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Monday  June 21, 2010

Subj: What Relief Wells Are Not

The idea of a relief well is not to drain the whole pool, it's just to intersect the original well bore and inject cement to plug it.


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Oil Mistakes

No, the relief wells are not to drain the field. They are to intersect the present well and plug it. The field would take at least years to drain as it seems rather productive.

I think there would not be oil IN the water except for the dispersants. The oil would pop to the surface and should be skimmed off before it reached the land, like they did in Arabia.

I think waiting for the oil to hit land and then cleaning it will not work in many places, no matter how hard we kick BP to do it.

Why didn't we use the giant Arabian skimmers. I believe the Admiral said he desperately needed more skimmers but would not request the Arabian ones. I believe they were offered. This is one thing Obama could have done.




The purpose of the two relief wells being drilled by BP in the current instance is not to "suck up the oil," but to intersect the blown out well so that it can be sealed. Of course, none of this woul have been necessary if normal precautions had been taken and a second cement job had been done.

It is interesting how taking shortcuts to save ten to twenty million dollars have ended up costing eleven lives and around $60,000,000,000.

Bob Holmes

Sent from my iPad

I must not have been very clear, since I always knew this, but it's well to get the record straight. Of course relief wells do produce oil, but that's not their purpose.

I have no expertise on the desirability of detergents. I would think that letting it float and burning off what you can't scoop up would be proper, but I sure wouldn't weigh my opinion very heavily.


Letter from England

A discussion of virtue. Some of us are not who we want to be and find the process of becoming that effortful, requiring constant practice (of virtues). Most people around us, however, don't agree with the need and avoid the effort. For some around us, what they want to do is follow the rules well enough to be let alone, so all their effort goes into learning the rules. Once they've done that, they are--by definition--good enough, and they concern themselves with other things like football games and making money. For others, what they want to do is be themselves--for existentialists this is being authentic; for romantics this is being spontaneous; for emotivists this is doing things they like to do and not doing things they dislike; and for most people, this is a random mix of the foregoing. That seems to be the modern folk ethic, and results in such things as yobs burning cars in the local park and high levels of plagiarism in masters projects.

How does one teach that it is worthwhile putting effortful practice into becoming what one is not? How does one motivate the pursuit of virtues? We really don't want our lives to depend on the performance of people--e.g., airline pilots--who are trying to get by by doing as little as possible. We know that expertise in any field requires effortful study and that most people can't judge their level of competence. That means mentors and teachers are key to developing people good enough at what they do that we can eventually trust our lives to them. How do we do this, when most people in leadership positions in our society seem not to understand or care?

Your comments, please.

The news in England this week mostly involves the Bloody Sunday investigation, the World Cup and the emergency budget. A few stories:

New budget: <http://tinyurl.com/24hdbu7>  <http://tinyurl.com/3x3djht>  <http://tinyurl.com/33dod8k>  <http://tinyurl.com/34hlzf6>  <>

Bloody Sunday related stories: <http://tinyurl.com/2fo87uu>  <http://tinyurl.com/3a9wo42

Study finds performance of UK students doing the Honours degree in two years is better than those doing it in three. <http://tinyurl.com/37x9sy4>  Of course, a North American four year bachelors is made up of 15 contact hours and 25 independent study/lab hours a week for 144 weeks. I don't see that being compressible into two years.

-- "If academic research is not devoted to finding the truth, it is a form of propaganda, and not necessarily to be preferred to other forms, much cheaper and perhaps more persuasive." (Russell 1993) Harry Erwin

and see below


Will: An NCO recognizes a flawed Afghanistan strategy.

The most insane RoE restrictions I've heard of in any conflict, anywhere, anytime:


--- Roland Dobbins


"People just don't think about things moving faster than the speed of light. This is a completely wide open and unexplored field."


- Roland Dobbins




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Tuesday,  June 22, 2010


Dear Dr. Pournelle:

I continue to believe that the typical Democrat voter is not consciously malicious. Most are voting their pocketbooks rather than principles, but thatis not necessarily wrong.

Politicians on the other hand have no such excuse. Consistently voting for policies that are fated to cause misery, is malicious.

Honest Democrats, I have found, tend to fear big business more than they fear government. I think that is wrongheaded, given the history of the 20th century, but it isn't crazy. All of us have experience with business, as employees or customers, that causes us to distrust them.

Speaking broadly, Republicans and libertarians feel the opposite: that government is the bigger threat to our health, safety and wealth. That we continue to elect foxes to guard our hen-houses simply reinforces the point.

Is willful blindness malicious? At some point, yes.


