Thursday, June 30, 2011

Keeping the Business Model Alive

Whew. I'm glad that the MSM has finally found someone with their hair on fire about the Las Conchas fire in the Jemez Mountains that's been threatening the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The reports from the fire chief and others in charge have been just too reality-based. I'd hate to see the MSM's business model wither and die.

I don't have a lot of time just now. I'll just say that anything POGO and Joe Cirincione say should be taken with a grain of salt.

Maybe a lot more than that.

Update: We can add Michio Kaku to that list.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Continuing Parade of Dangerous Dishonesty

PAWLENTY DENIES GLOBAL WARMING: ‘THE SCIENCE IS BAD’ | Appearing on Fox & Friends this morning, Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty claimed that “the science is bad” on manmade climate change, then saying “the reality is the science indicates most of it, if not all of it, is caused by natural causes.” He “denounced” his former support for efforts to combat this threat to human civilization.

Microfoundations

Here's a post that considers, in a more technical way, the issue of focus I wrote about yesterday.
...a fairly wide range of social science research today embraces the general idea of providing microfoundations for macro-level assertions. And this seems to be a very reasonable requirement, given what we know about how social entities, processes, and forces are composed.
I have some experience with an analogous micro-macro set of decisions on focus in my field, chemistry. All of observable chemistry is constituted of atomic interactions, which can be modeled but are not completely understood. There are various intermediate ranges of understanding that can be used in modeling as well. But sometimes, particularly in engineering, it is more effective to use what I think of as top-down measures, analogous to macro-level in Daniel Little's sociological discussion. One of these is the Reynolds number, which describes when flow changes from laminar to turbulent. I haven't fully kept up with the field, so it's possible that computing power has allowed finer-grained modeling to supplant the Reynolds number, but I strongly suspect that designers of chemical plants still use Reynolds numbers.

In sociology and political science, even less is known about actions on the micro level and how they relate to the macro. So the picture will still need to be considered at the various scales, and finding the right scale on which to base a decision will continue to be important for policy-making.

This has come home to me on a very personal basis the past few days. Photos from northern New Mexico, taken through our smoky haze, are appearing on the Web, some to murmurs of appreciation. And their interplay of light and line is indeed to the standards that have been set for photographic beauty. Some commenters recognize the conflict between that beauty and the fact that the photograph also represents the destruction of 95 square miles that contained very different kinds of beauty: delicate wildflowers on the forest floor, assemblages of dark pines and golden aspens in the fall, living animals, now deposited across northern New Mexico in a fine ash. Or, for some of us, the pervasive orange tone evokes Dante's Hell. Different levels.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Focusing on History for Policy

[I’m fairly distracted by the Las Conchas fire threatening Los Alamos. Yesterday, the residents of the town were required to leave. The fire chief says that today is the make-or-break day. Since Sunday, more than 60,000 acres have burned. It’s been windy, but with the promise of scattered thunderstorms and a bit more humidity than we’ve had. If you want to get the latest news of the fire, #nmfire on Twitter seems to be the best source.

Before the fire started, I began a series of posts on another topic. Here’s the first, and I hope to have another, two if necessary, over the next few days.]


Stephen Walt looks at the big picture, as does John Quiggin.

Walt wonders if the institutions built up in the twentieth century in response to the disorder and death of the first half of that century will endure.
Looking back, a striking feature of the past two decades is that the central features of U.S. foreign policy and the basic Cold War institutions remained largely unchanged long after the Cold War ended. NATO is still around; our bilateral security ties in Asia haven't changed much, and we retained pretty much the same set of allies and policies in the Middle East. The United States continues to think of itself as the "indispensable power" and the Leader of the Free World (which is a bit ironic given our incarceration rate), and Democratic and Republican policy wonks spend most of their time debating how and where to use American power, but never questioning whether it was right or proper or wise to use it in lots of places. Despite an enormous set of structural changes, in short, the central features of U.S. foreign policy have remained quite constant.

