Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Bartlett Club Today: Nuclear Iran and Nuclear Israel Compared

Nuclear Power: How Did We Get from "Too Cheap to Meter" to "Too Expensive to Clean Up"?

Hanford B Reactor complex in the 1950s
I grew up in western Washington.  We were aware that our homes, schools and factories (Boeing, Kenworth, Pacific Car and Foundry, the ship yards, etc.) were powered by the series of dams that were being built in eastern and southeastern Washington, along the Columbia River.  Electricity was very, very cheap by national standards.

At the same time, largely as a result of the first of the Columbia River's dams, Grand Coulee, massive amounts of electricity were diverted to a secret U.S. Government site along the Columbia's Hanford Reach.  The Hanford Works were created initially to provide Plutonium for the earliest atomic bombs.  Eventually, Hanford created more plutonium than any other single site in the world.

As a result of the plutonium making process and other nuclear experiments and production there, Hanford began to accumulate large volumes of nuclear waste, liquid and solid.  Beginning in the late World War II period, the wastes were put in containment tanks designed to last 20 years.  Most of them are still in tanks, up to 59 years later.

Some of the tanks began leaking soon after the 20-year lifespan had been passed.  The leakers, when detected, were handled in a variety of ways, few of them satisfactory or designed for the long term (20,000 years or so).  New leakers show up from time to time.  Just this month, at least seven new leakers were discovered:
Hanford's one leaking single-shell radioactive waste tank is now six leaking tanks — and possibly more. 
The fix-it measure: That's a mystery for now. 
But it might get revealed in the next few days. Gov. Jay Inslee wants remedial work to start as quickly as possible. 
"We need an action plan at Hanford in a variety of ways," said Inslee Friday afternoon when he announced the new leaking tanks in a phone press conference. Inslee was in Washington, D.C., and had just been briefed by Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu. 
There is no immediate health danger, Inslee said. 
Central Hanford has 149 single-shell tanks and 28 newer double-shell tanks holding 53 million gallons of highly radioactive fluids, sludges, gunk and crusts — all underground. There are 18 clusters of tanks — dubbed "tank farms" — seven to 14 miles from the Columbia River. Sixty-seven of the single-shell tanks have been designated leakers or suspected leakers for decades. Hanford's tanks have design lives of roughly 20 years. 
Hanford has pumped almost all the liquids from the single-shell tanks into the double-shell shells, finishing that task in 2005. The single-shell tanks still hold sludge, gunk and crusts, plus tiny pockets of fluids.
KING TV in Seattle:

 Abby Martin on RT TV:

When I was a kid, in the 1950s and early 1960s, the nuclear prophets and savants promised that nuclear energy would be "too cheap to meter."  Lewis Strauss, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, in 1954:
Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter... It is not too much to expect that our children will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history, will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours, as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age.
Here is the propaganda piece we were forced to watch in school, about the time I was in the 6th grade, Our Friend the Atom:

 The cost of toxic radiological cleanup will ultimately be in the trillions of dollars. Most efforts have been short-term. Scores of thousands of tons of spent fuel rods are suspended above vulnerable reactors, across the USA and planet.

Real estate in Portland Oregon may get really, really cheap, unless something is done soon.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Shell Announces It Will "pause its exploration drilling activity for 2013 in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas"

On Tuesday, Shell Oil's wounded conical drill rig, the Kulluk, was towed out of Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak Island, headed back to Dutch Harbor, and from there, to a Korean shipyard.

Today, the oil giant announced the following:
“We’ve made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term programme that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way,” said  Marvin Odum, Director, Upstream Americas.  “Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people following the drilling season in 2012.” 
Alaska holds important energy resources. At the same time, securing access to those resources requires special expertise, technology and an in depth understanding of the environmental and societal sensitivities unique to the region. Shell is one of the leaders in an industry move into offshore Arctic exploration. The company continues to use its extensive experience in Arctic and sub-Arctic environments to prepare for safe activities in Alaska. 
Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future. If exploration proves successful, resources there would take years to develop.
Shell's other rig which had been used in their trouble-plagued 2012 season, the Noble Discoverer, is berthed in Seward, Alaska, awaiting arrival of a giant floating, powered dry dock, which will bring it to an Asian ship yard.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, according to my talk with his D.C. staff last week, has moved his Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard hearing or hearings on Shell's 2012-2013 conduct from March to May, but provided no further detail.

The Department of Interior will be issuing their report on Shell's permit to drill in the Arctic by March 10th.

The U.S. Coast Guard has turned their findings on the Noble Discoverer's severe shortcomings over to the U.S. Justice Department, for possible criminal prosecution.

And the blog, Alaska Chinook, is reporting the following:
According to reliable sources, a member of the Alaska delegation may soon be under indictment for back-door pressuring the EPA to allow SHELL to move forward with its 2012 drilling program – which culminated with environmental crimes. When it became known that contaminated engine fuel could not meet the EPA “Air Quality” permitting and such would have caused SHELL to vacate any attempts to continue its 2012 exploration program, a project that has seen a whole lot of discomfort and controversy so far, instead of not backing off and adhering to its permitting criteria, SHELL was given the “Green light” to continue on with its program.
Stormy weather ahead for Shell.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The 2013 Seeds Arrived - Time to Start Planting

I've been waiting on our Baker Creek seed order to get here, so I might start all the 2013 tomatoes together.  I'll be planting our own Stupice and Green Zebra tomatoes from saved seeds.

FedEx bought the new ones this afternoon, just after I got back from minor surgery - a cyst - in Wasilla.

New for 2013 are parsnips, rutabagas, Red orach, Minowase daikon radish and lavender.

We'll be growing cauliflower and shiso for the first time in five years, burdock for the first time in three.

When I got back from the medical stuff today, it was sunny at the house, and 62 degrees F in the green house.

