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Monday, March 14, 2011

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Monday  March 7, 2011

A Note on Great Civilizations

I received this from a friend:
The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years.
These nations have progressed through this sequence:
1.	From bondage to spiritual faith;
2.	from spiritual faith to great courage;
3.	from courage to liberty;
4.	from liberty to abundance;
5.	from abundance to selfishness;
6.	from selfishness to complacency; 
7.	from complacency to apathy;
8.	from apathy to dependence; 
9.	from dependency back again into bondage.
Sir Alex Fraser Tyler: (1742-1813) Scottish jurist and historian 

Something similar was debated in Philadelphia in the Summer of 1787. One exception was Venice, which remained a Republic and had not yet been looted and despoiled by Napoleon in the name of Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. Of course the notion of cycles had been discussed since Aristotle.


New super critical generators

Jerry, I thought this was interesting

Supercritical carbon dioxide Brayton Cycle turbines promise giant leap in thermal-to-electric conversion efficiency

Here is the article from Sandia Labs https://share.sandia.gov/news/resources/

Michael Scoggins

Sandia National Laboratories researchers are moving into the demonstration phase of a novel gas turbine system for power generation, with the promise that thermal-to-electric conversion efficiency will be increased to as much as 50 percent — an improvement of 50 percent for nuclear power stations equipped with steam turbines, or a 40 percent improvement for simple gas turbines. The system is also very compact, meaning that capital costs would be relatively low.

Really good news; now for the demonstrations.


Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation


nice blathering at the diplomatic level, but otherwise useless.


Thinking about the unthinkable is difficult; I know because it was part of my job for more than a decade as a Cold Warrior. The problem today is that it doesn't seem as serious. In my time I used to raise a toast every holiday to the young men and women in the silos, sitting there hoping not to hear the klaxons announce Armageddon. EWO. EWO. Emergency War Orders. Emergency War Orders. I have a message in ten parts. Tango. X-Ray...


The Unhappy Paradox of Santa-Statism


Unlike the previous article, which I considered blathering, this article contains ideas I can agree with. Reasonable, sound, implementable.



Saudis arming Libyan rebels?

Below is a link to an article reporting that the US has asked the Saudis to arm Libyan rebels. The fact that this secret request has been made public suggests that the Saudis have told Obama that after his public disrespecting of Mubarak, he is going to have to get down on his knees to show them how much he loves them? Of course if Obama hadn't destroyed the decades long alliance with Mubarak, he could ask the Mamluks to intervene. The Egyptian Air force and Army would make short work of Libya. However, the Mamluks are busy dealing with political unrest that has continued in spite of Mubarak's retirement.


Your continuing comments about imposing a No Fly zone over Libya continue to be informative. A lot of politicians with no military experience have advocated this course including Gov Palin who seems to have been the first. However; she hasn't said anything more about it. Perhaps she has done some research and solicited advice from competent military consultants about the difficulties and legalities?

An equally important consideration is how effective a no fly zone would be. Gadaffy seems to retain control of most of the heavy armor and long range artillery. This gives him the capability to wipe out entire cities without any air support. If he has the capability to employ mustard gas in artillery shells, this will make such gun strikes even more terrifying but probably not more effective.

An obvious alternative to imposing a No Fly zone would be to provide the rebels with man portable antitank and antiaircraft missiles. This seems to have been the goal of the Obama administration when it requested gel from the Saudis.

On another note, it is reported that Pakistan has invited Chinese troops into the country where they are deployed along a disputed border with India. Are the Pakustanis alsonreevaluating their relationship with the US. Can you say "Dunkirk" but without the sea lift?

Jim Crawford

Gaddafi doesn't need manned aircraft; UAV's plus artillery are more than enough, and he has that. Artillery with spotters and observers is far more effective than airplanes for close combat support, and given the distances involved -- long ago one Afrika Korps 88 mounted in a cave held off the entire British counter-attack from Egypt for about a week; it controlled the only road. The country is still rugged.

I have no comment on your interpretation of why the Obama request became public, or who leaked it. Obama seems determined to get some kind of credit for a good outcome in Libya but also determined to avoid a real commitment or risk of assets. I wish him luck with that, since I don't like that kind of game with the Legions. I have too many friends among them.


CANADA AT THE CUSP by David T. Jones

March 7, 2011

David Jones is a retired career diplomat. He served as minister-counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy at Ottawa during the mid-1990s and has kept a close interest in Canadian politics. He coauthored Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs--a study of U.S.-Canada relations.

Available on the web and in pdf format at: http://www.fpri.org/enotes/201103.jones.canada.html 


by David T. Jones

In February, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Tory Party celebrated having governed Canada as a minority for five years. This date set a record for minority government duration-a somewhat dubious accomplishment, but far better than being in Opposition. Obviously, the Tories would have much preferred to have a majority, but the current run of minority government reflects a circumstance in Canadian politics that while uniquely frustrating to politicians is less so to voting citizens. <snip>



I’m sure all the GW people know about this and have factored it into their models perfectly. And they’d never put any of these world-cooling plans into effect because the combination could trigger an ice age. Guess maybe the first Earthday experts who predicted -12 degrees of overall temperature were right. Or not. Or are. Or…I guess we should give Al G. some more $ to let us know what we should think here.

I’d say there’s a book idea here, but I think someone got there 20 years ago.



Letter from England

Events across the pond.


I received an excited call about the new Egyptian prime minister. Apparently, he has a reputation for honesty. Please pray for them.

 Now civil war in Libya. <http://tinyurl.com/6f2ssv6>

 Wikileaks blamed for the Arab revolutions. <http://tinyurl.com/66tkjaq>

 The London School of Economics is embarrassed, really embarrassed, about its close relationship to Libya. Of course it was at the behest of the Government. <http://tinyurl.com/6xe9zs9> <http://tinyurl.com/6b4ushk> <http://tinyurl.com/6fjcvlc> <http://tinyurl.com/6gt42rx> <http://tinyurl.com/63clowz> <http://tinyurl.com/6lfazjr> <http://tinyurl.com/5uu3v6b> <http://tinyurl.com/67ckjpr> <http://tinyurl.com/648k5pg>.

 The Bank of England governor reported to be critical of UK banking. <http://tinyurl.com/49t3k9a> <http://tinyurl.com/6jbvlsx> <http://tinyurl.com/62zpoho> He'll be taking over banking regulation, and he has some major disagreements with Treasury policy.

 Story about pickpocketing dying out in America while it continues in Europe. <http://www.slate.com/id/2286010/pagenum/all/> My experience is that locals in European tourist destinations seem to think it's under police protection.

 "Anglican bishop of Jerusalem sues Israel over visa refusal" <http://tinyurl.com/67wxmvz>

 Schneier's comment on this story: "Basically, detecting dogs respond to unconscious cues from their handlers, and generate false alarms because of them." <http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/02/animal_behaviour>. The police hate DNA forensics because it shows up the unreliability of other means of forensic investigation.

 Universities hurting from the new funding regime. <http://tinyurl.com/6674tfh> The number of UK universities now on the bankruptcy watch list is 23, about one in seven. A FOI request reveals the survey conducted to establish the new fee level produced results that were unwelcome to the Government <http://tinyurl.com/6ctomj4>.

 Report on Santa Catalina islanders 12,000 years ago. <http://tinyurl.com/4q4hut6>. Of course, both H. sapiens and H. erectus were making sea voyages at least 60,000 years ago.


If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? (Albert Einstein)

Harry Erwin PhD


Subj: MSFC: ET bacteria in carboneaceous meteorites



1. While I don't think I've met Dr. Hoover personally, I do know people who've worked with him and reported favorably on his ability and professionalism.

2. Given the nature of the claims, the article says that the journal publication was given "the most thorough review" in history. 3. My own thought: these results appear not inconsistent with the possibility of prehistoric bacterial fossils not matching current terrestrial bacteria, and the meteor formed by a large impact into a "raw" terrestrial carbon layer. (Presumably by the conventional theory, such evidence would have been lost over the ensuing years as the fossil carbon layer was pressed into petroleum). If so, it's still an impressive find.

Jim Woosley


TSA Again


Well, I saw this coming 8 years ago because I paid attention and it was said then. Well, it's back. As I foresaw it would.


Giving Transportation Security Administration agents a peek under your clothes may soon be a practice that goes well beyond airport checkpoints. Newly uncovered documents show that as early as 2006, the Department of Homeland Security has been planning pilot programs to deploy mobile scanning units that can be set up at public events and in train stations, along with mobile x-ray vans capable of scanning pedestrians on city streets.