The end of the Cold War -- and the brief "unipolar moment" that followed it -- just meant the United States could throw its weight around a bit more without worrying that a hostile great power might try to stop us. Instead, it was a combination of hubris, ignorance, and arrogance that led us into a series of costly quagmires, accompanied by a self-inflicted financial meltdown that stemmed from an equally toxic combination of arrogance and avarice.
Quiggin is trying to decide if Marxian analysis is useful in today’s world.
One of the most powerful feature of Marxian analysis is the idea that crisis is a normal part of capitalism rather than an aberration resulting from exogenous shocks. Marx asserts that crises arise from inherent contradictions in the system and proposes a dialectical account by which the resolution of one crisis produces the contradictions that set the scene for the next. That seems to me to remain valuable.

On the other hand, the central point of Marx’s theory of crisis was the claim that crises would grow steadily more intense, driven by the declining rate of profit, until they brought about the revolutionary overthrow of the system. Hence, despite the short-term suffering they caused, crises were to be welcomed as steps on the path to the inevitable downfall of the system.

Once the link between crisis and revolution is abandoned, it is necessary to reconsider the whole analysis of crises. Without the declining rate of profit and the inevitable progress towards revolution, it is obvious that different crises have had different effects on class relations.
Both of those are at a high level of abstraction; both adduce more specific facts in their investigations, but those facts are still abstracted from a lot of actions by a lot of people.

In contrast, I’m reading The Decision to Intervene, by George Kennan, which is concerned almost entirely with the specifics of American actions in immediate response to the Russian Revolution. It reads like an adventure novel. Governments trying to achieve goals at cross-purposes; people with weapons facing each other; communications botched; travel and transport impeded; unpredictable events reversing careful planning.

Kennan studied the documents available in the late 1960s, which provided a great deal of detail. His purpose was to analyze how the decision to intervene was made by the American President and the British Prime Minister. The Tsar had been overthrown by extremists in the middle of a war against the Central Powers, mainly Germany and the disintegrating Hapsburg Empire, and Russia had withdrawn from the war. Who was in charge in Russia? Were they in league with the Germans? What was happening to the supplies the Allies had sent Russia to help in the war? Although there was much to dislike about the Bolsheviks, should the Allies side with the monarchists?

The Allies’ men on the ground in Russia, foreign service officers and businessmen, each had his own view of the situation and his own reasons for wanting to sway their governments one way or the other. Ego and ambition provided their usual animus and confusion. Communications and travel were more difficult then than now, but it’s not at all clear to me that dealing with a revolution in an enormous country of many different interests would be a lot easier now. Or revolutions in smaller countries. Our communications problem now tends toward too much information. And garbling persists.

The posts and the book provide two perspectives on history: the grand overview and the specific actions of human beings. The interplay between the two is essential for a policymaker’s understanding of history.

In presidential campaigns, foreign policy tends to be discussed at the grand overview level. Out of Afghanistan! Zero Nukes! That’s inevitable under the constraints of a campaign. But it’s also misleading.

Those two- and three-word slogans, brought down to particular human actions, get a lot messier. What effect would withdrawing from Afghanistan have on Pakistan, India, China, Iran, and other countries in the region? What message will be taken by allies and others? How can the message we want to send be reinforced? Where can troops be withdrawn from? How might various players drag their feet if they don’t agree? What are the responses of the defense contractors and their political allies likely to be? How fast can people and machinery be moved?

The nuke slogan, translated into actions, provokes an equally long list of questions that must be answered. What will the responses of other players in the game be? Does this undermine the fragile trust with Russia enabled by the arms control process? How fast can the physical objects be handled, disassembled?

There are many more questions as well. The questions can be deployed as delaying tactics, but they really do need some answers. But the other side of that argument is that actions have a time value, and sooner may well be better than later.

And then there are the imponderables. Stuff happens. A gigantic earthquake in Japan. A battalion of Czech soldiers, bound for Vladivostok on the way to join the Allies at the Western Front, winds up joining the White Army in civil war. Dodgy housing deals bring down the international economy. Revolutions begin in Arab countries.

With all that going on, policymakers have to keep the big picture, the long-range goals, in view. Easy tactical moves can make the goals harder to reach.

