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Monday  January 12, 2009

Another Outstanding Woman in Uniform, this time for real....

Jerry, I believe that this will be one of several hundred notes you'll receive on the general topic.

Please have a look at the first dozen or so results of this Google query:


Jessica is hardly unique in the US Military but her story might be one of the better documented and thusly verifiable. Her Dad is a retired Army 1Sgt who served in Kosovo among other places.

All of this reminds me of the old joke about the ultimate military solution to the Middle East. Outfit an entire Armored Corps with state of the art weapons, munitions, and vehicles. Then staff it up exclusively with women and have them run across Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. Let them set up a permanent garrison in SE Iraq to protect the (female) combat engineers who would be busy restoring the tidal marshes and general ecology of the lower Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. In their spare time Green Beret-style training and unit exchanges could be set up with similarly armed women in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran.

Have a great New Year!!

Chuck K

Not that the Senior Airman is not an outstanding soldier; it's not her fault someone made up a story about her.


Christianity and the Round Planet.

Actually, I don't know of anyone in history who ever thought the Earth was flat (the so-called 'Flat Earth Society' is obviously a tongue-in- cheek in-joke).

<http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/01/christianity_and_the_round_pla.html >

-- Roland Dobbins

I am not sure I have ever encountered any text in which it was seriously thought that the Earth was flat. Chinese astronomers knew better. Certainly Christians did even throughout the Dark Ages.  My sometime collaborator Mike Flynn has done several articles and has an excellent lecture on the subject. Christian teaching is that miracles are miraculous; a point that seems too difficult for many to absorb. That is: the universe is orderly, and usually God works His will through the working out of discoverable laws. You can learn those laws and thus to some extent discover God's purposes. Miracles, by definition, are exceptions to the rules. They are not changes to the rules. The rules remain. Women don't give birth without having been impregnated. Dead men don't appear in a locked room and ask for boiled fish. If such events were common they wouldn't be miracles -- and the apostles wouldn't have been willing to die for their faith because they believed they had observed such events. It has nothing to do with how long ago it was: we don't today have any more belief that dead men don't get up and walk than the apostles did.

Miracles are very rare, and we have no notion of why they are allowed; only that some people are said to be able to work miracles. The clerics at Lourdes go to great lengths to document what they say are miracles, and to display the evidence; but none of them assert that they know how to make such things happen or that you can study the laws of nature and learn how to do it yourself. You can learn to split the atom, but that's not a miracle; indeed, anything that you can learn to do consistently cannot be a miracle. Of course it is no more miraculous to work an impossible cure of a fatal disease than it is to forgive a sin, but that's another discussion.

This is not a place for apologetics, and I am not trying to persuade you or convince you of anything; but it is interesting that many who can with great confidence denounce all religions as delusions and all religious people as deluded at best can the next day be out demonstrating against use of energy and demanding that we reduce the CO2 levels in order to halt Global Warming. Not all those who cry "Lord, lord!" are believers; and not all those who insist they believe in science have any real deference to scientific inference. Which doesn't say much you don't already know.

Regarding Columbus: he knew that Leif the Lucky had founded colonies in a New World, and from garbled accounts from Portuguese explorers he knew that Japan was the eastern point that Europeans had reached. He knew that the Philippines were out there. If you take a globe and put the Azores as the western point of known land, and Japan as the eastern point of known land,  you will see a vast ocean covering more than half of the globe; an ocean without islands or land anywhere.  This isn't probable: from the part of the world already known, there was land every few hundred miles. Columbus knew the world was round, and the Genoese knew its size fairly accurately. The Vinland Colonies didn't fit into that knowledge, but just as there was a chain of lands and islands from Norway , the Orkneys, Faroes Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Vinland, and possibly something west of that, it was not likely that there wasn't something between the Azores and the Japans. What was likely was that the Portuguese were concealing as much as they could of what they knew of Indonesia, Philippines, and Japan. It was a reasonable conclusion that the unknown side of the world wasn't that much different from the known, and thus there was land every few hundred miles.

It happens that one side of the Earth very nearly is all water with all the land on the other side, but that doesn't seem likely until you find out it's true.  (Although according to Mike Flynn Augustine of Hippo conjectured that it might be.) Moreover, there were stories, such as the war canoe of red men who appeared in Europe in (or about) the time of Charlemagne, and who lived there until they died. They weren't ghosts, but they told stories of crossing a vast ocean. If they could do it...







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Tuesday,  January 12, 2009

Mike Flynn on the Flat Earth:

Flat Earth

I don't know why this myth persistently arises. No educated person of the Middle Ages thought the earth was flat. Aristotle was required reading, and he established the sphericity by proofs in _On the heavens,_ II, 13-14. John of Sacrobosco, likewise, in his widely used textbook, _Treatise on the Sphere._ Isidore of Seville wrote of the Earth's roundness in the _Etymologiae._ In fact, we even find the following comment _en passant_ in Aquinas' _Summa theologica:_

Sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion—that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e., abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself.

_Summa theologiae,_ Question 1, First Article, Reply Obj. 2

Even the common people were evidently familiar with this. We have a sermon by a popular traveling preacher that refers in passing to the sphericity of the earth, and in the popular Middle English work _The Travels of Sir John Mandeville_ (a fictitious character possibly based on Marco Polo, Orderic of Pordenone, John of Marignolli, et al.) we read that in Sumatra:

And you must understand that in this land and many others thereabouts, the star Polus Arcticus [Pol Aris] cannot be seen; it stands ever in the north and never moves, and by it seamen are guided. It is not seen in the south.

Why Boorstin thought otherwise, I don't know, unless he referred to Lactantius (Roman, 3rd cent) or Cosmas Indicopleustes (Greek, 6th cent), neither of whom were medieval nor very influential, or to the ever-popular tale of Boniface accusing Vergilius before Pope Zachary of "teaching a doctrine in regard to the rotundity of the earth, which was contrary to the Scriptures." The doctrine "in regard to" sphericity was this: The rotundity of the earth implied a tropics. Temperatures increased toward the tropics. Geographers concluded that the tropics themselves were too hot for human life. Thus, to assert that there were people on the other side of the earth (called the anti-podes because they walked upside down wrt us) meant that there were people who could not be descended from Adam. Then, as now, the Curch taught the common descent of all people. It turned out the science was wrong. But the Vergilius-Boniface thingie is often now cited as flat-earth thinking. (BTW: Boniface, Ver gilius, and Zachary were all canonized, so it could not have been a very serious thingie.)