This is a mild article, but it is important because Forbes is respectable to many people. This next article is not from such a prestigious source, but it has good links:



Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC Percussa Resurgo

Feeling safer already


Obama brews own beer

Seen in the news:


"Barack Obama will go down in history as, among other things, the first president to brew his own beer in the White House.

The blog Obama Foodorama reported <http://obamafoodorama.blogspot.com/
with-homebrewed.html>  this week that the president's Super Bowl party featured a selection called "White House Honey Ale,” brewed right at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave."

Haven't got anything really intelligent to say about it. Just thought it was neat.


Brian P.

I used to brew beer, but I have to say that it was a lot of work for not much reward: Newcastle Brown Ale is better, and easier to come by now. Long ago in Seattle with a state liquor monopoly it made more sense, perhaps, but perhaps now. I would expect the President to do more supervising than actual brewmastering. On the other hand, he is from Chicago...


Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software

"First of all, we hang all the lawyers." Instead, how about we automate them out of existence?


Hilarious, but sobering as well. I suppose it's one answer to the increasing bureaucratization of everything: set machines to do the boring repetitive stuff. But the higher end stuff is going to. I guess Fred Pohl's Midas Plague may yet come to pass.


Send them all to belly rave

Jerry Pournelle Chaos Manor


I agree it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of snouts. OTOH, it sends lots of them to prosecutors' offices where they persecute people. More, though, is when you look at just what is being automated. The soul of white collar jobdom is being swept away.


Is blue collar much better off? Creative destruction, but the pace is growing fast. If INM can win at Jeopardy, perhaps it can win as a gladiator at law... Wa-wa-wa-wabbit tracks!


re: climate metrology

I totally agree with you that the prerequisite to any discussion on the possible impact of human activity on climate is to get reliable data.

>From a metrological point of view the data record is a joke. The number, distribution in time and space, and reliability of weather stations is such that pretending you can actually compute either or both - assuming, as you point out that it even has a sense - an average Earth temperature and its evolution over the years is a fantastic proposition.

I do not pretend it is impossible, but it is an extraordinary claim and as such demands extraordinary proof.

Satellite data over the past 30-40 years is often presented as more reliable, but when you look into the subject it soon appears that it is far from perfect too. Instrumentation evolved over time, methods and manners of measurement evolved, there have been many calibration errors, not all of which could be adequately repaired.

It is conceivable that with great effort a formally correct comprehensive statistical normalisation process could be designed, but I have seen nor heard of any proof that this has yet happened - one of the key emails from the CRU leak is the one from the tech who desperately seeks to get information about how the data was processed before being fed to the model, without being able to get any sensical answer from anybody.

I am not a specialist in any of those fields, but even if the global circulation models used by the IPCC-affiliated research institutions were indeed reliable - which I doubt very much, starting from the very fact that a model can be used as a formal scientific proof in lieu of actual experimentation - if you feed them garbage, you can only get garbage out.

best regards,

Jean-Louis Beaufils, Paris  [emphasis added. Ed]

I am still waiting for a rational discussion of how the input data is processed and why we should have confidence that 0.1 degree changes are real.


Antarctic ice sheet

Hi Jerry.

Unexpected new finding on how the Antarctic ice sheet builds up:



Mike Casey


Paging Elijah Baley & R. Daneel Olivaw.


-- Roland Dobbins


An 84 Year Old WWII Sniper Shows That He Still Has What It Takes, 


Can an 84 year old WW2 vet, a sniper, hit a target at 1,000 yards?


Heh. Check it out.


I watched with fascination. Thanks.


I got the following unsolicited, and for a lark, asked Mike, a former studio executive who now ekes out a fun living as an independent director of small films (he has several at festivals, and lightning might strike) what his view was.

Independent Science Fiction Movie

Hello, If you are getting this message it means that you have the personality type and chemical compatibility requirements suitable for the exploration of the rest of this email.

YOU! have been selected to become a part of the revolutionary project entitled "Cybernetics" by filmmaker/engineer Dwayne Buckle and his production company 360 Sound and Vision Entertainment.

Although the film is fully financed with a worldwide distribution deal attached, we are seeking to recruit additional production team members who can affiliate themselves with the film by contributing a form of donation to the film to boost its overall production value.

Currently the film is budgeted at $200,000 and will be shooting in late April through mid May, utilizing notable actors who collectively have starred in box office smash film & television shows such as The Matrix, Fox's LOST, The Dark Knight, The Hurt Locker and more.

The donations will be greatly received. For your participation, you will get lifetime gratitude from the production company as well as a possible Co-Producer, Associate Producer or Special Thanks credit at the end of the film depending on your donation. The film is guaranteed to visit a minimum of 2 dozen prestigious film festivals, possibly picking up numerous award nominations based on the track record of the existing work by the director & production company whose last feature film went on to achieve worldwide acclaim and worldwide distribution! You will also have an opportunity to visit the set and festival dates of this wonderful science fiction film being shot in New York, and meet a team of established production personnel that includes our major acclaimed Director of Photography and our Emmy Winning Star.

We seek to establish long-term business relationships with individuals who share a common goal for producing alternative media content that can help make the world a better place to live in.

For any questions and further inquiries on this project, please contact 

Have A Blessed Day and a Wonderful New Year!

Barbara Michaels, Production Coordinator 360 Sound and Vision

Mike's comment:

I don't know anything about it. 

All of my productions are funded by legit investors.

There are a lot of ponzie schemes out there, I know of one instance of a very good actor who put $250 into a film with 30 others, practically wrote the script himself, and then was "fired" after the first day of shooting- it was all preplanned, of course, and that director's best friend ended up playing that actor's role. Of course, there was no refund of his investment.

This is the downside of the internet, people can scam thousands with very little effort.



Actually I never thought it was anything but spam, but I was a bit curious as to how prevalent this particular venture is. Apparently a number of Hollywood people get this sort of thing, particularly those enrolled in acting school; enough bite to keep the letters coming.


APOD: 2011 March 7 - A Solar Prominence Eruption from SDO, 


A movie of a monster prominence from the Solar Dynamic Observatory spacecraft:


It actually looks like a liquid spray. Great vid.


It's a monster all right.


An interesting opinion on Apple



Darth Steve


ISS photo op nixed due to 'safety concerns'

(It's hardly surprising that we're having such trouble doing anything significant in human spaceflight when we can't even get approval to fly an already-on-orbit space vehicle in a circle...)


The fly-about proposal would have required Kelly, Soyuz commander Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka to undock from the Russian Poisk module in the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft. Pulling straight away from the lab complex, the Soyuz would stop and the station would change its orientation to present a good angle for photos showing the entire laboratory and all the visiting vehicles.

The Soyuz then would maneuver for a quarter-lap fly around to line back up with the Poisk module and redock with the station. The procedure was expected to take about one hour from start to finish.

But the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft is making its first flight with an upgraded avionics system and flight computer. Russian managers told their international counterparts today they could not go along with the fly-about proposal.

"Their primary basis was because this particular vehicle is what they consider to be a new vehicle, it's what we call a series 700 vehicle, and so this is its maiden flight," said Kenneth Todd, chairman of the space station Mission Management Team. "They had a flight program set aside for that vehicle, which had it coming to station, serving its six-month term there and then returning."

Given the short time available to assess the fly-about maneuver, along with contingency scenarios and other factors, "they came back to us and said they're recommending not doing it."

"It wasn't necessarily what we were hoping to get back, but at the same point I applaud the Russians for doing the right thing, not disregarding their own processes and making sure they do their own due diligence the way they should," Todd said. "I accepted the recommendation."

Support for the exercise was not unanimous on the U.S. side, with some engineers arguing the risks outweighed whatever benefits the unique photos would have provided.


Navy Times Mobile

Are we still celebrating diversity?


I sent this message from a wireless phone; thank you for understanding the wherefore of the abrupt reply.

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC


Why U.S. must intervene in Libya - CNN.com

Well, well, well! Look who thinks intervention in Libya is a Great Idea-


I even saw him lip-flapping on CNN's "Anderson Cooper" with that Other Notorious Neb-Con David, Gergen in this case, ripping it up doing the old "Call And Response" with today's sermon on "The Parable of the No Fly Zone".

It makes sense, in an odd fashion. Bull Teats coming in pairs, I mean.


I am not astonished. I expect Max Boot to be aboard the invade Libya now train within days. Of course just because the usual suspects are aboard doesn't mean that it's a bad deal; but it does justify skeptical investigation. I do agree that if we are going to invade eventually, we ought to do it now. Holding out hope and teasing both rebels and loyalists is a bad idea.

