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The War on Teachers Ignorance III: What Could Work

(The title is inspired by Historiann’s excellent post. Also a note: unlike most of the things I blog about, teaching is what I’ve done professionally for decades. I taught in universities, not schools, but the two aren’t totally unrelated.)
Part I, Part II

If you need a metaphor for education it’s not work or play or a factory or a ladder. It’s a journey. People join at different points, and leave at any point. No power on earth can keep them on it if their minds don’t want to go. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s mind-altering, sometimes it’s a real slog, and sometimes the fleas force a change of plan. The same people are guides or need guides for different things at different times. Sometimes the travellers learn things on the road that are useful in the next village. Sometimes they climb mountains and see the whole world spread out before them.

Certification — whether it’s a cosmetology degree, a B.A,. or an M.D. — is the commuter traffic of that journey. The roads used, however, still have to be in good condition. Better, if anything, to withstand all that traffic. The necessary aspects of education still have to be done right, even if all anyone wants is a piece of paper for the wall. Where that’s most important is at the foundation: in schools. Read more »

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War on Teachers II: Why It Can’t Work

(The title is inspired by Historiann’s excellent post. Also a note: unlike most of the things I blog about, teaching is what I’ve done professionally for decades. I taught in universities, not schools, but the two aren’t totally unrelated.)

Let’s face it. The war on teachers is about money. People want to pay less and get more.

Sometimes you can do that. Solar power and energy efficiency instead of nukes and oil come to mind. In that case paying less and getting more is the sign of an intelligent choice. But when the low price comes from a flimflam artist selling cheap hope, falling for it is the mark of a fool. So, really, the first order of business is to see how low the price can go and still give you what you’re paying for.

So what are we paying for? What is learning, really? And, for that matter, teaching? Read more »

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War on Teachers I: GIGO

(The title is inspired by Historiann’s excellent post. Also a note: unlike most of the things I blog about, teaching is what I’ve done professionally for decades. I taught in universities, not schools, but the two aren’t totally unrelated.)

Every time you turn around, there’s a new front opened in the war on teachers. They don’t work hard enough. They get paid too much They’re not accountable. They can’t be fired. Their unions protect dead wood.

If we could just find the right stick to smash the cabal, the teachers would have to be good workers. Then, like good workers, they’d produce what they’re supposed to, which is good students.

So various fixes have been tried over the years. Read more »

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About those midterm elections: Who Cares?

If you check back sometimes, despite the long silences I fall into, you already know I think current US politics are worthless. So I haven’t mustered up the energy to say anything about the impending rearrangement of deck chairs on our Titanic. However, I see on The Distant Ocean that Thomas Kenny has made the only comment needed:

Heaven forbid that the Republicans win on Nov. 2!

  • They might escalate in Afghanistan and fake a withdrawal from Iraq.
  • They might pass a bogus health reform law written by the insurers, thereby entrenching them in the system for many years to come.
  • They might put EFCA (labor rights reform) on a back burner.
  • They might step up deportations of undocumented workers.
  • They might expand the military budget to an all–time high.
  • They might retain Bush’s apparatus of repression, including torture and assassination of US citizens by White House fiat.
  • They might keep Guantanamo open and tighten the blockade of Cuba.
  • They might threaten war with Iran.
  • They might cave in to Israel and the Israel lobby, and neglect Palestinian rights.
  • They might throw billions of our tax dollars at mega-bankers, but do little or nothing for ordinary homeowners.
  • They might tolerate a 10 percent unemployment rate, with jobless rates double or triple that for youth of color.
  • They might start overthrowing lawful elected governments in Central America.
  • They might start raiding the homes of leftwing antiwar activists.


He did forget a huge one:

  • They might trade away the right to control one’s own body for votes from theocrats.


In the inimitable words of vastleft: The Democrats, a roach motel for progressive energies.

