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Mail 569 May 4 - 10, 2009
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May 4, 2009
Senior Labour MPs are discussing defecting to the Lib-Dems after the election <http://tinyurl.com/de628c>
Tony Blair's former chief policy advisor recommends a 20% cut in government spending <http://tinyurl.com/cbclm9>
Home Office passenger monitoring system fails when tested by swine flu <http://tinyurl.com/ct9fnf>
Police agree to destroy the DNA profiles of about 800,000 innocent people <http://tinyurl.com/dljljq>
Police and local authorities lose the right to keep speeding fines. Result: big fall in the number of fines issued: <http://tinyurl.com/dc5lt7 >
Apparently about 10% of the research funding will be redirected towards politician-selected work. I'm trying to get a couple of grant proposals approved, and this doesn't help. <http://tinyurl.com/d8pcbz>--
Harry Erwin, PhD
"If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning." (Catherine Aird)
It's quite good, too. I read it via the Kindle app on my iPhone . . .
--- Roland Dobbins
-- Roland Dobbins
I have seen the sculpture but they didn't let me take a camera on the trip. I'm not sure I care much, but some get really fascinated by it.
US vs. Northern Europe.
To Jerry Pournelle, the following article about the difference between the US social system and the Netherlands social system, written by an American in the Netherlands, might interest you (or your readers).
I should note that the health system in the Netherlands is different from the Danish system, so differences abound even within northern Europe.
Bo Andersen, Denmark
Obama believes he has a mandate to remake America. It's not clear what he intends.
"It’s amazing just how rapidly these ‘melting’ – or ‘deglaciation’ – events occurred and how enormous the volumes of ice involved were."
-- Roland Dobbins
Good data. Not sure what it means; but then I don't pretend to understand climate or climate models.
Evidence of the 'Lost World' -- did dinosaurs survive the end Cretaceous extinctions?
--- Roland Dobbins
America's Reading Gender Gap By Bill Costello on 01 May 2009
High literary standards being defined as stuff that is introspective, action free, relationship heavy, with no fight scenes & read by schoolmarms of both sexes.
I read Treasure Island in 7th Grade. It was in the reading textbook (Most Tennessee textbooks had mostly public domain material). Do they read Stevenson in grade school now?
Saturday I took my wife to see Wolverine. She thought it did fairly well as a chick flick. Logan got to be tender with a young woman, and grieved when he lost her. Plus...she got to see Hugh Jackman naked. Not sure if that was a Good Thing or not.
I expect I'll see Wolverine in a week or two.
You replied to someone with the statement "The intention of Wikipedia was to allow correction on the theory that truth will out; but the Global Warming controversy is a counter example. Once the 'consensus' is established, then 'denial' becomes nearly criminal."
Well yeah, but I've found that to be true no matter where or what human beings are debating. Take String Theory for example. No one in physics dares to say it's wrong. And the same is true for any topic in any given group of people. Once a consensus is reached you don't dare go against it. So much for the scientific principle.
Indeed. I have said for many years that our grant system ought to be required to reserve some portion -- in the neighborhood of 10% -- for unpopular theories and experimentum crucium, as an insurance against the consensus bandwagon effect. I am more convinced of that than ever now.
You've seen this, right, Jerry? Obama's new chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says we may not need ANY new coal or nuclear plants.
I think somewhere in the article it quotes him as saying that if just tap our shoes together and wish REEAAAALLLLL hard. . . .
David A. Young
Which pretty well means that the recession will become a depression. Low cost energy is the key to economic growth, and nothing the government is doing would have as great an effect as a huge nuclear power program. The TVA was the best investment of the New Deal. It may be that private power would have done as well, but the cheap energy from TVA brought energy to the South.
Cheap power is the key to growth; and clearly that will not happen under the Change that we can believe in.
Unintended consequences strike again.
"You use the toilet every day. Imagine if you could start pouring a little gasoline into the toilet bowl and get 50 cents a gallon (as a tax credit from IRS) every time you flushed." According to a hedge fund analyst (quoted by The Nation magazine for an April story), that's the way Congress' 2005 legislation to encourage "alternative" fuels has been exploited by the paper industry.
