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Monday  March 16, 2009

Judge Orders Mother to Cease Home Schooling


"A judge in Wake County said three Raleigh children need to switch from home school to public school. Judge Ned Mangum is presiding over divorce proceeding of the children's parents, Thomas and Venessa Mills. Venessa Mills was in the fourth year of home schooling her children who are 10, 11 and 12 years old. They have tested two years above their grade levels, she said.

"We have math, reading; we have grammar, science, music," Venessa Mills said.

Her lessons also have a religious slant, which the judge said was the root of the problem.

"My teaching is strictly out of the Bible, and it's very clear. It is very evident so I just choose to follow the Bible," Venessa Mills said."

This case really deserves some journalism, but we all know it won't get it. The situation doesn't allow easy answers, but the judge clearly isn't considering the welfare of the children so much as other beliefs. Those may or may not be correct, but that shouldn't be his job.


The Theory of tax paid public schools is investment: the average cost is now, what, $7500 per pupil per year? That's likely to be more than the parents pay in taxes, so those without children also pay. The theory is we are all better off because (1) they learn to be Americans, and (2) they learn how to be more useful and thus make more money and thus pay more taxes. Clearly these kids are fulfilling (2), so the question is (1), and that is worth discussion.

Just who does get to decide what ought to be taught in schools to "socialize" our children? Left to me I'd leave it to local elected school boards and keep the states out except for a very high level policy supervision, and the national government out entirely; but that's not going to happen any more. Now it appears that the Teacher's Unions do much of this with mandates from the state and the Federal Department of Education supervising. Local school boards have less and less power over either curriculum or the taxes to pay for the schools.

The results are not very good. And yes, this case deserves discussion.


Letter from England

Broad commentary about the politicization of the UK police: <http://tinyurl.com/cdu999 >. 

Reintroduction next month of exit controls on all people leaving the UK. Travellers (including yachtsmen, leisure boaters, trawlermen, private pilots, and cross-channel swimmers) must provide passport and credit card details, home and email addresses and exact travel plans. £5000 fine if you don't provide the information at least 24 hours in advance via the internet: <http://tinyurl.com/d9kwjl>. 

Attempting to inflate yourself out of the recession--UK bailout money is flowing abroad. <http://tinyurl.com/btwcp5>.  Apparently the US government has also been warned by the Chinese on this.

Independent political cartoons <http://tinyurl.com/6cgwt5

On the lack of independent science advice in the EU <http://tinyurl.com/aa26zs >.  This is particularly a problem with environmental regulations.

The "I am surrounded by amateurs!" department: This morning my debit card didn't work at the supermarket, so I called them up. The staffer said I had to come in to my bank branch with two forms of ID before they would explain what happened. So I hopped on my bike and rode down to the branch. They had noticed I had bought an iTunes album and an upgrade to Adobe Contribute CS4 over the last couple of days, and that was enough for them to put a block on my card. It didn't help that the person I was speaking to on the phone had a broad Indian accent. I actually had to ask him to spell out what he was saying--"iTunes" in his accent sounded like "iateeyoones".

-- Harry Erwin, PhD,
Program Leader, MSc Information Systems Security, University of Sunderland. <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/~harryerw>  Weblog at: <http://scat-he-g4.sunderland.ac.uk/

Ain't diversity wonderful? I never lived in England when they spoke of "foreigners" so I only know it from old Agatha Christie and other drawing rom novels (including Leslie Charteris of course) but it did seem a more pleasant place than the modern version. The passion for equality seems to have had some consequences not entirely foreseen. Of course I grew up in a legally segregated society, and I certainly would not advocate going back to that or anything like it; but forcible mixing of cultures does not seem to be working out very well, for England or the United States. I can hope I am wrong.


Bad Economic News

Bank of England is concerned that the UK is headed towards a 1930s- style depression <http://tinyurl.com/ddexp9>.  This is because most UK household debt is financed at a fixed rate of interest and so is vulnerable to the debt deflation trap that America experienced in the 1930s.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD,

Our Fed Chairman says he will not let that happen here. We will see.


Telegraph Article on the E-Borders Programme

See <http://tinyurl.com/cyaz2v

Library fines, too? 8)

-- Harry Erwin, PhD

My o my. Unification of Europe and all that. Tell me, how does one influence Brussels? Does descent from Charlemagne help?


Scientists Sometimes Need to Think Like Science Fiction Writers

By Mike Brotherton

March 14, 2009

Not every scientist has an interest in science fiction or anything resembling the ability to think like a science fiction writer.

I was reminded of this again today in regard to this story about how to focus SETI searches.

Basically, the idea is that it is easier in principle to find and characterize Earth-like planets when you can see them eclipsing their system’s star. Therefore if we want to talk with ETIs, we should be targeting our searches in the plane of the ecliptic. “Plane of the ecliptic” is just a technical term for the directions in space that would see us eclipsing the Sun. The aliens living in star systems in the plane of the ecliptic, so the reasoning goes, would then be the ones most likely to have spotted us and be trying to communicate with us.

