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Monday  June 30, 2008

There was a lively if inconclusive discussion of entropy (of all things) over the weekend. See last week's mail.

Letter From England

I was talking with Steve Cram, the new Chancellor of the University of Sunderland after the ceremony on Friday, and I suggested he get the message out that "Sunderlanders don't give up!" He answered "Well, they don't!", but my response was "They do in the classroom" and explained what I meant. 80% of anything worth getting is determination, and that means don't give up, particularly in academics. How can we reach the kids with that message? <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7473469.stm


One of the Russell Group universities has said it will lengthen degree courses due to students' weakness in math. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/higher/education-letters-maths-for-engineers-853990.html

> <http://tinyurl.com/4cku7j>

Surveillance is creepy. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jun/28/civilliberties.privacy

> <http://tinyurl.com/5mpg7h> <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/28/washington/28privacy.html

> <http://tinyurl.com/6e4m2c> <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/26/train_tube_scanners_abandoned/

> <http://tinyurl.com/6bp8jn>

How do we reduce our carbon dioxide output and respond to the increasing cost of oil? <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/28/nuclear.energy

> <http://tinyurl.com/6l5ysv> <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/27/renewable_energy_consultation/

> <http://tinyurl.com/56vuos>

Queen and royals cost $1.30 per person per year here. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/queen-and-royals-cost-66p-per-person-855744.html

> <http://tinyurl.com/6jjqca>

Mugabe's war against his citizens in Britain. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/mugabes-secret-war--in-britain-856068.html

> <http://tinyurl.com/5achsk>

Cyclists forced to break law by Highway Code. I bicycle most days between the house and the university--the route does have its

*interesting* stretches. Sunderland is one of the four most car- friendly cities in England, and is also one of the most bicycle- unfriendly. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2210388/Cyclists-%27forced-to-break-law-by-Highway-Code%27.html

> <http://tinyurl.com/4mopwh> <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7478823.stm


External examiners under pressure to uphold marks. <http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=402542&c=1

> <http://tinyurl.com/5lyyze> <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7466438.stm

> <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7470125.stm>

Gordon Brown's 10p tax fiasco continues unraveling--don't try to finance your programmes by selectively taxing the poorest, especially if you're Labour. <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article4228427.ece

> <http://tinyurl.com/6nzl9f> <http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2008/jun/28/tax.incometax

> <http://tinyurl.com/5lv4he>


Harry Erwin, PhD

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


From another conference

Birthrates across the Continent are falling at drastic and, to many, alarming rates. Why are Europeans so hesitant to have children, and what does it mean for their future and for ours?



Probably there is some hidden selective advantage to not having children. Alternatively, East Asians appearing to be more fit than Caucasians, this is evolution's way of clearing the way for the stronger, through a sort of action at a distance. Defeated dogs have evolved the strategy of rolling over and aring their throats; perhaps we are seeing the racial equivalent, mediated by the racial unconscious.



Interesting Sun Info


In this
and-global-cooling/>  installment from Anthony Watts (Watt's Up With That? <http://wattsupwiththat.wordpress.com/>  is his main web log page), he references a new peer-reviewed article on predicted solar quietness in the years ahead. Although the article itself is only available for pay from the periodical itself (it's a publication of the Astronomical Society of Australia), the real treasure is in the comments to Anthony Watts' post. Many (including scientists) have jumped in with links to other work bearing on the topic, and of course many relevant comments.

Highly recommended!

Pleased and relieved to see that you are continuing your rebound. Keep on trucking.

Regards, George


Subj: Rule of Law: What does "access to the Law" mean these days?

We've come quite a way from putting the "Lex Duodecim Tabularum" on public display in the Forum of Rome.



>>Suppose I gave you a big stack of paper containing all of the laws ever passed by Congress (and signed by the President). This wouldn’t be very useful, if what you wanted was to know whether some action you were contemplating would violate the law.<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


NEO News (06/30/08) Centennial of Tunguska: 06/30/08

Happy Tunguska day! Striking exactly one century ago, Tunguska represented a wake-up call to the hazard of cosmic impacts... or it should have. But it landed in a nearly uninhabited region, and the chaos of the First World War, the Russian revolution, and the ensuing civil war prevented scientists from quick follow-up, to visit the site and assess the nature of the impact. Until quite recently the explosion was generally attributed to the impact of a comet, which was understandable when comets were the only objects we knew that intersected the Earth's orbit. Now we recognize the impact signature of a stony (not icy) object, a result that is also consistent with the extreme rarity of small comets relative to stony asteroids. Below is a much more detailed history of the Tunguska event, just published in the special impact issue of Nature that marks this centennial celebration.

David Morrison


Duncan Steel // Published online 25 June 2008 | Nature 453, 1157-1159 (2008)


"Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. On June 30, 1908, Moscow escaped destruction by three hours and four thousand kilometers - a margin invisibly small by the standards of the universe."

So begins Rendezvous with Rama , a 1972 novel by Arthur C. Clarke in which mankind learns the hard way about the dangers posed by incoming asteroids. The 2077 impact in northern Italy that Clarke goes on to describe is fictional: the 1908 blast was real. The early morning of 30 June 1908 saw, in an area around the Stony Tunguska river, the most explosive cosmic impact in recent history, hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic weapons set off over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And yet, in part because it happened so far from civilization, and in part because it left no crater, it has not always been recognized as such. For decades it existed in a strange realm between science and pseudoscience, blamed on antimatter, black holes and alien spacecraft as easily as on a very fast bit of interplanetary refuse, and developing a mystique that has seen it associated with everything from energy drinks and rock bands to military missiles and The X-Files .

The approximate site of the blast's epicentre is now marked by a totem pole that researchers have dedicated to Agdy, the god of thunder in local mythology. Getting there is quite a trek, but the fascination of the site still draws an intermittent stream of scientists to the remote wilderness about 1000 kilometres north of Lake Baikal; they leave offerings at the totem pole to commemorate the trek. In the years directly after the blast, though, no one came at all. The first researchers did not arrive until the 1920s.

That does not mean there was no significant contemporary evidence to bring to bear. Siberia was and is an empty place - but a blast which, had it happened over Chicago, would have been heard from Georgia to the Dakotas, still drew a lot of attention. In the days following the blast, A.V. Voznesenskij, the director of the Irkutsk magnetic and meteorological observatory near Lake Baikal, began collecting accounts that are vivid with detail. There are people being knocked off their feet, a man needing to hold onto his plough to avoid being swept away by a powerful wind, the feeling of great heat "as if my shirt had caught fire", herds of hundreds of reindeer being killed, trees set alight by the radiance of the fireball only for the flames to be snuffed out by the subsequent blast wave. And the reports are unequivocal on the source of the blast. G.K. Kulesh, head of a meteorological station at Kurensk, 200 kilometres from the epicentre, told Voznesenskij that: "A meteorite of very enormous dimensions had fallen." (G.K. Kulesh: "There appeared in the northwest a fiery column Š in the form of a spear. When the column disappeared, there were heard five strong, abrupt bangs, like from a cannon, following quickly and distinctly one after another Š there had been a strong shaking of the ground, such that the window glass was broken in the houses Š It is probably established that a meteorite of very enormous dimensions had fallen.")

In the days after the blast, much of Europe experienced eerie 'bright nights': readers wrote to The Times in London, remarking that its columns could be read outdoors at midnight. Polarization measurements are consistent with this being due to sunlight scattered by dust in the very high atmosphere; observatories recorded increased atmospheric opacity and scattering across the Northern Hemisphere. This spreading dust may have been due to a plume ejected backwards along the incoming object's path by its explosion. Such plumes were seen on Jupiter when the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into it in 1994; hydrodynamic modelling by Mark Boslough and his colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, indicates that a similar terrestrial plume could be expected for an impact such as that at Tunguska.

There was, however, one good reason to doubt that a small asteroid was involved: the belief of the time that this would deliver a valuable hunk of iron to the surface. The Russian meteorite hunter Leonid Kulik, who led the first expedition to the epicentre in the 1920s, obtained funding from the Soviet government on the basis that he would find a valuable ore body there. But when he reached his goal in 1927 he found no metal. Nor did he find the crater that an impact was expected to leave. (There are now claims that nearby Lake Cheko might be such a crater, but these are widely disputed.) There were clear signs of violence - trees knocked flat over a vast swath of land - but no big hole in the ground. What could have happened?

In 1930, US astrophysicist Harlow Shapley suggested that the lack of a crater was due to the nature of the impactor. If it had been a comet, and comets were light and fluffy, then it would have exploded at altitude. This idea persisted for decades: in 1982 some planetary scientists were willing to postulate the extraordinarily low density of 3 kilograms per cubic metre in order to explain Tunguska in terms of the blast from a disintegrating comet.

Other explanations were even more far fetched than candyfloss comets. Soviet science-fiction author Alexander Kazantsev realized, as Shapley had, that the best explanation involved an explosion at altitude, and suggested in 1946 that a nuclear-powered alien spaceship exploding just before landing might have been the culprit, an idea taken up eagerly and earnestly in the following decades.

A more scientifically promising possibility was naturally occurring antimatter, a suggestion made independently by various people at various times. In 1940, Vladimir Rojansky of Union College, Schenectady, NY, suggested that some meteors and comets might be made of antimatter - 'contraterrene' matter in the terms of the time - and that their odd behaviour might be detectable. (More than 30 years later Rojansky suggested that it would be worth checking if Comet Kohoutek was one of the antimatter ones.) In 1941, Lincoln LaPaz of OSU in Columbus published two articles in the magazine Popular Astronomy that argued that large terrestrial craters and the craterless Tunguska explosion were both due to antimatter meteors; he later wrote to the Soviet Academy of Sciences suggesting a search for anomalous isotopes at the site.

More than a decade later, Philip Wyatt, a graduate student at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and Boris Podolsky, author of a famous paper with Einstein exploring apparent paradoxes of quantum mechanics, went to a movie in which antimatter featured. Podolsky pointed Wyatt towards Rojansky's 1940 paper and suggested he look into the impacts idea. Wyatt - now the chief executive of the Wyatt Technology Corporation in Santa Barbara, California - says that he was "mostly interested in looking for residual radioactivity" and published some ideas on the subject in Nature. "Other explanations were even more far fetched than candyfloss comets."

This notion was expanded on by three eminent American scientists (including 1960 Nobel Prize winner Willard Libby and Clyde Cowan, co-discoverer of the neutrino) in 1965. Libby, the original developer of the carbon-14 dating technique, found support for the idea of an antimatter impact from what seemed to be an elevated carbon-14 level in tree rings around the world in 1909, suggesting that significant quantities of the isotope had been created by radiation given off when the antimatter annihilated itself on contact with the thicker layers of the atmosphere. Even at the time, though, there were good arguments against the idea: among other things, the first gamma-ray-detecting satellites were not seeing the tell-tale radiation from antimatter annihilation elsewhere in the nearby cosmos.

