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Monday  February 15, 2010

Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer

Some of you may not be interested in the study below, but I believe it is the single most important document on the effectiveness of the combat soldier in many years. The basic tool of the infantryman (and thus his effectiveness) is his personal weapon; the rifle and ammunition being the premier components since the mid-19th century.

The author, MAJ Erhart USA, does a particularly good job of reviewing the history of the US battle rifles and how they, and their ammunition, were implemented and where we are today. However, he fairly glosses over the influence of Special Ops and the 'cool' factor of 'black gun' and gadgets associated with the M4/M16 family of weapons, despite the needs of the infantryman - mainly, to kill the enemy with his personal weapon. Even in his discussion of the effectiveness of the ammunition calibers (and marriage to weapons systems), he totally neglects to mention the Momentum Theory (Mass x Velocity = Momentum [i.e. Force]) and only peripherally touches upon this by mentioning bullet weights and velocities in terms of accuracies and wound creation. Unfortunately this is critical to understanding what the effectiveness of a battle weapons should be designed around.

Part of MAJ Erhart's conclusions are focused on two issues; one new and one that has been constant since the first aggregation of groups as fighting forces. First, he advocated that infantry units move the the 'armory system' of weapons where multiple configurations of a basic weapon system are available to commanders to outfit their infantry to the task at hand. In my opinion, while the US is entirely capable of providing this it is a logistical and accountability nightmare for both the commander and infantryman (just how much extra stuff do you cart around and who's responsible for it if it is not in immediate possession?). The second issue is training. Primarily, provide adequate (if not superior!) training to the infantryman so that he is able to engage and KILL the enemy with his personal weapon regardless of the conditions and availability of technology that attaches to the weapon (optics, iron sights, night vision, etc). In short, this demands that infantryman be allowed appropriate time on live fire ranges, meaningful range courses, and adequate ammunition for proficiency (in my experience, it's been the allocation of ammunition [i.e. costs] that has been the major drawback on adequate marksmanship training).


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



On Tuesday you said that you thought Boss Flynn was the originator of the term "googoo". However, according to Wikipedia, it was in use during the 1890's and also appears in "Of Mice and Men" which I believe pre-dates Flynn's book. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goo-goos 

Actually, I had thought Mike Royko created the term in his book "Boss". Oh well.

-Rich "Live and learn, or you don't live long"

Thank you. I probably knew that and forgot it.


Re: Mr. Rosen and the Iron Law

Dear Jerry,

When Mr. Rosen states that by enacting protective tariffs, the workers will benefit and everyone will be a little worse off, I say YES! He understands! The cost of the Iron Law is thus shared by everyone, and when enough people are affected by the excessive burden placed on production in the US, THEN it can change! We cannot maintain the falsely high standard of living we have enjoyed for the past 20 years. We have been squandering the wealth built up by generations, and we must stop!

Thanks for all you do!

Tim McDonald


On the Climate Debates:

Q&A: Professor Phil Jones

Dr. Pournelle --

The BBC online ran an interview with CRU's Dr. Phil Jones which is worth reading to see his position on and explanation of various issues. That seems an appropriate thing to do in a debate.




BBC Interview with Phil Jones

Dr. Pournelle:

On February 13, the BBC interviewed Phil Jones of ClimateGate fame. The transcript is here, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8511670.stm 

There are some fairly startling admissions in this interview with respect to recent warming (and cooling) and the Medieval Warming Period. Terms like "statistically significant" and "uncertainly" are too often encountered in this interview. It is my experience that most scientists do not really understand these terms and misapply them. I commonly avoid "statistically significant" because it does not mean what most people think it means and has little actual relevance to my Engineering work. There are far better statistical measures. Uncertainly is really not understood by most of the world's scientists. However, using these terms is convenient for hiding poor interpretations of data.

He is questioned about Peer Review, but I think he evades the real question and turns it into a defense of how he personally reviews papers and interacts with editors.

In any event, you and your readers may be able to glean some useful information from this interview.


Clay Booker


Subject: Models Wrong?

Dr. Pournelle,

Sea level models differ : http://news-releases.uiowa.edu/

Amazing what happens when you include more and better data. I suspect that a truly robust model would account for all data sets.

The key statement is that Mallorca is "...a heck of a nice place to do fieldwork." Great work if you can get it.




In another blow to comparing empirical experience to climate, http://www.drroyspencer.com/  reports that Jan 2010 is the third warmest January in the 32-year satellite temperature record, with the record cold and snow across CONUS offset by record heat across most of eastern Canada and Greenland.

That said, Dr. Spencer is NOT a friend of anthropomorphic global warming and compares the current temperature profile to the 1998 El Nino which (rather than global warming) made it the warmest year in the satellite record.


I am given to understand that while the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing record cold, the Southern is experiencing record heat, but I have not seen the evidence for the latter assertion. Are my southern hemisphere readers unduly warm?


Record Snow in the DFW area

With all the media focus on the snow fall in the east, I thought I would focus some attention on DFW recently setting all time records in regard to snowfall. Over a foot fell in much of the Dallas Ft. Worth area Thursday and Friday. We don't measure snowfall in feet here. Ironically on Thursday and Friday many locals were not allowed to return to DFW from points north because the airport was closed resulting in a lot of fun across he nation. The late season storm continued across the South. I heard one weather commentator state that the only state that did not have snow on the ground Friday was Hawaii. Even 20-30 year old tree limbs were damaged because of the heavy wet snow in our area. An earlier lighter snowfall on Christmas Eve set records as well. Christmas Eve snows are quite rare here. That outbreak was accompanied by Arctic cold that set records in areas surrounding DFW. Ironically, I do not think record cold was recorded at DFW airport, I suspect urban heating played a role , as record cold was recorded at stations 60 and 100 miles south of DFW as well as in other areas surrounding during the outbreak.

Regards, Paul D. Perry


White Roofs

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

I note that for some time, you've been calling for roofs to be painted white as a common-sense measure to deal with rising temperatures. Well, a new study by a team from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) slated for publication in Geophysical Research Letters shows exactly that. One of the findings was that location matters; buildings with white roofs in cold climates will be cooler in the summer but have higher heating bills in the winter (surprise!) Estimated summer cooling for a building in New York City would be nearly 1.1 degrees C.

Obviously, the warmer the climate, the larger the savings on cooling costs.


Jeff Larson


: U.S. proposes new climate service


Thought you might enjoy this - a clear example of the Iron Law at work. While the evidence mounts of sloppy "feel good science" at best and scientific fraud or hoax at worst in the whole pantheon of AGW supporters, the Obama administration, continues to press on with "action" on the AGW front.

Tony Sherfinski

U.S. proposes new climate service

By Juliet Eilperin <http://projects.washingtonpost.com/
staff/articles/juliet+eilperin/>  Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Obama administration proposed a new climate service on Monday that would provide Americans with predictions on how global warming will affect everything from drought to sea levels.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Service, modeled loosely on the 140-year-old National Weather Service, would provide forecasts to farmers, regional water managers and businesses affected by changing climate conditions.

The move is essentially a reorganization of NOAA, and would bring the agency's climate research arm together with its more consumer-oriented services. It would not come with a boost in funding.

A Web portal launched Monday at www.climate.gov <http://www.climate.gov/>  provides a single entry point to NOAA's climate information, data, products and services. ...

The complete story is here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/


Dr. Pournelle,

Much of the AGW science has been based on peer reviewed publications, at least what wasn't written by Greenpeace and the WWF (might as well have been the WWE, the wrestlng folks). It turns out, none of the raw data exists, and the source code to the climate prediction software is held private. And many of the "scientists" tried to block publication of some articles, and have friends peer review their work, etc.

All this makes me wonder.....

If the background information wasn't seen by the reviewers, raw data, how the raw data was polished for use, source code for climate predictions, etc., what exactly was peer reviewed? Did they just check the spelling?

I have much less trust in science after this mess. I think the process should change, including the publication or storage of raw data, source code, etc. for any article by the publisher. How can it be science if it can't be repeated? And the peer review panel should include a range of scientists, covering all sides of the argument, not just those that agree (and make money) with the premise.

Randy Lea

I think the general distrust in science is a good thing given that science demonstrated that it can't be as trusted as we thought, and bad for public moral. Perhaps real science can win back the public trust. One way would be to support contrarian research -- not all contrarian proposals, but no longer the automatic rejections of "Deniers" we have had recently either.


The Collapse of the Global Warming Fraud accelerates....

Here is an excellent, even heroic, short speech from Matt Wingard, a young Oregon Representative in Salem who dares speak truth about Global Warming fraud. Matt speaks truth to power in a hostile chamber deep in the bluest of blue states (now that Massachusetts has miraculously started its recovery). Remember this young man. Hopefully he'll be a future National Leader -- we need more like him.


 And, oh yes, the person at the center of the CRU meltdown, Phil Jones, now admits there has been NO GLOBAL WARMING FOR THE PAST 15 YEARS.


