A Troublesome inheritance; Jim Bludso

View 824, Saturday, May 17, 2014


If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.

Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983


There is a meeting of the local MWA in the Studio City Library this afternoon at 3:PM and I am going to it. I used to go to MWA meetings a lot. My first published novel was Red Heroin, an action/adventure novel, and I joined MWA when it met in the Los Angeles Press Club building. I think the first guy to welcome me to the meeting was Ed McBain. Not everyone in MWA is part of the pay it forward tradition, but he was.

Anyway I haven’t been going to MWA recently and since this one is just a few blocks away I hardly have any excuse to miss it.

I’ll say something about the meeting tonight. Meanwhile:

Wade’s book "A Troublesome Inheritance" reviewed by Fred…


"Differences among people are actually small, he asserts, and only in cumulative effects on societies do they really count. Yet he puts the mean IQ of Sub-Saharan Africans at 67, of Europeans at 100, and of Jews at 115. He also says that four of every thousand Europeans have IQs in excess of 140, but 23 Jews. These are huge differences and, if real, have equally huge implications."

Charles Brumbelow

Fred is, as usual, blunt and direct, and hard to refute. I’ve never met Fred, although we are on-line friends, and hi often has things to say that everyone ought to read whether they agree or not. Nicholas Wade is more subtle and data oriented. I met Nicholas Wade at AAAS meetings back when I went to them in the last Century (I am really thinking of going back to the practice of AAAS meetings: it’s still the best place to get a general view of what’s going on in science, and sometimes you get to see interesting things, such as the special session convened to condemn The Bell Curve, conducted by an esteemed professor who opened the session by stating that he had never read the book, never would, and didn’t need to. I’ve also heard Morrison give one of the best lectures I ever heard in my life, and Freeman Dyson give a fascinating talk that ranged from artificial intelligence to SETI to settling the galaxy. And some years ago Rolf Sinclair and I co-chaired a session on Science and Science Fiction. Guest included Dyson, Carl Sagan, Larry Niven and Greg Benford, and other notables. Last I heard it had the largest attendance of any non-plenary session in the history of AAAS, but I can’t cite my source for that so it may just be a welcome rumor. Anyway, I have always enjoyed AAAS and I think I’ll start arranging to go to the meetings again.

But today it’s the local Mystery Writers of America meeting that has attracted me. And you’re well advised to read Fred’s review of Wade’s book, and the Kindle version of Wade’s book is about $13.00. I’ve just ordered it and I’ll have my own review at some point.

While I’m recommending books, get Tales from our Near Future by Jackson Coppley. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K8WDEIU Don’t look at blurbs or peek inside, and don’t try to find out what’s going on. Just start reading. It will take you a bit to figure out what he’s doing, but the mental effort is fun, and after you finish the first section, just keep going. I can pretty well guarantee that if you read this place regularly, you will be glad you read the whole thing.

And yes, I have some critiques, but almost any discussion of this work will be a bit of a spoiler, and while the book is worth your while even if you know what you’re getting into, the experience of figuring it out was highly pleasurable to me, and I expect it will be for you.


I happened to be reminded of John Hay’s poetry yesterday, so I took a few minutes off to read a few of them. His Pike County Ballads were nationally popular back in the late 1800’s when poetry was more widely read (and better constructed) than it is now; and everyone of my age encountered him in the eighth grade and sometimes in high school, along with a lot of other poetry and stories and fables that made up the transmission of western values and civilization down the ages. Most of that has gone away in our modern school system. If you’ve never read about Jim Bludso and the Night of the Prairie Bell, you should have; and I can pretty much bet you haven’t lately. So enjoy this while I go off to the MWA meeting.


Pike County Ballads


John Hay

Wall, no! I can’t tell whar he lives,
Becase he don’t live, you see;
Leastways, he’s got out of the habit
Of livin’ like you and me.
Whar have you been for the last three year
That you haven’t heard folks tell
How Jimmy Bludso passed in his checks
The night of the Prairie Belle?

