Overlooked Gems

Here’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while; point folks to (and invite others to point to) overlooked books, records, and films. Maybe plays, we’ll get to that later.

I’ll kick off with two of my favorites, a film about love and a book about death.The film is ‘Choose Me‘, by Alan Rudolph, and it’s a complicated, adult love film that manages to sum up – to me – much of what modern romance is and has become. Keith Carradine at his best, Lesley Ann Warren, and an insanely smart and sexy Genevieve Bujold are the core of the film, and most of it is spent listening to the three of them talk about love (Bujold does it for a living as a radio talk show host).

It nails a certain slice of 1980’s Los Angeles (Ed Ruscha has a small part), and is as slick and beautiful and confused as its characters are. As we are, in truth. One way that I weigh art is how it makes people react; almost everyone I know who sees this movie is suddenly aware that they are in love, or deeply sad that they are not.

In a whole different world is my favorite of Cormac McCarthy’s books (you’ve seen ‘No Country For Old Men’, right? If not, leave the computer now and go.), ‘Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West‘ is in my view, McCarthy’s greatest book; it may be the best book about America since ‘Moby Dick’. Harold Bloom certainly thinks so, but I didn’t need his opinion; when I opened the book I was swept away by McCarthy’s vision.

A dark, violent, vision to be sure – even, in some ways, insane. But if you’ve hiked the desert, as I have, equipped with all the modern technology and communication and thought about those who crossed it on foot or horseback or on wagons – well they must have been a little bit insane as well.

I’m interested in what folks who have seen or read these think; and what you would suggest as overlooked gems.

Blogroll

We haven’t updated much on the right hand column for a while. I’m playing around with a few ideas, and there will be some ongoing changes while Joe & the rest of the crew and I discuss how some of them are working.

I’ve also refreshed our blogroll – for now with the bulk of my Bloglines feeds (easier to maintain). If you have comments about blogs that ought to be there (or ought not to be) feel free to leave them here; also if you have comments on the changes, please feel free to make them here as well.

The goal is to deepen your engagement with the discussions and past posts, and to give those elements priority over some of the more administrative or static elements in the sidebar. Let’s see how well it plays out…

Muslim-Dutch Cooperation

Meet Kenan Sofuoglu – the 2007 World Supersport motorcycle racing champion.

kenan.JPGHe rides for the Dutch Ten Kate Honda team (they do not have ten Catherines, they were founded by Netherlanders Gerrit and Ron Ten Kate), and this year dominated the 600cc class at the highest level.

Riders spend a lot of time selecting the symbolism on their helmets (well, great riders do – I have a plain white helmet…). Here’s Kenan’s:

kenan_helmet.JPG

Probably the fastest crescent and star on the ground anywhere in the world…

…And In ‘The World Is Ending’ Statistics News…

Here’s the problem with making huge public policy decisions based on statistical models:

The global burden of HIV has been overstated, with new surveillance data showing the number of people carrying the AIDS-causing virus is about 6.3 million lower than was estimated last year.

Improved tracking indicates for the first time that the world turned the corner on the three-decade epidemic in the late 1990s, when new infections peaked at more than 3 million a year, according to a report today by UNAIDS, which coordinates global AIDS relief efforts through the United Nations. There are 2.5 million new infections annually now, the report found.

- Bloomberg

The United Nations on Monday radically lowered years of estimates of the number of people worldwide infected by the AIDS virus, revealing that the growth of the AIDS pandemic is waning for the first time since HIV was discovered 26 years ago.

The revised figures, which were the result of much more sophisticated sampling techniques, indicate that the number of new infections peaked in 1998 and the number of deaths peaked in 2005.

The new analysis shows that the total number of people living with HIV has been gradually increasing, but at a slower rate than in the past.

Hints of those trends were present in the older estimates, but at much greater numbers.

UNAIDS estimated in a report to be issued today that about 2.5 million people will be infected with the AIDS virus, called HIV, this year — a 40% drop from the 2006 estimate.

- Los Angeles Times

It looks as if the global AIDS pandemic may not be spiraling out of control after all. Instead, the devastation is stabilizing at an unacceptably high level.

The United Nations’ AIDS-fighting agency and the World Health Organization ate a lot of crow this week for previously overestimating the number of people infected with the virus. As a result of improved methodologies, better surveillance and new understanding of the dynamics of the epidemic, they sharply reduced their estimate – to 33.2 million worldwide from 39.5 million. They now peg the number of new infections per year at 2.5 million, much lower than past estimates.

