Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance


But here is the flickr set from one tourism group, and here's a photo from another:Cognitive dissonance is a concept from education that describes the mental situation that occurs when what one is experiencing doesn't fit well with what one knows. For example, siphons can be very confusing- we "know" that water doesn't run uphill. Except when it does, apparently. This whole disaster has been cognitively dissonant to me; I couldn't believe BP would be so slipshod; I couldn't believe MMS was so owned; I couldn't believe how little improvement we've seen in Federal disaster response over the last five years. Looking at all the recent video clips at YouTube, and trying to reconcile those with all the photos of "The Whitest Beach in the World" from today is straining my cerebral muscles to their breaking point... I don't know what to think.

One thing about cognitive dissonance: it's a mostly negative experience in humans- that is, it's one we try to avoid, or if we can't, find reconciliation as quickly as possible. In other words it's a double edged sword: it provides motivation to either ignore experience and reality, or to learn. You know which end of that spectrum I gravitate towards. Problem is, in some cases there are things I'm not sure I want to learn. I'm afraid this is such a case.

Followup, 7:39: Well, I have to say I'm impressed, and that wasn't so painful to learn after all. They managed to clean the beach to a photogenic state in a matter of a couple of days. Not sure I'd really want to use it though, even if it is (mostly) white again.

Gay Old Times

A Facebook friend brought my attention to this story: Constance McMillen, the openly gay Mississippi teen who was figuratively gang-raped by her school district and classmates back in March, "was asked to be grand marshal in New York City's Pride March, said Arthur Finn, co-chair of Heritage of Pride, which organizes the march and other related events."

I don't use that kind of language very often, but I've been fairly open about the fact that, while I would never have considered violence against gays, I was pretty homophobic and disgusted by them in my younger years. And 30 years later, I'm still ashamed of that. I'm pretty introspective, but it took me a while to realize that it was a reaction to fear. However, I had no idea what I was afraid of. When I made that leap, in a lot of ways, I got over it. At the same time, the realization that I was excluding real human beings from membership in "my club" raised some real regrets with respect to the ways I have treated or reacted to others. Shame and regret accomplish nothing in and of themselves, and I have slowly learned that the sexual lives of others are not only not my business, but have no business even crossing my mind. And seeing and hearing accounts of valued friends having to fight to be treated in the same way others expect to be treated deeply angers me.

The banner over on the right side of my blog, which has been there since pretty early on, "This blog supports gay marriage," has nothing to do with my own desires- I have no interest in getting married, gay, straight, or otherwise- and everything to do with my wish that any of my friends can live as they please, with the same societal blessings and the same legal rights and protections as anyone else. Just as I do. And face it, my life choice- and it is my choice- to be solitary is far less common, and in a real way, much less "natural," than homosexuality, which I am convinced is not a choice.

So it was with pleasure that I learned that Ms. McMillen had not only been honored with the grand marshal title, but had also been presented with a $30,000 scholarship during an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneris Show. Good on ya, Constance! As my FB friend commented, "I think her car should have a big sign that says "Suck it, Itawamba High!"

In other news, I have no idea who makes the decisions on what will adorn the Space Needle in Seattle...
...but I thought this was pretty darned classy. Good on ya, Seattle! (Hat tip to The Daily What)

Pocket Change

Not exactly. According to BBC, a coin with the world's highest face value, one million dollars, has sold for four times it's face value. According to Gold Price, a gram of gold was most recently valued at $40.33 (USD), so the 100 kg gold coin, simply in terms of its metal content, is worth $4,033,000.I know coin collectors buy and sell rare coins for prices that are unimaginable to me, but this has got to take the cake.


Kim Carnes, Bette Davis Eyes

I am mystified by the "Embedding disabled by request." It would be like a company saying, "you can't play this single on the radio." The EDBR original vidclip is here. That said, the alternative I found is pretty damned well done.

Nena, 99 Luftballoons:

And the EDBR original.

