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On Nuclear Power

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Given the recent events in Japan, what with their earthquake and all, some people are beginning to proclaim that the era of nuclear power is dead. Germany has shut down its 17 nuclear power plants for safety checks in response to the Japanese problem right now. The true issue with nuclear power is where to store the waste material, so far though nuclear power is pretty safe.

The worst nuclear accident in history is obviously Chernobyl, in which 30 lives were lost during the accident or immediately after wards. The town of Pripyat was rendered inhospitable to human life and totaling about 57 deaths due to acute radiation poisoning. This was from a faulty design of the reactor. Add up the number of people that have died from mining coal in 25 years and I’ll bet a dollar to one of Homer Simpson’s donuts that you reach more than 50 in half of that. What’s the second biggest nuclear disaster in history?

Three Mile Island which didn’t even have the decency to take a human life with respect to the amount of fear it generated.

Now the news has jumped on the radiation cloud of death that is proceeding across the Pacific, with everyone wondering whether or not it could reach the US. Which shouldn’t exactly be a problem since the USS Ronald Regan already passed through it and nobody on board died of radiation sickness or turned into a member of the Fantastic Four…unless they have.

The thing to remember is this: it took an earthquake of category 9 to damage these reactors. Quakes that powerful are extremely rare (although areas within the so-called Ring of Fire are prone to Earthquakes). The scale goes to 10, although a 10 would be a literal planet killer. The damage to the reactors, while certainly serious, isn’t the same as the hype surrounding it. It would take a serious politician to stand up and begin to say that while it’s worth our concern it isn’t worth the panic. Yet the problem is that the public hears the word nuclear and thinks bomb. Or they think of Homer Simpson asleep at the switch, but even Homer has a dog next to him that knows how to pull the lever.

Just a little clicking around the internet for ten minutes contradicted everything that I was being led to believe by MSNBC and Fox News (The headlines at CNN were about Libya when I checked it last).

Death Storm

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Just as climatologists would want you to separate the definitions of “climate” and “weather” when considering the issue of climate change (in other words if the earth is getting warmer it doesn’t necessarily mean that winters disappear) I would suggest that we begin to separate the weather from the weather reporting. That is if you didn’t die yesterday from the snowpocalypse that was predicted to hit about 1/3 to 1/4 of the country last night and today. As I look out my window I see a light dusting of snow falling, about two or three inches of snow from the overnight, and clearly I can espy pavement on the roads as well as a normal amount of traffic flowing in both directions.

What I don’t see is traffic occupied solely by emergency vehicles, plows, and trucks with plow blades on their grills. I also don’t see Odin locked in mortal combat with the great wolf Fenrir. For this is not the Fimbulvatr, the winter of winters, which precedes the final days of the Ragnarok. However with the doomsayers known as meteorologists plying their wares on television last night I never would have known that the end wasn’t near.

While the president urged our discourse to be more civil, he was talking about politics. I think that the real piece of advice is that we should carefully separate out news reporting from opinion reporting, or politics from news about politics; this should extend to weather reporting as well. We should divorce the concept of weather reporting from the weather itself. We can read maps and a quick trip to wikipedia can help a person understand what a doppler image means with regard to the weather. In this manner of educating ourselves we can stop listening to panicked weather men shouting “Armageddon” to realize that between the months of November and March it’s probably going to get colder and snow. Granted Texas doesn’t usually get much snow but that it does happen is not the cause for alarm that it was made out to be last night.

A friend of mine living in Chicago said that the news was concerned that the Windy City might get 8 inches of snow overnight in 12 hours. That’s less than an inch an hour, and is easily manageable in a city that knows winter. The forecast for Rochester was about six inches of snow overnight, a normal storm in the Great Lakes corridor but the way it was hyped sent people to the supermarket to stock up on milk, eggs, and bread so as to prepare for the coming “snowmargeddon.”*

Then the schools and whatever started closing, last night, before the storm was even scheduled to arrive. I understand that sudden school closings make life hell on parents who have school aged children, but it seemed so premature. Closing the night before must be very convenient but my nostalgia tells me that eating breakfast while listening to the closings on the radio, and praying to any god I could think of, was much superior than knowing so early. The best part about sleeping in is when you go back to sleep after thinking you were going to have to be up. I think the mayor of Philly was right, we are becoming a nation of wusses.

