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Monday  July 26, 2010


Natural Gas, Wind Power, Pickens

The connection between wind power, natural gas and T. Boone Pickens is simple. Pickens owns a lot of natural gas so it's natural for him to promote it as a fuel. What isn't quite so obvious is why he promotes wind power.

As it happens wind power requires natural gas - not coal, oil, or anything else. Only natural gas will do.

Wind power supply varies with the weather. Power demand also varies with time of day and and the weather. These supply - demand curves don't line up very well. For example, when the temperature goes up and everybody turns on their air conditioner the wind might choose to suddenly die down. So wind mills need some supplemental power source to carry us over those still calm days. The only choice is a turbine fired by natural gas.

Coal, nuclear, or oil fired turbines heat up water to form steam. Gas turbine power generators actually burn the fuel in the turbine just like they do in airplanes and helicopters. It takes time for a steam turbine to come on line while a gas turbine is essentially instantaneous. So Mr. Pickens knows that they will need his natural gas whenever they build wind mill farm.

Pat Boyle

Natural Gas and Wind go together because Natural Gas generators can be started up quickly. It is generally cheaper to have wind or solar backed up by natural gas generators than to run them at all times and try to store the energy not needed. Energy storage is never as good as 50% efficient and usually is a lot less so. About the most efficient is pumped storage -- pump water uphill to some kind of variable depth reservoir, then when needed let it run down through turbines. This makes for a lake that isn't much use for wildlife or recreation, needs a dam, and is expensive as all get out. There are a few places where it's practical, but in general it isn't.

All this is pretty well known to those who study the energy problem. I have some of it in the book A Step Farther Out, and I had more in my original America's Looming Energy Crisis series in the 1970's. Thanks.


BP's Cap

Hi Jerry,

Before there's a rush to judgement on the BP cap "delay", let me share a tidbit. A good friend of mine is now with an oil exploration company (not BP), and has first-hand information on these types of situations.. Capping an undersea well like that carries very high risks that the well may rupture and start leaking oil through the seafloor. Once that happens, you're toast - no hope of containment, and now you have millions of tons of contaminated sediment to deal with (at least otherwise, the oil floats and can be collected on shore). He believes that BP waited until the relief well was reasonably close in case the cap caused a rupture. Topkilling a well carries the same risk, but they tried that and it failed. When it failed, that likely raised the concern of a rupture even higher.




Fukiyama and illegals


Pretty good. Except that I would not say that "the vast majority" are not criminals other than being here illegally, without presenting data to back it up.


Of course Fukiyama believed that when the USSR collapsed we had reached the end of history, so his track record is perhaps a bit spotty.


State Dept. planning to field a small army in Iraq

"In little more than a year, State Department contractors in Iraq could be driving armored vehicles, flying aircraft, operating surveillance systems, even retrieving casualties if there are violent incidents and disposing of unexploded ordnance."

Actually, the State Dept has been doing all of these things, with the exception of EOD, in Iraq since 2003. It's all part of a program called WPPS or World-wide Personal Protective Services, which basically augments the Diplomatic Protection Service because they don't have enough full-time agents. The program actually originated in the Balkans and Israel in the 90s and extended to Afghanistan and then Iraq.

The numbers are far from an army too, even a small one. That claim is just plain silly. There's a lot of media sensationalism going on about it, most of it off base.

Matt Kirchner


flash brindisi


That Flash Brindisi looked like a lot of fun, thx for passing along the link. I think that the flash mob phenomena is one of the most interesting social behaviors to have gained in popularity as a result of the internet. Flash mobs are nothing really new, but they are certainly easier now and the creative results can be instantly shared around the world. That is a pretty big incentive for people who want to have fun and show off a bit.



Dancing Tigers 

No, not nature footage.

This is where the Russians got the idea for their "Tank Ballet".

As in most cases, the Germans not only invented it, they did it better.

Though it is also well to remember that they did lose the war.





To accompany the Russian tank ballet, am I to assume that it isn't over until the 120 mm cannon sings?

Serious, fascinating. Thanks for the post.



First, you have to think back to the Muppet’s ‘Pigs in Spaaace’ vignettes….

Subject: Spitzer 'scope spots Buckyballs in spaaace




Comic Con vs. Fred Phelps whackos


Comic Con held a counter-protest against Phelps' whackos, and hilarity ensued.


Looks like it was fun, although I could detect from the scant media coverage that once again there was some disappointment that nobody drove up and shot Phelps and his nutjob supporters. That fact, that nobody has shot Phelps yet, is probably the best example ever that the basic principles that our country were founded on are still alive and well. I don't know anyone more reviled by gun-toting Americans than Phelps, yet just like Jane Fonda who somehow survived spitting in the faces of countless mentally disturbed trained killers, he still lives. Absolutely amazing.


I had tickets to ComicCon -- thanks, fellows -- but I just wasn't able to get there. Alas.


Paint Spill Insanity in Oxnard 


Don’t know if you saw this http://www.vcstar.com/news/
beleaguered-painter/#ixzz0uFN6Dqc2  but the reaction seems like an utter waste of taxpayer money. Isn’t California going broke?

“The incident started on an afternoon in late June when Steve Pettersen of No Regrets Painting upset a can of water-based paint inside his van, parked on a client’s driveway at Mandalay Bay.

…When it appeared the paint would stain his customer’s attractive and recently installed drive, he used the garden hose to rinse it off the pavement.

