Jobs and Robots; Draining the Swamp; Bunny Inspectors; and other matters.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski

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

If you establish a democracy, you must in due time reap the fruits of a democracy. You will in due season have great impatience of public burdens, combined in due season with great increase of public expenditure. You will in due season have wars entered into from passion and not from reason;

Benjamin Disraeli


It has not been a great week: tax time, and a resurgence of my mild cold, and between them a great depletion of energy along with consumption of time. The IRS has invented more forms to use up our time, particularly the self-employed, while the print seems to get smaller and the instructions more complex every year.

I’ll start with this:


OMB asks for help to drain the swamp

Hi Jerry:

This is like a dream come true–I’m really encouraged.  OMB is actually soliciting suggestions from the general public as to which agencies, regulations, etc. could be eliminated.  Sounds like a great opportunity to bring up the Bunny Inspectors as well as a few hundred other possibilities.  Your idea about having all business regulations which are based on number of employees to double the number of employees would be another good one to submit.

The deadline is June 12, so almost two months to get all the ideas in.

My pet peeve is the militarization of seemingly every cabinet department, forming their own SWAT teams, acquiring fleets of armored vehicles and arsenals of weapons.  This has lead to numerous horrible episodes such as a Department of Education SWAT team breaking down the door of a house where they thought a person who had defaulted on student loans lived, only to find out that the person had not lived there for months.  I guess they needed the practice or something.

I don’t know why these departments can’t just utilize local law enforcement or FBI field offices as needed, rather than having their own independent forces.

I’d also like to know what was behind Homeland Security’s order for 1.6 billion rounds of handgun ammo (100 year’s supply) a couple of years ago. 

I hope this effort is more effective than filing complaints with the Do Not Call registry.  Time will tell.

Best regards,

Doug Ely


I urge you to flood them with real and sincere recommendations. Yes, I’ve sent mine, but I don’t have great confidence that they are getting to the people I send them to. It’s a beehive back there, and everyone I know has a palace guard determined to keep people from bothering their bosses. When I was Newt’s science advisor it was simple enough to get to him when he was Minority Whip; I just walked into his Capitol office, appointment or not. But when he became speaker, I couldn’t get a message to him, at least not reliably or in a timely manner. If I was in Washington I could walk into his office – the staff all knew me – and sit at his desk until he came in, which assured a few minutes and sometimes more, but that was in the last century; after 9/11 you can’t just walk into the Capitol and linger. Now the Palace Guards rule everywhere. Pity, but there it is.

Anyway: bunny inspectors in the Dept. of Agriculture are certainly doing a job that need not be done, at least not by Federal agents. Agriculture for some reason has the job of insuring that stage magicians who use rabbits in their act have a license to do so, and that they follow Federally mandated rules for caring for those rabbits. I wish I were kidding about this, but I am not. It is so absurd that no one takes it seriously, and the savings cannot be all that much – I am not sure how many bunny inspectors there are. But there are a number of them. And they have supervisors. In the 50 States, there must be as many as ten districts, each with a senior civil servant supervisor, and perhaps a half dozen agents, and secretaries, and I have never met anyone who believes this is a job for the Federal Government. If the States want to regulate back yard rabbit pens – yes, you need a Federal license to sell pet rabbits (although apparently not if you sell them to be eaten). I wonder that the bunny inspectors don’t die of shame when telling people what they do for a living, and I suspect their children don’t admire them much; but there it is. If we need that sort of regulation, surely it is best left to the States? Or counties, or cities, or towns. I am sure there are local politicians with in-law relatives who would love to have such a high prestige job. Let city councils and county supervisors worry about the bunnies.

A more serious proposal (although I do not mean that abolishing the absurd office of Bunny Inspector is not serious):

If you want more people working, make it simpler to hire them. Exempt more small businesses from regulations. Double the exemption numbers. That is, if a regulation stipulates that it applies only to firms with ten or more employees, make that number 20. If 9 make it 18. I would go further, and double exemptions up to 99 employees; certainly, up to 50. There are a lot of businesses that might expand were the regulations not so expensive and/or oppressive. This simple exemption would let tens of thousands of firms hire more people, and would cost not very much. It could be passed in a week by Congress, but a Presidential Executive Order could accomplish a lot.

I used to have a list of Federal Jobs that don’t need doing; I probably could think of more, but those examples ought to be enough for a start.


I have often mentioned the expansion of armed Federal Agents, some indistinguishable from military units. We have no need of that. It would be cheaper and more effective to use local police for most Federal actions, and cheaper as well. What with Sanctuary Cities that may be a bit difficult to get across in these times, but there is no question that the Federal Government has too many armed agents.

As to Homeland Security’s purchase of a billion rounds of ammunition, maybe they need to go after a rogue baggage inspector?


The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI

The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI

No one really knows how the most advanced algorithms do what they do. That could be a problem.

by Will Knight April 11, 2017

I have long said that by 2024, half the jobs in America can be done by a robot costing no more than a year’s salary of the human now doing that job. After reading this article I am inclined to raise that percentage.