He weren’t no saint,—them engineers
Is all pretty much alike,—
One wife in Natchez-under-the-Hill,
And another one here, in Pike;
A keerless man in his talk was Jim,
And an awkward hand in a row,
But he never flunked, and he never lied,—
I reckon he never knowed how.

And this was all the religion he had,—
To treat his engine well;
Never be passed on the river;
To mind the pilot’s bell;
And if ever the Prairie Belle took fire,—
A thousand times he swore,
He’d hold her nozzle agin the bank
Till the last soul got ashore.

All boats has their day on the Mississip,
And her day come at last,—
The Movastar was a better boat,
But the Belle she WOULDN’T be passed.
And so she come tearin’ along that night—
The oldest craft on the line—
With a nigger squat on her safety-valve,
And her furnace crammed, rosin and pine.

The fire bust out as she clared the bar,
And burnt a hole in the night,
And quick as a flash she turned, and made
For that willer-bank on the right.
There was runnin’ and cursin’, but Jim yelled out,
Over all the infernal roar,
"I’ll hold her nozzle agin the bank
Till the last galoot’s ashore."

Through the hot, black breath of the burnin’ boat
Jim Bludso’s voice was heard,
And they all had trust in his cussedness,
And knowed he would keep his word.
And, sure’s you’re born, they all got off
Afore the smokestacks fell,—
And Bludso’s ghost went up alone
In the smoke of the Prairie Belle.

He weren’t no saint,—but at jedgment
I’d run my chance with Jim,
‘Longside of some pious gentlemen
That wouldn’t shook hands with him.
He seen his duty, a dead-sure thing,—
And went for it thar and then;
And Christ ain’t a-going to be too hard
On a man that died for men.

That poem caused considerable controversy and discussion among Protestant Evangelicals in its day; after all, it looks hard at the question of salvation by faith vs. salvation by good works. Vatican I was past when it was written. Vatican II had not yet happened. I doubt John Hay was read by anyone at Vatican II but perhaps it should have been.


The MWA meeting turned out to be a panel of five authors talking about the sorts of things panels of authors talk about to audiences of beginning writers (as opposed to what they’d talk about if they were simply talking to each other, at, say, the bar before the meeting.  Interesting stuff, but nothing that most professional writers haven’t heard and probably said at one time or another.  One of the speakers is a shrink, but since he isn’t into forensic psychology he couldn’t say anything on that subject (although he does in his books, I think.  I may even get one.).

I enjoyed getting out, but I’d rather have taken the panelists out for a drink than listen to the panel.  I’m a bit behind on what’s going on in the mystery world, and I’d like to catch up a bit. The topic was psychology in mystery writing, but there wasn’t much of that in the discussion. One of the audience said something to the effect that the DSM is the biggest fraud going in American, and everyone laughed, and no one commented.  I could have, but I saw no purpose to it.  I wasn’t hearing everything said, and of course no one there ever heard of  me. I did comment once that all my graduate studies in psychology were in the 50’s and were now useless because we were required to pretend that Freudian analysis had something to do with science, and was worth studying.  Everyone laughed but since no one knows what Freud actually taught (other than what you might learn from Psychology Today in a whimsical article) it wasn’t much of a laugh. 

I may buy one or another of the books the panel of authors was pushing – two were said to be best sellers, but all seemed to have printed book markers pushing their books, and two even had copies to sell in case anyone wanted to buy one – but we’ll see.  I don’t usually read much dark psychology mystery, and noire seems to be the big theme for everyone now.  One of the authors has a “homeless dysfunctional detective” as the focus of a series of books – I would not have thought that would sell well, but apparently it does, and I may yet buy one just to see why. Psychology and mystery, but I don’t think I’ll be inspired.  Mystery is more and more about character now, and that means character of the detectives as well as the criminals and witnesses and such.  I don’t see anything out there as intriguing as Nero Wolfe was, though.  Pity.