Tom Bridgeland


unknown unknowns


Jerry: 1st part of what promises to be an interesting 5 part series. 'Incompetents don't know they're incompetent'


Chris C

It is also a good rule not to put too much confidence in experimental results until they have been confirmed by theory. Sir Arthur Eddington

Interesting beginning.


Pooling gulf oil


Re: the e-mail suggestion that other oil companies be allowed to drill relief wells.

I think it can be argued that once BP lost control of the oil, i.e., the leak, the pool became public property.

Russ Armstrong

-- "Crime Keeps on Falling, but Prisons Keep on Filling." ~ 1997 New York Times headline


Subj: War World and Hostigos live again!

Looks like John F. Carr is reviving two long-dormant franchises:



Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


What did they know, 

And when did they know it? At least ten years ago . . .



Many of us said much the same things in 1967. Ah well.


More on BP


More on the Deepwater Horizon. There is an admirable article on the technology behind the depwater debacle at:- http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6623#more

 Also there is very clear description of an oil drilling rig on Wikipedia. Other factoids include:- Obama's grandfather was tortured by the British in Kenya. In retrospect not a good move. NB this is not the same as Obama's treatment of the Afghans that Bush bought from rival tribesmen. Their obduracy in not providing actionable intelligence should have been recognised as a clue.

Only 65% of the rig was British the balance being owned by American partners. The American arm of BP paid $4.7Bn in tax last year, The British arm $1.7Bn. BP's largest group of shareholders is the 40% held by Americans.

This one will run and run.

John Edwards



Iron to be Dumped at Sea to Reduce Global Warming http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

It would seem that this is an experiment, but it appears to be pretty big. Of course, if a politician becomes enamored with this, we're in for it. They used to teach us about the dangers of tinkering with complex systems that we do not understand way back in elementary school, but apparently that is as passe as studying real economics these days.


Clay Booker

Similar experiments have been run before. It's pretty clear that there are ways to stimulate plankton blooms, thus fixing more Carbon from the CO2 in the atmosphere. If CO2 is a danger, the obvious thing to do is reduce the amount of it in the atmosphere.  ==========

On Harry Erwin's Discussion of Virtue


The Apostle Paul's warning to Timothy came to mind after reading the June 21st Letter from England:

"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves..." (II Timothy 3:1-2)

Paul's counsel is to turn away from those people. I think that includes a recognition that we can't force people to be good. The best we can do is be a good example. Or as the old saying goes, "if everyone sweeps his own doorstep, then the whole world is clean."



More sources on wealth in Agghanistan

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan

Dr. Pournelle --

This is bound to change the equation that is Afghanistan.


"The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/
afghanistan/index.html?inline=nyt-geo>  , far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials."

"The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/
/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier>  — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe."



"Admiral Guan was representing what all of us think about the United States in our hearts. It may not have been politically correct, but it wasn't an accident."


--- Roland Dobbins

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An foolish notion:
What airs in dress an gait wad lea'es us,
An ev'n devotion!


Drones over America - 


Unmanned aircraft have proved their usefulness and reliability in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now the pressure's on to allow them in the skies over the United States.

I am not certain I want "Homeland Security" to have any such, yet it also makes a certain amount of sense.

R, Rose

Red light cameras with Hellfire missiles...


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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gen McChrystal


I'm just cynical enough to think that McChrystal's words were carefully calculated to get him out of the position of CinC Afghanistan. Were I in charge with the current ROE, I'd work on a face-saving way out as well.

As for the president and the Jones Act, I am reminded of Spock's words in Wrath of Khan, "He is intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates 2-dementional thinking". Doubtless no one in the administration thought to waive it, just as no one thought to waive rules requiring fire extinguishers and flotation devices onboard other ships responding to the problem which kept US ships in port.

Best regards as always,



On Gen. McChrystal


My opinion is Gen McChrystal found himself in a can't win situation: the US military's strategy is counter insurgency which requires a very large commitment of troops over many years; his request for troops was only met by about half; and his civilian superiors don't know they don't know.

He is a very intelligent and dedicated general, and he took this path to be out of there without quitting himself.

Jim Dodd

Many hold that view. It's a way out of a situation in which he would have to pledge his word to be around for a decade, when he knew that the President won't do that.

Regarding the Jones Act, I don't have a better explanation.


declaring victory 


I said it a few years ago and it is time to say it again. It is time to declare victory and bring our people home. I do not say this lightly or imply that I am not serious about the nature of the conflict. Rather, I have felt for some time that our initial military objectives in the region were met, and we would see far better long-term gains with our weapons of mass Disney. We met our military objectives (toppled 2 govts, installed replacements that need to sink or swim on their own merits, and although we have destabilized a power balance between Iran and Iraq, we can "fix" that by formalizing a 10 year mutual defense agreement with Iraq and maintaining an advisory presence in the country to prove our intent to provide a real deterrent against aggression in the reasonable future. As for nation building and fixing (buying) what we broke, that is nonsense. The regimes in those countries attacked us or intentionally led us to believe that they were willing and capable to attack us, so we dismantled the regimes and replaced them. It is simply not our business to ensure that those regimes survive.

