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Mail 401 February 13 - 19, 2006






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Monday  February 13, 2006

There is a discussion of Intelligent Design, and an Iraqi update report, in mail Sunday.


Subject: Letter from England

UK response to the terror threat: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4705390.stm

Secrecy about 'shoot to kill' policy to avoid having it watered down: <http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/article344957.ece

ID Cards being voted upon in the Commons:
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4707608.stm>  <http://politics.guardian.co.uk/homeaffairs/story/0,,1708462,00.html> <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,17129-2038089,00.html>  <http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article345147.ece

Chip and pin problems: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2037555,00.html>  <http://www.chipandspin.co.uk/

Problems in Iraq: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4707036.stm>  <http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,1708480,00.html>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-2038165,00.html

News from the Former Soviet Union:

Freedom of speech in the UK:

Government use of statistics in the UK: <http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article345116.ece

Thousands waiting for UK citizenship: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4706862.stm> . The UK now gives a rather politically correct test to candidates for citizenship.

UK pensions problem goes to the European Commission: <http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article345076.ece

Why is the NHS running such a large deficit? (Hint: local clinics don't provide much preventative care and tend to delay care for serious problems until people end up in hospital.) <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4687238.stm>  <http://society.guardian.co.uk/healthmapping/story/0,,1708515,00.html

Theft of expensive equipment at NHS hospitals:

Religious schools here in the UK under fire for being too selective: <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1707964,00.html>  <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4707452.stm

Bird flu advances in Europe: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25149-2036536,00.html

MS Anti-Spyware beta apparently treats NAV as a password-stealing trojan:
2006/02/ microsoft_antispyware_deleting_1.html

Botnet attack shuts down hospital intensive care computers:
/html/localnews/ 2002798414_botnet11m.html>
. My reaction is unprintable.

Video games keep you young:
/RTGAM. 20060209.wxbrains09/BNStory/Science/home

Napoleon and Massena:
article/2006/02/12/ AR2006021200524.html

Nathaniel Daw spoke Monday on his research into behaviour. Neuroscientists currently suspect that the basal ganglia play a role in controlling behaviour, since there are measurement data from that system consistent with an actor-critic model (which caches past reward values for future use in evaluating a choice of actions). The problem is that actor-critic systems, while good at modelling habitual behaviour, are lousy at goal-directed behaviour, where the value of the reward has to be propagated backwards to inform the choice of action. Goal-directed behaviour seems to need some sort of forward model to do this, probably performed by the frontal cortex. Daw has been exploring an approach that combines forward prediction and caching to evaluate possible actions, selecting whichever is currently more accurate in its predictions.

I have three comments--first, why not use an adaptive linear combination of the answers given by the two models (basically a Kalman filter)? Secondly, how can a forward model execute quickly enough to allow a bat to capture insects in a few hundred milliseconds while simultaneously rejecting non-food items as late as 30 milliseconds before contact? Thirdly, how does the brain cope with a continuous distribution of rewards as a function of actions?

I have a suspicion we'll never succeed in building a strong AI from silicon. Digital computers work in a discrete space, but brains deal with a continuous world. We may find that the only way we can build a truly intelligent machine is by combining digital and biological intelligence.


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


Khrushcheva on Putinism.

She whitewashes her great-grandfather; still worth reading, though:


--- Roland Dobbins


Subject: re modern education

Apparently you aren't the only one thinking politically incorrect thoughts on the subject.


Tiomoid M. of Angle -


Indeed. Thanks.


Why Anglos lead -- or do they?



Issue Date: Winter 2005/06, Posted On: 12/22/2005

Why Anglos Lead

By Lawrence Mead

OVER THE last few years, due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many commentators have discerned the emergence of a new American empire. Some critics blame the Bush Administration, arguing that, but for Bush, there would be no crisis over American "unilateralism" or "hegemony." Others blame the end of the Cold War for "unleashing" America on the world.

Actually, American pre-eminence extends much further back--to World War II or before. It really continues a British primacy that dated back at least to 1815. During the 20th century, Germany, Japan and Soviet Russia challenged the Anglo ascendancy, but they were turned back. So today the world order bears a remarkable resemblance to the late Victorian era. Now as then, the world is globalizing, and English is its lingua franca. The United States has merely supplanted Britain as the leading power.

American primacy is not an accident of this or that administration. It reflects the special capacity of English-speaking countries to lead the world order. These "Anglo nations", or the "Anglos" as I will call them, include Britain and the chief territories that were settled initially from Britain--pre-eminently the United States but also Australia, Canada and New Zealand. What makes a country Anglo is that its original settler population came mainly from Britain. So even though a minority of Americans today have British roots, they inherit a political culture initially formed by the British. Some other countries that Britain ruled, such as India or South Africa, are not Anglo in this sense because British settlers never formed the bulk of their populations. They may be English-speaking, and their public institutions have British roots, but British culture did not form the society as it did in the Anglo countries. <snip>


While much of the history below is valuable, the presumption that the status quo will persist is absurd. China will be the dominant economic power of the world in just a few years. India may become a major power roughly 20 years from now. By that time, China's GDP will exceed the entire Anglo world by far. Over the same time, America's global influence will inexorably decline both in relative and absolute terms.

The calculation is trivial. If China attains a per-capita GDP of 50% of the U.S., then China's GDP will be 117% greater than ours. No successful developing Asian nation has failed to attain a per-capita at least this high. For example, Japan's per-capita GDP is 73% of the U.S., Hong Kong 88%, Singapore 71%, Taiwan 64%, South Korea 49%, Malaysia 25%, and Thailand 20%. Of course, Malaysia and Thailand took off well after the other Asian tigers. Notably China is already 15% of per-capita U.S. GDP. This is probably a pre-revision number (China just increased its estimated GDP 20% via better measurement of its service sector).

As you can see, one more doubly of GDP will make China's economy much larger than the U.S. A second doubling will make China vastly larger. At a 10% growth rate each doubling will take roughly 7 years.

Many people have trouble grasping just how large China's economy already is. A useful statistic is that China produces 1.2 billion tons of cement per year. The U.S. makes around 1/11th as much (91 million tons). China also dwarfs U.S. production of steel (3.5X), coal (1.75X), aluminum, etc. China is also a much larger consumer of copper, nickel, cobalt, etc. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/peter_schaeffer/83187400/in/set-797819/  for a useful chart. Ironically, the GDP column is wrong. China is roughly 13.6% of global output. See the September 2005 IMF WEO database for the details.

In a few areas China lags behind the U.S. China's power industry is only around 2/3 the size of its U.S. counterpart. However, based on current construction plans, China's power sector will pass the U.S. around 2010. The U.S. builds more cars than China, while lagging in virtually every other consumer good. See http://www.hsbc.com.cn/cn/common/download/aboutus/200601.pdf  for some details. Notably, China's exports will surpass the U.S. in around 18-24 months. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/peter_schaeffer/98332055/in/set-797819/ . Within 5 years China will be the world's leading trading nation.

Will the rise of China is certainly impressive, the absolute decline of the U.S. is compounding its relative decline. The U.S. has gone from being the world's largest creditor to the largest debtor in a remarkably short period of time. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/peter_schaeffer/36088785/in/set-797819/ <http://www.flickr.com/photos/peter_schaeffer/36088785/in/set-797819/>  . History demonstrates that global power gravitates towards creditors, not debtors. This profound shift reflects America's astounding trade deficit. Stated simply, America isn't producing goods and services the world is willing to buy. Instead we are printing debt. For now, this works reasonably well. Of course, the same can be said for anyone living off home equity loans.

Ultimately power accrues to those nations that can produce goods and services the world is willing to buy. In the 19th century Britain dominated world production of manufactured goods (50% of the world at mid-century). In the 20th century the U.S. reached a similar apogee (also 50% of the world at mid-century). The decline of our nation as a productive power and the rise of China demonstrates just how quickly global influence is moving away from the U.S. and the Anglo world.

Thank you


P.S. The authors state "In the Third World, in contrast, lack of the rule of law is a worse hindrance to development than any economic problem". Somehow this hasn't impeded China.


