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Monday March 10, 2008

Harry Erwin's Letter From England

Old Labour returns.

In the UK, when it finally becomes clear that the party in power will lose the next election and won't be back for a while, the programme of the Government shifts from long-term coalition-maintenance to a short- term emphasis on punishing its enemies while rewarding its friends.

The Labour Government has reached that stage, and it's interesting to see how friends and enemies are defined. Since the basic divisions in the UK are by class, most of the policies reflect unstated assumptions about how people of various classes behave. For example, the working class is assumed to rely mostly on bus and to a lesser extent car transport, not train, bicycle, or air, so the transport policies are defined accordingly. As an American expatriate who took early retirement to teach at university and do research council-funded scientific research, I define myself (by the things I do) as an 'enemy' in so many ways I've lost count.

The other consistent theme is Labour's love of targets--called 'target terrorism' by the organisations affected. This was their style in the beginning and will be their style to the bitter end:



> <http://tinyurl.com/ytzbn5>

This morning's stories:

School as the last moral force in English society:


DNA register for children:


> <http://tinyurl.com/ywrsdz>

Taxes up (just in time for the oncoming recession):


budget.taxandspending> <http://tinyurl.com/2ajzdp>





> <http://tinyurl.com/2pzy72>


liberaldemocrats.tax> <http://tinyurl.com/2xuduc>


> <http://tinyurl.com/29ygcf>


> <http://tinyurl.com/2hggu6>

Data pimping in the UK:


> <http://tinyurl.com/yvocqp>

Shutting down long-term scientific research for short-term savings:


article3500905.ece> <http://tinyurl.com/23zlqh>


> <http://tinyurl.com/3xu4c6>

Oh, by the way, I didn't trust WiFi at the house until WPA2. Both WEP and WPA have very weak security.


Harry Erwin, PhD

"If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning." (Catherine Aird)

Roland worries a lot about security, and Chaos Manor is easily found;  War drivers could come by here, but I have no evidence that anyone has. We will go to WPA2 when I get a new full N router set up; if that works I'll gradually change over to that and retire the Belkin Pre-N router, which has been a very good and faithful servant indeed. It really works.


Subject: Getting colder


In Vietnam, Loss of Livestock Hits Livelihoods

Integrated Regional Information Networks

HANOI, March 5 -- Thousands of families in northern Vietnam have been pushed deeper into poverty after losing cattle in a record-breaking cold spell. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, 136,000 cattle died as temperatures fell as low as minus 10 Celsius.

Officials say the loss of livestock means poor farmers are going to be dragged deeper into debt. Unless there are dramatic intervention efforts they warn that some households will go hungry.

"People in our commune are all poor,” said Nguyen Duy Nghi, acting chairman of Huong Khe District People’s Committee in Ha Tinh Province. “Families that lost one or two cows or buffalos face a terrible plight. These animals were their main asset. They don’t know what to do now.”

Most of the cattle that died succumbed to prolonged exposure, officials said. But in areas hit by heavy flooding, which submerged agricultural lands and destroyed crops, some starved to death. Despite government warnings to stockpile fodder as the cold worsened, few families could afford to purchase extra food.

''Families that lost one or two cows or buffalos face a terrible plight. These animals were their main asset. They don’t know what to do now.''

“Our farmers [who could afford feed] had to travel 70km to buy dry rice straw to feed their cows,” said Nghi. “Blankets were used to keep them warm. Stalls are covered carefully at night. They took all necessary steps to maintain the herds but cattle still died in large numbers.”

Henry Barth

I note that there was more snow in the Midwest this weekend than there has been since 1910. This is warming? The evidence is rolling in: it's getting colder. Now that may be a blip, but if so, it has as much credibility as the warming blips have had.


Global warming*



In pictures: North America snow gridlock


[Picture 2 Caption:] The snowfall in Columbus was the heaviest since 1910. Several people are reported to have died because of the cold weather in Ohio.


I wonder if anyone has informed Mr. Gore that he might want to rethink what the inconvenient truth may actually be? Of course, this is all just an anomaly, right? Maybe Kyoto is working better than we thought!

Braxton Cook


Subject: Food

It's getting ugly.

If you have any dirt, put in a garden -- as much of a garden as you can manage.

Go heavy on cold-tolerant staples (i.e., cabbage, kale, turnips, etc.)

Worst case, you have better food than you could find in the stores, at a better price. Best case, you live another year, and stay out of the refugee lines.

Have I mixed up best and worst case?


Farmers struggle to keep up with world food demand http://www.iht.com/bin/printfriendly.php?id=10841220 


"Everyone's knocking at their door, saying, 'Grow this, grow that.'"


This year, so many crops look like good bets, and there is so little land on which to plant them.


Stockpiles are at their lowest point in decades.


"Price spikes have usually been short-lived," he said. "I think this one is different."


"We've lulled the public with cheap food," he said. "It's not going to be a steal anymore."

Ron Schwarz


Policies and Bureaucracies

You may find in this essay material germane to the Iron Law


Time and again we have heard politicians arguing for better policies. “Think tanks” (aptly named) are created to review them from this side or that. And it is probably true that some policies are more ruinous than others. Indeed, new policies are usually introduced to mitigate the evils of old policies, after those have been publicized. And having failed to mitigate them, the new policies then introduce evils of their own.

Inevitably. For the idea of a “humane policy” is like the old idea of “humane ammunition,” that led to the development of everything from the Dum-Dum bullet to the Taser gun. It is a contradiction of terms.