A few epidemiologists have long charged that the United Nations numbers were wrong, and possibly designed to generate more contributions to battle the disease. We see no sign of any conspiracy. And make no mistake, even with the revised estimates, the AIDS epidemic remains one of the world’s greatest scourges, requiring a strong campaign to bring it under control.

New York Times editorial

So when we’re making critical decisions about managing the energy economy, let’s be a little bit humble about the strength of the models we use, OK?

My issues with the ‘global-warming-trumps-all-policy’ mantra are three:

* I’m not 100% on board on the anthropogenic factors as the major driver of global warming – given the presence of warming on, for instance, Mars;

* The impacts of the actions drastic enough to avert the kind of warming impacts we’re talking about are ill-thought-out and likely to be as bad – or worse – than the impacts of any plausible warming, given the very real uncertainty in the models and methodologies being used;

* I have an innate discomfort when people who hold certain core values – say the perils and problems of industrial civilization – suddenly discover yet another reason why it needs to be curtailed and argue that this one claim trumps everything.

Having said all that, I flatly support lots of policies – from wind farms off Cape Cod to raising CAFE standards, treating small trucks as cars for CAFE and safety purposes, and a petroleum tax to incent people to change their minds about decisions that have negative and few positive impacts.

Who Says Amazon Has No Sense Of Humor?

I’m building a big-ass Amazon Wish List of books for Biggest Guy (for when he gets far enough through Basic Training to read them), and other than the great list on counterinsurgency on Abu Muquama’s site, I’m always looking for new stuff. So when Kings of War linked to some interesting reading on the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, I clicked through to the Amazon UK link for “The Bear Went Over The Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan“. Then I cut and pasted the title and went to Amazon.com, put it in the search box … and the result I got was “Women’s Realities, Women’s Choices: An Introduction to Women’s Studies (Hunter College Women’s Studies Collective)

There’s a lesson there, I’m just not quite sure what it is…

Thanksgiving

Well, the first thing I’m thankful for is getting to sleep in this morning!! It’s a facet of one of the many things I’m thankful for this morning: my life is pretty darn easy. I have good work, and by any sane standards my life is one of comfort and ease.

But having a life of comfort and ease wouldn’t mean much if I led it without the love of my family and friends. Just time on the sofa together.Letters from Biggest Guy, an IM from Middle Guy, or a hug from Littlest Guy. Waking up with a sleepy TG. Talking over dinner with my friends. Time in Vegas with friends, bloggers, (and bloggers who are friends!) and loved ones. This week, swapping stories about our motorcycle racing exploits and comparing sore muscles (I’m damn sore this morning, I’ll have you know).

Seriously, I have the most amazing people in my life, and many of them are people I have never met except by writing back and forth on the pages of this blog.

I’m thankful for all of it.

Blogging May Be Scarce

I’m headed out the door to drive to Northern California with a friend right now.

We’re headed to Monterey, where we’ll take the Superbike School at Laguna Seca Raceway (here’s me in the white helmet headed down the Corkscrew two years ago).


marcd_laguna.jpg

I’ll be staying with Joe & his sweetie for a day or so, and one topic will be our hopes for the blog in the coming year.

So if I don’t jump into debates, please don’t assume I’m scared away or don’t care – life is just in the way this week.

As usual, please don’t kill each other or blow stuff up while I’m away.

“the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran”

The IAEA report on Iran is available. You can download a copy here.

It’s short, and an interesting read.

The history of Iran’s program may remain shrouded:

8. As previously reported to the Board (GOV/2005/67, paras 14–15), the Agency was shown by Iran in January 2005 a copy of a hand-written one-page document reflecting an offer for certain components and equipment said to have been made to Iran in 1987 by a foreign intermediary. Iran stated in 2005 that this was the only remaining documentary evidence relevant to the scope and content of the 1987 offer. On 9 October 2007, the Agency was provided with a copy of the document.

Certain aspects of the document indicate that it dates from 1987. However, the originator of the document has still not been identified.

There is some positive news:

25. On 8 November 2007, the Agency received a copy of the 15-page document describing the procedures for the reduction of UF6 to uranium metal and casting it into hemispheres. Iran has reiterated that this document was received along with the P-1 centrifuge documentation in 1987. The Agency has shared this document with Pakistan, the purported country of origin, and is seeking more information. Iran stated that the reconversion unit with casting equipment mentioned in the one-page 1987 offer was not pursued with the supply network. Apart from the conversion experiments of UF4 to uranium metal at the Tehran Nuclear Research Centre (GOV/2004/60 Annex, para. 2), the Agency has seen no indication of any UF6 reconversion and casting activity in Iran. It should be noted, however, that a small UF6 to uranium metal conversion line in the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) was declared by Iran in the design information questionnaire for the UCF (GOV/2003/75, Annex 1, para. 3). This line has not been built, as verified by the Agency’s inspectors.