A decade ago, Charles Murray noted that the United States had developed something he termed "Custodial Democracy"--the recognition of the fact that/means of coping with a large "Permanently Disadvantaged" class of "citizens" in our midst who could not really function as citizens of a First World country. The article below basically discusses what the First World should do about permanently disadvantaged "states" (sneer quotes because these failed countries are so far from being anything like real nation-states).





Issue Date: Summer 2005, Posted On: 6/28/2005

Imperialism of the Fittest

By Vladislav Inozemtsev & Sergei Karaganov

The international order that had its beginnings with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648)--in short, a world comprised of sovereign territorial states--is coming to a close. Many states today are not truly sovereign--not in the accepted Westphalian definition of a government possessing a monopoly of force and in firm control of the territory under its titular jurisdiction. As many political scientists and policymakers have recently discovered, failing and failed states make up the bulk of the Third World, as well as a large part of the former Soviet bloc. Not only are these countries increasingly unable to develop independently, they can pose a serious threat to international stability. Failed and failing states provide havens for terrorists and organized crime networks, and they can destabilize their larger region when internal chaos and conflicts spill over their borders to affect neighboring states--as the experience of West Africa during the 1990s aptly demonstrates.

At the same time, the Westphalian order is being undermined from another direction. In some Western political circles, the traditional concept of "integral sovereignty" is gradually giving way to the notion of "limited sovereignty." For some, the individual sovereign state is no longer in a position to meet all of the economic and security challenges of the modern world, requiring the delegation of some powers and functions to supranational bodies like the European Union. For others, the sovereignty of any state is circumscribed by its ability to protect and enhance the human rights of the population under its care. The doctrine of "humanitarian intervention" implies the loss of internal and external legitimacy by those governments that choose to violate these rights. And the "democracy deficit" apparent in many countries--together with their inability to guarantee their own social and economic development--calls into question the ability of such nations to exercise their sovereign rights.

It seems inevitable, therefore, that the traditional understanding of sovereignty introduced by the Treaty of Westphalia will be modified if not replaced outright. This imperative will gain strength as the developed countries of the Core not only continue to voluntarily transfer some of their sovereign prerogatives to transnational authorities, but increasingly become less willing to recognize the full sovereignty of the failed and failing states in the Periphery. This process will determine what shape the international order will take in the next few decades. <snip>




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TuesdayFebruary 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day

Subject: Paul Craig Roberts & "Fever Swamps"

Dear Jerry,


I think residing in "fever swamps" far more accurately describes all of the GOP leadership, the current masthead of "National Review", O'Reilly, Limbaugh, the End of the World religious whackos who comprise the sub-foundation leadership of that party and the rest than it does Dr. Roberts. Even saying "Earth To GOP" would give them too much credit for connection to reality here and now. They're off in different dimensions.

The entire article is eminently quotable but this is particularly topical: "The total number of private sector jobs created over the five year period is 500,000 jobs less than one year’s legal and illegal immigration!" Meanwhile the House GOP just elected a new majority leader who opposes even the minimal illegal immigration enforcement measure being pushed solely because of strong grass-roots pressure on most of the GOP representatives.

Your barber was quite correct in saying the Democrats are crazy and thus no real alternative. But the modern Republican Party is just as nuts.

Best Regards,


I wouldn't know. I have friends in the national security establishment, but no one in the White House has had much to do with me or my friends since Bush I took office. (The notable exception was Dan Quayle, who took General Graham and I seriously (see The DC/X papers here and here). Which reminds me that I need to put up a better index of space documents available here. Those interested ought to see the old Council report, too.

We do have readers on Capitol Hill including some Members of Congress, but the White House hasn't been very friendly with old Reagan Cold Warriors, particularly those who didn't support either Gulf War. Actually I had more friends in Clinton's White House than in either Bush administration.

In any event, I certainly do not agree with most of the Administration's policies. I want to see us enforce the immigration laws and do what it takes to get control of the border. I do not believe in perpetual war for perpetual peace. I want to see investments in X programs and in giving prizes for notable goals such as a Moon Base, low cost to orbit, better batteries or fuel cells, and we can make a long list of national goals that we ought to be giving prizes to those who achieve them. I want energy independence, which we could achieve. I don't believe in unrestricted free trade in which American workers are forced to compete with slaves and peasants. (My remedy on that is a flat 10% tariff on imports; high enough to give some protection to Made in the USA, not so high as to encourage more inefficiency than our regulations such as Americans with Disabilities and the like already force on our industries).  But I've said much of this before.

I don't think the Democrats will achieve any of the goals I look for although they are certainly not incompatible with the old Democratic party. It's pretty clear the Republicans aren't going to do it either. And that third parties don't get far.

All we can do is hope that rational discussion will have some effect. Tell the truth and shame the devil.  ========

Subject: Room-temperature fusion confirmed? 


--- Roland Dobbins

Now that would be really interesting news. Energy independence indeed...



Subject: Fusion in a bottle

The fusion process referenced earlier from one of your correspondents is unlikely to provide cheap energy for the U.S. (or anyone else). The researchers are not claiming excess power and do not indicate that excess power is likely in the near future for the process ("Nuclear fusion has been explored as a potential source of power, but we are not looking at this as an energy source right now"). http://news.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=1358&setappvar=page(1)

 If the process won't generate excess energy, then why is anyone interested? The process works wonderfully as a neutron generator, and there are definitely uses for neutron generators. http://www.latech.edu/ifm/K%20Thornhill_Neutron%20Gun%20Up%20My%20Ride_LTU.pdf <http://www.latech.edu/ifm/K%20Thornhill_Neutron%20Gun%20Up%20My%20Ride_LTU.pdf

René Daley

I can think of a lot of uses for a neutron generator. It's a little like the Dean Drive: any thrust at all is an interesting new principle. Or that was my first take.


Subject: Young Canadians prefer 'virtual sex'


"It's a testament that the Internet has spawned a new sexual revolution."


87% of Canadian college students have engaged in virtual sex, the study says. I suppose it's safer than the real thing, but it puts me in mind of the movie "Demolition Man".


I blush to say I do not know what virtual sex is. I am not sure I care.




This week:


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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Subject: Katrina

Dr Pournelle, here is a note from Popular Mechanics on the Katrina report. You may recall I was claiming the popular reports didn't jive too well with what I was seeing, despite the presence of the 38th ID.


The key point of course is that New Orleans had a levee failure, not hurricane damage per se. Nobody expected the levee to fail for what was officially a cat 3 storm.

Hopefully the light of truth will eventually shine through the whole sorry mess.


Start with the most corrupt city in the most corrupt state in the union (I know Arkansas may be offended, but this year I think Louisiana wins). Add Levee Boards that in theory have control of the levee system, but in fact are political patronage plums that don't do much. Throw in the Corps of Engineers, which is a military bureaucracy that doesn't have the advantage of being pruned by combat, and is thoroughly under the control of precisely those you'd expect (see Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy for details. (Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy is that in any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control, so that those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.) ).

Throw in a storm, and too little attention to details in securing the levees. Can we predict the results?

And of course New Orleans wasn't hit as hard by Katrina (as opposed to the flooding) but gets the attention, while Gulfport and Biloxi hardly make the news at all now.


Subject: Anti-gravity propulsion system proposed at conference


There is a caveat in the article.



There should be dozens of caveats. As Bob Forward said in the conference we had on the Dean Drive a very long time ago (see my report) theory is valuable, but a repeatable result is worth a great deal more. (See also today's view).


Subject: Space Tether

This was pointed to on Instapundit.

I was sure that I would see it in your mail, if not in the view.

New Scientist SPACE - Breaking News - Space-elevator tether climbs a mile high <http://www.newscientistspace.com/article/dn8725


-- R. Geoffrey Newbury

Well, I saw it, and it's progress, but a mile isn't 60,000 miles...

I hope to see space elevators work, but frankly I expect reusable space ships to work first.


Subject: Re: Quailgate

Dear Jerry: Though my winter best is but 2 partridge and zero pear trees on a Boxing Day shoot in Aberdeenshire, I think I may understand the delay in reporting the winging of poor Worthington by the Vice president.