Lets pull out, ensure that everyone knows that we will react violently to any other nations who attack Iraq and Afghanistan while they rebuild their own governments under their own control (even if those govts are not friendly to us), and declare the victory that I honestly believe we have achieved. Those saying we would pull out in defeat have deliberately chosen to define the objectives in such a way as to ensure failure. Going into the mess, I knew damn well that our main goal needed to be to eliminate a threat to our country. We did that, in spades. The rest was western egotism in action. We need to step back, look at the reasons we went there, and measure our success or failure against those reasons. And damn it, we sure as hell met those objectives.

If we are going to leave in July, 2011, we may as well begin now. Or has Patraeus exacted new powers? Will we now begin to break things and kill people as we did in Iraq? COIN wasn't working. Patraeus breaks things and kills people. He has never accepted COIN with its rules of engagement. Moreover, COIN may well work -- if you give it enough time, blood, and treasure. We can question whether the US will ever commit that much time, blood, and treasure.

The surge worked in Iraq. More or less. It did so by breaking things and killing people, then moving in behind to rebuild what was broken and train the survivors. Will that happen in Afghanistan?

Of course Iraq is different in that it did have a strong central government -- Saddam. Nor is it over. The only part of Iraq that really works is the Kurdish area, and that's neither a separate nation nor has it really submitted to the Iraqi central government. We haven't seen the end of that game either.


Waiving the Jones Act.

No fewer than twelve nations along with the U.N. offered assistance to the U.S. following the blowout: Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, the Republic of Korea, Spain, and Sweden. It's not accurate to say that all were turned down, because some apparently received no answer at all.

The culprit here appears to be the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, AKA the Jones Act, which requires that all commercial vessels operating in U.S. waters be American-owned, constructed, and crewed. (A quick read of the act suggests that it was intended only in reference to merchant bottoms, but such laws usually are interpreted in the broadest manner possible.)

Both Dutch and Belgian companies experienced in oil spill cleanup offered their services only to be turned down. Using specialist vessels, the Belgians and Dutch could clean the spill in three to four months. Only a half-dozen such ships exist, none owned by U.S. companies.


President Obama had the opportunity to waive the Jones Act as President Bush did after Katrina.


Why didn't he?

Lawrence - getting heartily fed up...

But surely unionization of sea crews is far more important than just cleaning up the oil.


HP customer support

Hello Dr. Pournelle

You may have already seen this, Certainly you have felt this way, as has anyone who has ever had to call tech support.


Oh, and have a nice day.




It's official; they really WANT the gulf coastline destroyed.


NEW ORLEANS -- The federal government is shutting down the dredging that was being done to create protective sand berms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The berms are meant to protect the Louisiana coastline from oil. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has concerns about where the dredging is being done.<snip>



Electrifying the railroads


>>With an estimated total investment of $250-500 billion in inter-city railroad lines Non-Oil Transportation could supplant most inter-city truck freight and unspecified modal share of passenger service.<<

Not sure how reliable that figure is: the basis of the paper seems to be the currently fashionable Greenhouse Gas and Peak Oil panics:

>>The reference case ... showed a peak in oil at $350/barrel in 2011, which causes a 9% reduction in GDP. This dramatic decline in economic activity (a severe recession, borderline depression) reduces the price of oil to below $200/barrel due to demand falling faster than supply. This “cheap oil” results in the GDP rebounding by 2% (of the lost 9%) and prices above $200/barrel.<<

But even if it's low by a factor of two or three, switching to nuclear-powered long-distance freight transport, as well as battery-powered local transportation -- reserving domestic hydrocarbon fuels for aerospace -- looks quite feasible.

Consider the advantages of increasing employment in railroad construction, including electrification of existing tracks. Seems to me to go well with a program to quadruple or quintuple our current nuclear-electric generating capacity, preferably in the form of factory-built small-module reactors. A high-capacity electric power grid could share the railroad rights-of-way, and reactor farms could be conveniently distributed along that grid, clustered somewhat near population and industrial centers.

And, of course, given aerospace, shifting in due course to space-based solar becomes straightforward.

Oops! I almost forgot the eventual shift of space-launch to laser-boosted vehicles, further reducing the need for hydrocarbon fuels.

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


: Deepwater Horizon Hearings


Here is a link to transcripts of the Deep Water Horizon hearings.


