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Monday  October 5, 2009

'If you were to buy all 300,000 child slaves in Haiti, next year, you'd have 600,000.'


--- Roland Dobbins

There are more slaves worldwide now than when the Thirteenth Amendment was passed; and buying them for liberation generally fuels the market, providing incentives for slavers to work harder to find more product. It's a subject that deserves considerable attention and a lot of care, but it is mostly ignored.


Harry Erwin's Letter From England

Jerry, you've seen my comment that Labour likes to spend money. I had a discussion this week with a friend who has Treasury contacts in London, and he took a broader position--anything 'Little Britain' can buy cheaper than it can make; it will buy to free up money that can be used to create a paradise in the here and now. He then added that 'Little Britain is bankrupt'. The new Government after the spring elections will have to go to the IMF for a bailout in any case, and that limits realistic long-term planning. His contacts expect that London having an important role in the world financial system will allow very favourable terms to be extracted from the IMF, and Little Britain will be able to keep most of what it has built up over the last twelve years. This is the third UK bankruptcy in sixty years, so they probably have some experience to base this on.

 That helped explain to me why the UK Government seems to have a planning horizon of about six months. Then, with that in mind, I read the following Guardian articles: <http://tinyurl.com/yazgy7b> and <http://tinyurl.com/y8gw6ej  >. So the IMF wants Little Britain to cut its spending on the NHS and do something about unfunded public pensions. I suspect Little Britain may have to give up some of its paradise in the here and now.

 Stories during the week:

"two police officers told they were breaking the law, caring for each other's children" <http://tinyurl.com/y9khrbb> Ofsted inspectors begged to show some common sense <http://tinyurl.com/yd2o2wm  > Vetting rule 'ridiculous' <http://tinyurl.com/maneqx>


Harry Erwin, PhD

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

The American business plan seems to be to export jobs in the name of free trade; borrow money to import goods at the lowest prices possible; and import as much cheap labor as possible (legal or illegal) to do cheaply the jobs that can't be exported. Then hire lobbyists to keep things going in that direction. This works well for those whose profession is to move money around, or to exploit the law with lawsuits. It works pretty well for those fortunate enough to find a secure place working for government. As a political strategy it seems to be working very well; as an economic strategy it seems to be flawed.


Private Associations

In the UK (and I suspect much of Western Europe), Tocqueville is still correct. Governments here put a certain amount of effort into discouraging uncontrolled action by private associations--that's one of the reasons the Church is in such difficulty. So despite movement on both sides of the Atlantic, private associations are still much more important in America.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD


"The AK-47: Shot down by its own success" The USSR never made a priority of protecting Kalashnikov rifle intellectual property. Oops! Andrew Leonard


Hi Jerry: I guess if I want a Russian-made AK-47 I better buy it now. I thought you'd appreciate the analogy to computer piracy.

Best, Bob Gleason


Subj: Where Are They Now? -

 Amanda Congdon going Across America Again

As I recall, Dr. Pournelle was fond of her performances on _Rocketboom_.


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

I used to watch Rocketboom every day, in part because Amanda was very perky and had a good news delivery style, but also because it was well edited, had good production values, and whoever was selecting stories had a good eye for interesting news tidbits that could be presented in short bites.

I didn't see so much of that in this video. No hair flips, a lot of the perkiness is gone, and the fades from scene to scene weren't well done. The background was cluttered. Looking up her wiki I find that she has married; I'd lost track of her. I'll probably look at some of her new tour, when I think of it, but it's not likely I'll schedule a time to tune in as I did with Rocketboom. I wish her well. I did enjoy Rocketboom but I haven't watched that since she left it.

The current video is convincing: with a really good presenter you still need something to present, and production values matter even in webcasts. (By convincing, I mean it convinces me that doing a good webcast is pretty tough and takes a lot of editing to do it right. Rocketboom had that; the current Amanda video, alas, did not.)


Surfin' the tsunami (for Lucifer's Anvil?)

Dr. Pournelle:

I read this late last night. I remember you mentioning doing a riff off the "surfer dude" from Lucifer's Hammer for Lucifer's Anvil.


This guy did it for real. I wonder if he's a fan?

Hang loose! (do they still say that?)


Bill Kelly Houston, TX


Obama and Bill Ayres


Actually, this is not a "new" story. The analysis of Obama's book and the probability that Bill Ayers actually wrote surfaced during the campaign. It was buried after Obama made his famous statement that Ayers "was just a guy in the neighborhood."

We can excoriate the Liberal Media, I hesitate using the word Press since the generally accepted standards are not being met, but it will not change them. They live in their own hermetically sealed world and they know best. As far as newspapers go the newspaper reading public is speaking through their pocket books. Circulation is down in general and the financial crisis is most dire at those papers that choose "All the news that fits, we print" as in fits our political outlook.

The one daily newspaper with a national circulation that still meets reasonable journalistic standards is the Wall Street Journal and they seem to be doing a bit better financially that the rags with Liberal Bias. You won't see stories and Headlines on Honduras that refer to Coup or De Facto Presidents. The Liberal press has been blatant about this. Usually they are more subtle, including things like President Bush claimed rather than President Bush stated giving the impression that it was obvious that President Bush was lying.

Our Nation is in serious trouble. The Political Class has gotten us there and the Media has been an enabler. We as Citizens also stand accused. We have the power to get things moving in a more reasonable direction if only we will use it. House Elections can be won at the front doors of the voters if honest and forthright people are willing to run and can organize a large enough Grass Roots organization. Our current President demonstrated the Grass Roots part. I am not so sure about the honest and forthright given his actual performance.

Bob Holmes

But if Ayers actually wrote that book--- I don't know and I don't have the means for checking the story.




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Tuesday,  October 6, 2009

Ray Who?

Dr. Pournelle,

You wrote of DOD contractor conglomerates being separated from their former competitor acquisitions: ..."General Dynamics and Raytheon should be added to this list."

I thought Raytheon _was_ independent and fairly secure in its status as the 5th or 6th largest beltway bandit (some rank it higher -- depends on the yardstick one chooses). I would rather think that Raytheon should divest of the portions of the company that were once Beach/Hawker, E-Systems, TI Government Systems, and parts of Hughes Aerospace -- they've never integrated the companies well together with their other business lines and their legacy competitor divisions still compete with each other to the detriment of both contracts and stockholders.

