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Mail 635 August 9 - 15, 2010







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Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I note this article by the usually unreadable Paul Krugman.


"The lights are going out all over America — literally. Colorado Springs has made headlines with its desperate attempt to save money by turning off a third of its streetlights, but similar things are either happening or being contemplated across the nation, from Philadelphia to Fresno.

Meanwhile, a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel."

I need a quick history lesson -- isn't this the same thing that happened in AD 300-500? Rome stopped being able to maintain all its improvements, so the great works et al sank into ruin. Not only could no one maintain them, eventually they even forgot HOW to maintain them if there was a will to do so.

Or have I completely got the wrong historical parallel here?


Brian P.

I suppose that once again it's time to post this...

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

Rudyard Kipling

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

We have for generations sowed the wind.


The following is a good example of a particular viewpoint.

"A reasonable and very brief summary of the arguments for and against use of the bomb can be found here."

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

The Seattle Times summary is quite incomplete. In his book _Downfall: The End of the Japanese Empire_ ( http://www.amazon.com/
books&qid=1281372670&sr=8-3 ), Richard Frank has analyzed the likely effects of both proposed alternatives, the well-known one for invasion, and the lesser-known one of continued blockade.

Frank's reconstruction suggests that for every month the war went on, over a hundred thousand Allied soldiers and civilians, in prison camps and under Japanese military occupation, were dying of disease and starvation (he estimated over 100,000 for China alone). Additionally, the Japanese civilian population were on a slow collision course with starvation as well, as the Japanese military had effectively confiscated all their remaining rice.

He quotes numerous high-level US policy discussions in which consternation is expressed over the magnitude of the humanitarian disaster awaiting the Allies if they tried to blockade Japan into submission.

This of course would have been in lieu of the several hundred thousand casualties expected on the Allied side--and the millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians who would have been killed--had Operation Downfall proceeded as drawn up. Among other things, Frank shows that the Japanese had covertly moved significant forces into Kyushu in advance of the initial phase of the invasion, Operation Olympic, possibly allowing the Japanese to inflict an actual defeat (rather than "merely" a Pyrrhic victory) on the Allies.

The Bomb undoubtedly killed many Japanese, including many civilians, but on balance, it saved lives. If humanitarian considerations are paramount, then the arguments against dropping The Bomb--especially when made well after the fact, and in particular by parties who were not destined to be the diamond tip of the spear--cannot be described as anything other than meretricious.

Very respectfully, David G.D. Hecht

And I could list another 250 books with more details and more arguments, and varying conclusions, and when we were finished I doubt there would be any change in opinion among any of the readers here. Those who really want to dig deeper into the atom bomb decision know how to do it. We have been over this here before, and I see no great profit in doing it again. Second guessing decisions made in war time when many of the Roosevelt advisors encouraged Russian expansion in the Far East and decisions had to be made is not likely to be profitable in any event.  Japan was defeated. It did not serve US interests to prolong the war and allow more involvement of the USSR, but USSR influence in Washington was very great. The key issue was assuring the personal safety (not the political power) of the emperor as opposed to "Unconditional Surrender", and in the end that guarantee was given; but precisely when it became clear that this was the only key issue prolonging the war is unlikely ever to be clear.

Of course the summary cited is incomplete. I believe I said something to that effect. Nor do I have any illusion that I have added anything to the debate with the brief disquisition I put up yesterday. The discussion is potentially endless, and I doubt that continuing it has much value. My point was to call attention to and give a bit of background to the US change of policy regarding attendance at the annual Hiroshima ceremony. That attendance is widely taken as a US apology. I still await an official statement on why the US did officially go to that ceremony. I am far more interested in that than in renewing the debate between Truman and the atomic scientists.


Letter from England

Too much of this going on: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-10902094> <http://tinyurl.com/2cz6jd4>

 Little Britain: <http://tinyurl.com/38lbdxz>

 RAF to shrink to pre-WWI levels <http://tinyurl.com/3x9m5nc>

 Israeli higher education may be entering a McCarthyite phase <http://tinyurl.com/33jmy8z>

 For your comment, on the love affair between the British Left and the Soviet Union in 1957-63 <http://tinyurl.com/2vsvv5a>


Beware Outside Context Problems--Harry Erwin, PhD

Never in the history of human endeavor...

Will wishing make it so? I have been over in to the future, and it works...


Local weather history 


Weather history online since 2006 at the "weather underground" site (I hate their name, I like Dr. Master's hurricane blog....)


This should be for the station closest to you, and matches the data available for my locale.



Argentina colder than Antarctica





: solarcycle24.com 



As of Sunday, we're having a fairly significant burst of solar activity, including four active sunspots, one of which generated an M1.0 flare and a modest CME.


No Maunder Minimum apparently.



This may amuse you:


Run it for the last 10 years.


The average temperature in July 2010 was 75.5 F. This was 1.3 F warmer than the 1901-2000 (20th century) average, the 17th warmest July in 116 years. The temperature trend for the period of record (1895 to present) is 0.1 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.

After about five minutes of study I am unable to understand what this is or does. I'd appreciate an explanation. How are these numbers generated? And to what accuracy?


Controlling Soot Might Quickly Reverse a Century of Global Warming,


Hmm. Says here soot is a big contributor to local warming:


Reducing it is relatively easy, and gives much quicker cooling, the boffins say.

And I'm thinking that if an ice age is lying in wait for us, better to have brought on the cooling by reducing soot - which is quick to replace - than by reducing carbon dioxide, which is not so easily replaced.


White roofs and less soot: much cheaper than Cap and Trade.


: Global Warming RIP---American Thinker, 07August2010


This article:


is a review of The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled The World's Top Climate Scientists, by Roy W. Spencer.

It is remarkably similar in content to what you have been saying about 'AGW' over the years. I am unfamiliar with Dr. Spencer and I have yet to read the referenced book though I will down load it today (it is available on kindle for $9.99!), .

Could you possibly comment on your opinion of Dr. Spencer and/or his monograph? (I wonder if he manages to overlay Arrenhius' 1.9* per century on the Pacific Decadal Oscillation like you did?)

Warm Regards, Larry Cunningham

I think that it is unlikely that the debate will end. Dr. Spencer has more right to conclusions than I do, but as a former professional systems analysis I have plenty of qualifications to say that when the conclusions are orders of magnitude more precise than the input data, there is very good reason to question the models. It is one thing to conclude that temperatures are rising -- that seems justified over the centuries -- and quite another to justify policies on the basis of a fraction of a degree.


: Nicholas Negroponte: The Physical Book Is Dead In 5 Years


Dear Jerry:

Yeah, right. How many times have we heard this?


Francis Hamit

But Amazon does expect to sell more ebooks than paperbacks this year. That's astonishing. Books will survive, but will bookstores?


The embedded old lady,


You recently linked to the report of an older woman who embedded with our forces. She remarked on the creature comforts of our soldiers, and yet she said, "I'd been "on the front" of this war for less than two weeks, and I already needed a vacation." Imagine that.