This testimony is certainly far more informative than the reporting from news organizations.

James Crawford

It's pretty clear that they took chances I would not have approved. This was a very deep well, and we had the Mexican deepwater blowout as warning.


Retreating Glaciers, Plants, & Ancient Climate Change

Dr. Pournelle--



"For the third time in as many years, glaciologist Lonnie Thompson has returned from an Andean ice field in Peru with samples from beds of ancient plants exposed for the first time in perhaps as much as 6,500 years."

"Some of these sites contained thick, multiple layers of plant material and soil which might provide a chronology of when in the past this now high, cold, ice-covered locale harbored flourishing wetland bogs, an ecosystem requiring much warmer temperatures. "

Obviously these Andean glaciers have retreated drastically in the past.

Dr. Thompson has stated that the plants they have found emerging from the retreating glaciers appear to have been quickly frozen, suggesting a sudden change to a cold climate.


Fascinating. A confirmation of what history and common sense would suggest. Of course glaciation is more a function of rainfall than climate, and gross climate temperatures don't seem to be closely coupled with rainfall patterns. It takes heat to move water, and water has to move in order for glaciers to form; but it has to be cold enough that the snow or freezing rain doesn't melt but stays around to form a glacier...


Jones Act

The Jones Act only applies to vessels trading between US ports and not the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). If you do a bit of research you will see that almost every drilling vessel out there is foreign flagged but mostly US crewed and every construction vessel out there, except the Q4000, is foreign flagged and foreign crewed. The only vessels which are not foreign flagged would be the supply vessels and they do not have oil recovery capability, they supply the fuel and supplies to the rigs. So temporarily removing the Jones Act would provide little help. The fact that the specialized vessels were not used speaks more to BP’s response than the USCG or the Jones Act. BP is the responsible party or RP in the response. The USCG only oversees the response to ensure that it is done safely and as per the regulations. If BP wanted to bring in the vessels they could as they would not be trading only engaged in support, much the same as the construction vessels that the remotely operated vehicles (ROV)’s are deployed from, all of which are foreign flagged and foreign crewed and operate out of US ports.

Even if someone were to suggest that the Jones Act would prevent these vessels from coming to the GOM then the government frequently issues Jones Act waivers to foreign flagged vessels.



The Jones act applies to foreign vessels carrying cargo or otherwise operating port to port in the United States. Thus, a foreign flagged ship cannot carry cargo from Los Angeles to San Francisco or New York.

Apparently it has been interpreted to apply to operations that begin and end in the same port: such as fishing. Foreign fishing boats can't operate out of US ports.

It is my understanding that it is this interpretation that prevents oil cleanup operations by foreign flag vessels. I understand that the oil platforms are foreign flagged -- if this one had been US flag rather than Marshall Islands, the skipper of the platform would have been in charge, and it's possible that many of the risks demanded by BP would not have been taken -- but this is apparently due to exemptions granted in the past. How far past (Bush II, Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, or further back) isn't known to me.

I do know that Bush issued an exemption to the Jones Act after Katrina. Apparently it was thought necessary.


Heinlein archives online, but not for free. 


Just in case you didn't catch this in your perusal of Reason Magazine :-)


In what I think is a somewhat unusual move for scholarly archives (correct me if I'm mistaken), chunks of the Robert Heinlein archives <http://www.heinleinarchives.net/upload/index.php>  are purchasable online. (You can apply for a research grant <http://www.heinleinarchives.net/upload/index.php?_a=viewDoc&docId=6>  from them that might give you gratis access for specific purposes.)

The reason why they charge is given in a bracingly Heinleinian fashion in the FAQ <http://www.heinleinarchives.net/upload/index.php?_a=viewDoc&docId=6>  :

Why isn’t this free?

Short answer: TANSTAAFL

[end quote]



Antarctic glacier melt maybe 'not due to climate change' -

You’ve probably already seen this, but just in case you hadn’t…



Or it may be...  We don't seem to be sure.


A note about those relief wells....

Jerry --

Knowing your faithful readership, you've probably gotten this from several correspondents, but if not, it's a pretty darned amazing factoid.

The point of a relief well is not (as I also thought) to suck out all the oil and relieve the pressure that forces the oil out. Instead, they steer the relief well's bit so that it intersects the original well and then they pump special heavy mud through the relief well into the original well to block the flow of oil, and then they pump in cement (not sure if they mean "concrete" or something more like "epoxy") to seal the original well permanently. (Looks like it would also seal up the relief well, but I'm not sure about that.)

BP has a page explaining the process: http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?

