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Mail 560 March 2 - 8, 2009
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March 2, 2009
There was mail posted over the weekend. It includes some discussion of fleet structure, and Tipler on global warming. Tipler says that government grants are no longer used to search for truth, but rather to defend dogma.
Harry Erwin's Letter from England
I'll start with a couple of things I've already shared with Jerry:
After a series of stories about the end of privacy in the UK, I'm beginning to look at employment opportunities in America: See <http://tinyurl.com/c5ll6r> , <http://tinyurl.com/creveq>, <http://tinyurl.com/b6hbno >, <http://tinyurl.com/aoz4v5>, <http://tinyurl.com/aszjhx>, and <http://tinyurl.com/d95b6g > . Some people still have some common sense <http://tinyurl.com/ c599j6> .
According to this Guardian article <http://tinyurl.com/acnjgc>, the various government bodies now doing surveillance can't even be bothered to follow the law. We have seen this from time to time in America, so we should hardly be surprised. The problem in the UK is that the individual is much weaker in a confrontation with the state than in America.
The UK is introducing a points-based system to determine the non-EU people who are allowed to come to the UK and work here. They've decided to apply it to members of a family individually--which means they have to qualify for their own work permits independently. If a parent qualifies, the spouse and dependants may immigrate to the UK after five years when the parent's work permit may be converted to an indefinite right to reside. Just think about what that does for anybody recruiting highly-trained staff.
Or as Laurie Taylor puts it in this week's Poppletonian (Times Higher Education Supplement), "Why is present government policy... now determined by people who would have serious trouble managing a whelk stall?"
Even the students are noticing the politicisation of UK education <http://tinyurl.com/dlqo62 >
Big political storm about $1M pension for fired bank chief executive. My reaction was to hope he would stand his ground. He may not be a 'little guy', but if the Labour Government is allowed to take him down, think of what it can do to the rest of us. It turns out he's standing his ground and the courts will likely back him <http://tinyurl.com/b5atqb >. That means the Government will have to take him down extra- judicially. I'm not sure they're quite that bold yet.
"Plagiarism--an inconvenient truth". <http://tinyurl.com/dm6fkg> After seeing my assignments posted many times to RentaCoder, I've redesigned my assessments to make plagiarism very difficult.
I finished Escape from Hell and had a question for Jerry: "What is co- creation?" He replied: "Co-creation is derived from Genesis: that God isn't finished with creation, and the children of Adam are invited to participate." My response was: "So part of being made in the image of God is to partake to some extent in his nature. You know I suspect the universe is an artefact. The unexpected features of that artefact give insight into the nature of its creator."
I think Jerry understands what I mean. For the rest of you, I'm a professional biologist and not a proponent of any form of religion disguised as science. If you understand the distinction, think deist not theist. My argument for the universe being an artefact is in the end Bayesian--p(artefact|evidence for fine tuning)/p(not artefact| evidence for fine tuning) is somewhere around 10^500.
I believe the problem of evil is associated with the existence of emergent systems in our universe. We now know emergence is real, and can look around and see natural examples in metabolism, cells and viruses, multi-cellular organisms, neural systems, consciousness and minds, ecologies, and communities. The mechanism for evolving those systems involves natural selection--random (or not so random) variation followed by selection based on successful reproduction (i.e., fitness). If you look at what most people call 'evil', you see examples of natural selection affecting individuals--hopefully reduced in their impact by cultural mechanisms. Unmitigated natural selection still takes place in the choice of a specific sperm to merge with the egg to form a zygote, so it is unavoidable in the end. I suggest that the characteristics of our universe that make it appear to be an artefact are just those that underlie emergence via natural selection. So our universe is essentially evil. On the one hand, emergence is what allows us to exist as intelligent beings--as images of God--so we cannot escape that evil. On the other hand, the nature of God is to be just, which means we can be just, mitigating that evil. We are balanced on a knifeblade, and that gives us our free will.
Is God balanced on the same knifeblade?
-- "If they do that with marks and grades, should they be trusted with experimental data?" Harry Erwin, PhD
Inside Every CEO, There's a Soviet Planner
Simon Caulkin comment on UK banks <http://tinyurl.com/dbsvpw>
-- "an academic who listens to pleas of convenience before publishing his research risks calling into doubt the whole of his determination to find the truth." (Russell 1993) Harry Erwin
"Wired" echoes Jerry
Buried in that article is a quote which reminded me of your frequent comments on American manufacturing:
You wrote "This is the first I have heard of that. We use vinegar and peroxide fairly often for a general cleaner/disinfectant. And I use a Swiffer mop on my part of the house, largely because it's convenient but it does seem to work well. I just use the Swiffer bottled stuff."
I hope you check out exactly what you are using. Or do not let Sable into 'your' part of the house. There are, apparently, different mixtures used in Swiffer products. Some of them do (or did) contain ethylene glycol, which tastes sweet and causes irreparable liver/kidney damage. Its especially dangerous to dogs since they will lick the floor because of the taste.
Well, at least some dogs. You have a huskie as I do, and mine does not go around licking the floor *unless there are food crumbs there*...
So now I am going to make you find your glasses and read the fine print on the bottle!
Just ordered a copy of Fletcher Pratt Battles from chapters.ca! Thanks for the pointer.
-- Please let me know if anything I say offends you. I may wish to offend you again in the future.
The Swiffer solution label says "cleaning agents" but does not mention any specifics. Sable has no interest in licking the floor (nor for that matter do I), and she comes up here when she feels like it. The rule is that anything she finds on the floor is legally hers, which means we have to be careful what gets down there. Thanks for the kind words.
It become somewhat easier to understand why NASA has had so much trouble with "sensor drift" and other errors in their global warming studies when you consider the latest actions of Dr Hansen. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,501064,00.html
It seems to me that your Iron Law of Bureaucracy is in full force at NASA. Global warming studies are certainly an effective pretext to have funding regardless of their capability to fly any actual space launchers. What frightens me is that "global warming" could be used as a pretext to ban private space flight efforts, especially if they use hybrid rockets for boosters. (CO2 is bad for the environment but Aluminum oxide isn't?)
Tipler says government science is now more concerned with defending dogma than with discovering truth.
On the same subject:
Rohrabacher: "Most of us have always thought he has been hiding behind a scientific facade, and really, he was a political activist all along."
-- Roland Dobbins
No doubt you've gotten other emails about Snopes.com. It is ironic that they are now the subject of a conspiracy theory-ish chain email. It is funny that information prominently displayed at http://www.snopes.com/info/faq.asp is breathlessly reported as newly discovered secrets.
The main thing obscuring the origins of Snopes is the passage of time. The site has been on the web since the early days and much of the early history is in posts to Usenet newsgroups. The couple that runs site were well known on Usenet (and more recently have been interviewed for print and radio regarding the Snopes site).
The Mikkelsons seem non-political by nature, only covering political urban legends for sake of completeness. Early on the site (and our email inboxes?) had few political urban legends, and even now their reporting on them is rather conservative, preferring to stick to the facts they can verify and lacking the enthusiasm of the political partisan.
I have no particular animus toward Snopes. The site is often valuable. But your observation that they are non-political by nature is not mine. But then few people on earth are non-political, and even if you have no interest in politics, politics will have an interest in you. I had not heard of any conspiracy theory chain email about Snopes; apparently it didn't survive my spam filters.
When I was a kid in about fifth grade around 1962, I read a book, called "Star Ship On Saddle Mountain" by Atlantis Hallam. It was a juvenile, and to my 5th grade mind was comparable in quality to some of the classic Heinlein juveniles that are still available today. However Atlantis Hallam has disappeared without a trace (that I can find), and the only copies available are old library copies of the original single printing in 1955, at a cost of $350.
It would be fun to read it again, but not $350 worth.
It seems to me that there should be some copyright exemption for apparently abandoned works (say works out of print for more than 20-30 years) that would allow limited reprinting, with some portion of the profits put into escrow for the copyright holder. The copyright holder could then terminate the unauthorized reprints at any time, and recover the escrow profits, by showing up and asserting ownership (and continued distribution) of the unauthorized reprints.
