Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Breaking! Physicist Discovers 1990s Climate Science!

I'm not going to say much about Richard Muller's enlightenment on climate science. If you want links and some rather conventional commentary, you can find them here.

The problem I see with what Muller has done is the message it sends to the climate "skeptic" community: yes, you really should figure it all out yourself.

In terms of science, Muller and his team have contributed a very tiny bit to the evaluation of the temperature record. That's fine; another confirmation is always good, but far from worthy of an op-ed in the New York Times. Although apparently they are having some trouble getting their papers through review.

Many physicists are convinced that they can evaluate all other parts of science. Their reasoning is that, since physics looks at basic issues of science, all other science is derived from it. This is true in that quantum mechanics, a part of physics, underlies chemistry, and chemistry underlies biology, and so on. Much of engineering can be thought of as applied physics. Climate science deals in heat and mass transfer, chemistry, and some biology around the edges. So it's all just detail once you know physics, right?

Well, not quite. It seems that the physicists can't calculate much about chemical reactions, let along how DNA reproduces. But scientists in those other disciplines have developed ways of understanding chemical reactions, the relationships within species, and heat and mass transfer that bypass the calculations physicists can't do. It's necessary to learn a few other things - facts and techniques - in order to get to that understanding. Physicists frequently don't see the use of that part of the process, since, after all, their methods could calculate all that, if they had infinitely large computers.

And they love to discover things! I recall a physicist who had just received the enlightenment that metals form hydrogen when they react with acids. First few weeks of freshman chemistry, but whatever. He filled a beaker too full of concentrated acid, placed it on my optical bench (a delicate piece of equipment with a metal top), and dropped (from some distance so it would splash) a bolt into it. Bubbles! Wow!

I am worried about Muller's message, though. In good physicist fashion, he makes clear in his op-ed that there are some parts of climate science that await his discovery. That paragraph will be used by the climate deniers to justify their "skepticism." See, I'm being scientific; you have to prove it to me. These same people don't doubt that the plasma tv they buy at Costco will work. They don't doubt that their stove will light. They don't doubt that cigarettes cause cancer, or that organic produce is better. [Extra credit: which of that series doesn't fit?] But they doubt climate change and act as though they're going to prove it to themselves.

They won't, of course. They have no idea how to go about that. They feel justified now that a real scientist has taken an equally ignorant position and will loudly proclaim that they're skeptics, just like the real scientists.

Cross-posted to The Agonist.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mitt Can't Get It Right

Easy trip to prove foreign-policy bona fides. Friendly nations: check. Happy events: check (well, the Olympics, if not Tisha b'Av). Easy issues: check (in Britain and maybe Poland; Romney may think the issues around Israel are easy). So what continues to go wrong?

Right now The Twitter is going wild with Dan Senor's statement that - what? - the US may join with Israel in a strike on Iran? Maybe not. The words are hard to parse, but definitely further in that direction than the official US policy has gone. I won't parse it here - others have done that. This came after the announcement that the press would be excluded from Romney's fund-raiser at the King David Hotel. Something wrong with pretty much every noun in that sentence, but we'll plow on with the question of why.

I've had bosses about whom I've said that if they would randomly guess what their next move needs to be, we would all benefit. Random would imply something like being wrong only half the time, but some geniuses manage to run a real streak of wrong.

I've been thinking that being a boss (and only a boss, in jobs that may have had more to do with his ancestry than capabilities) is part of Romney's problem here. Bosses are always right. Jhaber and respondents at Kevin Drum's blog point this out: it's the underlings, advisers in this case, who are always wrong. Operating in that mode brings on stupidity and group-think. We are the Masters of the Universe!

But there's got to be more to it than this. Dan Senor has been in government, although those who have chosen him are not among my heroes. He should know what kinds of thing can and can't be said, unless that group-think has set in. And contributing to that group-think would be the influence of the Republican Party and its primaries, with the convention still to arrive.

The Tea Party and neocons have made clear their preferences: war with Iran, as soon as possible. Think about nukes, and by god, we'll bash you! That'll show them! This is consistent with the preferences of the defense contractors, who are frightened by the Republican-desired sequester. Hard for them to figure out a strategy, but probably quick gains through a war look good when the longer term looks bad. I'm wondering what angle of this looks good to the banksters: $200 a barrel oil, or higher, would tank the world economy. They probably have themselves covered and are shorting the US, if that looks profitable.

