Monday, December 29, 2014

"Dover Beach" Into The New Year

The Sony hack and later shutdown of the North Korean internet made me think of the last lines of “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold. That made me think about the rest of the poem. It’s a good way to one year and start the next. Or at least in my quirky way of reading poems. Go read it through to get your impression. I’ll wait.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bits and Pieces - December 16, 2014

This article pretty well represents my feelings about Greenpeace's dumb stunt at Nacza, Peru. They need to pay for the damage they've done.

It looks like the South Polar ozone hole is doing a lot more than letting ultraviolet rays in.

Beautiful sea creatures.

It has always seemed to me that the ethos of blogging and the needs of magazines are contradictory. Scientific American has been having some problems with that, and they're trying to do something about it. A magazine can never grant the freedom I've got here.

The strategic cost of torture, racism, and bigotry.

Norm Ornstein talks candidly about racism in American politics.

Belarus - the Soviet-style dictatorship that has been Russia's bff - is worried about the big neighbor to the east.

Russia's lack of soft power.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bits and Pieces - December 10, 2014

I don't have much to say about the Senate Torture Report. Maybe later. I need to do some assimilating. Here's as much as I can write now, with links to resources.

The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study. This is a scientific study looking at how scientific results get distorted by the time you read them in the newspaper.

Women Resisting Heterosexuality In Western Art History. Very funny readings of female reaction to male privilege in the painters and characters.

Noah Berlatsky in The Atlantic:
Over here is Le Guin, taking a stand for science fiction on the grounds that "we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope."
It's no accident that the most ubiquitous, overwhelming sci-fi sub-genre around is the one that has the least to do with the future: superheroes. Much of the superhero genre, in fact, is devoted to the fantasy that we don't need to wait for technological marvels, but can experience them right here, right now. More, we can do so, magically, without the comfy old familiar world we know changing that much at all.
How fear plays into the frequency with which white cops kill young black men. Fear is a common thread through this story, the need some felt for torture after 9/11, and other pathologies. We need to get away from it.

Political correctness enhances creativity. Nice quote:
When men aren’t thinking about being politically correct, they can sometimes be too, for lack of a better word, bro-y (or afraid of coming off as such). “And the flip side of men being jerks is that women worry that they’re going to be a target of that behavior,”
Best article around on the situation in Ukraine.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Bits and Pieces - December 3, 2014

Despite the ideology of the past few decades that says we're all individuals who owe each other nothing, humans have evolved a cooperative, living together capability. Time to get away from the ideology and make use of it. And we are capable of doing that.

The graphic looks like Van Gogh painted it, but it's the cosmic microwave background. The search for dark matter is not going well.

Working in the Curies' laboratory.

I am not fond of marking up my books, but finding a way to make oneself question them (and the writing we read from the media) is a good thing.

I've had some run-ins with the foreign policy realists who like to argue that the trouble in Ukraine is all the United States' fault because we have been intruding on Russia's sphere of interest, making that enormous country with all its nukes feel insecure. This is how that kind of thing would work in a university.

Beautiful photos of wild animals from Estonia.

The Death of Trust

So we have been told again that the death of a black man caused by a police officer is not worth considering - there is a video of Eric Garner's death by strangulation, the medical examiner said it was homicide, but a grand jury decided that there is no reason for a trial. The person who took the video has been charged, however.

September 11, 2001, was a turning point in many ways. One of them was that our uniformed municipal public safety officers were heroes. There were lots of heroes - all our military became heroes, until the sense of the word washed out into too many egos of those to whom the word was applied. Being a hero is a one-time thing, connected to a specific place, time, and act. But we made all-the-time, look at the uniform heroes.

Some blame the Vietnam War for today's splits in Americans' attitudes. For some people, it certainly represents ultimate wrongs of various stripes, but they seem to be few. Or, if there are more, they don't say much about it.

But we have had, much more recently, an even more stupid and venal war, although not as many died. That war, Bush's War In Iraq, was divisive, too, although not as noisily as the Vietnam War. You can see from the way I titled it which side I'm on. And it was so obviously wrong-headed and wrong-handled that those who want to feel good about America's wars show their support only indirectly: Benghazi. We should have left more troops in Iraq. John McCain takes it out by wanting to bomb everyone.

Then we elected our first black president. We. Elected. That means a majority of voters felt that was an okay, maybe better than okay, thing to do. And we re-elected him. At first, the racists were very careful, although a very few of their number were just fine with photoshopping him as a witch doctor or whatever bubbled up from their subconscious. But then the birthers, and "he's not one of us," and it's snowballed to an acceptance of open racism. You can google it.

And it all came together. The cops, many of whom were white, all of whom share the bedrock racism that psychologists have shown is in all of us, can do no wrong. They are heroes, even if the word is looking a little pale these days. The grand juries in Ferguson and Staten Island have given us the result.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Theories of Everything

“I saw a movie this week that I know you’d love! It’s called ‘The Theory of Everything.’” I smile and ask what my friend liked about it. He is happy to say. I do not intend to see the movie, but I don’t say that.

People who are not scientists often believe that the heights of science are what the physicists are happy to tell us that they are: struggling with nature to make her give up her secrets, or, in a less sexist formulation, knocking one’s head against the equations to make sense of nature, to get at the most basic essence, a theory of everything. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014


We have done some good things for ourselves as humans. After a while, it's easy to take those good things for granted and even think we don't need them. Things are going well, aren't they? Why do we have that silly rule?

So people begin to believe that their children don't need vaccinations against diseases that once were common, and we start to see epidemics of whooping cough, measles, and diphtheria again.

Or regulation. It's kind of an ugly word, like something your mother makes you do. Freedom is a nicer word. So along comes a hip company like Uber that assures you things will be cheaper (another nice idea) and better if you ride with strangers rather than licensed taxi drivers. Those licenses just keep the prices up, right?

