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Saturday, October 13, 2007

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Monday  August 13, 2007


Subject: Letter from England

This is actually a letter from Virginia--I'll write about some of the differences I'm observing. I own a condo in Fairfax County, where a couple of my kids live and where I'm currently staying. Remember that Fairfax is upper middle-class, while Sunderland is working-class.

. More cars on the road than in Sunderland. Some major roads are always congested. More new cars in Fairfax. . The UK drivers are much more expert and polite, despite driving much faster. (To drive in the UK, you have to pass a hard driving test, and it shows.) On the other hand, Fairfax drivers are more considerate of pedestrians and bicyclists--drivers habitually violate pedestrian and bicyclist rights of way is a problem in the UK. . Gasolene costs half what it does in the UK. . You can't walk much of anywhere in Fairfax. The roads are much wider, too. . More bicyclists in Fairfax, but this is a class difference. Working class adults don't ride bicycles in the UK. . Prices in Fairfax are up more from six years ago than they are in Sunderland. . Meal portions in Fairfax are much larger than they were six years ago or in the UK now. Tasteless, so you're paying for the quantity. . Credit cards handled differently in Fairfax--signatures instead of chip and pin. . People are politer in Fairfax.

Not everyone needs to go to university... <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6929689.stm

East German spies in Sweden. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6938763.stm

ID card contract put out to tender. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/ idcards/story/0,,2145485,00.html>  <http://tinyurl.com/2vk5cw

Home information packs mishandled. <http://money.guardian.co.uk/news_/ story/0,,2145258,00.html> <http://tinyurl.com/3xr3jz

Problems with computer tracking of parolees.

<http:// politics.guardian.co.uk/homeaffairs/story/02144640,00.html>   <http:// tinyurl.com/3x3d8b

Restrictions on treatment for blindness to be rethought.

<http:// www.guardian.co.uk/medicine/story/02144684,00.html>  <http:// tinyurl.com/382x5k>  <http://www.guardian.co.uk/leaders/story/0,,2146517,00.html>  <http://tinyurl.com/2rz45e>  <http://society.guardian.co.uk/health/story/0,,2146621,00.html>  <http:// tinyurl.com/35g6qe>  

Anti-terror laws are *so* convenient. <http://politics.guardian.co.uk/ terrorism/story/0,,2146692,00.html>  <http://tinyurl.com/yq6jjv

A monument to Hadrian. <http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/ article2853816.ece>  <http://tinyurl.com/ys6e6f

-- 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>


Seitz Temperature of the Earth 

Dear Jerry ; Given your interest in the MWP Proxy Wars, I think you may find the current issue of Nature interesting.

And cautionary-- It notes that the latest proxy record study, on marine sediment cores from south of Australia and north of the Antarctic shore show no isotopic evidence for the abrupt warming of the Younger Dryas in the Southern Hemisphere some 13,000 years ago.

I took a look at the Milloy DYI Temperature Of the Earth site, and was at once underwhelmed by the spotty data and charmed by the (anonymous) author's candor as to the semi-silliness of the endeavor.

When the whole bloody American Meteorological Society, driven by serious commodity trading money and corporate heavy hitters like ADM, who bet billion on beans and bellies regardless of the state of the ideological Climate Wars , can't get a third decimal place handle on the mean temperature of a half billion square kilometer ball of wax like Earth, Wikipedia Weathermen left and right don't stand much of a chance. In both cases , the data gets gathered because the data gatherers get paid .

-- Russell Seitz



r.e. Clark's theory about industrialization 

Dear Jerry,

>>the how of the transition was largely driven by the invention of several critical pieces of technology, the first of which was the steam engine. Even with lots of appropriate cultural values, the creation of high energy civilization wasn't going to occur until a technical means to create energy intensive industries had been invented.<<

The question is why didn't it all happen much earlier at the Library of Alexandria? Heron had a working steam 'engine' in the form of his aeolipile before 70 A.D. The differences in situations are striking. I think immedate 'need', practical application and an ability to publish far more widely are the reasons. Heron's laboratory was a state supported scientific institution which also put much effort into cutting edge military R&D (i.e. catapults). Heron was a genius and, judging from the range of his scientific works, probably had a much higher IQ than either Newcomen or Watts.

Nor was Heron's effort the last until Newcomen's. Steam power was dabbled with on multiple occasions in between Heron and Newcomen. The ultimate spur of immediate economic need was always lacking. Heron's society and economy - the Roman Empire - was explicity founded on the principle of the cheapest possible labor. This was slavery. Cheap labor economies such as the Roman Empire, the Antebellum South and the 21st Century U.S.A. seem to inevitably favor low technology solutions and illiterate muscle power over mechanization. The existence of individual engineering like Heron, and even their subsidy with large amounts of state funds, has no effect on such regimes.

Newcomen's steam engine for pumping water out of coal mines was part of solving an existing fuel and energy 'crisis'. Firewood and charcoal were becoming expensive in England in the 17th Century as the trees ran out. Coal and coal coke were therefore being used as substitute fuels for general heating and metallurgy. This created an immediate industrial demand for coal mining appliances like pumps and for ways to power them. And since slavery ( a form of unlimited labor immigration) was 'unknown to the laws of England', the prevailing wage rates were higher.

Best Wishes,


I will shortly review a book that has an alternate theory of why it became steam engine time...


Teacher Unions 

Dr. Pournelle,


The headline for this is "Ex-Teacher Accused of Rape Gets Raises". It would appear that in Alabama, not even raping a student is enough to get you off the payroll. At least he was removed from class…

And some people wonder why my kids are home schooled.


Is any comment needed?


Subject: NASA's Y2K Bug

Dr. Pournelle,

For whatever it's worth, Gavin Schmidt denies that the temperature discrepancy was a Y2K bug. Rather, it was an error correlating two data sources that just happened to switch off in January 2000.


There may be other similar errors hiding in the graph, but the real point is twofold: 1.) McIntyre should not have had to reverse-engineer the process to check the results, and 2.) we need to be skeptical of closed-source science precisely because it can't be thoroughly vetted. In this, good science resembles cryptography.


Actually, closed-source science isn't science at all. It may or may not be magic.


Subject: Whole-word reading v. Phonics

Dr Pournelle

Velma Hampson gave her opinion on the value of the 'eclectic' method of teaching language. You have referenced Robeta Pournelle's success with phonic methods.

There is one historical illutstration of the difference between whole-word reading and phonics: Korea.

Chinese characters are ideographs. China and Japan both teach reading by the whole-word method because they do not have a choice. It takes years for Chinese and Japanese students to develop an 8,000 word written vocabulary. (That's not so much, I hear the educators say; that's more than 3 new words a day, every day, no time off for weekends or holidays.) For those who are not aware, neither Chinese nor Japanese conjugate verbs. No 'am-are-is-are-are-are' to worry with.

For more than a thousand years, educated Koreans wrote Chinese. Chinese was to Koreans what Latin was to Europeans.

King Sejong the Great changed that. In the 15th century (C.E.), King Sejong commissioned a group of scholars to develop a new writing system for the masses using the Korean language. (The Koreans say his motive was 'love for the common people', but I was trained as an historian -- among other things -- and I can read around the myths. His love for the common people was sufficiently demonstrated in his agricultural and scientific programs and in his tax reform. By reforming the language, he hoped to weaken the oligarchs who dominated the bureaucracy.)

The scholars developed the Hangul, a phonetic alphabet of 11 vowels and 17 consonants. King Sejong published the Hangul across Korea in 1446.

Before publication of the Hangul, the literacy rate in Korea was five percent (5%); after, ninety-five percent (95%). So say the historical records.

Respectfully h lynn keith

The educationist bureaucracy in the US with their "whole word" and "whole language" approaches seek to reverse that. Their motive should be obvious. Qui bono?


Subject: Teacher Unions

The headline for this is "Ex-Teacher Accused of Rape Gets Raises". . .

Is any comment needed?

Yes, I guess there is. The headline reads "Accused" - that means the teacher in question hasn't had a trial and is still innocent in the eyes of the law. I know nothing beyond what the article stated aboout this case, but should he lose his job and income just because a student claims an assault? Due process argues differently. It is easy to make a claim - look at the Duke lacrosse team foolishness.

Jim Bunnell

There is certainly a difference between indictment and conviction. I don't know enough about the present case to have a view of what is going on.

On the one hand, criminal penalties should never be applied before conviction. On the other, prudence demands that indictment on certain matters should have consequences. Removing this person from classrooms seems prudent.

Unions do face dilemmas, and often find themselves required defend people who do not bring much credit to the union.

Thank you for pointing this out. We do, all of us including me, have a tendency to mind other people's business. We don't know what is happening in Alabama. At the same time, we do have a national problem with teachers unions. Nationalizing of education has been a disaster.



Global Warming, The Little Ice Age, and the Maunder Minimum

A dialogue:

How do you know that the earth was warmer in 1900 than in 1776, or for that matter in 2000 than in 1900? I'm not being funny. I really want to know.

You've just said that we haven't even defined what we mean by "warmer", so I really don't understand how you can assert global warming as a fact. You often use the example of rivers freezing over during the American Revolution, but surely that's evidence only of local warming, if that. Perhaps during that same time the Sahara Desert and Gobi Desert and Antarctica were a lot warmer than they are now. Do we know? I don't think so. I know a lot of assumptions are made, but as you have said, one can prove anything by choosing the data, let alone by arbitrarily adjusting it, which seems to be the norm among the global warming "scientists".

You also frequently suggest spending more on gathering data. I'm in favor of gathering data, but I don't understand what good it will do us in the short term. We can gather all the data we want, but we'll still not have reliable data from even 100 years ago, let alone 1,000. For that matter, how do we compare data from 1957 with data from 2007? I don't doubt that 1957 data were quite accurate, but as Crichton and many others have pointed out, the environments surrounding the collection points have changed (and in some cases the collection points themselves have been relocated.) If the mean temperature at a particular collection point is 1C higher in 2007 than it was in 1957, but that collection point was formerly in the midst of a forest and is now in the midst of a suburban development, might not that increase in mean temperature actually reflect a reduction in mean temperature? So how can we compare data from 50 years ago with data from yesterday?

Furthermore, it seems to me that if we really have no idea what effect humans are having on climate, which it's pretty clear we don't, we should err on the side of caution by encouraging behaviors that lead to the preferred outcome. As far as I can see, we're now overdue for an ice age. Although I suspect not, perhaps anthropogenic global warming is in fact occuring. If so, might it be the only thing that's holding off an ice age? In the absence of real data, might we not be better off encouraging production of greenhouse gases and otherwise doing everything possible to keep the planet as warm as possible?

After all, a warmer Earth might actually be better for all of us. Sure, the grain belts in the American midwest might shift north to Canada, and the American south might become so warm that agricultural production drops, but then Siberia might also become a grainbowl. On the other hand, the only sure thing about an ice age is that it will kill half or more the human population. So why should we risk the horrible catastrophe of an ice age when we can all do our part to encourage global warming?

