Science, Miracles, Free Trade, and other matters

Chaos Manor View, Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for the West as it commits suicide.

James Burnham

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

“Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Immigration without assimilation is invasion.



The chaos is diminishing again, and something like its normal state is settling to Chaos Manor. Roberta is recovering from her last trips to urgent care, the infusions are done, her allergies are abating. We have had a fairly calm week. Of course Monday I go to the ophthalmologist, probably to get an appointment for cataract surgery in my right eye, and while the worst that happens will be an eyepatch and very little if any degradation of my vision, while the best outcome would be a vision improvement, and I know things have improved in the last decade and there’s nothing to worry about, I don’t seem to convince that small voice in my head. Oh. Well.


The Scripture and Debate

On 17 September, you wrote in response to one of your correspondents:
“Sacred Texts, like miracles, fall outside the domain of science, and require different standards of debate.”
It struck me pretty quickly. Science is debatable as it deals with testable hypotheses, careful observation, and the fundamental idea that reality always rules. Sacred texts can not be debated as they deal in faith, unquestioned obedience to dogma, and the fundamental idea that scripture always rules.
It is also true that only subjects that can trace back to observable reality can be debated at all. Debate requires some standard of fact, verifiable falsifiability, and objective discourse. Sacred text claims to be beyond all such considerations, so I see no “different standards” by which debate can proceed. Without an objective framework, discourse is reduced to speculation and disagreements can be settled only by authority.

Kevin L Keegan

Science deals only with testable – falsifiable – hypotheses. Religion deals with non-repeatable observations. If you go to Lourdes and examine the data, there are large number of observations of events you cannot explain. Many call them miracles. The observations are well attested to, by both Believers and Unbelievers; if they happened as described many of them are “miraculous” in that there is no other explanation known. Of course there is always faith in the notion that one day we will have a perfectly non-miraculous observation, but that is a faith, not a scientific principle. The notion that all the universe is explicable by science is self evidently untrue at the moment; that it will be true is an act of faith.

Miracles cannot be repeated; by definition, really. The fact that events taking place routinely today would have been taken for miracles 100 years ago can be said to be evidence for the “science eventually will explain everything” hypothesis, but it is not conclusive evidence.

Sacred text is more complex, which is precisely why the Church Fathers did not urge Bible study, and even now insist on safeguards and interpretations. I do not care to extend this particular debate; it has been held many times with varying results; Martin Luther’s interpretation led to the Thirty Years War and Westphalia.


If you want a glimpse into the future of rule by elites continuing for more years, see:

Rejecting Voodoo Science in the Courtroom

The U.S. has relied on flawed forensic-evidence techniques for decades, falsely convicting many.


Alex Kozinski

The White House will release a report Tuesday that will fundamentally change the way many criminal trials are conducted. The new study from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) examines the scientific validity of forensic-evidence techniques—DNA, fingerprint, bitemark, firearm, footwear and hair analysis. It concludes that virtually all of these methods are flawed, some irredeemably so.

Americans have long had an abiding faith in science, including forensic science. Popular TV shows like “CSI” and “Forensic Files” stoke this confidence. Yet the PCAST report will likely upend many people’s beliefs, as it should. Why trust a justice system that imprisons and even executes people based on junk science?

Only the most basic form of DNA analysis is scientifically reliable, the study indicates. Some forensic methods have significant error rates and others are rank guesswork. “The prospects of developing bitemark analysis into a scientifically valid method” are low, according to the report. In plain terms: Bitemark analysis is about as reliable as astrology. Yet many unfortunates languish in prison based on such bad science. [snip]

If you’re up to it, the report, by the Scions of Big Science, is here:

and you’ll find it fascinating if you can get through it.

The review in the Wall Street Journal is by Alex Kozinski, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, and Senior Advisor to the Big Science officials who wrote the report. In essence it says that most our forensic technology is terribly flawed, and it will certainly be greeted with shouts of joy by the lawyers.

Even methods valid in principle can be unreliable in practice. Forensic scientists, who are often members of the prosecution team, sometimes see their job as helping to get a conviction. This can lead them to fabricate evidence or commit perjury. Many forensic examiners are poorly trained and supervised. They sometimes overstate the strength of their conclusions by claiming that the risk of error is “vanishingly small,” “essentially zero,” or “microscopic.” The report calls such claims “scientifically indefensible,” but jurors generally take them as gospel when presented by government witnesses who are certified as scientific experts.

Thus writes an Appellate Judge and Senior Advisor to the panel who prepared the report.

Now no one wants to send innocent people to prison; and certainly there is room for argument about much forensic evidence, as there is always argument about eye witness evidence, circumstantial evidence, and just about every other kind of evidence. We already have a judicial system requiring 12 jurors to be convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and one juror is enough to force a retrial, after which an Appellate Court gets to review it. We have plenty of voodoo science if the perpetrator pleads insanity: prosecution experts seldom tell the court the guy is nuts, and defense experts generally insist he is technically insane, and jurors are once again forced to decide for themselves.

