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Monday  November 15, 2010

An Open Letter to Freeman Dyson

Subject: An expression of regret, and a word of thanks.

Professor Dyson,

I am writing you today in order to express my sincere condolences for the completely unwarranted, egregious, dishonorable, and outrageous ad hominem attack on you written by one Mr. Kenneth Brower and published in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine. One can only imagine the sense of personal betrayal you must feel at having been so ill-used by someone to whom you have extended graciousness and hospitality over the years; whatever his disagreements with you regarding his oxymoronic secular religious beliefs, the incivility and sheer ingratitude of the man are both distressing and extremely disappointing, and it is deeply regrettable not only that Mr. Brower chose to repay your kindness in such coin, but that the editors of The Atlantic elected to cheapen their publication by providing a platform for the dissemination of his calumnies.

Your intellectual achievements and practical contributions to society are both unquestioned and unparalleled in the present age; please allow me to take this opportunity to thank you personally for your unswerving dedication to and continued engagement in advancing the sum of scientific knowledge for the overall betterment of the human condition. Long after this unfortunate episode and its inconsequential instigator have been deservedly forgotten, your body of work, along with your personal and professional integrity, will continue to be held in the highest regard, esteemed on their merits by generations yet to come.


Roland Dobbins

There is a discussion of the Brower article in View.


: Good teachers and bad teachers

It's interesting to me, how teachers on both sides of the "fire bad teachers" question agree strongly on one thing: That teaching effectiveness requires parental involvement.

And yet...they *also* seem to strongly agree that homeschooling is a terrible idea, that pedagogy is a specialty, and that without professional teachers no kid would learn anything.

Doesn't this seem like they're trying to have it both ways? Claiming that failure is due to the parents but success is due to the teachers?

-- Mike T. Powers

Since the purpose of the public school system is to insure the jobs of all teachers provided that they have graduated from teachers colleges, "good" and "bad" are irrelevant except as talking points to get the taxpayers to contribute more money.


TSA's powers have become... extensive


I came across this article on Mr. Tyner's run-in with the TSA -


What jumped out at me was the following which is buried in the middle of the article:

The ruling, from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, says that "requiring that a potential passenger be allowed to revoke consent to an ongoing airport security search makes little sense in a post-9/11 world. Such a rule would afford terrorists multiple opportunities to attempt to penetrate airport security by 'electing not to fly' on the cusp of detection until a vulnerable portal is found."

It seems to me that there ought to be grounds here for requiring very large signs at the entrances to all airports where TSA has security stations. These signs would clearly proclaim that entry to these premises constitutes consent to being scanned by radiological equipment or submission to an unlimited physical search.

Think the travel industry would have a word or two to say about that?

John L.


SUBJECT: 10 centuries in 5 minutes

Hi Jerry.

For those who like maps and history, somebody did a lot of research for this!



Mike Casey


'They all agree that the PLA has begun to act as an interest group, pushing its own agenda by having its officers appear on television, in military uniform, speaking out on foreign policy.'


-- Roland Dobbins




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Tuesday,  November 16, 2010

Letter from England

I've been touch-typing Hellenistic Greek using an English-language keyboard. At least it displays in the Greek alphabet. My head hurts.

 UK students riot. <http://tinyurl.com/2ut3c7q> <http://tinyurl.com/2vkmljq> <http://tinyurl.com/33u5q37> This reminds me of the student strike at the University of California after the Regents imposed fees in 1970. The amount the Government is proposing ($14400/year) means that many UK students will be getting a 4th-class college education for the price of a US 2nd-tier private school. I suspect we'll soon have some data points on the demand elasticity of a college education. Commentary on the new university fee system: <http://tinyurl.com/2wzrflq>. The UK Government's analysis assumes that men and women graduating with degrees will average about $160,000/year in 2046 (in current dollars). I don't think so.

 Error in handling evidence leads to a death sentence <http://tinyurl.com/3yqbyt6>. It was only a matter of time.

 A photo of buildings in the town centre here. This is what urban England looks like. Note the barbed wire on top of the walls--the police rarely investigate burglaries and break-ins. They call it "volume crime". *Don't* leave toys out on your lawn.


Harry Erwin



On TSA and X-rays and such:


Let the TSA be our first line of defense against the disease of terrorism, and actual diseases like obesity:


"Our leaders in Washington are still ironing out the details of the health care bill that they passed. It would be easy for them to create a provision to empower TSA representatives to provide basic medical examinations to those who are already waiting in line for their planes. Travelers are already asked to remove their shoes before passing through the security line, so it would not be much more to ask that they accompany a new TSA Medical Representative behind a curtain where they would remove their shoes and the rest of their clothing so that they could receive a brief but through examination, checking for moles, rashes, lumps, brucellosis, scabies, enlarged prostates, or other medical maladies. Next, the passengers would step into an x-ray machine, where images of their bodies would display not only if they were carrying illegal contraband in their person, but also if they were carrying dangerous tumors or had non-specific fold-thickening of the duodenum. These x-ray machines would be similar to the full body scanners the TSA currently employs, to great effect. In the long run, this plan will not only help make us all safer and healthier, it will be a fiscal winner. Everyone flies; it would be easy to give people check-ups while they wait. Since they're already at the airport, they wouldn't have to take an extra day off from work to go to a doctor's office, which would increase our nation's productivity. And hiring more TSA representatives to handle the increased demand would boost our nation's woeful employment numbers."

 I l-o-o-o-o-v-e creative thought.




TSATales: Next installment.

From last week's BBC World News: A plane was diverted to an emergency landing because a passenger had a black box of the kind Orthodox Jews tie on their foreheads for prayer. The passenger was an Orthodox Jew.

I can't think of a comment.




Drudge report has been posting a lot of article about TSA abuse recently. This is comprehensive, and links a couple of related news videos:


My only recommendation: take your complaints to your Congressman and Senators. If they're swamped, they'll do something.