Even more extreme, in 1973 two University of Texas physicists suggested that the cause was a black hole passing through Earth. This was nothing if not fashionable: miniature black holes had just been postulated by Stephen Hawking as after-effects of the Big Bang. Again the explanation was incomplete and its implications - an exit on the other side of the planet, and a seismic signal lasting well after the initial impact - unobserved. Similar caveats apply to the intriguing hybrid idea, aired as recently as 1989, that the culprit was a deuterium-rich comet turned into a hydrogen bomb by the heat and pressure of its arrival in the atmosphere.

Another approach has been to suggest that, despite the straightforward implications of eyewitness accounts of a bright object zipping across the sky, the source of the blast was in fact beneath the surface. A recent example is a claim that it was due to a 10-million-tonne belch of methane that subsequently exploded high in the sky. Others see a geophysical source involving peculiar tectonic behaviour.

The fact that such ideas were entertained (and still are, in some circles) speaks both of a certain fascination with the fanciful and the abiding need to explain that confusing lack of a crater. The fact that, by the 1960s, various craters around the world had been accepted as meteorite strikes meant that the anomalous lack seemed all the more confusing. In 1993 that confusion was allayed, at least for most people, by Chris Chyba, Kevin Zahnle and Paul Thomas. With the help of computer simulations derived from nuclear weapons' tests they showed that a solid, stony object about 50 metres across - the most likely sort of thing in that size range to hit the Earth - would not be expected to reach the ground. There was no need to invoke weirdly low cometary densities - at the relevant speeds the shock wave generated within a solid body as it slams into the atmosphere would rip up an everyday rock just fine. Formations such as Meteor Crater in Arizona are left by tougher impactors made of metal; the shock waves don't get the better of them until they've reached the ground.

A similar explanation was arrived at by Jack Hills, working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico with Patrick Goda, and both teams had been to some extent pre-empted by a Soviet team led by V.P. Korobeinikov, the work of which had not been widely appreciated in the West. These various models led to an estimate that the blast was equivalent to about 15 megatonnes of high explosive - bigger than all but the very largest thermonuclear weapons. However, work by Boslough indicates that the energy required to fit the observed phenomena could be rather less, around 3 to 5 megatonnes.

That analysis assumes that the impactor was a stony asteroid - but a comet is still a possibility. In 1978, L'ubor Kresák suggested the Tunguska impactor was a fragment of Comet Encke. The peak of an annual intense meteor shower associated with dust from Encke occurred around 30 June 1908, but because the meteors arrived from the direction of the Sun, the shower would not have been visible to the naked eye. What the eyewitnesses said about the direction of the Tunguska projectile is consistent with that idea. An analysis of many hundreds of possible pre-impact orbits for the object published in 2001, by a team that had been led by the late Paolo Farinella, indicated that an asteroidal orbit was more likely than a cometary orbit - but using that paper's definitions, Comet Encke, which takes just 40 months to orbit the Sun, has an asteroidal orbit. Another line of evidence, suggested in 1977, was that a comet might explain the carbon-14 signature reported by Cowan in the 1960s; a comet in space might naturally be thoroughly irradiated.

The question of what the object was is not purely academic. If Tunguska was indeed a 15-megaton event, it was rather unlikely - such things are expected only every 1,500 years or so. That calculation, though, assumes that the flux of near-Earth objects is constant over time. If the population of near-Earth objects is replenished from time to time by the break-up of a comet, then shortly after that break-up, impacts from Tunguska-sized fragments will be more likely. Earth may suffer near misses from Tunguska's dark and stealthy cousins every time it passes through Encke's dust stream - fragments too small to be easily observed, but big enough to cause quite a mess if they hit.

In Rendezvous with Rama, Clarke's solution to the threat of impacts was an asteroid search programme aimed at ensuring that such a catastrophe could never occur again: he called it Project Spaceguard. This became the name of a real-life programme, and that search continues. But 50-metre objects are too small to spot far in advance of their impact. So although another Tunguska coming out of the blue is not a likely event in any given June, it is not out of the question.

Duncan Steel is an astronomer and writer after whom Arthur C. Clarke once named a robot.

-- +++

NEO News (now in its fourteenth year of distribution) is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts. These opinions are the responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the positions of NASA, Ames Research Center, the International Astronomical Union, or any other organization. To subscribe (or unsubscribe) contact dmorrison@arc.nasa.gov. For additional information, please see the website http://impact.arc.nasa.gov. If anyone wishes to copy or redistribute original material from these notes, fully or in part, please include this disclaimer.






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Tuesday,  July 1, 2008

Subject: Citing Need for Assessments, U.S. Freezes Solar Energy Projects

Dear Jerry,

Thought you might be interested in this in the context of energy strategy. The reason for the freeze is that the 130 pending applications to use Federal land for solar power developments have requested more than a million acres of land. Professor Ausubel of Rockefeller University caught a lot of flak last year for pointing that solar power development would require huge land areas. It seems like that era has arrived as the BLM has applications that account for nearly 1% of the land that it manages.


Solar energy developers need to realize that they're subject to the same requirements and restrictions as any other land use including the requirements of the endangered species legislation, etc. The unstated reason for the freeze is that the BLM probably doesn't have enough scientific staff to properly vet this many large scale applications.

Take care and don't strain yourself.

Bob Kawaratani Tokyo, Japan

The Solar Constant remains, uh, well, constant. Moreover the Sun doesn't shine at night, nor does it stay still in the sky, meaning that either your solar collector array has to be steerable in at least one axis and preferably two, and even then you have to have a BIG array. The numbers don't lie.

One good use for ground based solar is as Ed Begley uses it: local collectors maintained by the local citizenry. I recall the night the tree fell about a block from Ed's house: his was the only house with lights, and Rochelle was cheerfully watching TV while everyone else cursed the darkness. This avoids transmission costs and losses. Of course it costs in batteries: one reason for better battery technology, since the much more efficient pumped water storage is not likely to appeal to house holders. (Imagine two swimming pools, one above the other, with water pumped to the upper one when the sun is shining, and flowing back down through turbines at night...)

Big solar arrays are best put in space; the antennae for receiving the power from space are very small compared to the collectors, and are best put in deserts. It's a lot easier to evaluate their environmental effect, although I recall one EPA official who, told that the energy spill half a kilometer from the edge of the receiver array would be less than the quantum energy required for chemical reactions, said "Well, I don't know. It could be dangerous."  I expect she is now high up in the Global Warming hierarchy.


Power grid capacity for charging electric cars


Regarding the correspondent who stated "As an aside, the power grid doesn't have the spare electricity generating capacity to support electric cars anyway. And there's no indication the greens will ever let it be built" you might want to point him here:


TVA plugging electric cars Batteries would need to be charged at night, with excess capacity

NASHVILLE - TVA Chairman Bill Sansom told a panel of congressmen Monday that the agency could easily handle future demand from electric-powered cars and offer a 20 percent discount - so long as batteries are charged at night.


Regards, Bill Ghrist


Prizes and Batteries

If McCain's prize really did lead to a battery capable of replacing the internal combustion engine, chances are that arrays of the battery would provide a practical way of storing the output of solar power plants and wind turbines for later use -- and that in turn would make it possible to use solar and wind power for base-load electric power generation.

Given Obama's distaste for all energy solutions other than solar and wind, his opposition to McCain's proposal is kind of moronic.

Paul Danish

I may be excessively dense (or suffering from brain damage but I have never understood the frantic dismissals of McCain's battery prize. I can well agree that this may not be the best technology for a prize -- that is, there may be other technologies more deserving; or that this is the wrong amount; but what I have heard is sheer contempt as if the very proposal shows McCain to be a fool. This from some of my readers (not too many, Deo gratia) and also from public figures who nominally support McCain and ought to know better.

More efficient batteries would be extremely useful for encouraging much more distributed solar electric collection (the Ed Begley Jr. Model; as Ed notes, with $120 and above oil, his present system is close to economic efficiency, and there is a lot of convenience in being off the grid and independent of power failures: think of his house as being run on a gigantic UPS). More efficient batteries that would raise the practical range of over-night charged electric cars to 120 miles or more would have a real effect on the way to do and plan transportation. More efficient batteries would go well with more nuclear power. McCain may or may not have the prize level right, and I would have chosen a different technology area for my first prize proposal, but I'm all for better batteries, and at $300 million he has chosen a level that may have a great effect on technology development while keeping the cost very low. We lose $300 million every day in accounting areas in the Welfare Departments.


Subject: asparagus

I have little hope for a Mars colony if what it grows is asparagus.


Will broccoli do?

On a serious vein, I want to see a Lunar Colony first; I want to be sure we know how to make do in space. But do recall that I wrote Birth of Fire about Martian Colonies more than 30 years ago, and it's still a pretty good yarn. Not refuted by science, either.




"The problem was that the powers that be were 'stumped as to the precise set of rules governing the temporary import of two asses to Sweden from another EU member state'...One harbour worker noted: 'We couldn't just send him back to Denmark. It's actually a little shameful, there's nothing human behind this. That's just the way it is when everything hinges on a bunch of paper.' "

I like how everyone involved admits that the bureaucracy is pointless and intrusive and meaningless, but by God they're going to follow it anyway. Because obviously these rules are necessary--otherwise they wouldn't exist, right? The government wouldn't ever do anything useless, or stupid, or flat damn WRONG, right?

-- Mike T. Powers



Subject: Private education model


John Darbyshire recommends it!

Be well, and G-d bless.

Joseph Friedlander

As do I. It's a variant on the Voucher system, of course. But the Swedes make it work. Indeed, except for keeping a place where Swedes can live, Swedes have done pretty well at solving many problems including how to live with socialism.


Subject: "Restraining the delegation's guests only shows how backwards the human rights situation is, as backward as North Korea's. Is that what they want?"

article/2008/07/01/AR2008070100749_pf.html >

--- Roland Dobbins

Possibly. The Mandate of Heaven...


I think this is an inquiry about Harry Erwin's Letter from England

In for a penny, in for a pound...

I still don't get your connection to Dr. E. Old friend? Alternate POV? Some of the things he has/is interested from his "Letters from England" are interesting. Usually, I skip the following-up of his links en-masse. The problems of Britain haven't seemed to be the problems of America, they still don't. Do you post his mushgns as word of warning to an Empire greeting the setting sun? I can't afford, nor do I have the connections to retire to Ceylon and watch the world go 'round... Socialism/Communism is the bug-bear that boys have long cried wolf about; the demon seems about to blow my house of straw down.

I guess I could say that a house of straw is all my parents have afforded me to have, but then; my parents are the village... But, we have our own Magna Carta to deal with, is that why you consistently put Dr. E's worries up on public display? The American Revolution is now half as old as the "English Revolution?" Something like Moore's law on a different order of magnitude? Constitutional (Parliamentary) Law is as burdensome, if not more so, than the first time we broke with it?

Can we as Americans "lead from the front?" We weren't a Constitutional (parliamentary) Monarchy to begin with, but we always appear to be one whenever Presidential elections roll around. I suppose that was a question the framers attempted to address when they drafted that wonderful document; does the proletariat really need to vote? Are they better off not voting, they know what is best for themselves, or there be some amongst them that have the miraculous ability to lift themselves by bootstraps? Marx answered it with the answer that they know what is best for themselves. We've fought that debate on the battlefield, Marx lost. Or has he?

