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Mail 400 February 5 - 11, 2006






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Monday February 6, 2006

400 weeks of the mail 

Subject: Letter from England

Red Sea disaster--the captain fled. Apparently they had a fire and the water used to fight it flooded the car deck, which is always very bad news on a RORO ferry. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4682450.stm  http://www.guardian.co.uk/Observer/world/story/0,,1702622,00.html  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4684640.stm  http://www.guardian.co.uk/egypt/story/0,,1703073,00.html

NHS problems: a. Flagship hospital is too efficient. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Observer/uk_news/story/0,,1702677,00.html
 b. Drug rationing to keep costs down. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1702661,00.html

Education rights in the Lords. The right to wear religious dress in school. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4679058.stm  http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/story/0,,1703197,00.html  http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article343398.ece 

Just weird. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2025748,00.html  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-2024914,00.html  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4682582.stm  http://www.guardian.co.uk/Observer/uk_news/story/0,,1702685,00.html http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/article343299.ece 

Muhammad cartoon rioting. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4682560.stm  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2025852,00.html  http://www.guardian.co.uk/Observer/world/story/0,,1702682,00.html  http://www.guardian.co.uk/Observer/focus/story/0,,1702539,00.html  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4684652.stm  http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,,1703181,00.html  http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,,1703235,00.html  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,22989-2027300,00.html 

Iran bomb development response. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4680294.stm http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,,1703079,00.html 

Stockwell killing story (the anti-terrorist operation that went badly wrong). http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/article343304.ece 

Proposal to curb the royal prerogatives (to declare war and make treaties). The Stuart kings must be spinning in their graves!
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4684306.stm  http://www.guardian.co.uk/Politics/conservatives/story/0,,1703067,00.html  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,17129-2026704,00.html  http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article343532.ece 

Energy costs rise 25%--$1750+ per year home heating. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Money/news_/story/0,,1703170,00.html  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2027188,00.html 

Dark matter research.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,,1703203,00.html http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_technology/article343459.ece 

There are also other researchers (Brownstein and Moffat) who believe dark matter is a mirage, reflecting how general relativity really works rather than computing things using the Newtonian approximation. <http://www.newscientistspace.com/article/dn8631>  See also <http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/051010_dark_matter.html

And then there's Roger Penrose (search Amazon for The Road to Reality). And finally there's Alexander Mayer at Stanford. <http://www.stanford.edu/~afmayer

I've recently *speculated* that our universe started as an egg (a la Smolin). What we currently regard as inflation might actually be imposed structure, much like how the mother organises the egg in multi-cellular organisms and controls early development of the embryo. Read Steward and Cohen, The Collapse of Chaos and Figments of Reality, to see something of what I'm speculating about. This was stimulated by Penrose's argument that the universe began in a *very* special state and the point of various authors that life, the prevalence of black holes, and the simple presence of non-linearity in our universe are dependent on that initial state.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her

Not only the Stuart kings. Even the Whigs granted the crown the right to make war on whomever it pleased. And the Army, at least as of 1979, still took an oath to the heirs of the body of Electress Sophia of Hannover (being Protestant)...

The LA TIMES has an article today on Yobs in England. I'll leave the explanation to the reader, but tampering with the privileges of the monarchy seems to be rearranging the deck furniture after the ship has not only hit the iceberg, but begun to tilt...



Subject: Our strategic future


The FPRI conference report is interesting. I am dismayed to find serious military people ready to ditch our current superior position in conventional warfare capabilities. Without a robust manufacturing base, we will not be able to respond to a future conventional threat with a manufacturing surge the way we did as recently as the Vietnam chapter of the Seventy Years War. Without that surge capacity, if our forces then in being are not daunting enough to a potential adversary, many potential adversaries will try to take advantage of that. The "end of history" did not end that aspect of human nature.

I find dismaying in another way Daryl Press's concern that "pursuing policies such as building an encircling alliance around China might greatly increase the probability of conflict." One need only look at Chinese "investments" at the Panama Canal and in the Bahamas to understand that such an encirclement of us by them is already underway (this is basic in Go, which they sometimes call "Chinese Chess"). This continuing urge to stop us from doing the tings to help ourselves that our real and potential enemies are doing to us is an unfortunate refrain in Western academia, which is where Press is from.

The balanced approach that Owens and Stanley advocate is of course what we would prefer. Col. Owens' call for more allies will be helped every time the Islamic world agitates at some expression of our basic freedoms. The Europeans and others may finally be "getting it," and understanding that attempts at placation only encourage those who would be agitated.

Professor Stanley "stressed that primacy was not sustainable economically." She is right. It is clear that we were able to afford World Wars Two and Three only because of our economy. As I see it, we are dying an economic death of a thousand cuts. Federally and in our states we need to decentralize. Our people would be much more productive and our government would cost far less if we admitted that the enormous growth in government of the past half century has been a tremendous mistake.

Mr. Berkowitz "observed that the current environment . . . makes force planning more difficult," and gives three reasons (always three; seems that Aristotle was on to something). He then calls for what amounts to a strategy of technology along with using smart military officers.

A couple of the participants called for the National Guard going under Homeland Security. I think we need to think about that. On the surface, it makes a sort of sense. Certainly it's what most Guardsmen signed up for. But I wonder about having troops that answer to different masters. I can see an imperial state where the existence of such forces would be tempting. At bottom, doing this kind of thing gives you the illusion of getting something accomplished while doing nothing of substance. Better to undo the unit specialization where our armed forces put essentially all of some capabilities in National Guard and Reserve forces, so they can go to war without calling up what should be reserve forces.

As it is now, our armed forces can't act without calling up some Guard and Reserve units. While this might have been suitable for WW3, it's time to go back to a more sensible arrangement. I would stop short at the Homeland Security proposal.

Of course, we must also get control of our borders, but I don't know what kind or revolution would get that done.



Subject: FPRI Strategy first look

Based on a skim; this document needs more thorough study, but...

1. Any strategic plan which effectively ignores the threat of biological weapons, which are potentially available to non-state strategic threats (re: international terrorist organizations) directly as well as through clandestine partnership with state parties, and which also ignores the threat of a partnership between nuclear-armed state parties (not necessarily officially, but by subversion of key officials) and non-state parties for delivery of nuclear force (particularly wide-area EMP attacks) is IMHO a non-starter from page 1.

2. No national strategy in this day and age can or should proceed without consideration not only of the military aspect but of the political, economic, and technological aspects of conflict (A Strategy of Technology, but probably even more so). For example, one can argue that China poses no strategic political or military threat to the US due to the balance of trade, but the fact remains that their economic and technological leverage (including acquired, recreated, or subverted American technologies) puts them at a significant political and military advantage should it come to a shooting war. Particularly if their (short-term) objective is reunification with Taiwan -- a threat that can only be countered on the US part with vigorous missile defenses combined with a willingness to escalate to nuclear force ourselves to defend Taiwan.

3. Plus, largely ignored seems to be the chance of an alliance of convenience of the opposing parties -- or even an effort by Party B to take advantage of US diversion while dealing with Party A. "The enemy of my enemy is my enemy's enemy, no more, no less" -- but that leaves a lot of potential for leverage even without formal cooperation.

Bottom line short version -- most of the speakers has felt, and accurately described, a "part of the elephant." The ear. The tusk. The trunk. The tail. The legs. Our blind speakers, however, have completely ignored the whole body of the beast, much less the attachment ("integration") of the parts of the elephant.

There are several individual proposals which deserve further exploration. But that exploration must be in the context of recognizing that if speaker A recognizes the strategic threat as asymmetric warfare and speaker B recognizes the strategic threat as China, then the real strategic threat is both, operating independently or not, and the survival of the US requires recognition of both military and non-military methods of gaining leverage in one area while the bulk of the force is addressing military threats of a different scale in another area. And the implementation of any response to these threats requires the political will to recognize and plug ALL of the holes simultaneously -- including not only the military, but the economic/energy independence ones as wall -- or else we'll still be fighting the wrong war in ten years, assuming we haven't already lost it.


I will join this discussion later. Do note that the Chinese leadership has one memory of what happens when the students take over the country: the Cultural Revolution. And no one is going to submit to that again. Ever.


Subject: Lake Wobegon Education - Dan Walters column

Dr. Pournelle:

Regarding the continuing discussion of above average students: Dan Walters, political columnist for the Sacramento Bee, had this to say in the Sunday paper:

"Homespun humorist Garrison Keillor made his career describing the mythical village of Lake Wobegon, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

California's decision-makers seem to believe that Lake Wobegon is a real place, because they have, over the past decade, enacted a raft of state and local policies under the rubric of "academic standards" that assume that all children are capable of preparing for college-level academic work."

See: http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/columns/walters/story/14155194p-14983262c.html 

Perhaps our politicians will get the hint...but I am not holding my breath.

Regards, Rick Hellewell

Nor am I.







