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Monday March 27, 2006

In order to participate in meetings of the Board of the Heinlein Society I had to sign up for AOL AIM Instant messenger which seems to be the only system useful for conducting such meetings when there are both PC and Mac systems involved. I did a cursory look for something better, but I didn't find anything. Sheesh. There are better conferencing systems as part of on-line games than the AIM horror, but again they don't work with both Mac and PC.

Now I don't seem to be able entirely to disable this instant message thing and people seem to be able to pop stuff up in my screen while I am working on something else. I presume this is some plot by Satan to prevent anyone from having rational thoughts. If there is anyone with pretension to intellectual ability who has complex decisions to make or something requiring logical thought to write, this is probably the best means of reducing him to giggling insanity. Could this be how we got into the Iraq War? Instant messaging wore down the decision makers? Short of uninstalling his horror (I would have to install it again, since it appears it is what has to be used) there must be a way to turn off this "feature". Email is bad enough but at least it doesn't intrude on whatever else I am doing -- including answering other email.


I am sure I sat down here with something to say, but the AOL interruption has thrown it entirely out of my head, and I have no idea what I intended. Ah. well.

I have not had a productive week. I hope to get back to real work shortly. Has Jimmy Carter's national malaise finally overtaken me? Or is it just the pollen season...


Of course there is this:

Subject: President signs into law a bill not passed by both House and Senate

Dr. Pournelle;

You might find this interesting:


Apparently a large omnibus budget bill was certified by both Senate and House leadership even though both versions were not the same (typo) and the President signed it. The interesting issue is that our executive leadership is saying that it didn't really need to be passed by both houses; the fact that the respective Senate and House leaders certified it was good enough. It does sound like something an incipient Imperium would appreciate.

Mike Sherck

If it were left to me, all laws would have to be actually READ, aloud, to a quorum of the Congress before they could be passed. Imperial decrees would be another matter. Those would have to be written, by hand, by the emperor and personally signed with the sign manual and sealed with the Great Seal. But I'm not emperor.

And for something to chew up and mull over:

Subtleties of empire.


- Roland Dobbins

When the Army is ready to leave Iraq, it's time to go.

Incidentally, it is not politically correct to say it, but Kurds do seem to be better fighters than Arabs, and always have been. Saladin, the Victor of the Horns of Hattin who ended the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and fought Richard III to a standstill -- no mean feat -- was a Kurd who used his Kurdish bodyguard as the nucleus for uniting the Saracens. Moshe Dayan's assessment was "it helps if you're fighting Arabs," and there is considerable truth to that. It may be cultural, but the phenomenon is real. Much of the expansion of the Muslim sphere was done, not by Arabs, but by Persians, Berbers, and Turks. One does not build a large and modern state with rulers who live in indolence and fund schools that largely teach the Koran.

Ruling Iraq in an Imperial fashion requires ruthlessness we do not possess; and setting up a working constitutional system in the Middle East is no guarantee of its permanence: see the history of Lebanon for a discouraging example. Turkey remains a secular republic due entirely to the independence of the Army, which sees itself as the guardian of Kemal's legacy. I do not know what institution we might leave in place in Iraq.

We do have going for us the West's Cultural Weapons of Mass Destruction: blue jeans, rock music, iPods and pounding beat, tune in, turn on, and drop out, and perhaps those will defuse the situation for us. Will we be proud then?


If you have not read Murray on how to end the Welfare State, see mail. It's important. Murray says what many of us, including me, P. J. O'Rourke, Fred Reed, and many others have pointed out: there can't be poverty in America, because if you take the amounts spent on eliminating poverty and divide by the number of people supposedly in poverty, the number comes out well above the poverty line: if we just sent them the money they wouldn't be in poverty.

Anyway, see Murray because as usual he makes sense.


For a dignified discussion that gives both sides their due, see






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Tuesday, March 28, 2006   

  Some years ago I undertook to have some old textbooks put into electronic form. The free lance editor I had working on this was so good that she got more profitable work from Baen (I having told him about her), and the project slipped, and slipped again.

It's done now. One of the books I have is a 6th Grade Reader from California in use from 1916; the copy I have was issued in 1925. All the stories in the book are public domain and date from before 1916. There are short commentaries, but mostly the works speak for themselves. I am also adding short notes of my own where this seems indicated.

