Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bits and Pieces - July 31, 2010

Hate mail and death threats for Judge Bolton after her decision against the Arizona immigration law. Via.

Dana Milbank writes about another hater. Congrats to Dana for getting out of the snark pit.

Tim Rutten calls it hysteria, but I'd say it's something much worse.

Al Qaeda would like to be the new Ottomans.

And yes, we are getting some more rain.

More Rain?

This morning's dawn suggests that the monsoon is returning after a day or two away.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Little By Little

What has been most telling, for me, in assessing the dangers of global warming, has been the piling up of its effects: glaciers melting more quickly than expected, the continuing upward trend of temperatures, and now a 40% drop in phytoplankton.

Any one of those effects, and many smaller ones, could be from other causes. The Gulf of Mexico has long been a dumping ground, and we are now realizing how badly we've been overfishing the oceans.

It's been more than a century since the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere started marching upwards, more than a century since scientists started warning that too much of it would make the earth warmer. And our response, all of us on earth, has been to burn more fossil fuel to make more carbon dioxide for the atmosphere. We've looked at our immediate economic needs and desires and let the rest go.

One of the theories of the American founding fathers was that people, left to themselves, are likely to be shortsighted and that therefore the government should be constructed so that those who were deliberating the larger problems could give them their best thought and come up with the best answers. But a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and a lot of money toward the immediate economic desires of a very small number of people.

So we've had the lies about how unregulated business and finance would make things better for everyone. Okay, thirty years of that, and we have stagnant wages and a disintegrating middle class, along with a 1930s-size financial disaster. That small number of people is doing fine, thank you, and they're still at the lies, which have captured the people in the Tea Parties.

I'm glad that E. J. Dionne finally seems to be willing to call out the lies and the media that are all too willing to propagate them. I'm also glad that one congressman is calling out the BS.

But global warming isn't on the radar screen. It took us a long time to get to where we are, and it will take a long time to undo the damage. We need to start now, but we're still avoiding it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bits and Pieces - July 28, 2010

Aliens, bad luck with statistics, or a hole in the sky?

Shining a light on police corruption in Russia.

What the economy would have been without the stimulus, from a McCain advisor.

The self-referential internets.

Regulatory uncertainty as a job-destroyer.

Nothing new about home-grown terrorism. And that's not even mentioning the non-Muslim component (Timothy McVeigh, the Michigan militias, or this guy).

Decreasing Britain's Trident costs.

Key Parts of Arizona Immigration Law Blocked

United States District Court Judge Susan Bolton stopped the most controversial parts of the Arizona immigration law from going into effect tomorrow. This is a holding action until the courts decide the suit that the federal government has brought against the law, but bmaz sees it as a positive portent of things to come.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bits and Pieces - July 27, 2010

On WikiLeaks: Mark Mazetti from the New York Times. Is Wikileaks the new Pentagon Papers? (No)

Plastic bottles across the Pacific!

How to end the filibuster with 51 votes.

The great decoupling of corporate profits from jobs.

Quote of the Day

Van Jones:
The only solution is for Americans to adjust our culture over time to our new media technologies. The information system gives us more data than ever before, faster than ever before. But we don’t yet have the wisdom in place to help us deal with it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The End of Secrecy

I'm not going to comment much on the substance of the WikiLeaks documents on the war in Afghanistan. I'll trust Blake Hounsell that there's not much surprising in them and conclude with Adam Serwer that this indicates reasonably good reporting on the subject.

Part of what led to the breakup of the Soviet Union and the big change that the Chinese government took after the confrontation in Tienamen Square was the ease with which information could be shared. At that time, it was fax machines and e-mail. External storage for computers still relied on desk-top boxes with media the size of half a ream of paper. Now I've got the cutest little neon-green two gegs the size of my thumbnail.

What's worse is that attitudes are changing. "Information wants to be free." We've been hung up lately on the economic meaning of that last word, but there's another meaning as well. Bloggers link to the documents they're working from; the MSM prefers to consider those documents proprietary. And you've read about the end of privacy via Facebook, Twitter, and all those other newfangled things that the commenter frequently doesn't know how to use.

So Chelsea Clinton's wedding is a sort of secret, but even the New York Times knows that it will be in Rhinebeck, New York, this weekend.

Jay Rosen points out that WikiLeaks is the world's first stateless news organization, but I think that the novelty goes beyond that. It is also a non-corporate news organization. It has had to work a strategy to get the corporate news world (suitably international: New York Times, Guardian, Spiegel) to pay attention. Will there be a symbiosis?

Depending on how deep the expectation of information being free goes, and I think it goes very deep, particularly in people aged less than forty, governments need to think about how this is going to affect business as usual. It would be interesting to know who leaked these documents and why. (Do we know it's a single person?) The comparison is being made to Daniel Ellsberg, with implied parallel motivation, but we don't know that yet. Very likely it is a parallel motivation combined with the assumption of information being free in a way that nobody in Ellsberg's time was likely to have.

Frank Munger asks today why such a heavy penalty was levied for a security breach. Again, we don't know, but it may be a reaction to reinforce the old attitudes toward secrecy. During Bill Clinton's presidency, the Department of Energy declassified an enormous amount of weapons data. Now the DOE is trying to put that horse back into the barn. The people who might want weapons data are likely to be operating from different motives than Ellsberg or WikiLeaks. But those changing attitudes will have an effect there too. It's time to think about new ways, beyond keeping control of the information, to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Bits and Pieces - Community Organizing Edition

More people seem to be moving in the direction I saw the other day.

E. J. Dionne calls enough already.

The Washington Post editorial board calls Mitt Romney's op-ed (the one they published) "lacking in substance." Mitt isn't giving up and repeats what he said in a more comfortable venue.

