Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Good News, But Not For the Police

There were no car burglaries in Santa Fe over the weekend. You would think that would be good news, and Geoff Grammer reports in The New Mexican that the police accede to this judgement. But they're still disappointed.

It seems that they set up a big SUV full of electronics and left it in the Walmart parking lot. Watched, of course, in the expectation that somebody would take advantage and could easily be swooped up and brought to justice.

Another sting. Like those FBI informers who ingratiate themselves with would-be terrorists and show them how to get the stuff to make bombs.

It's probably not all bad to warn the would-be burglars that unlocked SUVs full of tempting stuff may be a trap. But the non-burgling happened before we all knew that.

The Santa Fe police have broken a couple of theft rings in recent months. That probably has more to do with the weekend's absence of burgling than this bright sting idea. Real police work does make a difference.

Friday, November 25, 2011

An Update on Nature's Sexism

Apparently Nature intends to stand by its editor and his buddy who wrote that sexist fiction piece. They haven't come out with any official public statement. And the fiction author continues to tell the rest of the world they're wrong - he's a nice guy and everything he said is entirely legitimate and the rest of us should just shut up.

No, I'm not going to link to any of the depressing swill. One of the hypotheses is that they're doing it as linkbait, which seems a cheap tactic for one of the world's foremost scientific publications.

But I have to wonder if some clicks are worth looking like retrograde jerks.

The good part of this furore has been that I've found Paleontologist Barbie and Michael Eisen's blog.

A Further Thought on Black Friday

And I see others are having it too.

Kevin Drum traces this use of the term back to 1985, as that decline of the middle class was becoming obvious. It's probably also got to do with the rise of WalMart, which always seems to be the scene of Black Friday tramplings and now pepper spraying.

Many societies have found pleasure in watching the lower classes fighting each other. Slaves in the Roman coliseum, for one example. So today we have Black Friday.

Angry Black Lady points this out.

And a tweet from @rationalists:

We need to make this a meme.

Bits and Pieces - Black Friday Edition

I keep wondering if others see the term "Black Friday" in any positive light. The "Black Day" phrase has been connected to bad events far too uniformly for me to feel good about it. And I hate shopping crowds, so there is nothing about today's shopping events that seems good to me.

Helmut has already linked the pepper spray incident in California. All's fair in shopping!

Kevin Drum, who seems as puzzled as I am about the nomenclature, tries to find how this linguistic perversion originated.

Also in the realm of vicious stupidity: commerce in chicken-pox-infected lollypops and infection parties. The authorities may be cracking down on these illegal activities.

Hard to tell whether this is good or bad: Nobody misses Murdoch's News of the World, but does it mean that newspapers are nonessential? And we may speculate what would happen if the Murdoch pox infects Fox News.

And a slide show of more attractive (at least on the outside) public toilets.

Onion-as-Reality Alert

A woman shot pepper spray to keep shoppers from merchandise she wanted during a Black Friday sale, and 20 people suffered minor injuries, authorities said. The incident occurred shortly after 10:20 p.m. Thursday in a crowded Los Angeles-area Walmart as shoppers hungry for deals were let inside the store. [Link]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bits and Pieces - November 22, 2011

Many thanks to The Reaction for pointing out that this song (which I mildly liked at the time) is sung by the two guys who became known as Simon and Garfunkel. The record would have been a 45, though, with a bigger hole in the center.

An interactive map of US highway deaths. There really are a lot.

This is wonky and a bit convoluted, but the bottom line is clear: if you don't want your infrastructure hacked, insert an air gap. In other words, don't connect it to the internet!

Preparing for tonight's Republican debate: questions from Thomas Fingar, a China expert, and Jon Huntsman tries to get a leg up by writing a coherent article.

A reminder that we do have someone competent in foreign policy running things, and why he'll probably win next year.

Since this post is on what some have called "the nuclear taboo," and since this one of this blog's topics is philosophy, let's put in a few seconds of thinking about that. There are some very good points made in the comments that the idea that nuclear war is a bad idea does not amount to a taboo. And, in any case, it appears that many Americans have a fairly low threshold for using nuclear weapons.

