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Mail 551 December 29, 2008 - January 3, 2009







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Monday  December 29, 2008

We have a large and varied mailbag; I'll get to what I can.


Subj: The real lesson of recent history

Is not the real lesson of recent history -- climatological, political, financial, take your pick -- that Things Are Variable And Not Always Predictable and that humans in general, and Americans in particular, need the resources to adapt to whatever changes happen?

Or, as Herman Kahn used to say, that the most surprising thing of all would be for any "surprise-free projection" really to come true?

This is scarcely a new lesson:

Panta rei kai ouden menei (All is in flux; nothing abides) goes back to Heraclitus (540-480 B.C.). Alas, there's *another* oft-retaught lesson of history -- the lesson that humans do not learn anything from history.

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

I would not argue very strenuously with that. One can hope that reason will prevail, but it usually takes a while.


Subject: Frank Borman reminisces

Dr Pournelle

Almost an hour, but worth every minute, especially the last five.


Live long and prosper

 h lynn keith


How desperate are climate scientists? Desperate enough to contemplate geo-engineering

Dear Jerry,

For a counterpoint to the articles that one of your readers cited about global warming being disproven, Hansen is still in full panic mode as the following indicates. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, the fact that he is willing to consider Geoengineering indicates how bad he thinks the situation is and his doubts about whether any feasible measures to reduce emissions will be adequate.

How desperate are climate scientists? Desperate enough to contemplate geo-engineering

"On Wednesday, in the Q & A session after Jim Hansen's talk about the dire state of the earth at the AGU meeting, eminent Rutgers University professor Paul Falkowski asked Hansen: "The genie is out of the bottle now -- What do you think of geoengineering as a way to deal with global warming?" I half-expected Hansen to throw his laser-pointer at Falkowski. After all, geoengineering -- deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the earth's climate -- has long been a taboo subject in the climate debate. Only crackpots brought it up. But Hansen didn't miss a beat. He said it would make sense to try "soft" geoengineering first, such as no-till agricutlure and afforestation. But as a last resort, Hansen admitted, more aggressive geoengineering schemes might be necessary. Call it prudence. Or desperation. "


-- Robert K. Kawaratani

Or call it great theater.


Subject: Global warming isn't a theory any more, it's a religion

Jerry, I've been confronting True Believers in Man Made Global Warming with the inconvenient fact that the last several years have been colder than average. Their answer? "Global Warming doesn't just mean hotter weather, it means greater temperature swings. Hot years will be hotter than before and colder ones will be colder." In other words, if it gets hotter, it's Global Warming. If it's colder, well, that's Global Warming too. At this point, it looks like there's no observation that can disprove Global Warming once you've bought into the idea, and the whole theory becomes meaningless in the sense of Pepper. It's no longer junk science, it's a religious cult with a pseudo-scientific basis. And The Marching Morons get one step closer...

-- Joe Zeff
 If you can't play with words, what good are they?




You may have already seen this, but it is quite counterintuitive to me. One would think that the obscure articles would get seen and read electronically.


Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship

James A. Evans

Online journals promise to serve more information to more dispersed audiences and are more efficiently searched and recalled. But because they are used differently than print—scientists and scholars tend to search electronically and follow hyperlinks rather than browse or peruse—electronically available journals may portend an ironic change for science. Using a database of 34 million articles, their citations (1945 to 2005), and online availability (1998 to 2005), I show that as more journal issues came online, the articles referenced tended to be more recent, fewer journals and articles were cited, and more of those citations were to fewer journals and articles. The forced browsing of print archives may have stretched scientists and scholars to anchor findings deeply into past and present scholarship. Searching online is more efficient and following hyperlinks quickly puts researchers in touch with prevailing opinion, but this may accelerate consensus and narrow the range of findings and ideas built upon.

Dave Hammond


Christmas and history

Merry Christmas to you, Dr. P,

I received the fairly normal (and duly appreciated) "dad gifts" for Christmas this year. The most notable exception was from my son the Marine who is currently stationed stateside after his initial posting in Okinawa. He was unable to come home for the holidays, so I was opening presents with his mother and siblings. I opened the small gift he had sent for me, ands I was stunned speechless. It was a shadow box. The backdrop was the immortal black-and-white Joe Rosenthal photo of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi. Inside was a spent bullet, some shell casings, and black volcanic sand that my son had collected on a trip to Iwo Jima.

It has been a rare experience for me to hold history in my hand. It might serve us well to remember that the US lost significantly more lives in just over a month on tiny 8 square mile Iwo Jima (6,821) than we have lost _in_total_ in Iraq and Afghanistan (4,710). It is hard to imagine more concentrated heroism and warrior ethos than was displayed by both sides.

Perhaps some might not find these thoughts in the spirit of the season, but we still have servicemen in far off lands this very day who fight a deadly and merciless foe. Let us not forget them, nor those who have gone before, now or ever.

Steve Chu


Road Stirs Up Debate,


This Representative got an 80-mile, $631 million interstate spur built in the middle of Pa., and had it named Interstate 99, instead of something like I-876 or I-280:


"More controversially, Mr. Shuster also included a rider in the bill intended to speed construction by letting it bypass federal environmental oversight."

This guy is very talented! I wish he had the same desire for nuclear energy.

And this just in - the Feds want to tax cows:


We need to get Rep. Shuster on this!



Subj: Biofuels: Grassoline production to begin in Tennessee


>>UT created a for-profit company called Genera Energy to construct and operate the new facility with a private company called DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol. Ground was broken on the Vonore plant Oct. 14 [2008]. When completed, the principle product of the biorefinery will be “grassoline,” ethanol fuel derived from plant material such as switchgrass, wood chips and other forest and agricultural biomass. Expected capacity is 250,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. ... Switchgrass was planted on 723 acres in 2008 ...<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


A little energy 'rithmatic

 In your Dec 18 view you note, "One hundred 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plants should cost about $150 billion (the first two might cost $25 billion each, but the hundredth will be less than a billion)."

 Taking the low end of your scale, the capital cost per Watt is $1.  I remind (and update) you about my own fave candidate, <a href="http://lawrencevilleplasmaphysics.com">Focus Fusion</a>.  It has just received paltry ($1.2 million) but adequate funding to push hard for the next 2 yrs. or so to prove break-even plus with proton-Boron11 aneutronic fusion. 

 At ~$250,000 per 5MW generator, that's $0.05/Watt.  Or 1/20 your best case nuclear (fission) plants.  And zero waste disposal costs. 

 I hope and anticipate that mass-produced FF generators will be being produced in their thousands under generous licensing terms all over the planet before any of those dinosaur Fission behemoth projects will have broken sod.  Which will put an end to them tout suite. 

 Brian Hall 

I had some correspondence with Mr. Hall, but it's not really relevant. Obviously I would love to have electricity at a much lower investment rate; and I know there is a lot of theory about Focus Fusion. To the best of my knowledge they haven't actually generated any electricity with the system, and the numbers look too good to be true. Of course many things that look too good to be true turn out to be true -- alas a lot more don't.

I have no special knowledge about Focus Fusion. They seem to have raised some money so their demonstrations must be effective, but I don't know anything that isn't easily available to everyone else. I can hope that their theory works out and all will be well.

On the other hand, I don't intend to stop pushing for more conventional sources of energy, particularly nuclear fission, which we know how to build. I have seen great promises of new developments used to stop investment in what we can do -- cake tomorrow but never today -- many times before, and the promised new systems don't live up to the promises. I can sure hope that this system will do it, and that it has been neglected by most energy research establishments by mistake or misunderstanding or misplaced skepticism.  I really wish mankind had access to some new and cheap energy sources, and I encourage those who have the training and abilities and access to go find out about Focus Fusion; but I don't agree that we should neglect what we know how to do in the hopes that new science will bring new techniques soon enough to make further investment in power generation a waste of resources.

The following is from the June 2008 issue of Discover:

A focus fusion reactor could be built for just $300,000, says Lerner, president of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics in New Jersey. But huge technical hurdles remain. These include increasing the density of the plasma so the fusion reaction will be more intense. (Conventional fusion experiments do not come close to the temperatures and densities needed for efficient hydrogen-boron fusion.) Still, the payoff could be huge: While mainstream fusion research programs are still decades from fruition, Lerner claims he requires just $750,000 in funding and two years of work to prove his process generates more energy than it consumes. “The next experiment is aimed at achieving higher density, higher magnetic field, and higher efficiency,” he says. “We believe it will succeed.”