One of the Lords of the Universe allows as to how sometimes self-interest isn't enough. But apparently this only applies to entitlements. This one probably isn't really confirmatory of my community organizing thesis, but it's interesting to see even infinitesimal movement from these guys. Or it may just be a headfake.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Slime Molds In My Garden

Today is the third consecutive day of rain. The monsoon season has started. Yes, a real monsoon: heating of the dry ground causes a thermal low that draws moisture in from the Gulf of California. It's late this year. There was a false start at about the right time a few weeks back, but this is the real thing.

I've been fascinated by slime molds, but I've only recently realized that they live in my own garden. After the first day of rain, I did some badly-needed weeding and noticed some white foamy stuff around a few plants. Bird poop? It was under some bird feeders. Insect spit? It didn't quite look like either. This morning showed quite a bit of the stuff, which I think is slime mold, but if an expert wants to tell me otherwise, I'll be glad to hear.

It's those white patches - quite a few of them in this part of the flowerbed. Here's a closer look at one of them.

Slime molds are fascinating because they live at the interface between unicellularity and organization into a multicellular organism. Most of the time they are independent single-celled amoebas. Then something tells them to make spores, and they come together in something like an organism. Some of those independent cells form a base and stalk, and others form spores to be broadcast. How do they decide which ones do what? Are they genetically similar enough that it doesn't matter? Or do some have a breeding advantage over others?

Here are a couple more images of that same colony, each about an hour later than the one before. They seem to like to be elevated slightly above the ground and formed on the remains of cotton plant stems in my composted cotton mulch, although not all of them insisted on that.

That last is with a different camera, more pixels so that I can enlarge it. But I'm not seeing much more when I do.

If the slime molds do anything interesting (and observable), I'll post on it.

Bits and Pieces - July 25, 2010

The guy in charge of the BP relief well effort.

Funny how conservatives would like the moderate Muslims to police the extremists.

The internet isn't destroying our ability to concentrate, just convincing us that we're smarter than we are.

One of the smarter things that's been written about racism and the Tea Party.

Stories like this always make me cry.

As the Arctic melts, the Russians try to figure out where they dumped all the nuclear junk.

Kevin Drum is indeed rambling here, but his points that there are other values beyond the economic and that liberals have accepted Homo economicus too readily are important.

More that Democrats are accepting too easily, namely the Republicans' death wish for the US economy.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bits and Pieces - July 23, 2010

The Westboro Baptist Church pickets Comic-Con, and the superheroes reciprocate.

I guess I really did need to buy that digital camera. Via. Kodachrome was my favorite film.

I've not been too worried that Obama would attack Iran, so I haven't written a lot about it. If you're worried, Steve Clemons writes more.

Why there won't be a nuke used to stop the BP blowout.

Missile defense - yes!

More about that Simple J. Malarkey problem.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Community Organizing, Continued

This week brings a small confirmation of my theory that Barack Obama is applying community organizing principles to his presidency. In community organizing, you need to get the people to police themselves. To call BS on those who want to take advantage of them. The rapid denouement of Andrew Breitbart's lies in the Shirley Sherrod matter seems to be an indication that people, the news media, and the government are getting a bit smarter about rightwing deceptions.

Flory, at Whiskey Fire, also sees a microscopically chromed lining to this cloud, and James Fallows (prematurely, I fear) sees a "Sir, have you no decency?" moment. (Simple J. Malarkey drawing from here, where there is a further explanation.) Although these two don't put it in the community organizing category, they are talking about the same sort of thing. Part of the dynamic is that the changes become clear to more and more people.

Meanwhile Ezra Klein is undercutting Tucker Carlson and his minions who are spinning out new "discoveries" from their stolen Journolist archives. No, none of the Phron crowd were on it, so you'll have to wait a little longer for our denouement.

Bits and Pieces - July 22, 2010

An Israeli court rules that Franz Kafka's papers can be made public.

Palaeoporn: ecdysis gone wrong.

A foot race across the Gobi Desert: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

It has always seemed to me that when possible proliferators get onto technologies like fusion or laser isotope separation, that's a good thing. It keeps them busy without providing useful weapons progress.

More on Bobby Jindal, scientist.

Conspiracy theories.

Moonbase: a free game from NASA.

And I have to add this: Tank Ballet.

Yellow Pitaya

Haiti's IMF Debt

A spot of good news on a slow-developing but decent action. The IMF is waving off Haiti's $268 million debt to the Fund.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Show Your Work!

If I wanted to check the numbers on how much plutonium might still be in the environment, I’d go to the records on production, check to see if there were any updated reports, and I’d check the records of what has happened to the plutonium since. The biggest changes will be in the plutonium that has been recovered from decommissioned plants and from the environment in contrast to earlier estimates, along with reclassifications resulting from plutonium removed from weapons as a result of treaties.

I would set up a table with a column showing the earlier numbers and another showing the changed numbers, with references for all the numbers. Or maybe two tables: one with categories of how the plutonium was used (Nagasaki, weapons tests, research, lost to environment, etc.) and one with where the plutonium is. This sort of accounting for how much plutonium was produced against how much we know we have is called a mass balance.

Unfortunately, that is not what Robert Alvarez chose to do in his report claiming that the US plutonium inventory has gone up. I can’t make the numbers from Alvarez’s report add up to a mass balance, because he doesn’t supply all of them, and the ones he does supply are not all comparable. It’s possible he’s got a mass balance somewhere, but, if he does, he’s reporting only selected numbers.

Page van der Linden has compared Alvarez’s report and Matthew Wald’s New York Times article that seems to be based on it. I say “seems to” because Wald, in the MSM tradition, doesn’t make his sources available. It is possible that Wald interviewed Alvarez and based his article on that interview. I’ll concentrate in this post on problems I’ve found in the report.