Spring is right around the corner.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Alaska Chinook Reports Possible Indictment of Begich, Murkowski or Young Over Shell Drilling Pressure

According to Alaska Chinook, which sometimes is ahead of the curve, sometimes not:
According to reliable sources, a member of the Alaska delegation may soon be under indictment for back-door pressuring the EPA to allow SHELL to move forward with its 2012 drilling program – which culminated with environmental crimes. When it became known that contaminated engine fuel could not meet the EPA “Air Quality” permitting and such would have caused SHELL to vacate any attempts to continue its 2012 exploration program, a project that has seen a whole lot of discomfort and controversy so far, instead of not backing off and adhering to its permitting criteria, SHELL was given the “Green light” to continue on with its program.
I'll be making some phone calls Monday to see if anyone else believes this might be about to happen.

Sen. Begich, according to my talk with his D.C. staff last week, has moved his Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard hearing or hearings on Shell's 2012-2013 conduct from March May, but provided no further detail.

The Department of Interior will be issuing their report on Shell's permit to drill in the Arctic by March 10th.

Sen. Murkowski is threatening to put a hold on the nomination of Sally Jewell to succeed Ken Salazar as Interior Secretary, until Obama promises to build a road between King Cove and Cold Bay.

Rep. Young has been notably quiet on Shell since January.

Trying to Master Sourdough While Contemplating Catastrophic Global Warming

I.  One of my new year's resolutions is to become a decent bread baker.  In many ways I'm close to being a gourmet cook, but bread making is something I've neglected.

I buy bread at the store.  I'm getting increasingly frustrated, though, at the lack of excellent bakery bread available in stores in southcentral Alaska.  When we travel to Seattle, Portland, Oregon or California, the excellent Italian and French style breads readily available from local bakeries overwhelms me so much, I stuff loaves to bring north into empty coolers that brought seafood down from Alaska.

The kind of bread I crave the most that one cannot get here, is the rustic sourdough loaf, with a crunchy crust, big bubble holes in the bread itself, and a tangy, sourdough taste.  So, I've started trying to make that.

In the past, I've tried various sourdough starter recipes - some using yeast, some using yoghurt, some just relying on time itself to create a usable, somewhat stable lactobacillus.

In light of the new year's resolution, I searched the web for the most interesting sourdough starter recipe.  One that seemed quite strange, but fascinating, involved whole wheat flour and pineapple juice.  I decided to try it.  The site that had both that method and good word and video backup is called Breadtopia.

Supposedly, the pineapple juice starter initiator method was created by Debra Wink, back in early 2008.

Breadtopia's sourdough starter recipe takes a couple days or more longer to get going than many others, but it goes like this:
Step 1. Mix 3 ½ tbs. whole wheat flour with ¼ cup unsweetened pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for 48 hours at room temperature. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. (“Unsweetened” in this case simply means no extra sugar added). 
Step 2. Add to the above 2 tbs. whole wheat flour and 2 tbs. pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for a day or two. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. You should see some activity of fermentation within 48 hours. If you don’t, you may want to toss this and start over (or go buy some!) 
Step 3. Add to the above 5 ¼ tbs. whole wheat flour and 3 tbs. purified water. Cover and set aside for 24 hours. 
Step 4. Add ½ cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 to 1/3 cup purified water. You should have a very healthy sourdough starter by now.
Back in early February, I did just that.  I even juiced my own pineapple for freshness.  The starter evolved just as it was supposed to.  I tried it.

The first time was a failure - the bread did not rise much at all over a twelve-hour period.  It didn't taste tangy.  I figured the house wasn't warm enough.

The second time, the bread rose some, but was still brick-like.  It tasted a bit tangy.

The third time, I tried mixing in rye flour.  The bread rose a bit more, and tasted tangier.  I didn't call it a success, though, just "progress."  I turned most of the loaf into croutons for a King crab Caesar salad.

The fourth time, shown at the top of the article, was considered a success, by everyone who tasted it, and the loaf disappeared quickly.  I followed this recipe like a fundamentalist Christian might follow the Book of Numbers.

Here's what the replenished starter looks like today.  Yesterday, shortly after adding flour and water, it brewed over.

How have you done at sourdough bread making, or at artisan bread baking?

II.  Friday, I ended a diary on the possible criminal investigation of Shell Oil's Arctic drilling ship, Noble Discoverer, with a "side note," describing my frustration that more and more, I feel less certain humans are capable of avoiding a climate catastrophe that might even turn into an extinction event, or something akin to the effects of the Toba eruption, about 70,000 years ago. 

In Antarctica, a relatively small ice sheet, Pine Glacier, and an undersea rock, throttle back the galloping movement of Thwaites Glacier.  Were the throttling to stop, Penn State Prof. Richard Alley observed at a conference earlier in February, "if Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica were to cease being pinched or grounded its surge would raise sea level by three meters.

"Nature has done much faster things before, so fast that their passing leaves no signs of its actual happening, just a discontinuity of before and after."

A three-meter sea rise (from one glacial system alone!) would mean the dislocation of  a significant percentage of world population, and the flooding of over two-thirds of the operating nuclear reactors.

So many of the scariest aspects of climate change are things we didn't even know about forty years ago, thirty years ago, twenty, ten - or even five.  This indicates that as computing power grows, there will be even more we discover that is unknown.

Hopefully, some of these discoveries will be mitigators.  Unfortunately, though, the bottom line, a Prof. E. O. Wilson observed, is "ecological footprint is already too large for the planet to sustain, and it is getting larger."

One commenter to my Friday diary's climate change conclusion, draftmama, wrote:
We have been quietly preparing for when it all falls apart. I am sorry that my daughter is hoping to get pregnant because I fear in less than 40 years the world will be a cross between Blade Runner and Mad Max. 
We purchased 10 acres, grow and raise all our own food, and since we are 60 +- hopefully will be able to survive. The planet? Not so much. 
I think the story of dropping poisoned mice to kill the brown tree snakes in Guam which have destroyed the bird population (they think there are maybe 500 birds left) is a perfect metaphor for what we have done to the earth.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to own or have 10 acres well more than three meters above sea level, upwind from any nuclear plants.  There need to be thousands of green discoveries for urban people, all of them more significant than this algae-powered, CO2-eating lamp:

Meanwhile, I'll learn more out cultivating sourdough, as I approach the beginning of my 40th year in Alaska.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

U.S. Coast Guard Investigation on Shell Alaska Drilling Rig Turned Over to U.S. Department of Justice

Shell Oil's three main components to their plans to get an Arctic offshore drilling regime going before competitors showed up went off the rails in 2012:

•  The Arctic Challenger, their alleged cleanup rig, spectacularly failed its early September tests in Puget Sound, under idyllic conditions.  It wasn't even deployed to Alaska, which forced Shell to have to drill shallow holes in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

• The Kulluk, an ungainly rig the size of the aircraft carrier Hornet,that took the Doolittle raid across the Pacific in April 1942, was ground severely on the Kodiak Island area coast for a week, during winter storms.

