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Monday  May 18, 2009

arm the crews

Dr. Pournelle,

Apparently Congress is to hear testimony about the need to clear obstacles to arming crews at sea. I wonder how this will be received by other governments.


"In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Captain Richard Phillips, who was abducted by pirates last month, and who was freed through the heroic action of U.S. Navy snipers, told the committee that armed crews "should be part of the overall debate about how to defend ourselves against criminals on the seas."

"In May 5 Senate testimony, Philip J. Shapiro, chief executive officer of Liberty Maritime Corp., said: 'In light of the recent threats to U.S. merchant mariners, we respectfully request that Congress consider clearing the obstacles that currently block ship owners from arming our vessels.' Most nations do not permit armed vessels to enter their waters. But developments in the air suggest a solution for change on the high seas. In 2007, the Homeland Security Department and the State Department announced they would begin negotiating with other countries to let armed pilots carry their guns with them when they fly into foreign destinations. It is time to initiate an even more serious effort to let ship crews carry guns. Armed seamen would be less expensive than giving each merchant ship its own naval escort."

This from the NRA's lobbying arm.

Matt Kirchner Houston, TX

Well, the NRA was originally chartered by Congress with the purpose of arming the citizens and teaching them the use of weapons. Those were in the days when we were a Republic and the citizens were expected to take part in Civil Defense and in their own defense. I would expect the NRA to advocate arming US merchant sailors. Whether this is a good idea or not is open to some debate; the argument against it is that it might "trigger a new round in the arms race" between pirates and merchant seamen. I suppose that argument deserves listening to, although it doesn't appeal to me.

 My view is that if it is known that attacking US-owned (as well as US flagged) ships would be likely to get you into a firefight, the pirates would probably choose their intended victims with some care.  That is of course based on a long outsider view of the matter: I really know little I haven't read in the papers or got as stories from readers.

I do understand that there may be some port difficulties involved if ships are known to be armed; but I would think those could be settled. In any event, it is certainly a matter for a responsible Congress to look into. It's sort of what Congress is for...


Harry Erwin's Letter from England

The big story has been the public exposure of MP expense claims. It turns out that many MPs from all parties had been gaming the system. 

The Telegraph has been reporting the story, and the other newspapers have been following up. There may be up to ten ministers gone in a week. Misconduct in office used to be a capital offence in England-- but that is no longer the case. <http://preview.tinyurl.com/pllb3n> <http://preview.tinyurl.com/r365he

 > <http://preview.tinyurl.com/pe59jw> <http://preview.tinyurl.com/onous7

 > <http://preview.tinyurl.com/qww67y> <http://preview.tinyurl.com/opbcxw

 > <http://preview.tinyurl.com/o3trg5> <http://preview.tinyurl.com/ojzvyb



The Speaker of Parliament, Michael Martin, is under heavy pressure to resign for his role in keeping the expense claims secret.  <http://preview.tinyurl.com/ocyt5y

 > <http://preview.tinyurl.com/r3mx5f> <http://preview.tinyurl.com/pgbv3z

 > <http://preview.tinyurl.com/o5kg7w> <http://preview.tinyurl.com/qbwtoe


Swine flu case count remains low. <http://preview.tinyurl.com/osckqq>


Students identify worst-taught courses. http://preview.tinyurl.com/o2ad8f


Degree classification system "perverse" http://preview.tinyurl.com/o8qj3o


I wouldn't say Britain and the NHS are "fond of modern management". 

Labour seems to be fond of Stalinist management, and almost everyone in the NHS despises it.


If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? (Albert Einstein)

 Harry Erwin PhD



the nuclear age

Hello Dr. Pournelle

I agree with one of your reader’s assessment that we will require 525 nuclear plants. We presently have something like 102 or 104 operating nuclear plants in the country, which provide roughly 20% of the nation’s electricity. So just by running those numbers, you would come up with a total of about 400 new reactors, for a total of around 500. Still, you don’t have to do this over night.

As far as solar panels go, the last I heard, it still takes more energy to make them, than what they are likely to produce over their lifetime, making a solar cell more like a battery than a power source. Still, presuming there was a way to increase production efficiencies, there is another problem. The numbers given, indicate a solar array of 30 x 24 feet. When we all lived in houses, this might not have been a problem; you could simply put them on the roof. Today, though, so many of us live in apartments and condos. There may not be the room for those who live in the heart of a big city.

The one good thing about this, is that it starts to resurrect the idea of power independence, and getting us off of the grid. Now the grid is convenient, and has done a good job, over the last eighty years or so, of electrifying the nation; but it may be time to move on. One bad thing about the grid is that it is relatively delicate. If the President decides to go after the coal industry, our electric bills go through the roof. Storms cause power outages all the time, as do system failures. A component failure hundreds of miles away could black out your city. There is also the distribution loss of around 50%. I personally live in a medium sized house, and pay between $2500 and $3000 a year for electricity, depending upon the severity of the winter, and my air conditioning use during the summer. This can’t be too far from the cost of a good wind generator or solar array. I suppose it is something to think about.

Toshiba has an even more interesting idea, of which you are probably already aware. Small nuclear reactors have been developed by Hyperion in America http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/
2008/nov/09/miniature-nuclear-reactors-los-alamos  and by Toshiba in Japan http://www.nextenergynews.com/
news1/next-energy-news-toshiba-micro-nuclear-12.17b.html  . As always, the issues are not technical, but political. The reactors could be put in place now; but regulations will make it very difficult. The 20KW Toshiba plant is said to have a lifespan of 40 years, before the sealed fuel runs out. Exact technical details of the Hyperion plant are hard to get, though they are gearing up to produce 4000 of them. To my mind, anything that decreases centralization is a good thing.

On the subject of nuclear science, I just want to make some of your readers aware of all of the nuclear sites open to the public. This June I will be going to Hanford, Washington, which has had as many as nine operational nuclear reactors at any one time. The B reactor, which produced the plutonium used in thousands of warheads, is now open to the public. Other sites are the Arco site, home of the world’s first nuclear power plant, and even the Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine. It is also possible to visit the Trinity Site, and a couple of different underground command centers for retired ICBMs. I am a bit of a nut on the subject; but see the nuclear sciences as being inseparable from the future of modern civilization, presuming that we wish to retain modern civilization. Sometimes it seems that many of us do not, and would prefer to return us to caves, mud huts, and the trees. A list of some nuclear sites open to the public is at the following link: http://www.notpurfect.com/travel/nuke/nuke.html 

Neal Pritchett


"When we look back 20 years from now, the year 2009 is likely to be viewed as the year in which the baton of leadership in the global auto industry passed from the United States to China."


-- Roland Dobbins

The current political leadership doesn't believe in American exceptionalism anyway, and certainly not in the notion of liberty as the main goal.


Cold Water Ocean Circulation Doesn't Work As Expected

I’m not sure on whose side this one falls, the skeptics or the believers. But, it is certainly an amazing turnaround in the thermohaline circulation ( http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~stefan/thc_fact_sheet.html ) theories which are at the heart of many believers understanding of climate change and its consequences.


I remain an agnostic on this issue.

Richard York

I have always been an agnostic. We need to study these matters. But I note that last night Art Bell -- Art Bell, for heaven's sake -- solemnly pronounced that the Global Warming debate is foolish and people are angry because being green will force them to give up their comforts. He said this from Manila, where average wages are mayhe five bucks a day.


Steal This Book (for $9.99).

The premise is nonsense, of course - paperbacks are produced, shipped, and sold in physical storefronts for $9.99 or less, and the distribution costs and 'storefront' costs of e-books are negligible. Rather than learning from the music (and now the video) business experience online, the book business are making the same mistakes, and will continue to blunder and bluster until they reach the same conclusion - namely, that digital distribution will gain them more customers and better margins than physical distribution, once updated contracts reflecting this new model have become the norm:


--- Roland Dobbins


sales upticks

> While authors like Cory Doctorow like to argue that the author’s real enemy > is obscurity, there was no real uptick in the sales of my book when these > pirated versions appeared.'

