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Monday  March 23, 2009

Good Morning Dr. Pournelle –

I just finished reading Escape from Hell for the second time, and probably would not have read this article http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
tol/news/uk/article5956380.ece  about Sylvia Plath's son had I not. I haven’t seen it covered in U.S. news yet today.

Walt Zielenski


This is an eerie coincidence.



LONDON, England (CNN) -- The family history of poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath took another tragic turn Monday when it was revealed that their son had committed suicide after battling depression....

Frieda Hughes, a poet, author and artist, said in a statement to the newspaper: "It is with profound sorrow that I must announce the death of my brother, Nicholas Hughes, who died by his own hand on Monday March 16, 2009 at his home in Alaska.

I was very sorry to see that.


Subject: David Warren's analysis


Regarding this: "He had no practical experience in running anything, except political campaigns..."

Isn't that largely the problem with the US congress? There are too many career legislators who have no practical experience running anything but election campaigns. Often, those are the people who the parties tap for presidential runs. Many have observed that candidates who have been State Governors have an edge in this regard (though Jimmy Carter certainly demonstrates the peril of relying on that).

In the last election, the candidate who was the most accomplished at running organizations was Mitt Romney. He probably would have been the best of that lot for dealing with the present economic crisis. But competence doesn't seem to make you very electable these days. Image and ideology are now the basis for marketing candidates.

CP, Connecticut

In fact much -- perhaps most -- of the entire governing class has little experience in doing anything but winning election campaigns or working for government in general. In Massachusetts, for instance most of the elections are not contested: getting the nomination is the key to a lifetime career. That future is already here.


dog race

Please tell th' dog: I just noticed that Versus channel is showing the sled dog race. they started last week and are continuing this week, on a varied schedule. It should not be past her bedtime on the west coast. Maybe it will forstall shedding.

You could have her hair spun and woven into objects sold at an exorbitant price in support of the Old Science Fiction Writers' Home.


Her discarded fur would make a great sweater, but it would be an awful lot of work.


Steyn Away From Europeanization

Looking like Sweden isn't even looking that good, these days. The stable structures there, suitable for a homogeneous citizenry, are crumbling as the social contract does. Influx of non-Swedish populations has provided aggressive parasites the system can't cope with.

I wonder which will implode demographically first: Russia, or Europe? And can China be far behind? Inverted generational pyramids are just as deadly with large populations as small.

The sense I get from this is that the long process of building the liberal entitlement mindset has come to a crisis point, and cannot be readily un-done without a harsh Reality Lesson, in the form of systemic collapse. If the population doesn't want to play hard work and commitment games any more, then there really aren't many options available that lead to survival.

Brian H.


Subject: wind turbine "loss of blade incident"

Hello Dr. Pournelle,

I don't know if you've seen this before; the youtube link below is video of a catastrophic failure of a wind turbine.


All the best,

Dave Porter

Spectacular, but at least 20 years old.


Harry Erwin's Letter From England

Letter from England

UK police warn that a Mumbai-style attack is imminent here <http://tinyurl.com/cn8hrf > . Most people are skeptical.

UK police wanted biometrics on the UK ID cards and also wanted carrying it to be compulsory. <http://tinyurl.com/d4a92x> . See also <http://tinyurl.com/62d8w3>  for a laugh.

They say that the average UK minister couldn't manage a whelk stall. This proposal to politicise the UK exam system is receiving a lot of flack. <http://tinyurl.com/ckjzps>  <http://tinyurl.com/cbxdbb>.  Part of the problem is cooption <http://tinyurl.com/det89h>. 

Cambridge's response to grade inflation: <http://tinyurl.com/d4phbk

More evidence that the average UK minister couldn't manage a whelk stall. This sort of thing happens *every* year. <http://tinyurl.com/dydgtz

More problems with NHS hospitals, this time one that specialises in treating children. <http://tinyurl.com/cmdprn>  <http://tinyurl.com/dx9boy >  <http://tinyurl.com/cdr6s4

Mandatory quotas of NHS patients suggested for dentists. (Most dentists here are in private practice, at least part-time.) <http://tinyurl.com/cxwuoo

Problems with cancer treatment in the UK--it turns out spending money isn't necessarily the most effective solution: <http://tinyurl.com/d2d9nu >  <http://tinyurl.com/dkvgj3

"Shoot to kill" orders in Gaza reported <http://tinyurl.com/dlwglj>. 

-- "If they do that with marks and grades, should they be trusted with experimental data?"

Harry Erwin, PhD

One reason to watch what is happening in England is that we are adopting many of the same policies, to be managed by similarly trained people.

The alert warning was announced on Friday night, but I have heard little about it since.



More on traveling toward the European path:


EU bans use of 'Miss' and 'Mrs' (and sportsmen and statesmen) because it claims they are sexist

By Daily Mail Reporter 16th March 2009

Using 'Miss' and 'Mrs' has been banned by leaders of the European Union because they are not considered politically correct. Brussels bureaucrats have decided the words are sexist and issued new guidelines in its bid to create 'gender-neutral' language.

The booklet warns European politicians they must avoid referring to a woman's marital status.

This also means Madame and Mademoiselle, Frau and Fraulein and Senora and Senorita are banned.

Instead of using the standard titles, it is asking MEPs to address women by their names.

And the rules have not stopped there - they also ban MEPs saying sportsmen and statesmen, advising athletes and political leaders should be used instead.

Man-made is also taboo - it should be artificial or synthetic, firemen is disallowed and air hostesses should be called flight attendants.

Headmasters and headmistresses must be heads or head teachers, laymen becomes layperson, and manageress or mayoress should be manager or mayor.

Police officers must be used instead of policeman and policewoman unless the officer's sex is relevant.

The only problem words that do not fit into the guidelines are waiter and waitress, which means MEPs are at least spared one worry when ordering a coffee. <snip>


Wolfram Alpha 

Hi Jerry,

I wonder if he read this story?

"A Logic Named Joe"


That story was written in 1946.

PS: A plug for the Baen free library - I've recently encountered a lot of authors I've never heard about through the Baen free library. It has encouraged me to go and spend more money on the other books in the Baen webscriptions library


Wolfram Alpha

Jeez, who could resist?

