Thursday, March 29, 2012

Blowin' In The Wind

I don't see a way to embed this, so you'll have to believe this still:

If you go to this link, you will see the current state of winds across the US, moving and changing.

E. J. Dionne Says What I've Been Thinking

The irony is that if the court’s conservatives overthrow the mandate, they will hasten the arrival of a more government-heavy system. Justice Anthony Kennedy even hinted that it might be more “honest” if government simply used “the tax power to raise revenue and to just have a national health service, single-payer.” Remember those words. - E. J. Dionne
Now that Americans are beginning to recall their responsibilities as citizens and are protesting against the worst injustices some would like to perpetrate (Governor Walker in Wisconsin, the War on Women), I've been thinking that a Supreme Court pander to the radical right might just activate the realization that we need healthcare and that single-payer simplifies a number of issues. And that realization might just drive a movement that would provide the support for single-payer that wasn't there when the ACA passed.

Update: Ezra thinks not. But where he and I part company is that he's looking at the political parties (after saying this is an unfortunate way to frame the discussion) and I'm looking at the electorate. Yes, the pusillanimous Congress we've got would go the way he's saying. But will the voters stand for it?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bits and Pieces - March 27, 2012

Did you know the first US patent for a color TV was awarded to a Mexican inventor? This is a cool site with an enormous store of information. And it has the good sense to feature Estonia as one of its up-front countries.

It's hard to tell if Anne-Marie Slaughter is doing a bit of cherry-picking here, or if the examples she cites are really a trend. In either case, good job, Secretary Clinton!

Doing science while brown. And in a hoodie. Women are subject to excessive scrutiny in some of the same ways as black people, so I've got some feeling for the need to be perceived as totally harmless in a paranoid world. I recommend some serious meditation, particularly by white males, on how it would feel to have to calculate your every move on pain of death, rape, or arrest.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Do We Need Stories?

I've just completed a two-week safari across Texas. I stayed with or visited friendly natives, including Steve Hynd of The Agonist and Newshoggers and a number of long-time friends from other venues. The news was not good for all of them, part of the reason I made the trip.

All of them have stories and represent stories in my life. Sometimes they figured in stories that many others have heard and read, like the story of Wen Ho Lee and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. But, for the most part, their stories are something shared among us and a small number of friends.

So I've been surrounded by stories, and other friends and acquaintences provide me many more.

Maybe that's why I'm not enthralled by fiction. Another friend (many stories) lent me the 19 discs of Moby Dick, to listen to as I crossed boring territory. But none of it was boring. Some was very flat, but that allowed me to see trees, ranches, and windmills in the distance. It also allowed me to realize that land I've thought of as flat, like that between Roswell and Vaughn, New Mexico, isn't flat at all.

There were different types of vegetation, different ways of signing the roads, different roads. The road surfacing in Texas is much noisier than that in New Mexico. Probably gives better traction during rains, but it was a relief to get back to quieter travel. Different buildings, different ways of orienting buildings relative to the roads. And wonderful wildflowers once I hit the Hill Country! Still haven't uploaded the photos to this computer; maybe tomorrow.

So I didn't listen to a single one of those Moby Disks. Mostly I didn't listen to anything radio or cd, although I spent some time with Rush Limbaugh (very repetitive) and Faure's nocturnes and barcarolles (for which, thanks to Jim!).

I don't read many novels. People have asked me about this. I don't have full answers; it's hard for me to find a novel that intrigues me enough to read. Sometimes I read a bestseller that I think I should read, frequently disappointing, and sometimes a trashy novel that goes quickly. One problem I have in reading novels is that if they engage me sufficiently, somewhere past about two-thirds through the book, I have to finish it, even if it means staying up until two in the morning.

I have a large backlog of books to read, mostly nonfiction, biography and history. I bought a novel today that contains a large historical component. I also bought two nonfiction books.

