Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Stuff Out There

Four Reactors Affected; Two On Fire
The New York Times reports that four reactors at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant were in various stages of melting down; in addition, several concrete pools for storage of spent fuel rods had lost coolant water, overheated, and exposed the radioactive assemblies to the air -- meaning the stored fuel rods may have begun to melt down.

UPDATE: Shinichi Saoshiro and Chisa Fujioka, reporting from the scene for Reuters, quoted officials in Tokyo (some 150 miles to the south of the Daichi plant) as saying "radiation in the capital was 10 times normal at one point but not a threat to human health in the sprawling high-tech city of 13 million people..."
"Radioactive material will reach Tokyo but it is not harmful to human bodies because it will be dissipated by the time it gets to Tokyo," said Koji Yamazaki, professor at Hokkaido University graduate school of environmental science. "If the wind gets stronger, it means the material flies faster but it will be even more dispersed in the air." ...

Japanese media have became more critical of
[Japanese Prime Minister Naoto] Kan's handling of the disaster and criticized the government, and nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) for their failure to provide enough information on the incident.

Kyodyo News Service reported that Prime Minister Kan angrily complained TEPCO had said nothing to him about the most recent explosion at the plant complex, until an hour after it occurred. Kan allegedly asked the power company's executives, "What the hell is going on?"

All very reassuring.

Pro-Quaddafi Libyan Forces Continue Assault
"Using tanks, heavy artillery and airstrikes, forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi began a sustained assault here on Tuesday," the NYT's Anthony Shadid reported, "seeking to rout a ragtag army of insurgents and would-be revolutionaries holding the last defensive line before the rebel capital of Benghazi."

The West continues to dither about doing -- well, much of anything. Perhaps (as critics of American neutrality before April, 1917, used to say over another U-Boat sinking) we'll issue another strongly-worded note of caution to Quadaffi, requesting he step down from power, please, in yet another speech by Our Leader. I'm sure that will work out very well and by this time tomorrow Libya will be free of brutal authoritarian domination, or foreign influence, and that everyone reading this will receive a Pony.

I've had my war, thanks. I never wanted to see another, but there have been eight that the U.S. has been involved with since (Lebanon, Grenada; Panama; Iraq I; Somalia, Kosovo; Iraq II, and Afghanistan). However, I'm sorry, sports fans, but this is a Morton's Fork dilemma: Act, or not, we can be screwed.

I believed we should make a full-court press through NATO in joint (not unilateral) action to enforce a no-fly zone. That's an amazingly naive and simplistic statement, but there it is; I'm only a Dog. Also however, I believe the opportunity to make that choice has passed, and that the rebels are screwed. We'll go back to monster truck rallies and 600-channel cable teevee. Many of the rebels will end up lining the bottom of a shallow grave.

Saudi Arabia Sends Troops To Bahrain
The world's attention has been turned elsewhere by the civil war in Libya, the massive tragedy in Japan, and Michele Bachmann strangling a puppy on live television while screaming, "This is what I'll give America!" (okay; I made that last one up -- but I'll bet she wants to).

However, in the Middle East, no one has taken a holiday in the continuing protests against authoritarian rule in places like Yemen -- and Bahrain, one of the "oil sheikdoms" of the Persian Gulf.

Protests against corruption and authoritarian rule by the royal family of the small island at the entrance to the Gulf (also possessing a naval base that is the home of the U.S. Twelfth Fleet) have continued for nearly a month. Two days ago, the protestors actually drove riot police away from their encampment in Star Square, a central traffic roundabout. In response, the Bahraini rulers asked for assistance from neighboring Saudi Arabia, which sent some 1,000 troops in armored cars.

No one knows what will happen -- the protestors are refusing to move and rejecting calls to quit Star Square -- but a heavy-handed crackdown may do much more harm than good. The Saudis are frightened at continuing Iranian agitation of the situation, which has fractured along Shiite / Sunni lines -- the rulers of Bahrain are Sunni, while the majority of its citizens are Shiia; and Iran, nominally a Shiite Muslim country, wants to destabilize the power of the Sunni House of Saud.

It's a bad situation from a human rights viewpoint, and from a faultline-in-the-Muslim-world perspective. UPDATE: The U.S. government has issued a statement hoping that the Saudi troops sent to Bahrain will "show restraint", so I'm sure that will just make them behave. Just like QuadaffiDuck will leave Libya and voluntarily turn himself in to the UN Commission on human rights (direction of which was once actually given to Libya), because we've asked him to "step down".

Josh Marshall at TPM tells us that the 91-year-old, newly-elected member of New Hampshire's legislature "who said 'defective people' (including the mentally ill, the retarded and the drug addicted) should be sent to Siberia to die has now resigned."

The New Hampshire Speaker of the House issued this statement: Representative Harty came to my office today to offer his resignation in person. We both agreed that this is what is best for the House to move forward and focus on critical issues, like balancing our budget without raising taxes and giving the voters an opportunity to pass a school funding amendment to ensure local control. We will move quickly to request a special election to fill this vacancy.

Harty's letter of resignation will be read on the New Hampshire House floor today, at which point his seat will be removed and ritually burned in the Concord town square, while the fifty-voice, Cotton Mather Aquarium Church Choir sings, "Marching, Marching To Shibboleth", until we Eat Our Lord's Reward. Step up -- and claim your Tub Of Slaw™.

Sorry; got caught in a Firesign Theatre flashback. As I've said before: So, when do the aliens show up?

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