Forget the missing $7 stamp on the $125 Vice Presidential hunting license. A worthier focus of media outrage may be Texas' miserly daily limit of 5 leash of quail. Could it be that, to uphold Texan hospitality, somewhat more than 15 of the minute quarry were allowed for by Mr. Cheney's gracious hosts? If so, the time needed to confirm the recount would explain the delay -- republicans have been suspicious of reports of unsubstantiated numbers of warm bodies ever since the 2000 Florida vote.

Hopefully Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld will outflank the media assault by persuading his Princeton cohort to round up enough tigers to provide the Supreme Court and the Pulitzer Prize Jurists with a proper shikar on Teddy Roosevelt's birthday -- the nation needs reminding of the Great Conservationist's prowess with his beloved 8-bore double rifle.

Millions pray for report of Mr. Worthington's deliverance from his brush with the hazards of the field, but the press seems loathe to ask what besides a quail and a lawyer, may be third component of the Texas MacNab.

The original MacNab, you will recall, is a feat, named after the indefatigable Jacobite sportsman, Captain MacNab famed for stalking a deer, shooting a brace of grouse, and landing a salmon between dawn and dusk of the same highland day. This commendable achievement may be elevated to a Royal MacNab by also bagging the hunting lodge cookie (the lass that cooks the game) before the light of the following morn.

It is easy to see why the press is gun-shy of this line of inquiry-it might lead to curiosity as to the exact constituents of the Texas Royal MacNab, which some fear involves a combination of Gaby Hayes, Fergie, and the pet llama of the executive producer of Brokeback Mountain, with a shotgun wedding to follow.


Certainly the most original explanation I have seen...


Subject: Mr. Wilson 


Divided We Stand Can a polarized nation win a protracted war?

BY JAMES Q. WILSON Wednesday, February 15, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST


James Q. Wilson is always worth paying attention to. I probably should have pointed to this article when I first read it.



A grab bag.

Bet people will be polite to *this* cop if he pulls them over.


Bald eagle to come off endangered list - finally.


Heard on NPR trhis morning that the US DOE wants standardized tests for college. Cites federal money being spent. No child gets ahead in college, either, eh?

Finally, on the "new" imperial America. I remember a book review of some tome on that subject in my Dad's "Time" magazine in the '60s. I do not recall the book, but I thought at the time that the cover was cool. It was a drawing of a fat business man smoking a cigar, dressed in a Roman legionaries armor, with a "US" shield like that in most formal symbols, e.g., the center of USAF or USN pilot wings. Worries of an American empire aren't new. You wouldn't happen to recall that book, would you?




Subject: Al Gore...None Dare Call It Treason, Part II


BY JAMES TARANTO Monday, February 13, 2006 12:44 p.m. EST

Our Friend Al Gore <http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/02/12/D8FNUKEO0.html>  The man who came within a hair's breadth of the presidency in 2000 is denouncing his own government on foreign soil, the Associated Press reports:

Former Vice President Al Gore told a mainly Saudi audience on Sunday that the U.S. government committed "terrible abuses" against Arabs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that most Americans did not support such treatment.

Gore said Arabs had been "indiscriminately rounded up" and held in "unforgivable" conditions. The former vice president said the Bush administration was playing into al-Qaida's hands by routinely blocking Saudi visa applications.

"The thoughtless way in which visas are now handled, that is a mistake," Gore said during the Jiddah Economic Forum. "The worst thing we can possibly do is to cut off the channels of friendship and mutual understanding between Saudi Arabia and the United States."

There is a comical element to this, as Glenn Reynolds

<http://instapundit.com/archives/028570.php>  notes: "Only Al Gore could come up with the idea of criticizing Bush for not sucking up to the Saudis enough. Sigh."

Heh. Indeed. But blogger "TigerHawk

<http://tigerhawk.blogspot.com/2006/02/gorebot-attacking-america-from.html>  " makes some serious points:

This is asinine both substantively and procedurally.

Substantively, the idea that cracking down on Saudi visa applications is "playing into al Qaeda's hands" is laughable. Had we scrutinized Saudi visas a little more carefully in 2001, thousands of Americans who died on September 11 that year might well have lived. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on that day were Saudi nationals. If we had denied some or all of them visas, exactly how would that have "played into al Qaeda's hands"? . . .

Procedurally, Gore's speech is repugnant. It is one thing to say such things to an American audience in an effort to change our policy. . . . It is, however, another thing entirely to travel to a foreign country that features pivotally in the war of our generation for the purpose of denouncing American policies in front of the affected foreign audience. It is especially problematic to mess with Saudi political opinions, which are subject to intensive influence and coercion by internal actors and the United States, al Qaeda, and Iran, among other powers. Supposing that some Saudis were inclined to be angry over the American visa policy, won't they be more angry after Al Gore has told them that they're being humiliated? How is that helpful?

Finally, Gore's outrage at the American treatment of Arab and Muslim captives may be genuine, and it may even be worthy of expression in the United States, where we aspire to do better than press accounts suggest we have done. But whatever nasty things we have done in exceptional cases in time of war, they pale in comparison to the standard operating procedure in Saudi Arabia. So this is what Gore has done: he has traveled to Jiddah to explain to the elites of an ugly and tyrannical regime that the big problem in the world isn't the oppression of Arabs by Arabs throughout the Middle East and North Africa, but the mistreatment of a few hundred Arabs in the United States. This is like visiting Moscow in 1970 and denouncing the United States in front of a bunch of Communist Party deputies for the killings at Kent State. . . .

There is simply no defense for what Gore has done here, for he is deliberately undermining the United States during a time of war, in a part of the world crucial to our success in that war, in front of an audience that does not vote in American elections. Gore's speech is both destructive and disloyal, not because of its content--which is as silly as it is subversive--but because of its location and its intended audience.

The only consolation is that Gore likely would have done a lot more damage had he spent four years in the White House. And given the precedent set by Jimmy Carter, it isn't hard to imagine Gore as an embittered one-term ex-president giving the same speech in Jeddah.


Charles Brumbelow

I am not sure I would go as far as calling it treason.



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Subject: emdrive article

Doctor "J",

Here is a copy of an article from an engineering magazine on the "emdrive":

You have to love this one phrase hidden deep in the article:

although the evidence has yet to be peer-reviewed.

(I have not yet observed cavity magnetrons flying out of lmicrowave ovens yet, and they ought to according to this Shawyer fellow, near as I can follow his technobabble explanation of how his emdrive supposedly works.)

I always liked the reactionless drive found in one of Reginald Bretnor's "Papa Schimmelhorn" tall tales: the "Lingam-Yoni" drive where you bolted down a gigantic lingam in the bottom of your spaceship and then bolted a gigantic yoni just beyond the reach of the lingam, thus leading to an incredible reactionless thrust as the lingam strove mightily to...well, you get the picture! It's as likely to work as phased microwave energy

Gives a whole new meaning to "Sex Drive"!

Petronius The Unbelieving

Hope springs eternal, and I continue to hope; but before I will take a spacedrive seriously I want to see a trapeze test. Dean, incidentally, never did that either. Harry Stine felt it "push" against his hand when turned on. He's the only person I ever met other than Dean who had seen it work. Dean would not show it to me. I don't think he showed it to the 3M team that was also trying to negotiate with him while I was there. It was pure coincidence that we were both talking to him, but I think it made Dean think it was worth a lot more if two big companies were trying to negotiate. Boeing was willing to buy it only after a successful demonstration of thrust; didn't matter how much thrust, any at all would have done, but I never saw a demonstration.

The universe is a queer place, but our present understanding doesn't allow the conversion of angular acceleration to linear acceleration.  Alas.

I really miss Reg Bretnor.


 Subject: Texas Chappaquiddick/Whitewater & Texas Royalty

As Dick Arymey said "when we act like them we lose." This all sounds much more like a story you'd hear from Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy rather than the straight truth. It is the most personal example of treating the country as an empire and not a republic.

