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Monday  March 9, 2009

"There's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn't expect special treatment."


-- Roland Dobbins


Letter From England

Terrorism re-emerged today in Northern Ireland <http://tinyurl.com/c4fo5m > , <http://tinyurl.com/aehoyg> , <http://tinyurl.com/cwovb4> , and <http://tinyurl.com/b955qq > . Given that 77% of the GNP in Northern Ireland is already government spending, I'm wondering if keeping Ulster is worth the hassle.

Follow the money: the UK police lack the resources to investigate volume crime--offences like burglary, theft, rape, assault, drunkenness, and vandalism--but do have the resources to maintain large databases containing innocent people <http://tinyurl.com/ agjng8>, to investigate political incorrectness agjng8> <http://tinyurl.com/avxsm7 > , and to spy on journalists and civil rights protesters <http://tinyurl.com/dea87u >.  See also this link <http://tinyurl.com/bvv94c>.  They do know how to serve their political masters (and protect themselves).

Under socialism in Europe, it is assumed that bureaucrats have better judgment than the person in the street. This leads to programmes like this <http://tinyurl.com/awrbke>  and this <http://tinyurl.com/by8rle>. 

The English like to speed, so this will not be popular: <http://tinyurl.com/ccq9gn >. 

Labour does like to spend money <http://tinyurl.com/ckmvys>. 

-- Harry Erwin, PhD "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." (Benjamin Franklin, 1755)


Melinda Gates in Vogue


Have you seen this? No iPods for the kids. "It is essential to them that those kids have as regular a childhood as possible," says Melinda's brother Raymond French. I thought having an iPhone was regular for kids these days.



No data; I met Mrs. Gates when she was still a product manager at Microsoft. She seemed very professional and competent. She has certainly done an excellent job of keeping the children out of the news and away from the paparazzi. As to iPhones and  iPods I would guess that the children are not precisely deprived, even if they don't have Apple products. Cell phones and pocket computers are part of growing up now. I have no idea of what other social resources are available to them. It's not really my business...

If the Gates Foundation decided to take mankind to space they could permanently end problems caused by shortages of energy and mineral resources. Wealth is generally the answer to many problems, including over-population; but then I said that in A Step Farther Out.


For a pdf copy of A Step Farther Out, click here:


Poland Going on Offense in Afghanistan


It’s nice to see who your friends are.



"It's 10 times more expensive to kill them than to keep them alive."


-- Roland Dobbins

The end of the death penalty? It just costs too much? It is an odd commentary on our government.


Submitted for your consideration 


Submitted for your consideration and information without endorsement


David Wilkerson, author of "The Cross and the Switchblade" ... is "compelled by the Holy Spirit to send out an urgent message" about his prediction.

"An earth-shattering calamity is about to happen," he writes. "It is going to be so frightening, we are all going to tremble – even the godliest among us."

Wilkerson's vision is of fires raging through New York City.

"It will engulf the whole megaplex, including areas of New Jersey

and Connecticut. Major cities all across America will experience riots and blazing fires – such as we saw in Watts, Los Angeles, years ago," he explains. "There will be riots and fires in cities worldwide. There will be looting – including Times Square, New York City. What we are experiencing now is not a recession, not even a depression. We are under God’s wrath. <snip>



Lean Factories Find It Hard to Cut Jobs Even in a Slump:


What strikes me is that the automation these companies have employed over the past ten years has basically cut the jobs, but long before the recession.

It's an interesting piece to ponder.


Globalization made what industry we kept very efficient. The rest of the economy consisted of opening containers of goods and consuming them, then paying for them by borrowing money and flipping real estate. Water runs downhill but it was never supposed to hit bottom.


Carbon Cap & Trade to raise Utility Bills by 11-19% (and there's no scientific proof that it will work)


John Harlow, President

Depends on what you mean by work. If by "work" you mean enriching Al Gore, it will work.



This might be entertaining.


A use for opera I'd not envisioned.


Music to fire bridges by!


Chuck and the "swing" in the budget

The lie never dies, it appears. There WAS NO Clinton balanced budget. They took out a series of short-term loans from the Social Security fund, listed that money as income on the budget, did not list as a liability that the loans would have to be paid back. The "surplus" was a mirage of artful accounting. It never existed.

My high school government teacher out in the boondocks could walk a bunch of country kids through this until they understood it. Why can't anybody else be bothered to do anything except repeat propaganda? Are you going to tell me YOU didn't know this?


I have done it a dozen times, and weary of it. I presumed someone would do it for me. Thanks.

It remains though, that Clinton and Gingrich were retrained in their spending compared to Bush and the Republicans after Gingrich. Factor out 9/11 and they still spend like madmen.




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Tuesday,  March 10, 2009

Clinton/Budget Baloney!

[You are probably going to disagree with me on most of this. That's okay by me. :]

>Chuck and the "swing" in the budget > >The lie never dies,

Whoo boy - don't tell me you are buying off on that Cato Institute Kool-Aid are you?

This is the same old story told over and over again - if a Democrat does something good, it is just the leftover good stuff from what a previous Republican did. If a Republican does something bad, he is just cleaning up the mess from a previous Democrat.

The simple fact is, Clinton, despite being rather horrible on a personal basis, did a good job. The economy flourished, the budget was, if not balanced, infinitely better off than after eight years of Bush. While the "why" of it is arguable, the facts are pretty hard to deny. And in truth, the "why" just does not make that much difference anyway. It happened.

What truly agitates me today is the hate being spewed from the Republicans. They seem willing to do anything, say anything, follow anyone to get back in power. Let's see, while they *were* in power they consistently refused to cooperate at all with Democrats, and even now, are far more willing to bite themselves in the small of their backs rather than cooperate with those hated Democrats.

This is non-sane. Most of the Republicans are not arguing, dissenting, or being uncooperative because of principle, they are doing so because something did not go their way and they are essentially "pouting" about it. A few, like you and a few other people, including Newt, are reacting sanely. Most are just reacting - and enjoying the opportunity to vilify the Democrats.

Again, this is insane - every bit as insane as the insane far left. I remind you it was a "big business" Republican who led the country into the largest central government we have ever had, and spent our tax money as if it were imperial tribute. In other words, as if he had no responsibility for financial accountability at all. Further, he argued financial accountability as the reason to block, deny, and oppose any measures by the democrats.

The non-sane republicans should take a good long hard look around. If they did, they would realize how much is being offered to them - the opportunity to play the game *with* the opposition - much more in the mold of two opposing sports teams. Instead, they insist of making a quasi-religion out of how evil the opposition is.

This worked for them for about a decade, but in the last election, it appears people have finally wised up and starting at least trying to think. They are out of practice for sure, but they are trying again. The last time we had such a good opportunity was when Ronald Regan was in the office, and for heaven's sake -he was a great President. Obama can do really well too, once people start to think.

I truly fear we might have a civil war break out soon - the lunatics in the Republican party would sure start one. The lunatics in the Democratic party might join them. After all, it is difficult to tell them apart!

-Best -Paul

Come now. We are nowhere near a civil war. You overestimate both the fervor and the numbers of those out there in the fever swamps of left and right.

I really haven't time to go through all this just now, but the summary is simple: there's some truth on both sides. Clinton was a triangulator, a populist, not an ideologue, and I don't disagree that he did a fairly good job of running the country; he was no Jimmy Carter. Some of his budget balancing was trickery and book keeping, and so what? And much of it was the peace benefit. The Cold War was ended. The US had no significant military threat. Then came 9/11.

Bush was faced with 9/11 and the demand that we Do Something. We did, and there were not all that many people who opposed his moves. It's fashionable now to claim opposition to the invasion of Iraq, but at the time I felt pretty damned lonesome when I said we'd do better to invest in nuclear energy and technology development and forego military involvement in the Middle East. And you do not need to remind me of the sins of the Country Club Republicans; but then I was saying much of that while they ruled.

Lord Acton's actual statement was that All power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. We have not had absolute power at work in this nation, but the corrupting tendency of power demands that no one group or faction rule for a long time; power tends to corrupt. Limiting the amount of power limits the corruption, but allowing the opposition to come in and clean things out helps too. Alas, we have a system that doesn't really let the victors come in and clean house; much of the power tends to concentrate in the hands of a faceless bureaucracy that can't be changed. I often wonder if a naked spoils system complete with nepotism and cronyism wouldn't be better: I don't really care if the guy who fills the pot hole on my street is the alderman's brother in law. What I want is a filled pot hole, and to get that may require that the pot hole filler be worried about his job. But that's for another essay.

I lived through the New Deal, and while I was pretty young at the time I paid attention to my father and his friends, and I read much about it as it happened and not long after it happened. We weathered that. We will weather this. Edmund Burke's image of the cattle in a field occupied by crickets who believe they are the most important inhabitants comes to mind.


Winston Smith at work? 

Orwell was a visionary, even if a quarter century off.


<Wikipedia scrubs Obama eligibility Mention of citizenship issues deleted in minutes, 'offending' users banned

Wikipedia, the online "free encyclopedia" mega-site written and edited entirely by its users, has been deleting within minutes any mention of eligibility issues surrounding Barack Obama's presidency, with administrators kicking off anyone who writes about the subject, WND has learned.

A perusal through Obama's current Wikipedia entry <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obama>  finds a heavily guarded, mostly glowing biography about the U.S. president. Some of Obama's most controversial past affiliations, including with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and former Weathermen terrorist Bill Ayers, are not once mentioned, even though those associations received much news media attention and served as dominant themes during the presidential elections last year. >




Maxine Waters on socializing the oil industry -- only she catches herself.



The United States has never gone the full Socialist route of nationalizing industries as Britain and much of Europe did. The results were grim there; they will be grim here. And of course the USSR went the full nine yards, and getting back has been painful and my not be possible. But we have a way to go before that.

One faction insists on socializing industries; another insist on unrestricted free trade. Neither makes much sense to me. An economy that consists of opening containers of goods bought with borrowed money is not sustainable; nor is an economy in which the workers pretend to work and the state pretends to pay them.


The Sixth Sense a Wearable Computer

In this TED video Pattie Maes demonstrates a wearable computer that is aware of its surroundings. The hardware consists of a camera, projector and cell phone all working together. The projector allows you to use any convenient surface as a monitor - a piece of paper, a wall or even your hand. The computer recognizes gestures (think Tom Cuise in Minority Report). The camera can recognize objects and provide you with information about the object. For instance if you pick up a book it will provide you with an Amazon review of the book.

It is still under development and I'm not sure how contrived the demonstration was but it looks pretty neat. The elements of the prototype cost only $350.


Tim Boettcher

I suspect we have a way to go before you can buy that even at twenty times the price; but it is a picture of where things might go.


Important opportunity to get Serenity into orbit

Dear Dr Pournelle,

Here's an opportunity for Firefly fans to get Serenity into orbit. NASA is running a competition to name ISS Node 3 and "Serenity" is one of the options. See http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/name_ISS/index.html

"Help us to name another important addition to the station - Node 3 and its cupola! Vote using the poll on the right.

"Voting will be open until March 20th, 2009. NASA will announce the winning name in April 2009.

