Mr. Mohammed’s Cool Clock, and various other matters.

Chaos Manor View, Monday, September 21, 2015


This morning Roberta was going out for an errand, and her car alarm went off and stayed on long enough to worry me, so I went out just in time to see her driving off with a cheery wave. The weather was sunny and warm, but there was a cool breeze, so I took the opportunity to take my wheeled walker for a three mile walk. Yesterday was over 100 and debilitating, and I was beginning to feel like a vegetable. The walk went well, I was able to do a series of stretches on the low wall near what used to be a Catholic High School, and came back exhausted but feeling better. Now it’s cooling fast outside, and clouding up, and we may get some much needed rain.

Anyway I walked three miles and stretched well, the day is cooling down, and I no longer feel like a wilted vegetable.


The daily Time Warner 4 PM net slowdown has begun. We’ll see how long it lasts.

I see that the hoopla over the “cool clock” has slowed down a bit, although the Council on American Islamic Relations is doing its best to keep it open. And, of course, there are those who say this is just a story of a bright kid and stupid police:

About Ahmed Mohammed’s clock

Dear Jerry Pournelle:
Some of your correspondents propose a conspiracy theory of Ahmed Mohammed’s clock: that the outrage over this display of teacher-and-cop stupidity was preplanned. I’m glad that at least we all agree that the teacher-and-cop stupidity was authentic. The outrage in response was swift and thorough; which some of your correspondents think proves that it was orchestrated beforehand.
I think that the media was indeed prepared, but not in detail, just in general. I imagine that somewhere in the White House database there’s an app titled “What To Say When Authorities Do Something Moronic To A Child”. It has blanks to fill in; times, names, places. It also has checklists: sex/fear/religion/dissent as ostensible cause of officious idiocy; white/black/brown/Hispanic/Native-American/Moslem/Asian target of officious idiocy; male/female/gay/lesbian/trans gender of target; 1-5 / 6-10 / 11-14 / 15-20  as age of target; dirt-poor/middle-class/regular-rich/stinking-rich as wealth of target child’s family; inconvenience/humiliation/imprisonment/injury/death inflicted on target child by moronic authorities. Fill in the blanks, complete the checklist, click ‘compile’, and the robot will write the story automatically.
I theorize that this app is owned by the New York Times and many other media outlets. The media compiled and distributed this idiocy-mocking app for the same reason that firefighters collect fire-fighting equipment. Firefighters don’t know where the next fire will be; nor do reporters know where the next outbreak of violent official incompetence will be; but both know that it will happen, and both know from experience what to do the next time it does happen. Be Prepared.
My own view of the event is filtered through the lens of nerd solidarity.  Sure the teachers and cops were afraid of a skinny 14-year-old boy; but their imaginary bomb was just an excuse. What really terrorized them was the lad’s intelligence. Since competence is not, technically, a crime, those frightened by it must find other charges to press. Fortunately for them, “scary technical skill” is now a prosecutable offense.

Before I publish this, are you convinced that the Texas authorities acted moronically?  He was charged, not with making a bomb, but with making a fake bomb.  He repeatedly was uncooperative with the authorities before he was arrested; in particular he would never say why he brought a bomb-looking object – it looks like NCIS or any other TV show bomb – to school on 9/11. He just insisted it was a clock.

I fail to see the intelligence they impute to him.  My boys could have made that gadget when 14, given that it was for sale on eBay.  It was a bit more realistic than a box with a fuse sticking out of it, but it looked like it was intended to fool the naïve into thinking it was a fake bomb. The police thought that was what it was, and it is unlawful to bring fake bomb anywhere with the intent to scare anyone.  Maybe it’s a bad law, maybe not, but you sure would not take that thing on an airplane.

Jerry Pournelle

Chaos Manor

About Ahmed Mohammed’s clock

Yes, I am convinced that the Texas authorities earned their laughing-stock status. I hear that five of the teachers he showed his science project to were fine with it; but an English teacher freaked out, and the rest is history.
Anyone can make a mistake; so as soon as the cops noticed that the clock was ticking up and not down, it was time for them to back off. But no, they’re the type of authorities who cannot make a mistake; and being a brown Moslem teen too scared to utter the word ‘bomb’ is proof of guilt.
It really was a clock, so he told the truth; and he didn’t intend any scary hoax. But the cops hoaxed themselves; and being scary is a crime proven by the accusation. Truth and evidence are beside the point, as is the presumption of innocence.
I charge Ahmed Mohammed with ignorance; of Texan bigotry, of Texan anti-intellectualism, of 9/11 defeat-celebration theatrics, and of the blindness of power. Fortunately ignorance is correctable by education; which this experience certainly gave him.