In 2015, a research group at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York was inspired to apply deep learning to the hospital’s vast database of patient records. This data set features hundreds of variables on patients, drawn from their test results, doctor visits, and so on. The resulting program, which the researchers named Deep Patient, was trained using data from about 700,000 individuals, and when tested on new records, it proved incredibly good at predicting disease. Without any expert instruction, Deep Patient had discovered patterns hidden in the hospital data that seemed to indicate when people were on the way to a wide range of ailments, including cancer of the liver. There are a lot of methods that are “pretty good” at predicting disease from a patient’s records, says Joel Dudley, who leads the Mount Sinai team. But, he adds, “this was just way better.”

More and more people are arguing that as robots increase productivity, we must consider giving a basic living salary to all citizens (which is certain to mean all residents and their children, citizen, legal alien, undocumented alien, and illegal alien). Do we reconsider the difference between “deserving poor” and “Undeserving poor”? And who decides? Those who produce nothing, and whose contribution is to consume? What will they consume? What can they do that anyone wants done? I can think of people now who do things I don’t want done. Will there be more of those? If we can afford more bunny inspectors will we hire them?

Science fiction has skimmed across this, but the robot economy is coming faster than we thought. Note that robots are better – sometimes by a lot – at diagnosing future cancer than the best doctors. Now. Already. And they can’t tell you how they do it.


Subject: Here is your laugh for the day!

David Couvillon
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired.; 
Former Governor of Wasit Province, Iraq; 
Righter of Wrongs; Wrong most of the time; 
Distinguished Expert, TV remote control; 
Chef de Hot Dog Excellence;  Avoider of Yard Work


United passenger drug off flight

He paid for the service, he had a right to expect it. A united pilot called into Rush today saying flying is a privilege and that they could not tolerate belligerent passenger because of 9/11. 9/11 was caused by trained terrorists which I’m sure were very docile up until they started slitting throats. In the case of terrorism, belligerent passengers are probably an asset. And united sells services not privilege. I shall not be flying united any time soon.

Phil Tharp


How Algorithms and Authoritarianism Created a Corporate Nightmare at United.



Roland Dobbins



And see below on artificial intelligence.






…and this is aside from things like the robustness of the equipment, the ecological damage caused by e.g. solar collection mirror systems frying birds, or windmill farms killing birds and/or diverting migratory paths, and other adverse effects, such as how windmill farms create such turbulence that no radar — military, civilian aircraft, weather — can get any sort of reading within an active farm.


Renewable energy myths abound

Numerous myths are perpetuated that are not supported by any fair reading of the available data

~Stephanie Osborn, “The Interstellar Woman of Mystery”

Award-winning author of the Division One, Gentleman Aegis, and Displaced Detective series


health care

Dear Mr. Pournelle,
Since the argument has been made that money is the best, and sufficient, way to allocate health care, you might be interested in this article from today’s (London) Times:
It appears that Aspen Pharmacare, having bought the rights to five cancer medications, considered destroying existing stocks of a medication used to treat leukemia as a way of increasing the price “by up to 4,000 percent.” There appears to be evidence that the company orchestrated shortages in other ways: one Italian distributor reported that it “was having to choose which of two families with a child suffering from cancer was to receive the sole package they had because of a deliberately small supply.”
Whatever arguments can be made for the virtues of a free market, I don’t think any such market can be claimed to exist when a company can place the lives of its customers in danger unless they pay whatever price the company sets.
Allan E. Johnson


I do not think many would disagree, but those who do would argue that it is their property and they should be free to destroy it. I recall during the Depression milk poured out on the ground, and eggs being destroyed; small pigs being killed; all by order of the Federal Government trying to end the Depression by raising prices. And yes, it did happen.


During the Great Depression of the 1930s, agricultural price support programs led to vast amounts of food being deliberately destroyed at a time when malnutrition was a serious problem in the United States…. For example, the federal government bought 6 million hogs in 1933 alone and destroyed them. Huge amounts of farm produce were plowed under, in order to keep it off the market and maintain prices at the officially fixed level, and vast amounts of milk were poured down the sewers for the same reason. Meanwhile, many American children were suffering from diseases caused by malnutrition.[16] [

Thomas Sowell


Dark Matter “Bridge” Interesting article at the Wired website. It’s headline basically says that galaxies are connected by a “bridge” of dark matter.
The article is at:
There was also an article about a dark matter galaxy:
Happy reading!


I keep hearing alternative physics theories that do not require dark matter or dark energy, but they are well beyond my expertise. I grew up with the poem

The other day upon the stair
I saw a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
Oh how I wish he’d go away.

We were taught that as a sort of algorithm, and it stuck with me; matter that you can never see and doesn’t exist anywhere near us seems strange to me; a bit hard to believe.


