NSA and Industrial espionage; overclocking; BUFF and GLOM; computers and education; consensus; and many other interesting letters.

Mail 825 Friday, May 23, 2014


NSA and commercial espionage

They claim they don’t do it – I have my doubts.

The Chinese government does, and they’re not going to stop. Can we

live with a situation where the Chinese get to steal from Toyota and we can’t ? Obviously that’s not going to fly.

So the NSA will get into the business of industrial espionage, not so much because they’re incredibly talented, more because they have huge resources and get to break the law without fear of consequences..

Politics/contributions will dictate which corporations get access.

Of course no future Administration would ever use these powers for blackmail, because that would be wrong. On the other hand, the subjects for blackmail are getting pretty thin – at this point, only saying something politically incorrect could shame an American.

Gregory Cochran

And the political correctness smear is the worst of all. It is only necessary to accuse someone of the Thoughtcrime of racism – without regard to what they have done, and often paying no attention to what they have said, just what they have thought. And of course a joke told in a bar ten years ago can now haunt someone the rest of her life.

And the NSA becomes industrial espionage team as part of our national defense. Alas, what is the alternative? But it sounds like the Cold War all over again. With War grows government and bureaucracy.

Those not familiar with Dr. Cochrane might find this page interesting:


His views on overclocking the human brain are both original and compelling.


The BUFF gets new avionics


All glory to the BUFF!

Phil Tharp

My first job in the aerospace business was assignment to the Bomber Weapons Unit, Human Factors and Reliability Unit. Our immediate task was redesign of the control of the Electronic Counterweapons system, and completing the task of bringing the tail gunner in from his isolated past in the back of the airplane to the main cabin. That was in 1955, as the B-52 was going operational.

In the original design and the first operational models of the B-52, the tail gunner was in his own compartment in the back of the airplane. In order to bail out he had to in effect blow the back end out of the airplane, and the sequence then drive his chair on a rail out through the hole in the back of the plane. The rest of the ejection sequence was essentially the same as the regular ejection sequence, with the lap and shoulder belts opening, the airman falling away from the seat, and automatic opening of the parachute. Pilots were reluctant to order a bailout, because while it was theoretically possible to fly the plane in and land with the cabin ejection seats – navigates, bombardier, electronic countermeasures operator, and even the co-pilot – having been activated, control of the airplane was thought to be extremely difficult if the rear seat ejection happened. There hadn’t been much actual experience with this for obvious reasons. The general consensus among Stratofortress (B-52 was successor to the Boeing Flying Fortress, and the Boeing passenger airliner was the Stratoliner; the common service name for the B-52 was the BUFF, standing for Big Ugly Flat Fu****) was that the tail gunner station was a death trap, and he’d do better to ride it in cause he was never going to get out.

The tail gun was the only defensive firepower the Stratofortress had. It relied on other countermeasures for more sophisticated attacks, but those were not effective against the idiot attack – get on her tail, hang back there, and chew her up with guns. The Russians had a lot of day fighters in their inventory, and while they were no threat to the B-52 in high altitude night attacks, they would be against mid and low level daytime attacks. The tail gun was intended to stop the idiot attack by killing the idiot. (Later, long after I left the project, two different B-52 tail gunners brought down MiGs over North Viet Nam, the first tail gunners to kill an enemy aircraft since the Korean War.

It was decided to bring the tail gunner into the main cabin, where he sat in a rear facing seat with an electronic console and a video screen connected to a targeting camera in the rear of the aircraft. The ejection seat was essentially the same as that of the pilot and co-pilot and needed no redesign. Our job was to maximize the video control system. We also got to play with some alternate tail gun weapons. This was, after all, the Human Factors and Reliability Group. It was more an operations research job than one for an aviation psychologist.

I soon moved on from that assignment to testing space suits and human capabilities under high temperature conditions, but I grew rather fond of the BUFF. I’ll have to see if I can arrange to get in on a test flight of the new systems just to see what she looks like with colored flat careens rather than the old green bottle screens. I expect many of the instruments will change as well. By now the BUFF is very likely to be much older than any crewman who flies her, with the possible exception of some of the teach sergeant ECM operators. Tail gunners were generally expected to be promoted out of that assignment.

Another reason for moving the tail gunner inside was the decision to train SAC B-52 crews to do low altitude penetration missions as part of a SIOP – Single Integrated Operational Plan – that called for the first wave of BUFFs to go in low taking out any air defenses that locked in on them. The problem was that the BUFF wasn’t designed for high speed low altitude flight, and the tail would swing from side to side in an eleven foot arc. This was stressful to the airplane, but she could take that; the problem was that the tail gunner was useless at those altitude. He was so busy hanging on for dear life that he hadn’t the ability to observe and aim his guns.

