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Monday  April 6, 2009

What kind of military? What kind of war?

Dr. Pournelle --

This article from the Washington Post tells us that some in the military are trying to answer some of the questions that have been discussed at your site.

Short '06 Lebannon War Stokes Pentagon Debate Leaders Divided on Whether to Focus on Conventional or Irregular Combat


"A war that ended three years ago and involved not a single U.S. soldier has become the subject of an increasingly heated debate inside the Pentagon, one that could alter how the U.S. military fights in the future.

A big reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the U.S. military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe."

Regardless of what decisions are made by Pentagon officials, I expect that the military will find itself in the kind of war that wasn't planned for and we'll again be dependent upon the ingenuity of company commanders and squad leaders to improvise in the field.



DoD budget described.

To sum up: F-22 production ended, TSAT cancelled, VH-71 cancelled, CSAR-X cancelled, FCS cancelled, ABL cancelled, MKV cancelled, KC-X punted. Sic transit America's technological dominance! I hope that the army we have is good enough, because we'll be going to war with it for quite some time to come.

I hope that the people making these decisions aren't the same ones complaining about how America doesn't have enough engineers and scientists. What's the point of being an engineer or a scientist when the government tells you that they'd rather buy old cheap stuff than pay for you to invent something?

-- Mike T. Powers


Regarding your post about Heinlein's house, it isn't. It's the same lot, but a different house.

See Jeff Duntemann's post today:


Jeff's local, so he probably has a pretty good idea of what's going on.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

Interesting. I didn't think I recognized much in the photographs.


Who owns Minnesota

What you cannot control and enforce your laws you do not have any sovereignty. Have the people of the US lost Minnesota to Mohammedans?

Where once was Hamm's http://www.powerlineblog.com/

I'm afraid if this goes on much further we'll be in Europe's state today - so beholden to their Mohammedan population they cannot effectively police their country and have public safety in the streets. In Norway and Sweden "White" women cannot walk the street without facing the risk of rape. In "England", as Obama calls it, they have to tolerate a collection of odious practices, female genital mutilation, honor killings, rape, beatings, and such. In France they don't seem to be able to do anything about their Mohammedan population's penchant for carbeques.

If we fall that far into trouble what will be the next step? Will US militias start trying to kill all the Muslims? Or will the US ultimately be forced to adopt sharia law with its institutionalized hatred and extreme inequality before the law for all non-Muslims?

Either future is sure to destroy the US as it was once regardless of the Obama-socialism.

Alas poor United States of America, I knew it well.


And see below.


Harry Erwin's Letter From England

Aside from the G20 conference, a slow news week. I was gobsmacked to learn that Albania is now in NATO.

During the recession, food price hikes (18% since last year) are affecting those in poverty disproportionately. <http://tinyurl.com/cp47gh >

Register story about Tories versus the Government on ISP data retention <http://tinyurl.com/cm3rmr

You want it bad; you get it bad--skills education for adults is disappearing in the UK <http://tinyurl.com/ccheax> . Meanwhile, 35,000 secondary education places also disappeared when "a £60 million hole in funding for the education of students aged 16-19 in England" became apparent on Tuesday. "Ministers said that they were not aware that it had promised schools one sum of money on March 2 only to cut it on March 31." <http://tinyurl.com/crphkc> I'm not making this up.

Finally, researchers discover you can't replace good teachers with investment in equipment <http://tinyurl.com/ddkkbk

I'll be visiting Naples on Easter. Watch for the pictures on my blog.

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

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

 Last night's news featured stories about Arctic Ice

 It's about money, not ice....

Today's "Arctic Ice Shrinking" article noted the release of new NASA data just in time for the Cap and Trade legislation votes and a meeting on polar regions in Washington. What a remarkable coincidence. Not. This is exactly the plot of Michael Crichton's 2004 novel State of Fear.

Global Warming, despite Al Gore's popular propaganda, was never more than trivial (~ 0.8 degrees over the past 100 years). The inconvenient truth is that the planet has not warmed for the last ten years and has been cooling since 2001. The Arctic is warmer, the Antarctic is colder, and the planet is cooling, overall. It's getting cooler, not warmer.

What might be worth worrying about is the latest scam to rip off taxpayers, the massive Cap and Trade bills in Congress. It might be worth mentioning that this scheme of exotic derivatives was cooked up by the good folks at Enron, endorsed as a "major opportunity" by AIG in 2007, and then by Goldman Sachs, which was funneled most of the bail-out money doled out to AIG, billions more than the notorious bonuses. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (ex-Goldman) and current Treasury Chief of Staff Mark Patterson (also ex-Goldman) are major cheerleaders for Cap and Trade tax-supported derivatives. (Source: Washington Times, March 25, 2009.)

The sub-prime crisis, organized and famously mismanaged by Washington and Wall Street, has caused far more damage to America and the World than any 0.8 degrees of global warming. The impending Cap and Trade taxpayer-funded derivatives strike much more fear in my heart than previously (over) reported drowning bears and shrinking Arctic ice.


