse began, such that in 20 years time – at the beginning of the original Star Wars – all the people live in fear of this massive tyranny.

This is no fluff-ball sci-fi saga. There is some seriously powerful political commentary here. After seeing this develop and come to its conclusion in Episode III, I left the theater thinking this is an important movie. Not just a good sci-fi romp, but a very important movie for our times. I personally believe that the transition of America from republic to empire was marked by the end of the citizen-soldier militia and the rise of the professional army which really started in the War of 1812 (when Madison wanted to invade Canada and the militia refused, showing again that the establishment of a standing army is always about offense and invasion and not national defense), and was finished at the Civil War when the federal government said it was willing to force people under it's jurisdiction through the power of it's soldiers. Since then we've been an empire in essence. The true abuses of empire didn't begin right away, mainly because of our rather stubborn nature, and our continued reverence for the Founding Fathers, but since the 40s and especially since the 60s they've been growing fast. But I do not believe it is too late yet. Things can change if the people are aware of the danger.

Sorry about the length of this, but I had a lot to say.

TJ Williams.

Perhaps you read more into the story line than I did, but that's an interesting analysis, well worth the reading. I particularly like your point about the gross negligence of the Jedi, who should have been ending some of the wrongs of the Republic rather than intriguing against the Chancellor.

I still find it an idiot block plot that the Jedi were unaware of the nature of their enemy, especially after the Clone Planet was found with the implications of the complex measures needed to keep it secret; but that's my bete noire anway.

Thank you. Discussion Below


Subject: Education

Some interesting points are made in this essay: http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/perspectives/perspectives2005.May.htm 

CP, Minnesota


We've discussed various storage options before. I stumbled across this this weekend.


Its a ethernet/usb disk unit. Hang it on your network and hit it with SMB or use USB and directly attach it. I saw the 160 gig model for $149 (after rebate) at CompUSA's web site. That's pretty darn cheap for an easy home NAS.

Maybe you could shake one down and tell us if it is any good.



-- John Harlow, President BravePoint

I am rapidly losing faith in USB 2.0 systems for backup, as I will say in the column, but Ethernet sounds interesting...  I'll try to get one and pound on it.


""Union employees at Reuters are stepping up their campaign against the wire service's outsourcing of U.S. jobs, most recently transferring the editing and caption writing of photos to its Singapore office and some Internet work to Toronto."

Editing and caption writing? Singapore? "

This is not a sign of outsourcing to the 3rd world but something rather more ominous. Singapore is a developed country that happens to be in south Asia, it has a standard of living between that of Italy & Spain. If Reuters chose to go there they are expecting a better job.

"Gorgeous" George Galloway is pretty well known here. I was once involved in working for his opponent in an election, unsuccessfully. I wouldn't entirely trust him financially, or with somebody's wife (or vice versa apparently despite being short & bald) & he is generally a bit of a leftie ranter. On the other hand, for a knee jerk pro-moslem he was one of our few MPs who voted against bombing Yugoslavia. I don't for a minute believe he would be stupid enough to do what Congress has accused him of.

He's also one of the decreasing number of politicians who actually know how to speak to a crowd. I think Congress was outmatched.

Neil Craig


Subject: Why Johnny can't read more than 200 pages.


--- Roland Dobbins







CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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A say devoured by locusts.






CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


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Friday,  June 3, 2005

Subject: Letter from England


This is a bank holiday weekend, and I'll be in the Lake District. In the meantime, there are some stories of interest. The phthalate story is of particular interest.

The shoe drops--typical levels of exposure to phthalate in the environment shown to disrupt sexual development in boys: <http:// www.guardian.co.uk/medicine/story/0,11381,1493570,00.html> . I've been waiting for this bomb--phthalate is used to make plastics soft. <http://umbbd.ahc.umn.edu/pth/pth_map.html>  <http://news.google.com/ news?q=phthalate&hl=en&lr=&client=safari&rls=en- us&sa=N&as_qdr=m3&tab=wn

Nature has a number of articles on bird flu. It reminds me of when AIDS was first understood. I'm an asthmatic, so I'll be sure to get my shots.
  <http:// www.nature.com/news/2005/050523/full/435385a.html>
  <http:// www.nature.com/news/2005/050523/full/435407a.html>
  <http:// www.nature.com/news/2005/050523/full/435404a.html>
  <http:// www.nature.com/news/2005/050523/full/435399a.html>
 <http:// www.nature.com/news/2005/050523/full/nrd0605.html

France is voting on the EU constitution, and it's unlikely to pass: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/eu/story/0,7369,1493590,00.html>  <http:// news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4585221.stm> . Not necessarily a bad outcome.