•  The obsolete and decrepit drill vessel Noble Discoverer had one problem after another, as it was forced beyond its limited capabilities.

2013 promises no changes, as the global giant is reeling from worldwide challenges to its rapacious business model.  Additionally, its failed Alaska offshore season is about to be scrutinized more closely, and more publicly, than British Petroleum was looked at in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In the first of what may become a cascade of U.S. government announcements, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Friday that they have turned their findings on the drill vessel Noble Discoverer over to the U.S. Justice Department:
The Coast Guard found the Noble Discoverer could not go fast enough to safely maneuver on its own in all the expected conditions found in Alaska’s Arctic waters. 
The Coast Guard also found “systematic failure and lack of main engine preventative maintenance,” which caused a propulsion loss and exhaust system explosion. 
Among other issues listed were inoperable equipment used to measure the oil in water that is dumped overboard, improper line splices throughout the engine room, piston cooling water contaminated with sludge and an abnormal propeller shaft vibration. 
Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said he couldn’t discuss the details because the investigation has been forwarded to the Justice Department. Wadlow declined to say whether the Coast Guard believed criminal penalties could be warranted.
Shell announced early this week that the vessel under investigation is exiting the Western Hemisphere from Seward, Alaska, where it has been impounded since early November, on a dry tow vessel, destined for an Asian shipyard where, supposedly, it will be turned into some sort of perfect, or at least adequate ship, for extricating oil from under the Arctic Ocean's floor.  There have been no announcements on how the DOJ involvement in the vessel might have an impact on Shell's tow plan. 

Within three weeks, the U.S. Department of Interior will be issuing their 60-day reassessment of Shell's Arctic drilling plan, which has been somewhat torpedoed by the USCG announcement.  A negative assessment by DOI will set Shell back years, possibly driving their  stock share price into a major dip.

Independent of the findings on the Noble Discoverer, the USCG will be conducting a mandatory set of hearings into the December 31st grounding of the drill rig Kulluk, off the south shores of Kodiak Island.  That seriously damaged vessel is scheduled to be towed by two tugs to Dutch Harbor when harsh winter weather abates.  From there, it will also exit the Western Hemisphere and American scrutiny.

Alaska Senator Mark Begich has vowed to hold hearings on this, but has backed off from holding them in March.  His office told me Wednesday that it is looking more like the hearings will be in May.

I'm surprised that Shell's Alaska management structure has remained intact though what has to have been the most poorly managed energy project season in our state's history.  There will probably be a lot of heads rolling there before the end of May, though.

What may be most interesting to watch over the late winter and spring might be the way politicians pile on to Shell, so as to show they "really care" about responsible oil development, etc. - while other oil concerns ramp up their efforts to do their own offshore Arctic projects. And their political contributions to such politicians.

 As a side note:  I'm finding it more and more difficult to write about this and other subjects, here and elsewhere.  I think the evidence of impending catastrophic climate change, combined with the vulnerability of global nuclear waste are far, far more serious than even most environmental progressives yet realize.

Increasingly, I feel there is nothing you, I, or anyone can do to prevent a catastrophe that will reduce the worldwide human population by at least 75% within the next 75 years.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Collision Between Kulluk Foss Tug and Crowley Tug Ocean Wave

Details later.

From an anonymous informant:
there was a collision between the Ocean Wave and one of the Foss tugs. The Ocean Wave was t-boned by the Foss tug.  The harbormaster thought that the collision occurred in Kiliuda Bay or near there about five days ago. Quality Marine has already applied an external patch and is working on internal damage now here in Kodiak. 
Above, Tug Ocean Wave.

Below, Tug Corbin Foss.

And below, the proposed towing scheme.  When I saw this drawing, I thought, Oh, no!"

Update:  Lisa Demer from the ADN picked up the story from the USCG later Tuesday afternoon.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Just out of the oven.  Might be the best loaf of bread I've ever baked.  

Sourdough whole wheat.  

Judy likes it too.

Sourdough Bread and the New Snowblower

Miscellaneous images:

Above, a loaf of sourdough bread I baked.  One of my new year's resolutions is to become adept at bread making.  So far, the results are spotty.

Below, is my new snowblower, a tracked 26-inch wide, 9HP Troy model.  It is the third one I've owned in 23 years.  The last one before this was a 28-inch wide Craftsman, wheeled model that I disliked from day one.  This one is sweet.

La Gazza Ladra Overture - Or is It the Thieving Magpie Overture

On March 29th, the Anchorage Civic Orchestra's winter concert will open with Gioachino Rossini's overture to his 1817 opera, La Gazza Ladra.  It is one of the composer's greatest orchestral works.  Opening with a slow, yet brilliant march, it features percussion, especially the snare drum that opens the piece with three drum rolls.

The march gives way to a delightful, almost spritely allegro in triple time that features a couple of Rossini's signature long, dramatically building crescendos from incredibly soft to absolutely, stunningly loud.

Rehearsing the overture has been a lot of fun so far, as the ensemble seems thrilled by the way the music seems to drive itself, without the conductor having to be too obtrusive.  They can almost play it by themselves already.

Here is Gustavo Dudamel, directing the Los Angeles Philharmonic in this masterpiece:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Is Bill Maher Coming Around on the Israel Lobby's Influence?

I'm not a big fan of Bill Maher.  His movie Religulous, left out how the nuttiness of some practitioners of one major religion, influence the politics of Israel, for instance.  His reputation for being a mild misogynist is pretty firmly established.  He's somewhat of an Obamabot.

