Russell's Blog

New. Improved. Stays crunchy in milk.

Smog in your heart

Posted by Russell on July 26, 2007 at 3:09 p.m.
Just in case you didn't have enough reasons to hate smog, researchers at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine have announced the results of a study concluding that exposure to diesel and coal exhaust causes heart disease. Many people live for years with elevated cholesterol without developing heart disease, and many people live with smog without developing heart disease. However, it appears that the combination of elevated cholesterol and exposure to fine particles from hydrocarbon combustion activate the genes that lead to the hardening of arteries.

So, if you live in the city, then you really need to listen to your doctor if she tells you to lower your LDL/HDL levels.

Anyway, I suppose PG&E is moving in the right direction by building the world's largest solar plant in Southern California -- a 6000 acre, half-gigawatt solar thermal plant in the Mojave desert. PG&E has contracted Solel, and Israeli company specializing in solar energy, to build the plant. There are already nine solar thermal plants operating in the Mojave desert, totaling 354 megawatts in capacity. When the new plant comes online, Mojave will have nearly a gigawatt of solar thermal generating capacity.

According to LADWP, the city's peak demand is 5.7 gigawatts, and a little more than half of that demand, or about 2.97 gigawatts, is met by burning coal. Assuming LADWP substitutes the new solar thermal capacity for coal capacity, LADWP could reduce its utilization of coal generating capacity, and thus emissions from coal, by about 18%. That's a significant chunk, but not nearly good enough.

IKEA: Instructions lost and found

Posted by Russell on July 20, 2007 at 7:18 p.m.
Figuring out how to reassemble IKEA products is probably a common problem for people when moving. Fortunately, if you threw away the instructions, you can always download them again from the IKEA website.

Now, the only problem remaining is to remember the unpronounceable Swedish product name.

Watch them go

Posted by Russell on July 18, 2007 at 3:15 a.m.
The Republicans are filibustering the amendment to Defense Authorization bill, and Mr. Reid is forcing them to actually stand up and do it. It's been quite fun watching them sleepily fumble through their speeches. The opponents of the filibuster look and sound like they planned well. They've had their naps and their coffee, and have been turning up for their 3 AM speeches ready for a fight.

A lot of people have been calling this political theater, and that real debate doesn't happen during these marathon sessions. The speeches so far, though, have been pretty serious.

Mr. Reid has threatened to instruct the sergeant at arms to round up enough senators to keep the quorum. I'd love to see some senators -- of either party -- dragged half-asleep onto the Senate floor in their pajamas.

The Common Thread of Failure

Posted by Russell on July 12, 2007 at 3:03 a.m.
A few days ago, a skunk died behind my house. Even a tiny whiff of the sent carries the unmistakable note of death. The smell is caused by two compounds, cadaverine and putricine, which form as a result of protein hydrolysis during putrefaction of animal tissue.

The testimony of Richard H. Carmona before Congress about his term as Surgeon General is tainted with an all-too-familiar stink. It's like catching the cadaverine-putricine whiff of decaying flesh while walking in the garden. There can be no mistake about what it signifies.

There is a common thread that runs among this sad episode and the US attorney purge, the Katrina disaster, the Libby/Wilson/Plame/Armitage clusterfuck, the missing WMDs, Abu Garib and the generally brain-dead strategy of the Iraq war.

This administration doesn't know what a civil servant is.

As we are reminded ad nausium, US attorneys, the surgeon general, the secretary of defense, and everyone else in the executive branch serves "at the pleasure of the president." This is true, in a general sense. What the administration doesn't understand is that this does not mean that these people serve to please the president.

It is the job of the president to choose the best technocrats he or she can find. Once installed, it is the job of the president to insure that these people can practice their trade. But this administration believes it knows the law better than the US attorneys it hires, military planning better than the War College, foreign intelligence better than its own intelligence analysts, disaster planning and emergency response better than FEMA, operational security better than the CIA, interrogation and detention practices better than the military police, and medicine better than its own surgeon general.

But they don't. No politician could. That's why we have experts.

Moved!

