Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Science, Politics, and Chris Mooney

Chris Mooney once again has some advice for scientists in getting their message across to the public: listen to the concerns of the people you’re talking to.

That’s good enough advice, although hardly revolutionary; it can be found in most self-help books going back to Dale Carnegie and probably ancient Greece. But I think it misses an important point.

Science is based on the idea that some truths about the world are knowable in unambiguous ways, and that methods have been developed for finding those truths. Further, on that assumption that some truths are knowable and using those methods, we have built quite a nice and comfortable world for many of us on this planet. Further, we have expanded our mental horizons and opened the way to further improvements. These successes prove the validity (or at least the usefulness) of that assumption and those methods.

That’s a bit of an unfashionable viewpoint these days, pre-postmodern. But having electricity in your house, along with the appurtenances it runs, like the computer you’re looking at now, are some of its results. Automobiles, the veggies you buy at the farmers’ market, bicycles and running shoes, all are results. So are the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the leukemia of the downwinders from atmospheric nuclear tests, and the tens of thousands killed in the United States in automobile accidents every year. Some good and some bad, but we know and can understand them through science.

Mooney is working in what physicists might call a different reference frame, though. His main focus is how scientists can sell their message in a world with many different messages.
One the one hand, the nonscientists appear almost entirely impervious to scientific data that undermine their opinions and prone to arguing back with technical claims that are of dubious merit. In response, the scientists shake their heads and lament that if only the public weren't so ignorant, these kinds of misunderstandings wouldn't occur.
As Joe Romm points out, if you’re going to sell a message, it helps if you have as much money as the others who are selling their message.

So one may talk about tactics and money and listening, and all of that makes sense. But if you believe that there are unambiguous truths, and that those truths underlie what we might call the mechanics of the world, how things work, then if you want real solutions to your problems, there is only one way to get to them, and that is to find those truths and work with them.

And it appears that Mooney is willing to conclude more than his data allows. For example,
For one thing, it's political outlook -- not education -- that seems to motivate one's belief on this subject. According to polling performed by the Pew Research Center, Republicans who are college graduates are considerably less likely to accept the scientific consensus on climate change than those who have less education. These better-educated Republicans probably aren't ignorant; a more likely explanation is that they are politically driven consumers of climate science information. Among Democrats and independents, the relationship between education and beliefs about global warming is precisely the opposite -- more education leads to greater acceptance of the consensus climate science.
Let me try to move that back into my reference frame, the one with unambiguous truths. Mooney’s first sentence is his conclusion.
For one thing, it's political outlook -- not education -- that seems to motivate one's belief on this subject.
But wait a minute. For the Republicans, that is true, because their political outlook causes them to take beliefs that contradict those unambiguous truths. Democrats and independents are more likely to align their beliefs with those truths as they have more education, which would be what one might expect. So (my conclusion), for Republicans, ideology overrides demonstrable truth, moreso as their education increases, while Democrats and independents increase their understanding of how the world works with increased education.

This changes the nature of the problem: what is it that is motivating Republicans to reject their education in favor of ideology? Further, they must have totally rejected the methods that have served science and society well. We may also ask how to change their minds, and Mooney is correct: it appears that factual evidence plays no part in their thinking.

But Mooney takes those results to mean that all people are more influenced by politics than they are by fact, and John Horgan echoes him in a collation by Andy Rivkin of various shiny objects from people in his contact list.

I think it is true that people have different agendas and that this needs to be considered in communicating science. Perhaps it is useful to put aside that history of science’s ability to determine some kinds of truth and the methods, however successful, in order to look at those agendas. But I think that the example I’ve given undercuts Mooney’s conclusions and may suggest a different approach: namely, political defeat of a party that prizes ideology over understanding. Such parties have done a great deal of damage in the past. Such a strategy need rely very little on science communication, but rather on the usual tools of politics. Then Romm’s comments about balancing the funding of the two messages become a full explanation of what is needed.

Apparently there is a much longer report of which Mooney’s op-ed is just the executive summary. I’ll read that report tonight and perhaps have more to say tomorrow.

The Age of (Non)Ideology

You’ve been in-country quite a few years now. You’ve got a spouse, kids, a house. Although it took some arguing with the higher-ups to put the house in your own name. Whoever heard of a safe house owned by someone in Moscow? And that’s not all, the required transmissions so often go wrong.

Montclair, New Jersey, is a nice place to raise kids. The neighbors are friendly, they like the way you pamper your hydrangeas. What would it be in Moscow? Scrambling for a bigger apartment, graffiti in the hallways, no place for the kids to play, constant traffic jams, air pollution.

Not a bad assignment at all. It was really good of Uncle Ivan to recommend us for this through his FSB connections. Little progress on meeting the right people, but how many atomic scientists did they think lived in Montclair, for God’s sake? Puff up the reports to sound as good as possible. It’s a long-term assignment, they’re not going to pull us back for any little thing.

***

Meanwhile, in Moscow, the reports are received and deciphered by a small group in a back office at the SVR. Salaries are paid regularly, reports are distributed to the proper offices and filed properly. It’s an easy job. As long as everyone keeps their heads down, it will continue. It is in the long-range category.

***

The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty put inspectors from the United States and the Soviet Union in each other’s countries. A colleague at the Hercules missile factory outside Salt Lake City told a story about the Soviet inspectors when they arrived. Their American escorts showed them the places they needed to know about. When they reached the well-stocked supermarket, the Soviets couldn’t stand it any more.

“We know that you have to show us the front stores. Now take us to the real stores, the ones that everyone uses.”

It took some persuasion to convince the Soviet inspectors that this was the real store. They were accustomed to Soviet shortages of food and the government’s claims that it was worse in the United States. When the inspectors returned to the Soviet Union, they took television sets and other consumer goods with them. My Hercules colleague felt that the information they brought back was a factor in the fall of the Soviet Union.

Spies sent to the United States in the nineties would have had better information about both the United States and Russia, and that information would have improved with their longer stay. Did they decide they had a good enough thing that they tried not to rock the boat?

[With some help from MC.]

Profit, Loss, and Proliferation

Russia’s Americanized Russians

by Molly Cernicek and Cheryl Rofer

No sooner does Russian President Dmitry Medvedev return home from his visit to Silicon Valley as part of the reset in Russian-American relations, than the arrest of eleven Russian spies seems to return to the Cold War. President Medvedev must be wondering how Russia might have done a better job of integrating Russians into America to learn the secret recipes, handshakes, and processes of one of America’s most prolific and prized treasures – its high tech industry – and then getting them back into Russia to use that knowledge. While Russian spies may have provided information of interest, it is doubtful that information sent back to the motherland has provided any value…economic value that is.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Soviet government assets were handed out to Friends of Boris and Friends of Vladimir before anyone had an idea of what Russia had of value beyond oil and metals and what potential human talent was available. Little investment went into Russia’s flailing education system or its archaic infrastructure. The country whose scientists designed and built nuclear weapons, supersonic jets, and sophisticated satellites and were renowned globally in theoretical physics and mathematics focused entirely on exploiting natural resources and building a service economy. The theory was that once Russia became economically viable through natural resource trade, the government would focus on investing and building a globally competitive economy. But meanwhile Russian experts in scientific and engineering fields took advantage of opportunities in the West and in Asia, leaving a significant void in Russia. The United Nations estimates that between 1990 and 2002 the number of individuals involved in research and other academic activities decreased by 55.2 percent, or 1,072,500 technical employees. (UNESCO Science Report 2005 p.139).