Maybe a teeny-tiny bit more likely, but overall a dumb reason to restrict searches in my opinion. (Somehow the article I linked to talks about using the idea to “broaden” searches, but that’s just bad reasoning or writing, in my opinion. The only way to use the idea is to restrict searches.) Let me explain why I think the idea isn’t very good or logical, setting aside my scientist cap for my science fiction writer cap.

Full article here:



Subj: Charles Murray: "The Happiness of the People"

Obama is moving the US towards to European model. Is that a Good Thing?


>>[T]he sources of deep satisfactions are the same for janitors as for CEOs, and ... people needed to do important things with their lives. When the government takes the trouble out of being a spouse and parent, it doesn't affect the sources of deep satisfaction for the CEO. Rather, it makes life difficult for the janitor.<<

>>Two premises about human beings are at the heart of the social democratic agenda: What I will label "the equality premise" and "the New Man premise."<<

The equality premise says that inequalities between groups with respect to outcomes are, always and everywhere, solely the result of "bad human behavior and an unfair society." The New Man premise is the old notion that human nature is perfectible by government action.

Murray sees the oncoming steamroller of biology, especially neuroscience, grinding both premises to powder as the twenty-first century unfolds. It will begin -- has already begun -- with gender differences.

And this is grounds for hope: like adolescents do as individuals, we may, as a society, grow up enough to realize that the intellectual fads we have been chasing are, when considered seriously, hollow, and that our parents were not quite so stupid as we thought -- that the Permanent Things really are permanent.

But do read the whole thing.

One point was apparently not entirely clear to all readers: http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?

So Murray explains it: http://corner.nationalreview.com/

I think Murray's presentation resonates with Dr. Pournelle's concerns, about the importance of so organizing and operating society, and the economy in particular, that those in the left half of the Bell Curve can find meaning and purpose in life. It also resonates with some of Herman Kahn's observations, from thirty years ago, about questions of meaning and purpose becoming more important as problems of simple survival become (or seem to become) less pressing.

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


VA and insurance

Dear Jerry:

The VA has collected from private insurance companies for about ten years now. This is not new. Unlike other medical facilities, the lack of insurance does not mean that you get no treatment or inferior treatment. They also collect co-pays for non-service conditions, usually because you have some money. Mine run about $1,100 a year. My only gripe is the many doctors who assume, without asking, that I pay nothing at all.


Francis Hamit


Remember those computer gadgets you used to write about in those Sci Fi novels?

Many years ago, when I was in knee pants, Skylab was still inhabited (and not scattered across the bottom of the Indian Ocean) you once wrote:

"I somewhat envy my grandchildren. They're going to live in a world where, if they can properly formulate a logical query, they can find the answer to anything, without having to slog through libraries. I may never live to see it, and teaching Boolean logic will have to start when children are in elementary school, but it's certainly a world of marvels."

Somewhat more recently, around 2006,, you had the exact text that I'm paraphrasing, and added the following "Thirty years ago, when I wrote that, I never would have thought it would occur in my lifetime. Or that I'd be impatient about the third of a second it took to give me the results. Or, for that matter, that the results would be covered by pop up ads I have to close to see what I was looking for."

It appears that Stephen Wolfram (creator of Mathematica) has made it even easier.


In a nutshell, Alpha doesn't just pull databases, it uses natural language syntax parsing to calculate the answers for you...and it's still improving.

If you work in any of the numerical sciences, this is the equivalent of a search engine with a "Do What I Meant" setting. Mathematica is about the only piece of software that I miss having regular access to, now that I no longer have access to a university mathematics and CS department.





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Tuesday,  March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day

Speaking of eBooks

This may be an emergent model of the e-newspaper. My brother's paper, the Rocky Mountain News, closed shop last Friday, but some of its reporters are still out covering their beats.




Keeping You Safe From the Donkey Jihad


The last time Charlie Dent rode a canal boat at Hugh Moore Park, he didn’t once think anti-terror ID for the mule drivers wearing 19thcentury garb would make him safer. “Absolutely not,” the Lehigh Valley’s U.S. Congressman said Thursday, a day after he argued on Capitol Hill that mule drivers at Hugh Moore Historical Park shouldn’t be subjected to a new anti-terror rule. “We’re supposed to be operating on a risk basis as far as homeland security,” Dent said. “I don’t think mule drivers in colonial garb rise to the level.”


(You see, Jerry, the old Lehigh Canal is considered a navigable waterway, so the mule drivers who work the tourist barge must be licensed by the US Coast Guard. And a federal anti-terror law requires transportation workers to submit to criminal background checks.

As a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent put it: "(The mules) go 2 miles per hour. There would be plenty of time to evacuate if you saw them coming.")

An d now I find it has made the national news: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/

I feel so much safer now.

Mike Flynn


Workers and Capitalists Clash! Both Lose!

