Uncertain future of fusion, and remarks on the DSM

View 772 Sunday, April 28, 2013


Last night’s mail had a reference to a fusion project. Today we have

ITER and fusion

Hello Jerry,

I too saw this linked on Drudge: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/one-giant-leap-for-mankind-13bn-iter-project-makes-breakthrough-in-quest-for-nuclear-fusion-a-solution-to-climate-change-and-an-age-of-clean-unlimited-energy-8590480.html

and after reading the article concluded that it was Solyndra cubed (at least).

Instead of a few ‘Friends of Obama’ (Solyndra) getting a half billion dollars laundered through the DOE and quickly going broke (except for the principles, who most assuredly DIDN’T go broke), we have an international version with the following schedule: "There is at least another decade of building work and a further decade of testing before the reactor will be allowed to “go nuclear”, with the following caveat: "Even if everything goes to plan, the first demonstration power plant using nuclear fusion will not be ready until at least the 2030s, meaning commercial reactors could not realistically be built until the second half of the century.

In other words, an endless money pit (tons of managers, topflight scientists drawing topflight salaries, lots of support staff, gorgeous headquarters buildings and other infrastructure, international conferences in exotic locations, briefings to multiple governments, ad infinitum) whose success cannot even be QUESTIONED for at least 40 years, lest the questioner be accused of being a Luddite who is against scientific progress. And manna.

Bob Ludwick

During the 1960-1970 period I was a big promoter of nuclear fusion research, and I wrote several columns about the foolishness of Carter’s big cuts in the fusion research program. I had to take a lot closer look at fusion after 1980 because my essays were read in the White House; and I took some time to tour fusion labs. At that time there were a number of fusion programs. The most spectacular was “laser trigger” fusion reaction, which is a subset of the entire “inertial confinement” approach. The notion is to zap a small enough area with enough energy transmitted by one of any number of means – laser (photons), electrons, plasmas, and some even more exotic – to spark one of a number of theoretical fusion reactions; and that trigger would spark more fusions. The result might be a weapon, but the real goal would be “controlled fusion”. The problem with controlling fusion is that it’s fusion – the direct conversion of matter into energy. Since e = mc squared, that’s a lot of energy, and that much energy tends to melt the mechanisms that are producing it as well as the structure that is defining it. An unconfined fusion reaction is either a fizzle or a fairly spectacular bomb. Discovery of a laser trigger mechanism for producing a thermonuclear explosion would lead to very cheap nuclear weapons. They wouldn’t have been cheap in those days – lasers were expensive and the control electronics for making all this happen equally so — but we could all foresee a great fall in the costs of electronics.

As an aside: in those times the most expensive part of an intercontinental ballistic missile was the warhead, followed very closely by the inertial guidance system with its high precision gyros, very accurate multiple axis accelerometers, memory to keep track of the data from the gyros and accelerometers, more memory to keep track of the “ideal” course the bird should have flown as opposed to that course it did fly, and computers to determine what changes in course need to be performed to drive the bird back onto the proper course so that it will hit its target. All this has to happen in boost phase while the motors are still hot, and of course the acceleration of the bird changes – rises dramatically – every tenth of a second as fuel is burned and blown out the back end thus reducing the mass to be accelerated. It is now possible to buy the equipment to do all that very cheaply: the gyros and the accelerometers are built into chips, memory is nearly free, and most of the computer is a single chip.

Thus laser trigger fusion would be a mixed blessing, and the arms control community argued that we’d be better off without it – that such research ought to be forbidden by treaty. Stefan T. Possony and Francis X. Kane began a work called The Strategy of Technology which argued that the march of technology is inexorable: you can’t stop it by forbidding research, and you may very well be losing the decisive war if you rely on that strategy. I joined that team and became a co-author of the book, which is still available free through Baen Books (the address given in the forward is no longer one I receive mail from).

There were extensive experiments in inertial confinement fusion, and some continue to this day, but progress has proven to be a great deal slower than we had hoped.

