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Mail 603 December 28, 2009 - January 3, 2010







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Berkeley High School: Science is for white people only.


-- Roland Dobbins

We all knew it was coming.


Fwd: A national rallying cry?

Sounds like a good idea to me.


Sent from my iPhone

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Mike

Subject: FW: A national rallying cry?

Very interesting. I actually like this a lot. Too bad it will never happen. The indexing of salaries to the lower of CPI (consumer price index) or 3% is an especially nice touch to keep them focused on managing the economy so as to avoid excessive inflation.


A friend sent this to me. I can't think of a reason to disagree can you? It is short and to the point!

I am sending this to my e-mail list and that includes conservatives, liberals, and everybody in between.

Even though we disagree on a number of issues, I count all of you as friends.

My friend wants to promote a "Congressional Reform Act of 2010."

It would contain eight provisions, all of which would probably be strongly endorsed by those who drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

I know many of you will say, "this is impossible".

Let me remind you, Congress has the lowest approval of any entity in Government, now is the time when Americans can join together to reform Congress -

The entity that "represents" US the citizens of the USA.

Congressional Reform Act of 2010

1. Term Limits: 12 years only, one of the possible options below.

A. Two Six year Senate terms B. Six Two year House terms C. One Six year Senate term and three Two Year House terms Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

2. No Tenure / No Pension:

A congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security:

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund moves to the Social Security system immediately.

All future funds flow into the Social Security system, Congress participates with the American people. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, server your term(s), then go home and back to work.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan just as all Americans. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

6. Congress looses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

8. All contracts with past and present congressmen are void effective 1/1/2011. The American people did not make this contract with congressmen, congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

It is short and to the point. Term limits were considered in the Convention of 1787 but were not adopted. Limiting the scope of government was considered more important. I would still believe so. The other items seem self-evidently desirable: why should not Congress have to live within the structures it creates?


Software for statistics and Fortran redux

Dr Pournelle

In response to Mr R Montgomery, <http://www.jerrypournelle.com/mail/
2009/Q4/mail602.html#Monday>  , I did not know of R. I mentioned that the heavy statistics work that formed the basis of my recommendation of SAS was dated. I was out of the bizz before R was born. When I was in the bizz, SAS was the only software that could answer the prerequisite question -- Can it do the job? -- in the affirmative. If R can do the job, then I would prefer it to SAS for the reason Mr Montgomery cited: It's free. Besides, SAS will not produce object code. That way they keep their customers captive.

In response to Mr Mike T Powers, ibid, I assume that "CS" refers to Computer Science, and I answer, yes, Computer Science is one of my degrees, among others. The company that I worked for had proprietary data that showed that Fortran-coded projects overran projected budgets (in lines of code) by 50 to 200%. ADA and C underran or overran within acceptable limits (-10% to +20%). That is the basis for my statement.

As for just crunching numbers, I prefer APL, especially when working with arrays.

As for the tool analogy, my favorite tool is C. C will do what Fortran will do, and it will do it faster and cleaner. Years ago, I needed to manipulate 3-space vectors for a telemetry recognition project. I coded the functions in C by overloading the arithmetic operators. Took me 2 weeks to code and test the new type casts and functions. After that, the coding was easy and clean. Can you overload arithmetic operators with Fortran?

I think Mr Montgomery got it right. The reason the climate science boys used Fortran is "TRADITION!"

My guess is that, for light statistical work, most people use EXCEL. +++++ Speaking of dead bodies (signals abrupt change of topic), Fighter Pilot Ape S says UAVs have vulnerable comm, ibid; Col David Couvillon replies "So what?" (Wednesday, 23Dec09) and says that "It'll come down to cost-benefit ratios and UAVs will win hands down." Well, maybe the Marine Corps measures by cost-benefit ratios, but when I wore the blue we measured by mission effectiveness. On that basis, I say we shall see both.

Unlike S, I'm not livin' in the past, but I wish I could. Ridin' 'burners is better than crunching numbers, gotta tell ya.

Here's what I think.

You dumb grunts want CAS? Okay, we can do that. We can even share. Army flies manned rotary-winged CAS; Air Force flies manned fixed-wing. We'll both fly RPVs. But our first mission is air superiority.


'Cause it has to be.

Without air superiority (control of the air over the battlefield), you don't get CAS, rotary or fixed. The enemy gets CAS. You won't like it. Ask any army that's been on the receiving end of an American airstrike. Well, ask the survivors. If you can find any.

Today the most important aircraft in the inventory for air superiority is not the F16, the F15, the F22, or the F35. It is the E3. RPVs augment manned airpower, but they will never replace it completely. What's the right mix? In the next century, military historians will tell us what it was and why we didn't have it. By the way, the Army wanted the M1 powered by a diesel engine, not the turbine engine it has. Congress decided otherwise.

I see a future in which grunts have RPVs organic to combat units down to the company level. I also see robotic aircraft flying in link with manned fighters to cover a fighter pilot's six. Maybe even a couple of robotic links to take the fight to the enemy out of range of the manned fighter or augment the weapons load for a strike. I see the back-seater (WSO or NFO) replaced with a comm link to scope-dopes flying computer consoles in Nevada. That's unfortunate 'cause it'll take a second set of eyes out of the cockpit. But it'll happen 'cause it'll increase range and payload and enhance 'combat capability'. That's Pentagon-speak for "Hang another 500-pounder on that plane."

I see more PGMs. That means less collateral damage.

And I see more CAS aircraft, rotary- and fixed-wing. Will it be enough? No, but I never met a company CO who didn't want the brigade artillery and a squadron of fighter-bombers on call all day every day.

Shut up and soldier, soldier.

Live long and prosper h lynn keith

Regiment commanders did once have artillery on call all day every day. It was called cannon company. Now they have mortars. Of course I understand your point.

Air superiority and the need for superiority strategy drove the move to an Independent Air Force that got to select its own tactics and targets, and the speech was made many time. See Clark Gable in Command Decision. But the Independent Air Force insisted on heavy bombers and concentration on strategic bombing while neglecting the support of the field army. Once air supremacy was established the Air Force didn't know what to do. The Marines understand that they are supposed to support the ground forces. The Air Force has never been comfortable with that lesson.

I went through all this when I was part of the Boeing TFX design competition team. The TFX turned out to be a very good interdiction weapon system, but of course all its mission capabilities were compromised by the political decision to make it a multi-mission craft. McNamara had idly promised that to Kennedy. The result wasn't what anyone wanted.

If the Air Force would give up the ground support mission entirely and concentrate on air superiority its independent existence could be justified: there's really not much of a career in USAF for ground support mission officers. But it won't give that up, and it may result in the end of the Air Force as such. Victory through Air Power turned out to be a bit more complicated than the books had thought it would be.


Letter From England

<http://tinyurl.com/ycmajjn>  <http://tinyurl.com/yhg5m49>  <http://tinyurl.com/yc8oxvu>. 

University funding and places are being cut <http://tinyurl.com/ybwym9u>  <http://tinyurl.com/yepwper>  <http://tinyurl.com/yauqumj>  <http://tinyurl.com/y9t3vje>  <http://tinyurl.com/y87czxs>  <http://tinyurl.com/yehnlzc>.  The Times Higher Education will have a review next week.

The Government wants the bachelor's degree cut to two years. <http://tinyurl.com/y9o73o6>  <http://tinyurl.com/ycbckrn>  <http://tinyurl.com/yahkwpy>  <http://tinyurl.com/yjh4t3y>  <http://tinyurl.com/ycwpnlo>  (I believe that's known as an Associate's degree in California.)

English (not Scottish) students begin specialising for an academic field at age 14 or 15, and their three years in university (ages 18-20) are focussed on a single subject area, taught in depth by specialists. In the past, the depth of this specialisation has been used to defend the three year first or bachelor's degree against outside criticism, so it is generally accepted as equivalent to a four year bachelor's degree elsewhere as long as it includes a significant final year project. Obviously, early specialisation has its problems--adolescents often change their minds, there's inadequate time for the coursework needed to become competent in many fields, teachers often lack an in-depth knowledge of material outside their focussed specialty, and there's very little provision for interdisciplinary studies.

Post-graduate study provision does not improve the situation. The UK taught masters is a one-year professional degree--unlike the two-year masters taught elsewhere that is intended as preparation for a PhD--and the UK doctorate is a 3-year research programme with no taught element that often begins immediately after the first degree. So a student can easily complete a doctorate before age 24, having three years of university coursework. This seems to meet most UK needs, although interdisciplinary and high technology experts have to be imported, and the quality of teaching in many university degree programmes is weak. UK doctorates are not regarded as equivalent to those awarded elsewhere, and advanced post-graduate studies are not available in the UK.

