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Monday  May 25, 2009

Lost Heroes of the War on Terror: Gallant Deeds and Untold Tales


"Despite taking place in the Information Age, very few of the heroic exploits of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines since September 11, 2001, have made their way into the living rooms of ordinary Americans — at least in any lasting way.

Whether this is the result of changing values among the American people, the general population’s perpetually dwindling attention span, or because there are so many things closer to home our nation is choosing to focus on instead of our service men and women’s gallant deeds and efforts (whether that be a rocky national economy or the latest season of American Idol), the fact is this generation has failed to identify and treasure its incarnations of historic military heroes like Audie Murphy, Jimmy Doolittle, Pappy Boyington, Bill Pitsenbarger, Bud Day, and countless others.

This disappointing reality is not unique to the current decade. Who, for example, can name the most recent pre-global war on terror (GWOT) recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor? The names of Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon — two Army special operations sergeants who received the nation’s highest award for their heroic actions in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 — are utterly foreign to the vast majority of the same American population that can name the latest movie star to file for divorce, the latest starlet to have borne a child out of wedlock, or the latest teen sensation to enter alcohol rehab."

I've been told by people that there are no heroes, for various philosophical reasons. They are wrong. I've met several, seen more and know of many others out there, unsung, doing what needs doing to keep the lid on. If they have to die in the process, they are willing. This article discusses four of those men. Today is when we honor those who made the final choice. Requiescat In Pace.



And this time they got it right...


North Korea tested another nuclear device. Their first test apparently fizzled. This one didn't. 10-25 kiloton yield. Obama called for international action. One sort of hopes someone at the UN tells him "You want to be the leader of the free world? It is up to YOU to lead international action."


We will live in a world of multiple nuclear weapons, and the North Koreans will sell them to anyone who will pay. This is reality. A multi-polar world.  We used to think about such things in Herman Kahn's day, but the unthinkable is unthinkable again, I believe.

President Obama has expressed his strong disapproval.


Subject: Sequestration

Dr. Pournelle,

North Dakota has been using a trade deal with Canada to get rid of waste CO2 from coal gassification for maybe 20 years. http://www.ndbusinesswatch.com/nd-energy/co2

The gassification projects up there started during the throes of the last energy crisis. The way I understand it, locally mined coal is heated in a low oxygen environment, and the volatiles burned off for electrical production. CO2 is a byproduct. As the article states, this is an old technology, salvaged from the Third Reich. It is also pretty darn close to a "clean coal" technology that we are often told does not exist.

During the same time the technology was developed, there was an oil boom in the same region. Most of the wells are now capped, and not being used.

The CO2 recovered is piped north to pressurize Canadian oil fields in the same region, so that oil and natural gas can be more easily extracted. The CO2 stays in the ground, the petroleum comes out. The Texas and Ohio cases in the references you cite may have the same general goal. Both states have plenty of low-yield reservoirs, as does California. One can imagine the green backlash if there was a proposal to use a coal power plant byproduct to extract more local energy in the latter state, but no program is likely to get full approval in the current political environment.

Side note, North Dakota farmers would also like to lead the world in growing and converting food products (corn, sugar beets, sunflowers, soya beans) into biofuels. They would need subsidies to make that industry economically feasible, for them. It has not been shown that the agricultural-biofuel industry could be self-sustaining or profitable without subsidy.

Per DOE, Canada and Mexico are the #1 and #2 sources of foreign oil, _not_ the middle east. http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/
current/import.html  Many of the U.S. fields remain capped even during the record prices for crude encountered about this time last year. We have reserves that we aren't allowed to tap because of environmental concerns. I don't understand the economics or the politics.

However, this is one more case where it is shown that CO2 is good for you.



Windpower now

Dr. Pournelle,

We need not wait for a cheap(er) wind generator with built-in inverters that plugs right in to your home, Southwest Windpower http://www.windenergy.com/index_wind.htm  is already selling the Skystream 3.7. http://www.skystreamenergy.com/ 

These are made about a mile from my house in Arizona, and you can see them around town here. Interestingly, there is a keruffle here in Flagstaff over whether the City Code allows you install a wind generator at your residence. Commercial properties can, but not necessarily houses. Some home-owners associations here prohibit wind and solar setups too, which has always struck me as funny, given how green this city tries to be.

According to the brochure http://www.windenergy.com/documents/
spec_sheets/3-CMLT-1338-01_Skystream_spec.pdf  at 11 m/s average annual wind speed, you can get a little over 800 kWh/month. That is a lot of wind (25 MPH average? that's blustery), but one ought to check these things before buying wind power generators.

These guys could use some business, they had to lay off about half their workforce recently. That is a pretty big deal in a city of 60,000 people. As best I know they make a quality product.

-- Benjamin I. Espen

Except for certain areas I do not think wind power is as efficient or economical as solar, but I have not done the numbers. Ed Begley's wind gizmo is down along with most of his roof top solar; they're rebuilding the garage/shop where all that is housed and seem to have been doing so for long enough that I don't want to bring it up with him; it might be embarrassing. I do note that Pickens is no longer doing TV commercials on wind.

I would be astonished if wind ever became a significant source of energy for the modern world. I would think tide and even ground based solar would be more important and neither of those will greatly so. There is a limit to what you can get from ground based solar -- the sun doesn't shine at night, and there is this thing called weather. Nuclear and spaced based solar have a real potential.

And it will always be the case that the economy is highly dependent on low cost energy. Always.


Residential Solar

I had a Contractor in the other day to bid on installing a PV array on my roof. I am currently in So Cal Edison’s tier 3 or 4 most of the time, electrical bills run between $150 and $225 per month, depending on how hot it gets in Los Angeles and how we run the A/C (only when it gets > 98 deg and then set the Tstat for 82, which means it comes on about 2 pm and runs to 7 pm. And I never lower the setpoint < 72 deg).

What the Contractor proposed was a solar array on a south facing roof that would reduce my monthly power bill to tier 1, $35/month, and transfer the remainder of what I used to pay Edison ($200/month) to paying off the solar system. Total cost, installed would be $36,000, after rebates and a tax credit, my total remaining debt would be $14,000 with a 16 year payback. All this for only a 25% offset (roof is multilayered, adding more PV cells at $2500 a pop would not result in significant savings – or so he said). The whole system has a 10 year guarantee, which assumes they are in business until 2019. Excess power goes “back into the grid,” and Edison could care less about my contribution, I do not get charged for power not consumed, but neither would I get credit for electrons generated. And this was the killer, in the event of a power failure, the solar system shuts down! Could damage the grid if there’s a short or something out there. BS, I’d get an automatic transfer switch and run the PV to certain critical circuits.

In talking to commercial solar contractors, they tell me that right now, the cost of PV arrays is dropping about 15% /year, and in 2009, supply is outstripping demand. The consensus was that for residential systems, solar to electrons is still not cost effective. What does make sense is solar to hot water systems.


Solar will always be a good deal for heating swimming pools, and even for house warming when the house is properly designed. It isn't dependable as one's sole source of heat in very cold climates, but it sure can reduce the cost of hot water. And See Below


Letter from England

The Tory leadership is pro-bicycle--David Cameron commutes on one, and the new Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is working to get people out of their cars and onto bikes. On Friday, Johnson with his Director of Transport, Kulveer Ranger, and the Labour Transport Minister, Lord Adonis, were cycling around to look at sites for new cycle routes, and they had a close encounter with a large lorry. Here's the Guardian story: <http://tinyurl.com/r99tsz>.  Britain has a very low auto accident rate, but quite high auto-pedestrian and auto-cyclist accident rates, particularly in towns where few people walk or cycle.

The secular state versus the religious citizen: <http://tinyurl.com/oy7eyl >  <http://tinyurl.com/pj8s8c>  <http://tinyurl.com/qh7lxt

Retired education bureaucrat admits the bureaucracy is "a waste of public money and an irrelevance". <http://tinyurl.com/pyvjss

What is a UK university degree worth? <http://tinyurl.com/oqsaok

An "independent" inquiry conducted by those responsible for the mess. Day one: <http://tinyurl.com/r82eop>  Day two: <http://tinyurl.com/ rcz5as

BBC Sunday news summary--"Papers predict Commons clear-out." <http://tinyurl.com/qvffnm

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

I do not think university education is appropriate for more than about 15% of the population. When I was a young human factors engineer at Boeing (this was in the 1960's) it was easy to calculate that many of those who went to engineering school would have been better off to go to work at Boeing just after high school; those bright enough to be engineers would do well, and counting the cost of the university and no income while in college one would be about 40 years old when the incomes were cumulatively the same. And that assumed that state income taxes wouldn't become more "progressive".

The only real requirement for college degrees now is that many businesses won't even interview those without one. This has more to do with Affirmative Action than anything else, but the effect is to make everyone get a college degree. Better would be a way to certify one's abilities in health care, or as an electrician, or as a plumber, or a telephone lineman, etc. Instead we have this nonsense of trying to provide a world class university prep education in high school to everyone when only about 20% -- max -- need that and the rest need to think of high school as their end of education and beginning of life's work.