I wish him very well, but my experience has been that even if it works as advertised it will be a decade or more before there is any practical application, and two decades before this system puts power into the grid. I sure hope I am wrong on that, but I don't think it would be prudent to abandon more conventional power generation means in hopes that this will make such investment needless. It hasn't yet broken even in energy input/output, which is the first demonstration that will be needed. Once it does that, we can get very excited; but it will still be a while after break even before it adds energy to the grid.

The US is in the Coming Energy Crisis I predicted back in my columns in the 1970's. It will take us time to get out of it. New technology will help, but I doubt we'll get out of this on the cheap. That would take a miracle.


So much for 'homeland security'.


- Roland Dobbins


Harry Erwin's Letter from England

Things are generally quiet over here.

 I'm removing the spaces between stories to see if it improves the appearance.

 BBC review of the political year <http://tinyurl.com/8w2teb> Frozen Russian-UK relationship continues (Guardian) <http://tinyurl.com/7p67g3  > MP revolt over privatisation of Royal Mail (Independent) <http://tinyurl.com/9vy9om  > Photographers arrested for breach of the peace (Register story): <http://tinyurl.com/93r6e5  > Marking in red ink banned (Telegraph) <http://tinyurl.com/9q7nm9> Secret council tax database (Telegraph--higher council taxes for people who live in 'nice' areas) <http://tinyurl.com/9tzgf9> It's cheaper to pay the fines than to buy a television licence

(Telegraph) <http://tinyurl.com/88z2l7> (Diane and I do not have a television, and we regularly get threatening letters from the TV Licensing Authority.) Article on Koon exhibition at Versailles (Telegraph) <http://tinyurl.com/74udxa  > (We saw it when we visited Versailles, and we were not impressed.) Police commander of investigation into the Damian Green arrest accuses the Tories of being "wholly corrupt" (Telegraph) <http://tinyurl.com/8blccx  > and <http://tinyurl.com/75aqyf> Recycling theatre (Telegraph) <http://tinyurl.com/4khq2q> Dumbing down of university qualifications at Cambridge (Telegraph) <http://tinyurl.com/a3p7jx  > Historic sites in the UK affected by budget cuts (Independent) <http://tinyurl.com/7gz9jr  > "The drugs watchdog Nice is to change the way it makes decisions onNHS treatments, bringing to an end decisions on care of terminally ill patients made solely on cost-efficiency grounds." (Guardian story) <http://tinyurl.com/9cq52a  >


Harry Erwin, PhD

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


Intelligence: Afghanistan Attacked By The Math Machine,


It's your old friend, Operations Research, now debuting in Afghanistan:




Afghanistan Attacked By The Math Machine

December 19, 2008: The U.S. Army is deploying the same kind of "math and missiles" unit that defeated roadside bombs in Iraq, to Afghanistan. For the last two years, "Task Force Odin" has used of manned and UAV aerial reconnaissance aircraft, along with pattern analysis and data mining, to find IEDs (roadside bombs), and the people who plant them in Iraq.

Task Force Odin was reported in the media mainly as aircraft and UAVs watching the roads for signs of IEDs, and UAVs, while helicopters and gunships opened fire on terrorists trying to set up roadside bombs. Explosions and dead bodies are more of mass media staple than massive use of math, no matter how critical the number crunching was to the undertaking.

Task Force Odin is really about two very different technologies. On the one hand there was the effort to provide Internet like access to live video feeds from aircraft and UAVs. The U.S. Air Force and SOCOM (Special Operations Command) have been particularly keen on this, and has shared the technology with the other services, and friendly nations. The less publicized effort was Constant Hawk. This was a U.S. Army image analysis system that's basically just another pattern analysis system. However, it's been a very successful system when it comes to finding newly planted IEDs. Last year, the U.S. Army named Constant Hawk one of the top ten inventions of the year. The army does this to give some of the more obscure, yet very valuable, developments some well deserved recognition.

Pattern analysis is one of the fundamental tools Operations Research (OR) practitioners have been using since World War II (when the newly developed field of OR got its first big workout). Pattern analysis is widely used on Wall Street, by engineers, law enforcement, marketing specialists, and now, the military. Constant Hawk uses a special video camera system to observe a locality and find useful patterns of behavior. Some of the Constant Hawk systems are mounted on light (C-12s, mainly) aircraft, others are mounted on ground structures. Special software compares photos from different times. When changes are noted, they are checked more closely, which has resulted in the early detection of thousands of roadside bombs and terrorist ambushes. This has largely eliminated roadside bomb attacks on supply convoys, which travel the same routes all the time. But those routes are also watched by Constant Hawk. No matter what the enemy does, the Hawk will notice. Eventually, the Hawk, and several other efforts, morphed into Task Force Odin. The Task Force Odin led to the death of over 3,000 terrorists caught in the act of setting up roadside bombs, or lying in wait to set them off and attack their victims with gunfire. Hundreds more terrorists were captured, and many thousands of roadside bombs were avoided or destroyed before they could go off.<snip>

Someone ought to write a good history of OR. While no one can do what the Epps genius in NUMBERS does, we have done some amazing things with OR. The classis story is submarines and convoys: before the OR guys got into the act, the aircraft and escort ships made the best possible attacks on submarines; that is, they used tactics designed to maximize the number of subs they sank. The OR people point out that this is suboptimization: you want to maximize the number of convoy ships that get through to harbor.

That turned out to require entirely different tactics: instead of making the best possible attack, make the fastest possible attack. Disrupt the submarine's chances of making a successful attack. Make him submerge (in the early days of the North Atlantic War the best sub tactic was to surface at night in the path of the convoy or even inside it, and then launch as many torpedoes as possible). I have glossed over the finer details, but the point is that the objective was to get ships through, not sink subs by sneaking up on them. Choosing your criterion of success is always important.

But there aren't so many of us old OR types left. My son Phillip learned the trade at the Naval Post Graduate Institute in Monterrey.


Bob Thompson comments on Education

 There are two keys to increased productivity: low energy prices, and a  well educated work force imbued with a work ethic. Eliminate either  and you have a society either unable or unwilling to meet the demands  of the non-productive (which includes both the deserving poor and the  undeserving poor as well as those "employed" in "jobs" that consume  but add nothing to the goods available for distribution). When energy  prices and/or appropriate education are threatened, it's rather  difficult to have a positive reaction.

Low energy prices are obviously important, but don't discount the effect of availability and prices of other raw materials. In particular, metals and chemical feedstocks are critical.

As to your second issue, it's becoming less important every year as automation reduces the need for human labor. Obviously, we'll always need well-educated, hard-working people, but fewer of them every year. Look at agriculture or mining as examples. Five hundred years ago, essentially everyone worked the fields to produce enough food to keep everyone fed. One hundred years ago, a mine required an army of laborers. Today, that mine gets by with a tiny fraction of the number of laborers, most of whom are now doing jobs that machines and robots will eventually do instead.

More important, I think, is to focus on educating and supporting our best and brightest 1%. They're the ones who will develop the robotics and make the research breakthroughs that will allow everyone else to live a life of leisure.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson thompson@ttgnet.com

A republic which has no use for a great part of its citizens will not remain a Republic. The citizens must feel useful and important; the best way to do that is to let the BE important. It may be more efficient to export someone's job and then pay him to do nothing than it would be to subsidize his work place or put a tariff on the competition, but do that enough and you have a class of consumers who do not contribute -- not because they don't want to -- and from there to a class who feels entitled without contributing is very short. When the mob is hungry it usually burns the bakeries on the theory that the bakers are gouging them. We saw that in Los Angeles during the riots. The result was fewer stores in the poorer areas.

Once you have a consumer class that feels no need or desire to contribute, it will be organized by community organizers seeking political office. They may have the well being of their clients in mind, but they have their own well being in mind as well; and Pournelle's law is inexorable.

Of course it is important to educate the top 15 - 20%. The 1% will probably mange on their own. neglecting the education of the best and brightest is one way to decivilize. Alas, it is not the only way. Neglecting to find some way for the left side of the bell curve to contribute and feel needed will do the job just about as well.