This situation was created by the much touted last attempt at "acquisition reform" in concert with the "peace dividend" which has in turn created less competition, higher acquisition costs and less overall innovoation, but without reducing the frequency of real or apparent improprieties. Ref my comments earlier this summer about infants and bathwater, the F22, and F111.


The devil is in the details. For me the principle ought to be that one should not grow companies by buying the opposition with borrowed money, and certainly not with money borrowed under government guarantee, and absolutely not allowed to plead "too big to fail" after eliminating the opposition. That is, I would far more strictly enforce anti-trust laws. As to how to undue what has been done, I understand that is a far more complex matter, and I haven't done anything like enough study to have any opinions on who ought to disgorge what. Thanks.


Taxes are not Taxes, and more....

I'm one of the many thousands of Climate Skeptics (Obama and Gore call us "deniers," others close to the Obama Administration [Krugman, etc.] call us "traitors") who keep saying Gore's Global Warming (drowning polar bears, biblical floods, hockey sticks, etc.) is a major hoax that is financed by billions of your tax dollars. This note reports the bizarreness is spreading, and Americans are fighting back.

1. TAXES ARE NOT TAXES: Recently, we saw President Obama on camera telling one of his pet network interviewers (ABC was it?) that severely taxing people who chose not to purchase ObamaCare (or to purchase different insurance) isn't really a tax -- even though the IRS would come after them with civil and criminal penalties, including jail time. Now we have Harry Reid, in an interview, saying the same. He tells us it's not forced wealth redistribution, it's voluntary. What can we expect next from the Obama Ministry of Information?


2. GRASS ROOTS AMERICA IS INCREASINGLY OUTRAGED: The 9-12 Peaceful Protest -- Nancy P. infers these American citizens are violent terrorists -- pictures are finally up on the web and worth looking at:

Conservative Woodstock Rocks the Capital Patriotic anti-big-government taxpayers blast through the million protester mark September 12, 2009, Washington, D.C.

ABC News reports that two million Americans flooded D.C. In what people in the crowd were calling “a conservative Woodstock” Like the liberal Woodstock of the ’60s, thousands were rumored stranded on freeways. Some walked in to DC, ditching their cars and busses. I walked with a 5 deep 6 block long column of protesters from Pennsylvania Avenue who had walked miles from where they had to leave their busses. Networks including Fox News continued through the time I'm writing this at 8 p.m. Local Eastern time reporting that “tens of thousands” showed up. Whasup with that? When will we get some reliable reporting out of the corporate media types....? <snip>

3. Declassified 9-11 pictures are available: The Government recently declassified some high resolution pictures of 9-11. I warn these are large files and they are graphic and horrifying to watch. Still, in these days where we are told "taxes are not taxes," it's possible that someday soon we'll be told 9-11 "didn't really happen." If anyone wants these pix please respond, and I'll send them. And if you want to put them up on the Web, so much the better....


John D. Trudel


Long overdue


Former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh's testimony captured the essence of the problems that worry so many criminal-law experts. "Those of us concerned about this subject," he testified, "share a common goal - to have criminal statutes that punish actual criminal acts and [that] do not seek to criminalize conduct that is better dealt with by the seeking of regulatory and civil remedies." Only when the conduct is sufficiently wrongful and severe, Mr. Thornburgh said, does it warrant the "stigma, public condemnation and potential deprivation of liberty that go along with [the criminal] sanction."

Tom Fagan


Re: Rocketboom

One of the most comment arguments by the "freetards" (from The Register) is that there's no need for big money-sucking ten-percenter networks anymore, because The Internet Has Made All That Obsolete. Media creators can interact directly with their fans, so there's no need for any behind-the-scenes talent that needs to be paid. You are your own editor, your own songwriter, your own distributor, your own booking agent, your own caterer, driver, instrument-buyer, costumer, roadie, sound-check man, dude who stands around backstage wearing a sharkskin suit and has no apparent job function.

Typically overlooked is the fact that all of these things are indeed talents, and that talents are not distributed equally. Indeed, it takes a certain kind of cat to really make a sharkskin suit *work*.

-- Mike T. Powers


Obama and Bill Ayres

Hi Jerry,

Here's a good start on the story-

Andersen Book Blows Ayers' Cover on 'Dreams' (updated) <http://www.americanthinker.com/

background links below the story.



Cerca Trova.


-- Roland Dobbins






For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:



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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On Course for Commercial Space Billionaires


Virgin Galactic announced a $280-million investment in the company by Aabar, a sovereign wealth fund based in Abu Dhabi. The deal valued Virgin Galactic at about $875 million, an impressive amount for a company that has collected about $40 million in customer deposits to date.

Neil Craig

For cash on the barrelhead, cash on the barrelhead --  we can hope.


10,000 in House


There's a simple solution...

Arkansas has 2.9M people and 100 members in our state House of Representatives for a ratio of 1:29,000. Slightly better than the original federal setup.

So the solution: just get rid of the federal government.

Our state representative is locally well known to many people. I often see him at various local events such as the county fair. If I needed to talk to him I suspect I could do so at any time with a quick phone call.

I have never seen our US rep in the local area and wouldn't know him if he walked into the room.

California would need to be broken in many pieces, I imagine, to achieve a decent ratio. But so much the better.

Michael in Arkansas




The headline says it all:


Will California become America's first failed state?


Climate scientists propose using actual *data*.


-- Roland Dobbins



"You may be working a non-drug-related murder and hoping that citizens will come forward with information about the shooter. But you can have doors slammed in your face because of an unhappy experience with the police over a drug arrest."



--- Roland Dobbins


More on Organlegging

We continue to see the groundwork being laid for organlegging:


Mike Flynn

The demand is not very elastic, either.


Subject: Trojan-builder software sold to Bot-Net builders even has a EULA!