I also note that al Qaeda took little interest in the US until the First Gulf War when we took Kuwait away from Hussein and gave it back to the Kuwait royals. The war was a success, but it produced 911 and the subsequent trillion dollar plus costs. Ideas have consequences.




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Tuesday,  March 8, 2011

Inaugural meeting of L.A Chapter of the Historical Novel Society


Richard Warren Field has sent my a flyer annoucning the Inaugural meeting of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Historical Novel Society at Vromans bookstore in Pasadena on Saturday, March 12, between 2PM and 4Pm in the Atrium Building. The HNS is not just for writers but for readers, another venue like Fandom where the two can mix, so this should be interesting. I am a member and they have an international conference in San Diego in June. Harry Turtledove is scheduled to be the Guest of Honor.

Please post this and pass it on to anyone you think might be interested in attending.


Francis Hamit

Hmm. I may go myself, but probably not. I have over the years made notes about possible historical novels, and I actually had a book contract to do one on Atlantis (well, Minoan Crete just prior to the Thera eruption); but I have never actually started an historical novel. Sounds like fun, though.


Thoughts on Government Change

Link jumping brought me to here http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis/archive/issue.asp?year=2004&month=04 

which is well worth the read. By Maurice P. McTigue, ex MP and Cabinet Minister, New Zealand.

Interesting stuff about changing government in New Zealand when Richard Douglas was PM. A snippet about costs and the Iron Law:

. Let me share with you one last story: The Department of Transportation came to us one day and said they needed to increase the fees for driver’s licenses. When we asked why, they said that the cost of relicensing wasn’t being fully recovered at the current fee levels. Then we asked why we should be doing this sort of thing at all. The transportation people clearly thought that was a very stupid question: Everybody needs a driver’s license, they said. I then pointed out that I received mine when I was fifteen and asked them: “What is it about relicensing that in any way tests driver competency?” We gave them ten days to think this over. At one point they suggested to us that the police need driver’s licenses for identification purposes. We responded that this was the purpose of an identity card, not a driver’s license. Finally they admitted that they could think of no good reason for what they were doing—so we abolished the whole process! Now a driver’s license is good until a person is 74 years old, after which he must get an annual medical test to ensure he is still competent to drive. So not only did we not need new fees, we abolished a whole department. That’s what I mean by thinking differently.

R. Geoffrey Newbury

and see below


Art Robinson's Children

I read the same article that you did (as well as others that were written by “professional” journalists). I remember quite a few of the professors in the NE department at OSU with fond memory. Unfortunately it does look like the department has changed significantly since I was a student at OSU (I was in the Physics department as opposed to NE, but my advisor did a lot of work at the reactor). I am surprised to read that the department head would have a spouse in the department. We had a couple in the Physics department, but it was pretty much understood that neither would ever be department chair because of that. I can say that while there may be another side to the story, I don’t care for how things are being handled by OSU. In other articles President Ray’s response has been that there is no legal obligation to respond public to allegations like this.


I can only hope there are things that aren’t being said. In a comment for this article there’s a very good point of listing the only real reasons why students would be expelled (even though the article incorrectly mixes Master’s and Doctorate students).


I continue to solicit real information on the situation.


2nd Monitoring satellite Failure --- for the conspiracy minded

I am just an over educated retired cop (Chicago for your giggles) what do you think of this?





you will obey


The treatment of this woman was beyond deplorable.


Unlike the previous two stories, I am sure this one is true as charged. I hope that NASA is not sabotaging its own missions, and I am horrified at the notion that a publicly funded university would take serous action against the family of a political opponent. I am seldom surprised by TSA. Salve Sclave. And see below


North Korea


This is what happens when you don't keep your hands to yourself and when you never have anything nice to say:


"Now [North Korea is] begging for food even from the world's poorest countries in Africa such as Zimbabwe where annual per-capita income is only around 200 dollars," said the source quoted by JoongAng.



We always talked about how this would happen. North Korea cannot sustain a war; the requisite supplies do not exist in sufficient quantities. The most North Korea can do is cause a lot of trouble. I am not sure how long it will be before North Korea cannot defend itself. Sure, they have nukes. But, other than that, they have nothing -- not even food. And so it may come to pass, as my First Sergeant spake on that cold morning. He warning of a North Korean invasion. He said, "The North Koreans are hungry and they are coming. And, they want our groceries". It was a half-serious statement. Well, now the humor seems to be gone. It seems the North Koreans will want groceries. Are they crazy enough to invade? This could get very interesting.

North Korea played the mad man very well. Nobody really knows what North Korea will do. I am not even sure the North Koreans know.


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC Percussa Resurgo

The real question is whether the officers who control the nuclear arsenal will obey orders. A secondary question applies the same to the chain of command over the artillery aimed at South Korea. We know that at least one crew fired a torpedo at a South Korean destroyer, and another crew fired artillery on civilian targets.



For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:



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This week:


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Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Hi Jerry

Just another random opinion from another (ex-)military type. The rebels had huge momentum at the beginning, but are rapidly losing it. Gadhafi has better logistics, it is as simple as that.

If intervention is the right course, then the right time was last week. The way to intervene would have been several carefully targeted cruise missiles. Aim for Ghadafi, as well as for critical infrastructure points. This would have also had a severe psychological effect on any troops whose loyalty was wavering.

It is now already too late. The rebels have logistical problems and Ghadafi's military has found its feet. By all signs, Libya is now settling in for a long civil war. The time to react to a crisis is immediately, with no forewarning - not to blather about it on television.

Now that the golden moment has passed, intervention would be the wrong decision. It would involve us in a third long struggle with "allies" whose goals may or may not align with our own. In any case, why should the USA intervene in the internal power struggles of a foreign country? It is none of our business. There is no good reason to be involved.

Finally, the USA cannot (literally cannot) afford to be involved in a third simultaneous war in a third middle-eastern country. Frankly, we have no business still being in Afghanistan and Iraq - what the devil are we supposed to do in Libya?



Agreed that the time to intervene was a week ago. It would have been an act of war, of course, but easily done with missiles. Of course there would have been retaliation against US citizens and assets, but it would likely have been decisive. Then what?

The problem is that we have not developed an actual policy concerning the Middle East.


NY Times on the final flight of Discovery



“We won’t do anything nearly as complex with another vehicle for a very long time,” Captain Drew said. “Five or 10 years from now, they’re going to look back and say ‘How did we ever build a vehicle that could do all these things?’ ”

I'm sure the Chinese will manage.....


So the Dark Age will be local...


False economies 

Dear Jerry,

I am all for a smaller government. I know the reality of the Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

I also know when an example is not a Good Example, but rather a Good Example of Sloppy Thinking.

As with the parable about saving money by getting rid of regular relicensing of drivers in New Zealand, as sent to you on March 8 and posted in MAIL for that date.

Your correspondent quoted a Sage Elder Statesman as asking the Transportation Department people, “What is it about relicensing that in any way tests driver competency?” We gave them ten days to think this over."

My answer is: To catch the person who is slowly losing his vision, who does not realize how much he has lost, and that he is in danger of causing irreparable harm to innocent parties as well as himself.

A possibility even in relatively young drivers, well before the 74 age limit for annual physical exams the Sage Elder proposed.

Can't happen?

It did to me.

If I had not gone in for my regular five year renewal, and had my eyes checked by the DMV several years ago, I would have kept driving.

Even though they found my vision had slipped below their somewhat relaxed levels of acuity.

Even though my own ophthalmologist, who knew what my vision was, had never said a word to me about driving. Perhaps he considered the matter to be something between myself and the DMV.

Even though subsequent tests by my ophthalmologist revealed I had lost approximately fifty per cent of my visual field and depth perception.

Yes, you can lose that much eyesight, and think it's mostly just presbyopia. Yes, you can fool yourself into still driving when by all standard metrics of the matter you ought be restricted to riding shotgun and complaining about the radio station.

Add to my example the many people, driven by need or bullheadedness or thick-headedness, who will simply refuse to quit driving, even if they lose other fine senses or motor skills needed.

We retire commercial pilots at 60, with annual exams required.

I used to scuba dive, until I turned forty and read the mortality statistics on divers over forty. My mind was concentrated wonderfully on finding a less wet hobby.

Driving a land locomotive, as Frank Herbert liked to call them, is a privilege. A fee to cover the costs of regularly examining their drivers is how government should handle the costs of administering who may exercise the privilege.

Clipping corners on something as important as making sure Land Locomotive Engineers can see where they're going and that they can avoid hitting each other a goodly part of the time,? False economy, in spades with Big Casino, as a Wise Man I know likes to put it.

Sometimes we do get the government we pay for.


