The Spotless Sun and Climate Change Models; What was Russia Thinking?; Peer Review; and a mixed bag of other interesting comments

Mail 834 Saturday, July 19, 2014


The Spotless Sun

Spotless Days

I notice they’re not going back 200 years to the last extended minimum in their comparisons…nobody is, to speak of. Nobody wants to go there.

As far as "solar physicists really don’t know what is happening," well, maybe the "solar physicists" don’t (which I seriously doubt — they just don’t want to admit it out loud, especially in the current scientific viewpoints — ESPECIALLY given the party line on climate), but us variable star astronomers sure get it.

Three years ago the Sun was still ramping up from a very deep and prolonged minimum, also — so you can’t really compare the current zero to that zero.

The guy may work for NASA but that don’t impress me none.

Stephanie Osborn

Interstellar Woman of Mystery <>


Source real time solar constant three-month trailing


The minimum on July 14 is almost a full wt/m^2 below the (by eye) three month average. Note Source calibration accuracy/average relative to other in-space experiments at

Total Solar Irradiance 

Jerry, presents the history of total solar irradiance measurements in space.


The wide variation in values between experiments is the consequence of the different accuracies of the different devices. Within each data set, however, both the variation across the solar cycle (with a steady minimum energy corresponding to solar minimum and significant daily variations during solar maximum is evident, and in the Cycle 23 data set the long minimum and the relative weakness of the current cycle is evident.

The bottom line is that we don’t really know the solar constant with an accuracy of more than half a percent, and it varies over the solar cycle by about 0.2 percent (which corresponds to about half a degree Celsius in the absence of terrestrial factors which impact heat retention and re-radiation.

Another reason not to trust the models.


Differential Equations….

There’s a weekly public radio show called "Ted Radio Hour." It’s little tidbits of Ted Talks.

*This* week includes a recommendation from someone who wants to put microscopic droplets of sulfuric acid in the upper atmosphere to increase reflectivity thus cooling the planet.

Which started me thinking about several postings on your site several years ago talking about problems caused by decreased light reaching the surface.

The researcher does admit that the ‘unintended consequences could be dire’ although he doesn’t mention light reaching sea-level.


Yours Aye,

Rod McFadden

More reasons to be sure that you cannot trust the models despite the billions spent on developing them and paying the people who maintain them. Until the models can account for the Viking Warm (which extended from Nova Scotia to Eastern China: longer growing seasons, increased crop yields, mild climate in England, France, Germany…); the Roman Warm period prior to the collapse of the Empire during the volkvanderung; the Dark Ages Cool before the Viking Warm; and the various meanderings we had during the Twentieth Century, you are not justified in betting the future on a computer model’s predictions of the climactic future. Simple Bayesian analysis would tell us that in the face of this much uncertainty the least risky course of action is reducing the uncertainties, not in preparing for an undetermined future.


What Was Russia Thinking?


To make any sense at all of the airliner shoot-down, you have to look at what Russia was (apparently) trying to accomplish in the region.

In brief, in recent weeks they seemed to be trying to impose a deniable "no-fly zone" over eastern Ukraine.

"No-fly zone", because Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine recently had started systematically rolling up the Russian-supported ethnic-Russian separatists. Taking away Ukrainian air-support, air transport, and air reconnaissance would put the separatists back in the game without Russia having to blatantly raise their military presence on the ground.

Deniable, because Russia’s economy is already hurting from sanctions, and Russia very much needs to avoid forcing Western Europe to stop turning a blind eye and hanging back in the matter. Overt Russian attacks on Ukrainian aircraft over Ukrainian territory, just like formations of Russian troops inside Ukraine, would be hard even for the Western Europeans to ignore.

Of course, the separatists have had shoulder-fired AA missiles for a while now, and Ukraine has been losing occasional helicopters and transports at low altitude for weeks. This hasn’t been enough to stop their offensive.

This week though, things changed. A Ukrainian An-26 twin-turboprop transport was shot down at 21,000 feet (above practical shoulder-fired missile range) Monday. At the time, Ukraine said they thought the SAM may have came from Russian territory.

A Ukrainian SU-25 ground-attack jet was shot down Wednesday, Ukraine says by an air-to-air missile fired from Russian airspace. The pilot survived, and there also would have been radar coverage; they may well actually have known where the missile came from.