Over the top: <http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm? id=579102005>
 <http:// www.nytimes.com/2005/05/27/international/europe/27knife.html?hp>
. I don't suppose these doctors cook for themselves.

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

 We will have comments on the French and Dutch rejection of EU later.

On Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith

First from the New York Times

Darth Vader's Family Values http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/21/opinion/21tierney.html


Wherever you are, Adam Smith, call your agent. Darth Vader is stealing your best stuff.

The new installment of "Star Wars" has set off the usual dreary red-blue squabble, with liberals using the film to attack Republicans, and some conservatives calling for a boycott. But - and I know this is hard to believe for a movie with characters named General Grievous and Count Dooku - there's actually a serious bipartisan lesson about the dark side of politics.

If you can sit through the endless light-saber duels and robotic dialogue, you finally see what turned Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. He set out to become a Jedi knight who will use the Force for good, but he's traumatized, first by the murder of his mother, then by a vision that his wife will die in childbirth.

His fears are manipulated by Chancellor Palpatine, the leader of the Senate (who's being compared to Senator Bill Frist in [3]Moveon.org commercials). When this oily politician extols the power of the dark side of the Force, Anakin at first protests that those who use it think "only of themselves," whereas the Jedi are "selfless" and "only care about others."

He says he could never betray the Jedi because they're his family, but then the chancellor puts the family question in perspective: "Learn to know the dark side of the Force, Anakin, and you will be able to save your wife from certain death." Anakin promptly recognizes the limits of altruism, just as Adam Smith did in the 18th century.

Smith knew that some people professed love for all humanity, but he realized that a man's love for "the members of his own family" is "more precise and determinate, than it can be with the greater part of other people." Hence his famous warning not to rely on the kindness of strangers outside your family: if you want bread, it's better to count on the baker's self-interest rather than his generosity.

This has never been a popular bit of advice because selfishness is not admired in human societies any more than among Jedi knights. We know it exists, but it feels wrong. We are born with an instinct for altruism because we evolved in clans of hunter-gatherers who would not have survived if they hadn't helped one another through hard times.

The result is an enduring political paradox: we no longer live in clans small enough for altruism to be practical, but we still respond to politicians who promise to make us all part of one big selfless community. We want everyone to be bound together with a shared set of values, a yearning that Daniel Klein, an economist, dubs the People's Romance in the summer issue of The Independent Review. <snip>


RE: Jedi As Texas Rangers


While on the subject of Star Wars: Jerry, in the past you’ve compared the Jedi to the Praetorian Guard. I think of them as a bit more comparable to the Texas Ranger model (the way the Rangers were in the old days).

1) The Rangers were / are an elite group, and they knew how to use deadly force. (It was a former Texas Ranger who took out Bonnie and Clyde.)

2) they mostly worked individually or in pairs,

3) In the old days if a Ranger was following you, he didn’t worry about state or country borders; just like it’s mighty hard to shake a Jedi off your trail

4) Neither the Jedis or Rangers are “stay at homes” like an elite guard unit. They’re mostly out and about.

5) One Ranger or one Jedi could accomplish a great deal. My mother told me back in the 50s when she was working in Galveston, illegal gambling on the island was really getting out of hand. They sent in a single Ranger, and he shut the whole operation down.

Mike Cheek


You only sent one Ranger? "There's only one riot."



This is also seen in that the Trade Federation, a corporate body, has representation on the council, equal to that of any of the planets – equal with the people.


It is not out of line to think of the Trade Federation as a group of space faring people, without a 'planet' of their own who were given a seat in the Senate with the justification that they were a group of people who should not be denied representation just because they live in ships, not planets.

Brice Yokem

Of course Fascism -- Franco's Spain, Mussolini's Italy -- had parliamentary representation for institutions such as the Church, the Army, the Labor Unions, Civil Service, etc; and Roosevelt adopted this with the NRA Blue Eagle, which drew a number of its institutional reforms from Mussolini and Count Ciano, to the point that Huey Long denounced Roosevelt as a Fascist...



