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Monday  February 19, 2007

Subject: Letter from England


Houston, we may have a problem: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6370817.stm

Gun crime war in London: <http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/article2281380.ece>  <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6372717.stm>  <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2015788,00.html

Road charging: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6368957.stm>  <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2015804,00.html>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/simon_jenkins/ article1400846.ece

Fingerprinting obligatory for mandatory ID cards: <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtm?xml=/news/2007/02/18/ nid18.xml>  <http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article2281385.ece>  <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/02/17/ npassport117.xml

Bird flu: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/birdflu/story/0,,2015217,00.html

Cost savings in the NHS: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/6372189.stm>  <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/6364187.stm>  <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/southern_counties/5410558.stm>   <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/southern_counties/5393036.stm

 Pay as you throw (rubbish charging): <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6372799.stm

Handicapped badge abuse: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6365635.stm

Cost savings in the criminal justice system: <http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2015718,00.html

Youth culture in the UK: <http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article2281387.ece>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/minette_marrin/ article1400850.ece>  <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6369213.stm

Cyber Cold War: <http://www.fcw.com/article97658-02-13-07-Web&printLayout>  <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/02/16/swift_hm_treasury/

London Times view of US election: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/ article1400642.ece

The War against Terror: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/ article1400655.ece>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/ article1400656.ece>  <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/ article1400657.ece

News Commentary:

There was a meeting of Anglican primates during the week to deal with the American problem. Rowan Williams kept things from falling apart, but only just. The Anglicans are divided into two communities, one moderately liberal and first world, and the other very conservative and third world, which are dealing with very different problems. The first world Anglicans are faced with social anomie and alienation-- sexuality is just one minor issue of many--while the third world Anglicans are coping with poverty, social injustice, and environmental problems. These forces are tearing the church apart.

On the other hand, I may have made a small contribution to the solution today. Diane and I sit at a table in the middle of the room during coffee hour after church, and this week a high school student came by and sat down. He and a couple of friends were thinking about becoming confirmed, so we had a chat about baptism and confirmation. During the time of Jesus, repentance meant something to Jews different from its modern meaning to us. It meant to turn towards God, with the baptism or temple sacrifice being the public ritual coming after the real change. The forgiveness of God does not depend on the ritual, but rather on the change. We've reversed the process-- we baptise first and the child repents later. So I suggested he and his friends should take the confirmation class to learn whether they really want to turn towards God. We then talked about the passion of God--His compassion towards us--and His character--His demand for justice--and why we might want to turn towards God.

Technical Commentary:

The Airport Extreme base station arrived, with the X Modem. Just follow the manual for set-up. Almost everything works as advertised, and now we have a WPA2-secured pre-N wireless network at home. Very convenient! There's a problem with VPNs--the work-arounds are discussed here:

<http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=4046689&#4046689>  <http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=4046454&#4046454>  <http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=4093385&#4093385>. 

The Check Point box is not yet here, so I don't know those issues yet.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw> Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>


Subject: Salt Lake City mall killer shouted "Allahuackbar!" 

Dr. Pournelle,

Was the Salt Lake City mall shooting a case of Islamic terrorism? Many don't want to face that question. The answer seems clear when you listen to the audio of the tape recorded during the shooting. Starting at 1:38 into the video at http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=8dbc5_4507  you can hear the jihadi shout "Allahuackbar" three times. The third is cut short by a gunshot.

Seems clear that it was Jihad in America--again.

Respectfully Submitted,

Robin Juhl

Oh, but surely this isn't significant. Be careful lest you be charged with a hate crime and sent away for longer than this unfortunate man. And of course the chap captured on the airliner in the Canary Islands tried the hijacking for inexplicable reasons. Can't possibly be jihad.

And the time has come the Walrus said
to talk of many things...


Subject: Fury of the Legions: Walter Reed edition 

Even if you rescue them from leaving their bones in the sand, you can still infuriate the Legions. Not to mention medical professionals.


'Danny Soto, a national service officer for Disabled American Veterans who helps dozens of wounded service members each week at Walter Reed, said soldiers "get awesome medical care and their lives are being saved," but, "Then they get into the administrative part of it and they are like, 'You saved me for what?' The soldiers feel like they are not getting proper respect. This leads to anger."....

'Life beyond the hospital bed is a frustrating mountain of paperwork. The typical soldier is required to file 22 documents with eight different commands -- most of them off-post -- to enter and exit the medical processing world, according to government investigators. Sixteen different information systems are used to process the forms, but few of them can communicate with one another. The Army's three personnel databases cannot read each other's files and can't interact with the separate pay system or the medical recordkeeping databases.

'The disappearance of necessary forms and records is the most common reason soldiers languish at Walter Reed longer than they should, according to soldiers, family members and staffers. Sometimes the Army has no record that a soldier even served in Iraq. A combat medic who did three tours had to bring in letters and photos of herself in Iraq to show she that had been there, after a clerk couldn't find a record of her service.'

Neither in fire nor in ice, neither a bang nor a whimper.... merely smothered in paper?

--Catfish N. Cod


Subject: "It just looks like I am hard at work on something very important."

"It just looks like I am hard at work on something very important."