I say "explaining" -- but they gloss over the bits that really impress and interest me. Like how in the heck they can maneuver the end of a mile long pipe so it goes through another mile of rock and hits a target that is about five inches wide? I'm enjoying pondering the possibilities before I do any actual research on answering that question. My favorite theory is a well-trained garden mole wearing a hard pressure suit equipped with an inertial tracking device. (Earthworms would be too slow, fitting a hard suit on a rabbit would be difficult because of the length and strength of the back legs, meerkats are too social and wouldn't work alone in a five-inch borehole, and prairie dogs and gophers don't dig deep enough. But maybe not a mole. I had a schnauzer once who would have relished the challenge.)

--Gary Pavek


A Starry Night Scavenger Hunt:


"Did you know that Van Gogh's painting Starry Night includes Comet Hale-Bopp? Hopefully not, because it doesn't. But the above image does. Although today's featured picture may appear at first glance to be a faithful digital reproduction of the original Starry Night, actually it is a modern rendition meant not only to honor one of the most famous paintings of the second millennium, but to act as a scavenger hunt. Can you find, in the above image, a comet, a spiral galaxy, an open star cluster, and a supernova remnant? Too easy? OK, then find, the rings of Supernova 1987A, the Eskimo Nebula, the Crab Nebula, Thor's Helmet, the Cartwheel Galaxy, and the Ant Nebula. Still too easy? Then please identify any more hidden images not mentioned here -- and there are several -- on APOD's main discussion board: Starship Asterisk. Finally, the collagist has graciously hidden APOD's 10th anniversary Vermeer photomontage to help honor APOD on its 15th anniversary tomorrow."

Nice image, too.



I would have fired General McChrystal

Dear Jerry:

A subscriber of yours since 1980, either via “Byte” or on-line.

I have to take exception to your View today that The President is wrong to fire General McChrystal. I am assuming that “Rolling Stone” reported what he said accurately – he hasn’t corrected that view and he did apologize.

If the General worked for me, and I run a global sales team, I would have fired him also. Not only for being stupid enough to talk to a “Rolling Stone” reporter, but for the complete contempt that he exhibited and expressed publicly for his management team. If someone working for me disliked my decisions and management style so much as to say it to a reporter in a publication, I would assume he would be happier working somewhere else and I would give him that opportunity.

I’m not going to comment in this email about our efforts or lack thereof in Afghanistan, that is an entirely different conversation.

Alex Thurber

Actually I don't believe I said whether I would have fired him or not had I been Obama. What I said was this wasn't anything like the MacArthur case where there was a fundamental difference in policy. I do believe that if Obama believes in the COIN strategy/policy he was better off with McChrystal than he will be with anyone else, but that raises the question of whether the nation has the determination and stamina to carry on COIN to its end -- and the ability to make Afghanis believe we will still be there in five years.

As to why senior staff were hanging out with Rolling Stone, I simply don't know. I would not have nor would I have encouraged it...







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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Two questions about textbooks for Calculus

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I have followed many of your recommendations for books to read and I hope you have a suggestion for this need. James, my son (in high school), loves physics and solving physics (mostly mechanics) problems. He says he does not like calculus, though he does get A's in it. I try to get him to think of the calculus problems as physics problems.

Do you know of a text that teaches calculus through physics?

A second request would be a text that teaches calculus through a historical perspective (how various aspects of calculus were derived). James doesn't like just memorizing theorems without knowing how and why they were derived.

Thanks and stay in good health!


Depends on how much he likes physics. The best introductory physics books are the three volumes of freshman physics published by Cal Tech as The Feynman Lectures.  Once you cotton on to how Feynman thinks -- and all bright kids do, Feynman liked teaching freshman physics -- it gets, if not easy -- real physics is never exactly easy -- but easier.

 There are two kinds of physics texts. One is "college physics" that uses algebra. The other is "University physics" that uses calculus. In fact you can't really understand physics without calculus. Galileo was confined to algebra; Newton had to invent calculus in order to come up with his laws, and F = MA is the fundamental principle -- but it's not really described properly in algebra.

 The problem with most calculus instruction is that it is done as a mathematical exercise with proving theorems. That's no fun for most, and doesn't look as if it will ever be useful. But let me give you an example of applied calculus/physics. Marvin Minsky of MIT and I were sharing a suite at Pajaro Dunes where we were both participants in a NASA conference on space development. One evening after dinner we wondered if you could launch lunar material off the Moon without using rockets: was there an easy way to throw the stuff to the L2 point where it would tend to stay until collected?  We didn't have any books with us, and this was long before the Internet (during the Carter Administration, in fact).

