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Monday, October 15, 2007


CalTrans got the I-5 open again a day earlier than they thought they could. There are still some good engineers in that bureaucracy, and this should remind us that bureaucracies are not evil; it's just that they will always end up under the control of those more dedicated to the bureaucracy than to its goals. Case in point, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and particularly the water department. It does its job and does it well. It has also managed to get 20 to 50% higher wages for its employees than other civil servants manage for exactly the same qualifications and job descriptions.

None of this should be astonishing. As Possony and I pointed out a long time ago, government often does good, and the usual way it does so is to set up a bureaucracy. My favorite example is rabies shots for dogs. Rabies is endemic in the hills above our house, but there have been essentially no cases of human rabies in Los Angeles since the 1930's. This is because we require proof of rabies shots as a condition for getting a dog license -- and the animal control bureaucracy is zealous in detecting unlicensed dogs. Now you and I are not likely to be obsessed with snooping on the neighbors to detect an unlicensed dog, but we are very glad that someone does that. The bureaucracy attracts the kind of people who do take that job seriously. Everyone profits and the public weal is served. I could multiply these examples.

Government can do two things: send armed men to intervene in your life, and set up  bureaucracies. When we want government to do something, we should keep that in mind. If the problem can't be solved by force or through a bureaucracy, then perhaps it ought not be entrusted to government.


The shoe dropped. Another 22 pages of notes on INFERNO II from our editor; this is likely to take some time. The opening paragraph makes it clear he likes the book and that it is promotable. Meanwhile, I have had a Catholic intellectual priest (formerly an editor/publisher of Catholic publications) and he likes it enough that we can probably get a cover quote.

Which means we need to take these comments seriously, and we will.


I don't actually follow the commentaries over on Boing Boing, but I am hardly astonished that I am being castigated for printing Ursula LeGuin's letter regarding Doctorow. I am not sure why that should be. As I said at the time I thought the whole incident rather small, but it does show some attitudes. To the best I can tell, Mrs. LeGuin attempted to resolve the matter with polite communications and got no response, so she went to the SFWA anti-piracy committee chairman, who was Andrew Burt; but when she did she found that the Committee had been disbanded and SFWA was neither willing nor able to do anything for her.

I make no apologies for printing her letter. Why should I? Although I am not quite certain why Theresa Nielson Hayden, Tor Editor, would make the comments she makes, but she seems quite certain that her position is correct.  All a rather sad waste of time, I would think. But I would have thought that publishers and their representatives would be on the side of the authors in copyright matters. As near as I can make sense of Hayden's remarks, she seems to be taking the side of Scribd; but perhaps I am mistaken?

I would also not want in the catfight about Ursula's age, nor do I see why Hayden thought that worth commenting on. Since they have refused to answer the question of whether comments made by the moderator are covered by Creative Commons, I refrain from quoting the comments in question.


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Tuesday, October 16, 2007   

I've been thinking about what we have to do to Inferno II. It's necessary but it's also hard work. Perhaps 100 pages, which is 25,000 words more or less. It will take about a month. That means some slowdown in the pace of the nonfiction, which probably means some slowdown in subscriptions, which probably means I'll have to get back to work on journalism. A vicious spiral: we really thought the book was done.

Bob Gleason's comments are relevant and the improvement will be obvious; but it sure isn't going to be easy.

I will do this: we have posted a part of Inferno II in the subscriber area. I'll leave that, and add the same chapters from the second draft submitted in September; and when we get it done, we'll put in the absolute final as well. I would suppose that all the subscribers are going to buy the book anyway, and at least some will appreciate seeing the editing process in action.

I already have a part of Mamelukes in the subscriber area. While we were waiting for Bob Gleason's notes on Inferno II I thought about where that story is going. This is going to require some rewrite of the opening of the story; I'll do the same with that material, leave the old up and put up the new as well.