Handling Protest

President Obama is confronted with the human microphone:

Watch how he handles it: He lets the protesters have their say until opposition to them builds, then asks that they let him have his say and says he'll be glad to talk to them later.

Recommended viewing for university chancellors and police everywhere.

Speaking of whom, Lieutenant John Pike of the University of California, Davis, police has achieved internet immortality.

Update: And now, reviews of pepper spray on Amazon!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Heat's Heat

Via here, via MT, via FB

And here's a fuller version of the Scoville scale so that you can compare your favorite pepper to getting blasted in the face with a little Standard U.S. Grade FN 303 by the mighty blue of UC-Davis, NYC, or Oakland. Personally, I like a few dabs of Madam Jeanette under my eyelids with my morning coffee.

Scoville RatingType of Pepper
15,000,000 - 16,000,000Pure capsaicin (Unavailable through a natural grown plant and is only synthetically developed)
8,600,000 - 9,100,000Various capsaicinoids (e.g. homocapsaicin, homodihydrocapsaicin, norhydrocapsaicin) (Unavailable through a natural grown plant and is only synthetically developed)
2,000,000 - 5,300,000Standard U.S. Grade pepper stray, FN 303 irritant ammunition (Unavailable through a natural grown plant and is only synthetically developed)
855,000 - 1,050,000Bhut Jolokia aka Naga Jolokia (Hottest naturally grown pepper)
350,000 - 580,000Red Savina Habanero
100,000 - 350,000Habanero chili, Scotch Bonnet Pepper, Datil Pepper, Rocoto, Jamaican Hot pepper, African Birdseye, Madame Jeanette
50,000 - 100,000Thai Pepper, Malagueta Pepper, Chiltepin Pepper, Pequin Pepper
30,000 - 50,000Cayenne Pepper, Aji Pepper, Tabasco Pepper, some Chipotle pepper
10,000 - 23,000Serrano Pepper, some Chipotle peppers
2,500 - 8,000Jalapeño Pepper, Guajillo pepper, New Mexican varieties of Anaheim pepper, Paprika (Hungarian wax pepper)
500 - 250Anaheim pepper, Poblano pepper, Rocotillo Pepper
100 - 500Pimento, Pepperoncini
0No heat, Bell pepper

Saturday, November 19, 2011

One of These is Wrong

Recent police violence: videos from Garance Franke-Ruta.

It's the 148th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettsburg Address. That's where the phrase "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" comes from.

Nature Jumps Into the Sexism Morass

I saw this the other day, read the first few sentences and couldn't figure out what was going on. Or didn't want to believe that Nature, the premier British scientific journal, was publishing adolescent male musing on how different the female sex really is. But there it is. I found this today, from the Journal of Are You Fucking Kidding, of which the editor-in-commandant is apparently a sister chemist. So I went back to Nature, and indeed, the gameboy stuff was still there.

The writer wrote it, and he is defending it in the comment thread, apparently learning nothing on the way. An editor, probably more than one, had to approve it, which meant that they found nothing wrong with it and presumably liked it better than other things they might have published in its place. And it's fiction. I didn't know that Nature published fiction, so it seems that some special exception must have been made for the brilliance of this piece. (That's sarcasm; I'm feeling like the naivete is so thick that I have to explain every little thing.)

That sequence attests to a thoroughgoing sexism, apparently invisible to all involved.

And oh yes, it was written tongue-in-cheek, ha ha, the author tells us, so it's your fault, you sourpuss feminists, if you don't get it. No humor, ha ha.

All this stuff, as the editor-in-commandant is saying, is so old, it's hard to believe that the boys at Nature aren't aware of it. I think that's a big part of my disbelief. They've been hidden away in their labs and missed the last fifty years, I guess.

Update: Oh my, I see I'm quite late to this discussion. I'm still having a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that Nature actually published something so juvenile.

