From conservative fairy tales to liberal allegories

September 23rd, 2017

American animated films progressed from conservative fairy tales to liberal allegories as CGI technology tranformed the filmmaking process:

Why don’t students like school?

September 23rd, 2017

In Why Don’t Students Like School?, cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham argues that teachers don’t have a full understanding of certain cognitive principles and therefore don’t teach as well as they could. Peter Gray offers another hypothesis:

Ask any schoolchild why they don’t like school and they’ll tell you. “School is prison.” They may not use those words, because they’re too polite, or maybe they’ve already been brainwashed to believe that school is for their own good and therefore it can’t be prison. But decipher their words and the translation generally is, “School is prison.”

Let me say that a few more times: School is prison. School is prison. School is prison. School is prison. School is prison.

Willingham surely knows that school is prison. He can’t help but know it; everyone knows it. But here he writes a whole book entitled “Why Don’t Students Like School,” and not once does he suggest that just possibly they don’t like school because they like freedom, and in school they are not free.

Jerry’s second chat with Leo Laporte

September 22nd, 2017

I enjoyed the second installment of Leo Laporte’s interview with Jerry Pournelle, too:

(This time he mentions HeathKit…)

No Caucasian man was properly dressed without his kindjal

September 22nd, 2017

In writing Dune, Frank Herbert drew inspiration from the nascent environmental movement, European feudalism, Middle Eastern oil politics, Zen Buddhism, and, perhaps less obviously, the mid-19th century Islamic holy war against Russian imperialism in the Caucasus, described in Lesley Blanch’s 1960 novel, The Sabres of Paradise:

Anyone who has obsessed over the mythology of Dune will immediately recognize the language Herbert borrowed from Blanch’s work. Chakobsa, a Caucasian hunting language, becomes the language of a galactic diaspora in Herbert’s universe. Kanly, from a word for blood feud among the Islamic tribes of the Caucasus, signifies a vendetta between Dune’s great spacefaring dynasties. Kindjal, the personal weapon of the region’s Islamic warriors, becomes a knife favored by Herbert’s techno-aristocrats. As Blanch writes, “No Caucasian man was properly dressed without his kindjal.”

Herbert is ecumenical with his borrowing, lifting terminology and rituals from both sides of this obscure Central Asian conflict. When Paul Atreides, Dune’s youthful protagonist, is adopted by a desert tribe whose rituals and feuds bear a marked resemblance to the warrior culture of the Islamic Caucasus, he lives at the exotically named Sietch Tabr. Sietch and tabr are both words for camp borrowed from the Cossacks, the Czarist warrior caste who would become the great Christian antagonists of Shamyl’s Islamic holy warriors.

Herbert also lifted two of Dune’s most memorable lines directly from Blanch. While describing the Caucasians’ fondness for swordplay, Blanch writes, “To kill with the point lacked artistry.” In Dune, this becomes “[k]illing with the tip lacks artistry,” advice given to a young Paul Atreides by a loquacious weapons instructor. A Caucasian proverb recorded by Blanch transforms into a common desert aphorism. “Polish comes from the city, wisdom from the hills,” an apt saying for a mountain people, becomes “Polish comes from the cities, wisdom from the desert” in Dune.

Dune’s narrative, however, owes more to The Sabres of Paradise than just terminology and customs. The story of a fiercely independent, religiously inspired people resisting an outside power is certainly not unique to the Caucasus, but Blanch’s influence can be found here, too. The name of Herbert’s major villain, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, is redolent of Russian imperialism. Meanwhile, Imam Shamyl, the charismatic leader of Islamic resistance in the Caucasus, describes the Russian Czar as “Padishah” and his provincial governor as “Siridar,” titles that Herbert would later borrow for Dune’s galactic emperor and his military underlings.

