Fires Now and Then and Thoughts on FEMA

Editor’s Note: the current fire situation in Los Angeles is not a new phenomenon; the “Santa Ana Winds” often bring fires to the area. We dug around in the archives and found this post from October 2007. There are discussions of the fire, fire response, comparisons with Katrina, and a ‘report’ (Jerry’s term for his analysis of a subject) on FEMA.

Regarding the current fire in Southern California, Jerry’s son Alex reports: “Chaos Manor and my own house are safe, and we are now allowed back in to my development. I plan to check on it later today. Thank you for all the concern and inquiries. Our friends and family are fine. My (Alex’s) neighbors weren’t all as lucky, as several houses burned down.”

Southern California is ringed with fire. There are no problems near us, and our roof is fireproofed, but no place in Los Angeles is entirely safe. The brush stops 100 yards from our house — we are on the flats in Studio City, but Laurel Terrace is the edge of the hills, and 100 yards from us begins 50 square miles of nature conservancy part — meaning scrub brush and chaparral penetrated by a fire road but without water supplies. That last burned off about 20 years ago so there is plenty of fuel up there.

All is well at Chaos Manor but we are watching, especially when the winds pick up.

Tuesday,  October 23, 2007

The fires continue.
117.669067&spn=2.085959,5.50415&source=embed .

A report from the Arrowhead area:

The first looters they had up the hill were two guys in a white pickup truck with Nevada plates. They saw – and lost – a pickup with what was described as

“15 hispanic males in the back of a truck getting ready to loot at golden rule and manatoba” and “Fullsized pickup truck to 10 to 15 hispanic males in the bed of the truck; 173 was clear from the dam to manatoba.”

These are volunteers dealing with this. There aren’t enough CHP’s to enforce the road closures which is leading to this.

I have no estimate of the reliability of this report; I have not heard it on the news, but then I wouldn’t expect to.

I posted this in another conference:

When I was a lad in Tennessee, my father was a Colonel of the Tennessee
Volunteer Militia (unorganized). What this was you can guess: Minutemen,
with state commissions and a chain of command but little else, but since in
rural Tennessee everyone was armed this was no problem. IN case of floods or
tornadoes the volunteer militia would protect property against looters.  I
do not think we have any such things now, in part because the governments no
longer trust the citizens — or at least not all the citizens, and equality
is thought to be far more important that public safety.  Disarm the citizens
and rely on the professionals…

The Kentucky and Tennessee Colonels are usually the butts of national jokes, but they served a real purpose when I was young.

Several news crews report having to run for their lives. The fires can move fast.

Now for the good news:

Chaos Manor is unaffected. I have buttoned up the house and turned on AC and air purifiers for obvious reasons. The pool is filled with wind-blown debris but that’s not unusual in Santa Ana conditions. Looking from my balcony I can see neither smoke nor fire in any direction.

The San Fernando Valley and the Hollywood Hills have no fires. One hopes there is some vigilance because there are those who enjoy fire crises and take opportunities like these to set more fires.

The meteorologists report that the Santa Ana conditions are slowly weakening, and the Devil Winds will be pretty well gone by tomorrow. After that there may even be rain.

Rain, of course, is the ultimate remedy to all this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It’s much calmer here this morning. California fire department officials are confident. Which means the hysteria will start, and the blame game will begin. Not enough airplanes, FEMA wasn’t here, George Bush didn’t personally come down an urinate on one of the fires. It’s all Washington’s fault, and it was all caused by global warming. It’s all the fault of having a First World Civilization, which pollutes and warms and burns. But we’ll fix that with No Child Left Behind, which will see to it that there aren’t enough educated people to sustain a first world civilization.

Thursday,  October 25, 2007


The fires are out in Los Angeles County, although they remain in Orange, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. Once the LA County FD Hotshots get rested up they can go put out the other fires. LA County invested a lot of money in County fire resources, more than the other three counties put together, so it’s hardly astonishing that we were able to control our fires before the others.

One reader comments

Katrina and gunfire at helicopters

One other thing you don’t have in the California fire disaster: people sitting on roofs, slowly dehydrating while National Guard choppers flutter by, ignoring their waving and flares.