Medievalists sometimes complain that historians of modern history do not know their medieval history very well. Boorstin may be a case of that. The following web exchange between a couple of history professors (with Cicero chiming in at the end) is instructive:

Tim  This reminds me of a question I frequently ask my students at the beginning of a course on the history and philosophy of science from Aristotle to Galileo. Virtually all of them, it turns out, are convinced that the pancake theory held sway until the voyage of Columbus. When I then ask them to describe the causal mechanism of a lunar eclipse, most of them look at me as though I were recommending the study of hieroglyphics -- What can that possibly have to do with the shape of the earth? But one or two get the point. If they don't, the readings from Aristotle's Physics and Ptolemy's Almagest make it for me.

Another day, another blow against chronological snobbery ...

 Lawrence  That your students think your lunar eclipse question so strange shows they have no real knowledge of the Earth's shape, but merely take it on faith from others, just as they take their ideas of the ancient world from others.

Ironically, this type of ignorance is the same we moderns attribute (wrongly) to the ancients.

Tim Just so. The majority of my students also seem to be convinced that we moderns are much smarter than the greatest minds of millenia past. The disinformation campaign waged by people like William Whewell and Washington Irving regarding the vast ignorance and intellectual servility of the middle ages has been wildly successful, one of the great propaganda triumphs of all time.

Then I make them work through a few of the proofs from Ptolemy or from Newton's Principia and their smug self assurance evaporates, leaving something more mature in its place.

Education, real education, is the process of laying conceptual sandbags against the rising tide of cultural darkness.

Marcus Tullius Cicero To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.


Flat Earth II

Responding to your e-mail....

Noodling on the Web, I found that Boorstin did indeed refer to the two minor figures, Lactantius (Roman, 3rd cent.) and Cosmas (Greek, 6th cent.) and from these two data points extrapolated the ignorance of an entire civilization. (Technically of two civilizations: Cosmas was Byzantine, although he didn't know it.) These two were cited prominently by Draper and White in their anti-Catholic screeds, and those who came after accepted it on faith. They were not prominently cited by much of anyone during the Middle Ages; although of course one may be an expert on some matters and stone cold ignorant on others. Boorstin hedged his bet by saying everyone forgot the Earth was a sphere only until 1300, when he allows that they started to remember. But among those who mentioned the Earth's sphericity in the Dark Age and the Early Middle Age were Augustine of Hippo, Venerable Bede, Isidore of Sevile, John Scotus Eriugena, Roger Bacon, and many others. As you may recognize these are far more household names than poor old Lactantius and Cosmas.

I also note that Boorstin cited Augustine(!) as one who "heartily agreed" that antipodes "could not exist." But the antipodes referred to the _people_ who supposedly walked there upside down, not to the _land_ we now call the antipodes. It is entirely possible to believe the earth is20a sphere and not believe there are people on the other side of it. The relevant quote:

"As to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, *men* on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets on us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, there is no reason for believing it. *Those who affirm it do not claim to possess any actual information;* they merely conjecture that, since the earth is suspended within the concavity of the heavens, and there is as much room on the one side of it as on the other, therefore the part which is beneath cannot be void of human inhabitants. They fail to notice that, even should it be believed or demonstrated that the world is round or spherical in form, it does not follow that the part of the earth opposite to us is not completely covered with water, or that any conjectured dry land there should be inhabited by men. For Scripture, which confirms the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, teaches not falsehood; and it is too absurd to say that some men might have set sail from this side and, traversing the immense expanse of ocean, have propagated there a race of human beings descended from that one first man." (De Civitate Dei [On the City of God], xvi, 9)

IOW, it was like the modern debate on extraterrestrials, with the early-day ET enthusiasts claiming the earth was so vast that it was unreasonable that there wouldn't be men "out there" on the other side, somewhere. Augustine is from Missouri. "Show me." Like a good skeptic, he points out that the other hemisphere might have no land or, having land, might not be inhabited. He doesn't think it is; but his real objection is to the thought that there would be people who don't share common descent with us. (In fact, the Pacific does cover a broad swath of antipodal area.)

Augustine also refers to the sphericity of the earth in De Genesi at literam [On the literal meanings of Genesis] when he wonders how "it was evening and morning" could be literal when the Earth is a sphere and it is evening and morning somewhere on Earth all the time.

But if I make such a statement, I fear I shall be laughed at both by those who have scientific knowledge of these matters and by those who can easily recognize the facts of the case. At the time when night is with us, the sun is illuminating with its presence those parts of the world through which it returns from the place of its setting to that of its rising. Hence it is that for the whole twenty-four hours of the sun’s circuit there is always day in one place and night in another. ... We cannot say that in the other region there is no daylight when=2 0the sun is there, unless our thinking is influenced by the fantasies of poets, so that we believe the sun dips into the sea and in the morning arises on the other side out of his bath. .... But such a supposition is preposterous. (De Gen. ad lit.; I, 10:21)

Although water still covered all the earth, there was nothing to prevent the massive watery sphere from having day on one side by the presence of light, and on the other side, night by the absence of light. Thus, in the evening, darkness would pass to that side from which light would be turning to the other. (De Gen. ad lit.; I, 12:25)

Now, if even an amateur like me can find these things with little problem, what excuse has Boorstin beyond the usual fact that historians of one period are often ill-informed on others. I do not know if Boorstin is also animated by the usual prejudices. As Thucydides wrote, men will accept without argument conclusions they find agreeable; but will bring all the force of logic and reason against those they do not like. Boorstin may simply have never questioned Draper or White as sources.

Mike Flynn

I have no idea why Boorstin, who is good on American history and technology, would be animated by the usual prejudices, but perhaps so. In any event, this should settle the matter once and for all.


Another view:

Flat Earth

In the appearances of this argument I have run into, Boorstin's _The Discoverers_ is invariably disparaged. The problem is that Boorstin cites quite a few specific medieval texts that - at least based on the parts he refers to - do in fact support the claim that "Flat Earth" was a common idea. I've never once seen these references discussed or disproved or countered; there is only ever the assertion that Boorstin is a liar, without further evidence.

I do think that if the point of the exercise is to denounce claims unfounded on evidence and present some that are, this is not the right way to do it.


