NERVA and man in space; Trump and the Marshall

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.

-Robert A. Heinlein


The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski


John Glenn must surely have wondered, as all the astronauts weathered into geezers, how a great nation grew so impoverished in spirit.


I knew from high school that I would live to see the first man land on the moon. I did not expect to see the last one.

Finally, some good news:


The return of NERVA?



Roland Dobbins

I learned about NERVA at Boeing in the late 50’s, and used NEWRVA type devices in most of my early science fiction in which several stories were laid in the 2020 time frame.


According to Wikipedia:

[snip} NASA plans for NERVA included a visit to Mars by 1978 and a permanent lunar base by 1981.[4][5] NERVA rockets would be used for nuclear “tugs” designed to take payloads from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to larger orbits as a component of the later-named Space Transportation System, resupply several space stations in various orbits around the Earth and Moon, and support a permanent lunar base. The NERVA rocket would also be a nuclear-powered upper stage for the Saturn rocket (the Saturn S-N), which would allow the upgraded Saturn to launch much larger payloads of up to 340,000 lb. (150,000 kg) to LEO. [snip]


This is more or less as I remember it.  Of course, the Mars mission killed the NERVA program. Instead of making a flying NERVA an X program useful for any space mission, the development scientists at NASA, having won the Moon Race when General Phillips was imposed on them as project manager, tried for another Great Mission – Mars – and since NERVA moved a Mars mission from pipedream to possible – if expensive – status, NERVA had to go.

Most of my brief experience with NERVA comes from having chased a well known movie starlet out of the house of a reluctant Congressional candidate. As you’d suspect, a story goes with that. In 1969 I was co-manager of the Sam Yorty for Mayor (of LA) campaign. Haig Kehiyan was the other co-manager. Then the Congressional District that included Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank became vacant, and was to be filled in the same election as the mayor race. Haig and I decided that I would manage  part of that campaign, since he had been hired for the Mayor’s race. 

The best Republican candidate in the District was a young, unmarried stockbroker who happened to be Barry Goldwater, Jr.  I was appointed to go out and inform young Goldwater that he really had to run for that seat; the Party needed him, and his father approved. When I got to his house – not a block away from Warner Brothers Studio – he was entertaining a well known starlet, daughter of an even more famous star. I had to ask her to let us have some time for something confidential. She was gracious about it; and fortunately since I had the express direction from his father to talk him into running for Congress, young Barry was polite, if a bit miffed. After he was an unmarried stockbroker living a block from Warner Brothers…

Anyway, he won the seat, and ended up on the Space Committee, where he fought a losing battle with his colleagues to keep NERVA alive, given the success of the program. I was in those days enthusiastic about the Mars program, but it was clear that could not be saved; but it was still possible to save NERVA, which didn’t cost all that much. Mars was estimated at $7.5 billion, and included NERVA as well as all the other hardware.


NERVA was a nuclear rocket; that alone made it a target for the frantic anti-nuclear crowd. It would never have enough thrust to lift its own weight – it would never launch from Earth. What it would do was open up the solar system: it had higher ISP, potentially higher by a factor of more than 3, than any chemical rocket. The only thing more efficient was  the tiny thrust ion drives. It already had demonstrated sea level thrust with an exhaust velocity twice as high as the best chemical rockets, giving it a vacuum ISP of three times better; and this was tested, not theoretical. Given experience with NERVA I make no doubt we could do much better.


Low thrust but higher Specific Impulse—ISP.  ISP is measured in “seconds”, but it is not a time; it is pounds of thrust per pound of fuel per second; a measure of efficiency . A LOX-Hydrogen engine can theoretically get an ISP of 450 although I know of none that have achieved that. The space shuttle solid boosters consistently delivered about 250. The tested ISP of the unfinished NERVA project ran 850 in vacuum, and more was thought fairly easy to obtain.

With NERVA a manned mission to Mars in months was possible. It was also ideal for a lunar base. NERVA would never land on Earth or the Moon, but would ferry materials between Earth orbit and Lunar orbit, then come back for more. It was, I believed then and still do, the key to man’s exploitation of the solar system. Alas, Congress in its wisdom zeroed out NERVA in 1972; but young Barry fought a noble fight to retain it.

I’m pleased to see that someone at NASA has finally realized that if we’re to have man in deep space, we need fuel efficiency to get him there.

(As of now, the Wikipedia entry on Lunar Bases is fairly sound and informative. )




Trumps Fire and Fury vs. Colin Powell

So Colin Powell said that if North Korea *used* nuclear weapons against us, we would destroy them.
Trump said that if North Korea *made further threats against the US*, fire and fury would descend on them.
There is a big difference between actually using nuclear weapons against the US versus issuing blustery threats against the US. The former demands an obvious response. The latter? Are we really going to attack North Korea, likely go to war, because Trump doesn’t like hearing these threats (which North Korea has been issuing for a long time)?
The problem with Trump’s blustery retort is that North Korea almost immediately made further threats against the US, and no Fire or Fury was forthcoming. Let’s save the threats of apocalypse for the situation it would actually be used, which is in the event of an actual attack on the US or it’s allies.


Perhaps; but then few before have specifically threatened a US territory and US citizens with plausible nuclear destruction. Guamians are US citizens, all of them; if Kim Jong Un had specifically threatened Studio City, I would not be offended if the President promised fire and sword – or fire and fury – retaliation. But then I live in Studio City. I have not heard the complaints from Guam; perhaps I missed them? At what point do threats become warnings to be acted on?

