Friday, January 23, 2009

Muammar Qaddafi Suggests A One-State Solution

Would it be workable, or is it just a way to make everyone unhappy?:
The basis for the modern State of Israel is the persecution of the Jewish people, which is undeniable. The Jews have been held captive, massacred, disadvantaged in every possible fashion by the Egyptians, the Romans, the English, the Russians, the Babylonians, the Canaanites and, most recently, the Germans under Hitler. The Jewish people want and deserve their homeland.

But the Palestinians too have a history of persecution, and they view the coastal towns of Haifa, Acre, Jaffa and others as the land of their forefathers, passed from generation to generation, until only a short time ago.

Thus the Palestinians believe that what is now called Israel forms part of their nation, even were they to secure the West Bank and Gaza. And the Jews believe that the West Bank is Samaria and Judea, part of their homeland, even if a Palestinian state were established there. Now, as Gaza still smolders, calls for a two-state solution or partition persist. But neither will work.

A two-state solution will create an unacceptable security threat to Israel. An armed Arab state, presumably in the West Bank, would give Israel less than 10 miles of strategic depth at its narrowest point. Further, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would do little to resolve the problem of refugees. Any situation that keeps the majority of Palestinians in refugee camps and does not offer a solution within the historical borders of Israel/Palestine is not a solution at all.

For the same reasons, the older idea of partition of the West Bank into Jewish and Arab areas, with buffer zones between them, won’t work. The Palestinian-held areas could not accommodate all of the refugees, and buffer zones symbolize exclusion and breed tension. Israelis and Palestinians have also become increasingly intertwined, economically and politically.

In absolute terms, the two movements must remain in perpetual war or a compromise must be reached. The compromise is one state for all, an “Isratine” that would allow the people in each party to feel that they live in all of the disputed land and they are not deprived of any one part of it.

A key prerequisite for peace is the right of return for Palestinian refugees to the homes their families left behind in 1948. It is an injustice that Jews who were not originally inhabitants of Palestine, nor were their ancestors, can move in from abroad while Palestinians who were displaced only a relatively short time ago should not be so permitted.

It is a fact that Palestinians inhabited the land and owned farms and homes there until recently, fleeing in fear of violence at the hands of Jews after 1948 — violence that did not occur, but rumors of which led to a mass exodus. It is important to note that the Jews did not forcibly expel Palestinians. They were never “un-welcomed.” Yet only the full territories of Isratine can accommodate all the refugees and bring about the justice that is key to peace.

Assimilation is already a fact of life in Israel. There are more than one million Muslim Arabs in Israel; they possess Israeli nationality and take part in political life with the Jews, forming political parties. On the other side, there are Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli factories depend on Palestinian labor, and goods and services are exchanged. This successful assimilation can be a model for Isratine.
City Vandals Change Bush St. Into Obama St.

Call The Wahmbulance!

Senator McConnell is unhappy about the DSCC (and thus indirectly with Senator Schumer's partisan ways.)

Well, well, well....

The other day, when I listened to radio host Michael Savage, the only point where he seemed actually funny was when he proclaimed that it was just a matter of minutes before Senator Schumer managed to find a way to insert himself into the Airbus Hudson landing story. Funny!

But politicians being politicians, particularly with a radioactive issue like the $700 billion bailout? Just another day at the office:
Sen. Mitch McConnell publicly lambasted Sen. Charles Schumer on Friday for running ads against the minority leader that touted his backing of the $700 billion bailout bill last fall.

McConnell (R-Ky.) made clear during his appearance at the National Press Club that he was not pleased with Schumer's (N.Y.) tactics as Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) chairman, which he described as “beyond the pale.”

The fifth-term lawmaker noted that he and Schumer worked together to iron out the legislation and that three-quarters of the Senate, including Schumer and President Obama, voted for it.

McConnell, a former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he stuck his neck out to pass a bill that he and many Democrats thought was necessary in the midst of a national economic crisis. The 66-year-old lawmaker said he has not discussed his irritation with Schumer, but added that the senior senator from New York is familiar with how he feels.

“This was a major national crisis, not a second-tier issue by any means, and the thought that individuals who were involved in negotiating the package would then turn around and go out and attack people in the other party for trying to save the country I thought was beyond the pale,” McConnell said. “That doesn't mean that the two chairmen of the senatorial committees are not going to be critical — that's what they do, they run campaigns. But this was a moment of incredible significance.”

“As Sen. McConnell well knows, Sen. Schumer was prevented by law from directing that that ad be made or approving it in advance,” said Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon.

Despite the DSCC’s efforts, McConnell last November defeated Democrat Bruce Lunsford 53 percentage points to 47.
Change For The Better

Trading blood for stolen lawnmowers in Compton:
By the time the hip-hop group N.W.A released its seminal 1988 album "Straight Outta Compton," with those lyrics, the city's fate seemed sealed. The album was a celebration of the gang life; killing was described as an inescapable part of life.

The town that many still refer to as "Old Compton" -- poor but proud, with an abiding sense of community -- had been ravaged by guns, crack and joblessness. With just 100,000 people, Compton developed an outsize but deserved reputation as a national epicenter of gang violence.

Today, there are 65 gangs jammed into 10 square miles -- Front Hood Crips and Pirus and Seminoles, bored and broke, jaded and angry, sure that life has little to offer. The turf for some is no bigger than a football field, and they will defend it against any perceived slight. That's how it's been here for almost three decades.

