That Whole Rigamarole

Sunday, May 25, 2003

The Bogeyman Surfaces

Here's an AP story about the threat of depleted uranium in Iraq. This reporter must be in a pretty quiet neighborhood, if DU is the biggest worry he can document. Let's look at a few excerpts:

Iraqi doctors and scientists — and the United Nations to a lesser extent

I wonder why the UN would be less worried about DU than the locals?
— are worried that birth defects and childhood cancers could surge in the aftermath of the latest conflict, not unlike medical problems in southern Iraq after the mildly radioactive munitions were first used in the 1991 Gulf War.

The DU projectiles were fired more in Kuwait than in southern Iraq, and calling them mildly radioactive is only accurate in the sense that all of creation is mildly radioactive.
"Many in the medical community are worried that malignancies will rise very quickly in the future because so many people will be exposed to depleted uranium residue throughout the country," said Ranna Abdel Karim, a doctor at Baghdad's Children's Hospital.

Doctor, I doubt that you have valid information about any part of that sentence.
Depleted uranium, fashioned from low-level radioactive wastes, is 2 1/2 times denser than steel and 1.7 times denser than lead. This theoretically creates a projectile more able to penetrate the heavy armor of tanks than conventional armor-piercing munitions.

A theory that has been tested repeatedly on Iraqi armored vehicles.
Aside from the United States and Britain, no other nation uses the munitions. Russian military experts say shells made from alloys of hardened steel, lead and tungsten are equally effective in the anti-tank role.

One lesson we should learn from this war is that Russian military advice may not be all that great.
The substance is said to be harmless when sealed in artillery shells or bombs. But when a shell strikes its target, some of the metal burns and oxidizes into microscopic particles. This creates dust that some say is toxic if inhaled or ingested.

It's a heavy metal. Don't eat or inhale it. Kids, stay out of those wrecks (sharp edges are probably a bigger risk than DU.) But it's still not radioactive.
The U.N. Environment Program, while acknowledging its assessments have found no immediate risk, has recommended a scientific investigation of sites targeted by depleted uranium weapons in Iraq.

Hey, it beats working for a living.
"The fact remains that depleted uranium is still an issue of great concern for the general public," UNEP director Klaus Toepfer said.

And thanks to credulous AP reporters, it will probably remain that way.
The Pentagon and many experts contend that depleted uranium, because of its low radioactivity, poses no risk to the health of soldiers handling munitions made from it, or to civilians living in areas where those shells were used.

Is it really too much to expect a reporter to do more than repeat diametrically opposed claims on a technical matter? The only way this story gets published is by studiously avoiding any research into which side has more scientific evidence in its behalf. A story about Iraqi doctors who are worried about djinns or space aliens would be even more interesting and almost as credible. Go find some, AP!
In the decade that followed the 1991 war, Iraqi health officials said they had recorded a 200 percent rise in cancer and leukemia cases, particularly in young children, in Basra. That southern city was close to the battlefields of the 1991 war.

"There is no other explanation for this outbreak of all forms of cancer, including the rarest forms of leukemia, than the radioactivity coming from depleted uranium," said Abdel Karim, whose hospital is the primary health care institution in the country treating children with malignancies.

Didn't this very story just point out that DU has "low radioactivity?" Yes, it did. I hope for the sake of the people of Iraq that we can sack Dr. Karim on debaathification grounds, because that will probably be quicker than getting her on an inability to reason with logic.

Friday, May 23, 2003

I Guess We Need the Thunderbirds

Apparently NASA is starting to speak in public about some possibilities that Rand Simberg (he's got a link to his earlier posts in this new post) and I both wrote about at the time of the accident.

The part of this story that bothers me most is this:

Gehman acknowledged it would have been chancy to launch a shuttle on a rescue mission without first fixing the problem of foam breaking off.

But he pointed out that in the military, "we frequently launch 120 people to go save one."

