Monday, October 31, 2011

Day of the Dead

A report from Basic notes:
• The US is planning to spend $700bn on nuclear weapons over the next decade. A further $92bn will be spent on new nuclear warheads and the US also plans to build 12 nuclear ballistic missile submarines, air-launched nuclear cruise missiles and bombs. 
• Russia plans to spend $70bn on improving its strategic nuclear triad (land, sea and air delivery systems) by 2020. It is introducing mobile ICBMs with multiple warheads, and a new generation of nuclear weapons submarines to carry cruise as well as ballistic missiles. There are reports that Russia is also planning a nuclear-capable short-range missile for 10 army brigades over the next decade. 
• China is rapidly building up its medium and long-range "road mobile" missile arsenal equipped with multiple warheads. Up to five submarines are under construction capable of launching 36-60 sea-launched ballistic missiles, which could provide a continuous at-sea capability. 
• France has just completed deployment of four new submarines equipped with longer-range missiles with a "more robust warhead". It is also modernising its nuclear bomber fleet. 
• Pakistan is extending the range of its Shaheen II missiles, developing nuclear cruise missiles, improving its nuclear weapons design as well as smaller, lighter, warheads. It is also building new plutonium production reactors. 
• India is developing new versions of its Agni land-based missiles sufficient to target the whole of Pakistan and large parts of China, including Beijing. It has developed a nuclear ship-launched cruise missile and plans to build five submarines carrying ballistic nuclear missiles. 
• Israel is extending its Jericho III missile's range, and is developing an ICBM capability, expanding its nuclear-tipped cruise missile enabled submarine fleet. 
• North Korea unveiled a new Musudan missile in 2010 with a range of up to 2,500 miles and capable of reaching targets in Japan. It successfully tested the Taepodong-2 with a possible range of more than 6,000 miles sufficient to hit half the US mainland. However, the report, says, "it is unclear whether North Korea has yet developed the capability to manufacture nuclear warheads small enough to sit on top of these missiles". 
Iran's nuclear aspirations are not covered by the report.
-- Beyond the UK: Trends in the Other Nuclear Armed States via The Guardian

Yes indeed: every day and in every way the world just gets more and more peaceful as the circle of empathy expands.

Monday, October 24, 2011

'Necessary Daemons'

Possession, in the Haitian context, can be kind of rough, the first time or two. Frightening. Terrifying, even. You feel what you think of as your self being peeled away like the husk from a fruit...
-- Madison Smartt Bell

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lives of a cell

I finally got to the end of The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee this weekend, and posted this from penultimate chapter on the blog for The Book of Barely Imagined Beings:
Someday, if a cancer succeeds, it will produce a far more perfect being than its host. 
Preparatory to the observation, Mukerjee has noted that an emerging, although highly controversial, answer to the question of what allows a cancer cell to keep dividing endlessly without exhaustion or depletion generation upon generation is that cancer’s immortality is actually borrowed from normal physiology and, specifically, the stupendous fecundity of stem cells. No less remarkable (at least to me as a naive and ignorant reader) is the ability of the body as a whole to switch this on and off:
The human embryo and many of our adult organs possess a tiny population of stem cells that are capable of immortal regeneration. Stem cells are the body’s reservoir renewal. The entirety of human blood, for instance, can arise from a single, highly potent blood-forming cell (called a hematopoietic stem cell), which typically lives buried inside the bone marrow. Under normal conditions, only a fraction of these blood-forming stem cells are active; the rest are deeply quiescent -- asleep. But if blood is suddenly depleted, by injury or chemotherapy, say, then the stem cells awaken and begin to divide with awe-inspiring fecundity, generating thousands upon thousands of blood cells. In weeks, a single hematopoietic stem cell can replenish the entire human organism with new blood -- and then, through yet unknown mechanisms, lull itself back to sleep. [1]
I also read Will Self's essay on blood disease and drug addiction. Death, writes Self, remains the most metaphoricised phenomenon of all. Cancer, though, is also a distorted simulacrum of life.


 [1] Even in normal circumstances, however, haematopoiesis reportedly manufactures more than 100 billion new blood cells every day

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Something useful on peak oil

I have criticized wooly thinking about peak oil in the past, but I have a lot to learn, so it's good to come across some clear thinking on the topic from Jim Murray (pdf). This, for example, is quite neat:
Peak oil hypotheses 
It's not about the reserves 
It's about the production rate 
We are not close to running out of oil 
Never predict the future price of world oil or the date of world oil peak. You will only be proved wrong and discredited.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

'We are awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare'

Slavoj Žižek recalls an old joke from the German Democratic Republic:
a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: “Let's establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink: “Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theatres show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair—the only thing unavailable is red ink.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Grand Map

This happens to be how many of us enter the great map. One night, you locate a distant childhood intersection. You leave the street map and enter the scene, passing seamlessly from map to territory. But there are no goofy hijinks or bloody corpses there. No sublime horses. Just a bright, sunny street with uneven sidewalks, lined with parked cars—a place that once contained everything that you knew and needed to know, which once held the entire range of possible truths. Then you take a Google-step back, and suddenly it’s a bit less sunny and a bit more populated. You swing around to your left, and now the sky is overcast and foreboding. A step forward and a neighborhood man you once knew, who was pictured sitting on his porch a frame ago, has vanished. Now the sun is out again, but setting. This private territory, with its radically shifting light, its dreamlike angles, and its specters popping in and out of view—that odd combination of detailed recollection and ever-thickening fog—resembles the structure of memory itself. It’s like visiting a lost place. It’s not the grandest idea but, at certain moments in life, it’s the best we’ve got.
-- from The Grand Map by Avi Steinberg