That Saudi Yellowcake Plant

The New York Times has a couple of photos and links to others of sites that may be the yellowcake plant alleged to have been built recently in Saudi Arabia by China.

They are cautious about the claims.

American officials said that the Saudi efforts were still in an early stage, and that intelligence analysts had yet to draw firm conclusions about some of the sites under scrutiny. 

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LALALALA Redux

A little more than a year ago, when Donald Trump was in the throes of a love affair with Kim Jong Un, I advanced a theory of his behavior. He wanted the photo-ops and signatures and the sense of a nuclear nonproliferation deal, but was incapable of making a deal, in his words. His incapacity lay in his ignorance about how treaties are negotiated.

At some point, my North Korea watching colleagues maintained, Trump would have to recognize that his photo-ops had no effect whatsoever. Would he freak out against the unfaithful “Little Rocket Man”? Would he admit failure? No problem, I said. His continuing response would be “LALALALA I can’t hear you.”

How would he proceed from those photo-ops, as North Korea was continued to accumulate fissile material and build weapons, even test missiles? When North Korea issued statements insulting Trump and the people working for him? When there were no talks to develop a path towards Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Complete, Verified, and Irreversible Disarmament (CVID) and variants on that theme? When North Korea explicitly said that no way would that happen?

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Where We Are With COVID-19

If you’re hoping to go back to normal, it’s not going to happen. The normal of November 2019, before SARS-CoV-2 got a foothold in the human population, will not return. There will be a time when COVID-19 is no longer one of the top causes of death in the United States and a primary topic of concern around the world. But we can’t know when that will be. I’m guessing it’s at least two years away.

Because of negligence by leaders, particularly President Donald Trump, the virus is everywhere. It will take serious effort to bring it under control. The United States has handled the pandemic almost uniquely badly, but even countries that have minimized cases continue to be affected as well. Vigilance must be constant to keep the virus from returning with travelers. Where there are outbreaks, they will have to be tamped down with isolation, testing, and tracing.

After the long, hard slog to where virus cases and deaths are few, repercussions will continue. Some people continue to have symptoms for months. Because we have only seven months’ experience with the virus, we don’t know how many people will suffer virus-related disabilities, how long they will last or if they will flare up again later.

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A Woman In Portland

What are the rules of engagement for a mob of highly-equipped men, with layers of protective clothing, against a woman wearing no clothes?

That was the situation in Portland on July 18. The woman was as unidentifiable as the men, wearing only a mask and a knit cap. She appeared, danced, and then sat to expose her vulva to the men. Photo showing nudity after the fold.

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The Last Word On EMP

There is a small industry around a bizarre idea. Nuclear weapons are known to emit a powerful electromagnetic pulse when they explode. So grifters, cheap novel-writers, and proponents of moar defense spending push the idea that a random bad actor would detonate a nuclear weapon at high altitude over the United States and WIPE OUT ALL OUR ELECTRONICS!

This is a dumb idea, for many reasons. I have debunked it many times. The group referred to as “Nuclear Twitter” regularly mocks it.

Kelsey Atherton, a New Mexico friend, has written what should be the last word on EMP. The title says it all:

Electromagnetic Pulses Are the Last Thing You Need to Worry About in a Nuclear Explosion

But if you’d like more detail, Kelsey has it for you.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

This Is Definitive On Masks

The Journal of the American Medical Association has a short article saying that the evidence is strong for wearing masks in public.

There is good evidence that masks help both in keeping viruses from being spread by the wearer and also in preventing the wearer from breathing viruses in. Further, wearing a mask does little harm, which is greatly outweighed by the benefit of reducing transmission.

Some selections:

After emerging data documented transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from persons without symptoms, the recommendation was expanded to the general community, with an emphasis on cloth face coverings that could be made more widely available in the community than surgical masks and to preserve personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators to the highest-risk exposures in health care settings. Now, there is ample evidence that persons without symptoms spread infection and may be the critical driver needed to maintain epidemic momentum.

…recent research of household textiles’ performance when used as source control suggests cloth face coverings may be able to do so with acceptable efficiency and breathability.