-- Robert Bruce Thompson


I answered, rather hurriedly:

Vineyards in England, longer growing seasons, a whole bunch of records show it was warmer in 800 - 1200

Rivers frozen longer, ice skating on the Zuyder Zee, frozen rivers in the US.

There are a lot of records, but almanacs with dates for planting are some of the best.

And if you have enough energy you can accomplish almost anything, which argues for nuclear and space solar power


Sure, I know all that. I suspect the Medieval Warm Period was global, but we don't really know that for a fact. Scattered records that are mostly European don't really tell us what conditions were like elsewhere during this period. The southern hemisphere might have been cooler during this period. We have no reliable records of what temperatures were in Africa, South America, or most of North America at that time, either. Could not most or all of the warming observations during that time have been caused by a shift in the Gulf Stream, including the farms in Greenland?

I'm not convinced that the planet has warmed at all since, say, 1700. We simply don't have sufficient reliable data for even 1900, let alone 1700.



Once again I was in a hurry:

 I think there are records from South America for those times. And I would expect there are records of growing seasons in South Africa.  Probably in Japan as well.

 And I'm pretty sure it was colder in the Ice Ages. Not as comfortable,  for sure.


Sure, but all I'm really doing is reinforcing your point about the difficulty of coming up with one number for planetary temperature. For example, when Europe was in its Little Ice Age, including the peak you mention around 1770, it's far from established that the rest of the world was also in a cool period.


"The Little Ice Age (LIA) was a period of cooling occurring after a warmer era known as the Medieval climate optimum. Climatologists and historians find it difficult to agree on either the start or end dates of this period. Some confine the Little Ice Age to approximately the 16th to the mid-19th centuries. It is generally agreed that there were three minima, beginning about 1650, about 1770, and 1850, each separated by slight warming intervals. [1]

It was initially believed that the LIA was a global phenomenon; it is now less clear if this is true. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), based on Bradley and Jones, 1993; Hughes and Diaz, 1994; Crowley and Lowery, 2000 describes the LIA as "a modest cooling of the Northern Hemisphere during this period of less than 1°C," and says, "current evidence does not support globally synchronous periods of anomalous cold or warmth over this timeframe, and the conventional terms of 'Little Ice Age' and Medieval Warm Period appear to have limited utility in describing trends in hemispheric or global mean temperature changes in past centuries."[2] There is evidence, however, that the Little Ice Age did affect the Southern Hemisphere."

As to the last sentence, it was apparently added by a Global Warming supporter. It certainly doesn't detail any such evidence.


I still don't have a lot of time, but perhaps this is worth dealing with.

The Little Ice Age corresponds to the Maunder Minimum  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maunder_minimum, a period of essentially no sun spots and thus -- presumably -- lower solar output. There are other effects of lower sunspot activities including their effects on cosmic ray bombardment.

The Manmade Global Warming religion basically rejects the notion that the Sun has variable output large enough to render human activity relatively minor to insignificant as a cause of global temperature. (There are variants on this, including the Flynn-Niven-Pournelle hypothesis (expressed in the novel Fallen Angels) that human activities have been significant in staving off the return of the Ice Ages).

If the cause of the Little Ice Age was due, or largely due, to the Maunder Minimum causing a reduction in the Solar constant, then the obvious hypothesis is that it affected the entire Earth, and not just the Northern Hemisphere in general and Europe/North America in particular. The modern Global Warming Religion thus seeks to show that there was no universal Little Ice Age.

This, I would think, is a scientific question that can be determined through experiments, namely searches for data. There were settlements around the World from 1492 onward, and presumably there would be agricultural records from many places including Portuguese America. There may be Almanacs indicating planting and harvest seasons. In addition, there will be the more usual temperature records from ice cores and lake sediments, but we have seen that these are open to conflicting interpretations.

I had actually thought it was pretty well settled that the Little Ice Age was global; that certainly seemed to be the assumption at AAAS meetings back in the days when the consensus was that we were threatened by a New Ice Age (resumption of the typical Ice Age patterns of the last few hundred thousand years); I haven't made much of a study of evidence putting that in doubt.

Clearly if the Little Ice Age was universal and corresponded with the Maunder Minimum we have a good starting point for predicting the coming solar system climate.

I would think, too, that there are probably some climate records from the Inca Empire although how much of that has been preserved is problematical. But surely the South American settlers from 1600 - 1850 kept records of growing seasons and crop yields?

I will leave this to others. It is an interesting question.

And see below.


Carbon Sequestration

Dyson makes the excellent point that expanding our top soils can single handedly eliminate the CO2 we are dumping into the atmosphere. I started out with the premise that a combination of good soil management and the long term financing of rural woodlands could solve this problem handily. I then learned about Terra Preta soils which I believe will revolutionize global agriculture and completely solve the whole carbon sequestration problem. I cannot help but be enthused.

A site on Terra Preta is been maintained at: http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org 

I went on to describe a likely mechanism for manufacturing these soils, not only by the primitive stick farmers and also with methods available to farmers today.

My key post is: http://globalwarming-arclein.blogspot.com/2007/07/carbonizing-corn-in-field.html  and can also be found on the Terra Preta site.

I describe the method by which a family can produce biochar from primarily corn stover.

The fertile amazonian soils (an oxymoron to date) produced by Terra Preta held a very high level of charcoal (30% +) and are very deep representing thousands of years of agricultural usage.




Ghengis and Nuke.


-- Roland Dobbins



Dear Jerry,

Steam couldn't be practical until there was a civilization north of the Mediteranean due to lack of fuel. A steam powered society needed wood and/or coal in quantity to become established.


There was wood for ship building, and extensive forest.


Subject: Whole-word reading v. Phonics in Japanese

If Japanese students had to learn to read ideographically, their results might be as poor as ours. However, despite having a mainly ideographic written language, children (and hapless gaijin learning Japanese) are first taught using phonetic alphabets that represent anything you can write using kanji. Learning how to read any word so written is quick and easy, especially since Japanese is somewhat phonetically limited. Once that is done, the ideograms are introduced slowly, and then at first with helpful phonetic characters printed above them called furigana so you know how to pronounce the kanji. As the difficulty of the text increases, more kanji are used, and the commoner ones drop the furigana.

By the time one graduates high school, one is expected to know the 1,945 general use kanji, but this corresponds to a written vocabulary of over 10,000 words. The use of ideograms persists despite the obvious difficulties because you can read so much more quickly once you know them, it is like the difference between nineteen hundred and eighty-four and 1984. The progression toward more ideograms at higher levels seems reasonable, since you can teach most everyone to read using phonics, but as the ability of the person increases, more reading will be done ideographically.

-- Benjamin I. Espen

Of course that is the way it works in English, too. A young reader encountering the word Washington for the first time will have to sound it out; but it won't be long (assuming the word is encountered often) before it is read ideographically. This happens with most words. The value of the ability to read phonetically is that once that skill -- and it is a skill, learned by drills and repetition just as the addition and multiplication tables are learned -- once that skill is acquired, one never encounters a word that can't be read. (The exceptional words in English tend to be common, related, and are best learned as part of the phonetic skill set, as they are in Roberta's reading program.) Once all words can be read, then the act of reading automatically converts phonetic reading to ideographic reading.

The difficulty comes when you leave out the phonetic skill set; you must then have "controlled vocabulary readers" (See Spot Run! Run Spot, run!) which aren't very interesting or informative and other such things all of which are expensive and don't help a lot in education. With the phonetic skill set one can read a geography book and still be learning to read.


And on that score

Subject: Roberta's reading program


Just a quick update. It's working!

On the program being clunky: My daughter giggles every time she makes it to one of the little animations. It's good enough for her. Simple is much better than complex.


Yep. It works for adults, too. The little animations and music merely mark the fact that you've done the lesson and thus learned something new. The real reward comes with acquiring a new skill a little bit at a time.


Subject: Little Ice Age in China

Found this summary of scientific studies of the Chinese Little Ice Age (and preceding warm period)


Michael Flynn

Aha! I was sure there would be such records. Thanks!

From the conclusion:

In light of these several observations, it is clear that the Little Ice Age was manifest in China as a cold node of the millennial-scale oscillation of climate that brought this vast region, as well as most of the rest of the world, the Roman Warm Period, the Dark Ages Cold Period, the Medieval Warm Period and the Modern Warm Period, which suggests there is nothing unusual about the planet's current state of warmth and, therefore, that there is no need to invoke the historical increase in the air's CO2 content as its cause.



This week:


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Tuesday,  August 14, 2007

John Gardner, R.I.P.

Dear Jerry:

You may have seen the obit today in the Los Angeles Times for John Gardner, who took over the James Bond franchise for the heirs of Ian Fleming. This was far from his only or best work, of course. He was a master of the Cold War espionage novel and his "Secret Generations" series and his Herbie Kruger character will likely endure.

I knew him a bit. We met at the '92 BoucherCon when we were on a panel together. I started to introduce myself and he said with a smile worthy of an elf. "I know who you are. I checked you out." With whom and how he did this remains a mystery. He volunteered no details and I didn't ask.

I admired his writing and his meticulous approach to research and recommend his books as worthy of study to anyone who aspires to write spy fiction. His later years were not kind. He was sick much of the time and his wife preceded him in death. But like most Brits who write about that world, he had been there and done a few things. We were down to about one e-mail a year, and now, no more.

I will miss him, because he was real gentleman and a very nice guy. i suspect I won't be the only one. He regretted that his American publishers didn't promote his non James Bond books with the same vigot yhey did that franchise and I think we would have all been better served if they had.


Francis Hamit

I knew him from conferences in DC and elsewhere, but not well. He will be missed. Thanks.


Paper based, rechargeable, biodegradable batteries


This is pretty interesting....

"Along with its ability to function in temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and down to 100 below zero, the device is completely integrated and can be printed like paper. The device is also unique in that it can function as both a high-energy battery and a high-power supercapacitor, which are generally separate components in most electrical systems. Another key feature is the capability to use human blood or sweat to help power the battery." ... " Along with use in small handheld electronics, the paper batteries’ light weight could make them ideal for use in automobiles, aircraft, and even boats. The paper also could be molded into different shapes, such as a car door, which would enable important new engineering innovations."

I wonder how long it will take this to quietly disappear?


John Harlow

Why would it disappear? I would expect energy storage to get better and better.


Subject: Thomas Gold's "scientific heresy" about the origin of gas and oil

Dr. Pournelle:

Of the scientific heresies described by Freeman Dyson, I have been intriqued by Thomas Gold's views about the abiotic origin of oil.

Gold held to not only the abundance of carbon in the solar nebula but its abundance in reduced form, both in bodies such as Titan as well as in the grains of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites and by extension C-type asteroids and perhaps comets. There is no question that carbon is abundant on the Earth and inside the Earth; the question is whether it is in reduced form or if oxygen is equally abundant and has bound to the carbon. Gold thought the accretion process that formed the Earth could take place without melting and that much of the primordeal hydrocarbon compounds are still there in the mantle.