The question is one of cost/effectiveness. Flying is a privilege, and the TSA is justified on certain grounds. Eating wrong gives you poor health, and that costs money, so perhaps we need a bureaucracy to see that you eat properly and don't visit the lipid-legging shops. And so forth.

There are many things government can do for us, but can we afford the create bureaucracies to do them?

Do understand that were I in the California legislature I would not vote to eliminate the DMV licensing bureau. I might have a different view if I lived in Rhode Island.

I don't scuba dive any longer, but my certification card hasn't expired...


SUBJ: Art Robinson's children attacked.

The mot juste is "sippenhaft".


Dear God, I wish I were surprised at how low our enemies will sink.

Resident of Peter DeFazio's district in Oregon for 20+ years


Cruelty to animals 

He sounds like a real dirtbag, but check out the breathtaking second line pulled from the story-


"Animal Services investigators interviewed Larkin, who later admitted to killing "several feral cats" in the area.

It is illegal to intentionally harm an animal, regardless of whether the animal is domesticated or wild, authorities said."

Hunting? Fishing? Feeding live mice to pet snakes? Crickets to pet geckos?

Ah, yes, we do continue in interesting times to live!



I am reminded of a Nero Wolfe novel. Not Quite Dead Enough, I beleive.


NASA says 'no support' for claim of alien microbes 


Top NASA scientists said Monday there was no scientific evidence to support a colleague's claim that fossils of alien microbes born in outer space had been found in meteorites on Earth.

The US space agency formally distanced itself from the paper by NASA scientist Richard Hoover, whose findings were published Friday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Cosmology, which is available free online.


So we continue to look for evidence. Some say this was breathless news. No one says it was definitive.


'Nigeria will hold elections in April. '


- Roland Dobbins

Hurrah for them!


How a Libyan No-fly Zone Could Backfire | STRATFOR, 


Stratfor tells us How a Libyan No-fly Zone Could Backfire:


They remind us, “It should also be remembered that the same international community that condemned Saddam Hussein as a brutal dictator quite easily turned to condemn the United States both for deposing him and for the steps its military took in trying to deal with the subsequent insurgency. It is not difficult to imagine a situation where there is extended Libyan resistance to the occupying force followed by international condemnation of the counterinsurgency effort.

“Having toppled a regime, it is difficult to simply leave.” <snip>


The operative question in all these cases is "What happens then?"


North Korea far poorer than reported 

Dear Jerry,

If this were one of the classic James F. Dunnigan "paper and dice" war games of the seventies, the next Korean War would have a one line rule book. "Roll Anything, and the South wins."

A hundred to one odds?


"Lee said he commissioned a study as minister that concluded the North's per capita income was probably about $400 and its gross national income $8.9 billion, which makes the North's economy about one-one hundredth of the South's."

One suspects the US has that division just south of Seoul mostly to sit on the South Koreans!

A hundred to one!

This may be the Experimentum Crucis Ad Absurdum re: centrally planned socialism, or centrally planned anything. The human cost, due to the lengthy period this cruel test has run at full throttle, may exceed that of the original Soviet experiment.

Ideas have consequences, indeed.


But they do have the resources to pay the nuclear force commanders. Whether they pay them enough I don't know. But one bomb on Tokyo would change the world. Or on Seoul.

We had the causus belli during the Pueblo affair, but Johnson worried about USSR or Chinese intervention. Of course a US warship remains displayed as a prize by PDNK, and still remains on the Navy's books as a commissioned warship...

Roll anything. The south wins. The cost is ---


Edwards air show 

Really nice photo walkthrough of the 2009 Edwards AFB air show:





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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ex-Goldman Sachs Analyst: “Major War” Coming End Of 2012


He's not telling me anything new. I've analyzed the data, and I see the same thing. However, here is one more credible voice that we probably should listen to. Also, I would not be surprised if this war starts with nukes on U.S. soil.




I would not give either the economic or war warning hypotheses a high probability, but alas, it is not zero either. Each time we become more involved in Near Eastern affairs we create new enemies and thus build new requirements for the US military and security apparatus. And see below


Driver licence renewals

Dr. Pournelle,

Petronius is mistaken, at least as far as the UK is concerned: the five-yearly renewal of driving licences currently required does not involve any re-testing whether medical or of competence; it is entirely and completely a bureaucratic exercise, therefore of no value except to those who are thereby kept in jobs (and pensions).

After the age of 70 (I think) you are required, as part of the renewal, to self-certify that you have no medical problems which might prevent you driving safely; but nobody checks this.

Of course, New Zealand pre-reform may have been different.

Andrew Duffin

Thank you.


Good Music?


I just jumped on the Billboard Top 100 and listened to the music. To put it in the vernacular, it all sucks. http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100#/charts/hot-100?begin=1&order=position What happened to good music? Most of these songs are about making people feel good about themselves. There are no philosophical themes, no burning questions, no discussions of overcoming bad experiences, etc. I had good music growing up.

It just hit me that my generation is making the music now. This is most discouraging, Jerry. Music used to be cool. It used to excite you. It used to stimulate your mind. It would get inside your body and make you feel things. Now, it all sounds like a ringtone from a telephone. It sounds flat. It rattles like a skeleton; it says "I know the words, but not the music". It has become a left brain industry rather than a right brain activity. Do you have any thoughts on my observation & rant combo?


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC Percussa Resurgo

I listen to talk shows mostly but when I want music I listen to KUSC which is a classical music station. Given my hearning I don't get the fine points of modern music to begin with, but I heard most of the classics when my hearing was better, so I tend to hear them as much in memory as in reality.




Regarding global temperature:

1, Temperature is properly described as a continuous field variable in position and time.(with potential short-term discontinuities at interfaces between the atmosphere and the hydrosphere/lithosphere due to differences in heat transfer rates).

2. Thus, temperature at any point is properly described as a function of position (say latitude, longitude, and height above / distance below ground surface) and time.

3. Temperature changes due to the presence and effects of: heat sources (sunlight -- actual total extraterrestrial radiative energy input including effects of ionizing radiation on upper atmosphere chemistry and aerosol formation), upwelling heat from the earth's interior, and human / biological / biochemical activity); heat sinks (thermal mass of the earth's solid and liquid surface, which can change locally due to human activity such as construction); atmospheric and oceanic convention; atmospheric, oceanic, and lithospheric conduction; and radiative effects, which are modified (in atmosphere) by the collective emissivity of gaseous components and reflectivity (in all bands) to atmospheric aerosols, both of which (in principle) are perturbed by human/biological activity, but also by nature occurrences (e.g. volcanic ash). A fully detailed analysis should also take in point perturbations ("Hammer weather").

4. The exact global average temperature, given knowledge of the point temperature function, is the integral of that function over the entire earth's surface, over an altitude range of interest, and over a time frame of interest (e.g. one solar day), divided by the volume and time frame of integration.

5. This may in principle be approximated by averaging of point measurements of temperature over the entire earth's surface, However, the error is this average is not subject to conventional statistics which assumes such measurements are independent, because they aren't; they are samples from a field of correlated values based on the continuity of the point temperature function. Statistically, the error in such an average may be no better than the average of the errors of individual measurements. This also assumes there are no systematic errors which bias the results, in particular due to differential or unrepresentative density of measurement points. This can be compensated by some knowledge of the form of the temperature function, but imprecise estimates of the temperature function can also introduce systematic bias.

6. All of that said, I don't know that anyone has actually attempted to work out a formal statistical basis for estimating the average temperature from the available data. Dr. Spencer at NASA MSFC / University of Alabama Huntsville may be closest with his averaged satellite data.

As a sidebar, it is worth noting that there appears to be a very minimal difference in estimated average temperature over the course of the year, despite the almost 7% change in sunlight over the course of the year due to the eccentricity of the earth's orbit. I'm not sure how that is modeled, but I currently suspect that it is due to a combination of the higher reflectivity of the southern hemisphere (due to higher ocean surface) and the moderating effects of geothermal upwelling, at least as much as to the overall thermal inertia of the system.

Jim Woosley

I would be pleased to see a discussion at this level from those who take AGW seriously.


Some more idle musings.

Change happens. Witness, the climate, energy crisis, health care spiral, economy woes, unemployment, not to mention the perpetual Middle East palpitations.

Over in the Mac world (I am a long time Mac user) many are unhappy with the new version of OS X Lion still under development, is supposedly dropping Rosetta, support for Power PC (PPC) code while running an Intel based Mac.

A Luddite would of coarse bemoan any change and stick doggedly to the past. The opposite would be to embrace change, dump the old with alacrity "gotta have the latest, greatest===next big thing!"