"NASA wants your opinion in naming the International Space Station's Node 3 - a connecting module and its cupola - before the two segments travel to space and are installed on the orbiting laboratory. The name should reflect the spirit of exploration and cooperation embodied by the space station, and follow in the tradition set by Node 1- Unity- and Node 2- Harmony."

"Serenity" is the most popular choice by far but let's keep it there!

Best wishes,

Simon Woodworth.



Hi Jerry; Just picked up your "INFERNO"

 Into chapt 3 or so, thought I would take a break, drop you a quick line, also so I can savor the read and not blast thru it too quickly. I am really enjoying it. Since I have never read it b4, thought it would be a good idea before I read ESCAPE FROM HELL, I'm funny that way....Your idea of putting out a free chapter on Amazon to preview was really smart, and the reason I ordered INFERNO. It occurs to me the reason so few authors do that , is because they fear if people read their previews gratis, they won't buy the book cause the readers will find out their work is shit! Bad for sales ;) and so it goes.... Your and Niven's' hell is far more interesting than the current hell I'm living in, i.e. Terra Firma. Who said "Earth is hell with window dressing"? You? Thanks for a really good yarn, and of course, all the best!

Mark Bender





For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:



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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Budget Baloney

Paul said:

"I remind you it was a "big business" Republican who led the country into the largest central government we have ever had, and spent our tax money as if it were imperial tribute. In other words, as if he had no responsibility for financial accountability at all."

This may be true, but the President and the current Congress are are cooperating to make him look like a piker. In addition, most people seem to ignore the fact that the Congress was controlled by Democrats in the last 2 years of the Bush presidency. The president can spend very little that Congress does not authorize.

"The non-sane republicans should take a good long hard look around. If they did, they would realize how much is being offered to them - the opportunity to play the game *with* the opposition - much more in the mold of two opposing sports teams."

The congressional Republicans were excluded in the crafting of the massive stimulus package. The President neatly summed up the situation with his observation that "I won", setting the tone for his governing relationship with Republicans.

I am at a loss to understand what is being offered to the Republicans by the President or Congressional Democrats. It appears to me that they (the Democrats) are eager to use the opportunity of controlling both the White House and Capitol Hill to ram through as much of their agenda as fast as possible, while treating the Republicans as a nuisance. Of course, the Republicans might well do the same if the roles were reversed.

Steve Chu

Are you astonished? Neither party is interested in limiting the power of government or devolving power to lower levels of government. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy prevails at all levels.


Clinton, Bush, and Obama


Correspondent Paul seems to have a very selective memory when it comes to Bill Clinton. I must point out that the economic prosperity in the early Clinton years was set up and paid for during the Reagan and Bush periods. Rather than handle that favorable economic situation responsibly, the Internet bubble and other abuses were either encouraged or winked at. The economy trailed off in the last quarter of 1999, and March of 2000 was when IPO's and other public offerings fell off a cliff. That's more than 6 months BEFORE Bush 2 was elected and nearly a year before he took office. IPO activity was pretty well dead by summer 2000. Still, by shear screeching repetition and with the enthusiastic cooperation of the media many political partisans named that period and the succeeding years the 'Bush Recession'. And now Paul is indignant that the business world's reactions to Obama's own actions as president are being laid on - GASP! - Obama's doorstep! Holy reality check, Batman.

Regards, George

At some point I'll do an essay on all this, but really, the principles are pretty well known to all: Government doesn't know how to bring prosperity, minimum wages are either so low as to have no effect, or else cause unemployment -- were that not the case why not set them at $25 an hour? -- and bureaucracies become increasingly ineffective at the tasks for which they were set up. Societies convert more and more of their output into structure, and eventually the structure is so think that new activities become difficult to impossible. Moving money around in circles and providing "services" works so long as there is production but before you can consume something someone must produce it. An economy based on buying goods cheaply from overseas and paying for them with borrowed money cannot be stable. 

And Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy always applies.

It seems pointless to keep writing those truth, but apparently there is no choice: they don't see as obvious to everyone else as they do to me.


Science Fiction Authors Get Respect in Unexpected Places


You might enjoy this. You will have to go to the strip for 03/11/2009 if you don't use this link today:


Bob Holmes


re: Submitted for your consideration

"J" omitted a very important part of David Wilkerson's message, the first part of Wilkerson's quoted paragraph says "For ten years I have been warning about a thousand fires coming to New York City". Towards the end of the posting Wilkerson says "I do not know when these things will come to pass, but I know it is not far off.". He started warning us in 1999. I wonder; will he still be warning us in 2019?

Wilkerson's blog is here: http://davidwilkersontoday.blogspot.com/  His warning is in his March 7 entry.

I'm pretty sure that everyone that reads your blog (and novels) is aware that calamitous events can happen and the very real need for planning for times when our grocery stores and other service will not be available. It may not be fire and brimstone on the East Coast, it may be floods in the Gulf States, fires in California or power outages during a Canadian Winter. We need to be prepared today.

Tim Boettcher

We need a return to the old Civil Defense organization, but it doesn't look as if that will happen. The Boy Scouts used to have Emergency Preparedness and organize for that, but I haven't seen much of that activity lately.


Nuclear-Warhead Upgrade Delayed; Government Labs Forgot How to Make Parts


Jerry, it is notable, dangerous, and almost pathetic, that at least as far as nuclear weaponry is concerned, we have evidence that we may be slipping into the next dark age. At least we remembered that we used to know how to make the stuff (fogbank).


Rod Wittler

No comment needed.


Too big to fail

"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."

That may be true. Trouble is, if we're consistent with the logic and reasons, it seems like it should apply to governments too.

Tom Brosz


Semmelweis would be so proud, 


Cellphones may spread superbugs in hospitals, says the title. But here's the first paragraph of the story:

"Cell phones belonging to hospital staff were found to be tainted with bacteria -- including the drug-resistant MRSA superbug -- and may be a source of hospital-acquired infections, according to study released Friday."


Semmelweis would be so proud . . .




Socialism vs 'Great Depression'

Hello Dr. Pournelle,

You provided this: ".........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 spent some time in a variety of 'People's Democratic Republics' during the '80's, including Russia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania. Based on my observations of how folks lived in these countries (or didn't live, at the whim of the government), running as smoothly as a top at the time, vs life during the Great Depression as reported first hand by my parents and grandparents and by historical accounts, I'd take the Great Depression in a heartbeat.

Also in 'View' you provided this comment by 'Nat':

"As far as I am concerned, anyone may dare to say whatever they want to, however wicked or foolish; but must then take the consequences of such self-exposure. Therefore it is never prudent to publicly _wish_ for your country's failure. The political outcast is permitted, even encouraged, to _predict_ national failure; but never to _call_ for it. It's the difference between playing Cassandra and playing the Wicked Witch of the West."

I might point out to Nat that wishing for the success President Obama and for the success of the country are contradictory positions. The 'success' of President Obama would in fact confirm that the country, at least the country of our founders and the Constitution, HAS failed. Since Mr. Limbaugh has in this instance and historically expressed his fervent hope for the success of our country it is predictable that he would welcome the failure of it's current president. As do I. I will concede to Nat that given the short but colorful history of how Obama and his minions react to criticism, expressing these opinions publicly, especially if the expression is widely disseminated, may not be prudent.

As Mark Twain said: "Support your country always and your government when it deserves it.". I do and this one doesn't.

Bob Ludwick


Bypassing Larry Niven, 


A person's own cells are converted to neurons in a promising approach to Parkinson's disease:


In theory, this approach can be broadened to any type of cell, thus bypassing Larry Niven's dystopian vision of people executed for their parts. Well, bypassed for us, since they already appear to be doing Larry's thing in China.



Geryon and bawdy limericks - 

Dear Jerry,

I've been reading my copy of Escape from Hell, and enjoying it immensely! I just met The Wuss...

The actual reason I'm writing is because of a scene a bit earlier in the book, when our heroes (?) meet Geryon. When he started singing one of the dirtiest limericks ever recorded, I just howled.

By wild coincidence, I've recently been listening to a compilation of sea chanteys and the like called the Rogue's Gallery  <http://www.amazon.com/Rogues-
dp/B000GGSMD0>  >, which I'd like to recommend to you. The track titled 'The Good Ship Venus' (you can just imagine...) contains the limerick that Geryon was singing, and more besides. It's enough to make even a sailor blush.

Though not every track on the album is good (what they did to 'Drunken Sailor' should be a crime), there are a lot of gems. 'High Barbary' is relevant these days - someone should re-write it about the 'coast of high So-ma-li'. 'Blood Red Roses' as sung by Sting, of all people, is worth a listen. And 'Boney' is a funny, yet surprisingly accurate, history of Napoleon's adventures. Too bad for him he ended up "cruisin' on the Billy Ruffian," bound for St. Helena.

Disclaimer: since there are a few bawdy tracks, I wouldn't recommend listening to this album with the grandkids around.

As always, I wish good luck and good health to you. I enjoy your site almost daily. The frank and rational discussion that can be found there is something sorely missing from American life these days, in my opinion. Keep up the good work!


Edward Smith

Emphasis added. You have been warned.


LORAN-C to be Discontinued


The US FY2010 budget is discontinuing LORAN-C navigation aids operated by the Coast Guard. Link & story below.

Regards, George


US Coast Guard to Discontinue LORAN Stations


Last month, the US Coast Guard <http://www.uscg.mil>  announced that due to economic conditions, they would be closing down the 24 LORAN-C <http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/loran/default.htm>  (Long Range Aid to Navigation) stations operated under the auspices of the USCG. LORAN stations provide navigation, location and timing services for both civil and military air, land and marine users. According to the USCG, LORAN-C is approved as an en route supplemental air navigation system for both Instrument Flight Rule (IFR <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instrument_flight_rules> ) and Visual Flight Rule (VFR <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_flight_rules> ) operations. The LORAN-C system serves the 48 continental states, their coastal areas and parts of Alaska.

On February 26, 2009, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB <http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/> ) publicly announced the President's Fiscal Year 2010 Budget <http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/assets/fy2010_new_era/A_New_Era_of_Responsibility2.pdf> . In the section <http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/assets/fy2010_new_era/Department_of_Homeland_Security.pdf> for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS <http://www.dhs.gov> ), the budget "supports the termination of outdated systems such as the terrestrial-based, long-range radionavigation (LORAN-C) operated by the US Coast Guard, resulting in an offset of $36 million in 2010 and $190 million over five years." The USCG, once a part of the US Department of Transportation, is now under the direction of DHS.

LORAN-A stations were developed beginning in World War II, and signals were transmitted on frequencies in and around our present-day 160 meter band. LORAN-A was responsible for reduced amateur radio operations, including frequency and power limitations, on 160 meters in the United States. In 1979, the Coast Guard phased out the LORAN-A stations; they were replaced by LORAN-C stations. The newer stations operated on 100 kHz, enabling the restrictions on 160 meters due to LORAN functions, to be dropped.