Air intel and Syria, and TLAM

Dr. Pournelle,
In partial response to one of my speculations, you wrote that you’d argue with my “…assumptions regarding our intelligence services. Some may be more competent in persuasion than they are in finding evidence.”
Perhaps. Yet it is my experience that the political and politically motivated representatives of the misnamed “intelligence community” in DC are not the same as the military tactical intelligence troops and commanders in the field (who are, incidentally, substantially less leaky). Long term observation and recording of the battlespace is well within the capabilities of all of our military services, and the tactical and logistics intelligence gathered thereby are from a professional cadre of well trained enlisted, commissioned, and (unfortunately) civilian contractor technicians with a primary interest in supporting military operations and not on beltway infighting. Can’t say that politics is not involved, but at that tier of intelligence gathering and interpretation, I’ll put my money on the E3 who is producing reviewing the imagery and the 05 planning and evaluating the strike (both likely USN, lest anyone’s anti-USAF bias gain influence).
Just FYI, TLAM has demonstrated an excellent runway damage capability in publicly released information from as much as 20 years ago. The very dated linked video puff piece shows some of that capability in testing at about 40 second mark:
The best use of a limited number of those would not be on a taxi way, but to damage large sections of the runway. If one had a lot of them, then taxiways are a good target, but better to use penetrators to take out sheltered aircraft and stored munitions, and HE to take out un-hardened targets. In the videos shown on the internet, with my less-than-well-trained-or-current skills, I saw very little runway and no obvious munitions storage structures. All I’ve seen was apparently infrared or low-quality, thermally-enhanced imagery, and has little detail. Damage to a “cold” aircraft structure was hard to spot, and had little resolution. I could not identify exactly what was burning at the hot spots, and they weren’t in frame for very long.
Of course, I’m not doing this professionally, and I don’t play an imagery analyst on TV. I have no evaluation of the provenance of the video, although I have some ex-professional opinions on the image quality. Mostly, it hasn’t been worth the short time I’ve invested in it: we need a pithy acronym for Just Another Fake News Story.
Best wishes to you and yours,

Mostly I don’t believe Assad had motive to use sarin to kill 83 civilians; he could get that many with a platoon of light armor and a French 75, with far fewer consequences. I think Trump was taken in by a false flag operation and his family’s tears. He asked what he could do.

When the President realized what message that strike would have on Xi in his relations with North Korea, he simply did not listen to more false flag arguments. The strike was in fact pretty good foreign policy, although the Mother of All Bombs was even more so. That is a Machiavellian policy I can admire if not advocate. Minimal casualties, maximum effect; and if you’re going to do it. do it right. Check. No small injuries.


A fresh Diatribe for 20170413

Islam permits, encourages, and regulates slavery. So why should we be surprised to see it returning to Libya now that Obama took away the government that was preventing this stuff? Of course, our lefties are so ideologically headcrammed into holes in the ground they’ll never believe this is happening.

Libya: African migrants sold as slaves in slave markets

The regulation on slavery amounts to something very close to “do what you want but don’t destroy it’s value.” Sometimes brutality improves the value of the slaves to the Muslims. For example, blacks taken in slavery to Saudi Arabia and other Arabic Peninsula nations were routinely castrated so that they would not contaminate Muslim women. In this case young children were brutalized while grooming them for the sex slave market – in Britain.

UK: Muslim rape gang in court over 170 charges of sexual exploitation of 18 children

They were captured off the UK streets. Therefore they were slaves. And, anything goes. Isn’t ANYBODY going to do something to stop this? Has the UK completely lost it’s moral compass? Has Europe as a whole lost it’s moral compass? It hurts to read this sort of news and then see nobody who can and should do something about it move off their backsides and actually do something constructive.



And perhaps that’s enough for the day.



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



Sarin, Syria, False Flags; and other important matters

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana


I have been a bit under the weather the last couple of days. If I were still a drinking man I might describe myself as suffering from one of the milder sorts of hangovers, one that merely leaves you feeling filleted, but that’s not a possible diagnosis. I suspect it’s a mild cold – yet another – complicated by pollens everywhere. Whatever the cause, it has sure drained energy. I got some work done on Starborn and Godsons, not as much as I would like, but that drained all my energy.


Outlook 365 recently began misbehaving. The symptoms were that searches in various mail categories turned up nothing found, even when I could see things it should have found. Worse, when recording subscription renewals – and thanks to those who recently subscribed or renewed – searches in contact categories came up blank, meaning that I had to look them up manually. That takes time.

Digging about convinced me that the indexing was not working properly. I tried several techniques recommended in one or another Microsoft support document, but for two days nothing worked. It doesn’t help that Microsoft shows you nothing in the way of a progress meter, or indeed that there is any activity at all; when you tell it to rebuild an index it has no acknowledgement that the computer is actually doing the new index.