This is not Lake Wobegon. Half the children are below average. I doubt any of those reading this understand what the limits and abilities of below average in IQ or g or just "smarts" means. We don't generally association with such people, and although they can be good company we usually don't hang out with them. We don't spend time with their children (unless we're school teachers, and the school teachers who spend a lot of time with below average children don't in general read this web site although there are exceptions). Our education system is designed by smart people who don't spend a lot of time with people who aren't smart. The result is disaster.

Charles Murray's book Real Education: Four Simple Truths goes into this and the implications in detail. I don't agree with him 100% but I would put him in charge of education in the US tomorrow morning, and I think everyone who can ought to read his book.





Star Trek according to Jim Pinkerton


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


The Final Triumph of Chiang Kai-shek.

Chiang has long been maligned, the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by Communist dupes and agents such as John Service, Phillip Jaffe, John Paton Davies, John K. Fairbank, Oliver Edmund Clubb, John Carter Vincent, Frederick Field, Philip Jessup, T.A. Bisson, Mark Gayn, Joseph Milton Bernstein, Edgar Snow, Agnes Smedley, Owen Lattimore, Theodore White, and Philip Jaffe; this new biography is a welcome corrective:


-- Roland Dobbins

I was introduced to Madame Chiang by Karl Wittfogel sometime in the 1970's (or possibly earlier). She was charming, but our discussion was polite not substantive.


seti message

from Sam Dinkin at http://www.transterrestrial.com/archives/006243.html 

"I won the Space Show's first ever message to space competition <http://www.thespaceshow.com/
TheSpaceShowDeepSpace/DeepSpace.html>  . There are six this year. The rules of the contest allow a one-page message that takes no more than five minutes to read. My winning message in full:

We taste terrible."


~ J.P. Clark’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced cluelessness/incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.”


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


Wall Street Journal plans micropayments model

The Wall Street Journal is expected to begin charging nonsubscribers micropayments for access to individual articles, according to a report Sunday in The Financial Times.


Bill Shields

I used to be enthusiastic about micropayments, but the "public radio" subscription model does seem to be working. Subscriptions are a bit down now in the recession, but less so than I had expected (thanks to all of you who have subscribed or renewed this month). It will be interesting to see if micropayments work.


Free ibooks are free at New Fiction. we don't need to reinvent books for the internet age | New Fiction Blog


This is a fresh take on why traditional books will survive. Authorship, it seems, is still important.


Francis Hamit


education caveat 

...the rest need to think of high school as their end of education and beginning of life's work.

Caveat: high school or a good trade school (concurrent with or immediately following HS).






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Tuesday,  May 26, 2009

Solar Power

Mr. "R"'s numbers were pretty close to what I came up with analyzing the cost for one of our offices. For a 2000SF office equipment costs not including installation was around $20k a year ago. The system from a financial standpoint wasn't a good investment. Add maintenance costs it was barely break even. If we required generator backup it became feasible but at this time this is not a factor. A household system would have been in the same ballpark. Peak current requirements were lower for a house but since that load is mostly at night/early morning storage requirements were higher.

Gene Horr


Subject: Possibly Stupid Questions 

Mr Pournelle,

Hi! I've been a long time fan of your Co-Domionion series (especially war world). I'm not sure where it mentions on your web site if you retired or plan to continue writing (thats the stupid question part..) and if you do plan to continue, is there any future material in the Co-Do universe? Also on a personal note, I read a lot of your work growing up and it helped shaped my thinking in (I feel) a positive way. Thanks for the great stories and insights!

- Vince Flaherty

I am finishing Mamelukes, a Janissaries novel; I had hoped to be done with it by the end of May  but there are still a few thousand words to go. I did several hundred today, but most of the day was taken up by research on Lucifer's Anvil, a major novel Larry Niven and I are beginning. Niven and I recently brought out ESCAPE FROM HELL, which is a sequel to Inferno; if you haven't read that, do so...

I have notes on a Spartan Hegemony novel, but the CoDominium stories are now parallel universe, and I am not sure when (or if) I might get to that; there are several works of I think greater importance including The Mask on the Wall (I had an experience today that makes me think that book might be important: it's about surviving cancer) and SURVIVAL WITH STYLE a non-fiction work on getting through the 21st century in good shape.

So I remain hard at work...



Keep in mind that the following is my experience with emergency power for IT and telecom companies in large metropolitan areas that experience power outages due to hurricanes.

Fueling is the number one issue for most installations. Jornath mentioned "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." That is not my experience. Gasoline's problem is that drop a match in a spill and you have to build a new facility. Drop a match in a diesel spill and the match goes out (a larger fire can ignite diesel but your standard match is not hot enough). Shelf life is more of a problem with diesel than with gasoline. The fugal growth is a constant problem and once present can shut down an installation until the storage tanks, lines, and filters have all been scrubbed. You have to be more vigilant in your tank maintenance than with a gasoline tank. Despite that you rarely see a gasoline emergency generator. As far as price the fuels are almost identical. Any price difference isn't even a line item when comparing. Also keep in mind that you don't pay the road taxes on these fuels which is slightly higher for diesel in most (all?) US states.

Propane is the one with the highest storage volume. However you will see it in more rural locations if there are no farms nearby with regular diesel delivery. Unless you are buying it regularly getting delivery can sometimes be a pain.

For cities I generally recommend natural gas. Purging the delivery system of air is a very costly and time consuming process and so the natural gas suppliers generally have very good backups for their compressors (well, it's not like they need to go far for fuel <g>) and it is extremely rare for large outages in the hurricane prone areas. Houston, which gets a major storm at least once a decade, will have electric outages lasting for weeks but the natural gas keeps flowing.

From what I've seen if you aren't getting natural gas then things have gotten so bad that you can't get the other fuels also. If you are really worried there are dual fueled systems that can run off of either natural gas or gasoline if you must have local storage.

Gene Horr

Good summary. Thanks


of the grid

Hello Dr. Pournelle:

For those who are interested, Argonne National laboratory is looking at our power grid, and at the ways in which it is modeled. The news release is at:


The actual report is at:


Neal Pritchett


“In fact, once I was doing the drawing at some place, and my wife was around, and they asked her why did I have to work so hard? I seemed to be always on my iPhone sending messages.”


- Roland Dobbins





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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

: Why The Industrial Revolution Started in Britain

Documentation of Pournelle's 2nd (?)Law

Sent to you by BobK via Google Reader:

Why The Industrial Revolution Started in Britain <http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/

via Prometheus <http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus>  by Roger Pielke, Jr. on 5/26/09 

Robert Allen, an Oxford professor, has a new book out with Cambridge University Press titled “The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective <http://cambridge.org/uk/catalogue/
catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521868273>  .” Allen has a precis up over at VoxEU <http://www.voxeu.org/
index.php?q=node%2F3570>  which provokes a few thoughts about efforts to spark a new green global economy.

Allen argues that a combination of factors led to the industrial revolution, among them international trade associated with the British Empire, an educated and wealthy populace which created a demand for the fruits of technology as well as the skills necessary to produce them, and, crucially, cheap energy. Allen provides the following graph, showing a comparison of energy costs across Europe in the early 1700s.


Allen writes:

The famous inventions of the Industrial Revolution were responses to the high wages and cheap energy of the British economy. These inventions also substituted capital and energy for labour. The steam engine increased the use of capital and coal to raise output per worker. The cotton mill used machines to raise labour productivity in spinning and weaving. New technologies of iron making substituted cheap coal for expensive charcoal and mechanised production to increase output per worker.

These technologies eventually revolutionised the world, but at the outset they were barely profitable in Britain, and their commercial success depended on increasing the use of inputs that were relatively cheap in Britain. In other countries, where wages were lower and energy more expensive, it did not pay to use technology that reduced employment and increased the consumption of fuel.

The French government was very active in trying to promote advanced British technology in the eighteenth century, but its efforts failed since the British techniques were not cost effective at French prices. James Hargreaves perfected the spinning jenny, the first machine that successfully spun cotton, in the late 1760s. In 1771, John Holker, an English Jacobite who held the post of Inspector General of Foreign Manufactures, spirited a jenny into France. Demonstration models were made, but the jenny was only installed in large, state supported workshops. By the late 1780s, over 20,000 jennies were used in England and only 900 in France. Likewise, the French government sponsored the construction of an English style iron works (including four coke blast furnaces) in Burgundy in the 1780s. The raw materials were adequate, the enterprise was well capitalised, and they hired outstanding and experienced English engineers to oversee the project. Yet it was a commercial flop because coal was too expensive in France.

Since the technologies of the Industrial Revolution were only profitable to adopt in Britain, that was also the only country where it paid to invent them. The ideas embodied in the breakthrough technologies were simple; the difficult problem was the engineering challenge of making them work. Responding to that challenged required research and development, which emerged as an important business practice in the eighteenth century. It was accompanied by the appearance of venture capitalists to finance the R&D and a reliance on patents to recoup the benefits of successful development. The Industrial Revolution was invented in Britain in the eighteenth century because that was where it paid to invent it.

