Alexander The Great

November 26, 2007

The Nuclear Genie and the Bottle

Filed under: Modern Life,Terrorism — alexanderthegreatest @ 7:05 pm
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Every decade the world gets a new nuclear power. There are nine today, Pakistan joined the club in the 1980s, North Korea for all intents and purposes in the 1990s, and it looks sure enough that Iran won’t get theirs until after 2010, simply because they can’t produce enough fuel quickly enough. It’s more difficult to tell when Israel got its nuke, since theirs is undeclared. However, BBC paperwork shows Israel had two crude nuclear bombs like those dropped on Japan in 1967 before the Six Days War.

Pakistan is on the verge of collapse, in an intense power struggle with an army coup d’etat A.Q. Khan against the
general likely. While AQ Khan was pardoned by George W Bush’s friend for stealing nuclear technology, giving it to Pakistan, and selling it to North Korea as well as possibly Libya and Iran, Georgia’s collapse has earned no more than a mention because of the fantom menace that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands. This is doubly worrying when one stops to remember that the country is the world’s Madrassa capital.

Drugs, Nukes, and Fine Arts

When a person looks at the drug trade, they see reason to worry. Cocaine is from South America, Marijuanna is from British Columbia, Mexico, Hawaii, even south east Asia (Chocolate Thai), Opium and Heroin from Afghanistan (production is currently on the rise here). It’s well known that 5 % of entrants to our ports are scanned for safety, just as its known that Bush wants to outsource this vital security to the same “Islamo-Fascists” American idiots find themselves obsessed with. It would seem like we should be counting the days until a nuclear terrorist attack.

Drugs are a bit different than bombs, though. For one thing, they can be broken up. Across the supply chain, when people who don’t much trust each other are compelled to do business, it’s almost always in units of less than $10,000. If a “coworker” (of sorts) betrays you, or is arrested, you’ve spread your risk enough that it’s no more than a minor inconvenience. If 5 % of your product is caught in border checks, you raise your prices an offsetting 5 % rather than letting this be the death blow to your empire. Here, “costs of doing business” involving lost or stolen product translate to less supply against the same consumer demand.

Nuclear weapons don’t work this way. They’re more of an all or nothing deal, either a terrorist vaporizes Chicago, or he doesn’t. There’s no halfway point at which a bomb will still function. On that note, the fissile material that will fuel a bomb is worth millions. Most of the fuel is worthless. This is a “dilemma” Iran well knows.

Similarly, although we occasionally hear about disputes involving artwork stolen by the Nazis, often with claims of eminent domain, there really is no black market in fine art, the way there is in drugs of all sorts. A Van Gogh can’t be sliced into small pieces and either reassembled, or sold off to individual collectors, the way drugs can. Even more than nuclear weapons, artwork is elemental, or as the Christo-Fascists like to say, “irreducible.”

Luck

In the 1980s, the Irish Republican Army nearly killed Margret Thatcher. A conventional bomb missed her by a matter of minutes, and surprisingly this happened at the 3 am hour. The next day, the IRA issued a press release saying “You were lucky. But remember, you have to be lucky always, we only need to be lucky once.”

George W Bush has repeated this terrorist motto ad nauseam, except for the benefit of al Quaeda’s campaign of fear. The truth is, reality stands this concept on its head. Assume we could begin tomorrow to inspect 25 % of the cargo passing through our ports. From our perspective this is still an abysmal failure. From the perspective of a drug lord with the Medellin Cartel, this is slightly worrying, but the market will correct any “excess” risk as more seizures are met with price hikes. To an apocalyptic terror cult with a single nuclear weapon, this would be a good reason to pause. What we see as a 3/4 failure rate becomes a 1/4 chance that the terrorist’s hard laid plans will be foiled at this one step. (In baseball, if you need your shortstop to be more effective, you can get a better shortstop, or you can get a better pitcher so the shortstop has easier work.)

A nuclear weapon isn’t exactly fragile, but it has a great many moving pieces. The detonation sequence is a bit complicated, not only for obvious reasons, but also because a nuclear weapon actually has a fairly complex job. It needs to be moved with the utmost care, which seems false given what we’ve all seen in the news (Pakistan driving one of theirs around in a parade, America accidentally flying six across the country).