The question is how he knows whether there's been an uptick or not. The book he's talking about was published in the 20th century. In dog years, that means it died a long time ago. Every sale he's seeing now may be a result of the so- called piracy.

From what he said in the article and on his blog, it sounds like this book has had total sales of at most a few thousand copies. As you know, book sales-- particularly for computer books--tend to ramp up very quickly to the maximum rate and then fall off quickly to almost nothing.

The only thing that surprised me is that the book is still in print.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson thompson@ttgnet.com 

Intellectual property management is tricky. One strategy is to let books go out of print, then bring out a new edition. That has happened with Mote in God's Eye and Lucifer's Hammer several times; a reissue doesn't have the sales that the original did, but sales can be significant.


On Pandora’s box, buggy whips, and big pots of money with which to sue people…

We know who the internet’s biggest crybaby is, finally. It’s Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton. Echoing the lamentations of buggy whip makers when decrying the despicable horseless carriages, Lynton has this to say about the internet:


Sorry about the gross URL… Here’s a tinyurl version: http://tinyurl.com/odxjuq 

“I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet,” said Sony Pictures Entertainment chief executive officer Michael Lynton. “Period.”

Further, it’s all OUR fault.

“Lynton wasn’t just trying for a laugh: He complained the Internet has “created this notion that anyone can have whatever they want at any given time. It’s as if the stores on Madison Avenue were open 24 hours a day. They feel entitled. They say, ‘Give it to me now,’ and if you don’t give it to them for free, they’ll steal it.”

You can just TASTE his angst, his personal demons. His hatred for the things his customers crave oozes from every pore, flavors his every word. The worst part of course is that this particular buggy whip maker has a HUGE pot of money to both sue his customers, and attempt to buy enough influence to make the bad bad internet go away, to take it away from the very people who created it. And that’s the thing – he does not understand that the content his company creates is merely one flavor of candy available in the huge candy store called the internet. To abuse the analogy, his company did not create the internet any more than the guy who puts red food coloring into skittles built the candy store, yet he’s trying to shut down the world’s biggest candy store because although he makes billions of dollars selling those red skittles, some kids insist on grabbing a few handfuls without paying (the lament of market street vendors for centuries, but he doesn’t see that either).

His answer is of course to shut it all down, make the customers come to him on his own terms. I don’t think he understands what he’s asking for. I’ve bought more media of various types in the last year than I ever did in all the years before the internet, and not one bit of it was from a physical store. I’m never again going to drive across town to buy a CD or a movie. Not gonna happen.

Since he obviously can’t see what everyone thinks of his worldview, it’s probably too much to hope someone will hand him a copy of the mythological story of Pandora’s Box in the hope he’ll figure it out himself.


From my experience movie CEO's don't read; at least not books and stories. They read 'appreciations' done by underlings.


The Grid and Obama's Greenies 

"The one good thing about this, is that it starts to resurrect the idea of power independence, and getting us off of the grid. Now the grid is convenient, and has done a good job, over the last eighty years or so, of electrifying the nation; but it may be time to move on. One bad thing about the grid is that it is relatively delicate. If the President decides to go after the coal industry, our electric bills go through the roof."

Power independence would go first to the countryside, which is the last thing the Obamaites want in practice. ObamaPower has an immense internal contradiction. All of the approved CO2- friendly methods (wind, solar, bio-diesel algae) require intense exploitation of vast horizontal land spaces: "Countryside". Yet the majority of the proponents of these Globo Warming-Greenie policies are Deep Blue urbanites who consciously maintain open hostility to and hatred of the "clingy" people who actually occupy and work these land spaces.

In practice the Obamaites are already seeking to attack the one horizontal method already widely implemented: corn-ethanol. They are going far beyond eliminating government subsidies. They want outright bans by administrative fiat. This is motivated not by considerations of efficiency but by considerations of urban control of rural areas, leavened with fear and hatred of the rural population. The most immediate historical comparison that occurs to me was the conflict between rural Russian peasantry and the urban Bolsheviks.

Depending on his success in blocking nuclear plants and disrupting the existing coal and natural gas power plants, I can easily see ObamaPower paving the final stretch to real civil war. Obama's urban core supporters make nothing the rural yeomanry wants or needs. That was decided long ago on the basis of "free trade". They have nothing to offer in a fair trade. All that remains are huge urban appetites, a disinclination to pay the county folk anything, plus convenient ideologies that demonize the country people.






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Tuesday,  May 19, 2009




Fear of the Muslim Mother « Umar Lee

He spells it out.



One can learn a lot from simple demographics, but few policy wonks have any idea that this is so. The Israelis do, of course.


GPS system 'close to breakdown'


First joy-riding nukes, now this.

"It is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption,"

"...that delays and overspending are putting the entire system in jeopardy."


Regards, George

Now there's change you can believe in. Some predictions are easy. And Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy prevails.


Sony CEO fantasies

Why was I not surprised that this came from the CEO of Sony? A few years ago they covertly inserted invasive software in their music CDs that had a really bad after effects when played on a computer. Their way of trying to control everything. Since that time I have gone out of my way to never buy anything made by Sony. It is s shame because they used to make some great products.





Inevitable NATO restructuring via defaulting on obligations?


I just read in Aviation Week that the latest military budget cuts include eliminating the future reliable warhead program, effectively placing an end of life date for a large number of aging nuclear warheads without any way to replace them. Since those warheads represent a significant portion of our obligation to NATO, I wonder if the proposal to end the development of the next generation nuclear warheads represents a sneaky way to get out of those same pesky NATO obligations. In a decade or so, without a new generation of nuke warheads we will find ourselves faced with the necessity to re-negotiate our obligations to NATO, put up an enormous amount of money for a short-notice emergency procurement program for nukes, or spend an enormous amount of money refurbishing obsolete warheads and re-starting production lines for parts that are decades out of production.

My bet is on us attempting to reduce or eliminate our nuke obligations to NATO, based on President Obama’s stated goal of eliminating our nuke forces. The next President won’t have much of a choice, once we open up a gap between retiring and replacing nukes that are no longer serviceable. Our NATO allies are going to have a fit (to put it mildly) if/when we open that gap…



In Praise of the Grid

I cannot believe that grid electricity losses are anything close to 50%. Figures from Scotland (figure 20) show them as 2.52 twh out of 44.47 twh ie 5.5%.


Figures may be slightly higher in the USA because distances are longer but not that much higher. National grids are one of the great success stories of technology. .

Personally I think we should be building a worldwide grid using High Voltage Direct Current- since we live on a planet with varying time zones a world grid would be even more useful at evening out peaks than a national one. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HVDC 

Neil Craig

Well energy storage losses are about 50%, so transmission losses clearly can't be that high. It depends on how you look at things. I'm no expert on the grid, although at one time I knew a lot more about it: that is, I used to follow the Annual Review of Energy very closely. For some reason they stopped publishing that Annual Review, which I think is unfortunate.

I used to have a good link to a reliable site that showed just where US energy comes from and where it goes. If I do another book I'll have to get that link back and study it closely; things have changed a bit since I last wrote seriously about the subject.

I agree that national grids are a technological triumph.


