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2011 March — Why Now?
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Posts from — March 2011

Think It Through

CNN is reporting that the EPA boosts radiation monitoring after low levels found in milk

Results from screening samples of milk taken in the past week in Spokane, Washington, and in San Luis Obispo County, California, detected radioactive iodine at a level 5,000 times lower than the limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, officials said.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said tests confirmed the milk is safe to drink.

“This morning I spoke with the chief advisers for both the EPA and the FDA and they confirmed that these levels are miniscule and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children,” Gregoire said in a statement.

“According to them, a pint of milk at these levels would expose an individual to less radiation than would a five-hour airplane flight.”

Ah, Governor, How many toddlers take a “five-hour airplane flight” on a daily basis, as opposed to the number who drink a pint of milk a day?

Is there no difference between external sources of radiation, and radiation that is ingested and, in the case of iodine, concentrated in a small area of the body, the thyroid gland?

Did they mention that flight crews receive more radiation exposure in a year than workers in nuclear facilities?

FYI: at cruising flight levels in an aircraft you receive 6 µSv per hour. That is “microsieverts”, one-thousandth of a millisievert [mSv], which is the unit normally used in these discussions. The issue is that when you land the exposure ends. With iodine in food, it stays with you and emits that dose 24/7.

March 31, 2011   4 Comments

What Were They Thinking?

Funny Pictures - Titanic Cat Tower

A sinking Titanic as a cat tower?

The CBC tells us that a U.K. house cat’s purr may be world’s loudest: “A British community college has recorded a house cat named Smokey whose lawnmower-like purr hit 73 decibels — 16 times louder than the average feline.”

The EPA has found that ambient sound levels above 70 decibels may result in “hearing loss, annoyance and activity interference”, but YMMV.

March 31, 2011   16 Comments

Bird Watching In Libya

There is a diverse group of aircraft involved in the No-Fly zone.

The most common is probably the F-16 “Fighting Falcon” that is flown by:



Next in line is the delta-winged Mirage 2000 that is flown by:


Then there is the F/A-18 “Hornet” from:


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March 30, 2011   4 Comments

Stating The Obvious

The BBC reports that Japan will scrap stricken nuclear reactors

Japan is to decommission four stricken reactors at the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, the operator says.

Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) made the announcement three weeks after failing to bring reactors 1 – 4 under control. Locals would be consulted on reactors 5 and 6, which were shut down safely.

Harmful levels of radioactivity have been detected in the area.

More than 11,000 people are known to have been killed by the devastating 11 March earthquake and tsunami.

Seawater near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has reached a much higher level of radiation than previously reported.

The new readings near reactor No 1 – 300m (984ft) from the shore – showed radioactive iodine at 3,355 times the legal limit, said Japan’s nuclear safety agency.

First off, reactors 4, 5, and 6 were in maintenance mode when the quake stuck, and any damage or leaks were the result of not keeping the spent fuel pools cool. The fact that they vented 5 & 6 for fear of a hydrogen explosion, indicates that the rods in the pool were probably over-heated and possibly exposed to the air.

It has been obvious for some time that reactors 1 through 4 were toast. The fact that they were exploding was a really big clue. It is also reasonable to assume that one or more of the reactors has melted through the containment vessel. Having plutonium in the soil outside of the reactors was another major clue. The real questions are how they are going to cool them enough to encase them in concrete and what are they going to do with all of the radioactive water?.

March 30, 2011   5 Comments

Fact Checking?

CBS has an AP piece, Fact checking Obama’s Libya speech, that is supposedly going to lay out the “facts”.

I won’t quote because it is an AP piece and they are weird about quoting, but head down to the paragraph that contains “unique capabilities” [the quotes are in the piece] about two-thirds of the way down. Among these “unique capabilities” are tanker aircraft and AWACs.

I didn’t go any further. If AP doesn’t know that the only country in this coalition that doesn’t have tankers is Qatar, they don’t have the facts to check. The US KC-135s can’t actually refuel most of the coalition aircraft [or US Navy and Marine Corp aircraft], because the system used by US Air Force aircraft is different that the system used by everyone else.

Further, NATO alone has 17 E-3 Sentry AWACs to use in the operation, and doesn’t need the US labeled aircraft. Many of the individual nations have their own AWACs as well.

The US has finished the mission that was faster and more accurate because of specialized US-only equipment. When SEAD ended, so did the need for the US to lead. The Europeans could have done it without the US, but the US equipment made the job faster, easier, and safer. Besides, the US already had the GPS targeting coordinates for everything in Libya, so why re-invent the wheel?

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March 29, 2011   6 Comments

What The World Needs Now


Is more flowers. That picture is cropped from the original collection of local flowers put up by Hipparchia at Corrente. The picture is much larger than the actual flower which is only about ½-inch across. This is a native wildflower, Spiderwort [Tradescantia virginiana]. If it isn’t blooming it looks like a clump of tall grass.