John D. Trudel

There has certainly been global warming since 1776 when the Hudson froze over hard enough to drag cannon across it at Haarlem Heights. It hasn't frozen that solid for quite a while now. If I had to bet on whether the Earth was warming or cooling I'd be hard pressed, but since it has been warming for the last couple of hundred years, that may be the way to bet it. The question is, what causes the warming, and CO2 can't be the cause. But we've been through all that before.


Rare Video: Climate TV Debate - Morano vs. Fmr. Clinton Official Joe Romm - Plus Launch of Climate Depot Imminent!


 - Climate Depot’s Morano debates Global Warming with former Clinton Admin. Official Romm


Rare Global Warming Debate -- Romm cites Government’s Support of Man-Made Warming as Scientific ‘Proof’!

By Marc Morano Monday, April 06, 2009

Washington DC: On Sunday March 29, 2009, a rare event occurred on television. An actual debate about the man-made global warming fears took place on Roll Call TV. Watch this heated debate between Marc Morano, the executive editor and chief correspondent of ClimateDepot.com, and Joe Romm of ClimateProgress.org.

Part 1 of TV Debate: Starts at 3:45 min. mark: http://www.rollcall.com/multimedia/tv/33727-1.html 

Part 2: Starts immediately. http://www.rollcall.com/multimedia/tv/33726-1.html 

Romm, a former Clinton Admin. Official (Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy), repeatedly utilized ad hominem attacks during the debate. Romm also claimed the planet may warm up to 15F by end of the century! Romm also made other questionable claims about “green jobs.” [Note: Romm was just named by U.S. News & World Report: Romm as one of the 8 "most influential energy and environmental policymakers in the Obama era" – In addition, Romm comically questioned whether the bridge collapse in Minnesota was a result of man-made global warming & see: Design failure (not CO2) evidently behind Minneapolis bridge collapse ]


Why Ceres might be a better location for colonization than Mars


  Ceres has one important detail that makes it much more interesting than one might expect: apparently it has lots and lots of water <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Ceres>  :

Mike Z

I have always thought Ceres the proper place for an initial asteroid colony. See Exile -- and Glory! for what that civilization might look like in its early period.



It's difficult to figure out what NATO is for nowadays, save perhaps as an organization with the express purpose of pissing off the Russians. Obama, on the one hand, seems to be doing a smart thing by going and giving the Russians the appropriate diplomatic hugs. I think that is an alliance which would do a lot more to secure the future of the Free World than a very lop-sided alliance with Western Europe.

Other than Canada and the Brits, is there any other NATO partner which is actually meaningfully contributing to the effort in Afghanistan? For a "NATO" operation, this seems to be proving to be an "Anglo" operation, and as some British observers seem to be wanting to make clear to folks in the US, the only reliable partners that the Americans have had in nearly a century has been those folks that share its common language and origins.

I don't want to come off as anti-European. To be sure, the former Administration did its fair share of alienating traditional allies like France and Germany, but at the same time, just how important are a lot of the traditional (by that I mean Cold War) allies? To be sure, there's sharing of intelligence, but I think the "Anglo" alliance, which some feel is getting rather short shrift by the new Administration, along with a closer understanding with the Russians, is ultimately a much more reasonable direction for foreign policy than continuing to support an organization that, for the most part, seems unwilling to actually help the US in the conflict that it's supposedly on side with (Afghanistan), while keen to use the US in its continued campaign to annoy the Russians.

Whatever Washington's feelings on foreign entanglements, I think the one factor more than any other that a foreign policy should be based on is reality. The reality is that the Russians, after a brief of ruin and rot after the collapse of the USSR, are back, and for all the old antagonisms, represent, in the long run, a much more important alliance than Europe, which seems to have its own strategy which may very well in fact involve the US in events like South Ossetia which can only harm US interests.

-- Aaron Clausen


Has civilization really come to this?

As far as civilization goes, I would hate to think this kind of living would ever be abolished. If folks want to live off the land, Bless 'em. The fact that it's happening in the backyard of a major city is, to me, just interesting. If our new administration has it's way, eating game will likely go the way of the dodo. Only one restaurant will exist, it's already been predicted: Taco Bell <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taco_Bell>  is the only restaurant available, because it won the "Franchise Wars". (From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demolition_Man_(film)) This prediction was just a few years ahead of it's time.... :)

About food safety: Proposed FDA/UDSA regulations could eliminate Farmer's markets altogether: *http://tinyurl.com/djdg9k   

*Cheers, Joe




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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Different Letter from England

Who owns England?

Dr Pournelle, I grew up and live in the UK and have been following your columns since the Byte days; more recently I’ll occasionally stop by and see what’s been posted on the various areas of your site – the Chaos Manor reviews always contain something worth reading, while the view and mail pages give an interesting perspective on events in the US and elsewhere.

Harry Erwin’s “Letter from England” is particularly intriguing, given the “as others see us” angle it offers – while I’ll wince from time to time, and hope some of the things he highlights don’t give too skewed an impression of everyday life here (often those things are raising headlines here because they’re viewed as exceptional and unreasonable to us, too) and raise an eyebrow at a few of his points (cycling’s a lower class activity in England? Everywhere I’ve lived it’s more a middle class/greener than thou activity, or class neutral), I won’t dispute that he generally describes things that are real issues of the day.

