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Monday  December 8, 2008

Dealing with Somali pirates 

Dr. Pournelle,

There seems to be some sentiment in your readership that treating the root causes, i.e. endemic poverty and social chaos, are preferable to just sinking the pirate vessels and stringing up the survivors. Do these readers realize that the "cure" will require military occupation and martial law on a large scale for a long time to come? Do they remember Mogadishu? Do they have the stomach to see the bodies of our soldiers dragged through the streets again?

I am sympathetic to the plight of the many innocent Somalis, but the US cannot and should not attempt to right every wrong on earth. We are already expending a great deal of blood and treasure abroad. It would take a very detailed argument to convince me that it is in the best interest of the US to rehabilitate Somalia right now. It would be pointless to even try to cooperate with the government of Somalia; you would first have to create it.

I think it a valid question to ask, why are the combined navies of the greatest powers on earth unable to deal with the rag tag of one of the poorest? Furthermore, is it not one of the primary missions of the US Navy to keep the sea lanes open? Do we need the Navy to deemphasize carrier battle groups and attack submarines the way the Army deemphasized armored divisions? I am not pronouncing such systems obsolete, but they certainly do seem wholly unsuited for this mission.

Steve Chu


Hi Jerry

I do not understand why the USA in this particular case does not simply hang an aircraft carrier of the coast close by the prime port looking for targets of opportunity. Particularly since the USA is the default sheriff of the high seas in any event, or should we have a naval arms race to get other players up to speed? There must be a good reason for all those aircraft carriers besides the need for more admirals.

The moment that the odds on losses becomes real this nonsense will end.

The huge surveillance and response envelop is ideal for this type of problem. It would be a nifty training cruise.



The problem isn't as simple as it appears from here. The United States can't go about spreading democracy on the points of bayonets (or out of the barrels of Abrams tanks), but it is our historic mission to keep vital sea lanes open. I'd think an AWACS plus a Tarawa class helicopter carrier would be a great start, and keeping those on station couldn't cost that much; but it's not free. Congress ought to dictate and fund the mission..


A Word from the Trenches

This is part of an email I got from my brother, who teaches HS History. The name of the district has been obliterated.

Actually, starting next year, my US Hist class will START with the 1920s. Consequently, the last time a student in [this district] will learn Reconstruction, the Second Industrial Revolution, Imperialism, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Birth of the Fed Reserve, US in the Great War will be in 7th GRADE ! (Good luck in college).

Also, (and to follow up on why I have to hurry thru WWI) earlier this year, we were told that all the teachers must align their courses and give a COMMON mid-term and final. You may think that's not so bad, but as a classroom teacher, I now have to teach at pretty much the same pace and cover the same things that the other teachers of US History cover. That goes for Western Civ - which you will be surprised to hear starts with the Renaissance, not Ancient Greece/Rome. Since I am just now getting through the mis-named "Dark Ages," next year I'll have to re-tool the entire first quarter. [You really think sophmores ought to be getting their Western Civ from Howard Zinn?? That's in the approved curriculum document] Oh well. We all have to be in lock-step and give common tests. I think it's a disservice to the kids, but it turns out that [our] 2 high schools are the only ones in the area that do NOT give a common assessment at mid-term and final. Frankly, it takes away from our teacher's individual talents, interests and strengths, but that's the wave of the future when the largest unit of government tries to dictate to the smallest (federal to school district) how to best teach every single subject. Since [we have] 2 of the top performing ... public high schools in the country, I wouldn't change that formula. A district should be able to choose its teachers for their talent and expertise and then set them loose in the classroom, rather than plug in any ole graduate who follows a pre-set agenda day to day. What makes the school I teach at great (and why our kids get into the Ivies more than most others per-capita) is who is doing the teaching, not WHAT we teach.

name withheld

This is ghastly, and these chickens will come home to roost. Subsidiarity and Transparency are needed. We'll have more on this.

The major problem is that those in charge of education have forgotten why we justify taxing the general public to provide free education. Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy predicts this, of course.


General George Patton Has A Solution To The Iraq War 


All in good fun, but then again, they ought to consider the words seriously before pushing us too far...




Letter from England

The major UK parties are all somewhat to the left of the Democrats, so things happen here that would not happen in America. Labour appears to be abandoning Blair's 'New Labour' and returning to the 'politics of envy'. See these articles: (Telegraph) <http://tinyurl.com/5kbgzh> (Forbes interview) <http://tinyurl.com/59xw8y> and (Guardian) <http://tinyurl.com/6lby88  >. Impact of tax changes on the average earner: (Independent) <http://tinyurl.com/65bk2b  > (Times) <http://tinyurl.com/5ucpkr>

 The mole hunt continues. Telegraph articles <http://tinyurl.com/

6mf7jz> <http://tinyurl.com/592nc4> <http://tinyurl.com/5zxobt>

Independent comment <http://tinyurl.com/6yejb4> Sun (Labour) coverage <http://tinyurl.com/6a3m2c  > Times analysis <http://tinyurl.com/5jzqd6>.

 Council spies on paperboys using anti-terrorist powers <http://tinyurl.com/6dkdgj  >

 The European Court of Justice tells the UK Government that their indiscriminate DNA data base violates privacy rights. (Times) <http://tinyurl.com/5pv5c9  > (Guardian) <http://tinyurl.com/5d8xm7> (Telegraph) <http://tinyurl.com/6rnnua  >

 Zimbabwe cholera epidemic. (BBC) <http://tinyurl.com/5ugdwn>

(Guardian) <http://tinyurl.com/5sgpgt>

 Economic worries (BBC coverage of multiple UK newspapers) <http://tinyurl.com/5lldm5  >

 On health care reform--I think a solution is needed, but the NHS is unlikely to be acceptable to any American who actually takes a close look at it. Historically, the NHS reflects the 'politics of envy'--the health care of most UK citizens was minimal prior to the creation of the NHS. It was organised to provide good basic health services to the general population, and it does in many areas, but anything that costs more than about $30,000 per additional year of life is off the books and people are prevented from buying it privately. There's a definite "post-code lottery", too. For example, all the consultant allergists in England practice in the south, so I have to make do with what my local GP knows. There has to be a way that better reflects American ideas and attitudes and yet doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

 University economics stories (Times Higher Education). "UK on brink of low-waged high-skilled economy" <http://tinyurl.com/62je2c> "Visa changes could hit 5,000 researchers" <http://tinyurl.com/64mnu2> UK PhDs dumbed down <http://tinyurl.com/5m73hy>

 Etymological map (fun story) <http://tinyurl.com/6p8qe8>.


Beware Outside Context Problems--Harry Erwin, PhD


Re: Canadian Health Care Comments

But is the Mayo Clinic legal under the Canadian system? Would it be under an American single payment system? I know that Sweden has severe limits, and at one time physicians were paying 110% - no mistake, 110% -- taxes on additional income. My Swedish physician friend traveled to the US for AAAS meetings because they were not only free (deductible) but in fact MADE HIM MONEY by reducing his income.

I am not very familiar with the Canadian system except that I have friends up there who come here for medical treatment.

I do know that the demand for a valuable free good can be infinite: health care can absorb all the resources put into it. Add to that the militant egalitarianism that says that a skid road bum on his last days should have the same chance at a new heart as would Carl Sagan and you get an impossible situation. I do not pretend to have a proper solution but I do know there need to be limits and some kind of rational allocation.