“But you can’t have a bureaucracy without policies,” I can hear a reader objecting. That reader will be on the threshold of grasping my point. Bureaucracy is the body, policy is its soul, and the whole thing is the very devil.

Mike Flynn


In case you have not seen it:


Fred at his best........



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: school choice 

Dr, Pournelle,

As usual, knee-jerk opposition (in this case to school choice) shuts down critical thought.

> Minneapolis students in the district nearly doubled their test scores
> in reading and finished practically even in math compared with their
> suburban counterparts last year, according to results released Monday
> by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The article concludes

> "Just choice by itself doesn't seem to be the answer."

So let us summarize:

1) Parents are given a choice about where their children attend school.

2) Underperforming schools improve dramatically.

Conclusion: School choice is not a significant factor in academic performance.

As you often say, despair is sin.

Steve Chu

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy once again. They don't care about the children. Their interests are in using the children not helping them.


Subject: Climate change - datum

I've just caught up on your recent mail pages, and noticed a number of anecdotes regarding cool weather. Here, that is not the case.


I live very near Adelaide, where "Adelaide's heatwave is now officially the longest hot spell on Adelaide records. Today is the ninth day in a row that the temperature has gone above 35 degrees Celsius. [...] The last time Adelaide had an eight-day heatwave of above 35 degrees was in 1934. The Weather Bureau's Hannah Marsh says the string of hot days will continue. "Well I guess the record is for the longest heatwave so we have broken it today and we're looking at another five days potentially above 35 degrees," she said."

John Morales

Interesting. It's hot there, cold here, frigid in Canada and Siberia. Interesting.


"We are saying this a modern-day slavery."


- Roland Dobbins


Subject: iPhone & roaming


Reading your description of how your iPhone connects everywhere you go, I recalled a story that was going around some months ago. If you google for:

iphone charges cruise mediterranean 4800

you will get many hits, and you will probably want to keep it in the back of your mind.

Roy Harvey

I recall that. I don't intend to let the phone turn on if I ever leave the country, at least not without finding out a lot more. But then I am not likely to be going out of the country for a while. Kaiser radiation therapy owns my time daily for a while...


Shadow of the Pandemic


"As the demand builds at each hospital's emergency department, they go from "green" to "yellow" to "red". By law they cannot refuse a patient, and even when red the patients keep coming.

Ambulance crews had their usual wait times grow, and grow again, until some crews were waiting at triage for four hours. Each crew waiting at the hospital meant that an ambulance was not available to take another call.

About 2:30 pm I was called in to the East Rochester Ambulance base by our captain. At the time of the call, ER had the only staffed ambulance on the east side of Monroe County, with over a dozen ambulances from volunteer agencies tied up on calls and no ambulances available from either commercial ambulance service.

Shortly after my arrival, I was dispatched by the county, with my driver, to Penfield Ambulance to cover their district and that of West Webster. All four of the ambulances that would normally cover those two areas were tied up.

We were finally released about 6 pm, as ambulances came back into service from the hospitals. It had been slightly busier than normal today and that added patient load would normally have been covered by mutual aid from corps not overloaded and the two commercial agencies. Between the crowds at the hospitals and the busier call volume, EMS services became very scarce for about three hours."

I've seen similar things in utilities. The company wants to cut costs, so they get rid of things which aren't normally of use, so they can be more efficient in expected service. When the unusual happens, say, a hurricane, there just aren't enough repair teams to go around. It gets worse with medical needs, since some of those are life and death, and even those which aren't must be evaluated to determine that in triage. Of course, this is just part of it. Imagine what happens when the small number of beds kept over expected loads are unable to cope with a serious illness going around. We can get a certain amount of relief, for local disasters, from military medical units, but what could be done with a national disaster as a pandemic would be? I don't have a good answer for that one, and I know that anything which could deal with such an emergency would never get funded. This is not to say that the best use of the money would be to pay for a system which could deal with a real pandemic, on the scale of the late WWI flu epidemic, but wouldn't it be nice if we could bring up several of these scenarios and debate which might be the best use of our money, instead of pumping it into global warming?


And for consequences see Algis Budrys SOME WILL NOT DIE


Link to buy "A Child's History of the World"


I'm pretty sure someone else has sent this link before, but just in case, this is the cheapest place to buy it at that I was able to find:


Phil Tharp

For those who don't recall: Hillyer's Child's History of the World was one of the books that influenced my life. I read it at age five, which is a bit younger than many will encounter it. It gave me a structure of European history that has served me well ever since. I recommend this book to everyone with children.


Subject: Re: Global 'Warming'

Regarding the question of whether there will be an Ice Age or a Maunder Minimum 'little Ice Age', I would note the following: I live near Toronto, Ontario. For approximately 60,000 years of the last 700,000 (at least, and possibly the last 1.6 million years), Toronto has been under ice. It last left about 11,000 years ago. The geological record is that prior inter-glacial periods were shorter than 11,000 years, which may mean that *this* is just an interregnum.... 'Fallen Angels' anyone??



Vista Troubles

Doing it right the first time is cheaper:


Tim Cunningham


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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Shadow of the Pandemic, & Calgary's Plan


Tuesday, Mar 11th "Shadow of the Pandemic" triggered a memory of Calgary, Alberta's Plan for a Big Emergency. First, their URL:

Now, a couple Quotes:

In any large scale incident within our jurisdiction, The City of Calgary Emergency Medical Services (EMS) assumes the responsibility for the triage, treatment and the transport of all injured persons. To meet this obligation, Calgary EMS has developed an extensive Multiple Casualty Incident (MCI) plan and has commissioned three specialized vehicles. Unquote.

