Saturday, July 31, 2010

Countdown to Zero, Nukes, Loose and Otherwise

It's difficult to convey to those born after the 1970s the existential menace of nuclear war that subtlety pervaded American, if not, world life. Growing up in Winnipeg in the late 1950s it was difficult to ignore the night time air force maneuvers to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately the nuclear threat never went away but merely morphed into newer and more diverse forms.

The film "Countdown to Zero" explores these new manifestations of potential doom. The Toronto Star elaborates:

"First conceived by Democratic politician Matt Brown and Bruce Blair of the World Security Institute, and directed by Britain’s Lucy Walker, the film features a critical mass of former world leaders, experts, spies, officials, activists — and one of the most cold-blooded weapons smugglers in history.

Its message is meant to put a new generation of anti-nuclear campaigners back on the peace path their grandparents pioneered as Cold War protesters in the days when grade schoolers had to “duck and cover” in anticipation of a Soviet nuclear attack.

Now things have changed — and not altogether in a good way.

“There’s pretty broad agreement that the No. 1 threat the world faces is nuclear terrorism,” says Joseph Cirincione a non-proliferation expert with the Ploughshares Fund who is among more than 80 people interviewed for the film. “There are apocalyptic groups who wouldn’t hesitate to build, and use, an atomic bomb.”

And Cirincione is not just talking about a homegrown “dirty bomb” combining low-level nuclear material with ordinary explosives — which would cause alarm and confusion but few casualties. Increasingly likely is a crude, Hiroshima-style weapon that could devastate a city, melt down an economy and throw the world into nuclear chaos...

“There are three ways to acquire a nuclear weapon,” says former CIA operative Rolf Mowatt-Larssen. “You can steal a bomb. You can buy a bomb. And you can build a bomb.”

To underscore the point, there’s Oleg Khinsagov, a jailed Russian black marketer from the northern Caucasus who cheered for the 9/11 hijackers and told Walker his stated goal “was to kill 4 million Americans using a nuclear device.”

Khinsagov’s attempt to sell weapons-grade uranium to Al Qaeda was foiled by a Georgian sting operation, and his 2006 arrest made few headlines worldwide.

But while they often slip below the media radar, reports of nuclear smuggling are far from rare. Since 1991, numerous plots have been tracked and halted — and those are only the incidents we know about.

In one of the biggest, three St. Petersburg men were arrested for trying to sell three kilograms of highly enriched uranium stolen from a Russian nuclear production facility in 1994. Some of the hazardous stuff was stashed in a refrigerator.

Two years earlier, a Russian research lab worker spent months stockpiling 1.5 kilos of highly enriched uranium in hopes a wealthy buyer would come along. Scientists say about 10 times that amount is needed for a small atomic bomb."

Hopefully this film can provoke interest in a threat to humanity that makes some of our other existential concerns pale in comparison.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Buckethead - Nottingham Lace

More nostalgia from the 90s. Buckethead is one of the true guitar phenomena of our times.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Putin’s mid-term crisis

No doubt readers have heard about Vlad Putin's recent appearence at the Russian version of Sturgis. The Moscow News asks why:

© RIA Novosti. Alexsey Druginyn
Putin’s mid-term crisis
by Tom Washington at 26/07/2010 12:18

A middle-aged man on a Harley Davidson always hints at a mid-life crisis, so perhaps the speculation around prime minister Vladimir Putin's intentions for the 2012 presidential elections played a small role in seeing him saddle up at an international biker convention in Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Putin, famed for his all-action summer holiday snaps, kicked off this year's silly season by donning shades and fingerless gloves before bestriding a three-wheeled Harley and leading a motorcade in front of 5,000 or so lovers of the open road.

After last year's holiday snaps were cruelly likened to camp cowboy flick Brokeback Mountain, this year's publicity stunt seemed to be aiming for Easy Rider.

But not everyone was impressed, with the Hong Kong Standard suggesting the PM was grabbing any available opportunity for a photo-op to “kick-start his flagging popularity”."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Praxis - Animal Behavior

Relatively old but great stuff with Bill Lasswell, Buckethead,and Bernie Worrell y'all.