Today, President Medvedev wants to improve education and build a high tech economy. Thus his interest in Silicon Valley – the model so many want to duplicate around the world. He went to Silcon Valley to find potential investors and business partners to support one of his pet projects – Skolkovo, Russia’s innovation city being developed outside of Moscow to incubate scientific ideas into profitable companies. He left Silicon Valley with one big opportunity – a commitment from CISCO to build offices in Skolkovo, including their second global headquarters for emerging technology and a $1 billion investment in R&D and business development. This is a very big deal for a plan that that will depend heavily on something Russia has very little of – successful high tech entrepreneurs.

One of Skolkovo’s first projects announced this spring is an effort in cloud computing, computer speech recognition, and sending three-dimensional images through the internet. It is backed by seed funding and enthusiasm. And there is someone to lead this effort who has world-class credentials. Serguei Beloussov has experience in a number of high performance computing areas, including cloud computing as CEO of Parallels, a global leader in virtualization and automation software. His background as an innovator and entrepreneur is spectacular. The only complication, he lives in the Seattle area. He plans to spend time in Russia getting this demanding venture going in an environment with many challenges while juggling his growing American company that made over $100 million last year.

As the United States and Russia fret over the spy story, we’re wondering whether President Medvedev wonders what would have happened had Russia had sent many more spies to Silicon Valley to learn about high tech companies and then return to Russia to build ventures of their own rather than sending citizens to fit into American life in the Northeast in order to dig for bits and pieces about US government protocols, plans and policies. What if programs like Skolkovo had been implemented in the 1990s in Russia instead of a frantic grab for natural resources?

Instead, America profited by having Russians like Beloussov come to the United States with ambitions to build companies that have created thousands of high paying jobs. Russians like Sergei Brin, co-founder of Google ( $25 billion in revenue last year); or Valentin Gaponstsev, CEO of IPG Photonics in Massachussetts, a global leader in lasers, bringing in an annual revenue of $191 million. Or the many Russians who have started smaller companies, not to mention the thousands employed throughout America’s high tech sector. Their contributions to our economy far out shadow whatever those 11 alleged spies may have taken. Surely something President Medvedev must be lamenting as he looks for help from both Russians and Americans.

Concern Trolling and Gender Confusion

Kathleen Parker does the first today, severely undermining Michael Gerson's argument. It's always fun to see the wingers at the Post messing with each other's heads.

Ooooh, it's all right to be like a woman, Parker assures us far too many times in comparing Obama's style to something that isn't red-blooded male, talky like a woman. "I say this in the nicest possible way," she simpers. But then her male colleague, Michael Gerson, suggests that we have an Ugly Party, which indulges in invective and an Adult Party, which
in my experience, is more like a seminar at the Aspen Institute -- presentation by David Broder, responses from E.J. Dionne Jr. and David Brooks -- on the electoral implications of the energy debate. I am more comfortable in this party for a few reasons: because it is more responsible, more reliable and less likely to wish its opponents would die.
Words, words, words! as Parker would probably agree with Liza Doolittle.

Maybe we can see a few rotten tomatoes tossed between these two. Unless they're both members of The Adult Party.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Yucca Mountain's Application Can't Be Withdrawn

A panel of administrative judges ruled that the administration can't withdraw the application for a permit for Yucca Mountain, that it is up to Congress. (Decision document here)

This is likely to leave Yucca Mountain in limbo; the administration has requested no funding for the project. It does leave the option open to consider Yucca Mountain in the future, and it may make some difference in the deliberations of the panel charged with reviewing what to do with nuclear waste.

It may also provide fodder for some on Congress to criticize the administration for trying to shut down Yucca Mountain.

Testy Journalists

Lara Logan is the latest of the Official Journalists to weigh in on the McChrystal article by Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone. Matt Taibbi responds, impolitely.

There's been a spate of journo indignation lately: that Hastings dared to write what he actually heard from McChrystal and company, instead of keeping it within the family; Logan joins David Brooks, most notably, but there are others arguing that if you want access, you have to play the game. Which says far more about their practices and how much the public can depend on them than it does about Michael Hastings.

And then there was the uproar at the Washington Post about un-toilet-trained bloggers from, presumably, more of those Official Journalists, as Dave Weigel was outed by an anonymous member of an off-the-record e-mail list who decided to break those rules (an Official Journalist, perhaps?).

And, a week or so back, James Risen's obscenely-expressed fury at bloggers who dare to question an Official Journalist's story.

It's the summer, supposed to be lapsing into the unofficial August vacation for Official Journalists known as the Silly Season. But the world seems to keep ticking on, as do the bloggers, and the future of the news business remains very much up in the air. So it's not surprising that those who consider themselves part of that elite profession might be getting testy.

It's an unruly world out there. Journalists are supposed to explore it. But it looks like some of them have been all too protected for far too long.

Meanwhile, the blogosphere shows them up once again. We can contrast this to Risen's tantrum or to the propensity of newspapers to hide corrections in small print on an interior page. The serious bloggers I know are not afraid to say they were wrong.

Bill Clinton Joins The Crowd

in calling for the Navy to "blow up the well" in the Gulf of Mexico that is gushing oil.

I think I've figured out why people might think that this is a solution. They see that there is a path (the well) from the reservoir to the surface. Take away that path, they reason, and the gusher will stop.

But that path is only part of the problem. Oil accumulates underground because it reaches an impermeable layer of rock. Oil is lighter than water and rock, so it tends to migrate upward. The problem that is not solved by "blowing up the well" is the breach in that impermeable layer, also the well.

Explosives won't seal that breach. They will fracture a lot of rock and break up the path to the surface so that it will be tortuous rather than the relatively straight and potentially more controllable wellbore. They may even fracture the impermeable layer still further. The result could well be multiple seeps or even blowouts with no means of control other than drawing down the reservoir. Which will take a lot more time than drilling relief wells.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Oh No...

As unconfirmed reports of an imminent Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities pick up steam in the Middle Eastern media, a US-based strategic intelligence company has released a chart showing US naval carriers massing near Iranian waters. (via)

Arrogance and Rules of Thumb

Exactly what is it that irritates me so much lately about what I’m seeing in various poorly informed discussions of scientific and engineering issues? I think it’s the arrogance. That arrogance comes in several forms.

Hey, you science guys! You’ve got something wrong!

I’ve figured out a solution for a problem that other people seem to find difficult.

No, I didn’t have to check what’s been done before.


And there are more.

These assertions are indicators that the person behind them doesn’t know what s/he is talking about.

That’s one of my rules of thumb. Scientists have a lot of rules of thumb, which sometimes makes them seem arrogant.

“I’ve found a way to run your car on water instead of gasoline.”

“Bosh.”

One of my favorite sources of rules of thumb is thermodynamics. It doesn’t tell you how to do things or how fast you can do them, but it tells you whether something, like running your car on water, is impossible.

Most people know that there are three laws of thermodynamics: energy can neither be created nor destroyed; you can’t break even except at absolute zero, but you can’t reach absolute zero. Adding some chemical specifics gives very useful rules of thumb. Engineers have other rules of thumb, from thermodynamics and practical experience.

I’ll give a few examples of those rules. They become so engrained if you do science or engineering for a while that you don’t think of them, they become a sort of common sense, different from everyday common sense. So when someone says something that contravenes them, a scientist is likely to reply sharply that that’s wrong.

