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Mail 558 February 16 - 22, 2009
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February 16, 2009
Nuke sub collision
Don't know if you've seen this yet, but two nuclear
missile submarines (British and French) collided in the Atlantic earlier
this month. Here is the link.
We've had enough nuclear subs sink with a full load of fission product laden fuel to know that the consequences of a duel sinking wouldn't have been catastrophic. A more pertinent issue is the loss of two subs with 100+ nuclear warheads on board. However; a sinking in deep ocean would probably put the warheads out of reach of anyone who doesn't already have some of their own. On the gripping hand, the demographic crisis in Europe which will be reaching a tipping point during the Obama presidency will probably result in both the entire British and French nuclear submarine fleets becoming the core of the Caliphates new navy.
Saturday night, an old friend and I were catching up and he made the statement that he missed my news emails. Well, I've been busy and this is no indication that I'll have the time for more. But, this is one that deserves forwarding..
Happy Mardi Gras, David
-- David Couvillon Colonel of Marines;
You have managed to irritate me with the constant repetitions of "The Largest Spending Bill in the History of the World". So, it's awful because it is deficit spending, eh?
Our previous president, the egregious W., ran up $2T in deficits by cutting taxes and failing---when his own party solidly controlled both houses of congress---to cut spending to make up for it. He cut taxes while conducting two wars, which ran up another $1T in deficit spending.
The tax cuts did not cause revenue to stream into the treasury, they were just deficits. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were not paid for, they were just deficits.
If we are outraged over the $0.8T that Obama has just run up with the "The Largest Spending Bill in the History of the World" then we should be 4 times are outraged over the $3T that we are left with from the egregious W.
Once, the Republicans were the party of fiscal responsibility, even restraint. Nowadays, it just sounds like hypocrisy.
As Paul Krugman put it,
This is partisanship when we can ill afford it. You asked to hear from people who think the stimulus bill is a good idea. I don't know, but Krugman, who is a Noble prize winner in economics, thinks the stimulus package is much too small.
If it is a bad idea, because it increases the deficit, I guess I need to be educated on why it is the least bit different than the $3T we inherited from the previous administration.
Please do not put me in the position of having to defend the imbecile actions of the Country Club Republicans who controlled the Congress after Gingrich resigned. I have never defended those people.
We will have to see whether increasing the deficit and spending a great deal of money into varous projects, some of them arguably investments, some of them obviously not, will get us out of the situation; but surely you can't be arguing that we need even more? One thing that worries me is that the largest spending bill in history -- it was that, you know -- will be considered insufficient, and if it fails we will be told that the only reason for failure is that it was neither large enough nor quick enough. It seems to me that we are conducting an experimentum crucis here, and if -- I would say when -- it fails we will finally have rid ourselves of the notion that the only reason Roosevelt couldn't get us out of the Depression was that he didn't spend enough. That's an expensive experiment, but we will survive it, and perhaps we can claw our way back to a normal economy without so much governmental interference.
As to the Administration's tax cuts, did they not in fact increase revenue? That was the problem. The madmen running the Congress saw the money pouring in, and spent it. I do not think you can blame the deficits on tax cuts.
As to the war in Iraq, you may recall that well before we invaded I pleaded for domestic energy investments instead of an overseas adventure. Please don't blame that one on me. If I'd had my way, we would now have over 100 nuclear power plants, each producing more than 1000 megawatts of electricity, and the automobile industry would be busting its chops trying to make electric cars and otherwise find ways to use cheap electricity for transportation. But, I was told, it would cost $300 billion, and we didn't have it, while the war in Iraq wouldn't cost much more than that.
But we did invade, and once you commit the Legions you cannot abandon them even though it was clear from the beginning that the war would cost a lot more than anyone was saying. And we did not invest in energy production, and I do not see that the Big Bill does that, nor are the investment provisions obvious; but then I haven't read the bill. Nor, I dare say, has anyone else.
You ask for perspective. I try to provide just that; but I will not claim omniscience, and I do find those who do claim to know what's coming a bit less than trustworthy.
We will muddle through this, and we may even come out with come better habits: a bit more saving. less tendency to spend money we don't have on goods we don't need (i.e. to confine spending of borrowed money on investments, not on consumption). If we learn that an economy based on opening containers of goods and borrowing the money to pay for them is not stable, I won't say the lesson was worth the price, but we may have got something out of this.
Perspective: think of ways to make something useful, rather than ways to move money around. Create stuff. Borrow for real investment. And think hard about the proposition that someone else is a better judge of your interest than you are.
The Government decided to drop foreign language study as part of an anti-truancy drive <http://tinyurl.com/c5mkyo>
Criticism of Labour education policies by top expert <http://tinyurl.com/dhlg9w >
The bishop who was arrested for the roof incident is suing for false imprisonment and personal injury--the police apparently roughed him up. <http://tinyurl.com/cvelw6>
One of those stealth laws to create a police state is currently sneaking through Parliament. See <http://tinyurl.com/ajht2v>
Confidentiality of medical records is threatened by government plans to relax laws on data protection. The proposed legislation will allow the Department of Health to share patient-identifiable information on NHS databases with other ministries and private companies. <http://tinyurl.com/ccu3lu >
I wouldn't mind being poached. <http://tinyurl.com/de3rzy>
-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw> Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw/blog/index.php>
You're on the list! -
Here’s a list of the 10-great-post-apocalyptic-science-fiction-novels and Lucifer’s Hammer is number ten.
E.C. "Stan" Field
Re: Why e-books are not taking off -
In my case I read over 800 words per minute and sometimes (ten-twelve times a year) read two books in a day. It's rare when I don't read three books a week. I read sci-fi, historical novels, mysteries, history, technical (computer, automotive, engineering and military), biographies and do-it-your-self books. I watch very little TV.
I have over 250 hardbacks and over 2300 paperbacks in my personal library. My stack(s) of books to be read is usually twenty to thirty or so.
I often buy a book as a gift and read it first. If I like it, I put it on my "buy list" and look for a used copy for my library.
My wife, children and I loan books to each other; most of them are purchased by one of us at a used book store.
Our book budgets can not afford individual copies of each book for several e-book readers. This is the deal breaker.
We buy few hardbacks so the Kindle book price is way too high. And you can not loan an e-book on to someone else.
The bottom line is I could afford the Kindle but I can't afford the e-books.
Read your site everyday. Don't change it; it works just fine as it is.
"Members of Congress should be compelled to wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers, so we can identify their corporate sponsors."
Many of them, however, would need outlandishly large uniforms to carry all the patches.
Steve Chu is right. I haven't read the New Improved version. I read last weekend's Washington Post graphic and analysis for the House version. Pelosi's larger House bill only spent $109 billion for the rest of 2009. This compares to $150 billion in last year's tax rebate program. Since the final bill is smaller, the 2009 total is unlikely to be much larger than the House's original proposal for 2009.
Most of the fiscal stimulus announced in the last six months by the US, the EU and China has been Second Life grade stimulus with only tenuous connections to the real world. It's either backloaded years from now or it consisted of unfunded central government decrees to lower government echelons to spend money they don't have and can't obtain.
Since I have not met anyone who has read the Bill, I can't say what it will or won't do.
Trying Obama's Plan???
Dear Dr. Pournelle,
I am having a great deal of trouble understand those who are now counseling "trying" President Obama's plan to fix our debt by spending more money we don't have. Aren't the same people willing to "try" that the same one's who were complaining that President Bush was spending too much money we didn't have?
Latest on Children on Roof Story
The bishop who was arrested is suing for false imprisonment and personal injury--the police apparently roughed him up. <http://tinyurl.com/cvelw6 >
-- Harry Erwin, PhD "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." (Benjamin Franklin, 1755)
Warren's Iron Law of Governance
David Warren doesn't bill this statement, which is the introduction on an essay on the pitfalls of socialized medicine in Canada, as "Warren's Iron Law of Governance", but someone should:
"One of the key functions of modern government is to reduce, by law, the options people have, especially when they are facing challenges to survival."
It certainly is the cobblestone on the road from Republic to Empire.
On an unrelated note, regarding Mr. Hamit's discussion of text to speech technology in the new Kindle, I'm afraid I'm a criminal-I've been reading to my children for years, completely unaware that I've been treading on Authors' rights. Hopefully the courts will have mercy.
-- "I loathe populism. But if there ever has been a moment when reasonable men's hands itch for the pitchfork, this must surely be it." --Jonah Goldberg
"There is a case to be made that dark, dormant comets are a significant but largely unseen hazard."
--- Roland Dobbins
One supposes he'd prefer a bust of Eric Hobsbawm.
---- Roland Dobbins
The early history of TEMPEST A Signal Problem
A story of the discovery of various compromising radiations from communications and Comsec equipment.
Jack Schmitt: "They’ve seen too many of their colleagues lose grant funding when they haven’t gone along with the so-called political consensus that we’re in a human-caused global warming."
-- Roland Dobbins
"The stellar orbits in the galactic centre show that the central mass concentration of four million solar masses must be a black hole, beyond any reasonable doubt."