What horse is the winner of the 9th race (Louisiana Derby) at the Fairgrounds on Mar 14th? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? What is the power, in jules, that is lost by not capturing the flow of the Mississippi River at Plaquemines Point? What are the odds of President Obama's reelection in 2012? What is the economic outcome of total war with the Peoples Republic of China, assuming an effective coalition of the US, Australia, Japan and S. Korea? When will that damn McDonalds in Florida get a supply of McNuggets?

-- David Couvillon Colonel of Marines; Former Governor of Wasit Province, Iraq; Righter of Wrongs; Wrong most of the time; Distinguished Expert, TV remote control; Chef de Hot Dog Excellance; Collector of Hot Sauce; Avoider of Yard Work Please


Yay for hobby rocketeers!



-- Brian 


E-Bomb article... 


Perhaps you have seen this. I am reminded of the perpetual trend to place greater and greater offensive weaponry in the hands of individual combat soldiers (Starship Troopers et al). As civilization becomes more complex and needs 'smart grids' and smart this and smart that to remain optimally efficient (Mote Prime) it becomes more vulnerable to 'anti-smart' weapons systems. What might one hundred e-bombs do to the hundred largest power plants? To the hundred largest server farms? To the hundred largest traffic light control systems or FAA aircraft control systems?

Someone somewhere must have an interesting ratio of mankind's reliance on more and more complex technology (increasing) to the effort required to destroy it (decreasing). The ratio has been growing very quickly in the past few decades.


-John G. Hackett


Mar 11, 2009

By David Hambling

E-bombs, weapons that destroy electronics with an intense pulse of electromagnetic radiation, have been discussed for decades. But despite years of research and development, there is little sign of their deployment. The prospect of knocking out communications and other electronic systems is attractive, but commanders prefer proven weapons with known effects. Now the U.S. Army is developing technology to provide the best of both worlds, by creating munitions that combine conventional and e-bomb effects in one package.

Explosive munitions rely on blast, fragmentation and sometimes armor-piercing shaped charges for their effects. Researchers want to add an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) damage mechanism as well. This is in contrast to previous e-bomb projects that were intended to be nonlethal so they could destroy materiel without causing casualties. The Army program seeks to enhance existing warheads, adding the feature without affecting blast, fragmentation or armor penetration, and with minimal extra weight.

The power supply in traditional e-bomb design is a magnetic flux compression generator with metal coils carrying current. The coils rapidly compress in an explosion, producing an intense pulse of energy. The generator is bulky and cannot easily be integrated into existing munitions. [The British advertised an artillery shell ten years ago... -JGH] <snip>


ME-262 vs P-51 and F35s

Regarding Mike T. Power's comments on the Me-262 vs P-51s, if you have sufficient numerical superiority that you can loiter over their airfields and kill them as they take off it doesn't really matter how good the Me-262 was in a straight up fight. Even then, the P-51 could out turn the Me-262 and could defend itself fairly well assuming equal skill and SA. They couldn't catch a Me-262 or Ar-234 in a straight line but in a banked turn they could close the distance for a kill since the jets of the period made huge wide turns. It was hardly a no contest as he implies. Neither speed nor stealth trumps all.

20 jets (including Me-262s, Arado 234s and Me 163s) were shot down by P-47s of the 8th and 9th Air Forces. 137 jets were shot down by P-51s of the 8th and 15th air forces.

With regards to the force ratios of the F-22 vs. opponents, either we'll have a clear numerical advantage or we'll be at a clear numerical disadvantage. 6 F-22s vs. 72 SU-27s in the RAND scenario is not "5-3 at the outside best". Mission killing Kadena with SRBMs is about the same as our killing Me-262s as they take off and land and something within the capabilities of the Chinese.

As I wrote in my previous email, some F-22 proponents neglect to take into account the advantages in augmenting the F-22s with F-35Bs operating from forward bases. Unless we're of a mind to start hardening our airfields the flexibility in basing F-35Bs will count for a lot. Of course, I'm glossing over the fact that the USAF wants F-35As and not Bs.

To answer Jerry's question on what is needed just now and what our military requirements are, in my opinion what we need, at a minimum, is sufficient capability to leave the outcome of armed conflict in significant doubt even in someone else's home turf. I don't think the teen series fighters have enough oomph left to do that in the 2020 timeframe. How much of a vulnerability window we allow and against whom we allow it will more likely depend on the state of our economy more than the state of our technology or any analysis of probable enemies/strategic objectives.

I really hope we haven't entered the same position as Britain in 1956 where the US had sufficient financial leverage to force their capitulation on the Suez. In which case, neither the F-22 or F-35 matter all that much.

Nigel Tzeng









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Tuesday,  March 24, 2009

More on Europeanization :

Hi Dr. Pournelle.

I take issue with a comment you accept fairly uncritically from one of your readers the other day, specifically:

“to bring this country up to the level of civilization that Europe has achieved in the last 50 years. . . .”

Europe is a wonderful place and I’d accept a posting back there because the difference is lovely (and because I can always come home to the U.S.), but I’m not sure I’d describe its relationship to our version of civilization as a place upwards from here. I’d call it lateral at best, and in some significant ways, I find it demonstrably inferior. For instance, police agencies in Europe enjoy unfettered access to privacy information; the surveillance power is shocking. The courts operate on a “civil law” basis in which the judge is factfinder, legal administrator and punisher (judge, jury and executioner, in less sanguine terms). State-sponsored racism (such as the de jure segregation of Turks in Germany, and de facto segregation of the descendants of former colonial citizens in France) is accepted, and class stratification not only limits downward mobility, but excludes most opportunities for upward mobility. There is no glass ceiling through which one can burst; it’s a class ceiling that is impenetrable; those under it speak the wrong way, think the wrong way, look wrong, and can never move up, nor can their children. Your secular readers won’t find this a big one, but the near absence of God in daily life, the way the state in many countries makes it difficult or impossible to follow a faith (e.g. an expensive religion tax in Germany) is one way in which I find the Old World particularly backward looking, and far inferior to the U.S. in light of the role of moral values in forming a mature polity capable of ruling itself. We’re no great shakes on that but at least aren’t dead on it.