I think Flynn answers that above.


From Pravda, of all places.

You'll appreciate this. It is from the English-language section of Pravda, of all places.


First paragraph: "The earth is now on the brink of entering another Ice Age, according to a large and compelling body of evidence from within the field of climate science. Many sources of data which provide our knowledge base of long-term climate change indicate that the warm, twelve thousand year-long Holocene period will rather soon be coming to an end, and then the earth will return to Ice Age conditions for the next 100,000 years."

And note the assumed education and reading comprehension level for their readers...

--John R. Strohm


Harry Erwin's Letter From England=

Tory MP stopped and searched as a terrorist suspect for taking pictures of a cycle lane: <http://tinyurl.com/94cgu9> Related story about electronic privacy <http://tinyurl.com/8rxl3l>

 The consensus here seems to be that the Gaza operation is being driven by internal Israeli politics--it will continue until the current Israeli government feels that it has beaten back the electoral threat posed by Likud <http://tinyurl.com/a6k48x> <http://tinyurl.com/8kyhoa>

 UK economy at a 28-year low <http://tinyurl.com/9zlf3e> <http://tinyurl.com/75bnv3  >

 Local job losses <http://tinyurl.com/7ldld5>

 Fall in standards for UK PhDs <http://tinyurl.com/9t462u>


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


Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>





"It might take a long time to solve this problem."

The hubris is all the more breathtaking for its foundation in deep- rooted naivety and a fundamental ignorance of human nature, history, not to mention contemporary culture outside the United States:


-- Roland Dobbins

The gods of the copybook headings, with terror and slaughter return.


Space weather

If you go to the link <http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12507>  on that Space Weather article, you can download a PDF of the entire report for free.

Tom Brosz


Skylon SSTO 'Space Plane'

Dear Jerry,

I read this morning about Reaction Engines Limited's Skylon Project and was curious about your opinion of the system.



They claim the vehicle will travel from 0 m/s on the runway to a 300km equatorial orbit with a payload of 12,000 kg.

Using the estimate of 100,000 kg per satellite from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's "Study of Space Transportation for Space Solar Power Systems" http://tinyurl.com/8pm9hn, the Skylon could put a SSPS on orbit in 10 or so launches. Am I wrong to be somewhat excited by the prospect of this vehicle?

In either case, I wish you continued good health and prosperity in the new year. As always, I remain,

Your Fan,

Preston A. Rickwood,

I answered:

Do you know more than is on their web site? The mass fraction is not sufficient to make orbit as a SSTO vehicle, meaning that they have to fly for some considerable time at high mach speeds as an air breather. The NASP people could not figure out how to do that.

From the DC/X experience I came to the conclusion that Hydrogen is not the right fuel for operations to begin with, but perhaps they know something about hydrogen than I do.

They don't provide the precise flight profile, but given the mass fraction (220 / 261) there is no possibility of reaching orbital velocity as a rocket; meaning that some 40 tonnes of oxygen must be scooped from the atmosphere just to achieve the mass ratio needed by the rocket equation, plus however much more is required to overcome the drag from flying in the atmosphere. I don't think they can do that, but I sure wish them luck. I doubt they'll find their $10 billion, but again I wish them luck.

We may have learned a lot since NASP days. I was once very much a fan of aircraft/rocket hybrids (as was the late Arthur C. Clarke) but it is my understanding that the NASP project demonstrated pretty clearly that we do not -- or did not, in that time period -- possess the materials to make the input scoops and the leading edges of the wings for such a craft.

Not being much of an airplane designer I can't comment on their design or its flightworthiness, but I would think the engines they describe have yet to be built.

Jerry Pournelle

Apparently the idea is to use air-breathing mode to reach Mach 5.5 and edge of the atmosphere, then switch to pure rocket mode to reach orbital velocity.

The engine is apparently being tested in stages, one of which can be seen in the photo accompanying this interview.   http://spacefellowship.com/News/?p=7890 

The Space Fellowship article states, "With regards to a timetable, [Future Programmes Director] Mark [Hempsell] added that there is an immediate and funded technology demonstration programme for the next two years. This will then lead in to a full development programme which will probably take a further 8 years."

I also found a link on the Reaction Engines site that provides more information about the engine design.   http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/sabre.html 

I guess they're hoping materials science for the vehicle will catch up to their engine design by the time they are finished with it. I suppose I hope the same.

Thanks for your kind attention,


I have made inquiries among rocket scientists and engineers (some very much in competition with Skylon) and the consensus is: these are serious people, and they have been doing some serious development; but no one knows how they will solve the engineering problems that tanked the NASP project, and if there are new developments since NASP they aren't generally known to the space development community. In other words, my view remains: I don't know how they are going to do this, but I sure wish them luck.

We would have to know how much fuel is needed to reach the point at which the ship becomes a pure rocket. Mach 5.5 is a significant velocity, but it will still require a significant mass ratio approaching  to get to orbit starting from Mach 5.5 and 75,000 feet; whether they can achieve that mass ratio is not known to me.

Most "fly high then switch to rocket power" designs use two vehicles, both recoverable: one flies to get both craft above the atmosphere so that the ISP is vacuum rather than sea level, and there is no atmospheric drag to overcome. This allows two different engines, and possibly two different fuel systems. A Mach 5.5 velocity of 5.5 is achievable with existing materials, and since these are serious people I presume they have an operations plan that gets them to Mach 5.5 with sufficient fuel to achieve the required mass fraction to get  53,000 pounds into orbit from that speed and altitude. I leave the calculations to the reader (look up my SSX paper on this web site for the basic rocket equation and delta vees required).

I very much wish them well. My opinions on the operational unsuitability of hydrogen remain; Max Hunter when to his grave convinced that we would achieve routine Single Stage To Orbit operations, and that would be done with propane. Many space development engineers now experiment with methane. Max preferred propane because it is much more readily available and we know a lot more about handling it, and the exhaust velocity penalties were, in his judgment, not great enough to overcome propane's advantages. (Assuming SSTO is achievable, the penalty would be in payload: more flights required to get a given mass to orbit, but the cost of the craft and the cost per flight will be lower.)

The more serious people in private space development the better.

Mr. Heinlein has Delos Harriman say in "The Man Who Sold the Moon" that "good research always pays off."



I take exception to your comment: "Alas, a slave market shows where unregulated capitalism will go if left to itself."