So Mitt's pretty hemmed in. He's enlisted the war advisors. He still has to please the bloodthirsty delegates to the Republican convention. And his old friend Bibi, who said he really didn't recall the guy from their consulting days, would be displeased with anything less than a backing of his plans for war, so Mitt's rich backers, like Sheldon Adelson, might take their money elsewhere.

Where is not clear. There's no clear Tea Party favorite in the wings, and Newt, Adelson's previous favorite, doesn't seem likely. Sarah Palin might be a brokered choice.

I'm looking forward to popping a lot of popcorn the end of August.

Cross-posted at The Agonist.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Inkblot's Gone Missing

Sad news today from Kevin Drum, originator of Friday Cat Blogging. The major subject of that activity and potential presidential candidate, Inkblot, disappeared Tuesday night.

Like many of the commenters over there, I've had cats go missing and return. So best wishes from all of us at Phronesisaical for Inkblot to return to the Drums full of kitty mystery and love.

And if you live in the Irvine, California, area, keep an eye out for him! That's the latest mug shot above.

Update 7/29/12): Kevin found Inkblot's body. It looked like a coyote got him. I'll miss Inkblot. I have no cats of my own now, so Inkblot was a delightful surrogate. Thanks for sharing him, Kevin!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Land of Hope and Glory

See, Mitt, some of us lefties like Edward Elgar, although he wasn't responsible for the lyrics. I played Pomp and Circumstance about 300 times in the band for my high school's graduations. I'm not sure where I learned the lyrics, but I know them well. Elgar is sometimes thought of as THE composer of the later British Empire, but some of his music is much more interesting than that, like the Enigma Variations. And I like Pomp and Circumstance. Cool photos of Britain here too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bits and Pieces - July 25, 2012

Speaking of climate change, I've been trying to get through this article for a week, and finally succeeded. I'm not at all convinced he's got things right - I know people who were doing what is called mesoscale modeling of the atmosphere like forever to predict safe times for nuclear detonations at the Nevada Test Site and then went on to model mountain weather, dispersal of gases from industrial accidents, and other useful stuff. The author doesn't mention them. It's also confusing that he talks about Edward Teller in one place and then has a separate section for the National Laboratories at the end that doesn't say much.

It's a big topic, though, and the article will give you some sense of that if you take it with a grain of salt.

On guns, Jill Lepore wrote an article last spring that covers a great deal of history. The NRA hasn't always been the "guns for all" organization it has become.

Mitt Romney gave a speech to the VFW yesterday on foreign policy. Stephen Walt has some questions he'd like to ask Mitt. I haven't matched up Romney's fact sheet with Walt's questions. It seems more pointed than some of the quotes I've seen from the VFW speech and far more dangerous.

For a change, the Texas School Board has come down on the side of evolution.

A lot of plagiarism in Europe.

A bad-luck guy who survived two atom bomb explosions and lived to 93.

Climate Change and Nuclear Power

I don't write nearly as much about climate change as I think and read about it. Others do a good job of writing about it, and I sometimes link to the better or more sensational of them. But I'm beginning to feel like more of us need to speak up.

We need more low-carbon energy. Nuclear power is low-carbon energy. This is another subject I don't write about as much as I think and read about it. The reason there is that I disagree with so many people on so many issues. There have been far too many arguments, the same ones over and over, with little illumination. Occasionally I think I have something that might cut through the hostilities, and I post that. But the fights and misinformation are usually too much. Plus I am dumb enough to be on a listserv and a discussion board where those fights are recapitulated over and over and over again.

There's another place that the topics of climate change and nuclear power intersect. Both are science-based, so there should be ways to find reasonably definitive answers to the questions that arise. Not fully definitive, perhaps, but science should provide a common ground. This all too often turns out not to be the case.

People who accept the scientific consensus that carbon dioxide is building up in the atmosphere and warming the earth frequently feel that nuclear power is dangerous and cannot be considered to replace fossil fuels in generating electricity. People who want more nuclear power frequently argue against global warming, even as they promote their views as being supported by science.

Suzy Hobbs Baker calls foul on the latter group today. It's a post well worth reading, on the American Nuclear Society website.

Hitler Finds Out Climate Change Is Real

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A World With More Guns

One of the larger questions after last week’s massacre in Aurora, Colorado, has to do with the kind of lives we want to lead, how we arrange society to provide safety and peace of mind.

Going to the movies should be a pleasurable experience. Airport-like security measures for entry would pile anxiety about being groped or arrested on top of anxiety about being shot. That is unlikely to happen, but the anxiety about being shot will remain. Less peace of mind for all of us, and lower profits for the movie industry. That’s one consequence of last week’s events.