Tracy Walters, CISSP


RE: AK-47 intellectual property

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Considering that the AK-47 is a copy of the German MP-43/44 Sturmgewehr, it is only fitting that they didn’t secure the copyright to the product! I believe that the Czech versions are superior to the Russian, and certainly the Chinese versions.

Stay well!

Bill Grigg


Most Mac owners getting Windows on the side

The Moulin Redmond

By Austin Modine

Posted in PCs & Chips, 5th October 2009 18:46 GMT

The stereotype goes that Mac fans are markedly loyal to their platform. And while a new study by the NPD Group shows Apple adoption is on the rise, the vast majority of Jobs-fearing homes also keep a Windows PC running under their roof.

More than 12 per cent of US homes have at least one Mac, according to NPD's latest Household Penetration study - a rise from nine per cent the research company polled in 2008. But of those Mac owners, nearly 85 per cent have at least one Windows-based PC.


Tracy Walters, CISSP


Super 'sun-hot' plasma rocket in fullbore bench test triumph

Ex-astronaut boffin's drive could reach Mars in 39 days

By Lewis Page

Posted in Space, 5th October 2009 12:13 GMT

A radical, highly fuel-efficient plasma rocket whose interior operates at temperatures close to those found inside the sun has passed a key test milestone. Trials of the space drive aboard the International Space Station are expected within the next few years.


Tracy Walters, CISSP



No waiting 


Why wait for rationing? http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001

The Baucus version of health care reform would penalize cardiologists and cancer treatment specialists to pay more for general practitioners.

The demand for a free good is infinite. Increasing demand without increasing supply drives up the price. If the monetary price is controlled (like rent controlled apartments) then there will be rationing. If there is not rationing there will be long lines. It doesn't take genius to know these things. Everyone knows them, but some politicians pretend they don't. I suppose there are some ideologues so blinded that they simply will not think about the situation.

I see no attention being paid to the supply situation. Getting more primary care physicians ought to be a fixable item, with loans that are forgiven and that sort of thing; increases in supply of medical doctors is a bit dicier, but surely we can increase the number of nurse practioners and other almost-MD's who can become primary care givers, passing up the chain cases that are above their pay grade.


Two Leaks and the Deepening Iran Crisis, 


Stratfor comments on the two links - one each by the US and Israel - about the Iranian nuclear program:


One interesting comment: "This is a case where a reputation for being conciliatory actually increases the chances for war."

Now might be a good time to make sure one has appropriate emergency supplies. After all, WWI started in Sarajevo, far from the centers of power.


I don't think the Israelis think they can eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and thus aren't likely to try it; and it's pretty certain that Obama won't start that war. But that's a judgment and I could easily be wrong. There are enough other reasons for having some iron rations around and lots of bleach for the water in the swimming pool, and keeping fuel for your MSR or other mountain stove.

A can of white gas and an MSR stove is under $150. Propane stoves are less. Never hurts to have the capability to boil water and make stone soup when the power and gas are off.










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Thursday, October 10, 2009

Israeli Air Force vs Iranian nuclear facilities

Dr Pournelle,

In one of those strange coincidences, I was just looking up data on the GBU-28 bunker buster and found a report done by MIT's Security Studies Program looking at the capability of Israel to take out Iran's nuclear facilities. The report was written in 2006, and I am nowhere near qualified enough to tell how good the assessment is, but it makes interesting reading all the same. The authors concluded that Israel could do it (in 2006), but they are right on the edge in terms of numbers of aircraft. Naturally, the report doesn't take into account the new facility just found this year, so possibly a 2009 calculation might be skewed towards the 'no they can't' side.

Link to to report: http://web.mit.edu/ssp/Publications/

best regards,

Ron Artigues

I think it also does not take into account recent improvements in Iranian air defense missile systems. I conclude that there is too much uncertainty, and Israeli political people will take counsel from their fears in this matter. I could be wrong about the Israeli commanders. I do not think I have underestimated the boldness of the Obama administration. Obama will not send in USAF.

In military operations you are usually worse off if you begin something and can't finish it than if you never started it, and the rule is, if an operation requires a division, send a corps -- or better an army. There will be fewer casualties and far less resistance to overwhelming force. This principle got a bit confused in the "shock and awe" days, but the fact remains that in nearly every case victory and defeat take place in the minds of commanders. As does surprise.


Plasma rocket


A radical, highly fuel-efficient plasma rocket whose interior operates at temperatures close to those found inside the sun has passed a key test milestone. Trials of the space drive aboard the International Space Station are expected within the next few years.

Gee, throw in some tritium and deuterium and get some real thrust!

I'm skeptical.


I am skeptical too. I would like to see more test results before betting the farm on this. I do know what results we got in the NERVA tests.


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Friday,  October 9, 2009

New FTC Rules

This appears to be an excellent and concise look at the important issues.


-- Tim of Angle

New FTC Rules

Worth your attention. We have not seen the last of this.


FBI's 'Operation Phish Phry' snares nearly 100 people

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday charged almost 100 people in Operation Phish Phry, the largest cyber fraud phishing case to date.

The FBI said it uncovered a sophisticated phishing operation that was designed to swipe personal information and then use the data to defraud banks. On Wednesday, authorities arrested 33 of the 53 defendants named in an indictment. Egyptian authorities charged another 47 alleged cybercrooks.

Operation Phish Phry started in 2007 and authorities ultimately collected enough information used in today’s bust. That information led to the joint U.S.-Egypt sting


Tracy Walters, CISSP

A fairly small operation (only a few of million dollars apparently) but with a very large potential. Be careful out there.


Is the AK47 a Copy of the MP44?

I'm not personally familiar with the internals of either but according to this link, the two have different bolt locking designs. It seems likely that the Russian design was influenced by the German one. They certainly have many similar characteristics.


I did see a TV interview with Mr. Kalashnikov where he nearly had a kitten when the interviewer suggest that the AK was a copy.