Company representatives have until now been proud that the paper industry supplied most of its own fuel, as a by-product of making paper, but when it discovered the tax credit, it reworked its factories to accept a mixture of the incumbent by-product and ordinary diesel fuel, thus creating an "alternative" fuel and earning the credit, which, for example, was worth $71.6 million to International Paper Co. in March and is not scheduled to expire until December. [The Nation, 4-2-09]"
Dear Dr Pournelle,
I see one of your correspondents is bringing up that tired old calumny again, that no physicist dares to speak against string theory. This is not true. I am a graduate student in experimental particle physics, and have spent many hours in the cafeteria at SLAC, talking over theories with my colleagues. To the extent that we have a consensus on string theory - I admit that I speak mainly to experimentalists; conceivably it is different in theory-land - it is "Nice theory; come back when you can tell us how to test it". It would be nice if people would deign to actually speak to some physicists before telling the world what our consensus is, much less how we enforce it. (Answer: A mechanism known as 'peer review'. You may have heard of it.)
I suspect it depends on where you are; I do know physics post docs who have an experience different from yours. As for me, string theory is well beyond my competence. I do observe that it seems to generate few experiments, and the science press stories I read imply that it explains nearly anything. I don't know any good string theory physicists very well.
As an aside, when I was in school and then aerospace the universe seemed to be a much simpler place...
Please don't post this from me, but I'd like to reply to the statement one of your correspondents made about torturing someone to stop a nuke or rescue some girl buried alive. Even you mentioned it.
How often does such a situation happens in the real world? It might come up a lot in movies, television, and other works of fiction, but I doubt it comes up anywhere near anything but the most exceptional of circumstances.
Most instances of torture do not involve such extreme circumstances. In my experience, torture is far more frequently used to abuse people who know nothing, who can do no harm, and amounts to nothing more than the torturer getting their own kicks out of it.
If you want to say there may be some extreme circumstances that justify torture, go ahead, but please, do say that there's plenty of cases of torture that are nothing more than brutality and vengeance, which should be condemned.
Of course that scenario doesn't come up often. In WW II, though, there was the case of the German Luftwaffe Prison of War pilot of a bomber that had some unusual electronics in it. The means used to get him to tell them about the gadget are not documented, but one suspects he wasn't tricked into it, and that he gave more than name, rank, and serial number. The knowledge of how this thing was used to improve the accuracy of Luftwaffe strikes was invaluable and the boffins were able to trick the Luftwaffe into bombing the wrong places without ever giving away that they knew about the avionics. As I said, the means used to induce the pilot -- a POW -- to betray the secret are not documented at least to my knowledge.
I am unfamiliar with your experience and by your request we won't find out. I have no experience in iterrogation although I know people who do; and my understanding is that extreme interrogation techniques are rarely employed. There may be sadistic interrogators who get past the filtering systems designed to keep them out, but most of the intelligence specialists I know had far too many important tasks to waste any time on people who know nothing, who can do no harm and none of those I know took any enjoyment from hurting other people. I suspect that your experience is inconsistent with what most of us know, and I would be curious as to how you gained that impression.
As to saying there are plenty of cases of torture, I can't say that because I don't know it. I do know that there are people who take pleasure in others' pain, and I expect some of them work their way into the military police and into other custodial services; and just about everyone I know thinks that pointless brutality should be condemned.
Your implication that there is a policy of excusing such actions needs evidence I have not seen.
Department of Homeland Security to destroy swine flu victims:
It figures, with Janet Napolitano in charge. She figures to become the Janet Reno of this administration.
May 5, 2009
Tsk tsk Jerry - your daybook has lately been filled with despondent remarks about how awful things are. While in my bleaker moments, I tend to feel the same way, you don't get the luxury of wallowing in those kinds of funks! (You are smarter than I am by a smattering of IQ points...:)
I do believe this country creaks along best with a Democratic President, and a fairly balanced congress. The Republicans do their job of rabidly opposing anything the Democrats favor, and in so doing use up all their energy in a more or less harmless fashion. The Democrats use up all their energy proposing things, the wilder ones being automatically blocked by the rabid Republican opposition.
Sorta works, in a creaking fashion.
When the Republicans get overwhelming control, we see things like unconstrained spending, literal repression of basic human rights, spending to bankrupt social programs, and religion-like zealotry. You should know that last one well - Frum leveled it against *you* a few years ago.
As for the spending - well - *nobody* likes it. But compared to the craziness of the previous 8 years, well - at the very *worst*, the spending spree will burn itself out for a multitude of reasons. At the best, it will work to boost the economy out recession, perhaps providing proof of the odd economic theory behind it. In any case, we won't be any worse off than we are now - and the odds are that we will be in a much better position.