- Roland Dobbins

Confession is good for the soul but not for employment...





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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

There Was No 'Smart' Way to Invade Iraq.


- Roland Dobbins

Which, alas, is pretty well what I tried to tell them before they did it.  


Subject: Apple CEO Jobs attacks teacher unions

Chron.com - Houston Chronicle 



Subject: Khartoum and Arafat 

For what it's worth, I clearly remember these charges of Yasir Arafat being directly responsible for murdering our ambassador and Chagre' in Khartoum being made in an Op-Ed piece in the last 1970s or early 1980s. I believe it was the late Drew Pearson who amde them.

I was not surprised to read of this on your site. It was "old news" to me. Knowing what I do of State and their attitudes towards their own people as well as to the Middle East in general, it fits perfectly. They view their mission as being to maintain contacts with everyone no matter what they do. If they think something will inflame the public and the Departments political masters, they'll do all they can to keep it hidden so they can keep the channels open.

And yes, sorry to be repetitive, but this all is yet another example of the "Iron Law Of Bureaucracy".


Subject: Big Lie on Arafat US State Department cable 

With the quiet release of a 33-year-old US State Department cable, a good chunk of the edifice of the longest-running big lie was destroyed

http://jewishworldreview.com/0107/glick010207.php3 <http://jewishworldreview.com/0107/glick010207.php3

n 1986, as evidence of Arafat's involvement in the operation became more widely known, more and more voices began calling for Arafat to be investigated for murder. As the New York Sun's online blog recalled last week, during that period, Britain's Sunday Times reported that 44 US senators sent a letter to then US attorney-general Edwin Meese, "urging the American government to charge the PLO chief with plotting the murders of two American diplomats in 1973."

The article went on to note that the Justice Department's interest in pursuing the matter was making senior State Department officials uneasy: "State Department diplomats, worried that murder charges against Arafat would anger the United States' friends in the Arab world, are urging the Justice Department to drop the investigation."

Any American who depends on the State Department for protection when oversees is at best confused and at worst dead.



Whatever happened to "I disagree with what
you say but will defend to the death your right to say it!" ?



"A German court on Thursday convicted far-right activist Ernst Zundel and sentenced him to five years in prison for Holocaust denial in a case that underlined Germany's determination to prosecute people who claim the Nazis didn't murder six million Jews.


The 67-year-old Zundel, who was deported from Canada in 2005, was convicted on 14 counts of inciting hatred for years of anti-Semitic activities, including contributing to a Web site devoted to denying the Holocaust — a crime in Germany.

Prosecutors in Germany were able to bring charges because the Web site is accessible there."

Can you imagine a similar story in, say, five years:


" A German court on Thursday convicted far-right activist J Nellpour and sentenced him to five years in prison for Climate Change denial in a case that underlined Germany's determination to prosecute people who claim excess atmospheric carbon dioxide may not be causing global climate change.


The 67-year-old Nellpour was convicted on 14 counts of inciting hatred for years of anti-environmental activities, including contributing to a Web site devoted to denying the global climate change — a crime in Germany.

Prosecutors in Germany were able to bring charges because the Web site is accessible there."



Or they arrest former President Clinton when he travels in some country in which adultery is a punishable crime with no statute of limitations. Or --

One hopes the Legions would defend him.



A philosophical speculation:

Resolved: Mr. Heinlein's most prophetic story will prove to have been "Solution Unsatisfactory."

And God bless us all.





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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Dr Pournelle

Recently I viewed Charlie Rose's interview of Michael Crichton. It was evidently edited. Mr Crichton related a famous anecdote about ownership and alienation of human tissues and the commercialization of medical research (some company has patented Hepatitis C genome). I found this to be a fascinating and important topic, but there was no follow-up. Instead, in the next scene Mr Rose broached the subject of global warming and the rest of the interview focused on that subject.

Mr Crichton claims to have reviewed the data and has reached the same conclusions as you: Yes, global warming is occuring; no, we cannot definitively state that human actions are the primary drivers of global warming; CO2 levels have risen about 30% over the last century but no one is proposing any substantive measures to reduce carbon emissions.

One point that Mr Crichton made that I have known for some time is that climate is a coupled chaotic engine. This means it is not predictable. To use Mr Crichton's analogy, I place no more faith in the ignorant predictions of scientists than I do in palm readers and for the same reason.

Mr Rose pointed out that the consensus of scientists was against Mr Crichton's view, to which Mr Crichton replied that the consensus of scientists was against Einstein's Theories of Relativity when they were first published. Einstein's reply was, "It does not matter what a thousand say. It only takes one to prove that I am wrong."


h lynn keith

Yet most of the media try to show that Dr. Crichton is barking mad. Incidentally, Robert Heinlein was annoyed with Crichton for going to medical school and obtaining an MD but then not practicing medicine. It was one of my disagreements with Robert.


Subject: Survive column 

Your new report begins, "In the 1980's, I was [and] editor and columnist for SURVIVE Magazine." The built-in Microsoft checker has no problem with that, even though VERB COORDINATOR NOUN makes no sense.