I will continue the computer columns, and in particular the computer letters column: I am willing to defend the proposition that Chaos Manor Mail is the best letters column on the web, and Chaos Reviews Mail is the best computer-specific letters column; I know readers are getting their money's worth and more, and I believe that subscribers do as well. I won't defend the proposition that my Reviews column is as good as it was in the old BYTE days, but in those days it was a much greater source of income so I could afford the time. Still, it's pretty good. Or I like to think so.

And I am keeping this place up.

And now to go back to Hell.






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Wednesday,  October 17, 2007

  New Contest: Who Do You Want to See in Hell?

 One of the changes our editors suggest is to do what Dante did: show notorious sinners being roasted or otherwise inconvenienced in Hell. Dante put in some of his personal enemies as well. We have been reasonably careful not to do that, and I don't think I will do it now; there is a serious purpose to both volume I of Inferno and this one, and satisfaction of fantasies about paybacks doesn't serve that purpose. (For our serious purpose, see C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, and think about questions he did not answer.)

Still, our editor thinks readers want to see punishments meted out to the great sinners of our time. Hitler and Stalin come to mind. Roberta suggests Idi Amin Dada, The Last King of Scotland, and I like the notion but I haven't thought of a punishment that uniquely fits the crime; I probably will, but suggestions are welcome. We already have Reinhardt Heydrich and some others of his time (from both sides of that war). You won't find them early on, of course; such people belong in very deep Hell, in the final circles after the great cliff, and we don't get there until the final half of the book.

The contest is this: Who do you want to see in Hell? If you have a notion of where they should be, and what ought to be happening to them, that would be useful as well. The more information supplied the better.

All entries become the property of Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, none will be returned, and acknowledgement is at our discretion. The winning entries will receive signed copies of Inferno II and mention in the acknowledgements section of the book. The number of winners may be as small as zero; we anticipate ten or fewer. Winners will also receive a free one year subscription to this web site and public acknowledgement at any convention or book signing that Niven and I attend, where we will be glad to add new personalization to the book received as a prize.

Entries should contain the words Inferno Contest in the subject line. By entering this  contest, entrants grant Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven the right to use their ideas, concepts, and words in any of our published works without further compensation. In other words, you're giving us what you send.

I am sorry to have to be so formal, but this is a litigious world. What all that means is, here's a chance to roast your favorite villain and come up with ideas on how to do that, and if we like your idea we'll use it, but we aren't going to pay you for it. If we like it enough we'll send you a signed book and mention you in dispatches. Keep in mind that our conception of the purpose of Hell may not be yours, but don't let that stop you from being ingenious. You may suggest people living or dead, but do understand that libel laws prevent us from being too openly disdainful of people still alive (although we do contemplate a scene in which some of the demons are preparing a welcoming party).

We're particularly interested in people who belong in the upper circles or perhaps the administrative centers.



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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Insomnia, but I better get to bed. The response to our Hell contest is remarkable. I'm keeping up with the flood, but I am glad I made it clear I am not going to acknowledge entries. I do thank all those who responded.

James Watson has committed PC suicide by saying that evolution not only doesn't guarantee that isolated groups will evolve equal intelligence, but predicts they probably will be different. Intelligence is inherited, and the races of mankind evolved in isolation, and QED. This has triggered a positive flood of condemnations for Watson, and we expect a public lynching at any moment. (I was present when the Stanford genetics department students disrupted a AAAS meeting in San Francisco, chanting "Herrnstein, Hook, and Page! Let's put them in a cage!" and thus prevented any rational scientific discussion on intelligence and inheritance.

Watson, a good political liberal and Nobel prize winner, must have known what would follow his pronouncements. I'll have considerably more on this, but it's not an issue that invites rational discussion. But then there's precious little rational debate in these United States. That's the nature of democracy as a form of government. Equality soon trumps liberty and everything else.

And see below


Niven and I had a good walk today, and now it's time to spend a lot of time in Hell.

