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Mail 383 October 10 - 16, 2005






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Monday  October 10, 2005

Harry Erwin's Letter from England

The disaster in Pakistan has affected many people here in England. Our prayers and aid money go there for the many who have lost family, friends, and homes. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/ 4324534.stm>  <http://www.guardian.co.uk/naturaldisasters/story/ 0,7369,1588625,00.html>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-1819279,00.html>

Thanks for posting the Chinese story. Events there are getting worrying.

A few more local events:

Antiterrorism actions and proposals <http://www.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/0,12780,1588418,00.html>  One of the suspects has already been released uncharged. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4325354.stm>  Also, 'The government last week revised its proposed ban on "glorifying" terrorist acts, to say that convictions would depend on people having "intended to incite" further acts.'

Chip and pin success: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/ 4320072.stm> . Actually it's not that good; it's just better than the alternative.

Total smoking ban in pubs: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/smoking/Story/ 0,2763,1588481,00.html

Good state schools 'colonised by middle classes': <http:// www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1588407,00.html

UK failure to fund vaccine research: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/ article/0,,2-1818963,00.html> . And US failures: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/ 0,,2-1818987,00.html

A comment on the Research Assessment Exercise (which selects the small minority of the university departments in the UK that will receive government research funding):

On Friday, I received an e-mail from the co-ordinator of my university's response to the Research Assessment Exercise. This asked me to choose which Unit of Assessment (UoA) my research would be evaluated under and to submit (a bit later) my personal research plan. So I did my homework and identified some possible UoAs. Before we go any further, let me describe what I actually do. I'm a computational neuroscientist with training in neuroscience and computational science, biology, chemistry and bioinformatics, mathematics and statistics, and ethology (behaviour). I specialise in auditory neuroethology and support the research of a group working in biomimetic robotics. I also teach computing (i.e., computer science). I lack training in medicine and the traditional areas of psychology, and my professional memberships say I'm a physicist, computer scientist, neuroscientist, and electrical engineer. There were four applicable UoAs:

UOA 09, Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Clinical Psychology: "The sub- panel expects to receive submissions from all areas of psychiatry, neuroscience and psychology that inform or have the potential to inform clinical practice."--Well, yes, I do some work in modelling the auditory brainstem, but not with the immediate intention of informing clinical practice, so this is out.

UOA 14, Biological Sciences: "The unit of assessment will consider research that encompasses the full spectrum of the biology of micro- organisms, plants and animals from the molecular to the ecosystem level."--Well, maybe, especially given my training, but somehow robots don't quite fit into this.

UOA 23, Computer Science and Informatics: "The UOA includes the study of methods for acquiring, storing, processing and communicating information, and the role of interactivity in natural and artificial systems, through the implementation, organisation, and use of computer hardware, software and other resources. The subjects are characterised by the rigorous application of analysis, experimentation and design, using methods drawn principally, but not exclusively, from the disciplines of mathematics, science and engineering."--But not biology, so I'm peripheral to this.

UOA 44, Psychology: "The UOA includes: all branches of applied psychology (including clinical, counselling, educational, ergonomics, forensic, health, human factors and occupational psychology); all areas of biological psychology (animal learning, behavioural neuroscience, comparative and evolutionary psychology, psychopharmacology, and psychophysiology); critical and qualitative psychology; developmental psychology; all areas of human experimental psychology (including cognition, perception, psycholinguistics); individual differences; mathematical and statistical psychology; neuropsychology; social psychology. It includes psychologically relevant areas of neuroscience and cognitive science."--Ah, a possible match, except that I lack the formal training of a PhD psychologist, and I've always found it takes a great deal of effort to make my research accessible to most psychologists.

I intensely resent this. I have this image of a large square peg being hammered down to fit into someone's idea of a small circular hole. I also think it illustrates the serious problem interdisciplinary scientific research faces in the UK with these narrow and archaic categorisations. It's not accidental that the UK failed to show up in this year's Nobel Prize list. The lesson for scientific research in America should be clear: "Don't go there."

-- Harry Erwin, PhD "If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning." (Catherine Aird)


Michael Gazzaniga on chemical mind improvements. I have been an admirer of Gazzaniga since I first reviewed one of his books about 15 years ago.



October 2005 Issue

Smarter on Drugs

We recoil at the idea of people taking drugs to enhance their intelligence. But why?

By Michael S. Gazzaniga

Any child can tell you that some people are smarter than others. But what is the difference between the brain of a Ph.D. student and the brain of the average Joe? If we can figure that out, then a bigger question follows: Is it ethical to turn average Joes into geniuses? Evolutionary theory suggests that if we are smart enough to invent technology that can increase our brain capacity, we should be able to use that advantage. It is the next step in the survival of the fittest. As noted psychologist Corneliu Giurgea stated in the 1970s, "Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain." That said, gnawing concerns persist when it comes to artificially enhancing intelligence. Geneticists and neuroscientists have made great strides in understanding which genes, brain structures and neurochemicals might be altered artificially to increase intelligence. The fear this prospect brings is that a nation of achievers will discard hard work and turn to prescriptions to get ahead.

Enhancing intelligence is not science fiction. Many "smart" drugs are in clinical trials and could be on the market in less than five years. Some medications currently available to patients with memory disorders may also increase intelligence in the healthy population. Likewise, few people would lament the use of such aids to ameliorate the forgetfulness that aging brings. Drugs that counter these deficits would be adopted gratefully by millions of people.

Drugs designed for psychotherapy can also be used to enhance certain regular mental functions. Just as Ritalin can improve the academic performance of hyperactive children, it can do the same for normal children. It is commonly thought to boost SAT scores by more than 100 points, for both the hyperactive and the normal user. Many healthy young people now use it that way for that purpose, and quite frankly, there is no stopping this abuse.

In a way, with these new compounds, we are reliving the stories associated with better-known illegal psychoactive drugs. Morphine is a terrific help with pain produced by burns and other somatic ills; it is also a mind-altering substance that in some areas of society causes tremendous social and psychological problems. Do we stop developing such painkillers just because they might be misused? Even when the issue is simple memory enhancement, we profess great social concern. Why do we resist changes in our cognitive skills through drugs?

The reason, it seems to me, is that we think cognitive enhancement is cheating. If, somehow, someone gets ahead through hard work, that's okay. But popping a pill and mastering information after having read it only once seems unfair. <snip>




The wages of globalization.



DETROIT, Oct. 8 — Delphi, the nation’s largest auto supplier, filed for bankruptcy-court protection on Saturday, the largest filing ever in the domestic auto industry.

. . . .

“We took this action because we are determined to achieve competitiveness for Delphi’s core United States operations, and the key to accomplishing that goal is reducing these costs as soon as possible,” said Robert S. Miller, the chairman and chief executive of Delphi, in a statement. “We simply cannot afford to continue to be encumbered by high legacy issues and burdensome restrictions under current labor agreements that impair our ability to compete.”

. . . . Most workers have seen the writing on the wall. On Thursday, Dayna Delling, a 49-year-old electrician at a Delphi plant in Flint, Mich., said she could not get used to the thought of a bankruptcy.

“You feel like throwing up,” she said. “You try not to think about it too much.”

Donnell Smith, an assembly line worker at the plant, said he thought a bankruptcy filing was inevitable because it would allow Delphi to impose the wage and benefits cuts it is seeking.

“They’re better off filing for bankruptcy,” Mr. Smith, 52, said. “That’s bad news for us.” From Mr. Miller’s perspective, and in the view of many financial analysts, the company cannot continue to support its United States work force when workers in China and Mexico receive a fraction of the wages and benefits earned by Americans.

--- Roland Dobbins

Think of how much money we'll save on parts.


Subject: Life's Little Lessons...

A lot can be gleaned from this short article, Dr. Pournelle:


Quoted in full (but check out the site for the picture):

"Putin, Bush and Blair to Appear on Ukrainian Toilet Paper Created: 10.10.2005 11:31 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 11:31 MSK, 9 hours 9 minutes ago MosNews

"A publishing house in Ukraine has started selling toilet paper with pictures of a number of world politicians, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President George Bush, Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky, the Korrespondent.net website reported Monday.

"The Inspired B publishing house prepared three "editions" of the product for sale in Ukraine, Russia, the United States and Great Brtain [sic]. The retail price for the Russian and Ukrainian products was announced at about $0.30 per roll.

"The toilet paper is made in China by the Zhucheng Senke Paper-Making Company."

Among other things, this is a wonderful illustration of globalization in action.

Charles Brumbelow


Enabling asocial behavior through technology.

What the hell is a 10-year-old doing with a cellphone?!


--- Roland Dobbins

Making arrangements for a hookup with a 30 year old posing as a 14 year old?


Commenting on the Microsoft Security Announcement


The Microsoft press release you quoted has a lot of motherhood and apple pie but no specifics. It hints of tightening up corporate infrastructure (mail servers and spam filters and such) without really saying how.

Security requires tightening up the clients. A lot of clients are laptops. The laptop is exposed to all the malware on the net every time the road warrior owner goes online from a motel room. You don't have the corporate firewall and corporate email servers and spam filters protecting you at that crummy road side motel. You want your client to be robust enough to face up to the raw unfiltered Internet without getting infected with God knows what just cause you logged in to check your email while on the road.

Win XP, a descendant of Win NT, tries to be a "server", it accepts requests from the network to print files, copy files, execute programs and so forth. Malware running on the net can request "service" from any machine on the net. If your machine responds to a request to load and execute code, coming in from the net, it's toast. As shipped most of these barn doors (which allow malware to request harmful services) are wide open. One, "Remote Job Entry" is used by windows itself and windows will fail to boot if "Remote Job Entry" is turned off.

Shipping Windows with ALL "barn doors" closed and locked would be a good first step.

Even better would be selling a "client" OS. For me, a client only needs to run my programs off my hard drive and never execute anything coming in from the net. As a client I don't need a telnet server, remote job entry, and a host of other server "features" that just let virii onto my hard drive. Such a client would run faster and soak up less disk space. I'd buy one. I'd even pay a little extra for the privilege.

Step 2 would be to remove Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) from word, excel, power point and the rest of MS-Office. VBA allows power users to write basic programs to add features to office products. About

1 person in 1000 actually uses VBA. For the rest of us, VBA is a barn door for malware. VBA means that every office document (.doc .xls,.ppt and so on) can conceal executable code. ALL documents, from friends, from business associates, from suppliers, from anywhere, from email, can infect your machine if you just view them. Without VBA, you could view a co worker's spread sheet without risking contamination of your machine.

The few power users who actually use VBA could order the VBA product as an add-on.

Step 3 would be to clean up Internet Explorer for those that don't have the computer savvy to download Firefox. No browser should ever execute any kind of code off the net. A browser is a viewer, it should

never run programs, delete files, plant cookies, or place anything in the hard drive except upon the desk top where you can see it. Internet Explorer does all of the above and so serves as the entry path of choice for net malware.

David Starr


DIY GPS tracking.

Lots of implications:


- Roland Dobbins





This week:


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Tuesday,  October 11, 2005

For what it's worth:

Zithromax 600 mg Consumer price (100 tablets): $1,482.19
Cost of general active ingredients: $18.78
Percent markup: 7,892%

Zocor 40 mg Consumer price (100 tablets): $350.27
Cost of general active ingredients: $8.63
Percent markup: 4,059%

Zoloft 50 mg Consumer price: $206.87
Cost of general active ingredients: $1.75
Percent markup: 11,821%

Since the cost of prescription drugs is so outrageous, I thought everyone I knew should know about this. Please read the following and pass it on. It pays to shop around. This helps to solve the mystery as to why they can afford to put a Walgreen's on every corner.

On Monday night, Steve Wilson, an investigative reporter for Channel 7 News in Detroit, did a story on generic drug price gouging by pharmacies. He found in his investigation, that some of these generic drugs were marked up as much as 3,000% or more. Yes, that's not a typo .. three thousand percent! So often, we blame the drug companies for the high cost of drugs, and usually rightfully so. But in this case, the fault clearly lies with the pharmacies themselves For example, if you had to buy a prescription drug, and bought the name brand, you might pay $100 for 100 pills. The pharmacist might tell you that if you get the generic equivalent, they would only cost $80, making you think you are "saving" $20. What the pharmacist is not telling you is that those 100 generic pills may have only cost him $10!