The Three Vehicles are quite unusual:


The Medical Rescue Command Unit (MRC)

This unit carries stretchers and medical supplies for approximately 75 patients. It also acts as the EMS command centre, with communications equipment to allow coordination between EMS, fire, police and hospital agencies, regardless of where the incident occurs. This unit is also used as a fire fighter rehabilitation area for large fires. Unquote.

The 2nd and third Vehicles are Unusual, in a different, Calgary, way:

Two Medical Rescue Support Units (MRS)

These vehicles were designed to establish treatment and transport areas that are removed from the incident command area. Each MRS contains enough stretchers and medical equipment to treat and transport approximately 40 patients. Each vehicle carries a tent, 6 treatment cots and heaters for treating patients during inclement weather. They also carry the equipment and medication used by Calgary's HazMat Paramedic team. One unit is stationed in the northern part of Calgary and the second one in the south. If all three vehicles were used, Calgary EMS can establish three treatment/transport areas for incidents spread over a large area such as the Edmonton tornado. Unquote.

Then, there is the "Boss Unit" {my term}, Quote:

The Emergency Medical Assistance Task Force (EMAT) involves the management, planning and coordination of staff, vehicles and equipment during a major disaster situation. The program includes a mobile rescue command unit (MRCU), and a series of temporary structures for use as patient triage and treatment facilities for managing mass casualty incidents. EMAT will support, equip, and maintain 40 emergency medical personnel for a 10-day period independent of local services or infrastructure. The EMAT goal is to activate within two hours of a decision to deploy, and may be used in Calgary, the region or possibly outside Alberta. EMAT can be deployed in the event of a temporary loss of access to health facilities, possibly due to a disease outbreak or other critical situation. Unquote.

The news reports, when this system was set up, were big on the size of the Tent, and small on the detailed information about how the System was planned to work. And even the Site does not seem to note that there are Four(4) Vehicles.

In Alberta, we have an Emergency Response PLan that covers 136 pages in pdf format. The URL is: *[PDF]*

T:\Disaster Services\Dsb_prov\*PLANS\Alberta* Emerg. *Plan\Emergency* *...* <http://www.aema.alberta.ca/documents/ema/aep2000.pdf

and I find it very, very, thorough! Grin. Due to the steady challenge of the Railroads, and the Oil Patch, the detailed, Industry-specific Emergency Plans, and folk, get quite a bit of exercise. This is good, because the holes in a Plan get found out, by real life. The Oil Patch even has specialized schooling, for their workers and supervisors, who might find themselves facing an Emergency.

As an example, a Seismic Crew has to have a Emergency Response Plan in Place, with a copy for every Vehicle, and a copy in the Briefcases of the Crew Manager, the Drill Push, the Cat Push, and each Surveyor. The plan includes the Home phone number of the Seismic Company's Crew Supervisor, and of his Boss, of the Oil Company's Supervising Geophysicist, and of the Geophysical Contractor's Emergency Response Headquarters. There are also phone numbers of the RCMP, land and air and helicopter Ambulances, and the Fire Department and local Hospital. Even the Geographical Location of the Campsite, in Lat Long and in Section-Township-Range, West of # Meridian, plus the road access directions, are on the 'Plan'. It is usually of Foolscap size, eh?

I wrote lots of those things, because the Cat Push, or the Surveyor, was oft the first-in to any Job, and got to do the extra paperwork.

By the by, thank you for the details of how Modern Medicine is working on, and for, you. I am a big chicken about Doctors and Hospitals, and am now re-thinking some of my reluctance!


Neil Frandsen from the High Plains of Alberta where the Chinook Wind is howling around my 6th Floor Balcony, at 10:49PM, March 11th, 2008


Domestic terrorism 

Dr. Pournelle,

The victim's mom, a serving Army NCO who was deployed to Iraq when her son was murdered, calls this terrorism no different than what she saw in Iraq. I wonder if the govt will pick up on that as a way to get federal funding to help deal with gang activity.


I've personally always considered gang activities to be domestic terrorism, but the problem is that anti-gang efforts are ALWAYS played off as the man keeping minorities down. Maybe we finally have a valid use for the BATF, going against people who actually organize domestic terror activities using illegal weapons instead of targeting one-off groups who really just want to be left alone. Regardless of who is tasked to deal with this, it fits the description of terrorism to the last detail.


Of course it's domestic terrorism. What else are gangs and organized crime?


This is one of several letters I have to this point:

San Diego BK? 


You wrote: “San Diego is bankrupt because of illegals.”

No doubt they cost the local governments here a lot of money, but the City is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy because of Democrat politicians’ deals with employee unions for pension benefits. They gave the Unions whatever was asked for, while concurrently under-funding the pension obligation. Unions return campaign contributions and votes. The City Council now has a Democrat majority. Some City employees can retire now with up to about 115% of their highest year’s salary. They also have a delayed retirement where the employee can retire, but stay on and be paid salary and retirement concurrently for five years (some of the money is paid after 5 years as a lump sum). This DROP program was sold as cost neutral to the City, but whoops…

The net is City owes $1.5 Billion to the retirement fund, maybe more (details are deliberately murky). So your basic corruption exists here, but the City operates as a sanctuary city while claiming it is not really one. Enron By The Bay it is.

