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Monday  27 February 2006

Begin with mail in response to my misgivings about Guantanamo in View for 26 February.

This message is from a serving officer no longer deployed in the Middle East. He has both high integrity and reliability:

Hello Dr Pournelle.

I'm staying busy down here.

So, American Gulag. First, I'll point out something obvious. Lawyers have no ethical commitment to honesty. Instead, they have an "ethical" commitment to doing what they think is good for their clients. That being said, lets take a look.

We took tens of thousands of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. We had hundreds in Gitmo at the height of operations, and considerably fewer now than when the peak hit. For each chucklehead taken in Afghanistan by a warlord and given to us, we need to think about what happens. Bored interrogators stashing a few against a rainy day? No, they will need to justify getting transport to send somebody to Cuba instead of just letting them go or shipping them back to their own government. Having a watch isn't going to justify space on an aircraft to a government worker, even in the armed forces. No, you have to be a very special prisoner to have been sent across the world, and a special prisoner to have been kept rather than released since that is by far the simplest way to deal with them. I'll note that an unknown but significant percentage of gitmo releasees have later been killed or recaptured fighting against the US. I know of perhaps a couple of dozen such instances, and it is likely that others occurred.

As you may recall, I've expressed confidence that I can kill or defeat the armed enemies of my nation. I'm not so sanguine about the other enemies, and I'll flat out call much of the press corps as part of those other enemies. Leaving aside stories I can't tell or couldn't support if I did, it should be obvious that what comes out of Iraq through people you know is different than what comes off of the news channels. I can't imagine anything short of a direct order in writing from somebody who unequivocally had the authority to do so that would make me allow the press to tour the gitmo camps. I've seen enough exercises and even sitcoms to know that anything can be spun as evil and bad no matter the objective truth. I don't know if the press is less dangerous when they make things up, but it is less work for us when they don't have anything to hang a story on.

The stories told in the base article are hokum. We are taught that physical torture simply encourages them to make up stories to get the pain to stop, which doesn't help us get true information. However, al queda training stresses claims of torture be made by every prisoner. Funny how the armed forces investigate and punish troops for doing that and don't seem to find these guys. We know that the press has found out about some incidents after the investigation was underway, and yet these mass beatings just don't ever get corroborated. An analyst might have something to say about that.

I have no trouble believing that anything interesting on some of these prisoners is classified, and I certainly hope they wouldn't show it to a lawyer. Note that the series of treaties normally referred to as the Geneva Convention says that you are not a soldier, and you are not entitled to protection, if you are not taken in a uniform. There are no soldiers held in gitmo. President Bush requires us to treat captured Taliban as if they were covered, but that is the only legal requirement in US or international law that says we must, or even should. In fact, when those and the earlier Hague treaties were written, they were intended to encourage correct behavior by allowing bad treatment including summary execution of those who didn't follow the rules.

My suggestion would be to distrust anything said by the mainstream media unless you can get it independently verified, and don't trust those who are paid to lie unless it is verified by an unimpeachable source. Don't despair. Those troops are the same sort as were in Korea, just better trained. They don't maim dogs for fun, they give children candy, they know that obeying an order to do something illegal is itself a crime and they are constantly drilled in when they can and cannot use force. The competition, lawyers, reporters and terrorists... don't have that sort of reputation and for good reason.

And of course that is my first reaction to such stories: they are generally made up. None the less, as I will try to make clear in a followup essay, armies are for breaking things and killing people; I am not all that concerned with the people in Guantanamo as I am with the troopers required to do that kind of duty. It cannot be a beneficial experience to order a man tied to a chair and have a feeding tube stuffed up his nose even if you and he both know this is part of an elaborate dance.

And, at bottom, we are losing the war, largely because we are employing armies. Armies are intended to fight other armies. They fight wars. They break things and kill people. And if you retrain them to do something else, the result is usually poor: they lose a lot of the edge and ability of soldiers, but warriors don't often retrain well to become county sheriffs, while really good special operatives are rare to being with I'll refer to this again, but Bacevich makes the point well <http://www.amconmag.com/2006/2006_02_27/article1.html> regardless of your opinion of his overall views.

If you ask the average person in the Western world for the name of a soldier who served in Iraq, the answer will either be the name of a relative, or Lynndie England . Now I pretty thoroughly understand what happened at Abu Ghraib; I also think it was inevitable, and that incidents like that will happen again and again. The kind of officer from a combat unit who ends up in a place like that is not usually the best you can find; he's the chap that the Colonel can spare. Once you put certain kinds of people in positions of great power over others, then subject the system to stresses -- combat units want intelligence NOW and don't much care how it is obtained -- the results are seldom going to be pretty. So it goes. That's the nature of war.

But that's the nature of war.

I do not like having an America gulag. If we are going to detain people simply because we think they are likely to try to kill us later -- and whether or not the people in Guantanamo went there with that attitude they almost certainly have it now -- then we can at least improve the conditions. As to the classified nature of their offenses, I suppose that means largely protecting the sources of the accusations. Alas, as we all know, in a tribal situation that can be very unreliable -- and the chap who sold us a prisoner is unlikely to downgrade the charges made against him. After all, this guy is worth thousands of dollars...

We can, at the least, spare the personnel for a military tribunal that can annually review the status of those held indefinitely. I could put together a group of officers I would have faith in from among the subscribers to this web site, every one of them having had the highest level of clearances; and if I could do it from here, I am pretty sure the Pentagon could do it.

Just doing that would assure people like me that your view of the situation is reasonable. There are those who will never be convinced that the United States is the good guy. The way we are operating in Guantanamo is likely to add to that number.

One final point: while I have no great respect for the integrity of many of the better known members of the press corps, I certainly do not find all the journalists despicable. I remind you that I am a journalist and a card carrying member of the Press Club...


Subject: Along with the GITMO news

There is this, http://www.consortiumnews.com/2006/022106a.html , regarding two issues; a suggestion that the administration exert more time investigating "5th Columnists" within the U.S., and a contingency contract to KBR to build detention centers in the U.S.. "KBR would build the centers for the Homeland Security Department for an unexpected influx of immigrants, to house people in the event of a natural disaster or for new programs that require additional detention space.” There is also a link to Army Regulation 210-35, which lays out the rules for a "Civilian Inmate Labor Program." Something that, in light of the first two news items, I find quite chilling.

I look at things like this, along with the gulag in GITMO and I have to admit I vacillate between being alarmed and feeling paranoid; and poo-pooing them and wondering if I've got my head in the sand. The simple fact is that there have been enough abuses and unwarranted intrusions that I no longer give the government the benefit of the doubt on almost any issue; and that is something that saddens me. But I think that, old, fat and tired as I am, I need to get out and get in some range time.


Precisely. Note that we seem to have forgotten Waco. We shouldn't. That wasn't our military- but they did hoodwink the military into allowing the use of military equipment. And the BATF likes to act like a military, and that organization is probably the best argument against militarizing a constabulary as I can imagine. An inefficient Gestapo is not a lot less frightening than the real thing.

And some of the victims of Waco still languish in Club Fed: too dangerous to release. But too dangerous to whom? Is the danger that the real story will get out? Complete with the vanished doors that would tell, perhaps, who fired the first shots, and which conveniently disappeared before the local sheriff could see them? I have not forgotten the TV broadcast picture of a BATF agent crouched behind an automobile, firing a submachinegun over the top of the car. He was not looking at where he was firing. And his fellow agents were still trying to get away from the house. God only knows where his bullets went, but I will bet you that we will never know for certain whether he hit one of his comrades.

War has its price. War on drugs, war on poverty, war on terror: they all have their prices. The nature of war is that all stops are out, actions usually forbidden are allowed and encouraged. And sometimes the price of war is far too high.