Mas: Scientific American is published by the Nature Publishing Group. But they've posted two of the best responses to Nature's idiocy, by Christie Wilcox and Janet Stemwedel. There is also a Twitter hashtag, #womenspace, for those who follow such things.

I simply could not imagine doing any better than this.

Womandate 11/20/11: Nature seems to have This masterpiece has been regendered. I have to admit that I thought about doing that myself, but I had several more important things to do, like removing the soaker hoses from the flowerbeds and setting up the heated birdbath. The regendering, which seems to consist only of replacing male names and pronouns with their female equivalents, shows even more vividly how poorly written this piece is and fails to do much more. Even the comments have been regendered. Given what I've read about Nature's editor, the man responsible for publishing the original idiocy, I suspect that this was his brilliant idea too. I was thinking of a more elaborate regendering, in which reversed sex roles might even generate a bit of satire. But I think I'll go wash out the summer birdbath instead.

I am told, via Twitter, that this is an automated function at regender.com. I'll stick with my comments above as modified.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bits and Pieces - November 18, 2011

I think we need to continue to hear about that Norwegian massacre last spring, but I'd also like to hear about how the Norwegian people are recovering. The American MSM aren's much covering either.

This isn't good. OTOH, doesn't seem like there's much of a move toward intervention in Syria anyway.

The legions and the auxiliaries in Rome and America.

Are psychologists sexing up their research?

Seymour Hersh makes his case on Iran. I don't entirely agree with it, but it's a clear and honest exposition.

Mehdi Hasan makes a case for diplomacy with Iran that's been made many times before, but worth repeating.

And there's much more on Iran at Nuclear Diner, both links and my commentary.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Kind of Innovation Do We Need?

The Atlantic's website is featuring a section on innovation. I would like to subscribe only to certain parts of that website, but that doesn't seem to be possible, so I'm getting this innovation stuff too.

I grew up during the fifties and sixties, so I was as wide-eyed about innovation and space and transistors and computers and cars and neat stuff as any math-crazy young girl of that period. It was a good time, and new stuff was coming thick and fast.

That period put the shine on the word innovation. Innovation really did make our lives better. People made money on innovation, and they have continued to do so since then. Innovation has even reached out into our financial markets, helping to crater them, and still the word shines.

It means making something new, of course, but it has become our modern version of what the Victorians were pleased to call progress and what is now called the Whig version of progress. Ever onward and upward.

The Atlantic series is focused on new gadgets, the iPhone squared or cubed, and all the ways they will make things better, just like the flying cars that the 1950s expected for us today.* It's delightful, of course, to think about new gadgets, but most of us don't know how to use all of what we've got now, nor do we need to. Watching television on a hand-held device is not a giant step for humankind.

Part of this Whig version of innovation is the myth of the single (male) inventor. It was good to see Vaclav Smil debunk this today. The Atlantic series has been unrelentingly male. They are, of course, our innovators, if by innovator you mean guys who fit this stereotype of the heroic guy working alone to perfect the lightbulb or iPhone. Which, Smil points out, is hardly ever in fact the case.

When the series started, it occurred to me that we need innovation very badly indeed, and the good words sprayed around by a national magazine in the way that national magazines do when telling us what a great series they're going to run, when I skimmed them, looked like the series might address the innovation I thought we need.

The innovation I was thinking about was the innovation needed to deal with the too-high unemployment rate, the dead-end politics being pursued by too many in Congress, the undue influence of money in politics, and the renewal of the country's infrastructure. The crisis in the European Union, the slide of Russia back toward centuries-old attitudes that have kept Russia from reaching its potential, the religious extremism of Israel and Iran. Those lists are not exhaustive.

How do we think up new things, particularly in human relations, in the systems we use for governance, the repetitive behaviors and intransigences, the ignoring of the obvious? The same way we think up iPhones or new designs of milk-bottle caps? It may be, but there has been no attempt to consider this in the Atlantic. Almost certainly these problems will need the cooperative, incremental approach that Smil describes, not a hero swooping in with One Good Idea.

