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Monday  January 26, 2009

Mostly short shrift. It's late and I need to get to bed. Greetings from Tyson's Corners

Crime and punishment buffy willow 

Dr Pournelle

I hope you enjoy this from News of the Weird <http://www.newsoftheweird.com/> for the WEEK OF JANUARY 25, 2009 under the heading "Least Competent Criminals": Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Torvald Alexander, 39, was able to chase away the unlucky home invader who hit his apartment on Dec. 31 in Edinburgh, Scotland, according to a BBC News report. The two men inadvertently came face to face just as Alexander was preparing to leave for a New Year's party, dressed in full regalia as Thor, the hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder. Alexander said the burglar took one look at him, turned and climbed hurriedly out a window, sliding down a sloped roof and landing on the ground, where he took off running. [BBC News, 1-2-09]

Live long and prosper
 h lynn keith


We're Doomed!

> "At 4 °C we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population."

I currently live in the Rio Grande Valley. An area that is quite a bit more than 4 degrees C higher in temperature than the rest of the US. Winter means that you put on a long sleeve shirt a few days out of the month and possibly a jacket one day a month. Half the time you are still in shorts and a t-shirt.

The results of this catastrophe is that this area is the vegetable and fruit garden of Texas and the farmers grow some crops year round.


There is always an ecology...


A paean of sorts....

Just wanted to say that your site is one of the few I visit that are worthy of being opened in a fresh browser session.

This is mostly because so many of the links are good, and so many references invite a quick opening of an extra tab to search for the background on said reference(s) before proceeding.

I swear, it's almost like a plant growing, or a bud bursting open and flowering.

Happy New Epoch, and may all go as well as we hope, rather than as poorly as we fear!

Doug Hayden



Harry Erwin's Letter from England

Most of the British I have talked with were gobsmacked watching the American inauguration. They really don't understand us. The foreign students, though, did--most of them want to be part of us.

A few definitions of terms I've used:

. bloody-minded--obstructive, not helpful. The bank clerk who closes his window for a tea break with a long line of customers waiting.

. jobsworth--a bloody-minded low-ranking official who does exactly the tasks in their job description and no more. "I can't do that, it's more than my job's worth". An older term is "Little Hitler".

. gobsmacked or gobstruck--'gob' is a Northern term for the mouth, related to 'gab', and gobsmacked means caught by surprise, astounded.

Answer to your query: Antarctica appears to be melting. The ice shelves are breaking up and retreating. That's not a risk as long as the break-up is restricted to the floating parts, but becomes a risk when it affects the grounded ice. See the 22 January issue of Nature for a paper by Steig et al. that discusses the evidence for warming.

Recession hits here <http://tinyurl.com/be7xcc>, <http://tinyurl.com/b3xh3m >

Denis Healey criticises Brown tax plans <http://tinyurl.com/d6hz7r>

I wouldn't mind this happening at all: <http://tinyurl.com/arw2kt>


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>


C Northcote Parkinson

Hi Jerry,

You recently commented on the connection between your Iron Law and Parkinson's (1st) Law. Parkinson's Law states that work expands to fill the time available.

Your Iron Law also coincides with Parkinson's 2nd Law which he described in his 1960 book "The Law and the Profits". "Expenditures rise to meet income".

Both books, for all their somewhat tongue in cheek tone are deadly serious. Parkinson cites a lot of statistics about the growth of the British Royal as well as Naval bureaucracies. Best quote from Parkinson's Law is:

"The campaign of Waterloo might have been directed from poky offices around the Horse Guards Parade. It was, by contrast, in surroundings of dignity that were approved the plans for attacking the Dardanelles."

I had found a copy online 6-7 years ago at the Novogorod University Library and assigned it as a supplemental text in an MBA class on organizational theory I used to teach. The students loved it.

I might also point out that Parkinson was not just a humorist, he was a serious writer of business books. He was also a serious naval historian and wrote history as well as a dozen or so historical novels of the Royal Navy in the time of the Napoleonic Wars. They were along the lines of Forrester's Hornblower or O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin series. Very entertaining reading.

I've not been able to find much of Parkinson's work over the years since first reading Parkinson's Law in grad school in the 70's. Books On Tape used to have a few and every now and then I will find one in a used bookstore. All that I found have been well worth reading.

Wikipedia says he published over 60 books and lists a number of them but not a complete bibliography.

Be Well


John R Henry CPP


The tragedy of compassionate conservatism



As the Bush administration ended, reporters who credited or discredited me with developing "compassionate conservatism" asked for an assessment. Most hoped that I'd dump on Bush, as so many others have. I didn't oblige, but honesty requires the mention of disappointment. <snip>

 With a few exceptions (the White House finally set up several voucher programs, including Access to Recovery <http://www.worldmag.com/articles/14465>  for addicts and alcoholics), individuals are not choosing and layers of government officials are. <snip>Much of the federal effort has emphasized building capacity in the suites to apply for the next grant. Too little has affected lives on the streets. <snip>

 ... Bush staffers have teed up the ball perfectly for the new administration to send taxpayer dollars to Obama supporters at liberal religious groups that swing votes but don't change lives.



Of airline interfaces and junior officers

Dear Sir:

You wrote: "It took me about an hour to find out that when American Airlines asks for the "record location" when you try to confirm your reservation, what they want is a six letter code that is associated with the entire trip."

Every other airline calls this the "confirmation code". They understand a basic principle of software engineering that American somehow forgot: that no one cares what happens inside the black box. That the six-letter code is the hash table lookup for your reservation data in the American computer database is completely irrelevant to you; what is important is that it proves you to be in possession of the knowledge of the reservation yourself. (It does NOT prove the reservation to be for you; that can only be done in person at the airport.) Why would anyone except American's coders care what the data structures of their computers are?


On the importance of junior officers: It has not escaped my attention, in my self-taught lessons in the history of the twentieth century, that coup leaders are as often titled "Colonel" as "General", and that "Generals" are more likely to lead coups in smaller countries. There is an underlying cause to this pattern.

Orson Scott Card made the same observation you did (using WWII Japan as his example), but stated that the most critical individuals are actually the *middle-ranking* officers. The Lts. and Captains may be the disgruntled members that are the muscle, but individually they have too few troops and too little experience to pull anything off. It is the majors, colonels, and brigadiers that actually plan and execute, or refuse to do so...

--Catfish N. Cod

Roland reminds me that it's "record locator", which means perhaps even less. Ah well, once learned probably never forgotten. It all worked and we're here.


: Burnham's "The Machiavellians"


Bruce Baker


Jerry, you can download Burnhams book from the Internet Archive, here..


Best wishes on your continued recovery!

Randy Stallings

I don't know the status of the copyright but in any event the estate gets no royalties from used book sales. Of course used book sellers don't survive without business.


"Mark," Calculus Ripoff, Friday, Chaos Manor Mail, January 23, 2009

The truth is that new editions of the more elementary mathematics textbooks differ mostly in having the problem sets switched around. This has two purposes-- first to sell more books, of course, and second, to keep cribbing within bounds. Talking about cribbing is rather depressing-- one of my favorite old professors used to say "the only person you cheat is yourself"-- but it does seem to exist as an unpleasant reality.

There is a tendency for new editions to drop material which there is insufficient time to cover, given the kind of students who are taking the courses. I think it makes people uncomfortable to have visible evidence that they aren't covering everything they might cover. Richard Courant's two-volume, two-year calculus textbook, published 1934-37, has assorted topics which have dropped out of more modern textbooks, eg. integral equations and calculus of variations. The textbook author, perhaps, has a tendency to wishful thinking about what students are capable of, and this excess gets weeded out in subsequent editions.