Jerry, you may find this book had an interesting forecast: The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World, by James Burnham (1941) described here:



I consider Burnham's Managerial Revolution an important book. Perhaps even more important was his The Machiavelians.


Obama's situation and separating "conservatism" from conservatism

Dear Sir:

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

I point out that, to his credit, he says as much, publicly and openly. He may have "liberal" policy goals, but he is taking a remarkably conservative-pragmatic tactical philosophy in achieving them. I far prefer that to our previous Administration, which took "conservative" policy goals and applied radical Jacobin tactical philosophies.

On that note, you and your readers might appreciate these pieces by Sam Tenenhaus and Andrew Sullivan on how the Republican Party has diverged from Burke and the classical liberal tradition:



--Catfish N. Cod

I am not sure I need to turn to them for that information, but thanks. I continue to wish the nation well. And to fear.


The Ravening Wolves


Mike Flynn

This came in before the inauguration but got caught by a spam filter. I thought it worth pointing to.


For your next flight...Airport Security game now on iPhone



Charles Brumbelow


At our war college!!!!

Our future officers are not being taught who and what the enemy is, what the enemy believes, and how the enemy fights?


And a follow up


Didn't Sun Tzu declare that knowing your enemy as well as yourself is essential to winning?


I do not know this source and I know no more about this story.


Forcible Mixing of Cultures

Jerry, you wrote:

"Ain't diversity wonderful? I never lived in England when they spoke of "foreigners" so I only know it from old Agatha Christie and other drawing rom novels (including Leslie Charteris of course) but it did seem a more pleasant place than the modern version. The passion for equality seems to have had some consequences not entirely foreseen. Of course I grew up in a legally segregated society, and I certainly would not advocate going back to that or anything like it; but forcible mixing of cultures does not seem to be working out very well, for England or the United States. I can hope I am wrong."

I think it's rather important to point out here that the norm throughout human history *has* been forcible mixing of cultures, or in some cases pretty much the outright or near-obliteration of cultures by more dominant ones.

The Romans, perhaps an inspiration for the "melting pot" idea that has dominated American history, had little problem with local cultures, providing that thin veneer of Roman political "religion" was adhered to. Still, it's no accident that a lot of modern European law, art, tradition, culture and language pretty much stems from the Latins. The Romans were rather good at that sort of thing.

They weren't the first, and I think largely were inspired by Alexander the Great, whose ushering in the last great stage of Hellenism saw Greek cultural and political motifs spread everywhere from the Ganges to Egypt, where the older cultures may still have, to some degree survived, but utterly altered by the military and philosophical might of the Greeks. People like to think of Hellenic Egypt as the last great stand of an ancient culture, but in reality, it was just a bunch of Greeks prancing around in funny costumes, reveling in Egyptian culture even as they supplanted it. By the time of Constantine, Egyptian culture was little more than half-remembered priestly rites; Greece and then Rome, and ultimately Christianity and Islam pretty much wiped it out.

For examples closer to home, modern England was born out of the forced mixing of Continental Norman and Anglo-Saxon cultures. While there are new debates about just how much, linguistically, Norman French may have influenced the evolution of the language, there can be no doubt that the Normans put a very real stamp on English culture, and not by any choice of the English.

The New World is replete with older cultures undermined and all but wiped out (not that that is a bad thing, I doubt even many of the Aztec's neighbors were all that sad to see them fall to the Spanish).

The point, I guess, is that it's the norm that the stronger culture will force itself upon the weaker, and either the weaker culture adapts as some sort of tolerated minority (as Judaism has been to one extent or another through the last 2500 years) or is wiped out (as the ancient Persian culture was at the hands of the Muslim hoards).

That being said, I think the West is rapidly reaching a point where a line is going to be drawn in the sand. It's one thing to permit people their own religion in culture, and certainly that was the case in the British Empire, but what's happened in many Western countries has been a conscious retreat of Western ideals in an attempt to placate a vocal minority, some of which, at least, have a rather distinct dislike for the culture in which they have chosen to live. At some point we either say "We will tolerate you, to the extent that you obey the laws and do not preach sedition", or, ultimately, I suppose, we will become the weaker culture. As much as I have no desire to tell my Muslim neighbor that they have to attend one church service a year to prove their fidelity, I certainly don't want Shariah courts springing up either.

I wonder, perhaps, if the West, as a civilization, is that moment of critical, dangerous moment of self-doubt. A hundred years ago most Western countries were sure that we were on the road to the best civilization, that, for whatever flaws we recognized in it, it was worth pursuing and worth shedding blood to defend. I'm not saying that the West has been perfect, and certainly examples like the treatment of the descendants of African slaves in the US are shameful moments. But I am saying that I, at least, still believe, for all the foibles, flaws and errors, that our civilization, with its belief in individual liberties, democracy (no matter how messy. and it can get very messy) and ultimately the sense of fair play, do make us the inheritors of a great civilization, one that should not be surrendered by ideals taken to ludicrous extremes.