In fact, isn't that the model that the Republican candidates used far too many times in their debate on Saturday to look at foreign policy? Bomb Iran before it gets a nuclear weapon. Zero-base foreign aid. Back to torture. Oversimplified, independent of realities, each candidate a hero.

The easy road is the one the Atlantic has taken. Innovation good, get many clicks. A more thoughtful approach to the innovation we need probably wouldn't have had as many cool photos, as many search-engine-friendly words. Too bad.
* I make broad generalizations about the Atlantic series which may or may not be true. They are my impressions from skipping past most of the articles in my Google Reader. I don't have the stomach to go to the series and count up articles of various types.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Vyacheslav Danilenko, Nuclear Weapons Scientist?

Juan Cole questions the accuracy of the IAEA report on Iran. “A key allegation in the IAEA report on Iranian nuclear activities has fallen apart,” he says. He bases this claim on an article by Gareth Porter, which supposedly shows that “Vyacheslav Danilenko, a Russian scientist referred to without being identified in the report, is not a nuclear weapons expert.” Instead, Cole says, “His field is nanotechnology (making tiny machines), and Iran has been looking into making diamonds with nanotechnology, bypassing the middle man.”

Cole’s concern is understandable, given the way the Iraq war was sold. A number of circumstances are different this time: the Obama administration is not explicitly looking for war as was the case with the Bush administration, and this report comes from an international body, the IAEA, rather than the American government. But let’s take the most suspicious viewpoint and insist that a serious error would open questions of competence and veracity.

Cattley Guava

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bits and Pieces - November 13, 2011

CBS did a poll on the topics covered in Saturday night's Republican debate before the debate. The country doesn't agree with the candidates.

Photos of a new volcanic island growing off El Hierro in the Canary Islands.

A really good review by Henry Kissinger of a new biography of George Kennan by John Lewis Gaddis.

Resources on Fukushima from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

How scientists react to popularizations of science - in this case, archaeologists.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dennis Ross Stepping Down

Dennis Ross has advised a number of presidential administrations on Middle East affairs. He is definitely of the neocon persuasion, and how to deal with Iran seems to have been mostly his baliwick.

Something I've been thinking of posting on has been my puzzlement over what seems to be an unnecessarily rigid aproach to a number of issues in the Middle East. This won't be that post, and I'll stick to Iran, since that's been so much in the news lately.

There has been little creativity from a president who, when he was campaigning, said he was willing to talk to Iran's president without preconditions. That hasn't happened, of course, and the precondition of Iran's ceasing to enrich its nuclear material remains.

It can be argued that that precondition is something that the United Nations insists on as well, although the way those United Nations resolutions were passed came from a United States, under the Bush administration, that wanted justification very badly for that precondition. Unfortunately, removing that precondition would now send a message of weakness to a stubborn and volatile Iranian government.

But I used the word creativity because the essence of diplomacy is finding ways around difficult situations like this.

It's highly likely that that sort of diplomacy went unpracticed because preconditions were just fine with Dennis Ross. As the articles I'll link at the end of this post note, his ideas are held more broadly in the administration, so it seems doubtful that much will change.

While Israel has been indulging in histrionics the past few weeks in preparation for the quarterly International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran, the US administration has been quiet and continues to be, now that the report has been issued.

Come to think of it, perhaps Ross's resignation in this quiet time signifies a disagreement with that quiet policy. It is a welcome change from some of the judgementalism that has been displayed in the past. And, now that the report is out, Israel seems to be quietening down too.

Iran is a difficult nation to deal with. It has its own internal splits and a complicated governing structure that makes those splits difficult to interpret. Its policy toward the United States has been hostile since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Apparent breakthroughs in the nuclear negotiations have fallen apart for unobvious reasons. So that leaves sanctions. China and Russia are unlikely to agree to UN-sponsored increases in sanctions, so the United States is considering unilateral sanctions and which other countries might be induced to join.