A bit crude. Alternatively, we could do what patents do, and require fees to maintain copyrights, where these fees (say a few hundred dollars) would be in effect every 10 years or so.
This is a continuation of what I was musing about last week. There are books I would like to read, but which are not in libraries, and are not in print. Copies tend to be collector items, and I am not interested in collecting the work, merely in reading it. I'd be glad to pay a reasonable fee to the author or his estate.
Length of Copyright
I understand where you are coming from on the length of copyright, but let me add some perspective gleaned from years of researching this when I was my own paralegal -- with the proviso, of course, that I am not a lawyer and it is not legal advice.
First of all, Copyright Law is not totally a national matter, but a global one more regulated by treaty than anything else. Anthony Trollope came the USA during the Civil War to negotiate a copyright treaty on behalf of the British government and went away empty-handed because no American publisher wanted to pay royalties to British authors, which included him. These treaties take decades to change. The longer length of 70 years came from such a treaty and we changed out law to comply. That is also the treaty that casts doubt upon the entire registration system we use here since it forbids "formalities". Net result, you have copyright from the moment of creation but can't enforce it unless you register it. Which large media corporations use as both shield and weapon against other holders.
In my experience copies of old novels and other books can be found and purchased online through ABE, Amazon Marketplace, and other dealer exchanges, but if not available the law permits any public or non-profit library to make up to three copies the preserve the text. I have also noticed that Amazon.com has taken to republishing, through their POD facilities, all sorts of public domain works and older books. This is a classic "long tail" exploitation on their part. You might do a search there and on ABE. You probably won't like the prices.
If the copyrights are still valid, then there should be an estate or trust where they reside or a heir who controls those rights. There was some talk of creating an "Orphan Works" category where people could proceed to republish and not have anything but actual damages should any of the above entities appear later to make a claim. I'm not sure if that ever became law. There are all sorts of problems with current copyright laws, not the least of which is that people don't understand the broad brush approach to ownership. If you change it for text, then you change it for everything else, and the longer terms are the result of lobbying by large media corporations seeking additional protection for works that are still producing heavy revenue streams. As I said, it's always about the money.
There are many out-of-print books that I would like to see back in print, and POD and e-book publishing makes this a far easier thing to do that it used to be. The first thing that stops me are the the legal costs. The second is the prep work and the third is the promotion, marketing and sales. which are, at a minimum, a major time sink even if you confine yourself to the Internet channels. It's a nice idea, but I have several projects here which we intend to revive from the archives and put out. If I can attain critical mass with those and produce enough cash flow to meet our needs and have a surplus to hire the needed staff, then I may do that. but not now. I mention this because I have been approached twice in the last month to become a publisher of material owned by others. To which I said, "No, not now" and pointed then towards the self-publishing route.
I have my own work to do.
I haven't time to look it up, but I think you are mistaken about the 70 year period. I believe the Geneva Copyright Convention specifies life plus 50 years with no renewals and a minimum of paper work; that is what Victor Hugo argued for, and it is what the US finally accepted in 1975. Congress then responded to lobbyists for Disney and other corporations and added more and more years for domestic copyright lengths, but of course has no power to push those on the international community.
In any event, the result is extended life for valuable properties, but essential extinction for many other works which have been abandoned but can't be reprinted or even scanned and made available for reading because no one can be found who can give permission.
Kindle for Authors.
---- Roland Dobbins
More evidence for Greg Clark's thesis.
The surnames of the poor tended to die out, while those of the middle and upper classes exist today in England.
"And yet, Time hath his revolutions; there must be a period and an end to all things temporal ~ finis rerum ~ an end of names and dignities and whatsoever is terrene, and why not of de Vere? For where is Bohun? Where is Mowbray? where is Mortimer? Nay, which is more and most of all, where is Plantagenet? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality!" per Lord Chief Justice Crew 1625-26
Isn't Google marvellous. My aging memory didn't tell me where the book was in which I read this 40 years ago but I did remember "where is Plantagenet?". And I don't exhibit it to deny Greg Clark's thesis but to support it because he pointed out that the old nobility was a military aristocracy which was good at getting its male members killed.
Antarctic impact crater
If the Siberian Traps could be the result of an anitpodal impact, is anyone investigating for impact evidence antipodal to the other two major shield lava flows (the Deccan Traps in India (60-70 MY ago, and the shield flow which covered most of Washington State 12-17 MY ago)? In fact, if the Kerguelen hot spot is anywhere near the Kerguelen islands in the high latitude South Indian Ocean, it is very closely antipodal to the Washington State flow.
Lockheed offers ready-to-go supersoldier exoskeleton
More Captain America than Iron Man but probably all the more practical for it. & if it allows a soldier to carry a 200lb backpack that is the first such increase since the time of the Legions.
I found a broken link on http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/bobs.html
I came across your site today while doing some research on Australia because I've been considering a study abroad program there. You provide some really great resources, but I noticed that on your page http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/bobs.html you link to http://www.uq.edu.au/~zzlreid/slang.html, but that is a broken link (doesn't look like that page exists anymore). I also found this page in my research which could be a good replacement if you just wanted to change the link :) http://www.discovery-carhire.com.au/ap_slang.php
Thanks. I fixed it. I haven't thought about that for years...
March 3, 2009
More on Swiffer:
I recently discovered your website/daybook/etc., and enjoy it immensely. It is my hope to be able to afford to subscribe to Chaos Manor one day.
I read about the comments made about Swiffer and remembered the internet/urban legend a few years back about it. First, having worked in the automotive industry in the past, I know enough to be dangerous when it comes to radiator fluids.
The "sweet stuff" in radiator fluid is ethylene glycol and is a deadly poison. Most fluids, but not all, have replaced that with propylene glycol, which can still can be toxic, but is not nearly as deadly.
Swiffer uses propylene glycol n-propyl ether, which is used in products as a replacement for propylene glycol as it is less toxic. There should not be any problems with Sable being in a room cleaned with Swiffer after the residue has dried. From what I understand, Sable would have to eat most of the package of wipes to suffer any life threatening effects. Of course, eating a single wipe would not be good and Sable would be in the dumps for a day or two.
My brother, a real life rocket scientist, told me about snopes.com, which confirmed my thoughts on this subject.
Again, I'm not a chemist, just a guy with some real-world experience. I hope that this helps.
Thanks. I wasn't really concerned, given the litigious nature of modern times, but there are always nagging doubts. We cleaned out a lot of junk from the Great Hall today and I mopped much of it down. Sable wasn't allowed up here while we were working mostly because she insists on attention and that keeps work from being done. She's learned how to be irresistibly cute...
I guess I hadn't been paying attention, but it seems that Google has settled a class-action law suit with authors and publishers over digitizing their books. The settlement terms are pretty horrifying for fiction authors in particular. Basically, Google will pay you $60 per out-of-print (not out of copyright) book and then has rights to sell it or do pretty much anything they want with it.
None of this matters much to me at present, but I suspect you may have some out of print stuff that you'd like to keep the rights to. If you don't want to sell those rights for $60, you need to opt out of the class action settlement by 9 May.
If one has a number of books, some will inevitably be out of print. Moreover, eBook rights generally sell for more than $60, and actually earn royalties although I don't know of any that have earned out; none of mine have, but then i got pretty good advances for them.
There are a lot of out of print and pretty well abandoned books out there, but some of us make a living of what we wrote long ago. Google is said to have a motto of "Don't be evil" but this is not necessarily a demonstration of good will to creative writers.
. . . actually, it isn't, and the above is just a colorable argument.
I believe that Mark Twain understood that those who purchased his book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer would read it aloud to others. In his day, one form of evening entertainment was for the father to read a chapter of a book to the family. That right was assumed. I am not current in copyright law, but unless Congress altered Title 17 last year I think this right still obtains.
More, when I bought The Monster at the End of This Book for my toddler daughter, Jon Stone (the author) did not require that I also purchase audio rights to read the book to her. Nor did Wallace Tripp include in A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse to Me a return envelope for payment for 'reading' rights. The authors of children's books know their books are being read to children. Does anyone without a law degree think Little Brown & Company intend the purchaser to plunk the book in the lap of a two-year old and say, "There, kid, read and enjoy"?