Go to www.ClimateDepot.com <http://www.climatedepot.com/>  for your complete guide to the fall of the Warming Empire. Below is just a small sampling of new developments. # The Jig is Up! Climategate U-turn as Phil Jones admits: There has been no global warming since 1995 -- Concedes possibility that world was warmer in medieval times http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/

UK Times: 'World may not be warming, say scientists' -- UN IPCC 'faces a new challenge with scientists casting doubt on its claim that global temperatures are rising inexorably' - - 'Popular data sets show a lot of warming but the apparent temperature rise was actually caused by local factors affecting the weather stations, such as land development' -- 'IPCC's climate data are contaminated with surface effects from industrialization and data quality problems. These add up to a large warming bias' <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/

Please pass this information along. Despite the Obama Administration's frantic propaganda and silence from ABC and NBC, at last sanity and science may be returning to American Politics. God Bless America.


John D. Trudel

The collapse of the consensus is good and may lead to real science. The CO2 rise is real; the effects are not so well known. And see below.


Shippingport reactor

I walked through the containment vessel of the Shippingport reactor while in high school, when they were modifying the core. Then, because my group was so enthusiastic, the old-time engineer giving the tour took us to see an 80-year-old coal-fired boiler that had been brought up from the "banked" state to provide power while the reactor was offline. How many 80-year-old nukes will be needed to cover the outages of wind power? Last week I could see the stationary blades of the ones along the PA Turnpike, stopped because there was no wind during the heaviest snow, then again during the blizzard conditions that shut the 'Pike.


Don Miller


Letter from England

I'm sending this a day or two early because of some events in the news this week.

 My new MacBook Pro arrived. Migration of the mac side--I also run Windows using bootcamp--took 4 hours. Migration of the windows side--from Windows XP to Windows 7--is into its third day. By the way, it's easy to rename your mac. Go to the sharing preference pane and change it there.

 UK courts finally rein in MI5: <http://tinyurl.com/yebv4q2> <http://tinyurl.com/ybbvzls> <http://tinyurl.com/yb2y3at> <http://tinyurl.com/ycmxbgr> <http://tinyurl.com/yg33k86> Government response: <http://tinyurl.com/ybljmye> <http://tinyurl.com/ybl7k9k> <http://tinyurl.com/yex32v6> <http://tinyurl.com/yz7esot>

 Climategate continues to unwind: <http://tinyurl.com/yjjmmv7> <http://tinyurl.com/y8kt7k4> <http://tinyurl.com/yhmjj56>

 Students being unaccepted: <http://tinyurl.com/yacdsx9> Academics set in aspic. <http://tinyurl.com/ybganj9> <http://tinyurl.com/yglej2g> University and local council funding problems. <http://tinyurl.com/yf53lsg> Limits to academic freedom in the UK <http://tinyurl.com/ye3bmzk>

 Labour takes on inequality and loses: < http://tinyurl.com/ybzacs9>

 Methodists and Church of England may merge: <http://tinyurl.com/yamxddu> <http://tinyurl.com/ye72h88>

 European approach to credit card security found to be fundamentally flawed: <http://tinyurl.com/yfnto7m>

 A question for the physicists. Suppose the holographic hypothesis is true--what we experience as three space dimensions and one time dimension (3+1 space) is actually distributed over a boundary with two space dimensions and one time dimension (2+1 space)--how is the speed of light limitation on information transmission in 3+1 space expressed in (2+1 space)?

 A related point--one of my PhD committee members was Karl Pribram--and he introduced me to his holonomic brain theory. It appears to be the holographic hypothesis applied to our common experience of a localised self-consciousness. So a discussion of how 3+1 space can be mapped to a 2+1 space might apply to the problems of understanding consciousness and related topics (such as free will).


Harry Erwin, PhD

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


Former IPCC lead scientist analyzes data

Hi Jerry,

Here's one study that did exactly what you've been suggesting, and the results are that the AGW data simply is not reliable. It doesn't mean that there is or isn't AGW - just that we don't know. Given that climate trends occur over hundreds of years, we better start getting accurate data right now. My suggestion is floating buoys well offshore, mountain peaks in wilderness areas, and other locations that will never be subject to urban heating.





What people are worried about

Dr. Pournelle,

Andrei Codrescu wrote this for NPR's "Poet on Call" back in Nov 09 and I thought that it might be interesting to your readers, given the recent topics of discussion on your site.

"Everybody talks about global warming, but what they really worry about is bulb dimming."


It is a short piece (2.5 min audio version available) with an insight into people's problems, in general.



blog entry from guy who set up airport ops in Haiti 

Dr. Pournelle,

This state department blog entry is from the guy who set up the airport in Haiti. Interesting look from the inside, by someone who is actually doing something (as opposed to someone complaining about the people who are doing something).




Subject: Remote tribe discovered worshipping iPad:


By golly, you never know what those intrepid explorers will discover in New Guinea.



In the ‘You don’t see this every day department…”

Wyoming power company seeks rate decrease


Tracy Walters, CISSP


SCOTUS decision - 

Hi Jerry,

Regarding the recent SCOTUS decision on campaign spending by corporations, it's critical to remember that the focus isn't on for-profit corporations (who rarely spend their political money that way - they usually hire lobbyists), it's the non-profit corporations that are important. This ruling allows the NRA, Unions, etc to fund advocacy ads again. Thats a good thing - any group of citizens can now band together, form a corporation (which is critical for liability protection), and speak out on an issue that they care about.




SUBJ: Plunder to Socialism to Fascism in Nazi Germany

Plunder is the first step in creation of a Permanent Underclass and is the essential precursor to tyranny.

"The Nazi leadership did not transform the majority of Germans into ideological fanatics who were convinced that they were the master race. Instead it succeeded in making them well-fed parasites."



Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free. And you can sell yourself into bondage...




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Tuesday,  February 16, 2010

 iPad-to-TC1100 is the wrong comparison. The comparison SHOULD be between the iPad and the Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, Sony e-Reader, etcetera. That's the market that Apple is going for--the person who's never owned a computer in their life and is in fact somewhat scared of them. The person who wants to Push The Button And It Just Works.

It's the same thing as the Nintendo Wii. If you compare the Wii to the other gaming consoles of its generation, it looks substandard; small storage, non-high-definition graphics, fewer buttons on the controllers. But if you compare the Wii to what NON-GAMERS want, it lines up almost perfectly. It Just Works.

-- Mike T. Powers


iPad vs TC 1100 

Hi Jerry -

I find the comparison chart that Sean pointed to rather interesting, as it highlights for me just how much difference in outlook there is between the people writing all the commentary, and the people who Apple is obviously targeting this at. I don't think anyone can argue that the TC1100 and similar devices is a superior *computer* - but the target market doesn't want a computer! They want something dead easy to see their pictures and videos, play their music, read some books, maybe do some email and surfing, play a few casual games. I could name half a dozen people I know who the iPad would be perfect for, right off the top of my head, ranging in age from 12-75. Is it the right device for me - or you, or most of your readership? Almost certainly not, except possibly as an adjunct to existing systems. But I think it's just right - or close enough, anyway - for the target market to sell them as fast as they can make the things.

As to the comparison chart itself, it's not quite right or complete - there IS a headphone jack (and a microphone, so Skype should work just fine). There is video output and SD card access, though I grant you will need to buy the cable/adapter to do that, which is a little irritating (especially for the SD cards). The processor comparison is pointless - completely different architectures, for example. It also leaves out some important comparison points such as: It's half the weight of the TC 1100, and almost half the thickness, and has somewhere between twice and four times the battery life. I'm also guessing it didn't retail for $499, even in a base configuration...

I think it's much more of a system for "the rest of us" than the Mac ever managed to be, and while for me it could never replace my laptop or desktop systems, I think a lot of people are going to be surprised at just how many of "the rest of us" there are in the world yet, who can't be bothered with more conventional or business oriented systems.

Cheers, Monty

I don't disagree. The question is whether the iPad does enough in comparison to what a greatly improved TC 1100 could do. Glad to hear that the iPad probably will run Skype. Hardly surprising.

iPad enthusiasts seem to be extremely fond of it. Leo Laporte intends to give his Kindle to his wife and adopt the iPad as soon as he can. (He made the grievous error of  making that promise as a Valentine present, but that's another story).  Of course none of us has seen an iPad for more than a few minutes. I look forward to trying one.

But not everyone is an unmitigated enthusiast:


iPAD - typical Closed Jobs design - 

This is not the first time that Steve Jobs has created a closed up system that can only be used in the way he thinks it should be. The NeXT didn't have a floppy disk The Newton was mostly closed. The apple TV doesn't have a DVD drive.

Jobs doesn't really want to create a general purpose computing device that can be used in many different ways. He wants to create a razor that encourages you to buy blades from iTunes.

Normally the marketplace doesn't like this and Apple will relent in the next release.

The Amazon Kindle is similar. The Kindle 1 has an SD card slot, the Kindle 2 does not. They really don't want you to download books from other locations, store them on a card, and put the card in your device.

-- Jim Coffey

I was very disappointed when I found my Kindle 2 did not have an SD card.


Subject: Interesting iPad commentary


Folks who expected that Apple's tablet would have all the features and capabilities of a modern Mac or Windows laptop seem fairly disappointed in the device. In a feature by feature comparison, it does fall short. But I think that such comparisons may miss the point of the device (at least as seen by Apple).

