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Monday  February 2, 2009

Re: Regarding Zilog Customer Service...

Its called outsourcing to India. Once Zilog starting doing that, the tech support started really going downhill...as well as the code examples, app notes etc. If you remember the old website, there were a huge number of app notes, example code, and helpful apps - AND engineers that answered tech questions over phone and email. Fixes came out in a timely manner, sometimes within hours of a bug being reported.

Then they went to the new website, laid off the stateside software guys, dumped the stable Xinu-based stack, and outsourced the software group to India - and ever since the quality control and support is just a joke. There are isn't much activity for the Acclaim regarding new apps, and some of the app notes on the web site are back to ZTP 1.2 and 1.3., with no conversion to ZTP 2.xx.

And now, for the last few weeks they aren't even answering the phone in San Jose, so I suspect they are falling on hard times. They might not say this publicly to avoid a run on their stock, but there just isn't anybody home anymore. At least not that I've seen. No contact since Jan 1, 2009.

Look: Last week I had to buy several trays worth of Acclaims, and our supplier had to call Zilog to get a shipment date. They couldn't even get Zilog to return a phone call after 10 days of trying. So I had to buy existing stock somewhere else.

We only purchased probably $2M or $3M in Zilog chips over the last couple years, and we can't get an email, pohone call or anything returned.

So it looks like for new products its going to be anything BUT Zilog at this point, probably going to a MChip or ARM controller...Those are far from perfect, but at least Microchip answers the phone, and they have apps engineers who speak English somewhat.

Zilog used to be an OK company, but I suspect they are gone - or nearly so at this point. I can't risk designing in Acclaim parts on any new products at this point - unless we get some sort of smoke signal from Zilog that they are still in business. I know in the last week we alone went with another CPU that would have been $.25M to Zilog, but that's the way it goes.

I have no data on this subject, and I am not familiar with the source. Consider this input data; but it does appear to be a case of bean counters gone mad. It is important to understand what parts of your company can be downsized and exported -- and which cannot.


On Afghanistan

The longer I study it with Google Earth the longer and larger the commitment appears.

The average village exists at the same level as pre-dynastic Egypt. Satellite imagery shows this region not only has nothing in common with us, it has nothing in common with any of its neighbors. There is one exception. This is the adjacent area in Pakistan called the NW Frontier Agencies. Culturally they're a far better fit with their relative Pashtuns in Afghanistan than with the rest of Pakistan.

There are no parks, no sports fields to speak of. The satellite imagery and all other information says low intensity conflict is their only outdoor recreational activity.

I can partly sympathize with the ISI here in its policies. From their viewpoint either they rule "It" or "It" rules them, "It" being this region of anarchy, tribalism and timeless superstition.

It might be cheaper to try demoralizing them with welfare. The current population estimate (censuses are impossible to conduct in this area) is 32 million. If we put them all on a $5,000 annual welfare stipend this works out to $160 billion annually. The International Community will easily be spending this much per annum on the war.

Contract with Wal-Mart and Home Depot to set up distribution centers, issue everyone biometric ID credit cards, require all men to be accompanied by their wives and all children to be accompanied by their parents. This will get them out of the mountain insurgent camps.

And emphasize major home appliances, bathroom fixtures and all the plumbing parts. The women will have the men so busy building hydraulic infrastructure they won't have time or energy for insurgencies.


My policy toward Iran would be to have contests to win iPods and iPhones and even laptops. Make sure there are a LOT of winners in Iran. Jeans and sports shoes, rock and roll tunes -- all the cool stuff.  Make sure there are a lot of winners. The younger population in Iran is not anti-American, and won't be unless we bomb them. I doubt we will try that.

It's simpler in Afghanistan. Just make certain that whoever gets in charge understands that harboring Bin Laden or other anti-American plotters will result in regime change. Every time.

One of my last studies for the Air Force was use of ICBM's in conventional warfare. The costs were prohibitive -- then, Today there might well be a used for a weapon that has an intercontinental accuracy of under 300 feet CEP and strikes without and warning whatever. It would be a lot cheaper to use that for regime change than to invade. But perhaps I am just bilious this morning.


This is our new foreign policy? 


I note this news item about the new President discreetly opening back-channels to Teheran and Damascus, apparently starting weeks before he was actually President. Technically illegal if I recall correctly, but I can't work myself up too much about the new man wanting to get a running start.

But the routes for the back-channels? The Pugwash Group talking to Iran about nuclear proliferation, and something called the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) talking to Syria about regional issues? One hopes that someone a bit more tough-minded has stepped in now that the new Administration is actually in office, one does.


It looks like it's going to be an interesting next few years.


You may depend on Obama's Chief of Staff to look out for western interests in Iran and the Middle East. The Chief of Staff is in fact the Deputy Prime Minister of the United States. Also, be assured that Hillary Clinton is aware of the threats.


Comments on College Students From an Accounting Prof 


Here's a link to comments by J. Edward Ketz, an accounting professor at Penn State http://accounting.smartpros.com/x64268.xml  on the poor quality of college students today. He confirms much of what you've been saying for a while on the awful state of education in the US.

 I particularly like his comment on how earlier generations took responsibility for themselves while today's students call their parents, who call attorneys. This is a sad state of affairs, and tends to make be believe, although only for a moment, that we are at the beginning of a new dark age. After all, if no one cares about knowledge, who will remember what was once possible (I think you said something like that recently)?

Ross McMicken

We are already in the beginning phases of a Dark Age. We can still get back, but we have to want to do that.


The Threat to America

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

I have to tell you that one of my high school teachers, a nun who has since gone on to her reward, said much the same thing as far back as 1976. Like you, I am a product of Catholic education and was fortunate enough to have attended in the era of "you will get an education if you want it or not". Sister Tingle was my Latin teacher and the Chess club advisor and our chaperon to the state championship and on the long ride back to East Tennessee engaged in one of those discussions that you know you will remember for the rest of your days.

She, like you bemoaned the idea of "teaching to the test" as she called it and went further, placing some of the blame on parents who wanted their children in the College Prep track rather than the General Education track. Our school was sectioned; Honors, First Section, Second Section and Third Section. College Prep was Honors and First and Second and Third was for folks who planned to go into what was then called "trades".

We had people who were absolutely miserable in Honors and First because they had no desire to go to college, it took everything they had just to scrape by in class and they developed a lifelong hatred of school and education. Sister T opined that by the time our children were going to school, we would have bright people bored and not putting out their best effort and the ones who should be guided to trades hating education in general and not making any effort to be a lifelong learner or even caring about how their children do in school. Now we have children who are getting no foundation or reinforcement at home because their parents don't care and after all its the school's job anyway and we wonder why we have problems in the schools.

-- Richard D. Cartwright


Letter from England

I have an MSc student who is working with the personal office of the Dalai Lama on computer security. There is also a security advisory board being organised to provide longer-term support. Watch the technology page of the NY Times sometime in February for news coverage, and see StrategyPage.com for a background discussion: <http://tinyurl.com/bowsra  >.

Chinese PM visits UK <http://tinyurl.com/d54rkv>--I suspect I will need to stay away from London.

This afternoon, every Google search I tried started returning a

warning: "visiting this web site may harm your computer!" for a while. 

<http://tinyurl.com/aq8a68> Eventually it started clearing up, so I suspect a system upgrade was broken, but it could be a side-effect of the UK's Great Wall. The UK requires ISPs to run all http and https requests past a blacklist, with strange results from time to time when major sites manage to get on the list.

Pay to play has its day in the House of Lords: <http://tinyurl.com/cqfbco  >. This seems to be a side effect of giving seats in the House of Lords to aged politicians.

UK economy imploding <http://tinyurl.com/cfrue2>

Wave of wildcat strikes over UK jobs being given to imported EU labour in preference to UK residents <http://tinyurl.com/awva89> <http://tinyurl.com/cs4pyu  > <http://tinyurl.com/dfqgvv>

Soundbite haunts the PM: <http://tinyurl.com/bodyc7> <http://tinyurl.com/d9d8g9  >

Outsourcing less popular <http://tinyurl.com/bkhrqv>

A million French workers lost their jobs due to inaccuracies in the police criminal record check system. <http://tinyurl.com/dbva9q>

Government to nationalise "failing" private schools. <http://tinyurl.com/cwnnjn  > <http://tinyurl.com/bqt9be>, turning them into state-funded academies. (Of course the academies have not been a success. See also <http://tinyurl.com/denuso

 >) State schools reluctant to identify gifted and talented for fear of being considered elitist: <http://tinyurl.com/bq9vj4>

London Metropolitan University may be imploding (London Met has been referred to as "Poppleton Met"): <http://tinyurl.com/cy6uns>

Potential £400,000,000 black hole in UK university funding. <http://tinyurl.com/djnr3f  >

Plan to consolidate doctoral training into 25 universities ignores RAE results that show world-class excellence is more widely distributed. <http://tinyurl.com/afvxwc  >

Memorial at the gallows where 400 Catholics were executed for refusing to recant their faith. <http://tinyurl.com/cv7jo7>


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>


Printing The NYT Costs Twice As Much As Sending Every Subscriber A Free Kindle.


