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Monday  September 14, 2009

UK Government sold its soul to Libya <http://tinyurl.com/qveuvj>. 

Vetting programme under review: <http://tinyurl.com/pf5som>.  Moral panic: <http://tinyurl.com/md9mun>.  Problems with error rate: <http://tinyurl.com/nh6ykk >.  Sheer madness: <http://tinyurl.com/pngs3o>.  Costs spiralling out of control: <http://tinyurl.com/n9cyqc>.  The lack of meaningful appeal rights: <http://tinyurl.com/lqfls8>. 

-- Harry Erwin, PhD "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." (Benjamin Franklin, 1755)


Marcus the lamb - 


You likely got this one from another correspondent first, but I found it mildly upsetting that the kids' program has created this kind of furor. My son raised a pig in his agriculture class, we did send him to be butchered, and very much enjoyed the meals so provided. I have taken shares on such animals when I find a student who won't be taking his animal to the fair. They have been well-raised and taste far better than anything I have purchased at the grocery store.

It is a sad fact of life that eating any form of meat is because that animal was raised to be food. My son has an appreciation for the food on his plate that many do not have now. Marcus the lamb was raised in far more humane circumstances than most of the meat animals on feed lots ever were and it is false sympathy from anyone who eats meat or uses an animal product to think of this as cruel. (While I also think Vegans are foolish for different reasons, I can respect the consistency of using no animal-related product.)

My parents grew up, not exactly on farms, but in places and times where the food they grew, caught, or raised and butchered, kept their families alive. In the early years of my family, my father put meat on the table by fishing and hunting. We would not have had it otherwise. I learned the bow and arrow; my brother learned the rifle. We all learned to fish. My brother still takes his kayak out fishing, (or lobstering,) while I do not. But I know and respect that price that obtains my food.

I respect this program and the children who were wiser than their elders when they voted to take the project to its conclusion.

R, Rose

I raised a dairy cow as my 4H project. I had earlier raised a pig, not quite realizing what his eventual fate would be. I decided not to do that again. The cow was sold to a farm down the road. In those days milking machines were rare. I've told the story of Ted Sturgeon who raised rabbits and insisted on introducing you to your dinner if you came to his house for dinner. You got to pet it before he whacked it and skinned it. Oddly enough a lot of people only went once...

During WWII we hunted rabbits and squirrels to add to rationed meat.


That health insurance mandate 

-  Hi, Jerry,

I've at least found a couple other folks who are asking similar questions about the Feds establishing mandates as a condition for being alive:


A notable quote from the Congressional Budget Office:

"Federal mandates that apply to individuals as members of society are extremely rare. One example is the requirement that draft-age men register with the Selective Service System. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is not aware of any others imposed by current federal law"

Yes, it's only Fox News. But I'm glad to see a news story which touches on the principles involved.

Regards, Andy Valencia

Everything for the State. Nothing against the State. Nothing outside the State.


'It never occurred to me that carrying high-level heath insurance would mark me as a candidate for unnecessary surgery.'


 Roland Dobbins


Do American doctors get paid too much? 


Do American doctors get paid too much?


Maybe so, but cutting their incomes (and thereby diverting future physicians into more remunerative careers) would not save much money:

". . . doctors' take-home pay (that is, income minus expenses) amounts to only about 1 percent of overall health care spending, or about $26 billion."

Interesting piece.



Obesity as an epidemic,


The famous Framingham study reveals - via data mining - that obesity is contagious:


It suggests to me that obesity is an artifact of spreading memes. Look at it yourself and ponder.



technological progress

There are also some cases where progress makes things worse. For example, widespread surveillance is much easier now than 40 years ago, which is great if the government is protecting you from criminals or terrorists, but not so great if they're protecting themselves from the opposition party or journalists, or if you're the kind of person they've decided to define as an enemy of the people. Voice mail is much worse than a receptionist for solving any actual problems, and call-center drones in India with rigid scripts aren't all that much better. I believe various kinds of low-level financial fraud have been made much easier by technology, mostly stuff that gets lumped into the category of identity theft.

I suspect the common factor is that technology upset some kind of balance that existed before. Surveillance, uncommunicative companies, and fraud all existed at some level before. Then, technology made them way cheaper, and this shifted the balance toward a worse (for me, and I think for most people) situation.

--John Kelsey

Certainly; but I'd rather have my computer and the Internet than not.


And this may be the most important I ever covered. Or it may be trivial.

Dr. Pournelle,

This is either the greatest thing for space travel since Goddard burned up his Aunt Ellies cabbages or it's the Dean Drive Mark 2.

paul-march.html  Lorentz   thrusters explained.

Several questions are brought up and answered here.

When I first heard about this I was under the impression it was a phenomenon with very low thrust potential. They are talking about 1g acceleration in this article. I'm skeptical to say the least but this is nowhere near either of my areas of study (Oceanography and History). You have talked in the past about the desirability of funding crackpot theories with big payoff potential. This would seem to be a textbook case.

On a related note. Are you planning to to an updated version of THE STRATEGY OF TECHNOLOGY?

Very Respectfully, Ken Talton

Mach's principle has yet to be understood properly. Einstein fluttered around it. Some physicists simply dismiss it. I asked Sir Fred Hoyle once and he said no one really understood all the implications, but that might be because there weren't any -- or it might not be that way. Richard Feynman once said almost the same thing. Me, it's well beyond my capabilities. I don't recall ever talking about "Lorentz Thrusters" to either, and I know nothing about them. It's pretty clear we don't have demonstrations. But see below

A long time ago I had a small grant to get together a bunch of people who had some interest in the Dean Drive. (I have a short paper on this here on this site.)

Revising Strategy of Technology as well as a new edition of Step Farther Out are on my list. I have to keep grinding on things that make money, too. I try... and see below




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Tuesday,  September 15, 2009

Democracy should only be attempted by people smart enough to realize when their cousin doesn't deserve to be elected, brave enough to vote against him, and in a society that is mature enough to solve disagreements by discourse.

Everyone else should find themselves a King.

John Stuart Mill thought much the same thing:

Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate as to find one.

but Mill was certain that Europe and America were far past that. The theory of public education is that in order to remain a liberal republic it would be necessary that the citizens be well enough educated to be able to recognize their own interests, and make wise political choices. Our current school do not seem to meet this need. And it is very difficult now to find a Charlemagne or Akbar, although there are plenty of politicians willing to pretend to be wise and just and to wield the sword of state in the interests of the people.

The rest of Mill's essay is here: http://www.utilitarianism.com/ol/one.html


NASA and human space flight: what the 2009 Augustine Commission found

I listened through the deliberation videos at


One thing that fascinated me was the way the Commissioners danced around the never-asked question, "Has the NASA Standing Army net Redeeming Social Value?"

One of the Commissioners kept asking whether we really want to abandon "the things we do well" -- like making big, segmented, man-rated solid rocket boosters and high-pressure/high-cost/low-durability staged-combustion hydrogen-oxygen rocket motors (and ok, while he was clearly talking about those capabilities, he didn't describe them in quite exactly those terms) -- and either develop from scratch, or buy from the Russians, things the Russians do well, like hydrocarbon-oxygen rocket motors.

No one seemed to entertain the possibility that the main thing to learn from our experience with both those technologies is, "Don't do that! It's bloody expensive and it never works right! And I know you're already doing that, but you gotta STOP!"

