Archive for February 15th, 2007|Daily archive page


The 54th Skeptics Circle is up at Action Skeptics.

Symbolizing Nukes

It’s official!newradiationsymbol_300×200.gif

The IAEA released the new symbol for radiation.

With radiating waves, a skull and crossbones and a running person, a new ionizing radiation warning symbol is being introduced to supplement the traditional international symbol for radiation, the three cornered trefoil.

The new symbol is being launched today by the IAEA and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to help reduce needless deaths and serious injuries from accidental exposure to large radioactive sources. It will serve as a supplementary warning to the trefoil, which has no intuitive meaning and little recognition beyond those educated in its significance.

Apparently the old symbol was just too – wimpy? Well it’s no more Mr Nice Symbol. Now with rays and skulls and arrows.

I just have one question.

What if the exit is to the left?

The Walls Have – um – Holes

In addition to initiating the eminent downfall of American culture, using the Koran to get sworn into congress and probably, I don’t know, public breast feeding, Representative Keith Ellison has a new tick. For some reason he gets grumpy when the-just-to-the-far-right-of-Jesus Representative Tom Tancredo smokes a cigar next door.

From The Hill,

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) believes it is his right as a Muslim to be sworn into Congress with the Quran. But apparently, the freshman lawmaker doesn’t believe it’s Rep. Tom Tancredo’s (R-Colo.) right to smoke a cigar in his congressional office.

Ellison’s office called the Capitol Hill Police on Tancredo last Wednesday night as Tancredo was in his office smoking a cigar. The lawmakers have neighboring offices on the first floor of the Longworth House Office Building.

Tancredo was still stunned a day later. “It’s very bizarre,” said Tancredo, who has never met Ellison. “Seemed to me not a good way to say hello.”

Actually the whole issue wasn’t started by Mr. Ellison at all. It was his press slug secretary.

Ellison’s press secretary, Rick Jauert, made the call to the Superintendent’s office when he noticed the smoke. “I called because the smoke was coming through the walls,” Jauert said, adding that the Superintendent’s office referred him to the Capitol Police.

I know the US has a high deficit. I know there isn’t enough funding to get appropriate armor, body or Humvee, to Iran Iraq. I know the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly.

But one would think that the US Congress would have enough money to keep smoke from “coming through the walls.” Obviously the end of civilization as we know it.

And, the Republicans will be glad to hear, it’s all Keith Ellisons fault.

(Hat Tip: Wonkette)

Fight’n Words

Yesterday, in the hour long news conference at the White House, President George W. Bush fought the idea that his administration might spin information. Especially since that information seems to be pushing the casus belli, against Iran.

From the Washington Post,

The president spent much of the hour-long televised session in the East Room addressing skepticism about his government’s assertions regarding Iran and fears of a widening regional conflict. “The idea that somehow we’re manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing [explosives] is preposterous,” Bush said. Repeating a reporter’s question, he added: “Does this mean you’re trying to have a pretext for war? No. It means I’m trying to protect our troops.”

That seems to be the key talking point now. “Protect the troops.” But the questions now are first, is the current information is being invented, and second, whether the argument will protect the troops.

For me, the question of whether Iran is supplying arms to militias isn’t all that interesting.

First, from the images I have seen and the backgrounders I’ve read, the issue could flop either way. Iran has more than enough reasons to keep America busy in Iraq. And, arguably, most of the evidence does point to an Iranian connection to weapons and explosives being used.

On the other hand, the material I have seen, especially the improved explosives (EFPs) might not be that impressive. Building a computer operated mill really isn’t rocket science. (Oh, the Iraqies even have rocket scientists? Oh.) That means making parts to a fairly high tolerance might not be out of the reach of garage based militias. They only need the initial plans and the idea can spread like a (computer) virus.

Probably more worrying is the downing of several helicopters in recent weeks. That might point to much more sophisticated weaponry.

But the second question is whether American troops will be safer?

My unequivocal answer is no. Not unless Bush is willing to go to war with Iran.

How exactly can increasing diplomatic pressure on Iran, increasing troop presence, adding a new carrier to the contingent in the gulf possibly ease the situation?

Especially when the American military is already stretched to the breaking point. Iranian leaders aren’t blind. They know the only way the Bush administration can stop them aiding Iraqi militias is by attacking. That would require the reinstatement of the draft. (And even then I would argue it would take up to a year to get American forces ready for another ground war. Where would the necessary hardware come from?)

