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Monday  September 21, 2009

Letter From England

Most of the news is very parochial.

 Labour and Gordon Brown have decided to preempt the Tory's criticism of their spending: <http://tinyurl.com/nlgvum> <http://tinyurl.com/n6kmpf  > <http://tinyurl.com/moahu8> <http://tinyurl.com/nhkjjd>

 Public debt explodes: <http://tinyurl.com/ldvzee>

 Liberal Democrat position: <http://tinyurl.com/ko7v9k>

 Conservative proposal: <http://tinyurl.com/kjhps2> <http://tinyurl.com/kk8cc7  >

 I've seen this style of management before from Gordon Brown--he plays games with budgets. The word is that only 10% of the research grant proposals submitted are now being approved--down from 30-40% in more normal times--and some researchers are holding off until after the election, especially as rejected grant proposals cannot be resubmitted no matter how promising.

 UK police training Libyans: <http://tinyurl.com/l9spyr> <http://tinyurl.com/m74ft2  >

 Universities bulging at the seams: <http://tinyurl.com/ksbabv> <http://tinyurl.com/qz2cab  >

Witch-hunt fails: <http://tinyurl.com/llhocg> <http://tinyurl.com/o7nb4a>

 Postal strike vote: <http://tinyurl.com/npcqk5>


"If they do that with marks and grades, should they be trusted with experimental data?"

Harry Erwin, PhD


Labour's approach to saving £2B in the schools budget--sack the headteachers <http://tinyurl.com/m7grvo>. They already can't fill the vacancies for that position--nobody in teaching wants the grief.

 Prejudice (dictionary meaning) in kindergarten: <http://tinyurl.com/mxywv9  >.

 Yes, I know this is Richard Dawkins, but he's making a real point-- London has become the East Texas (preferred venue for patent cases) of the world for libel cases. <http://tinyurl.com/nvwgvq>.

 In 54 years in America, I had never been physically attacked in the street, either when walking or on bicycle. It's different in England. 

In the last year riding my bicycle, I've been physically attacked twice by pedestrians--once punched and once grabbed--and twice by drivers using their car to knock me out of the road. My wife was attacked Saturday, and Sunday a driver played 'chicken' with me, crossing the centre line to try to force me off the road as I was riding in the opposite direction. It's generally accepted that if women are afraid to ride bicycles in an area, there's a serious problem. My wife refuses to ride downtown except with me because of these and other incidents.


Harry Erwin, PhD

"If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning." (Catherine Aird)


Subj: Free online lectures: Modern Physics: The Theoretical Minimum


>>For the past two years, Stanford has been rolling out a series of courses (collectively called Modern Physics: The Theoretical Minimum) that gives you a baseline knowledge for thinking intelligently about modern physics. The sequence, which moves from Isaac Newton, to Albert Einstein’s work on the general and special theories of relativity, to black holes and string theory, comes out of Stanford’s Continuing Studies program ... [T]he courses are all taught by Leonard Susskind...<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

For MIT physics courses on line see here.


Paul Graham on Post-Medium Publishing 

Jerry, Paul Graham has an essay up that is relevant to the thread on publishing.


Publishers of all types, from news to music, are unhappy that consumers won't pay for content anymore. At least, that's how they see it.

In fact consumers never really were paying for content, and publishers weren't really selling it either. If the content was what they were selling, why has the price of books or music or movies always depended mostly on the format? Why didn't better content cost more? [1 <http://www.paulgraham.com/publishing.html#f1n> ]

A copy of /Time/ costs $5 for 58 pages, or 8.6 cents a page. /The Economist/ costs $7 for 86 pages, or 8.1 cents a page. Better journalism is actually slightly cheaper.

Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant. Book publishers, for example, set prices based on the cost of producing and distributing books. They treat the words printed in the book the same way a textile manufacturer treats the patterns printed on its fabrics.<snip>

Gordon Foreman




I hate you Judge Green.





Power-beaming systems <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29387782/>  are moving from drawing boards and computer slideshow presentations to actual demonstrations on tabletops and in exhibit halls. But what will it take to turn power beams into profitable outer-space ventures?

Strangely enough, the challenge of constructing a sheet of thin-film solar cells that unfolds to a width of 1,000 feet (300 meters) in orbit is not the issue uppermost in the mind of William Maness, chief executive officer of Everett, Wash.-based PowerSat Corp. <http://www.powersat.com/>  The problems that lead his list have more to do with earthly affairs - such as getting investors, utilities and regulators to buy into the idea.



DoJ Says Google Settlement Must Be Changed - y


Francis Hamit


The Mystery Pit of Oak Island.


- Roland Dobbins

I think I first read about Oak Island in a Saturday Evening Post story in the 1940's. It crops up every now an then. Interesting update.


I found this in the spam mail:

Today is Talk Like A Pirate Day in which we're all supposed to spend the day affecting West Country accents and uttering things like, "ARRRGH, Jim lad!" Talk Like A Somali Pirate Day is a lot easier. All you have to do is say over and over, "Allah OH CRAP, A NAVY SEAL SHOT ME!!"





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Tuesday,  September 22, 2009

More news on thorium 


-- Talin


Unintended consequences


Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Toshiyuki Tabata spent 30 years as a Nissan Motor Co. engineer trying to make gasoline-powered cars quieter. Now he's consulting music composers to make electric cars noisier -- and safer.

I found this funny.



IE Tabs

Hi Dr. Pournelle,

Like you, I am a fan of FireFox and use it almost exclusively except for dealing with Microsoft's web site. For that I use Internet Exploder 8, now. So, I have some small experience using IE 8. In response to the trouble you mentioned about trouble closing tabbed pages in IE, I would like to share some observations of my own.

I have noticed that the "close" X only appears on the selected tab. If you select a different tab, the X will appear on that one and disappear from the previously selected one. I have also found that you can close an unselected tab by right-clicking on it and selecting "Close Tab" from the context menu. If there is only one tab, the "close" X will not appear on it or will disappear if you had it selected and closed the other tabs.

I suppose the logic in not showing the "close" X for a single tab is that you won't want to close the only open tab. This makes some sense to me since I generally close the browser once I am done with it instead of closing the tab(s) and leaving the browser open.

If this is redundant information for you then please disregard the message. I hope that it is helpful, though.

By the way, do you think that "FootFall" might be a candidate for a sequel?

Cheers, Bruce Lewis

Thanks. Judy Lynne Del Rey, our editor at Ballantine for Footfall, wanted us to do a sequel called Harpanet for President (which implies the plot) but the publisher lost interest when she died. Footfall still reads well. It was at one time the Number One bestseller on the NY Times list.


Firefighters and taxes

Firefighting differs from state to state, and within states. In some areas, the volunteer fire companies run on nearly pure libertarian principals. I lived in rural South Carolina, with a volunteer fire department. Volunteer- it got no money from taxes. Each year someone from the fire department would come around and tell you how much you would contribute that year. And what you did next was to write a check and give it to him.

If there was a fire at a house, and the volunteers showed up, they were required by law to make efforts to save anyone within. That was the end of their legal responsibilities for any fire. They would check their records. If you contributed, they would then work to save the structure. If not, they would watch it burn, and prevent the fire from spreading to surrounding structures. If they had contributed. The system works because there are no row houses, and no possibility of freeloading. Cities force everyone to pay for fire protection through taxes. Because someone in a middle row house, if he had not paid, would still have his structure saved because it would be the only way to prevent fire from spreading to adjacent structures.

I tried explaining this system to a volunteer fireman from NY. His reaction "That's stupid! They'll get sued!" They have been, and have won every case. They're volunteers. And receive no tax money, and thus incur no obligations. In NY, fire districts, manned by volunteers, are taxing authorities. Everyone pays. Firefighters put out all fires. Both systems work.

Oh, one more thing. Your fire insurance is null and void if you don't make your contribution to the local volunteer fire department in SC.

Harold Hamblet

That doesn't sound voluntary to me.


On Health Care Reform -

Greetings Jerry,

The impetus for the urgency of "Health Care Reform" is supposedly because health care costs are increasing too rapidly and that means more and more people will lose their coverage due to the insurance premiums rising over what poor and middle class families can afford. The Obama administration and the Democrat-led Congress answer this "unsustainable" situation seems to be that competition through insurance exchanges and/or government run insurance programs will keep insurance premiums from skyrocketing. In the mean time, ensure everyone who isn't covered currently to be forcibly added to insurance/government option programs and make them contribute.

I think this approach is backwards. How can you manage health care costs without addressing the factors that are causing these costs to go up? Where is the analysis of what is causing these increases to happen? Nothing I've seen in the current proposals in Congress seem to be addressing them.

For example, doctors and patients are squeezed on both sides by insurance premiums. Doctors pay high malpractice insurance premiums which causes them to charge more to their patients for their services. Patients pay ever increasing premiums to insurance companies to pay for their health care services which are rising due to doctors' malpractice insurance. Shouldn't we be addressing this self-feeding monster first?