Armed Ships

Jerry: Just what makes an armed ship? A merchant ships crew with side arms is hardly and armed ship. Side arms can be locked up when in port if the local country requires such measures. Arm the crew by all means.Pistol, shotgun and rifles are just basic common sense. Now a five inch gun or a pair of 40mm Bofors would make a merchant ship an Armed Ship. Someone could start a new business, a standard container with built in 40mm gun tubs placed on either side of the ship whenever ships transit pirate waters

bruce edwards


On several items

Dr Pournelle,

If I may, there's been a couple of items on the site as of late that I would like to comment on:

One is a comment by Mr Pritchett that seems to imply an erroneous assumption (actually it's not, it's just that the apples to oranges comparison needed to be clarified)....the article in question that assessed 525 new reactors was stating those numbers to reach 1/3 of actual "desired" usage, including all fossil fuel usage from cars etc, if I'm reading it correctly. ie the article was assuming 1/3 of demand from each of wind, solar, and nuclear....and that based on a number that is already halved from current demand. The articles assumptions were that the current US usage is 250kwh per person and that 525 reactors would produce 42kwh. If the article authors numbers are correct, then 1575 reactors would be needed to provide 1/2 of current demand, or 3150 for full demand....assuming we converted all cars, trucks, trains etc to electric-only tomorrow. Unstated, of course, is how many would be needed to provide "back-up" for the solar and wind downtime.

And quite agreed on the assessment of solar being a space issue now that a sizable percentage of the population is not living in single family buildings...in fact the problem is only likely to get much worse, since one of the big pushes to reduce carbon footprint is drastically higher population density. Density is now the one of the criteria for new construction here in Vancouver, to the point that we've actually seen building applications turned down for detached and semi-detached homes in some cases.

The other is a little clarification and addition to the Canadian health care comment from last week. The "Canadian" system, indeed, doesn't exist as such....it's completely provincial jurisdiction.

However, what needs to be clarified are the implications of that. Method of delivery, delivered services, how it's paid for are so drastically different from province to province that they are essentially radically different systems. The federal guidelines are *very* loose and only state that medically necessary services are available free of charge to all citizens. ie If I have a heart attack on the street tomorrow, I can be assured of immediate, free hospital care. Although, of course, there is a separate federal bureaucracy that determines what is and isn't after a province does something questionable and gets called on the carpet for it.

The transfer payments from the federal government are tiny (think less than 1%) compared to the actual amounts, but still used as a club to ensure compliance with the primary rule: no private, for-profit clinics receive public money. In turn, the province uses health care as a club to ensure public compliance with paying taxes, paying health insurance premiums (yes, there are still monthly premiums to be paid...$54 per month for an individual in BC....and non-payment equals out of pocket service as does not filing taxes), etc...and that's ignoring it being used as justification of intrusion into personal behaviors such as smoking, trans-fats, exercise, overweight, etc The full costs are staggering. British Columbia just had an election and the winning party, as part of it's campaign, promised to increase annual spending to $17.5 billion. For 4.1 million people, of which only 3 million are workers. That means spending on health care will be just shy of $4000 per person annually. At a rough guess, that's probably in the ballpark of the drain on general revenue as well....$4000 per taxpayer, with the young and old covered by lottery money and monthly premiums from all insured.

"Medically necessary" is a constantly shifting region as the various provinces try to come to terms with their individual budget problems. It's been many years since I dealt with the issue in other provinces, so I can only comment on the British Columbia experience, but this has meant rationing and curtailing services....and costs keep spiraling even then. To give an example, I used to be able to go to any eyeglass store and have my eyes tested by an opthomotrist free of charge (covered by the province, that is) and purchase my glasses. Now I get charged $50 -$60 for the testing....because the province has decided it's not "medically necessary" and the federal government agrees. Of course, on a personal level, I can go to a physician and be referred to a specialist, who can then test my eyes free of charge....but only because I have a history of glaucoma in the family, making it "medically necessary" again. For a second example, when I have that heart attack on the street, the hospital visit is "free", but the ambulance call that takes me there is another matter entirely....I will receive a bill in the mail for that part. Ambulances not being "medically necessary" apparently.

As well, "medically necessary" means bare essentials...anything above and beyond is covered out of pocket or by private insurance through your employer. Private or semi-private hospital room - private, dental* - private, glasses* - private, prescriptions* - private....the list of things not covered (or covered partially, or for some people) goes on and on. A small correction to myself, dental and glasses are covered by the public system sometimes....but only if you're on welfare. The same goes for prescriptions, on welfare - fully covered, retired - copay covered, working with no private insurance - out of pocket unless it keeps you from dying immediately. As example, I had a friend that was Hep C positive...unfortunately one of the better treatments for that happened to be Interferon at $1200 per month, which the public system does not cover, even though that price was not affordable for her. The result was her being declared "temporarily unemployable" by a doctor so that it would be covered by welfare. Several other friends are HIV positive and have been put in the same situation to obtain the various drug cocktails they're given.

Wait times for most procedures, in most provinces, are atrocious. 6 months here, 1 year there....and often artificial. By that, I mean that aren't generally produced by a shortage of doctors or equipment, but by how much funding is available. There was series of reports in the paper not too long ago about surgeries being postponed not because of overuse (the surgical theaters were, in fact, sitting idle), but because there simply was no money to do them until the next financial quarter.

And, of course, we needn't even get into the various groups that are considered so essential they get to jump the various queues for services: police, firemen, doctors, politicians...or, for that matter, how often patients get sent to other provinces (or the US) for treatment that can't be had in a timely fashion here.

Thanks for your time (and apologies for the long-windedness),

Mike Walsh


health care in Switzerland

Hi Jerry,

Another anecdote from abroad, perhaps of interest. Here in Switzerland, they introduced a new health-insurance system several years ago. The idea is: there is a core of basic services, which everyone is entitled to. Everyone must have health insurance, and every plan must include this core. You can purchase additional coverage if you wish, for service not included in the core package. The plan was well-intended: ensure basic coverage for everyone, and let people decide what else they want to purchase for themselves.

Just this past weekend, the voters have just overwhelmingly passed a resolution declaring that the core of services must also include "alternative medicine" such as homeopathy or acupuncture. Mind you, every insurance company already offered additional coverage for this, so those people who wanted it could get it. The resolution pushes "alternative medicine" into the basic services that must be covered.

This was an interesting process to watch, in the sense of observing an ongoing train wreck. Every year, something else is forced into the set of core services that everyone has a "right" to. Despite exploding costs, people apparently think that stuffing yet more services into this core will allow them to get something for free.

To prevent people from noticing that the emperor has no clothes, we are no longer allowed to have health insurance from outside the country. Getting local insurance doubled my insurance premiums when the system started, and they have increased massively every year since. Meanwhile, cost pressure on health providers is extreme; while specialists and hospitals are doing ok, many GPs have trouble making a living.




Jaime Escalante

Thanks for the link that updates the story of Jaime Escalante's work. I have been fascinated with this story since seeing the movie. I took introductory calculus in 8th grade as part of an experimental "gifted" program involving SRI in Culver City. When I moved to Arizona, the schools here refused to credit it, and placed me in basic math. The resulting boredom led me down a path that degraded my entire high school education. It was not until the respect I found in college that I rediscovered a love of learning. High school was essentially baby setting and "learn to bend the knee" to authority. I was often punished for asking "why" too persistently - I wanted my education back...

It is truly sad that education is so much more political than effective. It is as if mediocrity is the goal.

Growing up during the "space race" when there was strong support for education, I especially felt the difference when I looked for good but affordable education for my kids. I wound up placing them in a charter school, and adding an hour a day of home teaching (critical thinking and history) for several years.

Mike Riddle

BTW: I took your suggestion and have read "The Forgotten Man". We are always the ones most able to help ourselves, if we can keep our faith.


Empire of Carbon, 


Paul Krugman of the New York Times seems to be channeling Jerry Pournelle, up to a point:


"I have seen the future, and it won't work. . . . China cannot continue along its current path because the planet can't handle the strain.

The scientific consensus on prospects for global warming has become much more pessimistic over the last few years. Indeed, the latest projections from reputable climate scientists border on the apocalyptic. Why? Because the rate at which greenhouse gas emissions are rising is matching or exceeding the worst-case scenarios.

And the growth of emissions from China - already the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide - is one main reason for this new pessimism.