We are also seeing a lot of “volunteer” sunflowers coming up, especially if someone has a bird feeder in the neighborhood.

You might want to get some of both. Below the fold I tell you why they are worth planting.

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March 28, 2011   18 Comments

NATO Owns It All

CNN reports today that NATO approves expanded role in Libya

Brussels, Belgium (CNN) — NATO’s North Atlantic Council on Sunday approved an operations plan that will shift the entire Libyan military mission to alliance command, officials said, easing the burden on the United States and its allies to protect civilians in the war-torn country.

NATO ambassadors unanimously approved a so-called “no-fly plus” plan that will put the alliance in charge of protecting civilians as well as enforcing a no-fly zone and an arms embargo.

[A senior U.S. administration official] stressed the NATO mission is to protect civilians and did not rule out the possibility of an attack on the rebels if they were to go on the offensive and strike cities with civilian populations, now held by pro-Gadhafi forces.

While this was expected, it’s nice to see it handled quickly by NATO, because they aren’t known for their speed on the political side of the organization.

The last paragraph deals with a major misconception that is spread around blogtopia by people who haven’t read the UN Resolution, and aren’t familiar with UN operations.

The UN does not take sides. This isn’t about helping the anti-government forces in Libya. The rebel forces have aircraft, tanks, and artillery that they captured. If they launch an aircraft, it will be shot down because of the no-fly zone. They will not be receiving arms or ammunition from outside sources, because of the arms embargo in place. If they attempt to use the tanks or artillery against a city held by the government, they will receive the same treatment as the government tanks that threatened Benghazi.

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March 28, 2011   Comments Off on NATO Owns It All


This has got to hurt.

From the Baden-Württemberg official website:

27.03.2011 Rund 7,8 Millionen Bürgerinnen und Bürger waren am Sonntag in Baden-Württemberg zur Wahl eines neuen Landtags aufgerufen. Nach dem vorläufigen amtlichen Endergebnis kam die CDU auf 39,0 Prozent (60 Sitze im Landtag), die Grünen erzielten 24,2 Prozent (36 Sitze), die SPD 23,1 Prozent (35 Sitze) und die FDP 5,3 Prozent (7 Sitze). Die Wahlbeteiligung lag bei 66,2 Prozent.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the head of the CDU [Christian Democratic Union], and her party has held power in the state of Baden-Württemberg since 1953. There are many well-known companies located in the state [Daimler AG, Porsche, Robert Bosch GmbH, Carl Zeiss AG, and SAP AG], and it normally has the lowest unemployment rate in Germany.

The control was so thorough that the state’s flag is black and yellow, the colors of the CDU and the FDP [Free Democratic Party], who partnered when the CDU came up a bit short in an election. I doubt they’ll be nasty enough to change the flag to green and red, the colors of the Green Party and the SPD [Social Democratic Party] who will now govern.

Merkel got in trouble by extending the lives of old nuclear plants, just before the Japanese earthquake, bad mouthing bailouts and then backing them, not backing punitive measures against Libya, and trying to mess with the Stuttgart train station over the objections of the citizens of Stuttgart. [She has been branded a “flip-flopper”, in American political terms.]

The CDU is still the largest party in the landtag [state legislature] with 60 seats [down 9], but even with the 7 seats of the FDP, they can’t form a majority, so the Greens with 36 seats will form a coalition with the SPD providing 35 seats.

Update: Some clarification on Libya – I don’t think Germans wanted the Luftwaffe to be sent to Libya, but they objected to the way Merkel opposed the entire mission. Many Germans remember what happened in Hungary and Czechoslovakia when the Soviets sent in the tanks – nothing. People wanted the West to do something to help, but nothing was done. There are a lot of Germans who think something should be done in such cases, and that number includes Merkel’s own Foreign Ministry.

March 27, 2011   Comments Off on Ouch!

A Mistake?

Semaphore WTF

The BBC says that TEPCO admits a mistake:

The operators of a stricken Japanese nuclear plant have apologised for a “mistake” in reporting a radiation spike 10 million times above normal.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, which has previously been criticised by officials for its handling of the crisis at the plant, said it got the readings wrong.

Despite the mistake, the radiation spike at reactor 2 was still very high and enough to evacuate workers.

A spokesman for Japan’s nuclear watchdog, Hidehiko Nishiyama, said the level of radiation in puddles near reactor 2 was confirmed at 1,000 millisieverts an hour.

“It is an extremely high figure,” Mr Nishiyama said.

The radiation levels are so high, that emergency workers near the contaminated water would have received four times their maximum annual dose of radiation in just one hour.

Earlier, Japan’s nuclear agency said that levels of radioactive iodine in the sea near the plant had risen to 1,850 times the usual level.

However, the government in Tokyo has said that airborne radiation around the plant is decreasing, so there is no need to extend the evacuation zone.

Apparently someone panicked having seen the reading on the radiation detector and garbled the number. The revised number is still in the “fatal” range.