Synopses. I've lost track of my argument...

Is Dr. E an ex-patriot? As an ex-patriot does he have any leg to gripe on if what he is seeing is America two hundred years hence?

I still enjoy reading his synopses of the links he provides. If he's a Brit-cit, I feel for him. They are the last hold-outs on the EU, unless you count the Irish....

On to Duodenum Tabularum, et al.. Jurisprudence, I hope my failure to research Juris and Prudence doesn't fail me here... Monty is always witty if not downright funny in his expose (accent agu) of Dr. E at times. That seems to be the one strength left in American governance. Jurisprudence.

My research fails me, how are judges appointed/elected or selected in British jurisprudence? Is that important to the discussion?


On discussions: A thought plagued me this afternoon; those thousand monkeys typing out the Bard. Does it matter if they manage to type out a coded version (simple substitution or Enigma device) of his plays? If so, wouldn't that bring the odds down a bit? Does the chronological order of plays matter? Actor lines (i.e. get one complete line correct, out of order, out of play, same encryption.) Are we looking for big complete miracles or small discrete miracles?


I remain interested in England, and Dr. Erwin is kind enough to put together a pretty good synopsis of what's going on, and from a view that I respect. This is an eclectic journal... Besides, I like his views.


I have a long mailing summarizing a great deal about Global Cooling. It's long enough that I did not want to put it in mail, so I have made it a REPORTS page. You will find it here.




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Harry Erwin Replies


I'm an American teaching at a university in northeast England. I came originally from Riverside, California, and moved around America, working in the defense industry, before doing a PhD in neuroscience and going to England to teach computing (and do my research). I collect together a few UK news stories each week so Jerry can have some idea what's happening elsewhere. I try to make them relevant to problems America is wrestling with--health care, education, the economy, managing a country, religion, politics, kids growing up, political correctness. Learning by experience is expensive, so why not make it other people's experience that you learn from?

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


And a representative reader comment

A few comments

In response to the letter from pate, which questions the relevance of "Letter From England", I disagree. I think its essential to look around the world to see how other countries deal with issues. We share a language, legal system, culture, and a lot of history with Britain, so I think their news is very interesting.

A good example is health care. They have socialized medicine, and our liberals (sorry, progressives) really want us to copy their system. Well, not exactly copy, they actually won't name a country with socialized medicine we should copy. They won't even say socialized medicine, they say "Health Care for Everyone", whatever that means. Britain tries hard to make socialized medicine work, but they still have major problems. Like finding a dentist. The liberals don't want us to see what they plan for us, so we must examine other countries to see how their version of socialized functions.

Britain has been controlled by the Labour Part for years, and they say they believe in Global Warming. But when push comes to shove, they build more coal fired electrical facilities. Never let saving the planet get in the way of keeping your job.

My ancestors came from England, and I am an anglophile. Still, we should keep an eye on other countries.

Randy Lea


Why Nerds are Unpopular 

Hello Dr. Pournelle,

Paul Graham has written an interesting -- and I think important -- essay about secondary education in American society. http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html 

He starts out to answer a question -- "Why are nerds unpopular in secondary schools?". But, he ends up describing the social structure of American secondary schools from the inmate's -- er student's -- point of view. Along the way he touches on how and why our schools got so bad, and on the origin of the "teenager".

His essay is long but worth the time if you have an interest in the subject.

<excerpt> When we were in junior high school, my friend Rich and I made a map of the school lunch tables according to popularity. This was easy to do, because kids only ate lunch with others of about the same popularity. We graded them from A to E. A tables were full of football players and cheerleaders and so on. E tables contained the kids with mild cases of Down's Syndrome, what in the language of the time we called "retards."

We sat at a D table, as low as you could get without looking physically different. .... </excerpt>

Best regards, Clyde Wisham

**** "One man's "magic" is another man's engineering. "Supernatural" is a null word." -- R. A. Heinlein ****

In high school I sat with others of the science club and chess club; but also sitting with us was my friend J who wanted to be an FBI agent, and had to pass Latin to get into law school (in those days the FBI wanted agents to have either a law or an accounting degree). I saw to it that J got his B in Latin, and he saw to it that people didn't bother me or sit at my table without my let or leave. I suppose that was a special case.


And now a rather important discussion:

Evidence obtained under duress to be admissable in military court? 



Even if the citizens of our nation do not care, anyone in uniform needs to watch this case closely. If any evidence obtained under duress is admissible in court, it means that anyone under military jurisdiction can be removed from US soil, waterboarded until they admit guilt, and then returned to the US or a US operated base overseas for a military trial using the evidence obtained under duress.

What standards will the judge hold the prosecution to? If the evidence is in fact inadmissible, will anyone be punished for waterboarding someone to obtain a confession that can't even be used?

More relevant to serving military members, if ANY evidence obtained during an interrogation involving a waterboarding where the tapes were destroyed is deemed admissible, who would reasonably submit themselves to such a system? At this point, utilizing the globally recognized "right" to avoid being forced to provide self-incriminating statements may be followed by a lengthy flight in an unmarked bizjet and a trip to the dungeon for a little motivational experience.

I’m sure at some point, those behind the Inquisition thought it was a fine idea, crucial to the survival of the nation as it existed at the time. What better way to get the info the state needs, than to extract it under duress and then hold a trial using the extracted information, with capital punishment is a reasonable outcome? Waterboarding is not torture, but information obtained during interrogation under duress of any sort should never be admissible, and those attempting to gain evidence in this way for use in a trial that could lead to a death sentence need to be tossed in jail for human rights abuses.

And yes I realize that the UCMJ allows extremely harsh penalties when dealing with battlefield offenses in the face of the enemy... After so many years however, I see no immediacy in this trial requiring the expediency of a battlefield courts-martial.

Name withheld…

Evidence obtained under duress and torture is a special case; but the general case of illegally obtained evidence is far less clear.

The modern interpretation is that illegally obtained evidence -- obtained without warrants, or through illegal break-ins -- must not be admitted in court, as a matter of constitutional law. That is quite recent.

The English practice is, or was when I was teaching Constitutional Law, to allow the evidence to go to the jury, but also to allow the jury to know how it was obtained; the jury could then estimate its relevance and veracity. This was the case for a hundred years in United States federal courts, and so far as I can tell, just about all the state courts as well. Then the Chief Justice of the US, under his authority as the presiding judge of the federal system, exercised his supervisory authority to forbid use of illegally obtained evidence in federal suits. His reasoning was that federal agents had abused their authority, and this was a good means for requiring them to pay attention to rules.

For a long time that rule prevailed, and over time some of the states -- about half -- adopted it explicitly to apply in state cases. The other half of the states continued to adhere to the rule that the evidence went to the jury but so did the story of how it was obtained. "We beat it out of him" usually got the jury's attention, and if that "confession" was the only evidence, than the usual verdict was acquittal.

However, if the illegally obtained evidence -- including coerced confessions -- contained critical evidence, such as the location of a dead and mutilated child's body, juries would generally acquit, sometimes with a recommendation that the officers in question be charged.

During the big liberal court "reforms" when the US Supreme Court discovered fresh new rights that had been overlooked for two hundred years, it was decided that the rule -- and up to then it had only been a rule, and applied only to federal courts unless a state had explicitly adopted the rule -- was a constitutional right, and applied to all the states, both those which previously adhered to it and those which had explicitly rejected it.

The argument for the rule is that the executive department will behave itself if it does no good to get confessions through the third degree or illegal searches; the argument against it is that a criminal -- a murderer, or other infamous criminal -- should not get king's X "because the constable blundered." These matters were debated in state legislatures, and as I said, up until the US Supreme Court discovered an emanation from a penumbra in the Constitution made the exclusion rule a constitutional right, about half the states had adopted the rule and about half had rejected it.

We come now to coerced confessions. Clearly we don't like the idea, but is exclusion of evidence the best way to assure justice? My inclination is on the side of the expanded view of the Fifth Amendment, but I do point out that there have been others to disagree. Jeremy Bentham, hardly an advocate of tyranny, thought the rule absurd (see also this). Bentham said that the privilege of not having to give evidence harmful to oneself was absurd: the purpose of a trial was to discover truth, and the fact that it was hard on the accused to be required to testify was "the old woman's argument."

There is considerably more on this subject, and the bottom line is, what are you trying to accomplish?


English legal system.


Judges. The system which selects judges in the UK is rather like the rules of cricket, perfectly obvious to those born here, just as a bird instinctively knows how to build a nest. For Americans and other lesser races born beyond the pail the system works like this; Judges are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, a working barrister as well as politician who still leads the prosecution in the most serious cases, and who is appointed by Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. They are chosen from the body of senior barristers for their "soundness". The Lord Chancellor is restrained from making radical choices by, literally, his Peers. These are the other senior judges, the Lords of Appeal, who also sit in the Upper House. Were the Lord Chancellor to make too many bad decisions, the other senior judges would no longer take luncheon with him. Although the line is becoming blurred, in essence barristers only address the court, and solicitors do all other legal work including discovering such facts as the barrister will present on behalf of the prosecution or the accused. A High Court Judge has almost unlimited power whilst sitting and although this is exercised sparingly and with caution it can be, and has been, used with great effect in preventing injustices by over zealous prosecutors or litigants. For example when a detective made a contemporary note of the accused's confession during a short car ride but was unable to repeat this feat in twice the time in while sitting at a desk in the court, it was the detective and not the formerly accused who found himself facing charges. This system prevents lunacies like the Macdonald's hot coffee judgment at the expense of having a deeply conservative judiciary. On the whole it has served us well.

John Edwards


Old News on Climate Change

Dr. Pournelle --

In 1968 or 1969, long before the term "global warming" had entered the common lexicon, there was a published unclassified literature review commissioned by the CIA which looked at then current paleoclimate research -- ice, lake and ocean bottom cores, chiefly. I have tried to locate the report via online searches to no avail. (I remember the report from an article in either Current Science or My Weekly Reader in Mrs. Wiedeman's science class in elementary school.) The gist of the report's conclusions was that the Earth was then in an unusually consistent and clement climate period and that it was reasonable to assume that this would soon change to a period highly variable and inclement climate. The article stated that the CIA was interested in the climate because as goes the climate, so goes the weather and thence food production and political stability. I have continually been reminded of this little news story during all the discussion of anthropogenic global warming/climate change, especially with reports over the past few months about CIA and Pentagon analysts looking at climate change.




Your posts seem to again show excitement and enjoyment with your work. I hope it continues.

Yours, Pieter Sigtenhorst

Actually, in the 1960's, that was the view of nearly all the forecasting community.  Big Science expected global cooling and possible a new Ice Age all through Jimmy Carter's gloomy presidency. Then Hansen rolled his dice, and the universe changed...