The counter-claim to tort reform is that people shouldn't lose the right to sue for compensation/damages when doctors do wrong. Since medical science is not currently infallible, there needs to be room for doctors to do their best without being charged when things don't go right. There can be accommodation for egregious errors, but our health care system can't sustain the right to get rich off of failed but honest attempts at treatment.

In his speech, President Obama gives lip-service to the idea on performing "regional studies" to appear bi-partisan. I doubt there will be serious effort here given his obvious reluctance in the past.

There are other factors such as prescription medicine costs and the high costs of medical equipment. Also, I remember a time when I could go to a doctor's office, get a blood sample done, and get the results later from the same office. Nowadays you have to make one appointment to see the doctor, then make another appointment for the lab to do the blood work, then make a third appointment to see the doctor again to deal with the results. Isn't that an expensive way to do things?

I can go on and on, however while there may be some agreement that things could be changed for the better, I do not think that the Obama/Democrats plan will accomplish what they claim.


Nathan Stiltner


Net Neutrality


"He makes the argument, much like the recent conversations, that the demand for a 'free' or unlimited good is infinite. Networks don't have infinite capacity. Take away ISP's ability to throttle and/or restrict traffic for certain applications and certain high-bandwidth users, and the only alternative is to implement hard total bandwidth caps for everyone or charge by the megabyte."

This seriously misrepresents the issue. Yes, the demand for a "free good" is infinite; so don't make it free! Beyond a bandwidth cap (which would almost certainly be high enough to effect very few people), charge by the megabyte.

Net neutrality -only- says that all data packets, no matter who originated them, or what particular data they contain, will be charged the same rate.

Without network neutrality, Comcast can (and has) deliberately slowed down Skype data because they don't want Skype to compete with the Comcast VOIP service. That's illegal restraint of trade, and uses one business (building the wires) to gain an unfair competitive advantage in another. Verizon would love to restrict Hulu, because they want you to pay them extra for FIOS TV. Verizon hates the Apple Movie downloads because they want you buying the same movie from them. And so on.

The issue here is that (for example) all movie providers should compete on a level playing field, and if Apple wants to rent movies cheaper than Verizon, then Verizon should not be allowed to tilt the playing field by making Apple movie downloads slower.

Net neutrality is about free markets and equal access to one of the most important markets of all: bandwidth.


Perhaps I am misunderstanding what is demanded in the name of net neutrality, but what I see is demand for regulations that essentially nothing can be discriminated against no matter how much you download. It is never stated precisely that way, but that seems to be what the regulations would do.

If a practice is "illegal restraint of trade" then why do we need more regulations to forbid an illegal practice? Would it not make more sense to enforce existing rules?

At the moment I use Cable Modem (Time Warner). There are competitors for both cable tv and internet connection. SKYPE works fine for me -- it's what I use when I do radio interviews or take part in TWIT -- and while I don't use Hulu I gather that some neighbors do.

If all data packets must be charged the same rate, and there is some reasonable amount that you get for a flat monthly fee, I don't see how that is different from what I said ought to work and would be reasonable; but I gather that's not what the -- or at least some -- net neutrality advocate want. I remember having this argument with Dvorak a few weeks ago.

And are you actually saying that all ought to have "equal access" to bandwidth without regard to price? How is that a free market? I would have thought that a free market would have as few regulations as possible?




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Scribd sued over copyright... by Jammie Thomas lawyers

The law firm of Camara & Sibley has decided to take on document-sharing website Scribd in a big way, seeking class action status against the site in a lawsuit filed Friday in a Texas federal court. The charge: like YouTube, Veoh, and other user-generated content sites, Scribd makes it just too easy to upload copyrighted content without permission, and the company should be held liable... and pay up.


Bill Shields

Readers will recall the great SFWA vs. scribd flap about two years ago.


The Next £2B Contribution is from University Students 

CBI study recommends dropping the 50% participation goal and raising student fees by 60%. <http://tinyurl.com/m748uo>  <http://tinyurl.com/kl44om >  <http://tinyurl.com/nndpxb

The problem is that it reduces upward mobility for the talented and downward mobility for the untalented.

Britain's youngest crime suspect--age 3: <http://tinyurl.com/lhq4n4

-- Harry Erwin

Is that not the definition of meritocracy?



A correlation worth noting.

Removing defensive weapons with no noticeable diplomatic return is a form of unilateral disarmament. Doing so in the absence of evidence that the weapons are not required (and again I'll note that the decision Thursday codified a policy that the new Administration introduced in the campaign and has been implementing since the election -- NOT since the inauguration) is ... well, I hope that the intelligence is correct.

Signing to "cap and trade" without corresponding concessions from China and India is a form of unilateral economic disarmament. Signing to "cap and trade" and then imposing tariffs on imports from China and India is... well, the term which comes to mind is economic suicide.


between sentence and execution

Dr. Pournelle,

While I agree that the time between sentencing and execution of sentence is far too long, I have considerable concerns about the existence of sentences of death.

A recent article (August 2009) in /Popular Mechanics/ demonstrated many problems with forensics. http://www.popularmechanics.com/
technology/military_law/4325774.html   Some crime labs are notoriously inept; Houston's lab, in past years, is said to have had extensive roof damage, with leaks sometimes contaminating evidence. Some forensics techniques have not been validated by research; there are, according to that article, no studies to determine whether fingerprints actually are both unique and unchanging. And sometimes juries are wrong, acquitting the guilty and convicting the innocent.

Witnesses' memories are influenced by many factors, including trauma or personal bias. Identification using a photo lineup can be influenced greatly by the technique used, as can any form of interrogation.

Sometimes you find a really bad dude; the forensics evidence clear, the jurors unbiased, witnesses accurate in their testimony. Many cases, however, fall into a gray area where doubt, however unreasonable, remains.

If we just hunt 'em, hear 'em, and hang 'em, what distinguishes society from murderers? There are certain inescapable costs, including time, to the appeals process. This doesn't justify a legal feeding frenzy, nor does filing endless appeals simply because a lawyer can bill the state; it's just that it is costly and difficult to sort out the necessary from the superfluous. Therefore, death sentences are intrinsically costly, lest innocents be slain.

I fear I would have a really hard time voting to convict if the crime carried a sentence of death--even if I were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt I would have enough /unreasonable/ doubt that I might vote to acquit simply to avoid being in some sense a killer myself, just on the gazillions to 1 chance that the guy was framed. How many guilty people have walked free because real jurors came to similar conclusions?


Given the extensive appeals process the likelihood of executing an innocent person is quite small; but of course it can never be zero. I have mixed emotions on the subject. On a purely practical level, the death penalty is enormously expensive given the cost of keeping someone on death row for 25 years. It would be cheaper to put them into the general prison population for life.

And of course most religions provide for the possibility of penance for everyone.

Surely there are more choices than the two you present us.


too big to fail 


After a lot of consideration (some of which you've posted and received comments on here), I've come to the conclusion that the one rule which will prevent overgrowth of companies is a simple one: all mergers and acquisitions must be cash deals only, no exchange of stock. That way, the risks are obvious to the purchasing company, and if bankers are called in there is an independent assessment of the risks of taking a loan. Does that make sense to you?

The secondary question then becomes, how to undo the damage already done. There is no question in my mind that McDAC, Martin, and TRW (at a minimum) should again be independent companies, but I'm not sure how to manage the deconstruction given the merger and/or discontinuation of production lines by Boeing, Lockheed, and Northrop after the respective acquisitions. (For example, McDonnell-Douglas DC aircraft are no longer manufactured by Boeing; how could a spun-off McDAC survive with anything like it's former business base).



Global Warming/Climate Change/Global Cooling .

Hi Jerry,

I thought you might find the following article interesting, given your viewpoint that climate change isn't what we are led to believe. I, like the author, am surprised that it hasn't been given more coverage.


Glenn Hunt

Yep. It's that or give up the grants.


X-Projects & Production 

>>In general, I would say that it is probably in the national interest to keep a number of defense technology development companies in business. A series of x-project contracts might suffice. I can conceive of small production run contracts as well.<<

I think there's a lot in the first proposal for many classes of material. The Soviets did much the same by maintaining multiple "design bureaus". In aircraft Mikoyan, Tupolev and Ilyushin are famous names. The question is whether Boeing and Lockmart will tolerate design competition from Scaled Composites and even newer companies.

There's not a great amount of synergy between initial design and subsequent production. This is something these two companies have repetitively proven over the last few decades. There may even be diseconomies of scale. There's too much pressure for a company to conceal serious errors. The tragic saga of the AH-64 tailrotor swashplate would be probably have been resolved a lot sooner had there been two separate engineering teams diagnosing the problem, each with an eye to blaming the other group.

