Yeah, sometimes I like that crazy guy from Kentucky.
Monthly Archives: March 2011
Cross-posted from the other site
I’ve avoided saying anything else about Japan’s nuclear situation since, every time I do, things seem to get worse. But I have to break my silence today due to the pure hysteria of the reporting.
Japan’s nuclear and industrial safety agency on Friday raised the level for the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant from a 4 to 5 — putting it on par with the 1979 incident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island.
According to the International Nuclear Events Scale, a level 5 equates to the likelihood of a release of radioactive material, several deaths from radiation and severe damage to a reactor core.
Chernobyl, for example, rated a 7 on the scale, while Japan’s other nuclear crisis — a 1999 accident at Tokaimura in which workers died after being exposed to radiation — was a 4.
In Pennsylvania, a partial meltdown of a reactor core was deemed the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history.
OMG!!!1! It’s as bad a three-mile island! An incident that resulted in … no deaths from radiation. In fact, it’s probable that the hysterical reaction to TMI caused more health effects through stress and fear than did the meltdown.
We’re my see a similar relation — more deaths from fear than radiation — emerge with Fukushima. Media hype, for example, has prompted a run on iodine tablets in California. Potassium iodide is not a medication you should take unless you have to, since it can have adverse health effects, especially for pregnant women. People can and have died from allergic reactions to it.
It’s even worse in Europe, where hysterical anti-nuclear forces in Switzerland, Austria and Germany are gearing up to make sure those countries replace their nuclear plants with fuel guzzling, filth spewing fossil fuel plants. Germany is switching off their reactors temporarily, an action which makes me think that Angela Merkel, a quantum chemist, needs to go back to university and have her head examined.
In the meantime, as Gregg Eastebrook reminds us, the media are almost hyping a potential disaster over the actual catastrophe — a massive earthquake and tsunami that’s left 10,000 dead and half a million homeless. That’s what we should be expending our sorrow and concern over. Here is just one story, about 30 children waiting for parents to show up — parents who may never show up because their bodies are somewhere in millions of tons of rubble. Last night, I saw a man whose entire family — wife, kids, grandkids — was washed away. He was trying and failing to contain his overwhelming grief. How do a few stray isotopes compare to that kind of unthinkable tragedy multiplied on such an epic scope? They don’t.
Meanwhile, back in reality, the nuclear situation may be improving, with power restored to at least four of the six units and water being sprayed on unit three’s spent fuel pool, the most dangerous threat the Japanese are facing due its use of plutonium. It’s going to be a long slog and there’s still a potential for disaster. But less hysteria and more reporting would be wise from this point on. The fact that this disaster has been moved up on an arbitrary scale (“I give Fukushima a 5 but I can’t mutate to it.”) is something that is of importance to historians and nuclear regulators.
The enviros do have one point — it is time to reconsider nuclear power. It’s time to consider that a 40-year old archaic design has — so far — weathered one of the worst natural disasters that could be thrown at it. It’s time to consider replacing similar reactors with more modern designs, such as pebble bed or thorium reactors. And time to remember the real story that’s jumping out at me from the Fukushima situation — the Big Damn Heroes who are doing their best to keep this situation under control. I have no idea what kind of civilian medals the Japanese government gives out . But anyone risking having his gonads fried to help prevent a disaster deserves every one they can find.
Exit link: Jesse Walker on how resilient Japan is. Contra western reports, there has been some crime and looting. But the vast vast majority of the Japanese are helping each other out — which is what civilized people do in almost every crisis. I have recently become extremely annoyed at the Hollywood cliche of people screaming and running whenever there is a danger. In dangerous situations, people tend to either act calmly or freeze up. If you can bear it, watch some footage of 9/11 and count the number of people following the Hollywood cliche. You may not even need to take your shoes off to keep track.
The world does not work like it does in a Comac McCarthy book, no matter how much the media wishes it did.
Update: Gregg Eastebrook again. He points out that the biggest problem in Fukushima are the cooling pools for the spent nuclear fuel, a problem we also have in this country. Of course, we wouldn’t have as much of a problem if Obama had not, for purely political reasons, cancelled the Yucca Mountain facility, a repulsive decision I’ve previously taken him to task for.
Party of science, my radioactive ass.
Mostly politics today, I’m afraid:
Sendai in Ruins
Stunning pictures of Japan’s earthquake. And you can check out the NYT’s before and after slider. Sendai was a city of a million people. Now it looks like Lemay came back and fire-bombed it. Japanese officials are saying at least 10,000 are dead. I’ll be stunned if it’s under 50,000 when all is said and done, each of those deaths a horrific tragedy like the story I read this morning about a woman who lost her grip on her daughter’s hand. It’s only because of Japan’s relentless preparedness and response to the Kobe quake that’s it not worse.
Epistemic Closure Watch
Two examples — one from the Right, one from the Left — are indicative of one of the biggest problems in politics today — the refusal to withdraw bogus arguments from the debate.
First, the Right. Hot Air approvingly posted video of two senators ganging up on Barbara Boxer on the subject of “global cooling”, getting her to admit this was a theory in the 1970’s.
This is a perfect example of what I’ve come to call the Global Cooling Acid Test. In the 1970’s, global warming theory was maturing. For a brief period, however, the existing data indicating a potential cooling trend. Some scientists thought this might be due to aerosols in the air. The alternative theory grabbed some headlines because of a potential Ice Age. But it was never consensus science. Global warming theory was much more widely accepted.