Jim Dodd

San Diego

I will not argue that San Diego has been monumentally foolish in its management; but it is still the case that a great deal of the financial strain comes from providing services to those who don't pay taxes; and of course the law that requires hospital emergency rooms to accept all comers has caused many hospitals to close their emergency rooms and trauma centers entirely lest that particular tail drag down the rest of the dog.

I suppose I should be more careful in my language; but my point is still that the invasion of the United States by about 20 million people is a very serious situation.


Subject: interesting comments on climate modeling by David Stockwell


You might be interested in reading some of the comments about climate modeling by David Stockwell on the blog below. I suppose that he is a moderate on climate change, but he is extremely antagonistic to those who misuse statistics to bolster an argument. Last year he had a long blog on the infamous “hockey stick” graph.

Joe K

Joseph H. Kirkbride, Jr.

"Niche Modeling <http://landshape.org/enm> " - 1 new article


1. Example of Simple Linear Regression - global warming trends

2. More Recent Articles

3. Search Niche Modeling <http://www.feedblitz.com/f?Search=40540>


Example of Simple Linear Regression - global warming trends <http://landshape.org/enm/example-of-simple-linear-regression/>


Here is a simple statistical analysis using linear regression suggesting it is "unlikely" that model predictions of global warming of 0.2C this decade by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007) are correct. Below are graphs for the last ten years and the trend line for global temperatures for four sources from Anthony Watts over the period [...]


General Semantics teaches us that The Map Is Not The Territory; a fact that we in this age seem to have forgotten. But then no one studies or even understands epistemology today, although Aristotle thought about such things.

We understand the world through models. After all, the world is not in our heads, but all our decisions are made in there. Our models have to conform to the real world, and it is the essence of magic to suppose that we can make the real world conform to our models and wishes.

The climate model is not the climate. The map is not the territory.


A personal ethanol story

Sometimes these things come out and bite you in unexpected ways.

I have two cats, and I've installed a bird feeder outside the window to keep them occupied during the day. This feeder is set up to use hulled sunflower seeds--and no other kind of seeds. A wire mesh keeps the food in place and allows birds to cling to the sides; this mesh is exactly the right size to hold the hulled seeds. Bigger seeds are stuck inside; smaller seeds fall right through.

So I go to the bird-feed store, and where there used to be piled sacks of hulled sunflower seeds is now a big empty space. Turns out that the sunflower-seed supplier has converted to corn production, and now I'll be spending money--and generating trash--to replace my bird feeder. But hey, at least we done stuck it to them Ay-Rabs in Oh-Peck, right?

-- Mike T. Powers



He was a spoiled brat in his youth, but he did go to Annapolis, and he did not shirk combat duty.

 I think your characterization of him is a bit unfair. The story I hear about how he endure the Hanoi Hilton and refused repatriation unless every soldier captured before him also got to go is not a 'spoiled brat' behavior.

Maybe that is an urban myth. You have contacts which might be able to speak faithfully on that score...


He was certainly a spoiled brat all through Annapolis. I am assuming everyone knows of his heroism in Viet Nam.

He has since taken is place as part of the Country Club Republican establishment, and feels entitled as did Bob Dole. I am not sure what else I am supposed to say or what is unfair.



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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Subject: Peer review

This rings familiar. Peer review within a narrow community isn't trustworthy--so how do you ensure that unpopular theories get attention? An open question.




Q: How did it begin?

A: It began in 1999 with the publication of a book called In The Shadow of the Dreamchild. The author, Karoline Leach, caused consternation by announcing emphatically that a large part of Carroll's biography was simply fiction. She said his supposed passion for 'little girls' was a gross simplification, and pointed out that a lot of the female friends he referred to as 'children' were actually grown women. She also said he probably wasn't in love with 'the real Alice'.

Q: Is there any evidence that this is true?

A: Her book analyses all the major biographies and claims to show how they have inadvertently created onion skins of fiction, one on top of the other, until there is very little left of Carroll's real life.

Q: What kind of reception did she get?

A: Very hostile from the Carroll 'establishment'. More sympathetic - even adulatory - from general commentators. Carroll scholars and enthusiasts castigated Leach's claims (one outraged Carrollian even demanded her book be burned); her motives in writing it were brought into question; she was denounced by Carroll's family. Things got fairly heated.

I have always wondered about this. I have heard people passionately defend the notion that Dodgson was a pervert, and that he was a much maligned man, but I can't say I know of any real evidence other than that he was never charged with anything and remained apparently a pillar of Victorian Society, so his peers probably didn't suspect much.


Subj: Rebalancing the Instruments of National Power - US Army War College 19th Annual Strategy Conference


>>The theme does not presuppose that an "imbalance" among those instruments presently exists. Rather, it reflects a core question at the heart of many current debates about strategy and security today: Are we as a country properly organized and equipped to conduct effective security strategy in the 21st century? If not, what do we need to do to address any gaps and shortcomings? If we are, how do we effectively coordinate, blend, and focus the instruments so as to achieve strategic success? Is the primary issue one of structure and process or is it perhaps more related to individuals and leadership?<<

I wonder whether anyone will contribute insights from the viewpoint of the Strategy of Technology?

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

Probably. Many will have had the book as a text at one time.