If We Could Only See Ourselves As Others Do: Sarah Palin as Seen In Asia

Via Wonkette from the same folks who gave us the Tiger Woods low down. I don't know for sure but the Fox News Nation now ranks 12 in the developed world in college graduates, but of course that's just a liberal's interpretation of American collapse. And anyone who works outside of the belt line knows that this family is all too representative of the so called real Amerika.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another capital for Another Russia

The Moscow News reports on Eduard Limonov's proprosal to shift the capitol further east:

"Following in the footsteps of Peter the Great, opposition politician Eduard Limonov is planning to shift Russia's capital away from Moscow.

But while the Tsar wanted to make St. Petersburg a window to the west, Limonov hopes his purpose-built Siberian city will open new routes to the Orient.

The plan was unveiled on Tuesday when Limonov published his new party manifesto in Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

A new St. Petersburg?

The programme explains that “the necessary move of enormous historical meaning” will balance Russia’s geographical, economic, infrastructure and political tilt towards Europe.

They argue that the project will create millions work places, new infrastructure and will increase the population of Siberia and improve ties between the Russian Far East and its European metropolis. It will also stop China’s expansion, says the programme.

“There have been calls to move the capital to Siberia before,” Eduard Limonov told The Moscow News. “A Member of Parliament from Novosibirsk Region suggested moving it to Novosibirsk in the State Duma in the 90s; Luzhkov expressed an idea to move the capital in 2007. These suggestions are constantly raised,” he said.

Besides, he argues that building a city from scratch is not that difficult, as proved by Kazakhstan, who “built Astana from scratch and they are very happy, and they have a much smaller population.”

As for the location of the new capital, Limonov told the Moscow News that “the developers will find a suitable place for the city.”

The Kazakhstan experience

Limonov’s reference to Kazakhstan’s positive experience is supported by those who witnessed the move.

Vladlen Lyssenker, an employee of Moskommertsbank in Moscow was living in Almaty when Kazakhstan moved its capital from Almaty to Astana.

“There it was done right, not least for the threat of earthquakes,” he told The Moscow News. “There had always been one developed city in Kazakhstan – Almaty, then suddenly there were two – Almaty and Astana.”

“I did not feel the difference, and it did not become worse,” he said. “Almaty went on developing. It remained the financial centre – all the financial authorities, the national bank, all the banks’ headquarters remained there. So did the cultural life. Almaty did not lose one bit.”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Planetary Heatwave

While one hot summer is not a trend in itself latest data supports a distinct warming of the climate. An article in the Guardian discusses new information from NOAA:

"Last month was the hottest June ever recorded worldwide and the fourth consecutive month that the combined global land and sea temperature records have been broken, according to the US government's climate data centre.

The figures released last night by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggest that 2010 is now on course to be the warmest year since records began in 1880.

The trend to a warmer world is now incontrovertible. According to NOAA, June was the 304th consecutive month with a combined global land and surface temperature above the 20th-century average. The last month with below-average temperatures was February 1985. Each of the 10 warmest average global temperatures recorded since 1880 have occurred in the last 15 years with the previous warmest first half of a year in 1998.

Temperature anomalies included Spain, which experienced its coolest June temperature since 1997, and Guizhou in southern China, which had its coolest June on record. According to Beijing Climate Centre, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, and Jilin experienced their warmest June since their records began in 1951....."

In the Arctic more evidence accumulates:

"In a further possible sign of a warming world, the Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier, one of the largest in Greenland, lost a 2.7-square mile chunk of ice and retreated one mile between 6-7 July – one of the largest single losses to a glacier ever recorded.

The glacier, a tongue of the Greenland ice sheet, has retreated six miles since 2000 and more than 27 miles since 1850. It is believed to be the single largest contributor to sea level rise in the northern hemisphere.

Greenland's ice sheet, a vast body of ancient ice covering 1.7m sq km, is melting today more rapidly than only a few decades ago. Since 2000, the ice sheet is calculated to have lost about 1,500 cubic kilometres of water– enough to raise global sea levels by 5mm . If the entire ice sheet melted, the world's oceans would rise by over six metres.

Glaciologists expressed surprise at the speed of the break-up of the glacier: "This is unusual because it occurs on the heels of a warm winter that saw no sea ice form in the surrounding bay ... it lends credence to the theory that warming of the oceans is responsible for the ice loss observed throughout Greenland and Antarctica," said Nasa scientist Thomas Wagner.