According to the Coast Guard, the nation's oldest continuous sea-going service will continue to operate the current LORAN-C system through the end of fiscal year 2009; it is in the process of preparing detailed plans for implementing the fiscal year 2010 budget. According to USCG Vice Commandant and Chief Operating Officer Vice Admiral V. S. Crea, further details of the LORAN-C termination plan will be available upon the submission of the President's full budget. -- Some information provided by Cliff Appel, W7CGA

I haven't sailed in years. We used LORAN back in the 60's when Poul Anderson and I did some sailing in my midget ocean racer, but I sold that boat a long time ago.


Lithium breakthrough could charge batteries in 10 seconds

A new version of lithium battery technology can either provide a higher storage density than current batteries, or can charge and discharge as fast as a supercapacitor, emptying its entire charge in under 10 seconds.


Bill Shields







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Thursday, March 12, 2009

This is long and detailed. It is time to rethink the defense establishment in the US, but it can only be done as part of a review of just what are the national goals of the US. Just what are our national commitments? And more to the point, what should they be? (To skip this, click here.)


March 6, 2009

Frank Hoffman is an FPRI Senior Fellow and Research Fellow with the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Arlington, Virginia. A former Marine officer, Mr. Hoffman served on the staff of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (Hart-Rudman Commission); was the National Security Analyst and Director, Marine Strategic Studies Group, at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command; and served on the Professional Staff, Commission on Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces. This essay is based on his presentation at the February 12, 2009 Defense Showstoppers: National Security Challenges for the Obama Administration conference, sponsored by FPRI and the Reserve Officers Association, held in Washington, DC.

Videos of all presentations at the conference are available at: http://www.fpri.org/research/nationalsecurity/showstoppers/index.html 


 Coming up at FPRI, with special opportunities for FPRI Partners:

Mar. 16 - a public booktalk by Harvard historian Niall Ferguson on his new book "The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World," followed by a private dinner for Silver Partners

Apr. 19 - a private brunch talk for Bronze Partners by military correspondent Tom Ricks on A Look Back at the Surge in Iraq, and a Look Ahead to the War in Afghanistan, with complimentary copies of his new book "The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008"

Sep. 15 - a private dinner talk for Platinum Partners by strategist Andrew Krepinevich on his new book "7 Deadly Scenarois: Warfare in the 21st Century"

Nov. 12 - FPRI's Annual Dinner featuring an address by one of America's most prominent foreign affairs correspondents, Robert D. Kaplan

For details, contact Alan Luxenberg at lux@fpri.org or 215 732 3774, ext. 105.

To become an FPRI Partner, visit:



by Frank Hoffman

In a notable essay in Foreign Affairs, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has directly challenged his strategists and the military chiefs, declaring that the defining principle of the new National Defense Strategy is "balance" and announcing that throwing money at the Department of Defense's problems was no longer acceptable.[1]

Secretary Gates' insistence that the DoD return to the basics of strategic planning rather than using nearly limitless resources is heartening. Too often in Washington, the meaning of strategy is lost. We have apparently forgotten how to "choose realistic goals or craft strategies likely to achieve our objectives at affordable costs in the face of various constraints."[2]

The greatest imbalance in our national security framework is the distinct lack of relationship between the Pentagon's coffers and the resources that the nation is willing to apply in a sustainable way. Walter Lippmann once declared that "foreign policy consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation's commitments and the nation's power."[3] This is known as the famous Lippmann Solvency Test. By that standard, U.S. foreign policy and military posture is close to bankruptcy. Our fiscal commitments and our economic base are in shambles, and we have expended our military to the point where it is certainly strained. We have no "comfortable surplus of power in reserve," and the prospects for rebuilding the military are at risk. Whatever grand strategy the Obama administration seeks to craft, its principal task is to get us out of the red--strategically, militarily, and fiscally.

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? Gauging America's defense needs has never been easy. The proverbial "how much is enough?" question has never been answered with any scientific prediction. The current security environment comprises emerging powers, Islamic fundamentalism, rogue nations with hopes of becoming nuclear states, and transnational terrorists adept at attacking the sinews of modern societies. Our national security strategy and our military forces must prepare for this broadening set of missions.

The most common measure of defense spending compares a country's budgetary resources against those of other countries. The United States nearly outspends the rest of the world combined. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, U.S. military spending exceeded that of the next 24 countries in the world in 2006.[4] Very few of these countries represent potential adversaries. Even combining Russian and Chinese defense budgets, we outspend them by a factor of three.

Another common measure of defense spending is to assess how much of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) is being extracted for defense. A number of defense analysts have been calling for a defined level of investment--a floor of 4 percent of GDP--for defense spending.[5] This is far lower than during earlier eras, where 8 to 12 percent of our total economic output was applied to defense. Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the JCS, has supported this proposal.

For reference, excluding direct war-related supplemental funding, today's Pentagon absorbs nearly 3.7 percent out of a $14+ trillion economy. Adding the funding provided via supplemental funding brings today's level up to 4.2 percent.[6] So, the proposal to lock in a "four percent for freedom" would lock in the Bush administration's defense mobilization and also add the current war's supplemental funding into the Pentagon's baseline budget. This would be roughly $600 billion a year and would add at least $200 billion a year to the budget deficit.

GREATER DISCIPLINE There are a number of arguments raised against this specific level of spending:

Astrategic. If there is one lesson from the ongoing Long War, it is that there is more to national security than armed might and traditional warfighting capabilities. Our diplomatic and development tools are anemic, and homeland security is thin. Accordingly, it is incumbent upon our nation's leaders to understand and act upon this lesson wisely. It is astrategic to simply assign a flat percentage to the armed services in the face of these competing demands.

Simply stated, the nation's GDP is a measure of our capacity to invest; it does not reflect what the requirements are, or what the nation's overall strategy should be. It's a crude measure of what we can afford to pay as a nation. What we paid in the past for defense is relevant, as long as we understand the context today. We spend far more today for energy, health care, and social entitlements, and thus we are no longer able to make simplistic comparisons.

Inaccuracy: Relative vs. Absolute Spending. The impression has been created that the nation is not spending enough on defense. Some want the American taxpayer to believe that the military has been badly shortchanged for years.

It is not accurate to say that defense spending has declined. We are spending less in relative percentage terms of the total resources the country has than in the past. It is true that we spend relatively less of our total national economy and a smaller percentage of our federal budget for military purposes (dropping from 40 to 20 percent since Vietnam). Thus, we are spending less relatively than we could, but this does not equate to spending less. It means that we can afford to spend more, not that we are spending less in absolute terms.

When one examines the defense budget in constant dollars (adjusted for inflation) in these same time periods, one sees a different story. Defense spending in real and absolute terms has grown. In fact, the last administration made a concerted effort to build up the armed forces, and the FY2009 baseline budget for DoD represented a 44 percent increase in real or inflation-adjusted resources. The fact of the matter is that defense spending, in real terms (inflation-adjusted dollars), has increased over time. While the Pentagon's share of the federal budget has declined, its real or absolute resources have increased. The total top line for DoD has increased from $452 billion to $589 billion in constant budget dollars. So the declining defense argument needs a bit of clarification. In real terms, we spend more today, over 40 percent more.[7]

Rewarding Mismanagement. A widely cited study by the Government Accountability Office shows that many of the Pentagon's major hardware programs turned out to be far more expensive than initially projected and late in delivery. The average cost escalation in research and development rose 40 percent over the last eight-year period, and total acquisition costs rose 26 percent. The total acquisition costs of the military major programs grew by nearly $300 billion over its initial estimates since 2000. The Pentagon's processes for estimating costs and overseeing weapons systems has been described as '"fragmented and broken."[8]

Examples abound. The Marine's Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle has experienced 168-percent cost growth during its lengthy development. The Air Force F-22 program, expected to produce 341 fighters at a cost of $180 million back in 2000, ended up producing 184 airframes at an increased unit cost of $350 million each. The end result of these cost overruns is a serious strategic challenge for DoD. The cost overruns have robbed our troops of nearly three years worth of recapitalization funding. In view of this record, giving the Pentagon extra money does not force its program acquisition experts to fundamentally change the way Pentagon plans and buys.

TOWARDS SOLVENCY Gaining an appreciation of where we stand is an important first step. Our national debt has grown nearly 80 percent over the last eight years, rising from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion. This now represents about 80 percent of GDP, and it is projected to grow to 120 percent of GDP over the next five years, back at the level we were after World War II. This large debt has been accrued by living beyond our means as individuals and collectively as a nation.

The situation is getting worse. On top of growing government spending for benefits, we have borrowed a trillion dollars to prosecute the GWOT, and another half trillion dollars to build up the military since 9/11. Additionally, we are borrowing another trillion to prop up our financial institutions and planning to borrow another $0.8 trillion to shock our economy out of an incipient recession. This will substantially increase our annual deficit, which reached a new high last year at $458 billion, and which will now be closer to a $1.2 trillion for the next two years. This undercuts our ability to invest in economic and military security.

We need either to significantly increase taxes to pay for our security, or to downsize our strategy and investment levels to a more sustainable level. Given our insolvent base, a lower defense budget--closer to 3 percent of GDP or roughly $460 billion--offers a more sustainable basis for America's security. Continued government spending cannot continue at these levels indefinitely without undercutting the economic security of future generations.

REPROGRAMMING FOR A SUSTAINABLE STRATEGY Achieving a balanced and sustainable posture will require hard calls. We cannot borrow our way out of the problem. Proposed shifts in posture and investment include:

A less assertive and less unilateralist approach to foreign policy and security challenges. Such a strategy must realize that "No matter how powerful the United States is, it cannot effectively address these challenges alone."[9] This is not a "strategy of restraint" or neo-isolationism, as some propose.[10] Instead, we should pursue a more discriminate and disciplined grand strategy. We need a more realistic approach to promoting democracy and freedom, one that relies more on example and less on force of arms.

Reduced military forward presence, especially in Europe and Korea where we have obtained strategic success. Fixed forward bases should be reduced to a minimum. Our approach to presence should be minimal footprint and maximum freedom of action by flexible and maneuverable forms of presence.

Reduced strategic force structure levels. This would include substantially reduced nuclear force levels, although more reliable warheads are viable. Cuts to national missile defense are also recommended, to emphasize research and testing rather than premature deployment.

Reductions in planned acquisition levels for the Joint Strike Fighter, which presently stand at some 2,400 airframes at a cost in excess of $250 billion. Reducing the programmed acquisition objective to closer to 1,600 aircraft and investing in unmanned penetrators appears a better long- term investment.

Reshaping the Army's Future Combat System to emphasize ground maneuver, force protection, and ISR integration. This program has many components and appears to be well designed for a broader operational spectrum. However, at a price tag approaching $200 billion, its ambitions outstrip any reasonable projection for available funding. Cuts to this program should be made in aviation aspects and focus resources on ground force protection.

Reframe the Navy's Shipbuilding Priorities. The Navy's long range 30-year ship construction plan is wildly ambitious, requiring nearly $10 billion a year more than is projected for naval acquisition. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that executing the Navy plan will cost $25 billion a year, far more than is projected by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Congressional budgeteers.[11] The Navy's programmed carrier fleet should be reduced from 11 to 9 carriers. The CVN 21 Ford-class carrier, a 100,000+ ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier designed to replace the Nimitz-class series, is estimated at $11.2 billion each. At this cost, we are putting too many eggs into one basket.