China's emissions, which come largely from its coal-burning electricity plants, doubled between 1996 and 2006. That was a much faster pace of growth than in the previous decade. And the trend seems set to continue: In January, China announced that it plans to continue its reliance on coal as its main energy source and that to feed its economic growth it will increase coal production 30 percent by 2015. That's a decision that, all by itself, will swamp any emission reductions elsewhere.

So what is to be done about the China problem?

Nothing, say the Chinese. Each time I raised the issue during my visit, I was met with outraged declarations that it was unfair to expect China to limit its use of fossil fuels.<snip>"

"And they're right. It is unfair to expect China to live within constraints that we didn't have to face when our own economy was on its way up. But that unfairness doesn't change the fact that letting China match the West's past profligacy would doom the Earth as we know it." <snip>

He figures, since "China now emits more carbon dioxide than the United States, even though its G.D.P. is only about half as large (and the United States, in turn, is an emissions hog compared with Europe or Japan)" that improving the efficiency of China's energy industry would fix the problem. R-i-i-i-g-h-t.


We are not doomed. We can do nothing about China (and India) and their CO2 emissions, but the Earth is not doomed. I guess it's time to start saying that again. Of course we can doom our own economy.



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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A voice of reason: Global Warming Fears Overblown?

Of course, the Global Climate Change True Believers will most probably label him a crank, like Freeman Dyson.



What if global-warming fears are overblown?

In a Fortune interview, noted climatologist John Christy contends the green crusade to fight climate change is "all cost and no benefit."

By Jon Birger <http://money.cnn.com/2009/05/14/
jbirger@fortunemail.com>  , senior writer Last Updated: May 14, 2009: 5:07 PM ET

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- With Congress about to take up sweeping climate-change legislation, expect to hear more in coming weeks from John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at University of Alabama-Huntsville.

A veteran climatologist who refuses to accept any research funding from the oil or auto industries, Christy was a lead author of the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report as well as one of the three authors of the American Geophysical Union's landmark 2003 statement on climate change.

Yet despite those green-sounding credentials, Christy is not calling for draconian cuts in carbon emissions. Quite the contrary. Christy is actually the environmental lobby's worst nightmare - an accomplished climate scientist with no ties to Big Oil who has produced reams and reams of data that undermine arguments that the earth's atmosphere is warming at an unusual rate and question whether the remedies being talked about in Congress will actually do any good.

All cost and no benefit sounds about right: it's certain that if the US closed all its coal and oil fired plants -- thus moving us to an economy of the 1920's or earlier -- the effect on global CO2 would be small. China and India are not going to give up their coal and oil plants.


Lehrer Newshour gets Gored, big time.


The Obama administration has decided to go all out to force Cap and Trade (= Ration and Tax) into law before Labor Day. This will be the largest and broadest tax system since the Roman Empire, with estimates of negative impact ranging from a low of $3,100 per taxpayer to a lasting negative impact on US GDP of $2 Trillion per year, in the middle of a recession. Part of this initiative is an escalation of Gore's "Dangerous Global Warming" propaganda, politicized science to scare people by posing imminent threats of biblical proportions.

Last night on Lehrer Newshour (an excellent forum, and one I trust), I was appalled to see an attractive young woman, Heidi Cullen, represented as a Climatologist from a "nonpartisan" Group called Climate Central, being given a long segment to testify against the continued use of Coal to Power America. I don't know her credentials as a climatologist, but two things I do know:

1) "Nonpartisan" is not equivalent to "non-biased." Both political parties have accepted Gore's theory, and both are mistaken. Any honest debate of scientific information must include the many skeptics of Gore's theory.

2) At best Gore's theory is highly speculative. At worst, it's a hoax to benefit the perpetrators and serve radical political agendas at the expense of the rest of us.


John D. Trudel

I'll settle for actual debates. NPR is paid for by the public. It should not assume that the question is settled and there is no scientific debate.


Dr Pournelle

Political Cartoons by Henry Payne<http://media.townhall.com/Townhall/Car/b/

The picture says it all.

Live long and prosper

 h lynn keith

Heh. Alas it has a bitter truth.


STEREO Spies First Major Activity of Solar Cycle 24

NASA′s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft has spotted the first major activity of the new solar cycle. On May 5 STEREO-B observed a Type II radio burst and a bright, fast coronal mass ejection (CME) emanating from the far side of the sun. The activity originated in a solar active region that rotated into view from Earth on May 8.

I assume that this is good news!



We do seem to have some sun spots. See  http://www.solarcycle24.com/ We can hope that we are not due for a new Minimum. Warming is greatly preferable to cooling. Cooling is better than ice. Ice is the normal condition if you look at geological history.


Interactive map of the grid and power sources

Hi Jerry,

You mentioned

 >> I used to have a good link to a reliable site that showed just where US energy comes from and where it goes. If I do another >> book I'll have to get that link back and study it closely; things have changed a bit since I last wrote seriously about the subject.

This link is to an interesting interactive map of the grid and the current / planned power stations.



What I had in mind was an input/output chart of US energy, and/or a table; but thanks, that's an interesting picture of the grid.


USATODAY.com - Algae like a breath mint for smokestacks 

I'd heard of this, so decided to look it up. I can't think of a simpler, cleaner way to reduce smokestack emissions than bubbling them through algae tanks to trap CO2 and particulates.

I just can't figure out (politics aside) why it isn't in use already. Heck, with a little work, maybe the algae could be tailored to produce pharmaceuticals or some such.


Best Regards,

Doug Hayden

Algae CO2 scrubbers would be expensive, but a lot cheaper than not having the power plants. And algae can be very useful stuff. You can burn it, you can eat it...

Actually, 30 years ago SCE was experimenting with using sewage and garbage as energy sources, with algae tanks used in one of the processes. The experiments weren't funded; the grants and funding was all directed at solar in those times. Fads change.

Obviously given our advances in biological engineering and science we should be investigating ways to grow ourselves out of some problems.


Does anyone ever learn?? - 



Some do, some don't. I noticed that when WAMU bought Home Savings (where I had both savings accounts and my home mortgage) my minimum payment went down -- by enough that it wasn't going to retire the mortgage. I calculated what it ought to be and paid that (plus a bit of surplus just in case). This was back in the boom days and I have no idea why they did that -- without fanfare or announcement -- or why they would want me to owe a balloon payment when the mortgage was paid out.  Very odd.

But I don't purport to understand what was going on in the financial products industry, either before or during the bubble. AIG was supposed to be on the hook for something like $70 billion in defaults of mortgage backed securities, but it has absorbed more than that in TARP money. 

There were enormous incentives for about -- according to the 60 Minutes interview -- for about 25 Financial Products people to push their products; and they managed to bring down the company. All very mysterious. Wouldn't we spend les just making the missed payments that put the properties in default? But it's too late for that.


And alas, more gloom:

Pedagogy of the Oppressor by Sol Stern, City Journal Spring 2009

You're right, again. I keep reminding myself that despair is a sin.


Best Regards,

Doug Hayden

I doubt that book is as dangerous to us all as Al Gore, but it's not doing us much good to require future teachers to read it.




CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, May 21, 2009

I hope you haven't been speculating by investing any of your retirement funds in US based companies

Dr. Pournelle,

Apparently it was retirees and municipal governments which were destroying the talks with GM and Chrysler:


It seems fairly clear that its no longer safe to buy stock in US based companies, because if someone has more lobbyists than you they will get your money regardless of any contracts you've signed.

Ryan Brown

Bu t without investment in US companies we will not recover. This is all change you can believe in. You always could believe in it.


calpers retirement fund is already fully funded 


You are wrong about the purpose of the Calif govt being to pay enormous pensions. The California state pension fund is already 100% funded. It is so large and healthy that the past several governors have made repeated attempts to pilfer it as a temporary stopgap against budget deficits. CA state employee unions have so far done a great job preventing this, but it remains a stalemate as no governor in history would ignore a trillion dollar pot of money he can’t spend.

