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Tuesday: Are you still vulnerable to media messaging?

Check out this graphic from xkcd.  It shows the amount of absorbed radiation that is/was produced from various sources.   FYI: the blue squares are measured in micro Sieverts (the Greek letter μ), the green ones in milli Sieverts.  Micro is much smaller than milli, which in turn is much smaller than a Sievert.   But if you had been listening to the media for the past two weeks, you might have had induced panic attacks and rushed out to your local apothecary for a stash of potassium iodide (the chemists who still have jobs are not happy about the shortages).  I’ve read that people are even buying gas masks.

This makes me very sad.

Because as you might note from the graphic, the amount of radioactivity produced by the Fukushima plant for people in the evacuation zone is less than they might have gotten in a CT scan and only slightly more than any woman might have gotten in a mammogram machine.  If you’re truly worried about exposure from Fukushima, shouldn’t you also be worried about having your breasts flattened to the dimensions of a pancake and then blasted with xrays?

This is why I keep urging people to stop watching television news.  It doesn’t matter what channel you have on.  It doesn’t matter if it’s broadcast or cable.  They’ve got your number.  They know what kinds of stories will get your attention and they know what buttons to push to get the right Pavlovian response from you.  Be careful of what you read in newspapers too.  in this media and political environment, we must be constantly on our guard because it is so easy to manipulate public opinion.  We still have no idea who is behind all of the nuclear plant hysteria.  What was the purpose?  Was it an attempt to put the nail in the coffin of the nuclear industry in this country?  Kill it in its infancy?  Did it have help from energy speculators who are trying to drive up the cost of oil?  Is it the result of journalists who have a built in bias against nuclear energy after having watched The China Syndrome and the TMI accident coverage when they were younger?

By the way, did you notice how little radioactivity was produced during the TMI incident?  If you listen to the media, you’d think it was right up there with Chernobyl- squared.  The actual amount was tiny.  REALLY tiny.  It’s a blip.

Oh, sure, you say, but NO nuclear energy is safe.  You can never turn your back on it.  I’m not so sure I’d agree with that statement.  If anything, the Fukushima accident refutes these claims.  It shows that a 40 year old reactor can come through a “great” earthquake, a tsunami and a power failure and still expose people in Japan to less radioactivity than they would get in a CT scan.

That doesn’t mean I think we should run out and get one for the patio.  But I am very willing to consider nuclear energy as an alternative to burning fossil fuel.  The lessons learned at Fukushima could make new reactors even safer.

The emissions I worry about come from the broadcast end of the spectrum where carefully crafted messaging can turn otherwise perfectly rational people into raving lunatics indistinguishable from the end-of-time fundies with generators and MREs in their survivalist stash in the basement.  The hysteria that swept the nation last week was embarrassing.  It shows how vulnerable we are.  Manipulating the crowd is easier than we thought and, as we saw in the 2008 election season, it works just as well on the left as it does on the right.  Your liberal leanings offer you no protection.

The poison in the air isn’t coming from the reactor up the river.

In other news:

The female science and engineering staff at MIT is suffering from the same bias that women in industry face all of the time. (I actually think it’s gotten worse in the past 10 years).  A few years back, the female profs at MIT put together a study showing what they were up against when it comes to getting tenure.  They got less physical space, they didn’t get as many opportunities to consult, they weren’t added to leadership panels.  But here’s the thing that really got my attention because it’s something I see every damn day:

And stereotypes remain: women must navigate a narrow “acceptable personality range,” as one female professor said, that is “neither too aggressive nor too soft.” Said another woman: “I am not patient and understanding. I’m busy and ambitious.”

Despite an effort to educate colleagues about bias in letters of recommendation for tenure, those for men tend to focus on intellect while those for women dwell on temperament.

“To women in my generation, these residual issues can sound small because we see so much progress,” said Nancy H. Hopkins, a molecular biologist who instigated the first report. “But they’re not small; they still create an unequal playing field for women — not just at universities, and certainly not just at M.I.T. And they’re harder to change because they are a reflection of where women stand in society.”

This is very subtle but very real.  It just flies under the radar because no one is physically groping you.  I’ve seen more than one woman derailed by this crap.  You can’t be as assertive as a guy or you will be called “hard to work with” or “not a team player”.  But if you’re passive and demure, you’re ineffective and can’t get your work done.  Plenty of women have to be “coached” to walk a fine line.  It doesn’t seem to occur to management to straighten out the asses of the guys in the department who may be slowing down the pace of projects with their obstinate refusal to cooperate.