In some ways Pound was right about European civ, it’s a bit of an old b**** gone in the teeth along with a few boxes of old marbles. It pains me to say that because I love a lot of places in Europe and Europeans I’ve known. The discomfort does not make it less true.

Leave my name out if you choose to mention my thoughts please.

Warmest regards,


I often post mail with which I don't agree. I would think my views on most subjects fairly easily deduced even when I don't state them explicitly, so I don't feel I have to.

I haven't been in Europe for a while, but it is my impression that the old class structure is crumbling; of course it depends on which European country one looks at. Despite the EU there are differences. I expect many readers will take exception to some of your descriptions, just as many do not concede that Europe is at a higher level of civilization than the United States..


More on traveling toward the European path:


I’ve been dipping in and out of your various writings since the earliest Byte days and have always found it worthwhile, however I feel compelled to write regarding the piece in the Mail linked to from your site as proof that Europe is “going mad” etc.

To make any sense of this “story” you need to realise that the Mail is an hysterical tabloid whose every pronouncement, especially regarding the EU should be taken with a very large pinch of salt.

Quoted in the referenced article is the supposed EU directive to legislate on banana shape. This never existed. I know because, being a British expat working in Brussels for many years, one of our favourite games is to hang around in the 2 or 3 bars where reporters from the English tabloid press congregate and invent and loudly discuss the most preposterous legislative proposals we can think of, safe in the knowledge that these “journalists” are never going to bother leaving their bar-stools to check the provenance of their new “scoop”. Over the year points are awarded for the number of appearances of each story in the UK tabloids with extra points for the proximity of the phrases “it’s political correctness gone mad” and “you couldn’t make it up”, well we did make it up (and the ban the bagpipes story too).

So don’t believe everything you read in the papers, remember a worrying number of journalists rarely get off their backsides to do their jobs properly any more.

Best regards.

Gareth Lloyd

I don't read the Daily Mail, and I fear I am not familiar with the banana shape legislation proposal; and it may be that the sexism proposal is also a hoax. The problem is that so far have things come that it isn't obviously a hoax.


Income ranges and Wealth

I'm enjoying the discussion on income ranges and wealth. But the socialist mindset of the new administration is frightening. The WSJ had an article several months ago (alas, my cursory search didn't reveal it) comparing the average income ranges of various countries. The information was enlightening: The USA and Great Britain had the widest ranges of incomes: GB about 200% spread between lowest and highest incomes, and in the USA over 300% spread. In the EU countries, the spread was much lower, generally under under 100%, as I remember. The data was pulled across many different job types.

I drew two conclusions from the data (really wish I had the article!)

1. More opportunity in the USA and Great Britain to make a high salary. Corrolary: In the USA and Britain, people don't mind folks making lots of money.

2. Europeans are used to "having enough." Earning more (simply to have more, or spend more) is seen wasteful and greedy. The socialist political agenda that has been fed to Europeans for decades is now part of the culture.

The current "anguish" we are being asked to feel in the USA over the AIG bonuses is a good example of the media trying to feed more socialist mantra to the public. We should be "outraged" over these bonuses, instead of paying attention to the underlying economic problems. I fear if we hear the same agendas long enough, we too, may become socialists.

This also reminds me of a utopian SF series by Kim Stanley Robinson. The third and final novel was "Pacific Edge" (1988). A primary conflict was the economic model: a Fixed Income Cap for individuals. There was a base income for those who worked, those who worked more difficult(?) jobs earned up to 3 times more, but nowhere what someone would consider "rich." No one needs to be rich, all your needs are met! Drama arose when folks discovered people "gaming" the system to earn more. Ahh, human nature - Go figure :)

Cheers, Joe Conyers

For good or ill, the US has until recently left such decisions to individuals, and rightly so. Modern technology has made money a nearly decisive factor in elections, and other factors have become nearly irrelevant. This means that society does have a stake in income distribution if we accept the notion that the best republic is ruled by the middle class and those with middle class interests.

Distributists did not intend to use taxes to strengthen government at the expense of the wealthy; they weren't trying to transfer money from the rich to civil servants or to the poor.


Running political campaigns

Jerry: Regarding "He had no practical experience in running anything, except political campaigns..." I believe Parkinson suggested requirements for leaders (classical languages, poetry, etc..) which would be as good as any other criteria. Mencken has his own view:

"The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can't get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods." H. L. Mencken



Parkinson's list of qualifications for Prime Minister are interesting; his goal was to eliminate elections by setting the qualifications to a level that only one person would apply for the job. ("Successful applicants will die for their country, by painless means, on reaching the age of 70", and applicants would prove stamina and devotion by lasting a round with the current heavyweight boxing champion...)

Qualifications for public office are difficult to specify. We have a dread of professional politicians, but we want people to have some experience. And nowadays winning elections requires an ability to survive the Sound Bite. Look at the Virginia Senatorial election of a couple of years ago; one thoughtless comment caught on camera...



O Canada!

Dr. Pournelle:


88-year old lady has been Mayor for 31 years. Her city has $700 million (Can.) in reserve funds, NO debt. After 11 terms, she claims an approval rating of 92%. Apparently, there are still some people who know how.



A short report on Current Science on Climate Change

Dear Friends,

Earlier this month, the Heartland Institute sponsored the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change in New York. This may help to dispel Gore's theories of drowning bears and imminent Global Apocalypse. Despite dramatic movies and massive propaganda to alarm people (and intense political pressure to silence skeptics), what you are being told about Dangerous Anthropogenic Global Warming (DAGW) simply isn't true. It's a scam.


 Important things to note:

* There is minor global warming (and cooling). No one I know disputes this, and the planetary record goes back hundreds of thousands of years. The "warming" that people have been expressing concern about is about 0.6 degrees per century. It's no big deal, and the most recent years have been cooler. 2008 was the coldest year in the past ten. Experts differ about the causes of climate change (the sun is the primary "suspect"), but they generally agree that was is happening isn't unusual or dangerous and that there is nothing that humans can do (even if we wanted to, and regardless of how much we spend) to significantly change our planetary climate. * There is no evidence that the frequency or intensity of severe weather events have changed significantly over the past 100 years. * Pollution is a totally separate subject from Global Climate Change. Everyone I know is against pollution, including myself.

