Category Archives: Web Article Review


Should the U.S. apologize for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima? Certainly the Japanese government of the time committed horrible atrocities, but I still think dropping the bomb was a mistake, and not coming to terms with what we did leads to a callous attitude toward the dangers of our (much larger, much more powerful, in many more hands) nuclear weapons almost 70 years later.

Even if you have never been to the place, you know the place. The mountains that form the background in all the old photos are still backstopping the city. A lot of newer, tall buildings now, but the Ota River delta, where thousands drowned trying to cool their bodies and extinguish their burning flesh, is right there. You’ve seen the pictures. Most of the bridges and streets were rebuild [sic] right where they’d been before the Bomb. Same for most public buildings. You could see where you were in 2017 and where you would have been in 1945 because they are the same place…

Outside of Japan, most people feel the Japanese government has yet to fully acknowledge its aggressiveness in plunging East Asia into war. Indeed, the museum inside the Peace Park has been chastised as focusing almost exclusively on a single day, out of a war that began over a decade earlier and claimed millions of innocent lives before the bomb fell on August 6, 1945. The criticism is particularly sharp, given the rise in militarism occurring under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Now, as in decades past, China watches to see what Japan will do with its armed forces…

There are others with things to atone for, and much to reconcile. The U.S. remains unrepentant. It was only on the 60th anniversary of the bomb that the first American ambassador came to Hiroshima on an August 6th morning to pay respects. There has never been an apology for the first use of a nuclear weapon, and against a civilian target at that. Ask most Americans about the bombing, and it would be surprising not to hear the phrase “they deserved it.” A few elderly survivors with disfiguring burns still suffer today. Yet there is not enough vengeance for some, even seven decades later.

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NATO expansion as a failure of empathy

This article in History News Network explains why allowing NATO to expand too much too fast after the fall of the Soviet Union may have been a crucial mistake.

By 2017 much of the former communist-ruled area of Europe—including Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Albania—had joined the alliance, as had three former republics of the USSR itself (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). In 2008 NATO’s Bucharest Declaration indicated that two more former Soviet republics could at some point in the future join the organization whose original purpose was to protect its members against Soviet threats. (“NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO.  We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.”)

To realize how colossally we have failed to empathize with Russian concerns about such expansion, we should imagine how we would feel if Canada and Mexico and say some states that successfully seceded (imagine Texas, Minnesota, and North Dakota) joined a Russian alliance system. Our empathy deficit has been recognized by many leading political thinkers, including some conservative statesmen.

In her The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-first Century, Georgetown’s Angela Stent approvingly quotes a German official, who accused the United States of “an empathy deficit disorder” toward Russia. In addition, Henry Kissinger (former secretary of state), Jack Matlock (Reagan appointed ambassador to Russia), and Robert Gates (secretary of defense under both George W. Bush and Obama) all have criticized a lack of U. S. empathy toward Russian concerns about NATO expansion. Typical is Gates’s comment: “Moving so quickly after the collapse of the Soviet Union to incorporate so many of its formerly subjugated states into NATO was a mistake. . . . Trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO was truly overreaching.” (See here for sources of quotes.)

I think there are some important claims here as we see echos of the same lack of empathy in U.S. statements and positions toward China. We can try to understand their motives, interests, and understanding of their role in the history of the region as we engage with them. This doesn’t mean being weak, it means being smart and strategic and giving peace a chance.


what’s going on with mad cow?

Mad cow disease is scary because there is such a long time between when someone is infected and when they begin to show symptoms, the kind of disease that could spread through large portions of a population before anyone realizes it is there. I am not saying it has, I don’t know. This article in Alternet doesn’t really address the current status, but it goes through some interesting history of the first outbreak in the U.S.

On December 23, 2003, the USDA announced that a Holstein cow, imported from Canada and slaughtered in Moses Lake, Washington, tested positive for mad cow disease. Ann Veneman, USDA secretary at the time and other USDA officials, said the cow was discovered because she was a “downer”––unable to walk—which was how the system screened for mad cows. In other words, the system “worked.” The problem was three workers said the cow had walked just fine suggesting that the entire federal mad cow testing program was worthless. Congressional hearings ensued.

As it turned out, congressional troubles were the least of cattle producers’ problems. Within hours of the mad cow announcement, China, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea and ninety other countries banned US beef and 98 percent of the $3 billion overseas beef market vanished. (The only reason the EU didn’t ban US beef was it was already banned for its hormones oestradiol-17, trenbolone acetate, zeranol and melengestrol which EU officials said increased breast and prostate cancer risks.)

