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Monday  June 12, 2006

There was considerable mail over the weekend, some important.

A California High School Student reports:

Dr. Pournelle,

This is an update on the inner workings of the California school system. Unfortunately, not much has changed from last year, but I found out more regarding the educational bureaucracy and about various administrative policies that seem to cause more harm than good.

Overall, the classes are better, in that they are less dumbed-down than they were last year. This is partly because most of my classes were AP or Honors classes, and would probably apply to schools across the country. If you know someone whose child is bored, I would recommend that they take AP or Honors classes next year. The downside is an increased homework load, but for many students (including myself), the homework is worth having three weeks after AP testing in which to relax.

Another reason for the increased rigor of the classes, at least at my school, is the number of dropouts. Many of those students who think school is a waste of time leave somewhere in their sophomore year, and by junior year, the average interest of the students has been pushed up. Interestingly, the counselors at my school lie about the number of dropouts, and I know they are lying because a) several teachers agree that the number was definitely more than 3 last year, b) I speak Spanish and have heard immigrants talking to each other about friends who have dropped, and c) the freshman class is almost a thousand each year, while the graduating class is always close to 500 students. Believe me, those kids aren’t all transferring to other schools.

On a somewhat more positive note, my school is both unusually good and unusually bad, so the dropout rate is probably much higher than normal. We are next to a “magnet” middle school that funnels its students into my school, and our AP test results are downright enviable. But the students in the easiest, most dumbed-down classes are influenced to an unusual extent by a sort of “ghetto” culture that emphasizes sports and being tough over being smart. I don’t know any solution to it, although it has become a major problem – guys slapping girls on their behinds, swearing, much use of the N-word amongst black friends, and worst of all, smart African-American students who want to be in classes with their friends but who get shortchanged thereby. I know of one girl who wants to be a lawyer and might be smart enough to get into a good college, but she is in classes that don’t prepare her well, and by Junior year it will be hard for her to switch her class level because she won’t be used to the (much) harder workload.

Perhaps the worst thing about the way classes are set up is how they are named. Why should a student switch to a tougher class when his current classes are already “College Preparatory?” (No kidding.) Here is how my school works: the classes start out as College Preparatory (the easiest), CT (the full word tells what middle school the student comes from, so I won’t include it), then GATE. As the students change from sophomores to upperclassmen, many of the students who feel that high school was a waste of time drop out or get arrested. The classes become harder and the names are switched to College Preparatory (still easiest), Honors (which makes you work and think) and then AP Classes. A few classes are still considered GATE, and are somewhere between CP and Honors classes in toughness. In my opinion, a D in an AP course beats an A in a CP course, especially if the D student passes the exam with a 3 or higher. This is because many CP classes require very little homework – show up, do the classwork, don’t sass (or swear at, or yell at) the teacher, do whatever ten-minute assignment she or he gives you, and you have at least a B. I’m still confused as to how colleges sort out “good” students from “bad” – guess and pray, maybe. Perhaps the classes are called College Preparatory to trick colleges into accepting just average students?

The class schedules each year change, so that a teacher who has a curriculum all worked out for his sophomore CT students may find himself teaching freshmen or junior CP classes. He then has to come up with a new lesson plan. The year after that, the administration might very well switch him around again. There is always some minor infighting among the teachers, because a teacher who has been around a long time and who is used to teaching Honors or AP classes is not very likely to want to change back to CP. Can’t blame ‘em, myself – I was there when three CP students rode their bikes into a classroom, harassed those in the class briefly, and left. They weren’t caught or punished, although they hung around that day and the next day, and could have been castigated if anybody had wanted to do so.

(For the record, it is entirely possible to yell at a teacher or to swear at him and not be punished. Oh, you’ll be warned – that was very bad, Johnny, so don’t do it again. After you’ve done it several times you might be punished with detention or trash pickup, but I’ve only heard of someone getting suspended for it once. No, I haven’t done it, but I’ve heard about it, from people I know and trust.)

The education level among school employees may also be in decline. I’m not so sure about this one, but it would explain the grammar and spelling errors in school fliers and handouts. Our restrooms are now labeled “Girl’s” and “Boy’s” instead of sticking the apostrophe at the end the way it’s supposed to be for a plural possessive. The school library has been handing out fliers saying “Get your Work Permits.” The morning announcements, made up of reminders sent in by teachers, are read word-for-word and have caused great amusement in the classrooms when a teacher writes something really weird like “The Golf Club will be meeting at lunch today at lunch in room 9. Don’t forget to bring your lunch.” (Or even “Don’t forget to bring the Golf Club will be meeting at lunch . . .” as though they forgot what they meant to say and then didn’t erase their mistake.)