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About the Chilean Miners

I’ve been watching, like everyone else. I don’t think I remember such a glad time since the Berlin Wall came down. Humanity at our best.

some of the trapped Chilean miners, smiling to the video camera, looking fit, healthy, and fine, after over forty days underground. Sept. 17th
from BBC

So much so, I didn’t even mind President Pinera showing up forever where nobody needed him that much. He really cared, and not just about the cameras. So much so, that even the flag waving didn’t bother me. Usually it does. But this time, honestly, the Chileans have a lot to be proud of. The way they searched for the miners without giving up, without worrying about how much it cost, or even mentioning it. The way the miners held on, the way their families and friends waited. And waited, and waited.

People say of the final rescue, the bringing up of each miner, one by one, the meetings of the people whose love had kept them alive, people say that the whole media angle was minutely managed.

I think that’s true. The media were managed. They weren’t allowed to overwhelm the quiet dignity and the unassuming humanity of all the people involved. That was Chile’s biggest gift to all of us.

You know, one of the side effects is going to be an increase in tourism. There have to be lots of people like me, who are now fascinated by the country. I want to go see it for myself. I want to see these remarkable people. I want to find out how they pulled themselves out of such a deep dark hole.

Although, if the secret ingredient is modest people who soldier on, people who can control even the media, that’s maybe not so good. They seem to be in short supply. But still, after this, I feel hope:

the first note from the 33 trapped miners, proving they were alive: Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33
(Was: Q.barrales, Wikimedia. Now no longer there.)

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Noise is not Free Speech

We’re on a collision course with technology. Free speech is being killed in order to save it.

Something is always boiling up that involves free speech. Cartoons are drawn of the “wrong” person, somebody is jailed for speaking out and gets the Nobel prize, there are plans to build a mosque in the “wrong” place. And some people picket funerals to gloat.

All of these things are a step too far for some people. Others insist that we can’t draw any lines without sliding down a slippery slope of more and more lines until there’s no free speech left.

The dilemma doesn’t actually seem intractable to me. Try a thought experiment. You’re in a huge room with 10,000 other people. Nobody can say anything. There’s total silence except for the occasional suppressed cough. Is there any freedom of speech?

Now you’re in the same room, but anyone can speak and anyone can say anything. Everybody’s talking — shouting, really, to make themselves heard. You can’t even hear yourself speak. Is there any freedom of speech?

We’re not in the first situation anymore. When the great thinkers of the 1700s were articulating the essential freedoms, few people had the means to disseminate their ideas to begin with, so there weren’t many voices. Nor was there the technology to din at people 24/7/365. So noise was not a large concern. They worried about silencing.

Silencing was and is a crime against inalienable rights and has to be prevented.

But noise can kill a message just as dead as silence. Either way, you can’t hear it. Either way, we lose the freedom of speech. Either way, the loss is just as lethal to a free society.

Insisting that everyone, everywhere, for any purpose, has an equal right to speak hasn’t preserved freedom of speech. It’s killing it. When everybody can shout as loud as they can about whatever they want, you either can’t hear anything or the biggest voices will dominate. It’s right back to the king having the only voice. The fact that it’s not literally a monarch these days doesn’t make it all right.

Yes, I know. If speech is limited we have to — horrors! — draw some limits. Well, … we already do, and that hasn’t killed free speech. That promotes it. Unless the signal to noise ratio favors signal, there is no signal. That’s not exactly hard to figure out.

So, let’s start with the easy cases, the ones where limits have long been applied and clearly don’t lead to disaster. Free speech doesn’t confer a right to perjury, to wrong answers on exams, to yelling “fire” for nothing in crowded theaters, or to incitement to riot. Truth in advertising laws say it’s unacceptable to lie in order to extract money. None of these limits has led to thought control. It is possible to apply limits on speech without losing freedom. As a matter of fact, we’d lose freedom if they were not applied.

If some limits work, then limits work, and people can stop pitching a fit every time there’s talk of limits. The rational response is, “What are the best limits for preserving freedom of speech?”