Thank you for being clear in stating your opinion of the capabilities and attitudes of the police officers whose duty is to keep the peace. I do not agree. It is clear they did not think that pencil box with its ugly contents was a bomb, and they did not treat the incident as a bomb. They thought, as I would have thought, that looked like a fake bomb, and they acted accordingly. They gave him ample opportunity to explain why he would bring an object that eerily resembled most of the bombs you see on TV action adventures to school on 9/11. He did not cooperate, but insisted that it was a clock. He would have had to be very naïve and somewhat retarded not to recognize that nearly everyone would get the first impression that it was in fact a bomb, but he kept insisting that it was a clock.

He had taken a working clock and turned it into a mess; not a crime, but hardly an act worthy of White House commendation, and hardly worthy of the Presidential comment about a cool clock. There is no crime in that; there is no crime in taking it to school unless he intended it to be taken for a bomb; and once again the police acted accordingly, questioning him about his intention. Under Texas law, is a crime to scare people with a fake bomb. That was explained to him. He grinned and said it was a clock.

He and his cool clock were removed from the school. At the police station the handcuffs were removed. So far he had not been photographed in handcuffs, but at the police station young Mohammed’s father insisted that they be put back on him so that his sister could photograph him in handcuffs. The police naively complied.

Somehow the news of all this reached the President of the United States and the President saw fit to postpone whatever he was working on and take time to pay attention to this case. My experience has been that getting the attention of the President requires either an actual pressing emergency, or scheduling and preparation; the Council on American Islamic Relations had no problem getting his attention, although the urgency of the matter is not very clear; prior scheduling seems at least as reasonable. Whereupon the President invites this young clock hobbyist to the White House, and various other important people issue invitations and offers.

It was all spontaneous and you can believe as much of that as you want to.

Blackguarding our defenders is hardly new. For a great reading of Kipling’s poem, try

From Frank Gaffney, but if the content is even about half true — and I haven’t endeavored to fact-checked — then there is much, much more to this than CNN will want us to know.

Richard White

Austin, Texas

And that may be enough about the young Mr. Mohammed, his politician father, the Council on American Islamic Relations, and the suddenly instantly available President of the United States.

You’ve seen this link before, but it’s still relevant if a bit long.





There are no surprises here, and I think no comment is needed.

: Lion hunts and good intentions

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Good intentions without prudence do not always yield good results. This one took me by surprise.

Evidently a number of localities banned trophy hunting in the wake of last year’s killing of Cecil. 

Guess what? MORE lions are dying since then, not fewer.
Because the people who lived there viewed lions as economic assets so long as they attracted tourists who would shower dollars on their locales in exchange for the head of a predator.   So they would work to conserve them and preserve their numbers. It meant preserving their own livelihoods as well.

Well, guess what? With the end of trophy hunting, the economic value of the lions is zero.  Which means the villagers now regard them as pests who sneak into their farms and murder their cattle.  So they have  no interest in preserving the lions, only in killing them all. And that is what is happening.
There is a similarly related story where “carbon credits” resulted in the burning of an African village so westerners could build a “carbon-friendly” tree farm:

Lead me to this conclusion: Whenever first worlders have a moral brainwave, it’s third-worlders who pay the price.


Brian P.


something wonderful: the solar system to scale [buffy willow]



lovely sunspot article

Dear Sir,

For your reading pleasure: “The 315 Year Old Science Experiment” about accurate sunspot counting across the centuries.

“…the placid mindset of Schwabe, who didn’t need to know what would eventually be found in his data, only that there was merit in observing.”


/Bob J

Is there a lesson in there?

El Nino

Submitted for your consideration:

The record 1998 El Nino is labeled and clearly evident. The upticks in the average since generally correspond to weaker El Nino’s according to the timeline of El Ninos on Wikipedia.

Tracking the data on Dr. Spencer’s site, I have yet to see anything that looks like the record El Nino that we’re being warned about.  The recent average is trending upward, but very slowly compared to the other recent El Ninos.

Of course, I could be just another closed-minded official scientist, but I prefer to follow the data.

Jim Woosley


TSA Doesn’t Care That Its Luggage Locks Have Been Hacked (Intercept)

Thanks Jerry – I printed a set for myself last week.  It takes a bit of skill and finesse to get usable keys in plastic, but not too bad.  I expect we’ll see them on eBay shortly.

In any case,  I tell folks that by using a non-TSA lock, you at least know it’s been opened, just carry a spare for the return trip.  But for that a Zip-Tie works just as well, and is far cheaper.  It’ll keep a casual thief out, and let you know if someone got in.  Kind of like leaving a light on your porch turned on when someone else leaves theirs off.

To be fair though, no luggage is secure.   If it’s important, don’t check the bag.