Padme's shock at the existence of slavery is a good starting point to discuss what is wrong with the Republic. It and its Jedi agents have been ignoring their duties to a vast swath of the population. This is also seen in that the Trade Federation, a corporate body, has representation on the council, equal to that of any of the planets – equal with the people. The Republic has grown corrupt. It has begun to only pay attention to the needs and wants of the rich and powerful, to those in the core worlds, to corporate interests and other special interests. Those in the "Outer Rim" have been ignored, to the point that criminal syndicates like the Hutts can completely control entire systems, and things like slavery can be institutionalized, and not even in secret. The Jedi – those that have taken it upon themselves to preserve freedom and justice – also completely ignore this. Even when Anakin arrives and becomes a Jedi – and his background as a slave is something that is well-known to the Jedi council – they do not do anything to fix the situation. When Anakin goes back to Tatooine in Episode II, slavery still exists there.


Slavery is outlawed in the StarWars Republic. I got the impression that Tatooine was not part of the Republic, although Naboo was. It appears to be true that Naboo is part of the rim, and it's needs were largly ignored.

Tatooine is certainly part of the Empire by the time of Episode IV (the original Star Wars movie) and there is no reason to believe it was incorporated late, but perhaps so. I rather like the point that the Jedi, informed of slavery on Tatooine, do nothing about it. They also are perfectly capable of taking an army when offered to them: Yoda brings the clones to the rescue...


Subj: StarWars Ep3 - Republic & Empire

One problem with TJ Williams' analysis is that the Secessionists are not the saintly oppressed/neglected of Naboo and Tatooine but the evil oppressors of the Trade Federation and their industrialist allies, led by Dooku/Tyrannus, the Sith Apprentice. I can think of no slightest hint that the oppressed/neglected have any interest at all in secession.

And it is the Secessionists who have the *most* "professional" army -- how can you get more "professional" than specialized combat robots?

Just having the Clone Army is not enough to secure the Empire. There would still be the danger of decapitation by the Jedi. Palpatine/Sidious also needs a very active, widespread secessionist threat. He needs the Jedi -- especially the Masters -- spread out in little penny-packets all over the Galaxy, surrounded by and trusting the clones they think they are commanding. It is that dispersion that makes the Jedi vulnerable to defeat in detail when Palpatine issues Order 66 to the clones.

As to the Jedi unawareness, note the exchange in Ep3 between Windu and Yoda: Windu suggests they inform the Senate that their vision of the future is clouded; Yoda objects that this would undermine Senatorial confidence in Jedi leadership. They know they are being blocked, they just don't know what to do about it.

In Ep2, Dooku tells Kenobi that a Sith Lord is in control of the Senate, which happens to be the simple truth. Windu asks Yoda whether this could be true; Yoda says, basically, of course not: Dooku is now a disciple of the Dark Side, so he must be lying. Very clever ju-jitsu by the Sith. It was *precisely* the Jedi awareness of the *general* nature of their enemy that helped the Jedi overlook the *specific* individual* Sith-next-door.

By Ep3, Windu and Yoda are becoming distrustful of Palpatine simply as Chancellor, because of his constant expansion and extension of his "temporary emergency" powers. It is that distrust that leads them to order Anakin to spy on the Chancellor, which sets Anakin up for Palpatine's "they don't trust either of us, they must be plotting against the Republic!" line of attack on Anakin's loyalty to the Jedi Council.

As for the Clone Planet: all the Jedi know is that a Jedi Master who had disappeared ten years ago had ordered the Clone Army, in the name of the Jedi Council. That disappeared Master could certainly have done the archive-hacking that hid the planet, so there's no reason from that viewpoint to look the gift army in the mouth. The audience has the additional clue -- though I missed it on first viewing -- that Jango Fett tells Kenobi that it was "a guy named Tyrannus" who had hired Fett as the clone-progenitor, and that Sidious later greets Dooku as "Lord Tyrannus". But the Jedi don't know how tightly coupled Fett's role in the assassination attempt on Padme is to his role as clone-progenitor; for all they know, he's just picking up a little extra cash, a clone-son and free room and board as a sideline to his main bounty-hunter business, in which Dooku is just another client.

Democracy vs Liberty: The way I remember it, Padme's line is "This is how Democracy dies..." rather than "This is how Liberty dies...". My reading of the situation is that Democracy is doing just fine, the same way it was when the French elected Napoleon, and that both Lucas and TJ Williams share the endemic confusion amongst 20th/21st-Century Americans about the difference and its importance. I confess to having been sensitized to that difference by Russell Kirk's explication, in _The Conservative Mind_, of John Adams' horror of unconstrained Democracy and its tendency to slide (or leap) into Tyranny.