You may be correct that the hunting accident is a non-story. The problem for most of the country is it's a metaphor for what's wrong with this administration. Regardless of whether the Vice-President did anything wrong, everyone is pretty sure he's not telling the whole story and the VP gives the impression feels no responsibility to level with public & the press.

Folks can call Sydney Blumenthal a traitor for breaking the Abu Graib story, but he hits the nail on the head.;


While the incident continues to unfold, the Bush administration is pressing a new budget in which oil companies would receive what is called "royalty relief," allowing them to pump about $65 billion of oil and natural gas from federal land over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government, costing the U.S. Treasury about $7 billion. For Texas royalty like the Armstrongs, it would amount to a windfall profit.

The curiosities surrounding the vice president's accident have created a contemporary version of "The Rules of the Game" with a Texas twist. In Jean Renoir's 1939 film, politicians and aristocrats mingle at a country house in France over a long weekend, during which a merciless hunt ends with a tragic shooting. Appearing on the eve of World War II, "The Rules of the Game" depicted a hypocritical, ruthless and decadent ruling class that made its own rules and led a society to the edge of catastrophe.


 The Corpus Christi News is just as much a newspaper for a local story of a hunting accident on a local ranch as is Mr. Gregory whose whiney tantrum says all that needs saying.

Why in the world would the President eat broccoli, or the VP subject himself to a bunch of intemperate boors who can't even be polite? He went on with Britt Hume who may be conservative but has never been accused of the kind of bias that the general press corps demonstrates ever day. If I were VP I would not have been as polite to the press wolves as Cheney has been. Note that Time Warner says that the Fox Network (they are calling it the "F word network" even as I listen) is "a bunch of crazy people talking to crazy people". Why would anyone subject themselves to those clowns? Shall we let Wolf Blitzer ask him why he's a racist?

I have my critiques of the administration, and as a Life Member of NRA I have considerable criticism of the hunting rules they used: Cheney had no business turning to fire behind him. When hunting with others the arc of permitted fire is pretty well restricted to in front of you. To shoot behind you is not part of any hunting rule I would endorse.

But these things happen, and this will not be the last hunting accident.


Telegraph: Scientists are split on the different ways men and women think

Scientists are split on the different ways men and women think http://www.telegraph.co.uk/connected/main.jhtml;

(Filed: 07/02/2006)

An academic row has erupted after one of the world's leading scientific journals refused to publish an article which claims that men and women think differently.

Peter Lawrence, a biologist and fellow of the Royal Society, accused Science of being "gutless" after it explained that its decision was because the piece did not offer "a strategy on how to deal with the gender issue".

In his paper, Mr Lawrence questioned why, when 60 per cent of biology students are female, only 10 per go on to become professors.

This "leaky pipeline" has been blamed on discrimination and a lack of choice which, if corrected, will produce equal numbers of men and women in science.

But Mr Lawrence dismissed "the cult of political correctness" that insists men and women are "equivalent, identical even" and argued that "men and women are born different".

The journal considered the article for seven months and, after making a number of changes, gave Mr Lawrence a publication date, proofs and a chance to order reprints.

But at the last minute he received an e-mail from Donald Kennedy, the editor-in-chief, in which he said that the journal was not going to publish the article. <snip>



Subject: Quoting Griffin


"If we were sitting here today with the capabilities that this nation had purchased as of the end of the Apollo program, we could go to Mars within a decade," Griffin said. "We have decades worth of hard work in front of us just to be able to get back to where we were. And then Mars will be the decade after that."



I assume you noticed what was either a flat-out lie or evidence of an inability to read and comprehend plain text in Rennie's rebuttal (noted in Thursday's VIEW)?

"Pournelle flatly states that only nuclear and space solar power are adequate alternative energy sources..."—John Rennie

Of course I could be mistaken and I have not read every word you have written, but I have never read an assertion by you that "ONLY nuclear and space solar power are adequate alternative energy sources" [emphasis added], and in the quote cited by Rennie you do not say that either.

I assume also that you were simply taking the high road in not pointing out Rennie's scurrilous lie/subliterate interpretation (take your pick). But it is interesting that I often read this kind of disingenuous argument in agenda-driven statements by eco-cultists (and yes, I admit that is a characterization that _borders_ on *ad hominem* argument. *sigh*).

Impassioned polemics are one thing (though even there, lies are not an honorable tool); reasoned debate is quite another, though even that can still be quite passionate.

I appreciate your measured response. Mine, alas! would not have been so kind... or, admittedly, left much of a door open for dialogue.


David Needham


Subject: Global Warming and Wind Power

A number of years ago -- no doubt more than I easily realize (aging does that to me, the yesterdays blur) -- we spent two weeks in the Hawaiian Islands. On the "Big Island" (aka the one also named Hawaii) we drove down to the southeast corner in hopes of seeing volcanic lava running off the island into the sea. No such luck, but on the way we drove by a massive windmill farm with buildings mostly torn down to the footings and most windmills visibly inoperable -- blades bent or broken or gone. Don't know whether it was abandoned due to volcanic activity, isolation, or ending of a federal government subsidy program. Don't know whether it has since been restored to activity; I've searched the web a bit to find out with no luck.

Charles Brumbelow

No data...


Subject: Dean drive, Emdrive and the Eighth Barsoomian Ray

I recall an article by Harry Stine in Analog (late 70s, I believe) describing his experience with the Dean device and his attempts (with Campbell, Korff, and Davis) to fit what he believed was an observed datum into modern physics. I have it Around Here Somewhere, and one day I shall find it, but I remember that his conclusion was that any model able to pass the trapeze-and-garbage bag test was going to have to change state tens of millions of times or more per second, so spinning & thumping masses are out, plasmas and electromagnetic fields are in. Further progress probably awaits someone with deep pockets, a willingness to go into those pockets in pursuit of a low-probability, high-value goal, and no regard for the notion of scientific reputation.

In the meantime, the proposed emdrive sounds for all the world like the Eighth Barsoomian Ray:

"The next few days were spent by Kantos Kan in teaching me the intricacies of flying and of repairing the dainty little contrivances which the Martians use for this purpose. The body of the one-man air craft is about sixteen feet long, two feet wide and three inches thick, tapering to a point at each end. The driver sits on top of this plane upon a seat constructed over the small, noiseless radium engine which propels it. The medium of buoyancy is contained within the thin metal walls of the body and consists of the eighth Barsoomian ray, or ray of propulsion, as it may be termed in view of its properties."

A Princess of Mars

'Twould be nice not to have to bother with rockets...

Ralph Moss

An optimist is always disappointed. A pessimist gets an occasional nice surprise.

I would really like to get rid of rockets. I doubt we ever will. And see below


Has danger from lab created micro black holes been properly investigated?

Dr Pournelle,

As you would be aware, there is now much speculation among physicists that the new particle accelerator at CERN, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), might create micro black holes (at least if there are large "extra dimensions" to the universe.) A good article about this was done by John G Cramer at your old home at Analog: http://www.analogsf.com/0305/altview.shtml 

A couple of months ago I stumbled across a website http://www.risk-evaluation-forum.org/index.html  ("REF.org"). It argues that the "risk assessment" style paper written by physicists to look at whether the LHC could accidentally cause the end of the earth is inadequate in that it assumes that any MBHs created will instantaneously disappear in a puff of Hawking Radiation (HR). The risk assessment paper is:


However, the REF.org site points out that there are a small number of credible scientists who question whether HR really exists. See for example:

xxx.lanl.gov/abs/gr-qc/0304042  (by a mathematician Adam Helfer), and http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/gr-qc/pdf/0408/0408009.pdf  (by 2 physicists)

Note that these papers are from 2003 and 2004; the CERN risk assessment paper is dated 2002.

I have found other papers (by searching arxiv.org) which make it clear that there is quite a bit of uncertainty about the decay process. For example, some believe stable remnants may be left from the decay of a MBH.

James Blodgett, the author of the REF.org site, acknowledges that even if MBH do not disappear via HR, there may be other reasons why they should be of no concern. No one expects that (given their incredibly small size) they will react strongly with matter, and indeed it is argued by some that they would only be able to "eat" particles so slowly that they could not be a problem. The fact that their creation at the LHC would mean they should also be created naturally by cosmic ray collisions is also an argument against their being dangerous to planets. But James Blodgett questions whether there may be scenarios in which they could become a danger.