As I age, something happens ever more frequently. As my mind gets several words ahead, I unwittingly type a similar, but incorrect word, in place of the intended one. Spell checkers let those fall right through the cracks.

If Office Vista significantly improved upon the grammar-checking engine, that would motivate me to run right out, and buy a new machine. I know software cannot replace human editing. It certainly would be nice, if it reliably pointed out routine goofs.


Getting prescriptions filled today is as much of an affliction as the actual medical condition. The routine actions of modern corporations would make even the worst pencil pushers, back in cold war-era USSR, green with envy.

I just purchased a new bottle of Advil. In response to the FDA, the box only says 'Advil' on one side. The other three contain 'Drug Facts' in miniscule print. It is no longer enough to print them on a sheet, inside the box. What is next, forcing Wyeth, et al. to hire skywriters?


There haven't been any real advances in Grammar Checking Engines since Grammatik IV and Corporate Voice, neither of which seem to be available now. Alas. I agree, building a good grammar engine into either VISTA or Office 2007 would be an excellent sales point.

Incidentally, thanks for spotting that error. I have fixed it.


Subject: [A review of] The Problems in Modeling Nature 

Interesting Jerry, These people are looking into reasons why the models don't work.

Frank G.


The Problems in Modeling Nature, With Its Unruly Natural Tendencies

[A review of]

USELESS ARITHMETIC Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future. By Orrin H. Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis. 256 pages. Columbia University Press, $29.50. Read an Excerpt <http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/publicity/pilkeyexcerpt.html>

By CORNELIA DEAN Published: February 20, 2007

When coastal engineers decide whether to dredge sand and pump it onto an eroded beach, they use mathematical models to predict how much sand they will need, when and where they must apply it, the rate it will move and how long the project will survive in the face of coastal storms and erosion.

Orrin H. Pilkey, a coastal geologist and emeritus professor at Duke, recommends another approach: just dredge up a lot of sand and dump it on the beach willy-nilly. This “kamikaze engineering” might not last very long, he says, but projects built according to models do not usually last very long either, and at least his approach would not lull anyone into false mathematical certitude.

Now Dr. Pilkey and his daughter Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, a geologist in the Washington State Department of Geology, have expanded this view into an overall attack on the use of computer programs to model nature. Nature is too complex, they say, and depends on too many processes that are poorly understood or little monitored ­ whether the process is the feedback effects of cloud cover on global warming or the movement of grains of sand on a beach.

Their book, “Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future,” originated in a seminar Dr. Pilkey organized at Duke to look into the performance of mathematical models used in coastal geology. Among other things, participants concluded that beach modelers applied too many fixed values to phenomena that actually change quite a lot. For example, “assumed average wave height,” a variable crucial for many models, assumes that all waves hit the beach in the same way, that they are all the same height and that their patterns will not change over time. But, the authors say, that’s not the way things work.<snip>

Looks like an interesting book. When I was an OR man I built models all the time. The questions were (1) could you solve them (with modern computers that's not so difficult now, (2) did the solutions mean anything, and (3) how sensitive were they to the assumptions?


Subject: A rival for NASA 

Hi Jerry,

As a little bit of light relief I thought you'd like this.

Having noticed that the Reliant Robin http://www.3wheelers.com/robin.html looked a little like the space shuttle the UK motoring program Top Gear challenged some rocket enthusiasts to launch one, they managed it!

This is a clip of the launch from the last show


as you can see they got the thing off the ground and the SRBs detached successfully, the look on the faces of the guys who built it and the presenters is priceless.

Regards Norman


Subject: TSA's purpose?

Does the TSA's security theatre help Americans make better decisions by bringing perceived risk in line with actual risk? My gut feeling says we're smarter than that, but a surprising number of people I've talked to feel that airport screenings are reasonable.


-Max Wilson

-- Be pretty if you are, be witty if you can, But be cheerful if it kills you.


Subject: Frank Forman and his cochlear implant

I'm amazed at how far medicine has come in marrying electronics to the human body, but does anyone remember G. Patrick Flanagan's Neurophone from 1958, invented when Flanagan was only 14?


At the time it seemed to have enormous promise - a way to bring hearing back to the profoundly deaf - but it seems that the good Dr. Flanagan's invention may have gone off into the weird zone.


Anybody know if the Neurophone ever really worked?

Cheers, Brian Claypool

I don't recall the Neurophone. Perhaps I should?


Subject: The Trireme Olympias.

The Trireme Olympias.


 Roland Dobbins



Subject: Seitz Dirty Bombs Not Such a Blast -- Kintisch 2007 (218): 1 -- ScienceNOW


Russell Seitz 


Subject: The couple stalking the cop

Dr Pournelle,

In Tuesday's "Current View" on jerrypournelle.com, Robert Bruce Thompson noted a February 13 story in the Cartersville, GA Daily Tribune. The story concerned a complaint brought by a police officer against a couple who had used video cameras and a radio speedgun to catch the officer speeding on their street. The fact that the complaint was made in the first place is, of course, cause for concern, That said, though, in the interests of completeness, you might be interested to know that the February 15 issue of the same newspaper included a story that the police officer had withdrawn the complaint -
tribune/news_story.html?rkey=0041564+cr=>  >


Peter Hornby Lagfuna Beach/CA




CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Subj: NRC Chairman hopes "not to be an impediment to the licensing of new reactors"


NRC: News Release - 2007-023 - NRC Chairman Addresses Growth Issue at Platts Nuclear Energy Conference

=He also said he hopes to reduce the time necessary to process new reactor applications. “We’re still looking at ways to reduce the review time required for early site permits and combined operating licenses,” he said, “with no compromise on safety. That is not an unrealistic goal if industry does its job at the beginning of the licensing process” with standardized designs and applications.=

Rod Montgomery==monty@sprintmail.com

We can sure hope he means it!