It is only through the state established institution of slavery, the enforcement of property rights of one mans over life of another, that allowed a robust market in slaves to exist. Slavery is a creation of regulations/governments, not of capitalism.

David Young

I would have thought slavery was illegal in the United States, but every now and then the police find instances of it. Make it legal and I think you will find plenty of instances -- and private slave catchers to enforce it, without any government bureaucracy needed. It is true that one of the great political issues prior to the Civil War was the Fugitive Slave Act and its enforcement in the North where slavery was not legal, but slavery exists in the Middle East to this day even though it is illegal.

And I predict with confidence that if you make it legal to sell human flesh in the marketplace, it will not be a decade before you will be able to buy some.

It is not that all, or most, or even a few capitalists would engage in such practices; but it only takes a few. Now would you care to discuss what would happen were there an open market in transplantable organs? But we all know very well what would happen.

Note that I am not opening a debate on whether or not there ought to be an open market on transplantable organs. That's a more complex matter than it appears to be. But then so is one's "right" to sell oneself into slavery to obtain money to pay debts or support a family.


Yes, she did.

If this were true...

"I suspect I know more about the views held by Miss Rand than most."

...you would not have written this...

"That she could never reconcile the gap between knowing what is and knowing what ought to be (and how to prove you know what ought to be)..."

...in the readily available light of this:


Most such dismissals of Rand end up foundering on the rocks of those of her works that the critic didn't bother to read. Had you merely written "I suspect I know more about the views held by Miss Rand than most **of her other critics**", it would be credible.

Whatever you think about her ideas, there is really no excuse nowadays for any critic to be ignorant of what those ideas are, or of what she really did say -- and not just because Harry Binswanger put his "Ayn Rand Lexicon" online. A good place is www.noodlefood.org (check out the essays by Greg Perkins), and good people are Tara Smith and Onkar Ghate.

We're easy to find :)

Jim May

Those who really dislike the fine art of hair splitting should skip what follows.

First. let me assert that whatever the truth of your analysis my first statement is still objectively true: that is, fewer than half the population have read anything by Miss Rand (and probably fewer than half ever heard of Objectivism): So had I stated that I know more about the views held by Miss Rand the probability is very high that I would be speaking the objective truth; but in fact I didn't say that. I said I suspected as much, and that's a statement about my subjective beliefs,  and I know very well that I know more about my beliefs than you do.

That said, I thoroughly understand that there are those who believe that if only we knew and understood Miss Rand, we would believe what she taught. Indeed, as I recall Miss Rand was one of that number. I also understand the argument that if one studies the subject properly, one will abandon all those subjective feelings about ethics and morality and accept the objective truths thereby made manifest.

In other words, those smart enough will get it and understand that Objectivism does in fact reconcile the gap between knowing what is and knowing what ought to be (and how to prove you know what ought to be). This implies that objectivists are the most intelligent people in the society. That hypothesis generates a number of deductions some objectively testable.

As I said, I am not trying to start a quarrel with Miss Rand's followers; but I fear I have had as much enlightenment from her writings as I need, and my excuse must be that I don't have enough years left to read everything else. Alas,  the Objectivists are not the only people who tell me that if only I read everything available about their philosophy I would certainly have a better understanding of the universe.


Re: The myth of the medieval flat Earth

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I believe that, at the very least, the popularity of the idea that medieval society believed the Earth to be flat can be blamed on Washington Irving and his “biography” of Columbus. Certainly, it is not widely thought in Europe that Columbus’s opponents believed the Earth to be flat. Perhaps his sources were faulty or, more likely, the truth did not fit his narrative. The dispute between Columbus and the churchmen advising the Spanish crown was over the size of the Earth, and Columbus was, in fact, wrong. Had the Americas not been in the way, he could never have accomplished the voyage he proposed; the distances were simply too great.

Further evidence that medieval Europe believed the Earth to be spherical can be found in Dante. In the Purgatorio, he explicitly shows a spherical world, with the mountain of Purgatory antipodal to Jerusalem. What is more, he understands many of the logical consequences of a spherical world: not only are there stars which are not visible in the northern hemisphere, but as the poets travel westward, the sun passes them on their right (something which Herodotus rejected as patently false, giving us a terminus post quem for the concept of a round world).

David Levinson



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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From another conference:

But this scheme pales in comparison with some of the projects in Willy Ley's 1954 book "Engineers' Dreams." One of the schemes proposed there is damming the straits of Gibraltar to let the Mediterranean go down a bit from evaporation, thus increasing land area for Mediterranean countries. My favorite though is a scheme to dam the Congo River, flood the Congo Basin, send the water north to create a second huge lake in Chad, and then north to the Mediterranean.

One of the problems with political competition between states is that it is a zero sum game over who gets sovereignty over what piece of land, unlike economic competition, where you can win by adding to the world's stock of capital. (The rules were a little different when epidemics turned a lot of the New World and Oceania into colonizable space, but that didn't last.) Creating a second Nile might get around this, sort of, by turning a worthless stretch of the Sahara into something worth while -- maybe a Palestinian homeland? I'm not totally sure the Libyans would see it this way, though, so maybe some military muscle would be required after all. Invade the world, irrigate the world!



My favorite scheme in this line was Dr. Johnson's plan to switch the populations of Holland and Ireland. Once the Dutch were settled in Ireland (he said) they would soon have the place humming along nicely as a peaceful, productive commercial state. The Irish, settled in Holland, would be too busy fighting among themselves to attend to the dykes, so eventually the dykes would collapse, the place would flood, and the Irish would all drown.

As a solution to the Irish Problem, it was at least a tad more humane than Dean Swift's.

Whether something similar could be done with the Is-Pal problem, I shall not venture to speculate.


I was pleased to be Willy Ley's successor as science editor of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, but by the time I achieved that position I was a little less enthusiastic about vast schemes to change the world whether through physical or social engineering; but A Step Farther Out was the result, and I guess my scheme for survival with style by using resources from space may qualify as a vast scheme to change the world...