--- Roland Dobbins
"But surely this is a test of the Spend It Now and get things moving hypothesis."
If only that were true. Fixing the world economy might be worth a trillion dollars, especially if it proved Keynesian economics right and persuaded everyone to agree to faster action in the future. On the other hand, wasting a trillion dollars just once might be worth it, if that proved Keynesian economics wrong and persuaded everyone to agree to avoid such waste in the future.
But do you really think we'll get any proof either way? The graphs of economic improvement during the New Deal are impressive, but you can't convince conservatives and libertarians that things wouldn't have just gotten better even faster without government meddling. Japan's economic stimulus attempts didn't stop a "lost decade" of economic failure, but you can't convince liberals that the government didn't at least save things from getting even worse.
Given what's at stake, figuring out just whose economic theories are correct could be more important than any individual economic crisis. But nobody's proposed an experiment up to the challenge, and even if a real test were possible I suspect that most partisans *still* wouldn't be convinced.
Giving up some of my feigned impartiality: how many times during the last century did a war or a political negotiation end up with an arbitrary line drawn on the ground, with central planning in control on one side of the line and capitalism on the other? And how did each of those experiments turn out on each side of the line? Did those tests convince the losers of anything? The only effect seems to be subconscious: one philosophy in the US insists on carrying out their experiments at the federal level, with no inconvenient control groups to compare against.
If I had seen this before I answered the perspective mail, I could have used this as an answer.
Thermageddon, the BBC and a giant snake.
-- Roland Dobbins
"If you can't gain acceptance into a top tier university, you might as well die and I won't shed a tear at your funeral."
- Roland Dobbins
The problem remains: half the children are below average. This means that no matter what you do, and no matter what you think about the possibilities of IQ improvements, there will be many who cannot profit from a four year university education. They can't. It won't work. They can study their eyes out and they still won't become professionals.
A republic that wants to survive must have ways to let everyone including those below average lead productive lives and to feel and be valuable citizens.
There are ways to do this. We do not seem to be looking for them.
Will: Dark-Green Doomsayers.
-- Roland Dobbins
Well said, as usual.
Well, you asked.
The best argument I've heard why something this big <or bigger> was needed is:
This is not supposed to "cure" the economy. It's supposed to be a big enough jolt/impulse to scramble the positive feedback that's fueling the spiral into deflation. It had to be done fast before too much momentum got going. That would then let other forces work in the economy.
No idea if it was enough or fast enough. Or if it will work. And by "work" the best I can see is if we plateau/churn for a while til other forces get going.
But that's the best argument I've heard.
Digital Medical Records are a Bad Idea
I'm completely against the mandatory digitization of medical records by anyone - the government, insurance companies, or businesses. Fundamentally the issue is who owns data about me, who decides how (and to whom) that data can be transferred, and what future uses it may be put to. In my mind, medical records are no different than mandatory gun registration - both are the first step towards a fundamental loss of freedom.
Consider: A patient discloses to his doctor that he does illegal drugs. That data is digitized and transmitted as a diagnostic code to an insurance company. The new 'quality of care government czar' reviews that record for appropriateness of care, and determines that you should not be covered because the activity was illegal. Instead the record is transmitted to law enforcement.
Think that can't happen here because of doctor/patient privilege? That privilege is not constitutional - it's statutory, which means it can be changed. Or perhaps you disclose that you eat McDonald's Big Mac's twice a day, and have to be treated for high-cholesterol. There's already movements towards a 'junk food tax' in California, and the next logical step is that the government will deny you a prescription for medication to lower cholesterol. I'm sure that Obama's new office will actively ration care for such 'avoidable conditions'.
Once the information is digitized and transmitted, any initial restrictions on use can easily be waived - witness the expansion of the social security number. I'm old enough that my card carries the words 'NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION USE' in prominent red letters. That promise was broken badly, and efforts to restore it are routinely defeated. That's the reason that the NRA is against Gun Registration to begin with - if there's no records, there can be no creeping towards confiscation. It's a line in the sand - and this is one as well. There WILL be data breaches, with confidential health information being stolen by hackers. Blackmail and extortion will inevitably occur, and it wouldn't surprise me to see a black-market clearing house for medical data to be used in pre-employment background checks.
Why the British Stopped Studying Foreign Languages
As part of an anti-truancy drive <http://tinyurl.com/c5mkyo>
-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader, MSc Information
Our problems here are diverting the little attention Americans pay to foreign affairs. The Europeans have the opposite problem; they've been fixated on American problems as a method of ignoring their own, and also blaming someone else for homegrown insanity.
Things were done there that manage to make our own debauched financial system look like a model of 19th Century New England Yankee prudence.
1. The banking system within the euro and European Central Bank created its own sub-prime loan problem, completely independent of Washington, the Federal Reserve and Wall Street. During the 90s and early 00s Europe's banks lent out several times their capital to Brazil, Russia, India and other busted emerging market stories.
They would have to occupy these countries to foreclose now. They at least have certainty about the book value of bad loans in that sector. Zero (0.0) recovery. 100% loss. This is a simpler problem than deciding whether an American subprime portfolio is worth 30% or 60% of face value. The solution is simpler, too. Hide everything like Bernie Madoff did for many years.
2. Many parts of Europe sponsored even bigger real estate bubbles than did Washington. We were actually pretty late to the party. For some reason the local banking regulators in many European states decided to encourage residential mortgages denominated in foreign currencies. Yen mortgages became common in eastern Europe, as did euro mortgages in Russia. Swiss franc mortgages spread everywhere. This added exchange rate risk to interest rate and economic risk.
And since then anywhere exchange rates could move against the debtor, they did. The Swiss franc and Japanese yen have soared against the euro. And the euro itself has soared against the Russian ruble and all the developing countries to whom Europe loaned multiples of its banking capital.
What is stimulus?
I don't want to pick on Mr. Hamit, who seems to be an intelligent and thoughtful man, but his statement that
is empty rhetoric. It is a well-crafted statement that I could easily imagine the President himself might use, but it is by itself completely devoid of substance.
Mr. Hamit does not attempt to explain how to differentiate a stimulus bill from a normal appropriations bill. All appropriations are spending, but I doubt that most reasonable people would consider all federal spending to be stimulus.
My understanding of the term "stimulus" in the current context is that a lot of money is somehow dumped into the economy. The theoretical justification for this action is that the additional money will be used to buy goods and services, thus stimulating economic activity.
The fundamental operating principal is that a lot of money is quickly put in circulation. The current bill that Congress is frantically cobbling together will not do that. One term that keeps coming up over and over in relation to this bill is "infrastructure". Just about everyone seems to agree that we need to spend money on maintaining infrastructure. I agree that there needs to be money spent on maintaining infrastructure. The problem in this context is that it has nothing to do with stimulus. One cannot quickly repair roads, bridges, or buildings on a large scale. Computerizing medical records has nothing to do with economic stimulus. Although I (like almost everyone else) have not seen the final bill, I am quite confident that there are a great many items in it that will cause little or no money to be spent before summer of this year.
I am not an economist, but it appears to me that the term "stimulus" is being used as cover to ram through an enormous appropriations bill with as little debate as possible.
February 17, 2009
Do you feel stimulated????
This seems a reasonable assessment. The markets continue to drop. "The plan will have to impress based on it's own merits...."
Prompt action only helps if it is the correct action, and the signals are that this $1 Trillion bill is not being widely perceived as helpful. It would be very interesting to know what mail Congress was getting about this bill before the Democrats rammed it through as a purely partisan effort. (As Nancy Pelosi said, "We got elected. We wrote the bill.") It was 100:1 against TARP, as I recall.
I sure hope this gets better. The 95% of Americans who had nothing to do with the sub-prime mess are those being hurt the most.
For the record, I do NOT want the Obama administration to fail and pull the country down. What I wrote to Congress was, "I ask you to push for focus, effectiveness, specificity, and removing non-essential programs. The urgency is economic recovery. Other programs can be defined, debated, and passed later." I got no response.
John D. Trudel
Re: Jolting the Stimulus
Robert Hickey writes: "This is not supposed to "cure" the economy. It's supposed to be a big enough jolt/impulse to scramble the positive feedback that's fueling the spiral into deflation. It had to be done fast before too much momentum got going. That would then let other forces work in the economy. "
How perfect! It's a criterion that completely reassigns the responsibility for success onto the rest of us. If the economy goes up--huzzah, the stimulus did indeed stimulate us! If the economy falters, then obviously the "forces" aren't "working" hard enough yet--get out there and buy stuff, you unworthy slug! And if the economy stays stagnant, then the naysayers just haven't waited long enough; have (nonsecular) faith, proletarian brother!
-- Mike T. Powers
Theories that explain everything explain nothing. I have always thought that true of Keynes despite the complex mathematical equations it can generate.
The Technology Review piece contained an early quote, "The results are extremely surprising and unexpected."