"These are clear signs of a rapidly warming world and exactly what the climate models have predicted. Thankfully, there is a way out of it if we can get greenhouse gas emissions under control," said Ben Stewart of Greenpeace."

The last quote sounds like bleeding optimism. The National Snow and Ice Data Center suggests that this summer may see the largest melting of polar ice, beating the record set in 2007:

"Average June ice extent was the lowest in the satellite data record, from 1979 to 2010. Arctic air temperatures were higher than normal, and Arctic sea ice continued to decline at a fast pace. June saw the return of the Arctic dipole anomaly, an atmospheric pressure pattern that contributed to the record sea ice loss in 2007."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Your Dad is a Fascist рок-группа Телевизор "Твой папа - фашист"

A song by the Russian group Television. I could imagine an American version called "Your Mama's a Fascist" with Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Messer Chups @ Armazém do Chá

Oleg Gitarkin and his attractive bass player interpret American music in their inimitable way.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Petronobyl As Reality

Peak Generation provides one the more incisive synopsis of the current Petronobyl catastrophe, here is the whole post since it is so on target:

"Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Apocalypse watch: BP’s Gulf disaster as reality TV
If French intellectual Jean Baudrillard were still alive to deconstruct the unfurling Gulf oil disaster, I’m sure he’d marvel at the hyperreality of it all. Me, lacking the vocabulary, I’m going to call it reality TV.

True to the genre a dysfunctional cast – Tony Hayward, Barack Obama and Martin Feldman – must coexist in an unlikely situation, promoting themselves while being constantly upstaged by video footage from robots 5,000 feet (1,500 m) below sea level. Watch as they try to cope with reality, each other, and their investment portfolios! Squirm as they star in their own tragedy! Gasp as Hayward, left, reassures you that there’s nothing toxic about the dispersal chemicals!

Want drama? The Gulf of Mexico is becoming toxic, poisoned by both the crude oil surging out of BP’s ruptured well and the million-plus gallons of chemical dispersant, Corexit 9500, being dumped on the slick. Oil is making landfall along the area – if whipped up by a hurricane, it would likely be sprayed over communities along that seaboard – and, it is claimed, a mixture of oil and Corexit seems to be raining throughout the region causing widespread crop damage. People helping clear the oil are coming down with a range of symptoms that suggest poisoning, just as they did after the Exxon Valdex cleanup.

How about some tension? The oil is still gushing out, and the poison is still being sprayed. The blowout preventer is widely believed to be on the verge of collapse, and relief wells might be facing an impossible task, depending on what is left of BP’s wellbore – we don’t know much about this, because no-one will tell us. But then, that’s reality TV for you.

But viewers, I’m jumping ahead of myself – let’s go back to the start of this sorry mess.

BP had problems with its Macondo well long before the Gulf disaster, according to documents and emails released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. As Bloomberg reported, cracks in the well date “as far back as February”:

On Feb. 13, BP told the minerals service it was trying to seal cracks in the
well about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast, drilling documents
obtained by Bloomberg show. Investigators are still trying to determine whether
the fissures played a role in the disaster.

The company attempted a “cement squeeze,” which involves pumping cement to seal the fissures, according to a well activity report. Over the following week the company made repeated attempts to plug cracks that were draining expensive drilling fluid, known as “mud,” into the surrounding rocks.

The problems continued. Rumours from industry professionals writing on The Oil Drum have suggested that BP experienced numerous blowouts over this period. Again from Bloomberg:

On March 10, BP executive Scherie Douglas e-mailed Frank Patton, the mineral
service’s drilling engineer for the New Orleans district, telling him: “We’re in
the midst of a well control situation.”

[We let the scene on the Deepwater Horizon fade out, and cut to Hayward. We see him putting in a vital telephone call in mid-March – to his stockbroker.]

According to the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper, in an item headlined BP chief Tony Hayward sold shares weeks before oil spill:

The chief executive of BP sold £1.4 million of his shares in the fuel giant
weeks before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill caused its value to collapse.

Tony Hayward cashed in about a third of his holding in the company one
month before a well on the Deepwater Horizon rig burst, causing an environmental

Mr Hayward, whose pay package is £4 million a year, then paid
off the mortgage on his family’s mansion in Kent, which is estimated to be
valued at more than £1.2 million.