Finding the balance point for making decisions is hard. Not getting it right can be disastrous for those in power. But pundits get it wrong all the time. More about that to come.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Curses Upon Stupidity and Venality



Someone last week had to have a fire somewhere near the Borrego Trail. Or flicked a lit cigarette butt. Now we have the Pacheco Fire eating up the Pecos Wilderness, 7000 acres or so and only starting to be contained.

Today, someone had to have a fire at Las Conchas, one of the prettiest places that New Mexico State Road 4 winds through in the Jemez Mountains. Or it used to be. If I took a picture from my house, across the valley, all you would see is yellow smoke as the Rio Grande Valley fills up with it.

Their fires, of course, were no danger. Smart they were, knew how to handle it, even in dry and windy weather. No problems, they said without putting their hands on the cold coals. They are so cool, such good outdoorsmen.

Tinder-dry are the forests, wind sucking for moisture and finding none, a dry winter from La Niña, spring with no rain. Wind, wind, wind, beyond all reason. Hot now, too.

No, this isn't global warming, say the congressmen, passionless faces held in the proper positions. Must not hurt the donors of their campaign money, must hurt Barack Obama, win again, power counts, no thought of most people and their needs. No, no, vote no, vote no again. People must be made to suffer if they cannot find the money to buy a congressman.

This is a world belonging to all of us. We have to be wise stewards, says that book they say they venerate.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mamoncillos

Top photo: chiujason flickr
Bottom photo: f_msantos flickr

Another Way To Look At Community Organizing

From Ezra Klein:
When presidents succeed in presiding over great change, they do so by recognizing an existing opportunity, not squeezing one from the stone of existing opposition.
The way I've been saying it is that Obama is trying to get the rest of us energized and moving toward whatever it is we want. We are the people, after all, and he can't and shouldn't be doing it alone.

Add in something I've seen mentioned in several places the last week or so, that he's avoiding making himself any more of a Republican target than a mixed-race Democratic president is anyway by avoiding Big Pronouncements of the type that most commentators would like. And they'd probably like those Big Pronouncements so they can find something wrong with them, too.

Removing this kind of target from the Republicans has forced them back on themselves into crazier and crazier territory.

Reworking Paradigms

Perry Link writes about his disillusionment, as a convinced Marxist, with the China he actually saw. Pure ideology usually doesn't stand up to reality. I keep hoping that the Republicans will experience something like this, but I can't think just now of a country that practices pure whatever it is that they seem to believe in. One of the ways to hang on to an ideology is to make it abstract or changeable enough that you never face a related reality.

Although here's a small shred of hope: the California state controller is denying state legislators their pay until they come up with a balanced budget. No more lies about how each legislator's preferred ideologies will increase revenue later, even if it looks like a deficit now. No more Laffer Curve.

Speaking of realities, Michael Moyer crunches the numbers about that claim of a 35% spike in infant mortality on thw US west coast. Turns out that it was (surprise!) not only wrong, but dishonest. Or perhaps just part of a reality that keeps changing to prove that nuclear power is evil.

Stephen Lacey ponders how the power from a coal plant due to be shut down can be replaced. His analysis points to a number of potential problems, but it is the kind of thing that needs to be figured out if nuclear power plants are to be shut down. Replacing coal with natural gas (the major part of the proposal in Lacey's article) cuts down on acid-rain and other pollutants, but it only lessens the amount of carbon dioxide emitted. Replacing nuclear with natural gas would increase carbon dioxide emissions. There are no simple answers.

In another sort of tradeoff, Jared Bernstein shows how high unemployment damages workers' ability to negotiate better wages. Golly, do you think there was any relation to that 2008 blast from the financial community?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bits and Pieces - June 21, 2011

It's hard to be cheerful these days. The Republicans have abdicated any pretense of being a responsible political party and want to destroy the country in order to get elected. I think that they would change that last infinitive to "to save it," but that gets harder and harder to believe.