MP brands dyslexia a 'fiction'

British Labour MP says there is no such thing as dyslexia, it is just an excuse by educators http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/
uk_news/england/manchester/7828121.stm  Have been listening to a long sympathetic BBC radio interview with an educator saying he is talking rubbish and that the only reason there is no dyslexia in Nicaragua & Korea is because they speak Spanish & Korean


True neurological dyslexia exists, but it is extremely rare, closer to 1% than 5%. Alas, up to 20% of pupils have been diagnosed as dyslexic. One problem is that "dyslexic" and "dyslexia" have no actual medical meaning: it just means that the subject can't read, and says nothing about why; but the implication is that the dyslexic have some form of neurological disorder, and therefore can't be taught to read by ordinary teachers and parents, and thus teachers and schools must not be blamed when the kids don't learn to read.

And that is dangerous hogwash. When I asked my mother, who taught first grade in rural Florida schools (and who was always a bit ashamed that she had only a 2 year Associate degree from the Florida Teachers College in Orlando, not a full college degree from a university) if any of the hundreds of pupils she had in first grade left unable to read, she said that a very few didn't learn to read -- "But they didn't learn anything else, either." The notion that a child of reasonable intelligence would not learn to read English in first grade was alien. She expected all the children to learn, and they did. She had never heard of dyslexia.

In these days of children who don't speak English there are complications that weren't usual in rural Florida in the 1920's, but the number of children with real dyslexia hasn't changed.

For those who know people of any age from 5 to adult who cannot read English and need to learn it, see my wife's web page http://www.readingtlc.com and pay attention. Roberta's reading program works, and it will teach anyone of reasonable intelligence (that is, not pretty obviously retarded) to read English in about 75 lessons of half an hour each. It is based on her experience as a reading specialist' she has taught in private and public schools including the Los Angeles County juvenile justice system, and the program is based on her experience. It works. Understand that by "able to read" we don't mean "read at grade level" or read books with limited vocabulary. We mean read any book in the English language. Clearly we don't mean that 2nd graders will understand a Dickens novel, but there is no reason that child cannot read the book. We don't mean anyone will understand polymorphicaldiethyltoluene because there isn't any such thing, but if you can read English you can read that word, and there's no reason a first grader cannot -- painstakingly -- read it.


Joe Wikert's Kindleville Blog: All Kindle, All the Time: Memo to Jeff Bezos


Dear Jerry:

This is worth reading, comments included.


Francis Hamit

I don't agree with all his points, and I used my Kindle more and more every day. In a few years I think we will have a device that takes the place of iPhone, Kindle, and Netbook, and everyone will carry one; it will probably require some kind of clothing accessory to carry.  If the Clubmate had been a better phone and came with a better carrying case it might well have taken us there by now.

At the moment I have both Kindle and iPhone. If my Kindle could be a phone, I'd seriously consider a shoulder bag.


Portuguese knowledge of Asia

Jerry, I'll take this chance to pick some nits with your account of Columbus's prior knowledge. The Portuguese hadn't yet gotten to the Indian Ocean by sea in 1492; that came six years later. They'd dispatched several agents to find Prester John in 1487, but hadn't managed to send any reports back before 1492. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pero_da_Covilha. In short the only thing that the Portuguese and Columbus had to go on was Marco Polo and the like.

Looking forward to the sequel to Inferno!


Absolutely correct. Vasco de Gama didn't get to India by sailing south and around Africa until 1498, although the Portuguese had shown in 1490 that it was possible to get around the Cape of Good Hope. Prince Henry the Navigator did know about the Indies through stories but they came from the silk road traders, and the stories of the Japans came from Marco Polo. Thanks. But Columbus had reasons to hope there was a landing place between the Azores and India. Maybe even islands a few hundred miles west of the Azores, for that matter.





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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dr. Pournelle:

In case some of your readers didn't catch the poem on the base of Al Gore's monument:



Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

God bless and keep up the good work.

Lee Keller King

I had forgotten that many would not be familiar with Shelley's poem. We memorized in in school in my time, but I gather that is no longer popular with modern educators, who have much better techniques for teaching the children a great deal more and thus deserve their much higher salaries than teachers a few years ago. (California education gets about 40% more now than at the turn of the century; surely we can all see how much good that has done!)


Exclusionary Rule Decision

Dr. Pournelle --

This harkens back to a discussion several months ago and may have significant impact on the courts.


The Surpassing Significance of Herring http://www.scotusblog.com/wp/ 

"The Court holds that a negligent error by the police clerk does not give rise to exclusion. The dissents dispute the majority’s reasoning within that frame of reference - i.e., they treat the case as if it were only about police clerks and police recordkeeping.

“As laid out in our cases, the exclusionary rule serves to deter deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct, or in some circumstances recurring or systemic negligence.” Slip Op. at 9. “[W]e conclude that when police mistakes are the result of negligence such as that described here, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements,” the exclusionary rule does not apply. "

If the constable blunders and discovers a child held in sex slavery but didn't get a search warrant, must the child be returned to the captors?


Bailout Money

You say in your current installment that you haven't seen where the $350 billion of the bailout money went.

That's because it is so simple there is nothing to tell.

The government loaned the money to banks as preferred stock with an interest rate (dividend) of 5%. If you want to see a list of the banks which received the money and how much, that is publicly available.

The banks then add that money to their capital balance and then run their business as they have been (well or badly as the case may be). The capital provides the basis by which the banks make loans against their normal deposits.

All of this may be good or bad - a genius like you can probably figure out which. I, personally find that a difficult question. But to say that you don't know what happened to the money is just plain wrong.

What more do you want? Do you want the banks to tell you which loans they made against the government supplied capital, vs which loans they made against their own capital? They certainly don't keep track of that. Do you expect them to for some reason?

James Becker Minneapolis

I was under the impression that the bill took hundreds of pages and had many complexities. This may well be due to my negligence, and it may all be very simple, in which case, thank you for the information. It's hardly my specialty; but I remain bewildered as to why the appropriations bill was so long and complex if that's all there is to it.

As to what records banks ought to keep, that is well beyond my expertise, but I would have thought it prudent to ask the banks to keep track of that they have done with public money; it's not quite the same as money voluntarily raised through sales of stock or bonds. Surely that's not a terrible complexity in these days of computers?


The Bailout

From what I have read from some economics bloggers, the rush to distribute the $350 billion was to prevent a total freeze of the credit markets in the US. We were one to two days of a situation where nobody would lend money, since they didn’t know which banks and brokerages were about to fail. This would have had a lot of bad effects: commercial paper lending would have stopped, credit card companies would not have been able to borrow money, nobody could issue bonds, etc. The shocks would have been staggering – companies with irregular cash flow would not have been able to borrow money for the payroll and accounts payables, credit cards would have stopped working (just before Christmas!), etc.