 --Ernest Hemmingway once wrote about Canada, “Its easy to make money there, but its hard to get rich there.”

--The Canadian Medcare system reflects that attitude, its good a fair bit of the time say 75 percent of needs are fulfilled, with the other 25 percent not so fulfilled. It provides very good basic care, and raises the overall health of the population, without bankrupting the population.

--If you need a surgery in Canada, in can take months on a waiting list to get a spot, unless the need is critical. Where as in the States you can get surgery immediately, if you can afford it.

--The problem is if you don’t have quality insurance coverage. I have had several American friends who make less than 40000 dollars a year, who are not under a quality Insurance program, who have told me about hospital stays that costs them upwards of 20 percent of their yearly Income to get what would be free up here and easily available.

--I suspect that your friends who have traveled to the States for care make significantly more than 40000 a year.

--I myself would prefer a mixed system. For those who have the ability to pay for increased care in Canada, be allowed to do so. That way Canadian dollars stay here, instead of going to the States or Europe as they currently do. A mixed care system where both philosophies are allowed to do so.

--When a hockey player gets injured in Canada, he doesn’t have to wait in line. There are some options out there, and in Canada we certainly need to explore those options.

--I also not under Fair Trade a lot Ford and GM plants moved to Canada, because it was cheaper for those companies, as they no longer had to pay huge insurance plans for their employees. Health care is a competitive advantage for us.


David March

Understand that most of those who read this site don't know very many people with IQ 100 or lower, and I suspect few of us spend much time with people who make under $40,000 a year (although we may have retired or student friends). The big problem is that one class of people plans health care plans for another class of people. That often fails. We tend to think that only smart people ought to be involved in planning. That often leads to disaster. It's one thing to insist on adult supervision before implementing a plan, but we go much farther than that.


Hitting the Earth again 

Hi Jerry,

Sorry to hear about the plumbing. I'm going to renew early as a result. I encourage others to do the same. I don't know who the sap was that cancelled, but real journalism isn't about making that jerk happy. Keep up the great work. You are a constant inspiration to me and a very many others.

I remember you mentioning you were planning on hitting the Earth with something again and thought you might be interested in this.


Very few people can appreciate the complexity of hitting something this tiny, moving this fast. You only have milliseconds to respond to guidance errors or the whole thing is a wash. And that's in the Earth's atmosphere where things can go pretty much as you expect. Out in space, there are an order of magnitude additional problems many of which I'm sure you are aware. Since you're thinking on whacking us again, I have no doubt our government would want to use something like this to intercept this incoming disaster.

Braxton S. Cook

Thanks for the renewal.

I do a lot of homework for my novels...


Turning air into water? Gadget does just that

Remember those sweltering summer days when the air was so muggy you could practically drink it? A new home appliance is promising to make that possible by converting outdoor air into nearly 13 quarts of fresh water every day.


Bill Shields

Air conditioners do that, of course; but the energy costs can be high, and one needs to be careful about how the water is collected.




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Tuesday,  December 9, 2008

“Since the birth of the nuclear age, no nation has developed a nuclear weapon on its own, although many claim otherwise.”


-- Roland Dobbins

There's more.:

>>Among other things, the book details how secretive aid from France and China helped spawn five more nuclear states.<<

>>A lesser pathway involves France. The book says it drew on Manhattan Project veterans and shared intimate details of its bomb program with Israel, with whom it had substantial commercial ties. By 1959, the book says, dozens of Israeli scientists “were observing and participating in” the French program of weapons design.

The book adds that in early 1960, when France detonated its first bomb, doing so in the Algerian desert, “two nations went nuclear.” <<

Much of which has long been known but classified.


China Detains Dissidents Ahead of Human Rights Day.

Boy, hosting the 2008 Olympics really made a difference in terms of human rights in China, huh?

<http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/world/international-china-dissidents.html >

--- Roland Dobbins


Where is the Brass Brassiere?


I just checked the link to "Exile- and Glory" and I have to say that the cover art is rather spectacular. Did you clear this one with your wife before you approved it or were you not given a voice in the matter? (Not entirely implausible that Mrs. Pournelle okayed this. Back in the days when the Styl Chainsaw company was privately held, Peter Styl's wife was in charge of their calendar. She picked the photographer, the models and the final photographs. The result was that the women looked sexy without being slutty and it was one of the most popular pinup calendars around.) You have to admit that it is rather sexist that the male character is allowed a rather impressive cod piece to placate his ego and preserve his modesty. On a serious note, given the inability of the fabric of a skin tight pressure suit to conform to concavities, the cod piece would serve to prevent severe bruising in sensitive areas as would a some type of brassiere although it probably wouldn't be brass but would look like it was from Fredericks of Hollywood. Also curious to know if the prototype skin tight pressure suits that were experimented with were opaque white as portrayed in the picture or translucent?

On a more serious note, it appears that E-books are going to totally transform the publishing industry. While it is painful for authors at this moment, I suspect that the end result will be to allow far more authors to access the mass market. Publishers have traditionally controlled both the means of production (printing presses) and the means of distribution, particularly relationships with the major chain books stores to get them to purchase their books and grant them shelf space. Of course the bookstores also have to have a mark up to cover their cost and make a profit. As a result, the author generally gets a very small fraction of the shelf price. You have far more expertise than I, but I suspect that the capital investment for a server that could download a few hundred copies of a novel per day would be well within the means of a typical sci fi author.


I never saw the cover until it was out. It's reminiscent of SF magazine covers back when I wrote most of the stories, and there are space activity suits -- skinsuits -- in the story. When we tested space activity suits back in the 50's, they were made of dark blue spandex, that being what was most easily obtained. Women really did need limply inflated balloons put in strategic places, and men need codpieces.


Atmospheric water generators

Gee, I've had one of those in my basement for 21 years - only its called a de-humidifier. And it cost about $100.


Would you drink the runoff water?


Harry Erwin's letter from England


Quote "...but anything that costs more than about $30,000 per additional year of life is off the books and people are prevented from buying it privately."

I actually enjoy Harry's letter, seeing oneself as others see one is always interesting, but I have no idea what he's talking about here. Of course UK citizens can have private health care if the have the means to pay for it, and a great many do. How on earth would you "prevent" them from buying privately anyway? Take away their passports?

Keep up the good work,

Ray Daniels


I loved this one....

John D. Trudel

= = = =

Fwd: Mustang Ranch Goes Down

Tuesday, December 2, 2008 7:28 PM

The Mustang Ranch and $750 billion bail-out Back in 1990, the Government seized the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada forTax evasion and, as required by law, tried to run it. They failed and it closed. Now, we are trusting the economy of our Country and 850+ Billion Dollars to a pack of nit-wits who Couldn't make money running a whorehouse and selling booze.

Now if that don't make you nervous, what does???


Subject: Piracy solution

The answer is relatively indiscriminate unobserved fire on the villages they base out of. They then learn being a pirate is punishable and go back to being fisherman. The historic putative expedition. Nothing else will work. Sometimes life has simple solutions.

A Soldier once, long ago, in a galaxy far away.



Re: 50% of College Students Mentally Ill

Only a small part of that list was "lifetime" diagnoses. Things the sufferer will have to deal with the rest of their lives, requiring careful planning, strict control of triggers, medication, etc. The rest would have once been called, "Young people behaving badly."