-- Aaron Clausen


"They think it's a game to hit people in the head."


-- Roland Dobbins

More diversity


How about Ceres as a giant radio telescope:


The Benac Orbit, Kepler’s Follow On

Once Kepler finds the other Earths, it time to listen to their radio stations!

So here is the next big thing: Craters as huge satellite dishes for antenna feeds orbiting above them.

Think Arecibo, but a bagillion times bigger, and instead of that little white thing hanging on cables with winches you have a satellite flying above the dish.

Ceres, you big ball of radio wave reflective ice and rock, this is what you–and your equatorial craters–were made for! Orbital parameters copy write. (But if you must know: http://www.twitter.com/johnbenac )



Harlan Ellison sues CBS over ST:ToS "The City on the Edge of Forever" royalties.


--- Roland Dobbins


More on forcing Veterans to pay for combat disabilities

Dr. Pournelle,

Here's another article on forcing veterans to pay for combat disabilities:


I'm not sure I understood Mr. Hammit's comments about private insurance and veterans. Of course a veteran should pay if he has a cold or is in a car crash. That's a private citizen dealing with private issues and the government shouldn't get involved. But if I lose a leg serving in the military, surely the government pays for all related treatment in perpetuity? If not, why in God's name does anyone ever join any military ever?


Ryan Brown


The American Legion Strongly Opposed to President's Plan to Charge Wounded Heroes for Treatment

""It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan," said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. "He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it.""

It looks more and more as if this really is serious.



Pocket Computers

This sounds an awful lot like Rod Blaine's pocket computer ( e.g. p 19 of my copy of The Mote in God's Eye ).


Adjustable stretch display screen Projected keyboard and monitor 10 TB of on-board memory Contextual awareness of external events ( e.g. somebody walking into a room that shouldn't see confidential data causes that data to be blanked out ) Multiple form factors such as ring, glasses, wrist watch, phone, ... that will fit in a pocket or be wearable Less about computing and more a gateway into the cloud where the heavy lifting is done Draws power from magnetic induction, light, heat or motion Voice command Brain wave reading

I want one! And, may you live long enough to own one - writing all the way!

Pete Wityk



The "trillion-dollar plus porkapalooza Wreck-America Bill."

Dr. Pournelle,

Your correspondent Frank J. Tipler hit the nail on the head with his term "trillion-dollar plus porkapalooza Wreak-America Bill."

Just how much is a trillion dollars? There is a great illustration at http://www.pagetutor.com/trillion/index.html   has a great illustration. Ten thousand dollars is a half-inch thick wad of $100 bills that will fit in your pocket.. A grocery sack full is a million. Ten pallets of $100 bills is a billion. A trillion would then be ten thousand pallets of $100 bills. That's the stimulus.

Those of us who don’t like it have been organizing “Tea Party” protests, in response to the call from CNBC’s Rick Santelli  <http://www.cnbc.com/id/15840232/?video=1040944991&play=1> ). They had about 1,500 in St. Louis, about 2,000 in Greenville, and now almost 5,000 showed up in Cincinnati this past weekend http://michellemalkin.com/2009/03/15/
huge-thousands-converge-for-cincinnati-tea-party/  . That’s not to mention the 15,000 in Fullerton last week.

“Tax Day Tea Parties” are being organized nation-wide for April 15^th http://taxdayteaparty.com/ . It’s starting to worry the pols in Washington http://www.iht.com/articles/
2009/03/16/america/16assess.php?page=1 .

Our own 15 April soirée in San Antonio has its own site, of course -- http://www.theythinkyouarestupid.com/  -- managed by Yours Truly.

Your thoughts on these protests would be worth reading, I am sure.

Robin Juhl

A dollar bill can be overprinted to make it worth a million dollars, of course. Or million dollar bills can be printed. I have a German postage stamp 3 pfennigs overprinted to 3 mird millionen marks.

I don't think there's any great secret about my thoughts on the subject. But Obama's argument is irrefutable: "I won."

It's pretty late now, but perhaps people are waking up. One can hope.


Max Hunter and airbreathers


Max Hunter in conversations with me, and in an article he wrote, criticized air-breathing space planes on the grounds that they were expensive and inefficient. Why carry an oxygen plant on the plane when they are heavy, complex, and cheaper on the ground?

I did an internet search and did not find such an article. Do you have a reference for Max's comments?


Jim Grote

I presume that's a quote from me above. He certainly said that fairly often; it's the main reason that DC/X was VTOL.  Max published a lot of papers in his lifetime. I have no idea of which ones are available on the Internet and which are not, but his views were well known to the rocket engineering community. Max did have some confidence in lifting body capabilities for cross orbital landing capabilities.

The NASP project tried hard to build an airbreathing spaceplane. My conclusion from NASP is that you don't want to spend much time at hypersonic velocities in the atmosphere -- but that's the only way you can get any appreciable fraction of orbital speed from an air-breather. You have to fly at high Mach numbers to get up to hypersonic velocity and then do some more to get up to orbital -- or even sub-orbital -- velocities. The leading edges of your wings will get hot. The leading edges of your input ram-scoops will get hotter. At the moment we don't have materials that can do that. I don't see any prospects of obtaining such materials.