So I will argue that your premise is incorrect… My info comes from the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, which must put up an annual effort to prevent the CA govt from stealing from one of the largest and healthiest pension funds in the world. It’s already fully funded and needs to be left alone, and since it’s already paid for it isn’t sucking CA taxpayers dry as you imply.

You can argue the merits of paying a state employee a large percentage of a decent salary for life, but I personally figure that my Dad earned his pension after 28 years as a CHP officer, even without the lifetime effects of the few injuries he suffered in the line of duty, and I will be quick to damn anyone who tries to pilfer the fund that pays his retirement.

The federal pensions… Not so much. With such a massive federal debt and deficit, it’s a joke to try to separate a fund for this or that, whether it’s social security or federal pensions. None of them are even close to being fully funded as long as there is a deficit and debt, and trying to discuss whether they actually are funded is just so much hot air and mindless jibberish.


I know that some portions of the California retirement fund aren't funded; at least they were complaining of their horrid losses in the recent crash. I am pleased to hear that some parts are fully funded.

My point wasn't to deride pensions (I wish I had one; alas, CREF took a huge bath in the bust, and of course my CREF account wasn't as large as most because it was based on a few years during the 1965-1971 era). My point was that California continues to offer every state employee benefits that are larger than they could obtain from private employment.  Now for police and fire services, which don't really have a private counterpart, this is acceptable to most communities. It doesn't seem to be so advisable for all state jobs.

I haven't looked at CHP benefits; perhaps they are what they ought to be. But the state is acting as if the first priority is to fund all those contracts and benefits. "You can't balance the budget on the backs of the state workers! We don't have a spending problem we have a revenue problem!" More and more the purpose of government is to hire and pay high salaries and benefits to government workers. If there are some that have managed to invest prudently I am glad, but I assure you they all have not.


Heartland Strikes Back



"Not So Fast: Indiana State Pension Fund Seeks To Block Chrsyler 363 Sale"

"the Indiana State Teachers Retirement Fund, Indiana State Police Pension Trust, and Indiana Major Movers Construction Fund, fiduciaries for "approximately 100,000 civil servants, including police officers, school teachers and their families" have objected to the 363 sale, and demand Judge Gonzalez should block the sale, claiming "the plan is illegal and tramples their rights.""

"Among other things, the Indiana Pensioners seek to appoint both a trustee and an examiner in the case (an examiner was eventually retained in the Lehman bankruptcy), claiming that the company "has ceded control over their business and their restructuring efforts to the United States Treasury Department" which is using the Chapter 11 process to reward creditors that the "government deems politically important.""

"Not only that, but lawyers added that "the Treasury Department has taken constructive possession of Chrysler and is requiring it to adopt a sale plan in bankruptcy that violates the most fundamental principles of credit rights.""

Change you can believe in.


Robert Heinlein's April 3, 1973, at Annapolis 

Dr. Pournelle,

I have habitually saved copies of interesting written material and have recently began scanning into pdf format to save space. As I read on your site a repeat siting of how to get your job (writing), I recalled recently converting Robert Heinlein's treatise on how to write. You are undoubtedly familiar with it, but on the off chance it is no longer conveniently retrievable (and you have any interest), Click Here for a copy stored on-line <http://technologydesignconsultants.com/
InterestingDocuments/RobertHeinleinSpeechAtAnnapolis.pdf>  . (It's about 7 MB)

Regards, Bruce Quayle Pittsburgh

Thanks. I have added that link to my essay on How To Get My Job


Global Warming Hypothesis 

>>It's pretty clear that the man-made global warming hypothesis may have more economic influence than any theory in the history of mankind, including Marxism. It provides the justification for enormous government influence in every phase of economic life, and appears to herding the US economy into stalemate with bankruptcy for a great many people, and an over-all lower standard of living for everyone. That's change you can believe in.<<

I respectfully disagree with the first sentence. It's only of regional importance, these regions being NW Europe and North America. But within these areas it will have the effects you described. As you noted in Mail, the Chinese and Indians are ignoring it except when assisting useful idiots in the West helps them gain perceived advantages.

For the rest of the 3d World "Global Warming" is only the new introductory paragraph in their standard beggar's whine for more transfer payments from white people. Something new was needed. Education has been so dumbed down that most kids today don't even know their great-grandparents once ruled all those continents, let alone feel any guilt over it.

Would it not be better regarded as the latest (and probably last) manifestation of James Burnham's Suicide of the West?


I take your point. Yes, it is certainly part of the suicide of the west. It may be that China and India will go on to take mankind to space after the United States goes through its sea change. I always thought the language of space would be English. Perhaps it still will be. It depends on how much change we get. The Global Warming Debate is NOT over even though the Al Gores would have us believe it so.


Kindle trouble


As an avid book and eBook reader, I’ve owned an eBookwise, a Sony PRS-500 Reader, and now a Kindle 2. I’ve liked them all..the Sony probably the least, mostly because of the button layout. They’ve all worked fairly well and given me good service. I’ve had my Kindle about three months now, and purchased about 20 books for it, and three periodicals.

I’ve only had to charge it three times as I turn off the wireless when not using it. It let me know it needed a charge last night, so I attempted to plug it in this morning. Unfortunately it didn’t start charging…the cord even seems loose at the base of the Kindle.

I called the Kindle support line…interesting way it works…you get to the website, enter your phone number and it calls you. My phone wrong and in less than a minute I’m talking to a human who speaks English. This is a good thing. We went through troubleshooting which consisted of me plugging the cable into the adapter, a different outlet and the USB cable into my computer. None of these worked, so he is sending a replace power cord. I even offered and he accepted to allow me to plug a foreign mini-usb cable in which didn’t work either. His hands were evidently bound, however, and he is sending out the cord which will get here Tuesday due to the holiday. He said if that doesn’t work, call back and they’ll ship a replacement Kindle, which is clearly what is needed.

All in all, I can’t gripe…pretty good service. I’m going to hate being without my Kindle for a week though.

Tracy Walters, CISSP

Thanks for the report. I carry my Kindle 2 everywhere; today I had it at the optometrist's appointment. It gets a good conversation going with everyone at Kaiser...


Something that might interest you 


This might interest you. A discussion on the merits of science fiction on Eric Raymond’s blog.


Randy Powell

Actually, I seldom find discussions of the merits of science fiction very interesting at all, and this I fear is no exception; but then I have had to participate as a panelist on such discussions for about 40 years. To me science fiction was a good way to make a living, and I think I did manage to convince a few valuable people to go into the sciences... that science can be fun and productive.  And science fiction been good to me...


Waste gas use - case

Dr. Pournelle,

You wrote: "Algae CO2 scrubbers would be expensive, but a lot cheaper than not having the power plants. And algae can be very useful stuff. You can burn it, you can eat it...

Actually, 30 years ago SCE was experimenting with using sewage and garbage as energy sources, with algae tanks used in one of the processes."

See http://www.tucsonelectric.com/Green/Services/methanegas.asp 

Tucson's been doing something with this for a while, with some form of funding, and experimented with running the CO2 resulting from methane combustion through algae to recover for later development of other fuels. Problem is, as you somewhat predict, that the increased capacity has not kept up with overall demand, and has been under a long, expensive development cycle. An admirable, but inadequate technology.

Subject change: Back at about the time of the advent of the governator, I was offered the opportunity to maintain my employment if I moved to California. I like your state, I've lived there before, but at the time they couldn't pay me enough to maintain my standard of living and offset the increase in taxes. I've since worked for someone else in a different state. Even back then, businesses were leaving for Arizona, Nevada, and elsewhere to escape the state tax burden. An additional increase would be disastrous. Wish the man had been able to effect his new broom campaign promised changes.


Arnold -- Before he was political we had the same agent and went to some parties together and I found him a pleasant companion -- was elected and immediately put up four propositions that would in fact have reformed the state and kept us out of the troubles we are in. The teachers and nurses immediately began a campaign of vilification, and Arnold wasn't tough enough to take that. He didn't get out and fight for his propositions, they lost, and from that moment on he sort of went along trying to be the nice guy he really is. He wasn't cut out to be a governor or a politician; he hasn't Reagan's temperament (I knew Reagan better than I do Schwarzenegger). Arnold wants to be liked, and hates it when he isn't.

