Monday, January 31, 2011

No, No, Marcy!

Marcy Wheeler repeats the same old "Iranian Chernobyl." If she read Phronesisaical, she'd know that it's nonsense. In fact, the article she cites almost says it. Some of the article appears to have disappeared down the same cyberhold my password capability at her blog has, and the part she's lifted is the part that seems to be missing something. The part of the article that's relevant is
The report, drawn up by a nation closely monitoring Iran's nuclear program and obtained by The Associated Press, says such conclusions were premature and based on the "casual assessment" of Russian and Iran scientists at Bushehr.
which is pretty much what I said.

There's no e-mail address I can find for her at FDL. So I'm posting this in the hopes that the various internet diagnostics will point her here. I really, really hate passwords, so I don't intend to try to straighten that out with FDL.

Update: I see that the first (and only, so far) commenter makes some of the points I've made.

Sometimes One Does Enjoy One's Washington Post

Especially when you can get screen grabs like this. You tell them, Nathalie!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bits and Pieces - Not Egypt Edition

The Sunday papers are oddly out of step today. There are a few opinion pieces on Egypt, but it looks like the editorial decision was that they'd chew over the SOTU a little more today and they haven't been able to keep up with Twitter.

Oh, and there was Davos, too, that Very Special Meeting for the Very Special People. Nicholas Kristof had the good sense to tweet "Why are we here?" the other day and now is in Cairo. But, if you wanted any more evidence of Davos's irrelevance, you can read Steven Pearlstein, Will Hutton, or about their panel repeating that an attack on Iran would be a very bad idea. And some Very Important People were miffed that that attack on ordinary people at Domededovo Airport kept Dmitry Medvedev from being more of a backslapper at Davos. Bad form, Dmitry! Newspaper editors had to make up their minds about today's edition somewhere around Wednesday or Thursday. The Davos organizers probably had to set up this panel some months back.

Meanwhile, Very Special Conservative Kathleen Parker remains miffed that President Obama hasn't said what she wants to hear in exactly the words she wants to hear. This will, I'm sure, repair the economy and make jobs, so get with it, Prez! Steve Benen says more about this scandal so that I con't have to.

Then there's Wikileaks. Doyle McManus tells us it's so yesterday, while Alan Rusbridger gives the Guardian's view of Assange and the whole process, presumably in response to the New York Times's view of the same things.

Are you seeing a pattern of Very Specialness?

Back to the SOTU. Frank Rich has a very good column that recognizes the fruits of the long community organizer slog, namely the Republican Party's discrediting of itsself, without quite recognizing how it happened.

The end of US decline. Thank goodness.

I have always liked the concept and practice of satisficing.

Still More Links on Egypt

Israel isn't saying much. Probably a good idea. Here's some analysis. Too bad Israel didn't get serious about peace earlier, but the Netanyahu government isn't likely to think about it that way.

A couple of links to more links.

The limits on what America can do.

Background from Juan Cole. Cole's commentary is very good. You should be watching his blog.

A view from Cairo. Another blog you should be watching.

Martin Indyk frequently tilts toward Israel. So his call for Mubarak to step down is significant. However, for the reasons Marc Lynch has been giving in posts I've linked earlier, the Obama administration can't make that call. I'm reading the public statements from Secretary of State Clinton and others as the surface over serious warnings being given in private to President Mubarak. It's not time yet for the administration to say such a thing publicly, but it is looking more and more like that time is coming.

Another blog to follow. It looks a lot like what I might write if I chose to feature the things I'm seeing on Twitter, but this one is good if you don't have Twitter.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

More Links on Egypt

Some general background on Egypt and what has led to the dissatisfaction with the government.

Economic background, with emphasis on the petroleum industry.

Marc Lynch on how Obama's handling things.

Gary Sick on how difficult the situation is for Obama.

Added later: Some good ideas from Ahmad Zewail, but, as Juan Cole points out, there needs to be a more detailed plan for implementation. Not bad as a scorecard for us watchers to consider the prospects of various individuals and governmental reorganizations.

Art of the Day

Untitled assemblage by Steve Ashby, "outside artist," 1904-1980. Via Murky Recess. More here at the Smithsonian.

Friday, January 28, 2011


I'm following events in Egypt on Twitter and Al Jazeera, along with other outlets as convenient. It's quite remarkable to be ahead of some of the MSM.

What one sees on Twitter, of course, depends on who you follow. I'm mostly following American center-left commenters, who retweet selected material from those on the scene. @blakehounshell and @abuaardvark are particularly good.

I'm also following some leftish blogfriends who, up until Hillary Clinton's press conference this morning, were grousing about the Obama administration's not unambiguously backing the demonstrators, which they believe they would do if they were president. Marc Lynch (@abuaardvark) has a good response. He also suggested, via Twitter, that Clinton's comments were an offer to mediate between Egypt's president (for the last three decades) Hosni Mubarak and the demonstrators. I'm not sure how that would work.

Mona Eltahawy thinks it's beautiful that the Egyptian crowds seem to have no leaders. I've got my doubts. If the government is toppled and there is a power vacuum, it will be filled, and previous revolutions show that it may not be in a favorable or democratic way.

There have been a few tweets that the Egyptian army is befriending the demonstrators. This would be an important marker of how things will go; will the army decide that it can't fire on fellow citizens, will it decide to keep President Mubarak's favor, or will it decide to keep order in its own way?

Some of the tweeting is focusing on Mubarak's silence. There was a report that he would speak earlier today, but he didn't. Clinton's remarks seemed to indicate that the administration is putting heavy pressure on him, but to do what is not clear. This is one place where an analogy to 1991 might fit: As Mikhail Gorbachev did, resist the temptation to use force. But Gorbachev's outcome may deter Mubarak from his course of action.

It's easy for those of us not directly involved to get euphoric about change in a place that has been subject to dictatorship for so long. It was easy to believe that American soldiers would be met with flowers and candy in Iraq. It's easy to believe that bold public statements from President Obama would turn the demonstrations into a march to democracy. It's easy to believe that this will be a replay of 1989. But the cavalry charges over the hill with a bold bugle call only in the movies. Real life is messier. We're going to have to wait and see what happens.

More reading:
Massimo Calabresi: Is the Arab World Ready for Democracy? Better article than title.

NY Times on Wikileaks cables on US-Egypt diplomacy.

Emptywheel: The Neocons' Long Animosity toward Mohamed ElBaradei.

Andrew Albertson: Principled Neutrality? I would have left off the question mark.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bits and Pieces - January 27, 2011

In case you're wondering about that grand piano in Biscayne Bay.

First they came for the electronic fence, then for the airport orange alerts. Could this be a quiet start toward rolling back our dumb "security" measures?

Another example of wishful thinking in place of careful history.

Both houses of the Russian Parliament have ratified the New START treaty with much less fuss than the US Senate.

This is very embarassing to both New Mexicans and scientists.