 So we sat down to guess at the answers. We knew earth gravity acceleration was 32 feet/second/second and the Moon has 1/6 gravity. From that it was easy enough to come up with the velocity needed to get the stuff to the L2 point from the lunar surface. Now can that be done with a long centrifugal arm whirling around and around with the lunar material being fed in at the pivot and traveling out the arm until it is thrown out into space. We came up with the radius and revolutions per minute curve for that, so we could pick various combinations. Now is there anything strong enough? We had a rough notion of the strength of Kevlar (the rotating arm needs to be rigid but the rigid part doesn't have to be strong enough for anything except supporting its own weight; a Kevlar central cable provides the strength.

 So we came up with a cross section of the arm, did a tapered design described by a smooth function, integrate that for the proper length --  All rough work but it was easy to show it's possible. It would have been a lot harder without calculus.

 I would advise also that he get a copy of Calculus Made Easy by Silvanus Thompson and revised by Martin Gardner. It uses a non orthodox approach and shows calculus as useful for something. It won't get you through a math degree but it's plenty good enough to actually learn calculus from. Most people who say they can do calculus but don’t like it probably don't understand it as well as they think they do. It's really very hard to do real physics without calculus. In particular Maxwwell's equations are very difficult to understand without it.


Get Calculus Made Easy http://www.amazon.com/
/dp/0312185480/jerrypournellcha  (if you order it that way I get maybe fifty cents)  and the three volume Feynman Lectures on Physics http://www.amazon.com/
Feynmans/dp/0805390456/jerrypournellcha . Note that the lectures are $120 and you can probably find a pdf copy if you look hard enough. These three volumes are very dense and require some knowledge of calculus and vectors to get through them; algebra won't really work.

 You can also see Feynman give some of his lectures. Bill Gates http://research.microsoft.com/apps/tools/tuva/ paid to have them made available free. They are old, and there's a lot of dead time, but once Dick Feynman gets started, if you're interested in physics it's hard to stop watching. If you don't want to learn physics it's a different thing, of course. He pulls no punches...

The first lecture has no mathematics at all; it's an exposition on what a physical law is. The second, on the relation between mathematics and physics, is precisely what it seems to be.

Neal Stephenson's three volume novel The System of the World has Newton and Leibnitz as characters. I am sure there are other historical accounts, but really, for understand what good calculus is, Feynman is unmatched in my judgment: those who don't find him fascinating probably are not going to have a career in physics.

 Anyway that's what I recommend.


Edith Shain, RN, RIP.


----- Roland Dobbins


'Provincetown School Board Chairman Peter Grosso says because there is no set age when sexual activity starts, the committee decided not to set an age for condom availability.'


---- Roland Dobbins

Cool, no?!



Hi Jerry,

"I find it hard to believe that Petraeus would accept the command under the restrictions McChrystal endured."

Did he have a choice? From a political standpoint, he's the safe bet, and since Obama was in a no-win scenario, I'm not sure there were any other realistic candidates, so I doubt that there was any conversation, other than an order from the NCA to a General to "shut up and soldier."

That being said, I think all your other comments are dead on target. I see a triangle of current strategies: 1) pull out and watch it collapse back into the Taliban dark ages, 2) stay in the meat grinder forever, and 3) the current pipe dream of success with insufficient resources and inappropriate RoE.

I'm not sure that there is another alternative beyond those. At some point, 3 becomes 2, and 2 becomes 1 (since, outside of the neo-cons fanatical devotion to all things anti-terrorism and nation building, there's limited political support for 2). We just need to find a way to let the legions feel that they haven't spent much blood and treasure for nothing.

Unfortunately, I think they have.




Harrison Bergeron" by celebrated author Kurt Vonnegut

Hi Jerry,

Did you hear about this?


(2081 trailer, aka "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut - website here: http://www.finallyequal.com/ )

- Paul

Really Cool!


On the Right to Exist

Dear Dr. Pournelle: 

David Couvilon said: << 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. >>

Hear, hear. And I would generalize this to:

There is no such thing as a right to exist.

That's because there's no such thing as a free lunch. Rights are inherent, universal, eternal and absolute; existence is conditional, parochial, temporary and relative. There's a right to self-defense, and a right to self-develop; but existence itself is an achievement, not a given. Like a driver's license, existence is a privilege, not a right.

Jefferson wrote of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He got it right when he wrote _pursuit_ of happiness; we have a natural right to pursue happiness; but again, happiness itself is an achievement, not a given. Ditto with life and liberty. We may seek them, but we may not find them.

Pessimistic realism aside, we do have some rights that are almost as useful as the right to exist would have been. Mark Twain noted three; freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the common sense not to use the other two.