-- Roland Dobbins

I have not tried reading newspapers on the Kindle, but it might well work. I sure read books on it.


On Steinmetz

Jerry P:

Again, your mail bag has succeeded beyond all my expectations. I had never heard of Steinmetz and was fascinated to read the links on him.

But the most important point is that often great thinkers arise wholly without the benefit of No Child Left Behind or any other political dogma. You can't create that kind of mind, and we must allow them to flourish. There is simply nothing that the Congress of the United States can do to assist the local school board except to get out of the way. And they must restrain the Executive branch from messing around in the public business, without the benefit of common sense. The current bail-out will fail but given less interference, the economy will survive anyway.


The very brightest kids will probably fend for themselves. They won't get a systematic education, though, and the very great abundance of attractive nuisances on the web makes it hard for them to concentrate. I was fortunate enough that during the years when I was in Capleville school with 2 grades to the room and about 30 kids to the grade -- 4 teachers for the whole school, and the 7-8 grade teacher was the principal -- during that period there was the school library. It had Jack London, Meader, a few Henty books, and a few decent non-fiction books. There was the radio in the afternoon, Jack Armstrong and Captain Midnight and some of those programs, but I wasn't allowed to listen for more than an hour - so I read just about everything in the school library. Had there been an Internet I might have spent some crucial years in World of Warcraft. I suspect Jack London was a better option.

The problem with being a self educated polymath is there are lacunae in one's education, and one is unaware of them. I was fortunate enough to go to a high school where the Brothers were determined that I would learn systematically.

But the kids a couple of steps down from me in Capleville were not self-motivated, didn't get much of an education, and almost certainly never reached anything like their potential. But Capleville was in the stick...


Cheap wombs for rent, 


Lax regulation, cheap medical care and a supply of low-cost surrogate mothers have made India a leader in commercial surrogacy:


Well, you did comment on how unregulated markets would lead to the sale of human flesh. And I do recall that Heinlein included the concept of "host mothers" in Glory Road.

It is past the year 2000, after all. The future: ain't it grand?


Perhaps all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds...


Morning Jerry,

Vladimir Putin is attending the Davros summit this week. Here's a remarkable quote:

Putin said, "Excessive intervention in economic activity and blind faith in the state's omnipotence is another possible mistake."

I never thought I'd say this, but there's something our current President could learn from the Russians.




Re Economic quote stunner by Putin 

As opposed to this news from the EU and European Central Bank:


From The Telegraph

"Europe's top officials have been forced into repeated assurances that the eurozone is in no danger of falling apart, despite growing stress in the Greek, Italian, Irish, Spanish and Austrian bond markets."

(We all know Bernanke regularly has to publicly deny that some of the Fed's regional banks might soon leave the Federal Reserve System.)

"The ECB has increased its balance sheet by more than the Fed, accepting housing debt as collateral from banks. But it has not gone to the next stage by purchasing bonds outright."

A repeat of the often ignored fact that the European Central Bank is leading the Federal Reserve in the currency debauchery sweepstakes. It may happen that all paper currencies will cease to be used in settling international trade in preference to bilateral barter agreements. What won't happen is a total collapse of the dollar and its concurrent replacement by an uncollapsed euro as an international reserve currency.

"There has to be agreement at EU level on spreading risk. Germany has been reluctant to reach into her deep pockets for countries like Italy," said Mr Soros." What Soros and others are calling for from Germany is the mirror image of what Vladimir Putin is advocating in general.

What a choice for Germany, ja? 1. Bail out the bankrupt Club Med EU states for free. 2. Emphasize more productive and disciplined arrangements with resource-rich Russia. During this decision-making process one or more Germans may recall that Germany's Wilhelmine "golden age" in the late 19th Century occurred when Berlin and Moscow were in general agreement.


And then there are these United States.


Recep Erdogan storms out of Davos after clash with Israeli president



"Recep Erdogan today received a hero's welcome when he returned home after storming out of a World Economic Forum debate following a clash with the Israeli president over Israel's offensive against Gaza."


"Erdogan replied: "Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I don't think I will come back to Davos after this.""

Opinions about the rights and wrongs of this incident are irrelevant. What's important is the fact of the event and what it means for tomorrow. And it partly was a very a convenient excuse for Erdogan to leave on this note (despite Perez apologizing later).


"DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Disagreements between the IMF and Turkey over a major standby loan deal are not over minor issues, Economy Minister Mehmet Simsek said on Friday, comments seen again raising questions about a swift deal."

"The ruling AK Party is particularly concerned about the impact of a major IMF deal on the municipal elections as one of Erdogan's main themes is how his party has made Turkey stand on its own feet and prospered financially."

The question now is which financier? The secular IMF or perhaps Wahabbist Saudi Arabia?


Indeed. Be afraid. Recall that Turkey was a key ally in the Cold War.




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Tuesday,  February 3, 2009

Subject: Kindle and the New York Times 

Jerry, As a fan of the Kindle, this should interest you. Silicon Alley Insider has done some back of the envelope math, and come to the conclusion that it would cost the New York Times less to give every subscriber a free Kindle than they currently spend on printing and distribution. Given the Times current financial situation, I'm sure some of their bean counters have picked up on this. And of course the implications for the rest of the publishing industry are obvious.


Chuck Wingo

We've seen this information before, and it doesn't change. I haven't tried reading newspapers on my Kindle, but I might try it if there were papers worth reading. Actually, I enjoy reading newspapers at breakfast, and it would probably be easier to read on a Kindle than to fold the paper and keep it from falling in the cereal bowl; but I have never tried it. I did try doing email on a Tablet PC at breakfast but my wireless connection isn't that good, and my Tablet PC is pretty slow by modern standards. If Apple had a really reliable Tablet I might try that again some time, and if I were doing that I might try doing newspapers as well.

There's something about seeing the entire front page at once that's better than seeing only segments of it, but that too can be overcome with cleverness and easy page expansion. We do live in interesting times.


How Government Prolonged the Depression


According to this guy, the New Deal is what turned a depression into The Great Depression:


Government action prolonged it and made it worse, he says. Well, I wasn't there . . .


I was there and it's certainly true enough: we had a recession during the Depression, and that was certainly due to Roosevelt's bold attacks on all fronts. One does need to give Roosevelt credit for getting people to have faith that the system would recover, and that he was trying: those were times when really radical solutions like overthrowing the government and establishing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat appealed to a lot of American intellectuals. In retrospect an actual revolution seems highly improbable, but the fear of it was certainly there. Sit down strikes, IWW, and a generally leftist cast among the intelligentsia scared hell out of people, and Roosevelt calmed those fears pretty well.

Some of the institutions Roosevelt installed were very beneficial. Oddly enough, one of them was the Department of Agriculture, which wanted to raise farm prices but disseminated widely the results of studies on how to raise productivity. I recall my mother got a pile of books from the County Agent on contour plowing and crop rotation and fertilization practices. We got a transit from Sears and I learned surveying, and Mother and I went out to mark the new plowing lines in the fields both for our tenants and for Mr. Watts, a black man who owned fields next to ours (our were sharecropped as was the practice in rural Tennessee at the time). Productivity went up considerably as a result. FDIC was a very good invention, SEC did more good than harm. CCC civilized a lot of young people and did a good bit of development of public lands. But all that was small potatoes compared to what seems to be in contemplation,

I will repeat that The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes  is the best account I have found. She has a view but it's not hidden and much of her book is quotes from newspapers of the time. It's well worth reading if you want to understand something of The Great Depression.

In those days our schools weren't very good -- in the South it was common to have 2 grades to a room and perhaps 30 children per grade -- but they were a lot more effective than what we have now. We spend a lot of money on really ineffective schools, and unless something changes, that will saddle us with a tax burden that will make it much harder to get out of the Depression we are headed for.

Government can do some things to make an economy more productive, but mostly government hires people and builds bureaucracies which make and enforce rules whose purpose is to make the bureaucracy grow. The primary purpose of government is to hire and pay government employees. Most of them produce little to nothing. Eventually the productive tax payers cannot support the tax eaters, and something must change; how it changes depends on the history of the country it happens to.

Something must change now; but what, and how, is not clear to me. I have seen little I can believe in.



You might find this brief video of Branford Marsalis (Jazz Great and educator) expressing his opinion of today's college students interesting. Warning, there is one instance of what used to be called "earthy" language at the start of the clip.


Ralph Hyatt

I hears nothing I disagree with. Strong language, and one might question that use given the topic, but then again that may be the only way to get across to those he thinks he is talking to. I've never met him, but I'd like to.