The libertarian in me shouted “Let the stupid financiers go bankrupt, the well-run ones will be left!”, the pragmatist said “Gee, will I get paid on Friday? What if my bank collapses and my money is trapped for weeks?”. If a handful of banks fail, scattered at random across the US, we can weather that. We did in the 80s when the oil patch went bust. However, if all the national banks fail at once, we’re back to a cash economy - and there isn’t enough physical cash to go around. We’ve got to have those electrons flying to keep commerce going.

In short, we were in a liquidity trap and the entire finance system, which is based on trust and liquidity would have ground to a halt. The $350 billion put the liquidity back in the system. Now we are in the trust building phase. This is the messy phase where everyone figures out which mortgages are bad and what paper is bad. If done right, the government can recoup much of the money distributed by liquidation/renting/refinancing the properties that they end up with, much like the RTC did with the oil patch bank assets in the 80s. I won’t offer odds on whether it will be done right.

Edmund Hack

I hope you are correct. I still wonder why it took 400 pages if it's all so simple. I will be among those cheering if it all works.



Hi Jerry,

Sorry to take issue with you, but you're wrong in saying that "'dyslexic' and 'dyslexia' have no actual medical meaning". In fact, they do, and include several observed sub-types, variations, and related conditions. The Wikipedia article is worth reading for a general overview.

There have also been some interesting studies which purported to show genetic markers associated with specific kinds of dyslexia. It's far too early to say categorically that any of the types of dyslexia are genetic in origin (or rather, that individuals are genetically pre-disposed to dyslexia), but it's a promising area of research. There's a good overview at http://jmg.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/44/5/289

Of course, that's not to say "oh, he's dyslexic" isn't used as an excuse from parents for the poor reading skills of their children. But Mr Stringer's assertion that it's a "fictional malady" invented by teachers to cover up poor teaching is, basically, bunk.

All the best, Ian.

Lumbago means a pain in the lower back. Dyslexia means that the subject can't read.

Actual neurological dyslexia exists and there are varieties as well as a distribution of severities. The simplest is difficulty in distinguishing between the letter p and q, and d and b. There are training techniques which will allow many of those which this difficulty to learn how to overcome it. The prevalence of actual physiological dyslexia is not certain but one study found a fairly small number of such in examining a large number of students diagnosed as dyslexic. Mrs. Pournelle as the reading teacher of last resort in the LA County juvenile justice system received hundreds of "dyslexic" students. They all learned to read. Some of those cases took hard work. Others were a bit simpler: the child needed spectacles. One could call poor but correctable eyesight "dyslexia" and be perfectly correct, in that the cause was physiological and the student couldn't read, but I don't see how that's useful.

Roberta would receive inch thick files showing that the school system had not failed: this kid couldn't read because the kid "had" dyslexia. The diagnosis is of course a self-fulfilling prophecy: since the child is dyslexic he can't learn to read, so it would be a waste of time to try to teach him, so -- The fortunate ones were incarcerated by the courts and ended up in Roberta's classroom where they learned to read. The unfortunate ones didn't get locked up and stayed in the regular classrooms. We know that large numbers of children leave the school system unable to read; many are diagnosed as dyslexic which means "can't read and it's not our fault, that's just poor protoplasm."

I have seen a diagnosis of dyslexia due to undescended testicles; how undescended testocles affected the ability to read in first grade is not known to me nor was it explained by the expert who made the diagnosis.

What you call bunk looks to be very prevalent; the fact that those who use "dyslexia" to explain why a chld wasn't taught to read believe everything they are saying because they have never been told that almost every child can learn to read is tragic, but after all, this is what the teacher learned in the education department at college. Of course most professors of education have never taught anyone to read and generally don't have much to do with the left hand side of the bell curve may have something to do with this.

"Fictional malady" is an overstatement; physiological dyslexia does exist; but dyslexia is in fact used, often, as an excuse to explain poor results, even if those using the diagnosis do not realize what they are doing.


Dr. Pournelle:

Seeing a plug for Mrs. Pournelle's Reading Program in today's mail got me thinking a bit. I bought the program a few years ago, and found it quite good. One of the more valuable parts of it is Mrs. Pournelle's recorded pronunciation of the words.

When I was in first grade, I was blessed by having an "old school" teacher who began her career pre-WWII. Mine was the last class she taught.

When we began reading simple soft vowel three letter words, she made a point of pronouncing the ending consonants more than one would in ordinary speech. For instance, making a full "B" sound when speaking the word "nob", or a harder "D" for "had", etc. I noticed that Mrs. Pournelle does this in her program.

That in itself made the program worth it's price, IMO.

I remember first grade quite well. It was amazing how much easier spelling was for me (let alone reading) after I began hearing words spoken this way.

My Oldest daughter in, now in third grade, tells me that her teachers never did this...

PS: I lost the cd. Can I buy replacement media if I send you the original order details?

Thanks. I am sure that you can buy the CD only; write to Mrs. Pournelle, rjp at earthlink dot net. She did all those recordings herself, and I agree, her pronunciations are a great aid in teaching the material. Nearly every student who has used the program has learned to read in far less than the full 70 lessons, but we do urge all to complete the course because there are fine points and refinements that need to be learned.


Columbus Was Not a Dope

IIRC, Columbus' son wrote that when his dad was a navigator on the northern run, one of their stop-overs was in Galway Town and while there he saw (or heard about, don't recall) a local wonder: a man and woman of Asiatic cast had washed up dead on the shores of Galway in a canoe. Reading between the lines, I think an Eskimo couple. Columbus evidently figured that they could not have come from =too= far west. The northern run went to Iceland, too; and it is likely in the dockside taverns there that he heard songs about Leif the Lucky and others.

Possibly, he believed the low-ball (incorrect) estimate of the earth's circumference because of these hints that land lay at a reachable distance over the Ocean Sea.

I also recall that the secret to rounding the Cape was to sail far out west into the Atlantic before making your easting. That way you caught the counterclockwise wind-gyre. Now, go a little too far out and you spot the coast of Brazil in the distance, as Cabral did in 1500. I don't think the Portuguese were stupid, either. Brazil "just happened" to be on the Portuguese side of the Tordesillas line? I think they knew it was there before they agreed to it.