The CAHSEE, or California High School Exit Exam, does seem to be helping to counteract some of the dumbing-down in our schools. Why parents keep protesting, I’m not sure – although it is entirely possible that our local newspersons seek protesters out deliberately. The exam seems to be most difficult for non-English speakers, usually Hmong and Laos speakers who are here legally and Spanish-speakers who aren’t so much, and for truly abysmal students.

Something few people know because the media won’t tell us: four-fifths of those who don’t pass the Exit Exam could not graduate if they did pass. They have failed too many classes, have been absent too much, or are in the Special Ed programs and would only receive a certificate of completion anyway. (Incidentally, why the powers-that-be want Special Ed and English Learner students to take the exam at all is beyond me.) And the exam itself is not unduly difficult; one only needs a 56% on the English part to pass, and a 60-something percent on the math. (Which of the following is a parabola? Three are lines, the other curves in a U-shape. Hmm. . . )

The only major downside I see to this and similar standardized tests is the pressure to help the students perform better. If a student receives a “Below Basic” score on the standardized tests, he or she is supposed to be put into remedial classes. This will play hob with class schedules, starting as early as next year. I suppose my district could free up space by eliminating our BASIC programming class – three cheers for a friend of mine who is trying to show the district that BASIC is obsolete – but, as two different teachers have told me, logic won’t work with the school district.

The education bureaucracy is the last, and biggest, problem. Anyone who tries to challenge a class will see this inaction. (Typo? You decide.) Take an attempt to challenge English, for example. This was done by a somewhat hypothetical student who has written 400,000 words in his lifetime, has good grades, and reads two to three books a week, some of them unremarkable, some of them Walden Two, Heart of Darkness, a textbook (just for fun, he says), Dune, and everything Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote. This fellow started the challenge process in January, received a phone call confirming that he would be able to take the test as soon as it was written – nobody having challenged English before – and has heard nothing since, despite several attempts on his part to contact those responsible. He even says that he emailed suggestions of works in the public domain – Shakespeare and Kipling and some other writers I hadn’t heard of. Nothing.

For the record, he didn’t much care for my paraphrasing of a quote I saw on your site: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.” He said something I won’t repeat here. But you get the picture. I still don’t know what he plans to do about it, as he already took the AP test he would have had to take at the end of his senior year of English. Suggestions, anyone?

That just about sums up the school year. I apologize for the length, although I tried to be as succinct as possible, given the sheer volume of subject matter.


California Public School Student


P.S. I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but in my school, regulations > teacher ability. The unions ensure that it is hard to fire teachers who bother the administration by bending the rules. I know of one teacher who was using teaching methods not officially sanctioned. They caught him because his students’ test scores were higher than they * should * have been for English learners. Then they told him to stop, or else. Yes, the teacher unions protect teachers who would be better off elsewhere. But they also act as a shield. I’m not sure this was very relevant to the discussion in Mail, but it’s my 2.71828 cents.

We recall your report last year. Thank you. I expect there will be discussion.


Harry Erwin's Letter From England:

Gitmo suicide stories in Europe <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-2221381,00.html>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,542-2221467,00.html>

Israel and Hamas <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5070428.stm>

8 dead when Israeli artillery shells picnickers.

London police stories <http://www.guardian.co.uk/menezes/story/0,,1795456,00.html>




Ann Coulter in the Observer <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1794552,00.html>

Food hygiene in the UK <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/5064398.stm>

Low taxes in Ireland may play a role in their economic growth <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2221280,00.html>

-- Harry Erwin, PhD,
Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland.


Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>


Continuing an important subject on dealing with the government:

Subject:  Silence When Questioned


Of course that's the correct answer. If you are a suspect, you are never, ever better off speaking to the authorities. Caveat, that should read, "never, ever better off speaking to the authorities unrepresented." Which means the same thing, because your representative will tell you to not speak to the authorities.

I've done lots and lots of criminal defense work. I can think of no cases where an answer other than silence would have been helpful.

If you have something that needs to be said, tell your lawyer, HE can tell the authorities. Non-attribution works so much better when it is enforceable.

So, what do you do if you are "just a witness"? If time is not of the essence, get legal advice anyway. This isn't for those who see an accident, or a crime, from the window of their house, but for those who are "involved". You work in an office where hinkey stuff is happening? Get a lawyer, then tell your story. Your son has a broken arm, and they "just want to clear things up?" Get a lawyer.

This will sometimes prevent the guilty from being convicted. But, if YOU are the one looking for the best answer, the best answer for YOU, individually, is silence. Maybe a different answer from societies' standpoint.


Alas for the Republic


Dr. Pournelle:

Regarding Mr. Simkins' letter:

" . . . but that they never were pushers and so don't push their students. I can always tell those students from charter schools and home schooled students by their approach to the exhibits and their questions."