The X-33 project attempted to use a Vertical Takeoff - Horizontal Landing model. It was never built. Much of the private rocket community has faith in a two-stage project, with horizontal takeoff and horizontal landing of the first stage; but the first stage is used to gain altitude, not high velocity, and separation takes place at relatively low velocities.

Much of this is discussed in my SSX project papers: start with HOW TO GET TO SPACE, and then THE SSX PROJECT.


: A penny for your thoughts


I suggest it is actually a GOOD idea to do this while the legislature is parked in their cars.





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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Will Congress kill farmers' markets?


"What this will do is force anyone who produces food of any kind, and then transports it to a different location for sale, to register with a new federal agency called the "Food Safety Administration." Hmmmmm? (Via a TennZen tweet)

Interesting. A co-sponsor's husband has Monsanto as a client.

UPDATE: Govtrack.us. And here's the Library of Congress' Thomas. And here's the Cato Institute's WashingtonWatch.

UPDATE II: The bill would appear to even cover some fishing boats and potentially your downtown hot dog street vendors. More here."

Multiple links in original. Surely this can't be true. It would require us to believe that Congress wants to drastically increase Federal power, and can't seem to write a law which isn't broken. We've never seen that before...


Adam Smith said that whenever two capitalists get together they instantly conspire to see how they can get government to limit entry into their business. They'll do that retroactively, too.

Regulation destroys small business and small operations by imposing compliance fees that are fixed costs. Large organizations can have a compliance officer or two as a cost of doing business.


U.S. Intercepts Ballistic Missile in Hawaii Test


"HONOLULU — The U.S. military says its ground-based mobile missile defense system has successfully shot down a medium-range ballistic missile during a test in Hawaii."

Of course, with this outbreak of peace in the world, we can clearly do without such unproven and unreliable systems. Iran just needs to talk to us, North Korea just needs a new batch of pizza, Diplomacy uber alles.



'Human nature places no limit on social engineering because human nature does not exist in the first place.'


- Roland Dobbins


Spacebat, we hardly knew ye.


-- Roland Dobbins

Now there's a new one.


Approaching the singularity


Here is an interesting Did You Know? Video on YouTube:


At the end, it asks "What does it all mean?"

We know, of course - thanks to Vernor Vinge . . .



Ex-Star Wars boffins build mosquito-blasting raygun, 


The ultimate bug-zapper - a laser system that shoots mosquitos out of the sky:


This will make some parts of New Jersey liveable. Hey! Finally! A habitable planet for man . . .



Affordable Nationalized Healthcare in England 


"NHS managers have been accused of putting targets and cost-cutting ahead of patients as a report found up to 1,200 people may have died needlessly due to "appalling standards of care" at a single hospital."


"...poorly trained nurses who turned off equipment because they did not know how to work it, newly qualified doctors left to care for patients recovering from surgery at night, patients left for hours in soiled bedclothes, and reception staff expected to judge the seriousness of the condition of patients arriving at A&E."


"Patients of Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust described one ward as a "war zone" and people were often left waiting in A&E for hours covered in their own blood and without pain relief even though they had serious injuries. Others were left without food or drink, some received the wrong medication - or none at all - and blood and faeces was left on lavatories and floors."


But patient groups were angered that Cynthia Bower, who was chief executive of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority - the organisation with responsibility for checking standards at the hospital - from July 2006, is to set to become the new head of the health super-regulator the Care Quality Commission. "


"Her predecessor David Nicholson at the forerunner of West Midlands Strategic Health Authority - which was Shropshire and South Staffordshire SHA - left in 2006 but is now the head of the NHS, as its chief executive."


Monckton's Keynote address to the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change 

"Recently four of us in this room were invited to a meeting of Government and opposition leaders and policymakers in Madrid, to debate the science and economics of climate against Al Gore (not a climate scientist); Railroad Engineer Pachauri, the head of the U.N.’s climate science working group (not a climate scientist); Sir Nicholas Stern, the author of the U.K. Socialist Government’s joke report on the economics of climate change (not a climate scientist); and the Environment Minister of Spain (not a climate scientist).

All four of us--three climate scientists and I (not a climate scientist) accepted the invitation to debate. All four of them refused. They said they would only come if they could speak on their own, without facing any challenge, any debate, any question, any fact, any inconvenient truth. Not one of them dared to face us. They did not have what in English we should call the cojones."


This is arguably the finest thing written since Emile Zola's "J'Accuse"

For a sample of that, see below: J'accuse le général Mercier de s'être rendu complice, tout au moins par faiblesse d'esprit, d'une des plus grandes iniquités du siècle. I accuse General Mercier of complicity, at least by mental weakness, in one of the greatest inequities of the century.