Your mileage may vary, but I would rather my enemies wondered how far they could go with nuclear threats. I note China has voted for, rather than vetoed, international sanctions. I probably would run the White House differently from the way Mr. Trump does, but then I will never be President.


Another view.


Leftist Lunacy on Kim

What planet is the left living on? When was the last time we launched missiles toward other countries, routinely threatened to reduce other countries to ashes, and publicized plans to menace other countries to name a few things?


Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who also serves as the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, cautioned against President Trump’s rhetoric on North Korea at the Netroots Nation conference on Friday, initially saying that the foreign leader was acting more responsibly than Trump. He later said he regretted the remarks.


Democrats like Rep. Ellison demonstrate why the left cannot be taken seriously and cannot be trusted. What in the hell is wrong with this clown? They want to take the White House in 2020 with this anti-American rhetoric at a time when Trump’s poll numbers are up presumably because he’s handling this crisis in this way? Contrast that with how Clinton and Obama handled North Korea; in fact, North Korea is likely a problem today largely because of their lacks of policy on this matter.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo


We have certainly tried the soft diplomatic approach for a long time; in the case of April Glaspie with Saddam Hussein, the result cost us several trillion dollars and far too many casualties.


Next will the Marshall threaten San Francisco?


What is an American City Worth?



Newt Gingrich

What is an American city worth?

On September 11, 2001, we were deeply moved by the deaths of 2,996 people and the wounding of another 6,000.

In reaction to that shocking day, we launched a series of wars which have gone on for nearly 16 years, have cost more than $5 trillion, and have left more than 4,000 Americans dead and more than 50,000 severely wounded.

That has been the cost of an attack by 19 terrorists using commercial airliners as weapons.

Now consider the human cost of losing one American city to a nuclear strike.

I chose only one city to make a point about our current lack of seriousness in dealing with the spread of nuclear weapons to more and more unstable and dangerous countries.

The Los Angeles Times reported on, August 16, 2006, that a nuclear attack on the Port of Long Beach would “have catastrophic consequences for the United States,” resulting in the instant deaths of 60,000 people and irradiation of another 150,000. Additionally, the paper reported the economic loss would be ten times that of the September 11th terrorist attack in New York City. The paper cited a report by the RAND Corporation’s Center for Terrorism Risk Management Policy, which the article’s author wrote presented “a terrifying picture not only of the possibility of such an attack but of its immediate and long-term effects on Southern California, the nation, and the global economy.”

The Long Beach estimate was for a 10-kiloton device – that’s half the size of the “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki and two-thirds the size of “Little Boy,” which was dropped on Hiroshima. [snip]

Kim Jong Un may think it interesting to threaten to use nuclear weapons on American Guam. Clearly Mr. Trump does not.


Taking the earth’s temperature

An important point taken from Figure 4 is that only 7.9% of US instruments are accurate to <1 degree Celsius.

Richard White

Del Valle, Texas

I’ve talked about this enough, I suppose; but getting temperature to a fraction of a degree is expensive, and seldom done for any reason other than medical. Modern medical thermometers use thermistors, and are calibrated once at manufacture; how reliable their 1/10 degree measurements after years of use is questionable, but I understand that in critical situations they merely throw the old one away. I haven’t consistently had 98.6 temperatures since the days of the hand-shaken tiny glass mercury thermometers.

It seems to vary between 98.0 and 99.0, and no one seems disturbed about that.




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




Nuclear War? Fire and Fury? We seem to have lost the Fourth amendment, but who cares?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.

-Robert A. Heinlein

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski


Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for the West as it commits suicide.

James Burnham


We have to start with the premise that the goal is to defeat the enemy.

Jim Woolsey



Colin Powell Says U.S. Should Destroy North Korean Regime If It Uses Nuclear Weapons

Published on Apr 18, 2013

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday (April 18) said that he would recommend the U.S. destroy the North Korean regime should Pyongyang ever attempt to use nuclear weapons.


Which is essentially what President Trump said, albeit Mr. Trump is both more emotional and graphic; perhaps it takes that. But his threat of fire and fury is no less threatening than the Secretary of State informing them calmly that we will turn North Korea into a parking lot. President Trump got a lot more headlines. And now he is saying that perhaps he was not tough enough; he wants Marshall Kim Jong Un – the title that Chairman Kim prefers – to understand that the first use of nuclear weapons moves us into the realm of Full Destruction rather quickly. I suspect he also wants Marshall Kim’s immediate subordinates to understand that as well. I certainly hope they got the message.

I recall, as many younger readers will not, the panic that the Cuban Missile Crisis brought about during the Kennedy administration. I lived in Seattle and worked in Strategic Analysis at the time. We had access to information about strategic weapons, ours and the Soviet Union’s, and and thus knew of their destructive capabilities – and the rather large numbers of them both sides had (or the Russians could have had; threat assessment is usually not done by assuming the other side is incompetent or incapable with evidence we did not have).