Michael Flynn

I thought there was evidence that Columbus had in fact been to Iceland, but that may be a memory from a fanciful historical novel.


The Middle Irish poem "Saltair na Rann", probably composed sometime not long after the year 1000 although claiming to be by Oengus the Culdee (a famous monk/poet), is quite sure that the earth is round. As with all the other Christian Irish accounts of the Creation. (And why not? The Fathers were all sure the Earth was round. Except, as you mention, poor Lactantius of "Phoenix" fame and the Cosmas dude.)

Ri ro thepi, bladmar brass, as in chetadbar admas, talam tromt[h]oracht, delm chert dian fonnfothacht fotlethet. 

From DIAS (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies), School of Celtic Studies, a translation by the late Professor David Greene:

A King who extracted, famously and swiftly, from the very beautiful primary stuff, the heavy round earth -- a true fame -- whose foundation is length and breadth.

Maureen O'Brien


Navy commander Tom Phillips suggests sailors wearing bikinis might help boost recruitment


"Asked by the magazine "if female sailors all had to be hot and had to wear bikinis, would that help recruitment?", Commander Phillips is quoted as responding: "It would certainly get the right demographic of young men in. I'm not sure how feasible it is, however." "

Note first this is Australia, not the USN. However, what looks to me like a valid answer to a silly question has upset the usual suspects. Perhaps that's not a bad thing.





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Friday,  January 16, 2009

Dyslexia may be language dependent

My dear Doctor Pournelle

'C' wrote <Chaos Manor mail, Wednesday, January 14, 2009 http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/2009/Q1/mail553.html   that British Labour MP Graham Stringer claimed dyslexia was invented by the education establishment. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/manchester/7828121.stm  The Honorable Mr Stringer wrote "If dyslexia really existed then countries as diverse as Nicaragua and South Korea would not have been able to achieve literacy rates of nearly 100%."

I cannot speak for Nicaragua, but I have some experience teaching English in South Korea.

I have had many students at the beginning of their study of English -- who wrote 'd' for 'b' and transposed letters. With time and practice, they seem to overcome these problems.

One student in particular comes to mind. He had severe difficulty reading and writing. He was placed in a 'backward' class. A year later, I am proud to say that he has made remarkable progress. He still reads slowly, but he reads correctly, and his confidence with English has progressed to the point that he makes jokes in the language. We are considering promoting him out of the 'backward' class into the mainstream.

I can cite other examples, but my evidence is only anecdotal.

None of the Korean students who showed dyslexic tendencies in English have any problems in Korean. Although the Korean language uses phonemes, its written structure is radically different. In appearance, it resembles Chinese more than it does any European language.

Oh, I should mention that my school uses phonics to teach its students English.

Yours HK

I think you make the point I was trying to emphasize: the "diagnosis: dyslexia means nothing other than "he can't reat." If there were some "disease" called dyslexia you did nothing to cure it, yet the student made progress. While true neurological dyslexia exists, it is rare, and requires different techniques from teaching reading to other students.

English is a mostly phonetic language, but reading English does require the ability to recognize the letters; inability to do that is a handicap that must be overcome. Reading experts have various techniques to aid in learning that distinction, including "air writing" the letters and other means of bringing unimpaired senses to bear. Now it is certainly true that few adults, and none of those who habitually read this site, routinely "sound out" words; most of us read without thinking about what we are doing. However: you certainly do "sound out" polymorphicdimethylhumbug, and unless you can do that you won't be able to read it; and if you can't distinguish among the letters you won't be able to "sound it out."

Reading is a skill not an intellectual achievement. You don't have to be smart in order to learn to read. You have to have some smarts to understand a lot of what has been written, but that's a different story, and even there some of what's required is more background than smarts. As an example, The Federalist Papers, considered by many colleges as too difficult to be assigned to undergraduates, originally appeared as letters to the editors of newspapers, and the intended readers were the voters who had to approve the new Constitution. Madison, Hamilton, and Jay assumed that enough of the population would be able to comprehend the arguments. Comprehending The Federalist takes some smarts but anyone who can read can read those arguments.

Dyslexia is not a useful diagnosis because it says nothing about why the student can't read (in your case the problem was letter discrimination -- was his eyesight tested?); and it is far too often employed as a justification for giving up on that student.

I've said this often but it bears repeating: about a quarter of the US population will learn to read without much  instruction; they just seem to get it as soon as they understand that marks on paper can be translated into words. Another quarter learn if given any rational instruction at all. That's half. The other half is where we start to encounter problems. Without systematic phonics some rather large portion of that group will never learn to read much beyond vocabulary controlled works, and will never be able to read words they've never seen before. Systematic phonics is useful training for everyone -- even those who just get it benefit although not as much as the others -- and absolutely necessary for something like half the population.

The number of people who are physiologically impaired and require special training before they can learn to read is well under 10%; and of those, a great number can overcome problems such as b and d (and p and q) confusion with training and exercises. Depending on the severity of the impairment, an hour or so of training a day for a year may well be sufficient. Good teachers have always known this, and now there is increasing data on neurological adaptability and alternate pathway learning.


Jerry P:

My brother, now 69, was diagnosed when in the first grade as having "reverse vision". That is what it was called in Oklahoma in the 1940s. As my older sister and I were top of the class in everything and especially spelling, he was considered retarded.

Of course we knew that otherwise he didn't have problems although he was smaller than I at the same age because we resembled different sides of the family. My father was a chemical engineer, graduate of University of Tennessee, and my mother had been in college until her father died and she had to take a job to support her mother. So as a family we were not stupid or retarded and I considered my brother's difficulty as strange. Myself, I had a 6th grade reading level at the end of the 1st grade and a 12th grade level at the end of the 6th grade. I read very fast and really never understood why I would occasionally mispronounce new words.

I now realize that on occasions I see letters and numbers reversed. No mistake, it happens. But as we recognize words not individual letters, once a word becomes familiar, it is easily read. I know you understand this quite well, but I repeat this to indicate some knowledge of the problem.