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Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Subject: Yobs

The immediate problem is that it takes quite a bit of anti-social behaviour before the police do anything, and nobody else has much leverage. The longer-term problem is that they have no reason to change their behaviour. There's little class mobility, and yobbery is adaptive for the situation they're born into. You've commented that the below average have little opportunity in America--in the UK, they have even less.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her


Subject: WP: China -- The Fake Science Threat

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Given you postulations this morning on the topic, I thought you might find the following Washington Post article of interest. I can personally attest to the fact that mainland Chinese universities have yet to recover from the devastation they suffered during the Cultural Revolution.




Don Barker, Senior Editor

PC AI Magazine


From another conference. The discussion is about health and IQ, and part of it included my usual observation that this is not Lake Wobegon: half of the population will be below average. The correspondent here makes several very important and often overlooked points, which is why I include it:


It is important, of course, to minimize mistakes by health care providers. It affects trust in the whole system. But I would wager that by far the biggest source of life-threatening mistakes is the consumers themselves. Like not recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack and seeking medical help too late. Or of not taking the meds prescribed afterwards, or precipitating an emergency by not cutting back on salt, etc. Death rates can rise sharply as compliance falls. And the compliance problem gets worse (more cognitively tilted) as medical care and medical technology advances (and becomes more complex). Once again we face the problem of how to reach individuals--in this case, self-providers--of below average intelligence. At the very least, it takes more time for effective instruction, more follow-up, more feedback, etc.

There is a widespread misconception that people get effective health care as long as it it PROVIDED to them. First of all, their health depends mostly on what they themselves do in daily life (which should be to prevent health problems and to manage them effectively when they develop). Second, they have to effectively utilize the care available to them. That is not such a simple thing, as it turns out, for many people; it takes more than showing up at the doctor's office or even high motivation to do the right thing. There is no automatic transfer of goods from provider to receiver, as if all that matters occurs during the minutes when the two are in each other's company. Patients have to participate in their treatment, and competently so, often independently monitoring and ministering to themselves for months at a time.

At bottom, it's the same problem you are facing with the NEII system.

On a related issue, I'd also note that, just as providers overestimate the abilities of many of their patients, patients overestimate the coherence of provision of medical care, at least in the US. Having had to deal with a wide variety of specialists and medical labs this last year, I was shocked to find out how difficult it is to get information from one doctor to another and how much physician time it wastes when they don't have all the records at hand. Forget about asking that records be sent to each one--too slow and unreliable. And don't expect them to tell you ahead of time all the records they will want to see. Just get a copy of everything and carry it with you. I'd really rather have an implant (though I'd also want to be able to see for myself what is in the records).




The good thing about fighting Identity Theft (one of the primary missions of my National Electronic Identity Infrastructure (NEII) design) is that the citizens who have identities *worth stealing* (that is, you can get a loan using their credit rating), have IQs high enough to participate in the NEII's process flow.

But consumers of Serious Medicine don't necessarily have high IQs. And, as you point out, at the very end of our lives, almost none of us will be thinking very well, even if we are not in a coma.

RE: Errors by health care professionals: I have run into far too many personally to believe they are uncommon. I just think of all the "brain f*rts" I have experienced in my career, and doubt that doctors are any more infallible. It helps to network to "The Man" for whatever malady one might have, something, of course, an IQ-80 type would not have the ability to do. (Nor the connections)

But of course in general you are correct. Undetected hypertension doubtlessly is much more common in below-IQ-100 types than above-IQ-100 types, as is obesity.

As for medical records, you don't want to lose them just because your "implant" fails electronically. The only place for the "Copy Of Record" of such information is in a modern datacenter. Given the ubiquitous connectivity of the Internet, that is the *only* place one needs them stored, once one has the "Islands Of Identity" problem solved. (Everyone assumes that retrofitting America with a National Electronic Identity Infrastructure is impossible, because there is no authoritative source of identity information available. Thus, no one has been even working on one. As it happens, it is not even a difficult problem to solve, once one figures out the "trick".)

Under HIPAA (the The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), you always have access to your own medical records.



I don't know how it is at an HMO, but I can tell you how it's handled by the VA. Every doctor or nurse practitioner has a networked computer in their examining room. All medical records are on-line, and the first order of business is to call them up. All notes taken during a visit are taken by computer, and added to your medical records on the fly. If you're away from home, and need care at a facility halfway across the country, you don't have to worry that your records aren't available, or that your regular provider won't be able to find out just what was done. If there's any HMO that isn't already doing this, that company is guilty of negligence and should be forced to enter the Third Millennium as a condition of being allowed to remain in business.

- Joe Zeff

The only problem with trouble-shooting is that sometimes trouble shoots back. http://home.earthlink.net/~sidebrnz http://www.lasfs.org

And see below



A related problem comes from the low IQs of the staff that can be afforded by long-term-care facilities. The BBC's web site features all sorts of horror stories:



And since we may all be at the mercy of such people all too quickly...


On Diet and IQ

Mr. Pournelle,

You may have also seen this article

"Omega-3 fatty acids are a crucial component of a healthy diet-particularly, it seems, for pregnant women wanting bright, sociable children"


Important if true.

Thank you

Peter Schaeffer





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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Subject: 'Diversity'.


- Roland Dobbins

Madness. Sheer madness. We sow the wind.




-- Roland Dobbins

SNAFU.  This one is probably self-correcting.


"We followed proper procedure."


-- Roland Dobbins

But this one is beyond repair.


Regarding Joe Zeff's letter on VA medical records:


Yes, within a single organization, "Enterprise Software 1.0" techniques work "OK", but they are still very clumsy because basically we are still talking centrally-planned, hierarchically organized, bureaucratically-managed, command-and-control model "Soviet Style" IT.

Enterprise Software 1.0 breaks down when one tries to craft human workflow that spans organizations, especially when some of the organizations are tiny ones with few IT skills and even less budget. For one thing, there is no way to bridge the "Islands of Identity"--I expect the General Services Administration to throw up its hands and give up on its Project Liberty-based e-Authentication (Federated Security) initiative sometime this year.

IBM Corporation's IBM Global Health organization got the nod from the Department of Health And Human Services to create a Nationwide Health Information Network Architecture Prototype. My 2-Guys-In-A-Garage-Without-The-Garage startup will be meeting with those guys in San Diego next week at the 2006 Health Care Information and Management Systems Society conference to see if they really wouldn't rather try an "Enterprise Software 2.0" approach.


Possony and I were working on Strategy of Progress when he had his stroke. There are strategies to make use of bureaucratic principles to improve what the bureaucracy does.


Subject: The Promise of Liberty

This comment from an item in WSJ's Opinion Journal caught my eye, Dr. Pournelle:

"It was not historical naiveté that had given birth to the Bush administration's campaign for democracy in Arab lands. In truth, it was cruel necessity, for the campaign was born of the terrors of 9/11. America had made a bargain with Arab autocracies, and the bargain had failed. It was young men reared in schools and prisons in the very shadow of these Arab autocracies who came America's way on 9/11. We had been told that it was either the autocracies or the furies of terror. We were awakened to the terrible recognition that the autocracies and the terror were twins, that the rulers in Arab lands were sly men who displaced the furies of their people onto foreign lands and peoples."


The rest of the article is also thought provoking.


Charles Brumbelow

But they were not Iraqis. And the Taliban wasn't one of those ancient autocracies. And we went to war against Iraq to save an ancient autocracy. Actually not so ancient, but the rulers of Kuwait -- who went to London and gambled in the casinos until we won their country back for them -- were certainly autocratic.

If our goal is to save the Middle East from ancient autocracy, it's not obvious that the first outfit to go to war with is a secular regime which pretends to be socialist. And then to encourage uprisings against that regime only to allow those who rose up to be cut down. And then to go back in again in retaliation for the 9/11 acts which were not, so far as I know, committed by secular Baathist socialists.

Democracy is rule by the middle class. Is there a middle class in Iraq? One large enough to have enough common interests to overcome the various divisions by confession, race, and tribe? I fear it is not at all obvious to me that democracy will be secular and stable.


Subject: The 'End of History'? Not quite.

Hey Jerry,

If you and your readers haven't already seen it, I can recommend Mark Steyn's article last Wednesday in titled "It's the Demography, Stupid: The real reason the West is in danger of extinction" at http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110007760  .

Reading that immediately brought your catchy phrase about the West committing suicide to mind; further research also found some Fukuyama, and this quote:

"Nietzsche believed that modern democracy represented not the self-mastery of former slaves, but the unconditional victory of the slave and a kind of slavish morality. The typical citizen of a liberal democracy was a "last man" who, schooled by the founders of modern liberalism, gave up prideful belief in his or her own superior worth in favour of comfortable self-preservation. Liberal democracy produced "men without chests," composed of desire and reason but lacking thymos, clever at finding new ways to satisfy a host of petty wants through the calculation of long-term self-interest. The last man had no desire to be recognised as greater than others, and without such desire no excellence or achievement was possible." - From Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History and the Last Man", 1992.