Half the answer is contained in the question. Anything that remains murky after our best efforts to find the limits gets the benefit of the doubt and is covered by freedom of speech. That part’s not hard to figure out either.

The hard part is updating the limits for a technological age in which everybody can shout their point of view. If everybody gets veto power, nothing can be said. If there’s no way to draw the line, nothing can be heard. There has to be a better way.

There’s a common denominator to the limits that work. If everyone claimed the right to the forbidden kinds of speech, chaos would ensue. If everybody lied, incited to riot, and yelled fire in crowded theaters, life would become impossible. Those kinds of speech require double standards. Only some people can use them and only some of them time. Everybody else has to keep the system working. Double standards have no place in a democratic society, so that kind of speech not only can be but must be forbidden. It’s noise. Bad noise. (Discussed at greater length in Free Speech vs. Noise.)

So, how does that help us resolve any of the disputes? Let me give it a whirl.

  • Publishing cartoons of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper explicitly to make the point that Muslims cannot dictate what is published in secular papers. This one belongs in the “Well, duh!” category. Religious people don’t have to read secular papers. This is not an in-your-face exercise. If one side can veto the other’s reading material, then in a world without double standards, secular people could object to anyone reading about God in a holy book. Everything rapidly descends into absurdity when that kind of veto power is allowed.
  • Building a cultural center containing a mosque near Ground Zero. If there is to be freedom of religion, there have to be places of worship. Some areas are certainly not appropriate. For instance, in a secular government that separates church and state, it would be wrong to worship in or next to government buildings. (I’m sure protests about the Congressional Chaplain will break out shortly.) But to start limiting worship with no basis in justifiable principles ultimately means the end of freedom of religion. And, again, if one side can suppress another’s beliefs, it can go in the other direction too. That way lies madness. There’s plenty of proof all over the world.
  • Pro-democracy activist in China should not be jailed for speaking out. Okay. Seriously Duh! (And that goes double for his wife!)
  • And then there’s the Phelpses and their crusade against queers. Do they have a right to speak out? Of course. Do they have a right to be sure they know what God thinks? Just as much as anyone else does. Is somebody else’s funeral their only avenue to expression? No. No, no, no, no, no. They can make websites, write books, sing songs in their churches, fulminate there, parade, start radio shows. Their freedom of expression is not limited.

    What’s limited is their right to use it in a way that deprives someone else of their own rights. Political speech is very heavily protected, but you can’t use it within 200 feet of a polling station on election day. Because that would interfere with people’s right to vote. It would be a relatively minor annoyance, but it’s still illegal. If interfering with voting is enough to place a limit on free speech, how much more so interfering with the even more basic human right to bury one’s dead in peace.

When everywhere else is a venue for free expression, it’s idiotic to insist that crashing a stranger’s funeral is the only thing that will do. Of course, the Phelpses are idiotic, so that’s no surprise. The rest of us shouldn’t be as confused as they are about where the limits lie.

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Net neutrality, Google, and Verizon

You’ve all heard by now that Google and Verizon will take care of it. They will come to an agreement between them that will ensure the best use of bandwidth for everyone.

And what we’re arguing about is whether their agreement preserves enough net neutrality.

Green horrified face. By Jeremy Brooks.

Net neutrality is a question of rights. Who determines the content of the public airwaves? Who determines the extent of your right to see or hear what you choose? Who determines what you can choose to see and hear?

Since when do businesses decide questions of rights? That is a function of government.

Does the government fit into such a tiny tub by now that we no longer have any idea what it’s for?

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Wikileaks

Let me just get this straight.

On one side: a few small people who have killed nobody but may have endangered some in the interests of having a real democracy.

On the other side: some enormous people who’ve killed thousands in the interests of creating a friendly country. (Don’t ask me why they’re so worried about comparatively minor intelligence failures when that one’s right out there for anyone to see.)

So who are the bad guys here?