For women in the sciences, it’s like walking on eggshells all the time.  I’m glad that MIT is calling attention to the problem because I see very little effort to do so in industry.  It seems like industry thought it solved the problem when it dealt with sexual harrassment.  But my sense is that the power plays that exercised themselves as sexual dominance before have now gone underground.  The same hostility and gender discrimination still exists but has disguised itself as phone calls and emails not returned, not sharing crucial information or giving credit, refusing to meet or invite to meetings, and complaints about “temperament”. And the science world is just much more critical of women.  Everything they do is subject to more intense and punishing scrutiny.  It’s ruining our job prospects and careers. It looks like the women of MIT have gathered enough evidence to show that the discrimination is real and not a matter of sensitivity and perception.

Stieg Larson’s latest book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest has a subplot that describes this phenomenon when a female magazine editor takes a job as the managing editor at an “old boys network” newspaper.  The symptoms are all the same as the ones described by the MIT profs, advice given to women on interviews and to our general experience in science and finance workplaces.  It’s not just a few isolated incidences.  It’s systemic.  Before you know it, MIT will be able to show a correlation.

Can a country afford to treat half of its brains like second class gray matter?

Monday: Cocaine

This is a very quick post before I dash off to (what’s left of) work:

I finally saw Inside Job last night.  It’s a pretty good documentary, especially for anyone who’s intimidated by Michael Lewis’s book, The Big Short.  Lewis covered a lot of this information in his book so much of the material is not new except for the little bit on the heavy use of cocaine and prostitutes by the finance guys.  They *would* have to be guys.  There’s an interesting sliver of science correlating the risky trading behavior with the risky social behavior.  It turns out that rewarding a person with money has a similar effect on the brain as giving the person cocaine.  Money can be addicting.  And you can’t keep addicts in the same social environment and expect them to give up the drug easily, so expect the bad behavior to continue.

But what really got my attention was the timeline.  I know this was covered in The Big Short as well but it bears repeating.  The meltdown started in 2007 and by February and March of 2008, the market was getting a little panicky.  They knew they were headed for a breakdown.  This roughly coincides with huge contributions to Obama’s campaign.  Wall Street was placing its bets, turning on congressmen and superdelegates…

And the cocaine just keeps on coming.

I wonder if the lefties who flocked to Obama in 2008 would still have done it if they had known that September 2008 was going to lead to economic catastrophe.  Is Obama an enabler?

In other news:

Paul Krugman says the GOP is sharpening its knives for Elizabeth Warren.  She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie, Cocaine.

For some strange reason, homo sapiens evolved away from penile spines.  Go figure.

The NakedScientists summarized the Japanese Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor problems last week.  Their overview should relax the nuclear nervous nellies.  Er, but probably won’t.

And, finally, CNN has discovered that donations to Japan lag far behind the responses to Haiti and Katrina.  I can’t imagine why.  ‘gits.

Sunday: Lori, Noam, Libya and Paywalls


Lorenda Starfelt passed away last Tuesday.  She was 56.  Her death was announced by her husband Brad Mays yesterday on Correntewire where Lori posted under the name Basement Angel.  Long time readers of this blog will remember Brad and Lori as the filmmakers who documented the dispossessed of the 2008 primary elections.  I met them on several occasions.  Brad was a loose cannon and Lori was his voice of moderation.  She was beautiful with a dazzling smile and captivating eyes.  Brad says she died of uterine cancer that had spread to her liver.  I never knew she was sick.  I am very sorry to hear that she has died.  Her voice will be missed.

Lori intuitively understood the people who defected the Democratic party for the Tea Party.  She knew that racism had very little to do with it.  She knew that the Tea Party is rallying its supporters with false messages but at least it gives them answers.  The Democrats have abandoned its base, liberals and working class and the well educated unemployed.  We shouldn’t be surprised that the movement conservatives behind the Tea Party are picking some of them up.  In one of her last posts at Corrente, she posted this clip from an interview that the Commonwealth Club did with Noam Chomsky:

I have mixed feelings about Noam.  I can’t argue with the points he made in this segment.  He understands the way the powerful elite has used language to pit the working people of the world against each other while they make off with the loot.  And he’s right to criticize those of us on the left for failing to get our act together to deliver a different message.  But in an ironic way, he’s part of the problem.  For all of his justifiable criticism of the failures of the Obama administration, which he must known were coming if he was paying attention to the language of Obama’s 2008 campaign, he was willfully blinded to considering any of the other Democratic candidates as better options.  He didn’t like any of them, he says.  Noam reminds me of the people back in 2000 who thought there was no difference between Republicans and Democrats.  Well, there isn’t much difference now but back then there was.  Maybe Bill Clinton didn’t turn out to be the uber liberal that Chomsky and others like him were hoping for but there was a world of difference between him and the Republicans.  In the same manner, there was a world of difference between the top two Democrats who ran.  One lead from deeply held left of center principles; the other was just a brand who walked and talked like the finance industry that footed the bill for his campaign.  The difference between them had everything to do with who was backing them.  (Next time, pay attention.)