My brother did graduate with a degree in electrical engineering and had a successful career with major aerospace companies, being manager of an antennas lab as well as a project manager. But his hand writing is difficult and he does make mistakes in copying down some things. All this is to indicate that there are real people with real difficulties that can be considered under the blanket of dyslexia. What the percentage is I don't know. But in my case it is so slight that it really would not be considered a handicap. But it did cause me to be slower in testing in college, I am a registered professional mechanical engineer, and I realize that there is a possibility that mild dyslexia hindered my testing to some degree. But these little things don't belie your contention that in some cases lazy or overworked teachers hasten to label as dyslexic children who are a bit slow in class. As I was always the one to help slow readers in my class in the lower grades, I know that the slow learners end up being successful in most cases, with college degrees and successful careers. So I applaud your wife's efforts in teaching reading to the ones who have difficulties in reading but I also know that there are subtle differences in these things that probably never get unearthed.

This is not something which I think is necessary to pass along, but just wanted to make the point that dyslexia of the type I discuss, is a very real thing and I know from my own experience that sometimes the eye-brain function works in a strange manner.


I fail to understand the usefulness of "dyslexia" in this story. Dyslexics by definition can't read. It may be a better diagnosis than retarded, but in fact "reverse vision" is more useful. Clearly in all cases here the physiological impairment was overcome, apparently without any special exercises or training. Recognition of such conditions is important and useful; lumping everything into the category "dyslexia" not so much so.

Most adults read words with typographical errors without noticing them (one reason so many escape authors and editors); English is not only mostly phonetic but also highly redundant, which is why w cn rd txt wtht vwls, but the chances for mistakes go up rapidly.

My quarrel is not with the concept that there are physiological factors in failure to learn to read, but with the term "dyslexia" which says the kid can't read, but it can't possibly be because the kid was never taught to read. It's not the teacher's fault that this kid is poor protoplasm.

Incidentally, in some cases it's very physiological: spectacles or/and hearing aids can sometimes be  miraculous cures for dyslexia.

Many people have reading problems all through life largely because they were never trained properly; just as I remain a sloppy typist because I taught myself but never did systematic training. An hour a day for a few weeks way  back when would probably have saved me a lot of grief. On the other hand, it was because I was such a terrible typist that I leaped at the chance to write using small computers and invested so much in old Zeke, my first computer.


Self-Publishing Review

Dear Jerry:

Here is a link to a new blog about self-publishing which seems very well done and may have great potential for creating a community.



Francis Hamit

Thanks. Looks very interesting.


An important message on distance learning:

Dear Mr. E...,

Dr. Pournelle forwarded your inquiry to me. I'm the "Mark" who occasionally comments on "Distance Learning" in Chaos Manor Mail.

I'm enrolled full time in an accredited distance learning BSME program. VA is paying the tuition and costs in my case. I'd just add all my fellow students are sponsored by government or large corporations.

In my estimation and experience the actual science and engineering content is available elsewhere for about 10% - 15%, minus the diploma. The rest of the costs are a gate keeper toll for the credentialism of an accredited degree. Native student ability, time and diligence still has to be added in any case.

"I work for a company that is officially opposed to mindless credentialism. The absence or presence of a degree is of far less interest than whether you know what you are doing."

I agree 100% with you, and I think Dr. Pournelle does too.

"On-line courses could help fill that gap, particularly if there were courses in CFD, and intermediate stats...So, if there is a source of mathematics and engineering courses out there"

I think "Distance Learning" is a better term than "online". Printed books and materials are far from obsolete. All of my courses use mainstream college math, science and engineering texts. "Online" internet is principally a media delivery and communications system. CDs and DVDs are just as significant for me as "online".

Free and Low Cost Sources of Organized Math, Science & Engineering Knowledge;

1. The U.S. Department of Energy has a series of entry level engineering handbooks covering math, chemistry, physics, electrical science, materials science and mechanical engineering topics. The "Fundamentals" handbooks of general interest are in the top 1/3 of the page. These are all in Adobe Acrobat pdf format.


The DoE handbooks are approximately Associates Degree Plus level. They were originally written for nuclear power plant operator training.

2. The MIT Open Course Ware site is another great resource for more advanced studies. I urge you to explore it. The typical archived course package contains the course syllabus, lecture slides and notes, quizzes and lists of textbooks and reference materials. Sometimes a full set of video lectures is included.


Judicious selection among identical subjects will save lots of money. i.e. textbooks for an "older" chemistry course from 2003 or so will cost much less used on Amazon than a recent course that uses what is still the latest edition of textbook.

Once an authoritative outline for learning (a/k/a syllabus) is in place the rest of the internet is open as a student reference. If you have other questions or comments please don't hesitate to write.

Best Wishes,


Do note that the costs here are for credentials and textbooks. You can't escape some of the book costs any more than you can escape from the work it takes to learn the subject matter, but the credentials are another matter. You probably have to have them because of the various anti-discrimination laws: personnel managers put avoiding lawsuits pretty high on their priority list, and credentials and degrees are one of their best weapons in that pursuit.


Jack Schmitt's continuing contributions to our understanding of the Moon, four decades onward.


- Roland Dobbins


Harriot's Moon Map.


- Roland Dobbins


Flat Earth

The Qur'an, in several places, declares the Earth is flat in very unequivocal terms. It's flat like a carpet held down at its edges by the mountains, is one of the stories.

In 1492 the Moors had just, mostly, been kicked out of Spain. The Christians in parts of Europe that had been more stable may well have known the Earth was spherical. Columbus certainly knew it. The people who grew up educated or rather not educated by the former Moorish rule may well have thought the Earth was flat after the contemporary Muslim teachings from the Qur'an. How many of Columbus' sailors fell into this ill educated class and hence really did fear falling off the edge? I don't think history can tell us that. It might have been none. It might have been most of his sailors. I do suspect he had to look around to find sailors who could believe the Earth was round.

I also suspect he had to look around for sailors who thought they could stay alive long enough to reach land by sailing to the West. That was probably a more practical issue to them than the Moorish teachings from the Qur'an that the Earth was flat.



Students Paying More and Getting Less, 


Students Paying More and Getting Less, Study Says


"College students are covering more of what it costs to educate them, even as most colleges are spending less on students . . ."

Pournelle's Iron Law in action, yet again.


No, really?


Apparently, it's a state law they're being prosecuted under, so far.


--- Roland Dobbins

Prison will teach them...


Socializing the liabilities of elites.


- Roland Dobbins







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Saturday, January 17. 2009

I more or less took the day off. There will be a Chaos Manor Reviews mailbag early next week.






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Sunday,  January 18, 2009     

People of the Screen.


- Roland Dobbins





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