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Lasrick (2629253) writes "A terrific look back through the last few decades at all the things that went wrong in the US-Cuba relationship, starting with the 1959 revolution that saw Fidel Castro come to power.The section on the CIA's internal review of the Bay of Pigs debacle is rather comical, in a sad way: 'The 150-page document, written by CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick, found fault with nearly all aspects of the endeavor, which included few personnel who even spoke Spanish; the report “was so offensive to agency officials that Director John McCone ordered all but one copy destroyed.'" It's difficult to learn from one's mistakes with that attitude." Link to Original Source top
Lasrick (2629253) writes "More than at any time since the Cold War, scientists are tinkering with viruses to make them more deadly and more able to spread. Could the latest science be militarized and misused to make biological weapons? Fortunately, there are ways to make sure that it is not. Filippa Lentzos, a senior research fellow at King’s College London, studies contemporary and historical understandings of the threat of biological weapons, bioterrorism, and the strategic use of infection in conflict. She writes here about how states can go about fostering responsible science, especially in the area of "gain-of-function" research, where scientists tinker with viruses to make them more deadly and more easily spread. As she puts it: "...an effective regulatory framework to prevent gain-of-function research from causing man-made pandemics requires both scientists and states to play their part."" Link to Original Source top
The shale boom won't stop climate change; it may make it worse.
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Energy expert H-Holger Rogner walks through the realities of the shale-gas boom, the 'game-changer' that has brought about a drop in energy prices and greatly reduced carbon emissions. But despite the positive impact on carbon emissions, Rogner points out that the cheap gas brought about by fracking shale may already be affecting investments into renewable energy, nuclear energy, and energy efficiency by offering more attractive investment opportunities: 'At today’s prices of $4 to $5 per million British thermal units, gas-fired electricity holds a definite competitive advantage over new nuclear construction and unsubsidized renewables.' But natural gas is still a fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide. 'A much higher share of natural gas in the energy mix would eventually raise emissions again, especially if gas not only displaces coal but also non-fossil energy sources. Moreover, methane, the chief component of natural gas, is itself a heat-trapping greenhouse gas with 25 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide. If total methane leakage—from drilling through end use—is greater than about 4 percent, that could negate any climate benefits of switching from coal and oil to gas.' Terrific information." Link to Original Source top
Cloak and Dagger from Tripoli: How Libya Gave Up its WMD
Lasrick (2629253) writes "This is the first installment of a five-part series exploring the painstaking diplomacy and intelligence efforts that led Libya and its quixotic leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi, to relinquish that country's weapons of mass destruction. Author William Tobey is a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He was most recently deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration, managing the US government’s largest program to prevent nuclear proliferation and terrorism by detecting, securing, and disposing of dangerous nuclear material. A fascinating story." Link to Original Source top
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Chris Neuzil is a senior scientist with the National Research Program of the US Geological Survey who thinks the qualities of shale make it the perfect rock in which to safely and permanently house high-level nuclear waste. Given the recent discovery that water is much more of an issue than originally thought for the tuff rock at Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Utah, the unique qualities of shale, along with its ubiquitous presence in the US, could make shale rock a better choice for the 70,000 metric tons of commercial spent fuel currently sitting above ground at nuclear power facilities throughout the country. France, Switzerland, and Belgium are all considering repositories in shale, but it hasn't been studied much in the US. 'Shale is the only rock type likely to house high-level nuclear waste in other countries that has never been seriously considered by the US high-level waste program. The uncertain future of Yucca Mountain places plans for spent nuclear fuel in the United States at a crossroads. It is an opportunity to include shale in a truly comprehensive examination of disposal options.'" Link to Original Source top
We are in the midst of the worst Ebola outbreak in human history
Lasrick (2629253) writes "After four decades of confining Ebola outbreaks to small areas, experts acknowledged in an October 9 New England Journal of Medicine article that “we were wrong” about the scope of the current situation. At the present transmission rate, the number of Ebola cases in West Africa doubles every two to three weeks. Early diagnosis is the key to controlling the epidemic, but that's far easier said than done: 'And there are several complicating factors. For one thing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 60 percent of all Ebola patients remain undiagnosed in their communities.' A transmission rate below 1 is necessary to keep the outbreak under control (instead of the current rate of 1.5 to 2), and the authors detail what's in the works to help achieve early detection, which is crucial to reducing the current transmission rate." Link to Original Source top
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Excellent explanation by Jeremy Green: 'What explains the sudden spike in generic drug prices? To answer that question, it’s important to understand how generic drugs emerged as a private sector solution to the public health problem of pharmaceutical access, and why our assumptions about the competitive nature of the generic drug sector may be unfounded. It turns out we may have put too much faith in the competitive nature of the generic drug sector, and that thanks to a largely invisible group of middlemen, it isn’t nearly the free market that we imagined.' Worth reading in full." Link to Original Source top
Mahdism: How does religion really influence Iranian nuclear policy?