We have chosen the worst way of all: we pretend that equality in the classroom and No Child Left Behind can work, when what that does it subject the left side of the bell curve to incomprehension and the right side of it to boredom; and worse, since we don't even enforce discipline, while we do punish teachers who leave anyone behind without rewarding them for letting any get ahead -- the results are easily predictable to anyone who has read this far.

We have sown the wind for generations. But taking the brightest out of general classrooms and leaving the rest behind is a formula for ending the Republic.

Perhaps we all hope for that?


Global Warming?


Actually, the comments to the article are hilarious!

The first, on May 21, headed "Climate change threat to Alpine ski resorts" , reported that the entire Alpine "winter sports industry" could soon "grind to a halt for lack of snow". The second, on December 19, headed "The Alps have best snow conditions in a generation" , reported that this winter's Alpine snowfalls "look set to beat all records by New Year's Day".

Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming. Just when politicians in Europe and America have been adopting the most costly and damaging measures politicians have ever proposed, to combat this supposed menace, the tide has turned in three significant respects.

First, all over the world, temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models which have been used as the main drivers of the scare. Last winter, as temperatures plummeted, many parts of the world had snowfalls on a scale not seen for decades. This winter, with the whole of Canada and half the US under snow, looks likely to be even worse. After several years flatlining, global temperatures have dropped sharply enough to cancel out much of their net rise in the 20th century. <snip>

-- 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


Will the US Come Apart?

The end of all things 


All good things must come to an end; is this a potentially accurate assessment?


As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S.

In Moscow, Igor Panarin's Forecasts Are All the Rage; America 'Disintegrates' in 2010

MOSCOW -- For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument -- that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. -- very seriously. Now he's found an eager audience: Russian state media.<snip>

There's a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur," he says. "One could rejoice in that process," he adds, poker-faced. "But if we're talking reasonably, it's not the best scenario -- for Russia."

<snip> Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces -- with Alaska reverting to Russian control.<snip>

There isn't a serious secessionist movement in the US; indeed, the nationalization of government is a more marked trend. Eventually things will come apart, but not in 2010. As to Alaska going over to the Russians, it's a lot harder to get to Alaska and drop booby trapped Christmas toys than it was to do that to Afghanistan which was -- then -- territorially contiguous to the USSR.

But what does hold the US together? Not what is learned in the public schools; not the habits learned in the neighborhood; so what is holding us together? It was once a shared language, and a shared religion, and assimilation of immigrants through the melting pot process. We have given all those up. Professor Panarin is premature. Note that Robert Heinlein had a similar prediction in Friday quite a few years ago. The education system no longer creates citizens -- and not much else does either.


Switchgrass again. Arithmetic sorely needed.


So, "West Tennessee has the potential to produce nearly 7 million dry tons of switchgrass per year"

How much will this help? Not much:

Wikipedia notes that "Switchgrass has the potential for enough biomass to produce up to 100 gallons (380 liters) of ethanol per metric ton harvested."

So, Tennessee could produce 700 million gallons of ethanol. Let's assume we have 100 million cars in the US, that drive 10,000 miles and each get 20 miles a gallon. These are approximate numbers and we're ignoring the fact that ethanol contains less energy per gallon than gasoline, but you'll see that it doesn't matter.

Those cars use 5 x 10^(10) gallons of gasoline per year. The supposed ethanol production from switchgrass would produce 1.4% of the that energy.

But, it is much worse than that. Ethanol production CONSUMES energy to produce ethanol. Corn-based ethanol is a barely break even process. Switchgrass is supposed to be better, but this has not been proven on a large (or even medium) scale.

In fact, "In recent studies, it has been argued that switchgrass has a negative ethanol fuel energy balance, requiring 45 percent more fossil energy to create switchgrass into a biofuel than is produced.[22] Some studies have countered these arguments, however, finding that for every unit of energy input to create a biofuel from switchgrass, four units of energy are yielded."

I'd conservatively guess that we could hope that a 1 BTU of energy into the production might yield 2 BTU out, so now the net gain is 0.7% of gasoline needs.

Furthermore, ethanol production consumes large quantities of water. In Tennessee they may have enough excess water, but I don't think it is certain. This talk was a real eye opener for me: http://www.nseresearch.org/2007/

Water availability is very likely to be the production limiter for large scale biofuel production. I believe that the shortage of water will limit biofuels to a very minor role in the US energy production portfolio.

Switchgrass is, I suppose, marginally better than "burning food". However, all biofuel concepts suffer from the same problems:

1. Takes up land (a LOT of land) needed for other things. It would take roughly 20 or more "Tennessees" to produce the gasoline for the US.

2. Uses a lot of water. See the talk above.

3. Is fundamentally a very, very diffuse and low power density system. Plants "fix" solar energy into fuel with an efficiency of well under 1%. Compute the solar energy incident on the field for the time to grow a crop, compare that with the energy yield of the plant.

These are fundamental problems. I don't see that they will ever go away. There is a slightly better case to made for cellulosic gasoline, which use less water, but this is a technology that has never been demonstrated outside of lab scale concepts.

In the near term, I'd argue that solar photo-voltaic and a crash program to build a LOT of 1,000 megawatt nukes makes much more sense. Combined with plug-in hybrid electric cars, this could make a measurable dent in our oil imports.


P.S. I did these number quickly, on a laptop from a beach house, so some of them may be wrong, but I've roughed out these numbers before and always reached the same conclusions...

They don't look to be out of line. One of the problems of alternate energy schemes is that they assume that capitalists didn't look at them before: if there were quick and cheap sustainable energy sources, they'd have been exploited in a war, or during an oil shortage, or whenever oil got expensive. Now it's true that oil prices fluctuate in an effort to keep alternatives from being built, but they can't do that perfectly.

It's possible there are low cost alternative sustainables, but it's not all that likely.


Chuck's recent letter

Chuck wrote '...Ethanol production CONSUMES energy to produce ethanol. Corn-based ethanol is a barely break even process.... "...it has been argued that switchgrass has a negative ethanol fuel energy balance, requiring 45 percent more fossil energy to create switchgrass into a biofuel than is produced..."...I'd conservatively guess that we could hope that a 1 BTU of energy into the production might yield 2 BTU out...'

Actually, those figures aren't for the technological and physical constraints on the entire production process taken as a whole, they are for the distorted and subsidised approach used now. That involves getting fertiliser from chemical plants, running farm and processing equipment on regular fuel, and so on. It's physically possible to improve the ratios by switching to crop rotation instead of artificial fertilizer, running equipment with gasifiers burning crop waste or even reverting to draught animals, then returning the end waste to the fields, etc. But that highlights where the bottleneck really is: in the greater amount and the kind of land and labour that would be needed - the USA would probably get hungry, for instance (the 19th century economist Nassau Senior even covered the case of machines that competed for food in his work on wages, concluding that it would hurt but that it wasn't happening then!). It's still totally unrealistic for most countries, but it's not the Energy Return On Input (EROI) that's the problem. You can push that arbitrarily high, at the cost of agricultural land and labour which aren't there.

Yours sincerely,


And again: In some circumstances biomass can be a marginal addition to an energy budget. It won't be the major energy source of a high energy economy. Like all alternative and sustainables, it can be useful but you don't base your economic health on it.


Chinese Warships Sail to Pirate-Infested Gulf of Aden,


"In China's first modern deployment of battle-ready warships beyond the Pacific, a naval task force set out Friday to begin escorts and patrols in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden . . . the primary mission of the destroyers, which carry helicopters, would be to protect Chinese merchant ships, especially tankers with crude oil, that traverse the gulf:"


Notice whose ships they are protecting.



A replacement for the abominable autoscribe? 

"The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications is embracing the iBreviary, an iTunes application created by a technologically savvy Italian priest, the Rev. Paolo Padrini, and an Italian Web designer." http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/





 read book now




This week:


read book now


Tuesday,  December 30, 2008

Death throes of the Roman Empire and the American Empire...


"Curiosity was discouraged; the history of the Roman Republic which had been the foundation for the Empire was bastardized, forgotten or ignored. The accepted leaders of Roman cities were persecuted to the point they lost all their initiative and public spirit; their every thought being subject to the whims of Rome. For the general public the results were to suppress the entrepreneurial spirit, while in its place every effort was made, by the Roman citizen, to secure for himself and his family a docile and inactive life on a safe, if modest, income."