I find this frustrating as I am trained to teach interdisciplinary topics at an advanced level. There is little or no call for my skills, although my background in industry and government tells me there is a unmet need. Cutting the bachelor's degree to two years and concentrating on courses of immediate economic value will eliminate equivalency of degrees and weaken UK education further. Perhaps the UK can't afford more than that, but it raises the question of why a modern economy doesn't seem to be sustainable. Of course, California seems to have arrived in the same place, so the answer may well be that intelligent long-term management of a modern economy is beyond the capacity of the average political leader. Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Black Swan theory provides another answer. Managing to any finite time horizon is a losing strategy--as long as black swan events have a non-zero probability, any group that doesn't allow for them will eventually be wiped out. To avoid that happening, you have to bet on the black swans in some way. Americans know how (somehow); the British don't. (Your average politician doesn't either.) I think it's a cultural thing. Enuff said...

We lost our Christmas holiday in the Eurostar fiasco <http://tinyurl.com/ycsa92c> , so we had some students over for Christmas dinner.

For amusement: "Britons shun Gordon Brown’s roadshow to promote Britishness" <http://tinyurl.com/ye2jjyz

On the much more positive side, Diane and I are grandparents!

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


Academics will absorb all the resources put into it without regard to the actual mission of the academy. This has been proved over and over again, and is a special case of the Iron Law. There is no remedy other than defunding and letting them compete with everyone else.

The California Master Plan called for free and automatic admission for about 15% of the high school graduates from California schools, and tuition only for out of state students. This was to be at the State College levels, with the University of California restricted to a few campuses with small undergraduate classes and those of the very top layer of candidates. The plan was a good one and didn't survive politics. All the Colleges wanted to be Universities, the Teacher's Colleges couldn't wait to be Universities and no one wanted to teach undergraduates. It still goes on. So now we have Universities whose main work is Bonehead English, Bonehead Speech, Bonehead Math...  and no one wants to teach those classes. Those in the classes ought not be in Universities at all but might learn something from community colleges. Or Teachers Colleges.

It won't be fixed. Politics rules. And throwing money at a university system does no more good than throwing money at the DC school system. The system will absorb more money than it gets. Always.




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Tuesday,  December 29, 2009

Subject: Al Gore and AGW

Jerry, I've been doing a little thinking about Climategate and have come up with something you might find interesting. It's becoming more and more clear as time goes on how much of the "supporting evidence" for AGW was fabricated. And, of course, we all know that one of the earliest supporters and advocates for AGW is Mr. Al Gore. Not only has he played fast and loose with the facts, his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is so biased that it's forbidden to show it to school children in England unless it's accompanied by a presentation pointing out how inaccurate it is.

The interesting thing (to me, at least) is the fact that this is not an isolated incident. Back when he was running for President, he was caught inventing examples to support his position in the first debate. Instead of being more careful and checking his facts, he continued the practice all through the debates, even though he was caught every time he did it. Clearly, at that point in his career, he had little if any respect for the facts and there's no reason to think he's changed.

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

You can prove anything if you can make up your data, and just about anything if you can select your data. But it isn't science.


Global Warming 101 

Global Warming Theory in a Nutshell http://www.drroyspencer.com/global-warming-101/ 



Cutting Science Labs at Berkeley

They're simply applying what's been learned from the global warming issue, that it's a waste of money learning how to collect data that won't be used.



The 209th Carnival of Homeschooling is up

Renae is hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling:


Her theme for this carnival is about Winter in Idaho.

My wife and I will be hosting the carnival next week. This will be the 4th anniversary. Please consider sending in a submission about homeschooling. Here are the directions:


I will you and your family the best in the coming New Year.

-- ---------- Henry Cate cate3@panix.com "Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you'll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others." -- Jacob M. Braude Our blog: http://whyhomeschool.blogspot.com/


The price of privacy?

From "Six Uncomfortable Answers"


"...So why doesnt the US use other information, like date of birth, to "disambiguate" the lists -- to separate terrorist suspects from regular folks? After all, we knew Abdulmutallab's birthdate, along with a lot of other information; there was no need to stop every Abdul Mutallab or Abdul-Mutallab or abu Mutallab from flying to the US. But DHS hasn't been able to disambiguate the list because privacy campaigners and Congress prohibited DHS from gathering birthdates from passengers. That information was too sensitive to share with the government, said the privacy groups, and they insisted that Congress prohibit DHS from running the selection process for years while DHS got over a series of privacy hurdles."

(Think about this the next time someone makes a fuss over showing their ID. )

The real question is, what price will we pay for what? There are tradeoffs in all policies. Mostly they haven't been evaluated. Making passengers thing they are secure (so they'll fly and buy tickets and contribute to the economy) is worth something. Real security it worth something. What are we trying to optimize>


A national rallying cry?


The Founding Fathers made a good trade off, in limiting the scope of government vs. term limits. It held up well for 150 - 175 years. Unfortunately, unlimited terms provided an unintended loop-hole for Congressmen and Senators to undermine the limited scope.

I would add only the following:

9. All campaign funds for all Congressional elections (Senate and House) must be raised solely within the district or state to be represented in Congress. The Founding Fathers certainly did not envision an election process in which special interests in say California try to influence the outcome of a Congressional election in say Wisconsin.

Best Wishes for 2010,

Tony Sherfinski

Well there is this thing called Freedom of Speech. Campaign contribution limits have big effects too. Mostly what is needed is transparency.





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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dowd on PKD

In Maureen Dowd’s unexpectedly critical column about President Obama – that being why I read it at all – I discovered that her literary insights are no better than her political analysis:


“Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travelers could see we had made no progress toward a technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe.”

Does Dowd really misunderstand Philip K. Dick to be saying his vision of the future was something to look forward to?

--Mike Glyer

Maybe she sees the Mars of Total Recall and the Blade Runner universe as desirable? Meanwhile, it's 2010 and I don't have a flying car. Or a moon base.


Obama speech

Jerry P:

The president says that there were human and systemic failures. There are no systemic failures, just human ones. Those who talk like that will never hold real humans accountable for their failures, as they will never get to the root causes of the problems, just blame some abstraction called the system. Bad system!! Like bad dog. When you dump responsibility for making value judgments onto a "system" or committee, then you lose any control over the results. The stupidity of politicians is remarkable.


And what does this say about those who elect them year after year? At least we can believe in the change we are getting.


Arctic Ice Variation

Dr. Pournelle --

I came across this article from last June:

Historic Variation in Arctic Ice


It seems that Arctic ice is much more variable than some believe, certainly if one only reads recent statements. The article quotes and references the accounts of whalers and expeditions seeking the Northwest Passage. It's a long but interesting read.


Vikings had dairy farms in Greenland. That implies warmth a lot further north than we're accustomed during the Medieval Warm. We have not yet got to the Medieval Warm temperatures. Which is why IPCC needs to make the Medieval Warm go away.


Term limits and politicians' pay

Somebody emailed you some suggestions about these, to which you replied "Term limits were considered in the Convention of 1787 but were not adopted".

That makes it sound as though the US founding fathers merely didn't put them in, but it was more than that. Those were already in the Articles of Confederation, and the US founding fathers deliberately removed them. They also made a conscious decision to change the pay arrangements, from being provided by the states that sent the representatives to being provided from federal funds at the representatives' discretion. So your correspondent was mistaken in his refrain "Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.

The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work." They genuinely wanted to make it a career on their own terms, and they did just that. It was no unintended loop-hole.

Yours sincerely,


If you do not pay legislators, only the wealthy can afford to be part of the "cursus honorum" and hold political office. A career in politics wasn't considered dishonorable in Rome or England.

Coupling political careers with unrestricted voting rights has an effect. Restricting voting rights to those who pay taxes has another. This all used to be discussed in high school civics classes, but I doubt that any high school teachers are aware of that now. Or for that matter I don't know how much our present day "poli sci" professors know of the subject.

As you say, it was all discussed in the Convention of 1787 and somewhat in The Federalist Papers.


Do we even *have* an NIO for Warning, anymore?


- Roland Dobbins


Education in CA

You may have seen this already, but it is certainly another exhibit in your museum of educational folly. People apparently don't consider that there are two ways to "reduce the performance gap".