-- Mike Johns

No opinion, and I guess this will end discussion of the topic. Thanks


TSA Kabuki -


A week ago I flew into Roswell, NM airport (former Walker AFB). To my surprise, my wife was at the gate to meet me. Not behind the security, not behind the scanner, only behind the door. (Roswell is somewhat limited. Ladders to enter/leave the plane, etc.) In fact, there was no scanner, no x-ray machine, no nothing that most of us have to deal with. Where was the flight I took coming from? Los Angles, CA. Where was it going to? LAX. However, every airport I went through, the TSA people were very polite. In fact, when I went out of security in Orlando, FL, TSA did a very considerate search on me, since I would not remove my suspenders. Come to find out, my passport was tripping the metal detectors.



The VASIMIR Rocket 

In Mail for October 8, 2009, "Bob", commenting on an earlier linked article on the VASIMIR plasma engine, wrote:

"Gee, throw in some tritium and deuterium and get some real thrust!

I'm skeptical."

Good. Skeptical is good. However, the VASIMIR engine is not "smoke and mirrors", it's not some Dean Drive hokum worked up in a basement, and it's not a nuclear drive. It'an electric rocket, mot much different in basic principles from an ion rocket, which is old and proven technology.

While VASIMIR is new and in prototype stage, the developer has solid credentials. Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz has worked in plasma physics his entire scientific career, from his doctoral work at MIT in Physics, where he worked on a fusion power program, right on through his career as a NASA astronaut (seven shuttle missions flown), his appointment in 1993 to the directorship of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and continuing from 2005 with his start up, Ad Astra Rocket Company.

All of which is to say: Chang-Diaz and VASIMIR have real potential. Just because The Register, as usual, oversells a baby technology doesn't mean this baby isn't full of real potential. It's a game changer if it works, and I would not bet against Chang-Diaz. He left Costa Rica at eighteen, telling his friends there he was going to the USA to become a rocket scientist and astronaut. I'm sure they were skeptical, too.


This is the sort of technology I used to keep track of. I am ashamed to say I haven't kept up with this one. The important number in interplanetary operations is ISP. VASIMIR supporters claim a potential of 50,000. ISP is a fuel efficiency measure which calculates a number in "seconds". (These are not units of time but units of thrust over time divided by fuel consumed over time.)

The highest chemical rocket ISP's hover around 400. NERVA, a hydrogen modulated nuclear powered rocket I have used in some of my stories and which I supported back in my political activist days, got a measured 800 in sea level tests before NASA discontinued the project. NERVA has a potential well above that. Some of the ion rockets Bob Forward was testing at Hughes were in the neighborhood of 20,000. In all of these including VASIMIR the thrust to weight ratios are low, because the physical plant required to generate the power and create the thrust has a large minimal size. (See my story "Tinker" in EXILE -- AND GLORY!)

I have been unable to find a report of the demonstrated ISP of VASIMIR. I see nothing in the design descriptions available on line to refute the 50,000 ISP potential. At 50,000 ISP interplanetary commerce becomes possible and even economic.

I wish the VASIMIR people well, of course.


Re: Plasma rocket - VASMIR 


Though I know your correspondent Bob of Oct. 10th was probably being facetious, I think I can address his criticism.

First, truth in advertising; I am not involved in the VASMIR project or Ad Astra in any way; just a space and tech enthusiast that tries to keep up with these kinds of things. I’ve had my eye on the VX-200 testing for a while now, since it does seem to be a promising space drive.

The implied criticism in Bob’s email is that, if you have a rocket engine with chamber temperatures truly ‘approaching that of the sun,’ you might as well go straight for fusion. The fallacy here is that he’s missing a term in his recipe for fusion. D + T + HEAT don’t equal fusion by themselves. You need D + T + HEAT + residence time (or something else that increases the probability of the ions hitting each other frequently enough to generate fusion energy in worthwhile quantities). Something tells me that since VASMIR generates exhaust gas velocities sufficient for an Isp in the tens of thousands, there won’t be much time for the D’s and T’s to dance around and eventually hit each other.

All that being said… A healthy dose of skepticism is called for whenever a system claims performance that seems extravagant. I however remain optimistic, bolstered mostly by the transparency that this development effort has had on the internet. They’ve shared videos of live firings inside their vacuum chambers, as well as (admittedly dumbed-down for public consumption) data and results from those tests. Also, anyone who can successfully work with superconducting magnets isn’t a brash amateur.


Mike Smith


Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/10/08/beholder_ptds/ 

US Army doubles fleet of enormous floating eyes

'Beholder'-esque aerostat blimps spy Afghanistan

By Lewis Page

The US Army is doubling its fleet of moored spy balloons, deployed in overseas warzones to provide continuous unblinking overwatch around fortified American camps and bases.

The 74K Aerostat, as used in the PTDS System. Credit: Lockheed

Giant, floating, all-seeing eyes in the sky r us

Arms behemoth Lockheed Martin announced yesterday that it has been awarded a $133m contract to provide a further 8 Persistent Threat Detection Systems (PTDS) tethered aerostats, supplementing the 9 already in service overseas.

The PTDS is based on Lockheed's 74K (74,000 cubic foot) helium aerostat design, produced at the stupendous Airdock in Akron, Ohio - where the mighty flying aircraft carriers (http://www.airships.net/us-navy-rigid-airships/uss-akron-macon) of the pre-war US Navy were built by Goodyear-Zeppelin in the 1930s, although nowadays it is owned by Lockheed. It's understood that the PTDS aerostats carry a ground-sweeping radar and accompanying thermal-camera systems, able to pick out moving objects across a wide stretch of terrain and then zoom in to identify them.

Tracy Walters, CISSP


Obama's Nobel 

Accepting it was the stupidest decision he's made yet, from every viewpoint including his own political future. The committee is appointed by the Norwegian parliament. This makes the award itself a very partisan extension of the reigning coalition in the Norwegian Parliament, notably leftist at this moment.

Considering the questions at hand about Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan it's a very transparent attempt at meddling in US policy.

Every future decision he makes towards "peaceful" resolutions of anything will now be haunted his snap decision to accept this award. Should the results of any of them afterwards be found lacking this 15 minute moment of ego, photo op and spin will come back to bite him without surcease.

Can he have even considered the morale of US troops in Afghanistan? I doubt it.

BHO is looking more and more like a one term President every day. If his Adminstration even makes through 2012. He's combining some of the worst aspects of LBJ and Mikhail Gorbachev.


