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Monday, June 13, 2011

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Monday  June 6, 2011

Garage biology and E. Coli

Dear Mr. Pournelle,

I came to your blog (once again!) via the Instapundit.

Do not fear the garage biologists. Okay, fear them but fear this person more: the disgruntled graduate student or post-doctoral fellow.

I run a cell biology laboratory at a university. I deal with grad students and post-docs. A lot of what we do involves moving clonal DNA (a gene where you strip out all the introns) or bits of RNA into viruses such as lentivirus or adenovirus. We build various plasmids (to carry the cDNA) in bacteria, including from time to time E. coli.

Do you know how hard this is? It is NOT HARD AT ALL when you have knowledge (the grad student) and equipment (my lab).

The garage biologist is limited by resources. My lab is NIH funded: I have every tool, resource and reagent you'll ever need to make a super-bug.

And, if the post-doc is half-way smart, the glorious lab mentor (me) will never notice.

"Say, what're you working on this week, Susie?"
"Oh, just some new vectors for those experiments we talked about in the lab meeting, Steve."
"Hokay, keep up the good work!"

See how easy that is?

Grad students and post-docs increasingly come from abroad. How well are they screened so as to ensure they don't have a deep, quiet allegiance to a terror group? What if one of them came here just to be a scientist but at some point walks into the wrong mosque and develops a case of 'sudden jihadi syndrome'?

For that matter, we can grow our own terrorists at home.

Just a happy thought for a Sunday.


Steve White, MD
University of Chicag

[Emphasis added]

Something else to worry about. Thanks.

And no, I am not taking this lightly. Actually I am rather stunned at some of the scenarios that come to mind. More discussion


E. Coli Source


The German E. coli outbreak has been traced to sprouts from a local organic farm that supplies salad mix to several Hamburg restaurants.


The visions of bioterrorists dancing in our heads can go back to sleep. For now.



Continuing refugee camps

You write "There are no camps of refugee stateless Jews, or of German refugees from Poland, etc.".

But there are still camps of refugee Algerian Harkis in France, and at least until very recently South Moluccans in Holland, all people who had supported the former colonial regimes but had no practical means of integrating. Incidentally, this contradicts the Israeli claim that only Palestinians ended up like that.

By the way, another alleged machine translation howler I have heard states that "out of sight, out of mind" came back as "invisible idiot".

Yours sincerely,


The situations are not really symmetrical, but in any event I don't think that has much bearing on the Middle East situation, or on US Middle East policy. The existence of the refugee camps in Palestine makes it certain that "the right of return" will continue to be demanded as a condition for peace.

The Harkis were a central part of the political developments leading to the end of the Fourth Republic and the establishment of contemporary France, but they are no longer of political significance. I don't recall ever repeating the Israeli claims that the Palestinian camps are unique, or that it matters whether or not they are unique. It is manifestly true that the situation in the Middle East is not symmetrical: there are, so far as I know, no camps of Jews demanding a right of return to various Arab countries from which they were expelled.

My point was that the Israelis may have made a mistake in not simply annexing the conquered territories (including Sinai?) and expelling the domestic population, as the Polish/USSR coalition did when they partitioned Germany, and the USSR in the partition of Poland. It would have been politically difficult at the time, but perhaps they would be better off now? It is almost certain that Israel would be more prosperous. Making the deserts bloom is not an idle metaphor.



Dear Dr Pournelle, I recently really read Larry Niven's "N-Space". First time in Many years. I was moved by Space, the last story entry about the "Citizens Advisory Council for a National Space Policy". Could we as a nation be any farther from this now, a decade after the tax exemptions would have run out as proposed by the paper? We have too soon gone into the entitlement, me, me, me, phase of democracy as described elsewhere. Even in 1990, when the book was published, there was still hope in the world / USA. More I want to say, I just don't know how to write it.

Since I was infected at about 12 years of age by Heinlein, hard S/F has been my chosen literature, with healthy doses of Tolkien, C S Lewis, Tim Lahaye, {dare I say} Rowling, The US's founding papers, and a multitude of others, I always found stories of hope through individual ethics of hard work through tough times and by perseverance. Why have we, as a culture. a nation, given up on that individual perseverance, hard work ethics, and aesthetics? Why do we not understand that the rights referenced and given (there are differences) in our Constitution and BOR are there for us to do what is right (correct), not to do whatever the hell we want? I am no politico, socio (sic), activist, I am just a working American who expects correct representation in government. Apathy?, laziness? (just worn out)!?

The only book I find to true and correct and has true hope and promise, also says things will get much worse before they are turned better.Of course that is The Bible!

