I was struck by a passage from a New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/24/washington/24intel.html) I read today. In it, the tension between U.S. policymakers and legislators on the one hand and the intelligence community on the other is presented. The former seem to feel that the latter are being 'too cautious' in their analyses of the threats posed by Iran. Here is one passage:
The consensus of the intelligence agencies is that Iran is still years away from building a nuclear weapon. Such an assessment angers some in Washington, who say that it ignores the prospect that Iran could be aided by current nuclear powers like North Korea. "When the intelligence community says Iran is 5 to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon, I ask: 'If North Korea were to ship them a nuke tomorrow, how close would they be then?" said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives.

"The intelligence community is dedicated to predicting the least dangerous world possible," he said.

I'm not sure where to start with this one. Let's start at the top. The first sentence points out that the consensus in question involves how far away Iran is from building a nuclear weapon. The pols apparently feel that that question 'ignores' a potential threat axis. Let's think about that for a second.

If you employ analysts, you have a serious responsibility. You need to ask them the question for which you want the answer. Later in the paragraph, we find that in fact the reason that the pols are angry is that a question is not being answered which the first sentence indicates was not asked. Namely, the pols apaprently did not want an answer to "what is the threat of Iran building a nuclear weapon?" but to "what is the threat of Iran assuming it is given a nuclear weapon?" This is a dramatically different question. Arguably, it is in fact a completely different question from 'the threat posed by Iran' because, realistically, it is 'the threat posed by a nuclear weapons transfer between North Korea and Iran.'

That latter is a much, much more involved set of circumstances. For one thing, you have to assume that North Korea has, in fact, a functional nuclear weapon. Then you have to assume that they are willing to export it (which thus builds in the assumptions that, for example, either they have enough of them to export, or they don't want to keep the one/few they have for their own use). Then you have to assume that North Korea would find an advantage in allying itself with another pariah nation in what would be an incredibly negatively-viewed transaction, for which they gain no defensive advantage and all manner of negative consequences. Then you have to assume that this export would, and could, be done without being detected and forestalled by those who wouldn't want it to happen - namely, most everybody else on the planet.

Now, after all that, you can ask: Is a North Korea/Iran functional nuclear weapon handoff, assuming it happens, a threat to the U.S.?

That is a completely different question from 'is Iran and its domestic attempts to secure nuclear weapons and/or nuclear weapon technology a threat to the U.S., and in what timeframe?' So yelling at the intelligence community because they seem to not be addressing the latter when answering the former seems counterproductive, stupid, fearmongering and just plain ridiculous.

Or, of course, an attempt to run up support (or break down resistance) to adventurism in Iran. Heaven forbid.

By the way, given that a NK/Iran nuclear transaction would, really, represent the ultimate failure of administration foreign policy - whose job it is to cope with such threats to the U.S. as multiple foreign nations maneuvering to present coordinated problems for us - do they really want an answer to that question?

Now, if what they're saying is that the NIE in question explicitly doesn't address the possibility of foreign technical assistance with a domestic nuclear program, I'm a bit confused - Iran's nuclear program has already benefited from a deal of foreign assistance. However, if in fact they are concerned about wholesale NK involvement in Iranian nuclear weapons construction, there are still questions they need to address. For example, one of the salient restrictions on Iranian weapon construction may be a simple bottleneck in fissile material enrichment, given the state of Iranian production facilities. If this is not the case, then do Mr. Gingrich and Co. really want to be yelling about precisely what we know about the Iranian enrichment program? I thought their party liked to call for lynching (politically at least) of people who did stuff like that, such as (heavens to Murgatroyd) release 'sensitive information' about spying on our own citizens, much less information about actual intelligence work on opposing countries' nuclear programs. If it is the case, as has been discussed at length in open literature, then the constraint is not really one of expertise (at least, not solely) but one of engineering resources and material - in which case the delay cited would not be affected by NK assistance short of a large materials transfer. In that case, again, they really should look to their own failure to properly specify the question - and, as well, to formulate policy that addressed this much less likely and more complex opposing maneuver on the world stage.

Get on the tram. You do this every day. It's a short ride, three stops - maybe four, I can't remember. There's never anyone on the tram going this direction. It's almost the end of the line. Sit down, there are rarely seats free so take advantage of it.

Backpack off, in your lap, hold it close to keep you safe. It's been a long day. There's only three other people in this whole car. A couple in the back, you and this girl at the front. Try not to look at her. Well, at least try not to stare. She is pretty. She is... she is...

Okay. You can look at her. Just don't let her catch you. Not that she would with what is going on.

She has headphones on. Wonder what she is listening to, why is it affecting her like this. Her lower lips starts to quiver. She starts to sing along to hide it. She can't hide it all though. Her eyes begin to fill with water. She tries to pull herself back from the edge. STOP!

The tram comes to a sudden stop. You watch as the driver throws open the door and jumps out. He runs around the front, you can't see him anymore. I don't even know what he is doing. Look back at the girl, she is stoic. She is a statue carved in the whitest marble.

