Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bits and Pieces - February 15, 2015

Following up on that comment of President Obama's on the Crusades: the first victims of the first crusade were Jews. And then they took Christian Constantinople out in the Fourth Crusade. Kinda like ISIS, those folks.

Transcript of James Comey's speech about law enforcement and minorities.

The media continues its long slide into rumor without fact-checking.

We do voluntary, poorly-enforced treaties all the time. There's reason to believe a similar climate treaty would work too.

Old postcards from Estonia. Reval is modern-day Tallinn, Dorpat is Tartu.

"What Russia Wants." I wish we knew. There are a lot of signals with a lot of possible interpretations. This is a pretty good article, though.

How Vladimir Putin paralyzes his neighbors with "frozen conflicts."


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bits and Pieces - January 21, 2015

Why Vladimir Putin should be invited to the Auschwitz memorial ceremony. Russia needs to confront all parts of its past.

France is proposing a limitation on United Nations Security Council vetoes. It's unlikely to go far and narrowly defined, but a step toward thinking differently about the Security Council's inability to act.

Was the civil rights movement a revolution? If a revolution means a major shift in power, yes. But not completed yet.

The best critique of the response to the State of the Union address, both in general and this latest one.

First-person narrative of the separatist tendencies in the religious right. I'm not sure I agree with all of it, but parts are persuasive.

When Americans ate horse meat.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Bits and Pieces - January 7, 2015

What is a European? The growing pains of the European Union. What they are trying to do is much more difficult than the United States' union of colonies in the 18th century. And that took a while to work out.

Afghans are being urged to take surnames. Which are a relatively recent innovation, even for Europe.

Nonviolent Conflicts in 2014 You May Have Missed Because They Were Not Violent. We don't see the conflicts that don't happen and the ones in which people aren't shooting at each other.

Likewise, do we really live in dangerous times or does it just feel that way? Some of both, more of the second. Which can lead to real danger. But feelings count for a lot.

Monday, December 29, 2014

"Dover Beach" Into The New Year



The Sony hack and later shutdown of the North Korean internet made me think of the last lines of “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold. That made me think about the rest of the poem. It’s a good way to one year and start the next. Or at least in my quirky way of reading poems. Go read it through to get your impression. I’ll wait.
….

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bits and Pieces - December 16, 2014

This article pretty well represents my feelings about Greenpeace's dumb stunt at Nacza, Peru. They need to pay for the damage they've done.

It looks like the South Polar ozone hole is doing a lot more than letting ultraviolet rays in.

Beautiful sea creatures.

It has always seemed to me that the ethos of blogging and the needs of magazines are contradictory. Scientific American has been having some problems with that, and they're trying to do something about it. A magazine can never grant the freedom I've got here.

The strategic cost of torture, racism, and bigotry.

Norm Ornstein talks candidly about racism in American politics.

Belarus - the Soviet-style dictatorship that has been Russia's bff - is worried about the big neighbor to the east.

Russia's lack of soft power.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bits and Pieces - December 10, 2014

I don't have much to say about the Senate Torture Report. Maybe later. I need to do some assimilating. Here's as much as I can write now, with links to resources.

The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study. This is a scientific study looking at how scientific results get distorted by the time you read them in the newspaper.

Women Resisting Heterosexuality In Western Art History. Very funny readings of female reaction to male privilege in the painters and characters.

Noah Berlatsky in The Atlantic:
Over here is Le Guin, taking a stand for science fiction on the grounds that "we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope."
....
It's no accident that the most ubiquitous, overwhelming sci-fi sub-genre around is the one that has the least to do with the future: superheroes. Much of the superhero genre, in fact, is devoted to the fantasy that we don't need to wait for technological marvels, but can experience them right here, right now. More, we can do so, magically, without the comfy old familiar world we know changing that much at all.
How fear plays into the frequency with which white cops kill young black men. Fear is a common thread through this story, the need some felt for torture after 9/11, and other pathologies. We need to get away from it.