The other major line of fusion research was “magnetic confinement”: enormously expensive reactors (one of the most popularly known was the Tokamak) which used enormous input power to keep the reaction confined, and more to trigger and control the reactions. These certainly “worked” in the sense that fusion was stimulated and took place. There is controversy over whether any of those ever produced more energy than it consumed while in operation, and I think no one has claimed that any such reactor has ever produced more energy than was required to build as well as to operate it.

As of the late 1980’s the consensus of fusion reaction research directors was that you could produce an experimental reactor that would by brute force produce more energy than it consumed, but it would be difficult to operate. The most optimistic estimate of when an operational reactor might go on line to add energy to a power grid was thirty years. That had been the estimated time to break even in the Carter administration and remained the most optimistic prediction over the decades: it was always about thirty years.

The US Navy continues to support a small effort in “cold fusion”. I have no direct information, but I believe this is at about the proper level: there are some results worth pursuing, but nothing to be excited about or pour money into crash programs for.

Bob Guccione of Penthouse Magazine as well as the US Navy supported research by Dr. Robert Bussard into various fusion projects including a scheme to use modified existing fission reaction designs to produce power, and using fusion power to “recharge” the fission fuel elements. He had other reactor designs. He got encouraging results, and announced that his”Polywell” design was advanced enough to warrant going directly to an actual commercial scale reactor, but died shortly thereafter of cancer. Bob used to visit me whenever he was in Los Angeles, but I have heard nothing of progress since his death, although I understand that research efforts and fund raising continue. I have heard no estimates of the time required to “go commercial” without Bussard at the helm, and I don’t know how the funding is going. Bob died about the time I was being successfully treated for brain cancer, and I had pretty well lost touch with nearly everyone during that period.

I always had confidence that if anyone was going to produce commercial fusion energy it would be Doc Bussard, but I’ve heard little about the effort since his death.

Note that the above is an off the tip of my head outline, not intended to be more than background. The history of fusion research is complex, and while the summary “It’s always thirty years to commercial fusion” is a fair summary it’s no more than that.

* * *

Obviously the development of controlled fusion would change the world. The capital costs would be important in determining just how large a change would happen over what period of time.


I have received this not long after posting the story. As background, the Navy funded Dr. Bussard’s work but the grant was ending when I lost track of the work there.  I am not a source for any of this information, but perhaps I should look into it.  As I observe below, any commerci9al fusion would be a world changing event.  It would also be a factor in the climate change debates.

Polywell research is still on-going. Since they’re so inexpensive in comparison to the big boys, the Navy is still funding that particular avenue. Here’s some example: http://www.nuclearfusionpower.us/blog/?p=268


Regarding climate change and global warning, Fallen Angels by Niven, Pournelle, and Flynn http://www.amazon.com/Fallen-Angels-ebook/dp/B005BJTZ1U/ref=tmm_kin_title_0 has something to say on the subject.  Comes now

Thought you might get a kick out of this blog post:



We have this comment on the DSM (which was also discussed in last night’s mail bag):

Hello Jerry,

Your link about psychiatry, science, the DSM and the commentary thereon, along with a lot of discussion about how the government will go about keeping us ‘safe’ from folks like the recent slaughterer of grade school kids, reminds me of this that I sent to a local friend recently:

"’Keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental problems’ sounds like a no-brainer. And, if you think about it a moment, it IS a no-brainer. Enacting legislation forbidding people with ‘mental problems’ from buying or possessing weapons is like twenty Christmases arriving simultaneously for the gun-grabbing totalitarians who have been hoping for such a bonanza for years. After all, which political persuasion will be deciding exactly what behavior qualifies you as ‘mentally ill’, and, by extension, unqualified to own a gun?

Take a look at DSM IV, with DSM V on the way (both compiled EXCLUSIVELY by liberals), with their ever growing laundry list of ‘mental disorders’. How long will it be after the ‘Keeping Guns Out of the Hands of the Mentally Ill’ legislation is enacted, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the ‘gun rights’ groups, before the following takes place?:

Customer: I’d like to buy this gun.