And one chap has a custom card that proclaims his name and “Noir fiction, not for the faint of heart.”  I’d expect there’s a good market for that, but alas I am not likely to be part of it. If If I can get up the energy to write fiction I’d rather tell people how good things can be, or even that justice does often prevail, or at least that the old fashioned virtues still have a place in the universe.  Of course I don’t set out to tell that story, but it does seem to work out that Ad astra per aspera themes tend to take over…

When the subject came to god vs. evil vs. psychology, I did say something to the effect that the modern explanation seems to be “Compulsive murder disorder”, but I am not sure who got the point.  The chap who denounced the DSM of course, and I think the author who is also a psychologist.  But I haven’t paid enough attention to the DSM recently to be able even to make fun of it.



Reference :

The Fight Over the Bundy Cows Will End as Civics 101, Not Fort Sumter II –



The Bundy Standoff —

The Yahoo article is probably right. Bundy and his supporters are not white-hat good guys though they aren’t exactly the evil, ignorant scofflaws the Left would have us believe. The BLM did very definitely attempted to bully them with potentially lethal force, which should give us all something to think about.

Most people have little understanding of the true nature of our federal system and the issues of sovereignty and jurisdiction involved. Many on the Right have a rudimentary grasp, but I think hardly anyone on the Left does. And it differs, state-by-state, due to the different ways in which they became states. Sadly, I also believe few judges, being, after all, a subset of the set of lawyers, have an understanding that doesn’t do violence to the rights of individuals.

That said, Bundy was right about one thing: it is the county sheriffs and local police forces who are best able to stand between their neighbors and the increasingly (and alarmingly) well-armed federal Gestapo . . . uhm, excuse me . . . agents. It takes will and imagination to do it, though.

I wonder how much they have.

Richard White

Austin, Texas

I think that almost all federal enforcement ought to be through the local sheriff. Waco would have been much more satisfactory, for example, if they’d just got the local sheriff involved. We do not need small armies of federal agents operating routinely in the states.  Let federalism work. It helps freedom – and often local authorities know the situation better to begin with.





The Future of Work

Dear Dr. Pournelle;

I have noticed, here on your blog and elsewhere, that discussions of the future similar to the ongoing debate on the future of work seem to invoke a consistent set of responses.

One common response is to reduce the argument to something much smaller and more manageable and to argue for or against some aspect of it in light of the old paradigms. While I can appreciate the desire to exercise some intellectual control over an issue, I think this reaction is the least predictive. Whatever the future holds, it will almost certainly not be business as usual.

Another is to assume (and they may well be right) that we are undergoing yet another generational shift; that just as we could not fully appreciate the changes the electronics revolution would bring when it began in the sixties and seventies, or the more profound changes wrought by the Renaissance or the industrial revolution, we, too, are simply experiencing another game change. We are still the players, but we won’t know what the rules will be ahead of time. Were it not for the warning in my heart and the logical implications of the technology being developed, this is the position I would like to take. I say ‘like’ because it is the most hopeful extrapolation of current trends. Whatever comes I want Humanity to remain relevant…and dominant: For despite our many sins and shortcomings, we are the only game in town.

Which brings me to another common reaction and one I have recently encountered on your blog: Disapproval. As many times as I have encountered it you would think that I was immune to surprise, but my first reaction is invariably a momentary incomprehension. I find it difficult to reconcile my intent, which is to help stimulate debate by offering my thoughts, expecting, even hoping for some new thought, even if it conflicts with mine, only to find hostility instead.

After my initial setback I intended to respond in kind; to lash out with corrosive and hurtful comments and make my best effort to dismantle my attacker. A wiser head prevailed, however, and I would now prefer to respond to the criticisms as though they were intended in the spirit of friendly debate, for upon reflection, I believe my detractor may have, intentionally or not, hit upon something quite important.

The criticism leveled that I was not entertaining will be discarded as irrelevant. I would like to focus on a gem of rare quality: I was accused of not having anything original to add to the debate and I believe this is quite correct. A list of authors, masters all, and their works were cited as evidence for my lack of originality. That these men grappled with a similar debate and have minds that I am not equal to is not in dispute. I could add to the list if it would help. These men, and many others, have my infinite respect, but they had the luxury of an unwritten future to pen their musings. Our future has begun to unfold and any conjecture on our part is restrained by the facts as we know them.