My house was in the north part of Seattle, the Green Lake district, and was tens of miles distant from Boeing, at that time the main and perhaps only strategic target in Seattle; given reasonable Soviet missile accuracy we were unlikely to be affected by blast damage. Prevailing winds tend to be from the west, and Boeing Plant Two the main war plant is a bit east of Green Lake, but our house was within the predictable fallout area. So, for several days, my college roommate and I filled bags of dirt and constructed a makeshift fallout shelter in the Basement; we did not disturb the upstairs rooms where Roberta and our first born were, but the plan was to cover the floor up there with books, of which we had many, if we actually had to fear fallout

It wasn’t much of a fallout shelter, but it would have to do. Fortunately the crisis was averted; Khrushchev withdrew his nuclear tipped missiles from Cuba, the Navy withdrew its blockade, and the Cuban people remained in the Soviet orbit but not as a missile base. Without Cuban missiles, bombardment of the southern US from Russia was more difficult. That was not comforting in Seattle, which is far north, far west, and close to the sea where Soviet submarines might or might not have the ability to launch ballistic missiles at that time, but they certainly could and did carry cruise missiles they could launch at sea. They had demonstrated that.

But the crisis went away. I became much more interested in survival techniques, even had a column in Survive Magazine. And in1964 moved to San Bernardino which was not a counterforce target, although it was downwind from Los Angeles which was certainly a countervalue target.


The current events are not quite so threatening to the United States. Marshall Kim might have the capability of taking out some American countervalue targets. Guam is at risk, as is all of Japan and South Korea, but Hawaii is questionably in range as is Alaska. Nuclear destruction of any part of the US proper would, I think, not be appealing to the Marshall; surely he understands that whatever the US did in retaliation, his own death would be certain, and Pyongyang would not have one stone left on another within hours of the first nuclear explosion. Colin Powell actually threatened more to the Marshall’s father – parking lot was the image he used, and for the whole country, not just Pyongyang.

The people in Guam are concerned that we might not wreak similar vengeance if North Korea destroyed a military asset there. President Trump has assured them we will. He may have been overly dramatic as his critics have said, but the soft language of Diplomacy seems ineffective with Marshall Kim.

We avoided nuclear events during the Cold War. The Russians tried to impress us with Tsar Bomba, but while the weapon worked – it was the largest nuclear event known for billions of years, exceeded in power only by meteoric bombardment – strategic analysts discounted it as undeliverable. By the time technology advanced enough to make such a monster deliverable, the era of MAD, Mutual Assured Destruction, ended with the dissolution of the USSR and the end of the Cold War.

At the time we thought there would never be another MAD period. We were wrong. An era of diplomacy has brought about a nuclear power which can pluck out our beard and blow it in our faces; and do it with impunity because the Marshall has NUKES. What messages that delivers to would be emulators of the Marshall I leave to the reader to imagine. I expect Khadafy wished he had bought nukes rather than Finlandized to the United States.

It is a time for concern, but I am not going to go out and dig to build a fallout shelter. Anyway I don’t have a basement, and my survival company dissolved many years ago.


Fourth Article of Amendment to the Constitution of the United States


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. 


Apparently the Fourth Amendment no longer applies if you engage in foreign commerce, have foreign bank accounts, or have worked for Donald Trump. All or any of those are now probable cause for a special prosecutor. I would like to know whose oath supports the warrant.


FBI agents searched former Trump campaign chair’s home

WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI agents served a search warrant at the home of Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Manafort’s spokesman said Wednesday.

Spokesman Jason Maloni says that Manafort cooperated with the agents as he has “consistently” done.

Manafort has been a subject of a longstanding FBI investigation into his dealings in Ukraine and work for that country’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is also investigating Manafort as part of his probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and any possible collusion with Trump associates.

Manafort has denied any wrongdoing. He has also cooperated with congressional committees investigating the election interference. Manafort has turned over documents to the intelligence and judiciary committees in the Senate. Manafort led the Trump campaign for several months.

The FBI search was first reported Wednesday by The Washington Post, which said it occurred July 26.


Has anyone actually seen the warrant? What actual crime is alleged that allows this search and seizure? Does anyone care?


You Are Mentioned on

Dr. Pournelle:
Your birthday was mentioned today on
The Iron Law of Bureaucracy is also the Editors’ Quote of the Day:
Happy Birthday!! Keep up the great work.






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




Constitutional Crisis? Wealth concentration and Distributism; Planetary Defense

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.

-Robert A. Heinlein

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski

“The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.”

Donald Trump

Between 1965 and 2011, the official poverty rate was essentially flat, while the government spending per person on poverty programs rose by more than 900% after inflation.

Peter Cove

John Glenn must surely have wondered, as all the astronauts weathered into geezers, how a great nation grew so impoverished in spirit.

Our heroes are old and stooped and wizened, but they are the only giants we have. Today, when we talk about Americans boldly going where no man has gone before, we mean the ladies’ bathroom. Progress.

Mark Steyn

Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for the West as it commits suicide.

James Burnham

[For homosexuals] Death is the sentence. We know there’s nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence.

Imam Farrokh Sekaleshfar in an address at Hussein Islamic Center, Orlando. Florida, 2013

We are a nation of assimilated immigrants.

Immigration without assimilation is invasion.

We have to start with the premise that the goal is to defeat the enemy.

Jim Woolsey


It’s breaking news, so no valid comments are possible, but it is my understanding that the so called Republicans have passed a sanctions bill penalizing Russia: and forbidding the President from rescinding any of them without consent of Congress. The rumor is that President Trump will sign it. That is such a bad action that whoever advised it ought to be fired, and the Congresscritter who proposed it marked for primary opposition at the next election. It is an attempt to break down the separation of powers in the Constitution, and deliver control of foreign policy over Russia to Congress, relieving the President of that responsibility. Of course there are stories of how the President wanted that, but the sources are, as is traditional with today’s journalists, anonymous.