Resizing and Reshaping the Ground Force, once current operations wind down. Both the Army and Marines are growing in size to address the strain of two simultaneous, manpower- intensive operations. Scaling our ground forces based on the Afghanistan and Iraq models is not consistent with a longer- range strategy that must address a range of threats. The force should be carefully shaped to emphasize prevention, and innovative organizational models should be explored.[12] A force estimated at 515,000 for the Army and 185,000 for the Marine Corps is sustainable and required, if properly shaped for tomorrow's threats and not yesterday's.

CONCLUSION Secretary Gates recognizes that we cannot eliminate all national security risks by simply approving higher and higher defense budgets. The Defense Department must set priorities, hedge and manage risks, and consider inescapable tradeoffs. It must discipline itself and extract better value out of its procurement practices instead of routinely relying upon the taxpayer's purse for a bailout. It must strike a balance for a sustainable defense.

Achieving a balanced and sustainable security posture will prove to be this administration's gravest challenge.


Notes [1] Robert M. Gates, "A Balanced Strategy," Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 2009, p. 28.

[2] Andrew Krepinevich and Barry Watts, "Lost at the NSC," The National Interest, Jan./Feb. 2009, p. 63.

[3] Walter Lippmann, U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic, Boston: Little, Brown, 1943, pp. 34-36.

[4] International Institute for Strategic Studies, Military Balance 2008, London: IISS, 2008, p. 433-38.

[5] The leading proponents of this view include James Jay Carafano, Baker Spring, and Mackenzie Eaglen, "Four Percent for Freedom: Maintaining Robust National Security Spending," Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation, No. 1023, April 10, 2007. See also MacKenzie Eaglen, "Balancing Strategy and Budgets," Armed Forces Journal, Oct. 2008.

[6] This is according to a historical update produced by the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. See Steven M. Kosiak, "Historical and Projected Funding for Defense: Presentation of FY 2008 Request," Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, Backgrounder, June 7, 2007.

[7] Steven M. Kosiak, Analysis of Proposals to Allocate Four Percent of GDP to Defense," Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, Backgrounder, Sept. 9, 2008.

[8] Michael J. Sullivan, Defense Acquisitions: Fundamental Changes Are Needed to Improve Weapon Program Outcomes, Testimony, Washington, DC: GAO, Sept. 25, 2008.

[9] Shawn Brimley, Michelle Flournoy and Vikram Singh, Making America Grand Again, Washington DC: Center for a New American Security, 2008, p. 27.

[10] Barry Posen, "Stability and Change in U.S. Grand Strategy," Orbis, Fall 2007.

[11] Eric J. Labs, Congressional testimony, "Current and Projected Navy Shipbuilding Programs," before the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee, House Armed Services Committee, Mar. 14, 2008.

[12] Michelle Flournoy and Tammy Schultz, Shaping U.S. Ground Forces For the Future: Getting Expansion Right, Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, June 2007.

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Lasers antiaircraft and mirrors

Cervantes created a foe out of a mirrored man. Since lasers depend on mirrors or their analogs to constantly reflect the beam until it gets to a certain power level to "shoot", surely it must be possible for aircraft (and spacecraft) to have layers of mirrors or structural material containing periodic mirror-like surfaces to defeat the effect of lasers. That would, to me, suggest that lasers are not a final weapon, but only a tool in the arsenal. Inertia weapons like rocks and bullets have to give up energy to be re-routed back to the shooter. A soldier with a shaving mirror and good aim can blind his laser attacker with a flick of the wrist.

Also, in reviewing the latest discussion on drones, it suddenly crossed my mind that with telepresence and miniaturized components, it is now much easier to create an air vehicle that is hardened to more than just lasers. To conceptualize, all critical components to control could be protected within a small armored and mirrored sphere, and the airframe be designed with smaller but redundant controls. Why have rudder control be a single unit on a rudder? Instead four or more independent ones would allow a direct hit on a single one and allow the plane to keep on flying.

Old biplanes could get hit by machine gun blasts and survive with little more than holes in the fabric, provided the pilot or control cables or engine weren't hit. Stick the control components tight to the engine to minimize the critical target, make the fly by wire actuators and wiring small and redundant, and let the vehicle return in tatters but otherwise undamaged.

I see a different evolution of air war, and of governments for that matter. Single celled organisms were trumped by collectives in the form of jellyfish, bees triumph over hard times with hive behavior and storage of food, individual humans lost out to tribes, and tribes to larger governments, but in all cases, the evolution has been from control by the individual (cell, bee, bird, human, tribe, etc.) to the larger collective with a survival goal. The scale is really the only difference.

The process starts with full basic development of the component, then the grouping of components under a loose central control and later specialization of component cells. Success is based on the skill of individual components at their tasks and reaction of the centralized control to threats in a rational manner. Ultimate success of the hive mind and all components is based on the knowledge input/processing/logical output action. What is intriguing is that we are doomed to only see the government organism which controls us from the point of view of the cell. I doubt that bees and birds can contemplate that perspective.

In aircraft, I foresee drone fleets controlled by meta-drones, where the aircraft don't arrive as individuals but as a swarm. The mass bombing runs in WWII were just a primitive form of this, because strict formation flying was the best fit for pilots with limited skills, range of motion, and resistance to G-forces. Birds and bees have no such constraints, and with a meta-drone calling the overall mission, the individual drones can move and react with the grace and speed of a flock of birds in response to threats and in attempts to get the best angles of attack.

On a governmental basis, if governments are framed as organisms, we have had various species of governments throughout the ages (and I take religious orders as governments of a type). Right now the municipal county and state governments are not all fully functional, and some, like California, appear to be spastic from time to time in reaction to internal pressures. The government at the Federal level functioned well enough during WWII to survive, but I wonder if the Chinese don't have a better handle on the real purpose of government as they police themselves as policymakers and shift gears, as in the shift from proxy war in Vietnam to economic war with the favored nation status promoted by Kissinger and Nixon.



Windows 7 - 


"Analysts expect Windows 7, which will replace the unpopular Windows Vista, to be released before the year-end holiday shopping season. "

Yay! I just might nurse my old, tired, Gateway, (yes, I KNOW! but it was a gift,) long enough to get a replacement WITHOUT Vista at the same time daughter gets a laptop, (or notebook depending on finances.) I have been worrying about it.

R, Rose

Leo LaPorte is now using Windows 7 on all his production machines. I haven't quite got there yet, but I will probably make that change as soon as Microsoft makes the next release, and Windows 7 is supported on VMware on the Mac.


Politics in the Guise of Pure Science 

"Well, I suppose it never hurts to go on the record in opposition to a billion imaginary deaths." http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/science/24tier.html?_r=1 


Probably as important a question as any facing us: when does actual science get a chance?







 read book now




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  March 13, 2009

Subject: Interesting, but vaguely worrisome

Came across this article today in the WSJ http://online.wsj.com/article/
SB123681860305802821.html  , by Daniel Henniger.

I think the editorialist is right that this is as explicit a statement by the left of its concept of wealth distribution (although buried in a "popular" version of the budget that few of the populace will ever bother to read or would even know of its existence). It does quite explicitly demonstrate the administrations real position on the political spectrum as being well to the left of center on economic and social policy. I've always had a certain sense of ironic wonder (amusement) at the idea of the left's elites and their apparent self-loathing (note that few of them actually "redistribute" their own wealth in anything but rhetoric).

I do, however, admit to being somewhat conflicted about the subject. While I have no qualms about people having the right to enjoy the fruits of their labor and investments, the Piketty & Saez premise does leave me wondering - is there an inherent structural problem in unchecked accumulation and concentration of a society's resources?

If their analysis (regardless of their agenda or sociological premise) is correct, does it raise the possibility that we are evolving a new form of aristocracy? Resource control, historically, has been the instigating factor in the emergence of elites in stratified societies. While feudal aristocracies were in part based on force of arms they were also a matter of control of the land and its resources. Control was not always acquired by force initially , but also through successful accumulation of key resources (force often being required to retain the resources obviously). We can already see how the financial prerequisite of high political office is increasingly out of reach of any candidate from the middle-classes. There is an ever growing disparity in the affluence and income potentials of the different income and production brackets.

Meanwhile the basic conservative market premise is that accumulation of wealth in those upper economic echelons fuels industries and allows entrepreneurial innovations that in turn create new job opportunities and economic mobility for the lower economic groups. In essence, although the upper few take larger slices of the pie - they ultimately make the pie big enough for everyone to have a healthy share also.

I can see both points, and do tend to lean towards the latter as a more equitable and sustainable form.

The question then becomes - to what extent is that, in fact, occurring and is there a systemic equilibrium point between healthy accumulation, redistribution, and reinvestment? If so, where are we in relation to that point? What really is the economic mobility available to the populace? The mobility between lower and middle economic classes is generally quite fluid, but what about the middle and upper? Is such a crystalized pseudo-aristocracy necessarily a problem or does it allow too much concentration of economic and political power of the unrestrained sort contradictory to the premise of a representative democratic republic?

The various mismanagement, unintended (one would charitably hope) consequences of meddling, occasional but substantial frauds, and "black box" market mentalities on risk and investment creating an almost "Vegas" attitude towards the stock markets that have put us in the current economic conundrum seems to suggest that we can't overly rely on the "noblesse oblige" of those in control of our financial institutions. Clearly many people dropped the ball, were ignorant of the consequences (some willfully so), and put faith in experts who may or may not have been such.

Rhetorical questions all to some extent, but ones that I think bear some serious thought at some point. Times like these I really wish there were a lot less voodoo in the social sciences, since the "technology" of constructing and maintaining a viable society really are matters of long-term importance to those that don't wish to go the way of so many failed systems. I'd be curious to hear what you and your readers think.

Regards, J. Scott Cardinal

(reluctant voodoo scientist, archaeology branch)


Note from AFA President -- The Budget

Thursday, March 12, 2009

AFA Members, Congressional staffers, Civic Leaders, and DOCA members, I remain concerned about the overall level of government spending . and about the amount given to Defense. Last week a Senator released some very interesting numbers on the growth of budgets from 2008 to 2009. He cited the numbers based on the sub-committee which was responsible for the appropriation. We have put his numbers on a slide on our website. You can find it here: http://www.afa.org/Professional

The major point to take away from this slide is that most appropriations have grown by an average of 80 percent. So . how much is Defense spending expected to grow. The article at this link [as well as others] http://www.afa.org/EdOp/
2009/edop_3-10-09.asp     <http://r.listpilot.net/c/
afa/3o3s710/1r3zc>  ) says it will increase by only 4%. This, when the economy needs help . and production lines of aircraft are preparing to shut down - which will eliminate key, high-paying manufacturing jobs. It is obvious to most that having been in constant combat for over 18 years . and with the average age of the fleet approaching one-quarter of a century, the Air Force . much like the Navy . needs to recapitalize. It will need funds and our support to do it.

For your consideration.


Michael M. Dunn, Lt Gen (Ret) President

Of course the Air Force Association will have that view, but I do wonder.


Re. President Obama’s speech on education:

Dr Pornelle,

I read through the president’s speech, keeping in mind your insights on education that you’ve posted.

