Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Week in Food

A Chinese restaurant in Providence is suing an Indian restaurant for selling rice.

Greek Cypriots and UN soldiers are in an asparagus standoff.

If you live in New York and are partial to monkey flesh, you better start hoarding it now.

If you work in Customs at Dulles Airport and realize there won't be any food in the house when you get home, don't worry: you can get plenty of groceries (or at least meat) from travelers. Ditto for hard liquor. And porn.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Science Fiction Reaches New Heights....

...of respectability.

Sci-Fi used to inhabit the ghettoes of fiction and television--published in cheap magazines and running in series that tank after three seasons.

But no more. Kim Stanley Robinson and Octavia Butler have greater intellectual prestige than many writers of conventional fiction. Rolling Stone considers Battlestar Galactica the best show on television. And now, science fiction is in The New York Times.

Yes. The New York Times.

You see, the paper of record in the United States has been suggesting that Iran is dangerously close to being able to creat nuclear weapons. They don't come right out and say that. But they beat the drums to build up hysteria: "Iran Has More Enriched Uranium Than Thought," "209 kilograms more--an increase of a third." They let an anonymous UN official say the magic words: '“You have enough atoms” to make a nuclear bomb.'

Well guess what? It's just not true. Admittedly Iran is closer to developing nuclear weapons than NASA is to developing warp drive, but that's about it.

Sure, they've got more uranium than anyone thought. But for weapons purposes, it might as well be almond paste. Sure, everyone agrees that Iran has enough "low-enriched uranium" for a nuclear weapon, but you don't make weapons with "low-enriched uranium," you make it with high-enriched uranium (i.e., uranium that has about a 90% concentration of the isotope U-235. What Iran has is around 4%.). Now, according to the New York Times the latest IAEA report "suggests Iran is moving ahead briskly with uranium enrichment."

In other words, they don't really know what the Iranians are doing.

The guys who want or need (for whatever twisted reason) an Iranian nuclear bogeyman have another problem: Iranian uranium is full of impurities. A 2006 article in Science (refenced here at Science and Global Security), reported that Iran could not purify or enrich uranium to a weapons-grade level without foreign help.

Sure, China or Russia helping Iran develop weapons grade uranium is a scary prospect. But Iran is a country that seems to need technical help with everything, and they don't seem to have been getting it. They can't even launch missiles: doing it in Photoshop doesn't count.

So even if they do make a nuclear weapon, how are they going to launch it? Get the best power forward in the Iranian Basketball Super League to pick it up and toss it?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The One Thing Needful

Okay, so John Kerry is in Gaza.....

And he called on Hamas to stop its rocket attacks. And yet,

"He is not meeting with anyone from Hamas..."

Am I the only person who thinks something is missing from this scenario?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Family Values, Immigration and Customs Style

While our government doesn't do such a good job of say, keeping track of equipment at nuclear weapons laboratories, a recent report by Homeland Security's Inspector General found that they do a great job of protecting our nation from people who want to work in construction and pick produce.

The report casually states, almost as an aside, that over 2 million illegal aliens were deported between 1998 and 2007. That's pretty impressive. In nine years, our government just shipped/carted off/mailed via UPS a number of people equivalent to the combined populations of Hawaii and Montana? They really ought to publicize this a bit more.

But that big number wasn't really the point of the report, which had more to do with a tiny subgroup of those deportees. You see, Immigration and Customs Enforcement are so thorough in their work that they deport illegal aliens even when their children are U.S. citizens. Between '98 and '07 over 100,000 parents of U.S. citizens were deported (see page 4 of the linked report).

Homeland Security is concerned about this, and rightly so. So they decided to find out, among other things, a) how often both parents of a child are removed; and b) whether the children remained in the U.S.

Well, it turns out ICE doesn't collect that data (page 7). I suppose there's a good reason for that. Maybe they thought they didn't have the authority to look into those matters. You could argue that these days we should be grateful whenever a government agency decides not to collection information on U.S. citizens.

Or perhaps like me the people at Immigrations think No Child Left Behind is a stupid law that should be ignored and thought it had something to do with their line of work.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Life on the Street

It's been a rough past few months for Wall Street: first the massive layoffs, then the almost total meltdown of the financial industry and now this. The average Joe is enraged at the huge year-end bonuses given to Wall Street executives: some $18.4 billion, according to available figures. The president himself called these figures 'shameful.' Ouch.

To appease the sans-culottes and put the capitalists in their place, the President has decreed a $500,000 per year pay cap for executives at firms receiving bailout money from the Feds. But the Wall Street fat cats still get to keep last year's bonuses. I mean, the government can't make them give it back. After all, the Feds only hold the keys to Wall Street's future--it's not like they're in charge or anything.

But really, let's put this in perspective. $18.4 billion is not that much money. We've been spending more than that in Iraq every two months. And those "luxuries" that have Joe six-pack so ticked off? Like that $50 million jet Citigroup wanted to buy? It's obvious that these guys just can't win. First they're castigated for sitting on all that bailout money. But the instant they try to put some money to use and save a few jobs in the struggling corporate jet industry, they're accused of self-indulgence and abusing government trust.

The President has said that from now on companies must disclose "all the perks and luxuries bestowed upon senior executives, and provide an explanation to taxpayers and to shareholders as to why these expenses are justified".

However, some businesses that provide perks are already pretty good at helping company execs cover their tracks. Former madam Kristin Davis said that when clients such as investment bankers at Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers paid for sex with corporate credit cards, the charges tended to show up on the company books as computer consulting and construction work.

I imagine Davis isn't the only madam who's this clever. And it's a good thing, too. Because openly spending money on sex is just the sort of "perk" those killjoys in Washington would frown on.

I don't get it: the sex industry is one of the few fields that's still hiring. I thought spending money to create jobs was the whole idea behind this still-nonexistent stimulus package.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

I Can Hear Almost Hear It....

"Hi, I'm George W. Bush. Welcome to Elliott's Hardware."

"If you can still afford to buy anything, it's no thanks to me or my party."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Novel Approach to Black History Month

A South Carolina state senate committee has given initial approval to a bill that would make Confederate Memorial Day a paid holiday.* I can't say I was really surprised, considering the Confederate battle flag is displayed on the grounds of the state capitol.

I was surprised, however, that the bill's sponsor is black. Democratic State Senator Robert Ford believes that observing both Martin Luther King Day and Confederate Memorial Day** would help South Carolinians come to terms with the complexities of their history.

I can see that. After all, isn't intense introspection and reflecting on the past what Americans do with all their other paid holidays?

*I grew up in Mississippi, am descended from slaveowners, and I wasn't even aware there was a Confederate Memorial Day. Turns out Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday in Mississippi, but wasn't declared one until 2003 (I suppose they had to do something to ease the pain of formally abolishing slavery. In 1995.).

**In Mississippi and Alabama, Confederate Memorial Day is observed in connection with Johnston's surrender to Sherman. In South Carolina, it commemorates the death of Stonewall Jackson and the capture of Jefferson Davis by Union forces. What is this obsession neo-Confederates have with getting their asses kicked?

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Hostage's Ordeal Is Over

It appears I was overly cynical. Bernd was kidnapped. He was rescued by German police this morning. I would like to be able to tell you that this happened as the result of a daring raid by Landespolizei commandos, followed by a tearful meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the receipt of an empathetic note or phone call from Ingrid Betancourt.

But alas, nothing so dramatic. He was found by kids in an unused industrial park. And his retrieval by police was rather, um, prosaic:

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