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!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hilary Mantel on Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan turned the Anglo-American world around. In office at the same time, they thought similarly, a reaction to the slowdown of postwar liberalism. The political ideas that had given the United States prosperity and rebuilt Britain in the fifties turned out, unsurprisingly, not to have covered everything. Some aspects of liberal economics, along with actions like OPEC’s oil embargo, slowed economies. Voters were ready for a change, and Thatcher and Reagan offered a new start.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Nuclear Diner's New Look

Nuclear Diner is now on WordPress and has a new look. Feeds are available for posts and comments. Check it out!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Diplomacy with Russia as Therapy

Like a diva, Russia is all over the headlines lately. If it’s not hysterics that big bad NATO is right on its borders, it’s no, of course those weren’t Russian bombers over Sweden. Or that it’s okay for Russia to annex Crimea because there was a fair vote, whereas poor Scotland got cheated out of proper independence from the UK hegemons because that vote was fixed. [Okay, sorry, that was North Korea, the only country currently out-crazying Russia on social media.]

It’s been said that diplomacy with Russia can be like doing therapy with an extremely insecure patient. Russia, of course, has nuclear weapons, so a hysterical fit of tossing pots and pans could have disastrous consequences.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bits and Pieces - September 15, 2014

More Nuclear Diner-ish links. We are doing a major overhaul of the site and hope to have the new version up by next week! The old version is still available, but clunky in spots.

This may be sorta good news. It's hard to tell about anything coming out of Putin's Russia. The interpretation outside of Wonderland is that Putin doesn't want to occupy the Donbass, he just wants influence in Kiev. As many other things have been doing, this could change at any time.

Also significant: NATO Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove says that stealth invasions into NATO partners will invoke NATO's mutual assistance Article 5. Some have been saying that Russia will respond to a firm stand. Looks like here it is. See also previous paragraph for potential Russian response.

Ukraine wants to buy nuclear fuel from the US, not Russia.

A remarkably prescient article about Ukraine and Russia from a year ago.

In July, I asked how Russia sees the world. Apparently that is how Sergey Karaganov, dean at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics in Moscow, sees it.

Can thinking about a nuclear waste repository help us to broaden our time horizons to think more realistically about global warming?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

So Many Things Wrong Here

Frank Munger, whom you must follow if you want to know what is happening at the government's Oak Ridge nuclear facilities, is reporting on Y-12's capturing the DOE award for bad boy of the complex from Los Alamos. The offenses include particles of enriched uranium in the wrong place, the ever-popular mishandling of classified documents, and a genuinely alarming report of mistakes in pouring molten enriched uranium.

To some degree, it's all part of the game: DOE must find that its contractors are doing something wrong to prove it's in charge. This is sometimes aided and abetted by other contractors who are strongly motivated to show up their competitors.

The photo above illustrates some of the problems. I'm not clear on who the person is. He could be either Steve Erhart, the National Nuclear Security Administration manager who oversees Y-12 and Pantex, its sister nuclear facility in Texas, who wrote the letter detailing the sins, or Jim Haynes, the president and CEO of Consolidated Nuclear Security, the Bechtel-led contractor that took over management of both plants on July 1, the letter's recipient.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Bits and Pieces - September 5, 2014

Nuclear Diner is down right now, because we're working on upgrading the site. We hope to have it back in greatly improved form next week. Meanwhile, tabs are building up on my browser, and it's time to simplify. So these links will tilt more toward the nuclear and world conflict than usual.

This morning, it appears that Russia's FSB kidnapped an Estonian Security Service officer. The Estonian Security Service works on counterintelligence and organized crime. Here's more about Estonia's counterintelligence.

The photo above  (click to enlarge) is what the Estonian-Russian border looks like where the officer was taken.

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.