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Monday  July 22, 2002

I wrote this for a discussion in the SFWA topic. It seemed coherent enough to put here. It was in answer to a journalist's rather skeptical inquiries: he had after all talked to the NASA people who "knew what was going on," and explained the Mars failures as not having enough money and resources to do the job right. They were, as are all NASA people, shuttle defenders. 

Over at  you can read The SSX Concept which is a disquisition on the rocket equation. There is also a policy paper on How To Get To Space.

Excuse me if I lecture; it's fairly elementary rocket science, but I don't know how much is already known.

The short answer is that the rocket equation makes it clear that about 90% of gross liftoff weight must be fuel and oxidizer. You may be able to get away from some oxidizer weight by scooping ram air and trying to burn that, but you will find that flying at above Mach 20 for any length of time creates lots of problems including heating of the leading edges of aerodynamic surfaces as well as the scoops. The stagnation temperature in those mechanisms for getting out the oxygen are enormous.

Thus it turns out that wings probably aren't what you want. They are beneficial on the way down but they really hurt you going up. I began as an advocate of wings and ram jets; Max Hunter and some of his people eventually showed me that was the wrong way to go.

But unless you have airscoops -- NASP was to have that, and a lot was spent on trying to make it work and it concluded that you need unobtainium for the leading edges of the scoops -- then 90% of your GLOW (gross liftoff weight) is going to be fuel and oxidizer. Period. Dot. No discussion.

Of the remaining 10% some fraction is structure. If you are building ammunition and throwing the ship away you can make less structure and more payload. If you want to reuse the ship, which seems sensible, then you have to make it stronger. Experiments show that about 90% of the dry (non-fuel) weight has got to be structure -- tanks, shrouds, control wires, pumps, pipes and plumbing, etc. That leaves about 10% for payload.

Experience has shown that about the smallest single stage to orbit ship we can build will be about 600,000 pounds GLOW. That means something like 6,000 pounds payload. But note that number is in the 3rd decimal point, and we do not have 3rd decimal point accurate data. You have to FLY something.

In fact on a 600,000 GLOW ship (60,000 pounds dry weight) the payload can be anything from a negative several thousand pounds to about 10,000 pounds. Negative means it didn't make orbit. SSX and such ships are designed to be landed; they don't have to make orbit to have a safe flight, and incremental flight testing was part of the design program.

It was said that you can't land rockets on a tail of fire even though early science fiction said you could. You don't have the control capability at low speeds. Thus DC/X which made 11 successful landings: we can to it, it works, and on one flight we tilted her from vertical to 11 degrees nose down to vertical again before safely landing.

You have to fly things to be sure.

Now if we had 3 600,000 pound GLOW ships to fly incrementally beginning with single stage to stratosphere, then supersonic, then maximum capability, we would know how to build recoverable rocket ships. Operations planning means designing to make them easy to refuel, flying all components at 90% of capacity rather than maximizing performance -- shuttle flies at 103% of the engine ratings which is one reason you have to take them apart: shuttle is "recoverable" but not really reusable. It gets rebuilt between flights. Airplanes land, are refueled, and fly again.

The project costs for an SSX (3 tail numbers is traditional in an X program) is under $5 billion and in fact I don't see how to spend more than $4. That is 4 shuttle flights.

I would rather have a ship make 16 flights in a month with 6,000 pounds payload per flight at a cost of say $10 million a flight, than two shuttle flights with 50,000 pounds payload at a billion a flight.

Of course operations designs mean something that wasn't even brought up in your interviews.

As to what was going on: one of the Mars flights was so designed that if everything worked just right the engines shut off about about 50,000 feet above Mars surface. That's if they did everything just right and it worked AS DESIGNED. Perhaps they needed adult supervision.


For more on all this see the referenced papers and SSX. I have just reread that latter, and it's a pretty good paper that covers the subject well. You can skim past the math if you like; it's there so those who don't skim can see we know what we are talking about.