I'll be on TWIT this week, recorded next Sunday afternoon.


It's Noon and I have to get upstairs and Go to Hell. Meanwhile the world goes on with its usual silliness.

I see that a number of Democrats have withdrawn as co-sponsors of the Armenian Genocide Bill, but Pelosi is still committed to bring the bill to the floor of the House for a vote. It's not going to pass: even if it gets through the House, it will die in the Senate. The result is that two passionate groups, Armenians and Turks, will both be unhappy over the United States with regard to a matter that happened so long ago that almost no one living was alive at the time, and not one single person responsible for whatever happened lives to tell the tale.

My understanding is that there were a number of horrors at the time, largely because large numbers of people were displaced without preparation. Certainly there were people who wished every Armenian dead. There were others, particularly in the villages, faced with allocation of resources in a time of near famine. There were Muslim fundamentalists who detested the mostly Christian Armenians. There was an Armenian revolt against the Ottoman Empire. There were Armenian soldiers in both the Turkish and Russian armies, but the Russians with Armenian units conquered portions of eastern Turkey. There was something like a civil war in much of Anatolia. Turks accuse both Armenian Regulars and Armenian guerrillas of atrocities.

The Turks claim that Armenians had been valued citizens of the Empire until the revolt (although the previous Sultan, deposed by the Young Turks and the III Army Corps of the Turkish Army, had been known as Abdul Hamid the Damned largely because of his slaughter of Armenians in the 1890's). The Armenian Knights of Vartan consider the Young Turks as the instigators of the events of 1915. The Young Turks included Mustapha Kemal, but later fragmented into factions.

The point being that there are thousands of stories, and everyone with any authority at the time is long dead. It happened in an Empire long ago in a country far away, and the notion that the United States Congress can sort out just who did what to whom, and what the motives were, is absurd. The Brits tried over 100 Turkish officials for what amounted to crimes against humanity in an early version of the Nuremberg trials (these took place in Malta, then a British dependency taken from the Knights of Malta who had defended Malta against the Turks and held Malta in Sovereignty from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, who --- but you get the idea). The British trials resulted in nothing; the officials, who had been held for about five years in lockups in Malta, were released. Meanwhile, a British battleship took the last Sultan to Malta after he had been deposed by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk, the Turkish hero of Gallipoli (his forces stopped the ANZAC invasion), argued that the Sultanate ceased to exist when the Sultan had been unable to prevent the occupation of Constantinople by French and British forces after World War I (the occupation lasted from 1918 to 1923). Kemal later ended the Caliphate as well.

If all this is giving you a headache, understand that it's a very quick gloss over a very complicated matter, and I doubt that one Congresscritter in fifty knows even this much about Turkish history from 1890 to 1925, or anything at all about the conditions in Turkey in 1915. Incidentally, the Armenian community used to consider the Kurds as at least equally guilty with the Turks, although that seems to be changing now under the "enemy of my enemy" theory.

The Armenian community, particularly those in America, believe that some good will come from formally labeling this genocide. The Turkish government, which considers Kurdish Iraq as a base for Kurdish rebels operating against the Turkish border, hates the idea. The US, which protects the independence of Kurdish Iraq and rejoices that at least this portion of Iraq is not subject to insurgency is in the middle of all this.

George Washington warned us not to become involved in the territorial disputes of Europe. Now we are involved in the ideological disputes of the Middle East. Will it ever end?


 A definitive Paper.

Art Robinson on Global Warming 


 Check out http://www.jpands.org/vol12no3/robinson600.pdf

 Robinson inherited Access to Energy from Petr Beckmann. He was formerly associated with Linus Pauling. The article presents a great deal of data, with many charts. It will tell you more than you thought you needed to know about the subject. I recommend that everyone, whatever your position on the subject, read this carefully.


La Affaire DeGeneres

This goes under the heading of  "Whatever were they thinking?"