Lucas vs Bush, and vs Republicans more generally: Lucas' anti-Bush pronouncements have been widely reported. I also remember an interview in which Lucas said that the name of the Trade Federation Viceroy, "Newt Gunray", is a dig at Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan. So I don't see any room for doubt about Lucas' personal politics.

But to whatever extent Lucas might have tried to twist his story to serve some personal current political cause, I don't think his story is just another political hack-job. The Faustian story of Anakin/Vader is clearly the central story that runs through all six films; and it's Goethe's variant (Faust is saved in the end) rather than Marlowe's (Faust is damned). Lucas tells that story pretty well, with some delicious twists, such as "I'm doing it to protect you, Padme"/"Don't you turn against me too"/"I'm afraid you killed her". The political mess is really just part of the frame, like the mystical/magical-Force/midiclorians mumbo-jumbo and the magical lightsabers-and-spaceships technology.

Perhaps TJ Williams is righter than I thought, when I started this little essay: maybe the best political use of the Star Wars story is to compare the patterns of political activity in that story to the patterns in real-world history, both ancient and contemporary, and reflect on the matches and mismatches. Have ruling elites in the real world been powerful and benevolent, but blind? You bet! Have there been breakdowns in subsidiarity (see for example Jane Jacobs _Dark Age Ahead_)? Yup! And about them, one can do ... what?

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

some of your readers have likened the Jedi to law enforcement officers. Bearing arms they get into the office of the legitimate chief executive and try to arrest him on a phony warrant. And the whole thing in war time. In my book that is treason and they deserve death. This is not law enforcement. It is a small group taking over government in the name of their version of the common good.

Regards Oliver

And see below, the sins of the Jedi


On Orson Scott Card, Ender, and Hitler

Mr. Pournelle,

I’ve been a fan/lurker since childhood, and quietly follow much that goes on in SF. I was recently led down a path of posts and links to a controversial article at Kuroshin:


Even though much of Card’s work has left me relatively un-inspired, I fail to make many of the connections between Ender and Hitler that the Kuroshin author puts forth. Even more unlikely, I hope, is the author’s claim of being set up for a physical confrontation in Adam’s suite (he implies you were there) at a convention.

The years have purged much of my naivety, though I still cling to -some- ideals…Now some of these remnants are in danger of falling as well. Does this guy thrive in a drama of conspiracies, all the while creating his own problems by provoking others? On the flip, has SF, particularly the SFWA, become as politicized and intolerant of criticism / dissension he claims?

I know both of these questions are inflammatory at best, but there exist crystals of truth in the matrix of each- I’m compelled to ask someone involved whose opinions I respect. For reasons I don’t fully understand, this article and its accusations have drawn my attention to a degree that surprises me.

The drains on your time are many- Forgive me for dropping out of the blue; if you don’t feel like responding I more than understand.

Thanks for Your Time,

Charlie Coton

Strange Technologist

University of Texas Health Science, UCT 2672C

Ender's Game was a better novelette than novel, but it certainly wasn't about Hitler.

I was not present at the "confrontation" in Adams' suite, but I would be astonished if it happened as described. Robert Adams was a very old-fashioned man and his ideas of hospitality would have forbidden him to invite a guest then assault him without extreme provocation. I counted Bob Adams as a good friend, and while I would not defend everything he did, the incident as described does not ring true to me. (See Joel Rosenberg's account: he was there.)

Scott Card has long been a friend although not close, and my only criticism of him was his retention of certain SFWA offices while winning awards; but that is a matter of appearances as much as anything else. I am no fan of "Speaker for the Dead" as I consider it an "idiot block" plot -- the readers will soon discover the "secret" although none of the characters do, and they should; but if they find out the secret there is no story. But that is my preference. Scott can write beautifully, and apparently he can dazzle people with footwork.

As it happens he and I will both be on the "Future of Weapons of Mass Destruction" discussion forum later this month. I haven't seen Scott for years.

I never heard of Kuroshin before and after reading that discussion on his web site I am not tempted to return.


Dr. Pournelle,

The dangers of outsourcing software are realized in Israel.


Sean Long


FBI warns of cell phones aloft


Now this is just plain stupid.

So the terrorist calls home on his cell phone to say "Hi Osama, I'm on the plane right now, do you think I should hijack it and crash into the pentagon?"