And yet, in discussing the horrific implications of maintaining the NASA Standing Army for the budget -- to wit: if you maintain the Army, there's no money left to do anything else -- they did, just a couple or three times, almost whimsically, as if they were daydreaming, mention that if they cut back the Army, even just a little, there actually *might* be some money available to do something else. But those daydreams were instantly dismissed as being disruptive of the NASA organization, having adverse economic impacts on the Congressional Districts in which the facilities to be cut back are located, being demoralizing to the Highly Competent and Experienced Current Workforce (both civil-servant and contractor), etc. etc.

It was really comical, if you're into Schadenfreude: even with the budget plumped up a bit, over and above the budgetary ceilings imposed by the Commission's Charter and Guidance documents, they couldn't get the man-rated solid-rocket-booster-based "Ares I" -- whose sole reason for existence is to take crew to the Space Station -- flying until either just a year before the Space Station gets splashed or -- and this really had me laughing out loud -- a year *after* The Plan calls for the Station to get splashed.

On a more hopeful note, I noticed something that the Telegraph.co.uk article linked from Mail of Thurs 10 Sep 2009, namely, that the Commission planned to use "Commercial Off-The-Shelf" crew transport to the Station, and in some scenarios to bring crew to orbit for the larger NASA-developed Orion crew module, which would be launched separately on non-man-rated heavy-lift boosters. The Commissioners did not mention the SpaceX Dragon crew-transport module by name, but it was clear to me that that's what they were talking about.

Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com


Lorentz thruster 


Regarding the post on the Lorentz thruster:

(1) The Lorentz thruster, also called the magnetoplasmadynamic thruster http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Magnetoplasmadynamic_thruster_  which uses EM fields (via F = qE + qv x B where F is the force on a particle, q the particle electric charge, E the electric field, v the particle velocity and B the magnetic field), to propel charged particles. It's conceptually similar to O'Neal's mass driver in operations, except with atomized particles, and thus can achieve specific impulses in excess of 10,000 seconds (one scheme I've seen claims the potential of 50,000 second specific impulse). The technology is non-thermal and of high intrinsic energy efficiency, but correspondingly requires nuclear fission power densities (and the accompanying electrical conversion efficiency losses) to achieve the significant thrust levels. I would like to see much more done to demonstrate this technology.

(2) That said, tying this to Mach's principle...my first thought from previous efforts people have taken to sell me on Mach's principle is "scam."


Indeed. I now recall that Bob Forward supported research into the Lorentz Thruster. I had not previously seen it associated with Mach's principle, and they may be entirely unrelated.

Every now and then I toy with ideas about the Mach principle, but I've never seen anything come of them -- just as it would be interesting to see an experiment that determined the true propagation speed of a gravity change event. One suspects one knows the result, but --




This morning on Fox News, I saw an advertisement on Michigan government services for relocating businesses, emphasizing helping IT businesses relocate to the state from California.


Imagine my astonishment...


The power to mandate health insurance purchases 

 I can now declare myself satisfied. The worthy Christian Science Monitor has published a piece on the question of whether the Feds can mandate individual purchases. I know, they'll just do it, and the courts will just let them. But at least it was discussed.

> Many liberals lambasted the Bush administration on detention policy and > warrantless surveillance, often arguing that they violated the > Constitution. Now the Obama administration is pushing ahead with plans > to require every American to purchase health insurance. > > Doesn't that also violate the Constitution?


Andy Valencia


Adding some perspective:

Marcus, Ted Sturgeon, and being introduced to your food before dinner - 

I am afraid I have a somewhat morbid sense of humor and would not have had a problem eating dinner after the introduction. As a survialist, would you have been ok with raising chickens and pigs and/or hunting a deer for food and the other sundries available naturally only from animals?


I had no problem eating the rabbit that Ted killed as I watched and Wina cooked for our dinner. And while I don't hunt now, I certainly hunted for the kitchen during World War II.


Obesity as an epidemic, 

It ain't always what it seems.

I am obese. No sense in arguing it. I am.

I am also bitterly amused when some well-meaning meddler says something akin to, "Don't you want to live long enough to see your granchildren?"

I am obese because I eat more calories than I exercise off. I accept that I am unlikely, for a number of reasons, to become seriously old. (I also accept that in any reasonable form of rationing, I could be denied treatment within the next 10 - 20 years. I don't like it, will likely fight it, but I accept it could happen.)

But there are extenuating circimstances. I developed a critical illness in my late 20's. Before that I swam, hiked, biked, played volleyball and softball. (I bowled,too, but never really considered that exercise.) After, I couldn' t walk to the end of my driveway without ending up in ER. I was expected to die by age 40, (I'm still kicking,) and was on seriously high doses of steroids all the time. (I got fat.) Now I am much healthier, (still alive,) mostly eat healthy food, have grandkids, and still take medicines that help increase weight without being able to seriously exercise. I am content to keep a stable weight even with serious downstream side effects of the steroids, other meds, and the weight gain. Even my doctor, when starting to give the standard talk about losing weight and exercising more, stopped, grinned a lopsided grin, and said that he forgot himself for a moment. He knewI do what I can for exercise and once had me supervised for a couple weeks before accepting that it cost me more pain than gain. ( I think going from the physical therapy gym to ER a few times convinced him.)

I have kinda given up on ever being thin again and I do not try so hard as I once did. But, I could have been a thin corpse or a fat grandmother. I chose the latter.

I just don't want to be instantly judged as lazy, undisciplined, or not worth medical treatment because of my weight.

On a related note: I LOVE those crunched down sidewalk crossings. Even walking, with my limitations, I greatly appreciate not having to teeter off curbs and try and bring my legs up the curb without falling. Oh I agree they are more costly than deserves the expense just now, but many people with limitations don't LOOK like it. New sidewalks can and ought to be built with the dip at the end. Old ones being repaired should have it done. Sidewalks in the main public areas ought to have them. Even if the only benificiary is the young mother with a stroller it is good. They don't have to be retrofitted immediately but it costs little to add that civility when the sidewalks are being built or refurbished. I live in an area where I am paying an extra tax on my property for the changes to the roads and sidewalks that accompanied my home being built. The city felt it wasn't "fair" to have the current residents help bear the burden of new growth, even though they did build the "old city". Fifteen years from now the additional debt for the sidewalks and a great many other items most people expect to come along with their normal taxes will be paid off. My monthly fee to maintain the roads, sidewalks, parks, water delivery system, schools, etc. will continue even though the facilities are considered public and in use by many who do not pay. This in addition to the taxes everyone else pays.

I hear your general positions, and mostly agree. I simply don't want to forget that the details may shed a different light on many particular cases.

V/r, Rose

I was overweight -- some would say obese, 232 pounds at maximum -- before the cancer radiation treatments. It seems easier to say thinner (190) now.


The greatest Son of Martha has passed on.

 Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, passed away last weekend.  His obituary ran on CNN's front page for a bit over 24 hours.  It never made the 'title graphic' page.

 He is conservatively estimated to have saved 1.2 billion lives over the course of his career.  He was honored with the Nobel Prize, and several medals in his life.

 Michael Jackson got three weeks of unrelenting news coverage, and a taxpayer funded funerary procession in LA, and a bodily viewing in the Staples Center.

 I can think of no more fitting tribute to Dr. Borlaug than words Kipling wrote.


The Sons of Martha



Ken Burnside


Immigration raids yield jobs for legal workers - USATODAY.com


Dear Jerry:

One thing we've noticed on book tours is that all the hotel maids now speak English and most seem to be Anglo.


