Wednesday, March 30, 2011

So Why Aren't There No-Fly Zones Over Côte d'Ivoire?

Q&A: What's at stake as Ivory Coast teeters on the verge of civil war - Telegraph

An armed conflict? Check.

Government forces killing "civilians?" Check. (So when do they stop being civilians and start being members of an armed force waging a civil war?)

Oil? No, sorry. There is no oil in Côte d'Ivoire.

What was that mantra during the Bush administration? "No Blood for Oil!"

"No Blood for Cocoa!" just doesn't have the same resonance. And it doesn't matter because most people don't even know where Ivory Coast is.

And will somebody please let me know when the anti-war protesters are in Chicago, camped out by the President's home. I think that would be a great excuse to go have an authentic Chicago-style, deep-dish spinach souffle pizza. Or some ribs. Or even some Harold's Chicken. (It's all about the food for me.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When the Boot is on the Other Foot

I have listened (for days - it only seems like weeks) to Republicans complain that Obama's use of the US military in Libya is unconstitutional because he did not get a prior vote in Washington. That may be true - I don't want to discuss it really.

Reagan used the US military in Libya, Lebanon and Granada without getting the prior approval of the Congress. If anyone was screaming about the Constitution, I don't think it was the Republicans.

(Side note: Since discussing NPR's bias is all the rage, I tried to do a search on their reaction to Reagan and Libya, but there archives don't go all the back to the 1980s - or else I am not looking in the right place.)

Even if you think it unconstitutional for the President to use force without Congressional authorization, I'm afraid that boat has sailed. The last time the US Congress had the balls to actually vote for war, was the day or so after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Monday, March 28, 2011

History Lesson

Is it any wonder Libya is screwed up? BBC News - History through Libyan eyes

The Italians, the British and the US have each had a role in making Libya what it is today - a bloody mess.

First the Italians invaded during World War 1. By WWII, Mussolini sent 100,000 to concentration camps.

The British took over after WWII, but weren't a lot better.
The name Omar Mukhtar was soon being heard as nationalists rallied people to their cause - the British responded by closing their newspaper.

There was even greater fury when London came up with a plan in 1949 to divide its three main regions between itself, France and, incredibly, Italy, the former colonial power.
The US put a stop to that because Libya had become important in the Cold War.

Independence and the discovery of oil made things more complicated when Qaddafi & Co. overthrew the king. Nationalizing oil production made him an enemy of Cold-War-America.

For a fairly complete timeline of Libyan history, see this link.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

This is the First Rational Status Report I've Seen in the Media

Status report: Reactor by reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant - CNN

And it only took slightly more than 2 weeks.

Some good and some bad, but it doesn't sound as if the sky were falling.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Detroit's Loss of Population Seems To Be Disturbing

At least to the Detroit political caste. No one else seems surprised. Vanishing City: The Story Behind Detroit’s Shocking Population Decline - TIME NewsFeed

A loss of 25% of population in 10 years. A fall from about 950,000 people to just shy of 714,000 people.
Some of Detroit's population loss in the last decade can be attributed to the exodus of middle-class blacks unwilling to subject their children to schools that too often lack the audacity to expect them to succeed, and crime in the relatively affluent neighborhoods that remain.
That movement of a black middle class to suburbia isn't only happening in Detroit, but that's another story.

From the point of view of population, Detroit may be small, but geographically, the city is huge.
And if people never return, it's unclear what will happen to Detroit's nearly 140 square miles — enough to fit Boston, San Francisco and Manhattan with room to spare — that now lie largely vacant. The city, like businesses and governments across America caught in decline, will have to reinvent itself as something smaller.
That 140 square miles contains a lot of roads exposed to the Midwest's brutal winters. It needs to be policed, and get fire protection service. It contains water mains, and sewer lines and all the other infrastructure of a 20th century city.

Taxes are also an issue.
Indeed, Detroit is now so small that it is in danger of losing out on tax revenue available under Michigan law to large cities. One of the once-great industrial powers of America apparently is no longer large enough to warrant levying its own special taxes. State legislators have said they’re willing to revise the law to allow Detroit to continue, but what’s the point? People are leaving for a reason. Surely slightly higher income taxes isn’t going to convince anyone to stay.
I expect to see them raise taxes. They already can't agree on cuts.
Alternatively, the city could take a hard look at why its tax code works out to a 97 mill tax rate on homestead properties, according to the Free Press’ Stephen Henderson. The Michigan average is 31.
Jan. 1, 2011, Detroit Free Press: In most cities, taxes foot the bill for services, and in the most popular big cities -- Chicago, New York, Los Angeles -- it's common to pay more because of the amenities and social and cultural benefits of city life.

But in Detroit, our extreme tax rates have the opposite effect. Sky-high taxes help drive people and businesses out, yielding less of the revenue needed to deliver quality services, which encourages more people to leave.
Detroit can start by shutting down the health department, since it’s technically no longer allowed to operate one, and shift that burden to the county, where it belongs. From there, Detroit should really take a long look at what aspects of city government exist to service residents and businesses (i.e. police, fire, schools, road crews, lighting) and what exists simply because they exist. Considering Detroit has some 70+ department, bureaus, and commissions, there should be plenty more streamlining and fat cutting opportunities.
The city is running a $155 million deficit. The loss of federal funds and othe tax revenue could be another $289 million. And the schools are more than $300 million in the red.

In short, it's a mess, and getting worse.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Daily Show Takes on Obama's War

CBS News and the NRA on the Same Page?

Surly that is a sign of end times.
"They wanted to prove that there were guns flowing to Mexico, so they set up an illegal pipeline to send guns to Mexico," speculates LaPierre. "When does it stop being law enforcement and start being a criminal enterprise?
The embedded video below contains an advert. Click over to CBS to avoid it.