And for pure fun:

Subject: How LOTR Should Have Ended, 


I thought you would enjoy this:




Somehow this got overlooked when it came, and I just found it:

Subject: teacher evaluations

Hi Doc,

Just to throw another spin on Teacher Evaluations in the University Sphere, One of the injustices I experienced as a Graduate Student was the Politics of Tenure, specifically, a time when several assoc. profs were up for Tenure, & 2 of the Prof/Weasels in question started coaching their favorite students taking classes from competing Profs on how to write evaluations bashing the competition. This was a successful if abhorent method of advancement as they both got tenure while their competition did not. This particular event did have the effect of changing my career path, I decided the University life was not for me!


"I'm afraid you'll have to overlook it Fred, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it!"

Super Chicken (Henry Cabot Henhouse III)


As did this:

Subject: They don't get it

Sunday coverage of the Church of England report. The Government (BBC) doesn't get it. No coverage by the Guardian or the Independent (liberal and left wing).

Saturday's Times story: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article4083979.ece >  <http://tinyurl.com/3ltvxg

The Government line (BBC): <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7442285.stm

Telegraph: <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/
being-discriminated-against.html >  <http://tinyurl.com/5fo5e5

UPI: <http://www.upi.com/Top_News/
blasts_govt_secularism/UPI-31011212860479/ >  <http://tinyurl.com/6zp5pl

International Herald Tribune: <http://www.iht.com/articles/
/EU-GEN-Britain-Religion.php >  <http://tinyurl.com/6gz7j2>

 -- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw>  Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>  







 read book now




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This week:


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Thursday, July 3, 2008

I Been Thinking

Dr Pournelle

1. Misunderstanding Dr Erwin's position

2. Toward statism

3. Energy = Wealth

1. Misunderstanding Dr Erwin's position

Pate's distaste for Dr Erwin may stem from his -- Pate's -- ignorance of the word expatriate. Pate twice referred to Dr Erwin as an 'ex-patriot'. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/2008/Q2/mail525.html <Tuesday. July 1, 2008> I have never met Dr Erwin, but I have read his missives to Chaos Manor, and I never found any cause to question Dr Erwin's patriotism.

The two words -- ex-patriot and expatriate -- sound alike. The definition of expatriate that I prefer is found in the American Heritage Dictionary: One who has taken up residence in a foreign country. ex = out of; patria = fatherland; that is, one who is out of his fatherland. (I apologize for the pedantics.)

Pate may have used 'ex-patriot' as a slight or from ignorance. I choose to believe that it stems from ignorance. (I intend no insult. I am ignorant of many things. Ignorance is a curable condition. Arrogance is less so.) I choose to believe that Pate intended no offense.

Myself? I admit that I do not chase every link Dr Erwin gives in his weekly perusal of Britain, but I follow some. I find the English experience that Dr Erwin relates to be instructive. My father coined a law: Experience is not just the best teacher; it is the only teacher. I added a corollary: It does not have to be your experience.


2. Toward statism

The growth of gov't reminds me of "Macdonough's Song":

Whether the State can loose and bind In Heaven as well as on Earth: If it be wiser to kill mankind Before or after the birth-- These are matters of high concern Where State-kept schoolmen are; But Holy State (we have lived to learn) Endeth in Holy War.

I am certain that you recognize the author.

What I mean to say by this quote is that we Americans are speeding headlong to civil war.


3. Energy = Wealth

You said this before in different words: Cheap energy plus innovation = economic growth.

http://www.jerrypournelle.com/archives/archivesview/view51.html <Friday, June 4, 1999)

In light of the current religious fervor over global warming, I believe the public must be taught this equation: Energy = Wealth (Use yours if you prefer, but I have a reason for setting the equation this way.) I do not mean Wealth in terms of microwave ovens and cars and Gucci handbags, but those are serendipitous by-products. The Wealth I mean is the luxury of choices.

With energy, we have choices. With those choices, we can solve problems. Problems like hunger (which is now predominantly caused by politics, not a lack of production), disease, communications, transportation, species extinction, and, yes, global warming (if it exists). With energy, we can live as we choose and be good stewards of our world.

Without energy, we lack choices. Without energy, humankind becomes nothing more than a ubiquitous great ape, bound to the environment and absolutely dependent upon the vagaries of nature. Without energy, humankind falls from living well to surviving brutishly.

Your neighbor Ed Begley is an example of the success of the equation. Mr Begley can live green because he had money to make his home energy independent. But the manufacture of the goods that made his independence possible required much energy. As cheap as that energy was, the retail cost of those goods was high. If humankind curtails its development of energy resources, no one will be able to afford to 'go green'.

Pate's ignorance is a small matter and easy to correct -- if Pate is willing to correct it. But I doubt that Pate has any religious convictions about the use of 'ex-patriot', vice 'expatriate'. I fear the Egregious Greens are driven by religious fervor, and their ignorance is less amenable to correction. ('You have eyes but see not; you have ears but hear not.')

I thank you for doing what you can to make the truth available to them. If they choose not to learn, the fault is not yours.

Live long and prosper

h lynn keith


confessions under duress?

Hi Jerry,

Just a quick note: back when I taught a course in automated reasoning, which can use a lot of statistics, one of my favorite counter-intuitive examples was based on the effect of extracting confessions under duress. Under entirely reasonable assumptions, it turns out that the ability to extract a confession increases the likelihood that the subject is innocent!

Practically speaking, this means that extracting evidence under duress is counterproductive to the goals of the prosecution. It is not only inhumane - and a violation of the principles that we ought to uphold - it is simply stupid.



Certainly not a universal truth. If confessions contain information that only the perpetrator  could know...

One of Dr. Coles' examples was an illegal search for marijuana. A highway patrol stop aroused suspicions. The officer demanded that the trunk be opened. Inside was no marijuana, but a dead body. What is the constable to do under these circumstances?

If the executive is entirely corrupt, and the people are more in danger from their own police than from criminals and terrorists, then drastic restraints may be needed -- but under those circumstances the restraints are not likely to work. If the Legions have taken control, then one may appeal to Caesar, but the judges hear Caesar better than they hear the pleas of their neighbors.

The remedy in the English tradition has been the jury system: but in the US we tend to restrict what the defense can tell the jury, thus nullifying that safeguard. Of course given the imbecilic rules we have allowed the lawyers to impose on jury selection, and the Mickey Mouse trial rules that make simple trials last months (lots of billable hours! I was in court!) we may never be able to use a jury system to protect us from the Norman Invaders oops elected officials.

My point is that fiddling with the rules of evidence is not usually motivated by a desire to make trials a means of discovering truth. Like our education system, which is now designed by and controlled by the Blob of educrats, our system of justice has pretty well fallen into the Iron Law trap.


The Value of Evidence Obtained by Torture 

See this paper, which analyses the question from a bayesian perspective: <http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/rajm/interro.htm

One implication is that "terrorism cases appear to run a considerable risk of a reversal of the inequality given above, and thus to the counter-intuitive situation of a confession of guilt actually contributing to evidence of innocence."

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her

The use of confessions as confessions, as opposed to a source of information, is a different matter. Confessions obtained under duress are automatically suspect (at least to an intelligent jury); it is the corroborative evidence that is important here.

Note I am hardly arguing in favor of rubber hoses in the back room of the police barracks. I am stating that there have been other views of this matter; and of course coerced confessions are the extreme end of the illegally obtained evidence rules. The Republic managed for near 200 years without a Constitutional right to exclusion of improperly obtained evidence.

And what should have been done with that dead body found through an illegal search?


Re. Confessions & Selection of Judges

A possibly interesting historical note: The judicial system of Ancient Israel (at least as far back as the early Talmudic era, probably since Biblical times) completely discounted confessions in criminal law.

In reply to John Edwards: The English system for the appointment of Judges may work there yielding "a deeply conservative judiciary", but the same system, seeded with "activist" judges, can have the completely opposite result. I offer the modern Israeli High Court as an example.

--Joel Salomon


-- Canada Satellite to hunt asteroids as well as high altitude satellites 


an interesting blurb from the University of Calgary

<http://www.ucalgary.ca/news/june2008/NEOSSat>  "NEOSSat telescope June 26, 2008

Asteroid-hunting satellite a world first

Canada's NEOSSat space telescope to discover near-Earth objects and track high-altitude satellites

Canada is building the world's first space telescope designed to detect and track asteroids as well as satellites. Called NEOSSat (Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite), this spacecraft will provide a significant improvement in surveillance of asteroids that pose a collision hazard with Earth and innovative technologies for tracking satellites in orbit high above our planet.

Weighing in at a mere 65-kilograms, this dual-use $12-million mission builds upon Canada's expertise in compact "microsatellite" design. NEOSSat will be the size of a large suitcase....NEOSSat is expected to be launched into space in 2010. The two projects that will use NEOSSat are HEOSS (High Earth Orbit Space Surveillance) and the NESS (Near Earth Space Surveillance) asteroid search program...."


Why Shakir Can't Read

Jerry, I thought that you should see this From American Thinker: http://www.americanthinker.com/2008/06/why_shakir_cant_read.html 

Shakir and his family is surrounded by well meaning very expensive professionals concerned about their every need. These professionals will use just about any amount of the taxpayers money to help these people. The one thing they will not do is anything that would force these people to accept responsibility for themselves and leave the system.


And see  below


Your Tax Dollars at Work


David March

Iron Law or Gestapo? Do we all feel safer now?





CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  July 3, 2008


Coal has been established as a fossilized biomass. Environmentalist/Global warming fanatics object to our use of it because of the carbon dioxide that it releases into our atmosphere. I have a question for them, “Where did that carbon exist prior to being locked up in the coal reserves?” After much hemming and hawing the logical answer is that it was in the air and oceans. The use of coal then is returning earth to a previous CO2 levels.

Now if they really want to capture that carbon there is a simple solution. After a strip-mine is depleted fill it with biomass and cover it back up with earth. Given sufficient geological time coal is a renewable energy source.

While we are waiting for better batteries and fusion reactors, we can liquefy the coal and use our current infrastructure for delivery in either a diesel or gasoline formula. The technology already exist to accomplish this just ask the Germans and South Africans.

Mark D.


Paris, 7600BC.

<http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/dig-shows-paris-is-3000-years-older-than-first-thought-854341.html >

--- Roland Dobbins

Modern Paris became an important city because the two islands in the Seine allowed the construction of fortified bridges that could prevent the Vikings from rowing upstream to ravage central and even southern France. The Vikings used to use rivers like highways to appear in unexpected place.

I make no doubt there are other good reasons for Paris to be a major city, but that was explicitly the reason for establishing castles in modern Paris.


Shakir is not unique. The Juvenile facilities and group homes are full of Shakirs. The problem is that the liberals feel sorry for Shakir or his parent(s) etc. But they don't feel sorry for the people he will abuse in his life. They are the vulnerable ones, the elderly, sick, weak, etc. They are innocents who just happen to be in his way and he will rob, assault, cheat, or kill them just because they are in his way. They don't get the sympathy until after Shakir has completed his criminal assaults upon them. They will get a few words in the newspaper in some rare cases, while Shakir will eventually cost the citizens of the country a new car every year as he is incarcerated. If he kills someone in California and is sentenced to death he will cost a large luxury car every year for a couple of decades as a death row inmate. And that is just because he can't read? Not really, but because he was born to parents who had no intention of raising a child who was going to be any better than they are. Make an Iron Law out of that.



