picture of me

Chaos Manor Home Page> Mail Home Page  > View Home Page > Current View > Chaos Manor Reviews Home Page


Mail 583 August 10 - 16, 2009







BOOK Reviews

Chaos Manor Reviews

read book now

emailblimp.gif (23130 bytes)mailto:jerryp@jerrypournelle.com

CLICK ON THE BLIMP TO SEND MAIL TO ME. Mail sent to me may be published.

LAST WEEK                             NEXT WEEK


This page looks better if you set the default text to Georgia.

Atom FEED from Chaos Manor

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun

Highlights this week:


  If you send mail, it may be published. See below. For boiler plate, instructions, and how to pay for this place, see below.

line6.gif (917 bytes)

This week:


read book now


Monday  August 10, 2009

Letter from England (and Belgium)

I spent the week in Belgium at a conference on anticipatory systems-- systems that try to evaluate the payoff of their choices before making those choices. My research interests are in neuroscience, and understanding the goal-oriented behaviour--anticipatory behaviour-- seen in animals is one of the harder current problems. A good understanding of how animals plan and predict the outcomes of their plans would be a major step towards real artificial intelligence. There's a very recent paper in Nature by Lubenov and Siapas that shows the existence of a time-space representation of the local environment in the hippocampus, so the substrate for this sort of predictive process exists. If the brain is able to lay out plans as time-space representations, than it can use pattern matching and learning on those plans to do some of the things that animals and humans beat computers at. There are some nasty unsolved problems--the brain is locally 2-D and time space is 4-D (at least in bats) so how 4-D space is embedded in the 2-D brain is still undetermined. Walter Schempp suggested that the embedding of 4-D into 2-D need only be conformal and not topological for what I need. Unfortunately, the conference was dominated by theoretical physicists, mathematicians, sociologists, and philosophers, so I didn't get the feedback I needed.

Stories involving the UK justice system:

1. Police told to ignore a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights about their collection of DNA from the innocent. <http://tinyurl.com/mdhlum >  <http://tinyurl.com/msj7kt> . 2. Rush to judgement--about the haste of the IPCC to whitewash the police after the death of Ian Tomlinson <http://tinyurl.com/m6oujo>  3. Crown Prosecution Service spends £20000 to try a man for stealing a £0.25 banana. Jury finds the man innocent. <http://tinyurl.com/ lqk6kw> . This should be compared to the failure of the courts and police to take reports of rape seriously. <http://tinyurl.com/m2mc6t


1. A few intelligent comments about the English infatuation with exams. <http://tinyurl.com/mctqco>  The English exam culture is bound up into the forces maintaining the English class structure and--in the absence of a 'Sputnik' moment--I expect it will remain stable indefinitely. Students will continue to be required to choose their life speciality at 14, and will follow a very narrow programme from that point on. The English remind me of the Greenland Vikings, who thought of themselves as European burghers, and in the end died rather than adapt to the increasing cold. 2. The Government is proposing that poor students receive preference in university admissions. <http://tinyurl.com/lor3zx>  Times comment: <http://tinyurl.com/n33umc >  3. Universities closing courses to UK students while still admitting foreign (full tuition) students. <http://tinyurl.com/kkdxv9>  4. PC language madness. <http://tinyurl.com/lp5r8n>  The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a bit more sensible on the subject. It says: "It is by consent of the speakers, not at the directives of higher authority, that language changes most effectively."


Labour does like to spend money. <http://tinyurl.com/neuzw8

-- "If academic research is not devoted to finding the truth, it is a form of propaganda, and not necessarily to be preferred to other forms, much cheaper and perhaps more persuasive." (Russell 1993)

Harry Erwin


The costs of nuclear power

Hello Jerry,

You pointed out the problem of nuclear power, but minimized it.

Never mind the cost/kw of 30-40 year old reactors/generators. Today, while the cost of constructing, fueling, and operating a nuclear plant can be calculated, and would enable power companies to deliver nuclear-generated power to the grid at VERY competitive prices, the cost of getting PERMISSION to construct, fuel, and operate the plant is essentially infinite, in that there is NO number that you could assign to that part of the overall cost of nuclear power that would guarantee that the permit could be obtained. The time of construction is also infinite for the same reason. There is NO date on which a power company could commit to delivering power from a nuclear plant that is not doing so already. So, with infinite cost and infinite delivery times it is not surprising to learn that nuclear power is 'not competitive' with other forms of power.

In reality however, nuclear is once again competitive with hydro and fossil fueled plants because, as we speak today, the cost of permits and time of construction for both of them are ALSO essentially infinite, as no finite amount of money or time would guarantee a kilowatt on the grid from from THOSE sources either.

Bob Ludwick


Nuclear Power Costs

Doctor Pournelle,

I work for a company which provides IT services for major corporations. As part of that I used to do IT (and still do escalations) for a major U. S. based multinational corporation with a Nuclear division (where I was assigned). I also used to be a Navy Nuc (a while ago!).

As of ~2008, the lifetime costs for new generation plants were $0.07/KwHour.

-- Rodney G. Graves

"There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men."

Robert Anson Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Which is comparable to other costs, and well below some. In Kentucky the cost of coal fired electricity is below 5 cents ($0.05) while in some places it can be as high as 20 cents. Calculating actual costs can be tricky because of the cost of building and decommissioning the power plants, transportation and cost of fuel including such transport costs as accidents at grade crossings, coal mine disasters, and such like. The cost of oil is known from the world market, but the US had to spend a lot of military money to keep it there; war costs are seldom factored into electricity cost estimates, but they are different for oil, coal, wind, nuclear, etc.

It is clear enough to me that if we had invested the $300 billion what the Iraq war was projected to cost before we invaded) into nuclear power plants in 2003 we would be a great deal better off now. Of course I said that at the time, but few were listening. (I also advocated building monuments -- 4 square block rubble piles -- in all cities where there was dancing in the streets over 9/11. That would have been cheap in blood and treasure including non-American blood. It is better to be feared than loved.

I don't suppose many people talk that way now.

In any event, the major cost of nuclear power is payment to lawyers; but then I wrote that in 1973. It was true then and now. Perhaps we prefer lawyers to cheap power.


cosmological death ray

"Death star galaxy" could obliterate the atmospheres of planets


I smell a great novel. Think how much trouble the residents would be put through; first political and then technological.


Holy Moley!


"If you took the bottom 10 percent, they have 30,000 teachers that should probably find another profession, yet no one in California can tell you which teacher is in which category."

Of course, none of this is actually about *education* - it's about access to more of the public purse.


- Roland Dobbins


An FPRI essay on The First Gulf War

I recommend this to everyone interested in modern military history. It says what should be said.



     by LTG (Ret) Bernard Trainor


 If you tell your class that "Today, we are going to study the first Persian Gulf War," you will get an unenthusiastic response. That war took place almost twenty years ago, in 1991. Today's students weren't born yet. To them, it's ancient history.


 And yet Gulf War I was a watershed in American history, especially American military history. By the time today's students graduate, the stream of events that was set in motion by that War will still be affecting America's youth, who will still be fighting and dying in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East.


 Youngsters who are learning history, and particularly military history, in today's academic world see it as a recitation of events almost like a movie script. It starts, it goes through, and then it ends. It's devoid of drama or uncertainty. And yet military history has a human dimension that surpasses any other subject. Human beings are killing one another. Teachers should try to imbue these events with some of their drama.


 Gulf War I is a case study of the drama. It was a war of erroneous assumptions and miscalculations on both sides. The end was full of surprises and disagreements that have stayed with us to this very day. This was the first major post-Cold War U.S. military engagement. From it came a new organizing principle. The U.S. has always had to have organizing principles. In the 1930s, it was getting out of the Depression. Then came WWII, the defeat of fascism and the Japanese. During the Cold War, the organizing principle was dealing with the Soviet Union and the possibility of nuclear war. After the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no organizing principle. Then events in the Middle East took a turn. Since that time, the United States' organizing principle has been dealing with the Middle East, with its many ramifications--fundamental  Islam,  terrorism, insurgencies, failed states, WMD. It all starts with the Kuwait war. But to understand that, it's well to understand the context of the times.


 Through the 1970s, Arab Iraq and Persian Iran both sought hegemony in their own right, but each was somewhat of a satellite of one of the two great powers, with the U.S. supporting the Shah in Iran and the Soviet Union supporting Saddam Hussein in Iraq.


 Things changed when the Ayatollah Khomeini came on the scene in 1979 and there was the Islamic revolution in Iran, which ousted Shah Reza Pahlavi. Iran under Khomeini turned against the U.S., which they saw as a supporter of the hated Shah. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was waning as a threat.


 In a reversal, the U.S. began to support the Iraqis against its former friend Iran. Meanwhile, Saddam decided to take advantage of the weakness he perceived in Iran as a result of the fall of the Shah and the dissolution of the Iranian Army to attack across the Euphrates into Iran. This led to a long, bitter, and enormously costly war that finally came to an unsatisfactory conclusion with millions of casualties on both sides.


 The war left Saddam badly in debt. He came to see himself as Saladin in the Arab world, leading the fight against the hated Persians, and felt that Iraq had borne the brunt of the fighting. His campaign had been funded largely by war loans from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Now the bill was coming due, and the Kuwaitis in particular were anxious to be paid back. Saddam sought forgiveness of the debt, claiming the Kuwaitis were ungrateful. Besides, he reasoned, looking for excuses to get out of paying the debt, Kuwait was not really a legitimate government, but was carved out of the Iraqi portion of the Ottoman empire. It was no more than the 14th of the Iraqi provinces, to Saddam. Moreover, he claimed that Kuwait was stealing oil from the Iraqi Ramallah oil field by slant drilling. That may have been true, but it was largely a pretext.


 Saddam was uncertain how the international community would receive his claim that Iraq was entitled to reclaim Kuwait. The Arab states interpreted this as mere saber-rattling. As to the U.S., Saddam called in U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie for a long conversation about Iraq's complaints against Kuwait. In the version published by the New York Times, Glaspie told Saddam the following, which was music to his ears. "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait." Saddam heard that the U.S. would stand clear, interpreting it almost as a green- light to go ahead with aggression against Kuwait.


 The U.S. government was perfectly aware that Saddam was starting to mass his armies down along the border with Kuwait. Discussions were held in the Pentagon and NSC on whether to send a signal to Saddam to deter him. It was proposed to send some F-15s over to Saudi Arabia and to move an amphibious task force into the Gulf waters. But the Arab leaders told us that sending planes or a fleet might be provocative, so we didn't do it. This, beside Glaspie's comments, convinced Saddam that the U.S. was not going to intervene, because if we were really concerned, we would have deployed some forces to the region signaling him to back off.


 It came as an enormous surprise to the U.S. when Saddam made his move in August 1990. The Iraqis took the Kuwaiti capital and then moved toward the Saudi-Kuwaiti border.


