Copyright law; inflation; consultants and bunny inspectors; defense budgets; and a temperature data point


Mail 753 Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I will try to get a new View up quickly, but here is interesting mail with comments.



Dr. Pournelle

A brief on US copyright law reformation. <>

The story behind this brief and why it was withdrawn tells volumes about why US copyright law is horrid and why it will not be righted. In short, the big money interests want to keep it a mess and congresscritters follow the money.

Live long and prosper

h lynn keith

The first paper gives a very good case for a thorough revision of copyright law. It points out that the law as it stands it probably unconstitutional; indeed, you can make a pretty good case that the Berne Convention, of which the US is a party, is itself unconstitutional. It depends on your view of how treaties, signed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, can give Congress powers that it did not have under the original Constitution. Those old enough to remember the debates over the (never adopted) Bricker Amendment may recall that this is not a new debate.

Authors of course have a different idea. Authors believe they have a moral right to control their works, and some – Ursula Le Guin is an exemplar – have very strong views on this. Author associations also have strong views on the subject, and the Berne Convention, which was essentially dictated by Victor Hugo in the late 19th Century, was pretty well built on that premise.

My own view is that we have gone far too far with the current Copyright Acts. I do not believe that the Constitution ever granted, or that anyone who ratified it ever wanted, intellectual property to be protected for periods of fifty years, and certainly not for the life of the author plus fifty years, which is the minimum set in the Berne Convention which we ratified in 1976 or so; and then we modified that to life plus seventy years – and then added that if the author has no rights to the work because all rights were sold to a corporation, the corporation can have 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation. You may guess the origin of this provision for intellectual property protection. Of course you may also question just how this helps ”to promote the progress of science and useful arts,” which is the constitutional basis for the granting of a monopoly to the author “for a limited time”. This is well discussed in the first draft paper.

I wrote my first works under the old law which gave a copyright for 28 years, with the option of renewal in the 28th year. My first work was copyrighted in 1968. That would have worked for me, and I doubt that anyone ever produced more or worked harder because the copyright was extended to live plus fifty years, then seventy.

I suspect that no matter how badly the law needs reform, it won’t happen.


Surviving Obamacare

A doctor’s advice on how to cope with Obamacare: Briefly, live healthy, and get used to paying cash for routine medical services (possibly via a Health Savings Account) with high-deductible catastrophic coverage as a backup. (This advice is pretty much where I’ve already arrived at myself, FWIW.)

He also advises moving to a Red state that has opted out of creating its own Obamacare "Exchange". "States that opt out effectively defend their citizens from some of the more objectionable aspects of Obamacare."

He ends by predicting that a mass conservative migration to Red states will eventually tip back the electoral balance, and also hasten the day when the left-behind Blue states either collapse or reform. I think he’s an optimist; I expect that when California or Illinois implode they’ll figure out a way to make the rest of us pay. Depends on whether that electoral balance has been tipped yet, I guess. We can hope.


Understand that if you have 49 employees you dare not expand your business. Think on that when looking at employment opportunities. And you might contemplate getting into a government health care program. Smart people can game the system as well as dullards. There are opportunities in these games. We can discuss the ethics another time: but if the government is determined to transfer money from one person to another, it may be better to receive.



Jerry, you gave the monetarian explanation of inflation as "Inflation is too much money chasing too few goods."

What’s different now is Asian factories. In a race between the Fed printing money and Asian factories making goods, who do you think will win the race?

I’m watching the velocity of money. While the Fed has injected trillions of dollars, a lot of that money is idly held in corporate accounts or banks’ "excess reserves" stored at the Fed. I don’t seem much inflation until the velocity starts to climb.

Bob Devine

Automation and higher productivity have a way of making certain people useless. They are then paid to stay out of the way. But that is not without cost, since they continue to consume food and energy as well as manufactured goods. Entitlements can force deficits that can be covered only by running the printing presses. Even with greater productivity there is a limit.

Of course free contraception and abortions does tend to cut into future demand.