Charles Simkins


It seems to me that it would be easy to determine, from the letters you post, a great deal about the (actual, not merely credentialed) education levels of your correspondents. Most of the clearly written, accurately reasoned letters come from people who are hard-science people.

In my experience reading your columns and website, it seems that people with education majors tend to be the worst at conveying information and at making a reasonable argument for their case. Alas for these times!



Subject: mass migration, the collapse of the Roman Empire, and modern day Europe

Dr. Pournelle,

I thought perhaps this might interest you...

"Britain and Europe face being overrun by mass migration from the Third World within 30 years, a senior Royal Navy strategist claimed yesterday.

"His prognosis is that Western civilisation faces a threat on a par with the collapse of the Roman Empire after the 5th century invasion of Rome by the Goths, the East Germanic tribe."

"Admiral Parry is head of the Ministry of Defence unit tasked with identifying future threats to Britain's security."


Note: The Daily Mail is a notoriously right-wing British tabloid.



Derbyshire: Apologizing for Iraq.


-- Roland Dobbins

Had we gone in to build monuments and left, that would have worked. But the chances of that were slim, which is why I didn't want us in there in the first place.

Now we are there. I have great respect for the Derb, and he is always worth reading. We correspond sometimes. And I am as perplexed as he about what we must do now.

Alas. I told them all so. And their answer was to send the egregious Frum to tell us that we were no longer part of the Conservative movement; to insult Stephen Tonsor; and in general to trash those who thought we would regret this war.

So it goes.



Fred is up again. This time, "Returning to the United States at long intervals is like watching a flower wilt in time-lapse photography."

And check out the Marxist-like poster he photographed in the train station in Maryland.



There's little to say..


The 'Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations' vs. Geno's Steaks.


-- Roland Dobbins



 Has anyone else seen this?

I’d be very curious to know if this particular news item has been confirmed by any authorities.

Has anyone else raised this issue?


The Palestinians killed their own children

About that Gaza tragedy…

Who could not be moved by the picture of a little girl hysterically crying near her father’s body; killed in an explosion, along with others, as the family was enjoying a picnic on the Gaza beach? Now she will forever mourn as it turns out the deadly rockets came from Hamas <http://www.israpundit.com/2006/?p=1436from>  not the evil Israelis. Israpundit explains: An Israel Defense Forces intelligence officer has confirmed that the explosion that killed eight Palestinians on Friday, was caused by a stockpile of Hamas explosives.

“Shortly after we stopped defensive firing at Hamas rocket launch pads which were deployed behind Palestinian human shields, members of Hamas scrambled to fire more rockets at our positions,” said Col. M. “We have eyes on every meter of Gaza, from the sky, from the ground and from the sea. One of their rocket tripods collapsed inadvertently setting off an explosion of a stockpile of Qassam rockets. The Palestinians killed their own children. And this was not the first time.”





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Subject: Gino's Cheesesteaks

Call me twisted, but I think when a customer orders his cheesesteak in Spanish, the Gino folks should answer in Italian. ¿Quien sabe? Maybe eventually someone will get it. Must Gino take orders also in Chinese, Hmong, and -- presuming the occasional visitor from Lancaster County, Pennsylfaawnish? Beside, what exactly =is= the Spanish for "cheese-steak hoagie"?

Years ago, in Edison, NJ, a friend of my daughter was put in Spanish-language class because she had been born in Argentina. Alas, her parents had brought her here at age 2, had never used Spanish at home, and she understood not a word the teacher spoke; yet it took her mother months to pull her out of that class. A few years later, in HS, the school district discovered there were enough Indian students that they mandated Hindi language instruction. The parents descended on the school in rage. This is America! Our children must learn English! Besides, we are Gujarati [Marathi, etc.] and do not speak Hindi!

What can I say but, "So geht's im Leben."

Sure, and it is only barely past living memory when the town I grew up in had more German-language newpapers than English-language. Every year was then Schwabenfest; and when the 153rd Pennsylvania, "Northampton's Own," returned from Gettysburg, regimental commander, Col. Glanz, the newspaper informs us, received well-wishers at his saloon that evening with a hearty "Wee gates!"

The O'Floinn


Subject: Re.: "BoA" Outsourcing to India

> BofA: Train your replacement, or no severance
> pay for you. >
> http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Please remember that this isn't the San Francisco-based BoA management of old. When Carolina-based Nation's Bank "merged" with Bank of America, it wasn't really a merger. Nation's Bank essential bought BoA, including the right to use the name nationwide, but the management and board of directors is the old Nation's Bank management and board in Carolina, not Bank of America's.

David K. M. Klaus


Subject: Police arrest 14-year-old for killing a snake


In other news, it seems to me your advocacy of strict constitutional interpretation would directly contradict your position on the Jefferson case.

I know you said not to bother you anymore with this but it bugs me when I can't see the logical process someone is using to arrive at a conclusion, regardless of whether I agree with it or not. Just trying to figure that out (still).