If the impact hypothesis of formation of the Moon is true, that impact had to have thoroughly melted the Earth down through the mantle, oxidizing any hydrocarbons. The abiotic theory advanced by oil-industry gadfly J. F. Kenney and his Russian colleagues, along with the diamond anvil experiments, accepts the oxidation of carbon and argues that methane along with higher hydrocarbons may be formed from carbonate rock subducted into the mantle, combined with water and iron in the correct oxidation state brought up from below. If that is true, Thomas Gold was most thoroughly wrong in his theory about the origin of gas and oil apart from these substances originating deep in the earth. Much carbonate is formed by biological processes and hence the oil may be biologic in origin anyway.

One piece of evidence advanced by Gold for a mantle origin of gas and oil that had made an impression on me is the narrow geographic distribution of oil deposits across the Earth. The Middle East is prolific in its oil production, but oil is not found everywhere in the Middle East apart from a narrow arc that runs through Saudi Arabia and its neighboring oil-producing countries. A similar arc exists in Southeast Asia. The Middle Eastern arc is not in the great rift valley of East Africa, but runs parallel to it, and it adds to the impression that there is a plate-tectonic instead of a simple sedimentary basin reason for the oil to be there.

An argument that I find persuasive is that while methane can be easily formed by the decay of organic material, turning that methane into octane, cetane, and the all of the other higher-order hydrocarbons that power our civilization is not easy. Kenney and his colleagues argue that the conversion of methane into long-chain hydrocarbons can only take place at the pressures of the upper mantle, not the shallow levels of the crust as supposed by the oil industry. In other words, gasoline comes from the same place that diamonds do and for the same reasons. The counter argument is that oil does not come from buried plant material but from algae sediments from anoxic lakes, that the lipids in algae are quite different from the carbohydrates and lignins in plants, and that these lipids are not that far removed from oil in their chemistry.

Does anyone have a process that 1) does not require the presence of reduced-metal catalysts, and 2) does not require the temperatures and pressures of the upper mantle to turn the right kind of organic material into the oxygen-free hydrocarbons? Has anyone done this experiment? If the oil-industry chemists are waving their hands on this one, I think we need to give serious consideration to a mantle origin of oil.

The diamond anvil experiments and the hypothesis of a mantle origin for oil got me thinking along a number of lines. We think of oil as originating in nuclear energy, but the nuclear energy of the sun as it stimulates photosynthetic life. If the other narrative is correct, oil is still nuclear energy, but it is the decay of radioisotopes that heat the inside of the Earth that power the process. Could not an advanced civilization burn hydrocarbon fuels, collect the CO2 and convert it to carbonate rock, bury that rock in the upper mantle, and recycle that oxidized carbon back into hydrocarbon fuels, using the energy of the Earth's decaying radioisotopes to power the cycle?

Current deep drilling is orders of magnitude away from reaching the mantle, but then again, many science fiction stories speculate about advanced space-faring civilizations using technology that is equally advanced beyond what we do today. Someone at MIT, however, had the crazy idea of sending a probe to the Earth's core by melting a million-ton pool of iron and just letting it sink its way downward with the probe. Is a rock-melt conveyor to exchange materials between the Earth's surface and upper mantle as far-fetched as a space elevator?

Paul Milenkovic Madison, Wisconsin

Whenever I was talking to Tommy Gold, I was always convinced by him; but the whole subject is way out of my area of expertise and while I can tool up to learn about anything, I have never looked at this in any depth. For what it's worth, Stefan Possony, who had great instincts about technology, thought Gold was right; but then he saw him more often than I did. Tommy was very persuasive. Very.

I always thought we ought to do some X projects to examine Gold's hypotheses. It's important enough to warrant NSF funding.


Subject: Ancient temperature and crop data

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Much of the mail about climate change concerns itself with data about temperature change, or the lack of it. Climates and agriculture are very closely related, and even if temperature data must be guessed, it can be done so with crop data as a guide.

For a start, American advisors to Korea after WWII were surprised when told some of their great plans simply would not work. Korean farmers patiently explained that they had famly records dating back more than a thousand years. At one time or another, every crop and every farming method had been tried, and new ideas were hard to find. I know that similar records exist in the Kyong Ju area at least as far back as 4 BC, when the Silla kingdom formalized record keeping. North Korea might have older records, but they are not very inviting to agricultural or historical researchers.

A visit to Thailand showed me a brief glimpse of national history on temple and and royal residence walls. There is reason to believe that agricltural records date at least as far as Buddha, about 500 BC. They may go back even more. A study of Kerala state in India indicates careful records since the beginnings of modern Hinduism, about1700 BC, including Christian records from about 76 AD, started with the arrival of the disciple Thomas.

There are records in Africa that survived the best efforts of colonial governments to destroy them, and extensive Muslim libraries still exist in Timbuktu. Egypt and Sudan have been studied extensively.

South America had the Incas and other civilizations with records. Middle America had the Mayans, whose extensive astronomy (astrology related?) helps to date their records.

I would prefer a study of existing records to all of the computer models concocted for my lack of amusement by all the greedy imitators of Chicken Little. I know the sky is falling, a meteor at a time, and have sterling suggestions about where it should fall soon.


William L. Jones

It would seem a profitable area for research: and more valuable than hidden algorithms and unpublished formulae al la Hansen.


Hiroshima & Nagasaki as military theatre


Wasn't Truman more concerned with intimidating the Russians than demoralizing the Japanese? This isn't any easier to justify morally but it did seem to be effective.


That is certainly the modern "revisionist" theory, but it suffers from a lack of corroborating data. The best evidence is that Stimson and Truman believed that they'd have to invade Japan, and that would cost a million American casualties, and no American president could have decided differently. Truman went to his grave believing that.

My only quibble with that is whether the Unconditional Surrender demand was sensible; it was certainly not traditional since the time of Grotius. On the other hand, that is what Rome (as a republic) always demanded: when an enemy was defeated, the defeat was complete, and the enemy became a permanent ally of the Senate and People of Rome.


Subj: Why not on-demand printing and binding?

At the tail end of Mailbag for 13 Aug 2007, Chris Brand asks "[W]hy aren't we seeing a move to printing-and-binding on demand ?"

One-word answer: Browsing.

Like online bookstores, on-demand printing and binding are fine if you know *exactly* what you're looking for. My copy of Richard Bartle's _Designing Virtual Worlds_ bears the cover inscription, "This is an on-demand reprint. The print quality differs from original printings."

But I still find browsing through a bricks-and-mortar bookstore with Real Books a far more enjoyable experience than web-surfing through amazon.com or bn.com. Maybe it's just that I'm Over 50, and the Young Whippersnappers have different tastes.

Or maybe this preference -- at least amongst some substantial fraction of humanity -- is one of the lesser Permanent Things? See, for example, the Hacekean-vs-Scoochi conflict over the UCSD Geisel Library in Vernor Vinge's _Rainbows End_.

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


The Fermi Paradox: Back with a vengeance.


- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Ex-Teacher 

Hello Dr. Pournelle,


In regards to the story about the teacher still being paid while awaiting trial for rape, there's more to the story (go to above link). It seems that the individual was FIRED in 2005 for inappropriately touching a 16 year old student and "engaging in inappropriate sexual activity with another student." There's a pattern there. If it were only one instance where he was accused of some form of misconduct, one could possibly give the benefit of the doubt to the teacher. The fact that he's getting paid after being fired, and if found guilty of rape will still not have to pay back the money, is ludicrous.

V/R Paul Freed

I am hardly astonished.


Dear Jerry:

I agree that the Market looks bad right now, but it generally does this time of year. The central banks have stepped in to provide some more cash and that should calm things down. Before we had the Federal Reserve, during the Panic of 1907, it was J.P. Morgan himself who stepped in and organized a rescue, putting up something like a hundred million (back when that was real money) out of his own pocket.

As the panic abated, he was set upon by a mob of reporters, one of whom demanded, "What will the Market do next?" Morgan , milking the moment, carefully lit his cigar, looked to see the ash was the proper length and smiled. "Boys, " he said, "It will flucuate."

The current downturn is not supported by real data. More than 98 percent of mortgages continue to pay in a normal matter. For short term speculators, it's a disaster. For the rest of us, a buying opportunity.


Francis Hamit

I trust you are right, but as for me, I'd rather be in a situation where I create something real that people will pay money for, than in betting on the future of the market as a way to make a living.


Subject: Fermi Paradox


If you are looking for signs of extraterrestrial communication and you are not looking in the "right" place, you will, more than likely not find any.

We humans seem to believe that our current means of long range communications, radio frequency, are the be all and end all of such communications. Radio frequency is an extremely primitive form of communication. It is limited to the speed of light and it is compromised by many forms of interference and is far from secure. Any space faring culture would need to find other means of communications in order to be successful over the long term.

There are many phenomena that we have observed in the area of quantum physics that we have observed, but do not fully understand. Quantum entanglement is one such phenomenon. This gives the impression that there is the possibility of faster than light communication.

Looking at atoms that are entangled it has been demonstrated that injecting a photon into one of the entangled pair results in the production of a photon in the other, apparently instantaneously. We clearly do not understand why this so, but one might speculate that the entanglement connects the pair through some dimension outside of the 3 space plus time that our senses can perceive. There are then at least two possible explanations for the instantaneous transfer. Speed in this additional dimension is not limited to the speed of light or the entanglement somehow allows the entangled pair to remain next to each other in this additional dimension regardless of their position in our perceived 3 space plus time.

It seems highly unlikely that we are alone. We are just looking in the wrong place.

Bob Holmes

That's one of the many explanations of the empty universe. (Bob Bussard says in answer to the query "Where are they?", "They're here and we're them," which is another.)

Most physicists believe Einstein proved that actual information cannot be conveyed faster than light, although the possibility of warped space and wormholes suggests it can appear to move faster than light (that is, the distances traveled are not as great as we think). No one has yet managed to send actual information at speeds faster than light through quantum entanglement, although they have managed to use quantum phenomena to send information that can't be intercepted -- the ultimate encryption. It's pretty slow just now, though.

Of course science fiction has postulated various means of FTL travel because without it we can't have our space opera empires.


"We can't risk our security for even one traveler. What if one was a terrorist?"

from http://www.latimes.com/news/

Meanwhile, Los Angeles International Airport officials discussed defying the federal government and storming aircraft to rescue passengers if frustration led to violence aboard the idling jets.

"We would have gone out and rescued those folks. . . and dealt with the federal fine later," said Paul Haney, deputy executive director for airports and security for Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that operates LAX.

-- Roland Dobbins

Nasty locals can't defy the empire.

Why, a terrorist might sneak in by airplane -- instead of walking across the border disguised as a wannabe day laborer!

Aren't we all safer now?




This week:


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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Freedom vs. Regulation


I don't know. I think you have lost it this time. You are now promoting lawlessness. Why is it right for the CEO of any company, never mind Silicon Valley ones, to break the law ? I mean come on. You get stock options. Those options are dated when you receive them. If they decrease in value you don't get to cry and stamp your feet and say I want the date changed. Otherwise everyone who owned stock could say they wanted to sell at the price their stock USED to be. The stock market wouldn't work very well like that would it ?