Merchant: I’m sorry sir, I would like to sell it to you, but under the current law, you are forbidden to purchase or possess a gun.

Customer: What’s wrong with you? I have NEVER had a run in with the law, not even a parking ticket. I work for an organization that requires a full background investigation and a polygraph examination for its JANITORS, never mind what actual employees like me have to endure, just to get a job there, and you tell me that I am not qualified to buy or possess a weapon?

Merchant; Yes sir, I understand, but according to the law, citizens with ‘mental conditions’ are forbidden to purchase or own firearms.

Customer; But I don’t HAVE a ‘mental condition’.

Merchant: Check out DSM V. According to the authoritative, government certified listing of behaviors indicative of mental instability, the desire to own a firearm is one of the most prominent. You want a gun; therefore you are mentally unstable and forbidden to own one.

Customer: So how do you stay in business, if you are a gun dealer forbidden to sell guns?

Merchant; Oh, I am selling guns like hotcakes, except that all of my customers are government employees who are purchasing them for ‘official duty’, using government funds. They have a really generous monthly allowance for ammo, too. Seems that they require a LOT of training.

This is DEFINITELY one of those ‘be careful what you wish for’ moments."

Bob Ludwick=

I trust that everyone understands that the above is a work of satire.

However, I have this comment from a long time subscriber:


That is NOT satire to an increasing number of military veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD and denied the right to keep their firearms.








Periodic table; history lessons; DSM and Case Histories; Internet Sales Tax; fusion, pulsars, spectroscopic binaries, and more.

Mail 771 Saturday, April 27, 2013

atom A long time subscriber sends this:

Years ago, I created a knick-knack shelf in the shape of periodic table and have been putting element samples in.

I now have to move and cannot take it with me.

Since you are a scientist of some renown, I thought you might want it or know someone who does. They can have it for the cost of shipping.

I have contacted the local schools and colleges, those that have responded have said they cannot accept chemicals without a clear chain of ownership.

I will forward serious answers to him. I don’t promise he will answer, and I don’t promise answers or acknowledgments, but those seriously interested are encouraged to write.


History lessons

Dr Pournelle

"American academia no longer studies history[.]" <https://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/?p=13546>

In my experience, the academics study past events and write wrong histories.

I was trained to separate chronologies, chronicles, and histories. A chronology is a list of dates and events. A chronicle is an account of events; for example, Amity Shlaes’s _The Forgotten Man_. A history is an exposition of events; that is, not just "This happened" but "This is why this happened."

I do not know if you categorize as I do, but I thought an explanation in order.

I have known professional historians who took great pains to get the details right. I have known others who were so ignorant of their chosen area of expertise that I as an undergraduate corrected them. (One speaker at a National Historical Society convention I attended criticized Julius Caesar for his lack of a general staff. I pointed out that his criticism was anachronistic, because the general staff was invented by the Prussians in the 19th century. Didn’t mean the jobs did not get done. Just meant they were not called ‘general staff’.)

I have also witnessed historians spread lies to suit their political agenda. I was told — by an arrogant young Irish socialist — that the black soldiers in the American army mutinied after Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed. This was history that he read. I remember when Dr King was killed. I do not recall any army-wide mutiny of blacks. Confronted with my memory, he preferred his wrong history.

At the Second Party Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, the minority faction walked out and held its own congress. They called themselves the Bolsheviks; that is, the Majority. That was an obvious lie. If they were indeed the majority, why did they not just push their platform through the Congress or eject the Minsheviks? Yet Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolshevik> insists they were majority at the Congress.

Like the Bolsheviks, historians lie. The tales they tell tell me more about them than about the events they expound.

“It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.” –Ronald Reagan

Live long and prosper

h lynn keith

When Harvard, back in the 19th Century, began to allow students to graduate in science, the common bon mot was a quote from a professor of classics, who said, “No madam, it does not guarantee that they will know science, but it does guarantee that they will not know Greek and Latin.” The same could be said of the elimination of history from the basic undergraduate requirements.