I don't know whether it would be economically practical, but one could write computer programs to generate problem sets in many instances. For example, one could write a program to generate polynomials of degree five to nine, and of two to four terms, with varying coefficients. and then add instructions to the student to differentiate or integrate them. Perhaps a couple of hundred such programs would cover the scope of a freshman calculus textbook. I suppose that such a collection of programs could be built into a tutor program, which would generate new problems on the fly, present them on a screen, and grade them. The advantage of such a system would be that it would be more or less uncribbable.

The last time I checked, I found that Walter Rudin's _Principles of Mathematical Analysis_, used for junior-level Advanced Calculus courses, is still in the third edition of 1976, the first edition being that of 1953. I was surprised to find that the copy I bought about twenty-five years ago is still the current edition. Of course, the problems for this book consist primarily of proving the assertions glossed over in the text, and changing them would involve a substantial rewrite job. More to the point, however, is that no one who is not a math major, or the equivalent, is likely to encounter this book. People like that are not associated with the fraternities which maintain files of old examination papers. However, I understand that with the advent of the internet, Rudin, v.3 is showing its age. People can privately google for solved problems.

Andrew D. Todd

I am unsure of the motivation for cribbing on distance learning where the goal is to learn and not to get grades. But credentialism certainly encourages cheating. If you can call getting past stupid regulations cheating.  There is more than one essay in this subject.


A subscriber explains:



A bit of truly useless information. Internally, AA-speak refers to a reservation as the PNR, Passenger Name Record. Hence the phrase "record locator." And yes, even for employees the system is truly the most user-hostile interface imaginable.

In the last few years, they have been doing a full upgrade from the old Unix VAX system at Tulsa. Of course this would be a great opportunity to rationalize the system. Nope. There are so many people who have learned to use the old one that they are duplicating it. Sigh.

Alan Biddle
 AAer, retired

I concluded they don't really want passengers. I'm used to dealing with the really bright young ladies in the Admiral's Club in which I got a life membership by turning in a half million mile club card many long years ago...


People are waking up to the flaws in carbon trading schemes


China dams reveal flaws in climate-change weapon

By JOE McDONALD and CHARLES J. HANLEY, Associated Press Writers Joe Mcdonald And Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press Writers 12 mins ago XIAOXI, China –

The hydroelectric dam, a low wall of concrete slicing across an old farming valley, is supposed to help a power company in distant Germany contribute to saving the climate — while putting lucrative "carbon credits" into the pockets of Chinese developers. But in the end the new Xiaoxi dam may do nothing to lower global-warming emissions as advertised. And many of the 7,500 people displaced by the project still seethe over losing their homes and farmland. "Nobody asked if we wanted to move," said a 38-year-old man whose family lost a small brick house. "The government just posted a notice that said, 'Your home will be demolished.'"

The dam will shortchange German consumers, Chinese villagers and the climate itself, if critics are right. And Xiaoxi is not alone. Similar stories are repeated across China and elsewhere around the world, as hundreds of hydro projects line up for carbon credits, at a potential cost of billions to Europeans, Japanese and soon perhaps Americans, in a trading system a new U.S. government review concludes has "uncertain effects" on greenhouse-gas emissions.

One American expert is more blunt. "The CDM" — the 4-year-old, U.N.-managed Clean Development Mechanism — "is an excessive subsidy that represents a massive waste of developed world resources," says Stanford University's Michael Wara.<snip>

Unintended consequences, or "don't cafre" consequences...


Flat Earth

Dear Jerry,

More to the “flat earth” tale:

“The first known world map in the classical world appeared in 5th century Athens. Borrowing from Alexandrian models, the Romans with their imperial responsibilities, recognized the practical value of cartography. A world map was commissioned by Julius Caesar, probably as part of a triumphal monument he built on the Capitol in Rome, which showed him in a chariot with the world, in the form of a globe, at his feet. Augustus commissioned his deputy Agrippa, to work on a more detailed world map, the Orbis Terrarum (“globe of the earth”.) This showed hundreds of cities linked by Rome’s network of roads.”

The map reached from Britannica to Taprobane (Sri Lanka)

“The First Emperor,” Anthony Everitt, pg. 276

Larry May



GateHouse Media case against NYTimes goes to trial (AP) by AP: Yahoo! Tech


Dear Jerry:

A followup: I've read Gatehouse's complaint and from my own adventures in the Copyright Wars, can offer the following. 1), Copyright cases are always about the money. and 2). You can't call it "Fair Use" if you make money on the deal, especially if you damage someone else's profits or brand. Again, in the interests of fair disclosure, I do own stock in Gatehouse Media.


Francis Hamit


NYT, Gatehouse release settlement details - Daily Business Update - The Boston Globe


Dear Jerry:

The New York Times caved...or did they? The basic issue is unresolved and they can continue to link to other sites. As I said, the Federal Courts hate copyright cases. A Magistrate Judge headed this one off at the pass and settled the case. Copyright law has not kept pace with the realties and needs another revision.


Francis Hamit


Obama calls for 'space weapons ban'.


- Roland Dobbins 

I have no idea what that means,  but I'd rather compete on technology than with real bullets. See Strategy of Technology...


Solar Energy Company CEO: Economy Bad, Washington Good, Solar Prospects Good for the Coming Year

Dr. Pournelle:

The link contains statements from Dean Marks, CEO of Premier Power, a supplier of solar energy systems.

If I may, his perspective seems to be that the economy might be terrible, but that lowers the cost of materials to make solar systems, and since the new administration will subsidize solar power, business is going to be great!


Jeff Larson

Webster, Texas


Parkinson's books


On the dubious grounds that I have just paid $350 for some new books perhaps you would tell John R Henry CPP about ABE books. I recently upgraded my collection of Parkinsons to hardback for a modest cost. The ABE advanced search url is:-


John Edwards


Antarctic warming? 

Maybe not


It may be another case of Mann-made global warming.

Steve Chu


Regarding the Antarctic Claims of Steig et al.

Dr. Pournelle,

The Telegraph is not a scientific journal of course, so this article
Antarctic-is-not-warming-up.html   may be so much hot air, but I thought you might find it worth glancing at in light of Harry Irwin's citation of Steig's paper in _Science_.

Best wishes.

Jason Bontrager -- "Lose" has only one "O".


Harry Erwin's Letter from England

He wrote "the British... really don't understand us".

It's worth recalling one of Homer Simpson's immortal lines to Lisa: "Just because I don't care doesn't mean I don't understand". As far back as the 19th century the Trollopes, mother and son, described the US tendency towards parades and towards asserting that the USA was the best place on earth. We understand, oh we understand that everybody would feel that way about his own - it's just that we wouldn't make such a big deal about it or feel the need to demonstrate it, British understatement and so forth. Actually, I think there was a line in the Mote in God's Eye that came over a bit like that, talking about how it was worth having a parade because of how parades always impressed people so much. For us, that only works well when there's something of substance there too - some of which the recent inauguration had for USAians (although hey, it's every few years, not once in a lifetime) but not really for anybody else. That's not anti-Americanism, I feel the same way about the Olympics: it's all rather a bore.

Yours sincerely,



Re: Space Weapons Ban

If you look at what's actually being said, you'll see that this is yet another case of "It's Only Different Because It's Obama Doing It". The only substantive statement in the position is that interference with the operation of satellites shouldn't be allowed. This has been the position of the US Government for the past fifty years, although policy-makers are always coy about whether or not such interference would constitute a strategic attack (which implies a strategic response.)

So, really, Obama is just making comforting noises about bad things that are scary. Bush refused to do this, which is why everyone called him a bastard warmonger.

-- Mike T. Powers




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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

About that Western Antarctic Warming...

...atop the volcanoes.

Here are a couple of articles that discuss the news. Watts Up is one of the more scientific of the critical web sites re: AGW.


antarctica-warming-an-evolution-of-v t/



Dr. Pournelle,


"As I write, Israel is using a military designed to fight hostile countries to fight a hostile population. In the modern world, this has seldom worked. To defeat a country you destroy its military and capture its territory. But Gaza has little military to destroy, no tanks or aircraft, and Israel already owns its territory. The IDF can invade but, afterward, the population will still be there, and still be hostile. Stabbing jello doesn’t buy you much."