For example, it would seem that many MBH created at CERN will have low velocity (due to their being created by head on collisions of opposing streams,) and will therefore end up in the interior of the earth (as in David Brin's book "Earth"). This distinguishes them from ones produced by cosmic rays, which would nearly always have high speed caused by their being created by an extremely fast cosmic ray hitting an almost "stationary" atom.

It also appears well established that the MBHs created during the life of the LHC could number in the hundreds or thousands. There is some speculation on Blodgett's site that the high pressure near the centre of the earth could lead to a dangerous accretion rate. Also, could hundreds of stable MBH eventually merge to become of a worrying size?

I have had some email correspondence with Mr Blodgett. He is not a physicist, just an enthusiastic amateur. He is more than happy to be shown that there is no conceivable way that a non decaying MBH could be a danger to earth on any time scale that would concern humans. He says he has tried to get some meaningful responses from physicists to the points his site raises. He seems to face two problems: there are few who want to give much credence to the idea that HR may not exist, and it would seem many do not believe an amateur "scientist" is worth engaging in discussion.

(I also think it may be a matter of timing. It would seem the MBH from CERN idea is barely 5 years old, and a search of arxiv.org shows how much work is still being done on the theoretical side. Maybe the arguments questioning HR just haven't fully worked through the physics community yet?)

It seems to me that Bodgett's fundamental point (on the inadequacy of the CERN risk assessment paper) is correct; and for this alone I believe he deserves praise. As it is the very future of the earth at stake, I think there is a strong case for insisting that CERN physicisits look at all "worst possible case scenarios" with MBH before they fire up the LHC. Also, they could look for definite proof of decaying MBH in our atmosphere first, so that HR is proved to exist.

Steven W, Brisbane, Australia

Actually Larry Niven wrote about this first with a story called "The Hole Man"; my "He Fell into a Dark Hole" came out about the same time. We both heard about Hawking mini black holes from Hawking at a lecture at Cal Tech.

I think the danger is minimal. We have several physicists here. Perhaps we will hear from them.





CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  February 17, 2006

Subject: They've Gone Barmy

See <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2044496,00.html>

I suppose the intent is to keep UK young people pre-adolescent children until the day they turn 18.

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


I got a LOT of mail on this. Thanks!

Subject: Energy Flow

Is this it?

>From Mail 391: http://eed.llnl.gov/flow/02flow.php 

-- Jeff Lackey

It also demonstrates that I need a better search engine for this place.


This was sent to Robert Thompson with a copy to me. Bob Thompson's reply is below.

Subject: Building the perfect PC


I bought your book on line and I am excited about building a PC. I saw that the book was published in 04 and realized there would be changes. For example, the case you suggested is not for sale at the Antec home page. Is the Sonata II a good replacement choice? You get the point. Have you updated the parts list?

Just a note. I am a mac user who wants to build a PC to play games.

Yours truly,

Larry Sampson pprlarry@mac.com


Thompson replies:

Yes, there have been many changes since the first edition of _Building the Perfect PC_ was published in August 2004. For updated component recommendations, visit our web site forums at:


With regard to the case, the Sonata II is still one of our favorite cases, and would be a good choice. It is upgraded in several respects relative to the original Sonata. Unfortunately, it is also downgraded in one respect: rather than the high-end TruePower power supply bundled with the original Sonata, the Sonata II bundles a mid-range SmartPower 2.0 power supply.

Although the SmartPower is a decent power supply, we'd have preferred that Antec continue to bundle the superb TruePower units. To their credit, Antec has been up-front about the reason for the change. Bundling a TruePower 2.0 power supply would have increased the retail price of the Sonata II to a level that Antec thought was too high.

Right now, we'd probably choose the Antec P150 case over the Sonata II. The Sonata II typically sells for $100, versus $140 for the P150. But Antec is currently offering a $25 rebate on the P150, which reduces that differential to only $15. The P150 is a better case than the Sonata II, and it comes bundled with Antec's top-notch 430W NeoHE power supply.

Incidentally, the second edition of _Building the Perfect PC_ will arrive in bookstores in autumn 2006.

Best regards.


-- Robert Bruce Thompson thompson@ttgnet.com http://www.ttgnet.com/thisweek.html http://forums.ttgnet.com/ikonboard.cgi

Note that the last couple of weeks of my column at www.byte.com have been about building a SOHO computer that will also play games.


The Scientific American discussion continues:

Subject:  - Scientific American and Greenhouse Gas


Been following the discussion with some amusement. Perhaps you will find the item in today's Junk Science News ( www.junkscience.com ) titled "Bans cause Global Warming, apparently" interesting.

Give the puppy a hug for me.

Ron Morse

They may put things a bit more strongly than I do. I know many of the people who are true believers in global warming. They build their models, and they believe the results. The problem is that the observational people, including those who want to believe, aren't seeing what's predicted. Once again there are interpretations that say, well, yes we do too see the results, but it takes theory to interpret them properly...

The real question is, are we serious about any of this or is it a way to fund a lot of people's studies (which is to say their livlihoods)? And see below


Dear Jerry,

The attached message is a good con commentary from Dr. Thomas Reed concerning "Cellulosic Ethanol", which subject featured prominently in the President's State of the Union message.

Yours Truly,


 From: Thomas Reed
 Subject: [Gasification] Cellulosic Ethanol a Red Herring???

Dear Lazslo and All:

I have worked in alternate renewable fuels since the first OPEC oil embargo in 1973, first at MIT, then NREL, then the Colorado School of Mines, and now at my Biomass Energy Foundation (WoodGas.com). It gives one a certain perspective.

In 1918 there was an acid hydrolysis plant built in Washington (?) to produce fuel for the WW I period. As soon as the war was over, it was closed down as being uneconomical. (sigh)

In 1975 I visited the Army Natick Laboratories in Massachusetts. They has discovered an enzyme that broke down cellulose, and they were hoping to commercialize it. (Ah!) Nothing more heard. (Sigh) I went to work at NREL (then SERI) in 1978 and started a methanol from biomass program. Naturally I kept my eyes on the ethanol from cellulosics. I estimate that at least every other year since then I heard great news that (1) acid hydrolysis had been improved and the best method and (2) enzymatic hydrolysis was now solved and was the best method. I keep waiting for my first gallon of "cellulosic ethanol" at the gas pump.

Maybe increasing cost of oil will permit CE to become commercial. However, there typically only 50% of the plant residue is cellulose, the balance hemicellulose and lignin.

The final nail in the cellulosic ethanol coffin is that President Bush promises that it will replace significant oil in 10 years. We can't wait that long. Cellulosic Ethanol has kept a lot of scientists and engineers busy for a LONG time. I hope someone will examine the DOE budgets over the last decade to see how much has been spent. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Meanwhile, gasification converts biomass efficiently to either methanol or Fischer Tropsch diesel (or also ammonia). So of course there is no money in the DOE budget for gasification. I am building and testing biomass gasifiers daily in our new BEF Laboratory, but finding it hard to pay the rent.

Onward and (I hope) upward,



Subject: Ethanol, Bio-Diesel and the Emerging US Food Crisis

Dear Jerry,

In the absence of real national - Washington leadership on fuels a default policy has been adopted and mainly consciously. This policy is to encourage the burning of ever greater mega-tonnages of food crops that are consumable by humans. Recent reports indicate that in 2005 about 12% of total US corn production was turned into ethanol. Also in 2005 new ethanol plant projects totalling a 50% plant expansion were booked. 'Progress' is also strong on biodiesel, i.e. turning soybeans into bio-diesel fuel rather than animal feed and vegetable oil. It takes little imagination to see 50% of arable US acreage engaged in fuel farming by 2010 (i.e. less than four years from now). All that's needed is for oil prices to remain at their current levels. Nor can this be prevented in our 'free market' except by legally limiting the amount of ethanol produced in the USA (or by deploying other alternates to obtain liquid fuels, which isn't being done).