Balloon Juice front-pagers keep using the metaphor of the circus clown car for the Republican presidential field, and it's all too appropriate. Jon Huntsman, who is an exception in appearing not to be crazy, announced his candidacy to an audience of 100, 60 of which were news people.

I'm tired of the lies that some are purveying about Fukushima in the service of destroying nuclear power as a source of electricity. I think that there are legitimate concerns about nuclear power and that they can be raised without the lies.

Both of those have to do with the death of responsible discussion, which is even more depressing.

Plus we have a forest fire just north of town, so that whichever way the wind blows, we get smoke, either from that fire or the Arizona fires. For the last several days, the seven-day weather outlook in our local newspaper has been giving us the "jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today" routine: sunny weather is predicted until the last day of the seven, which has clouds.

I thought about writing a post trying to figure out what the Republicans want for the country's future. I even wrote a bit of it. But it's not worth finishing. I thought about writing a post on the difference between wishful thinking and actually figuring out what our future energy supply might be, for instance. Because you can't just shut down some large fraction of the energy supply and have life continue as usual. You've got to replace it with something.

So here's a little bit of good news: Most of the workers (3514 out of 3639) at Fukushima have been given whole-body scans. If that means what I understand by a whole-body scan, the worker has counters placed around his body and lies quietly for a half-hour. Apparently none have been found to have ingested significant amounts of radionuclides.

I suppose another piece of good news is that the world didn't end during the Berlin Crisis in 1961. Nor the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. So maybe we will even survive the Republican clown car and threat to end the financial world as we know it.

Plus it appears that the Iranian blogger who thought out the day after Iran's nuclear test was just making a funny.

Update: A curve-billed thrasher was having a great time digging in the mulch I laid down the other day. They're great birds - like to run like roadrunners, but smaller. Somehow they rather consistently elude the birdcam. Maybe I need to spend more time on stuff like that.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Truth, Fact, and Misinformation

Something else is bothering me about that post with the fraudulent Fukushima video. I’m seeing misinformation swaying people I respect, and there seems to be a feeling that misinformation is all right in “a good cause.” You can see some of this in the comment thread here, but I have experienced it in other venues. At a speech by Helen Caldicott, a friend said, “Don’t fact-check it, but she’s good.” As I followed up to make sure I understood him, it became clear that he knew her “facts” were dodgy, but he didn’t care. Or, from the comments,
That said [agreement that the claims for the video were bogus], there really isn't any defense for nuclear power when other means of generating power without the horrific risks exist... and much more cheaply.
What bothers me about this approach is that it’s, once again, begging the question. Nuclear power is bad, therefore it doesn’t matter if its opponents fabricate and misinform. But if the idea that it is bad is built on what those opponents say, then it is built on fabrications and misinformation and thus probably false.

I’m a bit stuck on how to proceed from there, because I don’t know why people want to believe something that they admit is not true. It’s an indirect admission, to be sure, and sometimes people don’t notice stuff that’s too indirect. But if I’m bothered by the unending spew of lies from Republicans and Fox News, then I have to be bothered by lies from those who would eliminate nuclear power. And many of those who dislike nuclear power also dislike Fox News and its tactics.

An article in Al Jazeera that quotes Arne Gunderson (no, sorry, not going to link and help to boost its “authority.”) is another piece of misinformation that I’ve received from people I respect. In it, Arne builds up his excitement to the thought of twenty (twenty!) reactor cores being spread far and wide over hill and dale. The article presents Gunderson as a nuclear expert, but this twenty core stuff, combined with his previous claims of fires in the spent fuel pools, shown in drone video over the last week to be intact, and his interpretation of fog as smoke in that other video should be enough for anyone with any basis at all, or any other sources, to begin to question him a bit more closely. But it’s been clear that the MSM like hair on fire better than getting stuff right.

Rod Adams does a good takedown of Gunderson here. Please, please, MSM, don’t quote this P. T. Barnum again!

I’m sad to see people I like and respect being taken for a ride. I’m sadder to see fact being set in opposition to truth, or what some would sell as truth.