Alvarez comes close to part of a mass balance in his Table 2, which gives plutonium in the waste inventories of the various DOE sites, comparing earlier and more recent numbers. The more recent numbers add up to his 12.7 metric tons, the basis for his claims and Wald’s article. What he says about how he arrived at his numbers is
Based on more recent waste characterization data (see bibliography), approximately 12.7 tons, more than 11 percent of the total amount of Pu-239 produced and acquired has gone into waste streams (Table 2). [p. 4 of report]
“[S]ee bibliography,” however, is not an explanation of method. Which numbers did he take from the sources in the bibliography? How did he treat uncertainties? Why did he choose these sources? Further, two of the references in Table 2 are not in the bibliography, and there are eleven references in the bibliography that are not referred to in the table. The report also has footnotes that are not in the bibliography. Very confusing.

Alvarez throws other numbers into the report, and it’s not clear which are included in his 12.7 tons.
This paper does not address about 7.6 tons of plutonium contained in DOE spent reactor fuel, and 61.5 tons of plutonium declared excess for weapons purposes with the exception of 3.5 tons discarded at the Rocky Flats Plant which is included in the 61.5 tons “excess” declaration. About 41.8 metric tons of the U.S. excess plutonium is expected to be processed so it can be mixed with uranium for fabrication into mixed oxide fuel for use in commercial nuclear power plants and subsequently disposed. Disposition options for 5 tons of “non-pit” plutonium include mixing with defense high-level wastes to be vitrified or direct disposal in WIPP. [p. 2 of report]
So there is a 3.5-ton exception to the exception, except it is included in the 61.5 tons to which it is an exception? Is it included in the 12.7 tons? Or is it somehow double-counted? A full mass balance would clarify this.

There are other points that are unclear and potentially misleading.
The dramatic increase from the DOE’s 1996 waste estimate appears to be due to: reclassification as waste of process residues originally set aside for plutonium recovery for weapons; underestimates of production losses; and improvements in waste characterization data. [p. 1 of report]
If material was not considered waste in the earlier estimate and it is now, that doesn’t imply errors in the earlier estimate.

“Production losses” have been a question for as long as I can remember. Material held up in glove-box ventilation systems and other production piping has been an explanation for a lack of agreement between production figures and current inventories. Now that Rocky Flats and other production buildings have been torn down, better estimates must be available for those holdup amounts. I have asked some questions on this, and the numbers are not publicly available. It would seem that releasing these numbers, if they improve the mass balance, would be good for the Department of Energy, showing that they knew what they were talking about. Does Alvarez have access to those numbers? He doesn’t say.

As van der Linden notes, Alvarez suddenly brings in the idea of having the IAEA monitor WIPP. It’s only one of several off-topic insertions, another of the features of this report that doesn’t inspire confidence. But it’s actually a good point, in my opinion. Less so is his suggestion that better knowledge of the mass balance of plutonium produced and lost over the years will improve treaty verification.

Neither the United States nor Russia have adequate records of plutonium production. I’ve tried to work with original shipping records. Secrecy, poor analytical methods, and just not seeing those records as important at the time all are factors. We simply don’t know, and won’t ever know, the amounts of plutonium produced down to tolerances of several kilograms. What will happen in treaty negotiations is that numbers will be agreed upon for the purposes of the treaty.

Something that the arms control community might make more of is IAEA monitoring within the United States. As Alvarez comments, it would be a way of indicating our transparency to the international community. I don’t understand why the US allows relatively little, and why the list of monitored sites is so closely held. I need to do more research on this to write in a well-informed manner, but maybe I’ll get around to that in another post.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Juan Cole posted a solid response yesterday - nay, a refudiation - to a bit of mindless tweeting of which you have surely heard. I think I've previously posted the passage below at some point, but it's worth posting again (and it's worth reading Juan's entire post). This from the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797 signed by the John Adams administration and a Congress that was at the time, as Juan says, full of founding fathers. (International treaties, once signed and ratified by the US [usually by the Executive and two-thirds of the Legislative], are considered domestic law according to US Civil Code).
"As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

Friday, July 16, 2010



FYI - World Simmers in Hottest Year So Far.

Double, Triple, Quadruple...

I haven't been following the Shahram Amiri story very closely. It has seemed to me that none of the stories are believable. So I don't have the back story down in any detailed way. A week or two ago, dueling videos showed up, apparently from the same person. And now he's back in Iran. Unless a double has been substituted for him.

There are lots of stories like this that I don't follow very closely, largely because they aren't central to my interests and it looks like untangling them will take more of my time than I can give to them. Juan Cole and Gareth Porter have developed coherent possible story lines.

I'll add one more layer to those possible stories: What if the CIA, in accepting Amiri's offer, was entirely aware that he could be a double agent and was just checking him out? That would mean that any information he offered would be considered not credible until confirmed in some way, but even a made-up or exaggerated story might provide some lines of investigation. The wrong lines, of course, would be part of the purpose of a double agent, but the CIA would be aware of that possibility. We don't know what use, if any, has been made of the information he offered up.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

There Is A Reality

To continue my harping on the necessary relationship of science to a testable reality, I will consider Governor Bobby Jindal's insistence on building barrier islands to prevent the oil from the BP blowout from reaching Louisiana's shores. It apparently isn't working so well.

Jindal had a bright idea. He didn't bother to test it against some of the rules of thumb I've suggested, and it's not working because it fails the reality test.

It's a very easy and nice thought: Oil in Gulf. Sand islands absorb oil before it reaches the marshes along the shore. Dig up islands after oil problem abates and dispose of oily sand. Marshes remain clean.

The problem is that water moves. Not only that, but it's heavy and capable of moving other stuff, like sand. If Jindal had simply thought of other instances, like the building of jettys and other rock structures designed to change the movement of water so as to retain sand on beaches, he might have come up with the right answer. In many cases, those jettys have actually resulted in the loss of sand.