Noam’s weakness seems to be that he’s stuck in the 60’s, reliving the civil rights movement, Cold War and Vietnam.  Sometimes, I just want to smack him.  No one likes war and no one on welfare would prefer it to a well paying job.  The last thing we should do to help people on welfare is make it necessary for them to receive it.  Has he forgotten that poor people on welfare tend to live in the low rent parts of town, because that’s all they can afford?  That concentrations of poor people tend to perpetuate generational poverty, substandard educations and hopelessness?  No, Noam, we don’t want that.  We want government to help poor people by helping them get jobs.  There is a role for government but welfare isn’t a goal.  It’s a stop gap on the way to something better.

What would Noam think of the air strikes on Libya?  For the most part, he’s right about the unnecessary wars we’ve been saddled with.  Iraq was a sham that many Americans were tricked into pursuing.  But the war in Afghanistan?  I’m sorry, we needed to go into Afghanistan after 9/11.  The fact that the Bush administration screwed up the country after the invasion does not alter the necessity of going there.  A country can’t allow a ragtag group of terrorists to attack it and then turn the other cheek.  It sends a bad signal to the rest of the world, which despite our civilizing evolution of the past century is still barely holding itself in check from ripping itself to pieces for power and natural resources.

This morning, we  joined the French and other countries in attacking Libya as an impressive cultural shift continues to ripple across north Africa and the middle east.  Radio Free Europe sums it up:

The British and U.S. strikes came after French warplanes fired the first shots on March 19, destroying government tanks and armored vehicles in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The campaign, called “Odyssey Dawn,” currently involves forces and equipment from the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Italy, and Denmark. It is the biggest Western military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It followed a decision on March 19 in Paris by Western and Arab leaders to enforce a UN no-fly zone over Libya in order to prevent Gaddafi from carrying out attacks on civilians and opposition forces.

In an audio message broadcast on state TV, the 68-year-old Qaddafi remained defiant, saying he was prepared to defeat the Western forces in what he said would be a “long, glorious war.”

“You are unjust, you are the aggressors, you are beasts, you are criminals. Your countries are against you. There are protests everywhere in Europe, in America against the steps you’re taking against the innocent Libyan people,” Qaddafi said. “The people are with us, even your people are with us. All the people on Earth are against you. You will fail like how Hitler failed, Napoleon failed, Mussolini failed. All tyrants fall under the feet of the people. This is the era of the people and the great [Qaddafi] revolution.”

Uh-huh.  Maybe Qaddafi should cut back on the hot sweet tea.

If you are a person of principle, ideally, you want to allow the peoples of these countries to determine for themselves what their government should be and encourage them from the sidelines.  But the possibility that civil unrest threatens to destabilize the world’s economies might also make you want to act when a divided country starts to spiral out of control towards years of violence.  Better to pick a side, preferably the anti-dictatorship one, and aid it.  In this case, timing is everything.  Be swift and thorough.

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide which American politician has been the driving force behind arguing for and assembling the allies for an air strike.  Hint: Ditherers don’t do it.  Unfortunately, unbiased reporting on foreign policy at the NYTimes is spotty, which brings me to the paywall issue announced last week.

While I admit to being a regular NYTimes reader, lately, I have been disappointed and a little shocked by what I read there.  Last week’s coverage of Japan’s struggle with their nuclear reactors was breathless and hyperbolic while reports of the dead, missing and displaced was muted.  For the “paper of record”, it was disgraceful.  Meanwhile, anti-government bias there is becoming obvious.  Maybe the editors aren’t aware of the degree to which they have conformed to the anti-government point of view.  But today, their blurb on the frontpage to their editorial on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget parrots the movement conservative line that “Governor Cuomo is right to argue for spending cuts” even while it laments that the wealthy in the state are not going to be compelled to cough up more in taxes. Who decided that the spending cuts are the right thing to argue?  Did we poll the residents of New York, consult with leading economists, call up some historians?  And this article on the sea walls of Japan that didn’t hold back the tsunamis is just downright bizarre.  Not only is the “government programs are wasteful; private industry initiatives are dazzlingly perfect!” messaging obvious, it’s worked into the piece in particularly awkward ways.  It’s almost like the editors took the original writing from the bureau in Japan and made it work for the Goldman Sachs readers.  Sometimes, I read an article and think *I* could have written it.  Recent writing in the NYTimes doesn’t have the same quality as it did even a couple of years ago.  The prose seems clumsy and amateur, even a little bit dumbed down.