On the other hand I was boggled and pained to read the claims made in Monday 6th April’s “Who owns Minessota” mail, which confidently asserts (amongst part of an overall diatribe against a perceived Muslim takeover in Europe):

In "England", as Obama calls it, they have to tolerate a collection of odious practices, female genital mutilation, honor killings, rape, beatings, and such.

What? A claim that we tolerate – for any reason – such practices is quite simply utter nonsense, and easily disprovable by a cursory search of UK news sources. For example 2 minutes on a single news site gave these articles:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_yorkshire/7475541.stm  (“Four jailed over 'honour' killing“…”This sort of behaviour in a civilised world cannot be tolerated.”)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6907838.stm  (“Life for 'honour killing' father”…” This was a barbaric and callous crime”)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/4520682.stm  (“Jail for 'honour killing' family”)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6907221.stm  (“Woman held over child mutilation”)

I’ve no idea how accurate the allegations that mail makes against other European countries (or, for that matter, the potentially doomed Minnesota and wider US) are, but given the wildly incorrect things it’s said about England I’m not inclined to give them very much weight.

Dr Ian Kirk


More authors turn to Web and print-on-demand publishing - CNN.com


There are always successful cases, but most self publishing enterprises don't do anywhere near this well, and many cost a lot more than ever they earn.

Of course POD makes the process easier and cheaper for everyone including traditional publishers. Self published works still have the problem of publicity and professional editing.


The End of the Affair


Americans falling out of love with cars?


"There is evidence that that love affair is fading, and that for more Americans the car is becoming a longevity-driven commodity like the Maytag washing machine. New-vehicle sales fell 38.4% in the first quarter compared with the year-ago period, according to Autodata Corp. A recently released annual survey from R.L. Polk & Co. found that the median age of American vehicles in operation has risen to a record 9.4 years from 9.2 the previous two years."

Apparently, it's not just the recession, either.

Perhaps cars have become too sophisticated. Time was, you might come in to my apartment and find the carburetor of my car sitting on my kitchen table, soaking in solvent. I bought the gasket kits at the local parts store, rebuilt them myself. Of course, I didn't have a whole lot of money, and my cars tended to be old clunkers, and I bought the cheapest of gasoline (2g cents a gallon or so). But I knew guys who would buy a new car and spend a fair amount of time under the hood. Heck, I knew guys whose engines were cleaner than their kitchens. Certainly cleaner than their bathrooms. Now, nobody knows what to make of that stuff. And there's no room to look.

The thrill is gone, honey . . .



Sanity prevails?

This prosecutor should be fired.


-- Roland Dobbins


James Q. Wilson
The DNA of Politics Genes shape our beliefs, our values, and even our votes.
Winter 2009


Children differ, as any parent of two or more knows. Some babies sleep through the night, others are always awake; some are calm, others are fussy; some walk at an early age, others after a long wait. Scientists have proved that genes are responsible for these early differences. But people assume that as children get older and spend more time under their parents’ influence, the effect of genes declines. They are wrong.

For a century or more, we have understood that intelligence is largely inherited, though even today some mistakenly rail against the idea and say that nurture, not nature, is all. Now we know that much of our personality, too, is inherited and that many social attitudes have some degree of genetic basis, including our involvement in crime and some psychiatric illnesses. Some things do result entirely from environmental influences, such as whether you follow the Red Sox or the Yankees (though I suspect that Yankee fans have a genetic defect). But beyond routine tastes, almost everything has some genetic basis. And that includes politics.

When scholars say that a trait is “inherited,” they don’t mean that they can tell what role nature and nurture have played in any given individual. Rather, they mean that in a population—say, a group of adults or children—genes explain a lot of the differences among individuals.<snip>


What Has US embargo of Cuba Achieved?


The US embargo of Cuba has considerably slowed down the economic development of the beaches of Cuba which has had the effect of creating a marine reserve around most of the island. This marine reserve has continued to restock the marine flora and fauna of Key West and the other 'downstream' islands.

On this basis, a continued embargo _may_ be in US interests.


Robert Peters

I had not thought of that aspect. Thanks.


Golden lies, too good to ignore


It turns out that 90% of weapons used in the Mexican drug cartel wars did not come from the US:


The truth is more complex, as usual.



Heinlein Colorado House PM 6/52 Article 

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

Here is a link to the June, 1952 Popular Mechanics illustrated article on the then recently completed Heinlein Colorado Springs house. The current house on the at the same location was heavily rebuilt by the third owner, ca. 1995, as related in the accompanying commentary on the PM article::

"The house was sold when the Heinlein's moved to Santa Cruz in the mid-1960s, and its third owner bought it around 1995. These owners substantially rebuilt the house, making it much larger, and reports are that little of Heinlein's original work survives.

One thing that does survive is the bomb shelter, built in early 1963 (after Heinlein announced they had no shelter at SeaCon, Labor Day 1962). The house, city, and bomb shelter are featured prominently in the novel Farnham's Freehold.:"


Mystery writer and Heinlein fan Robert Crais reportedly visited the house in 1998, and found little left of the original other than the aforementioned shelter.