I made a couple of attempts to re-index starting from within Outlook, but if anything happened I could not detect it. Eventually I tried some more Google searches, and came up with

How To Fix Outlook 365 Search


Both of which contain good expositions on the search function, and I recommend them to your attention. And eventually Control Panel / Indexing Options / Advanced induced me to Rebuild my indexes; which worked. It takes a while to complete, but within minutes of starting I got some service from searches inside Outlook where I had none before, and now it’s back to working near instantly as it once did. The interesting part is that everything I did from Control Panel / indexing options / advanced I would swear I had attempted from within Outlook with no results whatever. In any event, my indexing problems are solved and all is well.


Fortunately, there’s been little to comment on: that is, there have been plenty of events, but anything I could add about them would be nothing but comment, there being few facts to work with, and many of those may be unreliable. There is a great deal of interesting mail regarding President Trump’s strike on the Syrian airfield, including various assessments of the effectiveness and/or wisdom of it all. Begin with this:

Thoughts on Syria


I have a number of sometimes-contradictory thoughts about the Syrian incident. First of all, I agree with you and some of your correspondents: just as we don’t know who passed gas in 2013, we don’t know who stunk up the joint in 2017. Who did it? Can we trust the CIA to tell us? No. But does the Air Force contribute to the DIA? Well, when the USAF is involved, I trust the results about as much as I would trust the results of a CIA investigation. IOW, we can’t know. Maybe the DIA has other resources.

What was our President doing? Should he have ordered an attack, given the uncertainties involved? After thinking about it a while, I came to a conclusion: he should have ordered the attack he ordered. Now, Obama might have ordered an attack because he is a Sunni Moslem partisan, which is not a reason for a US President. But our current President is not involved in the intra-Islamic conflict. On the gripping hand he could not turn away from the use of WMD. So he punished Assad’s air force for using gas. The Russians must have agreed that a demonstration was warranted, regardless of who actually used the gas. So they let our slow birds through.

What should Trump have done if he really thought that Assad’s air force had purposely used gas? Turning the HQ into rubble would have been a more apt demonstration. A stronger declaration would have been to rubble-ize the air force HQ with the bosses in it.

But Trump felt he could not let someone use poison gas without making a gesture, so he did. Now if someone else gets the idea to use WMD somewhere else in the world, they’ll think long and hard.


I find this compelling. It was my initial reaction, and this came in Friday before we knew much. I agree with the conclusion: President Trump had to do something, given the reintroduction of war gasses into the equation; and he would being acting without complete or even highly reliable information. I do not think I would have ordered that strike, but I would not have raised a red star objection either; and many of his most reliable and competent advisors were urging far more than this action.

It was done massively, with little collateral damage and with minimal casualties. It was a demonstration that could not be ignored. It was not a small injury nor was it a crippling one; and the message was clear. Do not use war gasses.


“You can look at the pictures for yourself. The runways are fine, you killed 6 planes and it looks like some powerful spoof threw the rest of the missiles off target.“ I am a little astonished: Are we believing Russian propaganda now? And some picture that could have been from before the attack?

It’s possible, of course, but to take it as proof?!

Best wishes,


The damage was sufficient; the airfield is unusable. Yes, it can be repaired; all airfields can be repaired. Cratering the runways is effective in preventing aircraft on the field or in bunkers from taking off, but runway craters with no follow up attacks are a delaying injury, not a crippling one. Runway craters are the most easily and quickly repaired damages an airfield can take: vital if the objective is the aircraft on that field, almost superfluous if the objective is near elimination of the airfield itself. Any airfield damage is repairable, and none can be completely eliminated by a single strike; but the infrastructure and fuel dumps, the aircraft repair facilities, are the vital targets. We had good satellite pictures of that airfield, and I have full confidence in the Navy’s effectiveness with these massive slow but accurate missiles.



Syria, chlorine, and sarin


Several reports suggest that the chemical attack was primarily chlorine with traces of sarin; for example,


has a lot of malarkey. It takes very carefully controlled conditions to ensure the complete incineration of sarin; it’s normally dispersed by explosive and an explosion followed by an open fire is not going to destroy all of the sarin or prevent it from forming from its explosively dispersed and mixed binary components (though that would certainly be inefficient). The point about “only a fool would store the binary components of sarin together” is accepted, but available evidence suggests that ISIS has no shortage of fools.

Sarin is a liquid, but it is very volatile and evaporates relatively quickly (with a boiling point of 314 F, droplets of a given size will not linger much longer than water droplets of the same size – will in fact evaporate more quickly than water if the relative humidity is high). Of course, liquefied chlorine evaporates much more quickly under the same circumstances. Also -depending on concentration – the time to death with sarin exposure could be fifteen or more minutes; it’s not instantaneous under any circumstances. The minimum time to death (see CDC page below) for inhalation of high doses of sarin is about 1 minute for the chemical to be dispersed through the body and act.

Sarin exposure symptoms are given at and Chlorine exposure symptoms are given at and  Either description supports excessive salivation, which may lead to the evidence of foaming at the mouth.