At the end of the report, one of the anchors asked Mr. Wilson whether or not there were any pharmacies that did not adhere to this practice, and he said that Costco, Sam's Club and other discount volume stores consistently charged little over their cost for the generic drugs. I went to the discount store's website, where you can look up any drug, and get its online price. It says that the in-store prices are consistent with the online prices. I was appalled. Just to give you one example from my own experience, I had to use the drug, Comparing, which helps prevent nausea in chemo patients. I used the generic equivalent, which cost $54.99 for 60 pills at CVS. I checked the price at Costco, and I could have bought 100 pills for $19.89. For 145 of my pain pills, I paid $72.57. I could have got 150 at another discount store for $28.08. I would like to mention, that although these are a "membership" type store, you do NOT have to be a member to buy prescriptions there, as it is a federally regulated substance. You just tell them at the door that you wish to use the pharmacy, and they will let you in.

I am asking each of you to please help me by copying this letter, and passing it into your own email, and send it to everyone you know with an email address.

Sharon L. Davis, Budget Analyst, US Department of Commerce Room 6839 Office Ph: 202-482-4458; Office Fax: 202-482-5480 Email Address: sdavis@docgov

Mary Palmer, Budget Analyst, Bureau of Economic Analysis Office of Budget &Finance; Voice: (202) 606-9295

This was forwarded to me by a well meaning but often incredulous reader. Comments welcomed. I am aware that if drug companies don't make money they can't do research, and that the cost of any drug is driven not by the cost of manufacture, nor even of distribution, nor yet of marketing and advertising, but by government regulations, the costs of which have to be recovered somehow. The government exists to hire and pay government workers including budget analysts, and that is a first charge before anything else gets done.

Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth put payment of the New Model Army and its Major Generals as the first charge against the government, and collecting enough taxes to do that was the first duty of the Commonwealth; at least they were honest about it. And in the Restoration, although it wasn't legal and open, the first charge of the Stuart government was support of the King's Mistresses, and our "modern" budget system was devised, according to C. Northcote Parkinson, as a means for preventing the Navy Vote from going to the aptly named Duchess of Portsmouth. It wasn't spectacularly successful even for that. We adopted the English accounting system, and although starting with Budget Acts in Woodrow Wilson's time we have attempted to modify and modernize our accounting, it remains impossible to determine where the money goes, and how much of it simply goes to monkey motions with a zero vectorial sum. The existence of the posts of  "budget analyst" add substantially to our tax burdens, but then the purpose of government is to hire and pay money to government workers, all of whom are certain they work hard and deserve every cent their Public Service Unions can get for them.

In any event, 11,000% profit over costs of manufacture do not greatly reflect the actual costs of doing business. It is the official policy of the United States that both doctors and patients are fools, incapable of deciding for themselves what is the best interest of the patients, and that therefore all drug sales must be burdened with "professional" oversight by government workers, who determine what drugs are approved and what they are approved for, on penalty of criminal punishment for violation. Violation of one or another drug law is responsible for about half the incarcerations in the United States, and running the prison system consumes a large chunk of both Federal and State budgets. The Prison Guard Union has been one of the most powerful political forces in California and other states, and it has as its primary interest the assurance of a supply of prisoners to guard; it has done that very well, and most attempts to devise alternate ways of dealing with non-violent drug offenders founder on that political rock.

In other words, the high price of drugs includes a very great number of hidden costs.

At the same time, you might do well to look on line to see what you have to pay for brand name drugs from reliable sources. There are also rumored to be quite reliable Mexican and Canadian companies that will sell generic drugs at prices trivial in comparison to those you will find in the United States. The problem here is determining which firms are reliable.

My own view is that the FDA ought to have the power and staff rigorously to enforce truth in labeling: if a bottle says it contains "the freshest of snake biles" it must contain fresh snake biles, not some artificial substitute. The bottle should also contain a label such as "The FDA believes this stuff is worthless, and might very likely be harmful. Take at your own risk." Perhaps the carton could contain that warning in 12 languages, and even one of those tiny chip speaker systems that will SAY that warning in 12 languages; I don't know what those cost, but I get them as advertisements all the time so they can't be too expensive. The cost of all this warning and enforcement should be about five percent. of the hidden costs of drugs today, and would solve the problem of choosing reliable sources of generic drugs, and for that matter greatly reduce the costs of brand names.

Note that the whole FDA approval process is pure cost with little benefit to the drug companies: if an "approved" drug later turns out to cause unexpected side effects, or can be made to look as if it cost unexpected side effects, the lawyers will sue the company out of business, and the FDA does not go to bat to defend it. Thus the drug companies must not only bear the costs of FDA regulation, but also have enormous product insurance (or funds for self-insurance) against legal extortion; this despite warnings, common sense, legality, or anything that might assume even a tiny modicum of intelligent decision on the part of the consumer.

If the US could export its regulatory and legal system to China we would be in a better competitive position. Of course our education system would still make us inferior to China and Japan because the educated work force pool would still be small and shrinking, but at least we'd have a slightly more level playing field.

Enough. If you are paying for expensive drugs, it probably does make sense to look on line to see what major chains including Wal-Mart, Costco, and Sam's Club charge. And see below.


Interestingly, the next item in my email was this:

National Association of Personal Injury Lawyers <http://www.napil.com/>

How a Limited-Time Complimentary Membership Could Bring You New Personal Injury Clients Without Any Risk or Cost to You

If you would like an easy, no- cost method to get more personal injury clients then you will want to read this complete email message right away.

As a fellow lawyer, maybe you're like me --- tired of all the organizations that charge you hundreds or thousands of dollars without providing you with a concrete way to grow your personal injury practice. If so, you'll be pleasantly surprised by this new opportunity to gain new clients with no upfront fees to you.

How Does This Work?

It's easy and simple. Join NAPIL <http://www.napil.com/> (National Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) and you'll be listed on our Personal Injury web site http://www.napil.com <http://www.napil.com/> that personal injury clients search when looking for an attorney to represent them.

And now, for a limited time, you can become a member in NAPIL at zero cost to you --- but only if you're one of the first 1000 attorneys to do so, or if you join by Dec 31, 2005 ( whichever occurs first) Since there are 212,384 attorneys in the US who handle personal injury, these complimentary memberships could be snapped up very quickly. You can't afford to wait to respond because your competition may very well take your complimentary membership.Here's what a couple of lawyers have to say about joining:

"I have been a member of NAPIL.com for several months and have been impressed with the results it has gotten for me based on the investment required. Within the first couple of weeks I signed up a playground injury case with solid liability and significant injury to a minor child. I would recommend NAPIL.com to any personal injury lawyer that is looking to establish an internet presence or make their current internet marketing more effective." ---- Benjamin J Sansone, Attorney Clayton Missouri

"In today's every changing internet world it is hard to figure out what works from what doesn't. From the first week we started to get contacts. Results it makes the choice a lot easier." --- Michael A Bryant, Attorney Waite Park Minnesota

How Can This Help Your Practice?

If you get just one case, using a conservative average of $25,000 for a personal injury settlement, with you receiving 1/3 --- that would mean $8,333 to you from this complimentary membership. So why WOULDN'T you want to join?

Plus, you'll also have access to our discussion forum to get help and discuss personal injury issues with your peers.

Furthermore, you'll be part of an elite group of personal injury lawyers dedicated to fighting the big insurance companies that want to take the rights away from victims

What's the Catch - What Do You Have to Do? OK, you're thinking, "What's the Catch? Why are we willing to offer all these benefits without charge for this limited time? And what do you need to do to take advantage of it?

Well, you see, we're a relatively new association and want to gain a significant presence and attain high rankings in the search engines in a short period of time. This will, in turn, provide the most benefit to you as a member. And so, we're seeking 1000 qualified attorneys to join us. You need to practice personal injury law, have a personal injury related web site, and also put a link to us on your web site, which will help boost our rankings in the search engines.

Just click on the following link to register and become a member, http://www.napil.com/reigister.aspx <http://www.napil.com/register.aspx> while this complimentary offer is still available.

The way I see it this is a No-Brainer. Instead of writing more checks that yield you nothing, why not become a member in an association that can help your phone ring with personal injury leads at zero cost to you.

The only risk is that you'll fail to act soon enough to get one of the complimentary slots available.

To visit the site, click www.NAPIL.com <http://www.napil.com/>

To view our membership ranks, click http://www.napil.com/DisplayMembers.aspx/ <http://www.napil.com/DisplayMembers.aspx>

To register and become a member, click http://www.napil.com/register.aspx <http://www.napil.com/register.aspx>

David Sheehan, Attorney National Association of Personal Injury Lawyers 23945 Calabasas Road, Suite 106 Calabasas, CA 91302

P.S. Go register now at www.napil.com/register.aspx to get your complimentary membership before Dec 31, 2005 (or until the 1000 are gone --- With at least 212,384 personal injury attorneys in the US this could happen quickly).and start getting more personal injury clients calling you without investing a dime.

To unsubscribe, please click here

I am unaware of subscribing to this. But I find the spam rather interesting.


Now a different view of the future:

Subject: Manufacturing In America

Dear Jerry,

I am not one of those sunk in depression thinking it's impossible to beat foreign competition. Here's a superb contra example, in which I have no personal interest, other than a heart warming cheer for the old hometown team.

Steel Dynamics, Inc. (NASDAQ STLD). SDI is an Indiana based steel 'mini-mill' operator. They were founded in the mid-90s by three ex-Nucor executives. SDI now accounts for roughly 4% of America's steel capacity at 4.2 million tons/year. They have just 1,700 employees and a man hour/ton rate of 0.3, compared to an industry average of 1.0. Very forward looking in all respects. And their CEO is not a Harvard MBA type. He went to a local Catholic community business college in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Their Board of Directors is also Midwest 'hometown' apart from one German and one Japanese gentleman from Sumitomo. Non-union workforce and the company claims an average non-executive employee pay rate of 84k/yr. What they do have in common is deep experience in steel manufacturing and a complete focus on what they're about, which is running quality steel.

Then we have 'Detroit'. The crisis du jour is Delphi. This is GM's old parts division which was spun-off five years ago by GM's Harvard Business School educated management. Ford did the same thing at the same time with its parts operations, too. This includes ex-Ford entity Tower Automotive, which preceded Delphi into U.S. Bankruptcy Court earlier this year. Same story, different day. Tower Automotive's last pre-bankruptcy CEO, and still CEO for reasons known only to God, is Ms. Kathleen Ligocki. Let Ms. Ligocki speak for herself:


"My career path was not a result of brilliant strategic planning," jokes Kathleen Ligocki." "Studying Chinese history and Renaissance art in college, she "bummed around" in Spain and Mexico after graduation, and worked on archaeological digs and community development."

"Then she made the transition into business, working in strategy, mergers and acquisitions, sales, engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, finance and general management for a range of corporations." "Her entry into Ford was also the result of writing her own rules"

This personifies everything that has made Detroit what it is today. GM and the rest of the collapsing domestic auto industry is full of these Harvard MBA Wall Street numbers spin-meisters. Study their corporate websites. And on the other side we have 'Labor', personified by the UAW. Study their senior leadership. Their biggest concern from their website bios is to show their 'solidarity' by listing their many NAACP and ACLU memberships. Plus all the other Democratic Party - Washington politics we're so familiar with.

If one wants to truly help the American workers and their communities, then send all these barnacle encrusted capital structures to U.S. Bankruptcy Court today and chase every last one of these useless pc-minded bureaucrats out of their executive suites. There are still plenty of engineers and plant managers with Flyover Country Moo-U educations who know what the hell to do. Provided they're not crippled by the geniuses of the Harvard and Yale Schools of Business. Just look at Steel Dynamics for an example.