By the way, whatever happened to the even more interesting Santa Cruz, California "Bonny Doon" house? Is it owned by the Heinlein estate or family? It really ought have been turned into a museum, maintained as it was "in the day". The State of California has done that with a home that Eugene O'Neill lived in for a few years late in his career. Heinlein deserves at least that much for his work. Personally, I would not trade him for three O'Neill's, but that's my own taste for optimism and common sense showing.

Petronius (as in "The Door Into Summer")

Thanks. Both the Bonny Doon house and the house in Carmel where Robert died were sold without publicity, and so far as I know no one kept track of them. The Bonny Doon house was designed by Heinlein and had many interesting convenience features, including a really well done guest house. One feature of the guest house was a list: you were to list anything you had wanted that wasn't there. It would be there the next time you came.

The last time we visited them in the Bonny Doon house, Ginny was up on the roof clearing off dead leaves in preparation for possible brush fires. The place had become too large for them to keep up, Ginny did not want live in help, and they sold the place and moved to Carmel, where Robert died a few years later. Ginny later moved to a retired Navy community in Jacksonville, Florida.


US manufacturing is not in decline

Hi Jerry,

I was going to comment about injection molding but someone else beat me to it. I do some work in that industry and do not see why environmental issues would be a concern. They are working almost exclusively with plastic pellets.

I do agree that mold costs from China are jaw droppingly low. I recently found out how much a client was paying for water bottle molds and it was about half of the lowest I would have guessed. That is just machining so no serious environmental issues there, either. More importantly, turnaround time, even counting shipping from China, is about half what it takes from US mold makers. I suspect that if a US company could better the Chinese turnaround time, they might be able to capture the business even if the mold cost were several times more. The ability to get a set of molds several days earlier might be worth 10's of thousands of dollars per day to the molder

Re manufacturing jobs in general: There seems to be a consensus among many that the US is losing manufacturing jobs overseas. This is just not true. It is easy to find figures for employment in manufacturing in the US. The Statistical Abstract of the US gives the numbers in table 971

1990- 109mm 2000- 131mm 2007-138mm

Dollar value of shipments gives us another lead. Manufacturer's shipments (table 974) shows:

1992 - $3TR (earliest shown) 2000 - $4TR 2007 - $5TR

That is current dollars so some, but not all, of the increase will be inflation.

I'll bet a dollar that I could go back and look at data since the 50's and find a similar trend.

Next time someone tells you that manufacturing is on the decline in the US, ask them by what measurement or metric then ask them for the numbers.

If you publish this, feel free to include my name and website or not as you see fit.

Best, John R Henry CPP

"All progress is made by a lazy person looking for an easier way." - Lazarus Long

True enough: what has declined is manufacturing jobs. Productivity has greatly increased, meaning more stuff manufactured with fewer workers, so more workers were employed in services, including selling things to each other. The fact remains that much of the US economy became a process of opening containers of stuff and paying for them by borrowing money against real property. So long as property values kept going up, this seemed to be working.


Scientists create fuel from African crop waste

Bananas are a staple crop of Rwanda. The fruit is eaten raw, fried and baked - it even produces banana beer and wine. Around 2 million tons are grown each year but the fruit is only a small percentage of what the plant produces. The rest - skins, leaves and stems - is left to rot as waste.

Now scientists at The University of Nottingham are looking at ways to use that waste to produce fuel, developing simple methods of producing banana briquettes that could be burnt for cooking and heating. PhD student Joel Chaney in the Faculty of Engineering has developed a method of producing the briquettes using minimal tools and technology, which could be used in communities all over Africa.


Bill Shields

Bio fuels may be competitive in tropical areas. Burning food is not a good thing to do, but bio waste is always a good candidate in a low tech economy. When you have very little, almost anything helps.


Virus battery could power cars, electronic devices

For the first time, MIT researchers have shown they can genetically engineer viruses to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.


Bill Shields

The biology revolution is just beginning. For more, http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/
juan_enriquez_wants_to_grow_energy.html . Think of this speech as a stimulus to more thinking. Whether his stabilization of oil prices is a good idea or not is worth discussion.


Europe's biggest wind farm planned in Sweden

Plans to build the biggest wind farm in Europe are underway in Sweden after winning approval from a local county administrative board on Monday, officials said.


Bill Shields


Defense budget and military history


A few thoughts on the defense budget changes outlined today.

1. We are no longer going to prepare for a battle for national survival against a near-peer or symmetric opponent.

 2. Real asymmetric threats such as theater ballistic missiles will not be countered by expensive systems (ABL), and the principle behind this decision will carry over to other expensive programs that were generated to counter a specific threat and which have no inexpensive alternative.

3. Pretend math stating the F-22 *should* have a theoretical kill ratio of 32-1 wins over real math that points out the F-22 carries only 8 missiles, each with a Pk of less than 1, so while our handful of F-22s are on the ground re-arming the remaining few hundred enemy aircraft will bomb them out of existence, even if they are 2-seat ultralights manned by a pilot and a gunner carrying a couple of grenades and an AK-47. The F-35 carries even fewer missiles and lacks all-aspect stealth, but in the absence of F-22s may have to operate in an environment dominated by next-generation SAMs with ranges well over 100 miles. The latest generation of SAMs and radar will allegedly scoff at previous-generation stealth and can cue/guide off of networked sensor data, so presenting a stealthy aspect to the launch site or primary guidance radar is no guarantee that another networked sensor is not “looking up your skirt”, so to speak. One more reason why the F-35 is not even remotely close to being a viable alternative to the F-22 in the role of achieving air supremacy in a hostile environment.