Virgil and others always did say that Troy founded Rome, and Etruria was from Asia Minor...

Track human movements by sequencing cow mitochondrial DNA?



The team found that almost 60% of the mitochondrial DNA in cows in the central Tuscan region of the country - where the Etruscan civilisation is thought to have arisen - was the same as that in cows from Anatolia and the Middle East. There was little or no genetic convergence between cows from the north and south of Italy and those from Turkey and the Middle East, the researchers say.


A dialogue:

Subject: Florida judge

Your observations about the judge in Florida "presiding" over the Anna Nicole Smith matter are entirely correct - he is an idiot thrown into a situation where he can get on national, nay, INTERnational, TV and achieve some measure of fame. I heard one talk show host suggest that the judge wanted to be the "next Judge Judy," and it is entirely possible that he is correct. What is occurring is a travesty almost as bad as the OJ trial debacle.

As to child porn, the jurisprudential theory is that, while the pictures themselves may do no particular damage, the producing of them and the attendant victimization of children is quite damaging to both them and society as a whole. Having seen, in court, the nature of those producing child porn and having also seen the damage done to their victims, I would tend to agree with that theory.

Highest regards,

Professor Tim Pleasant, Esq. Albuquerque, NM

To which I replied

But cartoons? Or adult actors pretending to be children? Electronic images not involving any humans at all?

I understand the theory, but I am not sure it works very well. There seems to be no shortage of kiddy porn, none of it originating in the US. Allowing electronic images made in USA might actually cut down on the amount of stuff involving real children. Same for adult actors. I'm no fan or advocate of adult porn either, but it's not illegal unless they pretend to be children.

Not to defend it, but to attempt to explain and explore it a bit - one of the simultaneous advantages and disadvantages of the law, I've found, is that it tends to be rather slow moving. We still have a lot of judges (including federal ones) stuck in the typewriter and carbon paper age. They have no concept of digital imagery, and wouldn't know how to surf the Internet if they tried. (I hasten to say this not true of all of them, but it is certainly true of some, given lifetime tenure). Combine that with the various legislators' penchant for wishing to appear "tough on crime," particularly on sex crimes against children, and you get just the result you've observed.

One of the biggest advantages, perhaps the only one, of a slow-to-change, slow-to-react legal system is that it provides stability and predictability, at least in theory. However, that, in turn, depends on the actors within the system sticking with it.....which leads us back to the idiot judge in Florida who, like a number of his colleagues on the bench, figure that their role is to change things to match their own sense of enlightened (usually, but not always politically liberal) sensibilities rather than to act to preserve and maintain that stable, predictable system. It is NOT the job of the judiciary to give the populace what it wants, but this guy figures they want a show, and he's going to provide it. After a decade now working in the system, I'd have to say that kind of attitude in the judiciary scares me a lot more than a degree of foolish overkill in how it treats child porn. (Admittedly, perhaps I'm too close to it to be an objective observer).

And I wish I had a solution to all of this, but I don't. I just try to teach my law students how to NOT head down that particular path, but I strongly suspect it's a losing battle.


Alas, some of that foolish overkill regarding kiddie porn can result in 10 years in the pokey for someone who has never molested a child or indeed done anything but look at pictures. Or so I am told; certainly there are people jailed for whom it was never proven that they did anything else.

I confess that my sympathy for those who collect child pornography has some severe bounds, and given the limits on my time and attention I don't spend any efforts on their behalf, there being more worthy causes; but still it bothers me that having electronic images on a disk drive can send one to be raped in prison and probably to die of AIDS.


Subject: The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids -- New York Magazine 

The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids

Dear Jerry,

Apparently we have raised a generation of "Praise Junkies":

"...For a few decades, it's been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

When parents praise their children's intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it's important to tell their kids that they're smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.

But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of "smart" does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it... "



Rod Schaffter

-- "To try to reconcile, into a single view, a country that contains Houston, New Orleans, San Francisco, Nashville, Washington, Los Angeles, and New York City, before we even go for a walk in the country, is beyond the usual boundaries of human comprehension. We simplify by noting they have only one President." --David Warren


Subject: Phasers, fire!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6380789.stm <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6380789.stm>



>Subject: A rival for NASA


>Regards Norman

Alas, by 8:57AM Thursday morning, the video had been yanked with a note about a copyright complaint by the BBC,

-- Cecil Rose alabama@earthlink.net

Apex, NC

Ah, well.


Pictures on your hard drive.