A good reference for this is Climate of Extremes. Check the book's reviews on Amazon.com. The novel State of Fear is a fun read, and relevant.

Conclusion: The "Climate Crisis" is political, not climatological. It's about huge sums of money ($ Trillions in Carbon taxes). A good reference for the economics, ideology, and politics is Blue Planet in Green Shackles. Please feel free to pass this along, including to your local media.


John D. Trudel


St Andrew debate

This is a report of the Saint Andrews University debate on AGW which the alarmists lost. Monkton was one of the speakers. An alarmist speaker's comparison of sceptics to Mengele, which he refused to retract, did not go down well.


Neil Craig


Obama Drops Vet Insurance Plan


Dear Jerry:

Obama has discarded this idea, but the main point here is that the insurance companies are the winners, not veterans, since the former avoid paying out on the policies financed by the premiums paid by the latter when VA medical services are used. It was not an unreasonable plan from a financial standpoint, and , as I said earlier, the VA already collects such payments for non-service connected conditions. Note that if the veteran has no health insurance, that it does not affect, in any way, their treatment by the VA. The VSOs have reacted out of emotion, not logic. They lose and the insurance companies win.


Francis Hamit

One would think this the kind of thing easily decided in Congressional Committee, but that assumes a degree of trust in Congress that we seem no longer to have.


Re: F-22 vs F-35

Nigel Tzeng writes: "...if you have sufficient numerical superiority that you can loiter over their airfields and kill them as they take off..."

Well, if that's the case, then it doesn't matter how good his planes are because the air war's over and you won it.

"...Even then, the P-51 could out turn the Me-262 and could defend itself fairly well assuming equal skill and SA. They couldn't catch a Me-262 or Ar-234 in a straight line..."

Sounds similar to the balance between Allied and Japanese aircraft in the Pacific theater--fast Allies versus maneuverable Zeroes. The standard Allied tactics were to avoid a turning fight, depending instead on superior speed to make quick passes and then disengage. This seemed to turn out rather strongly in the Allied favor.

But again, there it is--the advantage depended not just on individual capability, but on overall battlespace management. Awareness, communication, tactical planning; these things are all required to make an Air Force, rather than just a collection of airplanes who are all on the same side. As I said before, this is what makes the F-35 work; the recognization that you were always going to need this network, and so why not just run with that? Make the aircraft be a terminal, rather than a whole server farm unto itself.

-- Mike T. Powers


Obama re-writes the Bill of Rights. 


As my source said, "You think just posting the original text would have been too complicated?"

Note especially the 2nd, 5th, 9th, and 10th.





Some overnight and morning musings...

Some musings...

1. According to all I've heard, one signature trigger of the failure (through definition of "toxic asset") was the provision passed by the 2006 Democratic Congress which required financial institutions to carry the value of their assets based not on the remaining balance of principal on their loans, but on the value of the underlying equities.

If the equities were not being traded themselves, how was the loss in value of those equities determined? How does one trace an underwater equity from one loan -- which loan was not revalued -- through the mortgage-backed derivatives that were being traded?

Am I missing something?

2. I've been hearing a lot of complaints from the left that "the Republicans are criticizing and are rooting for Obama to fail, but are not offering any alternatives." We know that the Republicans are not "rooting" for Obama to fail but are recognizing that his policies are doomed to fail; but I agree that there is not much out there on alternatives. Well, here are some preliminary thoughts in that arena.

They mostly go back to the subject of "old-fashioned standards."

a. Repeal the above law.

b. Repeal the Community Reinvestment Act and any other provision of law which obligates banks to make lending decisions based on any consideration other than the ability of the borrower to pay back the loan, or for the bank to mitigate their loss through foreclosure and resale of assets.

c. After the present crisis is over, disband Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in favor of a government-administered mortgage insurance program similar to FDIC.

d. One contributor to the crisis has been financial institutions and other corporations which became "too big to fail." In reality, larger corporations have NOT delivered "increased efficiency," they have delivered concentrations of financial power which have warped the economic and political landscape. I'm not sure of all of the details, and there is probably room for some flexibility, but some standards are obvious:

        d1. Banks, brokerages, and insurance companies should not be interstate entities but should be confined to a single state, or at most regional. The banks should return to historical standards of solvency in terms of cash reserves. Let's use e-commerce effectively to manage transactions involving multiple independent entities -- we already do that.

        d2. Manufacturing concerns should similarly be of regional focus. If GM wants to sell cars in, say, Nevada, let them franchise manufacture of cars to a separate company which covers, for example, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. That company has to worry about California emission standards; the rest of the company can build to sane standards. Note though that if a GM customer wants in Kentucky wants to buy GM West instead of GM South, they can order the car through their dealer. Note that these will normally begin as spinoffs of the current company with the same owners, but will eventually be independently traded; I think I would set standards that limit ownership of publicly held corporations in the same market an force some further level of divestiture at the ownership level. Note also that part and parcel of this plan is that the Defense/aerospace (Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop) should have the mergers of the later 1980's and 1990s undone back to at least 6 companies ("Old" Boeing, "Old" McDAC, "Old" Lockheed, "Old" Martin, "Old" Northrop, "Old" TRW) and required to compete on an equal basis for government contracting and the commercial marketplace.

      d3. I would utterly eliminate short selling, hedge funds, derivatives, and reinsurance. A financial risk has to be accepted on its merits. Yes, I understand there are some benefits of honest shorting, but stock prices are too speculative and to subject to changes based on inside information and misinformation.

That's probably enough to chew on for one morning.


I think the important need is to set sane regulatory policies and change the financial rating system. When SIG decided to add financial products to their line -- i.e. to put a hedge fund business on top of an insurance business, because there was so much money to be made -- had the financial ratings companies acted in anything like a rational manner they would have rated the new junk as junk. Not much would be sold and what was sold would have been identified as high risk. Instead, Standard and Poor, Moody, and the other two rated these financial products as safe. It cost them nothing to make that rating, and since AIG was paying the ratings companies for their ratings the conflict of interest was obvious.