I worry far more about the rabid Republicans gaining an overwhelming majority again, and what will happen then. It is amazing to me how they go around sprouting that their points of view are shared "by the vast majority of Americans." How the hell would they ever know? They only listen to themselves! Other voices are intentionally drowned under sarcasm, sneering, or other typical oldstyle propaganda techniques.
Come to think of it, I thought those techniques were supposed to be the exclusive trademark of the Looney Lefties. Looks like radical fringes of both sides are pretty much utterly indistinguishable.
Anyways - at least with the current administration, your particular voice stands a much greater chance of being heard. I was surprised to hear some folks talking about your ideas on Global Warming yesterday. Which is what prompted this note.
Now it isn't unusual for people to be discussing your ideas, but this group was a bunch of people who are fierce defenders of a particular environmental niche - as in Coral Reefs. Up until recently, they were all utterly convinced that Global Warming, as described by some of the Looney Left, was a fact and there was no question about it. Now, without the sneering, overbearing arrogance of the rabid republicans in the way, they are starting to listen to more sensible voices, including yours.
I think you very much underestimate how effective the emotional stormtrooper tactics of the Rabid Republicans are - they are at least as effective as the Looney Left, and perhaps far more so. The Rabid Republicans target people who often question if they are wrong or right, or the accuracy of information presented to them. They are also sensitive to the attitude of the people trying to convince them.
The Looney Left, on the other hand, is opposing people with a rock hard certainty that what they believe is absolutely right, and nothing will change their convictions.
While of course, there are exceptions on both sides (there are religious zealot types on the Looney Left, just as convinced their mandates are from a divine source as their opposite numbers on the right), in general, the Right is far more effective, because they are targeting people more willing to question things. Which would be great if they allowed people to make up their own minds.
Not even the Libertarian Party does that, though it is a very libertarian (small "l") thing to do.
Anyway, the point of this over long note is to say, cheer up - if Obama does nothing else, at least his being President has gotten more people to listen to *you*. There is hope.
Even if at times I do still think the Rabid Republicans an the Looney Left will drive us to a Civil War.
Emphasis added. And thanks. I have been a bit down the past few days. I need to get to work now...
Web tool 'as important as Google'
"Wolfram Alpha is like plugging into a vast electronic brain," he wrote earlier this year. "It computes answers - it doesn't merely look them up in a big database."
The new tool uses a technique known as natural language processing to return answers.
This allows users to ask questions of the tool using normal, spoken language rather than specific search terms.
For example, a relatively simple search, such as "who was the president of Brazil in 1923?", will return the answer "Artur da Silva Bernardes".
How long before the computer understands speech and answers directly? We certainly live in interesting times.
It will be interesting to see where this goes. Thanks
I notice that you occasionally mention going out to movies, as do some of your other readers whose mail you publish.
I find this interesting, and a little curious. Ever since I discovered Netflix, the only time I have been to a movie theater is for things that are showing in iMax. The upcoming Star Trek is on my schedule for 10:50 this Friday. Even though it's been a while since I went out to a movie, I was still a little startled at a $11 morning showing.
So .. my question is this: What induces you to spend the cost of a month (or more) of Netflix to go out and see a movie once, rather than waiting the 2-3 months before Netflix has it?
I think the answer to that question will be related (or inversely related) to the MPAA party line about how piracy is destroying the movie industry.
I certainly don't have the answer as I only go out for iMax movies...
Good question. Roberta enjoys a night out; somehow watching a movie on the TV isn't the same.
It seems to me there is an unbridgeable gap in the thinking of lawyer Jon Wellinghoff (as cited in the NYT article) and the Green Street experiences outlined here:
"Going green can cost too much green"
The gap is greatest in the quoted electricity cost figures by energy source.
When I try to make comparisons of this with past political-economic controversies I find myself looking at episodes like the 20th Century question of Communism versus constitutional market economy societies, or the 19th Century controversy between slave states and free states.
One thing seems certain to me. One power grid and the supported electric user economy cannot contain both outlooks. It will become all one thing, all another thing or it will collapse in disunion.
The New Deal built the TVA. In doing it they favored publicly owned power over private power, but there was power generated. We can debate how the industrialization of the South might have happened better under private means or whether there was the private capital to do that; but the TVA was one of the success stories of the New Deal. Power was generated. I sure wish that the Stimulus Bill had provision for lots of new low cost energy.