Here is something to cheer you up:

A nurse at Guy's Hospital checks a patient's charts

An NHS surgeon claims he had to stop an operation because the foreign nurses working with him could not follow his instructions. David Nunn, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals in London, told the Daily Telegraph he feared the patient's life was at risk. Mr Nunn said he had stopped because the foreign nurses working with him did not understand his request for surgical instruments. Disciplinary threat "It was met with a selection of bemused reactions," he told the paper. "They were produced only when the scrub nurse de-scrubbed and went to find them herself." Now the 48-year-old surgeon says his supervisors have threatened him with disciplinary action for racism. If medical staff cannot communicate effectively then patients' care may be put at risk

David Nunn

He told the newspaper that political correctness was stopping problems with foreign staff "from being aired". "The world has been scoured for nurses to shore up the health service and to achieve arbitrary targets set by the government. "All are without doubt well-trained and dedicated professionals, but if medical staff cannot communicate effectively then patients' care may be put at risk," he told the paper.

Ain't it grand to be politically correct?

Roland warns us of a new vulnerability:

This one involves web servers. And he reminds us of an older one never fixed: 

Should I say I told you so? I wrote time and again that stocks with enormous price/earnings ratios were a bad idea. In return I get mail explaining in baby talk that earnings didn't matter, it was business growth!  And when I pointed out that there is a limit to business growth: that some of these companies would have to have more business than the entire nation does now in order to bring P/E ratios back to reasonable levels - I got more baby talk explanations from people who assured me I didn't understand economics.

Well, all right...

High Tech Wars


I am beginning a two volume treatise on modern war. If you know anything you think I ought to know, let me know. I have a contract with a major publisher, and I will be setting up visits and formal research and stuff, and if you're in that business, also let me know.





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Tuesday, July 23, 2002

There are lots of things to write about, but Niven is coming over to discuss Burning Tower so I won't get to them today.

But in response to an ATI press release David Em says

Real time 3D rendering advances seems to be the biggest story in computing...text, audio, 2D and DV are essentially solved problems. HD and 3D are the last 2 big trees in the forest.

Saw today that ILM is moving from SGI workstations over to P4 farms.

HELP please.

I will leave this here, but IGNORE IT. I have solved the problem. Sort of.


Roberta has been satisfied to do communications through a Pentium III 550 system running Windows 98. It has begun to fail. I am not sure why it is failing; it may be corrupt files in Outlook. She was also Gatored and otherwise plagued with intrusions through Internet Explorer and a lot of this advertising software was eating cycles. But there is something wrong with the machine too; it gives exception errors on startup. It may be hardware, it may be software but it was time to upgrade that system anyway.

I have Forwin, a 2 GHz Pentium 4 with a good GeForce 3 card and a 60 GB hard drive. It also has a DVD +RW drive and a Zip Drive since it was planned to be a replacement for one of my systems before I got the 2.53 GHz systems that have taken over that roll. I was able to transfer all of Roberta's critical files from her old system -- "Seattle" -- to Forwin. I was able to create a local account for rjp as a power user on Forwin. I have installed Office 2000 Premium on the machine.

I log in as rjp on the CHAOS domain here. That's different from logging her in as a local user on Forwin. On the Chaos domain she is a mere "user". With rjp logged on to Chaos I can connect to the Internet with Internet Explorer,  and I can run Word just fine. But when I open OUTLOOK I get the message that I don't have the privilege of configuring OUTLOOK, and I will have to log on as Administrator to do that; but what I can't figure out is how to give that privilege to RJP, or what it means to "configure" Outlook that way.  I can poke around and experiment, but what I really want is some knowledge:

I would like on Windows 2000 Server to be able to give RJP "power user" privileges but the Server doesn't seem to admit that this exists. There are a number of administrator privileges I can give her (by joining her to those groups) but that's not the same thing.

I have tried to read books on Windows 2000 Users and user profiles and privileges and it seems to make my head explode. 

For the moment I need to know what the devil I must do to configure Outlook 2000 so that rjp logged on to Forwin as part of the Chaos Domain (not as local user rjp) can run Outlook.  I'll later have to set it so that she can also use the dialup modem that needs to connect to that machine: this is so she can use IC Verify to authenticate credit card purchases of her reading instruction program (it works, if you know anyone who needs to read English you need to know about it) and of course subscriptions for this place. I suspect transferring that and PGP are going to be a problem also, but we will see. But Windows 2000 User Profiles seem designed to be confusing, and in the local administrator tools I find ways to give rjp logged in locally to Forwin all the privileges she needs, but not rjp logged in as rjp on the domain, and once again my head is about to explode.