I would say they are neither. There is no theoretical reason that epigenetic changes should not be heritable. Indeed, there was research a few years back that showed behavioral differences that depended on whether one received a gene from the mother or the father.
A key bit to understanding this is here: "Feig, on the other hand, argues that while the findings are "a Lamarckian kind of phenomenon it's still Darwinian, because the changes don't last forever." In Feig's study, the offspring of enriched mice lost their memory benefits after a few months." And I would add that even if the changes lasted many generations, they are only epigenetic changes; in essence, a Lamarckian overlay on Darwin.
This, of course, leads us to the mysteries of epigenetics - and a staple theme of science fiction from decades ago: what unknown differences lie within the human genome, genetic (in genes) and extra-genetic (so-called junk DNA), to be evoked by circumstances? Various epigenetic mechanisms might serve to mask certain traits and unmask others. Some of these epigenetic mechanisms would have been evolved for the purpose (e.g.--setting a descendant up to better handle famine) and some would simply result from events.
As The Shadow once asked, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" And what good?
Legacy of Heorot examined some of those consequences.
Regarding Bob Sproul's complaint about e-book formats. As an author and publisher I was dealing with this from the other end. As you know, I started doing e-books back in 2004, recycling old magazine articles to test the market, which turned out to be very tiny. At least for that kind of thing, which is usually found in abundance on public library databases for "free". "Free" isn't really free. The libraries each pay large annual subscription fees for each of these services. Your tax dollars at work. They also get Federal money for new computers every year or so which gives even those without computers at home access to the Internet and the technology a "free" way. The average cost per citizen is pennies per year. The average cost per use is less than two dollars. It is one of the things that government can do that the private sector can't. The "Digital Divide" between rich and poor has been abolished.
I'm all for programs like this and these libraries carry a lot of e-books in their virtual catalogs as well. I also realize that authors and publishers can't collect at every turn, although I do favor the adoption here of the "Public Lending Right" scheme they have in the UK and other nations now. It pays a micropayment for every time a library book is checked out and caps the total so that best-sellers don't suck all of the money out of the program. Since is it based on usage, it is not some kind of arts welfare program; just recognition that the work has value to the community. We have the "First Sale" doctrine, meaning royalties on a book are collected only on initial purchase. That is, if the book is sold as new and not a remainder that exists because the publisher printed twice the amount that expected to be sold and took back the rest as returns, which were then sold (First sale) to a dealer who shipped them back to the same bookstores to be sold at a fraction of the original price. Mr. Sproul buys a lot of used books. These return no author royalties either. Neither do the sales samples which are put into stock by bookstores nor the review copies which are flipped on Amazon Marketplace and eBay. I am so competing so much with myself that I find it miraculous that anything sells at all which pays me, but it does.
Back in 2004 when people first began touting e-books as The Next Big Thing, it was a way to get product on Amazon.com and other online sites, including those run by brick and mortar bookstores. You had to buy ISBNs and give the same 55% discount on this virtual product as you did on the physical one; they even demanded that you design "book covers". Amazon.com then greatly complicated things by trying to force people to use a format (mobi-pocket) that they own. That caused some of us to NOT follow suit because there are plenty of competing sites that still distribute the other formats. Amazon then created the Amazon Shorts program but let it die from neglect after getting me and about 400 other name authors excited about it. And there was that whole episode with print-on-demand (POD) books where they would only sell what they printed or charge you an extra fee for having your books in their warehouse and in their catalog. That whole mess was the main reason I went with a conventional offset run and a distributor who could also get me into the brick and mortar stores when it came time last year to publish a print edition of "The Shenandoah Spy". At the same time we stopped putting up new e-books because they were a pain to format properly and the formats we use are only a small segment of the market. Not to mention that the sales were pitiful and not a good return on investment. Good thing I called it an experiment going in. I'd be embarrassed to call it a business.
And people bitched that we had DRM and wouldn't just give away the store. This is not an easy way to make a living at the best of times, even when you have a big publisher giving you advances and pushing your books. We don't have that. Last year you asked me about Smashwords.com, which is so new that it is still in beta. Mark Coker, another novelist who couldn't get anyone to read his stuff (there are an amazing number of those these days) created this service, which automatically formats an e-book into all ten formats, including iPhone. And iPhone is the obvious future of e-book publishing because it has attained the kind of critical mass; the installed base, needed to produce significant sales. There are over 15 million iPhones and ten percent of them already have e-book readers on them. Compare that to the putative numbers for the Kindle and the Sony Reader. Then compare the price and the additional functionality and you see that the market advantage of IPhone will continue to dominate this new market. Not that it matters with Smashwords because it puts you stuff in EVERY format. It also has no DRM. You can print it out, e-mail it, whatever. Some of the e-books on Smashwords.com are free and other allow you to set the price. Otherwise you have to pay what the author wants for the first copy.
This reminds me of a sign in the lobby of the Chicago Art Institute. "You may pay what you want (to enter), but you must pay something." The advocates of "free" theorize that some people, out of the kindness of their hearts, will chip in anyway, or buy the print version. What if you have no print version? Amazon Shorts sold everything for 49 cents each and gave 40% of that to the authors. They did very little to promote the site nor did they have a real staff. Come to that, they didn't even have a t-shirt that people could buy to promote it. Will "free" work for e-books? Especially in this economy? Personally I think that "free" or competing on price devalues the work in the eyes of the buyer. It's like giving the book away to friends and family, something I never do. I don't want it to be put aside and become "that book that Francis wrote", never to be read and ultimately discarded. If people pay, they will read it and may even review it. I think that Amazon Shorts made a big mistake with their price point. It made everything too cheap.
Some printed books are now being priced at $100.00 or more because they have limited audiences and the authors and publishers need a short path to "break-even" Most will end up in libraries at that price, to be shared around, but at least something has been paid for the effort of producing these books. You won't find an e-book version of any of them. That would be giving away the store. A physical product can only be read by one person at a time; a virtual one can be instantly made into an infinite number of copies and distributed with very little effort. That is the rationale behind DRM. Call me cynical, but most people will never pay for an item they can get for nothing. That's just not part of our culture.
Yet I do free stuff all the time, like these blog entries. That's promotion; a way to keep the brand alive. Mark Twain wrote letters to the editor for the same reason. Part of the theory of Smashwords is that e-books should not cost as much because they are not a physical product. Perhaps so, but if you already have a physical version, you're not going to give much advantage, price-wise to the virtual editions, simply because you have costs connected with that inventory and want those sales to predominate. Physical editions will always have greater appeal. E-books are a niche market based on convenience, but any book you have to plug in is at a market disadvantage just because of the price. There is an entire genre of "cell phone novels" that has risen in Japan, but it's an apples and oranges comparison (See the article by Dana Goodyear in the Dec 22-29, 2008 issue of The New Yorker). The best of those end up in printed books. There is a big potential market out there. It will be years in coming to a point where we can make real money on it.
So why am I publishing now on Smashwords.com? Well, it's part of the Virtual Commons, for one thing; a place to test my text, build my brand and create interest in my other work. We have a mountain of old material, never published, which can be dusted off and put up to see how well readers like it and if they want to see more of that story or those characters. In every format, with very little effort. Amazon charges to convert files to Kindle; Smashwords does not. Suddenly my front-end costs are so low that all it takes is a little additional effort and I can expand my catalog. I choose the price and some might be "free" but at the "Set Your Own Price" level so that those who really like it can chip in a little.
I don't own any part of Smashwords, but it strikes me as the right idea at the right time for authors and self-publishers. They give back 85% of the net payment to the authors. That's a great deal. So the experiment continues.
Thank you for keeping us current on what you are doing. I have collected some of Francis Hamit's observations on publishing and self publishing on a reports page. I need to be more diligent in finding some of his other mail to put there, but I confess I haven't kept it up properly.
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
February 18, 2009
In Partial Response to Francis Hamit's take on e-books.
Mr. Hamit states that 2004 was when everyone started saying that e-books were the next big thing. Baen books started taking a hard look at it well before that way back in 2000. Eric Flint has a series of essays regarding his take on the whole e-book/DRM/electronic publishing situation. You can still find them on the Baen website under the heading of Prime Palavar in the free library section. The result of that was Baen's current system of e-books which involves a mixture of selling bundles (webscriptions), individual books and E-ARC versions of books before official release. So far from the outside it appears to be quite successful since they have continued the format virtually unchanged for the past eight years or so.
There appears to be several points to this apparent success.
They also have included CDs with several hardback releases that included all the free library content and all the books published in that books series at the time of publishing. Overall I have been very pleased with it to the point where I have purchased several hundred dollars in e-books from their site over the last eight years.(e.g. Fallen Angels) A quick count indicates sixty four e-books purchased.
One point I can't emphasize enough is how important not having any DRM involved has kept me as a customer. Every time I have had to deal with DRM in electronic publishing of any kind (Books, Video, Games) I have come away feeling its a hassle and in some cases, such as Apples iTunes, I have actually ended up loosing money after doing an OS re-install and realizing that I could not recover my purchased television episodes from iTunes. Something I kind of assumed would be possible after my experiences with Baen. To put it another way if DRM gets to the point where the customer feels like saying "Oh come ON!" then the seller is making a mistake and is loosing more then he is saving.