This is from http://patterico.com 

Berkeley Levels the Educational Playing Field <http://patterico.com/2009/12/29/

Filed under: Education <http://patterico.com/category/education/>  — DRJ @ 10:14 pm [Guest post by DRJ] Berkeley High School will consider a proposal to eliminate science labs and teachers <http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/
berkeley-high-may-cut-out-science-labs/Content?oid=1536705>  in order to free up funds for minorities. Why? Because the labs primarily benefit white students and eliminating them will free up resources to help more struggling minority students:

“The proposal to put the science-lab cuts on the table was approved recently by Berkeley High’s School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students who oversee a plan to change the structure of the high school to address Berkeley’s dismal racial achievement gap, where white students are doing far better than the state average while black and Latino students are doing worse. Paul Gibson, an alternate parent representative on the School Governance Council, said that information presented at council meetings suggests that the science labs were largely classes for white students. He said the decision to consider cutting the labs in order to redirect resources to underperforming students was virtually unanimous.”

Joanne Jacobs <http://www.joannejacobs.com/2009/12/
berkeley-high-to-close-racial-gap-cut-science/>  explains the targeted science labs are scheduled before and after the regular science classes. Eliminating them would “cut science instruction time by 21 percent in most science classes, 30 percent in AP classes.” In an update, Jacobs notes an education group’s argument that “extra lab time is most important for struggling students.” Apparently this is part of Berkeley High School’s answer to reduce a performance gap between white and minority students. It seems to me struggling students of every race would be better served by more science labs, not fewer ones, but this will be especially hard on any minority student currently benefiting from a science lab. I guess they and their white counterparts must sacrifice so more Berkeley High students score the same.

In other words, Berkeley may be leveling the educational playing field down.



Subject: I suspect a wee tad of irony in Dr Caplan's post, however his point about subservient scientists is well taken

I thought you might be interested in Another Reason to Get an Econ Ph.D., Bryan Caplan | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty. You can view it at http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2009/12/another_reason_3.html


I have never thought economists deserving of the attention they are always paid. Those who are deserving go far beyond the "science" of economics. Schumpeter comes to mind as one of the most valuable, and he wasn't much "scientific" at all.

Those terrific models work well until comes The Black Swan.

On that subject see my previous comments here, and here. Of course few were listening to my warnings.

The best example of ignoring the Black Swan were the scientists at the ratings companies who suckered the world into believing there was an iota of credibility in their expertise -- and who rated Mortgage Based Securities as AAA, safe as Treasury Bonds. Note that nothing has happened and they continue to provide ratings, paid for by those rated. You pay us we'll rate you. And there are those who still take the ratings companies seriously.


Lucifer's Anvil


Lucifer's Anvil update


MOSCOW — Russia is considering sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth, the head of the country's space agency said Wednesday.<snip>

Without mentioning NASA findings, (Russian space agency head Anatoly) Perminov said that he heard from a scientist that Apophis is getting closer and may hit the planet. "I don't remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032," Perminov said.<snip>



Russians to save earth from Apophis asteroid 

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I thought you might appreciate the following series of news articles:




Evidently the Russians are concerned that Apophis may hit earth, and are laying contingency plans for that event. Good for them!

No word from NASA at this time.


Brian P.


the underpants bomber

Hi Jerry,

The underpants-bomber demonstrated a number of things. Our government is, predictably, learning all the wrong lessons.

Lesson 1: The existence of TSA is the terrorists' single biggest victory. The economic costs are incalculable, and the actual security benefit negligible. It is easy to get dangerous items onto an aircraft.

Lesson 2: Your point is exactly right, the government is optimizing for headlines, not security. The real, cold-blooded target should be the efficiency of air travel.

TSA states that their procedures worked (they must be smoking something really good). Nonetheless, a raft of new restrictions are now necessary - ones that will make air travel even less pleasant. Note that none of the new restrictions would have had any effect whatsoever on the underpants bomber.

I dread the next time I have to fly to the USA. I expect lots of other people feel the same way. Watch the tourism statistics, and add that to the economic cost as well.



The johnson bomber seems to have achieved a highly cost effective result, although he may just now not believe so. I expect he is digging through the Koran on just what restorations happen when one is welcomed into Paradise.


smoking Qu'ran 


It looks like we have the smoking Qu'ran (wait, that is politically incorrect, isn't it) on the Fort Hood incident and the connection with the Detroit bombing:


The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told The Washington Times.<snip>


Isn't that astonishing...




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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Challenge: is CO2 level rising?

Seen on Drudge:


All the Global Warming / Climate Change scenarios assume that the warming/change is due to man-made increases in atmospheric CO2.

This troublemaker went back and re-crunched the numbers on atmospheric CO2 levels for the last 160 years. "In contradiction to some recent studies, he finds that the airborne fraction of carbon dioxide has not increased either during the past 150 years or during the most recent five decades."

You can't have warming/change from CO2 increases if you don't have CO2 increases to start with.


I do not believe I have previously seen a serious challenge to the data on CO2 levels increasing. The Mauna Loa observatory takes the measures, and that's a pretty good place for global averages. The increases are not all that large -- note that in the chart below it goes from 320 to 380 ppm in 50 years -- but they do seem real and steady. Of course we can calculate the amount of CO2 resulting from human activity (breathing, burning coal and oil, etc.), but we can't say what effect that has, since CO2 is absorbed by the oceans as well as by plants, and the current models aren't all that accurate in predicting how much of what is released will remain and for how long. Moreover, there are unpredictable releases of both CO2 and methane as well as sulfur gasses from volcanism, and of course those can't be predicted at all.

Still, I have never doubted that there are CO2 increases from human activity.



The link http://www.sciencedaily.com/
leads to a peer reviewed article which I haven't read. I expect someone with more expertise than I have will review that. I remain skeptical and while I am a "denier' in that I don't believe human caused global temperature changes have been proven, I wouldn't say that I "deny" (1) fairly steady warming at about a degree per century since the end of the Little Ice Age, or (2) steady increases in CO2 levels probably due to human activity. Or for that matter, (3) a heck of a lot of warming since the Snowball Earth period when just about the whole Earth was covered with from meters to kilometers of ice...

But see below


: Aristotle and Democracy


In a recent musing, you mentioned:

Aristotle said that democracy is rule by the middle class, and the middle class are those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation. He also believed that democracy was a degenerate form of government, doomed to fall into a civil war until brought out of it by a dictator who would end the class warfare. The solution to that degeneracy, according to Socialists and some other political theorists including at least some Distributists, is to make certain the middle class stays large and that the gap between classes is not enormous.

This isn't exactly an accurate representation of Aristotle's argument. I understand that you are being reductive in order to highlight a larger, and largely accurate, point, but it deserves some discussion. I note early that Aristotle's Politics, being a work of philosophy and not a logical proof, leaves a good deal of room for interpretation.

A great deal of Book 4 of the Politics is devoted to a discussion of Democracy, Oligarchy, and the regime that Carnes Lord translates as "Polity." The Polity is what Aristotle considers to be the "just regime," and it is often translated as the "mixed regime." Democracy and Oligarchy are defective versions of just regimes -- Oligarchy a corruption of Aristocracy and Democracy a corruption of the Polity. Democracy is a degenerate form of government, but a Polity -- which includes democratic elements -- is the most just regime. The Polity is Aristotle's regime of the middle class.

The problem with Democracies is that they are rule by the many and that the many are easily persuaded, through the use of class warfare, to overthrow the rich. This tends to lead to revolution and tyranny -- the worst form of government. Recent history has seen quite a few examples of this playing out. The Russian Revolution and the Nazi rise to power both used class warfare to good effect in creating tyranny. I would point out that for Aristotle it is the dictator who often initiates the class warfare.

For Aristotle the mixed regime, with a strong and legitimate, middle class moderates the ability of tyrants to use class warfare to create new tyrannies. You do want a strong and large middle class in a mixed regime, the Polity, but you don't want to redistribute wealth to do it. That is the road to tyranny.

I would argue that Socialists and other Distributionists are using rhetorical tools that make it sound like they are "expanding" the middle class through redistributive policies. In reality, they are shrinking the middle class and redistributing more to the poor through the use of class warfare techniques. A true middle class achieves its success through its moderate living including hard work, frugality, and the development of virtues. Any redistribution of wealth without it being "earned" through the practice of middle class virtues, is in actuality movement away from the mixed regime and toward dictatorship. When one feels they "deserve" something they never worked toward, they have not developed any virtue in the acquisition, rather they may have been rewarded for a vice. For those who are incapable of work, society supporting them is no vice, but for those who can the vice of sloth is rewarded. This would lead to degeneracy in society.

For an Aristotelian, the gap between the wealthy and the poor could be massive without any social problems. A large and virtuous middle class will keep the regime stable. The problem comes when the virtuousness of the middle class becomes reduced. In modern times, this is done through the increase in the number of subsides and handouts from government.