There are even some interesting echoes of Blanch’s writing style and tendencies in Herbert’s book. Both authors traffic in evocative descriptions of stark, unforgiving landscapes and equally unforgiving peoples. And their shared tendency to describe their protagonists in raptor-like terms may not be a coincidence. (For Blanch, the Caucasus was a land of “eagle-faced warriors” and Imam Shamyl was possessed of “handsome eagle features.” Naturally, the Atreides are also notable for their “hawk features.”) Even Dune’s colors owe something to Blanch’s history. The banners of House Atreides are green and black. The first is, of course, the color of Islam and the second was adopted by Imam Shamyl’s Murids, holy Islamic warriors pledged to fight Russian imperialism to the death.

One of the biggest differences between the classics of SF&F and modern derivative works is that their authors borrowed from outside the genre:

Science fiction and fantasy have always been syncretic genres. The extravagant world-building that fires the imagination of so many readers would be nearly impossible if authors refused to seek inspiration in our own histories, religious traditions, and myths. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy was famously inspired by Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. J. R. R. Tolkien’s background in medieval languages helped shape the mythology of Middle Earth. Frank Herbert’s Dune is no different, and rediscovering one of the book’s most significant influences is a rewarding experience. At a time when our most popular science fiction sagas have been reduced to cannibalizing themselves, we would do well to celebrate genre pioneers who were more ambitious in their borrowing.

Tom Snyder interviews Durk Pearson and Jerry Pournelle

September 21st, 2017

I got a kick out of this 1979 Tom Snyder interview of not just Jerry Pournelle, but also of Durk Pearson, who isn’t just a vitamin geek, but an all-around übergeek:

In particular, I get a kick out of how mind-blowing a word-processor is, back just before the PC revolution — and how flat-screen TVs are just over the horizon, even then.

Missiles fail, especially air-to-air ones

September 21st, 2017

The four Hornet and Super Hornet pilots who flew the mission where one of them shot down a Syrian Su-22 Fitter gave a talk at the Tailhook Association’s annual symposium:

The group of four strike fighters entered the close air support stack (CAS stack) overhead the JTAC and waited for any requests for strikes when a Russian Su-27 showed up and began loitering high overhead.

Mob, who was having issues with his targeting pod, was assigned to keep tabs on the circling Russian fighter while the other pilots continued with their CAS mission. He turned the Super Hornet’s master mode to air-to-air and began tracking the Su-27 and searching the skies around the area for other aircraft.

Then another radar track appeared — a fast moving aircraft coming from the south directly towards him. Although Mob figured it was probably a Syrian aircraft, he moved to intercept the target and eventually made a visual identification on what turned out to be a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Fitter swing-wing attack jet — the same type of aircraft used to deliver the gas attack that led to the Tomahawk missile strike a few months earlier.

Mob made it clear during the presentation that if the Syrian jet just turned away that would have been great as they had plenty to do in support of ground forces, but that didn’t end up being the case.

After identifying the Su-22, Mob got on the radio with an airborne command and control post, an E-3 Sentry, and had them broadcast warnings repeatedly over guard frequency to the Syrian jet. Those radio calls did not result in a change of course by the Syrian pilot. Then Mob “thumped” the Su-22 three times — flying close over the jet’s canopy and popping flares out in front of it before breaking off — to warn him away. That didn’t work either.

By then the Su-22 was in striking distance of friendly forces and it began to dive, releasing its weapons in the process, before making a climb out after the attack. Based on the rules of engagement that were briefed to the naval aviators, Mob locked the Su-22 up from behind with an AIM-9X Sidewinder and fired.

The missile zipped off the Hornet’s wing rail trailing smoke but quickly disappeared. It wasn’t clear why the missile failed to track the Su-22 or where it had gone. Mob quickly selected an AIM-120 AMRAAM and fired once again. He noted how long it took for the missile to fire off the Super Hornet’s “cheek” station located along the outer edges of its air intakes.

Regardless, the missile tracked the Fitter flying just a short distance away and exploded on its backside, pitching it violently to the right and downward. The pilot was clearly seen ejecting from the doomed swing-wing attack jet.

