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Monday, May 09, 2011

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Monday  May 2, 2011

Pakistani role

"It appears that Pakistan sold him out, but must be given plausible deniability. The Pakistani government cut the electricity in the entire area of the city. "

What is your evidence for either of these statements?

For the first one, every single source I have seen has been repeating that Pakistan was deliberately not told anything, implying there was a fear the target would get warned - and that the means of finding him was following a courier, and not anything to do with Pakistani input. For the second, I haven't seen any mention of this anywhere else.


Every official source you will ever see will say that Pakistan was deliberately not told anything, and that this raid, taking place in the North East part of Pakistan, was done by stealth from carriers in the Arabian Sea. The operations force entered Pakistan by stealth, carried out a raid in an inland military college town, made use of the local airport, and went back to sea without any prior arrangement with the Pakistani government, which therefore bears no responsibility for the actions.


And of course, the idiots buried him at sea.

Nobody will believe it.


I expect it will be believed. As to burial at sea, I presume it is a matter of policy. One alternative would be to display him wrapped in pigskin. There are obvious arguments against doing that. Burial at sea gets him out of the way without leaving a tomb site. There are arguments in favor of that as well as against it. I'm glad I didn't have to make a quick decision on this.

The display him in pigskin argument is that it will smoke out the mad fanatics and get it over with. The counter argument is that this will get a lot of people hurt or killed.


Look North today

Hello Jerry

Lots of interesting things going on in the world today. Amidst the obvious, have you noticed there is an election just North of you? What looked to be an incredibly boring Federal election in Canada has turned out to be anything but. Advance poll turnout is way up, the Bloc may lose seats to the NDP (as a Federalist I cheer that one although they are not my party of choice), the leader of the Green party may finally have a seat in the House of Commons, and the whole situation is quite volatile. Nothing is broadcast until after the polls close in BC, so that should work just fine for you in the same time zone. You might want to check it out. (That is the polite Canadian way of saying - check out what your next-door neighbours who sell you lots of oil and natural gas are doing, a change of government to ones who actually care a tiny bit, not a lot, about the environment could affect you.) Plus we are having serious looks at the "first past the pole" format, with 5 parties a candidate with 35-40% of the votes in that riding can get elected. This basically dis-enfranchises a large proportion of the voters. There may well be a lot of strategic voting going on.

In one hour and 17 minutes I vote - the old-fashioned way, pencil on a paper ballot.

Pat Hennesey

PS I can't be the only one who wrote you in response to the mail item about evolution - you left it up, but nothing to clarify? Most people have such murky concepts of what evolutionary theory is, that this was a good chance to clear things up. Biology as a discipline can be very complex, but most people think of the sub-discipline of Ecology as still "Natural History" - it has gone way past that. Physics and Chemistry are much more predictable disciplines, non-living things usually are.

The Harvard Law states: Under controlled conditions of light, temperature, humidity, and nutrition, the organism will do as it damn well pleases. Larry Wall


The subject is sufficiently complex as to require more space and thought than I have time for just now. The interaction of heredity and environment is both more and less complex than is usually taught in the schools, and I haven't got any simple principles. I do like the Harvard Law,

When I took ecology from Rufus King at the University of Iowa a very long time ago, he required an acquaintance with differential equations; it wasn't enough to say "everything is connected with everything else", the trick was to describe the connections. We know a lot more about that now than we did then, but I can't say I have kept up beyond following it in New Scientist and other such magazines.


Technical Explanations

As I wrote when I first examined the President's BC .PDF, I was very puzzled by how such a document could be produced. Since then, experimenting with various ways to process the document with Acrobat 9 and other software, I have been able to sorta-kinda reproduce the same odd effects found in the White House provided e-file. If I were still a software tester, I'd have to rate this as an UTR (Unable to Reproduce), but I can come close. Close enough that the differences in software and hardware involved could possibly explain the differences.

Left unanswered is WHY BHO's people released the long awaited document so messed up. Take a paper document, scan it, post the .JPG--one step. Simple and you're done. If you HAVE to, go ahead and turn it into a .PDF (standard or press quality, doesn't matter). That's one additional step. A single image converted to .PDF is a single object, if you don't do anything else. It looks to me that in order to produce the document as they posted it, it was *minimally* wrung though an unknown number of additional steps for no added value, steps which unnecessarily produced a document that prima facie appears tampered with. Is this an intentional attempt to mess with somebody's head? Stupidity? Incompetence? Misdirection? Who knows? The kind of investigation needed to get to the bottom of what's really going on is technically doable, but politically impossible.

This was supposedly in support of an answer to a Constitutional issue which a large number of citizens think important. I produce print and e-documents for a living, and I'd never get away with producing crap like this for a newspaper insert, let alone to purportedly 'settle' something of this import.

Greg Hemsath

I would have thought the simplest way would be the best. Get a certified copy -- a non-digital photograph, perhaps -- and release it. Why be complex? It's a moot point.


Letter from England

Hello, Jerry,

 I hope you've seen the very belated Letter from Crete.

 I have a strong recommendation for anyone worried about their retirement savings--diversify into international investments (Brazil, India, China, Taiwan, South Korea, etc.). See <http://tinyurl.com/3r3rq4x>, <http://tinyurl.com/6fpnv7f> and <http://tinyurl.com/3bkdwlm>.