And a song that gives me serious goose bumps... Peter Gabriel, Biko:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ringing Rocks

I have to admit, the statements at the beginning of the clip had me skeptical, so I was pretty amazed by the quality of the tones produced by whacking these boulders.

On the other hand, lots of rocks produce tones when whacked. The degree of weathering of surface material in the PNW ranges from fresh to utterly rotten, and I've found that the "ting!" to "thunk" quality tells me quite a bit about the degree of freshness. There's an outcrop of some basalt-like flow with platy jointing along the road where route 140 climbs up the east side of SE Oregon's Guano Valley, near the Nevada border; the resulting flat rocks produce nice chimes too. A common sight at Oregon craft fairs is wind chimes made from obsidian "pencils." I've been to several caves where "organs" made either by speleothems, or columns of limestone left behind as falling water dissolves the rock between them, are played. And an uncommon rock type called phonolite gets its name because, yeah you guessed it. "The name phonolite comes from the Greek meaning (more or less) "sounding stone" because of the metallic sound it produces if an unfractured plate is hit, hence the English name clinckstone."

In short, if you didn't realize that rocks can produce some very interesting- even pleasing- sounds when struck, they do. In my experience, being familiar with those sounds doesn't tell you a lot about the rocks, but neither do they tell you nothing. Of course, it helps to have hit a lot of different rock types, many, many times.

All that said, the clip above is pretty amazing.

1:1 Scale Mapping

Kyle House at Fresh Geologic Froth posted a lovely near-finalized copy of his geologic map of Clark County, Nevada- the southernmost county in the state, and home of Las Vegas. Other than some concern that the first-listed component of Lake Mead is lye, I find this to be a terrific example of how geologic maps work as both an elegant way to present information, and esthetically appealing works of art. He posted it with the comment, "There are no perfect maps. Trust me, there truly aren't."

To which I responded, "I think it was Lewis Carroll who said the best map would be 1:1, but where would you keep it? Actually I just Googled it, and the actual quote, from "Sylvie and Bruno Concluded," is a delight:
"And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!"

"Have you used it much?" I enquired.

"It has never been spread out, yet," said Mein Herr: "the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.
There are a number of fun 1:1 map quotes at this site; and several pages of quotes regarding maps here. My favorite from the latter is this one, by Steven Wright: “I have an existential map; it has 'you are here' written all over it.”

Followup: Saturday, June 26: I found the chapter with the Lewis Carroll quote; it shows up about the middle of the chapter. I can see why why the two Sylvie and Bruno books have nowhere near the popularity or recognition of the Alice in Wonderland pair. The style is a little grating- Bruno in particular is way twee- and many of the gags feel forced or perfunctory. That's not to say there aren't some good ones, but for example:
"One remark only I will permit myself to make—that the period of life, between the ages of a hundred-and-sixty-five and a hundred-and-seventy-five, is a specially safe one.”

“How do you make that out?” I said.

“Thus. You would consider swimming to be a very safe amusement, if you scarcely ever heard of any one dying of it. Am I not right in thinking that you never heard of any one dying between those two ages?”
I saw where that one was going by the time I finished the first sentence.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Threatening Kitteh In The Window


Mammoth Steak

No, we're not talking about a massive piece of beef.
Also, in a gift to some of my German readers, there's an embeddable version in that language- which I think was actually the original voiceover.
Who'da guessed? Tastes like chicken!

Tin Toy

I think I've only seen this one time before now, at the animation cinema during the 1989 DaVinci Days Festival. I suspect many others have never even heard of it.