People should never have accepted stock for payment in the first place. That's what money was create for. But people are stupid and do what everyone else does. That's why we have so many people in this mortgage mess now. A few people got lousy but cheap mortgagees so everyone followed. Should those people now stamp their feet and cry about it and want help from the government to bail them out. I don't think so. Let them suffer from their stupidity. The next time they will know better.

Just like most people now know better than to accept stock options for payment.

And who was the victim in this?

Society. Civilization. The people who have stock who can't cheat the system in the same way.

And another thing. I think the concept of a stock market is outdated. You can't build a sustainable economy on something that is basically gambling.

So: If we give you the power, then you will help people do it right, and see to it that they do not. Freedom isn't really important: what's important is that people do things in the right way, and follow rules that are designed to make things best for them. Thank you.


Regulation and Freedom.


I agree with the gist of your piece regarding the propensity of regulators to regulate, or as in the old phrase "power corrupts". I noticed an interesting usage in that piece where you refer (twice) to federal prosecutors serving at the "pleasure of the President".

Having read your column since Byte days in the 1980s and having read several of your books, I am confident that this emphasis was not accidental; good authors are well aware of word choice. The subtext seems to be that (1) this must have to do with that unpopular Mr. Bush, and (2) prosecutors must need more independence.

I think there is plenty of history to support the idea that this problem is inherent in prosecutorial powers, period. Prosecutors measure their success in lives and careers ruined, the bigger the target the better (so long as the target cannot successfully fight back), and this is true no matter the guilt of the accused. Non-Republican, non-federal examples in recent times are Mike Nifong in the Duke case and Eliot Spitzer in any number of cases.

As far as independence, the independence of the judiciary has done nothing to stop many of them from acting like latter-day Roman Tribunes who wield their dictatorial powers to run roughshod over both our Constitution and the laws our elected officials pass. I'd like to see them somewhat less independent, personally, since obviously ethics and responsibility have done nothing to slow them down.

Regards, Jim

James E. Stead


'IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea' -- UPDATE

From my diary/blog, 15 viii 2007:

IQ DEFENDED (A BIT) BY OXFORD AND BELFAST PROFS. Britain’s Funday Times (which once played a major part in trashing the reputation of Sir Cyril Burt) saw fit to hand the reviewing of a new ‘popular’ (and certainly massively publicized) anti-IQ book, IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea, from Wiley DePublisher,* by a Santa Barbara biker <http://www.independent.com/news/2007/jun/
19/emnews-pressem-shame-overshadows-party-report/>  , safe streets advocate, human rights attorney and freelance journalist, Stephen Murdoch <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11702932>  , who had plainly never read The g Factor <http://www.douance.org/qi/brandbook.htm>  (which Wiley de-published in 1996) to an Oxford emeritus professor of Eng. Lit., John Carey (8 vii <http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/
tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/non-fiction/article2028063.ece>  ).

In fact, Prof. Carey** did a passable job of defending IQ against the “ruthless animosity”*** of Murdoch’s book, settling for saying IQ was no more to blame for selective education in Britain and America than Zyklon B had been responsible for the Holocaust – such was academic moderation by 2007….; but Carey splendidly revealed his own incompetence to be even such a ‘moderate’ critic of the London School by suggesting that Blacks would do better on IQ if tests were re-written in Black English**** – when it had been known since Arthur Jensen’s work around 1970 that Blacks actually do even worse on mental tests that are altogether non-verbal. Subsequently, leftie Marek Kohn reviewed Murdoch’s book for the Independent (London) (20 vii <http://arts.independent.co.uk/books/reviews/article2783646.ece>  ) – sympathizing with its horror at educational selection, but admitting it represented no advance on Stephen Jay Gould’s ideological burbling of the 1980’s and did not begin to address the claims of “IQ groupies” that the g factor and its genetics are unavoidable and consequential scientific facts. In the Daily Telegraph (28 vii), reviewer Michael Bywater was a bit more sympathetic to little g – not really liking the measurement of *anything* in psychology, but admitting that IQ had been used to advance bright children from poor backgrounds and that it was hard to think of a more sensible way of distributing limited numbers of academic places.

Still later, in the middle of Britain’s politico-journalistic ‘silly season’, 15 viii, the BBC’s flagship ‘Today’ programme (08:25a.m.) gave Murdoch houseroom to expound his thesis that Galton had wanted to treat people like cattle and identify budding Einsteins well before age 18 – which sounded rather sensible, as did Murdoch’s subsequent quotidien observation (testifying his claim as to the omnipresence of g-testing) that IQ testing was used to decide whether to execute murderers. In the face of this strange*** intended attack, IQ tests were ably if uninspiringly defended by applied psychologist Colin Cooper (Queen’s University, Belfast) who pointed out that IQ predicted GCSE attainment at r=.80 from age 11 (a “massive” correlation by the standards of psychology), predicted vocational success and predicted longevity (as in Ian Deary’s work in Edinburgh) – blotting his copybook only by leaving politicians on their own to defend the 11+ examination and declining to mention the general advantage of educational streaming, the basis of the g factor in mental intake speed or the involvement of wretched Wiley in publishing Murdoch.

* The DePublisher had celebrated its 2007 bicentenary by taking over the elite Blackwell publishing house and bookstore chain (Oxford, London, Edinburgh), indicating what the future held for the head-in-the-sand ‘liberal’-left ‘academic’ shits of British luniversities. Having failed to defend The g Factor in 1996, academics were to find PeeCee literally enforced on them by the censorious DePublisher.

** Wikipaedia recorded: “He is known, amongst other things, for his anti-elitist tone and iconoclastic views on high culture <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_culture>  , as expressed for example in his recent book What Good Are the Arts? (2005). He turned himself into an apparent champion of the common man with his derisory views of the meaningless of fine art – views which contained no place for the word ‘beauty’ (which he thinks entirely subjective). He was given both barrels for his popularize postmodernism by another Oxford Eng.Lit. professor writing for the Social Affairs Unit at http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000899.php

*** Interviewed by the Santa Barbara Independent (8 vii), Murdoch summarized his thesis about power-hungry psychometrician-psychologists (apparently without acknowledgment to Leon Kamin, Stephen Jay Gould or Dave Spart): “In the early 20th century, the fledgling field of psychology used IQ tests to gain access and power in America through persuading people it could measure an innate ability called intelligence.” Apparently, said the Independent, Murdoch’s book, detailed how the tests had been used in surprising ways: to turn immigrants back on Ellis Island, to decide whether to sexually sterilize unwed mothers, and even, in the case of Nazi Germany, to determine if handicapped people should be executed. {In fact the last, humanitarian use – exempting dullards from mens rea – remained the major official use of IQ test through the 20th century.}

**** IQ-type quizzes using Black idiom were actually developed in the 1970's -- e.g. asking the testee to supply the meaning of 'get down on' and ‘cop an attitude.’ The final tests had poor homogeneity and turned out to show no correlation in Blacks or Whites with measures of either the g factor or educational attainment or any other criterion of ability (Jensen, 1980, Bias in Mental Testing, pp. 679-681).

My previous correspondent Chris Brand was not in fact the Chris Brand whose book was depublished by Wiley. Apologies. This one is the genuine article.


CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


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Thursday, August 16, 2007


Jerry, XCOR needs an aerodynamicist. I have refrained from sending out this "help me Obi-wan" message for over a year, but we are getting desperate. No, that's not accurate. We are beyond desperate and into seriously frantic. We must have someone with trans-sonic and supersonic experience.

One would like to think that such exists in America, but so far I have no evidence to support the assumption. We do have resumes from people who are qualified, but none is a U.S. citizen, or holds a "Green Card." We can't hire foreigners. The U.S. State Department says what we do comes under ITAR, so we cannot hire qualified non-citizen engineers, neither can we sell our products to anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or entity. I just this morning had to turn down a job from a Brit who wants to set a world record with one of our engines. That is several million dollars in revenue that will now not come to the U.S.

But that's beside the point at this moment. XCOR needs to find someone who has some experience with trans-sonic and supersonic design. I have written to and called many schools, colleges and universities. Crickets chirping. With a single exception, the University of Maryland, not one professor or teacher or college or university has returned a query. I understand that they graduate students, but apparently helping them find jobs is beyond the academic ken.

For the past year I have placed ads everywhere: Av Week, ASME, SAE, all the alphabet organizations and associations remotely connected with aerodynamics. The result: resumes for everything _but_ an aerodynamicist. I have engaged three head hunters, several job shops and other professional recruiting organizations. The score so far: 0.

Would it be possible for you to put this in your Current Mail column? I am at my wits' end, and you have one of the best readerships in the world. Perhaps someone reading your web log will know of someone somewhere who might be interested in working on supersonic vehicles that will take a pilot and a passenger on a ride to space and bring them back.

Perhaps that person would like to know that all of our employees also get rides on said vehicles.

XCOR is currently seeking a new or recent college graduate who has some knowledge of aerodynamics, especially in the areas of trans-sonic and supersonic design. Applicant should be a self-starter and function well within a small group. The position is open to current U.S. citizens or permanent residents only. Position is located at the Mojave Spaceport and Civilian Aerospace Test Center in Mojave, CA. Strong verbal and written communication skills in English required. XCOR Aerospace is an equal opportunity employer.

Aleta Jackson [ajackson@xcor.com]

Many readers will know that my son Richard is a VP at XCOR. XCOR is a private space company located in Mojave. They make and fly rocket planes, and are planning a number of vehicles and engines; the goal is an economic means for going to space.

They're all infected with the dream out there. If I were an aerodynamicist interested in going to space, I'd be living in Mojave right now.


Stock Options

To clarify the situation backdating stock options was not the issue. This is not illegal. But not disclosing it on the financial statements is. This is what the gentleman was convicted of. So it isn't just a matter of him paying his employees using an industry standard method.

Now, I can sympathize with his intents. There is no accounting justification for the current rules of accounting for stock options. If anything it presents a distorted financial picture. The traditional manor of handling a stock sale for let's say $100 is to increase your cash by $100 and show this as an increase of capital of $100. Simple and straightforward.

Let's assume the market value of the stock is $150. The current required method is to apply the $100 to cash, $150 to capital, and book a loss of $50 to income. And at the end of the year the net income is added into capital resulting in no net difference at the end of the year but producing a false income statement as there was no expenditure for that $50 expense.

If a corporation was to decide that it wasn't making the sales projections and so increase the sales amount by an arbitrary amount and then inflate expenses by the same amount the Federal prosecutors would be chomping at the bit to prosecute as both the sales and expense amounts are incorrect. But this same incorrect accounting is required when it comes to in-house stock sales.

However as wrong as this requirement is it doesn't justify not disclosing this activity on the reports. This is one issue that is emphasized in business school. If there is any doubt when dealing with SEC reporting of past activity always disclose.


And of course 30 year prison sentences are appropriate for not doing that.


In View 479, you write

One of the "reforms" of that time was to limit the margins in the stock market. You couldn't play the market on borrowed money secured only by the "value" of your stocks. At least not more than 10% margins...

But the smartest people in the world, the hedge fund managers, found ways around that in recent years.