But let's say that children's books are different and the bundle of rights that is copyright comes more unraveled for books intended for a more mature audience. What is the magic age at which we say, "Hold on, there; can't read this book aloud"? Do I or my high school English teacher owe Robert Frost (or his estate) royalties for my recitation of "The Road Not Taken"?
For more than a century, the purchase of sheet music implied the right to perform that music. Has that changed? Are musicians now limited to sight-reading sheet music without an instrument? That's a concert I gotta see -- the Boston Pop reads Copeland.
Where the law is silent, the citizen has the liberty to do or forbear according to his own discretion. (Told you I been reading Leviathan.) Law trails technology, commonly at about a remove of ten years. I think the owner of Kindle2 has a colorable argument that he has not infringed any right that he did not already possess.
Were I practicing copyright law at this time, I would advise my clients to negotiate for a more limited definition of the right they give for reproduction in electronic format (that is, not to include text-to-speech) or else get more money to cover the lost audio book rights. But I ain't, so I won't.
Live long and prosper h lynn keith
The prestigious German oceanography ship Polarstern is conducting a major experiment of seeding the oceans with iron in order to absorb carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse-effect gas.
<http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=45918> "The idea is that enriching the water with iron could become a way to fight global climate change, say the experts running the experiment. But some environmentalists disagree, and warn about the experiment's unknown consequences. "
And on the gripping hand:
"The paper entitled "The Asian Dust Events of April 1998" by Husar and 28 co-authors (Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres, *106 (D16), * 18317-18330, August 27, 2001) discusses these events. The virtual workshop Web site above has a version of this paper. /(Our thanks to Rynda Hudman of Harvard University for the correction and reference information.) /
Dust from large deserts that is transported in this manner can be a vital nutrient source for both the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. Iron in the minerals composing this desert dust will be a vital nutrient in oceanic regions that are deficient in iron. Furthermore, research has shown that the canopy (top layers) of much of the Central and South America rain forest derives much of its nutrient supply from dust that is transported over the Atlantic from the Sahara Desert in northern Africa. Saharan dust occasionally reaches the state of Florida, causing a characteristic high-altitude haziness that obscures the Sun.
Research performed during the Asian Dust Input to the
Oceanic System (ADIOS) project showed that dust particles from China's Gobi
Desert were transported all the way to Hawaii. (The hemispheric image
Interestingly, during colder periods in Earth's climate history, desert areas appear to get larger. During these periods, dust from the deserts was likely transported to the oceans, where it augmented photosynthesis, which removed additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In this manner, the global "thermostat" of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was maintained at a low level, prolonging the cool conditions. Other climatic effects must come into play so that increasing global temperatures can override this feedback mechanism of the global climate. In fact, due to this connection, John Martin suggested that with enough iron added to the oceans, a new "Ice Age" could be created. Though that level of global climate control is still beyond human capabilities, the interaction of land and ocean in moderating global climate was well-illustrated by his statement." http://disc.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/oceancolor/scifocus/oceanColor/asian_dust.shtml
Please include in your list of 'masters of the English language who did not speak English as their first language' the author of The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Bronowski
Please take the time (2 minutes, 35 seconds) to view
this clip from the penultimate episode of his BBC TV series The Ascent of
Live long and prosper h lynn keith
Thanks for the reminder.
RE: Inferno 2 ESCAPE FROM HELL
Just finished reading Escape from Hell. Thanks for the, well, if it can be called that, "fun"! Your Inferno was always one of my all-time favorites, and the sequel did not disappoint.
I thought I'd also share you a creepy moment I had less than 24 hours after finishing your book. I admit I never heard of Sylvia Plath previously. But less than 24 hours after I put your book back on my bookshelf, here I am watching The Simpsons' latest episode, at the very end of which there's a split second shot of Lisa holding a book... The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
I call such creepy coincidences my Victrola moments... I explain why here: http://spinor.info/weblog/?p=616
By the way, who came up with the idea that the geometry of Dante's Hell may be an illusion created by a conformal transformation (causing things to be smaller as they get further down)? In another coincidence, I was just reading a physics paper that claims to explain the Pioneer anomaly by a conformal transformation when I came across this idea in your book...
Today's educational system -
We are fortunate to live in a county with a very good public school system, so I'm reasonably certain this doesn't apply everywhere, but a week or two ago I was quite surprised to find my 5 year old (in Kindergarten) bring up Newton's Laws in conversation. She seemed to have a good (for a 5 year old) grasp of action and reaction.
I agree with your criticisms of public education in general and "No Child Left Behind" in particular, on the other hand, there are at least pockets of good schooling left. Kindergarten was along time ago for me, but I'm reasonably certain Newton's Laws weren't in the curriculum.
Nor in mine. I don't suppose I encountered Newton's Laws until considerably later than kindergarten (which I didn't really get to because they let me into first grade when I was 5 because I could read)
I am glad there is still hope in some places.
Survival Library -
A whole generation has grown up since the darkest days of the Cold War. I’m glad those days are behind us. I was wondering (after I was asked by a couple of nephews) if you could develop a concise library of books and pamphlets that would make good reading for the youngsters?
P.S. my copy of “Escape From Hell” showed up last week!
That's the sort of project that I may be able to work on if I get enough platinum subscribers, but I doubt any regular publisher would pay me enough to stay alive while doing it...
March 4, 2009
I took the day off to finish the manuscript of our Moles book (Avogadro the Mole, a story of inquiry and learning). I was also on the Lars Larson show at about 5 PM. In theory we were going to talk about Philip Jose Farmer, but Lars never brought that up. It was a good conversation, though.
March 5, 2009
There are many ways to express skepticism or dismay over what you believe to be misguided policies. That Limbaugh took the most provocative way should not be surprising. Despite his claims of trying to produce an educational, uplifting show, he is really more about mocking and demeaning the opposition, and generating outrage, so as to fire up his core audience, drive ratings, and enrich himself. I think his show is most accurately described as the conservative alternative to Comedy Central's Daily Show, HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, or Keith Olberman's liberal rant on MSNBC. It would be a real shame for a shock jock like Limbaugh to become viewed as the leading Conservative spokesperson or leading intellectual voice for the Republican party. It's pretty obvious that the Democrats would love to cast him in that role.
You put that a great deal more strongly than I would. Rush Limbaugh must, of course, keep his listeners listening. The analogy to Maher is not a bad one. If I had to listen to either I would greatly prefer Rush, and indeed some mornings I do have his show on, although lately I have been changing to KUSC.
I think he is mistaken in his campaign to get people to wish that Obama would fail. I understand what he means: I doubt any of my regular readers would prefer a Socialist America even were it running smoothly -- but we'd all prefer it to another Great Depression. I think it extremely likely that Socialism will collapse in the long run, but then as Keynes observed, in the long run we are all dead. How long a run is a long run isn't very clear.
We endured Jimmy Carter, whose policies seem to have been drawn from much the same playbook that Obama is using. Carter's administration failed. I didn't rejoice in that failure, nor did anyone else.
Russell Kirk said it best: Conservatives must approach the faults and failures of their country as they would regard the wounds of their father. It is not a time for rejoicing.
Lind: 'Piracy is a barometer of two related qualities in the world of states: the state’s belief in itself and the state system, and international order.'
-- Roland Dobbins
Inferno II and Kindle.
I noticed on Amazon the Escape From Hell is available. I will be ordering my copy tonight. I wanted to buy the kindle edition and saw that it wasn’t available that way. My question for you is this. Do authors get any say as to whether or not a Kindle version of their work will be available? I’ve heard some author’s state that they will not allow electronic editions of their work. I’m sure some authors have more clout than others. I’m sure JK Rowling could insist on nearly any condition and get it for example.
Anyway, as my eyes age I find the Kindle to be a real benefit as I can choose the font size. Between the high contrast ration and the fonts, the Kindle is really easy on my eyes. I will be looking at the K2 only because the screen updates are supposed to be as much as 20% faster. Since I am a fairly quick reader this would be a benefit to me.
Another tool you may want to look at is Mobipocket or Calibre. Both convert several formats to Kindle format. Calibre is almost an “itunes” application for the Kindle. It supports all kinds of metadata and shows the cover art. It converts to several different formats as well. Mobipocket simply converts the documents but seems to do a slightly better job than Calibre.