USA Today had an article a few days ago coinciding with the opening of Toy Story 3, listing 10 bits of Pixar Toy trivia. Among them,
1. Tinny, the one-man-band character from the Oscar-winning Pixar short Tin Toy, was supposed to be a star of 1995's Toy Story. But he was deemed too antiquated. A military action figure was suggested before filmmakers settled on a space toy.
While the clip is clearly dated, it was a jaw dropping example of detail and sophistication in the young genre of computer animation 20 or more years ago, and I find it kind of charming in a retro sort of way- for example, I love those balloon diapers. The Wiki page says
Tin Toy is a 1988 Pixar Animation Studios short film using computer animation. It was directed by John Lasseter and won the 1988 Academy Award for Animated Short Film. In 2003, Tin Toy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
I have much enjoyed the Toy Story series- in fact, there's nothing I've seen from Pixar that I haven't enjoyed. There are a few of their features I haven't seen: Cars, Ratatouille, and Up; I haven't seen the new Toy Story either. I love the bittersweet quality that infuses everything they do, the subtle moodiness, the moments of real sadness. It makes the saccharine moments actually sweet, rather than cloying. Which brings me to this comic from The Far Left Side.I love things that make me happy and sad at the same time.

I'm Hoping He Starts As A Dishwasher

Or maybe prep. Yeah, I guess I'd rather be washing dishes than doing prep. BBC is reporting that Jack Abramoff has been released to a halfway house in Baltimore. Said house has found a job for him in a kosher pizza parlor. (Kosher pizza parlor? That would mean -*gasp*- no pepperoni!)

Just think... over time he'll work his way up. Eventually he'll be in a position where, with a nod and a wink, and slyly slipping him a cool $100K, he'll sneak extra cheese onto your pie, free of charge.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wednesday Wednesday

Oops... almost forgot it's Wednesday. And that wouldn't do at all. From Art by Lupe Flores... Lupe is only asking $10.99 for 8 X 11 copies of this print, but the site is "down for maintenance," so I don't know if the offer stands.

USGS Aerial Magnetic Survey

I received what struck me as very rapid, polite and helpful responses from several people regarding my post yesterday, "News You Can't Use." The first was a comment from reader Skinny Dennis, who sent me a link to the Goldak Airborne Survey website, explaining that the aircraft that would be used were Piper Navajos. The page also indicated the nature of the project: a magnetic survey. Here's a photo of the plane:
That doodley-bob sticking off the back is called a stinger. No seriously, that what the site calls it. Now if I saw one of these guys flying low, with an apparent "stinger" (though I have to say it looks more like an ovipositor to me), I might very well do a double-take and wonder just what was going on. More so if I noticed them doing multiple, closely-spaced passes...

The second was from Marisa Lubeck, a public affairs specialist with USGS, who also sent me a link to the Goldak Page, and explained she was forwarding my question to a project scientist.

Finally, only a couple of hours after receiving Ms. Lubeck's note, I received the following from Richard Blakely:
Eric Anderson (Denver USGS) forwarded me your inquiry about our ongoing geophysical studies of eastern Washington. I am the scientist in charge of the airborne survey, and perhaps I can answer some of your questions.

We are currently flying an airborne magnetic survey of two areas: One is a swath over the Columbia River, from east of Walla Walla to Mt. Adams. The other is a smaller patch north of Hyak. Once completed, these data will be merged with similar surveys acquired in 2008 and 2009; together these data will cover all or large parts of Kittitas, Yakima, Benton, Klickitat and Grant Counties. We have contracted this year's effort to Goldak, a Canadian Company headquartered in Saskatoon.

We are flying this year's surveys along closely spaced (1/4 mile) flight lines as close to the ground as safely possible. The aircraft carries a cesium-vapor magnetometer, an instrument that measures the total magnetic field of the earth. This device is completely passive; i.e., it measures the static magnetic field without introducing any electromagnetic energy of its own. After a fair amount of data processing, we eventually obtain maps that indicate the magnetic field caused by rocks in the upper crust. Because different lithologies have differing magnetic properties, magnetic maps help us determine the near-surface geology, even though the area might be covered by young geologic deposits or vegetation. Our main motivation is to learn about the tectonic setting, geologic history, and earthquake hazards of the greater Yakima region. This year's survey is funded by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy. It is our policy to release our data to the public within months of completion, and we intend to publish our scientific findings soon thereafter.
In the spirit of honesty, I have to say I might have been able to pick out Yakima County on an unlabeled Washington map... but I might not have. And I certainly didn't recognize the other four, so here is a quick'n'dirty graphic to show the area of concern. (original map from here)So there might be some incursion into Oregon as they turn around and line up for the next pass, but by and large, the fly-overs will be restricted to south-central Washington State. (Clarification: the flights will extend into Oregon; see the followup at the end.) So to the extent I'm likely to be startled by planes resembling parasitic wasps stalking me, this is not relevant to my interests.