And then there are the recent-days press reports I sent you yesterday of the separatists having at least one mobile SA-11 "BUK" launcher, and of that launcher being spotted on the ground by an AP reporter in separatist hands. (Much more social-media and eyewitness evidence of this – and of the launcher minus-two-missiles being hastily moved back into Russia – is surfacing, now that there’s no choice but to pay


The clincher as far as I’m concerned is one early Russian reaction to the airliner shootdown: Indignation that the Ukraine ATC center had failed to realize that high-altitude aircraft were now at risk, and thus to route civilian airliners around the area.

This is an implicit admission that the Russians thought it was already obvious that high-altitude heavy aircraft were now at risk over eastern Ukraine. And who but the ones delivering the message would assume so, after only two under-reported and somewhat ambiguous high-altitude incidents, both recent enough that details hadn’t yet really circulated?

My assumption, based on this: The SA-11 battery ended up in separatist hands with Russian support, with the intent of providing the visible fig-leaf for a Russian shutdown of Ukrainian air assets in the region.

This fits the circumstances far better than any other theory I’ve heard.

But the Russians apparently miscalculated on two counts: They wrongly assumed their message would get across to the rest of the world quickly and unambiguously (which may indicate far too high an opinion of western civil aviation bureaucrats.)

And they may have left the separatist SA-11 battery too loosely supervised. (It’s also possible the local Russian "advisors" either assumed or were told that three days after their first shootdown, anything coming over would have to be Ukrainian military.)

The only good news in the whole murderous mess is that the Russians now would have to be barking mad to continue their "no-fly zone" attempt. I wouldn’t totally rule out their doubling down, though, as they were pretty damn crazy to try it in the first place.

But their obvious play now is to push for a cease-fire in place, which would also have the original desired effect of stopping the Ukrainian push to reassert control over the region. All the while denying and obfuscating furiously as only guilty Russians can.


A good analysis, and about the conclusion I have reached. Thank You.

Downed airliner


It seems to me that given the manner in which Ukraine disintegrated, it was almost inevitable that the Russian separatists would have acquired BUK missiles and launchers from captured Ukrainian military bases.

Even if the rebels did not capture the missiles, Russia had an obvious and arguably legitimate national interest in preventing Ukraine from using high altitude aircraft to wipe out the Russian separatists. I seem recall the US setting the precedent of supplying SAMs to rebels in a place called Afghanistan. The US is currently supplying SAMs to rebel forces in Syria who just happen to be the same rebels who now control much of Iraq.

The salient point is that Eastern Ukraine is a war zone. There have been quite a few aircraft shot down including several in recent weeks. Any airline with a brain would fly around a war zone.

James Crawford=

Which is about all you can say about it. It’s a war, and we don’t need to be in it. And as Putin says, if he cannot make friends with the West, there are potential friends for Russia in the East…

MH17 and the Ukraine crisis.

The way Russia is behaving, is a step back into the great power politics leading up to the 1. and 2. world war, and continued into the cold war.

One might have hoped for a different kind of politics in this day, and the fall of the Soviet Union did give a hope of a world where international law and civilized behavior between nations, would be the norm.

Should we all recognize that is was an error, an unobtainable goal?

In that case we will need well armed alliances again, willing to use or threaten with war again. Or a steep further along the distribution of ultimate force, where more and more nations will build a nuclear arsenal.

Or try to make an example of out of Russia, of what happens when a "great power" tries to bully its neighbors, effectively isolating and impoverishing it?

One thing is quite certain: Russia under Putin is no use as an ally.


Bo Andersen


I would not agree, but it is rapidly coming to that point. Russia and the US have many common interests, but given the anti-Slavic attitude – and bombings – in the Balkan during Albright foreign policy, the continued encirclement of Russia – some of it botched – and Mr. Obama’s mood swings, President Putin may have concluded that the US is no use as an ally or even a friend.

But you are correct: it is a new era of Great Powers, and requires a realistic approach to foreign policy. And I continue to believe:

John Quincy Adams on American Policy:

Whenever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

Fourth of July, 1821


That’s an interesting point about the Alabama Claims. A class-action suit against Russia by the families of the dead passengers? Russia may have more reasons than they realize for hastily hiding any evidence they supported the separatists.

I am not a lawyer, but there already looks to be enough evidence for lawsuit purposes that the separatists did it. Russia meanwhile has deep pockets, and was all over the scene of the crime. They could conceivably lose such a lawsuit on a mix of circumstantial evidence they supported the separatists plus evidence of trying to cover up that support.

I might want to get this in front of a Dutch judge, were I a lawyer. Or Australian… 298 dead people times some substantial number of millions each? I’d be surprised if the lawyers aren’t already circling.