My wife was a nurse at University Hospital.  After three days without power, water pressure or sewerage, only one half-hearted attempt was made to supply them by air.  That pilot must not have had any experience at vertical replenishment, because he dropped his palletload of bottled water fifteen feet to the roof (the hospital’s helipad was across the street, under water).  Almost all of the bottles burst.

If curses had any real force, whoever decided to put the hospital’s emergency generator in the basement, along with the pharmacy, the cafeteria and central supply, died of several horrible diseases at once.

When they finally got my wife out, two days after the fumbled water drop, she was told that planes were departing for San Antonio and Shreveport.  She knew that I was waiting in Shreveport, because we’d got a few text messages through what was left of the local cellphone net.  She made the mistake of mentioning that, so guess which plane they put her on.

I’m glad that the FEMA response to the wildfires isn’t the Chinese fire drill that we saw in New Orleans, but Jimmy Carter’s mistake still stands, so I’m sure you will see your share of malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance.

BTW: Recent forecasts are that the next sunspot cycle will be the quietest since the Maunder Minimum that coincided with, and probably caused, the Little Ice Age.  How much would you like to bet that by 2017 we will see governments offering tax incentives to burn _more_ carbon?

I can only point out that Los Angeles County has worked at organizing for disasters, and although we don’t have a full Civil Defense organization as we should, we have a considerably better organization structure than many.

Friday, October 26, 2007

At first there appear to be parallels between Qualcomm Stadium and the Superdome story; but in fact there aren’t many. In the Southern California evacuations, they were evacuating to a secure and safe place with electricity. The telephones worked. The road grid worked. In the whole county fewer than a dozen main roads were closed. There were gas stations open, grocery stores open, clean water in all the taps. Most of the people who evacuated didn’t need shelter: they had friends or went to motels. Moreover, once they were out of the fire area, the worst they faced was a night in their cars. The fires didn’t chase them and there were no floods.

I will say that California is better governed and has a more civil tradition than New Orleans. The areas people were evacuated from were safe, unlike much of New Orleans long before the flood. And while we have a few corrupt cops, I cannot imagine a team of four LAPD detectives systematically looting a Wal-Mart even when cameras are rolling…

Saturday, Oct 28, 2007

Department of Hopeless Security, FEMA branch.

We’ve all seen the preposterous “Press Conference” in which FEMA employees — bureaucrats, cubicle workers — stood in for reporters to ask questions. The excuse was that there wasn’t time to get a proper press conference organized, and this was a way to get the information out without simply having a bunch of press releases. One can see how that might make sense — to public information bureaucrats in FEMA. “Mister Secretary, are you pleased with the performance of your people?”

Oh, Yeah.

One more reason why FEMA ought to be abolished entirely. Its political charity work — bailing out people who did not have insurance — can be taken over by whatever the Department of Welfare is called now, or parceled out between Urban Development and Interior. The actual emergency preparedness and response activity should devolve onto a reanimated Civil Defense structure. Actually, Civil Defense should be headed by an Army Undersecretary, although a DOD Undersecretary would do. The point is that Civil Defense is mostly preparation and coordination, with the major efforts being local, county, state. The central organization can have some central resources to parcel out at need, but local government ought not count on Washington to put out its fires and clean up after hurricanes. That’s not the point of the Federal Government.

Civil Defense takes time to set up, and there’s always a danger of bureaucratization: one reason why Civil Defense needs to be largely in the hands of volunteers, not “professionals”.  As an example, the problem of allocation of Marine helicopters to be used in fire fighting.

There are plenty of helicopters at Camp Pendleton, and there were fires around (later in) the Camp Pendleton area. Do you simply tell a Marine chopper pilot “Hello, there’s a fire, go put it out?” Do you include fire outputting in the normal training of a military chopper pilot? The result of putting aircraft with good pilots not trained in this kind of work into a fire zone doesn’t have to be imagined. There’s plenty of experience: air collisions, fire retardant dropped in the wrong places, confusion over where to reload the helicopter, air traffic control in confined areas, etc. It may be that lack of a helicopter over a certain area results in the loss of a million dollar home; but the remedy is not to send in untrained pilots in hopes that the home can be saved without mishap. The remedy is to put a firefighter manager into the helicopter with the pilot.