-------- Pĺl Steinar Berg


And now a very serious matter, brought to my attention by several readers whose original mail I have erased as they do not want to be "credited" with sending it to me, and one who signed:


Here is another example of how well protected we are. I sure feel safer knowing the Dr. Butler is locked away.



* If you are a researcher, and lose track of some infectious agent, think twice before reporting it.

* Never, never, never speak to a federal agent without legal counsel.

From ProMED-mail, the email list of the International Society for Infectious Diseases




Thomas Butler, Physician- Scientist, prisoner ---------------------- The paragraphs below are the abstract and edited summary of an article in Clinical Infectious Diseases 2005; 40:1644-8, entitled "Destroying the Life and Career.of a Valued Physician-Scientist Who Tried to Protect Us From Plague: Was It Really Necessary?"

Thomas Campbell Butler, at 63 years of age, is completing the 1st year of a 2-year sentence in federal prison, following an investigation and trial that was initiated after he voluntarily reported that he believed vials containing _Yersinia pestis_ were missing from his laboratory at Texas Tech University. We take this opportunity to remind the infectious diseases community of the plight of our esteemed colleague, whose career and family have, as a result of his efforts to protect us from infection by this organism, paid a price from which they will never recover.


In January 2003, Dr. Butler could not locate 30 vials of plague specimens and reported this to the safety officer at Texas Tech University; the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was notified by Texas Tech University, which resulted in 60 FBI agents rapidly descending upon Texas Tech University and the briefing of government officials, apparently up to the level of President George W. Bush. According to reliable sources, Butler was questioned by FBI agents without legal counsel which he waived, because he felt he had nothing to hide, he had worked with the military and federal agencies for years on this and other projects, and he genuinely wanted to help the FBI allay public fears. Testimony at the trial indicates that, after many hours of interrogation without sleep, and with the assurance that such interrogation would prevent any legal action, he signed a statement to the effect that the vials may have been autoclaved. He was then put in handcuffs and jailed, having been accused of lying to the FBI (a charge for which he was later acquitted).


Never. Never. Never talk to a police or federal agent without legal counsel. This is horrible advice to have to give you: when I was a lad we were taught that the police are our friends, and one has a civic duty to cooperate with them. It is now clear, from this case, and Martha Stewart, and others, and anarcho-tyranny* prevails within some branches of "law enforcement" and that getting convictions is more important than anything like justice.

This is particularly true if you work at anything remotely related to "national security". Look at the mess at Los Alamos, where they hadn't "lost" some of the stuff they thought was missing, and they fastened onto one man who was one day so dangerous he had to be kept incommunicado, but then suddenly was released. He was eventually bullied into pleading guilty to something so minor that it resulted in no punishment, but that guilty plea got the Special Agents (they're special all right) off the hook. Stewart meanwhile was convicted of denying something that wasn't a crime to begin with.

Talking to federal agents can be hazardous to your health and freedom. So far have we come. The problem is that the war on crime hires so many people. Their take is far greater than the take of the criminals themselves. Crime pays rather poorly, in case you haven't read about Freakonomics yet.

But we were born free. Welcome to anarcho-tyranny.

*[Anarcho-tyranny: in which major crimes and criminals go unpunished because the authorities are unable or often afraid to act, while the police continue to enforce laws when and where it is safe to do so: Murder rages in one part of the city while minor traffic offenders and scofflaws in middle class sections are sent to jail. Cherry picking by police.]


Subject: Now, why am I not surprised?

'Disposition' Emerges as Issue at Brooklyn College

BY JACOB GERSHMAN - Staff Reporter of the Sun May 31, 2005 URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/14604 

Brooklyn College's School of Education has begun to base evaluations of aspiring teachers in part on their commitment to social justice, raising fears that the college is screening students for their political views.

The School of Education at the CUNY campus initiated last fall a new method of judging teacher candidates based on their "dispositions," a vogue in teacher training across the country that focuses on evaluating teachers' values, apart from their classroom performance.

Critics of the assessment policy warned that aspiring teachers are being judged on how closely their political views are aligned with their instructor's. Ultimately, they said, teacher candidates could be ousted from the School of Education if they are found to have the wrong dispositions.

"All of these buzz words don't seem to mean anything until you look and see how they're being implemented," a prominent history professor at Brooklyn College, Robert David Johnson, said. "Dispositions is an empty vessel that could be filled with any agenda you want," he said.