Anyway, I just wanted to comment on the concepts in the referenced story, I suppose I should not find it so surprising that such common sense approaches would have been thrown in the toilet by the "powers that be".

Thank you Jerry,

Roger Miller


Inconstant moon


Mr. Niven's Inconstant Moon might have happened in real life c. 12,837 years BP.




laser boosted space vehicle 

As I recall, a favorite author of mine described a laser boosted launch system operated by Laurie Jo Hansen out of a site in Baja. 35 years later we are getting closer. I thought you might enjoy the link.




Cold fusion

Hello Jerry,

I read the following link provided by Dave: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7942 .  Interesting. I'm with you in the opinion that cheap, plentiful energy is the key to freedom and prosperity and while in these matters fraud (or even honest scientific error) is a distinct possibility, I continue to hope that in at least one instance the claims are true.

I also read a large number of the reader comments on the article and found it maybe even MORE interesting that many of comments reflected the fervent hope that it IS a hoax, on the theory that making cheap, plentiful energy available to humans was the worst thing that could happen to the planet. And that their overwhelming concern was saving the planet. Specifically saving it from humans, and at any cost to the humans, including the forcible suppression of any technology offering abundant, low cost energy.

These people vote and they vote overwhelmingly, possibly exclusively, in the strict definition of the word, Democratic.

Bob Ludwick

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride. I have some hopes for cold fusion but I do not plan on having it. It does make some wonderful science fictions stories. If energy becomes cheap the world is a different place.  And, of course, space solar, once developed, is a bit like cold fusion: it's a matter of engineering and development after that. Of course space solar is capital intensive expensive,  but it's also limitless and has very low operating costs. No fuel costs...


Jeff Greason in Huntsville

I hate watching videos online. Luckily, the video here isn't important. Just set it to run in a background window and LISTEN. And spread the word.



At ISDC.  As it happens, I was the chairman of the first annual ISDC lo these many years ago. I am glad it still exists. Greason is in some ways Max Hunter's successor.


well, I think I found the most serious drawback to e-books -

Dropped mine and it drowned. Damned expensive to replace when the circumstance would have me carrying a cheap paperback in the past.


I hope you are feeling better.




Nuclear Arsenals

 The United States has 882 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers, compared with 521 for Russia, according to the State Department, which published the new START aggregate numbers.

The United States also has 1,800 deployed warheads and 1,124 launchers, as well as deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers, compared with Russia's 1,537 deployed warheads and 865 launchers and heavy bombers, according to the figures.

The figures are current as of February 5, 2011, "as drawn from the initial exchange of data by the parties" that was required within 45 days of the treaty coming into force.

The new START limits each side to 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed ICBMs and SLBMs and heavy bombers, meaning the United States would still need to reduce its arsenal under the terms of the treaty. 


 -------- Most Respectfully,
Joshua Jordan, KSC

I no longer know much about the inventory and missile technology. Thanks/


"China does not pursue hegemony. We will not do it even when we grow stronger. This is not only the basic state policy, but also a solemn commitment to the people of the world."

In March, China announced that its defence budget would rise 12.7 percent in 2011 to 601.1 billion yuan ($91.7 billion), fuelling regional concerns about Beijing's military build-up in addition to its economic clout.

Addressing an audience of senior military officers from countries including the United States, Britain and Brazil, Zhang said China's armed forces needed "reform" to win increasingly high-tech conflicts.

"The (Chinese) army has to be modernised to fight modern wars in an informationalised age. This is a major challenge facing us," said Zhang, speaking through an interpreter.

He said China's aims had always been defensive, but added: "The goal of modernisation of our army is to transform it from a regional defence force to an all-theatre manoeuvring force." </> http://www.spacewar.com/reports/

 Most Respectfully,
Joshua Jordan, KSC

The Middle Kingdom does not intend to lose another Opium War.


Chilling Out at Godzilla Springs 

 You load 16 tons, and what do you get?

 A lot deader on average than a nuclear saruman at Fukushima:


 Energy Source                 Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

Coal - world average        161       (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)

Coal - China                     278

Coal - USA                        15

Oil                                     36       (36% of world energy)

Natural Gas                         4        (21% of world energy)

Biofuel/Biomass                 12

Peat                                  12

Hydro inc dam failures          1.4    (about 2500 TWh/yr & 171,000 Banqiao dead)

Solar (rooftop)                     0.44   (less than 0.1% of world energy)

Wind                                   0.15   (less than 1% of world energy)

Hydro in Europe                   0.10   (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)

Nuclear                               0.04   (5.9% of world energy)


[Credit: Brian Wang at NextBigFuture]


                  Russell Seitz

Them nukes is deadly, deadly I tell you.