-- Christian

[Emphasis added by JEP]

I don't disagree, and I have written on this before, as well as on Cicero and the "mixed" government -- a Republic -- which does not degenerate the way democracy does. I have emboldened the key point. Note that I have no objection at all to the notion of substantial power in the hand of the middle class as a highly important component of a successful government. Like Hamilton I have no strong objection to part of the government being hereditary. Indeed, it always is, but today the main way to transmit political power to your children is to destroy the public school system in the name of equality, then send your kids to private school. Works every time.

When the middle class has become bondsmen -- that is, they start life with enormous debts that can't really be paid in their lifetime -- they are no longer really the middle class. Welcome to education loans.


The Middle Class

Dr. Pournelle,

You said

> Home owners are almost by definition middle class.

Well, yes, by traditional standards. Middle class people buy homes. They save, make a downpayment of around 20%, and pay their mortgage on time.

Putting people into homes who cannot afford them does not make them middle class. I know that unlike our legislators, you understand the difference between cause and effect.

Steve Chu

I don't disagree and perhaps should have been more expansive on that point. Once the middle class is beholden to the government you no longer have a republic.

The intentions of many of those who tried the experiment were good. We know what is paved with good intentions.


Subject:'The agents threatened to get Frischling - a blogger for KLM airlines - fired from his job, confiscate all his electronic devices - phones, computers, and iPods - and declare him a security risk - which would get him on the No-Fly list - unless he cooperated.'



-- Roland Dobbins

About what one might expect from TSA, which seems utterly clueless. I am hardly astonished that they dedicate this much effort to stopping a leak while letting the johnson bomber aboard an international flight. There will be a lot more on this on half the web sites in America, and I doubt I have much to add to the stew. I'm just glad I didn't post the memo myself. I don't do topical news, and I delete most items of that sort without reading.

We have not heard the end of this story. And nothing will change. We seem devoted to security theater, and TSA provides that, finding people willing to do kabuki for a living even when they know just what they are doing. At least we hope they know they are doing kabuki.


FPV Fireworks 12-20-09


This clip is from an RC plane, showing fireworks from an unusual angle.



Drones and Encryption


Bruce Schneier at Schneier on Security has some thoughts about why no encryption for the image feed from drones may be the best option, at least under current military rules. <http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/12/intercepting_pr.html

The command and control channel is, and always has been, encrypted -- because that's both more important and easier to manage. UAVs are flown by airmen sitting at comfortable desks on U.S. military bases, where key management is simpler. But the video feed is different. It needs to be available to all sorts of people, of varying nationalities and security clearances, on a variety of field terminals, in a variety of geographical areas, in all sorts of conditions -- with everything constantly changing. Key management in this environment would be a nightmare.

Additionally, how valuable is this video downlink is to the enemy? The primary fear seems to be that the militants watch the video, notice their compound being surveilled and flee before the missiles hit. Or notice a bunch of Marines walking through a recognizable area and attack them. This might make a great movie scene, but it's not very realistic. Without context, and just by peeking at random video streams, the risk caused by eavesdropping is low.

Contrast this with the additional risks if you encrypt: A soldier in the field doesn't have access to the real-time video because of a key management failure; a UAV can't be quickly deployed to a new area because the keys aren't in place; we can't share the video information with our allies because we can't give them the keys; most soldiers can't use this technology because they don't have the right clearances. Given this risk analysis, not encrypting the video is almost certainly the right decision.

Bruce points out that you could use commercial-grade encryption on UAVs, but this would run afoul of the military's insistence that if you're going to encrypt, you have to do it *right*. Right, meaning at a level that will forestall attacks by the analysts available to the Soviets during the Cold War. In the Middle East, this is overkill. But in order to use encryption that's merely adequate to the threat level, some changes would have to be made:

This sort of solution would require the NSA to develop a whole new level of lightweight commercial-grade security systems for military applications — not just office-data "Sensitive but Unclassified" or "For Official Use Only" classifications. It would require the NSA to allow keys to be handed to uncleared UAV operators, and perhaps read over insecure phone lines and stored in people's back pockets. It would require the sort of ad hoc key management systems you find in internet protocols, or in DRM systems. It wouldn't be anywhere near perfect, but it would be more commensurate with the actual threats.

And it might be worth doing just to forestall the PR hits the military's been taking over failing to encrypt the video feeds.

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

We went through this exercise in the 1960's when drone surveillance aircraft were developed and used in experimental missions. There are always tradeoffs. In those days real time encryption wasn't really an option anyway. Eventually the operations analysis people will get to work on it.


Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students - Teaching - The Chronicle of Higher Education 

It turns out that a *received wisdom* theory of learning has, upon examination, proven to be so much hooey. Surprise, surprise!


Best Regards,


Most education "research" is so badly designed that it's impossible to learn much from it; its purpose is to provide something to publish, and work for the center for the absorption of federal research funds. When the education research results are challenged the result is usually to find that the conclusions weren't justified. By then a few millions will have been spent.

Or, as in California, by discouraging and even banning phonics, you can create an entire generation of illiterates and feel good about it. We had good intentions... Bill Honig, Superintendent of Public Instruction for California in the critical years, has sort of apologized for his role in this imbecility. It isn't clear what made him do it, but his intentions were good. Eventually he changed his mind. That story is told here.


Hunting Redhunter

"[R]ead William F. Buckley's The Red Hunter, but you will have problems finding it: Amazon shows almost none."

Search for "The Redhunter" instead and you'll find more than a hundred; Abebooks another 70. Apparently it's also available in Kindle and Mobi ebook formats.


"Using data from Voyager, we have discovered a strong magnetic field just outside the solar system. This magnetic field holds the interstellar cloud together and solves the long-standing puzzle of how it can exist at all."


-- Roland Dobbins


: Kindle and DRM - 

Dr Pournelle, As I'm sure someone has pointed out, the Kindle DRM was broken a long time ago, within weeks of the original kindle hitting the streets. What this story is about is breaking the DRM on the kindle reader for PC program. Certainly an intellectual accomplishment, but it doesn't really change anything. Both the Kindle azw format and the Adobe epub format DRM's were broken some time ago, as was the lit and eReader format DRM's. Right now, the Amazon topaz format , the Sony lrx (which Sony has abandoned) and the new B&N specific flavor of epub are the only major formats that haven't been broken. I'm sure the B&N epub will be broken soon enough.

The bottom line is that as with music and DVD's, DRM gets broken fairly quickly and has very little effect on if ebooks are pirated or not.



Cold Fusion

>For the last 25 or so years, when the mainstream media wanted to
>refer to scientific findings that have been thoroughly discredited,
>they have called them "Cold Fusion". My guess [and hope, given the
>way they have abused the scientific process], is that "Cold Fusion"
 >will drop out of vogue, and "Global Warming" will take its place.

The reason they'll replace "Cold Fusion" is that the latest information shows that the true believers in cold fusion were right. There IS something unusual going on, and the problem of getting reproducible results seems to have been solved:


and much other evidence. The stuff from the Navy's SPAWAR labs is particularly interesting. I remember when the original hooraw was going on, and was more than a little upset that the physics "mainstream" was pulling the same kind of underhanded political shenanigans that the "global warming scientologists" are pulling today (interfering with peer reviews, getting grants cut off, getting tenure denied, etc.).



RE: Gerlich & Tscheuschner Paper

Jerry, I am a climate skeptic myself but this paper is not a useful contribution to the literature.

The trouble with this paper is that they not only seem to disprove the greenhouse effect, they also seem to disprove much of basic thermodynamics in the process. In science, one observation trumps a million pages of mathematics and their calculations cannot be reconciled with reality as we know it.

Actual observations show that the black body temperature of an object in Earth's orbit is much cooler than the actual surface temperature of the Earth, as the average surface temperature the moon is much cooler than Earth's average surface temperature. This is actual observation, not theory.

The serious criticism of the IPCC version of the anthropogenic global warming theory is that the climate models they use overestimate the sensitivity of the climate to changes in carbon dioxide. The last 50 years of observations simply do not jibe with their models. Which, come to think of it, is the same critiicism I made of the G&T paper. Carbon Dioxide is only a weak greenhouse gas. Most of the warming that the IPCC predicts is caused by strong positive feedback of the carbon dioxide with water vapor. The magnitude of these feedbacks is quite controversial. In some cases, there is disagreement about whether some of the feedbacks are positive or negative.

Here are some websites you should visit if you want a serious criticism of the theory of anthropogenic global warming:


Joel Upchurch

Apologies, but can't figure out where I refer to the Gerlich and Tscheuschner paper, which I haven't read. Ah. I found it. The last entry on Christmas Eve, a link in mail from a reader

I haven't read it; I gather from Internet chatter that those who accuse others of being deniers are adamant that it should never have been published, which automatically makes me suspicious.

