Monday, April 30, 2012

Bits and Pieces - April 30, 2012

Perhaps the New Yorker could share its surplus of dots-over-letters with the New York Times, which doesn't seem to believe in them.

If we want electricity, the generating plants have to be put somewhere.

For those of us who have been struggling with the problem like, forever, this is a duh moment. But Foreign Policy is trying to make up to us for its horrible misjudgement on its latest SEX ISSUE cover.

Where did Los Alamos staff get their Ph.D.s?

As the days go on and North Korea doesn't do another nuclear test, I will go out on a limb and say they won't do one any time soon. I'm also wondering where the idea that they will use uranium came from. Facts? A leak? Or just out of, um, the thin air?

Good for China. Now that they've said this, it would be a good idea for the United States and/or Russia to engage them and invite them to the ongoing talks leading up to the next round of nuclear weapons reductions. And encourage them to be more forthcoming about exactly how many nuclear weapons they have. This statement took place at the regular conference of nations in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, checking up on progress. If you're up for it, here's a longish article on another result that would be good coming from this meeting but probably won't. Wonkish.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bits and Pieces - April 26, 2012

Today is the twenty-sixth anniversary of the reactor explosion at Chernobyl.

I love the Norwegians. I wish we had more coverage of the Breivik trial in the US, so we could see how stupid our security fixation and propensities to hate are.

Another story we're not hearing enough about. Or that Murdoch owns Fox. And the Wall Street Journal. The Guardian is doing a good job. The Agonist, where I sometimes also post, has more on this than a lot of places.

I've always enjoyed the movie Red Dawn (the 1984 version). A lot of the scenery is from around here, and the irony of justifying boobytrapping bodies, which had been seen as a manifestation of evil when the Viet Cong did it, was intriguing. And now the Russians are coming to Colorado. But it's the Front Range, not the valleys.

Republicans are backing cuts in the nuclear weapons budget. We'll see how long that lasts.

Some good background reading on nuclear nonproliferation in the Middle East and North Korea.

Added later: Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein (the second from the American Enterprise Institute) say it: The Republicans are the Problem.

Charli Carpenter Gets It Right on Foreign Policy's Sex Issue

Blake Hounshell, currently the managing editor of Foreign Policy, and once upon a time the blogger known as Praktike, has been all over the twitter machine the past few days hawking FP's SEX ISSUE!

Yes, sex sells, and yes, I read some of the articles. I was particularly disgusted at the illustrations of a nude woman with a burkha painted on her body. Yes, FP was selling articles about the sexploitation of women with, um, a woman's body. Whatta concept!

I thought about griping about it, but I've got beta lot on my plate right now, and, although that kind of blind and unthinking sexism continues to irritate me, decided not to take the time.

Which was just as well, because Charli Carpenter nails it. Required reading for the Foreign Policy editorial staff.

And I particularly like the graphic!


Many thanks to @dandrezner and @BulletinAtomic for tweeting and retweeting Carpenter's article.

Rocky Mountain Penstemon


Penstemon strictus.

Oddly, this is the only penstemon blooming in the neighborhood. It's in a sunny place that probably got a little more moisture during the winter than others, but there are literally thousands of penstemon plants around, and I haven't seen another one that looks like it's getting ready to bloom.

If you look very carefully at the enlarged photo, you can see a bee hovering to the right of the plant.

Monday, April 23, 2012

We Need Some Disruptive Thinking Here

It’s hard to break out of a mindset. It’s harder whan you don’t have a simple substitute.

So Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, who spent the heights of their careers in the Cold War, need some disruptive thinking. Let’s see if I can provide it.

At least six of their eight key facts depend heavily on Cold-War assumptions, the major one being that the United States and the Sov...er...Russia are enemies. Is that true?

The Soviet Union died in 1991. Fourteen republics, most of which were unhappy about their forcible integration into the Union, became independent, along with Russia. Two years earlier, Mikhail Gorbachev gave up Soviet puppetry in the satellite nations. Some of those nations have become members of the European Union and NATO.

But it’s Russia that inherited the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. Its capitol continues at Moscow, and it inherited the Red Army. What it did not inherit, explicitly disavowed by Gorbachev was the Soviet policy of exporting class warfare. In fact, after 1991, that policy made no sense in a newly capitalistic Russia.