Subject: Hospitals as social services

I'll jump on your bandwagon regarding some of the problems caused by illegal immigration. Federal law (EMTALA) requires hospitals with emergency rooms to provide emergency treatment to anyone who needs it -- without consideration of ability to pay or citizenship. However, EMTALA does not provide for how hospitals will be reimbursed for emergency services provided to those unable to pay for the services. In 2006, 47 million people in the United States (15.8%) had no health insurance. (see page 21 of http://www.census.gov/prod/2007pubs/p60-233.pdf). Of that 47 million, 10.2 million are not citizens. While the 10.2 million non-citizens are not necessarily illegal aliens, I'd be willing to bet serious money (say platinum patronage -- about 10 gallons of beer money) that the vast majority (say 75%) are illegal aliens. For sake of simplicity, let's say that 20% of the people without health insurance in the U.S. are illegal aliens. Clearly this percentage will continue to rise as the number of illegal aliens continue to balloon.

Hmm, what's a hospital going to do when it is forced to provide medical care without any provision for reimbursement? It will shift as much of the costs of unreimbursed care onto paying customers. Given pricing agreements with insurers, hospitals cannot effectively transfer a significant amount of the unreimbursed care onto paying customers. Hospitals will write the costs off as charity or losses. Finally, hospitals will close entirely or close the emergency room. We in Southern California are seeing the closing of hospitals and emergency rooms.

Clearly, the root problem here is EMTALA's insistence on medical care without regard to reimbursement. That may have been possible when a higher percentage of people living in the U.S. had medical insurance. While EMTALA is the root problem, illegal immigrants greatly exacerbate the problem. There are other groups that also disproportionately exacerbate the problem. For example, Los Angeles has a significant homeless population. Los Angeles area hospitals have been criticized and threatened with prosecution for "dumping" homeless patients onto Skid Row once they no longer require emergency treatment. Accordingly, homeless people are sometimes kept in an emergency bed longer than needed. This means that, not only is the hospital providing services without reimbursement, the hospital also has fewer beds available for paying patients. Simply put, the homeless dilemna both increases costs and decreases profits for hospitals.

While I sympathize with the feeling behind EMTALA (no one should be turned away from a hospital when he needs emergency treatment), the law is not intellectually honest. We should not require hospitals to provide care without any provision for reimbursement.

René Daley

It is clearly better that no good citizen should ever be treated in an emergency room if all the bad citizens and thieves cannot be treated as well. This is the modern principle. The result will be a tyranny as those who can afford to hire soldiers will do so. It has happened many times before.

I can recognize a moral obligation to my fellow men of any degree; but I see no reason why there is a legal obligation created by your misery. Compassion perhaps; a legal obligation to sacrifice the welfare of my family to your needs?


Betting on Hitler — The Value of Political Connections in Nazi Germany.

%20No.%201%202008-1.pdf >

-- Roland Dobbins


Subject: another ethanol debacle note

Hi Jerry,

I couldn’t find a link, but FNC’s morning show did a segment on the effects of switching to farms to corn for ethanol production. Their guest did the normal data points such as increased price of bread, etc. He even pointed out that feed to livestock is more expensive but noted that the price of meat hasn’t increased as much, and may even be a little lower. It is lower because the farmers can’t afford to feed their livestock so instead they are sending them to the slaughterhouse. So meat prices will be low for a year or two, then it will spike sky high. Ye gods doesn’t even cover it.


Jim Laheta


Ice bergs' on Lake Michigan?

Dr. P.

I know, single data points don’t make a trend. But it sure is funny to read headlines like “Ice Berg’s on Lake Michigan” in this time of dire warnings of global warming.


Cheers and good health.



Lewis Carol maligned?

Dear Jerry:

I don't know much about Lewis Carol one way or another, but I do have some insights into how the historical or biographical record gets distorted. Researching the Ante-Bellum South and the Civil War, one quickly learns to use the journalistic rule of multiple sources. This is especially true of people who have attained myth-like status.

You really do have to peel back the layers of subsequent hero worship and condemnation to get to the truth...if there is truth. Primary sources have their flaws. Memoirs written years or decades after the fact can be distorted by failings of memory or social embarrassment. Autobiographies seldom do damage to their subjects. Letters and diaries are the best sources, even if tainted from the beginning with emotion and bias.

As an example, my heroine, Belle Boyd, famously ran across the battlefield on May 23, 1862 to carry vital intelligence to Stonewall Jackson. Subsequent historians cast doubt upon her account as fanciful and made up. However, two independent eyewitness accounts found in the memoirs of Henry Kyd Douglas, Jackson's Deputy Inspector General, and General Richard Taylor, of Louisiana, confirm that she actually did what she said she did. There is also a mention of it in Lucy Buck's diary and she pretty much hated Belle. There is a historical marker where she met Jackson. So what accounts for the error of those other historians? Laziness or simple malice? Belle broke quite a few social conventions with her spying and was widely accused of being a tart and a strumpet.

Part of that was Union propaganda designed to humiliate her and make her back off. But unless you were actually there you don't really know what happened. Motivation is a key factor. In the above instance, neither Douglas nor Taylor had any reason to lie or shade the truth. So it's probably true. Belle was commissioned a Captain of Scouts in September of that year and her manner shows that she believed herself to be part of the Confederate Army. She appended "CSA" to her signature on letters during the war, and once saluted Lt. Col. David Hunter Strother, a Union officer when she told him that she was once more being arrested and put into prison by the Union Army. He was a family friend, as was Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln's bodyman and law partner. After the war she hit Lamon up for a loan. The letter still exists and it mentions his friendship with her parents. He, too, was a native of Martinsburg, There is also an account where she appeared to a reporter in the uniform of a Confederate Army Lt. Col.