Francis Hamit

But aren't those all jobs Americans won't do?





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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An aside on the health care debate.


There is much implicit and explicit criticism of the obese, the alcoholic, and the smoker on the grounds that they place an unfair burden on the healthcare costs of those who have healthier lifestyles. On the other hand the unhealthy lifestylers obligingly die relatively young which saves the healthy, who do not die young, protracted pension and geriatric treatment costs. Also, at least in the UK, the smoker and drinker pay heavy taxes on their vices. I wonder if anyone has done a study of these costs? I can see a wonderful future where a free big mac voucher is given away with every bottle of whiskey or carton of cigarettes. The cost being met from the social service budget.




Yes they have. Frequently.

You confuse mortality and morbidity.

Actually, smokers (for example) die only about two years earlier than non-smokers, but become unwell (and so an economic burden) about 10 years before they peg out. Others become unwell on average 2 years before the final curtain (though some lucky types manage to polish off a large lunch just hours before lights out).

Obese types succumb to Type 2 diabolicase quite early on in life, with a range of expensive consequences.

Sorry, John, beware the powers of rationalisation.

David Perry

Once one starts discerning other people's interests, the task is endless.

What would we call the government commission whose task it is to encourage fatal practices and choices? What budget shall it have?


thoughts on reading Lemay original biograhphy


1. Too many people go to college today 2. college should be reserved for serious subjects - engineering, physics, math, chemistry, etc. 3. It's too easy to go to college 4. dumb/marginal people in college are influenced by smart people with dumb ideas (I.E. socialism)

Not what you would expect I would get from reading Lemay? I just observed what he went through, and the people he met along the way.

PS: "The Forgotten Man" is really good. The further I get into it, the more interesting it gets. I read it on my iphone/kindle whenever I have a few moments.


One way we could save a great deal of money is to restrict public support to some given number of majors in departments like Sociology, Womyn's Studies, Black Studies, etc. The original notion of Federal Aid to Education (remember pre-Sputnik when we didn't have any?) was to promote the sciences and thus increase national security. It's not clear to me how national security is helped by having more social science graduates.

I had more to say on this in my essay on the Voodoo Sciences.

Liberal Education may be a great idea, but surely no more than 10% of the population needs that? The rest might better engage in learning something more directly useful.

I am pleased to report that a number of subscribers seem to be profiting from on-line technical courses in physics and mathematics. It's possible to learn things out there. Hard work, but it can be done.

For those whose mathematical skills have rusted, I can recommend either an introductory calculus course (even if you had all that stuff before!) or just working through Calculus Made Easy. Calculus can be very useful once one is sufficiently familiar with using it. So can learning University Physics: not that you'll be firing off cannon balls, but learning the physics approach of using mathematics is very practical. As I have observed before, many of the best analysts I knew when I was working the systems analysis game had been physics majors as undergraduates. It encourages a very useful way of thinking about the world. And the MIT on line courses are FREE and wonderful. You can also get textbooks.


Revealed: The ghost fleet of the recession anchored just east of Singapore | Mail Online

The biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history lies at anchor east of Singapore. Never before photographed, it is bigger than the U.S. and British navies combined but has no crew, no cargo and no destination - and is why your Christmas stocking may be on the light side this year

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/


Subj: Methane-Oxygen Rocketry: Test Results at Simulated Altitude Conditions


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

Max Hunter preferred propane, largely on operations grounds. Methane in sufficient purity is difficult to find. Propane has a small performance hit, but the logistics are a lot better.

Our DC/X used hydrogen because the Centaur engines were available; but the operations of the DC/X made it clear that hydrogen has too high an operations price. In the early days of the space program we went for performance driven systems; but over time it has become clear that for single stage to orbit systems we need to have operations driven designs.


Subject: Why Capitalism Fails

 Here is an interesting blurb on Hyman Minsky's economic theories:


 Seems like he predicted the great crash pretty well...

 CP, Connecticut

I have always found Minsky's analysis compelling. The temptation to take greater and greater risks, the ever growing instabilities, seem very real to me. David McCord Wright, my favorite economist, thought that anti-trust laws to prevent the consolidation of industries -- and thus prevent creation of firms so big they cannot be alllowed to fail -- was vital to the preservation of capitalism.

I have always believed that, and I think Minsky's analysis shows its importance. I panic every time I hear that one big company has bought out another. I do not think this trend of buying the competition is healthy at all, and it makes for terrible instabilities. We need far more vigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws. It's one thing for a company to grow by serving its customers well. It's quite another to allow growth by buying up the competition.

I think that any company too big to fail ought to be broken up before it can fail. (But on this, see below.)



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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Virus statistics


Does the team have anything on virus/malware statistics (perhaps for the next letters)?

I just updated Ad-Aware and it looks like they're adding north of 100K new theat items per month.


Dan Spisak answers:

Virii are not malware per se but the line can certainly blur.



How often virus vendors software is updated:


Independent AV testing & comparison:


On the whole, it's Malware that is on the rise, not traditional viruses. And frankly malware acts a lot like viruses in its end effects to a users computer so the distinction is there but the A/V vendors see it all as threats to your computing environment.

-Dan S.

The bottom line is that there are more attacks, and they are getting more sophisticated. You can now be infected simply by reading the New York Times on line. See yesterday's warning.


Security Expert Rick Hellewell adds:

The problem is not necessarily the number of viruses (malware) out there, it is that the malware is more targeted and subtle. Although there are vulnerabilities in the operating system, the biggest problem is how the malware is presented.

for example, the pop-up windows advising you of virus infections (such as what probably hit Roberta's computer) looks very realistic and valid. When you get one of those windows, the unwary user may just believe it, and click on the 'OK' button to 'fix' things. That is what will get the initial infection of a program that will allow the download of additional malware.

The malware you get may be as simple as just allowing your computer to relay spam mail. But, increasingly, the malware is more subtle. For instance, the malware may just wait around for you to go into your on-line banking site and then it will grab your banking credentials. That will allow the malware to start draining your bank account with wire transfers to 'money mules'

This is very lucrative for the attacker. Brian Krebs, who writes the "Security Fix" column for the Washington Post, has detailed businesses losing five-six figures or more from these types of attacks. And the banks are very reluctant to help you recover your money. In fact, some victims won't get any help from their bank until they agree not to sue the bank for the improper transfers. (See Brian Krebs blogs in his column here http://voices.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/  about this type of attack, and the problems recovering the stolen funds.)

And then there is the attacks via the ad-serving aggregators, who don't always do a very good job ensuring the validity of some of their clients. (Such as the attack via ads from the New York Times last weekend.)

So the users need to be very careful about responding to any warnings about viruses, or clicking anywhere. It doesn't matter which OS or web browser you are using. If you click on a button that installs software, and then you let the software install, you will probably have problems.

Regards, Rick

Note well. And if you did not see the warning over in View, go have a look. It's dangerous out there and you can be infected from many places you would not suspect, including from popup advertisements on otherwise safe sites, such as the New York Times.


Companies too Big to Fail

You write: "I think that any company too big to fail ought to be broken up before it can fail."

This seems like a pretty good idea to me in general, but I wonder about some specific cases. Should Boeing be more than one company? Could we have two or more airliner builders that could compete with Airbus?

What about defense contractors? If they make critical products, we surely don't want them to fail.

If we wanted several makers of fighters to survive and maintain the pool of expertise to develop fighters, would we have to buy small production runs of several different jet fighters with similar mission requirements on a ongoing basis? This seems like an expensive proposition.