"Stabbing jello"; Now why couldn't I have thought of that line?

Matt Kirchner

Houston, TX


Subject: Valkyrie

G’day Jerry,

I’ve just watched Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie.

What jarred me the most was that all the officer’s pistols had been changed from Lugers to what looked like a Browning simply so that Tom Cruise can do a dramatic scene by cocking of the weapon one handed on the side of a desk, something that would be impossible with a Luger.

And it’s sad that no-one seems to have noticed, we'll have Nazis with mobile phones next.


Chris Papalia.

Haven't seen it and probably won't. Thanks.


We're still Doomed

Dr. Pournelle --

Climate Change Has Firm Grip -- LA Times


"Even if by some miracle the nations of the world could bring carbon dioxide levels back to those of the pre-industrial era, it would still take 1,000 years or longer for the climate changes already triggered to be reversed, scientists said Monday."

The changes will persist until at least the year 3000, said Solomon, who conducted the study with colleagues in Switzerland and France.

Scientists familiar with the report said it emphasized the need for immediate action to control emissions."

One Thousand years sounds a little like the time span for the natural pattern of climate change, within an order of magnitude.


Well if it's too late to do anything....


Dumping Iron in the Ocean A Political Issue in Germany

Dr. Pournelle,

An experiment to see if ocean fertilization can combat global warming seems to be causing a rift in Germany's coalition government.


"The Social Democrat-led environment ministry issued a statement criticising the Christian Democrat-led research ministry's earlier decision to approve the controversial experiment. The public nature of the row is seen as a sign of deteriorating relations between the two ruling parties ahead of September general elections."

The "controversial experiment", LOHAFEX, involves dumping a total of six tons of iron in roughly 300 square kilometers of ocean. I find it hard to believe that quantity of iron (less than a single dump truck load!) could have a major impact on the the ocean, but as was pointed out in the article:

"...opponents of the plan fear the consequences could be catastrophic. They are concerned it could cause the sea to become more acidic or trigger algal blooms that would strip swathes of the ocean of oxygen."

Jeff Larson

Webster, Texas

Words fail me.


UAE Snowfall

Interesting bit of weather news:

"DUBAI (AFP) – A blanket of snow has covered a mountain in a part of the United Arab Emirates, a rare phenomenon for the desert Gulf country, according to local media report.

"Although limited snowfall was recorded on the mountain some years back, for the first time the peak of the mountain was fully covered in snow," it said.

Local authorities said temperatures plunged to minus 3 degrees Celsius (26.6 Fahrenheit) on Friday and again to below zero on Saturday, The National newspaper reported."


This might make Gore's appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a little awkward.

Oh yeah -- It may be canceled because the National Weather Service is issuing a winter storm watch for the D.C. area with potentially heavy accumulations of snow and or ice.

I hope you and Niven took heavy jackets.


We did. Thanks.


Philly's Climate in Colonial Times 


This fellow has found that in 1790, "the mercury often ran up to 70 in the shade at mid day. Boys were often seen swimming in the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers"


Hope you enjoy DC. I'm in Florida for two weeks. Lovely.

Stan Field



For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:



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This week:


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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion."

across-the-world.html >

-- Roland Dobbins


CNU Update: Calculus I 

r.e. Andrew Todd's letter about Calculus Ripoff.

He has valid points, from a conservative perspective. I'm already far more radicalized. To the point of questioning whether we even need textbooks in the current format at all. This is minutiae over pedagogy. I'm already certain there are multiple approaches outside the Bricks N Mortar asylum that will be valid for undergrad math, chemistry, physics and lmany other subjects.

As I'm sure you realized, my point was one data point in the huge time series of college costs. The summation of all of it is legalized extortion, racketeering, protection shakedown, loan sharking... Their modern practices are most comparable to organized crime enterprises a generation ago.

The only question is developing a mechanism to certify minimum competency in subject matter areas for all comers. This would be "Education Reform" in the truest sense. And the GOP collectively has been missing in action here for at least a generation. All they offer is Me-Tooism Lite. I guess they feel like the Democrats deserve their own impregnable bastions, they themselves holding most of the country clubs in fee simple.


Saddling the bright kids with a lifetime of debt so thaqt they have credentials seems like a formula for reverse evolution to me.


Planets for Man - on the Web, 


I am currently reading Stephen H. Dole's Habitable Planets for Man, 2d ed. 1970. It's an interesting read. In looking around on the Web, I ran into a pdf copy of the 1964 RAND study, Planets for Man, by Stephen H. Dole and Isaac Asimov. Thought I'd share the address:


It's long overdue for an update. I wonder if some of that financial stimulus money would support the project?


The original book had equations. The version with Asimov as a co author is watered down with far less content and most of the equations gone. One wants the original Dole book if possible.

I thought enough of the original that I bought one for Mr. Heinlein as a birthday present.


Pistol in Valkyrie 

I think the pistol carried by Stauffenberg in Valkyrie was a Walther PP or PPK. Not all German officers carried a Luger, many carried the smaller Walthers, just as US senior officers carried Colt .380's or .25's rather than a .45 ACP 1911.

Ross McMicken

May well  be. Haven't seen the movie and WW II officer sidearms are a bit before my time. In Korea the issue weapon was a .45 and sometimes a carbine.


From my page this morning:

Here's some great news about global warming.


Change is now irreversible, says this study, which means nothing we do can change what happens. Since nothing we do matters, it makes no sense whatsoever to spend any more time, effort, or money trying to prevent global warming. It doesn't make sense even to spend more money studying the problem, which means a lot of climate scientists should be scrambling for jobs soon.

I for one am relieved. Historically, warm periods have been good news for humanity. It's the cold periods, with their associated ice ages, that are the real bummers.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson thompson@ttgnet.com


Greenland Ice,Grapes,et all

Mr Pournelle

I can tell that you didn't spend much time in Iceland.. my wife was there as a child and was taught something quit different than the prevailing miss-information. The warm... grapes ...green ...great place to live Greenland is a myth started by the settlers in Iceland. Iceland has much better climate and much more live-able land than Greenland..They named Iceland that to dissuade more settlers from coming..Hence the Greenland name was given as misdirection and the warm good place to go was a very successful real estate scam to lessen the competition for good land in Iceland. It worked until this day apparently. Misinformation is quite powerful...Hummm.. grain of salt so to speak...The small settlements in Greenland were very short-lived and rapidly frozen out.

I spent some seven years in the Air Weather Service in U S A F and have some interest in these climate matters. We looked at this in many different ways and I for one am not in the slightest worried. Worst case: not too bad, a few drowned Muslims and more Samoans coming here to fight in bars. We also wired 5 of the biggest mainframes in the world at that time (early 70's) and built possibly the first true super computer..our combined system was second largest in the world at that time. We learned many things in this endeavor..many of our mistakes are being repeated today in the approach being used with muti-cores now, but that is perhaps for some other day.


I heard those stories in school, as did most of us, but I have also seen the sites where te Viking colonies had dair farms, and the archeologists have found the Nova Scotia settlement. The Inuit have legends of days when they were dairy farmers. There are records of grapes growing in York. The Medieval Warm was real; the question is what happened to the Arctic ice in those times, and I don't know. Greg Benford is going to ask some colleague at the National Academy to see if they know of any records.


Curiously, someone published something related to this just yesterday:


A study published in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters reveals the expanses of ice blanketing Baffin's northern plateau in the Canadian Arctic are smaller than at any time in at least the last 1,600 years.


Baffin's ice caps, which are domes of ice too small to be labeled ice sheets as those on Greenland are, span just four miles (about six kilometers) long.

