Incompetent Empire; Politicizing IRS; freedom and religion; high frequency trading; and other matters of interest and importance.

Mail 829 Saturday, June 21, 2014


SUBJ: An amusing experimental cartoon

Science in the age of _USA Today_ and _People_ magazine.



I have bookmarked that site. Thank you.



You wrote:

"I do not believe anyone can put Iraq back together again. Saddam did so for a while, and we had an opportunity to continue that policy without its brutality (and without Saddam’s sons acting like the sons of Septimius Severus). It was possible to continue Western rule of Iraq through the tried and proven practices of client rulers. Saddam’s generals had control of the army; the army knew it could not defeat the United States, but it could control the populace; the elements of client rulers were in place. Were, until Bremer disbanded the armies that could control the population."

Jerry, I would submit that the US had employed the old imperial system of maintaining a network of client rulers in the Middle East for half a century. The first Persian Gulf War was essentially an example of the legions having to discipline a client ruler that had rebelled. Unfortunately; the first gulf war provoked extreme animosity which escalated to the 9-11 attacks. The fact that the hijackers were Saudi Arabian or Kuwaiti citizens rather than Iraqis only confirmed how dangerous the old imperial system was becoming. The near nuclear effects of the weaponized airliners that were used in those attacks combined with the prospect that Middle East client states would obtain nuclear weapons (Pakistan already had nuclear weapons and we later learned was marketing nuclear technology) inspired Bush to seek an alternative strategy. The idea of spreading democracy at the point of a bayonet was essentially liberal ideology dating back to the time of Woodrow Wilson or perhaps it dates back to Napoleon or ancient Athens. However; the only real alternatives were either a campaign of extermination against Muslims or surrender to Islam. Your preferred policy of energy independence is of course only common sense but when combined with isolationism it only delays the decision to either surrender or kill hundreds of millions of people.

I myself now favor a combination of energy independence and extreme isolationism. Thanks to President Obama’s eagerness to not only discredit Bush by abandoning Iraq (Iraq was stable after Bush’s surge) but alienate the Pakistanis whom Bush had persuaded to liberalize their economy, and promote the Arab Spring which was essentially a policy of surrendering the entire Muslim world to jihadists, the world has become far to dangerous for any policy except isolationism. Our European allies have been compelled by their demographic implosion to pursue a policy of appeasement that will lead to their surrender to the Caliphate. Obama has surrendered Africa to the tender mercies of the jihadists. I am clinging to the forlorn hope that observing the brutalities that the Muslims will inflict on native Europeans might inspire a renascence of faith and militaristic patriotism in the US that will be needed to wage a genocidal war against Islam. Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea and the resurgent birth rates that he has inspired are obviously an effort to strengthen Russia in the hopes of surviving the coming storm. Although Russia’s prospects for survival are dubious, Russia rather than Europe should be our ally. China and India, as well as perhaps Japan if they can avoid demographic oblivion, are also our natural allies. Australia, New Zealand and Canada as well as Latin America are irrelevant because they are surrendering to Islam and the demographic implosion.

In the final analysis the US will need to heed the wisdom of Captain Roderick Blaine.

"Conquest is expensive. Extermination is cheap."

James Crawford

I cannot agree that we were practicing anything like competent imperialism at any time in the Middle East. The first Bush War was needless, and would not have happened had there been competent agents in Baghdad to tell Saddam Hussein that Kuwait was off limits at that time: not that we disputed his claim to Kuwait, but we simply could not allow a Baathist regime that close to Saudi Arabia and the other Arab sheikdoms. Why Bus I did not make that clear is not known to me: he had after all been Director of the CIA and had plenty of experience in those matters. Why he relied on April Glaspie, a career Foreign Service Officer, to deliver a message that had to come from the President is not at all clear to me. She should have made it clear that Kuwait was off limits at the time, and that taking Kuwait would be a very serious step. She did not.

For whatever reason, allowing relations with Saddam to get to the point of our having to send in the troops is inexcusable incompetence.

The Second invasion of Iraq was an example of military competence, but then we sent in Bremer, a career Foreign Service Officer, to be proconsul, with utterly disastrous results. Without the Baathist regime and army Iraq could not be governed and anyone with any sense would have known that; but Bremer disbanded the army and the Baathist ruling structure, and the result was both predictable and predicted.

I cannot agree that Iraq was stable at any time after Bremer did that. The US cannot directly rule Iraq, and the surge was needed just to keep enough order to make it easy to get out. We never did rebuild any kind of stability into Iraq, nor could we given that there is no such place as Iraq. We did well with the Kurds, and had the troops been given the proper orders we could have built Shiite and Sunni regimes, all dependent on us for their existence; but we did not do that either. Imperial rule is a long term affair and the American people are not very good at it. The Philippine experience showed that well. We do not really want to train our military to rule without the consent of the governed; there are few places worth the long term costs of doing that.

