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Monday, August 2, 2010

CNET reports an odd story about WikiLeak and the US security forces.

The only thing I can be sure of from that story is that we don't know what's going on. I do not know what it means to have Federal officers tell you that you are not under arrest but you are being detained, or that your property can be seized without warrant, without a receipt, and apparently without any stated reason. I thought the Fourth Amendment was fairly clear on that subject. I am pretty sure that most federal officers have read it. Since the CNET story cites "sources" without further definition, it's pretty hard to establish what actually happened at the Newark airport.

I do not believe that the nation or its citizens are made more secure by the federal activities described in this story.

When I was in the Army we were periodically put in formation to hear a reading of the Articles of War. I wonder if some similar ceremony at which Federal Officers were required to listen to a reading of the Fourth Amendment would be useful?

 I do not believe it's a good idea to give arbitrary authority to federal officers to allow them to harass our people and eat out their substance... (Good phrase, that.) It's not very good tactics, either. Whatever actually happened, the result has been the further alienation of some pretty smart people; and that is often a very bad idea.

= = = =

For those who asked, no, the wedding reception we went to last Saturday night was not in New York State.

The WikiLeak Story and the Taliban's reaction were in yesterday's View. There was also comment on the Tea Party and conservative principles in mail.


Hi Jerry,

I just read this report on http://spaceweather.com/ 

"...a complex global eruption involving almost the entire Earth-facing side of the sun."

"A coronal mass ejection (CME) produced by the event is heading directly for Earth: SOHO movie <http://spaceweather.com/images2010/01aug10/
cme_c3.gif?PHPSESSID=1pvsttv0b5mcjku1p2nkkctd41>  . High-latitude sky watchers should be alert <http://spaceweatherphone.com/>  for auroras when it arrives on or about August 3rd."

Let's hope there isn't too much comm-sat damage.

E.C. "Stan" Field


Ray Bradbury reflects 


Interesting comments from Ray Bradbury on God, Angels and Monsters.


Gary S. Rogers, Ph.D



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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Happy Birthday, Alex   

A Clinton Apologia

Robert Reich, who tends to be the intellectual spokesman for the Clintons, has an article in today's Wall Street Journal that is worth your time. "The Obama Agenda and the Enthusiasm Gap" is a fairly clear exposition of the Clinton caucus views and a preparation for the expected Democratic losses in November. Reich is preparing for the Democrat comeback by giving a narrative on what Obama did wrong. He is also fairly careful not to jump too deeply into the political waters.

In summary:

A stimulus too small to significantly reduce unemployment, a TARP that didn't trickle down to Main Street, financial reform that doesn't fundamentally restructure Wall Street, and health-care reforms that don't promise to bring down health-care costs have all created an enthusiasm gap. They've fired up the right, demoralized the left, and generated unease among the general population.

Note that he is preserving the options: to leap more deeply into the Liberal agenda, or to back off from it, all depending on election and polling results.


I don't quite fathom the Wall Street Journal's criteria for selecting what to put on line and what to put behind a pay wall. For example, the letter to the editor by Franklin Raines, former chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae, is given in its entirety: "Poor Credit Judgments Sank Fannie and Freddie". The Journal's response in the lead editorial for the day is given in teaser form with most of it behind the pay wall. "Rewriting Fannie Mae History" does a fair job of going over what really happened, and what Raines left out of his exposition. Perhaps one day it will appear on line, and if it does it's worth reading. As the WSJ editorial states, Fannie and Freddie, having been a principal cause of the Great Recession by pumping money into the housing market while lowering credit standards as mandated by law, have now become even more monopoly-like than ever before -- and now they are purely government agencies.

It's time and past time to do away with these huge slush funds, which, if they do nothing else, provide fairly high salaries for advocates of government control of mortgage credit, and operate at enormous expense.

"... Fan and Fred, having distorted the housing market for decades, have now all but nationalized it, and their losses continue to mount. And yet Mr. Raines is speaking for the Beltway chorus in insisting that this only makes them more indispensable than ever ... and they'll get away with it unless the American public says no."

Other countries have a buoyant home mortgage market without a Fannie or Freddie, and Canada has higher rates of home ownership than the U.S. without having either Fannie or Freddie of a home-mortgage interest tax deduction. American capitalists could also figure out a way to lend to homeowners, if the political class would let them."

Yet another reason that the November 2010 election is crucial. The Clintons seem to be preparing for major Democratic losses in November. There's a lot at stake here. Fannie, Freddie, and the future of the mortgage industry are not the least of that.