So, while I love Paul Krugman and will find a way to get my fix, I’m not inclined to pony up more money for a paper that seems to be evolving towards the clueless “creative class” readers and Wall Street crowd.  For one thing, soon I won’t be getting a steady paycheck so wasteful government spending in my house is strictly forbidden by real budgetary constraints.  Besides, it’s not like the NYTimes has gone out of its way to cover those of us educated unemployed or working class stiffs.  The union busting moves in Wisconsin were definitely downplayed and even Krugman is puzzled over the way we, the degreed unemployed, are being ignored and forgotten.

The NYTimes is marginalizing itself.  It’s becoming a paper for Mike Bloomberg types and their minions.  The little people who still get the “dead tree” version will have access at no additional charge but if you have internet access, why the heck would you get a hard copy?  It just piles up in the recycling bin.  And if you’re not printing on as much paper, why charge $15.95/month for the electronic version?  Presumably, with the exception of the bandwidth, the costs of printing the paper have gone down.  Is the NYTimes just following the herd of other corporations that have given in to MBAs and consultants who don’t know the business they are asked to manage?  Cater to the money and tell them what they want to hear.  Screw the news, even if it is your core business.  By the time journalism is just a fleeting memory at the NYTimes, the business guys will have taken the money and run.

The NYTimes lost my subscription with the Judy Miller incident.  They’re not getting it back simply because they have international news bureaus, especially if those news bureaus can’t write what’s going on without passing through a political filter.  I’ll have to get my news from more international sources from now on.

Thank goodness Brooke is a budding polyglot.

Saturday: A rush to war?

U.S. and Allies Strike Libya
Barrage of Missiles Hits Air-Defense Targets

TRIPOLI, Libya — American and European forces began a broad campaign of strikes against the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on Saturday, unleashing warplanes and missiles in the first round of the largest international military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq.

I’ve got the TV on now (I know, I know but I’m hearing some good stuff) and they’re talking about how slow and careful Obama was to get involved in this intervention.

Slow?  Careful?  How seriously were we talking about this a week ago?

Thursday: Watching the fear roll in

I can’t say I’m a fierce advocate of nuclear power – not by a long shot – I’m skeptical about our ability here in the US to adequately regulate the plants from the design phase through the operations.  And the worst case scenarios of what can happen when things go wrong scare me witless.  And I’m really scared for the Japanese right now.

But, isn’t the current situation in Japan bad enough (could it be worse?) without videos like “Forecast for Plume’s Path Is a Function of Wind and Weather” spreading fear that radiation from Japan is going to kill us all here in the USA?

Play the short video and you’ll see the “radiation” spread across the Pacific, pretty much blanketing the western United States.  It’s scary for sure.

It’s got to be deliberate that not until you actually read the small print that you find out that:

The forecast does not show actual levels of radiation,


Health and nuclear experts emphasize that any plume will be diluted as it travels and, at worst, would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States

And what is going on in the background while we’re trembling in fear of our lives?

Well, the Obama administration has it’s eyes on the prize:

Social Security Suicide

Via Jonathan Chait, The Hill reports that Obama administration economic officials are pressing for Social Security benefit cuts.

It’s starting to look like a particularly vicious form of slight-slight-of-hand to me.

Wednesday: Living in “interesting times”

Just a quick note to remind you (as if you needed any reminding) that there is more than one crisis in Japan.  The nuclear power plant emergency is a small part of the problems the country now faces. Here is a message from US ambassador Roos. The bigger problem involves thousands of displaced people whose houses and livelihoods and, sometimes, even families were swept away by a roiling ocean.

Chip in if you can.  Here is a list of resources you can donate to courtesy of the folks at Apartmenttherapy and UnPlgged:

Japan Earthquake Resources.

While the world watches Japan, it has taken its eyes off of Libya and Bahrain.  Keep them in your thoughts as well.

Tuesday: Once again, Americans have made it all about US

I’m fairly disgusted by the reaction of Americans and yes, particularly Californians, to the events at the nuclear power plants in Japan. No, no, don’t even *try* to make excuses for your behavior. The events are serious but the idea that millions of Americans are imminently threatened with exceedingly high levels of non dispersed cancer causing radiation is “ridiculous and stupid”.