Given that the Earth is hot at the core, I am hardly astonished to find that the Earth's temperature is higher than it would be if there were no internal heat sources. I haven't actually worked out the solar insolation black body temperature at the Earth's orbital distance, and modified it by albedo, but a priori I expect the Earth's internal warmth to have an effect.

Of course this makes it all the more important to have an accurate and intelligently constructed figure of merit for "Earth's temperature." If the official temperature of the Earth is different from what an IR camera on the Moon would read -- and surely it is -- then how one computes it becomes important. I am sure there are published justifications of the measure actually employed, but I haven't seen one.

I will have to read the paper with some care, but I cannot believe the authors have ignored the laws of thermodynamics. Perhaps what they say is dead wrong; I don't know yet. A cursory look shows that the discussion is not yet over, for example http://antigreen.blogspot.com/
2008/02/pesky-physics-for-some-time-people-have.html  presents replies from the paper's authors. Apparently they examine a very widely assumed model of thermodynamic equilibrium and assert that it is incorrect. I'm not sure what else they are saying.

They do not seem to be unqualified to discuss the subject. I'll have to leave the rest of the subject to others until I have had time to read their paper more closely. I will say this: they publish the paper. They haven't given us obscure references to unpublished models. I wish the BCS bowl game selectors would be so candid (and that is certainly another topic).


More: a summary of the paper: http://my.telegraph.co.uk/reasonmclucus



: A horribly naive temperature vs. CO2 analysis




This is probably a meaningless analysis, but I offer it for everyone's amusement.


I was poking around on Wikipedia and I noticed that the pages for each of the major geologic eras, Cambrian, Permian, Silurian, etc. all had listings for atmospheric oxygen levels, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and average global temperatures.  I decided to make a table:





                  CO2 level (ppm)   Era (MYA)                                        

 Temp °C

Cambrian        (542) 4500 21
Ordovician      (488) 4200 16
Silurian           (444) 4500 17
Devonian        (416) 2200 20
Carboniferous (360) 800 14
Permian          (300) 900 16
Triassic          (250) 1750 17
Jurassic         (200) 1950 16.5
Cretaceous    (145) 1700 18
Paleogene       (65) 500 18
Neogene         (23) 280 14


And when I plot the temperature against the concentration of carbon dioxide, the linear fit is

T = 0.0007C + 15.668

This implies that in order to get a one-degree rise in surface temperatures, we need to increase CO2 by some 1400 parts per billion.

I'm sure there will be lots of climate scientists perfectly willing to tell me all the factors I'm missing, and why this analysis is naive.  But I know it's naive. I'm just having a bit of fun.

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


That's a lot of CO2...


Re:is CO2 level rising?


People seem to be misinterpreting the title of this paper. It has long been known that less than half of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions stay in the atmosphere and the rest go into various carbon sinks. The percentage mentioned is 43%. The paper is whether this percentage is increasing or decreasing over time, not if the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing.


Joel Upchurch

Including me. Thanks



 read book now




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  January 1, 2010

a fine article about our splendid Corps

Written a couple of years ago, but still a great read!

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

United States Marine Corps


By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

Beginning this month, leathernecks from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force will return to Iraq, replacing elements of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. The return of the Marines is surely bad news for those desperate to undermine the liberation of Iraq.

Not to take anything away from the U.S. Army — its soldiers have performed magnificently, and will no doubt continue to do so — but America's enemies have a particular fear of U.S. Marines. During the first Gulf War in 1991, over 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were deployed along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti coastline in anticipation of a landing by some 17,000 U.S. Marines. Terrified by what they had been taught about the combat prowess of Marines, the Iraqi soldiers had nicknamed them "Angels of Death."

The moniker — first published by Pulitzer-winner Rick Atkinson in his best-selling Crusade — carried over into the second Gulf war, last year, as the 1st Marine Division swept across the Iraqi plains. Attacking American forces were unsettling enough, but reports of the seaborne "Angels of Death" being among the lead elements were paralyzing to many Iraqi combatants. Despite less armor than other American ground forces, the Marines were among the first to fight their way into Baghdad. And when intelligence indicated that foreign troops were coming to the aid of Iraqi diehards, Marine Brig. Gen. John Kelly stated, "we want all Jihad fighters to come here. That way we can kill them all before they get bus tickets to New York City."

Typical Marine bravado, some say. But it works. Best-selling author Tom Clancy once wrote, "Marines are mystical. They have magic." It is this same magic, Clancy added, that "may well frighten potential opponents more than the actual violence Marines can generate in combat."

Fear of Marines is not a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to Iraqi soldiers. Established in 1775, the U.S. Marine Corps came of age in World War I during the 1918 Chateau Thierry campaign near the French village of Bouresches. There, Marines assaulted a line of German machine-gun nests on an old hunting preserve known as Belleau Wood. The fighting was terrible. Those Marines who weren't cut down by the enemy guns captured the nests in a grisly close-quarters slugfest.

The shocked Germans nicknamed their foes, teufelhunden (devil dogs). "Marines are considered a sort of elite Corps designed to go into action outside the United States," read a German intelligence report following the battle. "They consider their membership in the Marine Corps to be something of an honor. They proudly resent any attempts to place their regiments on a par with other infantry regiments."

Twenty-four years later as the 1st Marine Division was steaming toward Guadalcanal, a Japanese radio propagandist taunted that which the Japanese soldiers feared most. "Where are the famous United States Marines hiding?" the announcer asked. "The Marines are supposed to be the finest soldiers in the world, but no one has seen them yet?" Over the next three years, Marines would further their reputation at places with names like Tarawa, Saipan, and Iwo Jima.

That reputation carried over into the Korean War. "Panic sweeps my men when they are facing the American Marines," confessed a captured North Korean major. It was a fear echoed by his Chinese allies. In late 1950, Chinese premier Mao Tse Tung put out a contract on the 1st Marine Division. The Marine division, according to Mao in written orders to the commander of the Chinese 9th Army Group, "has the highest combat effectiveness in the American armed forces. It seems not enough for our four divisions to surround and annihilate its two regiments. You should have one or two more divisions as a reserve force." Though costly for both sides, the subsequent Chinese trap failed to destroy the 1st Marine Division.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Frank Lowe later admitted, "The safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of Marines. Lord, how they could fight!"

Over a decade later, Marines were the first major ground combat force in Vietnam. Army Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who commanded all American military forces in that country, conservatively stated he "admired the élan of Marines." But despite the admiration, some Army leaders found their equally proficient units wanting for similar respect.

In 1982, during the invasion of Grenada, Army General John Vesey, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, telephoned one of his officers and demanded to know why there were "two companies of Marines running all over the island and thousands of Army troops doing nothing. What the hell is going on?"

The reputation of Marines stems from a variety of factors: The Marine Corps is the smallest, most unique branch of the U.S armed forces. Though it is organized as a separate armed service, it is officially a Naval infantry/combined-arms force overseen by the secretary of the Navy. The Corps' philosophical approach to training and combat differs from other branches. Marine boot camp — more of a rite-of-passage than a training program — is the longest and toughest recruit indoctrination program of any of the military services. Men and women train separately. All Marines from private to Commandant are considered to be first-and-foremost riflemen. And special-operations units in the Marines are not accorded the same respect as they are in other branches. The Marines view special operations as simply another realm of warfighting. Marines are Marines, and no individual Marine or Marine unit is considered more elite than the other.

Consequently, newly minted Marines believe themselves to be superior to other soldiers, spawning understandable resentment from other branches. But do Marines actually fight better than other soldiers? Rivals argue it's not so much their ability to fight — though that's never been a question — but that Marines are simply masters in the art of public relations. President Harry Truman once stated that Marines "have a propaganda machine that is almost equal to Stalin's." Fact is, while other armed services have lured recruits with promises of money for college, "a great way of life," or "being all you can be;" the Marines have asked only "for a few good men [and today, women]" with the mettle to join their ranks.

Not surprisingly, there have been numerous unsuccessful efforts — primarily on the part of some Army and Navy officers — to have the Corps either disbanded or absorbed into the Army or Navy. Most of those efforts took place in the first half of the 20th Century But even after the Marines' stellar performance in World War II, Army General Frank Armstrong proposed bringing them into the Army fold and condescendingly referring to the Corps as "a small bitched-up army talking Navy lingo."

As late as 1997, Assistant Secretary of the Army Sara Lister took aim at the Marines. "I think the Army is much more connected to society than the Marines are." Lister said before an audience at Harvard University. "Marines are extremists. Wherever you have extremists, you've got some risks of total disconnection with society. And that's a little dangerous."

Of course, the Commandant of the Marine Corps demanded an apology. Lister was fired. And Marines secretly said among themselves, "Yes we are extremists. We are dangerous. That's why we win wars and are feared throughout the world."