Most Americans grew up in a world with a lot fewer guns than we have now, most of them kept at home in locked cases. We don’t expect gunfights in the streets. But the NRA has lobbied hard to open up laws to carrying guns in public and encourages its members to have their weapons with them to change our expectations. That’s a different kind of world than we’ve had since Bat Masterson cleaned up Dodge City.

Dan Baum likes guns, but he didn’t carry them. He decided to see what it was like and wrote about his experience two years ago. He found that he wasn’t comfortable carrying them in normal social situations.

Baum describes the training sessions necessary to acquire a concealed carry permit, which seem to have more to do with indoctrination into a way of thinking than with gun safety.

In both classes, and in every book about concealed carry that I read, much was made of “conditions of readiness,” which are color-coded from white to red. Condition White is total oblivion to one’s surroundings—sleeping, being drunk or stoned, losing oneself in conversation while walking on city streets, texting while listening to an iPod. Condition Yellow is being aware of, and taking an interest in, one’s surroundings—essentially, the mental state we are encouraged to achieve when we are driving: keeping our eyes moving, checking the mirrors, being careful not to let the radio drown out the sounds around us. Condition Orange is being aware of a possible threat. Condition Red is responding to danger.

Contempt for Condition White unifies the gun-carrying community almost as much as does fealty to the Second Amendment…

Just as the Red Cross would like everybody to be qualified in CPR, gun carriers want everybody prepared to confront violence—not only by being armed but by maintaining Condition Yellow.

At the end of the article, he longs to go back to Condition White.

I don’t think Condition Yellow, which is also called situational awareness, must be linked to guns. It seems to be a normal part of my life, although perhaps that wouldn't be true for those who didn’t grow up in cities.

I grew up in the northern New Jersey suburbs, learned to ride the bus when I was nine years old, and frequently used buses into and the subways in New York City by the time I was twelve. I was also subject to frequent warnings from my mother, which had grown from “The tramps will cut you into little pieces and stuff you in the sewer” relative to my earlier forays into the several blocks and intriguing railroad between home and the playground.

I don’t feel like I’m constantly checking for danger, though. Warning flags spring up in my head at appropriate times. In Tallinn, a rhythm of footsteps too much like mine and perhaps several yards back in the crowd filtered into my consciousness. I didn’t look back, speeded up my pace, and crossed the street. The footsteps went away. Another time, a friend and I were examining a map near the Eiffel Tower, and both of us turned simultaneously to see a young woman moving toward us and our wallets. She turned and rejoined her friends leaning on a wall.  I’ve changed pace in many cities or just avoided certain streets that didn’t feel quite right.

This seems like elementary prudence to me.

Knowing that others are carrying guns has to push toward Condition Orange, particularly if gun instruction is as Baum describes, with nothing on how to fire (or when not to) in a crowd. If more people carry guns, we have to be alert for an incident that could provoke cross-fire from none-too-competent but hyperready civilians.

Condition White would be a thing of the past.

Here’s how Baum’s consciousness changed when he was carrying a weapon:

Moving through a cocktail party with a gun holstered snug against my ribs makes me feel like James Bond—I know something you don’t know!—but it’s socially and physically unpleasant. I have to remember to keep adjusting the drape of my jacket so as not to expose myself, and make sure to get the arms-inside position when hugging a friend so that the hard lump on my hip or under my arm doesn’t give itself away. In some settings my gun feels as big as a toaster oven, and I find myself tense with the expectation of being discovered. What’s more, if there’s a truly comfortable way to carry a gun, I haven’t found it. The revolver’s weight and pressure keep me constantly aware of how quickly and utterly my world could change. Gun carriers tell me that’s exactly the point: at any moment, violence could change anybody’s world. Those who carry guns are the ones prepared to make the change come out in their favor.


I’m more alert and acute when I’m wearing my gun. If I’m in a restaurant or store, I find myself in my own little movie, glancing at the door when a person walks in and, in a microsecond, evaluating whether a threat has appeared and what my options for response would be—roll left and take cover behind that pillar? On the street, I look people over: Where are his hands? What does his face tell me? I run sequences in my head. If a guy jumps me with a knife, should I throw money to the ground and run? Take two steps back and draw? How about if he has a gun? How will I distract him so I can get the drop? It can be fun. But it can also be exhausting. Some nights I dream gunfight scenarios over and over and wake up bushed.