Now the cuts begin; Start with the poison control centers, the Highway Patrol, the State Fire Services, and when you have cut them you might think of laying off a janitor...


Re: the nuclear age

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

While electric line loses aren't trivial, they're much less than 50%. I believe the national average is somewhere around 7.2%.

I can't really comment on the cost of a whole-house solar or wind array, other than the sticking point remains energy storage and generating a nice 60 Hz sine wave so electronics won't balk. All of which is doable if you have money, but I suspect the cost is greater than $3000. For starters we're talking about 10 to 25 KVA on the average (the so-called "average home" load assumes gas for cooking, heating, and water heaters, and no air conditioning, and is much lower than real-world numbers). A quick check turned up a figure of around $16,000, not including batteries, so we're possibly looking at around $40,000 for a whole-house system. Using $2,000 to $3,000 per year, it would pay for itself in twenty to as little as a tad over thirteen years. But in that time there's battery replacement and other maintenance.

In contrast, a whole house diesel generator would set you back maybe $10,000, including transfer switch and labor. But it has to run constantly unless you fork out for a battery system, and have to buy fuel. The old systems used a battery scheme, and while that saves on fuel, it raises the price to around $34,000, not that much less than solar. Even so, a diesel generator is a good choice for emergency power, and what between the head of FERC claiming we don't need baseload generation and Obama's carbon caps, a back-up generator is probably a prudent investment.

Incidentally, we're about to see a Porkulus repeat with the carbon caps. Currently the legislation weighs in at 1,000 pages, and Congress is asked to accept it without debate:


The other day, as I listened to a report on the impact of the new fuel efficiency guidelines on car prices, it occurred to me that the average American of 1909 could only dream of owning a car and having electric lights. The way things look now, we may very well see the return of such dreams.

- Kevin J. Cheek


Inside the bad-ass world of military research projects






CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  May 22, 2009


I don't know the background of this site but if the numbers are correct they may be useful in discussion of state budget mess.

Latest data on site is 2005 when California got back 78 cents for every tax dollar sent to Washington. We have been negative since 1986. Meanwhile un-funded mandates continue to flow over us. Perhaps if so much of our money didn't detour through Washington, we would be better off. I doubt every state can work at a 1:1 ratio but maybe states need at least 90 cents back on the dollar.

And if local taxes didn't get snatched by Sacramento, local governments would be in better financial shape.

Not that this will be the full solution. Good jobs are important to generate sales, property and other taxes to fund the local needs as well as the income taxes to fund the state and federal programs.

We not only need to live within our budget means, we need to approach a sustainable level of population growth that matches our capacity to provide power, water, food, clean air, education, law enforcement, fire fighting, transportation and sanitation services. And I've probably left out a few.



The important point to remember is that California, much like the Republicans in DC, treated the boom as a cash cow, and expanded government to exceed income even when the income was artificially inflated. The result was predictable and predicted. The governor has said we need to go back to previous budgets that worked and cut what we've done since. That is probably politically impossible.

Certainly California pays more in federal taxes that it receives in federal benefits. That's not new. Worse, most of the benefits we do get are earmarked to be spent in ways that don't do a lot of good. And I have heard estimates that the California deficit is about equal to the cost of illegal aliens in California (I have no way to know how true that is, but it's certainly true regarding several southern California cities and counties). I would have thought that border control is a federal matter, but apparently the federal government is more expert on how to make schools better and organize health care than at something complicated like border control.

My view is that money ought not have to take a detour through Washington before being spent locally. Washington is a very expensive tax collection agency.


Calpers funding (?)


With regards to yesterday's mail concerning Calpers being fully funded a very quick search of Google News brought up this item:

Clicky <http://www.whittierdailynews.com/ci_12393298?source=rss

I'm definitely no expert on this matter but it looks to me as if someone somewhere is going to have to make up the shortfall... and I'm guessing that "someone" will be the taxpayer in some shape or form.


Russ Smith BC Canada

Government seldom makes a profit even when it engages in what is normally a profit-making enterprise. In general if the government is going to give you something it has to take it away from someone.


State Job Cuts

You wrote in a recent reply to mail...

Now the cuts begin; Start with the poison control centers, the Highway Patrol, the State Fire Services, and when you have cut them you might think of laying off a janitor...

But of course. There remains only talk of cuts that will scare the public.

This article from the May 14 The Bakersfield Californian


Nicole Parra skipped through the state's drastic budget cuts unscathed.

She'll hold on to the $128,000-a-year job the governor recently created for her.

"Her position is not a general fund position," a spokeswoman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said Thursday, following an afternoon press conference that included news of 5,000 pink slips headed out to state employees.

Parra's January appointment to a newly minted economic development post raised eyebrows at the time.

She is among a half-dozen or so termed-out state lawmakers who were given six-figure jobs by Schwarzenegger early this year, when the economic meltdown was in full swing.

Parra, a Democrat who represented parts of Bakersfield and other Central Valley communities in the state Assembly, endorsed Republican Danny Gilmore to replace her. (Gilmore won.) Pundits said her endorsement prompted the governor's appointment.

end quote---------------

I'll bet there is healthy expense account to go with it as well.

Best regards

Dave Krecklow


On Chrysler

It's clearly a test run for GM. And it's a good mine canary for how fast the rule of law is decaying in the USA. The heretofore anonymous "bondholders" are resisting going along with the Obama Admin happy face story. Stripped of politically convenient media anonymity the real beneficial owners of these bonds turn out to be Middle Class USA.

GM will be much worse. Restructuring it without Chap 11 requires 90% of GM's bondholders to agree. Problem is well over 10% of GM's bondholders are "insured" with credit default swap contracts on their bonds. Which CDS contracts don't pay off if the bond holder is deemed to have voluntarily agreed to "sell" the bond for a sub-par price.

This group of bond holders have every positive incentive to force GM into Chap 11, and thus force CDS contract execution by their counterparties. GM's assets are not the only assets available to them in a GM bankruptcy case. And they undoubtedly have a legal fiduciary duty to do so in the case of institutional money managers, who are the bulk of CDS buyers.

I'm not a lawyer of course. But I expect quite a few of the institutional managers could be personally sued for breach of fiduciary trust were they to agree to Obama Admin political strong arming to bend to the current offered "restructuring" terms, to the clearly foreseeable disadvantage of their pension, annuitant and insurance policy beneficiaries.

On the other side we have the CDS contract writers. i.e. the people who were previously collecting a policy income stream but must pay off the "policy". This market is of course over-the-counter and still very opaque. But I'll hazard an informed guess at the biggest single exposed counterparty that was writing CDS on GM bonds. This is AIG, which is already a subsidiary of the State. Much like Obama's proposed "Government Motors" to be built from GM's carcass.

Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and a range of NYC private equity firms occur to me as additional CDS contract writers, and thus exposed to full execution in the event a GM Chap 11 (or Chap 7 liquidation) filing that runs its legal course.

[Name withheld]


The Climate Industrial Complex

Hello Jerry,

In your 'View' today you said the following: "The Climate Industrial Complex is the most dangerous organization in the world, and in my judgment is up there with Fascism and Marxism as dangers to Western Civilization."

Well, you got it half right and half wrong. You are right in assessing it as the most dangerous organization in the world. What you got wrong is the part that says it is right up there with Fascism and Marxism as dangers to Western Civilization.

To correct you, it is the most dangerous organization in the world precisely because it IS Fascism/Marxism, using catastrophic AGM as its excuse for assuming totalitarian control of the whole planet in the name of saving it. And, as you know, Fascism/Marxism, no matter how it is sugar coated or the contortions that it is willing to go through to avoid identifying itself overtly, is an existential threat to Western Civilization in general and the United States in particular.

