Archive for March, 2011

A giant lizard of the pop culture?

That’s what Gloria Goodale calls it. Nuclear radiation in pop culture: more giant lizards than real science.

Anxiety over nuclear radiation isn’t new, and purveyors of pop culture have profited handsomely. But even with more serious films on the subject, the public is still largely ignorant of the science.

It’s not just the public. Look at all the headlines about radiation found in milk this morning.

Films such as the Godzilla franchise that began in 1954 depicted the first radiation-mutated lizard destroying Tokyo in the Japanese version, and the “Incredible Shrinking Man” in 1957 showed a sailor who navigates through a mysterious cloud and soon shrinks to nothing.

Don’t forget Them! about those ants in the New Mexico desert.

Movies and comic books have come up with a visual equivalent of radiation, says Rob Latham, associate professor of English at UC Riverside, who teaches a course in 1950s science fiction.

“Giant ants or Godzilla are a visual symbol of radiation,” he says. “The actual monsters produced by radioactive radiation are a spectacular way of visualizing radioactivity since you can’t actually see it. Having Godzilla come from the ocean or giant ants running around Los Angeles from the desert is a way to represent the effects of an invisible force.”
Radiation was seen as beneficial

Radioactivity was not always seen as a negative power. In the early days of radium research, it was considered beneficial. Early uses included such popular items as “radium suppositories,” points out Mr. Latham.

Those therapies didn’t work out so well.

Back to the milk: there is a reason for finding radioactivity in milk. That is because it is radioactive, just like bananas and most other things in our close environment. What the headlines are probably trying to say is that one or two atoms of stuff that probably came from Japan have been found in the milk. The key item to note in that is just how precise a measurement can be made when it comes to things radioactive. That is one reason why radioactive material is easier to clean up. It is the pollutants that are hard to detect that are more difficult to deal with.

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The Wisconsin front

NRO has a comment on the Bench Brawl in Wisconsin. The opposition to legislative action has attempted preemptive judicial activism, That will require a judicial oligarchy with the proper sympathies in order to maintain the effort. That is why the effort is on an upcoming judicial election.

When you’ve lost the election, lost the vote in the legislature, and don’t have the law on your side, lies, invective, and blunt force — the Left’s main weapons in Wisconsin — are what you have left. Expect to see a lot more of them deployed.

The question is whether integrity will hold. Some have doubts and think those that elected the current executive officers and legislative representatives have figured the job is done and have gone home. It appears, in reality, that the job has just begun.

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8 modern principles about international relationships

George Weigel presents it as how Democrats view the world. He says the ideas have a precise and definable origin which he traces as an outcome of the Vietnam war.

In briefest compass, eight ideas have shaped the foreign-policy perspective of today’s Democratic establishment. Different leaders will emphasize one or another of these ideas, and circumstances will dictate the ways in which these ideas are applied to real-world situations. However, anyone wanting to dig into the subsoil of the incompetence, ineptness, and just plain bad judgment currently on display had better be prepared to reckon with these eight ideas — and with the fact that people in power actually swear fealty to them.

The list is worth examining and the ideas considering no matter the implications of political affiliation. The ideas provide a description of an ideological value system. The eight ideas in the list are about (1) the nature of conflict, (2) how peace is achieved, (3) the role of the United States, (4) the attitude towards armed forces and their use in conflict resolution, (5) the subservience of nations to global power structures, (6) the responsibilities of the United States as subservient to international organization, (7) the threats to the United States, (8) the distinctiveness or need to preserve the United States.

These are the ideas that, in one form or another, lurk just beneath the surface of the thinking of virtually the entire Democratic foreign-policy establishment. They shape the minds of the people who form the talent pool from which Democratic administrations draw their senior foreign-policy officials. No Democrat who strongly challenges these ideas has a chance of being the Democratic presidential nominee. Moreover, the people who hold these ideas are firmly convinced that they are true.

That, and not some psychological tic of President Obama’s, is why U.S. policy has been what it has been since a Tunisian fruit vendor immolated himself and set North Africa and the Middle East ablaze. Ideas do indeed have consequences, for good and for ill.

These are all ideas about the nature of power on the global scale, who should have it and how it is to be expressed. The focus is on removing power from the lowest levels and, instead, placing it at the levels of highest scope where only an elite, selected and determined by indeterminate processes and not subject to any accountability, can govern.

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Energy use is the rise from poverty

Alan Caruba notes that the Greens are Against All Energy Anywhere

Were it not for Green propaganda, the U.S. would not be wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on idiotic wind and solar farms that are utterly dependent on government subsidies and mandates that require utilities to use the pitifully small amounts of electricity they produce.