"Given also that the society that elected the president-in-waiting is dominated by blind nationalism, trendy savior-worship, an unending ignorance of history, economics and philosophy and devoid of a critical thought process, I [Tim Case] fear history will say of this moment, "the civilization of the modern world suffered final collapse."

Charles Brumbelow

"The common man, finding himself in a world so excellent, technically and socially, believes it has been produced by nature, and never thinks of the personal efforts of highly endowed individuals which the creation of this new world presupposed. Still less will he admit the notion that all these facilities still require the support of certain difficult human virtues, the least failure of which would cause the rapid disappearance of the whole magnificent edifice."

~José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955)

An essay most readers will find useful and interesting. Thanks. One more look at the possible coming dark age. We can escape it, but I don't like the present odds.


"Maybe I really ought to write a book on survival in a Dark Age."

Write it.

Could there be a better time to sell this book? You are eminently qualified.

Put your brain tumor ordeal book on hold and write this sucker.

Jason Merrell

I would need about twice as many Platinum subscribers as I have at present, because it's not likely I'd get much of an advance on such a book, and it takes a good bit of research. The current number of Platinum subscribers gives me a number of choices, but that's not one of them in current circumstances.



Subject: When Technology Fails

I spent a few minutes looking around for you, and learned that When Technology Fails is published by Chelsea Green Publishing. Predators and Editors ( http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/ )  an excellent resource for such things, only says that they're a non-fiction publisher. It neither recommends them, or tells you to stay away, nor does it call them a vanity or subsidy press. Checking their website, they seem to be a respectable firm, although dedicated to All Things Green. If there's a lack of scholarship or accuracy, it's probably because the publishers are more interested in pushing their agenda than in the facts.

-- Joe Zeff
If you can't play with words, what good are they?  http://www.lasfs.info


Good Morning Dr Pournelle

Yes, this morning I heard the replay of Matt Stein on Coast on XM while driving in to work. I've heard him before, he makes up a great deal as he goes, like claiming (we've all heard this before) that President Carter was a nuclear physicist (not), that he was the commander of a nuclear sub (nope), and that Adm Rickover said that Mr Carter was the brightest officer that ever served under him (never been able to find that quote, conveniently). Did not know Stein was a "writer" for HuffPo, but based on his technically illiterate raves, easy to believe.

Your excellent discussion of the walled cities of old, "built by the Cyclopses" when it was lost knowledge and culture, rings true now, as did your discussion of later but inadequate main engine drives in "Mote in God's Eye." Please do write a Dark Ages for Us (the scientifically literate), you are one of the few with the background to do so, and you get it.

Continued good health to you, Good Sir, and a happy New Year to you and yours.



PDF to the kindle

Mobipocket Creator will convert PDF into a form that the Kindle can use. It is even free so no need to give Amazon a dime to do it. I still love my kindle and my wife got me and IPod touch. Now with the all the really good free podcasts I am going to be over whelmed with learning opportunities.


I don't really mind the dime -- and I don't have to connect the Kindle to a computer. Email to myself works just fine, and it's nearly instantaneous.


History of OR

You said, "Someone ought to write a good history of OR."

An excellent one already exists - McCue's "U-Boats in the Bay of Biscay":


James Perry

Thanks. I recall that. There is a lot more to the story since then including the "Star Wars" analyses.


For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:



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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

 Israel and Hamas

A discussion of recent events. Joel replies to my essay in yesterday's view.

As invited . . .

Where things are

I'm not going with the prevailing wisdom when I say that this: this isn't Israel getting serious about Hamas, but simulating it. Almost all signs are it's nothing more than that.

Years ago, in one of our discussions, I wrote:

The Gaza border is straight and well-defended; increasing use of counterbattery fire and decreasing worry about the fate of the Gazan human body armor can handle the missiles whenever there's a will.

While the Gaza fence has keep the shahids out -- just like the other one is doing -- it does nothing to stop the missiles, and the artillery is quiet.

Granted, there are elements that are obviously intended to convey seriousness. The news reported one instance, complete with secondary explosions, of how Israel is not letting Hamas use a mosque as an ammo dump -- that's unprecedented, as far as I can tell.

But one attack on one ammo dump is not a change of course.

The gloves haven't come off. In the initial attacks, the numbers look something like 300 terrorists killed along with something like 20 civilians. Part of that was the element of surprise, of course, but in a city as tightly packed as Gaza City, and given the tradition of terrorists hiding among civilians, that means that a whole lot of targets were passed up; far as I can tell, it was mainly an attack on infrastructure -- smuggling tunnels, various HQs, training camps, with the odd symbol (like Haniyah's offices) thrown in. Lots of hits in the Philadelphi corridor; weapons resupply from Egypt appears to have been shut down, on the Gaza side; unsurprisingly, the total Egyptian activity has been to keep the Gazans bottled in, opening fire on the few who managed to escape.

This is a raid, not a war; fewer than 500 terrorists killed, so far, and senior Hamas people are hiding out in hospitals and mosques with impunity.

For good or ill -- and for reasons principled and/or political -- it's clear that Israel is more concerned about the fate of the Gazan human body armor than Hamas is.

Short term stuff

Okay, let's start with what isn't going to happen: Israel isn't going to be giving the death blow to Hamas in this. It's foolish for Olmert to say so and not mean it. The smartest thing to say would have been, "we'll let you know what our objectives are when we have accomplished them," and left it at that. (This if, of course, only possible in a democracy for an elected leader with a whole lot of political capital to spend; he has none.)

If Hamas is going to be conquered, it's going to be done by Fatah/PLO, under Abbass, after the IDF stomps them enough. (I think he'd be stupid to, but, I'll get back to that; that's not going to happen over the next couple of weeks, in any case.)

In the short run, what's going to happen is obvious: a replay of the last reprisals on Gaza, but with some ruffles and flourishes. That was the notion of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, after all -- Gaza would be free to go to hell in its own way without Israeli interference, as long as they kept their problems to themselves.

We're not going to see heavy terrorist body counts, and that's going to be a lack of will, not targets.

It's a lack of will, not of intel or munitions. Israel doesn't have to have great intel inside Gaza to look for additional targets, now that they've used up a few hundred of the easy ones. The Gazans are doing that for them; one NPR correspondent explained that he, like everybody else, has his family sleep in the part of their home furthest away from the Hamas outpost next door. Nighttime IR would map out thousands more targets. That's not going to happen.

I think that, for political reasons more than as military ones, infantry has to go in over the next week, on basically a land component of the raid. The Hamasholes have been talking about how they're eager to meet the Israeli soldiers one on one, and it's important for lots of reasons that this doesn't seem to turn into Operation Not Nearly Enough, Part II. The IDF must inflict large numbers of casualties while receiving very few; everybody knows that math. (Doesn't mean that they can't go in through the minefields, but they do have to clear them quickly and explosively.)

By the time Obama takes office, the ground forces will be back out, and it'll settle down to the status quo ante: Hamas will keep launching missiles at Israel, just at a reduced level, and, with "hudnah" (an old, traditional Muslim thing) and "tahdiah" (a new invention) used up, will coin a new euphemism for "truce-like thing we don't really mean", and Israel will respond more or less tepidly, while the situation in the ground continues to get worse and worse; the demographics haven't changed, and the smuggling economy will take weeks and months to reestablish itself, not days.

It's not much like Lebanon, actually, despite the muted cheering from various Arab factions -- like, say, the Saudis and Egyptians -- who have as little use for Hamas as they do for Hezbollah, and for much of the same reasons.

Medium Run

Let's face it, when we're talking about the leadership of Hamas, we are talking about the stupidest people on the planet.

This was just about the worse time to piss off Israel, for all sorts of reasons. Among the minor ones is that the lessons of the military mistakes in Lebanon have had time to percolate into operational changes (we won't see tanks moving along defensive lines, but crashing through; along the fence, Hamas "activists" are busy burying mines as I write); among the major ones is that the planned rescue from the US administration is, well, quite a ways away . . . assuming, as they are (and as I am) that The One will be more like the Bush/Baker regime was into trying to push Israel into counterproductive concessions than the Bush/Cheney administration has been.