Here is a double whammy for food prices. First are the higher absolute fuel costs for fertilizer, mechanized agricultural production and distribution transportation. These cost increases are being compounded by simultaneously adding, indeed subsidizing the addition of, tens of millions of additional food 'consumers' to the demand curve in the form of internal combustion engines. If you live in a rural or suburban area you'll be able to ease the impact by returning to an ancient tradition, which is the large sized family garden and a chicken coop. If you are a true urban or condo dweller your choice is limited to deciding what to delete from your monthly budget.

In my opinion this conscious policy of making eatable foods a primary alternate fuel to petroleum based fuels can only be described as evil. Nor can Mother Nature be depended upon to consistently cooperate with a Just In Time agricultural system. Droughts and other inimical weather comes along at the most inconvenient moments

Historically it will be extremely unusual for a government that consciously chooses to drastically raise food prices and also decrease food reserves to -0- or Minus to survive longer than a few more years. Stalin's regime was able to survive artificially induced famines. His methods of political control are exactly what it will take here to persist in the current policies. Obviously subterranean black rocks could offer an alternative to this in the form of synthetic fuels. But expanding the use of these black rocks, of which we have staggering amounts, is currently under a Ban of International Morality since it is alleged they are a primary cause of Global Warming. Conversion of non-eatable 'biomass' (mainly wood chips) to methanol is another possibility but is also not being pursued by the Government.

Apparently burning human foodstuffs is better since it's stated this doesn't increase the Earth's free carbon load.

Best Wishes,



Dogs In Elk

I read that when it was first going on back in 1999 and a few years later and have never laughed so hard in my life. Knowing the breeds of dogs Ann had it made a lot of sense and I could just envision my 2 pitbulls doing something very similar, only they might just get the carcass through an open window if they really wanted to and they'd put it in their bed and sleep with it as well.

Was looking for something to cheer up a friend of mine going through Chemo the other day and thought of that hilarious string of posts but I no longer had it bookmarked due to multiple computer crashes over the years. Did a websearch and came across your posting on it and the link to the original in Ann's reply. Thanks so much - he's been reading it daily and laughing like a fool he says and it helps to cheer him up.

Reason for my email... did you ever hear back from her about the final outcome of that whole insane situation ?

Thanks Denise

Here is the link: http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/dogsinelk.html You will find all kinds of interesting things in Reports...


Subject: SciAm, hot air, and Mars

Hi Dr. Pournelle,

I was bemused by the exchange with John Rennie on your blog. This comment in particular seems puzzling:

"...For example, considerable study has gone into the question of whether solar variability could account for the measured temperature rise. The conclusion is that solar variability might be a factor in the rise seen before about 1950, but since then, there's no way that it could be affecting what we're seeing."

Which makes me wonder why Mars also is warming up, as these MGS images seem to indicate:


It's probably just waste heat from those rover batteries, right?

 Don Dixon, FIAAA
Scientific Illustration




Has anyone made an authoritative study of the amount of fossil sourced diesel that is consumed in growing a given amount of biodiesel? I once saw a report the the ratio was close to 1:1.

John Edwards

I have not looked at this since A Step Farther Out, which was twenty years ago. It is my understanding (subject to being shown I'm wrong) that growing crops to produce ethanol or biodiesel is marginal at best; but there are ways to convert a lot of biowaste into fuel, and some of those look economically interesting as oil stays above $60/bbl. I should look into this, but I expect I have readers who already know.

And see next item:

Subj: Biomass gasification

I'm confused by the clash between (a) the contribution from Dr. Thomas Reed of woodgas.com via Mark in

http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail401.html#Friday  [See here]

and (b) the apparent existence of the NREL Thermochemical Users Facility described in


One would think, from the description, that the NREL has available a facility in which industrial experimenters could test their test articles, in the same way NACA used to provide wind tunnels for aeronautical experimentation.

Yet Dr. Reed seems to say that DOE is doing nothing on the thermochemical front.

What in the world is going on? Is NREL a Potemkin village laboratory? Has the physical plant been scrapped, leaving only an orphan web site? Or what?

From http://woodgas.com/synthetic_fuels.htm  =Hydrogen Science Institute: Synthetic Fuels= it looks like Dr. Reed worked at NREL/SERI in 1980 on gasification.

Dr. Reed says explicitly, "[T]here is no money in the DOE budget for gasification."

But http://www.energy.gov/news/3150.htm
 =Department of Energy - Department of Energy Requests $23.6 Billion for FY 2007= links to http://www.cfo.doe.gov/budget/index.htm  which links to http://www.cfo.doe.gov/budget/07budget/Start.htm  which links to http://www.cfo.doe.gov/budget/07budget/Content/Labandstate/lab.pdf  which has a page for NREL on which there is a line

FY 2005 FY 2006 FY 2007 Appropriation Appropriation Request Biomass and Biorefinery Systems R&D 22,222 14,662 27,500

in a table where the numbers are dollars in thousands.

I also Googled up this: http://www.bera1.org/annual.html  =Biomass Energy Research Association= which seems to show that there was in the 2005 Conference Report, H.R. 4818, =funding under Energy and Water Development Appropriations ... of $82.147 million for Biomass and Biorefinery Systems research including 28 earmarked projects that totaled about 42.5% of this appropriation; 15 of the earmarks are for new projects and the others are for existing earmarks.=

That looks like there's funding, and that a lot of it is eaten by the Congressional Earmarks Monster.

The overall impression I have so far is that the federal funding would be a lot easier to understand if it was for prizes for demonstrations of well-specified capabilities, rather than for a hodge-podge of Congressionally-earmarked projects.

But I also think it might be useful to have a FedGov-funded testbed facility like NREL/TCUF, just like it might be useful to have some FedGov-funded wind tunnels for aerodynamics R&D.

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

Well, as you know, I would very much favor adequate prizes for actual demonstration of specific capabilities; just as I favor X Projects (sometimes called feasibility demonstrations) but one has to be careful that the X Project doesn't become a monster as X-33 did; the only thing "X" in X-33 was the name. It was a boondoggle from beginning to end, and wasn't even run by the people who were supposed to be in charge. REAL X projects don't try to develop new technology, they take the best we have as of a closeoff date and built the best system one can make from that. X-33 tried to develop tankage that was not cylinders of rotation, something we don't know how to do for good mass ratios, and a lot of other stuff that needed development, not demonstration. What I wanted from X-33 was SSX, a 600,000 GLOW VTOL ship with at least 12 engines; we could build that, and while it probably wouldn't make orbit it would fly and we would learn a lot from it. But that's another matter.

NACA had wind tunnels and worked with the aerospace industry. NASA has been the enemy of anything not invented at NASA, and NASA Marshall cracked the tank of DC/X in needless -- utterly needless -- "testing", then "repaired" badly, so that the accident when DC/X fell over became a disaster as hydrogen leaked from the cracked tank; had that not happened we could have taken Clipper Graham and pushed her upright, hammered out the dents, and flown again in a month or less.  We had worse damage during the time USAF was in charge. NASA lost her on the first flight. I was not astonished.

Expecting NASA to work with private industry other than industry captives is a pipe dream. NASA doesn't know how to conduct an X project and wouldn't want to if it could.

We are in complete agreement that our experimental programs have become a nightmare of earmarkery.

Regarding biomass research, I expect we'll find out the facts soon enough. One thing I like about being me is that I have readers who collectively know everything.


Subject: ethanol from food

I understand Mark's concern. It's also true that high-maintenance plants like domestic corn don't do that well in the amount of energy produced versus energy expended in ethanol production.

The key to biofuels will be processes that can use the cellulose-containing plant tissue, like wood chips, waste brush, and farming waste. People are working on this. Biofuels become attractive when they can exploit plants that can be grown in areas with little water and fertile soil. Areas that would not otherwise be used for food. Salt-tolerant plants would be good, too.

News article here. <http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060126/sc_nm/environment

The original Science article in the January 27th issue costs money, but maybe you're a subscriber.