Anyway, I’ll probably never see a color flat screen in a B-52 cockpit, but perhaps there will be pictures. She’s a great old bird, even if at her age she does tend to be a huge number of parts flying in loose formation. I wonder what version of Windows she’ll get.

I note in the article that it says that in Cold War days there was at least one B-52 armed and airborne at all times. I will leave it to your imagination as to what her mission was. There was also a KC-135 full of fuel to accompany her. There was also another airplane, an KC-135 without tanks but filled with electronics in the air. This was Looking Glass, which contained a USAF Lieutenant General or higher officer, and which did not land until its successor was safely off the ground and at altitude. Looking Glass was part of the command and control system; In the event that both National Command Center and SAC Command at Offutt AFB in Nebraska were out of communications with the SAC command network to the missile and flight bases, Looking Glass was in control of the strategic nuclear weapons and could order their launch. This was to prevent a decapitation attack: kill national command authority with a sneak attack, then launch a counterforce attack against missile and air bases with hundreds to thousands of ICBM’s, confident in the knowledge that the US could not order a retaliation before the counterforce attack removed our ability to retaliate. It all seems like bad dreams now, but that is the sort of thing that we worried about in those days, when B-52 Wings waited at numbered Air Force Bases with the crews sleeping out by the airplanes, and missile officers sat deep underground waiting for orders no one wanted to hear. The missile operators never got a launch command. The B-52’s did more than once. The Emergency War Orders would come in, and crews would rush to the airplanes, and the Wing would take of on its way to the rendezvous points where they would meet the KC-135 fuel planes – and would receive final orders to complete the mission. None ever got those final orders and the Failsafe plan was that without that final order, you turned around and went home. The novel Red Alert and the movie Dr. Strangelove, and other “Failsafe” movies had it the other way: unless the BUFFs got orders to turn back, they were to complete their missions. This was not the way it worked. Had it been we would have lost a number of airplanes, since the KC-135’s would pump everything they had into the BUFFS, saving fuel for five minutes of flight time before they were dead stick over the Arctic Ocean – over the North Pole, in some cases.

Fortunately it never got that far before the recall orders. Flying a KC-135 for SAC wasn’t as glamorous as being crew on a BUFF, but every man aboard knew that if this was the big one, they wouldn’t be coming home. The chances of getting down intact weren’t all that bad, and an empty tanker can float for a long time – but who was going to pick them up? Under those circumstances the submarines had their missions, and rescuing crews from downed tankers wasn’t as important as firing their own missions or intercepting Soviet missile subs…

I see I got carried away into a ramble.


"There’s a complete lack of motivation among many of my pupils – these gadgets are really destroying their ability to learn. They’re so used to the instant buzz which you can get with these games and gadgets that they find it really hard to focus on anything which isn’t exciting."

"We’re finding that, for many children, when they begin school, it’s the first time they’ve been told what they can’t do – as opposed to simply being left to do what they like."

"Their response is to really act up and to be aggressive – because they’re not used to any controls, and because these games have given them the idea that violence is the answer to every problem."



Roland Dobbins

I think there’s more to this story. Yes, computers can be a distraction and addicting to certain personalities, and some kids find trivial computer games more important than learning. Perhaps many do. But some find them a source of information they would never otherwise have, and some will discover the Kahn Academy and learn things their own teachers are incapable of teaching. I don’t think we really know the effects of the computer revolution on education, and I would not put a lot of confidence in those who think they do.


A side effect of the computer age impacting publishing


A reduction in the number of distributors of a particular product can cause a limitation in access to products that are deemed to be "offensive" or if there is an economic incentive. Of course that can happen with anything, but the larger internet distributors magnify the effect.

This and other such matters are being discussed in dead earnest by Science Fiction Writers of America, the Authors Guild, and other writers organizations, and I presume by many others. One problem is that Amazon has done its groundwork, and has built a structure that it will take any competitor a fair amount of time and money to match before they can compete. In my case I get a reasonable income from eBook sales, but of that, 90% comes from Amazon, and only 10% from all its competitors combined. Amazon is the 800 lb. gorilla here. I have to say that Amazon has acted very fairly with authors: three months after an eBook is posted on Amazon, they begin to pay monthly royalties, and they continue to pay monthly, not just after credible threat of lawsuit.