Kent Peterson urquan@rocketmail.com

"... there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past ..." - Ray Bradbury, _The Martian Chronicles_

Why is anyone astonished at incidents of anarcho-tyranny? Expect to see more. It's dangerous rounding up real criminals.


Subject: Dr. Erwin

Dr. Pournelle,

I noted Harry Erwin's comment in his "letter from England":

"Low taxes in Ireland may play a role in their economic growth"

May play a role? MAY? Well whoever would have thought that...

If you read the linked Times article, there is - as you would expect - no question of "may".

It's interesting that Dr. Erwin, an English academic, cannot bring himself to accept that low taxes are a good thing, but instead feels impelled to put in that little weasel word "may".

One of the many causes of our decline is that the people who should be the leading opinion-formers are all stuck in the left-wing statist past.


Andrew Duffin

I think you do Harry a disservice. I am sure he is quite aware that low taxes bring higher revenue. The Laffer Curve is a truism. But, surrounded by academic colleagues who have, uh, other views, the man of peace develops bad habits of speech...


Subject: Sun halo

http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/image/0606/skylens_turtainen.jpg <http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/image/0606/skylens_turtainen.jpg


 “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” ----Albert Einstein


Subject: Public school exodus.

Public school exodus.


- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Pollution From Chinese Coal Casts a Global Shadow - New York Times


"The increase in global-warming gases from China's coal use will probably exceed that for all industrialized countries combined over the next 25 years, surpassing by five times the reduction in such emissions that the Kyoto Protocol seeks."


Oh, boy. And people were upset at Bush about not signing on?



Great Things followup

Evening Jerry,

I read (and agree) with the comments from your reader about the colonization of space being a next (last?) great frontier, something worthy of truly being a 'Great Thing'.

Yet, in the absence of a President (and Congress) who shares the view (i.e. John Kennedy) how do we get there? How, as individuals, can we bring about such a dramatic change? Paul Allen has come closest of any individual by funding Burt Rutan, but what about the rest of us? Perhaps I'm being deliberately stubborn, yet I see great words - dreams - and little actionable substance behind them. What specific actions can individuals take to achieve such an end? Or are dreams, words, desires, and the occasional conference all that we're left with? How can we reach for the stars when most people are reaching for handouts?

You see, I fear that the world has grown so large, so complex, that the forces at work (political, media, cultural) prevent individual actions from having sufficient leverage to accomplish meaningful change. What took a few hundred people 200 years ago would take tens of millions today, and as you know, the diffuse interest never overcomes the concentrated interest. The remarkable fact of the American Revolution was that it was the men with the most to lose who won the day.

I believe that we're in the midst of a cultural confluence of events and affluence such that the American people no longer have it in them to accomplish Great Things. Europe lost it long before we did (thank God that we at least lasted past Hitler and Communism).

Are we witnessing the decline of the last, best hope for Man on Earth? For I consider the two directly linked - without a Great Thing, life itself loses meaning, and without a meaningful life we lose the ability to do Great Things. To quote from a favorite film: "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great."

So how do we inspire the belief, commitment, desire - the passion, to do Great Things? Can it be done? Can we do hard things? And how, as an individual voice, can each of us bring about a Great Thing? I'm serious - I'm looking for something specific and actionable that I, as a person, can do, that will actually make a difference.



P.S. For the record, and for those Neo-Cons in the audience, I do not regard Iraq, or the war on Terror as a Great Thing. For the liberals, solving world hunger, poverty or other communistic or socialistic goals are likewise not Great Things. The former leads to empire and fascism, the latter to servitude and slavery.



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


Subject: Odds & Ends

Dr. Pournelle -

Reading on your site of the apparent increasing difficulty of doing any "Great Thing", I am reminded of an illustrated edition of "Gulliver's Travels" from which the image of a giant tied to the ground by a thousand tiny threads put in place by hundreds of tiny people comes to mind. Here is a close example of the picture I remember:


Has the United States so burdened its people with laws and regulations that they are as impotent as was the giant in that illustration? (And is the possessive pronoun "its" in the previous sentence more literally accurate than we would wish?)

As for G't'mo, maybe the military ought to issue short ropes so the bed linens won't be needlessly destroyed.

Charles Brumbelow


Subject: More anachro-tyranny


From another forum I read this account, and pass along with only one comment. "They had no choice but to charge..." Why just assault if you're going to charge the man? Why not attempted murder?

Defense of one's property should not be a chargeable offence, yet in Massachusetts you may so be charged.

Chris Grantham


Gigantic fireball spotted on galactic rampage.


- Roland Dobbins

Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Fire!


Subject: G'Tmo In mail:

“As for G't'mo, maybe the military ought to issue short ropes so the bed linens won't be needlessly destroyed.”