The question is whether the President of the United States should be a world spokesperson.


Barack Gorbachev

The downfall of both was rooted in their love of superficial p.r. over substantive results. Both refused to seriously reform corrupt elites and instead depended on them. The upper nomenklatura in Gorbachev's case and the crony capitalists in Obama's.

Both thought mere spin could reform a failing economy. "Perestroika" in Gorbachev's case and "Stimulus" in Obama's.

And both refused to act decisively in Afghanistan to win or get out.

It is too easy to see Obama going Gorbachev's route; dragged down in political chaos in the midst of a collapsing domestic economy and failing foreign wars. Unfortunately we have to go with him...


More about FTC

Sorry to pile on you like this, but:


[Fast Company] solicited responses to those concerns from Richard Cleland, assistant director, division of advertising practices at the FTC.

RC: "That $11,000 fine is not true. Worst-case scenario, someone receives a warning, refuses to comply, followed by a serious product defect; we would institute a proceeding with a cease-and-desist order and mandate compliance with the law. To the extent that I have seen and heard, people are not objecting to the disclosure requirements but to the fear of penalty if they inadvertently make a mistake. That's the thing I don't think people need to be concerned about. There's no monetary penalty, in terms of the first violation, even in the worst case. Our approach is going to be educational, particularly with bloggers. We're focusing on the advertisers: What kind of education are you providing them, are you monitoring the bloggers and whether what they're saying is true?"


And, as someone on the internet pointed out, this FTC regulation is specifically intended to go after stuff like the "Windows Update search leads to malware" unpleasantness. Under the FTC regulations, Google could be fined if they don't make it sufficiently clear that an apparent result is in fact a sponsored link.

-- Mike T. Powers

Whatever its intent it's a power grab that will inevitably lead to unintended consequences, none of which will be bad for the FTC staffers and bureaucracy. More nanny state. It isn't needed.


Re: Disclosed Compensation

You linked to http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/

One of the comments there is interesting, and--frankly--I can't help but agree:

"While I agree the FTC got ahead of itself...in promulgating these rules without understanding the blogging environment, why is it a problem for bloggers to disclose that they got a book for free? ....if I put a notice on my blog that says, "Hey, here's an author you should know, and btw, this author donated XYZ book to my giveaway contest," why is that a bad thing? Or should I just hate the FTC ruling on principle and raise an angry fist to the sky, demanding all bloggers and authors "stick it to the man" because we don't like it when government tries to regulate the internet?"

The point of this is to be able to sock people for payola. Now, you're right that there's a concern here--if the notion of "compensation" is thrown out to the in-the-field bureaucrat to define, you might wind up with English levels of foolishness (for example, "being linked to counts as compensation!" "having your comment approved counts as compensation!" "we feel that your description of the compensatory nature of this transaction was lacking in a number of particulars, that'll be $1000 please."

-- Mike T. Powers

Do you have any evidence that the cure will not be worse than the disease? As to truth in advertising and disclosure and the rest, do you not think that readers are astute enough to determine what is going on? Most of us tell the readers what we are doing as a matter of principle. As I said in Chaos Manor Reviews you are free to assume that any high tech equipment I write about was probably sent to me by either the manufacturer, a PR agency, or an enthusiast. In the old days I maintained an enormous network far larger than anything I would ever need for the work I do. Apple used to send almost anything they made, leave it here in theory to be returned, then when it became obsolete offer to sell it for about 20% of the list price. It was simpler to buy it than to pack it up. I just got rid of several ancient pre-returnofJobs Macs that haven't been turned on in a decade.

I am always alarmed when the federal government undertakes to enforce "ethics." Note what happened to Martha Stewart who ended up serving prison time for denying, not under oath, that she had done something that was not a crime if she had done it. I would say that inviting the government camel's nose into the tent has the expected result of inviting camels and bears into your affairs.


The Nobel Peace Prize "remains a very prestigious honor?"

Dr. Pournelle,

The Nobel Peace Prize is s no longer “prestigious.” They gave it to Arafat (despite his not renouncing terrorism), and to Jimmy Carter (as a "kick in the leg" to Bush), then gave it to Al Gore for his nonsense (as another slap to Bush).

Now it’s just a joke, and a bad one at that. Meanwhile, President Obama seems just vain enough to really believe it’s about him, and not just another slap at Bush.

I grieve for the Republic we once had.


Prestige is in the eyes of the beholders, and the award remains prestigious however questionable some of the more recent recipients. It is no longer what Nobel intended it to be, but perhaps it ought not be abandoned just yet. Whether it is worth of prestige or not, prestige attaches. The President of the United States will go to Oslo to accept it.

It may be that this award will greatly lower the prestige of that prize, and possibly lower the prestige of the other Nobel prizes.


Subject: Health Insurance Portability


Yet again, I have learned something useful from perusing your site.

I was already aware that COBRA allowed you to extend group insurance coverage for 18 months after termination of employment. I also knew that if you could get hired by someone else who offered a group plan before that COBRA extension expired, then you were guaranteed entry into the new employer's plan without any limitations regarding pre-existing conditions. (I gather that is a HIPAA, rather than a COBRA, provision)

What I worried very much about is what my options would be if my COBRA period expired, and I hadn't been able to acquire group insurance from a new employer. I had thought that the only options were:

a) to go into the private insurance market, and hope that I could pass the medical underwriting, and still get quoted a policy at a rate that I could afford,

b) apply for my State's high risk insurance pool and hope that I could get in. (I gather that not all State's offer a high risk pool to people who can't qualify for an individual policy.)

After reading Paul's letter, and doing some more research, I discovered that HIPAA does provide some additional federal protections that I wasn't aware of, i. e., upon expiration of COBRA, you have a 63-day window to buy into an insurance plan designated specifically for HIPAA eligible applicants. While coverage is guaranteed, the degree of coverage, and the cost of the premiums is not regulated by the Federal law. That last provision is, of course, a huge potential loophole. If insurers are allowed to charge what ever they want for the premiums, then they can effective price most or all HIPAA subscribers out of the market. In practice, it appears that most states have imposed some kinds of regulations on coverage requirements and premiums. Since premium costs for these plans can be rather substantial, the degree of protection one can get from this law is therefore somewhat dependent on where you live. For example, one web site based in Arizona claimed that in switching from COBRA coverage to HIPAA coverage, you could see your premium cost increase by a factor of 4. For many people, that would be financially ruinous, and would keep them from acquiring coverage.