The Economist reviews <http://www.economist.com/books/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13688053>  Allen’s new book this week, writing that “when governments from America to Japan are reinventing industrial policy with each off-the-cuff bail-out, this study offers some useful reminders.” Cheap energy and ample wealth as the mothers of invention appear to be among them. The importance of R&D in creating both should not be overlooked either.


Alas, I believe that Obama was at Harvard during the period when history was not required.


Solar energy and US needs

<i>"There is a limit to what you can get from ground based solar -- the sun doesn't shine at night, and there is this thing called weather. Nuclear and spaced based solar have a real potential."</i><p>

Nope. Not true any more. Solar thermal (30% efficient) can provide 100% of the entire electrical energy needs of the United States from an area 100 miles x 100 miles. That land area is a postage stamp compared to the size of the United States. And it does NOT need either fossil fuel nor nuclear backup to provide full baseline load. It pulls this trick by storing the necessary energy to "damp" the day-night cycle AS HEAT in a large tank of molten salt. Electricity generated by standard steam-turbine plants. Only 16 hours of storage are enough to take care of your "the sun doesn't shine at night" argument. The places where this would be installed are called "deserts", and have LOTs of sunny days. The White Sands Missile Range has about enough land area to do it all, all by itself. But of course, we won't "build just one" because distributed redundancy is a good idea (also takes care of that thing called "weather"). For places with less sunlight, a "hybrid" natural gas/solar thermal plant makes a good combination. And in fact, a commercial power plant just as I describe will be built soon in Southern CA by the Spanish company (Ausra) that developed the technology.

I understand your desire to use the energy crisis to sell the need for "cheap access to space" with the "solar power satellite" argument, but your arguments against ground based solar simply do NOT stand up. I normally agree with you, but not on this one. I'm all in favor of nuclear power, but I've studied solar enough to know what the current facts are, and ground-based solar CAN power our society.


I do not believe the current demonstrations of this technology have given anything like the yields projected, but I world be pleased to be proved wrong.

My preference for cheap access to space is simple: well over 90% of the resouces available to the human race are not on earth. Space is the key to widespread wealth for all.


Solar electric payback, etc...

Dr. P:

One thing is certain about PV systems available today. It is very important where you live.

I live in Colorado, with Xcel energy as my electric and gas company.

Two years ago I put up a 5600 Watt PV array. After all was said and done, after all the federal/state/local/Xcel rebates, my system cost me $12K.

Before the system went in I was paying about $700/year for electricity.

This last year I was paid $100 by Xcel, as I produce more power than I need. So my $12K investment is paying me back at about $800/year. More next year as electric rates go up a bit.

So my payback is about 15 years. The panels have a 25 year warranty. I have no idea how long the inverter will last.

Your reader "R" commented on how the system shuts down if the grid goes down to prevent damaging the grid. Close, but not quite. It shuts down because lineman don't expect backfeed when they are working on the damaged power lines. One can spend more money on batteries and automated backfeed cutoff and be lit when the grid is down.



The gigabuck breath mint

Dr. Pournelle,

Your correspondent, Doug Hayden, wrote

" 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. "

Pieces and parts of this are being done: http://topics.nytimes.com/

but why not biodiesel, instead of pharmaceuricals? Examples:



The problem is not politics, but simple costs. The article cited by Mr Hayden shows a huge reduction in CO2 and NO, but as a measure of how much exhaust from the power plant is fed into algae production? Certainly the claimed 40% CO2 reduction would be useful if it could be applied to the entire volume of exhaust from the 20-Megawatt power plant, but I suspect that the technique was applied to only a small portion of the total output. How much processing must take place before the plant exhaust can be used for the algae? I suspect cooling of the exhaust would be needed at minimum, with pumping and filtering of potential toxins (sulphur, soot) also probably necessary. The cost of these processes are significant for large volumes of exhaust. While the article states that the algae is harvested daily, then processed into fuel, no mention is made of the volume produced or the efficiency of the processes of conversion.

Indeed, the company that was part of the initial study at MIT, from the original 2006 article citation, has gone bankrupt this month: http://biofuelsdigest.com/blog2/
scale-developments-before-group-ran-out-of-money/ .

What is the mean daily yield rate per square foot of algae-producing glass tubes? This article says this proprietary process yield is an established 1500 gallons per acre/year http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes
to-take-algae-based-fuel-to-the-next-level/,  with hopes of doubling that, but it is unclear whether they are referring to the production of bio-diesel or of feed stock. Even producing biodiesel at the hoped-for rates per acre, this is only enough to fuel about 15 tractor trailers, or ten home heating tanks. I've seen few references to the size of the clear glass algae tanks that are needed to produce a significant amount of algae, but from the picture accompanying the article, it is significant. Like a lot of other solar-derived technologies, there isn't enough free terrestrial acreage in places close to low-loss transmission lines to make it practical. Gains in production efficiency are frequently lost as heat in transmission losses from distant solar farm real estate.

If the algae is used for bio-fuel, the process would only serve to displace the CO2 production from the power plant smokestack to the place where combustion takes place. The oxygen "produced" at the algae plant would just be consumed by the truck engine or the home heating plant, and be output there as NO, CO, and CO2.

My point is that this is a potentially useful technique with a lot of engineering bugs needing work for it to be practical. In the end, the total reduction of CO2 or NO might not justify the cost, or be feasible without subsidy.

While pharmaceuticals are more valuable than fuel (at least by retail price-to-weight ratio), they are probably more economically extracted from less expensive sources of algae that are FDA-approved.

So, the only politics involved are those of subsidy. Government sponsorship is being provided already for many of these research and development studies. Without subsidy, most if not all of these promising new technologies are only partial answers (my Grandfather used to say "half-vast," and be assured that he counted on the homonym) to the problems of power production and waste reduction, and are so far as practical as perpetual motion. The gap between the part-answers and the actual need is too great, and subsidy will be an economic hardship. It might seem fair to remove subsidies from current coal and gas electricity production systems, but TANSTAFL: It will cost more both ways.


There is an enormous thermonuclear reactor 93 million miles from here...


“We skipped straight from ignorance to revisionism, deconstructing a body of literary knowledge that we’d never constructed in the first place.”


-- Roland Dobbins

One wonders at how many such experts the taxpayers ought to subsidize. Perhaps we could do with fewer in these times?


another take on "global warming"

Dear Dr Pournelle,

I have followed your columns since the early days of Byte and have always enjoyed them. I stumbled recently upon your web site and caught up with your last few years of interesting and valuable experiences and opinions.

I would like, however, to present a new case for one of your pet peeves: "global warming".

I'll quickly agree that "global warming" is a demagogical buzzword. It might be happening and CO2 emmissions might be a contributing factor.

In fact, some of the climate change markers observed in the last 30 years are even contradictory. We call it global warming but we are not quite sure yet whether the planet is going to end up warmer or colder. The one certitude that is growing within the scientific community is that our climate is much more complex and fragile than we once estimated. Whatever the reason or the ultimate effects, we know that it wouldn't take much to change it significantly, at an unbelievably high cost to the human race.

But that is not even the point of my argument. I would like to talk about resources. I chose Tin as an example close to your heart since it is present in all electronic devices. The consensus is that, at present consumption levels, there are about 35 years of reserves left. If the Chinese and the Indians raised their consumption to European levels, not even American ones, we are talking about 10 to 15 years. Even with a lot of padding, it is clear that within one generation, the only source for this important metal will be recycled cell phones. Unfortunately, many other resources we have taken for granted for so long are in the same situation. The only things we won't run out of are iron and, ironically, energy. The former is everywhere, the latter is also everywhere, it's just expensive.

So whether we want it or not, consumption will have to decrease as we are running the planet dry.

Thankfully, all is not gloom and we might not have to give away our standard of living.

The first variable is population. The Earth can support two billion people living like princes or 20 living like paupers. Our choice.

The second variable is the type of consumption that will constitute the bulk of the economy. If we revert to buying items that have a higher manual labour to materials ratio, we keep the economy the same and everybody with a job. Of course, we won't buy as many "items" but they should be of a much higher quality and have a much longer lifespan. Really, something as resource hungry as a car should have a useful life of 30 or 40 years. They used to. And they used to be reparable, another, low resources, high labour side of the economy which has all but disappeared.

Finally, of course, a large part of the economy can be virtual, with an insignificant resource consumption and high added value. We have movies, music, books, video games and we've even had a parallel virtual financial Market for the last few years. All of these have value without having to dig big holes in an increasingly smaller planet.

So, no, let's not call it global warming among ourselves, but the cure is the same and needs to be applied. Who cares if the rest of the world does the right thing for the wrong reason.

And, of course, we could talk about pollution and the crashing ecology. There should be little controversy there.

With the best wishes for your continued good health, I remain,

Yours, respectfully.

Gregory Guida

This is the standard Malthusian argument, and indeed I was once a strong proponent of it.  It turns out not to be the case. When one resource runs low we find another. Meanwhile there is a near infinite supply of resources available in space. It's raining soup out there and all we have is forks rather than soup bowls. See A Step Farther Out. Or my upcoming Survival With Style.


A very successful entrepreneur speaks

Under-Performing a Crooked Roulette Wheel...