Authors have little say in such matters. I'll be doing a review of Kindle 2 in the next column. Thanks.
Does America Still Have a Nuclear Industry?
-- Roland Dobbins
March 6. 2009
Escape from hell on Kindle
I don't know what your correspondent 'Bob' was talking about. I bought EFH for Kindle on Feb. 18 and I just looked and it's still available in that format (search for Escape from Hell on Amazon and the Kindle edition shows up as the 4th choice.)
I haven't read it yet (still on 'The Forgotten Man', a terrific book, BTW) but it's next on my list.
I thought I had seen it available for Kindle. Thanks
I got a chuckle from this. Hopefully the voters won't let it happen.
On the other hand, it may be inevitable.
"But it's not fair! What if everyone whose account was canceled sued Google?"
-- Roland Dobbins
This is a very strange story. Google doesn't seem to be an easy company to make contact with.
"And to think, I took European intellectual history."
The amount of snide condescension packed into this piece, starting with the photo, has to be some kind of journalistic record:
-- Roland Dobbins
"We schedule a technician visit for six months in the future with every home visit. Both they and we know their registries and computers will be messed up again by then."
-- Roland Dobbins
I have no idea how to "fix" the current financial situation, unfortunately the "dismal science" has yet to come up with models that work in the real world.
I do think that the first step in preventing a reoccurence is to ask why any organization becomes "too big to fail." We hear of single companies being exposed to billions if not trillions of debt and then turning to government and asking for help when it all goes wrong.
It's especially worrying when a bank or financial house is "too big to fail" as the government is always the lender of last resort. Most people are too young to remember the days when banks were purely local and depended on their own resources. Runs on such banks were common and destabilising, so government promised backing and in return the banks were supposed to maintain certain levels of liquidity. Did the government think it would be asked for guarantees that approached the size of all existing government debt? From a single bank? If not, why not? Wasn't anybody paying attention?
(As an aside, two of the most popular Christmas movies, Mary Poppins and It's A Good Life, have bank failures as part of their plots. Perhaps viewers are too full of turkey to notice.)
How many banks and financial houses will be found to have been trading over the past few years while technically bankrupt? Enron managed to hide debt in a maze of paper companies, so twisting the auditing rules that a real loss could be booked as a paper profit; how many others will be discovered using the same tricks?
There is an old joke that neatly sums up the situation...
The tailors, Manny and Patrick are discussing the new suits that they are going to market to the big stores. "I've a good deal with Bloomingtons for 40 dozen suits at $24 per suit including a second pair of pants." says Manny. "$24!", exclaims Patrick, "You know full well that we can't make them for less than $30 per suit!"
"Yes, Patrick, I know that, but it was such a big order I thought what we lost per suit we could make up on quantity!"
I hope your recovery continues to go well.
I have come to the conclusion that any company or organization that is too big to be allowed to fail should not be allowed to exist in a Republic. David McCord Wright, one of my favorite economists, said more than once that a significant difference in the world after Marx was the anti-trust act and trust busting. It was one reason that Marx's predictions of the economic future were wrong. I think there's a lot to what he said.
If nothing's too big to fail there are fewer Black Swans. We can do without some of the advantages of huge organizations; we'll survive not having another 1% of efficiency by yet another merger. We have far more problems surviving when enormous organizations suddenly clutch up and die.
subprime CDO article
Dr. Pournelle, A good friend of mine forwarded the link I am including below about CDO's and CDS which is the first time that I realized that the subprime loans were the genisis that started the ball rolling, but that they got much bigger. Here is what got me out of the article:
"There weren't enough Americans with shitty credit taking out loans to satisfy investors' appetite for the end product. The firms used Eisman's bet to synthesize more of them. Here, then, was the difference between fantasy finance and fantasy football: When a fantasy player drafts Peyton Manning, he doesn't create a second Peyton Manning to inflate the league's stats. But when Eisman bought a credit-default swap, he enabled Deutsche Bank to create another bond identical in every respect but one to the original. The only difference was that there was no actual homebuyer or borrower."
I am still trying to wrap my brain around everything in the article, but I think I now understand why just paying the subprime mortgages with government money won't really have all that much impact. Please take a look and see what you think.
What I still do not understand is the ratings companies, which continue to exist, and have legal authority, and yet rated junk as AAA. And which have suffered no consequences.
seeing into space
Hello Dr. Pournelle:
This is old hat to you; but to me it is exciting. Last night I set my alarm to get me up extra early, so that I could get a glimpse of the ISS, as it transited across my local skies. Temperatures were forecasted to be low, and it was a clear sky – ideal for sky viewing and satellite hunting. The appearance was due at 5:19, and occurred almost to the minute. The station just appeared, in the sky to the east, some degrees above the horizon. It apparently became visible as it left the shadow of the Earth. I watched for a few minutes – the transit was predicted to last for three minutes.
As it disappeared into the slightly lightening sky, it became dimmer, probably because I was seeing more of its dimmer underside, no longer lit so directly by the Sun. I will be out again tomorrow, this time with my telescope set up. I am not certain that I will be able to follow it with a telescope, and perhaps binoculars will be a better choice; but it is worth a try. I have seen satellites before; but this was different. Just to know that there are men up there in space, and that I am seeing the station in which they are living and working, gave me a bit of a thrill. The object itself was probably about like Jupiter, or perhaps more like Venus. It is unmistakable, and was the brightest object in the sky at its appearance. It did not dim noticeably until it approached the Eastern sky. For yourself, or anyone else interested, current appearances at various locations can be found by going to http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/index.html
Just thought you might be interested. Neal Pritchett
William Happer, Professor of Physics, on Climate Change,
A friend of mine sent me a link to the statement of William Happer, Professor of Physics, on Climate Change, before a US Senate committee:
My friend says: "Entirely readable, and extremely entertaining. In it, he mentions organized crime, prohibition, grape vineyards in England, Vikings settling in Greenland, Orwell's 1984, a debate between Lord Kelvin and Darwin (Kelvin had the scientific consensus, Darwin was correct), CO2 as a so-called pollutant--when humans exhale CO2 at a rate 100 times the atmospheric concentration, and on and on. Extremely entertaining. 10 pages--double spaced--pdf file."
One quote from the paper: "I believe that the increase of CO2 is not a cause for alarm and will be good for mankind." He goes on to summarize much of the climate variation in historical times, and compares the current climate crusaders with the Prohibition crusaders. He reminds us that "tropical" diseases like yellow fever and malaria were scourges of US cities in the middle of the Little Ice Age. Finally, he notes that "[h]istorically, the consensus is often wrong." Indeed, extremely entertaining.
Yup. We enjoy warm better than cold.
"Steve" and the Republicans
Regarding the letter from "Steve" at the beginning of Wednesday's View:
One might say that the current crisis is due to Republicans acting like Democrats; I fail to see how the Democrats now acting like Carter-era Democrats on speed will help the situation.
It appears to have been conveniently forgotten that the Republicans lost the trust of their base in 2006 by spending like Democrats (and otherwise appeasing the Democrats in order to sustain support for the anti-terrorism effort -- the wisdom of that action being subject of a different analysis), plus for an array of ethical violations.
While the Republicans certainly have lost points for their mismanagement of the regulatory oversight of the financial sector, it remains true that Democrats (lead by Frank, Dodd, and Obama) blocked their efforts to investigate the financial mismanagement at Fannie and Freddie; the Democrats also pushed through a huge increase in the minimum wage (which is a primary cause of the current unemployment, though it does no good for the Democrats to say so and the Republicans haven't yet).
Obama -- and, as much or more, Pelosi -- is not a Fireman in this case -- except in the sense of Mr. Bradbury's magnum opus.
An exciting future.
I just received a print catalog from Full Cast Audio. That's Bruce Coville's company. He decided to go audio with his books, used local Syracuse actors, and started doing books by lots of people, including Robert Heinlein.
The new catalog describes something called a Playaway. It's basically a pre-loaded MP3 player. You buy the book/player, plug in your headphones and listen.
Boy, it didn't take long for MP3 players to go from hot electronic devices to less than commodities: they're the rough equivalent of the boards of a hardback book.
