Forced sale of Crimea? Learning math. Prince Igor, and the hearing log continues. And you must look at Freefall

View 813 Sunday, March 02, 2014


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

Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983



Sunday evening. The Oscars are over. No great surprises. Ellen DeGeneres did a very good job of hosting, a bit more farce than I care for, but apparently a good audience pleasing mixture.


forced sale of Crimea?

I have a modest proposal:

How about if Russia _buys_ Crimea from the Ukraine? The method is simple; Russia need merely pay off the Ukraine’s foreign debt (which of course no-one expected to recoup), and in exchange Ukraine lets Crimea go without objections. Of course it’s a forced sale, and pricey, but it’s cheaper than war, or even long-term diplomatic tensions.

But hard on the Tatars, of course…


I confess I had not thought of this, although I should have. Russia was willing to pay a lot of the Ukraine’s debt to gain influence and bring them into a treaty status with the new empire; purchase would be cheaper than war, and the US, which bought Alaska natives and all from Russia can hardly complain that sovereign nations cannot sell territory to each other. And it gets us out of a potentially sticky situation. If Canada and Cuba are in the American sphere we can hardly claim that the Ukraine, home of the first Russ state, is not part of the Russian sphere; we can avoid that territorial dispute in Europe, and avoiding war there is very much in our national interest.

I suspect the Tatars get along better with the Russians than Ukrainians, but that is on thin evidence and I am willing to be convinced otherwise. As it happens I have friends in Moscow, a Kazakhstan poet and his Ukrainian wife formerly a code clerk in a USSR station in the Middle East. Long story I’ve told before. But of course if I had not been told I would have thought she was Russian, not Ukrainian, and actually if required to guess from talking to her I would have said Swede. The other day I met at Kaiser a lady with an odd name, blonde, nearly as tall as me, blue eyes,with an Armenian name. Impertinently I asked if she was Swedish; she said no, but many asked her that; she had never been to Sweden. She was from Armenia. This may serve to give some appreciation for the ethnic mixtures found in the remnants of the old USSR… (I presume everyone here knows that many ethnic Russians are of Swedish origin from the Viking times, and the Kievan State that became the foundation of Russia was largely Swedish) Although Russians have a traditional identification with the Slavs; and many Slavs migrated to Sweden before the Vikings returned the favor, so like most ethnographic identifications a good bit of discussion is possible.

no war to general war in no time

Dear Dr.Pournelle;

It has taken 25 more years, but we might soon experience a display of strategic systems. I drove through northern Montana this summer and saw a few minuteman silo complexes sitting in the bald ass prairie. It’s hard to believe that those lids could be sliding back to let the dogs of war cry havoc.

I guess this frustrated cold warrior might get to experience it in realtime, I wonder if the folk of these lands still have the blood of heroes? If you could suggest some links to resources dealing with the effects of strategic systems i.e. civil defense, I would be most grateful. Thank you and the greatest luck to you and yours, we’ll all need luck.

Christopher Kelly

I do not think it will come to that. There is a lot at stake here, but it hardly comes to Armageddon. I’ve visited those silos, and been in tests of the alert system, and memories of that Klaxon still give me the willies. “EWO. EWO. Emergency War Orders. I have a message in five parts. Part one. Tango. X-Ray…”

As to civil defense I have been urging that we scrap FEMA and go back to a Civil Defense organization as we once had ever since we dismantled Civil Defense. I once had my Scout Troop involved with the local Civil Defense group (headed by a retired Colonel) and we had Emergency Preparedness kits and training. All that went away when FEMA became a federal bureaucracy to the detriment of actual emergency preparedness, but that’s another story. I suspect a solar event is now a more likely threat to civilization than nuclear war, particularly over Ukraine. Of course the solar flare is not predictable, but history shows that really serious ones happen every couple of centuries and our last one was the Carrington Event of 1859 in which fires started in most telegraph stations – then the only places that long unshielded wires were exposed. A similar event could knock out much of the power grid, and few major cities have more than a couple of weeks’ supply of food. People can do strange things when they believe they are about to starve.



How our 1,000-year-old math curriculum cheats America’s kids

By hiding math’s great masterpieces from students’ view, we deny them the beauty of the subject.

By Edward Frenkel,0,5177338.story#axzz2usy4LyHx

Imagine you had to take an art class in which you were taught how to paint a fence or a wall, but you were never shown the paintings of the great masters, and you weren’t even told that such paintings existed. Pretty soon you’d be asking, why study art?