Rule #1 (no significance to the numbers): Carbon dioxide and water are products, not reactants. The system hydrocarbon plus oxygen has more energy in it than water plus carbon dioxide. So all the schemes to run your car on water are bosh. No, you can’t use a catalyst to turn it around; catalysts only speed up reactions that are allowed thermodynamically. You have to add energy to do anything chemically with carbon dioxide and water.

Rule #2: Stuff mixes. I’ve recently been engaged in a discussion with a person who has convinced himself that the science on the CFC ban was a devious preview of scientists plotting to take over the world through anthropogenic global warming. His reasoning is that you can pour out gaseous CFCs in a stream because they are heavier than air; therefore they must fall out of the atmosphere and never reach the ozone layer. The Second Law says that things tend toward maximum disorder, which means they mix. Once mixed, stuff doesn’t unmix. Have you ever seen the sugar jump out of a cup of tea and form one of those nice little cubes? Gases mix even more easily.

Rule #3: Everything takes more energy than you think. I’ve seen, far too many times, the lament that our current electrical generating plants “waste” one-third of the energy in their fuels. Welcome to the Carnot cycle! It’s one of the first things thermodynamics students calculate, a sequence of energy generation and use. And the result that those students get is that about a third of the input energy goes to entropy, not usable. There are other cycles and other ways to use energy that are more efficient, but if you’ve got a Carnot cycle, the most common cycle for power plants, you’re stuck with that one-third entropy.

Scientists and engineers have built a world with definitions of words like force and energy that differ from the common definitions, and precisely-defined concepts like mass that is often confused with weight. It is frequently not possible to extrapolate from everyday experience to the behavior of molecules or the flow velocities and phase activity at the top of the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer. Not at all possible to extrapolate from computer games.

Scientists also have different social rules. When a scientist has a great idea, the first reaction is to ask whether it fits with the rules of thumb and whether it’s been done before. If it goes against any of that, a scientist’s reaction is “what did I get wrong?” not “that’s the way it ought to be.”

I had a boss once – a physicist in a project that was mostly chemistry – who believed that creativity depended on not knowing too much about a subject. This is a view taken by many physicists and too many of those proffering solutions to the Deepwater Horizon blowout. My boss would come around with a great idea, we would tell him what was wrong with it, and then he’d let it go. It wasted time, which is why I prefer some base of subject knowledge as a takeoff point for creativity, but he put the process of science into play and lived by it: peer review. There are a lot of ways to check out a new idea: ask other people; repeat the experiment; check the literature. The important thing is to give it up once someone shows you it’s foolish. Not like this guy.

BP’s blowout at Deepwater Horizon is particularly difficult to comprehend because of its scale. We are not accustomed to thinking of the pressures under a mile of water, nor gases flashing out of the liquid as the petroleum bursts from the pipe, the enormous pressure behind it, the five-story blowout preventer. The construction of the well is not easily visualized, particularly if you’ve never learned how a well is constructed, now with an unknown degree of damage. I’ve dealt with drillers, had the business of mud described to me, and I can’t describe it now in any detail myself. Which is why I offer links to visuals as I find them.

So extrapolations from experience in watering the garden are unlikely to provide solutions. Heck, if you think that the well can just be buried, plant a hose in the ground shooting full force upward and try to cover it with dirt.

Rule #4: If it’s an obvious idea, chances are that someone’s thought of it before and there’s a good reason why it won’t work. This is not a reason to give up, but rather a guide to checking the idea out.

One of the most basic things that a scientist learns is that his/her own mind is the first place that mistakes will be made. It’s too easy to bend facts in your mind toward what you want, to determine a conclusion and then figure out how it has to be done; even more so when the conclusion you want is guided by politics, like the guy who thinks that banning CFCs was a scam. That’s why my boss checked out his ideas and shut up when they had killer flaws. You can’t get creative if you stick with a loser idea.

Rule #5: Input for a product should be water and air. Other things cost more. KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. Also: Occam’s razor.

The first is a chemical engineering rule of thumb. The others are more general. They are nice tests of an idea: how cheap and easy is it? How could it be cheaper and easier? This doesn’t necessarily lead to cutting corners. Simpler and cheaper is frequently better, as well.

There are more. Maybe the ongoing nature of the BP blowout, leading to repeated rebuffs of all those suggestions that aren’t likely to work, will teach some of the public that such rules of thumb exist and are useful. Steve Benen debunks Rand Paul’s idea of an “underground electric fence” by asking for some evidence that such a thing exists; peer review at work. And Mark Morford takes a step back and laughs at those who are predicting that the blowout will be the end of the world, or something like that. A few people are starting to get it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jambul or Jamun or Java Plums

Dreaming Up Creeds

This pretty much gets at why I've never jumped into the going atheists-vs-religionists fray or even thought it was terribly interesting.
The most boring question to ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true.” It’s a measure of the banality of recent discussions on theological matters that it is precisely this issue which has hogged the limelight, pitting a hardcore group of fanatical believers against an equally small band of fanatical atheists...

The tragedy of modern atheism is to have ignored just how many aspects of religion continue to be interesting even when the central tenets of the great faiths are discovered to be entirely implausible. Indeed, it’s precisely when we stop believing in the idea that gods made religions that things become interesting, for it is then that we can focus on the human imagination which dreamt these creeds up. We can recognize that the needs which led people to do so must still in some way be active, albeit dormant, in modern secular man. God may be dead, but the bit of us that made God continues to stir.
Alain de Botton (via)

Bits and Pieces - June 27, 2010

Alas, it took only one listserv participant to bundle up Weigel’s archived comments and start leaking them outside the group. The result is that Weigel lost his job. But the bigger loss is The Post’s standing among conservatives.
From the WaPo ombudsman. Evidently he hasn't been reading the editorial page lately: Krauthammer, Will, Parker, Thiessen...

Samantha Joye is posting again, with a nice set of questions on the BP blowout.

These criteria are good ones to apply to any science article...or any news article.

How enriched was Y-12's WWII uranium?

Imagining a liberal Supreme Court.

It's been said before, but obviously needs to be said again: what's wrong with Congress from someone who's been there.

A stacked deck for a conservative economic outcome, and the people want something different.

Oops!

When "Cheater's Risk" was released by the Stimson Center, I didn't pay a lot of attention. I don't do computer games, except solitaire. It seemed gimmicky to me, but what the heck, something for everyone, maybe it would emphasize how difficult it really is to get a nuke.

But apparently that isn't the case. Both Robert Farley and Thers have gotten pretty far down the proliferation path. Commenters claim the same.

This will probably make the game more popular, with the takeaway message that it's easier for nations to get nukes than you might think.

And it will undermine the pretty-good summary that Barry Blechman and Alex Bollfrass provide of their reasoning in today's Washington Post. It's their book that "Cheater's Risk" is based on.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bits and Pieces - June 25, 2010

I'm finding this Dave Weigel business very confusing. If you work for the Washington Post, you can't say anything bad about Matt Drudge, even in private? Julian Sanchez's rant makes more sense to me than anything else I've seen on the subject. Added later: Emptywheel finds some contradictions in another WaPo story.