But where are these original thoughts that my critic scorned me for lacking? He didn’t offer any up, so who has them and would we even recognize them if we encountered them? The term ‘Singularity’, as any reader of this site will be well aware of, is the term given to the moment an A.I. becomes self aware and begins to learn and expand it’s consciousness. Any prediction of what happens from this point forward becomes impossible. No model previously made will be adequate. Another way of putting this may be that no old idea or set of ideas will provide a conceptual framework for understanding what happens next.

I think that far short of this point (It still remains to be seen if we can create an artificial mind), given the complexities of converging technologies and abilities, our capacity to predict the future with any degree of success runs up against a similar problem; the barrier of insufficiently novel ideas. Our concepts are driven by past experience. If the future draws little from the past, is the gestalt of our Human experience to this point up to the task of visualizing an entirely new future?

I am reminded of the Chilcotin, where I grew up. When the first white settlers came, the Natives thought their horses were large dogs. They had no frame of reference for ‘horse’, so they fell upon an old concept they understood: ‘Dog’. I apologize for the sloppy metaphor, but what if the best any of us can do is call a horse a dog?

If we accept the possibility that our rapidly developing technology will create an unprecedented future, (this is clearly not so for everyone) then we must also accept the possibility that our knowledge and creative faculties may not be adequate to the task of detecting the future before it arrives. The clues are all around us, of course, in the machine intelligences appearing in labs, in the work of molecular biologists, and legions of other sciences and disciplines that blend and hybridise and blur the distinction of one science and another. As one discovery follows another and the implications of each barely perceived before another breakthrough comes and another and another…

Even Mssrs. Farmer, Pohl and Kipling, whose ideas were elegant, brilliant and as prediction…almost certainly wrong, if even these gentlemen, given up as evidence of the fact that I don’t belong where the air is rare call a horse a dog, what hope do we have? Well there is no doubt that some here have, at there disposal, all the qualities of the aforementioned gentlemen, but these are faculties that we all possess to some degree, taken to a higher pitch. As worthy as their thoughts would be, pressed to the task of divining the future and producing something…new, I daresay that they are unlikely to achieve it.

Let’s imagine for the moment that we have a small window to the future…say 70 years ahead. This future of ageless Humans and super-intelligent machines. We eagerly press our faces to the window to try to ascertain where Humans fit in this monstrously complex civilization. Do our creations serve us, or have we been swept from history? What drives progress when machines think faster, more creatively and with a greater insight than a Human mind could ever hope? What gives us purpose? What are those purposes? What sort of home is the future to the Human race?

Now let’s say we spy one of the inhabitants of the future and we attempt a dialogue. As long as our being from the future responds to our feverish queries with our own level of competence and with similar aspirations we may all be rewarded with stunning revelations and unheard of wonders, all still firmly rooted in our conditioning, experience and imagination. But what if our denizen of 70 years ahead speaks of goals and methods unrelated to our experience and imagination? How could our future-ite distill 70 years of rapidly accelerating and compounding changes into an answer we would understand, especially, as seems likely if we are to survive, that future generations will be designed to be Homo Superior?

There is an unbridgeable divide between today and tomorrow. Complexity is the root cause of this divide: it’s been the goal of our Human civilized development for millennia. Another word for it is ‘information’, and I don’t simply mean an accumulation of tax laws and ice cream flavors, I mean ‘information’ as a sum total of Human activity and capability. In a few short years, Human civilization will represent orders of magnitude greater complexity, or information than now exist.

Long ago, our paleolithic ancestors new damn well what each generation would bring and it didn’t require a genius; this year: hunt, find shelter, make babies. Next year: hunt, find shelter, make babies. Year after…you get the picture. As our civilization began to slowly pick up speed, it picked up mass, or complexity, or information as you prefer. Each advance in science, every new socio-cultural idea added to our complexity and added, with glacial slowness at first, to the acceleration of civilization.

Then one day, long after the paleolithic gave way to the beginning of agriculture, and then the rise of cities, to greater and greater complexity and information, it became increasingly difficult to understand what tomorrow would bring, and increasingly difficult to imagine communicating current ideas and knowhow to our earlier race.