Probability of Carter-style inflation

Dr. Pournelle,

Carter-style inflation is unlikely, because the demand for savings by soon-to-be retirees is so high. That’s why the Fed’s current money-printing has not already caused inflation; by depressing interest rates, they have depressed the return on guaranteed-return investments like savings accounts, CDs, and high-quality bonds. So, retirement savings have to increase.

There has been market-specific inflation as producers have struggled to meet demand as a result of policy changes. Ethanol mandates, water-rights changes, and immigration policies have caused food inflation; Environmental regulation has caused fuel refinery capacity to be insufficient; Oil’s money-like qualities have caused repeated boom and bust cycles in that commodity along with precious metals.

I’m wiling to be proven wrong, but I don’t see how wages can rise in this environment. The only way broad-based inflation can get started in the next several years is if people lose faith in the dollar as a store of value and begin to use an alternative. At that point you have hyperinflation.


If you raise the value of entitlements – that is, pay more to people for not working – then do you not immediately raise the wage you must pay to get someone to work at all? And it goes up the scale that way. Some people work because they cannot imagine being idle. Others because it gives them a purpose in life. Some because they like their work. But some work for simple economic reasons.

And as commodities rise in price – and they certainly are rising – does that not put pressure on those who eat to find new sources of income? Or more income?


Subj: Is it 1937?


Miss Amity Schlaes understands US economics better than the President. And her The Forgotten Man is well worth reading for anyone who wants to see how we got into the Depression and stayed there. And yes, it does look a lot like 1937.

They won. We lost. Learn to live with it. Which is to say, learn some economic survival skills.


Subject: Federal Waste on Rural Broadband Program

This is where the taxpayers’ dollars are going in the great rural broadband program. They are being wasted on $22,000 routers and half a million dollars a year consultants.

Dwayne Phillips

Being a government consultant is great work if you can get it, and you can get it if you just know the right people. And sing the right songs.


Caltrans survey


Just got a call trying to persuade our household to participate in a Caltrans travel survey. Got to the point where after verifying the address they had they said I would receive a diary where all members of the household would record their travel for ONE DAY! It was at this point that I decided that I didn’t want to participate in a boondoggle that would provide no information with any statistical significance.

We’re from the Government and we’re here to help. ARRRRRGHHHH!u,

Bob Holmes

About as useful as bunny inspectors. And of course they all got raises in California’s budget. Then they went out and told us they needed new taxes to save the schools. It’s for the children! I’d be glad to consult with the state on finding useless jobs they can eliminate. Not likely to happen…


Geostationary shadows–

Dear Jerry:

Wouldn’t orbital mechanics be easy if the sun did not move in the sky ?

Having failed to consult Arthur Clarke by Ouija board , the UN actually paid this guy to pitch this proposal at the Doha climate talks!

Unless you like mummy music, best dive in halfway through it

Russell Seitz

So now we have national, state, and international consultants and employees on projects that a high school junior could tell you were not useful…


On the topic of makers/takers, I would like to commend to you the following:, via American Digest (

The author, Carlo M. Cipolla, seems to be onto something, and fits with makers/takers dichotomy, which you certainly recognize is more complex. His idea is there are four types of folks, and any individual can slide around from one to other, or combine aspects of more than one: Helpless; intelligent; stupid, and bandit.

You may also be familiar with Scott Adams "Dilbert Principle", which is that incompetence is promoted directly to management, as contrasted to Peter Principle, where individuals are competent at one level, and are then eventually promoted to a level of incompetency. He felt this theory of human behavior was incomplete, so followed up with his book, "The Way of the Weasel" which puts forward a more simplistic, yet comprehensive theory: "People are Weasels".

Cheers, Stephen Barron

Of course the subject is far more complex than is usually reflected in political speeches or for that matter in social “science”. Increased productivity, automation, robots (or the equivalent of increased productivity – offshoring work such as service jobs to Bombay) all change the equation. But you can’t just drown the surplus population even if they can no longer do useful work at an economic rate. Now what?



Dear Mr. Pournelle:

I do think there’s a significant gap in your recent definition of "takers" as "people who have no choice but to rely on the government for subsistence." While conceding that this represents a significant category, I don’t see why you exclude from the "taker" category such groups as "people who use wealth and political influence in order to gain government favors or engineer redistribution of wealth toward themselves." As the old song goes, "some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen." I continue to suspect that wealthy "takers" are likely to do the Republic a great deal more lasting harm than people who "have no choice." Or, to rephrase it, at what point might economic and political oligarchy become kleptocracy?