There is an answer for her comments on how well our soldiers live. It turns out that many troops have exceeded the 200 days in combat that would have in previous wars made them unfit for duty because of PTSD. Why are they able to continue? "The army has found that PTSD can be delayed, or even avoided, by providing the troops with what previous generations of soldiers would have considered luxuries. For example, when possible, combat troops sleep in air conditioned rooms, and have access to the Internet and video games, as well as good food and other amenities." http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htatrit/20100414.aspx  

As for the rest of her piece, traditional peoples have always found ways to disparage civilized soldiers. But at bottom, we are wearing out a fine Army on seemingly ceaseless wars to win the hearts and minds of people we have no interest in.


Perpetual war for perpetual peace.


Subject: Former enemies US, Vietnam now military mates - Yahoo! News


Dear Jerry:

I predicted years ago that the USA would return to Vietnam at their invitation. The old US base at Cahm Rahn Bay is a perfect substitute for the one we used to have at Subic Bay in the Phillipines and our presence will serve as a counterweight for Vietnam when dealing with China. Our global power interests will be equally well served. The question is whether or not the nation still wants that role.


Francis Hamit

Had Kennedy pursued US interests and understood what he was doing, it is a result that could have been achieved without all the US casualties. But that's alternate history.


China: What Goes Around, Comes Around, 


An interesting quick take on the current state of China:


It's always good to hear from the B Team now and then.


The historical tendency for China is disintegration into satrapies. Peking is aware of this. Without Communism as a unifying ideology one factor is removed. We watch breathlessly: the modern trend it Han conquest as unification. Can that succeed? And can the imposition of Mandarin throughout the land be successful in places like Canton and Hong Kong? Stay tuned.


Prop 8 ruling

Ordinarly, I am in agreement with you on Constitutional issues. If anything, I'm probably more strict-constructionist than you are. However, I think Prop 8 is pretty clearly a violation of equal protection under the US Constitution. To wit, "No State shall ... nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Here's a video by a young Romanian woman named Cristina Radacovici, whom I adore. She's brilliant and acerbic, and understands science in a way that very few non-scientists do. She is, like me, an outspoken atheist. Her video pretty much sums things up to my way of thinking. It's well worth the couple of minutes it'll take you to watch it.


-- Robert Bruce Thompson

Given that the Congress that adopted the Civil War Amendments including the equal protection clause made no move whatever to impose equality of the sexes on the states -- women did not vote for quite a long time after that , and state laws that essentially confined property decisions in marriages to men were not federally opposed or interfered with -- it is difficult to see just who assented to Federal control of marriage and sexual relations in the states; meaning that those matters were left to the states. Had the ERA been ratified by the States the matter would be different.

We are not discussing what ought to be. We are discussing the law. The constitution grants specific powers to the federal government. All others -- including until the Civil War Amendments matters of slavery and racial equality -- were left to the states. The Civil War Amendments gave explicit authority to Congress over the states in certain matters. They did not abolish state sovereignty. The states are free to adopt mutually inconsistent laws, and one state may see as virtue what another sees as vice. That is what was intended by the Framers, slavery being the best example I can think of. Adams hated the institution, but to form the Union it had to be allowed to those states that favored it.

It took the Nineteenth Amendment to give women the vote. "The boys went overseas to war and came back to find that they couldn't drink and women could vote." The Nineteenth Amendment still did not change divorce and alimony laws in the states, although women by voting were free to do so, and did.

I don't argue for or against Proposition 8; but I would thank it fairly clear that absent ERA or some other grant of authority to Congress in matters of sex (other than the vote) it is not a federal matter.




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Tuesday,  August 10, 2010

Soot control

The Wired article that you were sent that showed a “simulation” (experiment to the person reporting things) is an over simplification.

Soot aerosols have a cooling effect (Science, 24 July 2009, p. 373). It can also have a warming effect if the soot solidifies onto the ice (aka. Dirty snow/ice). The model apparently doesn’t take into account any cooling and focuses on the potential warming effect.

A good summary can be found here:


Other reading:


This one is more interesting from the cooling perspective it takes to try and explain the high temperatures in Europe that occurred in the last couple years:


which references http://newswire.ascribe.org/cgi-

Erik Carlstrom

I should have made it clear that soot control, white roofs, and other such actions are measures which I believe ought to be subject to a lot more research; that it is likely that carbon control measures of that kind will be at least as effective as the far more costly emission control actions now proposed.

It's pretty clear that painting surfaces dark will absorb more heat. Making the atmosphere more heat-absorbent may or may not have the same effect, as there are feedback loops (IR absorbed in the air doesn't get to the ground, etc.). My point was that it doesn't cost a lot to find out what this does, and we ought to be looking at all kinds of measures for warming control (by control I mean slowing it down or speeding it up depending on what kind of real and urgent danger is positively identified; I don't consider 1 degree a century all that urgent a danger).


Google is evil

Hi Jerry,

Two Google stories today. First, they attack online anonymity: http://www.networkworld.com/community/

Second, they rolled over on Net neutrality and surrendered to Verizon: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Add these to the book confiscation, and you have a consistent picture of this company. Whatever is good for Google must be good for you. They know best. What is it with people these days? Does no one believe in the individual any longer?

I expect that they'll be re-architecting their corporate headquarters into a large, space-going cube and adding laser eye scanners to the dress code in the near future. Prepare to be assimilated.



Well now, I wouldn't say that... I don't think it's that simple. As to the Google / Authors Guild settlement, I could wish some changes in it, but on the whole I endorse it. I wish they'd just get on with it. The endless delays and interferences are not doing anyone any good. Get it over with.




I'll call your attention to http://www.whittierdailynews.com/news/ci_15723011


Southern California on track for a near-record-low summer, but it's still too early to say, according to weather experts. The Los Angeles area, in fact, has had below-normal temperatures every month since April.

"We normally get this kind of weather pattern when we are transitioning from an El Nino  year to a La Nina year," National Weather Service meteorologist Jaimie Meier said.


"The fruits and vegetables, the tomatoes and a lot of the citrus and things like raspberries are not ripening up because it's not getting hot long enough," she said, adding that some fruit could taste less sweet because less sun means less sugar content. <snip>

I'll also note regarding the NOAA statistics site cited yesterday -- the statistics quoted place 2010 as the 17th hottest July on record, which dashes NOAA's earlier statement that it was the hottest July on record.

Cynically, they can't even keep their lies straight...


It has certainly been cool in Southern California. I need a blanket at night, and generally wear a jacket in the evenings and on my morning hikes. Sable loves this weather as do I. If this is global warming....


Tax Data


Nice graphs.


With all the storm and fury over tax rates in the USA, the first graph makes a case that for 50 years, not much has changed. What's missing are two components: (1) comparison with tax rates around the world, (2) state and local taxes.

The 2nd graph is interesting and hints at a key point, that for most Americans, the social security tax is a much bigger bite than the income tax. No surprise, since SST is regressive.

The 2nd graph also makes it hard to argue that corporations are overtaxed when the rate is 2%, although the key component needed for comparison with other countries.



State of the airline industry


I've commented before on the poor state of the airline industry, most notably in the areas of workplace conditions, extended work hours that "game the system" with regards to mandatory crew rest periods, pay cuts, zeroing of pensions, and questionable hiring practices as a result of the above conditions. Here is yet another incident that underscores the poor working conditions in the airline industry.