The Mac websites & blogs posts show I am not the only existing Mac user with legacy Macs who is uncertain about the future of Apple plotted course, be it good or bad. The main discussion is about Lion will abandon Rosetta which allows PPC code to run on Intel Macs. My Eudora is among the victims. I have old G4 Macs too.

Obviously it touched a nerve in some folks.

Buried in this collection of posts is a user that talks of the capacitor failures. MAYBE that was planned obsolescence. ALL electronics designed to fail? And must regularly replaced with new? Who knows. That last was "tongue in cheek" comment.

In the real world of incredibly fast evolving / changing high tech, there is a practical limit to holding onto older stuff. One might call it Point of Diminishing Returns. Different folks just draw the line in the sand at different spots.

For some of us, budgets and money/costs are a major determining factor. Not all can afford to buy new electronic "toys" , hardware & software on 1-2 years cycle. Sigh.

I guess I will just snuggle down in my Wickiup. Now where are my abacus, flints, oil lamps and candles?

Mike J -- Michael L Johnson

Change happens. Energy efficiency leads to more energy use, something known since the 19th Century. Technology races ahead at its own pace. See Jevons, The Theory of Political Economy among other works. Incidentally, Jevons is long in the public domain and I would presume there is a decent free eBook copy somewhere; I'd appreciate a pointer since my paper copy is disintegrating.

Thanks to all those who wrote to tell me of this.

Jevons is available in a very good free download at the Library of Economics and Liberty--www.econlib.org.

Bob Roberts


Jerry -

Google Books has Jevons' The Theory of Political Economy (1871) in .pdf and .epub formats at the following hideous URL:


David Smith


Jevons, "The Theory of Political Economy"


(You prefer "Toyota!"? (a former co-worker's frequent expression, meaning "You asked for it, you got it!"))

I also found it on Gutenberg. <http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/33219> Now that I have a copy in downloads on my Windows machine (it is readable with the Kindle App and I presume with others) I am trying to get it on my iPad Kindle app; I have emailed it to my Kindle, but so far nothing seems to be happening. I wonder what I did wrong this time.


It wasn't TSA! 

Dr. Pournelle,

In re: the woman arrested for taking pictures of a helicopter

The lady was arrested by the local cops after the feds had decided she wasn't a threat and then left her in the hands of the local cop. Sure, the hounded her for hours first, but they eventually let her go.

Do note, too, the links at the bottom. The city didn't show up, so she got a default judgement. OOPS! http://www.longislandlawyerblog.com

BEST regards, Robin Juhl


An amusing take on the Taming of the Brits -

Hello Dr. Pournelle,

Your Norman ancestors would probably fully agree with this article: Considering their genetic make-up, how could Brits have become so tame?


An entertaining read, yet sadly accurate!

Fade, Brittania! Harold fought for his kingdom, and defeated Noroway before William got him.


Libya and logistics


Agreed, any war over Libya is indeed going to be one of logistics; the geography of widely separated cities dotted across a thousand miles of open country ensures that.

For the moment I take no position on whether intervention is advisable, but I differ with your correspondent Brad as to whether the window for (relatively) easy intervention has passed.

The last serious war over that terrain was, in my view, eventually won largely due to Allied airpower and intelligence allowing them to interdict Axis logistics, both seaborne coming into the theatre and roadborne within the theatre. We have the same advantages available to us now, at far lower relative cost - the RAF never had anything like the qualitative edge over the Luftwaffe that we would have over Ghadaffi's ill-maintained and marginally trained air force, and my impression is that Ghadaffi's navy is even less a factor.

All this talk of a Libyan "no-fly zone" misses the point - even now, we could if we wanted use airpower to reduce Libyan air defenses then shut down the majority of Ghadaffi's overland logistics and destroy any heavy weapons he tries to deploy, putting his forces on an equal footing with the rebels. At that point we'd have reduced the problem to the rough equivalent of Afghanistan in 2001; a similar commitment of supplies, special forces, and air support should then produce a similar regime-change result, at which point I would hope we'd get out.

As I've said, I take no position on whether we should pay the price to do this. Using purely conventional airpower, I'd guesstimate the forces needed as two to three carrier battle groups plus some tanker support, transports, and long-range interdiction out of Malta. (I note that one of the costs involved would be the effect of pulling those carriers away from other places they're needed; it's not as if we have a lot of carriers to spare these days.)

The wild card though is, how much could we do with armed long-endurance drones to patrol Libya's roads and degrade Ghadaffi's current mobility? My suspicion is drones would have a considerable multiplier effect, destroying small convoys outright and pinpointing larger ones for conventional air attack. We might then get by with one carrier plus land-based out of Malta and Sicily. (On the other hand, those armed drones are also a limited resource we'd have to pull away from elsewhere. On the gripping hand, it could be a very instructive thing to try...)


Oh we can still take the place: one armored division would do the job, and given the isolations we could operate the oil fields. We don't have to be popular. If conquest is the object we can do it, and the Italians have already shown how you can pacify the place. But if you are trying to win friends, it might be best to intervene before all your friends are dead. We didn't think that way after we encouraged the South Iraqis to rise up in rebellion. Once they were dead and their marshes drained it was a bit late to impose a no-fly condition.

I am not eager for another US commitment. I do think that if it were done, 'twere best done quickly.


Disregard previous - answer in haste, repent at leisure... I managed to largely miss your and Brad's point about "the golden hour" when intervention *might* have been extremely cheap, a handful of carefully targeted missiles. Whether we had the information to so target is a question, but a moot one at this point - that initial hour clearly has passed. The larger question I missed was one of available resources - I'll get back to that.

We clearly have an interest in stability in oil producing nations. (Lost opportunities to invest in energy independence are also alas moot, at least in the context of what do we do this month.) Libya is clearly the oil-producing nation currently most in need of restored stability. Libya may also I think allow of doing so at an affordable price. If so, an intervention "pour encourager les autres" could be quite cost-effective - thirty bucks a barrel off the price of oil is roughly a hundred billion a year off US import costs alone; add the economic effects worldwide (not to mention specific European import costs) and there begins to be a case for a net gain. IF, that is, we can do it right and do it cheap. Success at huge cost would be pyrrhic, while being seen to try and fail would bear even huger costs all too soon.

So, resources. We don't have enough carriers - we have ten total, plus an eleventh building. Five currently deployed and needed where they are, a sixth ready to deploy, seven eight and nine in six-month refits, and the tenth in a four-year refueling refit. We could put one carrier there from the Red Sea in a few days (if we could spare it from there, and IF we wanted to risk it through Suez so soon after two Iranian ships have transited the canal) plus a second from the US in 10 days or so.

We probably do have enough land-based air assets - strike and interdiction certainly; US and european conventional air forces are considerably underemployed right now. Tanker and transport assets are another matter; my impression is that both are stretched already by current operations elsewhere. Long-range UAV recon and strike assets could be a high-leverage wildcard, but again what we've got is stretched already elsewhere.

Bases for those assets are another matter. Malta is once again associated with NATO via "Partnership for Peace", but presumably they'd want a stiff price for intervening against a close neighbor, not to mention tying up their international airport (no other big runways there visible on a quick look at sat images) and disrupting their tourist trade. I would expect those discussions are ongoing... Southern Italy and Sicily are the next basing options; there are three NATO AWACS flying out of Italy currently keeping an eye on Libyan air ops - but basing strike and interdiction there adds hundreds of miles more to the round trip - see previous remark about scarce tankers.

So, we don't have enough carriers to do it on our own. Given the need for NATO and associate basing, we can't do it till we've talked it over with the euros for some substantial period. (Such talks seem to be ongoing.) Many of the various resources needed will also require a week or two (or more) to redeploy to those bases. What the West is visibly doing now (some special forces on the ground doing initial liaison and assessment, initial aerial surveillance, and a lot of discussion with the euros) is probably about all we can do for the moment.

I would assume we are already intervening, directly or via proxies, to help the rebels with supplies, logistics, and training. That will take a while to bear fruit. If and when we overtly intervene, I expect it will be significantly similar to our initial overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan - limited special forces on the ground, backed by an air operation that will quickly seize air superiority, then interdict Ghadaffi's logistics and destroy his heavy weapons while providing close air support to rebel attacks on his positions.

I suspect that one difference from 2001 Afghanistan is that UAVs will allow doing this with relatively smaller conventional aircraft commitments. And I sincerely hope that one difference from 2001 Afghanistan would be that we'll tell the rebels we're leaving as soon as it's over, and they may then govern the country as they wish as long as they keep the oil flowing and don't harbor our enemies.