This article provide an interesting, more positive spin on the design approach which Apple took:

> http://gizmodo.com/5452501/

The author starts by looking back to the "information appliance" first conceived by Jef Raskin, and then considers the evolution of computer interfaces from the original command line version to the modern GUI's of today. From here, he makes the case that the iPhone OS is a better UI for an information appliance that anyone can use.

Those doubting the need for a true information appliance should see Farhad Manjoo's short piece in Slate: "Why Computers Should Be More Like Toasters"

> http://www.slate.com/id/2242556/ 

I think it is going to be very interesting to see if Apple can successfully sell $500 computing appliances to that segment of society which hasn't had much success or interest in using traditional computers.

CP, Connecticut


Irish Death Spiral

Dear Dr Pournelle,

As an Irish citizen perhaps I can offer some thoughts on the Celtic Tiger boom and the subsequent bust.

CP from Connecticut has it largely right though the story is incomplete. The early stages of the Irish Celtic Tiger boom were certainly built on export growth. At the height of the boom Ireland was the largest exporter of software in the world (India was second). Intel, Dell, HP, Google, Microsoft, Apple and PayPal, amongst others, all had significant presences here and still do, with the exception of Dell.

However a funny thing happened on the back of all the export growth. Wages went up and interest rates dropped to very low levels. In addition the banking market opened up here and so 100% mortgages became much easier to get. In some cases it was possible to get 110% mortgages for a new property. Also, the government offered significant tax incentives to developers to build in certain areas of the country. Finally, property here is only taxed when it is sold, in the form of a stamp duty on the sale. In addition a capital gains tax is payable on the profit made from selling any property that is not one’s personal private residence. So, you had a workforce with rising wages and access to cheap money, builders incentivised to build and a government incentivised to encourage building because it collected taxes on each transaction. The consequence was a huge increase in demand for property and a consequent inflation of property prices.

The resultant property bubble can be illustrated as follows: A developer decides to build a new housing estate in three phases. Let’s say phase one is sold for €500,000 per house. Typically phase two will sell for €600,000 and phase three will sell for €700,000. During the property bubble phase three houses would sell just as quickly as phase one. An astute buyer could buy a phase one house for €500,000 but not transfer title to their name. When phase three was released at €700,000 that buyer would put their (never occupied) house back on the market at €650,000. They were guaranteed an instant profit of €150,000 with minimal tax implications because title for the property would transfer directly from the developer to the eventual buyer. My figures are probably not quite right but this sort of thing went on all the time: It was a Ponzi scheme. Despite these tax dodges the government raked in huge amounts of money and there was no incentive to slow the market down. The government used the extra cash to expand the public service sector. Notably, funding to the public health service doubled but I for one cannot see any increase in efficiency or improvement in patient service. Iron Law, anyone?

So, at the height of the bubble the banks were lending stupidly large amounts of money to both developers and private buyers who had no hope of paying back the loans unless the bubble continued. Of course it didn’t. Once the subprime crisis in the US started, the exposure of the Irish banks became obvious. The banks very quickly stopped lending but were still left with exposure to a whole bunch of loans that couldn’t be repaid. In late 2008 we came within 12 hours of a total banking collapse with a subsequent exposure of €400 billion. That’s half a trillion dollars and it’s a lot for a small country with a population of less than 5 million. Luckily the collapse didn’t happen but right now the government is buying up €50 billion in bad loans from the banks in the hope that they will start lending again. However it won’t work as the banks desperately need to recapitalise so they are pocketing the money from the government and are not lending to anyone. Worse still, the banks are likely to go cap in hand to the government looking for more money to recapitalise. Meanwhile the government is having to contend with an overpriced public sector and also nearly half a million unemployed people.

Are we in a death spiral? Not yet, but we are perilously close. Tax revenue is still dropping and unemployment is still rising. While both trends are slowing down they need to reverse, and soon. The cost of unemployment benefit is approaching €100m per week. We can’t raise taxes because salaries are dropping. The banks won’t lend money to keep small businesses going. Currently we are very exposed to Greece going down as the market will almost certainly come after Ireland next. If we were outside the Euro we could devalue our currency but that’s not an option. Finally, no-one has a clue how to get half a million people back to work. And the reason we’re called PIIGs is probably because we’re up to our ears in the brown smelly stuff.

Watch this space.



Thank you. I had heard that an encouraged bubble was responsible -- it certainly was in the Iceland collapse -- but I had no first hand information. It doesn't astonish me. Spending more than you can possibly afford even if the boom continues seems to be fashionable among liberals. Of course they then do their best to end the booms because they dislike the greed.

In other words, Ireland departed the path of common sense, and is paying the price. As has California, and New Jersey, and ---

Incidentally, I hear that the real problems with Greece became acute with the terrific expenses of the Millennial Olympic Games. I am not astonished.


To Chaos Manor:

Back in 1995, when I first learned about the Internet and saw the companies make such a big deal about the fact that they had webpages, I made a very simple connection that everyone ignored. The connection was this: so what if your company has a homepage? What do you actually _sell_? After the Tech Crash of 2000, I met a former Wall Street office rat who was reinventing his life at ITT-Tech. I restated my simple observation, and he could only shake his head and say he wished he knew me back then. Illusions and greed reigned over common sense back then.

I’m looking at this European economic crisis and can’t help but make a very simple connection: most currencies are virtual and arbitrary. When a currency is no longer based on finite and tangible assets, such as gold or cattle, there are implications. My point is that it appears that these so-called economic crises are highly choreographed and managed events. If the governments can band together to base a currency on a virtual concept (such as GDP), then why can’t they say, “This train is close to derailing, so let’s call a Grand Jubilee. All debts are wiped, everywhere. Nobody owes anybody anything. Let’s stop to learn from our history so we don’t make the same mistakes again. Of course, this might mean that we will have to learn to get our hands dirty and do some honest work again, but it’s far worse than the debt slavery most of you are in already.”

Grand Jubilees are not only biblical, but were once required every 50 years. God had a totally different reason for requiring his people to observe them, but it seems to be a very fitting solution for the current crisis.

Henry Wyckoff

Readers will recall my skepticism about the sustainability of the Internet Boom with price to earnings ratios of hundreds...


PIIGS is PIIGS, or California is Greece


Anytime in the past that Europe has been in deep trouble the Europeans have always wanted to go to war. I believe that this is how WW 1 and WW 2 started. Now I know Hitler started WW 2 and all but at the time I think Germany was not doing all that well which led the German people to support him. War seems to be the Europeans answer to frustration. That being said doesn't it seem like WW 3 is coming soon ? WW 1 started in 1914. It seems to me that WW 3 could start anytime between now and 2014 and the beginning of this century will be exactly like the start of the last century. I guess that would be good for the USA as we seem to always do very well economically after a world war but I don't want to even think about it.

Dean Peters


The demand for a free good...


As you have said in discussing the debate over nationalized health care, the demand for a free good will become infinite.

Here's a Silver Spring, MD, couple who found that out while trying to be helpful to their neighbors.

""When Marcia Nilson and her husband, Pete, bought the first snowblower on their block 20 years ago, they were the toast of their Silver Spring neighborhood. But the expectations ended up being too much.

"We'd do our driveway and the elderly couple across the street, then the lady with the bad back next door," recalled Marcia, 63, a retiree. "But it got to the point where we'd do the people across the street while their 190-pound star football player for Georgetown Prep was in bed resting for the big game. Long story short, we get a call from a neighbor we didn't even know angry we hadn't done her driveway yet. So Pete said, 'This is ridiculous. No more driveways!' ""


Regards, Brian Claypool




Regarding Sunday's e-mail from Bruce:

Impact events add net energy to the earth, so any effects leading to a new ice age would depend on either residual sun-blocking debris in the atmosphere, or such debris kicked up from the earth. A non-impactor such as Tunguska would thus have little chance of triggering an ice age. An ocean impact transporting hundreds to thousands of cubic kilometers of seawater into water vapor and aerosol could potentially have such an impact.



Subject: Indentured to the government


There is an estimated $730 billion in outstanding federal and private student-loan debt, says Mark Kantrowitz of FinAid.org, a Web site that tracks financial-aid issues—and only 40% of that debt is actively being repaid. The rest is in default, or in deferment, which means that payments and interest are halted, or in "forbearance," which means payments are halted while interest accrues.

There is going to be a backlash against this. The education establishment and the government are complicit in the situation and the people involved are likely to be in the upper half of the bell curve. These are the folks that are responsible for society's general well being and if you cripple them with servitude to the government, there will be a cost to society that is not so apparent, but nonetheless real.

John Witt

One of the most frightening trends of the modern world.


A fighter pilot comments:

Infantry Half-Kilometer comments


To hell with training infantry to do more than keep the noisy end of the bang-stick pointed downrange, those guys might need to use a fire extinguisher someday!

Nothing against Col Couvillon's ideas per-se, but he is kidding himself if he thinks that his outlandish ideas regarding having infantrymen actually focus their time/effort on weapons training are anything but crazy talk. Everyone knows that sexual assault response training, drug testing, fire extinguisher training, alcohol abuse training, drug abuse training, and all of the other "ancillary" training courses, are far more important to members of today's military. That's why the 3-hour training course on why it is bad to sexually assault someone is an annual training requirement, duh.