The nuclear arms race, slowed before then, was ended. America sent help to Russia in converting its nuclear security system to an inventory basis. Americans worked with Russians on other nuclear-related issues, and Russian scientists moved to America.

The two nations do not face each other militarily anywhere, directly or through proxies, and they have worked together in Central Asia.

So what is to be done about those nuclear arsenals? They seem to have a life of their own, with missiles still targeted across the northern hemisphere. Under what circumstances might they be launched? It’s possible to imagine a number of Cold-War-type scenarios, but they seem highly unlikely. The most likely scenario would seem to be accidental. So there is a motivation for eliminating those arsenals as quickly as possible.

Kissinger and Scowcroft’s first three points are straight out of Herman Kahn: strategic stability, and second strike. Strategic stability is a concern, in the credibility of reductions. Their fourth point almost addresses this, but it is in the Kahnian mode. Verification is the basis for this credibility, but, rather than the uncertainty associated with the measurements, the methods are the primary concern. Credibility now lies in the status of warheads taken out of service. That means counting warheads and access to storage and decommissioning facilities, unthinkable in Kahn’s time.

Their point five would apply Kahnian logic to the up-and-coming nuclear powers: China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea. But until the United States and Russia come down to several hundred nuclear weapons, this is simply not an issue. The analysis may be worth doing, but it is hard to see how being in the same range of nuclear numbers would damage strategic stability. In any case, none of those countries poses a serious threat to the United States. And joining up together? Please.

Which brings us to point six, which, like point four, has been addressed both in the New START Treaty and the recent Nuclear Posture Review. Bringing in other countries as the US and Russian numbers approach theirs will indeed be necessary. Britain is already addressing its numbers, and, IIRC, the US is beginning informal talks with China.

Point seven is a rehash of point one, strategic stability. People who do that sort of thing do indeed consider missiles, both defensive and offensive. And, again, tactical nuclear weapons are on the New START to-do list. Point eight is being addressed in an ongoing way, as our allies and we work out what defenses are necessary in the post-Cold-War world.

It’s tempting to look for enemies, particularly when that is what one’s career was based on. But the sort of enmity that characterized the Cold War is gone, most likely never to return. What could make it return is refusing to believe that things have changed. The Republican presidential candidates seemed to want to see Russia in the Cold War Soviet mold. I was at a lecture last week where one of the questioners kept referring to the Soviets when he meant the current-day Russians. And now Kissinger and Scowcroft come back to Herman Kahn.

Having one big enemy simplifies a lot of strategy. The world today isn’t offering one up, just a lot of little headaches that could grow bigger.

More disruptive thinking, please!

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner and The Agonist.

Bits and Pieces - April 23, 2012

Politics with Socrates:
He felt it was vitally important to admit that the human condition is one of profound uncertainty, deep doubt. We are in between creatures. On the one hand, we are not ignorant and un-self-aware like most other animals. We can learn much. But on the other hand, we are not omniscient and all-seeing like the gods.

This is why the lust for certainty is a sin, as a former Archbishop of York put it, because certainty demands the eradication of doubts and imagining you are a god. Forget that life is enveloped not just by known unknowns but unknown unknowns and you will fall like Icarus from the sky.
Hero Lady Cop Will Probably Be Fired For Stopping Police Beatdown, Because Duh

Young men's dropping out of pretty much everything continues to puzzle me. I am tempted to say that it is a result of the incomplete transformation begun in the sixties to gender equity, but I can't prove that.

A Nation of Spoiled Brats. A view from Britain.

Scandinavian Airports Reject Shin Bet Racial Profiling Security Screening Procedures.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bits and Pieces - Iran Edition

And now we face the rushing wave of op-ed pieces on what's next in the negotiations with Iran. Just before last week's meeting, there was such a wave, much of which was highly repetitive and a somewhat smaller portion was wrong. If I had a spare week or so, I would go over all that and show which writers you needn't read any more on the subject because they were so far off on that first meeting.

But I don't have a spare week or so. Instead, I'll pick up some of the better commentary from this week. Subsequent pieces are likely to repeat some of this or go off on hobbyhorses.

If you want to follow only one commenter on negotiating with Iran, Gary Sick is the one. He was involved in the 1979 negotiations over the hostage crisis. He has a tumblr to which he posts his own work and articles that he finds worth reading.