My current reading includes Hobbes's Leviathan, Herodotus, Thucydides, Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and a collection of Aesop's Fables. And I read fiction, mostly science fiction. Not long ago I finished Exile -- and Glory. My thanks for that. Loved it.
Hobbes and Herodotus I read in hardcopy (paperback books), but I have not found Thucydides in my local haunts, so I read The History of the Peloponnesian War online. I find this substantially less rewarding an experience than reading the printed works of Hobbes and Herodotus. I have highlighted selected text in Leviathan and Herodotus and penciled comments in the margins. I cannot do that with Thucydides.
I estimate that 80 to 90 percent of my reading is straight history or political philosophy or hard science. I read mathematics texts for enjoyment. (Yeah, I'm weird that way.) With the singular exceptions of Exile -- and Glory and my much treasured copy of The Green Hills of Earth, every book in my possession has highlights and comments. That includes my Jerusalem Bible.
When e-books offer me the opportunity to highlight text and enter comments to a given passage and search for those highlights and comments, then shall I give serious consideration to buying a reader. Until then . . .
Live long and prosper
[PS As to the 'Stimulus', Proverbs says 'Without deliberation plans come to nothing.' Is President Obama wiser than King Solomon?]
Subject: Nothing in particular -
Glad to hear that you are in continued good health. I've been watching the ongoing firestorm of debate regarding the stimulus package, and am appalled that our elected officials are willing to pass something that complex and bloated without bothering to understand even what the content is, let alone the ramifications. It seems to me that we're treading into dangerous territory here - taxation without representation and all that - you can't tell me that the passage of this stimulus package is the collected will of the people. It certainly isn't the will of myself and what seems to be the bulk of your readership.
I'm not so sure we're going to come out of the current situation unscathed. I'm not an alarmist by nature, but I have made some strategic purchases lately in keeping with my military and constitutional leanings in the unlikely event that the rule of law breaks down to the point where society itself begins to unravel. Interestingly enough, one of the things that has been kicking around in my mind lately is the fact that if things do indeed begin to break down, my first action would be to start networking with others that have had a military background. I suspect that I'm not the only one that is thinking along these lines. Makes for an interesting PAC group theme - "If you elected officials keep screwing up to the point where rule of law is no longer possible, we'll take matters into our own hands". Nothing like a semi-treasonous rant to brighten up the day, huh?
Anyway, the real point of my email was to wish you continued health, and to thank both you and Colonel Couvillon for the constant reminders that regardless of how bad things are or may get, the US is still a place where men of this caliber exist. If the opportunity presents itself, please tell the Colonel that this former grunt would be honored to serve under his command anytime.
Just out of curiosity, do you ever venture into Eve-online these days?
You are not alone in making preparations for a coming collapse of civil order. I also have a great deal of mail asking me to work on a survival guide.
We have not yet come to Committees of Correspondence, much less peasants with torches and pitchforks, but if the triumphalism of our new masters continues I wouldn't guarantee that we will never get there.
In discussing the global economy, Spengler says, "President Barack Obama may turn out to be the most egregious unilateralist in American history:"
"Here's a thought-experiment to gauge the merits of different national markets as a safe haven. Close your eyes and try to imagine what Germany, Japan and China will look like 30 years from now, that is, when a newly-issued long-term bond will mature."
Provocative, as always.
How the Crash Will Reshape America
A fascinating, well-written article. And it's easily the biggest pile of crap I've read so far in 2009. I'm sure it's going over great with The Atlantic's subscriber demographic. It tells them the future is entirely theirs without any need for the least change or sacrifice on their part. Just keep doing what they're doing and they'll win. Richard Florida has certainly set a new standard for shameless flattery of the readers.
Edward Gibbon drew a nearly identical literary portrait of Imperial Rome. Circa the late 4th Century AD.
So here are two choices for the future of Modern Megalopolis over the next century:
The distant rumble of the barbarians' guns and bombs on the porous limites says the smart money is on b, hollowed-out ruins.
We still have the Legions. Of course it's not entirely clear whether they will be ordered to defend civilization or the barbarians.
Infectious disease in China last year,
The AIDS virus became the top deadly infectious disease in China last year for the first time, killing 6,897 people in the first nine months of 2008:
For me, the big news is that China is no longer a Third World country: amortized over twelve months, its top infectious disease killer killed less than 9200 people in a country of 1.3 billion.
Not even a second world country. The mean IQ of Chinese in China is about 105 as compared to 100 for Americans in the US. While there's some room for error in these estimates, this number seems consistent through most studies. The prediction is obvious: remove regulations and restrictions and China will thrive. Interestingly enough, modern China although in theory Communist seems to be more friendly to capitalism than the US in 2009.
answer to Roy's question about experimental evidence for what economic polices w
You put this up previously so I am not asking you to do it again but the answer to Roy's question about experimental evidence for what economic policies work is in this statistical correlation of the world's economies & what correlates with growth.
I regard it as the last word on the subject until somebody competent does it again.
Their answer is economic freedom. More surprisingly to me it says there is little correlation between welfarism paid from high personal rather than business taxes & lack of growth - as someone surprised by this bit I find the finding more credible because they do not exactly aline with an political philosophy.
An essay I once wrote on the subject:
Harry Erwin, PhD, Program Leader,
February 19, 2009
Project Gutenberg and e-books reminder
Jerry, With all the talk on e-books, it seemed like a good time to remind people that Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/ can be a good source. E.g. I checked and Thucydides is available for free. And regarding Escape From Hell, I see that UPS's website claims that my pre-ordered copy has status of 'Delivered' !! Although it will have to wait a bit, I am on the road to Aztlan with Lord Sandry and Burning Tower....
Please stay well,
Gutenberg certainly has a number of classics in eBook format. I expect that ends the bookstores that sell "The Works of Aristotle" and such like. Actually those stores are pretty well gone along with darned near all the other book stores. Authors have mixed emotions about used book stores. We don't get any revenue from used books, but people do read our works and more readers is a good thing. And I used to like browsing through the dozen or so used book stores concentrated along Hollywood Boulevard near Highland. They're gone now. The best one, Pickwick, became a B. Dalton back when B. Dalton was a powerful chain. I haven't been there in years.
Audio Version of Escape From Hell
Amazon does not list an audio version of Escape From Hell. Barnes and Noble lists several audio options, but they are all pre-orders. The iTunes Store has the audio version available for immediate download. In fact, I'm downloading my copy at this moment and plan to start listening when I go on my morning walk.
I figured your readers who want to spare their eyes, might be interested in this option.
You and your correspondents have discussed the future of the Air Force on several occasions recently. I thought you might have some thoughts on this discussion about the F-22, the future of unmanned interceptors, AI, etc. I'll include the post and the link in this note.
There was a time when I was very much involved in air superiority strategies. One of my first tasks in aerospace after I got out of human factors and into operations research/systems analysis was on the proposal team for the TFX, which became the FB-111. One of the lessons we learned then was that technical superiority of design is easily trumped by geographical location: eleven military boards recommended Boeing, but oddly enough a Texas company got the contract from Johnson/McNamara. (It was known in some circles as the LBJ.)
Air supremacy is generally not won in dogfights. One doesn't clear out a hornet nest by swatting one hornet at a time. Air supremacy happens when you can fly and the other guy cannot. This is elementary air strategy. A second principle is that there is no prize for second place in air to air combat. That was the problem with the McNamara design insistence on multi-function aircraft: the TFX was supposed to do air superiority (dogfights), close air support, interdiction, and recce/strike. It was also supposed to be a multi-service airplane with carrier capability. Naturally it could not do all those missions well -- it was far too heavy to be carrier capable -- and in fact it ended up as a fairly good interdiction tactical bomber with some recce/strike capabilities. An air superiority aircraft it was not.
A second principle is that a good air superiority fighter will not be very good at close support of the field army. Close support needs low altitude long time capability, and a fair amount of endurance to ground fire. It needs an entirely different kind of armament and target acquisition system from an air to air combat craft. Any such additions will compromise air to air capability.
The real debate should be on missions. How many air superiority fighters does a nation need? If the goal is to win wars, would it be better to design aircraft and missiles to take out the other guy's bases at the start? What do you DO with air superiority once you have it? What is your mission in the war? That is, air supremacy doesn't win wars, although it certainly does make it possible to win them.
And so forth. I haven't time to go into all this, but it is very relevant to the F-22 debates.
The real purpose of an Air Force is to enforce the political will of the nation. The debate seems to have lost sight of that.
February 20, 2009
Note that this discussion begins above.
1. The immediate question is F-22 or F-35 vs OPFOR Fighters X. The data do not exist today to answer this question. The F-35 isn't available yet in large enough numbers with enough trained USAF squadron pilots to do a competitive war games evaluation. This sort of decision cannot be outsourced to software simulations. It would be irresponsible to terminate F-22 production in advance of this field evaluation.