Walking away from nucs...


"Some 10 GW of thermal power generating capacity needs to be built in Germany by 2020 in addition to capacity already under construction to ensure a healthy reserve margin, the German government indicated in its decision Monday to close all the country’s nuclear power stations by 2022."

So much for CO2 and global warming.

Charles Brumbelow


Re: MIT Faculty Report on Fukushima


The report is titled "Technical Lessons Learned from the Fukushima-Daichii Accident and Possible Corrective Actions for the Nuclear Industry: An Initial Evaluation" Find it here:


I am literally just digging into this having only just noticed its release. To wet your appetite here is the end of the first paragraph:

"This may lead to a global slow-down of the nuclear enterprise, based on the perception that nuclear energy is not safe enough. However, the lessons to be drawn from the Fukushima accident are different."

Regards, George

The quake and tsunami were the worst disaster, but not the only disaster. The loss of nuclear power is itself a disaster. Energy means freedom. Rare energy makes for the opposite.


And if you didn't see this, it's worth watching:

George Dyson on Orion.


- Roland Dobbins

I'm not astonished that Freeman's son has more of the old ORION documents than NASA and DARPA have kept. One of my first assignments when I transferred from Human Factors to Systems Analysis at Boeing was to do a report on the Orion concept and research. This would have been about 1961.


Bio Terrorism.

Jerry, A rather curious sect tried to win a local election by infecting the locals with a virulent strain of Salmonella enterica that they cultured in their headquarters. They were caught, and the two people most responsible were each sentenced to 20 years. Remarkably, they were released after less than three years as they had behaved well in prison. I'd like to know if there was another reason as well. Wiki have the whole story at:- <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_Rajneeshee_bioterror_attack>.

John Edwards

First I heard of it. It needs looking into. Perhaps it was concluded they were incompent? I presume it would not be all that difficult to culture MRSA once you got a sample of it. It would be dangerous to do that, but...


Unregulated market

"A totally unregulated market will end up with human flesh sold in the market place."

I kind of wish you'd stop using this example, as it seems to conflate the term "unregulated" with "lawless," as though a nation that had no laws against freely selling soap, cars, or rabbits would by necessity have no laws against enslaving human beings, murder for hire, or other direct violations of the human right to life and liberty in order to make money. These really aren't the same things at all.

Historically, there have been quite a number of societies where free commerce was mostly unregulated by the state, but the sale of human flesh was definitely outlawed. As one example, most of the United States prior to the Civil War, and all of it for many years afterward. England for almost a century after their own Abolition.

Tom Brosz

My point is that the market has no morals. Those have to be supplied by politics, not economics. If you were to repeal the laws against slavery, you could expect slaves to appear in the market within a generation. Markets are lawless, or nearly so.




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Tuesday,  June 7, 2011

I spent the day at E3



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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Swirling in the Whirlpool

You're in a spaceship approaching a million-sun black hole, admiring the view, and you don't even notice when you pass the event horizon. Some economic news from Great Britain. <http://tinyurl.com/4xn4rjy

Half of UK not saving enough for retirement: <http://tinyurl.com/3fz48o6>  <http://tinyurl.com/3bww55m>  <http://tinyurl.com/3ls82hv

UK Government willing to change labour law to prevent a 'summer of discontent': <http://tinyurl.com/6ad2z5o>  <http://tinyurl.com/68txb3l

NHS will charge--it's just a matter of time: <http://tinyurl.com/3noxtp6>  <http://tinyurl.com/5vrs9se

Mind the (funding) gap: <http://tinyurl.com/5rrcw34>  <http://tinyurl.com/3wylf6x>  <http://tinyurl.com/6jxroke>  <http://tinyurl.com/6fdqkuw>  <http://tinyurl.com/64kvav8

Waste of money: <http://tinyurl.com/6evfzwq

Epidemic of copper theft from rail lines: <http://tinyurl.com/6jw6vks

UK doctors to be required to report potential terrorists to the Government: <http://tinyurl.com/6h5t9zq>

Keynes called this the 'liquidity trap'. <http://tinyurl.com/5ru5j6z> It does seem to be taking hold in the UK.

-- Beware Outside Context Problems

--Harry Erwin, PhD



Trees to the Rescue



David March

 But there is always an ecology... Where are the practical studies concerning climate change?


late winter storm 


Late winter storm watch: extensive ice and snow in central Washington and along the Idaho-Montana border at 2011-JUN-08-13:30Z.