No doubt many with fragile genetics and/or unstable upbringing do exhibit mental illness when put under the stresses of leaving home and having to grow up. That said, if so many are mentally ill, then maybe we need to define adolescence and early adulthood as simply a mentally and emotionally unstable time; provide guidance, limits, consequences, and (GASP!) responsiblity as they grow up; and stop labelling everyone as ill!

When will we save the diagnoses for those who really need medical help and stop allowing EVERYTHING to be called "Illness.":

R, Rose


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Wednesday, December 10, 2009

Private Health Care in the UK

If you go private, the NHS washes their hands of you. This is changing, but very gradually. See <http://tinyurl.com/5vodq8>.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD,
Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland.


A corollary to the Iron Law of Bureaucracy

You may be reading about the events going on in Canada where the three opposition parties are now (six weeks after a general election) trying to form a government to replace the minority Conservative one.


Because the PM, Stephen Harper, proposed that the Canadian state not continue to fund Canadaian political parties.

At my blog  http://www.di2.nu/200812/02c.htm   I have now coined "Harper's law" which is almost certainly related to, if nor a direct corollary of the Iron Law:

Never get between a politician and his source of funding

Share & Enjoy



A psychiatrist's wife says

Are almost half of college-age students mentally ill?

O-oo-oo can I answer this one??!!!


Good grief. We sent our oldest child away to a small Catholic college in NJ. Living in the dorm was like living on a psych ward. One student cut herself five times before the college finally asked her to leave!?

My own community college students carry so much baggage with them I feel more like a counselor than a prof. They are emotional wrecks. Today's kids have had so much done for them that they have few coping skills except for drugs and alcohol.

The laissez-faire attitude of boomer parents is coming home to haunt the nation. And, the unfortunate trickle down effect means the next generation won't be much better.

Mrs. Ed


Hyperion reactor

Jerry P:

The Hyperion uses liquid metal for heat transfer. While this is pipes, it can be a problem as it will likely be sodium and/or potassium (NaK) or maybe even lead. In any case there is adequate danger from liquid metals (Na) or (K) coming into contact with water. While they don't attack steel piping to any great degree, the piping must be carefully manufactured and careless handling of the reactors can be dangerous from those materials. Lead of course would be an environmental hazard if it was not carefully handled. As you are making fissile material in the reactor, it is a good candidate for a dirty bomb; radioactive blanket on a conventional explosive. I don't know the potential for making Pu but that may be possible.



Hi Jerry,

From the process descriptions and curricula vitae of the folks involved, these would seem to be variant SNAP (Systems Nuclear Auxiliary Power) reactors - originally designed for spacecraft.

Runs on 10% enriched uranium (vs 5% for conventional light water or 20% for 'weapons grade') loaded with hydrogen as a moderator and sealed. Overheat sealed reactor, hydrogen migrates out of uranium, reaction wanes. Reactor cools, hydrogen migrates back into uranium, reaction waxes. Unseal and hydrogen escapes out, reaction stops. Liquid sodium for heat transfer from reactor to thermoelectric elements.

Chris Meredith Product Engineer Creation Technologies


Schooling Past and Present


It is sad to see the current state of education in the good old U S of A. It might be worthwhile to take a look at the past when schools actually educated and how it was done.

In Los Angeles off Vermont North of the Hollywood Freeway there is a street called Normal Avenue. It is interesting to learn how this name came about.

In the last half of the 19th Century and the early years of the 20th Century there was a citadel of higher education called a Normal School, so called because it offered the Normal Curriculum. This was a two year course of study that prepared the student to be a teacher. Such a school was located on or near the site of the current Los Angeles City College. Consequently, a street named Normal Avenue. A century or so ago two years of higher education was deemed sufficient to teach grade school or high school. Of course, there were no remedial English or Math courses offered or needed. In those days High School Graduates were proficient in English, Reading, Mathematics and had a good basic knowledge of History and the Sciences.

In 1916 my Mother, at the age of 17 with little more than a High School Education, was teaching 5th grade in Marion Ohio. Misbehavior in class was not tolerated and teachers were authorized to apply mild corporal punishment such as a ruler across the miscreant's knuckles. Students that had not learned their lessons were held back until they had mastered the required material. In fact, one of my Mother's students was only a year younger than she.

How we have allowed our educational system to plunge into its current state is not a mystery and how to fix it is widely known,

Discipline is one of the keys to learning. Disruptive students MUST be removed from regular class rooms so that the remaining students can learn and Teachers can teach.

Students need to be grouped by demonstrated ability so that those on the right side of the curve can advance faster and those on the left side can be given the extra attention that is needed to ensure a good outcome.

Teachers need to spend less time being taught HOW to teach and more time learning WHAT to teach. The "Educators" are in charge of the requirements for a teaching credential and have by and large ended up producing hordes of people with teaching credentials and nothing to teach. A Ed.D. should disqualify the holder from holding ANY gainful employment. (To find out what Robert Heinlein though of the Ed.D. degree, read "The Number of the Beast."

Our Colleges and Universities should be required to reject any prospective student that needs and remedial course. These student should be directed to Junior Colleges.

Those who believe in permissiveness and apologia have gotten us into our current pickle and it is time to stop listening to them.

Public School funding is an important part of the Education picture and deserves some attention.

The farther away the funding is from the school district the less effective it will be. Federal and State funding of public schools leads, by and large, to two results:

1. More government interference in local school affairs.

2. An increase in administrative staff to ensure that the school district gets its "fair share" of the funding.

Neither of these leads to better education for the students.

How do we fix our educational system?

Establish standards for behavior and level of learning required for promotion and adhere to them.

Group students by ability where possible. Allow those student who can to get ahead.

Return both financial and curriculum control to the local community.

Change teacher certification requirements to reduce the number of required Education courses and increase the number of courses in the subject matter to be taught.

Provide objective teacher rating criteria and base pay on merit.

Bob Holmes

I'm still working on my review essay of Murray's latest book, but his simple truths are self-evident:

Abilities vary, and schools can't change that.

Half the children are Below Average.

Too many go to college and seek "education." This helps neither students nor institutions.

Our future -- America's future -- future prosperity or poverty for all of us -- depends on how we educate the academically gifted.

We all know all of this; I suspect there is not one intelligent person in the nation who doesn't know this; but we all act as if it were not true, and unbridled egalitarianism is scientifically justified, and anyone who says different is racist and deserves being ostracized if not jailed for thoughtcrime. And the result of our pretended beliefs in nonsense is No Child Left Behind, which insures that No Child Gets Ahead and thus assures the failure of the fourth point; we allow those with wealth to try their own ways of educating their children, thus making the elite hereditary.

I would add a fifth simple truth: there is a range from below average to above average (not including the academically gifted) whose productivity is determined by skills and training with a leavening of education; and the education of that group is as important as the education of the academically gifted -- and we are falling farther and farther behind in their education, again because of myths that no one believes but our masters pretend to believe, and the bureaucracies shout out to shut down any attempts at reform.

This is not the place for my essay, but it will incorporate the above. We are being done in by myths.


ref pushing students towards engineering and manufacturing majors



I have watched with great interest your suggestions, and those of your readers, to push college students away from studies in accounting, finance, Womyn’s Studies, Gender Studies, etc., and towards majors dealing with engineering, manufacturing, medicine, nursing, and such. I have also seen comments regarding student loans, student work, and related matters.