2. Defense contracting and defense industry practices are becoming a primary threat to national security. I refer to the high marginal unit costs, the apparent inability to ever meaningfully reduce marginal unit costs over the program life and the resulting very low rates of production. The reappearance of these dysfunctions in the F-22 program is what is creating the apparent market for the less capable F-35.
There is some very ugly reading here: http://afhra.maxwell.af.mil/aafsd/aafsd_pdf/t082.pdf It shows what anyone would expect from any competently and honestly run manufacturing industry. These are steadily falling unit costs over the years for identical models. The units in question are USAAF aircraft production costs by type from 1939-1945. This cost curve prevails in consumer industry today. It's been decades since this sort of economy was witnessed in US government contracting with US aerospace.
The Chinese today are not as inefficient as the Soviets were before.
3. Maybe we'll be better off with aerial battleships in the future to establish air superiority rather than mosquito fleets of aerial PT Boats. http://www.mda.mil/mdalink/pdf/laser.pdf
This is the point of the F-35B VSTOL. If - big if - it proves out, the F-35B won't need a Gerald Ford class aircraft carrier (unit cost $8 billion and rising) with a 1,000' flight deck, steam catapults and 30 kts over the deck. The programmed USMC buy (380) is almost as large as the Navy's F-35C buy (480). All the LHDs and LHAs can become small "Carter Carriers" to take over some of the big carriers' missions.
Of course the prior question is, does the US need to have absolute supremacy throughout the world? What is our world mission?
"Light" vs "Heavy" Fighters
The 1960s Boyd/Sprey origins of the light cheap jet dogfighter theory are well known. The proposition was we needed a more numerous low-cost lightweight dogfighter to supplement fewer, more expensive and bigger fighters. Thus we got the numerous F-16 (4,400 sales and counting) compared to the less numerous F-15 at around 1,000, plus a few hundred more F-15 Strike Eagle variants.
Here's the problem. The Boyd/Sprey theory of the numerous light weight cheap dogfighter never got much of an operational test. NATO and the Warsaw Pact never went to war in the 1980s. The Israelis are the only ones who had significant air-to-air experience with the F-16. This was over a few days in 1982 against the Syrians. The USAF itself chose not to test the Boyd/Sprey theory during Desert Storm. F-15s were assigned the air to air mission and accounted for 36 kills versus two for the F-16.
In USAF operational practice the F-16 has been a hot rod ground attack aircraft of vastly inferior performance and higher cost compared to the lower cost A-10. This late 1980s attempt at creating an optimized and overhauled "A-16" to replace the A-10 http://www.f-16.net/f-16_versions_article18.html was abandoned after the A-10's demonstrated superior performance during Desert Storm.
The other factor contributing to the light dogfighter idea was the USAF's initial poor performance in air-to-air over North Vietnam. This was at least as much a pilot training and air armament problem as it was an aircraft design problem. The USAF had deemphasized air to air combat training during the era of massive retaliation. The F-4 didn't even have an internal gun until the E model. This came at precisely the right moment for Boyd and Sprey to get traction.
The smaller cheaper F-35 versus the bigger and pricier F-22 paradigm replicates the 40 year old Boyd/Sprey fighter mafia thinking. And a vast multi-national production coalition is tooling up in expectation of thousands of F-35 sales.
Unfortunately we only have the Israelis' brief 27 year old campaign to validate the light fighter theory. The USAF's own experience from 1972 to 2008 says the light fighter theory hasn't worked for it in practice. The F-16 was inferior to the F-15 in air to air combat and was well known to be inferior. This is proven by mission assignments during Desert Storm. On the other hand it was also inferior to the A-10 in close air support. It was in fact second best at everything it did.
Based on operational experience the Boyd/Sprey theory underlying the F-35 doesn't make it a leading air superiority fighter. Its real mission appears to be to establish 21st Century sales superiority over global defense budgets.
And, also based on operational experience, the F-35 will be second best at close air support. The JDAM revolution (100% smart bombs) is upon us. Stand off ranges are growing annually. B-52s, B-1s, A-10s, AH-64s, AC-130s and RPVs are carrying the CAS load in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Again, the entire debate hinges on assumptions that don't get debated. Winning dogfights is spectacular and good for a career, but the proper way to gain air supremacy is to destroy the other guy's aircraft on the ground. Air to air capability is important for getting the bombers and recce/strike craft to their targets, but if there are no enemy airfields then it's irrelevant.
In Viet Nam the enemy had three airfields they could fly from. They were close to the scenes of the action so their aircraft had longer time over target area than ours. When McNamara was finally persuaded to allow attacks on Vietnamese airfields he allowed an attack on one of them; not all three at once, which would have ended the air war in a few hours.
The reasons for the complicated sanctuary concessions we made in Viet Nam are important, and we need a full discussion on such matters: are we going to have a force that can fight under sanctuary restrictions? If so we need a larger force of dogfighting craft; if not, we need to develop a different kind of force.
We also have the question of what one does with air supremacy. In Germany in 1945, the P-47 was used as an interdiction strike weapon and did a splendid job: trainbusting was one of the factors in ending the war. Isolating the battle area and interdiction of reinforcements and supplies is a key element in modern warfare. In the first Gulf War we found that the A-10 was very important in close support in armored battles. The problem is that the A-10 ought to be an Army weapon controlled organic to the brigade level, certainly no above Corps; but the Air Force will neither give up the mission, nor develop the mission capability. Going into close support is a sure career ender for Air Force officers; none will ever retire above Brigadier and few will get above Major.
The purpose of an Air Force is not to be glamorous, but to help win wars. The strategic bombing mission and deterrence remain important, but real wars are won by putting troops on the ground, and the Air Force ought to be useful for that; but it tries very hard not to be, and is more interested in maintaining mission control than in mission performance.
"Third, unmanned technology cannot do air superiority. We are several decades from unmanned interceptors in either the Air Force or the Navy, although much closer for unmanned technology standards for other aviation roles. I don't know much about flying, but I do know a hell of a lot about AI, and we are nowhere close to having an AI that can perform all of the decisions necessary for autonomous intercept on an aircraft. Intercept will be a human endeavor requiring a man in the loop for the next several decades, so we better put our men in the best possible aircraft. "
If he means unmanned aircraft can't dogfight, and won't be able to for quite a while, this is true - but it is also irrelevant. Unmanned aircraft could do BVR shots today, if that was desired (and by the way, UAVs do have a "man in the loop", he's just not in the cockpit). Yes, BVR-capable unmanned aircraft couldn't do everything, but then what aircraft does do everything? As you say, trying to do everything is a recipe for doing nothing well, with the F-111 as a case in point. I suggest that, for example, such a stealthy UAV capable of operating persistently over the Taiwan Straits from distant bases could make an important contribution to air superiority in a US-China crisis, and this capability would certainly affect Chinese calculations beforehand. In contrast, the idea that F-22s based on Guam could maintain air superiority over the Taiwan Straits is nothing short of ludicrous.
I suggest reading this as a good introduction to where unmanned combat air systems are going (budget permitting, of course) in the next 5-10 years:
TFX, F-14, & F-4
Hey: You wrote:
But out of the ashes of the F-111B came the F-14, probably the best interceptor of its generation. God works in mysterious ways. . .
The funny thing is, McNamara already had his "do-everything" aircraft flying & didn't recognize it. At the end of Vietnam, F-4 fighters escorted F-4 bombers, having been preceded by F-4 Wild Weasels, with post strike recce by F-4Cs.
** "America was discovered accidentally by a great seaman who was looking for something else; when discovered it was not wanted; and most of the exploration for the next fifty years was done in the hope of getting through or around it. America was named after a man who discovered no part of the New World. History is like that, very chancy."
Samuel Elliot Morrison
Well the path wasn't quite so direct as that, but yes, the F-14 was a good airplane. McNamara made up data, made up his mind on whims, and was possibly the worst Secretary of Defense the United States ever had. Indeed, he could go down in history as one of the worst war secretaries of any nation since the fall of the Roman Empire.
The real problem was the decision to award the F-35 program to the F-22 manufacturer, Lockheed. This company now has large disincentives to reducing F-22 unit costs. Such economies would create equivalent downward pressure on F-35 prices and perhaps threaten the primary program goal. This goal is the international weapons deal of the 21st Century. Numbers of 2,000 to 3,000 and more are mentioned as the total global buy for the F-35.
Even if additional F-22 procurement doubled the previous buy of 183 aircraft this is only an additional 360 airframes. These are $137 million per copy compared to the (promised) $80 million per F-35. Lockheed's corporate interest is crystal clear.
The first USAF pilot only flew the F-35 a few months ago. All claims that the F-35 will be good enough better at air superiority compared to the F-22 are purely speculative.
We don't make good national decisions anymore.