In a nutshell, after an unruly passenger violated safety regulations by standing up and opening the overhead baggage compartment while the plane was still moving, an attendant who had had enough of the BS lost his cool, hit or pushed the passenger, spent a few minutes ranting on the PA system, then used the emergency egress chute after the plane was safely stopped at the gate.

Personally I don't think I could blame the attendant for what he did. Yea he violated some rules and cost the airline a bunch of money, but after talking to various attendants on multiple flights in various airlines, they ALL seem to be under a great deal of stress. This guy just did what I'm sure a lot of them secretly would like to do. Punch the idiot passenger who arrogantly violates safety regulations right in the face, then pull that big red handle so they could slide down the escape chute one last time before they quit (or go to jail). Nobody gets hurt except the jerkwad passenger who EVERYONE else on the plane wants to punch anyhow, and the airline gets an unscheduled operations check of their safety equipment.


Well it was a pretty drastic resignation... Maybe he has cancer.


Paul Krugman's column

Hello Jerry,

I read the column by Krugman linked by Brian P.

It was depressing enough to realize that such claptrap could be published in ANY newspaper but horrifying that our 'Paper of Record' would do so.

Then when you start reading some of the (currently) 717 comments on the article and find that the readership of the 'Times', of which our leadership is almost exclusively a subset, not only overwhelmingly (there are a few isolated islands of sanity among the 717) agrees with Krugman that our social and economic problems are the direct result of the rich being grossly under taxed and free market capitalism being allowed to run amok by conservatives/Republicans who block every attempt of the right-thinking/Democrats to regulate businesses and the markets properly, but in many cases take him to task for UNDERSTATING the degree to which we are under taxed and under regulated, it brings about a state of mind which would see depression as an improvement.

Your response with the quote from Kipling was quite appropriate.

Bob Ludwick

The Gods of the Copybook Headings, with terror and slaughter return!


Escape from Hell

Hi Jerry,

Regarding your comment in the View today: "I remind you all that Escape from Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is available in both paperback <http://www.amazon.com/Escape-Hell-Tor-
Science-Fiction/dp/076535540X/jerrypournellcha>  and kindle <http://www.amazon.com/Escape-from-Hell-
ebook/dp/B001QREWRS/jerrypournellcha>  editions."

You left out Audible audiobook format - I just picked it up from Audible!


Richard Hakala

Thanks. The reading is very well done, too. I confess that I am proud of that book. I reread it recently.


Economic crisis in California

Nothing new, but I thought it was well written and informative... like links I follow from Chaos Manor!

Joel Kotkin The Golden State’s War on Itself How politicians turned the California Dream into a nightmare


Be Well,




Ford Theater? (Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?)


Different Ford and different theater.

"The Ford Amphitheatre is one of the oldest performing arts venues in Los Angeles. Christine Wetherill Stevenson was looking for a place to stage her religious play, The Pilgrimage, and originally purchased the site of the Hollywood Bowl with a friend and other investors for this purpose. The other partners didn't like the idea of being limited to religious productions, so they bought out Wetherill Stevenson, and she purchased a plot of land across the street for her theatre.

"The Pilgrimage Play opened in The Pilgrimage Theatre in 1920, before there was even a theatre at the Hollywood Bowl. The original wooden theatre burned down in 1929 and was rebuilt in concrete by the WPA and reopened in 1931. In 1941 the theatre was deeded to the County of Los Angeles. Wetherill Stevenson's play about the life of Jesus played there until the 1960s, with a short break during WWII when the theatre was used to house servicemen. In 1964, a lawsuit brought against the County for using a County facility exclusively for a religious performance put an end to The Pilgrimage Play."

[Other secular works were performed during that period.]

Sunday night was a concert by the Jewish Symphony Orchestra featuring Jewish Music from Hollywood Movies, also with performance by the Jewish Choral Society. Included were a Kaddish from QB VII, the Trink le Cheim (Jewish Wedding Song)  from Thoroughly Modern Millie (alas the singer was no Julie Andrews), a theme from the Ten Commandments, and other such. We went with friends as guests, and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I refrain from remarking on the irony  given the history of the theater.


For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:



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Wednesday, August 11. 2010

: Models

I used to run large combat simulations. A typical study would involve running a base case, e.g., current systems. We had some measure of effectiveness, say Red losses / Blue losses. Then we would run alternatives, e.g., a better Blue tank, a better Blue howitzer, a better Blue helicopter. It is obvious that if we replace a Blue system with a better Blue system, the measure of effectiveness should increase. In reality about 30 percent of the time it decreased. Sometimes it was very difficult to figure out why we got counterintuitive results. It could have been that the better helicopter caused Red to stop advancing and then the ground forces attached a stationary defending Red unit instead of a moving exposed Red unit. From what I read the climate models have similar characteristics to the combat simulations I ran: nonlinear, feedback, and time lags. Remember Edward Lorenz's interest in chaos came about accidentally through his work on weather prediction in 1961.

John Abshier

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Yet modelling battle is simpler than modelling climate...


Is Firing (a Lot of) Teachers the Only Way to Improve Public Schools?

Dr. Pournelle,

Please see:


An interesting quote:

"Maximizing teacher performance required that 80 percent of new teachers be fired after two years' probation."


R. Peters

I do not think I would agree that firing 80% of the probationary teachers is a good idea. I do think that annually firing 10% of the teachers regardless of how long they have been teachers would improve the schools greatly. Indeed, make that 2% and it will be true, so long as it is not based on credentialism and seniority. I am in fact tempted to say that randomly selecting 10% to fire every year would improve the system: it would get good and bad, but the good could go find another post if the process were truly random, and when it got a bad one everyone would cheer. Drastic I know. Better would be the worst 10% every year, year after year, in all the schools whose performance is below the state average. That would leave the top half of the schools untouched (and thus provide great incentive to the worst to do better) and give the bottom half schools a chance to improve. One might build into this law a mechanism for ending it when things are good enough...


: Key Point


I wanted to comment on one sentence from your Saturday View last week. The following sentence is the key difference for the Climate Change debate as well as many other debates:

“The way to find out more is not to start with the answer and go looking for data to support that.”

Too often nowadays I find this approach being taken. This is not how I was taught that science is done. I was taught that it started with a Hypothesis for something that is observed (or measured/defined/etc). Then you experiment (or predict) and attempt to validate your hypothesis (through experimentation). What I see happening does not fit this. I see a hypothesis based on unobserved ideologies. Then data is looked for that could possible defend that hypothesis, and instead of an experiment the proponent stretches the discovered data to “prove” the hypothesis. It’s a whole lot of smoke in mirrors to me. Good scientists would re-examine their hypothesis if their predictions did not match the observed (in the real world and not within a computer model). Alas, that’s unfortunately not happening.

When I was finishing up my degree I felt pretty strongly that emissions and Greenhouse Gases (including Super Greenhouse Gases – PFC’s and the like – ex. SF6, etc) were causing a significant problem. With the influence of my mentor (Chris McKay) and some work on Terraforming I firmly believed this. Over time I began to realize how limited the models were and that they were moot without some sort of observable experiment. I recently saw a documentary where my mentor was interviewed and even he said “seem to be warming” and “maybe it’s not such a good idea” when the subject of climate change came up in the documentary. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t others out in the mainstream that don’t seem to understand the basic truth that something can prove or disprove an assumption whether we like it or not.