What makes the ice fields such great study sites is the fact that they are very thin, generally less than 300 feet (91 meters) thick, and they're very cold, so they don't flow and erode the landscape beneath as most glaciers do.

"It's so cold that there's no water at their bed, and they're basically completely frozen to the bed," Miller said. "They preserve beneath them the landscape exactly intact upon which the first snow fell that eventually became the ice cap."


While researchers have known that the Earth is much warmer than 150 years ago, when the Northern Hemisphere was stuck in the Little Ice Age, they are less certain about how today's temperatures compare with a warmer period in our planet's past. For instance, Miller notes there has been a debate over whether today's climate is warmer than it was during the Medieval times, about 1,000 years ago.

Some of the ice fields studied formed in pre-Medieval times, Miller said, and persisted until now.

"That tells us right there that the warming of the 20th century is the warmest sustained period of warming in that time," Miller said. "It clearly says we're now warmer than we were in Medieval times."

CP, Connecticut

I saw this, but I don't think it's the same thing. In the first place, I would not concede that the Earth is warmer now than it was during the period when there were grapes in Nova Scotia and in York. I do not believe his data support his conclusions.


You asked...

"Does anyone know where I can find data on the state of the Arctic icecap during the period of the Viking colonies in Greenland and Vinland?"

Haven't they done extensive ice drilling in Greenland and, if so, would that help?


Charles Brumbelow


Luger? Browning?

I haven't seen the movie, but there's probably more historical accuracy to complain about than the pistols used by German Officers. Russian Makarov's and Tokarev's are based on the Browning design and thus look remarkably similar. Many German officers carried these (from time immemorial, soldiers have usurped their enemy's weapons for their own use, and it was often the sidearm that was envied as a trophy - and in many cases because it was superior to their own weapon). Additionally, the Browning is in fact the Fabrique National Browning Automatic. FN's manufacturing plant was(is) in Belgium, at the time occupied and a satellite state of Germany. German officers prized the Browning as a sidearm (particularly on the Eastern Front) because the magazine capacity was double that of the Luger or Walther. A Browning as a German Officer's sidearm was NOT a rare sight.

(Finally! Something I actually know about!) <GRIN>.

-- 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



Dr. P,

Reference this:

"What jarred me the most was that all the officer's pistols had been changed from Lugers to what looked like a Browning simply so that Tom Cruise can do a dramatic scene by cocking of the weapon one handed on the side of a desk, something that would be impossible with a Luger."

I'm pretty sure I saw that in a preview, and it looked to me like the then-current issue German pistol, the Walther P-38, not an anachronism. The Luger had been replaced as standard issue to the German forces sometime in the late 1930s (without getting bogged in minutiae). Like you I lack enthusiasm to see the film, but at least I know how it ends...

Steven Irving Captain TC STA D Bty 2 RCHA


re: Walkyrie and pistols

Most probably the pistols shouldn't have been Lügers anyway, those were the German WWI sidearm. The regulation German WWII pistol was the Walther P38. (I haven't seen the movie and don't intend to either).

A sidethought: watching TV nowadays, you'd think that WWII was all about the Holocaust. I wonder whether this is because of some kind of PC syndrom or because human drama is cheaper to film than battles involving hundreds of tanks, planes and ships and dozens of thousands of soldiers? hmmm...

Regarding Gaza: I was in a political meeting yesterday, the West Paris branch of a new, basically roots-Gaullist party, Debout La République. The question came up of what was the party's position on the events there - there doesn't seem to be one yet. I asked a simple question: exactly how are we (France) concerned? besides a timid answer that we had a significant muslim minority, I got nothing.

I fail to see how the West in general is concerned by what happens in the Gaza strip. Yes, the whole affair is sad, and certainly many normal people, palestinians and israelis both, are suffering. But why should it be our problem, say, more than the Japanese's?


Jean-Louis Beaufils Paris

I have many letters on the pistols in Valkyrie and I think the subject has received enough attention. Thanks.  As to why the US is concerned with Gaza, it's part of the way the US democracy works.


Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy


May I suggest a corollary for Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

"The primary function of every bureaucracy is self preservation."


I would think that a logical deduction for certain.


David Barnett: Science fiction is the genre that dare not speak its name | Books | guardian.co.uk


Hardly a new phenomenon. Me, I write science fiction.


Japan is again dealing forthrightly with deep-seated social problems.

Last night, on the national NHK news broadcast, a major segment was devoted to this troubling issue: Kids in some schools are not finishing their lunches! In order to deal with this, one Tokyo ward has decided to lengthen the lunch period by 5 MINUTES! Obviously, THIS is a news story.

Needless to say, reporters and cameramen were on hand to record the epoch-making event, with close-ups of the food, a shot of the supervising teacher announcing to the kids that they had FIVE more minutes, and even one student going back for seconds.

Never let it be said that the Japanese try to sweep gnawing social problems under the rug!



John McWhorter, The New Republic Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2009

One does not expect to see New York's school Chancellor Joel Klein on the same stage as Reverend Al Sharpton. Klein is infamous for his emphasis on test scores and shutting down schools that fail to measure up. Not so long ago, Sharpton was in the barricades with Russell Simmons protesting mayor Michael Bloomberg and Klein's plan to cut New York City's education budget.

Yet these days the two are teaming up for the Education Equality Project, which seeks to close the achievement gap between white and black kids in public schools. And at the New York City Department of Education's kickoff in a series on the topic last week, Klein and Sharpton agreed on most issues. Sharpton, who in his "reformed" guise has decided that education is a key civil rights issue, actually spoke up for vouchers and mayoral control of the school board.

The forum was a typical one on race and education, as ritualized as a religious service. First, an introducer recites the latest dropout statistics. Then, discussants and audience questioners flag the usual terms--Low Expectations, Parental Involvement, Vested Interests, Resources, Accountability--each greeted with knowing murmurs and applause. A tacit assumption is always that the grievous intersection of these factors explains why poor children, especially black and Latino ones, tend to trail so far behind white ones in reading skills--a maddening gap that persists in National Assessment of Educational Progress reports year after year.

Yet a solution for the reading gap was discovered four decades ago. Starting in the late 1960s, Siegfried Engelmann led a government-sponsored investigation, Project Follow Through, that compared nine teaching methods and tracked their results in more than 75,000 children from kindergarten through third grade. It found that the Direct Instruction (DI) method of teaching reading was vastly more effective than any of the others for (drum roll, please) poor kids, including black ones. DI isn't exactly complicated: Students are taught to sound out words rather than told to get the hang of recognizing words whole, and they are taught according to scripted drills that emphasize repetition and frequent student participation.

In a half-day preschool in Champaign-Urbana they founded, Engelmann and associates found that DI teaches four-year-olds to understand sounds, syllables, and rhyming. Its students went on to kindergarten reading at a second-grade level, with their mean IQ having jumped 25 points. In the 70s and 80s, similar results came from nine other sites nationwide, and since then, the evidence of DI's effectiveness has been overwhelming, raising students' reading scores in schools in Baltimore,Houston, Milwaukee, and other districts. A search for an occasion where DI was instituted and failed to improve students' reading performance would be distinctly frustrating. <snip>

Head Start does not teach reading, and as a result no study can distinguish between Head Start and Non Head Start pupils after a few years. But if reading is taught the way most professors of education want it taught, a good 25% of the pupils will never learn to read.

Just about every child can learn to read if taught how to read.