This is what comes of "overhaul of Depression-era banking regulations," which for some reason always gets talked about as if it were like overhaul of Depression-era sewer pipes. People forget why those Depression-era regulations were made, or assume the regulators were stupid, or commies, or something. When I hear the phrase "Depression-era banking regulations," I reach for my revolver.


The problems always happen when the government tries to take the risk out of something risky. The result will always be people who will play games: I can't lose, so I may as well take a high flyer. If they do that with other people's money eventually the other people wise up. But if the government pretends that it's safe...


Subject: Regulation and Freedom.


I agree with the gist of your piece regarding the propensity of regulators to regulate, or as in the old phrase "power corrupts". I noticed an interesting usage in that piece where you refer (twice) to federal prosecutors serving at the "pleasure of the President".

Having read your column since Byte days in the 1980s and having read several of your books, I am confident that this emphasis was not accidental; good authors are well aware of word choice. The subtext seems to be that (1) this must have to do with that unpopular Mr. Bush, and (2) prosecutors must need more independence.

I think there is plenty of history to support the idea that this problem is inherent in prosecutorial powers, period. Prosecutors measure their success in lives and careers ruined, the bigger the target the better (so long as the target cannot successfully fight back), and this is true no matter the guilt of the accused. Non-Republican, non-federal examples in recent times are Mike Nifong in the Duke case and Eliot Spitzer in any number of cases.

As far as independence, the independence of the judiciary has done nothing to stop many of them from acting like latter-day Roman Tribunes who wield their dictatorial powers to run roughshod over both our Constitution and the laws our elected officials pass. I'd like to see them somewhat less independent, personally, since obviously ethics and responsibility have done nothing to slow them down.


James E. Stead

I have never hidden my misgivings about "civil service" and "political independence" of officials. Accountability counts.


Subject: Sources of Oil?

Dear Jerry,

>>I always thought we ought to do some X projects to examine Gold's hypotheses. It's important enough to warrant NSF funding.<<

There are several singularities present between the petroleum geologists' theories and what's observed elsewhere. One of these are the 3x and greater temperatures required for thermal depolymerization and F-T synthesis in reactors on the surface, and what is claimed to be transpiring underground in the geologists' 'oil kitchen'. It doesn't follow the geologists are necessarily wrong. It could mean unknown factors are at work. For instance, extremophiles might have *evolved* that extrude oil by anerobically digesting subducted surface biomass, just like proposed bioengineered bugs might do someday. Anaerobic manure digesters for methane production exist that work at 60C and are very simple to make. Maybe different bugs make oil this way, if we can just locate the right species of bugs with an extensive deep borehole exploration program.

Best Wishes,



Subject: A response to the scientific heresy of Gold's Origin of Oil

Dr. Pournelle: I have great respect for your writing and the breadth of knowledge displayed by your readers, but feel compelled to reply to the letter you published yesterday on the subject of the source of oil and gas.

A Response to 'Thomas Gold's Origin of Gas and Oil':

First, let's examine a few of these ideas:

1. Regarding J.F. Kenney and the diamond anvil experiments: Carbonate subduction is a relatively rare event. Carbonate is *much* lighter than other crustal materials that contain iron and tend to get scraped off and lightly metamorphosed (producing the beautiful marbles you see in Italy and Greece) in subduction areas. They are not carried down to depths where heat and pressure might have this 'Kenney effect'. Remember that back-arc, subduction-related volcanism like Mount St. Helens and the Cascades are a direct result of small amounts of *water* in the basalts of the sea floor. The water lowers the melting point of the surrounding rock and produces the shallow magma and pyroclastic eruptions that you see in the northwest. I can't imagine the volatility of huge amounts of carbonate turning into something as voaltile as a hydrocarbon under similar conditions. If it did, it would never be recoverable in a commercial fashion.

2. Regarding Gold's idea of mantle oil/gas and the geographic distribution of oil deposits. First, saying the Middle East is 'next to' Africa's Great Rift is like saying Houston is 'next to' El Paso. At some scale they are, but not a geologic one. Further, it certainly doesn't explain why the east coast of Brazil, the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, or Oklahoma (to name just a few) are major oil-producing provinces. What do these all have in common with each other (and the Middle East and Southeast Asia)? They were all either very shallow seas that were repeatedly exposed and submerged by the ocean or they were the terminus of major river systems (often both).

Even if you want to believe Gold's idea, he is only able to explain the presence of a portion of the world's oil systems, while modern petroleum geology can explain all of them. Further, chemically, there is no strong difference in the isotope signatures of the world's oil that would hint somehow that some are biogenic and others are not.

3. Turning methane into heavier oil: Anyone who has smelled fumes evaporating from their car's gas tank will realize that lighter, more volatile hydrocarbons separate easily from heavier ones. The reverse does not happen (where would methane get all the extra carbon as it condenses?) In the subsurface, methane and other natural gas compounds have two sources - first, bugs in the subsurface produce a *lot* of natural gas (including, probably, hydrate deposits). Second, if oil is placed in a subsurface environment that is too hot or if it experiences a sudden temperature/pressure change you will see the lighter, more volatile elements separate from the oil. This is why oil companies use injection wells - to keep the pressure conditions constant as oil is being withdrawn from a reservoir. You _can_ identify these two different sources by their isotope signatures.

Oil is not produced from trapped, high pressure methane. If an environment is cool and low pressure, then bugs will eat the organics, producing natural gas as a by-product. If pressures and temperatures are very high, all the light elements of the organic material will cook off - leaving behind coal. Somewhere in-between these two environments and you will get oil if you have a proper mechanism to trap it.

Finally: It is probably possible to form hydrocarbons through inorganic processes (I'm a geologist, not a chemical engineer), but in any case the mantle would be a very poor candidate for hydrocarbon generation. Even with our current drilling technology we can go deep enough to see places in sedimentary basins where oil has cooked away - light elements migrating upward and only a carbon and sulfur-heavy tar left behind. If this is the case why do we never see this evidence in mantle rocks? Even in rocks fresh from the mantle like Iceland or Hawaii we see no hydrocarbon indicators from anywhere in the world. And if it was there, how would you extract it? We can get a commercial well in the Gulf of Mexico in rocks with porosities as low as 4-5%, but the diorites and basalts of the mantle have essentially zero porosity. How would the fluid migrate to your well?

A final rant on Gold's kind of 'science': The problem with 'scientific' approaches like Gold's is that they take whatever convenient truths are applicable to their particular vision and leave the rest behind. Gore....errr.... Gold and his kind live in a world where they never actually have to apply their learning and are quite happy to wave their arms about during lectures as if they could wave away all the bits of reality that aren't explained by their preconceived notions. If people believe in mantle oil they should put together the funding to go and look for it, or at least visit the internet to see all the terribly unsuccessful attempts that have been made in the past to do the same thing.

Disclaimer: I am a petroleum geologist with twelve years experience and I have found and produced oil on five of the seven continents, none of it from igneous rock.

Best Regards- Sid Jones

I have never claimed to know anything about the subject. People I respect have always respected Gold, and on the five or so occasions I spent any time with Tommy Gold he was persuasive; but then I don't know enough not to be persuaded. I leave this matter to those who pay attention?


The egregious Frum reads HIMSELF out of the party of Rove...

Pigs fly! Black is the new white! Frum speaks sense!


"Inspiring rhetoric and solemn promises can do only so much for an incumbent administration. Can it win wars? Can it respond to natural disasters? Can it safeguard the nationʼs borders? Can it fill positions of responsibility with worthy appointees? If it cannot do those things, not even the most sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation can save it."

Who are you and what have you done with [the egregious] David Frum?

"In my brief service as a speechwriter inside the Bush administration, I often wondered why it was that skeptical experts on issues like immigration could never get even a hearing for their point of view."

Ummm.... because you read them out without a hearing?

"We took the self-evident brilliance of our plans so much for granted that we would not even meet, for example, with conservative academics...."

So you admit it!

"...who had the facts and figures to demonstrate the illusion of Rovian hopes for a breakthrough among Hispanic voters."

Oh, only about one issue. Well, it's a start.

"In 2006, Republicans and conservatives paid the price for this we-know-best attitude. I fear that we will pay an even higher price in 2008... Paradoxically, the antigovernment conservatives of the 1980s took the problems of government far more seriously than the pro-government conservatives of the 2000s."

The prodigal son, sobering in a pigsty, begins to look wistfully homeward...

--Catfish N. Cod

As you say, it's a start.


I am compelled to reply write regarding some of the statements contained in the unsigned letter of Wednesday regarding Freedom and Regulation.

The statement, "I think the concept of a stock market is outdated. You can't build a sustainable economy on something that is basically gambling" is preposterous. In no example in history can it be shown that a large-scale sustainable economy can be built upon anything other than "basically gambling." People who start and run businesses, or provide services, gamble every day. That's called the "free"-market and/or capitalism. Without that incentive, no "sustainable" economy can ever be built. History (and the present) is replete with examples demonstrating this principle.

I am drawing an inference that the correspondent does not recognize that economically secondary goods and services, i.e., government employees, attorneys, etc., do not produce wealth. They can only do two things: provide a framework for wealth creation by, well, by gambling entrepreneurs, or inhibit the creation of wealth by the gambling entrepreneurs with regulation. Not one scintilla of wealth has ever been generated by a worker on a government job.

With respect to your promoting lawlessness, jury nullification is a dusty, but lawful and valuable, tool in preventing lawlessness--of a government.

James M Reynolds

Jury trials were originally a means for the Saxons to mitigate lawlessness of Norman conquerors; it was a compromise that allowed the Saxons to submit. It worked.


A response to the scientific heresy of Gold's Origin of Oil

Gold and especially the russians were very vocal about the idea but could never back it up with facts, inspite of some very expensive drilling projects through very hard rock (visit the wikipedia site for abiotic oil for a fairly balanced discussion). I worked with a bunch of russian volcanologists in grad school and my impression was that they were great at observational science, but that there was a huge disconnect between the theoretical types and the field scientists.

For myself, I think there are a range of ways to make hydrocarbon and that the lighter hydrocarbons (methane, ethane, etc.) are probably ubiquitous in the universe. I definitely believe in deep biologic sources of methane. I would not be surprised at deep abiotic generation of methane.

However, there are some fundamental problems with oil forming at mantle depths that violate some very basic laws of chemistry. Just from experience, we know that viscosity of a very clean oil breaks down at the pressure/temperature environments inside our car engines, where it is only run a few hours per day. For comparison:

P/T conditions at the earth's crust/mantle boundary: Temperature: 500C - 900C Pressure: 10^20 Pa (from memory - wikipedia should have similar numbers)

P/T conditions in your car engine oil: Temperature: 600C Pressure: 10^4 Pa (atmospheric) to 40^4 Pa in the piston during compression for a turbocharged diesel engine.