Keep up the good work!

Cheers, Michael Buttrey

Nietzsche isn't entirely comprehensible to me. I much prefer Ortega y Gasset as a philosopher of history...


Subject: FPRI Strategy review conference thoughts

Geehrte Herr Doktor Pournelle,

Thank you kindly for posting the link to the FPRI report on future strategy options for the United States. Fascinating material.

I found many of the statements by academics at the conference to be predictable, reflecting common biases and attitudes replete in out universities in relation to the uses and abuses of national power in international affairs. It seemed to boil down to a question we have always struggled with, the old problem George Washington warned us about in 1797, "Entangling alliances" and a "a passionate connection to a foreign nation".

That leads to thoughts on one such "passionate connection" that I see leading many of us in a false direction. I mean the passionate connection to China as a potential adversary. With some caveats, I find this to be unlikely.

I have some knowledge on this subject, as five years ago I wrote a 26 part series of television shows on the history of China, "Celestial Kingdom: Path Of The Dragon". In several of these documentaries I explored the Chinese view of the world and how it has guided their strategic thinking. It's important to remember that nations do have interests that transcend the "particularist" details of the moment such as ideology and personalities. Some examples of this from European history would be: Louis Fourteenth wanted to use Spain to augment and cement French hegemony on the continent. Napoleon sought the same a century later. The French invaded Italy to fight the Austrians every hundred years or so from the late middle ages to Napoleon. Russia wanted warm water ports under the Tsars, pressuring the Turks. Under the communists they tried going around the Turks with Arab client sates. Then they tried the Afghan adventure in hope of something developing there (yes, there were other reasons for their Afghan sojourn, but warm water ports in Iran and India were never far from their minds).

China has traditionally sought to maintain their position as the center of the world. That sounds funny, and also threatening, to Western ears. If a western nation thinks of itself, innately, as the center of the world", it would almost by definition seek to dominate the world. Such is not the Chinese attitude.

China developed into a nation state (I would argue the first one, as it was an effective nation state with an attached empire of subject nations two thousand years ago, though with interregnums of chaos intervening until about 800 years ago since which it has been a nation-state continually. Understanding the conditions in which China developed into a state are vital to understanding how they view the world today and what the Chinese see as their "vital interests".

China was isolated. The Pacific ocean to the east was a barrier to contact with any but a few peripheral islands and associated aboriginal peoples. To the north and west lay some of the most forbidding deserts and forests known, sparsely peopled with various tribes of hunter-gatherers and nomadic horse riding herdsmen whose taste for and skill at war that make our own Sioux and Apache pale in comparison. Then to the south lie the Himalayan's, only the most terrible mountain barrier on Earth. The jungles of southeast Asia completed the encirclement of China. All of this led the Chinese state to develop in isolation and to come to a view of itself as the center of creation. Indeed, the traditional name for China in Mandarin Chinese translates literally as "Middle Kingdom", centered between ocean, jungle, desert, mountains and overall the heavens. The Chinese traditionally have not viewed themselves as threatened by the world They've barely been aware of the world until it kicked in the door in the 18th and 19th centuries in the form of British ships on the southern shores and Russian soldiers on the northern borders. Until then the Chinese had only had experience, in any continuing and substantial way, with barbarian tribes (famously the Huns and Mongols, though there were many others) and a few small kingdoms they viewed as at best semi-barbarians (e.g. the Vietnamese and Burmese).

Indeed, when the Russians and British (and other Europeans) began to show up in the 1600's, the Ming rulers of China sought to deal with them using the same tools of statecraft they had used so successfully against the barbarians.

The Chinese think of themselves, innately, as the only truly civilized people. It's an attitude modified by the last two hundred years of interaction with the western world, but underneath it is still there. To their leadership China is the center of the world, and there's not much in the rest of the world worth getting excited over, much less fighting over.

Yes, the Chinese need energy for an economy that is in a race to keep growing lest it implode and bring down the whole structure. The Chinese economy is so riddled with internal contradictions and cumshaw arrangements cobbled together at the spur of the moment to solve immediate problems (with no thought for future consequences) as to more resemble a Rube Goldberg mousetrap than a modern industrial economy. If they don't get energy, it will inevitably fall into a "shaking out" period that in it's effects will dwarf our own Great Depression of the 1930s. Imagine a hundred million Chinese workers losing their jobs in a year or two.

The Chinese leadership are riding a tiger, and cannot get off or stop the tiger, or even guide him much at all.

The Chinese state has always been averse in the extreme to risk taking. Remember, they believe that China is the center of the world. "It it's worth a damn, we either have it, or had it (first!) and we will make it again. They just don't believe in foreign adventures. Read about the Chinese treasure fleets of the 1400s, how they sailed the Indian Ocean all the way to Africa in ships that were ten times the size of any European vessel of the period, explored, surveyed and then returned to China, BURNED THE SHIPS, BURNED THE DESIGNS FOR THE SHIPS, MADE IT A DEATH PENALTY OFFENSE TO BUILD AN OCEAN GOING SHIP AND NEVER LOOKED BACK! There was nothing out there worth a damn, they had just checked to be certain.

China will fight over threats to the core. They want Taiwan, and they will someday try to take it. That's the extent of the threat they pose to the USA. We have to somehow manage the transition of the Chinese state into fully developed nation, and keep Taiwan from leading to a war none of the three parties wants.

Someone will doubtless point to the bellicose statements of Chinese generals about war with the USA, whether hot or cold, with missiles or internet probes by armies of Chinese hackers. This is classic Chinese strategy in the working. "Make noise in the east while preparing for war in the west." is how it was put by Sun Tzu in his treatise on war. If you want to develop your economy and avoid disastrous foreign adventures (and keep the barbarians at the gates from thinking they can just walk in and upset the whole apple cart), then keep the barbarians guessing, threaten them, and also offer them a sweet economic deal that they cannot refuse. Hey, why not? it worked on the Hun's!

`That's how the Chinese think.

Lastly, the Chinese don't really like being soldiers, and what a nation does not like,. they are not very good at. Not consistently. Despite the formidable fighting they did in Korea, the Chinese just don't like war very much, and traditionally look down on soldiering.. "One doesn't use good wood for a fire, or good men for soldiers." is an old Chinese proverb. I think it speaks volumes about the Chinese propensity for militarism and world domination.

Sorry for the great length of this comment, but I just want to get the idea out there that the Chinese are just not ever going to be a threat to the West on any level that approaches that of the old Soviet Union. ItI shake my head when I see such a "passionate attachment" to an idea that is so at odds with reality. Venezuela is more of a threat to US interests today than China will ever be. Here we have the fourth largest oil producer in the world, ruled by a passionately anti-American dictator who is buying billions of dollars worth of weapons from the Russians (and anyone else who will sell) AND he's trying to spread his "revolution" to neighboring countries. All of this just a thousand miles south of our soi disant borders. Heck, if Hugo Chavez were in the Middle East we'd already have invaded! (No, I don't think we ought to invade Veneauela. But where is this threat mentioned in the FPRI report?)

Don't get me started.

Petronius The Challenger

Parts of that read like the essay I just wrote for the February column on Google and China and the like.

I have a different view of China from some of my colleagues. I was never enthusiastic back in the cold war days when the Russians wanted our cooperation to nuke the chinks. As Possony pointed out in the mid 60's, China and Russia are not natural allies, while China and America had some strong common interests.

I suspect my February column essay will cause some stir here and there.


Subject: Re: Mini Ice Age predicted.

One scientist does not a trend make.

That said, the issue of solar variability has not been well looked at, and may have some effects of that kind.

However, to extrapolate this one report into a reason to not reduce CO2 emissions strikes me as dangerously risky. The high probability outcome is still that greenhouse gasses will trigger significant warming.

Further, a small amount of that warming is already happening, and if it reaches a tipping point in 20-30 years, the arrival of a solar radiation decline could be too little, too late.

I agree in general with your position of more studies and more data required, but sititng on our hands until a final for sure answer could take more time than we can risk waiting.


Reduce Co2 emissions. I see. Cost is trillions. Effect -- not known. And suppose we then find that it does no good? Having spent the easily available money on froth we then will have to raise money to address the real problems.

Try a simple analysis of decisions in uncertainty. Make it simple. Suppose two possible futures. Future 1 has an enormous negative payoff. Cost of remedy is high. Future 2 has an enormous negative payoff. Cost of remedy is high. The two remedies are incompatible. We cannot afford both. What is it worth to reduce the uncertainty as to which future will prevail? Show your work and justify your answer. Discuss the relevance of this analysis to policy on global warming.