Back in 2010, he confronted Oliver Stone, when the latter was defending Palestinian rights under Israeli occupation:

 Maher's argument in the above case was effectively countered by Stone, who brings up AIPAC. Rachel Maddow sat on her thumbs throughout the whole exchange on Israel-Palestine. Maher's problem in the exchange, like that of so many, is to obfuscate when it comes to individual Palestinian rights per se. Yesterday on his show, Maher, defending Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, seemed upset about undue influence by people and organizations supporting Israel over U.S. policy making. The GOP being the case: The two segments show possible signs of evolution by Maher in respect to the conventional narrative about that pesky little country.

Envision Mat-Su to Begin Co-Hosting Contra Dances in the Valley

click on the poster to enlarge

Saturday, February 16, 2013

More Thoughts on Shell's Botched 2012 Arctic Season and Their Dismal Chances for 2013

Since Shell announced that both the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer will be "dry towed" to Asia for incredibly costly repairs, there hasn't been a whole lot written in the Alaska press or on Alaska blogs on what this means for Shell's possibility of even having a 2013 season.  The few assessments in, including mine, aren't positive.

The most pessimistic, and perhaps realistic assessment outside of Alaska I've read since the dry tow announcement has been by Michael Eboh, writing for AllAfrica:
James West, an analyst with Barclays Capital, said that aside from the Kulluk, there are only two other rigs able to operate in sea-ice conditions - the Orlan and the SDC Drilling Rig - but neither appears to be available.  
The Orlan is part of drilling and production operations at the massive Exxon Mobil Corp. and OAO Rosneft joint project off Sakhalin Island in Russia.  
Continuing, he said, even if a pair of new rigs was found to do the work they would likely need to undergo modifications for the job, and Shell would have to file amendments to its drilling permits to use the vessels.
Shell is also required to have vessels used in their Alaska Arctic drilling program approved by relevant US agencies.  Which brings to mind a few questions:

1).  As I've previously written, based on Shell's own estimates, the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer may not even make it to Asia shipyard dry docks until mid to late April.  Whether the work will take a few weeks or a couple of months, the vessels will then have to be inspected and recertified by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Can that be done in Asia?  I don't know, but seriously doubt it.  So, would Shell then risk bringing them to Alaska upon repair and modification completion for inspection, where some of the work might not be able to be done, or head them to Puget Sound or further south?

All of this eats up time.

2).  The U.S. Department of Interior 60-day review of Shell's 2012 operations, announced on January 8th, is due to be completed before March 10th (emphasis added):
Interior said the review, which will include technical assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, will identify “challenges and lessons learned.”  
“The review, which is expected to be completed within 60 days, will pay special attention to challenges that Shell encountered in connection with certification of its containment vessel, the Arctic Challenger; the deployment of its containment dome; and operational issues associated with its two drilling rigs, the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk,” Interior said.  
The review will examine Shell’s safety management, oversight of contractors and ability to meet federal standards for development in the Arctic climate.
There has been remarkably little written about this since the Salazar announcement.  The now outgoing Secretary stated last summer, "I will hold their feet to the fire in terms of making sure that we are doing everything we can to abide by the standards and regulations we have set, and to make sure that the environment and the Arctic seas are protected."

That was before the catastrophic failure of the Arctic Challenger's containment dome, the Noble Discover's USCG impoundment and the Kulluk's grounding.  Will Obama's push to make America "energy independent" trump holding Shell's feet to the fire in the DOI review?  I'm not optimistic.

3).  Senator Begich's Washington D.C. office has told me his hearing or hearings by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard (which he chairs) will be held in March, but have not provided further details.  If Interior, not wanting to muck up the environment for the Sally Jewell nomination hearings, decides to sit on their review, will Begich have the spine to go out there first, at the same time the damned (I mean the term literally) rigs are exiting the Western hemisphere?  We will see.

4).  What appeared a few months ago to be the weak link in Shell's three-legged special vessel drilling scheme, the Arctic Challenger, hasn't been heard about in a long while.  Has the new, armored containment dome been tested?  We don't know.

5).  The Unified Command has drawn down, disbanded for now.  It may have been premature.  There's a lot of shitty weather possible between now and late April, between Kodiak and Korea.

Her's a video of the Doolittle B-25's, being launched in the area these rigs will be dry towed through in April, on April 18, 1942:

The Hornet, from which the Doolittle raid B-25's were launched, was about the same tonnage as the Kulluk, only more seaworthy.  See how the Hornet almost gets buried at the bow in some late April waves.

Here is an image of how the Kulluk is to be towed to Dutch.  Not looking good:

Here is an image of the USS Cole on an ocean lift vessel like the one the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer will have to mount and safely ride.  The Cole displaces a third of the Kulluk's tonnage:

Here is an image of the same lift vessel, the Blue Marlin, carrying the X-band radar SBX vessel.  This useless boondoggle displaces 50,000 tons, which is almost twice the Kulluk:

Here is an image I took in August 2011, comparing size of the Kulluk to the SBX:

Here is the same situation, shot from a better angle by Shell:

We're a long way from seeing these ill-starred rigs getting to the places they now have to go.

One thing that strikes me about Alaska coverage of all this, is how little Shell has put into Alaska itself in a positive way.  The North Slope and Cook Inlet oil companies that work here all have tried to contribute to organizations and infrastructure in the communities where they work.  I'm fairly cynical about how that relates to their overall Alaska profits, but they have contributed.

What has Shell done?  Not much.

Yet the cost of this one monumental series of fuckups has cost enough to build any number of things here in Alaska:

The new UAA sports complex.

or fund AWAIC for the next five centuries.

or start a program to educate every high school graduate within 250 miles of where Shell will drill for the next 300 years.