…Before his eyes were two firetrucks, each staffed by three firefighters, including paramedic and hazardous-materials specialists…”


Ross McMicken




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Tuesday,  July 27. 2010

Letter from Spain

Barcelona has good family rates for its museums, including the Museum of Erotica--which we didn't visit...

Visited the museums on Montjuic. The Art Museum has outstanding Romanesque and Gothic collections--very much worth seeing, especially the crucifixes. The Ethnological Museum has an exhibit on food rationing in Spain during 1936-59. This was extreme until 1952 and then more relaxed until 1959. Apparently, the standard rations were insufficient to prevent malnutrition, and everyone had to buy supplemental food on the black (illegal) market, which was to a large extent controlled by associates of Franco. Sounds like North Korea.

Disappearance of the British middle class <http://tinyurl.com/25v689l

While the richest segment of the UK population has seen significant lifespan growth, the poorest segment has trailed further and further behind. <http://tinyurl.com/2bu5s6x> . I suspect this may involve lifestyle differences.

UK defence is now unaffordable <http://tinyurl.com/33lrnra

A link to Charlie Stross's diary <http://www.antipope.org/charlie/>  He claims France has the world's best healthcare: "That's according to the World Health Organization. France has a universal healthcare system that costs 30% less per capita than the US system and delivers better outcomes than the US system provides for those who can afford it. Oh, and it's 77% state funded; what insurance companies there are, are non-profit mutual societies. While the UK's NHS is leaner and cheaper, the French system is better."

A Times Higher Education commentary on the graduate tax proposal <http://tinyurl.com/29vmmvt> . "We encourage teenagers to stop being Neets - not in education, employment or training - and get some higher education, and immediately find that we have to turn away 50, 60, 100,000 of them."

Deepwater Horizon alarms switched off <http://tinyurl.com/2c58k8r>.  This is *THE* problem with too high a false alarm rate.

-- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her

I am not competent to come up with a figure of merit for health care. I would presume that Charles Stross is more familiar with the British and French systems than I am; I am not aware of his evaluation abilities. The problem of generating figures of merit for complex processes is that you must of needs choose measurable variables. That's often difficult enough that you end up choosing what you can measure, not what you need to know, and even then you often find yourself using estimates and correlates rather than the primary data. Then you much choose how each variable is to be weighted. That entails a lot of judgment, and judgment comes from experience. Choosing the variables and their weights generally determines the outcome of the study.

I don't have a lot of primary data on the British and French health care systems. I would think that overall satisfaction with the system is at least as high in the US with what we used to have as it has been in Britain. There are many tradeoffs. I have less data on French satisfaction.

One of the largest problems is in estimating costs. What is provided and to whom? When? We all reject the notion of "death panels" but it is very clear that investing large sums in keeping an 80 year old man with failing kidneys alive is going to be expensive. Who chooses what to invest and to whom? Someone will. In a purely private system it will be done by the individuals involved -- the aged and the family. If they can't afford it, the treatments won't happen. That was the world when I was young. Today much of that is paid by others. This can be expensive. 

When health care is essentially a free good, the demand will be enormous; as it is proving to be. When people believe they are entitled to something and they don't get it, they say the system is broken and then express dissatisfaction. Raging against the machine becomes popular. As to whether a series of non-profit mutual societies coupled with 77% state funding and no private insurance would be better for the US, I'd have to ask, better for whom, and what means better?

The United States was built on a system of risks and freedoms, not on entitlements. The Constitution gives the option of experimenting with other systems, but most of those didn't work as well as their proponents thought they would, in part because the Federal Courts interfered: as an example, California at one time had few entitlements, and those were confined to people who could show they had resided in California for at least a year. New York gave extensive entitlements for which you were eligible on your first day in the state (or city). It was fairly easy to compare the results of the two systems. The courts decided that California couldn't impose those residence requirements, and now California is broke.

Massachusetts seems to be trying a health care system experiment. So far the results aren't encouraging as I understand it.

Regarding the destruction of the British middle class, Albion  is no longer a nation of shopkeepers. 


Subject: deflation

The Roosevelt administration managed to make deflation worse by blocking wages and prices from falling. That kept the economy from adjusting to a reduced money supply. When the now obvious thing to do would have been to re-inflate the economy back to it 1929 money supply level.

However, we are dealing with a different deflationary force now. Technology, business efficiency, and free trade is allowing us to do more with less, forcing prices down. While the government is spending 20K per capita, which has the effect of forcing prices up.

Where this cycle is going to end up I have no idea.

Cynthia Allingham

Nor do I. I am not confident in economic science...


Economic OR


I was an economics major at Marquette once upon a time and also an Army Operations Research and Systems Analysis weenie. It’s pretty much as you suspect. Make labor more expensive in America and high labor content jobs move to low labor cost areas. I once worked as a computer geek in a GM factory that made catalytic convertors. It was still in the States because the labor content was about 10% of the total cost.

The second issue of business generally is a second case of the same issue. Make running a business, especially the management/HR end expensive, and it behooves you to ship most of your labor issues out of the States (See Johnson Control and the lead/pregnant worker lawsuit http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/89-1215.ZS.html ). I don’t believe a plant in China has an extensive Compliance section.

Making business hard to do generally will encourage you to move your business, or parts of it, to places where it is easier to run. DUH!

John from Waterford

Assume a canopener...


