Gamma bursts, proscription lists, life at Chernobyl, great truths, tree octopi, and other important matters.


Mail 761 Monday, February 04, 2013


8th century gamma ray burst?

Dr. Pournelle —

From the Royal Astronomical Society web site:

Did an 8th century gamma ray burst irradiate the Earth? <>

"In 2012 scientist Fusa Miyake announced the detection of high levels of the isotope Carbon-14 and Beryllium-10 in tree rings formed in 775 CE, suggesting that a burst of radiation struck the Earth in the year 774 or 775. Carbon-14 and Beryllium-10 form when radiation from space collides with nitrogen atoms, which then decay to these heavier forms of carbon and beryllium. The earlier research ruled out the nearby explosion of a massive star (a supernova) as nothing was recorded in observations at the time and no remnant has been found"

"Dr Neuhӓuser comments: ‘If the gamma ray burst had been much closer to the Earth it would have caused significant harm to the biosphere. But even thousands of light years away, a similar event today could cause havoc with the sensitive electronic systems that advanced societies have come to depend on. The challenge now is to establish how rare such Carbon-14 spikes are i.e. how often such radiation bursts hit the Earth. In the last 3000 years, the maximum age of trees alive today, only one such event appears to have taken place.’ "

It’s a dangerous universe out there.


We live in a comparatively safe neighborhood – obviously or we would not be here. But there is no guarantee that it will be safe forever. “If the human race is to survive, then for all but a very brief period of its history, the word ship will mean space ship.” –Arthur C. Clarke


Lucius Cornelius Obama.


I do not know where in the Constitution the President is given the power to make proscription lists that include American citizens. It was a common practice during the battles and riots accompanying the transformation of the Republic to Empire. Lucius Cornelius Sulla spared the life of one Caius Julius Caesar, supposedly against his better judgment. Caesar himself had no proscription lists, but Octavius and Mark Anthony did. On Anthony’s wife’s insistence Cicero was on the list. When the soldiers found him, Cicero told the non-com in charge of killing him “Young man there is nothing proper in what you are about to do, but I trust you will do a proper job.”


Chernobyl life surprises

Dr. Pournelle —

It seems that the flora and fauna around Chernobyl isn’t behaving the way it "should".

Do Animals in Chernobyl’s Fallout Zone Glow?

"Chernobyl’s abundant and surprisingly normal-looking wildlife has shaken up how biologists think about the environmental effects of radioactivity. The idea that the world’s biggest radioactive wasteland could become Europe’s largest wildlife sanctuary is completely counterintuitive for anyone raised on nuclear dystopias."

Is radiation not as bad as was thought or are people simply more dangerous? Both are possible. It sounds like a fascinating place to research although I think I’d still be inclined towards lead BVDs.


Now that is interesting. Very.


Scientific integrity


I have written you in the past with questions about scientific integrity. For example, you posted my question about fabrication in the scientific literature at

<> Specifically

<> In addition, the field of climate research has provided ample evidence in recent years about the use of the peer review process for the suppression of scientific evidence.

Indeed, there is ample evidence that peer reviewers do not even exist in some cases

<> (subscription required)

It has been documented that two-thirds of scientific journal retractions result, not from the discovery of scientific error, but from the discovery of fraud and other scientific misconduct.


<> And now we have evidence of extensive financial fraud among scientists who take duplicate funding for the same research project. Note that it was not self-policing by the granting agencies that detected the problem but research by a university-based bioinformatics institute that disclosed the fraud. Thus, we read: <>

BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 31, 2013 – Big Data computation at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech reveals that over the past two decades funding agencies may have awarded millions and possibly billions of dollars to scientists who submitted the same grant request multiple times ­ and accepted duplicate funding.

The analysis was presented in the comment section of this week’s Nature. <>

(subscription required

Obviously we should not expect integrity in the scientific literature when financial fraud forms the foundation of the research funding process.

Best regards,

–Harry M.

And a great deal of scientific publication is churning brought on by publish or perish, and the concept of tenure. The whole notion of tenure needs to be reinvestigated. Its purpose, to protect the integrity of research, does not always apply now. In fact it seldom does.


Subject: Substitute Teacher

I’m pretty sure the creators of this sketch had no choice but to make it a cheap joke about race.

If they’d merely shown a public school teacher having a psychotic break as a result of being corrected in an error, not only would it have been a "dog bites man" story, but the unions would have had them whacked.

Matthew Joseph Harrington

e pur si muove (the motto of consensus deniers since 1633)

Perhaps. It is a disturbing video.