The situation in Japan is serious. But I don’t expect anything like the mega catastrophe that some of my favorite writers are hyperventilating over.

And let’s not forget that the atmosphere knows no international boundaries. This is not just about US. There’s no special exemption for us and we wouldn’t be the only country affected. Air patterns are not just straight and linear. And dont forget that we are part of the rest of the world and have to share in the good and the bad. Isn’t that what the whole idea is behind Global Warming? Or is that just another abstraction that only the spoiled West can indulge in? Don’t make me feel badly about that too.

Meanwhile, please turn your attention to the survivors in Japan and donate a ten spot or so to your favorite international relief effort. Ten bucks here and there- before you know it, you’re talking about real money. It will take your mind off the radiation problem in Japan, which at this point, is growing bigger in the imagination than it deserves.

Get a grip, people.

Monday: Calm, cool, cameraman watches world washed away

Text "REDCROSS" to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross efforts in Japan

If you haven’t seen this video of the tsunami from a guy who was standing a few feet from it, you should really check it out.  It’s rare that a force of nature of this magnitude is documented like this.  Tsunami scientists will find this footage invaluable.

Follow the link here.

In other news:

PJ Crowley, the State Department’s spokesperson resigned yesterday under pressure for some intemperate remarks he made about the detention conditions of Bradley Manning. It seems that Obama was inconvenienced by having to ask questions about Manning’s state at his press conference on Friday and he was most seriously not amused.  FWIW, what Manning did was illegal but following his due process rights and treating him well before his trial is what Americans do.  That’s because it’s the right thing to do to other human beings.  It costs this country nothing to play by the rules.  Rules, I might add, that we used to hold up as examples to the rest of the world.  So, Crowley was right, Manning’s detention has been “stupid and ridiculous”.  If Obama has been the driving force behind it, then the ridiculousness and stupidity rubs off on him.  One can almost hear the sun king plaintively whine, “I will not be MOCKED!”  Off with Crowley’s head.  Yeah, that will cut down on the mocking.

Oooo, and now the left is speaking out.  He can’t take a little criticism?  What did they ever see in Obama?  Beats me.  He’s always been this way.  Remember how his campaign went after people who said perfectly innocuous things and turned them into poster boys for the KKK?  Ahhh, yes, those were the days.  Or remember when Clinton delegates at the Convention were harrassed and threatened to change their votes to Obama?  I remember it well.  How about when his trolly minions camped in our threads and applied bone crushing peer pressure to us after calling us fat, ugly, uneducated, low class sows?  Such terms of endearment.  They were so loving and kind.

Hey, this is the Obama culture.  If you don’t like someone, call them names, like “bitter knitters”, push their voters out of the caucus room doors, steal their delegates, threaten their careers, enforce conformity and uniformity.  Haven’t you guys been paying attention?  They think you’ll just end up blaming Hillary.

So predictable.


And now, I must be off to work.  The end is coming fast.  It feels like a breakup.

Sunday: Nukes in the News

Once again, our news media does not fail to disappoint.  It’s not enough to revel in the mass destruction caused by a supersized earthquake and mega tsunami.  No, now we must wait with breathless anticipation for the catastrophic Chernyobal style nuclear fuel meltdown that is *sure* to follow.  As plutoniumpage said cynically last night on Twitter, Mothra has been sighted off the east coast of Japan.  I blame the entertainment industry.  Hollywood has made one too many Armageddon genre movies in recent years.  We seem disappointed that the waves weren’t bigger, the cracks in the earth didn’t swallow skyscrapers whole and the nuclear meltdown isn’t turning the night sky neon green.

Actually, this is one end-of-the-world scenario that is probably *not* keeping my mother up all night.  Full disclosure: my dad was a nuclear reactor maintenance specialist.  Trained by the Navy and having spent several years at a reactor research facility in upstate New York, he was recruited by Three Mile Island after the accident to put their remaining undamaged reactor online and maintain it.

So, while I’m not an expert, I don’t have an irrational fear of nuclear energy.  I just have a healthy respect for it.  Despite that, I wouldn’t build one in the US right now but I’ll get to that in a sec.

Some of the things we should think about when reading the news accounts of the problem in Japan are common sense but we tend to forget them when there’s a good story, which is what the media is flogging right now.  Here’s some of the ones that popped into my mind:

1.) Whether or not the Japanese government is lying about the seriousness and extent of the damage to the reactor, it’s going to be very difficult to maintain a lie for very long.  International monitoring systems are going to ferret out the truth pretty shortly.   Radiation gets picked up by the atmosphere and circulates the globe in surprising ways.  If there’s an unholy amount of radiation from these plants, we’re going to know about it very soon.