Google and Nasa back new school for futurists

By David Gelles in San Francisco

Published: February 3 2009 05:02 | Last updated: February 3 2009 05:02

Google <http://markets.ft.com/tearsheets/
performance.asp?s=us:GOOG>  and Nasa are throwing their weight behind a new school for futurists in Silicon Valley to prepare scientists for an era when machines become cleverer than people.

The new institution, known as “Singularity University”, is to be headed by Ray Kurzweil, whose predictions about the exponential pace of technological change have made him a controversial figure in technology circles.<snip>


Worth watching, I suppose. We will see. I was not entirely impressed with the singularity conferences at Stanford. The devil is in the details, and I haven't seen many details.

Perhaps we will be saved by the Singularity and really really understanding what it means, and there won't be any need for educating smart people...  Or perhaps for people at all.


No Hope for the UK 

Nurse to be fired for praying for patient <http://tinyurl.com/cbx48y>

 Harry Erwin

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


And the stimulus is stimulating exactly what? 

From http://www.steynonline.com/content/view/1709/ 

Which is to say: ---

Steyn on Britain and Europe TUESDAY, 03 FEBRUARY 2009

If you're wondering where the "stimulus" will lead in the long run, consider this story from The Times of London:

PARTS of the United Kingdom have become so heavily dependent on government spending that the private sector is generating less than a third of the regional economy, a new analysis has found.

The study of “Soviet Britain” has found the government’s share of output and expenditure has now surged to more than 60% in some areas of England and over 70% elsewhere.

Across the UK as a whole, government spending now accounts for 49% of the economy.

And look at these regional variations:

Southern England: a mere 36% of the economy is government spending; Northeast England: 66.4%; Wales: 71.6%; Northern Ireland: 77.6%.

As The Times notes:

The state now looms far larger in many parts of Britain than it did in former Soviet satellite states such as Hungary and Slovakia as they emerged from communism in the 1990s, when state spending accounted for about 60% of their economies.

Big government is where once successful nations go to die.


And they wonder why my humors are out of sorts...

Where is my beloved USA heading? Sigh...


Don't worry, we'll have change you can believe in, and a new stimulus, and--  Note that Roosevelt knew better than to try to nationalize industries. He wasn't a socialist in that sense.


Habitable Planetary Skys for Man


With the talk about "Habitable Planets for Man" a serendipitous picture is posted at the Earth Science Picture of the Day. It is an illustration of how the sky might look on a earth-like planet around various stars.



Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE


Erdogan's Outburst and the Future of the Turkish State


Stratfor has another take on Erdogan's Outburst and the Future of the Turkish State:


A pretty interesting take, that.



Google Earth

Dr. Pournelle:

Many years ago, Mr. Heinlein wrote of traveling through the USSR with Mrs. Heinlein. He wrote that the population of Moscow couldn't be 5 million, giving three examples: Mrs. Heinlein, speaking Russian, had determined that the number of children in each family was generally below replacement; his own observations about the number of railroads, roads, and available river ports, and a colleague in the armed forces who estimated the population using techniques developed in the War College.

Has anyone done the same using Google Earth? I wonder how accurate worldwide population estimates may be.


I spent many evenings with Robert discussing his observations. I know of no one doing that with Google Earth now, but of course intelligence community now has satellite photographs and there are some smart people there. Google Earth may get some conclusions discussed and public.


Weapons in space

Despite Calls for Space weapons Ban, Russia and China Bring Guns Into Space

 (Source: Russia Today)

Among the training regimes that Russian cosmonauts pass before being admitted into orbit is the shooting range. The reason is that they must learn how to use a special three-barreled gun found on every Soyuz spacecraft. The TP-82 gun is part of the survival kit and is meant to be used on terra firma if cosmonauts land in the wilderness. A gun in orbit is a controversial issue. NASA traditionally keeps a 'no firearms on board' policy, and their astronauts' survival kit has had a machete-like knife as its only weapon for decades. When the International Space Station project was launched, the status of a pistol on Russian ships became one of the tricky legal questions.

Some people like astronaut James Oberg called for discarding the gun, saying the country calling for a ban of weapons in space should show a good example and citing concerns over the enlargement of the ISS crews and the likely rise of tension between members. The Russian Space Agency held its ground and the TP-82 kept its place. China apparently sided with Russia in its attitude towards firearms in space. The Chinese media reported that the Shenzhou-6 expedition in 2005 was armed with pistols for self-defense. (2/3)


To the best of my knowledge, Big Jim Oberg has never been an astronaut.

If pistols in space is the worst thing to worry about, I'd relax...


Alexander The Greatest Friend Of Arabs

February 3, 2009: Greece has offered to erect a statue of Alexander the Great, outside Mosul, to celebrate the battle of Gaugamela. It was there, 2,340 years ago, that the Greek educated Macedonian conqueror defeated a Persian (Iranian) army, and destroyed the Persian empire (which at that time stretched from modern Turkey to modern Pakistan.) The Iraqis are enthusiastic about the idea, even though the defeated Persian army contained a lot of Arab troops.

For the Iraqis, the big thing is that the battle represented a major defeat for Iran. Even though most Iraqis share the Shia form of Islam with Iran, the Iranians are not Arabs, but an Indo-European people related to the Indians and Europeans. Iran/Persia has long menaced, invaded and generally beat on the Arabs, and are now threatening the Arab world again. So anything that celebrates anyone smashing Iranian power, is something to be encouraged. Eight years after Gaugamela, Alexander was dead, and what is now Iraq became part of a kingdom ruled by one of Alexander's generals. But the Greeks soon left, and the Iranians didn't.



Arbela (as it used to be known) is one of the key battles that changed history. Pratt's lead-in to the battle is a good summary of the time.





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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Iraqi woman had 80 women raped to recruit suicide bombers | Herald Sun

A nasty piece of work. http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/



The President and choice in education.

Subject: The President and choice in education.

Dr. Pournelle,

I have subscribed to the White House RSS feed, to keep up with our new Chief Executive's activities. On the surface, this appears to be good news, I wonder if your readers know any more about it.

President Obama visited a school in D.C. and read to the children.

From the article on the WH website at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog_post/how_our_schools_should_be/ 

"This kind of innovative school…is an example of how all our schools should be," President Obama said yesterday, as he and Mrs. Obama visited a public charter school in Washington, D.C."


"We're very proud of what's been accomplished at this school and we want to make sure that we're duplicating that success all across the country," the President said.

Which are very typical things for a visiting dignitary to say of a school, but from the front page of the school's website http://www.ccpcs.org/  :

"The Capital City Public Charter School is an award-winning public school of choice for children Pre-K through eighth grade. Beginning in fall 2008, Capital City will enroll 9th graders and will continue to add a grade a year through 12th grade.

A charter school is a free public school that operates independently of the local school system with funding determined by a per pupil formula. The school is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization led by a board of trustees that includes parents, educators, community leaders, and financial and legal experts."

Which seems to be a good thing, it amazes me that something involving choice in education could possibly exist in D.C., so I wonder just how much money they get per child, and whether the President will face any backlash from the teacher's unions. Depressing that every time I see something hopeful related to our government, I wait for the other shoe to drop.

v/r -Scott

Education ought to be left to the States. The proper way for Washington to be involved is to create schools in DC -- where Congress has absolute sovereignty -- that are so good that everyone wants schools like that.  If the Department of Education actually knew how to make schools better, they have had fifty years to do in DC.

If Michelle Obama wants to look at the DC schools and Do Something about them I am all for her. If the President wants to do that I am in complete sympathy. It would be one way to change the world.

Whether any such thing will happen given the existing bureaucracies and their implacable demands, I don't know.


first impressions

Hello Dr. Pournelle

Sometimes it’s better to be wrong. I never liked Obama, and was pretty unhappy when he got elected. However, certain things that were said and done, particularly the disappointment of many on the left in his first couple of weeks on the job, made me hope that I might be mistaken. Sadly, this is probably not going to be true. Obama has decided he would rather use the bail out money to punish the hated capitalist, than to help out companies employing American workers. This will kill a several pesky birds with one massive stone. It will disenfranchise a number of American workers, making them that much more dependant, and more amenable to the kind of “change” that Obama and his followers really desire. It will weaken major American companies, and harm capitalism. It will be a blow against the hated capitalists that all good socialists see as the real evil in the world. It will also make big government the hero of the piece.


Just when I was starting to think that maybe Obama would not be as bad as I thought, he goes and proves me wrong. This is why you can never trust government, or government aid. Everything has strings attached, and the very nature of government is to always want to run things. Obama proposes to put a 500K cap on salaries for executives of companies taking bail out money. Now for most people, this may not seem like much of a hardship, I am lucky if I make a tenth of that amount in a year; but there are always problems when the government presumes to interfere in the free market. I see only three possible outcomes of this.

1) The best executives will leave these companies, to go where their abilities can make them more money. The bad ones will stay. This would create a sort of an executive brain drain on companies that are already failing.

2) Ways will be found to make payments off the books, or work will be found for lawyers finding loopholes.