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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Troop dwell time increasing

WASHINGTON -- Combat troops should get 15 months home for every 12 months deployed by October, and 30 months dwell time by October 2011, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Tuesday. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates said the anticipated drawdown in Iraq and planned growth in Army and Marine Corps should allow commanders to give servicemembers longer dwell time. "I think we're on the right track, though the next few months will continue to be hard," he said. Most Army units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years have seen only a year home for every year deployed, and over the last two years, many soldiers have been deployed on 15-month tours. Gates said the last of those extended tours is scheduled to end in early summer. http://www.military.com/features/


We can hope. Of course it depends on what the United States decides to be. Competent Empires use auxiliaries and puppet kingdoms to keep order overseas, the the Legions don't get deployed very often, their purpose being to keep the puppet regimes in order.  Incompetent Empires send the Legions to do their fighting. The old Republic wouldn't have tried to remake other governments, or become concerned in territorial disputes, and thus wouldn't have sent the Legions on occupation duty, nor sent the Air Force to bomb Serbia into submission for the benefit of Albania. The New Republic seems to believe that the export of democracy is important. Athens had that in mind at one time; you may read about the results in Thucydides.


Re: The TV History Of World War II

Jean-Louis Beaufils writes: "A sidethought: watching TV nowadays, you'd think that WWII was all about the Holocaust. I wonder whether this is because of some kind of PC syndrome or because human drama is cheaper to film than battles involving hundreds of tanks, planes and ships and dozens of thousands of soldiers? hmmm... "

well, with modern CGI it's no longer quite so hard to film hundreds of things. However, he has a point; based on TV documentaries, you'd think that World War II started with the invasion of Normandy and ended a few months later when American troops liberated Dachau. In between, a lot of planes flew around.

-- Mike T. Powers

I don't follow the History Channel, but your capsule seems apt.


Obama: Well, THAT didn't take very long


"Republicans praised [Obama's] gesture, welcomed his sincere demeanour and appreciated his willingness to listen.

Problem was, he wanted only to listen and did not want to act on what Republicans said. When he was asked if he would re-structure the package to include more tax cuts, he reportedly responded: "Feel free to whack me over the head because I probably will not compromise on that part." He apparently added: "I understand that and I will watch you on Fox News and feel bad about myself."

...The Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill badly miscalculated by treating the bill as a victor's charter. Not that it seemed to bother Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, who grinned from ear to ear as she announced the result of the vote."


Remember all that gassing about "a uniter, not a divider"? Yeah. On the other hand, maybe it's good that Obama has shown his hand so early; "go along to get along" is a lot harder to sell when they've been putting the screws to you right out of the gate.

-- Mike T. Powers

Hope springs eternal.. From me, too. I never had any hopes for Pelosi.


In response to the stimulus plan...

I was reading my other favorite author the other day, when I came upon this:


An Imperial Rescript

Rudyard Kipling

  Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser decreed,
To ease the strong of their burden, to help the weak in their need,
He sent a word to the peoples, who struggle, and pant, and sweat,
That the straw might be counted fairly and the tally of bricks be set.

The Lords of Their Hands assembled; from the East and the West they drew --
Baltimore, Lille, and Essen, Brummagem, Clyde, and Crewe.
And some were black from the furnace, and some were brown from the soil,
And some were blue from the dye-vat; but all were wearied of toil.

And the young King said: -- "I have found it, the road to the rest ye seek:
The strong shall wait for the weary, the hale shall halt for the weak;
With the even tramp of an army where no man breaks from the line,
Ye shall march to peace and plenty in the bond of brotherhood -- sign!"

The paper lay on the table, the strong heads bowed thereby,
And a wail went up from the peoples: -- "Ay, sign -- give rest, for we die!"
A hand was stretched to the goose-quill, a fist was cramped to scrawl,
When -- the laugh of a blue-eyed maiden ran clear through the council-hall.

And each one heard Her laughing as each one saw Her plain --
Saidie, Mimi, or Olga, Gretchen, or Mary Jane.
And the Spirit of Man that is in Him to the light of the vision woke;
And the men drew back from the paper, as a Yankee delegate spoke: --

"There's a girl in Jersey City who works on the telephone;
We're going to hitch our horses and dig for a house of our own,
With gas and water connections, and steam-heat through to the top;
And, W. Hohenzollern, I guess I shall work till I drop."

And an English delegate thundered: -- "The weak an' the lame be blowed!
I've a berth in the Sou'-West workshops, a home in the Wandsworth Road;
And till the 'sociation has footed my buryin' bill,
I work for the kids an' the missus. Pull up? I be damned if I will!"

And over the German benches the bearded whisper ran: --
"Lager, der girls und der dollars, dey makes or dey breaks a man.
If Schmitt haf collared der dollars, he collars der girl deremit;
But if Schmitt bust in der pizness, we collars der girl from Schmitt."

They passed one resolution: -- "Your sub-committee believe
You can lighten the curse of Adam when you've lightened the curse of Eve.
But till we are built like angels, with hammer and chisel and pen,
We will work for ourself and a woman, for ever and ever, amen."

Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser held --
The day that they razored the Grindstone, the day that the Cat was belled,
The day of the Figs from Thistles, the day of the Twisted Sands,
The day that the laugh of a maiden made light of the Lords of Their Hands.

Rudyard Kipling

Christopher Mazuk

It is generally worthwhile consulting Kipling. Not always, but very often.


Habitable Planets for Man by Dole

Dr. Pournelle:

Is this the better version of "Habitable Planets for Man" by Stephen H. Dole that you mentioned? http://www.rand.org/pubs/commercial_books/2007/RAND_CB179-1.pdf 

This one lists only Dole as the author. It is shorter than the version with Asimov (176 pages vs. 253), but the font appears to be smaller, and there seems to be more text per page (smaller margins). The shorter one seems to have a good deal more figures than the one with Asimov.

You can also order a paperback copy of the Dole-alone version for $20.25 at http://www.rand.org/pubs/commercial_books/CB179-1/ 

Clay Booker

The pdf document appears to be the same book that Elsevier published and that I gave a copy of to Heinlein; it has all the rules for creating a habitable planet as well as probabilities for finding them. The book that Asimov co authored sold better and is probably more readable, but when I found that the data and tables were largely missing I stopped reading it, and I don't know where my copy of that one is. In any event the RAND pdf is free and if you want to design a planet, it's a good book to have.


Subject: *Theological* Science Fiction, even!

Indeed, you and Mr. Niven write Science Fiction!

For example: _Inferno_ and _Escape From Hell_ -- after all, Theology is the Queen of the Sciences!

It's a tad late now, but it would have been *way*cool* if your publisher had released _Escape_ on 28 Jan, the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, the Universal Teacher -- also known as The Dumb Ox -- rather than on 17 Feb, as currently scheduled.

Maybe for your next work of Theological SF? 8-)

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Iceland Pack Ice

Dr. Pournelle --

Brian Fagan, in his book The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300 - 1850, makes two references on page 9:

Paragraph 1 "The oceangoing prelates [Irish monks] settled the Faroe Islands by A.D. 700 and sailed as far north as Iceland by 790. ... Norse ships arrived three-quarters of a century later, at a time when January pack ice rarely reached the island's northern coast and both winter and summer temperatures were usually higher than today."

Paragraph 2 "An Irish monk named Dicuil, writing in A.D. 825, recorded that his brethren living in Iceland found no ice along the south coast but encountered it about a day's sail away from the north shore, the position the pack hs occupied for most of the twentieth century. In contrast, during a period of great cold between 1350 and 1380, sea ice came so close to land that Greenland polar bears came ashore."

Unfortunately, Fagan doesn't have bibliography or footnotes to identify his sources more precisely but apparently some of the information is included in the Viking sagas and the writings of Irish monks.

I hope this helps you track down the information you want.


Intriguing. Thanks


arctic sea ice age


It appears that the average age of arctic sea ice is measured in years to decades, not centuries:

> http://seaice.apl.washington.edu/

> http://www.nsidc.org/images/

I suspect that means that the floating ice pack is mobile enough that ocean currents plus the annual thaw/freeze cycle produces considerable turnover in the composition of the ice pack.