I think our choices will boil down to, covertly supporting a protracted and messy civil war, or overtly intervening in the next few weeks to bring it to a swift end. Bottom line, I think we can do it, well enough and cheaply enough, to make it worthwhile. (My biggest doubt in that department is competence at the top - Jimmy Carter micromanaging the hostage rescue writ large...)


We don't have any good alternatives. All have downsides, and I don't have enough information to evaluate. Even quick action has a downside: perhaps wait until the rebels beg for help?


RE: North Korea far poorer than reported


I learned a few years ago (some radio show I believe) that NK has some 10’s of thousands of artillery tubes in the hills north of the DMZ, most of them pointed at downtown Seoul. In the first few minutes of a conflict, they could level Seoul with hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds. Who needs nukes?

Best regards,

Doug Ely

That  was one of the factors I was considering. Of course the guns have to work and their crews have to fire. One remedy to that is neutron weapons, but that is unlikely and has an enormous downside.


Genetic Errors Nixed Penis Spines, Enlarged Our Brains, 


Apparently, they no longer call it junk DNA:


“Only 2 percent of the DNA in our genome forms protein-coding genes. The rest, once called “junk DNA,” helps control and coordinate gene activity. Out of this regulatory coordination, physiological complexity emerges.”

There’s more. Apparently we differ most from chimps in our in the protein-coding DNA in deletions. Deletions are the fastest way to evolve.

Interesting piece. I wish I was taking evolutionary genetics now and not in 1971. What we didn’t know!


Agreed that it is now a much more exciting science...


tax rates and teachers' pay

Dear Jerry,

Not sure what your point is about the top California state income bracket starting at $44,000. Are teachers paid from state income tax revenues in California? I always thought teachers were paid from property taxes. At any rate, that's supposed to be the reason why my property taxes are so high here in NJ.

Gordon Sollars

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that funding public schools from local school taxes is Unconstitutional and always has been for all the time of our existence; states have to do most of the local school funding. In California it's about half the state budget, which has been in deficit for a decade. I expect it is not much different in New Jersey.


Predictions and Reality 

Dear Jerry,

So Alex Jones, Aluminum Foil Cap Nutter of the First Water, now touts the prediction by a "Goldman, Sachs analyst" of a Big war for 2012, based on-

"Nenner, a former technical analyst for Goldman Sachs, is head of the Charles Nanner Research Center <http://charlesnenner.com/>, which purports to be able to predict market trends with a computer program based around pattern forecasting and securities analysis. Nenner predicted the stock market and housing collapse over two years before the fall of Lehman Brothers.}"


A tongue-in-cheek "semantic analysis" of the above reveals-

Nanner claims he can predict what the market will do, by use of proprietary trend predicting computer programs.

Nanner's proprietary trend predicting computer programs did not predict the largest downturn in the past seventy years, the 2008 Meltdown.

Nanner now claims his proprietary trend predicting computer programs predict an even larger than 2008 financial meltdown coming soon, and that his proprietary trend predicting computer programs can mow also accurately predict the cause of the looming alleged financial meltdown to, that it will be caused by a Big War.

This is called, in poker terms, "Going On Tilt", as in "I just bet half my stack on a pair of Jacks, and got clobbered by a full house on the River, so now I am so off my game from that gouge in the eye that I am gonna get even by betting the rest of my stack on this pair of deuces!"

In other words, this is Coast To Coast AM, Art Bell/George Noory material. Good for late night insomniacs, inveterate nutters and those who like a good laugh.

I suspect most of us here are in the last bag.

Even George Noory will admit that this sort of thing is mostly aired for entertainment. He's a Good Guy. Unfortunately, some people cannot take a joke, and think there is a Hidden Reality in such ravings.


PS Of course, what with Kaddafi melting down, Dear Leader still Alive and Dying, Pakistan lurching toward Failed State status with fifty nuke tipped missiles, and Iran seduced by dreams of Aryan superiority and Persian Restoration, who knows? Nanner might pull a third deuce out on the River.

Such a cheering thought...

Now now...



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Friday,  March 12, 2011

This day was devoured by locusts.






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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Heating up in Japan


Matters are heating up in Japan -- no pun intended. ABC ran the headline this morning: http://abcnews.go.com/International/

So I was not surprised to read about the problem that happened later: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/

I have friends in Japan. I was listening to some callers from Osaka on a certain broadcast this morning as well. They mentioned conflicting information from government officials and public officials. They mentioned that a problem seemed to exist in multiple facilities. They all sounded reasonably cautious. I became concerned to read this: http://www.mydesert.com/article/20110312/

This is a serious problem in Japan. I realize the opposition could use this to argue against nuclear power. I propose that we advocate Hyperion Mini Nuclear reactors. http://www.thetechherald.com/article.php/



These reactors get buried in the ground. These reactors are more like batteries than reactors and these reactors have no moving parts. As an aside, we could link these up with desalination plants and solve water shortage problems. We can also throw this at the greenies that we are working on rising sea levels -- they'll love that. ;)

Let's not forget the traveling wave reactors: http://gigaom.com/cleantech/
terrapower-how-the-travelling-wave-nuclear-reactor-works/  These are the reactors Bill Gates and Toshiba cooperate on. If these reactors work out, the entire nuclear life-cycle will shift. Nuclear waste will become fuel. We have other advances in nuclear and non-nuclear power that are too various and numerous to point out now.

However, the aforementioned points do not address an argument about traveling wave reactors on coastlines -- for example. These facilities could exist inside a geodesic dome. The geodesic dome would protect the reactors from coast weather. The big problem is an earthquake. What can we do about those? If we can satisfy this condition, the opposition has no argument.

Right now, the opposition is saying this:

<snip> "We do not believe the safety standards for U.S. nuclear reactors are enough to protect the public today," Edwin Lyman, senior scientist, global security programs, at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters. The group supports nuclear power as a means to combat global warming, but wants tougher safety measures. </snip> http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/03/11/

Is he correct? I am thinking the infrastructure is old. What do you think? Everywhere I look on protecting U.S. nuclear facilities from earthquakes, I find this Reuters article. Sometimes people print it without giving Reuters credit. The opposition is using the channels well; what shall be our counterattack?


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC Percussa Resurgo

I think that we don't know what has happened in Japan, but US reactors are as safe today as they were last year. And the Union of Concerned Scientists has a predictable reaction to most events. It support of nuclear always turns out to have impossible 'but' conditions, or such as been my experience.

I don't think panic is in order. I do think that electric energy will be needed to rebuild Japan. And I think that the 7th largest earthquake in recorded history is a terrible event, but if you spend your life preparing for such you may not have any time left over to accomplish anything else. Life is not without risks, Neither is a high tech civilization. I'd still rather live now than in the days of the Black Death.


The earthquake in Japan...

...will in due course be blamed on man-made climate change.

Charles Brumbelow



Japanese nuclear plant and the media

The Beeb is quoting Japan's nuclear agency  ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12720219 )

"Before the explosion, Japan's nuclear agency had said that radioactive caesium and iodine had been detected near the number one reactor. The agency said this could indicate that containers of uranium fuel inside the reactor may have begun melting."

My nephew's in the navy as a nuclear lab tech and I'm far from antinuke, particularly if the Navy is running the reactor without respect to profit, but pooh-poohing the worst case possibility is as inaccurate as becoming hysterical about the worst case possibility. Easier to blame the media than to find a story with a good primary source, eh?


Your definition of poo poo is not mine. Not deciding to panic before one knows what the situation is does not seem unreasonable to me. Did I live in an area close to one of those plants I might well decide that prudence dictates getting the hell out of there assuming that is possible. I do not think, though, that the situation warrants my building a fallout shelter in Studio City. I do suspect that hysteria is more likely to cause casualties than radiation leaks. Japan did not build Chernobyl design power plants likely to inject much of the inventory into the atmosphere.

As to a good primary source, please point me to one. I have already said that we can hardly draw conclusions from the reports we are getting.

I fear I do not read into the link you sent the same indications that you do.


Nuclear disasters in Japan 

Dr Pournelle

I had some free time in February, so I traveled to Japan to visit the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the US dropped atomic bombs at the end of World War II.

The Peace Park at Ground Zero in Hiroshima is large and lush with vegitation, even in February. The Peace Park at Ground Zero in Nagasaki is smaller and more difficult to find because of all the foliage in the trees that surround it.

Both parks have museums, and both museums ironically report that soon after the attack on each city, the rumor spread that "Nothing will grow here for 75 years." History has proven this is not true.