Despite its detractors, the Marines have become a wholly American institution — like baseball players, cowboys, and astronauts — in the eyes of most Americans. Marines indeed may be extreme, but America loves them, extremism and all. And fortunately for America, her enemies in the war against terror will continue to shudder upon hearing, "the Marines have landed."

— A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in a variety of national and international publications. His third book, Alpha Bravo Delta Guide to American Airborne Forces, has just been published.



Chalabi no better than Hussein? I think not.

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

You wrote "Last time we thought we could interfere with a Middle East country's governance we supported Chalabi against Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athists, and we all know how well that turned out."

Hm. Frankly, looks fine from here: would that all our interventions went as smoothly.

By the way, the rap on Chalabi was mostly connived at by the State Department, who fought tooth and nail to exclude the exiles from any participation in building a post-Baathist Iraq: of course they succeeded, and look how well *that* turned out. You can read all about it in Douglas Feith's excellent book, _War and Decision_, if you care to.

Incidentally, weren't *you* the one who wanted us to stand up a government of exiles and then get the heck out? And it would inexorably have involved people--Chalabi and others--who were likely quite unsavory by our terms.

Of course, given that we're governed by the likes of Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, the Chalabis of this world might be an improvement.

Very respectfully, David G.D. Hecht

I have read War and Decision, and my conclusions are not yours.

I was opposed to both Bush military interventions in the Middle East, and I continue to assert that the Republic would be better off if we had done neither, but instead adopted measures to increase energy supplies to the US using US controlled resources. As a bonus for not going into Iraq in the era of Bush I, we would not have turned al Qaeda into mortal enemies, and we would not have set precedents that involved us in the wasteful and counter productive expeditions into the Balkans.

Note that the Legions were splendid in the Gulf Wars. The performance in the Balkans was ugly, but given the political restrictions on what weapons could be employed and how, that was probably inevitable.

Given the First Gulf War in which our Legions restored the Kuwaiti royal family so that they could leave their vacation in the London casinos and return to "their" country and turned Saddam from a realistic check on Iran into a mortal enemy of the US, our options after 911 were limited, but had we thought out the situation -- if we knew in 2001 November what the situation in Iraq would be in January, 2010, would we think of better uses for a trillion dollars and the lives and careers of our Legionnaires?

Now had we operated in a rational manner after the second invasion of Iraq it might have come out better; but we didn't, largely because we didn't know what we wanted to accomplish. Once again I refer you to Feith's book and also to Bremer's book.

As to State, their incompetence was known: look at the performance of  "the professionals" in the buildup to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In 1990 Hussein and the Baathists were easily deterred, and were no great threat to Israel or the United States; and the US had a booming economy, and the military power to be either a competent Empire or a hegemony headed by a real republic. In 2001 we didn't have quite so many choices, and while the evidence for Hussein's having nuclear weapons or being able to acquire them was small, the evidence for his having chemical weapons was overwhelming. In the First Gulf War he had attempted to launch missiles at Israel, and we detected precisely zero of those attempts. The pressure to go in and finish the swinish Hussein was enormous. The problem was that we had no idea of what to do after we overthrew him -- and the Iraq adventure doomed the Afghan expedition to being a sideshow, yet that was the actual punitive expedition. In Iraq all they did was dance in the streets in certain neighborhoods; something easily remedied by constructing monuments of desolation in those neighborhoods, thus killing and maiming far fewer Iraqis and many fewer US troops while sending an unmistakable message.

Both Gulf Wars were brilliant military successes and disastrous grand strategic failures; and the US would be better off today if we had out trillions back, we had our dead and maimed troops home with their families, and some form of stable government in Iraq; as well as having delivered the message to Afghanistan that we don't intend to impose rule from Kabul on your land, but local leaders must understand that whoever you want to support, you must not harbor the enemies of the United States. That too is a lesson the Marines could easily have taught: they are very good at sending the message that the Marines can be your good friend or your worst enemy: the choice is yours.

If we had chosen to prop up Chalabi as a successor to Hussein, it might have been done. He might well have been a suitable client ruler. I don't know. In Afghanistan, incidentally, my candidate for client king was in fact the exiled King of Afghanistan, who thoroughly understood that the Khan was first among equals, Grand Sheik of Kabul and one of the Warlords. Of course we didn't think in those terms. Indeed, in neither Afghanistan nor Iraq did we have any comprehension of the conditions we could impose and of those which we wanted. We had this picture of a liberal democracy and the end of history. As usual we thought we could immanenitize the eschaton, and as usual reality taught us better -- although many stil have not learned that lesson.

I do not understand what you mean by "smoothly" regarding our intervention in Iraq. Smooth might have been going in, securing the oil fields by any means necessary, and pumping oil to send home as loot -- the spoils of war. That would have cost far fewer American and Iraqi lives.

As to Chalabi vs. Reid, Pelosi, or Barney Frank, I'd rather think about something else this New Year Morning.


A teacher's response to the L.A. Times Education article. 

Dear Jerry This is a friends response to the L. A. Times article you posted about. She teaches Grade 4 in Shreveport, LA. Please with hold her name if you publish her note.


"Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The education disaster continues

Today's LA Times had a disturbing article: there is a small school district that works. Students are enthusiastic. It isn't a newcomer to the scene -- in fact it was chartered long enough ago that it didn't seek to have a High School in the district. Unfortunately, the high school to which it is supposed to send its students is a disaster, so the small district tried to add a high school to its charter. That was blocked by court action from -- well, from the disastrous high school. Now it seeks to add charter high schools, and that seems to be working, but of course that is opposed by -- the disaster of a high school." (snip)

Dr. Jerry Pournelle


Interesting article but, I wish Dr. P. knew about the "crazy" checks. Did you know we give money to kids' parents if the kid is not doing well in school??? If they can get the kid screened for Special Ed, they will get $400-500 per month! That is one of the real problems we face. I have a girl who does not do her work because she chooses not to, not because she can't. I sent her mother a note on Thurs. & Fri. with no reply. On Mon. I called and she proceeded to tell me how she knows I'm doing the best I can but that she feels her daughter needs to be in a small group setting where she will get more attention. I tried to tell her I'm SPED certified and had taught several years in a self-contained classroom. I told her I only have 15 kids in the class so she is getting attention, she just doesn't want to do the work. She laughs because she knows I can't do anything about her! The next day her behavior was even worse and my partner called with the same results. The following day, I finally gave up and sent her to the office. Parents are the real problems with education. Until the parents decide they want their kids to learn, they won't! As long as we reward parents with extra money for not helping their child, the education system will stay broken.


I am not astonished but it does seem a heck of a way to run a railroad. The only way education can work is to give teachers control of their classrooms, and hold the teachers responsible for results. Private and many religious school systems do that; the results are obvious. But the purpose of today's schools is to provide employment for their union officials so that the unions can support the politicians. Neither teachers nor students count for anything compared to that real purpose.


Subj: Low-Cost Multi-touch Whiteboard Using Wii Remote


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Subj: VESSEL: Virtual Environments for Ship and Shore Experiential Learning


>>Funded by the Office of Naval Research and adopted by the Navy's Recruit Training Command, BBN's Damage Control Trainer (DCT) offers trainees an engaging first-person perspective and a supportive, instructionally rich environment in which they can practice damage control skills, shipboard communication, and shipboard navigation without the costs and risks involved with live training. DCT is being developed under the Virtual Environments for Ship and Shore Experiential Learning (VESSEL) project. DCT currently includes training on flooding control and fire fighting. <<

It's built on the Delta3D open-source, cross-platform, Python-scriptable gaming+simulation engine.



>>Delta3D is unique because it offers features specifically suited to the Modeling and Simulation and DoD communities such as High Level Architecture (HLA), After Action Review (AAR), large scale terrain support, and SCORM Learning Management System (LMS) integration.<<


>>Direct interface with Crazy Eddie’s GUI. <<


So, who's up for a Damage Control sim for His Imperial Majesty's General-Class Battlecruiser _MacArthur_? You think the Authors of the Story would grant a license for that? Or have they sold all the game-rights already? 8-)

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

I'd love to play that game...


Subject: Further comments on Gerlich & Tcheuschner Paper


Although I am not an expert on radiative heat transport in gases, I am an engineer, and thus did read and try to understand as much of the G&T paper as I could. Based on the parts that I think I understood, I'm also suspicious of the value of this effort. Points of concern for me include these:

1) They spend a lot of time showing that warming in a real greenhouse bears no relationship to the 'greenhouse effect' proposed by climatologists. This seems kind of pointless since, as far as I can determine, no serious climatologist would argue that glass covered greenhouses offer a perfect or useful analogy to what happens in the atmosphere.

