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Monday  May 31, 2010

I posted a large mixed bag of mail last night on many interesting subjects. Don't miss it.  

: Deep Drilling

"If we don't know how to deal with deep water oil gushers, we probably ought not be drilling in very deep water. "

The one thing that I am gaining from the continuing operations to stifle the BP blowout is that we are a lot more capable at working at these depths than I originally thought.

As I have cruised the net, one statistic startled me a bit. That one said "there have been 650 wells drilled at depths >5000 ft". I haven't looked for validation (yet).

It appears more and more likely that this was (as usual) a situation where multiple human errors have concatenated with a disastrous result, some being errors of judgment, and some errors of design in the blowout preventer.


It does appear that we are more capable at those depths than I would have thought. Of course my last real experience with the technology is decades old. Yes, we seem capable; but yet we were unprepared. There ought to be data about the toxicity or lack thereof of the detergents used as dispersal agents. There ought to be good research data on the contrcution of booms. There ought to be data bases on assets in each endangered area: where booms are stored, what ocean going craft are available, the data we are accumulating now; we ought to have had all that done long ago.

Deep drilling is certainly going to be harder than shallow drilling which will be harder than shore rigs. The harder it is to work in a given region, the more, I would think, we ought to know about containing runaway oil spills. Apparently that was not the view of the regulators or of the politicians, until just now...


Oil Spills and the Hubris of Corner Cutting


When I first heard that the wild well in the Gulf belonged to BP I was not surprised. BP has established a record of corner cutting in its operations that foes back many years. While the new CEO has given lip service to changing th culture it was pretty clear at the time of the initial blow out that little had changes at BP except its slogan, Beyond Petroleum.

Now that we have a somewhat more complete picture of what transpired prior to the blow out it is clear that any operation controlled by BP is a major accident waiting to happen. It is not clear whether it would be fair to apply this to other Oil Companies operating under US over sight, but what is clear is that MMS was a bureaucracy that essentially did nothing beyond providing employment for its staff.

The concept of Cost Benefit Analysis is evidently foreign to the BP staff members that were making the decisions surrounding the closing of the well. Any reasonably intelligent person would realize that a few more days at one or two million dollars per day was much better than a somewhat significant chance that the well might blow out and cause a large oil spill and perhaps also cost lives on the platform. It is now obvious that the BP decision maker was not reasonable intelligent and more than likely had added an MBA to their degree in petroleum engineering. It will be interesting to see if this is true.

While I am not a Petroleum Engineer, I have done enough computer work for Petroleum Engineers to understanding some of the safety issues surrounding oil and natural gas wells. The fact that the tests that were run prior to the decision to replace the high specific gravity drilling mud with sea water were at best inconclusive and perhaps indicated that natural gas was leaking past the cement plug into the drilling mud should have been a clear indication that a disaster was there waiting to happen if additional steps were not taken to ensure the integrity of the cement seal.

The testimony that has been reported in the press also indicates a general disregard of best practices and expert advice provided to BP in the weeks prior to the blow out. (I would prefer not to call it an accident, but results that should have been expected following the decisions that were made.) It takes two cement jobs to seal the well. One inside the well casing and the other between the casing and the well bore itself. Halliburton, the contractor in charge of the cementing had recommended a certain number of centering devices to ensure that the casing was centered in the well bore. I don't remember the exact number recommended, but it was on the order of 24. BP chose to use about half this number. Some of the testimony seems to indicate that a larger number had been ordered, but some of the parts delivered were not the correct size for the job and BP chose to move ahead rather than wait.

Given the actions and decisions made by BP what has and is happening is no surprise. Since BP has already fully demonstrated their lack of competence I am surprised the the Federal Government has allowed them to continue to try to control the well. It is well past the time to call upon the expertise of the International Oil Exploration and Production Community to use the best possible methods for brining this well under control.

Since this is not an accident and was caused by the negligence of BP the legislated 75 million dollar liability cap should not apply. Given that the costs of trying to mitigate this negligence is close to 1 billion dollars and may possibly rise to 100 billion dollars or more, I would seriously consider selling BP stock if I owned any. I don't.

Bob Holmes

I have not followed it but I would not be astonished if BP stock is down now. The market will decide such matters. It does appear that the regulatory agencies were not as conscientious as I would have thought. I also thought the platform operator captain would have had final authority over operations safety, but the stories I have heard say that BP over-ruled the platform's skipper and operators about the procedure for shutting down the well.

We are now down to damage control and containment. That means that there are no plans, no expert opinions; there is in fact nothing. No one seems to know what is going on now. They plan to cut the pipe which will increase flow, but perhaps make it easier to cap the pipe.

It does not appear to me that they know what to do next, and are trying whatever they can think of.

I am presuming that the concern is shutting this down, not in recovering the oil.