3) Executives of companies that really need help will not seek it out, in order to avoid being placed under such strictures.

An interesting quote by Obama is “…what gets people upset — and rightfully so — are executives being rewarded for failure. Especially when those rewards are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.” My own though on this is – then don’t subsidize them. Why is the alternative of non interference by government never even considered? Actually, a reading of the article shows that some of the proposals make good sense; but I have a problem with the presumption that the government should get so very involved with how allegedly private companies are run. Good reasons can always be found to do inappropriate or even bad things.

Neal Pritchett 

Government is never without cost and government benefits are never free or without strings. The purpose of government is to hire and pay government workers. It will always do that whatever it takes. I note there is no limit to be placed on the pensions of Congressmen and Senators.

On the gripping hand, I do not understand why the executives of the ratings companies that rated toxic mortgage backed securities as AAA deserve bonuses and why their companies remain collectively a legal monopoly whose business is guaranteed by law.


Kyrgyzstan: Manas Air Base 


"Kyrgyz government submits bill to close US base"

"The move came a day after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said the base would be shuttered and shortly after the Central Asian nation secured billions of dollars in loans and aid from Russia"

Bakiyev happened to make this announcement in Moscow while visiting Putin. The precise terms require the USAF to leave 180 days after a final decision by the Kyrgyz parliament, whenever that occurs. Medvedev helpfully offered that help was available.

I think the real lesson here is for new Commander in Chief Obama, as well as Secretary of State Hillary. We can term it the Fundamental Theorem of Major Allies. You aren't allowed to try to regime change them. This is what Friend of Barack George Soros and the Neocons have been attempting for a long time.



first impressions

Hello Dr. Pournelle

Sometimes it’s better to be wrong. I never liked Obama, and was pretty unhappy when he got elected. However, certain things that were said and done, particularly the disappointment of many on the left in his first couple of weeks on the job, made me hope that I might be mistaken. Sadly, this is probably not going to be true. Obama has decided he would rather use the bail out money to punish the hated capitalist, than to help out companies employing American workers. This will kill a several pesky birds with one massive stone. It will disenfranchise a number of American workers, making them that much more dependant, and more amenable to the kind of “change” that Obama and his followers really desire. It will weaken major American companies, and harm capitalism. It will be a blow against the hated capitalists that all good socialists see as the real evil in the world. It will also make big government the hero of the piece.


Just when I was starting to think that maybe Obama would not be as bad as I thought, he goes and proves me wrong. This is why you can never trust government, or government aid. Everything has strings attached, and the very nature of government is to always want to run things. Obama proposes to put a 500K cap on salaries for executives of companies taking bail out money. Now for most people, this may not seem like much of a hardship, I am lucky if I make a tenth of that amount in a year; but there are always problems when the government presumes to interfere in the free market. I see only three possible outcomes of this. 1) The best executives will leave these companies, to go where their abilities can make them more money. The bad ones will stay. This would create a sort of an executive brain drain on companies that are already failing. 2) Ways will be found to make payments off the books, or work will be found for lawyers finding loopholes. 3) Executives of companies that really need help will not seek it out, in order to avoid being placed under such strictures.

An interesting quote by Obama is “…what gets people upset — and rightfully so — are executives being rewarded for failure. Especially when those rewards are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.” My own though on this is – then don’t subsidize them. Why is the alternative of non interference by government never even considered? Actually, a reading of the article shows that some of the proposals make good sense; but I have a problem with the presumption that the government should get so very involved with how allegedly private companies are run. Good reasons can always be found to do inappropriate or even bad things.

Neal Pritchett 

The big problem is that no one thinks government can do everything, or says they don't believe that, but they act as if they do. Centralization of economic power doesn't work, and worse, having done it, it's very hard to get out of. The country club Republicans went a long way toward nationalization of problems that ought to be left to the states -- why is it California's problem when New Orleans is hit by a hurricane and floods that were utterly predictable? Why is the President a dunce because the Federal Emergency Management Agency isn't prepared for instant response to every disaster, but replaced the Civil Defense system which might actually have been ready for hurricanes in New Orleans, twisters in Oklahoma, earthquakes in California? Carter started that, Reagan ought to have turned off FEMA and abolished the whole notion; but he didn't, and the FEMA monster grew. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy says that it will remain even if we try to revive Civil Defense.

Obama means well. He is, I think, keenly aware that he will be in the history books for better or for worse. That's a lot of pressure. And he is finding that the ravenous wolves of Congress don't care; they have their agendas, and making him look good is not high on their list, nor is the general health of the United States, and certainly cutting back foolish obligations and returning to the Old Republic is nowhere on the list at all.

I wish Obama well, and I have some sympathy with his situation; but I fear things will get far worse before they begin to get better.


And I have one strange letter:


I do not think your ideal of a society made up of "elites" who will throw bones to the lower 50% to keep them happy will function for long. I realize that you are attached to Kirk and his idea that "society requires orders and classes that emphasize "natural distinctions;" but I can't help but think of an older science fiction film where an underclass informed the ruling class, "We control the air, the water, and the power".

I can't recall the name, and it wasn't that good anyway, but that situation appealed to me.

Glad you are feeling better!

 Cranky Old Man

I do not think that I hold any such "ideal." I think it an undeniable fact that half the children are below average, that half the population is unlikely to learn algebra or to profit from having learned it if they can, and that most of the economic progress depends on the trained abilities of the to 25% of the population.

I have also said, repeatedly, that a republic that cannot find a way to make the lower half of the population both valuable and aware of its value is in trouble and will not remain a republic for long.

I am rather proud of having been one of Russell Kirk's protégés. As to elites, there will be elites; the only real question is how shall they be chosen. There is an iron law (not mine) of distribution of resources, and it admits few exceptions. The USSR's attempt managed both to both reduce the resources to be distributed, and also to narrow the distribution. The best road to maximum resources available for distribution is unrestricted capitalism, but that leads to ever narrower distribution pyramids -- as well as to the sale of human flesh in the marketplace.

Aristotle defines democracy as rule by the middle class, the middle class being those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation. I find that a comfortable way to look at the world.

The underclass informing the ruling class that "We control the air, the water, and the power," would be a sign of a highly incompetent ruling class long overdue for a circulation of elites. When the situation was done, there would be a new ruling class. There always is.

Thank you for your good wishes.


“If my wife Susan brings me a cup of tea and hears the music then I might be liable.”


-- Roland Dobbins

There must be a better way to protect intellectual property.




 read book now




CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Executive pay.

Jerry, I suspect most libertarians, like me, are horrified by the prospect of the government dictating salary levels for executives. We generally believe that the market should be left to freely establish compensation levels. The problem, as I see it, is that the market for executive talent is not rational. Executives often get paid far out of proportion with their actual results. Some of the highest paid executives are demonstrably the biggest failures. Compensation committees of publicly traded companies often seem to get caught up in a bidding war that drives irrational behavior.

In that sense, there is nothing unique about the market for executive talent. There are irrational markets for all kinds of human talent, such as sports figures, celebrities, musicians, actors, directors, producers, authors, politicians, etc. These professions all include highly-paid people who, arguably, do not deserve their current level of pay based on their current level of performance. Maybe we should be limiting the compensation for all of them, as well. Why stop with executives?

Rich Graff Troy, OH


The Singularity is Near



Be afraid. Now we know the answer to Fermi's question


Sing for your supper by singing ABOUT supper...

Sing for your supper by singing ABOUT supper (while people are eating supper in a supper club?)


Announcing its results last week, EMI said it was switching its focus away from the CD, where sales are falling, and focussing on brand advertising "partnerships" and sync licensing deals.

...there's interest from corporate sponsors in the total revenue a big artist can generate, as their managers are well aware. So why not fill the gap by turning bands into singing, dancing, beer and crisp and aftershave adverts?

The problem is that the future isn't evenly distributed. With an ad man in charge of music, money flows to the already-established artists: good news for Bryan Adams and Madonna. If brand sponsorship finds its way to an up-and-coming band, then it comes with strings attached.

I know of one successful Asian rock band that found it couldn't play festivals abroad sponsored by a rival beer brand. This reduces them to chattel. Disputes between artists and labels are legendary, but at least the artist could still play live, if he or she wanted, down the pub. The much vaunted "360 deal" ends that freedom.

-- Mike T. Powers

Does this mean I'll have to go telling Falkenberg tales in supper clubs to make a living?


Unrestricted capitalism?


Has anyone ever tried honest unrestricted capitalism? That is, capitalism where EVERY decision is made on the basis of economic considerations (price and costs) but subject to the constraints that all information on which the decision is made is equally available to the general public (and that failure to disclose relevant information is fraud equivalently with overt falsehood, and prosecutable as same), that advancement is completely on merit without consideration of social or familial factors, and that government's only interface with the economy is modest taxation and budgeted procurement without favoritism, and enforcement of a suite of laws no more convoluted than that subset of the Sixth through Tenth Commandments which touches on business.