Sincerely, Nathaniel Hellerstein



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Friday,  June 25, 2010

Colonel Couvillon on the McChrystal affair

The McChrystal Firing

The situation that McChrystal found himself in does not surprise me. Admittedly, he is not DIRECTLY quoted but his intimate staff said damaging words and more than intoned that the General supported, if not specifically participated in the same type of defamation.

This type of talk is routine in the military around the bar or the cigar circle. It is NOT meant for outside ears - or even enlisted ears. Most of the media has been incredulous that McChrystal and his staff didn't have the basic understanding to let this to an outsider, much less a reporter (from a liberal rag, no less). Not a few military people have been aghast similarly. I'm of a different mindset, such that it doesn't surprise me a bit. McChrystal and his inner sanctum are from the 'special ops' branch of the army. These guys are cowboys; full of bravado, bombast, testosterone, and believe they are immortal-they wear teflon armor. Throughout their careers they've taken chances, bleated loudly, flouted military rules and regulations from safety, to alcohol, to uniform. All the while they've thumbed their noses at the Regular Army establishment (SEALS are in the same boat here) and gotten away with it because of the lauded reputation they've contrived with Congress and the people of the US (USMC in the same boat on this one...) since the days of Wild Bill Donovan. Not only were these guys careless, they just plain didn't care that a Rolling Stone reporter heard what they said 'out of school' nor did they ever even consider any consequences of their actions/statements. "Hey, we're the GOLDEN BOYS, right?!" "Untouchables."

Regardless, they got caught talking out of school. And, their statements are blatantly insubordinate to the civilian leadership. McChrystal, as the commander, is responsible - whether he said anything or not. He most certainly heard them and didn't squelch the thought lines. Bottom line, President Obama was right to fire him.

My concern is that McChrystal didn't say these beliefs to the President's face, then march out of the office. In the military, if you think a superior's orders are stupid, unworkable, or will just plain lead to unnecessary loss of life or material - you tell him so and offer workable alternatives. If he holds to his opinions and instructions, you then have two choices: you become the biggest proponent of the policy/plan and carry it out to the best of your ability; or, you resign.

(as an aside, the President should have appointed Gen Mattis to head the Afghan Campaign, IMHO).

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

Note that Charlie Beckwith's choice was to lead the ill fated desert expedition to the best of his ability. I have no idea what McChrystal will do now.

General Mattis is a Marine four star.


The Patreaus Affair

Congratulations on catching the point about Petraeus having some leverage. No one in the mainstream media seems to have noticed that. I would put it stronger yet. When Obama accepted the resignation of McChrystal he had to replace him with some general known and respected by the American public. We know Obama feels he needs to at least appear to be responsible and appropriate as the Commander In Chief. So Patraeus from his point of view was an excellent choice - the hero of the Bush White House. But except for retired generals like Swartzkopf and Franks there are no other well known US generals. This gives Patreaus tremendous leverage. He can resign or threaten to resign at which point a lot of the electorate will conclude that Obama is doing something wrong or contrary to US interests. Patraeus can dispute the rules of engagement and Obama will have to listen lest the public concludes that he is unconcerned with the fate of American forces and is not in it to win.

I am reminded of the Venona affair. We now know that Omar Bradley kept Truman out of the loop because he feared that the White House was entirely too sympathetic to communism - maybe not Truman himself but certainly those around him. Bradley knew for sure that Alger Hiss was a spy even while the Democratic Party continued to defend him. So the generals kept their nominal civilian superiors in the dark.

I suspect that today's generals do something similar. If I were on the Joint Chiefs of Staff I would have been very concerned about the candidacy of Barrack Obama. Obama looks too much like an adherent to Islam and communism. Maybe all that is just an illusion and against all evidence Obama is really fully in favor of traditional American values and interests. But as a general who took a pledge to defend the Constitution, I would have felt compelled to at least prepare some scenarios for how to block or nullify possible Obama initiatives - like ordering a nuclear strike on Israel. If that is true, General Patraeus almost certainly would have participated in those deliberations. And if that also is true then the whole McChrystal business has delivered Obama into the hands of his critics. I certainly hope so. If the Venona affair is a precedent we can expect the full story to come out around 2060.


We will see. I do expect some changes in the Rules of Engagement, and some other changes in the clown circle of US civilians in Kabul; and a quiet abandonment of the July 2011 deadline for withdrawal. I remain of mixed emotions. I do not think what we are doing it worth the blood and treasure, but I was opposed to US occupations -- as opposed to expeditions -- in the Near East and Middle East from the beginning. I am also not under the illusion that I am infallible.


Jerry: China's putting the 'moves' on Greece. Why does this make me nervous?


Chris C

-- The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. -Mencken

China is a realist oligarchy.


