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Mail 384 October 17 - 23, 2005






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Monday  October 17, 2005

As usual there was mail over the weekend: A variety of topics in Open Mail Saturday, and a new round in the languages debates.

Subj: Towards Nemourlon: Dragon Skin

"The Return of Fishscale Armor"

http://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/20051015233042.asp  Still More New Body Armor

http://www.military.com/soldiertech/0,14632,Soldiertech_PArmor,00.html  SoldierTech:Military Gear and Gadgets

http://www.pinnaclearmor.com/body-armor/sov.php  Pinnacle Armor -[ Body Armor / SOV ]- Body Armor and Armoring Products for Vehicles, Vessels, Aircraft and Buildings.


I think the Society for Creative Anachronism should issue an award for this one.

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com


Subject: The Egregious Frum



"The spectacle of Frum, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, John Podhoretz, Kristol and other conservative commentators breaking with their president over Miers has the feel of a messy family feud. These, after all, are the political pugilists who are usually slapping around liberals and Democrats. But there is something about Bush picking his White House counsel and longtime personal lawyer -- and passing over a batch of conservative judges with sterling credentials -- that has inflamed his normally loyal media supporters.

"Former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie says he's detected a whiff of sexism in the opposition to Miers. Fox News anchor Brit Hume has noted that many critics of the Southern Methodist University graduate went to elite Eastern schools.

"This prompted Frum -- a proud graduate of Yale and Harvard Law -- to fire back at "Brit Hume's and Fred Barnes' embarrassing repetition of Ed Gillespie's talking points: 'Brawwwwwk-sexism; brawwwwwwk-elitism; brawwwwwwwwwk-Harvard; brawwwwwwwwwk; brawwwwwkk; brawwwwwk.' "

I just know you'll enjoy this, Dr. Pournelle...

Charles Brumbelow

Egregious, but what can you expect.... Note next letter:

The egregious, inconsistent Frum.


---- Roland Dobbins

Egregious, as usual.


Subject: You will find this interest

Dr. Pournelle

Perhaps you will find this link interesting, maybe even enjoyable.



quote------ A man described as one of the nation's leading senders of spam says an FBI raid on his home office has halted his e-mail operation. Warrants unsealed last week show that a September raid on Alan M. Ralsky's home in a Detroit suburb included the seizure of financial records, computers and disks. "We're out of business at this point in time," Ralsky said. "They didn't shut us down. They took all our equipment, which had the effect of shutting us down." Unquote

-- I know that there was not physical pain involved but it is, after all, a small step.

Ray Thompson

Not enough pain. More! More! But it's a start.


Subject: FW: Last week a ND Weather Bulletin buffy willow

We had a recent snow in Montana where we lost power for several days, most of us stocked up wood for the fireplace, brought in coolers and ice, and moved things from our refrigerators to the coolers, and used our grills to cook on for those days… in light of that, I was impressed by this:

---------- Forwarded Message ----------

ND Weather Bulletin

This Weather Bulletin came from the Emergency Manager of Eddy County in North Dakota. I thought it was a little funny. Maybe because it has a lot of truth in its description.

WEATHER BULLETIN Up here in the Northern Plains we just recovered from a Historic --- may I even say a "Weather Event" of "Biblical Proportions" with a historic blizzard of up to 24" inches of snow and winds to 50 MPH that broke trees in half, stranded hundreds of motorist in lethal snow banks, closed all roads, isolated scores of communities and cut power to 10's of thousands.

George Bush did not come....FEMA staged nothing....no one howled for the government...no one even uttered an expletive on TV...nobody demanded $2,000 debit cards.....no one asked for a FEMA Trailer House....no news anchors moved in.

We just melted snow for water, sent out caravans to pluck people out of snow engulfed cars, fired up wood stoves, broke out coal oil lanterns or Aladdin lamps and put on an extra layer of clothes.

Even though a Category "5" blizzard of this scale has never fallen this early...we know it can happen and how to deal with it ourselves. Everybody is fine.



Subject: New Report Finds More Than Half of New Orleans Families Headed by Single Mothers

They say: "Of all families with related children under age 18, female-headed families make up 56.0 percent in the city of New Orleans versus 25.2 percent for the nation as a whole."



Wed Oct 12 11:05:19 2005 Pacific Time

Women of Gulf Coast Key to Rebuilding After Katrina and Rita; New Report Finds More Than Half of New Orleans Families Headed by Single Mothers

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 (AScribe Newswire) -- Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region are especially hard-hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as they are more likely than men to be in poverty, and to head single-parent families, according to a new study released Tuesday by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

"The Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast: Multiple Disadvantages and Key Assets for Recovery, Part I. Poverty, Race, Gender and Class" uses U.S. Census Bureau data to provide a detailed portrait of poverty among women and people of color in the city of New Orleans and the metropolitan areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas hardest hit by the hurricanes. The paper also presents data on poverty in the cities and metropolitan areas to which many hurricane victims have moved.

The paper finds that poverty rates for women in this region are higher than for the nation as a whole, at 25.9 percent in the city of New Orleans, 17.4 percent in the broader New Orleans metropolitan area, 18.6 percent in the Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula metropolitan area of Mississippi, and 16.2 percent in the Beaumont-Port Arthur metropolitan area of Texas, compared with 14.5 percent nationally.

"Recognizing the unique circumstances of women in the Gulf Coast region must be central to the rebuilding efforts. Ensuring that women are fully represented in the planning process will help to inform effective workforce development strategies and the design of services that support employment," said IWPR Director of Research Dr. Barbara Gault. "Because of the high prevalence of single mother families, for example, access to convenient child care is crucial for successful redevelopment."

Of all families with related children under age 18, female-headed families make up 56.0 percent in the city of New Orleans versus 25.2 percent for the nation as a whole. Many of these families also live below the poverty line. Four in ten female-headed families in the city of New Orleans and the New Orleans metropolitan area are poor, and poverty rates among these families are also very high in Beaumont-Port Arthur (34.7 percent) and Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula (28.6 percent). <snip>

A very interesting set of letters.

And from a teacher in the Northwest:

Just add, subtract, factor or divide both sides, yeah, right. Solving quadratic equations was similarly covered in just two pages.

Compare that to MY 7th grade math worksheet, which was a 8.5 x 11 sheet of 1 digit by 1 digit multiplications, which I completed about 85%, and got 1 or 2 wrong. I wonder how many of these kids who are expected to solve quadratic equations with 2 pages of instruction know how to add fractions with uncommon denominators, or divide a 5 digit by a 3 digit decimal number.

Some parents commented that their students were having big problems with Math Analysis in high school after going through integrated math in middle school. My peek at McDougall Littell was that this curriculum aimed at high school, but offered at middle school level crammed a shot gun ful of college level material concepts all over the place, while providing no instruction in basic arithmetic, nor the old fashioned baby-step per week build up of algebra. I couldn't even FIND how to solve a simple equation like 2 x + 8 = 15 among all the instruction in graphing, statistics, and problem solving.

I don't know if moving from integrated back to to Algebra is better or worse, but so far not too many complaints from my kids and I haven't had to do their homework left.

Parents in XXSD are still pretty much clueless as to the harm of fuzzy new-new math.


Subject:UK's plan for gifted


Gifted pupils to be fast-tracked at 11
By Patrick Hennessy and Julie Henry (Filed: 16/10/2005)

The country's brightest state-school children are to be "cherry-picked" at the age of 11 under new government plans to speed the development of the top-performing

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, will announce radical proposals tomorrow during a speech in which she will vow to do much more to "stretch" gifted pupils, including teaching them in small groups and at weekends.

The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that ministers want to single out about 30,000 children, using "raw scores" from the National Curriculum tests in mathematics and English taken by all pupils in the final year at primary school.

The plan, which will be set out in detail in a much-anticipated education White Paper to be published next week, is strongly reminiscent of the old 11-plus examination.

Gifted pupils will be offered extra expert one-to-one tuition, "hothouse" lessons in small groups, holiday schools and even weekend "masterclasses" taught by university lecturers. Their performance will be closely monitored up to the age of 14.

A source close to Ms Kelly pledged that the drive to boost standards would go up several gears and added: "This will be the future of teaching."

At least Ł60 million in extra money will be earmarked to fund the programme in 2006-07 and 2007-08. The scheme will also cover the worst-performing pupils, who will be offered specialised tuition to help them to catch up. The money will cover the hiring, for example, of specialist language coaches and more classroom assistants, particularly those with experience in mathematics and English.

However, it is the plan to identify and nurture the brightest five per cent, a move strongly backed by Tony Blair, that is likely to be the most controversial, particularly among teaching unions.

The Prime Minister has taken a zealous approach to driving up standards, telling colleagues last week that he wanted the best schools to be given much more freedom to expand, even if that was at the expense of the poorest performers.

Ms Kelly said last night: "We need to do more than keep up the momentum on school improvement, we need to accelerate it. <snip>


The reason the US cannot compete in manufacturing is simple: we don't teach skilled workers anything at all. We attempt to teach everyone in the US to be an intellectual. Since half are below average (I know that is heresy and insulting, but half the children are below average. Get used to it.) a large number aren't going to get much from education designed to teach them to be intellectuals. On the other hand, No Child Left Behind means we can't spend much time working with the top 10% who can be intellectuals; and of course the top half of the class is neglected while teacher time is spent working with the bottom half; but working with the bottom half isn't going to make them intellectuals.

What we need to do is take the bottom half of the teachers, train them in some SKILLS, and set them to teaching SKILLS to the bottom half of the student body. We would then get some skilled workers who could compete world wide, while the top half of the student body might actually be educated, learn how to learn, and do the things such people can do. Good Old American Know-How would reappear like magic.

Why do I think our teacher unions will never allow this?

So. Perhaps that is enough political incorrectness for the day?



This week:


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Tuesday,  October 18, 2005

FYI, Dr. Pournelle...


"This [new bankruptcy] law reeks of hypocrisy to me. And no, this isn't political, given that the bill was a bipartisan smackdown of the average American. It seems to me that lower-income individuals are being held to a much higher standard than our largest companies are. Under a corporate bankruptcy, a company like Delta can avoid numerous obligations like health or pension benefits in order to remain in business. But a "fresh start" for ordinary citizens was not deemed worthy. Not even the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita will be given any special treatment under the new law. Maybe former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton can be rolled out for a fundraiser or two in a couple of years to help some of the hurricane victims meet their Chapter 13 obligations.

"The double standard here is glaring. Recently, rising jet fuel prices nudged Delta and Northwest into declaring bankruptcy. Rising energy prices in addition to rising health-care costs are placing many Americans in equally difficult positions. Why are we more unforgiving of individuals than we are of corporations?

"Essentially, the law will make it harder for individuals to file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which allows you to liquidate your assets to pay off some of your debts. Any remaining debts above the amount of your assets are then canceled. The credit card companies often fail to collect from their customers under this form of bankruptcy, so obviously, they wanted to reform the system.

"As of today, more people will be required to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which will require individuals to enter into a payment arrangement lasting from three to five years in order to repay their debts. Last year, 1.1 million people filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcies, while approximately 450,000 filed for Chapter 13.

"Luckily for the likes of Delta, Northwest, and, dare we say, GM(NYSE: GM), Chapter 11 bankruptcies, which apply to corporations, were left untouched by the reform. My colleague Tom Taulli offers more detail on the new law in another article today."

Emphasis added.