Dr. Pournelle:

In the matter of the AIG bonuses, several congresscrittters have stated an intent to tax the bonuses at 100%. Although I hope that this is merely political posturing, and I am certainly angered about the bonus payments, I find these statements from Congress worrisome. As the bonuses were contracted a while back, and may have been paid in full or in part by now, and certainly will be paid before Congress can get a bill through, is not such action a constitutionally proscribed /ex post facto/ proceeding?

I'd like to tax the bonuses at about 200% myself, and I hope that the people who get the bonuses would be too ashamed to keep them, but I don't want Congress to set a precedent that involves ignoring the Constitution.

Maybe I'm utterly wrong and such a bill would be legal, but if it is, then I must have slept through high school civics.


Precisely. In a private exchange I wondered if this might be a put up job. I got:

>>Or is it a put up job to allow Congress to pass confiscatory tax laws and stay popular?<<

Hmmm. I have trouble seeing Obama and the Dems truly attacking their billionaire political base this way. otoh any bill no matter how discriminatory can be passed to thunderous applause. And then be quietly ruled unconstitutional under the 14th by the SCOTUS sometime during BO's second term.

Which is an even more cynical view.






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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hansen: "The democratic process doesn't quite seem to be working."


- Roland Dobbins

An interesting view coming from him with his rolling dice.

For yet more data on past climates see



Interesting storage option

Hi Jerry:

I was glad to hear in your letter that the blood work is looking well. My wife has been thru this 3 times now and it seems to be finally behind us and I know what a relief it is to get past it.

I''ve been playing with an interesting storage option lately that I thought I'd pass along to you.

I'm incredibly anal about having backups in lots of places. I backup y Macbook Pro to a time machine raid-1 drive on my desk at work hourly. I rsync my home directory on my MBP in my house to a linux machine with a big array on it every night.

Until recently I've also used an older linux machine located at my beachhouse as my offsite storage box. It maintained a VPN connection to my house and I rsync'd key directories down to it nightly. That box consumes a lot of power and takes up a fair amount of space and is reaching the point in its life where stuff is starting to fail. I have a cable modem there.

Now I've discovered, for $89.95 the DLink DNS-321. It is a small 2 Drive SATA RAID NAS running linux. I installed 2 WD Caviar Green 1TB drives in it. Then I dropped in a package called funplug which unlocks the linux and allows me to add all kinds of software. I added ssh, rsync and VTUN (the VPN software I use.)

The whole process was practically painless and now I have a complete 1 TB RAID-1 offsite storage solution for < $300.

This is a pretty complete little system now that I can remotely administer and gives me a nice additional level of offsite backup with very little energy consumption. The only drawback I've found is that it can't be set to restart after a power hit so I've put it on the big UPS that protected the old linux box. Since the drives are powered off most of the time its a very low power device and I figure I've got pretty good uptime with the UPS.


John Harlow


Why you have to be careful what you wish for

UK NHS hospital loses sight of patient care in trying to meet government targets. The result: 2-3 excess deaths a week. See <http://tinyurl.com/ddkeff > . America has the most expensive medical care in the world, but the NHS shows that Soviet-style management by targets is not going to be any better.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD


The perpetual Obama campaign proceeds apace . . .


-- Roland Dobbins

Well at least we know his views on basketball finals. I am not sure what was said at the Town Meeting yesterday. People commented on the hope and glory, but I wasn't able to understand the specifics.


Casus belli?


--- Roland Dobbins

Sovereignty just ain't what it used to be. But more tests like this are inevitable.


Try not to succeed too hard, 


In Pentagon-land, I guess it doesn't pay to build something that works well:





Well, the world's first proper flying car has made its first flight:



I was wondering when I'd get my flying car...


Amazon May Face Uphill Battle with Discovery's E-Book Patent,


"Discovery Communications has now filed what appears to be a pretty solid lawsuit against Amazon claiming infringement on an e-book patent filed 10 years ago:"


" "They worked very hard to make it as bullet proof as possible," said David Lowry, an intellectual property attorney with Banner & Witcoff, LTD. "They prepared this patent to sue people."

He says that there is an extremely high number of claims in U.S. Patent Number 7,298,851, "Electronic Book Security and Copyright Protection System" (close to 200) compared to the usual 20 or 30, and there are very complete specifications around the e-book distribution process.

This demonstrates that the company put a lot of time and effort into making sure they covered every aspect of the design, and it is not only Amazon that should be worried, but other e-book readers as well."

What I don't get is that they put all this time and energy into a patent, but apparently never intended to build an e-book device themselves.


ART. 1

SEC. 8.

The Congress shall have power ... To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The Framers did not like monopolies. One does wonder how practices like this promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.








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CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


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Friday,  March 20, 2009

Mayhem manor

Dear Dr Pournelle, It's been a long time since I wrote. Took early retirement and am living (comfortably) in a hick town. So my email address has changed. I'm still training to be a lawyer. Passed the moot court and the environmental law paper (A+, there was a lot of engineering). I think I'll fail the legal ethics bit (I told the old joke about sharks not eating lawyers in the surf ... by professional courtesy).