Why did he stop the tram? He climbs back in and throws the doors closed again. The tram is going again before you can figure out what he was doing outside. It doesn't matter anymore. What is going on with this girl? This, for some reason, does matter - though you won't ever really know why.

Her lower lip starts to quiver again. She doesn't try to sing along this time. She doesn't even try to hide it again. She is looking straight ahead, if she can't hide it she can at least forget that there is a world around her. There are no witnesses. Her eyes begin to fill again and you try to sit yourself in her seat. What has brought her to this place. As you try to imagine - a single tear escapes her left eye before she quickly shuts them.

The tram comes to a stop. This is the end of the line. Please exit the tram. She grabs her bag and quickly heads toward the back door. Sit there, you just sit there for a minute, wondering.

Previous day

First post and explanation

Next day

What's a 'Greenpia' anyway?

I devoted most of yesterday's post to one particular situation and very little to the entire trip during which it occurred. So today's all about "Ohnuma Greenpia Resort."

I woke up the morning of the trip and sort of lumbered downstairs later than usual, mildly dehydrated but otherwise hangover free. You've dealt me a few bad hands, genetics, but for the most part you treat me awesome. My host mother bid me good morning with a grin and asked whether I had a 'futsukayoi.' She watched astonished as I shook my head and dug in voraciously to one of her scarily professional breakfasts.

Later in the morning, my host mother dropped me off at a shopping center where the bus subsequently picked me up, taking the whole HIF crew into the mountains that surround Hakodate. Wherever you look into the distance of Hakodate, there's either the stretching barrier of the sea or the towering barrier of the mountains, so it was cool to see what lay on the other side. A "Quasi-National Park," as the Engrish subtitles on the sign welcoming us to Ohnuma informed us.

We drove along a wooded, bumpy road that hugged a lake between the mountains, mist still lingering over their peaks. The trees here are just as verdant as back home, but their shape and character is slightly different, just enough to always give this American a feeling of the mildly exotic. Gigantic piles of somewhat volcanic rock and soil everywhere might also do that too. Wisconsin ain't exactly famed for its mountain ranges.

Ohnuma itself was a mediocre resort. Not trashy, but a little pretentious. My host father said of it 'maa maa,' which is exactly the appropriate sound to describe it. There are wide park grounds, some rides, some recreation, a small golf range, and lots of very overpriced attractions. Tourist trap, basically.

I'd forgotten to hit up the ATM at the post office (the only place I can withdraw from my account at home here is the post office; how crazy is that?), so I found myself being very, very frugal with what money I had left.

Among the few activities I tried was a ride called the "Sports Slider." The ride itself was not worth the 400 yen I spent on it (about $4), but the uniquely lawsuit-tastic experience of its questionable safety certainly was. This was basically a very, very tall metal slide built into the mountainside which you rode down in wheeled carts with brakes you controlled with a lever. No tracks. No seatbealts. No particular protections to keep you from flying off the slide if you took a turn too fast, which one or two people did. It was an American insurance agent's idea of a sick, twisted joke and an American class action attorney's particularly kinky wet dream. That the common sense you're taking responsibility for your own damn safety might apply to this ride was a surreal experience. What, common sense? No no, we Americans are incapable of it. Please protect us from ourselves or we'll take all your money, kthxbye.

I also explored something called "The Big Donut" with some friends from the program, which turned out to be absolutely the coolest, most dangerous playground equipment I've ever had the pleasure of climbing all over. It's difficult to describe without redundant use of the word 'donut,' but it was made of wood, sharp metal, rope, and a dash of spiders. It was terribly intricate, with all sorts of passageways and secret slides and crazy rope course corridors. The playset reminded me of something I played on when I was a kid, a wooden monstrosity that defined the local park for me before they replaced it with a limpid, pathetic piece of shit plastic 'play' gym my freshman year of high school. Natsukashii na...

We also wandered all over the park grounds looking for something called "Canadian house" on the map, mostly because we were deathly curious about what exactly a "Canadian house" was supposed to be. Log cabins, mounties, and maple syrup? Unfortunately, we couldn't find it. As we were walking back together, I yelled in mock dejection, "There's no such thing as Canada in Japan!" and a pack of Japanese tourists stopped dead in their tracks and stared at us. This sort of behavior has become amusing to me, now that I've figured out there's nothing I can do that won't cause them to stare at me with total lack of concern for how rude they're being like I'm some animal cut loose from the zoo. This may or may not be a good thing.

Students commenced drinking as soon as they hit the resort, given that the maps HIF had distributed to us included helpful labels indicating the locations of various liquor stores. They know what this trip's all about. We had dinner in a big banquet hall and a few students put on a talent show, with one particular girl playing an astounding violin concerto. I mean, like, professional music school, drop-my-chopsticks-holy-shit-she's-incredible violin playing, we're talking here.

After dinner was the onsen and all that entailed. Then more drinking, more socially lubricated group talk-outs between the students as we sat on the tatami mats of our rooms crosslegged, and eventually one hell of a love-in in the karaoke room. One girl got so trashed she vomited. Another guy fell down the stairs and into some unfortunate Japanese woman. He was too drunk to apologize himself (he had no memory of the incident the next day, though he was extremely embarrassed), but luckily a few other HIF students were around to bow extremely low and apologize several times on his behalf.