"Delta, the USA's No. 3 carrier, will vault ahead of British Airways on trans-Atlantic routes with the addition of 11 new Europe routes starting next spring. This year, Delta has launched or announced a total of 50 new international routes.

"Delta, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, is expanding international flights in an ambitious bid to regain profitability by the end of 2007. Traditional carriers such as Delta view foreign flying as an escape from the fierce fare competition from low-fare carriers on most domestic routes."

Emphasis added.

Surely campaign contributions had noting to do with this situation...

Charles Brumbelow

A straight tariff on imported goods and services distorts the marker considerably less than all the special games we play. But that's not Free Trade!  Of course what we have isn't Free Trade either.


Subject: Letter from England

I've been ill with a nasty cold, so I'm just catching up with events.

The bird flu has been moving into Eastern Europe and physicians are becoming concerned. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/birdflu/story/ 0,14207,1595015,00.html

Story about inane antiterrorism actions: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/ g2/story/0,3604,1594507,00.html

Latest ID card story: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/idcards/story/ 0,15642,1594643,00.html> . They're also fiddling the cost figures. The Lib-Dems are in opposition: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4351538.stm

UK Taxes: <http://society.guardian.co.uk/publicfinances/story/0,12671,1594900,00.html>  BBC fees: <http://politics.guardian.co.uk/ media/comment/0,12123,1593576,00.html

The UK is not planning to send people into space--ever: <http:// news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4351688.stm

If you're serious, you willing to spend money. Are you willing to spend money--'No.' You're not serious. Teacher training being cut in the UK: <http://education.guardian.co.uk/training/story/0,7348,1594970,00.html

Tube chaos: <http://politics.guardian.co.uk/publicservices/story/0,11032,1594776,00.html

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


Teachers on Strike

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

We here in BC are now going into the second week of an illegal teacher's strike. The British Columbia Teacher's Federation is claiming that class size is at the root of the problem, but I can't help but notice that a 15% pay raise over the next three years is also on the table. The BCTF is claiming 90% approval by members for the strike action, but only 59% of the teachers even bothered to vote. By my calculations that is only 53% approval, good enough for a Presidential election, but not for an illegal strike that is affecting 600,000 students, their families, and businesses that are losing man-hours of production due to day care problems.

Everything you have said about teacher's unions is ringing true. The public school system is being run into the ground by people who cannot be fired for their incompetence. My own education, and that of my wife's, were interrupted by an acrimonious strike, to the point where I felt I would be better off quitting school and getting a job, rather than furthering my education at the hands of greedy unions, and bureaucratic bunglers.

I have done alright for myself, and have risen to a pay scale that allows us to have my wife stay at home and home school our two boys. I own my own home, two older cars and play with computers for a hobby. I don't travel as much as I would like, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make in the interest of my son's education. There is always the future for travel, anyway.

I completed an IQ test long ago, and at the time I posted 128, by no means a genius. However, I can puzzle out riddles, do fairly complex equations, play guitar and piano, maintain five computers at home, and fourteen at work, use power tools, build a deck and stairs, wire a circuit, plumb a toilet and fix a car. I am comfortably on the right side of the bell curve, without being so far down the bell I can't use mechanical skills. In other words, I can more than I cannot. I consider myself average, but am occasionally jerked back to reality when I realize that the "average" person out there cannot make change for a $5.65 purchase from a $20 bill, without the aid of a cash register, or calculate a 10% tip. The last example actually terrifies me!

I am teaching my sons to be trades people. I would like them to become plumbers, or electricians, or mechanics, and open their own businesses, rather than becoming a wage slave. I want for them to become useful, happy citizens. I think that it is not a bad goal for one's children.

Thank you for allowing me to ramble on, and keep up the good work. Stay strong and never weaken!

Bill Grigg


Subject: In defense of Microsoft

Afternoon Jerry,

I've been a critic of Microsoft's plans to charge for their anti-spyware/anti-virus products, as they shouldn't be financially rewarded for producing a defective product. Now that they've announced the inclusion of anti-spyware capabilities in Vista (see http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1872253,00.asp) <http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1872253,00.asp>  there are folks crying anti-trust and claiming that it's anti-competitive.

So if Microsoft fixed the OS to eliminate spyware in the first place, would that be anti-competitive and monopolistic? Are these vendors now claiming that Microsoft must make Windows perpetually insecure in order to provide a market for their products? Good grief.

I have high-hopes that eventually Windows design flaws will be fixed, and all the anti-spyware and anti-virus companies will go out of business. In the meantime, the best thing for consumers is to have Microsoft provide tools to mitigate the impact of those flaws at no additional cost. Kudos to Microsoft for doing just that. As for the vultures who've built a business on the flaws, a review of Quarterdeck's corporate history might be in order.



P.S. For those more recent to the DOS/Windows world, Quarterdeck produced the QEMM product line, which provided memory management for DOS and Windows. It was almost a required product because the memory management provided by Microsoft was somewhere between minimally functional and brain dead. Once Microsoft corrected the core problems, there was no longer a market for their products. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QEMM 



"Do something you like. Forget about the pay, for Christ's sakes. Regulate your style of living to fit your income. Just have fun in your job, that's the main thing." ~ General Chuck Yeager


The law of the wiki.


Here, then, is what I'll propose as the Law of the Wiki: Output quality declines as the number of contributors increases. Making matters worse, the best contributors will tend to become more and more alienated as they watch their work get mucked up by the knuckleheads, and they'll eventually stop contributing altogether, leading to a further fall in quality.

-- Roland Dobbins

Interesting speculation on why some wikipedia entries work and some are useless. I will leave the rest of the speculation as exercises for the readers.


Subject: Schools of Education

Here is another indictment of the education establishment, Dr. Pournelle:


To quote:

"The cultural left has a new tool for enforcing political conformity in schools of education. It is called dispositions theory, and it was set forth five years ago by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education: Future teachers should be judged by their "knowledge, skills, and dispositions." What are "dispositions"? NCATE's prose made clear that they are the beliefs and attitudes that guide a teacher toward a moral stance. That sounds harmless enough, but it opened a door to reject teaching candidates on the basis of thoughts and beliefs. In 2002, NCATE said that an education school may require a commitment to social justice. William Damon, a professor of education at Stanford, wrote last month that education schools "have been given unbounded power over what candidates may think and do, what they may believe and value."


Charles Brumbelow

But we only want qualified teachers, well qualified, with genuine credentials, don't we? You would not want unqualified teachers.

We have sown the wind.


From Another Conference:

Monday, October 17, 2005

I question the logic and am repulsed by the arrogance of those who question the right to work of certain ethic groups, namely our Latin American neighbors who are currently employed in the clean-up of metropolitan New Orleans.

The clean-up crews in New Orleans are housed and fed and paid to perform needed services that the residents either won't or can't perform. How did the Mexicans and Hondurans get here? Certainly not with FEMA checks. The evacuees in shelters around the country have not been detained. They have been welcomed with open arms; they have been fed, clothed and received thousands of FEMA dollars to spend as they choose. But they have not chosen to buy a bus ticket or a plane ticket or made any effort to return so they can help rebuild their community.


If Mayor Ray Nagin is concerned about the 3,000 city employees who must be let go, give them a broom and shovel and put them to work. Why not start a campaign to get to work?


But I thought --  Oh well. We had an earthquake and power outages and rain and mudslides in Los Angeles. I am still waiting for FEMA to show up with my $2000 debit card and perhaps my trailer.

Work is for pigs. I have that on good authority from people who live well but don't work.

From another conference:

One thing that pundits who bemoan America's rising gini coefficient don't take into account is that the America of the early 21st Century is the first society in human history where the affluent work more hours per week than the non-affluent. Those who insist that America has entered into a new "Gilded Age" should check the newspapers of the original Gilded Age for any terms equivalent to today's commonplace "24X7 Rich".

The following article from the current

COMPUTERWORLD captures what is going on very well. The "money quote":

> Information security professionals are in high demand,
> but the opportunities available to them often require
> extensive travel, 60-to-80-hour workweeks, high
 stress, high drama, tons of responsibility and always
> the fear of a major security breach that could affect
> the organization's stability and threaten your job.

Another thing the left-wing punditocracy does not acknowledge is how much poverty is *voluntary*.

And it's not just inner-city girls volunteering themselves (and their babies) for a life of poverty by having a baby for a man unready to be a father. Every star-struck actress wannabe in New York City who waitresses just enough to keep body and soul together while taking acting and voice classes and going to auditions would also show up in the stats as "low-income".

(Curiously, one sometimes finds such women in million-dollar Trump Place condos... <grin>.

There appears to be forms of "wealth" that the economic statistics don't quite capture...)





This week:


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Subject: Virus infections make you fat, depressed


The fat's in the fire now. Turns out, infection with certain viruses can cause obesity and depression.


Looks like the germ theory of disease is not dead yet.


Very much in line with Greg Cochran's theory that many so-called hereditary disorders must be actual infectious diseases, because the genetic burdens would breed them out of the race in short order. That's assuming one take evolutionary biology seriously and uses the theory to make predictions. Cochran takes it very seriously, and as he puts it, it lets him say "I told you so" fairly often.


Subject: Buffy Willow - Science Fiction Covers

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I came across the following link displaying "a few thousand science fiction covers" and thought it might be of interest to the readership. But be warned! Its a great time-sink.


 -- Cheers,

Art Russell, PhD



Now for a bit more on the IQ debates. Begin here:

Dr. Pournelle,

Regarding your recent discussion on IQ, here is the current research on this issue, I believe. Being in academia as I am, please do not use my real name as I would be crucified (tenure or not), even though the FACTS are there for all to see:

<http://www.ssc.uwo.ca/psychology/faculty/rushtonpdfs/PPPL1.pdf> .

It is pretty heavy lifting, I'm afraid.

-- G --

Citing Rushton is a ticket to oblivion in academia although no one can question the integrity of his data. Its like going to dinner with Jensen. Or paying attention the implications of the nearly flawless Minnesota Twin studies. You cannot let data and science get in the way of current academic theory.


The following exchange of letters is long, and while it is informative, it is hardly entertaining; indeed it is conversations like this that tempt me to despair. You can skip this by clicking here, but I don't advise that you do so.

Note that this all started with the publication of Murray's latest paper, and my comments. If the subject interests you, go read last week's essay and letters. I tried there to discuss the subject, and draw conclusions relevant to the organization of school systems. I also pointed out some unpleasant facts. Those facts distress many sincere and well meaning people. They distress me. That does not make them less true. God and the Universe are not designed to change facts in order to relieve me of stress.

I got a number of replies, many agreeing with me, but one disturbed me a bit and I answered it. There followed an exchange that I find illustrative.

These are well meant and sincere letters from an obviously well educated subscriber with a serious interest in the subject. There are several, and I am not editing for length, so this can get long, while my answers are short; the exchange illustrates the depth of the problem.

Dear Jerry,

I'm probably dredging up a debate that's died, but as I'm catching up on my reading - a couple of harsh deadlines took my attention - I hope you'll forgive me.

There are two points that I think it's worth considering in the whole "IQ" discussion, and that I think make public debate about it much more difficult than they need be.

The first is wrapped around that name: intelligence quotient. IQ tests measure the ability to manipulate abstract symbols, which is only part of the story when it comes to intelligence. Yes, as you rightly point out, the ability to manipulate abstract symbols tells you a lot, but intelligence also includes the ability to learn from experience and to adapt effectively to the environment around you. These are factors that may be correlated to, but are not identical to, IQ, but that are clearly part of what we mean when we say something is or has intelligence.