Or he could have built a sand mountain on a beach, below the tide line, and then watched what the water does to it.

The people who watch this sort of thing for a living said the sand berms would wash away, or, if they somehow stayed in place, they would prevent water as well as oil from reaching the marshes, which also would damage them. Plus it would cost lots of money, but hey, Jindal is Republican, and he was asking for the money from the feds, so that wasn't a problem in today's political world.

And now the sand berms that have been built are washing away (photos here). There is a discoverable reality, and science provides the way to find it.

Mohammed Hassan Odaini Released from Guantánamo

Andy Worthington reports that Guantánamo prisoner Mohammed Hassan Odaini has finally been sent back to Yemen by the United States (Defense Department statement here). Detained in 2002 at the age of 18, known to be innocent of any charges of terrorism, and held illegally and without charge for the past five years (if not eight) by the Bush and Obama administrations, he now returns home at age 26. One... among others held without charge. It has been known since at least 2004 that only a dozen of the estimated 800 detainees held at Guantánamo since 2002 are actually Al Qaeda operatives. The Bush administration knowingly held innocent people for political reasons. 72% of detainees who have managed to gain due process have been found by federal judges to have been held illegally (see also).

Argentina Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Same-sex civil unions have been legalized in Uruguay, Buenos Aires and some states in Mexico and Brazil. Mexico City has legalized gay marriage. Colombia's Constitutional Court granted same-sex couples inheritance rights and allowed them to add their partners to health insurance plans.

But Argentina now becomes the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, granting gays and lesbians all the same rights and responsibilities that heterosexuals have. These include many more rights than civil unions, including adopting children and inheriting wealth. (via).

Argentina thus chooses to head down the precipitous slippery slope towards marriage between man and unicellular algae. (1, 2, 3).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bits and Pieces - July 12, 2010

A couple more pieces on Mitt Romney's foreign policy mistake from Jacob Heilbrunn and Joe Cirincione.

The Armchair Generalist goes into more detail than I did on the latest call for war against Iran.

The science of the BP Blowout.

This report (pdf) seems to be the basis for this NYT article on plutonium. I have a gazillion questions. More to come. (h/t to SA.)

The Republicans and New START

It’s not easy being a Republican these days. Ask Mitt Romney. Ask Dick Lugar.

The New START treaty is a particular challenge. It revives and renews the arms control relationship between the United States and Russia, which flourished under Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. But it is a treaty, and Republican common wisdom developed under Jesse Helms George W. Bush was that treaties encroached on American sovereignty and therefore should be eschewed. Further, the Congressional common wisdom under John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Newt Gingrich is that President Obama must be denied any successes.

The Senate must ratify treaties with a two-thirds majority. That means that at least eight Republicans must vote to ratify New START. Party discipline has been strict on most legislation so far, so one might think that New START has no chance if the current Republican party discipline holds.

But, it has been said, politics ends at the water’s edge. And Republicans have supported arms control in the past, most especially when the nuclear arms race was on fast forward. Further, arms control has been a project of both Republican and Democratic administrations, with treaty ratification by both Republican and Democratic Senates.

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks began in November 1969, under President Richard Nixon, who signed the resulting Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Leonid Brezhnev in 1972. The treaty was ratified in November 1972 by a Senate composed of 54 Democrats, 38 Republicans, 1 Independent, and 1 Conservative. President Gerald Ford continued the talks after ratification. President George W. Bush withdrew from the treaty in December 2001.

The SALT II treaty was negotiated under President Jimmy Carter. It was the first treaty actually to roll back numbers of delivery vehicles and a turning point in the arms race. Carter and Brezhnev signed the treaty in June 1979. Congress (58 Democrats, 31 Democrats, 1 Independent) did not ratify it because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The first strategic arms reduction proposal was presented by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. That was an interesting time; Reagan was beginning a big defense buildup. The war in Afghanistan was going badly, and their defense spending was crowding out consumer needs. A series of aged Communist Party hacks headed the government and quickly died. It wasn’t until Mikhail Gorbachev became First Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985 that Reagan had a partner he could negotiate with. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) was signed in July 1991 by President George H. W. Bush and Secretary Gorbachev.

Then the Soviet Union came apart for once and all in December 1991, and some details had to be ironed out, like those nukes in the new countries of Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine. So it wasn’t until 1994 that the treaty was ratified. That Senate had 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats.

A START II treaty followed on, signed by President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin and ratified by a Republican Senate, but it never came into force, partly because the Gingrich-Helms Republican missile defense uproar of the nineties was beginning.

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) in 2002, Bush under duress because the Russians didn’t believe in his Texas handshake and wanted something in writing. Another Republican Senate ratified it. SORT has no verification provisions and uses the provisions of START I. Which brings us up to New START.

It has largely been Republican presidents and Senates that have developed and approved treaties. The Democrats kept the ball rolling, so reducing the world’s nuclear arsenals has been a bipartisan effort. And I didn’t mention that Reagan and Gorbachev almost agreed to eliminate both countries’ nuclear arsenals by the year 2000.

But that sort of bipartisanship is now anathema to most of the Republican Party.

Senator Richard Lugar has been a senator since 1976, when arms control was getting rolling. He’s worked closely with Joe Biden when Biden was a senator on arms control and, when the Soviet Union came apart, on programs to keep the Soviet legacy nuclear arms under lock and key and the scientists occupied with other things than freelancing for, say, Libya. He is now the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Enter Mitt Romney, not a senator but presumably interested in the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. It’s looking like Sarah Palin is getting ready to run too. Today’s Republican Party is driven by Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the Tea Partiers, aided and abetted by the congressional caucus that believes that wrecking the country will lead to voter disgust with the party currently in power, making the Republicans electorally victorious. National interest seems to play no part in their calculation, as it did for the Republicans who supported arms control from the 1970s on.