So it came as something of a surprise when the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which contracts to provide police services here, added up the community's 2008 homicides. The total for Compton, including smaller, adjacent pockets of unincorporated county land: 38.

It was the lowest number in at least 25 years and a 50% drop since 2005. From 1985 to 2000, said Sheriff's Capt. William M. Ryan, an average of 66 people were slain each year within the city limits; that number fell last year to 28. Gang-related aggravated assaults have fallen too in the city and the county pockets, nearly 25% over four years -- "dramatic indicators," Sheriff Lee Baca said at a recent news conference, "that we are doing the right thing."

The sheriff did not mention an irony: Compton, while widely viewed as a success story, is one of the few L.A.-area communities where crime is rising. Both the city and county of Los Angeles saw declines in major crimes last year; in Compton, such crimes rose by 13% in the same period.

However, officials said, most of the increase was in property crimes -- burglary, up 39%; larceny, up 27%. Authorities attribute that to the bad economy. A poor community with high unemployment, Ryan said, "is affected the most."

So in a sense, Compton is trading blood in the streets for stolen lawn mowers -- and around here, that's a bargain many will live with.
Incoherent Mutterings On The Street

One fellow on cigarette break, telling a story to another co-worker: "Well then, I said; I said 'Here is my oven!'"

Surprised homeless fellow, talking to himself on the sidewalk: "Hey, I lost my pictures!"

Man walking down the sidewalk while singing at tragic, deafening, full volume into a cell phone: "I'm giving you up! I'm giving you up! I'm giving you up!"
Jessica Alba On Bill O'Reilly!

Hollywood types, at times, speak truth to power.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Carnival De L'Amour

Today, I chanced to see Dennis Yep and Heddy Chiang from InterACT Theatre Company, and asked what they are up to these days. Carnival de L'Amour is what they are up to these days, with performances on Valentine's Weekend.

Check it out!
Solar Plants

Desert tortoises:
The Mojave Desert is an attractive place to put solar simply because the sun shines brightly for much of the year there. But figuring out where to put the projects is shaping up to be a fight, given that 80 percent of the land is federally owned, either by the military, the BLM or the National Park Service. Then there's the problem of where to put the transmission lines to move the power to populated areas.

The first of the projects likely to be built is the Ivanpah Solar Power Complex, a 4,000-acre site in the Mojave Desert. It's currently in the permitting process; a decision is expected in November 2009. Its solar thermal technology is similar to a camper using a magnifying glass to start a fire. Picture three towers, each surrounded by tens of thousands of mirrors, known as heliostats. The mirrors reflect the sun's rays onto giant tower boilers filled with water. Heat would generate steam at temperatures approaching 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That steam would be used to make electricity.

That's bad news for the desert tortoises and other critters living there, according to Ilene Anderson, a biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. "At the Ivanpah site, they're dealing with super-heated liquids, and they don't want to have any inadvertent fires from vegetation." For the desert tortoises, that means no afternoon lounging in the shade of creosote bushes.

But the amount of solar power produced could be impressive. BrightSource Energy, the company building the Ivanpah project, says it could power 142,000 homes and reduce CO2 emissions by more than 280,000 tons per year. According to the company, the 400 megawatt installation could produce more energy in one year more than all the rooftop solar units currently installed in the U.S.

BrightSource has some powerful friends to help bring the heat. Among its investors is the venture capital firm Vantage Point Venture Partners, which counts among its advisors Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the cousin of Gov. Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver; and Terry Tamminen, the former state environmental protection secretary, who continues to advise Schwarzenegger on energy policy. Ironically, environmentalist Kennedy famously tangled with his eco brethren by opposing the installation of a large-scale wind project off the cost of Cape Cod, the Cape Wind Project.

Advocates for desert wildlife realize they may not be able to stand in the way of the political juggernaut. In that case, they argue, the solar plants should be built on lands that have already been disturbed by agriculture and human development. In fact, says BrightSource's Wachs, the Ivanpah site has been used in the past for cattle grazing and off-road vehicles. It also has a major transmission line running through it, unlike many other remote desert sites, to move the power to people who need it.

A permit for the Ivanpah project will likely require a "mitigation" effort. BrightSource would buy a yet-to-be-determined amount of similar habitat and move the tortoises there. But tortoises don't take kindly to being relocated. In March 2008, about 670 tortoises were moved by helicopter to make way for new combat training grounds at the Fort Irwin Military Reservation in the Mojave Desert. But the relocation was suspended after 90 tortoises perished.

Part of the problem is that the tortoises wouldn't stay put in their new digs. "Tortoises are not migratory. They have home ranges that they live in all of their lives," explains biologist Anderson. But if you take them away from their home range they try to walk -- a few miles per day -- back home. "You can move them and they instinctively know which direction their home is and they make a break for it." The slow walk home makes them easier prey to coyotes and cars.

Terry Frewin, chair of the Sierra Club's California/Nevada Desert Committee, says that if the desert tortoise were a cuddlier poster child, preserving the desert might stand a better chance of winning public sympathy. "I often equate our deserts with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in terms of the energy fight, and the uniqueness of the habitat of each," says Frewin. "There are probably more threatened and endangered species in the desert than in ANWR. I often feel that if we had a polar bear cub in the desert, we'd get more attention."