Well, maybe there's something else they do, like avoiding stuff like this.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bits and Pieces - November 19, 2014

Ta-Nehisi Coates's honesty and writing moved me. It's hard to change one's mind in this way, harder to say it.

On the other side of such things, the #shirtstorm continues, now fed largely by idiots maintaining their freedom to wear inappropriate shirts when serving as a spokesman for a stunning science mission. Here's something that makes more sense. And a collection of tweets.

This is strange news. Perhaps Vladimir Putin is deciding to deal with his troubles at home more directly, and not simply distracting with a nice little war in Ukraine. Or perhaps he is planning both. Or perhaps this report is wrong. Stay tuned.

Privatization of the American space program benefits a Florida firm and Russian oligarchs.

History: Nikita Khrushchev‘s visit to the United States in 1959. Even at the height of the Cold War, channels with the Soviet Union were kept open.

More history: The African-Americans who migrated to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and their descendents.

Dignity is important to the Iranians in the nuclear negotiations. But it's a hard concept to define.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bits and Pieces - November 17, 2014

'I'm Going to Live': American Ashoka Mukpo on What It's Like to Have Ebola

Photos of rural Belarus.

Putin's tactical misogyny. This is so ugly it's hard to read.

David Roberts explains postmodern conservatism in 36 tweets. Remarkable resemblance to Vladimir Putin's nihilistic propaganda barrage. You can't believe anything, so why try.

On the need for "closure." It's something I haven't understood. This article clarified some things for me. The need for stories that end well in a world where things often don't end well.

And a few more added later:

Things are not going well for Vladimir Putin in eastern Ukraine.

Human Rights Watch report on human rights abuses in Crimea.

The Republicans are doing everything they can to get around the election laws.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bits and Pieces - November 12, 2014

I contemplate Vladimir Putin's speech to the Valdai Discussion Club, which is being much discussed by others. The more I think about it, the more it seems like a continuing whine about not being appreciated nearly enough. However, this post is a serious examination in the style of international relations studies, with just a bit of psychologizing at the end.

Russia is pouring troops and military equipment into eastern Ukraine and, of course, denying it. BBC, RFE/RL.

Russia detains some American students at a conference for apparently no reason at all.

Russians come in many different ethnic groups.

Elaborate burial practices in North America 11,500 years ago.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Falling Prey to the Thatcher-Reagan Zeitgeist

A couple of weeks ago, I wondered if it was possible to say, discuss, think of, a just society because our reference points had moved so far to the right under the influence of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Thomas Edsall provides an example:
What if the notion that a large segment of the electorate is made up of moderates who hunger for centrist compromise is illusory? What if ordinary voters are, in many respects, even more extreme in their views than members of Congress?
And I would ask
What if the political commentators who are so obsessed with centrist compromise are asking the wrong questions?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bits and Pieces - October 23, 2014

This is really important: Russia Today Lacks Resources to Use ‘Crimean Scenario’ Everywhere It Might Like, Moscow Analysts Say. Russia simply does not have the military forces to continue a low-level war in Ukraine, destabilize the Baltic States, occupy the Arctic, and guard its border with China. This is why President Obama and European leaders don't bother to respond to Vladimir Putin's bluster. It's just bluster. I hope to do a more quantitative post on this.

A couple of good new blogs: "Millysievert" describes herself as: Professional nuclear layperson, a.k.a. Executive Assistant to the World Nuclear Association Director General. Got a C in GCSE Physics. Fascinated by nuclear despite that. She is letting us join her learning curve at Nuclear Layperson. Red mercury is famous as a substance that makes nuclear weapons easier to build. Except it doesn't exist. Now it seems to be in Africa and someone finds it necessary to debunk it.

In case you missed it: how sex began.

Kazakhstan is where apples came from. Like a lot of other plants, their genetic diversity is now in danger.

Does Ebola immunize people without their getting sick? Other viruses do, and if Ebola does, the prospects for a general epidemic are less.

If you need a holiday, today is Mole Day!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hilary Mantel on Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan turned the Anglo-American world around. In office at the same time, they thought similarly, a reaction to the slowdown of postwar liberalism. The political ideas that had given the United States prosperity and rebuilt Britain in the fifties turned out, unsurprisingly, not to have covered everything. Some aspects of liberal economics, along with actions like OPEC’s oil embargo, slowed economies. Voters were ready for a change, and Thatcher and Reagan offered a new start.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Nuclear Diner's New Look

Nuclear Diner is now on WordPress and has a new look. Feeds are available for posts and comments. Check it out!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Diplomacy with Russia as Therapy

Like a diva, Russia is all over the headlines lately. If it’s not hysterics that big bad NATO is right on its borders, it’s no, of course those weren’t Russian bombers over Sweden. Or that it’s okay for Russia to annex Crimea because there was a fair vote, whereas poor Scotland got cheated out of proper independence from the UK hegemons because that vote was fixed. [Okay, sorry, that was North Korea, the only country currently out-crazying Russia on social media.]

It’s been said that diplomacy with Russia can be like doing therapy with an extremely insecure patient. Russia, of course, has nuclear weapons, so a hysterical fit of tossing pots and pans could have disastrous consequences.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bits and Pieces - September 15, 2014

More Nuclear Diner-ish links. We are doing a major overhaul of the site and hope to have the new version up by next week! The old version is still available, but clunky in spots.

This may be sorta good news. It's hard to tell about anything coming out of Putin's Russia. The interpretation outside of Wonderland is that Putin doesn't want to occupy the Donbass, he just wants influence in Kiev. As many other things have been doing, this could change at any time.