In my line of work, a pilot can survive busted or downgrade checkrides, but heaven forbid he get his flu shot late, miss a dental appointment, or not accomplish his annual fire extinguisher training (a 30 minute online course). Yes, annual fire extinguisher training. As if fire extinguishers are somehow different year over year. Same with sexual assault... I vaguely recall it being a bad thing in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, but you can bet I'll get to spend 2-3 hours in an auditorium and taking an online course in 2010, just in case I forgot that sexual assault is bad.

A couple of CSAFs ago the USAF had a program to reduce ancillary training by some 80%. For one year the total amount of time I spent on courses like my 18th annual "sexual assault is bad" and "don't open that email attachment!" was around 5 hours. But then we got another leadership swapout and in 2009 I logged around 30 hours of ancillary training. And I'm overdue on fire extinguisher training again. Interestingly enough, courses I actually could use, like altitude chamber training (where the difference between life and death in an in-flight emergency may be just 10 seconds of precisely correct action) got bumped up from a 3 year to 5 year recurrency.


Oxygen? We don't need no stinking oxygen. Sexual assault is bad! And see below


Subject: Lose those records!

"Climate models have predicted that with the warming caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere, California's coastal fog would increase as a result of changing atmosphere and ocean circulation patterns. But weather records that just recently became available have shown the opposite trend of a significant decrease in fog over the past 100 years."

Hurry up! Lose those records!

Less Fog in California Could Stress Redwoods - Yahoo! News



“These white working-class communities—once strong, vibrant, proud communities, often organized around big industries — they’re just in terrible straits. The social fabric of these places is just shredding."


-- Roland Dobbins

And it's going to get worse. Energy plus freedom generates economic growth.


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Wednesday, February 17, 2010


   priority one malicious website warning 

Dr. Pournelle,

A warning to you and your readers, a pop-up trojan has spread to otherwise respectable websites. I went to dilbert dot com to view their daily comic, and IE8 immediately closed, replaced by two pop-up IE browser windows, one very small and one the size of a typical pop-up message. The larger one had a reasonable looking warning about a virus, and a button to click to "scan". Knowing that this was completely abnormal behavior, I closed both IE windows using task manager instead of clicking on the equally legit looking "X".

After that, I immediately started a full system scan using windows security essentials, and although the scan is not yet complete it has already given me a warning that it has found "malicious or potentially unwanted software" on my computer.

Note that I did NOT click anywhere except to close the processes from within task manager. I merely visited a legit website which immediately closed the main IE browser window, replacing it with two smaller pop-up windows identified as iexplore.exe windows in task manager. I did not click on either of those, and immediately closed them with task manager. I am unsure as of yet if what MS security essentials has found is simply in the browser cache or if my system is well and truly borked, but this one was really bad. No warning, and I didn't DO anything, yet I seem to have an infected system.

As I type this, when MS security essentials scanned iexplore.exe, my floppy drive started buzzing loudly as if it was being accessed. Not good, not good at all.

This whole thing, getting nailed by merely visiting a hacked website that was "legit" just a few hours ago, in effect makes windows 7 and IE8 completely unusable for me especially since I occasionally work from home. Any site on the internet could be the next to get compromised and there was no way to avoid this once the site was visited. My system was fully patched and uses all the default security settings except that secure browser windows are not cached and my IE cache is supposed to be flushed when IE is closed.


This is pretty close to what happened to me. The important thing here is DO NOT CLICK ON ANYTHING in the browser. Do Control-Alt-Delete, get Task Manager, and kill the browser application. Don't do anything else before you do that.

Eric Pobirs comments

It may have been a compromised site, or a compromised advertiser. Ads mostly come from completely separate servers and many of those companies are either bad at screening or just don't care.

Using AdBlock on Firefox helps but isn't 100% with setting that aren't severe. About once a week, depending on whether I'm working fulltime, I get a situation where I have to kill the Firefox process to break free of a malware attempt.

Note that this happens to both Internet Explorer and Firefox. Security expert Risk Hellewell continues:

Dr. Pournelle:

I had the same problem with the Dilbert site yesterday (Tuesday evening); I immediately closed my browser. Curious about this (because I am a computer security guy), I restarted the browser in the "Inprivate Browsing" mode, then went to the Dilbert site (blog area). No pop-ups, even with several refreshes.

This leads me to believe that the problem was caused by a compromised ad block that was served by Dilbert's pages.

There is one comment in the blog area from a Dilbert visitor yesterday about getting the "Antivirus XP 2010" from a visit to the Dilbert (Scott Adams) blog. No reaction from Mr Adams that I could find.

This has happened before (ask Roberta....) because ad aggregation sites are not very careful in accepting or monitoring their ads. A virus author could create a regular (non-viral) ad, get it approved and placed, and then change the ad to a viral version.

The page that I saw was a pop-up Explorer window, with an animation showing a 'virus scan' in progress (it looked very realistic). At this point, it appears to be just an animation. Only when clicking on the "fix this" button will you get an opportunity to allow the virus to install. I refrained from clicking.

It's easy to program an ad window to pop-up a new window, then have that new window run some animated GIF that appears to be a virus scan. That doesn't mean that the virus has been installed at that point, or that any browser vulnerability caused the ability of the pop-up window to occur.

Your reader doesn't mention what version of IE he/she was using. It is well-known that IE6 is a lot easier to compromise than current version. And the OS is also important to one's protection. But, in my case, I am using IE8 with Vista on a fully updated computer, running Microsoft Security Essentials. I have no viral infection after the pop-up happened on my computer -- because I didn't allow the virus to be installed by clicking on the pop-up's "scan now" button.

That said, it is important not to panic when something similar happens. Close your browser immediately (use Task Manager if you need to, or even just force a power off by holding down the power key). Then restart, run a virus scan to verify. And ensure that your OS, IE, anti-virus, and all other software is kept current.

Regards, Rick Hellewell

The important thing is, Don't Panic. There are ways out of this. In my case apparently I did click somewhere in the IE 8 window when I saw the worm appear. Do not do that. Close that system down, with the Big Red Button, or Task Manager, or anything but a click anywhere in the active window.

More after my walk.

Robert Bruce Thompson adds

I'm surprised that any of this group isn't running AdBlock Plus with filters set to kill all ads and popups/unders. That deals with the problem pretty decisively, not to mention making the web a much more peaceful place.

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

Which is of course true; but the implications for the net are enormous. If no one is watching ads, no one is going to pay for advertisements.

Note what Rick Hellewell said above (See the BOLD paragraph). The animated worm is in fact an advertisement: it's advertising its willingness to infect your system, and asking for your cooperation.

This sort of thing has been happening for months; one would think that Google and Microsoft would have come up with some generic protection. I would also think that Google and Bing and the other search outfits would think about the situation. I have some not well formed ideas on how Google, for instance, could scan advertisements while it is spidering the web. Advertisers who wanted to be certified clean could pay for this. I cheerfully admit that I haven't thought out the details.

Something has to be done. I am not sure what, but the whole net financial structure is at risk.



In troubled times like these it's good to know that the government has a laser-like focus on the important issues facing the constituency.

West Hollywood bans dog, cat sales http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_14416733 

This is probably the perfect humorous-government story.

1) They're spending government time discussing pet stores. 2) There are no actual pet stores in West Hollywood. 3) Animal-rights activists still aren't happy.

-- Mike T. Powers


The Mote in God's Eye

Hi Jerry:

I don't know if you've seen this, http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/
film/11-scifi-properties-movie.html,  but your first Motie book made a page referenced from digg.com about Sci-Fi properties that need to be made into movies. I agree with them, by the way! :-)

- Rick Hale

Thanks. Haven't seen it; I let my agent follow movie sales, which are pretty slow now. But I always thought Mote would make a great movie.


A comment from the Legions:

Infantry Half-Kilometer comments

As I'm currently getting ready to head back over, Afghanistan this time, the discussion seems very topical to me. I've already done hours of classes online and in person, many covering subjects of absolute importance. However, I've endured hours of lectures on making sure my wife and children are prepared for my deployment, which I'll remember if I ever pick up any of those, and lectures on not becoming an alcoholic, which ought to be easy since I've been a life-long teetotaller, and not committing sexual assault, which likewise doesn't seem too tough based on the past few decades. I'll be in a unit about as far from combat as it is possible to be and remain in the war zone, but I've given classes on field sanitation and a zillion other subjects I don't expect to actually touch over there this time.

I remember, back in the olden days, I was an infantryman. This being well before Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the XO was tasked to give the mandatory lectures. He assembled us into a theater so we could sit down, and went through the whole packet of required lectures. There weren't so many in those days. When he got to sexual harassment, he pointed out that we were an all male infantry company, and if anyone thought they were being sexually harassed, they should come to him during the break. He then went on to the next lecture and we laughed. Nobody would be allowed to get away with that today.

Last time I got the mandatory lectures on an annual basis, then we did essentially the same ones again as part of the pre-deployment training, then again once we arrived in theater, a refresher before we went on leave from the war zone, and again when we returned to the US. I dread doing that again, but I've not yet figured out which limb I need to gnaw off to escape.

But don't you understand that sexual assault is bad? You need sensitivity training, I fear...

