Surprises; rights, continued; a comment on Fred; an endorsement of Surface; and other matters

Tuesday, January 24, 2017



Most of my day was used up in maintenance: out to Kaiser, then some shopping. Returned to find that President Trump had been busy. For one thing he approved the Keystone pipeline, with a few restrictions. Not only will the work be in the United States – how could it be otherwise – but the pipes will be of steel made in the United States. Oddly, much of the media acted surprised, and most emphasized how controversial this is; yet I distinctly remember Trump promising to approve that pipeline during the campaign, and not clandestinely: didn’t he mention it in the debates? Surely there is not much room for surprise in this decision. Meanwhile the Democrats found reasons to delay Mr. Trump’s Cabinet appointments. Mr. Trump announced that he will have chosen his Supreme Court appointment next week; Senate Majority Leader McConnell told reporters that Trump’s choice will be confirmed. Asked if he means that he is threatening the nuclear option, Mr. McConnell repeated that Mr. Trump’s choice will be confirmed; leading me to wonder if Mr. Trump is serving backbone stiffening medicine in his conferences, and if the FDA has approved it as effective.

In fact, there is not much information, in the technical sense, in the news; it is going as expected. Of course the cumulative effect is information, namely that Mr. Trump is holding firm to most of his promises. That I suppose is news to many Washington politicians, who do not expect any politician to keep his word once elected; but of course, Mr. Trump is not a politician, as the media keeps assuring us, so why are they surprised when he does not act like one? And the early approval of Keystone could not be a surprise to anyone who actually listened to Mr. Trump during the campaign. There was also an effort to make Mr. Trump’s estimate of 28,000 jobs as a result of the pipeline approval another example of his gross exaggeration. I’m still looking at that; it may be an overestimate, but it depends on your view of the effects of the lower costs of energy, and that is difficult to estimate.


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rights, and inaugurations

Dear Mr. Pournelle,
I appreciate Mr. Hack’s observation that “Positive rights are things that must be provided…” Emphasize “must.” While as you know I support national health care legislation, this seems to me an excellent reason why categorizing it as a “right” would be imprudent. We are able to guarantee defense counsel. No plausible economy can guarantee all the health care which might be needed, even through the draconian measures to which Mr. Hack alludes.
Mr. Flynn’s observation that “Natural rights are those rooted in human nature. It is the right that is not alienable, not the thing itself” is very useful, as his his background on the philosophical discussion. But again, I’m inclined to think that even though people with whom I would group myself argue for health care as a “right,” this isn’t a useful way to approach the question. A better question would be: is this an objective which we find desirable and legitimate?
Regarding the “most watched inauguration” question: I can’t say I really care. Whatever the conclusion, it would at most provide a data point regarding popularity, which might be useful during an election but doesn’t get us anywhere now. What I’m interested in is: what will he DO?
In any event, it seems to be a theme with Mr. Trump that everything associated with him must be the biggest and best ever. I take that as noise, not signal. One could parse distinctions regarding “watched,” but why bother?
What I *do* care about, is two points in the discussion. Most important: the suggestion of reprisals against media which do not support the “most watched” claim seems just wrong. “Hold them accountable?” Under what legitimate presidential power?
A second point is the strange notion of “alternative facts.” There are no alternative facts. There are facts, incomplete data, errors, misrepresentation, and lies. But none of us get to live in an alternate reality. Postmodernism has a lot to answer for.
Allan E. Johnson

I agree with your assessment of the rights debate: the subject should be, is this Constitutional (for the Federal Government) and is it a good idea. Subsumed under that second question is an all important one: can we afford it, or is the money more required for other needs? And that discussion I do not recall seeing. Edmund Burke once said that for a man to love his country, his country ought to be lovely; a thought I find attractive. If we can afford health care for all; if the cost is not to lower the general quality by, for example, enslaving doctors – then it is a perfectly good argument. I think it is manifestly clear that at present we cannot afford it, or many of the other entitlements brought in by the Great Society and the “War on Poverty” – that strange war that persists no matter how many battles we win.

But that is for another discussion; few talk about the subject on those terms. Instead it is all about the rights of the recipient, a mention but no examination of the obligations of those who pay, and not much else.

With regard to ‘reprisals’ against unruly press, we have a problem: some of the “Press” deserve reprisals, since they exercise no self-restraint and exhibit no manners. Obviously the ‘reprisals’ should not include jail for non-violent behavior, but surely much of what the Press Corps receives is privileges, not rights, and those may be withheld at discretion? We can discuss what are rights and what are privileges another time; but surely I am not required to invite unruly people into my house?


Rights redux

The notion of “positive” and “negative” rights is well established in scholarship and law, and Edmund Hack did a good job of explaining both the idea and illustrating how it can be applied to contemporary politics.

However, I think there is a simpler way to describe rights. Richard Mayberry, author of the Uncle Eric series and other booklets beloved of homeschoolers, puts it this way:

No person may encroach unreasonably on the person or property of another.

I put it this way:

No person may compel another against his will, except in defense of his own or another’s person or property, or to remove a hazard or nuisance.

Enter the state. The state doesn’t exist in nature; it is a created thing. Historically, it is the creature of the strongest, most numerous, or best organized bully. We flatter ourselves that in our case it is the creature of the people, and in the most ideal sense it is. It is supposed to be an agent of the people, acting in their interests, and exercising only the authority that the people have delegated to it.