I would like to ask all of your readers what they would do if placed in a similar situation, faced with an open ended incarceration forcibly held away from family members, etc for years on end. How would YOU react? Regardless of your political (left-right or center) orientation, surely you can have compassion for a fellow human. Not everybody held at Guantanamo is an Al-Quaida mastermind. Many are just foot soldiers or were probably in the wrong place at the wrong time, and after all this time, have little or no intelligence value.

Did we glean valuable intelligence data from some of the Guantanamo detainees? I am sure we did, in a small number of cases. And I am not a fuzzy headed liberal bemoaning mistreatment of prisoners. Before Iraq there were some things that set this country, this nation apart from the rest of the world. Not any more.


I admit, my view is not that far from yours; but I could see all this coming from the moment that we decided to go in, and perhaps that has hardened me to some of it. When you send in an army, these things will happen; something I doubt the chicken hawks understand.

I would far prefer to build the best Republic we can; to be the city on the hill, the shining example to the world; and for the cost of this war I think we could have gone far toward that.

Never did he dream that his bullet's scream...




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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Flag Day. Fly Old Glory

Re: Great Things

Sorry to weigh in again on this subject.

One way that the small minority of people with vision might persuade the powers-that-be of the value of space travel is this; convince them that it is important for national defence.

Send a copy of Footfall to your Congressman. This book is a brilliant exposition of the fact that if you have space superiority none of your enemies is safe.

Make the point that the Middle East problem is largely a problem of oceans of money being in the hands of mediaeval barbarians, for reasons which have nothing to do with any merit of theirs and everything to do with sheer luck, or one of God’s little jokes if you prefer.

(Give the civilised world an alternative, and less troublesome, source of energy and the problem will go away, simply because the paymasters of Arab terrorist organisations will not be able to afford it. As far as I know, no Middle Eastern country with the exception of Israel has invested significantly in infrastructure with the astronomical amounts of money they have made; most of it has gone to build palaces, Swiss bank accounts and the profits of Monte Carlo and London casinos and call girls. Take away the river of money and the tree of terrorism dies.)

After all, if your energy policy is to give fifty billion a year to Arabs, anything else has to be an improvement. (I stole that one – sorry for that!) Not forgetting, of course, that the half-trillion dollar cost so far of the Iraq war ought, in reality, to be largely charged to the energy budget. If you doubt that, ask yourself why the Marines have not yet invaded Zimbabwe. Or Burma. Or the Sudan.

Campaign vigorously against any appropriation to NASA (or ESA. they are even worse) for the purpose of human spaceflight. Both organisations make truly magnificent robots, and the pictures are beautiful, so leave the spaceprobe budget the hell alone!

If you can afford it (unfortunately, I can’t), register your interest in one of the many commercial organisations that are currently trying to develop human spaceflight.

And finally, if you have kids try your damnedest to get them to go for “hard” subjects like science and engineering instead of media studies and courses in Klingon! I don’t know about the USA, but in the UK universities are shutting down chemistry departments and expanding their departments that offer courses studying soap operas.

The last thing to leave Pandora’s box was Hope. I strongly suspect, and I hope I’m wrong, that humanity will as usual leave the solution of these problems to the last possible minute. Fortunately, we still have Orion up our sleeve. Let’s PLEASE try to ensure that it doesn’t come to that.


Ian Campbell


Subject: On lower taxes

> I am sure he is quite aware that low taxes bring higher revenue. The
> Laffer Curve is a truism.

But 0% tax rate = 0 revenue. It seems unlikely that revenue goes to infinity as the tax rate goes to zero. So if the Laffer Curve works at higher tax rates, then there has to be an optimum tax rate/revenue point somewhere between "high" rates and zero. When it comes to tax policy, it would be very useful to know where this point is! I've never heard it discussed in political circles, so maybe no one knows. Or maybe neither party likes the answer......

CP, Connecticut.

Apologies: It has been a long time since the Laffer Curve was news. I first learned of it during his lecture to the Food Service Industry (Speakers included me, Laffer, Galbraith, Lionel Tiger, and a whole bunch of people you've heard of) back in the 80's.

The Laffer Curve starts with the obvious: at zero tax rate you get zero revenue. At 100% tax rate you get some revenue but not much, and less productivity since a great deal of effort goes into measures to avoid (not evade but that too) the tax. I recall a Swedish friend who had a tax rate of 104% in his bracket: if he could spend money deductively he made money so he attended overseas conferences.

So: maximum revenue comes at tax rates somewhere between zero and 100%. The exact point depends on a number of factors, and can be empirically determine: it seems to be well under 50%. The lower rates have several effects: people work harder if they get to keep more than half of what they earn; at lower rates more goes into investments intended to raise production rather than into tax avoidance; and more jobs are created, there's more production and thus more revenue to tax.