I expect this is trivial to some of you. Please don't speculate; but if you KNOW what is going on here, please let me know. Do I have to work at the Server or at Forwin? Either will do but I fear I need help in baby talk.

Also, Alex believes there are some tools on the W 2000 Server disk that can be installed on a workstation that will allow you to log in as administrator and do much of this stuff without going into the server room. If you know about those I can use the information too.



I logged in as Administrator, ran Outlook, configured it, closed it, logged off, logged in as rjp in the Chaos domain, ran Outlook, CONFIGURED IT AGAIN only this time it allowed me to do it, and imported her old PST file. It all worked just splendidly.

I also went to her old Outlook 98 machine and ran Internet Explorer and deleted the cookies, and all on-line saved files. All of them. And ran AdAware and got rid of a bunch of spurious processes. The result is that her old 98 machine is working. The Porn Spammers had literally rendered her machine useless.  I need to get pop-up stopper working on her system. She says she's happy with the old one, and it's a waste to have a Pentium 4 for what she does with that system and perhaps she is right; I'll see.

So I managed to get the User Profile thing done although I still have little understanding of the Users system in Windows 2000, which is quite different at the Server and Workstation levels; and I found that a 128 Meg Windows 98 Pentium III 550 can be choked to death by stuff that creeps in through Internet Explorer.  Death to spammers.





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Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Please see above plea for help... (BUT NOTE THAT THE PROBLEM IS SOLVED. THANKS.)

The latest SF Review by Earnest Lilly has some space stuff on SSX by Yoji Kondo. 

It's a good report. Reading it over caused me to go back and read my own How To Get To Space, which is pretty good too. While you are at it, you might check out some of the other reports available here. I keep adding good stuff, if I do say so...

I have to work today. 

I have finally got my head wrapped around Windows 2000 User system, more or less; it's actually somewhat logical except that Microsoft left out of the Server privileges groups the "power user" category that exists in the local users. And for reasons not clear to me, domain user accounts don't appear in the local user groups at all; but they can be manually added by using the formula DOMAIN/user. They still will not appear in the local user list, but they will have a profile in the PROFILES directory under the name user.DOMAIN. This is a bit counterintuitive but what the heck.

Meanwhile the problem is moot because Roberta's Windows 98 Pentium III 550 system is back in operation: I cleared a year's worth of history, cookies, and various temp and other files out of Internet Explorer. That left an enormous file called index.dat in the Internet Explorer Temp Files directory. That one can't be deleted. Well, it can't without evil and potent magic, anyway: I rebooted the system into DOS, and it could then be renamed. All this will be in the column in more detail. I am also looking into what to do about enormous index.dat files for various users in my major Win 2K system: they appear to have caused one of this machine's slowdowns.

And finally, much of Roberta's problems were due to various web sites tracking you and putting their processes into her system if she had ever visited their web site. This was a theft of resources, and the people who do this deserve no ethical consideration whatever. Of course they have powerful lobbies to prevent the government from doing anything about them.

And now Chaos Manor Associate Eric Pobirs has found an even more disturbing development. 

This is several months old but the first I've heard of it. A company that includes spyware in their product actually detects and removes AdAware! Unmitigated audacity to say the least.

It is clearly time to Do Something about the spyware people. I have to work on fiction today, but perhaps I'll have some ideas by column time.

Eric has often said that nothing will be done about spam until some spammers have extremely painful physical things happen to them and this is publicized. I have whimsically written about The Godfather Corporation which will go break bones and blood vessels in spammers. Of course that was all whimsy.

If you were at all caught up in the brief storm about anthropologists and the Fierce People in the Amazon, I think we now see the end of the matter.

And Joe Zeff finds something to cheer about!

Wonderful news!

A seven-year-old girl escaped on her own from kidnappers! Details at .

Deo Gratia

But then why was she kidnapped? 



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Thursday, July 25, 2002  5:45 PM

It has been one of those days. Last night the dog couldn't sleep and was crying part of the night, and we figured this was it. Time to let him go. This morning he wasn't very active, and I went to the bank alone -- he usually walks with me, it's about ten blocks each way -- and when I got back he wasn't moving much. Of course it's a hot day and he has a fur coat, but he wasn't responding. 

So, after dithering a lot, I made an appointment with the vet, and come time I got him into the car for that last ride. 

When we got to the vet he perked up, got curious about the cats -- he likes cats, having grown up with one as a big sister -- and in general was a live and curious Husky, not his old self but clearly aware and pretty content. 

