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Monday  March 20, 2006

Subject: Letter from England

Peerages for money story: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4821702.stm

Negative comment on UK ID project: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1734265,00.html

French riots: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4821670.stm

'Shoot to kill' story continues to unwind: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1734324,00.html

Home care 'to cut NHS deficits': http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4821682.stm

London Times comment on American politics--remember UK journalists understand very little: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-2092455,00.html

Snipers being deployed in Minsk to take out political demonstrators http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-2092520,00.html

Yob problem dates back a ways http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article352178.ece

Gay pub story: "Sorry, sir, you don't pass the gayness test" http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article352173.ece

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


Subject: Lack of a common basis bites again

Dr. Pournelle,

I don't get literary allusion easily. Give it to me straight, like in "The Bell Curve" (an EXCELLENT book obtained on your recommendation. Thank you!) Your high opinion of the Kipling poem "The Gods of the Copybook Headings" made me curious because I just did not get it. This is yet another case where the lack of a common education hampers communication of an important idea. Since so many people reference it, slogging through Google results proved time consuming but it was finally fruitful. I think some explanation of it on your fine site might be in order for those of us without the benefit of a classical education. I hope this synopsis is of use:

A copybook was used to teach handwriting. At the top of each page was a heading. This heading was usually a statement of some enduring truth, like "The Wages of Sin is Death." The remainder of the page consisted of blank lines, in which the student was supposed to copy the heading multiple times. The Gods of the Copybook Headings are thus the eternal truths that we keep forgetting and have to be taught again, over and over.

Respectfully Submitted

Robin K. Juhl

You are correct, and of course I like to lecture, but there are time constraints. Jacques Barzun covers the need for common understandings in his wonderful Teacher in America, which is one of those indispensable books everyone should read. (His Dawn to Decadence explains a great deal of the culture of Western Civilization; it will take months to read, but it is worth it.) I will try to remember in future.


Subject: The Absurdity in the Patent Office



March 19, 2006 Op-Ed Contributor

This Essay Breaks the Law


• The Earth revolves around the Sun.

• The speed of light is a constant.

• Apples fall to earth because of gravity.

• Elevated blood sugar is linked to diabetes.

• Elevated uric acid is linked to gout.

• Elevated homocysteine is linked to heart disease.

• Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.

ACTUALLY, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.

All this may sound absurd, but it is the heart of a case that will be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. In 1986 researchers filed a patent application for a method of testing the levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, in the blood. They went one step further and asked for a patent on the basic biological relationship between homocysteine and vitamin deficiency. A patent was granted that covered both the test and the scientific fact. Eventually, a company called Metabolite took over the license for the patent.

Although Metabolite does not have a monopoly on test methods — other companies make homocysteine tests, too — they assert licensing rights on the correlation of elevated homocysteine with vitamin deficiency. A company called LabCorp used a different test but published an article mentioning the patented fact. Metabolite sued on a number of grounds, and has won in court so far.

But what the Supreme Court will focus on is the nature of the claimed correlation. On the one hand, courts have repeatedly held that basic bodily processes and "products of nature" are not patentable. That's why no one owns gravity, or the speed of light. But at the same time, courts have granted so-called correlation patents for many years. Powerful forces are arrayed on both sides of the issue.<snip>


The Last Plane in California.


-- Roland Dobbins


The most chilling part of the story below is perhaps the second line from the bottom when the University spokesperson states the university will work to fulfill the race relations act (rather than its mandate for academic free enquiry)


Students stage demo against tutor http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/4815064.stm 

Students from the University of Leeds have demonstrated against a lecturer who claims black people have a genetically lower IQ than white people.

Dr Frank Ellis, a Russian tutor, said data stretching back 100 years pointed to a "persistent deviation" in the average IQ of black and white people.

The Students' Union claim Dr Ellis has breeched requirements for staff to promote equality and want him sacked.

More than 200 students gathered at the city campus to make their views known.

Dr Ellis has expressed support for the Bell Curve theory, examined in a book by Richard Hernnstein and Charles Murray, which concludes that ethnicity can play a part in IQ levels.

'Abhorrent' views

He has also praised the work of scholars such as Hans Eysenck and Arthur Jensen who have come to similar conclusions and said their opponents were worried about the implications for equal opportunities.

But he said these ideas did not preclude the existence of some black people of exceptional intelligence.

The University of Leeds said Dr Ellis's view were "abhorrent" and it had written to him asking him to stop making any further public comment.

It said it had to be satisfied that he was not undermining its commitment to equality and diversity but added that it intended to discharge its full responsibility under the Race Relations Act.

Dr Ellis said he was unable to comment on the demonstration but has previously denied doing anything wrong and said that labelling him as a racist was an attack on his freedom of speech.


Obviously it is unacceptable to even talk about genetic foundations of sociological stratification. It seems that Darwinism is just too painful to apply to human subjects.


Academic freedom isn't, apparently. Scientific questions should be settled by science. Average IQ of racial and sexual groups is probably the touchiest possible subject.





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Tuesday,  March 21, 2006

Equinox, Sort of

(See view)


On science:

Dear Jerry,

A well meaning friend in the movie business keeps sending me links to "the end is near" environmentalist stories and web sites. I finally just snapped at all the hyperbole and the following poured out in a few minutes as a reply to him. It might be of some interest to your readers, if only as a provocation to meaningful debate:

A: Most of those web sites are part of the environmentalist movement, people who have a vested interest in promoting the whole concept of human caused global warming.