Mixed Bag Reading

I've been trimming some of the hundred-plus tabs I have open in Firefox. Some of them are open to remind me to remind you to have a look at them. I seem to have gotten way behind in this. Note that recommending that you read something is not necessarily my endorsement of the position. I do try to choose well presented arguments. These are on many subjects and I may have recommended them before:

Michael Crichton's Cal Tech lecture "Aliens Cause Global Warming" is polemical. Crichton tended to be. But his exposition on science vs. consensus is well done and the principles are important even if you agree with the AGW "consensus view."

Inflation and the Fall of the Roman Empire by Joseph R. Peden gives a good account of just how the growth of government drove inflation which brought about disasters. In the late 60's and the 70's the US faced "stagflation". We've sort of forgotten that (and of course many voters aren't old enough to remember it.) We now face an odd situation in which the currency is inflated but we still with reason fear deflation. The "science" of economics is, like Freudian psychology, more explanatory than predictive, but at the moment it doesn't seem to know what to do about that. Peden's lecture gives a brief history of the automatic growth of government (Parkinson's Law and the Iron Law in action) and the perils of debauching the currency.

"Black Day at White Sands What goes up, must come down. In the Delta Clipper's case, really hard. "  by Preston Lerner is a brief account of DC/X. The SSX proposal was originally compiled at Chaos Manor in a meeting of the Citizen's Advisory Council that I chaired. It was proposed to Vice President Dan Quayle as the Chairman of the National Space Council. SSX was to be a 600,000 lb. Gross LiftOff Weight (GLOW) X project intended to lead to the development of Single Stage to Orbit reusable spacecraft. You can find out more about that in my SSX paper. DC/X was a scale model of SSX: it wasn't large enough even to attempt orbit, but it cost a lot less to build, and would do to explore a number of technologies including flight control with multiple engines, reusable spacecraft, vertical takeoff and landing, and such. Lerner's paper is one account of what happened with SSX.




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Wednesday,  August 4, 2010

Today's LA Times has a new blast of the trumpet from those who would save the planet from human caused global warming. It is time, spokesperson Bill McKibben says, to "turn up the heat." This is a holy cause. It is urgent because:

•According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months and the warmest April, May and June on record.

•A "staggering" new study from Canadian researchers has shown that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, by 40% since 1950.

•Nine nations so far have set their all-time temperature records this year, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan (121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which also set the new all-time Asia record in May — a hair under 130 degrees.

I note that his citation of NOAA doesn't lead to anything specific, but I suspect it is to this NOAA report. It is certainly impressive. According to this color brochure the question is pretty well closed, and all the data point to global warming. We are headed into the hottest climate in human history. Of course the records turn out to be in fractions of a degree, but the trends are solid.

So be it. If the Earth is getting warmer it's getting warmer. The question is whether that's due to human activity? And that turns out to be a bit harder to comprehend.

The major argument for CO2 caused global warming is that the evidence against the theory is generated by people paid by those who don't believe in it; and the AGW skeptics don't have better models. The Earth is warmer than it ought to be, and we can't think of any better reason. Until the skeptics come up with a better theory, we must stay with the one we have. I am paraphrasing; perhaps it would be more fair to append the comment of a physicist AGW believer in another conference:

Once more:  The greenhouse effect is part of the laws of physics.  The reason that scientists pretty much dismiss the skeptics out of hand is that, as far as I'm aware, NONE of them have come up with a plausible alternative explanation for why adding carbon dioxide should *not* increase the temperature of the Earth.

 (Let me remind you that the natural greenhouse effect is about 30 degrees C: without an atmosphere, the Earth's radiative equilibrium temperature would be below freezing.  The anthropogenic contribution is, in fact, a pretty small perturbation).

 It's fine enough for amateurs to pick through the enormous data record of climate science and say "wait, what about this curve?  How about this one?", but this, actually, is not science.  The correct way to do science would be to try to fit those curves to a model, and see how they fit.

 Is there a model in which carbon dioxide does NOT cause greenhouse effect warming WHICH FITS THE CURRENT DATA?

And later

The greenhouse effect is very simple.  The Earth emits infrared radiation.  Greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere absorb this infrared radiation.  They then re-emit the infrared in all directions.  Some of the re-emitted infrared returns to the ground.  This downwelling infrared radiation heats adds heat to the Earth.

 Which part of this physics do you not credit?

 If you don't believe the model, you can take the data yourself.  Find a LWIR spectrometer-- a good university should have one-- and measure the spectrum of the downwelling infrared radiation coming from the sky.   Then see if you can fit the data to a model that in which carbon dioxide does not cause global warming. 

 As far as I can tell, however, the climate-change "skeptics" have little interest in any data that does not fit their already pre-determined conclusions.  *No* amount of data will ever change their opinions, because they will only pay attention to data if it fits their previously formed conclusions.