And now here is our generation, riding the crest of the wave that began thousands of years ago, slowly picking up speed along the way, imperceptibly at first, but now racing along at a bewildering and frightening pace, and not slowing a jot, nosiree; we are just getting faster, more complex and adding information at a greater rate than ever in our history. Where once you could be assured that barring an exceptionally hard winter, an invasion from your neighbors ‘over there’ or a volcano, that next year and the year after and the one after that would be the same and that this sameness would extend to all the years one could imagine going forward. Now no one can say where our sciences will take us or when, just that they are taking us somewhere. And soon.

So 70 years from now will not be anything like 70 years in the early years of our race. All the work of thousands and thousands of years are finally kicking in. In fact, given the the rate of our acceleration, 70 years from now may be as unknowable to us as the the 20th Century was to our Paleolithic ancestors. It seems fantastic, doesn’t it? The implications of the data are easy to see, but difficult to accept.

And here I am at the end, as usual no closer to an answer to any question, but this should come as no surprise. I’m proud to say that I have in common with the great men and women of our time the tendency to call a horse a dog and to have no clue about what the future holds. If at some time in our future, Humans acquire the ability to sift the clues of the present and paint a picture of the future, they will have developed an entirely new technique, undoubtedly with it’s own lexicon to support it. Watching these future scientists work a science we don’t yet possess and speak a language we cannot yet understand would look like magic to us. And what was it one of our great minds said about a sufficiently advanced technology and magic?

We don’t know because we simply cannot know: we are too light. We lack the complexity (you could say we are too simple, but this contains a connotation I am trying to avoid), or the ‘information mass’ to understand a civilization that in a few short years will be as different from us today as we today are from our distant ancestors.

I’m not sure I buy the logical extension of my own arguments, so feel free to disagree. I’m also not entirely practiced at this kind of forum…I may not have presented my ideas in the same fashion I would if I had more time. Since my essay was a rush job, I make no claims for it’s quality. The ideas I have expressed may even have been espoused by others before me; I would be astonished if they had not, actually and in all likelihood with greater skill and insight. Go ahead and kick the crap out of my essay, but please be considerate of me. If you think I’m an idiot, please keep that to yourself: I’m not interested. What I am interested in are your thoughts on the future. If you disagree with me please tell me why. I will listen with interest and without judgment.

Thank you for your patience.

With respect,

Eric Gilmer

I had thought that the future we live in now would look like the one I described in A Step Farther Out and in some of the asteroid mining spacefaring nation stories I wrote in the 870’s and 80’s.  That didn’t happen but it could have: we have the technology. We just don’t have the will.  At least not yet. In any event, I was wrong in my prediction.  Yet – we now live in a time that is changing far more rapidly than any of us predicted.  I don’t know if we will reach the singularity – I doubt we will – but we will certainly learn a lot about the limits of artificial intelligence.

The times are exciting. They are also dangerous as we sow the wind,  but do not prepare to reap the whirlwind.  Moore’s law seems inexorable now. Indeed there is a sort of Moore’s Law operating in the general technology now. Machines can produce more, and quicker. And on it goes.


Government education system perfect for society with no useful work

Dear Jerry:

I read your concerns about the 50% of the population who will have no useful work in America’s future.


It occurred to me that our deplorable government education system has evolved in perfect response to that possibility.

Schools first adopted a diminished view of what it means to be human.

In particular they teach that man has no inalienable right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness.

Clearly a child has no right to life. He is born only by the permission of the mother who chooses not to kill him in her womb.

Indeed, as I described in previous e-mails, ObamaCare leads inevitably to government-coerced abortions.



Soon the mother will be allowed to kill her baby during its first twelve months after birth. Princeton and other prestigious universities already teach this as an appropriate ethical choice.

An adult’s right to life is increasingly under attack by proponents of socialized medicine and euthanasia. Bureaucrats will assure that medical treatment is given only to those with sufficient future social utility to justify the expense. It is already argued that some are obligated to die rather than be a burden on those who see them as a burden.