I’ll end before I begin to ramble on too much.


I continue to ask: how would you go about ascertaining the temperature of the Earth to a tenth of a degree? Leave doing that for an annual temperature: how would you find out what it is right now? Or today? Or tonight? What measures do you take, and how do you decide what weights to give to which measures?

Is the earth warming? Their charts say by about a degree since 1880 (but then 1880 was about a degree warmer than 1780; we know that 1780 was colder than 1880 because no one could skate on the Hudson river after the Civil War and they could during the Revolution.) How we might determine the temperature of the Earth, or the United States, in 1780 to an accuracy of a degree is not something I can know.


Tax Revenue as a Fraction of GDP



and the probable OECD source: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/48/27/41498733.pdf 

G! uwe


Study: Wind Power Raises CO2 Emissions 

Jerry -

Not sure if you have seen this, but this is not surprising information at all.

"Efforts to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by replacing coal and natural gas with wind power appear to be doing more harm than good as a new study finds replacing coal and natural gas with wind power increases CO2 emissions."





Happy to hear about the excellent report from your oncologist.

All the best - Frank Hughes

It actually depends on location and transmission distances, but any intermittent power source can generate requirements for storage. Bundling a bunch of wind farms into a virtual power station might work, provided that there are enough, but the guaranteed output would be fairly low.

Of course we are not as concerned about CO2 emissions as the believers are.

I still don't understand why the believers have not come out strong for nuclear power.


A Cool Summer - 

Hi, Jerry. You write: “It has certainly been cool in Southern California. I need a blanket at night, and generally wear a jacket in the evenings and on my morning hikes. Sable loves this weather as do I. If this is global warming....”

I live in a suburb of Sacramento, and we’ve been about 10 degrees below normal since April or so. We normally plant the garden in late April or early May; this year, the weather was still too cold for tomatoes on Memorial Day. Memorial Day weekend is the date for the annual Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, and temperatures are typically at or near the 100 degree mark; this year, it was sweater weather. I understand that the east coast is roasting, but the west coast is enjoying a VERY MILD summer; more like an extended spring.

I don’t think we’ve had a 100+ degree day in the last month, when we usually have a dozen or more in July.

Ken Mitchell Citrus Heights, CA

So is the United States warmer or colder this summer? How would you calculate the temperature of the United States to a tenth of a degree?


your discussion of the decision to use atomic weapons on Japan

10 August 2010

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I very much enjoyed your chronological discussion of President Truman's decision to employ the atomic bomb (Chaos Manor, 8 August).

It is extremely fortunate for all concerned, not least the Japanese, that the ground invasion of Japan did not proceed: as Richard Frank and others have shown, the Japanese knew where it was coming. Mostly by analysis of radio traffic and US aerial recon patterns, Japanese intelligence had gotten pretty good at forecasting the timing and likely sites of US amphibious operations.

Despite that, and despite the sea and air Kamikazes the IJN and their army air force had waiting, the US would no doubt have gotten ashore, and prevailed. But all casualty predictions were very likely on the low side.

Finally, in early 1945, the US Navy had added an extensive mining campaign, as well as close range naval surface and naval aviation raiding operations to the already devastating submarine campaigns. Additionally, the Army Air Force had widened its strategic bombing offensive and was going after the remaining transport nodes. All that ensured that commercial transportation -- most especially of food -- was about done in Japan by August. Had the war not ended when it did; had it even continued through the rest of 1945, millions of civilians in the big Japanese cities would have starved. Even after the surrender, 1945-46 were very hard in Japan -- and the occupation had to devote a significant amount of effort to food transportation.

The Navy seems to have argued (Frank again) that the invasion was unnecessary. I tend to think it would have gone forward had their been no bomb, if only because MacArthur wanted it to. He was pretty good at getting what he wanted right up till Truman fired him.

The use of atomic weapons was in every way fortunate, not least politically for the Japanese, because it provided the Japanese government a plausible way to climb off its political limb and give up.

As an aside, it may be churlish of me to point out (but nobody else ever does) that the Japanese ultimately surrendered on relatively favorable terms. They were nowhere written down -- but the Japanese got to keep their Emperor. In contrast to what happened in Germany, the Japanese government was not dissolved, but used to run the occupation. A lot of people who perhaps should have wound up in front of war crimes tribunals were not prosecuted. With a few exceptions, the movers and shakers in Japanese economic life remained mostly the same. In that sense, the fanatical Japanese resistance late war, as the US closed in on Japan, at Iwo Jima, Okinawa and in the Philippines -- bought the Japanese some political advantages


Finally, your Chaos Manor piece ran on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Nagasaki was very unlucky: had the B-29 photo plane (“Big Stink”) not been 40 minutes late to the rendezvous with “Bocks Car,” delaying the mission, perhaps there would have been no cloud cover over Kokura (the primary target), and the second bomb would have landed as planned on Kokura, sparing the secondary target -- Nagasaki. . . Sometimes God’s purposes are strange.

All the best,

Hale Cullom III

I recall going through a study of the logistics problems of the occupation. Even as late as 1950-51 when I went through Japan, there was considerably occupation force concern with food distribution.


getting your job

An interesting interview with the British Author Samuel Youd (aka John Christopher) on his career as a writer. My favourite bit, on his writing speed:

How long would it take you to write a book?

It varied. Fastest was The Burning Bird - less then four weeks for an adult novel. I used to work on a basis of ten pages, 2500 words a day, on a five-day week, so first drafts of children’s books (ca 45,000 words) were about four weeks. I used to play snooker in late afternoon and would not go to the club until I’d done my stint - not unsurprisingly I found my rate quickened in the afternoon.



I wrote Birth of Fire in one week flat. I didn't do much else that week, though. The story came to me, and the work was getting it written down.



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Thursday, August 12, 2010

 Federal vs. non-gov compensation

Dr. Pournelle,

I was shocked when I read the USA today headline posted on the web here:


 A careful reading convinced me that the headline is misleading. Essentially, is seems to be an apples vs. apples question.

Counting all burger flippers etc in the private sector it may well be true. But there aren't many of those working for the Feds. What the article seems to really show is that with comparable jobs, the difference is about 20%.

I hold no brief for the size of the Federal government. I think it should be cut at least in half. At least. But I think the headline writer did the article writer a disservice here, and think that maybe a reader has passed that on to you.

I don't write often, but you are one of very very few people who help form my world view. I appreciate it.

John B. Andrews

The headline was in a number of other papers, but I agree, it seems a bit high, and I probably should have pointed that out. The general conclusion that a unionized civil service with job protection is not what was contemplated when civil service was created is correct; we now have a machine more solid than any of the old city machines of the spoils system days ever was.

The real numbers are important, and in many ways 20% and 100% don't change one's conclusions; but it is important to get the data right. Thanks.