To Moody, from Desert Survivors, there's great irony in attempting to fight climate change by building industrial power plants in the desert. Global warming is already thawing the tundra, he says. "So now we should sacrifice the desert so we don't thaw the tundra?"
Matt Taibbi Hearts Thomas Friedman

Taibbi is SO funny when he skewers that gasbag:
Just when you begin to lose faith in America’s ability to fall for absolutely anything—just when you begin to think we Americans as a race might finally outgrow the lovable credulousness that leads us to fork over our credit card numbers to every half-baked TV pitchman hawking a magic dick-enlarging pill, or a way to make millions on the Internet while sitting at home and pounding doughnuts— along comes Thomas Friedman, porn-stached resident of a positively obscene 11,400 square foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.

Where does a man who needs his own offshore drilling platform just to keep the east wing of his house heated get the balls to write a book chiding America for driving energy inefficient automobiles? Where does a guy whose family bulldozed 2.1 million square feet of pristine Hawaiian wilderness to put a Gap, an Old Navy, a Sears, an Abercrombie and even a motherfucking Foot Locker in paradise get off preaching to the rest of us about the need for a “Green Revolution”? Well, he’ll explain it all to you in 438 crisply written pages for just $27.95, $30.95 if you have the misfortune to be Canadian.

I’ve been unhealthily obsessed with Thomas Friedman for more than a decade now. For most of that time, I just thought he was funny. And admittedly, what I thought was funniest about him was the kind of stuff that only another writer would really care about—in particular his tortured use of the English language. Like George W. Bush with his Bushisms, Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn’t make them up even if you were trying—and when you tried to actually picture the “illustrative” figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.

Remember Friedman’s take on Bush’s Iraq policy? “It’s OK to throw out your steering wheel,” he wrote, “as long as you remember you’re driving without one.” Picture that for a minute. Or how about Friedman’s analysis of America’s foreign policy outlook last May:

The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”

First of all, how can any single person be in three holes at once? Secondly, what the fuck is he talking about? If you’re supposed to stop digging when you’re in one hole, why should you dig more in three? How does that even begin to make sense? It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if the editors over at the New York Times editorial page spend their afternoons dropping acid or drinking rubbing alcohol. Sending a line like that into print is the journalism equivalent of a security guard at a nuke plant waving a pair of mullahs in explosive vests through the front gate. It should never, ever happen.

...And who cares if it doesn’t quite make sense when Friedman says that Iraq is like a “vase we broke in order to get rid of the rancid water inside?” Who cares that you can just pour water out of a vase, that only a fucking lunatic breaks a perfectly good vase just to empty it of water? You’re missing the point, folks say, and the point is all in Friedman’s highly nuanced ideas about world politics and the economy—if you could just get past his well-meaning attempts to explain himself, you’d see that, and maybe you’d even learn something.

...Friedman frequently uses a rhetorical technique that goes something like this: “I was in Dubai with the general counsel of BP last year, watching 500 Balinese textile workers get on a train, when suddenly I said to myself, ‘We need better headlights for our tri-plane.’” And off he goes. You the reader end up spending so much time wondering what Dubai, BP and all those Balinese workers have to do with the rest of the story that you don’t notice that tri-planes don’t have headlights. And by the time you get all that sorted out, your well-lit tri-plane is flying from chapter to chapter delivering a million geo-green pizzas to a million Noahs on a million Arks. And you give up. There’s so much shit flying around the book’s atmosphere that you don’t notice the only action is Friedman talking to himself.

In The World is Flat, the key action scene of the book comes when Friedman experiences his pseudo-epiphany about the Flat world while talking with himself in front of InfoSys CEO Nandan Nilekani. In Hot, Flat and Crowded, the money shot comes when Friedman starts doodling on a napkin over lunch with Moisés Naím, editor of Foreign Policy magazine. The pre-lunching Friedman starts drawing, and the wisdom just comes pouring out:

I laid out my napkin and drew a graph showing how there seemed to be a rough correlation between the price of oil, between 1975 and 2005, and the pace of freedom in oil-producing states during those same years.

Friedman then draws his napkin-graph, and much to the pundit’s surprise, it turns out that there is almost an exact correlation between high oil prices and “unfreedom”! The graph contains two lines, one showing a rising and then descending slope of “freedom,” and one showing a descending and then rising course of oil prices.

Friedman plots exactly four points on the graph over the course of those 30 years. In 1989, as oil prices are falling, Friedman writes, “Berlin Wall Torn Down.” In 1993, again as oil prices are low, he writes, “Nigeria Privatizes First Oil Field.” 1997, oil prices still low, “Iran Calls for Dialogue of Civilizations.” Then, finally, 2005, a year of high oil prices: “Iran calls for Israel’s destruction.”Take a look for yourself: I looked at this and thought: “Gosh, what a neat trick!” Then I sat down and drew up my own graph, called SIZE OF VALERIE BERTINELLI’S ASS, 1985-2008, vs. HAPPINESS. It turns out that there is an almost exact correlation!

...That was so much fun, I drew another one! This one is called AMERICAN PORK BELLY PRICES vs. WHAT MIDGETS THINK ABOUT AUSTRALIA 1972-2002.