Global Warming? Meanwhile we have June Gloom in Los Angeles, and apparently a heat wave to the East.  The June Gloom was predicted. The heat wave is early. The Memorial Day snow in the Sierra was not expected.


Re: The French commemorate D-Day


"COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — French artist Rachid Khimoune has installed 1,000 sculptures shaped like sea turtles on Omaha Beach to mark the 67th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy."

Others have already pointed out that Orwell said it best, that the pacifist is objectively pro-Nazi. It turns out this buffoon has also received permission to do the same inane anti-global violence display at other sites and times, such as the Eifel Tower on VE-Day.

I'm obviously biased, having spent the last twenty years and more devoting my life to doing violence to those who would harm me and mine, but really, is there anyone so stupid as to think that if the good guys gave up violence the bad guys would as well? How do you propose to get the bad guys to stop? Tofu, speech codes, health care subsidies and good intentions?

I took my mid-tour (Afghanistan) R&R in London again. One of the places I visit is the Imperial War Museum, and this time I had my brother and father in tow. We went into the Holocaust exhibit, and I once again thought the only important thing there is the quote "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." The rest of the exhibit just illustrates that rather sad truth.


High Tech Weather ForeCast: Cloudy (iCloud that is)

Much talk of cloud computing in past year or more. Apple now too has its head in the clouds (iCloud that is).


The most interesting line I thought was:

  "I don't know how much easier you can make it for users,'' said Michael McGuire, VP of research at the tech consultant firm Gartner. "If we keep moving in this direction putting more and more of our content in the cloud, the next generation of users won't even know what a hard drive is anymore.'' 

The idea isn't just Apple, but others too (Google anyone?). The idea here is store all your data in the "cloud" in other words in a data center somewhere.

Do You Know Where Your Data Has Been? Or who's looking at it? Who's harvesting that Server Farm?

I guess only we old fogies worry about privacy anymore. Don't keep your stuff in your house, on hard drives or your computers, Put It ALL Out There, in the CLOUD, where it is safe & secure. WHAT could POSSIBLY go wrong with that.

I must really be a closet Luddite it seems. I'm 61. I guess it shows.

 Mike J

 -- Michael L Johnson


Re: Human Flesh

Emailer Tom Brosz writes: " 'A totally unregulated market will end up with human flesh sold in the market place.' I kind of wish you'd stop using this example..."

Why? Wouldn't one of the things for sale in an unregulated free market be organs? Inconvenient to lose, sure, but do you really *need* that second kidney, or a chunk of liver, a few square inches of skin, a couple feet of bowel, maybe a cornea, a pancreas (Medicaid pays for insulin injections and cutting back on sugar helps you lose weight, right?)...

"human flesh for sale" doesn't necessarily mean Kidburgers (Guaranteed 100% Irish!) at the local Long Pig.

-- Mike T. Powers

If the law allowed someone to sell Long Pig, it would become available; the market is not really self regulating. It is merely efficient.


Master's Degree In TERROR

Emailer Steve White makes an excellent case for denying lab students access to high-tech equipment, restricting the ability of independent citizens to purchase the chemicals and machinery used in genetic alteration, keeping strict tabs on anyone who's expressed an interest in genetic research or bioweapon-related technologies...

Just like we already do with chemistry sets, fertilizer, model rockets. Except wait, you think it's *bad* that people get in trouble for buying too much of the wrong sort of chemicals. Do you think it's a good idea for the BATF to get another "B" for "bacteria"?

-- Mike T. Powers

See today's View. Turning the TSA loose on high school student labs is probably not a good move. But what is the answer I can't tell. Are we moving toward universal Vril?


If you don't like what you see... make something better


While the bulk of the news is, with justification, a bit gloomy of late, I was struck by the recent mail post from Joshua Jordan who was looking for advice to deal with trying times. I commend his attention to one of his contemporaries.

College is a waste of time - Dale Stephens


"We must encourage young people to consider paths outside college. That's why I'm leading UnCollege: a social movement empowering individuals to take their education beyond the classroom. Imagine if millions of my peers copying their professors' words verbatim started problem-solving in the real world. Imagine if we started our own companies, our own projects and our own organizations. Imagine if we went back to learning as practiced in French salons, gathering to discuss, challenge and support each other in improving the human condition."

I've never heard of Dale Stehpens before but I wish this young man all the success in the world. And I echo his challenge to all of us to complain all we want and then roll up our sleeves and start making the changes we want to see around us. It's not an easy path, but the road to what's worth having never is.

John L.