Robert Zubrin also has a good article here:


Tom Brosz


Subject: reactionless drive


I've just discovered your website - and I've bookmarked it.

after reading your comments on the Dean drive, I wonder if you've heard of this:


It's not clear - at least to me! - whether it would work in deep space, but it really does seem to work down here.

The catch seems to be it's not very efficient: the power requirement is about 1Kw/kg of thrust. Maybe it'll become really useful when small fusion reactors become available...


I have never actually seen a "lifter" although many have written to me about them. I may be remiss here, but have there been working models? I know magnetic levitation is not only possible but common -- Michael Hyson used to do a lot of magnetic levitation as part of some biophysics work he was doing -- and I see no real reason why electro-static repulsion wouldn't work, but it's surely subject to the inverse square laws? Or have I misunderstood the concept? I'd appreciate enlightenment.

And see below


What is the Value of Algebra?


--- Roland Dobbins

I am not one of Mr. Cohen's fans, but this issue cuts way across ideological lines.

And see below


Subject: IMac Virus, buffy willow


Virus Targeting Macs Spreads Via IM Program

By Mike Musgrove and Brian Krebs Washington Post Staff Writers Friday, February 17, 2006; D05

A rare piece of malicious software targeting Apple's Mac OS X operating system -- instead of the more common victim, Microsoft Windows -- has been spotted online and appears to be spreading. Like many computer viruses, the bug lures people to click on it by posing as something else, in this case a file containing a picture of the next-generation Apple operating system.

The malicious software causes computer programs to crash and transmits itself through an instant message program for the Mac called iChat. To get infected, users must download the file, called "latestpics.tgz," and install it on their computer. Infected computers will then automatically attempt to send the program to all contacts on the infected user's "buddy list."

Mac users typically have not had to worry about the computer worms and viruses that regularly hit the Windows-using world. It's a regular debate among techies whether this is because the Mac operating system is inherently more secure or whether computer hackers simply do not bother attacking an operating system that is not widespread. Apple Computer Inc. has less than 5 percent of the U.S. computer market.

Apple released a statement yesterday warning users to download files from only companies they have confidence in.<snip>


Subject: Re: Diversity & Job Applicants

FWIW: I don't think the new regulations will matter, at least not for technology companies. Just read through the job postings for IT positions on Monster, et al. Almost every posting will have an impossible list of qualifications that almost no one could possibly fulfill. Therefore every applicant will be unqualified for the position as listed and the company will just have to settle for someone who can merely do the job. Those of us in IT often laugh at the list of qualifications that no shop would ever want in one person, but you will find the impossible list consistently on the job postings.

Kenny Biel

Wait until the lawyers get through with that one. The point of credentialism is to allow you to prove you didn't 'scriminate someone.







This week:


read book now


Saturday, February 18, 2006


On Lifters


About three years ago I was approached by a consultant who was pushing us to team with a local company with big claims for lifter technology. I checked out their lifter, which worked very well in air. The company's working objective was to get sponsorship by NASA to do a demonstration in a vacuum chamber. My NASA buddy they were approaching thought they wanted to get a NASA contract and let the investors milk the "NASA-sponsored technology" for as far as it would go.

I looked very closely. The technical lead maintained that new physics was happening related to a fixed universal reference frame. Not only was this malarkey, the analysis was based on erroneus equations, miscopied from the standard reference. After I discovered that, he didn't try to push any further.

More later, perhaps.


And see below


Dodge ball.


-- Roland Dobbins


More on zero tolerance for dodge ball.


- Roland Dobbins

Meanwhile, schools are filled with gangs and gang violence. They don't seem to be able to control drugs in school, or prevent gangs; but then these kids were not minorities and were good middle class A students. Anarcho-tyranny? Or just zealous for law and order, no broken windows, etc? From what I can see of that area of San Bernardino County I would think there were better uses for police and prosecutor resources, but I admit I made only a cursory effort.


Back in the Fight.


-- Roland Dobbins

Makes me wonder if they need -- ah, but no.


Alas, I am a graduate of the University of Washington. I went there on the GI Bill.

Man Without Honor.


- Roland Dobbins

Senators with an odd sense of history and honor. Not unexpected, but perhaps we have lived too long.


Subject: Command economies in a global crisis

Dear Mr. Pournelle,

To quote you Thursday 16th: (Unless you believe that command economies are more efficient than markets; I presume that particular economic canard has been laid to rest?)

Well, that depends on the situation. It depends on how much the population agrees with the reasons for the commands.

It is little-known that during World War II the economy of the UK, nominally a democracy, was much more of a command economy than was that of Nazi Germany. Apparently, until about mid-1943 German factories were only operating one shift, and consumer goods were in free supply, while the UK bust a gut to produce everything they possibly could for the war effort.

(It might be mentioned that we were doing it alone, or nearly so; it took the US two years to get into the war, and all the Lend-Lease goods were well and truly paid for, in money or in overseas bases or…)

The reason why it worked? There was a job to be done, only the British to do it, and everyone (or mostly everyone) knew what needed to be done.

As for the central point, that the cost of the needed measures would be greater than the benefit, what precisely is good about wasting energy? What’s wrong with making and buying smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, turning down the thermostat (or up when it’s hot), putting insulation in your roof and walls, stopping draughts, improving heat recovery in factories…?

Most companies that invest in energy-efficiency measures end up making more money than they did before.

Never mind, maybe Americans will come around to the point of view of the rest of the West when the category 6 hurricanes have scoured off the topsoil of Florida, and the Southwest is an uninhabitable desert. Maybe then Americans will stop using a 2-ton SUV, capable of hauling a ton up a 45-degree slope, to haul a couple of bags of groceries back from the supermarket.

And by the way, I do know that there is no such thing as a cat 6 hurricane. Yet.

Ian Campbell


What to do with gang members

I was reflecting on the fact that only one of Bernard Goetz (The Subway Vigilante) attackers who wasn't dead or in jail, was the one who ended up in a wheel chair. And it seems to me sentencing young offenders to a few months in a wheel chair might be cheaper and less heinous than putting them in jail. And I think it would be likely to teach them the right lessons by making them dependent on their families, instead of sending them to "crime school".

Is their a way of putting someone temporarily in a wheelchair? Turns out there may be. Botox is used to paralyze muscles, and the effect lasts six months. What do you think?



I think it would not work; but it is an interesting point. What ever became of Bernard Goetz?


Subject: Cohen and algebra,


I quit reading Richard Cohen at about the time he posted that first algebra column - twenty years ago or so. I think that for people of ordinary abilities, algebra is probably not necessary. However, in someone as undeniably intelligent as Cohen, the "inability" to grasp algebra says much more about his attitude than it does about his abilities. It also explains the cockamamie approach to reasoning that caused me to abandon reading his output literally decades ago.

I have seen this kind of math aversion (note I am not calling it math "phobia") in many otherwise quite intelligent liberals. There may be something in swallowing Marxist memes ( http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail400.html#Saturday ) that predisposes people to this kind of mental anesthesia. Certainly it leads to any number of cognitive deformities. Of course, it may be that when one has an ingrained inability to grasp the abstracted reasoning of algebra, one is pushed toward a nonscientific and leftist worldview, but I doubt it: many of these otherwise intelligent liberals are lawyers who are capable of the sharpest kind of reasoning. This is all about attitude.

Again, I am not discussing people of more ordinary mental means. This "inability" of intellectuals (not only leftists now) to grasp the symbolic reasoning of algebra when they can grasp sophisticated reasoning of all sorts stems entirely from an aversion to doing it.

I have observed that, apart from genetic issues, mental health is all about attitude. Attitudes and beliefs can be so powerful as to destroy one's mental health. Algebra is small beans by comparison. This dependency upon attitude is why a good teacher can make mathematicians out of previously uninspired students: he or she changes students' attitudes toward what they are studying.

As for the algebra requirement for high school graduation, I see the requirement as a cynical response to the No Child Gets Ahead law: if students quit, they don't bring down the test scores. One may argue that this result returns us to the more natural circumstances of a century ago, when only a few people graduated from high school (I have pointed out for some time that the highschool diploma says nothing to a potential employer about a student's smarts; but it tells that potential employer the student could go to a boring place and sit at a desk six hours a day, five days a week). OTOH I don't see many "vo-tech" schools expanding to take on the cast-offs. We are leaving hard-working, determined students uncredentialed in a world where credentials are very important.