The same can be said of the equally idiotic regulatory mandates for ethanol that drive up the cost of every gallon of gas pumped while, at the same time, reducing the mileage and damaging to your car’s engine. Even Al Gore thinks ethanol is a bad idea.

Ironically, more people have died from wind turbines than nuclear plants. In 2008, there were 41 recorded deaths. The carnage on birds and bats is rarely mentioned by the media. Despite all the blather about Three Mile Island not one person has died [in the West] from radiation since nuclear plants were first introduced.

The famous picture of the Korean peninsula is provided. That should be considered in the context of stories of mass starvation in North Korea this winter.

There are reasons the most productive, most healthy, and most vigorous countries also use the most energy. The ‘Greens’ use energy consumption as an epithet but that is like saying that being well fed is wrong and should be avoided. The amount of money that is being spent on energy schemes that are ideological and not practical is wasted money. It is not a small amount and that means that many lives will be, and have been harmed.

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It has been a long long road to reason, and there are still questions

Back in the residue of the sixties, Patrick Moore was doing research as a PhD student whose findings were unpleasant to a copper mining effort on Vancouver Island. He went from there to involvement with Greenpeace, even serving as president of the organization, until that organization abandoned intellectual integrity for ideology. Now he is famous as one of the first defectors and, as such, is subject to attack. The National Post describes the history of events in moving From Greenpeace founder to nuclear defender.

To Mr. Moore, these attacks feel bigger than a debate over this or that resource policy. Green dogma, he thinks, is winning a war with rationality. The Stalinists and the Nazis idealized the fraudulent theories of Lysenkoism and Aryanism over Western and so-called Jewish science, and they exiled legitimate researchers who dissented, he recalls. He’s worried. “A new intellectual dark age is just around the corner.”

He is not alone in his fears.

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The case for and against teacher unions

Doug Noon explains Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions. In doing so, he illustrates why such unions are problematic. First is avoiding explaining and denying what anyone can see on parade in such things as teacher strikes or the behaviors recently on display in Wisconsin.

In the political football game of “education reform,” teachers’ unions are blamed for putting the interests of teachers ahead of students, opposing reform measures such as merit pay and school vouchers, protecting lazy and incompetent teachers, awarding teachers unaffordable benefit packages, and contributing to the general moral and economic decline of America. Rebuttals to these charges are tedious

Teachers cannot set aside teaching that is tedious but that is what this one wants to do. The implication is that it isn’t tedious that is the problem but rather the intellectual integrity that would have to be faced in such an educational effort.

That is followed by illustrating that the public sector is isolated and removed from public sector market forces.

Before I was a public school teacher, I worked at a private school. I worked for half of the starting pay of public school teachers, and I had a part-time job as a swim instructor that I went to after school and on Saturdays. I had no retirement or health plan.

Then there are the contradictions.

I got RIFF’d after my first year because of budget shortfalls, and I was rehired over the summer. The contract language that allowed me back in helps to maintain stability in school staffing and programming, so it’s a win-win deal for teachers and kids.

The union serves to manage conflict: No union, more conflict.

The problem is that unions escalate conflict as they are, by definition, moving conflict from an individual matter to an organizational matter. That leads to another comment that illustrates the problem of identification of employer.

Union busting is bullying. We need to defend our profession and our students’ futures from the whims and delusions of politicians. If we don’t, who will?

That defense appears to be the close collusion between the public employee unions and campaign efforts to establish the election of union friendly politicians. These are the politicians who cater to union demands for above market salaries and benefits despite not having the income to support them.

He ends with the assertion that it really isn’t about being right. It is about raw power. It is a balance of class forces. The problem is that the teachers are an elite class when compared to their employer, the working public. Teachers are in the business of teaching what is moral and what is right; not how to obtain power no matter the consequence; not in promoting false class divergences to promote social unrest and envy.

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Fukushima: what’s really happening?

Lewis Page has a rundown at The Register, Fukushima’s toxic legacy: Ignorance and fear – Hysteria rages unchecked as minor incident winds down that is well worth a careful reading if you want a good perspective on the story of how Japan’s nuclear power plant handled an unprecedented natural disaster.

There is a lot in the news trying to compare this event with Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Those comparisons provide a poor referent as far as the radiation and related effects. In terms of the major health effect of such events, there might well be something worth comparing.

It is now an officially acknowledged fact that the great bulk of medical damage to the public after Chernobyl resulted from mass panic and associated psychological stress, not from the accident itself.

In terms of the current situation

Against this background [measured radiation] the initial Japanese decision to do nothing at all about food shipments looks like the correct one. Unfortunately public hysteria has been fanned by ridiculous statements from overseas and UN officials, forcing the present limited climbdown.