This dysfunctional Ivy League Art Department MBA style of non-leadership of industrial enterprises is the entire problem. It is not any part of the solution whether as 'management' or as UAW style 'labor'. Just think NASA every time manufacturing doomsday scenarios are drawn about what will happen if we don't 'save' GM & Ford in their current form, or close to it. 'Save' being a code word for 'subsidize' in various artful ways so they can continue their dysfunctional practices. This thinking is just more Luddite-ism.

Think "Steel Dynamics" for an example of the brighter future ahead once these older industrial dynosaurs are cast into the tar pits where they belong.


 Let me point out that Detroit refused a private gift of $200 million to build charter schools. The Teacher's Union couldn't stand that. The story is in the current issue of the Weekly Standard (http://www.weeklystandard.com/Check.asp?idArticle=6130&r=fnzna) and worth your attention if your stomach is up to the task. This makes for an interesting segue to the next letter...


Subject: Rebuild New Orleans - Where?

Dr. Pournelle,

When considering where New Orleans should be relocated, one should also consider the fact that the course of the Mississippi River is unstable. As one can easily see from a map of Louisiana, there are many shorter (and therefore steeper) ways for the Mississippi to get to the Gulf then the one it currently follows.

The most likely new course for the Mississippi is into the Atchafalaya River. The Atchafalaya and the Mississippi meet upstream of Baton Rouge, and the distribution of water between the two is controlled by the Old River Control Structure, which is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Currently about 30% of the Mississippi's flow is diverted into the Atchafalaya. Were the Old River Control Structure to fail in a large flood (which has nearly happened in the past), it is likely that the remainder of the Mississippi's flow would be captured by the Atchafalaya. This would leave Baton Rouge and New Orleans landlocked, or at best connected to the Gulf by canals. John McPhee's book "The Control of Nature" includes an interesting chapter on this subject.

It seems to me like a bad idea to rebuild New Orleans in its current location if its status as a port city is not secure. Rather, I think this is a good opportunity to encourage the Mississippi to find new and more stable route to the Gulf, and rebuild southern Louisiana based on that.

Peter Schmalzer

I am not at all sure I know why it is the job of Denver taxpayers, or New England insurance brokers, to pay for rebuilding New Orleans to begin with. It is the most corrupt and least efficient city in the nation, in a state that contends annually for honors in those categories and often wins. If there are sound economic reasons to rebuild New Orleans, they will prevail, and certainly the parts that remained above water will attract new investment.

The new Imperial style in which all funding flows to Washington and all blessing flow from Washington is quite alien to the American tradition. It seems to be part of Big Government Compassionate Conservatism. As once who simply wishes to conserve the American system which has been demonstrably successful, I have no idea where to turn. The Democratic Party seems to have gone swimming and found the Republicans stole their clothes. Turning to the Democrats to relieve us of Big Government, High Taxes, and Large Deficits does not seem intuitively to be a sound move. Of course empowering the Republicans doesn't seem to have done any more good. Perhaps less. I now actively wonder what a Gore presidency with a Republican Congress might have done. Then I listen to Gore on global warming and his fancied understanding of technology, and go back to writing novels. Have I mentioned that Niven and I are writing INFERNO II: Escape from Hell?


Hi Jerry Pournelle, Ph.D.,

David K. M. Klaus stopped by Geek Culture thought it was cool, and suggested that you visit the following URL:


Here is their message.... The 'Verse...the Final Frontier.

Geek Culture

I do not often copy these automated messages. I wonder who invented this technique? I get so many I generally ignore them.


Subject: how to withdraw from Iraq

Jerry, This is good. Very good. I happen to know Luttwak (not well, i took a class from him when i went to Johns Hopkins). He's a very clear thinker on strategic matters.

His opinion in the attached article is *the very first one* I've heard that passes my smell test for why it might be a good idea to withdraw from Iraq (a little quote here):

"IN REJECTING CALLS for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, President Bush rightly insists that the United States cannot abandon the country to the insurgents — a murderous gathering of Arab Sunni supremacists, Saddam Hussein nostalgics and Salafist terrorists. These last fanatics would become even more dangerous if invigorated by victory in Iraq.

But in presenting the victory of the killers as the only alternative to a failing military occupation, Bush is entirely wrong. It is the least likely of all possible outcomes."

Full article here:

This is good stuff. Someone in the White House should call Luttwak up and pay attention to what he says.


-- Joseph C. Pistritto

"The U. S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself" - Benjamin Franklin

Luttwak is always worth listening to, but this is hardly startlingly new. I have pointed out for a long time that letting Iraq have its civil war may be preferable to continuing occupation.

Luttwak says the US Army is protecting our enemies from our friends. There is a real sense in which that is true, and good imperial strategy would make use of our friends and allies in the conquest of Iraq.

Luttwak's strategy would be the de facto partition of Iraq. Perhaps a good thing, but it warrants thought; we started with the objective of not partitioning Iraq.

Of course one problem, that turning the Kurds loose to establish an independent state would irritate our Turkish friends is no longer applicable. We don't have many Turkish friends any longer, having managed to alienate our one powerful and at one time constant ally in that area.


Dear Jerry:

A new dimension to military overstretch. The Army had doubled recruitment bonuses and still can't fill all the slots. This is not good news, either for the future of the war, or the US Military


Francis Hamit

Airmen Fill the Gaps in Wartime - Yahoo! News


I saw that this morning. I agree, it's an omen.


Subject: more energy independence discussion


It looks like the country's conversation is slowly moving towards your proposal of 4 years ago of energy independence:

the petroleum bomb by George P. Shultz and R. James Woolsey http://www.memagazine.org/contents/current/features/petrbomb/petrbomb.html 

Sincerely, Jim Laheta

Eventually they catch up with me.


Subject: Different Worlds, Different Americans.

Hello Jerry.

Here's an article I thought you might find interesting.


Reminds me of characters from some of my favorite authors, Heinlein, Campbell, Piper, and of course Pournelle.

The competent man. Someone needs to get them onto the endangered species list. They are disappearing fast in this country.

I may not envy those people their education levels or poverty but I admire them as men.



Dear Jerry,

An amusing, yet insightful piece from Opnion Journal Letters to the Editor:


--------------------------------------- How can you tell if a conservative is pro- or anti-Miers? Based on my conversations with conservative friends this week, here's a good rule of thumb. Ask the conservative to define the following words or phrases and see what he says.


Anti-Miers: A handheld device that allows you to get e-mail and access the Internet. The biggest problem is when the battery runs low. You solve the problem by carrying a charger.

Pro-Miers: A delicious berry that you find in the woods. The biggest problem is that bears love them too. You solve that problem by carrying a .44 Magnum.


Anti-Miers: A popular TV show that looked at cultural and sexual mores.

Pro-Miers: People you invite over to your house

"$20 Snifter of Cognac"

Anti-Miers: Not a bad price for a great brandy at a nice bar.

Pro-Miers: An outrageous price for a drink. Where we people live, you can get a two-pound T-bone steak dinner and a drink for $20.

"Meet the Press"

Anti-Miers: Must-see TV.

Pro-Miers: We are too busy going to church. Besides, who really cares what they say?


Anti-Miers: A period of increased cultural sensitivity when you have to wish people a "Happy Holiday" instead of "Merry Christmas" for fear of offending them.

Pro-Miers: Merry Christmas!

"A List"

Anti-Miers: The type of party you want to be invited to.

Pro-Miers: What you don't want to get from your wife on Saturday morning.

"Assault Weapons"

Anti-Miers: A class of weapons that anti-Miers conservatives use in their legal arguments concerning the meaning and extent of the Second Amendment. Although anti Miers conservatives favor the ownership of assault weapons, they probably have never touched or fired one.

Pro-Miers: A nice varmint gun, although it doesn't have enough range or accuracy to shoot wary prairie dogs. They aren't as good as Dad's old M1 Garand.


Anti-Miers: A Broadway play.

Pro-Miers: One of the things that makes America great.

"Antonin Scalia"

Anti-Miers: A brilliant legal scholar with libertarian tendencies. A good Supreme Court justice.

Pro-Miers: Who? Oh, the guy who hunts with the vice president and belongs to a gun club in Virginia. A good Supreme Court justice.

"The Buzz"

Anti-Miers: What "everybody who is anybody" is talking about.

Pro-Miers: What hornets, bees, wasps and yellow jackets do.


Anti-Miers: A method for thinning wildlife populations that allows a rural American tradition to continue.

Pro-Miers: A chance to get together with some friends on a weekend and have a good time. We never let the hunting get in the way of having fun, however.


Anti-Miers: A metaphor for the American tendency to act aggressively. What makes America a great power.

Pro-Miers: The guy we see at the diner, who works on a ranch or travels the rodeo circuit. A term that is rarely applied, and when it is, is a compliment.

"John Deere"

Anti-Miers: A riding lawn mower.

Pro-Miers: A tractor.

"Paris Hilton"

Anti-Miers: A cultural icon.

Pro-Miers: A hotel in France. Although I wouldn't know, because why would I want to go to Paris on vacation when I can go camping?

"Big Bore"

Anti-Miers: A person who corners you at an A List cocktail party.

Pro-Miers: A rifle that you need for hunting elephant or cape buffalo.

This would have probably worked well at the NR 50th bash.

-- Harold Hough


I'd scoff at conservatives watching "Friends", but my younger sister does.

Cheers, Rod Schaffter

-- "I find, for some odd psychological reason, that I can deal better with a man's exercise of free will if I believe that he has got it." --G.K. Chesterton


Subject: Time to retire "egregious Frum "?

Dear Doctor Pournelle-

Since Chuck Boudin has compared your phrase to Larry Niven's "flup" I cannot resist. Egregious Frum sounds like a magical plant Terry Pratchett would invent for the Discworld.

Seriously yours,

Carl Zeichner

I will retire the phrase when the egregious Frum makes some apologies, particularly to Stephen Tonsor.


Dr. Pournelle,

Excellent list of the various reasons why drugs cost so much and why the markup over the materials cost is not a metric of profitability. As for the markup at the pharmacy level, this anecdote may be of interest:

When I was an undergrad at Cal Poly I needed some antibiotics to treat bronchitis. The price of the antibiotics (erythromycin if I recall correctly) from the student health center was around $8, or about a third of my insurance co-pay. I asked about it and was told by the staff that the Cal State University system was required to sell pharmaceuticals at cost. Since the retail price was around $60 the local pharmacies must have been doing quite well I would imagine.

Also, you did leave out one important factor that drives up prices, though perhaps the economics are so obvious that you did not feel the need to bring it up.

Most Americans don't pay for their own drugs directly, we pay our standard insurance co-pay and never even think about (or even see) the price, convenience is most likely the first thing on my mind. The result is that we have isolated the end consumer from the cost thus removing any real market pressure to bring down prices. We got into this insurance mess in the first place because the government tax code makes it cheaper for an employer to offer health insurance as a benefit than to pay an employee enough to go out and buy his own insurance. And the Liberals lament that not enough people have health insurance!

Now that the federal government has graciously allowed us to have a Health Savings Account some of us may be able to break the cycle, but I don't know enough about them yet. Last time I saw Mitchell Burnside-Clapp he was waxing eloquently on the benefits, and I have always taken him to be a man who knows what he is talking about. Maybe some of your readers have some advice on the subject, i.e. cost/benefit analysis, best way of setting these up, etc.

Best regards,

Mark E. Horning, Research Scientist


The Doctor's World Nobel Came After Years of Battling the System

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, M.D. Published: October 11, 2005

When two Australian scientists set out in the early 1980's to prove that a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, caused stomach inflammation and ulcers, they met opposition from a medical-industrial complex entrenched in the belief that psychological stress was the cause.

Opposition to their radical thesis came from doctors with vested interests in treating ulcers and other stomach disorders as well as from drug companies that had come up with Tagamet, which blocked production of gastric acid and was becoming the first drug with $1 billion annual sales. Skip to next paragraph Related Two Win Nobel Prize for Discovering Bacterium Tied to Stomach Ailments (October 4, 2005)

Ulcer surgery was lucrative for surgeons who removed large portions of the stomach from patients with life-threatening bleeding and chronic symptoms. Psychiatrists and psychologists treated ulcer patients for stress.