Nuclear Misinformation Followup



This is what smoke looks like. Not at all like that video. This picture is of the Pacheco Canyon Fire, northeast of Santa Fe, last night. The smoke is way down today. The tankers have been overhead yesterday until dark and all day today. Sorry the image is blurry. For some reason, the camera was very uncooperative.

Update: Unfortunately, the wind has whipped the fire up again. Here's a better picture of what smoke looks like at 4:15 pm local time. Note the structure in the smoke that the Fukushima video lacks.



I mentioned misinformation on Iran. Something I haven't mentioned is the post, on a Revolutionary Guard website, about "the day after Iran's nuclear test." It seemed unlikely to me that that single post had much meaning in terms of indicating whether or not Iran intended to develop nuclear weapons. Jeffrey Lewis agrees, but he's taken much more time to investigate it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Today's Nuclear Misinformation

Or disinformation? Maybe.

There's a video floating around the internets that claims it's showing a fire, Cherenkov radiation, Godzilla (okay, not Godzilla), and other horrors in the spent fuel pool at Fukushima's reactor number 4. It's actually steam and fog in the plant exterior lighting.

Let me count the ways to debunk this. 1) Look at the time stamp. It's rolling pretty fast, which might cause the video to look different. 2) Steam and fog have a different look than smoke. Steam and fog are wispy and kind of uniform, whereas smoke would have a more rounded look. 3) If the fuel pool were on fire, the radiation readings would be going up, and there would be a lot more isotopes detected. 4) Arne Gundersen and others have claimed this before. Recent drone flyovers have shown the fuel pools to be intact and with water covering the fuel, although with some building debris in them. (added later) 5) How anyone can discern Cherenkov radiation on a black-and-white video is quite beyond me.

I'm wondering how many times people can be wrong before other people stop believing them. I guess there's a significant population out there expecting the Rapture to come on October 21, though. Just being wrong doesn't matter if you're a prophet.

Then there's the Fort Calhoun reactor, now dealing with a flooding Missouri River in Nebraska. A power outage, oh noes! And now a no-fly zone! Can you say Fukushima? Chernobyl?

Here are a few more level-headed evaluations of the situation, from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Omaha World-Herald, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Now, the entire flood hasn't played out yet, and we don't know what will happen, pace those who know we're all going to die! But my prediction is that Fort Calhoun will weather this storm. If that happens, I'm hoping that the doomsayers will admit they were wrong. But we do still have those Rapturists preparing for October 21.

Just for good measure, let's have some misinformation about Iran's nuclear program. Jeremy Bernstein has now embarrassed himself with two posts claiming that Iran is unquestionably bound and determined to build a bomb, in fact is in the process of doing just that. One might also think that the New York Review of Books would be embarrassed by Bernstein's fast and loose play with facts, but apparently not.

I thought about posting something when the first of his posts appeared, but got busy and figured I can't correct everyone who's wrong on the internet. My main objection to Bernstein's posts is that he takes some questions that the IAEA has had about the Iranian program and turns them into facts. For example, from the first post:
The inspectors found out that in addition to the centrifuges—of which new and more sophisticated types are being employed—the Iranians are now using laser technology to separate uranium.
IIRC, the IAEA found some evidence of some experiments in laser isotope separation. This is different from "now using laser technology to separate uranium." Or maybe not, if you're worrying about six or eight atoms. If Iran has indeed built a plant with significant throughput, that would be very impressive, since they would be the first.

From the second:
Without notifying the IAEA, which is responsible for supervising the reactor, the Iranians were extracting small amounts of plutonium from it. It is not that these small amounts can be used in weapons, but the methods used in the extraction can be scaled to extract plutonium from reactors such as the Arak reactor in central Iran which can produce enough plutonium to make two nuclear weapons per year once it goes critical. Since this reactor has not been inspected often it is difficult to say when this may happen. One date that is given is 2013. In addition the Iranians were clandestinely making Polonium 210 which is used in the so-called “initiator”—the device that initiates the explosive chain reaction of neutrons in a nuclear weapon. Again it is not the amount that matters, rather it is the clandestine study of the technology.
But it is, again, the amount that matters if the Iranians are headed for a bomb in the next year or so, as Bernstein claims. Note in this quote how hypothetical (which I've bolded) is piled on hypothetical. All of which are based on a further hypothetical, the assumption that Iran is undoubtedly seeking a bomb.