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March 27, 2011   2 Comments

The Libyan Air Force & Air Defense

Libyan AF roundel

On paper Libya is a formidable military power. Unfortunately after you buy it, you have to maintain military hardware, and Libya is not known for doing that. As a result you end up with a shorter list of equipment that is actually in use.

The Aero L-39 Albatros and SOKO G-2 Galeb are generally listed as trainers, which they definitely are, but the Libyan versions have ground attack capabilities. Reports indicate that both types are being used in that role, and Libya has a lot of them.

The Mil-24 Hind has decades of use as an attack helicopter in wars large and small all over the world. It is almost as ubiquitous as the AK-47. They are armored as well as armed, so the opposition needs missiles or a well-aimed RPG to take one out.

They are still getting MiG-21 Fishbeds into the air and using then. Most blacksmiths can repair Fishbeds and even the Libyan Air Force can maintain them. They don’t have a lot of Fishbeds, and that is a good thing.

They do have a lot of the swing-wing MiG-23 Floggers, and that seems to be the most common aircraft in Libyan livery in the skies. With Libyan pilots they aren’t going to win too many dogfights, but they can slow down with extended wings and cause havoc on the ground.

They have two competent ground attack aircraft types from Sukhoi: the Su-22 Fitter and Su-24 Fencer. They too are swing-wing aircraft. They will be mauled by anything NATO sends against them, but they will absorb a lot of punishment from the lightly armed rebel forces.

Libya had MiG-25 Foxbats, but they have been retired by a lack of maintenance. They were in the process of getting their Mirage F1s rehabilitated, but they aren’t available, as most of the working F1s [two] are in Malta with their pilots who defected.

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March 26, 2011   2 Comments

It’s NATO’s Problem Now

NATO roundel

The BBC reported that Nato takes over Libya no-fly zone

[NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh] Rasmussen said all Nato members had agreed to the move, including Turkey, which had expressed doubts over strikes on a fellow Muslim country.

“The fact is that in Nato we take all decisions by consensus and the decision we are taking today to enforce a no fly zone is also taken by a consensus which means that all 28 allies support that decision,” he told the BBC.

The US initially agreed to lead enforcement of the UN resolution, but made clear it wanted only a limited role and would hand over responsibility as soon as possible.

The US will supply support functions, but those will be limited. The 17th Air Force is a tanker/transport outfit. The 6th Fleet is the USS Mount Whitney, a command and control vessel, and a destroyer squadron. The combat stuff is returning to normal duties. The only deployment is the USS Bataan, a landing assault ship, which has an outstanding record of providing humanitarian assistance after Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti. They were already scheduled to make a cruise in the Med and left a little early from Virginia.

Most of the cost will come out of the training budget, and this will probably be logged as a joint NATO exercise. The US runs joint exercises all the time, and they are already budgeted for, so we will skip the next one. As the normal exercises involve larger forces and usually an aircraft carrier, we probably came out money in pocket on this one.

Update: the new commander of the operation is Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard of the Canadian Defense Forces.

March 25, 2011   2 Comments

Canada Going To The Polls

The CBC reports that Government’s defeat sets up election call

The opposition Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois came together Friday afternoon in a historic vote to say they no longer have confidence in the Conservative government.

Only five other non-confidence votes have happened in Canada’s history, according to information on the Library of Parliament website. This is the first time it has occurred because a majority of MPs voted that they believed the government was in contempt of Parliament.

The opposition parties brought down the Harper government on their terms, not on the budget, so they scored some points there, but it was obvious that they were united only in this vote, as they began politicking for their individual parties as soon as Parliament had adjourned.

Because Canada is sane and reasonable about elections, it will probably occur during the first or second week of May, with a minimum of messing about and TV commercials.

March 25, 2011   4 Comments

No Exit Plan

Radiation symbol on Japanese flag

Japan investigation into nuclear plant radiation leak

An investigation is under way in Japan to establish the source of a radiation leak at the quake-hit nuclear plant, which left two workers in hospital.

The plant’s operator says dangerously high radiation levels recorded in water at one reactor raise the possibility its core has been damaged.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the situation was “very unpredictable”.

If you look at the Wikipedia article on pressurized water reactors they have a nice graphic showing how the system is supposed to work.

In a bit of unintended irony, the third item under “Advantages” of this design explains what is happening. These are wonderfully safe and stable systems, as long as the coolant pumps work. If the pumps don’t work, well, you have nuked yourself.

March 25, 2011   7 Comments

Friday Cat Blogging


Friday Cat Blogging

Nom, nom, nom …

[Editor: Since the weather turned nice, Ringo spends almost no time inside, even to eat, so she depends on the fare at the feral feeding stations. What looks like saw dust is actually the dropped dry flowers of the camphor tree. Everything gets covered with the flowers and the yellow pollen. It is an improvement over what happens to the tree’s purple berries after being processed by hordes of robins.]

Friday Ark

March 25, 2011   6 Comments