Now who is the manager? Should the State have a bunch of them, trained, on standby ready to go in there when there are fires, and otherwise doing nothing? That can be expensive, and fast. Who are these people? Who pays their salaries while they are on duty? Who pays them when there are no fires? What do they do in the eleven months of the year when California isn’t burning?

This is in part pure speculation. I don’t know a lot about fire fighting, but I do know enough to ask those questions; apparently these questions haven’t suggested themselves to John and Ken and our local radio and newspaper reporters, who are howling about the State regulation that requires trained spotters to be in firefighting helicopters not piloted by regular firefighters. The spotters — managers, actually — should, they say, have been instantly available, sitting in helicopters waiting for any possible break in the high winds that grounded most of the aerial firefighting resources during the first two days of the fires. Which is fine, if there were lots of trained managers with nothing else to do.

A proper Civil Defense organization looks into such matters, sets up reserve corps of volunteers who get paid for time spent in training and are called into service at need: not just firefighting managers, but logistics people, medical administrators, traffic managers and air traffic controllers. A proper Civil Defense organization looks into the local community resources and organizes them for use when Comes The Day. Most communities have a lot of resources that can be employed in emergencies, but the time to learn what to do is not just after the earthquake or while the fires are raging.

It’s not so much that FEMA is incompetent as that competence is not possible. You simply cannot have a central organization that “manages” local emergencies. You can provide resources and encouragement for local citizen groups to set up and train Civil Defense teams. Huge assets like aircraft carriers with nuclear electric power generators, hospital ships, high speed logistic ships may be “managed” centrally — indeed have to be, since no community can afford such things — but the response time is going to be slow. It has to be.

In New Orleans, a proper Civil Defense organization would have had someone whose job it was to manage the transportation resources — including all those school busses that sat unused until they were inundated by the floods. It would have a Civil Defense unit whose job it is to provide communications. (In California my son Alex is part of a California Emergency Services organization that does just that.) It would have — but that’s the point, isn’t it?  Planning for the local emergency, assessing the community resources, and setting up an emergency management structure is precisely the point, and it needs to be done community at a time.

Set up proper Civil Defense and there won’t be a need for phony press conferences to tell the world how good you are.

We used to have real Civil Defense until Jimmy Carter in his infinite wisdom decided we didn’t need it any longer. After all, it was DEFENSE and that provoked the Soviet Union. If the US prepares for disasters including war, then it must be planning to have wars.  So Jimmy got his Peace Prize. And we got FEMA.


Comments are enabled for this remembrance. Please keep your comments polite and thoughtful. Use the Well-Wishing page for thoughts not related to this remembrance. – The Editor

Remembering – Pearl Harbor Day

Jerry posted this on Pearl Harbor Day 2012 (7 Dec 2012). The second remembrance is from 7 Dec 2002. – the Editor.

View 752 Friday, December 07, 2012

Pearl Harbor Day

Japan is our ally now, and China is building the Greater Southeast Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere which Japan planned. Japan sought to exclude the Western colonial powers – including the United States – from Asia in a sort of Japanese equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine. “Asia for the Asiatics!” was a common battle cry.

In practice the Sphere operated as a supply source for Japan, although the Japanese insisted that was only because the West wanted war, and the Empire had to be strong. Japan claimed to be the liberator of the Colonies: Manchuria liberated from Chinese occupation, Philippines from the US conquest, Taiwan from China, Hong Kong from Britain, Indo-China from France, Burma from Britain, Indonesia from the Dutch, The Malay States from Britain and Portugal, etc. It included Thailand, which managed to stave off occupation by joining the Sphere and even declaring war on the United States, but the Declaration of War was conveniently lost on its way to the Secretary of State and the United States never considered itself at war with Thailand.

The Pearl Harbor attack is a splendid example of a tactical victory spoiled by a failure of exploitation and pursuit. Had the Japanese carriers refueled their aircraft and sent them back to destroy all the fuel dumps around Pearl and the airfield, and destroyed the ship repair facilities, the war would have taken a different course. Japan still had no chance at victory, and Roosevelt was not open to offers of a negotiated peace. The attack was a strategic blunder of the first magnitude. Yamamoto may or may not have said that “We have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a sense of terrible purpose,” but it is an apt description of the Pearl Harbor attack and of its effect on the American people. The nation had been divided on the war in Europe, and Roosevelt only won reelection in 1940 on a platform of “Not one American boy is going to die on foreign soil,” but once the nation had been attacked the American Way of War took command, and no Japanese offer of a negotiated peace with return of the Philippines and Japanese payment of reparations was possible.