And unless I'm seriously misreading the state of mind of the Israeli polity, Khalen Mashal and Bashar Al-Asaad have just elected Bibi Netanyahu as Israeli PM, and turned Gaza back over to Abbas, if he's stupid enough to take it back.

Tellingly, with the blood of their own people not on their hands quite so much this time, Fatah is showing some interest in the fate of the human body armor. In the past, we wouldn't have seen this on PA TV:


"I say Hamas is the cause, in the first place, of all wars."

Yeah. And that's interesting. It's may be just the first step, but that, and all the other things that MEMRI's pointing to at http://memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=SD216408  may be not just Fatah cutting Hamas loose (no surprise), but the Arabs of Judea and Samaria cutting their Gaza brethren loose . . .

. . . and that would be something new. And wise of them. But it's probably not happening. Something is, though.

I wrote, above, about Gazans unwittingly targeting Hamas for the IDF. The PLO is doing it, actively.

Some years ago, you pointed a Goldberg column out to me. Here's Goldberg today:


.... Fatah has actually been assisting the Israelis with targeting information.... "Let the Israelis kill them," he said. "They've brought only trouble for my people."

And that's not the only report. Fatah has not only given the IDF its blessing to attack Hamas, but is providing targeting data.

Okay, sure, first approximation: "the enemy of my enemy is my ally, at least for now". There's lots of talk that the big winner in this is Abbas: he gets to retake Gaza, one way or another, in the wake of this.

If you accept the principle that "the Arabs never miss and opportunity to miss an opportunity," then he will at least try to, and Hamas will try to stop him.

Foolish on both counts.

Let's back up a second. In previous discussions, we've gone into the demographics of Gaza and the PA. By cutting themselves off from the West Bank PA kleptocracy, the Gazans have worsened their own situation, hard as that is to believe. I used to write about a million Arabs on land that might support 50,000; now, there's half again as many, and the land hasn't stretched any -- it's still a third the size of the Los Angeles (the city, not the county), with a greater population density. (Imagine LA's problems if it didn't produce anything that anybody outside wanted except a credible promise of a cessation of missile fire.)

By cutting Gaza loose -- and perhaps finding a way to restore the danegeld from the oil states -- the West Bank portion of the PA might become viable.

But, then again, the Arabs never miss an opportunity miss an opportunity; my guess is that Abbas is going to try to take it back.

Winners and losers

Given all that, let me make a few predictions about who is going to win and lose out of this.

Big winner: Iran, of course. While attention is elsewhere, their nuclear program moves forward, and they get to prove, on whatever their schedule is, how feckless Obama's bold statements that it was unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons were. Gaza is, for them, a welcome distraction.

The one fly in the ointment from their POV is another big winner:

Bibi Netanyahu, for obvious reasons. He gets the PM job back. That is, from both Israeli and longterm US interests, the best news out of this, I think.

Then we have Abbas. Since he's foolish enough to want Gaza back, he gets to claim to be the winner by getting it back. His consigliere, Nimmer Hammad, called the Israli Defense Ministry official last week to say that the PA "believes in Israel's right to liquidate Hamas." He gets at least part of his score with Hamas settled, and gets somebody else to do most of the dirty work for him.

Other winners: Hezbollah and Syria, for obvious reasons.

Losers: the new US administration. While Obama's right that there's one president at a time, his supporters in Dearbon and Detroit, among others, will expect him to force Israel into another series of concessions, which is about as likely to happen under Bibi Netanyahu as Obama is to pay my mortgage and gas bill.

Israel. Some things are a zero-sum game, at best. When Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran win, Israel loses.

Big losers: the Gazan people, of course, whether they get Fatah back in charge, or not.

Joel Rosenberg

In summary: much of this is security theater. Israeli politicians must be seen to be doing something, but no one wants real war to the knife no matter what is being said. Evidence of this was forthcoming: today's papers say that the Israeli government says it is pausing to see if a ceasefire truce can be arranged, and seems to be inviting anyone -- anyone, please! -- to make that arrangement.

I am not in total agreement about the stupidity of Hamas. It is a bureaucracy and is governed by a committee. Whether it would be so foolish if a strong man were to take charge is not so clear. Arafat sometimes seemed to be a stupid man but he certainly managed to be an important one. He even got admirers in the West despite his corruption. Of course what the West calls corruption is the usual course of business in much of the Arab world, and is not seen as corruption but something else.

The real problem remains: Hamas desperately needs an end to the blockade and particularly an end to the Israeli fuel monopoly (which, so far as I can tell, takes corruption to levels that even Arabs see as corrupt). Hamas cannot concede Israel's right to exist because that would be making actual peace with the infidels, and is forbidden in the Koran. They are allowed truces, and some concessions on the blockade and fuel monopoly would be an incentive to agree to a real truce. The problem is that Israeli politicians who offer anything Hamas can accept will be denounced as traitors.

Regarding Gsza: there's little there, but there was little in Hong Kong. Palestinians given freedom might be capable of making a viable economic center. It's not likely. That's an understatement. But it's not impossible in a rational world. That's the Middle East, though, and that is not a rational world. The Hamas bureaucracy is subject to a number of irrational restrictions just as Israeli politicians are. Not quite so many; most restrictions are voluntary.

The Telegraph says that the obstacle to peace is Hamas 
Hamas-is-the-obstacle-to-Middle-East-peace.html   in an article written by the Israeli ambassador. He also says that Hamas must be defeated before there  can be peace. Either this is theater, or he has just said there will never be peace in Gaza.

I completely agree with Joel that the big loser here is the incoming Obama administration. And I continue to wish Obama and Mrs. Clinton a great deal of success in this matter, while hoping they understand that it's not really America's business. We cannot avoid some entanglement but I do hope that Obama and Clinton understand that the less, the better. The managed news media will of course work to get us further involved: there will be pictures of damaged hospitals, ruined mosques, and dead children (but never pictures of Hamas launching rockets next to hospitals or mosques or houses with small children); there will be dead children with teddy bears; and a cut to an Israeli politician saying they cannot put up with these attacks from Hamas. If a Hamas rocket hits someone -- a few do -- there will be a fairly sanitary scene, but it won't hold a candle to the mass mourning you'll see when Hamas manages to induce casualties from the IDF. The result will be US pressure for intervention to stop the killing. Of course there's almost nothing we can do. And meanwhile Iran continues to spin the centrifuges...

The following is a comment I lifted from Al Jazeera:

Once again Israel’s arrogant self-righteous vengeance has got them backed into a corner. If they don’t follow up their “air war only” cowardice, instead allowing a truce to come into effect by the end of the week-end, then quite rightly Hamas will claim victory, because of Israel’s gobby Defence Minister vowing a “War to the bitter end”. If however ground forces do go in and succeed in a combination of the following: killing lots of civilians, having their spotty faced conscripts pissing in their pants and running home to mummy as in Lebanon, having a few dozen body bags containing the aforementioned spotty-faced conscripts, then they would have succeeded in demonstrating to the Arab world, whom they so want to frighten, that the IDF bar its US technology is effete and about as scary as the Easter bunny. Hamas fighters unfortunately are not disciplined like Hezbollah, and you can be sure that is the only reason that Israel may send troops in, is simply because Hamas is not Hezbollah.

Colin Mitchell, Johannesburg, South Africa



"We wanted to know why the 1918 flu caused severe pneumonia."


--- Roland Dobbins

One of my nightmares: revival of the Spanish Flu. It can be done by a reasonable biowar team.


Changing my name to Fannie Mae

A folkie view of the financial bailout. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etUq7IY_7Mc&feature=related



On Biofuel

Dr. Pournelle,

It seems to me that the only practical plant usable for biofuel is algae. All it needs is sunlight, water, and CO2 (with some minor nutrients that can mostly be recycled) so it can be grown anywhere; including deserts providing you're willing to ship the water in and the oil out. It doesn't have to require huge amounts of land as it can just as easily be grown in vertical plastic tubes or vats as on the surface of ponds. Best of all it puts out several hundred if not thousand times more oil per ton than its closest competitors. There's still the problem of cracking open the cell walls to get at the oil efficiently, but that's an engineering problem and will only take time and money to solve. You also have the benefit of the time it takes to grow a full crop being measured in days rather than months.