I know no more than that. I hope it’s all made up. But if Mr. Trump signs anything like that, it’s a big mistake.



My Apologies: my posts are answered with a message saying inappropriate response by server.  I got use to that happening at midnight but it’s happening now.  Worse, while this is posted, the formatting is wrong, and I’ve no choice but to try to fix it. And every time I do it sends a message to the world about the new post, although I thought we had that tamed down; and when it is sending the appropriate response it never sends another unless considerable time has passed.  I can hope all this will fix itself.  I am not spamming you with “he posted” messages, something is broken. It will I am sure be fixed. Apologies.



You might find “The CEO Pay Machine” by Steven Clifford worth your time, and the Wall Street Journal review by Phillip Delves Broughton in yesterday’s Wall St. Journal even more so. It was entitled “Excess at the top” which implies a point of view, and after reading the review – if you can find it, it seems to have vanished from the Internet – you will have much to think about. Of course we don’t so much need educating as reminding; we all know about executive compensation going wild. But it never hurts to contemplate the matter.




A Better Way to Reward CEOs

Many companies are led by chief executives whose contribution to profit may be minuscule but whose compensation is astronomical. Philip Delves Broughton reviews ‘The CEO Pay Machine’ by Steven Clifford.

In 1978 the average chief executive at a large company was paid 26 times more than the average worker. By 2014, depending on your method of calculation, he was paid 300 to 700 times more. It has become standard for a CEO to make more than $10 million a year, and a few make more than $100 million. These aren’t founders or major shareholders but hired guns, managers playing with house money.

It is not like this everywhere. In the U.K., the fifth largest economy in the world, the pay ratio of CEO to average worker is 84 to 1. In Japan, the third largest, it’s 16 to 1.

So what happened in America that so much is now lavished on the executive class? And does it matter? To the second question Steven Clifford, a former chief executive at King Broadcasting and now the author of “The CEO Pay Machine,” responds with an emphatic “yes.” The outsize income, he thinks, feeds inequality and mistrust in our democracy. In response to the first question he argues that a system of compensation has emerged over the past four decades that rewards mediocre executives by stiffing shareholders, employees and society at large.

The CEO “pay machine” works like this: When a chief executive is hired, a company will also hire one of a handful of compensation consultants to establish a benchmark for his pay. The consultant will look at a bunch of companies in different industries and then propose that the CEO be paid at the 75th percentile. (No company wants to think it is paying its CEO at the 25th percentile.) The consultant is out to please the future CEO, since the real money will come if he is hired to design the company’s pension or health-care plans. Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner, once said that he would “rather throw a viper down my shirtfront than hire a compensation consultant.”

But salary is just the beginning. Next come the short- and long-term incentive plans. Short-term plans contain bonuses for meeting annual targets or for simply accomplishing the tasks one expects of a senior manager. In 2014 Les Moonves, the CEO of CBS, received a cash bonus of $25 million. Roughly half of that was reportedly paid to recognize Mr. Moonves’s “leadership and direction in the creation of premium content.” In other words, doing his job. [snip]

Now I am not for confiscation of other people’s money, particularly if the confiscated funds go into the money available for the confiscators to spend – the incentives are horrible – but I do have some objection to great concentrations of wealth in the hands of those who didn’t earn that wealth. I don’t feel menaced by Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, but the great wealth of new rich is disturbing; is it stabilizing?

[snip] The marvelous thing about bonuses at this level, Mr. Clifford notes, is that they aren’t binary. If you fail to meet your targets, you don’t lose your bonus; you just get less of it. If you have a $1 million bonus target, chances are that the board will shave maybe 10% off if you underperform. And $900,000 for failure isn’t bad. Of course, there are also long-term incentives: the stock options and the restricted stock that vests over time. [snip]

It’s enough to encourage Distributism: some wealth is confiscated, but then distributed so widely that there isn’t all that much incentive to take more. The spending power is not given to politicians, nor does any one person or family get so much that there is much incentive about doing it again. The purpose is not to “soak the rich”, but to ameliorate some of the ills of concentration of wealth and power. Perhaps a foolish notion; yet we did get along without executive salaries in the tens of millions of dollars for a considerable time, and it likely did us good.


An essay from the past that most of you may not have seen.

Trouble with Marx

My memory fails, and I forgot the name of my favorite economist. I racked my brain to no result. I have his books upstairs, but while going up is easy, coming back down is not, and coming down carrying things is worse. Then I remembered his book, “The trouble with Marx”. The economist I had in mind was David McCord Wright.

I also remembered I had written about Wright’s observation that Marx was correct in some of his projections, and I had written about that, so I googled The Trouble with Marx Pournelle, which took me to an odd page: it was a serious discussion of Marx and Marxism from a long time ago. Much of it appeared in my journal at one time, including letters to me (which had full credit to the authors but there was no mention of me, my journal, or the original source.

The question of concentration of wealth arises again. Wright devoted some time in his book to Marx’s predictions about concentration of wealth under Capitalism, and speculated that one thing that had served the United States well was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and vigorous enforcement under trust busting presidents.

Marx was a founder of the Communist International, and he did have some ideas about “the specter” that was haunting Europe. As you say he was cheering for one side in the ‘class war’, and it’s often hard to separate that from his economic analysis.

Some of his analysis is plain silly, like the “labor theory of value’. Fortunately that’s not required for his major analytical thought, because if it were a necessary assumption then Marx’s thought would be as unread as pre-Lavoisier theories of oxidation. In fact, though, the ‘labor theory of value’ was part of what you rightly call cheering, and unrelated to any objective analysis.