So call IQ tests what they are: abstract symbol tests. This doesn't remove their value for determining the type of education that would be of most benefit to the individual child, but it does remove the inaccurate name, and - as a side benefit - makes the tests themselves less likely to be controversial. Saying someone is "not intelligent" is, whether you mean it to be so or not, undoubtedly a stigma. Saying they are not good at abstract reasoning is not.

The second point is the issue of race. Studies show that the average IQ of African-Americans is lower than that of white, hispanic, or asian americans. This is a fact that few would contest. The argument is over the cause of this. Is it genetic, or cultural?

My view is that it's irrelevent to the matter at hand, which is how to teach children so they'll get the maximum possible benefit from the education system - but that this is something that's muddled by a misunderstanding of IQ. IQ is a measure not of potential, but of performance. You can only make a direct correlation between potential and performance when all other factors are equal, and with something as complicated as a child's education, where the factors include culture, parents, schooling methods, the abilities of individual teachers, economics, and much more, the idea of "all other factors being equal" is a non-starter.

But, again, my contention is that for the purpose at hand it doesn't matter. What matters is to channel those who perform well in abstract reasoning tests towards those subjects and careers where they can gain the most benefit from these abilities, and channel those who do not do well in such tests towards subjects and careers that don't require them, and that require other skills. Don't try and turn a child who's good at woodwork into a philosophy professor, and don't try and turn the philosopher into a carpenter.

There's an important caveat to this, of course: all children need to learn to read and write to as high a standard as possible, and need to learn to enjoy books. A child who can read and write can, if they wish, later go on to learn whatever they become interested in. Not everything about your abilities to learn is set in early childhood: some children only become interested in (say) art, or science, in their later life. If they can read and write, they are always capable of learning more - and learning can, and should, be a lifelong thing.

Best wishes, I


This came at a time when I was very busy, and I sent a very short reply:

If the world were as you wish it, your analysis would be correct.

The painful fact is that IQ is the best single predictor of success that we have. Not measure of accomplishment. Predictor of success. It is not perfect, but it's pretty good.

In IQ of 85 is not going to become a physicist no matter what educational opportunities. You can't take a kid age 3 with IQ 85 and make a Harvard student of him. You can't do it. It has never been done. Sure, you should be certain your measure is correct. You can test several times, but once you are certain of the measure, that is the way it is.


On 10/18/05, Jerry Pournelle <jerryp@jerrypournelle.com> wrote:

> The painful fact is that IQ is the best single predictor of success. Not
> measure of accomplishment. Predictor of success. It is not perfect, but it's
> pretty good.

Of course, this depends in what context we're using "success". I'd regard the guy who does my plumbing as a success. He does an honest, good job, runs his own one-man business, and raises his kids well. He reads and writes, and takes an interest in news. He's not, in any way shape or form, academically inclined - yet he's a good example of someone making the most of his talents.

If you mean success in academic accomplishment, of course, you're correct - but it's something of a truism, as the kinds of skills that you're testing for are the kind that lend themselves to academic success.

The point is, as I believe you're saying in your original post, we're failing kids if we don't stream them towards subjects and skills that make the most of their abilities. Yet, I'd argue, to do this on anything other than the results of objective tests (of which the IQ test is one - there are others, which should test for other skills) is simply to pander to the anti-science brigade. There is simply no need to account for the difference between racial groupings in order to deliver the best possible education for each child.

Those who are struggling to "prove" or "disprove" racial theories of IQ are simply wasting their time, if their aim is to improve the overall standard of education, for one simple reason: IQ's, no matter what race you're measuring, follow the same bell curve. As many black children are above the average as are below it. Do you deny a black student with an IQ of 130 the same education as a white student with the same IQ, on the basis that he's black? Of course not.

Of course, that doesn't - and shouldn't - stop us from trying to understand why the difference occurs, but whether it turns out to be because of genetics or culture matters not one jot: we still must educate our children to make the most of their abilities, to enable them to be good citizens and so on. Let the child who's good with his hands become the plumber who's good with his hands - and let him be respected for it. And let the child who's capable of throwing around calculus in his head at the age of five become the maths whizz who cracks interminable problems - and let him be respected for that.

> In IQ of 85 is not going to become a physicist no matter what educational
> opportunities. You can't take a kid age 3 with IQ 85 and make a Harvard
> student of him. You can't do it. It has never been done. Sure, you can be
> certain your measure is correct. You can test several times, but once you
> are certain of the measure, that is the way it is.

I don't think there's anything in my previous comments that contradicts this, although I'd dispute that IQ tests as early as 3 years old are all that reliable - testers that I know tend to regard 7 as the minimum age at which you're likely to get reliable results. Child mental development isn't precisely predictable given our current level of knowledge - some children's development occurs later than others, and we have to account for this before streaming. I'd say the best age is probably around 12 - in line with the old British "Eleven Plus" exam. But that's a matter of detail, rather than principle.

Best wishes, I.

At which point I became, I fear, a bit snippy, and gave a short and not very polite answer:

Please go learn something about the subject.

If I take two groups of plumbers, and ask one to rank order the other group in their success as plumbers, IQ (which the raters do not know) will be the best single predictor of those rank orderings. Or carpenters. Or machinists.

But live in your dream world if you like. You are in company with those who have crafted educational systems that don't work.

=It wasn't a very nice answer. Fortunately my correspondent has more patience than I:

Dear Jerry,

On 18 October 2005 18:30, Jerry Pournelle (mailto:jerryp@jerrypournelle.com) wrote:

> Please go learn something about the subject.

I'm more than happy to be pointed in the direction you'd recommend

> If I take two groups of plumbers, and ask one to rank order
> the other group in their success as plumbers, IQ (which the
> raters do not know) will be the best single predictor of
> those rank orderings. Or carpenters. Or machinists.

Assuming you are correct (and I have my doubts), doesn't that simply throw a spanner in the notion of pointing lower-IQ children towards practical subjects? After all, if they are unlikely to make a success of their lives even in a profoundly practical area like plumbing, what DO they do?

> But live in your dream world if you like. You are in company
> with those who have crafted educational systems that don't work.

Jerry, please give examples of practical alternatives to the idea that you use IQ to stream children towards work they have aptitude for.

Best wishes, I

Which prompted from me:

Daniel Seligman A Question of Intelligence is probably the best lay book on the subject. He's a journalist, mildly left in politics. He started with the conventional views, but did honest research and reports what he discovered.

The Bell Curve is a longer and more difficult book. It has been denounced by many who never read it, and assume they know or have been told what it says.

Start with observed facts and reason to conclusions and one may be doing science. Start with what one wishes were facts and all the reason in the world will not make it science nor will it lead to much that is useful.

I no longer have time to conduct individual tutorials. You doubt what I tell you, and ask me to do your research for you. You are clearly an educated person and apparently intellectually honest. The actual facts are out there and aren't even all that controversial among people who do real science in this subject.

If you start with assumptions of equality or, what amounts to the same thing, assumptions that we can't sort out people particularly at the extremes, you will design school systems that cannot possibly work, and produce horrid results. Which is what we have done in the US. The beginning of wisdom is to learn how things are, before deciding what to do about them.

So continue having your doubts, but if you are actually honest, then go find out something of the subject. In any event, thank you for your views.

Dear Jerry,

Thank you for the recommendation. Seligman's book looks like it's out of print in the UK, but I've ordered a second hand copy from Amazon.

   > So continue having your doubts, but if you are actually honest, then
   > go find out something of the subject. In any event, thank you for your views.

And thank you for your time - it's appreciated.

Best wishes, I


I can only commend my correspondent for his good manners and for ignoring my lack of same. Perhaps something will come of this, but persuading people one at a time is not an optimum allocation of resources. I put this here in hopes that some of his arguments are common among readers, and my answers, rude as they may have been, will be helpful.

I did not and should have addressed one point he made:

>Assuming you are correct (and I have my doubts), doesn't that simply throw a spanner in the notion of pointing lower-IQ children towards practical subjects? After all, if they are unlikely to make a success of their lives even in a profoundly practical area like plumbing, what DO they do?

First, my statement is true, and confirmed by many studies: for almost any human activity other than purely physical labor, IQ is the best single predictor of rank ordering by success within that activity. Note I did not say it is a perfect predictor; but it is the best single one we have, and by a good bit. It has been employed in jobs ranging from being a minister to plumbing to delivering pizza. The highest IQ people within that group tend to be rated the best at it by their peers.

Second, in any professi0n or skilled trade there will some who are better than others. BY DEFINITION, half of those rated will be below average, just as half the children in the United States are below average. This is cruel, but it is the way it is; but it also doesn't mean that those below average are failures. You call the person who graduated at the bottom of his class in medical school "Doctor", and most of those deserve the title; of course getting into medical school should have weeded out the truly incompetent, so you have a competition among very good people indeed. Someone will be bottom, but that doesn't mean he will be incompetent.

Third, directing people into skilled activities rather than "education" has two purposes: to give those who cannot profit from a lot of traditional education some return on their investment of their childhood in schools; and second to allow those who can be educated to be so. While mixing those who can profit from real education and those who must be taught skills through different methods can be important for the health of a republic, separating them at times is also important.

When I went to school 4th through 8th grades were in Capleville consolidated, a rural Tennessee school with two grades per room and about 30 students per grade. Clearly I did not suffer from the experience. Most of my fellow pupils were farmer children with no ambition beyond learning to be farmers. My best friend wanted to be a draftsman (engineer was far too high an aspiration; his father was a Watkins Man, a traveling salesman in Watkins Liniment and other traditional Watkins products; this was, after all, still in the Depression).

Education in Capleville was mixed, with lots of emphasis on rote learning. We learned poetry. We learned to speak in front of the class, including reciting poetry we had learned. We learned to read and expand vocabulary. Much of my education came about by reading library books, both during the time when the teacher was teaching the other grade in a 2 grades per room class, and sometimes when the lesson for us that day was boring because I already knew more about it than the 2-year Normal School grad teacher (a farmer's wife). Since I had the Encyclopedia Britannica at home, I often knew more than the teachers had been taught. I also learned not to make a big point of that.

Fortunately the teachers didn't care what I did so long as I got high grades and wasn't disruptive, so it worked out well. And I profited by memorizing poetry and the multiplication tables to 12 x 12, and learning significant dates in World, US, and Tennessee history.

Later I went to an academic high school. The Memphis school system in those days had the neighborhood high schools, Central High which was for about the upper 20% academically and was an academic school, Memphis tech which was selective but taught trades skills, and two Catholic schools, Loyola taught by Jesuits and known to be the place for disciplinary problem kids, and Christian Brothers which was operated as part of a junior college and was strictly academic. This scheme seemed to work pretty well.

All of which is a long way of saying that if we don't have institutions for teaching our bright children, and for imparting skills to those who won't profit from traditional academic path education, we are doomed.

There is one final implication, though: if we do sort out kids into "definitely for trade", "definitely for academic education," and "the middle group that gets both," then if we use any rational system for assigning students to those three groups, anyone will be able to see from a distance which group is which; and that will horrify civil rights people and various ethnic leaders, and God knows what will happen then.

It may be that we are entirely doomed. We have sown the wind.

And that is enough on this for a while. (This began above.)

End of Exchange.


