Friday, August 15, 2014

Bits and Pieces - August 15, 2014

Who's in and who's out in the separatist organizations of eastern Ukraine.

Council of Europe conclusions on Ukraine.

Dumb idea of the week on how to deal with Russia. I love proposals in which "And then Russia would..." or "Russia would have to..." as if Russia had shown any inclination to do those things and not their opposite.

A proposal for containment (in the George Kennan meaning of the word) of the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL). BTW, I am working through Kennan's Long Telegram with reference to today's Russia.

A former soldier in the Israeli Defense Force: "I know how to kill, but I know I want peace."

Tony Judt, Israel, and social democracy.

Polygraph tests are required for many jobs and government clearances. But there is no scientific basis for using them.

A woman who was convicted of conspiracy in relation to the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg spying case of the 1940s and 1950s wants her record cleared. She's 98 years old.

The Nirvana Fallacy. Just because you can think of an alternative course of action doesn't mean that it would work better than what was done. This article references Obama in particular, but it's useful to keep this in mind in any analysis of history.

This has been one of the craziest weeks I can think of in some time. Not at all clear it's going to get better any time soon.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Bits and Pieces - August 5, 2014

Silicon Howl. A remake of Allan Ginsberg's famous poem.

Hillary for liberals. I have serious reservations about Hillary Clinton for president, but I guess I'll vote for her if she's the Democratic nominee.

The spies next door, the story of the Glomar Explorer and its mission to raise a sunken Soviet submarine.

Watching the Eclipse: Ambassador Michael McFaul was there when the promise of democracy came to Russia—and when it began to fade. If you only read one article about Vladimir Putin, this should be it.

Is western media coverage of the Ukraine crisis anti-Russian? Excellent compendium of several views.

Overhead photos of five Russian military bases participating in exercises this week.

Ukraine's SBU security service has published "top secret", Stalin-era files that Russia does not want to release.

Trying to figure out exactly what Russian action the United States claims violates the INF Treaty. The State Department's report is fairly unspecific. I've argued that that nonspecificity could be an invitation for Russia to join a dialog that could lead to discussions of the situation in Ukraine.

A lineup of Russia's nationalist parties and their leaders.

The Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan, 1979-1989. This war contributed to Soviet citizens' disillusionment with their government and through that, to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bits and Pieces - July 26, 2014

A profile of the new president of Indonesia, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. Looks like this is good news if his oppnent will let his challenge die.

Russia is going to do its own version of Eurovision. No gays or cross-dressers allowed.
“The first Intervision was about challenging the West and this Intervision is about reaffirming Russia as a force to be reckoned with,” says Dean Vuletic, a historian at the University of Vienna. “It’s no coincidence that it will be held in Sochi, which Putin used to showcase modern Russia during its Winter Olympics.”
I have been focused on Russia and Ukraine, but what is going on in Israel and Gaza is saddening and appalling. Israel imprisons Palestinians in Gaza and then bombs them. I'm sorry; I can't accept that.

In 2005, Tony Judt wrote "The Country That Wouldn't Grow Up," which is as relevant today as it was then. It seems to me that the part about young people having less connection to the Holocaust and its slipping into history has relevance beyond Israel and the Holocaust. David Kaiser writes about a similar issue, that those young people, with the aid of their elders, are developing their own facts about the world. In the US, that's partly the result of thirty years of conservatism's emphasis on the market-idealized individual, whose desires must be paramount. It's often occurred to me that the holders of that view also decry the death of family and community. Which I don't think are dead, but minority views today.

I've been wanting to write a post about some of those issues, and perhaps a number of things are coming together so I can. I admire Kaiser's try. My approach will be different from his.

More on Israel and Gaza in a similar vein.

How to talk about uncertainties. In other contexts, they might be called nuances. We really do need to get better about talking about them in many dimensions.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bits and Pieces - July 20, 2014

Science magazine used a very objectifying, offensive photo of transgender sex workers for the cover of its 11 July issue, and then one of its editors made it worse by his tweets. The cover is shown here; I'm not going to spread it around. Glendon Mellow (@FlyingTrilobite) tweeted out a mini-seminar on the art it reminded him of. Definitely worth reading.