Afghanistan is another example: We could have gone in, thrown out the Taliban, accepted the thanks of the Afghans, and got out quickly, leaving behind the memory: if you harbor our enemies we are coming, and you will not like the experience. Keep out enemies out of your country.

Conquest is expensive. Extermination is cheap; but not for the United States. An as imperial policy it may be needed; but it is not necessary. The United States has not the stamina or desire for a long term policy of competent empire; and we cannot afford to continue to try incompetent empire.


I read, and agreed, with COL Couvillon’s letter. I wanted to add something to this line:


That leaves Jordan vulnerable, which in turn threatens Israel.


A recent article from the Guardian caught my attention; it quotes other sources, including the Associated Press:


A fighter using a loudspeaker urged the people to join the militant group "to liberate Baghdad and Jerusalem." The Islamic State’s black banners adorned many of the captured vehicles. Some in the crowd shouted "God is with you" to the fighters.


Not only would Israel be vulnerable in the scenario the colonel outlined, it seems ISIS has every intention of attacking Israel. I suspect the promise of attacking Israel would motivate many disenfranchised young men from several nations in the region to sign up and so we could argue this is only a talking point.

But, I do not think it is a stretch of the imagination to say that we’re — likely — not dealing with rational actors. So, let’s say it’s only talking point to recruit people and they have no intention of attacking Israel. What happens when the chips are down? Could they go for it as one last hoorah? Also, let’s consider that ISIS now, allegedly, has access to chemical weapons. Even if ISIS cannot, militarily, attack and "liberate" Israel they might commit atrocities.

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo



Will: ‘Serious as are the policy disagreements roiling Washington, none is as important as the structural distortion threatening constitutional equilibrium.’


I’m unsure about the wisdom of the lawsuit Will proposes. It seems to me that the Constitution already provides a mechanism for dealing with a rogue President – impeachment – and that trying to utilize the judiciary in the way Will suggests will only lead to further problems down the road.


Roland Dobbins


Lerner Emails 2 + 2


A classic way of finding "lost" emails is in the archives at the other end. The question of the year of course is, were Lois Lerner and the gang of six coordinating with the White House.

I saw a clip of Jay Carney the other day, very smugly asserting that the White House had found no Lerner emails on their end.

Then I just now saw that the White House was made aware six weeks before the Congress that the IRS had definitively lost all its copies of a critical two years’ worth of Lerner+6 emails.

And 2 + 2 added up.

There’s probably not much point in looking at White House (or DOJ) archives for Lerner+6 emails now; they’ve had six weeks to scrub.

But looking for traces of the scrub might prove fruitful. Can’t get them for the crime? Then go after the cover-up. This one, possibly done in some haste, may have left tracks if someone skilled enough gets in and looks, hard, soon.

There may also be tracks on the IRS end, if only circumstantial, in the timing and disposition of the Lerner+6 "disk crashes".

I have trouble remaining calm in the face of the evidence in this matter. Politicizing the IRS is a nuclear weapon. It should never have been used. Now that it has been, the world of US politics has changed.


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Why "modus vivendum"?

I thought vivendum would be in the genitive: vivendi That’s what I remember Miss Benson teaching me, but that was back in ’53 so I may be a bit foggy.


Latin[edit <> ]

Participle[edit <> ]


1. nominative neuter singular of vīvendus <>

2. accusative masculine singular of vīvendus <>

3. accusative neuter singular of vīvendus <>

4. vocative neuter singular of vīvendus <>

On another note:

re "…but it’s not for sissies…"

My mother used to say, "I now know why they call ’em ‘The Golden Years’; you need a lotta gold to get through ’em."

Gary D. Gross, DDS

I have not seriously read Latin since high school, and I was in error. It should have been Vivendi.


Cruz calls on conservatives to defend religious freedom — at home and abroad <>

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Cruz calls on conservatives to defend religious freedom … <>

Two of the Republican Party’s rising stars opened the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday by calling on social …

View on <>

It will require a great deal more time and length than I have tonight to comment properly. The United States has always had a common religious base, which for lack of a better term we can call Judeo-Christian principles, the most important of which is submission to a higher power, generally summarized in the Ten Commandments. Without some such agreement our laws can be based only on practical applications as if we understood what we are doing.

Religious freedom does not mean freedom from restraints on actions and behaviors, and even thoughts and lusts. Utterly libertine societies have seldom lasted.