How about submarines?

-- Mike Johns

I completely agree that the application needs care. I am more concerned with preventing things from getting worse: that is, paying a lot more attention to acquisitions. Companies that grow by serving their customers are, in my judgment, in a different position from those who grow by buying up the opposition, and by forming conglomerate trusts; and companies that actually build things like airliners are in a difference position from those which package financial instruments and bundle up loan packages and market derivatives.

Any implementation of the policy would have to be carefully designed. In general, I would say that it is probably in the national interest to keep a number of defense technology development companies in business. A series of x-project contracts might suffice. I can conceive of small production run contracts as well. In The Strategy of Technology we developed what we called "The R&D Deterrent" which does precisely that: rather than build up a large weapons inventory, we compete by building small numbers of weapons systems with the latest technologies, thus retaining the ability to ramp up at need. Again this is not trivially easy, but good strategies are seldom trivially easy.

We also subsidize national arsenals; that has sometimes worked, and sometimes has not. Preserving the capability for manufacturing the instruments of defense while keeping a competitive environment intact has never been easy. When World War II began, though, the transformation to a war economy was far more rapid than anyone had imagined it would be. GM went from building cars to Jeeps and tanks in short order.

I think we could develop guidelines for implementing the general principle: companies too big to fail must be broken into companies whose failure won't ruin the lot of us; nor should such companies be allowed to form through acquisition of other companies.



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Friday,  September 18, 2009

Carbon dioxide 

Dr. Pournelle,

You asked:

“One hesitates to accuse the President of falsehood, but does he really believe that Carbon Dioxide is a pollutant?”

This is one case where the President is on firm legal ground. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that Carbon Dioxide is in a pollutant and subject regulation by the EPA in April of 2007.

A NYT summary: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/03/

The actual court ruling: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/

Apart from the ruling itself, there was considerable debate about whether there was a legitimate plaintiff.

However the law may view carbon dioxide, scientifically and philosophically the idea that it is a “pollutant” is Nonsense on Stilts. While CO2 is a waste product for animals, it is essential for photosynthesis in plants. Has anyone explained to the learned Justices that plants must be “polluted” in order to grow?

Like tax rates, reasonable people can rationally debate the proper level of atmospheric CO2. Declaring it a pollutant irrationally sets the proper level to zero.

You also asked:

“Does he not know that he emits CO2 with every breath?”

Global warming alarmism is an aspect of modern Nature Worship. Exhaling Carbon Dioxide is the moral equivalent of Original Sin.

Steve Chu

If the law supposes that, the law is a ass -- a idiot...


Apple sends iPhones into 'Coma Mode' 


You are not alone in your iPhone troubles:


"The problems being reported are legion. They include iPhones becoming totally unresponsive, dropped calls, poor battery life, difficulties with Wi-Fi connections, failed Microsoft Exchange syncing, dead GPS service, loss of signal after syncing, tethering no longer working in "legally" unlocked phones outside the US, and more.

"It should, of course, be noted that on some message boards there's an "everything's fine with mine" post for every complaint - and we've experienced no problems with OS 3.1 on our iPhone 3GS - but the sheer volume of problems being reported can't be ignored."

My iPod is functional (we are not supposed to bring cell phones into the buildings where I work). Thank goodness.


Actually now that I have fixed the DNS of its network connections my iPhone is working quite well as a pocket computer. It's also a good phone except when I am home. When my cell phone was a Cingular it worked just fine here at Chaos Manor. Then AT&T bought Cingular, and I went into a nearly dead zone. Not quite dead. I get two or even three bars in some parts of the house; but they're not consistent and it's not reliable. There seems to be no way to make AT&T restore the service. I think they must have "consolidated" cell towers and shut down the one that served my house.

I have no evidence that AT&T cares about anyone except its executives. When it was a Regulated Public Service AT&T took pride in providing reliable dial tone everywhere in the nation. I see no evidence that it takes pride in anything except bonuses to its executives now. The breakup of The Phone Company with the resulting destruction of Bell Labs was supposed to show how deregulation would work to make everyone better off. Perhaps so, but then AT&T was allowed to buy up all the competition and become a near monopoly again -- now it is an Unregulated Public Utility, Bell Labs is gone, and the service doesn't seem to be improving.

The iPhone works, but the worst part of the iPhone is the AT&T monopoly.


universal health care and childhood's end.

I hear little about the effect of the many billions of health care dollars spent on illegals who default. I also hear little about the high cost of maintaining AIDS patients, or those with other sexually transmitted diseases. On the other hand, we are hearing quite a bit about the burden of smokers, drinkers, the sedentary, and the obese on health care costs. Though I rarely hear anyone suggest that we send illegals back, as a cost saving measure, or restrict the activities of gay men and drug users, I hear quite a bit about how unhealthy substances and unhealthy lifestyles should be restricted, taxed, or banned in order to help contain medical costs. We even hear rumors, vigorously denied, that perhaps older people should just do the right thing and lay down and die, saving us all the great expense of keeping them alive. The reason I bring the comparison up, is that it indicates that the real agenda is not about cost containment at all – this could be accomplished without the sort of heavy handed measures being proposed. It is about something else.

Much of the argument about lifestyles, and healthcare reminds me a bit of the old parental admonition “As long as you live in my house, you will live by my rules.” This is generally directed at teen aged offspring, when they seek more independence than a parent feels comfortable granting. It is thus, a parental attempt to regain a hold over a situation in which they are losing control. Such an argument only has strength, if the son or daughter in question has no choice in the matter, due to age or income.

So, when did we become dependent lodgers in someone else’s house, and when did we become children again? Well, it happens a little bit every decade; but passage of universal health care will be a big step. We see a considerable amount of this in government regulation already, with medicines being heavily regulated, and many recreational substances, being outlawed or greatly restricted. So there is already a precedent of sorts; but universal health care will be different. It will help assure that we are truly not living in our own house, and will have no place else to go.

Generally, when defending drug laws, the case is made that drug use is a great catalyst towards crime. When restricting firearms, a similar argument is usually made, as well as an argument that we are all too stupid and cowardly to effectively defend ourselves, and guard against accidental shootings – thus endangering our neighbors. Cigarettes, we are told, unfairly put the health of others at risk with second hand smoke. Interestingly, almost all of these arguments have been pretty much discredited. The exception is the link between drugs and crime, though even here, there is evidence that much of this is due to the effect of the drug laws, and the culture that they spawn. Interestingly, in each case, these laws are defended on the grounds that they prevent us from interfering with the rights and freedoms of others, and are justified as a defense against these infringements.

Universal healthcare is different, because it does not presume to protect others from our actions. Rather, it presumes to control our actions as a natural function of government. We thus become chattel. There is nothing new about this. Slaves, serfs, and indentured people have been around for millennia. Such states are entered into through lack of wealth and lack of choice – two things that all of the health plans on the table seem to promise.

People on both sides of the argument kind of half know what it is really about. I think this is why things get so shrill at times. It is an adult saying “I am all grown up and can make my own decisions.” Versus a domineering parent demanding “As long as you are in my house, you live by my rules.” Anyone who has ever been a teen-ager, or had teen aged children knows how shrill such arguments can get.

Of course, some people prefer an extended childhood. Why not just stay at home with mom and dad? Don’t worry about the bills, doing the laundry, cooking, or advancing in a career. Most of us know someone in their mid thirties or so, who still lives with mom and dad, has no life – and probably never will. Certain types of parents permit or encourage this, because they like to feel needed, or perhaps because they need to be in charge, and never really allowed their children to grow up. There is collusion here, of course.