Fortunately, I write fiction, so I don't have to source and footnote all this. But the research is part of the fun writing such tales. Generally, I go with the standard set out in the film "Sunset". "It's all true, give or take a lie or two." In Belle's case my fiction is closer to the truth than many of the so called "historical" facts written about her.

The way to get to the truth about Lewis Carol is to look at his letters and those of his friends and contemporaries. Of course, given the social lying prevalent at the time, that may not be sufficient. He was a fantasist; if he had a thing for little girls, I'm pretty sure he never acted on it. At least I hope not. Getting your head around the customs and popular culture of a different era is very hard. Things back then that were customary seem unlikely and weird in our current context. Zouave military uniforms come to mind.


Francis Hamit


"To pick a top is a foolish game to play at this juncture." 

I have for some time been warning people that we are headed toward a hyperinflation scenario. It is inevitable. This is not "a feeling" -- it is simple logic. The government cannot "borrow its way to prosperity" (although laughably it has set its horizons much lower, i.e., trying to borrow its way out of debt).

The end game of this nightmare -- the "inevitable" mentioned above -- is the choice between insolvency, or "monetizing the debt" (which is insolvency with "you can't do anything, the books balance" smeared on top).

We would hardly be the first to fall down that trap, and I suspect that in each prior instance, the "it CAN'T happen HERE" factor was the order of the day.

I guess I'll stop now. Hard to keep going without lapsing into the vernacular.

Gold at $1,000 on Weak Dollar, High Oil


Gold futures hit $1,000 an ounce for the first time Thursday, pushed past the benchmark by the sinking dollar and record crude oil prices.


The $1,000 an ounce price, though, is still a milestone and a telling sign that investors are continuing to abandon the dollar.


Crude oil futures hit a record high above $110 a barrel Thursday, after first crossing that level Wednesday, also due to investors abandoning the weak dollar.


"We're getting a scenario where commodities are the place to be today," Meyers said. "With the weak dollar, it's hard to be against them."

[[Translation: "Buy stuff. Stuff has value. Paper doesn't."]]

Meyers declined to speculate on how high gold could go, saying, "to pick a top is a foolish game to play at this juncture."

The Federal Reserve's meeting next week could provide more encouragement for gold prices since the Fed is widely believed to be considering cutting interest rates again. Another rate cut could reduce the dollar's value further, making gold an even better investment.

[[They can only reduce the interest rates to a finite point. After that, all they can do is light the afterburners at the printing presses. To avoid a sudden transition, they appear to be doing that now.]]

I have a German 3 pfennig stamp overprinted to 20 Mird Millionen Marks... When will se see $20 postage stamps? By 2009?

Borrow enough money to get completely out of debt!!


Subject: "Eat the beef now" 

"Eat the beef now" -- thus spracht economist (Eric Bolling[sp?]) on "Fox and Friends" (as I type this). Beef is cheap -- because the farmers cannot afford to feed their cattle. So, they are pushing them into the slaughterhouses.

The result is cheap beef now -- and no beef later.

Got a freezer?

Got a barn?

Got a history book?



Subject: Greetings

Hello Dr. Pournelle:

I hope that you will get better health-wise in the very near future. While reading your comment on "The Map Is Not The Territory", it reminded me of a saying a teacher of mine used to tell us about models, the quote is something like "models have limitations, stupidity does not". The quote was used in class when he was presenting models as an abstraction of reality usefult to describe what we see around us given that we fulfill the underlying hypothesis.

Take care


The map is not the territory. The model is not the climate.


Subj: Weaponizing PlayStation 3


>>The U.S. Air Force is buying 300 PlayStation 3 game consoles ... because it’s the cheapest way to get the powerful processors that create the photorealistic graphics for PlayStation games. Air force researchers want to use these processors (similar to the ones found in high end video cards) to build faster computers for military use. ...<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


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CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


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No such thing as Mird 

Dr Pounelle

'I have a German 3 pfennig stamp overprinted to 20 Mird Millionen Marks'

I have never heard of Mird, nor can I find it in any German dictionary in my collection or online.

Could it be that you mean Milliard (American: billion) or Milliarden (billions)?

Let's keep this between us, shall we?


Respectfully h lynn keith

I have not looked at that stamp in years, but I am fairly certain that it is overprinted mird millionen, which is probably an abbreviation. My memory may be faulty. It hardly matters. The point is that it was a postage stamp for millions of marks.

I also have a million cruziero Brazilian bill I got in change when down there for Comdex Brazil a decade or so ago.


German Mird

Hi Jerry,

In case you you haven't gotten a zillion replies by now...

Mrd is an abbreviation in German for Milliard, which is an American Billion (i.e. 1000 million). Mrd Million - even wartime inflation doesn't usually lead to numbers with 15 zeroes after them, but possibly the "Milliarden" is written in two ways: once as Mrd and once as 1000 million?



Probably. This is all from memory from long ago.


German HyperInflation 

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

Here are pictured some of those 1923 German stamps, along with a fascinating explication on HyperInflation and how it works:


From the article (and note the sentence I have emphasised):

'Getting rid of money was the key to financial survival since it lost its value so quickly.

Merchants eventually found that they could not mark up prices as fast as they were rising.