Gov employees overpaid? - 

Dear Jerry,

While I don't doubt that there are overpaid drones, (think "Beltway") throughout government, I take exception to being characterized as "overpaid." I have worked for the Feds for over 26 years and I make just about 50K per annum, (just enough to not qualify for all sorts of subsidies and aide.) I don't have a degree, although the variety of courses, training, and experience I do have used to qualify me for a kind of "shirt-sleeve" degree that was considered acceptable in lieu of a bachelors. That ended when Clinton/Gore "reinvented" government. Circumstances precluded my returning to school to formalize the degree and I was left out of the promotion train. (I still do much of the work, just don't collect the paycheck.)

That leads me to an important consideration: Most of the degreed persons I know, working in positions needing great skill and effort, are making between 80 - 90K. Not terribly overpaid for their education, continuing education, responsibility, etc. Their counterparts outside are making over 6 figures as the norm. Why do they stay? Some came in as part of paying off their loans and got to like it. Some stay because it was more stable and less dependent on a boss's mood. Others, and I am one, found working for a constitutionally mandated function, seeing how what we did actually contributed to something worthwhile, and the amazing things we saw and did, gave us something that more money could not.

Lessee, bennies....

OK, I have a great health plan. I also pay $350 a month for it. I have a great retirement plan. I contribute nearly 8% of my pay every month and if they would leave the fund alone it would pay for all but the last of us, as they changed the plan. (I also pay into Medicare.) I have a 401 comparable to a 401K. We have the largest pool of contributors ever seen and that helps keep costs down. Since management of the fund is contracted out, it DOES have to be done at a profit for the company doing it, yet has the lowest admin costs. Those under the newer retirement plan pay even more. Yes, 20+ years ago the Feds instituted a new retirement system for new employees in order to cut pension costs downstream, but they do owe faith to those of us who were brought in under the old one. I laugh when I hear unions arguing against a "2-tier" system as the transition seems to have happened fairly smoothly all things considered.)

Hmm, Contracting out...our "average" wages do NOT include teenagers flipping burgers. No food service, no janitorial, no groundskeepers, no shipping clerks, no file clerks...basically, no minimum or close to it jobs. 109K, (if it IS a good number,) is the average for an experienced and educated work force. Many of our jobs, including some I have done, CANNOT be compared to an outside job as it simply doesn't exist out there. You really do not want a teenager doing many of the things we do. (Well, ok...some of our military counterparts are teens or nearnuff, but that is a different thing altogether.)

I have seen the Iron Law at work but know that is not the whole story. It is also possible that in other activities, not so closely mandated by the constitution, there is a different dynamic and more "lazy" Feds. All I know is I see a lot of people working terribly hard to do a job that is needful but not respected. For decades we have had the budgets balanced on our backs and do not expect anything less now. We do suspect many of the Senior Execs and others in the Beltway are overpaid, I know that my exact same job was going for 2 grades higher in DC and Virginia, but who wanted to live there?

All I am saying, is that a single number, generated who knows how, (109K,) doesn't tell the whole story. Without some civil servants many tasks important to the Republic would not happen.

R, Rose

I do not disagree with a word of that.

I do believe that California probably did not need to add 40,000 government workers after the year 2000. I do not doubt that government needs good people. I was offered GS-13 many years ago to head the Army's aviation operations research program. Darned near took it, too. That would have been in 1972, so I would be long retired (it took a vote of the Civil Service Commission to authorize a lateral entry at that level).


The Eighth Wonder of the Armpit of the Caribbean !-


It could use a new coat of dayglow paint to restore it to the full hallucinatory glory of 1978

-- Russell Seitz
Fellow of the Department of Physics
Harvard University

Russell refers to a time long ago when we were on an expedition to gather base rock samples in Guatemala. Russell was the geologist, and I was driver, porter, and very curious. The notion was to get base rock samples to be neutron activated so that their trace elements could be identified; the result is a grid which could be used to find the probable origin of any rock, including jade, that had been removed from the area. The goal was to find the source of the Olmec Blue Jade. It might incidentally be useful to jade hunters in general. The expedition took us to some interesting places including into remote highland areas where no one spoke Spanish and the local village priest said that some of the population probably didn't know about the Spanish Conquest, much less that they were part of Guatemala. Perhaps an exaggeration, but not as wild as it sounds. It was pretty primitive in there. We also came across several do it yourself toll gates. Rather than argue, we just paid. The fees were nominal. We had credentials from the Boston Museum and got along fine with the government officials out in the provinces and boonies, but these were operated by bandits, not government; fortunately all they wanted was a few dollars toll.

Driving into Puerto Barrios one very hot morning, Russell who had a touch of sun and was under medications -- the trip timing could have been a lot better -- was half dozing when he looked ahead into a misty morning, and there looming up ahead of us was -- well, go to the web site and you'll see. As Russell implies, the colors were much brighter in 1978.

Across the road from this site was "Pharmacia Fenchy" and "Funeraria Fenchy".

We had lunch in the Puerto Barrios Yacht Club by shamelessly crashing the place.


Heat Flux from the Earth's Core

I found a few answers in a paper from a Physics professor from the University of Rochester, located here: http://www.pas.rochester.edu/~douglass/recent-publications.html  (Choose the second item, “Ocean Heat Content and Earth’s Radiation Imbalance”.)

He has the following figures in the paper:

- Flux from the core is 87 +/- 2.0 mW/m^2, based on 24,774 heat flow measurements at 20,201 sites.

- Mean solar flux is 340 +/- 1 W/m^2, with a time dependent oscillation due to eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit.

So the solar flux is almost 4000 times as much as from the core.

The paper finds some oscillations in the radiation imbalance of the Earth, with the changes not being found in current (2009) theories.

Edmund Hack

Thank you. So the order of magnitude is about a factor of 1000 lower than solar insolation. I would guess that air-ocean heat transfer is considerably less efficient than the seabed to ocean transfer (which has to be about 100% efficient I would suppose) but I am not certain what the factor would be. I do know that if I want to heat a pan of water, I am not likely to use a blow dryer. (And of course heating from the bottom causes circulation and does not bring about evaporative cooling.) Still, 10-^3 is a formidably low number. I do note that one conclusion of the study is "These climate shifts limit climate predictability."


Subject: Are you ready for a world without antibiotics? | Society | The Guardian buffy willow

Dr Pournelle,

This is extremely disturbing news. We already knew that bacteria were becoming resistant to antibiotics, but a prediction of 10 years until antibiotics become effectively useless is very worrying indeed.

Here, the profit motive has wrecked an invention that improved life for millions: drug companies want to sell drugs, so we have the situation where in the third world antibiotics are handed out like sweets, and are given for conditions for which they are not remotely useful. And the chances are that the last piece of chicken you ate was fed antibiotics as a growth promoter. We've saturated the environment with antibiotics, allowing bacteria to evolve resistance, and are starting to see the results.


Best regards,


Dr Alun J. Carr
 School of Electrical, Electronic, and Mechanical Engineering
University College Dublin Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

Frightening. There's a science fiction novel in there. Or see Budrys Some Will Not Die


Markets run amok! 


You have always said that when markets are left alone they will eventually sell human flesh. Well, I invite your attention on how Chinese Hospitals Are Battlegrounds of Discontent:


Left floundering in the free market wilderness, Chinese hospitals are doing things that benefit themselves. I am shocked. Shocked.