I don't think that final paragraph is accurate. I have known Sallie Baliunas and Fred Singer for about thirty years. Sallie was Jastrow's deputy when he was in charge at Mount Wilson and the Hale Solar Observatory. I do not think Sallie and Fred deliberately overlook data, and I find it curious that in a supposedly professional discussion this paragraph got inserted along with the lecture. As to what parts of the model I don't believe, I refer you to Freeman Dyson:

My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.

There is no doubt that parts of the world are getting warmer, but the warming is not global. I am not saying that the warming does not cause problems. Obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it better. I am saying that the problems are grossly exaggerated. They take away money and attention from other problems that are more urgent and more important, such as poverty and infectious disease and public education and public health, and the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans, not to mention easy problems such as the timely construction of adequate dikes around the city of New Orleans.  (source)

Dyson continues with his analysis of why he doesn't think CO2 is a sufficient cause of the observations. I've known Freeman Dyson for thirty years, and I do not believe he is one to ignore data.

I have been looking for the evidence of the "consensus" theory. It's a mixed bag. The evidence is a lot thinner than the slick color NOAA document would have you believe.

As to alternate hypotheses, this was published in 2003

A recent study by researchers at Duke University and the Army Research Office has found new evidence of a link between solar flare activity and the earth's temperature. The work is another contribution to the ongoing debate over global warming and its causes. A strong link between solar flares and our climate, if it exists, could override the influence humans have on the temperature of our environment. One of the challenges of determining the connection between solar flare activity and the atmosphere stems from the fact that the motion of the air that blankets our planet is turbulent and complex. (source)

See also the item in yesterday's mail on tree rings and solar activity.

My point is not that there is no global warming. There may well be, although the evidence for it is thinner than the McKibbens of this world would have you suppose. Every now and then alarming things happen. There remain major questions. The first  question is whether human generated CO2 is substantially contributing to that warming. The second is whether that contribution is really dangerous in the sense that it will cause more misery if ignored than the stringent measures that have to be taken to prevent it will cause. The cost of stopping the CO2 emissions (assuming you can do it) is substantial. It means significantly lower standards of living for a lot of people. It probably means substantial changes in diet and dietary habits and it may mean famine for some. It's not a trivial matter.

We're all fairly certain that the source of global warming is the Sun. That's where the heat comes from. But the Sun isn't very variable, and hasn't been for the past few years. Not enough to cause the observed warming, or so it is said. But now the numbers begin to count. How much warming are we talking about? How much of that is due to measurement errors? Are we talking about fractions of a degree?

For more, I refer you to Freeman Dyson's heresies. They include:

Another environmental danger that is even more poorly understood is the possible coming of a new ice-age. A new ice-age would mean the burial of half of North America and half of Europe under massive ice-sheets. We know that there is a natural cycle that has been operating for the last eight hundred thousand years. The length of the cycle is a hundred thousand years. In each hundred-thousand year period, there is an ice-age that lasts about ninety thousand years and a warm interglacial period that lasts about ten thousand years. We are at present in a warm period that began twelve thousand years ago, so the onset of the next ice-age is overdue. If human activities were not disturbing the climate, a new ice-age might already have begun. We do not know how to answer the most important question: do our human activities in general, and our burning of fossil fuels in particular, make the onset of the next ice-age more likely or less likely?

Note that we wrote Fallen Angels before Freeman gave this talk. I preen.


I presume the Wall Street Journal keeps running Thomas Frank's weekly column "The Tilting Yard" as a kind of "balance". Mr. Frank is their token Liberal. Presumably he represents the best of Liberal argumentation. In today's WSJ he chides conservatives for knowing no history (although he doesn't demonstrate that he knows more). In his opening paragraph he preens: "I have reminded Sen. Jim DeMint that the economies of western Europe boomed after World War II and did not decline "into economic stagnation," even though he thought they should have because of their embrace of socialism." I do not myself think I would have been proud of saying that without some explication and perhaps a bit of mention of the Marshall Plan and the German Economic Miracle, but that's another story.

What I don't find in his article is much in the way of facts or even examples of the awful behavior he accuses us of. What history have we distorted? Not said. Mostly I find promotion of a colleague's book, but there aren't even quotes from that. Interesting.


Feds admit storing checkpoint body scan images


Astonishing surprise!



If you know of kids with reading problems, Roberta Pournelle's reading program will solve the problem. The program is old and looks a bit hokey -- it was originally written for DOS and needed a tutor to read the screens to the pupils, was upgraded to Macs with their speech generator programs, and then to Windows with the lessons and phrases and words all recorded by Mrs. Pournelle herself. There are about 70 lessons, each of which takes half an hour or considerably less, and it employs systematic phonics. When the lessons are completed the students can read. Reading includes words like polymorphic and oxygendihydride which the student is not likely to have seen before; that's the point of the invention of phonetic alphabets as opposed to hieroglyphics. It just plain works. When I was a kid pupils were expected to learn to read in first grade, and 90% of them did. Many learned earlier, in kindergarten. Illiteracy in the United States was mostly a matter of not getting to school. Most army conscripts could read, but there were some illiterates; of those the vast majority had never been to school. Some school districts have abandoned the "modern" "Whole word" instruction system that was largely responsible for bringing the illiteracy rate in the US up to 25% or so; but many have not, and for thirty years education colleges did not teach systematic phonics instruction methods, so that many very well meaning teachers simply do not know how to do it. Mrs. Pournelle's reading program works. It is built on systematic instruction. You don't go on to the next lesson until you have the last one down. For some kids one pass through that less is enough. For others it may be necessary to do it again. The program keeps track of that.  For more from me about her program, click here.