35 literary writers who tweet.

A strange hole has been observed in the Siberian permafrost. It's not clear how long it's been there or what caused it. Scientists are investigating, but no salacious photos have yet emerged. My first thought was that Vladimir Putin's demons are escaping. Something like Pandora's Box.

And another bizarre Putin connection. Brian Fischer, a Christian radio host, says that Barack Obama commented on the death of AIDS researcher Dr. Joep M. Lange in order to normalize men having sex with men. Here's part of Obama's tribute:
In this world today, we shouldn't forget that in the midst of conflict and killing, there are people like these. People who are focused on what can be built, rather than what can be destroyed. People who are focused on how they can help people they've never met. People who define themselves not by what makes them different than other people, but by the humanity that we hold in common.
Putin sees himself as a defender of a Christian civilization that would refuse to normalize homosexuality. Maybe he and Fischer could get along.

A good FAQ about the Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down over Ukraine.

James Garner has died. I enjoyed his tv shows, perhaps because, as this obituary observes, his characters handled difficult situations with strategy rather than violence.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Bits and Pieces - July 8, 2014

I should have posted it here too, but I didn't, so go read about how "Dr. Strangelove" explains that security studies are inherently gendered over at Nuclear Diner. Ingrid Rowlands tries to wake up the lit-crit crew on the issue of gender, too.

Poland's overlooked Enigma codebreakers.

We always need more fairytales, and now there are 500 more!

A consideration of how historical anniversaries can shape our view of current events.

Are things coming apart in Russia? Stay tuned.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Russian Propaganda – How They Do It

RT (formerly Russia Today) is funded by the Russian government. They produce a wide variety of material, from apparently straight news through the discovery of sea monsters. The New York Daily News through what you see at supermarket checkout stands, more or less.
Last week they published a story supposedly on a report from the Rand Corporation for the US government on plans for Ukraine: internment camps and executions. Several people on Twitter noted an obvious forgery in the logo. The story took off on Twitter anyway, thanks to the Kremlin’s army of trolls and those who are frightened about events in Ukraine.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bits and Pieces - June 26, 2014

“We have completed an exhaustive study of common products that are marketed as ‘chemical-free’ and have prepared a detailed analysis of those products that are appropriately labeled as such." (Nature)

A rather remarkable paper on Russia's foreign policy.

Steven Perlstein: An open letter to Medtronic on what it means to be an American company.

What scientists spend their time doing.

Who's allied with whom in Syria.

More about Sykes-Picot, which everyone likes to say is falling apart.

If Clausewitz's analogy to the physics of his day isn't a very good one, what is the case for all that quantum stuff we keep hearing?

How to verify nuclear warheads without seeing them. This becomes important as the numbers go down.

Is nuclear power ever coming back? Probably, but it's a slog.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bits and Pieces - June 19, 2014

When and why civil resistance works against authoritarian regimes. I would have liked to have seen something about the nonviolent movements in the Baltics in the 1980s, but this is interesting.

What the Baltic States are doing to counter Russian propaganda. Paldiski, where the American troops are staying, was a site for training Soviet nuclear submariners. It had two reactors, which the Russians took with them when they left.

Russia is unhappy that search engines pick up more than their propaganda.

Russian movies with English subtitles.

OPCW report on its mission to Syria. Yes, chlorine is probably being used as a war gas. And I'll add it's probably the government doing it. The opposition doesn't have helicopters.

A selection of Dick Cheney quotes on Iraq from 2003. One of the many. It's good to see the bashing of the neocons that is in progress.

We do research on every public health problem but guns. And the NRA wants to keep it that way.

Chapter 2756 of why government regulation is necessary.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Take The White Pill

I swallowed a capsule this morning and am currently a walking source of gamma radiation. I must stay away from people for three days, from children, pregnant women, and small animals for five. I laid in a supply of groceries and figure I’ll have a few quiet days. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Have We Reached Peak Yet?

I think it was John Cole at Balloon Juice who originated the concept of "peak wingnut." As I understand it, the rightwingers will crescendo their crazy until it can no longer be sustained. Then the fever will break, and we can go back to a semblance of politics in place of conspiracy theories and frothing at the mouth.