Of course they pay it to the publisher. Now if that publisher – the one who posted it on Amazon – is me or my agent, as it is whenever our contracts allow that, the money comes directly to me. If it goes to one of the Big Five publishers, they collect the money, and collect the money, and collect the money, and after a year they send a check for the amounts collected during the period of one year to six months ago; then they wait six months to send any more. Sorry. I’m getting off the subject. But the point is that Amazon has publicly said that one of their goals in the book selling business is to keep authors happy. I do not believe that any of the Big Five publishers has that as a goal.

It would be better if Amazon had real competition, but I am not certain where that will come from. It took them a long time to build the structure they have now; and pressure on competitors from their stockholders will be for early profit and against any long term investment strategy. Of course Amazon is under much the same pressure….


Tightening consensus

The case of the San Onofre nuclear power station is relevant. 1.7 nuclear gigawatts, 100 percent from one of the two large reactors and 700 MW from the other, would mean 250 tonnes per year of uranium-mining if they were CANDUs, maybe 260 or 270 with the ordinary water coolant. That’s $26 million a year. Equivalent natural gas is $450 million a year, and at a 12.5 percent royalty rate, government’s take is 56 million dollars.

So in the USA, as in every highly fossil-fuel-taxing country, the nuclear regulator doesn’t have a good side. Not for the industry. In the USA, a regulator might think, never mind a few tens of millions for my paymaster, that much gas is quite likely to *kill* someone, so everyone’s safer if we let San Onofre run; our people *at* San Onofre assure us of that.

But that kind of thinking isn’t allowed! The regulator’s charter requires it to consider nuclear plant safety in a vacuum, and maximize it at any cost in reduced production no matter how much damage the alternatives thus promoted do. In their "Prevented Mortality" paper* Kharecha and Hansen find nuclear power to have saved 1.84 million people and, independently of that, kept 64 gigatonnes of CO2 out of the air and the ocean.

They don’t estimate the prevented fossil fuel tax revenue and divide it by the prevented mortality, but I do, and the result is a few million dollars per life.

Your belief that the consensus on fossil fuels’ effect on the planet’s heat balance and on the ocean’s pH is tightening for some other reason than being right puts you in the same camp as Helen Caldicott et al.: believers in a civil servants’ conspiracy to reduce civil service headcount.

Interesting talk, well transcribed, at http://www.easterbrook.ca/steve/2014/05/tedx-talk-should-we-trust-climate-models/ .

* http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es3051197 .

G.R.L. Cowan

I don’t believe that the Iron Law of Bureaucracy is a conspiracy. I think it is a law of nature. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/iron.html


VA and IHS health care 

As a veteran I abhor what is happening at the VA, as do most Americans. It is a testament to the failure of big bureaucratic organizations and their penchant for not just eschewing small and agile management process but rewarding the expansion of bureaucracy.

To further illustrate the failure of dispensing medical care this way, the media would do well to look at the ludicrous organization of the Indian Health Service (IHS). My wife, children and grandchild receive their care through this system. The wait times for appointments (a month or more for eye or dental appointments, only to have them canceled after taking a day off and driving 70 miles to the IHS facility) , long lead times for major procedures (my wife waited one year for a hip replacement), to having to wait hours for prescriptions to be filled.

As the ACA moves forward we can look forward to seeing this creep into our health care. While claims are made that our health care is not ‘government run’ apologists fail to mention the huge amount of new regulations regarding what are approved procedures and medications. Incentives for private industry are not enhances by the ACA…quite the opposite. Liberals want to move to single payer and ultimately to government run health care. One only needs to look to the VA and the IHS to see how badly the government does at delivering health care.


The VA is also subject to the Iron Law, ( http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/iron.html    ) although fortunately physicians do not easily get sucked in to the bureaucratic system. It takes too much dedicated work to become a doctor for that to look attractive. But of course the control of the VA by physicians is always threatened by the growing bureaucracy, which grows as the number of clients grows.

There have been several relevant articles in the Wall Street Journal on this and related subjects. One

The Bureaucrat Sitting on Your Doctor’s Shoulder

The bond of trust between patient and physician has always been the essential ingredient in medicine, assuring that the patient receives individual attention and the best possible medical care. Yet often lost in the seemingly endless debate over the Affordable Care Act is how the health-care bureaucracy, with its rigid procedures and regulations, undermines trust and degrades care. In my pediatric ophthalmology practice, I have experienced firsthand how government limits a doctor’s options and threatens the traditional doctor-patient bond.


is quite relevant although not addressed to the VA itself. There have been a number of articles by physicians concerned with what’s happening to VA.

See also



Class of 2014

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I believe you will find this column, evidently written with an acid-filled pen, by a prof at Yale to be most insightful and entertaining.