B: The Guardian is a very left wing British newspaper which buys totally into any and all so called "green" causes, and is not above willfully distorting and misstating facts in order to support what they believe to be the "correct" version of reality

C: We just don't know for sure if the earth is in a long term warming OR cooling phase, because the data points don't extend long enough. For most of the world we have less than a century of even minimal temperature data. This for a global climate system that is billions of years old.

D: Even if we are in a long term warming trend, we just don't really know if human activities have had ANY effect on the warming. There is plenty of evidence for human caused warming, there is plenty of evidence for it being due to natural cycles of the suns luminosity and/or naturally occurring variability in the numerous greenhouse gasses (CO2 being only one, others are methane and water vapor, good old H2O.), and possible effects of such things as volcanic eruptions putting dust and sulfuric acid into the upper atmosphere, blocking sunlight.

It would a lot wiser to put some of the money the green's want paid into the controls of the Kyoto Protocol, and using it instead to study the problem and get some real answers to what is really going on, and what, if anything humans have done to cause it and what if anything humans can do to ameliorate it. Note that the second, what humans can do to ameliorate any climate change, is independent of whether humans caused the climate change. if it's getting warmer, no matter who caused it, maybe we can make it stop. If it's gonna get colder, same thing applies.

I am just not impressed with Chicken Little environmentalists who have an ideological axe to grind. I point out that Paul Ehrlich wrote "The Population Bomb' in the 70s, stating that by now (2006) half the world would have starved to death and the other half would be starving. he was completely wrong, and yet now the same Paul Ehrlich is beating the drum for the end of the world again. Maybe he's right, this time. Maybe not. These people are, by and large, not scientists, and not impartial. they seek to control others by scaring them. You would do well to consider such things, and read something on the subject of warming that is not ideologically driven by such hidden agendas as the typical green's. They would have you believe that only they can be trusted, and that only they have the answers. Truth is not owned by anyone, and certainly not by those in pursuit of control over the lives and welfare of every other human being.

One last note; Kyoto puts no limits on the fastest growing and most heavily polluting (in terms of CO2 emissions) economies, namely India and China. It instead limits the mature economies of the industrial west. The total cuts in CO2 emissions mandated by Kyoto, if every country on earth followed them, would not lower the total global load of CO2. This is admitted even by the advocates of Kyoto. It would do nothing to lower CO2, and nothing to reverse any warming caused by elevated levels of CO2. The reason they want Kyoto is because it gives them the power to control the global economy, and to begin to direct things centrally. It is the old human impulse to "planning", and down that road if you follow it lie stagnant economies, stagnant technology, and a resulting inability (for lack of money and technology advances) to do anything to solve any real ecological crises. There are problems, but you don't cut the head off the hen because she lays a few bad eggs. You might do better to first figure out WHY she is laying bad eggs, and try to fix the real problem.

Everyone has their panties in a wad, for example, over the ice in both polar regions 'receding". If you look at the methodology and the data used for those studies, they fall apart. The fact is there is a long term cycle in artic ice sheets, they wax and wane over decades. The Antarctic ice cap is actually NOT any smaller now than it was 40 years ago, or at any time in our records going back about a century. The ice is not "melting" any more than it ever has.

Want another example? In the seventies and eighties we were told there was a hole in the ozone over the south pole, and thus we had to stop using chlorofluorocarbons (Freon is one) in our cooling systems. So we did. Guess what? Even though the levels of CFC in the atmosphere did not significantly drop, the hole went away anyway. Yes, the hole went away, even though our stopping the use of CFC had NO effect, NONE, zilch zero nada bupkis effect on the levels of CFC in the atmosphere. The "hole" was part of a natural variation that had hit an extreme low level of ozone in that area due to some not fully understood NATURAL phenomenon. But now, because of the scare tactics of the environmental left, every time we want to refill an air conditioner unit with coolant, we pay three or four times more for the coolant than if it was using a CFC compound like Freon. And the newer coolants that are non CFC are less efficient, meaning they use more power to get the same cooling effect, so we have to make more electricity, which means we burn more oil (at least it does in this country with it's idiotic antinuclear power attitude, unlike for example Japan which uses nuclear power for 60 percent of its' electricity, or France which is 83 per cent nuclear powered, while we putter away at about 20%). So we burn more oil, to run less efficient cooling systems, and that leads to more pollution. And we did all that for what reason? Because some scare-mongering leftwing green activists and a few scientist's who will do anything for headlines and another grant from the government or left wing foundation used their skills as agitators and advocates to scare everyone into making the government make us stop using CFC's.

Want another example? DDT does NOT make bird egg shells thinner. They thought so, the greens, and we stopped using it. Rchel Carson in "Silent Spring". got it wrong, wrong, wrong. Too late, now. It's illegal to use in the USA or the industrial west. So what? Well, because it's is illegal here, the undeveloped world won't use it either. For two reasons, one because they feel that if it's not safe for the Westerners, why should we subject our people to it? Second, because the insect and disease vector eradication programs DDT could be used for are largely funded by western governments and NGO's who are legally unable to advocate or fund the use of DDT. So what's the problem? Well, DDT kills the malaria carrying Anopheles mosquito more efficiently than ANY other known insecticide. Dollar for dollar you can kill more disease carrying mosquitoes with DDT than with the much more expensive non-DDT replacements forced on the third world by the "greens". So? So, because there is not enough money for the more expensive insecticides, they cannot buy enough of them to kill ALL the mosquitoes, because of that shortfall, about 2 million people a year in the undeveloped world die in fevered agony from malaria. Two million people a year who if DDT were used would be alive. That's been going on for 35 years. That's seventy million men, women and children who have died because the greens got it wrong on DDT and won't admit to their mistake. It's genocide, of the poorest and least able to defend themselves, and the greens lie about it, every day. They cannot admit it.