As we have learned, or should have learned, since January 20, 2009.

Our future leaders, as personified by a large majority (or controlling minority) of the students at every major university, are apparently not only aware of the true situation but are giddy in their awareness to the point of near worship of the regime that has managed to turn the US into a top down command society less than four months after assuming control. And make no mistake. It HAS assumed control. Of everything. It may not yet have EXERCISED that control over each and every aspect of society, but it has well and truly ASSUMED it.

Bob Ludwick

I understand your point.



I don't think we have have to assume that China and India don't think global warming isn't happening just because they aren't crippling their economies doing things that won't fix the problem, like we seem to be doing. India is working hard on a Thorium breeder reactor and China's nuclear power plant building program arouses nothing but envy on my part. The first Westinghouse AP1000 generation III+ plant is being built now in China, while our utilities are still trying to get through NRC approval.

India has huge Thorium reserves, but I noticed China doesn't have large domestic reserves of Uranium. Maybe they don't need that much if they are using breeder reactors, but I find it interesting that there are large tank-accessible deposits of Uranium in Eastern Kazakhstan.

I also note the Chinese are constructing a production pebble bed nuclear reactor. I just happened to read an article discussing using pebble bed reactors to convert coal power plants to nuclear:


BTW, has is occurred to you that an arcology like you described in "Oath of Fealty" with it's own nuclear power plant would have a close to optimal carbon footprint?



Roland writes from the Far East:

'M' is dead wrong in his assertion that the Great Global Warming Hoax is confined to the West.

It's being used all across Asia to justify all sorts of nonsense, from additional confiscatory taxes and fees to governmental agencies charged with flooding control doing nothing to help subsistence farmers keep their crops from washing away because, after all, it's due to 'global warming', so supposedly nothing they can do will help, anyways.

- Roland Dobbins


in re Mr. Walters' Kindle trouble.

If Mr. Walters has an iPhone or iPod Touch, he can download the free, just-updated Kindle for iPhone/iPpod app from the App Store and read his books on that until his Kindle is finally replaced.

-- Roland Dobbins


So, the UAE gets nuke plants, and we get to continue buying their oil.


-- Roland Dobbins

It's change you can believe in.


Subj: Another thing that's Too Big to Fail!


Rod Montgomery

Well, one would hope so.


Amazon's Kinlde price of $9.99 is self inflicted would

Dear Jerry:

The official price of the Kindle version of "The Shenandoah Spy" Is $12.95. Amazon.com lowered is to $9.99 from the start but continues to pay me a full 35% royalty on the higher price or $4.53 a copy. Not that it matters, despite the lower price the Kindle edition sells one percent as many copies as the print $18.95 version, which they usually offer at about $12.00. Amazon.com discounts everything they can to grab market share. Except when they control the market. Carol Buchanan's novel "God's Thunderbolt; The Vigilantes of Montana" self-published through BookSurge, Amazon's POD facility, is always within two percent of the full retail price of $18.95. Of course this book won the 2009 Spur Award for Best First Novel, and, with exception of a few stores she supplied directly, cannot be found anyplace else but Amazon.com. It's not at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Booksamillion, or the 1,700 independent book stores outside of Montana and Wyoming.

You begin to see Amazon.com's grand strategy here? Shut out the competition by offering unique products and don't worry about the short term results. The basic business of online selling everything than no one else does will always provide a profit . Big publishers ignore self-published books at their peril, in effect eating their seed corn. Big bookstore chains who follow their lead shut out future sales and profits from the few bits of pure gold to be found among the self-published dross. Most consumers don't really care who published a book as long as it is a good one at a fair price. My own experiments with electronic publishing prove that a lower price point will not generate additional sales. Books are not fungible commodities. People will spend for what they want and buy it where they find it the first time. Whether or not it is electronic or print really doesn't matter. Print has the edge. You don't have to plug it in. No batteries required.


Francis Hamit


On self powered homes.

Dr. Pournelle,

I've looked into preliminary costs for power replacement for my home, and it isn't cheap. At market prices of 9$ a kWh it would take somewhere around $70k to fully power my house with solar. That supposedly includes installation, inverters, etc. This would be enough to provide power to the A\C in the summer and electric heat in the winter, washing machines, hot water, etc. In other words, all the comforts of living on the grid. This is roughly half the current value of my house. Government (state and federal) and electric provider rebates (although why my provider would pay me to no longer use their power is beyond me) would cut this about in half. I pay somewhere around $1500 a year for electric, so this would take right at 20-25 years to pay for itself (assuming prices don't skyrocket), about the right time that the panels would need to be replaced. This isn't a great system: essentially I'd be taking out another mortgage on my house for the sole purpose of feeling good about what marvelous things I've done for the environment, and funding the banking system by paying interest on a $35K loan.

To avoid all of this and actually see some profit I've been looking into alternate alternate power sources. The most promising seem to be the systems with the inverters built in, both wind and solar. You buy the equipment, bolt it to the roof, plug it into the wall or the circuit breaker junction box and you're done. No batteries, no extra inverters, just one piece of equipment. The systems are also relatively cheap. You can get a single low power component (40-100 kWh per month) for a few hundred dollars up to a larger system (several hundred kWh a month) for a few thousand dollars, again after government and provider rebates. There are a few companies out there which are shooting for something like this http://verandasolar.comhttp://www.armageddonenergy.com http://www.clariantechnologies.
com/main/page_plugin_wind_power.html) . Unfortunately, as you can probably tell from looking at their websites, these systems are all still in the prototyping phase. If these ever come to see the light of store shelves (and I've watched companies with similar ideals fade to vaporware more than once) then I could outfit about 1/3 - 1/2 of my electric use for between $5-10k. The biggest benefit to these types of systems is that they're modular and thus I can do it as I have the money. If I have a spare $500 this year I can tack another 120 watt panel onto my roof. If not, no biggie. I also don't need batteries as they feed into the grid when I'm not using the energy. Supposedly you get a bit of credit, but it's not at what you pay them for energy for.

My biggest reasoning for looking into all of this is, as was mentioned in an earlier e-mail you posted, I'm not entirely certain about the future of our grid system. Even if it stays in place with 99% up time (which seems likely for the forseable future), I'm not sure that the price won't double or triple over the next five years. I'd like my home to be able to run without grid power. Note I said run, not run comfortably. I don't want all of my food spoiling because the grid is down for 2 days. I'd like a solar water heater to have some hot water, without paying $1-2 per shower to heat it up. An ideal small power system with a grid tie in should be able to power lights and major appliances for free, pulling from the grid only for the HVAC. With newer technologies this hopefully won't be prohibitively expensive.

The argument that we'll no longer need a base load grid is absurd, unless everyone wants to go without HVAC or add half again to the value of their mortgages. Unfortunately there seem to be people writing policy who don't understand that. Hopefully within a few years it will be possible, if not widespread, to have an affordable cushion against that policy. Then I'll only have to fight the HOA's policy of not allowing solar panels on home owner's roofs (thankfully the TX legislature may be taking care of that one for me).


Ryan Brown

Ed Begley was doing well on his investment when oil was at $140 or so. He has long known that he could have paid his power bills with the interest on his investment in his rooftop solar, and of course LA power is among the most reliable in the nation. Niven lives outside LA DWP and his power is not so reliable; given the tax breaks it might make sense for him to try to go self-sufficient, but it would be expensive, the community association board would hate the idea, and it's just a lot of trouble.

Power was mostly generated by private companies until the New Deal. Roosevelt favored publicly owned power companies, and laws were changed to favor that, but there remained large power companies as Regulated Public Utilities alongside publicly owned power systems like DWP. The private companies did try to invest in research but the regulatory environment wasn't encouraging. Still, the system worked pretty well, but the deregulation craze, at least in California, was managed by people singularly incompetent (or very competent but rapacious) and the private companies like SCE that generated and distributed power were broken up. The system here works, but to me it looks a bit fragile because it's now largely a bureaucracy. However, it's what we have.