Self cleaning

Dr. Pournelle,

You wrote: "And the latest horror from the Gulf is that now that the torrent has been capped, the cleanup crews are having trouble finding oil to clean up. The storm churned up the oil, and it seems to be cleaning itself."

Please also note that another disastrous prediction did not come true -- one of your other correspondents some weeks ago predicted that the dark surface of the oil would superheat the water in the gulf. Had this been true, tropical storm Bonnie would have gained strength, rather than fizzling out, as it passed over the spill area. I guess we don't understand this stuff, huh?

As a sometime sailor, perhaps you know, (it has been a long time since I read from Robert Louis Stevenson and his ilk) didn't desperate, storm-beaten mariners once dump oil overboard to reduce wave action? I assume that it would have been whale oil, but the surface properties would have been similar to those of those from the well.


One doesn't want to minimize this: the spill was a torrent, and the economic effects were pretty grim. It was also a warning. Something like this will happen again. The time to learn what to do about it is when there is no crisis. But it wasn't the end of the world.


BP well

Today's paper indicated the closed-in well pressure has risen to almost 7,000 psi. Damage to casing or leakage to the seafloor would not have permitted the pressure buildup.

Top kill will now work because the well is not flowing, and a bottom kill from the relief well will preserve the well's remaining economic value.

G. Allan Smalley, Jr. P E

We can hope





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Wednesday, July 28, 2010


An interesting piece on IQ, if you haven't seen it...



IQ And The Wealth of Nations among other works shows the correlation between "national IQ" and national wealth. The connection is undeniable, but remains "controversial" largely because the place of heredity in determining IQ is disputed. What has never been in dispute is that whatever one's hereditary IQ potential, it must be developed, and childhood trauma, malnourishment, or disease can and will have a drastic effect.

I covered much of this in A Step Farther Out quite a long time ago, pointing out that in much of Africa youthful protein deprivation had the effect of stunting the intellectual growth of large parts of the populations, with devastating economic effects. A low national IQ pretty well dictates high levels of poverty. (Alas, IQ without education doesn't guarantee wealth, but that's another topic.)

Recent discoveries in brain structure and development including brain "rewiring" in adulthood  -- See for example The Brain That Changes Itself -- suggest that remedying childhood deprivations may not be impossible.

This is a good article. Thanks.


Wikileaks and writable drives for DoD

The referenced article mentions burning data out to a CD-RW while pretending to listen to music. Comments to the article mention that USB ports on DoD systems have been set read-only since 2008, so presumably the whistleblower couldn't have used a thumbdrive to shift data.

I work for A Large Financial Company, and our PCs have been shipped with DVD-ROM drives for the last couple of years, along with similar read-only settings on the USB ports. If we can get our PC suppliers to provide read-only optical drives on our systems, you're telling me the Gummint can't?



Stratfor on WikiLeaks and the Afghan War:


"In the case of the WikiLeaks, what is revealed also is not far from what most people believed, although they provide enormous detail. Nor is it that far from what government and military officials are saying about the war." <snip>

"The WikiLeaks seem to show that like sausage-making, one should never look too closely at how wars are fought, particularly coalition warfare." <snip>

"The WikiLeaks, from what we have seen so far, detail power, interest and reality as we have known it. They do not reveal a new reality. Much will be made about the shocking truth that has been shown, which, as mentioned above, shocks only those who wish to be shocked. The Afghan war is about an insufficient American and allied force fighting a capable enemy on its home ground and a Pakistan positioning itself for the inevitable outcome. The WikiLeaks contain all the details. We are left with the mystery of who compiled all of these documents and who had access to them with enough time and facilities to transmit them to the outside world in a blatant and sustained breach of protocol. The image we have is of an unidentified individual or small group working to get a "shocking truth" out to the public, only the truth is not shocking - it is what was known all along in excruciating detail. Who would want to detail a truth that is already known, with access to all this documentation and the ability to transmit it unimpeded? Whoever it proves to have been has just made the most powerful case yet for withdrawal from Afghanistan sooner rather than later."

There's a lot more, of course, wonderfully complex as usual.



the war on oil.

Hello Dr. Pournelle

Unless something has happened since I wrote this, it is a relief to know the that cap is holding, and that no more oil spills into the gulf. Certainly this is a disaster; but I have to wonder how bad a disaster. I recall seeing a number of documentaries and shows about the various naval actions during WWII, and it seems like an awful lot of tankers went down off the coasts of the US as well as other parts of the world. Again, I do not want to diminish the seriousness of what has happened; but somehow the coasts seem to have recovered without too much involvement from the government. I did a bit of looking on the web, and came up with this:

According to the article But by far the worst spills came in the opening months of World War II, when German U-boats off the north Atlantic coast sank 452 oil tankers carrying approximately 29.4 million barrels. Those spills had no serious long-term environmental impacts that we know of. For the Gulf blowout to leak this much oil, it would have to spew 60,000 BPD for 490 days.

The conclusions are pretty interesting, and I think make a nice counterpoint to the hysteria that seems to be bouncing around all the news outlets. It seems that the media, along with the government, vastly prefers crises to disasters, and thus tends to so define things. A disaster is, of course, something bad that happens, while a crises is something that requires immediate and drastic action by the government.

Neal Pritchett


I was educated as an Environmental Biologist 30 odd years ago. I took a lot of courses in fresh water ecology and fish population restoration. A River completely killed by pollution will be clean enough to drink within a few miles (2 to 4 depending on velocity).