Once the schools adopted this diminished view of humanity, it was inevitable that such trivial rights as those of liberty and the pursuit of happiness would also be discarded.

Law was once taught as the pursuit of justice. Today it is taught as a technique for gaining power over others in furtherance of some social or political agenda.

Science was once taught as the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Today it is taught as a technique for manipulating others in furtherance of some social or political agenda. Those daring to present scientific results that falsify the elite’s claims suffer career loss and other forms of personal destruction.

The schools indoctrinate students in the government’s currently fashionable social and political agendas. Students learn that their highest goal should be to make a difference, to save the planet as a government regulator.

Those lacking the talent or inclination to control others come to see their own well-being as dependent on regulation by others. That they themselves will be regulated seems not so onerous. Many of my college classmates from decades ago think it perfectly normal that the government should forbid them to protect themselves from criminals and that the government should sexualize their five-year-old grandchildren, and that the government should encourage their teenage grandchildren to engage in a variety of perverted and dangerous sexual practices.

The schools are thus succeeding in turning out the perfect citizens for our new society. For that they will get the full support of the government.

Still, it may be necessary to create various make-work jobs for citizens who desire a sense of purpose. The science fiction I grew up on had many stories about such societies. (I recall one story about a man who works the nightshift tightening the bolts that hold up his city. One day by accident he ends up working the dayshift where the job is to loosen the bolts. I’m sure I still have this somewhere in my boxes of old 25 cent paperbacks and copies of The Magazines of F&SF. Forster’s classic "The Machine Stops" may be familiar to many of your readers. Of course Asimov’s "The Feeling of Power" might lead us to hope for a Rediscovery of Man.)

So we end up with the perfect school system to train the regulators to exercise their petty tyrannies and to train the remainder to work, not as telephone sanitizers (a now obsolete profession), but as tattooers and fingernail decorators among other tasks that someone might pay someone to do.

Best regards,

–Harry M.

I was just at a panel of five authors of noire, so I can appreciate your view; but I do not think things have got quite as bad as that.  Or have they?


Subject: Climate


It seems obvious to me at, this point, that we should be spending our resources on studying Climate and what drives it. It is much too early to be spending time, effort and money on solutions to a problem we do not understand. In fact, applying "solutions" at this point may create much worse problems than they might solve.

A cursory look leads me to believe that the Oceans are a primary driver of Climate. The various Streams, Currents and La Niña/Niño have more effect on Climate by orders of magnitude than anything Man has done. We need to learn the causes and effects of these things.

Ocean temperatures seem to affect these things. What causes the changes in Ocean Temperatures. As Jerry has commented many times, it would appear that sub-sea volcanic activity was a major factor in Ocean Temperature increase. It does not seem that any major effort has been launched to monitor this volcanic activity and correlate the results with Climate.

A look at historic Climate conditions reveals that much of the Earth’s surface was covered by ice during the last Ice Age 12 to 20 Thousand years ago. The Level of the Oceans was much lower then since the water was being stored in the ice covering the land. What caused the Ice Age to start?

One possibility is a significant increase in Ocean Temperatures leading to increased evaporation, leading to increased cloud cover, leading to reduced surface temperatures and increased precipitation, leading to increasing areas with snow cover, leading to increased reflection of Solar Energy, leading to decreasing temperatures ad infinitum until something stopped the feedback loop.

So, is our ultimate fate higher temperatures or our houses under hundreds of meters of ice?

There are some possibilities of taking action to break the Ice Age feedback loop. The most obvious would be to spread carbon black on the snow and ice fields ala crop dusting to increase the amount of solar energy absorbed, but even this might have unforeseen complications.

What we need to do now is spend our research funds to try and understand climate. Not cripple our economies trying to solve a problem we do not understand.

Bob Holmes

Simple Bayesian analysis would indicate that the optimum strategy is to invest in lowering uncertainties: which is to say, refining data gathering techniques and investigating alternatives to the “consensus” theory before investing a lot of money on remedies indicated by any current prediction.  We just aren’t certain enough to bet all our money on our predictions.


Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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