A very long time ago the State University of Iowa had a “core course” requirement for everyone, whether in business administration, engineering, English, education, or any of the liberal arts. One of those requirements was two semesters of the history of Western Civilization, taught by Dr. George Mosse and a team of his graduate students. Mosse was a fascinating history lecturer, and his lectures were to the entire freshman class, held in the old Iowa State Capitol building which had been left to the University when the Capital moved to Des Moines.

Other core courses included Masterpieces of English Literature, Greeks and the Bible, Modern Literature, and that sort of thing. Everyone who graduated from SUI in those days had some exposure to what used to be thought of being an educated person.

But over time the notion of a minimum exposure to history and the intellectual arts has faded, and the idea of core courses has vanished from most universities, to make room for various racial and gender studies programs and what I have called The Voodoo Sciences. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/science/voodoo.html

The result has been the loss of any common consensus about what used to be called the good life, and the Socratic maxim that the unexamined life is not worth living and the unexamined universe is not worth living in.  Philosophy, once the queen of the sciences, is now essentially redundant, and over time even the rigorous formal logic studies that came with operational philosophy have been watered down to pap.  When I took Philosophy of Science from Gustav Bergmann at the University of Iowa we learned things which stood me in good stead through my career in operations research; I doubt that happens now, just as no one seems really to understand Sir Karl Popper’s notions about the limits of scientific inquiry.

Of course real philosophic inquiry, like real studies of history, are not something many should specialize in. A dose of these matters is vital to a real education, sufficiently so that I would say that those who can’t learn something from undergraduate philosophy and history ought not be in University at all, but would be better off in specialty trade schools of one kind or another. At the university level, though, those who are truly masters of philosophy and history ought to be treated differently from those whose only knowledge is in the voodoo sciences.  But that’s for another time.


Subject: The Psychiatric DSM

The Psychiatric DSM

Here’s an article about the psychiatric DSM that you might find interesting:


"But it’s not entirely clear that psychiatrists want a solution to the problem, at least not to judge from what happened when the experts conducting the most recent revision of the manual, the D.S.M.-5, were offered one. "


John Witt

I sent this message to Dr. Ed Hume, M.D. Psychiatrist

To: Edward Hume

Subject: FW: The Psychiatric DSM

Have you any comments on this? I am about to write something on it. It’s important. Psychiatry rejects science… I would have thought that L Ron Hubbard would have been more friendly to biological data than this.

Jerry Pournelle

RE: The Psychiatric DSM


I read the linked article.

The final paragraph says, "This notion—that the apparent mental condition is all that can matter—underlies not only the depression diagnosis but all of the D.S.M.’s categories. It may have been conceived as a stopgap, a way to bide time until the brain’s role in psychological suffering has been elucidated, but in the meantime, expert consensus about appearances has become the cornerstone of the profession, one that psychiatrists are reluctant to yank out, lest the entire edifice collapse." That’s about it. And really, until we know a lot lot lot more, this non-instrumental approach is probably the best approach. At least it keeps us humble, lest we think we know something. If going this way means we don’t use lab studies (are they ‘scientific’ yet?), so be it. BTW — the DST he referenced fell out of favor because it did not reliably diagnose melancholics; nor did those who had a positive test constitute a valid disorder. Besides, the test they settled on was most likely not the best test to use. From the research, I thought at the time that an index dose of 0.5mg looked better than the 1mg dose they mostly used. ‘Scientific’ in this context may be more like ‘scientism,’ the semblance of science.

In the meantime, research progresses. Hundreds of genes have been implicated in the pathogenesis of schizophrenia, for example. After all, the part of the brain and the functions involved are massively complex. We will be a long time disentangling it all. Yet I can diagnose most cases in seconds — and I am not alone. The German term ‘augenblick diagnosis’ — eyeblink diagnosis — certainly applies. And I have a man on my unit who came to us loudly complaining of suicidal depression. He was intrusive as well. It came to me a few days after he was admitted that here was not a man with depression and borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, but a man with dysphoric mania. I took him off all of his antidepressants and carefully primed him with anti-manic agents. Now the dysphoric mania is gone . . . and we still have that borderline personality disorder. And the other day he and I discovered the separation anxiety that got him into being a borderline. The narcissism has faded into his borderline disorder. What I mean to point out with this vignette is that the names change, but the old disorders are real. "In the room the ladies come and go … That is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all.”