There was considerable amount of petroleum leaking into the gulf from natural and human causes prior to the SPILL. This demonstrates that the biological organisms and processes are in place to deal with raw petroleum. Unlike most spills in cold water the Gulf is a very active ecosystem. My thoughts are that by next year, except in places that have stagnant or previously dead ecosystems, we will unable to find any oil pollution at all. Yes there will be traces, but no environmentally or dangerous levels. The mixing from the coming storm season will start the clean up. This is a very fertile and active ecosystem once the leak is slowed or stopped it will clean itself. Unless we do something stupid like steam clean the beaches or stop natural burning.

Nuclear Power, It's not rocket science it's PLUMBING !

Thomas Weaver


Spacequakes Rumble near Earth


NASA Science News for July 27, 2010

Researchers using NASA's THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a form of space weather that packs the punch of an earthquake and plays a key role in sparking bright Northern Lights.



It includes a cool movie.







<snip> We are currently experiencing another prolonged solar minimum. Even with 21st century telescopes we can see that the sun is only producing tiny sun specks and weak sunspots.

The northern hemisphere has experienced 3 years in a row of record breaking cold winters and snow fall. It snowed in all 50 States last winter. As in 1816, Canada and the rest of North America are experiencing record rainfalls this summer. Much of the Canadian harvest has been lost due to flooding. Some of the ski slopes in the western US reopened in July. Today, South America is experiencing a brutally cold winter killing farmers along with their livestock. It snowed in the Amazon. For two years in a row it has snowed in Australia during summertime.

Of course, we have not had a sizable volcanic eruption like Mount Tambora....yet. General Stanley McChrystal can point to Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano creating the climate necessary for his ouster.<snip>


Saw 2012 on HD TV the other night. Interesting effects. Dumb plot. Ah well.

Haven't we been told that this is the warmest year in history or something? I grant you those on the east coast don't find that astonishing, but it's sure been a cool July in California. I wonder how's the ice at the South Pole?


Paint spill insanity in Oxnard

From the article: --- By watering down the paint, Pettersen irrigated the problem, O’Malia said.

“Dilution is not the solution. By adding the water, he took a two-quart spill and expanded it to a 30- to 40- to 50-gallon hazardous discharge,” O’Malia told me. ---

Isn't that how homeopathy works? The more dilute the solution, the more powerful it gets? No wonder they were so worried about the paint making it's way to the ocean, at that level of dilution it would have been so powerful as to destroy all life on earth!

-- Monte Ferguson

Ain't it grand?


Many World Verification

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

The Fox News article you linked to Sunday piqued my interest, and I’ve done a little investigation. I’m but a graduate student, but I’m pretty sure the article was dramatically overstating its case, to put it mildly. A quick trip to Prof. Cleland’s website did not turn up any claims of verification of Many-Worlds theory, nor mention of time travel. Further, his group’s publication list shows nothing published since November. Assuming the website is updated, this would indicate that either the reporter caught up with a 6-month old development, or Dr. Cleland is contacting the press before his paper has been published. If the former, then the reporter likely has things wrong, since I’m confident I would have heard about experimental verification of Many-Worlds theory by now. If the latter, than this is an execrable example of scientific grandstanding, and likely still a case of the reporter misunderstanding the science.

As best I can decipher the experiment from the article, I fail to see how these results, assuming the reporter repeats them accurately, confirm the Many-Worlds theory. Perhaps one of your better-educated readers can straighten me out if I’m missing something. But in general, I do not take scientific reporting in the popular press particularly seriously. The writers rarely have any but the most cursory understanding of the science, and they have an obvious interest in reporting sensational results. My undergraduate advisor kept copies of particularly egregious New York Times articles as a source of amusement. I do not wish to detract from the work of Prof. Cleland; the experiment looks quite remarkable, but I see no indication that his work has anything like the ramifications Mr. Brandon ascribes to it.

I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for any papers from Prof. Cleland in the next few months, and let you know if I learn anything more definite.


William Ames

Doctoral Student, Physics, University of Colorado

Thank you. As you say, a remarkable experiment, but the interpretation is not so clear as all that.


And now for (perhaps) good news

Is sustainable fusion power REALLY just around the corner?

Hi Jerry,




These BBC articles say the Europeans and Americans are all ready to fund what the scientists involved believe will be a successful attempt at generating a self-sustaining fusion reaction. They also say they expect to be able to design a reactor that will produce its own fuel.

These aren't crackpots - these are top scientists. As you eloquently discussed in 'A Step farther Out', cheap, clean energy is the key to everything. This would give us that. Me, I'm getting a little excited.

And thanks for your fascinating columns over all these years.

Julian Treadwell

Of course we hear this frequently; but technology moves on. The science is pretty well known, and now it's a matter of engineering. Bob Bussard used to say that the easy things have already been done, but even he would admit that sometimes you get lucky and find something you thought was hard doesn't turn out to be so. I have been hoping for clean fusion most of my life.

Cheap energy plus freedom results in prosperity.


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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Forbes: A New War Between the States

Among other things, very interesting economic perspective



And to think I didn't hold on to my Confederate money...