What Bernstein is doing is, of course, begging the question, in the proper but uncommon use of that phrase.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Continuing the Theme of the Last Two Posts

George Soros (for subscribers only, unfortunately):
But improving the quality of political discourse is not enough. We must also find the right policies to deal with the very real problems confronting the country: high unemployment and chronic budget and trade deficits. The financing of state and local governments is heading for a breakdown. The Republicans have gained control of the agenda, and they are promoting a misleading narrative: everything is the government's fault. The Democrats are forced into a rearguard battle, defending the opposite position.

We need to undertake a profound rethinking of the workings of our political system and recognize that half-truths are misleading. The fact that your opponent is wrong does not make you right. We must come to terms with the fact that we live in an inherently imperfect society in which both markets and government regulations are bound to fall short of perfection. The task is to reduce the imperfections and make both private enterprise and government work better. This is the message I should like to find some way to deliver.
Update (June 17, 2011): More on the Soros article.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Magical Politics

"What an amazing imagination," marvels Arnold. "Her ideology is so powerful that she can construct a reality just on a moment's notice."

Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers

This post (via John Cole) sounds almost exactly like an exchange I had with a reporter for another of the MSM. In my case, I suspect I was a bit more civil. I asked the reporter how he made his judgements on whether a source was reliable. Now that cuts pretty close to the bone, so I can see that there might be some sensitivity there. But it's not an unreasonable question to ask. I had, however, critiqued an article of his in a forum where both of us participate.

His first response was incoherent and accusing, in addition to being quite nonresponsive to the question I had asked. I calmly tried to clarify, but that seems to have made things worse, judging from his response.

If you write for a publication that advertises itself as covering politics, philosophy, and fruit, you have a different attitude than if you write for The Washington Post, newspaper of record. But should there be that big a difference? Shouldn't both try for the very highest quality coverage, the most reliable, and therefore be able to respond civilly and calmly to questions that might even imply criticism?

I suppose, though, if you're working for a medium that doesn't seem to be keeping up with the technology, and that same technology has provided a whole raft of folks who are doing some things better than you are, you might be a bit defensive. But that's always a bad strategy, and, in internet exchanges, you always have time to think out what you're writing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Java Apples

The War on Mexico

About 70 percent of the guns seized in Mexico and submitted to a U.S. gun-tracing program came from the United States, according to a report released by three U.S. senators Monday.

Of the 29,284 firearms recovered by authorities in Mexico in 2009 and 2010, 20,504 came from the United States, according to figures provided to the senators by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives...

Evidence that U.S. weapons trafficking has been fueling a bloody drug war that has cost more than 35,000 lives in Mexico since late 2006 has angered many Mexicans.

On Saturday, in a speech to the Mexican-American community in San Jose, California, President Felipe Calderon lashed out at the U.S. weapons industry.

“I accuse the U.S. weapons industry of (responsibility for) the deaths of thousands of people that are occurring in Mexico,” Calderon said. “It is for profit, for the profits that it makes for the weapons industry.”

Anniversaries

Bloomsday is June 16, Thursday. Here's a map of Stephen Dedalus's activities, tied to the Odyssey as a bonus.

Today is Flag Day. So let's have a short history of the pledge of allegiance. I'd just omit "under God."

The US Army's 236th birthday.

The 100th anniversary of Hubert Humphrey's birth.

And don't forget it's Bastille Day. That didn't turn out so well. Or maybe it did. Something to think about in connection with the Arab uprisings. [Oops! Helmut informs me it's July 14, which I actually knew but got carried away with all the other anniversaries. We can celebrate it early.]

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Pillars of the Earth

Yes, I know I'm a bit late to the game with this review. I buy books like this from the Los Alamos Friends of the Library's second-hand bookstore, which has them at the right price, like a dollar.