Subj: Lockstep PowerPCs for reliability

Here's another example of the kind of game IBM gets to play, by having control of its own chip-making, that it couldn't play if it Just Used Intel CPUs:

PowerPC processor tips: Two PowerPC 750GXs are better than one

=The lockstep processor technique is a way of achieving high reliability in a microprocessor system by adding a second identical processor (the checker) to a system to monitor and verify the operation of the system processor. The two processors are initialized to the same state during system start-up, and they receive the same inputs (code, bus operations, and asynchronous events), so during normal operation the state of the two processors is identical from clock to clock. ...

The IBM PowerPC 750GX processor contains an integrated lockstep facility (LSF). ... Designing a PowerPC 750GX lockstep system is as simple as connecting two PowerPC 750GX processors together, pin-strapping one as the lockstep processor, and deciding where to go for lunch.=

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com


And another legal outrage:

Subject: Shoot the lawyers

Dr. Pournelle:

I don't know if you've seen this, but I found it rather interesting:


It's sad when our courts must degenerate to playground bickering.

Ryan Brown

But, say the lawyers, we have a fiduciary obligation to protect our investors...

And of course there's this one http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=1222622


Dear Jerry:

The attitude of American Business, founded in laissez faire capitalism, towards safety and security, has always been hostile, imbued with a "it can't happen here" attitude. This is why OSHA and other regulations are needed. In my time in the Security industry I have seen truly appalling conditions in industrial plants which were not only permitted, but defended as "good business". This included one plant where there was no noise or temperature control nor were the required machine guards used to prevent injury. Management routinely hired illegal aliens and cheated them on hours worked and overtime.

This was an extreme case and the plant manager and his immediate staff eventually went to jail. But only after a series of dire incidents. I have a dear friend from that time who suffers from MS. I've often wondered if the cause of her condition might not be the dangerous chemicals prevalent in the defense plant she worked in. Since it was a classified site, state inspectors never were able to gain access to do their job.

I once saw another plant, where they made fertilizer, where there were puddles of acid all over the ground and the guards complained that their uniforms and shoes (which they had to buy themselves) quickly fell apart. I salvaged the situation by buying them rubber boots and coveralls, but those were discarded when the client objected because he(the plant manager) wanted "guards who looked like guards". In other words, appearances were more important than the health of our people. This place probably became a Superfund site, it was so polluted.

I have much more, but my point is, than in a short-term results culture, ordinary workers and the general public need real protection from those who will cut corners every time to save a few bucks. It actually costs less in the long run, both for the business and the society at large, to handle these problems in a preventative mode, but those whose bonuses are tied to the financial results for the current quarter could care less.


Francis Hamit

I suspect that all such regulations can be left to the states. If there will be national regulations there need to be tariffs to protect those who must follow the regulations. The federal system is designed to make the states compete for sanity in such matters. No one pretends Congress can make sane regulations.

Dear Jerry:

Following up here on OSHA. In many cases, including California, it is left up to the State of local juristition and sometimes, as is the case here, the state regulations are more stringent than the Federal. About ten or twelve years ago I sold laminated posters for all the notices that had to be posted in the workplace. This was mostly a convenience for consulting clients, who could get them for free, from sic different agencies, but had to write and request them. Heavy fines would result if they were not posted when there was a State OSHA inception. (You've seen what I'm talking about every time you get your car repaired. SB 198 , the California version of OHSA , was fought tooth and nail by business interests and I got many an angry lecture from bosses, who always started with "We've never had an accident..."

Usually that just meant that their luck hadn't yet run out on them. I always remembered the prospect I approached for guard service in the Chicago suburbs. The boss was a self-made man and very sure that he didn't need guards. When I pointed out that he would more than save their cost because his fire insurance premiums would be reduced, (This fact is the foundation of the modern security guard business) he told me that he didn't believe in insurance either and had none for his plant and inventory. My father taught me not to argue with fools , so I moved on to better prospects.

Naturally when I read in the paper several weeks later that his establishment had burned to the ground, I was very sorry...oh, not for him...but for his sixty-five employees who no longer had a job. The fire was na accident, of course.

But leaving it to the states solves nothing with OSHA. The Federal rules only apply where there is not already a state agency in place. Federal standards are a minimum, not a maximum approach.


Francis Hamit

Leaving it to the states means LEAVE IT TO THE STATES, not "do this or we will." The whole notion is to have competition among the states for sane legislation. Federal preemption defeats that.


Subject: "Sir, we're under strict orders not to discriminate like that."


-- Roland Dobbins

Perhaps there will NOT always be an England. But do not despair: see below.



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, October 20, 2005


 Subject: Is Higher Education Worth the Cost?

I know a guy in software who has never had a promotion in 25 years with his company and whose family has no hope of ever having a better standard of living. If only he had gotten his degree, Bill Gates would not be in such a fix. (And who knows what he might have achieved???)

Yes, the author below makes serious points. "Bullshit" is what economists call a "superior good". The surge in GDP/capita that resulted from us Boomers entering the workforce and therefore ceasing to be dependents of our parents, fortified by our having few kids, much later, enabled higher education to be larded with all sorts of time-and-money sinks like "Women's Studies" that will soon be going under the knife.

And good riddance.


William Strauss and Neil Howe: The High Cost of College: an Increasingly Hard Sell The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.10.21 http://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i09/09b02401.htm 

Last spring's television season of The Apprentice featured a competition between the "Net Worth" and "Magna" teams (alias "Street Smarts" and "Book Smarts"). It was a battle between people who spent their early 20s outside of college -- and who have profited nicely from that decision -- and academic achievers who spent that same time in college. Even though a college graduate ultimately won, throughout the program the Street Smarts more than held their own.

If Donald Trump had intended to tweak colleges, he made his point -- and raised the question of whether the high cost of traditional higher education is worth the money. The answer that you often hear, that it nearly always is worth the money, may soon come under fire from a new generation of students and their parents.

Getting their diplomas has paid off financially in the past for most graduates, but how long will it continue to do so? Since the early 1980s, tuition and fees at private and public colleges have grown faster than inflation each year -- often more than two or three times as fast. To obtain a four-year private-college diploma, a typical family sending off a freshman this fall is looking at a price tag close to $120,000, not counting books, transportation, and other expenses.

Meanwhile, the amounts that today's students are borrowing are clearly rising. According to a report by the American Council on Education, the number of student loans made annually has more than doubled since 1993. As of 2004, 70 percent of private-college students receiving B.A.'s had taken out student loans, with a median amount of $17,125. Just over 80 percent of all students receiving professional degrees at private institutions (in fields such as law, medicine, and dentistry) had student loans, with a median amount of $71,317. Many have debts way above those medians, of course, and the report confirmed that students from the lowest-income families are borrowing the most. <snip>

Is there any sane reason why college education costs more every year? Other than silliness, frills, and Political Correctness?



CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  October 21, 2005


The TimesOctober 17, 2005

Two wheels: good. Two legs: terrorist suspect By David Lister, Scotland Correspondent

WITH her year-round tan, long blonde hair and designer clothes, Sally Cameron does not look like a threat to national security.

But the 34-year-old property developer has joined the ranks of Britain's most unlikely terrorist suspects after being held for hours for trespassing on a cycle path.

Ms Cameron was being hailed yesterday as Scotland's answer to Walter Wolfgang, the 82-year-old heckler manhandled out of the Labour Party conference last month. She was arrested under the Terrorism Act for walking along a cycle path in the harbour area of Dundee.

Yesterday, after receiving a letter from the Tayside procurator fiscal's office informing her that she would not be prosecuted, Ms Cameron said: "It is utterly ridiculous that such an inoffensive person as myself should be subject to such heavy-handed treatment."

She was walking from her office in Dundee to her home in the suburb of Broughty Ferry when she was arrested under new anti-terrorist legislation and held for four hours.

She said: "I've been walking to work every morning for months and months to keep fit. One day, I was told by a guard on the gate that I couldn't use the route any more because it was solely a cycle path and he said, if I was caught doing it again, I'd be arrested.

"The next thing I knew, the harbour master had driven up behind me with a megaphone, saying, 'You're trespassing, please turn back'. It was totally ridiculous. I started laughing and kept on walking. Cyclists going past were also laughing.

"But then two police cars roared up beside me and cut me off, like a scene from Starsky and Hutch, and officers told me I was being arrested under the Terrorism Act. The harbour master was waffling on and (saying that), because of September 11, I would be arrested and charged."

Ms Cameron, who said that at one stage one of the officers asked her to stop laughing, described the incident as "like a scene from the movie Erin Brockovich, with all the dock workers cheering me and telling me to give them hell". She said: "I was told that the cycle path was for cyclists only, as if walkers and not cyclists were the only ones likely to plant bombs.

There are no signs anywhere saying there are to be no pedestrians.

"They took me to the police station and held me for several hours before charging me and releasing me."

She said that she was particularly galled by the letter from the procurator fiscal's office, which said that she would not be prosecuted even though "the evidence is sufficient to justify bringing you before the court on this criminal charge".

Keith Berry, the harbour master at Forth Ports Dundee, said yesterday that Ms Cameron had been seen as a "security risk". Speaking about the incident, which took place in May, he said: "We contacted the police in regards to this matter because the woman was in a secure area which forbids people walking. It was seen as a security risk. We were following guidelines in requirement with the port security plan set up by the Government."

A spokesman for Forth Ports said: "We will robustly prosecute anyone who breaches these new security measures because they have been introduced by the Government and we are obliged to enforce them."


Subject: The ways of Empire

Just up on google news: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002571833_afgan20.html 

Looks like we're learning the ways of empire whether we want to or not. :-(

-David Mercer


Principal Brought Rapid Results To Unsung School.


--- Roland Dobbins


Good overview of Google Maps applications.


-- Roland Dobbins




- Roland Dobbins

Tesla knew his stuff...


The link you included with this article is the same as the article above it (about Google maps) SPS. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/20/technology/ <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/20/technology/circuits/20maps.html?adxnn l=1&adxnnlx=1129875659-hjSimJwEJy4Ykmjo9Cfquw> circuits/20maps.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1129875659 <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/20/technology/circuits/20maps.html?adxnn l=1&adxnnlx=1129875659-hjSimJwEJy4Ykmjo9Cfquw> -hjSimJwEJy4Ykmjo9Cfquw <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/20/technology/circuits/20maps.html?adxnn l=1&adxnnlx=1129875659-hjSimJwEJy4Ykmjo9Cfquw> - Roland Dobbins Tesla knew his stuff...

I think the link you wanted was (Tesla and SPS):


-- Cecil Rose



Subject: Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam


Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam Melvin R. Laird <http://www.foreignaffairs.org/author/melvin-r-laird/index.html>  From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005 <http://www.foreignaffairs.org/2005/6.html

Summary: During Richard Nixon's first term, when I served as secretary of defense, we withdrew most U.S. forces from Vietnam while building up the South's ability to defend itself. The result was a success -- until Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by cutting off funding for our ally in 1975. Washington should follow a similar strategy now, but this time finish the job properly.

MELVIN R. LAIRD was Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973, Counselor to the President for Domestic Affairs from 1973 to 1974, and a member of the House of Representatives from 1952 to 1969.



I work for Google.


---- Roland Dobbins


A number of letters on a theme:

Subj: The usefulness of colleges

... and of Harvard in particular, specifically to Bill Gates:

1. Harvard provided the computer on which Gates stole the computer time he used to develop Altair BASIC.

2. Harvard is where he met Ballmer.

Would Microsoft exist without at least #1 above?

Esther Dyson understood, as I did not, that the real advantage to be achieved from going to Harvard is the connections you can form with the going-to-be-rich-and-powerful. But I don't feel too bad about that: evidently her father didn't understand it either.

