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Hatfill Redux


I was beginning to wonder if the media was going to run totally uncritically with the FBI's "solution" to the anthrax crimes of fall '01. I'm encouraged to have seen at least some signs of skepticism here and there in the last day or two, although the mainstream outlets largely still seem to be taking it all at face value.

Aside from the obvious questions about how they ruled out islamic sources in pursuing this lone-scientist theory almost from the start, aside from the obvious possibility that the FBI after failing to bully one scientist into submission (good on you, Mr. Hatfill) found themselves another less preternaturally stiff-necked, it occurs to me to wonder whether the shrink's leaked diagnosis of rage and despair shouldn't have an asterisk by it - "* possibly justified after years of hounding by government agents, see Hatfill case for examples." And then there's the question of, given the FBI's recent track record of repeated DNA-matching botches, how seriously should we take claims that they precisely matched the attack anthrax DNA to that from the dead man's lab? When by previous reports both were basically a standard "Ames" strain that had been distributed to labs around the world for twenty years?

This does very little to undermine my confidence in federal law enforcement, mind, because based on their record in recent decades I already had very little confidence to undermine. As you say, the real world just doesn't very well support a 14-year old's admiration for those flawless G-Men we'd read all about.


There is more this morning, and I am willing to listen for a while. Perhaps they had real evidence in this case, as opposed to the Hatfill case. Perhaps.


Evidence in Anthrax Case Is Said to Be Primarily Circumstantia


Ah, now it is starting to come to light. It turns out the "The evidence amassed by F.B.I. investigators against Dr. Bruce E. Ivins . . . was largely circumstantial, and a grand jury in Washington was planning to hear several more weeks of testimony before issuing an indictment, a person who has been briefed on the investigation said on Sunday. While genetic analysis had linked the anthrax letters to a supply of the deadly bacterium in Dr. Ivins's laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., at least 10 people had access to the flask containing that anthrax . . ."


This makes much more sense. The FBI comes in and upends the man's rooms and leaves a mess. This is the kind of thing one does to put pressure on someone. If they thought they had had firm evidence, they wouldn't have gone fishing as they did.

And then there's the psychiatrist who calls the man a sociopath. I'm sorry. The man has been at one job for decades, married for a long time. By definition, he can't be a sociopath. And then the other nice stuff he did.

And why did Ivins commit suicide? One is tempted to say that prosecution has become persecution - a trend you and Larry pointed to in Oath of Fealty. Perhaps he wanted to spare himself the aggravation of the legal proceedings, and his family the expense of the defense. With all the harassment and such, I'll bet it wouldn't take much persuading to get a jury to find that the FBI drove this man to suffering and suicide.

More bucks out the door, and is anyone convinced that the FBI has the right universe, much less the right man? For example: in 2001 I read about one of the 9/11 conspirators coming in to an ER with a lesion that looked like cutaneous anthrax. I haven't seen anything about that since then.

This all reminds me of the Ramsey case in Colorado. The family left the state to force the local cops to focus on someone other than the parents. One can imagine the marathon interrogations they had planned. And in the end, DNA evidence points toward someone not yet known.

What is important about this is what I call The Streetlight Effect. Early in my training I heard theories of how antidepressants work. This chemical. That chemical. One theory after another, but none really explained why there was a lag in antidepressant effect. Seen in light of the streetlight effect, it all makes sense:

You lose a nickel at night on a dark street. You can't see a thing except under the streetlights. So you look there.

OK, so all you know about the biochemical functioning of the brain comes from running chemical tests. If you don't know what to test for, you won't see it. This is why the opioid receptors were not known until a couple of decades ago, and cannabinoid receptors even more recently. So now it turns out that antidepressants stimulate new cell growth, in essence healing parts of the brain that are damaged in depression. All those other explanations, aren't.

And then we have this sad comment from the June 2006 Wired on the demise of chemistry sets:


The story starts off with the arrest - in their underwear - of the husband and wife who run United Nuclear Scientific Supplies, a mail-order company that sends chemicals are other neat stuff to "amateur scientists, students, teachers, and law enforcement professionals." As of 2006 they were still facing charges for sending their wares through the mail.

It seems to me that this is another example of The Streetlight Effect: the feds can't get at terrorists - the target of the laws which have made many ingredients of chemistry sets illegal - so they arrest the people who are ready to hand.

I feel safer by the day.

And it's not the President's fault.


I keep hoping that the FBI got it right this time. It would be well for the nation to have competence in that organization.

And see below.


Letter from Ireland

Diane and I took a break to explore Ulster, County Meath, Dublin, and the Wicklow Mountains. We were scouting Ireland in preparation for a two-week trip next summer. Pictures are posted on my blog
ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php> . Visited the New Grange complex, Trinity College, various museums, and a monastery. Learned a lot about recent Irish history during a guided walk of Dublin led by a specialist in the subject.

Ireland--the Celtic Tiger--recently 'caught a cold' and the real estate boom here has stopped booming--full stop. Despite that, Ireland remains more dynamic than the UK.

On workload: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7536400.stm

The UK Government pays only part of the cost of educating university students--the remainder is covered by fees (unpopular with UK students as they are repaid via a long-term income tax surcharge) and tuition payments by non-UK students. This won't help the situation: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7532688.stm

Had a long talk with a Scottish couple about why Labour lost the recent bye-election for one of their safest seats. The Scottish National Party has a one seat majority in the Scottish parliament, and so is very cautious in governing. By not doing very much, they don't make many mistakes--unlike Gordon Brown's Labour Government. Brown has an interesting style. He usually seems to think he's the smartest man in the room and is unwilling to admit to ever making a mistake. He doesn't have new ideas, either, and his Stalinist management style reminds many people of Old Labour--a very bad idea in the UK. The latest fiasco was this year's school exams--Brown had brought in EDS to manage the process. I can tell you from experience that coming in to replace an entrenched incumbent is bad news--the people you need to do the job (here exam marking) take advantage of the change of management to rethink whether they want the grief, especially if the pay is low. So it didn't help that EDS has a reputation for low- balling IT projects. The result was that lots of students didn't get their results, and many of the results they did get were wrong. It's just as well the rules were changed after the Long Parliament, and Brown has to call an election eventually. The current betting is that Labour will end up with about 20 MPs. There's a back-bench revolt brewing, since almost anyone else would be more popular with the UK public than Brown. However, it will take some hard work to pry his hands off the steering wheel--reminds me of the Soviet leadership dilemma at the very end of the Cold War.

-- "If academic research is not devoted to finding the truth, it is a form of propaganda, and not necessarily to be preferred to other forms, much cheaper and perhaps more persuasive." (Russell 1993) Harry Erwin


Subj: Vista: Change Is Not Reform!

Your recent adventures in migrating to Vista keep reminding me of John Randolph of Roanoke, Way Back When, screaming, "Change is not Reform!"

Ref: Russell Kirk, _The Conservative Mind_, 7th Revised Edition, Chapter V.

(Not that _you_ need the reference, but some of your readers may find it ... edifying?)

It's a little scary how well Randolph's observations transpose from the Key of Political Philosophy to the Key of Software Product Development and Maintenance:

>>It has been better said, than I am capable of saying it, that the lust for innovation -- for it is a lust -- that is the proper term for an unlawful desire -- this _rerum novarum lubido_ -- has been the death of all Republics....Recollect that change is not always amendment. Remember that you have to reconcile to new institutions the whole mass of those who are contented with what they have, and seek no change -- and besides these, all the disappointed of the other class....<<

(Randolph, quoted in Kirk, _op. cit._, pp. 166-167)

I don't think I'd go quite so far as to say we need a Lycurgus of User Interface Specification, but....

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com



"Last Ice Age happened in less than year say scientists - Scotsman.com News"


"THE last ice age 13,000 years ago took hold in just one year, more than ten times quicker than previously believed, scientists have warned. Rather than a gradual cooling over a decade, the ice age plunged Europe into the deep freeze, German Research Centre for Geosciences at Potsdam said."

I knew and reported in  the 1970's that all the evidence showed that Britain went from deciduous trees to being under a kilometer of ice in well under a hundred years; but this is the first I have heard that it happened in one Fimbulwinter. It's pretty clear that climate change can be a lot more dramatic than we knew -- and that we don't have a lot of control over it.


Global Warming Did It! Well, Maybe Not. By Joel Achenbach Sunday, August 3, 2008


Quoting from the article:

"Equivocation isn't a sign of cognitive weakness. Uncertainty is intrinsic to the scientific process, and sometimes you have to have the courage to stand up and say, 'Maybe.' "

A geologist I once knew told me that he, as a geologist, had a particular way of looking at things. When he found an interesting stratum he'd look at it carefully for a time but, fairly early on, he'd move away some distance so that he could see how that stratum fit into the broader geology, putting it into the proper context. Achenbach's article reminded me of the geologist's advice.



MIT makes solar energy breakthrough

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they’ve discovered a new way to store solar energy so that the non-polluting power can heat homes even when the sun isn’t shining. “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years,”...