The stunted maturity, passivity, and lack of freedom of such a grown child is the price for a life of little responsibility or accountability. There is a similar collusion between the failed, who expect much in exchange for little, and their presumptive rulers, who are only too happy to promise anything, as long as they are permitted to rule without interference. We already have a huge dysfunctional population, thanks to such governmental “help”. Each side sees itself as the master; but it is not too difficult to figure out who is really in charge - the Eloi and the Morlocks come to mind. For myself, I would rather remain a human, an adult, and make my own decisions.

Neal Pritchett

Of course that is the essence of the debate: are we citizens or subjects? Citizens may use the government to create institutions for their convenience, and in doing that create legal rights; but citizens have an acute understanding of the differences between rights and Entitlements.

Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free. But a Republic takes work. Fascism, with a competent Leader, is very attractive to some, particularly if the Leader's title is correct and many of the forms of a Republic remain. After all, Mussolini was Prime Minister as well as Il Duce (and of course Leader of the Fascist Party). Huey Long was Governor of Louisiana. Both had their advocates and supporters, quite possibly a majority  for much of their careers. Peron was highly popular, particularly while Evita lived. Franco had his supporters. Franco accepted most of the premises of Italian Fascism including the Marxist analysis of the inevitability of class warfare and the Fascist solution of requiring the classes to cooperate by putting the state above them all. Everything for the state. Nothing against the state. Nothing outside the state.

Fascism under a competent Leader works pretty well. Dictatorship under a competent dictator works pretty well. Claudius, himself a Republican, built the mechanisms of Empire for Rome, and ruled quite competently. But after Claudius came Nero. Argentine got Peron who took Argentina from near Great Power status down to near banana republic status. Napoleon reformed France, gave it codified laws  and a legal system that exist to this day, and left a legacy so popular that despite the destruction of the Empire his nephew was able to win the Presidency of the Second Republic and convert it to the Second Empire without a civil war.

But the only attraction of Fascism is the capability of the Leader. Hitler recovered the Rhineland, ended the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty, brought in Austria to the Third Reich (the First being the Holy Roman Empire, the Second Bismark's Germany under the Kaiser). Hitler claimed to have ended the tyranny of the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648. Germans understood what that mean. Mussolini seemed competent.

The alternative to Fascism is the Philadelphia Constitution. The Constitution of 1789 left most of these matters to the states. If a state wanted to establish a religion it could do so. If it wanted to end primogeniture, it could do so. If it wanted to institute 100% inheritance taxes it could do so. If it wanted to institute an income tax it could do so. Those were not permitted to the Federal Government, but the states were free to experiment so long as they kept "a republican form of government" which mostly mean no kings or hereditary government posts.

That, we know, works;  it did so for two hundred years. I would not call most of that time a period of childhood. We do seem determined to end that form of government.

Fascist states have thrived but not for anywhere near that long. We now seek to establish a centralized national state with socialist principles, but not formal nationalization of industries and the means of production. The social classes will be required to work together. We will not call it a Fascist state, but Huey Long would have.


too big to fail

Dr Pournelle,

"I think we could develop guidelines for implementing the general principle: companies too big to fail must be broken into companies whose failure won't ruin the lot of us; nor should such companies be allowed to form through acquisition of other companies. "

What really allows them to form in the first place? Could it be because we regulate everything to the point where only the large companies who can hire herds of lawyers are able to make it? Maybe we should start by going to a fair marketplace that allows companies to compete by the merits of their product and not so much by their lobbying power.

Also, who should decide what constitutes too big? Should we form some new cabinet position or agency? Wouldn't the Iron Law soon take hold?

Matt Kirchner

And of course the huge companies understand this all very well, and do not oppose onerous regulations. It is part of the principle Adam Smith warned us of: whenever two capitalists get together, the inevitably conspire to use government to restrict the entry of new competitors into their business.

Why is anyone surprised?


Subject: Appreciation

Hi Jerry:

I've written you in the past and mentioned that I'm closer to a liberal than you. I read your column and mail for its many interesting ideas. I do often disagree politically with your observations, but the rational approach to discussion you use really helps provide me with balance.

In particular, I liked " *Fascism, Socialism, and Freedom* " because it was clear, factual, and provided the balance I seek.

I recommend your column to others. The only way we might ever return to a rational debate/discussion of politics in this country is to listen to each other. Factual discussion of views, with backing links and information such as you provide is perhaps the best example I have to show others what the discussion can look like.

Also, you have caused me to change my views on several things, and to question others. This is as I feel it should be.

Thank you. Mike Riddle

Thank you. That of course is the purpose here.


Pathos In A Greek Tragi-Comedy 


Nothing profound. The denizens at the UC Berkely franchise of the Jurassic Park School of Higher Education have been in perma-rage over California state funding cuts for a year now. And Quelle Surprise! their tired old 60s antics are drawing almost no attention. Except from local law enforcement. The children and grandchildren of 1960s era police are still arresting rowdy protesters occupying administrative offices. But without creating media martyrs.

Their latest twitter is over the wisdom of a 9-24-09 professors' strike, or a teach-in.

Personally I wish it were in my power to give them the massive media exposure they crave. I can't think of a better way to accelerate political and educational change than broadcasting their spoiled juvenile brat attitudes that providing unlimited money without strings should become Flyover Country's responsibility. (they largely accept that the local CA middle class is squeezed dry).



I know despair is a sin, but


Yesterday, you said "I think that any company too big to fail ought to be broken up before it can fail." I could not agree more.

We were told that Obama was the most liberal Senator in the Congress. In an earlier life, I was a liberal (mea culpa). The sixties liberal sentiment was "power to the people;" we were opposed to "giant corporations" and monopolies.

Thus, it was disconcerting when the companies that were "too big to fail" did indeed fail. The Obama administration did not simply let them fail, which is what old-fashioned liberals would have done. Rather, Obama kept them in place, propped them up with taxpayer money, and put the White House in charge of them. That is not Liberalism as we once knew it, I think it is Fascism.

In any event, it seems like the Democrats are the party of big government and the Republicans are the party of big industry. And the freedoms and opportunities of the ordinary little people are being extinguished by those giants.

Russ Armstrong

Americans get the government they want, and they get it good and hard. We could take back our government, but it appears to be more work than my generation was willing to put out. Perhaps the next. At least we can keep the debate alive. See above.


Re: Lorentz Thrusters

Actually, Lorentz thrusters have been in use for a long time now. The Russians use them on just about everything they build, but the USA is starting to do it too (Hughes designs often use it, and Lockheed is using it on their AEHF.)

As emailer Jim points out, it’s high-efficiency but low-thrust, and thrust scales directly with power used. This is the kind of thruster that you turn on and leave running for a long time—or you use a nuclear reactor to power it. (Which explains why the Russians liked it so much, but we didn’t use it. It’s amazing how much easier it is to power a space vehicle when you can get away with not telling anyone that you’re launching nuclear reactors!)


Yes; actually I saw Lorentz thrusters at Bob Forward's Hughes Laboratory a very long time ago; I had forgotten that was what they were called. It was the invocation of Mach principle that confused me. As I said above. both Feynman and Forward thought there was something to learn from the Mach principle but neither had any useful ideas on how it might have a practical application; and as our correspondents have made clear, most invocations of Mach principle in rocketry are usually snake oil. Alas.