Thank you again for your thoughtful discussions.

Allan E. Johnson

Apologies: I meant that those who have no choice are in fact a significant part of the universe of “takers.” There are also those who believe they are rendering value for what they get – bunny inspectors come to mind as an extreme case, but there are others who “do a good job”. Unfortunately a job not worth doing is not worth doing well.

And crony capitalists are a severe threat. Adam Smith pointed out that never did two capitalists confer but that they try to think of ways to get the government to limit newcomer access to their profession. Gate keepers, credentialism, these are always demanded by capitalists. Keep the competition down by raising the price of entry into the profession. And so it goes.

And yes, you can see how kleptocrary grows. Democracy is messy. The Constitution was intended for a nation of relatively ‘good’ people. It cannot make a moral or ethical republic out of those who want neither.



What’s going on here?

It’s a husky-baby duet, but the dog doesn’t look too happy with the kid.


Whoever has the camera also has some treats and is teasing the Husky. That’s a typical statement of entitlement as opposed to straight begging — you’ve got something you promised me. I thought at first they’d promised the dog a walk and then got into this, but clearly it’s staged.

Huskies talk a lot. If people are talking they think they can join the conversation. But when they are that persistent it’s an entitlement argument. Sable will come in and demand that we fill her water bowl if it’s empty and that’s a different performance from ‘it’s time to walk’ or ‘do you not know that you have been ignoring the dog?"

The kid is fascinated of course, and clearly trusts the dog with almost anything — and has also learned not to pull tails or grab fur. Interesting but it was staged. Dog isn’t unhappy, just a bit confused because he thinks he’s entitled to something and this human keeps fiddling with that strange device.


While I do not at present advocate secession, and while I take the quotations offered by Bud Pritchard to heart, there is another valid viewpoint on the issue.

First, George Washington and Thomas Paine were secessionist. Indeed, the first, very familiar passage from Thomas Paine was specifically directed at those who were, at that very moment, engaged in a secessionist struggle. Notably absent from the list offered is the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them . . .”

This was directed at a chief executive who was distant – not only physically but conceptually, intellectually and, dare I say, spiritually – and at a legislature that manifestly cared not a whit for the interests of the colonists but viewed them mainly as a handy source of revenue. How different is our situation today?

The sentiments expressed by Washington were directed at a different people, at a different time and under different circumstances. Who today would not enthusiastically subscribe to them under similar conditions? But if California goes toes up (not ‘if’ really, but ‘when’) and begs the Congress for relief, it would require the people of other states that are managed by grownups to bail them out. We are witnessing exactly that situation in Europe right now.

If the people of, say, Texas, decide that it is in their best interests to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, by what natural principle does any of the ‘other’ people – be it one or many – have the legitimate authority to deny them? Bending another to one’s will by force is tyranny.

Just askin’.

Richard ‘Rebel Rick’ White

Austin, Texas

It is not likely but also not impossible that the United States will come apart. And the “right” of it will be decided by force of arms. Artillery is the last resort of kings said Victor Hugo. We no longer have kings. At least not under that title. But artillery is still the last argument.


Our Irrational Approach To Space Safety


I’ve just finished up a book on that topic, currently titled: "Safe Is Not An Option: How Our Futile Obsession With Getting Everyone Back Alive Is Killing Human Spaceflight." I’ve got a Kickstarter project going to get it published:

Clark Lindsey has a pre-publication review of it at New Space Watch:

I hope your readers may find the topic of interest, and take the opportunity to both see that the project happens (if I can raise enough money, I’ll do a symposium on the subject in conjunction with the Space Transportation Conference in DC in February) and to get a signed first edition. If you’d like to read a draft yourself, drop me an email, and I’ll send you a Word version.

Hope you’re doing well,

Rand Simberg

The pilots and astronauts were always willing to take chances that the civilian administrators would not allow.