Dear Jerry:

In the current New Yorker there is a long article about Alberto Mora, former General Counsel of the U.S Navy , one of those who fought long and hard against the measures being used against suspected terrorists and the whole idea of the Guantanamo Gulag. Again we see the arrogance of the neocons, who put themselves above both the law and common sense. In the end, there is only one thing to say about such tactics. Not only is it un-American, but we're better than that.


Francis Hamit


Subject: Gulags and warriors

The DOD's page on Gitmo can be found here:


The links at the very bottom are informative. I don't know if any of this contradicts the book you read, but at least it's more information.

Tom Brosz

Discussion continues below


Subject: Letter from England

The Sunday news was basically content-free. The following was in the news on Sunday, with a few Monday follow-ups.

Toxic gas in the jet cockpit? Now really... http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1718278,00.html 

Death threats for a teenaged animal rights opponent... http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1718253,00.html

  Politics played English-style. At least they don't execute the losers anymore... http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4752328.stm

 Monday stories on politics: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4753914.stm
 http://politics.guardian.co.uk/gla/story/0,,1718685,00.html  (Ken Livingstone story)


NHS computer problems...

Theft story winds down. What do you do with £50,000,000 in £20 notes?

    Monday story on theft: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/kent/4754124.stm 

Non-controversial university teaching standards proposed...

Monday was a bit better.

Labour reintroduces the 11-plus.

 And a story on the schools bill.


BBC article on UK gender pay gap. Despite better academic achievement, UK women quickly drop behind in pay. It's complicated-- child-rearing is just one factor.

Bird flu has reached Western Europe.

Alienation from politics.

Politics in the Philippines--results of an 'attempted coup' on Friday. http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1718547,00.html 

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

Thanks. I usually try to chase down most of your stories but I'm running way behind today. I find it interesting that anything about teaching standards can be non-controversial.


Subject: Boot Commander

Dr. Jerry;

I just renewed my subscription to your site through PayPal.

One quick question, if I may . . . where can I find Boot Commander?? (is that the right name?) I have an on-screen calendar that I got as free-ware or share-ware someplace, I don't remember its name, and now I want to get rid of it because it doesn't update the date highlight like it is supposed to, making it basically useless. Only I can't find it to get rid of it. It's not part of my Startup folder, and it isn't in "Add or Remove Programs" in the Control Panel either. If I knew the name of it I could hack the Registry, I've done that before so I feel comfortable doing it. I've searched my download backups and can't locate anything with a name that might even be a calendar. A right click on the calendar itself brings up a dialog box that allows you to modify the font characteristics, and that's all. There is nothing else in the right click. I really want to get rid of it and get back the little bit of resources that it wastes. If I had a boot\start-up commander type program I might at least be able to find out what its called. I can provide a NortonAV-checked *.jpg screen shot of what it looks like if you want.

Thanks in advance for any help you or your readers can provide, and keep up the good work, I know you do a lot of things so people like me won't have to. Your site is still the only one that I visit on a daily basis.

Roger D. Shorney

I think there are better solutions to your problem, and I'll look into them after I do some writing; but perhaps a reader will have an answer. And we have the answer, see below.


Cry the beloved country

Subject: Teacher Education,

Want a good cry this morning? Look at these course offerings for teachers in the district we live in. While I applaud keeping teachers fresh, this selcted list begins to explain why American education is in such disarray.




Do you want your students to look good and sound smart when they answer open-ended questions? This two-hour, after-school workshop will teach you how to boost test scores and teach students this valuable and life long skill. The Better Answers formula will help your students respond to these questions easily.


This new, two-hour, after-school workshop will help teachers learn innovative ways to incorporate the Spanish language into the curriculum.


This new, four-hour, two-evening workshop will present facts on local gangs, which will allow you to identify gang members and activity. Prevention and intervention will be discussed for grades K-12. Resources will be presented to allow you to help decrease the gang problem in New Jersey schools and in your neighborhood. As a result of this workshop you will be better prepared to answer and educate parents when approached and provide prevention and intervention in the classroom. Each participant will be given a packet to take with them for future reference.

And this, love the jargon:


This new, two-hour, after-school workshop will give our 5th and 6th grade teachers an opportunity to articulate between grade levels and schools for instructional and testing purposes.


I'm not a big fan of the FAS, but this article illustrate the stupidity of the reclassification nonsense.


--- Roland Dobbins



Give Civil War a Chance.


- Roland Dobbins

I recalled Lutwak when we first went into Iraq and decided to stay to "prevent civil war."

I have no great difficulty advocating the use of armed force to smite our enemies and prevent their mobilizing against us. I have a lot of difficulty believing that we're particularly good at setting things right in the wake of our invasions. Sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes we don't. And sometimes perhaps letting them fight it out is the right way to go.

If we are going to give something a chance, I'd say let's give what we're doing a chance. The reports from the ground are far more encouraging than the reports from Dan Rather.


And this I found in spam-filtered mail:

Subject: The Breakdown of Iraq

Based on what your military commander in Iraq stated, I can predict three things which will come to pass within the next year.

First, there is going to be a civil war in Iraq.

Second, the military and the White House will insist that they have everything well under control.

Third, the military and the White House will blame their inevitable failure on the liberal media.


Subject: Regarding Boot Commander

I think that your correspondent who asked about Boot Commander will find that SysInternal's "Autoruns" utility will do the trick. It works, it works well, and it's free! (You can't beat that marketing plan with a stick.)


I use several SysInternals tools on a frequent basis and can't imagine not having them in my geek toolbox.

--Gary Pavek




This week:


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Tuesday,  February 28, 2006

Mardi Gras

Comments on Guantanamo; continued from above.

Begin with a reply to my entry about Guantanamo from an active duty serving officer.

How I hate that term.

I don't know. I hope that what Mr Wilner writes is at best, not true; at worst, an exageration. All I'm certain about is that he has an agenda.

I've been to our state prison  (my brother was a guard there for a while - and I know other state employees there) a number of times, and have worked with the Sheriff's office for over 25 years. I'm quite familiar with their jail. Haven't met a prisoner there yet who was "guilty" and who didn't complain of the conditions. Even the trustees gripe about the food, sleeping accommodations, temperature, etc. And you're right about the 'bulls'. Ask anyone who is/was a bull and you'll find that after a couple months or so, they really become jaundiced and degrading to the prisoners situation, if not downright sadistic on occasion, mentally and physically. It ain't a great job.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of jobs in the US Military that are unsavory. How many people do you think really sign up to be in an Mortuary Affairs Unit? In the Gulf War and in all iterations of OIF and EF, all military personnel at some point or other end up guarding prisoners. Comes with the totality of the job. May be for a few minutes, may be for far longer. Either way, circumstances could lend to all sorts of abuses if proper supervision isn't applied.

I'm not a lawyer, but I believe the US Government is in a quandry. POWs do not get tribunals to determine whether they are POWs or not. POWs have certain rights under the Geneva Conventions - only if they are uniformed and in regular units of a recognized armed force. Guerillas/terrorists under no circumstances have rights under the Geneva Convention. Detainees are merely that until a status is determined for them. There are no international laws (that I know of - and I really haven't tried to look all that hard) that designate how long a detainee will remain in that status until a determination is made. (Reasonable man ruling here?). Criminals have a completely different set of rights and guidelines in the US. If the US designates them as criminals against the US, then all sorts of wheels begin turning and given the ambiguity of the apprehensions, in some cases, how does the US prosecutor make a case? Where do the witnesses come from? Are these prosecutable under US law or International Courts (whoaa, boy!). Can you really take a chance to release a hardliner if the evidence is tainted, witness unavailable/lie, etc? Wouldn't that recidivism rate make the headlines - oh wait, it already has - "We had him and let him go! 3000 killed!"