Barring some new and unforeseen event at the powerplant, it seems clear that there will be no measurable radiological effects on anybody as a result of the quake and tsunami. Unfortunately the psychological consequences – almost entirely a result of fearmongering and bad reporting in the media worldwide – seem set to be measurable.

What is at risk?

The possibility remains there for the developed world to move to a vastly superior future which would please almost everybody: greens; energy-security hawks; those primarily concerned about economic health; and those who worry about social justice and wealth distribution and provision of good well-paid jobs (the unions, unsurprisingly, love nuclear).

But that better future seems set to be denied to us by the effects of fear and ignorance, driven irresistibly forward by standard-format journalism. ®

The risk from ignorance and hysteria is one that can be avoided but it is also one of the most insidious risks we face. This episode is a case in point.

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The nuclear topic as an example of tainted thinking

Ever since World War II, it seems, the word nuclear has promoted panic and fear. Reason goes out the window. The Japan earthquake and its effect on nuclear power plants has rekindled the flames of those in panic. But some are noticing just how irrational the anti-nuclear power plant position really is.

One essay that really surprised many was George Monbiot in the Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power.

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

Some greens have wildly exaggerated the dangers of radioactive pollution. For a clearer view, look at the graphic published by

That xkcd chart has received a lot of notice. Another good one is Keeping perspective at And Still I Persist from a DoE website.

Matthew Shaffer takes on the nature of the debate in Another Three Mile Island.

McGaha and other experts tell NRO that Americans are unduly afraid of nuclear energy — in part because of the media’s disproportionate, distorted reporting on rare nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island and the recent problems in Japan. McGaha says the most deadly consequence of Three Mile Island might have been how it delayed the advancement of nuclear technology in the U.S.

The total death toll from Three Mile Island may have been zero, and Chernobyl claimed, by the estimates of the International Atomic Energy Agency, just 50 lives, despite what nuclear experts describe as the Soviet Union’s extreme incompetence. Each lost life is a tragedy. But in the 20th century, hydroelectric dams’ bursting, coal-mining disasters, and oil explosions have killed tens of thousands. And that includes just direct deaths from accidents, not indirect deaths from displacement, health problems caused by particulate matter, etc. Statistically speaking, nuclear experts claim, uranium fission is the safest major energy source in the world.

The facts are fairly clear. There is a fifty year history for nuclear power production. The failure incidents are very few. The deaths and injury counts very small. Yet those against such power sources will claim there is a conspiracy that is hiding many other failures and that the deaths are really in the thousands. Besides this conspiracy ethos, these folks will populate their arguments with “what if” scenarios. They also often assert that alternative energy sources such as wind or solar can take up the needs and, if not, then power consumption is too high anyway and people need to use less.

Current news is about background radiation levels in food or the environment near northern Japan. One has to wonder about farmers in the vicinity of nuclear plants that still have fields to produce with nuclear contaminants. The tsunami that damaged the power plants probably also inundated the fields with salt water so it will take a while before they can grow anything. Then there’s the solar power idea: a big enough solar power plant to replace the damaged nuclear power plants would be so big as to make any damaged territory from nuclear contamination look small – if there was indeed such contamination and it lasted long enough to build the solar collection facilities.

The fact is that much of human health and welfare is directly related to cheap and abundant energy. That, and the fact that the debate has been going hot and heavy since the sixties and is so irrational indicate just how deep the issue touches people. Japan, France, and other countries have not had the luxury and wealth of the US that allowed them to avoid nuclear power. The regulatory and fear costs placed on the power source in the US are a price that has been paid and is being paid. The question is just how high the price will need to be before the US joins other countries in realizing that there may be a better way to do things. There are still those who think we can do without abundant energy and they still have a powerful voice. That is the debate.

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Tactics: diversion or denial?

One of the common responses seen in the losing side of an argument is that, somehow, they weren’t able to communicate the value of their point of view effectively. PhysOrg has another example of this: Distrust of climate science due to lack of media literacy: researcher

To be climate change literate, the public must first be media literate,” since print, TV and radio reports and opinion pieces are the main ways that the public gets its information about climate change science, Cooper says.

Previous research demonstrates that informal science education in the United States has not emphasized critical thinking, she said. It mostly offers one-way communication from researchers or educators to the public and assumes that the public operates from a deficit of information that needs to be filled, Cooper says, citing studies in the field of communication theory.

Furthermore, a small number of climate change deniers (who are often linked to corporations and the fossil fuel industry, she says) have exploited this model by encouraging partisanship; framing climate change as an insignificant problem; and disseminating scientifically inaccurate “educational” messages, according to the paper.

studies have shown that educators would be more effective if they expanded their modes of communication beyond science centers and museums to radio, television, movies and blogs, Cooper adds.

The ‘diversion’ shown here is that the quality of the message is being ignored and, instead, it is the means of communications and the stupidity of the listeners that is being addressed.