I believe that "money management" should be outlawed. Oh, not all kinds of money, just savings in tax-advantaged accounts, including private and public pension plans. My reasoning is very simple. The job of a money manager is to beat the market. But the retirement savings pool is so large that collectively, it *is* the market. Thus, in the aggregate, money managers who work with retirement savings are pure economic friction.

It also must be the goal of regulators to do whatever it takes so that the Steve Balmers (CEO of Microsoft) of our world do *not* answer "Goldman Sachs" when asked who their company's most significant competitor is. (Mr. Ballmer did indeed have this answer when FORTUNE Magazine interviewed him two or so years ago, and he was not kidding. During the asset bubble, Goldman Sachs and its ilk were paying the best and the brightest out of M.I.T. And Harvard hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to start more than Microsoft could afford. The result was that America got what is not yet another Great Depression, but what is certainly a very *good* Depression, and Windows Vista on top of that!

Above all, the best and brightest must be directed into "real" fields and away from "financial engineering" of all kinds.

All that would have been necessary to avoid the Housing Bubble and the Tech Stock Bubble before it, for that matter, would have been for Alan Greenspan to have banned the use of borrowed money to bid up the price of existing assets back under Clinton, before Netscape's IPO. He would not have needed new statutory authority to do so. Then, when a "Look Ma! No Revenue Model" dot-com had a "three comma" IPO on top of no profits and almost no revenue, the margin value of shares would have been *zero* the first month, rather than 50% like shares of IBM and Proctor and Gamble. Greenspan could have then let it increase, say, half a percent a month so after 100 months it was up to 50%.

Similarly, even the erosion of lending standards from 20% down to 0% down would not have been fatal had the total loan value of existing housing not been allowed to go up more than 1% a year, regardless of what one could get an appraiser to say. Want to pay $450,000 for that San Diego house that sold for $150,000 in 2000? Knock yourself out, but do it with cash!

(As an aside, the value of my Del Mar, California beach house has apparently tripled since 2000, when I bought it. I have no interest in finding out (because my wife would divorce me if I sold it!), but *all* the transactions in the Del Mar Colony are for cash (no mortgages at all!), so that might even be a real number. The peak price of regular housing in San Diego was not a real number.)

All the risks mentioned below only get systemically toxic when they are taken with borrowed money.

(My liquid portfolio actually went *up* a little when Bear, Sterns and Lehman Brothers went under, because I don't employ money managers!)


Of course, there were many, many other sins against financial sanity committed, many in the name of increasing the percentage of permanently disadvantaged minorities who are home owners. But asset bubbles have occurred before without such legislative and regulatory insanity. They have not occurred without a lot of borrowed money being deployed.

Bubbles are created when too much money chases too few goods. Making things 'affordable' by government fiat is a sure fire way to create a bubble. Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac were intended to inject more money into the housing market.


Future air-fueled battery could store 10 times more power

A new type of air-fueled battery being studied could provide up to 10 times the energy storage of designs currently available, and someday be used to power electric cars, mobile phones, and laptops, say researchers.


Bill Shields

Terrific if they can pull it off. Efficient energy storage is one of the key technologies.


smallest corvette engine - 1/6 scale working model buffy willow

Dr. Pournelle,

You might enjoy the craftsmanship in this model…


It’s a working scale model of a 1964 corvette V8 engine. Very neat.




Gay marriage 


IMHO, the whole issue of "gay marriage" is significant because the Federal government has overstepped its Constitutional limits and established laws which define certain intrinsic benefits to the state called marriage, which was once established as a private contract with certain defined duties on behalf of the two participants (and in some cases, on their parents), particularly in regard care of progeny. Since progeny is not an objective of same-gender union, the term cannot apply.

I respectfully submit that the proper response would be to undo those Federal laws and regulations which define such benefits; many of those which are not related to progeny being financial in nature (e.g. establishments of social security and various forms of private insurance beneficiary behavior and laws of inheritance). It can also be argued that, the contract of marriage being administered by the States, all such laws are in violation of the Tenth Amendment.

Otherwise, if (for example) I should want to enter a civil union with my parents and /or my children (of any gender or combination of genders) to avoid those excess estate taxes which apply when inheritance is not to the spouse, or to take advantage of filing my taxes as married instead of single, why shouldn't I be able to do so?


I do not think that anyone involved in enacting the Constitution of 1789 or any of the relevant amendments (including the income tax amendment) would have thought it odd or unconstitutional that national tax law ought to favor and reward stable marriage.

The problem here is that in these united States we have no fountain of right and justice, and to the extent that we do, it resides in the states, not the national government. We have signed on to the notion that we have rights, and that to secure these rights governments exist, and those governments derive their just rights from the consent of the governed. The Federal Government was intended to protect the states and allow them to govern by their own rules (provided that it be "a republican form of government").

That worked fairly well, except when it didn't.

When it didn't we had the Civil War, which managed to kill a larger proportion of our population than all our other wars put together.

The Civil War Amendments  were intended to establish federal supremacy in what is known as civil rights matters: but the supremacy was invested in Congress, and for a long time the tension between the branches of government came about because the judiciary sought to limit the powers of Congress (and later of the President). The judicial theory in those times was that the Constitution granted certain powers to the States and others to the Federal Government. The Civil War Amendments readjusted that balance of power.

The judiciary represented the law and constitutionalism; Congress did the adjustments between the constitution and the powers of government and saw to modernization of the government. That worked fairly well for decades.

Then came "sociological jurisprudence" and the new view of what the courts should do. Instead of applying the law, the courts became involved in "modernization" of the constitution, in bringing us the "living constitution", in reconciling the law and constitution as adopted to the changes in sociological beliefs: in a word, the courts claimed to be determining not what the law is, but what, given the changes in society, it ought to be. Now so long as the courts purported to act for what the people wanted, they were usurping the powers of the legislature; but they went further. They decided to implement not what the people wanted, but what the people ought to want and would want if there were as enlightened as the very enlightened judges. This resulted in a series of rulings that found that every state legislature in history had been unconstitutional; in rulings that said that if an examination for lieutenant in a fire department was passed by 35 firemen but not one of those who passed was black, there could be no promotions at all; that tax supported universities could and ought to seek diversity and could employ race and what amounted to racial quotas in admission policies; that there was some kind of right to abortion built in emanations from penumbras in the constitution; that states could not require that one pay property taxes in order to be qualified to vote in referendums on property tax; and dozens of other contradictory or absurd rulings.

The Congress ought to have reacted to all this, but there was this problem: many of the "enlightened" people in the country fully approved of all these fresh new rights, and they were well organized, and those who opposed the changes could be labeled as racists and bigots. I can recall when I was thought a hopeless radical because I believed the law ought to be color blind.

We sowed the wind, and we reap the whirlwind; and it will continue. We no longer have a recognized fountain of rights, nor do we have a recognized source of laws. We do not turn to the courts to determine and fix the laws, we turn to the courts to change the laws to what the enlightened want and which everyone else -- the benighted -- ought to want if only they were as smart as the enlightened.

Trying to find consistency in all that is futile.

The gay marriage issue is just one more example. A California court decided to revise the state constitution to suit what it thought the law and constitution ought to be. Changing the law is not the business of courts, and until a few decades ago when the voodoo sciences became dominant in the universities, there were serious discussions of such matters. That was when there was reverence for the courts. I recall Stuart Chase in The Tyranny of Words being a bit derisive about our national reverence for the courts. We saw the supreme court as a group of vestal virgins tending the torch of liberty. That was, he thought, unenlightened.

Now the courts are no longer revered, because they are no more than another legislature. That is one of the greatest dangers this or any republic faces, because the ultimate power resides not in the courts, nor in Congress, but in the Executive. It always does. The trick is to limit power. That's never easy.

"Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" is the closest thing we have to a fountain of rights. That same document derives those rights from endowment by a Creator. The modern view is that there is no Creator or if there be such, this is irrelevant. Our constitutions and institutions evolve, and it is the business of the courts to reconcile those changes. Alas, we do not discern any design in evolution which seems to have an extraordinary fondness for beetles, so we turn to great thinkers to tell us what that purpose ought to be. Then we wonder when many disagree. For a very long time we were able to limit the raw power of government (a dangerous ally and a fearful master).

But I ramble. And see below


718 billion

"haven't we spent more than $718 billion in thrashing about bailing out various companies? If we had just undertaken to make the payments for all those who couldn't make the payments -- taking over the payments, I believe it is called -- and later negotiated with those who were supposed to be making the payments as to who owned just what equity in those -- would that not have prevented the disaster, lowered the number of defaults (or at least limited them to under a trillion dollars)?"

You're missing the point. This isn't about fixing the root problems or helping people in trouble. This is about saving politically connected banksters who don't want to lose money. Nothing more nothing less. Of course since they DID lose money the only way to make good the losses is to take money from other people who had nothing to do with it.

Also, 700-800 billion is not the actual cost; that's just what people have admitted to so far. Actual losses in real estate will be in the 3 trillion range for the USA. When you start calculating the losses worldwide the number gets much much bigger.

The one thing that would have a chance at minimizing the damage and setting everything on a path to renewed prosperity would be to admit ASAP all the bad paper and recognize all insolvencies and get all the bankruptcy paperwork done. That's not what the politicians will do, because their bankster friends don't want to face how badly they screwed up. So they'll keep pushing with the voodoo economics plans and make everything much much worse the longer they hold on.