Click here for the full article

Larry May



Hope springs eternal with the hydrogen economy:




The key to energy independence is cheap storage of energy gathered from dispersed sources. There seems to be some progress in that.




"August 04, 2008

ARNOLD KLING ASKS AN INCONVENIENT QUESTION: <http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2008/07/an_inconvenient.html

Go through a mental list of major government programs, and ask how many of them you would enact today in their current formats.

Social Security? Even if you like the concept, if you had it to do over again you would make it less susceptible to demographic imbalances.

Medicare? Agriculture policy? Energy policy?

If you step back and look at it, the problem of fragile by design
 that I wrote about concerning Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae is widespread in top-down solutions. And yet, like Charlie Brown getting ready to kick a football, we seem to have an infinite capacity to believe that it will be different this time. We think that the next top-down design introduced by government will work fine, it will never degrade, and we won't find ourselves ten or twenty years down the road wondering how such a mess was created.

Plus, related thoughts on the American welfare state: <http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/
2008/08/of_human_design.html>  "Each program was designed. But together they add up to something than no one would have intended--a hodgepodge of subsidies and credits that allow some poor people to fall through the cracks and provide many subsidies to the affluent."

posted at 07:49 AM by Glenn Reynolds"

Somebody might reasonably pen a rule about that sort of thing.




I'm aware that Faster-Than-Light-Travel => Time-Travel (paradoxes can be avoided) => P=NP. See <http://www.scottaaronson.com/talks/npcomplete.ppt

I'm wondering if someone a lot smarter that I am--perhaps Gordon Brown--could come up with a proof that P=NP => Time-Travel => Faster- Than-Light-Travel.

Perhaps the purpose of the universe is to solve an NP problem...

-- "All ... pleas of convenience, even if their factual base is sound, are inadmissible in principle." (Russell 1993) Harry Erwin




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Tuesday,  August 5, 2008

EDS not guilty

Dear Dr Pournelle,

Harry Erwin has misplaced one letter in his comments on the testing debacle in the UK. The fault this time lies not with EDS but with ETS Europe, an offshoot of a company based in Princeton, New Jersey.


Peter D Morgan


Tuesday's Ivins Round-up

Hi Jerry,

Sue here.

Well, as the evidence drips out (through those who can't be identified because they aren't suppose to talk! Don't you love it?!) there are some unsettling revelations.

First, the social worker, in my mind, was clearly in over her head. She also has a criminal record for possession of drug paraphernalia and DUI. That alone says to me she may be one of those classic therapists who needed therapy and then became a therapist. Some of her pleadings to the judge sound hysterical. The story about the therapist appears at the end of the story in The Trentonian.

"In the past year, the FBI has turned its attention to Ivins, who a therapist said had a history of homicidal and sociopathic behavior. Social worker Jean C. Duley won a protective order against Ivins on July 24 after telling a judge the scientist was a homicidal sociopath.

"Duley, 45, also has a minor criminal record, according to court records. She pleaded guilty in April to driving under the influence and was fined $500 and placed on probation for nearly a year. In October 2006, she pleaded guilty to reckless driving and was fined $580. A 1992 charge of possessing drug paraphernalia was dismissed."

Next, The third URL under the Frederick News-Post reveals that Ivins was about to be committed to Shepard Pratt.

"Ivins was supposed to have a permanent commitment hearing at Sheppard Pratt, but Duley said his attorney advised him to check himself in voluntarily so that he may leave when he wished. Drawbaugh told the court he probably was being released from the hospital as the hearing was going on."

It was the therapist who apparently had Ivins removed from Ft. Detrick. Also from the Frederick News-Post:

"Duley was concerned because she said she knew him so well, so she tried to get as many details about the attacks as possible. The next day, July 10, she called the Frederick Police Department who removed him from USAMRIID at Fort Detrick and had him committed to Frederick Memorial Hospital."

While the above is quite troubling, the revelations in this morning's New York Times were the most unsettling; and if true, then the FBI has become the entity you and my husband see.

"They had even intensively questioned his adopted children, Andrew and Amanda, now both 24, with the authorities telling his son that he might be able to collect the $2.5 million reward for solving the case and buy a sports car, and showing his daughter gruesome photographs of victims of the anthrax letters and telling her, "Your father did this," according to the account Dr. Ivins gave a close friend.

"As the investigation wore on, some colleagues thought the F.B.I.'s methods were increasingly coercive, as the agency tried to turn Army scientists against one another and reinterviewed family members.

"One former colleague, Dr. W. Russell Byrne, said the agents pressed Dr. Ivins's daughter repeatedly to acknowledge that her father was involved in the attacks.

"'It was not an interview,' Dr. Byrne said. 'It was a frank attempt at intimidation.'"


* * * * * * *

The Trentonian



I'm rapidly becoming convinced that Ivins is being subjected to a post- mortem frame job because he's a convenient scapegoat for 7 years of failure.


Note the therapist, again (I thought therapists in general were violently opposed to discussing their patients, dead or alive? How do we know this woman was in fact Ivins' therapist at all?), and more off- the-record sourcing.

It's interesting to me that something none of these anonymous leakers seem to've considered is that were all their claims true, it would mean that a sociopathic, homicidal maniac with access to weapons of mass destruction (bioweapons) had been employed, undetected, for 20+ years by the U.S. government; and furthermore that the most deadly bioweapon attack in U.S. history was conceived, executed, and covered up by said employee of the U.S. government, making use of U.S. government resources in order to perpetrate his evil designs. In my mind, this curious lack of affect, much less the failure to spin this situation in such a way as to splash blame on some combination of bureaucratic enemies, rings false.

--- Roland Dobbins

So is Army security that terrible? It wasn't in my day, but...


Dr. Ivins the anthrax suspect


The FBI and everyone else seem to have overlooked the most obvious evidence to support the theory that Dr. Ivins was a lone mad scientist bent on world destruction. What they should have looked for is a beautiful daughter who tried to thwart this evil purpose.

Those of your readership who are not familiar with the default plot of movies in this genre should ask themselves whether my theory is more unlikely than the official one, or more plausible than the evidence of Dr. Ivin's, ah, therapist.

John Edwards


handy tool


I don’t know if you have ever used the answers.com tool One Click Answers


I use this a lot when I am reading through articles on the internet and I come across a word or phrase that I do not understand. Today I used it on your site for the words Lycurgus and Fimbulwinter. Your erudite correspondents make this tool very useful so that when I encounter a word I do not know all I have do is to hold down the ALT key and click on the word and the definition pops up on the screen. This saves me from going to another site and pasting in the unknown word.

You might find it useful.


Bill Billings


Shades of "The Long Watch"

Greek mummy found in lead coffin


Almost makes one wonder if there's any indication of radiation sickness.


Long Watch indeed.


Scotty's Beaming Fails

Poor Scotty. All he wanted was to be beamed to space, but the mission failed.



Remains Go Up in Smoke

The ashes of "Star Trek" actor James Doohan, along with those of astronaut Gordon Cooper and 206 others who paid to have their remains shot into space, didn't quite make it to their destination after the privately funded rocket carrying them broke apart after launch Saturday night. According to news reports, the malfunction in the two-stage rocket was caused by a fuel leak. The Web page of the ashes-to-space service called Explorers Flight was updated Saturday night to read: "The Explorers Flight mission appears not to have reached orbit tonight." Doohan played Montgomery "Scotty" Scott on the original "Star Trek" TV series.



I am positively flummoxed over this story:


The New Jersey supreme court actually used common sense. Who could ever have imagined that this court was capable of such things?



A small story from a small website


Consumer Auto Expert Reed: ‘Panic in Boardrooms’ of GM, Ford As It Becomes Clear Electric Cars ‘Really Coming’

Posted: August 4, 2008

“The panic has started in the boardrooms” of General Motors and Ford, Edmunds.com consumer automotive expert Phil Reed told EnergyTechStocks.com last week. Why? Because GM and Ford executives have realized that, having failed to anticipate the public’s switch to smaller more fuel-efficient cars, if they fail to capitalize on the car market’s next big change, bankruptcy is a definite possibility.

The big change that’s coming, according to Reed, is plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), cars and trucks fueled principally by electricity supplied through an ordinary electrical outlet. “They’re really, really coming,” Reed said, adding that he expects electric vehicles to be at the center of a home energy revolution that will include solar and other green options.

For GM, Reed said, “everything hinges” on whether its new PHEV, the Chevrolet Volt, arrives on time in late 2010 and is well received by the public. For Ford, which Reed noted has been working on electric vehicles since the 1990s, everything depends on getting some sort of PHEV model into dealer showrooms in order to compete not just with GM but with a slew of Japanese automakers whose PHEV models start arriving in 2009 and 2010.

There was an air of desperation among GM and Ford execs he recently spoke with, Reed said. However, if Detroit’s big two can deliver PHEVs the public likes, Reed anticipates both car companies benefiting from he expects will be “an absolute bonanza of incentives” for environmentally-friendly products authorized by the new American president and Congress.