This all applies to a pre-built nuclear weapon, the type that might be stolen from Pakistan, Israel, or Russia. There are worries that, like Iran, a terrorist group might instead decide on the home-brew solution. This is nearly impossible, however, and the fact that Iran’s concerted effort has yet to produce a bomb after decades attests to this fact. While the internet contains frighteningly detailed instructions on how to build a nuclear weapon, it also contains a great deal of nonsense. I wouldn’t be able to tell these apart – would you? One can only hope the average terrorist, generally a religious extremist who thinks modern ways are evil, lacks the same advanced knowledge molecular physics. Even just the fuel to power a nuclear explosion would cost uncountable millions, due in large part to its rarity.

Who Really WANTS A Nuke?

From all the information available to us, al Quaeda would love one. Or several. There are groups whose aim is death for its own sake, and Jim Jones or Tim McVeigh would be great examples. However, terrorism is defined by the United Nations as

intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.

Dictionary.com’s unabridged definition is

ter·ror·ism–noun
1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
[Origin: 1785–95; terror + -ism]

Anyone familiar with “the troubles” knows that the IRA is by definition a terrorist organization. Quite obviously, its aims would not be helped by nuclear annihilation. Destruction of oppressing England with a modern nuclear weapon would make Northern Ireland unlivable by radioactive fallout. All of the current fears of “Eurabia” fall under this category. The truth is that most terrorists engage in terror because they want something, and obliteration of all life will not accomplish their goals.

While brinksmanship and mutually assured destruction look back to what seems a gentler, bygone era, and even in the face of (conventional!) suicide bombers, terrorists are still unwilling to cut off the nose to spite the face. Vaporizing Iraq is not a viable way to end the American occupation there.

Ultimately, what this means is we don’t all need to live our lives in fear.

November 21, 2007

Nigersaurus, Cow of the Mesozoic

Filed under: Evolution,Science — alexanderthegreatest @ 5:37 pm
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A dinosaur with a “vaccuum mouth,” Nigersaurus was named for the country of Niger in which its remains were found.  It’s skelletal structure prevented the creature from lifting its head even to parallel the ground, making trees out of the question as a food source.  Rather than thegiraffe like behavior we assume of most long necked dinosaurs, it seems looking downward for food, much like a grazing cow, was evolution’s plan for success some 75 million years ago.

Is it just me, or does Nigersaurus seem like perhaps not a very good name for a newly discovered animal?

November 19, 2007

Why Are We So Shallow?

Filed under: Americana,Modern Life — alexanderthegreatest @ 10:20 pm
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Before starting this post, it’s important to ask who’s we? At first blush it seems like this must describe Americans, however, all of modern, “western” society falls under the umbrella of this post. And what means western? Japan and by some accounts Russia are included. As the Muslim fundamentalist world seeks a return to old time ways and values, “the west” seems to describe modern capitalism, wherever it might exist. And this means that yes, many in Europe and further afield can be considered shallow.

Now, on to the question. Let’s consider bling bling society, with rims that keep spinning even after you’ve stopped. Or worshiping Paris Hilton – why? not because of any accomplishment, anything she’s contributed to the world, but merely because of her self creating celebrity. The Kennedys are known to every American in large part because they’re rich, as does Bill Gates. Americans are fascinated with wealth, opulence, and a pimped ride.

Pete Townsend in the 1971 sung I’m Going Mobile, a tune that would turn out strangely prophetic.  For today society is truly mobile.  People talk about transplants, meaning
people who’ve moved here from somewhere else, rather than actual plants.  In China, tens of millions of people are leaving the countryside for a better life in the cities.  While eBay and UPS shrink the world alongside television and the internet, people are changing their social patterns and their locations.

In this brave new world of mobility, a natural consequence is that we have fewer close social
connections.  A distrurbing survey found that 1 in 4 Americans have no friends outside their family. Perhaps this explains the millions of dating sites spread across the web? With more people – strangers – around and less social ties, less people who truly know you, it seems only natural that people would seek to find outward reflections of who they are. This urge has been pulled off track by clever marketers on Madison Avenue who convince lonely youth that the best, perhaps the only way to express who they are is through the products they buy.

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