That’s absurd, of course, but it’s surprisingly close to the way we teach children mathematics. In elementary and middle school and even into high school, we hide math’s great masterpieces from students’ view. The arithmetic, algebraic equations and geometric proofs we do teach are important, but they are to mathematics what whitewashing a fence is to Picasso — so reductive it’s almost a lie.

. . .

If you are at all involved in children’s education, whether as a teacher or a parent, take the time to read and think about this short op-ed piece in today’s Los Angeles Times. I do not think you will regret it.

Note that he says

Of course, we still need to teach students multiplication tables, fractions and Euclidean geometry. But what if we spent just 20% of class time opening students’ eyes to the power and exquisite harmony of modern math?

And that is important. The first and most important thing in math that children should learn is simple arithmetic, and the best way to learn that is sheer memorization, first of the addition, then of the multiplication tables. It is boring to learn “one times one is one, one times two is two, one times three is three…” out to one times twenty is twenty and then start with “two times one is two, two times two is four, two times three is six…” and so forth right on up to twenty times twenty, and it might take a couple of months to learn them all, but it will serve them well for the rest of their lives. And of course in first grade you start with “one plus one is two, one plus two is three…” again up to “one plus twenty is twenty one”, then back down to two plus one is three, etc. I recommend learning the addition and times tables to twenty, not just ten, because there are inferable lessons in the patterns made after you reach ten, and most kids will learn them without having to be taught once they have memorized the tables. For young kids, bribery is as good an incentive as any; whatever you pay for learning to recite a given table flawlessly is going to be worth it in long term effects. “Nine and twelve is twenty one” is far easier to handle when doing large sums than having to think of it, and knowing what fifteen times fourteen is without having to do the multiplication saves a lot of time. When I was at St. Anne’s in Memphis for first grade we all learned the addition tables (to fifteen) in first grade, and the multiplication tables in second, and I don’t recall any of my classmates including one recognized as retarded who did not learn them. In the case of the retarded boy, who was about nine in second grade, we became friends and he would recite them to me at recess because he wanted to learn, and that made me feel like a teacher. Anyway, we all learned them, and when I got to Capleville consolidated (like St. Anne’s two grades to a room, more than 20 pupils to a grade) they had not been required to learn the tables, and everyone including the teacher was astonished at how much faster I was than most of the others – until it came out that the other fast arithmetic students had been taught the tables by their parents.

But having learned the addition and multiplication tables, one is ready for some of the beauty of math. Since the ability to manipulate abstract symbols quickly is just about the definition of the “g” factor that IQ tests look for, there is definitely going to be a spread of abilities in just what level of math one can reach; but exposure to some of the potential at an early age can be important to students of high intellectual potential and will stimulate curiosity.

Anyway, with the caution that I am not advocating the nonsense once known as “the New Math” nor is Frenkel, I recommend you read this.


I wrote this for another conference, but it occurs to me that while I have mentioned Freefall here before, it has been a while:

If you are not a fan of Freefall http://freefall.purr…100/fv00001.htm you ought to be.  Alas, it really will involve some time because it is a serial story, and the current panels are shocking — that is, they have a total surprise that I do not think many readers saw coming. I did not. And you should not see them before reading the rest of the story leading up to now.

The graphic novel — it has become as long as one — has as its premise that mankind has settled planets other than earth, and on one of them there is a population of a small number of humans and tens of millions of robots, all pretty well subject to Asimov’s three laws, only a lot of that is in my judgment better thought out than Isaac did.  The robots are highly intelligent and competent, but they are programmed to obey most human direct orders, and are very protective of humans.  This situation can be exploited by certain unscrupulous bureaucrats.

And into this mix comes Florence,  a Bowman’s Wolf, an artificially intelligent product of genetic manipulation, a genetic mixture of red wolf, dog and human genes with programming for artificial intelligence, born of a dog (St. Bernard) who was not her biological mother, and developing opposable thumbs, human speech, and the ability to walk on her hind legs although she runs much faster on all four legs. She wears clothes and has normal human modesty, and grew up in a household of humans, first as a pet then as — well, as an intelligent dog, then as a sibling. In theory she is the property of the human family. She has most of the powers of a real wolf and an IQ I would estimate at 140 or so.  She is a graduate engineer.

Also living on this planet is a single member of an alien species brought there as a stowaway from another planet — he is not artificially intelligent, he is intelligent, but he has nothing of the ethics and mores of a human and no human companionship. He is of a race of scavengers, and had thousands of siblings but he is probably the only survivor, and that because he stowed away on the human ship. He owns two robots and as owner he can give them direct orders.  One is a general purpose robot who likes him, and the other is his space ship which he managed to acquire as scrap and sort of get it running — but the ship considers him a danger to humans and hates him and would like to kill him but has been forbidden to do that.  It belongs to Sam.  Sam wears an environment suit which makes him appear sort of humanoid, but under that suit he is not humanoid at all.