As to the situation at the nuclear plant, Fukushima Dai-ichi, no matter what happens it will NOT be as devastating as Little Boy and Fat Man were to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki recovered. Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima is delicious, and the citizens of Nagasaki welcome foreigners. All the Japanese I met were courteous and helpful.

Will the casualties from the reactor problems be zero? I cannot say, but I predict that they will be fewer than those from the Shinkansen, bullet train, derailment concomitant with the tsunami.

I see pictures of the Fukushima Dai-ichi facility on the news. I see no sign that the core has melted down and taken its containment facility with it. I see reporters delivering their spiel with Fukushima Dai-ichi in the background; were they truly fearful of radiation hazards, they would not stand where they stand nor would their camermen.

Fukushima Dai-ichi is not Chernobyl. Is it Three Mile Island? Maybe. But I think it more likely that the power company will clean up the facility quickly and return it to service. What is quickly? A couple of years, maybe three.

Meanwhile, re: Fukushima Dai-ichi, the press are not selling news; they are selling hysteria and panic. Why? They sell better than news, because they get people excited. The press are not here to inform us. They are here to sell us their product. You know that, but it bears repeating aloud.

Live long and prosper
h lynn keith

The latest news is that all the reactors at that site are compromised. The situation is serious. It is not Chernobyl, and it is not going to create atmospheric radiation equivalent to, say, the fallout from Tsar Bomba. We can only wait.


'While it is hard to know with certainty that the site in Spain in Atlantis, Freund said the "twist" of finding the memorial cities makes him confident Atlantis was buried in the mud flats on Spain's southern coast.'


---- Roland Dobbins

That has long been the most logical place to look for Atlantis: just beyond the pillars of Hercules, in an area where there was navigation but it was all mysterious. And given the Lisbon earthquake and tsunami we know that catastrophic events can happen in the region.


Re: Why didn't they just scram the reactors? And then dump in some boric acid?

On Mar 13, 2011, at 10:38 AM, Roland Dobbins wrote:

>> The generators apparently aspirated water from the tsunami and sustained damage, lowering their output and thus allowing heat and pressure to build. >

More informed commentary:


-- Roland Dobbins


Poor Journalism


Having given up on the UK's print and broadcast media I turned to Aljazeera, thinking that their reporting of the Middle East would probably be better if only because their reporters could blend in with the population. I was agreeaby surprised not only by their coverage of the Middle East but also their World news coverage. Aljazeera assumes that their viewers are interested in more than celebrity infidelity and those having an IQ of better than "doh". Recommended for people with broadband.

John Edwards

I have had much the same experience with al Jazeera in English. Of course that's not what they broadcast in Arabic.



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Sunday,  March 13, 2011     

Meltdowns and other disasters in Japan 

Hi Jerry,

Well, we survived the Great Sendai Earthquake here in Tokyo without much event. The aftermath and cleanup is going to be monumental.

What we're seeing on Fukushima here is pretty close to what I see being reported in the Western media. Japanese news coverage tends to go much more in depth on science issues with a lot more explanation so I think it's accurate. I'm rather shocked that they didn't have stronger containment vessels at the plant, but we don't really know what the design inside the building is. Obviously the primary cooling loop couldn't have been compromised or there would be a lot more radiation being released. We've seen reports that the reactor vessel is six inches of stainless steel which is standard, I believe. The explosion was apparently caused by hydrogen gas produced inside the core and then being vented and exploding.

Japanese engineers tend to believe that pre-planning will avert many scenarios so it wouldn't surprise me if they had hand-waved away the requirement for a stronger containment building. They also tend to have a belief that procedures will be followed exactly at all times. Murphy's Law definitely applies here in Japan but it is ignored on a regular basis.

The Fukushima plant is getting a lot of play in the western media. What's being ignored is the other stuff going on. The Cosmo refinery was still on fire last night, I'm not sure what that status is today. There's an LPG tank still on fire somewhere. God only knows how much gunk got washed into the ocean by the tsunami. I've seen hundreds and hundreds of automobiles floating and many port facilities were wiped out and anyone who's ever been around a port knows they've always got loads of toxic goo all over. Thousands of houses were knocked flat and swept out to sea along with all of their cleaning supplies, cans of paint, CD players and television sets.

We're probably looking at upwards from 10,000 casualties from the tsunami - many towns were just wiped out. One worker died at Fukushima because a crane tipped over. It seems at this point that living next to a nuclear plant is probably safer than living next to the ocean.

Regards, Dave Smith Tokyo


Japan Nuclear Fallout: How Bad Could It Get? (Intelligent coverage of the Japan Nuke disaster)

Hi Jerry,

Here is some intelligent coverage of the Japan nuke disaster.



"Japan Nuclear Fallout: How Bad Could It Get?

by Josh Dzieza <http://www.thedailybeast.com/author/josh-dzieza/>  Info

Josh Dzieza is an editorial assistant at The Daily Beast.

As Japan scrambles to cope with a nuclear reactor damaged in the quake, Josh Dzieza talks to Ron Ballinger, a nuclear expert at MIT about how the plants work, worst-case scenarios, and more. Plus, full coverage of Japan's catastrophe <http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsmaker
/japan-tsunami-earthquake-photos-video/>  .

Shortly after Japan was hit with the double disaster <http://www.thedailybeast.com/
newsmaker/japan-tsunami-earthquake-photos-video/>  of a magnitude 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, a possible third reared its head: nuclear meltdown. The quake caused 11 of Japan's nuclear reactors to shut down automatically, including three at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, 170 miles northeast of Tokyo. But the quake also cut Fukushima off from the power grid, forcing plant operators to switch to emergency diesel generators in order to continue cooling the reactor core, generators that then failed shortly after the tsunami hit. By the end of the day Friday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan had declared a “nuclear emergency,” and 200,000 people near the plant had been told to evacuate.

Then, Saturday afternoon, a building at the plant erupted in a massive explosion, apparently the result of hydrogen from the superheated fuel rods interacting with oxygen as plant operators tried to vent increasing pressure inside the reactor. Officials say the reactor wasn't damaged in the blast, and that radiation levels have actually been declining since. Nevertheless, they took the extreme step of flooding the reactor with seawater in an attempt to cool it down, and news that the cooling system for a second reactor at the same plant has begun to fail did little to calm worries of a meltdown. As Japan copes with its worst nuclear mishap at least since the leak at Tokaimura <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?
res=9504E5D81630F935A2575AC0A9649C8B63>  , The Daily Beast spoke with MIT Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering Ron Ballinger about worst-case scenarios, iodine tablets, and why he thinks everything is going to be fine. Plus, complete coverage of the quake <http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsmaker/
japan-tsunami-earthquake-photos-video/>  .

What's the worst-case scenario?

Well, first off, we can't have a Chernobyl-like situation. The system is designed so that as long as we keep water in there to keep it cool, nothing will happen. There are three levels of protection here. One is the fuel cladding, and if that's damaged then it releases radioactive material into the pressure system, which is a steel container. Then there's a containment vessel around that. What likely happened is that you had fuel damage, damage to the first barrier, which produced hydrogen in the primary system, and then to keep the pressure down they vented the hydrogen into the building that was destroyed.

Police officers wearing respirators guide people to evacuate away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following an order for residents who live in within a 10 km (6.3 miles) radius from the plant after an explosion in Tomioka Town in Fukushima Prefec

What happens if all the water boils off?

Hypothetically, if the water all boils and evaporates, then the fuel will stay molten and eventually melt through the steel vessel. But that's already beyond a hypothetical worst-case scenario for me. The steel vessel is four inches thick, and they could always put seawater around the vessel, and that would keep it cool, so it can't melt. If you put a frying pan in water, you could put a blowtorch on the other side and it won't make any difference. Then you have the other containment vessel, with a concrete faceplate underneath that's between four and 10 feet thick. But melting through that is hypothetical beyond normal reasoning."

more see URL . . .

James Marino


BWR and containment

Thanks for trying to inject reality into the disaster hype that permeates the us press about the Nuclear reactor problems as a result of the earthquake.

The damaged reactors in Japan are Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) (according to the Washington Post) which have a direct connection between the coolant water and the steam turbines. They routinely release small amounts of fission product gases via the steam condenser air ejectors. I haven't heard how much higher it is now.

The WaPo also states that Japanese engineers are injecting sea water directly into the core to keep it cool. This will translate into a total loss of that reactor plant for future use, but will keep the core covered.

As a former Navy nuc, keeping the core covered was job one.

Thanks for spreading rationality about this.


Ah. Of course the water used in a BWR has more intimate contact with the fuel rods than in a PWR. I had not thought that through for the implications of contaminants. Thank you. And we do not know what the levels of releases are. Or I have not heard at least. I am still of the opinion that the major disasters will be economic.