The next few weeks should be very interesting:

24. On 15 September 2007, the Agency provided Iran with questions in writing in connection with the source of uranium particle contamination at the technical university and requested access to relevant documentation and to individuals, as well as to relevant equipment and locations for sampletaking. The questions were, inter alia, about the origin of the uranium particle contamination of equipment (GOV/2006/53, para. 24), the nature of the equipment, the envisioned use of the equipment and the names and roles of individuals and entities involved (including PHRC). In accordance with the work plan, Iran should provide answers to the questions and the requested access in the next few weeks.

and

26. On 15 September 2007, the Agency provided questions in writing to Iran concerning Iran’s activities involving polonium and requested access to relevant documentation, individuals and equipment. The questions were, inter alia, about the scope and objectives of the polonium-210 studies (GOV/2004/11, para. 28), whether any bismuth acquisitions from abroad had been made or attempted and whether any related theoretical or R&D studies had been carried out in Iran. In accordance with the work plan, Iran should provide answers to the questions and the requested access in the next few weeks.

and

27. On 15 September 2007, the Agency provided questions in writing to Iran concerning the Gchine Mine and requested access to relevant documentation, individuals and equipment. The questions were, inter alia, about the ownership of the mining area and mill, why activities took place at this location when suitable infrastructure was available elsewhere and why AEOI activities at the mine ceased around 1993 (GOV/2005/67, para. 26). In accordance with the work plan, Iran should provide answers to the questions and the requested access in the next few weeks.

and

28. The Agency has urged Iran to address at an early date the alleged studies concerning the conversion of uranium dioxide into UF4 (the green salt project), high explosive testing and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle (GOV/2006/15, paras 38-39). In accordance with the work plan, Iran should address this topic in the next few weeks. In the meantime, the Agency is working on arrangements for sharing with Iran documents provided by third parties related to the alleged studies.

The conclusions are interesting as well:

39. The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities. Iran concluded a Facility Attachment for FEP. However, it should be noted that, since early 2006, the Agency has not received the type of information that Iran had previously been providing, pursuant to the Additional Protocol and as a transparency measure. As a result, the Agency’s knowledge about Iran’s current nuclear programme is diminishing.

40. Contrary to the decisions of the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities, having continued the operation of PFEP and FEP. Iran has also continued the construction of the IR-40 and operation of the Heavy Water Production Plant.

41. There are two remaining major issues relevant to the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear programme: Iran’s past and current centrifuge enrichment programme and the alleged studies. The Agency has been able to conclude that answers provided on the declared past P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programmes are consistent with its findings. The Agency will, however, continue to seek corroboration and is continuing to verify the completeness of Iran’s declarations. The Agency intends in the next few weeks to focus on the contamination issue as well as the alleged studies and other activities that could have military applications.

42. Iran has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan. However, its cooperation has been reactive rather than proactive. As previously stated, Iran’s active cooperation and full transparency are indispensable for full and prompt implementation of the work plan.

43. In addition, Iran needs to continue to build confidence about the scope and nature of its present programme. Confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme requires that the Agency be able to provide assurances not only regarding declared nuclear material, but, equally importantly, regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. Although the Agency has no concrete information, other than that addressed through the work plan, about possible current undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran without full implementation of the Additional Protocol. This is especially important in the light of Iran’s undeclared activities for almost two decades and the need to restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. Therefore, the Director General again urges Iran to implement the Additional Protocol at the earliest possible date. The Director General also urges Iran to implement all the confidence building measures required by the Security Council, including the suspension of all enrichment related activities.

December will be an interesting month, I think.

Text The Troops For Thanksgiving

You’ll notice the new button under the Winds banner. It will be there for the next week. It’s a program launched by ‘America Supports You’, a DoD-sponsored organization that attempts to engage citizens in activities supporting troop welfare and morale.

This Thanksgiving, they have set up a program to allow us to send a text message of support to the troops.

Look, you can agree or disagree with the policies and decisions that led to the war. You can believe that we need to push the war forward, keep it going, or end it and bring the troops home.

But young men and women are following orders, far from home, often in danger – and it seems incumbent on us to remind them that we care about them individually, and that we’re aware of what they are doing for us.

Grab your cell, and send a few nice words.