The most persistent (oldest) ice is found adjacent to the land masses of the Canadian arctic. So the link that I sent you earlier (Baffin Island ice study) may be the most relevant data that you are going to find regarding historical conditions in the arctic region.

CP, Connecticut


Climatic History and the Future - Google Book Search

Thought this might be helpful, in order to answer how historical climate change effects had on food supplies.


and the return of barley and cod to Greenland.


and as for grapes being mentioned.

Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting ... - Google Book Search

--Ken Ken Uecker

Interesting. Thanks


HubbleSite - Hubble's Next Discovery - You Decide


In 1609, Galileo turned his telescope on the night sky for the first time. Now, 400 years later, your vote will help make the momentous decision of where to point modern astronomy's most famous telescope.

"Hubble's Next Discovery -- You Decide" is part of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo's observations. People around the world can vote to select the next object the Hubble Space Telescope will view. Choose from a list of objects Hubble has never observed before and enter a drawing for one of 100 new Hubble pictures of the winning object. The winning image will be released between April 2 and 5, during the IYA's 100 Hours of Astronomy, a global astronomy event geared toward encouraging as many people as possible to experience the night sky. Vote by March 1 to swing Hubble toward your favorite target.

Michael Zawistowski

Mostly I want to establish how serious the melting of the pack ice is; apparently not as much so as many seem to say.


Medieval Warm Period & sea levels

I hate to use a TV show as a reference, but I remember watching a History Channel program about the Battle of Hastings that dealt with first-hand accounts (including the Bayeux Tapestry) that the battle was fought at the top of a low hill adjacent to the beach. The problem is that modern archeology clearly shows the battle occurred on Senlac Hill, some 275 feet above sea level. The answer, of course, is that the sea level in 1066 was much higher than it is now.

This doesn't directly answer your question about ice caps during the Medieval Warm period, but I think it cuts to the chase of what you are getting at. I can't seem to find any on-line reference that directly documents the sea level at Hastings in 1066, but maybe this points you in the right direction.

Neil Tice

Good heavens. I hadn't thought of that! But surely the sea wasn't that much higher then?


The Future of British Wine

Sparkling Wines on the Rise

© Ellen Wilson <http://www.suite101.com/profile.cfm/neyellen>  Dec 13, 2008 <http://www.suite101.com/daily.cfm/2008-12-13

“Although England is classically known as a lager and ale kind of country, the British do enjoy their wine. At one point in time when the climate was a bit warmer the British started producing their own wine instead of importing it from other countries. Wine was cheap and plentiful during the medieval ages. Then came the mini ice-age during the 1500's, the up-and-coming wine industry dried up and wine once again had to be imported from France, Spain, and Italy.

Growing Grapes in Earnest

Vineyards began popping up again in Britain during the 1970's. In 2006 there were around 400 vineyards in Southern England with a combined area of approximately 2000 acres. Not very large in comparison to places devoted to viticulture like Spain or France, but it's speculated that global warming may tip the scales in favor of Britain's burgeoning wine industry. There is evidence to support this idea, at least with certain varietals – winemakers in Britain have greatly increased their sparkling wine production. Agricultural production for sparkling wine varietals (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) has doubled in the last three years with more plantings soon to come.”………. http://oldworldwine.suite101.com/
article.cfm/the_future_of_british_wine  Really? Britain used to be warmer?



James Hansen’s Former NASA Supervisor Declares Himself a Skeptic

Says Hansen ‘Embarrassed NASA’ & ‘Was Never Muzzled’

Gore Faces Scientific Blowback


See also



Reassurance from Chaos Manor


One of the nicer aspects of Chaos Manor, (SUBSCRIBE NOW, DAMMIT), is the way that event of lasting World importance are sometimes ignored to make room for earnest discussion of the exact brand of sidearm issued to German officers in WW2. Better yet, unlike the Gaza conflict, one of your readers can usually supply an authoritative answer.

John Edwards

Thanks. I try to find interesting stuff, and I contend I have about the most interesting mailbag on the web.


Economic quote stunner

……”We must not revert to isolationism and unrestrained economic egotism. The leaders of the world's largest economies agreed during the November 2008 G20 summit not to create barriers hindering global trade and capital flows. Russia shares these principles. Although additional protectionism will prove inevitable during the crisis, all of us must display a sense of proportion. Excessive intervention in economic activity and blind faith in the state's omnipotence is another possible mistake. True, the state's increased role in times of crisis is a natural reaction to market setbacks. Instead of streamlining market mechanisms, some are tempted to expand state economic intervention to the greatest possible extent.

The concentration of surplus assets in the hands of the state is a negative aspect of anti-crisis measures in virtually every nation. In the 20th century, the Soviet Union made the state's role absolute. In the long run, this made the Soviet economy totally uncompetitive. This lesson cost us dearly. I am sure nobody wants to see it repeated. Nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that the spirit of free enterprise, including the principle of personal responsibility of businesspeople, investors and shareholders for their decisions, is being eroded in the last few months. There is no reason to believe that we can achieve better results by shifting responsibility onto the state. And one more point: anti-crisis measures should not escalate into financial populism and a refusal to implement responsible macroeconomic policies. The unjustified swelling of the budgetary deficit and the accumulation of public debts are just as destructive as adventurous stock-jobbing.”

Putin Speaks at Davos








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Friday,  January 30, 2009

Subversive NASA employee video


I've gathered some links (thanks to Rand Simberg at Transterrestrial Musings) to a senior NASA manager's blog post and this clever and painful video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_424YskAfew   made by some lower-level NASA employees and contractors to show just why NASA projects are consistently in big trouble. Here's my collection of links, which I tie to some of my earlier writings on the "thermocline of truth":


Given that you've been complaining for decades about the 'rice bowl' mentality at NASA, I thought this would be right up your alley.

-- Bruce F. Webster (http://bfwa.com, http://brucefwebster.com) Webster & Associates LLC


There is a federally mandated warranty of up to 8 years/80,000 miles for certain car exhaust components?

Dr Pournelle,

I had no idea: There is a federally mandated warranty of up to 8 years/80,000 miles for certain car exhaust components. A USAF Master Sergeant just told me he saved $800 thanks to an honest mechanic.

See details at the EPA web site: http://www.epa.gov/obd/warranties.htm#1  <http://www.epa.gov/obd/warranties.htm#1

And I am eagerly awaiting “Escape from Hell!”

Respectfully Submitted,

Ranten N. Raven


Found: the origin of an old joke, 


You've doubtless heard the old joke where the senior plumber, electrician, printer, etc. is asked to come in and solve a problem. He solves the problem quickly - he hits a spot on the wall with a hammer or some such - and charges a lot of money. The customer balks, requesting an itemized bill. The old guy's bill:

Hitting wall with hammer: $1 Knowing where to hit: $99.

Well, here's the origin of that story:


. . . maybe (after all, it could be apocryphal).


The late John Ball (author of Last Plane Out and In The Heat of the Night among other works) grew up in the house of Steinmetz, and called him "Uncle Steiny". His parents were graduate students who lived in Steinmetz's home and took care of him. John had many stories of life with Uncle Steiny, but I have never seen them published. Perhaps I ought to make some notes of those I remember, but of course they are not my stories.


Google vs. Bambi.


--- Roland Dobbins



Conspicuous by its absence? 


One thing which stands out starkly by its absence in all the economic proposals is the absence of any alleviation of the burdens and barriers faced by a small business. In all the talk of where hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent, I have not seen one line of thought which runs "What are the top X hardships cited by small businesses?" and "How can we remove some of them?".

The closest I've seen is California, where there's some thought of streamlining EIR's for contractors bidding on government work. Which, to put it mildly, isn't quite the same thing; it's more like another step on the road to government-integrated industry, otherwise known as fascism.