Political correctness enhances creativity. Nice quote:
When men aren’t thinking about being politically correct, they can sometimes be too, for lack of a better word, bro-y (or afraid of coming off as such). “And the flip side of men being jerks is that women worry that they’re going to be a target of that behavior,”
Best article around on the situation in Ukraine.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Bits and Pieces - December 3, 2014

Despite the ideology of the past few decades that says we're all individuals who owe each other nothing, humans have evolved a cooperative, living together capability. Time to get away from the ideology and make use of it. And we are capable of doing that.

The graphic looks like Van Gogh painted it, but it's the cosmic microwave background. The search for dark matter is not going well.

Working in the Curies' laboratory.

I am not fond of marking up my books, but finding a way to make oneself question them (and the writing we read from the media) is a good thing.

I've had some run-ins with the foreign policy realists who like to argue that the trouble in Ukraine is all the United States' fault because we have been intruding on Russia's sphere of interest, making that enormous country with all its nukes feel insecure. This is how that kind of thing would work in a university.

Beautiful photos of wild animals from Estonia.

The Death of Trust

So we have been told again that the death of a black man caused by a police officer is not worth considering - there is a video of Eric Garner's death by strangulation, the medical examiner said it was homicide, but a grand jury decided that there is no reason for a trial. The person who took the video has been charged, however.

September 11, 2001, was a turning point in many ways. One of them was that our uniformed municipal public safety officers were heroes. There were lots of heroes - all our military became heroes, until the sense of the word washed out into too many egos of those to whom the word was applied. Being a hero is a one-time thing, connected to a specific place, time, and act. But we made all-the-time, look at the uniform heroes.

Some blame the Vietnam War for today's splits in Americans' attitudes. For some people, it certainly represents ultimate wrongs of various stripes, but they seem to be few. Or, if there are more, they don't say much about it.

But we have had, much more recently, an even more stupid and venal war, although not as many died. That war, Bush's War In Iraq, was divisive, too, although not as noisily as the Vietnam War. You can see from the way I titled it which side I'm on. And it was so obviously wrong-headed and wrong-handled that those who want to feel good about America's wars show their support only indirectly: Benghazi. We should have left more troops in Iraq. John McCain takes it out by wanting to bomb everyone.

Then we elected our first black president. We. Elected. That means a majority of voters felt that was an okay, maybe better than okay, thing to do. And we re-elected him. At first, the racists were very careful, although a very few of their number were just fine with photoshopping him as a witch doctor or whatever bubbled up from their subconscious. But then the birthers, and "he's not one of us," and it's snowballed to an acceptance of open racism. You can google it.

And it all came together. The cops, many of whom were white, all of whom share the bedrock racism that psychologists have shown is in all of us, can do no wrong. They are heroes, even if the word is looking a little pale these days. The grand juries in Ferguson and Staten Island have given us the result.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Theories of Everything

“I saw a movie this week that I know you’d love! It’s called ‘The Theory of Everything.’” I smile and ask what my friend liked about it. He is happy to say. I do not intend to see the movie, but I don’t say that.

People who are not scientists often believe that the heights of science are what the physicists are happy to tell us that they are: struggling with nature to make her give up her secrets, or, in a less sexist formulation, knocking one’s head against the equations to make sense of nature, to get at the most basic essence, a theory of everything. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Forgetting

We have done some good things for ourselves as humans. After a while, it's easy to take those good things for granted and even think we don't need them. Things are going well, aren't they? Why do we have that silly rule?

So people begin to believe that their children don't need vaccinations against diseases that once were common, and we start to see epidemics of whooping cough, measles, and diphtheria again.

Or regulation. It's kind of an ugly word, like something your mother makes you do. Freedom is a nicer word. So along comes a hip company like Uber that assures you things will be cheaper (another nice idea) and better if you ride with strangers rather than licensed taxi drivers. Those licenses just keep the prices up, right?