Obviously this sounds like a flippant analysis, but that’s more or less exactly what Friedman is up to here.

...Getting to the “ideas” in the book: Its basic premise is that America’s decades-long habit of gluttonous energy consumption has adversely affected humanity because a) while the earth could support America’s indulgence, it can’t sustain two billion endlessly-copulating Chinese should they all choose to live in American-style excess, and b) the exploding global demand for oil artificially subsidizes repressive Middle Eastern dictatorships that would otherwise have to rely on tax revenue (read: listen to their people) in order to survive, and this subsidy leads to terrorism and a spread of “unfreedom.”

Regarding the first point, Friedman writes:

Because if the spread of freedom and free markets is not accompanied by a new approach to how we produce energy and treat the environment… then Mother Nature and planet earth will impose their own constraints and limits on our way of life—constraints that will be worse than communism.

Three observations about this touching and seemingly remarkable development, i.e. onetime unrepentant free-market icon Thomas Friedman suddenly coming out huge for the environment and against the evils of gross consumerism:

1. The need for massive investment in green energy is an idea so obvious and inoffensive that even presidential candidates from both parties could be seen fighting over who’s for it more in nationally televised debates last fall;

2. I wish I had the balls to first spend six long years madly cheering on an Iraq war that not only reintroduced Sharia law to the streets of Baghdad, but radicalized the entire Islamic world against American influence—and then write a book blaming the spread of fundamentalist Islam on the ignorant consumers of the middle American heartland, who bought too many Hummers and spent too much time shopping for iPods in my wife’s giganto-malls.

3. To review quickly, the “Long Bomb” Iraq war plan Friedman supported as a means of transforming the Middle East blew up in his and everyone else’s face; the “Electronic Herd” of highly volatile international capital markets he once touted as an economic cure-all not only didn’t pan out, but led the world into a terrifying chasm of seemingly irreversible economic catastrophe; his beloved “Golden Straitjacket” of American-style global development (forced on the world by the “hidden fist” of American military power) turned out to be the vehicle for the very energy/ecological crisis Friedman himself warns about in his new book; and, most humorously, the “Flat World” consumer economics Friedman marveled at so voluminously turned out to be grounded in such total unreality that even his wife’s once-mighty shopping mall empire, General Growth Properties, has lost 99 percent of its value in this year alone.

So, yes, Friedman is suddenly an environmentalist of sorts.

What the fuck else is he going to be? All the other ideas he spent the last ten years humping have been blown to hell. Color me unimpressed that he scrounged one more thing to sell out of the smoldering, discredited wreck that should be his career; that he had the good sense to quickly reinvent himself before angry Gods remembered to dash his brains out with a lightning bolt. But better late than never, I suppose. Or as Friedman might say, “Better two cell phones than a fish in your zipper.”
Historical Nihilism

I disagree with Richard Abowitz's opinion here. Even the annihilation of history has a history. I remember my first visit to Vegas. Riding down the Strip in an open convertible on a sunny day and gazing in wonder at the many large casinos I thought "How did this place come to be?" A "Mob Museum" for Las Vegas is a splendid idea!:
I will go on the record that I think the mob museum is a horrible idea. In 2009, Vegas has reinvented itself in so many ways and so many times that a mob museum already sounds quaint and dated. Maybe the last time this may have been a good idea was back when "The Sopranos" was a hit television show. Otherwise, if you care about the mob in Vegas, rent the movie "Casino."

The bigger issue is that no matter who is paying, museums are not the sort of new attractions Vegas needs right now to recover. This idea totally misses the mark of why people come to Vegas, and what makes Vegas so special. It is not our history but our lack of history that draws people. It is not the education you can gain about the history of the town when you visit Vegas, but what you can do in Vegas while visiting that brings the tourists.

As I have noted before, Vegas sells experience: entertainments that can't be pirated, downloaded or bought online. Therefore concerts, production shows, dining, gambling, nightclubs and attractions with interactions are going to continue to bring people here. To assist that process, Vegas has to return not to the days of the mob or invoking those memories, but to actually delivering the unbelievable bargains of 30 years ago. We need to allow regular, hardworking people to afford to come to Vegas and leave with memories that are worth their money.

In this way, Vegas is closer to a movie or compact disc than it is to most other tourists destinations. In many ways, one goes to Paris or New York to be steeped in their culture, visit museums and see landmarks. You experience those places hoping to gain something of the legendary location's special traditions and history.

That is not Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a gaudy blank slate of unlimited potential in which you create your own custom experiences during a visit. One does not come to Vegas for the history of Vegas -- mob or otherwise -- but for the ever-changing now of Las Vegas, with its malleable ways to take a walk on the wild side. What makes people come to Vegas is not what they can see here, but what they can do here. And, in that sense, money aside, the mob museum sort of misses the point: Vegas tourists want the now of this place, the torrent of possibilities of today's Vegas, not the then of this town's history. A Vegas trying to sell its past is a Vegas without a future.
"Growing Out" Coming Out Jan. 23rd

The movie "Growing Out", starring (among others) Stephanie Skewes, will be released in Los Angeles on January 23rd.

Strange distribution. Apparently it's showing in Dublin, Ireland right now (but not here).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dung Beetles Tire Of Dung

Instead, they want meat:
Dr Trond Larsen and his team set up more than 1,000 traps containing different treats to tempt the beetles, filming one adult attacking and killing an injured millipede, which dwarfed it in size, by decapitating it with its body armour.