Just my two cents.

Ryan Brown



Kagnew station history is chronicled here:


The short of it is, 7500 feet elevation, excellent radio propagation, out in the middle of nowhere in Ethiopia. Strategically sited to act as both a relay and SIGINT (signal intelligence) station for the Middle East and Europe. The Army Security Agency operated it as one of its primary field stations since WWII up until the early 70's when the civil situation got too dangerous. SPACOL (Space Collection) activities began sometime in the late 60's early 70's. The account I referenced above is careful not be very specific. Stone House was the space collection site. It had 85 and 150 foot fully steerable dish antennas with receive and transmit capabilities. I was told at the time that Stone House tracked Soviet space craft as it's primary mission. This thing was so good that it tracked the Soviet Venus lander for 2 hours after the Soviets lost it and got usable telemetry. That is probably still highly classified, though it was conveyed to me as word of mouth. The stone house antennas were run over the cliff when the station was about to be over run.

From the history I referenced above, you can see that people really liked the place. Good folks went, had a serious mission, got along with the locals, and mostly hated to leave. It was a bizarre place. Most ASA field stations were pretty secret, this one though, was better known. The funny thing is, it's mission was pretty secret. Cover stories I guess. It had served many missions including WWII starting with Lend Lease and rebuilding British war damaged airplanes and ships. My old boss at Intel, Richard Wirt, was in the peace core nearby and knew of it, but not it's mission and a buddy I meet out here was a dependent stationed there with his dad who was Army CID. Probably there to keep up all of those Top Secret Crypto clearances which require continuous updates.

You could probably postulate something like it in current day. I'm sure there are a few out of the way places with similar missions. There always are. In fact, in your postulated near future with a zero'ed out Space Watch budget, you could imagine a few senior officers setting up a side mission in a place like that. It would not take that much. A couple of million dollars would setup a pretty nice facility for optical survey. Robotic telescope mounts are getting pretty good. A 30" scope with an good imager would probably do. The high altitude would help.

BTW, the NSA history is pretty good. I can see why the author thought he would be long dead before it was publicly available. I have not been able to stop reading it all day. It's your kind of book.





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CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hamas, round II

I found the Al Jazeera letter telling. Not surprising; the notion that the IDF ground troops are effete and useless is something that's common coin among the folks who haven't faced IDF infantry. And, whether or not there's a ground attack, that will be the pravda in the Arab world. Changing facts on the ground in Gaza, Judea and Samaria is much different that changing facts on the ground in Riyadh, Tehran, and Dearborn, after all.

That said, the air war in Gaza is largely over, although it probably is intended to look otherwise. The IAF got Nizzar Riyyan today -- he's the successor, more or less, to the late Sheik Saruman, err, Yasin, although he was also the top military commander. (Interestingly, the human body armor did not work, that time; his family was reportedly told to leave the building, but didn't.) The tunnels have been blasted, and, as far as I can tell, the IAF has pretty much run out of targets that are worth spending a smart bomb on -- best evidence of that was the making the rubble bounce attack at Haniyah's HQ yesterday.

That said, I disagree with you on this being simply security theater. (It is that, in part, sure.) So far, I think it's done quite a lot. Perhaps secondarily: a lot of the missile infrastructure -- manufacturing, dumps, etc. -- has been hit; with the tunnels blasted, those won't be quickly replaced. Probably what's most significant, though, is the attack on the ruling structures -- the police stations (which is how Hamas exercises local authority throughout the Strip), the governmental offices (coordination), and the tunnels (the rakeoff from which provides a lot of the money -- the tunnels are used not only for import of weapons materials, but food and other supplies, and Hamas takes their cut). And with the remaining Hamas leadership hiding, there's not a lot of governing they can do; if the PLO wants to step into the power vacuum, they can, although I'd be surprised if that happens over the next couple of weeks.

In terms of theater, though, what's most interesting to me is that Pallywood is apparently on hiatus; we haven't seen any productions, over the past few days.

The weekend will be telling. Once the clouds lift, we'll see whether or not the ground campaign launches.

Joel Rosenberg

Agreed that there are plenty of teeth left in the Israel tiger, and it's a lot easier to denigrate the IDF if you don't have to fight it.

I will defer to your judgment -- and clearly more extensive study -- on the issue of security theater. That said, I point out that in many cases like this, theater is more important than anything else. Just as surprise is an event that takes place in an enemy commander's mind, defeat is an event that happens in the same place; defeat is an act of will. Most armies that have surrendered have not fought to the last man mush less the last woman and child; most defeated armies and people have been capable of doing a great deal more damage if they had chosen to make the sacrifices needed. Theater is sometimes needed to defeat the will. Genghis Kahn and his "continuous storm" in lieu of siege engines comes to mind. (And in the siege of Leyden, on of the decisive battles of history, it was so close that without the determination of the Mayor the city would have surrendered before relief.)

Israel didn't lose much of palpable consequence in the Lebanon fiasco, but they did show that their will to fight is not infinite; that they can be defeated. That is a new factor and must be countered. Perhaps the latest incidents will do it.

I still see the key dilemma as this: Hamas cannot accept a truce without concessions that Israel could -- could and perhaps should -- make in blockade relief and especially in the fuel monopoly; but which no Israel politician can make. I don't see how that logjam can be ended. I don't believe it is possible to get a real truce from Hamas simply by beating on them; there will be too many collateral casualties and the world press will be only too willing to show them.


On Gaza as a city state (31.12.08)

You write "Regarding Gsza: there's little there, but there was little in Hong Kong. Palestinians given freedom might be capable of making a viable economic center..."

A long time ago, when I was failing to learn Greek at school, I noticed something. The Greeks did not always have a word for everything, so they got some words from other languages. They got the word for treasure from the Persians: Gaza. So I followed it up...

Gaza used to be one of the wealthiest places in the world, because it was at the end of the land trade routes out of Arabia that brought things like gold, frankincense and myrrh, where travelers could reach settled land and other routes quickest. These were the same trade routes that made Herod the Great wealthy because he could control them directly at the Palestine end and through his Arab relatives further along, which was also why it was worth the Romans' while to have him as a client king (their direct invasion under Marcellus failed like Varus, and was still remembered as late as Allenby's time when locals told the political officers that the last white men through had poisoned the wells - the officers were expecting it would turn out to be the crusaders).

Anyhow, the economic makings of a viable city state are there. "All" it would need is opening up a highway into Saudi Arabia for today's pilgrim trade and opening up the land and sea approaches to Egypt and the Levant; it's quite practical to pipe water in from Egypt the way Allenby did. But there might be some military and political problems...

Yours sincerely,



Language Problems...


"Herman Van Rompuy, an intellectual with a penchant for writing haiku, was sworn in on Tuesday as Belgium's prime minister, triggering hopes that he could heal some of this country's bitter linguistic divisions."

Of course, unlike Canada with its French/English conflicts or Belgium with its French/Dutch divisions, the United States will be able to create a Spanish/English society without any of these problems...right?

Charles Brumbelow

Sure. No problem. Ask any social scientist.


College athletes studies guided toward 'major in eligibility' http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/2008-11-18-majors-cover_N.htm

By Jill Lieber Steeg, Jodi Upton, Patrick Bohn and Steve Berkowitz, USA TODAY

Steven Cline left Kansas State University last spring with memories of two years as a starting defensive lineman for a major-college football team. He left with a diploma, credits toward a master's degree and a place on the 2007 Big 12 Conference all-academic team.

He also left with regrets about accomplishing all of this by majoring in social sciences -- a program that drew 34% of the football team's juniors and seniors last season, compared with about 4% of all juniors and seniors at Kansas State. Cline says he found not-so-demanding courses that helped him have success in the classroom and on the field but did little for his dream of becoming a veterinarian.

"I realize I just wasted all my efforts in high school and college to get a social science degree," says Cline, who adds he did poorly in biology as a freshman, then chose what an athletics academic adviser told him would be an easier path.

His experience reflects how the NCAA's toughening of academic requirements for athletes has helped create an environment in which they are more likely to graduate than other students -- but also more likely to be clustered in programs without the academic demands most students face.

Some athletes say they have pursued -- or have been steered to -- degree programs that helped keep them eligible for sports but didn't prepare them for post-sports careers.