 Getting up this morning, I heard the news about Osama bin Ladin. About time... I had been working to stop him since long before 9/11--perhaps now we'll have a little peace. UK stories: <http://tinyurl.com/3j8x22o> <http://tinyurl.com/3fyxma7> <http://tinyurl.com/6fr73xw> <http://tinyurl.com/3c6aqu3> <http://tinyurl.com/6yh6erj>

 I missed the Royal Wedding--we were flying into Gatwick from Crete. I understand the UK police were a bit heavy-handed in suppressing anything resembling republican sentiments. <http://tinyurl.com/33wp2q2> <http://tinyurl.com/5sg2tbv> <http://tinyurl.com/65ju7jk>

 Professor Richard Holmes died. <http://tinyurl.com/5vpbkff> <http://tinyurl.com/6kj75bm>. He was the highest ranking officer in the Territorial Army, so he wrote about an area in which he had some professional as well as academic experience.

 UK companies play hardball with Osborne (UK Chancellor) over taxes. <http://tinyurl.com/67d43af> <http://tinyurl.com/3tbhqv5>

 Blowback--using super-injunctions to protect your privacy discredits you if you're an investigative journalist <http://tinyurl.com/6y6vkvr>

 "Kia Hora Te Marino" (May Peace be Widespread)

Harry Erwin


Letter from Crete

Hi, Jerry,

This is a very belated letter from Crete--I've had very limited access to the internet.

We showed my son, daughter-in-law, and 15-month-old granddaughter around the sights of Crete: Kato Zakros, Palaikastro, Moni Toplou, Sitia, Knossos, Festos, Gortys and Lassithi. They've been teaching our grandchild American Sign Language. As a neuroscientist who studies auditory communication, I'm gobsmacked by how fluent she is using signs when her spoken vocabulary is no more than a half dozen words. We certainly confuse physical limitations with lack of comprehension!

Also noted in passing: a recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that IQ tests measure both innate intelligence and motivation. If you remember the work on how sensory thresholds are modulated by reward and also the data on the Flynn Effect, this should not come as much of a surprise. It does suggest a mechanism for culture to influence IQ test performance.

Crete has been hit hard by the downturn. Infrastructure investment by the EU Social Fund ceased by about five years ago, and currently the economy in Greece seems to be waiting on the reappearance of capital, much as in America and the rest of Europe. International demand is present, particularly in China, India, and Brazil, but resource production has not caught up, so commodity prices are inflated. Capital is currently moving into expansion of primary resource production, but wages remain stagnant except in that sector. Those of us willing to invest internationally are doing better than fine, but I suspect most Americans saving for retirement are sticking with American companies, many of which are currently refusing to repatriate their foreign profits. This will sort out when the economy rebalances, but there are a lot of people hurting right now in Europe, Japan, and North America.

The weather in Crete this year is wet and cold. The climate is usually similar to southern California, but this year the last snow in the White Mountains was in March, Mount Ida remains snow-covered and the winter rains are continuing. As an orange grower's son, I see the rain as money, but it's affecting tourism.

We went to Lassithi on Holy Saturday and visited the cave of the Diktean Zeus. Coming back, I had to drive carefully due to the number of drunks on the road. Adjusting to the differences in culture is one of the challenges and (usually) pleasures of foreign travel. The last time we visited Central Crete, most of the tourist sights were shut for much of Easter weekend, but this year, they were open and free. It's worth seeing! We didn't get to visit Santorini--perhaps next time.

A question--I'm thinking of writing a science fiction story or science fact article looking at the evidence for 'fine tuning' of the various free parameters of physical laws. Any advice on the way to go?

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

Harry Erwin PhD

Too bad you missed Phaistos, which for me showed much of the comfortable wealth of Minoan Crete and was sort of my favorite spot. Ah. I see Festos, which I presume is a modernizes spelling.

The bronze age naval base at Zakros was interesting too. Much of Knossos was so thoroughly rebuilt that either you accept their interpretation or you really have to work to see another. I very much enjoyed backpacking through Crete way back when, and spending a week on Thera with Spiradon Marinatos. Fortunately I had a letter of introduction from the Minister of Antiquities and a formal arrangement through the government -- not hard to do, but it took a lot of bureaucratic moves and a letter from National Geographic. All long ago.




The Minister mentioned one of the coup's leaders, Solomon Anthony Joseph Musa, who shot the people who had paid for his schooling, "in order to erase the humiliation and mitigate the power his middle-class sponsors held over him."



Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan

Civilization is a great deal thnner than most suppose.


The swarm of tornadoes we have seen in the last month are not indicative of anything special, the same for the snow storms, ice storms, hail storms, etc. So the tornado cluster was the worst since . . . some year. Not forever but since sometime in the past. So what?

The news media talk about global warming without the caveat, that geological history indicates that a warming trend has been present since the peak of the last ice age. And from what we know about weather, and by extension the climate, the natural warming trend is not smoothly linear, in fact we know nothing about it except what you have repeatedly mentioned about ice on the Hudson, grapes in England, ice on the canals in Holland, and so forth. It is not a smooth and predictable process but one that is chaotic with a long term general warming. So when there is talk about global warming caused by human activity, it really means that someone has extrapolated a normal warming trend and projected on top of that some quantity attributed to human activity. As they cannot state with any degree of accuracy, the first quantity, the second is meaningless.