I recall Regimental History given in a temporary R&R area (R&R area = a place where no one was shooting at the troop) just after the Sunday morning service and just before the monthly mandatory reading of the Articles of War; but that was a long time ago. Most of the troops were called up WW II reservists. A few didn't sleep through it all.


 Subject: On Ireland...

This is long, but worth your attention if you have an interest==

 Hi -

I know that you don't consider economics a science (I suspect you mean a "real" science where you can experiment without disrupting the lives of millions, if not billions, and can readily reproduce the results), but let this economist comment on Ireland and the whole process of bubble development and collapse. Perhaps you'll see a method to the madness...

First of all, your Irish poster had the story basically right, but with two small caveats: first, the speculative buyer of the house had to finance the purchase somehow: they weren't simply given the house for speculative purposes; second, it's not like the banks had taken stupid pills to behave the way they did (as far as I know, these are limited to politicians and are required once elected), but rather there were some rather major positive incentives for them to behave exactly the way they did.

Why do bubbles start? How is a bubble defined? What the heck is a bubble anyway?

Simply put, bubbles can (but not must) start when there is an economic upswing that enters a long expansive phase. In the case of Ireland, export-based growth expanded faster than the number of qualified workers, leading to truly significant income growth of what had been largely an impoverished nation. The Irish government rightfully noted that they had a rather well educated workforce and gave companies rather positive incentives to move to Ireland (my old Dell was assembled and shipped from there), reaping the benefits of increased payrolls and private consumer expenditures for the tax rolls.

Now, during this long expansive upswing, folks who have little or no real investment savvy find themselves with income well in excess of needs (it does happen...until the needs catch up, which they always do, always...), and when they realize that their savings accounts don't really pay much - low interest rates, after all - they start going after investment instruments that provide significant returns. While their retail banks are desperately trying to capture this investment stream, these retail banks are usually too sober and professional (oh, there are exceptions. Good lord, there are exceptions!!!) to offer the kind of returns that people believe they are entitled to. After all, for many, once the initial shock of having money is over (and the big consumer items have been bought, like flat-screen TVs and cars), their excess income is "free money."

Now, I'm not talking about older, professional income folks: I'm talking about what can be called "new middle class", with a specialized education, little or no understanding of finances and money, and above all supremely confident of their own ability to make complex investment decisions (hey, after all, they got themselves out of the lower class, didn't they?). They start looking for better returns than their peer group. It becomes competitive, people start playing with the money.

This is how bubbles get started: it happened during the Tulip Bubble, it happened before the Great Depression, it is happening now. You just have to look for it: a class of society that has seen real. personal disposable income increase drastically over a short period of time, who lack financial expertise, who want - demand, insist - on high returns.

This money starts chasing higher returns, and as financial people know, if there are moneyed people out there searching for something, someone will provide it. In the case of the Tulip Bubble, it was the purported rarity of certain kinds of tulip bulbs that drove a speculative frenzy that spiraled out of control as people who knew nothing about tulip bulbs invested massive amounts of money because of purported returns; in the case of the Great Depression, it was the discovery by the common man of leveraged puts and calls that allowed the acquisition of ruinous amounts of high leveraged risk; today, it is housing.

It wasn't a Ponzi scheme: a Ponzi scheme takes money from new investors to pay interest for investors who got in earlier. A Ponzi scheme collapses when not enough new investors are found to pay off the previous investors.

This was a speculative bubble based on being able to purchase an asset that appreciated over time faster than it cost to finance the asset. This is a standard speculative purchase: buying a house to live in, after all, is not an investment if you expect that your return on buying the house will be from appreciation of the value of the house (it is if you generate an actual, real existing cash flow from renting the house out!).

The sub-prime (and by analogy the housing bubbles world-wide) bubble was ignited by strong appreciation of housing prices well beyond normal levels as nominal incomes increased during the 1990s: people felt rich because they had made lots of money in other speculative activities (stocks) and were disappointed at "merely" double-digit returns. The get-rich-quick schemes started to appear because of this psychological demand for, well, getting rich quickly, and was aided by pretty much all financial journalists when they reported how people were getting rich, quickly, by speculating in real estate. Real estate professional had a vested interest in making this possible, as they make their living on transaction costs.

You can get rich by speculating in real estate, but it takes real money, deep pockets and patience. Buy up land, rezone it and put up a shopping mall or homes, and you can "easily" get massive returns on your original investment. That's the normal real estate business. But it is actually pretty hard work, and it is far riskier than most imagine.

Previously, financing companies got permission to innovate in setting up mortgages, and came up with some fairly nifty ways of reducing initial costs, pushing them into the future.

With cheap money (which started, after all, with the Fed's answer to 9/11) and financial "innovations" like ARMs that allowed people with relatively small income streams to buy more house than they could afford at first, with payments then increasing as they started to earn higher salaries, the path to real estate speculation for the masses opened: you could buy a house with nothing down, live in it for three years until the rate on your mortgage was about to increase, sell the house for 30% more than you paid for it, costs, and still come up richer with no capital involved.

That's right: buy a $1mn house, pay a $30 000 fee to the bank for arranging the loan, pay $1000/month for three years, then sell the house for $1.3mn, and you have a clear profit, before taxes, of $300 000 - $66 000 ($30k to the bank, $36k on the mortgage) or $234 000. For anyone not earning in the top 5%, that is real money, money that means that your kids don't have to worry about college expenses, that you don't have to worry about retirement, that you can make a life style change beyond most people's dreams. Do that once and you can leverage the next house to the tune of around $5mn, and end up with over $1mn pre-taxes (5mn*1.3 = 6.5mn; $150k fee to the bank, $2500/month, works out to be $1.3mn pre-tax profits), and within, say, 7 years, you've earned an average of $180k/year without having any real equity involved. Calculate the profits on no capital and you get zillions of percent return.

That is too good to be true, but is, to a large extent, exactly what happened.

And it was too good to be true: but people saw not merely a decent return, but the very real possibility of becoming millionaires without the usual very hard work involved. That is usually enough to turn off the higher and critical thought processes (such that existed) and hope for the best, especially since you don't have anything at risk (or so people thought...).

With no capital involved, or only very small amounts, then you've opened up the floodgates for massive speculation, since your potential profits were higher the more expensive the house was. If there's no money down, take the most expensive place your income can afford. Lie about how much you earned so that you could spend 60% of your income on the mortgage.

But only as long as housing prices kept on going up. Expecting that to be the case wasn't irrational exuberance, but actual irrationality.

The banks didn't care because they didn't have a stake in the speculation: they sold the mortgages to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, who were under political orders to buy the mortgages no matter what they looked like. Due diligence was thrown out of the window because it didn't matter: the bank didn't keep the mortgage on its books.

All of these mortgages were bundled and sold to people with even less understanding of what they were buying than the people buying the houses, most of them living overseas.

That is how the bubble got started and how it blew up: as long as houses weren't being built fast enough to keep up with demand, housing prices increased. Once construction did catch up, though (and builders did their best to make sure it did!), prices started to fall, and the whole house of cards (pun intended) fell apart, since that $1k/month in the first example bloomed to $3k/month once the ARM kicked in, and defaults started because no one could sell their houses for the prices they needed to break even, let alone make a profit.

Now, there is plenty of blame for everyone involved, but it really boils down to the abysmal failure of those tasked with watching both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make sure that their risks were under control. Rating agencies failed in their duties as well, as they hid the risk to foreign investors looking for a fast buck as well.

Whew. I know this is long, but it's also not simple.

The bust is serious, as it is a tragedy for (almost) all involved: builders are sitting on houses that can't be sold and have no work because there are too many properties for sale; owners are sitting on negative equity that means they will be poor when they are forced to sell in retirement; banks have no one that will borrow from them after credit risk analysis - and reserves - return to normal (and who have lost the fee income as well); governments lose tax income; speculators face bankruptcy and ruin because they got in over their heads.

That speculator in my example? That second mortgage is now $10k/month and they are in receivership. They didn't bother to check what it meant to declare bankruptcy (or imagined that it was the way it was in the 1980s before bankruptcy reform!) and are discovering that they are thoroughly and completely screwed for life: they cannot simply walk away unless they are willing to lose that equity completely, and even then the mortgage holder can come after them. They are truly screwed for life.

But that was the flip side of the perfect plan, the one no one wanted to talk about (being prudent is boring: trust me, I know...) when they were contemplating the perfect story of how to become a millionaire without even breaking into a sweat.

Those really, really screwed? The taxpayers, who will pay the bills as the payer of last resort.

Diverse congresscritters were more than happy to commit the US taxpayer to this role in order to enrich themselves and their party friends. Want to get really angry? Take a look at who ran Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, who got enormous bonuses for running these into the ground, who covered for them, and what they are doing now: I'll give you one name to start with. Rahm Emmanuel. These are the real culprits: they are the ones who allowed the bubble to bloom.

You see, it should have been capped. That was the job of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.Instead, there was a political decision for them not to do their job, and someone named Barney Frank rolled the dice one more time...and lost.