However, since the people can only delegate the authority that they themselves possess, and “the people”, as a collective, cannot be deemed to possess any authority — or right — that a single person lacks, it follows that the state also cannot legitimately act against a person in any manner that would be forbidden to another person. To paraphrase Bastiat, it is a bad law which benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

This, of course, is the ideal, never existing at any time or place. The reality is that the only governing principle that has ever been applied is “might makes right”. All that prevents our own state executives from becoming terrible despots is their own forbearance and the realization that they cannot confidently command American troops to bear arms against their neighbors.

And this, perhaps, is the cornerstone of civilization.

Richard White

Del Valle, Texas

To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…


Women’s March trash

Mixed opinions on how the marchers disposed of their signs. While the Park Service gratefully acknowledged that, for the most part, the signs were stacked near trash bins, making their jobs easier, other articles and photographs tell a different story.

Richard White
Del Valle, Texas

All I know is what I read in the newspapers – or hear someone say on Television…

women’s protest march

It only took one day in office for Donald Trump to get more fat women out walking than Michelle Obama could in 8 years.



Free Trade

I have a simple definition. If the trade agreement is a thousand pages long, it’s not a free trade agreement. It may very well be an improvement on the current trade agreements, but it’s not free trade.


I like that.



Why am I not surprised…?


Actually, I expect the Israelis would have to pay that to the PLO if the United States did not; without outside support surely the Moslems in Judea and Samaria would throw the PLO out, and it would be replaced by Hamas or worse?


Bunny Inspectors

I wrote to you about this four years ago; you may have published it.

When discussing the Federal Bunny Inspectors, it seems necessary to iterate the comparatively recent absurdities under the Obama Administration. The Bunny Inspectors require a disaster plan from “member of their regulated community” for the bunnies:


This summer, Marty the Magician got a letter from the U.S. government.

It began with six ominous words: “Dear Members of Our Regulated Community . . .”

Washington had questions about his rabbit. Again.

Marty Hahne, 54, does magic shows for kids in southern Missouri. For his big finale, he pulls a rabbit out of a hat. Or out of a picnic basket. Or out of a tiny library, if he’s doing his routine about reading being magical.

To do that, Hahne has an official U.S. government license. Not for the magic. For the rabbit.

The Agriculture Department requires it, citing a decades-old law that was intended to regulate zoos and circuses. Today, the USDA also uses it to regulate much smaller “animal exhibitors,” even the humble one-bunny magician.

That was what the letter was about. The government had a new rule. To keep his rabbit license, Hahne needed to write a rabbit disaster plan.

“Fire. Flood. Tornado. Air conditioning going out. Ice storm. Power failures,” Hahne said, listing a few of the calamities for which he needed a plan to save the rabbit.

Or maybe not. Late Tuesday, after a Washington Post article on Hahne was posted online, the Agriculture Department announced that the disaster-plan rule would be reexamined.


This is the same media that we can’t trust… It seems absurd, but I can’t put it past government. Apparently, anyone “exhibiting” an animal requires federal regulation. Shall they regulate the exhibition of breasts at your local strip club and porno studio and get taxes and fees there too? After all, the interstate commerce clause could be interpreted in that way, could it not? Why can they regulate the conduct of a stage magician who does not have an act that cross state lines anyway?

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo


Dr Pournelle 


Thank you for the mailbag. Still chasing the links from much of it. 

Charles Brumbelow sent in the link to and snippets from Fred on Everything. I read as much as I could stomach and then quit. Fred is dead wrong on so much in his screed. 

One example: The Chinese quantum-crypto satellite — whatever the hell that is — he touts has transmissions that are “not usefully interceptable.” 

This is not new. For as long as I can remember, intercepting Chinese signals has been something anyone could do with parts from Radio Shack. Breaking their code was another matter entirely. The same guy who created American cyphers created the Chinese cyphers (’cause he was Chinese and went back to help Chairman Mao build a Workers’ Paradise). You may recall his name. I don’t. Anyway, his cyphers are unbreakable in practice: intelligence is time-sensitive and by the time you can break one, the information in the code has passed its sell-by date. 

So, if by “usefully interceptable” Fred means transmissions which can be intercepted (all if you are willing to pay the price) and read (most unless they are Chinese), even before the quantum-crypto satellite Chinese transmissions were not “usefully” interceptable. Not a new problem. 

And that’s just one error. There are many, many others. 

Live long and prosper 

h lynn keith

I do not endorse everything Fred says; I doubt Fred does. I do find his observations invariably interesting, and sometimes uniquely valuable. I do advise discretion.


Good Monday morning, Dr. Pournelle,

I’m a long-time reader of your Byte columns and your website.  I’m looking forward to seeing yourself and Mrs. Pournelle on the mend.

As an aside, I’ve followed your Microsoft Surface adventures with great interest.  Our engineering department uses them as their main PCs with dual-monitors and docking stations.  They also take them mobile into the field on a daily basis.  Also, myself and our other IT person use them.  I will probably jinx myself by saying this, but with nearly 100 PCs  in the co-op, the 10 Surfaces require less support than any of our other PCs over the past 2 years.



I am pleased to hear that. I like the Surface Pro, but somehow every time I start using it some problem develops. Eric has taken mine off the experimental update list, and we’re reinstalling from scratch, but I haven’t had much time to get used to it. I still have high expectations. Thank you.



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



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