Huntsville is 75 miles away and we can get one Huntsville station so I have been able to follow local coverage of the tornado there. Yesterday, I mowed my back yard and found several pieces of roofing material while my neighbor found a letter from Cullman, Alabama, over 100 miles away. Things like this brings home just how destructive tornados can be. Here’s hoping nobody ever picks up pieces of my house 100 miles away.

Chuck Anderson


Raw milk and vitamin pills


Saw the post about the FDA's daring raid on some Amish farmers.

Some 50 years ago or so, Analog SF/SF published a poem -- either in a Campbell editorial or in the letters column -- about the FDA's penchant for ignoring real health issues while going after things that people didn't care about or even wished they'd leave alone. The refrain at the end of each stanza (detailing some real health issue) was, "And the FDA's gunning for vitamin pills." I've never been able to find the poem again; perhaps one of your readers can. ..bruce..

-- Bruce F. Webster

Part of the FDA can be placed in the "government we can do without just now" category. Truth in advertising is important: if it says it contains snake oil, there ought to be oil of snakes in it -- and warnings make sense. "The FDA believes you would have to be out of your mind to believe this stuff will do you any good." But prohibitions of things that don't harm you, enforced by gunmen, seems a bit much.


Raw milk..

Dr. P:

Before I discovered at age 51 that I can't tolerate dairy products any more I was a member of a "raw milk" dairy co-op here in Colorado. The dairy tests *all* their milk every day before it goes to its members, invites you to come and see the operation and talk to them before becoming a member, *never* has cows in the milk chain that are on antibiotics, never feeds their cows anything but what they evolved to eat (grass!) and produces a top-notch product. They are a fantastic contributor to the local food chain in my area. And are periodically hassled by the state. And are constantly worried that the FDA will do what they are doing with the Amish farmer in Washington.

Meanwhile the only contribution the FDA makes to meat safety is to acknowledge that virtually every piece of beef or chicken you buy has been in contact with feces and needs to be treated as a poison until it's been cooked to the point where most of the pathogens are dead. A point far beyond what many people consider palatable.

But the meat industry and the big dairy industries pay big money to the FDA to make sure that they beat on the little guys that are actually trying to produce the food that people WANT.

Drives me crazy.


I am all for freedom with enforcement of truth in advertising. I drank raw milk when we had cows in Capleville. Everyone did. We didn't sell it, though. Purely for home consumption.

Capitalists generally use government regulation to restrict entry into their particular part of the market. Adam Smith warns us of that. Economists apparently don't read that part of the Wealth of Nations.


The Iron law marches on! 

Madison —Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to privatize work determining who is eligible for food assistance in the state would violate federal law and could expose the state to a loss of more than $20 million in federal money, federal officials say.

In an April 14 letter to state Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith and Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson, Ollice Holden, a Midwest administrator for the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, warned that the work of interviewing applicants and deciding who is eligible for the Wisconsin FoodShare program needs to be done by public workers who are essentially civil servants. If not, he said, the state could lose some of the federal funds supporting FoodShare, the successor in Wisconsin to the food stamp program.



“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Dwight David Eisenhower


Government We Can Do Without Just Now

Dr. Pournelle,

Here's an idea (just off the top of my head). Pay all government employees about 25-30% less and stop having them pay Income Taxes. I bet you could save a lot in processing costs.

It has always seemed absurd to me that people who are paid by the Federal Government should go through this ritual. It'll never happen though.

Matt Kirchner


Teddy Bear Time



And indeed I have now seen a teddy bear. Possibly quite genuine, possibly not. But there was one among the children's effects shown to Arab newspeople.


Qaddafi Escapes NATO Missile Strike That Kills His Son, Grandchildren - FoxNews.com


Are a leader's children and grandchildren considered a legitimate military targets?

Could anyone blame Gadaffy for reciprocating?

If I was Gadaffy I'd be offering the North Koreans or the Pakistanis gold for nukes, then using them.



The question is one worth discussion. Can there be laws of War and Peace?

Sun Tzu says to build golden bridges for your enemies. We have pretty well burned all those for Qadaffi.



Hi Jerry

I noticed that you seem to alternate amongst a variety of different spellings for the Libyan leader's name. Is there some point to that? Unless you have been having more radiotherapy on the brain, it seems most unlikely to be accidental. :-)

Just wondering.

Michael J Smith

I have used none but permissible spellings for the name of the Libyan leader. I began with the "accepted" Gaddafi but no one seems to agree on that or anything else, so I use what I feel like.


Green solar cell production

Dr. Pournelle:

Can a self-sustaining solar cell factory be powered exclusively by solar cells? How large would the array be to generate the necessary wattage? Is it economically viable?

The questions came up during a discussion that solar cell production is like any other semi-conductor fabrication, in that a lot of electrical energy is necessary and has to come from somewhere. “Dirty” electricity generated by fossil/hydro/nuclear is presently used, justified that once the cells are connected to the grid and generating power they eventually “payback” the energy used to manufacture these cells. This seems to be an energy accounting trick; a huge loan from the energy bank now, to be paid back in small installments. The environmental consequences don’t go away, and each solar cell is responsible for a portion of that pollution.