On the other hand, we're already seeing brand new burdens to be carried--first the enabling of a whole bunch of new carbon credit type legislation at the state level. And now today a brand new realm of lawsuits for discrimination.

Every recovery this nation has ever experienced has started with small business. It makes me nervous to see no consideration, and in fact brand new burdens being placed on this sector.

Regards, Andy Valencia

As far as I can see, it would have taken considerably less than a trillion dollars over the next few years simply to make the payments on the toxic mortgage secured assets and take over the properties to resell them at whatever could be got for them. But that isn't what's happening.

I do note that no one is doing a thing about the monopoly status of the ratings agencies which demonstrated their utter incompetence and irrelevance. They keep getting paid plenty to fulfill a function that a roulette wheel would have done better at.


Subject: Do you know someone that is unemployed?

John Smith started the day early having set his alarm clock (MADE IN JAPAN) for 6am.

While his coffee pot (MADE IN CHINA) was brewing, he shaved with his electric razor (MADE IN HONG KONG). He put on a dress shirt (MADE IN SRI LANKA), designer jeans (MADE IN SINGAPORE) and tennis shoes (MADE IN KOREA).

After cooking his breakfast in his new electric skillet (MADE IN INDIA) he sat down with his calculator (MADE IN MEXICO) to see how much he could spend today. After setting his watch (MADE IN TAIWAN) he got in his car (MADE IN GERMANY) filled it with gas (FROM SAUDI ARABIA) and continued his search for a good paying AMERICAN JOB.

At the end of yet another discouraging and fruitless day he returned home and checked his e-mail on his computer (MADE IN MALAYSIA) hoping for some good news. Not having any luck, He decided to call it a day and relax for a while.

He put on his sandals (MADE IN BRAZIL), poured himself a glass of wine (MADE IN FRANCE) and turned on his TV (MADE IN JAPAN) and then wondered why he couldn't find a good paying job in AMERICA.



Eagerly awaiting my pre-ordered copy of Escape from Hell. By the way, who did the cover art? I like it.

Braxton S. Cook


Tribute to Audie Murphy

A fitting tribute to one of America's finest young men, a war hero in the truest sense of the word. Rejected by both the Army's paratroopers and the Marines, Audie Murphy served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division, and went on to become the most decorated US serviceman in World War II. After all his exploits, Murphy still looked like a young boy, but he won every combat valor award there was.

The presentation moves a bit fast, so just click on the "pause" icon - "II" - or the "back arrow" if it procedes before you finish reading a particular page. Has sound.




"Virginia Parents Fight for Easier Grading Standards"


"To the grade-grubbers go the spoils. And the grade-grubbers in this case are rabble-rousing parents in Virginia's Fairfax County. Residents of the high-powered Washington suburb have been battling the district's tough grading practices; chief among their complaints is that scoring a 93 gets recorded as a lowly B+."

"And this shift is fueling a growing firestorm over grades: 75 districts in 12 states have relaxed their grading standards since 2005. Meanwhile, attendees at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities this month in Seattle argued for ditching grades in college and instead using the long-form "narrative evaluations" already required by some universities."

The good news is we can be confident that one dimension of lower education will remain rigourously objective. This is the area of budget, finance, salaries, tuition and education taxes.






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Saturday, January 31, 2009

This relates to the importance of 'the melting pot'

Summary: Americans generally belittle the role of ethnic nationalism in politics. But in fact, it corresponds to some enduring propensities of the human spirit, it is galvanized by modernization, and in one form or another, it will drive global politics for generations to come. Once ethnic nationalism has captured the imagination of groups in a multiethnic society, ethnic disaggregation or partition is often the least bad answer.

JERRY Z. MULLER is Professor of History at the Catholic University of America. His most recent book is The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought.




Our leaders have spoken


Ron Mullane

"Barring a reprieve, regulations set to take effect next month could force thousands of clothing retailers and thrift stores to throw away trunkloads of children's clothing.

The law, aimed at keeping lead-filled merchandise away from children, mandates that all products sold for those age 12 and younger -- including clothing -- be tested for lead and phthalates .... The new regulations take effect Feb. 10 under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which was passed by Congress last year in response to widespread recalls of products that posed a threat to children, including toys made with lead or lead-based paint."



Welcome to the Nanny State. They mean well. Intentions are all...


The USAF's "Intelligence Officer Coup"


James Dunnigan over at strategypage.com points out below that the USAF's pilots are losing their chance at stars due to "combat over work" causing a lack of time in Staff positions required to get them. And that non-flight rated USAF intelligence officers are moving in to fill those empty staff slots on the career track to stars.

In saying so, Dunnigan misses several important points that include:

1) While non-stealth fighters, bombers and transports are getting a big work out, neither the B2 or F22 pilots are getting any combat time. They should have no problem getting staff slots. Yet Dunnigan says they are.

2) The non-stealth fighter jocks in the reserves are not getting any new aircraft to fly and many are being forced out of the service by their aircraft being aged out due to air frame cracks.

3) Since B2 pilots are nuclear platform operators and they are screened ruthlessly due to the cost of the B-2. They won't get dinged for a lack of combat time, but there are too few of them to make a difference in terms of senior USAF command slots.

4) F22 pilots are screwed blued and tattooed in terms of promotion opportunities compared to pilots and _non-pilots_ with combat time on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. They know it. And are leaving the USAF in droves.

5) The Army and Marines are using non-flight rated NCOs to operate many of the same UAV's as the USAF. They are having no troubles filling their pilots slots. By fixating on the college educated flight rated officer/pilot for UAVs, the USAF is making sure that its pilots are unqualified for senior grade officer positions.

The USAF officer-pilot culture senior brass has to either give up on the college educated flight rated officer monopoly in the short run to expand the UAV operator pool, or it will give up control of the USAF in the medium to long term.

It looks like it has chosen the latter option due to identity issues.



The purpose of an Air Force is to support the national will; a major part of that is support of the Field Army. There may or may not have been good arguments for an Independent Air Force in the WW II era; there certainly were good arguments for the existence of SAC as an elite and nearly independent force; but the present situation is absurd.

Some armies are organized with a Service Corps whose officers don't expect to make general; they're a sort of uniformed civil service. That seems to have worked at one time. I haven't given a great deal of thought to the subject in a while. Combat troops won't server under officers who haven't seen the elephant, and one doesn't blame them.

I sometimes wonder if the old Regimental system doesn't still make sense. But I haven't thought enough about it to come to any real conclusion. Armies and Navies have different functions, and keeping them as separate services makes sense as well as having long historical precedents.  A separate and independent Air Force makes about as much sense as a separate and Independent Armored Force; which is not a lot.


Kids who only think they can't do math ...

Hi Jerry,

Your talk about the futility of requiring all students to get an academic High School education, including learning algebra, made me think of two comics from last Sunday about kids who only think they can't do math. The first is Foxtrot. Depending on when you link to this, you might need to click back to the January 25 (Foxtrot apparently only comes out on Sunday) strip, as the link is to the current strip: http://news.yahoo.com/comics/foxtrot  Foxtrot's author, Bill Ammend, is evidently good with math, as a lot of his strips have one or another variety of math in them.

The other is LuAnn, again for January 25 (This time the link is directly to the January 25 strip):
TbbpOhsH_b4F  LuAnn does not deal a lot with math, but this strip again, it fits the theme of kids who can do math instinctively, but think they can't.


I tend to follow LuAnne, and I used to read Foxtrot when it was daily; it's now weekly only.

There are kids who can do math and don't think they can; and it's a good thing to encourage; but the fact remains that half the children are below average, and that half is exceedingly unlikely to pass Algebra I in high school, and even less likely to encounter employment that requires Algebra. Wishing won't make it different. Good intentions won't change that fact. And trying to make everyone pass Algebra will make it much much difficult for those who can cope with it to learn it well in high school.