Also significant: NATO Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove says that stealth invasions into NATO partners will invoke NATO's mutual assistance Article 5. Some have been saying that Russia will respond to a firm stand. Looks like here it is. See also previous paragraph for potential Russian response.

Ukraine wants to buy nuclear fuel from the US, not Russia.

A remarkably prescient article about Ukraine and Russia from a year ago.

In July, I asked how Russia sees the world. Apparently that is how Sergey Karaganov, dean at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics in Moscow, sees it.

Can thinking about a nuclear waste repository help us to broaden our time horizons to think more realistically about global warming?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

So Many Things Wrong Here

Frank Munger, whom you must follow if you want to know what is happening at the government's Oak Ridge nuclear facilities, is reporting on Y-12's capturing the DOE award for bad boy of the complex from Los Alamos. The offenses include particles of enriched uranium in the wrong place, the ever-popular mishandling of classified documents, and a genuinely alarming report of mistakes in pouring molten enriched uranium.

To some degree, it's all part of the game: DOE must find that its contractors are doing something wrong to prove it's in charge. This is sometimes aided and abetted by other contractors who are strongly motivated to show up their competitors.

The photo above illustrates some of the problems. I'm not clear on who the person is. He could be either Steve Erhart, the National Nuclear Security Administration manager who oversees Y-12 and Pantex, its sister nuclear facility in Texas, who wrote the letter detailing the sins, or Jim Haynes, the president and CEO of Consolidated Nuclear Security, the Bechtel-led contractor that took over management of both plants on July 1, the letter's recipient.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Bits and Pieces - September 5, 2014

Nuclear Diner is down right now, because we're working on upgrading the site. We hope to have it back in greatly improved form next week. Meanwhile, tabs are building up on my browser, and it's time to simplify. So these links will tilt more toward the nuclear and world conflict than usual.

This morning, it appears that Russia's FSB kidnapped an Estonian Security Service officer. The Estonian Security Service works on counterintelligence and organized crime. Here's more about Estonia's counterintelligence.

The photo above  (click to enlarge) is what the Estonian-Russian border looks like where the officer was taken.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bits and Pieces - August 15, 2014

Who's in and who's out in the separatist organizations of eastern Ukraine.

Council of Europe conclusions on Ukraine.

Dumb idea of the week on how to deal with Russia. I love proposals in which "And then Russia would..." or "Russia would have to..." as if Russia had shown any inclination to do those things and not their opposite.

A proposal for containment (in the George Kennan meaning of the word) of the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL). BTW, I am working through Kennan's Long Telegram with reference to today's Russia.

A former soldier in the Israeli Defense Force: "I know how to kill, but I know I want peace."

Tony Judt, Israel, and social democracy.

Polygraph tests are required for many jobs and government clearances. But there is no scientific basis for using them.

A woman who was convicted of conspiracy in relation to the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg spying case of the 1940s and 1950s wants her record cleared. She's 98 years old.

The Nirvana Fallacy. Just because you can think of an alternative course of action doesn't mean that it would work better than what was done. This article references Obama in particular, but it's useful to keep this in mind in any analysis of history.

This has been one of the craziest weeks I can think of in some time. Not at all clear it's going to get better any time soon.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Bits and Pieces - August 5, 2014

Silicon Howl. A remake of Allan Ginsberg's famous poem.

Hillary for liberals. I have serious reservations about Hillary Clinton for president, but I guess I'll vote for her if she's the Democratic nominee.

The spies next door, the story of the Glomar Explorer and its mission to raise a sunken Soviet submarine.

Watching the Eclipse: Ambassador Michael McFaul was there when the promise of democracy came to Russia—and when it began to fade. If you only read one article about Vladimir Putin, this should be it.

Is western media coverage of the Ukraine crisis anti-Russian? Excellent compendium of several views.

Overhead photos of five Russian military bases participating in exercises this week.

Ukraine's SBU security service has published "top secret", Stalin-era files that Russia does not want to release.

Trying to figure out exactly what Russian action the United States claims violates the INF Treaty. The State Department's report is fairly unspecific. I've argued that that nonspecificity could be an invitation for Russia to join a dialog that could lead to discussions of the situation in Ukraine.

A lineup of Russia's nationalist parties and their leaders.

The Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan, 1979-1989. This war contributed to Soviet citizens' disillusionment with their government and through that, to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bits and Pieces - July 26, 2014

A profile of the new president of Indonesia, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. Looks like this is good news if his oppnent will let his challenge die.

Russia is going to do its own version of Eurovision. No gays or cross-dressers allowed.
“The first Intervision was about challenging the West and this Intervision is about reaffirming Russia as a force to be reckoned with,” says Dean Vuletic, a historian at the University of Vienna. “It’s no coincidence that it will be held in Sochi, which Putin used to showcase modern Russia during its Winter Olympics.”
I have been focused on Russia and Ukraine, but what is going on in Israel and Gaza is saddening and appalling. Israel imprisons Palestinians in Gaza and then bombs them. I'm sorry; I can't accept that.

In 2005, Tony Judt wrote "The Country That Wouldn't Grow Up," which is as relevant today as it was then. It seems to me that the part about young people having less connection to the Holocaust and its slipping into history has relevance beyond Israel and the Holocaust. David Kaiser writes about a similar issue, that those young people, with the aid of their elders, are developing their own facts about the world. In the US, that's partly the result of thirty years of conservatism's emphasis on the market-idealized individual, whose desires must be paramount. It's often occurred to me that the holders of that view also decry the death of family and community. Which I don't think are dead, but minority views today.

I've been wanting to write a post about some of those issues, and perhaps a number of things are coming together so I can. I admire Kaiser's try. My approach will be different from his.

More on Israel and Gaza in a similar vein.