 The concern in the U.S. was not so much for Kuwait per se but oil--if Saddam had been able to surprise us as he had in Kuwait, he might just surprise us and continue on into Saudi Arabia for its oilfields. Saddam was aware of this and afraid of the U.S. reaction, so he pulled back from the border to a line further back. The area in between became no man's land, and he started to build two unoccupied lines of defense, one a couple of miles back from the first. While it was devoid of troops, it became heavily mined, crisscrossed with barbed wire entanglements and fire trenches.


 President George H.W. Bush sent Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell to talk to the Saudi king and princes to convince them to allow American forces on Saudi soil. Saudi Arabia is a holy land, with Mecca and Medina on its ground. Bringing foreign, Christian infidel forces into the country was a very big thing to do. Cheney and Powell had difficulty doing so, but finally their delegation convinced the king that Iraq really was a threat to his nation and the king acceded to our request to land our forces, which we began to do. We flew in aircraft and units of the 82nd Airborne Division. We put in a Marine regiment in what was known as Operation Desert Shield.


 These forces dug in as a signal to Saddam that he had best not move against Saudi Arabia (which he had no intention of doing, although he did come up with contingency plans). But he had bitten off more than he could chew. He didn't know the Americans were going to react this way. How would he get out of this? In the meantime his soldiers started to steal anything that was moveable in Kuwait.


 The idea of getting involved in Kuwait was not very popular with the American people. We had had the experience of Beirut in 1983 where we'd gotten a bloody nose and an embarrassing retreat. There was no desire to repeat the experience. The Kuwait-Iraqi dispute was perceived in the eyes of many Americans to be about the oil companies' interests. But there were three people in Washington who were of a different view and they controlled the decision process: President George H.W. Bush, Secretary James Baker, and Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor. (Officials like Cheney and Powell were on the periphery.) The troika was determined to force Saddam to back down. But they could not use force unless a coalition could be built to support direct action--not only a foreign coalition, but a bipartisan American coalition. They would first build up support abroad and then focus on the American people, able to say to them "See, the international community supports our efforts, you should, too."


 President Bush worked the outside world and succeeded in gaining support. The UN passed resolutions condemning the Iraqis and told them to withdraw. Once this international community had been built, and it was clear that even Arab states would join a multinational coalition army to face the Iraqis, President Bush went to the Congress to get American support for any military action that he might deem necessary. When it came to giving the President the right to use military force, it came down to a 52-47 vote in the Senate on January 12, and 250-183 in the House, which was pretty close. So the idea that the American people enthusiastically supported the war was suspect.


 Even within the DoD and Pentagon, there was great disagreement over how to deal with the Iraqi threat. Cheney was a hawk, and felt we had to do something about the invasion of Kuwait. Powell disagreed, arguing that Kuwait wasn't worth the life of one American soldier. He proposed drawing the "line in the sand" at the border of Saudi Arabia; if the Iraqis crossed it we'd fight; otherwise we wouldn't. Cheney told Powell he was not reading the president very well; Bush had decided that Iraq must be forced from Kuwait, by force, if needed.


 Initially, the American forces rushed to Saudi Arabia in August under were small. But the build-up had started and eventually reached half-million troops, backed by an awesome array of air and sea power with the latest in modern weapons and technology.


 Saddam made the terrible miscalculation in challenging the U.S., which at that time had a formidable army that was "unemployed"--i.e. the Cold War was ending, leaving us with a big army in Europe with no one to fight. We sent our forces from Germany and from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia not to only defend that kingdom but to prepare for an assault on the Iraqi army in Kuwait if it did not withdraw. So it was not a very smart move on Saddam's part to invade Iraq at this particular time.


 The UN sanctions and resolutions were taken, but nothing was happening in Kuwait to convince the president and the coalition that they wouldn't have to resort to force to expel Saddam. Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev sent Yevgeni Primikov, his foreign minister, to Iraq to advise Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait, but Saddam wasn't convinced the Americans would do more than drop some bombs, if that. Knowing that the American public was casualty-averse, he did not believe the U.S. had the stomach for war. After all, it had pulled out of Vietnam and Beirut after some blood was shed. He also believed that in the long run, the Soviet Union and the international community would deter the U.S. from attacking. He was adamant about remaining in Kuwait. Once again, he miscalculated.


 There were Cassandras here in the U.S. The Iraqi Army had fought the Iranians for eight years and was battle-hardened, they held. We were sending into war a relatively untested, post-Vietnam all-volunteer force whose quality was unknown. There were dire predictions of American casualties in the range of 10,000 during the first 24 hours. Americans were nervous about liberating Kuwait by force.


 In the White House, there was certainty of a swift victory, but concern about Saddam's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. There was abundant evidence of very active Iraqi programs aimed at developing those weapons. This was fully acknowledged by the international community. We knew of two particular sites where the Iraqis had nuclear weapons development sites: al Qaim and al Tuwaitha.


 We wanted to see Saddam withdraw, but didn't believe he would. Therefore we would invade and drive him out by defeating his field army in Kuwait. The assumption was that he would then probably be overthrown by an internal military coup, The Administration wanted a regime change, but assuming a coup, there was no need to go to Baghdad to oust the Iraqi president. Indeed, the UN resolution which finally authorized force restricted the action to the liberation of Kuwait. It said nothing about regime change in Baghdad.


 How were we going to take on the Iraqi field army? The plan according to General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was to isolate it in Kuwait and destroy it with superior firepower and deft maneuver. As was mentioned earlier, the Iraqis had built up the two lines of defenses. But they left the open desert in the west undefended. They did not anticipate an attack coming from that direction. The plan devised by General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the coalition forces, was to conduct a prolonged air campaign against the Iraqi infrastructure--political, economic, and military. At the same time a multidivisional armored and mechanized corps would secretly move to the west, blind to Iraqi intelligence and surveillance. Two Marine divisions in the east would directly face the Iraqis. When the order to attack was given, the Marines directly facing the Iraqis were to engage the Iraqis and hold them in place while as planned the western task force cut behind them severing their line of retreat, leaving them isolated and open to either surrender or destruction.


 When the air campaign started on January 17, 1991, the Iraqis attempted to draw Israel into the fight by launching Scud missiles at Tel Aviv. Saddam reckoned that the Israelis would retaliate. This, he reasoned, would outrage the Arab members of the coalition and undermine it. Once again he had miscalculated, although, it took great pressure from the White House to persuade the Israelis to stay out of the fight.


 As the bombing campaign progressed the Saudi government and CIA conducted a psychological campaign encouraging the Shia population in southern Iraq, always suppressed by Saddam, to "Rise up! Throw off your chains! This is your opportunity to rid yourself of your tormenter! Be prepared for the Hallelujah day." The hope was that between the destruction of Saddam's field forces, an uprising by the Shias, and possibly an army coup it would be the end of Saddam.


 Meanwhile, oblivious to an attack from the west, the Iraqis planned to fight the Americans the same way they had fought the Iranians. They established sequential defensive positions behind the unoccupied barrier zone just above the border with Saudi Arabia. The positions were occupied by the regular army, backed up by armored Republican Guards divisions. The Iraqis planned to turn the barrier zone into a killing zone in which to entrap and inflict intolerable casualties on the attacking Americans with their abundance of artillery. Any Americas that made it through the firestorm would be met by Iraqi infantry and counter attacked and destroyed by the Republican Guard. It was exactly what Schwarzkopf hoped they planned to do. His end run behind them from the west would come as a complete surprise.


 What the Iraqis also hadn't counted upon was the effectiveness of the prolonged coalition air attacks. Iraq was being devastated. Saddam decided to seize the initiative and start the ground war. He would make Schwarzkopf react to a provocation and draw the Americans into a premature counterattack. To do this, at the end of January, he sent a mechanized task force south across the border into Saudi Arabia to the seaport town of al Khafji, which had been evacuated of civilians. The town was defended by a small Saudi Arabian force backed up by Americans some miles to the south. Saddam planned to bait the Americans.


 The Iraqis succeeded in taking Khafji without difficulty, but Schwarzkopf reacted, not with ground forces, but with air power. Saddam had taken the potency of our air power into account, but had equipped his forces liberally with air-defense weapons. He was convinced that he could provide an air defense bubble over his forces that would drive off the Americans. He was wrong. The mechanized corps that went into Khafji was devastated by air strikes.


 Faced with prima facie evidence that his air defenses were no match for the Americans he radically changed his strategy. No longer would he attempt to hold Kuwait and bleed the Americans in a brutal defensive battle - whose outcome he assumed would lead to a negotiated settlement. Now he recognized that he was outmatched. He decided that if and when the Americans attacked he would abandon Kuwait, but preserve his army, particularly the loyal Republican Guards. He would conduct a fighting retreat out of Kuwait back into Iraq.


 Not aware of the radical turn of events, the assumption was made by Schwarzkopf that the Iraqis would defend in place. Indeed, as we noted, until Khafji, that's exactly what they had planned to do. Schwarzkopf never understood the importance of the Khafji battle and made no analysis on what impact the Iraqi defeat might have on Saddam. He was totally unaware of the dramatic change in Iraqi strategy. His attention was focused on monumental enterprise of positioning multiple divisions in the western desert. He remained committed to his basic plan to hold the Iraqis in place and envelop them from the rear. On February 21 Desert Shield became Desert Storm. The coalition attack went in against the Iraqi forces as planned, with the Marines leading the way to engage their attention and lock them in battle. A day later the surprise corps-sized attack of three armored and a mechanized division in the west was launched against the Iraqi flank and rear.


 It turned out that the "battle-hardened" Iraqis weren't battle-hardened at all. They were tired, undernourished, and under-equipped army, largely unwilling to fight. So many had deserted earlier that it was a hollow army. (Managing surrendering Iraqis posed a greater problem than the fighting.) Some of them were even surrendering to helicopters and reconnaissance drones There was very little fighting. The Iraqis gave up all along the line. Some Republican Guard units fought, but most of the Guard was under orders to flee back to Iraq and let the regular army cover their retreat. The unexpected collapse of the Iraqis upset Schwarzkopf's careful plan. The Marines advanced so fast that instead of holding fast to the Iraqis so that the western attack could trap them, the attack acted like a piston and rapidly drove them north towards escape over the Iraqi border before the American armor engaged them.


 Schwarzkopf also had trouble with the heavy armored corps' field commander, Lt. Gen. Frederick Franks, a very cautious man. He didn't realize that the Iraqis were on the run and that he had an opportunity to go hell-bent across the desert and cut the Iraqis off. He was moving very slowly so that all units would be synchronized into a steel fist when they met the Iraqi Republican Guard. The result was that while Franks cautiously advanced, over half the Guard units along with their equipment, were escaping back into Iraq.


 Saddam was quickly defeated at an astonishingly low cost to the coalition. But the idea of destroying his field forces was gone; the best and most loyal ones had escaped to pose a subsequent threat.


 That was the first undesirable outcome of the war. And while there was a clamor by some to continue on to Baghdad and overthrow Saddam, President George Bush rejected the idea and stuck with the UN mandate, which limited its warrant to ousting the Iraqis from Kuwait. Secondly, the President did not want to get tied down in administering the occupation of Iraq. This decision was to have unfortunate consequences for the Iraqi Shias just across the border.