I have absolutely no sympathy for anyone involved except for the construction people who built according to demand. They were/are in a no-win situation: if they hadn't built, someone else would have, and while they may be caught now, it is not because they screwed up: their customers did (unless they were building speculatively with their own money, but even so: they were meeting demand: it was artificially generated demand, but it was still demand). I can't blame someone for trying to supply something that someone else wanted to buy.

The recovery, world-wide, will be unspectacular, since it won't be fueled by speculation, but rather by hard work and prudent risk-taking. It will take several generations (and I do mean that) before the next bubble is built by the exact same mechanisms, just in a different place and a different time, with different instruments for the destruction. We're not going to see 5% annual growth rates in the US, since at some point the US taxpayer has to fund the debt taken on by the Federal government, at least until the effects of the bubble have dissipated entirely from the system.

And one final aside: I find it rather amusing that banker bonuses are so vilified by the Left. It would seem to me that the Left and the Unions should be holding up bankers are the heroes of the working class: what other industry takes its profits and gives 40% of them to its workers? To make sure that they stay loyal?

None that I know of. But that is exactly what the big banks are doing: paying out significant portions of their profits to their workers.

Ain't free-market capitalism great? :-)

Jerry, you may not want to put the whole thing up, as it is rather long and to a certain extent rambling. It could probably use an edit or two...but I thought you'd like to hear it.

All the best,

John F. Opie

I don't disagree with much of that, and cutting it would take longer than I have, but I am not sure it has a lot to do with the current Irish mess except: during these bubbles, government revenue goes up and the prospects for enhanced government revenue look good, so the temptation is to spend that revenue: and the pressure is of course to raise pensions and benefits for the bureaucracy. The expenses don't show up immediately, the growth in revenue will cover it when the expense comes due, and ---

That happened to both Ireland and California as well as other places. Bubbles can be self correcting, but not if the government gets in the act.

In the United States -- I don't know about Ireland -- Fannie and Freddie were instructed to inject money into the housing market. That isn't the actual instruction, which was to make home ownership easier for a large segment of the population, that that was the inevitable effect of enabling more potential owners: more people chasing houses, drives up the price, and soon you get speculators flipping houses as a way of life. The bubble is well and truly launched. That happened in the US, and the smartest guys in the country then devised financial products to institutionalize crazy speculation.

Free market capitalism works, but it also takes account of what the government is doing: if government is injecting money into the woogies market, the price of woogies is going to go up, and if there's wild speculation, then the result is inevitable. If the woogies are useful items that enable more production there's sometimes a different effect than if the woogies are consumer goods. In the case of houses the houses were useful but the financial products dreamed up by the smartest guys in the country weren't so much so.

I am still interested in what happened to Ireland, and is Ireland on the way to a death spiral?





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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Subj: The True Basis for Modern Fiat Currencies

It amazes me that noone seems to recognize -- at least, not publicly, not that I have seen -- that modern fiat currencies do, in fact, have an objective basis, to wit: the coercive power of the governments that sponsor the banks that issue them.

Those governments require that their subjects remit taxes in the currencies in question.

Thus, those currencies are "avoid going to jail" cards, nothing more -- but also nothing less.

Does it not give you a warm, confident feeling, to know that your money is grounded, ultimately, in the naked power of the Rods and the Axes?

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


A fighter pilot comments:

Infantry Half-Kilometer comments

"S" is a fighter pilot? I may have to reorient my instinctual disdain of such critters...

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


Economics and the cost of living

Hello Jerry,

Mr. Opie's very interesting piece about the economics of Ireland contained an economic Law akin to your 'First Law of Bureaucracy'. Mr. Opie said: "Now, during this long expansive upswing, folks who have little or no real investment savvy find themselves with income well in excess of needs (it does happen...until the needs catch up, which they always do, always...),", which can be rephrased as the Cost of Living Law: "The Cost of Living is fixed; it is equal to income plus 10%."

Actually, the law is still somewhat controversial, with some economists claiming that the actual plus should be 15%.

Bob Ludwick

One of Parkinson's Laws was that in government "Expenditure rises to exceed income." That would be in the 1970's.


'He held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News.'


-- Roland Dobbins



Now we know why school districts are pushing for laptops for all their students.

I'm pretty sure this violates any number of local/state/Federal wiretapping statutes, even if the parents unwittingly agreed to such terms buried in a bogus EULA:


--- Roland Dobbins


Edward J. Flynn's "Your the Boss"

Dr. Pournelle,

Thanks for the reference in your 02.09.2010 view Tea Party column I found a University sale copy on BN.com for $26.00 shipped. I just got it last night and it's next on my to-read stack. All other copies I found was $130+. Granted mine is a weathered library copy but it's still in good shape.

Hopefully people tell you this all the time but your off-hand comments about long lost books that should still be taught in school is one of the best reasons for reading your site daily. I've now picked up four books based on your comments and have not been disappointed yet.

Brad Clarkston



Climate "Science" Meltdown...


"Meanwhile, one of the scientists at the center of the climategate fiasco has called into question other issues that the climate lobby has claimed are indisputable. Phil Jones, who stepped down as head of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit amid the climate email scandal, told the BBC that the world may well have been warmer during medieval times than it is now."

Charles Brumbelow

Anyone who paid attention in 6th grade World History knows that (1) it was warmer in the Middle Ages, and the Vikings had colonies in Greenland and 'Vinland' where there were vines (and growing seasons were longer all across Europe), and (2) the Hudson froze over solid in 1776 hard enough to march an army across. The world has been colder and warmer than now in historical times. Computer models tried to somehow erase this (it wasn't really warmer, because it could have been colder in other parts of the world where we didn't have good temperature data); at best they called the Medieval Warm into question. We argued all this back in the 1970's during the Limits to Growth and Models of Doom discussions.

My view is was then and remains that if you have no other evidence, you use the evidence you have. I would have thought that was what science is about. That used to be generally accepted, but the grant system gave modelers a different incentive structure.

The consensus continues to crumble.


Ireland's Economy

I feel the disappointment with the Celtic Tiger is greatly overblown. There is considerable schadenfreude among economists, politicians & the anti-free market ruling class in the rest of Europe who did not manage to get their economies into the same happy state of growth & had thus been predicting, for at least a decade, its imminent collapse. Their joy is clear because it alleviates them from having to explain to their own people why they couldn't.

However It should be remembered that Ireland went from 2/3tds to 4/3rds of British per capita GNP by achieving an average 7% growth (we managed 2.5%, usually). Their economy has now declined by 12.4% <http://www.tradingeconomics.com/
Economics/GDP-Growth.aspx?Symbol=IEP>  over the last 2 years whereas Britain's has fallen 4%. However we are borrowing money at 12.5% of GNP annually while Ireland is making strenuous efforts to balance its budget. Without that artificial stimulus we would therefore be in a similar position, as would the USA & many other countries.

Ireland's growth to a point where it matched the per capita income of the USA was not a bubble. It was achieved by cutting corporation tax to 12.5% & cutting regulations, particularly those on housebuilding. It achieved nearly 20 years of growth which is longer than bubbles last. If there was some overselling of houses - well so what - they are now in a market correction but it will correct itself. The fact is their government is solvent, at least by comparison to ourselves, its markets are free and its taxes are low. All this suggests it will be back into growth before us.

A problem they do have is that they are part of the Eurozone whose value is run in accord with the needs of all the Euro economies of which Ireland as a very small part indeed. That meant they couldn't earlier set interest rates at a level which would discourage housebuilding speculation & they can't now allow their currency to fall, as Britain & America's is. They would be better off out but that is their decision & while it makes the process of cutting government spending much more painful than it need be it does not affect the underlying strength of the economy.

The one place where Ireland's economy is in danger & which is not discussed, is their energy supply. They have gone hysterical about nuclear, partly because the English plant in Sellafield across the Irish Sea makes it patriotic to be anti-nuclear & partly because it is generally fashionable (remember Ireland fashionably led off in Europe in making smoking in public places illegal). At present they produce $7.75 of GNP per kwh of electricity. This is the highest ratio of any developed country (Britain is 3rd at $6.14) <http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/
2008/06/snok-s-needed-for-each-kilowatt-hour.html>  & it is likely to get worse because part of their power comes from the Hunterston nuclear power plant in Scotland which is being extended beyond its official retiral age. When Britain faces blackouts it looks unlikely we will be willing to export electricity there. That could, of course, be settled by Ireland by making a decision to go nuclear or even expand their conventional power. Indeed seeing how well they have done with that much power shortage already it is clear they have the potential to grow even faster than they have been doing.

So do we if we adopt the policies that have worked there.

Neil Craig

Cheap energy plus freedom equals prosperity.



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Friday,  February 19, 2010

Regarding Monty's recent email:

You [Monty] write[s] 'It amazes me that noone seems to recognize -- at least, not publicly, not that I have seen -- that modern fiat currencies do, in fact, have an objective basis, to wit: the coercive power of the governments that sponsor the banks that issue them. Those governments require that their subjects remit taxes in the currencies in question. Thus, those currencies are "avoid going to jail" cards, nothing more -- but also nothing less.'