Free societies require some inclination to revere freedom. If the world were made of people who incline to moderation and minding their own business, you would get one kind of society. Now imagine adding Savonorola, Torquemada, and Mad Madelyn Murray O'Hare to that mix.


Re: The Performing Rights Society

Actually, this isn't an IP problem. Well, it _is_...but it's really more of the same problem that gives us people like Thomas Mundy, who makes a living by suing businesses which fail ADA compliance. This is a consequence of poorly-written regulations. It's the kind of thing that gives lawyers a bad name, the classic example of someone finding a loophole and then ramming a crowbar in it sideways.

The problem, I think, is that everyone is so terrified of the court system that they don't want to fight--and with good reason, because modern courts are mindlessly legalistic, trained since birth to submit to the bureaucracy. If you write the regulations such that every infraction is punished by a $50,000 fine, then every infraction is punished by a $50,000 fine. No exceptions, no leniency, no choice; the regulation defines infraction and specifies the punishment. Yes, the judge feels quite sorry for you and in fact agrees that this is meaningless, but there it is; the rules are the rules and the first rule in the rulebook is that you always follow the rules.

-- Mike T. Powers


Principles of the American Cargo Cult.


-- Roland Dobbins



Your Speculation post:

Speculation: A candidate for one of Pournelle's Laws: Any company that's too big to be allowed to fail should be broken up by antitrust action. Google and Microsoft come to mind.

struck me as extremely on the mark.

One silly note, though: when you caveat-ed it with "quarter-baked, at best", the first thing that came to mind was "PUDDING!" so now there's Pudding Speculation...make mine butterscotch.

Many Happy, and may your stamina and joie-de-vivre keep coming back, hopefully at a roaring pace.

Doug Hayden

Several have pointed out that if Google vanished, someone else would take its place; the field is fungible. I agree, and I still have misgivings over that large a market share in controlling where people look for information. Being on the last page of 28 pages found in a search is tantamount to invisibility (actually being on page 19 is probably worse). One the other hand, prior to Google many works wouldn't be found at all; and their scanning program has already proved extremely useful to me, making available turn of the century books on Renaissance Venice that I would otherwise never have known of, or if I did know about them, would probably be unable to find.

I suppose I have a prejudice against very large companies and concentrations of power. I mean prejudice in the sense of the work Life Without Prejudice by Richard Weaver, one of several hundred books that civilized people ought to read at some point in their education. I am far less afraid of forms of power than I am of concentration of power. Kings whose scope of power is limited are less frightening than elected legislatures with no limits on what they can do, as many have found to their sorrow.

Power cannot be eliminated. It can be limited in scope but only by dividing it. But that is for another essay. Thanks.


Autonomous Robots Invade Retail Warehouses, 


Autonomous robots are invading warehouses:


While I was in college I worked as an order filler in a warehouse. Oh, well - another job that an able-bodied human that will no longer get paid to do.


There have been many stories about what happens when all those jobs are automated. Some terrifying. We do need to think about organizing society so that very large numbers of people are not superfluous -- or we had better organize under the assumption that very large numbers of people will be unemployable. I don't know who is thinking about this. Certainly not professors of education.



 read book now




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  February 6, 2009

I am running late. There's a lot of interesting mail, but most of it will get short shrift. Apologies.

William Coin Harvey
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
I found the following when I searched
 google books for william coin harvey munney:

It is from Arkansas: A Guide to the State by Writers' Program
 of the Work Projects Administration in the 
State of Arkansas - Page 309
the prise uv wheet was fawling fast
as up wall street a banker past
his klose perfumed and smellin nise
while threw his hed ran this devise
  sownd munney
from albion's shores heed just arrived
with plans mature & wll kontrived
& softly in the kokney tung
he warbled owt with his wun lung
   sownd munney
in church you mite have herd him sing
& thank the lord fer everything
& if perchanse he fell asleep
heed mix with amens lowd & deep
  sownd munney
in happy homes he saw the lite
uv big log fires blaze up at nite
& az he thot uv morgege lones
he sang aen in lowder tones
  sownd munney

I wish you great health for many more years.
Stephen Drake

That's the doggerel I was looking for. Thanks!

Harvey was not arguing for paper money; only for silver as well as gold as backing. You shall not press down this crown of thorns upon labor! You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold!  Etc.  That, at least we don't do. Paper though...

See also http://books.google.com/


No Child Left Behind, Elites not Serving Us Well, Wisdom of the Ages, NASA dissidents.


I appreciated your commentary about Bill Gates being a threat to national security because of his support for "No Child Left Behind." Perhaps I wasn't paying proper attention to your earlier writings or may be you just aren't being quite as pedantic and angry at President Bush now as you were then, but I didn't properly understand your objections. Your comments that by definition half of all children are below average and we should have an educational system that recognizes that reality are of course correct.

 I would point out that while most children don't need a university prep education, our technologically advancing civilization requires that they have more of a basic skill set that the Reading, wRighting and aRytmatic that served well for a predominantly agrarian society. It was my misimpression that the No Child Left behind was intended to meet this goal, not universal prep for University.

 I'd also point out that in advocating that educators should be seperating students into various educational tracks based on where they fall on the Bell curve, one must not forget the capacity for prejudices and misjudgments. While going to grade school and junior high I consistantly tested about six grade levels above my cohort. However; I was attending school in a rapidly urbanizing suburban area where the dwindling number of original, agrarian residents whose chidlren were presumed to be less intelligent than the recent, more urbane residents. I was constantly shunted aside to the trade school track which had by that time degenerated into a dumping ground for drug addicts and reprobates who in an earlier time would have been expelled. The methods I employed to ensure my safety only confirmed the educats opinion of me. (When the movie "Star Wars" first came out I aquired the nick name of "Darth Vader" because I too had held someone up by the throat with only one arm and released them to crumple on the ground. Fortunately, I released them early enough that they suvived.) Much of my education came from playing hookie in the library where I read many of the classics that weren't a part of the lower tract english classes that I was placed in and the upper grades math books after the educats rewarded my passing of first year Algebra with a B with a demotion to remedial arythmatic.

One final thought on education. The self evident elites of this country who do have a world class university educations don't seem to be making very intelligent decisions. By and large these are the people who oppose nuclear power, advocate a "Drill Nowhere, Drill Never" energy policy, seem to be true believers in Global Warming Theology (or at least they are exploiting it to line their pockets), have augurred the economy into the ground by eagerly supporting affirmative action lending policies, are transforming the already iladvised stymulous package into a porkulous package, and bank rolled the candidacy of the affirmative action president. In my humble opinion, the nation's truck drivers make more intelligent decisions on national policy than our elites. I suspect that the problem is that there are only two kinds of people who can get a World Class University education, those who spend most of their adult lives feeding at the public trough or those who were born with a silver spoon shoved so far up their asses that a spine would be redundant. Perhaps you could offer counter examples and statistics to disabuse me of my uncharitable opinion. However; I firmly believe that the national interest would be well served if those with world class University educations were subjected to periodic decimation in the original Roman tradition.

I'd like to thank you for the recommendations on classical history. Perhaps it is the translation, but contrary to my expectations Herodotus is seldom tedious and can at times be hilarious. One example is his account of the Persian attitude regarding the abduction of women (ie Hellen of Troy). I'll paraphrase from memory here because I'm having my late night beer to ease my arthritis. "While no righteous man would abduct a woman, once the deed is done a sensible man does not retaliate because the woman would not have been abducted had she not been compliant." This actually makes perfect sense to me. If you are a warrior who is raiding a foreign land to do a little looting, pillaging and raping, which women would you take home with you and which would you leave behind? I'll have to do some serious thinking about the sociobiological implications of this preference. If the winners only take the compliant women leaving the losers with the incompliant women who are nonetheless impregnated by the winners, the winners' sons and grandsons will by and large be born to compliant women and will thus be compliant themselves while the loosers will be left with a large pool of children sired by the winners with incompliant women who would then be quite formidable. This would certainly explain why the Vikings have become the Swedes. While reading your "War World" series I made similar observations regarding the Sauron's habit of gifting the cattle with their superior genes. I figured that it would eventually come back to bite them in the ass.

My son brought home the latest issue of Popular Mechanics which had an interesting article regarding the dissidents at NASA who are advocating an alternative space launcher. While I remain unconvinced that SSTO is the optimum solution, NASA's plan represents a GIANT LEAP BACKWARDS FOR MANKIND. The only portion of the vehicle that is allegedly reusable is the crew capsule which has yet to survive test landings. The dissidents are proposing using as many off the shelf components from the Shuttle system as possible. The core vehicle is a shuttle external fuel tank with three, hydrogen burning engines from the old Saturn V second stage. This core has two, unmodified Shuttle SRBs that allows it to put a significant payload into LEO and even do lunar flybys with an upper stage. (You might need to have Larry Niven explain the joke to you, but NASA and the Thrint are the only people in the universe who are stupid enough to use solid fuel rocket boosters for manned space flight.) Now as fond as you are of SSTO, imagine the possibility that this approach could gradually evolve into a completely reusable system. Replace the SRBs with liquid fuel boosters that have wings, jet engines and landing gear so that they can fly back to the launch site after separation to be refueled and reused? Harden the external tank so it can suvive reentry and do a verticle landing? Remember, given the very low mass to drag ratio, reentry heating would be far less severe than for the shuttle, a conventional capsule or an ICBM RV. Alternatively, have the engines and avionics in a propulsion module with a heat shield that seperates from the external tank for deorbit. These are interesting ideas that are probably a moot point given the collapsing economy.