Letter from England

I'm watching things happen with the capital gains tax increase: <http://tinyurl.com/33w7me7>  <http://tinyurl.com/36vryh3

Royal Society accepts climate change skepticism: <http://tinyurl.com/2d5u77o

Creativity and schizophrenia: <http://tinyurl.com/36vhgwf

Graduates gloomy: <http://tinyurl.com/32zft5g

Problems with the UK welfare system: <http://tinyurl.com/37jeya2

Classified MoD study on Iraq planning: <http://tinyurl.com/36drfj5

Shoot to kill cases in Northern Ireland to be made public: <http://tinyurl.com/2vufj3k

Introduction of the Digital Economy Act: <http://tinyurl.com/33czzfj

-- Harry Erwin, PhD See <http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=974



The worse (if not worst) is yet to come:


LONDON - A second, much larger volcano in Iceland is showing signs that it may be about to erupt, scientists have warned.

Since the start of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, which caused cancellations of thousands of flights in Europe because of a giant ash cloud, there has been much speculation about neighboring Katla. <snip>

Earlier reports suggested that a Katla eruption will be several times worse for air travel than Eyjafjallajokull has been.


A boon for virtual travel?


Self Publishing now available on the iBookStore

I think this is tremendously important and will be very good for the authors of the world.

It will also produce a storm of criticism and opposition, justified or not.

iBookstore now allows individuals to submit their e-books

by Dan Moren

A huge number of people think they might write a book some day—back in 2002, a survey pegged it at 81 percent of Americans <http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/28/opinion/think-you-have-a-book-in-you-think-again.html> . But what happens after you’ve managed to pen your 200,000 word epic on love and loss in feudal Europe—with vampires, naturally—but still can’t get a bite from a publisher? Well, now EuroVamp 3000 can line the virtual shelves of the iBookstore, right alongside the likes of Stephen King and Robert Parker, as Apple has opened up the ability to submit your own e-book directly to the iBookstore <http://itunes.com/sellyourbooks> .




ice age- Unscientific American

Jerry P:

Friday's letters included one from George commenting upon the Scientific American and the claim that farmers growing rice in Southeast Asia caused, or at least contributed to the warming etc. When I read that I immediately understood their error. And it is an error in application of the scientific method, which is the definition of science. There is correlation between the end of the last ice age, but no causation has been established. When the climate warmed, then it was possible for farming in regions that did not allow crops to be grown prior to that time. This is true but it is only the butterfly effect people who will try to establish causation; that the farmers caused the end of the ice age. I remember a small lecture where a climate researcher from a well known university in our common state, could not understand that while gas bubbles in glacial ice from Greenland could yield some information on CO2, it could not yield information on atmospheric water vapor which is a much greater greenhouse gas than CO2. The water vapor condenses and forms ice, which in turn traps bubbles of atmospheric gas. Causation, not likely in either case, but if you are a true believer, all roads lead to AGW.


We really don't know the mechanisms of warming, but then we don't really understand why things cooled. I would have thought that El Nino, which changed the surface temperature of the ocean, would have a big effect on global temperature (as it certainly does on rainfall patterns); but we don't know what causes El Nino or how to predict it from the previous patterns.


Subject: We're All Swedes Now: How the world caught up with Stieg Larsson

"With the U.S. release this week of the final instalment of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, the English-speaking world is again given a chance to indulge in a view of Scandinavia that is entirely dystopian. In Larsson's Sweden, the police are useless where they are not corrupt; the countryside is full of violent drug dealers; the rich are utterly unprincipled. It sounds like Mexico in the snow. This is no longer a clean, well-lighted place for Volvo owners. What went wrong?"



I would not think that Larsen's books are an accurate picture of the nation. I began but have not yet finished the second book of the series. I cannot say I am all that fond of the leading characters. In the first I was intrigued by the mystery, but nothing in the second seems to be holding my interest.




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Tuesday,  June 1, 2010

BP in the Gulf


There are reports on the net that the contractors were so unhappy about the cement seal that they were putting in for BP that they refused to stay on the rig and actually had one of their own helicopters fly them off. Schlumberger, (pronounced slumber-jay), have a high reputation and would not have wanted to be associated with a "flank speed and damn the torpedoes" approach to something that might be a disaster. Some oil companies have a policy that any crew member can call stop and work stops while an investigation is made. In the BP case this might have led to the following; "STOP this BOP, (blow-out preventer), which we are about to install under a mile of seawater does not match the drawing we have. STOP. one bank of the BOP's batteries are dead. The other bank looks ok, but have they just been charged and will they stay charged? I want both banks replaced. STOP. Do not pump out the heavy and expensive drilling mud the casing pipe is not adequately sealed and may not resist the pressure of the oil.

If the Schlumberger rumour is correct, and their crew will be giving evidence under penalty of perjury it will finish BP. Never mind the $75 million liability cap. This is egregious gross negligence. Even if the ambulance chasers are not allowed to make ludicrous claims the economic loss must already exceed the company's assets.

A personal friend and lifetime oilman arrived at a rig in the North Sea and was so alarmed at what he found that he went straight to the rig superintendent.. On voicing his concerns the superintendent said that "I am the hardest (expletive deleted) in the whole of the (expletive deleted) North Sea. We are here to make hole, nothing else, so do your (expletive deleted) job. Luckily part of my friend's job was to organise personnel transport, so he ordered himself a helicopter and left immediately. On getting home he emailed the company outlining the reasons for his belief that the entire rig was liable to actually fall over with the data that led to this conclusion .The company did not reply. Incidentally, the rig was owned by a prominent American family who are major figures in oil and in politics.