'Mechanics of Materials' Textbook Published Online, Available for Free

There are at least two good reasons to check out Madhukar Vable's undergraduate textbook 'Mechanics of Materials.'

1. You can find out lots of interesting stuff: e.g., how good engineering actually saved thousands of lives in the World Trade Center attacks, why it only took three hours for the unsinkable Titanic to sink.

2. It's free.


Bill Shields


Stories about privacy in the Guardian 

The Tories have decided to bell the cat: <http://tinyurl.com/n5xu7e

Jenni Russell's comments <http://tinyurl.com/onkvgt

Simon Davies's comments <http://tinyurl.com/paq459

Dominic Grieve's comment <http://tinyurl.com/rbp4pj

The Met's new approach to policing protest is described as 'surreal' <http://tinyurl.com/p37orp > . We will see just how surreal early next week.

-- Harry Erwin


Getting your priorities straight 

UK Trades Union Congress takes a stand against high-heeled shoes: <http://tinyurl.com/m9fumd >  <http://tinyurl.com/lhh6a8>  <http://tinyurl.com/qeo3d7

And then listened to the Prime Minister admit cuts in expenditure will be needed: <http://tinyurl.com/qlv6ed>  <http://tinyurl.com/ks5ezq>.  (Quiet cuts have already been made--the approval rate for research grant proposals has dropped to about 10%.)

Trapped mail: <http://tinyurl.com/m5y469

-- Harry Erwin


On the ACORN videos:

Finally, but not enough: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/
2009/sep/16/acorn-suspends-plans-audit-wake-videos/  It's astonishing to me how ACORN has dealt with this, and I think it needs an explanation. Within a day of the first video, the leaders of ACORN must have done Discovery: "Listen, everyone in ACORN. Tell us if you met O'Keefe and Giles. Tell us exactly what you said to them. _There is no point in trying to cover it up_; every word you said is going to be on the web within the next week or two." That means that ACORN knew within the first day exactly how many offices were visited, and exactly what number of them said egregious things. I don't know those numbers, but ACORN did. Obviously the second number is at least 4 (at latest count), and obviously that's enough to cripple or destroy ACORN's government connections.

Question 1: Given all that: Why didn't ACORN institute damage control immediately? Why didn't they say, immediately: "As near as we can tell, seven (or whatever) of our offices were visited, and videotaped aiding and abetting criminal activity. This is incredible and horrific! Four locations where employees were willing to aid and abet criminals and slavery!? We are humiliated and devastated. We _clearly_ have a systemic problem that must be dealt with immediately. We are going to start right now. We are not just going to fire the individuals involved, we are going to work over the whole organization from top to bottom so that this will never happen again. And we want independent auditing to keep this honest. We have always been a wonderful organization, and we want to be one again..." Didn't they know how bad things were going to get? How could they not know it? What _sense_ does it make to issue idiotic statements like, The films were doctored, or These people tried this in a lot of places and were thrown out - statements which inevitably are proving to be false. Or, This is a right-wing smear job, so please don't pay attention to the content of the video. Pathetic.

Question 2: Is there any way to understand this which doesn't show ACORN to be too _incompetent_ to receive any government money at all? Why did they do this?

Humble Suggestion: ACORN must have a culture which rendered this kind of response almost impossible. They know well that very many of their employees don't consider these kinds of twilight activities to be wrong. They work in the ghetto, and this is how they work. The government and its laws are essentially considered the Other, and their goal is to get their people some of the Other's money. That (to their minds) is their service; _not_ changing behaviors. The ACORN leaders know that it would be incredibly demoralizing to their entire organization to denounce, and try to root out, something which is part and parcel of what the organization is.


Your analysis of the ACORN culture may well be correct. I don't know any of them.


Space program or jobs program?

Your correspondent Rod Montgomery on the Augustine committee's last public meeting. Their summary report has been published, and I would recommend reading it (it's only 12 pages). It's available here: <http://www.nasa.gov/offices/hsf/home/index.html

Direct link:   <http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/384767main_

As politicians pointed out at recent hearing, the summary report says little about workforce issues. This is the closest it comes:

"The right mission and the right size: NASA’s budget should match its mission and goals. Further, NASA should be given the ability to shape its organization and infrastructure accordingly, while maintaining facilities deemed to be of national importance." (page 11)

The full report will address more fully the jobs impacts of the various options. Some of the politicians at the U.S. House Committee

on Science and Technology briefing yesterday certainly seemed to put jobs in their districts as #1 priority.

In more encouraging news:

Armadillo Aerospace Makes Record-Breaking Rocket Flights to Qualify for $1 Million NASA PRIZE Presented by X PRIZE Foundation.


This is very much the spiritual successor to DC-X - the videos there must prompt some memories for you.

John Carmack of AA has provided a more technical update here:   <http://www.armadilloaerospace.com/

Most encouraging bit is the last line: "Coming Up: higher altitude boosted hops, scientific payloads, more rocket racer flights, and multi-module configurations."

Note AA's concept for sub-orbital and orbital work is to strap multiple identical modules together. The "Scorpius" was one of these modules.




More on CO2 Offset Kiosks

Dr. Pournelle --

"Watts Up with That" has an interesting item on the kiosks at SFO:


"According to the San Francisco Chronicle <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/09/17/MNO719OQN8.DTL>  , the SFO airport has now installed carbon offset purchase kiosks so that you can remove the guilt from your flight. Only one problem. The carbon offsets sold by kiosk sell at a rate that is about 60 times what carbon credits are actually selling for on the market now."

People profiting from global warming? Who would have thought it? Oh, yeah ..., you. Dead on, Sir, as usual.




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This week:


read book now


Saturday, September 19, 2009

International Talk Like A Pirate Day


C02 as pollutant

Dear Dr Pournelle,

in regards to C02 fertilising plants: I feel compelled to point out that this is also true of other human and animal byproducts, which I trust you would have no difficulty classifying as pollutants. Or do you perhaps believe that the state should get out of the sewer-regulating business, on the grounds that human waste cannot be a pollutant?

In any case, nobody is arguing for the abolition of C02, and you do yourself no favours by speaking as though someone had. The question is whether we can afford to release the carbon reserves locked up in fossil fuels. When humans breathe, the C02 is used by some plant to make cellulose or otherwise run its metabolism; this process is in rough equilibrium, at any given time, between plant and animal biomass. Animal life exists only because a lot of carbon is locked away as plant biomass; in the 'natural', lifeless state of the atmosphere, there would be no free oxygen. (Surely you must know this from your world-building exercises?) Releasing the carbon locked in fossil fuels - in effect, plants which have been subducted, as in your plan for radioactive waste - puts a finger on one side of this scale. It may be that the finger is not large, relative to the size of the scale; that remains to be measured. But to argue that, because a chemical process is in (dynamic) equilibrium, there can be no effect from adding more of one of the chemicals involved, is a beginner's mistake.


Rolf Andreassen.

I don't recall mentioning CO2 fertilizing plants, and I don't quite follow your logic here. If no one is arguing for the abolition of CO2 then what is Cap and Trade for? And why the kiosks to let one atone for the CO2 created by one's airplane trip?

The dose makes the poison. The question is how much CO2 is being added to the atmosphere? Certainly the percentage is rising, and I don't know anyone who thinks that trend ought to continue forever; but what cost reduction? And who will pay that cost?

As to the proportions of CO2 and oxygen, the one is measured in parts per million, the other in percentages.