Dr Larsen wrote: "This is a remarkable transition. Despite its close relationships with dung feeding species, D. valgum has entirely abandoned its ball-rolling behaviour. This is the first known case of an obligate predatory dung beetle species."

Dr Adrian Forsyth, a co-author of the paper, said: "It seems like such a huge jump - from a scavenger to a hunter-predator - so the real story is, how did it get from A to Z? We knew plenty of dung beetles which are attracted to dead insects - drawn by their potent cyanide-rich odours. And now we find a species which just couldn't wait."

He added: "This is a beetle which says: 'It doesn't matter if it's dead or alive, I'm going to eat it'. It's a nice example of how you can take an apparently big step - to become a carnivore."

The scientists believe the evolutionary transition has been driven by competition for food.

It is not the first time the dung beetle has been shown to be more sophisticated than its name suggests. In 2006, researchers found dung beetles are " fussy eaters", preferring horse dung to camel and sheep ordure.
Disagreeable Things The Obama Administration Has Done So Far - #1

Today, Obama and his Administration didn't do anything to annoy me.

But the Democratic National Committee (DNC) may be abandoning Howard Dean's 50-State Strategy for winning the 2008 election, in favor of a Re-elect Obama In 2012 Strategy. This is a big mistake on the part of the DNC. Dean's 50-State Strategy is a proven winner, especially in the Red States. Don't abandon success!
Walls Coming Down

Bruce Warren interviews some of Auburn's African-Americans regarding Obama's inauguration:
Anthony Porter, 55, an Auburn resident since 1995, said Obama’s election night was actually more emotional for him.

“When he got elected, I cried that night,” Porter said. “Right now, I’m getting used to it. I would never have believed this would happen in my lifetime.

Even though Porter was touched by Obama’s inauguration, what he saw during the election celebration in Chicago impressed him more.

“To look at white people in that park in Chicago and see them crying touched me even more,” Porter said.

For Andre Thomas, 48, formerly a technical trainer at Coherent in Auburn, Obama’s election opens up new vistas. Thomas recently visited the Great Wall in China and walls were on his mind Tuesday.

“This is like a wall coming down,” Thomas said. “It’s like a visual wall, so people can now see beyond their own environment. There was a barrier before. I think a new frontier has opened up.”

His daughter Maya, 12, never knew that any wall existed.

“For her the election didn’t make a difference,” Thomas said. “For her the door was always open.”
Live By The Market...

...Die by the market:
When George W. Bush took office the Dow was at 10,578.20. By the time he left office, it had fallen to 7,949.09.
And it's helpful remembering that people once seriously talked about much higher levels - remember Robert Zuccaro's December 2001 book, "Dow 30,000 by 2008"? - and that wasn't even the most optimistic forecast either (Dow, 36,000; 40,000, and higher).
Evading The Spider

For months now, whenever I placed my hand into my plastic recycling barrel's molded handle (about once a week), I could feel spider webs. Someone had a nice, dry home deep under that handle! At some primitive level, I also understood that this was a black widow's web, because of the web's chaotic denseness.

So today, when I moved the barrel, I first used a tissue to clean out the web, and then tossed the webby tissue into the trash. Looking into the trash barrel, I could see a disoriented black widow spider walking around. Whew! Glad that's gone!

Interestingly, on my thumb, I now feel a phantom pinprick. I don't think I was bitten, since there is no discoloration or other evident problem, but instead I think that my anxious imagination is making up a psychosomatic wound for my own entertainment.
The Trouble With Nuclear Waste

If we have trouble keeping tabs just on this thing, which isn't even waste, then what hope is there of keeping adequate records over the generations of humnakind for an entire industry?:
In 2004, clean-up work uncovered a battered, rusted, and broken old safe containing a glass jug inside which was 400 millilitres of plutonium.

Recent tests by Jon Schwantes' team at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, has shown this plutonium was the first ever processed at the site, and the first made on a usable scale anywhere in the world.

Schwantes and colleagues used the fact that plutonium naturally decays to uranium to date the sample to 1946, give or take 4.5 years, by comparing the amounts of the two metals present inside the jug. Its age allowed the team to establish that the plutonium must have come from one of four reactors - out of 11 in the US at the time - from which fuel was reprocessed into plutonium.

Three of those reactors were on the Hanford site, with the fourth at Oak Ridge in Tennessee. Comparing the minor plutonium isotopes in the sample to signatures for each of the four reactors showed that the sample came from the X-10 reactor at Oak Ridge.

But only trawling through records at Hanford helped Schwantes and his team realise the historical significance of their find. The Hanford site's reprocessing plant, the first in the world, was completed before the reactors nearby were ready, in late 1944. So the inaugural run of the reprocessor on 9 December 1944 used fuel shipped from Oak Ridge.

"The very next run [and all subsequent runs] used Hanford plutonium," says Schwantes. "We have the oldest known sample of plutonium-239 - weapons plutonium."

His team read that a safe matching the description of the one unearthed in 2004 was sealed in 1945 because of radioactive contamination. It was disposed of in 1951, and remained lost for the next 50 years.

"The contamination was not from the plutonium jug," Schwantes says. "The jug was intact when found."

Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,110 years and emits alpha particles that are too bulky to penetrate even skin or paper. It is most dangerous when inhaled as a dry powder, where its decay in the lungs can cause cancer, he adds.

John Simpson, an expert on nuclear history at Southampton University in the UK, thinks the new find is important.

"From the historical records, it looks as if they've got it right," he says. "But the puzzling thing is, why didn't this plutonium make it into the bomb?" In 1944, the Americans were working flat out to develop a nuclear capability - it's strange that any first large batch of plutonium-239 should be stored and not used, he says.

Schwantes thinks that is because of the radioactive contamination to the safe it was being stored in. The first batch would eventually have been folded back into the stockpile if not for that contamination.

But despite its historic significance, Schwantes doesn't plan to put the sample in a museum. He is working with New Brunswick Labs to create a standard reference sample for plutonium-239 from the material, partly because of its primacy as the oldest sample. "The other factor is its extreme purity - 99.96% plutonium-239 is as pure a sample of 239 I have seen produced from any reactor," says Schwantes.
As The Golden Sun Sets In The West....

Stating The Obvious

The War Nerd took a look at the Gaza campaign two weeks ago, and this was his forecast:
The Israelis attacked now because of two non-military cycles: the news cycle and the presidential cycle. This was like a war by an astrologer: the stars had to be in exactly the right position before the Apaches could start blasting and the Merkavas could roll.

The most important cycle of all is the news cycle. This war happened during international media dead week, between Christmas and New Year. Ordinary people are drunk or hungover or snowed in, and the people who matter, the media players, are off in Cancun and Phuket, soaking up rum and sun with their blackberries turned off. They’re not going to bum out their call girls watching the news from Gaza.

And the Israelis wanted a time when everybody was distracted for a simple reason: asymmetrical war isn’t pretty. That’s the same reason they won’t let camera crews into Gaza. To do this kind of war, you have to kill a lot of civilians, because the whole civilian/military distinction doesn’t really apply. If your neighbor is a mid-ranking officer in the military wing of Hamas, the best way to kill him is while he sleeps, before he can arm himself, deploy his men and maybe inflict casualties. Thanks to years of excellent intelligence on Gaza, the Israelis know exactly who’s where at pretty much any minute of any day. And they have attack helicopters hovering over it non-stop, ready to send a Hellfire missile down to take out anybody who might help organize a counterattack.

But Gaza is the most crowded slum in the world, so when you send that missile into his tenement apartment at 4 am, it’s going to kill him, but it’s also going to kill his wife, their kids (and Gaza has a huge birthrate) and half the block. That makes cold military sense but it doesn’t look good on the news.

...The other cycle is more of a gamble: the presidential cycle. I can’t believe nobody’s saying the obvious here: the Israelis want to do this now, once and for all, while Bush is still in office. They know that Bush will let them do whatever they want. Bush and Cheney are literally more extreme than about half of the Israeli electorate. They’ve never objected to anything Israel wants to do except when the Israelis wanted to talk to the Syrians. As long as it involves blowing stuff up, Bush is guaranteed to be on their side.

So the planets aligned perfectly for Israel, not so much Age of Aquarius way as Zero Hour, last chance to blow up Gaza before Obama comes in.

Will Obama be more hardnosed with the Israelis? I doubt it. Why would he? You’re not supposed to say out loud that there’s a big rich Israeli lobby, but everybody knows there is. And more to the point, what’s their counterweight? Who cares about the Palestinians, even in the Arab world, never mind DC? So there’s a big net gain to any US politician who backs Israel and no reason at all to back their opponents.

So I don’t see why the Israelis are so worried about Obama. Still, a military planner’s job is to be paranoid and the Israeli staff has decided that since Bush is a sure thing and the new guy is an unknown quantity, why not do it now?

I’ll tell you something else: Obama’s people are cheering the IDF too, for the timing at least. “Dear IDF, Thank you for doing this while Bush is still around to take the heat! Signed, Barack.” That’s exactly what Obama meant when somebody asked him about Gaza and he said, “Hey, we only have one president at a time!”

That tells you something else about this operation: it’s likely to end before January 20, 2009. Obama doesn’t want his big inauguration party bummed out with pictures of dead Arab kids, so the IDF has this thing planned to end sometime in early January.

Of course planning is one thing, execution is another. The IDF planned for a quick clean fight against Hezbollah in 2006, but that’s not the way it worked out.

This time the IDF will succeed, at least in the short term, and the campaign will go according to plan. That’s my guess anyway. What we have here is Hamas getting a very hard lesson in why it’s dangerous to pretend you’re Hezbollah when you’re not.

Hezbollah fought so well last time around that everybody started getting uppity, and the Israelis didn’t like it at all. They weren’t getting respect. They couldn’t destroy Hezbollah, though; the Hezzies are too smart, too big, too well integrated with the locals in Lebanon. Hezbollah has all kinds of advantages that Hamas doesn’t have, like great strategic depth, pockets of Shia support all through Lebanon, far from the IDF’s reach (unless they tried another fullscale invasion of Lebanon, a real bad idea).

So for more than two years now Israel has had to put up with Hezbollah sitting just over its northern border with a smug little grin on its hairy face, strutting on the rep it made back in 2006-and there’s not much the IDF can do about it.