Dr Pournelle,

You mentioned the subject of being jailed for what the Feds may find on your hard drive. We have similar laws in the UK, and it has always worried me that you can go to jail for years because of images on your disk. Obviously we are talking about paedophiles here. People with a mental illness/abnormality which makes them the new witches. Now if a paedo acts out and commits an offence against a child I have no problem with locking them up until they are no longer a danger to the public. But to assume that everyone who looks at the pictures is as dangerous as an active criminal is a long stretch. If I look at movies about bank robberies does that mean I should be locked up as a potential bank robber?

I can only assume that the courts will consider the possibility that somebody other than the computer owner downloaded the images or left them in cache before they lock the owner up. But even if the pictures were downloaded with the intention of looking at them, then it's a sad thing, but it harms no further person to look at them. The Feds would say that the harm is done when the picture is produced, and of course anybody involved in harming a child to make a photo for sale is guilty as hell. But the law does not distinguish those photos from any other made by simulation or indeed CGI or just plain art, where no direct harm takes place. And yet the witchhunt continues.



Subject: Virtual Child Pornography

In your reply to Tim Pleasant, you wrote: "But cartoons? Or adult actors pretending to be children? Electronic images not involving any humans at all?" Don't fret. The S.Ct. (and the 9th Circuit) got this one right. See Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 (http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/00-795.ZS.html) .

 Pursuant to that decision, the Court held that provisions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 that outlawed any visual depiction that appears to be of a minor involved in sexually explicit activity was unconstitutionally overbroad. The Court's opinion reflects that laws prohibiting child pornography are valid not because child pornography is obscene (a notoriously difficult basis to prove), but rather because the state has a valid interest in protecting real children from the production of child pornography. Since real children are not involved in the creation of virtual child pornography, there is no valid state interest. Virtual child pornography could still be unlawful if it was obscene, but as I referenced above, it is a very difficult standard to prove (which doesn't mean an abusive prosecutor wouldn't press charges to ruin a possessor's life). I'm surprised that Prof. Tim Pleasant, Esq. failed to advise you of the Ashcroft opinion.

Rene Daley

Well that makes more sense than a lot of modern court decisions do. Thanks. Of course 9th Circuit gets overruled about 10 times more often than any other circuit, usually for pretty good reasons. So it's not settled...

Actually, the S.Ct. affirmed the 9th Cir. in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234. The district court originally upheld the constitutionality of the Child Pornography Prevention Act and the 9th Cir. reversed the district court. On appeal to the S.Ct., the S.Ct. upheld the 9th Cir.'s opinion.



Subject: Modeling Gone Awry- 

Dr. Pournelle,

Subj: Modeling Gone Awry

The engineering office where I work is designing the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems for a 10-story building near Denver, CO. An energy consultant is modeling the building for annual energy use to achieve LEED certification for identifying it as having certain energy conserving features.

Over the last few months, every time the energy consultant runs a simulation on the building virtually none of the energy reduction features designed for the HVAC systems are showing any cost savings. Discussions ensue and we provide clarification how the systems will work to reduce energy consumption when compared to a baseline configuration. In fact, their first report on energy consumption basically implied that we should scrap every energy saving feature and design the lowest first-cost HVAC system. With each report, we inquired into how they constructed their model. Although refinement occurred, each discussion revealed a lack of understanding on how the HVAC systems interact with the environment inside and outside the building during occupied and unoccupied cycles throughout the year.

Heck, if an energy consultant can't figure out how to model a simple 10-story office building, it doesn't bode well for them understanding a planet.

Stan Fuhrhop

It is fascinating how badly people model systems where there is immediate feedback on the accuracy of the predictions, and how much confidence the same people have in models of systems where it will take years and years to validate the predictions. The further away the validation, the more confidence the "consensus" seems to have in the model. There is no "consensus" on a model that tells me the weather next year, or the average rainfall in Southern California over the next five years, or the amount of snowfall in the High Sierra (very important for energy production projections) for the next year or an average for the next decade; but there is a consensus about the temperature of the whole Earth after a century even though there is no actual consensus on just how to DEFINE the "temperature of the Earth."

The arrogance of modelers who now have computers that let them get numerical solutions to hideously complex models never ceases to amaze me.

When I was in Operations Research (which over the years decided that the fancier name Systems Analysis would get us more consulting jobs) we were always careful to build models with the least sensitivity to the variables (we chose regions where the curves were pretty flat) and to use equations we could actually solve (and in doing so see something of just how sensitive the outputs were to the assumptions). Now almost any model can be solved by brute force; but if the output depends heavily complex inputs then the model is no better than the input predictions which are themselves often shaky Ah, well. Consensus is important. And Peer Review certainly build consensus.


Subject:  A rival for NASA

Dear Dr Pournelle,

Try this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTvCwVYFLww .

At the time of writing it was still working.

Actually quite a few viewable copies of this video have now appeared on YouTube. Some of them are quite long at 10 minutes but the launch and ultimately disastrous flight are worth watching.


Simon Woodworth.


Hello Dr. Pournelle,

Subject: Pop-up ads send teacher to jail

The witch hunts continue and become ever more wacky. You cannot make this stuff up.