I struggled through far too many coincidences, cardboard characters given the sheen of the detail and repetition needed to fill 973 pages, numerous rapes, all written identically, and technical details (Jean Gimpel gets an acknowledgement) to prove that Ken Follett has done his homework. And then tied with a pretty bow that puts the unadulteratedly evil villain at the head of the bunch that killed Thomas Becket.

Wow.

I was most surprised at how badly it was written. My automatic editing function, a necessity for blogging, kept going into overdrive, rewriting awkward sentences, correcting words badly used, and removing anachronisms in which the characters spoke or thought like twenty-first-century people. Making a good book would have taken much longer.

It seems to me that James Michner, who did this encyclopedic sort of thing, was better, but I would have to reread one of his books to verify that.

I did want to fact-check the ending (no prizes for Follett there), so I read some history, which was not too far on the shelf from T. S. Eliot's collected works. So I read "Murder in the Cathedral" too.

It's much better and covers the same material (less the technical stuff, at which Gimpel is better, and not as much about women's roles) in less than 50 pages. Better character development and devoid of those unbelievable coincidences, too.

Update: Speaking of T. S. Eliot, here's someone who is no longer intimidated by "The Waste Land," thanks to modern electronic gizmos. I guess I like my poems better open-ended.

And, in a similar vein, Bloomsday is sometime this week. I'm never quite sure of the date.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bits and Pieces - June 12, 2011

Peter Plagens - The Absolute Truth About Contemporary Art. Thanks to my friend Linda for highlighting this.

As I gear up my Estonian for later this summer, this is sort of amusing. I haven't seen much automatic translation from Estonian. Just getting the old wetware programmed.

Kamaishi rebuilds from the earthquake.

More Women, Just Not These Two

A New York Times article on why men in politics are overwhelmingly more likely to be caught up in sex scandals than women in politics:
...Research points to a substantial gender gap in the way women and men approach running for office. Women have different reasons for running, are more reluctant to do so and, because there are so few of them in politics, are acutely aware of the scrutiny they draw — all of which seems to lead to differences in the way they handle their jobs once elected.

“The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path.”

Studies show that women are less likely to run for office; it is more difficult to recruit them, even when they have the same professional and educational qualifications as men. Men who run for office tend to look at people already elected “and say, ‘I’m as good as that,’ ” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University here. “Women hold themselves up to this hypothetical standard no candidate has ever achieved.”
On the whole, all other things being equal, I'd say always vote for the woman - policy not personality driven, reflective, high standards. Precisely what we need and should want. But, of course, these qualities aren't universally female nor are the inverse universally male.

In fact, the distinction underscores one current political comparison - between Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann - as it might also between male politicians or male and female. They are traits, not biological essences. Although the risk of either in the White House scares the hell out of me, there is nonetheless a clear distinction to be made between Palin and Bachmann, even if they share the same ideology. Bachmann may be completely nutty, but her politics is policy-driven, however much one may find the policies execrable. Palin is a receptacle, a politics of personality for whom policy, feebly grasped, is shaped to fit personality (as is history).

If Palin were elected president, she might tend towards the tyrant as this appears to play well with her followers, but she would likely be a policy puppet of Kristol, et al. They would continue to prop up the personality, similar to the George W. Bush team, but run policy behind the personality. That would suit Palin just fine. If Bachmann were elected, as an experienced politician and office-holder, she would likely take the reins and truck no divergence in her administration.

Both hold a radical ideology and concomitant set of policy preferences, but only one has any kind of grasp of how ideology and policy fit together. I doubt that either could get the Republican nomination, but hypothetically-speaking which should one prefer if faced with this choice?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rape is a metaphor, too

Johann Hari, in the Independent:
It is not only Strauss-Kahn who should be on trial. It is the institution he has been running. There’s an inane debate in the press about who should be the next head of the IMF, as if we were discussing who should run the local Milk Board. But if we took the idea of human equality seriously, and remembered all the people who have been impoverished, starved and killed by this institution, we would be discussing the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission – and how to disband the IMF entirely and start again.