Sick recommends an article by John Limbert and another in which Sick looks at what the history of Iran's nuclear program might tell us about the present.

BTW, Al Monitor is a good source of information and commentary about the Iran negotiations. Laura Rozen has some inside stuff there from last week's negotiations. Looks like the Iranians are really concerned about the sanctions.

Michael Brzoska, Oliver Meier, and Götz Neuneck gives their seven steps toward an agreement. Look for a lot of articles like this over the next month. This is likely among the better of them, but I don't have time to work through it today.

And, finally, Max Fischer provides some polling data that says that Americans are more afraid of Iran now than we were of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. I would be less generous to the media than he is.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Just Wondering

if the fetishizing of law-enforcement personnel after 9/11, the assault vehicles for ordinary police departments, the Darth Vader protective gear, the chemical weapons, the excessive force that police are allowed, the humiliating TSA procedures, if all those things might just have gone to the elite Secret Service cops' heads to convince them they're above petty rules.

David Ignatius Gets It Right

I'm not a fan of David Ignatius, but this is pretty close to what I would write if I were writing a post like this today.

I think that Ignatius has the broad outlines of the negotiations right:
“Step-by-step” and “reciprocity” are the two guideposts for this exercise. They mark a dignified process for making concessions, much like the formula that President Obama used in his January 2009 inaugural address when he first signaled his outreach to Iran: “We seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
The Russians first suggested the step-by-step approach, and I hope they'll eventually get credit for that. Now is not the time, however; we need a success first.

Ignatius's reading of the shape of the deal is vague and will allow him to claim he predicted whatever happens later:
The Iranians seem to be preparing their public for a deal that limits enrichment while preserving the right to enrich. In an interview Monday with the Iranian student news agency, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi explained that “making 20 percent fuel is our right,” but that “if they guarantee that they will provide us with the different levels of enriched fuel that we need, then that would be another issue.” Salehi seemed to be reviving a 2009 Turkish plan to export Iran’s low-enriched uranium abroad, and receive back 20 percent fuel for its Tehran research reactor, supposedly to make the isotopes. That earlier deal collapsed because of opposition from Khamenei, who apparently is now ready to bargain.
There's more worth reading.

Pet Peeves - Language and Ethnicity

For a short while, it looked like Rosetta Stone was going to include both halves of the human race in its language program. But they've gone back to men as the only species that needs to learn other languages.

Proud fathers with graduating sons who will become successes. Learn a language to impress hot babes! And then, for a short time, a family, with dog, to show us how the system works. But then back to brave muscled explorers climbing a sheer cliff in a veldt-like landscape. And, most recently, a hypertestosteroned guy dancing on his desk because he beat out the competition to get the assignment in Japan.

I guess I was primed by the historical excerpts in Scientific American: John Glenn and the future of man in space (1962) and another one about men, I think designing ships that will be more successful than the Titanic from 1912.

So why do I care about Rosetta Stone? It looks like a method that could help me learn Estonian. Reviews are mixed on the existing languages, though. And they don't have Estonian. I guess none of the guys that the guy owners of Rosetta Stone know are interested in Estonian babes.

Daniel Little has a nice article on ethnicity today. For me, this is less a pet peeve than a continuing question, although louts like the Rosetta Stone guys can make it into a pet peeve.

I have loved expressions of various kinds of ethnicity since I was a child. My best friend and I would pretend to be Russian or a sort of generic Eastern/Central European that we found in relatives' stories and fairy tales, plus our own imagination. We picked up kitsch in second-hand stores when we could afford it. And I loved encountering the real thing. I bought a number of things in my first enthusiasms, things made for people living in those places. Do they become kitsch when I bring them home?

I've thought about writing more about my adventures in other countries. But it's very, very hard to write things like that through an American viewpoint that don't condescend to the people and their traditions. Some of it seems worth sharing. But I haven't found a way to do it that I'm comfortable with.

And yeah, I hate most travel writing.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bits and Pieces - April 14, 2012

When you think the world is screwed up, try to put yourself back into 1950.

Another war avoided!

Some sense on airport security. I don't suppose anyone who might change the policies is listening, though.

American media isn't giving us near enough on the travails of the Murdoch family. That's a sitcome I'd be willing to watch!

A shout-out to a very enjoyable blog on geology.