"So they left the price marks as they were and posted (hourly) a new multiplication factor. The actual price marked on the goods had to be multiplied by this factor to determine the price which had to be paid for the goods. Every hour the merchant would call up the bank and receive the latest quotation upon the dollar. He would then alter his multiplication factor to suit and would perhaps add a bit in anticipation of the next quotation. Banks had whole batteries of telephone boys who answered each call as follows: '100 milliarden, bitte sehr, guten Tag.' Which meant: 'The present quotation on the dollar is 100 billion marks, thank you, good day.'"^3

The great inflation led to a large waste of society's resources. Just coping with the rapid change required resources--the extra bank clerks that Bopp mentions are but one example. /*Talented people no longer tried to earn money by productive activity, but sought ways to stay ahead of inflation, an activity unlikely to have any social benefits.*/ Fortunes were made by those who speculated on the continued worsening of inflation. People who borrowed heavily almost always did well.'

By The Way, "mlrd" is almost certainly "milliard" abbreviated. They were printing stamps so often to keep up with the inflation that it was faster to overprint new prices than design a new stamp. Abbreviations would have been de riguer: faster for layout and used less ink. After all, the ink tomorrow would have cost more than the printing press did the day before!)

You still make sense. It's the world that's crazy.


The referenced article tells the story well. National redistribution of wealth. Of course that was followed by re-concentration. It always is.


Saddam and Terrorism Pentagon Report

We have placed the Pentagon's Report on "Saddam and Terrorism" online in our very accessible and fully searchable EasySlide format:


We hope you find it useful and post links to it. Thank you.

Eve and Don


Subject: Brain impulse to voice translator 

Dr. Pournelle,

An article on an idea to essentially do brain impulse to voice, using the impulses that would normally be sent to the vocal cords.


It would be interesting to hook this up to you, to see if it could determine exactly where your thoughts are being garbled on their way to your vocal cords. Parkinson's patients might also find this very useful, as the medication that reduces the tremors often silences the voice as well.


We do live in interesting times.


Self Publishing

Dear Jerry:

We are trying the set up a web store page for Brass cannon Books. So far, it has not been a good experience. We tried using Homestead Storefront with templates. Thing is a total kludge; very slow and very limited. When our local tech support guy, who charges $35.00 per hour, couldn't make it work I canceled the account. It looked good going in but is anything but intuitive or easy to use.

Then I tried signing up for Amazon's Webstore. I never got to the design part because it kept sending me back to the start page and there were major problems just getting registered. Also, they did not disclose in the FAQ that you cannot set a link to another outside site such as CafePress.

CafePress is where we have our "affinity merchandise", which is a fancy term for coffee cups, t-shirts,etc. This , too, is Print on demand, and a major part of our marketing strategy, or at least a way to recover my costs for that fancy cover. This is an easy site to set up, although we are replacing the images with new ones that provide a better graphic.

I also fished around for a better deal on larger runs of the book in case I get a deal with a big retailer. Seems that Lightning Source has huge economies of scale and no one can beat their price either for short run or longer runs. I tried to contact Amazon Booksurge, but they never got back to me. That whole company is in bad need of a shakeup. No one knows how to do business and they often , for all their rhetoric to the contrary, forget who the customer is with their "forcing behavior" tactics and "don't call us, we'll call you" e-mail policies. I sold my stock months ago.

I guess I'll have to do a custom web site that will let me link into these other site. Off the rack solutions for e-commerce suffer from too many geek "everyone knows that" assumptions and bad documentation and site design which does not encourage confidence. CafePress has done it right. The rest, not so much.


Francis Hamit

Thank you for the progress report. At some point I suppose I should learn these things, but aen is bringing out almost all my back list, so I don't have to do much right now.

I have also added this to the Hamit reports page.

Dear Jerry:

An added note; it took me three tries to get out of Amazon Webstore deal. After I unloaded on their tech rep he needed a confirmation web mail. The e-mail I got can not be replied to directly and requires a link be activated and form filled in. Apparently no one reads these because I got another automated reply and when I said, yeah, i really do want to cancel, finally one acknowledging the cancellation but asking me if I wanted to fill out a survey. Your comments about the Iron Law of Bureaucracy came to mind as I recalled that to get anything up on Amazon Shorts, I have to have a third party verify that it indeed my work. My verifier is Leigh, who, of course ,works for me.

I went back to bed.


Francis Hamit



On Models

Subj: Of models and reality: the Statisticians' viewpoint

Amongst Statisticians, this observation is prevalent:

>>Essentially, all models are wrong, but some models are useful.<<

I first heard it from John Tukey, but it apparently originated with George E.P. Box:


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

Interesting. I also heard it from Tukey when Minsky and I and others spent a weekend at Pajaro Dunes on a NASA study some years ago. It was a fascinating weekend and I rather wish I had done that more often.

Of course I was already aware of this, having read Science and Sanity as an undergraduate.


This came some time ago, but I didn't see it:

Thought provoking.

OK, you got me thinking on two points this morning and I had to write.

Regarding "Memento Mori" -- Though I have left the church to join one of the liberal offshoots of King Henry's church, I was once a Knight of Columbus and as I'm sure you know, Their motto is "Tempus fugit, Momento Mori." Though I have left the brotherhood, I try to keep this motto in mind. Perspective is a wonderful, if fleeting thing.

I do think it's a great opportunity for you to opine on how someone in just your position would like to be treated. I suspect many of us would like to act compassionately, to reach out, and in doing so would over-compensate. I suspect much of the tension lies between wanting to act "normal" and wanting to offer help if it's needed. The (un-)spoken,"let me know if there's anything I can do" feels like a cop-out, and most people realize that that is tantamount to saying you must ask me for my help. It's tough, and I realize your problem here.