Critics such as Mr. Johnson say the dangers of the assessment policy became immediately apparent in the fall semester when several students filed complaints against an instructor who they said discriminated against them because of their political beliefs and "denounced white people as the oppressors."

Classroom clashes between the assistant professor, Priya Parmar, and one outspoken student led a sympathetic colleague of the instructor to conduct an informal investigation of the dispositions of the student, who the colleague said exhibited "aggressive and bullying behavior toward his professor." That student and another one were subsequently accused by the dean of the education school of plagiarism and were given lower grades as a result.

Brooklyn College, established in 1930, is a four-year school within the City University of New York. The college enrolls more than 15,000 students, and the School of Education has about 3,200, including 1,000 undergraduates.

Your tax dollars at work. At least it has not entirely converted to a madras, but we can expect those, paid by Saudi funds, to begin in the US any time; most of the Muslim chaplains in prisons and the US Armed Forces seem to come from the Wahabi schools.

But we were born free.


Subject: Truths of Democracy buffy willow

Hi Jerry,

David Warren came across some excellent observations by Nicolás Gómez Dávila, a Catholic writer from Colombia:

-- Democratic parliaments are not places where debate occurs but where popular absolutism registers its edicts.

-- Love of the people is an aristocratic calling. The democrat only loves the people at election time.

-- The individual shrinks in proportion as the state grows.

-- The one who renounces seems weak to the one incapable of renunciation.

-- Violence is not necessary to destroy a civilization. Each civilization dies from indifference towards the unique values which created it.

-- To have opinions is the best way to escape the obligation of thinking.

-- Nothing multiplies the number of fools so much as the example of celebrities.

-- The importance of an event is inversely proportional to the space which the newspapers devote to it.

-- An individual declares himself a member of some group with the goal of demanding in its name what he is ashamed to claim in his own name.

-- The anger of imbeciles is less frightening than their benevolence.

-- "To be useful to society" is the ambition, or excuse, of a prostitute.


Cheers, Rod Schaffter

The Founding Fathers were terrified of democracy which they considered a horrible system of government. So have most profound political thinkers been; counting noses is not a good way to get good counsel, and asking people what they want if someone else will pay for it usually produces the expected results. So long as the Constitution was supreme all was well, but Earl Warren discovered we were a Democracy, not a Republic, and threw out the plain meaning of the Constitution and its Federal Republic in favor of establishing a pure democracy. Of course Democracy soon becomes Empire.

But we were born free.


Dear Jerry:

Marc Cooper is at the other end of the spectrum from you politically and way further to the left than I normally sit, but his recent commentary on Iraq included the following:

"The Bush Administration has plunged us and the Iraqi people into a well of blood half a trillion dollars deep. The White House offers no answers, except to stay the course while it prays it can get to the midterm elections without an apocalyptic meltdown in Iraq. The administration lacks the moral courage to even publicly ponder a way to finance this war instead of charging it to some revolving future account.

The Not In Our Name crap won't cut it, either, when it is precisely in our name that this conflict continues and deepens. We don't atone for the sins of the Bush Administration by abandoning the Iraqi people and pretending that the "resistance" that would come to power is anything but fascist.

So we know what we can't and shouldn't do. We can't stay the course and maintain a status quo that every moment slips closer to a bloodbath. But we can't simply walk away from the conflagration we have started, hoping it will just burn itself out.

I'm sorry to confess that I have no easy third alternative to stamp on to some bumper stickers. I don't know who does/"

This was in May 20th to 26th issue of the L.A. Weekly. It struck me not only as a very nice bit of prose, but also a sign that, regardless of political background, we have all defined the horrible problem. There is nothing there that you and I and the others who post here have not said at least a hundred times. As Congressman Kenrick Meeks gently told Donald Rumsfeld at one of the many hearings on this war, this is far beyond politics.

And we face another problem. People are losing interest. Even the news media has tired of the story because it never seems to change. The disconnect between the American military and the public it serves continues to grow -- and that's never a good thing.

Bush and his crew has tried to happy talk this war. They have not made it a priority. The emphasis is on Social Security reform, a failed policy even before he went on the Grand Tour to promote it. There is no shared sense of national sacrifice extant, as there has been in previous big wars. Rag has been modeled on all those little brush fire wars we've fought around the world over the last six decades; the ones that never make the papers.

Defining the problem should be the first step to finding a solution. But Cooper is right; we're a long way from being able to reduce the debate to bumper stickers.