And _The Bell Curve_ discusses the role of colleges as mate-finding services.

So colleges in general, and Harvard in particular, aren't quite useless, even aside from their credential-awarding service.

On the other hand, one wonders whether the barriers to entry for prospective competitors for these useful services are quite so high as they have been historically. Certainly there are cheaper and easier places for a startup software shop to find computer time. 8-)

As for why college education costs more every year: high barriers to entry for new competitors, no?

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com


Subject: Frills?


From my personal experience, mostly from my social group at college, there is a very clear delineation:

Individuals who had chosen a professional course (physics, chemistry, computer science, education) have prospered to the limits of their abilities or perhaps a bit beyond. Three of us are a successful senior computer specialist for NASA, a senior chemist at an industrial chemistry facility who spends at least 4 months a year servicing clients in Japan and South America, and a physicist who took an advanced degree and who has enjoyed modest success in several notably different specialty areas of physics, mathematics, and chemistry.

Individuals who had chosen a "fine arts" or "liberal arts" course are generally working secretarial or clerical positions at wages not much better than entry level wages.

There have been and always will be people who benefit from higher education, just as there are many for whom higher education is a playground between high school and the real world.

Ultimately, success has two contributors, ability and industry (in the sense of hard work). Mr. Gates and Mr. Dell were famously able to succeed without completing their higher education due to selection of a field where, frankly, fairly easily acquired skills were used intelligently, and with great industry, to achieve dramatic results. Whereas, for example, my career path has been one of constant retraining while building on the base of past experience and skills. I can play the money game to some extent (critical for achieving commercial success) but prefer the more abstract technical challenges and let the money fall where it will.



Subject: College Education Costs

"Is there any sane reason why college education costs more every year? Other than silliness, frills, and Political Correctness?"

Supply and demand. The demand in America continues to exceed the supply of quality courses, which is essentially limited by the availability of competent teachers. Here in the UK, with costs capped, we see more and more qualified students failing to find a university place.

-- "The data (or the marks when teaching) are sacrosanct--they tell us what actually happened."

Harry Erwin, PhD http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her


Subject: Is college worth the cost?

Jerry, you asked: ``Is there any sane reason why college education costs more every year?''

There is certainly a reason, though I won't make a judgement on whether it's sane.

Each family has some reservation price, $X, which they are willing to spend on a college education for their kid. They won't go beyond that. The colleges have learned to practice what economists call ``perfect price discrimination'', charging pretty close to that reservation price for each family. Poor families generally get charged less than rich families, dumb kids (who probably wouldn't get far in the world without the education) get charged more on average than smart kids (who will do just fine no matter what).

Congress noticed that the sticker cost of education (which few actually paid) was too high for the disadvantaged, so they made extra funds available for college costs. Through subsidised loans and grants, they made $Y available, so that now each family has $X+$Y as its reservation price. Colleges quickly figured this out, and raised their prices to match. Thus, one of the big factors driving the cost of college is financial aid.

Unfortunately, college isn't getting better as it gets more expensive. First, we have the fact that most of education takes place between a student, a book and a mentor. That's pretty cheap, except for the student's opportunity cost, and it isn't aided by throwing more money at it. Second, we have the fact that most of the money doesn't go into instruction and facilities for instruction. Colleges are run by and for the administrators, and the faculty and students are generally tolerated as the unfortunately necessary administratees. Some of this extra administration is simple bureaucracy, but much of it, perhaps most of it, is to deal with the paperwork imposed by federally funded political correctness. Colleges have to show that they're giving equal resources to women's intramural teams, have to show that they're not discriminating against minorities, and on and on. The cost of not doing so would be to forgo the federal funds, and go back to the old, low-cost model of ``a student, a mentor, and a book''. No administrator is going to give up his bureaucratic empire do that.

So, is a college education worth the money? I suspect that it's not worth the $X+$Y that society is spending on it. It may be worth the $X that the individual family spends.

I have spent 10 years in college, and have annexed a master's degree in statistics and a BS in electrical engineering. Had I finished my dissertation, I would have a Ph.D in economics. I still regret not taking a tool and die maker apprenticeship I was offered when I was 19: it would have given me higher lifetime earnings, and would have been very satisfying work. I will help my kids with college if they want it, but I won't push them into it, and I would discourage them from going into debt (as I have!) to get a diploma. I will push them to learn a trade, whatever they choose to do about college.

Nels Tomlinson

I would argue that in 1954 I got a better education at the University of Iowa, for tuition I could afford with the GI Bill, than most get at the Ivy League schools today for ever increasing costs. We allow the universities including the state schools to add imbecile stuff like Black and Women's studies departments, expanding sociology departments, more voodoo sciences, with great and greater costs so that one graduates deeply in debt. And "accreditation" is not given to practical schools with reasonable curricula, few frills, and lots of actual education. And this will continue.


Hi Jerry.

This was partially prompted by the "Is Higher Education Worth the Cost?" message by Jim in Thursday, October 20th's Mail, particularly the line:

"The surge in GDP/capita that resulted from us Boomers entering the workforce and therefore ceasing to be dependents of our parents, fortified by our having few kids, much later, enabled higher education to be larded with all sorts of time-and-money sinks..."

It seems to me that perhaps the proliferation of higher education, these "time-and-money sinks", and perhaps even no-child-left-behind schools has skewed the supply/demand relationship between workers and employers. Not all, but most employers blindly rely on our current education system to train their future workers without bothering to influence the type of education that is needed. The result is (at least in part) a workforce that does not meet the demands of current/future employers as good at it could - insufficient numbers of engineers perhaps, although I'm only guessing there. Perhaps one way of bringing labour supply and demand closer together is for employers to pay for students *of their choosing* to complete their education in return for a minimum number of years of service to said employer after the education is completed. The schooling is as specified by both the sponsor and the student. If the student/employee should renege on their part of the agreement (e.g. drop out of school, or otherwise only give x number of years of service when y is required), then the student must repay the costs of their education to their sponsor, the amount as determined by prior agreement between the relevant parties. This is hardly a new idea, it's a form of scholarship and/or apprenticeship both of which have been around a long time, but don't seem to be used as much as they once were. Of course this is how some militaries train their future officers and technicians (military colleges and such). I also remember a friend who was put through accounting school by the firm at which she eventually went to work. Co-op programs at universities aren't too far off this mark. For technical training (plumbers, mechanics, etc.) this could be done earlier, perhaps during high school years as part of workers' high-school education, the technical part funded by future employers. Note this would take some of the strain off our public schools and perhaps result in more motivated and interested high-school students.

Having said all this, I don't mean for this system to completely replace the current one - if somebody wants to take courses of their own choosing at university or technical college, and they wish to pay for them themselves, that's their choice, and I wish them well. Indeed, I'm sure there are some subjects that would not be well served by such a sponsorship system. Some of those subjects we'll need to keep, and we'll have to be careful we don't lose them, but with tongue-in-cheek, maybe we could hope that some of the time-and-money sink subjects would naturally die off.

Anyway, I'm not wedded to these ideas, but merely present them for discussion. One wonders what the faculty and teachers' unions would have to say about such things.

Cheers, Mike Casey Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


Dear Dr. Pournelle,
 I personally don't think so. After I got out of the Army, I decided that college would be just the thing for me before they took the rest of my (Vietnam era) GI bill away. It took a while working full time and all, but I finished with honors and got a decent job.

that lasted long enough to pay off almost all my debts except the student loans and my house. The house will be paid off next year but I don't know if the student loans ever will.

After the dot com crash and my job went away, I have had 3 jobs and am back at the company I was before I had a degree. I am making less than I was without a degree and those who were with me back then are much advanced in the company even after two buy outs.

Not only that, but people without degrees but with seniority are doing better than me. Of course I do not have any "Certifications". I do have a nice piece of paper to hang on the side of my cube though.

Patrick A. Hoage


Subject: IQ, college, and diversity

A personal story

Straight out of high school I went to Reed College because they wanted (geographic diversity) I did well on th SAT (690 verbal, 610 math) but still below the average there. The classes (especially science) were frankly beyond me. I did not do well and got into bad habits, and got kicked out. I got an IQ test and scored almost retarded in the spatial tests. The tester said he had never seen a split like that (144 verbal, 98 performance, I might be a few points off) What that means is I can trick anyone into thinking I'm smart, but have trouble putting together a puzzle.

Years later I went back to school at a small liberal arts school and got a business degree and a biology minor. The degree has yet to pay off. I do wonder though if I had gone to a school more compatible with my native abilities if I would not have done better in life so far. I am not whining. Roanoke College is a good school and I had far more opportunities there (a product design internship where we came up with a product, business plan and patent, a market research internship at a tech company, and a trip to Denmark to do bioinformatics research) than I had at Reed, but the time it cost me!

I just got MCAT scores back, and I did in the top 1-2% verbal, 80% physical science and 90-95% bio. I think that the top 1/10 of a percent learn differently than the rest of us, even the moderately bright. Trying to take Harvard's or Reed's pedagogy to the masses is foolish. Someone once asked Richard Feinman how he solved problems. He said that he looked at the problem, thought really hard, and then wrote down the answer.

I do have hopes for some environmental interventions to raise IQ and improve behavior (creatine, omega-3's, micronutrients) But the schools can't even do school lunches well. Let me repeat that: Schools cannot provide vegetables. And we trust them with education?

Sorry to rant, but I wanted to contribute something to your site.


Robert Hull

You have in a nutshell described the problem with affirmative action. The education methods that made Harvard and Reed important do not work with the general population. I very nearly went to Reed but the financial situation made it impossible: I had to make do with the Korean War GI Bill, which was more generous than the Viet Nam War veteran benefits but a lot less so than the WW II benefits; WW II vets got tuition and books and allowances wherever they were enrolled, Korean got a fixed sum of money for a fixed period of time. That left out Reed. I suspect I am as well off. Iowa in my day had splendid professors -- see upcoming BYTE columns for both details and how that's relevant to BYTE.

But putting people in over their heads is not good practice. There needs to be a gradation in methods even up in the upper tiers. Perhaps I should say especially in the upper tiers of intelligence. That can to some extent be done by individual instruction by the professors; I certainly had to do that at Pepperdine where I had William Allen, Phil Karber, and some decent but average ability students in the same undergraduate classes.

A New Sort Of University.


How would it be if there was a new sort of university? Students on entry would between 25 and 35 years old. Old enough to be as mature as they will ever be, and with enough working life before them to repay society after graduation. The only other entry qualification would be an IQ of 135 or more as measured by an abstract reasoning test after training in taking such tests. Instruction would be free and the students would be paid the industrial average wage so they would not deterred by economic factors or need to to take outside work. The university would be open to absolutely everyone who met the age and IQ qualification. Black, white, yellow, brown, and for that matter purple, whether legal or illegal, WASP or wetback, or in the case of the purple students, from Venus.

Where necessary instruction would start at basic English as a second language, the two times table, and a is for apple levels. There would be no shame in this. Ignorant is not the same as stupid. When the student had the solid grounding that a rich bright child with rich bright parents has when graduating from high school, the student would be able to choose from a number of hard subject courses in science, medicine and engineering. Subjects with studies, outreach, race, wimmin's, and media, in the title would not be offered.

Testing would be frequent. Students who did not choose to progress would be dismissed.

Think of the advantages to society at large. The supply of smart people with useful training would be increased. The number of smart, bitter, people who had decided that a career in crime would be the best option would be decreased. Imagine the solid pride of a one time ghetto drug dealer who would be able to tell Burt Rutan, "Harvard?". No. I attended an elite university.