Subject: Transportation Security Administration

Dear Dr. Pournelle.

I quit flying as soon as the TSA was formed. My only contact with them has been rude comments when passing them on the way to pick up friends that still fly. They add to the success of the terrorists, while not improving safety at all. The latest flap over intrusive search is irrelevant. The next expected attack will be a suicide bomber. The bomber will be the first actual terrorist to be faced by the TSA representative in question, and the last, as the agent and the check station are blown out of existence. It would be silly to assume I am the first person to figure out this plot.


William L. Jones

I have often wondered why airplanes are better targets than waiting lines for TSA screening, particularly Washington National on a Friday afternoon. Wheel up a cart, ask someone to watch it for you, or, if you prefer suicide...


TSA Porno Scanner Update


This is most encouraging. These scanners would never have come to fruition without Chertoff -- who was DHS Secretary and then moved into the body scanner business after he advocated their use. Of course, the panti bomber -- that guy who set his underwear on fire -- cemented the deal. Well, Italy tossed these out of their airports. Pilots are refusing them. Airline CEOs are saying they are unsafe, and the TSA still hasn't said why they are exempt from federal radiation laws. I guess its "shhh, or the boogie men are gonna get ya!"

Flight attendants have joined the rising discord vis-a-vis the porno scanners: http://www.abc15.com/dpp

TSA claims that no fondling, groping, or squeezing takes place at the airports -- this statement flies in the face of several eye witness accounts that I read about on the net: http://www.prisonplanet.com/tsa-no-fondling-groping-or-squeezing-is-taking-place-at-airports.html

Pilots' unions are opposing these scanners: http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?

One union president is telling pilots to avoid the scanners: http://aviationblog.dallasnews.com/

Ironically, it is the TSA clerks themselves who are at the most risk from these porno scanners. These clerks receive daily exposure to unsafe levels of radiation in violation of federal law, presumably, and they are not even given radiation badges.

The answer seems to be more invasive pat downs: http://travel.usatoday.com/flights

Remember, it was not too long ago that TSA considered using electronic shock bracelets -- similar to shock collars on a dog -- to give to every passenger who boarded an aircraft so the flight attendants or security professionals could zap passengers that they felt were a threat. http://janetnapolitano.com/dhs-

Your data on radiation levels may be off; or perhaps the TSA workers risk cancer. I am certain some will sue if a cancer case appears. Why not?

I have always said that issuing every adult passenger a ball peen hammer to be turned in on deplaning would be a simple solution to the obtrusive passenger problem.


Forbes Magazine: 'Let’s abolish the TSA.'


- Roland Dobbins


"It's time to stop treating passengers like criminals and start treating them as assets."


-- Roland Dobbins


: Airplane Security


From a piece at the American Spectator on airplane security:

"We have been dutifully marching through magnetometers for decades. After 9/11, were grimly tolerant of the new searches, taking off our shoes, divesting our laptops of their cases and even leaving liquids and cigar lighters in the checked bags. But last Christmas, none of that prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding a Northwest flight with PETN (a very concentrated and powerful explosive) sewn into his underwear. Were it not for the action of a young Dutch filmmaker -- who, if memory serves, leaped over several rows of passengers and forcefully doused Umar's drawers -- a lot of people might have been killed.

And in reaction to this, our dear Homeland Security Secretary, the lovely and talented Janet Napolitano, said that "the system worked." Now, though I claim some expertise in matters of national security, I am unaware of any system which ensures that there's a brave Dutch filmmaker on each flight, sitting on the edge of his seat and waiting for a faint puff of smoke to rise from someone's BVDs."

I think it would be fascinating to tally the instances where "the system" prevented a terrorist attack and compare this against the number of instances where alert passengers prevented one. It might lead to interesting conclusions about what fraction of the security dollar is better spent empowering TSA, and what fraction is better spent empowering passengers.

. ....Karl

The system worked: the system of entrusting the security of free people to the people themselves, that is. But that system is not being used any longer. Indeed, had that system prevailed before 9/11 the passengers would have solved the problem, and the pilots would not have opened the cabin door. But all were told to cooperate...


Rose seems to feel strongly about this:

Mr. Tyner under investigation - 

TSA to investigate body scan resister

"The Transportation Security Administration has opened an investigation targeting John Tyner, the Oceanside man who left Lindbergh Field under duress on Saturday morning after refusing to undertake a full body scan."


"Aguilar said the aggressive body search is not designed as an inducement for passengers to opt into the full body scan" (choke)

In any case, I hope that if this goes on that Mr. Tyner has the means and mental strength to see this one through the lengthy court process. I would really like to see the Supreme Court rule on the constitutionality of, "By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights."

If it does go so far I, for one, would give to a defense fund for him.




Opt out of TSA screeners? - 


Amid airport anger, GOP takes aim at screening

"Did you know that the nation's airports are not required to have Transportation Security Administration screeners checking passengers at security checkpoints? The 2001 law creating the TSA gave airports the right to opt out of the TSA program in favor of private screeners after a two-year period."

Even better! Now, how to lobby airports to dump TSA? Again, I would willingly pay a small extra fee per ticket to be rid of the TSA tyranny.




One Hundred Naked Citizens: One Hundred Leaked Body Scans


Just a little more fuel to the fire.

R, Rose


Opt out, scan or... - 

I don't plan on flying any time soon. This security search stuff is way out of hand. I am really getting to the point that someone says, "Janet Napolitano," and I roll my eyes.

I wonder....

So I put on my bathing suit under a coat, refuse the backscatter machine, and ask if this is bare enough to avoid pat down. If the answer is no...finish stripping? (I am an upper middle-aged woman who is a bit more than a bit much of a good thing. I am hardly going to delight anyone with my physical appearance, lol.)

I have the chutzpah to do this.

Shame my next few trips are either auto or train.



Let me know when and where!  I'll try to get there with my camera!