EnergyTechStocks.com agrees with Reed’s assessment, which is why it ignored conventional wisdom last week and named GM one of eight contenders for the title “The Next Google.” (See Who’s The Next Google? Meet 8 Contenders (4 Public, 4 Private Firms) Last Two: GM (Honest) & Gridpoint <http://energytechstocks.com/wp/?p=1530>  )

Reed also forecast that GM and Ford will likely acquire a developer of the lithium-ion batteries that are expected to be the mainstay of PHEVs. “I could not see how (GM and Ford) could not buy one,” he said, noting that the Japanese carmakers have already established formidable joint ventures to develop lithium-ion car batteries. Reed is not a financial analyst and he didn’t name any possible acquisition candidates, but among the logical candidates would be A123 Systems and EEStor, two still-private companies working on lithium-ion and ultracapacitor technologies, respectively. Public companies in the car battery or ultracapacitor sector that logically might be candidates include: Ener1, Altair Nanotechnologies, Valence Technology, Lithium Technology and Maxwell Technologies.

For more on all this see EnergyTechStocks.com’s special archive of PHEV-related articles (ETS – Related Electric Car Archived Stories <http://energytechstocks.com/wp/?p=1505>  .)


A Story of a Sign


This won the "short film" competition at Cannes. Very well done and made me choke up at the last.


Best, Everett Harper

Thanks. It's quite well done.


AP on Ivins:

That doesn’t mean that from time to time people don’t make mistakes.”


-- Roland Dobbins


For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:



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RE: MIT makes solar energy breakthrough


Dr. Pournelle,

The MIT story is very interesting - but if it were that easy, I'd already have a rooftop array of photovoltaic cells on my roof, using the "free" electricity to crack water into hydrogen and oxygen, and a storage array of pressure tanks in my basement.

The real problem is as it always was - hydrogen is very difficult to store in a usable form. There's even a reasonable writeup on Wiki about the storage issues. Go see: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_storage>  Still, if the process can be driven cheaply enough from solar or nuclear electricity, then it can be a real solution to a part of the problem.

I've got my hopes up that given enough incentives for such research we can ultimately get out from under the Saudis' oil-smeared thumbs.

Best regards,

Brian Claypool

Storage and concentration of intermittent and distributed energy has always been the problem. There's lots of energy; the trick is to find ways to use it when needed.


Laugh or Cry Dept

NASA wants to design tools for digging in Lunar soil. They have the force measurements from Surveyor 7 digging but also need the scoop dimensions. Unfortunately they lost the Surveyor blueprints. Fortunately they could steal the real scoop from a museum. Do I need to comment? http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25334999/

R Hunt


Task Management Software

Take a look at OmniFocus <http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnifocus/ > . The upside for me is that it serves as my medium and long-term task memory. The downside is that I can't 'forget' to do some of my responsibilities, of which there are an incredible number.

-- "All ... pleas of convenience, even if their factual base is sound, are inadmissible in principle." (Russell 1993) Harry Erwin

I should look into this. Heaven knows I need some memory aids.


'We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.'

Gross oversimplification coupled with magical thinking; apparently, this is what passes for deep thinking, these days:


- Roland Dobbins


Morality and Biology

Morality is culturally transmitted, and I would expect it usually evolves rapidly through a Lamarckian process. Sexual preference ("proclivity") now appears to be brain wiring--biology--and might be expected to evolve slowly in a Darwinian process. These processes can be very different in their outcomes (and when they diverge too far, you get phenomena like political correctness).

I seriously doubt most Hellenistic practitioners of homosexual behaviour actually preferred it to heterosexuality. What we see in prisons and all-male environments is evidence that suggests most men prefer homosexuality to celibacy. The other thing we see--sexual preference influenced but very resistant to total domination by cultural norms--suggests that the issues of temptation and endurance that you describe are very real for many people.

-- "an academic who listens to pleas of convenience before publishing his research risks calling into doubt the whole of his determination to find the truth." (Russell 1993) Harry Erwin


Squid News:

I recently discovered something that I would have thought would be big news, but somehow has mostly "fallen through a crack".

You remember the giant squid scene in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and the monster squid in Benchley's BEAST.


Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni is EXACTLY what is described in Benchley's book, hooked claws in the suckers and all. And it is to a regular giant squid what the shark in JAWS was to a regular great white shark, being at least 25% bigger (possibly even more) than the regular "run of the mill" giant squid (the ones without hooks in their suckers). This one has a good chance of not always losing when attacked by a sperm whale!! (There was a recent DISCOVERY CHANNEL (I think) show on "The Last Year in the Life of a Sperm Whale" that described (and CGI animated) this monster and showed it and the sperm whale "having at it" -- should have been in a monster movie!!)

It has been know in bits and pieces since 1925, but until recently nobody knew much about it and did not know how big it got. They sure have a clue NOW, having a dead specimen of a half-grown one. This one has the largest beak jaws of any animal known and it is not near being fully grown (they can tell by the sex organs and so forth how old a squid is)!! Bad news squared!!!

Nathan Okun

I wonder if any of those ever got into the Mediterranean in Classical times?


"The Xifeng case was very typical of China. It was typical of the way politics work and typical of the way the law works."

article/2008/06/09/AR2008060902530_pf.html >

- Roland Dobbins


The Rapture for Geeks

Ran across this on another site:

Singularity Watch Posted by Jonathan V. Last on June 5, 2008, 12:54 PM http://www.firstthings.com/blog/2008/06/05/singularity-watch/ 

Having previously noted the techno-/theo- logical dream of transcending death through science, I’m almost pleased to note that some futurists are now throwing cold water on the idea of The Singularity. (That’s the moment when AI surpasses human intelligence, Skynet becomes self-aware, and nanobots give Glenn Reynolds the physique of an American Gladiator.)

A publication called IEE Spectrum, which playfully calls The Singularity “the Rapture for geeks,” suspects that Wired’s piece on Ray Kurzweil’s bid for immortality

(http://www.wired.com/medtech/drugs/magazine/16-04/ffkurzweil?currentPage=all)     is bosh:

Why should a mere journalist question Kurzweil’s conclusion that some of us alive today will live indefinitely? Because we all know it’s wrong. We can sense it in the gaping, take-my-word-for-it extrapolations and the specious reasoning of those who subscribe to this form of the singularity argument. Then, too, there’s the flawed grasp of neuroscience, human physiology, and philosophy. Most of all, we note the willingness of these people to predict fabulous technological advances in a period so conveniently short it offers themselves hope of life everlasting.


Mike Flynn


Hi, you write:

> What I do not understand is how, in the face of such evidence, the > Global Warming Hoax continues. I would at least like to hear an argument.

Time to launch Triana perhaps? The thing is supposed to sit in L1 and simultaneously measure the radiation coming from the sun and what is being reflected back from earth. If it works as advertised it should be able to give a definite answer to whether the planet is warming or not in just a few years.

It would be highly ironic if the satellite Gore championed were to disprove global warming. Doubly so if it has not been able to do so because Bush killed the project. Even triply so if Bush therefore is forced to pretend to do something about the warming.

Probably not going to happen unfortunately...

I do not claim to be capable of properly reviewing a climate science paper, but such skill does not appear to be required to the paper you refer to.

Archibald writes: "... shows that the temperature of the Southern Hemisphere has been flat, with a slight increase in the Northern Hemisphere..."

The dataset he refers to is http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/data/msu/t2lt/tltglhmam_5.2. lt which says the trend line for the Northern Hemisphere is +0.207 C/decade for the Northern Hemisphere, +0.069 C/decade for the Southern and +0.136 C/decade for the planet as whole. Note that the RSS dataset (based on the same satellites) say +0.175 C/decade global. Highlighting that the satellite data are not without uncertainties.

It is perhaps fair to call the rise "slight", but the current rate of increase according to IPCC is 0.19 C/decade, which can also be described as slight.

Naively one would indeed expect the warming to be strongest in the North where most of the CO2 emissions are. The paper does not seem to address this issue.

Next, selecting a dataset of rural stations to avoid the heat island effect may not be a bad idea in general, but it is worth taking into account that rural land-use changes will also have an impact on the local temperature near such stations. For instance increased irrigation will have a cooling effect.

Archibald has chosen five stations, all are in southeast USA. (See attached image). There is no argument for why these specific stations are assumed to be representative of even the American southeast. Nor is there an argument supporting the idea that the southeast is representative of the US as whole or of the planet.

I cannot find a good match for his graph of Central Temperature. It is not yearly data. My guess would be that it is a moving average, but not showing data since sometime in the nineties, which would have made the graph rather different.

The "official" one is here:


This graph does not appear to support Archibald's claim that the temperature rise was three times quicker in the early nineteenth century.

