Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's Been a Weird Week


Golly, it's been an exciting week, hasn't it? Well, I didn't really think it was all that exciting when it began Just 8 days ago (as I write this) with the not entirely unexpected formal resignation of an ailing and elderly Fidel Castro. There were a few days of speculation in the press and among the talking heads about whether Raul Castro would be appointed successor or if Fidel would choose someone younger.

Some wondered if this would mean a softening of US relations with Cuba (none to speak of). Others wondered aloud whether the Cuban people might revolt against their 'Communist Overlords' at this opportunity. George W. Bush said very clearly that Castro's resignation ought to spark "a democratic transition" [CNN, 2/19] and called for free and fair elections. Cuba apparently didn't hear him, or care what he had to say. US allies repeated calls for democratic reforms that aren't likely to occur, so others called for actual revolution in Post-Castro Cuba.

I'm pretty jaded about the whole Cuba thing. I simply figured Raul would get the crown and nothing much would change at this point in history. Turned out I was right, as Raul received the succession crown on Sunday [Feb. 24]. I wasn't surprised, neither were the Cubans. Ho, hum.

Beginning on Monday and continuing through Tuesday [the 25th and 26th of February] The predictable accolades poured in. China and North Korea were among the first to congratulate Raul Castro and re-emphasize their ideological ties with the government of Cuba. And the Vatican wasted no time getting its Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, to Havana for official talks with Cuban officials including Raul and his two VPs on Wednesday [Feb. 27].

As all this was going on, two groups of Cuban 'migrants' (that's what we call Cuban boat people who make it onto US soil before getting picked up, thanks to the "wet foot/dry foot" policy) landed south of Miami on Monday [Feb. 25]. One group of 24, including 16 men, 6 women and 2 young children, landed at Soldier Key. This island is the northernmost in Biscayne National Park. These 'migrants' were ferried to a marina for processing by the Miami-Dade fire department and the US National Parks Service, smiling and waving. Their picture is up top.

At the same time, the other group of Cuban 'migrants' landed at the Turkey Point nuclear plant 24 miles south of Miami. It was not reported how many were in this second boatload of Cubans, or the makeup of the group. They were being dealt with by the US Border Patrol, and you can bet your bippy there were some Homeland Security, FBI, NRC and a few other unnamed agencies on hand to welcome them to America as well.

I did slightly chuckle at the synchronicity of it all for those Cubans. They speed all the way across the strait, skip the Keys entirely (where their "dry foot" claim would have come many hours sooner, and chances of being stopped while still having wet feet that much lower), only to beach their craft right smack dab in the shade of the cooling towers for a double reactor nuke supplying much of south Florida.

What, thought I quite sardonically, they couldn't SEE the darned things? Didn't KNOW it was Turkey Point (or some sort of nuke)? C'mon. Anyway, there was no further news on this second set of 'migrants' that I could find, I expect they'll be darkening some agency's secure cellar somewhere for a bit longer than their compadres who landed on Soldier Key. Duh.

On Tuesday, February 26, I was engaged in a semi-real time computer conversation with my baby sister in Florida. She's a patient care admin at a good hospital, we hadn't talked since before Christmas. It was her lunch hour, I was here working my fingers to the usual bone, so we went back and forth on family matters, the various kids and grandkids, etc., etc. About 1 p.m. she stopped responding, so I went back to work (figured she had to do that too).

Then I heard, just a minute or so later on my NPR station, that there had been a massive blackout in Florida stretching from Key West to Jacksonville, including Orlando and Tampa in the central and west. No biggie. Electricity does that sometimes (some places more than others, of course). There was no immediate analysis or reports of cause, havoc being spread, or anything like that. By the 2 o'clock news break it was reported that both reactors at Turkey Point had scrammed, along with the standard "no danger to the general public" line that always follows reports of anything at any nuclear plant.

I wondered vaguely if Turkey Point had caused the blackout, then was immediately stumped by why both plants would scram at the same time. Must have been a grid failure, not much to worry about (if you weren't in Florida). Sure enough, the problem was quickly isolated to a malfunction in a single electrical substation at Turkey Point. That malfunction turned out to be "equipment failure and fire." Turns out that two coal-fired generating plants at Turkey Point had automatically shut down as well. Took the entire station off line!

No danger, no attack, nothing to worry about (if you weren't driving in Florida). Weird.

Invitations Sent, Date to Be Announced...


Will the Candidates Show?


Government leaders, university presidents, leading scientists, engineering leaders, business executives, American innovators have been making the call loudly and with some help from NPR, MSNBC, the New York Times and Time Magazine as well as increasing numbers of other media outlets. Now that both the Democratic and Republican fields of potential Presidential candidates are down to two apiece, it's time for Science Debate 2008 to happen.

The invitations to the candidates have been sent, the debate will be held at the Franklin Institute before the Pennsylvania primary on April 22. Thus far none of the candidates have responded that they will commit. While we all know that issues of science and technology are usually handled by advisors who have knowledge of the subjects, it would be nice to get a feel for whether the candidates for our country's highest office have a basic grasp of those issues and a defensible position on policy. Or find out if all they're good for is to mouth sound bites their handlers feed them.

If you're interested in what you may be able to do to help convince them, visit the Science Debate 2008 website and sign on. And it wouldn't hurt to write to the campaigns and request the candidates' participation while you're at it.

Science Debate 2008

[Cross-Posted to Science News Review]

Hate: When is Enough Enough?


On the last day of November, 2007, a tense standoff in Rochester, New Hampshire occurred when a man walked into Hillary Clinton's local campaign headquarters, claimed he had a bomb strapped to himself with duct tape, and took two campaign volunteers hostage. It lasted for hours before he finally allowed the hostages to leave and walked out to unstrap the "bomb" to turn himself in.

There has been quite a lot of talk in the political blogosphere about how hate speech in the 'normal' course of politics as usual can incite unstable people to commit terrible crimes. And as people living near the economic edge begin to fall off, we aren't seeing any slowdown of bizarre acts and mass murders. But in politics, the hate is just getting warmed up.

On the right (RedState and FreeRepublic) the denizens were hoarding popcorn and speculating that Clinton had arranged for this attention-grab herself, liberally (ha!) salted with the usual right-wingnut hate speech we're so used to from that corner. Fox's Bill O'Reilly has of course embraced "The Politics of Hate" as his theme for the election season.


"Justice is Meant to Serve the Party"

Kangaroo Trials for Gitmo prisoners


The Pentagon announced on February 11 that it is charging six detainees at Guantanamo Bay with war crimes, and will be seeking the death penalty for all. According to ex-JAG officers, it has already been decided that all will be convicted, and all will die. The highlights will be secret evidence and confessions gathered under torture from people who have been held for years sans habeas corpus.

Ross Tuttle's Rigged Trials at Gitmo appears online from The Nation. Looks like BushCo are fixing to compound their own war crimes. Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Gitmo's military commissions detailed a conversation with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes, who now oversees the tribunal process for the Department of Defense...

"[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time," recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, something that had lent great credibility to the proceedings.

"I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process," Davis continued. "At which point, [Haynes's] eyes got wide and he said, 'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them off? We can't have acquittals, we've got to have convictions.'"