Crosscurrents Presents Nora Marks Dauenhauer, Alaska's Writer Laureate, Tuesday at the Wilda Marston Theater

(click to enlarge)

On Bears, the Chelyabinsk Event, the Tunguska Event, John Bolton, Chuck Hagel - and Other Matters

Artist's impression of 1908 Tunguska explosion
At the Booman Tribune, BooMan speculates about actual and hypothetical reactions to Thursday's explosion in the sky over the Siberian region near Chelyabinsk.  He is concerned that had the explosion happened at the height of Cold War tensions, and in another region of the world, the explosion might have been misread as a hostile nuclear explosion, and provoked a thermonuclear response from the USA or USSR.  BooMan ties this in with an episode on Carl Sagan's Cosmos, and the interception back in early February, near Guam of a Russian Tu-95 Bear long range patrol aircraft:
Russia sent a couple of nuclear-capable bombers to circle around Guam, forcing us to scramble intercepters. This makes me a little nervous on a day that a meteorite blew up in the Russian sky with more power than the bombs we dropped on Japan. Carl Sagan once did an episode of Cosmos dedicated to discussing The Tunguska Event. The Tunguska Event was a still not perfectly understood catastrophe that happened in Siberia in 1908. It was probably a comet, a fragment of a comet, or an asteroid that exploded in the air and caused non-radioactive damage equivalent to our first test with a thermonuclear hydrogen bomb. Dr. Sagan pointed out that a similar explosion in the nuclear age might have been interpreted as an attack which required full scale retaliation, thereby ending all intelligent life on Earth.
It is beginning to appear, according to NASA, that the explosion was even more powerful than what BooMan relates:
The 55 foot wide rock, said by Nasa to have a mass of 10,000 tonnes, lit up the sky above the Urals region on Friday morning, causing shockwaves that injured 1,200 people and damaged thousands of homes in an event unprecedented in modern times.  
Nasa estimated that the energy released as the meteor's disintigrated in the atmosphere was 500 kilotons, around 30 times the size of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 
It entered the atmosphere at 44,000 miles per hour, taking 32.5 seconds to break up at an altitude of around 15 miles above the earth's surface.

That is a lot of energy.  However, it is still only about 1 percent of the power of the largest hydrogen bomb explosion on record, the 50 megaton Tsar Bomba.  The May, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington state, was measured at 24 megatons.

BooMan, comparing the Cold War, Chelyabinsk, Tunguska and the Guam overfly by a Bear aircraft, as prescient as his article is, missed a couple of points.

The first is that conservative media coverage of the Guam near-overflight  in the Washington Free Beacon makes it out to be something out of the ordinary (emphasis added):
Two Russian nuclear-armed bombers circled the western Pacific island of Guam this week in the latest sign of Moscow’s growing strategic assertiveness toward the United States.

The Russian Tu-95 Bear-H strategic bombers were equipped with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and were followed by U.S. jets as they circumnavigated Guam on Feb. 12 local time—hours before President Barack Obama’s state of the union address.
The article adds:
The bomber incident was considered highly unusual. Russian strategic bombers are not known to have conducted such operations in the past into the south Pacific from bomber bases in the Russian Far East, which is thousands of miles away and over water.
However, NBC News actually quotes USAF sources, and states:
According to one military official, the Russian Bear bombers remained in international airspace, the encounter between the U.S. and Russian aircraft “stayed professional” and there was no incident. The official said it’s impossible to determine whether the Russian bombers carried any nuclear weapons.
The NBC article goes on:
U.S. military officials say “it’s highly unusual but not unprecedented” that Russian bombers would fly training missions in the vicinity of Guam. According to one official, “It wasn’t provocative but it certainly got our attention.” U.S. long-range B-52 bombers, also capable of carrying nuclear weapons, are based at Guam.
Not unprecedented actually minimizes what happened.

There is an extraordinarily high amount of military activity going on in the Pacific recently.  The USA is pressuring Australia to increase basing of our military personnel significantly.  Japan and China are feuding over islands, atolls, rocks  and reefs.  North Korea's intent to explode another nuclear device has been known or predicted for a while.  They actually informed most local governments and the USA of their intent to test the weapon.

Tu-95's and their Russian naval version, the Tu-142, have been around the Pacific for over 55 years.  They've been around Alaska for all that time.  Here's a picture of one being intercepted near US territory in the 1950s, by a Canadian F-101, an aircraft removed from frontline service in the 1960s:

Here's a picture of one intercepted near Alaska recently:

The Washington Beacon article goes on to quote conservative nutcase, John Bolton:
John Bolton, former U.N. ambassador and former State Department international security undersecretary, said the Russian bomber flights appear to be part of an increasingly threatening strategic posture in response to Obama administration anti-nuclear policies.  
“Every day brings new evidence that Obama’s ideological obsession with dismantling our nuclear deterrent is dangerous,” Bolton said. “Our national security is in danger of slipping off the national agenda even as the threats grow.”
The second thing BooMan and others miss is that the Beacon article goes on to point out that somewhat "unprecedented" joint military activities are being conducted on Guam, led by the USA.

Russia has a huge amount of coast bordering on the Pacific rim.  They are currently developing large offshore oil and gas reserves in the Sakhalin and Sea of Okhotsk areas.  50-year old Russian reconnaissance aircraft keeping tabs on potentially challenging developments are normal, not "unusual."  I've witnessed aspects of it myself.  Long ago.

Back in late August, 1982, I was on the crew of the Crowley tug, Sea Giant, exiting the Arctic, after having brought the icebreaking barge Arctic Challenger from Seattle to Prudhoe Bay, and then picking up another barge in Kotzebue.  We were headed through the Bering Strait, en route to Captain's Bay, Unalaska.
Sea Giant 1982 - drawing by Philip Munger

As we approached the narrow portion of the straits, two IL-38 aircraft were observed from deck and bridge, circling us.  One stayed fairly high, over 5,000 feet above.  The other descended to under 500 feet.  It began making runs at our tug and barge from several aspects, particularly checking where we had just been.
Indian Navy IL-38
On the bridge, the captain and first mate were speaking softly to each other, then they chuckled. I asked the first mate what was up.  He told me, "We're probably masking a 'boomer.'"

He explained that ballistic missile-equipped nuclear submarines often took advantage of the turbulence in the wakes of barges going through the straits to either enter or exit Arctic waters.  The Bering Straits are so shallow it would be hard to hide a sub's movement through it, even underwater, unless somehow masked.

In spite of the Washington Free Beacon and John Bolton's takes on this, these games have been going on for generations, and will no doubt continue for a long time.

