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VX in TX?


The United States signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention agreement, which obligated the US to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles. That is another story. Here we follow a particular 250,000 gallon store of VX nerve agent from its warehouse in Indiana to its destruction an incinerator in Port Arthur, Texas.

The Port Arthur story is one of abject poverty. The major industry there is petrochemical, and the effects are overwhelming. In fact, the area surrounding Port Arthur is known to environmentalists as the cancer belt of Texas. Let us discover why it is no surprise that the VX ended up in this community.

Photo by Hilton Kelley

California State Parks will close after Labor Day. Take action.


The California state budget crisis lead to a sharp funding reduction for the State Park system — a proposed total of more than $143 million from a budget already operating on a shoestring. One hundred or more California State Parks are expected to close after Labor Day weekend, and the list of parks on the chopping block has not yet been announced.

Today I want to share one of my favorite places threatened by the budget crisis — that is Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It contains a stand of Giant Sequoia, the rare and famous Sierra Redwood, and holds a telling history about our approach to the natural world. The Sequoia are the biggest living creatures on the earth today, and some of the trees in these small groves are more than 3000 years old.

Blood Stains on Green Technology

There is a brutal civil war taking place in The Democratic Republic of Congo — a war where the government is not strong enough to do more than patronize the bloody militias that fight amongst themselves. But what does this have to do with the environmental movement?

The DRC is rich in natural resources. Many of the metals that are used in green technology are found there. Electrodes in your cell phones, components in your computer, your catalytic converter, and materials of the green economy are regularly mined in The Democratic Republic of Congo. You might find electronic devices that funded this conflict in your pocket right now. These metals must be regulated just like the blood diamonds of Sierra Leone. H/t to Land of Enchantment for a great diary on Blood Diamonds.

We need to work toward a blanket prohibition on using blood minerals that come from The Democratic Republic of Congo.

Happy Fourth of July!

Iran’s shattered myth.

None of these are original thoughts, but I wanted to share what is on my mind…

The Iranian government seems well on the way to prevailing in the current crisis. Their brutal crackdown has — in an immediate sense — worked: the crowds of protestors are down from hundred of thousands to hundreds of people. At the moment, the crowds are looking for leadership before they act, but Mousavi and all the other famous names are under house arrest, (their immediate staff have been arrested long since) and the few statements they issue are growing more and more timid. Soon things will quiet down, and soon after that every identifiable leader of this uprising will likely vanish and never be heard from again. Without leadership, crowds will be small and easily dispersed, and the proposed strikes will, perhaps, not congeal.

It looks to me that in a month or two, Iran will return back to “normal”.

Fun physics: should you wear a tinfoil helmet?

Lying about Torture (II): The Problem with Ticking Dick.

Dick and Liz Cheney tell us that enhanced interrogation is not torture and that it made the US safer by providing actionable intelligence. They say it was unwise to make the US techniques public, because the terrorists can now train to them. Both of these claims are hogwash. More importantly, though, they expose a flaw in the Cheney mindset. The Cheneys adhere to The Rambo Myth: Subjects of torture will grant a true confession in order to avoid the pain of more torture. If we are just sadistic enough, we will get the truth out of those bastards.

Cheney et al. provided pressure to waterboard several high value prisoners to obtain information in short order. While there is some disagreement about whether or not waterboarding was used to forge a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, it is clear that we waterboarded one prisoner 83 times and another 183 times in one month. What did this likely accomplish?

Let’s have a look at the ticking bomb.

Lying about Torture (I): Confabulation and False Information.

Torture apologists are talking. They are telling us that enhanced interrogation made the US safer by providing actionable intelligence. They also say it was unwise to make the US techniques public, because the terrorists can now train to them. Both of these claims are hogwash.

Anti-torture advocates counter that a prisoner pushed to the brink will confess to get the torture to stop, and that makes any information extracted under torture dubious. That is certainly a part of the story, but it overlooks a host of other reasons why we cannot expect to gain good information through torture.

This is the first diary in a series on the subtle reasons why the US enhanced interrogation program is shortsighted and cannot produce reliable intelligence.  

The Beauty of Spring Blocks My Way

Spring comes slowly and quietly

to allow Winter to withdraw

slowly and quietly.

The color of the mountain afternoon

is tinged with nostalgia.

The terrible war flower

has left her footprints-

countless petals of separation and death

in white and violet.

Very tenderly, the wound opens itself in the depths of my heart.

Its color is the color of blood,

its nature the nature of separation.

The beauty of Spring blocks my way.

How could I find another path up the mountain?

I suffer so. My soul is frozen.

My heart vibrates like the fragile string of a lute

left out in a stormy night.

Yes, it is really there. Spring has really come.

But the mourning is heard

clearly, unmistakably,

in the wonderful sounds of the birds.

The morning mist is already born.

The breeze of Spring in its song

expresses both my love and my despair.

The cosmos is so indifferent. Why?

To the harbor, I came alone,

and now I leave alone.

There are so many paths leading to the homeland.

They all talk to me in silence. I invoke the Absolute.

Spring has come

to every corner of the ten directions.

Its, alas, is only the song

of departure.

~Thich Nhat Hanh, 1951

Oh, celebration music.

It’s June, and time for weddings, graduations — many rights of passage that resurrect the Pachelbel Rant.

A great weekend to all.

Prosecuting: Moving Beyond the Mancow Redux.

We watched Christopher Hitchens and Erich “Mancow” Muller spend a few seconds on a waterboard and emerge convinced that waterboarding is torture. While I welcome their conversions, their stunts really did not teach us anything new. Though the initial panic of having water come at them was suffering enough, they both quit before the real effects of waterboarding kicked in: they have no idea what would come if the torture did not stop when they cried “uncle.”

Torture is the systematic use of trauma to provoke a change in consciousness: the only goal of torture is to drive a person to unbearable madness. The purpose of the torture — interrogation, extortion — immaterial. Mancow and Hitchens spent a short time on the waterboard and saw that rabbithole in the distance. They bailed before any of the real terror kicked in…

But what if ending the torture at will was not an option? What if they would have undergone waterboarding as Bybee prescribed?

Sex With Ducks

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