Did Anyone Really Think This Would Work?

Allied strikes pummel Libya’s air force but do little to stop attacks on civilians It seems like we are just recently fought a war where the powers that be thought it wouldn't be necessary to have troops in harm's way. Oh, wait, we are still fighting two wars that started that way.

So why was it going to be different in Libya?
The Libyan military’s attacks and the mounting civilian deaths call into question whether the internationally imposed no-fly zone can achieve its goal of protecting civilians, let alone help loosen Gaddafi’s grip on power. It seemed unlikely that the coalition, which has argued in recent days over the scope and leadership of the allied mission, would countenance a significant escalation.
Did Clinton's firing of cruise missiles at Sudan and Afghanistan accomplish anything in the 1990s? (Aside from diverting attention to the whole Monica L. story?)
“This no-fly zone doesn’t mean anything to us because Gaddafi only had a few planes and they were doing nothing,” said [a doctor at a Misurata hospital], who spoke by telephone on the condition of anonymity because he fears Libyan forces may soon retake the city. “We need a no-drive zone because it is tanks and snipers that are killing us.”
Send in the Foreign Legion.

So How Does This Work?

Syrian forces kill 6 in mosque attack: residents | Reuters So when is bombing the crap out of bad guys a bad thing, and when is it a good thing? Maybe the President can take some time out of his hectic vacation schedule to explain it.
Syrian forces killed at least six people on Wednesday in an attack on a mosque in the southern city of Deraa, site of unprecedented protests challenging President Bashar al-Assad's Baathist rule, residents said.
So we had to stop the slaughter of civilians in Libya. Where else do we have to go next?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Organized Crime and Disorganized Crime

Looting in Japan: Why so little looting in Japan? The explanation is legal as much as cultural. - By Christopher Beam - Slate Magazine
Organized crime. Police aren't the only ones on patrol since the earthquake hit. Members of the Yakuza, Japan's organized crime syndicate, have also been enforcing order. All three major crime groups—the Yamaguchi-gumi, the Sumiyoshi-kai, and the Inagawa-kai—have "compiled squads to patrol the streets of their turf and keep an eye out to make sure looting and robbery doesn't occur," writes Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, in an e-mail message. "The Sumiyoshi-kai claims to have shipped over 40 tons of [humanitarian aid] supplies nationwide and I believe that's a conservative estimate." One group has even opened its Tokyo offices to displaced Japanese and foreigners who were stranded after the first tremors disabled public transportation. "As one Sumiyoshi-kai boss put it to me over the phone," says Adelstein, " 'In times of crisis, there are not Yakuza and civilians or foreigners. There are only human beings and we should help each other.' " Even during times of peace, the Yakuza enforce order, says Adelstein. They make their money off extortion, prostitution, and drug trafficking. But they consider theft grounds for expulsion.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Banana Equivalent Dose, or Your Food is (always has been) Radioactive

I keep forgetting that people have no idea regarding radiation.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a land not too far away, I worked for the Department of Energy in a building where several of the rooms were so radioactive you couldn't enter, and my job involved handling radioactive isotopes for use in various experiments. Mostly they where stored in lead boxes, but I had to take them out of the boxes, put them in the experimental apparatus, run the experiments and put them away. I was exposed to detectable but not dangerous levels of radiation. Radiation wasn't the biggest danger in that building, as it contained a tower of pressurized carbon tetrafluoride, (a cousin of carbon tetrachloride that used to be a cleaning solution - only nastier). We didn't hold radiation drills - though there were alarms. We did hold drills on what to do if the carbon tetrafluoride containment failed.

But I digress. Suffice it to say that I know a little bit about radiation and radiation hazards.

Radiation is usually measured in Roentgen Equivalent Man units or rems. There are other measurements, and you can invent your own, so someone came up with the Banana Equivalent Dose.

Here is fact number one. You are exposed to radiation every single day. There is always radiation around you, and there always has been. Get over being afraid of radiation. Too much radiation will kill you, but even if you go live in a fallout shelter, you can't get away from all of it.

Fact 2. Your food is radioactive. Almost all of it. Always has been.

We can detect the (ridiculously small amount of) excess radiation in bananas. (They can set off the radiation detectors at the ports where they are imported.) They are slightly more radioactive than the average bit of food, because they are high in potassium - which is good for you and why we eat bananas. But it means they contain some radioactive potassium. (Very little - but in measurable amounts.)

One thousand banana-equivalent-does of radiation (or the radiation you would ingest if you ate 1000 bananas in a VERY short time, like a few hours) has the same effect on your health as smoking something less than 2 cigarettes. Or in more mathematical terms 1 BED = 0.01 mrem or 0.00001 rem. Doses of radiation of more than 50 rem but less than 200 rem (or much more than your average banana) will make you sick but rarely kill unless there are other issues. Doses in excess of 1000 rem are fatal. (Between 200 and 1000 you will be very sick, and the higher the dose, the worse off you will be.)

Other foods with "excess" radiation include nuts (and peanut butter), sunflower seeds, etc. Brazil nuts are particularly radioactive.

But now that you know this DON'T stop eating the bananas. Or the nuts. They are good for you. Just don't follow the fear mongers when they try to start the next crazy parade.

(Note: OK the banana equivalent dose isn't a really good method for talking about radiation and its hazards. But neither is the insanity you see on the 24-hour news coverage. NPR "news" was actually discussing the Godzilla movies yesterday. I nearly crashed my car. Godzilla? Really? There isn't anything more informative to be talking about like the new war - or is it a police action - in Libya, the state of the economy or the efforts of folks like the Red Cross to do something besides spread fear.)

Must Be a Really Low-flying Aircraft

Silly me. I thought it was a tank.

Video of the aftermath... can be found here. (In case you were unclear on the subject of "military action."