CO2 levels are part of an equilibrium, and the cycle is not entirely understood. The question is whether the rising CO2 levels are dangerous, and what that danger is. The analogy with sewage doesn't seem particularly relevant. Perhaps I am unusually thick headed today.


Disputed Solar Energy Project in California Desert Is Dropped


A proposed solar energy project in the California desert that caused intense friction between environmentalists and the developers of renewable energy has been shelved.

I'm starting to get the feeling, that if scientists figured out how to harness zero point energy, some people would say it was harmful to the environment. If there is anyplace on Earth, where solar power makes sense, this is the place.

Joel Upchurch


Subject: Why health care costs are soaring.


This opinion piece suggests that Byzantine pricing of procedures is part of the problem. Depending on who is paying, the cost of a colonoscopy can ran from $450 to $10,000. In this example, patients paying out of pocket (no insurance) get the worst deal, the government gets the best, and private insurers fall in the middle.


I've encountered this kind of ripoff myself. A relative was once advised by a pain clinic to have acupuncture. They said it could be done by any competent acupuncturist, but suggested that for convenience, they could do the procedure at the clinic (which was part of the hospital). When the bill came back, it was billed as a surgical procedure. With all the hospital fees added in, it came to over $600. The acupuncturist in the strip mall would have done the same treatment for $50. In this case, we protested the bill, and they adjusted the charges downward somewhat. But it was clearly a case of the clinic or hospital trying to nail someone with good insurance for every penny they could extract.

I've had a rather skeptical view of hospital pricing ever since. This article only confirms what I had already suspected.

CP, Connecticut

So perhaps we should put the crackerjack federal teams to work on fixing it? We all know dozens of stories like this one. The question is who should have the power to do something?

My general principle is transparency and responsibility. Making this arcana more transparent helps. Given the health care customer some choices would help more. The problem is that the patient is not the customer in the present system.


Jerry, I doubt I'm the first to post this...

You wrote: "I am sure, for instance, that there is an easy way to close the tab you are looking at in Internet Explorer, but I don't know what it is."

Ctrl-W will close the currently open tab.

John Morales

Thanks. Works in Firefox too. I'm getting used to IE, but Firefox has all those neat add-ons.

I have a number of letters on this, and I'll put up several at another time as part of a large discussion.


The argument has been made that keeping large companies in business preserves skills of the tech workers. Back in the 60s & 70s there were a lot more contractors, and manufacturers in the US. I once discussed with my brother, who worked for a couple of the well known names in the aerospace business, that no matter which company got the contract, a certain number of the same engineers would be on that project. That boils down to a cadre of skilled engineers who will be working on the project, no matter who gets the contract. This of course does not apply to things like ship building which tends to be longer term or airplane manufacturing which tends to be more like automobile design etc. But for engineers like me, who spent years working for contractors in different industries, the project was a year or two and then hopefully a new project would come in and so forth. If not it would be off to another company, hopefully utilizing existing skills, but often quite different ones. So the arguments for consolidation keeping skills intact are bogus. While the nuclear industry in this country has languished, the fundamental skills are available and the history is evident. Current designs in nuclear power plants are not that hard to understand or master.


It is in fact production lines and master mechanics and such like.

I need to do a full essay on this. But having companies too big to fail is dangerous; if we agree on that we can look at remedies.


Doctors' pay

Your mail from Ed posted Monday on doctors' pay does not match the linked article. Doctors' take home pay is reported as 10 percent of overall healthcare spending ($260B/annum), not 1%.


Indeed. Thanks.


First rocky extrasolar planet found:

<snip>The planet is called Corot-7b. It was first discovered earlier this year. European scientists then watched it dozens of times to measure its density to prove that it is rocky like Earth. It's in our general neighborhood, circling a star in the winter sky about 500 light-years away. Each light-year is about 6 trillion miles.

Four planets in our solar system are rocky: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

In addition, the planet is about as close to Earth in size as any other planet found outside our solar system. Its radius is only one-and-a-half times bigger than Earth's and it has a mass about five times the Earth's.<snip>




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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, September 2o, 2009      

Health Care


Health Care Delivery and Costs in the US suffer from the unintended consequences of making the cost of Health "Insurance" provided by an Employer tax deductible some 60 years ago.

Exactly what are these unintended consequences?

The Employee does not "own" the Health "Insurance" and if their health deteriorates they are tied to that Employer.

The Consumer of the Health Care does not directly pay for the care consumed and in many cases is not even aware of the costs that have been incurred or the costs of alternative treatments.

A small step was made to correct the latter by the establishment of Health Care accounts coupled with Major Medical high annual deductible policies. If these policies were selected and paid for by the insured the former was also corrected.

Before we allow the Federal Government to take over our Health Care system it might be wise to allow the Citizen Health Care Consumers to take over their own health care.

This could be accomplished by limited Congressional action.

1. Make the cost of Health "Insurance" deductible from Federal Taxable Income. This should be a direct deduction and not tied to itemizing deductions.

2. Ensure a continuation of Health Savings Accounts coupled with high deductible Major Medical Insurance.

3. Ensure that the insured "Owns" the policy and that it is not tied to employment or membership in any group.

4. Allow Companies that currently provide Health "Insurance" to transfer the policies to the Employee without regard to preexisting conditions and provide a special annual payment to each employee that represents the cost of the Health Insurance provided to the Employee. This payment would be tax deductible to the Employer and not subject to FICA or Medicare taxes. The payment would be considered taxable income to the Employee.

5. Allow Health Insurance Companies to write "National" policies that are not subject to State requirements that require the coverage of certain types of treatment such as Chiropractic, Acupuncture, et al that may not be desired by the insured.

Couple this with National Tort reform that limits the amount of non-economic damages and allows the recovery of legal fees by the winning party and all that remains is making sure that those that do not have the resources can receive some minimum level of Health Care. This essentially already exists with the various Federal and State Medi- programs.

We don't need no stinking 1,000 plus page Trillion Dollar Government Run Health Care!

Bob Holmes

I agree that we don't need any government takeover or full "reform".  I haven't considered all the details of your plan, but I'd clearly prefer it to what's being proposed by Obama, any of the four House bills, or the Senate bill (six different plans, none of which has been analyzed in any real detail (Actually, there is no detailed Obama plan to analyze.)).

Before we undertake reforms we probably ought to examine the assumptions: just who is entitled to have medical bills paid by someone else; who has the obligation to pay; and are there any limits 0n those obligations? Does everyone have a right to every medical procedure available to anyone else? Which is to say, should the rich be forbidden to buy health care that will not be available to the poor?

Regarding pre-existing conditions: if everyone is entitled to insurance without regard to pre-existing conditions, that is the end of insurance as we know it. The obvious strategy is to wait until you're sick before buying the insurance that you can't be refused. The "reform" remedy is to make everyone buy the insurance, presumably at the same price. This too will end "insurance" as we know it.

An obvious "reform" is to make it much easier to transfer from one job to another without losing your insurance even if you must change carriers. That is, if you get a job; get insurance through the employer; have a policy; develop a problem covered by the insurance: that condition was not a pre-existing condition when you got it, but it certainly is one now. No rational insurance company will accept you now as a new customer (any company that makes a practice of this can't compete with those that don't). You're now stuck with keeping your job, and in terror of losing it. This has productivity costs for the nation. It's also seen by a majority as unfair.

This is a real problem without an obvious solution. Simply requiring insurance companies to accept all comers isn't likely to work. There undoubtedly are solutions, but they are not obvious.