When he wore his gun openly:

Overall, I felt less safe with the gun openly displayed than with it concealed. I worried that someone would knock me on the back of the head and steal it, or that some genuinely aggressive nutcase would challenge me to draw. Mostly, though, I felt obnoxious. In all likelihood, I was making somebody silently anxious.

That would be me he was making anxious, probably with his anxious body language.

I will probably stop carrying my gun. It’s uncomfortable, distracting, and freaks out my friends; it’s not worth it. I miss Condition White. If I lived in a dangerous place, I might feel different, and I may continue wearing a gun when I travel to such places (at least to the ones that allow it).

From his final paragraph:

From a public-safety standpoint it may matter little that lots of people are carrying guns now, but if accessorizing with firearms becomes truly au courant, the United States will feel like a different place. We’ll be less dreamy and more secretive. We’ll spend more energy watching one another and less on self-obsession. We’ll be a little more on-task, more cognizant of violence and prepared to participate therein.

That’s what someone says who is experienced and comfortable with guns. His concerns about what carrying guns does to human interactions seem to dovetail with mine.

Cross-posted at The Agonist.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bits and Pieces - July 23, 2012

Five Republican economic lies debunked. Apparently these clowns cost the US at least $1.3 billion with their histrionics last summer. At least. And, after a thirty-year experiment that is ending predictably, I don't see why anyone finds this kind of economics commendable.

Eugene Kaspersky, of computer security fame.

Looks like the Obama administration is working to undo a bit of the thirty years craziness and get contractors out of USAID. Good luck to them.

I think I've posted on this before, but it's worth repeating: vaccines don't cause autism. Not having them does cause disease, death, and disability.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Uvaria Grandiflora

Photo: Dokmai Dogma

Aurora - Last Friday

It is unacceptable that every few weeks there is a murder spree by someone who’s mentally unstable and in possession of assault weapons.

Much of the commentary on the latest mass shooting by a madman in Aurora, Colorado, has focused, correctly, on the availability of guns. Some of the usual apologetics for keeping guns in anyone’s hands that can hold them have tried to shift the conversation to the fact that the shooter was clearly crazy.

Both are the problem: too many people in need of help aren’t getting it, but they can get guns.

John Ballard covers the lack of help and institutionalization for people with serious mental and emotional problems. He picked up on the same quote I did:

A San Diego woman identifying herself as the mother of Colorado theater shooting suspect James Holmes told a news crew Friday morning that authorities "have the person," ABC news reports.

The woman, who said her name was Arlene, had awoken unaware of the news of the shooting and had not been contacted by authorities. She immediately expressed concern that her son may have been involved.

"You have the right person,” the mother said, speaking on instinct. “I need to call the police. I need to fly out to Colorado.”

That last quote echoes one of the worst fears I’ve heard from friends with mentally disturbed children. The other of their worst fears is that their children have been killed by someone else. Ballard explains in much more detail, with links to several articles on the subject.

Of course, the people who feel that guns and other implements of death should be available to all are frequently also the people who feel that we shouldn’t be taxed to pay for, say, community mental health services. They also tend toward the unthinking libertarianism that insists that the mentally ill should find their own way, outside of institutions and medication.

Commentary has focused on the extreme availability of guns that have no possible use beyond killing people and the influence of the National Rifle Association on the Congresscritters that can’t stand up to it. That commentary is remarkably uniform and depressing; the short version is that the NRA has won and has impressed its vision of guns everywhere onto the American public. There will be more killings of innocent adults and children. Nothing will change. That’s the message from

Tom Tomorrow (Oh, wait! Does that say Tucson?)

A few excerpts:
 Fallows:  There will be more of these; we absolutely know it; we also know that we will not change the circumstances that allow such episodes to recur.

Pierce:  For we know in our hearts that nothing is going to be done. The only great movement toward gun control will continue to exist only in the voices that ring in the heads of people like Wayne LaPierre.

Gopnik:  The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and every country—Canada, Norway, Britain—has had a gun massacre once, or twice. Then people act to stop them, and they do—as over the past few years has happened in Australia. Only in America are gun massacres of this kind routine, expectable, and certain to continue.

Let’s look at some statistics.

The geography of gun violence across the United States from data from the Centers for Disease Control

Self-reported gun ownership in October 2011 was at its highest since 1993. Republicans are more likely to own guns than Democrats, men more than women. One in three Americans personally owns a gun.

In April of this year, support for gun ownership was slightly ahead of support for gun control laws, 49% to 45%. Republicans and men are much more supportive of gun ownership.