Posted by Russell on July 07, 2007 at 11:41 p.m.
I guess it's more or less official now, so in the grand tradition of the inter-tubes, it requires a blog announcement. I've moved out of my apartment near UCLA, so I'm not essentially homeless. I'll be shuttling around between Pasadena, UCLA and Cypress for the foreseeable future.

I suppose that means I'll be inhabiting the guest house behind my mom's house, but right now the situation has more to do with storage than inhabitation.

Now I get to find out how much of my security deposit my landlord will return.

Happy Birthday, USA

Posted by Russell on July 04, 2007 at 5:42 p.m.
Only one week ago, the Bald Eagle was officially taken off the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. This is the first Independence Day since 1918 that the Bald Eagle, the symbol of our nation, has been considered safe from extinction. In celebration of this achievement, I would like to offer my thanks to the man who did the most to make this possible: Richard Nixon.

While its image fluttered over the California statehouse in Sacramento, the California Brown Bear was driven to extinction. The last one was shot in 1922. The UCLA Bruins are named for an extinct species. With the extinction of Ursus californicus, the flag of California has become a pathetic commentary on the mismanagement of our natural resources. With the Bald Eagle's removal from the list, America has dodged that particular humiliation.

Most people agree that Richard Nixon was, by nearly every measure, a terrible leader. In his domestic and foreign endeavors, he left a legacy of terrible failures. In foreign policy, Nixon's failures were numerous and severe :

  • He escalated the war in Vietnam by secretly (and illegally) bombing Laos and Cambodia.
  • He encouraged and aided the overthrow of Chile's government by Augusto Pinochet.
  • He gave material support to Yahya Khan, the dictator of Pakistan, during Bangladesh's war of independence, putting America in a position of complicity in genocide.
The bright spot in this record of failure was that he was able to drive a wedge between China and the Soviet Union. This was an important strategic achievement, but it came at the expense of betraying an ally, Taiwan. This did little to help the of reputation of American friendship. The Nixon Doctrine of replacing American troops in Vietnam with South Vietnamese soldiers was a military failure, but succeeded as a politically feasible way of getting out of the war.

But it isn't fair to remember Nixon simply for his failures and Pyrrhic victories. So, for today, let's remember Richard Nixon for his achievements on his watch. Among them, Nixon...

  • indexed Social Security to inflation
  • created the EPA
  • proposed, signed and enforced the Endangered Species Act
  • created the Supplemental Security Income
  • created Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • helped create hundreds of state parks
  • raised wages for federal employees
  • implemented the first affirmative action program
But the most important thing Nixon did, ultimately, was resign. He recognized that the nation was more important than his own hopes and goals for his tenure in office. He had the courage to admit that his failures had grown too numerous and too serious, and he decided that the best way to serve the nation was to offer his resignation.

For all his faults, Nixon's final act as president was to place his country before himself. He was in many respects a very poor president, but he still managed to leave behind a legacy important achievements. Every time you see a seal depicting the Bald Eagle, remember that it Richard Nixon helped save it. So, on this Forth of July, I'd like to salute Nixon's tarnished patriotism. Let his epitaph be, "In the end, he was a patriot."

...and they did.

Posted by Russell on July 03, 2007 at 4:18 a.m.
Four years ago today, George Bush said this :
"There are some who feel like, that conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is: Bring them on. We got the force necessary to deal with the situation."
-- George W. Bush on Iraq, 2 July 2003
Nowadays, "they," being the insurgency, attacks us "there," being nearly every corner of Iraq, on a daily basis. Nearly every day, in ones and twos and sometimes more, our guys are getting picked off.

The deaths happen with such regularity that the news has ceased to say very much about these singular, individual and profound losses, but write instead to the general condition of having our soldiers die in Iraq. The news from Iraq is reported in the much the same manner as the general condition of the weather. The reporting on casualties has the same tone you might expect to hear, "It has been hot this Summer."

Today, George Bush celebrated the anniversary of "Bring them on" by commuting Scooter Libby's prison prison sentence. Scooter Libby, who perjured himself before a federal grand jury in an effort to cover up the deliberate and criminal disclosure of the covert status of a an operating CIA officer causing the endangerment and/or loss of valuable intelligence assets, was effectively pardoned today.

George Bush must be aiming for an approval rating in the 15% range.