The longer this goes on, the more shattering the final collapse will be. I wouldn't bet money on the USA surviving intact.


I think you underestimate the resilience of these United States when under extreme pressure. I certainly hope you do.


Harry Erwin, Letter from England, Chaos Manor Mail, Monday May 25, 2009


Good community colleges offer craft apprenticeships under another name. There are some differences from conventional apprenticeships, of course. The community colleges are less likely to do work which is routine but profitable, so they can't pay the students a wage. The kind of traditional auto mechanic shop which could support an apprentice did things like oil changes and car-washing for its regular customers, both of which have since been taken over by franchise businesses. The auto repair shop in the community college will tend to spend its time fixing old, worn, and damaged vehicles, which a commercial establishment has written off as economically unsalvageable. That is good for training, of course, but it does not allow paying wages. Even when repaired, such vehicles will have "histories," and be worth less than comparable vehicles which have not led such troubled lives.

Here is the website for the best community college I know of, Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. Lane Community College has programs in a wide range of lucrative crafts, eg. all kinds of mechanics, construction, restaurant cooking, a flying program leading to the commercial pilot license, and various more mundane things.


Lane Community College is in the same town as the University of Oregon, and no doubt, this encourages them to develop a positive counter-specialization in the crafts, rather than simply taking the students the University of Oregon does not want. The University of Oregon has a fine graduate school, of course, and many clever undergraduates, but it isn't terribly selective at the undergraduate admission level. The lower strata of Oregon undergraduates in the liberal arts and business schools are more or less average, and trying to underbid the University for liberal arts/business students would not get Lane Community College very choice recruits.

Andrew D. Todd



Dear Dr. Pournelle,

On this page http://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosreports/macarthur.html  you have the link:

"All about the space ship model, the AMT Leif Ericson Galactic Cruiser http://www.bol.ucla.edu/~frank/le.html"

That link has changed to: http://frank.bol.ucla.edu/le.html 

There's a re-direct on the old link, but it will be removed June 15, 2009.

There's a mention there of something I hadn't known, that the LEIF ERICSON was designed for AMT by the late Matt Jefferies, designer of the original starship ENTERPRISE, and the ERICSON design evolved out of the same original concept drawings as the ENTERPRISE ( http://www.starshipdatalink.net/art/1701.html,   http://www.starshipdatalink.net/art/images/de-2.gif ), just taken in a different direction. At one point, the ERICSON was being considered for use in the 1973 Saturday morning animated version of STAR TREK, to the point of appearing in some early storyboards. Later, Mr. Jefferies used the design again as a "hyperspace carrier" in a proposal for a t.v. series of WAR OF THE WORLDS along with George Pal, although "upside-down" from the way it's normally rendered, to make it slightly less recognizable from its source.

The new UCLA page links in turn to several other pages, with scale line drawings; some amazing CG renderings; caps, t-shirts, and mugs for sale with the LEIF ERICSON pictured; pages about your and Mr. Niven's INSS MACARTHUR, and lots of other interesting stuff. New kits of the ship (under the title "UFO Mystery Ship") are being manufactured and will be available for sale beginning in July.

Next year in Luna City,

David K. M. Klaus

Thank you. The summary page for Chaos Reports lists other contents, some of which may be of interest.


'If the free model would ruin Anderson's own business, why does he think it's so great for most other businesses?'


-- Roland Dobbins


A video of the Milky Way rising taken at the Houston TX Star Party. Spectacular!

This is the “small” version;


Here’s the medium-sized one, at only 8.4MB.


He has a nearly HD version, at 135MB in size.

Ken Mitchell







 read book now




CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dr. Pournelle,

Section 1 of the 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”. (Italics mine)

Unless you happen to be one of those who believes that the 14th Amendment is “unconstitutional”, please explain to me how denying the rights and privileges attendant to heterosexual relationships called “marriages” can be denied to one who is not a heterosexual but wishes to establish a long term legal relationship with another adult person . A relationship which will give them all of the rights, in terms of pensions, survivorship, standing before the courts of the state or federal governments, hospital visitation, etc.

To my knowledge, no one who supports gay marriage has ever said that a religious institution must be forced to place its blessing on any marriage of which it does not approve. However, it seems to me

that denying the rights and privileges that attend a heterosexual “marriage” to non-heterosexuals is plain and simple discrimination and violates Section 1 of the 14th Amendment.

The only problem I see is the use of the word “marriage”. Every couple who wants to establish a long term relationship should be required to first meet the appropriate jurisdiction’s legal requirements and then, if they wish, they may have that relationship sanctioned by whatever religious institution they want.

I was raised as a Christian (first Roman Catholic, then Episcopalian, finally Congregational and now agnostic) to believe that “marriage” is a sacrament, not a set of legal principles.

It is long past time that we completely separate the legal and religious character of marriage.

Adult people should not be telling other adult people how to live or love. Unless that living materially damages another.

Richard York

Yet the people who passed this amendment approved both state and federal laws making homosexuality a heinous felony; which make is pretty clear they did not consider gay marriage one of the privileges and immunities of citizenship.

The amendment is not self enforcing; it is a grant of power to the Congress. The Congress could but did not make marriage (of any kind, gay or otherwise) one of the privileges and immunities of citizenship. For that matter it didn't make abortion a privilege or immunity of citizenship. The amendment was intended and understood to be intended to enable Congress to give the freedmen whatever rights the Congress chose to give them. Congress did not then and so far as I know has not now made a right to marriage one of the privileges and immunities of citizenship.

It has also not made marriage to a dog or a cat or a sheep one of the privileges and immunities of citizenship. Now understand, I am not equating gay marriage or gay practices to bestiality; but it is pretty certain that the Congress that passed the 14th Amendment would have been as likely to declare the right to marry a sheep as it would the right to gay marriage. The sensitivities of the people have changed regarding gay practices and marriage; not so much on the right to marry a sheep. Yet it is not impossible to imagine a court one day saying that laws against sexual practices with dogs and sheep are unconstitutional: and I do not see how that would differ from the courts finding a right to gay marriage. Neither was intended by those who adopted the amendment, and neither has been specified by Congress as a privilege or immunity. Either could be, one supposes; the amendment is pretty strongly worded.

The 14th Amendment is not self enforcing. It is a grant of power to the Congress. The Congress has not chosen to use that power in the way you want it to be. You want things to be different: your remedy is to apply to Congress if you want a federal change, or to the legislative process in each state if you wish to go state by state as many did in civil rights cases.

Note that I have said nothing for or against gay marriage as a practice. We are speaking of constitutional powers. You may be right as rain about what we should do; but the way it is to be done is important, and misusing the 14th Amendment is not the proper way.


Part Two:

Adult people should not be telling other adult people how to live or love. Unless that living materially damages another.

That is your view, and one shared by many; but it is not an accurate description of the world. Adult people are jailing both adults and juveniles for possession of cartoons of child pornography and possession of electronic copies of electronic models of electronic figures engaging in what is said to be child pornography (since this is not an image of any living creature it's a bit hard to be certain who is doing what harm to whom). Adult people are jailing adults and juveniles for smoking marijuana although it is not asserted that anyone has been harmed other than the smoker. I could go on with a long list of actions that are considered criminal although it is difficult to see precisely who is the victim of the crime.

The Constitution certainly does grant the states the right to declare a number of victimless crimes illegal. The Tenth Amendment even guarantees that Congress can't take that right away from them, although it and the courts have in fact done so in many cases.


Part Three:

Please do not take the trouble to tell me that the Supreme Court does not agree with my views. I know that quite well. I used to teach Constitutional Law, which one teaches from cases; I know what the courts have declared. There was a time when they would have declared otherwise, and there may come a time when they will again understand the importance of judicial restraint, particularly in political matters. The present enlightened courts skate as close as they can to imposing what they think best for the benighted people of the United States.


Rocks are too dangerous for kids to touch


"The impact of the CPSIA on the educational market is getting more and more worrisome. Two recent events shocked me for their implications. First, Michael Warring of American Educational Products reports that a school opted to stop using AmEP's rocks to teach Earth Science and will instead rely on a POSTER. Not quite the same educational experience . . . . Yes, the school has become convinced that rocks are too dangerous for kids to touch. Before you laugh too hard, just remember it might be your school district that made this choice. In a "fear of everything" world, this kind of ridiculous decision-making will be more and more common. The continued ragging of consumer groups about "toxic toys" sullies the reputation of all good companies and their good products. In this case, rocks take on the "toxic" tag because they contain uncontrollable amounts of base elements found in nature. If only we could create laws to restrain Mother Nature!"

The second example is actually worse. Is there anyone stupid enough to think the CPSIA was actually well executed? Can't we get the blasted thing thrown out before it destroys cottage industries and cripples schools? What does it take to get actual educated adults writing our laws?


Well, we have often speculated about your last question.


Senator Alexander on Nuclear Power.


Senator Lamar Alexander just made a speech about building 100 new nuclear plants. Here is his press release:


Here is the letter I wrote to him, if you think your readers are interested.