James Crawford

The intention of No Child Left Behind was to make the schools better. The result of it was to allocate all the teacher attention to the low part of the bell curve in order to bring class averages up. Unfortunately this doesn't much help either end of the bell curve because getting more kids to pass algebra when they'll never use it doesn't help a lot. Half the kids in the US will not benefit from a college education (and won't ever get one) but that doesn't mean they can't learn to live and be useful in this world.

I fear I haven't time to comment on NASA just now, but the technical name for monopropellants is "high explosives". And the SRB has those joints in it...


Dept of Ag

Some of the institutions Roosevelt installed were very beneficial. Oddly enough, one of them was the Department of Agriculture, which wanted to raise farm prices but disseminated widely the results of studies on how to raise productivity.


You were not a farmer. Most of these kind of reforms fall victim to the Iron Law. While I was growing up the Dept of Ag. was used for political purposes. They encouraged the farmer to grow lots of wheat, then when the bottom dropped out of the market, the Government then bought it up at cut rate prices and stored it. For years after when the price would rise a bit, they would dump a bunch of it and drop the price.

Price support wasn't intended to do that.... Actually we were farmers in World War II. And went broke at it.


Zero Tolerance, the Iron Law, and Illiteracy All Wrapped Together

The Iron Law Meets Zero Tolerance.

Thought you might enjoy this sniplet, which seems to derive Zero Tolerance from the Iron Law, although this is more like the Brass Law. Instead of maximizing one's devotion to the organization at the expense of the mission, the bureaucrat is devoted to minimizing his responsibility at the expense of the common good.

Regulations must be administered by someone. When assigned responsibility for a public good, that someone still faces Satan’s choice between the common and the private good. Bureaucracies adopt accountability regulations to control those entrusted with regulatory power. But then even the most conscientious clerk faces the mirror-image of the yeoman’s dilemma in the commons. Where the ambitious yeoman could increase his herd, the comfortable administrator can minimize his accountability for any error. His job balances between the public good and the minimization of accountability.

The Tragedy of the Administration thus tends inevitably toward zero-tolerance rules, incontestably certifying bureaucratic compliance in the avoidance of disaster. School principals expel students packing plastic water pistols, demonstrating zero tolerance for career scuttling massacres, but more tolerance for their students’ illiteracy. Airline passengers are denied shampoo bottles, children’s cough drops are banned as drugs, and civil servants are forbidden to use Piglet mugs. The more zero-tolerance regulations metastasize, the more public-spirited administrators may be tempted to ignore them, for the public good. Yet the administration selects against discernment, preferring professionally secure and irresponsible accountability.

-- The Regime of Science, by Joseph K. Woodward http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=1187




On monopolies

Dr. Pournelle,

Comparing Google to Microsoft in the field of monopolies is an unfair comparison. Microsoft used the same tactic that TI did with their calculators to become a market leader: they went for the schools. When I was in elementary school 15-20 years ago all of the computers were Macs. By the time I hit high school they were all PCs running windows (there were Linux clusters on the back end, but the students and most of the teachers didn't know that). Microsoft gave Windows to schools for years. TI did the same thing with their calculators and became a market leader, even though HP calculators were arguably better products (or so I've been told. I grew up on TI and have never used an HP calculator). Microsoft also made deals with the OEM companies to get their OS installed by default.

Google on the other hand has become a market leader because they've made a superior product. Throughout the late nineties and early years of this century I used various search engines, mail services, homepages, etc. Google put them all together, and did it smoothly. Add to that the fact that it's free to the end user and you have something that people will use, even though it's not the automatic choice. IE still defaults to MSN or Live search or whatever MS is calling it now. IE still has better than 80% market share last I checked.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for splitting up concentrated power, but Google and Microsoft are two wholly different beasts.


Ryan Brown

My concern is concentrations of power, but I am not at all sure I have any remedies.


This letter and the one following have a connection.

It's not as simple as Mortgage Payments

Dr Pournelle,

I learn very much on a variety subjects from you on this website as your broad knowledge and analytical capability is truly rare. However, with regard to the financial crises we are now in, you are missing some key information that renders wrong your conclusion that "once the overpriced mortgage payments are assured there is no financial crisis."

The most important if this missing information is the massive amount of over the counter OTC financial derivative contracts. These highly complex financial instruments were described in March 2003 by Warren Buffet as "financial weapons of mass destruction" that could harm the whole economic system. In 2003 these OTC derivatives contracts which exclude those traded on exchanges amounted to $128 trillion.

According to data from the Bank for International Settlements, total notional value of these OTC derivatives was $683.7 trillion with market value of $20.4 trillion as of June '08. About two thirds of this is interest rate swaps, dwarfing example the Credit Default Swap portion ($57.3T notional / $3.2T market value). For all elements see the following page.


These OTC derivatives are all individual contracts with no standards or margin such as would be found on a futures or options exhange. Furthermore, when a counterparty fails the notional value becomes full value. These $683.7 trillion of OTC derivatives are found all over the place in insurance companies, pension funds and off balance sheet in major banks.

God save us all.

Ron Mullane

I continue to wonder why we pay any attention to the ratings agencies which said those were good investments. Not only do we pay attention but they have a legal monopoly and you must go to them. Why? What use are they?

As to $683 trillion, I find that incomprehensible: isn't that more than the fee simple worth of the United States and everything in it? Must be close, anyway.

Surely we don't need to get all that paper value back in order to have a working economy!


Changing Jobs

Dr. Pournelle,

I worked for the last 45 years as an electronics technician, electronics engineer and finally a firmware programmer. During that time I worked at - yes - 42 companies. I eventually got to be project manager and serial communications expert for a couple of companies. But the work got scarcer and scarcer.

One thing that I noticed was that I was working perhaps 2 years out of 3. I assumed that it was my bad luck until reading an article on electronics engineering in which they gave that same number as the usual employment rate for electronics engineers. Suddenly a lot of things jumped into focus. There was a lot of complaining that there were insufficient electronics engineers and yet with treatments such as I've received I can well understand why people wouldn't go into such a job. Then it began going downhill.

Managers began outsourcing hardware design to China and programming to India. Now getting a job in electronics in the USA is growing a great deal more difficult unless you're capable of leading edge design and nothing less. Jobs listed on the job sites all demand high end experience. How is it that you could ever gain such experience when they aren't hiring anyone with less than top end abilities?

When I began in electronics, companies were controlled and managed by engineers. Now these same sorts of businesses are being controlled by MBA's. I think that these MBA's consider themselves to be irreplaceable and hence outsourcing the actual design etc. of their products to foreign countries seems a good idea.

The problem with that of course is that the Chinese and the Indians are certainly not stupid and once they've gotten the hang of how this business works they will simply start their own companies in competition. Since they can get things done a great deal easier in their native language the end result will be companies in the USA losing it all.

Although it sounds like a good idea to have an open job market the fact is that as long as labor is cheaper someplace else it puts everyone else at a disadvantage that cannot be remedied by talk about equalities.

I'm now retired though a couple of years before I was planning on doing so. Yet I think that I'll get along OK. But what about the generation behind us?

I certainly don't know how they're going to handle what appears to be a rapidly dropping level of lifestyle here but then maybe that's something that is always opaque to us old farts. And I don't know how we could get ourselves out of the mess we're in now that we've opened trade to anyone that can ship something in here to sell.

Any ideas?


I have never been as enamoured of Free Trade as the Neocons were. I make no secret of putting America first in these matters. We developed an economy based on opening containers of stuff sent from China, and paying for the stuff by borrowing money from China and kiting checks based on getting high rating from the ratings companies that said that an incomprehensible derivative bundle of paper was as sound an investment as a Treasury Bond. Why ratings companies exist is beyond my ken: they told us this stuff was worth something, it wasn't, and we are still legally required to get their opinions on bonds. What use is their opinion?

We will certainly have a dropping level of lifestyle. That very much includes me. And I do not know what will happen with the next generation.

Despair is a sin. We have a population that knows how to work and many of whom still value work. Much of the capital plant is here. The land is here and we can grow food. We have coal so we cannot run out of energy (assuming that the intellectuals will let us use the coal instead of exporting money to the Middle East). There is an economic base here. Now we have to learn how to use it again.