There must be someone among the readership who can answer this question.

Best Regards,

Fred Foster

I have not done the math on solar cell energy costs (raw materials, manufacturing cost, disposal of waste materials, systems including storage, etc.) but back in the days when I was doing the Galaxy columns, ground based solar would never break even; but solar cells have become a great deal more efficient since those times. The analysis is fairly tedious even to get things accurate to an order of magnitude because there are a lot of hidden costs.

As a rule of thumb, for daytime air conditioning without power storage, roof top solar is generally economical. In places like Southern California where it is cool in the evening it makes sense if you use the building during the daytimes.  At least that was true the last time I did the calculations. We didn't try it for LASFS because the meetings are usually after sundown and an exhaust fan is generally sufficient in the evenings; Los Angeles cools down fast unless Santa Anna winds are blowing.




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Tuesday,  April 3, 2011

Obama watched Bin Laden raid live

From http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/306268 

On Sunday afternoon President Obama sat beside Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and his counter-terrorism chiefs as they watched the assassination of Osama Bin Laden through a live TV feed. ... Courtesy of small helmet cameras, the Obama administration were able to watch as it unfolded, in which Bin Laden was shot just above his left eye, blowing apart part of his skull

I, for one, do not see this particular aspect of the operation as a positive development.

The natural progression of this is from politicos watching via live feeds to politicos (or even general officers) attempting to remotely micromanage such operations and that would be a disaster and cost a lot of military lives. Once the politicos realize how much it could help them career wise, it could even end up on live TV. (We'll return to our coverage of the assault after a brief word from our sponsors????)

I don't know how we would put this genie back in the bottle, but I know that we should.


John Harlow, President BravePoint

Helmuith von Moltke said after Sadowa that he was the last actual commander in chief, and every field commander in future would operate with a telegraph wire down his throat. Actually he said something a bit more colorful, but you get the idea. Jimmy Carter had Colonel Beckwith on live telephone to the White House, which did neither of them any good. This is hardly new.


Bin Laden and Heinlein's foresight 

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

Pondering the events of the past week, I remember RAH's novel "Friday". One of the subplots of the book was the existence of war between corporate-states and territorial-states. ISTR one of the events in the book was IBM destroying a Mexican city via a terror attack. It was a world in which territorial nations confronted stateless entities which had no territory -- only money and the will to use violent means to achieve their ends.

In this respect, I suggest the war against Al Queda is the first such "Corporate war". Like the corporations in RAH's novel, Al Queda has no territory. It draws income -- or at least it did -- from legitimate "front" companies, from Islamic charities, and from internet scams. It has no "citizens", no uniforms, no embassies. It's membership is secret.

If the analogy holds, it appears the RAH was more pessimistic than was due. It turns out, unlike in his book. That it is possible to fight corporate states. The solution seems to be: Freeze their assets, kill their shareholders and their officers. AQ may have many fellow travelers but without an organization of some kind it will be very difficult to pull of a large-scale action.

So I think we have to give RAH some credit for correctly foreseeing future war. At least one portion of it.

Incidentally, one of your other correspondents mentioned the death of Gaddafi's son. In point of fact, the person in question was a 29-year-old officer in their army most recently tasked with "putting down protestors in Benghazi".


So you'll pardon me if I have few tears for him. His death seems right in line with the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, another thuggish mass murderer who found himself afoul of western intelligence. I DO feel genuinely sorry for his children, but I don't know what else they could have done in time of war. IIRC, not everyone in the Fuhrer bunker was a Nazi when Count Stauffenberg brought his explosive suitcase to a briefing. It still needed doing.


Brian P.


'A larger, denser and more tornado-savvy population and improving communication appear to be the most plausible explanation for the increasing number of tornado sightings through the years.'


--- Roland Dobbins

And of course the tornadoes in the early 1970's were evidence of the coming ice age...


Global Warming Causing More Tornadoes?


Dr Roy Spencer weighed in on this issue. In his opinion, if Global Warning caused an increase in Tornadoes, it would be an increase in northern areas like Canada. He thinks that an unusually cool La Nina year may have aggravated tornadic activity.



I do not think we know how to predict tornadoes.


Federal employees and taxation

Jerry -

I am a federal civil servant, and I saw Matt Kirchner's proposal to pay federal employees less and skip taxes. This idea has two major problems.

First, it is easier to treat federal employees like everyone else for tax purposes than to create a process for an exception.

Second, essentially all federal employees have other sources of income varying from interest on savings, through a spouse that works, up to receiving publishing royalties as the President does. How to tax this additional income would be a major complication to the tax code that is easier to handle by treating federal employees like any other employee.

- name withheld



Coming Anrachy Nonsense 

Dear Jerry,

I'm the contrarian once again. The article from "The Atlantic" listed in MAIL for May 1 touting The Coming Eschaton (presumably pat. pend., considering the way it's pushed by everyone from COAST TO COAST AM to the various Discovery channels and now even the Liberal Bastions of the Cultural Elite), is not a chronicle of what is Coming Here Soon, but a narrative of What Has Been, And Still Is, the case IN AFRICA!