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Friday,  August 13, 2010

thoughts about civil service pay

Hi Jerry

First, a glance at the GS pay scale http://www.fedjobs.com/pay/pay.html, and don't overlook the geographic multiplier in the second chart. The typical office worker - above the level of a clerk but not yet management - is around a GS-11/GS-12, receiving pay in the range of $70k to $85k. Add in pension and medical benefits, and you are pretty close to the $109k that the article's author claims.

For the typical type of job being done - applying complex regulations to complex projects and situations - the salary is not at all unreasonable.

The problem, as I think you and your readers will agree, lies in the *need* for so many people to apply so many complex regulations. Entire federal departments (Education, to name one) could be simply eliminated and no one would miss them. Others, such as the EPA, could be reduced to a tiny fraction of their size, if unnecessary regulations were removed.

Putting so many talented people on the street would cause a certain amount of short-term pain (especially for the individuals concerned). But in the long run, having all of these talented people back on the productive side of the economy would be a huge boon to the country.




“Federal civil service workers are now earning not more than, but double, what private sector workers earn. Their income has increased annually for the past nine years. Federal civil service average paying benefit is $109,000 a year (included benefits and pensions of course). The average bureaucrat makes about twice what those who produce goods and service and pay taxes. There are no layoffs, and there will be raises next year.

Where is Madame Defarge now that we need her?”

Don’t know where you got THAT info, the current base federal pay tables are here:


Most of the federal work force is at the GS-5, -7, -9 level, at least outside of the Beltway, mostly clerical staff. There would have to be a whole lot of GS-14, -15 folks out there to get the average up to $109K. Throughout the government, those are considered upper-upper management positions and not a large volume of them.

As far as some elaborate pension scheme for federal workers, the current crop gets Social Security plus whatever they can put away in a 401K-type of scheme called the Thrift Savings Plan. Not a lot different than what most worker bees get when working above the burger-flipping level. Been that way for 20-some years.

I keep running across this meme that government workers are making out like bandits, it’s just not true for the vast majority. A lot of staff are retired ex-military, so they’ve got the military pension in addition to whatever they get as Civil Service, so they’re doing well. I don’t know of many that would begrudge them that pension for service rendered. Raises run between 1-2% per year, during the wild years of inflation, pay increases didn’t match the rate of inflation. It’s hard to compare some positions inside the government with positions outside, how many guys change reactor rods on a nuclear submarine or deal with military retirement benefit problems in the non-government sector?

Stan Schaefer

I am unfamiliar with the current Civil Service. Back in space program days, I knew a number of Ph.D. scientists and engineers who were GS 12, and GS 13 was definitely a management position. I expect there has been some inflation.

I do know that in the old days at Boeing we called the BOMARC "the civil service missile. It won't work and you can't fire it." That was a very long time ago. The "it won't work" part wasn't necessarily true (although it was essentially so of the BOMARC at the time), but 'you can't fire it' is the essence of civil service and the reason that Aerospace Corporation was formed. The point of Civil Service you don't get laid off.

Incidentally, most nuclear power plants are not run by civil service.


“Incidentally, most nuclear power plants are not run by civil service.”

I didn’t write that, I wrote: “ It’s hard to compare some positions inside the government with positions outside, how many guys change reactor rods on a nuclear submarine or deal with military retirement benefit problems in the non-government sector?”


Don’t know of many nuclear ship overhaul yards in the civilian sector, do you? Work forces at the Navy yards is mostly Civil Service, military-managed. Think we’re down to two Navy-run facilities, used to be 4 or 5. Base closure, you know. Some sections of government ARE being reduced in size, just that others are getting bloated more.

Stan Schaefer

My point was that there are nuclear power operators who aren't civil servants. Didn't mean to be unclear. And the federal work force is expanding, although not so mush ass California where it's REALLY growing. The Great Recession can't be allowed to stand in the way of increasing the size of government, raises for government employees, and expanding pensions. Or at least it hasn't been.

I wonder when it gets to the point that the retirement pay costs are greater than employment and they have to terminate workers in order to pay pensions?


More Bad Data


The bad data just keeps on coming: The report from the ILO says 81 million out of 630 million 15-24 year olds where unemployed at the end of 2009, some 7.8 million more than at the end of 2007.


Today's disaffected youth is tomorrow's terrorist--unless we can get them in the army young enough and then they might get to be mercenaries or cops.

-- BDAB,



Scientific Models

Hello Jerry

30 some years ago when I was working on my PhD in physics, I had a fairly simple (on the face of it) project: measure the effective mass of a moving magnetic domain wall in a thin film of magnetic material (related to magnetic bubble memories – remember them??) My particular contribution was supposed to be measure this in the presence of varying amounts of magnetic field applied in-plane with the thin film. We had a generally accepted model for this, but no one had actually taken the data.

So, I built the experiment and took the data. Go to analyze the data and a major problem arose – the data wasn’t even close to the model, even qualitatively. The effective wall mass went up with in-plane magnetic field where the model said it should go down. It seemed that my degree was in jeopardy because the data didn’t fit the model. At the last minute a visiting professor in our group, a theoretician from Poland, came up with a new model that matched my data, and I got my degree.

The moral of the story: just because it’s the only model you’ve got doesn’t mean it’s right. If the data doesn’t match, believe the data and look for a better model.

I think that this has some relevance to the climate change discussion you’ve been having. You can use this story however you like.


Karen Parker

Ph.D. in Physics, The Ohio State University, 1980

I came from a tradition in which the data trumped the model, but that's the old OR view, and apparently isn't popular now.


Measurement of temperature vis-a-vis global warming claims

As someone who in the past, was responsible for precision measurement systems used for research at a large federal aerospace laboratory, including the maintenance of laboratory standards traceable to NBS (or NIST, if you prefer; I date myself) I am highly skeptical of historical measurements that claim sufficient precision to state that average temperatures changed by a degree or a fraction of a degree over 100 years. The problem with this is: what was their traceability? What standards were used 100 years ago? What kind of instrument was used? (I suspect the latter was a mercury thermometer with an attached card, which not only required good eyesight to read, but required the glass be accurately attached to the card). Were these instruments regularly calibrated against a uniform standard (such as a triple point bath)? I strongly doubt it. I have never seen a description of the measurement techniques used to establish these claims, which to me makes them highly suspect.

Now common sense tells us that over a long period, the worldwide climate has changed periodically - we have the Great Lakes as testimony to that, for one. But to claim a degree or two of "Average" change over 100 or 200 years defies reason.

Rgds Ed

[not  Ed Hume]


: F 430 


Fahrenheit 430.

Is it a discounted Bradbury novel?

No, it is an officially recorded surface temperature for Lake Michigan used in official NOAA warming estimates.



Good grief!


The science behind AGW skepticism

I believe we are in agreement that there are three distinct supporting characters in the AGW drama: the Ghost of Climate Past, the Ghost of Climate Present, and the Ghost of Climate Future. The Ghost of Climate Past is the business of tree rings and ice cores and Viking colonists, the Ghost of Climate Present is the 20'th century temperature record, and the Ghost of Climate Future is the collection of computer models.