As to your tipping point, please show me where you find evidence that this is likely? While you are at it, let us have an objective analysis of the costs/benefits of a rise in global temperature. Take into account longer growing seasons, and turning vast areas into arable land. Also take into account the probable increases in rainfall given the increased energy available for water transport.

We could continue, but perhaps the point is made?

As to reducing CO2, a program to convert fossil fuel sources of energy in the US to nuclear, space solar, and other would go a ways toward reducing US CO2 contributions (which, given the increases in forests in the country are not so high as many suppose). It probably would not reduce total global CO2 because if the US stops buying oil the price will fall and others will buy it and burn it; after all it only costs about $5 a barrel to produce, so there's considerable elasticity here.

I know that one scientist does not a trend make, even if he is Hansen. You might be astonished at how many do not agree with him; and at just how much evidence of solar variation there is. Try looking up the 19th century records on the brightness of Mars and Venus. And compare the "Executive Summary" prepared by politicians with the actual scientific report of the Kyoto conference.

The global warming furor is largely economic: there is a huge lobby of people whose livelihood depends on grants, and whose grants depend on panic. It's a lobbying effort for earmarked funding, and one of the most successful ever done; and not all that long ago the same groups -- indeed in many cases the same people -- were promoting panic over the coming Ice Ages. Seven fat years followed by seven lean years. The Genesis Strategy.

Do something, even if it's wrong, even if it uses up all the resources before we know what to do, is seldom the proper strategy. I doubt that it is this time.

If we were serious about CO2 releases we would be working on large alternative sources of energy. If we do not provide alternatives, then we are asking the West to impoverish itself with the full knowledge that only military action would prevent the developing countries from using fossil fuels and increasing their CO2 contributions. I know of two alternate sources on the scale needed: nuclear power, and space solar power. Tell me again just how much we are spending on each compared to, say, holding conferences and lobbying for Kyoto.

Now tell me how serious we are.


Making a Living in Second Life.


 Roland Dobbins

I suppose it had to come...


Let a thousand beatings blossom.


-- Roland Dobbins

Law and order, Chinese style. Civil rights watch, anyone?


Paul Craig Roberts loses it.

Much of what he says is true; however, it appears he's slipping into conspiracy-land vis-a-vis O.K. City and 9/11. The fact that he published this at loony-Left counterpunch.org also belies the fact that he appears to be going off the deep end in much the same way as did Pat Buchanan:


- Roland Dobbins

As you say. And it's a very bad thing. Roberts is an important thinker, one of the people we used to rely on for clear thinking.

The problem was summed up by my barber this morning. The Republicans have become old pols, far more interested in their perks of office and in holding on to power than anything else; the spirit of the Contract With America is long gone. OK, turn the rascals out; that's the usual remedy for a party that has been in power too long, and when I was a Director of the Robert A. Taft Institute for the Study of Government we used to look at the two-party system: it was designed for rule by consensus, and party swings mainly happened when some of the center of one party shifted over, or when Independents and Undecided voters had enough of the party in power. Hugh Bone defined a party as a group whose purpose was to capture control of the government and hold it for as long as possible. Party shifts didn't signal any great change, just a shakeout of people who had governed too long.

But: as my barber put it this morning, you can't turn to the Democrats because they are crazy. Now understand, this is an Italian immigrant (been here 30 years) who works extremely hard, believes in hard work, doesn't like lazy bums and spongers, and was a Democrat most of his life. And he's afraid of the Democrats now.

Yet the Republicans have been in office too long. There needs to be a change in who occupies the Speaker's Suite, and which staffers are overpaid and which are underpaid, and who the lobbyists kowtow to.

The President is under the control of Jacobins. The war in Iraq is expensive. It's not a disaster or anything like one. We ought not have got into it, but now the best way out is to stay the course. We are winning. We won't like Iraq when it's all over, but it will be better than Saddam, and in fact we may be making important changes in the power structure of the Middle East. We need now to bring the war to a close by standing down, slowly, as we turn more and more over to local control. We won't set up a puppet kingdom, and the result isn't going to be all that pleasing, but the troops can feel they have done something worth while -- they will have slain a dragon and have left the place in better shape than when they went in -- and the long term effects may well be splendidly beneficial. It will take a while but we have a while, and the casualty rate isn't all that high. Too high, no question about it, but not prohibitive. We do need to be out of there before the long term effects on the Army are too severe; we're meeting recruiting goals by lowering standards, and this isn't good; but once we are out of there we can get rid of some of the substandard troops by simple attrition while quietly raising the bar again.

In a word, the President isn't doing the job I would like done, but it's not a disaster. But what he is not doing is controlling the Congress or making any dent whatever in the growth of the Federal Monster.

Fine. Turn the rascal out -- only to whom? Gore? Hillary? Howard Dean?

On the Congressional side it's worse. Kennedy as Chairman of Judiciary? Republicans have opened the spending flood gates something awful. The remedy is to vote in a Congress that is more frugal with the people's money. Where do we get it?

Despair is a sin, but it's pretty clear that the structure of the parties is broken in a fundamental way, and there needs to be a radical change in how the parties select their candidates. Another time I can expand on this.

So: my friend Professor Roberts has despaired and is turning to the enemy for comfort. He won't get any there, and he has no business over there in that whacko fever swamp of the left. This is tragedy, alas with a touch of farce. I wish that were not so.



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, February 9, 2006

Subject: Comment on Paul Craig Roberts and Who Will Save America

Dear Jerry,

I read Paul's article and it appears he is saying substantially the same thing as you. Perhaps Paul "has (NOT ) turned to the enemy for comfort". Perhaps he is using the left wing web site as a means to get his position heard and nothing more?

I admit I know nothing about this other than what I have read, but the positions and opinions he advocates appear to be conservative in the "true" (out of fashion but only proper) sense of the word. Perhaps Counter Punch publishes it simply because it is anti-Bush even if they do not agree with reasoning behind it?

Any additional thoughts on the matter appreciated.


Bruce Edwards

Still thinking on it. It's not a subject for a few lines before I get out of town.



Ghengis Khan's tomb found?


-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Stiletto


(No attached files on this.)



"San Diego (Jan. 31, 2006) - The experimental boat ship "Stiletto" shown moored in San Diego. Stiletto is more than 80 feet in length and has a carbon-composite hull, which assist the boat to travel at speeds more than 50 knots. The boat will be used to transport special operations forces to their mission quickly. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley (RELEASED) "

Same general type of design as Philip's ship. Perhaps it will catch on.



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


Subject: Military Space Roles buffy willow


Military role in space said set to expand Wed Feb 8, 2006 6:49 PM ET

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The military's role in deterring attacks on commercial satellites is set to be strengthened in the first broad overhaul of U.S. space policy in a decade, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

The policy would remove any ambiguity about official responsibility for figuring out who was behind any attack on U.S.-owned commercial satellites, said Air Force Col. Anthony Russo, head of the U.S. Strategic Command's space division



A consummation devoutly to be wished.


Subject: The DC-X to be resurrected by USMC?

Jerry, This looks quite interesting and plausible. Hopefully not just authorial wishful thinking. Now only if it will be followed up on. The Leathernecks may be just the ones stubborn enough to do it, dragging enough of the establishment with it, kicking and screaming.


Perhaps you've heard of this proposal for a Marine RLV but I've never notice you mention it.


In July 2002, the Marine Corps released a Universal Needs Statement that defined the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN) concept that, if successful, will give the US a “…heretofore unimaginable assault support speed, range, altitude and strategic surprise” capability. SUSTAIN is an RLV that will carry a squad (13 men) into space and land it anywhere on Earth within two hours with, among other requirements, “flexible launch on demand… to any orbital inclination.”

This was part of the original SSX briefing, although not emphasized since DC/X was funded through SDI; but the ability to put a squad on the ground anywhere is clearly useful in this day and age; couple that with THOR. Then go read The Prince by Jerry Pournelle, a novel that illustrates the use of combinations like that.


Subject: NASA offers X-Prizes

It looks as though NASA has decided to increase their experiment with offering X-Prize style programs. These new prizes (rules are not yet finalized) appear to be geared toward an incremental approach to creating a moon base, as opposed to a single prize for someone who can build a moonbase.


René Daley

This needs comment; later. But I've been pushing the concept for years and it's good to see at least some attention being paid to it.


Subject: China: The Last Empire

“Petronius the Challenger” does not seem to be entirely well-informed about Chinese history.

“China developed into a nation state (I would argue the first one, as it was an effective nation state with an attached empire of subject nations two thousand years ago, though with interregnums of chaos intervening until about 800 years ago since which it has been a nation-state continually.”

I would argue otherwise. The Ch’in-Han Empire seems to me to be very like New Kingdom Egypt, Amorite Babylonia, or the Maurya Empire, to choose examples that occurred before it, or the Roman and Ottoman Empires, which did indeed occur after it (the Roman Empire overlapped in time, but was unquestionably a couple of centuries younger). All of them were the end-stage empires resulting from internecine warfare among the polities of a given culture.