That's why I think they are scum, and I don't use such words lightly.

So quit worrying, and let's make movies.

While I might modify some of the numbers slightly if I had the time to go by more than memory, I stand by the essence of what this says.


Voodoo and regulatory science...


When they proclaim me emperor.

You did not touch of the Military and Veterans Jerry. Might I suggest a few things?

Serving Military pay no Federal taxes.

Civil Service may NOT be compensated at a higher rate that Serving Military or Veterans. (Right now for example, Federal Civil Service has a mileage compensation of 42.2 cents/mile While a Veteran driving to a VA facility get's 11 cents a mile with the first $6 deducted as a "Co-Payment". That rate can't buy one gallon of gas for a 80 mile round trip.

Housing allowances need to be raised for serving Military and investigation into housing gougers done. It's common around Military bases.

Keep your military in good shape and they will keep you safe. Treat the Veterans right and you will have a good military.

Harry Reddington


Subject: An idea for Emperor Pournelle!

Here's an idea I've pondered for some time: Turn the Civil Service into an actual Civic Service, just like Military Service, both to be mandatory for Citizens of the Empire of Pournelle I (along with Jury Duty). No rights without responsibilities for Citizens!

Also, I think Jury selection should be done by blind lottery, avoiding the lawyers cherry-picking the jury, then have the Jury viewing the court proceedings by a hidden closed circuit television, so the lawyers can't play to the camera or to the jury directly.

your loyal Subject! Ave Pournelle!

The problem with becoming emperor is that one tends then to work to preserve the empire lest one be prosecuted for treason. Claudius is said to have wanted to restore the Republic, but by inventing the civil service and making the empire more efficient he insured that it would never happen.

Of course you are right. Gold will not get you good soldiers, but good soldiers can always get you gold.

And the education establishment in these United States has so far collapsed that within a generation no one will know what a Republic is or was. What is taught as history now has nothing to do with important questions, but we can learn about the tribal structures of the Plains Indians. Up the Comanche.


On Birthrate in the West

To me, a slowing birthrate in a society (especially the West) is indicative of one of two things or perhaps a combination of the both: either people are too distracted by needs or desires in the present or they fear the future. Both of these can be a product of secularism.

In a secular, mixed-economy welfare state, many find they can live to absorb the pleasures of the present without any thought to the future. However small the amount, people start to believe they will be undergirded by social security and/or like support. Voluntary saving abates in the culture. The optimistic religion that undergirded the West has largely left public consciousness as well. There are few social constraints to the over-reverence of self. That leaves more time and money and credit for consumer spending and other pleasure-seeking activity. The motto in the West seems to be: live fast, die young, buy luxuries on credit, and leave little inheritance (culturally and increasingly materially) to very few children. There is little optimism for the future. They just want to run the clock out in style. Short-term optimism and long-term pessimism combine to stifle the birthrate in Europe and to a lesser extent the USA.

In poverty-stricken countries (some developing countries), surplus calories are an issue.

A key issue for all is maturity. Do a group of people have sufficient maturity in child-bearing years to (1.) defer gratification (especially in material things) and (2.) exercise impulse control (especially in those things that interfere with family formation)? An environment that cultivates those two virtues will have enough optimism to produce larger numbers of children. Some religions provide a basis for optimism. Secularism over the long haul clearly does not.

Regards, Paul D. Perry ( father of eight )


A correspondent wrote:

"Genetically modified cats or apes will have the looks of a Hollywood star and provide a superior outlet for sexual energies. How about some speculation as to the social consequences? Changing boy and girl roles ?"

And what happens when we can modify an animal to look JUST like a pre-pubescent boy or girl, just perfect for an incurable pedophile to have as a playtoy?

Imagine the following scene:

Dirty Old Man in park or on bus, fondling little boy (girl) that is sitting on his lap. No one does anything, because both Dirty Old Man and Little Girl (Boy) have special WiFi bracelets that anyone can read on their portable WiFi devices certifying the Little Girl?Boy is actually a " Sony CleanGene 4000 Modified Chimpanzee-Bonobo Hybrid with Humaanimal Personality Substrates" especially designed to please pedophiles and prevent them from chasing real human children (and paid for by MedicAid as required therapy for the poor pedophile victim who cannot help himself).

Think that might not raise a few hackles, here and there about the Body Politic? Imagine Animal Rights advocates and Bible Belters uniting to "kidnap" and "reprogram" the poor helpless underpeople!

Cordwainer Smith may well have been, along with Heinlein, the most prescient extrapolator of the social effects of technology.


"It's A Brave New World"


Subject: RE: PRoject SERPO

While I highly doubt the validity of this site, the system they describe is that of Zeta Reticuli, which is widely known among UFO nuts as the home planet of one of the "grey" alien races. Zeta Reticuli is a binary with its stars widely spaced, allowing plenty of room for stable planetary orbits in their habitable zones. No jovian or superjovians have yet been observed there by current planet hunters, but this does not exclude smaller planets being there that we cannot yet detect.

Being a binary star system is allegedly the reason for the long days: there is little time that a point on the planet is not exposed to sunlight, however as you likely figure, that it should have a proper night for at least half the year unless it were in a triple star system. The planet Serpo also allegedly is not habitable outside of its temperate and polar region of its northern hemisphere. There are obvious issues with the statements on the site that anyone with knowledge of astronomy can detect.

The supposed logs of the mission members of the trip to Serpo imply that a team of highly educated highly intelligent people could not come up with an accurate means of converting a 38 hour day to a 24 hour day in keeping track of long time spans. This is the most doubtful to me.