The Trust Thing

Once again, David Warren gazes south from Ottawa and nails it:

"Not for the first time, I got a taste of just how angry a large and growing part of America has become, at the "liberal establishment" in the media, courts, Congress, White House, and the nearest public school. At the root of this, it seems to me, is the sense that decent, reasonable, tolerant people, who work for their livings, are losing control over their own lives to something like a "governing class"; are abused, insulted, being taxed to destruction. And, in the final aggravating clinch, the leaders who speak most articulately for them are smeared as "racists" and "rednecks."

"Indeed, were I a liberal politician, even in Canada, I'd be listening up. The pendulum of public opinion is swinging dramatically away from complacency in what I call the Nanny State, because the Left has made the egregious, if very human error, of pushing their luck too far."


David Smith

And they sang the mighty chorus from Atlanta to the sea...

The purpose of the school system is to protect teachers regardless of competence. The purpose of government is to collect taxes and pay them to government workers. It may be that some teachers and some government workers do something useful, but that is not the purpose of the system. The Iron Law prevails.


More on the Iron Law

"truth is seldom among leading criteria in the final assessment of this "intelligence" ocean; for bureaucracies have other priorities, the chiefmost being their own survival and growth."

You may find this interesting in light of the Iron Law. Mr. Warren doesn't name it, but surely recognizes it when he sees it: http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/index.php?id=1163 

And then this as a sobering reflection on what comes after the disaster: "When confronted by decadence, authoritarianism, and a sense that ones liberty is slipping away, it’s easy to comfort oneself with the notion- no doubt supported by plausible arguments – that the system will soon be swept away by economic and political collapse. But for one who sees the apocalypse coming, it is more horrifying to contemplate the possibility that the system might not collapse- and that ten, forty, or a hundred years from now, America will feel pretty much the same as it does now, even after a few more financial meltdowns or wars- or even after the apocalypse. Isn’t there something horrible about this? I think so- who wants to think that even an apocalypse can’t change “the system”? But I lean towards thinking that something like this horror is true – after all, if the people have become so habitually rapacious or complacent to rapine that collapse is inevitable, they will carry these same habits with them into the world that must sprout up after the collapse. Whatever you build after you smash “the system” must be built by those who have only ever known “the system”. We think that there must be some purgative effect in starting from a clean slate, when in fact we can only give the clean slate to the very people who have just written what we wanted to erase." http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/on-apocalypse-scenarios/



Subject: Google wants to track your mouse moves

The ‘click through’ was bad enough…now they want to track your mouse pointer!


Tracy Walters,


Subject: Storm in Glasgow Montana on the 28th


This was pretty weird, it almost looks like something from the special effects department in a movie:





Gratuitous slap at Rush Limbaugh aside, Time points out that the oil spill impact has been exaggerated.


-- Roland Dobbins

It was an oil spill, not the end of the world. But never let a crisis go to waste. See also


Where has all that oil slick gone,
Long time passing  


Oil failure

You said, "Keeping the oil at sea and off shore, keeping it out of the marshes and wet lands and the shallows is the important thing." This is exactly the one thing that was NOT done. The oil came ashore. The giant Arabian skimmers were never called in - and still haven't been. They said they were doing all they could. I'm still complaining, but no one I've noticed has caught on to this.



the Wikileaks Backstory


I work as an “IA nazi” for the Army – although I’m not down range, in garrison fight daily battles with computer users and suffer losses. It fascinates me the lengths people will go to when circumventing public law, regulations, and common sense. We’ve banned the use of removable flash drives across the DoD, but DVD burners are everywhere as are DVDs.

My fellow IA nerds have shared the thought that a lot of information can walk out of a facility on a single DVD-ROM and this recent story confirms that. I remember my frustration (as an Air Force crypto repairman) over John Walker and his escapades, we went so far as to razz Navy folks that there was a new security caveat: NONAV for no naval dissemination!

There are ways to lock down computer systems, but you can’t prevent deliberate malice. The leaker probably thinks he/she is a hero for letting the “real” story of Afghanistan come to light. Short of implementing no-lone zones or two-person integrity, we fall back on trusting our own people. Sigh.


Nat Proctor

Treason ne'er doth prosper, what's the reason?
Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason.





NASA's Deep Space Camera Locates Host of 'Earths'

Published July 25, 2010

Scientists celebrated Sunday after finding more than 700 suspected new planets   including up to 140 similar in size to Earth -- in just six weeks of using ... NASA’s Kepler Mission... <snip cautionary notes> “The figures suggest our galaxy, the Milky Way [which has more than 100 billion stars] will contain 100 million habitable planets...<snip>


And some good news. Perhaps. I had intended to save this for a longer response. Another time.


Subject: Deflation

I don't know if Ben Bernanke has read Amity Shlaes "The Forgotten Man", but he is said to be an expert on the Great Depression, having done much academic work in this area. The wikipedia article on him states this:

"Bernanke is particularly interested in the economic and political causes of the Great Depression, on which he has written extensively. Before Bernanke's work, the dominant monetarist theory of the Great Depression was Milton Friedman's view that it had been largely caused by the Federal Reserve's having reduced the money supply. In a speech on Milton Friedman's ninetieth birthday (November 8, 2002), Bernanke said, "Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna [Schwartz, Friedman's coauthor]: Regarding the Great Depression. You're right, we did it. We're very sorry. But thanks to you, we won't do it again."[47]."