Safety can be overdone. A brand new rig in the North Sea, although fully crewed, and seemingly ready for work was not signed off by the UK government's inspector until the missing table tennis table had been specially flown out. I ask you. A ping-pong table. On the other hand if you think safety is expensive, cost your last accident.

I really must stop sending you rants..

John Edwards

I don't mind rants, so long as they are properly labeled. I do want to keep rumor separate from data. My impression is that BP has often taken risks that others would not take. I have read press stories to the effect that the captain of the rig did not want to remove the mud before plugging the pipe, but was overruled by BP; I have trouble understanding that since I thought those were legally "ships" and the captain was in the last analysis responsible for safety decisions.

I am sure it will all come out over time. It does seem that BP is in existence trouble; but we will see. The Administration says it has its boot on BP's neck, but I am not sure what that means either. See today's view; this is another of those "We take risks -- if we win I keep the money and if we lose you get to pay the loss" operations so far as I can tell, and that doesn't sit well.

I wish I knew everything...


Conspiracy theorist alleges Phobos is an alien spacecraft.


-- Roland Dobbins

We can all hope that it is, but I suspect it won't turn out to be. Keep watching the skies!


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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I asked Joel Rosenberg for his thoughts on the Israeli blockade fiasco.

Re: The latest disaster

I'm almost glad I didn't have the chance to comment last night; you covered most of the points I was going to make. Legally, I don’t think there’s any issue – the special “Illegal for Israel Only” rules are a political fiction, not a legal one.

I'm going to restrict myself to the areas where I think we disagree, at least a little.

Trading off an ongoing relationship with Turkey for letting these ships run the blockade would have been foolish . . . but as Turkey goes more and more Islamist, that relationship is deteriorating, anyway. I frame it a bit differently: is neutering the blockade worth preventing a decrease in the slope of the deteriorating relationship? I guess we’ll still see – Turkey is announcing that there will be further attempts.

(This fiasco does, again, point to the cost of Camp David, although not a major one. Turkey is where the IAF has been conducting air combat practice, the Sinai long not having been available for that, for oil, or as a buffer zone. I don’t really think that Gazans would be digging hundred-mile smuggling tunnels. Yes, there were benefits; the cold peace with Egypt and the US aid per the agreement; the latter a very mixed bag. I’ll get back to that some other time. Short form: I think the Israeli dependence on the US is in neither country’s interest, and I think the failure of Camp David demonstrates that.)

Let's start with the details, and maybe move up to some general observations.

Tactically, my thought was, well, huh? I'm trying to think what would happen if, say, a USCG commander sent his boarding party out to inspect a ship with paintball guns as their primary defensive weapons . . . other than him, at best, being transferred to some new post being in charge of the coastal defense of Hatton, North Dakota. (There’s a reason for the forms and courtesies of such things – like, say, the warning shot across the bow.)

I'm guessing that about the same thing is not going to happen to the designated IDF scapegoat; Barak and Netanyahu will take the heat. As they should.

Strategically: the blockade doesn't, as everybody knows, prevent weapons from coming into Gaza; it does, though, limit them, as well as all sorts of dual-use materials. (Concrete and steel can be used to build fuhrerbunkers as well as sewers; Hamas has demonstrated that its priority is the former, not the latter. Well, they were democratically elected, kinda; who am I to suggest that they should not receive the benefits of that choice?) To know whether or not it's worth it, we'd have to know the benefits, as well as the cost, and we don't. How many missiles, say, are being smuggled in through the tunnels? Would significantly more (and more accurate and long-range) be coming in -- and launched -- if the blockade was suspended? I don't know, you don't know, and the residents of Ashdod and Ashkelon don't, either -- but their votes count, and ours don't.

Militarily, a blockade is, by itself, a compromise (see, for example, the Cuban Missile Crisis, where it kinda sorta worked – and was a compromise from OPLAN 312/316) when it’s not a preparatory step for an attack (if Athens hadn’t surrendered to the blockade during the Peloponnesian War, for example).

Me, I'm not a fan of it as a way to maintain stasis. I think that the only thing that can, reliably, in the medium or long run, stop the Hamas (or Hezbollah) missiles is counterbattery fire or major punitive actions; we've discussed this before, and it hasn't changed. The only effective countermeasure to the deployment of human body armor is to ignore the human body armor, not to get more and more clever trying to defeat it. You remember, I’m sure, the tape from Cast Lead, where the Hamas activists would grab other folks’ kids when running around, to avoid being targeted. Refuse to target hospitals, and they put command and control in the hospitals. They’ve learned well since Arafat used to set up artillery positions next to schools in South Lebanon. Arafat was, comparitively, a piker.

That Israel was going to lose the CNN narrative was a done deal, even before the IHH sent the flotilla on its way with the gentle cries of "Khaibar, Khaibar ya Yahud Jaysh Muhammed Safayood" (trans., apparently: “Would you please be kind enough, Muhammed, to pass the seafood?”), and the announcement by some of the “peace activists” that they planned to either run the blockade or “achieve martyrdom.”

The one counterexample I can think of is from the 2000 Ramallah lynching, and that only “won” Israel the narrative temporarily, and then only because an Italian journalist happened to catch one of the killers, literally red-handed, on tape, without the tape being confiscated. Kind of a high price to pay, all in all, for a few inches of ink and some handwringing.