The author falls into the pilots trap that 1 vs 1 aircraft battle is the be all and end all of air warfare. I've stated before that 18 year olds with years of first person computer games experience and 6 months training on UAV platforms, can handle 95% of the missions of air warfare. I'll agree that AI can't handle the situations, but we're talking control by humans. Add the aspect that hundreds of UAV airframes & controllers (built and trained at a fraction of the cost of pilot training and manned airframes) establishes a quality all its own (the Russian model, if you will) and can easily overcome the piker numbers that even the US could put into the air at any time. We'd better get ahead of this curve. What you see on the ground in irregular/asymetric warfare, WILL come to pass in the air as well. It's just too cost smart not to do so against rich, technologically advanced countries/militaries.
Your response concerning air superiority and what the (an!) air force is supposed to do is spot on.
-- David Couvillon Colonel of Marines;
I expect the discussion to continue; at some point I will collect it all into a Reports page. (Continues next week)
I am an infrequent visitor to your site but when I do have the occasion to visit I always find your opinions and the opinions of your regular contributors very interesting. I am also an avid reader and consider the “Prince” series excellent reading (I have read it numerous times myself and have recommended it to many others.) At times I see parallels between the U.S.’s ongoing adventures and portions of that book.
The following is an article I ran across that you might have some interest regarding chemical/hormonal/physical reasons behind what makes an “elite” soldier. Some of your readership might find it interesting.
My first thought was will the military/pharmaceutical companies synthesize a drug that produces the same effect?
Thanks for the great books and thoughtful commentary.
Escape from Hell
I just got my copy from Amazon yesterday and I'm already 1/3 of the way through. Marvelous, wonderful, fantastic are too mild. You and Larry have another hit on your hands, but you knew that.
Braxton S. Cook
(and for all those who don't have a copy yet - why?)
Henry has come up with another great interview that links to science fiction.
Note that I have collected much of the discussion in a Report, (includes Hamit on self publishing as well as ebooks and I will continue to do so. This is a matter of importance to anyone in the writing business.
Getting the Degree is All That Matters
The New York Times has an amusing piece about the frustrations of college professors:
Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.
"Many students come in with the conviction that they've worked hard and deserve a higher mark," Professor Grossman said. "Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before."
He attributes those complaints to his students' sense of entitlement.
Another prof, Ellen Greenberger of the University of California at Irvine, has published a study called "Self-Entitled College Students":
Nearly two-thirds of the students surveyed said that if they explained to a professor that they were trying hard, that should be taken into account in their grade.
Jason Greenwood, a senior kinesiology major at the University of Maryland echoed that view.
"I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade," Mr. Greenwood said. "What else is there really than the effort that you put in?"
"If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?" he added. "If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher's mind, then something is wrong."
Anyone who works for a living is immediately struck by the contrast between this attitude and the real world. When you hire someone to do a job, you look for results, not "effort." Someone who works effectively and effortlessly is much more valued than someone who tries really hard and produces mediocre results. Why should schoolwork be any different?
The answer is that, except at the highest levels of higher education, school "work" is the opposite of real work. Students do not work for professors; professors work for students--or, to be precise, students (in combination with their parents and the government) contract with institutions of higher education, which in turn employ professors to deliver services to students.
If students have a sense of entitlement, it is a sense best captured in that old saying: The customer is always right. They're spending tens of thousands of dollars to get a degree so they can go out and find a job, and they're working hard on their assignments to boot--you're darn right they feel entitled to good grades!
Professors, quite understandably, see it differently. To the best of them, their calling is to impart knowledge and intellectual refinement. The degree is merely a symbol. The real "product" that colleges produce is educated young people. What we have, then, is a mismatch between what customers are buying and what institutions are selling. Colleges and universities have had great economic success marketing themselves as sellers of job-hunting licenses. If they embraced instead an old-fashioned vision of learning as an end in itself, the quality of their product doubtless would improve immensely--but their market would shrink correspondingly. Professors may be unhappy to be working for institutions that, to a large extent, have degenerated into mere diploma mills. Many of them, however, owe their jobs to that degeneration.
Hope you are well. I thought you might be interested in the following article from the California State Bar’s newspaper. It is about how a person’s culture should be taken into account as part of their defense in a criminal trial, including in child sexual abuse cases. Whatever happened to the “reasonable person” standard?
Indeed. This is a result of encouraging "diversity" over the classical Melting Pot which made Americans of us all. Indeed, the notion of an American may vanish; at which point where lies the loyalty of the Legions? Rome solved that with personal adherence to the Emperor. Most empires have gone that way.
It is indeed a crisis of our times. Next will we be encouraged to allow honor killings? Beheading your wife for attempting to file for divorce? There really is no end to such matters.
Of course the definition of "reasonable person" varies from culture to culture. We understood it under the Common Law, but we no longer have a Common Law.
I wish them luck.
Spaceplane Concept Receives Euro Funding
"BBC News reports that the novel "Skylon" spaceplane design of British firm Reaction Engines has received funding to proceed with its proof-of-concept design for an air-breathing rocket engine. If successful the Sabre rocket engine will be able to take the Skylon with 12 tonnes of cargo from a runway, to orbit and then back to that runway without the need for disposable components or a piggy-back ride on a larger aircraft. Should the design prove viable then it could see first use within ten years."
This appears to be another NASP-like vehicle. I wish them well, but I don't know what they make the leading edges of their wings and airs scoops from. Perhaps we have better materials than we did in the 1980's. The concept is great, and I have always wished we knew how to make such craft.
It does not surprise me that a) Steve Bell knows his Kipling, and b) knows he has to explain who he's quoting to the Guardian readership.
Regards -- Harry Payne
February 21, 2009
Concerning Skylon and its air-breathing rocket engine: Not only does the craft have to deal with leading-edge and engine inlet heating, the entire craft must deal with aerodynamic airframe heating since it will spend a much longer time than a pure rocket at high speeds in the atmosphere.
"Another drawback for scramjet use as a spacecraft launch vehicle is the amount of time such a vehicle must spend in the atmosphere with its attendant aerodynamic heating at speeds above Mach 5. The nearly vertically launched Space Shuttle is almost on orbit within about 8 minutes of launch.
A scramjet-boosted launch vehicle could spend as much as 60 minutes in the atmosphere, potentially heating leading edges to 3,000 degrees F, or more, and engine surfaces even higher. With advances in materials science producing ever higher temperature alloys and non-metallic materials, this problem eventually may be solved."*
Registration may be required [and I'm conceited enough to be citing myself above].
The main conclusion of the NASP study was that you don't want to be at hypersonic velocities in the atmosphere any longer than you absolutely have to be. I have seen no new technologies that refute that conclusion.
Modern advocates of runway operation reusable spacecraft generally advocate two stages to orbit: and airbreathing takeoff vehicle ("first stage"), which lofts a pure rocket. Separation takes place at high altitudes but relatively low velocities; the flight stage is used mostly to avoid atmospheric drag and allow launch in vacuum conditions. The only objection to such a ship is operational complexities, and the added payloads may well be more than compensatory.
I remain a bit of a dinosaur in that I continue to advocate a single stage to orbit vertical takeoff vertical landing craft, probably bases on propane/LOX engines. Variants on that theme include methane/LOX but the operational simplicity of propane continues to attract me.
I would love to see a way to use a ramjet lower stage or a NASP like orbiter, but I don't believe we have the technology for hypersonic flight over long time periods.
"I want somebody to pay for this."
Sounds to me as if the right person has already paid:
- Roland Dobbins
Is this another "diversity" matter, or merely a grieving father who has been led to believe a bunch of lies?
“Peter was just an innocent, naďve, left-wing European and he didn't know the depths of cynicism and opportunism of these people – that they could use him."
- Roland Dobbins
Doran and Zimmerman
New survey on Climate Change consensus, quoted in
Wikipedia on The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Conclusion from one of the only two payload questions: “96.2% of climatologists who are active in climate research believe that mean global temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800s levels.”
An impressively high percentage! But am I missing something? Compared to pre-1800 levels? Is that under dispute? – I thought the Hudson was frozen during the Revolutionary War. Does anyone claim that CO2 was causing global warming all that time?
Obviously climate has changed since 1776 when cannon were dragged across the frozen Hudson to Haarlem Heights; but so far as I can tell, most of the warming happened before 1900.
Wikipedia is a useful tool, but it is not wise to rely on it in controversial matters, or even in matters in which the answer is obvious but many feel very strongly.
Banks and Mortgages
Dr. Pournelle –
I must confess to being somewhat perplexed regarding banks and the current housing slump. The behavior that I have seen in the news violates all the principles I learned at the dinner table growing up.
Around the end of the 19th century my paternal great-grandfather started a bank in a medium-sized Texas city. The bank remained principally owned by members of the extended family until it was sold about 10 years ago and so its life and history were regular dinner-table fare. Throughout its independent life it remained relatively local – its only branch office was across town and didn’t come into existence until I was in high school or college. Everything I heard about my great-grandfather indicated that he could be a shrewd no-nonsense, even hard-hearted, businessman and I have no doubt that during The Depression he foreclosed on properties. I also know that he had another side. One story, which I heard from multiple sources in the family, tells of his response to being criticized for paying a little more for eggs than necessary. His response was that the farmer, “owes me [i.e., the bank] money and if he goes out of business, I don’t get paid back.” Perhaps it is also worth noting that during The Depression that my great-grandfather was always the last person paid. Paychecks went to the cleaning ladies and mail room clerks first and worked their way up the scale. If there wasn’t enough money my great-grandfather didn’t get a check that month. He could more easily afford a short month than could the others.