Choosing Wisely: trying to figure out the utility of medical and diagnostic treatments.

For those of you who have read the whole post, a really marvelous livecam: a great blue heron nest in New York State. Unlike most livecams, it has sound, so I can listen to the redwinged blackbirds, geese, and ducks that remind me of being at Bosque del Apache. Very lovely.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bits and Pieces - April 11, 2012

Here's the only article I've found about Ann Romney's ideas on what mothers do that has much substance.

I do love Siberia - here are photos of the Nenets.

Opinions on how international law affects a possible Israeli attack on Iran.

Some of the numbers on the New START Treaty.

Those of you who are interested in raising chickens should follow this blog. Betty Cracker at Balloon Juice is documenting her start in chicken-raising. Here's the latest. And there's even chicken diplomacy.

Monday, April 09, 2012

A Trip to Trinity Site


It’s about a two and half hour drive to White Sands’s Stallion Gate from my home in Santa Fe. I wasn’t sure of what to expect, so I brought reading material, having heard stories of long waits to get in. I left about six-thirty, got there about nine, and the dozen or so cars in front of me moved through the gate expeditiously, drivers showing a picture id to the security people.

From the gate, it’s another fifteen miles to Trinity. The site is on the beginnings of a mountain elevation, and as you approach, you can see the roughly circular cleared area. You also pass the control bunker before you enter an immense parking lot, directed by young soldiers dressed in camouflage mimicking the creosote-bush vegetation that surrounds the gray gravel lot.

Nothing was as I expected. Far more people, but I guess I couldn’t expect the personal attention I got on my trip to Opytnoe Pole, the site of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear test of essentially the same design that was tested at Trinity. We had maybe a dozen people in two vehicles. I would not be surprised if there were (literally, yes!) a thousand times that at Trinity on Saturday. The car license plates were from all over the United States, and I heard, besides English, Japanese and a Scandinavian language.



Everything is, of course, very trampled. The desert is delicate, but lichens and other small organisms form soil crusts, easily destroyed. So the path to the site and the site itself are dust, what you get when you destroy those soil crusts.



One area of the blast site has been covered to preserve the trinitite pavement. I was surprised to see some trinitite still outside that area. A foamy green piece begged to come keep my Opytnoe Pole spherule company, but I sublimated that need into buying a souvenir windbreaker to be part of my Nuclear Diner wardrobe.

What is left of Jumbo has been moved to the parking area. It was smaller than I expected. Explanatory photos are mounted by the blasted cylinder and on the fence around ground zero, but many people didn’t seem to get it. A couple of guys were looking at a picture of Jumbo on its many-wheeled truck and saying that it was built at Los Alamos. I told them it was built in Pittsburgh and transported by train and truck. Why? They wanted to know. So I told the story that General Groves didn’t want to spread his billion dollars worth of plutonium over the desert and the three possibilities they tested at Los Alamos. I recently was told, by someone who has better connections to that very specialized rumor mill than I have, that the reason Jumbo wasn’t used was the concern that if the explosion went as planned, it would scatter giant shrapnel from Albuquerque to Las Cruces. I take that with a grain of salt, but I passed it along to my listeners.



There was a model of Fat Man on a flatbed truck in the ground zero area. It looked smaller in the crater than the Fat Man model does in the Bradbury Museum.

A nice surprise was a bus out to the MacDonald Ranch. Again, much too walked over.

I did manage to step aside and get alone with my thoughts, although it was much harder than at Semipalatinsk. Both areas have a stark, open beauty. The steppe is greener, and in many places the ground was paved with houseleeks, impossible to walk without stepping on little plants. It may simply be that I am more accustomed to the New Mexico flora. In many places, not just at Trinity, the creosote bushes had died but were coming up again from the roots. I hadn’t seen that before and am wondering if it is from last year’s very dry winter, followed by our recent rain.



The most impressive part to me was the depression, a very shallow crater, formed by the explosion. According to one of the signs, it is eight feet deep, little enough that you almost don't notice it. The stone marker is at precise Ground Zero, under where the device was mounted on a tower.



Stallion Gate is ten miles or so further east on US 380 than the famous Owl Bar and Grill, which seemed to be doing an enormous business as I was leaving, so I decided not to have a chile cheeseburger there. I turned south at that corner. Many years ago, I spent a lot of time at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge photographing birds. Someday, when I have nothing else to do, I will digitize those ten thousand slides.