Freedom often works in such circumstances. Look at the German Economic Miracle. We may not have the political ability to apply that, of course.


How Accurate Are Forecasts in a Recession?


Talks about .the difficulty of forecasting the turning point and how forecasts of both the unemployment rate and GDP tend to be overly optimistic.



Who thinks about these things

You're right, it isn't educators who worry about employing the masses. It's emperors!


Any emperor who could not find work for this large body of men created a significant man management problem; Vespasian’s awareness of this is demonstrated by his refusal to use certain labour-saving devices commenting "you must let me feed my poor commons" (Suetonius. Divus Vespasianus, 18).

Best wishes,

Mike Glyer

Any nation that finds a very large part of its population not merely useless but a burden is in for great troubles. This seems obvious enough. What to do about it is not obvious. Me, I'd rely on teaching everyone basic skills like reading and basic arithmetic and rely on freedom to find ways to employ them; but that doesn't seem like a very popular idea. We are, I am told, required to rely on the ideas of the elites who govern us. I am waiting to hear.


Subject: Executive compensation caps


I find myself puzzled by the outrage of some self professed free market fundamentalists regarding Obama's pay cap proposal. If a failing business were to approach someone like Warren Buffet for a cash infusion to bail out the company, do you think he would provide the funds with no strings attached? Do you think he would put up with being told he could have no input on executive compensation? Hell No! (Buffet is reputed to be fairly frugal when it comes to paying the executives of the companies that he owns. Amazingly, he still seems to get pretty good executives.) So why should the American taxpayer have any less control than Warren Buffet would demand, upon providing a bailout? There is a very simple way for these executives to avoid pay caps: don't take Government money.

The notion of pay for performance is a good one. But that really isn't how compensation works for large corporations in the US. The compensation for CEO's is set by the board of directors, not by the owners of the company. In theory, the BOD is supposed to represent the owners. In practice, BOD's tend to be a good ole boy network, and they including many fellow CEO's, all of whom are part of the peer group used to benchmark CEO pay. Talk about a conflict of interest. (Just imagine if the pay scale for a particular Union were set by a compensation committee, drawn from the ranks of the leaders of other Unions!)

The results should not be surprising: when you are spending other people's money (the shareholders), rather than your own, then there is a lot less incentive to get good value for the salary paid.

CP, Connecticut




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This week:


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Saturday, February 7, 2009


Barney Frank: curbs could be extended to all businesses

Dr. Pournelle --

Someone said that it was going to get a lot worse before it got better.

"Barney Frank: TARP's comp curbs could be extended to all businesses "


"Congress will consider legislation to extend some of the curbs on executive pay that now apply only to those banks receiving federal assistance, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said.

He said the compensation restrictions would apply to all financial institutions and might be extended to include all U.S. companies."

This looks like a good way to get companies to move offshore. That will certainly simplify the problems with the economy.


I find this exceedingly unlikely. Frank is apparently so safe he can mumble unconstitutional nonsense threats; apparently there is nothing he can do or say that will cause him to lose an election. But this won't happen.


Amazon Announcing Kindle iPhone App Monday?


--- Roland Dobbins


Subject: Japan offers lessons on stimulus spending


Beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder. So, I suppose, is the the conclusion that one draws about the effectiveness of Japan's experiment with stimulative government spending. At least that is my take away from this story:

> http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/02/06/asia/japan.php 

Japan certainly did run up a huge public sector debt as the result of infrastructure spending. Whether or not this spending saved them from depression, or stretched out a recession seems unresolved. At least that huge debt didn't produce a surge of hyperinflation.

CP, Connecticut

They were pretty careful. Of course Japan is a very cohesive nation.


window smashing plot in juvenile mystery novel

Hi your mention of a glazier breaking windows reminded me of the solution to the central mystery in the juvenile detective novel "The mystery of the smashing glass" by William Arden which is part of the "The three investigators" series:


An excellent book series for young readers, well-written, well-constructed and with suitably complex mysteries instead of the often severely dumbed-down plots that treats young readers as little morons incapable of the pretty intricate thinking that they are actually capable of when their attention is engaged. When i was about 8-12 i immensely enjoyed the series, often pausing after finishing a chapter and trying to recall the information revealed so far in order to figure out what was really going on. The books can be bought cheaply online and otherwise in case you know someone who would appreciate them. Will enjoy reading Footfall soon.

With Very Much Respect,
Thomas Hamann Soerensen



1918 flu pandemic - 


I am soo glad I live when and where there is much improved medical technology. I d, however, fear losing it. I also fear "superbugs" because of antibiotic misuse, (I once had the same anaerobic ear infection for more than a year.) But I think that antibiotics and improved hygiene will go a long way to keeping a pandemic from completely devastating a generation.

R, Rose


Inferno audiobook - 

Dr Pournelle, I'm in the process of listening to the audio version of Inferno. I don't know if you have listened to it or not, but it's very well done. I've also bought the Kindle ebook version of the same book. Perhaps I'm a bit odd, but I find that I enjoy both listening to a book being read and reading the book. I look forward to listening to more of your books on Audible. thanks

 Phillip Walker

I do have a copy and it is indeed well done. Thanks!


If one needed more proof of the failure of education in the US

Verizon math:





Best books

Several hundred books that civilized people need to read:

“Life Without Prejudice by Richard Weaver”

I just finished reading Evolution of Political Thought by Parkinson and I wish I had read it when I was younger. Same for Pratt's Battles that Changed History, which you also recommended.

Please please drop all this other stuff you’re doing and get us that list of books. How else are we to become civilized?

Best wishes,

Michoel Reach

When I get enough platinum subscribers that I can afford to take a few weeks off and write a bibliographic essay.  At the moment I am still dancing as fast as I can. Last year I lost the BYTE income while also fighting off brain cancer and getting my brain sunburned with 50,000 rad. It takes a bit to catch up.

I am not making light of your request. There are certain books that everyone needs to have read before they become fully civilized adults, and our universities are no longer addressing that. Some of them are well known. Others, like Parkinson's Evolution of Political Thought and Pratt's Battles that Changed History are a bit obscure and not likely to be on any random egghead list. Writing up that book list with some reasons for putting certain books on it takes time and concentration, and just at the moment, alas, I don't have either to spare.  When I finish Mamelukes --  and the good news there is that I have been doing a couple of pages a day on that, and sometimes more, and I know where the story has to go. Alas, I also have to create about a dozen new characters and an entire Renaissance civilization, but heck, that's what I do...


Big Bro gov'ment under Barry....

Jerry –

I am astonished that smart people like you; actually have some affinity for a flim-flam man like Barry Dunham Soetoro Obama. This man is a salesman, nothing more. He is an expert campaigner with virtually no experience in anything, including politics. He has never really held a private sector job, much less started and run a business. His life is composed of getting Caucasian people of the more liberal persuasion to feel good about supporting him and thus relieve themselves of any residual guilt of ……… slavery! What a joke!

Obama is a quasi-socialist and without a doubt, harbors some anti-American feelings. He sympathizes with muslims (of which he was one in Indonesia). He is a Saul Alinksy follower.

Just because of his race (Obama is not “black”. Nor is he “white”. He is bi-racial.), people like you are infatuated with The Messiah With A Thin Resume. Please, where can I vomit?

BHO and his PR Department, aka, the mainstream media have created and are using the Cult of Personality, which should sicken every American, unfortunately, with US public schools not teaching US history, customs, traditions and the huge influx of people through mass immigration over the past 20 years, many young people simply do not know American traditions and many of the foreign born immigrants (legal and illegal) prefer 3rd world socialism, since it’s what they are used to back in their countries of origin.

The United States is in dire straits these days – not because of the recession. We have recessions every 10-15 years; unfortunate and difficult but they are not the end of the nation. The USA is in dire straits because we have lost confidence in ourselves and our nation and have become susceptible to the government-media complex that pumps out the need for more and more social programs and government reliance.

Ray Golich

Dearbornistan, Michigan

PS – Jerry, your website is very poorly formatted and difficult to use. It looks like it was designed in the mid 1990’s. And your rules for contacting you are ridiculous, excessive and frankly a bit rude.

I'm not sure what to make of this.


Next big thing

You said the computer revolution has slowed way down. But since we have so much excess computing power, what if some genus invents a new super ap that's as revolutionary as the computer itself was in its time. I won't tell you what the ap is because it probably hasn't been thought of yet.

R Hunt

Well -- yes! Now all we have to do is figure out what it is, and do it!


Will The Recession End Gold Digging? - Forbes.com

I found this one kind of amusing...







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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday, February 8. 2009      

I imagine this is being played out all over California. My despair meter isn't pegged, but it's rising.


Total opposition to closing Joshua voiced at meeting

DROP: District, state facing 'huge' budget cuts BY BILL DEAVER MOJAVE - At the end of a two-and-one-half hour meeting at Mojave Elementary School Tuesday evening, someone said, "It's a shame that some of the state legislators that caused this problem were not here tonight."