The one middle-term strategic conclusion I can draw from this is that, like Oslo/Madrid/Camp David/the Lebanon withdrawal/the Gaza withdrawal, etc., is that no compromise by Israel goes unpunished. The only sensible strategy for Israel, at this point, is to put off further compromises as long as possible, hoping for a new Administration that’s far more like Bush 43 than the present, Bush-41-like administration.

The only sensible strategy for the US, at this point, is to focus intently on minutia – maybe trying to get Hamas agree to a bag limit for Jewish schoolchildren, while engaging Israel intensely on required square footage for bomb shelters in new construction in Jerusalem – because the real resolutions are distasteful, and the two-state solution a fantasy.

In terms of the Arabs of Gaza, Judea, and Samaria, and the Jews and Arabs of Israel, the only viable peace plan is, and remains, victory – either their unambiguous one, or Israel’s. And the path to that runs, however circuitously, either through Khaybar or the Grave of a Hundred Head.

Or, for that matter, both, if Tehran launches first.

Joel Rosenberg

I'm not sure we disagree on much, but that's partly because I no longer think I know much about the situation. As I said yesterday, I'm only running for my reputation. The Israeli decision makers have heavier stakes.

I once thought that Israel ought to "simply build a fence enclosing the parts of Judea and Samaria that they want, and retire to the other side after making it clear that recognizing Palestine as a State did not mean they would t0lerate acts of war from the other side of the fence." That would end the settlements dispute since there wouldn't be any new settlements, and the 0nes Israel was keeping would be on the Israeli side of the fence. They should pay compensation to the owners of the territories seized, and abandon all settlements on the far side of the fence.

I said "Simply" knowing full well there was nothing simple about that policy. It would be complex, and both politically and strategically difficult.

Like many Americans I cheered the Camp David agreements. They did, after all, produce the tranquil period during which I went to Israel and toured from Jerusalem to Jericho, visited Bethany, motored up the Jordan Valley, and in fact produced some reports pretty critical of the way Israel was treating Palestinians, particularly Christians. In those days I thought I knew something about the situation, and I did know more than most Americans. I had studied in advance of the trip, and I knew what I was looking for. Interestingly, President Ezer Weizman agreed with many of my conclusions. It looked as if we might be headed for an era of peace, and that the peace process might work. My friends at Commentary disagreed, of course.

That failed. Israel abandoned Gaza, but continued the blockade. That failed.

I am very glad I do not have to make decisions for Israel.

The Grave of the Hundred Heads has come up in our discussions before.


The purpose of laws and regulation

Hello Jerry,

The following was the 'Quote of the Day' from 'DownsizeDC.com':

"Quote of the Day: "It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow." -- James Madison (1751-1836), Father of the Constitution, 4th US President, Source: "Federalist" # 62 <https://secure.downsizedc.org/etp/campaigns/105>  "

Our current rulers understand those principles well and are expanding the volume of the laws and regulations as rapidly as they are able, while at the same time ensuring that NO ONE understands them. Or CAN understand them. That policy, combined with the time honored principle that 'Ignorance of the law is no excuse.' has already given them near absolute, and more importantly, arbitrary power. Add the upcoming energy law that will give them regulatory authority over every activity that either produces or consumes energy and we will find ourselves in the situation where everything not commanded is forbidden. Which was the object all along.

Bob Ludwick

It certainly appears that way sometimes. Perhaps incompetence, perhaps Iron Law, but we do seem to be approaching that point.


Copyright suit against US Goverment

From Ansible 275:

“J. NEIL SCHULMAN, whose 1979 sf novel _Alongside Night_ features 'the collapse of the American economy due to massive government overspending', announced on 21 May that he plans a copyright infringement suit against the US government for stealing his plot points and using them in real life. Co-defendants will include the Federal Reserve Bank, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, General Motors, and the country of Greece. Sample smoking gun: 'I have Europe issue a common currency in my novel called the "eurofranc" -- the European Union then goes and issues the "euro".'”


The Navy is an organization designed by geniuses for execution by idiots.

-Herman Wouk

The Caine Mutiny

I think we have noted this before, and that I recommended Alongside Night some years ago. (Actually I made some editorial suggestions to Neil before he published it).  It's still worth reading.


Red Light Cameras

Between June 1, 2009 and January 10, 2010, the city of Lakeland, Florida, took in over $1.5 million from red light camera fines, which it shares with the Arizona based camera operator. There are no courts used, a magistrate administers disputed fines, and the camera doesn't lie, even when it does. Citations are mailed out several days after the fact to the registered owner of the vehicle according to the license tag. The first two are $125, on the third it doubles to $250. If one wishes to question the citation, it amounts to viewing a video tape with the magistrate and confirming the registration of the vehicle.

If one stops just beyond the line, still well out of the flow of traffic and not yet within the crosswalk, one ran the redlight, and pays the fine. If one is making a right turn, which is legal unless specifically marked otherwise in this state, and one stops beyond the line, still well out of the flow of traffic, in order to see oncoming traffic because the other cars stopped at the light are no longer in one's line of vision, one ran the light and pays the fine.