 <http://www.The Atlantic.com/magazine/archive/

I have an acquaintance, a most casual one, with a gentleman of middle years who has resided in these United States for nearly thirty years. He is a native from a Christian region of Nigeria. In a recent discussion of crime and punishment, he described the penalty for rape in his home village. Without too many egregious details, it involves a large blade, an amputation, and consumptoin by the malefactor of his body part, with the aid of a bottle of beer.

My acquaintance also mentioned that a young man on his youth soccer team, during a visiting match in a Muslim region of Nigeria, stole a tee shirt.

The local authorities cut off his right hand.

This gentleman laughingly commented that the boy wa lucky. In his village they were not so lenient. There, if you steal, and get caught, they give you a "necklace".

That's what they call the old tire filled with gasoline they plxce about your neck. Then they set it afire.

My ex-Nigerian acquaintance, despite his nearly thirty years of residency in The West, finds these practices not merely interesting, but perfectly reasonable. From his style and tone of narration, he would not be taken aback were he tomorrow to witness such acts in the streets of his American home.

Civilization is not thin. "Civilization" is a false meme. It does not exist.

It is a concept dreamed up by the same French Savants (Idiot Savants, I might say, though that would be an insult to true Idiot Savants) who gave us the 1789 Revolution and all which that tragedy has brought in its train for going on two and a half centuries.

There are cultures, and there are cultures. Each has its modalities. I find those of my culture, the West, to be preferable to most, and no worse than a tie with the best of the rest. I would not have a problem with my culture taking over the world, remaking all that spicy and colorful local brutality into what pointy heads might call Bland Tapioca.

Hindus used to burn widows alive. Chinese bound baby girls feet to cripple them for life. Polynesians maimed themselves to show grief at funerals. The Code of Draco will curl your toes.

Somehow we survived, and even got over it, if only for a time. Africa will too, unless it doesn't.

That's how history works. Clio can be a bitch.


I would have thought that Aristotle had something to say about civilization and barbarians a bit before the Enlightenment, but perhaps I am confused. There is also Socrates. And Sir Charles Napier had something to say about the practice of suttee. You can find that somewhere on this site.

There are several routes to decivilization. We may see several of them.


Trump’s latest scandal: draft-dodging - Yahoo! News

of the discontents http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_
Ec2xrA3RydW1wODIxN3NsYQ- -

Dear Jerry:

Donald Trump dodged the draft? In that respect he was no different than many of our generation. Cliches about glass houses come to mind. Bullying and mobbing have a downside. The mob can turn on you.

One of the discontents of my life is the number of men about my age who think they did something clever and appropriate by staying out of Vietnam. Even if they did time in the service there were deals to be cut to keep them out of the war zone. I volunteered for the Army and for service in Vietnam, but was one of the other 90 percent; the "clerks and jerks" who manned the logistics train any modern army needs to function, so I am sure that the guys who saw the Hollywood version of combat feel the same about people like me and call me a R.E.M.F.. I try to non-judgmental and polite when someone brags about his low draft number, but part of me just wants to bitch-slap them. Of course, Donald Trump is a preening bully and media whore to whom the concept of shame is totally foreign. It is an absolute duty of the media to throw stones at his glass windows; he's provided ample ammunition. So, Donald, when did it become cool to be a coward?


Francis Hamit

Will you pardon me if I don't take part in throwing rocks at Mr. Trump?  I find him amusing, given the people he outrages. At some point we will get back to real politics.


Keynes v Hayek

An interesting way of presenting the two differing views of Hayek and Keynes:






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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Osama's death - a minority viewpoint

In fact it may be the viewpoint of a minority of one...but I think Osama died a winner. For an expenditure of probably less than $1,000,000 he caused the deaths of 3,000 at the World Trade Center and got the United States bogged down in two mid-east wars which have cost another 7,000 US lives and crippled tens (if not hundreds) of thousands more US lives - not to mention hundreds of thousands of mid-easterners killed and injured. And the United States has spent trillions of dollars it did not have on these wars which seemingly have no ends. All this from a man whose culture recognizes a suicide bomber whose victim count is in double digits as an honored martyr.

Reminds me of Bier Rabbit and the Tar Baby.

Charles Brumbelow


Recent Events

This is pure hindsight and idle speculation. Suppose we had just ignored Osama from the outset and concentrated on reducing the risk of future attacks and also focused on energy independence (drill, baby, drill) and economic prosperity? That sends the message that it doesn't matter how you try to hurt us, we are too big and too capable and you can't destroy us. We can afford to ignore you; you are too small to merit our attention.

Might we not actually be better off today?

(Badly worded; written in haste, but denizens of this site will get the point.)

Richard White Austin, Texas

-- "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." --Plato

You may recall that I proposed building monuments in town where they celebrated 9/11.  The monument would consist of 4 square blocks of rubble, to be kept as rubble. No invasion. I was also in favor of the special operations in Afghanistan. After that, we develop domestic energy sources. For less than we spent on the wars, we could have what amounts to energy independence, and tell the Middle East to drink its oil, we are not buying. We did not go that route.


A new sun for China? - 


Special report: In China the big nuclear question is "how soon"?