In the case of Connecticut, HIPAA eligible coverage is provided by the State's high risk insurance pool. Coverage premiums for a 24-year old man vary between between $250 and $322/month, depending on the plan chosen. By comparison, the premiums for a 64-year old man range from $1087 to $1402/month.

I also learned that in some States, some group health insurance plans do provide conversion rights to subscribers, so that they can roll their coverage from a group plan into an individual plan without (apparently) any limitations for pre-existing conditions. Typically, such conversions can only occur after COBRA eligibility has expired. Which States and which plans allow for this I cannot say. I know that kind of option was not available to me on the three occasions when I or my wife were laid off from large employers. The State of California does provide some discussion of such conversions on one of their web sites, so some plans in your State apparently do contain such provisions. I wonder if that was why you were able to convert your Kaiser group plan into an individual plan with a minimum of hassle. This kind of option would seem like a pretty useful protection to require of all group plans. Of course, it might be difficult to apply to large company plans, since some of them self insure, and only use insurance companies as plan administrators.

Of course, none of these protections mean much if you don't have sufficient savings or income to pay the premiums. Those who have lost insurance by virtue of having lost a job are often in that situation.

CP, Connecticut

The point being that the problem is not so acute as has been represented. Given that health care need reformation, does it need to be done in a very great hurry? And apparently it does not. We have time to study the situation before action.


The ultimate hole-in-one.


--- Roland Dobbins


'The scientists say these new findings support the theory that asteroids brought both water and organic compounds to the early Earth, helping lay the foundation for life on the planet.'


-- Roland Dobbins


'This has never been a terribly plausible view of the man who welcomed the ruthless crushing of the Kronstadt workers and sailors when they demanded a more pluralist system of government in 1921, and who defended the systematic use of terror against opponents of the Soviet state until his dying day.'


-- Roland Dobbins

Trotsky lives! And will never die...  It has always been easy to romanticize him so long as you don't actually look deep into what he did. They have his character in Dr. Zhivago down pretty firmly. The book, not the movie, although some of it gets into the movie. Of course Pasternak was not Solzhenitsyn.

Trotsky was sincere, rather than opportunistic and cynical. Some think that makes him a far better man than Stalin.


"We've been betrayed by the government, Realtors and those who've got. The promise has been broken."


-- Roland Dobbins

Desperation. But consider the implications.






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Saturday, October 11, 2009

A Dialog on Surprise.

Subj: Surprise: the definition

One of Dr. Pournelle's characters, in _The Prince_, and Dr. Pournelle himself, in his commentary on the first Mail piece for Thurs 8 Oct 2009, say that surprise takes place in the mind of the commander.

I respectfully disagree.

The correct definition of surprise is Robert Leonhard's, in _Fighting By Minutes: Time and the Art of War_, on page 140:

>>Surprise is a condition in which a military force is contacted while in a relative state of unpreparedness.<<

If a commander receives and believes a warning, but through neglect, incompetence or plain bad luck fails to stand his force to before the attack, *he* may not be "surprised", but his force certainly will be.

Contrariwise, if a commander routinely stands his force to, before every dawn, *he* may be "surprised" by an unexpected enemy attack at dawn on Tuesday, but his force will not be.

Leonhard treats surprise in great detail in Chapters Eight and Nine of _Fighting By Minutes_.

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

My initial response was

Come now. There is a vast difference between strategic surprise and tactical surprise. Certainly people can be surprised by a sneak attack, or something unexpected, and just plain being unready; but surprise in the art of war is something else entirely. I suppose I ought to run this with a comment but are you sure you want me to?

Monty's rejoinder:

I would very much like to see it posted, with your comments.

I do not recall either your characters, or yourself, distinguishing some forms of military surprise as taking place within the mind of the commander, and others not. As for Leonhard, I cannot be sure I understand his analysis completely, and of course I hardly did justice to his two-chapter treatment by extracting one sentence, but he treats surprise as occurring at the technical, tactical, operational and strategic levels of War, all, as far as I can tell, coverd by the same definition.

If you'd prefer I offer a precis of Leonard's analysis, beyond the mere definition, before you respond, I can do that.

For now, I'll just mention that the beginning of Leonard's analysis reminded me, when I first read it, of Herman Kahn's observation, that military forces are almost never at full readiness, because being "on alert" involves doing things that are expensive, dangerous, or both.

Dr. Pournelle:

Well really, simply catching someone unready and exploiting that is not something you can plan on. You do it if you can. But surprise in the strategic sense when you do something the other guy couldn't think of. You can plan on that. But hope is not a strategy and hoping to catch the other guy unready is not a basis for planning.

Pearl Harbor was a strategic surprise as well as tactical.


It's not a matter of "hope for", it's a matter of "work to produce".

I'll try to sketch Leonard's analysis:

Start with the observation that the *usual* state of every force is unreadiness. What triggers a force to *become* ready is *the detection of a threat*. Once a threat is detected, though, it still takes *time* for the unready force to become ready. Thus, an attacker seeking to surprise has two things to work on, to wit: delaying detection and hastening contact.

The defender knows this, and bases the designs of his defensive scouting measures -- from how far out to put a platoon's outposts on up through whether it's worth building BMEWS radar sites and beyond -- on estimates of detection ranges and enemy speed of advance. The attacker's problem is to invalidate one or both of those estimates.

There's a tradeoff between stealth and speed, and the dynamic works both ways: an attacker postured for stealth and/or rapid movement is not postured to attack most effectively. It takes time for the attacker to shift from an advancing posture to a striking posture. A defender who can strike the attacker before the attacker can shift posture will surprise the attacker.