 With the Iraqis fleeing and coalition forces pummeling them, it brings us back to Washington and discussions on ending the war. Bush and his advisors knew that the Iraqis were thoroughly beaten in the fast moving war, but they had little idea of the actual situation on the ground. When asked about it, Schwarzkopf reported that the weather was bad, it was raining, there were sandstorms, units were scattered all over the desert. He confessed that didn't have a clear idea of where each of his units and those of Saddam's army were located . But, as he boasted in a televised news conference, the "gate was closed," meaning that the Iraqi's escape route into their own country was blocked and the Iraqi army was trapped. Of course that was not the case as his field commanders knew. Schwarzkopf had again based his remark on an assumption that was wrong.


 Bush presided over an oval-office meeting of his advisers and Douglas Hurd, Britain' foreign minister, whose country's forces were fighting next to the Americans. Although there was utter confusion on the battlefield, it didn't make any difference. The decision to stop the war was a political, not a military one. To continue killing already retreating soldiers was viewed as impolitic and unethical, particularly in light of media accounts of what was happening on the highway from Kuwait City to the Iraqi border. Iraqis in Kuwait city were headed home on the main highway with everything they could loot from Kuwait. Theirs was an endless stream of every conveyance that would move headed north, bumper to bumper. They became a target-rich environment for American aircraft, which flew up and down, blasting away at "fish in a barrel." Scenes of devastation garnered bad press for the administration. This prompted Colin Powell to step out of his military role and recommend a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds because the enemy was already beaten and he was afraid of sullying the American escutcheon by continued attacks on what was becoming known as the "Highway of Death." With imperfect intelligence of the military situation, the President announced a ceasefire on February 28.


 Schwarzkopf was authorized to enter into ceasefire arrangements with the commanders of the Iraqi field forces, not realizing that all decisions would actually be made by Saddam from his Baghdad sanctuary. The general, still ignorant of the opposing troop dispositions on the battlefield, announced Safwan, a small community just inside of Iraq, as the site for the talks. Much to his chagrin he was told that Safwan was still in Iraqi hands. Under threat of annihilation, despite the ceasefire, the Iraqis were finally persuaded to withdraw. Tents were erected for a meeting between Schwarzkopf, his Arab forces counterpart, and three Iraqi generals. Here was an opportunity to use coalition leverage to make substantial demands upon the Iraqi military under threat of resumed violence. But Schwarzkopf received no guidance from Washington. His only concern was cementing the ceasefire on the ground and of recovering the few coalition captives who had fallen into Iraqi hands. Instead of dictating terms as a conqueror, he treated the Iraqi delegation as equals. There were no draconian options presented. Moreover, Schwarzkopf acquiesced to an Iraqi request for freedom to use helicopters for logistic and administrative purposes as the bridges in southern Iraq had been destroyed.


 You will recall that the CIA had been urging the Shias of southern Iraq to revolt against the regime. With the defeat of the Iraqi army, they saw their opportunity to do so and expected American support. But the White House had no intention of providing it. As far as the President was concerned the war was over and it was time to come home. When the Shias rose up, the coalition forces did nothing to help them even as refugees fled across the border into Kuwait with horrifying tales. Saddam brutally suppressed the uprising, notably using armed helicopters to attack the insurgents. That use was not what Schwarzkopf had in mind when he authorized the use of helicopters. The Shias were left to a dismal fate. It was another unfortunate consequence and a shameful footnote to a notable American victory.


 And so Gulf War I ended. It was marked throughout by a series of miscalculations and faulty assumptions on both sides. It turned out to be a precursor for another war in 2003, the results of which are still with us. In 1991 Saddam remained in power, his Republican Guard was intact, revolt had been suppressed and his quest for WMD, particularly nuclear weapons continued--at least temporarily. As mentioned earlier, we had identified two WMD sites prior to the war. At its end when UN and IAEA inspectors had access to Iraq, under provisions of the ceasefire and UN authorization they found not two but 19 nuclear sites with 39 separate facilities. So there was no question about Saddam's intent. This was to have a bearing on the events over the 12 years of sanctions on Iraq and the events leading up to Gulf War II.


 With the war over, the troops came home, many of them were embarrassed because they saw very little of any fighting. For most ground troops it was little more than a motor-march through the desert. Saddam was discredited in much of the world, but he was a canny survivor and cast himself at home as a hero of the war. He told the Iraqi people that under his leadership the Iraqi army had defeated the Americans and their puppets in the "Mother of All Battles." As proof he noted that the Americans were defeated in their attempt to invade Iraq, something an enemy army would have done if it was victorious. The sacred soil of Iraq was preserved. He liberally handed out medals and awards to the warriors of his victorious army. But beneath the bravado, Saddam was shaken to the core by the performance of his army, the Shia uprising, and the fear of a coup. All three concerns were to influence his postwar decisions and the way he would fight Gulf War II.



Copyright  Foreign  Policy  Research  Institute (http://www.fpri.org/). You may forward this essay as you like provided that it is sent in its entirety and attributed to FPRI. , provided that you send it in its entirety.

I was opposed to the First Gulf War from the beginning.

Some of my friends and associates believe that April Glaspie was "just following orders" and knew what effect her ambiguous messages would have on Saddam; that Bush I wanted an excuse to send in the Army. My own view is Napoleon Bonaparte's "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence."

The results of the First Gulf War were catastrophic. Instead of the US withdrawing to North America and building an expansive economic system, we became a military superpower, with troops stationed in Saudi Arabia (much to the dismay of many and the hatred of Al Qaeda) and began the long road to 9/11 and the Global War on Terrorism, at enormous costs in blood and treasure -- with the end not in sight.

At some point the US must decide: will we become a competent empire or withdraw from incompetent imperialism and adopt policies suitable to a Republic?

The cost of incompetent empire is enormous and it's not likely to get smaller and smaller.

And on that subject:

Codevilla: 'Iraq is breaking into its three constituent parts. The sooner the better.'


-- Roland Dobbins

 Angelo Codevilla is a realist.




 read book now




This week:


read book now


Tuesday,  August 11, 2009

On a cosmological timescale, The Earth’s period of habitability is nearly over

| International Space Fellowship

Although this article does not seem to take into account the proto-Earth/Theia collision theory, it speculates about the some of the other conditions that seem to be necessary for life. I think theoretical formation of earth type planets just got even more complicated.


--Ken Ken Uecker

If mankind is to survive, then for most of our history, the word ship will mean space ship.
Arthur C. Clarke


Re Paul's 07 Daybook Posting

Drug companies sell drugs at reduced prices to other countries, in response to a threat: “We aren’t as rich as the US. If you don’t reduce your price for drug X, we will ignore the patent, make it in our country, and sell it at our price and export it to other countries.” The drug company settles for making a profit based on the cost of manufacturing, which brings in some money, but doesn’t do anything for recovering the cost of research, development, and meeting FDA testing. This leaves the USA to bear the entire cost of R&D and FDA testing. Those people that claim the drug companies are making a “obscene profit” on their return of manufacturing are disingenuously using a new term rather than the usual business terminology of “return on investment.” Forcing drug companies to operate on the cost of manufacturing would be the end of the development of new medicines from the private sector; instead the federal government would have to assume the role of R&D for new medicines. How many government-developed medicines can you name?


If everyone is entitled to the same medicines, then no one will be able to afford the expensive ones; leaving us to wonder who will develop anything new? Many industries operate by making obscene profits on a few hits while writing off numerous failures. Publishing comes to mind...


I read in today's mail the question

"While of course you are right about profit being the driving motive behind the development of new medical technology, most especially including drugs, what in the world justifies the same companies selling the same drugs outside the U.S. at drastically reduced costs? A pill that may cost $30 here is sold elsewhere for $3. "

I was told that in two separate cases ( Germany in the pre-Euro days and Canada ) by residents, that the government basically set the price based based on production costs and R&D costs for that drug plus a specified percentage profit. Loses due to R&D for other drugs were not allowed to be considered in setting prices. Here, the company not the government sets the price. So, we're paying for the R&D that the rest of the world probably does not. Since the failures in R&D significantly outnumber the successes, we get to subsidize the rest of the world. Both the Canadians and the Germans that I talked to about this thought it highly amusing that we were subsidizing their health care systems. Since this was hearsay, I don't know if this is true or if my legs are much longer than they once were. I would hope that somewhere in your legion of readers someone might know more about the truth of this than I do.

Regards, Pete Wityk

P.S. When is Mamelukes going to be in the stores? I was just in a Borders today discussing the hopeful release. You have a lot of anxious people waiting for it!!!

I am working on ending Mamelukes now. I have 115,000 words, about 10,000 to go.


'_Jim Baen’s Universe_ will be closing after the April 2010 issue.'


- Roland Dobbins

Alas. I never wrote for it.


Thuktun Flishithy spotted by Cassini (note citations in comments).


-- Roland Dobbins



I don't know if you've seen the latest images from Cassini at Saturn, but this may interest you:


I do believe the Fithp may be paying us a visit...

(Feel free to forward this to Larry, too.)


-- Phil Plait aka The Bad Astronomer

Indeed. Thanks!


Approximately 1300' diameter object near the B ring.
Thinking of you, Tim.



The Oregon Virtual School District

Subj: The Oregon Virtual School District


>>Teaching just got easier. Create courses online, access resources & stay informed about issues that matter to teachers in Oregon. Available at no cost to Oregon public school teachers!<<

>>The Oregon Virtual School District is a program led by the Oregon Department of Education that, in cooperation with a consortium of virtual learning providers throughout the state, seeks to increase access and availability of online learning and teaching resources free of charge to the people of Oregon. Oregon State University is providing hosting and development resources through a partnership with the OSU Open Source Lab and the OSU Business Solutions Group.<<

Any of your readers live in Oregon, and want to share their (children's?) experience with this?

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com 


Personal forecast


FYI my personal forecast for the next 16 months (leading to the midterm elections):

Summary: On October 31, 2010, the Consumer Price Index will be at least 25% higher than today, and the unemployment rate at least 14%.


Inflation component of deficit approaching 10% of GDP if sustained through 2010: 0.8 % per month average over this period

Given Senate passage of the cap and trade bill, inflation component due to onset Cap and Trade (depending on the final version of the bill and the amount of cost deferred until after the next election): between 0.2 and 0.5% per month average over this period.

Interest rate impact of increased deficit: Prime will increase at least 6%, with corresponding impact on inflation.

Increase in minimum wage scheduled for next month: Approximately 12%, which translates into approximately 3% inflation.

Cumulative expected increase of consumer price index through October, 2010: 23 - 28%, or an annualized inflation rate of 18-21% (Carter-era levels).

Unemployment component of increase in minimum wage scheduled for next month: 1.5%

Unemployment due to economic slowdown based on impact of measures of inflation: Harder to estimate, this being more a second order effect, but probably 3 - 6%.