The presence of both chemicals is one reason I would suspect an ISIS store. Conversely, a report on Fox News tonight (an interview on The O’Reilly Factor at stated that the Pentagon has footage of Syrian aircraft on the bombing run at the time of the gassing (which does not prove that the gas wasn’t stored in the target facilities), and that the Syrians and Russians have both completed follow-up bombing that seem purposed to hide the evidence of the first chemical attack (which conversely sounds like it could be an admission of guilt by Assad or his forces). 

I would remain agnostic on the subject of whether the chemicals were Syrian or ISIS-controlled without more data, despite O’Reilly’s assertion that only a crazy person would believe that they were not Syrian. Not knowing more about conditions on the ground, I would assess the two possibilities at approximately equal probability, and I have seen a lot of strong arguments supporting the idea that the target held chemical stores that ISIS had captured (and a lot of strong argument rebutting that idea). I would hope that the Pentagon had strong evidence to support the idea that Assad’s forces dropped the saran before taking the actions they have, but the evidence I have heard so far does not rise to that level.

In the larger geopolitical sense, it currently (Friday 4/7 about midnight) appears that the American action was a success in the sense that it sent a message to all parties requiring a message (i.e, not only Assad and Putin, but also Kim and Xi) and has not triggered (so far) an in-kind response from Assad, Putin, or the Ayatollahs. On the other hand, it’s been praised by ISIS, which is hardly a good thing. On the gripping hand, available evidence suggests that Trump has used his only “get out of jail free” card with Russia insofar as “getting frisky” over Syria is concerned. One hopes he doesn’t need another.


Thank you. The demonstrations of sarin that I witnessed were of tethered sheep at various distances from the release point; my impression was that the time to death was nearly instant. But that was long ago, and my memory is not all that good anymore. The symptoms I saw on the TV, and the reactions of the medical and rescue workers to exposed patients led me to believe it was unlike the sarin demonstrations I saw.

Commenting on the above, Stephanie says:

Syria, chlorine, and sarin

*Sarin doesn’t cause the respiratory symptoms initially reported observed in the victims. It’s a nerve agent. It does tend to kill via asphyxiation, but only because the nerve network for the lungs has been hosed, and consequently the victim finds it impossible to control the musculature for breathing. Relatively small amounts can be fatal very quickly, and are readily absorbed through the skin.

*Mustard gas does not cause the symptoms observed in the victims. It’s a blister agent. It can damage the lungs if inhaled, and this can kill fairly readily, but there were no skin lesions/blisters on the victims that I saw.

*Chlorine gas would cause the observed respiratory symptoms, but there were initially no reports of the characteristic bleach-like odors, nor reports of a green gas cloud. Symptoms can be slow to appear, taking as long as 24 hrs. It’s a choking/asphyxiation agent. Sufficient quantities can simply fill the lungs in lieu of oxygen and kill that way, or it can take longer, reacting with the fluid in the lungs and burning them.

*Phosgene gas would cause the observed respiratory symptoms, but there were no reports of the characteristic “new-mown grass/hay” odors, and the symptoms are often slow to appear, though not as slow as chlorine — say on order hours. It’s a choking/asphyxiation agent.

And it’s my understanding that the respiratory difficulties came on fairly quickly in the victims, though I may be wrong about that. Still, I don’t think it took on order of a day to show up. In short, IMHO there is no ready chemical agent that would be fairly easily produced that matches observations.

At one time, and by dint of my multi-degree background, I was my branch’s resident expert in NBC weapons fx (as it was called then; there’s a different acronym now than NBC). I was even sent to some special conferences/facilities to be trained in same. All classified; can’t talk about details.

It may well have been a combo of sarin and chlorine, according to the reports that are now starting to come out, but initial reports did not support either. I think, in order to get the observed fx as swiftly as they were seen, it may require something more sophisticated, perhaps VX, for instance. And there may have been no need to invoke chlorine; decon for VX involves washing the victim(s) with a dilute bleach solution, and this must be done before transporting to medical facilities; I note that it was the medical personnel that reported a bleach smell.

I’ve been out of the loop on this for some time, so I can’t really go try to find out more details. But I’m intrigued by the whole thing, from a scientific perspective. Horrified, from a human perspective.

~Stephanie Osborn, “The Interstellar Woman of Mystery”

Award-winning author of the Division One, Gentleman Aegis, and Displaced Detective series

I would be astonished if it were VX for a number of reasons. We investigated using it in Viet Nam – “Warning: all humans and other living animals entering the region will die. This area is contaminated. Do not enter.” We never went beyond studies so far as I know, and the stuff had few champions; everyone hated it, and I confess I have deliberately forgotten most of what I knew about it, but I did have reason to learn more back then. It was also a long time ago.

Thanks. Perhaps it was sarin, but my impression of the sarin demonstration I witnessed was that it acts very fast. At least on sheep.