And I believe you...

I find the furor over this a bit odd, since the new procedure is less intrusive and obnoxious than the old; but this one involves radiation and the numbers are not published. As I understand it the radiation is trivial. And the less I have to deal with the TSA people the less likely I am to say something that will get me in trouble with these theater Federal Agents.


TSA can't copy scans?

I got this right from the TSA's website on the privacy of scanners( http://www.tsa.gov/approach/tech/ait/privacy.shtm ):

Advanced imaging technology cannot store, print, transmit or save the image, and the image is automatically deleted from the system after it is cleared by the remotely located security officer. Officers evaluating images are not permitted to take cameras, cell phones or photo-enabled devices into the resolution room.

With no record, no copy, no storage how do they prove probable cause? How do they get a conviction? Is it all based on the word of a TSA screener?

I presume they do not delete scans that show contraband.



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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TSA, X-rays, and security: representative views


Regarding today's discussion of hormesis and the health effects of the backscatter X-ray, at http://www.jerrypournelle.com/

I have long tended to agree with hormesis, but looking at the examples given, the results appear to be based on a low steady-state exposure resulting in fairly large cumulative doses. It is not immediately obvious that the same result would be obtained from intermittant exposure at higher rates.

Example: Take in flight exposure as 0.5 mrem/hr. For a five second scan by the backscatter X-ray, although the total dose is 0.01 mrem, the dose rate is 0.01 mrem / 0.00139 hr = 7.2 mrem/hr, over ten times greater.

It is possible that the body's ability to sustain radiation damage is overwhelmed at high dose rate even for relatively low cumulative doses. Note that I said possible, not probable (up to a point), and a factor of ten increase in dose rate at low cumulative dose may not be sufficient to cause an effect. But it's not automatically certain that the comparison is a good one.

I need to look at this more. There probably is data that will bear on the subject.


You are certainly better qualified than I am on the physics, but it is my understanding that rates in small doses are not terribly important. Trivial amounts remain trivial. I am prepared to be shown that I am wrong on this.


TSA and _your_ kids

I found this on Ben Sandilands "Plane Talking" blog. http://blogs.crikey.com.au/planetalking/

Quite the endearing poster ( see jpg attachment )

G! uwe

The image says it all. When I was young I was brought up to believe that the policeman was my friend, and I should always look for the nearest cop if there was trouble. For the most part that was true, when I was growing up, but this is not the world of the 1930's.




I retired from a US Government job and had Top Secret clearance and participated in anti-terrorism activities before retiring. I worked in a secure government facility and have some significant observation of security procedures. Our TSA set up is just goofy.

I was told TSA folks scan each other when they come to work. That sounds like their type of operation.

They should be turned in for waste, fraud and abuse on their own hotline. They have ‘mission creep’ in their activities. Their initials do not stand for Transportation Search Administration. They forgot they are supposed to be doing SECURITY.

Israel’s airline screens passengers when they check tickets using human inteligence. Israel has not lost planes despite being in a more dangerous environment than the US for a longer period of time. TSA announced they were going to do screening of passengers like Israel does, but even screwed that up; TSA has people walking around looking for terrorists rather than talking to people when screening tickets.

Our TSA would have no reason to screen pilots, flight attendants or validated travelers.

TSA does security all wrong. If they did it the same way at the US Supreme Court building they would be searching each Supreme Court Justice. To the extent our TSA searches everyone, it is observed they waste time of all and provide security theatre only.

What the TSA should institute is a ‘security clearance’ approach that focuses on pre-validating those persons who are not threats and then only focus screening on those not on the credentialed list of travelers & airline personnel. At an earlier time the pilot of a plane being searched for nail clippers said, “I am the Captain and have an Axe on my wall”. They screened him anyway.

After retirement some three years ago I obtained a US Coast Guard Merchant Marine license and was required to go through the TSA to get a Transport Worker Identification Credential. They have over a million issued after security checks, and costs of over a hundred dollars per issued TWIC card, each carrying biometric id, photos and data. But they still do not use them or the scanners that could read them as promised. At one TSA checkpoint at an airport, when presenting the credential the ticket taker asked, “What is that?”

I hope Congress forces an overhaul of TSA to make them effective rather than a joke.

Ed Kelly, aboard Sailing Vessel Angel Louise, lying Brunswick, GA

The Iron Law always applies.


TSA Apparatchicks

I used to work for TSA and quit a while back. I'm not the organization's biggest fan, but I also can't stand the allegations made against them, like that the new pat-downs are somehow "groping". There's no cupping of the breast or testicles. The policy states you slide a flat hand up the side of your thigh until it hits resistance. Anyone claiming otherwise is lying out of their ass or had the world's worst screener. There's enough wrong with TSA that you can argue against it

--I have had female friends who have experienced the pat downs and the statements they say were something along the lines of ‘humiliating’ and borderline assault. In order to avoid the pat down several girls in skirts have had to take off the skirts in order to expose themselves.

--I would like TSA to prove to me that a bomb strapped in those areas, is actually capable of taking down an airplane, or even damaging it. Furthermore Id like them to answer what happens if they do detect a bomb in the crowded conditions of the lineup? What happens if the suicide bomber, blows up in one of the their machines or takes out the 50 or so people conveniently lined up behind the machines?

--The one good thing about this whole situation was the viral video going out instantly over YouTube. The final question of who watches the watchers has been answered. Anyone with a cell phone.


The real question is what did I do to deserve this? But then I've been saying this since they began back in the days of trying to confiscate a Medal of Honor from a retired general, and they really were a Gomer Gestapo. Perhaps they have become more "professional" but the Iron Law prevails.


Security Theatre

Jerry -

Charles Krauthammer's comment on Fox News last night isn't a new insight, but one I believe is worth mentioning in light of the current TSA scan/grope discussion.

I paraphrase: "We should be looking for terrorists, not devices."

