Andrew Marshall — a Pentagon institution who influenced policy makers from the Cold War to today — has signaled his intention to step down in January, according to sources.
Marshall, 93, heads the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), which months ago was spared the budget ax as part of a restructuring of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Having founded the Pentagon’s internal think tank in 1973, Marshall is the only director it has ever known. His influence over the decades on defense policy analysis in Washington has been vast.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall, which Germany will commemorate next month with an illuminated display of white balloons where the concrete barrier once stood, was one of the most extraordinary events of the 20th century. Not only was it a crucial factor in the eventual shriveling of communism in Europe, it was also a demonstration of what peaceful protest could accomplish in the face of an oppressive government.
But before it fell, the wall did something that most people never think of: It created a massive laboratory for studying human society.
Imagine this: If you were a researcher trying to determine how a political system affects people’s values, beliefs, and behavior, you would ideally want to take two identical populations, separate them for a generation or two, and subject them each to two totally different kinds of government. Then you’d want to measure the results, the same way a medical researcher might give two sets of patients two different pills and then track their progress….
The insights that have piled up since the fall of the wall make it clear how long a single political event can continue to have social and economic effects on the people who lived through it. The marks it left are still being uncovered and measured, more than half a century after the architects of the wall unwittingly made it possible.
Persephone mosaic, found inside a 2,300-year-old tomb near the ancient site of Amphipolis in northern Greece (via National Geographic)
Ebola spreads slower, kills more than other diseases: This simulation [screenshot] shows how quickly 10 diseases, from more fatal to less fatal, could spread from one person to 100 unvaccinated people.
Flu spreads fastest, but kills least. Measles comes in second fastest, with a scary 27 deaths per hundred sick. Past ebola outbreaks have been closer to 90% lethality, which might have kept them more contained than the current crisis. [by Washington Post]
[comments are highly skeptical, but maybe?]
Dubbed the compact fusion reactor (CFR), the device is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, current nuclear systems that rely on fission, the process of splitting atoms to release energy. Crucially, by being “compact,” Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations….
Yet the idea of nuclear fusion, in which atoms combine into more stable forms and release excess energy in the process, is not new. Ever since the 1920s, when it was postulated that fusion powers the stars, scientists have struggled to develop a truly practical means of harnessing this form of energy. Other research institutions, laboratories and companies around the world are also pursuing ideas for fusion power, but none have gone beyond the experimental stage. With just such a “Holy Grail” breakthrough seemingly within its grasp, and to help achieve a potentially paradigm-shifting development in global energy, Lockheed has made public its project with the aim of attracting partners, resources and additional researchers….
To understand the breakthroughs of the Lockheed concept, it is useful to know how fusion works and how methods for controlling the reaction have a fundamental impact on both the amount of energy produced and the scale of the reactor. Fusion fuel, made up of hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, starts as a gas injected into an evacuated containment vessel. Energy is added, usually by radio-frequency heating, and the gas breaks into ions and electrons, forming plasma.
The superhot plasma is controlled by strong magnetic fields that prevent it from touching the sides of the vessel and, if the confinement is sufficiently constrained, the ions overcome their mutual repulsion, collide and fuse. The process creates helium-4, freeing neutrons that carry the released energy kinetically through the confining magnetic fields. These neutrons heat the reactor wall which, through conventional heat exchangers, can then be used to drive turbine generators.
Until now, the majority of fusion reactor systems have used a plasma control device called a tokamak, invented in the 1950s by physicists in the Soviet Union. The tokamak uses a magnetic field to hold the plasma in the shape of a torus, or ring, and maintains the reaction by inducing a current inside the plasma itself with a second set of electromagnets. The challenge with this approach is that the resulting energy generated is almost the same as the amount required to maintain the self-sustaining fusion reaction….
The CFR will avoid these issues by tackling plasma confinement in a radically different way. Instead of constraining the plasma within tubular rings, a series of superconducting coils will generate a new magnetic-field geometry in which the plasma is held within the broader confines of the entire reaction chamber. Superconducting magnets within the coils will generate a magnetic field around the outer border of the chamber. “So for us, instead of a bike tire expanding into air, we have something more like a tube that expands into an ever-stronger wall,” McGuire says. The system is therefore regulated by a self-tuning feedback mechanism, whereby the farther out the plasma goes, the stronger the magnetic field pushes back to contain it….
The team acknowledges that the project is in its earliest stages, and many key challenges remain before a viable prototype can be built. However, McGuire expects swift progress. The Skunk Works mind-set and “the pace that people work at here is ridiculously fast,” he says. “We would like to get to a prototype in five generations. If we can meet our plan of doing a design-build-test generation every year, that will put us at about five years, and we’ve already shown we can do that in the lab.” The prototype would demonstrate ignition conditions and the ability to run for upward of 10 sec. in a steady state after the injectors, which will be used to ignite the plasma, are turned off. “So it wouldn’t be at full power, like a working concept reactor, but basically just showing that all the physics works,” McGuire says.
An initial production version could follow five years after that. “That will be a much bigger effort,” he says, suggesting that transition to full-scale manufacturing will necessarily involve materials and heat-transfer specialists as well as gas-turbine makers. The early reactors will be designed to generate around 100 MW and fit into transportable units measuring 23 X 43 ft. “That’s the size we are thinking of now. You could put it on a semi-trailer, similar to a small gas turbine, put it on a pad, hook it up and can be running in a few weeks,” McGuire says. The concept makes use of the existing power infrastructures to enable the CFR to be easily adapted into the current grid. The 100-MW unit would provide sufficient power for up to 80,000 homes in a power-hungry U.S. city and is also “enough to run a ship,” he notes.