Unemployment rate as of October 31, 2010 (9.5% as today's basis): 14 - 17%. (Reported unemployment, being just those drawing unemployment benefits, will probably be less than that figure; this assumes there is no significant unreported unemployment today, which is close to true since the first wave of unemployed are probably only nearing the end of their benefits).

Forecast for January, 2011: Either we will be seating a conservative-majority Congress sufficient to override any veto of legislation intending to undo the damage, or serious secessionist movements will be underway probably starting in the colder states with greatest impact (home heating, agriculture) of Cap and Trade legislation.


Frightening. Alas.


Human Evolution and Man Made Alterations in our Genome.

Dear Jerry,

You may know Kári Stefánsson, M.D., Dr.Med., CEO of DeCode in Iceland. He gives a fascinating talk on their findings.

These are based on extensve genetic analyses of the population of Iceland combined with the existing genealogical records. DeCode clearly shows that we are still evolving (quel suprize) but also how complex human intervention in the genome will be. Many genes they have found to be associated with disease (e.g., hypertension) are only detrimental in certain populations and even then only in certain environmental conditions (a gene in an African American that is a risk factor may not be a risk factor on the continent of Africa, etc.).

If you do not know Kári, try and meet him sometime. There are lots of tidbits that come from DeCode's research. For instance most of the population of Iceland is descended from Viking men and Irish women. Ireland was a popular recreation zone for Vikings <GRIN>.



Attempt at Modeling

Dr. Pournelle,

See http://www.sciencedaily.com/
releases/2009/07/090716141138.htm.  Possibly a reasonable and sincere attempt at modeling climate. The record seems to show that CO2 rise was part of last warming period -- without human intervention -- as was northern hemispheric deglaciation.

Rainfall pattern change http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/
2009/07/090701135535.htm  in the northern hemisphere could be a symptom of the same process, and help explain antartic glacier growth.



Death By Giant Meteor


Two dates to remember:

April 13, 2029 - A Friday

April 13, 2036 - A Sunday

Hot Fudge Sundae comes on Friday, and if it hits the spot, comes back on Sunday!

Apophis, a near-earth asteroid, is the size of the Pasadena Rose Bowl. It is coming to visit in 2029. The largest, closest thing to come to Earth, that we know of, in the history of astronomy.

There is a six-hundred meter wide "gravitational keyhole" in near-Earth space, a region that if Apophis should pass through in 2029, will perturb its orbit just enough that Apophis will then return in 2036, seven years later to the day, again on April 13. On that date it will hit Earth. If it passes through, WILL hit Earth. Not maybe. Will. For sure. Mathematically "Death And Tazes" certain. Keep that in mind.

If it threads the keyhole perfectly, right down the pipe in the center, it hits five hundred miles off the coast of Calfiornia, west from Santa Monica.

"Surfs Up!", and the twin tidal waves scour everything, and every person, on the western shores of North America into a fine slurry that gets sucked back out to sea, and filters down onto the three mile deep abyssal plain, there to lie for millennia as testament to human folly.

For we can prevent it ever from hitting Earth.

If we don't do anything, if we remain asleep at the switch, NASA has calculated a one in 45,000 chance of Apophis hitting the "keyhole" and hitting us.

The 1941 Tunguska Event in Siberia is estimated to have released the equivalent of ten or so megatons of TNT. A very large nuclear weapon.

The explosion of the volcano Krakatoa in the South Pacific in 1880 released somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 megatons. A small nuclear war.

An impact by Apophis releases 880 megatons of energy in a microsecond.

One in 45,000 chance. 880 million tonnes of high explosive.

Thought Experiment:

If I could prove to you that there is a one in forty-five thousand chance of a nuclear war within twenty-five years, would be any public reaction? Say, an outcry ? "Do sometihng" "Change we can believe in!"

Maybe, oh, pandemonium? Chaos, demonstrations, protests, riots. Blood in the streets Heads falling from high places?


How many reading these words knew all of the above facts? How many of us have lost even one moment of one nights sleep over this? How many even now simply roll their eyes and change the "channel"?

One in forty-five-thousand. 880 megatons.

Of course, if in 2029 we could go out to this rock (and it will pass CLOSER to Earth than our communications satellites), we can gently, GENTLY push it to one side, and it will miss the "keyhole" for sure.

For it is just a Big Rock. We could easily get to it, and nudge it. We might even find some stuff there we can use.

But we have to make it happen.

It's later than we think.




For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:



 read book now





This week:


read book now


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My health care story:

As someone who is currently "without health care", I seem to be doing pretty well. I am currently unemployed, well, actually self employed, working as a freelance web designer and PHP programmer, and due to lack of income in this wonderful economy, I had to let my self-payed health insurance lapse a year or so ago. A month ago or so I went over the handlebars on my bicycle and fractured one or more bones in my left wrist. I went to St. Josephs here in Burbank, and they gave me a very cursory examination and dumped me off to the county hospital, LAC/USC, for follow up. I wish I had gone to County first!

Taxpayers in LA County have just built a grand new facility at a cost of merely one BILLION dolllars. The place, is, to put it simply, amazing. Yes, it is a McDonald's, they are treating people in bulk, but it is also state of the art, and manned by first class USC doctors and residents. When asked what I could pay, it did not matter that currently I could pay nothing. I feel I recieved first class treatment, actually with better and newer technology than at private hospitals, and there were great USC doctors in charge of the place. I would guess that most of the other patients there would qualify as "without insurance", and many "without citizenship", yet I saw first class medicine being dispensed to all. Hardly the left wing stereotype of sick people being left to die...

If Obama wants to see a good model for treatment of the indigent and uninsured, he needs look no further than the excellent operation down at LAC/USC. I have been in a lot of hospitals over the years, and seen all kinds of things going on, and I would not hesitate to reccomend the county hospital to both the indigent and the insured. It is one of the finest facilities in the nation, and a good example of why the myth of the uninsured getting no treatment holds no water.

Admittedly, the partnership between the county and a private university, with USC's prestigious reputation on the line, cannot be followed in all communities for a variety of reasons, but it is something that can certainly be emulated in a lot of municipalities.

Adam Smith

I agree that County/USC is well run. Dan Mac Lean's widow is a retired professor of medicine (anesthesiology) who worked at County/USC, and we used to go over there to look around and talk computers with the department heads back when my mad friend was alive. I was always impressed.

But note that LA County operated another hospital, Martin Luther King, which was converted to a teaching hospital King/Drew and was notoriously one of the worst hospitals in the country. It was finally closed after decades of terrible reviews and warnings and reorganizations. I once had a detective friend say his partner his life after my friend was wounded: the ambulance was going to take him to nearby Martin Luther King and my friend's partner drew his weapon and ordered the driver to take him across town to County/USC.

In other words, LA had the excellent example in front of them, but in thirty years was unable to make anything of the Martin Luther King situation, and eventually simply closed it down. The story is long and complex and very illustrative of the conflict inherent in dealing with public employee unions and local district politics.

In other words, study of County.USC is a good idea; but it ought to be coupled with a study of Drew/King. And that will take more than a few days.


Rationing Healthcare in the UK

FWIW, the UK NHS rations availability of treatment via the ironically titled 'NICE' or National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence


"The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence or NICE is a special health authority of the National Health Service (NHS) in England and Wales. [1] It was set up as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence in 1999, and on 1 April 2005 joined with the Health Development Agency to become the new National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (still abbreviated as NICE).[2][3]

NICE publishes clinical appraisals of whether particular treatments should be considered worthwhile by the NHS. These appraisals are based primarily on evaluations of efficacy and cost-effectiveness in various circumstances.

NICE was established in an attempt to defuse the so-called postcode lottery system of healthcare in England and Wales, where treatments that were available depended upon the NHS primary care trust area in which the patient happened to live. The institute has become a role model with a high reputation internationally as a role model for the explicit prioritisation of health services[4]. Its role in using rational analysis to define when and whether treatment regime is funded has led to NICE led decisions being the subject of press articles about particular people at the margins who feel that they have been denied funding for a treatment."

If funds for publicly-funded are limited, then such an approach seems to be required,

Readers may remember NICE from C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength.


universal healthcare: see Germany and Switzerland

Both Germany and Switzerland have universal healthcare, and in neither country is it generally provided by the government. PBS's "Frontline" had a good series [1] on the topic where the journalist [2] concluded that, generally speaking, the following pre-requisites need to be met on any effective and efficient health care system:

. no profit on essential care; profit, if any, on "extras" only . everyone mandated to buy in (poor covered by gov't, no different than Medicaid) . must accept everyone: no cherry-picking young/healthy . negotiated fixed-prices for services: no pure-market

I highly recommend you check it out as it explains how things can work.

[1] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sickaroundtheworld/

 [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T.R._Reid 

For some reason people have latched onto the Canadian model of doing things, but it isn't the only system, and may not be the best for the US.

It should be noted that the Swiss used to have a system similar to the US and switched over to their current way of doing things not too long ago, and things are working fine for them. In the PBS segment, previous opponents in Switzerland now admit that ti's a good system.

I do generally believe that trying to rush things through is bad idea, but I would say that the debate should be a matter of /how/ things should be done, and not /if/ universal health care is necessary.

But, then again, it's not my country and not my say. :) I just though the above links would be useful for consideration.



More Problems With E-Health Ontario

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for expanding my world in many ways! I can't believe that one person could keep track of everything you do. (and in spite of your health issues).

I lived in Canada and try to keep track of the old home town. I ran across this and thought it was interesting.

More Problems With E-Health Ontario Posted by Mike Ebbeling Courtesy of the Canadian Press on Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 am 6:36:19 AM Opposition parties accuse the McGuinty government of reneging on a promise to have an outside party review scandal-plagued eHealth Ontario. Documents obtained by the New Democrats show no contract was ever signed for PricewaterhouseCoopers to begin a review of the agency. The government has said it cancelled the review because it would have duplicated efforts by the auditor general, who is also probing the agency. But N-D-P critic France Gelinas says the documents show the government never planned to go ahead with the independent report.


That got me looking and I ran across this:

Examining eHealth Ontario

Key players in the agency's contract and spending scandal


Blessings and I pray that your health continues to improve.

Philip Quardokus


Jerry, Regarding "Pauls" mail about health care.

He seems concerned that new drug treatments are more expensive here than the rest of the world. That's because the single payer systems in the rest of the world are unwilling to pay for the cost to develop new drugs. They want to pay the production price of the drugs.

While that's not fair to the US who are picking up the tab, it does mean that new wonder drugs are available. If the US were unwilling to pay the research price then we would have no more drugs.

He also stated that cost of health care is a problem. It certainly is, but having the government run anything is bound to make it more costly while reducing the quality of service. Even today because of government cost savings initiatives it's very hard to get a nursing home room in my town.

Having government involved is only going to make health care more expensive for the healthy. you mentioned that when you were younger you were able to buy an affordable catastrophic plan. That was a good choice for you then, but that option is no longer available in many states because the young person isn't paying into the same pool as a older person. That's a good deal for the older guy only if the younger person is dumb enough to buy coverage at rates that are out of line for his stage of life.