What is obvious is that the notion of unlimited free health care creates demands that can't be fulfilled. Frank Herbert could afford to go to the Mayo Clinic the day he discovered he had pancreatic cancer (as it happens, by sheer chance, he was having breakfast with me when he found out). Frank could afford that, but not everyone can get that treatment. Does this mean he should not have been allowed to try?

Just who has a right to what health care?


Jung's Necronomicon.


--- Roland Dobbins


CO2 as a pollutant

Dr. Pournelle,

I would like to respond to Mr. Andreassen's comments about CO2, which apparently were in response to my comments on the nonsense of classifying CO2 as a pollutant.

CO2 is as essential as sunlight for the existence of plants that rely on photosynthesis, as most plants do on earth.

Wikipedia succinctly states:

"Photosynthesis is vital for life on Earth. As well as maintaining the normal level of oxygen in the atmosphere, nearly all life either depends on it directly as a source of energy, or indirectly as the ultimate source of the energy in their food."

I don't think I have ever quoted myself before, but I did say that

> reasonable people can rationally debate the proper level of atmospheric CO2. Declaring it a pollutant irrationally sets the proper level to zero.

Perhaps I did not make my point clearly enough. I did not say that it is unreasonable to be concerned about CO2 levels. However, if something is a pollutant, the logical conclusion is that eliminating it is the desired goal. Less pollution is good, and no pollution is best. Consider mercury and lead, which really are environmental pollutants. If they could be completely eliminated without additional cost or effort, the effects would be completely salutary. It is absurd to put CO2 in the same classification.

Steve Chu


Atmospheric CO2 and degrees of disaster

Hello Jerry,

One of your readers, Rolf Andreassen, provided the following:

"In regards to C02 fertilising plants: I feel compelled to point out that this is also true of other human and animal byproducts, which I trust you would have no difficulty classifying as pollutants. Or do you perhaps believe that the state should get out of the sewer-regulating business, on the grounds that human waste cannot be a pollutant?

In any case, nobody is arguing for the abolition of C02, and you do yourself no favours by speaking as though someone had."

Your answer included this: "I don't recall mentioning CO2 fertilizing plants, and I don't quite follow your logic here. If no one is arguing for the abolition of CO2 then what is Cap and Trade for?"

For what it is worth:

Mr. Andreassen says that human and animal byproducts are classified as pollutants, so why not CO2? The most obvious reason is that human waste has KNOWN harmful side effects if released willy-nilly into the environment and is not essential to the existence of life on Earth; atmospheric CO2, near or above current concentrations, has no KNOWN ill effects (unless the output of a computer model tweaked to predict an undesirable effect is in fact an actual ill effect) and IS essential to life. ALL life.

Mr. Andreassen also says that no one is arguing for the abolition of CO2. Superficially, he is right. No one is arguing for the reduction of atmospheric CO2 to zero percent. However people ARE arguing, and threatening to back up their arguments with the force of law, and physical force if need be, for reducing our rate of production of CO2 to the approximate level of the late 1800's. The effects of such a reduction on our current technology-based civilization is unstated. They are also paying perfectly good tax money to remove existing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it beyond human recovery.

You answered that you didn't recall mentioning CO2 fertilizing plants. I can't remember if you did or not, but in case you have not I think it is about time that SOMEONE mentioned it before we embark on a massive project to remove significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. Atmospheric CO2 is currently around 387 ppm, at least at the reference measuring station on Mauna Loa. It was apparently less than 300 ppm in the late 1800's, if not on Mauna Loa then wherever such measurements were made at the time. It is apparently not a trivial measurement, even today, and I am certainly not qualified to establish error bounds on measurements made over 100 years ago (or now, for that matter). I am aware of a few data points however.:

1. Human population is currently expanding and plants feed humans, directly or indirectly.

2. Plants grow better at atmospheric concentrations of over 1000 ppm, which is why commercial greenhouse operators routinely add CO2 to bring the levels inside the greenhouse above that level. As far as I know, they make NO effort to reduce CO2.

3. The drive to remove CO2 has no stated objective, other than 'Saving the Planet from Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Climate Change (formerly Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, until someone noticed that the planet has been cooling for the last 5-10 years)'. The optimum level of atmospheric CO2 is not specified. Neither is the presumably optimum global temperature that it would establish.

Since the ideal, but non-specific, level of CO2 is less than 387 ppm (otherwise, why are people being paid large sums of money to reduce it) it would seem prudent to investigate the impact of the planned (???) reduction on things other than temperature, the food supply being only one example, before we do something non-reversible. Like taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and putting it where we can't get it back if we change our minds.

This paper:


estimates the percentage of atmospheric CO2 over the last 500 million years and, at least according to the author's data, indicates that it is now, on long time scales, near a historical low. The paper includes the following:

"It is therefore interesting to ask what, if any, correspondence exists between ancient climate and the estimate of pCO2 in Fig. 4 <http://www.pnas.org/content/99/7/4167.long#F4>  . The gray bars at the top of Fig. 4 <http://www.pnas.org/content/99/7/4167.long#F4>  correspond to the periods when the global climate was cool; the intervening white space corresponds to the warm modes (18 <http://www.pnas.org/content/99/7/4167.long#ref-18> ). The most recent cool period corresponds to relatively low CO2 levels, as is widely expected (30 <http://www.pnas.org/content/99/7/4167.long#ref-30>  ). However, no correspondence between pCO2 and climate is evident in the remainder of the record, in part because the apparent 100 My cycle of the pCO2 record does not match the longer climatic cycle. The lack of correlation remains if one calculates the change in average global surface temperature resulting from changes in pCO2 and the solar constant using energy-balance arguments (7 <http://www.pnas.org/content/99/7/4167.long#ref-7> , 26 <http://www.pnas.org/content/99/7/4167.long#ref-26> ).

Superficially, this observation would seem to imply that pCO2 does not exert dominant control on Earth's climate at time scales greater than about 10 My. A wealth of evidence, however, suggests that pCO2 exerts at least some control [see Crowley and Berner (30 <http://www.pnas.org/content/99/7/4167.long#ref-30>  ) for a recent review]. Fig. 4 <http://www.pnas.org/content/99/7/4167.long#F4>  cannot by itself refute this assumption. Instead, it simply shows that the “null hypothesis” that pCO2 and climate are unrelated cannot be rejected on the basis of this evidence alone."

In other words, according to at least one certified scientist (for whom the science is presumably NOT settled), not only is atmospheric CO2 not a climate DRIVER, it is not strongly CORRELATED with climate, at least on geologic time scales.

Bob Ludwick

Thank you for taking the trouble to spell it all out. I was rather hoping to avoid that task.

It is pretty clear that CO2 levels go up in warming periods -- given that the oceans get warmer how could they not? -- but I have yet to see evidence that temperatures go up following increases in CO2.

There is clearly a level of CO2 that is unacceptable. That is not likely to be reached for a while; and of course more CO2 is good for plants. As I have mentioned previously, many tropical fish keepers have to inject Co2 -- in big quantities -- to keep their plants alive because the fish in even an over-crowded aquarium don't produce enough CO2 to sustain a heavily planted display.  I have yet to see any articles among the hobbyists showing detrimental effects from the CO2 injection and consequent raising of CO2 levels in the water.

(I no longer keep tropical fish; my tank was overturned in the earthquake and I never got around to replacing it, and it's not likely I ever will, but I remain interested and continue to subscribe to the magazines.)










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