All this happens in the first couple of dozen panels.  Sam acquires the Bowman’s wolf as his ship’s engineer. He does so by devious means, but she considers herself bound as a crew officer to be respectful to and obey the captain.  Only sometimes that would be disastrous and she’s pretty clever about playing logic games.

There are now two thousand four-panel pages of story, all relevant to the story line although some are not obviously so.  We are now reaching a climax, I think, and certainly the story has taken a surprising turn.  Meanwhile we have met many fascinating characters, including robot police who have to deal with humans, a veterinarian who sort of falls in love with Florence the AI wolf, a child who wonders if Florence and the vet will marry prompting Florence to be amused that the kid thinks all mammals have the same number of chromosomes, scheming officials who try to prompt a robotic war so they can get rich on scrap, and a great number of antics in which Sam acts quite morally for him == he is a scavenger, after all == but which drive the human authorities nuts. Especially since Sam is a very skilled thief, pickpocket, and jail breaker.

If you never heard of this you should try it: it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s the best of this kind of thing I know of. It is a combination of comedy of manners and some broad farce, and it mixes those elements well. It starts black and white but acquires better art and color at a couple of hundred pages (again four panels to a page).  It is now up to a couple of thousand and it will take you a bit of time to get from the beginning to where we are now, but I liked every episode I read.  I urge you NOT to skip ahead, and particularly don’t look at the current pages at all; catch up to them from the beginning. It will be worth it in my judgment.  The story is well developed and very logically constructed.  I’d like to see it win a Hugo.  It’s really good.



I have several pointers to this story:

An interesting climate change article

Hey Jerry,

I found an interesting article that I wanted to pass along to you.

Apparently, one of the original principals of Greenpeace is now saying that human caused climate change is bunk and testified before a senate committee saying as much. It’s nice to see something other than the usual rhetoric getting published.

Chris Willoughby

The point being that the earth has had CO2 levels several hundred times higher than now in periods when Earth was extremely warm, and when Earth was in the midst of an Ice Age; which makes the importance of CO2 levels at least questionable.  And of course there is nothing that California, or the United States, can do to reduce CO2 levels even with extremely costly green technologies; what we can do is reduce our financial ability to adapt to climate changes. If you can have the Earth extremely hot and freezing cold while CO2 levels are more than a hundred times the levels we have now, our current theories are simply not correct. More on this later.



Saw the Met performance of Prince Igor Saturday morning. Sugar 135 before breakfast. Hearing only in left ear, but I could hear that, and the subtitles were readable, so enjoyed it – even if the plot is a bit confusing. It was unfinished by Borodin and there are several versions finished by others, but none make great sense.

The sets and special effects are marvelous. Costumes were sort of early 20th Century, and not really appropriate to the story; I’d have preferred period costumes. Russian soldiers fighting Tatars while waving automatic pistols take a bit of getting used to, but again you can get used to it.

Upcoming is Werther, which I have seen, and I fear that my impression was that it would be improved if he shot himself in the first act and let us go home; but that’s probably my ignorance. Anyway we like the Met performances simulcast into a local movie theater, and the looks backstage as they do the setup are fascinating. Of course there are more IATSE employees and supervisors than singers including chorus.

Didn’t take sugar in the morning. After lunch and before metformin it was 192; took the metformin and six steroids about half an hour after lunch. Took the second metformin just after dinner. Now just before bed time is it 236, taking a an extra metformin now. The pattern has been it goes up at night and down to close to a hundred in the mornings before breakfast. I think I hear a slight scratching when I stroke the left hearing aid; of course that produces a loud sound when I do it to the right one.


Hearing Loss 

I experienced a sudden hearing loss around Thanksgiving. I thought the ear was plugged from swimming but it was described by the doctor as a sudden loss. I lost maybe 75%. I couldn’t hear a dial tone in that ear. I have been through the steroid treatment and the injections into the ear. It’s been a few weeks since the last treatment and I would say I am back to about 90%. The doctors said the treatment works for about 30%. 30% get some form of improvement and the rest don’t get any improvement. I hope you are in the first group and get it back. I am grateful that I have most of it back. It’s not fun being in a conversation and not hearing any of it.

Best wishes

Rick Dahl

Thanks for that. It gives hope.  No significant improvement so far. I get the next shot in the ear Tuesday morning.  I am not looking forward to it, but I do hope it will have results.



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




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