I remain unconvinced that Assad had any sane motivation to use sarin in that situation. The target was militarily worthless (unless it really was a storehouse of rebel-held sarin), and if he wanted to kill 73 civilians including children, surely he had less risky means to do it.

We can speculate on this, but we have no evidence; not even of what it was, although one would think that by now we would at least have that. We also have very little on what the actual target of the Syrian warplane was. Bombing random civilians may be a way to soften up a target area for an offense, but this certainly wasn’t that. I await further facts with some eagerness, but I don’t have high confidence in getting them.

I do have some confidence that Western educated Bashar Assad is not a stupid man, and that he fully realizes the downside of employing chemical weapons for pure terror, and the effects that would have on the West – including Russia. And I cannot fathom the upside. My natural tendency is to ask who profits…

Sarin effects

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

I believe the observed symptoms in news video of the victims of the alleged Sarin attack in Syria are consistent with the early stages of Sarin poisoning, as detailed in the “Effects and Treatment” portion of the Wikipedia article on Sarin, herewith copied:


“Effects and treatment

Sarin has a high volatility (ease with which a liquid can turn into a

gas) relative to similar nerve agents, therefore inhalation can be very dangerous and even vapor concentrations may immediately penetrate the skin. A person’s clothing can release sarin for about 30 minutes after it has come in contact with sarin gas, which can lead to exposure of other people.[28]

Even at very low concentrations, sarin can be fatal. Death may follow in

1 to 10 minutes after direct inhalation of a lethal dose unless antidotes, typically atropine and pralidoxime, are quickly administered.[5] Atropine, an antagonist to muscarinic acetylcholine receptors, is given to treat the physiological symptoms of poisoning.

Since muscular response to acetylcholine is mediated through nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, atropine does not counteract the muscular symptoms. Pralidoxime can regenerate cholinesterases if administered within approximately five hours. Biperiden, a synthetic acetylcholine antagonist, has been suggested as an alternative to atropine due to its better blood–brain barrier penetration and higher efficacy.[29]

As a nerve gas, sarin in its purest form is estimated to be 26 times more deadly than cyanide.[30] The LD50 of subcutaneously injected sarin in mice is 172 µg/kg.[31] Treatment measures have been described.[32]

Initial symptoms following exposure to sarin are a runny nose, tightness in the chest and constriction of the pupils. Soon after, the victim has difficulty breathing and experiences nausea and drooling. As the victim continues to lose control of bodily functions, the victim vomits, defecates and urinates. This phase is followed by twitching and jerking.

Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates in a series of convulsive spasms. Moreover, common mnemonics for the symptomatology of organophosphate poisoning, including sarin gas, are the “killer B’s” of bronchorrhea and bronchospasm because they are the leading cause of death,[33] and SLUDGE – Salivation, Lacrimation, Urination, Defecation, Gastrointestinal distress, and Emesis.”

I note that the same symptoms of gasping for breath would be caused by a blood gas, such as Cyanide in any of several war gas forms, but the detection of war gases and their labeling is fairly wide spread and effective tech, so I doubt there is much real confusion by any -experts- with access to the site of the alleged attack. However, I exclude any media talking head from the category of “expert” in anything other than BS, so we don’t know from the media what happened.

I know the mantra about WMD, but anyone who knows the effects of fire, smoke, hot metal flung at supersonic speed and high explosive on the rather frail creature called “man” tends to view any foofaraw over the use of poison in war with more than a grain of salt.

As for Assad being a rational actor, well perhaps. I would not assume he is in full control, or that every actor below him in the chain of command is rational. Henry did not want Becket harmed, butthere was blood in the cathedral.


My experiences were more dramatic, but a long time ago.



I think that the most telling feature about the gas attack was anomalous timing.

The earliest stories about the use of nerve gas occurred several hours before the first attacks by the Syrian planes..

Add in the many stories of the Turks supplying raw materials to the rebels and we have a situation in which none of the “breaking news” can be believed.

And I say this as a former submarine officer who was tasked with launching the SLBMs at the USSR. Knowing full well the many mistaken “proof positive” events where we (any they) identified a massive flights of inbound missiles. One of the worst events of my life was to hear over the 1MC the phrase “Man Battle Station Missile” instead of frequent “Man Battle Station Missile for WSRT” (Weapon System Readiness Test) while at operating area. What made this particularly ominous was the previous message “Captain to Radio” (something that was never done except absolutely necessary – normally the telephones are used)

Rather like “This is no drill, I say again, This is no drill.”