"The literary critic George Steiner, in a wonderful little book <http://www.amazon.com/Nostalgia-Absolute-CBC-Massey-Lecture/dp/0887845940> titled "Nostalgia for the Absolute,” long ago predicted this moment. We have an attraction, he contended, to higher truths that can sweep away complexity and nuance. We like systems that can explain everything. Intellectuals in the West are nostalgic for the tight grip religion once held on the Western imagination. They are attracted to modes of thought that are as comprehensive and authoritarian as the medieval church. You and your fellow students — and your professors as well; one mustn’t forget their role — are therefore to be congratulated for your involvement in the excellent work of bringing back the Middle Ages."


Brian P.

There is something seriously wrong with our higher education system. But we all knew that…


Disclaimers on Bolts by dolts


I was ordering some bolts online, and noted this disclaimer <http://www.boltdepot.com/Product-Details.aspx?product=16107> on the spec sheet:

"WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm."

Yes, even stainless steel bolts may kill you or yours, we are warned.

Is it any wonder that people are skeptical of ingredients in vaccines when we are constantly told that everything is poison in any concentration or composition?

Perhaps the cost of proving the products are "safe" was so high that it was just easier to put the disclaimer on everything and be done.

I will err on the side of caution and not eat any of the bolts I bought, though.


Jeff D

Good advice. And never set the cat on fire…


List of all effects of Global Warming

Just in case you haven’t seen this…


is a concise list of the claims of the consequences of global warming (aka climate change, aka climate disruption).

It’s a wonder we’re still here!


John Bresnahan

Are you sure we are? Perhaps all the poisons have put us into a dream rich coma…


Study: Young Black Children Drown At Far Higher Rates


Black children ages 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools at a rate more than five times that of white children, the research found. That suggests a lot of blacks are not learning to swim, said the lead author, Dr. Julie Gilchrist of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



The water must be racist. 


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

I recall when I was growing up, most of my friends could swim, but few of the tenant kids could swim. Of course there wasn’t much swimming to be done, except in the big creek that ran through our land, and it had a lot of snags. Not fast water, but opaque and muddy, and no place to learn to swim. I learned in a kid’s pool in Davis Park across the street from where I lived K-3 in Memphis, and at a couple of summer camps. There was no such opportunity for black kids in legally segregated Memphis. There was at least one black public swimming pool. I don’t know if there were any white public swimming pools; I never went to one. But there was Rainbow Lake and East End, private pools (again white only) not too far away by street car.

But legal segregation is long over, so I would suppose that the opportunity to learn to swim is much more likely among black children now. I have no idea of the importance of learning in the black community. When I was growing up I don’t think I knew anyone among my friends who couldn’t swim. Certainly no boys.


Joe McCarthy

I have mixed feelings about this guy. The press regarding him is not trustworthy IMO, either the pro’s or con’s. I DO think the Red infiltration into our government was greater than we realized at the time, but maybe not so much as the Senator did.

It is plausible to me that Senator McCarthy’s drinking and overreaching was a symptom of his frustration at not being able to get people to listen.

You were old enough at the time and were active in politics then, right? Can you reflect back on those times and give an opinion?

The McCarthy period happened while I was in the Army and after when I was an undergraduate. I had never heard of him when I was in the Army. As an undergraduate I was actively opposed to him. A number of my friends were obsessed with the hearings.

The nature of the threat that McCarthy was drawing attention to wasn’t easily discussed because everyone I knew hated him, and that was pretty well the attitude I experienced through college and mostly in graduate school. My political attitudes took a great swing during that period.

None of that is relevant. But much later I met and was befriended by William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk, as well as Stefan Possony, and I got a different picture. Kirk tended to be contemptuous of the man. Possony thought him a detriment to his own cause: the threat was real, but McCarthy was making things harder for intelligence people. And finally Bill Buckley wrote The Red Hunter, a part fiction part biography book that I think does the best job of imbedding McCarthy in his times of anything I have seen yet. It exists in Kindle format http://www.amazon.com/Redhunter-Novel-Based-Senator-McCarthy-ebook/dp/B002ZDJZQK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid= and of course there are printed copies available. If you want a picture of that time that tries to be accurate, I recommend this.


Now the Department of Agriculture wants armed agents


Yet another agency arms itself.


‘ the Dept. of Agriculture wants the guns to have an "ambidextrous safety, semiautomatic or 2 round [bursts] trigger group, Tritium night sights front and rear, rails for attachment of flashlight (front under fore group) and scope (top rear), stock collapsible or folding," and a "30 rd. capacity" magazine."’

It’s nice to know our tax dollars are being used so wisely.