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Thursday,  August 5, 2010

.Gay Rights, States Rights, Judicial Power

A federal judge has now ruled that a California State Constitution Amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman is unconstitutional. He has also held that the states do not have an interest in such legislation. This is a power grab of enormous consequence.

First, let's clear out the deadwood. This has nothing to do with whether gay marriage is a good or a bad idea. It has to do with fundamental constitutional law. It is as fundamental as the evidence exclusion rules which began as a Federal judicial ruling promulgated by the Supreme Court as part of its supervisory power over lower federal courts, was later adopted by about half the states either through state legislation or state judicial rulings, and then, in 1961, the SCOTUS ruled that exclusion of illegally obtained evidence is a fundamental right guaranteed by the US constitution. What had been a federal rule became universal in both state and federal courts as SCOTUS discovered many fresh new rights. Note that at the time, about half the states had not adopted the exclusion rule: illegally obtained evidence was presented at trial along with the story of how the evidence was obtained. There might or might not be a separate charge against the officers who had obtained the evidence; the jury was allowed to determine its value in its findings. This is still the practice in some other countries. The value and effect of the exclusion rule was debated in state courts and legislatures.

In the case of gay marriage, some states adopted gay marriage either by legislation or through state judicial action. The legitimacy of those actions was not in question in this case. In California, the state courts had found a state constitutional right to gay marriage, but through the Initiative process the people of the state amended the state constitution to forbid that.

 The trial should have been over the right of the state to do that; instead it became a trial over the wisdom of the act. The judge wanted to hear evidence that forbidding gay marriage had some legitimate state purpose, and part of his ruling is that the state has no such reasonable and legitimate end. These are clearly legislative matters, and even with the present Supreme Court one doubts that such findings can be sustained. The Constitution doesn't provide for the Federal Government to substitute its judgment for that of the state legislatures or state populations except where Congress is explicitly granted such powers. The various amendments relied on in this decision don't mention equality of the sexes and genders. The Equal Rights Amendment, which did, for better or worse failed of adoption by the states. The arguments for and against ERA are complex**, but the ERA did not become part of the Constitution. Had it done so there wouldn't have been much question about the power of Congress, and not a lot more about the power of SCOTUS, to impose gay marriage on the states. That didn't happen. Neither Congress nor SCOTUS was given power over the matter.

And that is the problem here. Whether or not gay marriage is a good idea, whether or not the legal effects of marriage are achieved by a Civil Union, whether or not states have a legitimate purpose in allowing or forbidding gay marriage should not be a part of a federal trial before a federal judge. Those are legislative matters. They are also beyond the power of Congress to impose on the states (although Congress could certainly allow gay marriage in the District of Columbia).

As this case wends its way through the courts -- next step is the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal -- the arguments will or ought to be more focused on this issue and this issue alone. It is not for the courts to debate the wisdom of allowing or forbidding gay marriage. Those are legislative matters. And once you begin to hand over purely legislative matters to judges appointed for life, you have abandoned the principle that governments derive their just rights from the consent of the governed. Of course we can say that this was done long ago, and this is just another step down a familiar road. To which I can only repeat what Buckley said when he founded National Review: "It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it." Some of us still stand there.

We continue to sow the wind. We continue to reap the whirlwind.



** Note on ERA Complexity: Through much of the early Twentieth Century ERA amendments were introduced in Congress by Republicans and rejected by Democrats. General Eisenhower was in favor of the ERA, as of course were many women's rights organizations. Other women's organizations wanted special provisions to allow work rules that would shield female office workers from heavy lifting, require nursing rooms. Eleanor Roosevelt opposed the ERA on the grounds that women needed certain protections. The arguments tend to be sociological, not legal.


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Friday,  August 6, 2010

 Judicial Power and the Consent of the Governed

You make interesting points about the constitutionality of what the feds have done, but I wonder...

Would it be inappropriate if the feds overturned a law preventing blacks to marry? Or preventing blacks from marrying whites? Why is it an overstepping of bounds when the feds overturn the a law that tries to prevent two adults of any sort from marrying? Given that a tendency towards homosexuality is a genetic gift, just as skin color is a genetic gift, it seems odd to allow discrimination against the one (no matter how many people vote for it) and not the other.