The “long” interregna were the periods from the fall of the Han until the rise of the Sui (quickly followed by the T’ang), and from the fall of the T’ang until the Mongol conquest, both about three and one-half centuries in length. Toynbee viewed the former interregnum as marking a fundamental divide in Chinese culture; the period of the Chou through the Han (about 975 BCE – 220 CE) he called “Sinic”, and the period from the Sui through the Ch’ing (Manchus) he called “Far Eastern”. He considered them two different cultures, masked by the fact that they grew up on the same ground, and the second was thus able to borrow the forms of the first, as the West less perfectly did from Rome. Taking the latter analogy perhaps further than it should go, we might view the T’ang as the “dawn empire” of Far Eastern culture, analogous to the earlier Chou hegemony or the Holy Roman Empire (the T’ang Empire was never really united after the An Lu-shan rebellion of the late 750s).

“The Chinese traditionally have not viewed themselves as threatened by the world They've barely been aware of the world until it kicked in the door in the 18th and 19th centuries in the form of British ships on the southern shores and Russian soldiers on the northern borders.”

Which fails explain the Great Wall, or the militaristic parody of the Han created by the Ming to keep the Mongols from coming back, or T’ang and Manchu conquests. The true is rather the opposite; when not pre-occupied by threats or internal disunion, the Chinese (like every other human empire) have expanded as far as the limits of technology permitted (was it not Herman Kahn who said that the natural course of empire was to expand until stopped by a stronger empire?)

“Read about the Chinese treasure fleets of the 1400s, how they sailed the Indian Ocean all the way to Africa in ships that were ten times the size of any European vessel of the period, explored, surveyed and then returned to China, BURNED THE SHIPS, BURNED THE DESIGNS FOR THE SHIPS, MADE IT A DEATH PENALTY OFFENSE TO BUILD AN OCEAN GOING SHIP AND NEVER LOOKED BACK! There was nothing out there worth a damn, they had just checked to be certain.”

Historians are fairly certain that the “treasure fleets” were the Yung Lo emperor’s way of ensuring that among the things not to be found in barbarian regions was the nephew he had usurped, and who was rumored to have escaped from Nanking.

All this is to say that “China” (i.e., the area conquered by Ch’in Shih Huang Ti, the “First Emperor”) was no more or less isolated than the New Kingdom or Rome. To imagine that it sprung into being occupying some pre-determined territory and then existed in splendid and peaceful isolation thereafter is a serious misreading of its history.

John W. Braue, III



"[R. Tarfon] used to say: it is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to be idle from it." -- Pirke Avot 2:21

This needs comment. Alas I don't have time this morning. I'll collect yours.


Subject: Scientists Find 'Lost World' in Indonesia

Probe on the way to Pluto, a tenth "planet" discovered; meanwhie in our own backyard:

Scientists Find 'Lost World' in Indonesia


Soon after scientists landed by helicopter in the mist-shrouded mountains of one of Indonesia's most remote provinces, they stumbled on a primitive egg-laying mammal that simply allowed itself to be picked up and brought to their field camp.

Describing a "Lost World" — apparently never visited by humans — members of the team said Tuesday they also saw large mammals that have been hunted to near-extinction elsewhere and discovered dozens of exotic new species of frogs, butterflies and palms.

"We've only scratched the surface," said Bruce Beehler, a co-leader of the monthlong trip to the Foja Mountains, an area in the eastern province of Papua with roughly 2 million acres of pristine tropical forest.

"There was not a single trail, no sign of civilization, no sign of even local communities ever having been there," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

The more we learn, the more we realize how little we know.

Petronius The Socratic


Subject: NCLB Standards for  Football


Here is an explanation of NCLB that any football fan will understand.

Subject No Child Left Behind: The Football Version

1. All teams must make the state playoffs, and all will win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time and in the same conditions. No exceptions will be made for interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities. ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL.

3. Talented players will be asked to work out on their own without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in football, have limited athletic ability or whose parents don't like football.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in 4th, 8th and 11th games.

5. This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child will be left behind.


-- Gordon Foreman

"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about."

- Einstein

But of course...


Subject:  -- A "Natasha Headroom" Story?

Interesting assertions here on the propagation of the WMF exploits...



Bill Ernoehazy, MD http://www.dedoc.net ________________

Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.

--Theodore Roosevelt


Subject: Fred on Religion

Thoughtful column on religion and the American aristocracy today, Dr. Pournelle.



"I find myself wondering why the ruling classes of America are so grindingly antagonistic to religion. I understand having no interest in religion. I do not understand the animosity."


"In almost all times and places, disbelief and secularism have existed, yes. Few educated Romans actually believed in Jupiter the Lightning Chucker. There have been Cathars and Wiccans and Manicheans and innumerable agnostics. Yet, so far as I know, only communism and Americanism (is that the word, perhaps?) have tried to eradicate religion."


"Why the angry rejection in the US? I will get email telling me that it is a Jewish plot, like everything else, but in fact it is the default attitude of the educated. Why? Who cares?"

Fred does not ask whether it is important to care, at least not specifically. Is it?

Charles Brumbelow

As usual, Fred asks the right questions; alas, I have no real answer. I think back to my college atheist days and try to imagine why anyone would care; but I can't. As Fred says, how is a Manger or a Crucifix offensive to an atheist or agnostic? Only to those who believe the symbols have meaning can they have any real meaning, surely.

And see below


Subject: More on Paul Craig Roberts.

More on Paul Craig Roberts.

As I pointed out in my initial email, much of what Professor Roberts says in cited article is quite accurate, and I agree with his positions on most of the issued he touches upon. Where I part company with him is when he appears to be giving credence to zany conspiracy theories about the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11.

I'm surprised that Mr. Edwards seems to find this kind of conspiracy- mongering -unsurprising-, heh.

-- Roland Dobbins

Again, my views in a nutshell. I have great regards for Roberts, and wonder how the conspirators got to him; but that's also my view about The American Conservative magazine. Excellent for the most part but bringing in Mailer and the fever swamps?




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  February 8, 2006

Subject: Harry on Fred on Heresy

The attitude in my part of the EU is even more anti-religious than it is in America. See <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2033410,00.html> . This is despite there being established churches in many of the countries. The attitude we encounter is very similar to that described in this story: <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/10/nyregion/10immigration.html>. 

By the way, both cases went the way you seemed to have hoped for. The average Englishman has a lot of common sense and doesn't suffer fools gladly.

By the way, the Lib-Dems upset labour in Gordon Brown's home constituency up in Scotland. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4699862.stm

-- "The data (or the marks when teaching) are sacrosanct--they tell us what actually happened." Harry Erwin, PhD http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her

Orwell in 1984 held out a faint hope that the proles would shake off the foul regime of Big Brother, and Pareto points out that there is eventually a circulation of elites when the lions finally do away with the foxes. One wonders. But I am glad to hear that English juries still have some good sense. Perhaps it will rub off on American juries.


Subject: Liberalism and Truth

"And that, I put it to you, is a sign that the land of the mother of parliaments is far gone indeed; and that if it can happen in England, it can happen here."

As I remember it, one of the first acts of Jury Nullification occurred in the 1750s. An American editor, John Peter Zenger , wrote a piece against the Governor of New York Colony which was true. However, English law held that Liable was Liable and the truth of the matter was not relevant. The American jury ignored the law and voted acquittal.

Seems like its been happing in England for a very long time.

Charles Butler

We have many mechanisms in place; the Framers built well. But you will note that jury nullification is a forbidden defense and it is contempt of court to appeal that way to the jury. One wonders, though, if some courts do not deserve contempt?


Subject: Liberalism and Truth

Well, yes, up to a point. But events have unrolled than suggest that your view is rather a bit too gloomy. Alas, it is always fashionable to depict the Brits as slipping down the slippery slopes of decadence and social disintegration, but the fact of the matter as it emerged (possibly after you wrote your article) is that Imam Abu Hanza was duly convicted by a British jury and sent to prison for seven years. Around about the same time, another British jury cleared Nick Griffin of 4 of the charges against him, and were undecided on the remaining two - he now faces the possibility of a re-trial on these, but on the other hand, the authorities may decline to pursue this.

Regarding the latter decision, British juries (more specifically - English ones) historically have come up with some notoriously obstinate verdicts. During the Napoleonic wars, when the government of the day passed increasingly repressive laws against subversion and dissent, there were some notable verdicts by juries who found defendants innocent of all charges, despite the clearest possible evidence of their 'guilt'.

So maybe we're not such a soft touch after all, particularly if we manage to retain that proven instrument of justice developed by our ancestors so long ago - trial by jury.

R Morgan

I see your point but I would not care to be retried several times for telling the truth...


Subject: Liberalism and Truth

Dear Dr Pournelle,

Please do not write England off just yet; absurd things may happen driven by some daft vision of multi-cultural "liberalism" but the English people and the English jury system continue to fight back.