Finally Paul said that he thought that Medicare was a well run program that everyone should enjoy. It only "works" because there are three or four people paying into the system for that one senior citizen to get his health care. Not only that but the Medicare system underpays the providers resulting in those same workers paying extra when they need services.

Medicare cannot be held as a model for the nation as a whole. Where are the billion or so people who are going to pay taxes to support the entire population of the US?

Since we're on the subject of Medicare, I hope that people can see the utter baloney of the House Democrat plan that's going to pay for coverage of millions of uninsured through savings in Medicare. Medicare is all but broke and going to be showing massive deficits in the near future while the population is aging.


My experience with Medicare is quite positive: it pays my Kaiser dues. Of course I was a Kaiser member before I turned 65 and Medicare took over (and after a few years it took over for Roberta). I don't know what the "true" costs of my health care insurance are; I do know that I am quite satisfied with what I have. And of course I still pay Social Security taxes every year.

I am not really familiar with how Medicare is financed, and I certainly can't claim to be an expert on health care finances. The more I look into it the more complex it seems, and thus the less likely we are to come up with a comprehensive "solution". As Edmund Burke noted, reform consists of remedying real, not fancied, ills. My wealthy liberal friends say they want a single payer system like England or Canada, but I note that isn't what they actually have or opt for.

In any event it is my understanding that Medicare will be out of money in a few years and will require subsidies -- from someone. Perhaps what we need now is a look at how to  "fix" Medicare since most seem satisfied with it. I doubt that will cost what the CBO says the comprehensive health care "reform" will cost.


On flagging fishy rumors:

Regarding the flap over the White House attempting to collect “fishy rumors” and health care plan “disinformation” at flag@WhiteHouse.gov, DO NOT miss the helpful series of posters on this at The People’s Cube.

There are 12 – 15 of them here:


I like this one:


Perhaps I should hand some of these out at a health care town hall. Maybe it would help get people to think a little about what is going on.


Jim Riticher



I was sent this by Colonel Couvillon some time ago, but I didn't have a valid link.


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 


Home Schoolers Head North to Scotland 

You might find the following Guardian story interesting: <http://tinyurl.com/lkxqqx

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


"They don't have money. And the money they don't have, we want."

AR2009080603764_pf.html >

-- Roland Dobbins


'Google Books has structured its online service with no regard to preventing abuses, and so has created a financial incentive for some publishers to game the system.'


- Roland Dobbins



CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


This week:


read book now


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Medicare Financing  (continued)

Jerry in your response to my note that you published on Wednesday you said you didn't know how Medicare was financed.

Poorly would be my quick answer.

There is a payroll tax that every employee and employer pays to pay for Medicare. The tax rate is 1.45 to each or 2.9% in aggregate. Unlike Social Security the amount tax doesn't phase out at a certain income level.

That means that every working person in the US pays 3% of their earnings to pay for the medical treatments of Senior Citizens. Wolfram Alpha puts the number of people age 65 and older at 38.69 million people who are being supported by 155 million working people (some of who are also seniors of course.)

In addition Congress has set the reimbursement that providers can charge the government for services. If effect that's another tax as the providers shift the costs onto the private market. It seems that private insurance has exploded in cost since Congress passed that little gem.

I'm not saying we don't need to make provisions to take care of the elderly that can't take care of themselves.

Medicare isn't sustainable as it is even though only about 13% of the population is eligible for the program. Congress needs to fix the Medicare system for the long run before they really screw things up for the entire country.


Ah. I thought it was something like that. My experience with Medicare was that at turning 65 Kaiser informed me that I could either go on Medicare, or my dues would go from about $350 a month to something like $1250 a month. I chose Medicare. Since nothing had changed in my health situation, I presume that this "choice" was mandated in the Medicare laws. Since that time I have chosen a couple of voluntary supplement programs through Kaiser, so I still make payments.  Of course I pay income and Social Security self-employment taxes since I make more money than the government allows so I suppose I am helping pay for my own Medicare.

For all that, the system works fine for me; but for me "the system" means Kaiser in Southern California, specifically the Sunset and Panorama City facilities. If Medicare isn't working properly, it would seem reasonable to me to show how that will be fixed before taking over everything else.


I would like to address a couple points;

In referring to a note from me you posted, Wade quoted: "He also stated that cost of health care is a problem. It certainly is, but having the government run anything is bound to make it more costly while reducing the quality of service."

As attractive as this statement sounds, it is neither fact, nor even precisely true. Take the Post Office for example - which not only competes directly with companies like FedEx and UPS, but actually holds it's own. The USPS definitely lost money this year, but then, who didn't?

The U.S. government certainly has significant experience with Medicare and Medicaid, enough so that we should be able to craft a government option that serves to act as a retarding force on the rate of increase in health care premiums, and also puts some sanity into health care costs. Note, that if everyone must carry some kind of medical insurance, there is moral, legal, and ethical rights to deny services to those who are *not* covered - such as illegal or undocumented immigrants. That does lead to a slippery slope indeed, but I do think the issue needs to be brought and discussed. A little later, Wade stated: "Medicare cannot be held as a model for the nation as a whole. Where are the billion or so people who are going to pay taxes to support the entire population of the US?"

I disagree. While Medicare may not be a model of an ideal U.S. health care system, it does work well for many, perhaps most, people covered under it. It may be that a system modeled on Medicare would not be perfect, but it probably could be used as not so subtle way to apply market pressure on health care insurance providers, as well as somewhat out of control health care costs from direct health care providers, hospitals, labs, and so forth. In fact, tackling massive problems like this is one of the better reasons to tolerate a federal government at all. Sometimes, a bureaucracy is the best way to handle an overwhelming problem. As awful as that sounds, the darn things are useful. They put the brakes on out of control politicians, and provide some continuity in a system like ours, where the chief executive, and all of his staff, can change every four years.

And this is the crux of the matter I think. What does it take to counter the examples of rabid hatred and anger we have seen recently? This is nothing less than people reacting not with rational thought, but with hatred. Usually of "those damned Democrats." Often the word "democrats" is distorted into an offensive or vulgar term - tactics straight out of a 1960's propaganda manual. "Get of the Bandwagon!" type of stuff.

That's the real danger I think, and sometimes it gives me to despair to think of our country being ripped apart like this. When will the nach der langen Messer happen here?

Is the only possible solution to this a bureaucracy that would make a Byzantine Bureaucrat blush in shame? (Or swoon in envy perhaps? :)


Two points. First, it's not universally agreed that Medicare "works" in the sense that some think it is going broke. Second, while some government programs work quite well, do note that the Post Office is semi-private and no longer has a mandated monopoly; and the Department of Education may be a better example of a government service at work


definition of "insurance"

Hi Jerry,

Just a minor point in the health care debate, but one that bothers me...

I have always understood insurance to be a service that allows you to pay a low fee, in return for which the insurance agrees to pay unlikely but catastrophic expenses. Insurance makes sense, because the individual could never pay those expenses if they were to come up. Insurance makes money, because these catastrophic expenses are relatively rare.

The general population and the politicians have forgotten what insurance really is. Insurance should not pay for your regular checkup. It should not pay to put a splint on your broken finger. It pays for cancer treatment and heart surgery.

Several years ago the federal government here in Switzerland decided to regulate health insurance. I have always had insurance with a very high deductible (because it is *insurance*, dammit, not a payment plan). The government has decided that it is unfair to allow people like me to pay reduced premiums. Next year, insurance companies must change their pricing to nearly eliminate any discount for taking high deductibles.

As you write: the demand for free services is infinite. Co-pays and deductible should be big enough to hurt. It is supposed to be *insurance*, not an all-you-can-eat buffet!



Well -- yes. Good luck. Perhaps they won't require everyone to bow to a hat on a flagpole?


Dvorak vs Vivek Kundra


WRT John Dvorak's attack on Vivek Kundra: It appears that Dvorak was less than diligent in his verification, however, the defense mounted is disingenuous. University College is the adult education arm of the University of Maryland. University of Maryland College Park is the flagship of the state university system and is a full-fledged research University. UMUC is basically a night school/extension operation. Not to denigrate adult education but a UMUC degree in no way carries the same meaning as a UMCP degree. As far as being an adjunct instructor at UMUC, this is NOT the equivalent of being an Adjunct Professor at UMCP.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a PhD from UMCP (in chemistry) and my wife has three degrees from there (BS, MS, & PhD). My wife is an adjunct professor at UMCP, Mechanical Engineering Department, teaching a course in energetic materials (explosives and propellants).

-- Bob.

Thanks. I continue to know nothing whatever about this. John is an old friend, but I have no illusion that either he or I have the gift of infallibility.


Obama loses (another) cybersecurity bigwig

Oh, the bureaucracy

By Dan Goodin in San Francisco

Posted in Security, 10th August 2009 17:24 GMT

Full story: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/08/10/us_cert_boss_quits/ 

Updated Yet another high-ranking government official in charge of securing the country's computer networks has resigned. This time, it's the head of the US Department of Homeland Security's Computer Emergency Readiness Team.

Mischel Kwon submitted her letter of resignation last week, according to The Washington Post. The report cited unidentified colleagues saying the US-CERT director was moving on because she had grown frustrated by bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of authority to fulfill her mission. She was the fourth US-CERT director in five years.

Tracy Walters, CISSP


Palin, alive and kicking; plus a note on windmills


I found this link on the Drudge report. Aside from the fact that I agree with Palin regarding the nationalized healthcare rationing plan, I found the structure of her post interesting. To be blunt, it is well reasoned and documented which displays a level of intellectual sophistication that is a stark contrast to how she has been portrayed. If Palin is to have a political future, she has to refute that image. This is a step in the right direction. I must confess that I'm somewhat ambivelent about Palin. I've never subscribed to the notion that a woman's IQ is inversely proportional to her bra size. However; I think there are some basic biological, psychological and sociobiological factors that make women dangerously receptive to socialism and totalitarianism.


What isn't really addressed is the core issue, "Is Equal Access to Healthcare a Right?" If it is then society has only two choices, either expend an infinite amount of money on healthcare or ration care. I for one don't believe that there is an equal right to healthcare anymore than there is an equal right to food, housing, automobiles and private jets. I do see that society has an enlightened self interest in providing some minimal level of healthcare for all, ie vacinations, and offerring preventive medicine is an excellent way to avoid having to refuse more sophisticated healthcare to people down the road. However; if you want to have access to the type of sophisticated healthcare that has allowed you to survive brain cancer, then you either have to pay out of pocket or have paid into an insurance plan that will cover it.


I had a talk with one of the wife's relatives at a family reunion who is a retired executive of a power company. One problem with wind turbines that I was unaware of is that when the wind stops blowing, most designs require the power company to input power to keep them turning so that they remain in phase with the rest of the grid! He said that when he was with the company the operational problems with windpower were so severe that in a free market power companies would not contract for the power no matter how low the price. Of course legislation that mandates that utilities derive a certain percentage of their power needs from alternative sources has taken care of that problem, at least for the windpower producers.