The claim that the peak temperature after this rise was over did not reach 10C till 1947 appears contradicted by


The following years since 1850 exceeds 10C:

1857 10.07 1868 10.38 1898 10.07 1911 10.05 1921 10.47 1938 10.18 1943 10.03 1945 10.27 1948 10.01 1949 10.62 1957 10.02 1959 10.48 1975 10.00 1976 10.08 1983 10.03 1989 10.50 1990 10.63 1994 10.24 1995 10.52 1997 10.53 1998 10.34 1999 10.63 2000 10.30 2002 10.60 2003 10.50 2004 10.48 2005 10.44 2006 10.82 2007 10.48

This brings us to page three of the paper. While there are twenty more pages, it does not look as it will be very intellectually stimulating to continue so unless somebody were to pay for the service I will stop here and personally just assume that the paper does not correspond to reality.

While one may argue that these are small matters and that I haven't actually touched the meat of the paper I believe that these issues are indicative of a significant lack of attention to detail and therefore that the paper and its author probably cannot be trusted to provide valid information.


- Terje


Subj: Human Factors: Cockpits for UAVs


>>U.S. UAV operators are trying to convince UAV manufacturers that it would be in everyone’s interest if the UAV controls were literally based on a fighter aircrafts cockpit. That setup is the result of over 80 years of research and experience. Why try and reinvent the wheel for UAVs. ...<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


'Workers at the Tyson Foods poultry processing plant in Shelbyville will no longer have a paid day off on Labor Day but will instead be granted the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr.'


--- Roland Dobbins

Is Christmas next?


Subj: Meds and mental disorders

For discussions of alternatives and supplements to meds in the treatment of depression, and in particular of the possibility that meds should maybe not be the *first* resort for treatment, even for adults, while not denying the very real usefulness of meds for many patients, try

Head fake: How Prozac sent the science of depression in the wrong direction http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/

I first heard about "Prozac lag" when I saw a talk on C-SPAN by Charles Barber about his book, _Comfortably Numb_.



If you want some peer-reviewed research, try

Initial Severity and Antidepressant Benefits: A Meta-Analysis of Data Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050045 

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


A shocking hypothesis...

Electricity, not gravity, is the force behing the universe says James P. Hogan.


"More than ninety-nine percent of the observed universe exists in the form of matter known as plasma."

"Plasma, by contrast [to rocks], consists, fully or in part, of charged particles – negative "electrons" and positive "ions" (an atom missing one or more of its electrons) – that are separated, and hence respond to electric and magnetic forces. The electric force between two charged particles, which can be attractive or repulsive, is thirty-nine orders of magnitude stronger than the gravitational attraction between them. That's a one followed by 39 zeros. Such a number boggles the imagination. It is in the order of a millionth of a millimeter compared to 10,000 times the size of the known universe. Even in a plasma comprising just one charged particle in 10,000 – which would be typical of the interstellar clouds of dust and gas from which stars are formed – electromagnetic forces will dominate gravity by a factor of ten million to one."

"Electrical forces offer a far more effective means than gravity for gathering, compressing, and heating dispersed material."

"So what are we seeing [in the Cats Eye nebula]? Gravity, which produces formless coagulations of matter like clots in cream? Or electricity?"

Charles Brumbelow

James Hogan is always worth paying attention to, but his speculations go much further than most, and I am not sure which ones if any have held up. Jim is an old friend and great company.


'Within the circumstances, we feel we used reasonable force.'

< http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/
TV-ended-arrest.html  >

------ Roland Dobbins

It ain't your castle no more.



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CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Subject: Re: Medellin execution


My understanding is that Medellin, who speaks fluent English, and has lived in the United States since the age of three, did not tell anyone that he was a Mexican national until long after his trial, nor did he raise the question of access to Mexican consular officials till far into the appeal process.

He did, however, after receiving documented and uncontested Miranda warnings, confess to the slayings. I'm not sure that this case demonstrates misconduct on the part of the Texas state government.

Best wishes that your recovery continues and accelerates.

Bill Beeman Smartsville, CA

I had not realized that he never invoked his rights. The court seems to me to have acted correctly: Medellin did not invoke his privileges, and absent legislation from Congress or the Texas Legislature, this seems a correct outcome.

It's still close. The United States ought to keep it's word.


Texas, Treaties, and Aliens

Texas is unique in that we entered the union after having been a successful independent nation for 11 years. We retained certain rights that other states don't have, and in general we tend to like to do things our way.

This looks like a case of states rights vs. federal rights.

The US supreme court ruled in favor of states rights. President Bush had pressed for court hearings, which Texas challenged and resulted in the Supreme Court's March ruling that only Congress could mandate such action.

My personal feeling is that it would not have hurt to allow the guy to talk to the Mexican consulate.... and it would make the USA look better... we should honor our treaties. But I'm not entirely sure that we DIDN'T honor the treaty. It sounds like the US Supreme court told Prez Bush that he didn't have the authority and the US Congress needed to act. Congress didn't act - so if any blame is to be placed it would go on Congress for dropping the ball. The rule of law does funny things sometimes - but it beats the alternatives.

Houston Chronicle Articles http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/5929172.html 

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5927961.html  MEXICO CITY — Mexicans struggling with increasingly gruesome crimes at home devoted the least attention in recent memory to the execution of one of their citizens in Texas. With Mexico riveted on its own kidnap and killing of a 14-year-old boy, the normally anti-death penalty country expressed far less outrage at the Tuesday execution of Jose Medellin, a Mexican national convicted in the 1993 rape and murder of two Houston girls.

= Jim Coffey

Actually, to the best of my knowledge, the only unique privileges Texas has is the right to divide itself into five states if it so chooses. The rest is speculation, and I do not know of any cases where "prior sovereignty" has been successfully pleaded. After all, the original 13 colonies were each independent states as of July 4, 1776 (Or July 1783 according to the treaty of Paris). This argument of prior sovereignty is popular in Texas.

Tennessee wasn't sovereign before becoming part of the Union, but most of the Texas settlers were Tennesseans...


Dr. Pournelle,

I heard about half an hour of arguing over the Medellin case on NPR the night of his execution. From what I little I picked up, here's some of the situation.

Yes, Medellin had the right to consular council. However, this right is something akin to the 5th amendment: if you don't enforce/request it, the state isn't required to do it for you. Second, the argument seemed to be that no court had looked at the issue of whether or not Medellin had proper council. This was only partially true. While the World Court hadn't found that Medellin had proper council, a Texas court already had. Also, Medellin's lawyers have had 15 years to bring up the this issue, and they haven't done it until now.

Finally, and here's the point that didn't make much sense to me, the treaty was signed by the US, not by Texas. Under the treaty the US had the obligation to do everything in its power to get Texas to postpone the execution until the World Court had a chance to go over Medellin's council situation. However, the US didn't have the legal ability to outright order Texas to delay the execution, and Texas itself wasn't bound by the treaty. That seems like a bit of a loophole to me, but apparently there was enough legal mumbo jumbo to make it stick. The end result was that the appeal to this treaty was more of a stalling tactic based on European/Mexican distaste for the death penalty than any legal necessity.

I could be wrong on any number of points here, but this seemed to be the gist of the discussion I heard. Regardless, the man was a monster. I've never been much of one for using the law to shield criminals from justice.


Ryan Brown

It is not a matter of using the law to shield criminals from justice. We explicitly exempted the Emperor of Japan from criminal war crimes responsibility when we ended the War with Japan. Had we not done so the price in blood -- mostly Japanese but a fair amount of our own even with nukes -- would have been extremely high. 

Now there are those who think the Emperor ought to have been hauled into a tribunal and tried for war crimes; but there never was any question of doing that. The United States had pledged its word. I can probably think of other cases like that; sometimes the price of justice really is too high. Let justice be done though the heavens fall is not seriously meant if the alternative is real.


Subject: Murderer executed in Texas didn't identify himself as a Mexican national

Dear Jerry,

One critical fact that is not being widely reported is that the Mexican national whom Texas executed for murder did not identify himself as a Mexican citizen until AFTER he was convicted and his first round of appeals failed.

It appears that this may have been a deliberate legal tactic to allow him to obtain a SECOND series of post-conviction appeals of the verdict of the jury. Texas didn't allow this man to do that. That is a different kettle of fish than a blunt refusal by Texas to honor a treaty ratified by Congress.

Eric Krug

I find that a fairly convincing argument.


McCain moving to the realm of "Cool"

If Paris Hilton can mock McCain (& Obama - but the impetous is McCain) http://apnews.myway.com/article/20080806/D92CVG180.html , then McCain must be moving to the realm of "cool"! To steal a march, McCain should come out with his own mock add:

Scene - McCain in a lawn chair with a beach umbrella; obviously in a 'back yard'. He's wearing swim trunks, Hawaiian shirt, flip-flops, and a sun hat. His nose is smeared with zinc oxide and he's holding a glass of iced tea. Long shot of back yard, moves in to headshot.

McCain - "Boy, I wish I had a job like this. It's got to be nice to have no responsibilities, but still dream of being president!. Ah, well, I have to think about the economy, Iran, Iraq, social security, immigration, and there's just a little thing like running for the office of President. I wish I could work on my tan more."

Camera moves in tighter to McCain as he settles back in the chair to take a nap. As the camera moves in, he opens his eyes a bit and cuts them toward the camera.