While interesting, the issue is at least 20 years late. And it pushes too many of my buttons to ignore. May I introduce some anecdotal evidence? Personal, in this case.

I worked my way through college, as some of your readers have recommended. Part-time student, full-time employee, totally self-supporting throughout. Studying engineering with a focus on manufacturing. Graduated 16 years ago, owing no one. The results? Success? Comfortable living? Sense of accomplishment? Well …..

The manufacturing company I worked for originally, after I had just started my studies, closed its doors a year after I started. Some of the people had been there for more than 20 years.

The second one, my home for more than 6 years, was a division of one of the Big 3, is now part of the spun-off components operation, and what little is left in the US is mostly invisible and dying. They once employed thousands in that town, but it is down to a few hundred and is on a death watch.

The third, once a major player in its field, downsized in a big way as I was about to graduate and is now on its 3rd or 4th owner since I left, and barely alive. I was there 18 months; others had been there for 20 years or more.

The fourth, once the most admired corporation in America, was sold off by the descendants of the founders, underwent extensive ''rationalization'' to suit the green eye-shade types with MBA’s, and now exists mostly now as a label on a box of product produced in China or Mexico. I was there for more than 6 years having moved across state lines to take the position.

The fifth was a Tier 1 to a major American manufacturing corporation with products in most American homes. Which corporation is busily relocating to Mexico and the sad remains of the plant that formerly housed me is closing, as are most of the other Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers. My co-workers from my 5 years there are kicked to the curb like trash. That was another move across state lines.

The sixth closed the plant I was based in, and most of what is left elsewhere is now in Mexico as ‘more efficient’, after I’d been there less than six months and had moved across state lines to get there. The plant manager, my boss, was unemployed for a year, and I fed my family from a succession of low-level jobs while sending resumes everywhere.

The seventh is barely hanging on after several rounds of RIF’s, one of which included me and the person who hired me, after only a year and after I had, again, moved across state lines.

The eighth .... but need I go on?

You want engineering and manufacturing in this country? So do I, more than you can imagine. But in the last 16 years I have moved my family across state lines multiple times, not willingly or chasing career advancement, but out of brutal necessity. I like manufacturing and engineering, and am well-regarded by those I have worked with. But I have grown weary of going through plant closings, outsourcing, ‘right-sizing’, rounds of management fads, and being lectured by beancounters who could not locate their rectums with both hands and a flashlight

In my networking across the country, I have found that my story is by no means unique. Meanwhile, I was just lectured by an executive recruiter (a.k.a “headhunter”) about my too-frequent job changes.

Had I the option to do it over, I might have become a ‘snivel servant’ and paid my dues to AFSCME or their co-thieves. At least I wouldn’t have had to uproot my family and careen across the company like vagabonds, always to be strangers in town.

There are good people in this country, people who have worked hard and been real contributors and have added value to the organization, people I have been proud to know and to work with. Some of them are working at Wal-Mart now, or are working for temp agencies, or are ‘’independent consultants’’ living in roach motels as they take on various temporary projects trying to feed a family 500 miles away. Some have tried the ‘headhunter’ route. While, generally, the finance wonks and beancounters have holed up in their McMansions and are living off the golden parachutes and the other rewards accumulated as a result of gutting their companies. The hollowing-out of American manufacturing has some real human casualties and I have been at Ground Zero for some of it. It is not a theoretical matter for me.

Question for the house: what is the point of cranking out more graduates in fields that require a lot of real effort and lead to Wal-Mart jobs?

Sign me,

Not Too Bitter

Actually I didn't say that. I don't give people career advice. I had said it would be better for the nation to have engineers than "social scientists." Depending on the individual it may or may not be better for the engineer or the social scientist.

When one plans one's own career, it is well to take account of what the actual situation is, as well as one's actual desires. What is best for individuals, given the fundamental mismanagement of our education system and economy, is not necessarily what is best for the social order or the nation -- and not all those who select high tech careers should do so. It depends on a bunch of stuff including luck and one's predictive abilities.

What I have said is that the education of the best and brightest is crucial to our future. I have also said that far too many are enrolled in "education" which is learning how to learn by manipulating abstract symbols, as opposed to learning marketable skills. In general, the most financially successful people in the nation deal with abstract concepts; but that hardly means that there is no future for the highly skilled with properly training. A professor may make less money than a master plumber, and the plumber may have better work hours.

The American education system looks, from the outside, like a bad parody of resource allocation. Most education counselors don't look very far ahead, and often urge students into specialties already nearly saturated -- at one time the US was awash with petroleum engineers. At another time we had more nuclear engineers than we could employ. In both cases the reason for unemployment was political: we weren't building refineries, drilling for oil, or building nuclear power plants.

One major reason for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the nation is again politics: it's not as if we weren't warned. You may recall Ross Perot's "Giant Sucking Sound", which would indicate jobs being exported to Mexico; what Perot didn't realize is that there would be a second Giant Sucking Sound as the jobs were sucked out of both Mexico and the United States to China. We have built an economy dependent in large part on opening containers of stuff from China, and devising ever more complex ways to get China to loan us the money to pay for those containers of stuff.

It is certainly true that the top layer of finance wonks and beancounters got out of Wall Street rich. Should we be sorry you were not one of them? It is also true that many others envy your friends who have a job with Wal-Mart -- and who are among the defaulters on loans on those MacMansions.

As I said in my most recent column, it's very difficult to predict where the economy will go, particularly when we have moved farther and farther from a regulated market economy and closer to a command economy. We know that a command economy never works.

In India for a very long time the proper way to insure one's career stability was to get a job with the bureaucracy. The government almost never lays off people, and does not have to persuade the people to buy its services. They are given no choice. Clearly if one has the minimum academic ability the surest way to have a reliable job is to learn how to take civil service examinations, determine which part of the government you want to work in, and have at it.


A question about one of your forecasts in Byte


Some time in the 1980s, in one of your pieces in Byte, you made a startling forecast that I consider one of the most prescient predictions of recent decades: You asserted that by 2000 almost anyone, almost anywhere in the world, would be able to find the answer to almost any question.

I found your prediction audacious and enormously appealing, so it is one of the few statements by anyone from that era that I can recall clearly. I'm a sort-of-retired academic, born in the same year as you. I'm just starting my own blog, "Rethinking Medical Education." I'm still at the design, development and testing phase, so it hasn't been announced to my colleagues yet. If you want to see the current version, just to help you decide to take my request seriously, you can visit it at: <http://RethinkMedEd.org

I'm now writing a post about the changing world of medical journal publication and the future of medical information. In that piece I want to credit you with your impressive forecast about the future availability of information. Might you be able to recall the year in which you first wrote that declaration? If it is easy, I'd love to have the exact quote and even a link to where you might have referenced that forecast yourself.

I hope to hear from you.

Many thanks and best wishes,

- Hill

-- Hilliard Jason, MD, EdD

The year when I published that observation was 1981. I came to the conclusion a bit earlier. This was in the days when "having an at-sign in your name" was a bit of esoterica, but the ARPAnet was working; in my case at 300 Baud.


Buy Nuclear


David March


China's six-to-one advantage over the US, 


Spengler has a look at China's commitment to classical music, and why it may be important:


"It must be a conspiracy. Chinese parents are selling plasma-screen TVs to America, and saving their wages to buy their kids pianos - making American kids stupider and Chinese kids smarter. Watch out, Americans - a generation from now, your kid is going to fetch coffee for a Chinese boss. That is a bit of an exaggeration, of course - some of the bosses will be Indian."


