Improvement and Frustration; Investigations; Penrose and Strong AI; and other important matters

Monday, March 20, 2017

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

Donald Trump

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


One of the improvements they have made to Word is that it comes up with a list of things you’ve done recently and an offer to open the one you choose. These are only the recent documents themselves, not the folders they were in, which may save you time but can also be confusing if you don’t remember where they were. At the bottom of this list is the choice of “Open Other Documents, but if you are operating at less than full screen mode, you may not see it: I went up to the monk’s cell to work on fiction today, only to find in the travails around here someone had unplugged the power strip into which Zen, my USUS ZenBook laptop is plugged, resulting in near discharge of the computer, a bit of panic because the power strip was also turned off, and turning it on didn’t help. Eventually I found that it was also unplugged, but not before I – oh. Well. I needn’t burden you with details. I got it working and all’s well.

But I hadn’t worked on the interstellar colony book in a while, and it wasn’t a choice I was given for opening it; the window was sized just right to make the “Open Other Documents” choice invisible; and I’d forgotten where it was. There’s no key that just opens Word with the ribbon and the choice of looking for what you what – the ‘File’ menu. More panic, which is against the first rule, but it’s sometimes hard to control, especially if it’s tempered with previous panic and perhaps a bit of resentment for someone having let the computer go unpowered. Finally I hit on the bright idea of opening a blank document, which produced the ribbon, which produced “File” which produces the drop down menu that lets you go find what you wanted to work on. Unfortunately I was in fiction mode and all this shifted me into reporting mode, and I was pretty much stuck there, so I didn’t get much done. Tomorrow ought to be better.


It’s after dinner, and the news is full of “Investigations”, none of which are meant to find truth, but to cover things up unless they embarrass the politicians the finder doesn’t like. Millions have been spent, not counting the supposedly valuable time of the Senators and Members of Congress involved, and what has been found?

One wiretapping we know of, and knew about before the investigations started: the conversation originating in Trump Tower between Lt. General Flynn, then advisor to President-elect Donald Trump, and the Russian Ambassador. We know that conversation was listened to by US security agents, because it resulted in one felony we know of, the leaking of Flynn’s identity as having spoken to Ambassador Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak on a wiretapped call.

General Clapper says no FISA warrant to tap the Trump Tower lines was ever issued. Various others have said that no US agency ever tapped the Trump Tower telephones, and you can believe as much of that as you want to. The inference is that the Russian Ambassador’s telephone was tapped, and that is how the Flynn to Kislyak call was transcribed; presumably with a FISA warrant, since no other warrant record is found; and of course the United States would never tap a telephone without a warrant. You may believe as much of that as you want to.

But whatever warrant was used, one thing is black letter law: if a warranted tap of a non-US Citizen’s phone discloses and records a conversation with a US Citizen – which of course Lt. Gen. Flynn is – then special rules apply to dissemination of any information, specifically including the identity of the citizen. Violation of that rule is a felony.

And therefore there must be a record of everyone who was officially informed of that phone call, including the person who informed Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Every one of those is required to keep a record of everyone informed of the name of the citizen involved. If they did not make and keep such a record, penalties apply; and surely Yates knows who told her. The President has a right to know this identity.

It may be difficult to identify the person who leaked Lt. Gen. Flynn’s name, along with a transcript of the call, to the public, although given the restrictions on who can have access to that it can’t be a long list. The leaker is guilty of a black letter law felony, and should be found and prosecuted, and this wasn’t a computer hack or mistake; this was a deliberate and willful felony by someone who knew very well that it was a felony. And who did that felon conspire with?

That’s the interesting investigation. Have we any agents with the competence to conduct it?


President Andrew Jackson famously said, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it. “ A Hawaiian judge has issued orders to the executive branch. For a commentary and some discussion, see . I do not recommend invoking the inevitable Constitutional Crisis that would result, but clearly if this sort of judicial interference in powers granted by the Constitution to the Executive continue to be usurped by judges appointed for life, such a move is eventually inevitable.


What if we go through the judicial process for deporting someone, but the home country refuses to admit him? He came here with a Ruritanian passport and visa and Ruritania doesn’t want him back; what now?

First, of course, we immediately cease to honor Ruritanian visas, and admit no more Ruritanians. That ought to be automatic. Of course some Ruritanian legally resident in the US will then sue to have a federal judge declare that unconstitutional and demand the right to be visited by his Ruritanian relatives, but we can ignore that one for a moment. Secondly, we can cease all aid to Ruritania; there may be none, but it is likely there will be quite a lot. Congress could also levy a 100% tariff on all imports from Ruritania. But assume Ruritania will not relent: they don’t want this dude nohow, and that’s that.

One thing we could do: auction the deportee off. We will pay $XX to the country that accepts him. Lowest bid wins. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, but it can be negotiated. Realistically, though, this is a real problem.


A few web tabs I’ve kept open; this is not a recommendation or condemnation; just pointing to them. I’m about to close some;



Limbaugh: We’re on the Verge of a Constitutional Crisis.



Roland Dobbins

I’ve said that too. We’ll just have to see.


New Study Suggests Our Understanding of Brain Cells Is Flawed, and Here’s Why.



“A fundamental belief in neuroscience has been that neurons are digital devices. They either generate a spike or not. These results show that the dendrites do not behave purely like a digital device,” said Mehta.

“Dendrites do generate digital, all-or-none spikes, but they also show large analogue fluctuations that are not all or none. This is a major departure from what neuroscientists have believed for about 60 years.”