Re: Immigration

On June 2, you said:

The problem with that is finding a suitable punishment for coming back: given what it costs us to imprison someone it's cheaper to let them stay here and collect welfare!

The nature of punishment in the US has changed over the last few decades. Corporal punishment has vanished from the scene, at least officially. For non-capital crimes, we are left with financial punishments, including outright fines and the cost of legal defense, and imprisonment. (Of course there is the stigma of a criminal record, but that does not pertain to those who will be excluded from our society.) Financial punishment means nothing to the poor, and legal processing and imprisonment are becoming prohibitively expensive for non-violent offenses. Perhaps a change in approach is needed. To address this issue, I propose the taser. My reasons are:

1. It's cheap. Every police department in the country can have as many as they want at minimal cost. There seem to be few after effects, at least few requiring medical treatment.

2. It's eminently humane. Law enforcement types are tased as part of their training. You and I are subject to being tased for any offense if the attending officer feels that it is necessary. We tase our naughty school children and our stubborn senior citizens. To my knowledge, no police officer has ever been convicted of assault, torture, or any such offense for tasing a citizen. Tasers are preferable to guns, blunt instruments and chemical agents in dealing with the uncooperative.

3. It's safe. If the lack of news reports is an indicator, we lose more people to bee stings than to tasing.

Some changes in our legal system are needed in any case. Suppose it was a summary tasing offense to be in the country illegally. The offender could be tased on the spot. Repeat offenders could be subject to repeated tasing, like ten treatments for a second offense, twenty for a third, etc. At some point the Pavlovian effect would kick in and greatly reduce recidivism. Set a $10 bounty on each summary offense. It's a lot cheaper than welfare. Transportation costs to the border would be minimal if we seriously used the taser. They would leave the same way they came. We would need a border fence less each day. Central record keeping is unnecessary; every city, town, village and crossroads in the US has the perfect record system available: the tattoo. Who knows, it could become a fashion statement.

And if this is inappropriate, then perhaps this method of pain compliance is inappropriate for US citizens too. Just my two cents.


It won't happen, but it is an interesting speculation.


More fallout from the California Stem Cell thing:

$150,000 a year for a part time government job? 

Going on seven years, six billion dollars, little to no oversight, sweetheart 'oeer' review" with no significant results, and now they want to hire a new administrator and then come to us for, yes, more money.

"California Institute for Regenerative Medicine's missed opportunities"


"I have no grounds for suspecting that the candidates are simply playing up to the people who will be deciding whether to hire them, but it's sadly typical of the agency's governing board that such crucial issues of governance are ignored. Instead, the discussion seems to revolve more around whether the candidates think the chairmanship is a full-time hands-on job or a part-time oversight job and where in the board's stated salary range of about $150,000 to $400,000 they'd place themselves. (Litvack thinks it's an oversight job and would be happy at the low end of the salary scale; Thomas that it's a full-time job and implicitly warrants a higher figure.)"

As you might well say "SOO-prise!"


Many suspected the billions of dollars would go to researchers and administrators and bureaucrats without any visible result when this was enacted by initiative. On the other hand, there is no evidence that handing the money to the universities would have been produced a better result. Technology can be created on demand, but it requires a commander and a strategy; this had and has neither.


Cruise passengers tell of seven-hour security 'revenge' nightmare 


Looks like the T&A Dept. likes to lord it over everyone, including people who are already subjects:


Let’s have a little bureaucratic revenge, shall we?


One must not offend the aristocracy.


Kentucky vs. King


After some reflection on the rather strange 8 - 1 Supreme Court Decision in Kentucky vs. King, I am wondering if The Supremes were sending an invitation for a challenge to the Federal Laws prohibiting the possession and use of a certain green herb.

If it required a Constitutional Ammendment to prohibit Alcohol, does it not follow that the prohibition of other popular consumables might also require such an amendment?

Bob Holmes

An interesting speculation. Thanks.


The odds player

Jerry, I am an odds player who lives or dies by being right more than 50% of the time. When people ask my advice I always start with the truthful statement that I sincerely believe that at least one alien race has a base on our moon. Especially when I am late taking my medication. So with that introduction I respectfully direct your attention to the short video at <http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/

BTW if I'm crazy what does that make the people who are losing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq start another in Libya?
John Edwards

One need no t be a fool to be mad, nor vice versa...

The image shown on Google Earth is pretty clearly not a natural phenomenon: but whether that is an image of a structure, or an image inserted in the data base that makes up Google Earth is not so clear, at least to me. If I had to bet, I would not bet much on the proposition of the existence in 2011 of Moon and Mars bases no matter what odds I was offered.