I have read many times that his study of the Great Depression strongly informs Bernanke's policy positions today, and that he is quite a bit more fearful of deflation than inflation. This probably explains his willingness to stick with an easy money policy and low interest rates even when others were starting to wring their hands about soaring budget deficits, inflation, and currency devaluation. My guess is that Bernanke believes that those kinds of events are easier to stop than a deflationary spiral.

Amity Shlaes, on the other hand, seems to have a somewhat more benign take on the threat of deflation:

"Deflation doesn’t always spell apocalypse. It can coexist with prosperity -- or even perpetuate it. There was deflation in the 1920s. Prices fell in 1923, and 1925 through 1928. The money shortage hit one sector, farming, hard. Overall, the economy grew. Unemployment stayed low. Vigilance on inflation kept prices stable. Stable prices made life easier."


I suppose time will tell us who was right....

CP, Connecticut





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Friday,  July 30, 2010

Subj: Corruption: Middle East meets West

From Professor Bernard Lewis, _Faith and Power_, p. 141:

>>In democratic corruption, you make money in the marketplace, and you use that money to buy power; in Middle Eastern corruption, you seize power and use the power to make money. ... In Israel, one sees an interesting compound, reflecting the mixed cultural heritage of the country, brought by Jews who came from both the Christian and Islamic worlds, and who brought some of the ways of those worlds with them.<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

In Bell, California, you get elected and then have a stealth charter amendment election in which 300 vote after which you can pay yourself a half million a year in one of the poorest cities in the country. Nice work if you can get it. Of course the lesson is that citizens must pay attention to what it going on; it does no good to have subsidiarity if no one cares. Being governed is a lot easier than self government. It's also a lot more expensive.

Of course with the Feds we are governed as subjects, and we pay a lot for letting them despise us. And when we go for Hope and Change we get it good and hard.




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Saturday, July 31, 1010

I took the day off.



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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

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Sunday, August 1, 2010      

Great article by Lee Harris


I don't know if you have seen this article by Lee Harris about the Tea Party, but I find it very thoughtful. I picked it up through a link at Instapundit. Harris contends that the Tea Party is not really trying to advance new ideas as much as they are trying to advance an attitude: "Don't tread on me." It is a backlash by average people with common sense against the elite decision makers who seem to have none.


Harris wrote an excellent article several years ago about fantasy ideologies that is brilliant. In case you have not seen it, here it is:


Take care,

Hugh Greentree

There is no real dilemma facing conservatives regarding the Tea Party movement. The situation happens often.

The Tea Parties are a populist movement. It is not particularly cohesive, and the very name -- an acronym for Taxed Enough Already at the beginning of the movement although it seems less used now -- says much of it. It is on a national scale very much like what periodically used to surface in local government: Good Government movements, generally referred to by politicians as "googoo's". Boss Flynn in "You're The Boss" (a book that seems to be nearly unobtainable  but once was required reading for political science students) discusses this in detail. Such movements are powerful, but they don't generally change the system, because they are united mostly by fervor and have little organiation. They are powerful when the come into existence but they have no sustaining power.

That's the conventional wisdom, anyway. Now the Tea Parties are pretty well upset with Obama, and rightly so, but they don't have and don't intend to have any great agreement on the fundamental conservative principles. For example:

Edmund Burke said long ago

"To Provide for us in our necessities is not in the power of Government. It would be a vain presumption in statesmen to think they can do it. The people maintain them, not they the people. It is in the power of Government to prevent much evil; it can do very little positive good in this or perhaps anything else." http://mises.org/daily/867

Now this is a general principle, stated at about the time of the American Revolution. There are obvious exceptions: government responses in times of disaster come to mind -- and even the principle can be argued. Think of it as a vector, a default: government isn't likely to do this well. Is there not a better way that doesn't involve coercion? Tocqueville addressed this well: in America, particularly, "the associations" did much of the "positive" work that in Europe was assigned to government. From Burke's time onward the obligations of the Government toward "the deserving poor" have been debated, both in America and Britain. Recall that in England there is no objection to Government deriving obligations from religious principles; it is, after all, by law, a Christian nation with the Queen as the head of the Established Church. The came debates happened in the United States, but we are not allowed to use religious obligations in our calculations.

In both nations the principle of helping the deserving poor transmogrified into "entitlements" which have become monstrous obligations to the point where they are no longer discretionary spending and nothing can be done about them, even when they oblige all of us to pay enormous pensions to those whose job was to take money from the productive and hand it out to the non-productive, deserving or not. The notion that the Government cannot provide for us in our necessities and can do very little positive good seems to come from a long way off. The nature of what Government can and cannot do, and ought and ought not to do, is not even agreed on among all Conservatives.

Conservatives do not need for the Tea Party movement to embrace the general principle that by and large Government does little good. It does not need for the Tea Party to engage in debates at that level. At the moment it is obvious to nearly everyone that the Government has undertaken far too much, that it is not doing even what we all agree it should do very well, and that it is time for a change. We can all, Conservative, Libertarian, Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians, Federalists and anti-federalists, agree that we are Taxed Enough Already, and that we do not have Good Government; that it is time to turn the rascals out.

Until that is done, until we are no longer government by Creeps and Nuts and a system that generates positive power feedbacks, discussions of where we must go and what is best are not so important; but there will come a time when this sort of discussion is very important.

John Adams did not begin as Mad Dog Adams eager for revolution. He disapproved of his radical cousin Sam. But there came a time...