Everything you’ve said about jobs training for the lower 50–60%? Here’s what Obama said:

“That’s why workers without a four-year degree have borne the brunt of recent layoffs (…). That’s why, of the 30 fastest growing occupations in America, half require a Bachelor’s degree or more. By 2016, four out of every 10 new jobs will require at least some advanced education or training.So let there be no doubt: The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens .”

Let’s see: four jobs in ten will require advanced education. So let’s prepare all ten students (badly) for the four jobs. And let the other six jobs go to China, I suppose.

(By the way, I’m an engineering student, working on my Master’s degree in one of the best schools in the country, and have found the job market nearly dead for the last six months. My wife’s been encouraging me to find a temporary unskilled job. Those do exist.)

—Joel Salomon

Most people neither want nor need nor even can use a four year liberal arts education; the traditional "college education." Most people need training in specific skills. Those are taught quite differently from the Socratic process used in liberal arts education. The goal of the liberal arts education is to sharpen the question asking tendencies and abilities of the brightest; perhaps 20%, perhaps fewer, certainly no more than 30%. It is true enough that the education of the  brightest is terribly important because much -- not all, but much -- of the innovation and new discovery will come from them. We do need people who can unravel highly complex ideas and come up with policies. In The Caine Mutiny the Navy was described as an organization designed by geniuses to be run by idiots. While that's not entirely true, it is one picture of how society works: a small number conceive of the new discoveries while others apply them -- or maintain the society so that it will exist to allow the discoveries. Someone has to grow the food. Someone has to take out the garbage. Someone has to fill the potholes. It used to be that someone had to clean up the horse manure left by all the horses used for transportation, but we've replaced horse manure with smog; we don't need so many manure collectors, and we'd starve if we had to depend on animal power for growing food (as we more or less did when I was young; I recall growing cotton and corn on farms plowed and sown by mule power). 

Creeping credentialism, imposed largely by those who profit from the education industry, has changed things enormously, but rather than facilitating this trend we ought to be dismantling it.

Unrestricted free trade enriches those who find ways to profit from exporting jobs; and it makes goods a little cheaper for everyone. It doesn't worry a lot about how those goods are to be paid for. The exported job pays no taxes; the overseas worker isn't likely to buy anything from the US, and thus isn't going to do much to support the US economy. The money borrowed to buy the imported goods will have to be paid for. Hugh tariff walls make for lousy goods; competition is good for everyone; but unrestricted free trade, coupled with numerous regulations meant to protect the worker's welfare, and coupled with an education system designed to issue credentials and turn out a lot of sociology majors, women's studies majors, art history majors -- that is a formula for disaster. The results are predictable and were predicted, and we reap the whirlwind.

Teaching American to be productive is terribly important; but our school system doesn't seem to have that goal. Give the people a decent set of skills and keep energy costs low and you'll see the economy soar; but I fear that this is either unknown to those to run things. or it is so counter to the interests of certain groups, that it's not very likely. Yet who doubts it?

Half the children are below average, but that does not mean they cannot be useful and productive. They may never read and understand Rilke and Shakespeare and Balzac, but that does not mean they cannot learn and use skills.


Re. Rod Wittler's news pointer on the nation’s nuclear stock:

For a less dispiriting view, see “What About The Nukes?” in this month’s IEEE Spectrum magazine, at <http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/mar09/7827> . The authors seem of the opinion that maintaining the weapons is a feasible option, even if some old parts are no longer being made and need modern replacements (e.g., vacuum tubes).

Defense Secretary Robert Gates disagrees, and thinks we need to replace the old weapons entirely with new designs. I do not know how he intends to do this given the moratorium on testing.

—Joel Salomon


Spin Battery: Physicist Develops Battery Using New Source Of Energy

Researchers at the University of Miami and at the Universities of Tokyo and Tohoku, Japan, have been able to prove the existence of a "spin battery," a battery that is "charged" by applying a large magnetic field to nano-magnets in a device called a magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ).


Bill Shields



Regarding your correspondent R. Rose who wants a new computer but does not wish to be saddled with Vista: one may simply buy a machine from Dell running XP. The trick is to purchase from Dell's small business division, but I bought a new machine running XP Pro last week. The other advantage of buying from the small business division is that they most kindly do NOT load up the computer with a bunch of "trial software" aka crapware.

As for Win 7, several of my comp sci buddies have downloaded it, and have found it to be faster, more responsive, and more stable than Vista. So far the issues have been the minor ones you would expect with a pre-release OS, namely a lack of drivers for some high end hardware, such as the latest generation of bleeding edge video cards.

The USAF is still using XP. Vista is not considered reliable enough.

Best regards as always,

Mark E. Horning, Physicist,

Alternatively, get a Mac (pricey but darned good and the package with iWorks may be all the software needed). And Ubuntu Linux for the more daring. Stay tuned for more on all this.


Dear Doctor Pournelle,

Your correspondent "J", writing in "Mail" for 03/12/09, made "light: (no pun intended) of the likelihood of lasers being some sort of "Final Weapon" by arguing that since mirrors are used to form and guide the laser beam, a simple mirror on the intended target will either diffuse the beam, or in his homey example, a shaving mirror in an infantryman's hand will deflect the bean to the shooter, blinding him

I am not sure to what extent the latest laser weapons in development use mirrors, but to whatever extent they do, I would bet these mirrors are formed with computer controlled polishing systems that result in "astronomical" grade reflecting surfaces. Such mirros would have to reflect well above one part in a thousand (million?) of the beams energy if they were to avoid a catastrophic meltdown of the reflecting surface. Simple math shows that if you have a One Megawatt beam, and if your mirror reflects 99.9 per cent of the beams energy, then it also absorbs 0.01 percent. With that one Megawatt beam, 0.01 per cent absorbed comes to one kilowatt. That's probably acceptable in a system with active cooling, and if it is fired in very short (i.e. microsecond or shorter) bursts.

The laser "shooter" can always turn off their laser and recalibrate, or replace their mirror. His system might have redundant mirrors. A defensive mirroring system would not have these choices when under attack.

Not to mention that any man portable mirror, i.e. that homey example of the wily trooper flicking his shaving mirror and blinding the perfidious laser wielding enemy, just won't fly. Hauling about an astronomical grade mirror, and subjecting it to all sorts of rude shocks and casual bumps/nicks/oops moments? Imagine your average trooper with such a device?

We had enough trouble with troops using the old M1 steel pot helmet as a cookpot, thus ruining the metal's temper, making it much less effective as armor. Soldiers will always be thus.

That shaving mirror will absorb about ten percent or more of the incident energy. If it is a one megawatt beam, the whole trooper is a puff of smoke, no matter how good that mirror is. If it is a hundred kilowatt beam, the mirror melts, the trooper is blinded with third degree burns, and out of the fight. If it were "only" a ten kilowatt beam, the trooper has the mirror explode in a few thousand pieces. Since my old "military" shaving mirror, with the sighting hole for using it as an emergency heliotelegraph, is made of a rather high quality and thick gauge of stainless steel, this is a prospect I would not care to consider as happening in mine own hand. There are better ways to commit "seppuku" on the battlefield.

This is not to say that lasers are a final weapon. I say they are not, with total confidence, because humans excel exceedingly at two things military: Creating "Final Weapons", and finding ways around those "final" weapons.

Think of all the "Final Weapons" we have had: The crossbow, Greek Fire, the first firearms, the quick-firing bolt action rifle, the machine gun, the quick-firing light artillery piece (the French thought their seventy-five was such a war winner that they kept every detail of its' advanced recoil system top secret for half a century. It was largely what saved them in two Battles of the Marne. So the Germans went home, thought about it for a decade, and came up with the modern tank and "blitzkrieg" as solution as well as new "Final Weapon".)

Perhaps the closest to a Final Weapon deserving of the name is the nuclear device. If you can get it to the target, there is no real defense. This is, though, why they are not really usable weapons. They are just large scale exterminating machines. Humans like to have someone left to talk to and settle matters after they fight. I predict nuclear weapons will never be used in significant numbers for intra-human conflict (leaving aside the occasional one-off rogue state or terrorist sort of use, which is always possible), but if we ever become involved in some sort of "war of the worlds" scenario, all bets are off. A wolf will back off when its wolf opponent bares its throat and submits. When a rabbit rolls over, the wolf eats it.

Unless, of course, our opponent were to be baby elephants! (FOOTFALL is such a great story!)


Laser weapons need power sources and cooling systems. They're pretty good at what they do. but of course there are limits.

I 10 terawatt laser 9ground based with rocket lofted mirrors) has seriously been proposed for strategic defense. As Lowell Wood put it, you would need one per war.


"We were watching it with bated breath. We didn't know what was going to happen."


-- Roland Dobbins


Refusing to see 

Hi, Jerry.

It's been a while since I visited your site, but looking around helped clarify something for me: so many things in this world are obvious, but actively ignored. I get tired of pointing out that water is wet, fire is hot, and gravity attracts, especially when the reply is 'That can't possibly be true, because if it was true, it would be too horrible.'

Some examples from military history in the last century and a half:

I wondered how people could believe that bayonet and saber assaults could suceed against defenders with magazine rifles and machine guns, so I read some of the military literature of the late nineteenth century, and found that the question of the impact of new weapons was hotly debated in the armies of the developed world. Nor were the arguments taking place without emperical evidence. For instance, in the Franco-Prussian and Russo-Japanese Wars, frontal attacks almost always failed, except as an expensive means of freezing the enemy in place while the flank attack developed. Erskine Childers noted that British cavalry in the Boer War almost always were repulsed when they attempted saber and lance charges (see his War and the Arme Blanche, passim). And before WWI, pop-up targets had been invented, like the ones sometimes used to train police today. One officer reported that, in a simulated response to a surprise attack (they were required to follow a set course with no scouting, the notional enemy being aware of the course and 'attacking unexpectedly' at a place of their choosing), his horse-cavalry machine gun unit managed to dismount and get firing in less than twenty seconds, and get hits on eighty percent of the pop-up targets, life-size representations of charging cavalry at unknown ranges.

So, with range evidence like this available, plus the results of actual combat, what was the response of the "professionals"? They decided that the new weapons would indeed lead to massive casualties, and that they had a tremendous problem on their hands, one they immediately set out to solve -- not the problem of lowering casualties in attacks, but the problem of getting the troops to attack in ways certain to lead to heavy casualties. I find it obvious that either seeing their soldiers die was a matter of indifference to the most of the WWI and pre-WWI high commanders, or was even looked on as a positive benefit. Everyone tells me I must be wrong about this, because no one would do such a thing, but no ever advances an alternative theory that explains the evidence I found.

At Neuve Chapelle, the first British offensive of WWI, the parts that worked were the surprise massing of troops, the hurricane bombardment to break the German fortifications, and the fast assault on the shaken defenders. The parts that failed were the frontal assaults on two positions that weren't bombarded, the insistence on sticking to a rigid plan rather than adapting to the unexpected, the repeated halts of those Brits who'd broken through while conferring with Comanders far in the rear via runners (this allowed the Germans to bring up reinforcements and plug the hole in their line), and continuing the attacks for without adequate artillery support against positions the enemy knew would be assaulted, attacks continued for days on end. That parts that succeeded were immediately abandoned, while the parts that failed were became standard practice through the Somme Battles and the first half of the Paschendaele Offensive. I find it obvious that the Haig and his staff thought that winning battles was either undesirable in itself, or a bad idea if it involved fighting in certain ways (and I could extend this with examples from the French and German High Commands). Again, everyone tells me I must be wrong, because the idea that horrendous casualties of WWI were deliberately chosen by the commanders is too horrible to contemplate, but no one meets the evidence.