Two years of progress in nonproliferation, and a strong start toward a fissile material control treaty in the Conference on Disarmament.

Russia is still saying that Stuxnet could have led to something like Chernobyl at Bushehr and wants a NATO investigation of the computer worm. Probably the Chernobyl claim is to distance themselves from whatever might go wrong at Bushehr. I dealt with that claim here.

Whatever Happens in the Middle East Is Not Going to Be Like What Happened in Eastern Europe

Wishful thinking: The Soviet Union and its ruling ideology, Communism, which spread over nearly half the world, collapsed with minimal fighting and deaths in 1989 - 1991, leaving a number of democratic governments in charge. Therefore, with some good luck, later revolutions (condescendingly modified with a word of others' choice) can follow the same pattern.

It's not impossible, of course, but one needs to go beyond the wishful thinking that Paul Wolfowitz et al. applied to the invasion of Iraq and look at some of the history of those regions.

The wishful thinking analogy, of course, is being applied to the Maghreb and wherever street demonstrations are going to shake the Arab world. Joshua Tucker provides a comment along those lines, and Kevin Drum questions some of what Tucker is saying. As I compose a response to Tucker in my head, it's becoming obvious that I might write all day on the subject. But let me keep it brief.

Tucker's point 1 is simply wrong. A great many people saw that Communism was unsustainable economically and even militarily. The Afghan war and environmental horrors in the satellite countries and the Soviet republics were causing public resistance for some time. It's true that nobody could predict that the Soviet Union would be officially dissolved on the precise date December 25, 1991, but many people in the US State Department and Europe saw it coming.

Tucker's point 2 is probably correct, but its relevance to the downfall of Communism is questionable. It was not demonstrations in the streets that brought Communism down all by themselves. The satellite countries and many republics had histories of independent rule before the Soviet takeover, and political parties were organizing and acting long before 1989. The legislatures were slowly, from perhaps 1980 on, transforming themselves from supreme soviets to parliaments, and many of their members were becoming more nationalist than Soviet. It's doubtful that such political underpinnings exist in the Arab countries.

Drum makes a good case for the importance of Mikhail Gorbachev's role in the downfall of Communism. Such actions, avoiding bloodshed, may or may not be taken by Arab rulers. Ben Ali did flee Tunisia without incurring large amounts of violence.

Finally, it's not clear what the outcome of the Tunisian revolution, the only one to oust a ruler so far, will be. Revolutions can go bad without the preparations that were taken in 1980s Eastern Europe. Lenin and the Bolsheviks took over in Russia in 1917, and the French Revolution got ugly. Ceaucescu's rule in Romania was ugly enough that things got bloody there, although Romania came through as a democracy. And not every Soviet republic managed to become democratic; look at Belarus.

Update: Maybe it's more like the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Second Update: Jim Lehrer can't resist. But Vice President Joe Biden has a good answer.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Notes Toward a Post on Feminism

Nadezhda's comment got me thinking more about how feminism has wound up where it is today. I don't have time to write a full post, and it would probably take an article to do this justice, so I'll write a few notes that I might use later. Meanwhile, all you third-wave feminists out there are free to use anything here in an article of your own. They're your problems, too.

It's seemed to me for far too long that too much of what clothing designers are offering to women, and now girls, looks like hookerwear. I would guess, recalling my irritation, that this goes back to the 1980s if not earlier. And the derivation of pornography is from the Greek for prostitute and writing; hence writing by or about prostitutes.

Women's clothes are still impractical and uncomfortable. I can't even imagine wearing those platform high heels. You could break a bone when the heel gets caught in pavement, and I suspect that some women have. Men have no equivalents to these and other contraptions foisted on women; short and tight skirts for another example.

Commercial interests have always been that women should be consumers. Having one person in a family whose primary role is buying things is a good idea for those who are selling things. The role of consumer has been enlarged to include men and children, lucky them, but those impractical clothes and unneeded household stuff still are targeted primarily toward women. The first wave of feminism was met with an advertising blitz for cleaning and cooking supplies; the second wave with those ridiculous clothes and other personal appurtenances, plus sex toys. And both times, women succumbed.

Gail Collins's When Everything Changed is a good history, evoking some of the emotions of how it was. Rebecca Traister's Big Girls Don't Cry is a good political history of a shorter period.

The article should avoid "get off my lawn" and other crabby tendencies that are far too easy for us second-wavers to get into. Also "I told you so," even though we did. And yes, it was always snowing and uphill walking both to and from work and school.

And, oh yeah, the job/inclusion thing still isn't solved.
Gendered Conferences

State of the Union Message

Well, I thought it was really, really good. But y'all know I'm an Obot.

We need some vision, and this speech had plenty of it. I read the early version in National Journal, which seems to be identical with the as-delivered version.

We need to tax the wealthiest Americans more, we need to fix our infrastructure, we need to preserve the social safety net. And there was some good stuff about getting better at technology and manufacturing. Plus working together and nice words to John Boehner, whose sneering discomfort played badly, as he should have recognized when he's being made nice to.

We can do it. That was the message. With emphasis on we. Not a whole lot different from what you'd expect from a community organizer, but well said and delivered.

A subtle touch was the theme of American exceptionalism woven through the speech, but an exceptionalism of accomplishment, not whatever it is that the Tea Party is selling.

There's a lot of blah blah blah from those who wanted something more blatantly political, something that would fit their limited expectations better. But this and this can't both be accurate.

Meanwhile, the Republicans gave a splintered response and are setting themselves up for further division. Representative David Dreicer (R-CA) proposed a resolution that is likely to cut funding to the National Laboratories. I wonder if he checked with Jon Kyl on that.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bits and Pieces - Nonproliferation and Commerce Edition

It appears that Japan is still giving India a hard time on a nuclear deal over nonproliferation issues. Turkey is telling AREVA, the French government's nuclear enterprise, that France should drop its opposition to Turkey's bid to join the European Union if it wants to be considered for building reactors in Turkey.

And the United States is working a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia without the usual nonproliferation cautions. Is this really a good idea?

Meanwhile, in other news, it appears that the Egyptian government has brought out the tear gas.

Return of the Wild

A decade or more ago, I thought about writing a novel about wild animals coming back toward civilization. They would be reminding us of our connections and obligations to nature. It wasn't to be a naive and moralistic conservation novel, but something deeper. That's about as far as I got with it, and you can probably see why.

But strange to say, the wild animals are coming back toward civilization. It could be the regrowth of forests, or humans extending their range further into the animals' ranges. First it was the raccoons, who like garbage, then the skunks and coyotes, who are pretty versatile too. I've heard mountain lions from my relatively urban neighborhood, and now it's fishers in New York State.

It's something to think about, how we're all going to live together.

How News Changes

Twitter has been buzzing all morning about demonstrations in Egypt. As I write, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post has a story on their front page.