The vast majority of the citations issued are the right-on-red variety. Interestingly enough, 6 eye witnesses, including two reporters with video tape backup, asked to see the Arizona camera operator's records regarding a number of city vehicles failing to stop for right turns on red on two different dates. No such records could be produced by the company, and even though the private video tape was irrefutable, no further action was taken by the city.

If I stop behind the line, then move forward to see any oncoming traffic in order to make a legal right turn on red and then stop again to observe traffic, did I run the light? I can't argue my case in court, because no court is used.

I don't drive in Lakeland much.

A lady was issued a citation for running a red light in Lakeland, but the vehicle in question was parked at Disney World outside Orlando at the time of the violation and well into the evening, verified by a parking receipt and multiple witnesses. Evidently the technology needs a little work.

Now we have a state law authorizing red light cameras. I'm glad my home town has only one full-time red light. I can dodge it no matter where I need to go.


They are great revenue sources... The Iron Law sees to the rest.


In response to your question of why the Master does not have final say on the drilling vessels, it is because the foreign drill rig does not have to meet US crewing requirements. Once a vessel starts drilling there are at least 2 bosses the Master who is in charge of the ship and the Offshore Installation Manager (OIM), who is the drilling supervisor. Only US flagged drill ship/rig make the Master the OIM. Since there are 2 US flagged drill ships/rigs the Glomar Explorer and the Q4000. The Q4000 is the small MODU that is doing top kill/top hat work and is not a drilling rig but a workover/construction rig and the Glomar Explorer is the vessel that mined manganese nodules. There are no foreign flagged vessels that the Master is the OIM.

The problem at Transocean is that it does not have a marine department shore side so if they have any complaints they have to go through the drilling department.


JJ League

Interesting. There do seem to have been warnings about the BP decisions on frugality over safety. They were ignored.


the Iron Law as a WEAPON?


For your reading...

Fascinating. Just fascinating.

cheerfully, Dr Bill









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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dr. Pournelle,

Currently, whether or not a financial instrument is a security is basically a jurisdictional issue. Federal securities laws give aggrieved investors very powerful remedies. However, the laws only apply to "securities." And so it is unlikely that Congress, the SEC, or the courts will deem financial derivatives not to be "securities."

Hope this helps clear things up.

David Carlson


First, GM; then, healthcare; now the Feds want to take over the press.

The writer totally misses the point that once government are funding the press, government *control* the press:


--- Roland Dobbins

Who pays the piper calls the tune. But we seem to have forgotten.


Did I mention...

Dr. Pournelle:

Did I mention that, as a contractor back in the 90s I wrote the technical (mostly Operation) manuals for the RBS8D (later named Deepwater Horizon)? I also wrote the manual for her sister vessel, the RBS8M (later Deepwater Nautilus). The 8M was nearly identical, except that it lacked dynamic positioning and had chain lockers. The “8” stood for the depth it would drill, 8,000 feet. Both projects (the 8M actually came first) were originally designed to drill in up to 6,000 feet of water.

I was a contractor for R&B Falcon, aka RBF (a merger between Reading and Bates and Falcon Drilling) from 1997 to the end of 1999. I also wrote the manual for the Q4000 mentioned by JJ League.

He’s right. I have friends at Transocean, and their setup is the same as RBF’s back in the day. Complaints all go through the drilling department. Back in the 90s there was RBF Drilling and RBF Marine. Drilling handled day-to-day operations and Marine handled rig/semi/drillship design and construction.

This episode leaves me with a heavy heart. I didn’t know any of the crew who died, but I had an actual attachment to this vessel. I’d been involved with that project from the design phase through the construction phase. The semisubmersible was state-of-the-art in 1997, and still when first used in 2001. I wonder how much of the original equipment was still aboard. Properly maintained diesel-generator sets will last for decades (even in a maritime environment), but other equipment won’t.

What surprises me about the aftermath of this spill is why we don’t have more drillships, floating production systems, and tankers on site trying to remove the oil. Booms and dispersant only go so far.

Hey, have fun in Charlotte! My wife and I are driving from Houston to New York City this coming weekend, and will actually be in North Carolina on the 6th, but not until the evening (and we’ll be staying in the Smoky Mountains). Two weeks without a computer and with little telephone contact. I’m REALLY looking forward to this!


Bill Kelly

Houston, TX


Oil Well, Israeli Fiasco


Thank you for posting the notice on the death of Jeanne Robinson. While I enjoyed Spyder's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon stories, I've not been read much of his more recent works and was unaware of his wife's terminal illness.

I have to comment on the oil well incident which as you note isn't a catastrophe. Although I'm not a petroleum engineer, I learned a little bit about the field while tutoring PE major's at New Mexico Tech. The bottom line is that the current operation to cut the riser pipe from the well head so that a second blow out preventer and other equipment can be installed is STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE!!! Unless this procedure had to be delayed until the needed equipment was available (extremely improbable), it is difficult to understand why so much time was wasted on other efforts that were obviously of dubious effectiveness at best. The only explaination that makes sense to me is that the Obama administration refused BP permission to perform this operation.