During the Civil War in Russia between the Reds and the Whites, I noticed that the Whites kept trying to get their British and French "allies" to coordinate the attacks, so that the Reds would be pressed from several directions at once. Instead, the British and French pulled the supply and support plug on any advance that got too successful, allowing the Bolsheviks to use their central position and railway net to concentrate their forces and defeat the Whites. I find it obvious that the British and French wanted the Bolsheviks to win the Civil War, but only after they'd prolonged it as long as possible. Again, I'm told that couldn't be the case.

I've been reading a lot about Hitler and WWII recently, and I keep coming across references to the "unique evil" of the Nazi regime, said evil being demonstrated by their mass murders. Nazi mass murder is treated as something one of a kind in history, even though Communist mass murder proceeded it, accompanied it, followed it, and accounted for something like four to eight times as many deaths. I can see no conclusion except that the people who talk this way don't actually care about murder, they care about why the murders happened.

And concerning your comments about McNamara and attacking air fields, I'd say it's obvious that since 1950, it has been U.S. policy that we must NOT win any shooting war we get into. Everyone denies that one, too.

And so we come to the debate on fighters and air superiority on your site currently. I notice "M" says <http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/2009/Q1/mail558.html#air2> first: "The Boyd/Sprey theory of the numerous light weight cheap dogfighter never got much of an operational test. . . The USAF itself chose not to test the Boyd/Sprey theory . . ." He then says: "The USAF's own experience from 1972 to 2008 says the light fighter theory hasn't worked for it in practice." Together, those two statements come down to 'We don't need to test no stinkin' theories, we already have THE TRUTH, and we ain't gonna try numerous, inexpensive fighters, ever.'

Now, I don't claim to know enough about aircraft to decide the issue of the F-22 vs. F-35. But I do know that the superior performance of the Me-262 Swallow didn't help it much against the more numerous, cheaper P-51s. I know that Erich Hartmann obtained the all-time high score for air combat kills in the somewhat obsolescent Bf-109. I've repeatedly read of fighter pilots saying that something like 67 - 80% of all their victories were scored against pilots that had no idea they were about to be attacked until the pilot who downed them opened fire. And I know that Boyd and others swore that the F-16 was not the fighter they wanted, but one deliberately bitched up by the Air Force development people, to keep it from outperforming the F-15. All this makes it obvious to me that "M" and people like him want the F-22 instead of the F-35 regardless of whether the F-22 is the best choice for air superiority. (I'm certain he'll tell you I'm wrong, too. What I don't expect him to do is lay out a research strategy to settle the question.)

Increasingly, debate about public "issues" reminds me of the 'Nigerian Banker' e-mails. It's insulting that people think I won't see through such obvious fraud and resolute self-deception.

On more interesting subjects, Amazon delivered Escape From Hell today, so I have a treat in store. In return, I commend to you and all your readers the novels of A. Lee Martinez, which feature such delights as zombie cows, vampires who've become real nuisances to their friends since reading Dianetics, killer ducks, and "Empire City", where a combat robot that developed the Free-Will Glitch and became a taxi driver is annoyed that his therapist sees through him when he tries to lie to her. Hilarious. On TV, try Joss Whedon's new series Dollhouse.


Stephen M. St. Onge Minneapolis, MN

Good to hear from you again. Thanks

Regarding Hitler and Stalin: as an undergraduate in the 50's I was told by nearly every faculty member I met that Hitler was worse because National Socialism was not in the Western Tradition, while Marxism was. At the time I was sympathetic to that view; but it was obvious to me that many of those academics were old lefties who needed self justification for following The Line during the Hitler-Stalin pact ere.

Mosse had an entirely different picture, but then Mosse was one of the great historical teachers of his generation. Perhaps of all time.




A couple of quick thoughts in response to Hoffman:

1. I forget who said "the most expensive thing in the world is an Army that can't do the job." Comparison of direct US spending to, say, China, does not consider that American soldiers -- and the industrial base that supplies them -- are paid more per month than most equivalent Chinese make in a year.

2. Do not assume that if a large, initially planned procurement, of a resource is cut, the savings is linear in proportion to the reduction in procurement; instead, average unit prices increase dramatically. It's often been noted here that per-unit production costs don't stabilize until between 100 and 1000 units are produced. If a procurement is budgeted at, for example, $25 billion for 1000 units (average cost per unit $25 million), and the procurement is halved to 500 units, the savings is not 500 x $25 million, but it's 500 x the marginal cost per unit, which might be, say, $10 million. In this example, the actual savings is $5 billion, and the cost per unit grows to $20 billion / 500 = $40 million per unit.

Procurement reform on both the government and the contractor side is necessary. For one example, the annual uncertainty in the budget, by itself, probably reduces productivity on the order of 10%: on large procurements, that much time may be spent in replanning exercises as the annual budget changes. Congressional aversion to paying the real costs of a program up front also results in half-engineered systems which require constant marginal improvements which double the time required for development and quadruple the marginal costs of the up-front savings. Conversely, cost-plus contracting rewards contractor inefficiency, which has a similar effect on per-dollar purchased inefficiency. With intelligent reforms, we could easily buy 30% more defense for the same budget. Unfortunately, to do that, Congress would have to give up it's ability to "pee in the soup" through annual redistribution of priorities, and Defense contractors would give up a lot of the spare income they normally use to pay lobbyists.


The $500 toilet seat for the B-52 happened this way: when USAF ordered the B-52 force we -- I was at Boeing at the time, in human factors -- told them to order spare parts, particularly stuff that would be used a lot. The toilet station was one of those: in order to fit it into the system it had to be a fairly unusual shape. USAF didn't get enough money to order very many of those. Of course they wore out, but not before the production line had been dismantled. To get another thousand toilet seats required about $450,000 in setup costs, which was still cheaper than machining them one at a time. The marginal cost of the seats was about ten bucks. The average cost had to include the setup costs. They still use that as an example of defense spending waste, but the waste came from not ordering another thousand of the darned things when they were cheap.

This happens a lot in defense work. If some speculator had ordered a bunch of those seats, warehoused them, and waited for USAF to need them, he could have made a decent profit, but of course he'd have been accused of profiteering and gouging and some excess profit tax would have been imposed unless he had the good sense to have been engaged in proper lobbying.

Thus be it ever when...


laser mirrors 


In response to Petronius and his comment to "J" on the subject of laser weapons, Petronius has it right up to a point.

 A "megawatt" laser firing in microsecond pulses reaches (at say 1000 pulses per second) gigawatt peak power levels in each pulse. This is more than enough power to trigger ionization and plasma formation, accelerating the breakdown of the targeting mirror; thermal cooling does not have time to work by orders of magnitude. It is also necessary to consider the beam spread (even for a laser, not negligible over tactical distances); the beam divergence out of the laser reduces the power density in the beam when it hits the targeting mirror, which is then focused back to a higher power density on target. The target would have to be covered with mirrors having optical-grade reflectance, and no joints, to completely protect itself from the effects of the laser.

(Of course, both performance and defense in any laser-weapons scenario would have to consider beam pulsing (pulsed of given frequency and pulse shape vs. continuous), beam average power, beam peak power for pulsed lasers, power density (beamwidth), atmospheric propagation (with enough beam power density, ionization occurs in the atmosphere and quickly saps the beam), mirror characteristics, target characteristics including absorption/reflection in the laser band, and lastly accuracy in pointing at all stages of the propagation process, geometric limitations of the optical path (e.g. ray tracing), focusing by the targeting mirror, and relative motions (if any) of the laser, intermediate (if any) and targeting mirrors, and target.



inherent structural problem?

Dear Jerry,

A purely free-market system tends to monopoly - that's well known, and the limited role of government should be to restrain this tendency. In that sense, capitalism requires a bit of external stabilization.

This applies just as well on an individual basis. J. Scott Cardinal asks "...is there an inherent structural problem in unchecked accumulation and concentration of a society's resources?" The answer is yes: in a free-market system, it is possible for a few people to become wealthy beyond reason. Again, this is where limited government intervention is the answer.

But the answer is not: tax the devil out of the rich guy. That results in a loss of incentive, or the simple emigration of talent and assets abroad. Let creative, talented, lucky people become multi-billionaires. The place to intervene is with inheritance and gift taxes. The next generation should create their own wealth, not begin with an intact fortune they did not earn.

The usual argument raised against this is: what if the family fortune consists of the ownership of a company, or a family farm? Should that be broken up? This is disingenuous. If the family business is truly sound, the younger generation can get external financing, either by selling shares or by taking out a loan. If the family business is so marginal that no financing is possible, then the best answer probably is liquidation.



This was essentially the argument of the distributists like Belloc and to a lesser extent Chesterton. Making the government more powerful is not the answer. Preventing undue concentration of power -- including government power -- is important.

Some continuity is also important. Inheritance taxes ought not touch family farms and small businesses. It is the transfer of enormous wealth that can harm society, not passing along a restaurant (especially if the restaurant only survives because much of the staff is family).

If we're going to spend billions on trying to fix the education system, I'd rather see Bill and Melinda Gates in charge of the spending than Pelosi and Reid.


More on the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change 

/ /Bob Carter's reports on the/ '2009/ International Conference on Climate Change' can be found here. https://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/doomed-planet

**Dr. Tim Ball, an environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the U. of Winnipeg, piece on 'Controlling Carbon a Bureaucrat's Dream' can be found here. http://www.pvbr.com/Issue_1/cvsty.htm  The quote "Controlling carbon is a bureaucrat's dream. If you control carbon, you control life" is from Lindzen. It made me remember what Wittfogel said about the hydraulic state. (Karl A. Wittfogel, 'Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power", First Vintage Books Edition, Feb 1981, 556 pp., ISBN 0-394-74701-1)


I knew Karl Wittfogel. A former Marxist, he took Marxism seriously, and found contradictions within Ds Kapital; in particular the hydraulic state, in which the ruling bureaucracy controlled irrigation and water supplies -- and that state did not evolve. It was essentially eternal, and could only be overthrown by an external force. Such states never fell from within.

State ownership of all the means of production...


Irrational Intelligence; Get Smarter http://chronicle.com/weekly/v55/i21/21b01801.htm  The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9.1.30 By KACIE GLENN

Ever bought a 12-foot Christmas tree for a 10-foot-high apartment? Picked up a hitchhiker in a nasty part of town? Or, perhaps, taken out a mortgage you couldn't afford? The good news is that poor decision-making skills may have little effect on your IQ score, according to Keith E. Stanovich, author of What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought (Yale University Press). The bad news? He thinks you'd lose a few points on a more-accurate gauge of intelligence.