The newspapers of record have to verify what they print, of course, and tweeps don't. But it feels very strange to be getting all that (unverified) news while those big guys are silent.

Plus blogs: Here's Marc Lynch.

Castanha-Sapucaia (Paradise Nuts)

Photo by Valter França, Flickr

Photo from Come-Se

Photo from Come-Se

Wikileaks Update

From Juan Cole:
The US government, according to NBC correspondent Jim Miklaszewski, now admits that it cannot tie Pfc. Bradley Manning to Wikileaks leader Julian Assange.

The military also admitted that Manning was put on suicide watch improperly twice last week by the base commander at Quantico, essentially as a form of punishment and with no consultation with psychiatrists. During the watch they took his glasses from him so he could not read.

As for Assange,
'The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure.'
The admission appears to close off the most plausible legal strategy for the US to prosecute Assange. Since there is no Official Secrets Act in the United States, it is not clear that it is illegal to possess or to pass on classified documents. Manning himself would have broken a contractual obligation as a US government employee if he leaked classified documents, but civilians who received such documents are difficult to prosecute.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Apparently things are not going well for third-wave feminism. I haven’t fully been paying attention to the ups and downs of feminism since the late 1960s, when I gave up my subscription to Ms. magazine in response to an article that pretty much said that women in “men’s” professions, like science, had betrayed the cause. Things were hard enough without having my sisters turn on me.

I was informed of the third-wave difficulties rather rudely by the book review section of the January/February Atlantic. Caitlin Flanagan has been critical of various aspects of today’s femaleness for some time, and she was assigned to review a powerpoint presentation that I would have panned, had I watched it. The real shocker, however, was Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s review of a couple of books on porn and women as sex objects. Andrea Dworkin had nothing on Vargas-Cooper!

I had to read Vargas-Cooper again to make sure I hadn’t been put off by a single poorly worded sentence. But no, I read it right.
Male desire is not a malleable entity that can be constructed through politics, language, or media. Sexuality is not neutral. A warring dynamic based on power and subjugation has always existed between men and women, and the egalitarian view of sex, with its utopian pretensions, offers little insight into the typical male psyche. Internet porn, on the other hand, shows us an unvarnished (albeit partial) view of male sexuality as an often dark force streaked with aggression. The Internet has created a perfect market of buyers and sellers (with the sellers increasingly proffering their goods gratis) that provides what people—overwhelmingly males (who make up two-thirds of all porn viewers)—want to see or do.
There’s more like that, but I was never fond of Andrea Dworkin either.

Men are brutes! Vargas-Cooper offers a personal anecdote to reinforce the message. Frankly, I would have put my clothes back on and walked out, never to see this guy again. If we’re anecdotalizing, my experience of men has been quite different.

Neither Flanagan nor Vargas-Cooper suggests a way forward. And, to go back to the issue of careers, which took up a big part of second-wave feminism’s (and my) energy, we have an egregious example at the University of California Veterinary School. It’s true that women are now preparing for careers in veterinary science and practice that was unimaginable when I was in college, but apparently at least one of the male professors hasn’t adjusted. The one described in the link was so put off by a student’s pregnancy and delivery that he asked the class to vote on how to deal with her grade.

A more reasonable, apparently male, professor suggests that part of the problem here is that academic careers demand full-time (and by that I mean 24/7) focus on the job. And he is right.

There were so many battles to fight. There were no women in veterinary schools. There were six women and ninety-four men in my graduate-school entering class. Most of the traders on Wall Street are still men. Most science professors in the most prestigious schools are still men. It’s easy to get oversensitized about this, but most of the Atlantic bloggers and the replacements for James Fallows on his blog are men. The new governor of Ohio has appointed mostly white men to his cabinet. And the Republicans (some of them, anyway) are winding themselves up for physical, literal, warfare over abortion. (I’ve seen that last in a couple of places today but can’t find a link just now.)

So we didn’t solve all the problems. In the sixties and seventies, it was simply not possible to revise the structure of jobs and work. First we had to get some minimal laws passed so that being hired depended to some degree on our qualifications for the job.

It all seemed to be going well for a while, I guess, although those of us who had had professors like that one at Davis or had been told we were the best qualified for the job, but the boss couldn’t see working with a woman, knew that many of the problems were only papered over. But a great many young women seemed to be happy with making a bunch of money to buy uncomfortable but glitzy shoes, drink all night, and sleep with people they didn’t know. It turns out there are a large number of downsides to that sort of thing.

Flanagan and Vargas-Cooper focus on sex, but that’s not the only, and probably not the basic problem. Humans have molded so many of their behaviors that it’s hard to believe an essentialist theory of men, which Vargas-Cooper seems to espouse, in the same way it’s hard to believe an essentialist theory of women. Food is at least as biologically basic as sex, and look what we’ve done with our behaviors around that.

I’d like for us to look at the world together and figure out how to make it better. There are benefits to having children when the father and mother are both young. So we need to think about how to integrate that with jobs. And any serious changes there run afoul of our current market-based monasticism, of which the academic 24/7 is only one manifestation. That’s the long struggle. My sense of younger men is that they’re much more likely to join in such an effort than men of my age were.

For many of the problems described in those reviews, I’ll point out something we recognized early on in the second wave: If you don’t want to be a sex object, don’t act like one.

I’m wondering if these are the first murmurings of a full-up backlash (fourth-wave feminism?) or just a bunch of people who are not happy with their lives.

Why Are We Still Talking About This?

Both Joe Lieberman and Condoleezza Rice want us to know that they still think Saddam Hussein had WMDs.

It's hard to know what to say about this, although the Armchair Generalist takes on Lieberman.

I think the mistake -- and this was a mistake -- was to put a spotlight simply on the weapons of mass destruction. I remember saying to -- to some senators when I was briefing them, the Russians have 10,000 times more WMD than Iraq has.
Um, no. There were no WMD. Rice blames the intelligence, which will irritate AG.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Good News For The New Medievalism!

The barons are back! We now have a private CIA and a private wiretapping service, supported by folks with big money! The wiretapping service is known to be supported by Baron Rupert Murdoch, but we don't yet know the names of the spy service supporters who are leading us into the bright new medievalism.

Parag Khanna is only one of the people joyfully pronouncing the return of the thirteenth century, although sometimes he confuses it with the twelfth. This is no small confusion and may account for why he thinks it's a good idea.

The more I think about it, the more this joyful welcoming of "The New Medievalism" seems to share some millenarian characteristics with some of the other highly optimistic politics we're seeing. In the case of The New Medievalism, every tribe and sect will have its own nation, and they will all live in peace, because they all will be true nation-states, the ethnic and national completely in tune.

Simply stating it like that shows how unlikely a positive outcome is. And the two examples I started with are one other aspect of the splitting of power. Khanna includes various sorts of organizations as players in his highly multipolar vision of the world; individuals with much money can amass much political power now, just as the barons of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries owned their serfs and their lands. Today, technology has its appeal as well.