One can only speculate on why the Obama administration refused BP permission to cut the riser pipe free so that a new blow out preventer could be installed. It could be the result of profound ignorance. The fact that the Obama Administration has actually sought the advice of James Cameron because he directed movies such as TITANIC and THE ABYS that depicted underwater operations certainly suggests a certain level of stupidity. The repeated comments by the administration that they are "KEEPING THEIR FOOT ON BP'S THROAT" suggests a level of hostility that might motivate them to reject or not even seek the advice of experts in petroleum engineering. However; I'm compelled to speculate that perhaps Obama is implementing the advice of his chief of staff Rahm Emanual who believes that one shouldn't allow a crisis to go to waste. The fact that Obama has been exploiting the oil well blow out to advance his political agenda of Carbon taxes and "green energy" is certainly consistant with this theorey. If Obama has purposely obstructed effortst to mitigate the damage from this oil well blow out so that he can exploit it for his political purposes, then he should be impeached for crimes against the environment.

Finally; the Wall Street Journal article on Israel was very insightful. This operation certainly made no sense from a military perspective. The US Coast Guard certainly wouldn't attempt to board a ship that had refused orders to stop without first disabling its engines with gun fire (I'd recommend about 30 mm against ships this size). If that level of force was needed to stop the ship, the boarding party would have been large and heavily armed and eager to pull the trigger. Overtly inserting a team on to the ship one at a time from a hovering helicopter ensured that they would be vulnerable. Arming them with paint ball guns was tantamount to giving them a death sentence. It is fortunate for the Isreali government that none of their troops died in this fiasco. The probable consequences of this failure is that Israeli will be forced to lift its blockade of Gaza. While few if any weapons will be found on the ships in the peace flotilla, the numerous ships that will dock at Gaza after the blockade has been lifted will be laden with hundreds of tons of weapons. I suspect that the weaponry will include rockets with chemical warheads. Once Iran detonates a nuclear weapon, the Gazans will be given the green light to launch an offensive.


Jim Crawford

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained...


Subj: FedGov institutionalizing "White Graft"

Herman Kahn used to distinguish between "Black Graft" and "White Graft".

"Black Graft" is paying an official either to do something he is not supposed to do or not to do something he is supposed to do.

"White Graft" is paying an official to do expeditiously something he is supposed to do anyway.

The Passport Office has offered expedited processing at extra cost for some time. An article in today's Wall Street Journal say the Patent Office is now proposing to do the same.

Another barrier to entry for small would-be competitors to large corporations, of course.

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Re: Phobos

It may be unlikely to be an alien spaceship, yet ESA's website confirms that Phobos' mass is 1/3 too small for a rock of its volume.

Which yields only one conclusion: it isn't completely made of rock, there's something lighter inside.

It may be 1/3 hollow, but it might also be made of a lot more of something else, like water.

A really big chunk of ice in low Mars orbit would be far less dramatic than an alien spaceship, but it would still be a true gift from the gods.

The Russian Phobos-Grunt lander and sample return mission (re-)scheduled for next year with a 2012 landing will hopefully tell us more.

One last thing intrigues me: when you look at Phobos' pictures, many craters don't seem to have rims and look more like simple depressions.

Jean-Louis Beaufils

I wait with abated breath. Of course we'd love for it to be aliens. on the other hand there are more things in heaven and earth...


The Gusher in the Gulf

Dear Jerry,

Your readers are some of the most intelligent people on the planet. Why don't you host a forum / contest for ideas of how to stop the "Gusher in the Gulf"? I'm confident that your readership includes BP insiders who could act on anything promising. And BP is already requesting suggestions from the public on their web site ("Do you have ideas to help us?: +1 281 366 5511")

I presume the obvious approach to simply pinch the pipe shut with a red-hot vise had some shortcomings, but perhaps the very methane clathrate formation which apparently led to the failure of BP's initial 125-ton cap on May 8th (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane_clathrate) could be encouraged to form a natural seal? I have no idea what the temperature of the emerging crude is - presumably hot enough to blowtorch its way through methane clathrate - but would it be possible to freeze the oil with liquid nitrogen long enough to create a methane icecap over the entire blown-out header? The pressure and temperature at that depth should maintain the clathrate cap which in turn would keep the frozen oil plug chilled enough for equilibrium.

Given the lengths to which oilmen normally have to go to prevent methane clathrate buildup I suspect sufficient raw material could be gathered for the attempt, even if an initial cylinder had to be formed around the entire broken riser then collapsed atop it to seed the dome formation. Perhaps there might even be a nearby natural outcropping of the stuff which could be bulldozed into place?

This is wild speculation of course. Were you positing such an approach in a novel you'd have done enough research to determine its feasibility before proposing it. But experts in the field may be inspired by "outside the box" notions should this latest attempt to cut and cap fail.


David Huber Orlando, FL

We certainly have a good readership and I expect we have a channel to BP; but whether "ideas" are needed is not so clear. I am more concerned with what to do for the future. Not that the gusher isn't serious enough now, but there can be another.



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Friday,  June 4, 2010

BP well

Jerry P:

In passing I wonder why BP did not just drop a deep well pump, REDA comes to mind, to suck up the leaking oil as well as some sea water? It would possibly not capture all the leaking oil but would mitigate a lot of the damage caused by the huge amount of oil. It seems that the technical side of the solution has been missing somewhere.