Marx did not understand production, and particularly had no notion of the power of technology. He thought anyone could operate the “tools” and “means of production” and that the control and ownership of the power plants and big machine tools was terribly important. That’s to some extent what misled Stalin and Mao, of course. They ought to have known better. Marx wasn’t imaginative enough to see that the Industrial Revolution wouldn’t stop with massive centralized machine shops (made necessary because energy distribution was difficult and expensive); but Stalin and Mao ought to have known that there was a Second Industrial Revolution characterized by the hand-carried quarter inch electric drill that made distributed production possible. Now we have the Third brought on by the small computer and once again all is changed. Marx foresaw none of this, and his economic analysis is based on a very obsolete theory of industrial production.

As in the computer business, hardware often trumps software. Ownership of the means of production is no longer an automatic key to wealth, nor is it all that hard to acquire the means of production. Particularly in the computer/intellectual property field, the means of production are available to almost anyone.

So much for the fundamental flaws in Marx.

Even so, Marx was certainly influential among German economic theorists, and through them Asian including Japanese; Karl Wittfogel being one of the more important. Wittfogel almost single-handedly converted an entire generation of Japanese economists to Marxism, which meant Communism, until his break with the Party over the Hitler/Stalin Pact. He later used his great familiarity with Marx’s theories to see a major contradiction in them.

One of the major attractions of Communism was being on the inevitably winning side. Communism claimed to be scientific, and its adherents were marching in step with the flywheel of history. That’s a powerfully attractive argument to some. It was for me in my early twenties. It seemed to prove something.

But in Oriental Despotism, Wittfogel pointed out that Marx himself was horrified to see a contradiction: that state capitalism, modeled after the old hydraulic societies (Egypt, Babylon, etc.) could be eternal, not evolving, because it had no internal contradictions as Marx claimed everything except the classless society would have. Marx called this “the Asiatic Mode of Production” and was intellectually honest enough to leave the speculation in Das Kapital, but not honest enough to pursue the implications: that there could be eternal states, never changing much, never evolving, with utterly despotic governments. Such states are vulnerable, but ONLY to OUTSIDE pressures; as an example, the Great Mogul Empire lasted until a handful of Europeans pushed it over. Wittfogel also showed that the USSR was very nearly such an Oriental Despotism, and that China always was one: it was when it ceased to be such under Sun Yat Sen that it became vulnerable, and Sun Yat Sen was able to bring about partial revolution in China only with outside help.

Wittfogel is important to understanding Marx because he took Marx seriously and dealt with Marx’s arguments. David McCord Wright does much the same. His book “The Trouble With Marx” was originally a scholarly work much unread, and because of that was something of a failure as a Conservative Book Club selection since many buyers through that club didn’t know what to make of an economist who took Marx seriously as an economic theorist: they were looking for an anti-Communist tract.

Lester Thurow of MIT sometimes takes Marx seriously, but not often. He is a great lecturer, and it’s always worthwhile listening to him, but his analyses tend to be trendy and topical; I am not sure I have heard much from or about him since Hillary Clinton’s attempt to “reform” American health care, a subject about which Thurow knows more than most, although I strongly question his assumptions.

Wright believed that the American anti-trust laws were the major defense against the kind of destruction that pure capitalism can bring. And of course Schumpeter looked into the face of the capitalist abyss and withdrew in horror.

One attempt to mitigate the effects of unrelieved capitalism is economic nationalism, as well as local control of institutions. By local control, I mean using zoning laws to prevent WalMart from coming in and displacing all the local merchants. I won’t get into the desirability for a local community of placing large barriers in the way of WalMart; I do question the sanity of national laws that prevent the local community from having a say in the matter.

Similarly for economic nationalism: while a global economy is inevitable in the long run, as Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead; what matters are the living; and a nation that allows a skilled worker with 25 years investment in a particular company to suddenly be put on the street while his job is exported to a foreign country may well enjoy cheap jockey shorts, but may also have created a disaffected class from among those formerly the most patriotic. “For a man to love his country, his country ought to be lovely,” said Burke; and a country that is more concerned with cheap goods than the employment stability of its work force, and which goes out of its way to make it easy to export jobs, may be in trouble.

Couple that with an education system almost guaranteed to produce many graduates with no skills whatever and not even the learning skills of acquiring skills, so that they must now compete for menial jobs not merely with local menials but with the entire world including a single mother in Thailand, and you have an even more interesting situation. It is an experiment I would not care to have run, but we are running it here.

A world economy is probably inevitable in the long run, but I am not convinced that marching in step with the flywheel of history is always the right idea; and I am certain that Marx had some deep insights into what unrestrained capitalism can and will do.

I always thought David McCord Wright and Wilhelm Roepke to be economic theorists worthy of far more attention than they receive, because I always thought one ought to, and Schumpeter and those two did, take Marx quite seriously.

State capitalism is every whit as able to pave the road to serfdom as is communism. One may say it won’t happen here, but the one who says that isn’t reading newspapers.

All of which points us back to Roepke’s Humane Economy; and I am out of time just now.


Planetary Defense


Nice remarks about the Tunguska meteorite, and I love the National Science Foundation connection, as it is my former employer. If you don’t know this project:

It’s interesting, because it will survey the whole sky every couple of weeks. When I worked at NSF, I happened to be at an early review of this project, which was sort of a walk through of the work before it was presented to the National Science Board (NSB) for approval. All big NSF projects go through this, and the preliminary step is the “Director’s Review Board” (DRB), which is basically for the NSF Director and his closest advisors to listen for red flags before it goes to the NSB for final approval.