This is from 2 December 2002. – the Editor

A Policy for America

We had panels at the LASCON that included a discussion of Republic vs. Empire. It’s astonishing how many of my old friends have become warhawks. And it may be that we have gone so far in marching the king’s men up the hill that we have to do something with them other than march back down again.

Deposing Saddam Hussein will be no great problem. What we do after that is something else again. We will have two clients, either of which we could use to defeat Iraq; alas, if we use one we really alienate the other. The Turkish Army isn’t going to appreciate an independent Kurdistan on Turkey’s southern border. The Kurds aren’t going to want to overthrow Saddam for us without the promise of independence — and won’t be happy if we use the Turks to do the job.

Meaning we may have to put an appreciable army over there because we don’t have clients we can rely on. After which we will have to govern. And governing a place with that much oil is going to be a difficult task, with great temptations, and splendid opportunities for corruption.

Rome’s republic began its sharp decline after the Second Punic War when Rome inherited Sicily and Sardinia, two rich provinces that were never intended to be incorporated into the Republic and thus never to have citizenship. This meant they were governed by officials appointed in Rome and responsible to Rome, not to the people they governed; and they were rich provinces, and the tax farming was good and lucrative and being governor was worth competing for and —

Meanwhile, the stern old Good Government types stood ready to prosecute any politician (of the opposite party) who had profited in any way from being part of the government. Many of the prosecutions were justified in that they were certainly violations of the laws, but at the same time the laws were stricter than the morality and ethics of the governing class, and enforcement was largely done on political motivations. Perhaps nothing of that sort can ever happen here.

Eventually popular political figures appealed directly to the people against the court systems. Some of those popular figures were military as well as civilian politicians. Perhaps nothing of that sort can ever happen here.

And perhaps it is not too hard to see the future.

What Must Be Done

People keep asking me what I would do were I in charge.

Ideally I would bring our troops home, shore up the Navy, tell the world “We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but the guardians only of our own,” and disentangle the United States from the disputes in Europe, the Balkans, Korea, the Middle East, and generally everywhere. At the same time I would take the money at present paid in subsidies to clients and allies and others — some $4 billion a year to Israel and more than $2 billion a year to Egypt, for a start — and put that into developing energy independence programs.

I would develop and deploy light water nuclear reactors on the grounds that the fuel is nearly free: we have at least 15,000 surplus warheads, each with 2 to 4 kilograms of 90% enriched fissionables (fuel grade is about 10% enriched) so the expensive part of making nuclear fuel is a sunk cost: we may as well get some good out of it, since we ought to get rid of those warheads anyway.  I would put money into X projects to develop cheap access to space: over the long haul, solar power from orbit and orbital industries can be environmentally benign while very economically effective, given only reasonably cheap access to space.

Regarding access to space: airlines operate at about 3 to 5 times fuel costs. It takes about the same amount of fuel to get a pound to orbit as it does to fly it to Australia from the US. Rockets are not really less efficient than jet engines (they have to carry their oxidants, but they experience far less drag over the course of their flight because they aren’t in the atmosphere very long). There is no reason why getting to orbit need be much more expensive than a first class ticket to Australia. (Of course that means savable and reusable space ships, not expendables.)

Given costs of that magnitude, solar power satellites become quite cost efficient — their major cost has all always been the cost of getting to orbit. Space industries including mining and fabrication on the Moon become feasible given airline levels of costs to orbit.