Outside my area of confident knowledge. My guess is that the sheer volume is overwhelming. Still, some kind of big ship rigged with a centrifuge might do it.


'Those of you reading this blog are already savvy enough to find and download any content you want for free. But I'll bet the average 40-something user of the Internet still wouldn't know how to search the Internet for criminally free content.'

I disagree with Scott Adams' contention that author-as-profession will go away, but he does make some interesting points:


The hardware Kindle, followed by the Kindle App for iPhone and now iPad, has greatly increased the amount of money I spend on books - and I was already spending more individually than most households, each year. Most people in Western societies - Asia is quite another matter - will, once they reach some semblance of adulthood (which in itself is a huge problem), be willing to pay what they perceive as a fair price for books, movies, music, & TV programs, as long as doing so legally isn't onerous.

- Roland Dobbins

An important issue. The iPad has made eBooks a pleasant experience with few inconveniences and many conveniences. The game is changing.




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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Colonel Couvillon reminds us of an eternal truth:


Mr. Rosenberg writes, "In terms of the Arabs of Gaza, Judea, and Samaria, and the Jews and Arabs of Israel, the only viable peace plan is, and remains, victory – either their unambiguous one, or Israel’s. And the path to that runs, however circuitously, either through Khaybar or the Grave of a Hundred Head."

I remind you of Couv's Aphorism (so named because I hear no one else trumpeting this basic truth): No country has a right to exist except that which it enforces by persuasion, diplomacy, trickery, or force of arms. Of the four, force of arms trumps all.

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



Regarding the bubble: I'm not sure that I understood all the details at the time, but it was anticipated during many conversations with Mike Lalor in the late 1990s, before events forced us to curtail our conversations a few years before his death. His "money" line, though, was memorable; of the 2000 election, he said (ok, somewhat paraphrased), "I almost hope Gore is elected. If he's President while this all collapses, the Democrats won't be able to hold the White House for the next fifty years." As you can see, he tended to blame long-term Democratic activity rather than the Bush White House and the Republicans -- though they certainly didn't do anything to stop it, they may have delayed the collapse for a couple of years.

I still tend to believe that their attitude was sort of ... "It's 2002...we have to spend to limit the recession after 9-11. It's 2004...we need to put the brakes on but there is an election coming up and we can't afford allowing Kerry to wind because of a slight economic turndown. It's 2005...you know, this spending is fun. It's 2006...we need to put the brakes on now but it's too late, we've already lost the base, and besides, Frank, Dodd, and Obama are still blocking us."



Once Newt was out the Creeps took over, and the result was forseeable.


A diversion: Stephen Hawking and space Christopher Columbus

On a much less dire matter than those usually covered by you (and also, not to quarrel with the thesis of Footfall and similar novels):

Stephen Hawking has warned of the probable bad consequences of our attracting a Columbus-like space alien through our CETI efforts. I wonder how likely it really would be to have an armada of invaders show up on our shores? So far as I know even the estimable Dr. Hawking has not been able to disprove the special theory of relativity, so he must believe aliens would have to obey the speed limit on their way here. Of more import, at velocities anywhere near the speed of light, mass becomes exhorbitantly expensive to ship. I suppose a truly ill-willed race could aim a death beam of some sort at us or perhaps at our sun, but even then the energy requirements of sending such a powerful beam, say, 100 light years would surely make it prohibitively expensive -- and to what benefit for them? (Eliminate possible future competition from humans, I suppose?) Earthlings are justifiably proud of our wits (at least when used well) and, almost perversely, of our industrious nature, which has many imagining we are heating up our very own world -- no small accomplishment, that! Yet humans cannot seem to afford sending explorers to planets even a few light-minutes away, much less a hundred or two light years; at best we manage a few robots to nearby spots. It isn't easy; failures are common.

I cannot help thinking the same constraints would apply to aliens. The energy needed to send Columbus across space in any reasonable time frame -- a thousand years each way? -- would be hugely costly. An armada even more so. A vast fleet of colonists such as came to the New World -- vastly more so yet. Think of the quadrillions of dollar/euro equivalents to send a couple aliens here to investigate, abduct, insert anal probes. (Imagine doing the cost/benefit analysis on that one!) Surely, like us, the most they could do would be to launch robots -- likely the size of amoebas or bacteria so as to save mass. It would simply be far too expensive to steal our resources, or even harvest us for food ("To Serve Man") -- outside of pure malevolence of their part I just don't see much danger from any of our neighbors. Do you?

Paul Bunning

One assumes a generation ship -- the only feasible way we know of to cross interstellar space -- is carrying colonists. What they will think of natives when they arrive is not obvious. They will have come a long way, and presumably for the purpose of settling...


Subj: Modes of Alien Invasion: Fred Hoyle's "A for Andromeda" scenario

Why should the Alien Invaders bother to come here physically, when they can easily trick us into building the invasion force ourselves, right here, by following the plans they send us by radio?

Reminds me of Vernor Vinge's _A Fire Upon The Deep_, in which ancient Archives contain Things that promise Wonderful Treasure, if only some naive race will follow the Recipes...