So Romney, seeing the difficulty in being a Republican with the party’s pacifistic history of giving up its mighty nuclear arsenal for the mere historically-backed assurance that the Soviet Union would do the same, decided to go for the Palin-Limbaugh-Beck school of making it up as you go but keeping it aggressive. If you want a line-by-line fisking of Romney’s piece, Fred Kaplan does a good job.

And then Senator Richard Lugar weighed in. He didn’t point out the dumb in Romney’s op-ed the way Kaplan did. He summons the history by listing the Republican elder statesmen who support New START and firmly but diplomatically undercuts some of the same points in Romney’s op-ed that Kaplan does. And he adds a very good point: where Romney criticizes New START for not addressing Russia’s tactical nukes, Lugar points out that if New START is not ratified, there is no way that we can address those tactical nukes.

Now Romney has a real problem. He is being called out by an elder statesman of his own party. He could go the he-man route, standing up for our strong defense and saying whatever he feels he needs to in order to seem as strong as Sarah Palin when Putin is raising up his head to fly over her house. But such a response is likely to diminish him.

But Lugar has his own set of problems. He is one of a rapidly declining breed, the moderate, internationalist Republican. Others have been voted down in favor of Republicans who are more acceptable to the Tea Party. Lugar may see ratification of New START and, perhaps, of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty as the capstones of a long career, so he may be willing to let the chips fall where they may in the election of 2012 and continue his principled and intelligent stand for arms control.

[Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings and American Footprints.]

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bits and Pieces - July 11, 2010

The factions vying for power in Iran.

If you're wondering about the doomsday scenarios being projected for the BP Blowout, check out the people who are pushing them. Today's credulous reporting award goes to HDS Greenway at Global Post. BP could help us all out on this by releasing the geology of the well and their three-dimensional modeling of the reservoir.

Another drilling disaster.

Philosopher's Football

In honor of this afternoon's World Cup final, a Monty Python classic:


Zombie NeoCon

As a result of the Iraq fiasco, the direct influence of neoconservatism has clearly waned. But nearly two years into the Obama era, it has become clear that its most lasting legacy is not a set of policies or strategies, but a reframing of debates about American foreign policy around a number of neoconservative assumptions. To a surprising degree, those assumptions – among them, that the current threats facing the US are unprecedented; that, in a time of war, military strategy must guide diplomacy, and not vice versa; and that even modest compromises with opponents would call America’s “credibility” into question – continue to dominate the agenda in Washington and the mass media. The last decade has shown, again and again, the failures of this line of thinking – and yet it continues to haunt American discourse, a zombie ideology that refuses to die.
- Justin Vogt, via Sullivan

Friday, July 09, 2010

A Little Reminder About Immigration and Arizona

... from Dana Milbank:
"Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded," [Arizona Governor Jan Brewer] announced on local television...

The Arizona Guardian Web site checked with medical examiners in Arizona's border counties and the coroners said they had never seen an immigration-related beheading. I called and e-mailed Brewer's press office requesting documentation of decapitation; no reply...

This matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they've had to step in because federal officials aren't doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown...

Two months ago, the Arizona Republic published an exhaustive report that found that, according to statistics from the FBI and Arizona police agencies, crime in Arizona border towns has been "essentially flat for the past decade." For example, "In 2000, there were 23 rapes, robberies and murders in Nogales, Ariz. Last year, despite nearly a decade of population growth, there were 19 such crimes." The Pima County sheriff reported that "the border has never been more secure."

FBI statistics show violent crime rates in all of the border states are lower than they were a decade ago -- yet Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reports that the violence is "the worst I have ever seen." President Obama justifiably asserted last week that "the southern border is more secure today than any time in the past 20 years," yet Rush Limbaugh judged the president to be "fit for the psycho ward" on the basis of that remark.

Similar discussion in this earlier post, which notes that: a key defense in their arguments, proponents [of the new Arizona law] point to the incarceration rate as a supposed indicator of a relatively high crime rate among illegal immigrants. A decreasing incarceration rate is thus implicit in this argument as an indicator of successful policy because this would entail reduced crime, right? By further criminalizing a larger portion of the state population, however, the incarceration rate of illegal immigrants will only increase. The law is thus unsuccessful by its own logic.


And All the Other Values

Jim Manzi has continued to argue that the cost in global GDP of climate change mitigation isn't worth the benefits (via). I tangled with this issue some time back (with a response here by Manzi), recalling that timely climate change adaptation measures can help abate total climate mitigation costs. Ultimately, however, cost-benefit runs up against other, non-monetary values, as it is wont to do. Here's the latest on this at The Economist:

...Jim Manzi's arguments that estimates of the cost of global warming to the world's GDP do not justify the estimated costs of slowing it down. Estimated differences in global GDP 90 years down the line simply do not seem to me to be a useful metric in addressing this question. If reasonable economic estimates produced figures showing that making meaningful climate change mitigation efforts, or declining to do so, would entail lowering global GDP by 30%, that would be one thing. But differences in the range of 3% or 6% on a 90-year timescale seem too uncertain and insignificant even to enter the calculation. The question of whether or not we want a world that is between 1.5 and 4 degrees Celsius warmer by 2100, with all the environmental destruction and extinction that entails, is one that needs to be answered on the basis of other values than that of global GDP. That we seem to find it difficult to discuss environmental risk or harm in any terms other than monetary ones seems to me rather depressing.

And it has been depressing throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. Not all value, and not necessarily the most important value, is economic.

UPDATE: More debunking here at ClimateProgress.

We Are All The National Enquirer Now

Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.

That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings.