None of this is science fiction or even all that hard. There is no new science needed. There is engineering development needed, and some of it is tricky. Rocket engine designs are mostly engineering but there is also a bit of the black art to them in determining chamber flows and combustion stabilities and the like — but what that really means is you have to build things and fly them because we don’t have either the inputs or computing power to do  third decimal point accuracy simulations, and most of what is needed in rocket science is third decimal accuracy. (Example: A 700,000 pound Gross Liftoff Weight [GLOW] rocket will be 90% fuel and oxidant; of the remaining 70,000 pounds, about 90% will be structure and tankage and plumbing and shrouds and life support and reserve fuel and other stuff. The remaining 7,000 pounds is payload, but note that this is down in the 3rd decimal place, and there’s a real difference between a payload of 700 pounds and one of 15,000 pounds — and the best calculations we have can’t narrow it more than that, and some show that it won’t have a payload at all [won’t quite reach orbit]. You have to build and fly things to find out what payloads you will get, and how to nickel and dime those up by redesigning structures and making things lighter.)

This is what X programs are for, and we ought to have several of them going. Of course we don’t, and NASA doesn’t want any.

In any event, while I trust the American Military, understand that what the military is good at is breaking things and killing people. I trust our engineers more than our diplomats, and I think money invested in energy independence better spent than money invested in conquests — and healthier for the republic. Conquests feed imperial ambitions.

Not Ideal

We are not in an ideal situation, and there is considerable history, including not only 911 but our response to it, and the perceptions of others. We cannot look like fools. We must not make empty promises or threats.

So: were I in charge I would begin the campaign for new energy technologies and emphasize that new policy while beginning to stand down from adventures that make people hate us (as opposed to hating their neighbors).

I would make it clear that in future we will behave like a republic, not like the World Empire. We have some continuing obligations, but we will try in future to reduce those, not expand our entangling alliances and overseas commitments. We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but we are the guardians only of our own. Our people may be horrified at the way you live, but we will not send our soldiers to impose our ways on you.

I would tell the world that we will protect our citizens, and some of them will undoubtedly try to persuade you to live in ways you do not like. That is their affair so long as they don’t use force. You may forbid them entry to your lands, but if they come in peace you must let them leave in peace if you don’t like their examples or their missionary efforts. But so long as you do that, you may have your silly — even disgusting — customs and practices.

But whether I’d invade Iraq as a demonstration of our resolve I do not know. My foreign policy would be to make it very clear to the ruling class of every nation on Earth:  “If you harbor the enemies of the people of the United States and allow them to use your nation to plan and stage attacks on the American people, you will be replaced; your protests that those who follow you will be worse are uninteresting. We have the same message for them, too.”

The Afghan campaign was a beginning at propagating that salutary message. It may be that an Iraqi campaign will be needed to drive the point home. On the other hand, it may not be: we may also teach the lesson that “If you do comply with our wishes and make it clear that you neither want to nor can harm the people of the United States, we will leave you alone no matter how great a villain you are.” And that may be what the current Administration has in mind. I am certain Colin Powell believes it.

So there we are. But whatever we do about Iraq, it is criminal that we are not pouring out the funds needed to reduce our dependence on that part of the world. We have the technology for energy independence over, if not my lifetime, certainly over yours. Why don’t we start?

Thoughts on Education

Editor’s Note: Here is another ‘remembrance’ from Dr. Pournelle’s past posts, this one a short discussion of education from June 15, 2011, followed by his thoughts from December 2004. We leave it to Jerry’s readers to determine if things have improved since these writings.

We are allowing your comments below; as always, be respectful of other’s words and opinions. The Well-Wishing page is available for general remembrances, and you can use the Contact page to send us other thoughts.

Dr. Pournelle has published the The 1914 California Sixth Grade Reader, which includes classical stories and poems that every high school student studied in that era plus his commentary. We think it would be an excellent book for a student of any age. It was published in July, 2014, and is available in ebook (Kindle) form at the above link.

If you want to be notified when a new Remembrance is posted, use the “Subscribe to Notifications” area to the right (or below on smaller screens).

June 15, 2011

The local radio station is asking random high school kids questions like “Where is Pearl Harbor?” and “Who fought in the American Revolution?” and “What was the American Revolution about?” The answers they are getting are not encouraging. Spokespeople for the education profession are saying that this neglect of American history is due to the school district’s concentration on reading and math and science. I haven’t noted any evidence of learning about reading and math and science, but perhaps I missed it. Oh — one of the questions that many of the kids could not answer was “Who fought in the Civil War?” But apparently all of them knew that the Civil War was about slavery. So was the American Revolution.