The best bets easily obtained in Las Vegas are fair bets (the odds equal the probabilities) but you have to know what you  are doing to get those odds. They didn't build those casinos on player winnings.

There have been many good science fiction stories that hinged on finding ancient alien artifacts (Heinlein like this device) but as we began close investigations of the solar system we didn't find them. At least it is not immediately obvious that we found them; Richard C. Hoagland and The Enterprise Mission insist that there is a secret space program, and that there is a lot of evidence for structures on the Moon, and others on Mars, but this doesn't seem to be accepted widely, and the astronauts I know who have been to the Moon don't have any recollection of seeing structures. As to the conspiracy theory that there is a secret space project with advanced propulsion systems, there didn't seem to be any such thing back in Cold War days when we were spending a lot of money and a great deal of effort to build deterrence systems like Minuteman and the boomer subs and most of us were scared: it would have been great if we had better propulsion and spacecraft based on alien designs, and why Wright Patterson would keep that a secret from the Strategic Air Command and NORAD is not clear to me.

I've been looking for more on the Mars structure and I haven't found much. I have seen a claim that it's a blip caused by a cosmic ray strike to the imager, but it sure doesn't look random to me. It looks to me like something photoshopped into the image, complete with sharp edges, but of course that could simply be bulldozing of the site...  It could be but if I had to bet I'd bet on image alteration.


Re: E. Coli Source

The sprout producer seems to be out of the equation. i.e. even older samples don't show E.Coli.

Back to step 1. Incidentally the questionaire from RKI asked about a limited set of items only: strawberry, tomato, lettuce and cucumber.

Though the Spaniards are up in arms they should keep in mind that E.Coli was found on their produce, just not the right strain. Nonetheless E.Coli of any strain does not belong on cucumbers.







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Thursday, June 9, 2011

War 4: US Intensifies air strikes against Yemen


We now have four wars in the Middle East. Two have some Congressional approval. Two others do not. And China doesn't want to lend us any more money.


Many Exo-Earths May Have Exo-Moons,


As many as one in four Earthlike extrasolar planets should have a moon-like moon, new supercomputer simulations show:


“Earlier studies began their simulations at the point in the system’s evolution where only 20 or 30 proto-planets remained. But Moore and colleagues, who usually study galaxy formation, were accustomed to tracking thousands of particles at once. They turned back their simulations’ clock to when thousands of small rocky bodies jostled about the sun, making their simulations more realistic than previous attempts.

“The team found that most sun-like stars should have a rocky planet in the habitable zone, the region where temperatures are right for planets to have liquid water on the surface. Of those planets, one in 12 experienced an impact that formed a moon capable of holding it steady.”

So, we have interesting places to point our starships. All we have to do is build them.


When I get a high speed connection again I will look into those probability calculations. I would have thought that a Moon sized moon was fairly rare. Asimov certainly thought so. Now I guess I must rethink the situation. Thanks.


A Bunch of mail about the Federal Department of Education Inspector General troops and the dawn raid:


A link that works, (as of this writing,) for the Education Loan Swat Team story - 


As of a minute ago this link worked.

R, Rose


According to Reason Magazine, the "SWAT" guys were Dept of Ed employees and not Stockton cops.


I don't know if it is accurate or not, only time will tell.



Jerry, I found several links to the story




-------- Jim Coffey


The video may be off the Channel 10 website, but it's here (with editorial comment) here: http://www.youtube.com/


Stockton SWAT Raid


When I saw your note about the story of the DOE sponsored SWAT raid for unpaid student loans being unavailable, I went looking and found these stories/posts. It seems there was indeed more than meets the eye, but also this still seems - at this time - to be one of many cases where a massively inappropriate level of force was used.

It is early yet and more information might come out. But if it does turn out that the crimes or alleged crimes did not involve violence and there was no reasonable other information to anticipate a dangerous reaction at the residence, then we are left with the same troubling issues that are already extent in our society. Namely those levels of force justified versus practiced by many police agencies. In many cases great caution and preemptive force is justified and prudent. In other cases it is done simply because it has become the default.

I do understand the issue of officer safety, and I also understand the issue of my own safety. For example, people are indeed robbed and injured/killed at convenience store gas stations, but I don't fuel up after subduing my fellow customers and handcuffing them in their vehicles. Obviously if I perceived enough danger I would simply go elsewhere rather than start throwing around fellow customers, but the point is that we need to reevaluate the force decisions made in these cases.