Like herd immunity with vaccines, the more individuals wear cloth face coverings in public places where they may be close together, the more the entire community is protected. Community-level protection afforded by use of cloth face coverings can reduce the number of new infections and facilitate cautious easing of more societally disruptive community interventions such as stay-at-home orders and business closings.

At this critical juncture when COVID-19 is resurging, broad adoption of cloth face coverings is a civic duty, a small sacrifice reliant on a highly effective low-tech solution that can help turn the tide favorably in national and global efforts against COVID-19.

The article is easy to read and gives examples with references. Check it out.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

A Few Relevant Numbers

Few people are publicly considering what the COVID-19 pandemic is doing to the American economy. Paul Krugman is not optimistic. I agree with him. The country will, arguably, have less money to spend in the future, although there are many caveats to that.

The right, in the past, has used crises to justify radical social changes. It’s time for progressives to do that. A Democratic sweep in November makes many things possible. Let’s assume that can happen.

To start, we need to know some numbers, to get a handle on the scale of things.

National Debt  $24.95 trillion

Deficit in 2019  $984 billion

Wealth of top one percent (Exceeds wealth of bottom 80 percent)  $25 trillion

Department of Defense 2019 budget  $686.1 billion

Department of State 2018 budget  $52.4 billion

Amount spent on policing 2017  $115 billion   Corrections  $79 billion

Community colleges   $126 billion*

Student debt  $1.5 trillion

Healthcare  $3.5 trillion

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* Calculated from the report as 9 million students x $14,000 per student per year

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Those Northern Radiation Observations

Nations to the northwest of Russia reported slightly increased levels of radiation on several days in June. The levels were harmless to human health and the environment.  

The isotopes observed include Cs-134, Cs-137, Ru-103, I-131, and isotopes of cobalt. The possible source region for the June 22 and 23 observations was calculated by the monitoring organization for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO), which has isotope monitoring stations around the world. The tweet doesn’t say this, but that region was probably calculated by considering the winds during that period. (Lassina Zerbo is the director of the CTBTO.)

Iodine-131 was observed at more northerly stations and on different days than the other isotopes. It has a half-life of 8 days and is a fission product, as are the other isotopes except for cobalt. Cobalt is an activation product of the steel containment vessel for a reactor. It seems likely that these observations come from a leaking nuclear reactor, but where?

Russia has reactors in the suspect area, but officials there have said that none of them have leaked.

Last week, a test of the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile was thought to be planned for the Kapustin Yar test site, north of the Caspian Sea.

Nothing more than a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was announced by the Russian government, so it’s not clear why this exclusion would have been for Burevestnik in particular. Up until now, Burevestnik tests have been further north. The deadly test of last year was within the area calculated by the CTBTO.

There’s not enough information to conclude anything more than that these emissions were from a reactor. Russia is party to conventions requiring it to provide information on accidents involving the release of radiation. The other nations within the possible source area have been conscientious about their adherence to those conventions. Russia hasn’t.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Masks, Condoms, And Treaties

Some time back, I started a Twitter thread which I called “Adventures in Masculinity.” I wanted to bring attention to examples of masculine gendering where it was not needed to explain or talk about something but might go unnoticed. The thread is up to 86 entries now, with the last two example tweets having been deleted by their authors. I guess I need to do screenshots.

The Trump administration is masculinist and patriarchal in all things, with misogyny, racism, and xenophobia thrown in. It’s hard not to notice the photos of white men in suits sitting around tables or chatting with each other. I have tried to avoid such obvious things in my thread.

Recently, I’m seeing a throughline that may not be obvious that starts at macho self-presentation and links to the administration’s dislike of arms control treaties.

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The Military (And Others) Respond

On Tuesday (June 2), Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and General Mark A. Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walked with Donald Trump from the White House to St. John’s Church, where Trump posed for an awkward photo-op. To clear the way for Trump’s walk, law enforcement personnel used tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters. Milley was dressed in a battle uniform. Esper later said that Trump had tricked him into the walk.

This opens a number of questions. One is the appropriate relationship between the civilian side of government and the military, including whether military personnel should allow themselves to be used for political purposes. Esper is not military, but he is the face of civilian primacy over the military.

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