Maybe this is the doorway to real procurement reform. First competitively bid the R&D and then a second round to competitively bid the manufacture if manufacture is decided on. As Lockheed informed us by announcing that 1,000 sub-contractors were producing F-22 parts, a prime contractor for production these days is mainly offering production management services.

The days of Willow Run are long gone. And speaking of Willow Run, Ford didn't design the B-24 it built there anyway. Consolidated Aircraft did.


See also last week on too big to fail.


Methane-Oxygen Rocketry

you said,

Max Hunter preferred propane, largely on operations grounds. Methane in sufficient purity is difficult to find. Propane has a small performance hit, but the logistics are a lot better.

I wonder why dry natural gas (minus the condensibles, say methane and ethane) would not be suitable. (Being ignorant of rocket engine operations). Surely a given lot of methane/ethane with a testable fuel value could be given the appropriate amount of oxygen (not necessarily stoichiometric) to tune the engine to available fuel rather than vice versa.

Surely RP-4 (rocket fuel analog of JP-4) is not a pure molecule and it works in kerosene-oxygen engines.

Come to it, if pure methane is a necessity, we distill liquid air and obtain even parts per million fractions for the noble gases. How much pure methane from natural gas would it take, and how difficult would it be to purify something that is ~90% of the incoming mix?

On the other hand, Max Hunter was an amazing man and I would welcome any thoughts or recollections or speculations on this matter you could add. For your readers, he worked at Douglas Aircraft at the dawn of the missile age and helped create one of the first IRBMs in record time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PGM-17_Thor 

Joseph Friedlander

It gets complicated -- heck, it's rocket science.

One of the conclusions of the Council I chaired was that it was time to start doing operations driven design rather than performance driven design: that it is better to give up a little performance to get smoother and more reliable operations than to try to eke out the last bit of performance.

There needs to be a reliable consistency in rocket fuels to assure a steady burn without bursts and sputters.

Hydrogen has the best performance, but it is an operations nightmare. That's a small molecule and it really wants to get out. It takes cryogenics -- extreme cryogenics -- and it has a low density.

Methane has somewhat higher performance capability (ISP) than propane, but getting reliably pure methane is a lot harder and is more expensive; there's lots of propane of various purities. Handling propane is simpler, too. There's plenty of propane handling equipment for sale and we have lots of experience at it.

Kerosene and its variants just doesn't have the performance to get anything like single stage or multiple reusable stage to orbit velocities.

I'll let someone with more expertise in propulsion than I have say more if more is needed, but Max Hunter's opinion was that when we actually built reusable space ships they'd run on propane, not hydrogen or methane.


Fabulous Pix of Bats Drinking from Pond




Re: The article on electric cars being too quiet.

This is another one of those cases where someone has an idea without knowing anything of the subject and a popular myth builds up.

In the early 90’s when I was activly in the electric vehicle business, this issue arose. Some tests were run by one of the government labs (don’t remember which one). They found that regular sedans of the time, particularly the more expensive ones, had the engine noises sufficiently quieted that at low speeds such as those in parking lots, traffic background noise and tire noise were the dominant factors. Even in fairly quiet environments, the EVs and IC cars had roughly the same in noise emission around 10 mph.

In urban shopping centers with traffic noise of 20-30 db, you couldn’t hear any of them. This is one of the reasons many delivery type vehicles have back up alarms.

Back then I was designing and building conversions of Chevy S-10 pickups: 75 mph top speed, 35-50 mile range, AC/ PS, automatic transmission, liquid cooled motor controller (silencing the pump was an issue), 148 VDC battery pack. The business turned out to be an expensive hobby. Perhaps the public climate is better now. It is the perception of having a vehicle that will run around town, then drive 300 plus miles at a moments notice, that people are used to. It will take a lot of conditioning to counter that, and take a good while to do that conditioning. It comes down to energy density, and nothing we have comes close to petroleum.

John Witt





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I know we’ve beaten TSA up a lot on your site, but I’m ready to take another shot at them. I was down at a location in New Mexico last week, and flew back through Albuquerque. When going through the TSA security checkpoint, I went for the shorter line as I usually do, and failed to notice it was the line with a new Millimeter Wave scanner. When I saw it, I wasn’t worried, having worked around that stuff all my life, but what happened next was terribly annoying.

After I went through the scanner (they make you remove all metal objects and your belt) the TSA functionary on the opposite ‘ORDERED’ me to stand on a mat off to the side, facing outward while waiting for the result of the scan from a remote location. The next person through was ordered to stand on the other mat, again facing outward while waiting. Once the scan results came back, the TSA guy said, “You may go”. The upshot of it was, the whole thing was handled like I was a criminal getting a mug shot. I was treated with a total lack of respect, not like a US citizen trying to take a flight in his own country. To say I was incensed is putting it mildly. Fortunately, I didn’t let my nature get the better of me and complain, because it’s likely with the TSA attitude there, I’d be getting waterboarded in a TSA interrogation chamber (which would be deemed okay because I’m only a US citizen, not a terrorist with inalienable rights). The further insult was this line took about twice as long to go through as the standard metal detector line, and no one was forcing the travelers to stand in a certain manner in a certain place so the T(SS)A could control them.

I really didn’t appreciate that experience, nor the fact that they took a bottle of shampoo from me at the inspection point…which, by the way, if they were concerned about it being an explosive or some other kind of weapon, would they have actually just thrown it in a trash can with all the other items they had confiscated from travelers? It doesn’t seem like they would want a trash can full of explosives, poisonous gas or flammable liquids sitting right where all those people are. No….the truth is it’s a farce, and I believe most of them know it.

Sorry, Jerry….I had to vent. I’m still upset.


The purpose of TSA is to convince Americans that they are subjects, not citizens. What other purpose could such kabuki security theater have? It certainly does not increase security.


“Any substantive measures put in place by T.S.A. since 9/11 are effectively window dressing and have done little to reduce the overall risk to the system.”


--- Roland Dobbins

More kabuki theater. And they never catch wise...


our educated servants

Hello Dr. Pournelle

A couple of hundred years ago, a person seeking opportunity and a better life in America, might take on an indenture. This was necessary, because of the high cost of passage. When you arrived at your new life, you would need to work the indenture off, over a period of years. The system was common in the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries, and lasted in some form until the late 19th century. It was banned by law, in 1948. It is a relief to know that we no longer need sell ourselves, in order to improve our stations. On the other hand…..

Today, a person seeking opportunity and a better life might take on a student loan. This is necessary because of the high cost of college. Upon completion, you will need to work for years to pay the loan off, with loan payments often being a major expense, and impairing abilities to afford the prospective lifestyle that enticed the student into college in the first place.

At least the indenture program got you to your destination, and had work for you when you arrived. In taking out a student loan, there is no guarantee that you will graduate, and no promise of a job if you do. I sympathize strongly with the young woman whose father wrote you, and to those like her. To work so hard, place yourself under such a debt load, train yourself for a useful profession, and then not be able to find a job makes the whole thing pointless. Why bother trying to get ahead? For those who manage to avoid the pitfalls, we have a government that wants to take most of what they earn, in order to support those who never made the effort, along with a legion of government employees. So where will our future engineers come from? China and India probably.

I recently saw a posting for a marketing position which required a bachelor’s degree, and paid 27K. Part of this may be the poor job market these days, and part may be that perhaps marketing is not the best degree to have just now – but 27K? I have friends who make more than this tending bar and waiting tables. Of course, the way things are going, in a decade or two you will need a degree to wait tables and tend bar – and to sweep floors too. Never fear though, you will be able to get a student loan to finance your new career, and perhaps only spend half of your working life paying it off.

The schools have little incentive to do anything but raise costs, because raised tuition will fuel a demand for the government to raise loan and grant amounts, which will in turn embolden schools to raise tuition. Nice racket. I considered, within the last year, taking a calculus course, to refresh my old skills, so that I could keep up with the math in some of the physics and astronomy books I wanted to read. My local state school wanted $1400 for the single course, after figuring in tuition and all of the other fees – from a state university. Were I from out of state, the costs would be considerably higher. Those who are so anxious for public health care, may want to take a close look at public education.

In point of fact, the indenture system is not completely dead. The company that I work for now, has a tuition reimbursement program; but you have to agree to stay with the company for a certain number of years after graduation. Such an arrangement is not uncommon. This is just another example of how the system seems geared towards getting us to sell ourselves. While putting one’s self under the obligation of a crushing debt burden is not exactly slavery, it is not quite freedom either.

Neal Pritchett

Why do taxpayers support public institutions of higher education which then require the students to take out loans? Why not just let those institutions compete; stop the subsidies. Originally the purpose of tax subsidized education was as investment in the future, but clearly it is not doing that now.