Oil and gas in the Arctic are seen as ripe for exploitation by the Russian energy industry. Photograph: Hans Strand/ Hans Strand/Corbis
Russia <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/russia> is planning a fleet of floating and submersible nuclear power <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/nuclearpower> stations to exploit Arctic <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/arctic> oil <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/oil> and gas <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/gas> reserves, causing widespread alarm among environmentalists.
A prototype floating nuclear power station being constructed at the SevMash shipyard in Severodvinsk is due to be completed next year. Agreement to build a further four was reached between the Russian state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, and the northern Siberian republic of Yakutiya in February.\
The 70-megawatt plants, each of which would consist of two reactors on board giant steel platforms, would provide power to Gazprom <http://www.gazprom.com/> , the oil firm which is also Russia's biggest company. It would allow Gazprom to power drills needed to exploit some of the remotest oil and gas fields in the world in the Barents and Kara seas. The self-propelled vessels would store their own waste and fuel and would need to be serviced only once every 12 to 14 years.
Energy is the chief requirement for economic growth.
Here's a link to a speech given at BYU by Keith Rattie, the President of Questar Energy. Some really good points about the near impossibility of getting CO2 emissions down to the levels desired by the global warming crowd. One example is on the 80% reduction by 2050 mantra. According to Rattie, the last time the carbon emissions were that low was around 1620. I had not seen it put in those terms before. http://www.fcpp.org/pdf/UVU%20and%20BYU%20speech.pdf
And whatever we do in the West, China and India do not intend to "sacrifice" in order to control CO2 emissions. If we want to reduce CO2 we are going to have to work on ways to do that -- plant forests, stimulate plankton blooms, something of the sort. It is not going to be accomplished by crippling the US coal industry and increasing the costs of electric power in the US.
We need nuclear power plants, and of course they add no CO2; the fact that they are not foremost in the CO2 reduction plans should tell us a lot about the real goals of those who attack the coal industry.
Malicious Code threat increasing
Interesting article here. Very steep increase in the volume of malicious code.
CUPERTINO, Calif. – April 14, 2009 – Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC) today announced that malicious code activity continued to grow at a record pace throughout 2008, primarily targeting confidential information of computer users. According to the company’s Internet Security Threat Report Volume XIV <http://www4.symantec.com/Vrt/wl?tu_id=gCGG123913789453640802> , Symantec created more than 1.6 million new malicious code signatures in 2008. This equates to more than 60 percent of the total malicious code signatures ever created by Symantec — a response to the rapidly increasing volume and proliferation of new malicious code threats. These signatures helped Symantec block an average of more than 245 million attempted malicious code attacks across the globe each month during 2008.
Tracy Walters, CISSP
The world gets more complex all the time. And the computer revolution continues.
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
May 6, 2009
Wolfram|Alpha news update
As we continue to ramp up for our launch, we wanted to share with you some of the feedback we are getting about Wolfram|Alpha.
The Wolfram|Alpha Team
I have readers who believe that the upcoming Wolfram/Alpha developments may equal the importance of the establishment of Google. We will have to see.
If these guys are right, they've observed photons acting in teams:
Spooky action at a distance...
I've just watched tonight's episode of Primeval, here in the UK, and it featured an attack by Terror Birds. If you've never seen Primeval, then the idea is that portals open up randomly and creatures come through from the past, or the future. Unbelievably this has been kept a secret from the public; only a small team of scientists know about them. Each episode they try to get whatever has come through back to where it belongs before anyone else finds out.
We used terror birds in BURNING TOWER after I learned they weren't magic but quite real... I have to confess that I liked Burning Tower quite a lot. Fantasy with rivets, so to speak.
Hello Dr, Pournelle:
Something very important may have just happened, and hardly anyone seems to have taken note. An American state has just said it is fed up with our all encompassing federal government, and another may follow suit. The issue is gun rights; but if they can make this fly, other states, and other issues may soon join this, and perhaps will restore some of the local control that you are always saying is the best solution for the out of hand government that is devouring the country.
This may be the most important story of the month, and certainly is the most important thing to happen today; but I see no coverage. MSN is still talking about the Biden gaffe, as well as celebrity hats, and the latest pronouncements from Obama. There is also the obligatory, for now, swine flu story. Fox is a bit better, as is CNN; but it is largely the usual prattle mix of celebrities, pop culture, sensationalism, and spin - nothing in any of them about this.