Fascinating. Perhaps I should try reading one of my works into one and see if any would sell.
March 7, 2009
I pretty well took the day off, in theory to work on the column, but I didn't get a lot of that done either.
|This week:||Sunday, March
Magical Goo Makes It All Better,
It looks like we are well on our way to getting Nemourlon:
Hearst to launch a wireless e-reader - Feb. 27, 2009
The Future Of Things reports on a new method of generating hydrogen using aluminium.
"Scientists at Pennsylvania State University and Virginia Commonwealth University are producing hydrogen by exposing clusters of aluminum atoms to water. Rather than relying on the electronic properties of the aluminum, this new process depends on the geometric distribution of atoms within the clusters and requires the presence of Lewis acids and Lewis bases in those atoms. Unlike most hydrogen production processes, this method can be used at room temperature and doesn't require the application of heat or electricity to work."
"TFOT has reported on several new methods for generating hydrogen gas, including a new method for releasing hydrogen from nitrogen-fixing bacteria, a new process for extracting hydrogen from unrefined oil, and a cobalt phosphate catalyst for separating water into hydrogen and oxygen. TFOT has also reported on many new hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen powered vehicles including a new hydrogen fuel cell and gas distribution system light enough for use on an unmanned helicopter, Boeing's tests of a hydrogen powered manned airplane, and the world's smallest hydrogen fuel cell, measuring a mere 3x3x1 millimeters."
The DC/X experience convinced me that hydrogen is a nightmare for operations. I used to be more of an enthusiast, but even if we found hydrogen wells I'd worry about it...
Schadenfreude (sp?) of the post-boomer generation
An opinion piece written by (apparently) a post-boomer who's enjoying watching the boomers adjust their expectations now that the sand castles they built are being swept away by the tide.
Kind of a mean tone, but some good points.
"I knew I was never going to retire before it was cool <grin>"
Paraphrased from Don Surber's blog today - can't vouch for it's veracity, but I enjoyed seeing it:
Overheard by a commercial pilot en route from Europe to Dubai on the Guard (emergency) 121.5 MHz frequency:
Iranian Air Defense Radar: "Unknown aircraft you are in Iranian airspace. Identify yourself."
Pilot: "This is a United States aircraft. I am in Iraqi airspace."
Air Defense Radar: "You are in Iranian airspace. If you do not depart our airspace we will launch interceptor aircraft!"
Pilot: "This is a United States Marine Corps FA-18 fighter. Send ‘em up, I’ll wait!"
Air Defense Radar: (no response - total silence)
The letter from Frank Tipler re AGW research reminded me of a brief article I read elswhere recently. It concerns President Eisenhower's Farewell Address. There is a little-known second warning in his speech, beyond the oft-quoted "military-industrial complex" one. Here is the text (this appears right after the MIC comments):
As to the alleged AGW, it is my thought that, fifty years from now (assuming a return to sanity), the whole AGW issue will be studied as one of the most successful propaganda campaigns ever carried out.
Be Well, Brian Mills
Global Warming debate
William Schlesinger and John Christy debate on Global Warming (Feb 11, 2009)
I enjoyed hearing Christy (who was actually a leading author of the IPCC report) in the debate. Unlike Schlesinger, his specialty is gathering and analyzing climate data. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Christy. I Googled a few more of his articles; he’s into data. As a result, he doesn’t seem impressed by the “consensus” of lots of climate scientists who are in the modeling business, not in the data business.
Statement by Dr. Schlesinger, who was the pro-Global
Warming speaker: When asked what fraction of IPCC members were climate
scientists, he said
There should be more debates on this subject – but there aren’t, near as I can tell.
"I suspect that this cessation of warming may also be responsible for the tsunami of hysterical climate propaganda of the past 3 years. The issue has been prominent for almost a generation, during which time many agendas have developed. There may be a fear that these agendas must be achieved now or never." See Slide 21.
The Tasini case will not die! The Supreme Court has agreed to review the Appeals Court decision that threw out the class action settlement in the Electronic Database Litigation, on the quite reasonable grounds that 99% of the class had never registered their copyrights. They held that, absent that, the Federal District Court had no jurisdiction. I thought that was the end of it. But, for those who want some deep background, I have hauled out and revised and slightly expanded my 2003 article "Why Publishers Use Freelancers", which can be found through the above link at Smashwords.com. There is a generous free sample, but the whole thing will cost a buck.
You may also assume from the uber-title that there will be other articles about Freelance Writing. These will be affordable, but not free, because free advice is worth what you pay for it.
And Chapter Two of "Robot Dreams" my science fiction serial, is also up.
Let's make those Republican numbers more exact
"Newt left office. The Republicans went mad, spending more than the Democrats."
Yes. To be more precise, from CBO estimates:
Projection of where we'd be at the end of 2008 when Bush took office (based on continuing the Clinton budgets): $ 4,480,000,000,000 SURPLUS
Actual state at the end of 2008 after 8 years of Bush spending:
$ 4,350,546,687,026 DEFICIT
The swing, under W's stewardship, is $ 8,830,546,687,026, nearly $9T.
To paraphrase Everett Dirksen, "a trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you're talking real money."
The $8.8T number is why I can't work up any belief in the sincerity of all the Crocodile tears and faux outrage over Obama's spending. Have Rush et al been living under rocks for the last 8 years? Deficits run by Republicans cost just as much, per dollar, as the (much smaller!) deficits run by Democrats.
Party politics aside, we need a balanced budget. I was astonished when Clinton managed to do it, and even more astonished at how quickly W. blew it all away.
I thought this link might be interesting for you. It's an analysis of the situation in Pakistan following the latest Terrorist attack there. I don't know what type of coverage the attack of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team has received in the U.S., here it's very big. One thing that is annoying about the media coverage is their description of the terrorists as highly trained and co-ordinated. If they'd been highly trained the team bus would've been disabled straight away and they'd have boarded it rather then standing back spraying shots from the hip.
It raises the question of how do you subtract an unknown number of atomic weapons from an unknown location(s) before they and a country of 100 million Muslims fall into the hands of fanatics?
Consider two masses, one that weighs "only" as much as 20 million Suns, the other which weighs almost as much as a billion. Consider them orbiting one other faster than Pluto orbits our Sun. Consider them being so heavy that each one rips a hole in the fabric of space and time, a hole whose interior we still don't understand. And consider that the energy of matter falling into these two immense holes in space is so powerful that it lights a fire which human beings can see as a 'star' from 4.5 billion light-years away.
*That's* what the Nature article is describing.
"Yet further, you never enjoy the world aright, till you so love the beauty of enjoying it, that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it. And so perfectly hate the abominable corruption of men in despising it, that you had rather suffer the flames of Hell than willingly be guilty of their error. There is so much blindness and ingratitude and damned folly in it. The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace, did not men disquiet it."
One thing that F-22 only/no F-35 proponents tend to gloss over is the STOVL capabilities of the F-35B.
For example in the infamous RAND report where Kadena is rendered inoperable by SRBMs and only six F-22s could operate from Andersen ignores the possibility of forward deployment of F-35Bs onto Taiwan using roadways and whatever infrastructure that Taiwan has left. For certain, Taiwan's airfields will be out of action as well. We can pretty much write off all of their current fixed wing assets in that scenario.
Add 72 F-35Bs to the mix and those 6 F-22s from Guam are not hopelessly outmatched. Of course, that requires that some Taiwanese infrastructure to have survived (fuel, fuel trucks, missle resupply, etc) and stretches of suitable highways.
It also makes STOM look a little less suicidal...and it makes the LHA/LHDs in Sea Control Mode a lot more formidable than 20 Harriers. Effectively we get 10 baby carriers with real teeth. Cancelling F-35A orders in favor of more F-22s probably puts the whole program at risk and is pretty shortsighted.
You write: " I have come to the conclusion that any company or organization that is too big to be allowed to fail should not be allowed to exist in a Republic. "
I'd go even further than the "failure" issue--it's a question of basic service toward the customers. A local bank with 1000 depositors has a lot of interest in the financial health of its customers. A nationwide bank with 25 million depositors doesn't care a bit about any one customer; entire towns could go bankrupt and the bank could just say "oh well, cost of doing business!"