Francis Hamit

Indeed. The "War on Terror" has now gone on longer than US participation in World War II. We brought down Germany and Japan in less time. Of course we knew how to make things then; and we called for the sacrifices that war calls for. Now we have a war on the frontier; Frederick the Great would have understood but would have said "But what is it for?"

"Never start an Interstellar War
it has no social uses.
When people ask you what it's for
you'll only make excuses.

When twenty trillion folks get hurt
you'll go to bed without dessert...


Subject: The war we have.


---- Roland Dobbins


On Church and state:

Now I doubt any state, even Utah, would establish a church today; but they certainly ought to have the power to do so. Why not? It is not as if persecutions were coming back.

I often find myself looking through sites related to American political developments (with awe wonder and not a little alarm) and I’m not so sure about that. You’ve probably never been a pervert or even a Goth or a role-gamer: I suspect members of those constituencies see things differently. If you have the time enter the word ‘Dominionist’ on Google and read about the many lovely people who would gladly exchange your Republic for a Christian Theocracy. And lots of them regard not being able to defecate from a great height all over the groups they regard as outside the ranks of the saved as a denial of their basic rights.

Michael Cule,

British Civil Servant and Science Fiction Fan (Perhaps we’ll see you at WorldCon?)

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK.


Subject: I read it at Chaos Manor first!

Dear Dr. Pournelle,
From today's NYTimes: Researchers Say Intelligence and Diseases May Be Linked in Ashkenazic Genes

This puts Chaos Manor several years ahead of the Times.

Sincerely, Larry

-- Lawrence Weinstein
Professor of Physics
Graduate Program Director
Old Dominion University
Norfolk, VA 23529

You're surprised? More mail next week









This week:


read book now


Saturday, June 4, 2005

Eisenhower and immigration


According to an article in the UK's Spectator magazine President Eisenhower faced a similar mass invasion of illegal immigrants from Mexico in the 1950s. He adopted the uncomplicated policy of rounding them up and sending them back. So ending the nuisance. Studies by reputable economists have shown that there is no net gain to the US economy as the illegal immigrant population consume as much as they produce and do not necessarily pay tax. Commonsense suggests that the crime rate will be higher among illegal immigrants as it is in any rootless population.

So I have two questions. Has the success of Eisenhower's operation wetback been forgotten? And why on earth are the politicians at State and National level ignoring the problem?


John Edwards

I have no answers...


I am not sure what to make of this:

Subject: Mother assaults schoolbus.



-------- Roland Dobbins

But it would appear that the levels of civility need some attention.


Subject: Alarming Her Majesty

Dr. Pournelle:

Just a random thought: given certain recent trends in law enforcement and justice down in the States, I was just wondering when the American government was going to enact a set of laws similar to the British laws surrounding Alarming Her Majesty?

By the way, here in Canada you can still be imprisoned for up to 14 years if found guilty of Alarming Her Majesty. Would the American version have a stiffer or easier sentence? Interesting thought ...

-- Michael J A Tyzuk, CDOSB Tarnished Knight Scotsman With Nae Trews

http://www.angelfire.com/scifi2/tkskeep http://www.livejournal.com/users/inssnemesis

"Do not meddle in the affairs of Anti Depressants, for they are subtle and will make you play Spot The Side Effect." - Michael J A Tyzuk, Tarnished Knight

Now that should make us all feel safer...








CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, June 5, 2005

Subject: Slavery.



----- Roland Dobbins

It's not just for Muslims any more...


Subject: Go Tell the Spartans.



-------- Roland Dobbins

Go tell the Spartans, thou who passeth by,
That here, obedient to her laws, we lie.


Meme 042: Public Choice Analysis of the No Child Left Behind Act

sent 5.5.27, lightly revised 5.5.31

It won't be that hard to narrow the minority gap in educational achievement, the goal of the No Child Left Behind Act, though actually closing it is far beyond any educational technology the schools can adopt. The reason is that Democrats do not genuinely care about racial equality. Rather, they care about jobs for teachers, since a major part of their support is teachers' unions. So, teaching jobs are protected. But too many incompetent teachers in middle-class schools would provoke a revolt from the middle class. What happens is that the most incompetent teachers, as well as the most incompetent administrators, are never fired but safely sent to the what are called underserved schools (a term never given an operational definition), whose parents go to the polls in far lesser percentages than middle-class parents. Every now and then, some oversocialized (the Unabomber's term) liberal observes the hypocrisy, but he is ignored. What counts for voter support is the promise of equality, not the results.