The enormous people, right? They will now be hounded by the media and internationally until they’re brought to justice and stop their evil deeds.

(Why are you laughing?)

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It’s the heat AND the stupidity

When reports of heat waves started back in June, a countdown timer started in my head. The media would start yammering in 3 … 2 … 1 …, “ZOMG! Global warming!”

Fools.

The hallmarks of greenhouse gas-induced climate change are, in approximately this order:

  • higher night time temperatures and warming at high latitudes (Arctic and Antarctic)
  • ocean acidification and thermal expansion (that cause one type of rising sea level)
  • reduced rainfall in dry areas, increased in wet areas
  • desertification of continental interiors, including hotter summers, droughts, water shortages, and the rest….

We’ve had the first two sets for a couple of decades already. But that wasn’t a problem because nobody felt hot, except maybe a few polar bears and glaciers.

(There were also a bunch of scientists running around with their hair on fire, but scientists do boring stuff like talk about evidence and numbers –even when their heads are burning — so that didn’t count.)

Now we’re well into the phase where warming starts to bite. Floods and droughts seem to be larger, longer, and harsher. Russia is burning. Desertification in China is proceeding on schedule. Huge dust storms blanket Beijing and dump Chinese particulates all the way over here, where I live, near Los Angeles.

Now the media are starting to notice, now that they had to turn up the A/C. Hell, now Presidents are starting to get a vague sense that maybe, perhaps, there’s a problem here somewhere.

The Russian President has been shocked — shocked! — to find his country in a huge heat wave that’s ruined at least a third of the grain crop and fosters wildfires. Last year, he said, “We will not let anyone cut our development potential.”

Sure.

Floods, fire, and famine are cheap.

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Drilling through Plagiarism

You’ve probably seen this McClatchy report by now.

Gulf spill raises questions about role of oil consultants

The names, locations and geographical coordinates are different. Otherwise the drilling plans for three oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico contain identical fonts, footnotes, overly optimistic projections and even typographical errors. [emphasis added] …

Department of Interior officials said that federal regulators didn’t oversee third-party consultants and oil companies were “ultimately responsible for the information they submit.” …

Three of the plans that R.E.M. [one of the consulting firms] prepared — for Rooster Petroleum, Tana Exploration and Marathon Oil, all of Houston — used the same language to say that the risk of a major oil spill was minimal, the companies were equipped to respond to a disaster and drilling activities posed little or no risk to marine life or fisheries. …

Reached by phone, Goers [R.E.M. founder] declined to answer questions about her company or the plans it had prepared and referred a McClatchy reporter to her clients. “You’ll have to talk to the operators,” she said. …

The American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group that represents oil and gas companies, said it wasn’t familiar with the consultants’ work … . “Of course, the documents they help prepare are ultimately reviewed by regulators whose responsibility is to judge their adequacy,” said Bill Bush, a spokesman for the group.

There’s something there, I’m not sure what, that gives me the sense that the oil industry and their buddies in government don’t care about the environment.

No, wait. That’s not right. They don’t even see it. It’s just a heap of annoying rocks and water standing between you and your money.

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The Snark

I’ve been looking into conviction by repetition for another project, and landed on a long-time favorite of mine, The Hunting of the Snark. Re-reading it now gave me an uncanny sense of double vision. The bit that did it follows the First Fit of the poem, in which the other crew members are described.

The crew was complete: it included a Boots–
A maker of Bonnets and Hoods–
A Barrister, brought to arrange their disputes–
And a Broker, to value their goods.

A Billiard-maker, whose skill was immense,
Might perhaps have won more than his share–
But a Banker, engaged at enormous expense,
Had the whole of their cash in his care.

Then he gets to the Bellman.

The Bellman himself they all praised to the skies–
Such a carriage, such ease and such grace!
Such solemnity, too! One could see he was wise,
The moment one looked in his face!

He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best–
A perfect and absolute blank!”

This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out
That the Captain they trusted so well
Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,
And that was to tingle his bell.