That giant sucking sound... Of course Americans save nothing.


Electronista | Amazon Kindle sold out well into 2009


Words fail me.

Francis Hamit

They sell better than Amazon predicted...



Beijing is displaying grand plan on Taiwan:


I think someone in Beijing has been reading your "cultural weapons of mass destruction" comments.


You think?


pursuit of green 


Just a reminder (as John Ringo noted in The Last Centurion) that there is more that government can do that just mess with gas prices to increase food prices in their "green" revolution:

Food to fuel (but we already know about that)

Gasoline/diesel costs to farm both the food to eat and the food for fuel (one reason net efficiency of corn-produced ethanol is only about 10% net gain based on energy cost to produce)

Cost of fertilizer and pesticides (not only does it take a lot of petroleum-derived energy to produce fertilizer and both energy and feed stock to produce pesticides, the use of both is itself a 'greenie" no-no to be phased out; but without fertilizer and pesticides production yields are cut at least 65%. That's food rationing territory even without food to fuel -- and I mean food rationing at the 1200 calorie per day level. (Yeah, a lot of me might benefit from short bouts of 1200 calories a day -- but for the rest of our lives?)

Don't forget that it using even c. 1900 agriculture it takes 19 farmers to feed themselves and one non-farmer. While there are aspects of modern agriculture (high-yield hydroponics and other sustainable small farm techniques) that might improve the ratio by a factor of two or even three, at this point we're using one experienced farmer to feed19 people. This means at least 18 of every 20 people in the cities and suburbs moving back onto the farm and doing by hand what farmers have now been doing with tractors and derived equipment for three to four generations. On 1200 calories per day doing a job that traditionally took 3000 or more.

That might be a bit disruptive to society. And wouldn't "bankrupting coal" have just downright synergistic effects?



The Future of Coal



http://fossil.energy.gov/programs/powersystems/gasification/gasificationpion eer.html 

If you take Obama's statement in full context:

“I voted against the Clear Skies Bill. In fact, I was the deciding vote -- despite the fact that I’m a coal state and that half my state thought that I had thoroughly betrayed them. Because I think clean air is critical and global warming is critical.

“But this notion of no coal, I think, is an illusion. Because the fact of the matter is, is that right now we are getting a lot of our energy from coal. And China is building a coal-powered plant once a week. So what we have to do then is figure out how can we use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon. And how can we sequester that carbon and capture it. If we can’t, then we’re gonna still be working on alternatives.

“But ... let me sort of describe my overall policy. What I’ve said is that we would put a cap and trade policy in place that is as aggressive if not more aggressive than anyone out there. I was the first call for 100 percent auction on the cap and trade system. Which means that every unit of carbon or greenhouse gases that was emitted would be charged to the polluter. That will create a market in which whatever technologies are out there that are being presented, whatever power plants are being built, they would have to meet the rigors of that market and the ratcheted-down caps that are imposed every year.

“So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted. That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and other alternative energy approaches. The only thing that I’ve said with respect to coal -- I haven’t been some coal booster. What I have said is that for us to take coal off the table as an ideological matter, as opposed to saying if technology allows us to use coal in a clean way, we should pursue it, that I think is the right approach. The same with respect to nuclear. Right now, we don’t know how to store nuclear waste wisely and we don’t know how to deal with some of the safety issues that remain. And so it’s wildly expensive to pursue nuclear energy. But I tell you what, if we could figure out how to store it safely, then I think most of us would say that might be a pretty good deal.

“The point is, if we set rigorous standards for the allowable emissions, then we can allow the market to determine and technology and entrepreneurs to pursue, what the best approach is to take, as opposed to us saying at the outset, here are the winners that we’re picking and maybe we pick wrong and maybe we pick right.”

-maybe you can worry a little less...

The Polk Power plant in the links at the beginning is basically in my back yard. I pass it frequently in my travels. I've been told that it burns cheap, high-sulfur coal. The only emissions visible at the plant are a couple of small steam vent stacks.

The future of coal appears to be bright.


My worry is that people take this stuff seriously as if there were real science at work here. Nothing affects an economy more than energy prices, and if regulations are such that coal fired energy is driven to bankruptcy, there is no possibility of competing with China and India. None. Zero.


Bjorn Lomborg and the cost of "solving" global warming

Bjorn Lomborg gave an entertaining talk on global warming at a Reason magazine event. Have you seen it? Video (about 30 minutes):


Can't wait until Inferno II. Been reading you and Niven since the 1970s.

Allen from Pennsylvania


Unrestrained Capitalism...


"Surrogate motherhood has been the subject of much philosophical and political dispute over the years. To summarize briefly, it is a class-and-gender minefield. When money is exchanged for pregnancy, some believe, surrogacy comes close to organ-selling, or even baby-selling. It threatens to commodify not only babies, but women as well, putting their biological functions up for sale like so many Jimmy Choos. If surrogacy ever becomes a widely practiced market transaction, it will probably make pregnancy into just another dirty task for the working class, with wages driven down and wealthy couples hiring the work out because it's such a hassle to be pregnant."

"Then there are the photographs, already infamous: Ms. Kuczynski [the super-rich employer and writer] in a black sleeveless sheath and stiletto-heel pumps, posing next to the pregnant surrogate in khakis and a tousled pink flannel shirt. Ms. Kuczynski holding the baby on the lawn of her Southampton estate, with columns, topiary and servant. The surrogate sitting, barefoot and alone, on a beat-up porch of her house in Pennsylvania."

Charles Brumbelow


Political Correctness

A worthwhile piece on the hazards of political correctness and diversity. I think Ms. Ruden has it right:

"The reconciliation of groups is not a magical process that needs only to get started, as if "you just talk to people and meet them face to face, and you see how much like you they are." They're probably not much at all like you, and if you pretend otherwise to move things along, you dribble a poison into the water that everyone will be drinking."


John Witt


Prof. Erwin and Mr. Daniels

Dr. Pournelle,

Ray Daniels' confusion is understandable, and in fact Harry Erwin is a little out of date.

The $30,000 per year of life is the figure used by NICE (officially the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, but widely known as the National Institute for Cost Effectiveness, or worse variants) to decide whether it is worth using taxpayer funding for a particular treatment in a particular case. It leads to some highly emotional headlines as you can imagine.

The business of people being prevented from buying it privately is a reference to a bureaucratic rule which prevents National Health Service patients from "topping up" their treatment privately. The rule states "you pay for anything, you pay for everything"; clearly for cancer patients or people with very expensive things like heart problems, this means you can't "top up", because the cost of the rest of your treatment is £00's of 000's.

There was an announcement recently that this rule had been set aside, but experience with this Labour Government suggests that announcements and actual changes are two very different things - especially when an election is in prospect.

I give all this tedious detail because the more Americans understand about socialised healthcare, the less likely you are to fall for its blandishments.

Don't look in the crystal ball, read the history!

Andrew Duffin



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Thursday, December 11, 2008

I've been following the education discussion with great interest. Education and training are the foundations of the nation and, since I'm unfortunately a pessimist, I think we are a long way down the slope toward being a second tier nation. We believe our own myths too much.

At any rate, here is an anecdote from my near past. Forgive me if it a takes a bit to get to the point.