With respect to the .1 deg-F accuracy, mainly the Ghost of Climate Present, I am thinking that "believers" are falling back on a Law of Large Numbers effect. Yes, "they" can't even predict the weather to within 10 deg-F one week out, but what we are talking about is taking many readings from many stations and taking averages, and were everything Gaussian and statistically independent, accuracy would improve with square-root-of-N.

My concern is not about whether "N" is big enough for .1 deg-F accuracy but whether someone has their "thumb on the scale", if unintentionally. Even if every climate scientist is beyond reproach, there is just so much confirmation bias -- there is that classic essay, was it by Richard Feynman?, of where Millikan made an initial error in measuring the electric charge and of the ever-so-slow drift of subsequent published determinations from Millikan's value to the modern value.

The Ghost of Climate Future is plainly based on a large "CO2 multiplier", which in turn is supported by the .1 deg-F "accuracy" of the Ghosts of Climate Present and in some cases Climate Past, which in turn is supported by a "strong prior" based on the assumption people have regarding physics of CO2, which forgets that the dire changes predicted by the computer models requires CO2 to be "leveraged" through water vapor rather than CO2 having that much of a direct effect.

So yes, we are in agreement that the .1 deg F "accuracy" is in the "critical path" of the AGW Hypothesis. Your claim is that the measurements lack the required statistical power; my hunch this is that "N" is large enough but confirmation bias prevents the required care in eliminating systematic error.

Paul Milenkovic Madison, Wisconsin

Clearly the 'average' is not an average: we don't average the temperature from the center of the Earth to the edge of the atmosphere. We choose the measurements to average. My suggestion is that even with a precise definition of what we will include in the average, the numbers are not accurate to a single degree, much less to a tenth of a degree. Yes, I understand that satellites are said to be able to get one particular atmospheric temperature to .01 accuracy, but then it turns out that this needs adjustment since satellites don't stand still, and there needs to be calculation for orbital shifts. How accurately those shifts are measured is another variable. I simply don't believe in those accuracies, nor do I think that just because we can get a number accurate to .01 degree (assuming we can) that this makes that number more relevant than the temperature I am experiencing.

But yes, Fahrenheit 430 for a part of Lake Michigan probably indicates a thumb on the scale.


"Cranks, conventionalists and geomorphology" by Richard Huggett

Subject heading is the title of an article by geographer Richard Huggett at University of Manchester that was published in the journal Area in 2002:

<http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1475-4762.00070/pdf>  or

<http://www.jstor.org/pss/20004222> .

"Hypotheses in geomorphology may be conventional or unconventional. It is argued that outrageous hypotheses produced by conventional thinkers with a streak of unconventionality occasionally shift paradigms and are invaluable alternatives to conventional hypotheses which tend merely to shore up seemingly safe and secure ruling paradigms."

It's really a quite enjoyable romp surveying in a thumbnail fashion the range of radical thinkers who challenged the establishment in geology and geography from the respectable to the inane, including: Peter Warlow, Donald Patten, Melvin Cook, Immanuel Velikovsky, Harold Tresman, C. Warren Hunt, Alfred Wegener, J. Harlen Bretz, and Arthur N. Strahler.



A short exchange on temperatures:

I asked a physicist friend about surface temperatures:

I continue to be puzzled about the internal heat. Obviously when we say global temperature we don't really mean an average of the temperatures from the center of the earth out to the edge of the atmosphere. We mean the biosphere mostly.

Now the interior is hot. I am told that the amount that reaches the biosphere is about 1/1000 of the 1.3 kw /meter^2; but since the absorption of insolation is surely less than 100%, and the interior heat that gets to the outer earth is 100% absorbed, I'm still a bit curious. Most of the models don't seem to have anything about interior heating.

Also volcanism would change the amount that goes from interior to the biosphere. I'm curious as to how much; has it been significant in the past? I would presume the Yellowstone Event would heat hell out of the Earth. Tambora gave us the year without a summer but did it add to heat of the ocean? Certainly by some, but was it trivial? I don't seem to be looking in the right places to find out...

Jerry Pournelle Chaos Manor

The reply:

Well, I know that the internal heating is responsible for maintain the air temperature in caves at about 54 F.

The global warming advocates clearly refer to the terrestrial surface or near-surface air, but I've never seen a concise definition of the terms they use. The visible surface and the entire troposphere? Some reference surface with temperature corrections by some model.

That 0th order warming model that is floating around (Dr. Spencer had one several months ago on his blog) assumes no differentiation between ocean and ground surface; that's surely not the case of the more precise models, but given the well established low resolution of the warming models (8000 -odd cells) I have to wonder how much they deal with differences in average altitude of the reference cells, and how do they manage boundary effects (not to mention rough surface differentially reflectivity as a function of time of day, and changes in air absorption as a result of altitude). Do they use a spherical earth model or do they have an oblate model? The corrections to angle of incidence from an oblate model result in a significant change in absorption. When you're trying to construct an energy balance to 20 parts per billion using 1 % data, any of these effects are significant. And, frankly, numerical instability should be a major factor; I'm reminded that the almost infinitely less difficult problem of orbital mechanics cannot yield accurate models of satellite position beyond 3 - 6 months, with the position-along-orbit uncertain by about 360 degrees after six months. One reason I don't believe the models is because they actually DO make predictions that long -- it seems both physically and numerically impossible.

As I understand it, the "average temperature of the Earth" as used by the climate scientists is about 56 F. The temperature in deep caves without air circulation to the outside is about the same. I do not know know if this is significant because I still can't figure out how much heat is going from the magma to the seas. I would be astonished if it turned out to be entirely trivial.

I would be pleased to hear from AGW believers on this. I really trying to understand.


Cool summer? 

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I note that your correspondent Mr. Mitchell of Sacramento, had this to say about his weather conditions:

"I live in a suburb of Sacramento, and we’ve been about 10 degrees below normal since April or so. We normally plant the garden in late April or early May; "

I live in Vienna, VA just outside of Washington DC. Temperatures have been unusually hot from about June to about August. We actually topped 100 F for about two days (that was when the air conditioning broke, naturally) and we have had a few weeks 10 degrees above normal.

This follows several years which -- from my observation -- were abnormally cool. Virginia is supposed to be humid hell on earth from May to September, comfortable until November, Indian Summer in December, then frigid from January to April. Instead, the summer has been taking longer to get here. This summer was considerably warmer than usual, but seems to be a spike compared to the previous years this decade. What happens next year is anyone's guess.

We also had record-breaking snow last winter -- two FEET of snow TWICE when normal snowfall is about six inches for the entire season. I believe it is more snow than has ever occurred in Washington DC in recorded history.

I have no idea how that squares with Mr. Mitchell's observations, or what model could, but anecdotal evidence may not be completely useless.


Brian P.

PS. Isn't it a strange world when *weather* is a politically charged topic?

The major points are (1) averages aren't always terribly useful, and (2) it's very difficult to tell what climate is doing now; we can only see where it has gone, and before we can be sure of major trends we need to wait even longer. It is not as if the great averages were giving us swings of several degrees (or even a full degree) over the whole earth for a whole year. We can look at trends in glacial ice -- is there more or less of it -- but once again it not only takes time to be sure of a trend, but we know that glacier formation is dependent on amount of snowfall, and that is not caused simply by temperature; in El Nino years there is both higher temperature and more atmospheric moisture and thus snowfall.