The ejection seat passed very close down the right sight of Mob’s canopy. He noted how live-fire training helped him during the engagement because he knew what to expect and quickly rolled away from the explosion instead of flying through it.

The Syrian pilot’s chute blossomed, it was white, green, and orange in color and his emergency transmitter beacon began going off over the radio.

[...]

What’s also worth discussing is the conjecture surrounding the AIM-9X’s failure in this engagement. By the panel’s account it sounded as if the AIM-9X just went stupid/malfunctioned on its own. There was no talk of the Su-22 launching flares, and even if it had, the fact that many military pundits are definitively claiming that the unique infrared signature of Russian-built low-end decoy flares threw the AIM-9X off course is just silly. Missiles fail, especially air-to-air ones. They are complex devices that get battered around under high gravitational forces and slammed down onto carrier decks and runways throughout their lifetime. And yes, it’s possible that under certain parameters weaknesses could exist when it comes to the AIM-9X’s ability to track certain targets that use certain decoys under certain conditions. Then again maybe they don’t. Regardless, that doesn’t mean that is what happened in this instance or that the AIM-9X is somehow a lousy missile because of it.

I recently listened to the audio version of Alas, Babylon, the 1959 post-apocalyptic novel, in which a nuclear war gets kicked off by a US pilot’s AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missile that goes off course and hits an ammunition depot in Syria.

Van Allen Plexico interviews Jerry Pournelle at DragonCon

September 20th, 2017

Van Allen Plexico interviewed Jerry Pournelle (and Larry Niven) at the recent DragonCon.

The medieval period really shaped Europeans

September 20th, 2017

In an old interview, HBD Chick describes some of the ideas she has popularized:

In the 1960s, John Hajnal noticed a curious feature in Europe populations and that is the fact that, compared to just about everybody else in the world, northwest Europeans have this history (going back to at least the 1500s) of marrying quite late (mid-20s+) and/or not marrying at all. The line divides eastern and western Europe, but some other areas — like southern Italy and Spain, Ireland, and parts of Finland — are also “outside” the Hajnal line.

I picked up on it from an historian of medieval Europe and family history, Michael Mitterauer.  In his book, Why Europe?, Mitterauer discusses at some length how the Hajnal line coincides in space with the extent of manorialism in medieval Europe, the connection being that, because young people often had to wait to take possession of a farm within the medieval manor system, they also had to wait to marry.  I suspect that, over time, this led to the selection for, as they call it, “low time preference” in northwestern Europeans — or, at least, that this was the start of it in Europe. In other words, those individuals who could “restrain themselves” were eventually rewarded with reproductive success in the form of having access to a dedicated piece of farmland on a manor.  These are (some of) the people who successfully reproduced in the Middle Ages (along with the aristocracy).

Interestingly, the Hajnal line seems to coincide with other curious features of northwestern European society, too, such as little or no cousin marriage. Mitterauer makes the (convincing, I think) argument that the various bans on cousin marriage across medieval Europe enabled the spread of manors eastwards across the continent out of the Frankish heartland in northeast France/Belgium, since the cousin marriage ban weakened European clans, and clans and manorialism did not go together, the manor system being based around nuclear families.  Mitterauer points out the eastern limit of manorialism in Europe coincides with the Hajnal line and with the earliest and strongest bans on cousin marriage. Cousin marriage was, eventually, banned in eastern Europe (Russia, for example), but much later than in western Europe. Also, extended families seem to be more important “outside” the Hajnal line, in eastern Europe for example. Even average IQs appear to be generally higher “inside” the line than out, so I suspect that Hajnal’s discovery is much more important biologically than folks have supposed up ’til now.  Population geneticists and evolutionary biologists really ought to take a very close look at it.