+temperature+pressure&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=20&gl=us    )

But Gold would have us believe that dirty oil (with gas and many impurities that lower reaction temperatures) at the above conditions is going to be OK for millions of years at much higher pressures without breaking down or separating the gas and oil. Just look at a car engine after 10 years of use- it is black with a permanent carbon varnish. Now look at granites, diorites, and other deep rocks - they look clean - no evidence of free carbon anywhere, ever, in the millions of rock outcrops and drill cores we've looked at over the past 200 years. How could the oil sit there for millions of years cooking at higher temps/pressures than your car engine but leave no evidence behind?

I never met Gold personally, though I did peruse last book. If others were vehement in their attacks on Gold, my suspicion is that they got frustrated with his charismatic ability to convince others combined with his willingness to forego the laws of thermodynamics when convenient.

Best Regards- Sid Jones





CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


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Friday, August 17, 2007

Michael Flynn sends this:

Subject: Juries to Mitigate Norman Lawlessness

I was trying to track down that fairies in the garden quote and ran across the following, which seems to resonate with your comment that juries mitigated Norman lawlessness. Chesterton, when he was called to serve on a jury, thought it mitigated the taken-for-grantedness of the justice system professionals:


Now it is a terrible business to mark a man out for the vengeance of men. But it is a thing to which a man can grow accustomed, as he can to other terrible things; he can even grow accustomed to the sun. And the horrible thing about all legal officials, even the best, about all judges, magistrates, barristers, detectives, and policemen, is not that they are wicked (some of them are good), not that they are stupid (several of them are quite intelligent), it is simply that they have got used to it.

Strictly they do not see the prisoner in the dock; all they see is the usual man in the usual place. They do not see the awful court of judgment; they only see their own workshop. Therefore, the instinct of Christian civilization has most wisely declared that into their judgments there shall upon every occasion be infused fresh blood and fresh thoughts from the streets. Men shall come in who can see the court and the crowd, and coarse faces of the policeman and the professional criminals, the wasted faces of the wastrels, the unreal faces of the gesticulating counsel, and see it all as one sees a new picture or a play hitherto unvisited.

Our civilization has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.

-- G. K. Chesterton, "The Twelve Men," Tremendous Trifles

Chesterton is always worth our attention. His observations on freedom and government remain highly relevant in our modern world.

The original notion of a jury system (and of the Grand Jury, too) was as a compromise to mitigate the power of Norman lords while Norman and Saxon were becoming English. Some of this is told in the wonderful Brother Cadfael novels. After the civil war between the Empress and King Stephen ended in compromise: Stephen would reign but his successor would be Mathilda's child who became Henry II. It was in Henry II's time that much of the customary law of England was codified, as his Court judges rode circuit and held trials (the Assizes), then would meet in a body to hear appeals from their own decisions. The result of the appeals became the Common Law of England. (This is of course a greatly simplified account; but it is in essence true.)

Henry sought to enforce his rule over the great Norman barons; to do that he needed the allegiance of Saxons as well as the knighthood. The Common Law accomplished that.

Henry II and his grandfather Henry I were both known as "The Lion of Justice" due to some garbled pronouncements that came down from Merlin. His affairs and resulting illegitimate children, the revolt of his sons, the Thomas Becket affair ("What cowards I have about me that none will rid me of this turbulent priest!") and other such matters have tended to overshadow the effects of his judicial appointments and reforms on the law.

Poor old Henry couldn't even be buried in peace. There was a cry of Haro! as his body was being conducted to the abbey where he would be buried. His funeral was halted, and that matter had to be settled before he could be entombed. The Clameur de Haro doesn't survive in England, but apparently remains legal in the Channel Islands, the last vestige of the Duchy of Normandy. But that's another story.


Subject: Faster-than-light tunneling experiments on PBS, etc.

This is a list of many of the significant papers on the subject


Also, the original experiment was sufficiently repeatable that it made it into a NOVA PBS 1999 show on Time Travel, complete with video of a FTL signal carrying Mozart's 40th. Strangely a side debate was about the nature of information, and was Mozart's 40th in this case an example of real information. (Since , in theory, no information can go FTL)

The quality of the transmitted signal was similar to listening to a BBC broadcast via shortwave, distorted and definitely not HiFi, but quite recognizable.

All of which makes some of the counter arguments seem slightly silly.

As seen at this site

NOVA website for the 1999 show on Time Travel


Show Transcript


{start of transcript snippet}

NARRATOR: If time travelers can't change the past themselves, could they alter history by sending a message into the past instead? Einstein's theories of relativity show that if something could travel faster than the speed of light, it could be viewed as going backwards in time. But relativity also says that's impossible. Yet this man may have taken a step in that direction because he claims to have sent information faster than light.

PROF. GUENTER NIMTZ: This signal is splitted in two by an electronic mirror here into two parts, so we can compare the signal. One is moving through the air and the other one is moving through the barrier.

NARRATOR: In this experiment, Guenter Nimtz splits a microwave signal in two. Half goes through the air, traveling at the speed of light, and half is fired into a barrier to block the signal. But that's not what happens.

GUENTER NIMTZ: This is the oscilloscope where you see the signal and then we can see which one is faster.

NARRATOR: The two humps on the screen are not in the same place because the microwaves that went through the barrier got to the detector first - apparently exceeding the speed of light.

GUENTER NIMTZ: Only a very small part comes to the other side, but it comes and this part comes at the velocity which is much faster than the velocity of light.

NARRATOR: So how could the microwaves go faster than light - and what was the role of the barrier? Nimtz chalks it up to a strange phenomenon called quantum tunneling. At the subatomic or quantum level, the world is ruled by probability and chance, and the seemingly impossible occurs all the time. For example, when a stream of particles like photons meets a barrier, most bounce off. But a few of them materialize on the far side of the barrier and continue on their way. Nimtz detected the particles that appeared, and measured how fast they got there.

GUENTER NIMTZ: And the news about this we did this for fun, and when we figured out that it's faster than the velocity of light we did not think about its importance.

NARRATOR: Another expert in quantum tunneling is Raymond Chiao. He agrees with at least part of what Nimtz has found.

RAYMOND CHIAO: In our experiments we have measured that a single photon can tunnel across a tunnel barrier at 1.7 times the speed of light.

NARRATOR: What bothers Chiao is not that random photons seem to go beyond the speed of light, but that Nimtz claims he can use tunneling to send information faster than light.

RAYMOND CHIAO: To have a genuine signal you really have to control the signal, but in, in quantum mechanical tunneling it's a completely random process. Fundamentally we cannot, we cannot send information with this tunneling particle.

GUENTER NIMTZ: Yeah, some colleagues are claiming that you cannot send information and then we started to transmit Mozart 40 and this is for instance the original tape. That's what we sent at a speed of 4.7 times the velocity of light and a distance of about 14 centimeters, whether you can recognize Mozart 40 or not.

NARRATOR: Despite the randomness and uncertainty of the tunneling process, Mozart seems to have gone through the barrier.

{video segment with Mozart audio playing as received, and displayed on the O-scope}

RAYMOND CHIAO: The essential question is: what is a signal, or what constitutes information? Has he really sent a signal in the sense of information faster than the speed of light? This is where Professor Nimtz and I part company because we don't really have a rigorous definition of what is information at the quantum level.

GUENTER NIMTZ: Maybe that this is not information for American colleague, but for a German or a British colleague, I think Mozart 40 has some information in it.

NARRATOR: Transmitting Mozart is one thing, convincing others that you have sent it faster than light is another. And so the debate continues, with neither side budging.

GUENTER NIMTZ: I consist - no, no, I not consist, I insist on it that we have and we can transmit signals faster than the velocity of light.

NARRATOR: Nimtz has found little support for this claim. And few think this will ever allow information to go backwards in time. Still, the idea that time travel for people might become a reality raises a provocative question.

As said, transmitting Mozart is one thing, convincing others that you did it faster than light is another. 

We may have to go to synchronous orbit, or to the Moon, to conclusively prove to ourselves that we have sent real information faster than light. If that can happen, the world is an entirely different place; but it is certainly no better than "Not Proven" at the moment.

Transmission of information faster than light: I send a question to the Moon. It arrives there almost instantly, which is to say, about a second, Lunar Time, before it left in Earth Time. It is copied and retransmitted back to Earth by FTL means. Signal processing takes milliseconds at most: when, Earth time, did it arrive? Repeat as needed.

We can hope.




I have been thinking about the "incompatibility" of quantum mechanics and Einstein's Relativity. This seem to be based on the fact that they both apply to the same "Universe" simultaneously and give contradictory results at times. I think the fundamental postulate is incorrect: Both sets of rules DO NOT exist in the same universe!

Relativity exist in "our" universe (the one our senses show us), being a modification to connect time and space together -- a "tweak" of Newton to us, though more major effects in high gravity or high speed (relative to us) situations. Thus, it has the same parameters we do and "distance" and "time", for example, mean things to Relativity that are more-or-less similar to what they mean to us, just more mixed together and elastic.

Quantum Mechanics is different. When you solve an equation in it, it predicts that the particles you are calculating will do such-and-such under so-and-so conditions. Those equations have parameters that must be stuck into them and give answers that have their own parameters. MANY of these computations DO NOT have time or space values as either the inputs or outputs. My point is that, to those particles, ONLY -- repeat, ONLY -- those parameters that are associated with those equations EXIST IN ANY MANNER WHATSOEVER to the particles in question when predicting those actions. Visualize a chess board: If you are a knight, only the positions that you are on or can move to in one move EXIST -- none of the other squares are there AT ALL, as far as you are concerned!!! The fact that the players can see those other squares has nothing to do with you, the knight, and all other squares that you can move to ARE DIRECTLY TOUCHING YOUR SQUARE -- there is no distance between them at all!!!

This explains entanglement and other "spooky actions at a distance" effects that Einstein didn't like --- THERE *IS NO* "DISTANCE" since that is not a parameter used in this computation and thus the particles do not "know" that the CONCEPT of distance even exists!!! We KNOW TOO MUCH and attribute this "knowledge" (as it might be called) to the particles that we are computing when we do quantum mechanics. If we dumb down our minds to the "level" of the particles that we are calculating and assume that NOTHING ELSE exists but the parameters then "in play", the actions of the particles are much more understandable. This means that the universe truncates its dimensions (deletes time and space when not needed, for example) to suit the results, not vice versa (this is that "observer" influencing the results thing).

To summarize: Any measurable parameter in our universe actually only exists during the time frame that it is needed; when it is not needed, it simply disappears into some "null space" -- maybe there are dimensions (parameters by another name) that we do not know about simply because we have no formulae that need them to obtain their answers (like the color of magic "octogren" on Terry Pratchett's Diskworld -- if we "discovered" that kind of magic, we get the new color as a benny, too).

I hope that this helps.

Nathan Okun

The Alderson FTL Drive in MOTE IN GOD'S EYE and my other CoDominium universe stories makes use of a parallel universe through which the travel takes place; it was designed, with some care, to be compatible with all known physical laws as of about 1972. I do not believe it is yet contradicted. (Of course we don't know how to DO it, but that's another story.)

As I have said before, I don't understand the Quantum Universe (and it's all right because Feynman told me he didn't understand it either.) The speculation that the quantum universe coexists with the continuous universe and we sort of live in both is intriguing, but it's also pretty difficult to design an experiment to test that hypothesis.