That said, let your readers know from your perspective in this uncomfortable time how you'd like to be treated.

On another topic, I was blown away by the comment you made about Kosovo, and San Antonio. I had just never put 2 and 2 together like that before. Wow. Suddenly I'm giving much more thought to my feelings about immigration.

Anyway, best of luck with the treatment!


As to how I want to be treated: as walking wounded. Cut me a bit of slack but not too  much. It's time to get on with this. But yes, I am daily reminded of my mortality.



Lies, damned lies, and statistics:


Article published Mar 14, 2008 COMMENTARY/Climate panel on the hot seat

March 14, 2008

By H. Sterling Burnett - <snip>

However, several studies cast doubt on the accuracy of the hockey stick, and in 2006 Congress requested an independent analysis of it. A panel of statisticians chaired by Edward J. Wegman, of George Mason University, found significant problems with the methods of statistical analysis used by the researchers and with the IPCC's peer review process. <snip> Mr. Wegman's team (concluded) that the idea that the planet is experiencing unprecedented global warming "cannot be supported."

The IPCC published its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 predicting global warming will lead to widespread catastrophe if not mitigated, yet failed to provide the most basic requirement for effective climate policy: accurate temperature statistics. <snip>

A good example of a principle clearly violated is "Make sure forecasts are independent of politics." Politics shapes the IPCC from beginning to end. <snip> The IPCC's policy recommendations are based on flawed statistical analyses and procedures that violate general forecasting principles. Policymakers should take this into account before enacting laws to counter global warming — which economists point out would have severe economic consequences.

H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute in Dallas.


Are we astonished?




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This week:


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Saturday, March 15, 2998

Mail today was devoured by locusts.




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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday, March 16, 2008      

Now you know...

From The Times March 10, 2008

Official: world to end in 7.6 billion years


Guess we better hurry up and finish those last minute projects...

Charles Brumbelow


Subject: For TSA fans - 

Hilarious video satirizing TSA goons as gangstas. Don't watch this with a mouthful of coffee!



"Humor is by nature more truthful than factual." - P.J. O'Rourke


Combat Troops Are Losing Hearing, 


A story I know you can sympathize with:


Combat troops are losing hearing. Are we surprised?


I lost much of mine in one night...


Subject: Snarks and boojums 


Hunting the wild snark...

Jonah Goldberg at http://www.townhall.com/columnists/

<snip> While physicists can count the number of quarks in a given space with mind-boggling accuracy, the very best political minds in the land, with all the resources they need at their disposal (i.e. a phone, an up-to-date Rolodex and a calculator), can barely manage to get a working head count of how many delegates, "super" or otherwise, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have.<snip>



China, Taiwan and the 2008 DoD "Military Power of the People's Republic of China" 

The Beijing government only formally annexed Taiwan in 1683, well over a century after Spain was well seated in the New World. Taiwan was a Dutch colony (1624) before it was a Chinese possession. Dutch rule was ended by a regional warlord from Fujian Province, not by the central government. As late as 1871 the Q'ing regime in Beijing informed the Government of Japan that China lacked effective political control over the aboriginal inhabitants of Taiwan. Beijing did not even make Taiwan a formal province until 1887. The Unequal Treaties period of western dominance of China was well underway by then. In 1895 China and Japan went to war over the control of Korea. China lost and Beijing ceded Taiwan to Japan as part of the price of defeat. Japan then ruled Taiwan for 50 years until 1945.

Chang Kai Shek's regime exerted a fleeting period of 'unified' rule over China (minus the vast tracts already controlled by Mao) between 1946 and 1949. Chiang Kai Shek was then driven in retreat from the mainland to Taiwan, thus becoming another in a sucession of regional warlords to use Taiwan as a refuge from mainland defeat. A period of minor hot (or "kinetic" to use the report's adjective) military actions followed in the 1950s and 1960s. This period ended once Chiang Kai Shek and his claim to rule all of China expired.

Three conclusions are available from this historical review.

1. No Beijing government has ever made Taiwan a causus belli for a foreign war. The First Sino-Japanese War in 1895 that transferred Taiwan to Japan was fought for control of Korea, not Taiwan. And to that earlier Korean War we can add the Chinese intervention in the Korean War in late 1950. 2. There is no living tradition or any real history of stable Beijing bureaucratic rule over Taiwan. 3. The Beijing regime will only take direct military action against Taiwan when it perceives an imminent and serious political threat radiating from the island.

To this we can a small modern detail. Mainland China presently imports over 4 million barrels/day of oil. Nearly all of this oil arrives in tankers that must transit the South China Sea to reach Chinese oil terminals. This vital sea line of communication would become a war zone in the event of a mainland Chinese air-sea campaign against Taiwan.

The above historical and modern facts provide no basis for the prominence given to the China-Taiwan contingency by the authors of the "Military Power of the People's Republic of China". What would essentially be a Chinese civil war over Taipei cannot help China's fuels, natural resources or political positions. It can only hurt. The economic, political and military costs of such a campaign would have a vastly greater payoff if used to secure real control of Myanmar (Burma). This would provide China a port on the Indian Ocean and cut several thousand miles and several chokepoints off the Middle East/African Oil Route.


I think you do not understand the Chinese cast of mind. I assure you that while your analysis is correct, few Chinese will agree.

I also think it will be settled in ways we in the west will neither predict nor understand.















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