Trying to give every child a world class university prep education assures that many who could benefit from a university prep education won't get one; and the harder you try to provide that for all, the more you short change those who need it. Half of all American children are below average.



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Sunday, February 1, 2009     

Subject: Companies too big to fail

"Google has 80% of the search engine market; does that leave any room for viable competition?"

Google might not be the best example for this idea. Basically, it's just a website, and the market share is user habit more than anything else. If Google disappeared tomorrow in a puff of purple smoke, some financial people would jump off a building, but most computer users would just shrug and start using a different search engine.

I like the idea of applying antitrust to the government.

Tom Brosz


Hansen's Model.

None of those quoted seem to grasp the implications regarding the scientific underpinnings of Darwinian evolution, much less the analogy with so-called 'global warming', so rapt are they in their politically- correct hagiography:


-- Roland Dobbins


A concise summation of the problems of globalization.

Do note that there's a link at the bottom to a site which has an obscene name; if one is easily offended, one might wish to avoid the last sentence.


-- Roland Dobbins


Habitable Planets for Man by Dole


Here is a link to "Habitable Planets for Man" by Dole. On the page is a link to a pdf of the book.


In the preface to "Planets for Man", Dole and Asimov write:

"Those desiring to see more detailed technical substantiation of the ideas presented might wish to consult the book by one of the authors, 'Habitable Planets for Man', on which the present one is based. The numerous graphs, tables, and specific references to published papers and other bibliographic material contained in 'Habitable Planets for Man' have been omitted from the present book, which is meant for the general reader."

When you introduced me to 'Habitable Planets for Man', I attempted to purchase it but it was out of press. I ended up copying a library book for personal use. I still have it around somewhere. I would much rather have a real hardcover book rather than soft cover, copied, or an electronic version--I guess I am a dinosaur with respect to books. I like the heft and feel of a hardcover.

Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE


Hybrid fusion-fission reactors to run on nuclear 'sludge' 


Here we see a report on what may be the advent of - dare I say it? - "green" nuclear energy:


The concept: build light water nuclear reactors. Then process the wastes at a tokomak. The tokomak will not make energy - they may never be able to do that - but they will make enough neutrons to cause the nuclear waste to act as nuclear fuel.

It's almost ecological: using the waste of one process as the feedstock of another. Hence, one might call it "green."


Great idea; I have no data on how well it would work.


Microsoft lost its battle of the Teutoburger Wald when it failed to prevent Linux from going mainstream in enterprise computing around 2003.


- Roland Dobbins

Certainly many have thought so. Give me back my Legions!


'The average annual salary for those jobs was $90,721, nearly twice the median income for all American households.'


-- Roland Dobbins


Peter Glaskowsky on Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged

You wrote:

"There was one really galling paragraph in Atlas Shrugged: the judge who has retreated to Galt's hideaway at one point says that he has written a book on law that would save the Earth, but he isn't going to publish it."

And there was some debate. I've been too sick and then too busy to contribute to the debate until now, but seeing that it came up again in the Thursday mail, I decided to take the time.

By coincidence, I am currently re-reading Atlas Shrugged for, I think, the eighth time.

This entire discussion is off-base because the fundamental facts simply are not as stated.

Judge Narragansett said: "I am writing a treatise on the philosophy of law. I shall demonstrate that humanity's darkest evil, the most destructive horror machine among all the devices of men, is non- objective law. ... No, Miss Taggart, my treatise will not be published outside." (The ellipsis is in the original.)

I don't think such a book would have been particularly effective against the looters who were destroying the world outside Galt's Gulch at the time.

On the other hand, former professor of philosophy Hugh Akston said: "The source of work? Man's mind, Miss Taggart, man's reasoning mind. I am writing a book on this subject, defining a moral philosophy that I learned from my own pupil. ... Yes, it could save the world. ... No, it will not be published outside." (Again, these ellipses are in the original.)

But I think it's clear from context that Rand isn't saying that Akston's book could save the world outside the Gulch from its impending collapse. In many other places in Atlas Shrugged, all of the strikers, including Akston and his pupil (Galt), are unanimous that the world outside is beyond this kind of rescue.

And in fact, Galt's speech does present exactly the philosophy that would be the subject of Akston's book, and it doesn't save the world. So Rand couldn't have meant Akston's comment the way you're interpreting it.

I assume Rand means that Akston's book, published after the strike ends, will save the world from a subsequent collapse. Possibly "protect" would have been a better word choice here. Given Rand's meticulous care in constructing almost every other sentence in Atlas Shrugged, I can't get too bent out of shape over one debatable decision. (In fact, I have only three other things I might quibble with, and I'm not sure about any of them.)

But as for the larger issue, I agree that Rand did not successfully resolve the is/ought dichotomy. The excerpt from the Ayn Rand Lexicon pointed out by one of your readers certainly does not represent such a resolution.

Furthermore, I don't think Rand was even consistent in asserting that she DID resolve that dichotomy. She certainly provided the REAL answer to the problem when she had Francisco d'Anconia refer, in his speech on money, to:

"...The axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort."

This statement is axiomatic for Objectivism, which means: it is an assumption underlying Objectivism, which means: Objectivism does not conclude that men "should" own their minds and their effort. It just states that they do.

Collectivism is equivalently based on the contrary axiom that a society owns those who are a part of it. This leads to no violations of the laws of logic, and it is not false to fact. It's just an axiom.

What gets us from "is" to "ought" is something outside the realm of philosophy in this sense: the pragmatic analysis of history and human psychology. (The topic of Mr. Dubois's class, "History and Moral Philosophy".)

We look at what actually happens when men organize societies according to various philosophies, and we see that protecting the right of individuals works better under a wider variety of conditions than subjecting individuals to the control of the collective will. (Yes, "right"; there is only one.)

But if we're honest with ourselves, we also see that the more members of a society tend to make decisions the same way, the less it seems to matter whether their politics are called individualist or collectivist.

And in dire conditions, where the survival of the society and all of its individual members is at stake, collective decision-making seems to be effective in suppressing individual decisions that might improve those individuals' odds of surviving at the expense of most or all of the other members of the society (hoarding, fighting, etc.).

So, no surprise, we see that the best rules are chosen to fit the conditions.

Conditions that suit collectivism are very rare, and Objectivism is the best fit for the world most of us live in, but I wouldn't claim it's the right choice for all possible worlds... or species, for that matter. Objectivism could be a poor choice for-- or incomprehensible to-- a hive mind, or a race of genetically identical beings, or a race of telepaths, or a race created to serve some godlike master.

But as Mr. Heinlein also said, "men are not ants."

. png

You have clearly read the book more closely than I did.

Adams once said that in the US we believe that each man is the best judge of his own interest. That is clearly no longer true at the Federal level, and not in most states; we now believe that bureaucrats are the best judges of everyone's interest. Put that way most people would not agree, but it's the effect of what we do.



"Still, we see different worldviews at work. "You can't succeed just out of conservation because then you won't have economic development," Google.org head Larry Brilliant said. "Find a way to make electricity— not to cut back on it but to have more of it than you ever dreamed of." More power than you ever dreamed of. Create and manage abundance rather than control scarcity—as ever, that is the Google approach. Whereas Gore talks about what we shouldn't do, Google talks about what we can do."

Fun article. Never work - abundance needs fewer gatekeepers.


-- Brian Bilbrey

Energy prices always correlate highly negatively with economic growth.

 The history of the world is the history of society turning mankind's output into structure. Eventually the structure is in the way of everything. Sometimes there are breakthroughs. Discovery of the New World. The Industrial Revolution. The Second Industrial Revolution. The electronic age.

 Productivity climbs and resources grow so fast the bureaucrats can't keep up. Then there's slackoff, the bureaucrats gain control, the gatekeepers and credentialing rent seekers get back in charge, and things slow down and go back to normal and more structure is built...










 read book now





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