The Law of Unintended Consequences.


It is reported that The Adult Internet Market Research Company has found a twenty to thirty percent increase in the membership of some pornographic sites at what is usually a slow time for them.

Not only does this increase mirror the sending out of the $600, ah stimulus, cheques, but when asked many of the new members cite the unbudgeted arrival of the cheque as the reason that they joined.

Nevertheless, we must continue to be grateful that we are not getting all the government that we are paying for.

John Edwards


Report Sees Cost in Some Academic Gains http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/18/education/18child.html 


A new study argues that the nation's focus on helping students who are furthest behind may have produced a Robin Hood effect, yielding steady academic gains for low-achieving students in recent years at the expense of top students.

The study, to be released on Wednesday, compared trends in scores on federal tests for the bottom 10 percent of students nationwide with those for the top 10 percent and said those at the bottom moved up faster than those at the top.

In tests of fourth-grade reading from 2000 to 2007, for instance, the scores of the lowest-achieving students increased by 16 points on a 280-point scale, compared with a gain of three points for top-achieving students, according to the study, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research organization in Washington.

The period of big gains for low achievers and minimal ones for high achievers coincides with the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, which took effect in 2002. The study said that while it was impossible to know whether the law caused those scoring patterns, such a result would hardly be surprising, since the law made it a goal to reduce the gap separating low-scoring, poor and minority students from higher-scoring white students.

Under the law, schools are required to bring increasing percentages of students to proficiency in reading and math each year or face sanctions that can include the firing of staff members. As a result, many schools organize instruction around helping low-performing students reach minimal proficiency.

In the debate over the law, little attention has been paid to the languid growth among high-achieving students, a trend with troubling implications for the nation's economic competitiveness.

"This is like sports," said Chester E. Finn Jr., the institute's president, who served in the Education Department under President Ronald Reagan. "If the only goal of a sports program is to get people over a three-foot hurdle, why would anybody be coached to get over a four-foot hurdle? They wouldn't. So those who can already sail over a three-foot hurdle have no incentive to do anything except to sleep late."

The report included results of a survey of a nationally representative sample of 900 teachers. Seven in 10 teachers said their schools were more likely to focus on struggling students than average or advanced students when tracking achievement data and trying to raise test scores. And about three-quarters of the teachers surveyed said they agreed with this statement: "Too often, the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school -- we're not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive."

Amy Wilkins, a vice president at Education Trust, which lobbies for policies to help close the achievement gap, said the gains by low achievers should be applauded. "My concern is that this report makes it seem like we have to choose between seeking equity and excellence," she said. "We need to strive for both."

Susan Traiman, director of education policy at the Business Roundtable, a group that represents business executives, said the challenge was to improve the ability of schools to educate students across a range of levels.

"We're producing progress at the bottom, and we need to maintain that," Ms. Traiman said, "but we need to ratchet up the performance of students at every achievement level if we're going to be competitive."


'And to a person, he recalled, they apologized that new money was unlikely because making the deflection of asteroids a priority might backfire in reelection campaigns.'

Politically correct awkwardness ('to a person', what rubbish) aside, this is a worthwhile summation of the problem:

apocalypse-then-next-one-when/index.html >

- Roland Dobbins 



The Diversity Recession, or How Affirmative Action Helped Cause the Housing Crisis

Steve Sailer

Uncovering the roots of the disastrous home mortgage bubble that popped last year will keep economic historians busy for decades. Yet, one factor has so far been largely overlooked: the bipartisan social engineering crusade to drive up the rate of homeownership by handing out more mortgages to minorities.

More than a negligible amount of the blame for the mortgage meltdown can be traced back to multiculturalism: government-mandated affirmative-action lending, demographic change, illegal immigration, and the mind-numbing effects of political correctness.

The chickens have finally come home to roost.

About half of all mortgages for blacks and Hispanics are subprime, versus roughly one-sixth for whites. Not surprisingly, the biggest home price collapses have occurred in heavily Hispanic cities such as Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

The mortgage bubble was essentially a bet on the purportedly increased creditworthiness of the bottom half of the American population. After three decades of the home ownership rate stalling at around 64 percent, a series of federal initiatives to increase minority and low-income ownership helped push the rate up to just below 70 percent.

As this graph from a 2006 article by three economists with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows, the great bubble of the last dozen or so years was driven by bets on marginal households well below the median.

Economist William T. Gavin, a vice president at the St. Louis Fed wrote in 2006:

One of the stated goals of current and past administrations since the Great Depression has been to increase home ownership. After remaining relatively stable around 64 percent, the rate of home ownership has risen to 69 percent in the past decade. This uptrend has been driven by a sharp rise in the rate of home ownership among young, minority and low-income households.

In contrast, at least the previous bubble, the Internet stock boom of the 1990s, had a bit of prima facie credibility. It was a largely a wager on a three-phase business plan:

1. The smart fraction of American society would invent amazing new online services. 2. ? 3. Profit!

As it turned out, bright young people really did start up lots of websites that did things that almost nobody in 1994 had imagined. The problem turned out to be getting from Phase 1 to Phase 3. So many of them became competent at website creation that few (with the huge exception of Google) ended up with the kind of lucrative quasi-monopoly of which investors dreamt.

The housing bubble, on the other hand, never made much sense. The lower half of American society, where the new homeowners had to come from, isn't getting better educated, is not settling down to more stable family structures, and is not developing a more rigorous code of honor about paying debts.

Nor was the government doing much of anything to help the bottom half earn more in order to afford home ownership. Indeed, by not enforcing the laws against illegal immigration, the Clinton and Bush Administrations were flooding the country with unskilled workers who competed down the wages of blue-collar Americans.

The home construction industry lured in Mexicans to build new exurban houses for Americans trying to get their children away from public schools overrun by the children of illegal immigrants-in effect, a Ponzi scheme that had to break down eventually.

It turned out, not surprisingly, that contrary to the assurances of the Great and the Good of both parties, many of these marginal homebuyers should have continued to rent.

Pushing black and Hispanics into buying was risky for all concerned. Economist Edward N. Wolff calculated that in 2004 the median net worth of black households was only $11,800, exactly one order of magnitude less than the median net worth of whites. (Hispanics were similar to blacks.)

Yet, pointing out that expanding credit to minorities was likely to lead to a debacle is not the kind of thing a prudent corporate manger would put in an email--too great a chance it would be discovered in a discrimination lawsuit.

For four decades, political leaders have viewed subsidizing minority home buying as insuring social peace. The Wall Street Journal reported on white flight from a Chicago neighborhood on March 2, 1977:

The whites in Marquette Park are particularly embittered over the Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance program, which they claim is causing neighborhood deterioration by subsidizing home purchases by blacks too poor to maintain them. Long conservatively run and an engine of the post-World War II suburban housing boom, the FHA program was liberalized shortly after the 1968 urban riots to encourage lower-income black home ownership ('if they own it they won't burn it' was the maxim of the time).

Whether home ownership actually precludes riots is uncertain. In the Florence-Normandie neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles, where the 1992 race riot broke out, five of every eight residences were owner-occupied.

Still, "if they own it, they won't burn it" provides a hardheaded-sounding excuse for a complex web of policies that please real estate developers, who contribute so much to local campaigns. (For instance, Barack Obama has admitted to receiving a quarter of a million dollars from developer Tony Rezko, recently convicted on 16 counts).

Republicans theorized that raising the rate of home ownership would create more conservative voters, as Margaret Thatcher was said to have done in Britain by selling public housing flats to their tenants. Thus, George W. Bush campaigned in 2004 under the rubric "the ownership society." As the President explained in his eye-glazing prose style:

...[I]f you own something, you have a vital stake in the future of our country. The more ownership there is in America, the more vitality there is in America, and the more people have a vital stake in the future of this country.

Thus, in a 2004 address to home builders, Bush called for the Federal Housing Administration to issue zero down payment mortgages in order to aid 150,000 first-time buyers per year, saying,

To build an ownership society, we'll help even more Americans to buy homes. Some families are more than able to pay a mortgage but just don't have the savings to put money down.

Long before Bush came up with the phrase "ownership society," Democrats had gleefully been using this justification to funnel vast sums of mortgage money to their base voters among minorities through the liberal-dominated quasi-state institutions Fannie Mae (once run by former Obama adviser Jim Johnson) and Freddie Mac and via leftwing NGOs such as ACORN (to which Obama had long and close ties). The government both devised de jure quotas and leaned on lenders with discrimination lawsuits to get them to impose their own de facto quotas.

The strong growth in the homeownership rate from the early Forties into the early Sixties was a symptom of an economically and socially healthy society in which good-paying jobs were widespread and human capital was rising. The high school dropout rate, for example, fell steadily from early in the century until the end of the Sixties.

In the mid-Sixties, however, the fraction of households owning their residence plateaued at around 64 percent, where it more or less remained into the mid-1990s, as the collateral damage of the Sixties cultural revolution hit the lower half of the population hard. The upper reaches of American society flourished under the new customs that emerged in the Sixties . but they already owned their own homes. To boost homeownership beyond 64 percent would require millions of people in the bottom half of society to convert from renting to owning.

In retrospect, this post-Sixties stagnation of the ownership rate stagnation was hardly surprising. American society began fragmenting in the Swinging Sixties, reducing the number of grown-ups per household. For example, the percentage of babies born to unmarried women has risen from six percent in 1963 to 39 percent in 2006. The 22 percent black illegitimacy rate that so alarmed LBJ's advisor Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 has grown to 71 percent. The percentage of babies born to unmarried white women hit 27 percent in 2006, and the illegitimacy rate of Latinas, a category that barely mattered in the 1960s but now accounts for a quarter of all babies, is now 50 percent.

After 1973, economic inequality grew steadily as well.

Moreover, the human capital of the bottom half of society stopped improving. According to a 2007 study by Nobel laureate economist James Heckman, the high school dropout rate has risen from around 20 percent in 1969 to about 25 percent in 2000.

Rather than make the fundamental reforms needed to help the bottom half actually become economically productive and domestically stable enough to afford to buy a home, the government tried to juice the home-ownership rate directly. Indeed, without ever-increasing government efforts, such as the 1977 anti-redlining Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), to artificially boost minority housing purchases, the rate would have naturally fallen due to the increasing number of single parent homes.

The CRA enables leftist lobbies like ACORN to shake down big financial firms whenever they tried to merge. Economist Thomas J. DiLorenzo observed that the Community Reinvestment Act:

compels banks to make loans to low-income borrowers and in what the supporters of the Act call 'communities of color' that they might not otherwise make based on purely economic criteria. . These organizations claim that over $1 trillion in CRA loans have been made .The law is set up so that any bank merger, branch expansion, or new branch creation can be postponed or prohibited by any of these four bureaucracies if a CRA 'protest' is issued by a 'community group.' . They use this leverage to get the banks to give them millions of dollars as well as promising to make a certain amount of bad loans in their communities.