Most folks out there who are interested in human biodiversity and the differences we see in American society today have probably read Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, but I cannot recommend enough Mitterauer’s Why Europe? for really understanding where Europeans came from!  It should really be on everyone’s shelf next to Albion’s Seed (or also on their Kindles).  I think, taking a page out of The 10,000 Year Explosion, that the medieval period really shaped Europeans — even transformed them (us!) — especially northwest Europeans. And I think the population’s switch to regular outbreeding (i.e., the avoidance of cousin marriage) played a huge role in that transformation because it set the stage for a whole new range of selection pressures to act on the population. The loosening of genetic ties in medieval Europe led the population down a path towards greater individuality versus collectivity, greater feelings of universalism versus particularism, and less of an orientation towards the extended family and more of a focus on the commonweal. These are all really a very unique set of traits compared to most other human populations, and the roots of those traits are biological, and their origins not that old. At least that’s what I think!

Take a step toward civility

September 19th, 2017

The virtues of humility and decency are timeless, Russ Roberts reminds us, even if they’re out of fashion. When the world is increasingly uncivilized, he suggests, take a step toward civility:

Don’t be part of the positive feedback problem. When someone yells at you on the internet or in an email or across the dinner table, turn the volume down rather than up. Don’t respond in kind to the troll. Stay calm. It’s not as much fun as yelling or humiliating your opponent with a clever insult, but it’s not worth it. It takes a toll on you and it’s bad for the state of debate. And you might actually change someone’s mind.

Be humble. Shakespeare had it right: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. You’re inevitably a cherry-picker, ignoring the facts and evidence that might challenge the certainty of your views. The world is a complex place. Truth is elusive. Don’t be so confident. You shouldn’t be.

Imagine the possibility not just that you are wrong, but that the person you disagree with could be right. Try to imagine the best version of their views and not the straw man your side is constantly portraying. Imagine that it is possible that there is some virtue on the other side. We are all human beings, flawed, a mix of good and bad.

There’s a big difference between nothing and almost nothing

September 18th, 2017

The most valuable insights are both general and surprising, Paul Graham says:

F = ma for example. But general and surprising is a hard combination to achieve. That territory tends to be picked clean, precisely because those insights are so valuable.

Ordinarily, the best that people can do is one without the other: either surprising without being general (e.g. gossip), or general without being surprising (e.g. platitudes).

Where things get interesting is the moderately valuable insights. You get those from small additions of whichever quality was missing. The more common case is a small addition of generality: a piece of gossip that’s more than just gossip, because it teaches something interesting about the world. But another less common approach is to focus on the most general ideas and see if you can find something new to say about them. Because these start out so general, you only need a small delta of novelty to produce a useful insight.

A small delta of novelty is all you’ll be able to get most of the time. Which means if you take this route your ideas will seem a lot like ones that already exist. Sometimes you’ll find you’ve merely rediscovered an idea that did already exist. But don’t be discouraged. Remember the huge multiplier that kicks in when you do manage to think of something even a little new.

[...]

And of course, ideas beget ideas. (That sounds familiar.) An idea with a small amount of novelty could lead to one with more. But only if you keep going. So it’s doubly important not to let yourself be discouraged by people who say there’s not much new about something you’ve discovered. “Not much new” is a real achievement when you’re talking about the most general ideas. Maybe if you keep going, you’ll discover more.

It’s not true that there’s nothing new under the sun. There are some domains where there’s almost nothing new. But there’s a big difference between nothing and almost nothing, when it’s multiplied by the area under the sun.

Jerry Pournelle was an OR guy

September 17th, 2017

Borepatch was right. Jerry Pournelle was quite the raconteur, as this interview with Leo Laporte from a few years ago demonstrates:

When he started talking about how the old Encyclopedia Britannica taught you how to do just about anything, I began to wonder if he was going where I thought he was going — and he was. (I grew up hearing a similar story…)

Surveillance capitalism fuels the Internet

September 17th, 2017

In case you didn’t notice, Bruce Schneier reminds us, you’re not Equifax’s customer:

You’re its product.