In terms of geology though, different story entirely...
In the above image, from a USGS Tapestry page, the orange arrow highlights what I suspect is the structure of interest: the somewhat enigmatic Olympic-Wallowa lineament.I have mentioned this... thing... in a previous post, labeled "OWL?" in my hand-drawn schematic above. Is it a real structural feature, or is it an illusion? As far as I can tell, that question hasn't been definitively answered yet.
There are plenty of tectonic, potentially seismogenic, features in the study area, as shown in an illustration from the Wikipedia link, above. Whether the OWL is a real feature or not, it is very interesting to note how many structures either align with it, or dramatically change orientation on opposite sides of it. And if you want to at least qualify the seismic potential of an area, it would be a good thing to know what features are and aren't real.

Whether or not the OWL is a target of this study, it does look as if the survey will clarify the nature of the geologic structures in the area. Not only is Yakima an important community (metro population about 230,000- I hadn't realized it was that large), but the Hanford nuclear reservation lies within the study area.
It's in the area south of that northward hook in the Columbia River, in northern Benton County.

So this pair of posts started off as yet another episode of exasperation with the incuriosity and, frankly, laziness of journalists- "science journalists" in particular. And what do you know? There really is quite a bit of really interesting information here, and it was quite easy for me to get at. I now have a better idea of the geography of the project beyond "northern Oregon and southern Washington," I have a better idea of the purpose of the study and what USGS hopes to achieve (incidentally, more than calming any concerns I might have over my tax dollars being used for something called "earthquake monitoring"), and I'm now quite convinced that seeing 11 or 12 meter mechanical ichneumonid wasps flying closely over my head would probably be quite startling to me, possibly even traumatizing. Citizens of south-central Washington, take heed.

Followup, 3:41: I received the following feedback from Blakely:
Nice job. It all looks accurate to me except for one statement: Our swath over the Columbia River will extend well into Oregon rather than terminating at the border. That wasn't clear from my email to you, and I apologize. You correctly surmised that the OWL is a major target of our investigations.
So residents of north central Oregon, you too may have the opportunity to be startled by low-flying magnetic surveyors.

I'm Dubious...

but it's not entirely out of the question. Is it "raining oil" in Louisiana?

My first guess would have been, seeing that most of the oily water shots are on pavement, that this was accumulated droplets and leaks from cars. I have no idea how long it had been since the last rain, and there is a lot of oil in this clip, but that seems the simplest explanation. It has been pointed out that under high wind conditions, droplets of oil might be blown inland as spray. See, for example, this excellent post by Dr. Jeff Masters, dissecting various aspects of hurricanes, and examining, not necessarily how potential hurricanes as a whole would interact with the oil slick, but how the various components of those storms might interact with the spill.

In the same post, he concludes that co-evaporation and condensation of oil and water is unlikely:
In general, we do not need to worry about oil dissolving into the rain, since the oil and water don't mix. Furthermore, about 50-70% of the oil that is going to evaporate from the spill does so in the first 12 hours that the oil reaches the surface, so the volatile oil compounds that could potentially get dissolved into rain water won't be around. (...) I doubt that these traces would be detectable in rainwater except by laboratory analysis, and would not cause any harm to plants or animals.
What we're seeing in the above clip is obviously far more than would be undetectable "except by laboratory analysis," and I would not allow children or animals near it. In the end, I'm not there; I don't know the situation. That being said, it seems more probable that this was spray carried inland or that the pavement just got cleaner. I'd prefer to leave hypotheses regarding hydrocarbon evaporation-precipitation cycles restricted to Titan for the time being.