Next time why don’t they roll out one of those radius charts they use to use for nuclear explosions along with casualty projections due to starvation and hypothermia. If they are going to be so hyperbolic they might as well go the wall with it.

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*Although such hyperbole has given us this, so I guess it’s not all bad.

Categories: daily complaint

Everyone’s Doing It

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

As I much as I disdain some people’s insistence that the spectre of Socialism is haunting the United States and that is only with the vigilance of a few people that this country isn’t stomped down whilst the red flag is raised over the capital there are many other things that I would like to see eliminated from the national political discourse. While I am sure that this post will provoke comments from both the left and the right in my readership I want to be clear: this isn’t a partisan attack. Believe it or not I share sympathies with both sides on certain political issues. While it may seem that most of my political and current events postings have more allegiance with the left I can offer this explanation: they simply have louder voices and also seem to be more frequently attributing conspiracy to what can easily be explained by ignorance. Here are a couple of ideas that if everyone followed them we can probably make the current dialogue more civil.

How about this idea? Let’s eliminate the word “Nazi” from the political discourse. Both sides do it, have done it, and will probably continue to do it. This isn’t 1930 and this is not Germany. Likening any president to Hitler, and his followers to the Nazis, doesn’t help anything because the accusers seem to think that their argument ends there. While the accused know that it is too ridiculous to actually address. This of course doesn’t stop one group from doing the same thing when their side loses power. We can simply look at the Democrats/Liberals from the mid 2000s who accused Bush and his people of being Nazis during the 2004 Presidential election who know think that it is unseemly that the Republicans/Conservatives would do the same to them. No side is willing to take the moral high ground on this because for some reason this rhetoric actually works.

Second idea: It’s not the guns that are at fault for the Arizona shooting (that’s for the left) and no one is trying to take them from you (that’s for the right). In the case of Arizona, as well as the case at Virginia Tech, the solution is very simple: we should not let people with severe mental disorders own weapons. The alleged Arizona shooter without an 18 round clip would have just purchased another gun, which would have given him about 24 rounds with which to open up with before needing to reload. The problem isn’t the availability (which IS NOT changing) but rather that he was the type of person to desire their use in his delusional confrontation with Senator Gifford. Now, there are a couple of law makers out there who are talking about instituting a ban on large capacity magazines, but that isn’t a new thing. In fact, throughout the entirety of the Bush presidency assault weapons and extended magazines were banned, they were banned under Clinton (although I don’t remember the exact year–1996?) and that ban expired. So if the House and Senate pass a bill which then the President signs: it’s not because the Socialists are coming for your weapons. One might even go so far as to say that there is no Socialist Agenda in the Legislative and Executive Branches of government.

Third Idea and this might be news to people who appear frequently on camera: if you host or have a regular guest appearance on a television show, you aren’t being censored. I may direct this one more to Governor Sarah Palin than anyone else as she is now playing the part of persecuted martyr, but it is ridiculous that anyone can claim this on their own television show. The very fact that you have a television show is proof that no one is censoring you. The short lived Liberal Radio Station Air America used to try and say the same thing, but they neglected to understand that no one wanted to listen to them. Jeane Garofolo isn’t funny or poignant, and she was the best they had.

Fourth, and this is for the Senate: how about this for a new rule, if someone is going to filibuster a bill–make him actually filibuster the damn bill! This drove me nuts during the Healthcare Debate (sigh, part 1 of the debate) as the Democrats constantly said that they couldn’t pass the original bill because the GOP was fillibustering it. Which they weren’t, they were threatening to do so. As I understand it, the filibuster is based around the Senate’s rules of order which require 60 votes in order to force someone to yield the floor and move to a vote. Without that 60, the Senate has to wait until the person speaking is finished this means that in order to filibuster all a senator had to do was just keep talking and talking and talking. The claim that the GOP has filibustered the appointment positions of some bills, cabinet members, and judicial appointees is complete bullshit. They merely threatened to do so, but because the entire Senate doesn’t actually want to go through with anything that would offend someone else they capitulate to the threat. The GOP made the same claim after the 2006 election, but again no one actually did the standing and talking. Let’s see how many members of any party use the threat when the rules compel a calling of the bluff?

Fifth, and finally: maybe everyone in politics and the media should remember that this is the information age and if you say something on recording it can easily be looked up. So when Pelosi used to cry about the GOP filibustering a bill and how that was unconstiutional she ought to have remembered advocating just that same action when Bush was president and she was speaker. Or when Fox News morning anchor claims on camera that no news personalities on Fox use the Nazi comparison it can easily be shown how many times that has happened. This probably won’t help the discourse but it might make people shut their yaps when they consider the fact that what they say today belongs to the internet tomorrow. Then again that will probably help some.

Categories: daily complaint, politics

2010 Man of the Year

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

I say part 1 because usually these things seem like such a good idea when before I set out to write them and then the process usually gets bogged down with a desperate attempt to be funny, which I’m just not. I guess I can do this pseudo-award style or something…I don’t know I really just brainstorm these things as I write them, anyway…here it goes.

How about an award for increasingly irrelevant award? I think this year should be the last year for Time Magazine’s Man of the Year thing. Seriously it’s getting to the point where they are just phoning it in. Let’s look at the last ten years, skipping their obligatory nod to the President of the United States upon his inauguration (so that means years 2000 & 2008 are out) and we can see a gradual dumbening with a few anomalies. It begins with Giuliani in 2001, good choice except that they totally pussied out on their original choice of Osama Bin Laden–who totally had a bigger impact on the world than the former Mayor did.*

Then you have the whistleblowers, these are the people that blew in the corporate swindlers of Enron, Worldcom, and Martha Steward for insider trading which led to the toppling of said companies. Except that only Enron truly collapsed, Worldcom was filed for the largest bankruptcy in US history, which was then promptly (in these matters anyway) broken by Lehman Brothers and WaMu only six years later. Worldcom was then awarded in 2004 a no-bid contract to build cellular phone networks in Iraq. Martha Stewart is still Martha Stewart, although unlike current celebrities at least she did her time you’ve gotta give her that. It’s not like any laws were changed on Wall Street that could’ve at least mitigated the financial mess we are in now. 2002, brought us a group of people who, although toppling successful and illegally run companies, didn’t change anything.

The American Soldier in 2003. They toppled the Taliban with the efficiency that we love in America. This is more of a sappy one than anything, I’m not going to discredit their desert here, but when Time gives this to a group it just feels lazy. The worst thing about this year’s winner was that the American Soldier was in for a world of hurt for the next several years. If only there was a news magazine that could have done better digging into either the existence of WMDs, the evidence thereof, or the war plan then that would have been a real award for the American Soldier.

2004: George W. Bush, no complaint for this one. It was his year, he toppled Baghdad and won re-election. This is the anomaly.

2005: Bill and Melinda Gates, and Bono. Being a fan of NPR even before everyone forgot about Juan Williams (remember him and your “outrage”) I have no complaint about the Gates being here. Someone needs to explain to me how or what it is that Bono actually does. Aside from releasing shitty albums and being a pompous jackass how is he important at all. At least Angelina Jolie actually gets kids out of impoverished countries.

2006: Me, or You depending on who is looking at the cover. It was a mirror and it was complete bullshit. Instead of talking about how we, the population changed the world, it was more of an excuse to write about web 2.0 (whatever that was) and social networking. See Myspace had been in the news again, and new site was ascending among college kids and marketing people were realizing that it was really cheap to make 1 million people aware of something by making a profile about whatever it was and then friending whoever they could. While this was socially important it wasn’t a person, it was only the illusion of a person.

2007: Putin, I’m just not seeing this. Putin has ruled Russia for over 20 decades or something, and Russia once the seat of organized crime and breadlines after the fall of Communism (and before too) was now back in the game. Economic recovery had finally turned the country around. The only trouble was that it was largely the surging price of oil that did it.

2008: Barack Obama, obligatory new president award. See 2000, 1992, 1980, 1976…with few exceptions a new US president is given the honor, usually upon election or their first year in office.

2009: Ben Bernake. He’s been overseeing our financial crises but not really doing anything to prevent it again. Thomas Jefferson once said that banks are more dangerous than a standing army but he does nothing to limit their power. I’m glad we are getting most of the money back from the Bush bailouts, but stop it again or else don’t nominate one your Wall Street buddies to be your replacement.

2010: Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook isn’t new, it’s not a new concept and it wasn’t new this year. In fact, it wasn’t new last year, it was invented in 2004, but didn’t really catch on till 2007. This was merely the year that a movie came out about it and the year your grandmother probably joined up. There will be something else to replace it just as it replaced Myspace which replaced Friendster. Way to catch up with the times, I would have suffered Steve Jobs in place of this one.

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Don’t get all uppity about it, the award isn’t supposed to the best person that year but the most influential. Hitler has it once and Stalin twice.

Writing Papers II

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment

The hardest thing about grading papers for me was the actual reading of them. I know that it sounds rather obvious, but what I mean is that more often than not I would get papers about philosophers and subjects I hated. I’ve said it numerous times before but I loathe Karl Marx’s political philosophy (he did write other things but I haven’t read them so I can’t really comment) and in my political philosophy classes it never failed that I would get at least one Marx paper. Every one of them neglected to explain why Marx thought the revolution was inevitable, to this day I don’t understand why he thought so, and still to this day I know that it isn’t. It got to the point where I knew from the opening line of the students’ papers that it was going to be a difficult read. It however never affected my grading of the paper, if it were well written and correct (as correct as Marx gets) it could still be an A.

Same with the mountains of abortion papers I received in all of my biomedical ethics classes. It didn’t matter whether the person writing the paper was pro-choice or pro-life, it was just too hard to really care. They never brought anything new to the table and I tired of reading them so much that the last time I taught the class I simply banned it as a subject. Again though, they could be an A if they were really well written and argued.

For sake of the students’ willingness to express their opinions I always explained that nothing I said in the class should be taken as being my opinion. I told them that with very few exceptions they should always assume that I am arguing the philosopher’s views or in the cases of debates that I would always take the devil’s advocate arguing the minority position in the class. This has caused me to argue for several things that I disagree with: the existence of God as being a given, anything Descartes says, pro-life, and Kantian ethics. I did so because if I expressed my opinion I knew that one of two things would happen: that the class would just agree with me out of laziness or thinking that agreement would give them better grades and that they would be nervous about taking contrary positions.

I bring it up because I am in this conundrum right now as a student. In my philosophical anthropology class the professor has stated that he dislikes the philosophy of American John Dewey. Having written a 20 page presentation on him I felt that enough work has been done by me that he might as well be the subject of my final paper. He’s already figured prominently in another final paper but since the professor basically stifled any conversation about him it’s hard to want to write this paper. I’ve argued against professors before based on their dislike for certain subjects. Then, there was at least a dialogue. This time it’s been shut down.

He can’t grade based on my like for Dewey (as well as another two students in the class who share it) but it’s hard to be motivated to do so. This is why you can’t do this from the perspective of a teacher, I know I can write a good Dewey paper but the trepidation is going to inhibit it. The best way around it is to concentrate on form rather than substance but those papers aren’t fun to write. They are merely a grind attaching itself to method. I’ll probably just save this one for last.

…The Other Reason

October 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I gave a couple of reasons before about why I hated grad school the first time around, but that entry felt a little incomplete. There was something else, some other force driving my dislike for higher education that slipped through the keys the first time I wrote it. Ending week 5 of the PhD program drove it home for me, I now remember and I get why I forgot.

It’s one of those things that have to be experienced as it happens and I have had two mitigating factors clouding my memory. The first factor was that I had so much fun in the two and a half years that I was teaching that it reinvigorated my faith in education. It was fun making up lectures, trying to shoehorn Daleks and Cybermen into lessons about Descartes (seriously screw him) or making sure that my examples of genetic physical perfection were both current and not marred by the surgeon’s knife.* Without that enjoyment of my past job I wouldn’t be in school now, that much is certain.

The second reason I forgot was that my experience in Graduate School was rather unique. Not everyone had the trial that I did to not only retain funding but to stay in enrolled in the school to begin with. Not everyone had one professor explain to another student that their problem with me was in no way professional but personal. These were unique situations and well I was told by my former adviser that other schools were worse than UT, I knew that even at those schools I was still a special case.

All of that clouded my memory until yesterday when they dissipated. See, the other problem with these programs is that people take it waaaaay too seriously. I get why too, this subject is our chosen way of life, PhD Programs are basically job training, and getting good grades by writing good papers (hopefully getting them published) is how you get a job. All of that in mind should make a person read their assignments and write the papers. This isn’t like working in a salt mine, if you want to get that doctorate you are making a conscious choice about continuing to go to school, it’s not like you have to be doing it.

The thing I hated before and hate now, is the complete lack of a sense of humor on the part of most people. So what if a professor thinks your favorite interpretation of a particular book is utter crap, this is university level education you can write your paper on why the professor was wrong. I, absolutely hate one of my classes right now because we are reading Heidegger, but I’ll do the reading and move on. These are not life and death situations.

The real issue with these people is that they all want to be the next Marx, Descartes, Plato, or sigh, Heidegger; but more than likely none of them are going to change the world. They are going to end up teaching and being miserable. For every ten english majors I have met, nine of them thought they were going to be the next James Joyce, Salinger, Hemingway, etc. I often wonder how that was working out for them. It’s the same with Philosophy, if you set out with the sole purpose of trying to be the next big thing your writing will smack of pretension.

You just can’t get that angry about this subject. If you land a job doing it, essentially you get paid for talking about something that you should want to talk about for free.

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*It was a lesson cloning and genetic engineering that necessitated the examples. I used tennis players.

Categories: daily complaint, School

Yep, I’m in the Grad School (a collection of complaints)

September 28, 2010 1 comment

If I ever find a college or university that has a decent parking plan I will donate all the money I can to it and offer to work for free. Of course this will never happen because as the word got out that someone in the midst of all these PhDs, MDs, and JDs actually figured out a decent parking system that place would be overwhelmed with students it would destroy the very reason that they went to the school to begin with.

I end up parking in what is called “Governor’s E Lot,” which is fitting since only a blind person could look at the location of the lot and still consider it part of the campus. It’s so far away that the university bus system doesn’t even have a stop at the lot, I have to pick that up at a different one…it’s just easier to walk though. That is until the one day that i have to park in E lot when i have the little monster with me, no doubt that will be a very cold day as well.

“No, no I think you should explain it. I won’t do it the right way.” Said one student to the professor this morning when asked to explain whether or not animals possessed Symbolic knowledge. Yeah, no one was buying this evasion, even the professor kind of stared blankly for awhile at him until he (the professor continued one). The answer was that animals do not have the capability of symbolic knowledge, they possess instinctual knowledge and the ability to communicate emotions but that’s it. Think of the ability of a three month old baby and that is about where the animals top off.

“The reason I used hypothetical aliens in my example was because the idea of god was too far fetched.” Yep, I have explained many times before in this blog that I am an atheist, but I’m not this kind of atheist. This was uttered by a student in a class titled Philosophical Issues in Biomedicine, and this explanation was completely unnecessary. We accepted his example of the aliens without question since it was hypothetical. A few minutes passed, the professor explained that no, having possession of a few viruses of the flu, even if the virus began to infect then suddenly died didn’t mean that you had the flu. It wouldn’t matter if aliens with super sight or whatever could see the viruses.

Then he explained why he picked aliens…and no one cared. I knew he was an undergrad, probably a sophomore, and definitely a jackass. It’s people like him that give people like me a bad name. I don’t care if a person believes in god, gods, or whatever; as long as they don’t try and push it on me. I’m what is called “tolerant*” of other people’s beliefs. Making a point of saying that aliens are more believable than god isn’t an example of such, and it just makes you look like an ass.

I love being back in school…

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*As long as the religion hasn’t been recently made up, two examples stick out: Wicca and Scientology.

Categories: daily complaint, School