Meh. The DSM began in 1952, as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. I like DSM-2, published in 1968. My copy is only 134 smallish pages long. The DSM-4, by contrast is 886 large pages long. DSM-2 simply describes the cases you are likely to see. Good stuff, that. 1980’s DSM-3 was the grandchild of the Washington University Criteria (called by us there the ‘Feigner criteria’) by way of the Research Diagnostic Criteria. Think of the landscape of mental illness as a great prairie. You put fences (the criteria) around certain fields and declare those fields to be your disorders. The locations of the fields and the placement of the fences are determined by research, and presumably contain a ‘valid’ disorder (a technical term when used this way) which can be diagnosed with ‘reliability’ (another technical term; it means that if diagnosers are all given the same manual they mostly will diagnose the fenced-in illness). You can see the immediate problems with this approach. In any case, if your fenced fields do not contain a hill or at least a hillock — one of those recognizable diseases — you have . . . an empty field.

The clinicians who built DSM’s 3, 4 and 5 did some silly things to be able to differentiate between illnesses. For example, a blistering (but civil) critique of the DSM diagnostic categories for personality disorders showed about eleven years ago that the criteria focused on the differences between disordered personalities; but the personalities overlapped greatly. But to make the manual more useful to diagnosticians, this aspect was ignored . The critique, having been done by psychologists was also ignored by the psychiatric establishment.

For DSM-5 we had a big controversy about how serious a disturbance must be before it qualifies as an illness. Please. What must our forefathers think of us if, as the poobahs of my profession would have it, 52% of Americans have a mental illness at some point in their lives? Like the plague of ‘bipolar disorder’ that has spread throughout the land, this lowering of the bar to make more people whose distress is covered by their insurance seems — well, it does — like a self-serving income-producing scam.

I’ll stop now, before I stray into such topics as the Joint Commission of A__ H____, who by their dictatorial powers have turned large numbers of Americans into unwitting opiate addicts. Or the specialty boards, who have introduced ‘recertification’ to make more business for themselves.


I managed to finish my graduate education in psychology before ever encountering the DSM. At one time my major interest in psychology was in “personality theory”, so I had many courses in psychological theory, abnormal psychology, and other clinical studies although I wasn’t trying to become a shrink. I encountered the DSM in reading psychology journals, and from the beginning I found them absurd, since the diagnoses were intended to provide a terminology for billing insurance companies, not any kind of recommendation for treatments. In proper medicine diagnostic causes are verified by concepts like Koch’s Criteria (sufficient but not necessary for a diagnosis to be accepted), but in Freudian psychiatry almost all of the evidence is theoretical or anecdotal – and it turns out that some of the anecdotes were embellished by theoretical concerns. You can prove anything if you can make up your data.

Proper medicine developed procedures for taking case histories, but they don’t really apply to psychology, and it is often difficult to distinguish the DSM from an anecdotal collection. As an example, there are clearly many variants in the behavior and backgrounds of those formally diagnosed as “having” ADSD, Asperger’s, and what is called autism, but the DSM won’t tell you much about that. Since treatment often depends on diagnosis, physicians find they are often on their own. Drug companies want to sell lots of drugs, and many of the drugs used to treat ADHD and autism produce rewarding experiences. The result of that is predictable. Bright kids aren’t stupid. Even stupid kids aren’t that stupid.

The DSM is handy for those who have to bill insurance companies or government agencies; it has never seemed very useful as a diagnostic instrument except for those who are required to have a diagnosis before they can get paid.