On Incompetence and Malice:

This was posted on 'FreeRepublic.com:


Among the comments was this one by 'Cripplecreek', who clearly understands the Obamunists:

"Ever since his first act was to send an army of justice department attorneys, I knew he wanted this spill to do the greatest amount of harm, for the longest possible time, to the greatest number of people.

9 <http://www.freerepublic.com/
focus/f-news/2540069/posts?page=9#9>  posted on June 23, 2010 10:39:05 EDT by cripplecreek <http://www.freerepublic.com/~cripplecreek/>  (Remember the River Raisin! (look it up))"

I think that all the available evidence, among which is this from a Florida state senator:


detailing the fact that the Obamunists have turned down not only the use of our own skimmers (can't be used because they may be required for an oil spill) but also many offers of equipment and personnel from other countries, confirms that 'Cripplecreek' is exactly right. The absolute WORST outcome of this oil spill from the Obamunist point of view would have been a quick, efficient capping of the well with minimal loss of oil. And they are taking every action that they can, short of opening fire on cleanup crews, to prolong and worsen it.

I know you don't think that a certain word is appropriate, but the list of suitable alternates is dwindling rapidly.

Bob Ludwick


I have some thoughts about the malice or incompetence question.

Intention is pivotal here, because even conservatives (like me) believe that necessity trumps the law.

No one is going to prosecute you for stealing a rope, if your intention is to rescue a child from a well. They might not even ask you to pay for it, or for the broken lock, or other incidentals, because everyone wants you to try to rescue a child. Life saving trumps property rights, mostly.

The socialists seem to believe that the rich, the fat-cats, the powers-that-be, will allow the "poor" to die, unless they step in and take the resources of the rich, and give them to the poor.

Using that logic, they can justify any tax, any deprivation of freedom, any intrusion into privacy, in the name of the greater good. Using that logic, they can justify ever increasing "entitlements" (these are actually necessities, you know).

Once you start down that road, where do you stop? Any opposition is shouted down with "You must hate the poor." So health care passes, because no one want to be accused of hating the sick, or the uninsured.

The fact that they ARE the fat cats, and generally make a good living handing out charity is never noticed. The fact that the more charity we give out, the more poor people there are to stand in line with their hand out, is never noticed.

Then there are the few who really are malicious, who will manipulate events and rhetoric to lead ignorant people to their own destruction, and thanks to our education establishment, ignorant people is all we have left.

We are so screwed.



Lawyers and Geeks, 

I swear law schools extract the funny bones and common sense out of students before graduation.




'Police are now able to jail anyone who refuses to furnish identification and submit to a search while within five metres of a designated security zone in downtown Toronto.'


-- Roland Dobbins











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Saturday, June 26, 2010

I wrote two pages of Mamelukes today, but didn't get to the mail.






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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

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Sunday,  June 27, 2010     

A Note Of Thanks To General Stanley McChrystal 

Jerry, Here is a hypothesis as to why Gen McChrystal was talking to Rolling Stone magazine.


<snip> We want to thank him for reminding us about what a stupid, pointless, and ineffective war we're fighting in Afghanistan. We want to thank him for forcing Defense Secretary   Robert Gates to admit that progress in Afghanistan is much slower than he had hoped. We want to thank Gen. McChrystal for refocusing the country's attention on our latest quagmire, one that, at this rate, will eventually last longer than Vietnam.

If General McChrystal's replacement General Petraeus can turn things around in Afghanistan, then the article will have been very helpful to the country. Similarly, if the renewed attention to Afganistan reminds Americans of how little we have accomplished, how much money and time we have spent, and how many lives have been lost, the article might lead to a speedier end to the war. <snip>



Oil cleanup

Hello Jerry,

World's largest oil skimmer is available for duty in the BP spill, but as of today (27 June) it has not been allowed to operate in the Gulf.


Myriads of (regulatory) problems with the deployment, among which is that the government/EPA is not sure that the ship can remove ALL TRACES of the oil from the water. So the 500,000 barrels per day that it COULD remove will just have to remain in the gulf until the process can be certified as perfect (and we can detect REALLY SMALL TRACES) or until all the regulatory waivers can be obtained from a laundry list of government agencies. Or, in reality, until it can be reasonably ascertained that Hell has frozen over.

Bob Ludwick


New Form of Gene Regulation Hints at Hidden Dimension of DNA, 


New Form of Gene Regulation Hints at Hidden Dimension of DNA:


I suspect we will see a lot more of this. Just as the old belief that we only use 15% of our brain was false (we use all of it), calling DNA with no identified purpose "junk DNA" will likely turn out to be just as false. As an example, I suspect that in a decade or so we will see that our DNA differs from chimpanzees by far more than one percent.

The more folks look, the more they find. Imagine that.









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