Which is to say, we should be profiling prospective passengers. There, I've said it, make of it what you will. Profiling - the "p" word. If that makes me evil, then evil I am.

I've said on many occasions that all a politician has to do to get my support for a tax hike is to outlaw government borrowing and cut expenses across the board by 20%. I'll discuss supporting some form of amnesty for long-term illegal residents after we secure our borders and expel short-term illegals.

It's a variant on the old joke, "We've got to stop hurting each other - you go first." Let them prove their bona fides if they want my support.

David Smith


TSA Noise Grows


Well, I suspect we all need to write letters to the airport heads and remind them the law allows them to opt out of TSA after two years -- the two years passed already. Now the GOP is talking about the graft issue with the body scanners. You mean they aren't taking pictures of our genitals to make us feel safer? You mean the former DHS secretary is making money from these deals? Say it aint' so...



BDAB,  Joshua Jordan, KSC Percussa Resurgo


xray scanners 


The nominal dose from those x-ray backscatter scanners is indeed miniscule. However, will it reliably remain so after a few years of operation by TSA employees? Want to bet such machines will never, never, ever be "fixed" by some clown defeating a safety interlock that had properly shut down a screwed-up x-ray source?

That aside, the thought occurs of traveling in kilt, regimental, so that if the TSA really wants to check things out they can be given a quick flip of the tartan, both as proof there's nothing there as oughtn't be and as an indication of the vast respect in which they are held. Any subsequent prosecution for lewd display or some such could allow for entertaining discussion of the precise legal difference if any between their public groping of one's naughty bits and one's voluntary display of same - in the interest of safety, of course.

Seriously, the current uproar is way overdue. They've been treating free citizens like convicts for years, and their line, that if you don't like it you can always take other forms of transportation, is insulting in the extreme. Really? I can drive to the other coast to see family for a couple days? To Hawaii for a vacation? Really? Riiiight. Flying these days is basic essential transportation, and the assertion that it's a privilege not a right is horse-hockey.


That is what civil lawsuits are for: perhaps TSA ought not be exempt from liability for doing it wrong. The John and Ken show is advocating kilts and commando...


inflight radiation 


Mr. Strohm points to a study disputing my point about cumulative inflight radiation exposure. My best rebuttal is a closet full of flight suits faded from green to brown by radiation, each one with a green strip on each shoulder where they were covered by my parachute straps. Each flight suit lasts somewhere between 50 and 80 flight hours before the color change is enough that I consider it no longer serviceable. Before the argument is raised that this was merely ultraviolet radiation, I will point out that portions of my skin are uncovered on each and every flight and I have never received a simple sunburn from flying, even during a 12 hour trans-atlantic ferry flight. The radiation bleaching out my flight suits isn't simply UV.

There are rules on inflight radiation exposure, and aircraft are generally shielded to ensure that the exposure per flight is below some allowable threshold. This is a challenge when designing airliners that are designed to fly well over 30,000 ft, over 50,000 ft in some cases. I was astonished to read, here and there, about how many early test pilots and astronauts have died from various sorts of cancer. To my knowledge there has been no study attempting to discover common threads in their deaths, but that is probably because they were exposed to any number of known hazards throughout their careers (such as sitting 6 ft behind the world's most powerful air to air radar for anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand hours) so maybe such a study would be doomed from the start.

I know that there is shielding in place, and my old flight suits still get bleached to an ugly brown color by radiation that does not cause acute sunburn after only about 40 flight hours each. I have no desire to increase my radiation exposure levels on the basis that some federal security guard says it's ok. A radiologist I know says that ANY radiation exposure is potentially fatal, since you never know what could trigger cancer. This is also why women in early stages of pregnancy should NEVER fly at any great altitude (typical of commercial airline flights) or risk unnecessary radiation exposure, since even a minor change to a microscopic fetus could be catastrophic. I'm going with the radiologist's opinion.


But is adding 1/50th the dose per hour on each flight likely to be critical? For those who simply can have no radiation, flying in a jet is simply not an option. Take the train. Or a boat. Or a bicycle.


Subj: National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education recommends Teacher-Education Transformation

An article in the WSJ today reported on this:


An archive of the webcast was available, as of Tues 16 Nov 2010, here:


The webcast consisted, with one exception, of expressions of boundless enthusiasm for the Wonderful New Model.

The exception was the remarks by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, at about time 1:30 of the archived webcast, which remarks contained the following criticisms:

1. The Blue Ribbon Panel seems to assume there is One Best Model for teacher prep, namely, the one they recommend.

What if there *is* no One Best Model for teacher prep?

In medicine, for example, there is *specialization*: we do not train Nurses the same way we train Thoracic Surgeons.

Might different models for schools -- for example, the Citizen Schools model in Boston and online-delivery models such as Florida Virtual and Tutor.com -- need teachers prepared differently?

2. The only tech the Blue Ribbon Panel seems to have considered is tech for collaboration and training of teachers.

The Panel seems not to have considered the possibility that alternative models, such as the Rocketship Academies of San Jose and School of One, might be more effective and/or more efficient.

Consequently, adopting the Panel's recommendations might tend to *stifle* innovation.

3. Why deal the IHEs into the game?

For example, High Tech High in San Diego demonstrates a residency model for K-12s *without* IHEs.

4. The Blue Ribbon Panel gives "no more than a head-feint" towards recognizing the new budgetary realities.

The era of lavish year-over-year increases in school budgets is over. If a school board is going to adopt any of this expensive new wonderfulness, that school board is going to have to cut something else. *What?* The Panel identifies no trade-offs.

5. What makes the Panel think the new wonderfulness of the models the "boutique" programs demonstrate can be scaled up -- especially given the budgetary realities?

Might the end result be mediocrity at scale?

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


SUBJECT: Free speech at universities

Hi Jerry.

Related to recent commentary on Chaos Manor: on universities not taking appropriate security measures when demonstrators interfere with a (perhaps) controversial public speaker...