This point is so clear and so well-documented that there is no reason to keep bringing it up. And frankly, even if global cooling had been consensus science, we’ve had 40 more years of data — including all of the satellite data — to support global warming theory. Using global cooling to debunk global warming — even if global cooling had been consensus, which it wasn’t — is like using the failure of the ether theory to debunk relativity. Or the nebular theory to debunk Galactic evolution. Old theories are replaced by better ones when better data come about.
There are legitimate criticisms of AGW theory — the quality of the temperature data, the dendrochronology data and the ability of models to predict the future. And, indeed, these are the criticisms real skeptics focus on. But global cooling is not a legitimate criticism.
(Nor, it seems is Climategate, which even James Inhofe’s requested investigation has concluded does not debunk climate change, although it does show arrogance, presumption and sloppy work on the part of key climate scientists — enough, in my opinion, to warrant hesitation on economy-changing carbon schemes.)
I find the use of Time and Newsweek covers to “prove” that global cooling was consensus to be particularly hilarious. These magazines have a long history of panic-mongering cover stories that turn out to be complete garbage (or maybe I missed the great Pokemon massacres of the last decade).
The global cooling thing does brush against something more germane — the 1970’s and 80’s panic about overpopulation, which was (a) consensus science; (b) the source of numerous and sometimes horrific proposals for changing human society; (c) as early as 1980, obviously wrong. In fact, it’s a big reason why I remain skeptical of long-term climate projections.
But it’s a little harder to draw the connection between people extrapolating population growth and a scientific theory now supported by the preponderance of evidence. Moreover, it’s not on the list of talking points and global cooling is.
In the AGW debate, the mention of global cooling is a sign that someone isn’t paying attention — that they have a list of talking points they like to run through and no amount of debunking is going to pull things off that list.
The Left is not immune to this, however. Charles Johnson, reasonably bashing Republicans for including poison control centers in their list of budget cuts (although it behooves me to point out that PCC’s were not federally funded until 2000), has his list of items in the Republican Party’s “War on Women”. Here’s the list
Trying to defund Planned Parenthood
Trying to redefine rape to deny abortion funding
Trying to pass laws that would require investigations of all miscarriages
Trying to pass laws that would legalize killing abortion providers
Trying to define ‘human life’ to begin with a fetal heartbeat
Calling two fetuses as ‘witnesses’ to anti-abortion hearings
Trying to pass laws to outlaw federal funds for contraceptives
Trying to pass laws that would allow hospital ERs to let women die rather than provide abortions.
Some of these are true — the GOP has tried to cut PP’s funding and one legislature wants to outlaw abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected (and did indeed call two fetuses as “witnesses”). They have tried to cut family planning and birth control plans for poor people. And their proposal would have taken the conscience provision that allows federally funded hospitals to refuse to provide abortions and extended it to refusing to provide them in emergency situations. I’m opposed to most of this, to varying degrees. Almost all of it is unlikely to become law; but it does represent bones being thrown to an increasingly influential and deranged radical religious wing of the Party.
But others are wild exaggerations. For example, the GOP did not try to “redefine rape” — they tried to change what the federal government would fund abortions for. Rape, the crime, is defined by state law. Rape, what the government will pay for an abortion for, is defined by the feds. I thought was really stupid and offensive, but it was not “redefining rape”. And it’s ridiculous and inflammatory to keep referring to it as such. “Tried to cut abortion funding for rape victims” is perfectly accurate and conveys what they tried to do. We can do without the bullshit.
The miscarriage law is indeed real and is indeed stupid. On the other hand, it is not exactly a GOP party platform plank. It’s being proposed by one stupid Georgia state senator who has tried and failed to get abortion outlawed at every session. Branding it as part of a GOP “war on women” is the flip side of Republicans insisting that AGW theory is a plot to destroy capitalism. Yes, there are some people using AGW to advance statist ideas. And yes there is at least one Republican who wants to outlaw miscarriage. But every party has their ignorant dipshits; do we need to let them define the debate?
Finally, we get to what provoked this post — the charge that Republicans want to legalize the killing of abortion doctors. This is the sort of claim that is a litmus test for partisan derangement. People who hear it and immediately say, “Oh my God, we’ve got to stop this!” have failed. Success is earned by saying, “really?!” and then finding out, as one blogger did, that this is simply not true. (And even it were, the likelihood that it would pass the legislature and be accepted by the Courts is zero.)
But I guarantee you that it will continue to show up in “War on Women” posts just as global cooling continues to show up on “Global Warming is false” posts. Because the people who write these posts do not care about the debate — they care about bashing “the enemy”.
The difference between rational debate and demagoguery is that the rational debaters — and there are many — will admit when an argument they have used is bogus. I know these arguments intimately with global warming because I used to make many of them myself. But the demagogue really doesn’t give a shit. He has his list of talking points and he will stick to them. No matter what.
Mathematical Malpractice: Wisconsin Edition
Even Paul Krugmann has fallen for the canard that Wisconsin students, thanks to their unionized teachers, outperform everyone. Iowahawk above demonstrates that this is a result of mathematical malpractice — mostly failing to account for differences in testing regime and minority enrollment. Even the author of the studies Krugman references admits that the wrong point is being extracted from them, according to Factcheck.org.
At what point does continually presenting the wrong facts cross the line into deliberate deception?
Mostly Politics Linkorama
Sorry. Politics on the brain this week.
Last of the Doughboys
I write this every time it happens, but I am always saddened when one of the last of the WW1 veterans goes. I find theme so fascinating. I can’t imagine that in the hell of 1918, they ever thought they’d live to see 2011. Born into an age of warring empires, they lived to see a world nearly at peace. In this case, he not only survived WW1, but survived imprisonment by the Japanese in WW2.