The ‘denial’ is shown as there is no alternative hypothesis offered such as maybe the listeners aren’t stupid and in the factual errors. (see also a discussion on Popular Technology about how supposedly evidence based conclusions becoming matters of dogma infect academia).

The factual errors here are typical and indicative. Common is the definition of the enemy as “deniers” who have the riches of “big oil” behind them and can twirl the media around their fingers with finesse and cunning.

What is interesting is that the basic reasons for skepticism about climate alarmism is clearly described.

Cooper also points to research that suggests that science educators should embrace media literacy education, so when faced with new information, members of the public will ask such questions as “who made this message?”; “why was it made?”; “who paid for it?” The public might also be taught to question the content in a message, ask what information has been omitted and question the credibility of the information as fact or simply opinion.

The issue at hand is why these attributes are not recognized. That is what leads to conclusions that the issue is not a matter of reason and fact with some but rather one of dogma because, while they complain about the lack of a proper science valued approach towards questions in those with whom the disagree, they themselves fail to express those values. That adds the idea of psychological projection to the mix.

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Ranking the agenda

The Japan earthquake and tsunami has provided plenty of opportunity for those who need to take advantage of a crisis, especially with the nuclear power component. It has become so evident that there is now a Journalist Wall of Shame website to catalog the hyperbole and FUD mongering. Besides the notes about the spam and other harassment and the links for those irritated at the phenomena, there is a Severity of Offense scores that provides an interesting measurement reference for the phenomena.

So, if you need to dwell in fear and apocalypse, then look for the stories rated highly. Otherwise, witness and learn.

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Tactics under political pressure

Nolte: 20 Days of Left-Wing Thuggery in Wisconsin: When Will Obama, Democrats, and MSM Call for Civility?.

Politics aside, whats happening in Wisconsin is downright frightening because, as youll see below, these incidents are growing in number and intensity. Furthermore, other than the Right, no one is calling for calm or civility.

Extortion letters to business by police and firemen, broken windows at headquarters offices, death threats, door pounding in the wee hours of the morning, hyperbolic accusation, ripping up and defacing petitions, … and the police just standing by watching and the major media quiet.

See also The New Civility: Blogger Ann Althouse’s ‘Madison Privileges Have Been Revoked’ at – and – Death Threats by the Dozen in Wisconsin .

“This is more than a disgrace, its dangerous.”

Japan, Libya, – these are minor worries compared to the ethical and moral foundations we see in our own political debate.

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Preparedness versus apocalyptic anticipation

Preparedness is based on what you know of the risks realized in what you spend to prepare for them. For common risks, you can buy insurance although many don’t see the need to spend money on flood or hurricane insurance as they don’t think the risk is worth the cost. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan reflect an example of an event that was outside of the expected – geologists didn’t think that fault could cause that big of an earthquake based on their experiences and studies – so preparations for that in terms of building guidelines and contingency plans came up a bit short. Still, what was done in terms of preparation is paying its dividends. For a perspective, see the WSJ A Long, Painful Reckoning with survival stories, inside the reactors, quake effects, and a report on the task at hand for rescue workers.

Disaster preparation isn’t the only area where such a balancing of what is known is compared to risks. The military force is another such assessment. Soldiers Told To Be More Like Marines is about the adage that the army is always ready to fight the last war. Planning for the future is another effort to determine what is a reasonable expense.

for the foreseeable future, the nation will not need a large army, equipped with heavy weapons. Special operations forces and some light infantry is OK, but any plans for lots of armored units slugging it out with similar foes is, well, no longer on the menu. The army thus becomes an expeditionary force, to be sent overseas for emergencies America can’t avoid. But not to stay and get involved with another Iraq or Afghanistan.

The Fukushima situation is providing an post hoc look at disaster preparedness. The Register has a rundown: Fukushima on Thursday: Prospects starting to look good. It provides a good summary of what has happened, why the amelioration efforts have been difficult due to tsunami and explosion damage, worker radiation exposure, and trends.