Since I started this project there have been dozens of other readers published, and perhaps another one is not needed, but periodically I get requests for reading lists and other educational material, so perhaps there is still interest.

My question is, how much interest would there be in a pdf version of a book suitable for Middle School (it was originally 6th Grade, but it's a bit advanced for today's average 6th grader; not above 8th, though, for those who are likely to encounter it). The book is politically incorrect. It contains Horatius at the Bridge, King of the Golden River, Columbus, Paul Revere's Ride, and a number of other openly patriotic stories once considered not merely suitable but important for young people to know. It contains cultural references. It contains The Courtship of Miles Standish, which has stories of the Indian Wars in Massachusetts. Columbus, by Joaquin Miller, was at one time considered one of the great poems written by Americans. It is not politically correct.

All told, the stories and poems -- poems with rhyme, rhythm, and meter -- contain much of what was considered the necessary cultural heritage of all Americans, college bound or not.

So: it has cost me a bit to get these done, and it will take a bit more time and effort to get them into pdf format with proper layout and comments: the question is, how much interest might there be? It is 320 pages in reasonable type size (350 in the original, but we have left out the class discussion notes). My thought is to offer this as an ebook in pdf format with Table of Contents at $7.95. Subscribers would get the ebook for $4.95. Does this seem reasonable? Is there likely to be enough interest in this that I should go ahead with converting to pdf, doing the TOC, and adding commentary?

This is a repeat:

The Strategy of Technology is available here in html form. I have had requests for the pdf format. That is now available for $6.95. As to how I arrived at that price, I just wrote down a number. This is the full book in pdf, as of our last revision, which is a while ago. This book was influential in winning the Cold War (or at least I like to think so), and the general principles developed in the book are applicable to this day; but all the examples are Cold War.

The following is a button generated by Paypal. It should let you pay me the money rather painlessly, and generate a letter from Paypal to me with your email address. When I get that I'll email you a copy of the book. It's approximately 1 megabyte in size, but I have several different copies, and alas, I have not had a chance to compare them, so I will probably send you two of them and let you comment.

To buy the book Strategy of Technology, click this button:

The above is the method I used to sell Strategy of Technology. I presume I would use a variant of this to distribute The Sixth Grade Reader.

I also have two other books of stories suitable for Middle and early High School pupils if there is interest in those.


If you know an injured vet who needs help getting a house modified, look at this.

Countrywide to aid injured vets at home:


"Serving Those Who Serve"; "Rebuilding Together"

The company stands ready to help and is hoping for more publicity in this effort. Today's Daily News carries a story on one such project. "Due to military privacy regulations, the company cannot contact injured troops directly." If you know someone who ought to know more, send them to

Serving Those Who Serve


  Caspar Weinberger, RIP.


--- Roland Dobbins

  I knew him, not well, during the SDI days. I'd feel a lot better with him in charge than the current crew, but perhaps that's just me.


Subject: remedial reading material in PDF


Price of 7.95/4.95 seems reasonable to me. Please keep it up. I believe there is great need, so badly has the system been corrupted.

I would really like to see PDF versions of your ScFi. It's getting hard to read in book form for me. One non-obnoxious form of copy protection would be to drive acrobat with a script that embeds on every page "this copy is licensed to customer name" which would be customized for each purchaser. Use their credit card or Paypal name. If the user printed the copy out, he would see a cross page diagonal print of the license information in translucent form. While viewing the book with Acrobat reader, the license info could be displayed on every page as a header or footer. It would not stop all the crooks, but it would keep honest folks honest.

Just a thought.


Does this make sense? I am just learning how to use Acrobat for such matters. I also want to integrate a few illustrations.


Roland tells me that "

AIM, ICQ, Yahoo IM, Google IM, and Jabber all provide this interoperability"

with regard to conferencing software that works with both Mac and PC. Since I am not in control of the software used I expect it will continue to be AIM we use, but apparently all of them will work. I gather also that Jabber is far superior to AIM.