That was before there was a visitor center and before it cost $5 to drive around the refuge. It was before Socorro’s Festival of the Cranes, and there were times when no other people were on the refuge, even during crane season. Lately I have learned that some people don’t realize that there are any other kinds of birds there.

It was the first time for this camera. I played a bit with the coots, just to get a feel for what might be worth photographing. And I did get lucky: ibis and egrets. I posted one photo yesterday. Here are more.


Great heron with a snack.



White-faced ibis.



White-faced ibis coming in for a landing over snowy egret.


There have been a lot of improvements since my last visit, and lots of water.

Coming back from my Texas trip a couple of weeks ago, I stopped at Bitter Lake NWR and was disappointed. The roads seemed to be fewer than I recalled, and practically all of the cover was gone. I got some really wonderful bittern photos at Bitter Lake a long time ago. In contrast, Bosque is developing some very nice rail and bittern habitat.

If you go:
White Sands opens Trinity Site twice a year, on the first Saturdays in April and October. Information can be found here. A lot of walking is required, perhaps a half-mile from the parking lot to Ground Zero, and just as much to the toilets. People transporters are available. Bring a jacket; the temperature when I arrived was in the sixties, and some people were shivering in shorts. Food is available, along with souvenirs. Looked like mostly burritos, along with various non-alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol and firearms are not allowed on site. Photography is allowed only at Trinity Site. The radiation levels are minimal.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Placeholder

I visited Trinity Site, the place the first atom bomb was exploded, yesterday. I'm working on a photo essay on that, but in the meantime, here's a photo I took yesterday at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, on the way home from Trinity.


White-faced ibis with a snowy egret.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Obama's Signal to Iran - So Much for That

Yesterday David Ignatius told us that President Obama sent a message to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei via Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States would accept an Iranian civilian nuclear program if the program was safeguarded and transparent enough to show that it was not directed toward nuclear weapons. This would be a big step toward an agreement between Iran and the rest of the world.

Talks between Iran and the P5+1 are being scheduled for next week or the week after. Earlier, Iran suggested Istabul as the venue. Suddenly this week and Iranian official suggested Baghdad as a preferable meeting place. And now Prime Minister Erdogan says
It is necessary to act honestly. [The Iranians] continue to lose prestige in the world because of a lack of honesty.
Oops.

This may have something to do with the unrest in Syria, where Iran backs the Assad regime. Or it may be something else. Not a good sign for the negotiations.

Update (4/8/12): The Iranians are willing to accept Istanbul for talks. Today, anyway. Hard to say what this means, but it's probably better than their insisting on Baghdad.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Bits and Pieces - April 4, 2012

Driving Inside the Soviets’ Secret Submarine Lair.

Living in a nuclear hell. The Soviets were very casual about disposing of the kinds of nuclear waste that was put into tanks at Hanford and Savannah River in the US: they just poured it into the river.

Clarifying some terms that have to do with the US oil supply.

It has bothered me for some time that so much of Science magazine is behind a paywall. I've wanted to write about their material and didn't many times because I couldn't link to it. Sometimes I take the time to find an article or the press release from Science. Michael Eisen points out that those press releases don't always portray the material accurately.

At first glance, this seems like a good idea: Brazil would take a leadership position in nuclear nonproliferation by eschewing enrichment. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty guarantees peaceful nuclear technology to countries that don't make bombs with it. The problem is that enrichment enables both civilian reactors and bomb-making. Seems to me there needs to be a lot more buy-in by NPT signatories before something like this can happen.

In 2006, Philip Zelikow, then a counselor in the State Department, wrote a memo opposing the use of torture. Yesterday the National Security Archive obtained a copy of that memo through the Freedom of Information Act. Here's the memo, a short article on it in the Washington Post, and more from the National Security Archive.

The Israel-Iran-US Information War

News scoops may happen because of hard work by reporters. That hard work may be supplemented by government officials wanting to leak information that might not be as effectively released through official channels.

Governments may also release information officially that is not true.

Both seem to be happening in the case of Iran, Israel, and the United States. The motives seem to be many and not entirely decipherable.