To let you know the result of the two cases you refer to, Abu Hamza was found guilty and sentenced to seven years - despite his legal team's best effort to obscure the truth while Nick Griffin walked free - despite the unpleasant nature of most of his utterances (the bit about terrorism was only a small part of a catalogue of reasons why non-whites should be feared).

Interesting to note that Hamza was convicted under the old 19th Century law on incitement to murder while they could not convict Griffin under the new crime of inciting racial hatred.

Thanks for all thought provoking discussion on Chaos Manor.

Alasdair Urquhart

But they can try Griffin again and again. The new aristocracy has neither good sense or a sense of humor. Rule by the New Class. Djilas used to tell us what would happen. We don't read Djilas any more but then we don't need to, we can see the results...


Subject: The Fight for Copyright - Francis Hamit

Dear Jerry:

The link below is the first of series of post to "The Fight For Copyright" blog about the ALCS in London. I really like these folks and the way they think about writers' rights. I'm urging people to join and support them since Copyright is a global problem.


Francis Hamit



Subject: What the Chinese Really Believe

Sort of echoes some of what ai recently wrote:

What the Chinese Really Believe


February 7, 2006: Chinese views, among the national leadership, are often not the same as those we attribute to them. For example, India is not perceived as a major rival, unlike Japan or the U.S., They don’t believe war with the US is likely, unless we mess with Taiwan. They believe the experience in Bosnia and Kosovo indicate America understands “political warfare” much better than China does. And they don’t seem to think we’re “bogged down” in Iraq so much as that we’re gaining valuable combat experience (maybe a million “seasoned” troops by the time it’s over) as well as learning all sorts of new tricks in how to fight insurgencies, and how to use new military technologies.

Thanks for all you do.

I might respond to the cogent and well written critique of my recent "China no threat" post, if you think it's worth pursuing. The Chinese are interesting. I think in many ways they are the most understandable (to Americans) of the East0A sian peoples. They certainly do seem, mostly, to like us Yanks for who we are, rather than what we can do.

Petronius The Polymath Pundit (Self proclaimed, patent pending)

Possony, who represented Taiwan in arguments before the World Court, always had interesting views on China, and I got my training from him. I think the old fox understood them as well as they understand themselves.

I have a good bit about China coming out in the column, and my contract keeps me from duplicating it here.

Heh, is Dunnigan a reader here?


The Prudent Chinese

February 8, 2006: While the Chinese get blamed for having an adventurous foreign policy, they are actually quite prudent. The Chinese often turn down opportunities to get their weapons, or troops (as trainers, advisors, or whatever) into distant lands. A recent example of this occurred when leftist Evo Morales, the newly elected president of Bolivia, visited China. He made a big pitch for significant aid, apparently invoking revolutionary rhetoric about " fighting the Imperialists." The Chinese made polite noises, promised some aid, and did not commit themselves. This seems to be in keeping with recent Chinese policy, to be publicly somewhat distant from the US, but to support its actions – or at least not oppose them – when it comes to real issues.

Petronius The Misunderstanding

Very likely, but it's a conclusion easily reached by those who pay attention.


Subject: antireligion -

Hi Dr. Pournelle,

You asked, with Fred on Everything, why are some people so anti religious these days? So intolerant about it? Your question was, why do they care? I couldn't help mischievously answering, "because they are the minions of Satan, of course!" Hey, I'm just kidding.

The real answer is, you're lumping everything together under the same umbrella. The opposition to teaching so-called intelligent design, isn't from the same roots as the opposition to religious imagery in government buildings, and so on... the former is because people realistically fear the erosion of knowledge by belief systems creeping in, and the latter because society is more diverse now and there are a lot of people now who do not share the whitebread beliefs of 30 or more years ago, and take it as offensive now that their faces are being rubbed into it (they should get a life, but they have a right to make their feelings known anyway as far as I'm concerned.)

Personally, I don't care; people can do whatever the heck they choose, so long as they don't make ME (and mine) do it, and don't restrict MY/our freedoms, and don't seem to be gearing up to do so either.



My father started Unitarian Fellowships in half a dozen towns and I was raised a good Unitarian. This isn't the place to detail my odyssey from Unitariansism to Rome, back to Unitariansim, then through Communism to where I am now; but perhaps it will suffice that when as a youth I went to a place that required chapel attendance my father, who grew up Southern Baptist and was thrown out of Southern College for reading James Harvey Robinson's The Mind in the Making((still worth reading), told me I could choose any service I wanted -- except the Baptist. And when I was in Christian Brothers College High School I once wandered into a Baptist service where I heard a sermon on how the Roman Church was the Whore of Babylon, and the Brothers described in language that I won't repeat here, more or less confirming my father's opinion that intellectuals of any kind had no business with such people.

None of this is relevant to the war on religion being conducted by our New Class masters. Whatever my views of some interpretations of fundamentalist Christianity, I am hardly harmed by allowing them to participate in public ceremonies. If their minister, asked to give an invocation at the dedication of a public building, chooses to misuse the opportunity in a rude manner, he won't be invited back. We managed such matters for 200 years. Many of the Framers were Unitarians or Deists. Unitarianism as late at 1956 had many traces of traditional Christianity, as I can personally attest. The US managed to have mangers in the public squares, and to pay at least lip service to religion in public life.

Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.

The chance that someone will be seduced by a few sentences on Intelligent Design inserted into an entire course on biology presented from the Darwinian view is absrud on the face of it, and I can say that anyone who doesn't understand that is being deliberately obtuse, and doesn't in fact believe it himself. There is no threat to science from religion, and I don't thing there are any colleges left (well, I can think perhaps of one or two but they are hardly the intellectual future of America) where one would be expelled for reading The Mind In the Making, or Dawkins, or much else; although I can name many in which an attempt to initiate a discussion of Behe in class will get you poor marks.

Our masters of the New Class are jealous: religion is a rival they cannot brook. Symbols of religion must go, wherever they are found. Thou shalt worship the State with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind. Or else.


Subject: Eradicating religion...

Dr. Pournelle:

Congratulations on reaching Week 400--what an achievement! It has been many moons since I've written to you, and equally as long since I've re-upped my subscription. I promise to rectify that as soon as practicable. Keep up the good work!

Respectfully, I'd suggest that the purported "eradication" of religion is a bit of an over-reaction. It's a slippery slope: how long before Christians begin to sound like the Hebrews, finding anti-Christian thought under every rock they send a missionary?

I don't self-identify as an atheist; really, I simply don't identify. I lack faith, in both the religious and the evolutionist position (if those two positions can be said to describe a continuum). I use the tools that make the most sense to me, and for now, the evolutionary position is the only one that makes any sense at all. When a better one comes along, I'll consider it. Maybe <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster">Pastafarianism</a>?

What my position leaves me with is a simple fact: the only thing I truly have is time, and I am the sum of my experiences. Second by second, minute by minute, my life is zipping by, and I don't want any of that time wasted by the faithful trying to get me to eat of their fruit.

At the core of my lack of faith is a strong horror at the astounding WASTE of time and energy consumed by organized religion. I look at the Sunday hordes and am amazed at the result. The recent hullabaloo in Denmark is equally despairing.

Anyone can see the way that religion has informed and dominated art, politics and culture throughout history. However, one can't acknowledge the wonderful artifacts and outcomes of these faithful without also acknowledging the many (if not more) horrors and atrocities committed by the same hands, at the behest of the same leaders, in the name of the same gods.

It is impossible to separate displays of faith and the inherent imperialism in all faiths. Displays of faith are similar to wearing the shirt of a favorite sports team or other organization--it is an attempt to differentiate, to promote that organization's virtues over others. We are still monkeys on the savannah, with poo-flinging and pack politics as central dynamics in the dialectic. Any of the organized religions would willfully consume as much time and resources as I would give them, if I just gave them the chance. I take this as raw imperialism, and competition for my resources.

Yes, when there's a manger on the town square, I can simply ignore it and turn my head, but then next year, it's a manger and a cross, and the next it's a manger, cross and a ceremony. Display is never enough--each faith has its components of imperialism and eradication of the competition, and given an opening, each faith will drive incursions further and further into the public space. The Judeo/Christian ethic is no different from Islam and any other faith in this regard.

When the faithful push their tailfeathers in my face and demand that I respect their irrational and imperialistic faith, they deign to consume some of my precious time in their recruiting drive, and to that, I object--strongly.

Cheers, -k

--- Keith C. Langill

Come now. You can't tell me you do not see the difference between the Town Council deciding that it will end the Christmas celebrations, and the ACLU bringing hugely expensive lawsuits to force them to do it?

Ceremonies were NOT expanding before the courts declared war on religion and the ACLU and the sourpusses, having lost in democratic procedures, went to the courts to get what they could not get from local government.