Wouldn’t it be something, if this takes hold and spreads?
Electric Car Capacity
Jerry, You pointed out that if all the cars in the US converted to electricity, we wouldn't have the kilowatts. A study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory looked at this a couple of years ago and concluded that we had sufficient generating capacity for about 70% of the cars on the road: http://www.pnl.gov/news/release.asp?id=204
What they didn't look at, apparently, was energy, instead of just generating capacity. Where is the fuel for all those idle off-peak gas turbines, coal and oil-burning plants we'd be pressing into service? (Someday it would be wind and solar, but not yet and not for some time.) So even if we had all the kilowatts we'd need, we don't have the kilowatt-hours. Of course, nuclear would have addressed both aspects.
Regards, Geoff Styles
Peak vs. base load. We don't have the sustained capability of course. But we could.
Some VERY good news, for a change
The formerly fairly senior Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) is going to lose his seniority on all but one of his committee memberships, becoming the very JUNIOR Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA). On one committee, the Special Committee on Aging, he will become next to last in seniority.
This is good news. It is what should have happened to Sen. Lieberman (I-CT), after he refused to abide by the results of his party's primary. (Yes, I have read Heinlein's "Take Back Your Government", thank you for asking.)
Yes, I know there's a conflict in there. On the one hand, the guy's new party should be welcoming him with open arms. At the same time, BOTH sides have to protect and reward party loyalty, enforce party discipline, and punish disloyalty, no matter how much it hurts them to do so, if party affiliation is to mean anything at all. (And it HAS to mean something: a real two-party system is the best system Man has managed to find, for reasons explained by various people, Kenneth Arrow included.)
One can only hope that Obama and Majority Leader Reid are infuriated by this, and will take out their fury on the uncooperative members of their own party who refused to give Specter a free pass to the front of the line after Specter revealed his turncoat nature. With luck, the fury will give some of the Democrats on the receiving end of it reason to wonder whether they are playing for the right team.
--John R. Strohm
I wonder why Specter doesn't just retire?
'He and other researchers are therefore engaged in what they call "preemptive denial" of a solar minimum leading to global cooling.'
Yes, else they'd lose their justification for social control. So transparently pathetic, they're now altering their rhetoric to talk about 'climate change', as if ice ages and warm periods in the past, far before humans were around, never took place.
--- Roland Dobbins
The Sun is clearly not politically correct.
But disbelief in CO2 caused Global Warming is denial and must be punished. There is just too much at stake.
I recently got this:
We provide a program that will allow someone with sufficient work experience to obtain a fully verifiable Degree: Bachelors, Masters or even a Doctorate.
Give it a Thought, within few week, you will become a college graduate. Enough! And Grab a degree for your self This is your final chance to make the right move and get your due benefits, if you are qualified but are lacking that piece of paper known as a Diploma which is the passport to success.
Give a msg with your name and number
I thought about this and decided I have enough degrees. Thanks for the offer...
May 7, 2009
Dear Dr Pournelle,
"In WW II, though, there was the case of the German Luftwaffe Prison of War pilot of a bomber that had some unusual electronics in it. The means used to get him to tell them about the gadget are not documented, but one suspects he wasn't tricked into it, and that he gave more than name, rank, and serial number. "
The Luftwaffe prisoner you were thinking of may be the man who gave R.V. Jones confirmation that the material in the celebrated Oslo Report was genuine.
To recapitulate for those who came in late, R.V. Jones was one of 5,000 bright young scientists recruited to help the war effort early on. He was seconded to the intelligence services and, most famously, worked out the Luftwaffe's electronic navigation techniques.
The Oslo report was submitted to the British Embassy in Oslo just before hostilities by a well-wishing German who turned out to be a Siemens engineer. This remained unknown till the mid '50s when Jones finally located the individual - Hans Mayer - and even after that he kept it confidential till at least the '80's, I think. Between the two of them they completely clobbered the enemy in the Battle of the Beams. In a recent documentary on Sky it was mentioned that a downed Luftwaffe pilot was put in a very comfortable position with other German pilots to keep each other company. Their quarters were bugged. Once the pilots were reasonably happy and assured of good treatment, along with completely trustworthy companionship, they began talking. The pilot in question heard his bomber's wreckage had been recovered and mentioned happily in regard to the beam receiver that 'they'll never figure it out' because it looked so much like normal gear.