Sanctions are a frustrating means of dealing with another country. Their effect is long-term and the connection between sanctions and results is not obvious. But Paul Pillar argues persuasively that it was sanctions that caused South Africa and Libya to give up their nuclear programs.

So perhaps the sanctions, combined with negotiation when it is possible, will eventually result in a favorable outcome with Iran. That would be reducing the danger that now exists that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon; it would not necessarily mean the end of their enrichment program. That program might be internationalized as a production center for fuel for civilian reactors of many nations. A favorable outcome would also include Iran's making their information on their work on nuclear weapons related subjects available to the IAEA and allowing their inspectors greater freedom at its nuclear facilities.

On Dennis Ross: Michael Hirsh and Noam Sheizaf.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Bits and Pieces - November 9, 2011

The Russian Mars spacecraft is stuck in earth orbit. They've got three days to get it unstuck.

Do you want to hear more about Herman Cain? Yet another baseless accusation. And Ta-Nehisi Coates has the last word.

The Sad Story of Central Asia's German Community May Be Ending.

And I've been writing about the IAEA report on Iran over at Nuclear Diner. A short summary of what it says about Iran's weapons activities, and some later thoughts, with links and a place to comment, if you wish.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Bits and Pieces - November 8, 2011

Do the Republicans want America to be like Greece? Compare this with the denigration of government (alternative to government: anarchy) and recommendation of "individual action" via guns and such:
A few thousand years after Greeks invented Western civilization, the basic premise behind it has broken down: the Greek individual and the Greek state no longer work in concert. Over the past generation, Greece has been slowly devolving into a state of quiet anarchy.
OTOH, here's too much government in action.

Americans want more government in health care.

Mapping Twitter.

Honey you buy in stores may not be honey.

The promiscuous past of the human race.

Mas: A nice article on improving cities, but this observation
I find that successful advocacy and implementation is more about facilitating real and personal commitment in others than in proselytizing about the abstract, and for that, we need more accessible experiences.
has implications far beyond that topic.

At first, during my visit this summer, I thought that the Estonians preferred debit cards to credit cards, since they were punching numbers into machines rather than signing slips of paper. Then I realized that it was my credit card that was behind the times. Kevin Drum explains why.

Will the Penn State debacle end college football? Should it?

Great that the defense contractors are doing such a good job of keeping costs down.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Herman Cain Is Definitely a Business Executive

He proved that nicely in his tantrum with the press tonight. When I saw it, all the memories of nasty bosses came back:

- No, don't even go there.

- Just listen for thirty seconds. (He did have presence of mind enough to realize he shouldn't say "Shut up.")

- We are getting back on message, end of story.

The video is really worth watching. The reporters' refusal to respond to the boss-is-mad messages really irritates him. So he lets go with one ineffective parting shot.

- Where’s my chief of staff? Please send him the journalistic code of ethics.

Getting a lackey to send the document that tells a reporter how he should act toward the boss, even when Cain isn't his boss, combines so many tropes of the corporate guy-in-charge that I think they're all bursting my brain.

I would not want to have worked for this man.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Fission at Fukushima Reactor 2?

The xenon isotopes that result from fission have short half-lives: 9.2 hours for Xe-135 and 5.2 days for Xe-133. So if they show up, as they have at Fukushima reactor 2, that means that fission has been taking place.

The Japan Times has a report that includes all the important information and puts it into perspective. The amount of both isotopes of xenon detected is one hundred thousandth of a becquerel per cubic centimeter in gas samples. That means that there is one becquerel - one count per second - in a hundred thousand cubic centimeters of gas, or in a hundred liters of gas, a small closetful.

When you add in that "there have been no drastic changes in the reactor's temperature and pressure" reported by Japan's nuclear safety agency, what this adds up to is that there probably is a pile of broken and melted fuel pieces at the bottom of the reactor vessel. Somehow, a very limited part of that pile got to criticality. Tepco has added boric acid to the water to absorb neutrons and prevent further chain reactions. But the criticality was very limited if it didn't make a difference in temperature or pressure.