To avoid the Community Reinvestment Act hassles, more than a few respectable institutions avoided doing business in minority communities. A lender could define its "community" as, say, stretching only five miles north and south from Mulholland Drive along the top of the Hollywood Hills.

Then, who's more likely to offer mortgages to Compton and Pacoima? Why, high-pressure bucket shop operations that have no skin in the game-they're just sales outfits that immediately repackage often fraudulently documented subprime mortgages and sell them to Wall Street.

Two events in 1992-a much-publicized study and a new piece of legislation-ratcheted up mortgage affirmative action.

U. of Dallas economist Stan Liebowitz recently pointed out:

Yet a 'landmark' 1992 study from the Boston Fed concluded that mortgage-lending discrimination was systemic.

That study was tremendously flawed-a colleague and I later showed that the data it had used contained thousands of egregious typos, such as loans with negative interest rates. Our study found no evidence of discrimination.

As Peter Brimelow noted in Forbes on January 4, 1993, blacks had the same default rates as whites, suggesting racial fairness. After all, if current financial institutions were really discriminating irrationally against minorities, it would be highly profitable for a non-discriminator to enter the market, just as the Brooklyn Dodgers won six National League pennants in the decade after they became the first team to sign black baseball players.

In reality, as Insight on the News reported in 1999:

A recent study by Freddie Mac, the federally chartered Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. that buys mortgages from banks to resell to investors, documents the shaky financial standing of minorities. The study found that nearly half of black borrowers and a third of Hispanics have "bad" credit records-that is, they have a record of delinquent loans or bankruptcy-compared with a quarter of whites. Moreover, income does not explain the disparity, according to the study. Among people with incomes of $65,000 to $75,000, 34 percent of blacks have bad credit, compared with 20 percent of whites.

Today, however, non-Asian minorities (NAMs) have much higher default rates, suggesting racial bias has entered the system of judging creditworthiness.

Liebowitz went on:

Yet the political agenda triumphed-with the president of the Boston Fed saying no new studies were needed, and the US comptroller of the currency seconding the motion.

No sooner had the ink dried on its discrimination study than the Boston Fed, clearly speaking for the entire Fed, produced a manual for mortgage lenders stating that: 'discrimination may be observed when a lender's underwriting policies contain arbitrary or outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or lower-income minority applicants.'

Liebowitz asked:

Some of these 'outdated' criteria included the size of the mortgage payment relative to income, credit history, savings history and income verification. Instead, the Boston Fed ruled that participation in a credit-counseling program should be taken as evidence of an applicant's ability to manage debt.

This is just standard operating procedure when the government wants private firms to impose racial quotas on themselves. The same procedure is used in hiring. Objective measurements that have 'disparate impact' on legally protected groups have been subjected to severe judicial and legislative review for decades, with the burden of proof severely resting on the firm.

Liebowitz goes on:

Sound crazy? You bet. Those 'outdated' standards existed to limit defaults. But bank regulators required the loosened underwriting standards, with approval by politicians and the chattering class. A 1995 strengthening of the Community Reinvestment Act required banks to find ways to provide mortgages to their poorer communities. It also let community activists intervene at yearly bank reviews, shaking the banks down for large pots of money.

Banks that got poor reviews were punished; some saw their merger plans frustrated; others faced direct legal challenges by the Justice Department.

Also in 1992, Congress passed the Government Sponsored Enterprises bill, which set "targets" (i.e., quotas) for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are quasi-governmental publicly-traded for-profit thing-a-ma-bobs, to encourage "affordable" and "underserved" (more or less minority) home loans.

Both the Clinton and Bush departments of Housing and Urban Development raised the quotas repeatedly. For example, initially, the Clinton Administration required 21% of these quasi-governmental mortgages must go to "underserved areas" (which are officially defined as "low-income census tracts or in low- or middle-income census tracts with high minority populations"), but the quota for 2008 established by the Bush Administration is 39 percent.

Reuters reported October 13, 1999:

The mortgage industry intends to pursue minorities with greater intensity as federal regulators turn up the heat to increase home ownership in underserved groups. 'We need to push into these underserved markets as much as we can,' said David Glenn, president and chief operating officer of Freddie Mac. .

In September, Freddie Mac launched a new lending program, based on research done in collaboration with five black colleges, to bring more African-Americans into the market.

The federal government in the meantime has increased pressure on lenders to seek out minorities, as well as low-income groups and borrowers with poor credit histories.

Fannie Mae recently reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to commit half its business to low-and moderate-income borrowers. That means half the mortgages bought by Fannie Mae would be from those income brackets.

Now, even the head of Freddie Mac has protested that the quotas have become "perverse." On March 12, 2008, Bloomberg News reported:

Freddie Mac Chief Executive Officer Richard Syron said he's urging changes in federal rules that enabled too many low- and moderate-income Americans to buy houses they can't afford. It's 'perverse' that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two biggest providers of money for U.S. home loans, have been encouraged 'to put people into homes that they end up losing,' Syron said at a meeting with analysts and investors in New York.

Ironically, Syron helped get us into this mess when he was head of the Boston Fed. His Freddie Mac biography boasts, "Syron also was sponsor of a landmark study on racial discrimination in mortgage lending ."

Similarly, the Clinton Administration used the Community Reinvestment Act and Fair Housing Act to set, in effect, racial quotas for private lenders. Cynthia Latta, an economist with DRI/McGraw-Hill, commented in 1999:

We have created a tremendous amount of risk.Banks are under a great deal of pressure to lend in these communities. It is very political

The Fed pumped so much money into the system after 9/11 that, with stocks in disfavor after the Internet bubble burst, the liquidity flooded into the home market, postponing the day of reckoning in housing until now.

Straightforward tax-and-spend programs were out of favor in the 1990s, but lean-on-lenders for the benefit of your political constituents is always in season.

For instance, an article entitled "Fannie Mae Bending Financial System to Create Homeowners, Says Raines" reported in 2000:

Yet home ownership is unevenly distributed in society, [Fannie Mae head Franklin] Raines said. He quoted the famous pronouncement by W.E.B. Du Bois, in The Souls of Black Folk in 1903, that the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line. Du Bois also observed that the size and arrangement of people's homes is an index of their condition.

In the early days of the movement, he said, there was a significant commitment of government funds. . Now, said Raines, more money is being invested in community development through private mechanisms, including Fannie Mae, which works through mainstream lenders to reach out to underserved communities.

During the 1990s, Fannie Mae pledged $1 trillion in capital over seven years to boost home ownership among underserved populations. Last spring, said Raines, the commitment was completed ahead of schedule, and Fannie Mae pledged a further $2 trillion to assist 18 million families during the next decade.

George W. Bush got in on the game too. The Bush Administration announced on June 17, 2002:

Today, President Bush announced a new goal to help increase the number of minority homeowners by at least 5.5 million before the end of the decade. The President also issued 'America's Homeownership Challenge' to the real estate and mortgage finance industries to join in his effort to increase the number of minority homeowners by taking concrete steps to tear down the barriers to homeownership that face minority families.

Bush called for, "Creating new mortgage products to meet the unique needs of recent immigrants."

The President bragged:

Many organizations have already responded to the President's challenge by committing to substantially increase by at least $440 billion, the financial commitment made by the government sponsored enterprises involved in the secondary mortgage market, specifically targeted toward the minority market.

$440 billion here, $440 billion there, pretty soon you are talking about real money.

In 2004, President Bush promoted his Zero Down Payment Program for FHA insured loans, thus giving Presidential respectability to the ruinous trend toward no money down deals. MSNBC reported in a March 27, 2004, article subtitled "President wants to add new minority home owners:"

He also proposes to make zero down-payment loans available to first-time buyers whose mortgages are guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration.

The Washington Post reported on June 10, 2008, in "How HUD Mortgage Policy Fed the Crisis:"

In 2004, as regulators warned that subprime lenders were saddling borrowers with mortgages they could not afford, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development helped fuel more of that risky lending. Eager to put more low-income and minority families into their own homes, the agency required that two government-chartered mortgage finance firms purchase far more 'affordable' loans made to these borrowers. . Housing experts and some congressional leaders now view those decisions as mistakes that contributed to an escalation of subprime lending that is roiling the U.S. economy.

None of this was controversial at the time, in part because being oblivious to the obvious about minorities is the hallmark of authority these days.

Thus, the home ownership increased over the 1994-2004 period by 8.6% for non-Hispanic whites, but by 16.1% for blacks and 16.7% for Latinos. I calculate that ethnic share changes alone between 1994-2004 would have driven down home ownership rates by 1 to 2 points. Instead, they went up 4 points.

Similarly, from 1994-2004, the ownership rate for married couples went up 7.8%-but by 15.2% for female-headed families.

One mystery remains: Why was Wall Street was so credulous about all these dubious mortgages?

Obviously, greed and fear are always at war on Wall Street. Perhaps, though, one reason greed outgunned fear while phony subprime mortgages were running amok in recent years was that so many were going to non-Asian minorities and that Wall Streeters assumed that the federal government would bail them out rather than see so many NAMs turned out on the street.

Further, lots of immigrants actually do have more income than they report to the IRS-illegal immigrants often get paid in cash under the table. As USA Today reported in 2007:

Hispanic families are more apt to have undocumented income, leading them to lenders who make loans without income verification, according to the National Council of La Raza.

Quite a few of the legal immigrants in Southern California are from mercantile minorities in West Asia who consider paying taxes something that only chumps do. The presence of all these immigrants who work in a grey market cash economy gives a mortgage company like Countrywide a rationalization for believing loan applicants when they put down an income figure that's far above what they can document from their 1040: Who knows? Maybe Uncle Adnan's import-export business really does generate enough cash to cover the loan. Who can tell for sure?

As Fred Dickey showed in his 2003 Los Angeles Times Magazine article "Undermining American Workers," immigration has driven a large fraction of California's economy underground. Not only can't it be taxed, but it can't be documented either.

And the problem is not just that "undocumented workers" get "undocumented mortgages." It's also that so many others get drawn into the "undocumented income" racket. For example, many of the highest rates of foreclosure are in fast-growing boomtowns like Las Vegas and exurbs like Palmdale, CA, where so many people are in the contracting business building and upgrading housing.

When some of these contractors get a mortgage for their own homes and the bank asks them to document their income, they wink and imply: "My employees don't want me to keep a lot of documents on them, so I pass my savings on to my customers who don't want me to keep a lot of documents on them either. Just trust me."

And many contractors were getting rich in the housing boom, so they were safe bets as long as the boom went on even if they wouldn't document their income. But a lot of the people applying for mortgages by claiming to be successful cash-only businessmen weren't successful, and were just staying afloat by refinancing their mortgages as interest rates dropped and home prices went up. Ultimately, even the ones who were raking in the cash during the Bubble got hammered when the housing construction boom ended.

Finally, a compounding factor in the subprime debacle was that these complicated exploding adjustable rate subprime mortgages were disproportionately handed out to people who aren't very good with numbers. For example, the Washington Post profiled the fraudulent straw-man mortgage received by a Honduran immigrant cook named Glenda Ortiz, who paid "triple what the house had sold for the year before, and $5,000 more than the asking price.":

She agreed to a high-interest loan that would cost her more than $3,000 a month, more than 70 percent of the $4,200 that she and her husband brought home monthly. She signed papers in English that she didn't understand. One said she was married to a man she didn't know. She placed her financial future in the hands of a woman she barely knew who sold cosmetics and jewelry door to door. She sought no one else's advice.