4. Obama’s firmly stated goal of 25% reduction in defense spending and nuclear disarmament, unilaterally if necessary, was not merely a campaign promise to be broken later.

5. We will not be maintaining a military capable of defeating a symmetric opponent, while at the same time we are eliminating most of our nuclear deterrent (announced a few days ago in addition to the campaign video outlining Obama’s defense vision).

6. History has many examples of what happens when both deterrent and main defense forces are simultaneously reduced or do not provide a credible threat/deterrent.

7. It was noted by Gen Schwartzkopf that the primary difference between himself and Saddam Hussein is that Saddam Hussein was not a military historian.

Does President Obama understand what he has done, from a historical perspective? The flip side is of course the question of if any of our opponents are led by military historians?


You can't handle the truth 


A fascinating and disturbing (to me) look into the mind of the liberal intelligentia. The following 2 quotes appear in the same article:

"(But) Obama never answered the question of how his epic debt can be squared with his call for generational responsibility. He can’t, because it can’t."

"Obama’s intellectual honesty is a political asset."

Steve Chu

It does appear that we are asking our grandchildren to pay for all this; it will take a really great economy to let them do it.


Boffins list sci-fi words which wormed their way into dictionary


The Oxford University Press has come up with a list of nine words that originated in science fiction, but which have now become part of the language of science:




IBM Fellow: Moore's Law defunct

R. Colin Johnson (04/07/2009 6:05 PM EDT) URL: http://www.eetimes.com/

PORTLAND. Ore. ‹ An IBM researcher says Moore's Law is running out of gas.

IBM Fellow Carl Anderson, who oversees physical design and tools in its server division, predicted during the recent International Symposium on Physical Design 2009 conference the end of continued exponential scaling down of the size and cost of semiconductors. The end of the era of Moore's Law, Anderson declared, is at hand.

Anderson was one of 65 semiconductor gurus speaking at the conference, which also unveiled a new method for synthesizing critical paths, a host of analog design innovations and a new twist on the annual physical design contest.

The IBM Fellow observed that like the railroad, automotive and aviation industries before it, the semiconductor industry has matured to the point that the pace of continued innovation is slowing.

"There was exponential growth in the railroad industry in the 1800s; there was exponential growth in the automobile industry in the 1930s and 1940s; and there was exponential growth in the performance of aircraft until [test pilots reached] the speed of sound. But eventually exponential growth always comes to an end," said Anderson.

A generation or two of continued exponential growth will likely continue only for leading-edge chips such as multicore microprocessors, but more designers are finding that everyday applications do not require the latest physical designs, Anderson said.<snip>







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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Playing with threats.

I used to be in the threat business. I developed several potential threats against Apollo 11 as one of my tasks in the aerospace industry; by identifying the threat and working out details we were able to watch to see if certain preparatory actions were being undertaken, as well as work out some methods for resisting the potential attack. Comes now:


ELECTROMAGNETIC pulse weapons capable of frying the electronics in civil airliners can be built using information and components available on the net, warn counterterrorism analysts.

All it would take to bring a plane down would be a single but highly energetic microwave radio pulse blasted from a device inside a plane, or on the ground and trained at an aircraft coming in to land.

Yael Shahar, director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, and her colleagues have analysed electromagnetic weapons in development or used by military forces worldwide, and have discovered that there is low-cost equipment available online that can act in similar ways. "These will become more of a threat as the electromagnetic weapons technology matures," she says.

For instance, the US and Russian military have developed electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warheads that create a radio-frequency shockwave. The radio pulse creates an electric field of many hundreds of thousands of volts per metre, which induces currents that burn out nearby electrical systems, such as microchips and car electronics.

Speculation persists that such "e-bombs" have been used in the Persian Gulf, and in Kosovo and Afghanistan - but this remains unconfirmed. But much of what the military is doing can be duplicated by others, Shahar says. "Once it is known that aircraft are vulnerable to particular types of disruption, it isn't too much of a leap to build a device that can produce that sort of disruption. And much of this could be built from off-the-shelf components or dual-use technologies."

But don't panic. Much of this has been known for a while.


Of course the Mil standard pretty well tells you how to build EMP pulse generating equipment.

Now add EMP and hacking:

Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven't sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

"The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," said a senior intelligence official. "So have the Russians."

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn't target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. "There are intrusions, and they are growing," the former official said, referring to electrical systems. "There were a lot last year."<snip>

Some might call that a threat... Note that neither nukes nor missiles are required.



The new administration apparently believes that threats can be neglected...

Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano apparently takes comfort that nobody has acted on the malware implanted in the electric distribution system. (Interview played on Fox News; cannot yet find transcription to link.)