A partial lunar eclipse for those in the western US early tomorrow morning, and check out the many possibilities for seeing the space station. I saw it one evening, quite delightful. (h/t to RG)

Is Bobby Jindal playing up the sand berm solution in order to mask his reluctance to mobilize the National Guard?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More Bits and Pieces - June 23, 2010

Utah Senate Hopeful Supports CTBT. Good luck to this Republican candidate.

Iran seems determined to, um, get people's attention. For the MSM, I calculate that there is 3.4 kg of U-235 in 17 kg of 20% enriched uranium.

What to look for in the G-8/20/whatever summit.

Another drilling disaster: Indonesian mud volcano still spewing after four years. It was a badly constructed natural gas well that seems to have started this.

Profit, Loss, and Proliferation

Russia's Continuing Defense Modernization Plan

by Molly Cernicek and Cheryl Rofer

This spring, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced a plan to modernize at least 30 percent of Russian military weaponry by 2015. According to Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, only 10 percent of his military’s equipment is up to date, and he plans to spend $43 billion to fix this problem.

Although Russia neglected its military financially in the 1990s, that has not been the case in the past decade. Military spending has risen significantly in an attempt to modernize the army and its armaments. In 1988, the Soviet Union’s military budget was about $33 billion. By 1997, it was one-tenth of that.

Since 2000, Russia has been authorizing more funding to modernize its military, including moving it towards a professional army model and upgrading its weapons systems. In summary, Russia’s military budget climbed from $7 billion in 2000 to close to $50 billion in 2009.

So where did all of the funds go over the past 10 years? Did they buy new weapons systems and technology and transition the Russian army into a professional model with higher salaries and decent housing? How could only 10 percent of the military equipment be up to date after billions of dollars were allocated to new procurements? Either the funds were misused or Medvedev’s current $43 billion plan to modernize 90 percent of his military armaments is far too little. More likely it’s both.

It’s to be expected large sums of budgeted funds would be misspent or ended up in personal bank accounts. The Russian government realizes 1 out of 3 rubles in the economy falls victim to corruption, and many Russians think it is much closer to 1 out of 2 rubles.

But the bigger worry for Medvedev is that orders were placed, despite corruption problems, to the defense industry for modernized equipment and have not been filled year after year. After President Putin privatized much of the massive, inefficient Soviet defense industry in 2006 and 2007, 30 percent of the nearly 400 organizations privatized are facing bankruptcy proceedings. Defense contracts keep these inefficient organizations alive but not producing.

Medvedev should notice that the math is not adding up. For many of the past 10 years, big announcements have been made about the modernization plans of the its military followed by trillions of rubles allocated. But even with those trillions of rubles and global market opportunities for the privatized firms, the defense sector is struggling. In 2009, for $50 billion the government invested in its defense industry, international weapons sales brought in a record $7.4 billion. Not a great ratio of investment to sales.

Medvedev expects this latest modernization program to switch all military communications to digital technologies by 2012. He recently demonstrated an ultramodern prototype radio. A small problem – technologies like this radio and digital technology were designed and manufactured outside Russia. From what country should Russia buy their next-generation secret communication systems and technologies? A topic for a future post perhaps.

Bits and Pieces - Russia Edition

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev arrives in the United States tomorrow. Here's some of the anticipatory coverage. I don't agree with every word of every article, but each has some good points.

John Kerry: The merits of a Russian relationship

Peter Baker in the NYT: Obama Aims to Build Economic Ties With Russia. And the converse, I would suspect.

The Guardian: Russia cuts gas supplies to Belarus by 60%. The gas war is still in progress between Russia and former Soviet republics. At least it's summer.

The Moscow Times: Reviving the OSCE

azatutyan.am: Iran Against U.S. Peacekeeping Role In Karabakh. Russia is working with the United States to help Armenia and Azerbaijan to settle their dispute, and Iran doesn't like it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Don't Feed The Troll

I know, but this troll managed to get into the New York Times op-ed section today.

If he had been reading The Oil Drum, he would have known that this is a dumb idea. If he posted that op-ed on The Oil Drum, he would have been dismissed as a troll who wasn't keeping up with his reading.

A Navy man who thinks the Navy can do it. Not surprising. Unfortunately, he has no idea of what the Navy has been doing that might achieve his goals.
The Navy also commands explosives experts who have vast knowledge of underwater demolitions. And it has some of the world’s finest underwater engineers at Naval Reactors, the secretive program that is responsible for designing nuclear reactors for nuclear submarines. With the help of scientists in our national weapons laboratories and experts from private companies, these engineers can be let loose on the well.
And they have those nukes in their back pockets! Evidently he hasn't heard that Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has a bunch of experts working on the problem. But not Navy, so I guess it doesn't count.
...the Navy could focus on stopping the leak with a conventional demolition. This means more than simply “blowing it up”: it means drilling a hole parallel to the leaking well and lowering charges to form an explosive column.
Um, there are two relief wells currently being drilled. Parallel and close to the hole would interfere with the oil containment measures now in progress. It's a pretty good bet that the relief wells will do their job. The oil industry has been dealing with relief wells for a very long time.
Upon detonating several tons of explosives, a pressure wave of hundreds of thousands of pounds per square inch would spread outward in the same way that light spreads from a tubular fluorescent bulb, evenly and far. Such a sidelong explosion would implode the oil well upstream of the leak by crushing it under a layer of impermeable rock, much as stepping on a garden hose stops the stream of water.
Several tons? The well bore might reach a couple of feet diameter. How are several tons of explosive going to fit? And the typical direction of force is outward, as our troll says. That means that craters form as rocks get thrown around.

This is where I think our submariner misunderstands what his underwater Navy colleagues have been doing. Many of their explosives are shaped charges. It is possible to build a shaped charge to collapse a pipe. Such shaped charges would have to be fitted around the pipe. Unbolting the blowout protector and installing a cap is easier and more predictable. The reason this hasn't been done seems to be that those in charge believe that the well casing is damaged, and pressure will further damage it.

I am getting really tired of the dumb stuff that the MSM is willing to print.

Bits and Pieces - June 22, 2010

The Gulf oil slick from space. Via.



Life below the slick.

By demanding that Obama show his emotions in public, the critics reinforce the very worst parts of our political culture.

Another view of President Obama's temperament.

Eugene Robinson points out that Joe Barton's apology to BP was part of his prepared remarks. Not a gaffe. Can't repeat this enough.

Joshua Pollock speculates on the source of that xenon from North Korea.


I've always admired Edward Brooke, and
he comes through again.

We've still got some good teachers around.

Does the news media spend too much time on news?

Added later: BP is the main developer of oil wells in the Caspian Sea. Russia is worried.

McChrystal's media advisors.

Kaffir Limes

Claire McCaskell

I quit giving money to Emily's Choice when they supported Hillary Clinton for President. It shouldn't have been a surprise to me, but their endorsement came just when I had become enthusiastic about Barack Obama. They were doing what they said they would do.

But when I used to support them, I recall sending money to a woman running for Senator in Missouri, Claire McCaskell. Since then, she has continued to do good stuff. Now she's working on eliminating secret holds. The woman is principled and intelligent.

Best political contribution I ever made.

McChrystal

I don't have a lot to say about the McChrystal mess; you can find plenty on any political or foreign policy blog. It was a dumb thing for McChrystal to do, and it appears he has realized that a bit late.