How to delay detection? Technically, you can reduce observable signatures -- at the cost of one or more of money, reliability and speed. Tactically, you can infiltrate, strike an inadequately-secured flank (Liddell Hart's "indirect approach"), attack the enemy's detection capabilities and/or use feints, ruses and demonstrations. At the operational and strategic levels, you try to keep the enemy ignorant about your forces' compositions, locations and postures. There's a tension here, if your overall strategy is one of deterrence, because a deterrent, to be effective, must be visible.

How to hasten contact? At the technical level, you can increase weapons range -- at the cost of money and technical and logistical complexity. You can reduce weapon time-of-flight and increase rate of fire. You can speed up your tanks by putting turbine engines in them, instead of diesels -- at the cost of increasing fuel consumption. Etc. Tactically, you can trade some of your striking power to increase your speed of movement, adopting _preemptive_ tactics rather than _concentration_ tactics. Exploitation (on offense) and counterattack (on defense) are in a sense mirror-images of preemption: where preemption seeks to strike *before* the enemy is ready, exploitation and counterattack seek to strike *after* the enemy's strength has culminated. At the operational level, you can focus all your logistical capacity on getting fuel to your pursuing spearheads, as Eisenhower and Bradley did by stripping the rear-echelon infantry divisions of their trucks so the Red Ball Express could support Patton's drive across the Seine and Meuse rivers.

You'll go astray, though, if you think *exclusively* about preempting and pursuing, and neglect concentrating completely. The retreating enemy will tend to become more concentrated and will no longer be oblivious to the attacker's presence. Meanwhile, the attacker will tend to get strung out, and to outrun his own supply lines. Better to think in terms of a "Preemption-Concentration Cycle", seeking always to adopt the form of attack to which the enemy is currently most vulnerable.

At the strategic level, the US has, historically, never been particularly good at preempting: our style runs more to concentration.

The Surprise chapter in The Strategy of Technology goes into far more detail on this than I can do here, but it's clear that there is the usual thinking about surprise summed up in the concept of the sneak attack; and something far more decisive, which leaves the enemy commander in a state of doubt and confusion. Note that on a tactical level the second form doesn't work at all against an opponent with decentralized command structures. It's pointless to paralyze command if the commander isn't in charge of his forces, and the troops have been trained to take initiative. It's one reason why surprise worked so often in the Eastern Front for Germany, and so seldom for their Soviet opponents. In the Wehrmacht a lieutenant had as much independence as a regimental commander in the USSR.

Strategic surprise is definitely something one works to create. It can be done at the grand tactical level, perhaps as best exemplified by Washington at the Delaware: the British were certain that Washington's army was defeated, and he had no choice but to seek refuge for the winter. The result was a victory important to morale on both sides of the war as well as to foreign policy. The Fall of France is an example of surprise on the strategic level, when the Luftwaffe was used as a means to defeat French artillery long enough to get the Panzers across the river, after which the blitzkrieg grand tactics produced what amounted to mental paralysis in the French command structure at all levels down to division commanders. The British were less surprised -- after all, J.F.C. Fuller had developed most of the concepts of blitzkrieg, and many British officers were well aware of both the concept and its execution -- but they were simply bypassed. Their attempt at a counterattack at Arras was the right idea but with insufficient forces (and I understand that's a gross oversimplification, but it will have to do). What paralyzed the French was an inability to comprehend what the Germans were doing, and by the time they had some notion of it, the decision points had moved elsewhere. The notion that a combined air/armor/infantry force could be used as it was had apparently not penetrated very deep into the French command structure. The result was surprise.

Japan at Pearl Harbor had the advantage of local surprise, even though war warnings had been sent to Kimmel and Short, but the warnings were never specific, and Short made it easier for the Japanese Empire by parking his fighters out on the runways in clusters, safe from sabotage, but not able to get into the air quickly. Interestingly, the US learned more from Pearl Harbor than the Japanese did. Some of that was a lesson of necessity, since we could hardly build a naval strategy around battleships no longer afloat. The shipyards at Pearl were amazingly efficient at getting some of those BB's back into action, but by then we had learned what it took the Japanese longer to learn: you don't need battleships for fleet actions, and their major use is as anti-aircraft platforms at which they were splendid; but the offensive anti-ship weapons were aircraft, not BB artillery. (It's interesting to read histories of naval warfare and strategy published before and after December 7, 1941. The two editions of Brodie are enlightening.)

As to the initial exchange, I am not sure that being overwhelmed because unprepared is what I think of as surprise. The US was "surprised" in the Bulge, but overcame it -- and some US commanders weren't surprised at all, but had long thought about the kinds of action that Blitzkrieg  experts might attempt if they thought they could achieve surprise (or if Hitler thought he could).

In summary, I would say that the kind of surprise achieved by leaving one's watchfires burning while maneuvering for a dawn attack is a different breed of animal from the mind-numbing surprise of the Roman consul at Heraclea who first encountered elephants and found that his cavalry had simply vanished and even stolid Roman peasants were shaken. Rome learned how to deal with that threat. Catching someone off guard is not quite the same as deploying a force to which the enemy has, as yet, no real counter. Perhaps we need different terms.

Incidentally, after Heraclea the Red King was unable to exploit his tactical victory: the Romans delivered a surprise to him. Their allies remained allies even after the central republic was defeated on the battlefield, and Pyrrhus had no remedy: he was from that Alexandrian tradition of empire and considered Rome just another city-state like Athens or Thebes. It may be a stretch to call that strategic surprise, but it is an interesting example.


: Wired Science . Franklin Chang-Diaz: Astronaut and Rocket Scientist 

PS Here is a good interview with Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz. Quite a man.



The German Economic Miracle and the Memory Hole

Dear Dr Pournelle:

You write "For those who don't I refer them to what is known as The German Economic Miracle brought on by our Proconsul Lucus Clay."

To me, the association of "The German Economic Miracle" with Ludwig Erhard is far stronger than any association with Lucius D. Clay. Erhard did advise Gen. Clay and Gen. Clay had the good sense to listen. But that Clay listened is not justification for throwing Erhard down the memory hole.

If Ludwig Erhard is remembered (if remembered at all), I would wager it is because of the following exchange:

Clay: “Herr Erhard, my advisers tell me what you have done is a terrible mistake. What do you say to that?”

Erhard: “Herr General, pay no attention to them! My advisers tell me the same thing.”