This happened because your personal information is valuable, and Equifax is in the business of selling it. The company is much more than a credit reporting agency. It’s a data broker. It collects information about all of us, analyzes it all, and then sells those insights.

Its customers are people and organizations who want to buy information: banks looking to lend you money, landlords deciding whether to rent you an apartment, employers deciding whether to hire you, companies trying to figure out whether you’d be a profitable customer — everyone who wants to sell you something, even governments.

It’s not just Equifax. It might be one of the biggest, but there are 2,500 to 4,000 other data brokers that are collecting, storing, and selling information about you — almost all of them companies you’ve never heard of and have no business relationship with.

Surveillance capitalism fuels the Internet, and sometimes it seems that everyone is spying on you. You’re secretly tracked on pretty much every commercial website you visit. Facebook is the largest surveillance organization mankind has created; collecting data on you is its business model. I don’t have a Facebook account, but Facebook still keeps a surprisingly complete dossier on me and my associations — just in case I ever decide to join.

I also don’t have a Gmail account, because I don’t want Google storing my e-mail. But my guess is that it has about half of my e-mail anyway, because so many people I correspond with have accounts. I can’t even avoid it by choosing not to write to gmail.com addresses, because I have no way of knowing if newperson@company.com is hosted at Gmail.

And again, many companies that track us do so in secret, without our knowledge and consent. And most of the time we can’t opt out. Sometimes it’s a company like Equifax that doesn’t answer to us in any way. Sometimes it’s a company like Facebook, which is effectively a monopoly because of its sheer size. And sometimes it’s our cell phone provider. All of them have decided to track us and not compete by offering consumers privacy. Sure, you can tell people not to have an e-mail account or cell phone, but that’s not a realistic option for most people living in 21st-century America.

The companies that collect and sell our data don’t need to keep it secure in order to maintain their market share. They don’t have to answer to us, their products. They know it’s more profitable to save money on security and weather the occasional bout of bad press after a data loss. Yes, we are the ones who suffer when criminals get our data, or when our private information is exposed to the public, but ultimately why should Equifax care?

Yes, it’s a huge black eye for the company — this week. Soon, another company will have suffered a massive data breach and few will remember Equifax’s problem. Does anyone remember last year when Yahoo admitted that it exposed personal information of a billion users in 2013 and another half billion in 2014?

I’ll tell you a story about a virgin and a bull that you just wouldn’t believe!

September 16th, 2017

The New York Times provides this obituary for Jerry Pournelle:

When Dr. Pournelle was a boy the family moved to rural Tennessee, where the school he attended was small, to say the least.

“We had two grades to a room and four teachers for the whole eighth-grade school system,” he recalled in a 2013 interview.

But he supplemented the schoolhouse learning by reading the family Encyclopaedia Britannica. Dr. Pournelle, taking advantage of the G.I. Bill after serving in the Army during the Korean War, would eventually receive multiple degrees from the University of Washington.

He spent years working in the aerospace industry, including at Boeing, on projects including studying heat tolerance for astronauts and their spacesuits. This side of his career also found him working on projections related to military tactics and probabilities. One report in which he had a hand became a basis for the Strategic Defense Initiative, the missile defense system proposed by President Ronald Reagan. A study he edited in 1964 involved projecting Air Force missile technology needs for 1975.

“I once told Mr. Heinlein” — the science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, an early mentor — “that once I got into advance plans at Boeing I probably wrote more science fiction than he did, and I didn’t have to put characters in mine,” Dr. Pournelle recalled in February in an interview with the podcaster Hank Garner.

[...]

Dr. Pournelle was an early adopter of personal computing. In 2011, when The Times published an article about an English professor, Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, who was hunting for the first writer to have written a novel on a word processor, Dr. Pournelle argued that he deserved those bragging rights for the 1981 book “Oath of Fealty,” which he wrote with Mr. Niven.