In contrast, a list of the ten places with the lowest ratio of subprime to normal mortgages consists of sophisticated San Francisco and nine classic college towns, such as Ithaca, NY.

In summary, while blame for this economic fiasco is deservedly widespread, multiculturalism bears a much larger share of the shame than it's gotten so far.

As Brimelow wrote in National Review in 1993:

Classical socialism called for direct state ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. Neosocialism just aims at political control. Socialism claimed to be more efficient. Neosocialism claims to be more equitable. Above all, neosocialism professes to combat 'racism,' since this magic word cows all opposition.




Jury duty in South Africa was done away with a long time ago.

South Africa has always had a system based on Roman Dutch law rather than Anglo Saxon common law. But the abolition happened because nu jury ever convicted a man for smuggling diamonds. They didn't see a need for the government to uphold de beers diamond monopoly.

Secondly An all white jury was prone to convict a black man of any crime even when he was obviously innocent.

One magistrate after a black had been convicted of stealing something (presumably from a white) and who was obviously innocent sentence the black to jail till the court sat, and then promptly sat down and released the man. They talked with jurors as to why they convicted the black and they said yes he was obviously innocent but they wanted to send a message.

So in multi cultural societies juries are about sending messages and protecting identities rather than seeking justice.

Probably America will ultimately have to abandon the jury system.

Judges are of course impartial unbiased and all-knowing and give perfect judgments.



OJ Simpson?






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Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Playhouse 90 episode to which you referred is this one:


The entire series is available on DVD here:


-- Roland Dobbins


Time and Carbon 

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

In mail for the Glorious Fourth, your correspondent "Mark D" wrote:

"Coal has been established as a fossilized biomass. Environmentalist/Global warming fanatics object to our use of it because of the carbon dioxide that it releases into our atmosphere. I have a question for them, “Where did that carbon exist prior to being locked up in the coal reserves?” After much hemming and hawing the logical answer is that it was in the air and oceans. The use of coal then is returning earth to a previous CO2 levels."

Global atmospheric CO2 levels have risen, and as you have repeatedly pointed out, running an uncontrolled atmospheric "experiment" by raising the CO2 level of the atmosphere is probably not a good thing to do.

Forgetting, for the moment, whatever role this does or does not play in whether or no there be "global climate change", simple devotion to rational discussion leads me to point out the logical fallacy in Mark D''s comment: the layers of coal we burn contain carbon removed one year at a time over millions of years. At current rates of usage, we will have released all of the carbon from those millions of years in about a thousand years.

It's as if you saved up one cookie a day for a thousand days, and then in one day decided to eat all those cookies.

It -might- not be a good thing to do.

One thousand nuclear power plants will do more to save humanity from nest fouling and foster global wealth than anything else we might do. I would vote for a Yellow Dog if he had that on his ticket.

By the way, CNN ran a special today (July 4, 2008) titled "We were warned: Out of gas". In it Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Music, Virgin Airways and Virgin Galactic) was interviewed, and told of how three years ago he decided to hedge against rising fuel costs rising for his airline by buying his own oil refinery, and investing in an expansion of fuel production. Then his "friends" Al and Ted talked him out of it. Al and Ted as in Gore and Turner. So instead of buying and expanding production of an oil refinery, he: put three billion dollars into Corn Ethanol.

I suppose even bright people like Branson have their off days, but three billion is a hell of a price to pay for taking bad avice from your "friends".

I would love to see if Ted and Al bought corn futures? After all, wouldn't that count as a "Carbon Offset"?

After all,. is not Doing Well Whilst Doing Good the hallmark of "The Elect"? Brother Al certainly appears of the Opinion that he is One of The Chosen, as well as Primus Pilus of the Environmental Cohort.

If Holy State doth lead to Holy Warre, what about the Environmental State?


As I have said, I tend to be conservative: deliberately raising the CO2 level doesn't look like a good idea. I am less afraid of somewhat higher CO2 levels, and somewhat warmer climates, than I am of ice; and until we know more about what engines drive climate change -- you can't warm Earth without warming the seas, and we don't know a lot about sea temperatures and nothing at all about El Nino La Nina phenomena -- until we have more information, it is unwise to spend much in the way of scarce resources in "fixing" what we don't understand.

The US appears to be headed for a Great Depression, and the incoming administration and Congress seem determined to make that happen, with increased regulations and taxes and "creating jobs" by expanding the bureaucracy. The only way out of all this is increased production, and the only utterly reliable correlation with increased wealth and production is a negative correlation with the cost of energy.

The US has chosen to invest trillions in war in order to continue paying trillions to the Middle East for overpriced energy.

The simple announcement that the US will put America First in energy policies, that we will build new refineries, drill in the Gulf (where Castro is drilling) and build nuclear power plants (as France is doing now) would cause a huge drop in oil futures prices, which would drive many speculators out of the market; but Barack Obama has said that we can do nothing about gasoline prices, and of course He Speaks Truth as Revealed.

We continue to sow the wind.


CoDominium Universe

Jerry, I've just got to ask, do you think there is any likelihood in the 21st century of something like the CoDo rising? I know right now the US is in a bit of an economic pickle (not the first time, of course), but you can certainly see the two major former Communist powers (as far as I'm concerned, China is only Communist in name) are on the ascendancy. In particular Russia has come back to life in a rather stunning (if in many ways all too familiar and alarming) way. Do you think some some sort of CoDominium-style system will develop out of this, or do entities like the EU mean there are just too many blocs now to make that possible?

-- Aaron Clausen

The question is sufficiently important that I have hesitated to write on the subject. It does appear that many elements of the CoDominum are emerging, including suppression as a means of scientific discussion. Global Warming Denial?

But NO: I do not believe that a CoDominium later in this century is impossible. I note that Herman Kahn observed that the natural state of mankind seems to be empire, and the natural tendency of empire is to expand until it runs up against a similarly strong empire. I have seen little to persuade me that Herman was wrong on this.


This is part of a long discussion I have wearied of:

Incidentally, at my high school alma mater, New York City's prestigious Stuyvesant High School - which is widely regarded as the premier American high school devoted to the sciences, mathematics and technology - its principal - who teaches an advanced introductory level physics course to a class of entering freshmen - has pledged that Intelligent Design will never be taught there while he continues serving as its principal. I hope other American high school principals will follow in his lead.

Sincerely yours,



My position on Intelligent Design is that it has not made its case, but that suppression is not the proper way to deal with the subject. And I continue to recall 4th Grade when Sister Mary Elizabeth pretended to believe in a flat earth, and required us to prove her wrong -- since clearly none of us had any direct evidence either way. The discussion went on for 2 days, and I learned about the whole notion of rational argument. And Brother Fidelis in high school taught evolution even though the Scopes Law was on the books in Tennessee.

I didn't think suppressing the teaching of evolution was a good idea then; and I don't think suppression of intellectual arguments is a good idea now. As to the fear that one's intellectual inferiors will be deceived, I think that fear has been used to justify every sort of suppression.


IQ and short term memory

In regards to the articles you linked to on Chaos Manor:

Not that this is any proof of correlation, but an interesting note...

I used to play a hand held game called "Touch Me". A lot like "Simon", but it allowed you two mistakes. I made it through courses in Chemistry through Physics with a 4.0, all without ever taking notes. On the "Touch Me" game, I got to a point where I often could repeat sequences into the nineties.

Years ago, I found a great download online called "Recub2000". It has many variables that can adjust the challenge level, and I added a "sound only" skin.

My daughters are 10 and under, but I make them play it all the time.

I have very little programming experience, buy want to try to write a similar app for the iPhone. Of course, if anyone else wants to do it, I wont cry ;-)


ps - What a great appearance on TWiT this week. Your input was fantastic and well appreciated... Cheers to your health!

If short term memory is an important part of intelligence, I am in trouble. My short term memory consists largely of my logs.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but not by a lot. I do seem to be able to "tool up" for any particular discussion, but I can no longer juggle a dozen balls at once. Ah well. I seem to be making sense, still, and given The Lump and 50,000 rad, that's a blessing.


The following is an excerpt from a longer discussion that discouraged me:

Until now I had the utmost admiration for your excellent prose and vivid imagination in creating memorable characters like John Christian Falkenberg and Roderick Harold, Admrial Lord Blaine from your "Co -Dominion" novels and stories. Back in the 1970s I thought you and Orson Scott Card were two of our most interesting writers - along with Larry Niven of course - of memorable, quite exceptional, space opera science fiction. Seems like my admiration and enthusiasm were sadly misplaced.

In closing, I urge you to read Ken Miller's "Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul", and then, if you have time, the book co-written by Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross, "Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design".

To which I have only this reply: I really do not consider the question of what happens with perhaps 100 mid-western school districts a battle for America's soul. Or perhaps I do, since  the principle seems to be that unless there is a central censorship of what is taught in local school, America will have lost its soul.

I will also say that I thought the CoDominium stories a warning, and I did not consider BuPhysics the heroes.





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Sunday, July 6, 2008     

Petronius said

"running an uncontrolled atmospheric "experiment" by raising the CO2 level of the atmosphere is probably not a good thing to do"

To sum extent this is true in that the precautionary principle is a sensible idea so long as it is purely precautionery & not the "nothing should ever be done for the first time principle".*

However the one thing we know for certain about increased CO2 is that it increases plant growth which is probably on balance a good thing for food eating creatures.

* From Yes Minister a wonderful British comedy about our civil service. Filmed in the 1970s the civil servant is referring to the guiding principle of all government policy. That it is also the guiding principle of the Greens may be a coincidence.

You said

"The US appears to be headed for a Great Depression, and the incoming administration and Congress seem determined to make that happen"

If the Chinese economy continues growing at 10% a year I suspect that would make it plain that it was Washington's fault. In which case declarations of independence from the more competent states would look like the most credible option. Whatever Heinlein thought of that (in Friday) it might be a good thing for the same reason that I oppose the EU - that competing small governments limit each other's ability to screw up.

Neil Craig


The Pit of Life and Death


This story is about the anaconda mine in Butte, Montana:


It seems that water is collecting in the old pit, and some organisms are growing in the poisonous brew.

What makes it poison? Dissolved heavy metals. And these organisms concentrate those metals. And they make medically interesting proteins.

It's worth a read.



ID / Something completely different 

Dr Pournelle

"I do not find that there is much interest among American students in the whole question of scientific method and rational argument." http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2008/Q2/view525.html <Saturday, July 5, 2008>

That may be because they have never been exposed to them in the schools.

When I was in school, science was taught as a progression from success to success. The latest successful theories were taught without differentiating them from laws, such as the Law of Gravity. Displaced theories were given no time.

"I have more faith in rational discussion than I do in censorship as a means of enforcing correct opinions." Ibid.