Other problems with the serpo culture: it seems extremely regimented and fascist, in which a central authority directs the labor of absolutely everyone. There is one sun clock in each village, and despite the culture being almost completely agrarian, they have advanced interstellar travel technologies. At the same time, they can't understand simple human mathematics, as if our math is unique! Its absurd.



Subject: 38 hours with only 3 hours of darkness


Two suns with the planet orbiting both in a wide circle, one Sol-type star -- primary to the planet's "health" -- and the other a larger (red giant?) star, for example. There would only be a narrow arc of the planet's where neither sun would light up the back portion. I assume that we are not talking blue giants or the like, since they do not last long enough to allow life to evolve into an intelligent life form before blowing up in a supernova, which would cause the planet to have to start over from scratch, life-wise. Even this situation means that in the (relatively, cosmic time) near future, the red giant is going to become a nova and then a white dwarf and the planet is not going to be habitable for some time after the nova (and will be colder from then-on, too).

Nathan Okun


Subject: SERPO

Hi again, Doc.

The only system configuration with an unequal day and night which is stable over more than one planetary rotation is the one I gave the planet Pleasance in Man-Kzin Wars XI: a planet in Trojan relationship to two stars. This still gives only a 2:1 ratio of daytime to night.

The other "explanations" I've seen offered all have the moderately serious drawback of requiring the stars and planet involved to remain motionless, rather than orbit one another. Otherwise the ratio of day to night would alter constantly as the planet changed position relative to the local suns.

Goodness knows the Flying Saucer Elves probably have the power to do such a thing, but shouldn't they have mentioned it to the Faithful before this?

Matthew Joseph Harrington

Wouldn't you think?




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Subject: Jesus Jammies in the Middle East

I was in a line at the airport in Atlanta on Thursday waiting to get on a flight to Charleston SC and a guy (perhaps in his late 30s in US Army fatigues was behind me chatting with other people. One guy asked him about his clothing asking if that is what they wear into battle. Well, this guy was coming back from Iraq. His response on his clothes:

"Jesus Jammies, bringing Christianity to the Middle East."

He said this laughing.

Then he went on to explain that this was a joke among the troops about their clothes "because we don't know what we are doing over there", things have gotten off track (forget his exact wording but close to that), and they are making joking guesses as to what the point of the whole thing is. He went on to explain that the best way to survive is to follow orders and just not try to think about what is their purpose at all. He repeated this several times. Doesn't want to think about it. Has no idea what the war is for. Doesn't want to think about it.

He seemed pretty upbeat, the kind of guy who can go thru terrible stuff and not be too affected by it.

Going thru the airports seeing guys in the fatigues brings home the point that while the rest of us live pretty normal lives a small fraction of the population is going back and forth to the Middle East and putting their lives at risk.


If the enlisted troops don't know why we are there, it is because the  junior officers are not telling them. And that may be because they don't know. How much of the enthusiasm for finishing the job over there comes from the Field Grade and Flag Rank officer corps I do not know. I do know that if the Centurions no longer support the war effort, it will eventually come to an end.

"Make haste to reassure us that you at home support and love us as we obey and love you, for if we find that you have sent us to leave our bleached bones in these desert sands for nothing, beware the fury of the legions." A centurion of the 4th Century.



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, March 23, 2006

RE: Voodoo sciences and psychology

As a caveat let me say that I am not in the field of psychology, but do have a few friends and acquaintances in various graduate psych programs. I am in one of the other "fuzzy" sciences (archaeology), which does have some similar problems.

Firstly, I think there does need to be a distinction made between the various psychological fields of study. Clinical psychology, neuro-behavioral sciences, and psychological counseling have become increasingly disparate and distinct fields of study.

The root problem in all of them is epistemological - there is difficulty in establishing causal relationships between observed or perceived correlations. This is a problem for any aspiring "science" in which one is not able (or not permitted) to artificially reproduce the studied phenomena in an experimental setting. They are relegated to making observational studies and look for statistically significant correlations.

The problem with this method is obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with statistics - correlations are in part dependent on the variables defined, false patterns can emerge with inappropriate statistical tests, and coincidence of phenomena may or may not be related by causation.

There have been incredible recent advances in the understanding of genetics and in imaging technologies that allow monitoring of neurological activity with ever increasing resolution. However, they are still dependent on hypothetical causal links that cannot be definitively established.

Because of this, these types of sciences will never be able to create the same sort of definitive, reproducible, and predictive theories that can be accomplished in the physical sciences.

Where they have largely lapsed in judgment (and what produces some of the more laughable theories and statements) is their failure to explicitly make the distinction between coincidence and causation. This is partly driven by the immense pressure to publish results and try and "say something new" inherent in academia, and in part driven by poor understanding of their statistical tools.

Another reason is the rampant "scientism" that has taken hold in the behavioral sciences since the 1960s. By that I mean that many of the "softer" sciences began adopting the rhetoric and trappings of the "hard" sciences (e.g. "new" geology and "new" archaeology, and to disastrous effect with "new" educational "sciences), but without a fundamental understanding of scientific methods and tools. This created a falsely "authoritative voice" in the literature leading to the production of definitive "results" that were nothing more than speculations presented as fact (sound a bit like Kyoto?).

Just my opinion as a reluctant "voodoo" scientist.

Regards, J. Scott Cardinal

I replied briefly:

Well said. Actually, behavioral psychology had "hypothetical constructs and intervening variables" and posed some very mathematical looking expressions whose actual contents were meaningless starting in the 40's, but I suspect the 60's is where scientism took off and many of the humanities became voodoo sciences.