<snip>-- Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.<snip>

The new administration apparently also believes that they can revise history:

The White House is denying that the president bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at a G-20 meeting in London, a scene that drew criticism on the right <http://hotair.com/archives/2009/04/02/
video-obama-bows-to-saudi-king/>  and praise from some Arab outlets.

"It wasn't a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he's taller than King Abdullah," said an Obama aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.<snip>

A photograph of the incident, not from the President's best side, is currently headlining at the Drudge Report. You be the judge.




Kill ratio

3. Pretend math stating the F-22 *should* have a theoretical kill ratio of 32-1 wins over real math that points out the F-22 carries only 8 missiles, each with a Pk of less than 1, so while our handful of F-22s are on the ground re-arming the remaining few hundred enemy aircraft will bomb them out of existence, even if they are 2-seat ultralights manned by a pilot and a gunner carrying a couple of grenades and an AK-47. The F-35 carries even fewer missiles and lacks all-aspect stealth, but in the absence of F-22s may have to operate in an environment dominated by next-generation SAMs with ranges well over 100 miles. The latest generation of SAMs and radar will allegedly scoff at previous-generation stealth and can cue/guide off of networked sensor data, so presenting a stealthy aspect to the launch site or primary guidance radar is no guarantee that another networked sensor is not “looking up your skirt”, so to speak. One more reason why the F-35 is not even remotely close to being a viable alternative to the F-22 in the role of achieving air supremacy in a hostile environment.

 How many shots in its cannon does it have, and how many shots does it take to shoot down an ultralight? I envision a fleet of ultralights with one grenade each and a tiny machine gun vs. a few jets with their missiles, automatic cannnon and air defense support from the ground.



More Kindle Fallout

Advocates for blind protest loss of Kindle's voice function


The controversy regarding the text-to-speech function offered by Amazon.com's Kindle 2 digital book reader appears to be heating up again.

Groups advocating for the blind and reading disabled on Tuesday held a protest at the Manhattan offices of the Authors Guild. The guild was very vocal in opposing the text-to-speech technology in the Kindle. The group, which represents 4,000 authors, argued that the Kindle infringes on copyright and could hurt audio book sales.

The whole debate seemed to be over in February when Amazon appeared to give in. The Web's largest retailer said it had decided to enable publishers with the power to disable Kindle's text-to-speech function on a per-title basis.

Text-to-speech enables computers to read text in a lifelike voice. <snip>

Were I blind I would probably have a different view, but I'd pay money not to have to listen to my Kindle reading a book to me. Apple had better text to speech capability 20 years ago: Victoria actually sounded human. I'm fond of my Kindle, but the text to speech ability isn't one of the reasons I love it.


Military flexibility

Dear Jerry:

Speaking of Military History: I'm reading "The Regulars; The American Army 1898-1941" by Edward M. Collman. It's a pretty good history and covers the beginnings of our modern military. In 1917 the total strength of the US Army was about 200,000. A year later it was four million, and had 100,000 officers. That was rolled back to a minimal force during the 1920s and 30s. And ramped up again as World War II started. In other words, we can meet a threat very quickly. We've done it before and can do it again. The entire National Guard and Reserve system was designed over a hundred years ago because of a lingering fear of standing armies to do this. The new shift in defense spending is designed to meet the current threat, not the ones from the Cold War. We haven't abolished the F-22, but made an informed judgment we have enough to meet any immediate threat. Shifting focus to more intelligence and special ops assets is also a good idea. Our big obstacle there will be manpower, not technology. Most people can't do those jobs which require both high physical abilities and high IQs. Way off one side of the Bell Curve. Look at the bonuses currently being offered in some fields and you will see where the money is really going.


Francis Hamit

The American Way of War has always depended on having time to ramp up to create an army. So long as we didn't have extensive overseas commitments, that worked well, but of course we didn't have the standing forces to defend the Philippines. We built both Army and Navy rather quickly after Pearl Harbor.

Up to that time the Regulars were supposed to hold things together until we could build new Legions.  Korea shook up that theory pretty badly and NATO plus the Cold War pretty well ended it. Then came Viet Nam. We built a large Regular force so that we could project power overseas and intervene in various places. During the Cold War that made sense.

The question now is whether we need that capability. And that depends on what our national objectives are.


Pirates and the CIA: What would Thomas Jefferson have done?—By Ken Silverstein (Harper's Magazine)


An interesting point of view on the Somali pirates,


A science advisor that is being scientific ...

This is certainly the kind of thing we need in our arsenal -- the ability to cool the planet -- regardless of the cause of the warming.



At one time we worried about the particulate in the upper atmosphere increasing the albedo and thus cooling the earth. We installed scrubbers and particulate traps to reduce pollution.

We know that volcanoes have made climate changes. Look up Tambora and the Year Without A Summer (Eighteen hundred and froze to death) for details. If we want to cool the Earth, we know how, and it's cheaper than what we're doing right now.







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CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


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Friday,  April 10, 2009

Re: The End of the Affair

> Perhaps cars have become too sophisticated.