Mike Casey


Copywrong - another view


Charles Brumbelow

Konkin was mostly an anarchist, and generally where he was original he wasn't correct and where he was correct he wasn't original. He would not have been displeased to have enough money to pay his rent, but in fact he largely lived off the largess of more successful friends.

Without copyright anyone could take any work and post it on Amazon with a price. Of course that wasn't possible when Konkin wrote this, but it is after I had written about information utilities and eBooks in A Step Farther Out.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

A short dialog on TSA:

RE: Finding the furor odd -

Truly, I am less bothered by the radiation exposure than by the simple tyranny of it all. I don't believe the pictures are safe in the meaning that they won't be identified to personal information and that they won't be put up on the internet in due time. I was unclear in that the "safety" I meant had little to do with radiation.

However, if I flew often the unknown radiation levels might concern me more.

R, Rose

Sure but why is this worse than what you've been putting up with for years? I tried to warn people when it first started.

Jerry Pournelle
 Chaos Manor

RE: Finding the furor odd - 

When the shoe-bomber incident occurred I was in a small town in Oregon. On the way home I rather expected that some overreaction would have everyone taking their shoes off. You must realize the demographic of all travelers on the small MD were of a demographic that just would never be a danger. The worst was the yappy min-pin who was permitted out of his carry case in the waiting area.

My parents had warned me that "Little Ceasar" was running security. He was a recently activated reservist who had never been in the regular army or seen real action. (basically a wanna-be.) He took a personal interest in searching "random" carry-ons, and of course mine was selected.

This was actually amusing as mine was packed as full as it could be with handmade cheeses from a local co-op, my favorite cranberry candy from a small factory, and other small items peculiar to the region. It also carried a selection of small toys, books, and children's music tapes, to entertain my young daughter.

Less amusing was that he broke one of the toys and didn't care.

I was mostly amused at his overreaction, not realizing yet that the entire nation was similarly overreacting.

I was not traveling with a computer.

My next few trips were near enough that it was more fun to take the car and a companion, (at my expense,) and enjoy a few days of leave after the work was done, so the increasing aggravation of travel was something I heard about but didn't experience.

Then reality set in.

Actually, Lindbergh was an annoyance and I often caught a commuter plane to LA and it was easier to go through security in the commuter terminal. Once in LA I was already past the security perimeter and was never stupid enough to change that.

Other airports were far more obnoxious but things like 3 oz of liquids or gels didn't bother me. I stifled my tongue out of practicality but definitely began to develop a resentment against the TSA. The simple arrogance would be enough. The idea that they act as if they are important individuals is laughable. It annoyed me that it was now better to check luggage than manage with my (2) carry-ons. I figured the airlines were taking advantage of the circumstances to do what they already wanted--restrict carry on. I also was annoyed that twice my luggage was damaged and getting a claim settled proved more effort than I was willing to keep up with. I travel with few valuables and was able to keep most of those in my purse with me.

I now avoid flying whenever practical.

Last year my now teenage daughter and I flew out of Logan. Given its sorry role in 9/11 I figured it would be the worst one. Not so. The wandering security guard was much more interested in flirting with my daughter and was an amusing conversationalist. (At least until his partner came by and pretty much dragged him away in embarrassment.) The worst was the line was so slow, but we were amused by the guard through most of it. We had to take our computers out of their cases, take off our shoes, etc, but were otherwise treated like people instead of cattle. I appreciated the humor that our TSA screeners approached my need for special assistance as I have a handicapping condition that was flaring and making my fingers almost useless and standing for any length of time an exercise in pain. They were courteous, provided a chair for me. This was the only airport where I actually appreciated that the screeners and guards felt they were serving us rather than being our masters.

My last trip through terminal 2 at Lindbergh was nasty. This was before the pat down and before the new scanners. The TSA personnel we encountered were rude, distant, arrogant, (add whatever derogatory adjective you wish and I am sure it would have fit someone we encountered.)

My resentment grows.

If I had been in the Oceanside gentleman's position I am certain that I would no longer have been able to restrain my aggravation. I will have to be prepared next time I must fly...I am thinking that the bathing suit idea is basically a good one. At least I will choose how much skin I will show, no one will be leering at me through a monitor, (with the pictures being recorded,) and I will not endure pat down behind a screen...let it be done in front of all. I have nothing to be ashamed of and they do.

I think that those with the experience, training, or wit, to see how easy it is for a real bad guy (willing to die,) to circumvent airline "security" are actually few. My children think they are being protected and wonder that I have objections. If I just adjusted how "I" thought about it, then I would feel much better about it. (choke.)

I think the small insults have just added up to the point where this was a last straw for many travelers. I resented long ago but was able to work my way through the system without creating a furor. But this grabbing our dignity inch by inch just reached the mark where I feel pushed too far and now must come out swinging.

Maybe the citizens are a sleeping lion who is about to awake. I only hope so.




"First it's passengers' shoes, then liquids, then laptops, then whole-body scans and now thorough pat-downs," says Geoff Freeman, executive vice resident of the U.S. Travel Association, which represents nearly 1,700 companies in the travel industry. The group says it has received an unprecedented 1,000 e-mails and phone calls in the past week from travelers opposed to TSA screening methods. "Travelers are saying: 'What's next?' What's the vision, and when does it get better?' "

"Government officials cannot strip search or pat down "people unless the government agents have a reasonable suspicion the person they're searching or strip searching ... (is) involved in some kind of criminal activity," John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, says. "Why would airports be any different?"

This may be why the furor. Before it was just our stuff, or a rude and obnoxious pretender to authority; now it is our very person that is being violated.