Here is a grim view of one possible future:
Japan’s Slump Tests Faith in the Resilience of Stocks:
When Japan’s stock market took a nose dive in 1990, analysts told Shizuko Kitamura to take the long view, just invest consistently and stoically and wait for share prices to recover.
Almost two decades later, she is still waiting.
For those seeking solace in the conventional wisdom that stocks rise in the long run, consider this: 20 years after Japan’s stock market peaked, share prices are still less than 25 percent of their top values.
We pretty well learned many of those lessons in the New Deal; see Amity Shlaes The Forgotten Man.
McCain, Chu, and Nuclear Waste
The exchange between Senator McCain and the new head
of the Department of Energy (DOE), Dr. Chu, on reprocessing and Yucca
Mountain is highlighted in this blog entry:
As a Nuclear Engineer I am beyond disappointed in Dr. Chu's positions. Essentially, his stance is that we need more research in both areas before implementation. As McCain points out and you and your readers are aware, the rest of the advanced world has been reprocessing successfully for quite some time. We used to do it until Jimmy Carter. Chu invokes the usual bogeyman of nonproliferation. From his protestations, one might conclude that the Japanese and Europeans have not addressed the problem, but for those of us who have looked at what our allies are doing Chu's remarks are uninformed. Nonproliferation is the usual stumbling block used by the Greens and their ilk to stop Nuclear Power lest a single atom of any given isotope of Plutonium be made vulnerable to misappropriation.
Yucca Mountain has been researched to the point of being boring. The repository has been paid for by Nuclear electric users in their utility bills for decades. The Utilities have been prohibited from pursuing any waste disposal solution except that offered exclusively by the government, and that repository was promised to be accepting waste long before now--hence all the spent fuel rods sitting in ponds at the plants. If this exclusive contract were imposed by anyone but the Federal Government, the Utilities could have sued the mountebank out of existence long ago.
It will be instructive should Dr. Chu be questioned about Anthropogenic Global Warming. I'm willing to bet that in contrast to his positions on Nuclear Waste, he advocates immediate implementation of political solutions without waiting for rigorous research. Any takers?
P.S. You mused about reading some of your works for an audiobook(s). I suggest you audition by placing mp3 samples on your site and soliciting criticism from your readers. The response could factor into your assessment of feasibility and desirability. I'm one of those who uses audiobooks for light reading, and I expect that you have more readers who have to try to save their eyesight for technical reading and enjoy audiobooks for the nontechnical.
Chu is respectably smart; we have mutual friends and all agree. I am baffled in this instance.
I think you are right and I should try some sample recordings. But then I have been meaning to do podcasts for about a year. They just don't put enough hours in the day...
Foreign Policy Research Institute Over 50 Years of Ideas in Service to Our Nation www.fpri.org
E-Notes Distributed Exclusively via Fax & Email
DEFENSE SHOWSTOPPERS: NATIONAL SECURITY CHALLENGES FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION A Conference Report by Michael P. Noonan
March 6, 2009
Michael P.Noonan is managing director of FPRI's Program on National Security and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
NATIONAL SECURITY CHALLENGES FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION
A Conference Report
by Michael P. Noonan
On February 12, 2009, FPRI's Program on National Security held a conference on potential "defense showstoppers" for the Obama administration--critical issues that, if not fixed, could lead to a serious deterioration of American military capabilities. The event was hosted and co-sponsored by the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C. Program-affiliated scholars Michael Horowitz, Michael P. Noonan, Mackubin T. Owens, and Frank G. Hoffman served as panel moderators. More than 100 individuals from academia, government, NGOs, the media, the military, and the public participated in person, and another 300-plus individuals from around the world participated by webcast. Audio and video files of the proceedings are posted at FPRI's website: http://www.fpri.org/research/nationalsecurity/showstoppers/index.html The papers presented at the conference will be published in Orbis and other outlets.
FPRI thanks W.W. Keen Butcher, Robert L. Freedman, Hon. John Hillen, Bruce H. Hooper, and Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr. for their support of the Program on National Security. The views expressed herein are those of the speakers and should not be construed to represent any agency of the U.S. government or other institution.
What follows is a summary of the major panel presentations and discussions.
PANEL 1: HOW WILL WE FIGHT? Colonel T.X. Hammes, USMC (ret.), author of The Sling and the Stone, opened by noting that the U.S. has no national strategy, but rather a series of goals with no ways or means assigned to them. He argued that the Department of Defense must return to threat-based analysis after the past decade of capabilities-based analysis that he labeled "a bad fantasy." His assumptions were that the U.S.: (1) will remain engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan; (2) will remain committed to globalization; (3) will be unable to afford its current procurement plans; and (4) will not significantly increase its defense budget.
Hammes foresees four types of probable threats: conventional conflicts, insurgencies, hybrid wars, and terrorism. While China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are commonly listed as conventional opponents, Hammes doubted that the U.S. would be drawn into direct ground combat with any of them. And while China may be an attractive enemy for force-sizing or budgetary reasons, it is "clearly the dragon versus the whale. It's hard for either of us to get at the other. What we can do is stay around the perimeter, and that's why they're focused on_ anti-access program[s]."
As for insurgencies, we are currently involved with two, and others will likely grow. The biggest military shortfall in this area is the lack of advisors, but the biggest problem is that "We are not ready to do the interagency response that's required, and that will take years to do." Hammes defined hybrid war as a mix of conventional and unconventional tactics. It is not new, but the concept is useful because "it's essential you understand you are fighting against a range of enemies."
Last, terrorism will always be a problem as long as there are angry people. He argued, "They are going to at some point get lucky. WMD are coming, particularly biological." Serious research is needed in this area, he said.
According to Hammes, DoD's priorities should be: nuclear deterrence, protecting the global commons, conducting counterinsurgency, homeland security response and recovery, force projection, missile defense in the medium to long term, and a different approach to counterterrorism that doesn't absorb so much money and quality personnel. His preference is for a balanced, medium-weight force that can fight both state and non-state enemies. A balanced force is needed because "Prognosticators don't get it right! If you look decade by decade at who the [British] thought they were going to fight, they were consistently wrong." The Army, he said, should move back to the more flexible and balanced "line division" model the Marine Corps employs, because these types of units "are just a big toolbox. You don't have to deploy the whole division. You deploy the parts." The Navy, for its part, should focus on the tough mix of operating in deep water at standoff distances and littoral and riverine missions. Standoff, base hardening, unmanned combat aerial vehicle heavy bombers, and tankers, along with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms, should be the Air Force's priorities. That service, according to him, "probably has the most challenging investment portfolio to manage." The National Guard and federal Reserves should be strategic rather than operational reserve forces. Furthermore, they should have primary responsibility for response and recovery, with at least one brigade trained and focused on such duties in each FEMA district. Hammes concluded that we must "balance the force. Plan for significant budget restrictions, and then hedge against the price."
Stephen Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, agreed with much of Hammes' remarks. Specifically, he agreed that the hybrid form of warfare had always been an important warfare form and that while recently states have been moving towards "guerrilla modes of operation," "non-state actors are able to adopt some of the more important features of the war making of states." He also agreed there was a need for medium-weight forces and was against capabilities-based planning. But he said, "the reality of the situation is that the future of warfare--looking out past Iraq and Afghanistan--really is more differentiated than the low-intensity transformation school often claims. The future of warfare is not exclusively asymmetric or irregular conflict. There really will be other opponents out there who will fight differently than that. The trouble is we're not waging that war right now." According to Biddle, in order to be prepared for those different realities, the U.S. "may just get stuck with the requirement for two transformations, which is not uncommon in military history for wartime great powers."
Lieutenant Colonel Roger Carstens, USA (ret.), a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, also agreed with much of Hammes' presentation. Addressing Special Operations Forces (SOF), he noted that the U.S. has very capable SOF forces for addressing myriad threats, but there are some problems. "The Special Operations Command was given a lot of extra 'umph,' you could say--extra authorities, extra resources, by way of the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review and by way of some good hard work from the Pentagon and Congress. Unfortunately, we didn't always get it right_. We're still low on helicopters. We're low on unmanned aerial systems. We're low on intelligence analysts." He also noted that there was still some internal debate within SOF about whether to focus on direct action or on the so-called indirect approach of working by, with, and through foreign forces. Lack of enablers and suboptimal partnering arrangements, according to Carstens, are negatively impacting SOFs' ability--and particularly Army Special Forces' ability--to conduct such indirect missions.