Yes, and then again, no. My wife's business has a small fleet of relatively late model sedans which one of the hats I wear is watching over the maintenance. Personally I have two vehicles that I maintain. One an old diesel that is about as low tech as one can get. All linkages and vacuum controls. Once running you can rip out the battery and alternator and the engine will just keep rattling along. The other is a late model very high tech V-8 drowning in sensors and computers. Oh, and I also grew up fiddling with the carb.

Although the old diesel is my pride and joy I don't kid myself that it is easier to work on. The vehicles made in the past 10 years are a dream to maintain compared to yesteryear. Yes, you have all of the sensors with do fail but you also have available from those sensors a wealth of information about what is happening inside the engine that engineers 20 or 30 years ago could only dream of. And all of that info is available to the owner on instruments that only run a few hundred dollars. These diagnostics make tracking down problems so much easier that they truly are a blessing. (1)

Add to that 20 or 30 years ago the only manuals available were either the Chilton's etc. aimed at the consumers which were often, ah, limited in real world applications or spending a couple of weeks pay on the factory service manuals. Now the FSM is available on a CD for one or two day's pay and the Do-It-Yourselfer has access to the same information as the top mechanics. Plus add to that vehicle-specific internet forums and now you can find DIY'ers that often know more than the top mechanics on their particular vehicle.

As to whether the cars are physically easier to work on I give two examples off of the top of my head of vehicles that I owned back then. A Chevy Caprice where you had to remove the radiator in order to remove the fan shroud in order to change the belts, and a Chrysler Imperial where you had to physically tilt the engine back to change one of the rear spark plugs. There may have been more space under the hood but that didn't mean that they were easier to work on. It may look more crowded in the engine compartment today but I find that on most vehicles there is usually a simple to remove item that (usually just the air intake plumbing) allows easy access.

This is without getting into comparisons on how often repairs are necessary between the older cars and the new ones. Tuneups alone used to be at least an annual occurrence (with carb adjustments in between with seasonal changes). Now it is more like every 8 years or so and that mostly just the spark plugs and wires.

(1) This is not to say that diagnosis is plug and play. You still need to understand how everything works. Just because the computer is giving an O2 reading error it can be anything up the line that is causing this bad reading, not necessarily a bad O2 sensor. Unfortunately there are lot of mechanics, even at the dealers, who really don't understand how everything works and so this leads to the "computer said to replace this item" errors. No, the computer did not say to replace this item. It said that the sensor said that there is a problem here. It is still up to you to discover what the problem is.



Scare stories

Dr. Pournelle,

Your quote from the WSJ:

"Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials. "

My translation:

"A few Windows computers used by office workers employed by an electricity distribution company were not properly patched and got taken over by a botnet, according to some people who don't really know very much about computers."

Perhaps I am too cynical, but this doesn't strike me as anything new or alarming.

Andrew Duffin

That was my immediate reaction, but the story details make it sound a bit more dangerous. It wsa a software error that triggered part of the cascade in the last big blackout.


Policing the Prosecutors.


-- Roland Dobbins







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Saturday, April 11, 2009



April 7, 2009 House Dust Yields Clue to Asthma: Roaches

Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood, one that strikes the poor disproportionately. Up to one-third of children living in inner-city public housing have allergic asthma, in which a specific allergen sets off a cascade of events that cause characteristic inflammation, airway constriction and wheezing.

Now, using an experimental model that required leaving the pristine conditions of the lab for the messier ones of life, a team of scientists from the Boston University School of Medicine have discovered what that allergen is.

³For inner-city children,² said the lead researcher, Dr. Daniel G. Remick, a professor of pathology, ³the major cause of asthma is not dust mites, not dog dander, not outdoor air pollen. It¹s allergies to cockroaches.²

Dr. Remick and his colleagues (then at the University of Michigan) published their first paper in 2002, after developing their model over several years. Their laboratory was in Detroit, where, as in many other cities, public housing suffered from pest infestation.

The team made home visits with an old-time data-collection instrument: the vacuum cleaner.

³We collected house dust ‹ big dust bunnies ‹ added water, let them mix overnight, and spun the junk out of them, until we had extract,² said Dr. Remick, now 56.

The extract was filled with proteins from Blattella germanica ‹ the common cockroach ‹ whose exoskeletons and droppings become airborne after death. Back in the laboratory, mice were exposed to the dust bunny particles. After being injected, they were immunologically primed: their cellular response systems went on alert.

When exposed to the same particles a second time by inhaling them, the systems on alert went to attack. Mice that had been breathing easily had difficulty exhaling, and their respiration slowed ‹ a rodent corollary to wheezing. They were having asthma attacks.<snip>


Not sure if this is a sign of the apocalypse. Then again I never thought business school taught much useful.

New Research Finds Business Plans Are Virtually Useless









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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday,  April 12, 2009     

“No one dared report the accident because the owner was so powerful.”

<http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/11/world/asia/11coal.html? pagewanted=all>

- Roland Dobbins


The Road to Area 51.

UFO claims based upon A-12 (SR-71 precursor) sightings:


- Roland Dobbins

Ah, well.