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Re: carriers & submarines

Last Sunday you posted Jean-Louis Beaufils's observations about the technical needs for aircraft carrier based observation methods to support submarines attacking ships. Some of that wasn't quite accurate.

Although sonar is itself only short range, a sonar system doesn't have to be, any more than the short radio range of a cell phone makes that short range; all it needs is the range to reach the rest of the system. That sort of system covered the gap between Iceland and Greenland to monitor Soviet submarines, and as far back as the 1960s helicopters were used to drop long lines of transmitting sonar buoys around ships' areas. Likewise, spread out hunting formations of submarines don't need outside guidance to their targets, only single submarines do - German U-boat "wolf packs" showed that in the Second World War.

Radar surveillance aircraft are indeed the most efficient way to detect and track ships, but that doesn't mean a dependence on aircraft carriers for two reasons:-

- Airships are aircraft too, and have enough endurance and range to be shore based. That, with their ability to carry sophisticated detectors inside the envelope, is why blimps were used for that as late as the the 1960s. One of those held the distance record for a long time, after a triangular journey across the Atlantic, down a lot of it, and back. And, of course, tethered aerostats and rotorcraft can give surface vessels' detectors a similar effective height; German U-boats used the latter in the Second World War. There has been recent research into very high altitude airships for this role, too.

- It is not true that spotter aircraft or drone launch and retrieval needs a flight deck. At least one technical solution was found by the USA as far back as the Second World War and was actually used at Okinawa, the Brodie Landing System that could be used on ordinary ships (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brodie_landing_system  or http://findarticles.com/p/articles
/mi_qa4442/is_200807/ai_n27899265 ). Also, forty odd years ago Australia developed a way of retrieving drones with a net carried by a similar cable, and more has been done along those lines since then.

So we cannot conclude with Jean-Louis Beaufils that "until someone invents a more efficient way than aircraft to provide firing solutions, carriers are here to stay", because that has already been done or at any rate the need for carriers has been worked around, more than one way.

Yours sincerely,



Gulf of Mexico: Worst Case Scenario 

For your readers’ alarm and consternation:



Ian Kirk

Oxford, England


Why is Israel pussyfooting around?

Hi Jerry

Perhaps, with your greater understanding of the political situation, you can answer a question regarding the Israel situation. First, the situation:

- As I understand it, Israel has declared a military blockade of Gaza. Israel is known to be a credible military power.

- Some ships declare their intent to violate the blockade. Unless these people are exceptionally stupid, they must know that Israel will enforce the blockade in one way or another.

- When Israel does enforce the blockade ==> regardless of how it is done <== Israel will be condemned.

Given this situation, my question: why did Israel pussyfoot around? Would it not have been better to:

1. Turn on the high-resolution video cameras (not the crappy stuff they did use), to document whole process.

2. Warn the ships off, with a shot across the bow of the lead ship.

3. When this was ignored, SINK the lead ship.

4. Then SINK any other ship that did not turn around and go home. The ships with hundreds of "innocent" passengers on board would probably not have been stupid enough to let it come to this. But if they did - well, that's what the video is for.

Since Israel did not do this, the next flotilla of blockade runners is already preparing. Just last night we saw coverage of a ship sailing from Ireland. Now Israel gets to do it all over again, and again, and again... This is going to be a lot more costly in money, lives and public opinion. A sharp, resolute response at the start would surely have worked better?

What am I missing?



Sinking them on the high seas would be a bit drastic, but disabling it by disabling the rudder would not be all that difficult or dangerous. But I don't know all the facts.

I do know that once you send in the commandos you can be sure they will not continue to fire paint gun  balls while their comrades are beaten with rods and knives.


Hawking & Aliens


I think of it this way:

1) We're new to the neighborhood. 2) We don't know our neighbors. 3) It's probably not *smart* to open the windows and crank the stereo at 2am our first night.

Regards, Bob Wakefield


Quantum Effects and the Universe


It might be time to reopen the discussions of Quantum Effects and what the Universe really looks like. Quantum Entanglement can lead one to believe that our rather limited 3D/4D view of the Universe causes us to miss what the Universe really is. After all, Entanglement can lead to the hypothesis that any point in the Universe can be adjacent to any other point. This can be used to explain the instantaneous state changes of the entangled parties without having to exceed the speed of light. Another possible, though somewhat more whimsical, explanation might be that time is stopped for the observer for the time it takes to transmit the state change at the speed of light.

We don't really know enough to be able to say that it would take many hundreds of years for an alien race to travel from their planet to ours.

Bob Holmes


Aliens - for Mr. Bunning

They may not have that far to go!


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


Subj: First Falcon-9 carries Dragon qualification unit to orbit


The next Falcon-9 should carry the first full-up cargo-configured Dragon.


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Subj: Falcon-9 <-> Soyuz <-> Shuttle comparison


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com



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Sunday,  June 6, 2010     

Gulf Oil Problem -- two other leaks


It seems that neither BP nor the US Govt are telling the complete truth about the oil leakage in the Gulf.

According to this item, there are two other leaks created by the explosion:

Sensational Claims By Matt Simmons About The BP Leak <http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/05/

I have not had time to look at any of this. We're on the way out of Carolina.


Life on Titan?!


---- Roland Dobbins










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