On the subject of diagnosis and treatment: at one time there was an accepted disorder known as dementia praecox. Most of those who received that diagnosis are now known as early onset schizophrenics. The thing about dementia praecox is that it was known, absolutely known, to be incurable. The prognosis was that the patient might temporarily have remissions, but there would be progressive deterioration. The easy deduction from that was that ‘treatment’ was a waste of scarce resources, and the proper course of action was asylum. Since the disorder was known to be incurable, that generally meant perpetual asylum, or in other words, life imprisonment in a mental hospital with no treatments. Many dementia praecox patients became fairly stable and could be trusted to perform maintenance and service tasks in the hospitals. The result of that is predictable, and there were all too many such cases. The discovery of this was one of the factors in the general emptying of the mental hospitals during the second half of the XXth Century. (Obviously psychiatric drugs had an effect on that as well.)

The DSM discourages the collection of genuine detailed case histories, and without those it is not likely that a medical science of mental health will ever be discovered.  Hubbard, like Freud, apparently made up some of his cases (it is very difficult to know just when he collected some of those described in Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health) but he did not in that book say that collection of evidence was unimportant. The DSM is a convenience to practitioners who must come up with formulas in order to collect their pay, but I do not think it is useful in developing a science of mental health.


‘So big business and big government are uniting to pursue their mutual interest in sticking it to the little guy.’


Roland Dobbins

It is also a precursor for a national sales tax. That comes next.

Roland Dobbins

We are nowhere near the end of this matter of Internet Sales Tax to be paid to states, cities, counties, commercial districts, school districts, etc.


Windows 8

I’m running Win 8 on my Acer tablet that came with Win 7. Touch screen mechanism works better under Win 8. Plus startup is a lot faster.

I’m using the baked-in anitvirus and malware with no problems.

However, I dislike the Metro interface. I always stay in Desktop mode that I am used to.

A bad descision on Microsoft’s part was to kill the start button. I now have the capability with this little freeware gem – Classic Start 8.


Ton of options to tweak the behavior to your liking. In addition, I now boot into the desktop.

I also replaced the Adobe reader with Foxit reader: http://www.foxitsoftware.com/downloads/

Opening PDF files snaps you into the Metro version of Adobe Reader. With Foxit, you stay in the desktop.


Bud Pritchard, retired bit-twiddler.

My other equipment will stay at Win 7. No real reason to change.

Bud Pritchard

Thank you for that report. I have Windows 8 on a big desktop and sometimes I like it and sometimes it drives me mad. I do believe that it would be useful with a touchscreen, and I am contemplating getting one of those to try it with.



Brian P wrote: "Evidently the author, one Michael Matthews, leaped to the conclusion that the bombers were from Czechoslovakia and called for its nuking despite the fact that the two countries are a thousand miles apart. Somewhere a geography teacher is crying him/herself to sleep while hitting the bottle hard."

You know what’s even funnier, Brian? It’s the Czech Republic. Czechoslovakia no longer exists, and hasn’t for nearly two decades.

What’s that geography teacher doing now?

Jeff Mauney

When I was in charge of the Captive Nations efforts back before the Treaty of Leningrad, our maxim was that we should try to keep the Czechs and the Slovaks from both attending any meeting: either one was helpful, the two together would fight to the detriment of any action we might try to take. It was pretty clear to us that the liberation of Czechoslovakia would quickly result in partition into two nations. I had good friend among both Czechs and Slovaks.


Little Brother and the Boston Video Militia

My daughter Hannah and I have a nickname for the camera-phone: ‘Little Brother’. The portable camera-phone means mass ‘sousveillance’; surveillance from beneath. We have seen, in Egypt and with Occupy, that Little Brother can be Big Brother’s revolutionary foe.

But Little Brother is not all rebel; in fact Little Brother can be a patriot, helping the authorities defend the nation. We have seen this in Boston, in the crowd-sourced identification of the Tsarnaev brothers. For details, see:


Tamerlan the would-be conquerer, and Dzhokhar the joker, thought themselves invisible in that crowd, but Little Brother was there, and Little Brother is the Eyes of the Web, which never forgets. The Tsarnaev naifs thought their target was unarmed; but they were fatally wrong; for the crowd had hundreds of camera-phones, each one a weapon against their cowardice.