Last year, the NRA spent $2.9 million on lobbying, while gun-control advocates spent about one-tenth of that amount, a paltry $240,000.

I may have more to say about this later. For now, my sympathies to all who have been affected by all this gun violence. We must change this.

Update (07/24/12): I see that Holmes's mother disputes the way that quote about having the right person was framed.  Even so, this is the kind of phone call that parents of children with mental health problems dread.

Cross-posted to The Agonist.

Utøya - One Year On

It's a year since Anders Behring Brevik set off a bomb in downtown Oslo and then attacked summer campers on Utøya Island.

Sindre Bangstad recounts what has happened since then. Some of the difficulties she describes will surface again as James Holmes, the Aurora killer, is tried.

And here's my reaction from last year. I was in Estonia, in forests and islands very much like those around Utøya.

Update (7/23/12): An interview with Jens Stoltenberg, who was Prime Minister when the events took place.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bits and Pieces - July 19, 2012

Good news! The amount of spam (computer-style) in the world has been cut by half! (H/T John Cole)

Not good news - Bill McKibben on global warming.This article lays out clearly what we need to do and are not doing.

Pretty good news - Photos of Tepco workers removing fuel elements from the Fukushima #4 spent fuel pool, the one that receives so much press. Notably, those who inspire that press with concerns that the spent fuel pool will end life on earth have not commented.

Israel's Iron Dome missile shield is about 75% effective against rockets launched from Gaza.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Good On Ya, John McCain!

Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.

He's talking about accusations made by Representative Michelle Bachman, R-MN.

Read the whole thing.

Uzbekistan Leaves the CSTO

What's that? You've never heard of the CSTO?

It's one of the latest in Russia's wishful thinking back to the Soviet times. The Commonwealth of Independent States was the figleaf when the Soviet Union lost its republics. And the Central Asian states weren't quite ready to leave the Union. Later, there were the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. You can probably guess that that is Russia's attempt at an answer to NATO.

About two weeks ago, Uzbekistan left the CSTO. Its president, Islam Karimov, is a dictator left over from the Soviet times. With the war on in Afghanistan, transit for ISAF and particularly the US through Central Asia has become important. Russia doesn't like the US in Central Asia. Central Asian states like leverage against both Russia and the US. So Karimov has been in and out of the would-be-Soviet alliances, which, by the way, have very weak structures, so it's easy for him to play his games.

 Some interesting articles on this event. The motivations are likely a combination of what I've said, but the individual articles stress different factors.
Nathan Hamm, "Uzbekistan Exit from CSTO Reveals Limits of Russia’s Eurasian Integration Plans"
Richard Weitz, "Uzbekistan's CSTO Withdrawal Highlights Russia's Dilemma"
Alexander Golts, "The Collapsing CSTO"
Nicholas Redman, "Is Tashkent clearing the decks for the US?"

Cross-posted at The Agonist.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Talk Outside the Negotiating Room

Claims and counterclaims on Iran’s nuclear program continue. Here’s a sampling from Iran this week.

An Iranian lawmaker this week said parliament planned to ask the government to equip Iran's naval and research fleet with "non-fossil" engines, Press TV state television reported in an apparent reference to nuclear fuel.

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaee, interviewed by Laura Rozen and Barbara Slavin:
“We will react if there is any provocative act from the other side,” Khazaee said. “We will not initiate any provocative steps.”

"For some reason whenever there is light at the end of the tunnel, somebody tries to cover up even that dim light," Salehi said. "The continuation of this (deadlock) ... is not in the interest of the international community, not in the interests of my country and not in the interest of the region."

A former Iranian interior minister, Abdollah Nouri, now acritic of Iranian leaders:
"The harms, disadvantages and pressures caused by the Iranian nuclear programme have got out of control and the establishment should make a reasonable and wise decision to find a way out of this deadlock in order to protect the country's national interests,"

The balance of threatening and pacific quotes from Iran varies from week to week. Which voices should we listen to?

The talks between Iran and the P5+1 seem to be settling into a routine. Rather than the greatly-hyped top-level talks, there are now monthly talks at lower levels. This is a good direction that will be improved by making the lower-level talks continue through the months, if that can be agreed.

Although both Khazaee and Salehi say some positive things, they also criticize the position of the P5+1, along with claims that Iran’s intentions are good. The Iranians have released their presentations from the talks, and the P5+1 has not, so there is no way to judge the criticisms. Releasing this kind of material is somewhat unusual, but perhaps a logical step in today’s Webbed world. It’s also a strategy to support Iran’s claim that they have nothing to hide.