R, Rose

If there are any citizens left to awaken. I tried to warn everyone when this first started: the purpose of TSA is to convince Americans they are subjects, not citizens. I see no reason to change my views. Now true, most of the TSA people believe themselves to be good guys dedicated to the safety of the US, just as the kind of SF fans who volunteer "to work security" at SF conventions probably believe they are good people. SF convention chairmen have learned never to allow those who volunteer to work security to be involved in any way in security operations. The TSA recruits them. I am sure it also gets some good people, but enough will be police manqué or time servers, or both.

It may be that this will awaken the American people. Perhaps. But I fear your children are typical of a generation accustomed, with good reason, to think of authorities as enemies who must be obeyed, not partners in a self-governing republic. The TSA is a large part of this accustomization.


Yeah, one more TSA OMG...


It's been hard not to read about the TSA's amazing assaults on our dignity as US citizens lately. But this one just floored me. The article is about John Pistole's testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation concerning the TSA -


After surprisingly neutral comments on Pistole's testimony, the end of the article contained the following two items:


Apparently the TSA agents are 'offended' at the public's response to their activities -

The mood among security officials is "anger over the way the media is playing this story," according to a senior Homeland Security official.

"You had a dutiful [transportation security officer], someone who works on the front lines to protect this country from a terrorist attack, someone who did everything by the book and according to his training, and he was accosted and verbally abused by a member of the traveling public," the official said. "The fact that some in the media would hail the traveler as a kind of folk hero is shameful."

THEY are angry???


The second, however is the pièce de résistance -

Pistole, addressing a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on air cargo safety, veered off topic to plead with the American public to see airport security "as a partnership."

"Those security officers there are there to work with you, to ensure that everybody on that flight has been properly screened," he said. "Everybody wants that assurance, so just try to be patient, work with our folks. They are there to protect you and your loved ones, and let's make it a partnership."

I am at an absolute loss to decide whether I am more horrified/outraged to realize that this bureaucrat thinks I ought to believe this non-sense or that someone in the position of power he obviously occupies apparently believes it himself!

John L.

But of course they are angry. They mostly believe they are good guys. Or want to believe that. Or want us to believe that. Much like Vidkung Quisling.


Backscatter X-ray


I've been following the discussions of radiation dose in backscatter x-ray scans, and realizing I don't have enough information to reach a conclusion. Most important, I had no idea what the photon energy used was. The dose from a scanner is commonly compared with the dose from cosmic rays during an airplane flight, which could be a bit misleading. If the scanner uses a low enough energy, it's quite possible the x-rays would never penetrate the skin and contribute nothing to effective dose. Between this very low energy and the energy you see with cosmic rays, there is a huge range of photon (or particle, in the case of cosmic rays) energies, with a range of dose effects from uniform whole-body dose to all the energy concentrated in the epidermis.

But in the news articles, specifications like the photon energy have been rather hard to find.

I did a bit of googling, and came across the Wikipedia article on backscatter x-ray. It led me to a document that is very useful, despite some interesting and mildly irritating redactions.

Radiation Safety Engineering Assessment Report for the Rapidscan Secure 1000 In Single-Pose Configuration


This is the first place I've seen any information on the photon energies used by these instruments.

According to the document, the Rapidscan Secure 1000, presumably a typical backscatter x-ray unit, uses an x-ray beam of 50KVP out of the master (front) and slave (rear) unit, with beam hardness of 1.16 mmAl and 1.63mmAl, respectively. This yields a diagnostic quality x-ray beam, capable of penetrating the body and yielding an image on film, given enough photons to make an image.

There is no "backscatter setting" on an x-ray machine. You turn on the power, a lightning bolt hits a piece of tungsten, and out come photons. What you do with them once they emerge from the tube is up to you. (Yes, I'm glossing over some details, but they don't matter.) If you beam x-rays at a person, some of the photons are going to scatter in various directions. At a photon energy of 40 KeV, most of the beam attenuation we see is due to photons being scattered out of the direct beam. Since they don't reach a detector on the other side of the subject being irradiated, this counts as beam attenuation. Beam attenuation coefficients at 40KeV are 0.25 total, of which 0.18 represents Compton scattering. Another .02 represents Rayleigh scattering, so total scattering of one form or the other represents 80% of photons removed from the beam. (Radiological Health Handbook: "Mass Attenation Coefficients for Gamma Rays in Water" P. 133)

This attenuation coefficient of 0.25 has units of cm^2/g so if you multiply by the density of water, you get units of 1/cm. A beam of this energy going through 30 cm of airline passenger will be attenuated by a factor of 1800. One photon of the beam out of 1800 will make it through to a detector on the other side of the patient. Radiation scattered from the target, on the other hand, might be more useful. Using the Compton and Rayleigh scattering coefficients, the first centimeter of skin will scatter 18% of the incident beam in some direction. At low energies, a good fraction of the beam will be scattered back toward the beam emitter. At 40-50 KeV, probably about a third of the energy is scattered backward. If you have a whole wall as a detector, you can probably capture 5% of the total beam energy as backscattered radiation. 5% doesn't sound like a lot, one in twenty is huge compared with 1 in 1800. This means you can get about the same amount of useful information with 1% of the incident dose to the subject.

So according to the report linked above, each scan results in a total dose of 1.55 microrem. I'm inclined to believe the people doing the survey knew what they were doing. Because of the beam energies involved, this isn't quite a uniform whole-body dose -- The beam loses about half its strength for each inch of tissue it penetrates -- it isn't soft enough that all the dose will be concentrated, for example, in the melanocytes of your skin.

As convenient as it would be to be able to object on the basis of health and safety, I guess we're left with "only" arguments about modesty, human dignity, and whether we're citizens or subjects.

None of which seem to carry much weight in certain sectors of the political ecosystem.

. ......Karl

Thank you for running the numbers. We are left "only" with arguments about freedom. Freedom is not free.


Subject: cumulative inflight radiation exposure

Pilot wrote:

"Mr. Strohm points to a study disputing my point about cumulative inflight radiation exposure. My best rebuttal is a closet full of flight suits faded from green to brown by radiation, each one with a green strip on each shoulder where they were covered by my parachute straps."