Thus prompted the bomber was examined very carefully, and the principle of either the X-gerat or Wotan beams - I forget which - was determined.
The same technique was repeated with Werner Karl Heisenberg and his co-workers, post-war, which revealed that they were never close to a working A-bomb.
Interesting' I had not heard that story before. Thank you.
Our Own Sun King.
-- Roland Dobbins
An odd speculation, and somehow a bit disturbing.
"Fortunately, the NY Times was able to get in front of this story, publishing an an interview with a "Pakistani logistics tactician for the Taliban" who "showed himself to be knowledgeable of Taliban activities, and the information he provided matched up consistently with that of other sources". Among the shocking revelations, civilian casualties are actually part of the plan: “The Americans cannot take control of the villages,” he said. “In order to expel us they will have to resort to aerial bombing, and then they will have more civilian casualties.” Although he admits that the drone attacks are actually the most effective weapon used against Taliban/al Qaeda forces: The one thing that impressed him were the missile strikes by drones — virtually the only American military presence felt inside Pakistan. “The drones are very effective,” he said, acknowledging that they had thinned the top leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the area. He said 29 of his friends had been killed in the strikes."
The issue is complex, but when the enemy admits something is hurting them, we might want to consider carefully before ceasing. It would certainly have been nice if this hadn't been subject to the political leak treatment. That is not going to help the US one little bit.
"You're looking at these kids and knowing they are going to high school and they're not ready. It is absolutely devastating."
-- Roland Dobbins
-- Roland Dobbins
Though there have been a trio of letters on the efficacy of torture, would you bear with me and possibly post this? I believe I have something of an insight here.
I was trained in Interrogation at the United States Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
I served as an interrogatior for two and a half years, as well as teaching classes in the Law of War as it applied to POW's, and training line units in POW handling techniques.
Two points on torture as an interrogation technique, and one story:
The "utilitarian" arguments against torture, that it does not work and leads to inaccurate information are, to use a Good Old Untilitarian statement "nonsense on stilts"
False leads? Bad information? The very meat upon which any Intelligence system thrives is Information. Period. The more Information, the Better. Bad information, false leads, that is part of the Equation of Intelligence. That;s WHY we have Analysts! Intell Analysts exist to winnow Good from Bad Information. They are very good at it. Not to mention, that even "Bad" information often is valuable. It can show us what the Enemy is NOT aware of, is NOT doing, and that is often VERY valuable knowledge indeed.
The other use of torture, known to all tyrants, is that it intimidates. It works really well at making people think twice, nay thrice, before causing any trouble for the powers that be. In Occupied France during the Second World War, the German Army of Occupation largely stayed on the beaches and in relatively remote cantonments. The rest of Occupied France was administered by French official under the direction of about five-thousand German officials, about half of whom were Secret Policemen of one variety or another. A nation of forty million, controlled largely by five-thousand bureaucrats.. How could this be?
By the threat of extreme physical violence, as well documented in thousands of accounts from victims. Remember Klaus Barbie?
Did I mention the Spanish Inquisition? For all the humor, how many Protestants are there today in Spain?
If torture did not work, at least to the extent detailed above, would nearly every government and society have used it, consistently, and continually, thorugh the ages if it were useless? Were they all, each and every one, Augustus to Xerxes, Sargon to Saddam, idiots, dolts, blind fools that just could not see they were "shooting themselves in the foot"? Or were they perhaps, just maybe, using one of the effective tools of ruthless statecraft known to man-unkind?
The only good argument against torture is moral and ethical.
It's just wrong. It destroys the souls of all involved.
And when the interrogator with a conscience is forced to use it, he must accept the moral and legal consequences, sacrificing himself. I am as horrified by the reality of this as any. But I will not deny reality because it is ugly. That way lies madness.
Now the story:
During the twelve week Interrogator Basic Course, we were incessantly drilled with techniques for tricking, cajoling, persuading and intimidating POWs into giving up vital information. All of that, and we were also constantly warned against "losing our cool" not to give in to the all too human urge to just smack the living daylights out of some smart ass detainee.
We began with twenty-four students. Sixteen graduated. Of the third that "washed out", most did so after the instructors deemed them temperamentally unfit for the job. That is to say, they lost their cool to easily when confronted with non-responsive subjects during mock interrogations.
It was never far from our thoughts, that violence was "verboten" as a questioning technique.
Came Graduation Day for the Interrogation Course.