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Wednesday,  March 29, 2006

Stanislaw Lem, RIP

I have seen this query regarding Lem's opinion of the movie versions of Solaris:

>> According to the Washington Post's obit he disliked them both. But
>> then, according to that obit he disliked a lot of things. It says
>> he was given an honorary membership in SFWA, but "he was soon
>> expelled after denigrating many members for writing 'pure
>> fantasy.'" Is that right? Expelled?

with this reply: http://www.sfwa.org/faq/lem.htm

I can add this:

The story is a bit longer than is given in the FAQ, but the FAQ is correct as far as it goes.

LEM was made an honorary member through George Zebrowski's efforts, and I think George told Lem that it was an "honor", although the bylaws were very clear that it was not. George told Poul Anderson that Lem couldn't join because of some kind of currency transfer laws. I succeeded Poul as President of SFWA so much of this happened in my term of office.
Shortly after being admitted to honorary membership, Lem published a letter in Forum inviting readers to send works to his Krakow publisher. Several did. Some of the works were published, rather quickly, including works by Phil Dick and Phil Farmer. No payment was ever offered, no contract was ever signed, and the two Phil's became very angry.
About then Lem did an interview with a German newspaper. A translation of the interview was published in Atlas, a magazine of news translations, and Ted Cogswell saw it. At this point no one but Cogswell knew the interview/article existed, but Cogswell fixed that by publishing the English translation in Forum. In it Lem said among other things that he had accepted his honorary membership in SFWA in hopes of reforming the organization from within, but soon found it was utterly hopeless, devoted to making money. Lem quoted Heinlein's remark that what we are after is Joe's beer money, and threw up his hands: "How can literature ever compete with beer?"  American SF, according to Lem, was universally and without exception worthless.
The two Phils, who felt they had been ripped off by Lem since he had invited them to send works to his Krakow publisher and the publisher had then published the works without contract or payment, hit the roof. They threatened to resign, publicly, with furor and rancor and much publicity, because here was Lem not paying dues and having a membership while they had to pay and be ripped off and listen as Lem called their works worthless and without value.
andrew j. offutt was then Treasurer and thus Chairman of the Membership Committee, and he had the complaints from the two Phils, and reading the bylaws discovered that Lem was in fact eligible for Active Membership, and thus NOT ELIGIBLE for Honorary Membership. About then Tolkein, who had been honorary because he would not acknowledge the Wolheim ripoff edition of Lord of the Rings as an American publication, settled with Wolheim (through SFWA efforts; one of our triumphs) and negotiated for an authorized edition in the US and thus became eligible for Active Membership. He instantly joined, leaving Lem as the sole honorary member.
offutt ruled that Lem was eligible for Active Membership and need not submit any credentials or even an application to convert from Honorary Membership to Active; and Fred Pohl and others volunteered to pay Lem's dues. Fred personally asked Lem to accept Active Membership and close this matter. Lem refused, and told people he had been kicked out of SFWA because of his interview and his views of American SF.
Darko Suvin and other academics went wild, told Lem's version of the story in various literary publications, refused letters from me and from Fred Pohl telling what really happened, and for a while the "SFWA kicks out Lem" story went the rounds. It didn't help that both Phils were delighted and not very careful about details when they told the story of how offutt traded two Phils for one Stanislaw.

Michael Copabianco, who was President of SFWA long after this, has pointed out that to European academics being "thrown out of a writers' association" in a Communist country (which Poland then was) was a big deal and and in fact meant you could no longer publish in that country. Some European academics, unfamiliar with US practices, may have thought that the SFWA action kept Lem from being able to publish in the US; in fact, it was because he was published in the US that we was not eligible for honorary membership.


Notes toward an essay on illegal immigration:

I should write about the immigration mess and the demonstrations, but it's a long and complex subject and needs considerable thought.

Note a few facts: illegal immigrants compete for the lowest level jobs and thus depress entry level wages by a lot; and while they pay sales taxes they also send a lot of money home, while consuming public resources on which they pay no income tax.

In other words, were they not here, to the extent that the work they do is now done legally and on the books, the money stays in the country; entry level wages rise; and perhaps more overweight middle class people would do some of their own gardening thus reducing in weight and becoming healthier and reducing the strain on medical care facilities.

Meanwhile illegals have caused the shutdown of many emergency rooms in Southern California and other border area hospitals by using the emergency rooms as a substitute for health insurance. This is a serious situation.