No doubt we can use some improvements in our judicial system. The late Arthur Kantrowitz, one of the early leaders of the L5 Society, for years vainly tried to get a “science court” to decide technical issues, and had powerful reasons for that. But even he had no remedies for the general criminal justice courts. Nor, really, do I.


From the June, 2002 View:

The book of the month is The New World Strategy (Simon and Schuster Touchstone, 1995) by Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. His On Strategy was about the best analysis of what happened in Vietnam, although I think he didn’t understand the strategic importance of the South East Asian War: While it appeared to be a defeat of the West, and locally it certainly was, it was a victorious campaign of attrition in the Seventy Years War, the last phase of which we call The Cold War. The U.S,. for better or worse, employed a strategy of containment, denying the Soviet Union new conquests to feed from; we held Vietnam long enough to make their victory nearly worthless while the costs to them were high. Summers’ On Strategy is a good analysis of our local defeat, but does not see the grand strategic victory.

The New World Strategy advises us to return to our roots; its most important conclusion is that there will be no great military revolution that changes everything. The principles remain. I may disagree with Summers on details, but I agree completely with that. The Strategy of Technology, by Possony and Pournelle, made that point 30 years ago. We wrote as theorists. Summers writes from military experience.

I continue to recommend Col. Summers


On Free Trade:

Free trade between equals is advantageous to both, and keeps both competitive. Free trade that ships manufacturing equipment overseas and leaves a Rust Belt or Detroit behind is not advantageous to the United States. Then there is another sort of Free Trade; see below.

It might be useful if someone paid attention to American Interests, instead of to economic theory. Perhaps we would not have made some of the agreements that resulted in Detroit.

And yes, I know, Detroit unions contributed heavily to their own demise; as did government regulations that forced them to pay attention to those demands, and did not allow the actual workers any informed opinion in the subsequent actions. There is plenty of blame all around, but the elites came out of it well.


Oh, all the work on the second floor is off-shored to Brazil. I’m honestly not even sure what they do.
Ah! Brazil! So now they are bringing them here now?
I was in Telecom, last gig was the biggest bank in New England that became a big, fat target of downsizing. From a crew of ten, our presence shrunk to one. Me. Sitting alone in a seven room office as the contract ran down.
But, Brazil; they cut out the local project manager mid way through and afterward all the conferences became phoning into a conference bridge. Had to phone in since the new PM was in Brazil. His English was spotty and his emails and project reports had (obviously) been run through a translation program. We learned to ditch the technical jargon early on since if the Boy from Brazil didn’t understand anything, we had to stop and explain it to him. After he got his new Smartphone he liked to join the conference from the beach in Rio, occasionally interrupting the flow with phone-shots of brown bottoms in bikinis (he apparently liked bottoms, male & female). This, while two experienced and competent PM’s were within three subway stops.
I suppose since we were dismantling something, not building anything, in the end it didn’t make any difference. When the job ended we would also be gone. Taking longer was a feature of the new method, not a bug.
After getting laid off, I was offered one other contract that involved downsizing and shutting down. But once was enough.
At the Boston bank I once got a call from a department head in the building. She and her team came in one Monday and their phones and computers were all dead. She spent the morning trying to open trouble tickets but no one came and nothing worked. They were all trying to get by as best they could with cell phones and laptops. Tuesday she called me, as she knew I was the Legacy engineer in the building. I went up to her floor and tried to tell her she needed to stop trying to fix it and call her own supervisor instead, I said I wasn’t allowed to tell her why, but there was something important she needed to hear. I think that at that point she guessed. Her entire department, most of a floor, had been downsized, laid off. But someone didn’t inform them of that before the disconnect orders for their equipment went through.
I’ve heard a lot about American workers being tasked with training their own foreign replacements. I didn’t see any of that directly, but the tech equivalent was perfecting ‘Expert Systems’ for the computer workstations that distilled the essence of the experiences of the old workforce into a set of on-screen prompts that allowed new (and cheaper) operators to respond just the way the old ones did. MaBell did a lot of that.
If I were getting started today, instead of forty years ago, I can’t see anything of the career path I followed. I have no idea where I’d be ending up forty years from now. I can’t see where this country is going to end up, seems the economy is running on inertia with more dead weight being loaded on every year.

John The River

Perhaps not so uncommon a story as you think.


cataract surgery
Best of luck on your cataract surgery Dr. Pournelle. I think you’ll be amazed at the results. My mother had hers removed a couple of years ago and she went from not being able to read subtitles on the TV with her glasses to being able to read them easily with no glasses at all practically overnight.
I’m looking forward to your new book!
Scott Morton
Toronto, Canada

Thanks. I will let yours stand for a large number of similar messages of both good will and predictions of a good outcome. I have no intellectual doubt that all will be well.