I've just got a couple of things to say about it. First, this was the modus operandi for generals during the Bush years. We'll listen to the generals on the ground. No, they didn't dis Bush the way McChrystal's staff dissed the present administration. Why should they, when Bush was encouraging them to go their way. I recall any number of times when generals spoke out in ways that I thought were above their pay grade, and all too often it seemed that tactics were driving strategy. So things changed, and McChrystal's view of how things are done didn't.

But, for all that, it's not exactly a McArthur moment, when a general threatens to start waging the war of his choice, complete with nuclear weapons. And Truman gave McArthur more than one chance. We tend to recall only the last one. So I agree with John Cole that Obama will do well to make his best decision on what's best for the country, not what is the most macho (or whatever else the pundits are using for a criterion).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Opinionator Synchronicity

Yesterday, Stanley Fish, on a stupid initiative at Texas A&M to apply a conventional 'customer service' model to student evaluations of instructors.

The day before, Errol Morris, on the 'Dunning-Kruger Effect — [how] our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.'

Bits and Pieces - Solstice Edition

I always find solstice mixed. It's the start of real summer and almost the start of our monsoons that cool things down and provide much of our precipitation. But it's also the end of lengthening days.

A shakedown from another time and another disaster.

The politics of the energy bill and the President's role.

Plutonium Page (Page van der Linden) has left Daily Kos to blog independently.

Is Louisiana's Senator Mary Landrieu changing her mind on oil?

What really caused the housing boom? (Hint: not what the Republicans like to claim.)

Utility-only cap and trade?

A dialog between Tony Judt and his son on politics.

Added later: Some Manhattan Project history I wasn't acquainted with.

Fritz Hollings: what fundraising is doing to the Senate.

Let Me Count The Ways

the MSM can get science wrong. I've been feeling fairly crabby lately because of the technical subjects in the news that reporters can't be bothered to understand. This one is so egregious, I have to work it over in detail.
Abnormal radiation was detected near the inter-Korean border days after North Korea claimed last month to have achieved a nuclear technology breakthrough, South Korea's Science Ministry said Monday.
The article, as happens so often in the MSM, treats radiation as a thing, somehow separate from the matter that must be present to emit the radiation.
The ministry said it failed to find the cause of the radiation but ruled out a possible underground nuclear test by North Korea. It cited no evidence of a strong earthquake that must follow an atomic explosion.
Actually, the cause of the radiation appears to have been found. Three paragraphs down:
On May 15, however, the atmospheric concentration of xenon - an inert gas released after a nuclear explosion or radioactive leakage from a nuclear power plant - on the South Korean side of the inter-Korean border was found to be eight times higher than normal, according to South Korea's Science Ministry.
Presumably this xenon was one of its radioactive isotopes, which are formed by fission. I say "presumably" because nowhere in the article is the connection between the xenon and the radiation it emits made explicit. However, the connection between North Korea's highly ambiguous claim of achieving nuclear fusion is made explicit in the article. The problem with this is that radioactive xenon isotopes are not a product of nuclear fusion. The one way they might be connected would be through a test of a boosted fission device. But the article says that no earthquake was detected, so no underground explosive test was done.

In somewhat better news, the New York Times today has a shockingly competent article on the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon rig. The Washington Post continues its metanarrative (and easier reporting target) of the lobbyists that the various companies involved in that disaster are acquiring.

I'm working on a longer post on the subject of science illiteracy, but it may not see the light of day. Even I have a limit to the crabbiness I am willing to inflict on our readers.

Update: Here's part of the problem. The reporters and editors don't know that they don't know.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Manute Bol, 1962-2010


"You know, a lot of people feel sorry for him, because he's so tall and awkward," Charles Barkley, a former 76ers teammate, once said. "But I'll tell you this -- if everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it's a world I'd want to live in." (WaPo)

Bits and Pieces - June 19, 2010

I was wondering if women are going to be expected to take this to keep up with men's meds. Would men then have to take more meds, and so on?

Some of the sillier things you may read about the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico will mention abiotic oil. Here's an explanation. Mentioning abiotic oil, IMHO, is a declaration of ignorance or political spin that probably infects the entire article. It is to the advantage of the "Drill, baby, drill" crowd to believe that oil is inexhaustible. Too bad they have no science to support that idea.

Ideas for solutions to the blowout that won't work.

Is it too much to ask Congress to listen to the economists or look at the history of the Great Depression? Yes, I guess so.

Possibly good news from Turkey, China, and North Korea.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bits and Pieces - June 17, 2010

Recapitulating the Gilded Age - in a good way.

More about Afghanistan's minerals from McClatchy, who beat James Risen to the story.

Ezra Klein is putting his intern through his research paces, and good information is coming out. Would be nice to see these tax rates evened up. Keep that in mind when politicians start griping about taxing the rich. And what's a dollar of stimulus worth?

Show us the mudlogs from that BP well! Although I'd prefer the three-dimensional models that BP must have of the reservoir and well. And a caution: this author is pushing a model of oil generation that can't be sustained, but that doesn't show up explicitly in this article.

Update: Reasons to doubt those estimates of Afghan mineral deposits.

The MSM Finds Some News

Fred Hiatt notices today something Paul Goble and I wrote about back in April (here too): Russia is becoming a friendlier neighbor to the Baltic States.

And, speaking of that part of the world, it's seventy years (seitsekümmend aastat) since Estonia became part of the Soviet Union. Giustino provides some history. I'll add that Marju Lauristin, the daughter of Johannes Lauristin, played a significant part as a member of the Estonian Supreme Soviet in getting Estonia out of the Soviet Union. You just never know how your kids are going to turn out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bits and Pieces - June 16, 2010

Happy Bloomsday!

Russia and the United States are cooperating on Kyrgyzstan.

Russia launches a nuclear submarine (photos). Notice that the propellor is covered. Very classified shape.

A longish article on what might be behind the Tea Partiers' emotions.

It ain't gonna be easy to mine Afghanistan for all that mineral wealth. No wonder we didn't hear from Paul Wolfowitz.

We are releasing, in carbon dioxide, the equivalent of 5000 BP Blowouts every day.

Michael Tomasky on the long political slog and liberal despair.

Obama's Oval Office Speech

I've got a bunch of tabs up to write a post, but MMonides at Balloon Juice says most of what I might have said.
IM less than HO, POTUS addressed every issue he needed to last night. He discussed the past, how we got in this situation, his own mistake in believing the safety technology was sufficient, the government response, and BP’s “recklessness.” He went on to commit to the Gulf’s recovery and to accountability, and presented a blue print for our government’s next steps. He tied the situation to our energy policy specifically, but without pushing any hot-button issues. He acknowledged MMS corruption, and his Administration’s plans to address it. He even pointed out how our addiction to fossil fuels has led us to us to risky deep water drilling, and how the environmental costs of fossil fuels far outweighs any energy tax. He continued to be the mature one in the room, asking his opposition for ideas instead of attacks.
I'd have added how this fits in with my unified theory of Obama's trying to organize this unruly community known as the United States of America and might even do some of that later.

Read the whole thing and the comments, which are always good at Balloon Juice.

Also see Steve Benen and Juan Cole.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Puzzling Story of Afghanistan's Mineral Wealth

I didn't write about James Risen's "news" in the NYT yesterday because it seemed that everyone in the blogosphere and maybe even a few MSMs were, and I didn't really have much more to say. If I did, it would have been something like
If you've ever taken the "Rocks for Jocks" course, you should be able to recognize that mountainous terrain means mineral deposits.
In any case, many of the critics found previous articles saying that Afghanistan had deposits of many minerals. (I might have added that Afghanistan's neighbors also have lots of minerals in their mountains, and they've all been subjected to the same plate-tectonic processes.)