So home we came, and took a walk, and he's looking around for it to get cool enough for another walk. Needless to say I didn't get much work done including on this page. And I need to do some fiction. Not sure how much more of this emotional seesaw I can take, but that dog certainly wasn't ready to go. So he's back on vitamins and aspirin, and still determined to see that these humans get their exercise, which is his job in life. Still wobbly, and having trouble keeping the back legs in synch when walking, but responsive, and clearly no longer miserable. So I guess when he whines I'll give him an aspirin and take him for a walk. Won't hurt me much even if I have to get dressed at 5 in the morning: it's cool then anyway.

And that's the way it is at Chaos Manor.

Lucifer's Hammer continues on course. As of now I do not intend to be on the side of the planet that it may hit (assuming it's still on course and I'm still around). And the odds keep changing...

I know how to deal with the Hammer. It is apparently of some interest to the high tech community: the site where the beast's orbit could be seen was taken down due to too much traffic.

I'll have some in the column. I know precisely how we can deal with that thing and make a little money in the bargain. After all, the Council I chaired considered all this many years ago...

There will be more on this.



While walking last night we came across our neighbors, Will and Liz. Liz Pulliam (I see she's now using the name Liz Pulliam Weston; Will Weston is an artist and art teacher at, among other prestigious places, the Pasadena Art Institute) writes the best financial advice column I know of; she used to be full time with the LA Times, now she has a column there and also does two columns a week for MSN. A search through MSN on 'Liz Pulliam' will find both her older LA times columns and the new MSN columns. If you're looking for practical financial advice and good sense, I recommend her stuff.

And Roland has a whole bunch of warnings about vulnerabilities:

SQL Server patches:

And an exchange servier buffer overflow warning:

and finally

Microsoft encourages customers to review the Security Bulletin at: .

And then there are Poison Ivy Covered Halls... Thanks to Sue Ferrara: 

Published Thursday, July 25, 2002 Princeton officials broke into Yale online admissions decisions Yale to inform law enforcement officials of alleged network, privacy breach BY ELISE JORDAN AND ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER Staff Reporters

Princeton admissions officers gained repeated, unauthorized access to the admissions decisions of 11 Yale applicants in early April by exploiting Yale's new online admission notification system, Yale and Princeton officials said Wednesday.

A security report drafted by Yale's Information Technology Services showed that Princeton officials viewed Yale admissions decisions -- in several cases before applicants learned whether they had been accepted -- by inputting the applicants' birth dates and social security numbers to bypass Yale's security measures.

Regarding the economy, Frank Catalano wonders: "is this the new normal?" As opposed to "When will things get back to normal?" We have former CEO's driving busses now.

We have the technology but the bubble expanded far too fast to sustain the Long Boom. I don't think it was the Long Boom that did us in: it was the frenzy, with companies being valued at a high multiple of expected revenue (this company had never had any earnings or even revenue); it was the notion that "flat earnings" were deadly even if they were high; that unless you were growing you were doomed.

Bubbles are like that. But a real boom isn't a bubble. We'll see. But we laughed when Japan lost half its capital value... Next time maybe we'll pay attention when we see a company with a comfortable market share and decent profits sustained year after year.

In answer to an inquiry about where to get legal ebooks: 

And of course, my own company, Wildside Press, has ebooks -- the most expensive of which is $6.99:  (60 ebooks up and more coming.)

John Betancourt

and from Vonda McIntyre:

The fiction section includes a list, both of ebook publishers and online magazines. As far as I'm aware, the names on the lists treat writers fairly. 

I only just took over the section so *the list is not complete* -- and I would be glad of more information to add to it.


And on Global Warming, Roland has found an article by my very respectable friend Sallie..



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Friday, July 26, 2002

I have things to do this morning, but tonight and over the weekend I will start a new page for what to do about Lucifer's Hammer. It's pretty clear we ought to do something: if this one doesn't have our address, something else does.

"Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the universe," we were told. Now we can. Is this the "Or Else?" that goes with that command?

Keep that in mind as you read the next section.