Education is now an entitlement, not an investment. You are to pay taxes to support the education establishment because the kids are entitled to an education. This really means that you must pay their teachers and administrators and other education workers no matter what they teach, or if they teach anything at all. The alternate notion, that we pay for this enormously expensive — and steadily increasingly expensive — education system because it is an investment in the future, making for better citizens and a better educated work force — is clearly no longer put forward: look at the results? Now it is a useful thing for a Republic to have its citizens be familiar with the national saga, and have well a developed sense of patriotism, but it is also hard to see that this is the result of all the money poured into the education system. I could develop that theme further, but it’s so depressing that I need to work myself up to it.

One thing is clear: we would lose nothing by abolishing the Federal Department of Education. Zero it out of the budget. We are not getting any return on that investment, and I don’t see how the kids are entitled to Federal money. Let the States handle this. Most won’t do it well, but perhaps one or two will. What we have now isn’t doing anything we would rationally want. Some of the States will do it worse — although it’s hard to figure out what could be worse than a system that is indistinguishable from an act of war against America — but some won’t do as bad, and heck, some might do things well.

For those who don’t know what that last paragraph refers to, a National Commission on Education done under Reagan concluded, in the words of Glen T. Seaborg (although drafted by Mrs. Annette Kirk who was on the commission) that “If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would consider it an act of war.” That was when things were a lot better than now.

Our increasingly undereducated work force is precisely what we don’t need in these economic times. Not only is technical knowledge down, but the knowledge of the way the Republic works, the way the world works, which can only come from history, is becoming non-existent. An uneducated electorate is far more likely to vote for entitlements and benefits from the government — which is of course what the unionized education establishment wants. Individual teachers want to teach. Educating the young is a rewarding experience. But Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy sees to it that the establishment is controlled by different goals.

And it’s lunch time.

Here’s some more thoughts on education, from a past ‘View’ – the Editor

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

I have had this forwarded to me several times:

Subject: Dumbing down: the proof

Dr Pournelle,

Dumbing down: the proof 

[quote] As a service to Spectator readers who still have any doubts about the decline in educational standards, we are printing these exam papers taken by 11-year-olds applying for places to King Edward¹s School in Birmingham in 1898.[end quote]

Read them, and weep.

(When you get to the Arithmetic questions, remember that there were no pocket calculators then. And also bear in mind that in those days, British currency consisted of pounds, shillings and pence, where one pound equaled twenty shillings and one shilling equaled twelve pence. The conventional abbreviations were ‘£’ for pound, ‘s’ for shilling & ‘d’ for penny–which came from the original Latin names for the coins, as everyone knew of course.)

Jim Mangles

We have similar articles regarding schools in the United States at about the same era; I quickly concede that the British exam was tougher than the American one of the same era, assuming both are authentic — there is a bit of controversy about the bona fides of the American 1890 school exam. Still, from my own memories of schools in the 1930’s, the content in schools has been lessened and what students are expected to know has been lowered, and this by a very great deal.

One can plausibly make the case that in 1898 in the US only about 80% of the children went to public school past 4th or 5th grade; there were many who were kept home to work, and many people who were never “in the system” at all. In the British case the number who went to the “Public Schools” (which we would call private schools in the US) was about all of the upper and middle classes, but didn’t include many from the working classes.

It may be instructive to contemplate what we lose by insisting on egalitarianism, equal treatment, and “no child left behind.” I could make the case that a society that has 40% or more people able to pass such examinations might be better off than one with “no child left behind” and only a very small percentage of the population, student or adult, able to handle such questions.

Democracy always drives toward egalitarianism, and toward cutting off the heads of the tallest poppies: that, according to Cicero, is the trouble with democracy and the reason Rome couldn’t stand it. He had equally valid criticisms of Monarchy and Aristocracy and argued for the “mixed form” of government which he called a Republic that incorporated elements of all three forms. The Framers of the US Constitution were all familiar with that view and most of them seem to have been persuaded of its truth.

But that was 1787 and we are ever so much wiser today.

The first words in the old McGuffy Reader were “No man can put off the Law of God.”  The first words in the Soviet first reader (and one presumes the present one, perhaps) were “For the joys of our childhood we thank our native land.” The first words in the most popular primer in the US at the time when most of our teachers went to school were “See Spot run, said Jane. Run Spot, run.”