Margaret Meade and her fake Samoan sociology were earlier examples of voodoo rampant.

One of Meade's subjects is still alive (or was a decade ago) and said they'd put Meade on, laying it on with a trowel, but they never thought anyone would really believe them. Yet all that nonsense became social science.

I'll post this with comments sometime this week

And received this reply

RE: Voodoo sciences and psychology

I've heard about the Meade subject's criticisms - rather amusing stuff reminiscent of a "Far Side" cartoon.

In various arch-theory classes I've run across journal articles and books from 60s/70s era archaeology trying to "mathematically" state "fundamental principles" of human behavior. My absolute favorite was a graph and formula "describing" the "correlation" between (if I'm remembering correctly) burial elaboration and social stratification. It was the generalized y=x^2 with (you guessed it) the function graphed!

No ACTUAL data involved. Anywhere. None!

What was more amusing/disturbing was that no one else in the class recognized what it was. Including the professor!

I just happened to start off my undergrad as a physics major and have an engineer as a father, so...

However, this doesn't mean that there aren't ways to do rigorous observational (rather than experimental) science, and fields such as anthropology and psychology really _could_ be doing good work. Most of us got into it expecting to do so (I would hope), but academia and education in general are lacking and there is great pressure to "tow the party line" within departments.

Myself I have an eye for discerning patterns and a fascination with the mechanics of social organizational systems, so archaeology seemed to be a good fit. Then I started "learning" social and cultural theory and was sorely disappointed. Now I work in historic resource preservation (one area where government involvement is warranted if not ideally implemented), but still work on my "social theorizing" on the side.

There have been some very interesting theoretical (i.e. philosophical) developments in the past ten years in social sciences (e.g. some of the concepts in Anthony Giddens work or the social simulation experiments like the sorts described in http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/JASSS.html ), but these are still very much in their conceptual infancy as far as being anywhere near applicable to large scale real-world societal analysis. "Harry Seldon" is a long-long-long way off at best to be sure. Meanwhile the voodoo practitioners reign in academia.

At least it seems a growing number of the graduate students I've spoken with (both in archaeology and psychology) seem to be increasing dissatisfied with the voodoo and seem to be looking at it as just a hoop to jump though. Then once they start getting into academia themselves start to "reshape" the direction of their disciplines.

Maybe there is hope for the "fuzzies" after all.

Regards, J. Scott Cardinal

One of my favorite examples of nonsense in the social sciences was the rage for "equations" in behavior analysis put forth by Hull and some of those at the University of Iowa. They looked like algebra but the variables were undefinded.

You can read as much of this nonsense -- I use the term advisedly -- in "Classics in Psychology": http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/MacMeehl/hypcon-intvar.htm and see for yourself. The Meehl and MacQuorkadale article was all the rage in psychology classes when I was in graduate school. It's a classic in the history of the voodoo sciences to appear scientific, as was Hull's Principles of Behavior which inspired it.

Undefined variables, and learned discussions of them, and all of it nonsense.


Subject: Psychiatry today


Psychiatry today is a mess. It's been driven into a corner where about all the insurance companies want us to do is prescribe meds. Of course, that is what is being taught. Some places still teach it well, but more and more the programs simply teach What's New. They don't teach all the meds, just what's the newest (and most expensive).

The worst of it all, though, is that postgraduate education has been captured by drug companies. We have lectures on how to diagnose and treat "bipolar disorder" shoved in our faces. So every depressed person whose mood fluctuates is having "mood swings." Every anxious person is having "racing thoughts." And people who started using drugs - and hence quit maturing - in their teens, seem to addiction-naïve shrinks to be having hypomanic episodes rather than behaving like the silly teens and pre-teens they really are on the inside. All these add up to "bipolar disorder."

It used to be that the only bipolar disorder was manic-depressive disorder, which is a serious biologically-based condition - and uncommon. When insurance companies and disability boards were denying coverage and claims for depression, they allowed claims for the biological disorder bipolar disorder. Well, now everybody seems to have it. And now it is the excuse for substance abuse: the poor folks are just "self-medicating," don't you know. This is why the substance abuse treatment community does not like psychiatrists: psychiatrists "enable" (a technical term in this biz) the abusers to abuse their substances.

ADHD and ADD are real conditions. The degree of disability they produce varies. The practice of self-control (boys used to do this when teachers threatened to slap their wrists with rulers), the development of maturity (something that stops with the use of drugs and alcohol) and the assiduous application of effort to learn generally compensates for the disability these disorders can produce. So, when a substance-using slacker says he has ADD and can't work, who is to blame? The disorder? The slacker? Or the shrinks who aid and abet this fraud?

I see lots of prisoners with ADHD. Of course: they are impulsive. But they also have put no effort into self discipline and they use substances, which seem to worsen their original ADHD problems. Of course, most of them are diagnosed also or only "bipolar disorder" by their shrinks.

Oh yes: does it come as any surprise that the drug companies have a number of meds targeted at "bipolar disorder" and ADD/ADHD, all of which are phenomenally expensive?

But don't worry about Freud: his concepts bear no relation to prescribing meds.


I suppose I should be relieved that Uncle Ziggy is no longer a big influence, but the self-serving drug companies and their influence is terrifying. If children do not learn self-discipline in school, when and where will they learn it? When I was young I was practically a poster boy for being drugged, but since there were no drugs, the teachers did the best they could: they threatened corporal punishment. I was skeptical enough to test the system once in Catholic schools and not thereafter, and twice at Capleville, but in both cases I found the threats were not idle; and not being stupid I found it was better to discipline myself than to get whacked. It wasn't very easy, but then few things are; and I did learn.