The ratings system need an entire reformation; the conflict of interest remains.

And, I continue to believe that institutions that are too big to be allowed to fail are too big to be allowed to exist.

Regarding (b), even if one accepts the goal of wider distribution of housing ownership, there have to be better ways of subsidizing this. They should also be explicit subsidies. Didn't we at one time have subsidies for loans to Veterans?





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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sowing the Ocean with Iron Doesn't Work

A joint Indian-German team conducting the Lohafex experiment in ocean iron fertilization has concluded that the technique doesn't work to sequester atmospheric carbon. The experiment did stimulate growth of phytoplankton, as expected. However, the scientists had not counted on the phytoplankton being gobbled up by zooplankton before they could sequester much carbon from the atmosphere.


Perhaps the technique could still be useful for increasing fish stocks.

Jeff Larson Webster, Texas

That is unfortunate, but it's only one experiment in one place. It would be worth continuing, both for the CO2 absorption and to see the effects on krill and such like. It is not expensive research, and the potential payoff are high.


Auto parts


Absolutely amazing

Best regards,

Michoel Reach


is that when it's done we'll look a lot like Sweden rather than France.

The first bit here has been answered already but answering the 2nd question may be something that could be part of an essay on fixing politics.

"is that when it's done we'll look a lot like Sweden rather than France."

I'd prefer France. They appreciate engineering (83% of their electricity is nuclear, they build bridges & trains which are both functional & beautiful); they have a GNP which is marginally less than Britain's but they do this on a 35 hour week, spending more time drinking coffee & less running bureaucracies than us; they have a cheerfully cynical appreciation of their own national interests; they blow up Greenpeace boats.

They are not the ideal I would aim at - that would be Singapore or Hong Kong - but they are definitely not the incompetently run surrender monkeys who so unwisely refused to join us in bringing peace & freedom to Iraq.

" Modern technology has made money a nearly decisive factor in elections, and other factors have become nearly irrelevant."

I'd be interested in seeing an expansion of that & of possible cures. Having read "Take Back Your Government" you seem to be saying that people being willing to volunteer no longer works. I know Obama had more money than McCain but was that not an effect of his initial popularity rather than the cause of it? While a majority of Presidents were wealthy, or married to money, before they entered politics a fair number weren't. Perot who had no shortage of money foundered on the disadvantage of not being an established party.

Neil Craig

It would still be possible for a Perot-like movement to restore political power to volunteers, if enough political volunteers could be found. It's still possible to work one's way up in the political party hierarchy through the old fashioned ground game; but this is pretty rare, and takes more time and devotion than most people are willing to put into it, and, alas, it takes a lot of people getting out there. The Perot movement was the last such effort that looked to have a chance of success. That doesn't mean that it's impossible: but it would probably take someone with the resources of Perot, and a bit more stability -- and who was devoted to a Take Back Your Government reformation.

That's not only not impossible, it will be likely if there are enough people out there showing an interest in that kind of reform. In the meantime, there are Political Action Committees; find one that seems closest to your views. Or several. Control of finances is important to both parties now.

It's not impossible for a conservative Obama to arise. It's less likely because conservatives don't have the temperament for an Obama-like campaign, but as need arises heroes often appear.

I will have a lot more on this another time; I'm late,


Classes in Europe

The class system is holding up very well in England, thank you. Sunderland is unusual in that there are few or no nobs, but the walls between the working class and middle class are very obvious. The big park next to my house has bylaws posted prohibiting bicycling (historically, a working class means of transportation).

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


Hi Jerry Pournelle,

I thought you might wish to add this to the mail section. There is a Bill in the House to 'Protect' our food that seems to be a grab for more power and to create a new, large (is there any other kind?) government agency. I try and not get riled up about this stuff but lately it is difficult not to.

Details about HR 875 the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 and some comments posted on my rare fruit site at: http://www.quisqualis.com/FarmAttack875.html 

I have started looking for books of yours I might have missed and am eager for the new, glad to read that you are so much better.

Bob Cannon

Thank you. They're from the government, and they're here to help you...


From the White House Constitution page

Dr. Pournelle:

The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms.

Gives? I thought the Constitution was designed to PROTECT rights, not grant them.

Silly me.


Hamilton argued against the Bill of Rights on the grounds that it weakened the principle that the Federal Government had no powers not explicitly granted in the document, and there was, for example, no power granted to forbid or even regulate the citizens right to keep and bear arms; thus the Second Amendment was not needed. He made similar arguments regarding each article of the Bill of Rights. Since the power to quarter troops in citizen homes was not granted (except for the District of Columbia over which Congress was given near absolute power) there was no need for an Article of Amendment forbidding the federal government to quarter troops in citizens' homes. Etc.

The forgotten Tenth Amendment was supposed to address this situation.


The Big Takeover : Rolling Stone

The bailout, bluntly, with expletives. If Obama can say no to major campaign contributors, the worst might be avoided, Tim. http://www.rollingstone.com/



A Logic called Joe on radio 

Jerry I saw your entry about "A Logic Called Joe." This, along with many other great science fiction short stores was dramatized for radio in the '50's on the X Minus 1 show.

This is a great high quality show that I would recommend to everyone. You can get it here <http://otr.net/?p=xmn1>  , (for free even) requires Real Player to listen on line.



A very good article form Irving Kristol


I laughed when he talked about scientist and engineers as thinking all things are problems to be solved. Of course the are!


Phil Tharp Vreelin Eng. Inc.

Irving Krystol and Freeman Dyson are two of the sanest people on the planet, Both are very much worth paying attention to; I have disagreed with both, sometimes, but one wants to think very carefully about what they have said and why they say it.  And as it happens our nest note is about Dyson.




if you have not seen it, the following article on Freeman Dyson and climatic change may be interesting.