From the P5+1
The US has sent warships to the Persian Gulf, some on normal rotations, some perhaps not. Sanctions against trade with Iran are increasing. But some of the verbal bluster has been toned down, too. Israel is making fewer threats of attack, and the negotiators are not speaking outside the meetings. But others are.

The Iranians are determinedly going down a path to master all aspects of nuclear weapons; all the technologies they need. It’s equally clear that Israel and the United States would face huge dangers if Iran were to become a nuclear weapon state.
At a breakfast forum on Capitol Hill, the Air Force four-star general noted “the presence of our strong conventional capabilities in the region [and] the positioning that we are doing for missile defense assets.

“And then ultimately, the president always has available the strategic nuclear deterrent to provide both a deterrent from an attack on the United States standpoint, but also an attack on our allies and friends.”

Dennis Ross, President Obama’s former adviser and special envoy to the Middle East and Iran, in an interview with Al-Hayat:
A diplomatic solution is still viable with Tehran because of “economic pressures” and “the changes in the regional balance of power.”

On the other hand, he acknowledged that the new Israeli government is “capable of making important decisions that can impact either national security or the peace process.”

There is mounting evidence to suggest that, whereas the sanctions regime has not prevented Tehran from operating an increased number of centrifuges for uranium-enrichment activities or adding to its stockpile of fissile material, it has stymied efforts to develop and produce the long-range ballistic missiles capable of striking potential targets in western Europe and beyond. If sanctions continue to disrupt Tehran's access to the key propellant ingredients and components needed to produce large solid-propellant rocket motors, Iranian attempts to develop and field long-range ballistic missiles could be significantly impeded, if not halted altogether.

A high-stakes negotiation like this generates side-talk. Some of it is aimed at influencing the other side, and some at influencing the folks at home. Some will be from independent actors. Not all are giving voice to official policy, and, given a variety of actors within the governments, it’s not always clear what official policy is or who is speaking officially.As the negotiation becomes more serious, however, the governments involved will, if they are serious, back off from the side-talk. That seems to be happening, although slowly in the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1.

Meaningful tidbits may be embedded in a great deal of noise. For example, both Khazaee and Salehi mention 20% enrichment.

Khazaee: The issue of the 20% enrichment is the first proposal of the 5+1 and the third proposal of Iran. So [this] is an issue that could be discussed and decided. It is not off the table…I’m sure that at the meeting in July [July 3] between the technicians that issue has been discussed.

Salehi added that his country "is ready to talk about" ending manufacturing of 20 percent-enriched uranium, "but of course it should be reciprocated properly."

This may be an attempt to highlight something that Iran may be willing to negotiate on. However, Iran has made statements like this before, only to repudiate them later. Salehi’s statement is carefully hedged.

Is There a Cultural Difference?
At times in the negotiations, an argument is presented regarding different cultural negotiating styles: the West are the poker-players and the Iranians are the bazaar merchants. Much of this discussion has seemed to me to condescend to the Iranians: of course poor rug merchants can’t understand what the cowboy westerners were offering. Often implied is that the West should communicate in Iran’s terms.

There are reasonably well-defined steps in international negotiations: both sides put forth their positions, and then negotiations establish what the sides are willing to trade off from the initial positions. Iran’s diplomats should be aware of these conventions and willing to work with them. Negotiations have their own motivations toward secrecy and bluff, two of the characteristics that are associated with both the poker-player and rug merchant stereotypes.

If two sides in a negotiation do have different styles, each may feel that it’s to their advantage to skew toward their style. There may be some of that on both sides, but it’s a mistake to believe that either is stuck in cultural ignorance.

In a personal aside, I must say that I have no gut feel for either style. Both seem to me to be over-infused with testosterone and not conducive to good outcomes. Both poker or haggling seem to me to be stylized ways to humiliate an adversary, never a good thing in negotiating, where all sides need to retain “face.” The type of negotiation I’ve practiced, I think largely successfully, has been the win-win approach put forth in “Getting to Yes,” by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury. The basic diplomatic style is similar to this.

Steve Hynd has summarized the haggling style with a scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” The participants make opening bids, much as in the diplomatic style, and then browbeat and insult each other to an agreement somewhere between the two, with much drama in the process.

