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      One of the great crimes and tragedies of our world is how we treat the animals we eat (or whose milk or eggs or other products we eat and use.) Factory farming keeps them in tiny enclosures, feeds them monotonous foods, and then when they’re slaughtered it’s a terrible experience: they’re terrified and die in […]
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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.

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.

Friday: Earthquakes and Tsunamis

The video footage from Japan can fill you with awe and terror.  There’s a whirlpool that looks like God pulled the plug on the Pacific and a video of a tsunami wave hitting farmland in Fukushima prefecture that was captured live from a helicopter.  Follow The Lede at the NYTimes for the most recent news and videos.

Number 1 child in Maui was wakened early this morning by tsunami sirens and this time, unlike the 2010 scare, she evacuated to higher ground.  She’s sleeping in her car in a parking lot, although her location in Maui is not expected to get hit very hard.

Number 2 child was hoping to attend a semester in Japan through AFS.  She’s at school right now and probably doesn’t know the full extent of the damage.  I doubt that this event will change her mind about her destination.

We are very concerned for the people of Japan and the Russian coast who have been affected by this tsunami and hope that the loss of lives is minimal.

Saturday Morning News and Views

Good Morning Conflucians!!! There’s a lot happening in the world today. I’ll share the stories I’ve been reading, and you can add your own links in the comments.


HAITI EARTHQUAKE

The situation is very desperate in Haiti. Tensions Mount in Haiti as Situation Grows Desperate

Haiti’s capital is now devoid of a functioning police force. When the earthquake struck, it destroyed the city’s prison, allowing thousands of inmates to escape.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to Haiti Saturday to get a first-hand look at relief efforts, days after tens of thousands of people were killed, and many other left homeless.

Clinton plans to meet with Haitian President René Preval and other officials, along with members of the U.S. government team on the ground.

Clinton said she will limit her visit to the confines of the airport so as not to disrupt relief efforts. Secretary Clinton said she planned to take relief supplies with her and that later, the same aircraft will carry Americans and others being evacuated.


Haiti earthquake: President Preval says country like a war zone

Haitian President Rene Preval said: “The damage I have seen here can be compared to the damage you would see if the country was bombed for 15 days. It is like in a war.”

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated much of the hilly coastal city on Tuesday also collapsed the elegant presidential palace and his own home.

Authorities in Haiti, already the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, are saying they believe the death toll will be between 100,000 and 200,000 and that three-quarters of the city will need to be rebuilt.

I’ve been listening to CNN on XM radio, and I have to say I have new found respect for Sanjay Gupta. He and his CNN crew were at a hospital last night when all the UN doctors and nurses were ordered to leave because of security concerns. Gupta stayed and worked on injured people through the night, then cancelled his show this morning in order to keep working.

The anchors filling in for Gupta had Gen. Honore on–he was instrumental in the Katrina efforts. Gen. Honore said the UN needed to “suck it up” and realize that saving lives is more important than security in this critical time. He also said that dropping bundles from helicopters would be better than nothing for now. He seemed disgusted that the UN is so risk averse.


SCOTT RITTER ARRESTED IN INTERNET CHILD SEX STING

I saw this story yesterday, and I just didn’t know what to think. Well known writer and former U.N. Weapons inspector Scott Ritter was caught in a child sex sting and was arrested in November, but the news has just come out. He had been caught in a sting in 2001, and liberal bloggers blew it off as the Bush administration trying to shut Ritter up. But he was caught again a couple of years later, and again now. So apparently, the guy has been fooling around with teenage girls on the internet all this time. People are really strange.

Former Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter Nabbed in Teen Sex Sting


Ex-U.N. Weapons Inspector Is Charged in Child-Sex Sting

Cop who catches perverts

Here is a blog post by Justin Raimondo after Ritter was arrested for the second time in 2003

Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector who quit in 1998 and now says the U.S. is intent on manufacturing phony “evidence” of arms violations as a pretext for war, is the victim of what may be the sleaziest set-up job in recent history, a smearing so foul that it makes the Clinton crowd look like a bunch of amateurs. The news that he may have been arrested, in June 2001, as the result of an internet sex sting, in which an undercover cop posing as a sixteen-year-old girl lured him into “sex chat” over the internet, came to light in a very strange way. A local newspaper, the Daily Gazette, of Schenectady, New York, was first to pick up the dirt, which apparently came to light when an assistant district attorney was fired for settling the case and not informing the D.A. According to the Gazette:

“Police and prosecutors have declined to discuss the case, which involved at least one class B misdemeanor, because it was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal and ordered sealed by a Colonie Town Court justice. The Daily Gazette’s request for access to the arrest report was denied by the Colonie town attorney’s office, which ruled disclosure was barred under the state Freedom of Information Law.”