Jim Crawford

Regarding health care, Lester Thurow of MIT has been making that point for years: you either have a list of thing you will cover, or you decide in some other way; rationing is inevitable.

Regarding windmills, I wondered about phasing. Thanks.





CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  August 14, 2009


Since there is some discussion on Medicare, please let me interject some information about the program. I have 20+ years working for a contractor that administers the Medicare Program in several states.

First, Medicare and Medicaid are two separate programs. Medicare is totally Federal and is designed to provide health care coverage to aged (65+ years old) and disabled (any age that qualifies) persons. Medicaid is a state run program for indigent people (though ~80% of Medicaid funds come from the Federal Government with attendant requirements and regulations).

Medicare is actually several parts; Part A (hospitilization); Part B (physician services, DME[durable medical equipment], ambulance services; Part C (basically HMO type coverage of both hospitalization and physician services; and, Part D (prescription drugs). The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) under the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversees the programs and policy in accordance with 42 CFR 410 of the Social Security Act (in other words, what Congress dictates). Confused yet? I'll go on. CMS doesn't process a single application or even administer the plans. CMS contracts with Intermediaries (for Part A), Contractors (for Part B), and insurance companies (for Parts C & D); and now MACs (Medicare Administrative Contractors for all pieces and parts of the program). However, Intermediaries, Contractors, and MACs are also insurance companies, or are administrative entities that have evolved from insurance companies (after all, who else has the expertise to process and administer a health insurance operation).

When you hear that Medicare will be broke by 20XX (name your year), what you don't hear is that this is the Part A portion. Everyone who pays into the Social Security Program and is eligible for Social Security at retirement (age 65) is also eligible and receives the Part A benefits. This is for hospitalization. There are some deductibles and caps for the beneficiary, but it generally covers you hospital costs. Part A funding is almost entirely dependent upon working people paying into the program to cover those eligible retired persons (there is some interest earned on the funds). In other words, the money you personally paid into the system while working has already been spent.

The Part B program is voluntary. You can elect to enroll in the program 6 months before your eligibility (at age 65), or at designated times subsequently. This is really a traditional insurance program where the beneficiary pays a monthly premium and co-pays for any services received (generally 20% of the fee). The Part B (and C & D) program are funded by these premiums and co-pays (as well as with interest earned on the funds). Beneficiaries in the Part B program can also purchase 'Secondary Insurance Policies' from many private insurance companies to cover the co-pay amounts. Many companies who provide health insurance to their retirees require the retiree to enroll in the Part B program, and then the company may drop the retiree entirely from their health care benefit or choose to purchase a secondary policy for their retiree. For example, military retirees are placed in the Tricare program for their health care benefits. Upon reaching age 65, the military retiree moves to Medicare (Parts A & B) and Tricare becomes the secondary insurance payer.

Congress (through CMS) establishes policy for coverage of services (fix a broken arm - yes; aromatherapy - no) and the reimbursement for those services. Reimbursement is generally well below current actual costs. Physicians can be 'Participating' or 'Non-participating' or they can 'opt-out' (i.e. refuse to see/treat Medicare patients). Participating Physicians agree to accept the Medicare established reimbursement rate as the maximum billed rate for the service. For example, a beneficiary receives treatment for a broken arm and the Medicare reimbursement rate is $100 (this is a fictional example) - the Participating Provider bills only the $100, Medicare pays 80% ($80), and the beneficiary (or the secondary insurance) pays 20% ($20) - and, everybody calls it square. The Non-Participating Physician refuses to accept the Medicare reimbursement rate and charges $120 for the same service to treat a broken arm. Medicare still pays the 80% of the Medicare reimbursement rate ($80) and the beneficiary is responsible for the other 20% of the Medicare reimbursement rate ($20), AND for the other $20 difference of the physician's charge and the Medicare reimbursement rate (one can purchase 'tertiary' insurance to cover this portion).

Believe me, the above is a VERY simple explanation. Browse the CMS website http://www.cms.hhs.gov/  to see the complexity of the program(s) and even this information doesn't cover much of what is required of the companies that administer the plans.

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

And that's the simple explanation. I admit it makes my head swim. Yet we are told that we must rush to change everything -- a much more complex job -- when I would be willing to bet that the average Congresscritter or Senator (like Barbara Boxer) could be given the above and ten minutes and would still be unable to pass an elementary examination on how Medicare works.


Subj: "Traditional Medicare" vs "Medicare Advantage"

Since you evidently use Kaiser in HMO mode, I suspect you are on "Medicare Advantage" rather than "Traditional Medicare".


particularly the "Primer" pdf it links to, and even more particularly page 11 of the Primer document, which is page 12 of the pdf.

Traditional Medicare is a plain-vanilla fee-for-service plan with deductibles and copayments. Medicare Advantage allows a much wider variety of plans, including HMOs -- a variety so wide that it is currently under attack for offering *too*many* choices.


The criticism reminds me of Calvera the Bandit's description, in the movie _The Magnificent Seven_, of the mistake the Seven had made, with respect to the villagers: "Your friends, they don't like you very much any more. You force them to make too many decisions. With me, only one decision: do what I say!"

Medicare Advantage is also under attack as being more expensive than Traditional Medicare. Naturally, some Reform proposals include reducing the payments under Medicare Advantage to parity with Traditional Medicare -- a reduction that could very well drive Medicare Advantage out of existence.


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

I am certain you are right. In my case I managed to get Kaiser membership about 30 years ago, and when I turned 65 I was offered the choice of staying with Kaiser with enormous premiums or (the default) letting Medicare (i.e. my children and other taxpayers) pay my Kaiser dues. I have a schedule of co-payments ranging from nominal for physician visits (which include nurses and record keeping) to about $50 for blood, xray, MRI, CAT, and so forth. There was no co-payment for the long series of hard x-ray treatments for The Lump (in fact they even covered the parking fees). I have non-zero but not excessive pharmaceutical costs, which I pay about half of. (The Kaiser pharmacy is generally cheaper than CVS but not excessively so.)

So when I say that Medicare works splendidly for me, I mean Medicare Advantage coupled with Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. I no note that under this I have to take some initiatives and make some decisions, and request some services; but Kaiser also takes a number of initiatives. The initial appointments with oncologists came about because of blood proteins discovered in an annual examination.

I do not suppose that expanding Kaiser to cover everyone in the US would "work". I don't think any bureaucratic monopoly will "work". However, what we have now "works for me" and I would hate to see anything change radically.


Medicare Financing

Dear Dr Pournelle

The US healthcare debate seems to have achieved a quasi-religious frenzy in which facts cannot be allowed to spoil a good argument. The 'Investor's Business Daily' provided a superb example in an editorial claim that Stephen Hawking would be dead if he were British http://www.theregister.co.uk/
2009/08/12/hawking_british_and_alive/  In a similar vein, one of your correspondents stated on Tuesday that the USA bears the entire cost of drug R&D and testing; in fact Europe and Japan spend comparable amounts on drug R&D and testing.

The World Health Organisation and the Economist journal provide cost and quality assessments which should, but probably won't, influence the healthcare debate. In 2000 the WHO ranked the world's health systems, while the Economist's "Pocket World in Figures 2008 edition" listed the amount spent on healthcare by different countries; these figures make interesting reading:

France - WHO ranking - 1 : healthcare expenditure - 10.5% of GDP
UK - WHO ranking - 18 : healthcare expenditure - 8.1% of GDP
USA - WHO ranking - 37 : healthcare expenditure - 15.4% of GDP

These assessments suggest that the US medical system should be revised to improve healthcare and make significant cost savings.

I have personal experience of both the French and British medical systems, and have found the French system to be faster and more responsive. Despite this, I was impressed by the level of care given to elderly relatives in British hospitals; the choices of surgical or medical interventions were made on the basis of expected outcomes and not on age.

I hope that these thoughts will contribute to this increasingly acrimonious debate.


Peter D Morgan


I have no idea what criteria the WHO uses to determine who is "first" and who is 37th in health care provision, and I have no familiarity with the French system. If the French system is so outstandingly better than the US (but much cheaper), and quite a lot better than the British (for a few percent of GDP more), I wouldn't think there would be much room for debate. Of course debate continues. Moreover, I suspect that I am as familiar with the French system as my Senators are -- and I know almost nothing about it. I know absolutely nothing about how WHO ranks health care systems; but I would bet that I know as much as my Congresscritter does on that subject.

My point is that in a few days here we have just touched a subject that involves enormous bureaucracies, trillions of dollars in taxes and deficits. It is clear that this is nothing we should rush into without understanding.

The goal, we are told, is to save 5% of GDP in order to get the kind of care the French get. I'm not all that familiar with what the French do and how they do it. Is it really all that better (1st place vs 37th place)? If so, what does "better" mean?


We have comments on USPS vs. Fedex (relevant to government efficiency)

Hi, Jerry,

Re: The relative efficiency of the USPS vs UPS and FedEx: Paul said "The USPS definitely lost money this year, but then, who didn't? "

Well the short answer is UPS ($3 Billion profit in 2008) and FedEx ( $1.125 Billion).

The example still holds: I'druther have private enterprise delivery my health care! (And if you would prefer a different example of government run enterprise, consider healthcare delivery via AMTRAK!)

Regards, Larry Cunningham


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Thursday you posted a letter from Paul that asserted the Post Office competes with UPS and FedEx - this is most certainly not the case. The latter two carriers deliver things that the USPS would rather not (or simply won't) bother with, but when it comes to letters, the Post Office has a complete monopoly. If memory serves, it's a crime for anyone other than a USPS mail carrier to put anything in your mailbox.

Thank you for all your work,

-- Monte Ferguson Akron, OH

-- "Endeavour to Persevere"


In today's mail you pointed out that the post office no longer has a monopoly. While you are practicaly correct, (with overnight mail, two day mail, etc.), in fact, the post office does maintain a monoply in that no one else in the country can accept or deliver first class or any similar mail service. And of course no but the post office one can legally put anything in your home mailbox.

Sorry to be such a stickler...



Dr. Pournelle,

I wonder how competitive the USPS would be if they did not have a monopoly on delivery of non-urgent letters and mailbox delivery. It sure is convenient to be able to legally restrict the operation of the competition. This is how a government plan would “enable competition” for health insurance. It will place restrictions on private insurers, rather than offer a better plan. Rest assured that Diana Moon Glampers will see that everything is “fair.”

As for Medicare (and Social Security), it is like living off your credit card. You can live well for awhile, but eventually the bill will come due. And it’s going to be a whopper.

Steve Chu


Resuming other discussions

Hurricanes and global warming


Hurricane activity is supposed to increase as the planet warms, right?

Well, I just came across this item:

The official start of the hurricane season is June 1. And not since 1992 — the year of Hurricane Andrew — has the Atlantic Ocean been silent past Aug. 4. Meteorologists have yet to name even a single tropical storm in the Atlantic in 2009. So is global warming really doing anything?