It seems to me that there are stories everywhere: those of our friends and the institutions we attach ourselves to; the everyday workings of our communities and the world; and the natural world. On that last, I realized on this trip through Texas wildflowers that they mostly grow in recently disturbed soil; where what we call weeds grow. And I met a little boy whose knowledge of dinosaurs and wonder at my watch exceeded mine.

Or the LBJ story I told you in a previous post and which we Americans still haven't come to terms with.

So I was pleased to read Tim Parks's consideration of whether we need stories of the kind in novels. His reasons are different from the ones I've given, but are not incompatible with them.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Body, My Choice

I'm listening to CSPAN broadcasting a rally in Washington, DC, against Obamacare (now the official name)

"It's my body and my choice," says one male speaker. "Keep the government from getting between my doctor and me."

The applause was thin; some of the audience may have been thinking what I was: that this is what women have said about the laws intended to intrude into their health care.

I'm just wondering if he thinks that applies to women too. Or if the Tea Party members there will take up this formulation.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Western White House

I've been traveling across Texas the past week and a half. I stayed with friends in Marble Falls, and on Wednesday we went to Lyndon Johnson's ranch, now a state and national park.

You sign up for a permit, and you get a cd narrating the drive around the park.

It's a beautiful place, across the Pedernales (pronounced Per-de-nales by Johnson and my Texas friend) River from the Highway 290. There's a long, well-paved runway, and the small Lockheed jet that LBJ used after leaving his 707 in Austin, stands under a roof.

The Western White House. How many times we heard that phrase during LBJ's presidency! You come to it after driving past the older homes on the property, earlier generations of Johnsons, and the family cemetary where LBJ and Ladybird lie. The hangar where he held press conferences now holds exhibits - Johnson making his speech on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, photos of him and Ladybird - and a desk where $2 buys you a ticket to tour the house.

It's a nice limestone home under old oak trees. An office that gave him about as much room as my office gives me, with three secretaries added. IBM typewriters, cord phones, three televisions for the three networks with one of the first remotes ever. The rest of the house is not extraordinary except for the thinking that pursued me.

"Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" echoed through my head after an enlarged LBJ-Humphrey campaign button caught my eye.

And yet...the Civil Rights Act. Johnson's observation that his signing it would end the south's support of the Democratic party has been much cited. It's quite a contrast to most current political approaches: the good of the country came first.

If the Republicans hadn't picked up the South, that party wouldn't be quite so crazy today. And if Johnson hadn't signed the Civil Rights Act, that probably wouldn't have happened. But the country would have been torn apart anyway. The ending of the Vietnam War and the draft wouldn't have been enough.

Alternative history always intrigues me. But there are so many possible paths, and so many unexpected events possible. Who would have thought that it would be a Southern, typically corrupt Dixiecrat brought to the presidency by an assassin's gun who would do so much to end segregation?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Photo of the Day

Seems like the Phronesisaical crowd is traveling. Here's a hint as to where I am!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bits and Pieces - March 10, 2012

Seeds from plants that survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb will be planted in the Irkutsk University Botanical Garden. Keep us posted on their progress, Viktor Kuzevanov!

I'm wondering, as does Frank Munger, whether these atom-bomb shelters were intended for short-term use only. I was in the Silmet plant's shelter in Estonia, and it was quite spacious, with rollaway cots, ventilators that could be hand-powered if necessary, and other necessities. Much nicer than the one pictured here.

Here are pictures of what the cores of the Fukushima reactors probably look like. The "corium" mentioned in the text refers to the melted mixture of fuel element, cladding, and whatever else was in the way as it melted and dropped.

Elaine Blair recently wrote a review of Michael Houellebecq's latest book, which got her thinking about American male authors who write about, um, men and their insecurities. She posts her thoughts on that. I've been unable to read most modern fiction for some time now, just not interesting to me. What Blair writes about is certainly part of it. And it ties in with the recent count of reviewers and authors in the leading magazines: not much change from last year, my estimate pretty much 75% male across the board. Guys, we're not interested. But it gets published anyway because it's guys publishing it.

And here's a guy who seems to think a lot about sex but must be thinking about money too: Rick Santorum.