T. S. Eliot, East Coker

I was about to put away my copy of Chris Mooney’s report, and then there was an avalanche of nonsense again this morning. I’ve felt like I have at least two more posts to add to what I’ve said already, so here’s one more anyway.

The BP Blowout seems to be bringing out the worst in numerous people, which is my inspiration for that fragment from the Four Quartets. Not very satisfactory indeed. Here’s something I was sent this morning, from a site that claims it is “where knowledge rules.”

There are so many things wrong with the article, so many holes in the geology, the chemistry, the physics, that I won’t even try to list them. In looking around the site, I see that they are fond of votes on such things as whether beavers should be reintroduced to Scotland and whether hurricanes or tornadoes are deadlier. And here’s how they describe themselves:
Helium is the face of the publishing revolution!

Helium is also a knowledge co-operative where our writers are also our editors who read and rate every article on the site.
Moving right along...

James Fallows offered an apology this morning to some folks who want to sell solar/hydrogen-powered water purifiers. I’ll link Fallows, and if you’re interested, you can link the sales pitch from there. It seems that Fallows quoted a metaphor of the computational cloud as “a dirigible filled with hydrogen.” Which gave the salesmen a hook to hang their pitch on. Hydrogen, they say, is less explosive than propane. Oh, that’s in the absence of air, in which case I have no idea what they can be saying, since both explode with oxygen. They can both, being gases at room temperature, participate in physical explosions, like when a tank is breached. If there were no air, there would be no combustion of either, and the salesmen may be referring to some characteristic related to this, which is utterly irrelevant on this oxygenated planet. They also claim that the famous Hindenberg explosion was not of the hydrogen, basing this on the color of flame on a colorized photograph.

Fallows seems to swallow it whole.

If we take science to be discoverable truths and the methods of discovering them, as I’ve been saying, then whether hurricanes or tornadoes are deadlier is not a matter of voting. The question could be formulated better, of course. A couple of problems are fighting it out in today's examples. One is that the authority of science has been eroded, both by scientists who have succumbed to prostituting their profession and by corporate interests that have chosen to undermine particular scientific findings. The other is that postmodernism has claimed that all knowledge is subjective. That’s made to order for the opportunists, although I doubt that they feel such philosophical justification is necessary.

It seems to me that Mooney’s report, and much of what passes for sophisticated thinking about science, shares this postmodern view. But if science is to be useful, it has to go back to those hard, real-life, discoverable truths, which have no place in postmodernism.

So you may believe whatever you like, Whirled in a vortex that shall bring The world to that destructive fire Which burns before the ice-cap reigns. I guess it’s much easier than that intolerable wrestle With words and meanings.

The Dogs of War

As White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said in 2002, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." There's been some speculation in the blogosphere this past week that a new, er, product will be rolled out in September. Charles S. Robb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia, and Charles Wald, a retired general, jump the gun.

They're not shy about it, either.
We cannot afford to wait indefinitely to determine the effectiveness of diplomacy and sanctions. Sanctions can be effective only if coupled with open preparation for the military option as a last resort. Indeed, publicly playing down potential military options has weakened our leverage with Tehran, making a peaceful resolution less likely.

Instead, the administration needs to expand its approach and make clear to the Iranian regime and the American people: If diplomatic and economic pressures do not compel Iran to terminate its nuclear program, the U.S. military has the capability and is prepared to launch an effective, targeted strike on Tehran's nuclear and supporting military facilities.
So the baying of the hounds starts, even before August.

I have speculated that President Obama has, let us say, strongly urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to damp this sort of thing down in Israel, where the noise has indeed subsided since the beginning of the year. I would further speculate that this week's visit by Netanyahu was an "attaboy" for following the program. But the Washington Post editorial board seems to have taken it as a green light for war.

Just what we don't need more of.

Update: Joshua Pollack goes into more detail than I did about why bombing Iran won't end its nuclear program. That's been said enough times that I thought I wouldn't, but I guess if the Bomb Iran faction is going to keep repeating, the rest of us will have to.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Mitt Romney's Foreign Policy Mistake

I think that Fred Kaplan pretty much said it all about Mitt Romney's incompetent WaPo op-ed on the New START treaty, but others continue to weigh in.

Peter Baker calls the op-ed "a blistering attack" but doesn't take note of its extreme weaknesses. And he may be right. Making sense may no longer be required for political traction, particularly when reporters like Baker can't be bothered to look for sense.

Baker does note that Senator Richard Lugar (R, IN) has expressed support for the treaty. Jeffrey Lewis reports a response from Lugar. Romney complains that New START doesn't address tactical nuclear weapons, but Lugar points out that if New START isn't ratified, we can forget about the Russians being willing to negotiate on tactical nukes.

John Isaacs, at the Council for a Liveable World, points out that Romney has aligned himself with the John Birch Society, which opposes the treaty. OTOH, James Schlesinger, generally on the hawkish side of things, supports it.

Daniel Drezner and Kevin Drum both note that foreign policy "mandarins," both Republican and Democratic, support New START and worry that it still won't pass because eight Republicans must vote for it, and they may no longer pay attention to those "mandarins" but will stick with their obstructionist program.

Inept Spy Ring or Illegal Immigrants?

by Molly Cernicek and Cheryl Rofer

It’s been two weeks since the Russian spy case of 2010 was uncovered. Reporters have breathlessly been waiting for the adrenaline-drenched details like those of Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames, John Walker, Jonathan Pollard, or Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee who were the inspiration for the 1985 movie "The Falcon and the Snowman." We know the identities of a few of the Russian Eleven, but there is no information yet about maps, drop zones, secret codes, pulling top secret information out of top secret file drawers...all the stuff past spy cases were about. Why is this?

It very well could be a group of sleeper spies established by the KGB to acquire national security information. Or do these spies represent more of the corruption rampant throughout the Russian government? Or is it a little of both?