This alleges Hayward “disposed of 223,288 shares on March 17.” It clearly states he did nothing legally wrong. They were his shares to sell.

Then the showstopper: the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion, killing 11, and sending tens-of-thousands of barrels of crude oil surging into the Gulf every day.

The next cast member featured is Obama, who addressed the nation on June 14, and, by default the rest of the globe: his take on the world’s worst environmental disaster was of interest to billions. His 18-minute address contained more military metaphors than the average sport report – his government’s "battle" against the "siege" in the Gulf of Mexico (we will fight it on the beaches, we will fight on the fields and in the streets, we will fight in the hills. . .) – but no real content.

He had the opportunity to mention peak oil – the reality behind the need to drill in 5,000 feet of ocean, around the depth of the Titanic’s resting place. But, of course, Wall Street would never allow Obama to do that. He did enough to let a knowledgeable audience know he’s no fool, but he worded it in terms that would not alarm Joe Sixpack. From the transcript:

After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the
world's oil but have less than 2 percent of the world's oil reserves. And that's
part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the
ocean: because we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we've talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires.

This was wrapped up in notions of energy security, fears of foreigners (“Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil”) digs at political adversaries (“. . . the path forward has been blocked, not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor”) and good old pork barrel hoopla that “the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs.” (Which it has, in theory, although transition should not be presented as something to do in addition to plasma TVs and SUVs; it’s a willful downsizing of the supposedly non-negotiable way of life.)

Just another politician’s speech – but it got the ratings – watched by 32 million US viewers.

Next in our production, some intrigue. . . The man who, to most of the media is Mr. Peak Oil, Matthew Simmons lurches to centre stage. With a rumpled shirt and flushed face, he tells how insiders have told him that massive amounts of oil are pouring through BP’s fractured well and coming up at various points on the ocean floor, and that the chances of capping the gusher are so slim Obama may as well nuke it. The allegations make more impact online, going viral. Simmons, putting his money where his mouth is, seizes the opportunity to short some 8,000 BP shares.

At this point in the broadcast, we need some glamour if we want to get the ratings back up, and what beats a yacht race to bring together the rich and the beautiful? A quick edit will switch the scene to Hayward’s June 20 yacht jaunt around the Isle of Wight. After all, the waters, around the Isle of Wight, were clear of oil. What a great day out on the ocean; what a great photo op for our gaffe-prone star. . .

He’s in the role of a charming, lovable rogue. What this reality TV show needs is a villain. Enter the activist judge.

Obama wanted a six-month freeze on deepwater drilling, presumably along the lines that this is how long it will take the news media to go on to a new topic, allowing him to safely hand the drilling permit rubber stamps back to the industry. But that’s not how Judge Martin Feldman sees it.

Part arbiter of justice, part energy investor, Justice Feldman acted deftly to sell his oil stock and overturn Obama’s drilling moratorium – all in the same morning. According to Associated Press:

A statement released by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman's chambers in New
Orleans says the judge instructed his broker to sell his stock in Exxon and a
subsidiary as soon as the market opened June 22. That was the day after the

Feldman says his broker told him his stock was sold several
hours before he struck down the Obama administration's drilling moratorium. The
judge also said he didn't know if he made a profit or loss on the sale.

Exxon isn't a party in the case, but the company had one of the 33
existing exploratory rigs shut down by the moratorium imposed because of the
Gulf spill.

No-one is accusing the judge of letting his energy investments colour his judgment – he is a judge, after all – but if nothing else, it’s normally considered good manners to declare an interest. Memo to Feldman: suggesting that you might have made a loss on the deal is not the same thing.

Meanwhile, viewers, the blowout preventer deathwatch continues. . . how far is it leaning today? How much of BP’s compromised wellbore will it take with it when it collapses? Can the relief wells get in place before the whole thing goes? Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow, folks.

[Fades out on shots of Obama looking like he wants a cigarette, Hayward on his yacht, and Feldman standing up for the poor downtrodden oil execs.]

In terms of entertainment, is this scraping the barrel? Actually, yes. Millions of them, all told, from the beaches, wetlands and waters of the Gulf of Mexico. An estimated 35,0000 to 60,000 barrels have been gushing out every day since April 20, according to the government – and many more according to Simmons – but the current containment system can only handle up to 28,000 barrels per day."