Well, maybe there's something else they do, like avoiding stuff like this.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bits and Pieces - November 19, 2014

Ta-Nehisi Coates's honesty and writing moved me. It's hard to change one's mind in this way, harder to say it.

On the other side of such things, the #shirtstorm continues, now fed largely by idiots maintaining their freedom to wear inappropriate shirts when serving as a spokesman for a stunning science mission. Here's something that makes more sense. And a collection of tweets.

This is strange news. Perhaps Vladimir Putin is deciding to deal with his troubles at home more directly, and not simply distracting with a nice little war in Ukraine. Or perhaps he is planning both. Or perhaps this report is wrong. Stay tuned.

Privatization of the American space program benefits a Florida firm and Russian oligarchs.

History: Nikita Khrushchev‘s visit to the United States in 1959. Even at the height of the Cold War, channels with the Soviet Union were kept open.

More history: The African-Americans who migrated to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and their descendents.

Dignity is important to the Iranians in the nuclear negotiations. But it's a hard concept to define.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Bits and Pieces - November 17, 2014

'I'm Going to Live': American Ashoka Mukpo on What It's Like to Have Ebola

Photos of rural Belarus.

Putin's tactical misogyny. This is so ugly it's hard to read.

David Roberts explains postmodern conservatism in 36 tweets. Remarkable resemblance to Vladimir Putin's nihilistic propaganda barrage. You can't believe anything, so why try.

On the need for "closure." It's something I haven't understood. This article clarified some things for me. The need for stories that end well in a world where things often don't end well.

And a few more added later:

Things are not going well for Vladimir Putin in eastern Ukraine.

Human Rights Watch report on human rights abuses in Crimea.

The Republicans are doing everything they can to get around the election laws.






Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bits and Pieces - November 12, 2014

I contemplate Vladimir Putin's speech to the Valdai Discussion Club, which is being much discussed by others. The more I think about it, the more it seems like a continuing whine about not being appreciated nearly enough. However, this post is a serious examination in the style of international relations studies, with just a bit of psychologizing at the end.

Russia is pouring troops and military equipment into eastern Ukraine and, of course, denying it. BBC, RFE/RL.

Russia detains some American students at a conference for apparently no reason at all.

Russians come in many different ethnic groups.

Elaborate burial practices in North America 11,500 years ago.




Thursday, October 30, 2014

Falling Prey to the Thatcher-Reagan Zeitgeist

A couple of weeks ago, I wondered if it was possible to say, discuss, think of, a just society because our reference points had moved so far to the right under the influence of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Thomas Edsall provides an example:
What if the notion that a large segment of the electorate is made up of moderates who hunger for centrist compromise is illusory? What if ordinary voters are, in many respects, even more extreme in their views than members of Congress?
And I would ask
What if the political commentators who are so obsessed with centrist compromise are asking the wrong questions?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bits and Pieces - October 23, 2014

This is really important: Russia Today Lacks Resources to Use ‘Crimean Scenario’ Everywhere It Might Like, Moscow Analysts Say. Russia simply does not have the military forces to continue a low-level war in Ukraine, destabilize the Baltic States, occupy the Arctic, and guard its border with China. This is why President Obama and European leaders don't bother to respond to Vladimir Putin's bluster. It's just bluster. I hope to do a more quantitative post on this.

A couple of good new blogs: "Millysievert" describes herself as: Professional nuclear layperson, a.k.a. Executive Assistant to the World Nuclear Association Director General. Got a C in GCSE Physics. Fascinated by nuclear despite that. She is letting us join her learning curve at Nuclear Layperson. Red mercury is famous as a substance that makes nuclear weapons easier to build. Except it doesn't exist. Now it seems to be in Africa and someone finds it necessary to debunk it.

In case you missed it: how sex began.

Kazakhstan is where apples came from. Like a lot of other plants, their genetic diversity is now in danger.

Does Ebola immunize people without their getting sick? Other viruses do, and if Ebola does, the prospects for a general epidemic are less.

If you need a holiday, today is Mole Day!