How to talk about uncertainties. In other contexts, they might be called nuances. We really do need to get better about talking about them in many dimensions.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bits and Pieces - July 20, 2014

Science magazine used a very objectifying, offensive photo of transgender sex workers for the cover of its 11 July issue, and then one of its editors made it worse by his tweets. The cover is shown here; I'm not going to spread it around. Glendon Mellow (@FlyingTrilobite) tweeted out a mini-seminar on the art it reminded him of. Definitely worth reading.

35 literary writers who tweet.

A strange hole has been observed in the Siberian permafrost. It's not clear how long it's been there or what caused it. Scientists are investigating, but no salacious photos have yet emerged. My first thought was that Vladimir Putin's demons are escaping. Something like Pandora's Box.

And another bizarre Putin connection. Brian Fischer, a Christian radio host, says that Barack Obama commented on the death of AIDS researcher Dr. Joep M. Lange in order to normalize men having sex with men. Here's part of Obama's tribute:
In this world today, we shouldn't forget that in the midst of conflict and killing, there are people like these. People who are focused on what can be built, rather than what can be destroyed. People who are focused on how they can help people they've never met. People who define themselves not by what makes them different than other people, but by the humanity that we hold in common.
Putin sees himself as a defender of a Christian civilization that would refuse to normalize homosexuality. Maybe he and Fischer could get along.

A good FAQ about the Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down over Ukraine.

James Garner has died. I enjoyed his tv shows, perhaps because, as this obituary observes, his characters handled difficult situations with strategy rather than violence.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Bits and Pieces - July 8, 2014

I should have posted it here too, but I didn't, so go read about how "Dr. Strangelove" explains that security studies are inherently gendered over at Nuclear Diner. Ingrid Rowlands tries to wake up the lit-crit crew on the issue of gender, too.

Poland's overlooked Enigma codebreakers.

We always need more fairytales, and now there are 500 more!

A consideration of how historical anniversaries can shape our view of current events.

Are things coming apart in Russia? Stay tuned.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Russian Propaganda – How They Do It

RT (formerly Russia Today) is funded by the Russian government. They produce a wide variety of material, from apparently straight news through the discovery of sea monsters. The New York Daily News through what you see at supermarket checkout stands, more or less.
Last week they published a story supposedly on a report from the Rand Corporation for the US government on plans for Ukraine: internment camps and executions. Several people on Twitter noted an obvious forgery in the logo. The story took off on Twitter anyway, thanks to the Kremlin’s army of trolls and those who are frightened about events in Ukraine.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bits and Pieces - June 26, 2014

“We have completed an exhaustive study of common products that are marketed as ‘chemical-free’ and have prepared a detailed analysis of those products that are appropriately labeled as such." (Nature)

A rather remarkable paper on Russia's foreign policy.

Steven Perlstein: An open letter to Medtronic on what it means to be an American company.

What scientists spend their time doing.

Who's allied with whom in Syria.

More about Sykes-Picot, which everyone likes to say is falling apart.

If Clausewitz's analogy to the physics of his day isn't a very good one, what is the case for all that quantum stuff we keep hearing?

How to verify nuclear warheads without seeing them. This becomes important as the numbers go down.

Is nuclear power ever coming back? Probably, but it's a slog.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bits and Pieces - June 19, 2014

When and why civil resistance works against authoritarian regimes. I would have liked to have seen something about the nonviolent movements in the Baltics in the 1980s, but this is interesting.

What the Baltic States are doing to counter Russian propaganda. Paldiski, where the American troops are staying, was a site for training Soviet nuclear submariners. It had two reactors, which the Russians took with them when they left.

Russia is unhappy that search engines pick up more than their propaganda.

Russian movies with English subtitles.

OPCW report on its mission to Syria. Yes, chlorine is probably being used as a war gas. And I'll add it's probably the government doing it. The opposition doesn't have helicopters.

A selection of Dick Cheney quotes on Iraq from 2003. One of the many. It's good to see the bashing of the neocons that is in progress.

We do research on every public health problem but guns. And the NRA wants to keep it that way.

Chapter 2756 of why government regulation is necessary.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Take The White Pill

I swallowed a capsule this morning and am currently a walking source of gamma radiation. I must stay away from people for three days, from children, pregnant women, and small animals for five. I laid in a supply of groceries and figure I’ll have a few quiet days. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Have We Reached Peak Yet?

I think it was John Cole at Balloon Juice who originated the concept of "peak wingnut." As I understand it, the rightwingers will crescendo their crazy until it can no longer be sustained. Then the fever will break, and we can go back to a semblance of politics in place of conspiracy theories and frothing at the mouth.

The problem has been that each time an apparent peak is reached, the rightwingers manage to mount one more.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Bits and Pieces - June 12, 2014

Some background on current events in Iraq.

What ate a 3 meter long Great White? Probably a Wereshark.

Pretty convincing evidence that Chris Hedges is a serial plagiarist.

Multimedia primer on nuclear proliferation.

Russia can't give up the idea that all its friends should speak Russian. This kind of thing is why language is an issue in Ukraine.

And a psychoanalytic look at Russia.

I pointed out today that one of the ways IAEA inspectors in Iran would know that Iran was planning to break out to nuclear weapons would be that Iran would have to alter equipment to prevent a criticality accident. If you want to know more, here's a report on criticality accidents in the US and Russia. And a video:

Friday, June 06, 2014

Thoughts On The Seventieth Anniversary of D-Day

We are seeing the photos and the front pages of the newspapers, the first dispatches from reporters, Eisenhower’s correspondence, and today’s observance in Normandy. Seventy years ago today, the war in Europe turned. The landing of the allies and their establishing a beachhead was the first step that clearly went in the direction of defeating Hitler.