Followup, Thurs. June 24: According to The CSM, the EPA concurs; there are too many unknowns to be certain it's an impossibility, but it seems unlikely at best. Additionally, the location is 45 miles from the coast, which makes spray less of a likelyhood- especially if the phenomenon wasn't seen elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

News You Can't Use

This is the entire article, minus the closing sentence:
Planes flying low over Oregon and Washington for USGS survey

The flights are part of USGS research to measure and map rock types and formations.

The U.S. Geological Survey says people in northern Oregon and southern Washington may notice low-flying aircraft through July.

The flights are part of USGS research to measure and map rock types and formations.
Alright... I suppose the purpose of this "news" is to allay worries among people who worry about low-flying aircraft. But it says nothing about what kind of aircraft are being used. Are we talking about two-seat, single prop planes with some bolted-on equipment, or are we talking 747's loaded to the gills with instrumentation and flying at tree-top level? I dunno. I doubt the kind of people who would worry about low-flying small planes are the kind of people who would be reading these kinds of stories; they're too busy calling 911 and complaining about how they're being harassed by UFO's. And I doubt the latter possibility is really a possibility. Hard to say.

Then there's the science angle... penetrating radar was just being implemented as a remote compositional analytic technique when I was finishing up my BS degree, and I imagine it's become more sensitive and much higher resolution. Magnetic surveys? Gravity surveys? Aerial photos? LIDAR surveys? Some new technique? Dunno.

Golly, wouldn't it be cool if we had an industry where people got paid to go and find out interesting things that are happening in the world, then explain those things to the public? I think that would be super. Funny no one ever thought of it before.

In the original article, there was a link to, which I tidied out during copy and paste. Now I'm sure the reason the AP writer didn't just link to the USGS release wasn't because the source was clearer, or because the writer worried that it might look as if he/she might have been a little lazy in their transcription interpretation. No, I'm sure it's because they lost the original link. So in the interest of being helpful, it took me over almost 30 seconds to find the agency's press release- though you do have to think a moment to figure out which button the report would have to be filed under. (Hint: click Oregon on the US map)

Oh wow! Looky there!
Editor: In the public interest and in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the USGS is announcing this low-level airborne project. Your assistance in publicizing this information is appreciated.
It is intended first and foremost as a public alert! I wonder why the writer didn't include that part? And looky! There's a contact. Like for more information! Wowsers!
Dear Ms. Lubeck,

I write a blog from Corvallis, Oregon, that deals with geology and other science, as well as a wide variety of other topics. I sometimes disparagingly describe my posts as "shiny things that get my attention for a few minutes," though I'd like to think I have a little more follow though than that. I just came across this article at OregonLive, which I found frustratingly vague, and was able to track down the original press release at the USGS website. That piece clarified the purpose of the news item, but I find myself quite curious about the nature of the survey itself. My bachelors degree is in geology, 1988, and a masters in science education, 1991, so while I'm quite science literate, I frequently find my geology is a bit out of date. I have posted a piece (one of many) complaining about the laziness of science reporting, and in a teasing way, intend to show that it really isn't all that hard to do better. Much of the time, I think it would be difficult to do worse. So my request is this: are there any posted documents on what exactly is being surveyed, what techniques and instruments are being used on the reported fights, and when and how are the results expected to be reported? If not, could you send me a brief description of that information? Please don't put too much work into it- as I mentioned, I'm literate, and can track down information or terms with which I'm not familiar- but I am curious for my own sake, and between RSS subscriptions, "followers," and actual site visits, I estimate I get about 400 to 500 readers a day, so I expect it will help disseminate the message. Plus, I'm disgusted with the state of science journalism, and poke fun at the genre often. I'd hate to miss an opportunity.