In principle I am all in favor of household energy independence, but the economics are horrible. I'll never be able to afford it unless there are great technological breakthroughs I don't really expect. Temperamentally I'm enough in favor of distributed power that I'd pay a premium for that, but I don't see how it can happen. We need the grid, and will for a long time. Your approach is at least a start. I presume that you can isolate yourself from the grid if the grid fails. At least you'll have a radio and a light....




This week:


read book now


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Annapolis Address

"The purpose of a movement or a philosophy is to teach; the purpose of a political party is to win elections. The two require different strategies" (View 569 May 4 - 10, 2009).

I dare say the strategies may have begun to merge after the medium has become the internet. Senator Obama used the internet deftly to persuade a political party to become a movement, and subsequently he became President Obama. You ask why he continues to campaign; perhaps that is not what he is doing at all. In the meantime, Cheney is heatedly firing blanks and being quite helpful in reminding the electorate of that which has been survived and overcome.

The reality of "Yes, we can" becoming "Yes, we did" has the appearance of transcending your statement, at least on a national level.

So why is Cheney still campaigning?


We do not seem to have any alternate national leaders in either party; nor are they appearing in movements. For some of us this is the time to relearn, since there isn't a lot we can do. Either our new leaders are competent or they are not. If they are, things will get better, we will undergo the projected changes, and come off well. If they are not, then things will continue to get worse. Meanwhile there's isn't much we can do on a national level. We can try to make the world around us a more pleasant place, and that is always worth doing.

I do not think our problems will be solved by a continuous campaign, but I am not under the illusion of infallibility.

Cheney campaigns because he did not win. He doesn't have to govern.


"Government Motors has changed CEO's.

Will we continue to have an automobile industry in the US? Who will be in command of it?" (View 564 March 30 - April 5, 2009)

Ford has been relatively absent from the political news. It would appear that we will indeed continue to have an automobile industry in the US.


"WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co's restructuring is on track to bring a profit as soon as 2011, without the need for emergency government bridge loans, executives told stockholders on Thursday at the automaker's annual meeting.

Ford shareholders also approved the company's funding plan for a healthcare trust for United Auto Workers union retirees and rejected a challenge to the share voting structure that gives the Ford family control of the automaker.

The meeting, in Wilmington, Delaware, came just two weeks after Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection and amid industrywide concerns that General Motors Corp could follow Chrysler into court within weeks."

Why does Ford not need a bailout? GM, Chrysler and Ford all operate under the same government regulations, very similiar union contracts. Could it be that upper management at Ford has a leg up on upper management at Chrysler and GM?


"Ford proved that its Fusion Hybrid can reach distances of more than 1,400 miles. The team also used driving technics to conserve fuel, more than doubling its fuel economy. It is still the most fuel-efficient mid-size automobile on the market."

Ford spokespersons also express confidence that Ford will be able to meet the new MPG standards.


We all certainly hope so.


"A great injustice has been righted. The Gurkhas are coming home."


--- Roland Dobbins

Hurrah. The infusion will be to Britain's benefit, I think.


Spengler again,


We don't hear much from Spengler these days since he took an editor job. But his most recent foray is a corker:


He introduces us to "dolphinplasty," "civitaplasty" and "fiducioplasty," among other plasties. An example:

"There is a consistent theme to the administration's major policy initiatives: Obama and his advisors start from the way they think things ought to be and work backwards to the uncooperative real world. If reality bars the way, it had better watch out. In the South Park episode, the plastic surgery underwent catastrophic failures too disgusting to recount here. Obama's attempt to carve reality into the way things ought to be will also undergo catastrophic failure, perhaps in even more disgusting ways.

Consider the reorganization of Chrysler, perhaps the most traumatic event to afflict the credit market in living memory. . . ." His objections are yours, of course. Then he moves on to other current issues.

Enjoyable, as usual.




Dr. Pournelle,

Unless you have independent corroboration, I would not worry too much about the article in the Grauniad*.

The EU has its own "vanity project" satellite navigation system, which is not really required or justifiable, so they are always looking for any reason to give that a boost. This article is probably part of that effort - in fact it even hints as much.

* the mis-spelling is deliberate - it's a standing joke in the UK that The Guardian is always full of misprints, so you'll see it referred to as the Grauniad, the Graun, the Gradian, etc etc.

Andrew Duffin


“I felt a little bit humiliated because we don’t know our own history.”


--- Roland Dobbins


pumping CO2 into the ground

It’s called sequestering, liquefying CO2 and pumping it deep into geological formations.



Just another example of the potential for the “green” technology and “green collar” jobs.

And the net effect on atmospheric CO2 will be?  Apparently this has been going on for a while, and some of it makes economic sense; there will be more on this Monday. But I would not think the net effect is going to be great.


Twain - education

Jerry: Here's an excerpt that you might be interested in from Twain's 'Following the Equator', chapter 61 (part 7). I'm reading it courtesy of the gutenberg website.

"At home I once made a speech deploring the injuries inflicted by the high school in making handicrafts distasteful to boys who would have been willing to make a living at trades and agriculture if they had but had the good luck to stop with the common school. But I made no converts. Not one, in a community overrun with educated idlers who were above following their fathers' mechanical trades, yet could find no market for their book-knowledge."



-- Right now the Republicans and Democrats in Washington seem, from the outside, to be an elite colluding against the voter. Peggy Noonan


38,000 BC.


-- Roland Dobbins


Will: 'The administration's central activity -- the political allocation of wealth and opportunity -- is not merely susceptible to corruption, it is corruption.'


-- Roland Dobbins




CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, May 24, 2009      

Komodo dragon attacks terrorize villages.


---- Roland Dobbins


The Future of Artificial Intelligence 

Singularity coming?

“I see the debate over whether we should build these artificial intellects as becoming the dominant political question of the century,” said Hugo de Garis, an Australian artificial-intelligence researcher, who has written a book, “The Artilect War,” that argues that the debate is likely to end in global war.




The Great Global Warming Hoax 

>>'M' is dead wrong in his assertion that the Great Global Warming Hoax is confined to the West.<<

Its practical influence on Chinese and Indian central government policy toward coal-fired power plants and steel mills shows it is certainly confined this way. At last report China mikght have up to 600 million tons annual steel capacity. The US is headed in the opposite direction by decommissioning capacity starting from a baseline of 100 million tons/year. To my knowledge steel producers aren't threatening to shut down operations in India and China in favor of the EU in response to Asian CO2 regulations. The movement is in the opposite direction.

A practical test of how these governments view the issue will be the results of the Son of Kyoto treaty. What are these central governments presently doing that is at all comparable to the EU and USA? What will they commit to doing in the next five years, meaning measurable actions they must start immediately to meet the deadline?



Electric grid

Dr. Pournelle:

A friend made a point about power--the electric grid will ultimately become fragile because they're always connecting users, but they aren't connecting power plants--or not many and not often. He recommended back-up generators and good UPS systems.

I can't afford a backup generator, but perhaps the time is coming to buy one somehow, regardless.

But the trouble is, how does one fuel such a beast? Gasoline in sufficient quantity is expensive and dangerous, and it has a shelf life. Diesel fuel is a better option, but nowadays even more costly, and it takes up a lot of tank space, too.

Natural gas--this would be the perfect fuel, but the problem is the grid. In the event of a massive, prolonged power failure, would natural gas be pumped in sufficient quantity to run backup generators?

I suppose the proper answer is to buy squirrel cages, hook generators to the little exercise wheels, and go on a rodent hunt, but then the animal rights people will be angry. And the little suckers bite. And you do have to feed the rodents. Not a break-even strategy.

Apparently we need to get used to living in mud huts and freezing in the dark.

I hope you can get Survival with Style (2009 version) out soon. I'm getting really tired of the culture of doom.


It is time and past time to take a new look at the future.





 read book now





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