Reagan's sustained economic boom was one demonstration of that, but Kennedy had paved the way with his tax cuts and resulting economic growth. The "Reagan Deficit" didn't come from lower revenue: revenue went higher and higher during his term. The deficit came from great expenditures, not merely the Reagan defense buildup that bankrupted the USSR and brought down the evil empire, but the far greater entitlements expenditures. Reagan's balanced budget submissions were notoriously "Dead on Arrival" (the Democratic House Majority Leader's term) and the deficits grew, but not because of a lack of revenue.

Determining the optimum taxation point is a bit tricky, but there's a lot of data, and nearly all of it indicates that "soak the rich" taxes produce lower revenue.

If you fine people for speeding they tend to drive slower, or buy radar detectors. If you fine people for making money they tend to make less, hire lawyers and accountants to protect it, or move somewhere else. Fining people for making money is not a great way to raise revenue, just as subsidizing people for not working is not a great way to get them out finding jobs.

Sorry for the long lecture, but it's clear that not everyone understands the Laffer Curve.


Subject: Great Things

"What took a few hundred people 200 years ago would take tens of millions today"

The power of the individual or small group today is vastly greater than it was even 50 years ago. We are far wealthier, and the resources that are at our fingertips today are, in many ways, better than what could be had at any price 50 years ago. Yes, there are significant parasitic costs in our current society, but they are overwhelmed by the almost magical capabilities and opportunities we have as a modern technological civilization.

Want to go to space? Build rockets. Don't have the skills? Go learn. Don't have the resources? Go earn.

"To what would we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor?" Hell, most people won't even pledge their big screen TV and proximity to cultural venues. The average American makes a lot of money, even if it doesn't feel like it due to the lifestyle choices they have made. A reasonable first step for someone wanting to do great things might be to make and save a good chunk of money, so that you will have the freedom to dedicate yourself and your resources to the cause of your choosing. Unfortunately, this is often derided as shallow and ignoble.

Don't just wait around for an Atlas to appear. Become one. Focus on the details and the steps. It is popular to want to be a part of something so grand that the messy little details of actually doing the work aren't important. "We are going to colonize space!" is so very far away from "Did you order a new roll of shielded cable today?" that it excuses people from making progress. If you want to do something great, take small, concrete steps towards it every single day.

John Carmack





CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Subject: Comments on INI files, installations, etc.


I feel that you and Dan Spisak have missed one point of not having everything associated with a program all in one directory (and its sub-directories). Yes, it's convinient, but in a corporate environment it is not "secure".

One of the security best practices recommendations is not to let your users regularly run with administrator privileges. This has consequences in the file structure.

Pre NTFS it did not make much sense to spread files and settings all over the place, but once you want and have the ability for an administrator to lock down a computer and prevent users from installing their own (not approved) software, or modifying mission critical software, etc. then you want to place various modifiable settings files in locations that an ordinary user can write to. Microsoft has slowly but surely tightened the security screws in their OS. Windows XP, by default with NTFS, does not allow regular users to modify any files in the "Program Files" directory and its subdirectories. Basically regular users cannot be trusted to modify the contents of "Program Files". If there is an INI file in there that is needed for program settings and users settings, etc. then the regular user will not be able to make changes to it. That INI file or part of it has now got to go someplace else.

So yes, INI files were beautifully simple, I miss them too, but there is a good reason they shouldn't all be in the same folder with the program files....

Chris --

G. Chris Boynton


Subject: Mr. Horowitz

Dear Jerry:

The reaction of Mr. Horowitz to the rhetoric that was used to try and pry his property from him is quite understandable. His feelings have been hurt and he is simply demonstrating his humanity. Seriously, most case of internal management conflict I've witnessed both from within the Corporate Monstermind and as a consultant comes down to hurt feelings. We are never that far from the schoolyard, and bullying is pervasive in our culture; so much so that it hardly noticed.

I heard that there was full price offer on the table. Sixteen million dollars provided by Annenburg Foundation. That's neither here nor there. Eminent Domain was not at issue here. No taxpayer dollars were to be used. There is no compelling reason to force the sale for the "public good". I'm with Mr. Horowitz on this. You don't let the assholes win. It only encourages them.

I worked my way through graduate school as an Industrial/Commercial Real Estate Broker and this is what I recall about such deals: There is a principle called "Highest and Best Use" when it comes to deciding the kinds of structures that can be placed on a property. The idea is fundamental to all zoning codes. What we had here was property in an M-1 or "Heavy Industrial" zone being used for an "A-1" or "Light Agricultural" use; a glorified truck garden. That is permitted, with a variance, as long as there is no other reason for the higher use. Here there was, in the form of an offer on the table to build a warehouse. That's an overall public good since it creates jobs for that community. While the vegetable garden can also be argued to be something similar, the tradeoff is not worth depriving Mr. Horowitz of his property rights. And trying to force that result by calling him names came back to bite them, big time. I presume this is not his only property nor his only deal. He cannot be seen to be weak on something like this without suffering damage in other deals in the future. In fact, he probably regrets letting them use the property as long as he did. My response, once I had regained title, would have been to fence it off and to clear the land. That is the customary practice. There are liability issues for a private owner when open access is allowed, especially to juveniles. It is lawsuits waiting to happen.