Of course we will not cut off state subsidies: but is it not time to look at the higher education system, state the goals that justify taking taxpayer's money and giving it to the faculty and employees of those places, and assessing how well they are meeting those goals?  Looked at from the outside it is hard to say what the taxpayers are getting for their money: I say this as a graduate of state universities. But in those days, the tuition was nominal, enough that it wasn't free, but I never had to take out loans. In my time "working your way through college" was a quite meaningful choice. My wife and I both did that.


Bill Whittle with Dr. Ghate of Anyn Rand Center


I'm pretty sure you will like this one:




Adoption and the Iron Law

Dr. Pournelle,

Following from your comment on the China cases, you might find this of interest:


The story is headed "Children taken from parents and adopted ‘to meet ministry targets’"

which pretty much says it all. There have been a number of high-profile cases which look as if they support this viewpoint.

It seems to be yet another application of the Iron Law.

Stay well and keep dancing as fast as you can!

Andrew Duffin







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Friday,  September 25, 2009

'We're building a low-cost transportation system from Earth to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond, principally with the Moon as the next logical destination.'


-- Roland Dobbins

This is a systematic and logical course that I very much hope will work. We need incremental improvements that actually make money so that commercial space sustains itself and doesn't depend on government to keep operating. Whether the US will allow this or not is not so clear any longer.

NASA always has opposed any commercial competition with their monopoly. With their falling budgets they have less reason to do so, but NASA operates by the Iron Law in spades with big casino, so it's not clear they care. With some ineffectual individual exceptions, NASA has never put making America a space faring nation anywhere near the top of the organization's goal list.


Good News for Moon Buffs


David March



Subject: ToS & contracts

You said in your View today "Then, it turns out, their contract, which most of their users didn't read, says they can do this, but it's not fair, because the must have known that most of the users wouldn't read the contract. Something must be done."

If I'm not mistaken, courts have actually ruled in favor of customers on a number of Terms of Service and EULA contract suits specifically due to the intentionally abstruse and voluminous nature of the language in many of those.

The Terms of use that came from my ISP was an entire booklet, phrased in the most verbose and obfuscated legalese possible, that I (well-educated, but not a lawyer and not rich enough to have one on retainer) could not even begin to decipher every implication of it. Nor could I reasonably review every such ToS and EULA for every service (ISP, bank, credit, etc) or piece of software or web service that I use... I'd spend the vast majority of my time doing so to the exclusion of all other activities.

While there may be an argument that these are drafted this way in order to hedge against frivolous lawsuits, there is an equal argument that they are intended to prevent the customer/client from being able to reasonably review and comprehend the terms of their contract.

Both are, of course, matters of considerable concern and I think in this case that in fact "something must be done" to curtail both. The only "option" available the customer has is to refuse the contract, but can this really be said to be a viable option in our society? Such things are attached to just about every service one is all but required to utilize these days... you could have no cable, no phone, no wireless, no utilities, no credit, no bank accounts, no internet (and all sundry applications of it)... and so on. In essence, you have to either live almost completely "off the grid" or complacently accept signing who knows what in these contracts.

I'm undecided about the whole net neutrality thing (largely because I've seen too many definitions of it from its advocates as well as its critics), but if at some point it sparks a discussion of curtailing or reforming contract language in order for people to be able to know what they're agreeing too... all for the good, I say. Whether it is tort-driven obsessive inclusiveness or intentional manipulation, one really shouldn't need to consult a lawyer to use a cable-modem. It is not, in my opinion, "fair" in any useful sense of the term for them to conceal that they can essentially change the terms of use at will yet I am subject to whatever they decide. Does that really encourage free and open commerce? For them, maybe... not for us at all.

Regards, J.S. Cardinal

I agree on the desirability of unambiguous and clear contract terms. I doubt the ability of government to make this happen. Note that it is fear of lawsuits that inspired the silly sticker on power lawn motors that warns people not to put their hands under the mower while it is running -- as if in the real world there were any individuals both unintelligent enough to put their hands under a running mower, and intelligent enough to read and heed the warning. I suspect that any government attempts here would have the same effect.

I have no objection to the goal of making terms of use clear, and requiring ISP's to state the conditions under which they will either charge more or cut back throughput, but I'd like to see the regulation, not just the goal, before agreeing to it. In these matters the cure is often worse than the disease' or so I have found.

We all wish for things that government ought to be able to give us, but we often discover that we should have been more careful. The Great Society is a good example. So were many of the Roosevelt New Deal propositions. See Amity Schlaes book The Forgotten Man for illustrations.


I think the place of government in this sort of thing is regulation to ensure a fair playing field, but otherwise stay out of the way. So long as the people have a choice of providers, and given some basic truth in advertising regulation as you suggest, it will pretty well sort itself out. I think that at the moment in the USA you do have some providers who have monopoly in particular areas, and it is easier for them to blame congestion on particular users than to provide the unlimited traffic they have promised. But if it wasn't peer to peer it would be video on demand or something else...if the extra traffic is going to be free, why would the users not start to use it?

Governments of course need watching more than anyone because they are pretty much inherently a monopoly, at least for a given territory. Having two in a country has of course been tried but does not seem to work out too well. I do very much agree with you that one of the strengths of a federation like the USA should be that different states can try different arrangements, for instance in education, and see how they work out in practice.

Regards John

I have many correspondents saying much the same things; I can hardly disagree, but I do not see the simple remedies most suppose possible. The Internet grows, the Last 100 feet problem is being overcome, and I do not think that rushing to regulate the industry will make it grow. Most remedies I see proposed would limit competition by stifling startups, which is not the approach I favor. I may be deluded, but I just don't trust regulators to help competition.


And this from a San Diego lawyer;

Net Neutrality


I greatly enjoy your journal. I am afraid, however, you seem to have been misinformed as to net neutrality. This is essentially an issue between carriers, not between a carrier and a particular user. I worked for phone companies for a while and was interning at a high level in the FCC when this debate came up circling around the AT&T-BellSouth merger back in 2005-2006. I have some experience with this issue.

The concern over net neutrality started with Vonage and other VoIP providers. They felt that the bigger local phone companies might have been giving low priority to packet switching for Vonage subscribers. Since services like Vonage require relatively high bandwith, and extremely low packet loss to transmit voice communications, assigning low priority or choking bandwidth would, quite obviously, tamper with the VoIP service. The benefit to the phone company is obvious. Vonage believes it detected instances of this, the phone companies disagree.

In the realm of standard wireline telephony, this is somewhat easily solved because the tradition has been to sell wireline telephone internet products by bandwidth capacity. DSL for instance comes with predefined up and down speeds (bandwidth), and the service is supposed to operate at that exact bandwidth almost all the time. So, on the telephone company side of the house, the issue of net neutrality is much more about packet prioritization than about bandwidth because bandwidth choking is easy to detect and violates contracts (and therefore FCC rules) directly.

The problem comes more in looking at cable internet. Most cable internet is a shared service where they promise "up to" X amount of bandwidth. Cable internet is however, inherently a shared service. Everyone on your cable company's head end is sharing X amount of bandwidth. The total bandwidth the cable company gets for a city is determined at the Cable Modem Termination System (where cable modem traffic gets handed off to the public internet. The cable company divvies that out to each headend or collection point for each "neighborhood" of subscribers. If the traffic at the headend exceeds the alotted bandwidth, things congest and slow down.

Typically cable companies put a choke on bandwith at the top end of whatever service they promise (i.e. 756Kdown/384Kup). So, in general, the big file downloaders don't get any advantage from any excess bandwidth being available. The cable company, though, "oversubscribes" head ends with more users than it can take if all of them are operating at full capacity. Even with oversubscription, the head ends rarely hit capacity. If they start hitting capacity regularly, the cable company typically splits out a new headend to try to divvy the traffic better, allots more bandwidth at certain times if the traffic is "seasonal", sometimes will just suck it up and buy more total bandwidth, or investigates if they think there is hanky panky (say 20 cable boxes running into one building in 24/7 heavy use as a way of avoiding T-1 level costs for internet access).

So, to the extent that the large file downloaders are out there, they are already having whatever effect they are going to have on your cable modem internet. But they are still capped by the bandwidth package they bought, and likely always will be. The net neutrality debate as to cable internet is, therefore, not much about bandwith capping or choking, but again about message prioritization.

The Vonages of the world think cable companies de-prioritize VoIP traffic more than other sorts when headends get congested. The cable companies deny this. The Vonages of the world have enlisted the help of EFF and other sorts to politicize the issue since it probably requires some new rules if the FCC or Congress is going to make rules about how packet prioritization happens.

The then minority party commissioners bargained and got AT&T to sign a net neutrality statement in their Bell South merger approval in 2007. The terminology of that agreement speaks more to packet prioritization than questions of bandwidth choking. Some of the less informed congressional ideas I have seen speak more to bandwidth capping and would have significant unintended consequensces, however most of these get fixed as the people with technical knowledge clue the politicos and non-technical lawyers in to how the systems work.

