Archive for April 7th, 2011
A disturbing report in ProPublica by Sheri Fink:
U.S. officials say the nation’s health system is ill-prepared to cope with a catastrophic release of radiation, despite years of focus on the possibility of a terrorist “dirty bomb” or an improvised nuclear device attack.
A blunt assessment circulating among American officials says “Current capabilities can only handle a few radiation injuries at any one time.” That assessment, prepared by the Department of Homeland Security in 2010 and stamped “for official use only,” says “there is no strategy for notifying the public in real time of recommendations on shelter or evacuation priorities.”
The Homeland Security report, plus several other reports and interviews with almost two dozen experts inside and outside the government, reveal other gaps that may increase the risks posed by a nuclear accident or terrorist attack.
One example: The U.S. Strategic National Stockpile stopped purchasing the best-known agent to counter radioactive iodine-induced thyroid cancer in young people, potassium iodide, about two years ago and designated the limited remaining quantities “excess,” according to information provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ProPublica. Despite this, the CDC website still lists potassium iodide as one of only four drugs in the stockpile specifically for use in radiation emergencies.
The drug is most effective when administered before or within hours of exposure. The decision to stop stockpiling it was made, in part, because distribution could take too long in a fast-moving emergency, one official involved in the discussions said. The interagency group that governs the stockpile decided that “other preparedness measures were more suitable to mitigate potential exposures to radioactive iodine that would result from a release at a nuclear reactor,” a CDC spokesperson said in an email to ProPublica.
Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis may prompt officials to revisit that conclusion. With radiation levels higher than expected outside the evacuation zones in some areas, the Japanese government recently asked the United States for potassium iodide. The federal government agreed to send some of its dwindling stockpile of the liquid version used in children or adults, which is due to reach its expiration date within about a year. The government is currently “finalizing the paperwork,” according to an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Another example: While hospitals near nuclear power plants often drill for radiological emergencies, few hospitals . . .
It had not occurred to me, but this year is the 50th anniversary of my college graduation (’61 St. John’s College, Annapolis MD). I realized it when I got a letter today announcing our 50th reunion this September.
I think I’ll go. Having lost the weight is a plus, of course, but the main reason is that a 50-year reunion doesn’t come around all that often, and I doubt I’ll make the next one.
So plans are being made…
An astonishing story in Popular Science by Bill Donohue:
It all began so hopefully. Al Gore proposed the satellite in 1998, at the National Innovation Summit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gazing skyward from the podium, the vice president described a spacecraft that would travel a full million miles from Earth to a gravity-neutral spot known as the L1 Lagrangian point, where it would remain fixed in place, facing the sunlit half of our planet. It would stream back to NASA video of our spherical home, and the footage would be broadcast continuously over the Web.
Not only would the satellite provide “a clearer view of our world,” Gore promised, but it would also offer “tremendous scientific value” by carrying into space two instruments built to study climate change: EPIC, a polychromatic imaging camera made to measure cloud reflectivity and atmospheric levels of aerosols, ozone and water vapor; and NISTAR, a radiometer. NISTAR was especially important: Out in deep space, it would do something that scientists are still unable to do today directly and continuously monitor the Earth’s albedo, or the amount of solar energy that our planet reflects into space versus the amount it absorbs.
We know some things about the Earth’s albedo. We know that solar radiation is both absorbed and reflected everywhere on Earth, by granite mountaintops in New Hampshire and desert dunes in Saudi Arabia. We know that cloud cover also reflects some of it. We also know that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are currently causing the planet to retain more solar energy than it once did. But there is much we don’t know, because we don’t have a way to directly and constantly monitor albedo on a global scale—that is, to directly observe a key indicator of global warming.
To understand changes in the Earth’s climate, scientists rely on multiple and frequent readings of precipitation, temperature, aerosol and ozone levels, and a variety of other measurements, many of which are taken by Earth-monitoring satellites run by agencies such as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Space Agency. But these spacecraft are all relatively close—at least 50 times as close as the L1 point—so their utility is limited. No space agency has ever launched a satellite capable ofseeing the whole Earth as a single, solar-energy-processing orb.
That’s exactly what Gore’s satellite was meant to do. He named it Triana, after Rodrigo de Triana, the sailor in Christopher Columbus’s crew who first spied the New World. In 1998, NASA enlisted a 62-year-old physicist named Francisco Valero to lead in the design of Triana.The agency expedited the program, with the goal of moving from conception to launch in three years, instead of the standard five or six. Giulio Rosanova, the mechanical-systems lead engineer for Triana, remembers bringing pepperoni rolls into work on Fridays, to cajole his crew of 15 into coming in on weekends. “We were excited,” Rosanova says.