The concept of curing ulcers with antibiotics seemed preposterous to doctors who had long been taught that the stomach was sterile and that no microbes could grow in the corrosive gastric juices.

A bacterial cause "was just too wild a theory for most people" to accept, and something so ingrained as stress causing ulcers was too difficult to dismiss, Dr. J. Robin Warren, one of two who won the 2005 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on Oct. 3, said in a telephone interview.

Blame focused on psychological stress in part because many patients had stressful lives and scientists lacked another explanation.

Also, Tagamet and similar drugs, known as H2 blockers, safely made ulcers and their symptoms disappear. But the H2 blockers were not one- shot cures. Ulcers often recurred, requiring repeated courses of the drugs, providing a steady stream of profits.

"The opposition we got from the drug industry was basically inertia," said Dr. Barry J. Marshall of the University of Western Australia, the other Nobel winner, and "because the makers of H2 blockers funded much of the ulcer research at the time, all they had to do was ignore the Helicobacter discovery."

"If the drug companies were truly into discovery, they would have gone straight after the Helicobacter," Dr. Marshall said, but they did not because of the success with H2 blockers.

"Had these drugs not existed, the drug companies would have jumped on our findings," he added.

Then, too, the fresh thinking was coming from what many doctors regarded as a medical outpost, Perth.

All the factors created a type of rigidity that many doctors say still exists for better or worse.

Further, Dr. Marshall said, "The fact that the big drug companies who were supporting the journal articles ignored H. pylori was far more effective than actually saying that a bacterial cause was not true because if they had said it was false, or not important, they would have created a controversy and maybe media interest."

Right from the moment in 1979 when Dr. Warren, a pathologist, first saw bacteria in stomach biopsies at the Royal Perth Hospital, he said: "I met skepticism from my colleagues who mostly did not want to know, or believe, what I was describing. Anyone could see the bacteria through a microscope, but the clinicians did not want to see them."

Why was he the only one seeing the bacteria? Why had others not described them earlier? He did not know, Dr. Warren said in answer to the skeptics who asked. "Once I started looking for them, they were obvious," he said, "but convincing other people was another matter."

Even doctors who peered down the barrel of a microscope and did agree bacteria were present said they must be opportunists, not the cause of stomach ailments.

Dr. Warren pointed out that the bacteria were all the same, not the variety that would be expected of secondary invaders. But, he said, "It was hard for me to prove them wrong. <snip>"




This week:


read book now


Wednesday, October 12, 2003

Happy Columbus Day


Subject: Dealing with crazy corporations...

Don't know whether you've seen Mark Gibbs commentary on dealing with crazy corporations, Dr. Pournelle...



"...large corporations are clinically insane.

"Let me clarify that: In law a corporation is an individual similar to you or me. When you compare the behavior and characteristics of publicly held, large corporations to the diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and those of DSM-IV, a standard psychiatric diagnostic tool, you find that these organizations are effectively psychopathic .

"Most importantly, this isn't an attribute of one or two large corporations; it applies to the majority worldwide. Even more profoundly, it appears to be the inescapable fate of public corporations because their essential function is to be profit-making machines that relegate all other functions and attributes (social, cultural, political, technological and economic roles) to a distant second place. Essentially, the end (profits) will always justify the means (whatever it takes) because that is how corporations are defined."

Overall, this view may be worthy of consideration when discussing outsourcing, manufacturing in China, environmental protection, the price of gasoline, the cost of prescription drugs, and many other Chaos Manor threads. In fact, even if this worldview is usually incorrect, the individual is probably well served by considering it to be correct unless proven otherwise. And it certainly helps one understand the oxymoron "customer service".

There are some imbedded links in the website article for anyone with deeper interest in the topic.


Charles Brumbelow


Subject: Microsoft Tweakmatic

Found this while looking for an update to Microsoft Powertoys. http://www.microsoft.com/technet/scriptcenter/tools/twkmatic.mspx  These guys cannot possibly work for the same humorless company as Steve Balmer. Sample:

Warning: Don’t ever change a value in the registry. Ever. We know we just told you to do that, but would you jump off a cliff if we told you to? Don’t ever change a value in the registry. Don’t even say the word registry. We know a guy once who said the word registry, and three days later he was hit by a bus. True story. As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t even have a registry on your computer. If you suspect that you do have a registry on your computer, call us and a trained professional will be dispatched to your office to remove the registry immediately. If you accidentally touch the registry, wash your hands with soap and water and call a doctor. Do not swallow the registry or get it in your eyes!


Christopher Mazuk Area Operations Manager - Sprint PCS Nortel



Subject: Strategic Defense Initiative, 212 BC

I got a good chuckle out of this. Never underestimate the students!




You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.

Winston Churchill

Loved it. Thanks.


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Many of you were here during 2003 and 2004, during the fallout after my book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, was published. Because a group of transsexual women were enraged with the book's content, they attacked me in ways ranging from sending nasty emails to the department to filing formal complaints against me. The latter led to a full investigation of me at Northwestern. Because my lawyer advised me not to speak about charges publicly, news coverage (and there was plenty), shall we say, lacked proper balance.

I have now decided to speak out. My account is published in the Northwestern Chronicle online:


If you have any interest in these matters, and more broadly in the matter of how the IRB system can be perverted in the service of censorship, I urge you to read my account. I would appreciate it if you would forward the link to anyone you know who might be interested in the case.

I would be happy to speak with you or answer any questions you have about these matters.

Sincerely, Mike Bailey


CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Subject: Vietnam/Iraq

Dr. Pournelle,

For all this time I thought the Democrats had assured us that there were no consequences from our abandonment of the Vietnamese...




Indeed. I do not believe we should have gone in, but having done so, we must leave without abandoning our friends. It is complicated because the First Gulf War, which I opposed, left the internal enemies of Saddam believing that we would help them if they rose up. They did rise, were slaughtered, the marshes drained in one of the greatest man-made ecological disasters since the Turks broke the Anatolian terraces, and left young Bush with a terrible sense of guilt for his father's actions; probably one reason we are in there now.

This is not the place to discuss what we ought to have done about Kuwait, and when we ought to have done it; but it is clear that we need to get out of Iraq without encouraging our enemies. Alas, I am not sure I know how to do that.

Here is an interesting review of a letter between al Qaeda leaders, Dr. Pournelle.


A quote:

"Amid these lamentations, however, one area emerges about which the terror commander exudes great confidence: the media. The lesson he learned from Vietnam is that "more than half of the battle is taking place on the battlefield of the media." He clearly wants to use the media, in the U.S. and in the Arab world, to induce the U.S. to pull out of Iraq and default a position of strength to al Qaeda.

"He actually worries about the possibility that Zarqawi will blow victory on the media battlefield: Toward this end, he gently urges Zarqawi to discontinue his habit of beheading hostages, suggesting that perhaps instead he could just shoot them. "We are in a media race for . . . hearts and minds," he writes.

"The long Zawahiri letter is a rough roadmap of the strategic vision for al Qaeda's intentions in Iraq and the global jihad. If it has a familiar ring, that's because George Bush has been warning the world about it for several years."

The article includes a link to the translated letter. Enjoy!

Charles Brumbelow, CFO



Racial Differences, IQ, and Education

An old thread is like a bad penny, Dr. Pournelle...


To quote (or not to quote):

"The Inequality Taboo It's time to start talking about differences between groups of people.

"BY CHARLES MURRAY Wednesday, October 12, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

"When the late Richard Herrnstein and I published "The Bell Curve" 11 years ago, the furor over its discussion of ethnic differences in IQ was so intense that most people who have not read the book still think it was about race. Since then, I have deliberately not published anything about group differences in IQ, mostly to give the real topic of "The Bell Curve"--the role of intelligence in reshaping America's class structure--a chance to surface."


"The Orwellian disinformation about innate group differences is not wholly the media's fault. Many academics who are familiar with the state of knowledge are afraid to go on the record. Talking publicly can dry up research funding for senior professors and can cost assistant professors their jobs. But while the public's misconception is understandable, it is also getting in the way of clear thinking about American social policy.

"Good social policy can be based on premises that have nothing to do with scientific truth. The premise that is supposed to undergird all of our social policy, the founders' assertion of an unalienable right to liberty, is not a falsifiable hypothesis. But specific policies based on premises that conflict with scientific truths about human beings tend not to work. Often they do harm.

"One such premise is that the distribution of innate abilities and propensities is the same across different groups. The statistical tests for uncovering job discrimination assume that men are not innately different from women, blacks from whites, older people from younger people, homosexuals from heterosexuals, Latinos from Anglos, in ways that can legitimately affect employment decisions. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 assumes that women are no different from men in their attraction to sports. Affirmative action in all its forms assumes there are no innate differences between any of the groups it seeks to help and everyone else. The assumption of no innate differences among groups suffuses American social policy. That assumption is wrong.

"When the outcomes that these policies are supposed to produce fail to occur, with one group falling short, the fault for the discrepancy has been assigned to society. It continues to be assumed that better programs, better regulations or the right court decisions can make the differences go away. That assumption is also wrong."


Charles Brumbelow

When Arthur Jenson first put the hypothesis that given the differences in IQ, schools for black Americans ought to emphasize craft skills rather than abstract learning, he was denounced in as bitter a fight as academia has ever seen. Actually, Jenson said no such thing: he said that lower IQ children would benefit from a different kind of education from those with higher IQ. From that statement follow some unpleasant consequences; and it is time to think about it.

This much is true and not particularly controversial: lower IQ students learn skills readily enough, but do not absorb "education" in the classic definition of learning abstract symbol manipulation. Thus a well educated person can learn to operate a lathe or drill press without a great deal of prior training; education, done well, teaches one how to learn. I have often pointed out that the point of a PhD dissertation is not really to add to the total body of knowledge, or at least not to add much; it is to teach the candidate how to finish something, how to use the tools of scholarship; I have often said that if you can do one thing really well, you can do anything really well; but I was talking about the "educated" people, not those who have learned skill sets.

Educated people readily learn repetitive tasks, but they don't like doing them, and find such work boring; and besides, employing bright people in jobs less bright people can do is a waste of resources.

Lower IQ (85 and below) people have a great deal of difficulty with symbol manipulation and highly abstract thinking. Since essentially everyone reading this is IQ 120 or above, and given the way America is organized, few of you are likely to know or often interact with people of IQ 85 and below; so this may seem an unduly harsh, even brutal, thing to say. It is not meant to be harsh or brutal. It is merely a statement of fact, of facts verified time and time again, and is not even controversial among those who actually study intelligence. People with IQ above 115 tend to profit mightily from education in symbol manipulation. Most of the people you know and frequently interact with have IQ 115 and above, some of them well above.

It is a truism to say that half of the children are below normal. I have been told this is an insulting thing to say, but I doubt that any readers here think that. It is merely statistical fact.

Most of the population -- 68% -- falls between IQ 85 and IQ 115. It is obvious to anyone who studies facts as opposed to pious or politically correct wishes that people with IQ 85 and below ought to be in schools that primarily teach skills rather than attempt classical education. Skills are learned by repetition (practice). It should be obvious that people with IQ 115 and above ought to be in schools that primarily "educate"; we have many theories of what's the best way to do this, but they all involve teaching the manipulation of abstract symbols, use of logic, inferential reasoning, etc. Most involve the study of history and literature. Of course the "mostly skills" schools will teach some history and literature, but generally not as much, and not in the same way.

Of the 68% of the population remaining, some will take to education, some to skills, and some to both. (In my judgment everyone can profit from some skill learning: the addition and multiplication tables up to 12 + 12 and 12 x 12 immediately come to mind; investment in learning those will be of use all one's life. Memorizing poetry for recitation is best done by "drill and kill", and the result is usually valuable.) Allocation of resources between teaching skills and education in that major segment of the population is the primary pressing need of the country, and the subject is very much open to debate, as is the curriculum: should it attempt to teach students to be good citizens? Should it include the National Saga? Should we teach inspirational poetry such as I referenced in my comments on Columbus Day? These are all fair questions, and need debate.