Seventy years is a long time. I like to try to get perspective on what younger people are thinking today by thinking about the times I was that age. When I was in college, seventy years ago was before either of the world wars, and it seemed like another world. It was, just as D-Day must be for today’s college students. And, indeed, for all of us.

It’s hard, in today’s relative peace, to imagine the necessity for a coordinated air and sea assault involving hundreds of thousands of people. It’s hard to imagine a leader of a European, or any other country, deciding to conquer a continent. And almost succeeding.

On June 6, 1944, we didn’t know how long it would take to beat Hitler back. And there was a war in the Pacific against Japan as well. It would be another year and more before the war was ended.

Thinking about the immediacy of the invasion of the beaches, the shooting and death, the paratroopers landing can blot out that bigger picture. We must think of the people involved, but D-Day was also the hinge point between an older world where military conquest made a nation strong and a newer world in which that sort of aggression would be unacceptable as a means of state-building.

Photo – Landing supplies at Normandy.

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Bits and Pieces - June 5, 2014

Important for summer: Yes, DEET is safe to use to repel mosquitos. They carry West Nile virus and other nasty diseases.

I said it a very, very long time ago: it is not possible to contract government services out to profit-making companies that pay taxes for less money than the government does it, unless you cut the numbers of personnel and their salaries. Looks like that came back to bite us.

Counterespionage in Estonia.

Just one of the many. I see Roger Cohen is doing it at the New York Times, too. The common threads seem to be that the authors are frustrated that the world is untidy and that Barack Obama doesn't see fit to tidy it up the way George Bush did. Since Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are such exemplary successes. And yes, Libya was on Obama's watch. Maybe he learned something. I tweeted this morning to ask Cohen what he would recommend. No answer. Just make it better. That's pretty much what David Rothkopf says in the link, too. And these are the guys that are supposed to understand foreign policy.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Bits and Pieces - June 2, 2014

The norm that the United States brings back its military personnel from capture as prisoners of war can't depend on the qualities of the individuals. It is a pledge to those who fight for the country and necessary to maintain their morale. No person who is captured during war should have to worry whether s/he is worthy of being rescued. And there is a corporate side too easily ignored in our individualistic age: people work better together when they know they've got each others' backs. So bringing Bowe Bergdahl back is a good and necessary thing. There will be an investigation into how he was captured. The people who are objecting to this either don't understand military discipline, or they are partisans willing to use politics in destructive ways.

Interactive photos showing scenes around D-Day (June 6, 1944) in France and Britain and today.

Newly recovered photos of destruction in Nagasaki, Japan, by the atomic bomb.

An excellent collection of essays about Vladimir Putin's Eurasian politics. Read at least the introduction.

Linda Greenhouse, an experienced Supreme Court watcher, says that the Republicans on the Court are damaging it and us.

1989 is 25 years ago. Lots of anniversaries of a very active year. The Rocky Flats plutonium plant was raided.

More of how science works is public now. Get used to it.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014


Saw this cloud to the south earlier this evening.

It moved to the northeast.

And we got some rain, fairly heavy but not as wild as the cloud looked. There's still a storm to the south. This one seems to have spun off from it.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bits and Pieces - May 22, 2014

As usual, posts about Ukraine, why nuclear plants cost so much, the Kremlin may be watching you on Facebook, and more at Nuclear Diner.

Could it be possible that we are coming to a time when we discuss some of the issues we need to discuss? The Atlantic has two impressive articles on two issues: Ta-Nehisi Coates on reparations for black Americans and Mary Adkins on rape. Lt. Col. Robert Bateman discusses the encroachment of fundamentalist Christianity on the military. He's not that specific, but that's what he's talking about. I've been getting fed up lately with our inability to resist the worst of what our society has to offer in these areas, and I hope we're getting to a turning point.

Our modern way of thinking of maps, and the great variety of maps available to us, began during World War II. Here's some history and cool maps.

A long and scholarly article about Russian as a lingua franca. France provided the first, with English following. Russians managed, often by force, to make Russian a lingua franca within their sphere of influence, but it never got to be as universal as they would have liked.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Kazakhstan's Ancestral Apples In Trouble

We haven't had a post on fruit in a VERY long time.

National Geographic has a long article on apples and their birthplace in northeastern Kazakhstan. They are ancestral to all the apples we know, and they are endangered. A few excerpts:

One of these threatened species, Malus sieversii—a wild apple that Newton describes as "small but highly colored with a very nice sweet flavor"—is one of the key ancestors of all cultivated apples grown and eaten around the world. So rich and unique is this species, Newton says, that on one wild apple tree, "you can see more variation in apple form than you see in the entire cultivated apple crop in Britain. You can get variation in fruit size, shape, color, flavor, even within the tree, and certainly from tree to tree."

The Latin noun malus can mean either "apple" or "evil," which is probably why the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" in the Garden of Eden is often depicted as an apple tree, even though the biblical book of Genesis does not say what sort of fruit tree it is.

"All of the apples that we're eating today and cultivating originate from this area," Newton says. "So if we want to add genetic variation to our crops to cope with new pests or climate change, then the genetic resource is these forests. It's true for apples, apricots, peaches, walnuts, pears. In terms of a wild genetic resource for cultivated fruit trees, there's nothing like it on the planet."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Don't Believe Your Own Propaganda

The level and tone of propaganda coming out of Russia today vastly exceed anything I recall from the Soviet Union. A quick look at the absurd tweets from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs  (@MFA_Russia) and the bullying by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (@DRogozin) should convince anyone. They are far from alone; RT (formerly Russia Today) is going hot and heavy. And no, I don’t think I’ll link to it.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Bits and Pieces - Cinco de Mayo Edition

I'm still writing about Ukraine and other nuclear things at Nuclear Diner. I keep having ideas for great posts here, but real life keeps getting in the way. Although I'm fairly far along on one.