This week:


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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jerry: I see that an Alabama nuclear reactor had to be shutdown due to overheated cooling water:

"The Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation's largest public utility, shut down one of three units at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Athens, Ala., because water drawn from the Tennessee River was exceeding a 90-degree average over 24 hours. The shutdown posed no safety threat, and the utility would compensate for the loss of power by buying electricity elsewhere, officials said."

Is there an alternative reactor design that doesn't need to reject excess heat to water, that would be suitable for power generation?


Chris C

Well the simplest way would be to run the water through an evaporative cooling heat exchanger before it goes near the reactor. Actually, it's not clear from the source whether this cools the reactor or some part of the generation process. I am a bit astonished that 90 F is a cutoff point, since I can recall river and creek temperatures getting that high when I was growing up in the Memphis area. Not the Mississippi, which has too high a total volume, but many local lakes and streams would be in the 90's some years.

This looks like a routine tradeoff between costs of equipment designed to operate at higher than 90 F input and the number of days they expect that to happen. My guess is that the plant operators didn't even see this as newsworthy.

And do recall, we now know that the 1930's were the hottest decade of the 20Th Century despite Global Warming...


Subject: "He is a Swede who lives in Finland."


A while back (close to 40 years ago), I was visiting with some friends in Canada, who introduced me to someone who had emigrated -- he was introduced to me as a Hungarian.

Having some Hungarian blood myself, I asked him where he was from.

"Yugoslavia." (Or perhaps Czechoslovakia -- I forget which.)

I said huh? I though you were Hungarian?

I got a dirty "you idiot" look, and "Yes I am Hungarian."

"But you said you were from Yugoslavia?"

"Yes." Again, the "you idiot" look, this time starting to get a bit angry, so I dropped it.

To me, I was an American, not a "WhereMyPeopleCameFrom-an."

But, as you say, today it can happen here -- and it is.

Regarding your $30K-cum-$1MM house -- I realize the hell of moving, and the anguish of taking that last, longing look at "home" after many years -- the wrench in the gut while looking back before turning the corner, knowing it'll never be "home" again, it'll never be *yours* again, that you *can't* go... well, you know the rest.

But, you also know the tales of the people who pushed wheelbarrows full of money to try to buy a day's sustenance.

I'm not going to suggest you "cut and run" and move to a place like Michigan, where land is still fairly cheap -- the state is "governed" so to speak by a lunatic Canadian who came to the USA to become a movie star, and failed, so here we are, as she turns the place into Michiganistan.

But if I was in a similar position -- sitting on something of great *perceived* value, in an economy getting frighteningly close to genuine collapse, I'd be looking for a soft place to land.

I don't know that such a place exists anymore. Ideally I'd like to live in Vermont (the prettiest place I've ever been), but with New Hampshire's government (but even *that* state is sliding toward idiocy).

As someone once said, enjoy it now -- *these* are "the good old days."

As to our "money" -- I figured the jig was up when they recently announced that they were no longer going to be releasing the "M3" figures. Without knowing the "M3" we don't know the size of the currency. We don't know the number of dollars in existance.

I try to explain to folks that "inflation" is NOT "the cost of 'stuff'" -- but rather, the size of the *currency* -- the amount by which the *currency* has been *inflated* -- and that the more dollars are in existance at any given time, the less value any individual dollar has. The total value of "the money supply" is fairly static, but the more "dollars" are pumped into it, the less valuable each dollar becomes.

By taking M3 into stealth mode, they're poised to inject massive amounts of currency into "the money supply" without generating a big profile.

(And from the past few day's news, it looks like the "Plunge Protection Team" is still at work too. Feh.)

They aren't interested in hearing such nonsense, so I pretty much gave up. This too convinces me that we're headed for trouble. Things are bad, but no one cares, and no one cares to care. Thus, the "watch Cabaret!" in my .sig block. It's a good Santayanan loop-view of history past and future, IMO.


-- Photos: http://www.michi-kogaku.com/picsdir

Suggestion: Watch Cabaret! (It's a documentary, not a musical...)

My late friend Elmar Lanczos used to say that he was Hungarian, and that Hungarians were enemy aliens even in peacetime. Formula for a Hungarian omelet: "Steal six eggs." Of course Elmar was Conservative Jewish (I used to buy all the leaven in his house preparatory to certain Holy Days; I learned a lot about middle European Jewish customs from Elmar), so his Jewish background influenced his life a great deal more than any Hungarian ancestry. His father was a well known professor of Mathematics, but Elmar, while smart enough, had no driving ambitions and made do with unimportant jobs so that he could spend most of his time living as he liked. Eventually he married a Catholic girl. And he was, of course, 100% American.

I know the California experiment is pretty well doomed unless something is done quickly about illegal immigration, but at my age, selling out and moving back to the South, or to Iowa, or Texas, is not really in the cards. We enjoy living in a city with opera and symphony and beaches and mountains, and good libraries, and my village is about as good a place to live as there is in the US (even if it is about 96 F outside on my balcony as I write this; we managed a 2 mile walk at 0930 this morning). Eventually they will wreck Proposition 13 which so far has kept my house taxes down to something I can afford, and when that happens I will have to cut and run; but perhaps it won't happen in my lifetime.

Obviously California cannot sustain a continuous influx of unskilled workers who overload hospitals and trauma centers, overburden the police, and generally use up public services at the same time that the voters have decided to try socialism in California and want to finance it from "the rich millionaires." In theory I am a rich millionaire in that I own property I could, possibly, sell for that (before taxes). Democracy doesn't work when the demagogues get to working on it; and they certainly have done so here. The Golden Days of California are lost. Not yet irretrievably, but it won't be long before recovery is utterly impossible.

My racket does have some inflation proofing. Paperback books went from 35 cents when I bought my house to several dollars, and author shares on paperbacks went from 3% royalties to a nearly standard 10% for authors with good agents and good sales. So my share of a book went from 2 cents to perhaps 50 cents in the time my house went from $30,000 to $1.2 million. Of course the tax rates are determined by real numbers and are not much adjusted for inflation, so the government's bite has become worse every year as well.

So I keep writing, which I would do anyway, and I have to scramble a bit to keep the income flow going (thanks to subscribers!) until I finish major projects; but I doubt I'd finish them any faster in Muscatine, Iowa or Resume Speed, Michigan. My old friend and mentor Russell Kirk loved his life in Piety Hill (Mecosta, Michigan) but I do note that he spent considerable time in New York and Los Angeles, where he had friends who were eager to have him as a guest; and this in a time when air travel was not such an ordeal.

I have sometimes thought of finding a small university town and buying a house large enough to allow a couple of students to live there as assistants and victims of my dinner table harangues, but I suspect it will never happen.

As to Caberet! being a documentary, you do I suppose know that it was adopted from Christopher Isherwood's "I Am A Camera", which was a prose documentary of Weimar Berlin. Decadent societies fail in unpredictable ways. The stage version was much more true to the book than the movie, which was made politically correct. It wouldn't do to show Germans so frustrated with decadence that they saw the Nazi's as moral saviors when they sang "Tomorrow belongs to me."


Birds, Blood and the Stock Market


I now proceed to meander, so humor me. <g>

Once again playing ketchup with your work, which I truly enjoy (as much or more as I enjoy your novels). I hope to subscribe once we get a few $$$ ahead and I can persuade my opposite number (who despises being termed "SWMBO" in my emails<g>) to go for it. (I've been trying to get her to read "Mote" -- our own HB copy is currently lost in the maelstrom, so she took out a library copy -- and renewed, and renewed, and renewed, and renewed... I just don't get it. It was one of the *most* absorbing stories I've ever read. Maybe SF really *isn't* "for girls," go figure.)

Read your misadventure with the office or Lord Mayor Antonio, and the crow, and I was reminded of the time my late father brought home an injured hawk that he'd found in the stairwell of a downtown (Manhattan) office building, back in the early '60s.

My parents called around to various agencies trying to find out what to do with/for the bird, mainly to no avail.

Then, while they were out, the phone rang, and I answered it, and an incredibly abusive "public servant" proceded to threaten me (I am like 14 or thereabouts) with prison unless I *immediately* hand over the goods to him. I am scared shitless, and when he (or his stooge) comes knocking on the door, I give him the bird (so to speak) and spend the *rest* of the day worrying about what my *parents* will do to me.

FF to the present...

We live on the "West Coast" of Michigan, on a 5 acre "ranch" (with a century old barn and two ponds), which sold for about a few months salary for a Manhattan office worker. So far we've been spared the West Nile, although it's been showing up all around the area like popcorn from year to year.


Blood: A few years ago, I spent about a week in the hospital, bleeding to death via my colon, the results of a botched polyp job. The butcher -- get this -- "would not allow" (his words, verbatim) a second opnion, which I demanded after sitting there, bleeding profusely, for a few days. I was *really* PUSHED to accept blood transfusions. They were worried they were gonna lose me, he was worried he was gonna get sued (which I should have done), and the plan was to pump me full of "anonymous" blood in the hopes that the leak would seal before I bled out -- rather than go in and *fix* the damage (and thus tacitly acknowledge that there *was* damage.)

I short, I was dangling at the end of a string, my life at risk, due to a CYA move over an iatrogenic "event."

I refused the public blood, for all the obvious reasons. I at one point said I would accept blood, but *only* from people I knew and trusted. They flat out REFUSED. I was *only* to be "allowed" *public* blood (which is not only anonymous, but, "blended", so that one ringer will contaminate MANY bags of blood. And, I know for a *fact* that there are *idiots* who, fearing they've HIV'd themselves, boogie on down to the nearest Red Cross blood drive and "donate" -- so that they will be told if their blood is dirty. They are too humiliated to seek out an *actual* test, so they think they outsmart the system, not realizing that for the six months or so between infection and antibody detectability, they are *contaminating* the blood with *undetectable* HIV. Argh.)

Finally, after tiring of their lies about the *absolute* safety of the public blood supply, I said, OK, you talked me into it (bright smiles on their happyfaces at that), but, I've got one question I'd like you to answer.

Sure, go right ahead, I'm told. OK, here's what I'd like to know. Let's say you're pumping this "perfectly safe" blood *into* MY arm, and, during the transfusion, one of the hoses springs a tiny leak, and a couple of drops of that "perfectly safe" blood lands on YOUR arm. What would you do?

Well! We would *immediately* drop *everything* and go scrub up!

Ah, I see! So in other words, this stuff is safe enough to put INTO *my* arm, but it's too *dangerous* to allow ONTO *your* arm? I think I changed my mind.

They left me alone for a while after *that*. Wasn't much they could do, other than give me dirty looks for it.


One of the little known downsides of rural life (apart from the increasing influx of criminal aliens -- this very rural midwestern county is now 15% Mexican, and the crime rate has skyrocketed. The local rag's police blotter reads like a Tijuana phonebook), is the near-impossibilty of finding an *American* physician.

Due to my decomposing body, I am forced to spend an inordinate amount of time seeing various specialists, and visiting hospitals. I was recently scheduled for another cervical fusion, which I canceled. There's just too much on my plate, and having gone through it once -- at a less-difficult to reach disc -- I am terrified of the surgery.