There must be a lot of clever and devoted teachers who are quietly despairing while being trapped by career considerations in the present education system. I don't think finding staff would be a problem. Finding the right person to start the university would. Possibly an eminent writer of science fiction with a background in mathematics and government could be persuaded to become its head?

John Edwards

We can fiddle with the admissions requirements: 135 is a bit high I think. 120 to 140 would do. But if the school were honest in admissions it would be vastly more white than black and would instantly be labelled racist.

As to your final suggestion, I am a bit old. They wanted me to be president of a community college once (to straighten it out) but I am not qualified because I don't have an education/administration credential.


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

At the urging of many close to me, I went back to college and earned an A.S. degree, with honors, in Computer Information Technology. I graduated in late June; and now find myself washing dishes for less than I made before spending two years investing in a supposed better future. All the job-training is useless without employment available in the field of study. It is really discouraging to those who, like myself, were told to "work hard and you'll get ahead". I try to think positively but being middle-aged in today's job market it is getting ever harder to be self-supporting when all one can find are low-level service jobs.

Just another bit of anecdotal evidence to throw out for you. I'm trying to keep a stiff upper lip and all that and still hoping that someday this education will be the key to a better life. I pray so, for myself and all the others who have invested in this road to (so far) nowhere.

Yours, S

Hang in there. Things are getting better. And good luck.


Dr Pournelle:

I work on a university campus although I do not work for the university. I am also sending a child through college so I am intimately familiar with the expense.

Universities and colleges primary purpose (beyond football and basketball) is to employ people who are otherwise unemployable. Consider that many of the humanity degrees are basically unemployable degrees. So colleges and universities provide these people with jobs so that the institutions can say there are jobs for these disciplines. Now in order to have anyone in the classes the institutions force students to take these classes as part of their curriculum. Without these classes as part of the curriculum an engineering student could learn everything in two to three years instead of the four to five years now required.

Of course this also provides more money for the colleges and universities to employ the otherwise unemployable. I won’t even talk about the waste from spending on top of the line equipment and tossing serviceable, but “not cool” equipment. High end top of the line PC’s for secretaries that do nothing but type documents.

I walk by several class rooms in the building where I work. What is particularly astounding is the many of the professors do not speak English as a primary, perhaps even a secondary, language. Some of the classes are taught by others than the professor as the professor is off working on a pet project using student labor for most of the work with the professor taking all the credit.

My son, along with several others, had to drop a class because they could not understand the professor. The school would not refund the tuition, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Of course there was a time past when Martin Marietta would hire someone with any degree over someone with skills. I worked as a contractor with these people who were basically incompetent and skill set was very lacking. So at one time there jobs for people with degrees because it was considered a good thing. But companies have been burned by the lack of competent education and classes taught by professors that knew little about their subject.

Bottom line is that colleges and universities are about money, not about education. The more a college can spend the more it can receive in state funds and the more that it can charge students. The quality of education is not better, just more expensive.

Ray Thompson

The craze for degrees has to do with affirmative action and credentialism: if you insist on credentials you are in a stronger position if you hire one person over a certified member of a certified victim group. Until we get past that idiocy, we will continue to have deteriorating universities and an increasingly unqualified work force.

What we need is a constitutional amendment that says you cannot because of race deprive anyone of the equal protection of the laws, and this time we really mean it.


Subject: Yes, there will always be an England

Dear Jerry,

Entertaining as it is, the story from the "American Thinker" (linked to from Mail) on their correspondent's recent trip to England contains so many falsities and half-truths that it's somewhat laughable. I started doing a little fact checking when I read about his trip's start at Trafalgar Square - I work on the square, so enjoy it every day.

So you can imagine my surprise when I read of "Red" Ken Livingstone's plan to replace the statues. As far as I can tell, there is no such plan: instead, the plinth in the corner that's been empty since it was erected is being used for a series of new works, one of which may eventually occupy the site permanently. So far, I'm not keen on any of the works (although Mark Wallinger's statue of Christ is probably the best), but I like the idea. You can read the full story of the fourth plinth at http://www.fourthplinth.co.uk/, and see pictures of the statues raised so far - plus its original, empty state - at http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/gallery/0,8542,1005915,00.html.

I then carried on reading, putting that to one side. After all, the idea that we'd let a plinth go empty for 164 years before putting something in its place might not be obvious to a visiting tourist. Next, though, I came to the part about how "the meddling Eurocrats in Brussels have somehow determined that rocking horses, of all things, shall have a maximum height of 60 centimeters." This set off my myth-sensors tingling. There's so much nonsense talked about standards set by the EU that this kind of statement often makes me go check the facts. So I did, and found that, in fact, there's no such ruling. Instead, the British Standards Institute - a venerable body that sets completely voluntary standards for a variety of things - has, in collaboration with other equivalent European bodies, set such a standard. Again, it's completely voluntary - there's no law, ruling, or anything stopping people making and selling rocking horses as large as houses if they want.

Next up came the statement that piggy banks are hard to find after complaints from muslims. Given that Mr Williams started in Trafalgar Sqaure, perhaps he should have done some shopping around there - a wander through the "tourist" shops soon found one for me. As far as I can tell, there's been only one recorded instance of a complaint from anyone of the muslim faith in the UK about a pig-shaped toy - and that was in the Midlands, in an office, and concerned a squeezy "stress reliever" rather than a piggy bank.

Meanwhile, Mr Williams is in Cornwall, enjoying a Cornish pasty. He claims that he'd better be fast, as "the pin- heads in Brussels are going to change its name – it's hard to understand their 'logic' but something about European tourists thinking that have to go to Cornwall to get one." In fact, there's no chance that it'll have to change its name. The EU runs a scheme called "Protected Geographical Indication", which is designed to help regions exploit the genuine tastes of their local cuisine. Cornwall has applied to the EU to have the humble Cornish Pasty registered under this scheme - which means that genuine cornish pasties would have to be made there. Mr Williams' cornish pasty (from Cornwall!) is safe.

Next, there was the school uniforms. Apparently, according to Mr Williams, "school uniforms breach some ill-conceived "Human Rights Act," so are no longer mandatory." This is just false. Although fewer schools adopt uniforms - for other, and in my opinion wrong reasons - it's nothing to do with the human rights act. State schools DO have an obligation to account of the religion of their pupils, for example by allowing Muslim girls to wear headscarves or Jewish boys to wear a yarmulka, but this is merely an acceptance that freedom of religious practice should mean some flexibility.

I have to confess that at this point, I was getting too exasperated by the inaccuracies to carry on reading in detail. However, I did get to the point at which Mr Williams arrived, hot-footed back to London - although quite how he managed to make it to Devon, Oxford and Northumberland (at the other end of the country!) in what from his narrative looks like a single day baffles me.

I did, however, spot his point about " with nothing better to do a Eurocrat named Francis Carpenter has suggested [Trafalgar Square] be renamed in order to not offend the French whose defeat at the hands of Admiral Nelson it commemorates." Mr Carpenter is pretty much on his own in this (he's the head of the European Investment Fund, and spoke in a personal capacity). As I write this, Trafalgar Square is being readied for Sunday's celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, tickets for which have already sold out, and which will feature marches, parades, royalty and more (details at http://www.trafalgar200.com/). And the French hardly seem offended: Back in June, they sent over the Charles de Gaulle, the pride of the French navy, to take part in a review presided over by the Queen to commemorate the battle - hardly the action of a mortally-offended nation!

While I agree with the aims of what Mr Williams was doing bandying around half-truths and falsities serves no one well. There are too many battles against legitimate examples of political correctness to be won to start tilting at windmills.

Best wishes, Ian Betteridge

Thank you!  Ain't journalism wonderful?


Out-of-this-world sex could jeopardise missions

Their message:

Headline: Government Anthropologists Today Come to the Same Conclusion as Robert Heinlein Did 44 Years Ago

(N.B.: the beginning of STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.)


Subject: IQ and Educational Tracking

I've always been suspicious of the use of tests to lock people into career tracks at an early age. I suppose it comes from being a child of the 60's, and of being raised to be suspicious of authority figures. That the scientific data supports the proposal makes me only a little less suspicious. You won't be surprised then, if I say that I find many of your reader's proposals to sound very big brotherish. Essentially, some authority figure, wiser than the rest, will decide on the basis of scientific tests who will and will not be allowed into the upper tiers of society. Instead of using class or race to stratify society, we will have a scientifically defensible meritocracy. Will we all be required to have our IQ's tattooed on our foreheads, so as to make the idiots around us more evident? Those strong lads of limited intelligence might well make good shock troops for the grunt work of the imperial army! Perhaps the votes of high IQ's should be given double or triple weight? Just think of the possibilities!

CP, Minnesota

The obvious remedy is drug the high IQ people so they cannot perform better than the lower IQ. We can also have equal schools. No child left behind because no child allowed to get ahead.  Shall we then choose leaders by lottery?

You will not make these differences go away but you can certainly devise policies as if they did not exist. The result will look like what we have. Really great.





This week:


read book now


Saturday, October 22, 2005

On Rational Discussion:

As is frequently the case, Fred has a comment (or several), Dr. Pournelle, in this case relevant to the discussions on race and education and IQ.


Some quotes:

"The zeitgeist notwithstanding, differences of intelligence exist between both individuals and groups. The differences are real. They've been carefully studied at great length by very smart people who are perfectly aware of the pitfalls of testing. For example, Jews score a standard deviation above other whites. That is, their advantage over other whites almost exactly equals the advantage of whites over blacks. In any physics laboratory with a statistically significant number of physicists, a (very) disproportionate number will be Jews. Why? Because physics requires a high level of analytical intelligence. They've got it. "Permit me to enunciate a principle, the recognition of which would transform sociology: Brains have consequences. This luminous thought explains why affirmative action doesn't work, why Head Start doesn't work, why efforts to compensate for the effects of slavery don't work, why black students perform badly in school systems controlled by blacks, why blacks stubbornly remain almost nonexistent in fields such as high-energy physics. It also seems to explain (the differences are smaller and the evidence scantier) why certain Asians are so prominent in the mathematical professions.

"Now, if blacks can't succeed, the moral landscape shifts. The usual basis for racial policy is that, the debilities of blacks being the result of oppression by whites, whites must therefore be punished and blacks compensated. Here is the guilt model, endlessly purveyed in politics. But if the problem is inherent, the moral element vanishes, and so does any hope that remedial programs will ever work. Then what?"

Fred DOES provoke thought...


Fred says what many think but dare not say; yet what he says is falsifiable, a testable statement, not simply an expression of belief. And the tests have been done. But of course no one will accept the results. And, of course, Fred goes out of his way to be blunt, to pull no punches and soften no blows. One wonders: will we ever have a reasoned debate on these matters?



From Last Night's Dinner

That splendidly robust conservative core of the US Supreme Court, Antonin (Tony) Scalia J, constitutional originalist and Catholic father of 9, spoke of the man tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail who said "If it wasn't for the honor, I'd rather have walked".

Scalia has been here in Melbourne for nearly a week, clearly enjoying himself, and, from what I have heard, and what I would guess, never being lost for a powerful answer to whatever questions are thrown at him by (mostly) lawyers. Stephen Breyer J. has been here only 24 hours. I suspect that their ideological/philosophical opposition on the bench is much tempered by good personal relations based partly on respect each other's mind. Within a couple of hours of getting off a flight across the Pacific, Breyer made an intervention in yesterday's proceedings which made one want to have studied law under him at Harvard. The general topic is "Power without Responsibility - Judicial Activism" (There are many to insist of course that Judicial Activism is a misleading and over simple term).