The Soviet Union did some mineral surveys when they had closer relations to Afghanistan, since their geologists could recognize mountains and what they mean. Those surveys were duly published.

So I had to wonder why Risen and the Times thought this was news. It might have been something to do with fighting the ongoing war in Afghanistan, but Paul Wolfowitz was nowhere to be seen claiming that the mineral wealth would pay for the war. Was it possible that Times editors and Risen don't understand the function of Google?

Or, it seems, the blogosphere. Risen appears to be fairly ticked off that questions were raised about news value. I would have thought he would have discussed that in a soul-searching way with his editor, but he used Twitter instead, so he does know about some of those intertubes thingies.

The level of his anger underlines the question of why this story was published now. It could be bad judgement on Risen's and an editor's part, or it could be something nefarious in support of the war. My problem is that I can't come up with a plausible scenario for the nefarious possibility. It could be ego damage that a Serious Reporter for a Serious Newspaper was outed by bloggers, too.

Update: Steve Hynd has a theory. With reporting.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Oily Bits and Pieces - June 14, 2010

The Land that Bleeds Oil.

From NOAA, an interactive map with information about the oil spill’s trajectory, the position of NOAA’s research ships, spilled oil’s coastal location and the areas closed to shipping and more.

BP Blowout Worst Case Rethought

Update (6/25/10): The consensus at The Oil Drum is that dougr's post is highly flawed. I think that this was not quite so obvious when I wrote this post and an earlier one, but since then it has become clear that there are no cracks in the seafloor, and no oil is escaping from the seafloor around the riser pipe. Yesterday another Oil Drum poster provided a much more detailed and knowledgeable takedown of dougr's post.


Emptywheel and Zero Hedge pick up on the possibility that the BP well is damaged below the sea floor. Emptywheel's source is primarily Florida's Senator Bill Nelson, whose staff presumably is providing the information to him. Zero Hedge quotes MSM sources, Nelson, and petroleum experts, one of whom is Matt Simmons. Commenters at The Oil Drum seem to be discounting Simmons.

I'm rethinking yesterday's post on the worst case and find it less alarming. Fast flow, particularly of supercritical fluids flashing to gases, which may be happening in the formation, is as likely to deposit dissolved matter and plug up the formation as it is to erode it. I also suspect that the relief wells are designed to intersect the existing well below any casing damage that may exist.

Polio and Civil Unrest in Central Asia

Interethnic fighting continues in Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile, there is a polio outbreak in next-door Tajikistan. Movement of people and lessened public hygiene contribute to spreading disease. These two could combine into even worse news.

Natsugumi

Can't Get It Back

The thing is, we're already operating in those circumstances in a thousand different ways -- it's just that the risks and the damages tend to be distributed and obscured from view. They're not thrust in our face like they are in the Gulf. We don't get back the land we destroy by mining. We don't get back the species lost from deforestation and development. We don't get back islands lost to rising seas. We don't get back the coral lost to bleaching or the marine food chains lost to nitrogen runoff. Once we lose the climatic conditions in which our species evolved, we won't get them back either. (Grist)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The BP Blowout: Worst Case

Update (6/25/10): The consensus at The Oil Drum is that dougr's post is highly flawed. I think that this was not quite so obvious when I wrote this post, but since then it has become clear that there are no cracks in the seafloor, and no oil is escaping from the seafloor around the riser pipe. I had my own reasons earlier for questioning dougr's scenario, and some of them have appeared in others' comments at The Oil Drum. Yesterday another Oil Drum poster provided a much more detailed and knowledgeable takedown of dougr's post.


I've been following The Oil Drum for the best discussions and speculations about the BP Blowout. Overnight there were a couple of especially good speculations. I am not watching cable news or reading much of the MSM coverage, so some of this might have appeared there. I'm going to try to explain the comments in less technical language and will make some comments of my own.

From dougr:
OK let's get real about the GOM oil flow. There doesn't really seem to be much info on TOD that furthers more complete understanding of what's really happening in the GOM.

As you have probably seen and maybe feel yourselves, there are several things that do not appear to make sense regarding the actions of attack against the well. Don't feel bad, there is much that doesn't make sense even to professionals unless you take into account some important variables that we are not being told about. There seems to me to be a reluctance to face what cannot be termed anything less than grim circumstances in my opinion. There certainly is a reluctance to inform us regular people and all we have really gotten is a few dots here and there...

First of all...set aside all your thoughts of plugging the well and stopping it from blowing out oil using any method from the top down. Plugs, big valves to just shut it off, pinching the pipe closed, installing a new bop or lmrp, shooting any epoxy in it, top kills with mud etc etc etc....forget that, it won't be happening..it's done and over. In fact actually opening up the well at the subsea source and allowing it to gush more is not only exactly what has happened, it was probably necessary, or so they think anyway.

So you have to ask WHY? Why make it worse?...there really can only be one answer and that answer does not bode well for all of us. It's really an inescapable conclusion at this point, unless you want to believe that every Oil and Gas professional involved suddenly just forgot everything they know or woke up one morning and drank a few big cups of stupid and got assigned to directing the response to this catastrophe. Nothing makes sense unless you take this into account, but after you do...you will see the "sense" behind what has happened and what is happening. That conclusion is this:

The well bore structure is compromised "Down hole".

That is something which is a "Worst nightmare" conclusion to reach. While many have been saying this for some time as with any complex disaster of this proportion many have "said" a lot of things with no real sound reasons or evidence for jumping to such conclusions, well this time it appears that they may have jumped into the right place...
Dougr then discusses "top kill" and "junk shot" and concludes that BP learned from these operations that the casing of the well, the piping intended to contain the petroleum, is badly broken. Several commentators at The Oil Drum have speculated that the mud from top kill and perhaps stuff in the junk shot were lost to the formation, which means they went into the rock downhole, which means that the casing is broken. As the petroleum gushes out of its formation, it is eroding the rock around it and the structure of the well. It carries sand along for sandblasting, and the liquids and expanding gases do their damage as well.
What is likely to happen now?

Well...none of what is likely to happen is good, in fact...it's about as bad as it gets. I am convinced the erosion and compromising of the entire system is accelerating and attacking more key structural areas of the well, the blow out preventer and surrounding strata holding it all up and together. This is evidenced by the tilt of the blow out preventer and the erosion which has exposed the well head connection. What eventually will happen is that the blow out preventer will literally tip over if they do not run supports to it as the currents push on it. I suspect they will run those supports as cables tied to anchors very soon, if they don't, they are inviting disaster that much sooner.

Eventually even that will be futile as the well casings cannot support the weight of the massive system above with out the cement bond to the earth and that bond is being eroded away. When enough is eroded away the casings will buckle and the BOP will collapse the well. If and when you begin to see oil and gas coming up around the well area from under the BOP? or the area around the well head connection and casing sinking more and more rapidly? ...it won't be too long after that the entire system fails. BP must be aware of this, they are mapping the sea floor sonically and that is not a mere exercise. Our Gov't must be well aware too, they just are not telling us.

All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit...after that, it goes into the realm of "the worst things you can think of" The well may come completely apart as the inner liners fail. There is still a very long drill string in the well, that could literally come flying out...as I said...all the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now?....is the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.
There's a lot more, with links. I'll emphasize that this is speculation, but it's plausible and not obviously contradicted by any of the information we have.