Energy has a cost. High levels of civilization have a cost. The cost is usually lower than the cost in lives of low technology civilizations. And life in a state of nature remains solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. The cost of civilization is low in comparison.


Japanese Nuclear Mess

I'm sorry that your neighbor Bill Nye embarassed himself on a point a fact. Personally I was listening to another of your neighbors - George Noory. He had a number of "nuclear experts" on his show last night. LOL.

As to the question about the under informed press. I wonder? If I were a young recent journalism school graduate would I make a wise career move to actually learn some nuclear engineering in preparation for occasional accidents? Would it be also clever to compete with all the other young journalists on the make by actually bothering to learn something about climatology? That's the sort of thing I might have done when I was in my twenties and was hyper competitive and career oriented.

Would I, as a rare informed journalist, then have gotten on the air more often than my less well informed journalism peers? I'm sorry to say, I don't think so. In fact I'll bet there are more than a few who have tried this tack but quit after they realized that the "house expert" on some science related issue was less likely, not more likely to get the relevant story assignments. Success in the media today seems to require compliance with the zeitgeist not actual topic expertise.

On Noory's'show someone complained that Carter had let us down because he was after all a "nuclear engineer". I'm sure you know the truth of the matter but if not let me remind you. Carter was a "ship engineer" of a conventional diesel battery sub. A ship engineer is like a railroad engineer - he drives the vehicle. In the case of a sub there is a team that drives it and the commander of that team is called the engineer. Carter just missed getting a similar job on the then just emerging nuclear vessels. He was ambitious and career oriented, so he campaigned for such a posting and got it even though he hadn't had the appropriate training. In an attempt to stay relevant he enrolled in one night class in Nuclear Power at a liberal arts college for liberal arts majors - not engineers.

That's it. Nothing else. There is no record of his grade or even if he completed that single undergraduate survey course. His Presidential campaign staff originally claimed he was a nuclear physicist (again LOL). But they had to back off that claim. They settled for Nuclear Engineer - implying that he knew how to design and build a nuclear reactor whereas his real job was more like that of an airline pilot. Driving a sub is a responsible job as is commanding men, but they are not design jobs. He quit the Navy shortly thereafter and went into politics.

Hope you recover fully and continue to write. Now that Petr Beckmann is gone, you're the man.


I did not vote for Carter, but I was not alarmed when he was elected. Only later did I realize that one could have his resume and still hold his views of the world. I confess that I accepted his claim to be a nuclear engineer, and of course he had been a naval officer, a profession for which I have considerable respect. Carter's policies surprised me.

Bill Nye is a neighbor. George Noory is a friend. His show is expected to air extreme views; he does not sort his guests by rationality, which is probably why I am so seldom a guest. George does not confront his guests, but rather helps them explain their views; he leaves it to the intelligence of his listeners to sort out the truth. Since many of the theories presented by his guests are mutually contradictory (and a few contradict themselves) he can't possibly believe them all. Sometimes he does uncover interesting anomalies that lead to items worth investigating.  I envy his talent to make entertainment out of such materials.

When I was publicizing my books I had no real problem getting air time for my views on space and energy, unpopular as they were; and for that matter I got plenty of invitations to speak at universities. Most of my invitations were from the students, not the faculty, and I got heckled a lot, but I never had to compromise my views. In the old days of BYTE I could hardly complain about being an underpaid journalist. In my journalism days I chose to be rational rather than spectacular, and the habit continues to this day in my Views. I presume that costs me in numbers, but I have very loyal subscribers -- for which many thanks to you all. I could use more subscribers, but I do not propose to change my ways in an attempt to be more spectacular (or popular).  


In Northern California, Some Flee the Tsunami, Others Surf It 

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

A novelist need be but plausible in his invention, so it must be doubly gratifying when one, or in this case two, get it Spot On-


"When a powerful earthquake in Japan unleashed a tsunami that sped across the northern Pacific, most people living along the beach in the coastal town of Santa Cruz, northern California, heeded evacuation warnings at 5:30 a.m. and drove up into the redwood hills for safety. Not Isaac Lee. He grabbed his surfboard and headed for the tsunami waves."

You and Mr. Niven ought mail Isaac Lee an autographed copy of "LUCIFER'S HAMMER". Cheap publicity.



DHS seizure of domains without due process

Interesting read at http://torrentfreak.com/5-reasons-why-the-us-domain

In addition to the obvious constitutional issues, the site in this case contained no copyrighted material. It simply had links to other sites that were alleged to contain copyrighted material.

John Harlow, President BravePoint


Iron law in action...


Charles Brumbelow


responses to Charles Brumbelow and Henry

If stability is really our only objective in Libya wouldn't we be better off supporting the current despot? He's kept a lid on things pretty well and helping him polish off some rabble shouldn't be that difficult. There would of course be worldwide consequences, but only rarely in history has a revolution produced greater stability in any nation, much less in an amalgamation of several under one flag.

As for the earthquake being blamed on AGW, I believe George Bush already has been found responsible..

-Tim Herbst

Doing nothing is equivalent to supporting Gaddafi. In preparation for his win we have chosen to call him insulting names and inform him he is unacceptable. The Chinese have concluded that he will win, and have bought his favor. I do not know if they have consulted Gaddafi on use of the Chinese UN veto.


In Va. assault case, anxious parents recognize 'dark side of autism' 


This is a story about “the "dark side of autism," their children's capacity for aggression when they are frustrated, angry or overstimulated.” In this case a 19 year old man is going to prison for then and one half years:


Here is the story:

On the morning of the confrontation, Latson's mother said, he slipped out of the house early to go to the library. But it was closed, so he sat on the grass.

What followed was a call to police about a suspicious black male, outside the library, wearing a hoodie and possibly carrying a gun. The call came, authorities said, after some children at the elementary school across the street became frightened and told a crossing guard.

The school was put on lockdown, a search ensued and deputy Thomas Calverley, 56, a school resource officer, spotted Latson walking out of a nearby wooded area.

"Hey, what's up, man?" Calverley said, according to his testimony.

The deputy approached. He squeezed the front pocket area of Latson's sweat shirt and lifted it to check for a gun. There was none. According to authorities, no gun was found, and the children, when questioned later, said they never saw one.

Calverley said he asked the teenager his name several times and, after the teen refused to give it, he grabbed Latson, told him that he was under arrest and bent him over the hood of a car. That's when the two started wrestling and fell to the ground.

At one point during the struggle, Calverley said, Latson flipped him hard onto his back, causing his head to hit the pavement. The teenager then hit him dozens of times and, at one point, took his pepper spray from him.

When it was over, Calverley had a one-inch cut on his head, numerous abrasions and a shattered ankle that required two plates and a dozen screws to repair.

More poignantly:

Latson's case, however, was not a matter of a law enforcement officer being untrained, the prosecutor said. "This deputy has a 33-year-old mentally retarded child," Olsen said. "So the deputy is very sensitive to dealing with children with disabilities. He's lived it every day for the last 33 years."

So, my question is, Why did he start off by treating this kid like a perp? Why manhandle him? He grabbed the kid’s shirt, then “he grabbed Latson, told him that he was under arrest and bent him over the hood of a car.” Why the departure from civility? Why the violence? Why not simply tell the kid he was under arrest and wait for backup? In essence, Calverly started a fight. Latson finished it.

From my perspective, we have become a police state. Not in the classic sense of dictatorship from the top, but dictatorship by cop and prosecutor. Nifong (look him up if his name is not infamous to you) was not an aberration, but merely the most egregious tip of a most dangerous iceberg.

It’s not anywhere a safe country to live in. The largest, most dangerous street gang in the nation flaunt their colors (blue) and wear their weapons openly. Don’t believe me? Look at the details of most stories of “assault” on a policeman where the “assailant” was not engaged in some more traditional crime.

The solution? Here’s one: Vidcams are tiny now. Put one the head of every cop. Maybe on his glasses if he wears them. Bluetooth to a recorder. No prosecution if the cop “loses” his videorecord. Videorecords would show bad guys doing bad things, but would compromise prosecutions when cops themselves did bad things. I believe cops would begin to behave better, perhaps living up to what we are expected to believe of them (we are expected to believe cops act properly).

Until then, live very carefully, be very polite when one of your masters speaks to you, and always obey them completely.


Perhaps we have not heard the entire story, but perhaps we have. I have no opinions; the question is what lessons we get from all this. The current atmosphere is not one conducive to freedom. As to video, many police patrol cars have them now. I think that is a coming wave of the future.






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