Regards, Wil Spruth

I do not share Freeman's politics, but I have always admired his clear thinking. And in a pessimistic world he is generally even more of an optimist than I am.







 read book now




CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Subject: A very rare blessing

Jerry, it might interest you to know that on the morning of April 8, 2009, Jews around the world will go outside, look up at the Sun and repeat a blessing that's said only once in 28 years. You can read about it, and why it's said so rarely here: http://www.aish.com/literacy/

-- Joe Zeff
If you can't play with words, what good are they?
http://www.zeff.us  http://www.lasfs.info


Dr. Pournelle:

In Wednesday's mail section, a reader recommended a site for old-time radio shows that included X Minus One


But, he noted that RealPlayer was needed. I've found RealPlayer intrusive, since it hijacks the playing of other audio files. There is, however, a much more polite alternative, Media Player Classic. A Google search will offer a bunch of download sites, but this one


will also provide it.

-- Pete Nofel



unintended consequences dept

Unintended consequences dept #1 So the scientists seeded the ocean with iron to grow algae and absorb CO2. After two weeks little bitty shrimp ate the algae. Question. Does this leave extra shrimp which would eat the regular algae also?

Unintended consequences dept #2 I read an article where the author was extremely insistent - repeatedly - that it was absolutely essential to build a new SMART national electrical grid - SMART. If the grid was smart, wouldn't an EMP weapon wipe out our power for many months while thousands of distributed computers at every node were replaced?


One reason for doing experiments is to see what the consequences will be. I would welcome a lot more experiments on creating plankton blooms.


Zooplankton eats phytoplankton

So. Seeding the oceans stimulates phytoplankton growth, and then the phytoplankton get gobbled by zooplankton.

And this is a problem because...? Seed more iron, grow more phytoplankton, sequester more carbon dioxide in phytoplankton mass, zooplankton eats phytoplankton.

This is, fundamentally, a straightforward problem in coupled first-order differential equations, the kind you give undergraduates in numerical methods classes. (I know this because I had the great good fortune to repeat that class a few years ago, while doing refresher work and preparing for the upper-division class in iterative methods.)

Of course, if you get enough zooplankton, you start getting whales and manta rays feeding on the zooplankton.



Coronal Mass Ejection

I hope you find this an interesting read.


Best Regards,

Derek McQuay



Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe.


---- Roland Dobbins

We know that such events take place. Look up the 1859 solar event...


Little Red Riding Hood - The Animated Infographic Story.


-- Roland Dobbins

Infographics: the wave of the future?


Cold fusion


the Navy group that has continued cold fusion research is reporting possible success in their efforts:


<snip>The scientists (from Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego) on Monday described what they called the first clear visual evidence that low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR), or cold fusion devices can produce neutrons, subatomic particles that scientists say are indicative of nuclear reactions. <snip>"(This Paper) fails to provide a theoretical rationale to explain how fusion could occur at room temperatures. And in its analysis, the research paper fails to exclude other sources for the production of neutrons," (Paul Padley, Rice University) told the Houston Chronicle. <snip> Steven Krivit, editor of the New Energy Times, said ... neutrons produced in the experiments "may not be caused by fusion but perhaps some new, unknown nuclear process" <snip>


Interesting. Of course we don't have a theory; we're still just punching around to see if we get a phenomenon. That's actually pretty cheap research, with low cost and high potential payoff.


Cold fusion again



WASHINGTON (AFP) ­ Researchers at a US Navy laboratory have unveiled what they say is "significant" evidence of cold fusion, a potential energy source that has many skeptics in the scientific community. The scientists on Monday described what they called the first clear visual evidence that low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR), or cold fusion devices can produce neutrons, subatomic particles that scientists say are indicative of nuclear reactions. "Our finding is very significant," said analytical chemist Pamela Mosier-Boss of the US Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego, California. <snip>

 I really wanted this effect to exist in 1989, perhaps we will get it after all.

jim dodd
 San Diego

A result is always important. The most practical thing in the world is a good theory, but the theory needs to be based on results. This may be a result in need of a theory. We can hope.


Navy Lab Touts Cold Fusion Advance:


Neutrons produced in something other than a reactor. Maybe not fusion, but very interesting nonetheless.

It's gratifying to think that our folks in the military are still checking out the dusty corners.



Auto parts


Absolutely amazing

Best regards,

Michoel Reach

I remember when those thingmakers first began to appear at computer shows. Fascinating indeed.


MEP speaks like we wish republicans would - 

Hi Jerry,

Highly recommended: A MP takes Gordon Brown to task for his socialistic views. As the framing text says, I wish republicans would speak like this.


The last time one did, I think it was 1964, and the speaker was Ronald Reagan for Barry Goldwater.




Neil Schulman early on experimented with eBooks and electr0onic publication. His novel Alongside Night was originally published by Crown, and won several awards.

Alongside Night nails it again 

From Alongside Night <http://www.alongsidenight.com>  , October 16, 1979 Pages 189-190 (Pulpless.Com edition)

What had performed such a feat of political alchemy on Dr. Vreeland was a telephone call, Saturday evening, that the Chancellor of EUCOMTO had made to the President of the United States. The Chancellor’s eleven o’clock call from Paris (5 P.M. in Washington) informed the President that in a closed emergency session thirty minutes earlier, EUCOMTO had voted no longer to accept the American New Dollar. The Chancellor explained, as politely as possible under the circumstances, that the council had felt this necessary to protect European interests from the monetary consequences of American political instability.

“Instability?” the President had asked testily. “What do you think, that you’re dealing with some banana republic?”

“Mr. President,” the Chancellor had replied, “even bananas do not decay as quickly as the value of your currency these past few months."

The vote was final; the announcement would be made in Paris, 10 A.M. Monday,. at the opening of EUCOMTO’s trading session.

EU presidency: US economic plans 'a road to hell'

By RAF CASERT, Associated Press

Writer Raf Casert – March 25, 2009

STRASBOURG, France – The president of the European Union on Wednesday slammed U.S. plans to spend its way out of recession as "a road to hell."

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, told the European Parliament that President Barack Obama's massive stimulus package and banking bailout "will undermine the liquidity of the global financial market."


The Iron Law in Europe 

Hi Jerry

I have just seen this - if you watch the (short) clip, after about 30 seconds the chap speaking (my Member for the European Parliament) sums up the iron law as it applies to the European Investment Bank.