[...]

Though Dr. Pournelle wore many hats, he had a license plate that focused on the storytelling side, Phillip Pournelle said; it read, SCIBARD.

In the 2003 interview, Dr. Pournelle mused about the art of the science fiction writer.

“As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “we are not any different from the old storytellers, the old bards back in Bronze Age time who would go from campfire to campfire, and they’d see a warrior sitting there and say, ‘You fill my cup up with that wine you’ve got there and chop me a piece of that boar you’re roasting and I’ll tell you a story about a virgin and a bull that you just wouldn’t believe!’ ”

Yet crime went up, not down

September 16th, 2017

The history of academic criminology is one of grand pronouncements that don’t prove out in the real world:

In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, criminologists demanded that public policy attack the “root causes” of crime, such as poverty and racism. Without solving these problems, they argued, we could not expect to fight crime effectively. On this thinking, billions of taxpayer dollars poured into ambitious social programs — yet crime went up, not down. In the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, as crime rates continued to spike, criminologists proceeded to tell us that the police could do little to cut crime, and that locking up the felons, drug dealers, and gang leaders who committed much of the nation’s criminal violence wouldn’t work, either.

These views were shown to be false, too, but they were held so pervasively across the profession that, when political scientist James Q. Wilson called for selective incapacitation of violent repeat offenders, he found himself ostracized by his peers, who resorted to ad hominem attacks on his character and motivations. Wilson’s work was ignored by awards committees, and criminological reviews of his books, especially Thinking About Crime and Crime and Human Nature, were almost universally negative.

[...]

Evidence of the liberal tilt in criminology is widespread. Surveys show a 30:1 ratio of liberals to conservatives within the field, a spread comparable with that in other social sciences. The largest group of criminologists self-identify as radical or “critical.” These designations include many leftist intellectual orientations, from radical feminism to Marxism to postmodernism. Themes of injustice, oppression, disparity, marginalization, economic and social justice, racial discrimination, and state-sanctioned violence dominate criminological teaching and scholarship, as represented in books with titles like Search and Destroy: African American Males in the Criminal Justice System, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse.

A quick perusal of Presidential Awards for Distinguished Contributions to Justice, bestowed by the American Society of Criminology (ASC), shows that the winners were primarily rewarded for their left-wing advocacy. They included a judge in Massachusetts who advocated abolishing the state’s death penalty, an FBI agent who successfully sued the organization for ethnic discrimination, and a former director of juvenile corrections in Massachusetts who closed the state’s juvenile reformatories and wrote a book alleging that the system hunted down black men for sport. The society also honored Zaki Baruti, a radical black activist in St. Louis known for his hatred of police and support for leftist causes.

[...]

Liberal criminologists avoid discussing the lifestyles that criminal offenders typically lead. Almost all serious offenders are men, and they usually come from families with long histories of criminal involvement, often spanning generations. They show temperamental differences early in life, begin offending in childhood or early adolescence, and rack up dozens of arrests. Their lives are chaotic and hedonistic, including the constant pursuit of drugs and sex. They produce many children with different women and rarely have the means — or inclination — to support them. Active offenders exploit others for their own benefit, including women, children, churches, and the social-welfare system. They commit many crimes before getting arrested, and they move in and out of the criminal-justice system for decades. Many also report enjoying acts of violence; the social-media accounts of martyred gangsters shot by police often illuminate this subculture. Perhaps not surprisingly, they see the police as another competing tribe that has to be manipulated, controlled, and sometimes confronted. In sum, the lives of persistent criminal offenders are often shockingly pathological. The nature of this world is hard to grasp without witnessing it firsthand.

[...]