SDI – Star wars

Roger Miller


The illegal ‘children’ coming over the border

A little while back you said that Obama could not stop the flood of third-world ‘children’ (17-year old MS13 gang members) coming over the border because of ‘the law’.

With respect, as intelligent as you are, this is profoundly stupid. ‘The Law’? What law?

Until around 1970, the United States enforced the laws against illegal immigration. The result was that illegal immigration was negligible. Since 1970 the cheap-labor-uber-alles rich have demanded that the government stop enforcing the laws against illegal immigration – and that is the entire story.

Most of the current illegal immigrant surge consists of adults, and adults with minor children. ‘The Law’ does NOT demand that they be given asylum – that is entirely at Obama’s discretion.

And for those few unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors – no, Obama is not forced to let them in because of ‘the law’. He’s doing it because his cheap-labor patrons want it. He could stop it tomorrow if he cared, ‘the law’ be damned.

Wasn’t it a Nazi jurist who said ‘he is sovereign who makes the exceptions’? Obama can do any damn thing that he wants. He could just deny that anyone without papers is really a minor. He could have the military put up a fence, and just refuse to let anyone pass. He could claim national security and throw them all back , and classify the whole thing which means that no lawsuits could be filed because nobody could legally prove that anything had happened. He could cut off aid to Mexico until they stopped letting central Americans have free passage – and confiscate the bank accounts of senior Mexican government officials etc. – and stop letting Mexicans come to the USA without passports. And if the illegals filed lawsuits, well, Obama could just ignore them , delay them, claim national security, drag it out, etc.

And if in the final analysis stopping the border flood really required new laws, AND THE RICH WANTED THIS, we would have new laws in about two weeks. Remember how quickly congress passed a multi-trillion dollar bank bailout? So no, Mr., Pournelle, Obama is not refusing to enforce the laws against illegal immigration because of the law (but isn’t that a contradiction?). He’s doing it because he’s been paid to.

It’s like Joseph Heller’s catch22B – Obama can do anything that you can’t stop him from doing. He could machine-gun children at the border and Congress can’t stop him – unless they impeach him, and if the rich like what he’s doing, that’s not going to happen. Period.

I did not say that. I said that there is a law requiring a hearing before we can deport children originating in non-contiguous countries; it may not be a wisely chosen law, but it is the law.

I have been a vocal proponent of building better fences since 1980. I note that money was appropriated to build fences, but it has not all been spent. The President has said that fences don’t stop people, but I note that he has them around the White House.

‘Government data show that since 2000 all of the net gain in the number of working-age (16 to 65) people holding a job has gone to immigrants (legal and illegal). . .

. . . the long-term decline in the employment for natives across age and education levels is a clear indication that there is no general labor shortage, which is a primary justification for the large increases in immigration (skilled and unskilled) in the Schumer-Rubio bill and similar House proposals . . . ‘



Roland Dobbins

The economy is still in a Depression although we don’t admit that. Unemployment is enormous, since so many have abandoned all hope of finding a job. About half the citizens no longer pay any income tax. This is not economic recovery.

A simple economic recovery could be had at any time: simply double the exemption numbers in the existing laws. It could be done in hours. That is, for any business exempt from various regulation because it has 10 or fewer employees, that number is now 20; for those exempt from various laws and regulations because they have under 50, the exemption number is now 100. And so forth. This for a period of at least ten years. The effect on the economy would be instant and highly desirable.

Of course no one seems to be considering that move.


Separatists and missiles


I would point out that A), the separatists have captured a LOT of Ukrainian materiel and ordnance, and B), they’ve already been shooting down aircraft with it.

Dunno if they have anything with 33,000 feet of reach, but remember that the Russkis had 60,000-foot reach in 1960 (when they shot down Powers’

U-2 and one of their own pilots who was trying to shadow Powers). I wouldn’t be surprised if Ukraine had (and lost) systems that can down jetliners.

Pix of the crash site show that the plane was relatively intact and in a steep but NOT VERTICAL descent when it hit the ground, which is consistent with damage caused by hits from fragments of what was almost a near-miss, pointing to the possibility of missiles launched by semi-skilled operators. Control systems or surfaces don’t take much damage before being rendered ineffective.

I have no explanation for a lack of distress calls from the plane. It would have taken as long as a couple of minutes to go from cruise altitude to the ground, more than long enough to have let someone know there was a problem.


Gary Powers died believing he was shot down, but Possony and I concluded long ago that he was downed by a bomb planted in his U2 in Pakistan. The Soviets had no surface to air missile capable of reaching that altitude anywhere near the site of the supposed interception, and it is doubtful that they had anything capable of that at all.