Thanks in advance for your help,

Lockwood DeWitt
Gee! Just think! People might actually do this for income... I think I'll call it... "journalism." Watch for a followup.

Update, Wednesday June 23: Followup here.

Tuesday Tits

Tufted Titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor, North America. From Wikipedia

Surprise, Surprise

The NYT is reporting this afternoon that a Judge has blocked the Obama administration's 6-month moratorium on further drilling below 500 feet depth in the GOM (that strikes me as an extremely fitting initialism for the Gulf right now).
In a 22-page ruling, Judge Martin L. C. Feldman of Federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of a May 28 order halting all floating offshore drilling projects in more than 500 feet of water and preventing the government from issuing new permits for such projects.

Citing the economic harm to businesses and workers in the gulf caused by the moratorium, Judge Feldman — a 1983 appointee of President Ronald Reagan — wrote that the Obama administration had failed to justify the need for the sweeping suspension, which he characterized as “generic, indeed punitive.”
To which the administration responded,
Mr. Gibbs said the president “strongly believes that continuing to drill at those depths without knowing what’s happened” in the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and left a well gushing out of control, “makes no sense” and puts people’s lives at risk.
I think that's about right: we don't know exactly what happened, and in fact we may never be able to determine the precise circumstances and chain of events that led to the blowout. But we can probably get a better understanding than we have now, and it's already clear that a lack of oversight on the part of MMS was a contributing factor. We cannot hope for a set of regulations that can guarantee accident-free oil drilling. However, it seems to me that there are a few that wouldn't be too economically restrictive, but would lead to a safer drilling environment. The purpose of the moratorium is not to be "punitive," but to allow our leaders to carefully examine the situation and figure out how to proceed from here.

The status quo has been tested and found lacking. Apparently, Feldman has a hard time seeing that. I wonder what could be impairing his vision? Hmmm... that's a toughie. Think Progress offers a suggestion:
Like many judges presiding in the Gulf region, Feldman owns lots of energy stocks, including Transocean, Halliburton, and two of BP’s largest U.S. private shareholders — BlackRock (7.1%) and JP Morgan Chase (28.3%). Here’s a list of Feldman’s income in 2008 (amounts listed unless under $1,000):

BlackRock ($12000- $36000)
Ocean Energy ($1000 – $2500)
NGP Capital Resources ($1000 – $2500)
Quicksilver Resources ($5000 – $15000)
Hercules Offshore ($6000 – $17500)
Provident Energy
Peabody Energy
PenGrowth Energy
Atlas Energy Resources
Parker Drilling
TXCO Resources
EV Energy Partners
Rowan Companies
BPZ Resources
El Paso Corp
Chesapeake Energy
ATP Oil & Gas
Shorter version: Federal Judge blocks Obama moratorium; cites danger of economic impact to his bank account.

Spelunking in Linville Caverns

Sanford has gone... somewhere... again. Any guesses?
Any other guesses?

So many innnn-teresting people in SC politics these days...

Mercedes Benz

Janis Joplin's version:

The Louisiana senate's version (hat tip to Chris for the link):
"Thus far efforts made by mortals to try to solve the crisis have been to no avail," state Sen. Robert Adley said in a statement released after last week's unanimous vote for the day of prayer. "It is clearly time for a miracle for us."

The resolution names Sunday as a statewide day of prayer in Louisiana and calls on people of all religions throughout the Gulf Coast "to pray for an end to this environmental emergency, sparing us all from the destruction of both culture and livelihood."
Caribou Barbie's version (via Mock, Paper, Scissors):Graph Jam's version- substitute "undrilling" for "unscrewing," and "leaky oil well" for "pregnant lady":
song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

Of course, if God wants to prove me wrong, I'd be more than okay with that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dang, This Has Been a Long Day

Corvallis sunrise this morning: 5:28
sunset this evening: 9:02

As it happens I woke up to go to the bathroom right about sunrise- though I admit I did go back to sleep for a few hours. I commented to the barrista a minute ago, "Darn, this seems like it's been a long day. Maybe tomorrow will feel a bit shorter." It took her a moment. However according to the site where I got those times, rounding to the nearest minute, tomorrow won't feel any shorter at all. Even better, if you take dawn to dusk as your yardstick, rather than sunrise to sunset, the daylight duration is more than an hour longer, 16:48 rather than 15:34.