The Civil War Amendments give Congress the undoubted power over the states with regard to race. The 14th and 15th Amendments were intended to accomplish that result. The legal segregation in the States that I grew up with was permitted by Congress. The Civil War Amendments were not self-enforcing, or so the courts held until Brown vs. Board. In my judgment that decision (Brown) was incorrect: not that I am in favor of segregation, but that I am very much against the Courts assuming legislative prerogatives and trying cases on sociological evidence. When I was a lad I was called a hopeless radical because I believed that the law ought to be color blind, and I was in favor the abolishing segregation at the time of Brown; but at time I worried that judicial intervention was not the proper way to accomplish the goal.  It was the right and duty of Congress to end segregation in the schools, and had it done so the transition might well have been smoother and more lasting, and we might have had better results. They could hardly have been worse than what we did get. Clearly my view is not that of the courts nor of most who debate the issue; but I strongly believe in the Constitutional separation of powers, and that no matter how good the result that comes from judicial legislation, it is a very bad precedent. Judges should not legislate.

The federal courts did overturn laws that forbade blacks to marry whites. They did so citing the Amendment that specifically forbids the states from denying anyone the equal protection of the laws. At the time it was recognized that the intent of the Amendment was to establish the rights of the freedmen. If one had put to that Congress, or to the state legislatures that had to accept the Amendment, that this established the right of blacks to marry white, the results are not entirely determinable. Congress never acted on the matter. But I think there is no question regarding the opinions of large majorities on the subject of same sex marriage. You cannot reasonably infer that any legislative body adopting that Amendment ever contemplated that result. Of course all this is easily established: an Act of Congress defining "privileges and immunities". That would in my judgment have been the right way to end state miscegenation laws, as it would have been the right way to end state segregation laws.

It is not for the courts to determine legislative matters. The point of legislation is that it is the proper expression of the consent of the governed. It is not for the courts to make those determinations. Yes, the average judge may well be smarter than the average Senator (see below); the courts may be better able to legislate than the Congress and the state legislatures. Perhaps the world would be better off if we were all ruled by the best and the brightest; but we are not. Our government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed; and judges can't consent for us. Those powers are given to legislatures. (And yes: I understand the arguments concerning the Common Law, which is judge made, and I also understand the Western States rage against common law and rejection of any law not part of the code. This is worth another discussion but it is not part of this one. But do note that California is not, and deliberately is not, a common law state.)

The question you raise is an important one. If laws are unjust, how can judges enforce them? But that is a question of jurisdiction. In yesterday's discussion I made reference to the evidentiary exclusion rules as an example of what I mean. When those rules were imposed on Federal Courts by the Supreme Court, they applied only to Federal cases, and the Supreme Court justified its power to so impose them by appealing to Separation of Powers. The Supreme Court had the authority to run its house as it chose. But note that it did not assert that it had that power over state courts. About half the states agreed with the court and imposed the evidence exclusion rule on their own courts; but about half did not. That, in my judgment, was the right way to deal with the issue. Leave it to the states and their legislatures. The same ought to have been done with abortion, and in my judgment with school segregation: the proper remedy to segregation was voting rights, which were very properly within the constitutional authority of Congress -- and which did more to end Jim Crow than ever did the court interventions. But that too is another matter.

Congress has authority over the states in matters of race. It attempted to gain such authority in matters of sex, but the ERA was not adopted by the states and is not part of the Constitution. Congress might assert such authority by defining "privileges and immunities" in an Act of Congress, but it has not done so. Until that time, I would say that the plea for gay marriage ought to be directed to the state legislature, or, in California, directly to the people; not to the courts.


The Imperial Presidency

 In a less serious vein, most of us don't book 60 hotel rooms when we go on vacation. For that matter, in these times of national deficits and trade deficits, it might be more appropriate to vacation at Camp David. It's not really such a hardship. Or on the Gulf Coast, which is recovering from the oil spill, might be an appropriate place. They could use the money and the favorable publicity. Why go to Spain? I'm just saying. Some have taken a more harsh view:

Caligula named his horse a Senator of Rome.

Subj: We may not have a horse in the Senate yet ...

... but we do seem to have *part* of a horse there:


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

Note that Reid appointed Franken to preside over the Kagan debates. The dignitas of Reid and his faction seems to know no bounds.


For another take on what's happening to publishing, along with a couple of good inside publishing stories, see Norman Spinrad's accounts of his publishing career. Norman is an old friend. He was vice president when I was president of SFWA, and at the time he lived in the Laurel Canyon area a couple of miles from here.