What prompted me to get in touch was noticing a Chaos-Manor lookalike in the Economist magazine's Science and Technology section. That is, a very interesting (but anonymous) bloke is writing much the same kind of screed for the Economist as you once wrote for Byte magazine. And he calls his place "Mayhem manor". His server is "Homebrew". Try this for example: <http://www.economist.com/science/
displayStory.cfm?story_id=13307789>  <http://www.economist.com/science/
displayStory.cfm?story_id=13307789>  ; "Your correspondent does that only when the operating system has become broken beyond repair, or a superannuated computer is to be turned into a Linux box for a local charity (see “Life after cyber-death <http://www.economist.com/science/
displaystory.cfm?story_id=10500554>  ”, January 11th, 2008)".

He tests things so financial journalists and their readers don't have to. He does home automation stuff - this one is Economist premium content, but the abstract is illuminating: "Several months ago, a new house rule was introduced at Mayhem Manor. All multimedia files downloaded from the web or from camcorders, phones, digital cameras, toasters or whatever were henceforth to be stored in one place, and one place only—on the home server".

Hm. You know my feelings on copyright. But this is frankly fishy.

Regards, TC

Well, it's interesting that the Economist does me an homage...


"The young naked man approached her with this poodle, and she immediately realized something peculiar [was going on]."'


---- Roland Dobbins


"That's your attorney general talking about selling out the Second Amendment and your rights for the benefit of the benefit of Mexico."


--- Roland Dobbins


The Egregious Frum


Charles Brumbelow

An interesting observation from a former Washington insider. It takes a while to get into it, but it's worth the time. Alas, things really are that way.

"There is more similarity between two Deputies (Congressmen), one of who is a Communist and one of whom is not, than between two Communists, one of who is a Deputy and one of whom is not."  Robert de Jouvenal



You wondered if this AIG bonus kerffufle might be a put up job.

Taranto at Best of the Web tells us:

It turns out, however, that the bonuses are legally protected under last month's so-called stimulus law. In a most amazing coincidence, this provision is known as the Dodd amendment, as Fox Business Channel <http://www.foxbusiness.com/story/
markets/industries/finance/dodd-cracks-aig---time/>  reports:

'While the Senate was constructing the $787 billion stimulus last month, Dodd added an executive-compensation restriction to the bill. The provision, now called "the Dodd Amendment" by the Obama Administration provides an "exception for contractually obligated bonuses agreed on before Feb. 11, 2009"--which exempts the very AIG bonuses Dodd and others are now seeking to tax.'

So the notion that AIG was set up is not impossible. Except that that very same Dodd was the biggest recipient of AIG campaign donations.

'Obama, this year's president, is also last year's junior senator from Illinois, in which capacity, according to a chart <http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_QHsCD
posted by blogger Jeff Lehner <http://fmpolitics.blogspot.com/
2009/03/playing-game.html>  , he was Congress's second-biggest recipient of donations from AIG employees. The biggest? Chris Dodd. Washington's Examiner drolly terms Obama's take "a $101,332 bonus from AIG." '


Which sums things up nicely.


Ex post facto

jomath asks:

As the bonuses were contracted a while back, and may have been paid in full or in part by now, and certainly will be paid before Congress can get a bill through, is not such action a constitutionally proscribed /ex post facto/ proceeding?

The Supreme Court held in one of its earliest decisions that the prohibition against ex post facto applies in criminal, not civil law. There is even an example from the 1930s where the court upheld a Wisconsin income tax law passed in 1935 retroactively taxing income from 1933.

However, the Supreme Court has also rendered other decisions indicating sympathy with those afflicted by ex post facto civil laws. So while the proposal isn't obviously unconstitutional, a court challenge to such an extreme law still would have to be taken seriously.

--Mike Glyer


Beware Beryllium-10


You put up a link in Mail regarding a Watt's Up With That article on Beryllium-10. What is less likely to stand out is one of the comments made by Lief Svaalgard, Solar Physicist at Stanford regarding variability in the deposition rates of Be-10 and C-14. He wrote:

Leif Svalgaard <http://www.leif.org/research>  (22:14:21) :

It is a common human frailty that when one believes strongly in a cause [AGW or more rabidly Anti-AGW] a certain blindness or perhaps expressed better - selective vision, sets in and drives people to less than candid use of Figures and Data. So it is with this post.

The use of 10Be and 14C proxies is fraught with pitfalls. The production rate may be set by solar activity [the current paradigm says the Heliomagnetic Field. HMF], but the deposition rate in the ice and wood depends on terrestrial factors, climate, geomagnetic field, and volcanic eruptions [as 10Be attaches to aerosols]. Beer and McCracken have in two recent papers [see references in links below] attempted to reconstruct the ‘equivalent’ Climax Neutron Monitor count from the 10Be data and from that the driving HMF.