I was at the meeting because I had a project headed along the same trajectory, but I listened to the LSST briefing closely, and they stated something like “It will see and update the position of every magnitude 13 object every two weeks.” (I don’t remember the exact magnitude). And that was an interesting statement, so I broke protocol, raised my hand and asked,

“Given the albedo of a typical asteroid, what size asteroid does this mean that LSST can detect?” That comment caused a stir, for two reasons: (1) Lowly Program Officers do NOT ask questions at a DRB meeting, and (2) the reaction in the room clearly showed that a lot of people thought it was a good question!

The LSST presenters sort of huddled over this question for a few moments and came back with a rough answer: LSST should be able to detect a rock about the size of the Arizona Meteor Crater event. So, LSST won’t give us a warning on everything, but it IS an early warning system for civilization enders, and in fact, for most things Hiroshima-scale or larger.

And that’s nice to have, and a good first step. Of course, if we detect a civilization ender, we still lack the capacity to DO anything about it, but presumably an early warning would be extremely motivating.

The LSST web page now talks about the planetary defense benefits of the project. I can’t take credit, but I’ll say this: I asked that question, sometime around 2010, because there was nothing like that listed in the benefits of the project.

And I think it’s a great example of how you never know how basic research will pay off.




Microsoft Outlook

Dr. Pournelle,

    I understand your issues with Outlook. I’ve been supporting the product for five years, or I was until I had to stand on the dock waving goodbye as my job set sail for India. Before that I worked several jobs where I used it for daily communication. I remember my first look at 2007, I think, where the menus went away and were replaced with the”ribbon.” Everything that was hidden in the menus, is now hidden in plain sight. All that was easy, is now not.

    I have yet to play with 365. A) Being  unemployed, I can’t afford it. B) Being principled, I wouldn’t afford it. Note: That being principled bit was not taking a shot at those who pay for it. I just have a deep-seated aversion to paying for software. Being inconsistent, however, I’m sitting here at a Windows machine righting this, because I paid good money for the machine and am not facile enough with Linux to function in it one hundred percent of the time. In my head, I didn’t pay for Windows, I paid for the hardware.

    Want to have some fun? Try importing your Windows pst files to Mac. That can be done, but the formats for the two operating systems were totally different, and the process not easy. Also, bringing them back to Windows is nigh impossible. Of course, being a major corporation, they had left Windows XP in 2012 for Windows 7, just after Microsoft had ended support for it. If anyone remembers, Windows XP was released in 2000. So we were using Office 2010 on Windows and 2011 on Mac. It may have gotten easier since then, but I doubt it.

    In response to your comments about Microsoft having forgotten the normal user, the little guy, as it were. Is that not just a symptom of our society as it stands today. We’re forgotten, unless we gather en masse. Gather, and pull out the torches and pitchforks, ie. Tea Party. I guess, what I’m getting at is that you won’t get any notice if you don’t have a million or two to drop on the table. That’s the way we’ve been slipping for years. The only thing that really disappoints me however is that they’re trying to make it harder to join the club. Comments about which, I believe I’ve seen here.

    I digress. Back to Outlook. I’m using an Open Source mail client. I’m not totally enamored of it, but it’s free, and it’s almost as pretty as Outlook. I do miss some of the features of Outlook, especially the archiving and contact management. I’ve yet to find an Open Source substitute that handles those as well, but I’m still looking.

    Oh, well. What is one to do? As I’ve heard a wise man say, repeatedly, “Despair is a sin.” I guess I’ll keep my head up, and soldier on.

Atrox melior dulcissima veritas mendaciis,

Douglas Knapp


Word autocomplete, Christopher Chyba

Hi Jerry:

I don’t use Word 365, but in all the newer versions of Word (2010, 2013, 2016) all of the detailed settings are accessed through the File tab, then Options, then Advanced.  There is a checkbox in the “Editing options” category for “Show Autocomplete suggestions”.

On another note, you might be familiar with the Google feature called  “Scholar.”  Many years ago it was on the main page of features, but it is now buried way far down (unless you use it frequently, in which case it will move further up in the menu hierarchy).  From a Google search page, you have to click on the “Google Apps” icon, then the “More” button, then the “Even more from Google” button.  Scrolling to the bottom of that page you’ll see an array of icons, arranged in alphabetical order.  Look for the one labeled “Scholar.”  Finally you have to click on the “Search Scholar” button.

A Scholar search on Chyba Tunguska yields

The paper in question might be this one (published in Nature):

The co-authors were PJ Thomas and KJ Zahnle.

Hope this helps.

Best regards,

Doug Ely

Thank you. Yes, the options menu is where I find editing – not under proofing where I looked, but under advanced. Alas, it does no good. On all of my machines the “Show autocomplete options” box is checked; but on one – and only one – of my machines, the autocomplete options do not appear. I even tried unchecking it, exiting Word, then opening Word and rechecking. Nope. Then leaving it checked I used power options to turn the machine off, then turned it back on. It seemed to have no updates to offer. Autocomplete did not work, I’m tempted to say of course. The next step I suppose is to see if I can uninstall then reinstall Word, but as everything else is working and it is such a minor problem, I probably won’t. since I have other work that is more important.