This would imply that parachute straps are an effective barrier to ionizing radiation. I think the fading is more likely to be from plain old ordinary visible light.

S. Walker

That would have been my comment as well. I suspect UV does more bleaching than actual ionizing radiation. Of course UV and X=rays are both photons, but then clouds and oceans are largely water molecules.


: Why 3D Camera Technology Will Be The Future,


I'm on the road - my first air trip in ten years. I found the following summary of the 3D landscape:


Pretty interesting.



Rock Throwers Unite!

: My new favorite unit of energy -

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I’ve been doing some frivolous thought experiments recently, the results of which I thought you and your readers might enjoy.

This whole thing got started by an email from my father (a fellow engineer) this morning in which he felt he’d share this tidbit of information he’d come across somehow – the muzzle energy of the main cannons on the HMS King George V battleship from WW2 was 85,000 foot-tons. “No wonder a broadside moved the ship sideways!” was his comment. A little searching on the wiki-monstrosity and I found the fully laden weight of that vessel, around 44,000 tons. “No kidding! It’d move the ship sideways by a bit less than two feet!” was my initial reply. While I was at it, I looked up the muzzle energy of an Iowa-class battleship’s 16” / 50 cailber main cannon – 130,000 foot-tons for the armor piercing stuff, based on wikipedia’s published numbers. But on the same page it listed the different kinds of ammunition available for the 16” gun – Armor Piercing, High Explosive, and Mk 23 nuclear shell. (!!!) That bore some further investigation. The best figures I could find for the yield for a Mk23 nuke shell was “15-20 kilotons”. Okay, call it 17.5 kt for our purposes. On a whim, I figured I’d try to convert that number into our new favorite ‘foot tons’ unit of energy. So… 1 ton TNT = 4.184x10^9 Joules, 1 lb-ft = 1.356-ish Joules… the number I came up with was 27 BILLION foot-tons.

So I responded to my father’s email “That’s nuthin!…” and left it more or less at that.

I became sort of fixated on that figure of 27 billion foot-tons of energy out of a 17.5 kiloton nuclear bomb all evening. I quipped in my earlier email "If you can't get it done with 27 bn foot-tons, it isn't getting done." So I tried to think up a task you could actually *do* with that much energy...

My first thought was "you could probably *actually* move a mountain." The question is, how far? To answer THAT question, you have to know the weight of your mountain. Well, I tried to google "average mountain weight" and didn't get anything terribly satisfactory, as you might imagine. One of the biggest issues of figuring out how much a given mountain weighs is defining exactly how big it is, especially how "deep" it is... But then I thought Aha! I know of a "mountain" that we know exactly how big it is, because it is actually a single rock. Ayers Rock in Australia is just a giant stone plopped in the middle of an arid plain, smack in the middle of the continent. It is estimated to weigh 4 million tons. So how far up in the air could we throw it with our 27 bn foot-tons? Easy division - 6750 feet high. (!!!)

Ayers rock throwing - it's like anvil shooting on steroids!

Let's throw it higher. The biggest H-bomb ever detonated was the Tsar Bomba, a HALF SCALE bomb test that the Soviets carried out in some unfortunate corner of Siberia. It had a yield of 50 Megatons. That's 77,000 Billion foot-tons, in our new favorite measurement. So how high could we punt Ayers rock with that bad boy? ... Okay. We run into another situation where the units fail to make sense anymore. The answer is 19 million feet, give or take. To put it in more reasonable units, that's 3650 miles. Straight up.

I'm not sure if the 'rule of thumb' for delta V required to reach Low Earth Orbit (9.5 - 10 km/sec) holds for a thing the size of Ayers rock, but if it does, that means that we could send Ayers rock into LEO with a 50 mt H-bomb. When you calculate the delta V for a thing weighing 4 million pounds to which you apply 77,000 Billion foot-tons of energy, it comes out to (please forgive my flagrant switching between metric and Imperial units) 10.72 km/sec.

We don't have to do it. It is enough to know that we can. ;)

Fun with math!


Mike Smith

See Mail below


no need to repeal Obama-care

was watching news last night, and was a segment on all the waivers that have been issued so far, and it occurred to me, no need to rpeal Obama-care, we just need a wavier for republicans. that way those 16k new IRS agents can concentrate on getting dems to pay their taxes

Martin Rose
“The ultimate result of shielding man from the effects of his folly is to fill the world with fools.” Herbert Spencer


The basic physics of global warming


I appreciated your comments about the character assassination of Freeman Dyson.

While it is important to refute particular details, I believe that Global Warming skeptics should take the time to educate the public about the basic physics that dictate the equilibrium temperature of the planet. Few lay people understand that the Earth's temperature is ultimately dependant on only three variables, the misnamed "Solar Constant," the Earth's Albedo and the Earth's Emissivity. More importantly; it should be explained that because the equilibrium temperature is proportional to these three variables raised to the one-fourth power, the Earth's equilibrium temperature and climate is extremely insensitive to any changes in these variables.

Describing the basic physics of the Earth's energy balance to the public would also provide an opportunity to raise valid questions about the science of global warming. Although skeptics such as yourself and me take note of changes in the Solar Constant, a far more significant factor is potential changes in the Earth's albedo. Very few climate change alarmists devote much attention to the question of changes in the Earth's albedo and when they do, the focus on the emissivity of surfaces in urban areas that are far to small to have a consequential effect on the planet's energy balance.

Finally; the process of evaporation or water, convection of water vapor into the upper atmosphere, and the radiation of heat energy into space as the water vapor condenses is an energy transport mechanism that effectively short circuits the greenhouse effect. Why is this energy transport mechanism ignored by most global warming modeling programs?