No one in the classroom for the ceremony except the remaining sixteen students, the instructors, AND:
The head of the school, a Chief Warrant Officer. A thirty0plus year veteran, with "hash marks" the full length of his Class A sleeve, an interrogator had conducted thousands of real interrogations, going back to the Korean War, perhaps even the tail end of World War Two. That was the second time we had heard him speak, the other occasion having been hisopening day address to the class, where he basically told us we had been handpicked out of a million man Army to be one of about a thousand specialists in a vital field, So Good Luck!
As he reached the podium, two of the instructor NCO's closed and locked the doors of the classroom, and stood before them.
The CWO looked around the room a moment, I have rarely seen a more serious face.
"For the last twelve weeks, you have been taught every technique the ingenuity of man has been able to devise to gain information from someone without inflicting physical pain. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they work very well. They do not always work. You will someday be forced to use pain. You will, I hope, hate yourself for having done so. But you will do what is needful."
"If anyone of you ever repeats what I have told you, I will deny it."
"Welcome to the club."
It was very quiet as we received our diplomas.
May 8, 2009
Support: The iPod Revolution,
The long-desired battlefield PDA has finally arrived. It's the iPod Touch:
"The Touch has become the new "most favorite gadget" for the troops. It's cheap (under $300), has the touch interface (just like the iPhone), has over 30,000 programs (and growing rapidly) available, and can also serve as an iPod (to listen to music or view vids). What the military sees the Touch as is the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) that has often (in many different models) been issued over the years, but never really caught on. The Touch has caught on, and it does the job better than any earlier PDA. The Touch also has wi-fi built in, making it easier for the troops to get new software or data onto their Touch."
"For use in the combat zone, troops usually put one of the many protective covers on their Touch, and, so far, the Touch has held up well under battlefield conditions."
I love the last line in this... Note also the other stories linked at the site.
Quiet Sun May Trigger Global Cooling Could reduced sunspots be tied to temperatures on Earth? That's what has astrophysicists and meteorologists wondering as the sun enters a prolonged "quiet period," a deviation from the usual 11-year sunspot cycle in which the dark blobs on our star's surface ebb and flow, reports National Geographic News. And there may be a link to global warming - or, in this case, cooling. Current theories link an earlier solar quiet time to the "Little Ice Age," a cold snap that lasted from about 1300 to 1800 in Europe and North America. <snip>
Jose Abreu, a doctoral candidate in Switzerland, tells National Geographic News (...) "We don't know the sensitivity of the climate to changes in solar intensity. In my opinion, I wouldn't play with things I don't know." * Click here to read more on this from National Geographic News. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/05/090504-sun-global-cooling.html>
But global warming deniers are depraved.
Stop Trying to Save the Planet,
Speaking as one who studied ecology before it was popular, I find this to be the most sensible opinion I have ever seen on man and his relationship to nature:
"Nature is gone. It was gone before you were born, before your parents were born, before the pilgrims arrived, before the pyramids were built. You are living on a used planet. If this bothers you, get over it."
It's right on.
Volcanoes, not asteroid, caused mass extinction,
Another round in the Lucifer's Hammer vs the Deccan Traps in the K-T extinction debate. I remember that 1980 AAAS meeting where we listened to people talk about the Hammer and the Traps. More data is available, now coming from Dr. Gerta Keller at Princeton:
My own thought is that this was a one-two punch for the Mesozoic. It's almost as if God felt mammals were ready, so He knocked off Johnny Reptile and his gang.
But the most important bit comes at the end of the interview:
"The decades-old controversy over the cause of the K-T mass extinction will never achieve consensus," Keller said. But consensus, she added, is not a precondition to advancing science and unraveling truth. "What is necessary is careful documentation of results that are reproducible and verifiable," she said.
Hmm. Consensus is not a precondition to advancing science and unraveling truth? How shocking. I'm sure Janet's storm troopers will soon be knocking on Dr. Keller's door.
How to do a warp drive
An interesting approach to developing a faster than light drive in Einstein's universe...jim dodd
Let's make your day worse
What you said Wednesday about totalitarianism is on
When I calm down enough, I'll be writing my Congresscritters about this abomination.
Stephen M. St. Onge
USNS Lewis and Clark Prevents Suspected Piracy Attack
More humane than simply blowing them out of the water, but I wonder if the lesson of allowing them to fire on a US Navy ship with impunity is the right lesson to promulgate?