Stanovich, an adjunct professor of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto, believes that the concept of intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, fails to capture key aspects of mental ability. But that doesn't mean he discounts the tests' credibility: "Readers might well expect me to say that IQ tests do not measure anything important, or that there are many kinds of intelligence, or that all people are intelligent in their own way," he writes. After all, theories about emotional and social intelligence--which weigh interpersonal skills, the ability to empathize, and other "supracognitive" characteristics--have gained popularity in recent years, in part by de-emphasizing the importance of IQ.

Instead, Stanovich suggests that IQ tests focus on valuable qualities and capacities that are highly relevant to our daily lives. But he believes the tests would be far more effective if they took into account not only mental "brightness" but also rationality--including such abilities as "judicious decision making, efficient behavioral regulation, sensible goal prioritization ... [and] the proper calibration of evidence."

Our understanding of intelligence, he writes, has been muddled by the discrepancy between the vague, comprehensive vernacular term, which encompasses all the functions and manifestations of "smarts," and the narrower theories that "confine the concept of intelligence to the set of mental abilities actually tested on extant IQ tests." The latter conceptualization allows intelligence to coexist with foolishness because IQ tests do not measure the rationality required to abstain from dumb decisions, according to the author. Casual observers, however, usually define intelligence broadly and are confused by inconsistencies: "Blatantly irrational acts committed by people of obvious intelligence ... shock and surprise us and call out for explanation."

The author notes that because most people--even educators and psychologists--accept test-defined intelligence as a fair assessment of mental faculties, we tend to dismiss inconsistencies between a person's IQ scores and rationality as indicators of a disorder or learning disability. So persistent is that faulty logic that "we are almost obligated to create a new disability category when an important skill domain is found to be somewhat dissociated from intelligence." As long as we continue to worship IQ tests that do not assess rational thought processes, we will continue to misjudge our own and others' cognitive abilities, warns the scholar.

In an earlier work, Stanovich coined his own term--dysrationalia--for "the inability to think and behave rationally despite adequate intelligence." That "disorder," he suggests, might afflict some of the smartest people you know.


In an age of Baby Einstein DVD's and French lessons for 5-year-olds, it may seem passé to suggest that a child's IQ is determined primarily by genetics. But until recently, writes Richard E. Nisbett in Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (Norton), most scientists who studied intelligence believed "that the overwhelming importance of heritability meant that the environment could do little and that social programs intended to improve intelligence were doomed to failure." Nisbett argues that a variety of social, cultural, and economic factors can significantly affect a child's IQ, and suggests ways to improve intelligence scores, as well as grades, by manipulating those factors.

Often-cited studies have shown that the difference in IQ between identical twins raised apart is only slightly less than the difference between twins raised together, whereas the correlation between the intelligence scores of a parent who adopts a child and that child is slim. Yet, Nisbett reminds us, even separated twins are likelier to grow up under similar economic and social conditions than two people chosen at random, and they might even be treated similarly because of shared looks and other characteristics in common. At the same time, most adoptive families are well-off and nurturing. The consistency of those environmental factors makes their impact on a child's intelligence seem smaller than it really is.

Opinions have changed over the last few years, and many scientists would now agree, "If you were to average the contribution of genetics to IQ over different social classes, you would probably find 50 percent to be the maximum contribution of genetics," says Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Class is a crucial determinant of intelligence; adoption studies, for example, have indicated that "raising someone in an upper-middle-class environment versus a lower-class environment is worth 12 to 18 points of IQ--a truly massive effect," he says. Children of middle-class parents are read to, spoken to, and encouraged more than children of working-class parents, all experiences that influence intellectual development.

Intelligence and How to Get It also examines how better schooling boosts IQ scores and how school systems can improve. Nisbett cautions that more money does not always equate to higher-quality education, and that parents who take advantage of vouchers to move their children to better schools are a self-selecting group of people who are motivated to help their children excel academically, which leads some researchers to overestimate the vouchers' effectiveness. On the other hand, he finds that class size and teachers' experience and skills can make a big difference, especially for poor and minority children. He notes, too, that children who are exposed to "instructional technologies" in the classroom benefit intellectually; working with word-processing programs, for example, can help students learn to read faster, which leads to further advantages.

The psychologist maintains that there are myriad ways to enhance a child's intelligence by changing his or her learning environment. Young kids who emulate their parents' self-control go on to achieve better grades and higher SAT scores than those who don't. They also learn better, and therefore are more successful in school and have a higher IQ, when they are praised for working hard but not offered incentives to do activities they already show interest in: The danger is turning play and learning into work. It couldn't hurt to angle for access to the best schools and most-experienced teachers, either, Nesbitt suggests.

"Intellectual capital"--which more fully captures academic potential than IQ, he says--"is the result of stimulation and support for exploration and achievement in the home, the neighborhood, and the schools." Nurturing young people's minds might not override their DNA, the author admits, but it does help them achieve their intellectual potential.

I would have thought it obvious that intelligence can only determine potential. An uncut diamond is more attractive than a lump of coal, but not by much, and the coal lumps tend to be larger. It takes cutting and polishing to make a diamond into something desirable. You can cut and polish coal all you like, but it won't be anything you'd give as an engagement present.

I realize all this is more than obvious, but it appears that many act as if it is not. No Child Left Behind stipulates that it is a better investment to spend resources developing the left side of the bell curve while leaving the right side on its own, and that raising the median is better than raising an average. This isn't immediately obvious when actually stated.

>>adoption studies, for example, have indicated that "raising someone in an upper-middle-class environment versus a lower-class environment is worth 12 to 18 points of IQ--a truly massive effect," he says. Children of middle-class parents are read to, spoken to, and encouraged more than children of working-class parents, all experiences that influence intellectual development.<<

This may well be true: which raises the question, why is "diversity" prized so highly? If the goal is to raise intelligence then would it not be better to encourage, in schools, behavior similar to what takes place in middle class homes? Rather than to postulate that all cultures are equally deserving and should be preserved even if that means encouraging disorderly activities?

I understand why those in charge of such matters want to keep things as they are, but why in the world do people pretend that their intellectual defense of their self serving policies make sense?







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This week:


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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mosse Lectures

The link given by your reader is defunct. Here's my tailored tinyurl to the whole series (1-37):


Here's a somewhat better one: http://minds.wisconsin.edu/handle/1793/8334/browse 

Brian Hall

The late George Mosse was Professor of History of Western Civilization at the State University of Iowa (Iowa City) when I was an undergraduate, and was on of the teachers who greatly influenced my life. He later went to the University of Wisconsin where some of his lectures were recorded. He had great insights into the impact of the Enlightenment on Western society, and was one of the best history lecturers I have ever heard. Western Civilization was a compulsory course at SUI when I was there. Mosse lectured to the entire freshman class, and he was heard by everyone. I was in his "quiz section" (I worked pretty hard to get there) and also took seminars he taught in his home.


Re: St Onge

emailer Stephen M. St. Onge writes...well, he writes a bunch of wrong.

He claims that the commanders in World War One "deliberately chose to inflict horrible casualties on their own troops". This statement is what's known, to those in the trade, as "rhetorical BS". Intentionally proceeding on a course that later proved to be mistaken does NOT mean that you "intentionally chose to err". I'm pretty sure that Haig et al felt that remaining in contact with troops was better than having them run out ahead of everyone and get obliterated by friendly fire. (This being a problem we still haven't solved ninety years later.)

And let's not forget technology. Man-pack radios simply did not exist in those days--if you couldn't string telegraph (not telePHONE, teleGRAPH) wires, then runners were the best you could manage. Moreover, the concept of a self-propelled fighting land vehicle wasn't something anyone thought possible--back in those days, heavy self-propelled vehicles meant locomotives, which ran on rails over prepared ground. It's like saying that the solution to space launch is a space elevator--well, yeah, obviously, but it's not something we can DO right now. Expensive and risky rockets are the only thing we've got.

"...the superior performance of the Me-262 Swallow didn't help it much against the more numerous, cheaper P-51s."

Actually, no, it helped it quite a bit. Given pilots with equal situational awareness and skill, the P-51 didn't have a chance. And the F-22's onboard sensor suite is far superior to that planned for the F-35, which off-loads a great deal of its sensor system and makes up for it with networking. The F-35 requires an extensive air-fighting network to be really effective; the F-22 is enhanced by these things, but can fight without them.

And this, of course, begs the question of whether F-22/F35 would be done in the same ratio as P-51/Me-262. (The answer being "They won't, it'll be five-to-three at the outside best, and possibly more like three-to-two.") Numbers can make up for quality to some respect--but you need a mother-huge lot of numbers to play THAT game. And now you're getting back into the "intentionally throw swarms of men into combat, because while most of them will die you only need one to finish the mission" attitude that St. Onge spent two long paragraphs denouncing.

"Boyd and others swore that the F-16 was not the fighter they wanted, but one deliberately bitched up by the Air Force development people, to keep it from outperforming the F-15."

Well, yes, but they *would* say that, wouldn't they?

-- Mike T. Powers

Lost in all this is whether an air superiority fighter is what is needed just now. he military requirements of the United States depend on who will be our probable enemies, and what we will be fighting for -- or what countries we have to deter, and from what.  Our strategic objectives drive most of our strategic requirements.

China is capable of building air superiority fighters that can challenge ours. What are our strategic objectives regarding China?

Sometimes pursuit of technology will allow you to skip a generation of weapons. I suppose it is time to revise The Strategy of Technology to reflect the post Cold-War situation.


The USAF is moving to Vista

Dr. Pournelle,

Mark E. Horning hasn't heard the latest: The USAF is now moving to Vista. I'm a contractor, and that's what they just put on my desktop as part of an upgrade. The admin tells me it was mandated.

Best Regards, Robin


Global Warming Poll


I saw a link to this poll on the Drudge Report.


In the book "LUCIFER'S HAMMER" it was commented that societies have the morals that they can afford. Crawford's corollary is that societies tolerate the stupidity that they can afford. One possible benefit of the economic down turn is that a less affluent and self assured electorate might start questioning environmentalist dogma that will negatively impact the economy.

James Crawford

We can hope. At some point sanity must return. Mustn't it? How much ruin must we absorb to avoid future difficulties that may not happen and which would be easier faced if we had a going economy?


The consensus is often wrong.

A comment last week had a quote: "Finally, he notes that "[h]istorically, the consensus is often wrong."

Which brings to mind some quotes which are apposite:

"When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule, the majority are wrong." Eugene Debs

(About the only thing I have read by Debs which is close to being useful and true!) and

"The line which divides majority opinion from mass hysteria is so fine as to be virtually invisible." J. P. Getty

(Which is manifestly true!) and leads to:

"The public is enormously gullible at times." Vance Packard


-- Please let me know if anything I say offends you. I may wish to offend you again in the future.


stimulus multiplicity

I was watching the Budget Director of the State of Ohio and she said that the Stimulus Package would arrive as more than 80 (eighty) separate programs each with its own requirements. (Maybe she can hire 3.5 million bureaucrats)


I do not suppose there is anyone who has actually read the entire stimulus package appropriation, so I do not know how anyone can predict its effect. It does not seem to have been as well planned as perhaps it ought to have been. The President seems to have left it largely to the committee chairs and party leaders in Congress. He may yet regret doing that; Carter did.