As I noted before, states were consolidating in the thirteenth century, the opposite movement to what the neo-medievalists celebrate. The reasons for this were the competition for power, but an element of that was that local fighting between barons and the plundering of freebooters hindered larger competitions. One tribe or prince fighting another makes it easier for outsiders to gain power, and the more tribes and princes there are, the more fighting there will be, except, perhaps, in that millenarian world of The New Man.

In today's world, as well, individuals can amass wealth and power for their own purposes, which will run crosswise to those of states, tribes, and princes, bringing yet more disorder, which will be exploited by lesser thugs.

The movement toward smaller political units is not a historical inevitability, as the neo-medievalists would like to believe, but rather a result of human decisions made and can be reversed by the same means. Political decisions have handed vast sums of money to barons who have much money already, enabling them to build their empires. Restrictive laws on ownership of media have been eliminated, allowing consolidation by media barons. We can reverse those actions, too.

It is true that many boundaries in Africa and Asia were drawn by colonial powers for their own reasons, in many cases in conflict with the interests of the people living there. Perhaps there needs to be some fragmentation before a new consolidation can take place, we can hope more peacefully than in Europe in the thirteenth century.

But those who look forward to a world of ever-smaller states and ever-increasing numbers of barons need to look hard at the dreadful thirteenth century.

Yesterday's Birdcam Photos

I would very much like to get some photos, up close, of the birds on the ground. There are two problems with this: the tripod lifts the camera too high, and the birds aren't accustomed to the camera. They seem to be getting accustomed to the camera in the trees, or don't mind it if it's a bit camouflaged. So I'll try it in yesterday's position again today.

The height problem is harder to solve. I've done it partway by using the natural slope of the yard, but it might be better to find a way to set the camera on the ground without using the tripod. In any case, here's yesterday's full record.

Scrub jays like bread.

And a brave (but shadowed) junco.

Not close enough. I have an idea, though...

It's cloudy to the south, and clear to the north. Different weather on two sides of the house, as so often happens.

I'm not going to bore the blog with continued birdcam. Just thought you might like to see how yesterday's placement turned out.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


My Twitter friend @jfleck, who writes for the Albuquerque Journal, asked me to explain this birdcam I keep tweeting about and attaching pictures – mostly okay, sometimes good, sometimes terrible. So here goes.

Some long time ago, I used to write about nature in my yard. I was very lucky to get this house – in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, just above the Santa Fe Plaza, in the piñon-juniper zone. What was even more lucky was that the previous owner hadn’t done much to change what was in the yard. Yes, he had some flowerbeds built up, with added real soil on top of our sand-and-clay Santa Fe formation, but that was only in one part of the yard, and I like growing flowers too.

But the rest was pretty much the way it has been for centuries. Maybe a little messed with; my neighbor planted Russian olives in what she thought was her yard, only to find that it wasn’t. The dead log for erosion control and those trees formed a center for one of my cactus gardens. I’ve been finding plants in the yard that aren’t showy enough to appear in wildflower books but aren’t in Weeds of the West either. And of course there are cactuses, many of which are afflicted with cottony cushion scale, which occasionally makes it into my house.

I’ve been messing with the yard, but in a way that I think is more or less consistent with its more or less natural state. I’ve added cactuses and other plants. Just below my deck, I’ve got a gaudy rock garden with rocks I’ve collected in New Mexico and cactuses. It’s not complete, nor are the flower beds, which were choked with cheat grass when I first came. I’ve removed most of the cheat grass, though.

I’ve always enjoyed birds, since I was a child. My mother had feeders in the back yard and helped me to identify the birds that came. So I have feeders and birdbaths, a station in the front yard and one in back. As I got into photography, I acquired long lenses and tripods and made some good photos at the Bosque del Apache and Bitter Lakes wildlife refuges in New Mexico. That was when my car was the only one on the refuge at sunrise, with not many more at sunset. That’s changed. Some of those photos were pretty good, including a lovely series of an American Bittern, but they’re on film, along with my ten thousand or so other slides, and I have no idea when I’ll scan them. I am thinking more and more that I will pack up a bunch of slides and hand them to someone who I pay to scan them. But for now, they remain in their storage.

When I managed environmental cleanups at the Los Alamos National Laboratory back in the 1990s, my sites included some of the explosives areas, where very few people had set foot since the 1940s. So the Lab’s ecology group was very interested in what was setting foot back there and placed some cameras to see. Those cameras were actuated by a laser beam and used, of course, film. The ecology folks would go out a couple of times a week to collect the film. We saw foxes, raccoons, and one photo was just various shades of tan. We figured out that it was a mountain lion checking out the camera.

So when I saw ads for my very own backyard birdcam, movement and infrared actuated, digital of course, I was hooked. Then I needed a more weatherproof tripod than I’ve had. Now I try to get it out in the yard every day, and I download it regularly.

My prize bird has been a roadrunner who showed up around Christmas a few years back, using my backyard portál as a refuge from an enormous snow. She stuck around for a while, and I fed her sardines, cat food, and ground beef. She came back last year. I knew it was her, because she left an indicator of her request for food right where I used to put her food bowl. Roadrunners are strict carnivores – she had no interest whatsoever in anything that wan’t meat.

The ads for birdcams show beautiful photos, every feather clear, the birds perfectly posed, but it turns out that using a birdcam is trickier than that. I’m a look-through-the-lens sort of photographer who hasn’t yet mastered looking at a little computer screen on the back of an apparatus. The birdcam doesn’t even have that. It has a little laser that you point at what you want to be the middle of the photo when you set it up. So you have to guess at what will make a good photo, while recalling whether this good photo locale is a place that the birds have come to in the past. You can, of course, just throw some seed and old bread on the ground and point the birdcam at that (which I’ve done today), but even that gets tricky with camera angles and weird perspective.

It does occur to me that I can place the birdcam right up next to hummingbird feeders when the little guys arrive in April.

So I’m learning, and I’m sharing that learning via Twitter. The photo up top shows my backyard bird feeding area. The birdcam is to the right, angled down.

Here are some of the photos it's taken:

Piñon jay. We have a winter flock of about 100 that settle around my yard every so often.

Male northern flicker. The birds I most frequently see are house finches and flickers, the house finches because there are so many of them, and the flickers because they are big.

White-winged dove. The ground perspective on this one is quite distorted, so just look at the dove.

Red-breasted nuthatch. These have been my favorite birds since I was a little girl. The bird books place them as being fairly common in northern New Mexico, but I lived here a couple of decades before I saw one. And that year, they were on every tree on the mesas in Bandelier National Monument. Their numbers seem to vary enormously from year to year. This year is a good one; I've seen as many as four in my yard at one time, and I hear them frequently when I go out. Why do the numbers vary so much? One of the mysteries of ecology. Not a great photo, but the littler birds are harder to get.