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Many observers of American Christianity are familiar with the notion of an "end times" and a return of Jesus to earth. More radical believers of this notion have welcomed climate change, nuclear war, and other threats to mankind because, to them, this chaos and destruction fulfills Biblical prophecy. Islam has its own version: Mahdism: 'Shia Muslims believe that the Mahdi, born in the ninth century and also known as the Hidden Imam or the Twelfth Imam, is the Prophet Mohammed’s last legitimate successor. They believe that he has gone into occultation—the state of being blocked from view—but will eventually return...reappear along with Christ...restore peace and justice, saving the world from the chaos into which it would otherwise descend.' In this article, Ariane Tabatabai discusses the idea that Mahdism informs Iran's public policy, especially its nuclear policy, providing hardliners with an excuse to hasten the Mahdi's return. Terrific analysis." Link to Original Source top
Lasrick (2629253) writes "4H is in Africa, helping to distribute Big Ag products like DuPont's Pioneer seeds through ostensibly good works aimed at youth. In Africa, where the need to produce more food is especially urgent, DuPont Pioneer and other huge corporations have made major investments. But there are drawbacks: 'DuPont's nutritious, high-yielding, and drought-tolerant hybrid seed. It costs 10 times as much, and while Ghanaians typically save their own seeds to plant the next year, hybrid seeds get weaker by the generation; each planting requires another round of purchasing. What's more, says Devlin Kuyek, a researcher with the sustainable-farming nonprofit Genetic Resources Action International, because hybrid seeds are bred for intensive agriculture, they typically need chemicals to thrive.' Bigger question is the role of 4H in this process." Link to Original Source top
Hanging out with the disgruntled guys who babysit our aging nuclear missiles
Lasrick (2629253) writes "This is a rather distrubing read about the troops who guard our nuclear weapons.'"The Air Force has not kept its ICBMs manned or maintained properly," says Bruce Blair, a former missileer and cofounder of the anti-nuclear group Global Zero. Nuclear bases that were once the military's crown jewels are now "little orphanages that get scraps for dinner," he says. And morale is abysmal. Blair's organization wants to eliminate nukes, but he argues that while we still have them, it's imperative that we invest in maintenance, training, and personnel to avoid catastrophe: An accident resulting from human error, he says, may be actually more likely today because the weapons are so unlikely to be used. Without the urgent sense of purpose the Cold War provided, the young men (and a handful of women) who work with the world's most dangerous weapons are left logging their 24-hour shifts under subpar conditions—with all the dangers that follow.'" Link to Original Source top
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This retrospective describes how quickly the Wall was erected, and how Berliners were completely caught off guard by its construction: 'Berlin’s citizens woke up one morning in August 1961 to find coils of barbed wire running down the middle of their streets; the first inkling some people had that anything was amiss was when their subway train didn’t stop at certain stations. Later, the first strands of wire were replaced with a cement wall, along with watchtowers, a wide “death strip,” and an electrified fence.' Includes a link to a heartbreaking set of photographs that show a woman handing her child over a roll of barbed wire that soon became part of the Wall." Link to Original Source top
Lasrick (2629253) writes "A surprising report from the Pentagon last month places climate change squarely among the seemlngly endless concerns of the US military. Although a ridiculous Wall Stree Journal editorial misrepresented the report in an editorial (subtitled 'Hagel wants to retool the military to stop glaciers from melting'), the report itself is straightforward and addresses practical military issues such as land managment of bases and training facilities. 'So, this plan is not really about mobilizing against melting glaciers; it’s more like making sure our ships have viable facilities from which to launch bombs against ISIS. And the report doesn’t just focus on home, though. It casts a wider eye towards how a changing climate will affect defense missions in the future.' Terrific read." Link to Original Source top
Yucca Mountain, a GOP Congress, and Imaginary "Drip Shields"
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Now that the GOP has taken control of the Senate and sidelined Nevada's Harry Reid, calls for reviving the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, are sure to resume. Recent reports have pointed out that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission now deems a Yucca Mountain repository "safe." But is that really what the NRC said? As this article points out, what the NRC claims as a safe design for Yucca Mountain is 'the Energy Department’s pie-in-the-sky design for Yucca Mountain—not the repository as it is likely to be configured.' The key design element is the installment of "drip shields," massive, corrosion-resistant titanium alloy boxes to sit over each of the thousands of waste canisters in Yucca Mountain’s underground tunnels to prevent seepage water from dripping directly on the canisters (yes, there is much more water at Yucca Mountain than originally thought). However, these drip shields will not be installed for at least 100 years after the waste goes in, and realistically speaking, they probably won't ever actually be installed. When you look at the details of what is planned (and what isn't), It's clear that the piecing together a repository a Yucca Mountain is a bad idea." Link to Original Source top
Using naval logbooks to reconstruct past weather—and predict future climat
Lasrick (2629253) writes "What a great idea. The Old Weather Project uses old logbooks to study the weather patterns of long ago, providing a trove of archival data to scientists who are trying to fill in the details of our knowledge about the atmosphere and the changing climate. 'Pity the poor navigator who fell asleep on watch and failed to update his ship’s logbook every four hours with details about its geographic position, time, date, wind direction, barometric readings, temperatures, ocean currents, and weather conditions.' As Clive Wilkinson of the UK's National Maritime Museum adds, 'Anything you read in a logbook, you can be sure that it is a true and faithful account.'