There was an opportunity to salvage the situation. I doubt if Mr. Horowitz really cared, at the end of the day, who bought his property, as long as he got his price. Which begs the question of why the various protesting and publicity seeking film stars like Darryl Hannah (who comes from a wealthy Chicago family that has many real estate investments) didn't simply pony up the money themselves and not insult the man?

Now the situation is beyond recall and no one wins. Except Mr. Horowitz, who can wait a few years a sell his property then, at a much higher price.

It occurs to me that this battle is similar to the ones we've had over Copyright, where a large group of people are trying to override the law for no other reason than their personal inconvenience. You may be right that communism is still alive. Certainly there are Marxist overtones in many of these efforts.

Not that I'm calling anyone a Communist. That's Libel per se in this state, and has been since the 1950s. We simply must judge people by their actions.


Francis Hamit


Subject: "hadji girl" video


Saw this on Michelle Malkin's site, thought it might be of some interest to you/your readers given the current media frenzy.

Robbie Walker

In case you missed this one: it's pretty standard military humor. And really drives those outside the brotherhood right over the edge.


This is why I am (was?) a fighter pilot.



Subject: Low Level Flying


Sorry for the dial-up folks like me, but it was worth the wait.

William Haynes

Fair warning: it takes a while to downloads even with cable modem. Worth it...


On wagging the dog: (Russell Seitz appears often on this site.)

Dear Jerry:

Should The Weekly Standard insist on another geostrategic invasion, here is a convenient alternative to Albania . If the neocons won’t have it , it could always consider a Worldcon Bid.

The Nakhchivan Republic

(Naxcivan Muxtar Respublika)

"Geography This wonderfully atmospheric semi-desert region...dating only from 1924, when Stalin transferred ...the exclave with a vital link to the world... the Armenian forces bombed Nakhchivan but never invaded, taking only the sub-exclave of Kerki...The region has impressive volcanic domes and is regularly visited by strong earthquakes.Mining is important.The deposits of the rock salt are exhausted.The important Molybdenite mines are currently closed as a consequence of the exclave's isolation. There are a lot of mineral springs there such as Badamli, Sirab, Nagajir, Kiziljir where water contains arsenic.

Agriculture has become a poorly capitalized, backyard activity...Very hot summers...make it possible to grow such highly saccharine grapes as bayan-shiraz. Wines such as..."Aznaburk" are of reasonable quality and very popular... Buffaloes are also bred here... radio-engineering and... bottling of miineral water are the principal branches of Nakhchivan's industry.

Although good intentions have been declared by the government, tourism is still at best incipient. Until 1997 Tourists needed special permission to visit, which has now been suppressed, making travel easier. “

Russell Seitz


Subject: New Orleans as battleground over property rights?


Government Dines on Katrina Leftovers Eminent domain becomes a potent threat.

=... Local government officials, armed with the public health code, eminent domain powers and a bevy of dubious legal techniques, aim to demolish buildings--and, some fear, strip titles from owners--in what are being euphemistically called "forced buyouts." ... New Orleans and the surrounding communities will likely serve as a major battleground between the increasingly mainstream view of neighborhood collectivism and the renegades determined to preserve the sanctity of homeowners' rights. ...=

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com


Subject: Bell Labs to be torn down


More signs of decay:

“…the building has been sold, and the public will be invited in for at least one date while it remains, which may not be much longer. The developer who will create a future for the property says the structure will have to be demolished.”


I agree with you that at one time, Bell Labs was a national treasure, a pioneering source of unmatched research. Hopefully we can still recapture the “can do” spirit of free scientific inquiry again.

Best regards,

Jim Floyd

Woodinville, WA

It was more than a national treasure. It was a treasure of the human race. Nothing that came out of Judge Green's meddling can compensate for its loss. Mourn.


Subject: Laffer Curve


You probably already know this, but your readers may find it useful. Regarding the Laffer Curver, Jude Wanniski (Former editor of the Wall Street Journal) wrote an excellent book about the topic: "The Way the World Works".

IIRC, the optimum tax rate is around 15 %. By the time you get to 25% you are on the downward side of the curve, and productivity begins to be negatively effected dramatically.

Rick Shepherd 

"Last century over 170 million people were murdered by their own governments, and your government doesn't want you to have a gun. Doesn't that bother you just a little?" http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE1.HTM

Indeed. Wanniski's book is very much worth reading.



CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


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Friday, June 16, 2006

Regarding John Carmack on Great Things:

Dear Jerry,

This fellow is pretty good.

"The power of the individual or small group today is vastly greater than it was even 50 years ago... "We are going to colonize space!" is so very far away from "Did you order a new roll of shielded cable today?" that it excuses people from making progress. If you want to do something great, take small, concrete steps towards it every single day."

I think Mr. Carmack most assuredly 'gets it'. What he said applies whether the subject is 'space' or 'imported energy dependence' or 'deindustrialization'. Or even illegal immigrants overwhelming one's community and driving wages down, as this local Ohio sheriff is showing: http://www.vdare.com/letters/tl_061206.htm 

Best Wishes,



Subject: "Humyn" writer....

The author of the letter sprinkled with "humyn" instead of "human" sent me on a search of Richard Mitchell's works. The author reminded me much of Mitchell's "educationists" who attempt to sound erudite by filling complex sentences with important-sounding words, while actually saying only the obvious, or sometimes nothing. While the submission in question was grammatically correct and not filled with spelling errors, so far as my scanning detected, I was nevertheless reminded of Mitchell's statement in Graves of Academe that incompetents who become teachers,

"When asked to demonstrate their own literacy, they go out on strike, demanding on the placards 'quality educacion' and 'descent wages.' ''

Mitchell had a high regard for good teachers who wished to teach. His disdain was for poseurs who convicted themselves by their own pronouncements, which he was pleased to quote, most of whom were holders of advanced degrees in education. Except that it gets depressing, reading at length of the pretensions of many of the education "elite," Mitchell's books are full of delicious and appropriate sarcasm.

There's a good chance I first found out about Mitchell and his works from you. Someone put me onto him about fifteen years ago. I searched your archives for "Richard Mitchell," but found so many hits on either Richard or Mitchell that I quit looking for the two together. All of Mitchell's works (I think all, anyway) are now in the public domain and available online, including all the issues of his monthly Underground Grammarian. One website for them is http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~torsten/ug/

Mike Biggs


Subject: Print vs Pixels

As a writer for both print and electronic media, and the husband of a woman who teaches the unteachable to read, you may find this interesting, Dr. Pournelle.


"Microsoft announced last Friday that the University of California had agreed to let the company scan the out-of-copyright books among its 34 million volumes at the system's 100 libraries (for those wondering, humans carry the books to high-speed robot scanners). This is being done in partnership with something called the Open Content Alliance. Google's robots are scanning the libraries of Stanford and other schools."

"The copyright implications of this mass scanning is a famous legal dilemma, but my interest in the Updike-Kelly dispute is simply about reading. What is the future of how we read--print vs. pixels? Pixels almost surely will win. But I don't think the absorption of pixels should be called reading. We need another word. How about scanning?

"Researchers of the way material is read on PCs will tell you that most people won't read past two or three screens of continuous text. They change subjects, or stop reading. Perhaps Mr. Updike's kids should start writing short stories that are two-screens long, or poetry. I think most people won't read past two screens because it makes them neurologically uncomfortable."


I find that two-screen observation particularly telling...and something to consider when composing email.

Charles Brumbelow

This is a profoundly important matter, and requires both thought and discussion. Thanks for bringing it up.


Subject: Federal combustion, uhm, corruption

Dr. Pournelle,

You wrote (in small excerpt):

"I am not entirely certain that political corruption in Congress is a Federal matter for the Executive to begin with. Each House has more than enough power to investigate and expel Members, and my proclivity is to leave the matter to them. Crimes committed in the District of Columbia involving Congress are perhaps another matter -- except that the Constitution gives the High, Middle, and Low Justice within the District directly to the Congress. Congress has, in a fit of absence of mind, delegated this power, which it never should have done; but it's still not precisely a Federal matter. Crimes committed in the State of Louisiana are matters for the state; and yes, that means that in corrupt states, corrupt politicians can get away with it."

I added the emphasis for the obvious connection. And yes, in a corrupt Congress, corrupt congresscritters can get away with it...

Of course, the premise of your post is important. But, any more, isn't a congresscritter that is NOT corrupt becoming more an more likely to be ostracized than a corrupt one? Or, even more likely, kept from office in the first place? Doesn't the essential corruption of Congress—its systematic avoidance of the Constitution of the Framers—come close to invalidating it entirely?

Not despairing... yet, just discouraged in the face of massive dishonesty in all branches of the federal government. *sigh* Whatever happened to oaths of office and protecting/upholding and defending the Constitution, as a small start? Oh, yeh, right: expediency, turf-building and "We'll read it any damned way we want to" political elitism.

Viva la raza! Or, whatever...


David Needham
third world county <http://thirdworldcounty.us/>








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