This situation does constitute a break in primary containment and has led to heightened radiation levels nearby, but there is no sign of massive damage to the cores or release of long-lived radioisotopes in significant quantities. The radiation near the reactors is mainly emitted by fast-decaying isotopes in the steam which decay away within seconds or minutes of being created. TEPCO admits that portions of fuel rod continue to be uncovered at times, but residual heating levels in the fuel are now hugely lower than they were in the days immediately after the quake and the rods’ heat-conducting alloy cladding helps transfer heat from the exposed portions to the water. … In summary it is looking more and more probable that the death and injury toll from the Fukushima quake strike will be limited to the one worker killed in a crane accident and others hurt by the quake and subsequent explosions at the site, perhaps with some very minimal long-term radiation effects among site workers

Then you have the FUD mongering: EE Times – Plutonium, fuel rod reactions stoke nuclear tensions — Canada Free Press sarcasm – Getting out of Dodge before the plume hits “The scare tactics employed by the world’s largest bureaucracy, the scandal-ridden United Nations, make Frankenstein look like a choir boy.” — a similar note at Q&O Japan’s nuclear problem and panic as policy “take a look at ABC News’ coverage of the nuclear problem in Japan. I don’t know about you, but it seems tinged with emotional sensationalism to me. That’s not to say the problem isn’t obviously serious, but it has that emotional element to it that, well, isn’t very objective. It also implies that the result is likely to be from a doomsday scenario.” — PhysOrg says Risks from radiation low in Japan but panic high

Retired nuclear power plants: testaments to human hubris? is another good rundown on how ideological attitudes tend to flavor perceptions.

Audacity – which is a better word than hubris – is one of the qualities that makes humans special and that allowed us to do many things that other animals couldn’t have done. We’re the species of explorers, discoverers, inventors, and some of us are heroes. The humans could have been satisfied with eating bananas in the tropics throughout their lives. By this algorithm, they could have avoided Dan’s accusations involving “hubris”. But they decided to do other things, too. Sorry, Dan, but curiosity, courage, dreams, and creativity are what our species is all about. Try to join another species if you have fundamental problems with this quality.

The sensible humans will surely learn some lessons – general ones as well as very special, engineering lessons – but I surely do hope that the lesson that we should abandon all of our ambitions and audacity won’t be one of them!

Audacity vs hubris seems to be a good paradigm for looking at the recent disasters.

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The hyperbole: maybe we should tone it down?

Several of the major media outlets are backing off the hyperbolic nuclear catastrophe talk somewhat. Perhaps they realize they went a bit too far and need to tone it down?

At CBS: Radiation from Japan: How big a risk for U.S.?.

the images of the stricken Japanese plant are disturbing. But the fear of a nuclear fallout in this country may be much greater than the threat. … “The people in California can rest easy. The amount of radiation that you’re getting now, or are liable to get in the near future from Japan, would be less than you would get in a TSA screening. It’s just not a hazard right now. I can’t see how that’s going to change in the immediate future.”

USA Today: Japan nuclear emergency workers to return to plant. What they don’t make clear is that the radiation dose a plant worker can receive is closely monitored to stay within a minimal health risk. The plant workers have not (yet) engaged in a suicide mission so rotation of workers illustrates that the radiation exposure, even at the plant itself, is manageable as far as health safety is concerned.

The nuclear crisis has triggered international alarm and partly overshadowed the human tragedy caused by Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami, a blast of black seawater that pulverized Japan’s northeastern coastline. The quake was one of the strongest recorded in history.

Millions of people struggled for a fifth day with little food, water or heat, and already chilly temperatures turned to snow in many areas. Police say more than 452,000 people are staying in temporary shelters, often sleeping on the floor in school gymnasiums.

The Telegraph: The world shouldn’t panic about Japan’s nuclear problems. This one starts out with Germany’s over-reaction.

No doubt this panicky and unjustified decision was in large part prompted by the need to pander to Germany’s powerful Green movement. But it was gratuitous and unhelpful, doing no favours either to Japan or the rest of the world where nuclear generation is the only realistic source of long-term clean energy at our disposal. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the level of radioactivity at the Fukushima Daiichi power station dropped sharply in the course of yesterday, despite a third explosion. To put matters into perspective, the level of radiation directly over the reactor was lower than the post-Chernobyl level of radiation over the UK, whose health impact was the equivalent of smoking half a cigarette a year.

The San Francisco Chronicle: Japan nuclear health risks minimal, experts say. — (“experts say” is a caution and caveat so care is needed in interpreting the article)

From what they’ve seen so far, radiation experts said it’s unlikely that anyone outside the plant – including residents in nearby communities who have been evacuated in recent days – has been exposed to enough radiation to do long-term damage.

Public health and radiation experts stressed Tuesday that there is no need for people in the United States to stockpile potassium iodide tablets, much less take them. Radiation levels high enough to present health risks will not reach the West Coast, public health and radiation experts said.

The fact is that radiation can be measured in extremely small amounts and that can be analyzed to tell you exactly what material is involved. That, in turn, can be used to determine the source. Such information can be useful as it allows determining the age of fossils, for example. It is also possible to detect the residue from bomb testing from fifty years ago to determine age and other information for more current biological specimens as well.