This is why there is so much bitterness about language in Russia and the countries it has dominated. Russia is the universal language, so it is a favor to make it the dominant language in the schools. Why would anyone want to learn stupid minor languages like Ukrainian, Estonian, Czech, Kazakh...?

The only reasonable military analysis of the troops Russia has near Ukraine's eastern border that I've been able to find. It looks like Russia is not planning to invade Ukraine. Rather, the troops are a warning to other countries and Ukraine not to undertake actions there. But so far Russia hasn't chosen to use the many possible pretexts to invade. Perhaps all President Vladimir Putin wants is to destabilize the country so that the May 25 elections can't take place. But then what? More about where the troops are.

Warlords in Ukraine?

NASA and Russia's space program are pretty interwoven. Thanks, Congress and the entrepreneurs and free-marketers who think we don't need to fund NASA!

An analysis of what Edward Snowden may have had access to at the NSA. Of course, he could have hacked into other partitions, but from the material that has been released, it looks like he didn't. The NSA is probably even more aware of this. This analysis seems to show that their information compartmentalization works better than some are saying.

When Law and Ethics Collide — Why Physicians Participate in Executions

Iran briefs UN nuclear agency on detonators. This would be a briefing on the exploding bridgewire detonators that Iran has researched. They are at issue because they are essential for nuclear weapons. Iran's willingness to discuss them is a positive sign, although how positive depends on how much they have included in the briefing.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bits and Pieces - April 10, 2014

Seymour Hersh has stenographed an article from a dubious source. There are so many things wrong with it, it took several people to show them all up. I've collected some of the best and added a few of my own comments here.

Something I point out toward the end of that post is commonalities among various incidents that point to Russian propaganda operations. They are indeed thick these days, with regard to Ukraine, but Syria is one of Russia's interests too. This intensity of propaganda hasn't been reached since Soviet times, and social media are a new outlet. There's a philosophical side to propaganda: actually more than one side. The first is epistemological: how do we know what we know? The other is the role of propaganda in building reality. On the first, I am tempted to say that too much of that kind of thing makes people crazy. We can consider the Republican Party and its various fantasies. And now the Russian Duma is looking at criminalizing the fall of the Soviet Union. I hope to write more about this. Just seems like a lot of crazy around today.

In other news,

Considering a tunnel from Helsinki to Tallinn. With a nice misty photo of Tallinn's Old Town.

Turning everyday sexism around: harassing men in London (autoplay video) and "Stop Telling Women To Smile" in Atlanta. And somewhere that it's needed: Technology's man problem.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bits and Pieces - March 29, 2014

I'm still writing about Ukraine and posting links to stuff I think is worth reading at Nuclear Diner. It's looking like Vladimir Putin feels he's in a strong enough position to negotiate. We'll see what comes of it.

This is worth thinking about: If Vladimir Putin is worried about "Nazis" in Kiev, why is he supporting far-right groups across Europe? And we can consider his claim to be leading the conservatives of the world in gay-bashing and other things. The simple answer is that a) he really is conservative in many senses of the word and b) he is opportunist enough to use whatever levers he can against people he considers enemies.

I've been following the adventures of the snowy owl who came to DC and got hit by a truck. She's in Minnesota now, having a feather transplant. She's also on Twitter: @DCSnowyOwl. And here's the chicken from hell!

In New Mexico, a Tea Partyish congressman hires a vituperative tweeter as his pr person.

If you want to know what's going on in space - auroras, meteor showers, satellites - this is the place to find out.

This is a cool idea and something I'd like to see lots of bloggers writing, but first I have about thirty other posts I'm thinking about...

I am really irritated by the MSM's practice of revising their breaking stories without appending a notice that the story is changed. Apparently others are too - and they've come up with a solution.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The President Of All The Russias Speaks

Before he signed a measure incorporating the Crimea into the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin gave a speech (official English translation). The speech lays out his justification for annexing Crimea and lists a number of grievances and a few promises. It is shot through with misstatements of fact. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, gives the factual content of the speech four pinocchios, indicating a high degree of inaccuracy. I can find a number of other inaccuracies, but that is not my focus. Links at the beginning of quotes should take you to that part of the speech.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bits and Pieces - March 18, 2014

I keep meaning to cross-post these three here, and just don't get to it. Maybe tomorrow.
War With No Hope
Soviet Economics
Russian Exceptionalism

Trapping and tracking the mysterious snowy owl.

Like those maps that show countries' characteristics by distorting the physical size of the countries? This is the site for you!

Some history to remind us that once upon a time, women dominated computer programming. Not misogynistic boys.

I don't want to insult anyone, so if you can tell me what LinkedIn is good for, I will apologize.

A science quiz that is somewhat more difficult than the run of the mill. With a link to another one.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Bits and Pieces - Ukraine Edition, 1 March 2014

I've been selecting some of the better articles to read on the situation in Ukraine and writing a bit about how I understand things. That's been at Nuclear Diner - too much happening this week to cross-post. Here are those posts and some additional reading.

Yanukovych out, officials flee to Russia

Ukraine update - 24 February

Ukraine update - 26 February

Ukraine update - 28 February

Plus some background I've written:

Ukraine historical background with maps

Russia as winner - not so much actually, with more damage likely.

Leadership without leaders

And we post political cartoons every Sunday morning. Articles from others:

Explainer: The Budapest Memorandum And Its Relevance To Crimea

The Russian Duma has approved the use of military force in Ukraine. Here's the resolution.

Some basics of Crimean history.

A wide-ranging commentary on Russia's thinking from Strobe Talbott, who was a special advisor to the US State Department dealing with the former Soviet space after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Timothy Snyder's articles are very worth reading. The part of the world between Germany and Russia is poorly understood by many Western commentators. You really need to spend some time on it, even live there for a bit, to understand the contradictions to some of our common wisdom.

Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine

Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bits and Pieces - February 24, 2014

A bunch of science stuff:

Obesity and smoking are more dangerous than radiation.

This is why diversity is important in science. And that would include socioeconomic diversity, all kinds of diversity. People who come from outside the usual suspects might even think that science is the pursuit of truth and might pursue it strongly. They might not have surrendered to the conventional wisdom.

The most beautiful animal you’ve never seen.

The storms in Britain uncover a prehistoric forest in Cardigan Bay.


And today is Estonian Independence Day. Ninety-six years since Estonia won its independence from the Russian empire. Head Iseseisvuspäev, Eestimaa!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bits and Pieces - February 19, 2014

Ukraine links (a little more than in the MSM):

Yanukovych’s gamble and Kiev’s burning

How western Ukraine is driving a revolution

Russia's covert role in the Ukrainian crisis


The real story here is that banks trade in all sorts of physical commodities now. The headline about Iran? Oh yeah, long before Goldman Sachs, long before the Iranian revolution, the company they bought sold uranium to the Shah. But anything for clicks, I guess.

I'm not sure this is a good way to sell science or that it even makes much sense. What do you think?

Coming a little late, but well worth it: How Sid Caesar learned double-talk. With a great video.

Another woman's scientific contributions usurped.

Internet trolls are just your everyday sadists.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Doctor Atomic - A Review

Two weeks ago, I saw “Doctor Atomic” in Los Alamos’s Fuller Lodge. It was the Metropolitan Opera’s performance, from a DVD. I am accustomed enough to attending events in Los Alamos that it took a while to hit me: “Doctor Atomic” in the same Fuller Lodge where the Manhattan Project held dinners, dances, and convocations. I even slept and ate there on an interview trip, when it still was the only lodging in town.

This was my first viewing of the opera; perhaps surprising for someone whose interests include both the Manhattan Project and music. I thought, however, that it might be a screed on the evils of nuclear weapons. I was wrong.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Bits and Pieces - February 7, 2014

Still having problems at Nuclear Diner. So Phronesisaical links first, then Nuclear Diner links. There's always some overlap.

Patrick Rael on the Long Death of Slavery in the United States, 1777-1865

The DC snowy owl who was hit by a bus is doing better. Did you know that it is this year's young snowy owls who migrate south for the winter? Their elders stay in the dark Arctic.

'Animal Pompeii' wiped out China's ancient creatures

Marc Lynch tries to explain social media to those who eschew it. It ain't going away.

Zach Messitte on the value of a college education. 

Nuclear vs. renewables: Divided they fall. There are those in both communities who don't understand that the real problem is fossil fuel.

Sigrid Kaag, who is in charge of the operation to remove chemical weapons from Syria, says she doesn't think Syria is stalling.

Here is the State Department daily press briefing from yesterday, mainly on the tapped Nuland telephone call about Ukraine. Is it just me, or do some of these reporters sound like idiots?

Some counterintelligence thoughts on that phonecall.

Deterring Iran. It can be done. And, I would add, we're doing it now.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Bits and Pieces - February 5, 2014

Nuclear Diner is down, so I'll post here the links I ordinarily would have posted there.

A good summary of the pros and cons of the Joint Plan ofAction with Iran. Bonus: explains why Fareed Zakaria’s “train wreck” is nonsense.

Russia says Syria will get their chemical weapons moving. Before that happened, Charles Duelfer, who was in charge of looking for WMD in Iraq, speculated that Russia couldn’t be too pleased about the slowdown, which is what I thought too. Imagine chemical weapons in Sochi. Russia is learning the downside of being a big internationalplayer.

Experts believe that more public outreach is necessary in the Mediterranean region about the chemical weapons recovery and disposal mission.

A science chat on Twitter. 6:00 PST on Twitter. Hashtag: #sciencechat

Snowden Stuff:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bits and Pieces - January 29, 2014

How a New Science of Cities Is Emerging from Mobile Phone Data Analysis. They don't say how they got the data, but presumably it's from the phone companies. Part of that all-the-time surveillance Edward Snowden keeps warning us about. But there's a new book out suggesting that maybe Snowden isn't such a hero. That's my opinion; he's spreading information that has nothing to do with privacy, but perhaps more to do with a hacker-libertarian hatred of all functions of government. And the materials he's stolen are showing up in more and more places. Of course, we all know how easy it is to duplicate a thumb drive. It looks like people are losing interest, too. I'm not surprised; the articles are hard to follow, show little of the materials they are based on, and frequently are found to be wrong. I've pretty much given up on following them closely.

Here's how Estonia got thoroughly networked. Hint: it didn't expect internet companies to look out for the good of the country.

Did World War II save us from the income inequality we've got now?

Eat your fruit! The good fruit does for you far outweighs whether it's organic or not.

"We had a hard time getting a war started." Nuclear strategist Thomas Schelling on the thinking that was the basis for the movie "Dr. Strangelove," fifty years old today. Something to think about: at that time, tensions were much higher between the US and the USSR than any tensions in the world now, and many of the safeguards against accidental nuclear war that we have now were not in place then.

Everyone needs to calm down. Good advice on Fareed Zakaria's breathless declaration of a "train wreck" in negotiations with Iran. Both sides are placating their hardliners. Let them do it. More here.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


I've noticed a bit of this: people excoriating other people for using passive verb constructions when that is not what the verb constructions are.

Geoffrey Pullum deconstructs one example from Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post in which none of the 23 verb forms in the passage she criticizes is passive. None. Zero. But Petri thinks they are. And that's the sad part: she and many others don't know what a passive verb is, but they feel obliged to criticze others for using them.