He was thoughtful and grave–but the orders he gave
Were enough to bewilder a crew.
When he cried “Steer to starboard, but keep her head larboard!”
What on earth was the helmsman to do?

Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes:
A thing, as the Bellman remarked,
That frequently happens in tropical climes,
When a vessel is, so to speak, “snarked.”

But the principal failing occurred in the sailing,
And the Bellman, perplexed and distressed,
Said he had hoped, at least, when the wind blew due East,
That the ship would not travel due West!

You see what I mean? Eerie. Lewis Carroll didn’t even know any of our politicians.

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Out Of Big Oil And Into Big Nuke

The oil gusher in the Gulf is bad. It’s turning people away from fossil fuel, which could be good. If it turned the powers-that-be to clean, sustainable energy, that would be very good.

But here’s what I bet will happen.

Once the weeping and gnashing of teeth has subsided to a numbed realization that we need to do something next, that’s when the real problems will start. That’s when the nuclear lobby will be back.

[Well, that didn’t take long. That was written around May 15th. This was on Marketwatch, May 21st.: “Nuclear Option Back on the Table.” ]

They’ll say we need energy, lots of energy, which we can get only from a large, serious energy source, like nuclear. So let’s go over just a few points related to getting energy from nuclear reactors. (I’m repeating myself. There’s a lot more information and links in those long posts.)

By 2050, North America is projected to need some 7.8 terawatts (pdf) of total primary energy under a business-as-usual scenario. The pro-nuclear argument is that it will provide for business as usual without the sacrifices required by trying to make do with renewable, sustainable, distributed energy which can only provide a fraction of what’s needed.

Take them at their word. Let’s say the weak sisters can’t provide more than about 25% of the projected amount. (I’m setting it higher than pro-nuke scenarios usually do out of kindness. Why it’s a kindness will be clear in a moment.)

Since nuclear plants don’t safely last longer than their operating life of 30 years, if that, all the ones needed in 2050 will have to be built between now and then.

We have forty years (or 2080 weeks) in which to build 75% of 7.8 TW, which is 5,850 gigawatts of capacity. The large reactors built now are on the order of 1GW, The number of fully operational 1GW reactors needed to provide 75% of energy in four decades is 5850.

So about one fully operational 1GW reactor has to be completed every day, except Sundays, starting five months ago. If there are technological breakthroughs so that, say, 5GW commercial reactors can be built, then only a bit more than one per week needs to be finished.

That doesn’t include permitting or siting. Just physical construction. With no delays, large reactors take about five years to build, so there would need to be hundreds of reactors under construction at any one time.

Keep firmly in mind that it is renewable, distributed energy that is unrealistic.

Think about it. You’d need about 21,000 square miles of photovoltaic panels to generate 7.8TWh of power per year at the insolation near Chicago or New England, where it’s 0.3kWh per square foot per day, using 12% efficient solar panels. That’s a square 145 miles on each side. The built-up area in the US is about 125,000 square miles (and some of that’s in Arizona and California, not Chicago). So, worst case, if 15% of built-up areas is roofs, parking lots, windows, and roadways which could have photovoltaics installed, then 100% of US energy needs would be met. That’s without using wind, geothermal, tidal, or any other clean energy. That could be added. Production of photovoltaic materials would have to be ramped up to where the stuff could just roll off the presses. There’s also the fact that you and I can install PV panels if we put our minds to it. You and I aren’t ever going to be installing nukes. That takes rare and highly trained experts, so it’s a much more serious option.

Moving right along, the next item is construction time and costs for nuclear reactors. Costs are in the billions and time to completion in years, so the business risks are immense.

Note: these aren’t the risks of operation. Liability for those is limited by the Price Andersen Act, which makes the taxpayer the insurer of last resort for the nuclear power industry. In current terms, if they lose too much money, you bail them out.