Today also happened to be the first sunny, warm and mostly clear day we've had in a long time. The forecast for the rest of the week say warmer and more of the same.

Looks like summer is here.

Infrastructure and Mineral Wealth

It was announced a week ago that about a trillion dollars worth of mineral deposits had been discovered in Afghanistan. The original story, in The NYT, is a little misleading if you just skim over the introductory paragraphs:
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
However, if you read the whole thing carefully, a number of important facts show up later.
In 2004, American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.
In other words, these are not "previously unknown deposits," but they were not widely known. To the extent this is "news," the news is that these deposits have been more carefully characterized and quantified during the nearly nine years (!) of US occupation of that country.

I don't know much about the geology of Afghanistan beyond the broad structural setting, but in terms of economic minerals, I've have always seen it described as "poor," and that has always been a little surprising to me. It has a complex history, it is arid, which means exposure is excellent, and it's high relief, which means a great deal of the geologic record should be cut open. In short, even with a largely ignorant first glance, it's the kind of place that I would expect to have some substantial mineral resources.

The reason I'm pulling this out of the memory hole an entire week after the fact is that I often like to mull over things for a while before I discuss them, then some article will click for me, and I find a good way to lay out my thoughts. Today's article from Der Speigel, "Are Claims of Afghan Mineral Wealth a PR Trick?" pushes me to point out the main issue that has been on my mind with respect to this news: infrastructure.

Minerals in the ground have no value if you can't get at them, concentrate them, and process them into useful forms. What does it take to accomplish those tasks?
  • Transportation infrastructure: roads & railroads;
  • Energy infrastructure: first and foremost, electrical generation and delivery systems, but also natural gas and petroleum storage and delivery systems;
  • Financial infrastructure: safe and dependable means to save and transfer money, from enormous industrial transactions, to payroll, to the individual worker's ability to buy groceries;
  • Communication infrastructure: telephones and web;
  • Manufacturing and refining infrastructure- smelters and other facilities to concentrate and process raw minerals into industrially useful materials, and industries that demand those materials, as well as the industrial base to supply basic materials like concrete and steel;
  • All five systems above require enormous capital investments, which requires a cultural respect for, and governmental enforcement of, property rights. You can think of this as cultural infrastructure; it's not a physical entity, but it is very real. People are not going to invest money in a project if they're worried it might be bombed, nationalized, or be run in such a corrupt manner that profits simply disappear. The Spiegel article mentions the difficulties surrounding simple personal safety. Incidents of murder and violence associated with mining are certainly not unknown in the US, but they're news... in Afghanistan, brutality is ho-hum, mundane. It's not an environment conducive to investment.
  • Last but not least, skilled workers- geologists, miners, managers, chemical engineers, factory laborers, on and on. It's not just a matter of pouring money into a hole and getting more money back out; a wide variety of knowledge bases, practical skills and experience is required in terms of human resources to transform worthless rock into a valuable resource.
By my count, the country has almost one of these requirement in place. And I suppose I should mention than an ongoing war is a big red flag in the eyes of potential investors.

Getting at this mineral wealth will require an enormous physical development of Afghanistan's infrastructure, and what may well be an even larger development in terms of its cultural attitudes and norms along with its education and expectations for its future. If your expectation and hope as a farmer is that your children will be able to grow poppies on the land where you're growing poppies, there is little incentive to make sure those kids get a decent high school-equivalent education, little incentive to pay taxes to support such an educational infrastructure, and little incentive to aim high and save for their college education.