Whitehouse.org website (constitution, ecc.)

Dr. Pournelle,

I was curious how recently the page dedicated to the Constitution had been updated. Maybe that was done by Bush too before leaving like the entire world economic and moral crisis that Barrack Obama inherited by surprise Jan. 21?

Well the Internet wayback machine doesn't show any updates between March 25 and September 27 (they supposedly have about 6 months lag for processing).

But what I found most bewildering was the previous name of the section now hosting the Constitution page: "Our Government". One year ago, there was no section by that name, but there was a section "Your Government" ( http://web.archive.org/web/
www.whitehouse.gov/government/  ), which also contained some of the information currently in "The Administration" (es. biographies). Navigating (search obviously doesn't work on the Wayback Server) I was unable to find a page dedicated to the Constitution, but then in the White House's site why should it, when that would be more likely part of one of the general governmental sites (since when is the Constitution associated with the head of the Executive branch?).

An attempt at rendering more approachable the President and staff of the White House? Or taking hold and digging in? In any case, I think a slightly curious choice of change.

Best regards,

James Siddall jr

Curious. I have no idea. I presume it really is an official site?








 read book now




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  March 27, 2009


You might want to put this up on your site. So far, 52% are giving Mr. Hope and Change an A. This is BS.



Since few of us watch MSNBC, we need to send this email around to our friends, so MSNBC will know what people really think of Obama. Otherwise, they will report everyone is happy. VOTE and send it on to your friends.

MSNBC has a live poll to grade Obama's performance as President, and we need to get some conservative voices showing up in the results! Here is the site:



This is the first I have heard of this poll.


Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009.


- Roland Dobbins


more Irving Kristol


This was published in 2000 before our current mess manifested itself. http://www.aei.org/publications/

Note the last paragraph.




Doctor Pournelle,

A little ionizing radiation might be good for you!?

I thought you might find this of interest:


From the abstract:

An extraordinary incident occurred 20 years ago in Taiwan. Recycled steel, accidentally contaminated with cobalt-60 (half-life: 5.3 y), was formed into construction steel for more than 180 buildings, which 10,000 persons occupied for 9 to 20 years. They unknowingly received radiation doses that averaged 0.4 Sv, a collective dose of 4,000 person-Sv.

Based on the observed seven cancer deaths, the cancer mortality rate for this population was assessed to be 3.5 per 100,000 person-years. Three children were born with congenital heart malformations, indicating a prevalence rate of 1.5 cases per 1,000 children under age 19.

The average spontaneous cancer death rate in the general population of Taiwan over these 20 years is 116 persons per 100,000 person-years. Based upon partial official statistics and hospital experience, the prevalence rate of congenital malformation is 23 cases per 1,000 children.

That's right, ninety-five per cent LOWER death rate from cancer among those living in the irradiated apartment buildings for nine to twenty years. At least one common birth defect among their children similarly reduced by over ninety per cent. The idea is called "hormesis": that radiation in low doses over long periods has some beneficial health effects, through some process not yet understood.


There is a considerable literature on the hormesis phenomenon, and it has been discussed on this web site several times. My friend Claus Gustav Nordquist, retired surgeon colonel of the Swedish Life Guards Regiment, did a study on Swedish conscripts from different parts of the kingdom and came to the conclusion that those from areas of Sweden that have higher background radiation had health advantages over those from other regions.

At one time there was a lot of controversy on this because opponents of nuclear power have always maintained that radiation damage is linear to zero: that is, it doesn't matter how small the dosage, it is damaging. They had no real evidence for this, and the theory was mostly supported by reasoning by analogy. When actual studies were done, they found the hormesis effect. (Do a site search on hormesis. For how to do a site search, click here.) I have not heard much about hormesis for several years, and I presume that like many scientific controversies, once the liberal view was shown to be incorrect, it was thereafter ignored, except that the zero tolerance view is taught in most non-science and science survey classes.


President Obama's Failure

Let the President fail, but not the Country.

I do want President Obama to fail. I believe that his policies will lead to greater taxes, greater inflation, and greater interest than I can afford. I want the man to fail simply because his policies are so radically different from my own beliefs.

President Bush primed current America to believe in the deficit spending America and President Obama is doubling down. It will take a greater voice than mine to teach the public of general Americana (and I'm no fanatic). However, President Obama is completely reckless in his approach to economic moderation and hopelessly clueless in his approach to international affairs. I fear that his success would be far more harmful to us than his failure, and can only trust that Jacksonian America will prevail over his idealistic approach to affairs in this world.

I may be a pessimist, but I think humanity is only one step removed from our knuckle-dragging, club-bearing forebears. Let us hope we do not return to such a grim existence. I like electricity, regardless of the source.


We will certainly have great changes in the relationship between citizens and government, given the size of the deficit and the number of government employees who will be required.


Response to JMB


This is a response to JMB. In the first hand, I appreciate his attempt to maintain control of cognitive bias. There are excellent works by Heuer, Kam, and Jones on these matters. These are publications that most Intelligence Officers are familiar with.

What is not to like about the benefits is the part where higher worker productivity does not result in the workers taking those rewards, but those who do not work. Now, in certain cases this may be acceptable. However, many terrorists sit around in government subsidized housing plotting attacks on EU soil. Besides these types, there are others who do not deserve the protection and support of civilization as they contribute nothing to it, nor have they.

JMB laments the fact that investors and managers get rewards--which I will concede are, in many cases, extremely obscene. However, lets compare GDP here.

1 World $ 70,650,000,000,000 2008 est.
2 European Union $ 14,960,000,000,000 2008 est.
3 United States $ 14,580,000,000,000 2008 est.
4 China $ 7,800,000,000,000 2008 est.

source: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/

And population:

1 World 6,706,993,152 July 2008 est.
2 China 1,338,612,968 July 2009 est.
3 India 1,166,079,217 July 2009 est.
4 European Union 491,582,852 July 2009 est.
5 United States 307,212,123 July 2009 est.

source: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/

This is to make the point that the United States with almost 200 million fewer people is more productive than the EU and lets not forget China and India. It is amazing how a little research will ease the effects of cognitive bias.