There probably is not one person in five thousand in Los Angeles County who felt offended by the tiny cross on the mission in the county seal, even after it was pointed out that it was there. Yet our New Class Masters have decided that even this tiny historical reminder of the history of this county is too much.

And it is ALWAYS said "well if they did this, then they will do more, and we have to stop it now"; but the fact remains that they did NOT do all that, religious displays were NOT expanding, bible verses were NOT required in classrooms (as they were when I went to Capleville consolidated; my father was sufficiently irritated by this that he had me memorize some verses from Leviticus that were pretty embarrassing, and after the third day of my reciting things like "do not give spoiled meat to your friends, and don't sell it in the marketplace, but give it to the stranger who comes to your gate" and the like, they gave up the practice; but no law suits, and not even political action in the school board).

I doubt that ten thousand people of the millions who live in Los Angeles County were offended that on Christmas Eve the employees left the lights in City Hall Tower to form a cross. The practice started when City Hall was the tallest building around and you could see that everywhere; by the time the courts decided that it was offensive to someone, it was hardly visible from much of a distance because the city was built up.

I don't claim that having a manger in the public square or crosses on City Hall Tower on Christmas Eve, or the Mayor participating in lighting a menorah, or having a protestant minister say an invocation at the dedication of a public building or subway has much effect on religion in the country. It does proclaim that it's all right to be religious, which may be important to a few people; and it was popular, and would NEVER have been stopped by any ordinary political action.

But the modern New Class of rulers of America cannot stand any notion that there is a Power greater than the State (which is to say themselves). And precisely how it is "democratic" to ignore the wishes of the people in favor of the theoretical injuries of a bunch of whiney intellectuals is beyond me. I suspect it is a crisis of conscience on their part: they are envious of those who have a religion, they having pretty well lost theirs; and as they grow older and face oblivion they hate those who don't have the same angst.

And I repeat what I have often said: those who demand equality must show some reason for us to assume that equality is a good idea. I know of none other than religion. People are not equal in any other respect. The distance from God to Man is so large, it is said, that differences among men vanish from that great height. This is comprehensible. Don Apollo could see the Image of Christ in the peasant in the square when Thon Thaddeau the scientist belittled the peasant (and thereby glorified himself). It was one of Miller's more powerful images. And I wait for anyone else to give a better answer.

We sow the wind in our war on religion, for what will replace it will be what usually replaces religion: worship of the state, and of those who control it.

As to wasting your precious time, unless you live in an extraordinarily evangelistic area, I suspect the average telemarketer, politician, spam artist, etc. each has wasted considerably more of your time than collectively all the missionaries who try to convert you.




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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Subject: Marxist memes

You will probably agree with this, despite the fact that it was written by a hard-core libertarian.


-- Robert Bruce Thompson

I didn't have a chance to read all that, but I did have this response:

 I probably will have to take this seriously and reply to it.

It is a fundamental point.

If rights adhere only to individuals, then we end up with Hobbes: Leviathan has all the rights that ordinary people do not have, and there is nothing to stand between an individual and the state.

The results of that are predictable and have been predicted and the predictions have come true year after year, century after century. If there are no institutions between you and the State, be that monarch or bureaucracy, you will have few rights, liberties, or freedoms, and those only when the State is a monarchy, not a bureaucracy.

But if it requires institutions -- feudal institutions, perhaps -- to stand between you and the state and defend you - a Union, Science Fiction Writers of America, Screen Actors guild, the Church, Opus Dei, the Salvation Army, The American Civil Liberties Union, the YMCA -- I could go on at length, but read Tocqueville for more details == then do those institutions not require some rights of their own in order to continue to exist?

And of course they will abuse those rights. We all do.

As I said, I'll have to give this a bit of thought before I reply in public, but thanks for showing it to me.

Me, I am not a Hobbesian, and I do not believe that the only rights are those I can hold for myself without institutions to protect them -- and that the institutions that protect my rights deserve some rights of their own.

[Above was what I sent Thompson in reply, but I decided it was worth posting; it is certainly incomplete.]





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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Subject: Intelligent Design Gedanken experiment


I recently got to review the materials proposed for ID curriculum in our local school district; they were posted for comment by the school board at the public library; the local modus is "post it in a library, get signatures and comments, put it up to the school board with 'strong community support'"

Interestingly, no electronic copies were made available, and news that they were posted in the library was very carefully run as a small ad in the "congregational listings" section of the newspaper. Apparently, only those who go to church should know about this proposed addition to the biology curriculum.

I suppose they're trying to avoid controversy.

The materials state that Darwinian selection is a "merely a theory". So far, so good. It also states that the theory is "unproven". OK, now that's double plus ungood for presentation in a science class.

They flatly assert that Darwinian selection has never observably produced a new species. Taxonomically, by at least two definitions, a Great Dane and a Pekingese are man made separate species of canid, with wider separation than coyote and wolf; it's very difficult to get a Pekingese bitch to bear Great Dane pups, due to the difference in size; difficulty in interbreeding is one of the definitions of a new species. (Wolves and coys cross breed here...)

Darwinian selection of antibiotic resistant bacterium never gets a mention, of course - it's an inconvenient piece of observational data to the point being made. Science has to account for all the observable data.

They flat out state that radiocarbon dating is inaccurate, without stating why, or what is methodologically wrong with it. Apparently, quantifying the error means that the error exists, and therefore, since there's an acknowledged uncertainty, the whole apparatus must be scrapped.

One of the rationales for inclusion of this into the biology curriculum is that it presents an "alternate viewpoint" - that a divine creator made all things. I have no problems with presenting an alternate view point, provided it's not using the cloak of "antireliguous repression" to fling blatant misconceptions with no chance for rebuttal. Every biology text we use clearly states that there are things we don't know, and proposes some of the (current at the time of authorship) methods by which we're striving to find out.

ID, through several circumlocutions, comes to the position that "Darwinian selection is an unproven theory, relying on erroneous assumptions like radiocarbon dating, and is a direct assault on the idea that a divine creator made the world."

The bibliography included for further reading runs straight into Young Earth Creation Science.

I have no objection to teaching the Bible in public schools, provided it's taught in the class where it belongs - religion or civics or government. I'd dearly love to have the following concepts drilled into the heads of students, "Actions have consequences. You are responsible for your actions, and their consequences." It's one of those unspoken assumptions that needs to be spoken more often.

I do object to it being taught in biology class, and I will be fighting at the local level to keep it OUT of the biology class room here. We have local school boards for a reason; local school boards can be torpedoed by local actions (and voter apathy) as well.

The typical arguments propounding ID, from people who aren't young earth creationists, are these:

"It won't change any student's mind by the time it's presented to them as 14 year olds." (Yours and Fred Reed's)

Followed by

"It punctures the arrogance of the Darwinist (Left) by making them acknowledge there are things they don't know." (Fred Reed's)

The first argument:

It deliberately uses fuzzy semantic terms. Words mean things. "The theory is unproven" has NO place in a science class. The theory has not YET been disproven is a valid statement. I consider this to be doing harm, in much the same way that you consider the "he's only preaching Islam" to be a malarky defense in a trial for incitement to murder. Perhaps leading students to critical thinking requires a lower standard than criminal trials...

It also denies that the classroom time is a finite resource - there are roughly 225 hours of classroom time for biology instruction for a given class in a school year. This proposal wants to use 10-15 of them for ID.

The second argument:

I looked at the two biology texts our school district uses.

One does NOT mention the chain of "energy hits amino acids, forms proteins, which change as a result of more energy until one that can utilize energy and replicate results..."

One does mention it, but presents it as a "This is one chain of logic; there are things we just flat out don't know. Another is that amino acids and proteins came from cometary impacts, and all of these are suppositions that are untestable. We just don't know, but we're looking for more data."

(I will also point out that the ecology sections of both biology textbooks flat out state that anthropogenic global warming is a major problem that must be solved Before It's Too Late.)

Now, the gedankenexperiment:

Your local school board has had a "stealthed proposal" to include equal time for Illuminated Numerology in an already packed calculus class. A typical AP Calculus class is rushing the last three weeks before exam time to cover the last four chapters, with very little time spent on actually doing practical exercises. The IN proponents want to spend two weeks in the curriculum discussing the mystical nature of numbers, so that the illuminated nature of the universe is revealed, rather than being hidden by the blinders of rigidly algebraic thought. After all, algebra is only one interpretation of how numbers work, and there are competing theories. (And, sadly, there are competing theories...)

Would you consider this harmless, because it won't change any student's mind by the time they're 17 and in a Calculus class? What about the two weeks of time spent learning to do integrals that's displaced by this?

Would you consider it acceptable because it punctures the arrogance of the Mathematical Elite, who espouse things that normal people can't understand and assert them as proven?