The birdcam has a flash, which I haven't used much. I put the birdcam out in the morning, or when I get around to it, and leave it. The doves come around the feeding areas and particularly like to sit on the birdbaths, tails in (ugh), as the sun goes down. Might use that for night animals when it gets warmer.

The evening before, I forgot to shut the birdcam off before I brought it in and inadvertently got this nice shot of the sun setting over Mount Taylor and the Cerros del Rio.

I'm not a conventional birder. Birds are of the moment, one of the things nature gives us to teach us to live in the now. So I don't keep a life list. Another Twitter friend, @seanpaulkelley, pointed out an article about what is happening to birding. It's true that people have made birding into something other than what I do. I haven't been to Bosque del Apache in a very long time; too many people making too much noise. Although dawn is still not bad, and I suspect that Bitter Lakes still isn't overrun.

But I have my own yard, which I can manage my own way. And my birdcam.

I'm finding that I've moved from blogging my yard to tweeting it. If you want to follow me and the birdcam, I'm @cherylrofer. I tweet other things, too, but not an enormous volume.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bits and Pieces - January 21, 2011

I guess money trumps principle. Yes, I'm looking at you, Japan.

In a somewhat similar vein, we have yet another poll in which the American public expresses its desire to keep receiving the benefits of government without paying for them. David Leonhardt gives additional detail. Isn't it time for some politician to stand up and say it doesn't work that way?

This has been written in a number of places, but it's worth repeating: There was a good guy with a gun at the Tucson shooting, and he almost shot the wrong guy. More guns are not the answer.

Even Ron Brownstein is allowing himself to express frustration at Republican irresponsibility. Kevin Drum puts it nicely, but Brownstein's entire article is worth reading. This is consistent with what I've been saying is Obama's strategy: let the bastards hang themselves with their crazy. And it seems to be working.

How would Dan Savage advise Silvio Berlusconi?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Still Matters

When President George W. Bush decided to restart commerce in nuclear items with India, despite India's continuing refusal to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), despite its intention to keep building up its nuclear arsenal, and despite its announced unwillingness to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), he thought he could do it by twisting some international arms at the Nuclear Suppliers' Group and a few more arms in the US Congress. It was just a matter of treaties, and Bush and his neocon friends didn't much like treaties.

He managed to get all the paperwork passed by all the relevant organizations. I'm still wondering about Congress, but never mind that for now.

It turns out, though, that Japan and Australia think that treaties, in particular the NPT, matter. Japan builds reactor pressure vessels. Australia has the uranium that India needs. And both are refusing to sell those items to India until India fulfills the NPT requirements that Japan and Australia have signed on to. Japan also wants India to promise not to test nuclear weapons and perhaps to sign on to the CTBT as well.

We'll see if other nations join Japan and Australia or just decide that it's to their commercial benefit.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hate Will Suffice

When I posted this last month, before the Tucson shooting, it occurred to me that Robert Frost may have seen hate as cold as ice, but the hate in today's rhetoric seems to be what's on fire. What that leaves for love, it's hard to say.

That rightwing relative came alive with the shooting and demanded to know whether I had now given up on Paul Krugman, given that Krugman had been hateful and entirely wrong about the shooting. Or something like that. I find it hard to read an e-mail that comes out of nowhere, all accusation and anger, especially from someone I have loved, especially from someone I have begged to leave politics out of our communications.

It seems to me that too much of the talk so far about how our national discussion could be improved lacks an appreciation for the fire behind the hate and anger on the rightwing's side. And I understand where it's coming from no better than I did in December. The victimization, the insistence that it's you , horrible liberal, who is wrong and probably evil permeate the rhetoric of the usual suspects, whose names I've seen far too often. My relative referenced, proudly, his experience with Usenet flaming, and certainly the cheap tactics of repetitive accusation and implied evil on the part of one's opponent are part of that, but I reminded him that most discussion forums on the internet prohibit flaming. And for it to come out of nowhere, in response to no provocation at all, I will admit, is painful.

James Fallows has been considering what he prefers to call civility in discussion, but I'm afraid the problem goes far beyond that. Although a quote from H. L. Mencken in Fallows's latest post on the subject seems relevant.
[W]hen [a person] fights he fights in the manner of a gentleman fighting a duel, not in that of a longshoreman cleaning out a waterfront saloon. That is to say, he carefully guards his amour-propre by assuming that his opponent is as decent a man as he is, and just as honest -- and perhaps, after all, right.
Or, bringing it up to date, at the lowest level of a Usenet forum.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., touches on the hate in a personal way. Republican officials in Arizona are leaving their posts because of the hate.

There are undoubtedly other components of the vile mix. The Slactivist sees adolescent fantasy as part of it, and there's Roger Ailes's need to win at all costs, certainly part of the flaming mentality.
Your BlackBerry "pings" you with an intemperate e-mail from one of your fellow Americans, telling you that he's going to catch a plane from the heartland of our great homeland so he can find you among the rich and powerful there in New York City and kick your big Aeron-seated posterior. Would you answer him? Probably not — you would probably figure that the fellow had a bad day trying to make ends meet and leave it at that. Would you threaten the fellow back? Would you tell your fellow American that if he buys a ticket to New York City and tries to come up to see you at your well-guarded domicile in midtown Manhattan — and here we quote — "he shouldn't bother buying a return ticket because he'll never make it back home"? No, you wouldn't, because you're an American, and Americans don't threaten other Americans exercising the sacred right of free speech, no matter how intemperate they might be. But Roger Ailes would. Roger Ailes did. He did it time and again, fighting fire with fire, intemperately answering every intemperate e-mail that came his way with no insult or complaint beneath his notice, until his public-relations staff, fearing that the Ailesian e-mails might become public and that their boss was having too much fun, concluded that maybe giving a man like Roger Ailes a BlackBerry wasn't such a good idea after all.
It seems to me that what can drive a person like Jared Loughner to action is the hate. Not specific words, although he may well have focused on a particular person for reasons associated with words, but that hot, agitating feeling that something must be done to stop the evil. Jim Sleeper gives another example.

The Slactivist suggests an alternative, but so far, sadly, I haven't managed to communicate it to my relative.
There are few dragons here in the real world, but there are wounds that need binding, messes that need cleaning, houses that need building, children that need mentoring, elders that need respecting, stories that need telling, projects that need volunteers. With all the real problems of the real world, who has time for slaying imaginary dragons? Get them involved in reality and the fantasy can't compete.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bits and Pieces - January 17, 2011

Hillary Clinton's feminist foreign policy.

Replaying the sixties?

I think Krugman's got it right, but I keep wondering whether the Republicans are dumb or mendacious. And if the latter, why?

Salon retracts Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s article on vaccines and autism.

This is not true just of exploration biologists. I know an awful lot of scientists, including myself, who are quite willing to risk bodily harm for discovery. But otherwise, I'm relatively conservative in this respect. Don't like skiiing, driving fast on the highway, drinking too much. But I looked on acid and silver nitrate marks on my hands as badges.