The Old Weather Project uses citizen scientists to transcribe and digitize observations that were scrupulously recorded on a clockwork-like basis, and it is one of several that climate scientists are using to create 'a three-dimensional computer simulation that will provide a continuous, century-and-a-half-long profile of the entire planet’s climate over time'--the 20th Century Reanalysis Project. Data is checked and rechecked by 3 different people before entry into the database, and the logbook measurements are especially valuable because it was compiled at sea. Great story." Link to Original Source top
9 Significant Scientific Findings too Recent to Be Included in New IPCC Report
Lasrick (2629253) writes "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its landmark synthesis report over the weekend, but as the cut-off date for inclusion was 2013, the World Resource Institute looks at recent scientific advancements and climate-related events that have occurred since then--9 findings in four areas: sea level rise, extreme weather and climate events, ecosystems, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and temperature" Link to Original Source top
Photographs of Sellafield (UK) nuclear plant prompt fears over radioactive risk
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Previously unseen pictures of two storage ponds at Sellafield nuclear plant containing hundreds of highly radioactive fuel show cracked concrete, seagulls bathing in the water and weeds growing around derelict machinery. The two ponds were built in the 50s and used for short-term storage of spent fuel until the 70s. Stellafied Ltd says the images are dated, but but that they do indicate the scale of the clean up required." Link to Original Source top
Buying goods to make nuclear weapons on eBay, Alibaba, and other platforms
Lasrick (2629253) writes "The blossoming of online Internet-trading platforms has at least one downside: insufficient inspectors and product controls when it comes to goods relevant to nuclear proliferation.'On Alibaba (and other platforms), one can purchase many of the specialized items needed for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. A short list of items advertised for sale on the site include metals suitable for centrifuge manufacturing, gauges and pumps for centrifuge cascades for uranium enrichment, metallurgical casting equipment suitable for making nuclear weapon ‘pits,’ and high-speed cameras suitable for use in nuclear weapon diagnostic tests. A company on an Alibaba-owned Chinese Internet-trading platform even posted an ad for the sale of the rare metal gallium, which the seller trumpeted could be used to stabilize plutonium.' Although many companies have strict compliance procedures in place to help avoid proliferation, many do not. There are several procedures these platforms can put into place to minimize risk, and both national (and international) regulators have a role to play, as well as shareholders. Great read." Link to Original Source top
One more thing to worry about: Salt is turning farmland into wasteland worldwide
Lasrick (2629253) writes "This article by Brian Merchant looks at how poor irrigation pracetices are ruining farmland to the tune of about 8 square miles a day, perhaps permanently. Even good quality water contains salt, and poor irrigation systems leave behind too much of it. 'The UN report brings some fairly astonishing findings—his team estimates that 2,000 hectares of farmland (nearly 8 square miles) is ruined daily by salt degradation. So far, nearly 20 percent of the world’s farmland has been degraded, an area approximately the size of France.' Since the problem is especially acute in arid areas, climate change is expected to make things worse. Great read at Motherboard." Link to Original Source top
The next thing to worry about: Salt is turning farmland to wasteland worldwide
Lasrick (2629253) writes "This article by Brian Merchant looks at how poor irrigation pracetices are ruining farmland to the tune of about 8 square miles a day, perhaps permanently. Even good quality water contains salt, and poor irrigation systems leave behind too much of it. 'The UN report brings some fairly astonishing findings—his team estimates that 2,000 hectares of farmland (nearly 8 square miles) is ruined daily by salt degradation. So far, nearly 20 percent of the world’s farmland has been degraded, an area approximately the size of France.' Since the problem is especially acute in arid area, climate change is expected to make things worse. Great read at Motherboard." Link to Original Source top
Hitting the Sweet Spot: How Many Iranian Centrifuges?
Lasrick (2629253) writes "This is a great explanation of the centrifuge issue: The deadline for a deal between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, and Germany) is coming up, and both sides have come a long way in the negotiations. 'For the country to be able to reach this number, Iran would likely need at least 190,000 and perhaps as many as about 243,000 first-generation centrifuges, known as IR-1 centrifuges. (The efficiency of these first-generation centrifuges varies a good deal, from about 0.78 SWU per unit per year to 0.9 SWU, but in the past couple of years most of them have been producing at the lower end of the scale. All of which means that Iran may need a lot more than first anticipated to reach the goal of 190,000 SWU produced annually.)'" Link to Original Source