Pullum has collected examples of this phenomenon from many sources and considers the overall phenomenon here.
The topic of this paper is not so much a construction as a strange cultural trend emerging in the 20th century among language mavens, writing tutors, and usage advisers. Unneeded warnings against sentences that have nothing wrong with them are handed out by people who actually don’t know how to identify instances of what they are warning against, and the people they aim to educate or intimidate don’t know enough grammar to reject the nonsense they are offered. The blind warning the blind about a nonexistent danger.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

And Now, Fruit!

 We haven't had any fruit posted in a long time. This is a list of what is in a natural passionfruit. Chemicals!

Reading An Article On NSA Materials Very Carefully

Edward Snowden has said that his objective in stealing an enormous number of classified documents from the NSA was to let people know about the invasions of privacy by that agency. He says he has handed over all his materials to several journalists, and it is up to them to decide what is newsworthy and how to write their stories.

The Guardian, Der Speigel, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and ProPublica all have parts or all of the stolen files. Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, now part of Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media, also have files.

The stories have been coming out a few a week. The material is not easy to report on, some of it highly technical and all of it embedded in a highly secret context. Confirmation, for which most newspapers require at least two independent sources, is difficult.

Reporters like to follow a narrative, and Snowden’s claim that he wants to open a discussion of how Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights may have been breached is an attractive one. Many of the articles have followed that narrative, although it often misleads. The David Sanger and Thom Shanker article “NSA Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers” in the New York Times starts misleading with the headline (which an editor, rather than Sanger and Shanker, probably wrote).

The headline sounds like NSA is reaching out toward computers, even your computer, with radio waves to snatch your data. The article says otherwise, although you have to read carefully to know that.
Continuing the headline, the first paragraph says that the NSA “has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers.” The second paragraph hurries by the fact that physical access is required for that implanting to focus on “a secret technology that enables it to enter and alter data in computers even if they are not connected to the Internet.” The third paragraph finally mentions that the radio waves are coming from the altered computers, into which hardware has been installed.

The headline and first two paragraphs set up the idea that the NSA is using radio waves to get into computers not connected to the internet to implant software. Sanger and Shanker, I’m sure, would point out that that is not what they said. And that is correct. But figuring that out takes a much more careful reading than most people give newspaper articles.

The article goes on to another subject: why the NSA wants to be able to tap computers not connected to the internet. That allows the initial mistaken impression to settle into one’s brain. We think of the connected internet and wifi in ways that make it easy to continue thinking that the NSA can reach out by radio waves to MY computer.

Then the targets of this technology are enumerated: units of the Chinese Army, Russian military networks, systems used by the Mexican police and drug cartels, trade institutions inside the European Union, and Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan. Oh.

Next is a graphic titled “How the N.S.A. Uses Radio Frequencies to Penetrate Computers.” NSA, reaching into your computer. But the graphic itself shows that a piece of hardware, barely mentioned until then, is required to transmit signals from the bugged computer to a field station. “Penetrate,” however, still sounds like those radio waves/frequencies are reaching out from the NSA.

And then…

No Domestic Use Seen
There is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States…

“N.S.A.'s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

The article goes on to other issues – President Obama’s speech, encryption – and then a confusing paragraph on internet cables that implies, without saying, that these radio devices have been planted on the cables. This ties back, for those of us who have been following the many Snowden-related articles, to something about tapping cables. Is this how it was done? Or is this something else? Sanger and Shanker don’t tell  us. This information comes from a map that they don’t show.

And then we are told that the United States has two centers in China from which “it can insert malware into computers.” So the Chinese are sweeping their computers for radio emissions and trying to find where those emissions are being picked up.

The article refers to radio waves, once to radio frequencies. This sounds, to a technically trained person, a bit tinfoil-hatty. A technical person would more likely talk about radio transmissions. Radio transmissions are used for a great many things: garage door openers, wifi, Bluetooth, cell phones, microwave ovens, traffic radar, GPS. The phrase “radio waves” is no-fault: it doesn’t say where the waves are coming from. “Radio transmissions” would implies a transmitter, the existence of which, in the bugged computer, the article seems to want to avoid.

The relay station is said to “attack” the computer, although its function seems to be the passive one of picking up transmissions. It may also send malware back to the transmitting computer. The article is unclear about this.

If this article were structured honestly, it would start with something about a technology that the US was using in response to Chinese attempts to penetrate US computer networks and that could even be used to get computers not on the internet to “report back” to the NSA. But that would not follow the narrative of damaged Fourth Amendment rights.

The article winds up with the assertion that the “The hardware in the N.S.A.'s catalog” was the means for inserting Stuxnet into Iranian computers controlling their centrifuges. No source or confirmation is given for this assertion, which seems to be a connection Sanger and Shanker have made. The story of the rock in Iran that exploded into circuit boards is repeated. Was that in FARS news, which is mentioned in the last paragraph? The outlet that just told us that Edward Snowden revealed that the Earth is run by tall aliens?

Other stories from the Snowden material have followed a similar narrative and have been equally misleading. Many, like this one, reveal techniques that are used against other countries. Many, like this one, are inaccurate: although the impression is given that NSA is reaching into computers with radio waves, the fact is that the computer must be equipped with a special transmitter. And only 100,000 computers have been so equipped. That seems like a big number, but there are over one billion personal computers in use in the world. That’s .01% of all personal computers. And even this article says that none of them are in the United States.

It’s necessary to read the articles on the Snowden material very carefully. Like Gwen Ifill doesn’t do in this interview of Sanger. The job of reporters is to make complex things understandable. When they tie themselves to Snowden’s narrative, they add complexity and confusion. We shouldn’t have to read their articles like legal documents. But that’s what I’ve found necessary in every article I’ve read on the Snowden material.

First posted at Nuclear Diner.