The Middle East: Israel shows why the Israelis were right to consider Salah Shehada as a legitimate military target. It doesn't show why it was all right to consider anyone within 100 yards of him a target. Put it this way: suppose the Palestinians decided to target a settlement leader as a legitimate enemy target (and yes, I know, the Palestinians consider anyone in a settlement a legitimate enemy target; leave that for the moment) and decide to kill him by killing everyone in the settlement, men, women, and children. Would the Israelis, or anyone else, say, well, it was unfortunate but there it is?

Perhaps so. Collateral damage, or civilian casualties, are inevitable in war, and God knows the United States, from having been the champions of the Laws of War in the 19th Century was the instrument of their total overthrow in the  20th. There was universal condemnation of the bombing of Nanking and Rotterdam and other cities as WW II began; by its end we would glory in the fire raids that destroyed much of Tokyo. Is dropping incendiary bombs into a residential neighborhood a more legitimate act of war than firing a missile at an apartment containing an enemy leader -- or blowing up a settlement with everyone in it?

To our credit, when we decided -- wrongly in my view -- to intervene in Somalia by trying to apprehend General Adid, we didn't carpet bomb the city. We sent in heroes. Black Hawk down! And went in with more to get them out. Perhaps there would have been fewer casualties -- certainly fewer American casualties, but possibly fewer Somali as well -- if we'd just hosed down the area Adid was in with machine guns and rockets; would that have been preferable?

War is a dirty business. Sherman said war is hell, and meant it, and intended to see that everyone in the South accepted that fact. End the war by any means necessary: if that requires the bombing of Nanking, or Rotterdam, or Coventry, or Berlin, or Tokyo, or Dresden, then so be it; and the long tradition of International Law and the Laws of War begun by Hugo Grotius after the horrors of the Thirty Years War was a mistake best ended quickly. That was Sherman's view, and it was the view of Roosevelt and Churchill. It is the view of the Palestinian leadership. And apparently the view of the Israeli leadership as well.

The logic is this: best end it quickly. Following the Laws of War only prolongs the war, leaves people with the illusion that they can fight on, that the peasants in the field and the burgers in the towns can be safe while war rages on, and this is no longer true. End it. Hiroshima saved lives: Japanese as well as American. And of course that is true.

But it is true only if we accept the "Unconditional Surrender" war aims as legitimate; the Japanese would have negotiated peace long before 1945. They would have accepted the loss of all their overseas conquests,  and heavy war reparations in the bargain, and even the occupation of some of their homeland (so long as that didn't include threats to the person of the Emperor) by mid-1944. With Germany the situation was similar: had the Allies broadcast peace terms that didn't include the dismemberment and occupation of Germany, Hitler wouldn't have lasted long after Stalingrad. 

But without unconditional surrender and occupation, Macarthur in Japan and Lucius Clay in Germany would not have become American proconsuls charged with rebuilding those countries into liberal democracies and thus helping bring about the end of history...

My point is this: the Laws of War can endure if defeat is endurable; if the war aims of the victors do not include the total destruction of the enemy. If one side's war aim is extermination and enslavement of the other, as was usually the case in classical warfare, then there are no Laws of War, and the only military courtesies to be extended to a defeated enemy are to his mercenary officers and those of his troops who might join your army. All else is booty including women and children.

In the Middle East the war aims of the Palestinians do appear to be the extermination of Israel as a state, and if you listen to some of the Palestinian spokespeople, the physical extermination of the Israelis. The Israeli war aims, as expressed in the long and ultimately futile Peace Process, were some kind of negotiated stable arrangement. Unfortunately, during that peace process the Israelis sent mixed signals: the Settlements, which weren't just strategic border incursions, but were islands of hostility all through the occupied territories: and whose existence was not apparently on the negotiating table. And so long as those exist and expand, the Palestinians may legitimately believe that the Israeli war aims are unlimited.

If each side believes the other to have unlimited war aims and the ultimate goal of extermination, enslavement, or expulsion of the other from the area, then defeat is not acceptable, and the Laws of War do not apply.

So: the question becomes, what are the legitimate goals of the United States in this matter? And do they change if we are a Republic vs. an Empire?


And Lucifer's Hammer approaches, possibly making all this extremely moot.

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 Sasha won't be walking on the hill any more. 

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Or with us next Christmas. Sixteen years is a long time for a large sled dog to live. I had to carry him to the car, but he walked into the clinic. He could barely stand, but he had his dignity.

 Farewell, good and faithful servant.