Sometimes, even North Korea says something even more ludicrous than anything it has ever said before.  Today is one of those days:


Pyongyang, November 29 (KCNA) — Archaeologists of the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences have recently reconfirmed a lair of the unicorn rode by King Tongmyong, founder of the Koguryo Kingdom (B.C. 277-A.D. 668).

The discovery of the unicorn lair, associated with legend about King Tongmyong, proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of Ancient Korea as well as Koguryo Kingdom."


Everyone knows that unicorns don’t like to live near major population centers!  According to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monstrous Manual:  "Unicorns dwell only in temperate woodlands, away from human habitation".  As far as this unicorn having anything to do with a legendary king:  "These fierce but good creatures shun contact with all but sylvan creatures (dryads, pixies, sprites, and the like); however, they will show themselves to defend their woodland home. 

So you see, this must be an incorrect statement as that capital city would not have been a temperate woodland, unicorns do not like humans, and this legendary king was not a sylvan creature.  =)  I don’t suppose the whole thing about unicorns not existing outside role playing games, fantasy novels, children’s cartoons, and the cartoonish regime of North Korea would have anything to bear on these points. 


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo


Defense spending

Dr. Pournelle,

My first, although not my only, concern in defense spending is overseas military bases. They’re a burden on all of these United States, even those states that benefit from federal spending on defense. Most of the comments I’ve been reading involve closing overseas bases and bringing back the military personnel and equipment to United States soil. This would save money, at least in the short term, but how do we then project force, if it turns out we must? Much though I would prefer to let other parts of the world defend themselves without our involvement, I remember Mr. Heinlein’s comments in Starship Troopers that wars are not won by defense.

If some idiot or ideology wants to attack us, I would hope to fight the battle on their soil, not ours. There’s a verse, seldom printed, from "My Country, ‘Tis of thee" that’s pertinent: "No more shall tyrants here, with haughty tread appear, and soldier bands. No more shall tyrants tread above the patriot dead; no more our blood be shed by alien hands." I really want to keep it that way.

President Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex remains relevant. I suggest, though, that we also have to fear the entitlement-industry complex. At some point, the productive will no longer support, or even have the means to support, the parasites. Kipling once wrote, "Who stands, if freedom fall?" If, between military and entitlement spending, we fall, the world may never recover. China and other countries may continue, but will freedom? As Lincoln put it, we are the last, best, hope. If we fall, then, for the whole world, does Night come?

It’s a quandary that as far as I know has never been faced in the history of the world, where one nation is of such paramount importance. Between wars and entitlements and global whatever it is that the climate’s doing, do we have a solvable problem? And even if it’s solvable, can we solve it?


The proper question in determining a military budget is, just what is it you are trying to accomplish? If your purpose is to be a world superpower and go forth slaying dragons all over the world you need a superpower military. Given enough money you can always do that. The Anglo Saxon people have always been more war like than we like to admit. American seem to have learned that well from the mother country.

Who stands if freedom fall is not quite the same as asking who stands if we do not have the most powerful army the world has ever known. One reason the conservatives have lost the recent election is that the American people have tired of perpetual war. It has not been the American way.

If we wish to build an overseas expendable professional army of Legionnaires that is one kind of expense. If we wish the world’s most powerful Navy that is another. If we wish a non-expeditionary army, one looks to the National Guard. But you need to know what it is you want to accomplish before choosing your tools.



Another temperature data point

Here’s a report about a giant sequoia that makes you wonder what was happening in 1580.

In addition to painstaking measurements of every branch and twig, the team took 15 half-centimeter-wide core samples of The President to determine its growth rate, which they learned was stunted in the abnormally cold year of 1580 when temperatures in the Sierra hovered near freezing even in the summer and the trees remained dormant.

Interesting. The Viking Warm period ended early in the 14th Century with a year of rain and more rain followed by snow, after which things got colder and colder.

Russell Seitz keeps reminding me that volcanic ash can go airborne and increase the reflectivity of the Earth thus reducing the amout of sunlight that gets through: But it can also deposit itself as dark objects on ice and snow, increasing the amount of sunlight absorbed and melting the ice and glaciers. Sorting out which happened after centuries have passed is very difficult.




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