After the first mad cow, things got worse. Two more mad cows were found in the US in 2004 and they weren’t from Canada. One was born in Texas and the other Alabama. Worse, a USDA export verification report admitted that 29 downers at two unidentified slaughterhouses went into the human food supply and twenty were not tested for mad cow disease.

Most of the countries mentioned lifted their ban shortly afterward, but China apparently is just lifting it now, according to NPR:

Cooked chicken from birds grown and raised in China soon will be headed to America — in a trade deal that’s really about beef…

The Chinese appetite for beef is huge and growing, but American beef producers have been locked out of that market since a case of mad cow disease cropped up in the U.S. in 2003. In response, many countries, including South Korea, Japan, Mexico and China, banned imports of U.S. beef…

Many people long had seen China’s refusal to lift its ban on U.S. beef imports as a negotiating tactic, a tit for tat aimed at allowing Chinese chicken imports into the United States. The negotiations that led to the new trade deal have been going back and forth for more than a decade, stalled at one point by worries in Congress over China’s food-safety practices.

This might be good for the U.S. beef industry in the short term, but an exploding demand for beef can’t really be good for the world in the longer term. Maybe this is not the kind of industry of the future that the U.S. should be focusing on. I’ll admit I’m a hypocrite – I love a good cheeseburger, but I try to treat it as an occasional treat rather than a staple food.

more on NASA’s plans has a little more on NASA’s plans to visit Mars around the early 2030s or so.

As NASA’s Greg Williams explained this week at the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington DC, the Moon mission is on the slate for 2027 and could see a crew spending a year sailing above the lunar surface.

That extended stay in space would be preceded by at least five missions, some manned and some unmanned, to lug bits of equipment towards the Moon. That kit would include a habitat for crew members as well as the Deep Space Transport spacecraft that NASA has in the works to take people all the way to Mars.

“If we could conduct a year-long crewed mission on this Deep Space Transport in cislunar space, we believe we will know enough that we could then send this thing, crewed, on a 1,000-day mission to the Mars system and back,” Williams said, as reported by Calla Cofield at

what NASA is up to

NASA is working on a couple interesting things, The “space launch system” is described as “the world’s most powerful rocket“, with the aim of lifting components that can eventually be assembled into vehicles for deep space exploration. That’s right, we’re talking about a spaceship, about a decade out or so.

For those destinations farther into the solar system, including Mars, NASA envisions a deep space transport spacecraft. This spacecraft would be a reusable vehicle that uses electric and chemical propulsion and would be specifically designed for crewed missions to destinations such as Mars. The transport would take crew out to their destination, return them back to the gateway, where it can be serviced and sent out again. The transport would take full advantage of the large volumes and mass that can be launched by the SLS rocket, as well as advanced exploration technologies being developed now and demonstrated on the ground and aboard the International Space Station.

This second phase will culminate at the end of the 2020s with a one year crewed mission aboard the transport in the lunar vicinity to validate the readiness of the system to travel beyond the Earth-moon system to Mars and other destinations, and build confidence that long-duration, distant human missions can be safely conducted with independence from Earth. Through the efforts to build this deep space infrastructure, this phase will enable explorers to identify and pioneer innovative solutions to technical and human challenges discovered or engineered in deep space.


Buzz Aldrin’s plan for Mars

Buzz Aldrin has a plan to go to Mars.

Establishing private outposts in LEO [Low Earth Orbit] is just the first step in Aldrin’s plan for Mars colonization, which depends heavily on “cyclers” — spacecraft that move continuously between two cosmic destinations, efficiently delivering people and cargo back and forth…

Step two involves the international spaceflight community coming together to build cyclers that ply cislunar space, taking people on trips to the moon and back. Such spacecraft, and the activities they enable, would allow the construction of a crewed lunar base, where humanity could learn and test the techniques required for Mars colonization, such as how to manufacture propellant from local resources, Aldrin said…

Aldrin foresees these various cycler iterations enabling a crewed mission to a near-Earth asteroid by 2020 and a Venus flyby by 2024. If all goes well, the first future Mars settlers could launch in the early 2030s, he said.

So a sustainable Mars colony could be not an ambitious goal for the next 100 years, as Stephen Hawking just suggested, but 20 years or so out.