We were raucous and obnoxious, but we didn't cause any damage. The day after, there was a running debate over whether our behavior had looked typically American, or typically Japanese with an American twist. The Japanese are allowed to be obnoxious when they're obviously sloshed, I've discovered. It's quite refreshing, actually. They can hold their own with the worst frat boys and switch back to tippity-toe courtesy the next morning faster than even the most conscientious American can manage.

As our bus left Ohnuma the next morning, everyone fairly hungover, some of the hotel staff lined up next to the bus and bowed on our way out. We found this uncomfortably amusing, as we were pretty certain they were glad to see us leave. But, appearances must be maintained and all.

I myself didn't get up to anything too debaucherous, just lots of frenzied conversation in English and relatively restrained drinking, but I did smoke three cigarettes through the course of the night. That made me feel disgusting in the morning. Ick ick ick, the buzz may be nice when you're drunk, but cigarettes really are gross. I'm thinking I'm going to cut the habit of lighting up when I'm drunk all together. The novelty's faded and I hate the idea of all that tar in my lungs. There's a cancer doctor's son for you.

All in all, an entirely enjoyable weekend retreat. Monday was an immediate return to intense amounts of homework, but I'd destressed and decompressed enough that it didn't bother me. We'll see how the rest of the week goes.

Today is my birthday. I have reached the venerable age of 29.

Ordinarily, I really enjoy my birthday. But this year seems a bit different. Normally, either my brother or my best friend takes me out for a meal, but I haven't heard from either of them in a while, and I even tried to call my best friend earlier in the week. Maybe they've disappeared into the void.

Is it scary that I've received more birthday wishes from online sources than from my RL friends? I must admit, the e-cards are quite funny, but it's not quite the same. An e-hug is no comparison to a real hug.

Oh well, it's just a day like any other. At least one of my co-workers took me out to lunch. Of course, it helps that I wrote my birthday in on the office calendar. Am I pathetic or what?

I get on the tram. I have do this every day. It's not so bad. I mean, it's a short ride, three stops - maybe four, I can never remember. Usually there's no-one on the tram going this direction, so I kind of settle down. You know that feeling? You're almost the end of the line. I sit down, taking advantage of the hush. I mean... there are rarely seats free, so to be offered is a snap-your-hand-off situation. Make no mistake, I'm offered... there's no-one here. That's an offer.

I usually take my backpack off regardless, just because it's easier to sit square in the seat then. I'd rather stow it somewhere, but if I have to I hold it. It's worth bugger all, in fact, but you can't shove it anywhere; it's either behind you or in front, never above. But what am I on about. I'm virtually alone. I'll hold it, all the same. I hate the crowds, you know. They're all too tight. It's been a long day, you know. How long does a body have to work to get some peace? There's only three other people in this whole car, now that I look around. A couple in the back, some guy, tapping away, and this girl at the front. The guy's caught my eye. He's pressing something, and every now and then he stares. It's weird in a way, almost like he fancies me. He's quite cute, in truth. Maybe I'll stare a while except... no, don't let him catch you. Ha... he nearly did. He's staring at me now, I bet, wondering who the hell I am...

Okay. You can look back now. Just don't let him catch me. Not that he would, I guess, tapping away like that. Woah... hang on - this is my favourite bit.

This bit, I can't tell you. It's always the same. I mean, I shouldn't listen to it out here, out in the... enough. That's enough.

Make it stop

stop...

stop

.

The tram comes to a stop. This is the end of the line. Please exit the tram. I exit. Quickly. I have nothing to say. The door is there... I head toward it. I have nothing to say.

Wordmongers' Masque

Apollyon's Adventures in India

back to August 21, 2006

Before I left Jalgaon I was asked to read a book. Well they called it a 'hand written English science magazine'. The local kids put together 'Horizon' as a school project. I think I meet all 80 of them. The book is held as common property and it is shared with anyone who is interested. In the front there are pages available for people to leave their comments; you know upvotes, downvotes, that sort of thing. (Stop me if this sounds familiar)

This is what I wrote:
It is unusual to be asked to experience a new tradition! I think that this should be an annual event, so that every student has an opportunity to learn about science in this way. You have bravely chosen to cover advanced topics. 'features of brain' for example has facts that I was taught at university!
The drawing is fun and informative, and it is particularly refreshing for me to see something that hasn’t been made using a computer. Your approach has made this project far more personal and valuable.
Congratulations.
The best thing about the whole experience is that the kids did it without any access to a computer. Do you remember that? The out of date libraries? Alphabetised cards? References resources and research? Being nine?

It's a different world.

Women in India weep. Weeping is almost silent. The breathing is just a bit louder than normal and tears collect behind glasses.
The onomatopoeic ‘cry’ is what babies do. Weeping is a quiet but powerful emotional expression. It shows a different type of female strength than I am used to. It is an attempt not to affect other people with your tears, but it has the opposite effect. Like a quiet river's surface, with dangerous undercurrents below.
Total Emotional Riptide.
Goodbye Mrs Chowkidar.

Forward to August 26, 2006

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