Next is the internment. What is torture? Cruel? Fair? Who're you asking? They get a flop and meals - caged without freedom. Do they 'deserve' it? See above paragraph. You tell me. Does a monk, living in a cave with no amenities and a vow of silence constitute torture? I would like to think that we could provide reading material and a modicum of self dignity, propagandizing them wouldn't be a bad thing. Other than that, there isn't any guarantee in life. No guarantee to good health. No guarantee that you'll get food to eat. No guarantee that you'll find love. No guarantee that your kids will outlive you. Even though our creator endowed us with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, there's no requirement that others facilitate them for you.

Still, I'd like to be able to treat them more softly. It's not necessary to be unduly harsh, and certainly not cruel (and I'm not saying that the situation in Gitmo is cruel - harsh, I'd agree with).

That little bit about the 'yellow water' is just heart rending, ain't it? You should have seen the New Orleans water BEFORE Katrina. Looks and smell doesn't mean its not potable. (Americans have turned into such wusses). What a quandary about the hunger strike? What would the world press say about somebody dying of hunger in Gitmo? Yikes, they force feed them? Take your choice Mr. Hobson.

I go back to my opening statement; I hope that what Mr. Wilner writes is at best, not true; at worst, an exaggeration.


My County, Right or Wrong. I do what I can, though, to make it Right.


Subject: Commitment to honesty

One of your correspondents wrote to indicate that "Lawyers have no ethical commitment to honesty. Instead, they have an 'ethical' commitment to doing what they think is good for their clients." While the writer's belief is commonly held by the public, it is flat out wrong. Rule 4.1 of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct provides:
 "In the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not knowingly:
      (a) make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person; or
      (b) fail to disclose a material fact to a third person when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act by a client, unless disclosure is prohibited by Rule 1.6."

Yep, lawyers cannot ethically make materially false statements during the course of representing a client. Even more surprising to non-lawyers is the ethical obligation to "rat out" a client if that is the only way to prevent the client from committing a criminal or fraudulent act. Of course, you'll find lots of anecdotal evidence of lawyers acting unethically. Of course, the same thing can be said for soldiers. Does Abu Ghraib ring a bell?

René Daley


In response to your military correspondent, I would like to offer the following points.

1) The officer starts with an ad hominem attack--lawyers have no ethical barrier to lying. This is, first of all, untrue. A brief look at the model ABA Rules of Professional Conduct 3.3 requires candor from a lawyer to the tribunal. As a practical matter, this is generally taken by disciplinary bodies to include public statements. Secondly, the attorney in question does not make any assertion other than his clients told him this and he observed what appeared to be physical damage to the ribs of one man which tended to support his account.

2) The second argument, that logistical demands impose a screening process which prevents persons with weak cases being transported to GITMO is a nice theory; but anyone with experience with the military knows that cost is not often an major constraint. If I understand correctly, many (if not most) of the detainees at GITMO were transported there during the early part of the action in Afghanistan--a period when there was no effective local government to turn them over to. Detainees were removed to a rear area..GITMO.

3) His argument that the methods of interrogation described are generally ineffective and therefore would not be used is undermined by the facts coming out of Abu Graib and by the recently released FBI documents obtained by the ACLU regarding the tensions between FBI agents and military interrogators at GITMO over the techniques used. I have not had a chance to review all of the documents, but one quote did leap out at me;

"…stuck on interview tactics miltary vs law enforcement." Also unredacted: "Attached is a response drafted by [Redacted] and I regarding an attempt by LTC [Redacted]' s replacement to establish the SERE model of interrogation as policy here."

SERE, for those of your readers who are not familiar, is Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape; a training program for military personnel who may be captured by the enemy in wartime. The interrogation techniques used in the training are based on intimidation and physical violence. This works for the training because the situation is time limited and information gathering isn't really the goal. The inference that the military interrogators at GITMO were using SERE tactics tends to support the claims of the detainees.

The documents can be found at http://action.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/022306/

I would note, for the record, that the FBI is not usually considered to be a bleeding heart type organization.

As to the assertion that detainees released from GITMO have been killed and/or captured subsequent to their release I can only say that I'm not surprised. If it happened to me, I'd certainly be looking for some payback.

Note that I am not challenging your correspondent's integrity--he may well believe eveything he said. Unfortunately belief, no matter how heartfelt, does not establish truth.

James Keech


Subject: There Were Tribunals!

Dr. Pournelle,

Those in Gitmo all belong there So said the tribunals.

Michelle Malkin's 22 Jun 2005 column at Townhall.com: QUOTE Every single detainee currently being held at Guantanamo Bay has received a hearing before a military tribunal. Every one. As a result of those hearings, more than three dozen Gitmo detainees have been released. The hearings, called "Combatant Status Review Tribunals," are held before a board of officers, and permit the detainees to contest the facts on which their classification as "enemy combatants" is based. . . . The few critics who acknowledge the existence of the tribunals argue they aren't sufficient. They "provided due process in form, but not in substance," as Newsday put it. That view is shared by a Carter-appointed liberal judge, but an earlier decision by a Bush-appointed judge upheld the tribunals. In the end, courts will almost certainly affirm the legality of the Gitmo tribunals, which, as noted, were modeled after the due process standards described in the Hamdi decision.

That ruling, may I remind you, addressed the detention of a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant. As former Attorney General William Barr noted last week in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, "Obviously, if these procedures are sufficient for American citizens, they are more than enough for foreign detainees." UNQUOTE http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/michellemalkin/2005/06/22/154699.html

Note also, please, that this USAF Captain (retired) personally knows one USAF Lieutenant Colonel (on active duty), who sat on one of those tribunals. No, I do not have permission to get his name published.

My concerns about the Hamdi decision aside, I agree with Mrs. Malkin and then some. Were it up to me, we'd be hanging those we catch on the field of battle who remain uncooperative during interrogation. The whole point of the Geneva conventions is to protect civilians by discouraging the type of behaviors these Jihadis engage in. Letting them go so they can fight again is against the very spirit of the conventions.

Respectfully, Robin Juhl, Captain USAF (retired)

If indeed there have been hearings then why does the lawyer think there are not? Interestingly, few of my military correspondents knew this had happened.

Clearly one needs to know more, and if all this be indeed true as stated, the case is taking a long time to get to the people. Whatever else we are doing, we are not doing much of a job of explaining things to the American people. I have my own theories on why that is so, but this is no time for an essay on the core attitudes of neoconservative intellectuals.

Our first conclusion, then, is that it may well be time to shed a little light on the situation. The first rule of politics is to rally your own troops. It may well be that there are few journalists everyone trusts, but there are certainly journalists that those who support the war will trust. Bring them in. Have them report on what's going on.

There is a larger issue, which has to do with America's role in the world, because that will affect what we expect our military to do.

We need to think what it is we wish to accomplish with the military. Armies that can defeat nations and states are not necessarily much use for fighting wars on terror. Bombarding a village in the hopes of getting a terrorist was policy at one and another time in Israel: the results on pacifying Judea, Samaria, and Gaza are at best debatable. Harsh imprisonment for terrorists, potential terrorists, etc. was also tried extensively in Israel, again with results that are at best debatable.

If we are in a war on terror, we may want to create forces to fight that war: and these will not be the same as the warriors who defend the Republic against armed and organized enemies.


re The Clash of Civilizations

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that the fundamental assumptions and perspectives of Muslims are incompatible with the fundamental assumptions and perspectives of Europeans. These incompatibilities are discussed here:


I'm afraid it's going to be a case of "us or them".

Muslims bitch and moan about "crusaders" -- perhaps it's time to show them some genuine Crusaders, dedicated to taking back what they stole from us 1400 years ago and have wasted ever since.

Tiomoid M. of Angle
 'Be not the first by whom the new is tried,
Nor yet the last to cast the old aside.'

Deus Vult! My ancestors followed that cry. I do not think those times will come again.


On the trade deficit:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I've occasionally lurked at your website for several years now; thanks for creating such an interesting place. It's the only "blog" I regularly visit. I find your comments quite insightful, even when I may not agree with them.

Knowing of your interest in American trade policy, I thought you'd find the following essay of interest. It's a discussion by Mr. Warren Buffett of the dangers of the trade deficit, along with a proposed remedy. I'm as yet undecided on the merits of what he proposes, but I'd never heard of such a plan before, and so I thought I'd consult minds wiser than mine to see what they thought.

I would very much appreciate any comments you might have on his proposal.

Respectfully submitted,

Matthew Ing

P.S. Thanks for writing "The Prince"; I read that book over and over again during my recent tour of duty in Iraq.

From http://www.usafairtrade.com/icplan.htm 


America's Growing Trade Deficit Is Selling the Nation Out From Under Us.
Here's a Way to Fix the Problem-And We Need to Do It Now.

FORTUNE Sunday, October 26, 2003 By Warren E. Buffett

I'm about to deliver a warning regarding the U.S. trade deficit and also suggest a remedy for the problem. But first I need to mention two reasons you might want to be skeptical about what I say. To begin, my forecasting record with respect to macroeconomics is far from inspiring. For example, over the past two decades I was excessively fearful of inflation. More to the point at hand, I started way back in 1987 to publicly worry about our mounting trade deficits-and, as you know, we've not only survived but also thrived. So on the trade front, score at least one "wolf" for me. Nevertheless, I am crying wolf again and this time backing it with Berkshire Hathaway's money. Through the spring of 2002, I had lived nearly 72 years without purchasing a foreign currency. Since then Berkshire has made significant investments in-and today holds-several currencies. I won't give you particulars; in fact, it is largely irrelevant which currencies they are. What does matter is the underlying point: To hold other currencies is to believe that the dollar will decline.<snip>

The sample quote is not illustrative of the article, which I urge everyone to read. When Sir James Goldsmith wrote The Trap, National Review took the trouble to have no less a figure than Milton Friedman do a thorough hatchet job on his book.

Now Warren Buffet is saying many of the same things.

I have had my misgivings about unrestricted free trade as implemented for some time. Buffet says more.

Every time I bring this up, economists tell me I have not read Ricardo. I go read Ricardo and come away with no better understanding than before, and my quest for enlightenment is in vain. This time for sure? I do note that my proposed 10% across the board tariff is, I think, close in effect to the more complex proposal Buffet presents.

In any event, I recommend that you all read Buffet. I await your comments.




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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Ash Wednesday

American Gulag


I read the piece on the "American Gulag." At first it sounds like so many other tales of lawyers visiting their clients. When you describe a jail or prison cell, it does sound rather grim - which it is: we're talking prison here. When the prisoners were kept together, I recall they made quite a bit of trouble.

And of course his clients are innocent. They always are. I've seen stories about "innocent" people who were released from Guantanamo and from Afghan prison camps who were later apprehended doing terrorists things. So, who can tell?

"They had not seen sunlight for months - an especially cruel tactic in a tropical climate." Again, think of jails and prisons.

"One of my clients, Fayiz Al Kandari, now 27, said his ribs were broken during an interrogation in Pakistan. I felt the indentation in his ribs." Note that he is careful not to say just who had beaten his clients. He is hoping, I suspect, to implicate US interrogators; but I'll bet the ones who did the beating -assuming the tale is true - were Pakistanis.

A man went on a hunger strike, and when he "fainted in his cell, guards began to force-feed him through tubes pushed up his nose into his stomach." Doctors and nurses do this unspeakably cruel things to patients in American hospitals. These things are called "naso-gastric" tubes. They have saved many lives over the decades they have been used.

As for the rest, who can tell? It's true, the author of the piece doesn't write like a madman; he writes like a lawyer.

I've dealt with many lawyers since I left law school 21 years ago. The best I can say for their veracity is to point to Bill Clinton: the skilled lawyer excels at saying things that are factually correct - while pointing to the conclusion the lawyer wants you to reach, whether or not it is, strictly speaking, true.

We also hear from overseas observers:

Subject: more on  guantanamo and abuse


The link to the New Yorker article on Alberto Mora, mentioned by an earlier correspondent is below: I think it is worth reading.

As a non-American from a western democracy (New Zealand), I have enormous concern about about what I see as the recent rapid degradation in of what I believe are the principles that the US was founded on, and the constitution attempted to enshrine. Why do I care? Because everyone needs a role model and for much of the last 200+ years the US has provided that. Not so much in it's actual external actions, but in the way the internal mechanisms have always corrected the inevitable deviations from the principles that the constitution documents.

I hope that the current swing will also be corrected and the Bush administration will become a blip in history, just as McCarthy has become an interesting blip. However, I do worry about the ability of the US mass media to give a balanced view of the issues fom a number of viewpoints. I compare the news channels available to me from a hotel room in London, to the range of channels from a hotel room in LA, or Boston. While I will get CNN and Fox in both, I have great difficulty in finding BBC World in a US hotel, and never Al Jazeera in the US. When I ask why not, I'm told earnestly by well meaning Americans that everyone knows it's the terrorists channel (and by strong implication, that it's biased and anti-American, so of course we don't want it here). The fact that in much of the middle east it's regarded as a pro-western channel and reviled doesn't seem well known. I guess if everyone regards it as biased towards someone else, that must at least be a point in its favour..

Anyway, I digress.. The front page of my paper earlier in the week was reporting Bagram as possibly being worse than Guantanamo.

I don't know what the truth about Guantanamo and Bagram is, and that's the most frightening thing for the land of the free...

>>> http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060227fa_fact 

THE MEMO by JANE MAYER How an internal effort to ban the abuse and torture of detainees was thwarted. Issue of 2006-02-27 >>>

Best regards

Alan Meredith

"If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy" - James Madison.

Which is why the issue remains important.


Subject: Geneva Convention

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Your correspondent "C" wrote 02/28/06:

Guerillas/terrorists under no circumstances have rights under the Geneva Convention.

I served in Army Intelligence as an interrogator, and was detailed by my IPW (Interrogation, Prisoner of War) section commander to teach a class to the entire MI company on the Geneva Convention as it applied to prisoners and their treatment. So I had to learn it really well myself. Now it's been a few years but I remember clearly that all one has to do in order to attain POW status under the Geneva Convention is to wear a badge or similar identifying device and conduct yourself as a soldier of a belligerent power. We taught that the identifying device could be as simple as an armband or colored strip of cloth attached to your shirt, as long as it was readily identifiable and clearly signified you were a combatant to any and all comers.

Under this rule guerrilla's who take the simple step of such a badge or other symbol when captured are legal combatants entitled to POW status. Terrorists, well you have to prove they are terrorist in a court martial. In the case of Afghanistan I do not know if the fighters wore any such signifier, and it appears they do not in Iraq. Does anyone here know the answer for either case?

By the way, it's also true that enforcing the negative aspects of the Geneva Conventions are part and parcel of the whole package. You have to make it REALLY undesirable for people to break the "Laws Of War" in order to get them to comply. That's why we did not imprison very many German's after the late unpleasantness in Europe for shooting partisans they captured. It was legal under the Geneva Conventions when they were not wearing such identifying devices (which they rarely did, because they would have been shot BEFORE capture if they had!).

