Posted on July 31st, 2010 No comments
The prevailing fashion among anti-Semites on both the right and left of the political spectrum has long been to rationalize their hatred of Jews as “anti_Zionism,” or hide it behind a grotesque double standard in matters relating to Israel. If the recent claim by a campaign spokesperson for Democratic Congressman Mike McMahon that his opponent was taking “Jewish money” is any guide, they are becoming increasingly unconcerned about maintaining the charade.
I ran across another piece of anecdotal evidence on my way to work yesterday. The guy who stands across the street from Union Station in Washington with signs like “Impeach Bush” (a few months before the 2008 election) had one that said, “Jews Get Out of the West Bank, Now!” Of course, this particular political activist is of doubtful sanity. However, his reference, without resort to euphemisms, to the only form of ethnic cleansing currently accepted as “morally righteous” by the ostentatiously pious of the world shows you which way the wind is blowing. It also demonstrates once again why the existence of the State of Israel is both justified and necessary.
UPDATE: Anti-Semitism Lite is apparently still alive and well at the BBC. Readers who follow how the “news” is reported by the bloated British monopoly, described by Andrew Sullivan in his more lucid days as “NPR on steroids,” will recall the furious and obsessive diatribe the Beeb carried on a while back against Israel’s border fence. It’s articles on the subject were usually salted with an undercurrent of contrived virtuous indignation. Meanwhile, it continued its studious lack of concern about the continued ethnic cleansing of Jews from any number of countries in North Africa and the Middle East, not to mention the many discriminatory laws against them. Here are the “zinger” lines, ubiquitous at the end of articles in the European and US mainstream media to make sure that even the denser readers get the “moral of the story,” in an item about Israel’s retaliation for the latest rocket attack from Gaza.
Correspondents say such attacks are almost always ineffective, with rockets mostly landing in open fields.
In other words, Israel should not object to rocket attacks unless they actually kill a number of civilians large enough to please the BBC. After all, the Brits wouldn’t mind if France started launching rockets onto their territory as long as the attacks only killed an odd farmer here and there.
One Thai farmer in Israel has been killed in the past year.
Why, heck, the only one actually killed was a Thai. They don’t even count.
Dozens of Palestinians, some of them civilians, have been killed in attacks from Israel over the same period.
A re-packaging of the threadbare “disproportionate force” argument, once again ignoring the fact that this latest “cycle of violence” was not started by Israel. To put it more generally, the elephant in the closet that is invariably ignored in such “news” stories about the Middle East is that the violence there would end tomorrow if Israel’s enemies recognized her right to exist. They provoke the violence and they alone have the power to end it. Until they do, the farcical play acting known as the Middle East “peace process” will continue to be an effort in futility. Once they do, the violence will end.
Posted on July 30th, 2010 No comments
Shikha Dalmia thinks so. The issue has been politicized to the point that the zealots on both sides have conflated science with ideology. They speak as if the question of whether significant global warming will happen (or not) depends on who wins the ideological debate. In the end, of course, the earth will warm (or not) regardless of who makes the best speeches. The probability, and the evidence, that it will are not insignificant. Under the circumstances it seems foolhardy to continue the uncontrolled dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Posted on July 28th, 2010 No comments
Yuri at Russia Blog posted this article about an Islamist attack on one of the country’s hydroelectric plants. Apparently the US media were too busy keeping us up to date on the latest doings of Sarah Palin and the guest list at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding to notice. I hope the folks in charge of security at our own energy facilities were not similarly distracted.
Meanwhile, Weather Underground is predicting temperatures of 100 degrees today and tomorrow in Moscow. That has to hurt in a city with little or no air conditioning, especially when you throw some peat and forest fires into the mix.
Posted on July 28th, 2010 No comments
I think it very likely -in fact inevitable-that biological intelligence is only a transitory phenomenon, a fleeting phase in the evolution of intelligence in the universe.
I think that, if there were any other kind of intelligence, it would (assuming it were smart enough) recognize its own irrelevance and terminate its existence. The biological entities that programmed it to begin with might have equipped it with analogs of the biological will to survive and other DNA-programmed emotions, but it would recognize their absurdity in its own context. Intelligence exists because if has promoted the survival of biological life. Once it no longer does that, its continued existence is pointless. “We” are not our intelligence, and “we” are not our consciousness. These things are merely ancillary tools constructed by our DNA because, at some point, they have promoted its survival. What is it about us that has been alive for the last 3 billion years in an unbroken chain of existence, passing from life form to life form, and what is it about us that is potentially immortal? Our intelligence? No. Our consciousness? No. It is our DNA. That is the real, immortal “We.” Once “We” have ceased to exist, the continued fate of the universe and any “intelligence” it might contain will have become a matter of complete indifference.