From the other side of the family, my maternal grandfather bought a house from a local builder just before The Depression. The Depression forced everyone at The Texas Company refinery where he worked to take a massive pay cut. My grandfather went to the builder, who held the paper on all the houses he sold, to explain that he didn’t think he could keep up the payments. The builder told my grandfather that my grandfather should pay what he could and still feed his family, he knew my grandfather would take care of the house and that they’d sort things out on the back end of the loan.
The key point to these stories is, I think, that both the bank and the builder were modest to moderate enterprises that stayed very local. Both my great-grandfather and the builder would likely meet their clients on the street and if they didn’t know them directly they likely knew someone who did and could therefore assess the character and prospects of the person to whom they were potentially lending money. They also had the ability to adjust to changing circumstances on an individual basis. Even today there are stories of small local banks that are still doing well by operating this way.
In general, and especially in a declining market, a bank or lender doesn’t want a property through foreclosure – they want the money – and it therefore makes sense to adjust the terms of a note to make sure that the borrower can continue paying. Why has this not already been done? I can only speculate that (1) the large banks have forgotten that banking is a service business, (2) the large banks have ceased being local with too many decisions being made, directly or by policy, from corporate offices, (3) banks have been separated from risk by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s purchase of riskier loans (which many banks ironically bought back in the form of mortgage-backed securities) and (4) banks have effectively been prohibited from using subjective criteria such as a person’s character in determining qualifications for loans.
I can imagine activities that require the resources of a large financial enterprise – the selling of bonds needed to build a factory or the like comes to mind. However, these things were done before the time of mammoth institutions. What comes to mind with the phrase “too big to fail” is “too big.” I do believe that it is the market that is the best measure of what constitutes “too big.” To be sure, the failure of a large institution will cause turmoil and pain and it is perhaps appropriate for the government to act to soften the impact of such a failure. However, we seem to forget that the failure of a large business also means there is now an opportunity for many smaller businesses to fill the void. Keeping these large companies on artificial and expensive life support to avoid chaos also removes this opportunity for broader and greater growth.
One does wonder how large institutions need to be? My preference is for many smaller institutions, because such a structure is less subject to Black Swans (unpredictable sudden failures). Any one outfit may encounter a Black Swan, but not all of them.
Subject: No child gets ahead - part 47362
Advanced classes for middle school kids are criticized
in Orlando because the racial composition is wrong. Solution? Eliminate the
Regards, Richard Clark
Google Earth and population of Russia
I was taking a virtual tour of Russian railway stations using Google Earth, (there is almost always a picture or two of the railway station in town) a year or so ago, and came to much the same conclusions as Heinlein. Compare Moscow, which claims a population of some 12 million, with Columbus, Ohio, population around one million. They look very similar in size and density. Even allowing for smaller housing units with more people, it is difficult to believe a twelve-fold difference in population, especially when one looks at infrastructure. The Russians have every reason to inflate their population figures, and we have every reason not to call them on it. I think Heinlein was right.
Robert never changed his opinion; and it's true that Moscow didn't feel like a big city to me when I was there. Google Earth is an interesting way to examine the theory.
|This week:||Sunday, February
We will continue the air force structure discussion Monday.
How soon will it be, before you need a license to breathe? What? you think I'm joking?
E.P.A. Expected to Regulate Carbon Dioxide
So, is this just a naked grab of power, or are these officials really that stupid? When will that osidious poison, dihydrogen monoxide, become regulated? After all, that's a greenhouse gas as well.
Doran and Zimmerman
It is a little early to see what they did or did not find.
"Any details about what was actually asked would be
enlightening, because, at least as reported, the prompt-and-response prima
facie actually say nothing ("human activity,” “a role,” “involvement"), and
are already being spun as saying everything (that the very authors find this
necessary tells you what you need to know about the results’ worth). Despite
much pre-buttal in the release about the integrity of the questions, the
actual questions were not provided. Surely they will be in the journal
article when published."
Anyone can be a climate expert. Pachauri started as a railway engineer and then got a PhD in Economics. He is chief of the IPPC.
/"This question came after Schlesinger had cited the
IPCC as an authority for his position. His answer was quite telling. First
he broadened it to include not just climate scientists but also those who
have had “some dealing with the climate.” His complete answer was that he
thought, “something on the order of 20 percent have had some dealing with
Camille Paglia on the 'stimulus':
Money by the barrelfull, by the truckload. Mountains of money, heaped like gassy pyramids in the national dump. Scrounging packs of politicos, snapping, snarling and sending green bills flying sky-high as they root through the tangled mass with ragged claws. The stale hot air filled with cries of rage, the gnashing of teeth and dark prophecies of doom.
Yes, this grotesque scene, like a claustrophobic circle in Dante's "Inferno," was what the U.S. government has looked like for the past two weeks as it fights on over Barack Obama's stimulus package -- a mammoth, chaotic grab bag of treasures, toys and gimcracks. Could popular opinion of our feckless Congress sink any lower? You betcha! http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2009/02/11/stimulus/
THE FORECLOSURE FIVE
" One out of 76 homes in Nevada went into foreclosure in January, for example, compared with one out of 173 in California, with Arizona and Florida close behind. In New York, by contrast, only 1 out of 2,271 homes went into foreclosure.
Nationwide, foreclosures fell 10% in January, to one out of every 466 homes. But that is a "mean" average dominated by places like California and Florida. In the median state with the 25th highest foreclosure rate, by contrast, only one out of 949 homes was in foreclosure - just one-tenth of 1%. Foreclosure rates were even lower in 25 other states. In Vermont, foreclosures amounted to just one out of 51,906 homes. Foreclosure can be a personal crisis, but it is not a national crisis."
This was interesting. It appears the national housing crisis is pretty well confined to a few states.
'In all, the plans would raise the federal portion of the U.S. economy to some 31 percent, more than twice the level after eight years of FDR's historic New Deal spending.'
- Roland Dobbins
Mauna Kea Milky Way Panorama,
APOD: 2009 February 19 -
Holder's race comments -
I'm sure you've heard about Attorney General Holder's race comments yesterday. Off the cuff, I think he and his ilk are the ones with racist attitudes.
Two thoughts come to mind:
1) There is an implicit assumption that self-segregation is bad. Is it? Are we now going after the freedom of association?
2) I strongly suspect that if you controlled for intelligence, political outlook, and socioeconomic status, that race would not only not be statistically significant, but would fall into the level of noise. Religion may also be a strong factor (I would never want to listen to a blatantly racist minister - black or white).
I spend my free time with people who are successful, intelligent, and right-of-center politically. Men, women, white, black, indian, asian - it doesn't matter. I don't hang out with liberals because they (and their irrational socialist views) annoy me, I don't socialize with bottom-half of the bell curve people because they don't interest me, and I don't spend time with poor people on welfare because the activities I enjoy require a certain level of income, work ethic, and financial success. Race has nothing to do with it. I don't like poor, dumb, liberals (or rich, dumb, liberals for that matter).
You couldn't pay me to have a drink with Jesse Jackson. I'd love to spend an evening with Secretary Rice. Likewise, you'd never find me socializing with George Clooney, but I'd hang out with Tom Selleck any time (probably at the target range).
A large number of Obama's supporters were behind him *because* he's black. His opponents are against him because he's a socialist. Now tell me again who are the racists?
Roberta's grain story right out of "This Kind of War"
After you publish your list of the 200 books, I assume you'll make your lists of the 20-50 additional books on selected topics, starting with Military History.
On that complimentary list "This Kind of War" deserves a royal placement. As I'm sure you know, it is the definitive story of the Korean War.
I think it goes into detail about why many American POWs starved in North Korean camps while mentioning that NO Greek POWs at all died in the camps. The difference was in knowing how to prepare the grain that was given to the prisoners for food so that it was nutritious and digestible. (That's from memory - it's been a long while and my copy was never properly put in our library and has disappeared.)
Keep up the great works - I'm waiting for the bedroom reconciliation scene that must open your next "Mamelukes". It has been a long wait.
Fehrenbach's This Kind of War is certainly the best history of the Korean War I know of, and it also offers some excellent observations on the nature of war and the governance of armies. It's not up there with Clausewitz and Sun Tzu but it's on the next tier.
You make some insightful comments regarding rumored health care rationing embedded in the stimulus package. I agree with you that one shouldn't get too upset until we actually know what is the bill. However; health care rationing, particularly to the elderly who consume a disproportionate amount of health care services is a logical and perhaps inevitable outcome of socialism.