Added later: Ezra Klein assembles the studies that show that Daylight Saving Time is mostly a scam. My personal interest in this is that I'm a morning person, and just about the time it starts to be light when I wake up, they set that back another month or so. :-P Plus, how can we "save" daylight, when we don't even have twelve hours of it a day yet?

For a change: some good news. Global poverty in 2010 was at half its 1990 levels.

More on Murdoch: in Russia, yet!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Bits and Pieces - International Women's Day Edition

We don't make much of International Women's Day here in America, and from the last barrage of invective, legislation intended to humiliate women, and defunding of women's health services, it's easy to see why. Maybe when we all give up our shoes and independent voices and don the veil, our men will deign to celebrate our proper behavior.

Which is unfair to those men who haven't joined the Republican jihad, like my blog partners. Having grown up in a man's world, I really like what I'm seeing in younger men's attitudes. There's hope yet.

The Guardian does a much better job of link-collecting than I could. Of course, it's all from their site, but it looks like a good selection.

And yesterday was Purim, another celebration of a woman, but Marsha B. Cohen says they're getting it wrong.

Added later: Why aren't there more women in foreign policy?

International Slutty Women's Day

In Arizona, the state Senate passed a bill saying that doctors can intentionally keep critical health information from pregnant women and can’t be sued for it. The idea is that if women know that a pregnancy is threatening their health, they might terminate it. And we know that would be wrong.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

What Obama Will Say To Netanyahu

Want to know what President Barack Obama will say to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when they meet Monday? Obama tells us in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg.
…our argument [to Prime Minister Netanyahu] is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table. That's what happened in Libya, that's what happened in South Africa. And we think that, without in any way being under an illusion about Iranian intentions, without in any way being naive about the nature of that regime, they are self-interested. They recognize that they are in a bad, bad place right now. It is possible for them to make a strategic calculation that, at minimum, pushes much further to the right whatever potential breakout capacity they may have, and that may turn out to be the best decision for Israel's security.
I don’t understand “pushes much further to the right” and suspect that it is Obama’s one verbal slip in the published interview. The sense of it seems to be “pushes off” or “pushes into the future.”

But, whatever that phrase was intended to mean, the overall meaning is clear: Obama plans to to argue to Netanyahu that the only way to solve the problem of Israel’s fear of Iran is not to attack, but to persuade Iran to give up any quest for nuclear weapons peacefully. That is the implication of “permanently, as opposed to temporarily.” All of the previous discussion of a potential attack on Iran by US government officials and by many Israeli former officials has been that an attack would delay Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons “temporarily” while hardening its intent.

Early in the interview Obama states his criterion: “Does the problem get solved?” The last sentence of the published interview is “My message will be much more specific, about how do we solve this problem.” Those two references prepare for and emphasize the message.

And Obama has something concrete to bolster his argument. Last week an agreement was reached with North Korea about its nuclear program. North Korea has been as difficult to deal with as Iran, so progress there in diplomacy implies that diplomacy may succeed with Iran. This weakens the calls for war from Israel, whether intended as bluff or genuine, so there was rapid pushback from senior Israeli officials that there was no analogy between North Korea and Iran.

Obama has his say in this interview. Jeffrey Goldberg was a good choice for interviewer, someone who can hardly be charged with being too critical of Israel or pulling his punches. Obama and his people knew what Goldberg would ask; he has been asking those questions for some time in his blog. So the answers were fully prepared.

Obama sets the stage to make it easy for Netanyahu to agree that now is not the time for a strike on Iran. That sentence could also read “Obama is boxing Netanyahu in so that he can’t declare war on Iran.” Some of both are operative, and Netanyahu can take it one way or the other. An early indication that he is taking it in the first sense comes from Barukh Binah the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Israeli Embassy to the United States. “Israel can rely on the US, full stop,” he said at a reception by the American Jewish Committee in his honor. He would not have said that without approval from Netanyahu.

There are still ways that Netanyahu might insist on war sooner rather than later in his meeting with Obama, and he has upset expectations before.