I don’t think that the poker style, as Steve describes it in that post, is what the P5+1 are doing. Their proposal and negotiating style seem to adhere more to the diplomatic style. That doesn’t stop a number of voices, official or unoffical, from putting forth boasts of strength or possibilities of olive branches outside the negotiating room.

The noisier style of the Iranians does seem to contain elements of haggling. “Here’s our perfectly reasonable proposal, where’s yours?” “We are perfectly willing to negotiate, but only if you are willing to come up with [what we think of as] a fair counterproposal, which you haven’t done yet.” Both of those can be extrapolated from Khazaee’s and Salehi’s comments.

It’s possible that the Iranians would like to bend the style to one they are more comfortable with and feel could disconcert the P5+1; the corresponding silence from the P5+1 could be their version of the same. It’s also possible that Iran has been isolated from the international community for long enough that Iranian officials genuinely don’t understand diplomatic negotiations; there are indications that they have irritated other countries with inept diplomacy. That doesn’t mean that the conventions of diplomacy, which have been developed to facilitate difficult situations, should be broken for them.

It’s entirely possible that Iran’s claim to be considering building nuclear submarines, with the implication that they will up their enrichment to 95%, bomb grade, is intended as the sort of extreme haggling claim that Steve describes. That doesn’t mean that an equally inflammatory response from the P5+1 is a good idea, although it is the next logical haggling step.

There’s another possibility for the statement on developing nuclear submarines, and it would apply also to Iran’s refusal to allow the IAEA to inspect the Parchin facility that is suspected of being used for nuclear-weapons-related tests and its suggestion that it needs more 20% enriched uranium for four research reactors yet to be built. Iran may be trying to develop negotiating “chips.” The P5+1 have a great many chips in the sanctions; it would be possible to remove particular sanctions in response to Iran’s acceeding to P5+1 requests. Iran may be trying to develop additional bargaining chips beyond their enrichment program and their past weapons program. So Iran could offer not to enrich any more 20% uranium for the reactors that don’t exist yet for easing of the banking sanctions. Will the P5+1 find that a fair trade?

The danger in Iran’s trying to acquire these negotiating chips or making outrageous haggling claims, if that is what it is doing, is that these statements and actions have another interpretation: that there is no bluff here, but a real desire to acquire a nuclear weapon. Western intelligence estimates and Iranian officials say otherwise. But 95% enrichment? Refusal to come clean on the old weapons program? Stockpiling more 20% enriched uranium? It’s possible to interpret these actions as part of a nuclear weapons program. I don’t see it this way, but others might.

Bluffing, whether poker or haggling style, is dangerous. The overall trend seems to be to move toward the negotiating table instead, and we can hope that continues.

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner and The Agonist.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ezra Klein: The Worst Congress Ever

The only thing Ezra gets wrong in this piece is that he doesn't point out strongly enough that it is mostly the Republicans who are sabotaging the national legislature. True, the Democrats could be calling them out and doing a bit more to improve the quality of legislation, but the problem is the Republicans.

Hating on Congress is a beloved American tradition. Hence Mark Twain’s old joke, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” But the 112th Congress is no ordinary congress. It’s a very bad, no good, terrible Congress. It is, in fact, one of the very worst congresses we have ever had. Here, I’ll prove it [with thirteen reasons and charts.]

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bits and Pieces - July 12, 2012

Here is the Freeh Report (long pdf) on how Penn State covered up for Jerry Sandusky, if you've got the stomach to read it.

Note to Candidates: Men and Women are not Angels. On why we need regulations. Looks to me that this is aimed at one particular presidential candidate and party. The other ones haven't been talking about removing regulations.

Ringers, not men in the street.

Some good news: In Texas, of all places, a judge has has ruled that the atmosphere and air must be protected for public use, just like water. This will open the way to better protection of the air we breathe.

Good idea of the week: Swedish plane bombs Belarus with teddy bears supporting free speech.

And some cool stuff about the migrations that populated the Americas. Lots of links here. BTW, the Knight blog regularly aggregates science news and comments on stuff that the media does particularly well or badly with science. They also say they'd like to hear from bloggers, and Nuclear Diner and I would like to oblige, but their submission form doesn't seem to work. I think you are about communication, guys??? Added later: The Apache and Navajo languages are also in the Na-Dene group, and they have long been believed to have been later arrivals. So they should be included with Canada’s Chipewyan nations?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bits and Pieces - July 11, 2012

The US Olympic team becomes French. According to Fox.

This land is your land, this land is my land... DC area Guthrie fans, take note!

 Overstating the terrorist threat. Does this surprise anyone any more? Worth saying again.