Personally I see both sides of the issue. Packet prioritization and shifting bandwidth are sometimes necessary and have to be done on the fly to deal with various situations in a hugely dynamic system. Areas hit with natural disasters, for example will get hit with tons of data (check in e-mails) at the exact time system malfunctions limit the resources available. De-prioritizing a VoIP call in this scenario makes perfect sense to me. Blanket rules regarding neutrality would muck up a legitimate damping or choking in this scenario. But the instances of tampering that Vonage (and others) claim to have discovered have some compelling proof to them, and there is no good technical reason to tamper with traffic under normal circumstances.


Chris Reichman
 The Law Office of Christopher J. Reichman

Which summarizes the situation very well indeed.

I conclude as I began: I can analyze the probable effects of a specific regulation. I can look to see how AT&T interpreted the rule they consented to as part of the merger. I cannot comment on "net neutrality" so long as it means one thing to the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- which took the side of SCRIBD against authors and author associations, you may recall -- and quite another to SKYPE, and yet another to the average user.

The real question is whether regulation helps or inhibits the rapid building of capacity and the integration of everyone into high speed networking. Ten years ago we didn't have this problem because we didn't have so many people connected to the net. Do we really believe that more regulation will make the net grow faster, and that regulation will allocate resources better than the market? History does not suggest so.

It ain't that broke, and it's fixing itself. Let it.


Putting Private University Costs in Perspective


In 1972 when I started to work on a Master's Degree in Management Science at The University of Southern California Tuition had just increased fro $95 per semester Hour to $115 per Semester Hour. That translates yo a little less than $2,000 per semester for Tuition. That same year I brought a BMW Bavaria for $8,000.

The roughly equivalent BMW 3 Series sells for about $40,000 today, five times as much. Tuition for the 2008-2009 school year was $18,548 per Semester or $1,249 per Semester Hour, ten times as much.

The Consumer Price Index has increased from 41.1 in January of 1972 to 211.143 in January of 2009 an increase of a bit more than five times.

Looks like USC tuition is increasing at about twice the rate of the CPI while BMW Prices are increasing only at the rate of CPI increase.

The invisible hand of the market place at work. As long as the demand to attend USC exceeds the supply of available student positions and so long as the applicants can find the money to pay i.e. parents or student loans tuition increases will continue to rise faster than the CPI.

What's a body to do?

Reduce demand for degrees by providing APPROPRIATE JOB training in High School and Community College. It would probably be worthwhile for Middle School Students to be exposed to people practicing trades such as plumbing, carpentry, automotive repair, et al along with the kinds of pay scales these trades command. Then compare them with the wages earned by Liberal Arts graduates. That might go a long way toward keeping kids in school until they could start working in a trade.

Bob Holmes

Sending more money to chase a good will raise the price of that good. We had the housing bubble. We now have the Higher Education Bubble. It is impossible for the economy to fulfill all the promises made in the name of higher education, that a degree in Womyn's Studies will insure one a great job, or that degrees in social science automatically result in good jobs (except perhaps in government). We have created a bubble but instead of letting it burst we prop it up with more requirements and more competition to accumulate "credentials".

The rise in prices of university education will continue so long as we feed the beast by making more and more money available for the purpose,  just as the housing bubble continued to inflate so long as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought up bad loans and treated them as capital. Is there any end in sight?

The remedy is simple. If you are in a hole stop digging. Stop feeding the beast. Realize that no more than 15% of the population will profit from college degrees (or if they do then the worth of the degree is degraded accordingly; real education skills require hard work as well as initial intelligence) and act accordingly. Of course this will not happen. The demand for equality will continue. Better to award an MS degree to everyone on reaching the age of fifteen...


Boeing to stop paying for many employees' education

Friday, September 25, 2009 - Page updated at 12:01 AM


Boeing to stop paying for many employees' education

By Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Boeing employees are about to lose a fabulous perk, and the cost-cutting move could mean a significant financial hit for some local colleges and universities as well.<snip>

I got my PhD through Boeing's policy. The rapacity of the universities made this inevitable when the crash came. Expect more of this while the depression continues.


Fed's Strategy Reduces U.S. Bailout Pledges to $11.6 Trillion

Mind boggling commitments.


Ron Mullane

Is comment needed?







This week:


read book now


Saturday, September 26, 2009

'But if the nation as a whole repeats California's mistakes, the consequences will be much more severe; an America beset by rigid bureaucracies, economic decline, and enervated spirit will not be able to preserve liberty at home or protect it abroad.'

A must-read:


-- Roland Dobbins

It is often said that California points the way to the future of the US. California has long been dominated by liberal politicians using the system to insure their independence from the voters while they implement very liberal policies. The result is mixed with some benefits but more and more an environment that drives both business and wealth out; even the entertainment industry is seeking other places.



Obamacare or jail.


- Roland Dobbins 

I suppose the penalty is the same for deliberately not paying other Federal taxes. Of course Obamacare tax is not a tax, since it is for your own good. The benign intentions of the State changes everything. They have the fixed intention of doing you good.


The following is a long introduction to the history of US-Iranian relationships. To go to the end of this article, click here.


Foreign Policy Research Institute Over 50 Years of Ideas in Service to Our Nation www.fpri.org 

Footnotes The Newsletter of FPRI's Wachman Center


Vol. 14, No. 26 September 2009

Shaul Bakhash is the Clarence Robinson professor of history at George Mason University. This essay is based on his presentation at "U.S. Foreign Policy and the Modern Middle East," a Summer Institute for Teachers sponsored by The American Institute for History Education and The Wachman Center of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, held June 25-27, 2009, in Philadelphia. For essays and videofiles from the conference, visit: http://www.fpri.org/education/modernmiddleeast/ 

----- Webcast Jytte Klausen, The Cartoons That Shook the World

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM Eastern Time

The audio webcast is free and open to the public

To register for the webcast visit: http://register.webcastgroup.com/l3/?wid=0740930094850 

On Wednesday, September 30, FPRI will host a booktalk by Jytte Klausen On her new book "The Cartoons That Shook the World" (Yale University Press). The publication of the book has been accompanied by a controversy over Yale's decision not to publish the Muhammad cartoons even though they Are the subject of the book -- inadvertently demonstrating that the Cartoons are still shaking the world, and the story is not over.

Klausen is a professor of comparative politics at Brandeis University. Her earlier book, "The Challenge of Islam: Poltiics and Religion in Western Europe," was published by Oxford University Press in 2005 and subsequently published in German and Turkish.



by Shaul Bakhash

The U.S. has had relations with Iran ever since the last quarter of the nineteenth century. American missionaries have been in Iran even longer than that. But the United States' real engagement with Iran dates only from WWII. The relationship has generally been close, but it has been punctuated first by the involvement of the CIA in the coup of 1953 which overthrew a popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, and then by the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which led to a breach in relations that has not yet been repaired. Indeed, two countries that were once close friends and allies now see each other, respectively, as the "Great Satan" and a member of an "Axis of Evil."

Looking at how some of the leading historians and analysts of the U.S.-Iranian relationship have dealt with this issue, it's interesting to note this constant sense of loss, of what might have been. Barry Rubin entitled his work on the relationship Paved with Good Intentions; James Bill subtitled his Eagle and the Lion with "The Tragedy of Iranian-American Relations." Gary Sick, a former member of the National Security Council, subtitles his "America's Tragic Encounter with Iran." A recent book by journalist Barbara Slavin plays on this idea of a relationship that might have been much better than it is, entitling her book Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies.

Between 1945-79, the U.S.-Iranian relationship was in some ways similar to the U.S.-Saudi relationship, where the U.S. dealt with one ruling family. In the case of Iran, the U.S. dealt with one ruler, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who came to the throne in 1941 and continued to rule for almost four decades. In this period, the relationship was governed by a number of enduring and persistent features.

First, on the American side, the interest in Iran was due in large part to the country's strategic location, bordering, on the one side, the Persian Gulf and on the other, at least until the collapse of the Soviet Union, sharing a very long border with America's previous adversary. Iran was also important because of its oil. During the Cold War, Iran was both a potential target of Soviet expansionism, against which it had to be protected, and a potential and often real ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union. Finally, as Iran grew wealthier from oil revenues, it became increasingly a market for U.S. goods, arms, industrial equipment, technology, investments, and, during the oil boom years after 1973, the employment of American technicians, advisers, specialists and the like.

On the Iranian side, first, the U.S. was seen as a potential protector, initially against the dominance of the two great powers that Iran had experienced throughout its 19th-century and early 20th-century history - Russia and Britain; and then against the Soviet Union. A second persistent feature of the U.S.-Iranian relationship was Iran's view of the U.S. not only as a patron and protector, but also as an ally in advancing what one scholar has called the Shah's dreams of grandeur; the idea that Iran could and should be a great power, at least in the region.