TSA Doesn’t Care That Its Luggage Locks Have Been Hacked
In a spectacular failure of a “back door” designed to give law enforcement exclusive access to private places, hackers have made the “master keys” for Transportation Security Administration-recognized luggage locks available to anyone with a 3D printer.
The TSA-recognized luggage locks were a much-vaunted solution to a post-9/11 conundrum: how to let people lock their luggage, on the one hand, but let the TSA inspect it without resorting to bolt cutters, on the other.
When the locks were first introduced in 2003, TSA official Ken Lauterstein described them as part of the agency’s efforts to develop “practical solutions that contribute toward our goal of providing world-class security and world-class customer service.”
Now that they’ve been hacked, however, TSA says it doesn’t really care one way or another.
“The reported ability to create keys for TSA-approved suitcase locks from a digital image does not create a threat to aviation security,” wrote TSA spokesperson Mike England in an email to The Intercept.
“These consumer products are ‘peace of mind’ devices, not part of TSA’s aviation security regime,” England wrote.
“Carried and checked bags are subject to the TSA’s electronic screening and manual inspection. In addition, the reported availability of keys to unauthorized persons causes no loss of physical security to bags while they are under TSA control. In fact, the vast majority of bags are not locked when checked in prior to flight.”
In other words: not our problem.


Snowflakes & Hot House Flowers


You posted in


Climate and El Niño; And other matters

“I have removed by popular request a picture of the celebration of the attack on America on 911 2001.”

I did not think your readership had so many snowflakes and hot house flowers.

What is next? Trigger warnings?

Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE


war equals refugees

Dr. Pournelle,
Another correspondent objected to my scenario, written a week to ten days ago, where I attempted to point out that Russia is in position to intervene in the Mid-East.
Mine was one of a series of e-mails that were intended to show that the future is still uncertain, and based around several ideas, one being that a SAC-like deterrent force evolved to counter Stalin in the 40’s would not be appropriate today, nor might it be directed at Russia. Is it even possible that Russia will be a point of stability?
Since I wrote those, Russia has deployed military assets to support Assad in Syria — basically, Putin (sometimes referred to — by me — as Czar Vladimir I) has picked a side.
The U.S. and Europe did not pick a side in Syria. Now both are receiving refugees. Now Vlad I can set the pace. He can also leverage his position in Syria to guarantee refugees do not leave, possibly endearing himself to Europe, or at least solidifying his political position in Eastern Ukraine as quid pro quo.
Vlad I has had a successful record, given a certain definition of success, with dealing with unrest from his internal Muslim population. One wonders if he is ruthless and focused enough to take that show on the road.
Russia could guarantee Turkey’s Southern border while the latter settles its internal conflicts, and thereby insert the point of the wedge to break up NATO.
Russia could guarantee Greece’s debt, driving the wedge in further while consolidating its own majority ownership of the Black Sea.
Russia could continue South, bringing Lebanon and Gaza under its influence, thereby becoming Israel’s protector. Perhaps Vlad I will also use his imperial ambitions and position to influence Tehran?
I don’t think I’m advocating a war, just observing current events, obvious capabilities, and apparent intentions, although admittedly from my own somewhat jaded perspective. As I think I said, my “predictions” were likely to be wrong and not really intended as such, but even if 10% were potentially true, the new strategy will have to be much different from that of 60-70 years ago. If Russia becomes a stabilizing influence, a strategy of containment might be counter-productive. If there is no NATO, nothing says that EU will be a U.S. ally. If enough E.U. countries begin to chafe under what is essentially the direction of the now combined France and Germany, how long will it stand as an alliance?
Putin is already demonstrably un-intimidated by the new brinkmanship, and responded to Secretary Kerry’s (oh, so obviously empty) threat to deploy U.S. nukes to Poland by threatening to use tactical nukes to defend the “breakaway” portion of Ukraine. The old deterrence is broken – do you wonder what the new one will be like? I can’t think of any ways that it will be pretty, or peaceful.
The e-mail discussion did inspire me to write up some of my ideas and many of your words into a science fiction short story, submitted for TWBW volume 10. Perhaps it will be good enough for publication, but perhaps not.
Regardless of my advocacy (it wasn’t) for, or opposition to violent conflict, it is simple observation that there will be war — heck, there already is. I’m pretty certain I didn’t start it, but to ignore it would be, at minimum, silly. As would be the position that U.S. foreign policy since the millennium has had nothing to do with creating the current situation; I think that the other correspondent and I might agree on that.

We can agree on your titular premise. I see Putin as a PanSlavic Patriot, interested in breaking encirclement and other traditional concerns of Russia; and his interests don’t particularly conflict with ours except when we choose that path as Clinton did in the Balkans. I, like a lot of the ruling class, have considerable sentimental attachment to the Baltic Republics, but I also have a realistic view of Eastern European affairs, which we have little business justifying involvement. We have common interests with Putin in providing Middle Easter stability and safety for Christians and Jews in that area. Call it common interests of Western Civilization.

Of course Liberalism remains a philosophy of consolation for the West as it commits suicide.






By Rudyard Kipling

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.

Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;

While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!


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




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