When it comes to disciplinary biases, however, none is so strong or as corrupting as liberal views on race. Disproportionate black involvement in violent crime represents the elephant in the room amid the current controversy over policing in the United States. Homicide numbers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1976–2005 indicate that young African-American males account for homicide victims at levels that are ten to 20 times greater than their proportion of the population and account for homicide offenders at levels that are 15 to 35 times greater than their proportion of the population. The black-white gap in armed-robbery offending has historically ranged between ten to one and 15 to one. Even in forms of crime that are allegedly the province of white males — such as serial murder — blacks are overrepresented as offenders by a factor of two. For all racial groups, violent crime is strongly intraracial, and the intraracial dynamic is most pronounced among blacks. In more than 90 percent of cases, the killer of a black victim is a black perpetrator.

[...]

Reliable evidence tells us that the most effective strategies to reduce crime involve police focusing on crime hot spots, targeting active offenders for arrest, and helping to solve local problems surrounding disorder and incivility. Putting predatory, recidivistic offenders in jail or in prison remains the best way to protect the public — especially those who live in high-crime neighborhoods. Lower-level offenders can often be supervised in the community, and many benefit from programs that seek to modify drug and alcohol addictions that contribute to their criminal behavior. Despite our best efforts, though, most will re-offend and reenter the system at some point.

Arnold Kling notes that it was Robert Nozick who coined the term “normative sociology” as the study of what the causes of problems ought to be:

My fear about academic economics is that it will evolve in the direction of criminology. I foresee ever-increasing social pressure within the community of academic economists to undertake research that confirms left-wing biases.

Fact-based hope for our future

September 15th, 2017

Glenn Reynolds remembers how Jerry Pournelle offered fact-based hope for our future:

But Pournelle didn’t just write fiction. His 1970 book with Stefan Possony, The Strategy of Technology, outlined a strategy for winning the Cold War (with among other things, an emphasis on strategic missile defense) that was largely followed, and successfully, by the Reagan administration. He was a driving force behind the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy in the 1980s that helped lay the groundwork for today’s booming civilian space launch industry. And, for me, his wide-ranging columns in Galaxy Magazine, back when it was edited by star editor James Baen, were particularly influential.

I was a kid in the 1970s, which was not a great era to be a kid. We had Vietnam and Watergate, the Apollo space program quit abruptly, oil prices skyrocketed and so did inflation. Even a hamburger was expensive.

And while that was going on, the voices in the media were all preaching gloom and doom. Stanford professor Paul R. Ehrlich, in his book The Population Bomb, was predicting food riots in America due to overpopulation. A group called The Club of Rome published a report titled The Limits to Growth that suggested it was all over for Western technological civilization. Bookstore displays were filled with books like The Late Great Planet Earth that announced the end times. And if that weren’t enough, most people figured we were heading for a global thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union. It looked like we were headed for some sort of apocalyptic future in which Charlton Heston would be the only survivor besides a few apes or mutants.

But Jerry Pournelle never bought it. In his Galaxy columns — eventually collected and published in book form, and still in print — he actually did the math. The fact was, he reported, we could not only survive but, in his words, survive with style.

Claims of resource limitations were bunk, easily disproved with available data. And beyond the resources of Earth, there were the effectively limitless resources of the solar system: Energy from the Sun, captured by orbiting power satellites that never had to shut down, materials from the asteroids, and an expansionary frontier that would prevent the growth of damaging zero-sum politics on Earth.

Some people found such claims outlandish in the 1970s, but we’re pretty much living in Pournelle’s world now. The 1970s “Energy Crisis” and its turn-of-the-millennium equivalent, “Peak Oil,” have been undone by technological advances in the form of fracking. Private companies are launching rockets into space at a furious rate — Elon Musk’s SpaceX is on track to launch more rockets than Russia this year — and there are even private companies (companies, plural) working on asteroid mining.

I suspect that a lot of the people working on these things were, like me, influenced by Pournelle’s writing. (I know that some of them were, because they’ve told me so, and I doubt those are the only ones.) At one of the gloomiest times in American history, Pournelle offered not only hope, but a plan. We should all be grateful for that. I certainly am.