Iran's 19th-early 20th century history with Britain and Russia/the Soviet Union included wars with both these powers. Iran lost territory to both, principally to Russia. Both countries were deeply involved in Iran's economy and trade, and both interfered extensively in Iran's internal affairs and politics. Beginning in the 19th century, Iran sought what I call a "third-country policy" - that is, trying to find a country that could counterbalance these two great powers. In the 19th century, it was sometimes Germany, sometimes France. In the 20th century, particularly beginning in WWII, Iran began to look to the U.S. But this older history of wariness of great powers has played a role in Iran's relations with the U.S. as well. A country that was seen for the most part of the period after 1941 as an ally, a great power in its own right, could also be seen as a country playing once again the imperialist role. As we have seen since the 1979 revolution, it is largely in this role that Tehran has viewed the U.S in the last three decades.

One can view the U.S.-Iranian relationship since WWII in four phases. First, from 1941-53, Iran sought a protector and friend; the Shah actively and determinedly sought to woo the U.S., to attract it into a closer relationship. Second, from 1953 to the late 1960s (post-overthrow of Mossadegh), with the restoration of the Shah, who had fled the country, to the throne, as the result of a coup engineered in large part by the CIA and British intelligence, was a period in which Iran was very dependent on the U.S. - on American protection, support, and aid. This was not quite a patron- client relationship, and Iran and the Shah's independence of the U.S. grew. But nevertheless, it was clear that the U.S. was the senior partner in the relationship. Third, in the period 1973-79, the relationship became much more of a partnership. The shah was much more stable at home, wealthier, and more adept at handling his foreign relations. He began to make demands. Fourth and finally, since 1979, the two countries have been adversaries and have had no direct political and diplomatic relations at all.

WWII AND POST-WWII When WWII broke out, Iran declared neutrality. But the Russians and British invaded Iran in August 1941 anyway. They did so principally for two reasons. First, Iran had had very close relations with Germany. The myth that the ruling monarch of the time was pro-fascist/German has now been addressed and dismissed. But there was a large German presence in Iran, and the British feared for the security of their oil wells in the south, and the Russians for their oil wells in Baku, across the Iranian border.

Secondly, once Hitler invaded Russia in spring 1941, the allies needed Iran's land route to supply the Russian army. This would not have been impossible under a neutral Iran, and therefore the Russians and British decided to invade Iran. They got rid of the shah and placed his son on the throne. This also brought American troops to Iran to facilitate the supplies that moved from the Persian Gulf across Iranian territory to the Soviet Union.

The Shah courted the U.S. assiduously in this period as protection against the two great powers that had occupied the country. On the whole, the U.S. was willing to be wooed and seduced. Early on they gave Iran considerable support. It was the U.S. that persuaded Russia and Britain to sign an agreement to withdraw their troops from Iran within six months of the end of hostilities in the war. The Russians' behavior in Iran was moderated because of the U.S. presence.

When at the end of WWII the Russians insisted on keeping their troops in Iran and supported a quasi-breakaway autonomous movement in the Iranian province of Azerbaijan, the U.S. was very helpful in pressuring the Russians to withdraw and end this support. Already during the war, a permanent feature of the U.S.-Iranian relationship had begun. The Americans sent advisors to assist in building up the Iranian army, police, and gendarmerie force and to assist in other areas of Iranian administration such as finance.

The shah, who was always ambitious to build up a large army, already began in this period what became a perennial theme in the relationship, which is to urge the Americans to supply his army with more advanced armaments.

MOSSADEGH AND OIL NATIONALIZATION CRISIS This honeymoon period in the U.S.-Iranian relationship faced a crisis in 1951, during the movement to nationalize the Iranian oil industry. Iran's oil industry was the most important industry in the country. It was the principle source of foreign exchange revenues. It was the largest employer in the country. But it was British controlled. Iranians had no say in the management of the company, or production, or setting oil prices. For years, the British government had derived from the Iranian oil operation far more income than the Iranian government itself. In the late 1940s and then genuinely in 1951, there began a movement to nationalize the oil industry. This movement was led by Mossadegh, who became Prime Minister. The oil industry was in fact nationalized in March 1951. Then there began a two- year struggle between Iran and Britain over this act.

During the Truman administration, the U.S. government was supportive of Iran. The US was suspicious of the old imperial powers, and supported nationalist movements, which it thought were a good barrier to the spread of communism. There was genuine sympathy with the plight of the Iranians and their desire for more control of their oil industry. The Truman administration was often in the position of urging the British to be more forthcoming in meeting Iranian demands.

The British from the beginning were very unsympathetic to nationalization and decided that Mossadegh was not a reasonable man with whom they could deal. They sought to have him removed from office. They tried to persuade the U.S. to join them in a plot to overthrow him. Truman was not willing to go along with this idea, but as soon as the Eisenhower administration came in, it was very receptive. Both President Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, and his brother Allen, the head of the CIA, were Cold Warriors. JFD believed that neutrality in the Cold War between the Soviet bloc and the U.S. was immoral. They joined the British in a plot which, after some wavering and uncertainty, did succeed in overthrowing Mossadegh in August 1953.

This was a seminal event in the modern history of Iran. The involvement of the CIA and British intelligence in a coup that overthrew a properly elected and very popular PM has remained seared into the Iranian historical imagination and has colored the relationship U.S.-Iranian relationship.

There were a number of other important repercussions of this U.S. involvement in the overthrow of Mossadegh. The Shah, who almost lost his throne over the affair, returned to Iran in August 1953 determined that this should never happen to him again. After 1953, there was increasing royal autocracy and intolerance for criticism, dissent, independent political parties, an independent press or an independent parliament.

Second, the shah's dependence on U.S. support was intensified and entrenched. In fact, having brought the shah back to power, the U.S. had a deep interest in seeing that his regime was stable and that he remained on the throne. Therefore, he was given not only moral and diplomatic support, but financial and other forms of aid as well.

In the minds of the Iranian political class, the impact of this U.S. involvement was two-fold. On the one hand, the idea that America was different from the older imperial powers persisted. The opposition, including Mossadegh's own party, the National Front, continued to believe that just as America had helped Iran against the imperialists in the past, it would come back to its senses and help them again.

On the other hand, the U.S., which had been seen as supportive of Iran's national interests, was now seen in another light. Both these trends of thinking persisted among the Iranian political class pretty much down to the time of the 1979 revolution, although the close alliance of the shah and the U.S. in these years, particularly in the late 1960s and 70s, these years of growing royal autocracy, clearly brought the Iranian belief in America's commitment to democracy, to put it mildly, under great strain.

These were also years in which the shah, both in terms of what he considered Iranian national interests and also because of his reliance on U.S. support, when Iran's foreign policy was very closely aligned with America's foreign policy. As a result, tensions with the USSR increased, and Iran was quick to join the Baghdad Pact, which saw Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Britain allied together in a defense pact with the U.S. an informal partner.

This close U.S.-Iran alignment on foreign policy issues in the 1950s and the early 1960s was occurring at a time when elsewhere in the Middle East and Asia we saw the rise of nationalists governments. In the Middle East in particular, monarchies seemed to be falling like flies. Revolutionary officer regimes were coming to power in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. The great nations of Asia, India, China, and Indonesia, were leading a non-aligned movement. Therefore the shah, in terms of the broader trends in the Middle East and the region, seemed isolated. All this did not go very well with the younger generation in Iran, and broadly speaking, with the educated middle classes. The shah was pursuing a foreign policy, however sensible, one might argue, that went against the grain of the dominant political mood in the country.

The shah also developed, in this period, very close relations with Israel - not because of the U.S., but because of his own calculations of where Iran's interest lay. He saw all around him Arab regimes that were radical, increasingly allied to the Soviet Union, republics rather than monarchies. It made sense then, that the enemy of your enemy was your friend, and Iran's relations with Israel grew increasingly in this period. Not among all, but among a significant element in the population, it was unpopular.

The events surrounding what became known as the Status of Forces bill (1964) - the U.S. just signed a similar agreement with Iraq, SOFA - also proved controversial. These SOFA agreements the U.S. has with many countries where it stations troops are intended to protect American troops or military advisors in other countries from the "terrible" local courts. It in effect extends diplomatic immunity to military personnel serving in a foreign country. In 1964, the U.S. pressured a reluctant shah and a very reluctant parliament and reluctant government cabinet to sign a SOFA to cover American military personnel in Iran. The agreement immediately aroused memories of so-called capitulations which were very common in the region in the 19th century and which also exempted European nationals from the jurisdiction of native courts, Iranian courts in the case of Iran, Ottoman courts in the case of the Ottoman empire, Egyptian courts in the case of Egypt. In fact, Ayatollah Khomeini, who 15 years later was to lead an Islamic revolution in Iran, was expelled from the country for opposing very publicly the status of forces bill, which he called an agreement for the enslavement of Iran.