But the worst thing you can do is hide behind your big brother, because what if somebody chooses you out alone? That’s what’s happened to Hamas. They’re trying to be Hezbollah South, woofing at the Israelis, shooting off those stupid backyard cherrybomb rockets that couldn’t hit the ground if gravity didn’t help out…and meanwhile the IDF is in a very bad mood, embarrassed about losing to Hezbollah, bummed about Bush leaving office, and getting poked in the ass nonstop by hardcore settler types wanting them to blow something up right now, dammit!

It’s what they call a no-brainer. You may not be able to take out Hezbollah but just look at Gaza: a tiny strip of land, about six miles wide in most places. No strategic depth for Hamas at all. And Egypt hates Hamas like poison, so they’re quietly telling Mossad: “Go for it!”

Then there’s the issue of combat potential, as in Hamas ain’t no Hezbollah. Hamas is tougher than the PLO; they proved that in the skirmishes over the last few years about who runs the PA. But that’s not saying much; one of my grandmothers-not both, just one, I’m trying to be fair here-was tougher than the PLO too. And there’s a huge, huge difference between scaring off fat sleazy Arafat gangsters by firing in the air and actually fighting the IDF. Hezbollah has somebody doing serious strategic planning; Hamas has a bunch of hotheads. Hezbollah has been bunkering up, training in anti-armor operations, learning to deal with air strikes for years. Hamas believes in yelling at the attack helicopters.

They’re going down. Now, that’s not to say they’ll be wiped out, exterminated, whatever. That doesn’t happen any more, for reasons I’ll discuss in my next column. What we’re talking about here, what the IDF has in mind, is more what the Romans called “decimation”: killing enough of the right people to make Hamas weak for five or ten years, which may, just may, be long enough to give Israel’s allies the PLO/Fatah the edge in the Palestinian Civil War. That’s what this is about, getting your guys to win that war.

Will it work? Depends on the time frame. For a few years, yes; in the long run, Hell no. But if you’re the IDF, there are no good options in the long term. Demographics, dude; no way out of that spiral. The short term is all you’ve got, and in the short term Hamas is going to find out why it’s not a good idea to pretend you’re Hezbollah when you can’t back it up.
A Balance Of Terror

By keeping their goals limited and avoiding the hubris of 2006, the Israelis seem to have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. They limited the duration of their Gaza campaign to the interregnum between Obama's election victory, and his inauguration. They didn't get everything they wanted, but that wasn't the real goal. The real goal was to demonstrate to the Palestinians that, even in asymmetrical warfare, terror is a two-edged sword:
JERUSALEM – Israel withdrew the last of its troops from the Gaza Strip before dawn Wednesday, the military said, and pursued diplomatic efforts to stanch the flow of arms into the Hamas-ruled territory.

The timing of the pullout reflected Israeli hopes to defuse the crisis in Gaza before President Barack Obama entered the White House. The military said troops remain massed on the Israeli side of the border, prepared to take action in the event of renewed militant fire. Israeli navy ships shot rounds of machine-gun fire at the beaches of northern Gaza.

The military had no immediate comment on the gunboat fire.

Israel sent thousands of ground troops into the Palestinian territory earlier this month as part of a bruising offensive meant to permanently halt years of militant rocket fire on growing numbers of Israelis and to halt the smuggling of arms into Gaza.

Some 1,300 Palestinians were killed, more than half of them civilians, Gaza health officials and the U.N. have reported, a death toll that has provoked international outrage. In Israel, however, the war was popular because it was seen as a legitimate response to militants who now have one-eighth of the population within rocket range.

Both sides declared cease-fires that went into effect Sunday, though they remain shaky. Israel reported mortar shelling from Gaza on Tuesday, and the Palestinians say Israeli troops shot and killed two Gaza farmers along the border since the truce took hold.

The fighting ended before Israel achieved its aims, though world leaders have pledged to assist in efforts to keep militants from restocking war-depleted arsenals.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Changing Partners - Patti Page

Squirrel #8 Bites The Dust

It had been so long since one got crunched by a car passing the bird feed spot that I thought the species had evolved locally to a new intelligence plateau.....

Student Tribute to Obama - Berkeley High School

Stock Market Go Boom

332 point drop! Still, I don't understand why it is so high. We need a 1000-point drop just to get people's attention.
Go To Gold

Left: The largest hoard of prehistoric gold coins ever discovered were found using a metal detector near Wickham Market, Suffolk. The collection of 824 gold staters was found in a broken pottery jar buried in a field. The coins are stamped with moons, wheels and horses.

With the pound sterling plummeting in value, Britons get nostalgic about gold:
For 2,000 years, this enormous fortune lay undisturbed in the ground where it had been left as a gift to the gods.

The 824 gold coins were minted by the deeply-religious Iceni tribe, made famous by the warrior queen Boadicea.

They have been dated to some time between 40BC and 15AD and are worth up to £250,000 at today's values.

That sum is likely to be split between the metal- detecting enthusiast who found the coins and the owner of the land he was working on.

The Iceni made regular offerings to the gods by leaving valuable goods in rivers or sacred groves.

They would also bury their treasure when under threat.

But it seems unlikely that these coins were buried for safekeeping, and then forgotten, because they were simply too valuable. Instead they would probably have been a gift to the gods - and one worth the equivalent of £1 million in Boudicea's day.