Stephen Hawking: escape the planet in 100 years

From The Independent:

In “Expedition New Earth” – a documentary that debuts this summer as part of the BBC’s “Tomorrow’s World” science season – Hawking claims that Mother Earth would greatly appreciate it if we could gather our belongings and get out – not in 1,000 years, but in the next century or so…

“Professor Stephen Hawking thinks the human species will have to populate a new planet within 100 years if it is to survive,” the BBC said with a notable absence of punctuation marks in a statement posted online. “With climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth, our own planet is increasingly precarious…”

The BBC program gives Hawking a chance to wade into the evolving science and technology that may become crucial if humans hatch a plan to escape Earth and find a way to survive on another planet – from questions about biology and astronomy to rocket technology and human hibernation, the BBC notes.

Getting a colony started on Mars, Earth’s moon, or another moon in the nearby solar system within a hundred years doesn’t seem all that daunting to me. Whether it could be truly self-sufficient from Earth in that time frame is the real question. That seems like a tall order, considering how much our current civilization depends on this planet’s natural gifts to get by. Our technology would have to improve a lot.

genetically engineered algae

USEPA has approved a strain of genetically engineered oil producing algae to be tested outdoors.

On August 1, 2013, EPA received TSCA Experimental Release Applications (TERAs) R-13-0003, -0004, -0005, -0006 and -0007 from Sapphire Energy, Inc. to test five different intergeneric strains of the photosynthetic green algae Scenedesmus dimorphus in open ponds. The purpose of the field test is to (1) evaluate the translatability of the genetically modified strains from the laboratory to an outdoor setting, and (2) to characterize the potential ecological impact (dispersion and invasion) of the genetically-modified microalgae. The introduced intergeneric DNA sequences include certain metabolism genes and an intergeneric marker gene that enables detection of the microorganism from environmental samples. Also, different regulatory elements controlling expression of the genes were used, resulting in the five intergeneric strains. The field trials are to be conducted at the University of California San Diego Biology Field Station (BFS) in La Jolla, CA.



stealing used fast food oil

According to Bloomberg, theft of used fast food oil has become more common as its economic value has increased recently. There are a few interesting reasons for this:

Finding value in old grease isn’t new. For more than a century, the waste product has been processed into ingredients for everything from makeup and paint to pet food and livestock feed, according to the Arlington, Virginia-based National Renderers Association, which represents 51 companies with 205 plants in the U.S. and Canada.

What’s different is more cooking oil is being made into fuel. It’s now the largest use for old grease, at around 30 percent of demand. A 2007 energy law calls for American cars, trucks and buses to use escalating amounts of biofuels. Most of that is corn-based ethanol used in gasoline, but refiners also are making more biodiesel. Soybean oil is the primary raw material, followed by used grease and corn oil…

The rally in biodiesel is boosting the value of grease. Since Feb. 17, the fuel is up 12 percent to $3 a gallon, as of April 28. Further gains may be likely because of a trade dispute with competitors in Argentina and Indonesia, which may limit imports of biodiesel

So the value of, and therefore the incentive to steal, grease is on the rise due to a complicated set of factors involving fuel demand, government regulation, and international trade policy. If some of the biodiesel we are using in the U.S. is coming from palm oil plantations in the tropics, that adds another element to consider in the environmental benefits or costs of the technology. I also suspected that the typical burger joint owner who is paying someone to pick this stuff up doesn’t care all that much if someone else picks it up. From that person’s perspective, either way it goes away. I suppose the environment could be hurt depending on where it goes, and the licensed grease hauling industry gets hurt (and yes there is an industry association for that, called the National Renderers Association, and they are very concerned about this issue.

410 ppm

Climate Central says we have hit 410 ppm:

On Tuesday, the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide reading in excess of 410 parts per million (it was 410.28 ppm in case you want the full deal). Carbon dioxide hasn’t reached that height in millions of years. It’s a new atmosphere that humanity will have to contend with, one that’s trapping more heat and causing the climate to change at a quickening rate…

“The rate of increase will go down when emissions decrease,” Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said. “But carbon dioxide will still be going up, albeit more slowly. Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off initially.”

Even when concentrations of carbon dioxide level off, the impacts of climate change will extend centuries into the future. The planet has already warmed 1.8°F (1°C), including a run of 627 months in a row of above-normal heat. Sea levels have risen about a foot and oceans have acidified. Extreme heat has become more common.

All of these impacts will last longer and intensify into the future even if we cut carbon emissions. But we face a choice of just how intense they become based on when we stop polluting the atmosphere.

So things are not only not getting better. They are not even getting worse at a slower rate. They are getting worse at a faster and faster rate, and our not-too-ambitious goal is to make them get worse at the same rate. High school calculus teachers are probably the only ones enjoying this.