As for SERE (Survival, Escape and Evasion), I went through that course (and managed to avoid capture), and then I ran a mock POW campo that was part of a SERE course for those who did get captured. We did a lot of things that came CLOSE to torture, like putting people in ":sweatboxes" and "tiger cages", and did the whole "bright lights and booming, loud, offensive noise" routing with floodlights and a 1000 watt sound system. It really knocked the prisoners back on their heels, over all. That was the point, to get them on the defensive and unsure of their ground, and to keep them from forming bonds,. Unit cohesion was our enemy as interrogators. A man will do anything to save himself when he feels it is "every man for himself". Give him comrades, and he will die spitting in your face. Basic human trait, that.

War is not healthy for anyone. You knew the job was dangerous when you took up the profession of arms. Take the King's shilling and do the King's willing.

Petronius The Arbiter Of taste (Former 96C20, First Infantry Division)


 And perhaps this is enough on this subject.


On Warren Buffet and the trade deficit:

Subject: Buffett and trade deficit - Afternoon Jerry,

Regarding Warren Buffett's article. There's an implicit assumption in his calculations that all 'assets' must be physical, and that there are no means by which to create new assets. I'd point to Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and the entire pharmaceutical industry as counter-examples. Intellectual capital can be created from 'nothing', and as such provides a new source of assets to offset much of the trade deficit, and insulate us from this particular doomsday scenario.

Presuming of course, that we don't offshore production of intellectual capital. And presuming that we can stop other countries from illegally copying that property.

Perhaps the Chinese piracy and Indian offshoring is actually part of a communist/socialist/liberal conspiracy to undermine the only source of capital that feeds the trade imbalance, and transfer wealth from America to the third world? I'm sure the black helicopters are coming for me shortly.

Now the question is, can such new assets (in light of the piracy and offshoring issues), provide sufficient capital creation to offset the trade imbalance? I have no data, but my gut feel is no - they can only postpone it.

There are much more immediate impacts to the trade imbalance, including (as you've pointed out) the destruction of the middle class. The problem is that the bottom half of the bell curve does not generate much intellectual capital - they generate products and services. When products disappear, and the jobs move to services, we lose the ability to export the production of half our economy.

Now just how much does it make sense to punish the producers of intellectual capital with punitive taxation? Atlas will Shrug eventually.



I keep repeating. This is not Lake Wobegon.

History is filled with instances in which the aristocracy in a land going over to democracy made common cause with overseas aristocrats against their own governments. In this era of merit-based aristocracies that may be more serious than it was in the past.

Successful democracy is rule by the middle class. That doesn't mean that all democracies are rule by the middle class. Most are not. And most degenerate into class warfare and collapse. "There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide," said Mad Dog Adams, the middle class champion of the Patriot cause.

I continue to argue for a 10% tariff across the board as a means of protecting American workers who are willing to work. Making them compete with slave labor is unfair to Americans, and also to the slaves. But of course the Free Trade advocates have their own views.



Warren Buffett's idea is not new. Until the seventies a Briton who exported to the USA did not actually see the dollars. These were taken by the UK treasury and the exporter repaid in sterling. If a Brit wanted dollars he had to go to the market where people who held dollars in the USA and were not obliged to repatriate them could sell them for sterling at a premium of as much as 25%.

At bottom a US dollar bill or any paper not related to ownership of something tangible is an IOU from the American people. It promises that the American people will furnish one dollars worth of goods or services on demand. A US Treasury Bond is just a dollar bill that cannot be spent until later. The relative value of the dollar to another currency reflects the relative desirability of the good or service to be had, and the holder's opinion of how responsibly the printers of dollars discharge their duty. In Germany between the wars there was a time when a pension cheque would not have bought the stamp on the envelope that the cheque arrived in. Helicopter Ben, the new chairman of the Federal Reserve does not inspire confidence.

Unless the USA adopts the Buffet scheme at once, and makes a vigourous attack on the entrenched incompetents in the Government, and especially in education, I can see nothing but Weimar type inflation which is the default state of ill managed Nations that are allowed to overborrow.. It would cause a depression worse than that in the thirties and would badly damage Europe too.

Sleep well.

John Edwards


Good morning Dr. Pournelle,

from here it looks like what's at stake is the freedom of action of the United States. I expect foreign policy decisions in the future will be subject to the approval of business. I suspect such interests already hold veto power over the nominating conventions of both parties, Dean or Kucinich might have been more effective against Bush, if such a nominee could've gotten campaign funds. In my mind, the dollar should rank fourth, after God, Country and fellow citizens.

Tim Harness.


Sex and Mathematics.


-- Roland Dobbins

And, I suspect, it will get far worse before there is any improvement. We sow the wind.


Subject: The Sewers of Babylon,



  It's well to see some of the benefits...






CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, March 2, 2006

On Homeschooling

I know you are very concerned about the quality of education in public schools. As a parent I think homeschooling is the best answer right now.


Thanks for your consideration.

Keep up the good work.

-- -- * * * * Henry Cate III <cate3@panix.com>

 * * * * "Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you'll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others." -- Jacob M. Braude

An interesting site. Cleverly done. I am not an advocate of home schooling as a rule; I think public schools are a good thing for a Republic. But then I am also an advocate of universal manhood conscription for a year with reserve obligations as vital to keeping a republic (see Machiavelli for details and arguments). But given the abysmal nature of the schools today, home schooling is greatly preferable to the sham public schools most have to endure.


Subject: Sun goes away

I want to share the following message that an acquaintance received from a classmate of hers:

"Is this really true, I am confused, I can't imagine that happening here, what would people think, I agree with the people's reactions in this article, I would just go home and try to wait it out and hope that light from the sun would come back. I bet that people were worried because everyone is so used to getting up and going to work in the daylight hours and have businesses up and running when people can see. The crime rate would probably go up, because complete darkness oh my people would take atvantage of that. If this isn't for real could this ever happen or is someone just trying to make up a weird scanerio."

The above was the reaction to a rather hilarious Onion piece with the title  Rotation Of Earth Plunges Entire North American Continent Into Darkness

This piece describes, totally factually but with a perfect disaster spin, the setting of the sun and it's aftermath. My friend's correspondent bought it completely.

The really delightful thing: the class they share together is ...get ready...Astronomy. :)

It's not a selective college, I take it....

Mike Juergens (mjcom99@hotmail.com)

Well, it shows that everyone ought to get a college prep education, right?


Subject: War-Crimes Suspect May Be Next Kosovo PM

For this we have bound our sons to exile?

War-Crimes Suspect May Be Next Kosovo PM

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro - A former rebel commander accused of war crimes by Belgrade was asked Thursday to head Kosovo's new government in a move that could further strain already tense ties with Serbia.




I have yet to have anyone tell me what national interest was served by our intervention in the Balkans; and as far as the Kosovo campaign be concerned, it would make as much sense if the French bombed Washington DC to require us to turn over San Diego, California, to the Mexicans.


Subj: Universal manhood conscription

Do you want universal manhood conscription into the *Army*? Or into the *militia*?

Seems to me into the militia makes more sense. Especially the part about militia being ordinarily under control of the States rather than of the FedGov.

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

Universal Military Service -- boot camp for everyone of every social class -- is beneficial to a democracy. Young men come of age then, and friendships are formed; and a lot of prejudices are lost. After that service, National Guard service makes sense. What I have in mind is either the Swiss or Swedish system.

The Swiss used to be, at least, very strict: those who refused to complete their year of service and reserve obligations were given a Swiss passport and ejected from the country without right of return. That has changed in the past decades but it wasn't a bad idea.

The Swedish system requires a year of service and a reserve obligation; those who don't complete this may never hold a civil service job, and employers may explicitly use this failure of service as a reason for not hiring.