At one time, my wife and I raised and showed pedigree cats. We had quite a number of them and consequently bought kitty litter a half ton at a time, getting a nice discount from Petco for that quantity. One week end we drove to get a resupply and talked to a nice young man who appeared to be a recent high school graduate. The year was 1988 and he was maybe 18-20 years old.

"We'd like to buy 1000 lbs of kitty litter."

"OK, he said. It's in 50 lb bags, I'll get a calculator and figure out how many."

My wife (BS Engr Physics) piped up and said, "It's 20 bags."

The young man, looked at her for a moment and said, "Uh, OK. I'll go get it."

Now this was bad enough, but a few weeks later my wife had a couple of cat-raising friends visiting and I related the first two lines of the above conversation and then asked them, "How many bags?" Neither could answer. One was an elementary school substitute teacher, the other was a junior high biology and life sciences teacher (Dallas, TX school system).

Our country has been in trouble for a while now.

John Witt

Fortunately we have many competent classroom teachers, although numeracy isn't as widespread as it should be; but then we don't really encourage numeracy in colleges of education. Our problem isn't really the quality and intelligence of our teachers; it is the arrogance and in competency of, I fear, a majority and more of our professors of education. They are the gatekeepers, and they issue the credentials; but most of them couldn't teach anyone to read, and know less about the actual process of education than the young men and women who come to them to learn. Fortunately a lot of our teachers survive the imbecility of education classes.

Departments of Education are, with very few exceptions, perfect examples of the workings of the Peter Principle and Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy. If I were Caesar I would abolish the lot of them.


Bob Holmes extols late 19th/early 20th century classroom discipline.

This past year I've been reading the Little House books to my six-year-old. Farmer Boy, the book about Almanzo Wilder's upbringing, tells how several older students at Almanzo's one-room schoolhouse were blamed for fatally injuring the previous teacher, and when they attacked the replacement he produced a blacksnake whip and beat them until they fled the building. The 19th century isn't known for its political correctness, of course, but considering that the alternatives to defending himself was for the teacher to flee or be killed, that fellow picked pretty well. If he'd pulled out a gun and shot the students he could have pleaded self-defense, but even a 19th century school board would have had a hard time letting the fellow go on teaching.

--Mike Glyer

The utter lack of discipline in many of our schools is a great part of the problem. We have, in a thoroughly mistaken wish to be fair, put in adversarial procedures in school discipline, with the result that discipline vanishes. That results in a tax, a very heavy tax, on the kids who are disciplined and want to learn, and often results the teacher pretty well giving up. Were it left to me I'd have a "Company Q" classroom for all kids with a third classroom disruption offense, and put that class under the care of a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant -- and segregate them by sex as well. This might actually make citizens of some of the disciplinary cases, and meanwhile lets the teachers who can't deal with the disrupters actually do some teaching, and lets the kids who can control themselves have a chance of learning something.

Add No Child Left Behind to the undermining of magisterial authority of teachers and you have a formula for disaster.

For they shall sow the wind, and reap a whirlwind.


Consider this gem: http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2008/12/10/hillary_mumbai/ 

<snip>Packing his team with shiny Harvard retreads, Obama missed a golden opportunity to link his public works project with a national revalorization of the trades. Practical training in hands-on vocational skills is desperately needed in this country, where liberal arts education has become a soggy boondoggle, obscenely expensive and diluted by propaganda and groupthink.<snip>



Yet another prediction borne out.


-- Roland Dobbins


“We’re in danger of going from feudalism to dictatorship."

First graf demonstrates the profound historical ignorance of the 'journalist':


--- Roland Dobbins

I suppose it was inevitable that Sark would become "modern". T H White retired there after getting the Camelot movier money precisely because it was not modern.


On Pirates

 know nothing about naval operations, of course.

"Given the large area of operations and small size of the boats they are primarily using, it seems to me to be a very daunting problem in sea control to try and put a significant dent in the pirates operations just at sea. Even if we were to treat the area as a free fire zone at sea (I don't recommend it, just saying, even if), it would require a very substantial and sustained commitment of surface combatants that would impact operations elsewhere in the world."

This cannon only surface warfare mentality manifested itself 20 years ago at the time of the US - Iranian "Tanker War". Back then USN was found equally helpless against Iranian small craft. Maybe it was because the boats were operated by the Revolutionary Guards and not the Iranian Navy.

As a result the US Army was tasked to deploy a fair number of armed helos to the Gulf: AH-64s, "AH-6s" and UH-60s with extended hardpoint pylons, miniguns and rockets. Lacking access to land bases at that time, we based them on leased barges anchored off the UAE and Qatar.

The RevGuards ceased to come in their cigarette boats after losing two.

I was involved with that operation. USN then noticed that UH-60s could carry guns and rockets over water, as well as the ASW torpedoes carried by their SH-60s. I heard they later rearmed their SH-60s this way. Maybe they disarmed them again since then. No, they never told us why the USMC was too busy to send any of its helos. Maybe they feared USMC would remind them about it every day afterwards for eternity. Or just annually during budget markup.

I know nothing about naval operations. I only mention this since it's apparently again beyond the naval sphere. Maybe it's because the Somalians aren't real sailors, like the RevGuards before. Or maybe USN/USMC are too busy in the interior of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The area of greatest threat is the northern Somalia coast along the Gulf of Aden. We do have base access at the western end in Djibouti. Going on past experience I'd probably charter 10 container ships (plenty seem to be available now at cheap rates) and base about 100 armed helos on them. If we station the container ships 100 miles apart we could cover 1,000 miles of coast line, counting Djibouti. This is all of the Gulf of Aden and most of the Indian Ocean coastline. No helo would have to fly more than 50 miles from its base ship. If we use twin engine helos like UH-60s over water safety will be increased.

If the USN can't be persuaded to provide some E2C Hawkeyes to fly out of Djibouti maybe the French will send some of theirs. They are the protecting power there.

I think one infantry platoon per ship will provide sufficient local security. They can be augmented with 10 .50 caliber Browning machineguns for this task.

I realized different branches and services seem to be stuck on romantic historical moments that become defining icons. Armored reconnaissance will always be mentally riding with J.E.B. Stuart, no matter how centuries pass since the last nag was sent to the glue factory. USAF will always be engaging the Red Baron's Flying Circus in 1918, or slugging it out with the Luftwaffe in B-17s and P-51s at 12 O'Clock High during The Big Week in early 1944. The tankers will always be racing across France with George S. Patton in the summer of 1944. The field artillery will always be riding the horses pulling their two part gun carriages and limbers.

And the USN's surface warfare community will forever be down on the gun decks of the USS Constitution, topsails set and standing ready to "Fire All!" as soon as the enemy appears alongside.


Subj: CROWS and video-game players: perfect together


>>CROWS (common remotely operated weapon stations) ... [make] the enemy ... no longer able to knock out the turret gunner, early in a firefight, and take away a lot of the vehicles firepower. ... The accuracy of the fire, and uncanny speed with which the CROWS gun moves so quickly and deliberately, is due to something few officers expected. The guys operating these systems grew up playing video games. They developed skills in operating systems (video games) very similar to the CROWS controls.<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


SecDef on the burdens of empire.

An unprecedented public cri de coeur, as remarkable for its errors in grammar and capitalization as for its content. Do OSD no longer employ linguistically competent PAOs?


--- Roland Dobbins



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Friday,  December 12, 2008

I think I know why they've found global cooling.

As a pastafarian reading about Somali pirates, I find my faith is borne out by evidence.