McCain - "I think I'm ready for the A-List".

Cut to closing: "McCain for A-list"


-- David Couvillon Colonel of Marines; Former Governor of Wasit Province, Iraq; Righter of Wrongs; Wrong most of the time; Distinguished Expert, TV remote control; Chef de Hot Dog Excellance; Collector of Hot Sauce; Avoider of Yard Work



Cockpits for UAVs

Likely a straw man argument. Notice in the article it really points to what PILOTS who are controlling UAVs think. Comfort zone, prestige, ego are what is probably forcing this issue. I've written to you before about the USAF utterly beside itself to think a 19yo enlisted man on a keyboard can deliver the ordinance and mission that a fighter jock used to be able to. Not to mention contractors uping the costs on controls that a $500 laptop can easily handle.

Nope, I've had a little experience with UAVs (early in their USMC development). Today's X-box, PS2, Wii, (et. al.) experienced servicemen don't have any problem controlling UAVs via ground stations resembling their home computer setup in their bedroom.

s/f Couv

"Subj: Human Factors: Cockpits for UAVs


>>U.S. UAV operators are trying to convince UAV manufacturers that it would be in everyone's interest if the UAV controls were literally based on a fighter aircrafts cockpit. That setup is the result of over 80 years of research and experience. Why try and reinvent the wheel for UAVs. ...<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com"

-- David Couvillon Colonel of Marines; Former Governor of Wasit Province, Iraq; Righter of Wrongs; Wrong most of the time; Distinguished Expert, TV remote control; Chef de Hot Dog Excellance; Collector of Hot Sauce; Avoider of Yard Work


more on Hatfield Redux


Insomnia has its uses. I just watched a C-Span replay of yesterday's DOJ/FBI press conference on their case that the late Bruce Ivins committed the 2001 anthrax attacks. Short version: The key is the FBI's asserted precision DNA match between the anthrax used in the attack and that in a particular flask controlled and maintained by Ivins at the Army lab. The case from that point on is entirely circumstantial: Nobody else among the hundred or so people who had access to that flask had as plausible an opportunity to do the deed as Ivins. With the DNA, it seems the marginal sort of case where the verdict would depend mainly on the jury-swaying skills of the lawyers involved. Without the DNA, it's no case at all.

They didn't provide much detail about the DNA matching. They said the match was first made in 2005, then finally validated to the point where they were willing to put it in evidence in 2007. It's a new technique that was developed for the FBI for this case. They're very proud of the technique. They say they'll publish the details of the technique at some unspecified point in the future.

The obvious questions to ask are:

 - Does a given lab anthrax bacteria culture actually mutate enough over time that there is uniquely distinguishable DNA?

 - Is the FBI's new technique actually sensitive and repeatable enough to reliably make those distinctions?

- If so, was the evidence properly handled, or is there a possibility of cross-contamination at some point between the lab culture flask and the attack samples? (One of the assertions made at this press conference is that Ivins provided the investigators misleadingly incorrect lab samples early on in the investigation, no further details given.)

If the DOJ and FBI have as much faith in the DNA evidence as they say, they should welcome a competent independent review of these questions. We'll see if we see one. Until then, I'm not convinced.


I am not sure I am convinced until they at least mention the Florida mailing.


Subject: War on Drugs Police Overreaction

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I wanted to bring to your attention another example of police using the "War on Drugs" as an excuse to terrorize innocent citizens, while not bothering to comply with the legal requirements for carrying out a search of a private residence in their jurisdiction.

Apparently, last week a Prince George's County Police drug-sniffing dog identified a FedEx package addressed to the wife of the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland as containing marijuana. The county police confiscated the package and had an undercover cop deliver it to the addressed residence while pretending to be a deliveryman. Then, when the mayor returned home and brought the package inside, a SWAT team broke down his front door without knocking, shot and killed his two Labrador retrievers (one from behind as it attempted to run away), and tied him and his mother-in-law up to interrogate them for several hours before deciding that they were innocent.

Since the story broke, it has been discovered that while the police had obtained a search warrant, they had not obtained a "no-knock warrant" (Maryland law requires that a special warrant be obtained if the police want to break into your house without knocking first, and requires that the police convince a judge that you're either armed and dangerous, or very likely to destroy evidence in order to obtain such a warrant--apparently no attempt was made to obtain such a warrant.) The county police had also not bothered to inform the Berwyn Heights Police of the raid beforehand, which they are theoretically supposed to--though not legally required--to do. Furthermore, the county police have now arrested two people (one a FedEx employee) involved in a ring that shipped marijuana across the country to unaware third parties, then intercepted the packages before delivery. Nor is this the first evidence of the ring--apparently, in the last few months, a number of people in the area have received such packages and turned them over to the county police--which makes me wonder why the police didn't consider this as a possible explanation before the fact.

A number of Washington Post stories (and a letter to the editor and an editorial) on the subject.


--Daniel Walter Rowlands, Prince George's County, Maryland

Good Grief! Surely the County Sheriff should have an interest in this?


And COBOL shall rise

Dr. Jerry-

You might get a kick out of this:

COBOL: BACK FROM THE DEAD -- While Arnold Schwarzenegger's efforts to cut state employees salaries has sparked press reports likening COBOL to ancient hieroglyphics, Gartner says there are 180 billion lines of COBOL code in use and some 90,000 COBOL programmers worldwide. Read on:


I found some of the commentary interesting as well.

Paul Hampson


Nocera & MIT

Dear Jerry,

This August 7 posting on The Oil Drum expands on points raised at Chaos Manor last week (mail, August 2). Namely, where's the beef?


(Disclaimer. I have no idea who "JoulesBurne" is, except he isn't me.)

"When sufficient voltage is applied across the electrodes, current will flow and oxygen gas (O2) will form at the anode and hydrogen gas (H2) at the cathode. The needed voltage, from thermodynamics, is termed the Standard Potential for the overall reaction and is equal to 1.23 volts at 25C. In reality, more voltage than the Standard Potential must be applied to get appreciable water splitting and gas production, for reasons discussed below. This means that the electrolyzer is less than 100% efficient in converting electric power to power theoretically available by recombining the gases in a fuel cell. Remember that power is current times volts. For example, if double the Standard Potential (i.e. 2.46) volts is applied, only half of the power goes into splitting water and the rest is wasted -- giving an efficiency of 50%."

This is the part I hopefully focused on at first report. Namely, electrolysis efficiency had been substantially raised and technology illiterate reporters were misreporting the story. So far from this being the case, it appears that lower efficiency probably prevails:

"More Efficient? Not based on the data they presented. For example, they reported a current density of 1 milliampere per square centimeter (mA/cm^2) with an overpotential of 410 millivolts. In comparison, this patent from 1979 <http://www.freepatentsonline.com/4240887.html>  reports better performance (e.g. 1mA/cm^2 at < 200 mV overpotential) for nickel anodes."

This would explain the Science abstract's focus on green-friendliness. This leaves looking at cost. Could Professor Nocera's less efficient platinum anode laboratory experiment someday be developed into a cheaper electrolysis system than older nickel anode systems? Professor Nocera says yes. Spot prices alone for the two metals point the other direction.

I'll be very glad if someone can defend the Nocera splash in the opposite sense. I have no difficulty finding multiple places for more efficient electrolysis and cheaper oxygen and hydrogen in what I'm doing.

Best Wishes,


p.s. If MIT wants to routinely oversell their press releases, so be it. People will tune out soon enough.

Pity. Storage is key to using renewable energy.


A Ball Game,

This should be restricted to retirees.




It very nearly drove me mad.


Subject: Happy Birthday! And a quick stat on the CNN top 10 attack

Hope you're having a very happy birthday and that your recovery continues well!

A quick note on the CNN top 10 email you sent a warning about, as I'm once again the postmaster of quite a few high traffic domain names of large commercial websites and hence have some decent raw data on spam and virus frequencies, at least on our systems. That email has been around 10% of the blocked spam I'm seeing right now! I thought that that might be of some interest, as I don't recall a single spam/phish/virus attack being that high of a percentage of the badmail I've seen flowing at one time.

Again, happy b-day!

-David Mercer Tucson, AZ

I hope the early warning helped.


Hydrogen As A Fuel

Dear Jerry,

I think this has run before. It's worth repeating since the hydrogen economy myth is so durable in the mass media


Best Wishes,


In the 1970's I wrote several articles on the Hydrogen Economy. We even had hydrogen pipelines in Fallen Angeles. The DC/X experiments convinced me that hydrogen isn't anything you want to use: it really wants to get loose. Certainly more experiments are warranted.


more on Hatfield Redux


Insomnia has its uses. I just watched a C-Span replay of yesterday's DOJ/FBI press conference on their case that the late Bruce Ivins committed the 2001 anthrax attacks. Short version: The key is the FBI's asserted precision DNA match between the anthrax used in the attack and that in a particular flask controlled and maintained by Ivins at the Army lab. The case from that point on is entirely circumstantial: Nobody else among the hundred or so people who had access to that flask had as plausible an opportunity to do the deed as Ivins. With the DNA, it seems the marginal sort of case where the verdict would depend mainly on the jury-swaying skills of the lawyers involved. Without the DNA, it's no case at all.