Jim Crawford

Most climate models do not take account of clouds, because they don't have the ability to do that. Newer computers make models with clouds more constructible, but when that's tried the results don't correlate well with the results of the "trusted" models. I am told that there is a furious debate about this among climate scientists, but it's being kept out of the public eye. Eventually it has to come out.

Warming water produces water vapor...


"The dastardly event would have been edited from history."


- Roland Dobbins




CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  November 19, 2010

“The FCC’s regulatory compass is broken as it continues in its unrelenting pursuit to impose so-called network neutrality regulations, regardless of whether the agency has the legal authority for such a blind power grab.”


-- Roland Dobbins

The Iron Law will always apply.



Noted the article where the individual was acquitted of the 284 counts (which I had seen) of murder, conspiracy etc but at the same time convicted of 2 counts of conspiracy to destroy a building.

This is hardly something to be proud about. The jury with a large number of charges decided to give 99% to the defendant and 1% to the government, and the way the laws are written this is still 20 years in prison. If they had ANY integrity they would have voted all one way, either conviction or innocence.

The unfortunate thing is that the US Attorneys know this so they craft the indictments accordingly. On a case where the individual is guilty as hell they only list a few charges . Where it is a political case and the evidence is flimsy they will charge over a hundred counts in the knowledge that when the jury is confused with the complexity of the charges they will split the decision and thus give the government everything it wants. (even Al Capone only had 19 counts) This is how the Feds get their 97% conviction rate (vs the state rate of around 50%). It is also why any good defense attorney will advise his innocent client to plead guilty to a minor charge. The difference between losing a few years or the remainder of his life in prison. This is why we have the Martha Stewart cases and why we can convict the Ken Lays of this world who do not commit the fraud but are standing nearby as prime targets.









 read book now





This week:


read book now


Saturday, November 20, 2010

From Fred Reed (posted in another conference)

Sitting in the darkness in fortress suburbia


Now nothing, because the United States is incapable of making decisions. Huge numbers of people, from plumbers to Ivy League professors, want drugs. I just listened to a recorded-live country song about toking up on a fat one; at every mention of marijuana, the audience applauded enthusiastically. These are not kids, and they are a major slice of the population. Forty percent of California if I remember aright wanted it legal. This means there are billions in smuggling from the Sierra Madre Occidental, where it drags peasants out of poverty and makes Chapo rich. Legalization is impossible I suspect except in states with the initiative; if it even looked possible the narcos would pay off US politicians to keep drugs illegal. It's a cash spigot for corrupt officials on both sides of the border, popular with the US public. Who cares? Would you turn in your neighbor for smoking a joint?

Mexico recently legalized personal-use quantities of everything--la mota, Dona Blanca, acido, Drano, everything. Result? Nada that we have been able to see. Access is so easy here, and more so in the US, that removing the penalties does little or nothing to expand use. The US will continue enriching gangs while accomplishing nothing.


The Iron Law again: it's not just gangs that get rich. The narco agents do right well.







 read book now




CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday,  November 21, 2010     

' . . . but have TSA screeners ever actually prevented a terrorist attack?'


-- Roland Dobbins


Note the language - 'submits to', not 'agrees to' or 'participates in'.


-- Roland Dobbins


Pilot's skip the grope

Hi Jerry,

Looks like pilots are now a special class of citizen:

What happened to: "nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"?

It's much much easier to fake a pilot's ID than it is to conceal material from the body scan or grope. By granting this exemption, the TSA essentially admits that the screening is nothing but useless theater.




“I can’t travel internationally without assurances that I’m not going to spend five hours in a detention room and am not going to lose whatever electronic devices I have with me at the time.”


--- Roland Dobbins


: Will body scanners violate the First Amendment?

Dr. P,

While I understand people focusing their ire on the TSA for augmenting its use of high-resolution body scanners with a significantly more invasive manual search, I think that the bigger issue lies elsewhere.

The real issue arises in all the *other* places where these scanners have been (or will be) put into use. The U.S. Marshals' pilot program -- using a 3-year-old scanner to secure an entrance to a court in Florida -- has been publicly documented. It goes without saying that there are other government facilities where admittance will be contingent upon passage through the looking glass. All of these unwarranted searches are predicated upon the legal pretense that they are consensual -- i.e., nobody is making you fly in the plane or enter the building.

This hints at a rather profound legal question: What happens to our right (as recognized by the First Amendment) to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" if exercising it requires waiving our right (as recognized in the Fourth Amendment) to be secure in our "persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures"?

If, say, the Capitol Police install body scanners at the public entrances to Congressional office buildings, doesn't the requirement to submit to a warrantless, non-specific search entirely lacking any probable cause fundamentally abridge my right to express my political opinions to my elected representatives?

It's almost enough to make me (a firm believer in the wisdom of "Never share a foxhole with anybody braver than you are") want to be a test case.

Regards, Bill Clardy


I thought you might find this interesting.

Rafi Sela ran Israeli airport security for years.

He is quoted in this article from the Vancouver Sun: http://www.vancouversun.com

Here's a bit of the article. The bold emphasis is mine.

A leading Israeli airport security expert says the Canadian government has wasted millions of dollars to install "useless" imaging machines at airports across the country.

"I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747" Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.

"That's why we haven't put them in our airport," Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world.

He mentions later in the article that airports should be using behavioral profiling to locate threats.

John Harlow, President BravePoint


Well, the TSA seems to be offering a response to public criticism.

Here is the video of TSA strip searching a young boy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSQTz1bccL4 

Then the lines are getting longer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?

These goons aren't very smart are they? Considering they could be out of a job, you would think that they would try to be a bit more polite with their methods. You might also think they would want to get the lines moving. Ah well, maybe they'll hang themselves out to dry.


Joshua Jordan, KSC
Percussa Resurgo


'And the politicians did nothing, because they had no power to do anything. The technician had the power, and they all knew it.'


--- Roland Dobbins


Will: 'Bureaucracies try to maximize their missions. They can't help themselves.'


-- Roland Dobbins





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