2.) When the media reports that the radiation levels are measuring 1000x what is normal, ask yourself, “relative to what?”  How many zeros precede or follow the decimal point?  What are the units?  The media has been very bad a reporting this stuff.  A number is meaningless without context.  I’m not saying that the risk is small, mostly because I don’t know and no amount of radiation exposure in excess of allowable limits should be considered “safe”, especially for fetuses.  All I’m saying is that the media has failed to describe this amount of radiation in understandable human terms, like how many xrays is this equivalent to?  How much would make you sick?  How sick?  What’s the governmental limit in Japan vs the US?  Stuff like that.  If they aren’t elaborating on the numbers, then they’re just throwing big numbers around to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

3.) What’s the difference between the Japanese reactor design and the one at Chernyobal or TMI? Which parts are affected?  Which parts were involved in yesterday’s explosion? Having some basic explanation and simple diagrams of how these style reactors work would help the audience understand the parameters and the risks of each.  While our American media doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job of this, there are other sources.  Also, plutoniumpage has been tweeting good resources and people knowlegeable in the field to follow.  If you want a calm, level headed resource and references to other knowledgeable nuke commenters, follow Page.

Here are some good places to get started:

Allthingsnuclear has updates on the Fukushima plants

The NRC explains how Boiling Water Reactors work in easy to digest text and diagrams

The NYTimes has an interactive feature of the Fukushima plants (well, the NYTimes isn’t getting worse).

So, here’s my perspective on these plants.  Yes, the situation is serious but a Chernyobal style meltdown is unlikely at any of them.  These plants have extensive containment systems that would prevent that.  That doesn’t mean a partial meltdown isn’t possible, and may have already happened.  But the world, and even Japan, isn’t going to come to an end.  From what I’ve read, it would be more in line with a TMI type event.  Radiation has been released and iodine has been distributed to people in the affected area.  It’s probably hard for the Japanese government to make a full assessment as to the extent of the exposure to the population in the area right now.  Until they do, the media is just speculating- wildly.

Ok, so why wouldn’t I build nuclear plants today.

First, let’s talk about the safety of these Fukushima plants.  They’ve come through a massive earthquake, giant tsunami and power failures.  The fact that there aren’t more serious problems at these plants after these events is a testament to their design and multiple redundancy backup systems.  Yep, their backup systems are experiencing problems right now but I think the Japanese have made the right call to flood one of the reactors with seawater even if it means losing it. Better to be safe than sorry.  Give them some credit.

While we do have many BWRs in the US, we haven’t built any new facilities in 30 years.  That’s because, as usual, Americans overreacted (no pun intended) to the TMI accident.  Americans seem to be predisposed to magnify problems where nuclear issues are concerned to a hyperbolic degree.  I don’t know if that’s because we who were children during the cold war are predisposed to have a Pavlovian response to the word nuclear or what exactly.  But whatever it is, we fail to discriminate and tend to treat everything with the word “nuclear” in it with extreme fear and loathing.  For example, what most average Americans call an MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imager, most chemists would call a NMRI, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imager.  But if the medical community called it *that*, no one would get in the sucker.  So they dropped the nuclear bit from the name.

The truth is, nuclear energy in the US has a pretty impressive safety record.  It doesn’t matter if you’re on the left or the right, you are obligated to look at that record if you want to make your point.  Unfortunately, very few people on the left are capable of leaving their ideology aside where nuclear issues are concerned and actually LOOK at the numbers.  That’s not very rational.  NO, I am not a Republican.  I loathe Republicans.  But as a lefty, I have the right to criticize my tribe for their faith-based behavior.  When it comes to issues such as nuclear energy, pharmaceuticals and immunizations, the left can sometimes be as anti-intellectual as the right is about evolution and climate change.  We’re just as nutty as the right is.  It’s just that our issues are different.  Let’s stop flattering ourselves.

Nevertheless, nuclear energy is not something you want just anyone monkeying around with.  It’s genuinely dangerous when not used with the utmost attention to regulation, safety and design.  Of course, a reactor built today is going to have a much different design than one built 40 years ago.  We could and should expect advancements in technology to make them safer.

But in this business environment, with arrogant, smartass, MBAs running industries they know nothing about and trying to reduce everything to the bottom line, building a new nuclear reactor in the US, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, would be a recipe for disaster.  In fact, I’d be checking up on the ones we already have.  The nuclear industry must have regulation.  That doesn’t mean we have to be stuck with the regulations we have that are 40 years old or that regulations have to be so burdensome that nuclear power is too expensive to use.  It’s that regulation is necessary in this industry because it will make everyone more accountable and safer.