If boys don't learn to take charge of themselves in school, and in Scouts, and without drugs, then what kind of men will they be? Our neighborhood lawyer found himself in middle age after "suffering" from ADHD all his life; and having found himself not only quit his job and became a bum living in his mother's basement, but is now demanding that his wife sell the house so he can get his share. If this is finding oneself, staying lost seems preferable, for he is no longer a man at all. It would be better if he were a man suffering ADHD...


Phonics First in UK Schools

"The national curriculum in England is to be revised so children are taught to read primarily using the method known as synthetic phonics. "


Now if we could only get this in the schools in the USA. My daughter was taught phonics in a Montessori pre-school and was reading at age 4. By 3rd grade she was reading at 12th grade level and was at post-college graduate level by 6th grade.

Edmund Hack

It's better than whole word, but real phonics is better yet. See Mrs. Pournelle's stuff on this. The best reading program we have yet seen is hers.


Subject: The national curriculum in England is to be revised so children are taught to read primarily using the method known as synthetic phonics


Teaching of reading to be revised

The national curriculum in England is to be revised so children are taught to read primarily using the method known as synthetic phonics. The approach is a key recommendation of a review headed by former Ofsted inspections director Jim Rose. He says phonics - letter sounds - must happen alongside paying attention to speaking and listening.

The government and the Tories back the findings. The Lib Dems say it should be for teachers to decide what is best. And Steve Sinnott of the National Union of Teachers said teachers would be bemused because phonics was already a national curriculum requirement for infants.

Phonics first

The current approved strategy involves a mixture of approaches. I am clear that synthetic phonics should be the first strategy in teaching all children to read

Ruth Kelly

Education Secretary

Phonics focuses on sounds - rather than, for example, having children try to recognise whole words. In the widely-used analytic phonics, words are deconstructed into their beginning and end parts, such as "str-" and "-eet". In pure synthetic phonics, children start by learning the sounds of letters and of letter combinations: "ss-t-rrr-ee-t". Only once they have learnt all these do they progress to reading books. The final Rose report, published on Monday morning, recommends that for most children, systematic phonics teaching should start by the age of five. There should be extra help for children who fall behind. Head teachers should make phonics the priority - and set ambitious targets for what children should achieve by the time they finish primary school six years later.

Scottish example

In the most famous experiment, in Clackmannanshire, children taught using synthetic phonics were years ahead of their contemporaries by the time they moved on to secondary school. The method is already endorsed by the Scottish Executive. Unless you can actually decode the words on the page you will not be able, obviously, to comprehend them

Jim Rose

Critics say it might teach children to read - but not necessarily to understand what they are reading.

And research commissioned by England's education department said the evidence base for using synthetic phonics was weak. The Westminster government is proud that its national literacy strategy, introduced in 1998, has seen the proportion of 11-year-olds reading at the expected level for their age rise from 67% to 84%.

But it acknowledges that one in five children still does not reach the necessary standard in English overall and, as a result, their teenage learning is hampered. Ms Kelly said she accepted all the recommendations in the report and had launched a programme of training for teachers. She said: "I am clear that synthetic phonics should be the first strategy in teaching all children to read."

Her department will work with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority on how best to embed this in the national curriculum.

'Challenge' ahead

Mr Rose said the best schools already use systematic phonics teaching within "a language-rich curriculum". He said he had reached his conclusions because synthetic phonics combines both word recognition - cracking the alphabetic code - and comprehension. "This is a programme for beginner readers," he said. "This is for children starting out on the way to reading and undoubtedly the evidence shows that this is the most successful route." Unless a child can learn to read, they can't learn at all

Lord Adonis Schools minister

However, he stressed that phonic work was only "part of the story". "It's not the whole story but it's an extremely important step because unless you can actually decode the words on the page you will not be able, obviously, to comprehend them."

The Conservatives campaigned for such an approach during last year's general election. Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said synthetic phonics should be happening in every primary school.

"The alternative 'look and say' approach has, over two generations, led to poor literacy levels in this country and the associated problems at secondary schools of low levels of attainment and disruptive behaviour," he said.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather said being overly prescriptive approach would not leave any flexibility for teachers to decide what was best for the children in their class. "Schools should get guidance based on the latest research but the precise mix of methods used in classrooms is a matter for teachers working with individual pupils," she said.

"Phonics is only one tool to help children learn the English language. The national curriculum neglects communication skills and more needs to be done to address speaking and listening in the early years."

Story from BBC NEWS:


Synthetic is better than none, but whole phonics is better. See Mrs. Pournelle's site on this.


Subject: THE STARS MY DESTINATION : the Bester news this year!

Preston of Preston here,

Now, if you guys could just sell "Mote" or "Hammer" (and be on set to make sure it's done right). I've read that Mr. Heinlein didn't like working in Hollywood, and that place is certainly worse now than then but, do it for the fans!


"A great science fiction revenge tale, a brilliant novel that is based loosely upon a story in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC about a sailor that spent 4 months during WWII on a raft at sea, watching ship after ship ignoring his cries for help, for fear that he was a lure for a sub attack."

"Well, Michael Fleming of Variety broke that Universal Pictures and Lorenzo Di Bonaventura are set to make this novel into a cinematic confection for our digestion . . . I just hope they don't water down Gulliver Foyle - as a character he's a rapist and a murderer, a slacker and a bastard, he's Snake Plissken on his worst day."

He is that. He is also memorable. "Pigs, you! I kill you filthy!"


Subject: the Equinox, the Analemma, etc.