Frankly too, I find it ironic and equally troubling that we so quickly question and criticize officers after genuine life and death encounters. While of course there are sometimes mistakes and worse there (and all instances need to be investigated), the vast majority of the time that is simply not the case. Yet the debates that I have seen take place when an officer shoots a person who was charging him with a knife - in front of witnesses - are mind numbing. Likewise, a while back there was an incident about an hour away from here where a deputy was called to help with a man who had been threatening to shoot/kill people. When the deputy caught up to the man, at a gas station if I recall correctly, the man produced a gun and the deputy shot him once, killing him. The complaints were along the lines of "he could have shot him somewhere else!" I kid you not.

So the coin does indeed have two sides. There is ample evidence of wrongful use of SWAT-style entries in general, but we need to know more about this specific case before knowing if it is one of them.

Here are the links to the stories:




Regards, George


There's more but that ought to be enough. It is now nearly certain that these were not local troops, but Department of Education Inspector General police. Why the Department of Education needs a police force with general powers of arrest, who storm a house at dawn and handcuff the householder who is not named in any warrant is not at all clear. The remedy I would think is to defund that entire force in the next appropriation bill. Even if it's a good idea to have national education cops who believe that breaking in doors at dawn is a good idea, in these economic times surely we can find better ways to spend borrowed money? Surely there are programs more important than having a Department of Education armed police force?

The Congress needs to defund this Gestapo immediately. I can't imagine anyone who would have the nerve to defend its appropriation, although Weiner probably would. Let the Department of Education work with the Department of Justice in these matters. They don't need their own troopers.



It's genetic. See <http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110609/full/news.2011.359.html>.  That leaves us to speculate on the reasons for its increase.

-- Beware Outside Context Problems--

Harry Erwin, PhD

Alas I have not been able to follow the link, so I have no way of knowing what the evidence for hereditary would be: nor why there is so much of it now as opposed when I was growing up. When I took graduate Abnormal Psychology in the 1950's I do not believe we spent a whole day on autism. It existed, we were given references, but not much was known because it was fairly rare. It did not fit the theories of the psyche of those times.

Now it's common and getting more so. Of course some of it may have something to do with parental income: I note there is more treatment for autism among children of the upper middle and upper classes than among the children of less prosperous parents. But that is another story for another time.







CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


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Friday,  June 10, 2011

How Newt Gingrich's Campaign Imploded 

Looks like Fred Thompson All Over Again. If you don't want it so bad you'll Do Anything To Get It, you haven't got a chance. 


 "The former speaker's top aides bolted en masse Thursday, leaving his campaign in tatters. Peter J. Boyer on staffers’ complaints about Gingrich’s rogue inclinations, the Greek cruise with wife Callista that was the final straw—and whether the candidate has any chance of recovering."


I have already said that I would like to see Newt as the chief advisor to a President with more executive experience. I hasten to add that I have the same view about myself. Presidents never really get a day off. Or an hour, for that matter.

Newt is willing to have serious discussions about issues that many voters think are already settled. That doesn't mean he changes principles. But it does make for a better professor -- or advisor -- than chief executive. As to the fire in the belly, that's unfortunately an indispensable quality for a modern Presidential candidate. The results are not always good, but it's still a real requirement.


More on the Department of Education raid


When I saw the news break about the Department of Education’s SWAT team leaping into action for -- well, we don’t know what yet – I thought back to a post I wrote last year:

Why Would the Department of Education Need Shotguns?

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) intends to purchase twenty-seven (27) REMINGTON BRAND MODEL 870 POLICE 12/14P MOD GRWC XS4 KXCS SF. RAMAC #24587 GAUGE: 12 BARREL: 14″ – PARKERIZED CHOKE: MODIFIED SIGHTS: GHOST RING REAR WILSON COMBAT; FRONT – XS CONTOUR BEAD SIGHT STOCK: KNOXX REDUCE RECOIL ADJUSTABLE STOCK FORE-END: SPEEDFEED SPORT-SOLID – 14″ LOP are designated as the only shotguns authorized for ED based on compatibility with ED existing shotgun inventory, certified armor and combat training and protocol, maintenance, and parts. The required date of delivery is March 22, 2010.


So, not so much of a mystery now, eh? By the way, I just finished the audio book of A Mote in God’s Eye. I can see why it’s called a classic. Great read (or listen, as the case may be).

-Regards, Jason Holliston

The Congress has a simple remedy to this problem.

Approving wars

Hello Jerry, "Two have some Congressional approval. Two others do not."

Congress has been informed by the President, quite unambiguously, that he didn't need their approval to start a war and that the 60 day limit imposed by the 'War Powers Act' may possibly be of academic interest to one or more practicing academics somewhere, but not to him or his administration.