So the police just happened to conduct a “sex sting” operation against the one man who had exposed the lies of our war-mad rulers from the inside. On the eve of war, as hundreds of thousands protest in the streets, this staunch Republican and solid family man who has become one of the War Party’s most formidable enemies is suddenly “exposed” as a child molester.

Apparently, sometimes the person caught in a sting is actually guilty, even if he is a famous person who spoke truth to power. As I said earlier, people are strange.


MASSACHUSETTS SPECIAL ELECTION

The Democrats brought out the big guns–including Bill Clinton–for Martha Coakley yesterday, and now she seems to be embracing the Kennedy legacy that she avoided during the primary.

Martha Coakley waves as Bill Clinton hugs Rep. Jim McGovern

Coakley hopes for historic win in Kennedy seat bid

For much of her campaign, Martha Coakley steered clear of the Kennedy mystique, methodically crafting a low-key campaign to fill the late Edward Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat the way the seasoned prosecutor would build a case in court.

But with the wheels threatening to come off the campaign and a double-digit lead eroding to a dead heat in the polls, Coakley, the state’s attorney general, is banking that a deep-seated loyalty to Kennedy among Massachusetts Democrats will be enough to propel her to victory.

Coakley has publicly accepted the endorsement of Kennedy’s widow, Vicki Kennedy, and nephew, the former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy. Vicki Kennedy has also made a fundraising appeal and cut a television ad on Coakley’s behalf.

The Republicans responded by trotting out Rudy Giuliani to stump for Scott Brown: Rudy Giuliani joins Scott Brown, slams Martha Coakley on terrorism

Former New York City mayor and GOP stalwart Rudy Giuliani hammered Attorney General Martha Coakley on terrorism during a raucous campaign stop in the North End today where he revved up Scott Brown’s surging campaign.

“His election, I believe, will send a signal and I believe a very dramatic one, that we are going in the wrong direction on terrorism,” Giuliani said of Brown.

Coakley has come under fire from the opposition for comments she made about terrorists deserting Afghanistan for Pakistan and Yemen during Monday’s debate.

Coakley is opposed to President Obama’s plans to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Brown supports the troop build-up and has sharpened his focus on terrorism in recent days

Democrats countered that Brown voted against giving financial assistance to 9/11 rescue workers.

This morning, nearly every website I’ve clicked on has Scott Brown ads at the top. His campaign has reportedly raked in $1 million per day every day this week.

Tomorrow, President Obama is coming to Massachusetts to help Coakley–at least she hopes he will help. It’s hard to know, because some of the people he needs to shore up support with are working class independents who voted for Hillary Clinton in the Massachusetts presidential primary.


OBAMA PAL CASS SUNSTEIN AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Here’s one more strange story. It seems that Obama’s chief of Information and Regulatory Affairs Cass Sunstein wants to stop Americans from speculating about conspiracies. Here is Joseph Cannon’s take on this story.

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein is Obama’s Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In 2008, he co-wrote an odd and disturbing paper on conspiracy theories, which you can read here. Here’s the gist:

The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.

“Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.

Of course, it never occurred to this nitwit that using conspiratorial methods to fight conspiracy theories is a lot like fighting a house fire by spraying it with gasoline.

Glenn Greenwald also commented on the story yesterday

In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-“independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists. The paper’s abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.

Sunstein advocates that the Government’s stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups.” He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called “independent” credible voices to bolster the Government’s messaging (on the ground that those who don’t believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government). This program would target those advocating false “conspiracy theories,” which they define to mean: “an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.”

So what are you reading?

HAVE A SPECTACULAR SATURDAY!!!!!!!!

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