These were all ways in which the U.S.-Iranian relationship soured in the 1960s-70s. But the fact that the press, parliament, and political activity was controlled meant that the pros and cons of this close relationship the shah had reached with the U.S. were never openly discussed and public opinion was never openly articulated.

At the same time, the shah was never really a client of the U.S. In fact, he always chafed at having to do America's will and sought to escape this tutelage as quickly as he could. As his regime grew more stable, especially as Iran's oil revenues increased, he tried to shake the U.S. off. He did so increasingly successfully. The U.S. was preoccupied with Vietnam, the Nixon doctrine which led to the twin- pillars policy, the idea that regional powers allied with the U.S. should take responsibility for regional security, and that Iran and Saudi Arabia should shoulder more responsibility for Persian Gulf security, meant the U.S. relied more and more on the shah and more on him than on Saudi Arabia, which lacked Iran's size, population, or military clout. The Shah welcomed this, partly because it enhanced his own role and importance, and partly because he wanted to escape U.S. tutelage.

Then as oil prices exploded in 1973-74, Iran's oil revenues quadrupled overnight. The shah became not a debtor to the U.S. or the countries of Europe but a creditor. Iran not only gained enormous economic clout, but also offered the U.S. in a period of financial stringency and high oil prices a huge market for arms, industrial equipment, technology, and employment.

In this period the U.S. did make a number of serious errors in Iran, in addition to doing a number of things correctly. Aside from a brief period under President Kennedy's administration, when Kennedy pressured the shah to begin some reforms in Iran, particularly to break up the landed estates and give a greater share in land ownership to the peasantry, there was very little pressure in this entire period on the shah in the political sphere. The U.S. was pleased to see Iran stable and developing. It was developing spectacularly. The U. S. was pleased to have a large market for American goods. And as long as there was very little internal unrest, it seemed that everything was under control. The U.S. in this period, when it had weight and influence in Iran, missed opportunities to guide the shah politically, internally, in another direction.

Second, the U.S. was so pleased with the close alliance and with the apparent stability of the shah's regime that it began less and less to study closely the internal political situation. We know now that a time was reached when at the shah's insistence, the CIA agreed that it would not do its own intelligence work in Iran, but would rely on the shah's sources. When the boom in oil prices occurred and the shah decided to use this huge revenue, less wisely than other Gulf states, to try and catapult Iran into economic advancement and industrialization, the result was huge dislocations in the economy. Not only the U.S. but all the European countries were complicit in an economic policy that proved in the end very destabilizing to the shah's regime. The attempt to inject into the economy a significant amount of money in a very short period of time caused huge dislocations, and explains in part the discontent that helped fuel the 1979 Islamic revolution.

When that revolution took place, U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations were broken and have not been restored since. The Islamic movement itself had from the beginning an anti- American component. Khomeini's revolution was against the shah, rooted primarily in internal problems. But it was also against the shah's close relations with the U.S. This stemmed from two very obvious factors. First, after all, the Americans had supported the shah, and the opposition therefore saw the U.S. as complicit in the shah's autocracy. One also cannot forget that Khomeini was exiled from his own country and spent 14 years initially in Iraq and then briefly in France as a result of opposing the SOFA.

Second, Khomeini both in leading the revolution and then in stabilizing it once the monarchy had been overthrown, played very adeptly on anti-American sentiment. The themes of anti- Americanism, of America as the shah's supporter, became themes not only of the revolutionary campaign but of post- revolutionary Iran as well.

Third, the seizure of the American embassy by student radicals and the taking of American diplomats as hostages had an enormous impact. Some 50 Americans remained hostages in Iran for 444 days, from November 1979 until the inauguration of President Reagan in 1981. This has left a deep impact on the American political imagination and also on the Iranian one. For the Americans, this was a searing experience; for the Iranians, it was a moment of triumph. The students who seized the embassy became overnight heroes.

Fourth, there was the U.S. position during the Iran-Iraq war. When the war broke out, the U.S. formally at least adopted a position of neutrality and did not supply arms to either side. America hoped the two sides would wear out and exhaust each other. But once Iran looked as if it might actually win the war and bring Saddam down, the U.S. began to support Saddam, not only diplomatically, but with intelligence. The U.S. also remained virtually silent when Saddam used chemical weapons against Iranian troops.

Finally, there has been the problem on the Iranian side of the U.S. attempt to sanction, isolate and demonize Iran and to view Iran as pursuing policies in Lebanon, on the Arab- Israeli conflict, and elsewhere, hostile to American interests.

It's not as if during these years there was no U.S. attempt to reach out to the Iranians or vice versa. The first president Bush, in his inaugural address, referring to U.S. hostages held in Lebanon by Iranian prot‚g‚s, used the phrase "good will breeds good will." The Iranians did then help secure the release of these remaining U.S. hostages, but no good will came in reciprocation. Early in the Clinton administration, the president of Iran offered a U.S. company, Conoco, a large oil deal, but Clinton prevented the deal from going through. President Clinton himself, especially in his second term, attempted on a number of occasions to reach out to the Iranians without success.

So there were attempts in these years to repair relations. Why didn't they succeed? First, there was the legacy of the hostilities of the past on both sides. Second, there are concrete issues dividing the two countries. In any Iran-US rapprochement, Iran would want to see an end to U.S. sanctions against Iran, and an end to America's attempts to isolate Iran and deny it technology, trade, and credits. The U.S. would expect Iran to change its posture on Israel, to stop attempting to be a spoiler in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, and to end its support for groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza strip hostile to Israel. Also, for the U.S. there's the issue of Iran's nuclear program.

In addition, some forms of Iranian foreign policy behavior to which the U.S. particularly takes exception have become very entrenched. Iran's hostility to Israel has become a pillar of its foreign policy; its investment in Hezbollah in Lebanon is a long-standing policy. Iran and the U.S. are now competitors for influence in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. Iran may be a small and weak country compared to the U.S., but it does have its visions of grandeur. It sees itself as the great power of the Persian Gulf region. It believes the U.S. must make space for it at the table in deciding the future of Iraq or Afghanistan. One can see how much at odds the Iranian position is from America's.

The events in Iran surrounding the June 23 elections will make it much more difficult for President Obama, who has tried to open a new page in U.S.-Iran relations, to allow his senior officials to sit at the table with Iran. But even had these events not taken place, U.S.-Iran relations would remain fraught with difficulties and obstacles.

---------------------------------------------------------- Of Related Interest

The Future of Iran, by Kenneth Pollack, FPRI Enotes, September 2008 http://www.fpri.org/enotes/

An Israeli View of the Iranian Nuclear Challenge, by Efraim Inbar, FPRI Enotes, April 2008 http://www.fpri.org/enotes/

The Making of the Modern Middle East, a 10-volume series for middle and high school students from Mason Crest Publishers in cooperation with FPRI http://www.masoncrest.com/

---------------------------------------------------------- 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.

The story of the Mossadegh revolution is greatly over simplified, and underplays the popularity of the Shah and overstates the popularity of Mossadegh. In those times the political class in Iran was very small. The Tehran mob was for sale, and the same people who shouted "Death to the Shah" could be hired by Dulles' agents for fifty cents a day to parade in the market squares shouting Death to Mossadegh. While the CIA was definitely involved in the restoration of the Shah, British Intelligence had its own agenda which was more concerned with protection of purely British interests. Britain at the time was readjusting its policy commitments and had few resources available; recall that this was three years before the British/Israeli invasion of Egypt and the Hungarian uprising with its brutal suppression by the Soviet Union.

Stalin died in March of 1953. There was continued fear that the Russians would go to the Rhine or further. This was the height of the Cold War, and Stalin had not forgotten that his forces were withdrawn from Iran by Truman's threat of nuclear war.  The armistice that ended the Korean War was signed in July 1953. All of this is relevant to the history of those times.

Moreover, this elementary history to a very complex story omits nearly entirely the Shah's White Revolution that attempted to create a middle class; his efforts to liberate women; the open hostility of the American liberal establishment as for instance the interview by Barbara Walters of the Empress at a time when the Shah was being denounced by the mullahs for allowing women to enter the university, but Walters was castigating the Empress for not doing more for the liberation of women.

It is a very complex story, and one from which I concluded well before Carter allowed the Shah to be overthrown that the best US strategy would be to seek energy independence through development of domestic nuclear power and other domestic resources.

SEE ALSO THE CORRECTION posted in tomorrow's mail.


"If you kill your son or daughter, you've done your job and can stay."


- Roland Dobbins


HIH Ertuğrul Osman Efendi Hazretleri, RIP.


Roland Dobbins

The last link. Fascinating.