I once whimsically said we should offer a $2000 bounty on each illegal delivered to the authorities at the border. I am not sure that's whimsy.

And see below


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Thursday, March 30, 2006

More Thoughts On Immigration

I am still looking at the immigration situation. The first thing is to look realistically at the facts. That turns out to be harder to do than you might think.

In The Door Into Summer, Robert Heinlein observed in an aside that American housewives think there ought to be strong peasant girls who will clean floors and do housework for a pittance. To be precise, he said,

"Housewives were still complaining about the Servant Problem long after servants had gone the way of the mastodon. I had rarely met a housewife who did not have a touch of slaveholder in her; they seemed to think there really ought to be strapping peasant girls grateful for a chance to scrub floors for fourteen hours per day and eat table scraps at wages a plumber's helper would scorn. That's why we called the monster Hired Girl—it brought back thoughts of the semi-slave immigrant girl whom Grandma used to bully."

That attitude hasn't changed. Americans think there ought to be serfs. When we move we used to call Starving Students. Now we go to the local home improvement store and pick up some strong backs to carry the boxes onto the truck. Then we get others to help unload. We don't even have to pay them to travel from the one address to the other. (I haven't moved since 1968, and we hired a local Mexican family and his truck to help us move; but I sure didn't inquire into their immigration status.) We think there ought to be honest, hard working women who will walk the dog, take care of the children, clean the house, baby sit, and do all this for room and board and a couple of hundred dollars a week, all off the books with no withholding and social security.

We also think there ought to be people who will contract to harvest our crops: pay a labor contractor a certain amount, and he takes care of the rest. The expenses go on the books as expenses, but the rest of the transaction stays off the books. No social security, no withholding tax, and all on the cheap. Employers think there ought to be people willing to work in small factories. There ought to be gardeners who will show up, keep the yard looking good, take payment in cash, and never give us problems about worker's compensation, injuries on the job, health care payments, or anything else. It's a lot easier than trying to get the teen-age kids to do yard work.

We also don't want to provide any social services to illegal immigrants; in California, Proposition 187 which denied socials service to illegals passed, with something like 1/3 (perhaps more) of Latino voters voting in favor (that is, legal immigrants were not so overwhelmingly against the proposition as opponents liked to say). Similar legislation passed in Texas. Courts quickly shut down the new laws. The result is bankruptcy for more than one Southern California city, closing of many hospital emergency rooms, and very complex regulations regarding police procedures.

If we took a poll of Americans with the question "Are you in favor of stopping illegal immigration and controlling the borders?" about 80% would vote yes. If we took a poll asking "Are you in favor of deporting illegal immigrants convicted of felonies or serous misdemeanors?" the majority would not be much smaller. I don't know what result an honest poll on "Should we deport 10 million illegal immigrants?" would be, especially if some of the consequences were pointed out prior to asking the question. I suspect I could word the question and the preliminary fact presentation to produce any result from 40% to 60% yes, but that's a guess.

We have tried amnesty. That didn't work very well, and won't work again.

In operations research the first important question is, what is the real goal? What is the optimization criterion? In other words, what result do we really want?

If what we want is control of the border and deportation of illegal immigrants, the remedy is obvious. Close the borders with a wall, station several regiments of light cavalry along the southern border, and be serious about people showing up for immigration status hearings. Require local sheriffs to inform the federal authorities about illegal immigrants. Have the Border Patrol agents do sweeps in the obvious places. Change the Social Security laws to require the Social Security Administration to inform the Border Patrol when payments show up for non-existent social security accounts (at the moment they aren't even allowed to make such reports, so it's safe to make up a Social Security number). Make it a federal crime to assume the identity of a citizen.

And offer bounty hunters $2,000 a head for illegal immigrants delivered to a suitable internment camp. Deport those turned over if they don't protest; if they do, intern them until their status is determined. Internment need not be particularly onerous, but it would hardly be pleasant. We did some of that after Mariel boatlift. If they are determined to be repeat offenders, send them to less pleasant confinement. If they turn out to be deported parolees, send them back to prison, then deport them when they get out.

None of that is more than common sense, and while it would be expensive, it wouldn't be more than, a few tens of billions a year, far less than the cost of war, and probably not all that much more than the social services we provide at present.