Best regards,

Clyde Wisham

The world is well served by jailing that teacher. Anarcho Tyranny.





CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday, February 23, 2007


POLICE STATE, GERMANY Homeschooler's parents allowed 1 visit a week State keeps girl in custody – but allows supervised meetings with parents Posted: February 22, 2007

By Bob Unruh © 2007 WorldNetDaily.com

An international human rights group has announced that Melissa Busekros, the 15-year-old German homeschool student taken by a SWAT team from her home and ordered into a psychiatric ward by a judge, for the first time in nearly a month will be able to meet with her parents.

The German court handling her case yesterday gave Melissa's parents official visitation rights, "but she is still in foster care at an undisclosed location," according to the report from the International Human Rights Group.

However, "her parents are allowed once-a-week visits with her, which must take place at a government building," according to the update from Joel Thornton, the president of the IHRG.

He told WND earlier this week that he was in Germany to meet with the girl's parents and legal counsel to help facilitate – if it's possible – a resolution in her case.

As WND reported earlier, the Home School Legal Defense Association launched a campaign to have its supporters, mostly in the United States, contact the German embassy about the case.

Officials with the organization said that's because of their concerns that what is established as a precedent in another nation could be cited by U.S. judges in their opinion-making process.

They warned that "what is happening in Germany today may be knocking on our door tomorrow." The group is tracking the circumstances of about 40 families in Germany with court cases in various stages.

The case involving Melissa Busekros is being documented by Netzwerk-Bildungsfreifeit, a German organization that advocates for homeschoolers there even though the activity is banned in that nation.

Thornton told WND in a telephone interview from Germany that he is working with the family and their counsel in an attempt to resolve the abduction of the girl by a SWAT team of 15 officers from in front of her shocked family.

Homeschool supporters in Germany have told WND the girl had fallen behind in Latin and math studies, and was being tutored at home in the subjects. However, when school officials found out, they expelled her, then took the family to court when they began homeschooling.

The court order to take her into state custody, executed by police officers, said, "The relevant Youth Welfare Office is hereby instructed and authorized to bring the child, if necessary by force, to a hearing and may obtain police support for this purpose."

Thornton said a five-hour court hearing had been held on Melissa's status, but no decision was reached immediately because social workers refused to accept a compromise that the judge and Melissa's parents had worked out.

"This is a precedent that's going to affect not just Germany," Thornton said. "This is an extreme case, even for Germany, but it won't be extreme any more if they get away with it."

Ordnung! And yes, it can happen here.


I do wonder if the world has not gone mad.

Or perhaps I am spending too much time in worlds of my own making, and I just don't understand?


Through my reading over the years of Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle, Asimov, Clarke, Reynolds and many others I anticipated this type of behavior and am not surprised or shocked at all. The only people who are surprised and shocked by the activities going on around them now were not readers of speculative societal fiction and thus not prepared in advance for the "Crazy Years!" Of course none of these great authors ever believed it could be as bad as it really is.

Also Jerry I have figured out who the real Neimiah Scudder is, picture attached! Unbelivers prepare for the new inquisition for those who will not subjugate themselves to the new truth!

-- James Early Long Beach, CA 


Subject: Extracted from an old article of mine (and cleaned up...)

Revised from Erwin, H., 1992. "The Dynamics of Peer Polities," originally presented at the Cambridge Conference on Dynamic Modelling and Human Systems, December 10-13, 1990. In Time, Process and Structured Transformation in Archaeology, S. E. van der Leeuw and J. McGlade, ed., Routledge, 1997.

"A model is a representation of a thing. For the applied scientist, the definition is more specific: a model is an abstract representation of a system that provides useful estimates for parameter values of interest. These estimates need not be correct— insight is often all that a model is intended to provide—but they should at least represent the behaviour of the real system. When systems are non-linear and data noisy, the validity of a model becomes important.

"A valid model is one that provides useful insight, desirably but not necessarily as numerical predictions or statistical distributions. This definition avoids arguments over the validity and equivalence of abstract models, since a more rigourous definition of model validity can result in the only valid model of a system (particularly one with continuous dynamics) being the system itself.

"Not all non-linear systems can be modelled; some have behaviour that cannot be predicted by any model. Practical experience has shown that computer simulations are often inaccurate, and added detail sometimes increases the inaccuracy. This inaccuracy reflects computer behaviour that depends sensitively on non-linear analogue phenomena and the resolution of low level race conditions.

"Unless it can be shown that model behaviour matches that of the real system, such models cannot be safely used. Luckily, there are ways around this problem, but they require an understanding of how non- linear models fail. The underlying problem is that the evolution of two nearby system trajectories (representing slightly different initial conditions) can diverge in state space, growing apart exponentially, and eventually becoming uncorrelated. When that happens, it may be impossible to calibrate a system model to provide adequate predictions. A model has to have dynamics similar to those of the real system, but when nearby trajectories diverge in this fashion, the system—the best possible model—lacks self-similar dynamics as critical parameters change. The dynamics of the computer simulation must diverge from the real dynamics of the system. This phenomenon, termed sensitive dependence on initial conditions, is a key idea in non-linear systems theory.