Ramen, Paul Martin


My brother got his Ed credentials after many years of practice as a lawyer. He still does some lawing on the side. He comments on your comment that: "Fortunately we have many competent classroom teachers..."

For the most part, I have to agree with that. I learned more in the 3 months I student taught with a 30-year history teacher at B------ High School than I did in the 36 credit hours of classes at A-----. In fact, I often fall back on some of the things that George ----- told me at B------. He and I still stay in touch. There ought to be a program that identifies (and compensates accordingly) experienced teachers to mentor new hires. Maybe even an entire year of "interning" in the classroom, shadowing the best teachers and learning first hand what works and what doesn't, how to cope with Juniors who can't read beyond a 6th grade level, what assessments are authentic, etc. And the experienced teacher would get an assistant as a reward. Of course, this would never work where it's needed most - in those districts where there's 50% turnover year in and year out. The best teachers leave before they can break in their successors. Like I said, I am fortunate to work in one of the best districts in the country. Teachers do not leave here until death or retirement.

Michael Flynn

Alas, the teachers unions fight prodigiously against any such program. Merit pay for teachers is anathema to educrats.


Barclay Brothers snarky about Sark

Re your mention of this on Thursday voters in Sark overwhelmingly voted for candidates the Barclay Bros didn't want & they have taken a huff & their money & left. Considering that this means a high proportion of the locals losing their employment I have a lot of respect for such people not being willing to be bullied.

The Barclays Bros own the Telegraph which is, unfortunately, one of the few papers which will print articles skeptical to the warming scam. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/

Neil Craig

Everything is connected to everything else....


General George Patton Has A Solution To The Iraq War

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

I clicked on the link under "General George Patton Has A Solution To The Iraq War", and quickly regretted it. Evidently some You-tube actor thinks that he is a wit. That's half true.

I was irritated, partly by the Pattonoid's half-wit big talk, but also by the interviewer's sniggering at our thespian's genocidal nihilism. Do real men snigger? If they had belly-laughed, belched and farted, well that would have been in character for barbarians, but at least they'd have been _manly_ barbarians. As is, they exemplify the juvenality of evil.

I guess my complaints prove that I'm a humorless grown-up and not a cool kid like our Pattonoid.

- Nathaniel Hellerstein

I thought it mildly amusing. I confess I have pretty well forgotten it in the week or so since I looked at it. Fear not, you will get over the exposure.


Ghurka guards counter pirates, 

Some ships are embarking Ghurkas.



I had not realized that Ghurkas were available for hire except direct to either British or Indian regiments, or the Sultan of Brunei who leases one of the British Ghurka regiments. I wonder where the shipping lines are getting their trained men? Some lease arrangement with India?  The Gurhkas are historically among the best light infantry in the world, but they are recruited directly into the regiments they will serve, or that was the case a few years ago, and only the British and Indian governments have recruiting rights -- or training facilities for that matter.


What is your opinion of Lori Garver? 

Dr. Pournelle, I just realized that I recognized the name of one of Obama's transition team: Lori Garver. I recognize her because of her association with the National Space Society. I really don't know much else about her, but have assumed that she supports commercial access to space. What is your opinion of her and what would this signal, if anything, about Obama's possible support for commercial access to space?

Thanks, Eric Freitas

PS - I really enjoy your books and am now re-reading Lucifer's Hammer on my PDA, which I bought in the bundle from Baen. Thanks.

I have not seen Lori since the first flight of the DC/X, which is some years ago. She was there as head of the NSS, with a new baby, out in the White Sands high desert, which ought to be some indication of her determination and enthusiasm. She's a lot more sympathetic to NASA than I am, but I think no government monopolist.


This from a couple of days ago:

Environment and Energy 


We haven't averted the risks yet... so much for my cautious optimism.


Obama's Environmental Test

The president-elect's picks for his energy and environment team could undo any smart moves so far.

Kimberly A. Strassel

<snip> ... the worry is that (Obama's) picks for ... overseeing energy and environmental policy -- will undo any smart moves the president-elect has made so far. <snip>

But an ill-crafted cap-and-trade program that dramatically escalates energy costs is the same as a giant tax hike. Mr. Obama is promising to save or create 2.5 million jobs. Fabulous. But drowning industries in exorbitant energy prices will only encourage further overseas flight. If the president-elect thinks Detroit is a problem, just wait for the impact an upward march in electricity prices would have on, say, the manufacturing South.<snip>

...all signs suggest the Obama crew is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge this reality when it comes to its militant past promises on energy and environment.

<snip>...a National Energy Council ... would presumably include a much-discussed "climate czar," with a straight line to the president.

<snip>Last year the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that greenhouse gases are "air pollutants." This opened the door for vast new EPA powers that could, in the wrong hands, make that agency a central planner for the entire economy. Environmentalists love that idea.<snip>

...California's request for tougher auto standards ... might well finish off Detroit<snip>

(Carol) Browner ... is a rumored pick for a second run at EPA. Mrs. Browner's worldview is that the only way to accomplish environmental good is to use blunt regulatory and legal force to squeeze targeted industries<snip>


Yes, that does look like the way things will go, given the proclivities of those appointed. Shall we hope for a miracle?




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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Healthy people should have the right to boost their brains with pills, like those prescribed for hyperactive kids or memory-impaired older folks, several scientists contend in a provocative commentary


Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy




On no child left behind"

Actually figured out you'd get a curve that looks like

1 **
2 **
3 **
4 **
5 **
6 ******************
7 ******************
8 ******************
9 ******************
10 *******************

where 5 = meets standard, 10= perfect

No wonder these people want to discard the normal curve.







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Sunday,  December 14, 2008     


Dear Jerry,

I used to look forward to reading your column in Byte magazine all those years ago as you always had something useful and interesting to say. I have read a few of your books with pleasure and now once in a while I look at your blog.

However I am amazed at your December 3 comments on the events in Mumbai implying that such an attack could not happen in the USA or that the response to such an attack would be faster than elsewhere in the world.

The US is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world because of the 2nd amendment to the US constitution. However this does not protect the individual from violence and you have one of the highest murder rates in the world if not the highest amongst the democracies. Since most murders in the US are committed with handguns, surely this is a consequence of the availability of firearms in the US and their likely presence in individual homes is not much of a deterrent to criminals.

We also regularly read about some disaffected US student shooting up (usually) his school or a former employee taking his revenge on his workplace after being sacked etc, etc. Again the easy availability of firearms makes these incidents more likely.

No doubt you would point out that these incidents are quickly dealt with by armed police. However dealing with a couple of school kids or a disaffected individual is completely different from the situation in Mumbai. Here 12 heavily armed and fully trained men with military weapons deliberately targeted soft targets in a large city and quickly established themselves in an urban environment where they effectively hid themselves. They would have proven to be difficult to dislodge irrespective of the force sent to deal with them. If as you point out the head of the police force Special Branch was also killed then it is not surprising that the terrorists were able to rampage through the city. Maybe you could get some advice on how your own military in Iraq would deal with such a situation.

However before you criticise the Indian government for its lack of response to a civil emergency perhaps you should remember your own governments response to hurricane Katrina. Your government could do nothing and it seems like it was every man woman and child for himself and the devil take the hindmost. So I wonder what your government's response would have been, if the 9/11 terrorists had chosen to attack the New York financial district in the same way as the Mumbai group.