Doug Ely


“Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”



Roland Dobbins

Yes. Precisely.


Spurious correlations:


I like:

Worldwide non-commercial space launches

correlates with

Sociology doctorates awarded (US)

r = 0.78915


Per capita consumption of chicken (US)

correlates with

Total US crude oil imports

r = 0.899899


Yes, it’s always amusing to find high correlations between obviously unrelated trends, and try to figure out if there really is a common basis for them. Usually there isn’t. After all, if a correlation has statistical significance at the 5% level (usually considered pretty good in the social sciences) then 5 times out of a hundred it would happen by chance. And if there are thousands of such pairings…

What ended much of the interest in J. B. Rhine’s Extra Sensory Perception experiments – often involving a deck of cards each of which had a figure like a wavy line or a start or a circle, etc.; the “sender was to look at the car and think it hard, while the receiver drew the symbol on an answer paper.. The drawn symbols were then compared to those actually “sent”. In a large number of cases it was found that the results were far too close to be chance – or so it was concluded.

But if there is one chance in a thousand of a certain result, and there are two thousand repetitions of the experiment, the chance of getting three or four of those improbable results is quite high. And in its time the Rhine experiments were being done ten times a day by a dozen students at hundreds of college campuses….


The Right To Privacy


I could feel the alarm in Mr. Maher’s op-ed piece on the right to privacy. But we have to be careful in our analysis of this situation. The right to privacy that Maher refers to is a right against unsanctioned State intrusion into our personal lives. It requires the State to obtain warrants before it can target an individual, tracking movements and statements. That right places no restrictions on what one private individual does concerning another private individual.

Individuals have been ratting out each other ever since people stopped wandering around looking for food every day, as soon as the community enlarged beyond the family and included the notion of neighbors. For most of that time, what happened to Sterling would have resulted in a ‘she-said, he-said’ splash in the local papers. Now, however, we have ubiquitous audio and video recording devices that are easily concealed and so there is absolute proof what was said and no recourse to deny the conversations.

Pointing out the long history of ratting and the impact of modern technology does not, of course, sanction the act of ratting. Is it wrong? Sure, unless what one is ratting amounts to plans for illegal activities. Then the ratting is encouraged and the ratter becomes a hero instead of a goat.

Was Sterling’s privacy violated? Yes. Were his rights violated? No. The State had nothing to do with it. It was a private affair made publicly ugly by a private individual.

Kathleen Parker’s take on the situation is extreme, but her position does point out the need for decorum. Depending upon what you have to loose, some things are best not said. To anyone. At any time. But, this has always been true, too. We all have thoughts best not shared because they endanger one’s relationship with one’s wife, or children, or best friend, or work, or society at large. Any thought shared will eventually out. Count on it. So don’t share it.

Sterling violated that precept at his peril and it cost him.

Kevin L. Keegan

Then of course you have Fred… http://www.fredoneverything.net/LaudableRacism.shtml


Belmont Club » The Day Obama’s Presidency Died

This is an absolutely stunning analysis of Benghazi and the Arab Spring.


James Crawford=


Japanese space solar power

Hi Jerry

Of possible “green” technologies space solar power always seemed interesting to me. Awhile back we looked into a project that involved sending microwave power. It didn’t work out but I did run across what the Japanese were doing. It looks like they are still at it.


I got my Costco hearing aids. I’m very happy with them. Thanks for the tip.

I was going to say something else. But it went away. Old age. 😉


Space based solar power is capital intensive but it doesn’t contend with day/night cycles or weather, and operates nearly 24 hours a day 365 days a year. It is still an economic contender for energy production.


Offshored jobs returning…

With respect, there are several alternative interpretations:

1. This is all a lie (WMD in Iraq, anyone?).

2. If offshored jobs are returning because American wages have collapsed, so what? Being ‘globally competitive’ with Bangladesh is no great accomplishment if you are paying Bangladeshi wages.

Recall: adjusting for inflation, American wages have collapsed. If in 1980 Americans with IQs of 90 could get $20/hour (adjusted for inflation) and in 2010 Americans with IQs of 110 can get $10/hour, this is effectively more than a halving of wages.

3. If a company exports 400 jobs to low-wage India, and then brings back 80 low-wage jobs to the United States, BUT THERE ARE STILL HUNDREDS OF LOW-WAGE INDIANS WORKING ON THE PRODUCT, this has nothing to do with automation.

Automation does not cause low wages. Automation is a reaction to high wages. Duh.

globus pallidus XI

Well of course automation is a reaction to high wages and restrictive union rules. But once the investment is made, a number of jobs are lost forever…



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




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