Today's Other Anniversary

Besides commemorating Martin Luther King's birth, today is also the fiftieth anniversary of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell speech, in which he warned against the military-industrial complex. Andrew Bacevich discusses that speech, and another of Eisenhower's, which bracket his presidency.

In that other speech, just after the death of Stalin, Eisenhower offered the Soviet Union a five-point peace plan, which is worth considering today:
First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice.

Second: No nation's security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow-nations.

Third: Any nation's right to form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.

Fourth: Any nation's attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.

And fifth: A nation's hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations.
And Bacevich observes:
No doubt Dwight Eisenhower would sympathize with President Obama, having himself struggled to exercise the prerogatives ostensibly reserved to the chief executive. Yet Ike would hardly be surprised. He would reserve his surprise—and his disappointment—for the American people. A half century after he summoned us to shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship, we still refuse to do so.

Events In Israel - Updated 1/18/11

Some long time ago, which I can't easily find in the Phronesisaical archives, I suggested that President Obama is playing a long game with Israel, whose outlines will necessarily not be made public.

It looks to me like some of that may be playing out. The New York Times tells us about how Stuxnet was developed, although Jeffrey Carr casts some doubt on the accuracy of that account. Either way, and even if Stuxnet had nothing to do with Iran's centrifuge problems, Obama's urging the Israelis to hold off their attack on Iran has bought the requisite time.

And something else is going on in Israel, of which Ehud Barak's resignation as defense minister may be only the tip of the iceberg. This was not expected. It's hard to see how this will be as good a thing for Binyamin Netanyahu as he is painting it, but internal Israeli politics frequently surprise me.

From Israel's far right, there have been various comments about the ill portents of the revolution in Tunisia. Radical islamists might just seize power, and the dictator we know appears to be better for this Israeli faction than the democracy we don't know. Of course, it's not at all clear how things will settle out in Tunisia.

The Palestinian flag will be raised in Washington for the first time tomorrow, in an upgrading of Washington's recognition of the Palestine mission to the US.

It's still not possible to see the full outline of the administration's strategy, and, obviously, not all of these events can be credited to the administration. But a smart strategy will allow them to take advantage of events as they occur.

Update (1/18/11): Daniel Levy does a much better job than the NYT of explaining the politics of Barak's leaving the Labor Party.

Ōhelo ʻai (Vaccinium reticulatum)

"The fierce urgency of now"

We are faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’ - Martin Luther King
[Cribbed from Joe Romm]

No "Iranian Chernobyl"

The sensationalist right-wing columnist for London's Telegraph, Con Coughlin, has a story today claiming that "Russian scientists Russian scientists warned the Kremlin that they could be facing 'another Chernobyl' if they were forced to comply with Iran's tight deadline to activate the complex this summer." (via @blakehounshell)

It's possible they said that, although the piece is Coughlin's usual stew of inference and anonymous sources. But if it was scientists using that word, they were using it figuratively.

The Russians at the Bushehr plant want more time to determine, and fix, the damage done by the Stuxnet worm. They say they are also concerned about the Iranians' attitudes toward safety.

The entire history of the collaboration between the Russians and the Iranians on the Bushehr plant has been uneasy. The Russians have delayed multiple times because of Iran's nonpayment and for other reasons not made public.

But another Chernobyl - no. Maybe another Three-Mile Island, under the very worst of circumstances.

The Chernobyl reactor was an entirely different type from the Bushehr reactor, an RBMK versus a VVER. The RBMK has a design flaw that was a central part of the Chernobyl failure: its rate of nuclear reactions increases under circumstances when it should decrease. No other reactor in use today has this flaw. The Bushehr reactor also has a containment dome that the Chernobyl reactor lacked, round-topped structure in the picture. That should be reinforced concrete. So if a meltdown happened, the products would be contained, as they were at Three Mile Island.

Stuxnet is reported to have been designed to damage the turbines at Bushehr. That makes sense; what the turbines have in common with centrifuges is that both rotate at high speeds, and having those speeds jerked around will damage them, perhaps make them fly apart. The turbines at Bushehr are run by a secondary steam circuit, which means that they are not directly connected to the reactor; they most likely are in a separate building, probably that rectangular one to the right of the reactor dome. So a failure of the turbines, even a catastrophic one, should have little effect on the reactor other than to shut it down.

It might well be that the Russians used the word "Chernobyl," but if they did, it would have been in a figurative manner: very bad publicity for Russia associated with a reactor. But there would be no radioactively smoking ruin, as there was at Chernobyl.

Picture from Power Technology.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stuxnet: Next Move

Gary Sick speculates on a number of things I've been thinking about the New York Times article on the US-Israeli collaboration on Stuxnet. He's wondering what the Iranian response will be.
Just put yourself in Iran’s shoes:

You have just been notified unequivocally that the United States and Israel have declared war on you and have successfully carried out a first strike. The debate about whether or not to launch a strike against Iran has been answered — just not in the way most people expected, with bombs.

This comes just a few days before you sit down to negotiate with Americans and others over your nuclear program. Will you be intimidated and therefore demonstrate more willingness to compromise? Or will you play either a stalling game or perhaps a more belligerent game until you can improve your negotiating position?

From this point on, will you be more or less likely to cooperate with the IAEA? Will the Non-proliferation Treaty (in which Iran agreed not to build a nuclear weapon in return for international protection against any nuclear powers) seem like a reassurance or a threat?

Will you retaliate by launching a cyber counter-attack against one or more large U.S. facilities (dams, power plants, refineries, public utilities, nuclear facilities, etc.) which, as the NYT story acknowledges, are known to be vulnerable to cyber attack. Although Iran’s capabilities are hugely overshadowed by those of the United States and Israel, cyber warfare may be an attractive way to level the playing field — the ultimate in asymmetric warfare. U.S. interests, of course, are not all located in the continental United States.

Will you (Iran) cut back your nuclear development or double down on your efforts? (Part of the answer to that question depends on resources. If Iran has been holding back, which is not impossible, then it has some capacity to actually speed up its efforts; if Iran has few or no intellectual, material and scientific reserves, its choices may be quite limited; that seems to be the working assumption of the authors of the worm.)

How does the Iranian leadership now deal with the faction that has been arguing in favor of going for a bomb (rather than just building a break out capacity)? Are the hardliners weakened by this or strengthened? Has the Green Movement and the reformist opposition been strengthened or weakened by this?
I don't have answers to much of this. My general inclination is that Iran will be less likely to negotiate and generally uncooperative, but that depends on internal Iranian politics and the perception of the players of losing face and many other variables.

I'm wondering about motivations in the US, particularly for those who cooperated with the Times reporters. Some of the material in the article must be classified. So either someone talked inappropriately or the administration was happy to have the information leaked. We're not hearing anything that would indicate either of these alternatives is the case, like a great uproar about unauthorized release of classified information. But there could be quiet or an uproar whether the administration leaked the information or not. That would depend on the message they wanted to send, both to unauthorized leakers and to the Iranians.