Physics works for the Chinese as well as for the Americans...better since they are actively pursuing a practical application. Actually I hope they succeed as that may give us impetus to pursue this line of energy research.

I hope you feel better soon.

R, Rose

Cheap energy is the key to prosperity. For someone...


solar cells 


I saw a presentation on solar cells a couple of years ago.

Solar cell economics discussions:




(And speaking of power, we've just had a blackout so I'm going to complete this while the computer is powered up, though I hope it's short while they're synching some of the generators back in...OK, power back up after about 15 minutes)

The comparison charts in the first presentation are incomplete, as they don't consider the high costs associated with transient generation synched in to meet peak loads. Clearly, winter overnight peak heating need not apply, but summer peak heating is by lifetime solar -- at those rates -- is cost comparable with what industry is paying for other peak load generation schemes, plus or minus 5%. (This according to an analysis I've been briefed on but which was never posted online). As technology improves the cost of solar is dropping slightly.

So as you said -- using solar for air conditioning in summer pays for itself over the long term -- if you're having to pay more than $0.38/KWt-hr for peak electrical used for cooling. Under those circumstances, you're not putting having to pay for storage technologies and may even put a slight surplus onto the grid (though more likely it's going to reduce non-cooling load temporarily). But costs have to drop by a factor of at least five before it becomes competitive with other technologies for base load -- excluding subsidies and the artificial factor of two - to- five inflation posited by cap and trade. Unfortunately, that artificial inflation of coal and fuel oil is born by those who have to heat their houses in winter.

$4000/month fuel oil bills in Minnesota and the Dakotas? That's change I've believed in for years...



Subject: Record number of low temp days this year, and not by just a little


Just another manifestation of climate change?

"...The number of lows of less than 40 degrees stands at 122 days for 2011. The old record was 114 days in 1975...."

Full story:

Warmer weather will make a good showing in Billings this week with temperatures mostly in the 60s.

But will it last?

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center predicts below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation in May. Thanks to the lingering effects of a fading La Nina, that forecast applies to the the Northern Plains through July.

Mean temperature in April was 42.7 degrees, which is 3.4 degrees cooler than normal. High temperatures have averaged 52.8 degrees, or 4.7 degrees lower than average.

But it is daily low temperatures that are breaking records this month.

The number of lows of less than 40 degrees stands at 122 days for 2011. The old record was 114 days in 1975.

In fact, Billings hasn’t seen a low temperature of 40 degrees or more in the last 176 days. That streak, which began Nov. 8, breaks the record of 170 days set in the winters of 1964-65 and 1984-85.

According to National Weather Service records, Billings has never before in recorded history had an April where daily lows for the entire month were less than 40 degrees.

Only 1951 came close, with 26 days where the low temperature fell below 40 degrees.

Average daily low temperature for April was 32.5 degrees, or 2.2 degrees below normal. Normal lows for April range from the low 30s at the start of the month to high 30s at the end of the month.

So far, May has continued the streak of lows that hover in the 30s. Low May 1 was 37 degrees; on the morning of May 2, the low was 34 degrees.


Government sues Deutsche Bank

Shocked, shocked I tell you. Well, not actually.


U.S. prosecutors are suing Deutsche Bank and accusing it of fraudulently approving mortgages over a number of years in ways that have ended up costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars.

...The complaint says that Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT pushed out the mortgages at a rapid pace, without worrying about the quality of the mortgages or problems with the approval process.

"When an outside auditor provided findings to MortgageIT revealing serious problems, those findings were literally stuffed in a closet and left unread and unopened," the complaint says.



A Super-Earth Transiting a Naked-Eye Star.



--- Roland Dobbins


While I was looking for something in past mail I came across two essays (written as replies to mail) in older mail. One is on education and the Bell Curve, and the other on assimilation and the Elizabeth Moon affair. They're still readable. There was other good mail that week.




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Thursday, May 5, 2011








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Friday,  May 6, 2011

A good day in Abbottabad 

Dear Jerry

Here's a link to my recent piece on Abbottabad, which I passed through coming and going on my travels to Taxila and the Northern Areas of pakistan some years ago. One uncelebrated irony is that the last time I mentioned the place, it was to solicit disaster relief for the victims of the earthquake that left seventy thousand dead in its wake in 2005. The reconstruction aid that flowed back then seems to have set off a lot of real estate development in the farmland around the military academy, providing excellent cover for the construction of one more McMansion .

As my Takimag piece


notes, the town has scruffier noncom cantonment areas as well as up-market neighborhoods dating to the Raj.


-- Russell Seitz



SOC Commandos


<http://www.slate.com/id/2293232/>  Special Operation Cats Commandos

Cheap energy = prosperity!

Drill here, DRILL NOW!

David Couvillon Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired.; Former Governor of Wasit Province, Iraq; Righter of Wrongs; Wrong most of the time; Distinguished Expert, TV remote control; Chef de Hot Dog Excellance; Avoider of Yard Work

No comment. None at all...


From The Telegraph:

"Mr Panetta also told the network that the US Navy Seals made the final decision to kill bin Laden <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/al-qaeda/>  rather than the president."

I suppose we should be relieved.