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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now



Skunks Invade Manhattan, 


New Yorkers seem to be the ultimate accommodationists, going back to Dutch times. Just look how they have accommodated to their newest immigrant population:


"No one can say why the [immigrants] have chosen this moment, but they are marching unopposed onto an island once occupied by their ancestors. And it looks as if they are back for keeps. By choosing their spots, they are finding comfortable quarters, with no one to bother them."



I love this vignette:

"About three weeks ago, Sam, a big mix of golden retriever and English setter, was out for a midnight walk on Cabrini Boulevard, just outside Fort Tryon Park, with Nancy Cauthen. He stuck his nose into a nice smelly grove of garbage bags. A skunk had beaten him to it. From about two feet away, the skunk took aim and made a direct hit.

"I was already asleep when Sam and Nancy came back upstairs, and the smell woke me," said Ric Brown, Ms. Cauthen's husband. "He's white and brown, and you could see the greenish stain line across his chest."

The smell woke him. Heh.

Heh. Of course I have lived with fearless skunks for a long time: there are fifty square miles of chaparral park near my house with the nearest edge about two blocks uphill from me. For the first twenty years we lived here there was a year-round spring about three hundred yards uphill from us, which resulted in frequent encounters with deer, and coyotes and even an occasional fox, as well as California quail and huge flocks of crows and other birds.

Some of the undevelopable acreage adjacent to the wilderness conservation park was found to be developable after all and a bunch of very expensive homes were built, one where the spring used to be. For a while there was a water leak not far from it, and after that was fixed one of the home owners over-watered his extensive yard, but over the years all that stopped. Without water the deer left entirely -- haven't seen a deer in my rose bushes in more than a decade.

The coyotes stopped coming down although I do seen one sometimes late at night. One reason the coyotes don't come down much now is that few people have milk delivered, and of the few who do most have it delivered into a fenced yard. Coyotes used to make part of their living by hunting plastic milk bottles (when we first moved in there were still glass bottles which drove coyotes nuts, but within a couple of years all were plastic or cardboard which coyotes like a lot).

Through all of this we have had skunks, who may or may not bother to go back up into the hills where they are born. They are fearless, and every dog I have had since we moved here has had at least one unpleasant skunk encounter. When I smell skunk I go to my upstairs balcony and spray water all around; that usually drives the skunk away without retaliation, although I had one stand his ground and threaten as he was soaked. He didn't see me up on the balcony, and eventually gave up and went away.

I can imagine Manhattan dwellers having to get used to skunks. Given garbage cans they won't have problems finding food. They eat mice, too, if they can catch them. Never saw one attack a rat.

There's nothing quite like having a dog skunked. All our dogs were convinced that these humans should be able to do something, and DO IT NOW. With Huskies and all that fur it's an impossible job; the memory lingers for at least a week, despite every treatment you can think of and a few I doubt you suspect.




The conclusion of Sunday's WSJ editorial on developments in "arms control" this week, running from the President's resolution before the Security Council to the Thursday morning announcement about Iran's expanded nuclear program (note: last weeks punch line regarding missile defenses not mentioned in this editorial, other than perhaps obliquely in this conclusion):


<snip>In the bitter decades of the Cold War, we learned the hard way that the only countries that abide by disarmament treaties are those that want to be disarmed. It's becoming increasingly, and dangerously, obvious that Mr. Obama wasn't paying attention.

His next logical step is General and Complete Disarmament while continuing to send forces overseas. Perhaps it is time to start a new Survivalist magazine. Low nuclear force levels are unstable. I did a major study on strategic stability for the Air Council in 1967 that looked at just what brings about stability. Unilateral disarmament by the West does not lead to stability. One wonders if there is anyone like Sam Nunn or Henry Jackson left in the Democratic Party.


Solution ... 


The phrase -- and concept -- that kept going through my mind today was 'Solution Unsatisfactory.'

The alternative is, again, Fortress America.

And I'm reminded of Stanley Schmidt's solution to the Fermi paradox: The lifetime of a civilization is the period prior to the rise of the first individual with both the technological capability and the will to destroy that civilization.


UC Student-Faculty Ratio /

Dear Jerry,

UC Professors and students protest budget cuts and fee increases.


One complaint is about the State of California spending "less than $14,000 per student". Presumably this means the state government is spending more than $13,000 per student. A bit further on the article says UC has "over 220,000 students and more than 170,000 faculty".

The Associated Press http://preview.tinyurl.com/y9jbm9p 

 also reports 220,000 students and 180,000 paid staff. Isn't this a bit lavish on administrative overhead? I can see where the budget would be tight, given state "per student" funding of just $13k - $14k. This only works out to $16,500 per employee.


UCB does collect another $4,874 per in-state student ($16,208.75 for non-residents). Taking this as representative and applying the staff multiplier of 1.22 yields a total of $5,946 + $16,500 = $22,446.00 per employee. Parking fees (another college profit center these days) and room and board are additional.

Couldn't most of these problems be cured by moving to a more spartan staffing ratio, such as 1.5 students per employee compared to the current 1.22 students per employee?

Best Wishes,


Never happen. "We're in education! We deserve more!"


Scrubbing the Atmosphere, 


This suggests that removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere might be cheaper than avoiding it release by building photovoltaics:


The author suggests using prizes to find improvements in the processes.


It would be astonishing if that were not so. It would be cheaper to raze all the developments near the rain forest, for that matter, and let the jungle take over again. Topical ForesLand...


Interorbital and the $8K satellite 

Cleaned it up.


I'm no rocket scientist, but these Interorbital people your correspondent Roland Dobbins sent the link on:


seem to be way out on a limb. They're planning to use 30 rockets, clustered together, with pitch and yaw controlled by variable throttling of the clustered engines, and roll by an undescribed "proprietary system".. Well, okay, maybe. But as "hair on fire" as an attitude control system that is two-thirds based upon throttling thirty rocket motors simultaneously at various rates seems, the most unlikely part I found to be in their statement about propellants and oxidizers:

From their website:

The CPM propulsion units are fixed, throttleable, low-thrust, liquid rocket engines. Differential throttling of a series of rocket engines provides pitch and yaw control. A proprietary system provides roll control. Storable, high-density white fuming nitric acid (WFNA) and Hydrocarbon-X (HX) are the rocket’s primary propellants. These cheap, storable, environmentally friendly propellants provide reliable, efficient, hypergolic ignition."

For non-technical folk, "hypergolic" means the fuel and oxidizer burst into explosive flame upon contact. No spark needed. "Handle with care", in other words. They are cheap, and they are storable (well, if properly stored and kept well apart from one another).

However, that's the first time I've ever heard White Fuming Nitric Acid (WFNA) described as "environmentally friendly". I will grant that if inhibited, as with for example hydrogen fluoride, then IWFNA (Inhibited WFNA) can be contained in a metal tank without corroding the hell out of it, but it's hardly a walk in the park to handle that stuff in mass quantities. In a word, it's nasty.

I suppose it's safer as a hypergolic oxidizer than Red Fuming Nitric Acid, and massively safer than the Nitrogen Tetroxide which the US Air Force used in the Titan missiles and derived launchers. That stuff required fueling crews to don "moon suits" with independent air supplies. A leak of it in the Apollo capsule used for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975 nearly killed Tom Stafford and his crew during re-entry.

All in all, if one of these thirty engine cluster beasts ever makes it to altitude in one piece, well, I will be surprised.

I wish them luck, and I am excited about any private attempt to get us "out there,", but something doesn't quite smell right about this one.


My last serious analysis of what we ought to develop was back in DC/X days when we tried to develop reusable single stage to orbit technologies. We proposed SSX, got funding for the scale model DC/X, and thought that we would get a genuine SSX built with the X-33 funding. Lockheed chose to buy the project and use up all the money trying to develop new technologies -- including non cylindrical tanks -- rather than build something that would fly and give us incremental design information. I know of nothing important that we learned from the Lockheed X=33 fiasco except to give  projects a bad name (of course what they did was NOT an X project at all).

A case can be made for expendables. Captain Truax and his Sealaunch Big Dumb Boosters have always been a rival concept to SSTO. Robert Truax and Max Hunter were rivals in concepts but equals in the esteem of the rocket community. Max was one of the designers of the SSX concept  and we were on the same team; which is to say I favored reusables rather than expendables.

Like you I wish these people well, but without considerable study I do not at the moment have time for, I really have no right to technical assessments. I could consult with experts -- I still have access to people who do have a right to opinions -- but that would take time. Think of me as an enthusiast and cheer leader who used to play the game.


Immense authorial chutzpah? 

Hi Jerry

Apologies if you have seen this before:

This was recommended to me by amazon:


The comments are extraordinary - in my experience, the ratio of errors to book are the same as mounties to riots - this looks quite different.



First I have ever heard of it. I do not know who this chap is. He seems to have used the name of one of Heinlein's characters as a pen name.

I shall not be buying the book.





 read book now





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