My surgeon, of course, is not an American. He's a Palestinan, who, since 9/11, is called "Joe" (earlier, he was "Yusuf"). Not *that* unusual, in the grand scheme. I have relatives named "Davis" who were "Davidowitz" in Hungary. But they remonickered spontaneously; didn't wait for an "event" to inspire 'em.

The last doctor to scope my colon was a Syrian. Due to having a bit of a tendency to grow large numbers of precancerous polyps, I get scoped fairly often. *This* guy was just @#$#$% *brutal*. When I would say "Ow! That *hurt*!" he would, instead of saying "Sorry," and/or backing off a tad, he'd crank it up, and it'd hurt *worse*.

And in the office consultations, his demeanor was just short of hostile.

I told my wife that "Syrians don't like Jews" (I am an ethnic Jew, Christian by faith). She didn't buy into it. But then, she was never beaten up for being a "Jewboy" (and far worse), so the whole concept of antisemitism is alien to her. She doesn't believe in it, and in fact, any *mention* of it is deemed paranoia. Ah, "life"...

My GP (or "Primary Care Whatever") *is* an American -- wonder of wonders -- and fairly decent, too. Sadly, she is coming up to the retirement age. What I'll do after that I do not know -- presuming the ol' reaper doesn't leapfrog me ahead of her retirement.

Finally (if you're still reading<g>), the stock market. Please, whatever you do, AVOID Etrade like the *plague* -- because the plague is *far* less egregious.

I suspect that Etrade is in a *big* financial bind. The are engaging in an increasing level of chicanery and outright lies, all involving their (successful!) efforts to hold on to their customers' money after it's been deposited.

When we were with DLJ (who after a succession of buyouts landed us with Etrade), there were NO quarterly "inactivity fees" (let alone at oddball "quarter" termination dates), and, when we made a stock trade, we had three days to get payment to them.

When payment arrived, it was immediately credited to our account.

With Etrade, it's different. At first, they put a "five day" hold on money *electronically* transferred to them. They had the money -- instantly -- and then locked it up for "five days" (which, being "business" days, meant that in reality, our money was locked up for a WEEK).

Now, they've upped the ante. They are holding on to the money for several days BEFORE starting the one-week clock!

And when pressed, they lie outright. They will *deny* any record of having received the funds on the date the transfer was made. They will claim to have "researched" the account, and seen no record of that date, instead inserting the imaginary date (several days later) as the actual date.

The surreal part is that in all of their communications, they include a copy of the "transfer confirmation" their computer generated, dated with the REAL date -- the date they *deny* existing!

Such nonsense has done two things (three, if you count my blood pressure, and four if you count the SEC charges I plan on filing). It has convinced us that Etrade is in deep deep trouble, because there is no other rational explanation for that kind of desperate behavior, and it has convinced us to move our portfolio to Scottrade. Scottrade has the most annoying commercials, but a quick bit of web research shows a *lot* of satisfied Scottrade customers, and a *lot* of *angry* Etrade customers.

If you're still with me, thanks. <g> I'll close by thanking you for providing a site that is a pleasant respite from the swirling convolution of stupidity, banality, and madness that is the Fall of the Western World, and mentioning that your own health remains in my prayers.


One reason I live in Los Angeles is that our local Kaiser has excellent doctors who like to live in big cities, and given any real reason to do so I have UCLA Medical to call on. My survivalist friend Mel Tappan decided to bug out to the Rogue River lo these many years ago, and it turned out his medical problems were too much for rural Oregon; Mel has been dead for a long time, and I regret to say I've lost track of Nancy.

I'll keep trying to provide a pleasant respite... 


Subj: The King of Spain's Afghan Rifles


>>Spain has asked the government [of Afghanistan] to allow Spain to pay for the recruitment, training, equipping and maintenance of an Afghan infantry battalion. ...<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

Francisco Franco was of course the head of the Spanish Foreign Legion (stationed in Spanish Morocco. After the overthrow of the monarchy in 1931 and the subsequent revolutionary changes in the government of Spain including confiscations of property and removing the church from education, there was considerable unrest; the Foreign Legion troops intervened to restore order (or to overthrown the republic depending on your views of the matter); when the Spanish Civil War was over, Franco became Regent for a monarchy with a vacant throne. The present King was called in after Franco's death.








CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, August 19, 2007      

I thought you might be interested in my latest blog posting on "Unconscious Conspiracies":


(BTW, did I mention I am working at Google now?)

-- Talin


Feeling safer already:

Subject: Drug informants

Dear Jerry,

Remember the story you posted in mail a while ago of an old woman being shot in her own house during a drug raid? The story - if I recall correctly - stated that she was in fact a drug dealer so it wasn't so bad after all. Turns out it was:

...Kathryn Johnston, the 92-year-old Atlanta woman killed by police during a November 2006 drug raid on her home.

Johnston died when she mistook a team of narcotics officers for criminal intruders. When the police broke down her door, she met them with an old pistol. They opened fire, and killed her.

A subsequent investigation revealed that the entire chain of events up to and shortly after Johnston's death were beset with lies, planted evidence, and cover-up on the part of the narcotics cops. They fabricated an imaginary informant to get the search warrant for Ms. Johnston's home. They planted evidence on a convicted felon, arrested him, then let him off in exchange for his tip—which he made up from whole cloth—that they'd find drugs in Ms. Johnston's house.

When they realized their mistake, they then tried to portray an innocent old woman as a drug dealer. They planted marijuana in Ms. Johnston's basement while she lay handcuffed and bleeding on the floor.

More investigation revealed that this kind of behavior wasn't aberrant, but common among narcotics officers in the Atlanta Police Department.





Swedes in Finland

" When I was a guest of Nokia in Finland a few years ago, I was introduced by the President to a Vice President: "He is a Swede who lives in Finland." It turns out that this man's family had lived in Finland for over a hundred years. At the time I thought that was odd. I suppose today it can happen here."

As i understand it this is a perfectly okay situation with both groups. The Swedes send their kids to Swedish language schools and have chosen to stay Swedish, but also learn Finnish and get along great with the Finns most of the time.

Linus Torvalds is an example of an ethnic Swede from Finland.


Book On Demand

Don Lancaster was big on BOD printing. He endorsed writing raw PostScript programs by hand and printing books with laser printers on an as ordered basis. I believe this is a failed idea for two reasons: ephemeral material does not need printing at all and that which does, should be printed with ink-not toner (and archival ink at that) on acid free paper with good bindings. Binding and printing account for less than $2 of the average $25 hardback and perhaps $3.50 for an average $80 textbook.

Laser printing is not archival. The toner sticks to the facing page and makes an unreadable mess in a few years under normal book shelf conditions. Laser printers are worse than the older copy machines.

The first BOD operation with which I was familiar was that of Ed Romney, a man who published a large number of books on the esoteric subject of camera repair. He made a fair living selling GBC-bound, copier printed books through ads in camera magazines. He later wrote more general readership oriented books which were published by others, notably Paladin Press. Ed passed away three or so years ago, at about the same time digital photography finally really pushed small format film out of mainstream use.

Don Lancaster published a lot of DIY electronic stuff, but mainstream success evaded him and he has apparently mostly abandoned this activity.

Meanwhile, for buffs of DIY electronics, here's a site I have in a small way contributed to:


Many pre-1963 books available for free.


"If anyone can just change the language of a bill carrying it to the President, then why even have a Congress?"


-- Roland Dobbins



Subject: Researchers create gravity in lab experiment | Science Blog



Which may or may not be revolutionary. More  to come, surely.


Another article debunking global warming

A good summary of the contrary view:

Tim Cunningham


Subject: Nasa revises climate change data

Dr. Pournelle,


"Something rather odd happened the other day. If you go to NASA's Web site and look at the "U.S. surface air temperature" rankings for the lower 48 states, you might notice that something has changed."

Not sure if you've seen this or not, but apparently the hottest years on record are now all in the 1930s. This was all pointed out by Steve McIntyre of climateaudit.com.

Very interesting read.

Matt Kirchner

We are told that it isn't really a big deal.



More evidence we don't know squat about climate!

Dr. Pournelle:

I think that if one reads article number 1 (posted on your site) in concert with article number 2, one may come to the conclusion that we know a lot less about our world and its climate than we thought. But I'm sure you are not surprised at new evidence of the depth of our ignorance. 8-)

The whole "global warming" mess reminds me of previous "debates" on gun control. People who claim to be scientists use cooked data based on false or biased assumptions to prove that guns are evil baby killers and have no use in modern society. When someone comes along with a valid study that indicates firearms have social utility and that gun ownership by law-abiding citizens may actually reduce violent crime, that person is shouted down by the "true believers."

Keep doing what you do so well,

Lee Keller King Sugar Land, Texas


No. 1

Data on Atlantic flow are undercut

nation/la-sci-ocean17aug17,1,620320 8.story?

A perceived slowdown in circulation, linked to global warming, may actually have been normal variations in the flow pattern. By Alan Zarembo August 17, 2007

No. 2

Australia discovers ocean current "missing link"


By Michael Byrnes Wed Aug 15, 8:18 AM ET

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian scientists have discovered a giant underwater current that is one of the last missing links of a system that connects the world's oceans and helps govern global climate.

New research shows that a current sweeping past Australia's southern island of Tasmania toward the South Atlantic is a previously undetected part of the world climate system's engine-room, said scientist Ken Ridgway.

At this point I'll have to leave it up to someone else.


Perhaps the high schools could offer majors in 'reading' and 'arithmetic'. Or perhaps the only viable approach, given our broken educational system, is to classify all learning as vocational in nature, and simply give up on the idea of producing well-rounded citizens with a modicum of common knowledge and basic skills.


--- Roland Dobbins


Subject: TVA cooling water

The issue of the 90 degree temperature limit is a matter of politics and money. (This was all cooling water for the steam generators -- no way would any of this water come anywhere near the reactor core!!)

The government has decided that it would be an ecological disaster to heat the small streams that are used for cooling nuclear (or any other) power plants too high. High temperatures mean low amounts of oxygen, which is bad for fish.

So if the intake water temp is high you can not dispose of waste heat. (and not just us -- a while back water levels were low in France so the nuc plants had to shut down or they would have too high an exit temp) Nuc plants dump abput 70% as waste while coal plants dump 50% == all a function of efficiency and operating temperature.

All power plants dump massive amounts of heat/ where the dispose of the excess heat is a function of their location how much money they are willing to spend.

A submarine can dump heat to the ocean and no one notices.

A reactor on the seashore has to worry about biofouling but other wise little limits.

Dumping to a river has temperature limits (as in this case), so you have match available water to power loads, but it is still cheap.

An air cooled plant in an arid zone has little choice -- it takes a big surface area which costs an arm and a leg to build.

If you can use an evaporative cooler, you have a much more economical system that a pure air cooler, but you face trade offs in amount of water available, surface areas and condenser rejection temperatures (efficiency).

So the basic answer is yes, there are other ways. But they cost money and this is the government (TVA) at work.







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