PANEL 2: AT WHAT COST? Lieutenant Colonel Frank G. Hoffman, USMCR (ret.), a senior fellow of the FPRI and a research fellow at Quantico's Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities, noted approvingly that Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates' recent Foreign Affairs piece called for a return to the basics of strategic planning, taking into account resource constraints. "The essence of strategy is the ability to make decisions ... with scarce resources, with risk assessments, and with constrained dollars." But too often this is forgotten.
U.S. defense spending, he argued, must be balanced and sustainable. Currently DoD has a spending ratio of 17:1 compared to other agencies. At present we are well prepared, stocked, and organized for fighting wars, but not as prepared for preventing wars or for responding to homeland security contingencies. Furthermore, while dependence on supplemental funding and deficit spending is acceptable during crises, it is not an acceptable way to do future business. He pointed out that the national debt over the past eight years had nearly doubled to $11 trillion and that by 2012-14 our debt will be roughly 120 percent of GDP--the same level we were at in 1946. But today we account for only 20 percent of world gross domestic output versus nearly 50 percent at the end of World War II. Mounting debt, growing interest payments on debt, and a bulge in entitlement payouts such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid worry Hoffman for the effect they might have on the DoD and the defense industrial base.
As to arguments that we should spend more money on defense, he noted that we are spending more than the next 22 nations combined and that the Pentagon has not wisely managed the resources it already has. Citing a GAO report, Hoffman argued, "in the last eight years, cost overruns, decision making, cost estimates, and perhaps mismanagement _ have cost us three years of capital investment in the Pentagon." Hoffman called for strategic solvency and said that the most important thing the Obama administration can do is "get us out of the red--metaphorically, strategically, economically and militarily." He sees DoD making a contribution to such solvency with a defense budget of $460 billion a year--a 10 percent reduction in real terms over today's level, with the bigger contribution coming from the rest of government and particularly from entitlement programs.
In order to realize these cost savings, he called for a reduction in: foreign basing (particularly in Europe and Korea), strategic force levels, and programs such as the Joint Strike Fighter and Future Combat System. Hoffman also offered a framework for allocating funding for future defense investments which reduced funding for traditional warfighting to enhance funding for irregular warfare, cyber warfare and sci-tech, particularly in the realms of nanotechnology, biological weapons, robotics, and directed energy systems.
Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior policy analyst for defense and homeland security issues at the Heritage Foundation, agreed that future defense budgets will be most affected by federal government discretionary spending related to the deficit and the rising costs of mandatory expenditures such as servicing the national debt and entitlements. However, she argued that the most significant problem is negative GDP growth. In the long term, economic growth is paramount to national well- being. Strategy must drive budgetary concerns, but "strategy always changes faster than force structure." And even with a defense budget of more than $500 billion, there are still many unfunded areas that deserve attention. While increased competition and deregulation in the defense industrial community can save money, there are no quick fixes. In the final analysis, "a disconnect exists between the civilian population and the day-to-day obstacles facing the military. Many Americans may not perceive the same current or future threats as defense leaders, making them unable to properly approve the types of capabilities the military must possess_. [T]he ongoing war is not over, and the stakes extend to their lives, liberty and future prosperity."
Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the CATO Institute and a former Navy officer, agreed with much of what Hoffman had said, but felt that "a majority of the American people do not believe that the costs of our current national strategy are outweighed by the benefits. Many, and I think most, Americans resent that our military is used primarily to protect other people's governments, other people's shores and air space and, increasingly, to rebuild other people's nations." Strategy must drive the budget, and we currently have a "gross mismatch between our on-paper foreign commitments and our physical military capacity and domestic political will to make good on those commitments." But if there is not a fundamental shift in grand strategy in the Obama administration, "it will be extremely difficult and certainly unwise to reduce military spending to the levels that prevailed in the first years after the end of the Cold War because I don't think it's fair_ to saddle our men and women in uniform with more missions and less money, as was done in the 1990s."
KEYNOTE ADDRESS: JOINT WARFARE IN THE 21ST CENTURY General James N. Mattis, USMC, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and the Commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, delivered the keynote address. General Mattis observed that like Janus of Roman mythology, we need to look to the past to look forward to the future. "The history that we have provides us some of our very best signposts for the future, especially if some of that history is very, very recent." He stated that "Every military in history_ that transformed, that changed, that modernized, did so on the basis of one thing: they identified a problem and solved it." He added, "Everything I've learned in 35 years of wearing this uniform could be summed up in three words: when you go into a fight, improvise, improvise, improvise."
Of course, one tries to anticipate things ahead of time. The U.S. military, said Mattis, has addressed this by developing the Joint Operating Environment to look at how our forces are employed today and how the joint force will operate in the future through testing and experimentation. Getting these concepts wrong incurs a high cost on the force, and while one can never get it 100-percent correct, "we just don't want to get it completely wrong."
The U.S. will wage warfare in the 21st century as a part of coalitions and must be prepared to engage enemies in "hybrid conditions." General Mattis argued that "we do not want the U.S. forces to be dominant and irrelevant in the future," something that could happen if we don't get the problem and the solution right. Our forces are superior in conventional warfare, but "the area that we are not superior in is irregular warfare, and we are going to make irregular warfare_ a core competency of U.S. military."
We will need to find a right mix of soft and hard power, he said. Much of our forces will need to be able to fight across the entire spectrum of threats. "So the bottom line is we've identified what we think is the fundamental problem, which is gaining competency at the national level and right down to the tactical level under the strategic tactical compression in irregular warfare, without surrendering our nuclear superiority and our conventional superiority, behind which the international community gains great benefit." The recent war in Georgia, he concluded, served as a reminder that we "surrender our superiority in conventional war at our own peril."
PANEL 3: WHO WILL FIGHT FOR US? Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy, director of research for the 21st Century Defense Initiative, and the Sydney Stein, Jr. Chair at the Brookings Institution, opened by commending the rapid pace of organizational learning that has taken place in the military over the past several years. Overall, he said, the force was currently in "pretty good shape." Smart, young, and career- oriented people are joining and middle-aged people are staying in the force and doing effective work, but the quality of command leadership has been uneven.
Not long ago, O'Hanlon said, he was very worried about readiness indicators and the quality of the modestly sized (compared to the total populace) force, but things have improved. Of course, he noted, some of this can be attributed to the state of the U.S. economy, but success in Iraq has made it easier to recruit because success sells, and there was an idea that the pace of deployments might ease up. While problems on the personnel front were never quite as bad as they were portrayed, he said, there are still some concerns relating to rising service member suicide and divorce rates, percentages of those severely affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, and, perhaps in the long-term, slipping levels of skills for traditional high-end warfighting.
He stated that a better job needed to be done by the military health system at taking care of Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Some sort of voucher system for mental health issues might be useful, to provide service people "more freedom to get the mental health care they need-- wherever they need it, from whomever."
O'Hanlon also discussed the issue of fairness and military service in the all-volunteer force. While he noted that it is not fair that so few out of so many serve, the issue of effectiveness is crucial. He felt that it was not quite time to lower the quality of the force and hinder effectiveness by making some kind of military service compulsory. He pointed to the military's ability to improve the situation in Iraq over the past few ways as an example of why now is not the time to implement mandatory service.
Colonel Thomas McNaugher, USAR (ret.), senior principal researcher and director of the Supply Chain Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, agreed with O'Hanlon on the notion of fairness, but noted that the U.S. "is not a nation that ever buys a worst-case ground force". At the same time, he felt the all-volunteer force had professionalized to the point where "the operational routines are so complicated that I don't know how you would put a large, young, largely untrained draft force back into this without significant change in the military."