Actually, it may not be widely mentioned, but it is widely and publicly known, e.g http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiat_money#Chartalism  and following has: "Chartalism [linking to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartalism]  is a monetary theory that states the initial demand for a fiat currency is generated by its unique ability to extinguish tax liabilities. Goods and services are traded for fiat money due to the need to pay taxes in the money... Usually, a fiat-money currency loses value once the issuing government refuses to further guarantee its value through taxation..." - and it is fairly notorious that taxes were used in colonial situations to force subsistence economies into becoming cash economies that could more readily be exploited (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hut_tax  and, even more explicitly, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corv%C3%A9e#Madagascar). 

Also, these matters often come up in comments at the Mises blog, http://blog.mises.org/blog.

Yours sincerely,



On Fly by Wire and critical software development:

In view 610, Thursday Feb 18th, you wrote:

 "I have always thought that many of the security vulnerabilities in our  operating systems are due to their having been written in languages  that don't demand strong typing, and type and range checking. Certainly  type and range checking would eliminate most if not all buffer overflow  exploits."

Possibly I've mentioned this to you before, but Google's new "go"

language has picked up many of these ideas. The FAQ on the language design is here:


In particular, it says:


  "What are Go's ancestors?

   "Go is mostly in the C family (basic syntax), with significant input  from the Pascal/Modula/Oberon family (declarations, packages), plus .."

Strong type checking.

Range checking.

No pointer arithmetic.


And there's more: garbage collection to automate much memory management.

(Google -- or at least whomever I saw give a talk on the language -- pointed out that with multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs garbage collection and advances in theory (I guess Java had to be good for something!) looks much more ecconomical now.)

 I like the language. I hope someone picks up the challenge of writing an operating system in it; I doubt it will be me due to time constraints, but I see no reason for it not to be possible.


 Giles Lean

 P.S. Also loved the picture show.  As you'd expect, both iWork and Open Office were able to display it; those of us deprived of MS software were not left out.


Language and software development

Dr. Pournelle,

While I often agree with your opinions on most subjects, I have to disagree with parts of your assessment of Toyota's recent apparent quality problems. I do software testing, among other duties, in my employment.

One of the reasons that the Clinton administration killed the Ada project was that the prevalent opinion in the software industry at the time was that only one category of potential software programming error could be prevented through choice of computer language. Even loosely typed, permissive languages like C can be used to create quality software -- given an organization and methodology that implements proper design, coding techniques that enable detailed source code checking, and a comprehensive and well coordinated testing program for the entire system. The last of those is usually where application developers save money and time by following the Microsoft model and choose to let customers find the errors.

Compilers will usually only catch errors in range or syntax, not poor error handling and bad design. As well, I'd be careful of your wagering -- look at the odds -- while I do not know what language Toyota uses for software development, the archetypical high-level software development language for vehicle management was Modula-GM, developed by Delco back when GM was sharing technology with Toyota. Modula and Modula-2 are quite popular (outside the U.S.) as machine control languages. As you know, Modula was Dr. Wirths next-generation language after Pascal. It may well be that some descendent of Pascal or Modula is being used in the Toyota software shop.

I suspect, as you do, that Toyota's problems may indeed be in their electronic control systems. But many similar problems in other systems can be traced to hardware errors, incomplete systems testing, and poor design -- long before software programming language shows up on the list of probable causes (and it is very easy to blame the software when troubleshooting systems errors).

I personally like simple, strongly-typed languages like Pascal and Ada -- they are easy to learn and to read, and are extensible by skilled programmers. However, they haven't worked well in the user interface arena, haven't had the support of broad, open development, and simply don't do OOP as well as some of their competitors (and one cannot teach or learn software programming today without being conversant in object-oriented programming). Java sometimes comes close.

Since the dot-com bubble burst, an event probably not connected to the death of the Ada program only a little shortly earlier, most organizations have been more interested in hiring programmers for the short term, rather than developing skilled teams (and in this limited sense, the trend in software programming staffing somewhat resembles the soldiers' lack of marksmanship tools and skills decried by the good Col. Couvillion, or your observations on learning in the public school systems; the emphasis seems to be on shallow quantity throughput rather than on quality).

You may be perfectly correct in stating that software failure is the cause of the problem, and your points on languages are also quite true, but I'm not yet as sure that the two represent cause-and- effect in Toyota's case. Time will tell.



Fly By Wire + Software Verification

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Slightly tangentially first:

Someone once posted a 'job' on one of these rent-a-coder websites asking for quotations to develop a program which could determine whether or not another program would terminate with some extra yadda yadda thrown in to confuse the unwary. In effect he had described what is known as the Halting Problem. Something which is uncomputable/ undecidable in the most Goedelian sense of the word, not to mention an echo of arguably the greatest upset / cause celebre of 20th century mathematics. It was amusing to then sit back and watch all these sweatshops in Bangalore, Karachi, etc. chime in with quotes and promises of delivery next week.

As far as software correctness and formal methods go, there is plenty of thought being given to this - you might like to have a look at the Haskell page and nose around. The functional programming subculture is much more attuned to thinking before doing, let alone thinking while doing (something plenty of OO library using 'pipe-fitters' don't do much of).

No silver bullets in this game, but members of the ML family (ML originally invented for writing theorem provers in, no less) are not a bad way to go about writing more concise and correct software.

I'm just a dabbler myself... but it didn't end or go out of fashion with Dijkstra and Wirth.

I read a very interesting paper a while back by Knuth (GIYF) - published around 75 or 76 when 'Structured Programming' and the two above-mentioned gentlemen were all the rage. Now if you've ever looked through Knuth's Magnum Opus (cue famous story about Steve Jobs claiming to have read and loved his Art of Computer Programming and Knuth replying 'Bullshit!'), you'll notice gotos up the wazoo all over the place. So an interesting and nuanced paper. If anyone could make a case for the occasional goto it was Knuth.

Anyway, no doubt others amongst your readership know more about software verification. I think the salient point is that it is hard, as in Very Hard to do for more than just trivial cases. And always will be so. But many programmers don't even know what they don't know about the science of computation. Used to be why they had Computer (I prefer 'Computing') Science departments once upon a time. Before 'Java Schools'.

And everyone should read Dijkstra's Book - 'A Discipline of Programming'.


Peter Green

Wirth's books are also worth reading.

Program provability is an ideal, possibly not achiavable, but it is a direction. And one reason for highly structured languages is that when the original programmer is no longer in charge, it is still possible for a new team to do maintenance; something very difference when clever hacks have been employed. The point of really structured languages is to eliminate clever hacks, which, as Minsky says, is a bit like puttig on a straight jacket before you go to work.


fly by wire beef

The term "fly by wire" has always really bugged me because a fly by wire system is one in which you ELIMINATE the control wires in favor of electrical signals. I know, I know, electrical wires are wires, but they're not aircraft wire, and they don't actually control anything in and of themselves.

It's kind of like the populist term "aerobic exercise" which refers to when the body enters an ANaerobic state.


Well, perhaps, but I think the term is here to stay.





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Saturday, February 20, 2010

"If this new tax collection scheme were enacted, Amazon would have little choice but to end its advertising relationships with California-based participants."


- Roland Dobbins


Air and artillery support discouraged and/or denied in Afghanistan?


This article is disturbing, mainly because it means our troops are being considered less valuable than the headlines civilian casualties garner. There has been an increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan that are completely unrelated to air strikes or artillery support, yet the guidance has been to decrease the use of the support assets and this has already resulted in unnecessary friendly losses.


This is the kind of thing that drives a CAS pilot nuts, whether he's in an A-10 or F-15E (or B-1 with targeting pod, LGBs, and JDAM)... Being on scene or available, with the bad guys in sight, and not being cleared to drop even though the kid on the other end of the radio desperately needs the support. I can't imagine it feeling any better to artillery commanders.



Computer languages and security.

The single greatest thing which could be done to improve the security of computers and information systems in general would be to move away from C and its derivatives into typesafe languages.

Unfortunately, I don't foresee this ever happening, due in large part to the vast, seemingly deliberate ignorance with regards to security issues which permeates the computer and networking industries, combined with the extremely poor quality of education and instruction in university Computer Science departments (i.e., ask a recent CS grad what 'typesafe' means, and you're likely to get a blank stare).

This is a large part of the reason that more rigid, locked-down systems like the iPhone and now the iPad are becoming so popular with ordinary people, along with general bloat and feeping creaturism and the concomitant usability/reliability issues.

---- Roland Dobbins


Subject: DSM 5 and the It Monster

Dr. Pournelle is not the only psychologist or psychiatrist whose enthusiasm for the DSM is ... muted?

In an EMailed newsletter dated 15 Feb 2010, Aldo Pucci, Psy.D., President of the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists (www.nacbt.org), wrote

>>Psychiatry and psychology have done a great job promoting the "It Monster". Most of the "disorders" in the DSM are illusions. They do not exist as distinct illness that people "suffer from" or "have". They simply are labels for things people do. To put a label on a set of behaviors (a list which is somewhat arbitrarily produced) and then slap a label on it then makes it an entity in and of itself.<<

He only thinks about diagnostic labels if he bills insurance. Instead, he focuses on distressing actions, thoughts and feelings and on whether those are learned or not.

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


lights and prosperity

Dr. Pournelle,

Today, you wrote "Cheap energy plus freedom equals prosperity."