“While it is commonly thought that global warming would increase hurricane activity, that is far from a settled issue,” said Rob Eisenson, a meteorologist at Western Connecticut State University. “There are some research studies that suggest global warming would not have that effect.” But Eisenson cautions that looking at one season’s activity cannot determine whether a long-term trend is or is not happening.


Either the planet isn't warming all that much, or we don't really know what the effect of any given temperature change may be.

..................Karl Lembke

The old adage was

June- too soon.
July-- stand by!
August-- look out you must.
September-- remember.
October, all over.

But then came -- I forget its name, but a big October smash. So far we're still in "Watch you must."


Climate Data.


According to a story in The Register
2009/08/13/cru_missing/   Professor Phil Jones of The Climate Research Unit at the East Anglian University has lost or has decided to withold the raw climate data that has been gathered by them over the last 25 years. For the full horror of this story one should read The Register's report. I will merely remark that to lose data of such importance suggests incompetence and to withold data from the public that was gathered at public expense is intolerable. The cynic might wonder if the processed data that is released has been smoothed to remove any points from which the wrong conclusions might be drawn.


This is horrifying, but not astonishing. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy at work; and it very much applies to science now.


Wind Turbines

Wind turbine phase error

Hi Jerry,

Just to give you a heads-up, I believe the larger windmills that use wound-rotor generators do not have a problem with phase error. These machines use a 3-phase coil on the rotor to provide the excitation electromagnetic field--meaning that the frequency of the generator's output is the summation of the mechanical speed (the speed of the turbine) plus the rotor excitation frequency. Thus, phase and frequency can be adjusted to suit the grid's needs. However, I do not know what portion of windmills use this design vs. a more standard synchronous generator design.

Neil Tice

We have several more notes on this. Thanks


Subj: Wind power - phasing

Phasing is not a problem because modern wind turbines do AC->DC->AC conversions using solid-state electronics:


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Windmills and power generation

Dear Jerry,

Older windmills worked synchronously and have to be kept at a constant speed to sync up to the grid. I think the blade pitch was varied to keep the speed constant.

Newer windmills use three phase alternators and generate "wild " three phase AC that is rectified and put on a high voltage DC buss. The DC buss then drives three phase inverters on to the AC power lines. Here is a patent on a variation of that process. The new windmills still need power to control the blades, keep the windmill facing into the wind (or not), deicing, etc, but at least they don't act as a fan when the wind stops blowing!. They also need regular maintenance. http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/


I hope you get over your Oink soon. I just reread Footfall and thoroughly enjoyed it and I am looking forward to Mamelukes and the earthwacking to come.

Thanks for the inspiration




And a bit more on windmills

Wind turbines in phase with the grid 

"One problem with wind turbines that I was unaware of is that when the wind stops blowing, most designs require the power company to input power to keep them turning so that they remain in phase with the rest of the grid!"

After a few decades associated with wind turbines, I know of none that work this way. The wind turbines are stopped until the wind picks up again.

" He said that when he was with the company the operational problems with windpower were so severe that in a free market power companies would not contract for the power no matter how low the price."

Yes, there are problems. For example: Bonneville Power Administration's decision adopted a rate of $5.70/MWh for wind integration or wind balancing services. The charge is less than half the $12/MWh BPA initially proposed.



Subject: Inferno II Question 

Doctor Pournelle,

I am currently at Chapter Fifteen of Inferno II, and just read a passage referring to a short, of a somewhat burly build, with an attitude as if he had once been a policeman. This man was found by Carpenter trapped in a partially open sepulchre near the Great Mausoleum. Carpenter freed him while on his way to the Phlegothon and a meeting with Billy. The man freed from the sepulcher cursed violently and eventually exploded in small explosions, described as being like firecrackers in cotton candy.

A striking scene, and I wonder: Did you and Mr. Niven have some real person in mind as that character, or was he created from whole cloth?

Great read!


Kim Smith

In general we won't answer questions like that. Thanks for the kind words.


the big dam government

Hello Dr. Pournelle:

It is interesting that you bought up the subject of the TVA. Though this was certainly a public works project, and a votes for dollars program (Who, that worked on the TVA, would vote against Roosevelt?), it actually did do some good. A year or so ago, I visited the Oak Ridge site http://www.notpurfect.com/travel/nuke/oridge/index.html ), and learned that without the power generation capabilities of the old TVA, the Clinton Engineering works (which was the code name for the nuclear facilities at Oak Ridge) would have been unworkable. This was a large part of the reason that Oak Ridge was put where it was. The development of nuclear energy would have been seriously delayed, perhaps for years, had it not been for the TVA (Oak Ridge), and Grand Coulee Dam (Hanford) projects. So sometimes government projects actually do some good, despite themselves. Though I am quite conservative, and favor small government, there are some things that perhaps only a government can do. There – I said it, and it only hurt a little bit.

Neal Pritchett

Adam Smith long ago favored large projects that would be of universal benefit: the canal system in England as an example. TVA generated power. Low cost energy plus freedom always equals economic success. Wilkie and the Power Trust companies didn't have the money to build anything as big as TVA.


I was looking at subscriber mail to archive and found this marked for posting but never posted:

It's worse than we thought. The TSA is actually DAMAGING aircraft.

What follows is long but needs to be. It was written by Jim Campbell, a pilot with thousands of hours in various planes. He is knowledgeable, a good guy. ANN is Aero-News Network. “ORD” = the call letters for “Chicago O’Hare Airport.” I think the rest of the article is self-explanatory. Emphasis in the original. The ANN web site is here:



TSA Memo Suggests That Agency ‘Encourages’ Damaging Behavior

Wed, 20 Aug ‘08

Report: Inspector That Screwed Up ORD ERJs Has “Done This Before”

Reported by Jim Campbell, Editor-In-Chief, ANN/Aero-TV

The great TSA-ORD Inspector scandal seems to be but the tip of the proverbial iceberg... and the theme song from the Titanic is playing in the background. ANN has learned that the Inspector that instigated the inspections of nine American Eagle [jets] and created innumerable delays and hassle for the flying public has reportedly DONE THIS BEFORE.

As ANN reported earlier this week, the Clouseau-esque inspector damaged the Total Air Temperature (TAT) probes while the planes were parked on the tarmac at O’Hare Tuesday morning. The probes are an important part of an airliner’s flight information system, as they provide real-time temperature information to the planes’ EFIS displays and computers...

giving flight crews precise information about the aircraft’s altitude, and warning of potential icing conditions in flight.

Fortunately, maintenance crews discovered the damaged TAT probes before any of the planes took off on commercial passenger flights... though the need to fix the aircraft did lead to over 40 flight delays for American Eagle passengers.

A flight crew member who has been in contact with ANN previously, with solid credible info on this and other matters, reports the following, “This was not the first time that this same TSA agent had done this.

After one of our ORD mechanics caught him doing this, he explained that he could damage the TAT sensor. The agent then admitted that he used the sensors many times in the past doing the same thing. The AMR spokesperson states that no TAT sensors were damaged, but she was speaking about the particular aircraft inspected on the 19th. There were no damage found on the morning of the 19th, but another aircraft did have a damaged #1 TAT sensor that was discovered on the morning of the 16th at ORD that the mechanics suspect was caused by the same agent.”

An additional report confirms this, and adds that a delay created by this same incident was actually reported to passengers on board an affected aircraft by the frustrated flight crew, themselves.

While this may be terrifying on a number of levels, the situation becomes far more questionable with the release of a recent memo from the TSA in which such damaging and destructive actions are apparently ENCOURAGED. The memo clearly states that, “Aircraft operators are required to secure each unattended aircraft to make sure that people with bad intent cannot gain access to the planes. But during the inspection, TSA’s inspector was able to pull himself inside of an unattended aircraft by using a tube that was protruding from the side of the plane. TSA encourages its inspectors to look for and exploit vulnerabilities of this type.”

ANN has repeated this quote to a number of aviation professionals throughout the industry within the last hours, with reactions ranging from, “Oh my God,” to “that is most idiotic thing I have ever heard.”

ANN finds it hard to disagree. The statement by TSA, depending on how you interpret it, has the potential to imperial the flying public in myriad ways, and seems a clear violation of a number of FARs as well as possible criminal statutes. TSA’s Lara Uselding, however, states that the memo is not intended to suggest any endorsement of the ORD inspection techniques that caused this fracas to start with—though any person reading it thus far (outside of TSA) has voiced the same concerns ANN has.

Worse; the rank and file of the airline industry is writing and calling ANN with dozens of reports about other damages and violations of aircraft that lead us to assume that it may be a matter of great luck that our fears of a catastrophic aircraft accident arising out of such tampering has not previously occurred.

Even inside TSA, heads are shaking... ANN has received several credible calls from admitted TSA personnel who agree that they do not have the training to take on such responsibilities, and worse, one TSA insider claims that TSA will “soon” seek the right to “enter any aircraft at any time for any reason.”

In the meantime, the aforementioned TSA memo states that, “On Aug. 19 a TSA transportation security inspector conducted routine compliance inspections on nine American Eagle aircraft parked on the airfield at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The inspector looked for and tested, among other things, vulnerabilities associated with unauthorized access to unattended aircraft.

“Aircraft operators are required to secure each unattended aircraft to make sure that people with bad intent cannot gain access to the planes.

But during the inspection, TSA’s inspector was able to pull himself inside of an unattended aircraft by using a tube that was protruding from the side of the plane. TSA encourages its inspectors to look for and exploit vulnerabilities of this type.

“The inspector was following through on regulatory inspection activity and was able to gain access to the interior of seven of the nine aircraft he inspected. This was an apparent violation of the airline’s security program. TSA is reviewing the inspection results and, depending on the conclusion, could take action against the airline, up to and including levying civil penalties.

“While the inspection process is a vital layer of aviation security, it is not TSA’s intent to cause delays or potential damage to aircraft as a result of our inspections. TSA took immediate steps to re-enforce education about sensitive equipment located on the exterior of a plane.”

TSA also adds that “All TSA inspectors undergo a four-week basic training course that consists of a security regulations overview, inspection procedures and safety briefings. The inspectors received both on-the-job and periodic recurrent training. Additionally, inspectors receive local safety training at each airport for which they receive airport identification credentials.” TSA does not mention, however, the use of any airframe or aircraft specific training programs that might have otherwise kept the ORD Inspector from damaging aircraft under his less than expert supervision.

More info to follow... God help us.

Now imagine health care run by the TSA


Silverberg: The Death of Gallium.


-- Roland Dobbins








This week:


read book now


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Health Insurance Transfer and The Importance 0f COBRA

Jerry :

If you choose to use my post on your website, please omit my e-mail address. Thank you.

>> The most frequent complaint about US health care is transferability. Health care in the US is usually provided by employers, and when one contemplates changing employers there is panic: what if while insured at employer A one discovers a condition that would render one uninsurable?<<

Currently in the United States, if a person transitions from group insurance to group insurance within a specified timeframe, pre-existing condition exclusions do not typically apply. This is why it is critical to make sure that there are no "gaps" in group insurance coverage with respect to that timeframe. However, if a person transitions from group insurance to private insurance, pre-existing condition exclusions may apply, depending on the specific private insurance. In addition, a later transition from private insurance to group insurance may continue to "carry" those exclusions, again, depending on the specific plans. This is governed under federal law summarised under the acronym COBRA, standing for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.