Australia BTW is now one of the few countries in the world without a Bill of Rights, not even statutory and not even in any state (though that may change soon in Victoria). When all our states and territories, which have Labor governments, got together a couple of weeks ago with the Commonwealth government, which is LIberal-National coalition, to tighten up anti-terrorism laws, there were, needless to say, plenty of lawyers to protest about the dangers to our ancient liberties, some to mention Guy Fawkes and the growth of liberty AFTER that little bomb problem, others to say that we risked alienating our 250,000 Muslims AND our 1975-1983 Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who seems now to hate our current PM to whom he gave his first big chance in 1977, getting a standing ovation from a leftish audience this week when he condemned the new laws.....

Strange times, strange personalities.




Subject: Usefulness of a degree


Since I entered the workforce some 30-years ago, I've been on quite a few job interviews, and one universal I've found is that employers like people with degrees because the degree means you're *trainable.* It means you can start a long-term project and stay with it until it is complete. In that sense, the *type* of degree does not matter (certainly, if you want an engineering position, you'd best have an engineering degree, but in the main. . .). This is particularly true in the military, I know of two guys, a physics major and an English major, who went for the Navy nuclear power program. The English major made nuke, but the physics major had to go regular surface warfare. Of course, they were both paid the same. (What do you call the guy that graduates at the bottom of his class at OCS? Ensign.)


Steve Dunn BA, Physics
 USN (Ret.)

Agreed. In addition to insurance against discrimination lawsuits, insisting on a degree does assure that you get people who have managed to finish something; and that can be important. I have always said that is the value of a Ph.D. degree; not the degree but the demonstration that you have managed to master something and to stay with it long enugh to do it including writing the damned book.

The question before the house is, must it cost so much more now than formerly, and why must the cost continue to rise?


From another conference:

The emotional responses that guide much of human behavior have a tremendous impact on public policy and international affairs, prompting government officials to make decisions in response to a crisis--such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--with little regard to the long-term consequences, according to a study by scholars at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.  --  J

But the instantaneous American response -- to invade Afghanistan -- turned out to be more rational than the one that took 18 months -- to invade Iraq.

In international affairs, there are a lot of advantages to saying, "We're going to do Y because when X happens, that's WHAT YOU DO."

One big advantage to doing the natural thing -- e.g.,, you get hit so you hit back harder -- like we did in Afghanistan, is that the rest of the world understands and sympathizes. Even the Afghans, not the most empathetic and even-tempered nation on Earth, seemed to feel we had a certain right to do what we did.

In contrast, it's when we overthought things that we got ourselves in trouble.



For a long (overly long, but you can skim) comment on Cochran's overclocking the brain theory and other matters:

The Master Race: Are Jews Smarter? http://www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/culture/features/1478/index.html  et seq. 

Did Jewish intelligence evolve in tandem with Jewish diseases as a result of discrimination in the ghettos of medieval Europe? That's the premise of a controversial new study that has some preening and others plotzing. What genetic science can tell usâ€"and what it can't.

By Jennifer Senior
 New York Magazine



Subject: The battle of Midway, reported by today's press


What if WW2 were covered by today's press? Here's the battle of Midway:




Subject: The rising cost of education.

One trend that hasn't been mentioned is the growing use of temporary instructors (grad students, and temporary instructors or adjunct professors) to teach many undergraduate courses. These folks, of course, make much less than the tenure-track faculty, and are useful for doing the grunt work of education that the 'real' professors don't want to be bothered with. So even as the costs of an education have been rising dramatically, the growth in the direct costs for delivering that education have likely been restrained. So the question of where all that tuition money is going becomes even more interesting.

CP, Minnesota

Excellent question; but see below




CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Losing Ground:

Subject: Honest Discussions of Sensitive Issues

It is highly unlikely that we will have societal discussions of sensitive hotbutton issues such as race, IQ, and education, Dr. Pournelle.

As examples from the past I offer elimination of race as a factor in calculating life insurance premiums and the unisex annuity tables enshrined by the Internal Revenue Service. The one raises premiums for whites while the other reduces retirement benefits for males -- both in the name of equality of outcomes.

It will be interesting to see if genetic testing for risk factors bypasses the goal of equality of outcomes. Battle lines are already being drawn for this fight.

Charles Brumbelow


Little Ice Age

Dear Jerry,

Here is a nice piece on The Little Ice Age and its effects on European Civilization:

"Lamb (1966) points out that in the warmest times of the last 1000 years, southern England had the climate that northern France has now. For example, the difference between the northen-most vineyard in England in the past and present-day vineyard locations in France is about 350 miles. In other terms that means the growing season changed by 15 to 20 percent between the warmest and coldest times of the millenium. That is enough to affect almost any type of food production, especially crops highly adapted to use the full-season warm climatic periods. During the coldest times of the LIA, England's growing season was shortened by one to two months compared to present day values. The availability of varieties of seed today that can withstand extreme cold or warmth, wetness or dryness, was not available in the past. Therefore, climate changes had a much greater impact on agricultural output in the past..."


Cheers, Rod Schaffter

-- I know a woman who has said the Catechism of the Catholic Church has "nothing to say" to her, because the language is not inclusive. Imagine that. A book full of riches and information is useless to her because it uses words like "mankind." That's like saying that a chestnut tree, which provides shade and nourishment is useless to one, because its leaves are the wrong shape. --"The Anchoress"


Subject: cheap labor

A response to CP from a senior professor:

"Well, yes... this is surely a legitimate complaint which applies really only to big universities, but it's definitely NOT a "growing use." They've been doing this since the year of the comet. Every place that has grad students has been exploiting them as cheap labor. Always. As for the temporaries & adjuncts, they're called "folding chairs" or "revolving door appointments" -- it used to be a prestigious thing if you got one of them at Harvard, Yale etc."

Robert Griswold


Subject: Playing the  Credential Game

Dr. Pournelle:

I freely admit to playing the credential game. In the mid- to late 1990s I was answering complaint letters for a living, which was the closest match I could find for my English Lit. degree. I wanted to get into aerospace/defense technical writing, but most employers stated that I lacked experience/credentials. And since I couldn't get experience without a job and vice versa, I decided to go for a master's degree in technical writing. And brother, am I glad that I did! Just the effort to pursue the M.A. caused my company to say, "Gee, maybe he really CAN be a technical writer," allowing me to get a technical writing job BEFORE I'd even completed the degree. I have since moved on to the defense industry, where my previous experience + credentials were valued and needed. Mind you, my work ethic was the same as as it was pre-M.A., but having the credential allowed me to move on from letter writer to technical writer to communications manager to (now) director of communications. In my case, perhaps, the education was necessary job training, but the education credential was the kick-start I needed to move out of the "English major" box.

There is much to be said for working with tradesmen who are doing the work you want to do, then doing yeoman's work until you can stand on your own. However, if those tradesmen refuse to train someone without experience/credentials, then the educational credential is the best way up. I would like to think that there are less expensive ways of proving oneself, but apprenticeships seem to be a lost practice.

My $.02,

Bart D. Leahy

"Proudly destroying productivity since 2005"

--Motto of Sudokusan.com

Oh I never advise people not to pay the extortion fee and refuse credentials. Credentials are important. I merely deplore their necessity, and point out their terrible abuse in the schools. You must get a credential, or be like me in a field that doesn't have them. Yet. I make no doubt that one day they will come up with a scheme under which a publisher will need to prove he did not discriminate against minority authors (would be wriiters) in accepting for publication, and they will devise a safe harbor credential to protect the publisher. Despair is a sin, but I see little to be cheerful about in the credential game.


Letter from an old friend about a dinner party:

Guess what, someone raised Roe v. Wade; whereupon I observed that my rabbi friend said that Jews believed a human person didn't exist until a baby was born. "Must be a Reform rabbi" said Scalia, and made his point with the story of Sam.

Sam found a curious object, a kind of medallion, in Central Park, and couldn't find anyone to tell him what it was. So he went to the cleverest person he knew, an Orthodox rabbi, who explained that it was most likely one of those graven images that goyim liked to decorate themselves with, and, when asked for a bracha (blessing) on it said "certainly not". Then he goes to the second cleverest person he knows, a Conservative rabbi, who says he thinks it might be some good luck charm named after a saint of the kind that Christians sometimes wore. "Will you give it a bracha for me rabbi?" "Well, no, I think that would be inappropriate for me as a Jew". So Sam goes to the third cleverest person he knows, a Reform rabbi, who gives him an erudite and charming speech about the significance of what he immediately identifies as a St Christopher medal. "The patron saint of travellers, you know, although he was probably a mythical figure. Patron saint too of America, the legendary "Christ-bearer" who carries the weight of the world etc etc."

"Well rabbi will you give it a bracha?"

"What is a bracha?"

When I retold it to my rabbi friend, and said I suppposed he had heard it, he said "All Jewish jokes are old jokes".

Am I just relating a very old joke?


I suspect it is an old joke, but I have not heard it before. My friend Elmar was a Conservative Hungarian Jew, and he told me hundreds of such stories but not that one. Elmar died some years ago. I miss him in springtimes.


Subj: Transparent Aluminum - the downside


Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com


Durance in Samarra.


---- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Corn packaging!

You always said that Oil was too valuable to be burned for fuel, now it's too expensive to be used in plastics!




Subject: The lengths to which helpdesks will go.


It is reported that when a user rang IBM to get assistance with a malfunctioning laptop the serial number was flagged as being from a stolen machine. The tech obtained the address of the caller and the police arrested him.

Some helpdesks will go to any lengths to avoid fixing a problem.

John Edwards


Subject: MS Word catches more sneaky people

Doctoring the UN report on the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri; discovered by Word's "track changes" feature:


I'm not surprised they doctored the report. Do you think this will push the UN to move away from Microsoft Office?

Office, the whistleblower's best friend! <g>

Steve Setzer


Subject: better link for Hallmark of the Underclass

A better link for the Hallmark of the Underclass column.

Pretty permanent, and looks like the original source, or close to it.


Mike Z

Thanks. That is an important article.


Eric Pobirs in Defense of Microsoft

Subject:  In defense of Microsoft

Doug earlier this week raises a good point about companies claiming they're entitled to a market based on a another product's flaws but there is a misperception here. There aren't any flaws in Windows that will end the spyware/adware problem if fixed. This isn't the same as virus infections. Most of these installations take place with the assent of the user, although they are ignorant of the consequences. Others are installed along with legitimate products offered by unscrupulous companies taking a payoff rather than relying on the value of their own product. (I include RealPlayer in this category as it was for a long a major cause of system instability and was installed unbidden by many products including AOL..)

As such, you'll never be able to stop this entirely. The only thing keeping it off of Macs and Linux machines is their lesser numbers. Give OS X a 30% marketshare on home desktops and its less suspecting users would be exploited as frequently as those running Windows. The sleazes will go wherever they see sufficient eyeballs to make it worth their effort.

Much of the anti-trust activity has revolved around what is an OS function and what is an application market that should be open to all. The DR-DOS people became upset when Windows 95 allowed most users to never think about DOS again. The majority of people are perfectly happy not even knowing how to summon a command line interface in Windows. (I deal with at least a dozen a day in my broadband tech support job because Microsoft didn't see fit to include a GUI IPCONFIG in Win2K/XP. They have one available for download, though. ) While there are many things a CLI is better suited for performing, those things just don't figure into the average user's needs anymore. At least not to the extent that they are willing to learn.