I will concede that Calculus is, effectively, a trade skill being taught to people who can do abstract thought, as opposed to the "pack their heads full of trivia" that passes for biology or "earth science" instruction these days...but the difference in the subject matter is less important than the similarities in subording the class from its intended purpose to support an ideological agenda.

I consider ANY use of the curriculum in schools (by right or left) to promote an ideological agenda to be offensive, be it "all cultures are equal" or "God in Biology". I want them BOTH out of the schools, I want schools to teach assimilation into American culture, general literacy, civics and citizenship, and give those students with the nature to take it, a solid grounding in literature, history, mathematics and the sciences, or at the very least, a useful trade skill or three. All while teaching adolescents how to socialize with one another.

(Name withheld - I'm going to be getting enough flak for this locally.)


This is too long for me at this hour, but I point out that your analysis is very likely to be presented by any teacher.

Your experiment is nonsense. It won't happen, it hasn't happened, it will never happen, and the speculation is pointless. As to the case at hand:

I can't imagine a better lesson for the smarter kids in the class. For the rest, what do you care what they believe on this subject? Assuming they are studying biology at all?

Incidentally while a Pekinese and a St Bernard are unlikely to breed, and one hopes that if they do the St Bernard is the female, it is certainly not impossible, and the offspring would be fertile. On your reckoning a pygmy and a Watusi are different species.

But if this is your school district it is your problem to deal with, and perhaps excluding these people is best. Me, I'd welcome them because it is a good chance to show the difference between "not proven" which is impossible, and "not falsified". We approach "the Truth" only with a series of falsifiable statements. Once again the distinction is not likely to carry much weight with most of the class, who will be bored stiff and uninterested in the whole matter, but for those who need to know that distinction this would be an opportunity to show that and why it's important: and why the concept of "The Truth" doesn't have much scientific utility, but can be important in human affairs. Men die for The Truth, but seldom for "not falsified hypotheses." 

Whether or not they come out of class "believing in evolution" isn't likely to be that important.

There are an awful lot of successful people in this world who don't "believe in" evolution. There are many more who claim to but on whom the belief has no discernible effect. And there are many "scientists" who "believe in" Darwin and evolution and don't seem to follow those conclusions to any logical end: as for example those who insist that some trait that has a heavy evolutionary burden must be hereditary and thus never look for any other cause, or pay attention to any evidence for any other cause. Young Earth preachers seem to have closed minds, but no more closed than those of physicians who for years rejected the data of a Glendale dentist who reported that patients who took aspirin had fewer heart attacks than those who didn't. Or the physicians who rejected the notion that ulcers weren't caused by excess stomach acid and could be treated as a disease. Or the physicians who locked Ignatz Semmelweiss in a madhouse for insisting that childbed fever was iatrogenic.

An opportunity to show that religious fanatics and those who claim to be supporters of "science" use similar tactics and often sound much the same -- I call to mind Carl Sagan, usually a rational man, and the cheap stage tricks he used on Immanuel Velikovsky; by the end of the "debate" in which each talked past the other, the two sounded remarkably similar, and while Carl was no doubt correct and Velikovsky no doubt full of beans, the debate added little enlightenment to anyone. A meticulous shredding of Velikovsky's claims might have been enlightening, but Carl chose instead to demonstrate his cleverness.

As I say, it's your school district, and thus your business; but were I teaching science in schools I would welcome the opportunity to show the difference between science and belief, and what a proper scientific argument would look like.

As to specifics:

It is the case that we have not seen a new species created. We have theories but not evidence on this. On the other hand, the evidence doesn't contradict the theory of new species development, and no one will be astonished when we do find a case.

It is true that there are evolutionary developments that defy our ingenuity in showing how they could happen. We have theories that sort of stretch to show how an eye might develop from a light spot, but they are pretty tortured, and even the computer simulations need a bit of "intelligent design" to force the result we want: that is, if what you are aiming to get is an eye, it's not quite so hard to show a series of steps that lead there, but it is exceedingly difficult to the point of not yet being done to show any kind of likely path, and no simulation using random mutations and any rational environment gets from eyespot to eye. This is not to say that eyes didn't develop by natural selection; but we sure don't know how it happened, even though some arrogantly claim they do. The anti-Darwinist seize on this; but the Darwinists, despairing of showing how some of their mechanisms came into being, seize on suppression of opposite views just as heavily as the old fundamentalists did back in the days of the Scopes trial.

Science consists of falsifiable statements. This is a simple concept but one difficult to teach; me, I would welcome examples of non-falsifiable statements put forth as truth as a means of demonstrating the difference between science and non-science, and I would particularly welcome the opportunity to show that some who masquerade as scientists are just as intolerant and suppressive as any religious fundamentalist.

As an aside on the discussion of intelligent design, if there is a Designer, the platypus certainly shows a sense of humor. And as once observed, the Creator must have had an extraordinary fondness for beetles.


Subject: Iraq update,


The article below is one of the reasons I long ago gave up watching television: this kind of stuff never gets carried on the MSM (mainstream media).


Why Terrorist Activity Is Down

From http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/iraq/articles/20060212.aspx 

February 12, 2006: The annual Shia Ashura festival brings out the faithful in large numbers, and was banned when Saddam ruled. Since then, terrorists have attacked the Shia participants, killing 55 in 2005, and 181 in 2004. This year, the terrorists were unable to kill anyone. Iraqi police and soldiers supplied the security, with the help of some religious militias. This sharp drop in terrorist activity was no fluke.

Militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr have executed several captured al Qaeda operatives in recent weeks. While Sadr has been a thorn in the side of the government, and the Coalition, virtually since the onset 2003 invasion, and has several times "unleashed" his militias in open warfare against them, he's recently been curbing his more violent tendencies. Sadr is trying to increase his political influence. In addition, as Shias, especially Sadr's followers, have often been the targets of attacks by al Qaeda and by pro-Saddam Sunni Arab gangs. As a result, Sadr has begun using his forces against these groups. Whether this signals further reconciliation with the government remains to be seen. Sometimes there have been confrontations between Sadr gunmen and Iraqi police or American troops.

Citing the existence of Shia and Kurdish militias, some Sunni leaders in Anbar province are urging the government to recognize their local militias, which have been conducting operations against al Qaeda. This could provide increased Sunni Arab buy-in to the government that is now being formed. The risk, however, is that allowing these Sunni Arab armed groups to exercise control over Sunni Arab populations, the militias will often be stronger than local police. But the national government has increasingly powerful armed forces available. But the growth in government military and police power has begun to snowball. While police corruption is most noticed, there are a growing number of efficient police operations. More and more towns and neighborhoods are well policed and safe. Special police operations, like the SWAT and counter-terrorist units, are more numerous and effective. Partly as a result of that, there is increasing public outcry, especially via the numerous media outlets, that the government do something about the kidnapping gangs. It's an open secret who some of these gangs are, and some of them are protected by politicians or political parties. Some of the Sunni Arab terrorist groups are turning to crime, including kidnapping and contract killings. That's because terrorism is seen as a losing proposition, attacks are way down, and more of the "terrorism" events are turning out to be criminal (as in trying to make money) activity.

Terrorism has become difficult because there are more Iraqi soldiers in action, and more elite Iraqi troops are pulling off operations previously only carried out by coalition troops. These include night raids and airmobile (moving troops via helicopter) attacks. The U.S. is providing the helicopters, the Iraqis are providing the planning, leadership and troops. These operations are much more devastating for the terrorists. The Iraqi troops speak the language and can read the body language. So it's much more difficult for terrorists to get away, or keep stuff hidden, during these raids.

This success has made it easier, or just possible, for Sunni Arabs to join the army and police. Tribal chiefs in Anbar province have openly urged their young men to apply for these jobs, and thousands have done so. Al Qaeda and Sunni Arab groups still hostile to the government, attack these recruits at great peril. The tribes quickly go for revenge attacks when their people are hurt, and the terrorists are in a bad situation because of this shift in attitudes. There are fewer places where the terrorists can maintain workshops and safe houses.

There are far fewer (about half as many as last year) Islamic militants crossing over from Syria. Part of this is because of more army activity along the border, and more cooperation from the Sunni Arab tribes. But some of the decline is coming from falling morale. Potential Islamic terrorist recruits now know that their prospects in Iraq are dim. Not only are they likely to kill Iraqi civilians, but if they come up against American troops, the result will usually be dead terrorists and a failed mission. The terrorist money crossing the border is also way down, and police have found more terrorists involved in crime (especially kidnapping) in order to raise money for operating expenses.

American commanders admit that they are negotiating with some Sunni Arab terrorist groups. These things are complicated, because some of the terrorists have a lot of blood on their hands, most of it Iraqi blood. Some of these terrorists have prices on their heads. But if you want to get these groups to disband, you have to make deals that involve U.S. and Iraqi lawyers. All this takes time, and while terrorist activity is down, the groups that are still out there, are still killing people.

If we are fortunate the end in Iraq will be better than before we went in. None of that is easy.









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