35 Counties Account for 50% of Foreclosures


"USA Today points out that, last year, just 32 counties accounted for one half of all foreclosures in the United States. Those counties are outlined in red below. Even among them, there are some areas that are worse than others: "Eight counties in Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada were the source of about a quarter of the nation's foreclosures last year.""

National crisis. Funny how local those get.


One of the great benefits of globalization?


Does America Still Have a Nuclear Industry 







Justice Dept. Investigates Arizona Sheriff for Enforcing Immigration Law.


- Roland Dobbins

Some things are just too precious to entrust to computers.

-- Seth Hanford


Obama VA: Let’s charge vets for care on service-related injuries


"Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki confirmed Tuesday that the Obama administration is considering a controversial plan to make veterans pay for treatment of service-related injuries with private insurance. … No official proposal to create such a program has been announced publicly, but veterans groups wrote a pre-emptive letter last week to President Obama voicing their opposition to the idea after hearing the plan was under consideration. The groups also cited an increase in “third-party collections” estimated in the 2010 budget proposal — something they said could be achieved only if the Veterans Administration started billing for service-related injuries. Asked about the proposal, Shinseki said it was under “consideration.” “A final decision hasn’t been made yet,” he said."

Legions, Fury, coming soon to a location near you.


Surely this is not the entire story? I know no more about this, but it seems like an obviously poor idea; there must be more to the story than that.







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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday, March 15, 2009      

AI coming of age?


Lead paragraph:

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Passing the Turing test--the holy grail of artificial intelligence (AI), whereby a human conversing with a computer can't tell it's not human--may now be possible in a limited way with the world's fastest supercomputer <http://www.eetimes.com/encyclopedia/
defineterm.jhtml?term=supercomputer&x=&y=>  (IBM's Blue Gene), according to AI <http://www.eetimes.com/encyclopedia/
defineterm.jhtml?term=AI&x=&y=>  experts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. RPI is aiming to pass AI's final exam this fall, by pairing the most powerful university-based supercomputing system in the world with a new multimedia group designing a holodeck, <http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Holodeck>  a la Star Trek.

Jim Keech

Perhaps. We will see.


Birth Control for Birds


This is crazy. We've become so squeamish, so urbanized, so used to mawkish animated features depicting animals as kind, gentle, funny furry friends, that we can't even stomach the thought of shooting deer and trapping pigeons. We'd rather release drugs into the environment in an uncontrolled way than Shoot Bambi's Mom.

(And, of course, there's the idiots who consider their specially-bred epileptic pigeons to be so valuable that they purposefully shoot hawks and crush falcon nests.)

-- Mike T. Powers

I gave up hunting a long time ago. I'd shoot a deer for food, but I don't take much pleasure in shooting things. That is not to disparage hunters. It's just not for me any longer (I certainly hunted as a boy.) I would think hunting preferable to distributing drugs. We know what happens when you hunt.


To all you hunters

This officially entertained me. http://mausersandmuffins.blogspot.com/


The late Ted Sturgeon used to invite people to dinner at his house. The first time you were there, he would take you out to the back yard to the rabbit hutches, introduce you to a rabbit, and slay it on the spot. The skin was kept to make a blanket for his son Andros. The rabbit became your dinner. Ted had this mania for making people understand that if they ate beef they had "taken out a contract on a cow." All true, of course. I had no trouble eating my rabbit stew.


Liquid Battery Offers Promising Solar Energy Storage Technique

Recently, researchers from MIT have designed a new kind of battery that, unlike conventional batteries, is made of all-liquid active materials. Donald Sadoway, a materials chemistry professor at MIT, and his team have fabricated prototypes of the liquid battery, and have demonstrated that the materials can quickly absorb large amounts of electricity, as required for solar energy storage.


Bill Shields

The economics of energy storage is crucial to economic ground based solar power. Make storage cheap enough and ground based solar becomes highly attractive even with present collection technology.



Reaction speed is an indicator of how long a person is likely to live, scientists have claimed.

By Sarah Knapton Last Updated: 12:59PM GMT 08 Mar 2009

Researchers discovered intelligence, indicated by the ability to respond quickly to circumstances, is a far better gauge of longevity than blood pressure, exercise levels or weight.

Men and women who recorded slow response times were more than twice as likely to die prematurely.

Edinburgh University and the Medical Research Council in Glasgow tracked 7,414 people nationwide over 20 years in a study which appears to link intelligence to survival.

Scientists believe intelligence is an indicator of the how well the rest of the body is wired together.

The authors say there is growing evidence that people with higher IQs tend to live longer and healthier lives.

The study will be published in journal Intelligence this week. It is the first to look at reaction times and mortality, comparing the results with known risk factors like smoking and drinking.

While this can partly be put down to differences in lifestyles because more intelligent people are less likely to smoke and be overweight, much of the gap has previously been unexplained, the Mail on Sunday reports.

The 7,414 volunteers in the study have been followed since the mid-Eighties, when their reaction times were measured with an electrical device fitted with a small screen and five numbered buttons.

The volunteers had to press the matching button when a number appeared on screen. The time they took to react was measured and averages worked out.

Since then, 1,289 have died, 568 of them from heart disease.

The researchers then compared the reaction times, smoking habits, weight and other factors of those who had died with those who had survived.

The results showed that people with slow reactions were 2.6 times more likely to die prematurely from any cause. Smoking was the only factor linked to a larger risk of death - as it made it 3.03 times more likely.

"It has been hypothesised that reaction time, as a measure of speed of the brain's information-processing capacity, may be a marker for bodily system integrity," wrote the researchers.

"This way, slower reaction times, or poorer information-processing ability, might be an indication of suboptimal physiological functioning, which may in turn be related to early death."


Here is yet another breakthrough "in spite of" socialized medicine.


Glenn Hunt


/Frank J. Tipler is Professor of Mathematical Physics at Tulane University.


Stimulating’ Scientists Into Proving Global Warming

Posted By _Frank J. Tipler_ On February 27, 2009 @ 12:12 am In _Health_, _Science_, _Science & Technology_, _US News_ | _30 Comments <http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/
warming/?print=1#comments_controls> _

The trillion-dollar plus porkapalooza Wreak-America Bill just passed by Congress will throw a huge amount of money into scientific research. This will be a good thing for certain scientists, but a very, very bad thing for science.

Young scientists do most of the great science. Einstein was 26 when he published his relativity theory. In 1980, when I got my first government research grant at the age of 33, some 22 percent of National Institute of Health (NIH) [1] grants <http://www.powerlineblog.com/
archives/2009/02/022822.php>  were given to scientists under the age of 35. In 2005, only three percent of NIH grants went to those under 35, while the percentage given to those over 45 increased from 22 to 77.

Increasingly, government grants are used to defend dogma, not discover new truth: 28 percent of the scientists supported by NIH admitted recently to cooking data to support establishment theory, and 66 percent admitted to cutting corners to achieve the same end. I myself no longer trust the data claims appearing in the leading science journals.

The United States and the European nations have spent billions of dollars to build the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) outside Geneva, Switzerland. The new bill will spend more. The Standard Model of particle physics predicts that the central particle of the Standard Model, the Higgs Boson, must have a mass-energy of around 220 GeV, an energy well within the range of the LHC. But the particle physics establishment does not want the Higgs Boson to exist, because if it does, then particle physics would be complete, and the particle physicists would be out of a job. Gary Taubes, in his book /Nobel Dreams/, has documented that the same people now in control of the LHC tried years ago to cook the data to refute the Standard Model. Can they be trusted now?

The new Wreak-America Bill will throw billions of dollars more into global warming research, a field in which data cooking has become an open scandal. Once again, the data is being adjusted to confirm the establishment theory: humans are responsible for global warming. In actual fact, satellite observations show that the Earth is now cooling, and has been cooling for about 10 years. This confirms the anti-establishment theory that the Earth warmed prior to the late 1990s due to the then-increasing number of sunspots, and is now cooling due to the now decreasing number of sunspots. The Wreak-America bill contains funds to “adjust” those pesky satellite observations, so that the data will confirm what powerful politicians wish to be true.

Universities have essentially been nationalized, like the banks. For years, government research grants have been pork grants: between 30 and 50 percent of all grant money is for “overhead,” which is spent at the discretion of university administrators. Surprise, surprise: administrators always decide that more administrators are needed, and administrator salaries increase. Over the last 50 years — the period of increasing government grant money — the administrator-student [2] ratio <http://thedartmouth.com/2009/02/10/opinion/asch/>  at universities has increased more than 100 percent, while the faculty-student ratio has stayed the same or decreased. Today, a science professor cannot get tenure unless he has a government grant. A scientist’s teaching skills, her contributions to scientific knowledge, are irrelevant.

The hallmark of a nationalized industry is degraded production, and we can already see this happening in physics. In his book /The Trouble with Physics,/ the physicist Lee Smolin divided up the past two centuries into 25-year intervals, and listed the great breakthroughs in physics that occurred in each. Rather, in all intervals but one: the past 25 years, within which there have been no physics breakthroughs.

Nationalization of medical research has slowed the advance of medicine. The U.S. cancer death rate is actually higher today than it was decades ago, before Nixon launched his War on Cancer. NIH cancer researchers are given grants to “make progress toward curing cancer,” not curing cancer. If someone found a cure for cancer, there would be no more grants for making progress toward a cure for cancer. Gary Taubes, in his most recent book /Good Calories, Bad Calories,/ has shown how the American obesity epidemic is a consequence of government control of nutrition research, which has lead to poorer nutrition standards and guidelines than we had in the 1950s.

The great classical liberal economist [3] Milton Friedman <http://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=RWsx1X8PV_A>  pointed out that, “Einstein didn’t construct his theory on order from a bureaucrat.” If this Wreak-America Bill becomes law, the only theories created will be those created on order from a bureaucrat. And the theories will be wrong. Scientific truth cannot be established by government degree.



I have the feeling I may have posted this before, but it does not harm to put it up again.


Why Is the DOS Path Character "\"?


- Roland Dobbins

Interesting. I didn't know this.


GULF OF ADEN: NATO to Send New Anti-Piracy Mission to Somali Coast, 19 Feb 09. NATO will send six more warships to fight pirates off the coast of Somalia that threaten the shipping lanes for a tenth of the world’s trade. North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers agreed to restart patrols in the Gulf of Aden, a choke point for oil tankers and cargo ships passing through the Suez Canal toward Europe and the U.S. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the anti-piracy work would involve vessels from a six-ship standing naval group as they sail to Singapore and Australia, via the Gulf of Aden, on a series of port visits. Parts of that trip could be changed to allow a short anti-piracy mission. NATO’s first mission, involving three ships, lasted seven weeks until the alliance handed off to a six-ship patrol under the EU flag in December. The deployment was NATO’s first to the Gulf of Aden, another step toward widening the alliance’s role beyond its original mission to defend European territory. NATO claimed credit for safely escorting 30,000 tons of food to Somalia (Bloomberg, AFP).


Consumer Electronics and preparing our kids for the future



A couple of good ones. Severe blue language on the first one.


Preparing indeed. Isn't education wonderful?





 read book now





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