You wrote: "The Reagan people, Democrat and Republican, never coalesced into a party built on conservative principles, or indeed any principles as all. The lesson was, I think, that the nation certainly needs to rally those who have had enough."

It's possible they never will coalesce. Heinlein wrote this:

"Political tags--such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and. so forth--are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort."

I have a theory. The Catch 22 of politics is that the sort of person who thinks people should not be controlled is exactly the sort of person who is allergic to having political power. I have watched many good conservatives in politics simply decide that they have no desire to be in that club, and retire or otherwise fade away. Fred Thompson made a pretty big splash at first, but it was clear almost from the beginning of his short campaign that he didn't have any real urgency to be in political office. He's not the only example, either.

The people who live and breath to control others do have this urgency. In spades. If conservatives tend to follow George Washington's example, but liberals have a single-minded thirst for power, the rest is simple natural selection.

In short, the kind of people you really don't want to be in charge of things are exactly the sort who desperately want to be in charge of things. And the reverse.

I've speculated in the past that we might have done better over the years simply selecting our leaders by lottery. I'm not sure we could have done any worse. Haven't some of our greatest leaders been those who had leadership dropped on them instead of lusting after it?

Tom Brosz

But that is the point. By limiting the power that government has -- or by dividing that power among many jurisdictions and among many institutions -- you hope to make it less important. See Jefferson, here http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch8s41.html .

 "In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confi-
dence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the
chains of the Constitution." http://www.questia.com/PM.qst%3Fa%3Do&d%3D76953750

There would have been no Republic had we not been blessed with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin...


Fred on WikiLeaks...


"Two ways exist of looking at WikiLeaks, the site that publicizes secret military documents and videos. The first is held self-interestedly by the Pentagon and by Fox News, the voice of an angry lower-middle class without too much education. These believe that Wikileakers are traitors, haters of America, who give aid and comfort to the enemy and endanger the lives of Our Boys."

"The other view, held usually by people who have some experience of Washington, is that the Pentagon is worried not about the divulging of tactical secrets, but about public relations. WikiLeaks doesn’t endanger soldiers, insists this way of looking at things, but the war itself, and all the juiceful contracts and promotions and so on entailed by wars."

Fred has much more to say, but the above is probably the limit to my "fair use" quoting...

Charles Brumbelow

While I often agree with Fred, and I do not disagree that it is better to be open than closed as a society, there are legitimate secrets, and the names of those in the villages favorable to our cause is one of those secrets. Leaking high policy is one thing; fingering a village elder so that he and his family can be beheaded is another. WikiLeak drips blood.

And see view


The Roman Question

I know I'm not practical or even nice. A lot of that is your fault. You got me reading Roman history oh those many years ago. Now I ask myself what I call the "Roman question". How would the Romans have dealt with our seemingly impossible modern difficulties.

It came to me while watching a National Geographic or Science Channel TV show on the efforts to keep the Leaning Tower of Pisa upright. They showed a series of modern engineering miracles, all of which had failed. I wondered how it was that this tower that was built without modern machines and materials couldn't be repaired by all of the world's greatest engineers? So I speculated on how would the Romans long before the Renasissance would have tackled the problem. When you think of it this way you realize that there is no real problem at all, only a set of self imposed limitations that cripple us. All a Roman engineer would have to do would be to take the tower apart stone by stone, repair the foundation and put it back up again. A gang of unskilled slaves could do all it in a few weeks with nothing more than a pencil to mark the pieces for reassembly.

So what would the Romans do about illegal immigration? Barbarian agriculturists did cross the late empire's borders. The Romans killed them when they could. The sensible thing to do today - which is never suggested - is to bomb Mexico. We shouldn't have to build a fence to keep Mexicans out. The Mexican government should build one, to keep their people in, and they would too if we increased their motivation. But of course there is an even simpler solution that the ancients would have employed - slavery. We hear that these people are hard workers - OK, let's capture them and put them in barracks like those seen in the movie "Cool Hand Luke". There were plenty of chain gangs in America as late as the thirties for criminals and of course all illegal immigrants are by definition criminals. Don't send them back at least don't send them back until we've had them work for us for a decade or so. The problem evaporates like dew in the desert.

What would Scipio Amelianus do in Afghanistan? He might recognize that the mountains and high country were inhospitable to civilized troops. Salting that earth wouldn't be enough to deny it to the enemy. He would probably use anthrax. When there are no safe refuges for rebels, Afghanistan ceases to be much of a problem. This could be done by hand with troops in protective gear - no high tech needed. But unmanned aerial dispersion might be quicker. Eventually the spores would lose their effectiveness and would need to be renewed. Pundits always cite the mountainous geography of Afghanistan as the reason why it has so long been a source of violence. We could change that easily enough.

Domestically we are said to have out of control spending for entitlements. But do we really? The Romans had their own problems with the corn dole initiated by Saturninus and increased by Clodius. But Julius and Augustus both simply eliminated it it at least for a while by fiat. Obama has instituted rule by fiat again (executive order). His Republican/Libertarian successor could therefore simply abolish AFDC and/or public employee unions.

So how big are our problems today? I would argue they are minuscule, if they only exist because we choose to not adopt effective countermeasures available to us for millennia. Of course I don't really expect anyone to adopt my suggestions. It wouldn't be nice. But such a thought experiment does give you some perspective.


We have other means available to us. We have not the will. I do not regret that we do not have the will to slaughter and enslave our enemies; but that we do not have the will to build fences?



so you are a bright guy and want to decide on Afghanistan?