2) They seem to spend an inordinate amount of time critiquing and refuting explanations of greenhouse warming that were intended for a popular audience, and published in things like encyclopedias, elementary textbooks, and PR books (e.g., an inconvenient truth). I'm sure there is merit to this kind of critique as a way of improving textbooks and popularizations of science topics. But I don't quite understand its place in a paper that is supposed to be refuting a highly technical theory. If a serious physicist wanted to refute the theory of relativity, I doubt he would start by picking apart Encyclopedia Britannica's explanation of relativity.

3) Many of the fundamental or theoretical flaws that he cites against the theory greenhouse warming would seem to apply to any infrared active component of the atmosphere. Is he claiming to have proven that water vapor has no impact on the temperature of the atmosphere near the earth's surface? What about clouds? Even most skeptics of anthropogenic global warming seem to accept that greenhouse warming from water vapor and clouds does occur.

4) He is quite critical of the notion that infrared active gases, upon absorbing outbound thermal radiation, re-radiate some of that energy back toward the surface, thus warming the surface. He claims this is a violation of thermodynamics (since the cooler gas is allegedly heating the hotter ground). However, most engineering texts I look at use a similar kind of language when describing heat transfer by thermal radiation between two bodies at different temperatures. In those situations, no one seems concerned about violations of the second law of thermodynamics. So, as far as I can tell, this complaint seems to have more to do with the words used to describe the process, than the physics or math needed to compute the heat transfer. Perhaps the real sin of many popularizers is to say that greenhouse gases warm the ground, when they really should say that they slow down the rate at which heat is lost from the ground.

5) They also devote space to attacking the notion that one can define a meaningful average temperature of the surface of the earth. That is certainly a worthwhile discussion to have. But is it essential to falsifying the existence of a greenhouse effect?

6) His discussion on climate modeling seems to suggest that unless you formulate your model with the full set of equations that would satisfy a theoretical physicist, and then solve these simultaneously without simplification or approximation, using extremely small mesh sizes for the simulation, there is no way that a model can produce anything useful. Since no computer can come close to solving a system of equations like this, we might as well not bother. That left me wondering if any engineering model (even useful ones) would be acceptable to them.

More generally, I again have to wonder if this broadside against the impossibility of simulating complex physical systems is really necessary to the primary point of his paper, which is to falsify the existence of a greenhouse heating effect.

I'll leave it to others with more relevant expertise to decide if some of his other, more technical criticisms have merit. If they do, then I think it is unfortunate that these authors choose to clutter up their paper with a lot of stuff that doesn't seem particularly relevant to proving, rigorously, that there is no such thing as a greenhouse heating effect.

Finally, you say in your own response to Joel Upchurch that you'd be surprised if these authors had ignored the laws of thermodynamics. But Gerlich & Tscheuschner are basically charging that every scientist who has looked at this problem in the last 100 years (and that must include a significant number of physicists) not only got the thermodynamics wrong, they got the physics wrong. That would also be surprising.

CP, Connecticut

I agree that they would be more persuasive if they restricted their paper to the main subject; refuting the glass greenhouse fable (I sometimes insert a quote from the late Petr Beckmann: "Ain't the way my greehouse works" when mentioning the AGW "greenhouse" argument) is useful but not required. I find  point 5 far more important than you do; until we have some agreement on a model for generating a single figure of merit for "earth temperature" it is absurd to discuss changes in fractions of a degree. There are too many parameters in the definition, and it's easy to get any result you want by playing with the definition of "temperature." There are no continuous measures from 1880 to 2000; all have to have "adjustments" and the adjustments are often larger than the error margins.

As to falsifying the entire greenhouse hypothesis by examining the underlying physics, I would say that's exactly what science ought to do. I can't comment on the paper itself without a great deal more study of the paper than I have time to give it, but I have read enough to say I do not understand why it ought to be suppressed. If it's trivial, any good climate scientist ought to be able to show why it's trivially wrong -- not just say that. The authors have the credentials to warrant being answered, not merely suppressed. It may be that the answer is simple. Good. Let's see it other than simply saying "that's so simple I won't bother" or "that's how the deniers work, they make these absurd assertions, and we don't have time to answer then because they are so absurd..."



Subject: University Funding

I can understand your view of university funding, but there are at least a thousand American colleges and universities currently operating hand-to-mouth, and almost all UK universities are in that situation. The economic bind these institutions find themselves in is driven by two factors: most of their expenses are in salaries, and nobody has yet invented a way to increase the efficiency of teaching more than marginally. Sure, a university will absorb all the money you throw at it, but the UK has tripled the percentage of students going on to university over the last 50 years, with no increase in (inflation-adjusted) funding. The following link is for a book on the subject http://tinyurl.com/ycrnh5l  of turning around fragile academic institutions.

Here's the Times Higher Education review: http://tinyurl.com/ybrru46  . 

-- Harry Erwin

They take in too many students. And in California at least there are over a thousand with salaries of over 200K. That's not poverty... [JEP}

American colleges and universities come in many different types with different business models and constraints; UK universities are much less diverse. The problem is finding a delicate balance between income (tuition, fees, donations, government funding, endowment income if it exists.) and outgo (mostly salaries). A lot of what a college or university does has a fixed cost, so the marginal cost of teaching an extra student isn't that large. In the UK, most universities get a fixed amount per student, and have the size of their UK student body capped. The amount per student is fairly small--much smaller than the cost of the first few students, but greater than the marginal cost--so universities recruit UK students to their cap and use foreign students (paying high fees) to cover the start-up costs of programmes. These dynamics drive the quality of programmes down and class sizes up here.

In the US, there are a wide variety of schools, and it's much harder to generalise. Tuition fees are higher but usually on a sliding scale, so the number of students accepted reflects a balance between the costs of the programmes and total income. The bottom 25% of American colleges is living hand-to-mouth, and yet there are for-profit colleges that do OK. The salaries you describe (which I suspect are almost entirely found in medical schools) are astronomical compared to those paid in the UK--I could make more teaching secondary school. From my previous experience, American academic salaries in most technical and scientific fields are also less than industry pays. Get the James Martin book from the library--it's very interesting and applies to institutions other than academic.

If you want your public educational institutions to be efficient, you have to design your funding *carefully* to produce that outcome, and you have to watch out for end-runs around the funding model. Look at the best-managed private institutions and try to set up the same external rewards and constraints. Otherwise, if you want it bad; you get it bad.

You want your educational system to meet your day-to-day needs while also providing a cushion of adaptability to black swan events. The UK currently mismanages the former and lacks the latter.

Harry Erwin

We used to have a very good system for teaching what about 75% of college students learn. It was called high school. University level education is useful for 10$ or fewer of the population. College level for perhaps 10% more. Attempting "higher" education for larger numbers is futile. Much of what is taught in community colleges is remedial for high school.

We used to have teachers colleges and vocational schools. We need to get them back but we have thrown them out in the name of a false and futile egalitarianism.



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This week:


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Saturday, January 2, 2010

: Article on The Battle of the Brain

Jerry, Have you seen this article?


Mike Turner


Another set of theories, I think. Niven talks to himself so that his two brains will communicate better.


APOD: 2010 January 2 - Blue Moon Eclipse, 


Here is a pic of the 8% lunar eclipse at year's end:


What strikes me is not so much the eclipse, but the beauty of the moon shot through a light cloud. Exquisite.




'Climate change' comes to India.


- Roland Dobbins


CO2 over geologic time periods

Hello Jerry,

One of your readers, Mr. Karl Lembke, provided data readily available from Wikipedia which shows the atmospheric concentration of CO2 and the corresponding 'temperature of the Earth' for time periods reaching back at least 4,500 MY.

I was astonished. Who would have thought that given the difficulty of establishing the current CO2 concentration to a precision of +/- 1 PPM using the best modern instrumentation, that they were able to determine that 4.5 billion years ago the concentration was 542 PPM (not 541 or 543) and that the temperature of the Earth at that time was 21 deg C. Or 17 deg C., depending on which row you consider to be authoritative. Other data from more recent times, say a mere 1+/-.5 billion years ago was equally precise.

It was also interesting to note that 800 million years ago an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 360 PPM produced a planetary temperature of 14 degrees C. while only 520 million years later the CO2 had dropped to 23 PPM, resulting in a temperature of 14 degrees C.

It is incidents like these that bring to mind our favorite observation at NSWC Dahlgren in the mid-70's, when we had performed a particularly ingenious 'flogging of the data': "Modern Science Knows No Limitations!".