Norman is telling his story in parts. The first and second have been published and are worth your while. I'll repeat this when the third part goes up. Meanwhile, Part One and Part Two. It is in my judgment quite relevant to our continuing discussion of the future of publishing. As the number of publishing companies, and book stores, and distributors dwindles to nothing, authors must look elsewhere. Some traditional publishers will survive, but the changes are going to be profound.

See Also

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: The High Cost of Self Promotion


This is something about self-publishing that is new and deserves careful attention.


Francis Hamit







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Saturday,  August 7, 2010

My thanks to all of you who sent renewals or new subscriptions as a birthday present. Thanks! And thanks to Roberta I have a new hiking hat so I don't look quite so disreputable.

Global Warming and Rational Debate

I found these while looking for arguments against global warming deniers.

the-ten-most-important-climate-change-skeptics-2009-7  This list and comments is published by a skeptic. There is also this


Here is a typical entry:

153. Dr. Michael Griffin, the top administrator of NASA and former head of the Space Department at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. In a 2007 interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Griffin said the following:

"I have no doubt that global -- that a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change.

First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown, and second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings - where and when - are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take."

James Hansen, NASA's top official on climate change, said Griffin’s comments showed “arrogance and ignorance”, as millions will likely be harmed by global warming. Jerry Mahlman, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said that Griffin was either “totally clueless” or “a deep antiglobal warming ideologue.”

I am not certain that the responses contain much information. This is not what I call rational debate.

I spent much of the afternoon trying to find the rational arguments in the global warming debate. It's not easy. In general the arguments for the consensus position is that we don't have any better theories than the climate change model. The arguments against it are (1) the data for "global temperature" are not reliable to anything like a single degree of accuracy, (2) sea level has risen by about a foot per century for millennia, while temperature has been rising since the end of the Little Ice Age, and the data do not show any great accelerations,   (3) CO2 is not a very efficient greenhouse gas, and the effect of doubling CO2 is not as great as the models ascribe, and (4) the models assume various feedback loops which are not demonstrated by data, and no model has yet been able to take initial conditions in some given year in the past and predict present conditions with any accuracy. In general, these arguments are met by the assertion that the skeptics are financed by oil companies or are not climate scientists (whatever they are: apparently many meteorologists are not accepted as 'climate scientists'). Other scientists are dismissed by the debating tactic known as poisoning the well. For example:

344. S. Fred Singer, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia and former director, U.S. Weather Satellite Service. connected to several industry-funded groups.

Note that Singer's Ph.D. was in atmospheric physics. I first met him at the Stanford University conference on "Open Space and Peace" in 1963, where I presented a technical paper on satellite surveillance requirements. Singer had in 1955 been one of the champions of MOUSE, Minimum Orbital Unmanned Satellite Earth, which could have been launched before Sputnik. There had been discussions with Walt Disney about financing this as a private project. Fred had worked out many of the details of telemetry requirements and ground stations in the MOUSE proposal. At the time of the conference he was director of the Weather Bureau's Satellite Observation Service. His position are that models are nice, but they are not data. It is typical of the "consensus" enthusiasts to dismiss him as an industry hack without bothering to acknowledge his role in creating weather observation satellites.

You can get inundated when you try to tease out the rational arguments in these debates. One very detailed and presumably representative site, from State University of New York at Suffolk (actually a community college) has a very detailed web page devoted to tearing apart what it calls the "global warming denial machine."


It's quite long, and at first look seems to be technical. Here is one entry:

Temperatures are Not Rising

According to the Handbook: "Satellites circling the planet twice a day show that the world has not warmed since 2001. How many more years of NO global warming will it take? While temperatures have been flat, CO2 has been rising, BUT something else has changed the trend. The computer models don’t know what it is."

This statement is patently false! Satellite data "infers temperature" and is not a direct measurement of temperature. That is why there are several satellite temperature trends that are published - each uses its own algorithms to estimate temperature. As discussed in the Global Cooling page, GISS, HadCRU, RSS, and UAH represent the four organizations that publish online the global average temperature estimates. All four of these sets show that the planet was warmer between 1998 and 2008 than the previous decade so the assertion that there has been no warming since 2001 is incorrect. In the past few years the rate of warming has decreased but not the temperature. There has been no global cooling! One cannot cherry-pick a few years to try to prove a century's worth of rising temperatures is not occurring. The increased temperature trend since the 1880s is well-documented even though there have been some cooler years in that trend.