Perhaps these 11 spies were children or relatives of influential Russian government employees and businessmen who took advantage of a Soviet-era spy program to send their kids to a better life in the United States, rather than well-qualified Russians who were chosen by the SVR (the modern-day KGB) based on credentials and career interests within governmental service.

In previous spy stories, the busted spies had access to information about US weapons, intelligence and military. None of the eleven was working for a defense contractor, much less the government’s defense or energy departments. Anna Chapman was hob-knobbing with investors and the New York real estate crowd. Yet President Medvedev had to make a special trip to Silicon Valley to pitch Russia’s latest plans for technology startups because Russian businessmen and investors have a difficult time getting serious interest from Silicon Valley or New York high-tech investors and CEOs.

Moscow’s real estate market ranks among the topmost in the world and is extremely lucrative for those involved. It’s unlikely that tips coming from New York’s real estate elite would make much of a difference to Moscow. Especially if it had anything to do with credit default swaps. Of course, investors are always welcome in Russia, but you don’t need a spy to elicit investor interest. The Russian mafia has proved over and over that you don’t need spy credentials to launder money through real estate transactions around the world.

The other alleged spies seem to have much less to work with than Anna did for tantalizing spy scenarios. Were ten of those spies more illegal immigrant than spy? They were easily found by our counter intelligence in our post-911 world of identifications, video cameras, and TSA. Perhaps one of the eleven led a more spy-like life – Christopher Metsos. He might have been the guy in charge of kickbacks and payoffs to ensure that everyone involved in this program kept doing what was necessary to keep this aging spy program legit in the eyes of a handful of Russian government officials.

If this was a program that planted Russian spies in the United States for years to cultivate relationships, recruit Americans with access to information, and gather information to influence public opinion and decision-makers in favor of Russia, there are surely cheaper and less risky ways available to the SVR to find information related to American lifestyles, power players, and political ambitions starting with LinkedIn and Facebook. In the post-Soviet era, global disruptive technology can emerge in a year or two, and American governmental leadership can change course within one election. Rather than a lifetime spy program, today’s world may demand a series of vacation programs to receive, integrate and manipulate acquired information before it is ancient history.

Now the jig is up. Ten spies’ sabbaticals abroad are ended, and the eleventh spy will have to find new clients to manage. President Medvedev can cut the program and transfer the money to a modernization program that may eventually bring some value to Russia’s future. Is the story as good as "The Falcon and the Snowman?" It looks like both the governments involved want to end the story as quickly as possible, so we’ll probably have to wait until one of the spies gets a big book contract to find out.

Update: There goes the book deal!
The 10 defendants agreed never to return to the United States without permission from the attorney general, and to turn over any proceeds generated from the publication of information about their tenure as Russian spies.

Sigmar Polke

I would be remiss to myself not to acknowledge the passing of German painter Sigmar Polke last month (h/t High Low and in Between). In my own short-lived moment as a painter nearly two decades ago, Polke and his colleague Gerhard Richter, through whom I came to know Polke's work, were probably the largest influence on my work as, paradoxically, a central reason for why I moved away from painting. But saying more about this technical issue is irrelevant here. Polke found ways to parody both the social realism of the East and pop art of the West and it's this political anti-dualism that I found particularly attractive.

Polke's ideas and experiments, curmudgeonly modesty, and easy wit will be greatly missed.

Inhofe's Igloo

One does wonder where Sen. James Inhofe and his family's global-warming igloo are these days. Weather and climate, of course, are not the same thing, and I hesitate to even bother with the "ridiculous" one. But he's such an easy target (all in "good fun"!) on these languorous days in Washington DC where we've had a couple of weeks now of 90-degree weather and gabillion percent humidity with a few days going over 100 degrees.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Mitt Romney Is Worried About Sarah Palin

getting in the way of his next presidential run, so he wrote some nonsense at the IOKIYAR newspaper. Pavel Podvig debunks it so I don't have to, and gives us the good news (probably Mitt would see it otherwise) that the Duma is ready to consider the New START treaty.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Bits and Pieces - July 5, 2010

Almost unnoticed: the new National Space Policy. I would love to read it and comment. I tend to distrust the New York Times, but it's the best I've got just now. I do feel better about William Broad than some of their other writers.

In contrast, Mark Hibbs is highly knowledgeable on nonproliferation issues and a good analyst. On China's pending deal to supply two reactors to Pakistan:
If that happens and China looks set to move forward with the trade, all is not lost. Rather than remaining formally silent or issuing a paper démarche expressing regret about China's move, the United States could call upon China and Pakistan to provide a significant nonproliferation benefit as part of the transaction—of the sort the U.S.-India deal failed to include.
More unnoticed news: the first US centrifuge uranium enrichment plant starts up in Eunice, New Mexico.

Oil company tax breaks.

Seems to me that what is going on in Xinjiang and Tibet is a lot like the Russification practiced by the Soviet Union in its republics.

More cognoscenti indignation against bloggers. This is a good place to start; it probably contains the best rebuttal of a post by a Fed economist who would like bloggers just to shut up about economics. That link contains several others worth reading. Here's one more that is almost as good as the first. The original paper seems to have been yanked from the internets.

Some of the fauna living in the Gulf of Mexico that could be affected by the BP blowout.

[h/t on the last two to commenters at The Oil Drum.]

Guest Post at The Oil Drum

I've got a guest post up at The Oil Drum. Some good discussion going on.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Bits and Pieces - July 2, 2010

Does. Not. Go. Away. I think that Phila may have figured this one out.

More nukes in action.

Top twenty terrorist plots prosecuted since 2001.

Is Obama's relationship with Netanyahu the reason for this?

Department of Duh: "the most effective solution is to have stricter standards and make safer products so we don't need a recall in the first place."