If the administration was okay with the leak, they are sending a message of strength with an indication that they don't want war. It leaves open the possibility that other worms have been developed. And in that case, they are calculating that Iran will become more, not less, cooperative in view of the US and Israeli capabilities. It leaves open the question of attack, although the public discussion would lead Iran (and the rest of us) to believe that attack is less imminent than it might have been a year ago, although the Israeli talk then could have been posturing. Complicating things is whatever might be going on between the US and Israel relative to a settlement with the Palestinians, which could include statements by the US of unacceptable Israeli actions.

If they're not okay with the leak, there would be no reason to make that public. Iran now knows of US and Israeli involvement, although they must have suspected that. If an investigation is necessary, it will be conducted quietly. We might not even hear when the leaker is fired.

Another thing I've wondered about is whether clandestine nuclear commerce connections can be traced by the spread of Stuxnet. India, Indonesia, and other countries have reported Stuxnet. It is reported to be spread by thumb drives. We don't know how it got into Iran, whether the infection spread from those other countries or the other way around. But those who spread it do know the route of infection and therefore may be able to get additional information about the underground nuclear network.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mental Illness, Community, and Guns

There's been quite a bit of second-guessing as to what Pima Community College or anyone else might have done to respond to Jared Loughner's behavior. The signs of mental illness seem to have been there.

Unfortunately, the past few days have yielded another example as resistant to simple solutions as Jared Loughner's. I would like for the differences to be instructive, but it's not at all evident we can learn anything.

Richard Morse was a physicist at Los Alamos, a designer of nuclear weapons, and, IIRC, the Division Leader of the Physics Division. Overnight Wednesday and Thursday of this week, he held an armed standoff with police from his Bathtub Row house. He was taken without gunfire and is now on his way to have his mental state evaluated. Three guns and a thousand rounds of ammunition were found in the house.

I never knew Morse very well, although most of us who lived in Los Alamos when he was working there at least had heard each other's names.

Two or three years back, he came, in the company of a couple of friends, to a public meeting I was chairing. He stood up during the question period and made an incoherent speech. The friends urged him to sit down. Another Lab retiree attended the meeting, who was slipping into the grip of Alzheimer's disease. He asked his question, the same question, a few times.

The wife of the Alzheimer's victim had contacted me earlier and explained the situation. She wanted him to have as normal a life as possible, which included coming to our meetings and asking questions. There had been rumors about Morse, too, and I think nobody attending the meeting was offended or wanted to shut down either of them. Los Alamos is a small community in both good and bad ways.

So Morse had the support of friends in the community who probably had a pretty good idea of his problems. And still, this week he had some kind of break that occasioned the police standoff. What made it particularly dangerous was that had guns and lived in the center of town.

Bathtub Row (recently made the official name of the street) is a group of stone, southwest-architecture houses that were the homes of faculty at the Los Alamos Ranch School, the residents of the mesa before the Manhattan Project. During the Manhattan Project, the higher-ups, like J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director, lived in those homes, which were the only housing to have bathtubs, hence the name.

Community support wasn't enough. Many of the medications for psychosis have terrible side effects, which is why patients stop taking them. But we could make sure that delusional people don't get guns. Unfortunately, there seems to be no indication that this will happen.

Props to McCain

A step back from the precipice for McCain:
Our political discourse should be more civil than it currently is, and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so. It probably asks too much of human nature to expect any of us to be restrained at all times by persistent modesty and empathy from committing rhetorical excesses that exaggerate our differences and ignore our similarities. But I do not think it is beyond our ability and virtue to refrain from substituting character assassination for spirited and respectful debate.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bits and Pieces for the Weekend

Driving the Karakoram Highway.

Here are some thoughts that are relevant to our latest discussion, for which I would like to thank the participants. I have some further thoughts, but it's been a busy week, and I may not get around to writing them up.

I can't recall if I've mentioned it here, but I bought a birdcam a while back and am finally starting to get some reasonably interesting photos. Here's one of a female Northern Flicker.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The State Will Wither Away...

It's occurred to me on and off that one characteristic of what we might call millenarian political movements is the prediction/desire that the state will disappear. The more pragmatic among us recognize that there are always going to be differences between individuals, and someone needs to be an arbiter, besides providing some goods that are not easily apportioned among their users, like roads and schools.

But there's this longing for all of us to just get along and not have to worry about that superstructure and apparatus that is required to maintain order and keep the snow plowed. Someone sitting in an office? Never mind that they're coordinating the snow plows, that must be a sign of our tax dollars going to waste. And then we can complain that the streets weren't plowed.

One of the commenters at Balloon Juice touched on the subject again, this time with Sarah Palin as exemplar. Presumably this vision of a no-goverment world has clouds for footings, with harps and white robes assigned to all. (But who assigns them? Oh noes!)

I'm reading Bruce Lincoln's The Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and The Russians, and I've gotten to the part where the guys who believed that government would wither away are doing what they felt were the preliminaries to that withering. Of course, they were faced with the ugly practicalities and did their best. Marx had expected his preferred forms of government come to an industrially advanced country, like Germany. But the opportunities (and opportunists) arose in underdeveloped Russia, which had been badly governed for some long time. It turns out that even when you decapitate a state, as the Bolsheviks did in 1918, some of that state's bad characteristics remain. We can still see remnants of them today in Russia, one of the possible barriers to that withering away. So millions of uncooperative people who wouldn't wither away were sent to slave labor camps in Russia's taiga and Arctic to die miserable deaths. That's one way to do it.

So were the Bolsheviks mistaken about that withering away, or were they simply opportunists with a good line? How about Marx? And how about today's Libertarians, Tea Partiers, and others who would like to drown the state in a bathtub? Come to think of it, that's a more violent way of putting the Bolshevik vision.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bits and Pieces - January 11, 2011

Or 1/11/11, or 11/1/11, depending on where you live.

Community on a micro scale in Tucson. And the macro scale in Arizona. Arizona and New Mexico were admitted to the Union at the same time, in 1912. I've recently read that the requirements for Arizona's joining were different from New Mexico's, more about keeping the natives down and making sure the white folks were safe. New Mexico was allowed to continue its (relative) tolerance among Spanish, Indian, and Anglos. One might ask if this experiment shows something about the stability of multicultural groups. I need to do more research on this.

Jonathan Chait repeats what Helmut highlighted:
The left-wing version came to the fore during the 1960s, but it is tiny and almost completely disconnected from Democratic politics. The right-wing version, on the other hand, is drawing ever more tightly into an embrace with putatively respectable Republican politics.
A good thought on possible reaction to the shooting:
We all lose an element of freedom when security considerations distance public officials from the people. Therefore, it is incumbent on all Americans to create an atmosphere of civility and respect in which political discourse can flow freely, without fear of violent confrontation.
Some considerations if you're going to argue "both sides do it." Via.