May 9, 2009
I read with interest your correspondent who (presumably) graduated from the United States Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. (If he didn't graduate, how does he know details of what happened at the closed ceremony?)
His take on the subject is a nice counterpoint to that of another Trained Interrogator (tm) of my acquaintance. This particular Trained Interrogator (tm) does offer the utilitarian argument, claiming endlessly and loudly that Torture Doesn't Work. Anyone who suggests it might work on occasion is declared a "Supporter Of Torture". Any news releases claiming that enhanced interrogation methods (which he considers torture, every last one of them) yielded useful information are all lies. They must be lies, because Torture Doesn't Work. He knows, because he's a Trained Interrogator (tm) -- an Expert.
Of course, he has to take this position, because he's adopted the utilitarian argument up his gold standard. Since utilitarian arguments are only as good as the data you have at hand, and indeed, only as good as the data at hand that you *believe*, no hint of contrary data must be allowed into the discussion. Contrary data must be cast as mistakes, errors, or outright lies by people determined to brutalize others. No reasonable person may believe these contrary data, and anyone who does must be presumed to do so for his own evil ends. And there's no point arguing with evil people, is there?
In the "Please don't post this from me" post, the question is asked: "How often does such a situation happens in the real world?" How often do we have the "ticking time-bomb" situation where we need information *right now* to save one or more lives? One Professional Interrogator (tm) claims such a scenario *never* happens -- ever.
There was a case a few years ago which is very hard to depict as anything *but* a "ticking time-bomb", though a non-explosive one. I posted a link in my blog, just to have as a reference <http://karl-lembke.livejournal.com/167722.html> .
A Deputy Police Chief was confronted with someone who had kidnapped a young boy and buried him somewhere. Hours of legal interrogation failed to extract the location of his victim. When the kidnapper was threatened with torture, he gave up the information in a matter of seconds.
How many such cases are there? I don't think anyone has counted them. Given that torturing suspects in police custody is illegal in the Western world, I suspect there's a tendency not to report them when they occur.
But another question might well be, "How many do there *need* to be?" If only one such case arises per year, or per decade, is that small enough to justify taking these techniques off the table altogether? (Do you want to be the person explaining why we allowed some number of deaths rather than inflict some pain on a criminal / terrorist? I mentioned "belief" earlier. Even if it were solidly established through double-blind, placebo controlled studies that torture never works, what will it take to convince the families of victims of this fact?)
I think, rather than deny that such cases occur, or declare the number so low as to be insignificant, I'd rather see people trained in discerning when such cases have arisen, and some sort of policy set forth so amateurs aren't tempted to improvise with whatever tools they have at hand. If, after such training and guidelines have been put in place, a "ticking time-bomb" scenario never arises, then great!
But my philosophy is that I'd rather have a tool and not need it, than the other way around.
I have no comment about anonymous contributors here for obvious reasons. As I have remarked before, in science extraordinary hypotheses require extraordinary proof: that was first said by Descartes, but Carl Sagan used to say it a lot (we have him saying it in Escape From Hell). I think that's true in moral issues as well. If ends don't justify means, then nothing does; the maxim ought not read "ends don't justify means" but rather "it takes extraordinary ends to justify extreme means."
Hard cases make bad law. Extreme situations should not establish precedents.
Ticking time bombs happen. There was one on a repeat episode of NCIS just the other night.
FPRI often has interesting essays. They tend to be long and there is usually no link -- you get them by email suvscription. I found this one interesting, but IT IS LONG. To skip it, click here.
Alan Luxenberg Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Arctic Nuclear Stations
Tim Boettcher calls your attention to Russia's plan to build floating nuclear stations in Arctic waters. Maybe the Arctic will wind up being ice-free, despite any regulation of CO2 we undertake.
(No, I haven't calculated how long it would take a 70 MW heat source to melt the polar ice -- it's a Saturday morning and I'm just too lazy right now.)
Well, the time is short compared to the decay of the protons...
This might be the most erudite two sentences you've ever strung together.
"The purpose of a movement is to teach and persuade. The purpose of a political party is to win elections."
I plan on dropping that into a couple of Poli Sci discussion groups I talk to. That might be the most succinct and erudite summation of the difference between 'college bull sessions' and 'getting someone elected' I've ever seen.
Thanks. Even when you're medicated down to an IQ of 150 from the flu, you're still worth listening to.
|This week:||Sunday, May
Subject: Sun state...
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