More: http://www.econlib.org/library

With best regards Oleg Panczenko

It is certainly true that Erhard and Adenauer were the implementers of the economic miracle policies, but Clay's role as US proconsul is often neglected. I should have said Erhard/Clay. Incidentally, I knew several of Clay's advisors. Some of them were West Point graduates from the Roosevelt era, and they were shocked at the notion of an unregulated economy. The fact is that Clay covered for Erhard/Adenauer at a time when most US economists were Keynesians, and his part in the miracle has yet to be told adequately. But you are of course correct.


Subject: Is the German economic miracle applicable here


I'm no expert on this, but it does seem that post war Germany bears little resemblance to the post crash US.

In post war Germany, the manufacturing base had been blown to bits, there were housing shortages due to the extensive bombing campaigns, and the population had lived with price controls and rationing throughout the war years. There were widespread unmet basic needs and an inability to supply those needs due to destruction wrought by war. In that environment, removing barriers to facilitate the creation of new supply would clearly be beneficial.

In contrast, our economic troubles stem from the collapse of a financial bubble that involved too much borrowing and too much consumption. Demand is now suppressed due to excessive debt levels. In most industries, there is excess manufacturing capacity and an excess of inventory. Companies are regaining profitability by cost cutting, and learning to live with sales volumes that fall below their peak supply capabilities. Marginal players are being forced into bankruptcy, which further reduces the supply of goods. The woes of the automobile industry and the housing industry both stem from an excess of production capacity. The solution for both industries is to shut down capacity, and reduce production until excess inventory can be worked off, to regain some pricing power. In that kind of environment, it is hard to see how facilitating new supply (more houses, more cars, more of anything) is going to boost economic activity; increasing the supply of goods in the face of soft demand will mainly reduce prices and further erode the profitability of the surviving companies.

That's not to say that what is going on right now will be helpful. In the long run, increasing deficits are just going to make our current problems worse, either by forcing tax rates higher, or driving up inflation. I do think this may be one of those times when the only cure is patience - a long period of pain and sluggish growth may be the only permanent solution to working off debt, and returning us to conditions where sustainable growth again becomes possible. Politically, that isn't a great message for either party to push.

CP, Connecticut

It is certainly the case that demand is low compared to supply, but that is not true in all sectors. The German Economic Miracle in effect removed regulator barriers from startups. Regulations don't so much hamper large established companies as prevent new entries into certain economic fields, greatly reducing competition.

If what we're after is pure growth, cutting regulations and taxes and general burdens is important: the resulting creative destruction will change the whole structure of many industries.

It hardly matters, in the sense that as a practical matter we aren't going to cut regulations and taxes at all, and the major employment increases will be in government employment.


Bombing Iran?

Dr. Pournelle --

I saw this article after reading your assessment of the likelihood of Israel going after Iran's nuclear sites.

Is the U.S. Preparing to Bomb Iran?


"First, some background: Back in October 2007, ABC News reported that the Pentagon had asked Congress for $88 million in the emergency Iraq/Afghanistan war funding request to develop a gargantuan bunker-busting bomb called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP)."

"Now the Pentagon is shifting spending from other programs to fast forward the development and procurement of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator."

-- For background on the MOP:

The Massive Ordnance Penetrator Will Be the Largest Non-Nuclear Bomb Ever


While actually going after Iranian or North Korean nuclear sites is certainly a reason to fast track the development and procurement of the MOP, I can think of a couple of other reasons to make the request:

1) To "send a message" in order to boost our position in the "negotiations" -- but this requires they believe we would use it.

2) The Pentagon wants the MOP in its arsenal and is worried that the funding will be pulled by Congress. Congress will be looking for any way to pay for the "reform" of health care.


Military technology and Pentagon politics are one thing. Yes, we need the weapon. But whether the administration has the will to use it is quite another.


Iranian air defence improvements?

Dr. Pournelle:

I heard that the Russkies were selling the Iranians the SA-12 (S-300V), but what other improvements have been made to their air defense network? Isn't the SA-12 more anti-ballistic than anti-aircraft? I seem to remember that from my old Harpoon games as well as 90s-era reading.

I did find this when I was skimming over Irani air defense asset information:


The article was a bit contradictory, with the first half reporting that the Israelis would take advantage of an old Iranian system, and the end of the article talking of Israeli casualty rates of up to 30%. I have no idea who owns this site, but the article reads a bit left (in my opinion).

Best regards,

Bill Kelly

William C. Kelly,
MBA Galactic Emperor of Technical Writing

It is my understanding that Iranian air defense is far superior to what Iraq had, and the Israeli air arm faces some real problems.  I am prepared to be convinced otherwise, but I gather that the Israelis are worried about their capabilities. (If they hadn't been they'd very likely have struck in early January of this year, I think.)


Subject: Pirates get it wrong.

This story will probably give you a chuckle:



Mike Casey



Exchange on the Afghan war. I had said

>>But then I don't want to be fighting this one. Not sure how to get out of there, though.<<

Getting out is not the direction we're going.

You do get a consolation prize. I think the gamesmanship in Georgia and Ukraine is finis. And if they do come into NATO it'll be because Russia is coming in also.

I'm surprised the extent of Russian support for CENTCOM/Afghanistan doesn't get more attention. imo the reason they're deploying additional troops to Kyrgyzstan & Tajikistan is to secure US/NATO supply lines, which now transit these areas, along with Turkmenistan. The rail transit is Russia-Kazakhstan and down through the two old Soviet railheads into Afghanistan from Tajik/Turkmenistan.

It might be accurate to say Putin has maneuvered us into fighting his central Asian wars for him.

Which is no bad description of what's going on. No one has ever united Afghanistan. Deciding who the enemy is would seem to be a first requirement; deciding what we want out of this war would be a second. Who profits from this war?


Clever Sillies -

Why the high IQ lack common sense


Here's an essay on IQ that you may find interesting.

Mike Flynn

Too clever by half if you ask me...


Subject: MI5 versus the Soviet Spies 

See <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8289962.stm

The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (Hardcover) by Christopher Andrew (Author)

-- Harry Erwin







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