Over the years, Ellen DeGeneres -- a good Norman name, by the way -- has made both enemies and friends, but far more of the latter than the former. She gives the impression of being basically decent and mannerly, able to take criticism without exploding, and even those who don't watch her show -- I never have -- got a favorable impression from the series of TV advertisements starring a number of animals working in her office. I forget what she was advertising, but I remember both her and the ads.

Ellen, or her domestic partner, or both, wanted a dog, but they have cats. They adopted one dog from a private agency, but it didn't get along with the cats, and before they got too attached to it they returned it to the agency, exchanging it for another. That dog didn't get along with the cats either, but Ellen's hairdresser liked the dog a lot, and when Ellen sent it to her hairdresser's home the entire family including both teen aged children fell in love with it. Now so far we have a typical story with a happy ending, and we'd have expected to see it some time as a promotion of Ellen, or the private dog adoption agency, or the hairdresser, or all of the above. We'd have all smiled a bit, even as we suspected it of being a quite enjoyable and forgivable Hollywood publicity stunt.

Then it all changed. The pet adoption agency, a non profit whose purpose in theory at least is to get as many pets as possible out of the hands of the dog pound and out to loving families, has a contract stating that those who adopt dogs can't give them away without permission of the agency, which wants to check out the suitability of the new home. This makes sense. You certainly don't want a Yorkie given to the manager of a Pit Bull training facility to be sacrificed as part of a ferocity training exercise (and yes, such things do happen). You don't want a dog going into the home of three toddlers supervised by a drunken aunt while everyone in the house either works or pursues nefarious activities. And so forth. As a means of preventing incipient tragedy the contract makes sense.

The adoption agency, discovering -- somehow, and one wonders just how -- that Ellen had given Iggy to her hairdresser went out to the hairdresser's house and in front of two crying children took possession of the dog; whereupon a tearful Ellen went on national television to regret the incident with tears, and to denounce the pet adoption agency, Mutts and Moms, by name. Whereupon the pet adoption agency lost many of its donors, received a flood of denunciations, and, it is claimed, received many death threats as well.

None of which should have been astonishing, leaving one to wonder, whatever were they thinking? The obvious thing for them to have done would be to take a quick look at the hairdresser's family -- they did have an agent out there to claim the dog -- see that this is a neat middle class home with kids who like the dog, and confer their blessing while asking the new owners to sign the non-transfer contract just in case. I mean, if your goal is successful placement of a puppy, you would not instantly assume that a well publicized transfer to the hairdresser of a well known and popular entertainer was a Bad Thing. Indeed, one might see some positive publicity possibilities here. How is it rational to rip a puppy from the arms of children in a household employed by Ellen DeGeneres? They must have expected something to happen.

All of which makes me wonder if this isn't some kind of Hollywood stunt gone bad. I have lived in this town for forty years, and this wouldn't be the first time someone conceived of a PR stunt that exploded. On the other hand, I have trouble believing that DeGeneres would subject her hairdresser's teen aged kids to this kind of emotional stress. She just doesn't seem to me to be that kind of person.

Which leaves one wondering whether the owners of Mutts and Moms, the pet adoption agency, have enough sense to conduct any business requiring contact with the general public. If DeGeneres's hairdresser isn't suitable to adopt one of their pets, just who is likely to be good enough?

The guy I really wouldn't have wanted to be was the Pasadena cop who went with the Mutts and Moms people to go rip the dog away from a pair of teen aged girls.

Never a dull moment when you live in LA LA land.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

 Joey Bishop, RIP

A very long time ago when I was promoting The Mote in God's Eye, Joey Bishop was no longer on the big Las Vegas show circuit, but he did have a TV chat show in New York City. It was, I think, usually taped, but something went wrong with the tape they had scheduled for the day, and I was asked if I could go on live. That was no problem for me.