I understand that Mr. Lembke was only having fun. Unfortunately, we are currently ruled, not governed, by a cabal which is perfectly willing to cite equally meaningless data as an excuse to assume and exercise absolute power over us. And they are most assuredly NOT 'funning'.

Bob Ludwick


Naive Temp vs CO2


I did my own naive analysis of the data supplied by Karl Lembke and got a different answer. When I used my faithful Excel spreadsheet to calculate the linear fit, I got

T = .00481 x CO2 + 15.63161 (to the requisite 5 decimal places).

This leads to a more reasonable 208 parts per million (not billion) of CO2 for a one degree temperature rise.

We deniers need to be careful of our arithmetic also.

Al Perrella



From the expanded table: average historical CO2 level is 2081.5 ppm. Astronomical compared to present day. Average historical temp was 17.25 C,. compared to present-day temp of 14 C.

Looking at the plot of temp vs. CO2, I don't know that I trust the claim that there is any kind of linear relationship. That plot looks RANDOM.

The ols() says that the slope of temp vs. CO2 line is 2.2692e-004 C/ppm, which says it takes 4406 ppm to get 1 C temperature change.

Here's the data table, in Courier (monospaced) font.

Cambrian      542 4500 21
Ordovician    488 4200 16
Silurian      444 4500 17
Devonian      416 2200 20
Carboniferous 360  800 14
Permian       300  900 16
Triassic      250 1750 17
Jurassic      200 1950 16.5
Cretaceous    145 1700 18
Paleogene      65  500 18
Neogene        23  280 14

Here's the revised AWK (gawk, to be exact) script:
BEGIN { printf("a = [\n"); }
NR == 1 { gstart=$2; start = $2; co2 = $3; temp = $4; } NR > 1 {
    for(i=0;i<(start-$2);i++) {
      printf("%f %f %d;\n", co2, temp, (gstart--));
    start = $2; co2 = $3; temp = $4;
    for(i=0;i<start;i++) {
      printf("%f %f %d;\n", co2, temp, (gstart--));

The gawk command, on a Windows box, *INSIDE A GNU Emacs SHELL WINDOW*, (note the forward slash on the output redirect) was:

gawk -fexpandco2.awk <co2.txt >c:/co2.foo

Note that the script prints a downcounter in the third column. This was for human data-checking.

Here's some GNU Octave commands to get you started:

   x = a(:,1);
   y = a(:,2);
   b0 = mean(y);
   yy = y - b0;
   [m,b,r]=ols(yy,x);  /* m gives you the slope. */
   plot(x,y, "+*);     /* plot a scattergram. */
   hold on;
   plot(x,m*x+b0)      /* plot the fit. */
Again, thank you for a very enjoyable exercise.
--John R. Strohm


On Coincidence

JD has written: "In his later years Koestler tagged on to a variety of semi-mystical and parapsychological fads. One of these enthusiasms was for coincidences, and what they tell us about the nature of reality. That's what The Roots of Coincidence is about." -- I happened upon this article: http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/cogs502/LNRE.html 

Statistical estimation for Large Numbers of Rare Events

It often happens that scientists, engineers and other biological organisms need to predict the relative probability of a large number of alternatives that don't individually occur very often. This is especially troublesome in cases where many of the things that happen have never happened before: where "rare events are common".

--- I haven't read it carefully but it seems interesting and solid.


Black swans


term limits

Dear Jerry:

I can see a very important problem with the Congressional Reform Act of 2010. Legislators with a limited time in office will never learn to be experts in the various government agencies and programs that the legislature oversees. The lack of experience would weaken them...this in turn would strengthen the position of congressional staff, outside lobbyists, and the career civil servants who man most of the positions in the civil service.

A few years ago I spend an interesting couple of weeks reading volume 2 of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson: MEANS OF ASCENT. One thing I saw in that book is that members of Congress in the 30s and 40s were there to see the expansion of the federal bureaucracy under FDR. They knew the people at all levels of those agencies (most of whom were political appointees of the Roosevelt administration and loyal Democrats). These Congressmen knew what was going on inside those agencies.

In the 60s and 70s, these Congressmen started retiring and were replaced by younger members who had learned from their seniors. However the agencies had become bigger, more complicated, and infected by individuals who were more concerned with the existence of the agencies (and their positions in those agencies) than with the goals of those agencies. This second generation of experienced Congressmen started retiring during the 80s and 90s. Now Congress is filled by members who have no real understanding of what goes on inside those agencies. And the agencies have become so big and convoluted that the individuals appointed to lead them don't understand what is happening outside of the executive suite.

The term limits suggested by the CRA of 2010 would keep cynics and hypocrites like Al Gore or John Kerry from having long careers in Congress and building up false prestige. But strict term limits would prevent any Congressman from having a career long enough to learn how the agencies work. We are already seeing that happen in my home state of Ohio (where term limits on legislators were enacted during the mid-90s). We seem to end up with a higher percentage of hacks and cynics in elected office. Meanwhile, the staffers, the senior career civil servants, and the lobbyists gain more power because they know how things work.


Hugh Greentree



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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday,  January 3, 2010     

: CO2 over geologic time periods


Your readers Perrela and Strohm seem to make the same "mistake" I initially made (and get the same results).

Reader Lembke's table is mislabeled (The numbers in parentheses are Millions of Years Ago), but he gets the correct numbers. The correlation coefficient is only 0.23 ...which is pretty low.

-Ted Longman

A correlation of 0.23 means that the variable accounts for just a bit over 1/2 of 1% of the variance. That's not useless, but it leaves 99.5% of the variance unaccounted for.


A resource of which you may not be aware

You said "Do ground temperatures dominate? They certainly must when you consider the assumed temperature in 1880, because that would be mostly what we have (along with a few sea temperatures, but I doubt there were many weather balloons back then to get upper atmosphere temperatures)."

Actually, we have a lot of sea temperature data.

According to a piece I saw in MIT's "Technology Review" something over twenty years ago, but probably less than twenty-five, for a VERY long time now (basically for about as long as we've had thermometers), the British Admiralty required *EVERY* ship sailing under the British flag to log position, time, air and water temperature four times a day, and submit the data to the Admiralty. The data had, at that time, been piling up for a couple of centuries. The piece was begging for an angel to pay for publication of an academic book by two MIT professors who'd gotten the data from the Admiralty, and tortured it mercilessly, demanding that it reveal any global warming or cooling trend. Their conclusion was that the 4-dimensional British Admiralty database did not show *ANY* warming or cooling trend, but just a flat line with lots of noise.

On reflection, I find it mildly interesting that I have never heard about this data, or its analysis, in the current AGW hysteria.

--John R. Strohm

I know that it supposedly exists; I do not know how to find it, nor what accuracy to assign to it. I read Technology Review and religiously did so two decades ago, but I don't recall the article. Perhaps a reader can find it for us.


Schneier is wrong about drone encryption.

Nobody's talking about unitary end-to-end encryption for drone video - i.e., from the drone camera all the way to the end-user, which is what Messr. Schneier seems to think encryption requires.

What needs to be done (and it's criminal that it hasn't been done, just mind-numbing incompetence which ought to result in dozens of courts-martials and cashiering) is to encrypt the *wireless link* from the drone to the base station(s). It can then be decrypted at that point, and then re-encrypted using a variety of different mechanisms for distribution to multiple consumers, or left unencrypted, for that matter. Either way, encrypting the wireless link significantly raises the bar vis-a-vis the possibility of compromising opsec.

Also, he didn't think about the integrity of the video-stream - if the opposition figure out how to spoof the video, they can hide things which the drones should see, and even possibly cause the drone operator to inadvertently crash the drone into an obstacle he otherwise could've avoided.

So, what's essentially a transport-level encrypted VPN for the wireless link helps insure confidentiality, integrity, and availability, in this case, with none of the other issues Schneier raises.

-- Roland Dobbins


"Scanners cannot provide a comprehensive solution on their own. We must now start to ask if national security demands the use of profiling."


-- Roland Dobbins


Pournelle Reference on Slashdot

Thought you might enjoy this. It is a comment on a recent entry about the Amiga.


". . . .In an alternate universe, the computing world is dominated by machines powered by the 64-bit evolutionary descendant of the 6502, the 65864, all labeled Atari, CBM died with the 8-bit world because Miner stayed with Atari, few felt the need to go 'x86' because they were overpriced low-tech pieces of crap, and Woz left Apple to join Miner at Atari. Jobs started his own cult and poisoned himself and his followers in 1992 following a meteorite sighting, and Jerry Pournelle still writes for Byte.

Most people who run Linux do so on Kaypro XII machines with Dvorak keyboards (and type in Esperanto)."


Best of ‘09: Andy Hunter on Independent Publishing


This is an interesting perspective on the current publishing situation.


Francis Hamit










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