The camera-phone is a kind of weapon; and those hundreds of videographers were a kind of militia. With the Boston Video Militia’s help, the cops got their men before the week was done. Justice is best when swift and sure.

I do not go so far as to say that privacy is dead, get used to it, but certainly technology has made much of our life a lot less private, not out of any intention but simply by expanding capabilities. The 911 dispatcher quite often knows your exact location without your telling yeye. This is good if you haven’t much time or you don’t know where you are. But the same technology makes it clear where you are to anyone who really wants to know, whether you like that or not.  If you’re going to violate a separation injunction, don’t carry your cell phone. Not even a throwaway, unless you intend to throw it away while it remains anonymous.  And Moore’s Law is inexorable: technology that was once highly expensive is now so cheap it can be included in throwaways…


Found this interesting link on the Drudge Report:

One giant leap for mankind: £13bn Iter project makes breakthrough in the quest for nuclear fusion, a solution to climate change and an age of clean, cheap energy – Science – News – The Independent


Charles Brumbelow

Which is wonderful if true. I have heard announcements like this about every five years since I wrote A Step Farther Out.


Obamacare for thee, but not for me.


Roland Dobbins

Congress rules. Government employees rule. Why should they endure what they give to the subjects?


http://www.care2.com/causes/should-science-fiction-be-mandatory-for-students.html <http://www.care2.com/causes/should-science-fiction-be-mandatory-for-students.html>

Should Science Fiction Be Mandatory for Students?

" A Republican politician from West Virginia wants to make works of science fiction compulsory reading in his state’s middle and high school curricula. The reason is, according to the pending bill, to “promote interest in and appreciation for the study of math and science among students is critical to preparing students to compete in the workforce and to assure the economic well being of the state and the nation.”

Could reading the likes of The Postman and Speed of Dark instill an interest in one of the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, mathematics — in teenagers?

West Virginia State delegate Ray Canterbury believes the former. He has proposed the bill to the West Virginia Board of Education out of the specific wish “stimulate interest in math and science among students.” (Such educational issues seem to be one of his concerns; another bill proposed by Canterbury calls for prohibiting the use of “calculators for teaching purposes” for K-8 students).

Noting that he is himself a fan of the works of Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne, Canterbury emphasizes that he is not referring to “fantasy novels about dragons” but “things where advanced technology is a key component of the storyline, both in terms of the problems that it presents and the solutions that it offers.”

Asserting their support for Canterbury’s bill are writer David Brin and James Gunn, the founder of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at Kansas University, who points out that

Because science fiction incorporates the one thing that is undeniably true in today’s fiction — that the world is changing — it has the capability of shaping that change as well as adjusting to it. As I say in my signature motto, “Let’s save the world through science fiction.”

Science fiction has the capability, at its best, of exercising the rational portions of the brain.

Brin also underscores the value of reading science fiction in a world full of change. Noting how works like George Orwell’s “1984” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” can be seen as “self-fulfilling prophecies,” Brin emphasizes how science fiction can give us a sense of what — given predictions and trends about global warming, the melting of arctic sea ice, rising sea levels, habitat loss and more — could befall us. Like Canterbury, he is wary of some works of science fiction, especially many recently published that are “either gloomy dystopias or else fantasy tales wallowing in dreamy yearnings for a beastly way of life called feudalism.”

The latter could be a (rather cynical) reference to “The Hunger Games” or even be extended to works like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” which shows the power plus the potential misuses of science, with a message warning us of our limits. Brin offers suggestions for a number of science fiction books that “wrestle with concepts at the very cutting edge” and ways to encourage the writing of “new and better” science fiction works for kids.

Brin and Gunn focus rather on science fiction’s capacity to inspire an interest in science and its use in solving the problems of the world. Canterbury, too, seems to see science and science fiction performing such a role. In his own state of West Virginia, a “bit of a Calvinistic attitude toward life” exists, he says. Science fiction imagines alternate scenarios rather than suggesting we are destined to be stuck in the same old circumstances.

Science fiction works including Orwell’s “1984” have long been on school reading curricula. Given repeated reports and statistics of the U.S.’s lack of STEM professionals, could newer science fiction titles make a real difference not only in an English class curriculum, but in math and science classes?"