Congress' equally unambiguous response was 'Oh, sorry about that! What ever were we thinking when we implied, quite by accident and mistakenly of course, that we had something to with the declaring of wars. We'll make sure that THAT never happens again.'

Bob Ludwick

Different President, different Congress. We can hope for better. Do not forget the origin of the War Powers Act to begin with...


Subject: Graphene integrated circuit

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

The idea of a graphene integrated circuit is not new. Making a working circuit is new. It was done by scientists at IBM, as described in http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/46237  . The team made a RF mixer for frequencies up to 10 GHz.

The single circuit on a chip is similar to Jack Kilbyś original integrated circuit, which I saw once at Southern Methodist University before it was stolen. The IBM circuit is much more advanced, but still a single circuit on a chip.


William L. Jones


Longest Occupation In History 

In catching up on a recent gap in my reading of Chaos Manor, I saw that discussion a week or so back re: Israel's Occupation of the Golan Heights and West Bank being "The Longest Occupation In History" upon it having reached forty-four years.


The Anglo-Saxon Anschluss of half of Mexico in 1846-47 is goiung on one hundred fifty years, close enough.

As more or less 1/32 Cherokee, I might point out the occupation of the America's by you European's, going on a bi more than five hundred years.

But the longest ,that I can serve up "off the cuff" would be, the lost homeland of the Dacians.

Never heard of it?

Well, it now bears the name of the conquering occupiers. It's "ROMANia".

Though there seems a dearth of irredentist Dacians to press their claim in the World Court. Trajan did such a number on them that there are only about six words in modern Romanian that can be traced to Dacian roots.

Say, maybe we can start a movemenht to get Dacia an observer at the United Nations, pass some high minded and fancyily worded resolutins in an attempt to turn Romania into a Pariah State, and see if we can get a corner of Transylvania for the survivors of the Dacian DIaspora?

Say, doesn't Romania have some oil?

I see a story in there, somewhere.


Well, there are parts of Switzerland which claim to be occupied by someone else, but they patched things up a bit to have several languages and religious confessions loosely coupled; worked out well, as did the amalgamation of Catholic and Puritan colonies in a thing call the United States. Acquisition of territory by right of conquest is a fairly old notion. So is irredentism and the claim to live in occupied territory because some ancestor was on the losing side of a battle or war or series of wars. It tool a long time to decide the ownership of Alsace and Lorraine, for that matter.

Rambling on, as I pointed out, the acquisition of Silesia by Poland and the various partitions of Prussia predate the founding of Israel itself, not just the 1967 war. Had the Jordanian Arab Legion under Sir John Glubb Pasha not outfought the Irgun and Haganah in 1948, Judea and Samaria would have been part of Israel from the beginning. And of course from one point of view, Israel was occupied by a succession of powers from Roman times until 1948...

But certainly Dacia Irredentia is a candidate.


Subj: Moons: Rare or not?

Moons may not be so rare after all.

See this video of a colloquium presentation, "Lagrange-Point Objects and the Origin of the Moon", by Princeton University astrophysicist Richard Gott:


Alternatively, try this:


Rod Montgomery==monty@starfief.com

Well, no one ever thought moons as moons were rare, there being rather a lot of them in this solar system; but I recall an analysis by Asimov that concluded "What it our Moon doing there?" after looking at its size relative to Earth and its distance in planetary radii. Last time I thought about it, Earth's Moon was thought to be  the consequence of a series of improbable events that turned out to be fortunate for us.

Perhaps that series of events wasn't so improbable? I haven't thought about this for a long time.


Re: Solar Event of 7 June


In case you haven't yet seen this, here is a link to the 3 minute video of the solar eruption and flare of June 7th.


Regards, George





It seems to be agreed that a new born needs human physical contact and interaction to develop normally. This contact and interaction is required at a relatively high level for the first few years of life.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of infants that were breast fed until weanig were autistic.

Since the percentage of infants that have been breast fed until weaning is declining, this might account for some of the increase in autism diagnoses. The remainig increase might have causes similar to the increases in the diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and hyper activity.

Can anyone find a drug like Ritalin that can be used for Autism? (Tongue firmly in cheek.)

Bob Holmes

But of course there are a lot of kids who were never breast fed at all. At one time bottle feeding was considered to be superior because better nutrition, and bottle feeding was a mark of cultural superiority, so to speak. But then medical fads happen all the time. Recall Dr. Spock...










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This week:


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Saturday, June 11, 2011

We're in San Diego for the weekend. Back home Monday.






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CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


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Sunday, June 12, 2011      

We're in San Diego for the weekend. Back home Monday.




 read book now





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