Steve Chu


Another chapter in the suicide of the west


Steve Chu


Do as I say, not as I do

I have seen very little comment made about the obvious disconnect in our national leadership:

* For almost 10 years, presidents and other political leaders have told us, ad nauseum, that islamic terrorists are not really Muslims, but are a perversion of Islam, and that Islam is a religion of peace. (Actually many politicians for longer than 10 years.)

* When Osama bin Laden was killed, the same government leaders ensured that he received an Islamic burial service to the best of their ability, and they now refuse to release photographs of the corpse because, 'it would inflame the Muslim world.'

If he was not really a Muslim, why treat him as one? If Islam is a religion of peace, why would they be inflamed by a picture of a dead terrorist who perverted their religion as an argument for violence?

I can't find any explanation for the contradiction except that public figures do not really believe their own rhetoric, which is never shocking to learn.

David Mitchell

Kindly say clearly, please, whether the ball is in or out....


Hummingbird-Sized Ants Once Roamed Wyoming.


-- Roland Dobbins



Jarrett is one of three Senior Advisors to President Obama.[13] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Jarrett#cite_note-WhiteHouseProfile_2009-12>  She holds the retitled position of Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement,[13] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Jarrett#cite_note-WhiteHouseProfile_2009-12>  managing the White House Office of Public Engagement, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of Urban Affairs, and Chairs the White House Commission on Women and Girls, and White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic, and Youth Sport.[14] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Jarrett#cite_note-NYT_Kantor_20081115-13>  She said that the 2011 report Women in America <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_America> which the administration produced for the Council on Women and Girls would be used to guide policy-making.[ <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Jarrett#cite_note-Stolberg-14>  15 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Jarrett#cite_note-Stolberg-14>  ] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Jarrett#cite_note-Stolberg-14

Sure doesn't show her being qualified to handle foreign items like latest Pakistan operation.

A fan, Tom



Gravity Vortex Around Earth Measured 

Now this is just Way Hanging Low Cool-


'They developed a "drag free" satellite that could brush against the outer layers of Earth's atmosphere without disturbing the gyros. They figured out how to keep Earth's magnetic field from penetrating the spacecraft. And they created a device to measure the spin of a gyro--without touching the gyro.'



Freeman Dyson: Shale gas is 'cheap and effective' 


Freeman Dyson has given a cautious welcome to shale gas – the energy revolution that has caught energy experts, politicians and civil servants by surprise.

"A surge in gas production and use may prove to be both the cheapest and most effective way to hasten the decarbonisation of the world economy, given the cost and land requirements of most renewables," he writes in the foreword to a new report:


“ . . . Dyson compares shale to the introduction of wax candles, which replaced tallow candles and allowed the poor to read at night for the first time.

"Wax candles did more than government schools to produce a literate working class ... Compared with that, the later change from wax candles to electric light was not so important."

“New reserves of gas extracted from rocks that lie much deeper than gas fields, have had a dramatic effect on the energy market in recent years. The global price of gas and oil have diverged for the first time, and the US is now a net gas exporter. Countries previously dependent on imports, such as Poland, South Africa, Mexico and Argentina, should become self-sufficient if they exploit their resources.” <snip>



Intel debuts '3D transistors' with 22nm chip recipe, 


Intel debuts '3D transistors' with 22nm chip recipe. "This transition to 3D devices will help us extend Moore's Law:"


And here we were, thinking that the laws of physics would somehow slow it down.



Flu vaccine


Sorry to learn of your influenza infection. You might find this 2009 article on the alleged efficacy of the flu vaccine of interest. It is a reasoned article from The Atlantic with intriguing evidence that the vaccines provide little to no protection.

Hope you feel better soon.


I continue to get my flu shots. This year's doesn't seem to have worked. Or maybe I have something else. I don't discourage people from getting their shots.


Underwater volcanos

Hello Jerry,

You occasionally mention underwater volcanos and ask, rhetorically of course, if anyone knows just how much they contribute to ocean temperatures and how they impact ocean currents, and by extension, climate, so I thought you may be interested in this article that appeared on 'iceagenow.com' today:


It starts with a story about elevated temperatures in a volcanic lake in the Phillipines, but goes on to talk about undersea volcanos and their effects. Nothing quantitative, since the whole point is that no one KNOWS anything quantitative beyond that there a LOT of undersea volcanos and seamounts (estimated to be in the millions) and collectively they dump a LOT of heat into the ocean. And that ALL of that ocean heating is routinely blamed on Anthropogenic Global Warming as a byproduct of civilization's collective emission of CO"2.

There are also links to other articles on the subject.

Bob Ludwick


Response to Francis Hamit 


Francis Hamit brought up a good point, the other 90% is often forgotten. Well, a close friend and mentor of mine -- after moving out of intel -- went into logistics. He made a significant difference in the units he went to and the difference was measurable and attributable to him. The tip of the spear (the 10%) needs a strong shaft behind it or it will not go anywhere. I hope the shaft can get some recognition and ensure that it's membership all foster pride in what they do. I always liked to get a response from the other end on the radio and know that what I needed was going to be there. Thank you for that.