Companies normally carry insurance for projects with business risks too large for them to absorb, but the professional actuaries at insurance companies consider the business risks of reactors (not the radiation risks, just the business risks during construction) to be too large. So, once again, the taxpayers step in to provide guarantees so that construction can go ahead.

For instance, Obama recently tripled the Federal loan guarantees from $18 billion to $54 billion. The guarantees are intended to cover about 80% of costs, so suddenly instead of only being able to build three nukes, we can build thirteen or so. That’s about two weeks’ worth of the necessary number of reactors if nukes are the solution to the end of oil.

It’s a start. And this way that $54 billion can’t be wasted on funding efficiency retrofits of old buildings or a cash for clunkers program.

The third point about using nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels, is that nuclear fuel is a limited nonrenewable resource. If reactors operated on the scale I’m talking about, the practically recoverable uranium would be depleted in a matter of decades.

(New designs don’t change that equation. Commercial fusion energy, or mining seawater or asteroids are not practical solutions on the necessary timescales. Breeder reactors, sometimes called renewable nuclear energy, solve energy problems the same way decapitation solves brain cancer. So-called advanced designs that share the dubious features of breeders, like fast neutron fluxes and exotic coolants, are just more attempts to sell people on the same failed pig in a new poke.)

Insofar as nuclear energy is a real world option, it is not renewable and its fuel would be gone in decades if it was a major energy source.

So. Nukes can’t be built fast enough to replace oil. They’re uninsurable. Uranium is a depletable resource. None of that even considers the usual roster of health, environmental, and waste problems. So, why do nukes ever come up? How can it be that anyone wastes valuable brain cells on such a total loss of an option?

Well, there’s a lot of money to be made for a few people in any big construction project. Highway money pork is nothing compared nuke pork. Roads to nowhere have been built for the pork of it, and nukes will be, too, if the recipients have much to say about it. (One day after I wrote that, I came across this report from January 31st:

Rather than try to propose a similar project that, like Yucca, might take decade [sic] of grueling planning only to be shot down at the end, the administration’s solution is to commission a panel of experts that includes academics, politicians and businessmen like Exelon CEO John Rowe.

The panel will consider fixes like making some easy changes to waste handling laws, but will doubtless also look at some ideas that have gotten little play in the U.S., like breeder reactors that can reprocess old waste into new, usable fuel. [Emphasis added]

The other good thing is that reactors keep the energy monopoly right where it is now. Backyard mini-nukes get, ahem, glowing reviews full of that old time optimism, but it’s not an option many people would choose for their kids’ playground. So there aren’t any real worries about any of that distributed energy, profit-draining hokum. That makes this nonrenewable polluting energy source a real solution to the problems caused by the other nonrenewable polluting energy source.

Get ready for the serious, correctly dressed people telling you so.

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A blog note

The long silence is about sadness. It’s not personal sadness. I kind of live in paradise. But watching the US political system go to ruin is depressing.

I started writing a post talking about the Administration’s plans for education — which look shrubbier than the Shrub’s — and found out when I was looking up links that it’s even worse than it sounded at first.

There’s another post in the, ahem, pipeline about the BP oil spill. Actually, no, not about the oil spill. About how the spill will be used to shill for nuclear energy the minute the lobbyists think they can get away with it. They’ll tell us it’s our only choice. We have a polluting disaster here, so the solution is obvious. Put all your money on another polluting disaster!

It goes on and on. So my heart fails me, and I go off into my own world and write instead about how government should be.

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The Silence of the Lambs

It all hurts. The Health Insurance Profit Protection Plan. The government mandate to fork over money to private companies. The lies. The flimflam. (“It’s called ‘Health Care Reform.’ That means ‘Health’ and ‘Care’ and ‘Reform’!”)

But what hurts worse is all the people who I thought knew which end was up, who knew right from wrong, who cared. Krugman, even, so help me God, Kristof — practically the only widely visible man out there who’s aware that women are people. All of them not noticeably conscious that women’s most fundamental right was trampled for . . . well, for the obligation to fork over money to private companies. For nothing.