On Name Pronunciation

The primary language in the United States and the one that government record keeping is kept in, including personal records on citizens such as birth certificates, is the English language. As such, pronunciation using English or at least American English rules apply.

Blame it on the Prince Effect. Or should that be The Artist Formerly Known As Prince Effect? Symbols are useless for conveying information until the people (or machines for that matter) using them agree with their meaning and rules of use.

While some mother might think that writing her little girl’s name as "La-a" for "Ladasha" is cute, and then thinks she has a right to become angry that most people never pronounce it that way, such an attitude is both irrational, anti-social, and a sign of a lack of education. (Are we becoming more anti-social as a nation? If so, could that be due to a failure of our education system to properly socialize people?) Based on the same logic the mother employed, I’d be correct in assuming that the child’s name was pronounced Lahyphena (Which could cause either some amusing reactions or really severe repercussions from the hearing impaired, such as myself.) I suspect most people would look at La-a and pronounce it correctly as written with a glottal stop similar to “uh-oh!”

Michael D. Houst



1. In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress. — John Adams

2. If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed. — Mark Twain

3. Suppose you were an idiot. And

suppose you were a member of

Congress. But then I repeat

myself. — Mark Twain

4. I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. –Winston Churchill

5. A government which robs Peter to

pay Paul can always depend on

the support of Paul. — George

Bernard Shaw

6. A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money. — G. Gordon Liddy

7. Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. –James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)

8. Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. — Douglas Case, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University.

9. Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. — P.J. O’Rourke, Civil Libertarian

10. Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. — Frederic Bastiat, French economist (1801-1850)

11. Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it. –Ronald Reagan (1986)

12. I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts. — Will Rogers

13. If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free! — P. J. O’Rourke

14. In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other. — Voltaire (1764)

15. Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you! — Pericles (430 B.C.)

16. No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session. — Mark Twain (1866)

17. Talk is cheap, except when Congress does it. — Anonymous

18. The government is like a baby’s alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. — Ronald Reagan

19. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery. — Winston Churchill

20. The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin. — Mark Twain

21. The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools. — Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903)

22. There is no distinctly Native American criminal class, save Congress. — Mark Twain

23. What this country needs are more unemployed politicians — Edward Langley, Artist (1928-1995)

24. A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. — Thomas Jefferson

25. We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. — Aesop


1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity, by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.

5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work, because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation!

An interesting list.



Subject: The PC Police strike again!

Last time I checked, businesses have a right to serve who they want to:

We reserve the right to serve refuse to anyone… I fear my views of freedom are not politically acceptable. My objection to legal segregation is the same as my objection to forced integration. But I don’t much care to have extended discussions on it, because they are likely to be fruitless.


Subj: And so, it begins…

Reuters) – Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and relatives of victims of fatal shootings in Chicago urged President Barack Obama <> on Saturday to come back to his hometown and address the gun violence plaguing the city.

Before a march on the city’s South Side, Jackson, a former Democratic presidential candidate, said America’s third most populous city needed more help than Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police superintendent Garry McCarthy could offer.

"When the president shows up, it shows ultimate national seriousness," said Jackson, a Chicago resident. He also called for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help patrol the streets of Chicago.

(emphasis added)

Or, how about letting the law-abiding citizens of Chicago arm themselves and patrol their own streets and homes?



Tree Octopus

Re Drop Bears/Killer Koalas, I don’t know if you know about the Tree Octopus.

-Petrus Senex.

Peter Polson

I have led a sheltered life. I lived in Seattle for years and we went to car races on the Olympic Peninsula fairly often, but I never was told of the tree octopus. Ah well.

Drop bear defense

Dr. Pournelle,

I think it is Terry Pratchett who proposes, in _The Last Continent_, pointy hats as a defense against drop bears. I think it is a matter of a learned behavior.



Superstition and the scientific method

Hi Jerry

About once a year I find myself bitten by an idea, that I then attempt to express. I don’t know if you will find it worthy, but I submit the following for your consideration:



We certainly do see patterns where there are none. Percival Lowell’s maps of Mars make one great example.


Penn Station – tongue in cheek photo essay?

I especially appreciate this concluding comment:

"It even has photos showing what an awful place the old Penn Station was, before they tore it down.

"Look at all that cold stone and drafty space. It looks like a cathedral, or some Roman edifice. It looks intimidating, if you’re one of those people who is made uncomfortable by imposing architecture, open air and sunlight. At Penn, those problems have been fixed."

Charles Brumbelow


Hello Jerry,

I’ve been interested in your ongoing commentary about ‘computer glasses’.