The No Child Left Behind Act, in many ways, is a method of curbing the power of the teachers' unions. This power reflects the inability of the States to reign in a *nation-wide* lobbying effort of the teachers' unions. It is a structural *defect* in State constitutions, which we also see in the nation-wide lobbying of trial lawyers and medical malpractice lawyers, which also has been prompting Federal legislation, so far without very limited success. The really big success was in reigning in the pilot and other airline employee unions through the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, but that was not a Federal/State issue.

The reason why there is public education in the first place is due to negative externalities created by irresponsible parents who have children they are unable or unwilling to properly support, "properly" being seen in the eyes of the taxpayers, who are unwilling to just let children of irresponsible parents fend for themselves and, so far, unwilling to restrict the rights of irresponsible parents to have children in the first place.

I am speaking, not in terms of some outside notion of social justice, but rather of perceived failures by parents and, higher up, defects in State constitutional design. Liberals often claim that the Federal government needs to step in where the States have "failed," but this notion of failure falls into the realm of transcendental (in this case, liberal) values. What is more objective is State constitutional failure to reign in nation-wide lobbying efforts.

So the worst teachers and the worst administrators are sloughed off to "underserved" schools, with the result that a great many of the students there cannot even read, even though reading is far easier than picking up the grammar of a spoken language. NCLB is offering incentives to improve the worst schools. To a limited extent, this will work and politicians will rejoice! Liberal educrats get more money; parents of children at underserved schools get children who can read; conservatives are emboldened by conservative policies that better achieve liberal ends.

Conservatives got votes by promising these liberal results using conservative means. What's happened is that conservatives have bought into the idea that reducing or closing the achievement gap is the first order of business. This new ranking came about because conservatives are themselves products of public education, which socialized them into this value structure. Conservative politicians play into this.

The chief drawback of NCLB is that it mandates that the States develop State-wide curriculum standards and that schools have to show "adequate yearly progress" on tests designed to measure learning under these State-wide curriculum standards, or else penalties and, sometime in 2013/4, actual withdrawal of Federal money. The result is that the revised curricula are directed toward those things upon which it is easy to show this "adequate yearly progress," which means drill, drill, drill, discipline, discipline in curricula that are irrelevant to the world of 2025, when kids will get out of school. There had been gradual evolution of State curriculum changes in the direction of critical thinking skills and other skills that will be more and more needed in the world of 2025, but no more.

These are skills that are difficult to conceptualize, difficult to teach, difficult to measure. (As the current headmaster of my high school has said, the most critical skill in the future will be how to distinguish good from bogus information in the Internet. I think I do a pretty good job of it, but it would be very difficult to teach the intuitions I have developed, but I'd be willing to give it a try.

So, the curriculum is marching backwards, but the politicians will be able to claim that never before in history are students better able to enter the world of ... 1955! Maybe it is not surprising that we would be upgrading an Eisenhower-era curriculum. After all, most of the movers and shakers in the world went to school when Ike was President. It's the generals fighting the last war, all over again.

But it's the gifted who will be most deprived of what might have been. No longer will individual counties, school districts, schools, and teachers be able to devise their own local standards for their own local situations. Gifted and non-gifted alike are to be evaluated on a State-wide set of curriculum standards. The gifted may very well do well on these State-wide tests. What the gifted will no longer be able to get is an education specifically targeted for their specific abilities and needs, critical thinking skills most especially.

I wonder if teachers' unions will be weakened, like unions of all sorts that have weakened during the last half century. Politics is shifting away from egalitarianism as the major left-right political axis toward universalism vs. pluralism. This means Big Ed will have to shift its promises from ending the minority gap (a universal standard based upon standardized *tests*) to providing race-based education for the genetic plurality that exists among different races. This cannot possibly happen while the Republicans are in charge, since their entire promise in education is to end the minority gap. It will take Democrats about five years to figure out that this justification is no longer needed and that it won't produce jobs like it used to. They will figure out that race-based education can double the number of educrats. Imagine all the research grants, new teacher training programs, assessment development!

And the gifted may at last get programs that really help them out especially. A pure free market in education would do better, of course, but that will not come about until irresponsible parents stop having children, which is considerably farther away from five years after the Republicans leave.

(Name Withheld for Obvious Reasons)

Feel free to spread this one around, either by linking here or copying it out. The author is in a position to know what heeshee is talking about.





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