It is probably time that we in the US seriously decide whether we want egalitarianism or to be able to compete in the world market since our masters seem determined that we shall have universal free trade at whatever cost to jobs and trade deficits. It is highly unlikely that we can survive without bankruptcy given the education system we have now. It is hardly too early to start reforming it. It is also highly unlikely that we will do anything at all: our schools will probably continue to move toward credential factories in which all thought of what we used to know as education has not merely vanished, but is no longer a memory.

We invite you to leave any comments below; as always, be respectful of other’s views. – the Editor

Remembering Thanksgiving

Editor’s Note: I thought that Jerry’s readers might be interested in a Thanksgiving post from November 22, 2012. We wish all a happy Thanksgiving holiday, even to those that may not observe this tradition.

If you want to be notified when a new Remembrance is posted, use the “Subscribe to Notifications” area to the right (or below on smaller screens).

View 751 Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wishing you well on Thanksgiving Day.


And despite the election we have much to be thankful for. God reigns and the government at Washington still lives. We endure.


Part of my day was taken up with a vain attempt to make a good brown gravy from gluten free baking flour. There are many varieties of gluten free flour. The one I tried would not brown after considerable time in a fryng pan with Imperial margarine; then started to turn black. I got all that out of it and decided to try again, this time without an attempt to brown it. It ended up a mass of grey when, when I put the pater in, made for lumps. I got rid of the lumps with a blender, but the result tasted a bit like caramel; apparently gluten-free general purpose baking flour contains some kind of sweetener. After about an hour of this I threw the whole mess away.

We saved an appropriate amount of the turkey drippings for Roberta and I used Wonder flour to make a regular roué brown gravy, which the rest of us could eat. If anyone knows a good gluten free turkey gravy recipe I’d be grateful to have it.


Alex and his wife Dana were over for Thanksgiving. The other kids are fine with their families. I seem to be recovering from a not too severe cold. Felt rotten yesterday but in the recovering feeling state today. Tomorrow I’ll go down to LOSCON, the LASFS proprietary convention down by the airport. I should be over being contagious by then.

And happy Thanksgiving Day.


Just an idea, my grandmother used to brown flour for roux in the oven before she added it to the fat/oil. Of course it was regular flour, might work for gluten free, worth a try anyhow, just throw a layer of flour in a pie pan or something and toss it in the oven for awhile (I’d guess 350 degrees) and check it every once in awhile. Or if you want you could try browning it on the stove top, again just put the flour in a pan over a moderate heat, you might need to stir it from time to time.

I don’t know if cornstarch has gluten in it, but that can also be used as a thickener. Tapioca flour as well, but again, no idea on gluten content for those.

Hope that helps.


Cornstarch thickens nicely but doesn’t brown and has no flavor. But if you make a gravy with lots of the juice from baking a turkey, and it comes out thin, then a teaspoon of cornstarch in a small amount of cold water added to the gravy will thicken it nicely. It will also make it a bit less salty if somehow you added too much salt anywhere along the line. It’s certainly gluten free. But alas it won’t brown.


re: It’s Time For A New (Old) Kind Of University

I read the blog you referenced with interest. I noticed in it that the author stated that costs at some universities had increased at a rate of 3X inflation for the past 20 years.

I was laid up for a week of post-op recovery in a hotel far from home earlier this year and I became (extremely) bored. At one point I went online and researched the student handbooks from Georgia Tech (my alma mater – IE ’78)) and I plotted out the costs of tuition and fees from 1976 to 2010. I made normal adjustments for the switchover from quarters (which I thought were highly sensible) to semesters that the institution made in the 90’s. I also plotted the annual costs versus inflation across that period.

My findings were that annualized tuition/fee costs across that period actually have increased at 6X inflation. At the same time, they actually (it seems to me) cover less core ground in their engineering curriculums than they did in my day.

This can’t go on.

Happy Thanksgiving


And the number of administrators and staff has risen exponentially as well. As well as the number of new courses and departments, most of which do not seem to teach anything useful for getting a job or adding to the economy. And it continues unabated.