If Strauss-Kahn is guilty, I suspect I know how it happened. He must have mistaken the maid for a poor country in financial trouble. Heads of the IMF have, after all, been allowed to rape them with impunity for years.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Bits and Pieces - Smoke Edition

First the political kind:

Wall Street is trying to see through the Republicans' smoke about national debt default.

Only brown people commit terrorism. H/T to emptywheel.

And now the literal kind, the kind that is obscuring the mountains and stinking the place up. Last night, all of a sudden as I was contemplating opening the doors and windows to cool off the house, it settled in so thick I could hardly see a couple of blocks. It's from the fires, particularly the Wallow Fire, in Arizona, which has gobbled up more than 300,000 acres of ponderosa forest and is completely out of control.

National Weather Service Smoke Forecast for Albuquerque. Note that Santa Fe is under the smoke, too.

NOAA satellite photos.

Discovery News satellite photos with burned areas indicated.

National Weather Service Air Quality Guidance for Southern Rocky Mountains. Set the Guidance Element to "1Hr Average Vertical Smoke Integration" and hit the play button.

Tips of the hat to several Facebook friends for the smoke links.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Is Weiner Cooked?

What did he wish?
What did he think he really wanted to be?
Was he thinking, "everyone will be in love with me"?

Although Breitbart apparently had a tight grip on this from the outset, now we're all supposed to grapple with the Weiner Problem?

If somehow - somehow! - we could harness the energy generated by the swiftness of this issue's navigation of the most sublime depths and multiple dimensions of human idiocy, we could simultaneously solve our economic woes and climate change. Alas! The roundup on the plane of of our prosaic reality: Weiner is stupid but harmless, Breitbart is stupid but harmful. Make of that complex scenario what you will.

UPDATE:

"It's time for Democratic leadership to explain why Congressman Weiner's actions never aroused any suspicion, and why they rushed to his defense while so many Americans were shocked and confused by his bizarre and disturbing behavior," Paul Lindsay, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement.
Boy oh boy is it time. I might otherwise just vote straight-ticket Republican from now on. Why didn't Democrats ask more questions about whose suspicious-looking penis was in those underwear? We must know now!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Urucurana

Palinstan

Kristoff (via):
With Tea Party conservatives and many Republicans balking at raising the debt ceiling, let me offer them an example of a nation that lives up to their ideals.

It has among the lowest tax burdens of any major country: fewer than 2 percent of the people pay any taxes. Government is limited, so that burdensome regulations never kill jobs.

This society embraces traditional religious values and a conservative sensibility. Nobody minds school prayer, same-sex marriage isn’t imaginable, and criminals are never coddled. The budget priority is a strong military, the nation’s most respected institution. When generals decide on a policy for, say, Afghanistan, politicians defer to them. Citizens are deeply patriotic, and nobody burns flags.

So what is this Republican Eden, this Utopia? Why, it’s Pakistan.

A Dying River Runs Through It

See this sobering article on the coming craziness concerning China's water problems. It only scratches the surface of what China faces as a whole - decreasing water volume and increasing water pollution. Although the precise melting rate lacks scientific consensus, glacial melting in the Tibetan Plateau threatens China’s principal source of freshwater (and that of South/Southeast Asia in general). Black soot from air pollution is a main cause behind glacial melting in the Tibetan Plateau, its deposits darkening the ice, which consequently absorbs more solar energy and reflects less, contributing to a greater rate of melting.

As for water use... The Yangtze River flows from Qinghai Province on the Tibetan Plateau to Shanghai, accounting for 35-40% of China’s freshwater resources and 70% of its rice production as it winds through more than 6000km of the country. 14.2 billion tons of waste is dumped annually into the Yangtze alone. A 2007 WWF report concluded that the resulting damage to aquatic life is probably irreversible. As of 2005, 59% of China’s seven main rivers, which together serve 88% of the country’s population, were considered undrinkable due to toxic spills, run-off from China’s pesticide-heavy agricultural sector, municipal wastewater, and biological and chemical pollution accumulation.


Meanwhile, this pressure grows: Our planet, our food.