People have complained that the days and nights are not precisely even on the equinox

It helps if you measure things from the Equator vs someplace else on the globe.

Since the earth is moving through space, it passes through the position where things would be even. Before and after that position, the relationships are different, and are subject to the conditions exisiting when you make your measurement.

Of course there are other phenomena releated to this, as seen on this site:


With lots of diagrams, movies, and other illustrations

There is also this nifty free software, where you can explore the details for your latitude and longitude.


Their explanation has more to do with the tilt, perehelion, and the eccentricity of the earth's orbit more than anything else.

The given illiustrations explain it far more effectively than I can in such a short space. with this information , we get a much more detailed, and hopefully, more accurate picture.

The material on other planets is also interesting.

Mike Z.


Subject: Ms. Noonan on Elites and the Real World...

If per chance you haven't seen this, Dr. Pournelle, you might want to have a look.


Ms. Noonan leads into her points with "..."Freedom at Midnight," the popular classic of 30 years ago that recounted the coming of democracy to India. The authors, journalists Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, capture the end of the Raj with sweep and drama, and manage to make even the dividing of India and Pakistan--I mean the literal drawing of the lines between the two countries, by a British civil servant--riveting. But the sobering lesson of this history, the big thing you bring away, is this: They didn't know.

"Mountbatten and Nehru and Jinnah were brilliant men who'd not only experienced a great deal; they'd done a great deal, and yet they did not know that the Subcontinent--which each in his own way, and sometimes it was an odd way, loved--would explode in violence, that bloodlust would rule as soon as the Union Jack was lowered."


"Each of these leaders had been removed by his own history from facts on the ground. "Elitism" doesn't always speak of where you went to school or what caste, as it were, you came from. You can wind up one of the elites simply by rising. Simply by being separated for a certain amount of time from those you seek to lead.

"People who know most intimately, and through most recent experience, what is happening on the ground, and in the hearts of men, are usually not in the inner councils. They have not fought their way or earned their way in yet. Sometimes they're called in and listened to, at least for a moment, but in the end they tend to be ignored. They're nobodies, after all.

"This is a problem with government and governing bodies--with the White House, Downing Street, with State Department specialists, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and West Point, too. It is not so much a matter of fault as it is structural. The minute you rise to govern you become another step removed from the lives of those you govern. Which means you become removed from reality."

As for Iraq, she says:

"This is what I've been thinking about as I've considered the obvious fact that those in positions of authority in Washington were taken aback by and not prepared for the strength and durability of the insurgency in Iraq. Obviously India in 1947 is not Iraq in 2006. But there is a lesson both have in common. The resistance in Iraq did not in fact collapse like Saddam's army, and some people could have told Washington that. (Some apparently did.) But those who knew best were on the ground, and not elites. They were young army colonels, or old village elders. They had not earned their way in. No one listened. Or they listened for a moment and didn't hear.

"Elites become detached, and governments are composed of elites. In a way we all know this, but we know it so well we forget it. The tribute politicians pay to pollsters shows they are aware they operate at a remove. At least pollsters can claim to have spoken to people on the ground, at least by phone, last Wednesday. They have numbers, on a page."

The take-home lesson...

"In international actions great nations should, in general, go slow, think dark, assume the worst. If it can go wrong it likely will. Prepare, take steps; forewarned is forearmed. Listen to the "unimportant"; heed the outside voice. Know you don't know."


Charles Brumbelow

Those who will not learn history. etc. etc.  Peggy Noonan is always worth listening to. In the case of Iraq, though, many of us knew what was going to happen and some said so. I know I did. Listening to Chalabi and the exiles was probably not the optimum intelligence strategy.


Subject: Larry Wilkerson uses term "Neo-Jacobin"


I'm not sure if he's a fan or the term is catching on in general use.

Tom Fagan

Reagan used to teach us that it's astonishing how much you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.


Subject: Government and telecom development

Mr. Pournelle

In today’s Byte, you claim that Korea, Japan, and Europe are moving ahead of the US in telecom capabilities. I can’t say I disagree, but I see two specific reasons why.

First, they’re smaller countries geographically, have higher urban density (as far as I can tell, and in general), and have had less past investments in infrastructure, meaning that rolling out brand new infrastructure is less costly. They also, perhaps ironically, probably have fewer regulatory roadblocks standing in the way, since their telecom development is largely government-dictated. Which leads me to the second reason.

You also mention “massive public subsidies,” which is perhaps more important than you gave credit in your article; either one agrees with “massive public subsidies” as a method of deciding what’s important (i.e., what technologies), or not. If one agrees with it, then by golly it should be used for everything; if not, then not. Personally, I think the market is a (practically and morally) better arbiter of such things: if there’s an advantage to having faster broadband, it will happen (absent government action to the contrary) and for whom it should happen, simply because those entities will be willing to make the required investments. Sure, the Japanese have access to a great deal more technology than we do here in the States, but so far I can’t see how it’s making Japanese society or economy better.

I look at it like our national highway system. It would be impossible at this point to determine which roads were actually necessary or even good investments, and which returned as much as they cost. Many (most?) were porkbarrel projects spearheaded not based on their potential returns but rather through whose Congressional district they might cut. Now, we have the monumental task of maintaining those roads, and no good way to determine where to spend the trillions of dollars necessary. I predict that Europe, Korea, and Japan, et al, will have the same sort of dilemma one day, to the extent that they build their telecom infrastructures on government fiat rather than (free) economic sense.

Which is all probably more than you wanted to read on the subject, so I’ll finish there. Thanks for the time.