More than that though is that the nuclear power industry will have to rely on human beings to build, run, monitor and maintain the new reactors.  That means hiring experienced and well trained people of the highest integrity to do it and who approach their work with rigor and discipline.  You can’t cut corners with your plant operators and maintenance specialists.  These people have to be paid well and respected.  Don’t even think about reducing them to subsistence wages.  I don’t see the MBAs really understanding that concept.  They don’t seem to teach it at business school.  A human resource at a nuclear power plant is not just a number on a spreadsheet.  That person is an investment in safety and should be an expert, paid as well or better than some cheeky Wharton asshole sitting in an office somewhere.

So, until the business community gets that, I’m not in favor of building new nukes.  Maybe someday, when the oil crisis gets really serious and we’ve had it up to here with the speculators and the biz school grads, we can revisit this issue.  Maybe hire some experienced Navy nuke experts to run things and replace the “smartest guys in the room”. I won’t hold my breath.

In the meantime, let’s maintain a healthy fear and skepticism and turn our focus to the survivors of the devastating natural events in Japan.  This is not entertainment.

Saturday: The Shareholders of Obama Corp

Rockefeller estate at KyKuit on Hudson: Abstraction in context

Sometimes, I wonder if the Obot contigent knew in advance that Obama was a corporate schmoozer and one of the Olympic MBA competition team whether they would have voted for him.  (See Willful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan for the full description) It seems to me that the self-described “creative class” isn’t as familiar with the type.  The Olympic MBA team flies into a site via expensive helicopters, preferably after they think most of the wretched refuse has left. They view us from a distance, like little zeros on the spreadsheet of life.  They talk amongst themselves and *say* they want our input, but only if it agrees with what they have already decided.  They function at a level of existence that is abstract.  Sort of like modern art.  The Jackson Pollack or Kandinsky variety, not the good stuff like the sublime, luminescent paintings stashed away at Kykuit on the Hudson.  No, the mental art of the Olympic MBA team is definitely $6 a pound variety.  They think we rabble won’t know the difference.

I wouldn’t count on that.

I (half) listened to Obama’s press conference yesterday and thought to myself (not for the last time) that he has a knack for making you think he’s going to do something.  But if you listen more closely, the amount of effort he intends on putting actions to words is minimal, if anything.  It’s a lot like his campaign style, which was a whole lot of nothing.  The NYTimes is catching on:

He resisted calls to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, saying he would do so only when oil supplies were genuinely threatened [what about when the economy is genuinely threatened?  Doesn’t the president get to make that call?]. He delivered instead a measured tutorial on this country’s need to make itself less dependent on foreign oil, while reminding Americans that a nation that consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil while owning 2 percent of its reserves cannot drill its way to energy independence.

This is what leaders do — seize a moment when something like a spike in prices at the pump has grabbed public attention and use it to instruct on larger issues, in this case the need for a saner energy policy and a cleaner energy future. Mr. Obama is good at that.

But there is another thing that leaders do, and that is to push and pull and knock heads and do whatever else is required to make sure those goals are achieved. And on this score, Mr. Obama often falls short, especially on important energy issues.

Case in point: the climate debate last year, which he framed beautifully in his speeches but then tiptoed away from. A few outgunned senators were left to try to get an actual bill passed and, unfortunately, failed.

A similar test confronts him now. As usual, the president has the music right. He said the only plausible strategy to achieve energy independence is to reduce consumption with increasingly fuel-efficient cars and alternative fuels.

Ok, here’s where the whole Obama phenomenon gets curious and interesting.  The Republicans are determined to make our lives miserable.  They are succeeding brilliantly.  Misery is indeed increasing.  Sometimes, I wonder if Lincoln was right to duke it out with the south, which has apparently never lost it’s fondness for cheap, exploitable labor.  He should have freed the slaves and then jettisoned off Dixie.  “See ya! Don’t take any wooden nickels!”

Pollock: Brooke says it looks like paint spatters but what does she know?

Where was I?  Oh, yes, so gas prices are increasing.  That means every other bloody thing that has to be grown and/or shipped is going to be more expensive too.  So, instead of the crappy 2% seed corn eating payroll tax cut, that got partially gobbled by federal taxes, going into the economy, that money is going to be eaten up by higher fuel costs.  You’d *think* that Obama would see the danger of letting a fragile economy teeter on the brink of a double dip recession if fuel costs go up.  Well, to be complete, he should be worried about the cuts in pay and bennies to federal and state workers and all of the hard working science types who spend 10 years in school getting their PhDs but can’t land a job making more than $37,000/year.   A loud mouth, slash and burn GOP governor here and there adds up.  It doesn’t help that Obama’s mouthpieces keep spouting the Villager’s mantra that spending cuts are necessary but are silent when it comes to raising taxes on millionaires or cutting back on defense spending.