The Iron Age coins - stored in a pottery jar - were recovered in October from a field near Wickham Market in Suffolk.

Jude Plouviez, of the county's archaeological service, said: 'It's an exciting find.

'The discovery is important because it highlights the probable political, economic and religious importance of an area.

'It certainly suggests there was a significant settlement nearby. As far as we understand, it was occupied by wealthy tribes or sub-tribes.'

Excavations were carried out at the site after the metal-detecting enthusiast, who does not wish to be identified, reported the find.

The exact location has not been made public to stop it being raided by treasure hunters.

Peter Dean, Greater Suffolk Coroner, has been informed and will hold an inquest to rule whether the hoard should be declared 'treasure'.

If it is, a valuation committee will determine how much the coins are worth so that they can be sold to a museum. The proceeds will then go the finder and the landowner. Collectors would pay around £300 for each of the coins, or staters.

It is the largest hoard of Iron Age gold coins unearthed in Britain since 1849, when a farm worker found between 800 and 2,000 in a field near Milton Keynes.
Obama Inaugural Speech

"We will restore science to its rightful place..." Encouraging! And other stirring rhetoric:
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
Clutter Changes

E.: Wwwwaaaahhhh! I can't find nothing! Where's the piece of paper with the shopping list for the school first-aid kits?
M.: I crawled under your bed and took out all the papers and filed them. You can look in the files for the paper.
E.: Don't touch my things!
M.: It was evil under there! Years of dust!
E.: Everything under there was organized, and you messed it up!
M.: Ha! Ha! Ha!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Raw Video Camera Selections Capturing Plane Crash On Hudson River - US Airways Airbus A320

Greta Gerwig's Mention In The New Yorker


The reviews improve all the time:
It’s also been a great year for the actress Greta Gerwig, the intellectual-boho diva of the “mumblecore” movement, who co-starred in the Duplass brothers’ shaggy-dog horror film, “Baghead” (Sony), and, with Joe Swanberg, co-directed and co-starred in the romantic drama “Nights and Weekends.” Gerwig shines in the title role of Swanberg’s 2007 feature, “Hannah Takes the Stairs” (IFC Films), as a young playwright who works at a production company and gets involved in an office-romance triangle. The film’s documentary-style methods and rich improvisations—especially Gerwig’s—vividly portray the lives of young artists very much like the directors and actors themselves. The daringly spontaneous actress is also impressive in “Yeast” (available through Amazon video on demand), the first feature directed by Mary Bronstein, who co-starred in the year’s best indie feature—“Frownland,” directed by her husband, Ronald Bronstein. In “Yeast,” Gerwig and Mary Bronstein are joined by Amy Judd in the story of three artistic young New Yorkers struggling with love, money, and adulthood. The tight closeups and hectic handheld camerawork powerfully evoke the women’s outer constraints and inner chaos, and Gerwig does a passive-aggressive scene that deserves inclusion in movie anthologies and psychology textbooks.
Dyer's Photos Just Keep Getting Better And Better

Last month, Friend Dyer wrote:
Hi All,

On Sunday, Dec. 7, I attended "La Fiesta de Guadalupe" at the De Grazia "Gallery in the Sun".

I was there for a performance of "Mariache Milagro Juvenil", a pinata breaking party, and for a performance of "Ballot Folklorico Tapatio". These two groups, music and dance, are local Tucson Groups. This was a lot of fun and I tried to make some portraits of both performers and some the children breaking the pinata.

For those interested, I have put some photographs I took on the web.


They Come In Peace

After many years painting in the Pre-Raphaelite style, Deborah McMillion-Nering has recently changed her artistic style.

I need to ask her why.
"Hello Dolly!" At DMTC

Left: Mary Young as Dolly Levi.

A week ago, at intermission, I asked a sometimes-YPT player to comment on "Hello Dolly!" He sighed, and said he didn't understand it. I thought incomprehension occurred because the events take place a century ago, and those ways are now old and quaint. But seeing the show on Friday, I realized that it was actually quite hard to follow the show's exposition: several audience members in the front row also complained.

The voices of several of the lead players were just too quiet for the audience to achieve complete understanding. You might listen to a sentence with 14 words, but if only 12 words are understood, then meaning gets lost.

In general, I like DMTC's decision not to rely on amplified voices, because then the players aren't dependent on fault-prone microphones to make themselves understood. Nevertheless, there are times when that decision should be opened to discussion.

There were some good moments, though. There was one point where Carina Summers aspirated a "p", and she was so loud her voice echoed from the metal pillar holding up the ceiling!

Left: Bows. I'm glad David Holmes is back from 3.5 years in oblivion. Where was that oblivion? Rio Rancho, New Mexico! Wait a minute - I'm from neighboring Corrales, New Mexico, so does that mean I come from oblivion too? Banish the thought!

Midtown Players Friday Night Show

Left: I'm not sure I remember the names of all these folks. Left to right, Kenyon Page, Michael Rowe, Sarah Payne, Crystal Rua, Ashley Sinkey, and David Hansen.

I went to see Midtown Players, an Improv group, and the musical group "The Konnektion" at the Geery Theatre on Friday evening. The performance was a charity event for the homeless advocates "Loaves and Fishes".

The music was fine and the Improv was fun.

Interestingly, this particular public performance was the Midtown Players' first public performance ever.

May they have many more performances!