If that's too drastic, start enforcing employment restrictions. Charge employers of illegal immigrants at least the costs of social services. Have a general social security account into which payments that otherwise would go into individual accounts will be credited. Same for withholding: take a flat 20% and turn it over to the Treasury, and have the IRS enforce those provisions. This would become a cost of doing business, and there would be increases in prices. If you add enforcement of minimum wage laws, the result would be to make employing illegal immigrants considerably less tempting.

The question, then, is what do we really want? Until we know that, it's pointless to talk about what we ought to be doing.


Discussion in mail

You will also want to read Peggy Noonan:



Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost



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Friday, March 31, 2006

I have been getting a great number of undeliverable "returned" messages with a MIME file labeled as a jpg attached. I presume that one of you has a virus infection. I am sure it is not me, although I will check again by booting up in safe mode and checking again. If you get such a message purportedly from me, of course you must not open the attachment.

I will NEVER send a message with an attachment without letting you know unambiguously that the sender is me.


We have more on the immigration debates in mail.


Here is something to think on:

Obese men 'have lower IQs'

Overweight man <http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/38902000/jpg/_38902313_overweight203. jpg

Half of all Americans are obese

Men who are obese may have less brainpower than their trim counterparts, according to US research.

Those with a "body mass index" of 30 or more - equivalent to a 5ft 8in person weighing over 14 stone performed significantly worse in tests of mental ability.

However, it is unclear whether the obesity is causing the lower IQ, or vice versa.

The scientists who did the research, from the University of Boston, suggested that the unhealthy diet which led to the weight gain might be also damaging blood vessels supplying the brain.

However, previous studies have suggested that people who already have a lower IQ are less likely to eat healthily, which could lead to them piling on the pounds.<snip>

On first blush this is silly. Many of the brightest people I have ever known, including Herman Kahn, Possony, Russell Kirk, fought weight problems all their lives. For that matter, so have I. Many of my readers are overweight. Science fiction conventions are often referred to as Obesity Conventions, and "fannish medium" T shirt size is extra large.

The correlation is real. Anyone know why?  (I know the answer, but it is politically incorrect.) What this really shows is the nature of correlations, and the requirement for more sophisticated measuring tools. I am sure Michael Flynn could tell us considerably more.

There are people in Washington, D.C. saying that we should add "fighting obesity" to America's anti-hunger programs (e.g., WIC, Food Stamps, free school lunches). Apparently they can say such things with straight faces.



And here is definite food for thought:


 The true jobless rate for black men is 72%, but we need guest workers?


How to escape senility:

How brainpower can help you cheat old age


* 17 December 2005 * Lisa Melton

RICHARD WETHERILL was intolerably good at chess. Hardly surprising, for the retired university lecturer could think a mind-boggling eight moves ahead. But in recent months, his razor-sharp mind had started to dull. When he found he could no longer think five moves ahead, he was sure something was seriously wrong and arranged to meet neurologist Nick Fox at University College London's Institute of Neurology. Though his wife dismissed his complaints, Wetherill was adamant that he needed help. Yet Fox's battery of tests revealed nothing amiss: his patient sailed through every test designed to spot early dementia. Under a brain imager, his brain looked normal.

Two years later, in 2003, Wetherill died suddenly. Imagine Fox's amazement when the autopsy revealed a brain riddled with plaques and tangles, the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. The anatomical evidence indicated advanced disease, with a level of physical damage that would have reduced most people to a state of total confusion. Yet for Wetherill the only impact was that he could no longer play chess to high standards. What on earth was he doing differently? What was cushioning the blow?

Wetherill's experience is a perfect example of a phenomenon that has long puzzled scientists: people who lead more intellectually stimulating lives, who are more intelligent, better educated and have high-status occupations, are somehow protected from the mental decline that comes with age. And not just age, but other insults too, from head injuries and alcohol intoxication to stroke, HIV, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. <snip>





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Saturday, April 1, 2006

I do not usually participate in April 1 jokes, in part because my year end column with the Chaos Manor Awards always came out in the April issue of the old print media BYTE (I'd turn in the column in mid-January, and it would be out with an April issue date). That kept me from doing those jokes.


Also, it is column time.







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Sunday, April 2, 2006

Column time.



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This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending.  (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If  you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.

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