Note that there are no numbers or statements about accuracy of measurement in either the denier statement that "Temperatures are not rising" nor in the breathless refutation. In fact, few rational people would "deny" that temperatures have been rising since the end of the Little Ice Age. We all know that the Hudson froze over solidly enough for cannon from Ticonderoga to be taken across the frozen Hudson to General Washington at Haarlem Heights in the year 1776. The Hudson hasn't frozen that solidly since before the Civil War. Temperatures are certainly rising: the question is, how long have they been rising; by how much; are they rising now faster than they were rising in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries; and in all cases, the key questions are by how much, and how accurately can that be determined. I can confidently say that temperatures in North America rose between 1776 and 1875; there are many accounts of skating on the Hudson, snow fall, growing seasons, dates when streams froze and when the winter ice broke up, and so forth. We can be very confident that temperatures were rising. (We have similar data from Europe, and to a lesser extent from Asia, South America, and Australia.) What we can't say is just how much they rose, or what the absolute temperature of the Earth was in 1776 and in 1875. We don't really have any means of determining worldwide temperature to an accuracy of a single degree today, nor did we have them in the past. Thanks to pioneers like Singer we have better means of determining temperatures now, but they are all dependent on assumptions, and the notion that they are accurate to a single degree is absurd.

And I note that whether this is the warmest year since 1910 or not, it's not asserted by anyone that it's much warmer. We're still talking about numbers to a single degree. If I really wanted to compare the temperature in 1910 to that of 2010, I'd probably go digging into records of ice formation and ice breakup, growing seasons, and the kinds of stuff I'd find in the Farmer's Almanac. Tree rings and the like coupled with Navy sea temperature records and medical logs at various bases and the like may give you a pretense of greater accuracy -- probably they are more accurate -- but to assert that you know how to average those data into a world temperature accurate to a single degree is absurd. Yet that is precisely what many of the global warming alarmists assert. They publish charts in which the temperatures vary about plus and minus one degree. Some show larger "hockey sticks"; it's easy to change the "world temperature" by a couple of degrees just by changing the weights given to the various (often inferred) temperatures.

The point here is not that there is no global warming. It's not that it's a good idea to increase the CO2 levels in the atmosphere or to pump out more CO2. The point is that assuming we know more than we do, and vigorously asserting that we should spend trillions of dollars on remedies derived from the knowledge we do not have, is not a prudent decision.

Which leaves me where I was back when the general alarm at AAAS meetings was concern over global cooling and the possible return of the ice ages: we just don't know enough. It's important enough to invest in finding out more. The way to find out more is not to start with the answer and go looking for data to support that. The way to find out more about global warming and cooling trends should begin with developing better ways to measure temperatures in various places, automating the reporting, and getting a matrix of temperature data at given times and places so that we have a way to compare them and spot trends. With enough data we might be able to figure out what's happening with El Nino, which seems to have an enormous effect on temperatures. We might be able to see just what contributions volcanism -- including underwater volcanism -- has to temperatures. We are developing a lot of knowledge about solar weather. That needs to be folded into our mixture.

And we might with some profit look into nuclear power as means of escaping our dependency on fossil fuels. But then I have been saying that since A Step Farther Out, way back when I was science editor of Galaxy Science Fiction and Jim Baen was editor. Ah well.

I suppose I am rambling. I really did set out to review rational arguments in this debate, in particular rational arguments for urgent action as opposed to increasing data collection. What's interesting to me is that the "consensus" people are not pressing for big increases in data collection and processing. You'd think they would be.




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Sunday,  August 8, 2010

Anniversary of the Nagasaki bomb

The Atomic Bomb

On August 6, 1945 the United States dropped the first nuclear weapon used in war (the second ever detonated) on Hiroshima. There have been commemorative ceremonies in Hiroshima held on August 6 since the end of the American occupation of Japan.

On April 5, 1945, the USSR Commissar for Foreign Affairs informed the Ambassador of Japan that the Soviet Union was denouncing the Japan--USSR neutrality pact.

On April 12, 1945, President Roosevelt died. Harry Truman became President.

From April to mid June, 1945, the United States fought the battle of Okinawa, otherwise known as the Typhoon of Steel. Over 12,000 US troops were killed in that ten weeks. It was the first invasion of a Japanese home island, and the invading forces reported that although the defenders understood that the fight was hopeless, not only did the Japanese armed forces fight fiercely -- in some cases literally to the last man -- but so did the civilians, again in some cases to the last woman. About a quarter of the civilian population, along with over 100,000 Japanese troops, were killed during or as a direct result of the invasion.

In June, 1945, a commission of University of Chicago scientists recommended that the first atomic test be conducted on a desert island as a public demonstration with the world press and representatives of all the United Nations be invited as witnesses.

On July 3, 1945 James Byrne, formerly Senator Byrnes, formerly Mr. Justice Byrnes, formerly Roosevelt Advisor "Assistant President" Byrnes, became Secretary of State. He would subsequently accompany Truman to the Potsdam Conference.

On 16 July, 1945, the Trinity test was held in secret. It proved the atomic bomb concept, although by that time there was little doubt that it would work; the debates were in the expected yield. It worked, with a yield of about 20 kilotons (about what Fermi had expected).