So far I doubt I have said anything most of you can't agree with; certainly nothing I have said is particularly controversial. There are some professional educators who pretend to be horrified by the suggestion that low IQ students be taught in entirely different ways from normal and bright children, but not many have any data to back up their preferences, which fly in the face of common sense. Some argue that uniform public schooling is required in a democracy, but then many of those send their children to private schools, leaving some doubts about their sincerity. For the most part, though, the idea that dull normal children and below ought to be taught less abstract and more concrete things, and ought to learn by skill training rather than abstract symbol manipulation, while bright normal and above ought to be given more traditional education in abstract symbol manipulation, is not controversial.

The problem comes here: on every measure of IQ we have, the mean IQ of the general population is 100 (it's set to be that way so that's hardly astonishing), but the mean IQ of those who identify themselves as black, African American, or Negro is 85. This result has been stable over many generations. Whether this is due to heredity and genetics, culture, or environment need not be settled to understand the result: if you sort people by IQ into "training schools," "general education," and "educational schools," with sorting points around IQ 85 and 115, fully half the black students will be in the "training schools," and almost all the rest will be in the general education pool. There will be some blacks in the "educational schools" and those who get there will do as well as their white and Asian companions, but anyone would be able to tell which school was what merely by looking at the student population.

And this is fact, and it won't go away, so what Murray says is exactly true, and until we face those facts we will never get out of the woods we are in. You cannot teach IQ 80-90 students in the same way that you teach 90 to 110 and 110 and above, and if you teach the 110 and above in the same way that you teach the rest of the population you are wasting resources. If you take account of those hard facts, you will end up with racially imbalanced schools. If you ignore them, the only way you can have No Child Left Behind is to see that no child gets ahead.

We can all wish it were not so, but it is not. And see below.


On Corporate Responsibility:

Subject: Google to save Planet Earth

Good news from Google. Not sure if I believe it, but they seem to be using their billions of dollars to become a sort of "force for good", almost a corporate Batman. Boy, we sure need a hero with deep pockets. Read the story at


" Google gave the first details yesterday of how it would carry out its commitment to devote a share of its lucrative public stock offering to charity and social causes. It said it had donated $90 million to a new charitable foundation it started and would give another $175 million to nonprofit groups and what it considers socially useful businesses over the next two to three years."

Apparently they're going to focus on two areas: world poverty, and energy and the environment. I approve heartily and completely of both goals.

I remember when the social activist groups of the late seventies managed to shut down all future development of nuclear power plants. Well, guess what? It's now the future, and we have no nuclear power plants. We do have power plants; and those plants run on coal, and natural gas, and diesel fuel oil. They do not run on uranium. And I would venture to suggest that the total amount of pollution generated by those plants today vastly exceeds the contained and manageable pollution that would have been generated by spent fuel rods. Further, by not burning all that oil to generate electricity, we would have conserved a lot of oil; and as a result we very likely would not be in Iraq, where 2,000 American soldiers have died, 20,000 have been grievously wounded - missing limbs, terrible burns and such - and a quarter of a million Iraqis, many of them innocent of any crime, have been killed or injured.

I think Google has taken on a large task. But I'm glad someone has; someone needed to.

Regards, Charlie Worton

We can wish them well, but they are in for a had ride. Fixing problems means not being politically correct.


The Culture Cult.


--- Roland Dobbins


A Jesuit writes on ETI.


--- Roland Dobbins


Thinking the unthinkable.


- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Conservative Crackup


There is blood in the water, and the media sharks are circling:

C.P., Minnesota


Iraq, for better and worse.


-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Education and IQ


I can tell you that my Catholic grade school system did indeed separate students for courses and taught them differently, though they were subtle about doing so and not crass. My "fast" classmates were happy to move at a faster pace, and the "slow" classmates were happy to have the "easy" classes. And my Jesuit high school certainly did as well. During my freshman year Latin class, we learned that all 30 of us (being taught by the dept. chair) had scored about 96% and higher on the verbal section of the entrance exam. Four years later, 28 of us were in the top 60 (0f 300), including the valedictorian and salutatorian. Coincidence? I think not.

Sincerely, Jim Laheta

Indeed. There's nothing radical or even new here, although Professor Lewontin of Harvard has made a career of bashing the practice of  "tracking" in schools. And see letters below


Subject: Gene may be linked to Tourette's Syndrome

Dear Doctor Jerry,

It would be interesting to do a genetic sampling of rap "musicians" for presence of this gene:

Gene may be linked to Tourette's Syndrome

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Researchers said on Thursday they have found a gene that helps cause Tourette's Syndrome...


Petronius The Arbiter Of Taste

"As Population Increases And Concentrates, Humans Become Denser."

Interesting. I can tell you from both personal experience and literary history that Tourette's, at least in a mild form, is no bar to being an accomplished writer and story teller. One of my old friends has a mild form which causes him to mutter to himself when you are talking to him. Once you understand that he's pleasant to be around and he's a damned good writer.


Subject: The Obnoxious & Egregious Frum?

Dear Jerry,

Apparently the egregious Frum is leading a drive to ask Mr.Bush to withdraw Harriet Miers nomination. However, The Anchoress reports that he was highly complementary of her just last July, saying:

“… in the Supreme Court sweepstakes: Keep an eye on Harriet Miers, White House counsel. Miers was the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association, a co-managing partner of a 400-lawyer firm in Texas, a one-time Dallas city councilor, and by the by, the personal lawyer to one George W. Bush. She joined his staff as governor, served as staff secretary (Richard Darman’s old job) in the first administration, and now oversees the White House’s legal work. She is quiet, discreet, intensely loyal to Bush personally, and - though not ideologically conservative - nonetheless firmly pro-life. Plus she’s a woman. Double plus - she’d be a huge surprise, and the president loves springing surprises on Washington and those pundits who think they know it all."


I Googled the original piece from NR. but curiously it will not load from the NR website. Here is a link to the Google cache:,+White+House+counsel.+%22&hl=en&lr=&strip=1 

It goes to show you the worm will indeed turn --- on anyone.

Cheers, Rod Schaffter

-- "I find, for some odd psychological reason, that I can deal better with a man's exercise of free will if I believe that he has got it." --G.K. Chesterton



CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


FridayOctober 14, 2005

An exchange of letters. The poster didn't specifically request anonymity but given that in modern academia, particularly in the voodoo social science departments, even entertaining the notion that the PC views can be wrong is very dangerous, and conceding that any part of The Bell Curve might be correct is suicide, I have removed the name. It began with my comments on IQ above.


Subject: Education, IQ, and racial differences

I've read these threads with interest for a long while. As an archaeologist with a good chunk of academic background in what sadly passes for anthropological theory, I've noted that most times these discussions (here as elsewhere) seem to often conflate multiple inter-related but distinct issues: race, poverty, education, intelligence, and social strategies. This is part of the reason these discussions tend to get very quickly heated and mired in "political correctness" when they really needn't.

For one thing, IQ testing is a rather subjective and tricky business to some degree. A lot of things get lumped into the category of "IQ tests" that aren't all measuring the same things. What's' more, not every one that gets into these debates are working from the same page as to what "IQ" means so confusion tends to ensue - is it a potential, a capacity, a limit, or a standing at the time of testing? Can it go up (or down)? We all sort of know that we're talking about abstract reasoning skills (or at least most of us are), but once it get's out into the popular media it has a tendency to take on the connotation of "smart vs. stupid". That's a quick way to get people defensive. That's not really what the studies were implying, but that's how it was perceived.

Race is also problematic for the same reason - connotations from the long history of racism in this country and elsewhere get folks nervous when you start talking about biological and cognitive differences. Remember that it wasn't all that long ago that non-whites were still considered within the scientific community to be less than fully evolved humans if human at all. We're less than a hundred years out of that, so anything that has shades of those attitudes tends to get people worked up. At the beginning of the 20th century some folks were still measuring cranial volume to "prove" that the non-white races were deficient. Can anyone say "Vermont Eugenics Project"? The Nazi's learned a lot from American academics about racial differences and ran with it in a very disturbing direction.

Not really relevant to the issue at hand, but that context colors perceptions still.

Defining race in and of itself can be tricky. We're all Homo sapiens sapiens, just with some minor physiological (and yes possibly cognitive) differences due to regional adaptations of relatively isolated populations for long periods of time (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, etc.). Isolated breeding populations for 10s of thousands of years very likely would produce regional adaptations. But it's all the same species (i.e. can inter-breed), so now that the populations are no longer isolated those differences will eventually even out in the long term as more mixing occurs. Just my opinion and it's not my specialty, but it seems to be the logical case. Maybe we need a different term to use for "race" the social perception and "race" the physiological variations. Meanwhile, the word get's people defensive (are we seeing a theme here?).

If (and the is a BIG "if") folks can actually look past these hot-buttons and have a public discourse on the implications of differing skills (which is essentially what you're talking about) - independent of the demographics involved - maybe the problem can be addressed. I'm not optimistic about that given the current political climate as divisive as it seems to be.

But wait, there's more...

Now we run smack-dab into the middle of a chicken and egg quandary and deciding on correlation/causation issues. Just taking the case of African-Americans we can see the problem. The black population, on average, scores lower on IQ tests. A larger percentage of the black population is poor. The poor tend to have fewer and lower quality educational opportunities. Those with substandard educations tend to do poorly on any form of testing. So, is the black population testing lower on average because of innate differences or because they're more often poor? Are they poor because of innate cognitive differences. Looking at the history, there's a whole lot of other reasons for the prevalence of poverty in the black community. So, what was really being tested there - racial differences or historical legacies?

Leaving the whole "racial" thing aside, what is nearly as problematic is what I mentioned at the beginning of this (unintendedly log) ramble - differences of IQ do NOT mean smart or stupid. People have different skill sets. People learn at different rates in different ways.

We seem to always put a priority on the ability to handle abstract symbolic reasoning as though it were better or more important than mechanical skills. What academic, intellectual, elitist hubris is this? Is this some sort of payback for being called "nerds" as school children? If society would quit stigmatizing trades as being somehow "lower" skills than those of us who can think more abstractly, much of this debate would be moot!

Societies need trades, artisans, craftsmen. Arguably such skills are what has carried civilization forward far more than people who can contemplate their navel at great depth. If IQ is just measuring abstract reasoning, then it's missing what may be an equally valid measure of intelligence.

Which (finally) get's me to my basic point - the Bell Curve and other such studies have an unfortunate habit of inflaming people's ire not only for perceived racist implications which may or may not be implied (it's still out there, you never know), but also for basically calling a significant and valuable slice of the population a bunch of dummies. You'd think that "high" IQ folks would know better, wouldn't you?

Sorry for the extended ramble, but I'm curious to hear what you and your readers think.

Regards, J.


IQ testing is neither tricky nor subjective. We know both the reliability and validity of the tests.

Nor does anyone advocate sorting people by any single test, although an IQ of 85 or lower is pretty definitive. You may allow a retest a few months later on the theory that anyone can have a horrible day, but unless there are obvious signs that you got it wrong -- the kid is reading Immanuel Kant and understands him, or The Federalist and understands the arguments -- you are probably wasting time and money.

You ask a bunch of questions that are reasonable for a layman but not so for a professional social scientist. We KNOW the test/retest reliabilities. We KNOW about the stability of IQ. We can describe these things in numbers. They are the stuff of good social science as opposed to the voodoo taught as science in most social science departments.

You give the standard arguments, but you do not deal with the facts. Trying to act as if the facts were not , and thus trying the same things over and over again in hopes that this time the policy will work, is the definition of insanity.

If you will bother to read the actual studies instead of simply repeating the popular jargon which comes from Lewontin and a number of voodoo scientists posing as social scientists you will know that the "cultural bias" and "Socio economic status" arguments have been tested, scientifically, and the results are well known.