Now, convert light into matter


Thunderstorms do indeed create matter from gamma rays. This was discovered about three years ago. What is special about the experiment described is that we now have a way of accomplishing the feat in a controlled environment. If we can raise the coupling of the gamma rays with the EM field, we can raise the efficiency of the process, creating more matter. If we can raise the energy of the gamma rays, we can create proton-antiproton pairs. If we can capture the positrons and antiprotons, which should not be difficult, and slow them down (which we have already done), we can produce anti-hydrogen.

If we can use the Sun to directly supply the energy and source matter stream for the production of the gamma rays and the creation of the high density EM field, we suddenly have a worthwhile anti-matter production facility. This has direct implications for space exploration.

Kevin L. Keegan

That is pretty much how I see it, but I am not really familiar with the operational requirements.


“This is not a Federal issue, yet the legal reasoning rests upon the specious ‘disparate impact’ penumbra of the (unconstitutional, in my view) ‘equal protection’ clause of the (again, unconstitutional, in my view) Fourteenth Amendment.”

Did we just agree that the constitution is unconstitutional? If so, what underlying principle validates the various parts of the constitution?


What I have agreed to is that we ought not seek fresh new rights based on emanations and penumbras. The law ought to have a consistent base.


Does the United States even have a democracy anymore?

Use of photo IDs as a condition of voting is being resisted tooth and toenail by some members of the political class – successfully in many instances. If memory serves, one member of that group bragged that she had voted several times during the 2012 election.

A significant and growing percentage of the voting in the United States is now done using electronic voting machines which don’t even pretend to leave a paper trail.

The increasing sprawl of the voting period from a single day to a period of weeks also increases opportunities for manipulation.

Stalin, I believe it was, said it didn’t matter who voted. What mattered was who counted the ballots.

I would like to see the nation return to physical boxes and paper ballots, with the boxes chained together and to a masonry wall or floor in each polling place, enough polling places to handle the crowds, a single day for voting, and long lasting purple thumb die. Ideally the voting day would be a national holiday as well. Photo IDs showing eligibility to vote would be a necessity.

Those steps might not totally eliminate cheating, but would make it more challenging.

If the integrity of the voting process – eligibility to positive identification to single vote assurance to removal of electronic cheating possibilities – cannot be assured, the United States is an autocracy rather than a democracy or a republic.

Charles Brumbelow

Were it left to me I would try to limit the scope and jurisdiction of laws, so that it takes a different machine in each county; we will not escape political machinations but we can make them much more difficult.

But in the old days the political machines delivered: they filled the pot holes and distributed the sacks of coal. Not they do not. Not they flaunt the spoils which they get by becoming the ruling class.


aging gracefully


Just some idle musings.

I am only 64 (that’s just 40 in HEX!!!! ).

But I can relate your experiences in such matters. I worked at university Chemistry Dept. (retired now) and was perpetually surrounded by 20 year olds. I should have felt young, but for some reason they (the students) stayed perpetually 20 year olds,and I just got older.

While most things still work, some (physical condition & bodily functions) are not what they used to be when I was 20 something.

I shudder to think of the historical cultural Inuit version of ObamaCare. When you got too old to keep up or contribute, you got left behind on an ice floe as the nomadic group moved on.

Are we old fogies, curmudgeons, and luddites just excess baggage in our current society now? Think of limited health care resources, and rationed benefits.

In times past, age & wisdom were thought culturally to be related, probably because not many lived to old age.

C’est la vie


High Frequency trading

I’ve just finished the book Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, which goes into the high-frequency trading issue in some depth, and the founding of IEX, (which as I recall got a 60 Minutes item a few months back), as a potential remedy.

The problem is that the brokers are basically front-running orders by virtue of algorithmic trading and fast/short links into the exchanges’ datacenters, which artificially manipulates the stock price. The protagonist of the book, Brad Katsuyama, ends up creating a new exchange with a deliberate propagation delay wired into the process to try and avoid the larger houses’ shenanigans. They literally have 38 miles of optical fiber rolled onto spools in front of the trading engine ( to force a 700 us delay into the process which apparently is enough to foul up the HFT computers. The new exchange is now trading roughly 60 million shares daily at this point.

Bob Halloran

There have to be technological solutions, but I do not know which ones are best. And it does not seem to be in the interest of anyone important to find them.


APOD: 2014 June 17 – V838 Light Echo: The Movie


Don’t miss the light echo:

Video of an expanding supernova.




AI could become a real danger…

Stephen Hawking: AI could be a ‘real danger’ – CNET

So… Would that be more properly attributed to random evolution or intelligent design?