Speaking of overreaction to that threat, that's what the high-tech bioalarms do. This is something that should have been dealt with by those buying the equipment. The number of unacceptable false alarms can be calculated from statistics. That should have beeen part of the specifications for these detectors. There should have been tests. I'll bet none of that was done.

Also no surprise: a fairly good article on how DC think tanks are all white guys, written by a woman, topped off with a titty picture. I guess the editor is a man.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Bits and Pieces - July 8, 2012

A minute-by-minute account by SCOTUSblog of the release of the ACA decision, and how CNN and Fox got it wrong.

"What is constitutional?" from a thoughtful conservative. (Yes, there's at least one left.)

Live-blogging arsenic life. This is interesting on a number of fronts. The basic issue seems to be decided: no, arsenic can't substitute for phosphorus in DNA and didn't in the bacteria in which it was claimed to. What's almost more interesting to me is the process that Rosie Redfield used, blogging to think out the issue, then publishing on the Web before publishing in a journal. It's seemed to me that the Web is ideal for interacting on scientific issues, but the scientific community has been pretty slow to pick up on that.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Bits and Pieces - July 5, 2012

We've all been waiting for the straw that sends the banksters to jail and splits open their power. The LIBOR scandal might just be it. LIBOR is the standard of the interest-charging world. Dylan Matthews explains. It turns out that the big banks were monkeying with it, to their benefit (of course!) in multiple ways. It's only one of the ways that the banksters have been fixing things in their favor. Their money has been coming out of everyone's pockets, and this makes that connection. Kevin Drum has more.

The good things drones can do.

Malawi gets respectable. Is it a coincidence that the new president who is turning things around is a woman?

China talks about its space program.

Today's overheated headline:  Computer error triggers mass rocket launch.

The God Particle

I write a lot of scientific stuff, so I suppose I should write on this. The problem is that I have practically nothing to say on it.

I got excited about particle physics once upon a time, when I was very young, and there were protons, neutrons, and electrons, maybe neutrinos. Then they started bringing in muons and gluons and quarks and The Higgs Boson (to be pronounced reverently). They found most of them by smashing other particles together and sifting through the debris, which is how they found the Higgs, except it took a lot more and very exacting sifting, which is why it's taken so long.

The Higgs is supposed to be what provides mass to all the others and therefore what keeps us sitting down at our computers rather than floating off in space in reality rather than metaphorically. So it may provide some insight into gravity and related stuff, but, at the moment, the only insight is that it exists. The physicists haven't been able to explain gravity yet.

So it's exciting for the people who do such things, and they're telling us that it's exciting, so a great many people are getting excited.

What is significant, maybe, is that the United States gave up the lead in particle physics some time ago, when Congress decided to defund the Superconducting Supercollider in Texas. The particle hunt was becoming more esoteric and much more expensive. So the Higgs was found in Europe, although American scientists were involved. This can be taken as a withdrawal of the United States from Big Science, or it can be taken as an indication of the declining regard for physics after its inflation by the atom bomb. It could also be looked at as Europe's taking up its responsibilities in improving the world's understanding of itself. Very likely all three.

And I find "the God particle" the kind of pretentious nonsense that physicists are all too prone to write. And then use a gaucherie like the wrong font to announce it.

Lots of links here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Bits and Pieces - July 3, 2012

Happy Fourth of July to all. And, Mr. President, please don't use a military salute to recognize the troops!

Cloning project: need more glyptodonts.

I am almost finished reading Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford. It tells the story of the Soviet struggle to redefine prices. That's harder than you might think, if you don't want to use a market. But I wouldn't consider it to justify the current obsession with markets in any way. In fact, if you look at it as the story of how clinging to an ideology in the face of reality can mess up a society, you might just find a bit of implicit criticism there. Crooked Timber had a symposium on it a few weeks back. Now that I'm near the end of the book, I plan to go back and compare my reactions.

Where in the world is Mitt Romney's money? Warning: you will see more support for Obama and more criticism of Romney as November approaches.

Why the next round of Iran talks could yield results. While David Ignatius tells us they're about to "break down." I think by that he means that there will be no fully complete and encompassing solution to all the problems between Iran and the US this week. He seems to be the only one who was expecting them.

I'm restraining my posting of nuclear-related stuff here and putting it on Nuclear Diner. I've always been concerned that I'm tilting Helmut's blog too far toward nuclear stuff. If you would like even more links, though, check out this Nuclear Diner Forum thread.