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Over in the SFWA conference I mentioned that the Hammer is coming. I got the resp0nse that

> 2002 NT7 has about a 1 in 250,000 chance of impact as of the last time I
> looked at the JPL asteroid risks page last night. See
> As usual, the more sensational press is going nuts about the end of the
> world. All the hooplah is based on 15 days of observations. The asteroid
> will remain in view for some 300 days.
> The real threat to a comfortable retirement these days is the stock
> market.

Which caused me to write this, and I thought it worth repeating here:

1 in 250,000 is pretty thin odds: that is, the expected value (given 4 billion people on earth) is 16,000 dead. If we assume that if 16,000 people were trapped in a mine we would spend at least $1,000,000 on each one of them, (easily what is being spent on the 9 miners in Pennsylvania) that is $16 billion we would spend to prevent a disaster of this magnitude.

In fact we are spending a great deal more to avenge 911, but of course those were New Yorkers and much higher value (for insurance calculations) people than 16,000 random people of Earth.

Or, 1/250000 times 4 trillion dollars loss (surely it is that high) by no great coincidence comes out at $16 billion dollars. Since the expenditure of that $16 billion is not itself a negative thing -- surely we would get SOME return on the investment to build space infrastrucure -- it seems that there is a positive return from spending the money to prevent the disaster even if it turns out it would not have happened.

As with any Bayesian analysis we can also calculate the value of finding out more and narrowing the uncertainties: that is

Preventing the disaster will in fact cost more than $16 billion. Depending on the amount it would cost -- probably more like $160 billion -- we can calculate how much we should spend to find out what the odds really are. Since the most economical path to discovering the true odds would be to spend the money on things that would also be useful in preventing the disaster if it turns out to be more probable than we thought, it's pretty clear what we should do:

fund projects that reduce the cost of access to space.

Which will also aid in the Strategic Defense of the United States. I've already pointed out that the first step to that would be a couple of $2 billion X projects, one Air Force and the other Navy, to develop single-stage to supersonic pure rocket ships with at least 12 (I prefer 16) engines. These should be ships, not ammunition. Reusable with short turnaround times. Vertical takeoff and landing, recoverable, savable, reusable, operations driven: the goal is multiple flights on the same day, with routine operations.

In other words, here is the work statement for the contract:

  1.  Massively Multiple rocket engines
    1. Massive means at least 12; rockets rather than jets
    2. We don't specify the fuel.
    3. Strongly suggest that the fuel not be hydrogen because of operational considerations.
  2. Savable
    1. Able to survive an engine out at takeoff
  3. Routinely reusable with short turn around times
    1. Fly twice in a day and 6 times in a week and do that more than once
  4. Higher and Faster
    1. Performance is secondary to the other three points.
    2. Supersonic flight is the minimum goal. Anything better than that is good.

Given those goals, build the best flying hardware you can build for $2 billion in 3 years.

Once we can do that, we can develop one or two stage to orbit savable reusable ships. And from that we can discover the true odds -- space observations are a lot easier to do than atmospheric -- and develop means to shunt this thing away from us if it is in fact aimed at us. Or even maneuver it into Earth orbit to exploit it.

I have begun a NEW REPORTS PAGE consolidating discussions on The Hammer, where I will add more on WHAT TO DO.

And my thanks to everyone who sent expressions of sympathy regarding Sasha.


And, it turns out, the Hammer gets more than one shot. Have a nice century.

There's a letter on migration of autocorrect in Word.

And as if there's not enough to worry us:

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Not sure what to make of this; WTOP is a level-headed (though left-leaning) news outfit, highly respected. 

Waldorf, MD, is near both Andrews AFB and Pautuxent River NAS.

Interesting that witnesses described the object as being blue or orange. Those colors are pretty far apart. Could colorblindness account for that?

Gordon Runkle

-- "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." -- Theodore Roosevelt

Roland asks why these USAF officials sound like a bad episode of the X Files:


And I don't even want to think about that. 

Martin Amis, son of Kingsley Amis, has written a book about intellectuals and the Left. It is a terribly important book.

Koba was a pet name for Stalin. "The Dread" is another translation of "The Terrible", a title given to an earlier Russian Autocrat named Ivan.

Warning: there is some strong language in this book, and in one of the paragraphs I include here. Also, Robert Conquest and I are old friends and we have been reading each others books for a long time, and Conquest was also a friend of Possony's.


