How to spot states making secret plutonium

“The number of nuclear reactors around the world is set to rise as nations look for ways to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, and all reactors can potentially be used to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. Because of this possibility, it might be useful for countries to be able to monitor each other to make sure weapons-grade plutonium is not being made on the sly.

At the moment there is no means of doing this, but researchers believe they have the beginnings of an answer. They are building devices they claim can detect whether a facility is producing radioactive material that could be used to produce a nuclear weapon. Their work is preliminary, and it won’t solve the current political crisis involving Iran. Nor for that matter will it shed any light on North Korea’s nuclear activities. But the surveillance device they are working on may prove invaluable to the nuclear police of the future.” (New Scientist)

Trying to Maintain Control of the State, in a State of Confusion

Dana Milbank: “In all, Bush uttered nearly 7,000 words in his 45-minute Q&A. But his message could be summed up with a brief phrase in his least-favorite language: L’Etat c’est moi (I am the state).

His approval of a program to eavesdrop without warrants: “As I stand here right now, I can tell the American people the program is legal,” he certified.

His refusal to release photos of him with Abramoff: “They’re not relevant to the investigation.”

His view on congressional anti-torture legislation: “Conducting war is a responsibility in the executive branch, not the legislative branch.”

His refusal to provide Congress with testimony about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina: “That’s just the way it works.”

Midway through this Bourbonic performance, the Los Angeles Times’s James Gerstenzang offered an observation on Bush’s surveillance policy: “This seems to sound like something President Nixon once said, which was: ‘When the president does it, then that means that it’s not illegal.’ ” Whispered “oohs” could be heard in the room. ” (Washington Post op-ed)

Technorati tags:

Smothering The Hearts and Minds

“Let’s make sure we get this story right. You take the captured, uniformed general of an enemy army – and in blatant violation of all notions of human decency and of the Geneva Conventions— you beat him with rubber hoses, pour water down his nose, then stuff him into a sleeping bag, tie him with electrical cord, and then sit your ass down on his chest until he suffocates and you are convicted of what? “Negligent homicide?”

Just what part of this deliberate torture-onto-death is negligent? And your punishment? A “reprimand,” a $6000 fine and house detention for eight weeks?” (

Technorati tags:

Why Cell Phones Should be Allowed in Hospitals

“The prohibition against mobile phones in hospitals may do more harm than good, a new report reveals.

Medical facilities prohibit cell phone use, but some doctors already use them. And it turns out they reduce medical errors because communication is more timely, a new study finds. Mobile phones rarely cause electronic magnetic interference, Yale School of Medicine researchers reported today.

The study is published in the February issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia. It was based on 4,018 responses from attendees at the 2003 meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

Of those who responded, 65 percent reported using pagers as their primary mode of communications, and of those, 40 percent reported delays in communications. Of the 17 percent of respondents who said they used cell phones, only 31 percent reported delays.

No word how the patients involved in all those delays fared. But some good news:

Study leader Keith Ruskin, associate professor in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Neurosurgery, said electronic interference from cell phones is a thing of the past.

“The new digital cell phones used much higher power and operate at a different frequency,” Ruskin said. “The small risks of electromagnetic interference between mobile telephones and medical devices should be weighed against the potential benefits of improved communication.”” (Yahoo! News)

Technorati tags:

Arctic Ocean Ice Crashes on Alaska Shores

“Ridges of Arctic Ocean sea ice were shoved onto a Barrow road in quantities not seen in nearly three decades.

Two ice surges, known to Alaska Natives as ivus, stunned residents who had never seen large blocks of ice rammed ashore.

“It just looked like a big old mountain of ice,” said L.A. Leavitt, 19, who left his nightshift job at the city early Tuesday to check out the ridges.

Ivus are like frozen tsunamis and crash ashore violently. They have killed hunters and are among the Arctic’s most feared natural phenomena.