Not only can very small amounts be detected, the health risks are fairly well understood. Where much of the panic comes from is in speculation about effects from levels that are in the ‘noise’ that is the typical environment in which people live. It is not known to any degree of accuracy just how much small amounts of radiation within the normal environmental variations will impact health not because of lack of effort in trying to figure it out but because, even after extensive study and experience, the signal of such an impact is not clearly evident. That is, once you get to very low levels, the health impact is indeterminate.

Another canard that has appeared in this cloud of hysteria is the ‘perfectly safe’ energy resource desire. There is no absence of risk in any human endeavor. The issue for society at large is, as always, the benefit against the risk and costs. The hyperbole that is evident after the Japan disaster isolates risks from any referent and escalates them to absurd levels. That results in self destructive behaviors such as in Germany and in public panics. It is quite likely that the risks due to the nuclear power plants is much less than the risks from the panic that results from ignorance and media hyperbole.

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Apocalypse and hysteria needs to be another category here, it seems. Brendon O’Neill has a good rundown on the phenomena as Fearmongers Go Into Nuclear Meltdown. There is another story, quite different, along these lines as well. It is about the wikileaks source being abused by military prison officials as he awaits trial. Both issues are being used to try to whip up hysteria and panic on a false premise.

The speed and gritty determination with which Western reporters and experts myopically turned their gaze to the nuclear power station in Fukushima in northern Japan has been extraordinary.

And it has been driven not by hard evidence that there will be a devastating radioactive leak, but by a culture of fear which feverishly seeks out the worst-case scenario; by an almost pornographic apocalyptic outlook unsatisfied by the images of waves of water wiping away towns and villages – no, it needs a nuclear component to this tragedy too.

Yes, the situation at Fukushima is serious and still unpredictable. But the things that we do know for certain suggest that the Western media’s obsession with what is happening there is seriously overblown and reveals more about us and our fears than it does about the reality on the ground in Japan.

why has there been such an outpouring of media-led panic about a possible radioactive fallout that could spread through Asia and even as far as Europe?

Because this coverage is being driven more by the politics of fear than by rigorous analysis.

Because our apocalyptic mindset is insatiable; it needs even more than the terrible images already coming from Japan.

And because the post-tsunami problems are being disgracefully exploited by environmentalist groups opposed to nuclear power, including Greenpeace, which published an article on Fukushima called “The myth of nuclear containment”.

The result is that the Western focus is mostly on one nuclear power plant in a country in which entire towns have been destroyed and thousands of people killed. The politics of fear has made us so irrational and self-obsessed that we risk becoming deaf to the already occurring horrors in Japan.

Now compare those issues, the earthquake and the prisoner, to the union brouhaha. In that one, there is a looming disaster being denied and the hysteria is that “rights” will be taken away from the unions. For some folks, human disaster is just a tool; a catastrophe just an opportunity; a society just a free lunch. And, it appears, those folks trying to escape from reality and the consequences of their desires have friends in the media.

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Nuclear FUD mongering still rising

William Tucker explains why Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl. This is a response to media stories which hype a few folks perhaps exposed to radiation while burying the thousands of bodies washed up on the shore who were caught in the tsunami.

What the Japanese earthquake has proved is that even the oldest containment structures can withstand the impact of one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history. The problem has been with the electrical pumps required to operate the cooling system. It would be tragic if the result of the Japanese accident were to prevent development of Generation III reactors, which eliminate this design flaw.

Nick Allen and Martin Evans also report on this. Japan nuclear plant: ‘no Chernobyl possibility’.

Fukushima is a setback for the nuclear industry, which has been enjoying somewhat of a renaissance since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the US, and Ukraine’s 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The nuclear safety agency rated the Fukushima incident as a 4 on the 1 to 7 International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. Chernobyl was a 7.

Fukushima Daiichi was one of the oldest supplying the grid, having been commissioned in 1971. Housing six reactors, only three were online at the time of the earthquake as the others were undergoing maintenance.

Prof Walt Patterson, a nuclear energy expert at Chatham House, told Channel Four News that the problems at the plants had been “foreseen for many years”. He said: “The design of the reactor is such that it is inherently susceptible to the kind of problems happening now.”

The difference between these plants and Chernobyl is that that the Japanese reactors have a containment vessel designed to hold the puddle of all materials in the reactor vessel that might melt under worst case scenarios. What is causing the explosions that scares media types is steam from residual heat.

But the real issue is another of these “can’t let a good catastrophe go to waste” type things. The Examiner takes up the Republicans are dumb theme on this and asserts:

In the last couple of days, however, it’s the nuclear component of the “all of the above” strategy that has come into question. What effect should the ongoing disaster in Japan, and the perilous situation at some of that country’s nuclear plants in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami, have on the debate? The answer from Republicans, at least right now, is: It’s too early to say.