We have looked carefully at their reconstruction and are in the process of submitting a paper addressing serious issues we see with their result. a preliminary report was presented at last year’s SORCE meeting in Santa Fe: http://www.leif.org/research/
TSI%20From%20McCracken%20HMF.pdf  with some background information in http://www.leif.org/research/Consensus-I.pdf 

The issues are complex and will often be too involved for people to take the time to study and understand them. This fact is vigorously exploited by people with agendas, by serving up simplified [sometimes even wrong or deceptive; allowed according to Gore to get the important point across and save the planet - the end justifying the means] and misleading graphs [hockey sticks and ice cores].

So, I’ll be equally simplistic [as the details have been discussed in full already on this blog] and just point out a few items of interest: 1) It has been trumpeted with great fanfare that the solar wind is the weakest ever observed. The fact is that the solar wind [and the HMF] now is what ir was 108 years ago, so shouldn’t the curve on Figure 1 go back up to where it was 108 years ago? This has conveniently been left out. 2) The major peaks in the 10Be record are mainly due to strong volcanic eruptions. The aerosols produced scour the stratosphere clean of 10Be and increases the deposition rate. Volcanic eruptions also produce cooling, of course, so that will help the correlation. 3) The Ap-index being the lowest ever is due to erroneous data from the SWPC. This has been pointed out here already, so Figure 2 seems a deliberate distortion. Correct geomagnetic activity is known back to the 1840s [ http://www.leif.org/research/Seminar-SPRG-2008.pdf  ]. 4) Correlation coefficients calculated on heavily smoothed data [Figure 3] are severely inflated and do not represent correct statistics.

In all, I would personally have been embarrassed if this had been my post, but then I’m not an agitator for an agenda [which I understand justifies inaccuracies for the sake of the good].

And, a bit later:

Leif Svalgaard <http://www.leif.org/research>  (22:18:39) :

I may have the Figure numbers off, but the meaning should be clear anyway.

His web site is: http://www.leif.org/research/ 

Regards, George

I think this has gone beyond my competency: I am no expert on these matters. What I am certain of is that the world has been both warmer and colder in historical times, and the sea has been rising for centuries. The rising CO2  is worrisome , but it is unlikely to be fixed by schemes that make Al Gore richer but have little effect on China and India; and is almost certainly not the cause of rising global temperatures, assuming that there are rising global temperatures.

It is worth putting more resources into understanding these matters. It is worth investing in practical non-fossil energy sources.

Energy prices are a main driver for unemployment and depression.

I will repeat: it's worth finding out more. The scientific method works.


Google kicks Amazon in the Kindle, 


"Escalating the ebook wars, Google has backed Sony's Reader Digital Book with more than half a million public-domain titles coded in the open ePub format.

The move, announced today, gives Sony's eBook store more than 600,000 titles in total, dwarfing the roughly 245,000 closed-format titles currently available for the much-hyped Amazon Kindle."


Quite the library. It will be much better than looking at small ugly pages, one at a time on a website.


Time to get out my Sony Reader...


be afraid, be very afraid. 

Hi Jerry,

Mandatory Volunteer Service?


- Paul

>>But the bill's opponents -- and there are only a few in Congress -- say it could cram ideology down the throats of young "volunteers," many of whom could be forced into service since the bill creates a "Congressional Commission on Civic Service." 

The bipartisan commission will be tasked with exploring a number of topics, including "whether a workable, fair and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the nation."<<


AIG Financial Products


A very interesting article in yesterday's Washington Post regarding AIG's Financial Products division. This hasn't gotten much play since it was in the "Style" section where the Washington Post puts its "puff pieces" on the Obamas and other favored politicians.

The bottom line is that the folks that invented the exotic investments that brought this whole thing down are long gone from AIG. The folks that are left had little, if anything, to do with the exotic derivatives and are, in fact, making money for AIG (and the U.S. Government) the old fashioned way. Worth thinking about these folks that are now having to live in fear of what the mob, lead by our elected leaders, may do to them and their families.



Tom McCaffery

Interesting, but I think I don't quite understand.




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This week:


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Saturday, March 21, 2009

'He had no practical experience in running anything, except political campaigns; but worse, his background was one-dimensional.'


-- Roland Dobbins

An interesting and well written analysis of President Obama. The principle insight will find some in agreement and infuriate others.







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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday, March 22, 2009      

See yesterday if you haven't.

Cause of financial problems.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

There seems to be something missing on why we're in the financial mess we are in now, and that is the $4.00 gas that was bought by all of us that drove last year. Though the average price wasn't that high it was the link in the chain that caused the chain to break.

The American people even with those very over priced homes were keeping most of the debt covered until fuel costs went crazy.

Then it was fuel to get to work or house payments???

Not a word has crept out from the so called economic professionals about this.




Change we can be afraid of 


> The hope of the intellectuals defending the transformation of the US
> is that when it's done we'll look a lot like Sweden rather than France.

Steve Chu





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