One only look at the history of health care insurance to understand the problem. Before health insurance become common, health care was a commodity with limited price elasticity. Only the wealthy could afford whatever care they needed while the less than wealthy could afford only the simplest care. As a result, there was extreme pressure on health care providers to maximize efficiency to minimize costs. The generalized availability of health care insurance, particularly as part of a compensation package negotiated through collective bargaining, was originally an effective mechanism to spread risk and effectively mandate savings. I don't know how much your cancer treatments costs, but I suspect that the costs didn't exceed the amortized value of the premiums that you've faithfully paid over the years.
Unfortunately, health care insurance created a situation where health care became a commodity with an almost infinite amount of price elasticity. Since the patients didn't have to pay their own bills and many are oblivious to the price of the insurance premiums, they would eagerly consume health care services with no regard to price. This problem has been aggravated by socialist politicians who mandated particular types of coverage regardless of whether the consumers actually wanted it. Usually these mandates were at the behest of providers of health care services of dubious value. Although health care expenditures have been rising at double didgit rates ever since WW-II, it has taken until now for the cost to become an overwhelming factor in the economy. I recall that back in the Reagan years health care was about 12% of GDP compared to only 6% for defense while health care now accounts for about 20% of GDP compared to 4% for defense.
Obviously, the prospect of assuming control over an additional 20% of the economy is a temptation that liberal politicians cannot resist. The alleged crisis of uninsured people (most of whom are either already covered by some government program, young adults who choose to not have health care insurance because they probably will not need it, or illegal aliens), provides a useful pretext for the government to seize control of the health care industry.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, even the most liberal politicians understand that providing an infinite level of health care services to everyone will bankrupt any society, so they look for strategies to control costs. When operating in a society where a free market for health care still exists, government health care programs have to triage what services they will provide and for whom. This is the approach used by the Oregon health plan. Unfortunately for government, this is politically untenable. The obvious solution is for government to become the only payer in the health care system so that it can use that economic leverage to control costs. In the initial phases when free contractors are still allowed to operate, government will severely restrict the compensation for services to force costs downward. However; this process will eventually make it unprofitable for free contractors to provide health care services. The system will evolve until all health care providers (Doctors, nurses, bed pan cleaners) are government employees. While the government will eagerly keep as many people employed in health care as possible, it will severely limit their pay. Eventually the only people willing to work as doctors will be immigrants whose tenuous connection to the society will provoke them to blow themselves up at the local airport. The government will also control costs by limiting capital expenditures. Instead of having CAT scanners, MRIs and other sophisticated imaging systems in virtually every major hospital and radiation treatment machines in myriads of cancer centers that can be accessed with a minimal waiting time, these systems will become rare and exotic with long waiting periods of weeks or months. The infrastructure and trained personnel to perform sophisticated surgeries will also become rare which will result in extremely long, usually fatal waiting periods. Interestingly, there will still be a mechanism whereby the elites will still have rapid access to the best health care.
One other, inevitable by product of socialized medicine will be an effective end to advances in medical technology. If you've read Mark Styn's "America Alone," you are familiar with the fact that almost all, meaningful pharmaceutical developments now come from the US. THis is because our free market in health care allows pharmaceutical companies to make a profit on developing new drugs. The same applies to advances in medical procedures and techniques. Almost all medical advances now come from the US. The people of other countries are effectively parasites who are able to access these advances at much lower cost because their governments are at least wise enough to enact laws that shield drug companies from law suits.
Like you I'm still trying to digest the stimulus package to determine what is really in it, but unlike you I'm seriously concerned by Pelosi's efforts to get contraceptive and abortion services funding in the bill. Her rationale that reducing the number of children and hence expenditures on them particularly for education is alarming. While it can be argued that expenditures to provide health care to the elderly are not an investment in the future, providing for children is. Is this the first step on the road to the CoDo's Bureloc or Niven's UN fertility board?
Chuck on the Economy
It was interesting to see you struggling to rationalize W's policies. As you've pointed out, the financial crisis is solely the result of affirmative action lending laws that allowed poverty pimps such as Barrack Hussein Obama to extort a trillion dollars in asset value out of our banking system. George W Bush and John McCain both attempted to do something about it but were accused of being racist. While I disagreed with you and still do on the Iraq issue, your argument about investing in energy independence rather than the Iraq war was always cogent. However; I'd point out that a war that cost only 1% of the GDP does not preclude investment in energy independence. This is like arguing that a middle class family cannot afford to invest in solar panels or a back up generator because dad bought a gun and some ammo. All that is needed is for mom to stop loading the kids up in her Sport Luxury Utility Truck everyday to take them to Starbucks or McDonalds. W's major failure was a refusal to say "NO" to Nancy Pelosi whenever she wanted to give her constituency a ride in her SLUT. One need only point to NASA to support the argument that these investments in energy are also best made by the free market than by government. W has made it a priority since his inauguration to stimulate private investment in energy. One need only look at the fact that the price of oil has dipped below $40 per barrel as a result of only a modest decrease in consumption to understand how dramatic the economic impact of W's attempted energy policies would have been.
While the adage that "THE BUCK STOPS HERE" is very valid, it is also true that "AGAINST STUPIDITY THE GODS THEMSELVES CONTEND IN VAIN". Building 1000 new, gigawatt, nuclear reactors is a wonderful idea. Now that we are developing Lithium polymere batteries which have the energy density and power density to match the performance of conventional vehicles, this is a sound strategy. Unfortunately, the ecofreaks have effectively destroyed the industrial capacity to make the major components such as reactor vessels and steam generators. We also live in a political reality where an imbecile federal judge can decree that the energy department needs to certify that Yucca mountain can keep nuclear wastes isolated for millions of years when the wastes remaining after recycling will be as dead as a door nail in only a few centuries. Near my own home people are rabidly opposed to a proposed "LNG pipeline." It is impossible to make people understand that the pipe line is actually for gaseous phase natural gas and that the LNG never leaves the terminal so the Sandia Lab studies regarding worst case scenarios do not apply. Of course there is the valid argument that Oregon shouldn't have to put up with the terminals and pipelines to supply natural gas to Californians who refuse to build their own LNG terminals even though they've built nothing except natural gas fired power plants for decades. You may recall that John McCain cast the deciding vote against off shore drilling and George W Bush's own brother gave him the finger on the issue. I understand that even in the midst of the current economic crisis, California is refusing to drill for the tens of billions of barrels that are available off shore. We also have Albert Gore impeding any intelligent energy policy by proselytizing global warming theology when we still can't find the missing neutrinos and we appear to be entering a new Maunder minimum.
To be blunt, I'm so pessimistic about the prospect of the US degenerating into a socialist-environmentalist dystopian dictatorship similar to what you described in "FALLEN ANGELS" that I'm beginning to think that a nuclear 9-11 might be a good thing. While I'd miss the bridge, nuking San Francisco would be an excellent way to purge the voter registration roles and cull out at least some of the people who've been urinating in the gene pool.
James W Crawford
Per 'h. lynn keith's' comments in re highlighting and making annotations in ebooks.
Amazon Kindle has offered this functionality since its launch in November of 2007.
-- Roland Dobbins
Building in Sunnyvale, California
For some reason, even in the middle of this Economic Crisis, people are building office-space like crazy here in Silicon Valley. At least three new massive multi-story office buildings (with parking garages!) were completed near my office, and a fourth is under way. Across the highway stands a gleaming new glass-and-steel edifice, which has been totally empty for about six months. The building previously on that site was completed in 2002 and went empty since then, and apparently THAT building's predecessor was empty for about five years. And this is going on across the entire valley--frenzied construction of newer and bigger and fancier office space, all of it replacing office space that had been empty ever since it was built.
And the kicker is that the state and Feds want it that way--to the extent of refusing to give money to Tesla, maker of the only electric car currently on the market, because Tesla wanted to build their own new building rather than move into an existing one! So Tesla is looking elsewhere to put its electric-car factory...
-- Mike T. Powers
Retired MI5 Head Criticises UK Anti-terror Measures
Comments on identity cards <http://tinyurl.com/ar9e79>
UK Government role in devising torture policy <http://tinyurl.com/ adebee>
Retired spy chief: "We risk a police state." <http://tinyurl.com/daax65>
-- Harry Erwin, PhD "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." (Benjamin Franklin, 1755)
Why the Biggest Spending Bill Ever is so awful
Milton Friedman understood.
It's not that it's *deficit* spending. It's that it's *government* spending.
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IF YOU SEND MAIL it may be published; if you want it private SAY SO AT THE TOP of the mail. I try to respect confidences, but there is only me, and this is Chaos Manor. If you want a mail address other than the one from which you sent the mail to appear, PUT THAT AT THE END OF THE LETTER as a signature. In general, put the name you want at the end of the letter: if you put no address there none will be posted, but I do want some kind of name, or explicitly to say (name withheld).
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I try to answer mail, but mostly I can't get to all of it. I read it all, although not always the instant it comes in. I do have books to write too... I am reminded of H. P. Lovecraft who slowly starved to death while answering fan mail.
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