Your letter disturbs me since you are apparently educated, read this site at least sometimes, and yet you simply repeat the canards that have been long refuted in dozens of academic studies and in popular books such as Seligman's A Question of Intelligence as well. Seligman set out thinking as you do. He then actually studied the subject before writing a book to denounce IQ. He ended up understanding the real problems. You might read it.

I don't mind correcting people who have never heard much except the popular misconceptions, but it is depressing to find someone like you saying them too.


RE: Education, IQ, and racial differences

I'm afraid I wasn't quite clear on my intended point - that unless these popular misconceptions are addressed in the public discourse, are aware that when a scientific premise is published in a popular format it is likely to me misinterpreted according to layman's perceptions concerning intelligence and race, that while IQ and intelligence testing are technical terms (and yes, I agree they are well-established and valid measures) the popular perception is "IQ=smarts", and that science does not operate in a cultural vacuum then any progressive and scientifically reasonable policy is doomed.

I was actually trying to frame those perceptions as to why the debate quickly becomes contentious and engendered such controversy. You can't defeat the ignorance unless you know why it's there, just as you can't act like the facts aren't there. Obviously they are, but cultural misconceptions are equally present and very entrenched at this point for some perfectly understandable historical reasons. A certain degree of paranoia is reasonable if someone was out to get you for such a long time, and I've found that even well-educated people in this country still often don't know much about the unsavory scientific history of the topic.

This has also been frequently compounded by even legitimate social scientists having an unfortunate tendency to expand their conclusions into social commentaries not necessarily supported by their work or ignoring the fact that they are only addressing one small part of a larger inter-related social context. It wasn't my intent to say that the measure of differences in intelligence were wrong (quite the contrary), just that they aren't the whole story. There are some good reasons to believe that socio-economics will influence intelligence - not from testing bias but from pre- and post-natal care, nutrition, exposure to environmental toxins (e.g. lead), as well as the presence/absence of educational stimulation. Correlations are there for economics, race, and intelligence. Causes are still being fully explored.

However, the other two points I was trying to make - that "race" is not as firm a category as demographers and sociologists would seem to believe and that the stigmatization of people whose skills are more technical than esoteric is counterproductive - I think are quite valid and ones that I haven't seen entered into the discussion overmuch.

Cognitive psychology is not my specialty, nor is population genetics. I do know more about them than some, and less about them than others. With your readership, I was hoping to hear from the latter of which you are obviously one. I've read some of the studies, seen some of the numbers, and think they're on the right track, but also think that issue will continue to get stuck in the mud of the legacy of scientists that have, in the past, held some very peculiar ideas of the implications.

Re-reading my email, I should have been more clear on where I was citing the problems and where I was making my point. You're right that the original would be best not to post since my point was obviously unclear. If I get a chance, maybe I'll try and word it more explicitly.

By the way, I do very much appreciate the comments. Its' the only real way to learn. That's why I read your site, to hear from folks that know more than I. Unfortunately, that's been somewhat rare in my graduate studies. May not be modest, but all too true.

Regards, J

My apologies if I misconstrued your intent. My concern in these matters is that reality matters: worlds, policies, and ecudcational curricula constructed on false to fact premises seldom produce good results. Our entire trillion dollar public school system is set up to enact fantasy into law, and until these matters can be discussed openly, we are not only wasting a lot of money, but harming the nation, miseducating our children, and dooming our future prosperity.

The false assumption is that if you take a group of white children and a group of black children, put them into either the same or segregated classrooms, and give each group the exact same instruction, you will get equal average results.

This is a false assumption. It has been shown again and again. Now whether this is due to IQ differences -- the average measured IQ of the white and black groups will be about 15 points lower for the black students and thus you can easily predict the results you will obtain -- or to some cultural factor we don't understand, or to the intervention of Loki, you will get those results. Nor is it simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many teachers have broken their hearts trying to make this not a self fulfilling prophecy. This is not to say that really great teachers cannot get an average result from the black students far higher than the usual average result, but that is the result of great teaching. The same teacher will get far higher average results from all her charges.

Nor is it to say that black children ought to be condemned to some kind of inferior education. In the first place, many of the abysmal results we get in schools come from bad teaching compounded by the assumption of equality. The fact is that every child, black or white, IQ 70 and above, can be taught to read. It is also true that the lower the IQ, the more necessary it is to have instructions based on drill, repetition, phonic decoding, and the teaching method disparaged in most teacher colleges now as "drill and kill."  Once again this proposition isn't really doubt among people who have actually studied the problem; it's in accord with common sense; but the standard college of education simply does not accept this proposition with a result that the literacy rate in this nation is shamefully low, and abysmally low among the black population, when it need not be.  And of course I need not say that children unable to read will be left behind no matter how hard we struggle. The only way that no child will be left behind in a class with many illiterates is to see that none of the others get ahead. This is harsh truth, but it needs saying.

  The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but respect for the universe as it is, and understanding reality, is clearly the first fruit of the fear of God. Our modern colleges of education have about as much chance of correcting the educational mess and still retaining their politically correct egalitarian notions as Hitler did of winning World War II in 1945, as he moved paper markers representing no longer existing Panzer divisions on a map that showed his possession of provinces lost for weeks.

Phil Dick used to say that reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away. Until our voodoo science departments including departments of education face reality they are simply moving non-existent resources about on a map that has no relation to the real world.


And on that subject,:

Note that Asians in America have average IQ somewhat above the 100 population norm. This difference hasn't been measured for as many years as the black-white difference, but it appears to be stable, and is certainly in accord with casual observation: look at the names of winners of the National Spelling Bee and various scholarship competitions. Anyway, from another conference:

I haven't heard of any Asian students who have talked about IQ.

The other theory one student came up with is that Asians are stereotyped as smart (but then when and how did that stereotype start??)

The Seattle Times just published a table showing that significantly more Asians flunk the open-ended "standard-based" WASL test than whites, even though Asians usually score better on math on normal standard-ized tests. Seattle is one of the few cities in the US where whites have a higher college rate than Asians, well over 50%. Oddly enough, I'm the only Asian in the state of Washington who as openly come out opposing the WASL, every other civil rights organization in the state pretty much buys the "high standards for all" and that all IQ tests are bogus and biased, but the WASL is good for everybody nonsense.

I find it odd so many conservatives are willing to buy into standards-based tests when they are the anti-thesis of rank-order IQ and basic skills tests, developed by anti-content education reformers.

Interesting that math reform was developed partly to counter the Asian threat, and that it partly achieves the goal by introducing math tests with very little traditional mathematics content.


And of course a test that is said to be about mathematics but wants random nonsense for answers is going to be flunked by students who actually know math but never learned simply to "sling it" as we said when I was in high school.

Standards based tests in which the test is designed to allow certain people to do well doesn't correlate well with IQ or much else. The point of IQ is that it remains the best single predictor of success in just about any situation involving reasoned thought. It isn't perfect, it isn't entirely reliable, but it is still the best single predictor; it measures something, and that something is useful. Most standards based tests in which the content is adjusted to allow a certain success rate measure nothing useful.


Subject: The Bell Curve and Education

The analysis you presented in Thursday's mail is absolutely on track (pardon the pun). I attended a Catholic High School where 3 PhD's taught languages and mathematic. They also used tracking to move students into various academic streams. As well there was a selection in September or October when students were identified and encouraged to attend the public Vocational School. This was somewhat harsh as the parents had saved to pay the school supplement that was required to attend the parochial schools. Most of those guys (it was an all boys school) went on to do well and were saved the trauma and stress that the students in the various academic streams faced.

One point that hasn't been addressed, and could contributed to the reason why streaming is frowned upon by the educational establishment is that effective streaming of students requires the streaming of teachers and the streaming of teachers is anathema to education's professional classes.

In my old school math was taught in two streams. Grades from the earlier years were sorted out into 6 classes ranked A-F. In an effort to democratize things and reduce embarrassment the lower level academic track got the A and the whiz kids got the E. Two math teachers were assigned to follow their groups A-D in the regular stream and E-F in the advanced stream. One highlight of the lower stream was that one of the instructors was a boxing champion and the other a strong disciplinarian. The quicker stream got either a PhD, in mathematic or (if you were lucky) the fellow who coordinated the development of the textbooks used in the area as well as being the author of one of the texts. In languages and the sciences the level of education of the staff was just as good and broken down into the down-to-earth types that worked with the first group and the cultural elite of the area that worked with the second.

This system was highly successful with the school reaching the highest levels in standardized tests. In my graduating year, for example, St. Macs had all of the highest marks in the Matriculation examinations. (I got two of them). Unfortunately the school was amalgamated into the public system and the high standards were dropped for a more egalitarian model where the top teachers were sprinkled about the district and more ordinary types replaced them. As well, what was once an all-male school became co-ed. Once this occurred test results and overall levels of success dropped measurably.

It is important to note that there was no favoritism. Poor students from established families were just as likely to be asked to leave as would the son of a longshoreman. As well, the top class was as likely to have a fisherman's son (it did) as that of a judge (as well). Capability ruled decision making and, while discipline was maintained, learning was easy and enlightening.

Allan Mason BA MPa

Discussion continued next week.



Subj: Towards Nemourlon: Light Improved Ballistic Armor (LIBA)

http://www.responsesolutions.net/liba-desc.htm Response Solutions, Inc. - Light Improved Ballistic Armor

=Light Improved Ballistic Armor is similar in concept to the current generation of ceramic tiles, but with significantly improved ballistic performance. LIBA consists of a special net with ceramic pellets embedded into an elastomer matrix, and may or may not be bonded against a backing of fibres or steel. It can be used against many AP ammunitions and protect from 5.56 and 7.62mm up to 105 cal. ... LIBA is 10 to 30% lighter than ceramic plates with the same level of protection. ... LIBA can easily be used in complex ergonomic shapes, and can be used in both bulletproof vests and vehicle armor.=

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com


Feeling much safer now


(The link's to a jpg of a news article--the only link to the article I have in hand)

An Army Captain, traveling in uniform with ID and orders in hand, singled out for semi-strip wanding/search?


TSA=Too Stupid Airheads

David Needham

Why not? We gotta intimidate those terrorists. But don't think the TSA is stupid. It's merely a bureaucracy in which the rules are far more important than any possible intent of those rules.




Hit-and-run victim ends up in a PC trap for calling driver fat By Russell Jenkins

AN injured pedestrian has complained that she was ticked off by a police officer for using the word "fat" to describe a hit-and-run motorist.

Mary Magilton, 54, said she was simply trying to give the officer an accurate description of the female driver whose car mounted the pavement and hit her at a busy road junction.

Instead of the officer taking a note of her description, he paused and told her she could not use such language to describe an alleged offender.

Best Wishes

Paul Dove

Will there always be an England?


Why Drugs Cost so much

Dear Jerry:

While not one to cavil at a 3,000% mark up, I do recall your having been the beneficiary of an off brand nostrum of considerable virtue, Instead of wasting money on warning labels, the solons of the Guatemalan FDA have wisely co-located funeral parlors and pharmacies in less traveled areas, and in one such, having gained full access to the prescription drug arsenal on the strength of your Doctorate, we consulted a box whose clear labeling in Swedish and Arabic failed to conceal the structural formula of the fluorinated steroid salve that, despite the minute concentration of its powerful good active ingredient- . 005%, or 50 parts per million, is the sovereign remedy for whacking the wrong bush in the adjacent jungle- a vegetable of evil memory that seems to be a vigorous hybrid of poison ivy and crown of thorns starfish which had left you sore afflicted. It worked. You lived

About a decade later, chundering through the bull briar in pursuit of the wiley turkey of Martha's Vineyard, my waxed cotton jacket was penetrated by thorns some deer had evidently inoculated with real poison ivy, and a week later I presented at Mass General complaining that the skin had just fallen off of my ribcage. Duly impressed the internist opined that he had best risk giving me a snootful of predenisone, as despite the side effects, it would cure for twenty dollars what would cost a thousand to keep slathered in the salve that cost six bucks in the less fashionable suburbs of Puerto Barrios.