I've seen a few fevered tweets and Facebook posts on this. There's an element of "I told you so" in some of them. I argued against the earlier reports of "re-criticality" and see no reason to change those opinions. Obviously there has been a small criticality at Reactor #2. But I thought that the reason people were worried about "re-criticality" had to do with the "China Syndrome" idea that the core would sustain its criticality to melt through the bottom of the reactor vessel and on to, um, Nebraska. That's not what's happening.

Update (November 3, 2011): More information has become available, and it appears that the xenon is coming from spontaneous fission of curium isotopes produced by normal reactor processes.

Cross-posted from Nuclear Diner.

Not To Defend Herman Cain, But...

Kevin Drum excerpts the News Hour money quote that is making the blogospheric rounds
JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you view China as a potential military threat to the United States?

HERMAN CAIN: I do view China as a potential military threat to the United States....They've indicated that they're trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have. So yes, we have to consider them a military threat.
and I think makes the correct point: why didn't Woodruff follow this up?

I'm not sure whether this indicates that Cain doesn't know that China does indeed have nuclear weapons. "[T]rying to develop nuclear capability" could mean a lot of things: that they want to add to their stockpile or maybe that they are trying to develop nuclear-powered ships. Or it could mean that he doesn't know that China has been a nuclear weapons power since 1964, one of the five institutionalized in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and a nation with which America is holding talks on reducing nuclear weapons.

So I think there's a bit too much being made of this quote. It's been clear that Cain's strong suit is not foreign relations for some time. But it would have helped if Woodruff would have clarified.

The Over-the Hill Chemical Warfare Gang

Four old guys in Georgia decided to strike a blow for the Constitution by blowing ricin (which they didn't have in a pure form) out their car to, I guess, sicken other drivers and residents in the area. There was something about explosives, too.

This is dumb on so many levels: the idea that an attack like this would lessen the role of the government (standard right-wing talking point) or the use of ricin, one of the less-promising chemical agents.

And it looks like these are white guys, so there's no hysteria in the major news outlets about it. Just our own home-grown right-wing terrorists. Nothing to see here.

Both Adam Serwer and Conor Friedersdorf are wondering how much the FBI egged these guys on at the Waffle House. And I'll wonder how many "domestic terror plots" have involved FBI encouragement and how many would have stayed over the coffee cups without.

Could we end the War on Terror now, please?

Update: Mmnh, yeah. It was a fed selling the gang explosives and such. How many guys are out there mumbling about the Constitution and keeping the race pure and bringing on sharia who go home and kiss their wives, play with the kids, and maybe kick the dog, nothing more than that? What difference does it make if a fed happens to be in the neighborhood?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Bits and Pieces - November 1, 2011

A bunch of stuff relevant to OWS, not all explicitly so.

Richard Cohen joins the 99%.

Jim Sleeper is all over the map with this one, but he makes some good points if you have the patience to find them.

One year at Princeton University: $37,000. One year at a New Jersey state prison: $44,000. There are a lot of reasons for this, including that so many states have privatized their prison system. Was it really smart to develop a constituency that makes money from having people incarcerated?

You've probably seen those charts where you scroll and scroll and scroll to see how the Republican flat tax plans will benefit the 1%. More about that and links here. Did the candidates not think that someone would figure this out? What about the people who will vote for them?

The prime minister has suggested that the Greek people vote on whether they want more austerity shoved down their throats. The rest of the world is not pleased.

On to other things.

A good summary of what is known about the situation at Fukushima.

Making the Grade: Why the Cheapest Maple Syrup Tastes Best

Added Later: George Washington on Constitutional originalism. (Hint: He probably wouldn't agree with Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas.)

Anatol Lieven: Maybe we should look at Pakistan as an enemy. In Afghanistan, anyway.

Quotes of the Day

Congress will provide no relief from the immediate term threat of unemployment, income loss, or foreclosure.
reminded me of this
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
I see Yeats's "Second Coming" quoted every other day, but there's a lot to be said for Arnold's "Dover Beach" as a commentary on today's situation as well.