Dear Senator Alexander,

I am writing you to endorse your plans for building new nuclear power plants. As far as I'm concerned, nuclear energy is the only shovel-ready replacement for carbon-based energy. We need energy 7/24/365 and not just when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. We need power that is cheaper than coal, so even poor countries will use it.

Back in the 70s, we were building nuclear power plants for as little as $150 per KWH and utilities were building them because they were CHEAPER to operate than coal plants. The newest 3rd generation plants designs are simpler, cheaper and safer than the plants we built then.

We need to expand TVA to a nationwide power authority that can build large number of plants to a single design and realize the economies of scale needed to bring back cheap nuclear power. We know that works, because the French already did it. They get 3/4 of their electricity from nuclear plants. We can set a goal to eliminate coal generating plants by 2050 and replace them with clean nuclear plants.

The United States has huge reserves of Uranium and Thorium. Enough to last us for thousands of years, if we have the will to use them.

Joel Upchurch


Energy Costs


Your correspondent Rob invested $12K in a PV array, which he states is paying him back at the rate of $800 per year, and that his electric costs before were about $700 per year.

But assuming that he paid that $12K in cash, he'd have been making $600 per year on that $12K if it were invested at only 5%, and the economics are even worse if he had to borrow that $12K at interest.

If one has access to grid power, the economics of PV systems simply don't work at present. The current administration's energy policies might change that - but that might be a bet that doesn't pay off.

Regards, Linden B. (Lindy) Sisk Creede, Colorado

“Perfection is reached, not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” -- Antoine de Saint-Exupery


Well said!


"The primary -- elemental -- political act is that someone gives an order and it is obeyed. The primary necessity for government is that the loser of the selection process -- whether election by adult suffrage, election by manhood suffrage, election by an aristocratic elite, hereditary aristocracy, monarchy -- that the losers of the selection process stand down and submit. There is a certain degree of magic in that."

Exactly. Anything that jeopardizes this is very, very bad. I held my breath during the protracted Gore vs. Bush post-election process. I still think Gore was right, and that he actually won that election, but I was much more concerned about how the process would work and, most importantly, how it would end and how it would be accepted. Love him or hate him, Gore was finally gracious in defeat, even though it must have been ashes in his mouth...

Along the same lines, but in another era, Richard Nixon flatly refused to contest the 1960 presidential election, and I think he might have won it, but it would have taken the country to a very bad place. He chose to honor the deeply flawed process, and it was arguably his finest moment.

In the here and now, the Republicans should just seat Al Franken and concede that the election was very close, and they lost. At this point the values you so clearly articulated don't leave any choice.

Finally, BOTH parties now deserve a slap for their use of "reconciliation" to prevent filibusters. I think the Republicans started this when they were the majority, and now Pelosi is only too happy to see them hoist by their own petard. But, it is very bad when the rule of law is undercut by tricky procedural steps.

If we lose the magic you refer to, the respect for the underlying rules, that make our democracy work, then very soon it won't. Thanks for such a clear statement on this.



Survival With Style: Changing the terms of "green"

Dear sir:

Could your Survival With Style create a counter-fire in the "green" movement?

While researching something completely different on Wikipedia, I came across an article describing three branches of the Green movement: "light greens" who have no political ambitions, "dark greens" who hate capitalism, growth, and technology, and "bright greens" who seek political and economic change but embrace technology as the means to build a environmentally stable technical civilization. The first two have existed since the sixties; the latter is more recent, and would include Bruce Sterling and David Brin.

Stop me if I am wrong, but I believe a summation of your environmental policy philosophy would include conservationism as a conservative philosophy; skepticism about modeling and economic planning combined with agreement that More Fixed Aer (or other pollution) Is Not Desirable; embrace of technological and extra-environmental solutions like space solar power, space mining, and more efficient low-pollution nuclear power; and long-term deep study of the climate problem and the human-environmental interface.

I propose that these ideas are or should be recognized as a fourth branch of environmentalism -- one that has existed in one form or another back at least as far as Ernest Thompson Seton and Teddy Roosevelt. Perhaps it could be called "deep green", to represent depth of thought, depth of knowledge gained, depth of time contemplated, and depth of resources and wealth available relative to other proposals. "Skeptical green" would be more accurate, but not as poetic. I am sure another, more experienced wordsmith could improve upon this idea.

Deep greens and bright greens would be natural allies in the development of 'green' technology, while maintaining gentlemen's disagreements and polite challenges regarding scientific theories of the mechanisms and trajectory of global warming. Such an alliance might strengthen opposition to the dark greens, whose philosophy challenges the basis and existence of all modern civilization.

One might be skeptical of the ability to change the trajectory of the Green movement with 'outside' ideas -- but Bruce Sterling's efforts to encourage 'bright greens' worked, so why couldn't advocacy of 'deep greens'?

Submitted for your approval by yr svt --

--Catfish N. Cod

My purpose is to teach. Tell the truth and shame the devil -- to the best of my ability anyway. I leave tactics to others. Thanks.


The "Obama is going after Republican car dealers" meme

Megan McArdle's reaction:


"My operating assumption is that this story is a red herring. Democratic and Republican dealers are unlikely to be found in the same place, and the rural counties that tend to be red are probably less profitable."

Nate Silver's mathematical analysis:


"It turns out that all car dealers are, in fact, overwhelmingly more likely to donate to Republicans than to Democrats -- not just those who are having their doors closed." ... "It shouldn't be any surprise, by the way, that car dealers tend to vote -- and donate -- Republican. They are usually male, they are usually older (you don't own an auto dealership in your 20s), and they have obvious reasons to be pro-business, pro-tax cut, anti-green energy and anti-labor. Car dealerships need quite a bit of space and will tend to be located in suburban or rural areas. I can't think of too many other occupations that are more natural fits for the Republican Party."


I expect that's the explanation. The terrifying part of this is that it is no longer something one can just automatically dismiss as propaganda and nonsense. We have come to the point where the government really can influence who can own a car dealership, or for that matter, General Motors.


"If the county thinks they can shut down groups of 10 or 15 Christians meeting in a home, what about people who meet regularly at home for poker night?"

If true, this is beyond the pale:


-- Roland Dobbins

It won't stand, but the shocking part is that our education system is so awful that there are county employees -- thus presumptively literate -- who thought this a reasonable thing to do. Astonishing. I noted this earlier in view...


Self Publishing and the Espresso Book Machine

Dear Jerry:

Because I am a Lightning Source vendor for e-books I have received information on the Espresso Book Machine, their new "gee whiz" device for delivering print on demand (POD) books in retail shops and other venues. Not surprisingly, the vendor pricing per book and the discounts (55%) from retail are exactly the same. The EBM is really just a specialized copy and binding machine and the operations manual they sent makes that plain. It also looks to be a high service, high maintenance, device. The advantage is the very wide range of books that can be delivered, but what is really being sold here is convenience. You are more likely to see these things at 7/11 stores than regular bookstores and there it would make sense, as it would in airport bookstores with their limited space. Usually those store stock about a hundred titles. This would expand their choice to thousands of titles and give them the same margins. Actually better margins than the books on the shelves since they don't pay shipping.

Why? Because the prices will be a lot higher. The POD books will be trade paperbacks while those on the shelf will be mostly new hardbounds. More customer choices should mean higher sales and those sales are not price sensitive. They are based on convenience. The EBM takes about ten minutes to produce a book. Ideally it looks like one off the shelf. Color cover, good binding and produced from the same digital files. But it will cost a lot more.

As an example, my novel "The Shenandoah Spy" has a list price of $18.95. The discount is 55%; 40% to the bookstore and 15% to the distributor. To get the same actual payment with a POD version the price will have to go up to $24.95....and that's about the same money to me that I get from the Kindle version which I price at $12.95 and Amazon.com sells for $9.99. But Amazon deals direct with publishers and customers. There is no one between in the distribution chain that has to get paid.

Based on my experience with e-books in the bookstore system, I don't think that price is really something that motivates buyers, and the buyers that do consider it go for used copies that are long our of the publishers' control. But books are not a fungible commodity. Each is unique. People pay extra, especially in the absence of alternative choices like used copies of the same book. Amazon.com offers those copies along with new ones, something for which they have been roundly criticized, but here's the truth about their sales. They do two things very well: They harvest the low hanging fruit and they exploit the long tail. Current best sellers they move in volume feeding off the hype in the mainstream media. They are, after all, the only bookstore readily available for Rural America and the only retailer that also stocks all those low-velocity items that you can no longer find at the local drug or hardware store. They sell millions of books, but those best sellers aside, what they sell of any one title is a small fraction of what can be moved in the conventional brick and mortar spaces simply by placing the books on those shelves where people looking for new books can find it. Little wonder, then, that big publishers pay money to get on the best shelves.

Will the EBM level the playing field here? Perhaps. The ten minute waiting time is enough to kill the impulse buys. You really have to place the book in the customers' hands to do that. But in limited choice environments it may work. Will it be a bonanza for any one title? Probably not, because the selection is no longer that limited and the customer base will divide it's selections among many more choices, with current best-sellers being favored because they are on people's individual "to read" lists.