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC Percussa Resurgo



While much of the country was waving flags and pleasuring themselves with victories they had no part in, important things happened:

"Growth in the food stamp program appeared to reach a plateau in February — with 14.3% of the population relying on the safety net program." [That's 1 in 7 people on food stamps in the United States in 2011] http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2011/05/03/about-1-in-7-americans-receive-food-stamps/ 

Dollar hits three-year-low on the FOREX market, but the USDX is a scam anyway so I would only look at the USD position relative to other currencies. http://my.news.yahoo.com/forex-dollar-rises-investors-trim-stretched-positions-053234273.html 

If we do not add a certain number of jobs each month, we cannot keep with population growth. The numbers did not seem to keep with that growth: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/04/us-usa-economy-adp-idUSTRE74337J20110504 

Oh, and the problems with China, Russia, and Fukushima all intensified while many were distracted by the side show and its related spectacles. I'm sure another bogey man will replace UBL soon enough and we can all wave our flags when he is dead too if we need to improve our self-esteem that way. But, for now, we have work to do on our energy gird, our infrastructure, and our economy. Most importantly, we need to go to space. It works for everyone. It gives these policy makers their jobs programs and it would make our country strong again. What is the problem? If you can convince the masses that UBL is important, why not space travel? It cannot be that difficult, especially considering the outlandish nonsense the American public seems predisposed to accept in 2011. *sigh* I want to see a speech that says, "At my direction, I've undertaken a five-year plan to get this country's act together".


Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC Percussa Resurgo

Well, there is one way ...

Not very likely. though.


The photos of Bin Laden - 

Dear Jerry,

Perhaps President Obama could authorize viewing, and possible on site testing, of the photos by legitimately interested parties. This would include ambassadors or other certified representatives of other nations, press (with the caveat that NO ONE takes them out for publishing,) members of congress, etc.

The results of authentication efforts would be made public.

This would prevent the photos from triggering great public upset but help still doubts in those whose doubts can be stilled. Nothing will help those who want to believe the worst or create great outcry no matter what the truth proves to be.



It depends on the goals, doesn't it?



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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Recovering from flu.






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Sunday,   May 8, 2011    

Scotland goes Galt 

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I hope your friend in England will comment on this as well. I saw this article and have heard my own commentary from friends across the pond.


Seemingly Scotland is about to hold a non-binding referendum on independence. In addition to the 'Braveheart' cultural issues, there appears to be resentment that Scotland is paying in a lot more income into Westminster from their North Sea Oil then they are receiving in services.

Evidently taxpayers in Scotland don't especially care to pay disproportionate tax rates for unemployed people in London and Birmingham.

Ayn Rand wrote of individuals going Galt -- it appears that an entire country, or at least of a significant part of it, may do it as a body!

Hopefully our fearless leaders will take note of this and consider listening to people who complain about taxes rather than invoking majority rule and pious sermons about the 'wealthiest one percent' to compel an unwilling minority to pay taxes they did not consent to. Otherwise the example of Scotland may be repeated elsewhere.


Brian P.

Well, the Scots have long had their independence movements. The Rising of the '45 was the last serious attempt at true independence. Not everyone accepts the Act of Union. It will be interesting to see what happens next. It will also be interesting to see whether an independent Scotland wants to be a part of the European Union.


Volcano heats high-mountain lake to 108 degrees, 


I’d like to thank Mr. Ludwig for his reference to this article:


I remember visiting a mountain lake in New Zealand where if you put your hand a few inches into the sand it would get burned. But the more important concept from that piece is the three million or so undersea volcanoes. Of course, it makes sense: the crust is much thinner under the ocean.

At least now we know how the Earth’s central heat is getting out.


The question is how much central heat is there, and does it ever vary due to cosmic rays or other external factors? Or is it a simple steady state effect? There must be some heat coming from the Earth's core, and that will certainly affect the block body temperature of the earth (any heat source would, of course).  How much is critical.


Volcanic Heating of the Seas

I don't know what the figures are for this & a quick search didn't produce them but, unless the Earth's core is changing temperature, which it hasn't for a billion years, the amount of energy moving upwards must match that being generated. 3/4s of that, possibly slightly more because the mantle is thinner under the sea, must warm the seas. The amount of energy produced is a function of the proportion of uranium in core material multiplied by the size of the core. Not, perhaps an exactly calculable figure but close enough for government work.

Neil Craig

The temperature of the Earth has certainly changed over time; it has been an ice ball at one time. I understand that radioactive decay is a very constant thing, but I have to take that on faith; I'm not primarily a physicist. I have found some references to variability of radioactivity decay rates due to neutrino fluxes from solar flares; it's not an enormous step from there to think of other extra-terrestrial events. Throw in dark matter and there are even more possibilities. Ah well.

As always the question is, how much?  We have solar weather, and galactic weather, and whether they can affect Earth's internal temperature is an intriguing question. Possibly intriguing to science fact as well as science fiction...


Ms. Weaver Goes to Washington 


I'm not certain if this will amuse or enrage you.


Ms Weaver wouldn't have even become a famous actress if she hadn't been willing to do the scene in Alien where she strips down to her micro panty to suit up.

Jim Crawford

I mostly think of her in Galaxy Quest. But I do not agree with your assessment of her talents. She's really quite good. Doesn't affect her ability to think about political affairs, but she's got a lot of good roles to her credit.








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