Lockheed estimates that less than 25 kg (55 lb.) of fuel would be required to run an entire year of operations. The fuel itself is also plentiful. Deuterium is produced from sea water and is therefore considered unlimited, while tritium is “bred” from lithium. “We already mine enough lithium to supply a worldwide fleet of reactors, so with tritium you never have too much built up, and that’s what keeps it safe. Tritium would be a health risk if there were enough released, but it is safe enough in small quantities. You don’t need very much to run a reactor because it is a million times more powerful than a chemical reaction,” McGuire notes.
A hand painted in an Indonesian cave dates to at least 39,900 years ago, making it among the oldest such images in the world, archaeologists reported … in a study that rewrites the history of art.
The discovery on the island of Sulawesi vastly expands the geography of the first cave artists, who were long thought to have appeared in prehistoric Europe around that time. Reported in the journal Nature, the cave art includes stencils of hands and a painting of a babirusa, or “pig-deer,” which may be the world’s oldest figurative art.
"Overwhelmingly depicted in Europe and Sulawesi were large, and often dangerous, mammal species that possibly played major roles in the belief systems of these people," says archaeologist and study leader Maxime Aubert of Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.
The finds from the Maros cave sites on Sulawesi raise the possibility that such art predates the exodus of modern humans from Africa 60,000 or more years ago….
In the new study, the researchers investigated mineral layers less than 0.4 inches (10 millimeters) thick covering images in seven caves, and in some cases sandwiching them. Trace amounts of radioactive uranium in these mineral layers reveal when water carried the minerals over the cave wall. Finding the ages of these deposits narrows down the time when the images were painted.
The age discovered for the oldest hand stencil in the cave—39,900 years old—is therefore merely the minimum age of the minerals coating the image, meaning the art could be thousands of years older.
Tethys suspended from Saturn’s A and F rings (by Cassini; via NASA)
Deadly, irrational, and determined, the intruder snuck across a weakened perimeter. Eluding capture, the intruder was detained only after missteps and close calls. The spin began soon after the threat was isolated. Information was selectively leaked. Half-truths and untruths were uttered. Responsibility was avoided; privileges and credentials asserted; authority reasserted. Trust us. Remain calm. Don’t panic.
This is the template of recent events. A mental case jumps the White House fence. He makes it to the East Room before he’s tackled by an off-duty Secret Service agent. Initial statements turn out to be misleading or false. We discover that lapses in security are much worse than previously understood, that in recent memory the White House was sprayed with bullets, and that an armed man with a criminal record rode in an elevator with the president. The official in charge of the Secret Service, promoted for reasons of affirmative action, resigns hours after the White House expresses its confidence in her abilities. The overriding impression is of disarray, confusion, bad management, failed communication, anomie, disillusion, corruption, and secrecy. But do not worry. Things are under control.
The elevator? It was in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where the president told the American people that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is not a threat to our country. President Obama said the chances of Ebola appearing in the United States are “extremely low.” If a carrier somehow finds his way to the 50 states, “We have world-class facilities and professionals ready to respond. And we have effective surveillance mechanisms in place.” Two weeks later, as Byron York points out, the president was proven utterly wrong.
It is the same story as the fence-jumper: lax security, missed opportunities, hollow defenses. A Liberian national exposed to the terrible virus travels on a visa to visit his sister in Dallas. He has a three-hour layover in Dulles Airport. Upon his arrival in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area he exposes, at a minimum, 100 people, including children, to Ebola. When he visits a hospital looking for help, he is examined and sent away. Two days later he begins vomiting uncontrollably. “His whole family was screaming.” An ambulance arrived. He was returned to the hospital, where he remains.
Again, the authorities behave irresponsibly and inscrutably. Again, the faces on our televisions say there is no cause for alarm. “I think the notion that we will not have an outbreak of Ebola here, more than just an isolated person or two, is very reliable and very true,” says MSNBC house doctor Zeke “If You Like Your Doctor You Can Pay More” Emanuel. Emanuel is not bothered in the slightest—but then he has just 18 years left anyway.
I have a second opinion. Not only do I disagree with the constant stream of soothing and complacent rhetoric from Dr. Zeke’s friends in government and media. I also believe it is entirely rational to fear the possibility of a major Ebola outbreak, of a threat to the president and his family, of jihadists crossing the border, of a large-scale European or Asian war, of nuclear proliferation, of terrorists detonating a weapon of mass destruction. These dangers are real, and pressing, and though the probability of their occurrence is not high, it is amplified by the staggering incompetence and failure and misplaced priorities of the U.S. government. It is not Ebola I am afraid of. It is our government’s ability to deal with Ebola.
Over the last few years the divergence between what the government promises and what it delivers, between what it says is happening or will happen and what actually is happening and does happen, between what it determines to be important and what the public wishes to be important—this gap has become abysmal, unavoidable, inescapable. We hear of “lone-wolf” terrorism, of “workplace violence,” that if you like your plan you can keep your plan. We are told that Benghazi was a spontaneous demonstration, that al Qaeda is on the run, that the border is secure as it has ever been, that Assad must go, that I didn’t draw a red line, the world drew a red line, that the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups involved not a smidgen of corruption, that the Islamic State is not Islamic. We see the government spend billions on websites that do not function, and the VA consign patients to death by waiting list and then cover it up. We are assured that Putin won’t invade; that the Islamic State is the jayvee team of terrorism; that Bowe Bergdahl served with honor and distinction; that there is a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia.
Mutnovsky volcano, Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula (by Sergey Krasnoshchokov; via National Geographic)