They didn't provide much detail about the DNA matching. They said the match was first made in 2005, then finally validated to the point where they were willing to put it in evidence in 2007. It's a new technique that was developed for the FBI for this case. They're very proud of the technique. They say they'll publish the details of the technique at some unspecified point in the future.

The obvious questions to ask are: - Does a given lab anthrax bacteria culture actually mutate enough over time that there is uniquely distinguishable DNA? - Is the FBI's new technique actually sensitive and repeatable enough to reliably make those distinctions? - If so, was the evidence properly handled, or is there a possibility of cross-contamination at some point between the lab culture flask and the attack samples? (One of the assertions made at this press conference is that Ivins provided the investigators misleadingly incorrect lab samples early on in the investigation, no further details given.)

If the DOJ and FBI have as much faith in the DNA evidence as they say, they should welcome a competent independent review of these questions. We'll see if we see one. Until then, I'm not convinced.









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CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  August 8, 2008

Arrest of Mexican Nationals


Aside from the fact that many of the Mexican nationals arrested in the U.S. are not willing to identify themselves as such, as another of your correspondents noted, if we actually were able to identify them as such, and the arresting agency called the Mexican consulate to notify them of each and every such arrest, I suspect that the Mexican consulates would disconnect their telephones due to the volume of calls.

We spend 8 months of the year in a part of south Texas we refer to as "Northern Occupied Mexico", and the volume of law enforcement contacts with illegals is enormous.

Perhaps we should, though, to demonstrate to the government of Mexico the magnitude of the problem.

Regards, Linden B. (Lindy) Sisk R

An interesting possibility


Source of Ivins envelopes

As a philatelist I would dearly love to know how they know that the envelopes Ivans used came from the National Laboratories. The envelopes shown were the Federal Eagle Sc # U646 postal stationary identically manufactured in the tens of millions if not more for the general public and not a penalty or permit envelope. If I'm wrong please explain.

R Hunt

P.S. The "insert" key is one hundred times the abomination that the "caps lock" key is. In fact I kind of like the latter.

I know nothing about the particulars of the envelopes in question, but it does seem to me that if they are unique to Fort Dietrich it would take an extraordinarily stupid man to use them in an attack. Unless, of course, having obtained anthrax strains from Dietrich, the same unsub (unidentified subject, if you don't watch the FBI profiling show) also stole envelopes, with the intent of focusing attention on Dietrich. That seems a bit far fetched, but less so than that Ivins used envelopes from his own office when he could buy them in any drug store or stationary house.


Subject: Forbes article on US Energy policy.

Hi Jerry, Forbes recommends that the next president visits Denmark before drafting the new US energy policy:

energy-electricity-biz-energy-cx_wp _0807power.html

Good talk about decentralized generation, but they do no mention the large contribution of wind energy (20%) nor that Denmark has quite a lot of oil, which of course helps a lot when talking about energy independency.

On another note, about the executed US/Mexican citizen: If the international tribunal decides that the US should stay the execution, and if your interpretation of the US constitution is correct, then Texas is bound to stay the execution, as the Texas legal system is directly bound by higher courts. The Texas execution, has put the US in direct disregard of international treaties - let's hope that there are no consequences for US citizens detained abroad. Anyway it illustrates, why double nationality should not be allowed. When granted US (or any other) citizenship, you should be required to relinquish any other citizenship you have, or if that is not allowed by the state which had granted that former citizenship, then you should sign a declaration relinquishing any right or protection that could come from such another citizenship, and declaring that you no longer consider yourself a citizen of that state.


Bo Andersen

The International Law issue is not so clear. Apparently there was no claim at the time of the trial. That's entirely different from a blatant refusal. I am of the opinion that this could have been handled with a great deal more finesse. I do not like even the appearance of wanton disregard of International Law.


Culture Keeps Students Out of Science

Dr. Pournelle --

I came across the article below via the National Review Online and thought it an interesting (perhaps because I tend to agree) diagnosis of the problem of the US not producing enough advanced graduates in science and engineering. Since you're working on an essay on education, I thought you might be interested.

What was so terribly wrong with the educational system of the 1030's - 1950's ? Certainly it had it's share of problems. There were gender and racial biases. Yet these were the problems which came from the society and weren't native to the educational system, a system responsible for so much technological advancement. How could we have done so much harm while trying to do good.

Did Dante have a spot for misguided yet well-intentioned souls? I hope you and Niven have designated something appropriate.


"How Our Culture Keeps Students Out of Science" by Peter Wood http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=03hp5gr19z5sb0cdvhtsk5qgp3yhdttf 

A couple of quotes so you can see if you want to spend the time.

"... A century ago, Max Weber wrote of "Science as a Vocation," and, indeed, students need to feel something like a calling to surmount the numerous obstacles on the way to an advanced degree.

At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who fail to learn - and worse, fail to develop as "whole persons" - if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren't among them. ..."

He did indeed, and we deal with such in Escape From Hell


MIT "Solar Power" Breakthrough

I'm afraid that the MIT "breakthrough" is grossly overhyped. The only thing that the MIT research has done is to find a way to reduce the "oxygen overvoltage" at the "oxygen-producing" electrode. All this does is increase the efficiency of electrolysis somewhat, by decreasing the total voltage drop across the cell. And it still doesn't solve the problem of the similar overvoltage at the "hydrogen-producing" electrode. It does NOTHING for "storage", and NOTHING for "solar energy".


Pity. We need simple low cost storage devices. Rooftop Solar makes a lot of sense if you can store the enerby by day.


When your pedicurist is a fish, 


And now, for something completely different:


Let fish do your pedicure!


Maybe we aren't in a recession after all


Solzhenitsyn and the Struggle for Russia's Soul, 


Here is a quick read on the seductions of Communism, Solzhenitsyn's role in bringing it down, and why Americans didn't like him once he got over here:





More of Dr. Ivins

Bruce Ivins Wasn't the Anthrax Culprit

By RICHARD SPERTZEL August 5, 2008

Over the past week the media was gripped by the news that the FBI was about to charge Bruce Ivins, a leading anthrax expert, as the man responsible for the anthrax letter attacks in September/October 2001. ... I believe this is another mistake in the investigation.

Let's start with the anthrax in the letters to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The spores could not have been produced at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where Ivins worked, without many other people being aware of it. Furthermore, the equipment to make such a product does not exist at the institute.


The remainder of the column focuses on the peculiar properties of the spores: their size, the coating, and the slight electric charge and contrasts that with the sort of anthrax that was in use in

Spertzel, was head of the biological-weapons section of UNSCOM from 1994-99, and a member of the Iraq Survey Group.

I can only say that I have not seen compelling evidence. There may be some not yet presented. There are, for me, many unanswered questions. For example: they say that Ivins borrowed free-drying equipment for his lab, and that's how the stuff got from liquids to powder: but the powder was very fine and dispersed very well, and that would not happen if one merely freeze dried liquid cultures. Making a dispersible powder is, I am told, quite difficult and complicated, and I cannot believe that it was made in Dietrich without anyone getting suspicious.

Again perhaps someone will convince me otherwise but I have not seen one hint to the contrary, and that disturbs me.


handy tool


I don’t know if you have ever used the answers.com tool One Click Answers


I use this a lot when I am reading through articles on the internet and I come across a word or phrase that I do not understand. Today I used it on your site for the words Lycurgus and Fimbulwinter. Your erudite correspondents make this tool very useful so that when I encounter a word I do not know all I have do is to hold down the ALT key and click on the word and the definition pops up on the screen. This saves me from going to another site and pasting in the unknown word.

You might find it useful.


Bill Billings

VP of Technology

Radiosophy LLC


Rapid onset of Younger Dryas.


"And so it was particularly the changes in the wind force and direction during the winter half-year, which caused the climate to topple over into a completely different mode within one year after a short instable phase of a few decades. "

Chris C


More on Kosovo - Problems in Paradise

Michael J. Totten published an article describing his experiences on a recent visit to Kosovo. What he saw is astounding.

An Israeli in Kosovo http://www.michaeltotten.com/

I posted, and gushed over, Michael Totten's report from Kosovo.

But there are problems in paradise. Here is a different look at the situation and Albanian "Islam". Those who are now pretty much MINOs historically exhibit a drift back to the extremism that is inherent in the religion. This full article (I suggest a click through) is very important as a supplement to Michael J. Totten's astonishment during his trip to Kosovo and environs. Read BOTH sets of remarks if you want to understand what's going on. MINO is what they are, today.

Robert points out rather definitively the problems in the Kosovo paradise. This is also very much a pair of follow the links articles.

"We are Muslims, but not really" "http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/022114.php

Jihad in Kosovo: a Response to Critics "http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/022115.php



This was inevitable when Americans allowed the critical book publishing industry to be taken over by foreigners without our Constitutional protections or traditions.