The Russians and Air Defense in Syria

Dr. Pournelle,
More and more rarely now current events fall into my (limited) sphere of knowledge. As both a section sergeant and platoon leader of a SHORAD (short range air defense) unit I was responsible for portions of an air base defense in Western Germany. Those defenses invariably included two factors: a threat assessment and Rules of Engagement (ROE). The former included both the likeliness of friendly aircraft in the area and the likelihood of specific hostile aircraft in the area. At the time in the early 80’s we were reliant upon visual aircraft identification (VACR) which easily consumed 80% of our training time. Then, a positively identified hostile in an area denied by the rules of engagement was fair game. The Russians were absolute masters at the game of chicken. They would fly their assault and interceptor aircraft right to the very boundaries of our airbase defenses. I used to have nightmares of initiating World War III when some hotshot pilot overflew his mandate. All that I said to say that in this day of infinitely more data and awareness the Russian air defense personnel must be assumed to be competent, in possession of a great deal of advance knowledge, and very precise instructions as to how and when to actively defend their asset. The fact that they did not engage these incoming missiles indicates that their Rules of Engagement were changed at least at the theater level, if not from the highest command. We may not have consulted the Russians, but they were certainly on board for this trip to the woodshed. The old saying is “Make hay when the sun is shining”. I’m sure they will.
John Thomas

I would think that a fair inference.


An alternative Syrian gas attack theory

Dr. Pournelle,
It occurs to me that Assad is remarkably personally quiet. Perhaps he is an Iranian puppet, and on his way to a Mussolini-like reckoning. No one has apparently commented on the probability that there are likely Iranian supporters, agents, and mercenaries acting on behalf of Syria’s government. Is it not possible that there is one such who could order an improvised (aerosol ammonia or mustard), low-tech attack against an e.g. internal political rival, a dissenting Imam, or a Muslim apostate? Could it not serve Iran’s or Russia’s goals to discredit their figurehead in order to justify their own takeover? Perhaps the puppet is losing his remaining nerve?
No doubt Assad needs to be gone. It occurs to me, though, that his erstwhile friends might think so, too.
It kind of makes me nervous, on Israel’s behalf, that Passover is starting. A classic Russian move might be a Syrian military coup declaring a new enemy in common with ISIS and Iran…



Why would Assad do it?

Consider first, that the previous Administration’s policy was to seek the removal of Assad via diplomatic means, rather than direct military intervention. Obama’s successor, on the other hand, has signaled a desire to work cooperatively with the Russians, an ally of Assad, focusing on the defeat of ISIS in Syria. Then, just a few days before the attack, Tillerson states that the future of Assad with be decided by the Syrian people. This was widely reported as a shift in strategy, that we were no longer going to actively seek Assad’s removal, something that the Russians would certainly be happy with. Was the timing between Tillerson’s remarks and the attack coincidental? While Tillerson’s comments were not exactly a green light for Assad to do whatever he wanted, Assad may well have wanted to test the willingness of the Trump administration to maintain a hands off posture. Now he has an answer, albeit one that may have come at a cost higher than he anticipated. Can you blame him for trying? The previous President had talked tough, and then failed to follow through. The only way to find out how Trump would react was to test him.
The choice of a non-strategic target might have been intentional, providing some degree of plausible deniability, and improve the likelihood that some would buy a false flag narrative.
Why would the Russian’s cooperate? First, they may still hold out hope for greater cooperation from the Trump administration. Why escalate a confrontation over a Syrian airbase? Secondly, Putin undoubtedly understands the need for Trump to make a demonstration of strong leadership by making a significant military response to a provocation. It also buys Trump some distance from the charge that he is in Putin’s pocket. If the Trump administration proceeds from this point with a hands-off approach to Assad, then Russia gets what it wants with little cost, and also boosts Trump position domestically.


One possibility, but I see little evidence for it. Using sarin is massively provocative; and ISIS could collect sarin as easily as Assad; perhaps more easily. But we have no evidence they did.


Syria: notes on Russian BDA and Dilbert analysis

Dr. Pournelle,
I did watch the video released on the internet, alleged to be from a Russian drone, allegedly showing the damage at the Syrian airbase. It is just a couple minutes long, and doesn’t show much. There are some IR hot spots with little context, and it looks like a couple broken hardened aircraft structures. A lot of it shows unaffected taxi ways. As with any drone footage, without more context, no comparison photos or maps, and little or no geographical references it is very hard to say what it actually shows. Alone, it is poor bomb damage assessment.
As for awesome EW and spoofing, Tomahawk has always used a pretty much spoof-proof guidance system. Remember that it was that missile with the Pershing II that pretty much put paid to the cold war, and that there was a design parameter for a precision targeting system. Also remember that missile guidance systems have continued development since the 80’s, and aren’t reliant on GPS. Electronic warfare as commonly used in the battlespace is hardly applicable. I am not saying that it is impossible to spoof a Tomahawk, or that my knowledge is even vaguely up-to-date, just seems unlikely.
I would speculate that with a couple drones of his own and live target coverage, it wouldn’t take a Navy mission planner very much effort to throw a few more shots at any targets missed in the first wave or two.
As far as Scott Adams’ doubts on Syrian air traffic intelligence, he is pretty much out of the loop. With U.S. and NATO assets in play in the area, my bet would be that there are several years worth of detailed tracking of low-level flight at ready storage. I like the Dilbert blog even if I don’t always agree with it, but this is a field where Mr. Adams has little knowledge.
The short answer is that I doubt the success of a false flag op. Trump has very, very good tactical intel at his disposal and his military advisers know precisely who was responsible for the gas attack. We probably will never have that access.
As to the legality of the missile strike, I wonder if there is a chemical weapons treaty in place that permits retaliation against a weapon user?