Think again: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-10726746  .......

There isn't much more in Europe or the US. "There are really very few places where you can learn Dari or Pashto. Dedicated studies on Afghanistan exist but are very scattered," says German expert Thomas Ruttig.

He speaks Pashto and Dari, and has been working on Afghanistan for 25 years. In a paper released this month, he writes: "There does not seem to be a comprehensive recent English-language book or article dealing with the types of Pashtunwalai (codes of honour) among Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan."


IMHO this is a key interview:


B.G.: The US military has realised by now that the Afghan society is a barely penetrable jungle – with its more than fifty ethnic groups, thousands of tribes, religious groups, mystical brotherhoods, mafia networks, village communities and nomads’ camps, with the clienteles of political actors, the militias of the warlords, bands of robbers and urban neighbourhoods, plus marriage alliances, professional guilds and internationally networked trade and bazaar structures. In such a jungle, even the most gutsy rambo with his high-tech gear is quickly lost. Drones with cameras, GPS systems or Recce Tornados [German military reconnaissance aircraft] are not of much help there – but perhaps the ethnologist who goes into the field armed with a note pad and a pen and who has developed methods to permeate such social undergrowth.


Commentary by Thomas Ruttig on leaked documents:




Food for thought......

A Clean Desk Is The sign of an Idle Mind!

Saw these photos on the Internet about a person's mind and his desk... Here are a few samples.........

(William F. Buckley)                                 ( (Nat Hentoff)                            (Albert Einstein)


Chaos Manor



Need we go any further...........geez

Perhaps not strictly fair, but...  


Subj: Corruption: Middle East meets West

From Professor Bernard Lewis, _Faith and Power_, p. 141:

>>In democratic corruption, you make money in the marketplace, and you use that money to buy power; in Middle Eastern corruption, you seize power and use the power to make money. ... In Israel, one sees an interesting compound, reflecting the mixed cultural heritage of the country, brought by Jews who came from both the Christian and Islamic worlds, and who brought some of the ways of those worlds with them.<<

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Sounds like a bit character from one of your novels


Ran into this post -- a history professor, ex-USAF -- via another link; words fail me:


"A subtle change has been happening right before the eyes of Americans. Our troops are being told they're no longer primarily citizen-soldiers or citizen-airmen; they're being told they're warriors. Indeed, they're reminded of this linguistic turn in "creeds" that many of them (and often their families) display with pride."

The horror! Of course, as a Navy brat and the father of an Iraq-vet Marine, my first response is, "Well, yeah, that's the Air Force for you," but that slanders a lot of brave men and women in the USAF. Sheesh.

Here's where I got this link from:


. ..bruce..

-- Bruce F. Webster

Don't know what to tell you...


Rolling Thunder Tribute

(Be certain to watch both the short videos - how does this Marine do it?)

For those of you who are not familiar with "Rolling Thunder," every year on the Sunday before Memorial Day, 3,000 veterans on motorcycles, hundreds of which rode completely across the country, LA to DC with "Ride for the Wall" leave the Pentagon, pass Arlington Cemetery and parade through Washington DC straight down Constitution Ave.

It is a tremendously moving experience. Absolutely fantastic. It is estimated that 3 Million people, families, veterans, bikers, and folks of all kinds pack Washington DC over the Memorial Day Weekend for this event.

There is something else that also is very special about it.

One Marine, referred to as the saluting Marine, stands there on Constitution Ave and salutes at attention for three straight hours and never drops his arm. It was 92 degrees there on Sunday.

That has to kill your arm standing at present arms for three solid hours. The heat must be unbearable in dress blues. He did take a drink of water with his left hand, but never dropped his right.

George W Bush used to meet every year with the leaders of Rolling Thunder before the parade began.

President Obama does not.


The following video is of SSgt Chambers talking on why he renders the honors to the Rolling Thunder.


Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is not a path and leave a trail-Walt Whitman




This is too much:

So much for transparency.

Under a little-noticed provision of the recently passed financial-reform legislation <http://www.foxbusiness.com/topics/politics/financial-reform.htm>  , the Securities and Exchange Commission no longer has to comply with virtually all requests for information releases from the public, including those filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

The law, signed last week by President Obama, exempts the SEC from disclosing records or information derived from "surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities." Given that the SEC is a regulatory body, the provision covers almost every action by the agency, lawyers say. Congress and federal agencies can request information, but the public cannot.


Yeah, let's give the people who slept through the sub-prime scandal while banks loaned to unqualified buyers. Can me crazy, but having Congress Critters who don't read the laws they pass making sure everything is copacetic twixt the SEC and the public seems less than comforting. Can't have those terrorists making freedom of information act requests, can we? The words "little-noticed provision" seem to be coming up a lot lately and I suspect we'll be hearing those words for the next few decades. *groan*

-- BDAB,


"Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened." —Winston Churchill

“The opinion of ten thousand men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.” —Marcus Aurelius

But this is to become the most open Administration in history.


Hot fudge sundae falls in 2182 (0.05%) 


Hot fudge sundae falls in 2182 (0.05% probability of impact)


Quoting: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/
dangerous-asteroid-impact-earth-2182-100727.html  (no text differences)



SUBJECT: Training a Robot to flip a pancake.

All that is missing is the robot swearing in the initial trials!



Mike Casey











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