"Regular dynamics are associated with linear and near-linear systems. Irregular dynamics are seen in strongly perturbed non-linear systems where rapid response and adaptation occurs. Model reliability depends on the regularity of the dynamics, and careful validation is critical to the understanding of model results. Yet, despite these known risks, non-linear models founded on real data, if carefully validated to overcome their potential weaknesses, can give valuable insight."

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw> Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>

Indeed. But Global Warming is So Important! And you use all those big words and hard concepts. Are you a Warming Denier? (See View)


Subject:  literature mapping


The real shocker here, of course, is the inexplicable proximity of Thomas L. Friedman.

A curious place.


Subject: Iraq War / Petraeus 

Dr. Pournelle,

This is a really interesting expose on the new phase of the Iraq War and I thought I’d send it to you even though you might well already know.


It also features a swipe at the view that Congress ruined the Vietnam War! So I thought of you, obviously; maybe their expert was responding to Chaos Manor.


-David Scott

Petraeus seems to know what he is doing; next we will see if he builds a constabulary of auxiliaries so that the Legions can be brought back to their strength and preserved for their primary mission.

But whether this is a good thing to do is debatable.

As to the rest, the fact speak for themselves. In 1972-73 South Viet Nam defeated an invasion from the North with few US casualties and enormous casualties to the invaders. In 1975 Congress forbade us to help our allies, and Viet Nam fell amidst shameful scenes as the Americans bugged out. Ford pleaded with Congress not to do this. He was rebuffed.

It appears we will play that again in Iraq, with this difference: we had good reason to be in Viet Nam during the Cold War, and we had won the fight. I question that we ever had reason to invade Iraq, we are not winning, and "win" is very hard to define. At the moment we appear to be the enemies of the Sunni while not really allied with the Shiites; our only friends are the Kurds, whose independence terrifies both the Turks and the Iranians.

I remind you all that Saladin united the Saracens and drove the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem out of most of the Holy Land, defeating Richard of England, Phillip of France, and Frederick Barbarosssa of Germany. Saladin was a Kurd.


Subject: German homeschooling case


It is a truly disturbing story. The historical background from one of the links seems to add an even more disturbing element of irony:

 Officials there said historically the German phobia about  homeschooling began with Adolph Hitler, whose design was to control  the minds of children as they grew, leaving them with only his worldview.  "The 'Jugendamt' (youth welfare office) has its origin in the German  Nazi state," the German group said. "German Wikipedia writes about the  Jugendamt: 'In 1939 the Jugendamt [was] adopted ... as a part of  government in the NS-state control of child-education. The Jugendamt  controlled and observed families and children politically from their  birth."

So the German fear of homeschooling stems from Hitler's use of it to gain political power. Yet they use one of Hitler's own weapons of tyranny to suppress what they fear?

CP, Connecticut

Ordnung! It is for the protection of the children. Why are you surprised? It is no different, when the Enlightened gain control they help the Benighted. The Enlightened can be Liberal Socialists, National Socialists, Communists; the attitude is the same. We know best and we will do good. And we have the sword.

Teachers will encourage their pupils to report Benighted attitudes among their parents. It happens here in the US now. It will continue.

Liberty is the freedom to do what others consider wrong and benighted.


Subject: Subject: Pop-up ads send teacher to jail


With regard to the above story. The facts as presented appear to be identical to the events shown on this short video:


Apparently, it was a prank perpetrated by college students on innocent people in a library. What are the chances of the teacher being the victim of the same prank?


Edward Chambers.





This week:


read book now


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Subject: "So we are, in effect, lying to these students." 

"So we are, in effect, lying to these students."


Grades are rising but learning is lagging, federal reports find High school students today have higher GPAs but lower skill levels, suggesting a failure of education reforms. By Mitchell Landsberg, Times Staff Writer February 23, 2007

American high school students are taking tougher classes, getting better grades and, apparently, learning less than their counterparts of 15 years ago.

Those were the discouraging implications of two reports issued Thursday by the federal Department of Education, assessing the performance of students in public and private schools. Together, the reports raised sobering questions about the past two decades of educational reform, including whether the movement to raise school standards has amounted to much more than window dressing.

"I think we're sleeping through a crisis," said David P. Driscoll, the Massachusetts commissioner of education, during a Washington news conference convened by the Department of Education. He called the study results "stunning."<snip>


-- Roland Dobbins

Yet we are told that education standards are not actually deteriorating and kids are learning more than ever. And pigs have wings. And bureaucrats do nothing but good.


Subject: You and SDI

I was reading some Niven and discovered something you wouldn't say for yourself. Not only did you know Ronald Reagan but you were a major force in developing SDI.

I was a Reagan appointee and I know that the Strategic Defense Initiative was a major force in bringing down the Soviet Union. You can't brag about it but me and Niven sure as hell can.

I PAID you some money, so I DEMAND that you print this.