The Army's force size coming into the 21st century (482,000 Soldiers) was set for a style of war that was "nasty, brutish, and short," but now we find ourselves using this force for wars that are "nasty, brutish, and long." While former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's departure allowed for an increase in Army end-strength, people are still very expensive. In addition, the Reserve Component has shifted from a strategic to an operational reserve and that has caused some friction that may not be sustainable in the long-term. While the recession, along with a downturn in casualties abroad, has helped for recruiting and expanding the size of ground forces, even an expanded force will have difficulties if mastery of too many styles of warfare is expected from it. Increased demands on service members may make us need to reconsider and lengthen the notion of what makes a military career. He concluded by discussing the issue of fairness and military service, saying, "One thing we all could do is maybe pay for the war_ instead of having our kids pay for it and our grandkids pay for it. We could at least start there."
Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar in defense and security policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed with O'Hanlon that too much has been made about the lack of quality in the force. "The notion of the reduction of quality of force does not survive contact with the force_. This is the best Army that has ever existed from the standpoint of carrying out the kinds of missions that it's carrying out_. There has never been a better force than this, so whatever we've been doing has not been harming the quality of the force on the ground." However, he was adamant that both ground forces and the defense budget are too small. Iraq and Afghanistan "are_ the first wars that we've fought, to my knowledge, for which we have not mobilized at all beyond those who have already volunteered for service, and we have not increased taxes to pay for them and we have not increased baseline defense spending by any measurable margin. We've tried to do all of this year to year on the cheap--we've tried to slide through." He concluded by saying that if we can spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the economic stimulus, then we can spend more on defense, which will have a positive economic effect and meet "national security interest[s] and a moral imperative" for the U.S.
PANEL 4: BROTHER, DO YOU HAVE A DIME? Janine Davidson, an assistant professor of public policy at the George Mason University, former Air Force office, and the author of The Fog of Peace (forthcoming), began by thanking both the men and women in uniform and the civilians operating side-by-side with them. "It reminds me of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. They say that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. Think about deploying to the field the way some of these civilians do, without the kind of support that the military has, _ without health care, without the life insurance that the military has, without logistical support and, most of all, without the understanding and the appreciation from the American people that the military gets today."
She cautioned that interagency structures and architectures might not be the most important areas of emphasis. "We can get more people from more agencies. We can spend a lot of money. But once we get there, if they're operating off of different sheets of music, then we're no better off, so it doesn't really matter what our architecture looks like." In addition, there are several uncomfortable truths. First, the U.S. is still at war and the economy is in crisis, so even if we wanted to reorganize at this time we might be unable to afford it. Next, the U.S. government's system of checks and balances rightfully places brakes upon optimizing bureaucratic and organizational efficiency. Reform is hard and takes time. Last, enthusiasm for reforming the system gives some people an excuse for not working on the things that need to get done while they await the 100-percent solution. "We can't afford to wait but we can't really afford to start over, either."
With the above in mind, she focused on four things already in place or that could be implemented to improve interagency performance. First, we should expand the definition of "veteran" status and benefits to civilians working in the conflict zone and extend to them the support they need in the field. Next, we should modify and fund the Consortium for Complex Operations as an interagency hub for capturing and disseminating lessons learned. We must also continue to do the "heavy thinking" on developing and improving interagency doctrine. "A lot of people like to pooh-pooh doctrine_ [but] like planning, it's the process sometimes that's almost more important or at least as important as the product." Last, we need to expand upon and improve civilian expeditionary capacity and the Provincial Reconstruction Team models.
In doing all this, however, we need to take a number of steps, argued Davidson. One of them is to clean up our terminology. Terms such as "shaping," "pre-conflict," and "irregular warfare" can have negative effects on relationships with allies and host-nation governments. Another is to reexamine the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and re- craft it in order to make it work. Finally, Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds need improved coordination in order to better target them to achieve strategic objectives.
She concluded by stating that we must do a better job at building government strategic planning from the top, improving information sharing across diverse actors in the field that can be hindered by different forms of cyber security and encryption, and improving the Interagency Management System for contingency planning and crisis management. "We shouldn't confuse our frustration over this problem set with the fact that what we're trying to do around the world and in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially, is just really hard."
Ambassador Thomas Schweich, a visiting professor of law and ambassador in residence at Washington University in St. Louis, opened by noting that during his service in the George W. Bush administration as ambassador for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan, the Washington interagency process was by far the toughest part of his job which also included working in Afghanistan and coordinating with European allies. He described the interagency process--both in the U.S. and in dealing with allies--as either "uncoordinated lack of action" or "action without coordination." In the U.S. the National Security Council "has the coordinating role among the interagency, but _the way it was formed and staffed, it wasn't really designed for coordinating major roles all at once." Enforcement of agency behavior is also difficult. Bureaucratic infighting and funding imbalances, Schweich said, are major factors affecting interagency relations. There has to be a "better recognition of how the funding ought to flow so that the experts can actually do the job." Lack of strategy, he added, is not always the problem. The problem often is the lack of implementation and the unwillingness of some actors within the interagency process to be followers, rather than leaders.
Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, USA (ret.), a writer, strategist, and commentator, stated that "Woody Allen famously said that 90 percent of life is just showing up. Well, so is the interagency." He argued that the Army and Marine Corps does not want to be in charge on the ground, but that if no one else shows up, then they are the American representatives by default. He felt that CERP funds needed to be directed by commanders at the tactical level. Furthermore, he argued that the military does not have to be in the supporting role in counterinsurgency operations, calling its role that of "a deep, firm foundation without which everything collapses." One could pull out from Iraq or Afghanistan State, DEA, or Treasury, and the effort would have problems, but it would not collapse. "Pull out the military, and see what works." What is important is for a clear chain of command, not necessarily military, to be in place.
Peters cautioned those who point to the General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker model in Iraq should be careful. "Don't institutionalize something that worked because of a wonderful personal relationship. Those guys were the best tag team in modern U.S. history, but normally somebody's got to be in charge." Strategy and strategic planning, rather than increased resources, are key for getting things done. "The interagency is like herding cats, and when you come to the table, you can't just come with a set of emotional beliefs and prejudices. You've got to come with skills and abilities."
CONCLUSION Harvey Sicherman, the president of FPRI, summed up the panel discussions as follows:
* Roles and Missions. "The thesis was put forward that we need a balance of capabilities that is somehow going to be derived from less money, to which we have to apply certain hedges. But there was a big argument over the relationship between what we had to do to fight the current conflicts and the changes that we have to make for the future. So the transformation notion is now breaking down into two segments--the current battle and problems of the future."
* Defense Economics and Procurement. "It was pointed out that while the defense budget is a smaller percentage of GDP than it used to be, it is in gross terms higher, and it has to be placed in the context of the general federal budget crunch, which might be described best as entitlements versus the rest. The U.S. spends what is equal to 22 of the next highest level of expenditures by other countries, but we do not pass the solvency test, which is the relationship between resources and what we have to do. The various reasons why include the ever more difficult procurement process. The general conclusion was that we are in a crucial phase of recapitalization that will be necessary after the recent strains and stresses."
* Joint Warfare in the 21st Century. "General Mattis gave us some idea of what he expects the operational environment to be in the future-- coalition warfare, hybrid wars, that we had to make irregular warfare_ a core competency. But we have to avoid, at all costs, a situation where we are dominant but irrelevant to the crisis that might confront us."
* Personnel. "It seems that we're in better shape than we thought with respect to the force and our ability to get the right recruits into it and put the right people in the field. Nonetheless, an important social and ethical issue was raised, those having been done by so few for so long, along with the question what relationship that American society would have going forward with this kind of volunteer force. We don't have the option anymore for expanding this force very rapidly through a draft, and the point was also made that we're not doing enough for those who have been through the latest round of fighting, particularly after they come home."
* The Interagency Process. "We heard a presentation on truths, mainly the difficulties of the current situation, what has been done and done right, the people who were involved, the PRT model, and what needs to be undone, including the terminology and ... what the core mission is actually supposed to do. The interagency process emerged from this discussion as an attempt to legislate leadership, and it is very important to note that in the absence of such leadership, what was at best a difficult system becomes rather impossible, so people go around it. But if this system were to work in the future, an important part of it would be to get people with some kind of an integrated background, and we were enlightened to the effect that the federal government is actually trying to do something about that."
 Robert M. Gates, " A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age ," Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb. 2009.
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