Charles Brumbelow

All of which boils down to , “Do you believe in ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ AI, as Penrose and Hawking once debated.

I certainly do not want to build self-replicating robots capable of Lamarckian evolution…


I read this article and decided Nazi officials and Hitler’s own cognitive bias are probably the only reason D-Day went the way it did.

It seems we won by a thread:

“Of the many messages we received,” said Adolf Hitler on June 6th, “there was one that predicted precisely the landing site, with precise day and time. It was this that made me sure it couldn’t be the actual invasion.”

It is certainly an interesting story.


Retaliation for dead soldiers

Dear Jerry:

The killing of prisoner of war has always had a simple solution. Retaliation. During our Civil War Col. Sir Percy Wyndham hung two of Col. John Mosby’s men for being irregulars without uniforms, calling them bandits. Mosby hung six of his and that was the end of that. Brutal, direct and in the current context, most appropriate.


Francis Hamit


"We’re going to thoroughly vet the public’s opinion on the use of the aerial surveillance platforms."



Roland Dobbins

Luck is the residue of opportunity and design.

— John Milton


On Iraq

You wrote:


It’s hard to say what policy the US should have now. Since this civil war was predictable and predicted, one hopes that President Obama (or VP Biden) have been thinking about this and have a policy ready to implement.

I have seen no evidence that this is more than a hope.

And now we wait and see. Al-Qaida will kill Shiites. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard will kill Sunni. The Kurds will consolidate and continue their policy of tolerance. At least the Kurds are better off than they were under Saddam.


Perhaps, doing nothing and letting them kill one another is the policy. Shakespeare flows in iambic pentameter; every so often || we see a caesura. After all, wasn’t it American policy makers of the period who armed Iran and Iraq, fostering the more than seven years war between them?

It’s possible, but as you say, it seems more like a hope — perhaps a desperate one — that someone has a cool hand and a competent mind at the till.

I’ll share what I think is possible and I doubt it will surprise anyone we communicate with or rouse any serious disagreements. The Kurds will almost certainly get stronger; Turkey will not like that and it will add to the Turkish impetus to restore influence in the Middle East and North Africa. With Libya, Egypt, and other nations restructured and their respective situations normalized, a pan-Arab order seems most unlikely. Egypt was the keystone to that project; now Mubarak is gone and Sisi has more pressing matters to attend.

R.D. Kaplan would, likely, argue that Iranian influence would flow East if Turkey reasserts itself; where else could it flow? This Persian expansion would pressure Pakistan and throw cold water on ISI’s vision for a Greater Pakistan. It might force Sino-Pakistani cooperation, which could push India closer to Japan and, ultimately, the United States. This could also be a time to build the consensus in the Pacific, which is best done by allowing our allies to put in their own work for a while.

Matt, at, hypothesizes that China would pull back and consider a pre-emptive nuclear strike if conditions in the Pacific continue to escalate because of American policies. I believe that’s possible and we just saw four Russian bombers, capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles with a range of 1,500 miles, fly within 50 miles of the California coast last week. We would do well to consider a Russian strike in our calculations as well. As an side, our nuclear force is passing through some interesting times as is England’s in 2014.

Another major problem, as you pointed out, is the late unpleasantness in Kosovo and the Russian perception of that campaign with all that entails. Securing Russian cooperation would seem better than not securing it; that basic argument would seem effective with almost anyone.

As Kaplan, MacKinder, and Spykman all argue, what happens in the heartland will have profound geopolitical consequences. Let’s hope it’s not amateur night on our side of the pond because the stakes are much higher than I believe most of the general public would suspect and I’m not sure that my vision goes much further than theirs. And the fallout of these events, likely, extends beyond any reasonable span of time where one would hazard an estimate of the future.

To use a billiards metaphor for the geopolitical context; someone racked the balls in the triangle and that noise we just heard is the balls breaking.

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

Who rules to the East controls the heartland. Who rules the heartland controls the world island. Who rules the world island controls the world.  Mackinder may not be much read any more, and technology is changing many principles, but it is still something to think about.



The Answer to Seattle’s Minimum Wage

Dr. Pournelle,

After a bit of a hiatus, I found your site again. It’s amazing what one will forget after parking a Subaru in his short term memory.

As you most likely know, Seattle has set the minimum wage within its confines to $15.00 an hour. One company has come up with a solution for fast food restaurants. An automated hamburger making machine.

I thought you’d enjoy the irony:

Exitus acta probat,

Douglas Knapp

Raise minimum wages enough and every job that can be automated will be automated, and many of those that cannot be automated simply will not be done. That includes the entry level jobs which are apprenticeships for developing work habits.

But then we all know that.



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




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