In other words, you might as well charge the higher price because you will have a channel much like Amazon.com, with great internal promotion, but no real external marketing power. Your book will be bought by people who don't care about the price and you might as well get your usual royalty and publisher's profit. Leave the discounting to the retailer who has a lot more margin to work with.


Francis Hamit








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Friday,  May 29, 2009

Judge Sotomayor: The law must not be constant...

Jerry, The sentiment Ms. Sotomayor expresses in her law review article makes her unfit to be a judge much less a Supreme Court Justice. If the general public can't know what the law is, why bother having a civil society? What Ms. Sotomayor described is an Oligarchy. This would reinforce her comments that policy is realy decided at the Appellate court level and our legislatures are but a fig leaf to make us all have the delusion that our opinion matters. God help us all.



The only real difference between Sotomayor and most of the law professors in the United States is that she is quite open in her espousal of judicial activism and sociological jurisprudence. In many law schools, and in nearly all political science departments, the modern notion of constitutional law is not that the Constitution restricts government, but that it empowers government to go forth and do good. Interestingly, the Three Musketeers -- the liberals Stone, Brandeis, and Cardozo -- on Roosevelt's Court were opposed to that sort of judicial activism. They generally held for the states against the federal government (and much of that state legislation was fairly liberal at the time, such as minimum wages).

The judicial activist theory is that the law cannot be static. It must adjust to the times -- and if the legislature will not act, then the Courts must do it for them. Stated that baldly as a principle most people would object strenuously; but when it comes to cases such as Brown v. Board of Education and the end of legal segregation, there was widespread approval by intellectuals and those who thought themselves enlightened, and anyone who opposed Brown on the grounds that the Courts had no business making law when Congress had full power but had not acted was said to be a bigot. In those times control of Congress by the Democratic Party depended in large part on the coalition between southern democrats and the Solid South, and the rest of the Democrats. It was taught in Political Science 101 as late as 1960 that the Democratic Party was the only national party: there were no Republicans in the South. There were even jokes on the subject, such as the story of the man whose father was a drunk and his mother was a prostitute but what he dared not do was tell his fiancé about his two no-good Republican cousins.

Under those circumstances, the only way that Democrats could retain control of the Congress was to go along with the Southern Democrats; which meant that Congress would not end segregation. If this brings on some memories of the great division of the county over slavery, perhaps it should. The Courts acted to change this situation in Brown in 1954. The reasoning in the decision was sociological, not judicial; there wasn't much of a judicial argument, even in pretence.

Note that before his death Kennedy was able to introduce and steer to congressional passage the Civil Rights Act which ended both legal and private segregation, and Johnson was able to get the Voting Rights Act through Congress. These acts required no judicial activism. Johnson, signing Kennedy's Civil Rights bill after Byrd's filibuster ended, said "We have lost the South for a generation;" but it was all done without judicial activism.

Those who had earlier opposed judicial imposition of various civil rights without Congressional legislation  were routinely denounced as racists and bigots, and almost no one listened to their warnings that encouraging judges to create rights and make law was a dangerous practice. The same will be true in the confirmation hearings. Little attention will be paid to that underlying principle.

The confirmation hearings for Sotomayor may make clear just what the philosophy of judicial activism means: that it in effect empowers those who believe themselves enlightened, which is to say the professorate and the public intellectuals, to implement whatever policies they think proper, without much regard to the legislature. If one wants an illustration of that, the Proposition 8 debates in California are stark: law, as enacted by legislature or the people, is irrelevant in the face of the right to marry whomever one wishes. The principle is far more important than the law or the constitution, and if the people of California declare in a constitutional amendment that there is no such right, then the constitution it itself unconstitutional. In this particular case there is less of a national consensus on the fundamental principle than there was in the case of legal segregation. Segregation was not acceptable to the vast majority of the people of the United States, and in fact was unacceptable to majorities in the South; but the structure of government in the Southern States prevented those Southern majorities from gaining control of the state legislatures or the Southern congressional delegations. It is unlikely that Senator Bilbo could have won election as a Senator in Mississippi had all citizens of Mississippi been allowed to vote.

The Civil Rights and the later Voting Rights Acts changed all that without giving the judiciary any new powers; but the way history is taught in these United States, most people believe that had not the judges usurped power, we would still have segregation and various other practices now rejected by the people.

Roe v. Wade is another case of judicial activism, where a policy espoused by a sizable minority (and probably a majority of the professorate and the public intellectuals) was imposed on all the states at once, and thus judicial activism is given the credit for "the right to choose."  The counter argument is that had the pro-abortion campaign concentrated on state legislatures, they would have won entirely in some states and won partial victories in others. Those highly in favor of abortion rights (note that they actually mean they are opposed to laws forbidding abortion) will argue that had not the judges acted, it would have been another decade before enlightenment prevailed across much of the land -- and there would still be states that forbid abortion. Therefore we needed judicial activism in order to modernize the nation.

Note that we hear this language in the health care debates, and in many other political discussions. Everywhere we find "rights", some like abortion requiring repeal of laws, others like rights to health care demanding services by others for people who do not pay for them, and others being merely vague hopes for the pursuit of happiness which they suppose will be enabled if the judges just get the laws right, it being self evident that the legislatures cannot (or willfully will not) fix things. That all things cannot be fixed by action of government is not much considered by the intelligentsia. All we need is more justice and all will be well. Let justice be done though the heavens fall...

Probably the most chilling statement I have heard in this matter came from the President last night to a group of loyalists at a fund raiser, in which he seemed to imply that until Sotomayor (and others like her) sit on the court, the US Supreme Court does not dispense justice. Of course that was a vigorously partisan remark made to partisan enthusiasts, but it is telling.

The principle at stake here is separation of powers. That needs to be made clear in the confirmation hearings. It is unlikely that a majority of the Senate will reject her because of those views, but they do need to be made clear.  That, at least, is the sentiment of those who lead the Republican Party. I make no claim to such leadership. What I fear, though, is the general rejection of the principle of separation of powers; will it be better or worse to have the Senate confirm someone who explicitly espouses judicial activism? But I can't answer that question, and it probably doesn't matter. The Senators will make that explicit, and she will be confirmed. These are easy predictions.

The last wave of judicial activism was disastrous to the Republic. The next one is coming.



"explain to me how denying the rights and privileges attendant to heterosexual relationships called 'marriages' can be denied to one who is not a heterosexual but wishes to establish a long term legal relationship with another adult person ."

I love the scare quotes around "marriages." They're so cute. Also, I love the default assumption that it is all about rent-seeking from the government goody-bag.

But marriage is not about establishing long term legal relationships. The essential nature of marriage is set out by Plato in The Laws, Book IV.

The Athenian. What will be our first law? Will not the the order of nature, begin by making regulations for states about births? Cleinias. He will. Ath. In all states the birth of children goes back to the connection of marriage? Cle. Very true. Ath. And, according to the true order, the laws relating to marriage should be those which are first determined in every state? Cle. Quite so.

If we also examine the Code of Khammurapi, we find no general principles (for that was not the Mesopotamian's forte) but ad hoc, positive laws confined to two matters: provision for the children of the union and how the resulting legal obligations of the man and woman are to be jointly handled.

IOW, marriage has to do with the birth of children. It was not All About Me, i.e., about the obligated couple and their "commitment." Marriage is no more ordered toward the validation of "commitment" than it is ordered toward filing joint income tax returns. The "commitment" (and the joint filing) are requirements annexed to the primary purpose, the provision for the raising of children. (=Not= simply their procreation.)

This is true even if the couple appears to be infertile. This potential is essential to the nature of male-female coupling even if it is not actualized. Just as humans are rational animals in essence, even if the rationality is not actual (as in a baby or a comatose person), so too is procreation "in potency" for heterosexual couples, even if not "in act." Even today, "infertile" couples often do conceive in the long run. And in any case, from Khammurapi on, infertility has been grounds for divorce. No kids; no marriage.

Therefore, the Prince has a "compelling State interest" in regulating and controlling heterosexual acts that he does not have in other sorts of acts. That's why heterosexual unions were hedged about with various prudential restrictions, bars, permissions, and regulations, most of which are probably not eagerly sought after by activists (and have been safely discarded, in any event). The ancient Greeks celebrated homosexuality in many ways, but they did not celebrate in a "marriage."

The ironic thing is that this movement comes about even while heterosexuals are abandoning marriage in droves, via easy divorce, co-habitation, etc., coupled with all sorts of ways to prevent or cull children. As civil marriage has become more and more purposeless, it has also become more and more tempting to cavort among the ruins.


Of course the substantive argument over gay marriage is quite different from the discussion of constitutional powers.


Mortgage Foreclosures

Hi Jerry,

The other day you, or a letter writer, mentioned mortgage foreclosures. It is a hot topic, much in the news. What is not much in the news is the distribution of mortgages. The distribution is not even.

Here is a heat map for foreclosures in 2008 from Realty Trac.   <http://www.ritholtz.com/
blog/2009/01/08-foreclosure-heatmap/>  As you can see, the highest levels of foreclosure rates are in a few areas. Mainly SoCal, the Phoenix area, South Florida and around Las Vegas. USA Today had an article with heat map in March where they said that over 50% of all 2008 foreclosures occurred in 35 counties.