As I had cataract surgery in both eyes fairly early (possibly related to long time exposure to microwaves in my work environment) accommodation is NOT an option; both my lenses are plastic and their focus ‘is what it is’.

Accordingly, I have been using ‘computer glasses’ for years.

With that principle in mind, you may want to consider other ‘speciality glasses’, such as ‘driving glasses’. Since my ‘plastic eyes’ do not focus–at all–I have taken to using special ‘driving glasses’. The top part is made with the best distance correction possible and the bifocal calibrated for the distance from my eyes to the instrument panel, with the seat set in the most comfortable driving position. Also, the bifocal part is a little higher than normal for reading so that you don’t have to tilt your head back to view the instrument panel; just a simple down glance.

And of course there are iterations on a theme for this one too. More and more control panel functions are appearing on the steering wheel, which is appreciably closer than the instrument panel. There are a couple of options to address this problem: trifocals with distance, instrument panel, and steering wheel corrections or bifocals with one eye optimized for the instrument panel and the other for the steering wheel. This works well, as depth perception is not an issue in this case. Then there is the ‘nav system’ to contend with. It is usually in the central stack, or stuck to the windshield, if you have a ‘portable’ GPS box.

The point is, given that for driving you want the best (binocular) distance vision you can get, you still have up to four different prescriptions to play with to ‘see’ things inside the car. None of them (inside the car) require binocular vision and your brain easily picks out the one that gives the best picture for what it wants to see. Hop in your car with your tape measure, take the measurements, then trot them over to your optician and consult.

Bob Ludwick=

I now wear trifocals as my regular – including driving – spectacles. It took a while to get used to them, but they seem natural now. My computer glasses have a focal length of 28 inches and are also bifocal to make it easier to read my hand-written notes when I am working.


I received this some time ago:

"Outies" ebook

Dr. Pournelle,

I’m currently trying to decide if your daughter’s book is worth $150 (ebook plus cheapest Kindle). If I could get a dead-tree version (at a typical dead-tree price point) I would buy the book without a second thought. But I really don’t want to read leisure fiction on my computer (or phone), and I have so far resisted moving to ebooks.

Problems I have with ebooks: DRM, competing and incompatible devices (if I want to read "Outies" I MUST use a Kindle device or software), and the ability of Amazon to change their mind about books they’ve already sold ("1984" was the first example, but just today I read that they have decided to "unsell" some books because the story included incest. This could seriously limit the sales of Robert Heinlein’s body of work, not to mention the Bible!).

This is not a complaint to your or your daughter. I’ve found your coverage of the ebook "revolution" very interesting, and I hope that you will encourage your daughter to add her experiences to the dialog.

It just seems a shame that the technology which should be making it easier to connect writer to reader seems to be doing just the opposite.


John Bresnahan

Orlando, FL

It came at a time when I was overwhelmed and went unopened and unanswered until the other day when I found it while archiving mail.

RE: "Outies" ebook

Doing some archiving and I came across this. Of course no one book is worth that much, but one gets a Kindle for other reasons

What did you finally decide?

Jerry Pournelle

Chaos Manor

Dr. Pournelle,

I succumbed and bought a Kindle. Actually, I bought one, found I wasn’t using it, and gave it to my Mother, then eventually bought another one.

I only buy the ebook version when it is considerably less expensive than the dead-tree edition. I’m a software developer, and I noticed that some of the technical books I wanted were so much less expensive as ebooks that the savings on 4-5 ebooks would more than pay for the reader. One downside is that only about half of the books I would buy even have ebook versions so I can’t make a clean break of it.

If there was a reasonably inexpensive way of converting my entire library into ebooks, I would seriously consider doing so. I’m considering moving in the near future, and my book collection is the largest (not to mention

heaviest) "object" I would have to move. However, the current option of re-buying all the books is too expensive to me. I have actually tried to scan books to convert them into ebooks, but I haven’t found a reasonable way to do this.

Surprisingly to me, my 79-year-old Mother does all of her reading on the Kindle now, but that may have something to do with the ability to change the font size. I have read a few fiction books (including "Outies" which I

enjoyed) on the Kindle, but I still prefer "real" books. I probably won’t fully convert unless/until I have no other choice.

I haven’t seen an update on your next "something big hits Earth" book. I’m eagerly awaiting it. That’s one book I will be buying in the first-edition hard cover.

I hope you and your family have a happy and healthy new year. I especially hope that Sable has a long, pain-free time yet with her family.


John Bresnahan

Orlando, FL


“The TSA has not determined whether passenger-screening canine teams can mitigate threats at airports, and despite inconclusive analysis, it has invested at least $19 million a year in the program.”


Roland Dobbins





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