But Obama’s committment to addressing the here and now so that the economy doesn’t sputter and go out, amounts to sternly worded letters to the oil industry and not tapping the strategic petroleum reserve.  No, instead, we are lectured about how unsustainable our oil consumption energy market is.


Do you ever wonder why some reporter in the room doesn’t just stand up and say, “Do you have any idea how to do your job, Mr. President?”

Of course an economy based on oil is unsustainable.  We’ve known about that (and heard about it relentlessly) for the past 40 years. But where are Obama’s green jobs?  Where are the plans for mass transit?   Both of those things would have helped stimulate the economy.  When I asked Hillary Clinton about these very same issues back at YearlyKos2 in Chicago 2007, she had a detailed answer with subparagraphs and funding mechanisms and she threw in her goal for wiring the nation up with high speed broadband so we wouldn’t have to do so much commuting.  Her answer took 10 minutes and was so complete that it was clear that she had really thought about the problem from all aspects, studied the parameters, asked a lot of questions and figured out her strategy.  Obama?   Ehhhhh… not so much.

But no, we had to have Obama.  Obama’s approach to the oil crisis, in The GREAT RECESSION, is to lecture us and tell us to hope and aspire to a day when we will have all the biofuel we can eat.  Nevermind that rising energy costs are going to force a lot of already stressed American families to make some really tough choices that will affect the economy in the immediate future.  But maybe Obama feels that we all need to suffer through higher gas prices and pay more of our shrinking paychecks to the oil bidness and drag the economy down and this will serve as a teachable moment for conservation and planning.  If you’re hungry, just have your stay at home wife (who has a law degree and kids in school all day) plant a garden in your yard.  Or better yet, feed those kids a lot less.  They’re too fat anyway.  American parents do not understand nutrition.

The fire?  What fire.  I don’t see a fire.

The fact that Obama has no problems with discretionary spending cuts deserves a post of its own.  His lack of advocacy for funds to Teach for America at the same time he lauds the program speaks for itself.  Not to mention the fact that womens’ rights in Afghanistan, and by extension, anywhere else in the world are just “pet rocks” of some inappropriately principled senior administration officials:

A senior U.S. official involved in Afghanistan policy said changes to the land program also stem from a desire at the top levels of the Obama administration to triage the war and focus on the overriding goal of ending the conflict.

“Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities,” said the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. “There’s no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.” [Ladies, do not date or vote for these men]

There’s a pattern here, if the Obots actually look at it instead of petting themselves for being the in-group that got it all wrong but still think Obama can be rehabilitated.  Time and time again, Obama has demonstrated quite clearly that everyone, everyone’s rights, everyone’s economic future, everyone’s personal lives, everyone’s American Dream, are expendable and negotiable.  He draws no bright lines.  He protects noone, not even his political allies.  He makes an aspirational speech taking on a controversial issue and makes you think he’s going to do something about it.  But the speech is carefully crafted to give the impression of action when no such action is ever intended. He is the product and protege of the Olympic MBA team and its culture.  He has adopted their values, conformed to their behavior, feels distaste for those outside his milieu and thinks of the rest of us as abstractions.  He is in love with power but not for exercising it.  He simply wants to possess it.  His shareholders are his first priority.  If he keeps them happy, he’s doing a great job.

But shareholders are fickle.  I’ve seen many a schmoozing, ambitious, aggressive guy get to the top after a couple of years of thinking his “work” consists of sucking up to the guy two levels above him and leaving dead bodies in his wake only to be furloughed after a 3 or 4 year term.  The underlings grumble about the clueless management but console themselves that the shareholders will oust him in a couple of years, to be replaced with someone equally cool, detached and clueless.

Because after all, if all you’re doing is keeping the place barely going without actually producing anything innovative, if all you’re doing is giving speeches and providing lackluster leadership, well, any *body* can do that.  It’s easy to build an image out of nothing and sell it.  It’s just as easy to tear it down.  Lack of success is definitely not sexy.  And if Obama doesn’t start leading and bucking the Republicans, that’s where he’s headed.  He won’t be his own man and he’ll be presiding over a failed economy heading into an election year.

At some point soon, the shareholders, the other ones with the millions and millions of little shares, are going to want a change in management.