When it came time to talk about The Mote in God's Eye, every time Joey brought it up I changed the subject and talked about NASA or the space program. Came the break, and Joey asked why I was doing that. I said, "Joey, it's a science fiction novel." He had apparently thought it was a theological treatise and had no idea why it and I were on his show, but he'd been making a valiant attempt to make it interesting by asking me about it. Now he had a chance to read the blurb, and the rest of the show went very well, and Mote got a ringing recommendation without his actually having to lie about having read it. I think he said something like "I haven't finished the book but if the rest is as interesting as you are, it'll be great."

 I never talk about writing to writing classes; I do talk about the business of writing. As I often tell writing classes, the moral of this story is that when you're promoting a book on TV, the first rule is, thou shalt not embarrass thy host, even if given a perfect opportunity to show the host up. The result in this case was not only an endorsement of the book to a large New York audience, but also a recommendation from the show producer that got me on a couple of other shows.

Joey Bishop was the writer for the Rat Pack and much of that show's success in Las Vegas was due to his talent. I don't know a lot about that, but he was a decent man who had the talent to make fun of people without doing harm, and I will not forget his kindness to a beginning author. RIP.


SFWA has still taken no position on resuming its activities to protect members and estates from electronic piracy. There is little open debate on the issue, but nothing happens. It has been well over a month since SFWA disbanded its e-piracy committee and ceased its activities in support of publishing members.

Protecting electronic rights is an onerous task if it must be undertaken by individual authors and worse for widows and orphans.

My own views as expressed in a short piece I wrote for the SFWA discussion group follows. I state it because I have seen little discussion of this from the relevant SFWA officials.

As I have said before:

As of now, e-piracy probably does no harm to royalty-producing sales, and
free e-books, whether legitimate or pirated, probably do have a positive
effect on royalty-producing sales.  Eric Flint has addressed this issue many
times, and I have never seen data to refute his conclusions. In my own case
it is highly likely that free e-books have increased the sales of Fallen
, and I certainly have email from readers telling me they first
encountered one of my books in a pirated edition and that stimulated them to
go buy a paper copy from Amazon.

In my judgment, these are not the Big Questions.

The Big Questions have to do with the future of publishing, not the present.

At present, the number of people who read books in general and science
fiction novels in particular do not read them on screens; they read them as
hard bound and paperback books.

At present, the publishing industry makes far more profits from hard bound
than from paperback books, even though paperback sales remain fairly high.
This has to do with distribution costs, and you can get the details
elsewhere. The point is that publishers have less incentive to promote
paperback book sales. I can recall when paperback editions got considerable
advertising including radio ads; they seldom get any notice at all now.

All this makes me believe that the future will be: decreased sales of
paperback books. People will read what they now read in paperback on
screens. In particular, on the next (or so) iteration of the iPhone: a
screen device connected by Bluetooth to an earpiece or headset that will
serve as one's telephone, GPS unit, Yellow Pages and White Pages, calendar,
address book, Personal Data Manager, and so forth -- and will also hold
hundreds of e-books. It will not take much change in technology to make it
as pleasant and easy to read books on a screen you are already carrying
(because it's your phone, etc.). At  that point you will not want to carry a
paperback book in addition to a device that you could read the book on -- 
indeed a device you can put that book and a hundred others on. When that
happens, paperback book sales will decline, royalties from paperbacks will
decline, author revenue from paperbacks will decline.

When people read books on screen they are reading e-books; and the question
is, did those produce royalties for authors?

And that will depend on whether, when one goes looking to acquire a book by
a favorite (or recommended) author, the search engine returns as a first
choice a legitimate web site where you can purchase the book for a
reasonable price with a portion (or all) of the money going to the author,
or a pirate web site where you can download the book for free (and which may
or may not have a symbolic tip jar which may or may not actually send money
to the author).