In the view today, you posted a link to a power point show containing photos of the night side of the earth from orbit. I noticed where the lights are shining -- they seem to bear out your statement.



I'm glad I don't live in Boulder.


-- Roland Dobbins


Why state R&D flops

"...a devastating critique of states' failure to fund economically useful knowledge, and suggests that all spending on "technologies of the future" is likely to wind up down the drain.

Professor Kealey is not promoting some off-the-wall, right-wing economic theory. A comprehensive 2003 study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development titled "The Sources of Economic Growth in OECD Countries," found that the only useful R&D came from private sources and that public R&D funding tended to have negative consequences.

Professor Kealey provides the history and psychology behind this inconvenient truth, and sets out to explode the pervasive notion -- first propounded by the prototypical 17th-century English policy wonk, Sir Francis Bacon -- that science is a "public good" that needs to be promoted by governments.

In a sweeping analysis, Professor Kealey notes that advances in both science and technology have -- from the steam engine to radio astronomy -- come overwhelmingly from the private sector. "Powerful" states, from Egypt through China to modern Russia, have held up technological advance rather than promoted it....

Professor Kealey notes that government funding tends to corrupt science, but unfortunately does not go into the currently most dangerous example: that of state-funded "climate science" -- although he does refer to the establishment pogrom against the environmental skepticism of Bjorn Lomborg."


Counterintuitive that all that money spent could have negative effects but the OECD, a pan-governmental bureaucracy, is unlikely to understimate the harm caused by government bureaucracies. If true "catastrophic global warming" may be just the tumour that has broken the skin. I would hope that as X-Prizes, though government funded, don't contol who gets them or the methods they use, would minimse the negative effects while maximisng the positive.

Neil C

It is possible to create technology on demand -- see Strategy of Technology by Possony and Pournelle -- but it has to be done right and the Iron Law will defeat most attempts. Alas.

NSF was once the best use of tax dollars we had, but I suspect it no longer is. The Iron Law always wins.


“These white working-class communities—once strong, vibrant, proud communities, often organized around big industries — they’re just in terrible straits. The social fabric of these places is just shredding."


- Roland Dobbins

It is an alarming article. I found it a bit hard to read, but I have not been feeling great lately.


'Education is a generational responsibility that cannot, and should not, be outsourced to a particular group of individuals.'


---- Roland Dobbins

But in fact a great many have outsourced it to Washington bureaucrats and the LA Unified Public School District unions.




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Sunday, February 21, 2010      

Toyota programming 

Sir, I read recent comments on your web site vis-a-vis the Toyota software issues. Since I am a software engineer with 16 years experience and am currently working with a firmware engineer, I have some experience in the matter.

First of all, I wish to draw your attention to



as well as the money quote on the front page: "80% of all embedded systems are delivered late, often hopelessly bug-ridden. Is this the best we can do?"

The reason for this is explained well in total recall.

The raw storage and CPU capacity of modern vehicles tempts us to build products which are highly complex, beyond the capability of any one engineer to understand.

The complexity increases with the size and desired features, resulting in bugs. If you compound this with time pressure (and ALL software engineers work under unrealistic deadlines, primarily because no one in the world understands how to estimate software costs), the problem gets worse. So we throw fixes and patches, then even more fixes and patches at the problem, then we have staff turnover, and the end result is what we in my field call the Big Ball of Mud. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Ball_of_Mud

One of your correspondants suggested using languages such as Pascal or Ada to solve the problem. With due respect to your correspondent, I believe this approach is misguided. I have worked in both very 'free' languages such as C and languages such as Pascal, and most of the code I've seen in all languages is utter trash.

This is because the ingenuity of bad programmers is surpassed only by the ingenuity of fools; they have an endless capacity to write horrible code with only the barest gestures made to satisfy the compiler. I have personally witnessed a FORTRAN programmer, required to write object-oriented smalltalk, proceed to write a FORTRAN program with only the smallest syntactic changes with little respect -- or understanding -- of the OO paradigm.

It's not, as a rule, the language that makes things bad for developers. It's unrealistic expectations, hopelessly inadequate requirements and scheduling resulting in complex, badly tested code, and poor programmer discipline. Solving these problems will go a lot further than trying to impose yet another 'silver bullet' language scheme. We've already tried that multiple times(structured programming in the 1970s, DOD's experiment with Ada, object-oriented programming in the 1990s), and code is still worse than ever. Because a good language cannot make a good programmer.

I make an exception, however, for original C. It's pretty much impossible *not* to be a horrible developer in that language.


Brian P.

Good programmers can write good software in any language including assembly. Minsky can do wonders in LISP. The problem is that there are nowhere near enough skilled programmers, and much software will be written by people not in the top tier of programming skills.

Good language cannot make a good programmer, perhaps; but the proper language can often prevent disasters, and allow average programmers to write good software if a bit slower. Or that's the hope.


Jerry, choice of language does not directly improve overall program correctness. I've read of your horror of pointers for decades, and all I can think is "Jerry never took the Data Structures course."

I've delivered 'C' and C++ based systems for as many decades as I've been reading you, and in at least one case (a fuel dispenser, so hazardous materials capable), there were no reported defects for five full years.

What *Knuth* (not Wirth) talked about with language systems is that additional syntactic sugar took us farther and farther away from the goal of provably correct programs. Indeed, on the system that had no defects for five years, the stimuli were very tightly bounded, and I actually generated a normalized set of stimuli-cross-state, added introspection as to state and was more or less able to assemble a (very large) data set which was able to account for all states and all transitions based on those stimuli.

And even though I got permission, I was still six months late bringing in the release with this testing, and left the company not long after. Oh irony...

Atul Gawande recently wrote "The Checklist Manifesto" . I'd consider this test rig to be a very large checklist. Can I prove the checklist correct? Of course not. But I can carry it as a deliverable, and agree to update it as needed.

-- Les Cargill

I've never had a software course in my life. I have read Wirth on data structures, and my examination of a lot of code leads me to conclude that a lot of programmers never did.

Checklists are very useful. I'd say one item on the checklist ought to be "Can this program begin running data as instructions? Are undeclared type changes possible?" Powerful programs can be written using such techniques, and have been, but I'd prefer the compiler made the programmer find a different way. I do not expect this question ever to be settled, but I remain of the Wirth persuasion.


Software bloat


On the issue of software getting more bloated and slower as hardware gets faster, I agree that some development is ‘lazy’ and others are going for the fast turnaround…the code may not be great, but it’s good enough, and they can put less dollars in faster hardware than in expensive programmer time to clean it up. Now, mind you, this bothers the engineer in me, and I’d love all code to be clean, fast and efficient, but due to economic reality, it can’t always be. These things are built on risk, reward and rate of return.

There are however, many efforts still ongoing that DO require good code. High transaction systems are a good example…Verizon has a huge system that processes calls, email, purchases, etc….it’s very efficient and fast. A previous company for which I worked developed a pharmacy app for a major chain that had very efficient and clean code. We had to process pharmacy transactions from 2000 locations nationwide, maintain privacy, get insurance payment information from third party providers (with a turnaround of 4 seconds), update central databases and many other things. The system worked very well, and is still in operation.

What was interesting was we completely displaced Linux and Oracle with an end to end Microsoft solution. The Linux guys fought hard with every tool they had…and most quit when the Windows systems were being implemented. The truth was we saved many millions of dollars implementing the systems (mostly from lower costs for the database for MS SQL as opposed to Oracle and their …ah…pricing model).

Tracy Walters, CISSP


A sign of things to come?

Unionized Rhode Island Teachers Refuse To Work 25 Minutes More Per Day, So Town Fires All Of Them <http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2452147/posts>  The Business Insider ^ <http://www.freerepublic.com/%5E
so-town-fires-all-of-them-2010-2>  | 2/15/10 | Henry Blodget

A school superintendent in Rhode Island is trying to fix an abysmally bad school system. Her plan calls for teachers at a local high school to work 25 minutes longer per day, each lunch with students once in a while, and help with tutoring. The teachers' union has refused to accept these apparently onerous demands.

The teachers at the high school make $70,000-$78,000, as compared to a median income in the town of $22,000. This exemplifies a nationwide trend in which public sector workers make far more than their private-sector counterparts (with better benefits).

The school superintendent has responded to the union's stubbornness by firing every teacher and administrator at the school.

A sign of things to come? .

Al Perrella


No, America Isn't 'Ungovernable'

I liked the article, but whether it is good or not, it is nice to see the "nuts" in the media exposing themselves for what they are. Keep it up boys and girls.




Obama's National Defence Review ignores Iran and Islam in favour of "climate change!" - 

Just damn. We are living in an age of politics-induced unreality.


The money paragraph:

However, it’s not what is in the document that surprises the reader – it’s what was left out. There presence of two elephants in their living room apparently escaped the notice of American’s top civilian and military leaders. Islamic radicalism does not receive any mention whatsoever in the American Defence Review and the threat posed by a nuclear Iran is mentioned in only one general sentence at the end of a document (page 101). To put this lack of discussion in proportion, contrast this non-discussion with other security issues mentioned in the document. For example, the security effects of climate change are highlighted and discussed in depth in eight pages of the document.


Jim Riticher

Political correctness is the enemy of rational thought










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