"If you've got a pilot down behind enemy lines, we do everything and anything possible to go get that person," he said in a telephone conference with reporters. "It's kind of a contract we have with the people who go into harm's way.

"NASA and the nation have that same contract with astronauts, and it is my opinion, and from my personal background, that if there had been any erring, we would have erred on the side of taking the chance and going after them."

Simberg points out that this mission would be pretty stupid, given that it exposes half of the remaining shuttle fleet to a pretty serious risk of loss. This business about a contract with astronauts is news to me, and it pains me to point out that NASA may have made it up for the occasion: they've done nothing to put a viable rescue capability in place. The armed forces, on the other hand, plan explicitly to retrieve certain types of resources (such as aircrew) and have a very flexible force structure that allows them to plan and execute rescue operations if the situation presents itself. But as Simberg says, if the Pentagon had a total of three helicopters, they wouldn't be launching them on dangerous rescue missions.

The fact is, we are willing to spend military lives without much recrimination (except in comparison with many other countries.) Helicopters crash, explosives blow up, vehicles roll over, and tanks run over sleeping soldiers. And that's just in peacetime training. Military people will gladly go in harm's way to rescue their colleagues. Astronauts will do the same, but we can't really let them take an irreplaceable vehicle on the mission.

All Male Clubs

It sounds as though Annika Sorenstam is blowing up as I post this. That's too bad, I was enjoying following this story and I'm interested in finding out where the dominant female golfer stacks up against the very best in the world. Of the various objections to her participation, I think the dumbest is that it's "a publicity stunt." As though the PGA Tour itself was something other than a publicity machine. Maybe we're supposed to think the touring pros wear all those logos because they appreciate graphic design. Of the many things I dislike about golf, probably the most annoying is the idea that it's more than a game and purer than other sports or games.

For a different perspective on females in male domains, check out how this reporter learned why there are no women in infantry battalions.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Soft America and Hard America

The other day I was driving to work with a WLS newcast on the radio and I heard two consecutive stories about young people from the Chicago area. The first one was about Marnie Holz. The second one was about Jakub Kowalik.

Hearing the two stories one after the other made me grit my teeth. Today, Marnie's story and source of her infamy is still prominent in the news. When she sells her book and/or movie rights, we'll hear about her again. Corporal Kowalik's name doesn't come up much. I suppose that on the day of his funeral, he'll get another, brief mention.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I stuck a comment in on this thread at Little Green Footballs that discusses some anti-Israel web site that just happens to be hosted from Greece. It reminded me that only a little more than a year from now the Olympic Games are to take place in Athens. The Greeks have a hard-earned reputation as perhaps the most Anti-American nation in Europe, and some say they have a serious anti-Semitism thing going, too. So I'm sure the 2004 Olympics will be just a swell time. It makes me nervous just thinking about it. I guess when I'm dealing with my half-assed little problems at work I can just thank my lucky stars that I have no security responsibilities for the Athens Olympics.

If you read to the end of this story about Jayson Blair (found via InstaPundit) you find that Mr. Blair hasn't been seen since the poop hit the windmill and is now thought to be hospitalized. This guy seems to have a lot of "personal problems" but is also apparently quite charming (not necessarily in a good way.) I wonder if he's a little like Will Smith's character in Six Degrees of Separation.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Ottawa Fabulous Five?