Mark R. Coppock coppockm@yahoo.com

The Constitution of the US specifically allows Federal expenditures for Post Roads, and Hamilton and others held that highways, canals, harbors, and other facilities that served the entire nation were legitimate objects of federal expenditure. Even Jefferson, though originally opposed, got on board not only buying Louisiana but sending expeditions to explore it. The US has long had organizations for mapping the nation and the world, and making naval charts, and observing climate.

In other words there are legitimate national expenses -- massive public subsidies -- such as highways, and the like. And while this is the usual path for pork it is not the case that all such are useless. I would contend that despite some waste, the National Science Foundation returns far more for each public dollar invested than most private investments do.

Choosing the targets for public subsidy is difficult, and the pork barrel principle often rules; we are not in disagreement there. But even Adam Smith endorses government expenditures in those enterprises "the return from which to individuals is small, but to the nation is large"; and von Mises considered the Vienna State Opera a legitimate national expense as being worth more than an army division.



CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


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Friday,  March 24, 2006

Quantum gravity?


-- Roland Dobbins

If this holds up, it could be enormously significant, requiring a lot of rethinking, including Newton's Third Law.


Subject: The Shah

Hi I really don't care what you publish but someone should point out the shah was installed by CIA coup, twice, the first one failed. He replaced a democratically elected PM who wanted to nationalize the oil. Not acceptable to corportate amerika.

PenGun Do What Now ??? ... Standards and Practices !


Thank you for your contribution to rational discussion, but I do suggest you read a bit of Middle Eastern history; and perhaps you should inform yourself about the Cold War, Truman Doctrine, Stalin's armies in Tehran, and other such matters. Proof by emphatic assertion does appear to be taught as a valid technique in modern schools, but I fear I do not subscribe to that theory.

Whatever one wants to say about the Shah, the notion that there was a free and fair election that installed Mossadegh is ludicrous on its face. In fact that coup/counter-coup was part of a shadow war involving GRU, CIA, KGB, and the American State Department, no two of which organizations had identical objectives. The Brits got in the act as did, of all things, Dutch intelligence.

But those who believe that this was all corportate amerika  will probably not pay much attention to the facts: this was a British corporation and the crisis was generated when Britain refused to buy any oil from the nationalized companies using British-built refineries, thus bankrupting Iran since Britain was the largest customer. Eisenhower inherited this mess at a time when the Cold War was starting up again.

Leave all that. By the time of Jimmy Carter, Iran was not the same place it had been in the early 1950's when the Mossadegh crisis was generated; nor had it ever been the kind of place Saudi Arabia remains, dominated by an extended Royal Family that owns much of the country in fee simple. Nor was it the kind of place that Egypt and Pakistan remain.

Whether or not Eisenhower and Allen Dulles were correct in their assessment of American vital interests in Iran (we didn't have many, but Dulles was better at covert operations than the Brits and Dutch were, at least in that area and in that time), the idea that Iran could be an independent nation given the priority the USSR placed on getting control of the oil and a warm water port is silly. Iran got out of the clutches of the USSR when Truman threatened nuclear war if the Soviet Army didn't get out of Tehran. It was a courageous act on Truman's part, and greatly unappreciated in histories of the Cold War.

Iran could remain independent only through the protection of a Great Power. Iran was in the British sphere of influence, but the Brits didn't have the resources to continue their protection, and they were not popular in Iran. Iran, like many countries in that region, is as much a geographical expression as a country, but there was some unity provided by loyalty to the Shah -- the Pahlevi monarchy was relatively new, but the notion of a Persion Sultan, Caliph, and King of Kings is very ancient and has considerable cachet even today -- and the Kurdish minority had come confidence in the monarchy as protector of Kurdish rights. In all of these ethnically divided counties the only unity has generally come from a strong executive independent of any particular tribe or ethnic group. The monarchy had the advantage that it could and did appeal across ethnic divisions, and the Shah, who was very young at the time of the Mossadegh crisis, was working to build that kind of support.

Whether or not he would have succeeded is not knowable, but it's fairly clear that had he (well, the dynasty) survived the crisis in Carter's time, Iran would be a far more liberally governed country (not nation) today than it is.

But as I said, those who believe in corportate amerika  are not likely to pay much attention to such details.


Subject: Afghan Clerics Demand Convert Be Killed

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite A la Afghan

We will bring freedom on the points of our bayonets, and the newly free people will use their liberty to:

Afghan Clerics Demand Convert Be Killed


Senior Muslim clerics demanded Thursday that an Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity be executed, warning that if the government caves in to Western pressure and frees him, they will incite people to "pull him into pieces."

"ecrasez l'lnfame", anyone?


I have refrained from commenting on this because it is fairly obvious. Jacobins never think through the consequences of their actions. Note the similarity to the situation with the Shah and his overthrow.






This week:


read book now



Subject: birth of the spindizzy?

ESA researchers have measured significant "accelerations" in motionless accelerometers - on the order of 1/10,000th G, something like 10 to the twentieth larger than predicted by General Relativity - near a spinning superconducting coil.

"This experiment is the gravitational analogue of Faraday's electromagnetic induction experiment in 1831."


Early for an April 1st piece - if this is real, there are all sorts of interesting implications. To say the least.

Henry Vanderbilt

Cities in flight. Interstellar Master Traders. Hoo haw!


Subject: Jailed spammer doesn't learn

Jerry, a man currently in jail on charges of spamming, credit card fraud and other prescription drug charges was caught using his phone privileges to intimidate and possibly murder witnesses:
Jailed_spam_king_caught_conspiring_to_kill_witness.asp .

 More proof, if it were needed, that spammers are stupid.

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




-- Roland Dobbins













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