Thanks for reminding me if the Scholar option; I eventually found Christopher Chyba, but only by remembering his name; no first page returns to Google of Tunguska even suggested that anyone of that name exists, much less says that he pretty well settled the “mystery”. It is I suppose more exciting to fill the returns with articles about “we don’t know” and “it’s a mighty mystery.” Which means that using that for anything like meaningful research is absurd: we have a consensus on climate change, supposedly, and you have to hunt to find that there are serious doubts from people usually labeled Deniers and thought by most Believers to be fools or mendicants; whereas with Tunguska there really is a pretty wide consensus that Chyba figured out a model that pretty well cover the known evidence, and while there are a few who don’t agree even they say he’s reasonable; but the first page returns on Tunguska still emphasize “mystery” and “we don’t really know” – something they’d never say about our understanding of climate change. Disappointing.




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




Planetary Defense; Tunguska; Curses on Microsoft Improvements; and other items of importance.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.

-Robert A. Heinlein

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski


Microsoft is on a mission to improve office to beyond the comprehension or use of the average computer user, possibly to get rid of office users who are not enterprise clients or very large accounts; they certainly don’t care what damage they do to people who just want to use the stuff, write letters, maybe run a blog or Facebook (not that I Facebook) or generally just use it.

My recent adventures with Outlook, all caused by Microsoft improvements, are not over, but we now see a complex path to restoring what I had before their improvements made it temporarily impossible to use. For a while I couldn’t even search Outlook mail files – an error known to have been caused by one Microsoft “fix”. There were others. I’ll try to have an account of the whole adventure, but I don’t have time now. At least that crisis is over; I almost lost all my subscriber files, because Microsoft keeps “Contact” files in a screwy format different from mail files. I have lost the “category” flags which gave me a quick visual view of a subscriber’s status, but the information that caused those characterization flags was preserved, and can be restored by hand. A tedious process, but it can be done.

On that score, we’ve not had a pledge week for some time now, because I haven’t been providing much for you to subscribe to. I’m doing more work on fiction now – I have a good chance of finishing this volume of the Janissaries series this year, possibly earlier, if my health holds up and there are no more Microsoft crises. Yes, you guessed it, it was intended to be the last volume in the series, but it won’t be. It will have an ending that makes sense, and it will be a final ending for some characters – I don’t mean I’m killing them off, although some will die. Others. Though, reach a state where they need not be tracked individually. But there are also new and very important characters, and they will have to be followed as they interact with Rick and Tylara. Worked on it a bit today, and I pretty well see where this volume is going. I had hoped to end the series, but I just can’t.

Then there is LisaBetta, a story of a girl pretty well raised by a strange kind of AI on a world that we might grow into in fifty or so years. John DeChancie has done a first draft, and I promptly got absorbed into everything else and it sat neglected for months. It’s good stuff, and I’ll have to get at it. I also have to remember that perfect is the enemy of damned well good enough.

And Starborn and Godsons, the third book in the Legacy of Heorot series. Is coming along nicely, with some writing that ignores that aphorism. Larry and Steve has some really great scenes, and I’ve done some I’m proud of.

And now that Roberta is coming along nicely, and I’m recovered pretty well, and I’ve survived Microsoft’s improvements, I can get at it. Except one on the War Colleges want Strategy of Technology for a text and could I help with the revisions, and Colonel Doug Beason and I are doing an anthology on planetary defense (of which we have none), and that takes time, and every time I pay a bill I worry a bit; but I feel better than I have in years, I get my time consuming exercises, and…

Well, the point is that if you haven’t subscribed in a while, now would be a good time to renew, or and if you never subscribed I operate this place on the public radio model. We don’t have ads and distractions, I don’t often bug you for money, but if I don’t get subscriptions it will slow down or go away.

And this is the silly season. Nothing much is really happening, and most of it isn’t worth commenting on (by me; it gets plenty of comment from others).


One of the ways Microsoft improved Word for me: they turned off AutoCorrect on one of my machines. It used to be that if I typed in a few letters of a day of the week, it would offer to complete that, and if I typed in a day of the week follower by a comma, it would put in the date if I pressed return. Not the Earth, but convenient, and on all my other machines it does that. Not this one. And if I ask for help, I’m likely to get help that says I should go to the tools menu – a menu that no longer exists and hasn’t for a while. Or none at all. Microsoft doesn’t seem to have a name for this feature, and HELP is the usual uninformative nonsense it usually is. If anyone knows what the feature is called or where to find it in Word 365, I’d appreciate the tip. I don’t use it a lot, but it annoys me that it is off.


I mentioned that Doug Beason, (Col. USAF RET, former Chief Scientist of Space Command) and I are about to put together an anthology of stories and essays on Planetary Defense. More on that another time. Anyway, that sometimes has me thinking of events like Tunguska, a 10-30 megaton – yes, megaton – event in Siberia in 1908. A blast possibly half the size of Tsar Bomba that flattened and charred tens of thousands of trees over 2000 square kilometers, possibly the largest blast recorded in human history before the invention of the H bomb; a bigger blast than any weapons we now possess.