Since the chemical in question was developed around the time polio vaccine was invented, research subsidy did not seem to enter the equation, but a trifling investment in calculation revealed that at the $100 per 4 ounce tube level, the same ingredient was selling at just over $2,000,000 a kilogram. So I took the pills . They worked too. I later found out that even though it takes elemental fluorine, 'Synalar' 's active ingredient costs less than a dollar a gram to synthesize.

This suggests a whole new salient in the drug wars- let's just tell the Medellin Cartel they are settling for chump change, and should find more profitable line of work.


Russell Seitz

Hmm. I had nearly forgotten that incident, which was followed by our dining on crab cakes in the Puerto Barrios yacht club. You remarked, as I recall, that this meal may have been the most dangerous thing we ever ate. Alas, while that one didn't get me, some other, possibly the free meal we got in gratitude for giving the truck driver a spray shot of DEET the night the mosquitos ascended in clouds and clouds, did. I seem to recall that we were able to get Tetramycin at the farmacia next to Funeraria Fenchy, but I forget why we needed that.

I will not easily forget the toads. I think I still have pictures.

For readers understandably confused, Mr. Seitz and I were wandering through unmapped territory in Guatemala looking for rock outcrops so we could get enough samples to do a trace elements map. This was for the Boston Metropolitan Museum, and the goal was to find the source of the Olmec Blue Jade. We didn't find it that trip but Russell was able to locate that source on another expedition on which, alas, I didn't go.

The farmacia was indeed colocated with Funeraria Fenchy, which was across the street from a cemetery that boasted a replica of the Taj Mahal, but about 6 meters square. The real one is rather larger, but seen at a distance in 105 F heat through heat waves rising off the only paved road for many miles, the illusion that this model is full size is compelling.




This week:


read book now


Saturday, October 15, 2005

A mixed bag today, sort of "open lines Friday"; if you can't find something of interest in here, I would be astonished.

Subject: blue marble

Jerry: NASA may no longer be able to put a person in space, much less on the moon, but they sure do take purty pictures.


-- audio, video, disco



Subject: My War: Killing Time in Iraq - Colby Buzzell

Hi Jerry,

Some time ago there was an exchange of mail on your site about a blog kept by CB, a soldier then serving in Iraq. It was popular, and there was some question of censorship by the government, and then the blog went away. Now he's apparently home, or at least publishing in other venues. I saw the book advertised and have ordered it from Amazon, but haven't read it yet. I'm hoping his book will be like his blog was, nitty gritty and down to earth. At the time you evinced an interest in his blog, so you or your readers may also be interested in his book.

Ted Borreson

*My War: Killing Time in Iraq
 * - Colby Buzzell


Re: Columbus Day

"I know it is politically incorrect to point it out, but in the West particularly the noble savages were eating each other, and bitter wars between the Sioux and Aztecs were probably inevitable."

From the reports of French voyageurs who saw the plains 50-75 years before Lewis & Clark, the tribes were in upheaval in response to the spread of horses and horseback culture from Mexico, with multiple contenders for the rob-and-terrorize-the-sedentary role associated with "Aryans" and later waves of horse peoples in Eurasia.

The other wild card (cf.Jared Diamond. and Charles Mann's new "1491") is that most of the the tribes we encountered were tattered remnants of peoples that had been decimated again and again by diseases spreading from first contact -- which for any given pathogen may well have been not Columbus, but Vikings at L'Anse aux Meadows, or nameless Portuguese fishermen drying their catch on Cape Cod. By far the most destructive thing Europeans did in the New World, far outweighing enslavement or the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee, was to breathe and defecate...

Monte Davis


Subject: Engineers rule China, lawyers rule the USA

Dear Jerry,

I read the letter from Mark on the subject of manufacturing in America with great interest. His criticism of the educational background of the leaders of American industrial enterprises also applies to the leaders of American government.

This is how the educational background of Chinese leaders differs from the educational background of American leaders:

All nine members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau which rules China are engineers.


There are 538 members of the 108th Congress of the United States of America (including five non-voting delegates and excluding two vacancies). There are no members of Congress who list "engineer" as their profession. Strictly speaking, zero percent of our Congresscritters are engineers.

There are two physicists, two chemists, a biomedical researcher, a geologist, and a microbiologist who qualify as scientists. One member is a former astronaut. That's eight scientists out of 538 members, if the astronaut counts as a scientist.

There are 234 members of Congress who hold law degrees. Business is the second most common profession for members of Congress.


Our current President, George W. Bush, has a MBA from Harvard.

In China, the smartest kids study engineering.

In America, the smartest kids study law or business.

Eric Krug

Ed Reineke was my Congressman many years ago. He was an engineer and it terrified the Army Engineer people who came to ask for money when he would pull out his slide rule and begin actually manipulating numbers with understanding. Some thing terrible happened to our system somewhere along the line. Of course Hoover was an engineer, and the man who did incredible things; he was caught in a mess not of his own making in the Crash of 1929.


Subject: To take our minds of such minor nuisances as hydrogen bombs....

One hopes that this columnist is incorrect in his facts, but if he has got the story straight we appear to be in for interesting times. Comments?


Tim Cunningham

As is often the case with the neocons he makes more of the situation and threat than I think plausible. Among other things we know how to tailor vaccines now; indeed that was one reason for the resurrection.


Subject: Columbus Day Poem, Cherokee, and the future of education

Dr. Pournelle

Thanks for the link to the Columbus poem, you always seem to know the best poetry. About your comment that "If you want to lament for anyone, make it the Navajo" I would also add the Cherokee from your home state.

I just put up a post on my own blog about the future of education. Considering your interest in both education and futurism, I thought you might find it interesting. The permalink is:


It starts off with Edison thinking he has an invention that can replace school textbooks and ends with Neal Stephenson's Young Ladies Illustrated Primer.

BTW, to come back to poetry, I also loved The Sons of Martha, thanks for pointing it out to me too.

J. Random American


Subj: Virtual World, Meet Terrestrial Government


=Last weekend at the State of Play conference, the “great debate” was over whether virtual worlds should be subject to terrestrial laws, or whether they are private domains that should determine their own laws. But regardless of whether terrestrial regulators should step in, they certainly will.=

http://www.nyls.edu/pages/2396.asp  State of Play 

http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=909  Virtual Worlds: Only a Game?

=If the world-designer wants to keep the world’s economy from becoming real, then, the designer must stop members from exchanging in-world currency for real currency. And this seems pretty much impossible, because there is no way to stop players from making side payments in the real world.=

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

I was once told that Everquest had a larger trade than some small countries although I am not sure how true it is. Few people know that the entire currency of the world is based on the Zorkmid, a coin used in the Underground Empire. The value of the zorkmid used to be variable as it was based on the price of a plate of shrimp chow mien in the House of Roy restaurant in Boston. I believe the House of Roy has closed, and the worldwide implications of that have yet to be appreciated.


Subject: Miers Nomination

Most of the focus on Harriet Miers' nomination seems to slide right by President Bush's explaination of why he nominated her, dismissing his focus on her church affiliation.

Harriet Meirs belongs to a church that believes in original interpretation of the New Testament. Examples of that belief include the original meaning of "baptize" in classical Greek> "to immerse, or plunge under". Another would be no reference to authority within a church at a level higher than the elders within the local church body.Local churches do not get together and agree on interpretation, they pick up their bibles and read. Really serious investigation requires learning classical Greek.

The Christian Church and independent Churches of Christ were attempts from the early 1800's here in the United States to return the worship of Christ to the forms followed by the very early Christians. The movement was called the Restoration Movement as opposed to the movements following the Trial of Worms (1521) that were called the Reformation Movement.

In essence I believe Bush's belief is that> her religion believes in following literal interpretation of the New Testament> her legal beliefs would call for a literal interpretation of the Constitution.

I cannot fault his logic having spent my formative years in the embrace of that philosophy and though I lost my religion years ago, I still believe in strict construction.

"When you hear hoofbeats think horses not zebras"

C Stillings

But sometimes they are unicorns.


Subj: The return of the Commodore 64?

Dr. Pournelle,

A little light entertainment for your perusal...

An enterprising guy named Jim Brain, with the help of some fellow coders and folks who were familiar with the old Tymnet/Telenet system, has recreated QuantumLink, the AOL predecessor for the Commodore 64. While many of us are familiar with CompuServe and Prodigy, sometimes we forget that Q-Link had a larger personal subscription base than either. C-Serve was used primarily as a business service and Q-Link was less expensive than Prodigy or GEnie. Add to that the number of households with Commodore machines and you set the stage for QuantumLink's temporary dominance of multi-user chats, forums, and gaming. For a lot of its users it was the internet before the internet. Brain reverse-engineered the client disk to write his server software so that people connecting to his service could use their old Commodore hardware or a C64 emulator to connect to the service. He unveiled it officially at the SWRAP convention in Chicago where former COMPUTE! contributor and associate editor and all-around 8-bit guru Jim Butterfield was in attendance.

It can be seen at: http://www.quantum-link.org 

I heartily recommend that you take a look!

-Scott Hiland


Subject: Bankrupt companies

Hi Jerry,

I have a couple of comments that have been burbbling about for some time...

With the recent comments on Delphi and the various bankrupt airlines, perhaps it is time to ask a simple question: why are these companies allowed to remain in business after declaring bankruptcy?

I know the theoretical reason: give the company a chance to restructure, rather than losing everything. But the reality seems to be: give the company a chance to cheat everyone all over again. United Airlines is on - what - it's *third* bankruptcy? This also massively distorts the market - supply and demand cannot work when big players can sell below cost, knowing they can take refuge in yet another bankruptcy.

Leading on to the comments about Ivy League management: watch the executives and board members, as they shuffle amongst the various companies run by other members of the Ivy League "old boys" network. Earning 7- or 8- digit salaries for leading their companies so effectively...

- - - - -

On a completely different topic - your comment about the "features" of Windows Vista. This is the first mention I have seen of this in the English-language press. It's amazing to me just how little attention this is getting - consumer protection organizations should be in uproar.

In a nutshell: it is not only true that you must have a computer system and monitor approved by the entertainment industry. It gets far worse: your devices must have an active Internet connection, so that they can check to see if they remain approved. If they are blacklisted, they they will *stop* working. No appeal, no recourse - the movie you watched yesterday no longer works, please buy new equipment, thank you for your patronage.

Apparently, the modern rules of customer service have become (1) the customer is a lying cheat, and (2) if the customer claims to be innocent, see rule 1.

I should hope that this will finally provide the impetus to use media sites that eschew such distasteful policies (they do exist - see Magnatunes, for example). But the lack of media attention on this issue is worrisome...



Do recall that I told you long ago to buy a video board that does not have the compliance chips, and also a DVD controller board. Those are available and legal...


'Racism, 'taboo', 'offensive'.

Let's hear it for freedom in academia!


- Roland Dobbins

Diversity is the goal!


Subject: robot video

Robots. It's about time. Now they (the humanoids) can reliably stand up from a seated / lying-down position. I always thought they should have taught them that FIRST... but, anyway...

http://www.robonexus2004.com/video.htm  choices of video of conference, last year's

http://gorobotics.net/  This year's (2005)

Russ Newsom


Firefox: The art of deception

So you want Firefox. For me, no thank you. Why on earth would I want to use a browser that ignores the reality of the world wide web? Mr. Starr says browsers are for viewing. Great, then how do I "view" an embedded windows media video (WMV) on any website that has them? You surely can't do that with Firefox. I need a signed Active-X control to view our companies security cameras over the web. Can I do it with Firefox? Nope. After trying to navigate through 3 pages of "how too" to install active-x support, guess what? It still does not work. Firefox says active-x is bad so they deny me a very important part of my business. Thanks a lot Firefox foe making the web un-functional.