I would say that Europe's problem is both a low native birthrate--similar problems occurring in Japan--and the immigration matter. The biggest problem in dealing with the immigration issue is that if you are against immigration, you are called a racist--thanks to the social-engineering of Social Liberals and their incremental evolution by stealth processes based on techniques used by Fabian Socialists.

In the second hand, North American immigrants have not assimilated. How many Jewish, Korean, Armenian, Persian, Afghani, Mexican, Latino, even Black communities do you see in the United States? I wonder where you live, because where I come from the population is 98.97% Caucasian. I have a completely different view of the United States having driven across it a few times, flying across it a lot more, and spending time in many of the several states.

Your letter, while thought provoking, seems written from a perspective that has cognitive bias vis-a-vis geography.

I would suggest that you look around the United States or do some research, because all is not well here with immigration. Many people are not assimilating, and we are starting to see the inception of problems similar to those in Europe.

We were doing very well with the foundings documents and the first principles of this nation, and we would do well to return to them. This Fabian Socialist agenda is not working in Europe, though it does benefit the real managers and investors in these systems, and we are not talking about the small companies here. We are talking about private organizations such as the Federal Reserve, which many actually believe is Federal. An easy way to disprove this one is to get a D.C. phone book, check the blue pages, notice the Fed is not there--because its not Federal.

Obama will continue with the policies of Bush II, you will probably get your socialism, and its going to be about as fun as it was under Stalin. Read the white papers, this stuff didn't happen last week.

-- I remain,


The Promethean Jester-Inquisitor Illuminata Sol Invitctus

“The opinion of ten thousand men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.” —Marcus Aurelius


Global Carbon Taxes to Shift Trillions


Obama's massive wealth redistribution (enabled by Gore's DAGW theory and a massive PR campaign) is unfolding exactly as was warned in Blue Planet in Green Shackles. Global taxes and bureaucracies without borders. OMG.


John D. Trudel






 read book now





This week:


read book now


Saturday, March 28, 2009

The mirage of “green jobs”


"Spain wound up paying $775,000 for every green job they created through subsidies since 2000. That’s almost $100,000 per year per job, and that cost only includes the created jobs. The cost of the 2.2 jobs lost would hike that cost considerably, as well as the lost tax revenues, the increased government assistance, and the opportunity costs for pulling capital out of the markets.

Why did the jobs disappear? In part because of the higher capital confiscation of the government, and in part because the green policies pushed industry out of Spain. Actually, the study didn’t count jobs lost through “industrial relocation”, which in this case amounts to capital flight. The largest stainless-steel producer in Spain directly linked its decision to move operations to South America to the higher energy costs imposed by the government."

Of course, to a certain type of Believer, there is no downside to that.



Immigration assimilation- 


Ah the simplicity of economic arguments when it comes to immigration.

Europe has mostly isolated other cultural waves of "laborers" and often sent them home after the boomlet passed (Germany and Turkish workers prior to the East-West German merger). France has often kept North Africans somewhat separate too. England has tried somewhat to assimilate, but kept the class barriers high.Eastern Europe seems still tribal and therefore resistant to change of any kind.

In Houston, we anglos are in the minority in most regions other than new home suburbs. Mexico is the major source of our "new people", but all of central America, Viet Nam, and India provide numerous more. They are taking 1-2 generations to blend in, pretty much like past waves behaved. Our politics here (not State wide) has also become more centrist to left-centrist as basic expectations dominate over higher IQ aspirations in recent "new Texans". As an interesting aside, Asian-American and Indian-American children have dominated scholarship pursuits through stronger family units and higher achieving families who actually could immigrate from their countries.

Allan Smalley


Gone in 90 Seconds...


Charles Brumbelow


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

The ghost of Thomas Paine (more or less) discusses modern times...



H. Pollack


Plankton Blooms

Dr. Pournelle --

An "experiment" in stimulating plankton growth has been going on for years in the Gulf of Mexico. Agricultural runoff flowing out of the Mississippi River causes a massive bloom, spanning from eastern Texas to Mississippi, every spring and summer. This plankton then dies and decomposition of it depletes the waters of oxygen, creating what is called a "dead zone" with very limited higher forms of life, "higher" meaning from plankton on up.



Infantry proof displays?

Creating Combat Ready Gadgets

March 28, 2009: The U.S. Army is trying to develop bomb proof computer displays (screens). With more electronics on the battlefield, there is a need for displays that don't break so easily. Commercial computer makers have "ruggedized" models of laptops, but the displays are still based on glass components. Same for everything from digital watches, to cell phones and PDAs. Civilian "rugged" and army infantry "rugged" are two different things. Even on a construction site, field work or a factory floor, a sturdier, shock proofed laptop will withstand most of the punishment it normally encounters. But the infantry have to deal with explosions (a common destroyer of computer displays), plus a degree of roughness rarely encountered in any civilian endeavor.

There has always been commercial research on "digital paper", but the demand was never large enough to attract a lot of research money. The existing display technology got the job done at an attractive price. Since the various digital paper technologies would produce a more "bomb proof", and much more expensive, display, it was not commercially viable. There was just not a big enough market for such a rugged electronic display. But now the U.S. Army believes they have a real need for this sort of thing, even if the displays cost several times what existing, glass based ones, do. There are several digital paper designs nearly ready for mass production. So the army put money into the Flexible Display Center (a university research operation) to get some of the more promising models out of the lab and onto the assembly line. Within 4-5 years, the army expects to have new flat panel displays that can take an explosion or two, and keep on shining. The new displays will also be, in some cases, literally "digital paper," and bendable. This makes it possible to put displays in more places, for more uses.

(Then they go in mass production for the rest of us. THIS is government money at work!)



Classic case of a strategy of technology.


'A singular characteristic of an emerging market heading for deep trouble is a seemingly suicidal tendency to become overly indebted to foreign creditors.'


-- Roland Dobbins


'Oversize institutions disproportionately influence public policy; the major banks we have today draw much of their power from being too big to fail.'


- Roland Dobbins









 read book now




CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, March 29, 2009      

I took the day off




 read book now





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