There will come a time -- and it may not be far off -- when more books are
read on screens than on dead trees, and paperback book sales will take a
precipitous decline. Since a lot of author revenue comes from paperback
advances (and sometime royalties when the book earns out, and sometimes new
advances from new editions many years later, science fiction having a longer
reader life than most modern fiction) -- since a lot of our revenue comes
from paperback sales, if paperback sales fall and ebook sales rise, we must
be sure the ebook sales produce royalties -- that the ebook readership isn't
of free pirated copies.

And that is what is at stake in defense against electronic piracy.  Scribd
had several million dollars in capital. Their business plan depends on a
great deal of web traffic. They can afford to pay for high placement on
search engines. The entire oeuvre of Jack Chalker and some other estates
were available for free on scribd. Much of Poul Anderson's work was
available there. While their widows may be able to protect their rights, it
is not an easy thing; as it is neither easy nor convenient for living

It is my position that individual authors ought not have to do the work
themselves; that an author association ought to do it for them. I will
further contend that if SFWA does not do this for its members, its
publishing members will seek some other entity to do that for them, and as
paperback sales decline and ebook readership grows, this will become the
single most important service that entity does for publishing authors.
Which is to say that if SFWA bows out (which it has in effect done already)
and leaves intellectual property rights protection to individual authors, it
may remain highly relevant to many members, but it will be increasingly
irrelevant to publishing authors.


 Watson is busy eating crow.


We are hardly astonished. And see mail.


My thanks to all who have recently subscribed and renewed.

And I have procrastinated long enough. It's off to Hell.

But first:

Bund der Frontsoldaten.


---- Roland Dobbins

Read this and contemplate the implications. I haven't time for the discussion now. Roland's subject title is insightful.


Now hear this:










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Saturday,  October 20, 2007

The attacks on Watson continue.

The issue is important: we will never get our school system right if we do not recognize that No Child Left Behind is either impossible, or possible only by so badly lowering standards and neglecting the smarter kids as to make sustaining a First World economy impossible.

That's where we are.

Clearly our intellectual leaders do not agree:


 Comment by Eric Cooper, president, Nat'l Urban Alliance for Effective Ed. Confronting the racism of James Watson: beliefs and nooses - 19 hours ago

Nobel Laureate James Watson, in his comments about the intellectually differences, or natural inequality between blacks and whites, sadly reinforces a perception that neither equalization of opportunity, nor a freer society can circumvent the innate cognitive limitations of black Africans and black Americans. I and many others stand in disagreement with Watson's limited understanding of human potential. I do recognize that of course people differ, as do their lives. Some seem to have a talent or gift that does not emerge in others; some show an ambitious drive and others are distracted; some learn rapidly and others over a longer period of time. But virtually all people can succeed in learning with the proper teaching, belief in their ability to learn, and sustained attention gained by sufficient preschool, elementary, secondary and higher education`. Dr. Watson fails to recognize the large body of research that refutes innate intellectual differences among the races. Clearly this research suggests that nurturance trumps nature in academic achievement. Intelligence is an expanding opportunity for all, not an unchangeable destiny. If truth be told, not only is biology not destiny, but poverty is also not destiny. Intelligence can always be modified by good teaching and learning.

Emphasis added. No references were given, and I haven't actually seen this large body of research.

Meanwhile, Fred has come out of voluntary exile to say a few words:


Fred is often worth reading. He certainly is this time.

Actually, scientific research may change nothing anyway. I have a comment from one correspondent:

This reminds me a little of a few years back, when I came across a bunch of Nexis-Lexis articles describing a massive and newly released federal government study conclusively proving that bilingual education didn't work. Michael Barone among others wrote a powerful column saying that since the issue was now settled, he was sure that bilingual ed would be gone within another year or two.

All of this was from 1979. Bilingual ed expanded something like twenty-fold over the next twenty years...

And the beat goes on.









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Sunday,  October 21, 2007

I will be on TWIT http://www.twit.tv/

this afternoon, and I'm doing both mailbag and column for Chaos Manor Reviews.









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This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending.  (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If  you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.

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