In those days, optimism abounded in NASA’s earth-sciences division. In a promotional video, the agency suggested that its planet-monitoring mission would extend beyond Triana—that a subsequent companion satellite would be dispatched to L2, 930,000 miles away from Earth in the opposite direction, where it could constantly monitor the dark half of our planet. Together the two satellites would continuously watch the entire globe.
But in 2001, just a few months after the inauguration of George W. Bush, Triana’s launch plan was quietly put on hold. “We were preparing to transport it to the launch site when we heard,” Rosanova says. Instead, they wheeled the $100-million satellite into storage.
The mission entered a state of bureaucratic limbo. Around 2003, NASA renamed Triana the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, but the satellite remained on the ground. During the Bush administration, it became politically vulnerable, largely because of its association with Gore. Dick Armey, then a Republican congressman from Texas, said of the satellite, “This idea supposedly came from a dream. Well, I once dreamed I caught a 10-foot bass. But I didn’t call up the Fish and Wildlife Service and ask them to spend $30 million to make sure it happened.” Despite the protests of independent scientists (including Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist and Nobel Laureate who wrote in a 2006 letter that “it would be a major waste of scientific effort and opportunity to discard such a meaningful mission”), NASA delayed the launch indefinitely.
Today, NASA officials aren’t eager to talk about it. When I first wrote to the agency last summer, I received a reply that made me feel like I’d asked about an unwanted pregnancy. “Currently DSCOVR is a mission without an agency,” NASA publicist Sarah DeWitt wrote. “NASA still has no direction from anyone to fly the mission, so we don’t really have anything definitive to say about its future as of right now.” She suggested I contact NOAA, the other agency with a hand in the mission. When I did, the publicist there advised me write to NASA.
So began my campaign. For the next eight weeks I would call, e-mail, and generally hassle various contacts at multiple agencies in a seemingly vain effort to see, with my own eyes, the only satellite that NASA has built but never launched.
Since 1999, NASA and NOAA have been calling for an integrated Earth-observing system—a network of satellites that, among other things, would consistently measure changes in the Earth’s climate. But that campaign is “languishing,” said a 2010 Government Accountability Office report, and there are “significant gaps in future satellite coverage.”
Meanwhile, Earth-observing satellites are subject to constant abuse. Cosmic rays grind on the delicate spectrometers that measure the planet’s radiation. Over time, the satellites stray from their orbit and sink nearer to Earth. The data they collect becomes inconsistent. In short, they have limited life expectancies, and some of NASA’s 14 Earth-observing satellites have already outlived theirs.
All of which makes DSCOVR’s decade of dormancy more puzzling. In addition to the continuous macrolevel monitoring of the Earth’s albedo that the satellite would perform, it could also be a . . .
Continue reading. Someone should study willful ignorance to see what drives that. But it does seem a clear refutation of Aristotle’s dictum that all men by nature desire to know—it’s obviously that some have a passionate desire to be ignorant.
I used to use the various simmer sauces that Trader Joe’s sells, but I gave those up with the diet. I would dump a jar of sauce over a skillet full of browned chicken and veggies, simmer for a while, and it was good, but too much.
Then I had a staggering realization: I didn’t have to use the whole jar. I looked at the label, and the sauce is not bad at all: low fat, reasonable sodium, and it states the size of one serving: 1/3 cup. So now I can put my veg and 4 oz. protein in a pan, use 1/3 cup of the simmer sauce, and have an easy meal quickly. I usually stir in 1/3 cup rice to the finished dish—and I’m currently using the smoked rice, very tasty.
Yesterday I got to looking at various bottle salsas. Some of those sound quite nice, and it occurred to me that they could also be used as a simmer sauce. They give the serving size as 2 Tbsp, but that’s as a condiment. I can use 1/2 cup as a simmer sauce with no harm done. I have some Dover sole, so tonight I’ll cook it (along with some veg) in the Mango Lime salsa, with perhaps a little Chipotle, Lime, and Garlic salsa to spice it up.
When I’m under pressure to learn something, I often find myself totally fascinated by something else and start stealing time from the assigned task to spend on the new interest. This is self-destructive behavior, but OTOH I do learn some interesting things. I first started seriously studying Esperanto when I was studying for my PhD comps in math—I did go on to learn Esperanto, but I dropped the math (and probably a good thing).
So now I’m studying Spanish but stumbled across Arimaa, and I keep sneaking in Arimaa games. At the site you will find videos that explain the game, and a chance to play against a series of bots, from extremely weak to relatively strong, arranged as a ladder: start at the bottom, playing the weakest, and work your way up as you get better. Pretty cool. Now back to Spanish.
This post by Ed Brayton is worth reading in its entirety because the person whose “argument” he addresses seems unable to comprehend the simplest and blandest of ideas. Aristotle observed someplace that trying to prove something that’s obvious using ideas that are not obvious is a mug’s game. (Those are not his exact words, of course: he wrote in Greek.) Ed is explaining things to a guy who has big trouble with simple ideas.