"A major in eligibility, with a minor in beating the system," says C. Keith Harrison, an associate professor at the University of Central Florida, where he is associate director of the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports.<snip>

The question is, what need do we have for public support in public institutions for "social science" majors? With rare but very significant exceptions, social science is voodoo science and social science majors haven't learned anything worth knowing that they couldn't have learned without public support. I can understand a need for engineers, even for business administration and hotel keepers, for liberal arts even, but what justification is there for taxing a working class family in order to support a 'sosh' major in the state university? What conceivable good will the taxpayer get for having yet another sociology major graduate with no understanding of either culture or science? See my Voodoo Sciences essay.


A  prediction of next year's weather


I hope my personal copy of this article isn't lost over the next year. While I am agnostic on the matter of what causes global warming, (or if there IS/IS NOT global warming,) I am interested in how well, (or not,) the "experts" predict what will happen.



Gollies, real science?


Hi Karen,

As a science teacher, you need to read this. I have highlighted in red a couple of sections that are particularly disturbing (and possibly indicate that you could be in professional jeopardy in the future).

It was written by a physicist/mathematician at Tulane University and posted on William Katz' blog, 'Urgent Agenda'.




Posted at 10:09 a.m. ET

Frank Tipler, the distinguished mathematical physicist at Tulane University, is an Urgent Agenda reader. We recently asked him for his view of the global-warming controversy, and he was kind enough to send us this thoughtful reply. We reprint it in full. Recommended reading:

As regards global warming, my view is essentially the same as yours: Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is a scam, with no basis in science. 

A few comments on my own particular view of global warming: 

(1) I am particularly annoyed by the claims that the "the debate is over," because this was exactly the claim originally made against the Copernican theory of the Solar System. Copernicus' opponents said the idea that the Earth was the third planet from the Sun was advanced by Aristrachus in 300 B.C. (true), and had been definitely refuted by 100 A.D. The debate is over! Sorry, it wasn't: the Earth IS the third planet. 

(2) It is obvious that anthropogenic global warming is not science at all, because a scientific theory makes non-obvious predictions which are then compared with observations that the average person can check for himself. As we both know from our own observations, AGW theory has spectacularly failed to do this. The theory has predicted steadily increasing global temperatures, and this has been refuted by experience. NOW the global warmers claim that the Earth will enter a cooling period. In other words, whether the ice caps melt, or expand --- whatever happens --- the AGW theorists claim it confirms their theory. A perfect example of a pseudo-science like astrology. 

(3) In contrast, the alternative theory, that the increase and decrease of the Earth's average temperature in the near term follows the sunspot number, agrees (roughly) with observation. And the observations were predicted before they occurred. This is good science. 

(4) I emphasized in point (2) that the average person has to be able to check the observations. I emphasize this because I no longer trust "scientists" to report observations correctly. I think the data is adjusted to confirm, as far as possible, AGW. We've seen many recent cases where the data was cooked in climate studies. In one case, Hanson and company claimed that October 2008 was the warmest October on record. Watts looked at the data, and discovered that Hanson and company had used September's temperatures for Russia rather than October's. I'm not surprised to learn that September is hotter than October in the Northern hemisphere.

It snowed here in New Orleans last week and it was the second heaviest snowfall I've seen in the 25 years I've lived in New Orleans. According to the local newspaper, it was the earliest snow had fallen in New Orleans since records were kept, beginning in 1850. I myself have looked at the relative predictive power of Copernicus's theory and the then rival Ptolemaic theory. Copernicus was on the average twice as accurate, and the average person of the time could tell. Similarly, anybody today can check the number of sunspots. Or rather the lack of them. When I first starting teaching astronomy at Tulane in the early 1980's, I would show sunspots to my students by pointing a small $25 reflecting telescope at the Sun, and focusing the Sun's image on the wall of the classroom. Sunspots were obviously in the image on the wall. I can't do this experiment today, because there are no sunspots. 

(5) Another shocking thing about the AGW theory is that it is generating a loss of true scientific knowledge. The great astronomer William Herschel, the discoverer of the planet Uranus, observed in the early 1800's that warm weather was correlated with sunspot number. Herschel noticed that warmer weather meant better crops, and thus fewer sunspots meant higher grain prices. The AGW people are trying to do a disappearing act on these observations. Some are trying to deny the existence of the Maunder Minimum. 

(6) AGW supporters are also bringing back the Inquisition, where the power of the state is used to silence one's scientific opponents. The case of Bjorn Lomborg is illustrative. Lomborg is a tenured professor of mathematics in Denmark. Shortly after his book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist," was published by Cambridge University Press, Lomborg was charged and convicted (later reversed) of scientific fraud for being critical of the "consensus" view on AGW and other environmental questions. Had the conviction been upheld, Lomborg would have been fired. Stillman Drake, the world's leading Galileo scholar, demonstrates in his book "Galileo: A Very Short Introduction" (Oxford University Press, 2001) that it was not theologians, but rather his fellow physicists (then called "natural philosophers"), who manipulated the Inquisition into trying and convicting Galileo. The "out-of-the-mainsteam" Galileo had the gall to prove the consensus view, the Aristotlean theory, wrong by devising simple experiments that anyone could do. Galileo's fellow scientists first tried to refute him by argument from authority. They failed. Then these "scientists" tried calling Galileo names, but this made no impression on the average person, who could see with his own eyes that Galileo was right. Finally, Galileo's fellow "scientists" called in the Inquisition to silence him.

I find it very disturbing that part of the Danish Inquisition's case against Lomborg was written by John Holdren, Obama's new science advisor. Holdren has recently written that people like Lomborg are "dangerous." I think it is people like Holdren who are dangerous, because they are willing to use state power to silence their scientific opponents. (This is the true danger posed by 'Global Warming. It is being used as an excuse to justify the establishment of a dictatorship--by liberals/Marxists, of course--not only in the US but, in their dreams, worldwide. After all, when you are 'saving the planet', ANY action can be justified. And will be. Dad) 

(7) I agree with Dick Lindzen that the AGW nonsense is generated by government funding of science. If a guy agrees with AGW, then he can get a government contract. If he is a skeptic, then no contract. There is a professor at Tulane, with a Ph.D in paleoclimatology, who is as skeptical as I am about AGW, but he'd never be considered for tenure at Tulane because of his professional opinion. No government contracts, no tenure. 

(8) This is why I am astounded that people who should know better, like Newt Gingrich, advocate increased government funding for scientific research. We had better science, and a more rapid advance of science, in the early part of the 20th century when there was no centralized government funding for science. Einstein discovered relativity on his own time, while he was employed as a patent clerk. Where are the Einsteins of today? They would never be able to get a university job --- Einstein's idea that time duration depended on the observer was very much opposed to the "consensus" view of the time. Einstein's idea that light was composed of particles (now called "photons") was also considered crazy by all physicists when he first published the idea. At least then he could publish the idea. Now a refereed journal would never even consider a paper written by a patent clerk, and all 1905 physics referees would agree that relativity and quantum mechanics were nonsense, definitely against the overwhelming consensus view. So journals would reject Einstein's papers if he were to write them today. 

Science is an economic good like everything else, and it is very bad for production of high quality goods for the government to control the means of production. Why can't Newt Gingrich understand this? Milton Friedman understood it, and advocated cutting off government funding for science.

We should add that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his famous farewell address as president - the "industrial-military complex" speech - also warned of the intersection between science and government. This is what he said:

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

We thank Professor Tipler for his contribution.

December 22, 2008.

I note that Holdren is insisting that he have an office in the White House, not in the Executive Office of the President. I don't know where Obama's people intend to put him. I also note that Holdren has an office, but Chu has a budget. Holdren is a scientist manque. Chu is a Nobel Prize winner.


You said it would happen - Mileage taxes instead of gas taxes

Dr. Pournelle,

You said it would happen. Now that cars are getting better gas mileage, the greenies are seeking different means of taxing drivers. Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski has proposed a mileage tax to supplement the less effective (as vehicles become more efficient) gas tax.

From Crosscut via Slashdot. http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08%2F12%2F30%2F1955229&from=rss 

Hope the holidays find you well. Wish you had more time when you were in DC.

v/r -Scott

I hate being right about such things.