Bob Whitaker

Not sure what you want me to say. It's no great secret that Niven hosted, and I chaired, the meetings in Tarzana that drafted the space defense policy transition team papers, and that we continued to submit papers through the National Security Advisor that were taken directly to President Reagan. The SDI policies were jointly developed by a number of organizations. The late General Dan Graham was in DC and developed much of the political support both grass roots and working with the services and the White House. My Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy argued for strategic defense in line with the "Assured Survival" chapter of The Strategy of Technology by Stefan Possony and Jerry Pournelle (1970). Strategy of Technology was used as a textbook in service academies, and had some influence over cadets who later became senior officers.

We later developed and advocated the DC/X as part of a technology for making America a Space-faring Nation again (a goal advocated by the Council). Some of the DC/X story including a picture of me, General Graham, and Max Hunter presenting the DC/X pitch to the Chairman of the National Space Council (VP Dan Quayle), and some discussion can be found here.

I probably should update the space papers section of this web site, but it's one more thing to do and I don't have anyone to do it but me. The best summary I have managed is found here.

The story of the Council and how Niven and I "brought down the Soviet Union" has been told in a number of places including a BBC special filmed here and at Niven's house that at one time got considerable exposure, but I suspect it is no longer available; I certainly don't know where it is. That, of course, is an overstatement. SDI was certainly crucial; Gorbachev has often said so. If one had to name a single individual as the most important in getting SDI adopted as a national policy, it would have to be General Dan Graham, who stayed in Washington and coordinated political, military, and scientific efforts into a single policy; and kept those policy recommendations at the forefront of discussion. This was particularly important after the first National Security Advisors (Dick Allen and Judge Clarke) left the White House. SDI would not have been adopted without General Graham.

 Dan has said he couldn't have done it without me, and immodestly I have to agree; but I couldn't have done any of this without many others. Niven's role was as host and providing an atmosphere in which a meeting of 70 influential and often temperamental people could spend weekends working on policy; the atmosphere of a high tech California millionaire's home was crucial in keeping people polite and allowing me to chair the meetings. Mrs. Marilyn Niven and a number of volunteers provided gourmet meals for this crowd in the early meetings. Later meetings were held in my home and Mrs. Roberta Pournelle was hostess and provided the meals and atmosphere. DC/X was designed and the briefing that brought it to life was written in those meetings at my home with Roberta as hostess.

And do note that I was chairman, not dictator; the SDI papers were drafted by over 70 people including Buzz Aldrin, Phil Chapman, Lowell Wood, John McCarthy, Danny Hillis, the invaluable Stefan Possony, George Merrick, Dr. Gould, the late Max Hunter, Greg Benford, the late Harry Stine, and many others, some now famous and some not. The reports were effective in large part because we had Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, Dean Ing, and of course Larry Niven working with the technical experts to produce readable documents. The final reports were mostly written by me with the help of all the above, and I'd never have got those done without Jim Ransom.

I suppose it is worth reminding people of this story once in a while, even if it does come off like an Oscar acceptance speech; and I am sure I have left a number of key people out.








CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, February 25, 2007      

A balanced take on Angleton.


- Roland Dobbins

As I said in the column, The Good Shepherd has a number of inaccuracies. To begin with, the Bay of Pigs invasion failed because Adlai Stevenson unmanned Kennedy, and Kennedy lost his nerve, then went against his own instincts, leaving the Cuban exile force to be captured and killed after they had been promised US air support. Apparently Kennedy understood that it was his fault and that blood was on his hands. He could have called off the invasion; or left the air support orders in place; but he let them go in but called off the air support because Stevenson complained that the UN would be unhappy and Stevenson would be unhappy. Why anyone let Stevenson in to see Kennedy at such a critical moment is not clear. None of this is in the movie, which says that the Bay of Pigs disaster was due to a leak from within the CIA.

The portrayal of Matt Damon as Angleton is absurd enough that I managed to forget that this kid was supposed to be Angleton. Angleton was a complex man, and his obsession with finding moles certainly caused considerable damage to the Company. His treatment of Nosenko was shameful. He was right about some of his obsessions, and some of his early work was sensible.

In 1953 I got involved with development of polygraphs and their utility. Our studies were funded by USPHS grants and conducted at the VA, and were not classified other than taking precautions about patient information and personal details. The CIA became very interested in the subject, but they didn't have many people willing to put the time and effort into learning how to use real polygraph data. Like most police departments they wanted a quick and dirty "lie detector" but of course there never was such a thing. Real polygraphs have both face and hand temperatures: using those with some of the other measures you can physiologically differentiate fear and anger, and a skilled investigator can use that information to infer causes of stress and direct questions that will slip inside mental defenses. None of that is easy, and it's certainly not like the things you see in the movies. On the other hand, an investigator who has taken the trouble to learn all these things and provided with the full polygraph measures -- heart rate, breathing pattern, face and hand temperatures, GSR at a very minimum -- can do a great deal to find the truth and drag out information from subjects.

But that's for another time.

After Angleton the Agency began to rely on polygraphs even more, but so far as I know, they have never really invested in training people who can use all the information available. Perhaps they have and I don't know; I can hope they have.

In any event, as I said in my review, The Good Shepherd is worth seeing, but one needs to take a great deal of it with considerable quantities of salt. In particular, the character of the founding Director, who would have been Allen Dulles, is absolutely wrong in the movie. Allan Dulles was nothing like the man portrayed in the film.










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