Meteorite is the obvious explanation, but there was no meteorite, and no crater either. When the Russians finally got around to inspecting the area – they did have rebellions, the War, Ten Days That Shook the World, their Civil War, and years of Stalin’s purges to distract them – in 1927, they could find no meteorite, no rocks, no hole in the ground, and in fact nothing that looked like the residue of a meteorite strike. It was a mystery that intrigues everyone, and back before I learned the explanation I was induced to speculate about it in broadcasts of the BBC and US public TV. I liked “black hole” as a possibility, although I knew damned well it couldn’t be that; and since I went on these shows to promote Lucifer’s Hammer I usually stuck to the comet theory. After all, we thought many comets were just dirty ice snowballs. Still do, I guess. The ice would have melted, and what’s to find?

But I learned better.

This afternoon I was reminded of a restaurant in the Baltimore harbor area, Eat Bertha’s Mussels; an intriguing name, and if it’s still there I can recommend it highly for sea food if you don’t mind sawdust on the floor.

But I remember it because it was there that Rolf Sinclair, and old friend from the National Science Foundation (and one of the reasons I used to say that the NSF budget might be the best Federal tax money we spend) took me. Mrs. Pournelle, Larry Niven, and Poul and Karen Anderson to dinner with two young men whose names, embarrassingly, I do not recall. They explained in detail, drawing some diagrams and writing equations on paper napkins just what must have happened at Tunguska. Not a comet, not a black hole, not the wrath of Jehovah or Thor, but a good old fashioned stone—not metal—asteroid entering the atmosphere at a rather steep angle and high speed. The great speed meant that air resistance to entry – hardly reentry – into the atmosphere became greater and greater as the rock descended, and eventually that energy potential exceeded the binding energy that held the stone monster—about the size of the Coliseum in Los Angeles – together. Thus it came apart. With a bang. A 10 to 30 megaton bang. Trees blew outward in a radial pattern around the impact point, but there was no impact: it blew up at a fair altitude. The debris was subjected to extreme temperatures, and everything that could be affected by that was consumed. The only thing that fell to earth was sand, and that was pretty well indistinguishable from sand blown in from the Mongolian Desert.

Thus no crater, and no trace of what hit us. Farewell the black hole, or the ice comet. Just a stone asteroid.

Of course there are a lot of them out there.

Our two dinner guests presented a paper on that to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science – Rolf was the AAAS official who invited them to speak – and later published much the same thing in SCIENCE. And I can’t remember their names. I got to know them pretty well, too. But this was at least 27 years ago, and possibly much longer. Thin excuse for not remembering but it’s all I’ve got.


And a sad comment on the internet for scientific research outside your own field: the cause of Tunguska has been known for over 25 years. Yes, there are some anomalies, but not great enough to overcome the theory of a stone asteroid coming apart. That hypothesis explains all the known data, and there’s more than enough energy in a football field asteroid entering at high velocity to bring about all the observed phenomena.  Yet a half hour search doesn’t present me a link to the actual paper the lads – Chyba?—who presented the paper and explained it all to me in that Baltimore restaurant before presenting it to the AAAS. Hah! I just remembered thy name. Christopher Chyba. I got nothing searching for Chyba, but Chyba Tunguska got me a confirmation of his name and a condensation of his theory.  But note I had to know the name; otherwise Google showed me links to how it’s still a mystery, and it might be a black hole, and an old woman who’s convinced it was Thor, and – well, anything but the science.



Erosion Of The US Middle Class


Edward Luttwak has an excellent piece in the Times Literary Supplement on the currently hot topic of “what actually just happened?” Rather provocatively titled “Why the Trump dynasty will last sixteen years”, it’s at

Luttwak spends some time on the Establishment’s continuing hysterical befuddlement, but his primary focus is the core issue in the current fight over who runs America: Will our middle classes grow again and rule, or continue shrinking and be ruled forever by their (our) self-proclaimed betters?

Luttwak focuses on what he presents as a key indicator, the growing unaffordability of a new car for the average American family, and builds his case around that. It’s a good piece, I recommend it.

It also reminded me of a couple of wider-reaching pieces I sent you a year and a half ago, in late ’15 and then early ’16 right after the Iowa caucuses. I think these are worth another look, now that the dust is (one hopes) beginning to settle.

I first took the hugely politically incorrect view that it’s not “democracy” per se, but rule by the middle class that makes Western nations successful. Democracy only succeeds if you have an informed and self-disciplined middle-class majority; otherwise it inevitably descends to “one man, one vote, once.”

Ergo, policies to foster and preserve an informed and self-disciplined middle-class majority are vitally important to free and prosperous Western nationhood. But the US middle classes are under assault across a broad front. I took a look at the wide variety of middle-class cost squeezes being applied in recent decades, and made the point that while we might not get there as fast, “one man, one vote, once” could happen here too.

Will we continue (resume, really) middle class rule here? Things look more hopeful than they did two winters ago. But stay tuned.



Aristotle defined democracy as rule by the middle class, as did many of the ancients. Middle class was defined as “those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation.” We do not have that now. In either party.


Feynman on Thinking

I’ll probably mention this again, with comments.


A Solar Eclipse of the Heart

Or, one can argue that has lost it.  You’re choice.

Courtesy Uncle Timmy.

Don’t miss it. I’m planning on banging pans just to make sure the sun doesn’t get eaten.


And this deserves comments; the case for man made global warming grows weaker and weaker.

Solar Minimums May Be [the] Final Piece of [the] Puzzle in [the] Fall of Western Civilisation.



Roland Dobbins


Apologies to whomever sent me this link: the Outlook crises ate you mail. But I had opened this link. Fascinating information on the end of the Greenland colonies after centuries. And it wasn’t the Gulf Stream. The western colony never was anywhere near any wandering of the Gulf Stream.



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