Colby Cosh, on his NHL playoffs page, does a fine job demolishing the idea that the NHL would go to "big" ice surfaces. But there's another, easier way to open up the game: drop from six players to five. Obviously they are experimenting with this in overtime, but I'm not sure how well the fans like it. I'm sure the Players' Association will have no part of it, and I don't think I would really support it myself. I don't think the game is in need of that kind of reform. I would like to see them ditch overtime altogether (Has anybody analyzed whether it has increased or decreased regulation ties? I bet they've increased.) and get rid of the "Instigator Rule." This last one would result in a little more fighting but much less dangerous play.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Women's Magazines

I always read the magazine covers at the checkout counters. I'm struck by how every women's magazine always has more than one article about sex described on the cover. This time of year, there are lots of stories about how to feel confident in your swimsuit. My favorite has to be Glamour, because they have the three female leads from X2. Two of them are Halle Berry and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. I don't know the third one. The subhead for the article on these ladies says something like "Different Womanly Shapes, Same Great Body Confidence!" Okay. To put it bluntly, Halle and Rebecca are built like very nice brick shithouses. There can't be 20 women on the planet with hotter bods than those two, can there? (If you have a picture of one, e-mail it to me.) So just, you know, be confident in your body like they are, Glamour reader.

Road Kill Journal

This morning on the way to work I saw a carcass on the shoulder and then thought to myself "that thing had a paddle tail!" It was a beaver, a road kill first for me, I think. Kathy saw it on her travels, too.

Dream Journal

Last night I dreamt that I was walking my injured, pet black bear to the veterinarian's office. This bear had been a companion to my father during his service in Vietnam. The bear's injured foreleg was splinted with a ball-peen hammer. The first animal clinic that we visited was not able to help us: they didn't work on bears for some reason. We got to the next place in good shape and sat in the waiting room with kids and moms and their poodles and housecats and so forth.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

More WMD Game

The other thing I was going to mention as a reason to keep our certain WMD knowledge quiet is that it's more political aikido. This is where the President throws out an idea, and his opponents stomp all over it and lay out all the things that need to happen for the President to get what he wants. Later, those things all happen and the opponents are left standing around slack-jawed with no option but to give the President what he wants, that stupid cowboy. Many opponents are right now observing how critical to success it is to find WMD evidence. What must they conclude when the evidence turns up?

Sunday, May 04, 2003

The WMD Game

In a Mr. Helpful post that I found via Andrea Harris, Mr. Helpful expresses some reasonable worries about not finding Iraq's WMD. I happen to have been puzzling about this issue myself for a couple of weeks, and while sitting around this afternoon I had an insight that I decided I must share with the world.

Actually, I had the main part of the insight a couple of weeks ago, when I heard Tommy Franks say in an interview (it may have been the one with Tony Snow on Fox News Sunday) that he was "certain" that we would find said weapons. Now, when is the last time you heard a CENTCOM General make such an unequivocal statement about the future? So I immediately thought "we've already found some." But as a guileless person, I couldn't quite reason out why we would keep that information so secret. Today, I thought of some reasons:

1. The various Ba'athists we have captured are trying to make deals to stay out of a war crimes tribunal. We could use information about WMD that we already know (but which they don't know that we know) to more reliably determine who has really "turned" and who is just shucking and jiving in order to save his own skin. I think President Bush's decision to publicly call Tariq Aziz a liar supports this theory. It's a not-too-subtle way to give these guys (major Ba'athists) something unpleasant to think about.

2. In a similar vein, I think we can use non-public information that we have to more quickly and completely "roll up" the Iraqi WMD complex. There are probably a lot of leads from a lot of sources, giving rise to a difficult problem in sorting liars and apple-polishers from people who were in the loop and deserve more of our attention. It would be handy to be able to ask questions about things we already know (to people who don't know what we know) and evaluate their answers in that environment. Sources with credibility proven in such a way can probably lead to quicker, more thorough discovery of the capabilities that most concern us.

I know that seems like only one reason, but it's not. The first example uses secret WMD knowledge as a general lie-detector test on captured big fish. The second example is using the secret WMD knowledge as a wedge to get more WMD knowledge and to take down the WMD apparatus. I guess the spooks call that last bit "exploitation." They probably have a special word for the first one, too.

Back to Blogging

OK, so I failed at an entry every day. This time, let's shoot for 3 per week. Thanks to Jeff at Alphecca for checking in and wondering where I had gone.