“Get Science Fiction out of the classroom and back in the gutter where it belongs.” Harry Harrison had that posted as the background to a science fiction panel at a Cal Tech Symposium that included Harry, Sir Fred Hoyle, me, Poul Anderson, Phil Dick, Fred Pohl, and a number of other writer back in the 70’s. It was a great symposium.


High mass binary pulsar constrains alternatives to general relativity

Hi, Jerry. This article:


has it that observations of a particular high-mass pulsar binary system have provided the most precise verification yet of general relativity.

The piece doesn’t claim that all other theories of gravitation are excluded by these observations, but that such theories are much more tightly constrained.

Presumably we still won’t have anything that can be called ‘the real deal’ until quantum gravity is proved out, but this makes for an interesting data point.

All the best,


I will have to wait for comment by those more qualified than I am, but it is my understanding that Petr Beckmann’s ether theory makes the same predictions and with considerably simpler mathematics, while Special Relativity has a great deal of difficulty explaining how spectroscopic binaries can exist. I know of no crucial experiment with experimental results that distinguishes between relativity and the modified ether theories of entailed ether. Which is not to say relativity is wrong, but it certainly is complex.


Hilton Ratcliffe, maverick astrophysicist


Just a quick note to let you know I’ve read THE STATIC UNIVERSE by Hilton Ratcliffe. It seems to demolish Big Bang Theory (the original event, not the TV show). I don’t, however, have the scientific street cred to tell whether his arguments are entirely sound.

I enjoyed it, though the chapter on the CMWB and the WMAP data are too technical at times for the layman. I had to skirt the thorniest parts of it. The main shocker, something I’ve never heard before, is that at least 40 quasars have detectable Proper Motion. This flies in the face of the notion that quasars are at cosmological distances.

My only cavil is that he bases a lot of his objections on Halton Arp, and Arp is old hat. You’re not going to win any debates citing Arp.

Hoping to get an opinion from you and/or your pen pals on this book.


John DeChancie

I have not read that yet. I will try to get to it. Sir Fred Hoyle never believed in the Big Bang, and there are numerous theories explaining the cosmic background radiation; while the standard theories are in more and more trouble from the whirligig galaxies, so that some theories postulated that 75% or so of the universe is made of stuff we can’t see – dark energy and dark matter. The other day upon the stair I saw a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today.. Oh how I wish he’d go away. It may be that the universe is very complex and that it is not uniform in all directions, and it mahy well be that the universe is not only queerer than you imagine, but queerer than you can imagine; but it may also be that we have ignored Occam at our peril.


I welcome comments on this one:

Space Shuttle on a treadmill

Pop quiz: place a treadmill on Earth’s equator. Set the treadmill to run opposite the Earth’s rotation. Then launch the shuttle. The question is: would it fly?

I thought the humor would be self-evident. I stand corrected. People actually argued about it.

Jim Snover




Transporting the A-12


David Langston

Great pictures.


Interrogation 101

Dear Jerry:

The interrogation of the Boston Bombing suspect was likely not terribly hostile since the objective was to prevent immediate harm if there were other devices planted and to also gather intelligence. The interrogator probably used his native language and pretended sympathy with his goals, such as they were. He may have been of the same ethnicity. It was undoubtedly recorded and analysed by forensic psychologists and other experts. Voice stress analysis would have been used. But the questions would have been put in a very friendly manner to get the kid to give it up. In other words "Good Cop" technique. When the Miranda Warning was given that’s when it went to "Bad Cop" and the kid clammed up.

It was not the time for confrontation. Too much was on the line.


Francis Hamit

One has a constitutional right not to be convicted by evidence obtained from yourself against your will. Jeremy Bentham did not agree and John Stuart Mill had his doubts; but it was fundamental to the Bill of Rights. That does not mean that one cannot be asked questions, the answers to which cannot be used as evidence. There are such matters as public safety. But then there is the matter of Tosca and Cavadadossi questioned while a judge observes…