I’ve always thought Penrose had a strong argument on the nature of consciousness. This seems to support his stance on the (in)feasibility of strong AI.


Roland Dobbins

It’s worth a lot more discussion than I have time for just now. Penrose is always worth paying attention to.


Robots With Human Level Intelligence

“In a little over a decade, the next evolution of human beings starts. According to a noted engineer and futurist, that’s when we can expect brain implants that will link us to supercomputers.”

Actually that description reminds me much more of “Oath of Fealty” than “I, Robot”.

Charles Brumbelow


ADA to UC Berkeley: take free lectures offline

A DOJ ruling on an ADA complaint made by students at Gallaudet University resulted in UC Berkeley taking down 20,000 free online lecture videos to avoid the cost of adding closed captioning to all 20,000 videos.


Tragic but predictable. And more of that to come. It can only harm; there is no benefit.


SteynPost #9 – Steyn on Sweden – YouTube




EM Drive redux

Hope you finally have all your locusts (and termites) under control.
I just ran across a short-short called “Toy Story” by Harry Harrison which seems to be to be a perfect explanation for the progression of the EM Drive. It’s in the public domain at Project Gutenberg:
I found it in an anthology:

England Sends Soldiers to Russian Border

According to this tabloid, England is sending almost an entire battalion of soldiers to the Russian border…. Almost a battalion but they’re sending more armor:


Britain is sending 800 assault troops to Europe’s border with Russia in the UK’s largest military deployment against Moscow since the Cold War.

An advance spearhead of more than 120 soldiers flew to Estonia to bolster the nation’s defences against the military might of Vladimir Putin.

Backed by 300 armoured vehicles including Challenger 2 tanks, the force will swell to 800 within weeks.

It is part of a huge NATO operation in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland to strengthen 700 miles of Eastern Europe’s borders with Russia.


I tried to find more reputable sources to confirm this and what I found was interesting; troop movements from the UK of this character are common under conditions where tensions with Russia rise. Also aircraft and other assets are often committed in similar numbers of several hundred but nearly always under a thousand in terms of both personnel and materiel.

I also confirmed this story via Reuters, MSN, and other “mainstream”

sources. But, I heard about it first from a populist aggregation that listed the tabloid as the initial source of the story. However, Reuters mentioned that NATO plans to add 4,000 troops to the area on a rotational basis. That’s about four battalions, which generally means nothing in military terms but might help create populist revolts, and support for war, if those soldiers died in an attack. Ah the joys of political and social capital.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

Massive troop movements are used as diplomatic signals, and to prevent border incidents. Presumably all parties know this; and it’s European matter. I hope.


Oregon Descends to Feudalism?

It seems that we are going into feudal society after all. How is

this any different from making homeowners into lords of the homeless?

The more property you own, the more peasants on your land. I understand this is a simplification and I’m speculating on what could happen in the future, but I see this as part of the overall trend:


With more than $300,000 and volunteer homeowners, Multnomah County has a new idea to fight homelessness: Build tiny houses in people’s backyards and rent them out to families with children now living on the street.

The homeowners would pay nothing for the construction. They would become landlords and maintain the units for homeless families for five years.

Then the tiny houses would become theirs to do with what they want. If the homeowners break the contract before then, they pay the cost of construction.


◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

Industrial feudalism — more local control – may be an answer to the modern age. Probably not, but let Oregon try it. Of course that’s not really feudalism.


Doctors Who Kill

My father suffered with heart trouble in his later years (heavy smoker).  

He had such a massive heart attack he was lucky to survive it and

ended up on experimental medication to control his heartbeat.

Eventually luck ran out and his heart went into a fatal rhythm.


The paramedics managed to bring him back, but his brain was

without oxygen for too long.  So there he was on life support.

The doctor said he had a patient (much younger than Dad)

have this very thing happen to him and after treatment walked

out of the hospital on his own power.  The doctor ‘pinched’

Dad’s toe and just barely got a response.  After several days

of this the doctor said he did not expect Dad to get any better.


So Mom and I decided to pull the plug.

We were fortunate for him to have made his wishes clear

many years before about not wanting to live as ‘some kind 

of freak’, so there was no doubt what he would have chosen

if he had the capacity to choose.


This can potentially open up a long discussion about

Situational Ethics. How far gone does someone have to be before the quality

of life has deteriorated to where it is no longer worth it, and

how is something like that measured?  


It is when the circumstances are not so clear that discretion enters the picture; and here is not always a rational solution.


Alexa worth it?

Dr. Pournelle,
IMO, Alexa is not worth learning, and is difficult to turn off. If my only interaction with Amazon was frequent shopping for a small number of standard items, then perhaps it would be more valuable. Like Cortana, it seems to have a big local machine processor, network, and memory footprint, and I believe that there are privacy and personal security issues with the application. I’ve tried to disable it on my Kindles, and attempted to keep it disabled on my other devices, but the settings and administrative interface is pretty obscure to me.


War in Space is Becoming a Real Threat

Dr. Pournelle,
Please only use my alias Terrier1 for this posting. Do not publish my real name. Thank you:
The Washington Post figured out what has been known among readers of this site for a long time: that war in space is a real possibility.
Maybe Jeff Bezos, who owns, the Washington Post, and the Blue Origins private space program, has figured out that war in space can be a threat or a source of revenue to Blue Origins.

I doubt that. Mr. Bezos has never preferred quick profit to long term structure and long term gains. Remember when the joke was that Amazon might make a profit next year?



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



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