Could the Soviet Union have won the cold war?

Interesting speculative piece. But missed the main event.

Yes – if Lenin had lived. Lenin started out an orthodox communist – but when he saw that it wasn’t’ working, he was flexible and adapted to a "New Economic Policy" (NEP), which was a lot like modern China.

As Churchill said, the greatest tragedy of Russia was that Lenin had been born, the second greatest was that he died when he did. That let Stalin take over, and not just kill all the smart Soviets, but also cancel the NEP and move back to the dead hand of completely centralized economic planning.

If Lenin had lived ten more years and been healthy? One never knows…


Americans Too Stupid for GMO Labels


I am very torn on this one. I, too, believe in truth in advertising and hold it to be an important job for the government to unsure complete and accurate advertising of any product or service. Fraud cannot be tolerated in any marketplace and this is one area of market regulation that I am troubled by only when it fails.

All of that said, the GMO issue in the market place has to rest right along side the vaccines-cause-autism issue. GMO crops must pass strict safety testing and even the European Union has decided that it cannot exclude GMO products from its markets on a safety basis, despite trying hard to find anything possible dangerous about them (Are GM crops safe for human and animal health and the environment? ( Given that this is the case, labeling a product as GMO does feed into the hands of the fear mongers, and the fear mongers have killed more than enough people with the false vaccine scare. Dr. Andrew Wakefield deserves an uncomfortable place in the eighth circle of Hell for his hand in this (from January 5, 2011: Retracted autism study an ‘elaborate fraud,’ British journal finds (

Required labeling should address issues that are known to widely impact health, such as sugar, caffeine, and trans-fat levels. Adding pesticide residuals and antibiotic residuals may be warranted, but the jury is still out on these. It should not warn of things that are not issues.

It wouldn’t hurt if people knew who they could trust, but that has been thrown away by nearly every group; actually sold, not thrown away. Ah well.

Child Migration & The Rule of Law


You wrote on the child migration issue: "But the law at the moment says they are entitled to a hearing, and it is not likely the President would sign a Bill removing that restriction even if the Senate would allow it to come to a vote." We have a President with little respect for the rule of law. When this crisis he has created does not get him what he wants and begins to turn into an embarrassment to his Administration, I suspect he will ‘reinterpret’ the law to mean that it does not apply to minors. They will then be on the planes and gone.


The Peer Review Scandal, Part II


You are right, that as written, it does not look so ‘quick and easy.’ However, if you consider that this attitude adjustment can be enforced by policy changes in a few key places — the funding agencies and the major journals, it becomes a whole lot easier and quicker to carry out.

As for the voodoo sciences and the subpar science, I believe that most of that would go away automatically as the need to fund replication along with the original research would help ensure that the funding was more carefully placed. We do have to be very cautious, though, as the craziest ideas sometimes turn out to be the most important, like quantum physics. Ninety years ago when it was born, it had no use at all. Now it keeps about a third of the world economy running.


EE, and is the new colossus old now?,

Dr. Pournelle,

Heartily agree with your advice to your young neighbor on pursuing electrical engineering, and with the advice on statistics offered subsequently from a reader. In addition to selecting a good school, which you also mentioned, I would also encourage him to seek working internships early and as often as is practical. Various relatives and acquaintances who have completed degree programs are finding it difficult to get a position without practical experience, and few universities seem to require the apprenticeship work for an engineering degree any more. Those who do get internship work seem to be easy to place in a good job after graduation.

At one time, I would have recommended one of the military academies, which once would have provided both education and practice, with employment guaranteed. I’m sure that is not the right option for everyone.

On immigration and the illegal minors now being held near me, I am a little confused on my own position. I was canalized by my teachers to _believe_ in the principles voiced in the Emma Lazarus poem:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

However, I see this flood of minor illegals as a Dickensian attack designed to overwhelm the resources dedicated to stop it, apparently successfully. Certainly any nation must be able to guard its borders, but I truly believe that these people represent a great resource that shouldn’t be discarded off hand. Definitely a dilemma that I’ve no idea how to resolve.


We can’t educate our own children; how can we educate those who come without parents? Of course we could, in the sense of having the military do it – think of them as apprentice Legionnaires – but we are not likely to do that either.


Net Neutrality and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act

I thought your comments on "This Week in Tech 463: All the Pretty Things" was perfect. I’m sure this is a more complicated issue than I realize, but I think you’re right. More U.S. citizens need to realize that this is more likely an FTC than an FCC one.




Robert Heinlein


This will be familiar to many of your readers but it bears repeating.


“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, con a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

John Edwards




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




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