I can't find anybody talking much about this. I have some suppositions but they are only that. Florida may have a high rate due to lots of vacation properties. People will be more likely to default on rental and vacation properties than their primary residence. CA is non recourse. If you walk away, you are not on the hook for anything. Arizona (and NV?) have been working hard at reducing illegal immigrant population. This means more vacant rental properties or, perhaps, abandonment by immigrants.

These are, as I say, purely hypothesis on my part. Nobody seems to be talking about it and I can't find any information on it. I can't understand why I am the only one who thinks that the distribution of the foreclosures is at least as important as the number of them.


John R Henry CPP

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

I've heard this before. Local bubble destroys world economy...


subject: Solar Power done right.

Jerry, I like to watch the TV show Unwrapped, on FoodTV. Recently, in an episode devoted to snack food, it featured Sun Chips, from Frito-Lay. The factory is in California and uses solar power for much of the cooking. However, instead of turning the sunlight into electricity, they focus it on pipes filled with water, raising it to 500 degrees F. Then, the super-heated water is used to heat the ovens baking the chips. This is considerably less expensive than using conventional power, and highly efficient. I don't know what they do when the weather doesn't cooperate, but I'd not be too surprised to learn that they just shut down and wait for clear skies.

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


Big Brother says NO SMILING


The VA DMV says that you're not allowed to smile for a Driver's License photo because that makes it harder for their face scanning software to work.

So, to further the ongoing loss of privacy, we all need to look sullen and morose (the call it "neutral") on the license.

I sent an email to the governor and am hoping that many others do as well. This is just far past the point of rationality.




Subject: Life in the UK 

I had an interesting discussion today with someone with insider knowledge of UK educational policy. The reason for having half the late adolescent population do a university or college degree is apparently not education but simply to keep them out of the job market for 3-4 years, i.e., delaying the baby boom's baby boom until their parents (or grandparents) have retired. When the UK universities challenged the policy as unworkable if degree standards were to be maintained, they were told it was a done deal. HEFCE seems to be willing to come down like a ton of bricks on any institution not willing to do their part--see the current stories about London Metropolitan University <http://tinyurl.com/nhf86f>.  This is also the reason that continuing education is not part of the current educational policy--it doesn't keep the kids off the streets.

The other story is that the UK Borders Agency has laid it on the line that any university that wants to recruit foreign students will have to monitor them very closely--checking daily attendance in lectures and tutorials and verifying their residence on a frequent basis.

-- Harry Erwin

Cannot we just imagine the furor if the Border Patrol imposed similar restrictions here?


On CO2 saturation, 'cold dry', 

Hi, Jerry.

I've written to you before on the topic of whether increasing CO2 atmospheric concentration is a significant warming factor, even in the presence of water vapor's domineering effect.

I'm most emphatically not a physicist, and I revere Freeman Dyson, but I would at least like to try to put forth again a reference to you explaining why atmospheric scientists believe that CO2 is, in fact, significant.

It's a summary piece from the 'American Institute of Physics', and it does a fair job of explaining what has changed in the understanding of the atmosphere since the original critics of Arrhenius.

I can't attest to the physics or validity of the science referenced in the piece, but it does present a layman's discussion that addresses your specific objection to CO2's atmospheric effects.



for the link.

None of this is to touch on the political issues, of course.



This states their case well. It does not, in my judgment, answer the objections to the models. I can only say that I would have more confidence in the models if they actually made valid predictions.

I agree that we need to be liberated from fossil fuel dependency for a great number of reasons; we can all agree with the goals of the green philosophy I suppose. It's the costs and urgency that is in dispute.

I am concerned that he says

They were right. As the 21st century began, not only was the global temperature soaring in a way never seen before, but field evidence showed that the expected feedbacks were kicking in. The world's plants were taking up more CO2, but many ecosystems were under stress and their capacity to absorb was waning. Warmer oceans were absorbing less CO2, and gas was seen bubbling from melting Arctic tundra.(60) In sum, global warming was leading to more greenhouse emissions, which would lead to more warming... and so forth.

I am not convinced that the observations justify that conclusion. The earth has been warming for 200 years, and I am not convinced by the evidence that around the year 2000 it became obvious that it was warming at an accelerating rate. The observational evidence does not seem to me sufficient to support that conclusion.


republican run dealers being closed

You noted: My local radio show host tonight mentions a story about Chrysler dealerships being shut down: all those that are closing donated to the Republican Party. I have no idea of the truth of this: it's the kind of story that many Republicans would like to be true. It will be interesting if we hear more of this.

One of those cases that can be true and misleading at the same time. Rachel Maddow dug into this on her MSNB progam last night. She comes at the world from a pretty far left perspective, but she's smart, reasonable, and does her research.

In this case, the facts (as reported by her) are that the vast majority of Chrysler dealers are republican donors. Based on federal election campaign reporting records, there just aren't many dealerships that donated to the Democrats.

Not too surprising, I think many, maybe most, small business owners lean Republican. SO yes, Chrysler dealers are being closed, and almost all the dealers being closed did donate to the Republican party.

If you are interested in an articulate and thoughtful left wing opinion show, have a look at the Rachel Maddow show. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/ 


Which should close that discussion, as noted earlier. Thank you.







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Saturday, May 30, 2009

From the horse's mouth.


-- Roland Dobbins

So Russia has pity for America as it falls into the hands of the Marxists. Actually, what we seem to be adopting is closer to the Mussolini/Huey Long branch of Marxism. Mussolini, a socialist all his life, believed that Marx's history of the class struggle was fairly accurate, and was thus a Marxist; but the solution was to use government not to abolish all social classes but the proletariat, because that didn't work; the proletariat weren't smart enough to run the country and make the trains run on time. The solution was to use government to force the social classes to work together will they nil they. Hitler adopted National Socialism from that model but added anti-Semitism and a great deal of Nordic mythology and other products of Romanticism while Mussolini drew most of his mythology from Italian history. Huey Long imported some of that to Louisiana.  Peronism in Argentina was based on much of the same socio-economic theory, but was nowhere as efficient as national socialism under Mussolini and the German version under Schacht.

There are many disputes about just how well the German and Italian economies worked under Fascism (but they certainly worked better than Peron's economic interventionism). Spain under Franco recovered from the Civil War and was stagnant for a while after but then became the fastest growing economy in the world; but by that time most of the Fascist economic policies had been abandoned in favor of a system of free enterprise coupled with an authoritarian political system that allowed some kinds of dissent but rigidly suppressed open opposition to the regime. (If that reminds you of China, it probably should.)

So Russia pities us. Alas.







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Sunday,  May 31, 2009     

Generators, Fuels, Solar, Wind and Hydro


Interesting letters concerning the alleged economics of Solar and Wind power installations in the home. I'm evaluating possibilities right now and one factor that I think is overlooked is that a home installed solar, wind, (or in my case a small scale hydroelectric) can effectively do double duty as a back up generator. A 10Kw back up generator with transfer switch to meet only the critical needs of a home (no air conditioning or heat) is going to cost about $10k. There is also an operational cost if you have to actual use the system for significant amounts of time which is not improbable where I live. Fueling a generator for the duration of a two week power outage can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars and be a real hassle if you don't have an on site fuel tank for tractors, trucks and such as I do. Now if you think of this $10k as a cost you are willing to pay to have a back up generator then apply it to off set the cost of a home solar, wind or hydro system: then the economics of these systems becomes much better. Add in all of the tax credits which simply transfers the cost to other tax payers (which is good for you but arguably bad for other tax payers and the economy in general because it encourages a misallocation of resources), then these systems start to make economic sense. If you are thinking in apocalyptical terms with the goal of being able to have power after a societal collapse, then these alternatives are infinately superior to conventional back up generators.

One final note, teaming industrial scale solar and wind systems with hydroelectric systems would be an effective strategy for dealing with the unreliability of the wind and sun. While the prospects of installing new resevoir capacity is marginal from an engineering stand point as well as politically impossible, adding additional peak capacity to existing hydro installations by installing more turbine-generator sets is relatively cheap. Once installed, these systems can be brought on line far faster than natural gas peaking plants which might make the operational problems posed by unreliable solar and wind installations manageable. The contribution from Solar or Wind when available would reduce the demands on resavoir capacity and thus thought of as a boost to the total capacity of existing hydro systems.

Now if only we could get the greenie weenies to abandon their idiotic plans to dismantle all of our hydroelectric plants. This is why I tend to believe that a mass die off is needed to have survival with style. It isn't an issue of reducing the population to a sustainable level. What is needed is some apocalyptic event which will cull the population of the terminally stupid. We almost had this in New Orleans during Katrina, but then the helicopters showed up to rescue the imbeciles.

Jim Crawford


"It’s remarkable that Alpha Centauri is right next door just as humans emerge and develop the ability to make these measurements. I’m enamored with that coincidence.”


---- Roland Dobbins

I have often thought the same thing myself. There could be a twin to Earth there.


"It turns out that none of our models were totally correct. The sun is behaving in an unexpected and very interesting way."


-- Roland Dobbins




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