The problem has been that each time an apparent peak is reached, the rightwingers manage to mount one more.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bits and Pieces - June 12, 2014

Some background on current events in Iraq.

What ate a 3 meter long Great White? Probably a Wereshark.

Pretty convincing evidence that Chris Hedges is a serial plagiarist.

Multimedia primer on nuclear proliferation.

Russia can't give up the idea that all its friends should speak Russian. This kind of thing is why language is an issue in Ukraine.

And a psychoanalytic look at Russia.

I pointed out today that one of the ways IAEA inspectors in Iran would know that Iran was planning to break out to nuclear weapons would be that Iran would have to alter equipment to prevent a criticality accident. If you want to know more, here's a report on criticality accidents in the US and Russia. And a video:

Friday, June 06, 2014

Thoughts On The Seventieth Anniversary of D-Day

We are seeing the photos and the front pages of the newspapers, the first dispatches from reporters, Eisenhower’s correspondence, and today’s observance in Normandy. Seventy years ago today, the war in Europe turned. The landing of the allies and their establishing a beachhead was the first step that clearly went in the direction of defeating Hitler.

Seventy years is a long time. I like to try to get perspective on what younger people are thinking today by thinking about the times I was that age. When I was in college, seventy years ago was before either of the world wars, and it seemed like another world. It was, just as D-Day must be for today’s college students. And, indeed, for all of us.

It’s hard, in today’s relative peace, to imagine the necessity for a coordinated air and sea assault involving hundreds of thousands of people. It’s hard to imagine a leader of a European, or any other country, deciding to conquer a continent. And almost succeeding.

On June 6, 1944, we didn’t know how long it would take to beat Hitler back. And there was a war in the Pacific against Japan as well. It would be another year and more before the war was ended.

Thinking about the immediacy of the invasion of the beaches, the shooting and death, the paratroopers landing can blot out that bigger picture. We must think of the people involved, but D-Day was also the hinge point between an older world where military conquest made a nation strong and a newer world in which that sort of aggression would be unacceptable as a means of state-building.

Photo – Landing supplies at Normandy.

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Bits and Pieces - June 5, 2014

Important for summer: Yes, DEET is safe to use to repel mosquitos. They carry West Nile virus and other nasty diseases.

I said it a very, very long time ago: it is not possible to contract government services out to profit-making companies that pay taxes for less money than the government does it, unless you cut the numbers of personnel and their salaries. Looks like that came back to bite us.

Counterespionage in Estonia.

Just one of the many. I see Roger Cohen is doing it at the New York Times, too. The common threads seem to be that the authors are frustrated that the world is untidy and that Barack Obama doesn't see fit to tidy it up the way George Bush did. Since Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are such exemplary successes. And yes, Libya was on Obama's watch. Maybe he learned something. I tweeted this morning to ask Cohen what he would recommend. No answer. Just make it better. That's pretty much what David Rothkopf says in the link, too. And these are the guys that are supposed to understand foreign policy.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Bits and Pieces - June 2, 2014

The norm that the United States brings back its military personnel from capture as prisoners of war can't depend on the qualities of the individuals. It is a pledge to those who fight for the country and necessary to maintain their morale. No person who is captured during war should have to worry whether s/he is worthy of being rescued. And there is a corporate side too easily ignored in our individualistic age: people work better together when they know they've got each others' backs. So bringing Bowe Bergdahl back is a good and necessary thing. There will be an investigation into how he was captured. The people who are objecting to this either don't understand military discipline, or they are partisans willing to use politics in destructive ways.

Interactive photos showing scenes around D-Day (June 6, 1944) in France and Britain and today.

Newly recovered photos of destruction in Nagasaki, Japan, by the atomic bomb.

An excellent collection of essays about Vladimir Putin's Eurasian politics. Read at least the introduction.

Linda Greenhouse, an experienced Supreme Court watcher, says that the Republicans on the Court are damaging it and us.

1989 is 25 years ago. Lots of anniversaries of a very active year. The Rocky Flats plutonium plant was raided.

More of how science works is public now. Get used to it.