-- Neil



Random House pulls novel on Islam, fears violence

Thu Aug 7, 2008 6:39pm EDT

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Publisher Random House has pulled a novel about the Prophet Mohammed's child bride, fearing it could "incite acts of violence."

"The Jewel of Medina," a debut novel by journalist Sherry Jones, 46, was due to be published on August 12 by Random House, a unit of Bertelsmann AG, and an eight-city publicity tour had been scheduled, Jones told Reuters on Thursday.

The novel traces the life of A'isha from her engagement to Mohammed, when she was six, until the prophet's death. Jones said that she was shocked to learn in May, that publication would be postponed indefinitely.

"I have deliberately and consciously written respectfully about Islam and Mohammed ... I envisioned that my book would be a bridge-builder," said Jones.

Random House deputy publisher Thomas Perry said in a statement the company received "cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

"In this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel," Perry said.

Jones, who has just completed a sequel to the novel examining her heroine's later life, is free to sell her book to other publishers, Perry said.

The decision has sparked controversy on Internet blogs and in academic circles. Some compared the controversy to previous cases where portrayals of Islam were met with violence.

Protests and riots erupted in many Muslim countries in 2006 when cartoons, one showing the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban resembling a bomb, appeared in a Danish newspaper. At least 50 people were killed and Danish embassies attacked.

British author Salman Rushdie's 1988 book "The Satanic Verses" was met with riots across the Muslim world. Rushdie was forced into hiding for several years after Iran's then supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, proclaimed a death edict, or fatwa, against him.

Jones, who has never visited the Middle East, spent several years studying Arab history and said the novel was a synthesis of all she had learned.

"They did have a great love story," Jones said of Mohammed and A'isha, who is often referred to as Mohammed's favorite wife. "He died with his head on her breast."

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

© Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved. Users may download and print extracts of content from this website for their own personal and non-commercial use only. Republication or redistribution of Thomson Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters and its logo are registered trademarks or trademarks of the Thomson Reuters group of companies around the world.

Thomson Reuters journalists are subject to an Editorial Handbook which requires fair presentation and disclosure of relevant interests.

I don't think this is a First Amendment case. I agree it is serious, but I don't know what to do about it.

Niven and I had some material in Escape From Hell that was quite good and belonged there but our editors pointed out that this was dangerous to both publishers and book sellers; and they didn't want to be responsible for people being harmed. In the Salmon Rushdie days the publishers were in a real dilemma, with letter bombs being sent to their mail rooms.

It is a matter of great concern, but I am not at all sure what to do about it. Short of ethnic cleansing bu profiling in the United States, I know of no effective remedies.

Suggestions would be welcome; but to tell publishers that they have an obligation to publish materials that are nearly guaranteed to cause riots, bombing of consulates, letter bombs to publishers, and bombings in book stores is beyond the power of the government. Some publishers choose to do so.


National Security Space Office Interim Report on Space Based Solar Power

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I've come across a report that might interest your readership. I doubt anything in it will surprise you. A quick search of your website indicates that you have not published anything on the topic. Seems that the National Security Space Office has been studying Space Based Solar Power. Key findings from their Interim Assessment Report reproduced below:

The study attempted to answer the following question:

"Can the United States and partners enable the development and deployment of a space‐based solar power system within the first half of the 21st Century such that if constructed could provide affordable, clean, safe, reliable, sustainable, and expandable energy for its consumers?"

It identifies the following overarching themes

• The SBSP Study Group concluded that space‐based solar power does present a strategic opportunity that could significantly advance US and partner security, capability, and freedom of action and merits significant further attention on the part of both the US Government and the private sector.

• The SBSP Study Group concluded that while significant technical challenges remain, Space‐Based Solar Power is more technically executable than ever before and current technological vectors promise to further improve its viability. A government‐led proof‐of‐concept demonstration could serve to catalyze commercial sector development.

• The SBSP Study Group concluded that SBSP requires a coordinated national program with high‐level leadership and resourcing commensurate with its promise, but at least on the level of fusion energy research or International Space Station construction and operations.

• The SBSP Study Group concluded that should the U.S. begin a coordinated national program to develop SBSP, it should expect to find that broad interest in SBSP exists outside of the US Government, ranging from aerospace and energy industries; to foreign governments such as Japan, the EU, Canada, India, China, Russia, and others; to many individual citizens who are increasingly concerned about the preservation of energy security and environmental quality While the best chances for development are likely to occur with US Government support, it is entirely possible that SBSP development may be independently pursued elsewhere without U.S. leadership.

• Certain key questions about Space‐Based Solar Power were not answerable with adequate precision within the time and resource limitations of this interim study, and form the agenda for future action (a complete description of these questions can be found in Appendix A – Space Based Solar Power Design Considerations and Tradeoffs). The fundamental tasks/questions are:

o Identification of clear targets for economic viability in markets of interest o Identification of technical development goals and a roadmap for retiring risk o Selection of the best design trades o Full design and deployment of a meaningful demonstrator

It makes the following recommendations:

Recommendation #1: The study group recommends that the U.S. Government should organize effectively to allow for the development of SBSP and conclude analyses to resolve remaining unknows

Recommendation #2: The study group recommends that the U.S. Government should retire a major portion of the technical risk for business development

Recommendation #3: The study group recommends that the U.S. Government should create a facilitating policy, regulatory, and legal environment for the development of SBSP

Recommendation #4: The study group recommends that the U.S. Government should become an early demonstrator/adopter/customer of SBSP and incentivize its development

The entire Interim Assessment Report is available here: http://www.acq.osd.mil/nsso/solar/solar.htm  <http://www.acq.osd.mil/nsso/solar/solar.htm

V/R Andy Presby

We had this in mail a month or so ago, but it's well worth returning to. SSTO is a very practical sustainable energy source. We can afford it; and we have the technology. It needs development, but there are no scientific breakthroughs needed.

The first step would be SSX. The next would be a good TSTO X project.


And Greg Cochran has a different view on Ivins:

letters from Florida

We have no reason to believe that any letters containing anthrax were mailed from Florida. As far as we can tell, all were mailed from the same place in New Jersey. Of course a couple of letters were not preserved and we know of them only by their effects. The first letters were postmarked on Sept 18th, the second set on October 9. There were little physical defects in the letters that limited them to a few possible post offices in Maryland and Virginia, including one right next to Fort Detrick.

The second set of anthrax letters contained purer anthrax, but it looks as if they were not weaponized in any special way, no special coating or anything. A lot of outside people talked about that and eventually many people had the impression that it was known to be true: it looks as if that's all wrong. Some people were real students of this case had this clear in their minds a long time ago. In fact, if it didn't come from some foreign military program, and if it didn't come straight from an illegal US military program, it was certain _not_ to be highly weaponized.

The FBI understood that a foreign provenance (from some state with sophisticated military anthrax) was very unlikely, because infuriating the United States is suicidal, a lot like shooting Superman's dog. The Administration appears not to understand that suicidal attacks from small states are not in the cards.

The case evolved over time . In early days, the FBI came to the conclusions that it was probably someone connected to anthrax research, probably someone who didn't really intend to kill anyone. That was logical and now looks to be correct - but the pool of potential perps was moderately large. It looks as if the FBI stumbled onto a false positive, Hatfill, and fixated on him, as people will. He wasn't a perfect match, being a virologist rather than an anthrax guy. The FBI investigation may have been complicated by Ivin's role as a scientific adviser/helper: he lied. For example when they asked for a sample of his main anthrax culture, he gave them something else, as later determined. Anyhow, in principle even cultures that been separated for fairly small times should evolve small genetic differences. In 2002 you couldn't easily scan those differences: but our gene-sequencing tech was improving very rapidly. After two or three years, were were able to sequence the anthrax (a number of samples and potential matches) in sufficient detail to determine that a single substrain was responsible, the substrain in Ivin's lab. Others had access, but the FBI (it says) has eliminated them as suspects. For example people in distant places wouldn't have had those particular letters available. Or maybe you could show that they had an alibi for Sept 17th, etc.

It looks to me as if this significantly shrank the suspect pool. For example, they found that Hatfill had quit the lab before that particular culture was created, clearing him. I've seen some people out on the Internet saying that those advances in sequencing speed (by orders of magnitude) only made things easier and faster. Well, they don't understand: that quantitative speedup made a qualitative change in what could be done.

At this point it looks as they ruled out Hatfill scientifically by early 2005 but didn't stop harassing him until late 2006, when the head of the FBI replaced the leaders of the investigation and told the new boys to re-examine the case. Naturally, in a better world than our, the FBI should have dropped Hatfield as a suspect the _second_ that the scientific evidence ruled him out, but you know how most people cling to their pet theories even when _every_ piece of scientific evidence is against them. And they hate admitting that they're wrong. The FBI started looking at people connected to this particular anthrax culture, and of course it's in Ivins lab.