Had any state lawmakers, the governor, or some of the people that have been screaming about high taxes in California for the last 30-plus years been sitting in Sherrill Auditorium, they would have heard a town torn apart because of their actions.

Parent after parent stood up to tell five school board members and Supt.

Larry Phelps that they do not, under any circumstances, want Joshua Middle School closed. No way.

They don't want their middle-school daughters on the same campus with high school boys. They don't want middle school and high school students riding the same buses. They don't want them waiting together at bus stops, or mingling when they get off buses after school lets out.

JMS Student Body President Dakota Warner said he doesn't want to attend a school where he and his fellow-students will be "caged-in like animals in a zoo," separated from older students by chain-link fencing.

Legislators bought and paid for by the state prison lobby, who spend more money on convicted felons than on the state's future leaders, and pay guards more than teachers, should have been at the meeting to hear a kid wonder in a quavering voice what will happen to all the money students and parents have managed to raise over the years for band instruments. Or a parent asked what will happen to all the things parents have donated to make their school a little better, in a town whose residents can't afford to make campaign contributions like the fat cat lobbyists in Sacramento.

Others objected to building a new high school in California City, which imposed additional operating costs on the district.

Through it all, Phelps and business manager Keith Gainey kept telling the angry and confused parents that the latest news from lawmakers who are months overdue with a state budget is that Mojave Unified can expect to lose

$2.4 million from its budget - a full ten percent for a district that cut another million last year.

When a couple of parents threatened to move out of Mojave because of the cuts, someone in the audience reminded them that every district in the state faces the same sorry situation in a state that now ranks dead last nationwide in bond ratings and about the same in its commitment to its kids'


CalCity high School teacher Richard Walpole defended the board members, whose meetings he attends regularly, for working month after month to try to make the right decisions in a state whose leaders rank education at the bottom of their priorities.

No decision was taken by the board in a meeting aimed at gathering information. Phelps invited parents to volunteer for a state-mandated committee that will study the Joshua issue, a committee whose mandated makeup is a classic of Sacramento feel-good multiculturalism (One land owner, one environmentalist, one business owner, a teacher...) That committee will make a recommendation to the five elected members of the board, who are faced with a Sophie's Choice few people would ever have to make about their community's youngsters.

Phelps explained that he is wrestling with the terrible decision of which people who work for the district must lose their jobs, and perhaps their careers, at a time when there are few places in this once-Golden State that will be hiring teachers. He said he hopes to have a decision in a couple weeks, but must, by state law, notify those who lives will be devastated by the state-mandated date of March 15th, the Ides of March, for those who study the past.


Bill Deaver
Mojave Desert News

Water always runs downhill, but for years we were told that it would never hit bottom. Now it has.

Moreover, local districts aren't allowed to control their own financing or their schools. The result is that when the state goes goke, everyone goes broke. This isn't the last of this, either.

Those who care about the education of their children need to think hard about what's coming. This isn't the last.


The Biggest Spending Bill Ever

Here I am in Canada, and I dimly remember the 90’s recession which was far worse for us, than anyone else.

We managed to get out of it, by doing a variety of unpopular measures. Passing the GST which was a 7 percent federal sales tax, the gutting of the health care safety net, downloading costs to the provinces, eliminating debt to GDP, and also spending money on public works.

The recession lasted a little longer here, but then we became the envy of the Western world, with constant surplus’s and a lowering tax base. Were going into our first deficit in a decade, but projections are that we will be out of deficits in 5 years.

Our debt ratio to GDP is the lowest of the G8 at 28 percent of GDP. Where as the US is currently at 70 percent, while Britain is 90.

The way out for the US is a similar measure. Reducing entitlements, raising taxes, and reducing debt. However I doubt the democrats or the republicans are willing to do take the necessary conservative fiscal steps to do it. Which will send the country into depression.

I predict the demise of one of the two parties within the next 4 years, as technology reduces their monopoly on power. Not to mention a couple of demagogues go out rally a bunch of poor people and overthrow some state governments.

The real danger is what's happening in Mexico. The border area is set to explode. When criminal gangs actually seize power and begin raiding the North for valuables, will likely be the real test of the Obama presidency.


David March

The barbarians at the gates?



Some comments on yestoday's View and Mail:

1. I hereby submit a law of nature: the economy that produces the maximum societal income is that economy in which every participant is honest and fully open (that is, there is no intentional deceit and unintentional misinformation is presumed to be eliminated) and in which every decision based on said information is made with the intent of maximizing economic return without other considerations.

While I have not yet constructed a mathematical proof of the same, I've just described the situation that maximizes entropy in a system with no hidden variables and no constraints; hence (with appropriate variables) the logic is equivalent to statistical proofs of the second law of thermodynamics.

That said, some constraints are appropriate. In context, "First, do no harm" and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" are very minimal constraints, and are already at least partially encoded in the statement above. Whether the addendum, "... maximizing economic return with no considerations other than avoiding overt damage to employees, competitors, and consumers" captures those sentiments adequately without impact to the maximum societal wealth can be debated. What can't be debated is that economic decisions made in an other than full and honest environment of disclosure, or that economic decisions made on criteria other than economic ("social justice" or "nepotism", to identify two possible extremes) will not and can never result in the richest possible society.

2. IMHO, Mr. Golich was either attempting sarcasm, or accidentally sent you a mail he intended to send someone else, more likely the former.


I would rather have nepotism than social justice; the king has fewer relatives to enrich. Actually, if one holds government accountable for getting potholes filled, what do I care whether those who fill them are brothers-in-law to a war heeler? What we have now is a bloated bureaucracy you can't fire; the spoils system looks better all the time.


"Arabic Is the Language of the Future"


From the article. See link for the whole article.

The French government is strongly advocating the teaching of Arabic language and civilization in French schools. Not surprising, considering the number of Arabs and Muslims in France, and the unctuous deference with which they are treated by officials, beginning notably with Nicolas Sarkozy, who cannot praise enough <http://www.fdesouche.com/?p=5104>  the splendor of Arabic contributions to the world.

"We must invest in the Arabic language (because) to teach it symbolizes a moment of exchange, of openness and of tolerance, (and it) brings with it one of the oldest and most prestigious civilizations of the world. It is in France that we have the greatest number of persons of Arabic and Muslim origin. Islam is the second religion of France," Sarkozy reminded his listeners.

He proceeded to enumerate the various "advances in terms of diversity," the increase in Muslim sections of cemeteries, the training of imams and chaplains and the appointments of ministers of diverse backgrounds.

Translated-- France is a dhimmi state under Islam. Our Islamic overlord wants us to learn his language.

Undoing the work of Charles the Hammer at Tours... Oops. Sorry. One cannot talk about Tours and Las Navas de Teloso and Lepanto and the Siege of Vienna.  We must remain Enlightened even if it kills us.


No Child Left Behind


It seems that you (and I) just fail to comprehend the real point of education. The world class education being sought for enlightenment of all children today is meant to make them become intrinsically better human beings. For all the benefit that each of us has obtained from education in various areas, both formal and otherwise, it seems we share a common failing (I dare to judge you based upon my reading of your writings). We see the intrinsic value of people as essentially based upon how they behave toward others, including the greater effects they have on the lives of others. As the ignorant slobs that we are we simply fail to comprehend that those who have become enlightened are just better people regardless of what they do. I don't know why, and I realize that you don't know why either. What a shame. Perhaps the enlightened will allow us to continue existing among them.

Regards, George


James Hansen 

A less than devotional review of James Hansen's work can be found here:

The author is Bill Gray ((AMS Fellow, Charney Award recipient, and over 50-year member of the AMS).


I have heard conspiracy theories all my life. I am now being told  that whatever the origin of the global warming scare, the purpose is now financial to enrich certain people, while seizing control of energy, which is complete control of the economy. The next move will be to stop coal and natural gas use in the US. That would certainly make some people richer while bankrupting others.

One does wonder what is happening here.


Subject: Answers for our economic woes.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I read much discussion about our economic woes and proposed answers from many sources. i also remember something of our recent history from growing up while it happened. Politically, I feel the liberals blew it after John Kennedy died.

My favorite history lesson is Norman Mattoon Thomas. As the Socialist leader for eight elections, he became strongly anticommunist after a 1937 trip to Russia. He stated during the Depression that FDR had adopted all the right ideas for all the wrong reasons. Mr. Thomas was jailed many times by state and federal officials for his ideas. He was also freed rather quickly when the courts threw out the charges against him on constitutional grounds. People who confused Socialist with Libertine, accusing him of free love, were introduced to his wife and six children.

He lived a very long time, from 1884 to 1968. During his life this dangerous radical lived to see every political plank of his Socialist platform become law of the land.


William L. Jones


As an undergraduate I was privileged to have dinner and a long evening discussion with Norman Thomas. An impressive man. Unlike many Socialists, he had read Schumpeter, and indeed advised me to do so.





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