But I’m afraid the spin will start to rotate out of control. The increasingly shrill tone taken by the administration, even if the administration doesn’t want to go to war, may achieve exactly that. What does Iran have to lose right now?

How exactly can Iran tell the difference between the build up to war with Iraq and the current “Protect the Troops” rhetoric? How can American citizens tell the difference if something happens on the border? What happens if something really ‘unexpected’ happens, perhaps a carrier gets sunk by a mine?

It seems I am not alone in worrying about this kind of issue. From the NYT

Mr. Bush has said that he has no intention of invading Iran and that any suggestion that he was trying to provoke Iran “is just a wrong way to characterize the commander in chief’s decision to do what is necessary to protect our soldiers in harm’s way.” But experts say that the ratcheting up of accusations could provoke a confrontation. Gary Sick, an expert on Iran at Columbia University, said there was a “danger of accidental war.” He said, “If anything goes wrong, if something happens, there’s an unexplained explosion and we kidnap an Iranian, and the Iranians respond to that somehow, this could get out of control.”

But I found a refreshing and intelligent reason for the verbal escalation. From the far left, liberal rag Marine Corps Times,

Judith Yaphe, a Middle East expert at the National Defense University, said the Bush administration is raising these charges now to shore up political support for its decision to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq.

“They need to shift the public debate from the issue of the surge and spread the blame” for the spreading chaos, she said.

The article continues with the predictable response from the military.

[Maj. Gen. William] Caldwell[, the U.S. command’s top spokesman,] defended the timing of the briefing. The armor-piercing roadside bombs, called explosively formed penetrators, first surfaced in Iraq in 2004, but he said the problem became acute recently.

Of course, the timing of these kinds of press releases is always political. Does anyone remember what happened when ill-timed information comes out of the DoD? Something that doesn’t fit the administrations current talking points? (General Eric Shinseki, anyone?)

But I think the current spin is perhaps pointed, not at Iran, but at the Republican party and the American public. This leads to the comforting thought that the Bush administration is not trying to start a war.

Perhaps there are realists in the administration who realise starting yet another war would be catastrophic. This would mean that the government is, however, so disengaged from foreign policy to think domestic issues can be solved by verbally attacking Iran. And that is really worrying.

And maybe that is the war America needs to start fighting. The war against rhetoric.

And that’s just fight’n words.

(Hat Tip: David Hambling/DefenseTech for many of the links and the background for this post)

Updated Addendum: Be sure to read Laura Rozen’s take on this.


There are times when The DailyShow just needs to admit they are a news organisation and start putting up transcripts.

I thought I’d burst a gasket watching Jon Stewart interview Polar-Bear-hating Christopher Horner.

My favorite exchange [my transcript, curse you DailyShow]…

Jon Stewart :Why is this argument so heated? Why is there so much not, pardon the pun, why is there so much volatility? Your book is…, you’re clearly a little worked up. You’re a little angry about it.

Christopher Horner: I’m still working through that, thank you for reading it. But I appreciate your helping me out there.

Jon Stewart: No please.

Christopher Horner: This has been an exercise.

It’s been a heated debate since the Titanic hit an iceberg; as you saw when you read the book. When the New York newspapers found experts, who, if they would have lived a little longer, would have would have made a fortune at Stanford University telling us about the end of the world, because they came out and said…

Jon: Global Cooling

Batshit Horner: …this is proof that the icebergs are attacking.

And then there was global warming because there was global warming, you remember the dustbowl and things like that.

And then there was global cooling.

And we had a lot of money; we became very rich. and so we put satellites up in the air, to measure the atmosphere. Because this isn’t about the surface temperature, it’s about the atmosphere. And then it stopped cooling and like five year olds playing soccer chasing a ball – they chased the thermometer the other direction. So now it’s global warming.

We know the answer. It’s this lassitude argument. I can’t understand it so it must be our fault. The Gods must be angry, man’s responsible. There is a strong desire to believe, as evidenced by the fact that there was a consensus in the 70’s about manmade global cooling. And now there’s a consensus about manmade global warming.

There is a strong desire to believe that it just makes sense because we’ve said that both times. And obviously it can’t just make sense both ways.

: What?!!

How often have I wanted to give exactly that reaction.

I won’t even touch all the things wrong in every single spun sentence that came out of Horners mouth. The only point I might agree with is that the Gods are getting a bit pissed off. Other than that…[queue Twilight Zone music]

But thank you Jon Stewart; you have spoken from my soul.