But let’s look at what Obama said, and why I say it boxes Netanyahu in.

Throughout the interview, Obama emphasizes that Israel’s actions are their choice and that there are better and worse choices, a reasonable thing for one head of state to say to another, and in contrast to some recent Israeli commentary that insists that Obama say or do particular things.
I think it has to do with a legitimate concern on the part of Israel that they are a small country in a tough neighborhood, and as a consequence, even though the U.S. and Israel very much share assessments of how quickly Iran could obtain breakout capacity, and even though there is constant consultation and intelligence coordination around that question, Israel feels more vulnerable. And I think the prime minister and the defense minister, [Ehud Barak,] feel a profound, historic obligation not to put Israel in a position where it cannot act decisively and unilaterally to protect the state of Israel. I understand those concerns....


I think the prime minister has a profound responsibility to protect the Israeli people in a hostile neighborhood, and I am certain that the history of the Holocaust and of anti-Semitism and brutality directed against the Jewish people for more than a millennium weighs on him when he thinks about these questions.

I think it's important to recognize, though, that the prime minister is also head of a modern state that is mindful of the profound costs of any military action, and in our consultations with the Israeli government, I think they take those costs, and potential unintended consequences, very seriously.


In my discussions with Israel, the key question that I ask is: How does this impact their own security environment? I've said it publicly and I say it privately: ultimately, the Israeli prime minister and the defense minister and others in the government have to make their decisions about what they think is best for Israel's security, and I don't presume to tell them what is best for them.

But as Israel's closest friend and ally, and as one that has devoted the last three years to making sure that Israel has additional security capabilities, and has worked to manage a series of difficult problems and questions over the past three years, I do point out to them that we have a sanctions architecture that is far more effective than anybody anticipated; that we have a world that is about as united as you get behind the sanctions; that our assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.

In that context, our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table.


I think that in the end, Israel's leaders will make determinations based on what they believe is best for the security of Israel, and that is entirely appropriate.

When we present our views and our strategy approach, we try to put all our cards on the table, to describe how we are thinking about these issues. We try to back those up with facts and evidence. We compare their assessments with ours, and where there are gaps, we try to narrow those gaps. And what I also try to do is to underscore the seriousness with which the United States takes this issue. And I think that Ehud Barak understands it. I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu, hopefully when he sees me next week, will understand it.

And one of the things that I like to remind them of is that every single commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept. I mean, part of your -- not to put words in your mouth -- but part of the underlying question is: Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they've had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?
Goldberg agrees that that is a fair restatement of his question.

Obama has imposed an impressive structure on the interview, very difficult for an interviewee to do. He builds up to his statement of his position for the Monday meeting. He alludes to the severity of war and its likely ineffectuality in persuading Iran to give up its nuclear program without saying much of that explicitly. Israel and the United States are partners and should continue to work together.

At the extreme, Obama is laying a basis for cutting Israel loose if it chooses to attack Iran. It’s unlikely that Obama would do this, but he needs that flexibility. His representatives have put the arguments for attack and diplomacy on the table over the past few weeks. Obama says in this interview he will come down on the side of diplomacy.

There is more to the interview, of course. There are those macho statements that have been getting all the news coverage. More about them to come.

Update: The text of President Obama's speech to AIPAC is very similar, emphasizing diplomacy over war.

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner and The Agonist.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Bits and Pieces - Early Edition

President Obama's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg is really important, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's visit coming up on Monday. There's a lot to it, and I hope to write more later.

For your viewing pleasure, a Soviet monument in Bulgaria. I love this kind of stuff. Via.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Bits and Pieces - Science Edition

The story of how the Lord Howe stick insect, Dryococelus australis, was nearly lost to the world but is now making a comeback.

Don't get bitten by a T. Rex!

And, speaking of endangered and exotic species, E. J. Graff presents the statistics of women's participation in the big-time literary magazines.

There is also a rather wonderful article in the 24 February Science magazine about how atmospheric energy is dissipated through the drag on falling raindrops, but I have several additional points I want to make on that, so they will come another day.