Understand, requiring a year of compulsory military training and service is bloody expensive and a great intrusion into personal liberty. The point of it is the benefits to the republic. And of course it is a means of weeding out unsuitable people from the voting rolls...


Subject: The Real History of the Crusades buffy willow

Fascinating article on the "politically incorrect" true history of the Crusades



The Real History of the Crusades

With the possible exception of Umberto Eco, medieval scholars are not used to getting much media attention. We tend to be a quiet lot (except during the annual bacchanalia we call the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, of all places), poring over musty chronicles and writing dull yet meticulous studies that few will read. Imagine, then, my surprise when within days of the September 11 attacks, the Middle Ages suddenly became relevant.

I was frequently asked to comment on the fact that the Islamic world has a just grievance against the West. Doesn’t the present violence, they persisted, have its roots in the Crusades’ brutal and unprovoked attacks against a sophisticated and tolerant Muslim world? In other words, aren’t the Crusades really to blame?

Osama bin Laden certainly thinks so.

Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common.

Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way.

The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.

That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world.

Many thousands of warriors took the vow of the cross and prepared for war. Why did they do it? The answer to that question has been badly misunderstood. In the wake of the Enlightenment, it was usually asserted that Crusaders were merely lacklands and ne’er-do-wells who took advantage of an opportunity to rob and pillage in a faraway land.

During the past two decades, computer-assisted charter studies have demolished that contrivance. Scholars have discovered that crusading knights were generally wealthy men with plenty of their own land in Europe. Nevertheless, they willingly gave up everything to undertake the holy mission. Crusading was not cheap. Even wealthy lords could easily impoverish themselves and their families by joining a Crusade. They did so not because they expected material wealth (which many of them had already) but because they hoped to store up treasure where rust and moth could not corrupt.<snip>

My favorite book on the Crusades is Fletcher Pratt's Iron Men and Saints. It was combined with his second book, The Flame of Islam, into a single volume called The Crusades that still makes excellent reading.

My favorite book on the Crusades is Fletcher Pratt's Iron Men and Saints. It was combined with his second book, The Flame of Islam, into a single volume called The Crusades that still makes excellent reading.

Surely you mean Harold Lamb?

Bob Roberts

I surely do. Thanks. Harold Lamb did a number of historical biographies that are just wonderful reading. Pratt's "Battles That Changed History" is an essential book. They had different specialties but both are very readable.


Subject: Testing the readership

Hello Jerry,

As part of the discussion on how easy it is to get information from your very expert readership, I have a non-trivial challenge to your readers that is also of particular interest to me. There are no prizes only a warm fuzzy feeling.

Background: I have an Oracle database dump (eg. test.dmp) that is about a year old. I would like to check the details in one or two of the fields in this dump and extract some data such as timestamps from a number of the records.

Problem: What is the easiest way to extract this data without having to load the thing back into a working Oracle server? ie How is it possible to read this database dump with freely available tools?

Thanks very much in advance.


That's a pretty technical question...


Subject: In Regards to the Oracle Question... 

It sounds to me like your reader needs to meet - the TOAD.


It has an file browser in it that will lets you get into Oracle Dumps.



Hammer in 2102?


- Roland Dobbins


NEO News (03/01/06) New Torino 2 asteroid VD17

This first NEO News of 2006 discusses four topics related to NEOs and the impact hazard.

(1) Report on NEA 2004 VD17, which is now classed on the NASA/JPL NEO webpage as Torino Scale 2, based on a probability of impact of nearly 1 in 1000 during the close pass of May 4, 2102.

(2) Preliminary note on a conference on planetary defense to be held in Washington DC a year from now, March 5-8, 2007.

David Morrison



At the end of February, orbital calculations for near-earth-asteroid (NEA) 2004 VD17 indicated that the risk of an impact within the next century (specifically on May 4, 2102) was higher than that of any other known asteroid. The probability, based on 687 telescopic observations spanning 475 days, is listed on the NASA/JPL NEO Program webpage as a bit less than 1 in 1000. This probability, while small, raises the possible 2102 impact to a Torino scale value of 2 (meriting attention from astronomers), which is higher than any other asteroid. (Note: the impact probability for 1950 DA is larger, but since this hazard is not realized until 2080, it falls outside the one-century range of the Torino scale).

Judging from its brightness, NEA 2004 VD17 has a nominal diameter near 500 m and a mass of nearly a billion tons. While below the threshold for a global catastrophe, the nominal impact energy of more than 10,000 megatons is comparable to all the world's nuclear arsenals. There are no radar observations available, and the asteroid has not been characterized in any detail, so all these numbers should be taken as approximate.

For comparison, NEA Apophis (formerly 2004 MN4) is currently listed on the NEO webpage as Torino scale 1, with an impact probability on April 13, 2036, of about 1 part in 5000. Apophis is also smaller, with a nominal diameter of 300 m and mass of less than 100 million tons. These are the only two asteroids currently with a Torino Scale listing of greater than 0.

Fortunately, it is nearly a century before the close pass from VD17. This should provide ample time to refine the orbit and, most probably, determine that the asteroid will miss the Earth. On the other hand, there are no near-term opportunities for additional observations, so VD17 will probably remain at Torino scale 2 for quite some time.

All the above information is taken from the NASA/JPL NEO Program Office webpage at http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov .



Plans are underway for a planetary defense conference in 2007. This second international conference on protecting planet Earth from threatening asteroids and comets will be held at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on March 5-8, 2007. The primary sponsor is the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Recommendations from a similar conference in 2004 can be accessed at http://www.planetarydefense.info .

Experts from around the world will discuss how we detect and characterize threatening objects, the techniques we might use to deflect an object should one be detected, the effects an impact could have, how we would prepare for a disaster of this type, and political, policy, and legal issues that would affect the decision on what to do about a threat. The objective of the conference is to assess our current understanding of impact threats and the limits of our ability to deflect an oncoming asteroid, and to develop recommendations for how we can improve our ability to protect the planet.

A formal announcement from the AIAA and a call for papers will be included in the next NEO News and will also be available soon on the Internet.










CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


FridayMarch 3, 2006

My favorite book on the Crusades is Fletcher Pratt's Iron Men and Saints. It was combined with his second book, The Flame of Islam, into a single volume called The Crusades that still makes excellent reading.

Surely you mean Harold Lamb?

Bob Roberts

I surely do. Thanks. Harold Lamb did a number of historical biographies that are just wonderful reading. Pratt's "Battles That Changed History" is an essential book. They had different specialties but both are very readable.

Dear Sir,

Being always willing to follow up on advice about worthwhile reading, I tried to look up the following books of Fletcher Pratt on Amazon:

The Flame of Islam ; Iron Men and Saints

Amazon did return information about books with those titles; albeit by author Harold Lamb. Nevertheless, I ordered them and trust that they will in fact turn out to be the books you recommended.

Best regards

Georg Steck

They will be. See above. Thanks.


On Intellectual Property

Subject: Clash of civilization article triggered by Guess What

Dear Dr Pournelle,

You're probably right about the Crusades not coming again. If we read through Thomas Lifson's "Clash of Civilisation" article we find his apocalyptic predictions were triggered by a web banner opposing the notions of Intellectual Property (IP for short) which are such bones of contention lately:

"Recently, I was reading an Islamist website and discovered the following logo in an advertising-like box:

“Oppose Intellectual Property”

...the very internet which is powering so much innovation and efficiency is being used to build a political movement to destroy all technological dynamism."

This made me blink. I hadn't thought of the conflict between the West and Islam as being defined by attitudes to patent, copyright, and so forth.

For your convenience, URLs for this were: <http://www.realclearpolitics.com/Commentary/com-2_28_06_TL.html>  - linked to at <http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/mail403.html#clash> ,

The author elaborates:

"These guys may be crazy, but they are smart. Intellectual property is the bedrock foundation of modern life.