On 17 July, 1945, Leo Szilard and 69 atomic scientists, engineers, and technicians who had been involved in some way with the creation of nuclear weapons sent a petition to President Truman urging him not to use the weapon against Japan until the Japanese people had been told the conditions of their surrender and had been warned that the alternative was obliteration. The petition was not signed by Oppenheimer or indeed, except for Szilard, by anyone Truman or his immediate advisors had ever heard of.  It is not clear that Truman ever read the petition.

On 17 July (to 2 August) 1945 the Potsdam Conference held in occupied Germany decided the fate of Germany including the mass forced migration of Germans from Silesia and Pomerania, drastic revisions of the German border, and partition of Germany into a Western and an Eastern Zone.

Sometime before 25 July, 1945, according to his diary, Truman ordered the Secretary of War to choose a Japanese military target. His diary entry says"

This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.

He [Secretary of War] and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful...

On July 25, 2010, a military top secret order was issued. It reads in part:

 1. The 509 Composite Group, 20th Air Force will
deliver its first special bomb as soon as weather will
permit visual bombing after about 3 August 1945 on one of the
targets:  Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki. To
carry military and civilian scientific personnel from the
War Department to observe and record the effects of the
explosion of the bomb, additional aircraft will accompany
the airplane carrying the bomb.  The observing planes will
stay several miles distant from the point of impact of the

The order restricted discussion of atomic bombs to the President, Secretary of War, Secretary of State, and the chiefs of staff. It is not clear that Truman knew in advance what target was the first selected. It is probable that Secretary of State Byrnes, an anti-communist New Dealer, was involved in the decisions. James Byrnes, the man who everyone had expected Roosevelt to name as Vice President for the 1944 ticket, became Truman's chief foreign policy advisor, and the key decision maker in the atom bomb decisions. Byrnes had been at Yalta, and was at Potsdam.

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima, a city on the Japanese main island, was obliterated by "Little Boy", a U-235 bomb with an explosive blast of about 20,000 tons of TNT. (Yield calculations vary depending on the formula used.) Nagasaki followed two days later, hit by Fat Man, the plutonium atom bomb. They were the only two atom bombs in the inventory.  It is difficult to establish how long it took to refine enough plutonium for weapon four, but several weeks is a reasonable estimate.

On August 8, 1945, the USSR declared war on the Empire of Japan, and began to insist on some of the spoils from the defeat of Japan.

One subsequent US concession was the partition of Korea into North and South occupation zones. USSR demanded a role in the occupation of the Japanese home islands.

On August 6, 2010, for the first time in history an official United States delegation attended the Hiroshima commemoration ceremony. This is widely taken as a US apology for the use of nuclear weapons in 1945.

The morality, practicality, tactical and strategic necessity, effects on future US and Japanese casualties, and nearly every other aspect of the decision to use the bomb have been debated endlessly ever since. A reasonable and very brief summary of the arguments for and against use of the bomb can be found here.

The key decision was to use the first bomb against a city target, rather than in Tokyo Harbor as a demonstration. The key decision factor was time: could the war be ended before the Soviet Union could insist on joint occupation of Japan and in other ways become more heavily involved in the Far East? Given the result of the partition of Korea between the US and USSR, and of Germany between the US/France/Britain and the USSR, it is easy to imagine the changes in world history that would have resulted had Stalin been given a larger role in the reconstruction of Japan.


We may await an official statement of what the United States is apologizing for in its attendance at the Hiroshima commemoration. So far I have seen no official statement as to what the United States is apologizing for.


Musings on Afghanistan

In 1979 the USSR invaded Afghanistan. The intent was to establish a people's republic.

The Soviet playbooks for Afghanistan.

1. Get them to like us

That didn't work

2. Get them to move

At one time the largest single category of refugees in the world was Afghans. They moved a lot.

3. Make them fear us. Be merciless.

This was applied with a vengeance, to the extent that booby-trapped Teddy Bears were dropped into Afghan villages. Terror was applied.

4. Seize the cities and valleys, and wait; we will convert the next generation.

In 1988-89 the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan when it was decided that the only possible way to win would be to carry the war into Pakistan, and this was beyond the ability of the USSR. (This is of course a gross oversimplification, but it was the military's position, and became accepted by the KGB and then the Party. In those days the USSR was ruled by those three groups, with the military being the most popular and potentially the most powerful bloc, but in many ways the least organized as well as least ambitious.

US policy in Pakistan is to prop up the Pakistani government. It has the tacit consent of India and China, in that neither is actively interfering. It is fairly clear that the Pakistani Intelligence Service is giving massive aid and comfort to the Taliban.

The obvious goal of the US is to prevent Pakistan and Afghanistan from being used as sanctuary areas which give aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States, and particularly to prevent their territories from being used as centers for planning and launching attacks against the United States and her friends and allies.







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