I do not mean disrespect, but that view places you in a small minority. There is an old adage among lawyers: When you have the law, argue the law; when you have the facts, argue the facts; when you have neither, shout. Thoughtful discourse is on the wane. It has been supplanted by shouting.

I have applauded you for presenting truth at Chaos Manor and hosting intelligent discussions of controversial topics. But on Intelligent Design . . . I am reminded of a line from Yes, Minister: If you must do this damned silly thing, don't do it in this damned silly way.

Perhaps I misread you. My impression is that you hold that competing theories should be taught in school to develop students' ability to choose among them on a rational basis. If that is indeed the case, may I suggest that Evolution vs. Intelligent Design is not the best choice of battlefield. It is too fraught with emotional attachment and religious fanaticism --on both sides. If the goal is to teach students how to marshal evidence and to choose from among competing theories on a rational basis, this is not the best topic for that education.

I would suggest the Theory of Relativity is a better suited to the purpose. Einstein's theory was -- to my knowledge -- last challenged in 1964 by Branz and Dicke. Einstein's theory proved the better and the theory of Mssrs Branz and Dicke passed into historical obscurity. In 200 years, the latter will be forgotten.

Will another theory supplant Einstein's as Einstein's did Newton's? I hope so. My physics classmates all saw the problems with the theory. Some went on to careers in physics. Why hasn't one of them changed the world as did Einstein? I dunno.

I am not aware of anyone who holds religious convictions for or against relativity. It is a safe place where one can teach students to think and choose for themselves. Once the students have learned on safe ground how to compare rationally, then they can be let loose onto the battlefield of Evolution vs. Intelligent Design.

Fight where you can win. Reinforce victory.

Live long and prosper

h lynn keith

You are certainly welcome to make your pitch to your local school board. I'd say make one to mine, but to get an appointment with the LA School Board requires months and you get 7 minutes. (IE it is hardly what I would call local.)

Possony used to say that either one believes in rational discussion, or one does not; and that either one believes that the truth eventually will out so long as it has strong champions who don't compromise, or you don't. The media is not concerned with truth, and few politicians have any such concerns. If rational debate has no champions, it certainly cannot prevail.

Regarding physics: isn't the current state of physics almost guaranteed by the grants structure and "peer review"? String theory doesn't seem to have got us very far, yet everyone seems to be required to learn it. I can think of similar situations in the history of the sciences, and the dominance of a consensus hasn't always been a good thing.


Forum Discussion 

Hi, Jerry. While I’m certain that a quasi-open forum at Chaos Manor would be fascinating to read, I am _FAR_ more interested in the Mamelukes novel, and the next “Hammer/Footfall/Big Impact” Book. Clone yourself, and have one of your clones run the forum. I note that Bob Thompson has several forums, but other people run them and he seems pretty much hands-off with them.

Intelligent Design; an interesting topic, and I’m not sure that there are any answers. If Hoyle’s “panspermia” concept has any truth to it, then the ultimate origin to life may well be “out there”, and undiscoverable at the bottom of a 9.8m/sec/sec gravity well. At some point, reasonable people have to say “We don’t know… yet” and be satisfied with that.

-- Ken Mitchell


Secrets of Stradivarius Explained, 


It seems that Stradivarius benefited from the Little Ice Age:


"Dutch researchers ran five [Stradivarius instruments] through a CT scanner. The resulting three-dimensional X-rays revealed that wood used in Stradivari's violins possessed an exceptionally uniform density, with little variation in growth rings added by trees each season. . . . Fortunately for Stradivari, he lived during the Little Ice Age: trees grew little more in summer than in winter. Hence the uniformly dense wood, . . . "



Battery Energy Density and Ethanol


We can probably generate enough electricity using nuclear, solar power, wind energy, and whatever else is at hand to meet our needs for the foreseeable future. But we also need a portable fuel to use in vehicles. Barring dramatic breakthroughs in battery energy density, if it's going to be a made in the USA fuel, it's going to be hydrogen or ethanol. Hydrogen is very difficult to retrofit; ethanol is absurdly easy.

I just got back from the Society of Automotive Engineers Conference.

Lot's of exciting developments in batteries.

My $0.02 ... we should require the ethanol plants to be run using electricity from Nukes.

If the midwest is going to get subsidies for their corn they should be willing to play host to all the nuke plants also. If they complain and turn NIMBY ... that state should lose their corn subsidy.

Glowing corn that pops itself !!! Hmmmm tasty.

p.s. That last line is a joke. I'm a big fan of nukes. I think the federal government should place a nuclear energy reactor on every military base and donate the electricy to the grid. This should bypass all the state regulations. We have proven safe reactors in our Navy fleet. Just make about 100 new reactors and place them on our Army and airforce bases.

 Jim Coffey

Good thinking.


Enhanced Photosynthesis

I have been following the debate on burning food, and it occurred to me that you had commented on this a long time ago in "A Step Farther Out". You wrote then that increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis in plants would go a long way to increasing crop yields and reducing the amount of land needed to support a person.

It seems to me that this sort of R&D Manhattan project could be sold as a "triple play"; the enhanced plants would consume a great deal more carbon dioxide than conventional plants, satisfying the "Global Warming" crowd (regardless of the actual merit of that argument), the ability to grow more food on the same amount of land would lay fears of starvation and food shortages to rest, and those who support a conversion to biofuels would also see a satisfying increase in the amount of biomass available to convert to fuels.

Of course there would be the inevitable counter action by those who would claim that "triffids" would overrun the land, but the key to neutralizing this sort of scare mongering would simply be the vast number of disparate groups that would see satisfactory outcomes from a successful implementation. Would the average voter be more concerned about the possibility of "triffids" or the fact that beef, bread and beer are coming down in price? I'd put my money on beer......

Arthur Majoor


"a fresh water crisis looming"


Two or three years ago, Michigan quietly implemented a *very* draconian measure -- the state now meters the water that farmers pump from their own wells, on their own land!

Mind you, this is *not* "the great southwest" (or even "the great plains," with their huge circular irrigated fields) -- this is "The Great Lakes State" -- we are literally *swimming* in the stuff! (Or, would be, if not for the "Drainage Commissions.") Every county has an office known as the "Drainage Commission" -- its purpose is to oversee the placement and maintenance of "drainage tile" -- big clay pipes that keep farm fields from RETURNING to *swampland* conditions!

This is necessary, because *prior* to the "drainage of Michigan," the state was *largely* swampland! Indians traveled from Chicago to Saginaw via canoe!

It is *only* due to the massive drainage system -- which pulls the water *out* of the farmland, and drains it -- ultimately into the rivers that feed the Great Lakes -- that we have dry land *to* farm!

Yet, they are forcing farmers to meter their *own* water.

As is typical with statist incrementalism, it "only" applies to people with well pumps over a certain diameter (ours is "only" four inches -- enough to produce a geyser from the water table a mere fifty feet below us -- but, is thankfully below the "must meter" limit -- for now). And, "there is no *charge* for the water" -- for now. (Isn't *that* special -- they're not *charging* people for their OWN water! For this, we must be thankful, praise be unto Our Masters.)

I view this as largely poltical (which means, that when people are so busy worrying about the constant gnawing about their ankles, they will be too busy to notice -- or object to -- *other* transgressions -- and, eventually morphing into a hidden tax).

I also note the recent hubbub about "other states" making eyes at the water in the Great Lakes. Yes, we MUST forbid them access to OUR water! It is of *crucial* importance to OUR states that the water flow out into the Atlantic Ocean, rather than be sold to the southern states, to grow crops!

I also note the death of "The Grand Canal" project of a few years back, which would have comprised a sea wall across Hudson's Bay -- and, a few years for the bay's contents to purge itself of the brackish water currently filling it -- and *then*, the *massive* amounts of FRESH WATER being sold to the USA, for use in the southwest.

Yes, FAR better that *that* fresh water continue to flow into the ocean, than to be used to grow crops and provide drinking water for people and livestock.

Our grandchildren will curse our generation.



'Like other parishioners interviewed, Ms. Gubareva said she supported freedom of religion.'

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-- Roland Dobbins


IQ, Wealth, and Demographic Winter

Dr. Pournelle,

I believe an important factor that has kept the "genius genes" distributed in the general population has been a historical lack of educational and career opportunities for women. Women married and had children with limited choices.

Let me pause for a moment to state that I am personally a huge supporter of choice for women. I just attended a high school assembly where my daughter received 2 departmental awards in her honors classes. Her mother - an MD - and I were delighted.

I believe that IQ is becoming correlated with marriage (Perhaps one of your many knowledgeable readers could enlighten me. I am particularly intrigued by the conditional probabilities of men versus women for this case.). The logical outcome of this would be a shrinking population of (mostly prosperous) intellectually elite. Ironically, education has long been viewed as a road to opportunity for the masses. It may become the vehicle for stratification of society.

Steve Chu

This is pretty much covered in the Bell Curve. The results are not really predictable.


Subject: Illegal aliens in Britain are leaving the country


It is possible that if Clinton/Obama get their way and we have universal healthcare, they may inadvertently solve the immigration issue. The Iron Law meets the Law of Unintended Consequences.


Christopher Mazuk


Depression or not

Jerry I find comments about depression interesting but futile, to those who practice life on the right side of the bell curve recession or depression are disastrous. To those who have the skills to operate to either side of the curve there are more jobs even in a depression than there are qualified workers to fill them. Recession layoffs always come from middle and upper middle management because these are the least critical jobs and the easiest to do without in crunch time. Now they can dump a few of the basic non-skilled types also because they are easy to replace from the streets when things pick up.

Who does not get laid off, the key department people that train the other people and can run all the equipment themselves in an emergency, plus these people can usually do the repairs as well. These people only get laid off if the plant closes for good and if it does they will have an equivalent job in a few weeks if not a few days. Since I left the service in 1961 I have never been out of work more than a couple of weeks unless I wanted personal time off for some reason. My current boss is keeping me from retiring because he can not find anyone to do the jobs I do around the company.

On the so-called great depression my grandfather had at least one job through the whole thing all the time. Sometimes he had more than one job and for a couple of years he had three jobs keeping him going 8 to 16 hours a day and 7 days a week with no time off. My mother had work all the way through it as did my aunts and uncles. My grandmother was even talked into taking in laundry and other work she could do at home because people could not find anybody to do the work. It is like the so called immigration mess, the only reason it exists is because young people in or just out of school do not want the hands on jobs their fathers and grandfathers worked at. They want a clean executive desk job right out of school with no definable job experience.

We get several a year forced by the EDD to go out and walk the streets for work. They come in and when we show them the entry-level jobs we have available they ask for a business card to prove they had been there and jump in their car and leave. We have an immigrant labor problem because we are not filling those entry jobs from their normal source, the 16 to 24 year olds getting their first jobs and finding their way in life. The kids today want to jump that learning skills phase and proceed to the extraneous middle management jobs with little work and high pay. This leaves a huge vacuum in industry that needs to be filled and as we all know nature abhors a vacuum and will fill it in one way or another.

If that vacuum did not exist there would be no border jumpers trying to get here to fill those jobs.

-- James Early





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