Finally I lived and worked in the US for some 3 1/2 years in the late 90's and never felt the need to arm myself and I often wondered why US citizens felt such a need. I was once told by a friend that he had a gun to protect himself against all the other people (lunatics) that also had guns! Really what if no one had guns? I grant you that it would be nigh on impossible to disarm the US populace so I guess that you are stuck with it. That does not mean that it is right or even sensible.

Of course citizens of other countries have firearms but where they are tightly regulated as they are in Australia where I live, we still have firearms crime but it is much less than in the USA. Ordinary citizens do not go armed and although there has been one mass shooting, the effect of this was the introduction of even greater restrictions on the availability of firearms. There have been relatively few incidents since and then mainly with armed police who seem less and less able to control difficult situations without resort to firearms.



I am unsure of your points. The right of citizens to keep and bear arms was placed in the Constitution precisely because Americans are citizens, not subjects, and as citizens have some obligations to defend themselves and their communities against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that includes local barbarians. In addition, the notion was that local militias could defend their communities against tyrants. That latter is more a hope than an expectation today, but it wasn't always. Those picturesque cannon on courthouse lawns were once part of the arms kept by the city militia. Today there is little chance of communities defending themselves against the Legions in any direct battle activity; on the other hand, events in Iraq have demonstrated that an armed an informed citizenry is not helpless.

As to the Indian government's reactions, I don't know what part of the US you lived in, but in Los Angeles the Special Weapons and Tactics teams of the county sheriff, Los Angeles PD, and half a dozen of the larger cities in the region, would be more than sufficient against the kind of direct action attack that took place in Mumbai. If a dozen well armed terrorists attempted to storm Santa Monica from small boats, I suspect they would not enjoy the outcome over the long run. A more likely attack would be from vans in Beverly Hills, which would have more success if coupled with stealth, and could succeed in some heavy destruction of property and loss of life. A determined gang with guns who don't care what happens to them operating in a civilized city can of course cause a lot of destruction; but the chance that they could operate for days after revealing themselves is about zero. Local officials have ample authority to call in help, and there is plenty of armed and trained help available.

There used to be more, of course. Jimmy Carter's 1979 imbecile decision to replace the old Civil Defense organizations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency was taken in part because the USSR contended that Civil Defense was an act of aggression against the Soviet Union. The argument made no sense to anyone but the "arms control community" and only to a faction of that; but since the Civil Defense groups under the Department of Defense were local and transparent while FEMA was a new bureaucracy with lots of new jobs and appointments, there were many other non-defense arguments about centralizing management of local disasters. In those days there was little threat of armed terror attacks. Today that isn't quite so clear.

Transparency and subsidiarity are the preferred principles of government, but Carter apparently never suspected anything of the sort, and the principles no longer govern government organization decisions. ]

As to "really, what if no one had guns," I ask you, "Really, what if all citizens were law abiding and careful?" New York City has long had  stringent gun control laws without noticeable success in reducing the crime rates, while states that have adopted very lax gun control laws seem to have survived with lower slaughter rates than New York.

England is running the experiment of drastic and stringent disarming of its subjects. We watch with some interest here...


Re. Guns & Public Safety (Mumbai)

A good illustration of your point happened a few months back in the Jerusalem bulldozer terrorist attack: the gun used to stop the terrorist belonged to an armed civilian.

—Joel Salomon


Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.


-- Roland Dobbins


Enviro Economics.


--- Roland Dobbins

It's red ink for greens. Surprise. Oddly enough we don't have laws requiring people to conserve diamonds, or gold.



Here is a great (cartoon) take on presO's proposed energy initiatives:




"It's weird. It's the ugliest animal in the world."


--- Roland Dobbins


Subject: A Vista note


Due to the recent death of a venerable motherboard on our home XP box I decided to rebuild a new system rather than try to replace the dead components in the older one. In fairly short order I had a 64 bit Vista system running on an Intel quad code processor. This is my first serious experience with Vista and, other than having to trash a perfectly working scanner due to a lack of drivers, I have no complaints.

One interesting data point about software compatibility: my copy of Office 97 runs flawlessly under Vista. I had some fears that along with the internals I would have to shell out for new copies of Word and Excel (which my wife uses in her home business), but we're still solidly in the running with 11 year old software. If it ain't broke.....

-Les Elkins

"NEVER use a maj7 chord in any bar that is named after a deceased NASCAR driver, a large-calibre firearm, or an intoxicated farm animal." -Rev. Billy C. Wirtz's Universal Chord Law


Shortcut to education

Dr. Pournelle:

Heard this on the radio today, when the radio guy was dealing with the subject of education:

"When I went to college, I had never heard of Cliff Notes. I had a European Literature course to pass. I didn't read all those books; I read the Classic Comics. Got an A in the course."

"And what field are you in?"

. . . Longish pause . . ."I'm a retired college professor."



Polite Hydrogen?

They're going to build a bunch of hydrogen filling stations around LA for fuel cell cars. Maybe you could stop by and see how they keep it from leaking.


I confess I was an early enthusiast for The Hydrogen Economy. That was before I had any real experience with hydrogen. I wrote articles on The Hydrogen Economy for American Legion and other prime markets back in the 1970's. Then I had to work with the stuff.

Hydrogen really wants to get out. It's the smallest molecule and takes advantage of that.



Regarding your correspondent "Bruce" and his comments about contemporary clean coal technology, it is important to remember that the basis of Obama's comment is the regulation of greenhouse gases -- that is, carbon dioxide. Trapping the sulfur dioxide from coal combustion is one thing; trapping the CO2 is a whole different matter.



update on global warming :-) 

Hello Jerry,

Glad you continue to improve!

As a testament to global warming, my yard in HOUSTON TEXAS is currently covered with SNOW! It has been snowing intermittently since about 3:30 this afternoon, and is finally starting to accumulate. My roof, grass, bushes and mailbox all have a layer of cold white SNOW on them. The only thing without a white blanket is the concrete surfaces.

My new puppy has never seen snow, and it is always entertaining to see a dog encounter snow for the first time! (his wolf ancestors are very far removed.)

Best wishes always,


Bill Zukley


Emulating Mannian CPS.


--- Roland Dobbins


Masters Of Disaster, 


I sent a friend (a retired USMC attack helicopter pilot) this:


It is a story about how the Navy prepares for and then executes disaster relief efforts.

He responded:

"My helicopter squadron deployed on the helicopter carrier USS Tarawa in late 1990 to the Persian Gulf for Desert Shield. In Jan 1991, we killed as many Iraqis as was possible in the 4 days of Desert Storm. When told to sail home a few weeks later, they passed Bangladesh after the lowlands had been wiped out due to storm. The ship and squadron then conducted "Operation Sea Angel" and flew food, water, supplies ashore to keep a few hundred thousand Bangladeshi alive. Google it for further details.

"The military can stop on a dime and change missions from life taking to life making. All someone in a position of authority has to do is tell it when and where to do what."

A nice tradition, that.



Study: Canines have sense of fairness

I suspect that those of you with dogs already know this




What did we tell him?


He didn't listen to the Republicans; will he listen to it straight?


TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has rejected a suggestion by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama that a carrot and stick policy of economic incentives and additional sanctions might persuade the Iranian government to change its behavior.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hasan Qashqavi, said Monday that Obama's <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,463324,00.html#>  proposed policy was unacceptable and had failed in the past.<snip>










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