Treating use of war gasses as an act equivalent to piracy could be defended by a large number of prominent international lawyers; but then, international law tends to favor the victors. We went to war opposing unrestricted submarine warfare in WWI; in WWII we declared unrestricted submarine warfare in the Pacific days after Pearl Harbor.

I find a false flag operation somewhat more credible than that large a mistake by Assad, but I cannot challenge any points in your argument other than your assumptions regarding our intelligence services. Some may be more competent in persuasion than they are in finding evidence.


a third possibility for the nerve agent used in Syria

Jerry, there is a third nerve agent that could have been used in Syria besides Sarin and Soman.

in the 1980s and 1990s, the Soviets created a new (5th) generation of nerve agents.  The most obvious of these being named Novichok.
Physiologically, it’s pretty horrible stuff, even by the standards of GS and VX nerve agents.  It also has the ‘qualities’ of being undetectable by NATO-standard analysis equipment and field gear.  It’s also pretty unstable.  In the dry climate of the Middle East, it could well start decomposing in 24-48 hours, being wholly undetectable in a week or so.

Be well….


Understood, and that is well beyond my period of experience. I have no knowledge here.


r.e. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana

Dear Jerry,

Surely this doesn’t this include 2003 when the USA invaded Iraq under the bogus claim of “Iraqi WMDs”? 

And surely Assad’s explanation for this event can’t be true either.  Namely, that Syrian conventional bombing detonated rebel-held stocks of war gases.  This has never happened before.  Well, except in January, 1991 when CENTCOM bombed some of Hussein’s stocks of nerve agents leading to their widespread dispersal.  Just how widespread is still the subject of scientific debate decades later:

But let’s not talk about that either.

No, I’m sure its exactly as our incorruptible, non-partisan, non-leaking and non-double agent penetrated* Guardians of the Republic – literally a real life Jedi Order – in the intelligence community have assured us.

Best Wishes,


p.s.  And despite numerous proven traitors taking positive pittances from the miserly Soviets during the Cold War, it is a certainly the far deeper pocketed Saudis and Gulf Arabs have never, ever, purchased American moles and double agents for significantly higher prices.  Nor has anyone high up in the intelligence services, a CIA station chief for example, ever converted to Islam and thus become an ideologically motivated mole. —

We also have some very competent people in the 17 or so intelligence services. Perhaps President Trump knows a few of them. But I have not forgotten the Iron Law.


SUBJ: 14 Questions About Syria

14 Questions that should be answered before making up one’s mind about American involvement in Syria.

Brief and very worth the read.

Reminiscent of a warning that preceded another war:





On scragging airbases

Russian aerial equipment is designed to operate in ‘austere’ conditions, You know, what USAF calls a base without a golf course. I kid, sorta. Have never heard of TLAM’s having a runway denial loadout and assuming that this is still the case, while the strike may have done a good job scraping the cruft off the surface, it’s still a usable air strip. Coupla tents, fuel bowsers and munitions trailers and they’re back in action, should they choose.


The infrastructure is important, and is now gone so far as I can tell. Like the Swedes, Russian aircraft can operate from roadways and trucks if need be; I doubt Syrian Pilots can.


EM-Drive News and Not-

Hi Dr Pournelle,
The ‘leaked NASA paper’ news is about a year old. Harold White and the Eagleworks crew published in an AIAA journal last year:
Thus the paper is no longer ‘leaked’ and so it’s “Not-News” being late to the party. I think some ‘bot has recycled copy from a few months ago.
What is news is that a Mach Effect Thruster (arguably a relative of the EM-Drive) is being studied under a Phase I NIAC study:
Will be very interesting to see what new results they come up with.

: Adam

The subject remains interesting; but then I want to believe it works. I would not bet a lot on it, though.

NASA’s EM Drive and peer-reviewed

Your correspondent Peter linked this article:
What I found most interesting about the article wasn’t the possible reactionless drive (which we’re all rooting for of course). Instead, the article seemed to think that the goal wasn’t so much a working drive as a peer-reviewed paper about a possibly working drive. The article repeatedly referenced that a peer-reviewed paper would legitimize the science behind the EM Drive.
This reminds me of a passage in Asimov’s Foundation series where an archeologist of the Empire thinks that the proper way to do archeology is to review all the previously published work and render an opinion of which is best.
I wish these scientists would get a bit of adventurous spirit (and funding to match) and just launch an EM Drive equipped satellite loaded with sensors and see if it actually goes anywhere. Once we have a working model, then they can argue about how it works all they like.
Brent B.

I continue to get reports that the Chinese actually flew a copy. I do not hear about results.



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