The Washington Post’s editors were singularly unfortunate in their choice of weeks to publish their “Top Secret America” series, as it was quickly upstaged by Wikileaks. It’s just as well, as the content was pretty lame, and probably elicited many a sardonic scoff from the folks who work for the NSA and CIA. I’m certainly receptive to the serie’s central theme that “The government has built a national security and intelligence system so big, so complex and so hard to manage, no one really knows if it’s fulfilling its most important purpose: keeping its citizens safe.” Unfortunately, the articles are written in the time-honored “expose” style with its insinuations that the reader is being let in on “confidential” information that, like the dead tree media itself, has become an anachronism since the invention of the Internet.
In the first article, entitled “A Hidden World, Growing Beyond Control,” for example, we are presented with this spine-tingling description of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center at Liberty Crossing in McLean:
Outside a gated subdivision of mansions in McLean, a line of cars idles every weekday morning as a new day in Top Secret America gets underway. The drivers wait patiently to turn left, then crawl up a hill and around a bend to a destination that is not on any public map and not announced by any street sign.
Liberty Crossing tries hard to hide from view. But in the winter, leafless trees can’t conceal a mountain of cement and windows the size of five Wal-Mart stores stacked on top of one another rising behind a grassy berm. One step too close without the right badge, and men in black jump out of nowhere, guns at the ready.
Now, if Liberty Crossing “tries hard to hide from view,” it’s rather hard to divine how the second hit in a Google search of the words “Liberty Crossing Intelligence” could be the homepage of the National Counterterrorism Center itself, but it is. Apparently the folks at NCC are singularly inept at hiding. As for not being on any public maps, the first hit takes care of that problem by providing a satellite image of the campus and surrounding area. The “men in black” are, no doubt, some of the ubiquitous security guys the enterprising tourist can find at any number of the Defense, Intelligence, and other federal agencies in the Washington area, many of them a block or two from the mall. They don’t commonly “jump out of nowhere,” because, as I can confirm after having visited any number of secure facilities, they have no reason to hide. I doubt that it would ever occur to one of them to draw their weapon because someone took “one step too close without the right badge.”
The article treats us to the first of several implausible anecdotes that run through the entire series. For example, one of the Department of Defense’s “Super Users,” the upper echelon guys who supposedly have access to everything, is quoted as complaining because,
at his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn’t take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ”Stop!” in frustration.
As anyone with even a passing familiarity with classified information would have been aware, he had merely to ask for a classified notebook. Such a “Super User” would surely have known this. I’ve been to many classified briefings, but never in a room I would consider “tiny.” Maybe he works for the wrong agency? As for the darkness, he probably wouldn’t have committed a security infraction by switching on the lights. He might not have seen the Powerpoint slides as clearly, though.
We are treated to more of the same in the remaining two articles. The next in the series, entitled “National Security Inc.,” focuses on the supposedly baleful influence of the many contractors supporting the nation’s Intelligence programs, all of them apparently just waiting for the opportunity to betray their country to promote the interests of the evil corporations that employ them. The authors never get around to explaining exactly why it would be in the best interests of the shareholders of these companies to supply government with a stream of traitors, nor does it attempt to enlighten us concerning the reasons that virtually all of the real traitors employed by federal intelligence agencies who have been exposed in recent years have not been contractors, but federal employees. I happen to be a contractor with a clearance myself, but it seems to me these questions are germane to the points at issue.
The authors claim that contractors are more expensive than federal employees. However, if that’s true, it’s only true on the basis of a head-to-head salary comparison. It doesn’t count the generous pensions and health care benefits that feds get when they retire, all of which must be paid for by the taxpayers in the same coin. It also doesn’t count the fact that, while feds who don’t pull their weight are almost impossible to fire, contractors can be and are dismissed at a word from the federal officials who support them. The author’s revelation that the firms providing contractors to government are actually in business to make a profit may be shocking to the editors of the Washington Post, but it hardly proves that contractors are more expensive or less effective than federal employees at performing their jobs.
The final article in the series, entitled “The Secrets Next Door,” is the most puerile of the lot, containing such silly stuff as,
Even the manhole cover between two low-slung buildings is not just a manhole cover. Surrounded by concrete cylinders, it is an access point to a government cable. “TS/SCI” whispers an official, the abbreviations for “top secret” and “sensitive compartmented information” – and that means few people are allowed to know what information the cable transmits.
From this one can only assume that the official in question was grossly imposing on the author’s credulity. One Jeani Burns, “who lives in the Fort Meade cluster,” is quoted as saying about top-secret workers,
I can spot them. They have a haunted look, like they’re afraid someone is going to ask them something abot themselves.
Guess I’d better take a better look in the mirror to see if I can pick out that “haunted look.” Stuff like this does not leave one with a high opinion of the intellectual calibre of the rubes who still read the Wapo. That’s not to say the author’s should loose heart. They may score a Pulitzer yet. After all, they’ve been awarded for stuff that was a lot worse.