As I have said many times, I don't know about after 1964, but I do know that in 1964-1965 we didn't  have any UFO or ETI derived technology; at least none that would be useful to the USAF. I know this because we were restructuring the Air Force and setting up the Assured Destruction triad, and had we anything like that, it would have figured into the force structure. The purpose of Project 75 was to determine what force the US needed in 1975; to do that we needed to identify the known technologies relevant to Air Systems Division (Project Forecast, Francis X. Kane study director) and Ballistic Systems Division. (Project 75, Aerospace Corporation; Wm. Dorrance was Director; I was Editor). The two studies looked at all known technologies to determine what technology investments would be needed; as well as to work out basing designs and force structures. If there had been any supersecret technology sources such as anti-gravity or electric propulsion, the two studies would have incorporated that into force planning.


The big picture, 


When I got back into astronomy in the 1990's (upstate New York had some dark skies) I found a great book, The Universe From Your Backyard, to help me look for things to see with my telescopes.

But here is a picture of the universe that is really in your back yard, if only the sky were dark enough to see it:


Sometimes the APOD people just knock it out of the park.



Kill ratio

jerry P:

BY talks about how many cannon to shoot down an ultra-light. A close pass from any jet should create a sufficient wing tip vortex to flip if not destroy an ultra-light. I remember many years ago seeing light aircraft, thousands of yards behind a high wing loaded commercial aircraft get really out of control when encountering the wing tip vortex. This was in class in 1970. I don't know how many cannons that is the equivalent to but it has to be a lot.



Learning from the USSR.

"Nowadays, there is an overflow of cases involving petitioners being forced into mental hospitals. After being labeled as a mental health patient, one loses all rights."


-- Roland Dobbins


Tiny super-plant can clean up animal waste, be used for ethanol production

Researchers at North Carolina State University have found that a tiny aquatic plant can be used to clean up animal waste at industrial hog farms and potentially be part of the answer for the global energy crisis. Their research shows that growing duckweed on hog wastewater can produce five to six times more starch per acre than corn, according to researcher Dr. Jay Cheng. This means that ethanol production using duckweed could be "faster and cheaper than from corn," says fellow researcher Dr. Anne-Marie Stomp.


Bill Shields


From animal poop to fuel


It seems that that duckweed can feed on animal poop and produce lots of starch, which can then be processed to make fuel:


I guess it's better than hooking up gas capture devices to cattle . . .


I wrote about biowaste as a fuel way back in the 1970's; see A Step Farther Out. There's a fairly high capital cost, but had we paid that some years ago we wouldn't be subject to oil price games and probably would not have got into a land war in the Middle East.




One consequence of using agricultural waste for biofuels -- in some cases, the inedible portion of the plant is chopped or burned to recycle as fertilizer for the next year. TANSTAAFL.



Piracy at Sea


Perhaps I don't know enough to understand what's going on. If there are a flurry of attacks or even if there aren't, can't the limited number of naval vessels stationed there escort convoys through the danger zone? When they reach end of the danger, they could pick up next batch of ships heading the other way. The danger has existed for years off Africa.

One decent ship per convoy might be enough. Trying to guess where the next attack might happen isn't working.

And its certainly distressing to see that flying an American flag doesn't impress these pirates.


This has certainly been analyzed. Evidently it's too expensive. Convoying isn't simple, and all ships in a convoy have to sail at the same speed. There are other difficulties.


Beware the armored Israeli Battle Droids! Killdozer gets a step closer to reality

Dr. Pournelle:

Israel had great tactical success with their D9 bulldozers in their last Gaza operation, and they have been using them against buildings suspected of terrorist connections for years. Something I didn't know until recently was that in addition to traditional bulldozers, and armored versions of the same, they have been using remote controlled dozers for dangerous operations. And they were so handy, the Israelis are expanding their inventory to prepare for next time:

/2009/03/31/idf_robot_d9_revelations/  The above article has a photo which somehow is satisfying, even though it doesn't look that different than I'd expected it to look. The armored cage and vision blocks are interesting. Ted Sturgeon's original story gets credit, though the article seems to refer more to the old made-for-tv movie I watched as an elementary school student in the late 1960s.

htmw/htarm/articles/20090402.aspx  This article has a bit more information, though no "cool" picture.

Further extension on the ground of what is happening in the air. As Predators and similar UAVs take over the most dangerous air jobs, now remote controlled D9s are taking over some of the most hazardous work for the Poor Bloody Infantry (Poor Bloody Engineers doesn't have quite the same ring). I suspect the ground forces will have an advantage in the transition since they don't have to deal with institutional resistance from silk scarf fighter pilots who are emotionally committed to manned combat.

On a larger-scale level, this has the potential to further reduce casualties from ground combat, even the traditionally bloody house-to-house combat. It may make foreign wars more acceptable to the casualty-averse civilian population in the US.

Since these are remote-controlled, I suspect "Droid" is not strictly proper, but it was such a cool title I couldn't resist! My apologies if you've covered this material recently and I missed it.

Mike Broderick

Teleoperations of both air and ground equipment change the equations: now what's at risk is money, but not people. This may change things depending on the culture. In our case, blood is more politically expensive than treasure.


Humans and Aliens Might Share DNA Roots


It looks like our kids will be able to trade lunches with ET's kids:


I just don't want Kzinti having us for dinner.






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