Without the ability to protect (and profit from) intellectual property, there will be no innovation."

- and so forth. This is at least a novel explanation of the current clash of cultures, and his discussion is instructive in some ways - lots of fascinating and probably true things I hadn't heard before.

Of course the same is true of the local Young Socialists' tabloid rag; but I'm not going to become a disciple of Trotsky anytime soon.

Let's break this into parts for discussion: - is a disrespect for IP a characteristic of Islam and likely to encourage anti-Western feelings? My take: Islam and the West were at each others throats even during the Dark Ages when it was Islam that had the technological and scientific enquiring mind - long before the Renaissance, let alone any ideas of IP.

A lot of modern Western activists detest IP as well; not one I've met has any hint of an Islamist cast of thought; but heck, I haven't met many Islamists. It's clear though that anti-IP feelings are characteristic of at least some Western thinking.

- is IP a pre-requisite for innovation? There have actually been some studies on this. The best are the most recent because they use the power of internet information-gathering to permit statistical analysis of historical trends, like a series by (Dr) Petra Moser, or Professor Hall's look at business method patents (See <http://repositories.cdlib.org/iber/econ/E03-331/> ).

Professor Moser found "no evidence that patent laws increased levels of innovative activity but strong evidence that patent systems influenced the distribution of innovative activity across industries."

Basically, if secrecy could take the place of patent enforcement, that's where inventors flocked. So far, so reasonable; it shoots down the 'net increase of innovation' justification for patents but points out that patents might encourage different kinds of innovation. On the whole, though, there is no reliable evidence that IP laws advance a society or its technical understanding at all - something the EFF never tires of pointing out.

Moser's thesis received a lot of publicity; it won the Gerschenkron Prize. It may be seen at the National Bureau of Economic Research's website: <https://palm.nber.org/papers/w9909> .

The whole thing made a big splash, including a New York Times article back in 2003 which unfortunately one needs a subscription to see; "...developing countries like India, which is scheduled to come into full compliance with an international patent treaty in 2005, may be better off without strong patent laws.... Professor Moser concludes what was good for America and Britain in the 19th century is not necessarily good for emerging, largely rural economies...".

So there. Islamic nations are hardly likely to adopt an IP system tailored for industrial economies they don't have. It doesn't mean they will always be backward or incapable.

- is the West likely to lose its technical and cultural pre-eminence? Mr Lifson discusses China's increasing IP consciousness. Heavens, it's been clear for years that the Chinese, all 1.2 billion of them, are over the next few decades going to become vastly important economically, technologically, and culturally.

Now it's quite fashionable to depict the West in terminal decline on account of debt, too much military spending and other alarming indicators, as well as a relative decline in population. But all these new civilisations will have their own problems, like the 140 million migrant workers in China who are essentially slaves at the foundation of the economy, or the geriatric demographic pileup that such huge populations will experience around 2030 ... about when I reckon the West will pick up again.

On the whole I think I'd rather live in the West over the next few decades. This has nothing to do with IP laws favouring the West. But that culture is spread over three or four easily defended continents, it has been used to dealing with disruptive technologies for much longer than anyone else, for sheer dynamism it still has no peer, and it would be a very unwise culture indeed which took it on in a straight fight.

None of this means that I disagree with Mr Lifson about silly backward Luddite attitudes being bad for a culture or the human race as a whole. It's just that I don't see Islam as having a monopoly on silliness. Nor am I buying into the idea that IP laws are vital to technological growth. So far as I can tell the opposite is true, at least where the time to obsolescence is on the order of months not years.

But it's good to see an disquisition, however intemperate, which gives a new perspective and makes me think. Thanks for the link.

Regards, TC

-- Terry Cole System Administrator, OU Physics tcole@physics.otago.ac.nz


Subject: TOR Books Joins Baen in Selling Unencrypted Science Fiction and Fantasy

I particularly like the description of "almost everyone else in publishing "...


(PRLEAP.COM) "We’ve tested a lot of e-book waters, including various cockamamie schemes involving overpriced e-books laden with DRM," says TOR Books Executive Editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

"Oddly enough," Hayden continues, "a lot of those ‘books’ didn’t even sell enough copies to pay for their file-conversion costs. Meanwhile, it hasn’t escaped our notice that Jim Baen has been doing something that works, that people like, and that makes money. I’m delighted to be doing this pilot program; I think Jim has been clueful on this issue for a long time, while almost everyone else in publishing has been staggering around on stage hitting one another over the head with inflated pig bladders."

Petronius (AKA Pete The Cat)

One more data point in the DRM debates.


Subject: Black/White Achievement Gap Narrowed By Eroding White Performance

Dr. Pournelle,

I thought you'd find this both alarming and hilarious. Research support for No Child Left Behind = No Child Gets Ahead:


Don McArthur

But hardly astonishing, alas.


Subject: And maybe the horse *will* learn to sing

Camille Paglia tells the truth:

"The humanities have destroyed themselves over the past 30 years…Through an obsession with European jargon and a shallow politicization of discourse, the humanities have imploded…There’s hardly a campus you can name where the most exciting things that are happening on campus are coming from the humanities departments…I think the entire profession is in withdrawal at the moment. This is a national problem. It’s not just a Harvard problem."


What do you know. Maybe some of them will listen...

--Catfish N. Cod



Subject: The Return of Patriarchy

Steve Sailer ( www.vdare.com ) has written a lot about the impact of demographics and fertility on the so called "Red State-Blue State" divide. He uses the phrase "Affordable Family Formation" to represent the variety of factors which influence the expense and difficult of starting and raising a family. He has shown that conservatism, strong GOP support, and higher birth rates are found in areas where family formation is more affordable. (see http://www.vdare.com/sailer/050508_family.htm ) .

I would be very surprised if the factors he sites are not largely responsible for the demographic decline of a number of European countries. Consider, for example, the cost and difficulty of acquiring your first house, which is something that many people want to do as a prelude to starting a family. Entry level homes are already out of reach for the majority of the population in many parts of the US. In Europe, the situation appears to be much worse. At least that is the impression I have based on these comments by Robert Toll, the CEO of Toll Brothers Inc., one of the largest U.S. home builders:

>>> Via Marginal Revolution, an article from the New York Times
>>> Magazine should have parents and kids alike scared. "In the past
>>> couple of years, Toll and his deputies have begun analyzing European
>>> housing data to see if they hold any lessons for a maturing American
>>> housing market. Toll has been talking up the research to stock
>>> analysts and the financial press for the past year. His conclusions
>>> carry a whiff of new-paradigm thinking, but he nevertheless seems
>>> convinced that Europe's present-day reality is America's destiny. I
>>> asked Toll what our children - my kids are both under 8, I told him
>>> - would be paying when they're ready to buy. "They're going to live
>>> with us until they're 40," Toll said matter-of-factly. "And when
>>> they have their second kid, then we'll finally kick them out
>>>and make them pay for the house that we paid for.
>>> And that house will cost them 45 to 50 percent of their income...."


Married couples living with their parents until they are 40,
because they can't afford to buy a home??? Not exactly conducive to having a large family!!!

CP, Hartford, CT

The worst of it is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, created to make it easier for lower middle class families to buy their own homes, have, under rules changes ushered in by Clinton, made so much mortgage money available that they have driven the price of a house to infinity. When mortgages are really cheap, then prices will rise; and we now have a generation that own nothing, really. They have interest only loans on houses on which they made almost no down payment. If the easy mortgage money goes away -- which is to say if China stops buying our essentially worthless paper -- the prices collapse. "Owners" will find they owe multiple times what their house is worth when the market revalues. Banks will find themselves in possession of boxes of keys.