There have been close calls.  There will be more.

Let's hope people like John Bolton are not in positions to make decisions then.  Far better for Chuck Hagels to make split-second decisions.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Come Listen to the Chugach Brass Perform My Aleutian Sketches Saturday in Soldotna

Volcano Woman by John Hoover - Anchorage Egan Center - image by Philip Munger
Back in 2010, the University of Alaska Anchorage resident brass trio, the Chugach Brass, commissioned me to compose music for an upcoming concert they were to perform in Unalaska.  I decided to honor the Unalaska-Dutch Harbor area, and the Aleutians.  The result, Aleutian Sketches, for trumpet, French horn, trombone and piano, received its premiere in Unalaska in May, 2010.

The last movement of the four-movement suite honors my favorite sculpture (at the top of this post) by the late Alaska Native sculptor, John Hoover.  Volcano Woman is the Native art centerpiece of the main lobby of Anchorage's Egan Center.  I wrote about his sculpture and my music about it two years ago.

The Chugach Brass will be playing a lot of other works in Soldotna Saturday.  Here are links to two articles about the upcoming concert.

7:30 pm Saturday at Christ Lutheran Church

Here are the Chugach Brass, performing Aleutian Sketches, in October 2011, at UAA:

Come Hear About Envision Mat-Su Today at the Bartlett Club

Obama Inaction on Climate Change Forces Historic Sierra Club White House Civil Disobediance

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune is arrested outside the White House
In regard to the pressing, growing catastrophes caused by human-induced climate change, which are killing thousands, and promise to kill millions, if not billions of people in the future, Obama has mostly done what he's best at: lie a little, promise a little, and kick the fucking can down the road a bit further.  His dithering on the Keystone XL pipeline is a case in point.

Frustration on this issue alone has forced the Sierra Club to reverse its 120-year old policy regarding civil disobedience:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Prominent environmental leaders, including the head of the Sierra Club, were arrested Wednesday after tying themselves to the White House gate to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline. 
Executive director Michael Brune is the first Sierra Club leader in the group's 120-year history to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience. The club's board of directors approved the action as a sign of their opposition to the $7 billion pipeline, which would carry oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. 
Activist Bill McKibben, actress Daryl Hannah, civil rights leader Julian Bond and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also were arrested Wednesday, along with several dozen other activists. 
The protesters are demanding that President Barack Obama reject the pipeline, which they say would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming. They also worry about a spill.
Here's Democracy Now's coverage of this historic event, from today's edition:
I've been criticized for not taking Obama's inaugural address comments on the environment at face value.  Believe me, I hope that I am wrong.

We should be getting better signs soon on whether or not there will be meaningful changes on major issues during Obama's second term.  March 7th is the date that the Department of Interior's review of Shell oil's Arctic Drilling program is due to be made public.

Meanwhile, the Obama White House-linked Department of Interior Office of Inspector General continues to put pressure on Shell's and Obama's witch hunt target, Dr. Charles Monnett:
Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Interior has found no scientific error in a high profile research paper by its scientists on sightings of polar bears drowned in open water following a storm, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This is another black eye for the agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG), which has waged a controversial but fruitless campaign against the paper’s authors for nearly three years.  
Since March 2010 the IG has vigorously pursued unspecified allegations about the peer-reviewed observational note published in a 2006 issue of the journal Polar Ecology, which galvanized public understanding of the effects of sea ice loss and other climate changes in the Arctic. The lead author is Dr. Charles Monnett, a senior scientist with Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).  
In late September 2012, the IG finally published its investigative report into the matter after BOEM rejected the IG recommendations that it take actions relative to both the paper and a joint U.S./Canadian polar bear research project. In a highly unusual step, the IG re-opened the case after it had been closed in order to request that BOEM commence a new scientific misconduct investigation. In a January 23, 2013 memo, Dr. Bradley Blythe, the BOEM Scientific Integrity Officer, rebuffed this latest IG overture:  
“Upon completion of my review, I have no findings of violations of the DOI Policy on Scientific and Scholarly Integrity [citation omitted] that would merit a further review of this case…I consider this matter closed.”  
Despite this second turn-down, the case remains in an open status while the “office is evaluating the response from the bureau,” according to an IG official in a February 8, 2013 email.  
“This outcome only underlines that this entire investigation was a misbegotten travesty that should never have taken place,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization provided legal representation for the scientists. “We can only hope that the IG’s Lazarus-like vendetta does not rise from the grave again. What part of ‘No’ doesn’t the IG understand?”
The part of "no" the DoI IG doesn't understand is the part, probably coming from the White House, that Monnett must be made an example of - like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and dozens of other whistleblowers Obama's people have hounded, tortured or imprisoned.  Other potential whistleblowers see this, and decide "No fucking way am I going to stick my head up!"

Two Valentines Day Salmon Thoughts - from Ray Troll and Mark Begich

Above, is Ray Troll's Valentine.

Below, is a frankenfish cartoon.

Sen. Mark Begich, on facebook this morning:
What did the Frankenfish say to the Atlantic Salmon on Valentine’s Day?  
I want to get in your genes.
Happy Valentines Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chas Freeman on U.S. Grand Strategy Failures in the Middle East

Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and President Emeritus of the Middle East Policy Council, Chas Freeman spoke there four weeks ago. He's a realist, which makes him unpopular in Washington D.C, particularly among those who are often called "Israel- Firsters."
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Former President, MEPC) argues that the state of Israel craves land more than peace and that the U.S. de facto abandonment of the two-state solution is a boon for settlement expansion and harmful to U.S. influence in the region. He asserts that U.S. support for Israel, combined with anti-Islamism and growing use of drones, precludes a U.S. grand strategy in the Middle East.  
From the Middle East Policy Council's 71st Capitol Hill Conference, "U.S. Grand Strategy in the Middle East: Is there One?" This event was held January 16, 2013, in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC. Full video and an unedited transcript can be found at

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Kulluk and Noble Discoverer to Both Be “Dry Towed” to Asia for Costly Repairs

Drill Rig Nautilus, being "dry towed" by Black Marlin
Shell Oil has finally gone public with the story first carried anywhere back in January by firedoglake, that their conical drill rig, Kulluk, will be taken from Kiliuda Bay in Kodiak to Asia for major repairs. Additionally, their powered drill rig, Noble Discoverer, berthed in Seward, Alaska since being impounded by the U.S. Coast Guard in November, will be "dry towed" across the North Pacific to a shipyard in Asia.