How Iran could build a bomb. I would suggest that testing of a uranium weapon is not necessary. The US didn't do it in the Manhattan Project. But that doesn't change a lot in this article.

Mooney's Report

I’ve read the report (pdf), and I see no reason to change what I said earlier. There are some things I can add. I agree that communication of scientific issues to the public needs to be improved and that scientists are not doing as good a job as they might. But there are problems with this report, and possibly with the workshops on which it is based.

I separate the two, because Chris Mooney is the sole author of the report. So we don’t know how much of the report is Mooney and how much is the other participants in the workshops.

I pointed out that the op-ed seemed to have a different reference frame from that of a scientist, but we don’t know about that, either. That was a conclusion I was drawing from Mooney’s overinterpretation of some of his data. It’s possible that Mooney is simply assuming that everyone who reads the report and op-ed knows that there are discoverable truths about the world and that science has methods that can discover those truths and then goes on to consider how scientists might better communicate those truths. But he says that nowhere, and his approach to data has an edge of relativism. He seems to be using one of the laws of journalism: if one political party is doing something stupid, the other must be found to be doing something stupid in an equal and opposite direction. (Apologies to Isaac Newton.)

But I’ll leave that aside and look at the report in Mooney’s reference frame. And there are problems there.

Probably the biggest is that he’s got the history of Yucca Mountain wrong.
For an eloquent testimony to this fact, consider the long and dysfunctional history of attempts to establish a national nuclear waste repository at the remote Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. When a 1987 amendment to the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act designated Yucca as the sole site to be studied for its suitability as the nation’s central waste repository (removing several other sites from contention), the basis for the choice included highly scientific and technical considerations about geology, hydrology, and tectonic activity, among many other factors. Nevertheless, the legislation was quickly dubbed the “Screw Nevada Bill” by locals, who saw a political ploy to dump on their state. Soon, Nevadans’ sense of grievance found political champions like current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has fought for two decades in opposition to the Yucca plan.
He goes on to make it sound as though this decision was based on the science and that therefore the scientists were at fault. Or perhaps he is simply eliding the decision and observing that it is the scientists who took much of the flack.

Wikipedia gives a summary of the history of the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act that pretty much follows how I recall it.*
DOE was to study five potential sites, and then recommend three to the President by January 1, 1985. Five additional sites were to be studied and three of them recommended to the president by July 1, 1989 as possible locations for a second repository. A full environmental impact statement was required for any site recommended to the President.

Locations considered to be leading contenders for a permanent repository were basalt formations at the government's Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington; volcanic tuff formations at its Nevada nuclear test site, and several salt formations in Utah, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Salt and granite formations in other states from Maine to Georgia had also been surveyed, but not evaluated in great detail.[4]

The President was required to review site recommendations and submit to Congress by March 31, 1987 his recommendation of one site for the first repository, and by March 31, 1990, his recommendation for a second repository.
But there was that 1987 amendment by Congress. At that time, several of the sites listed by Wikipedia had been evaluated and recommended, and granite sites in Northeastern states were being evaluated. Public concern about the Hanford site in Washington State was rising, and no way were the more numerous citizens of the Northeast going to tolerate a nuclear repository in their backyards. So pressure was put on Congress, and Congress responded with that 1987 amendment. Yucca Mountain was it. The scientists I knew felt that the decision was premature, and the people of Nevada were outraged that they had been outvoted and the process promised them in the 1982 Act had been truncated

In other words, the focus on Yucca Mountain was a nakedly political decision, but somehow Mooney and perhaps his fellow confrerees have come to believe that it had something to do with the scientists.

This undercuts the discussion of dealing with Nevada’s outraged public. Certainly, in public meetings, it was the scientists who took much of the flack, and the opposition used arguments against the science to try to stop the repository from being sited at Yucca Mountain. But Mooney misunderstands the underlying issue, just as he accuses scientists of doing. It was indeed a “political ploy to dump on” Nevada.

Mooney finds a favorable model in Canada.
Dialogue has not broken down; rather, it has been fostered and strengthened.
That’s a good thing, but it’s, as scientists say, necessary but not sufficient. People can dialogue and disagree, which seems to be the case in Canada, and they can dialogue and agree on stuff that isn’t factual and therefore isn’t going to solve the real-life problem. I’m going back to my reference frame in that last.

The Internet and genetics workshops seem to have produced very little in the way of approaching the questions they raise. This seems to indicate that the means to effective communication being advocated aren’t very useful for being deployed early, even though the report suggests that early deployment is essential for improved communication.

I’ve been hanging out quite a bit lately at The Oil Drum and suspect that the discussion there is the sort of thing that needs to happen more frequently. A number of experts in drilling and other relevant issues comment and respond to questions. There’s a certain amount of extraneous stuff that gets in, but the discussion overall is the kind of thing I’ve had with colleagues. There’s always something somebody doesn’t know, so they ask questions, and people get off the subject, but sometimes something useful comes out of that too. It’s a good thing for those not engaged in science and engineering to see happening and to be able to participate in.

That’s (sort of) one of the recommendations in Mooney’s report. The preface lists a number of recommendations that seem to have come out of the workshops and is signed by American Academy of Arts and Sciences officials. But there’s a lot of the typical academic, more study is needed, make jobs for social scientists too stuff that academic reports always recommend.

More later, maybe.

*The idea of siting a repository at Yucca Mountain originated at Los Alamos. I never worked on that program, but friends and colleagues did.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Bits and Pieces - July 1, 2010

I really did read that report last night and have a bunch of notes. Suffice it to say for now that nothing changed my mind from last night's post, but I have some additional things that I hope I will say tomorrow.

We're losing one of the few "bloggers" at the NYT who is worth reading.

A new blog with photos from the Alabama coast as the oil slick comes ashore.

Another drilling operation gone wrong: November 28, 1980.