First chapter of 'Koba the Dread' 

'Koba the Dread'


Here is the second sentence of Robert Conquest's The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine:

We may perhaps put this in perspective in the present case by saying that in the actions here recorded about twenty human lives were lost for, not every word, but every letter, in this book.

That sentence represents 3,040 lives. The book is 411 pages long.

"Horse manure was eaten, partly because it often contained whole grains of wheat" (1,340 lives). "Oleska Voytrykhovsky saved his and his family's ... lives by consuming the meat of horses which had died in the collective of glanders and other diseases" (2,480 lives). Conquest quotes Vasily Grossman's essayistic-documentary novel Forever Flowing: "And the children's faces were aged, tormented, just as if they were seventy years old. And by spring they no longer had faces. Instead, they had birdlike heads with beaks, or frog heads thin, wide lips and some of them resembled fish, mouths open" (3,880 lives).


I didn't read The Great Terror in 1968 (I would have been more likely, at that time, to have read Conquest's poetry). But I spent an hour with it, and never forgot the cold elegance of the following remark about "sources": "1. Contemporary official accounts require little comment. They are, of course, false as to essentials, but they are still most informative. (It is untrue that Mdivani was a British spy, but it is true that he was executed.)" I have recently read the book twice, in the first edition (which I must have successfully stolen from my father), and in its revised, post-glasnost form, The Great Terror: A Reassessment. When asked to suggest a new title for the revised work, Conquest told his publisher, "How about I Told You So, You Fucking Fools?" Because the book, itself revolutionary at the time of its appearance, has since been massively vindicated. In the mid-1960s I joined in hundreds of conversations like the following (the interlocutors here are my father and A. J. Ayer):

"In the USSR, at least they're trying to forge something positive."

"But it doesn't matter what they're trying to forge, because they've already killed five million people."

"You keep going back to the five million."

"If you're tired of that five million, then I'm sure I can find you another five million."

And one can, now. One can find another 5 million, and another, and another.

Alongside all this there was, in England then, a far hotter debate: the one about Vietnam. A certain urbanity was maintained in arguments about the USSR. It was in arguments about Vietnam that people yelled, wept, fought, stalked out. I watched my father forfeit two valuable friendships over Vietnam (those of A. Alvarez and Karl Miller). For he, and most but not all of the frequenters of the fascist lunch, broadly backed American policy. And this was, of course, the position of a minuscule and much-disliked minority. In my first term at Oxford (autumn, 1968) I attended a demonstration against the resuppression of Czechoslovakia. Some sixty or seventy souls were present. We heard speeches. The mood was sorrowful, decent. Compare this to the wildly peergroup-competitive but definitely unfakable emotings and self-lacerations of the crowds outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, where they gathered in their tens of thousands.

In 1968 the world seemed to go further left than it had ever gone before and would ever go again. But this left was the New Left: it represented, or turned out to represent, revolution as play. The "redeemer" class was no longer to be found in the mines and factories; it was to be found in the university libraries and lecture halls. There were demonstrations, riots, torchings, street battles in England, Germany, Italy, Japan and the USA. And remember the Paris of 1968: barricades, street theater, youth-worship ("The young make love; the old make obscene gestures"), the resurgence of Marcuse (the wintry dialectician), and Sartre standing on street corners handing out Maoist pamphlets .... The death throes of the New Left took the form of vanguard terrorism (the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Weathermen). And its afterlife is anarchistic, opposing itself to the latest mutation of capital: after imperialism, after fascism, it now faces globalization. We may note here that militant Islam cannot be made to fit into this "model" or into any other.


The Left never intends to express any regret for hanging on to Stalinism long after the record was clear. Sometimes the rest of the world needs reminding of just how shameless our "intellectuals" were and are.


Above is an estimate of the energy in Lucifer.  6.6 x 10^5 Megatons of HE (this was done in Mathcad)

No small amount...




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Sunday, July 28, 2002

Took a long walk to the Rain Forest in the hills today. The last time I went Sasha was able to come along, about a year ago. It was pretty tiring for both of us, and he never went there again. Pretty place, less accessible than 30 years ago when I first started going through there. That was with Rascal, and later Klondike, and finally Sasha. Good dog country, almost no one there. There is a bit of poison oak to worry about.

I continue to copy stuff about the coming Hammer to its own page.






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