Fox’s Chris Wallace asked McConnell whether, in light of the Japanese disaster, Americans will look at nuclear power and say, “Not in my backyard.” McConnell called that “a fairly common reaction to catastrophes,” but in the end, he said, “We ought not to make American and domestic policy based upon an event that happened in Japan.”

What this Japan disaster really shows is just how safe nuclear power really is – even using 1971 technology. It is those who use that disaster to fear monger in support of their irrational views about energy whose intelligence should be questioned.

What can be seen in just how deep an emotional issue anything with the word “nuclear” in it really is. That observation should be a warning if intellectual integrity is desired.

Update: The Register: Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now! provides some good sanity on the issue and a reasoned perspective about what is really happening. Or at Volokh: Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors.

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unclear nuclear: getting the story right

To understand the hype and FUD going on with the Japanese nuclear headlines, see Fukushima Nuclear Accident – a simple and accurate explanation.

Along with reliable sources such as the IAEA and WNN updates, there is an incredible amount of misinformation and hyperbole flying around the internet and media right now about the Fukushima nuclear reactor situation.

There was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity.

The earthquake that hit Japan was 7 times more powerful than the worst earthquake the nuclear power plant was built for … So the first hooray for Japanese engineering, everything held up.

The earthquake destroyed the external power supply of the nuclear reactor. That is one of the most serious accidents for a nuclear power plant, and accordingly, a “plant black out” receives a lot of attention when designing backup systems.

Things were going well for an hour … Then the Tsunami came, much bigger than people had expected when building the power plant

When designing a nuclear power plant, engineers follow a philosophy called “Defense of Depth”. That means that you first build everything to withstand the worst catastrophe you can imagine, and then design the plant in such a way that it can still handle one system failure (that you thought could never happen) after the other. A tsunami taking out all backup power in one swift strike is such a scenario. The last line of defense is putting everything into the third containment (see above), that will keep everything, whatever the mess, control rods in our out, core molten or not, inside the reactor.

If you want to stay informed, please forget the usual media outlets and consult the following websites:

The use of seawater to cool the systems is noted in this discussion as being a rather last ditch effort. Such a tactic prevented significant core melting at the expense of polluting all of the hardware. One reasonable idea for this tactic was that the plants were already past a planned decommission date so the cleanup seawater would normally require would not be needed as this event just finalized the decommission schedule.

The media is in full flower on nuclear FUD mongering. Bets are already being placed on how the anti nuclear anything crowd will use this event to further their cause. The fact of no significant injury except for those resulting from diminished energy resources will be shoveled under the rug and the many thousands of dead and injured by those same forces of nature that disabled the plant will also be set aside to suit ideological purposes. That will be a tragedy to compound the disaster if it occurs as many seem to think based on what they have seen in times past.

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The matters of the kingdom

A new category is added here: religion. The immediate stimulus is the season of Lent and pondering the question about just what Jesus did to deserve his fate. BrothersJudd posts Thine the Kingdom in wondering about the trials of Jesus and just what kind of kingdom he confessed to being his realm. That post refers to, and quotes, an article by Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus before Pilate, that rings some familiarity with what we can see in debates and politics today.

One topic is that of who speaks and who is heard and how people can try to force their views.

So the Barabbas party, the “crowd”, was conspicuous, while the followers of Jesus remained hidden out of fear; this meant that the vox populi, on which Roman law was built, was represented one-sidedly.

We can know about the ‘wisdom’ of the crowd and protests demonstrate a desire to present vox populi over reason and reality. There is an interesting contrast today in the example of legislators running from their posts in order to shout their message louder – hiding to be more visible. They deign to debate in honest dialog but rather attempt to win power via tantrum supported by constructed crowds.

By such experience to which we are witness, we can better understand the trial of Jesus as described in the Gospels as well. We can gain a better understanding of how bad things can happen. That, perhaps, can lead us to seeing our role in such bad things and what we can do to prevent them. We do need to keep in mind humility as our conflicts are not those in the realm of Jesus and the outcomes not as significant. We can see what is important and learn about our own frailties.

In addition to the clear delimitation of his concept of kingdom (no fighting, earthly powerlessness), Jesus had introduced a positive idea, in order to explain the nature and particular character of the power of this kingship: namely, truth.

A question in many fundamentalist – whether Islam or Christian or other – is what to learn and how to apply this testimony. Is the ‘Truth’ that we claim drives our behavior really that of our deity, or is it something to satisfy our lust for power or other base desire?

It is the question that is also asked by modern political theory: Can politics accept truth as a structural category? Or must truth, as something unattainable, be relegated to the subjective sphere, its place taken by an attempt to build peace and justice using whatever instruments are available to power? By relying on truth, does not politics, in view of the impossibility of attaining consensus on truth, make itself a tool of particular traditions that in reality are merely forms of holding on to power?