That is because in the name of security they have stripped ALL functionality out of Firefox. Heck, I might as well go back 10 years to NCSA Mosaic. Funny how all my windows machines operate with IE6 and not a spec of malware to be found. How can that be? Could it be I'm prompted every time any program tries to install itself with out my knowledge. The problem is not with browsers but rather with those who use them. All the necessary tools are there to make IE6 safe and still have 100% functionality on the web.

And please don't get me started on the 84 million Firefox users... The web stats just don't back it up. Sorry Firefox fanatics, you actually need 84 million users to make that claim, not 84 million downloads by 2 million users 42 times...

Will Bierman



Subj: VirtuSphere (tm) immersive virtual reality device

http://www.virtusphere.net/index.htm VirtuSphere, Inc. 

So, who's doing the EverQuest drivers?

And who's working on the bring-the-dog-along option?

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

I can't wait...


Subject: Jeong Kim: In Search Of Buzz At Bell Labs (Business Week)

FACE TIME Jeong Kim: In Search Of Buzz At Bell Labs Lucent Technologies Bell Labs' new president, Jeong Kim, wants to ensure the vaunted research institute lives up to its reputation for breakthrough technology. He says he's choosing "a selective few bets, so we can make a big impact." That includes using nanotechnology to create speakers and lenses not much thicker than a human hair. Placed on walls and clothes, they could pinpoint a person's location by picking up audio, video, smell, and movement cues. Kim predicts widespread adoption within 5 to 10 years. Kim, 45, first joined Lucent Technologies in 1998 after the company acquired his communications equipment startup, Yurie Systems. Since his return in April from a teaching gig at the University of Maryland, he has been running the Labs as more of a startup, emphasizing risk-taking, speed, and creativity. Kim believes that his varied experiences will help him promote more new discoveries: "Everything about me is entrepreneurial," he says.

By Elizabeth Woyke

-- Richard F. Doherty
 Research Director
 The Envisioneering Group


Jeff Greason quotes in MSNBC article.


-- Roland Dobbins



Pascal lost out to C, and as a software engineer, I am not sad about it.

Pascal had several major flaws. For example, it was not possible to write a string library in Pascal, because different-length strings were *different types* and there was no mechanism to cast from one type to another. There was also a major bug in the way I/O was defined, and a few other problems I could name. There were various minor annoyances with the language too, but never mind those.

In practice, there were ways around these problems. While I didn't like Pascal, I did like Turbo Pascal, or the Berkeley Pascal implementation I used under UNIX at school; these fixed the problems and smoothed over the annoyances. The problem is that neither of these languages is Pascal. Standard Pascal didn't work, and the various mutant versions of Pascal weren't compatible with each other. (And almost all of the changes I liked in Turbo Pascal and Berkeley Pascal were features borrowed from C!)

C took over the world because good C compilers were available everywhere and nontrivial programs were actually portable. C has some annoying syntax and some even more annoying historical baggage, but overall it's a very good language for writing large, efficient programs.

I think Modula-2 and Modula-3 never took off because the world at that time already had C++. Modula-2 and -3 didn't offer any benefits over C++ that were compelling enough to overcome the greater ease of porting old C code to C++.

C is still popular, but C++ is gradually taking over from it. C++ combines strong type checking with flexible, object-oriented features, and it's pretty slick. Java and C# are like C++, only with the sharp edges knocked off.

And these days, even C is better; ANSI C compilers offer type checking on a par with Pascal, only with type casts so you can override the type checking when you need to.

People aren't stupid. There is a certain amount of inertia, but over time the truly better tools win in the market. And even though Pascal didn't win, it perhaps should get some credit for being a good influence on other languages.

-- Steve R. Hastings

Pascal was a teaching language; it was designed to be used in classrooms before computers were common, and instructors could find good and bad programming in submitted programs without having access to a compiler. It was never intended to be a production language, and its libraries for I/O were sparse because Wirth never intended that anyone would write big programs in it.

Turbo Pascal changes all that, and 50,000 line Turbo Pascal programs were in use at the ETH medical school when I visited Wirth in Zurich many years ago. Niklaus was astonished at its success.

Modula-2 was the language Wirth intended to become the programming language of the future, and there were good compilers for it, and the libraries were not bad, but of course libraries of device drivers are necessary for across platform languages. In the early days of the language wars cross-platform was important, because there were many platforms, and it was not yet clear that Apple with its superior graphics engine would not become dominant. That didn't happen, in part because Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak got to fighting each other and Pepsi Cola won out through the intervention of the investors. Other things happened back then, including a not bad C compiler for first CP/M and then PCDOS.

And the DOD began developing Ada as the DOD answer to the problem of maintainable programs. Ada isn't bad, but it grew by accretion and also had exception handling used as a standard programming practice; this makes things pretty hard to read.

Modula-2 had very strong type checking, and strong range checking; had it been used for Windows there would be no buffer overflow security leaks. C won out in part because it is guru friendly, and like UNIX is a guru full employment act. Pascal and Modula put more of the work into the compiler, and also forced the programmer to think logically and consistently. The compiler catches most of the errors and bugs; if a Pascal or Modula-2 program will compile at all, it generally runs pretty much as you expected it to. This makes it a very great deal easier for a new programmer to understand what his predecessor did; with C it is often easier simply to write large blocks of code from scratch rather than try to guess how the previous programmer simulated the compiles in his head to obtain a particular result. C allows some really elegant kludges, but at the expense of comprehensibility.

Enough. Perhaps it is all over. And perhaps not. I am told that C++ incorporates many of the top-down logical structures and type and range checking requirements of Modula-2. Not having stuffier C++ I don't really know. I do know that Visual Basic attempts to be rather Modula-like. Alas, it doesn't always succeed.

And see below








CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dear Jerry:

Generally there are two types of bankruptcy; Chapter 11, which comes from not being able to meet the firm's obligations in a timely manner and Chapter Seven,, which is "game over". The difference is very simple. Under Chapter Seven everyone loses their jobs, the stockholders get nothing and the debt holders get whatever can be salvaged at auction. (pennies on the dollar usually)..

Under Chapter 11, the firm may live to fight another day and this is always preferable to throwing everyone out of work since there may be a chain reaction which can hurt or bankrupt suppliers. I had a stock go down this week for no other reason that people thought (wrongly it turns out) that Delphi was a customer and would not be able to pay them.

If the firm continues to operate, bills for necessities always get paid. Back when I worked for Wells Fargo Guard Service I sold security guard service for the Chicago yards to the Rock Island railroad. Because they were considered shaky, and about to go broke, no one else would touch them and I was able to get a very high rate. Two months later they did indeed go into Chapter 11. I wrote a letter to the Court which explained our service as a "necessity" (We were protecting the fuel tanks for the engines). Meanwhile this gimlet-eyed little accountant shows up from Headquarters looking to take back my commissions because we aren't getting paid every week, like we were. When I pointed out that, because of the higher rate, we not only could pay the guards, but make a very nice profit and would get every penny due us when the Court signed off, he shut up and went away. About three months later we got a big check for all the money due and we got paid like clockwork from that time on. Eventually the railway got itself out of Chapter 11 and was sufficiently grateful that they refused competing bids for service for several years after.

This is why you don't cash people out unless there is absolutely no hope of a recovery.


Francis Hamit.


Subject: Time Waster...


Charles Brumbelow




--- Roland Dobbins

Epstein has a habit of getting things right. His "Who Killed American Poetry" was a very important article a dozen years ago. This one is less important but it is interesting, and he gets it pretty well right I think.


The Microraptor.


-- Roland Dobbins

Great Heaven! Biplane dinosaurs?


Condi admits it.


from 'Meet the Press', 16Oct05:


SEC'Y RICE: I'm quite certain, Tim, that when the American people see every day what they see on their screens, which is violence and, of course, the deaths of Americans and coalition forces, it's very difficult to take. We mourn every sacrifice. But the fact of the matter is that when we were attacked on September 11, we had a choice to make. We could decide that the proximate cause was al-Qaeda and the people who flew those planes into buildings and, therefore, we would go after al-Qaeda and perhaps after the Taliban and then our work would be done and we would try to defend ourselves. Or we could take a bolder approach, which was to say that we had to go after the root causes of the kind of terrorism that was produced there, and that meant a different kind of Middle East. And there is no one who could have imagined a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein still in power. I know it's difficult, but we have ahead of us the prospect, and I think the very good prospect of a foundation for a democratic and prosperous Iraq that can solve its differences by politics and compromise, that becomes an anchor for a Middle East that is changing.

-- Roland Dobbins

The vote turnout in today's Iraq election is encouraging. If they can bring it off, I will be the first to admit I was wrong. I still don't think it will work, and I remain convinced that fixing the Middle East is not the business of an American Republic, particularly not at that price. I would prefer that the United States be the city on the hill,  a shining example, just as I wish that Washington DC would use the enormous resources there to build schools so good that everyone will want to copy them rather than force the NEA Union views down everyone's throat; but if we pull it off in Iraq, we will have made a major change in that region, one that one can easily defend as worth the price. Particularly worth the price if we are shifting to imperial rather than republican policies.



G'day Jerry,

 I recently had a chance to have a quick chat with a mate who's come back from Iraq. He was over with the Australian contingent assisting in the training of the new army at a camp north of Bagdad which was home to a Brigade of the new Iraqi Army. The base was coming under small arms fire daily and mortar fire was also common. During the few months of training that the brigade received prior to being declared operational they had 300 Iraqi recruits killed.

People complaining that the Iraqi's are not pulling their weight have to appreciate that they are starting from scratch and do not have a secure area in which to be trained, their training is very much on the job. That an Army in such a situation is not rendered ineffective by desertion and is still able to recruit new men is a sign that the locals have a lot more confidence in eventually defeating the insurgency than do the critics of the war.

Chris Papalia.
Perth, Australia.


Language Wars Continue

Subject: The Language Wars: Modula-2 not dead!

Hi Jerry, while I don't personally use Modula-2, I'll note that it is by no means a dead language, having quite a few implementations for just about every processor and OS under the sun. The best list of Modula-2 compilers I've found is here:

free Modula-2 implementations page: http://www.thefreecountry.com/compilers/modula2.shtml

I'll note that that site isn't necessarily the most current for every language it lists, but it is the single longest list of Modula-2 implementations I found on the Net.

Note also that C and Modula-2 are not really competing in the same space, as C really is in effect portable assembler. What are one's choices if you need to write a kernel or a device driver, and will hence have to do many things with interrupts and memory access that would NOT be kosher, let alone possible, with the guardrails you have in memory-safe languages such as lisp, perl, java, etc. Your options really are 1) the assembler or machine code for your target processor, 2) FORTH, 3) C. Even most languages that emit native code won't let you do the things you'd need to for those applications.

Java also has exception handling, and it is indeed awful to read or often to figure out the flow of control. Readers interested should google up "raymond chen" and "exceptions versus return codes" (yes, on this issue even a unix greybeard such as myself invokes a denizen of Microsoft on the issue!)

C really has become the substrate that almost all higher level languages are built upon. Even the majority of self-hosted (the compiler is written in the language it compiles) LISP and FORTH systems these days use C to bootstrap themselves on a new platform. It's that and let the C preprocessor figure out the values of all kinds of nasty platform specific constants, or hand code an insane number of cases by hand in asm. No fun. C also has many, many tools to generate parsers and suchnot, such as bison, yacc, and flex.

I know that most Modula-2 implementations are self-hosted, but not being a true afficianado I don't know if they bootstrap onto new systems via C glue code or not. The fact that most of them that I saw at a quick glance on google or the above page were only for one or a few platforms leads me to guess that the answer for most cases is 'no, they don't use C to bootstrap, else they'd be more portable'. But some of them seem to produce very fast code, on par with the best C++ or Common Lisp native code compilers.

So it is at the bottom layer of the 'language stack' that C has achieved dominance. Many languages emit C rather than native code, as the speed difference is just not that big in most cases, if you have a decent C compiler, and the task is much easier for the language implementor. K&R truly did create a marvel. Portable Assembler!


David Mercer Tucson, AZ






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