That's another problem; BP seems to be stingy with the data it's making available to the public. It's not clear whether the situation is better for the various groups of experts assembled to try to figure out what can be done. One piece of information that would be very helpful is the geology of the reservoir they've drilled into and the formations above it.

R2-3D comments in more detail on the structure and possible breach of the casing. He argues that dougr's scenario is too pessimistic.

Both posts are fairly technical, but I suspect have long stretches that can be understood by the layperson who's willing to spend some time thinking about them.

Update: BP has some explanations here. You can expect them to put their best spin on them, but the descriptions and graphics are informative.

And yet more diagrams and dimensions here(pdf).

Anne Harrington to NNSA

Anne Harrington has been nominated as Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration, the part of the Department of Energy that is responsible for nuclear weapons. This is a really good appointment.

Harrington developed and maintained the programs aimed at keeping nuclear scientists in the former Soviet Union busy during the 1990s so that they wouldn't need to find employment in countries that were looking for nuclear weapons programs. Her programs were effective; very few, if any, of those scientists have turned up in other countries.

I was a beneficiary of one of those programs; I worked with members of the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Alatau, Kazakhstan, on evaluating the radiological hazards at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site. I didn't get any money out of it, just the opportunity to work with a group of highly-motivated and conscientious people on an important project. At a meeting where Harrington was giving a talk, I was only one of several people offering her our thanks for the programs she had developed.

The Innovation Council

I looked for a way to highlight that title and infuse it with irony, but Blogger doesn't provide that click.

Ronald Brownstein, in the serious National Journal, seriously reports to us on the serious deliberations of the Innovation Council, which seriously recommends that the government do something about innovation in energy.
[A] group of technology-focused business leaders -- including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, and the current or former chief executives of General Electric, DuPont, Lockheed Martin, and Xerox -- issued a mayday manifesto urging a massive public-private effort to accelerate research into clean-energy innovations.
That means that they want the government to give them money to do the research they should have been doing all along, if the free market actually worked. These same serious industrialists and their brothers have screamed bloody murder over the past several decades if the government laboratories were found to be doing anything that might look like clean-energy innovations, and they haven't bothered to fund such things, although the basis for their screams would have been that the government laboratories were competing unfairly with their doing nothing.

Brownstein makes one good point, though.
But the substantial support that Murkowski's proposal attracted highlights the political obstacles looming in front of any policy that aims to seriously advance alternatives to the carbon-intensive fossil fuels that now dominate the United States' energy mix.
Polls show that the public wants more action to address anthropogenic global warming. Polls show that the Tea Partiers and the now-insane Republican Party garner little support. But our national legislature pays little attention.

After a full day away from the internets, I'm seeing contradictions like this all over. More to come.

Kyrgyzstan

Unrest continues in Kyrgyzstan.

Sean Paul Kelly provides some of the atmosphere of Central Asia.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Sketch of a Post on Blogging

I have had a desire which has not been able to rise to an ambition to write a few longer and more thoughtful posts than I've been able to for the past month or so. That desire has not risen to an ambition for a number of reasons that have been touched on lately in posts written by others who are scanning different parts of the internet than I am. So here are some thoughts that might, perhaps, stoke that ambition.

Zenpundit notes that Bernard Finel is rethinking his blogging. It seems to me that many of us are these days and that there are many reasons for that. Blogging is a lot of work, and a blogger must decide on what will reward that work. The blogosphere has changed greatly since some of us started, and some of the fun has gone out of it, as is always the case in a maturing enterprise. Part of that change is that the big guys, aka MSM, have landed in the middle, splashing stuff all over and trying to co-opt individual bloggers, confuse the consumer with something they call blogging but usually isn't, and simply stealing material, all the time vilifying those partisan and probably evil computer scriveners.

Once upon a time, the blogosphere was a sort of talent night, a talent 24/7, with entertainment for all. Much of that is still there, but some of the talent has gone pro; Kevin Drum, Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias and others have joined the MSM or think tanks and link only to each other. Some days there is almost a perfect linking circle of Drum quoting Klein quoting Yglesias quoting Drum. Drum got linked from The Economist blog the other day, moving up one more notch. Stratification.

The MSM, meanwhile, still doesn't understand the idea of hyperlinks but provides something they call blogs at their sites. Some of these are actually blogs, like Ezra Klein's at the WaPo. Some are more like newspaper columns with more depth or specialization, like Olivia Judson's at the NYT. Some are sui generis, like the Gail and David show at the NYT. Others are clearly from reporters who have been told that they will produce a blog, probably not much more instruction provided.

And then there's the problem of the MSM simply stealing bloggers' material (or those somewhere below them on the food chain) and not crediting it. I've seen this pretty unambiguously many times over the almost six years I've been blogging. And then there are situations where it's not quite clear that material has been cribbed, but someone in the MSM says something that looks an awful lot like something I read days before in a blog. As a blogger friend said, "I think they call it research." Or they don't take it seriously enough. Today someone on The Oil Drum asked if the MSM was reading their threads, which have much more good information than anything I've seen on the BP Blowout in the MSM. Of course, it's mixed, and there are some just plain dumb comments, but hey! that's what the reporters get the big bucks to filter, right?

The last few weeks have been insanely busy for me, so this isn't a coherent argument on the state of the blogosphere. After Saturday, it appears that my calendar clears a bit, but we all know how deceptive that can be, that light at the end of the tunnel. I'd like to think that more thoughtful days are ahead.

WC2010 OMG!!!

The day is upon us!

For an innovative graphic on the teams and matches, see here. Catching up online is best done at the official FIFA World Cup site, The Guardian (though a bit slow thus far), L'Equipe (French), and ESPN seems to have come to the full conclusion that soccer is a sport. A floater is the interesting TNR World Cup blog. More as I happen upon it....

Today: opening match of host country South Africa vs. Mexico and then France vs. Uruguay. Spot of good news for Ivory Coast - Drogba is training and should play in the first match vs. Portugal, one of the best first-round matches to watch coming up on Tuesday. England vs. US tomorrow.

Allez Les Bleus de France et Les Elephants of Côte d'Ivoire et Les États-Unis (we need a nickname)!!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Bits and Pieces - June 9, 2010

Another blog on the oil spill. It's one point of view; they don't get everything right, in my opinion, but mostly worth reading from people on the ground.

Business as usual in the oil patch.

Not clear when or whether this commission will have anything to say about passenger mistreatment, but maybe figuring out the economics of air travel will help.

Some good words for the month-long Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. We forget all too soon the destruction the Bush administration wrought and that Obama needs to turn it back, which was the major achievement of the conference.

The sanctions on Iran passed today by the United Nations Security Council should be used as a basis for more diplomacy.

And, finally, Juan Cole tries to put a good face on this, but I can't help but think that it's an Islamic theological equivalent of the cycles upon cycles that kept being added to the Ptolemaic view of the solar system; a system of logic gone bad. Plus being sexually bizarre.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Godless DC Has Now Seen God

His name turns out to be Mr. Strasburg.

Bits and Pieces - June 8, 2010

A long and meaty article on BP's safety record. (Spoiler: It isn't pretty.)

BP wants you to know that you are responsible for any spill.

Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) is for sale.

Sometimes the bad guys win.