A number of articles have been "cautiously" saying that developing these deposits make take "as long as" a decade. From my perspective, that's absurdly optimistic; realistically, I think we're talking at least a generation, say 25 years. Maybe two generations or more. To suppose that that sad country, beset by essentially 30 years of war, external and civil, can transform itself into a modern minerals mecca in a period of ten years is simply unrealistic.

Followup, Tues. June 22: When I started this I meant to include water management, storage and delivery as yet another aspect of infrastructure that is required to develop a modern minerals extraction effort. I also want to point to two very interesting comments from Mule Breath and Silver Fox. To see those, click on the "# people drinking coffee" button below.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Day at The Races

Yesterday's big news and tirade du jour was that Tony Hayward took a day off and took his son to see some yacht race somewhere. Now I'll agree that such upper class recreation doesn't do much for his PR standing, but I think a lot of the reaction has been eye-rollingly over the top. For example, from the linked article,
President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, condemned Hayward's attendance at the event as "part of a long line of PR gaffes and mistakes" on ABC television, adding: "I think that we can all conclude that Tony Hayward is not going to have a second career in PR consulting".
Ooooh! Zinger, Rahm! Didn't Obama go to Chicago to watch a baseball game? Shouldn't he be skipping meals and sleep to get the goo gusher gone? Let alone watching a contest? Several points here:
  1. People do not do their best work under prolonged stress. Breaks and recreation, despite cutting into "work" time, can increase productivity.
  2. Tony Hayward has done squat, as best as I can tell, over the last two months. Getting him the hell away from work might have the unintended side effect of some actual information being released, as opposed to Hayward-approved snake oil, smoke, and mirrors. Does it really matter that he's not going be around to talk about how wonderful he, his company, and the spill are?
  3. The White House should be very cautious about throwing stones. Boldly and alertly springing into action and taking "control" of the situation six weeks after the explosion is not exactly the kind of track record I'd want people paying real close attention to.
Look, I'm no fan of Tony "I know nothing" Hayward, and I don't deny daydreaming endless numbers of appalling "poetic justice" scenarios to reward him for the corporate environment he shaped and cultivated. I want more than I can say to support Obama, and heaven knows I want him to be successful in finding ways forward through the seemingly endless numbers of crises faced by our country and our planet.

But making this kind of fuss over what amounts to a justified break- however bad a PR choice it might be- does nothing to reassure me that this administration has it's eyes on the ball. It makes me think they're paying closer attention to the shiny thing in the third row with the tight halter top. And that pisses me off.

Sunday Funnies

Time to bounce through another edition of Sunday Funnies!Skull Swap
Unfortunate photo angle, from TYWKIWDBI
The High Definite: "Life advice from Angela Merkel."
The Far Left Side
Señor Gif's

I don't do sports, but I thought this was pretty funny... Sofa Pizza
demotivational poster - EXPLOSION
see more demotivators
Bits and Pieces

Yeah, allergies suck. The Daily What
Friends of Irony
ALL the letters... Fuck Yeah Stupid Gifs
demotivational posters - MEANWHILE
see more demotivators

"The Vuvuzela: The most useless, annoying and despised piece of musical plastic since Michael Jackson." Bits and Pieces

Here's a good one at Luke Surl; if you click over, you'll see why I can't do it justice here.PhD Comics
A widespread suggestion for distinguishing US "football" from football. Sofa Pizza
The Daily What
Great White Snark
My First Dictionary
Did You Just Eat Sofa Pizza?
Fuck Yeah Stupid Gifs
Bits and Pieces
Criggo... commemorating dubya's "Assault on Literacy Decade."
demotivational posters - DRUG DEALERS
see more demotivators
Bits and Pieces
Political Pictures - The US Constitution
see more Political Pictures
The High Definite
Let's Be Friends Again
You know, just to show you how it works. Fail Blog
Finished... now what? Skull Swap
From Cake Wrecks... "Those little egg salad sandwiches are actually cake filled with cream cheese icing and marshmallows. Pretty convincing, huh? Oh, and of course that means the birthday 'cake' is...
Señor Gif's
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal