Neal Stephenson Quotes


Posted on : 3/26/2011 06:02:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Courtesy of Instapundit comes this little historical gem:

The twentieth century was one in which limits on state power were removed in order to let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up and turned the century into an abattoir. . . . We Americans are the only ones who didn’t get creamed at some point during all of this. We are free and prosperous because we have inherited political and value systems fabricated by a particular set of eighteenth-century intellectuals who happened to get it right. But we have lost touch with those intellectuals.

There are folks that claim that anti-intellectualism is all the rage in America.  I think it sort of depends of what one is calling "intellectual" as there are some ideas that can be dressed up in as many pretty university degrees as you like and they still won't be more than the rhetorical equivalent of pig in poop.

Curiousity about Mr. Stephenson led to this quote:

"The difference between stupid and intelligent people -- and this is true whether or not they are well-educated -- is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambigous or even contradictory situations -- in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward."

Examples are left to the student as an exercise.....

Nuclear Perspective


Posted on : 3/25/2011 10:48:00 AM | By : Dann | In :

Perspective - Nuclear Power

I linked on my Facebook page a few days ago to this graphic from XKCD that compared various levels of radioactivity.  Now I'm linking to this graphic that shows the relative number of deaths per kilowatt hour from nuclear, oil, and coal based power respectively. 

While we remain focused on the ongoing Japanese tragedy in the wake of the recent tsunami, I think it is worthwhile to maintain a bit of perspective.  While the NYTimes has done some outstanding reporting on this event, they have also done some miserable reporting.  One example was a story I read last week that referred to the "containment building" in a manner that would lead those without any knowledge about nuclear power to believe that the steel and concrete "containment vessel" had exploded.  Another example has been the casual use of terms like "meltdown" and "radioactivity" without providing any perspective on either topic.  A couple of their online features have provided an outstanding exploration of both nuclear power plant construction and the relative harm or non-harm of various radiation levels.

Similar reports abound, so I'm not just criticizing the NYTimes.  Of course, the dearth of information coming out of Japan has not helped.

A brief disclaimer - I love nuclear power.  I prepared a speech on nuclear power for a persuasive public speaking competition in high school.  Not only did I do a fair amount of reading, my research included interviews with nuclear engineers responsible for nuclear power plants here in Michigan.  This was a few years after the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island.  To this day I will almost automatically buy any science magazine that includes information on nuclear power plant innovations.

As a matter of perspective, it should be remembered that Three Mile Island did experience a partial core meltdown.  As a result, part of the fissionable materials ended up melting and pooling at the bottom of the steel and concrete containment vessel.  That liquid core material ended up melting 5/8 of an inch through the 3 inch thick steel bottom of the vessel.  There have been no measurable increases in deaths due to the Three Mile Island partial meltdown.

As a matter of perspective, the information available thus far suggests that the primary risk group in Japan are those that have been working to regain control of the facility.  Their efforts to cool the used rods as well as the active reactors are nothing short of heroic and some of them may very well pay with their lives. 

But beyond the power plant, radioactive exposure levels have been mostly minimal.  We can survive quite easily at low levels of continuous radiation as well as periodic exposure to modest levels of radiation.  Were it otherwise, we would not know the benefits of X-rays for broken bones, CT scans, and other modern medical marvels.  Nor would we know coast to coast air travel or living at high altitudes such as Denver, CO.

It also appears thus far than most of the radioactivity beyond the immediate area of the power plant is the result of materials that have reasonably short half-lives.  Those materials will be nothing but a bad memory after a month or two.

Of course, things could still get worse.  They could lose total control of the plant, the spent rods could overheat and spit and sputter radioactive materials hundreds of feet into the air.  They may have already.  We shouldn't confuse that condition with anything approaching normal.  Nor should we confuse it with the broad swath of contamination resulting from the openly burning Chernobyl disaster of a few years ago....or with the fission reactions that leveled Hiroshima.

As the graphic at the second link is meant to imply, things could be far worse.  Instead of nuclear power, the Japanese could have built an equivalent capacity in coal fired power plants.  The result would have been more people dead as a result of mining coal as well as from the byproducts of burning coal.

A proper sense of perspective would remind us that there is a significant difference between "none", "some but still safe", "risky", "not safe", "really not safe", "leveling a major city", and "the end of the world".  In my opinion, far too much reporting is of the breathless variety that implies that we are rapidly approaching "the end of the world" when the reality is far less dire.  By focusing to much on the significant challenges posed by the nuclear power plant, we end up ignoring the much larger tragedy caused by the tsunami.  As of today, the count of dead and missing people is rapidly approaching 30,000.  I am certain that the number of people killed by the power plant problems will be easily dwarfed by those killed by the ocean rising out of its rightful place to crash and destroy the people of Japan.

The people of Japan will continue to face a great many challenges in the weeks and months to come.  Those challenges will be compounded by potential risks associated with the meltdown at the nuclear power facility.  The spread of radioactive pollutants will remain a serious concern for the people of Japan and around the world.

But as a matter of perspective, we should recall that there are greater challenges in the world than those being posed by one nuclear power plant that was shaken by the earth and pummeled by an ocean.  And that has still managed to avoid broad scale contamination. 

Thus far. 

Lumberjack Commandos


Posted on : 3/24/2011 12:50:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

From Liberty At All Costs

h/t to Blackfive for the image.  Check out their gallery of military motivational images.

Let Him Keep It - He's Finally Earned It


Posted on : 3/23/2011 10:26:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

I've been hearing a rising chorus of voices urging....demanding....that Mr. Obama return his Nobel Peace Prize.

I think he should keep it.  He has finally earned it.

There was no peace for the Libyans that were being oppressed by Gaddafi's dictatorial regime.  When they sought to use their individual human right to protest their oppression, a right supposedly guaranteed by the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that regime took what little 'peace' those Libyans had when it took their lives.

By ordering the American armed forces to enter into that conflict, Mr. Obama has moved to secure peace for the defenseless and an opportunity for a better life for any Libyan that did not enjoy Col. Gaddafi's favor.  No person should ever be forced to seek succor via acts of obeisance and obedience to their government.

Yet that was the reality in Libya last week.  Who knows what next week will hold.

But this week Mr. Obama has led this nation to take a stand against oppression.

As we did at Normandy.

As we did at Osan.

As we did at Hue and in the Mekong.

As we did in El Salvador

As we did in Beirut.

As we did on Grenada.

As we did in Panama.

As we did in Kuwait.

As we did in Somalia we did on the streets of Baghdad and Kabul.

While our tactics have been on rare occasions unworthy, our purpose remains clear.

Freedom for all that desire that opportunity.

Let Mr. Obama keep his Nobel.  And perhaps the Nobel committee could work on awarding one to Mr. Bush for his efforts to extend true peace to those who had none.