Turning to other news, a good observation on playing budget chicken:
No matter who's doing it, it's dangerous and irresponsible to refuse to raise the debt limit. The time for lawmakers to exercise fiscal restraint is when they're voting on budget resolutions, appropriations and tax bills, not when they're deciding whether to honor America's debts.
Organized labor played an important part in preventing the vast economic inequalities we now see in America. But it's unlikely to make a comeback. What else might function as that kind of balancing wheel?

It's going to be really awful when socialized medicine imposes long waits and bureaucratic nonsense on us. Oh, wait!

Moore's Law for Empires.

Good summary of North Korea's nuclear technology by Siegfried Hecker, who's seen it.

There have been protest riots in Tunisia and Algeria over the past week or two. Juan Cole provides some details, and Marc Lynch (among others) wonders if this will lead to changes in governance, by violence or by changes made by those in power.

Moreton Bay Fig


George Packer concedes that George W. Bush was the subject of vile liberal rhetoric, but notes the unmissable scale of the difference:
Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.
The right and the left both have intemperate voices. But here's the key: only the conservative movement counts the most vile blowhards as leading lights, embraced by the leadership. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Sarah Palin: these are among the most popular conservatives in America. Who are the folks on the left with equivalent popularity and influence?
When I've asked friends on the right, in response to their "everyone does it, on both the left and the right" assertions, just who on the political, cultural, and mass-media left are the equivalent "intemperate voices," I get answers like: Maxine Waters, or sometimes Al Gore or Keith Olbermann. I know I take my marching orders from Maxine Waters and wait on tenterhooks for Olbermann's analysis in order to know what to think. How about you?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Guns, Words, and Thoughts - Continued

Yesterday's post was, as so many of mine are, a set of thoughts in progress. I'll build on them and, partially, on Andy's comment.

What I'm concerned about is the effect of so much about guns in our national dialog on our (my!) thinking and potentially on a disturbed young man's thinking. I'm not thinking about gun laws as much as what all this gun stuff does to us.

The primary purpose of guns is damaging and killing animals and people. That's it. Punching holes in paper is a means to that end, and some may stop there. The guns in Andy's collection wouldn't be there except for that primary purpose, because they wouldn't have been built strictly as art objects. Skillful engineering and the history of its progress is to be admired and, at times, collected. My father collected typewriters for many of the same reasons. But a collection of typewriters doesn't present the same hazards that a collection of guns (or swords, or bows and arrows) does. They have different primary purposes.

Furthermore, guns make their purpose much easier to achieve than do other weapons. That was brought home to me in that target practice. My ranged weapon had been a rather old wooden longbow, not today's gun-like metal recurved, levered, and spring-loaded bows. It takes time to learn the flight angle of an arrow from what I still consider to be a real bow and how to draw and release so that you don't mess it up.

But a gun! Essentially flat trajectory of the bullet and much smaller angle between eye and aim. Use the muscle discipline you've learned for bow and arrow, and it's easy.

And the connection between guns and masculinity is real. As the national dialog focuses on that connection, or is motivated by it, it impoverishes the creativity and generativity that also is tightly connected to masculinity.

So we come to believe that military force will fix anything. Just look at those guys, duded up like superheroes! And, of course, those superheroes fix everything in no time at all! (Just wondering if all the troubles of "Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark" could be taken as a metaphor for pushing that sort of masculinity to its absurd end.) Or we can revisit the relationship among sex, war, and death.

Or we can't have gun laws because that would emasculate all the "good" gun owners. I'm being glib there, of course, and NRA money is involved in the politics of gun laws. If there were a public reaction against the crazy idea that assault weapons, whose primary purpose is killing humans, not animals, should be available to everyone, the politics might come out differently. But supporting such a thing has been made to seem weak, not masculine.

And it oozes into other kinds of politics. Playing chicken is a well-known pastime of late adolescent males, high in testosterone. Lindsey Graham, who once seemed like a reasonable Republican, is now playing chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States, the country he claims to love. Is that to keep ahead of a Tea Party primary opponent or because some of the internet gossip suggests he's gay? Would it make a difference?

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Guns, Words, and Thoughts

I guess if I'm a blogger, I've got to opine on yesterday's shootings in Arizona. A lot has been said already, some worth reading and some not. Clearly Jared Lee Loughner is mentally disturbed. But mental disorders take certain directions depending on the environment, and there's been plenty to point him toward shooting up a political gathering lately.

We can expect to hear more about the gun he used and how he got it. I really, really wonder about why guns are so important to so many Americans. I had a male friend who felt I needed a gun. We went out to a quarry for target practice. I had a fair bit of archery experience and was delighted to learn that ranged weapons have some similarities. In fact, guns are ever so much easier to aim than bows and arrows. He noted that my first target practice was much better than his, and somehow the subject of my putative safety never came up again.

There is a lot of psychological baggage attached to guns, and we would do well to understand it. I don't hear many jokes any more about guns as phallic symbols. Perhaps that's become a cliche, but it also appears to be a real connection. So Democrats become wimps for wanting to limit gun ownership to, oh let's say the mentally capable. Everyone needs a gun!

Well, Freud's followers eventually figured out that half the human race does quite nicely without their gun substitutes.

But if you convince yourself by whatever means that a (real) gun is necessary for your safety, then you need a gun. And once you have a gun, you think more about how you might use it. That's important, because on the real side of gun ownership, there's a fair bit to know about handling and maintaining a complex and dangerous mechanism. Guns are meant to damage and kill people and animals. It's important to understand that to handle them safely.

The more you think about your gun, the more you are likely to think about the situations in which you might have to use it, in which you might be threatened by others with guns. And that sort of thinking makes the world seem more dangerous and guns more necessary. Of course, there are other ways to deal with a dangerous world, like laws and various other precautions, but if you hold and cannot change the idea that you are all alone and the only one responsible for your safety and others, then your options will focus more closely on guns.

So it's a self-reinforcing cycle. Aided and abetted by other things you might think, like that immigrants and socialists and liberals and communists are out to get you, as is reiterated over and over again, repetitively, on rightwing talk radio and Fox News. And 99% or more of what they say isn't true. So why are they saying it? That's a hard question. People I like and respect believe things that come from the rightwing media and politicos that simply aren't true.

Another lesson from this is that making shit up is okay. That message gets through too and frequently shows up in the methods of argumentation used by rightwingers. Like Bill O'Reilly's proof of the existence of God by tidal action. Say anything to shut up the opposition. And, apparently, it worked for O'Reilly in that tv show, even if the bloggers seem to have had the last word.

All this repeated by the rightwing media - guns give you control, the commies are out to get you, and whatever you want to believe is true - doesn't do much good for anyone's mind. It doesn't do any good at all for democratic governance. And it could have a bad effect on a young man whose grip on reality was none too sure.