Maybe now that the liberals are seeing the cruelty of this law, they'll argue for its repeal, the dissolution of the Department of Education, the repeal of vast swaths of education-related Federal law (why, for example, should the feds care about college sports teams, which are a form of performing arts, and not related to the physical education of ordinary students?), and in every state eviscerate the education bureaucracies, returning control of curriculum to communities? Of course not; we will only see more regulation.

With our economy sliding into "fever swamps" <http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail401.html#Tuesday>, how long can we afford this kind of government?


Gosh, Doc, how do you really feel? One problem is that we can't do the studies needed to find out. That is, we all recall that the smartest girls in school simply couldn't do math: but whether that was a real inability, or feigned because girls weren't supposed to be math whizzes (recall the glamour girl in Buffy actually had a 1550 SAT but managed to hide that from everyone because she didn't want anyone to think she was a drag), or because there really is some kind of physical difference (shades of Larry Summers!) will never be known because anyone who tries to do an actual study will be maimed by the scientific women who get the vapors when confronted with an idea they don't agree with. We all know that women in science must be represented by Harvard biologists, and we know what happened when a Harvard biology professor heard Summers suggest that physical differences was on possible hypothesis although he didn't think that was the correct one.

But I am inclined to agree with you that people who are supposed to be smart but plead innumeracy are playing intellectual games. As Barzun observed in his delightful and essential Teacher In America, "After all, algebra is just a form of low cunning."

Those who can do abstract reasoning can do so with symbols and can learn the rules of symbol manipulation. Which still doesn't explain why girls do so much better than boys in verbal skills and so much worse in mathematics.


6500-year-old voices and laughter?

The interview is in French, but they play what are purportedly voices and laughter from Pompeii, 6500 years ago:


--- Roland Dobbins

I wish I understood French better. Very odd. I am sure someone will tell us soon enough.



The "sound pottery" video you posted would be incredible news. However, it sounds like one of these April Fool segment that the French TV concocts every year.

In any case, here is a transcript of the French and English. My comments are [in brackets].

French (scroll down for English)

Narrateur: C'est dans ce batiment des facultes universitaires de Cheratte qu'une equipe de chercheurs a fait l'incroyable decouverte. Tout est parti de ce vase concu il y a plus de 5 siecles en Amerique du Sud.

Philippe Delaite, archeologue: Nous avions dans nos reserves quelques vases qui etaient la depuis plusieurs generations, auxquels personne ne s'etait interesse. On a procede a une serie d'analyses. Et on s'est rendu compte que l'un des vases, d'apparence tout a fait anodine, se revelait contenir du son. Vous avez bien entendu. Je veux dire: du son contenu sur la surface du vase. Le son a ete enregistre accidentellement par le potier, au moment ou il a procede au decor de son vase, a l'aide d'une longue tige, on peut le supposer. Du son ambiant a ete enregistre grace aux frequences, sur la tige, et ainsi a ete preserve dans l'argile, dans la terre.

Narrateur: D'autres potteries sont actuellement en cours d'analyse, et les resultats sont plutot parlants. Un fragement de phrase en latin prononce il y a presque 2000 ans a ete retrouve sur un vase antique originaire de Pompei.

[son + spectogramme, 19 secondes]

Philippe Delaite: Il faut envisager que d'ici quelques semaines, si l'enregistrement s'avere tout a fait interessant, les facultes unversitaires de Cheratte-Hauteur vont sortir un CD avec ces enregistrements, et donc on pourra le retrouver dans les bacs, comme on dit.

Narrateur: Et en attendant de pouvoir apprecier l'album, comme on dit, "credo, quia absurdum" ["je le crois parce que c'est absurde", St-Augustin parlant de la foi chretienne]

------ Narrator: It's in this building of the Cheratte university campus that a research team made an incredible discovery. Everything started with a vase designed over 5 centuries ago in South America.

Philippe Delaite, archeologist: We had in our reserves a few vases that had been there for generations and that nobody ever paid attention to. We performed a set ot analyses. And we found out that one of the vase, of a very mundane aspect, turned out to contain sound. I mean, sound contained in the surface of the vase. The sound was recorded accidentally by the potter, at the moment where he engraved the decoration of the vase, presumably using a long needle. Some ambiant sound got recorded, thanks to frequencies [they mean vibrations, I guess], on the needle, and thus got preserved in the clay.

Narrator: Other potteries are currently analyzed, and the results rather speak for themselves. A fragment of a Latin phrase pronounced almost 2000 years ago was found on an antique vase originating from Pompei.

[sound + spectrogram, 19 seconds]

Philippe Delaite: We can predict that within a few weeks, if the recording proves totally interesting, the university of Cheratte will release a CD with these recording, and we'll be able to find it in the bins, as they say.

Narrator: And until we can enjoy the album, as they say, "credo, quia absurdum" [I believe it because it is absurd -- Saint Augustine talking about the Christian religion].


Now my conclusions:

With the elements in the transcript, it's trivial to do a search. Philippe Delaite is an Art and History teacher in Liege. I couldn't find any archeological work authored by him. The video comes from the web site of Zalea TV ("Le Vase" http://www.zalea.org/article.php3?id_article=496). This is a TV dediated to humor and spoofing, and it has been around since at leat December 2005.

That, and the huge give-away at the end of the video, means that it's a very well done spoof. Certainly not true. Too bad, isn't it?


Alas, I have no right to any opinion on the matter. Thanks.


TSA Strikes again

'Security' Without Sense.


--- Roland Dobbins

but then this is pretty well what we should expect. Bureaucracy is bureaucracy. ========

Subject: SUVs, and 4x4 Hill Climbing Ability


I thought I would comment, from experience, on the ability of an SUV, or _any_ 4x4 to climb hills, of extreme slopes.

A 10° [or approx 20%] upslope requires a 4x4 to wear Weed V-bar Tyre-chains, on at least the rear wheels, for a sucessful ascent. If there be any loose snow, or dirt, on the surface, a 'run', up to the bottom is needed, to at least 50 mph, or better, 60 mph, to allow easing off the throttle, gently, to keep the torque applied to the wheels, under the grip available.

A slope steeper that that must be quite short, and smooth, for any ascent to work. I am _certain_ of my Numbers, because I shot Elevations, up and down such slopes, using a Transit. Any hill steeper than 10° was not possible, unless the 4x4 was behind a D-6, or D-7 Cat, securely attached via the Cat's Winch cable!

The thought, of an SUV, carrying a 1-ton Load, climbing a 45° Slope is quite funny. Even coming _down_ such a slope, in an SUV, with a 1-ton Load, requires very great skill, imho.

Oh, yes, the Snipped chunk, below, from the Feb 18th Letters, is the primer for this comment: Quote:

"Never mind, maybe Americans will come around to the point of view of the rest of the West when the category 6 hurricanes have scoured off the topsoil of Florida, and the Southwest is an uninhabitable desert. Maybe then Americans will stop using a 2-ton SUV, capable of hauling a ton up a 45-degree slope, to haul a couple of bags of groceries back from the supermarket.

And by the way, I do know that there is no such thing as a cat 6 hurricane. Yet.

Ian Campbell"



Neil Frandsen

I surveyed Seismic for about 30 years, in Alberta, NE BC, Saskatchewan, and the the North, including once on the North Slope of Alaska, SW of Umiat. It is possible, with a 2-wheel drive F-250 Ford, chained-up on a 4 wheels, to climb a 10° Slope, in Winter. It takes extreme abuse of the Vehicle, ignoring jumping completely off the frozen ground, to arrive at the bottom of the hill with the over 50 mph velocity that experience knows is required. The success is measured by being just over the top, when the engine dies, from being all the way back to idle, to keep traction!

That seems definitive...







CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Strategy Tragedy?



- Roland Dobbins

Indeed. And see today's essay/review in View. I do not think it too late, but we must change our assumptions and expectations.




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