Because that’s what this is. The right to control your own body is so basic that you can even kill in self-defense. The right to control what is done to your body is fundamental to every other right. There is no freedom of speech or thought, no life, no liberty, no pursuit of happiness, if there is no control over your body. This is an issue like slavery. It is fundamental. It cannot be harmlessly traded away for anything.

But people don’t see anything wrong. A headline on the McClatchy site is about the eventual silence of the Tea Partiers. The delusions of a few paranoids are visible. The human rights of half the population are not.

Knowing right from wrong is like knowing which way is up. It’s essential to digging out of a hole.

How did we come to this place where women get shoved further and further down, and even women barely notice?

That hurts worst of all.

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Utah, why stop at global warming?

We’ve had states passing anti-evolution stuff. Now this.

Utah delivers vote of no confidence for ‘climate alarmists’

Utah’s House of Representatives [has] adopted a resolution condemning “climate alarmists”…. The measure …passed by 56-17….

I don’t know why I never saw it before, but do you realize how many problems this approach could solve?

Gravity, for instance. All that lugging things around. Having to build cars, trucks, roads, airplanes just to move from point A to point B. Forget it. Levitation now!

And don’t get me started on the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I mean, who the hell passed the damn thing? Nobody, that’s who. One day a bunch of pointy heads said it existed. Who made them God? I am so tired of dusting and things falling apart and my car’s last repair bill. Enough already. Time to insist on a “full and independent investigation” until entropy “can be substantiated,” in the brave words of the Utah Resolution.

Are you with me? Call your congresscritters!

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Bwahaha. They want you on the hook for even more.

Do you wonder why the nuclear power industry needs government insurance? Why they need government loan guarantees just to build the plants?

It’s simple. Without the Price-Anderson Act, without the taxpayer-funded construction loan guarantees Obama wants to triple, nobody who hires professional actuaries will touch the nuclear industry. Actuaries assess risk, as we all do every time we cross a street or get on a plane. We do it by gut feelings. Professional actuaries use statistics based on actual past risk.

And nobody who hires professional actuaries will touch the nuclear industry.

But we have no choice, people say. We need the energy.

We do have a choice. Look at some brief stats on what’s possible by 2050: Solar could provide 100% of our energy needs. Efficiency could reduce needs by 50% without affecting standard of living. (Links and calcs here, and here.) Nuclear could satisfy some 15% of our energy needs if we build a new gigawatt plant every six weeks (pdf). Even with guarantees tripled to $54 billion, that only provides some nine plants. That buys about a year’s worth of plants. Then we need to do it again. And again. And again. Every year for 39 years. And money spent on nuclear energy can’t be spent on real solutions.

(In case you’re wondering why nukes get built at all, remember that it funnels billions to huge corporations now. The fact that it doesn’t solve any of our problems ten years from now is not their concern. I think we’ve seen that movie a couple of times recently.)

But nuclear is safe, people say. It’s safer than driving a car.

Well, sure. The difference is that if a car crashes, in the worst case it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses and lost wages. If a nuclear plant has a disaster, it means total ruin. Yes, the chance of nuclear disaster is very low. But given the costs if it happens, even the hugest insurance or energy companies would go bankrupt. Nobody who knows the meaning of the numbers thinks the risk is worth it. Even the nuclear industry doesn’t think it’s worth it. They’ll take any profit, but they won’t build without someone else to take on the risk.

So you, Jane and Joe Taxpayer, get to do it. It gets worse. You’re not only on the hook for billions in insurance and construction loan guarantees. The industry are pretty much the ones who’ve decided how much money will be needed, so the estimates are, shall we say, rosy. Guess who’s on the hook for all the rest of the costs? That’s right. You.

You are the insurer and guarantor of last resort for the nuclear industry.

I guess that model worked so well in the banking industry, it’s a good idea to do it again.

nuclear, loan guarantees, Obama

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