Iran claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful uses. It has admitted to the pursuit of technologies related to nuclear weapons in the past but says that nuclear weapons are not a current goal, and the ruling mullahs repeat that nuclear weapons are religiously forbidden. However, some of the activities in Iran’s nuclear program lay a foundation for production of nuclear weapons if that decision is taken, and, as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is obligated to explain those activities, which it has not. Iran loudly announces advances in its nuclear technology, sometimes claiming more than has been achieved. Putting an Additional Protocol into effect and allowing IAEA inspectors easy access to more sites would help to show the program’s goals, but Iran claims that IAEA inspections in the past have included spies.

Israel has been agitating for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites and additional sanctions against Iran. Israel claims repeatedly over the years that Iran’s program is reaching a point of no return. The “redline” for attack is poorly defined: the ability to enrich, the development of underground sites, or that Iran can produce a nuclear weapon by some date in the future, some of which have passed with no nuclear weapon in evidence. The poor definition itself may be intended to generate uncertainty. Israel, of course, has long concealed its nuclear weapons programs from the world and even now will not admit to them.

The United States has issued two National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) that say that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons. It has also pressed for an end to Iran’s enrichment program. The second may be contrary to the goals of the NPT, but that has been fuzzed up by United Nations Security Council resolutions that Iran is in violation of its NPT obligations by withholding information about former weapons work; such resolutions are consistent with limiting a signatory’s rights under the NPT. The Obama administration seems to emphasize an end to Iranian enrichment less than the Bush administration did. At the same time, the President and Secretary of State say that upcoming talks represent a window of opportunity that will not remain open forever.

Evidence on Iran’s nuclear program is difficult to come by, as is information about the sources of that information. The NIEs and the IAEA report from last November don’t provide sources as part of their standard procedure. One likely source has been much discussed: the so-called laptop of death, which may well be a thumb drive or other electronic format. This turned up in 2007 and seems to be part of the IAEA’s evidence, although the IAEA also says that it has done additional checking of the claims it lists in the November report. How much more do the intelligence services of Israel, America, and other countries know about the Iranian program than shows up in the media?

Does Israel really plan to attack Iran? What would be the American response? Presumably President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed these questions more candidly than either has revealed to the press. “We’ve got Israel’s back” is inherently ambiguous. “We’ll back you no matter what you do”? or “We will respond only if Israel is about to be destroyed”?

What are Iran’s intentions for its nuclear program? If they are peaceful, why doesn’t it cooperate more fully with the IAEA?

Motivations are harder to read. Does Iran want a deterrent or a path to regional hegemony? Are Israeli leaders really concerned about a second Holocaust, or are they worried about losing their nuclear weapons monopoly in the region? How far is America influenced by Israel? What do the leaders of the three countries actually believe about the others?

Sheera Frenkel published three articles (here, here, and here) at McClatchy in the beginning of March based on interviews of Israeli officials. She tries to sort fact from propaganda. Bernard Finel suggests three possible motivations for Israel’s latest blast of saber-rattling. There are probably more.

More recently, Mark Perry got a scoop in Foreign Policy: Israel is purchasing the right to use air bases in Azerbaijan, just north of Iran, useful for refueling or landing planes damaged in an attack. Perry’s information is from “several high-level sources I've spoken with inside the U.S. government.” A single source might be speaking on his/her own, but not “four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers.” So the conclusion was easily drawn (by the Christian Science Monitor, Ron Ben-Yishai at Y-Net, and others in Israel) that the United States was trying to scuttle Israel’s preparations for an attack on Iran.

Actions are a somewhat firmer clue than statements. Israel’s war drums have lowered their volume, and Israel seems to be backing off from its apparent sabotage of the Iranian nuclear program. Iran is willing to begin talks again on its nuclear program while warning that it can reply in kind to a military attack. The United States is not advertising detailed expectations of the talks while maintaining a hard line that there must be results.

Articles like this one, of which there have been many over the last month, depend on the author’s best guess as to what the situation and motives are. That goes for what I write as well. Additional layers of “should” are often brought in, the authors recommending what they see as the most desirable actions. Those “shoulds” incorporate more of the hypothetical and unstated assumptions.

It’s important to be alert for those “shoulds”, for the background and expertise of the authors of articles claiming to know the intentions and plans of any of the parties. And to remember that there’s a lot that isn’t known. There’s some hard selling going on.

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner and The Agonist.

Sunday, April 01, 2012