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Friday,  January 2, 2008

More on Hamas and Israel:

Hamas: interregnum

I guess I should get tired of being wrong; the IAF is still finding ammo dumps in Hamas homes. Turns out, by the way, that the one that they got yesterday was the inventor of a human shield strategy -- see http://eweri.com/28n .

That said, the air campaign is still winding down, as pretty clearly demonstrated by Olmert talking about some sort of ceasefire "guaranteed" by international observers. When Israel runs out of targets for expensive bombs, either there's a de facto ceasefire, or the infantry and armor go in.

You and PM Lawrence are, of course, right; there's no good reason that Gaza couldn't be the center of pretty much anything . . . except farming or mining -- and given what's been done not all that far away in terms of turning desert into farmland, I wouldn't even bet against the farming, given resources and will. Heck, Tel Aviv, which celebrates its centennial this year, was nothing more than a twelve acres of dunes outside of Jaffa when it was founded. (It may be worth noting that Tel Aviv only grew enough to dwarf Jaffa after the Jews were driving out of Jaffa in the 1921.

Driving the Jews out of Gaza hasn't worked all that well for the residents there, either; the Strip's only economic successes during living memory were during the Occupation, when some huge percentage of the adults commuted to work across the Green Line.

You bring up Hong Kong, and it's an apropos comparison, given different circumstances -- the economic miracle that is Hong Kong was made possible because the British created an entrepôt there; one of the many things that's held back Gaza, since Oslo, has been the corruption of the local governments, despite the pravda that the new Hamas bosses don't skim the way that the PLO ones used to.

Preposterous numbers of billions of dollars have already been poured into Gaza, for little better effect than to demonstrate that a permanent welfare state works badly; that money could have built pretty much anything; it's probably the most glaring example of the tragedy -- term used technically -- of the Arabs of that area.

But, sure. In step one -- now -- we have a million and a half people crowded into an area a third the size of Los Angeles. In step three, we have, say, a vibrant economic and trade hub on the Med, competing successfully with Beirut and Haifa.

It's step two that's the problem, because we don't get there either with a PLO kleptocracy, or with a Hamas theocracy which just brought back crucifixion as a state-sanctioned punishment. Nor, for that matter, do we get a lot of trading companies wanting to invest a whole lot of money in a desert, with a badly-educated population trained to a lousy work ethic, on a spot where missiles are going to be flying out frequently and bombs dropped back occasionally.

-- Joel Rosenberg   http://joel-rosenberg.com 

"Miscellaneous is always the largest category." -- Walter Slovotsky

We don't disagree, but with the blockade in place there is no chance whatever that Gaza will be anything but a wreck, and the fuel monopoly extracts a good part of any external funding that comes in. I don't see any way out of this, because it is so highly likely that Hamas would use any crack in the blockade as a means to bring in more weapons and expand their "war". It is grasping at straws to say that ending the fuel monopoly and using the blockade more selectively or even ending it might get a ceasefire that would allow the people of Gaza to develop and economy so that there is something to lose and thus a reason for rejecting Hamas.

Fortunately it is not my decision. I don't have any relatives whose lives are at stake here. Most of my Christian friends in Israel have been marginalized or even driven out of Jerusalem and Bethlehem (as were most of those in Iraq, for that matter); the few friends I have left in Israel are all Jewish and they don't have any better idea of what ought to be done than I do. It may be that good fences will make good neighbors. Nothing else seems to do so over there.

If ever there was a perfect illustration of the effects of rule of law, examination of Hong Kong vs. other refugee areas would seem to be it.



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Saturday, January 3, 2008

Climate scientists: it's time for 'Plan B' 

Dear Jerry, 

An interesting collection of quotations regarding geoengineering in the second linked article.  

Poll of international experts by The Independent reveals consensus that CO2 cuts have failed – and their growing support for technological intervention 


1221097.html       --

Robert K. Kawaratani





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Sunday,  January 4, 2008     

And so the ground attack goes on

Looks like it's about 10,000 infantry and armor soldiers in, up against, depending on how you count, 9-12,000 Hamas. Which, for city street fighting, is vastly few, except that the Hamas leadership is locked down in their fuhrerbunkers, and Israel integrates air and ground forces about as well as the USMC does; given air supremacy, the only real question is how much damage Hamas can inflict on the IDF, and how much of the materiel gets blown up.

Expect to see a lot of destruction along the Philadelphi corridor; that's where the problems have been imported.

Going back to your last . . .sure: with the blockade in place, Gaza is screwed. (A fair, I think, restatement of your position.) But without the blockade in place, it still is, as the Gazans demonstrated when Israel withdrew. Took a fair amount of money to build the greenhouses that Bill Gates bought for them when the IDF forced the Jews out of Gaza; took just a few minutes to trash them. And the blockade, of course, wasn't imposed to force the Gazans to eat their UN-supplied beans without heating them up, but to prevent the smuggling in of the missiles and such. It also had the benefit, for those interested in the niceties of international law, of making it unambiguous that Israel doesn't have the obligations of an "occupying power" -- see The Hague convention of 1907, article 42.

Still, as was predictable, and predicted, things went downhill after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

I'll blame Sharon and Olmert. The implicit -- occasionally explicit -- notion behind the Gaza withdrawal was that Gaza was now going to be Gaza's (and the UN's) problem; if missiles flew out, it would be responded to disproportionately, and immediately. But that's not what happened; I think yesterday, as part of the battlefield prep for the ground campaign, was the first time that the IDF has used artillery there since before the withdrawal.

Onward . . .the battle that's heating up is the one between Hamas and the PLO. It wasn't exactly a secret that at least some PLO operatives were spotting Hamas targets for Israel. Also, not unexpectedly, Hamas began rounding up PLO supporters in Gaza -- killing some, and seizing others. What surprised me was that when the ground forces started moving in, Hamas executed the PLO prisoners.

Now, that's something new. My first gut instinct was that it was just Hamas misunderstanding the relationship between the IDF and the PLO, but, if it's not, or if it creates an ongoing working relationship, at least in terms of Hamas . . . that bodes very, very badly for Hamas.

-- Joel Rosenberg http://twincitiescarry.com  http://joel-rosenberg.com 

"Miscellaneous is always the largest category." -- Walter Slovotsky

The blockade would be more expensive if Israel forced all incoming goods to go through a customs house at the Israel/Gaza border to inspect for contraband (It would require building a port, for one thing); but with a short contraband list there would be the possibility of some economic recovery in Gaza. As it is, they are utterly hopeless. And the fuel monopoly is, I fear, more motivated by bureaucracy and the immense profits in having a monopoly than by any security considerations.

I do agree that Hamas / PLO is worth watching; if a real wedge can be driven there, this will be good news for the West Bank Palestinians -- assuming again that Israel can act sensibly there. Once again, though, the fuel monopoly is one of the main problems. The Fuel Monopoly has many friends within the Israeli government, and it is very profitable. I think that so long as the fuel monopoly continues, peace is utterly impossible; and of course any attempt to change that will be met with enormous resistance posing as security considerations, but really based on the profits.

I'd love to be shown I am wrong on this.

For observations on the IDF and conscripts, See View


Hamas 'bars injured leaving Gaza


"Egypt says the Hamas militant group, which controls Gaza, is preventing hundreds of wounded Palestinians from leaving for treatment in Egypt.

Cairo says dozens of empty ambulances are at the Rafah crossing - the only one to Gaza which avoids Israel. "

Hamas claims this is all just taking time for the paperwork to be straight. In real life, they know their target audience will blame Israel for every death, so it is in their best interests to maximize those deaths.



What Would China Do?


"On December 25th, a German frigate off the coast of Somalia, sent its helicopter to interrupt a pirate attack on an Egyptian merchant ship. One member of the Egyptian crew had already been wounded by gunfire, but the German helicopter stopped the attack. German sailors then captured and disarmed six of the pirates. The pirates were then set free. This is because German law only allows the prosecution of pirates who are attacking Germans (or German property.)"

Currently the plan is for the West to pay Kenya to try pirates captured off of Somalia, but everyone is waiting to find out what happens when the Russian and Chinese ships start operations.


One suspects that failure to suppress piracy is more a failure of will than of ability. And of course the surrender of sovereignty. I do not believe the People's Republic of China has surrendered its sovereignty to the UN.





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