Nobody at Fort Detrick seems to have known that Ivins was deeply crazy (for example, he was talking to his shrink about poisoning some soccer player if she lost the game back in 2000 - enough to get the shrink to call in the cops). The FBI, pointed in a new direction, did all the FBI things and found that Ivins had been lying to them, gradually found that he was crazy as a bedbug. They found that he put in a bunch of unexplained and atypical late hours in the labs the weekend before the first batch of mailings, they found that he took Sept 17th off (which easily allows for a drive to Jersey and back): they found a similar clump of late hours before the second set of mailings. They could not prove that he'd been to New Jersey on the 17th, but as long as he didn't use a credit card for gas or get pulled over, there's no way that they could have. I've seen people wondering how he could manage to get anthrax in a spillproof container and then get it in sealed envelopes, but that's silly - the guy worked with anthrax every day. He knew how to handle it. And driving to New Jersey (about 200 miles each way) hardly requires a second conspirator, particularly since Ivins took almost all of Sept 17th off. He had the Columbus Day weekend for the later letters.

It seems that although crazy people are not supposed to work on super-dangerous military stuff, the system expected them to either be obviously crazy or self-identify and ask for help. I can believe it - I certainly ran into a couple of mentally ill people in defense work. I believe that things are tighter in some other slots - for example, friends tell me that the Feds work really hard at having sane captains of missile submarines.

Out on the net, I've seen people saying that the case would have had trouble in court. For example, they say that the microbial forensics part is new and would have been effectively criticized by a defense attorney. Likely, since no lawyer, judge, or juror would understand any of it. Of course that's a lawyer argument - has nothing to do with facts or truth. We have colleagues saying that Ivins hadn't seemed like a crazed murderer to them. Well, I doubt if anyone on the suspect list _did_ seem a like a crazed murderer to their colleagues if they had, they'd have been fired and/or locked in the booby hatch a long time ago. But it had to be someone on the list, someone with access to this particular culture. Anyhow we know of plenty of examples of psychopaths who managed to hide it. Along the same lines, I've seen people ask how someone could be crazy enough to do this and sane enough to do it fairly carefully. I think they should ask the Unabomber: plenty smart ( math Ph.D. from Berkeley), very careful in his bomb-making, but quite crazy.

Next: people on the net don't like this explanation. Some want it to have been Iraq: but we know that's wrong, since they for sure didn't have that substrain of anthrax. And it never made any sense: they're not suicidal. Some want it to involve more than one person, but there's nothing in the case that requites more than one person, unless you think the skillsets of (A. knowing a lot about anthrax) and (B. being able to drive a car) are disjoint. It's worth remembering that mailing anthrax to people is crazy: craziness is rare, and it's easier to find one crazy person than two or more. Occam's razor says no.

And some want to blame the Administration: they must have cooked this up to jinn up support for the Iraq war. Well, it _did_ increase support for the invasion of Iraq, and for crap like Homeland Security. But that doesn't mean that the Administration did it, any more than they caused 9-11. It's my judgment that it would have very hard to do such a thing without someone leaking, and that the vast majority of people in the Administration would hate to do it: for one thing, it's a death penalty offense. Now I know that they're not above lying and forgery (some of them), and that they have next to no sense, support aggressive war, some are traitors, and that many high-ranking individuals, including the President, are for all practical purposes as dumb as a box of rocks, but I don't think the Administration-conspiracy angle makes any sense or has any likelihood.

I could listen to someone arguing that the FBI just randomly picked another guy to persecute after their Hatfill mistake, or maybe even made a more-defensible mistake of some kind, but I doubt it. I suspect that they were more careful after Hatfill, which can't have done the key investigator's careers any good, and I think they had much better evidence and, as it turns out, a much better suspect.

I think that 9-11 actually played a key causal role in this: I think it sent Ivins over the edge. Admittedly he was a lot closer to the edge than most of us, likely hanging on by his fingertips. I'll bet that he cooked the whole thing up between 9-11 and 9-17: he was the sort of guy who could do that. I don't think he intended to kill anyone, just to stoke anthrax research. 9-11 drove him crazy: but then it drove most of the country crazy. A good fraction of the country is _still_ crazy, unfortunately.

Gregory Cochran

My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I thought the Florida letter was mailed in Florida. I am willing to be convinced otherwise.

I am also willing to be convinced that it was Ivins all the time and all the way, but that still leaves a number of important questions, including that a homicidal maniac was a key player in our top secret labs; and that the FBI can't tell the difference between Hatfill, who tends to emphasize his importance, and Ivins, who if this is true was pretty well nuts to begin with and went even further over the edge over 9/11.

And I do not believe that simply freeze drying anthrax cultures will result in a powder that disperses easily. I admit I am way out of my depth here, but making powders disperse has always been -- I am told -- a rather difficult thing to do, and something I don't see anyone doing in a national lab without someone noticing.

You are likely to know more about this than I do. I had to administer a couple of Cold War contracts in CBR but I tooled up for the job and have forgotten about all I knew.

As to a good part of the country still mad as hatters I can't disagree; but I take that as a given in a Republic.


New Details Show Anthrax Suspect Away On Key Day, 


I wrote a note to a New York Times reporter asking about the Florida angle of this story only to be ignored.


In his defense, by necessity I have to "ignore" a good half of my actual mail (as opposed to Spam)


Speaking for freedom

"Just as I can't buy sudafed without hassles. Minor inconvenience to the drug makers. Make all of us pay. Is there anyone left to speak for freedom?"

The short answer is 'yes', lots of people SPEAK for freedom. No one more than the politicians hell bent on wiping out the last visages of freedom. The problem arises if someone loses it and begins to behave as if they actually HAD freedom (defined loosely as the prevailing conditions when I was a kid). Those people will be warned (maybe) once. If they persist, they will be killed. The average, ordinary people who speak for freedom, even if only quietly, to their most trusted friends, are aware of this fact and behave accordingly.

Bob Ludwick











This week:


read book now


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Paris Hilton may not be as dumb as I thought she was.


-- Robert Bruce Thompson

I never thought her stupid, but sometimes she is not in full possession of her faculties.


Electric cars, "ultracapacitor" issues --


A while back, during a discussion on fast-charge (at home) electric cars, the consensus was that it was impossible to charge an "ultracapacitor" with the necessary amount of juice in the timeframe described (i.e., daily) due to the need to retrofit each home with impracticably massive power lines.

There is a very simple workaround, enabling this sort of thing to be very practical without ANY changes to typical house wiring.

All it would take is the installation of a *second* "ultracapacitor" -- inside the charging unit.

While the vehicle is out on the road, the in-charger ultracapacitor can be "trickle-charging" at a non-immense rate. Several hours worth of charge can be pumped into the capacitor, and then, when the vehicle is connected, it can be quickly dumped from the capacitor in the charger, into the capacitor in the vehicle.

It would, of course, require very heavy cables between the charger and the vehicle, but these would not need to be very lengthy, and it would not be a real problem to use them.

The incredible amount of current necessary to rapid-charge the car can then be supplied, without requiring any changes to normal house wiring.


-- Photos: http://www.michi-kogaku.com/picsdir

In fact that might be a good solution to the situation; certainly it ought to work in theory. There would be severe safety considerations, but then there are severe safety situations with conventional batteries storing solar power.


'I think it's time for "green reporters," the new self-promoting subprofession, to take responsibility for the ethanol fiasco.'


--- Roland Dobbins

I have not read a Slate article in a year, but this one was in fact worth the time. Thanks.


A good XCOR article.


-- Roland Dobbins

Full disclosure: My son Richard is a VP of XCOR. I have great enthusiasm for the country. For the record, I encouraged Richard to spend as much time with Max Hunter as possible when they were both in the bay area. If Mac has a successor, I think it probable that he is at XCOR.

Having said all that, there are good pictures of the racing rocket, and it's a good article....




CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, August 10, 2008      

Lawyers skeptical FBI could have convicted Ivins



After Anthrax Scientist's Threats, Counselor Faced a Hard Choice, 


She seems woefully undereducated for so important a role.


Wind Energy not so "green"

As usual, there are side effects to each and every energy source. To the high bird kills, we can now add human health effects to the list of minuses for wind turbines.


Don S


Solzhenitsyn, Literary Giant Who Defied Soviets, Dies at 89 New York Times, 8.8.4 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/04/books/04solzhenitsyn.html 


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose stubborn, lonely and combative literary struggles gained the force of prophecy as he revealed the heavy afflictions of Soviet Communism in some of the most powerful works of the 20th century, died late on Sunday at the age of 89 in Moscow.

A good essay on Solzhenitsyn.


The demographic inversion of the American city



Hydrogen Economy

Jerry, Hydrogen leaks extremely well. Even Swagelock(R) fittings are probably not good enough for mass use. Only helium leaks better, but at least helium does not scarf up ozone better than chlorofluorocarbons could ever hope to. This is a property of hydrogen not often mentioned by proponents of The Hydrogen Economy although it appears to be quite a salient one and not to be disposed of by mere handwaving.

Val Augstkalns

The DC/X experiment convinced me that you do not want any critical dependence on controlling lots of hydrogen. Whether it's green or not is not as important as the operational considerations.










 read book now





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