Over time I suppose such a market correction will be for the good, but it's going to be very painful for a while; and it's probably inevitable. All that easy money.

The rules change Clinton's administration made -- I'm not sure but possibly by Harvard President Summers when he was Secretary of the Treasury -- was to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to value mortgage paper at essentially its face value, borrow money against that, and thus have lots more money to loan. It's a legalized Ponzi scheme.

Water always flows downhill, but it does reach bottom. Herb Stein, Ben Stein's father, when he was Nixon's economic advisor told us "If something can't go on forever, it will stop." We don't seem to realize that.

The result has been to force young couples to have two incomes in order to "own" an overpriced house that will be a good investment only if the bubble doesn't burst.

We are rapidly approaching a time in the US when the number of voters who don't pay taxes will be considerably larger than the number of voters who do. This is known as taxation without representation. That condition has always been irreversible in democracies, and is the condition that caused John Adams to point out that "There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide."

Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for the West as it commits suicide. Childlessness among the productive wealth creators/tax payers coupled with procreation among the tax eater is literal suicide of the West.


Subject: What Warren Buffet forgets -- American Politicians love to tax, and have the infrastructure to do so.

Hi Dr. Pournelle,

I think that Warren Buffett's analysis fails to account for the fact that real assets can be seized a percent at a time, mostly this is done at city and county level via property and sales taxes. And the taxes are never the same for everyone, with various credits and deductions the Federal government chooses who to tax heavily, at the county level they don't bother with the accounting tricks. For example, in Falcon CO they baldly state who gets to pay half the normal property taxes: those with 10years continuous residence and over 65 (makes it sound "fair", but most with 10 years in are also 65 or older). When politicians scream "Tax the Rich" the Rich get to counter with "Tax us and we lay proles off", its hard to see what "Tax the Ragheads" will be countered with, other than a mad scrable to see who can raise the rates the highest. Since this will likely happen at the county or state level (with help from the uniform code people) the Federal government will most likely shrug and say "we can't deal with it". Eventually this will cause problems (taxation without representation, anyone?), but it should buy another 50 years, and what politician is going to turn that deal down?

-- Puff


One more time:

Subject: Of Fletcher Pratt, and Harold Lamb

Your description of "Iron Men & Saints" / "The Flame of Islam" (a.k.a. "The Crusades") sounded interesting so I checked my library's online card catalog and couldn't find it when searching by author -- Fletcher Pratt, you said -- so I tried again by title. There were close to fifty books with the title "The Crusades", but when I found this one I realized it was the one you meant:

The Crusades; the whole story of the crusades, originally published in two volumes as Iron men and saints and The flame of Islam.

by Lamb, Harold, 1892-1962.

Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday [c1931]

I ordered it, and since I expect that others will be interested in reading your recommendation, I am sending this correction.

Any comments on Lamb's other books that my local library has available?
--Charlemagne: the legend and the man
--Genghis Kahn, the emperor of all men -
-Genghis Khan and the Mongol horde
--Suleiman, the Magnificent, Sultan of the East
--The Plainsman

Gary Pavek

I recommend all of Harold Lamb's books, so perhaps some good came of this. Of course it was Lamb, not Pratt, who wrote Iron Men and Saints, which is still the best reading I know about the First Crusade.





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Subject: Harold Lamb



"Life is good, after all, when a man can go where he wants to, and write about what he likes best and know that other men find pleasure in his work."

       -Harold Lamb

To open a book, and find a kindred spirit, separated by the ages but still possessed of breath and heart in the pages of his writing, is one of the purer pleasures of this world, or any!


I suppose I should plead guilty here: I should have had more about Harold Lamb from time to time. His histories formed a good part of my education and sense of history, so much so that I don't always remember him.

His biographies are excellent: they imbed you in the historical times of the character. Lamb, like Costain, was a scholar who managed to make a good living writing scholarly history. You can find out more from http://www.haroldlamb.net/history.htm.

I am often asked to do essential reading lists. I consider every one of Harold Lamb's histories essential for a decent high school or college general education. Read Fletcher Pratt's Battles That Changed History for the general context of the flow of Western history; then start with his biography of Alexander and Phillip and go from there. His Theodora and the Emperor will tell you a great deal about that period of the Darm Ages (Dark Ages in the West; the Byzantine Civilization was hardly in a Dark Age.) And continue with every one of his books you can get. He's especially good on Tamarlane and Genghis Kahn.

 Note, that these are historical biographies, and while Lamb was quite capable of scholarly work, he was also a dramatist. There are many conversations and meetings described for which he could not possibly have had any evidence. Like most novelists he strove for plausibility: his biographies do not conflict with what's known (or was known to him at the time and he read extensively) but he wasn't at all reluctant to flesh out the story with plausible details. I don't recommend Lamb for those about to bone up for a college level history examination, at least not in a persnickety (or politically correct) college. (Alas, it is my experience that most modern history teachers know so much less than Lamb did that this advice may be out of date.)


Subject: The Fight for Copyright - Francis Hamit

Dear Jerry:

My latest contribution to the continuing dialog on Copyright offer a real solution.


Francis Hamit





CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

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Sunday, March 5, 2006

Subject: Sane People in the Media? Maybe One...

Here is an interesting exchange between "Larry King Live" and Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show", Dr. Pournelle:


"...[DANIEL HENNINGER] discovered Jon Stewart seated across the table from Larry King. Mr. Stewart is the host of "The Daily Show," Comedy Central's satirical TV news program. This looked like a wave worth waiting for, and it was. The subject was Washington.

"Larry King suggested to Jon Stewart that the current low ebb of the Democrats and Republicans was good for Mr. Stewart's business.

"King: So, in a sense you're happy over this.

"Stewart: No.

"King: This gives you fodder.

"Mr. Stewart replied that if government "began to solve problems in a rational way rather than just a way that involved political dividends, we would be the happiest people in the world to turn our attention to idiots like, you know, media people, no offense."

"King: So, you don't want it to be bad?

"Stewart: Did you really just ask me if I want it to be bad?

King: Yes because you--

"Stewart: What are you--I have kids. What do you think? I want things to corrode to the point where we're all living in huts?

"King: You don't want Medicare to fail?

"Stewart: Are you insane?"

A most interesting exchange. I'm convinced that some (maybe many, most, or even all) liberals hope that things go really bad during Bush's watch, regardless of the consequences. Unfortunately, I suspect the same thing applied to the conservative camp during Clinton's terms.

My opinions, not those of my employer.

Charles Brumbelow

One could wish this were an isolated instance, but it is not. See Pareto on the Lions and the Foxes and Circulation of Elites for more understanding of the phenomenon.

It isn't just Liberals vs. Conservatives.

Some time ago theorists wished we would get "real parties" that "made a difference". They got what they wished for.

What they forgot was that when you have ideological parties, then changes in party make for radical changes in government. With the old system one party would stay in until it was pretty clear it had been there too long, then throw the rascals out, change offices, clean sweep, new brooms sweep clean, but the policy changes would be at the margins. There would not be overall reconstitution of the very notion of government.

Well, we got "real parties" and now we don't dare let the radicals in because they will, and say they will, change the rules so they can never be got rid of absent blood. They did that in the universities.

The old two party system in which both sides appealed to the center and controlled their radical wings is pretty well gone. Conservative Democrats are an endangered species, with Joe Lieberman put on exhibit as a rare object. Some of us understood all that for a long time: a two party system requires that either party be able to lose without disaster, because power tends to corrupt, etc., etc., and being in power too long is bad for everyone. And it doesn't matter one's ideology: witness Duke who just got 8 years, but whose ideologies were sound...

I have an eye appointment shortly. Continued another time.








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