This is why it is also critical for many people to take on what is called "COBRA coverage" on leaving a job without an immediate transition to other group insurance, no matter how expensive COBRA coverage may be, in order to maintain the group insurance coverage period without a gap. This is a truly non-trivial point to grasp - allowing group insurance coverage to lapse is essentially losing one of the most important safety measures in health insurance available to people in the United States.

Another important point to note - COBRA is governed under federal laws, but sales of and acquiring coverage under insurance plans are governed, for the most part, under state laws, which vary widely. In some states, it's possible to acquire coverage with a certain minimum number of employees, usually two or more so as to exclude single-person businesses, but there are varying thresholds for hours-per-week worked, minimum employment periods, inclusion/exclusion of partnerships, etc. The wise person will either find a very savvy insurance broker who thoroughly knows both the state and federal laws relevant to their condition, or will undertake the less-than-easy task of learning those laws themself.

The issues on health insurance for a businessperson are not per se equivalent to "rocket surgery", but, by gum, they're certainly not intuitively obvious either. It's entirely possible for a small business owner to learn how to address these issues, if not simple or quick to do, but it requires a dedicated effort initially, and a continuing effort so long as one has the business. I've done this as both a manager in companies, and then for my own business over a number of years now, and it's certainly "doable" for a person of moderate intelligence coupled with careful tenacity. It takes time, but that's a facet of being a business owner. Getting and maintaining a business permit takes time, as well, so let's not have folks clouding the discussion claiming this is an unfair burden - if they don't want to do these things, they should work for someone else.

With respect to programs in the US, Canada, and the UK, I've lived in all three places with coverage and care in all three locations. I also visit these places regularly enough to have a moderately informed understanding of each location's pluses and minuses in health care. As well, I've had health care in other countries when traveling for business to provide additional data points. The bottom line is that there is no "magic bullet" in any location's system. Each one has distinct advantages over another, and equally distinct disadvantages. These things need to be compared in a systematic and organised approach where multiple variables have to be considered. That's not happening, and we are instead seeing idiotic labels applied to health care programs instead of looking at the specific services offered under those plans. In addition, a certain fraction of the folks debating this subject in the media and government are arguing about it purely for the opportunity to become talking heads on television without having even a slightly substantive iota of fact to bring to the debate table. However, those talking heads are successfully stirring up people using talking points without a whit of sense but a great deal of emotion around those points. There are certainly some important and difficult issues to discuss, but we're not seeing those being addressed (and I'll not go down that road here - it's another and much lengthier post to write).

In short, the facile and puerile discussion on health care that we're seeing currently in the United States seems to revolve around people who lack the intelligence and will to look at the issues in a rational manner. I can only hope that someone in this vast mess can step forward to offer such a rational discussion, but I'm not at all convinced that this will occur. I can still hope, however, because, as you so regularly note, despair is a sin.

John P.

Thank you. Back in the 1980 - 1990 period, Kaiser was not accepting new memberships except as part of a group, and freelance writers -- my BYTE column was under contract, and I was not a McGraw Hill employee -- weren't eligible. When I was president of SFWA I tried to arrange some kind of group coverage for working writers, but I couldn't. The only way we were covered through Roberta. Teachers got coverage provided by the employer, and we got into Kaiser that way. When she retired we didn't get the health benefits as part of her retirement -- some districts do, but LA County did not -- but there was COBRA, which I paid and that let us become Kaiser members; when COBRA ran out we continued as Kaiser members and I paid the premiums. All was well. Now those premiums are paid by Social Security under Medicare; of course I still pay Social Security Self Employment Tax as I did in the years before I became 65. Self Employment Tax is double the Social Security Tax. I suppose neither is called a "tax" in this modern era. In any event, I'm happy with my health care situation, and that's how it came about.

The problem with complexity is that it's a tax on ignorance and having a low IQ -- but that too fails since the default is to go to the Emergency Room, which costs everyone a lot more.

More on this when the discussion opens again Monday. Thanks for the information.







 read book now




CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday,  August 16, 2009     

'The district is allowed to raise taxes under little-known legal protections for bond holders.'


--- Roland Dobbins

Cleary paying the bureaucrats is far more important than saving taxpayers. There is no stopping them from raising their salaries and benefits and then raising taxes to cover it.


Do NOT move your family jewels to My Documents,


Do NOT move your writing projects to a folder inside My Documents. When (not if) your OS bites the dust, everything related to the user operating the OS - everything inside My Documents - will get blown away.

Repeat, do not trust MS with your family jewels. Yes, they have their own reasons to put user-related stuff under My Documents. But their reasons are not your reasons.

I speak from experience here; and what an unlovely experience it was.



Silly Season continues:

A rolling stone gathers no ID.


"Rock legend Bob Dyland was treated like a complete unknown by police in a New Jersey shore community when a resident called to report someone wandering around the neighborhood."



"These are not the image of the classic cavemen, of brutish people that are stumbling around the landscape and, in spite of themselves, surviving."


-- Roland Dobbins


They can’t judge a book without its cover.


 A newspaper submits work by well known authors to various publishers as if they were by aspiring authors.

You can imagine how this turns out.



The Cartoons that shook the world


And Yale censors out the illustrations of the cartoons that the book is about.


 ----- Pål Steinar Berg

Freedom is not free.


Tax-Supported US Colleges don't recommend their own students -

“Many US colleges and universities have notices posted on their websites informing US companies that they're tax chumps if they hire students who are US citizens.”


E.C. "Stan" Field


"There is no reason to think that life on Earth has only one single origin. It is quite possible that there were several beginnings of life on Earth."


-- Roland Dobbins


'As Jeffrey Rosen has said, the biggest problem with DHS is that it was “a bureaucratic and philosophical mistake.”'


- Roland Dobbins


'The Homeland Security Department, which expects to get roughly $44 billion in its overall 2010 budget compared to the Pentagon's $636 billion, is also reluctant to bear the costs of the proposed program.'


-- Roland Dobbins


Unemployment rates  

A correction to one of your readers ("Anon."), who stated "Unemployment rate as of October 31, 2010 (9.5% as today's basis): 14 - 17%. (Reported unemployment, being just those drawing unemployment benefits, will probably be less than that figure; this assumes there is no significant unreported unemployment today, which is close to true since the first wave of unemployed are probably only nearing the end of their benefits)." I actually agree with his overall analysis; however, the unemployment rates generally reported in the news media are the "total unemployment rate" (TUR), not the "insured unemployment rate" (IUR). The total unemployment rate at the national level is directly taken from the Current Population Survey, and is based upon the concept of "self-identification" as to employment status. The IUR is usually not even reported in the news media; it also is calculated differently, being simply insured employment divided by "covered employment". The TUR is based upon a "labor force" concept: the rate is calculated by dividing total unemployment by the "Civilian Labor Force," which is civilian employment plus total employment. ... I could go on, since it was calculating this stuff that allowed me to play with early desktop computers ...

Chris Johnson
retired labor economist
retired AFRES Flight Engineer
(and the second check was without a doubt more fun to earn)




While I don't agree with Paglia on every point (though I suspect you would agree more with her than me on some of those points of disagreement), she is cooking with an acetylene torch ...


<snip>As with the massive boondoggle of the stimulus package, which Obama foolishly let Congress turn into a pork rut, too much has been attempted all at once; focused, targeted initiatives would, instead, have won wide public support. How is it possible that Democrats, through their own clumsiness and arrogance, have sabotaged healthcare reform yet again? Blaming obstructionist Republicans is nonsensical because Democrats control all three branches of government. It isn't conservative rumors or lies that are stopping healthcare legislation; it's the justifiable alarm of an electorate that has been cut out of the loop and is watching its representatives construct a tangled labyrinth for others but not for themselves. No, the airheads of Congress will keep their own plush healthcare plan -- it's the rest of us guinea pigs who will be thrown to the wolves.<snip>



re: Ephraim F. Moya's comments 

I agree with much of what he's said.

Concerning multi-generational projects, though, there are shining examples all over Europe: Cathedrals.

Many if not most were multi-generational projects that DID hew to the architects' plans.

If he's talking about recent history, I'd have (regretfully) to agree with him, if it's a big project. Projects that progress by small, incremental improvements (electronics in general, computer science) and aren't in the public eye do well, but that's not what asteroid mining would be, as he sees it.


Doug Hayden


Kdatlyno sound-sculptures now a reality.


--- Roland Dobbins


"The problem is if we just take into account the photochemistry as we know it on Earth and if we put it in the model, then we cannot reproduce the model and that was a surprise."


-- Roland Dobbins







 read book now





The current page will always have the name currentmail.html and may be bookmarked. For previous weeks, go to the MAIL HOME PAGE.


If you are not paying for this place, click here...

IF YOU SEND MAIL it may be published; if you want it private SAY SO AT THE TOP of the mail. I try to respect confidences, but there is only me, and this is Chaos Manor. If you want a mail address other than the one from which you sent the mail to appear, PUT THAT AT THE END OF THE LETTER as a signature. In general, put the name you want at the end of the letter: if you put no address there none will be posted, but I do want some kind of name, or explicitly to say (name withheld).

Note that if you don't put a name in the bottom of the letter I have to get one from the header. This takes time I don't have, and may end up with a name and address you didn't want on the letter. Do us both a favor: sign your letters to me with the name and address (or no address) as you want them posted. Also, repeat the subject as the first line of the mail. That also saves me time.

I try to answer mail, but mostly I can't get to all of it. I read it all, although not always the instant it comes in. I do have books to write too...  I am reminded of H. P. Lovecraft who slowly starved to death while answering fan mail. 

Monday -- Tuesday -- Wednesday -- Thursday -- Friday -- Saturday -- Sunday

 Search engine:


or the freefind search

   Search this site or the web        powered by FreeFind
  Site search Web search

Boiler Plate:

If you want to PAY FOR THIS PLACE I keep the latest information HERE.  MY THANKS to all of you who sent money.  Some of you went to a lot of trouble to send money from overseas. Thank you! There are also some new payment methods. I am preparing a special (electronic) mailing to all those who paid: there will be a couple of these. I have thought about a subscriber section of the page. LET ME KNOW your thoughts.

If you subscribed:

atom.gif (1053 bytes) CLICK HERE for a Special Request.

If you didn't and haven't, why not?

If this seems a lot about paying think of it as the Subscription Drive Nag. You'll see more.

Patron Subscription:

Search: type in string and press return.


For platinum subscription:

For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:

= = = = = = = = = =

For a Regular Subscription click here:

= = = = = = = =

Strategy of Technology in pdf format:

To order the nose pump I recommend, click on the banner below:

Entire Site Copyright, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Jerry E. Pournelle. All rights reserved.

birdline.gif (1428 bytes)