It Never Ends

John Tierney, whose claim to being a science writer seems to consist of one-third ego and two-thirds gonads, once again takes on the burning question of whether women should be allowed to be scientists.

I am sure that he would object to that characterization. But that's what it comes down to. The quibbling over the very ends of the distributions for one kind of test. Ignoring all the other characteristics that might go into success. And ignoring the social difficulties laid on women who are talented in science, although John promises us that he will consider such things in another article.

The tone and words are the same that have appeared in such articles since I was a girl. They've left out the objection that we will get married and have children, which clearly will destroy our brains, but all the rest is there.

Dana makes a number of good points, and LizardBreath is succinct, but let me add one more consideration, or maybe two.

There is a great deal of educational literature that shows that encouragement (or discouragement) by teachers has an enormous effect on students' achievement, as does their expectations of the students' capabilities. Those tiny tails, so important to the ego of male professors at Harvard (and male science writers at the NYT?), have nothing to do with how teachers should teach, but repeating over and over again that men will always be better than women at science and mathematics is bound to influence them. The statistics that Tierney cites, that women are achieving outlier status on tests more often, would seem to indicate that improved encouragement of girls in "men's" fields is making a difference. But not enough difference for Tierney!

And, just a simple question. Would Tierney write an article like this about differentials in scores between ethnic groups?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Bits and Pieces - June 7, 2010

Stephen Walt: How to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Comparing the BP oil gusher to natural oil seeps.

Obama needs more oilmen. (Or women, I would add, although the oil patch is pretty exclusive.)

Page van der Linden points out that using a nuke in the Gulf would violate some treaties.

Giving India More Nuclear Weapons

During the Bush administration, an agreement was negotiated with India on trade in nuclear materials, including uranium. India has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and does not intend to; it has an arsenal of 75-100 nuclear weapons.

It would have been a good idea to negotiate an agreement with India that put India's nuclear industry under tighter IAEA scrutiny. However, the Bush administration was eager for a deal, and the negotiation amounted to "whatever." India accepted a very small increased IAEA presence in return for a big opening in nuclear trade, which has been forbidden to nations outside the NPT.

Now we hear that India may be expanding its enrichment capacity. It will have more uranium than before. India has few indigenous uranium deposits, and the lack of uranium has held back both its civil and military programs. Pakistan has been beefing up its plutonium production capability. If US negotiators ask about the purpose of this expansion, they will most likely be told that it is for power reactors.

Surfing Crocodiles

Duuuuude....

Marula

Palestine and Palestine

I didn't even know about the Helen Thomas hysteria until this morning. It seems pretty obvious to me both that she said something that offended some people and that she is now being publicly lynched (and in some absolutely crazy ways - see here and here, for example - "hatred of God"? c'mon, get a grip). It's possible to have both views, you know. It's at least important to get the language right, particularly because she is being selectively quoted depending on the politics of the commentators. Subtle, but with a significant difference in meaning. Helen Thomas said,
Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land. Not Germany. Not Poland... They go home. Poland. Germany. And America and everywhere else.
The answer comes in response to a question about Israel, not Jews. No one says "Jews," including the questioner. Thomas says Israel should get out of Palestine. She doesn't say Israel should get out of Israel. The "go home" part implies either Jews or Israelis.

Palestine could mean, historically, the entire eastern Mediterranean lands. It could also mean the Occupied Territories, and unless I'm unaware of some sort of dog-whistle anti-Semitic language this is it's colloquial contemporary use.

Punditland seems to have decided she meant, "Jews should leave Israel." If that's what she meant, then she's taking a view that's not terribly defensible. But if she meant that, "Israel should leave Palestine," as in the Occupied Territories, that is a legitimate policy position that can refer to Israel's policy of colonization of that Palestine. One might not agree with it, but if that's the meaning of her statement it's a far cry from what's putatively the basis for her public lynching.

Breaking News - A Good Idea From An Airline!

I took a short trip to Wisconsin over the weekend, and coming back through Chicago's O'Hare Airport, was amazed to find a speck of rationality in American Airlines' loading procedures.

After the call for "pre-boarding" of the elite sitting in the front of the plane and others with a claim to American's attention, those with no baggage to force into the overhead spaces were asked to board. This made for a much smoother boarding procedure, leaving the heavy lifting, grunting, and pounding of suitcases into the compartments to the very last, while those of us with stuff we could easily fit under the seats tried to stay out of the way of falling suitcases. And got a bit of better treatment for that $25 we paid not to have to participate in all that.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Deepwater Horizon and Government

This pretty much sums up my thoughts on the Deepwater Horizon disaster and what the Obama administration should be doing.
There is a reason why the right, including Sarah Palin, is calling for Obama to "take charge" of the BP disaster, including fixing the leaking pipe. This is a problem that cannot be solved, and probably will not be for many months.

They want Obama to directly own it so they can reinforce their message that government does not work. Why should liberals, stupidly, be pushing for this? I cannot figure out what the left and many liberal pundits think they are doing in all this.

When a huge private corporation makes a mess and cannot fix it, it is sheer lunacy to take direct charge of that mess unless you can fix it right away.

Obama and the government can (a) hold BP accountable in criminal and financial terms; and (b) orchestrate the mitigation, restitution, and financial help for the regions affected. They are doing this and should be as visible as possible about steps in both areas. The last thing they should do is take charge of fixing the leak itself when they cannot.

It also helps give the lie to the less-government crowd. Their political philosophy really boils down to more government when they're in charge and less when they're not.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Compare and Contrast

From the NYT: China Bars Court Evidence Gained Through Torture
In a rare admission of the problem, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, which carries out investigations and prosecutions, issued a report in 2003 acknowledging that what it characterized as forced confessions had led to the deaths of 460 people and serious injuries for 117 others.
On PubMed.gov: An article by Indian scientists on the effective use of ultrasound in torture.
The discernible aim of torture as everyone believes--and rightly so--is to destroy the personality of an individual in a way that would render his compliance in future. But to destroy a personality is easier said than done.
That's the appetizing opening of the abstract.

I've been living in India for one year, today. Among the things I've learned is to avoid the subject of China, which generally elicits a very elementary, fairly patronizing explanation of the fundamental differences between 'free, democratic' India and 'totalitarian, repressive' China. The whole topic is a little manichean for my tastes, and so I've figured out how to talk about cricket.

Oh, man, did the Indian side blow it at the Windies World Cup? Or what? What the hell was Dhoni thinking, choosing to bowl every time? It was all the partying during the IPL! Ha ha ha!

Bits and Pieces - June 1, 2010

There's plenty being written about the Israeli attack on that Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza, but I'll choose just two.

Juan Cole points out that the United Nations Security Council resolution goes much further in condemning Israel than the United States has allowed resolutions to in the past.

Haaretz blasts the Israeli government.

On the lighter side,

What your e-mail address says about you.

A photoessay on the last of the typewriter repairmen. This is what my father did for a living. He started with IBM as a "customer engineer," which meant a repairman who went to the customer's place of business to repair typewriters. In true IBM style, he had to wear a suit and tie. He later built his own typewriter repair, rental, and reconditioning business. I was his chief reconditioning mechanic. I disassembled IBM standard typewriters so that their mechanisms could be soaked in solvent to be cleaned (all rubber removed) and their cases painted. Then I reassembled them with new rubber and repainted cases. My father did the last adjustments. He paid me minimum wage (at that time, $1 an hour, not bad for an eleven-year-old).