Truth becomes the issue and many ‘pretenders’ think they really and truly know God’s Truth. But:

What is truth? Pilate was not alone in dismissing this question as unanswerable and irrelevant for his purposes. Today too, in political
argument and in discussion of the foundations of law, it is generally experienced as disturbing. Yet if man lives without truth, life passes
him by; ultimately he surrenders the field to whoever is the stronger.

And that leads us to the matter of how can we tell if we do know ‘Truth’ in our own opinions and views and perceptions.

In Christ, God entered the world and set up the criterion of truth in the midst of history. Truth is outwardly powerless in the world, just as Christ is powerless by the world’s standards: he has no legions; he is crucified. Yet in his very powerlessness, he is powerful: only thus, again and again, does truth become power.

Much of the Muslim extremism that drives terrorism is rationalized on the need to ‘convert the heathens’ and impose the values and truth of Islam. The question becomes one of whether this is really a ‘Truth’ or rather just a lust for power. That is a question in many modern debates where we face the conundrum also presented in the trial of Jesus.

Again and again, mankind will be faced with this same choice: to say yes to the God who works only through the power of truth and love, or to build on something tangible and concrete — on violence.

Are those guys who make a ruckus at a military funeral really proclaiming God’s truth? Do those who turn Creationism into Intelligent Design espouse such Truth? Are those who promote climate alarmism really after Truth or perhaps something else? Is the labor union for the protection of workers or the expression of power? Are those promoting alternative medicine or energy or whatever really after Truth or do they seek some appeasement to some other god? Is our kingdom one of Ceaser or is it something different, such as what Jesus described that puzzled Pilate?

How do we tell? That is something we can learn from the exegesis of scholars trying to understand Christianity, both in terms of message as well as in the lessons of history.

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Biting the hand that feeds you

Orrin Judd provides an example in The other Wisconsin.

Union chief’s ego gets in way as he overplays players’ hand: When NFL dust settles, owners still will be rich and the players will have gained … what? (David Haugh, March 12, 2011, Chicago Sun Times) … Players and owners aren’t partners on equal footing. Without the NFL, most owners still would be filthy rich. Dare I suggest you can’t say the same about many of the 1,900 players.

What seems to get lost in many of these Union, tax, and budget debates is matters of capital and risk. Those are matters of the hand that feeds. Public employee unions need a governmental infrastructure and health to provide their salary and benefit packages. Football players need stadiums to play in, teams to play with, and all that stuff related to making money in order to be able to get their income.

The focus is often on the pay and benefits as if they are a right and are owed to the employee. Yet without someone building an idea and risking capital to put it into practice and engaging in those activities necessary to make the business happen, the employee would be without opportunity. Private unions have done in much of big manufacturing by biting the hand that feeds them. States have done the same. Some learn that biting the hand that feeds you is probably not a good idea. Some take a long, long time to learn this lesson.

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Disasters: real or anticipated?

There has been a disaster. Hundreds of miles of a highly populated coastline (Aol News) were inundated by a wall of water and entire towns reduced to mud flats and debris fields. Thousands dead and missing. But what has a large portion of the headlines? The forty year old power plant that was about to be decommissioned that was near the epicenter of the disaster.

What makes it a special fear is that it is a nuclear power plant. It survived the disaster and appears be only a minor risk as far as the radiation fears go, but that would be hard to determine from the headlines and news stories. From them, it appears that the risk of a ‘nuclear meltdown’ is on a par – or worse – than the thousands who have already suffered from the natural disaster.

In the town of Minamisanrikucho, 10,000 people – nearly two-thirds of the population – have not been heard from since the tsunami wiped it out, a government spokesman said. NHK showed only a couple concrete structures still standing, and the bottom three floors of those buildings gutted. One of the few buildings standing was a hospital, and a worker told NHK hospital staff rescued about a third of the patients in the facility.

Right now, the task is survival. With so much wiped out, there are people who do not have access to food and water or other basic needs. They are desperate for rescue. But the media focus is on the possibility of radiation exposure on par with a routine medical test. There are lessons here.

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It is interesting that one of the chants of the protesters in Wisconsin was “shame.” Harsh Words for the Fleebaggers quotes Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s welcome back for “the most shameful 14 people in the state of Wisconsin” and explains very clearly why that is true.

Their appearance at the Capitol today is in direct violation of the contempt order issued by the state Senate earlier this month, and it proves their absolute disregard for the institution of the Senate and the constitution they took an oath of office to serve.

It would almost make one think about psychological projection and related behaviors …

Update: Moe Lane provides another example as Wisconsin cops & firemen break their oaths.. It describes a letter from public union members demanding political support and threatening boycott of those companies who do not provide that support. Indeed, more shame.

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