Their destination is almost certainly South Korea:
Both the much maligned Noble Discoverer and Kulluk, who have faced serious mechanical difficulties since completing Arctic drilling operations off of Alaska's Arctic Continental Shelf last summer, will be headed to Asia soon according to a statement from Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith. 
The Kulluk, which has remained anchored off of Kodiak Island since its New Year's Eve grounding, will be towed from there to the international Port of Dutch Harbor pending a tow plan approval. From Dutch Harbor, the 266-foot diameter conical drilling unit will then be dry-towed to a ship yard in Asia with a suitable dry dock. 
The Discoverer's operator, Noble Drilling Corp., will also dry-tow the Discoverer from its current location in Seward to South Korea. 
“The outcome of further inspections for both rigs will determine the shipyard schedule and timing of their return to service,” Smith said in the statement. 
When exactly the rigs will leave Alaska is unclear. A representative from Unified Command, the joint operation involving Shell, U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, could not say whether the vessel remained in Kiliuda Bay Monday. They noted that the latest information on the vessel was on the command's website -- which hasn't been updated since Jan. 30.
A "dry tow" or "dry-tow" is movement of a vessel on the deck of a large, semi-submerible ship, or powered, floating drydock.

For some reason, the transponders of all the vessels in and around the Kulluk in Kiliuda Bay, were turned off on January 30th and 31st, two days after I announced the contemplated Asia decision, and the same day Dan Joling from the Associated Press picked up the story, so it is difficult to know where the tug Aiviq is right now, for instance.

Lisa Demer, writing on the new development early this morning for the Anchorage Daily News, notes:
It has big vessels for the dry tows lined up, and the Noble Discoverer will leave Seward in three to six weeks for a trip across the Pacific Ocean that should take two to four weeks, Smith said. 
In a dry tow, a large vessel submerges through added ballast below the draft of the rig to be towed, Smith explained. That allows the drilling rig to float over the vessel's deck, and the tow vessel is raised up, with the drill rig on its deck for the tow. It's a faster method than towing on the water.
There are rumors that Shell is searching the world for replacement vessels, as it appears neither the Kulluk nor the Noble Discoverer will even be reaching a yard before mid to late April.

Investigations into the grounding and Shell's 2013 Alaska Arctic drilling season by the U.S. Coast Guard; the U.S. Department of the Interior; the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard; and possibly the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, will begin within a few weeks. No precise information on any of these has yet been released.

This story may be updated later Tuesday.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Envision Mat-Su at the Bartlett Club Thursday

Help the Alaska Democrats Stop SB 80 - Join the Phone Banks!

From Zack Fields at Alaska Democrats:

Big news in Juneau today: The State Senate delayed a vote to repeal the 2006 citizens' initiative on cruise ship sewage releases.

The legislature would have passed the bill today if so many Alaskans hadn't called and emailed the legislature to express their outrage about Parnell's bill (HB 80)--thank you to those of you who have spoken out already.

The battle is far from over: 

On Wednesday at 11am the Senate will consider this bill again, and the final vote could be close. Please stay active and help stop this bill.

In Anchorage, there will be a phone bank at 406 G Street Suite 212 both tonight and tomorrow. 

Show up from 5:00-8:00. Call 868-9023 for more information or to get a call list if you don't live in Anchorage.

Advice from Cokk Inletkeeper:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Amy Goodman Interviews Medea Benjamin on Code Pink's Disruption of Thursday's Brennan CIA Confirmation Hearing

PA earlier posted Code Pink's own video of the hearing HERE.

Bretwood Higman Continues to Question Integrity of Pebble Earthquake Data

Sedimentary layers show evidence of liquefaction – perhaps caused by strong earthquake shaking
Dr. Bretwood Higman spent time near the proposed Pebble Mine site last summer, searching for more information on the seismic history of that area.  He's concerned that the classification of the Lake Clark Fault as "inactive" is either misleading or worse.

In a blog entry posted Saturday, Confessions of an Earthquake Detective, Higman raises serious questions, most of which remain unanswered by the Pebble Partnership, the State of Alaska or the Federal agencies responsible for assessment of the risks at the site.

Higman has been writing about his concern on earthquake risk for some time.  So far none of his conclusions have been faulted (only slight pun intended) in any meaningful ways.

In his Saturday post, Higman cuts to the chase regarding the credibility of the Partnership [emphasis added]:
PLP must either be strategically holding back information, or else it lacks the expertise to do a real seismic hazard assessment.  
Put crudely: Either PLP is lying, or it’s incompetent.
I know from experience that Bretwood Higman is one of the most tenacious and thorough Alaskans in existence. Here's his summation of yesterday's article [emphasis added]:
Honestly I don’t really understand how scientific results inform regulatory decisions, but what I’ve seen so far does not make me confident. It’s very easy to fail to find evidence. The mine company has financial incentives to overlook evidence of earthquake risk, just as I have financial motivation beyond merely curiosity to find that evidence – my funding comes from groups opposed to mine development. And regulators, ideally the impartial party here, have tight budgets and a broad mandate, thus little time to focus deeply on a difficult scientific problem like this. Tackling this problem would put government scientists into a political minefield that they may not wish to enter.

This year we’ve seen “the system” attempting to face the scientific challenges presented by the massive scale of Pebble Mine. The EPA, on the invitation of villages in the region, conducted a detailed “Watershed Assessment,” which is still under peer review. PLP criticized the EPA’s effort as premature and misguided, and pushed its own process, the PLP-funded Keystone Center dialogue. This in turn has been criticized for its biased exclusion of non-PLP science, among other things.  
Though I submitted my own work on seismic hazards, it was not considered even during the panel specifically on this topic. These efforts represent attempts to assemble expert assessments and critique PLP‘s science, but we’re a long way off from seeing concrete results from either. Though I’ve repeatedly pointed out unequivocal flaws in PLP‘s seismic hazard assessment, there was no acknowledgment of these issues as of the Keystone meeting in early October. If you want to see my testimony, you can go here, and skip to 17 minutes, 40 seconds.