‘Perhaps my training as a Russian specialist distorts my judgment, but as I contemplate the ideas spreading from the academy through society, I fear, a century after the Russian Revolution, a tyranny greater than Stalin’s.’



Roland Dobbins


Police caught discussing charges to fabricate

… when they discover that the protestor they stopped had a permit for his pistol.

It happens. It is the price we pay for hiring protectors rather than standing watch ourselves: which would likely result in other and possibly worse abuses.


Prince of Sparta – More Fact Than Fiction? In Prince of Sparta, Prince Lysander makes a comment;
“Hell, without the CoDo shoveling their human refuse on our heads, there wouldn’t be any Helots.”
This made me think of the recent terrorist attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota, and Obama’s policy of “shoveling” Middle East refugees into the US.
It strikes me that the same sentiment could be said of Obama and his policies.


I think I should not comment on this…


Czar Vlad I

Dr. Pournelle,
Ref previous correspondence about Putin, George Will writes about putting the Pravda back into history:

I think Putin’s motives as a Russian Nationalist and Pan-Slavic protector are obvious to anyone who will look. The notion that Russia would give away its naval base forever is absurd; the conquest of Crimea was inevitable. We forced Russia out of the Balkans; we ringed then with NATO allies; and we wonder at Putin’s suspicions?


KGB Coming Back!

Mr. Putin has been busy. He’s cleaned out his security services — he no longer trusted them. He created his own personal guard, just before an assassination attempt by a car. This personal guard is loyal only to him. Even as he began looking more and more like Tsar Putin, he did this:


Russia plans effectively to revive the KGB under a massive shake-up of its security forces, a respected business daily has reported.

A State Security Ministry, or MGB, would be created from the current Federal Security Service (FSB) , and would incorporate the foreign intelligence service (SVR) and the state guard service (FSO), under the plans. It would be handed all-encompassing powers once possessed by the KGB, the Kommersant newspaper said, citing security service sources.

Like the much-feared KGB, it would also oversee the prosecutions of Kremlin critics, a task currently undertaken by the Investigative Committee, headed by Alexander Bastrykin, a former university classmate of President Putin. The Kremlin has not commented.


Why not? After all, we both won the Cold War. It is said we bled the Soviet Union through the 1979 Afghan Campaign. Well, if we can credit Reagan with that, why can’t I credit “active measures” (ideological

subversion) with the corruption of our universities and the Democratic Party? If we can entertain this notion, we see our mutual doom.

The Soviet Union died, and so has the Republic. Putin keeps playing a bad hand well as we continue to throw the game. From the ashes, rises a phoenix that appears to be a double-headed eagle. Let us hope Former Deputy Director Morrell is correct when he says that Putin is a tactician and not a strategist; he has no long term plans and won’t succeed in the marathon. I’m not so sure.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

His goals are Russian Nationalism and Pan Slavic ideology in that order. I do not know how good a strategist he is, but his choices are limited; he dare not take advantage of the mistakes of his self-declared enemies, precisely because he has so few choices.


U.S. Special Forces Sabotage White House Policy

This might be of interest.

Interesting. I do not know of this.


Scriptural Appreciation

     Dear Dr. Pournelle:
     You were kind enough to reprint my scriptural-cherrypicking-is-inevitable letter; and then to comment:
     “Sacred Texts, like miracles, fall outside the domain of science, and require different standards of debate.”
     Differing in vigor and rigor. The difference between art-appreciation and art-creation applies not only to sacred texts, but also to other art-works. A concert-goer pays to be swept away by musical glory; the composer, to earn his keep, must appreciate the tune but also analyze it. No doubt you, as a fiction writer, have been at both ends of this transaction.
     Part of the difference between critical analysis and passionate belief is that the former makes predictions that the latter denies, such as:
     1)    Eternal Truth is a century old;
     2)    Infinite Wisdom stops at the border;
     3)    Black becomes white when necessary;
     4)    It doth not profit a prophet to be too specific
     But both agree that these snarks well describe thy neighbor’s faith.
     And as for miracles… I think that miracles in scripture are like special effects in the movies. Both are convenient for the writer but detrimental to the text; for they both make the writing too easy. Both miracles and special effects tend to cover up wooden characters, dumb dialog, shoddy background, idiot plotting, and vile values. Their purpose is to distract the audience from the failures of the artist. 
     I say that good writing is the only miracle that the movies need, and the only special effect that scripture should desire.
     Nathaniel Hellerstein

My remarks above apply here as well. I can show you records of well documented “miracles” that cannot be explained by modern science, as well as examples of situations in which nearly everyone would agree a miracle was appropriate, but none emerged. The observations are as real as any observations we have – have you ever seen a Higgs Boson? The hypothesis that they aren’t really miracles and one day will be explicable and routine cannot be proved, and falsifying it might take eternity, which I, at least, don’t have.



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



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