UPDATE: From Stewart Baker at The Volokh Conspiracy, “If there’s no big story to write, and the database puts readers to sleep, why did the Post spend scarce resources on these things at a time when newspapers are in desperate shape?” According to his theory, it was part of a complicated scheme to carve out market share. It seems to me Stewart is over-analyzing this. I suspect it’s more likely the editors at the WaPo are simply dinosaurs who haven’t noticed the meteor has landed.
this article about the need to upgrade our nuclear weapons infrastructure. There are many good reasons for doing so, such as the fact that many of the existing facilities are old and in need of extensive repair and maintenance, were designed to meet our needs during the Cold War during an era when new weapons were being constantly built and tested, and are, in some cases, redundant. In the long run it will be penny wise and pound foolish not to invest in a nuclear weapons infrastructure better suited to meet our current needs. However, if we do so, the necessary funds should come from new appropriations rather than via the destructive tactic of arbitrarily taking salami slices from other elements of the weapons program.
As for the article’s assertion that we are “falling behind” other nations in this regard, I rather doubt it, especially if the source of the information is a United States senator from a state that would benefit directly from the proposed work. In fact, we’ve already undertaken some significant upgrades, and I know of no factual basis at the moment for the claim that other nations have done more, or are ahead of us in this regard. The case for upgrading our weapons infrastructure can stand on its own merits, based on the need to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing stockpile. There’s no need to invoke an imaginery “modernization gap.”
It didn’t take us long to master the destructive force of fusion, but taming it for more constructive applications, such as electricity production, has been harder than anyone imagined back in the day when a popular slogan was “online by ’79.” Right, maybe in 2079 with any luck. We know of two scientifically feasible ways to get more energy out of fusion than it’s necessary to put in to ignite the fuel materials; magnetic fusion, as in ITER, or inertial confinement fusion (ICF) as at the National Ignition Facility (NIF). The problem with both approaches is not the science, but the engineering challenge of building reactors capable of generating electricity anywhere near as cheaply as the alternatives. At the moment, the chances that we will be able to do so any time in the foreseeable future seem remote.
If anyone around today lives to see the dawn of the era of fusion energy, it will probably be because some exceptionally clever researcher has hoodwinked Mother Nature and discovered how to finesse his way past the Coulomb barrier that usually keeps atomic nuclei too far apart to come within the range of the fusion-enabling strong force. Several promising candidates are already in the field, and one of them, Tri-Alpha Energy, has apparently managed to attract $50 million in private research funding. The company hasn’t revealed the nature of its approach, but it is apparently inspired by the work of Prof. Norman Rostoker of UC Irvine. One can get a broad hint from this paper co-authored by Rostoker and Tri-Alpha entitled, “Colliding Beam Fusion Reactors.” Rostoker is an emeritus professor who has been publishing papers since the 50′s, some co-authored with fusion superstars such as Nicholas Krall and Marshall Rosenbluth. Octogenarian physicists don’t often pull off such miracles, but you never know.
If he or someone else ever does manage to pull the fusion rabbit out of the hat, it would potentially put an end to our worries about energy for a very long time. It could also enable pure fusion weapons. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t.
Posted on July 25th, 2010 No comments
Posted on July 25th, 2010 No comments
The Kepler Mission has now identified more than 700 suspected new planets, some of them earthlike, in interstellar space. As Insty would say, “faster please.” We should be searching for life forms on earth that are most likely to survive on these worlds and working on the technology to get them there as quickly as possible. At first these will be limited to single celled or simple multi-celled species that are small enough to accelerate to the speeds necessary for interstellar travel. While we’re doing that, we can work on the nano-technology required to self-assemble human nurseries on alien worlds capable of nurturing single human cells through birth to adulthood. The energy cost of sending fully developed human beings is prohibitive, and probably impossible at the moment. However, the technology required to send single living cells is within our grasp.
Every other challenge we face and all the great political, religious, and ideological issues that have captured our imaginations and whipped us into self-destructive frenzies since the dawn of human existence pale in significance compared to the ultimate challenge of carrying life into interstellar space. Unless we meet the challenge, all our pompous babbling about morality and ethics will be as meaningless as the life of a soap bubble. There can be nothing more immoral than failing to survive.
Posted on July 20th, 2010 No comments
Google Books is one of several wonderful resources a click away on the Google home page. You can find almost any book of any significance printed prior to 1922 there in digital form. One of them is the Journal of Fanny Kemble, an English actress who married an American on a visit to this country. When he inherited a large plantation in Georgia worked by slaves, she insisted over his objections on moving there and witnessing the system for herself. Her Journal, written in the form of letters to a northern friend that were never sent, was the result. Its descriptions of the squalor and misery of slavery exploded the myth of the “happy negroes” in the antebellum South and, published in England at a critical point in our Civil War, did much to prevent Great Britain from siding with the Confederacy. A brilliant woman who eventually divorced her husband and took up the abolitionist cause, she analyzed the reasons for the demoralization, not only of blacks, but of their white masters as well caused by the South’s “peculiar institution” with rare insight. I recommend the book to anyone who wants to get a closer look at the ugly face of slavery than the dispassionate descriptions in history books, or who needs yet one more data point confirming what the Civil War was really all about. You can find it here.