So how much of a complaint did they (I've forgotten the name of the company that sold DR-DOS after Novell) have when, regardless of what Microsoft did, the market had dictated that the category was dead. Once NT-based OSes took over the consumer side as well the change was complete. Even before then Microsoft knew the bulk of the market wanted to live in a GUI.

In the days before Windows 3.x took off there was a thriving market in shell programs to let people avoid the straight command line. As I recall, Norton Commander was a favorite of yours. Dirtree was another big one that I sold a fair number of time in my computer store days. Yet I cannot recall anyone ever raising the idea of suing Apple for shipping a computer and OS that bundled a GUI and effectively sealed the market from competition on that front. There were add-ons for MacOS but they were mere extension rather than offering a real alternative to Apple's way of doing things. Should Digital Research have demanded that they allow the Finder to be replaced by GEM? Such a case would have made its litigants laughingstocks, I believe, but somehow it's different when the complaint is against Microsoft.

Thanks. Good to have you back.



And someone took me seriously about The Voodoo Sciences:

Dear Dr. Pournelle.

I am (among other things) a High School science and math teacher, in Toronto, Ontario.

I am slightly north of 40 years of age, and when I was much younger, I was an avid reader of Science Fiction. Therefore, more that two decades ago, I knew of you as an important, insightful, and highly entertaining author of SF. But that's all.

About two weeks ago, by the sort of random occurrence that happens so often in Cyberia, I stumbled across your website, Chaos Manor.

I was surprised to learn, as I rambled through the many links within your site, to see how very accomplished you are in so many other areas besides writing top-tier hard SF. I wouldn't have imagined that you also had a political career, and, never having read BYTE, that I can recall, I didn't know you also had a side-line as a computer guru.

I guess the above paragraphs are intended as admissions of ignorance. But I like remedying ignorance, my own and that of others -- probably that is why I am a teacher, and certainly that is why I've enjoyed reading your many website articles -- those at Chaos Manor that I have got to so far, at any rate...

So, I've been rambling around your website discovering all of the very interesting (if unconventional) things you & your many correspondents have had to say or share about so many topics.

And I finally just got to your essay The Voodoo Sciences <http://www.jerrypournelle.com/science/voodoo.html>  .

I realize the intent of your essay, is a critical attack on the lack of intellectual rigour in such fields as anthropology, sociology, economics, and social psychology.

But it seems to me (and has seemed to me for a long time, for I have thought about these same issues since long before I ever knew about your website, or this essay of yours), that these very same sorts of criticisms can be applied to all the so-called "hard" science as well, or at least to certain subdisciplines among them.

For example, modern physics features such nonsense as "dark matter" and "dark energy", alleged objects lacking -- at least in their extreme incarnations -- all properties except the magical ability to make certain "elegant" equations balance, regardless of what the actual data says, and without regard for an effort to infer the existence of properties, the testing for which, would allow an actual experimental proof or disproof. Indeed, I think it is not at all unreasonable to assert, that modern theoretical physics in many respects almost open contemptuous of the idea of objective data, and of an objective universe.

Anyway, I came to your website, and read this [/...]:



 (I wrote this a long time ago. Alas, it remains relevant.)

  "[...] The real difference between arts and sciences is the  difference between data and evidence; and the 'social sciences' don’t  know one from the other.

 Imagine a spectrum. On one end you have science fiction.  On the other end, you have hard science. What connects them is the  nature of their subject matter.

 The scientist requires hard facts. He needs data, ideally in the  form of repeatable experiments. Data, to a scientist, is best  generated in controlled experiments which can be described,  published, and repeated.

 The science fiction writer doesn’t need any data. Certainly he must  use some hard facts, because if everything is contrary to the  reader’s expectations, the work isn’t going to be taken  seriously: therefore, the science fiction writer makes use of  'facts' not as data, but for verisimilitude and plausibility.

 However, science fiction can’t 'prove' anything about the universe.  We can speculate about it, we can try to expand people’s horizons and  stretch their imaginations; but we cannot, as science fiction  writers, add to scientific knowledge, and this goes for 'insights  into the human condition' every whit as much as for contributions to  nuclear physics.

 Science fiction can’t prove anything because science fiction makes  up its data. You can prove anything if you can make up your data.  [...]"


[.../] and it made me suddenly realize that the rot in modern physics may go far deeper. Perhaps.

I mean this: isn't your main argument, in the above, also an indictment of the Einsteinian gedankenexperimenten? It's not as if Einstein actually rode atop a beam of light, after all. (Nor did he send lab rats on that errand, etc.) It was purely an exercise of the imagination.

And yet much of modern physics rests on the foundation of such non-empirical experiments. I think the clash of the two concepts here is interesting, because I am reminded of what the Philosopher Leonard Peikoff once absentmindedly said in a speech (and, no, I am not an Ayn Rand groupie, though I do know all about her, and Peikoff):

"Philosophy has veto rights over science."

He was asked to explain, and said this (I paraphrase from memory; I vaguely recall this as having occurred, at a talk he gave at the University of Waterloo in the 1980s, which I attended -- I could be wrong about that, but it was him, in some capacity, at some venue, around then ...):

"Well, think of the Big Bang, which claims that the universe started at a moment in time. Now, philosophy says, that the universe is the totality of that which exists. Time exists. Therefore, the universe is not in time; rather, time is in the universe. Therefore, the universe simply can't have started at some moment of time. And that is not a scientific argument, but a philosophical one. And I [Peikoff] put it to you that it is also a sound argument."

So, if Einstein and Peikoff are right, then it follows that a lot of good science (i.e., proofs or disproofs of the existence of certain objects, properties or relationships in the objective, material world) can, after all, be done on a paper pad, with a pencil, using "made up data", as it were.

Alternately, if "making up data" is uniformly antiscientific, it would follow (I think), that Special Relativity is a crock, and so on. I am tempted to go on and on with other examples, but this e-mail is probably inappropriately long, already.

All I really wanted to do was two things:

° First, to suggest that this admittedly old/dated essay of yours may perhaps have engaged in a sort of special pleading, on behalf of "hard" sciences, which it must be admitted are in fact rather runny in places, rather than actually hard;


° Secondly, to thank you for both the interesting, thought-provoking essay, and for all of your many brilliant SF books, which I remember very fondly from so long ago.


Tim Macneil, Toronto, Ontario.

Thank you for the kind words.

Physics at bottom rests on experimental verification, or, more strictly speaking, on experiments which might falsify hypotheses but when performed do not. Thus Einstein's Relativity remained a theory capable of explaining an observation: the change in the perihelion of Mercury; but it was still a controversial and less than widely accepted theory until the eclipse of 1919 (I believe that is the date) showed gravity bending light waves as Einstein predicted. Had the experiment not showed that, the theory would be right out.

And Trinity demonstrated once and for all that e does equal mc squared, and the old Newtonian physics principle that matter can be neither created nor destroyed was falsified. Matter was destroyed, and turned into energy. Einstein never dealt with quantum effects and the Unified Theory escapes even thought experiments; but he explains more than Newton did. (This isn't to denigrate Newton who was one of the giants on whose shoulders Einstein stood.)

Note the difference in physics and the Voodoo Sciences: in physics we can talk of charmed quarks, and Top and Bottom (or Truth and Beauty) and give whimsical names to constructs we have never seen and never will see, but if those constructs don't allow predictions -- do this and look here and you will see this trace in a cloud chamber -- they are right out. In the social science the Wu Lu Masters dance, and it doesn't matter what we observe, they get to go right on dancing. Nothing will persuade most social sciences of the truth about IQ and heredity, and we base social policy on nonsense that has been refuted again and again by observation.

Special Relativity doesn't make up data: it predicts observations (such as the slowing of clocks in orbit); there are many who hate Special Relativity and wish to see a way around its limits. So far no one has done so outside fiction (including my own)...

Social science, on the other hand both makes up data and rejects hard facts it doesn't like.


Subject: Re: Voodoo sciences

Hi Jerry,

Just read your comment on special relativity being responsible for clocks slowing in orbit. This is somewhat true, but I seem to remember long ago doing a calculation to prove to myself that the overwhelming clock slowing effect is due to gravitational redshift, which is an effect predicted by general relativity:


Incidentally, the GPS system would be far less accurate if these effects weren’t taken into account.




Subject: Regarding Mr. McNeil Buffy Willow


I've just read Mr. McNeil's commentary as well as your response.

IMHO, both items are correct, up to a point. There is a wealth of experimental data, some of which you cited, which confirms the Special Theory of Relativity. The Quark model and the related disciplines of Electroweak theory and Quantum Chromodynamics have a strong experimental foundation; the EW theory in particular provides excellent correspondence with a wide array of experimental data. QCD is not as well established (at least, the last time that I had time to dive deeply into the subject) because the unique nature of the theory -- increasing interaction strength at increasing range, limited by the disruption of the interaction via pair production -- makes detailed confirmation more difficult. (While it hasn't been fashionable, I've always believed there are one or two new Nobel prizes waiting in low-energy QCD, in part because that is the realm where one might someday expect to see practical applications of the subject.)

However, the frontiers of physical theory do have a lot of likely dead ends and traps because there is much based on what is fashionable rather than what is known.

Mr. McNeil cites "dark matter and dark energy" in this context, and he is to some extent correct; when what we know about the universe is examined under certain assumptions, the dynamics of the objects that we observe can only be explained by "dark matter" and "dark energy," which are constrained to have properties limited by those assumptions. They are not completely ad-hoc constructs, but have well-defined constraining properties; specifically, they are non-luminous and non-absorbing (becasue they cannot be seen, hence "dark") but they contribute to gravitational interactions (because they are necessary on the cosmological scale to account for the dynamics observed in at the galactic scale). That said, however reasonable the assumptions seem, there is still the chance that they are incorrect, and the whole argument collapses.

It is further true that it may be a matter of inadequate analysis. Philosophically, there is much to be said about modern developments in string/manifold theory. However, prior to these developments, there was a strong move underway to assume another reductionist level in the current quark-lepton schema -- particles such as preons from which both quarks and leptons might be formed. Much of this work has been dropped in the pursuit of string/manifold theory; I personally believe this decision to be premature. Is that a romantic yearning towards the lectures that the Norlamminian savants gave Richard Seaton in "Skylark Three? -- which could be construed as predicting quarks and preons, and relating them to faster-than-light phenomena? What happens when the two studies come together, and/or are futher combined with Joao Magueijo's theories about a variable speed of light in the early universe? Or with Harry Stine's well-reasoned arguments that the speed of attractive gravity (as opposed to gravitational radiation, which may or may not be the same) may be 10E10 c -- interestingly, of the same order of magnitude that Dr. Magueijo assignes to the speed of light in the very early universe. Or my continuing arguments with Dr. Taylor about whether General Relativity or Quantum Theory is more fundamental?

The one thing that is utterly necessary is a theory which explains dark matter and dark energy and which also has testable assumptions. Or new data regarding superstrings, or the nature of the speed of light and the speed of gravity. Or virtually ANYTHING which represents unknown physics, whether correctly guessed by some extant theory or not.

Jim Woosley

We can all hope that the limits of Special and General Relativity will be overcome, and certainly neither is complete, there being no unified theory at all.

Dr. Woosley is far more learned in physics theory than I am -- indeed he's one of my sources...







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