Residents said the northernmost ivu, about 20 feet high and 100 feet long, contained car-size blocks and left coastal Stevenson Road with only one lane.” (Yahoo! News)

Technorati tags:

Support a Filibuster Against Judge Alito

Online petition at “I fully support a filibuster against Judge Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Judge Alito’s nomination does not serve the best interests of our nation; it serves to appease extreme right wing elements of the Republican Party. His nomination is an incredible mistake for America, and only the United States Senate can put a stop to it.

I think it’s time that the United States Senate confirmed once and for all that extreme ideology has no place on the highest court in the land. This is a critical fight for the future of our country. That’s why I’ve taken the time to sign this petition. And I hope that’s why the Senate will step up to the plate and do the right thing for America: support a filibuster against Samuel Alito.”

The point of signing the petition, of course, is that you will get endless political spam from the Kerry organization. But you can put his address in the junkmail filter, of course.

After Hamas Victory, Israel’s Likely Course

“The Hamas landslide in Palestinian elections has stunned Israelis, but it may also have brought them a rare moment of clarity: with peace talks off the table, Israel will most likely pursue unilateral actions, drawing its own borders and separating itself from the Palestinians.

Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister, made it clear after an emergency cabinet meeting that talks with Hamas, a Palestinian party sworn to Israel’s destruction, were out of the question, while experts said Israel was now freer to establish its future on its own.

They said Israel — whose own elections in two months could be heavily influenced by the Palestinian results — was likely to focus on speeding up construction of the separation barrier, which runs along and through parts of the West Bank. ” (New York Times )

I woke up this morning wondering how a Hamas government is ever going to convene in one room, given the likelihood that Israeli intelligence efforts would be devoted to finding out the place and time of such a gathering for — shall we say? — undiplomatic purposes.

A Natural History of Peace

“Humans like to think that they are unique, but the study of other primates has called into question the exceptionalism of our species. So what does primatology have to say about war and peace? Contrary to what was believed just a few decades ago, humans are not “killer apes” destined for violent conflict, but can make their own history.” — Robert M. Sapolsky, John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University (Foreign Affairs)
Technorati tags:

Mirror Neurons and the Brain in the Vat

“Six years ago, Edge published a now-famous essay by neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, entitled “Mirror Neurons and imitation learning as the driving force behind “the great leap forward” in human evolution“. This was the first time that many in the Edge community heard of mirror neurons which were discovered by Iaccomo Rizzolati of the University of Parma in 1995. In his essay, Rama made the startling prediction that mirror neurons would do for psychology what DNA did for biology by providing a unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments. He further suggested “that the emergence of a sophisticated mirror neuron system set the stage for the emergence, in early hominids, of a number of uniquely human abilities such as proto-language (facilitated by mapping phonemes on to lip and tongue movements), empathy, ‘theory of other minds’, and the ability to ‘adopt another’s point of view’.

In the past few years, mirror neurons have come into their own as the next big thing in neuroscience, and while the jury is still out on Rama’s prediction, it’s obvious that something important is unfolding…” (The Edge)

The discovery of mirror neurons is centrally important to the understanding of the neural basis of the social brain, of empathy and interpersonal perception, as embodied in the “theory of mind” concept. Mirror neurons are crucially important to, as Ramachandran puts it,

“”what Francis Crick referred to as “the astonishing hypothesis”; the notion that “our conscious experience and sense of self is based entirely on the activity of a hundred billion bits of jelly — the neurons that constitute the brain…, that even our loftiest thoughts and aspirations are mere byproducts of neural activity. We are nothing but a pack of neurons.””

The essay is badly edited; for example, Ramachandran is quoted as referring to mirror neurons as ‘Dalai Llama (sic) neurons’; and later refers to ‘starving pheasant’ when I am sure he intended ‘starving peasant’. Also, take a look at the vignette of the ‘brain in the vat’ Ramachandran poses at the end of the essay, and see if you don’t think it has already been better put by the Wachowski brothers in The Matrix, as the dilemma of the ‘red pill’ vs. the ‘blue pill’, such powerful shorthand that it has entered the pop-culture vernacular wholesale.