Antimicrobial resistance in developing countries

Dr Pournelle,

In my previous email with the link to the Guardian article on antibiotics, I stated that, in effect, antibiotic misuse in the third world was rampant. Here's a paper in the BMJ (from 12 years ago!) which confirms that. To quote from it:

In many developing countries the use of antimicrobial drugs for treating people and animals is unregulated; antibiotics can be purchased in pharmacies, general stores, and even market stalls. In the Rajbari district of Bangladesh, a survey of rural medical practitioners (barefoot doctors) with an average of 11 years’ experience showed that they each saw on average 380 patients per month and prescribed antibiotics to 60% of these patients on the basis of symptoms alone.4 In one month 14 950 patients were prescribed antibiotics—a total of 291 500 doses. Only 109 500 doses had been dispensed by pharmacies, and a further 100 000 doses had been dispensed without a prescription.4


Best regards,



Dr Alun J. Carr

And the terror comes closer. But perhaps we should worry more about CO2.





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: Why the sea is boiling hot 


It should probably be noted that the homepage of Michigan Sea Grant Coastwatch (the source of the 430°F reading among others) now features this announcement:

<quote> NOTICE: Due to degradation of a satellite sensor used by this mapping product, some images have exhibited extreme high and low surface temperatures. Please disregard these images as anomalies. Future images will not include data from the degraded satellite and images caused by the faulty satellite sensor will be/have been removed from the image archive. <end quote>

I'm sure the author of the Examiner piece, Thomas Richard, is merely seeing the two-month lag between the time data are acquired and the time they're subjected to any sort of data validation. I'm sure these anomalous images would have been detected and removed any day now, even if no one had noticed the sea was boiling hot, or whether pigs have wings.


I am absolutely certain that the 430 F observation didn't make it into anything important. I am not so certain that the measuring device was cookie cutter: it was working one minute or day or week or month and then suddenly was not; in other words, I do not believe the accuracy of the measurements to anything like the .01 degree usually claimed for them. Equipment sometimes fails catastrophically, but satellites are subject to cosmic rays and other insults that can conceivably cause degradation but not failure (indeed, reporting 430 F is degradation, not failure) and I would bet reasonable sums that sometimes the degradations in accuracy are not discovered for a long time -- if ever.

The 430 F observation is in my judgment a warning: accuracy to .01 degree is possibly not reliable.

I suspect, incidentally, that the remedy here is simply to delete that observation. Now what effect that has on the accuracy of the general average (which presumably was better when that satellite's data were included in it) is not known to me, and I suspect not really computable -- but there has to be some effect on the error of measurement.

I do not believe we know the average temperature of the Earth over a day, or a month, or a year, to anything like a tenth of a degree. I don't know what the standard error of measurement for the average temperature of the Earth for a year would be, but I would not at all be astonished to discover that it is as large as half a degree.










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Sunday,   August 15, 2010    

: Anomalous and average temperatures in Virginia


For the past several days, NOAA's automated weather reporting service in Petersburg, VA (near Richmond) has been reporting that it is about 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Assuming they haven't fixed this yet, you can see the current temperature at http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?

along with the 3-day detailed history at http://www.weather.gov/data/obhistory/KPTB.html 

I live just a few miles north of Petersburg, and it has seemed a lot warmer than that to me. My two outdoor thermometers show that the high temperature for the past week or so has varied from 89 degrees to as high as 104 degrees. I don't know what this implies for calculations of the average temperature of this area that is known as the Tri-Cities.

Richmond, VA has had several days over 100 degrees during the past couple of months. What I find interesting is that previous records for this time period were also in excess of 100 degrees. Many of the record highs were set in 1900, 1918, 1930 and 1954. The data for July is especially interesting as the table was updated on 8/1/2010. It shows that 3 days in July set new records of 104 and 105 degrees. But Richmond also had 104 and 105 degrees in July 1930, 1936, and 1977. I do not know if the temperature measuring equipment in Richmond is working more reliably than that in Petersburg. http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/akq/climate/RIC_Climate_Records.pdf 

Best regards, --Harry M.

Still showing that you're freezing...



Quoted from above abstract: "Whereas in “normal“ geothermal settings, the surface heat flow is usually below 100–120 mW m− 2, in active geothermal areas heat flow values as high as several watts per meter squared can be found." It then goes on to discuss the factors that cause the variations.

-Stephanie Osborn



Subject: Chivalry


I found your article interesting. I agree with you the woman made her decisions and the deputies are not supposed to be responsible for that. When I was an MP, my concerns did not extend to making sure people had a way home. If they needed a place to sleep--and we didn't have a bunch of violent offenders that we needed to lock up--they could sleep in the d-cell until someone came to get them. If that didn't work, we'd probably just give them a ride. Of course, that would never occur to the Deputies would it? I would have given her a ride simply so my station, and the Sheriff, didn't look like a bunch of creeps. It's called "community policing". But, police have--largely, and in many locations--become aliens that may come from the communities they serve but have little connection or relation to that community.

-- BDAB,



I replied

In the deputy's defense she lived 90 miles from the station.

My question is why the hell they towed her car for the valet fee. The restaurant would have been better off leaving the car in their parking lot.

Instead she's 8 miles away in the hills on the other side of Mulholland, and her car is gone anyway.



Well, I agree. I believe they probably towed her car to inconvenience her. Whoever was making decisions that night clearly wanted to unleash some negative energy. I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once defined vengeance as a willingness to harm one's self while harming one's enemy. Without sounding too abstract and bizarre, I believe that emotions are heating up. I believe people's psychological fortitude is eroding, and I believe that as general conditions of the United States, and California worsen, we are going to see more of this. People are losing their lifestyles.

George, my mentor, told me that many of his friends passed soon after retiring. He said this phenomenon seems par for the course among his generation--the Beats/In-Betweens--and of the Great Generation. I believe that people link their sense of self with their lifestyle, perhaps to a greater degree than George's friends link their sense of self to their job. I suspect that those who do not die, succumb to depression (which I define as anger turned against the self), etc. would probably engage in random, negative outbursts--physical and/or verbal--when the opportunity presents itself and the resistance against it reaches a certain threshold.

On the larger point. I'm not exactly sure when Chivalry died. However when women came out of the kitchen and into the work force, something happened. I have some personal thoughts on this, but sharing those would lead to a tangent. Succinctly, the other half of the population is taxable, we do on two incomes what we used to do on one, we have no time for our children anymore--as couples often both work at least one job apiece, etc. Licking the King's boots never appealed to me and I don't look at a woman as a fair creature on a pedastool--though I used to. I now look at women as a creature that probably finds me just as desirable as I find her. Chivalry seems to have made more sense when the social hierarchy supported it.

However, chivalry has this sort of gentlemanly swagger about it that appeals to me--generally. The part about submitting to others does not appeal to me, but being kind to others does. The idea that one is aware of those around him, interacts with them, and treats them with class--or at the very least, dignity--seems something that we could use a lot more of. Again, back to my statement about the social hierarchy, I just don't think that our socioeconomic patterns support chivalry, and sadly, I don't think they support kindness either. And, I am not ashamed to admit that it bothers me.






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