So I’m going to stick to it. I have more data analysis, and a paper to write and submit for peer review. And hopefully I’ll have funding to get back into the field this summer.
You can donate directly to Dr. Higman's efforts HERE.

Here he is, last year, presenting some of his findings:

So Why Didn't SNL Air This Parody of the Hagel Confirmation Hearing? - Updated

Is it more tasteless than many SNL skits?  No.

Is it anti-Semitic?  It pokes fun at the obsequiousness of U.S. Senators when it comes to the country of Israel and its governments, so I don't think so.

There are a number of articles up about the pulled skit, with the video embedded in some:


Huffington Post

The Daily Caller

Breitbart erroneously reported that the skit was aired.

Update - 4:00 pm:  The Times of Israel headlines their article on this Unaired Saturday Night Live skit parodies senators’ full-throated support for Israel during the Hagel confirmation hearing 

heh ...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Preparing to Write About Judith Butler’s Profound Brooklyn University Address

Last Thursday, philosopher Dr. Judith Butler delivered a profound address at Brooklyn University.  She was one of two speakers at what might have been a small gathering of students and Brooklyn activists, wanting to hear some intelligent ideas about the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.  The movement, begun by Palestinians in 2005, models itself somewhat after similar movements seeking to put pressure on the apartheid South African regime, from the late 1980s, through the fall of that regime in the mid-1990s.

The other speaker was Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of Global BDS.  Barghouti has a Masters degree in electrical engineering from Columbia, and a Masters in philosophy from Tel Aviv University. Dr. Butler, in her address, which was about 40 minutes long, noted in the opening remarks:
At the time [Butler was invited] I thought it would be very much like other events I have attended, a conversation with a few dozen student activists in the basement of a student center. So, as you can see, I am surprised and ill prepared for what has happened.
What happened was an explosion of invective against Butler, Barghouti, Brooklyn College, its President, and NYC Mayor Bloomberg, for supporting their being able to even talk on campus about BDS under the sponsorship of one of its departments, and without someone on the podium with them who could offer an opposing view.

Judith Butler drew some hearty laughs with this:
Yet another objection, sometimes uttered by the same people who made the first, is that BDS does qualify as a viewpoint, but as such, ought to be presented only in a context in which the opposing viewpoint can be heard as well. There was yet a qualification to this last position, namely, that no one can have a conversation on this issue in the US that does not include a certain Harvard professor [Alan Dershowitz], but that spectacular argument was so self-inflationary and self-indicting, that I could only respond with astonishment.
Haaretz commentator Chemi Shalev wrote Friday:
Far more Americans know of the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement today than did a week ago. Many millions of people have been exposed for the first time to the idea that Israel should be boycotted, divested and sanctioned for its occupation of the territories. Many more Americans, one can safely assume, have formed a positive image of the BDS movement than those who have now turned against it. 
Tafasta merube lo tafasta, the Talmud teaches us: grasp all, lose all. The heavy-handed, hyperbole heavy, all-guns-blazing campaign against what would have been, as Mayor Bloomberg put it, “a few kids meeting on campus” mushroomed and then boomeranged, giving the hitherto obscure BDS activists priceless public relations that money could never buy. 
Rather than focusing attention on what BDS critics describe as the movement’s deceitful veneer over its opposition to the very existence of Israel, the disproportionate onslaught succeeded in casting the BDS speakers who came to the Brooklyn campus as freedom-loving victims being hounded and oppressed by the forces of darkness.
Judith Butler herself spent a fair portion of her 1997 book, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, describing aspects of this.  Essentially:
Butler argues that hate speech exists retrospectively, only after being declared such by state authorities. In this way, the state reserves for itself the power to define hate speech and, conversely, the limits of acceptable discourse.
I first came across Judith Butler's writing in 2004, when researching false uses of the terms "anti-semitic" and "anti-semitism."  I had been accused in articles, blog posts, and even in an address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature as one.  Butler's writing eased my anguish at the time.

I've wanted to write an enduring essay about Butler's Brooklyn College address since reading it.  I've re-read it twice now, trying to distill it for popular blog consumption.  That may be a task beyond my ability.

The concept of censorship making an idea being censored more known and attractive predates Butler's analysis.  The history of people finding ways around such censorship goes back to ancient times too.  When societies begin to break down through hubris, hypocrisy, corruption, pollution and so on, some members of the nomenklatura realize better than others what is happening, what is at stake.

Butler's writings and talks (on Youtube, for instance) show examples of her sense of irony, and some humor.  Her overall style, though, is quite dry.  Nobody has ever accused her of pandering for attention, within or beyond academia.

Thinking about her irony and perhaps intentional avoidance of populist metaphor and framing today, I found myself listening more closely to the wildly ironic Dmitri Shosatakovich's 12th Symphony, a work I'm considering conducting in 2014.  He wrote it at the beginning of the end of the paradigm of a communist utopia in the USSR.  He had ceased to believe in the myth long before, but had been rehabilitated, and was commanded to write a triumphal work, dedicated to the memory of Vladimir  Lenin.

He was hesitant, but fulfilled the commission.  It was thought to be a workmanlike, dutiful symphony, but it has never been regarded as one of his masterpieces.

From my first hearing in the mid-1960s, I detected that he was mocking the idolization of Lenin.  He couldn't be more obvious than he was, or it would not be performed.  He mocked his own film music to the dozens of patriotic Soviet movies he scored.  He parroted the false drive forward of the increasingly failed system that entrapped him and other artists.

Watching the increasingly Sovietesque moves to somehow save Israeli apartheid from being truthfully perceived remind me aspects of the downfall of the USSR - not so much as in the Mother country, but in its satellites.

Here is Yevgeni Mravinsky, conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic in Shostakovich's iconic slap in the face of false monumentalism, from a 1984 broadcast: