I know I'm shouting at the wind here, but the damn reactors weren't designed to withstand a magnitude 8.9 earthquake and a 30-foot wall of water, particularly not in close succession. They've exceeded their safety specifications by an incredible margin; the safety systems all worked and the release of radiation has been minimal; the radioactivity is only at dangerous levels if you're actually on the grounds of the complex. The evacuations are precautionary and if they had some way to pass out bunny suits to everyone (and could ensure they were used correctly) they wouldn't need to evacuate at all.
If I were in Japan right now, and some State Department weenie told me I had to evacuate, I'd tell him where to stick his evacuation order. (Hint: it's an "output only" port.)
* * *
This Spiegel piece asks, "Is Environmentalism Really Working?"
It depends on what you mean by "working". There are two goals of environmentalism.
The first is the stated goal of "saving the Earth from Man." The pursuit of this goal means that we have to give up things like electricity and central heating and personal transportation, because all that stuff gives off too much CO2 and that's bad for Earth. It also means recycling everything, even if it makes no economic sense. ("Hey! That toilet paper can still be used! Don't flush it!") It means making everything more expensive to account for the "hidden environmental costs".
The second is the real goal of environmentalists getting to call the shots and enrich themselves. It's about power and privilege, not the planet.
Example: Al Gore. Gore is the A-number-one example of the "do as I say, not as I do" school of environmentalism. Gore lectures us all about how terrible we are to use so much energy when Earth Is Warming And We'll All Die If It Doesn't Stop--yet lives in lavish mansions with enormous carbon footprints; he takes private jets and limosines rather than use public transportation and then answers his critics with mumbo-jumbo about "carbon offsets".
You can tell a true believer by what he does. Ed Begley Jr. lives the life. He's got solar panels on his house and a for-real electric car, and does everything he can to minimize his impact on Earth's ecosystem. I can respect his beliefs because he acts on them and walks the walk. (I think he's wasting his time and energy, but WTF, if it makes him happy....)
Al Gore, though, clearly thinks that the privations and the hardships of the policies he advocates are supposed to be borne by the little people, not exalted people like him. After all, he's important, right? He hasn't got time to waste on charging his electric car or composting his potato peelings (and good God have you seen the price of labor these days? It's too expensive to pay the chef or the gardener to do that, even if they are illegal immigrants. Besides, Al can't earn stock dividends on his own compost heap).
Al Gore isn't a true believer; if he were, he wouldn't just be insisting that everyone else do these things. He'd be doing them himself--and he's not.
And most of the leadership of the environmental movement is composed of Al Gores rather than Ed Begleys.
* * *
"Why inflation hurts more than it did 30 years ago" goes the headline of this AP piece.
It hurts more than it did 30 years ago because, man, this time it's us who are having to deal with it! 30 years ago it was our parents' problem, man, but now it's ours! This sucks! I hate it!
The article says that because interest rates were higher 30 years ago--and they're microscopic now--incomes are not keeping pace with inflation. That much is correct; but look closer.
If banks are giving 15% interest on deposits, what are they charging to loan money? 18%? 20%? The cost of borrowing enough to buy a house (for example) becomes prohibitive. That's the Fed's entire reasoning behind the low interest rates we have now: if interest rates are high, the economy slows.
But look even closer. Look at how much money the federal government has to borrow to pay for everything it's trying to do: $1,500 billion per year. Now imagine it having to pay 15% interest on that money rather than 1%. Yeah.
Pretty quickly, deficit spending becomes impossible. If you believe in Keynesian economics (like just about everyone in government does) you think that government spending is the key to economic growth. Without that spending, the economy grinds to a halt. Besides, no one wants to have less money to spend, especially when it's other peoples' money.
But low interest rates aren't only there to help the government afford to borrow vast sums of money. Although it's an oversimplification of a very complex system, you can think of interest rates as a kind of throttle on the economy. The lower interest rates are, the closer to "wide open" the throttle is.
To keep the economy in growth mode over the past 20 years, the Fed has had to open that throttle as far as it could reasonably justify doing. The prime rate has been ratcheted downward continuously since the 1980s; sometimes it would be raised a bit--a quarter of a percent here or there--but usually it's gone right back down after a couple of fiscal quarters and now it rests right against 0. It's essentially "wide-open throttle": it's like when you put your foot to the floor in your car; you can get the throttle open a little wider by pressing the pedal into the carpet, but doing that won't really do anything for you.
And the economy is on the skids.
The Fed is stuck now: it can't raise interest rates, because doing so will bring the federal government to its knees. The solution is to hide inflation by removing energy and food from the calculation of it; these things drive inflation because everyone needs food and energy, and there's less of it available now than there was 30 years ago. (Artificially, I might add. We're turning food into biofuel for no good reason, and we're not exploiting our own energy resources.)
There was an article I should have linked to. Some bigwig economist was telling people that inflation is stable, saying that while food and energy cost more right now, you could get a 2nd generation iPad which was much more powerful than the 1st generation iPad, and it cost the same!
Someone in the audience scoffed, "I can't eat an iPad."
* * *
England is no longer "Great Britain". England's got a crime problem. It's illegal for a subject to defend himself; guns are prohibited and there are now laws prohibiting "dangerous knives". I'm sure you all read the story about people not being allowed to install wire mesh windows, because a thief might get hurt while breaking in.
So when a woman is raped, no one helps her, because the legal downsides of helping her are too dire. What if the rapist got hurt? He could sue you, and in any case you'd end up in jail.
In a country where you're not even allowed to defend yourself, why on earth would you defend a stranger?
* * *
Japan admits it's "overwhelmed" by the scope of the disaster. Big freakin' surprise. Fifth worst quake in history, massive tsunami, trouble at three nuclear reactors--it'd be more surprising if they were able to deal with all that.
Look: you plan for a disaster because when one happens it's better to have something in place, some procedure to follow, because trying to figure things out on the fly wastes precious time. Usually, in a situation like that, it's better to do the wrong thing than to do nothing.
But no plan can anticipate all contingencies. The nuclear reactors, for example, were not designed to withstand a 9.0 quake just because--WTF!--they don't happen all that often. Engineers always build in safety margins solely to account for unexpected conditions, which is why those reactors' safety systems have performed so admirably but no one--NO ONE--expected the fifth-worst earthquake in recorded history followed by a 30-foot wall of water inundating the plants...and in fact, it was the tsunami which disabled the plants' safety systems, not the earthquake!
If the tsunami had not happened, there would be nothing about the nuke plants in the news, not even a story saying, "There were X many nuclear reactors in the quake zone, but all of their safety systems performed perfectly and they were shut down safely, with no release of radioactivity."
And come on: the Japanese know tsunamis. The word we use for the damn phenomenon is Japanese. The English term--"tidal wave"--actually applies to a completely different phenomenon (see also "Bay of Fundy") which is why we generally say "tsunami" now.
It's a big disaster, and it's only been a week; we still don't really know the extent of the damage and the loss of life still remains to be completely tallied. You do the best you can to prepare for disaster, but you cannot prepare for all possible disasters. I think Japan's doing pretty well, considering.
* * *
When I put the trash out around 9 last night, I was still able to go outside in shorts. Of course it's 20° cooler now, but it was a nice foretaste of spring.
The weather's supposed to be nice tomorrow, so I'm thinking I should go get the supplies I need to change the oil in the Jeep. Grease the suspension, too, perhaps. I don't know.
I also still need to track down a wiring kit for the trailer hitch and install that.
* * *
I slept until about 4 AM after going to bed at 9:30. That's not bad, but I'm probably going to be hitting the hay again because I still feel tired and there's no point to making myself miserable.
* * *
...I did a couple more quests in Deepholm with Amaleni, but I haven't been spending too much time on WoW of late. It seems like I'm spending most of my time on sleeping, but that can't actually be so; and when I think about it I realize that I am mainly just goofing off at the computer--surfing, blogging, playing Solitaire--and then playing WoW for a little while.
Yesterday, for example, I spent perhaps an hour on WoW at the most, yet I was up for twelve hours. Okay, figure 144 minutes spent on anime; but with the WoW that's still only about 3.5 hours out of my day. I also did:
4 blog postsSo as you can see, I didn't just sleep the day away. I pissed it away on a bunch of minor things that needed doing, and some stuff that really didn't need doing.
40 hands of solitaire
20 minutes of yard work
20 minutes of cleaning house
about 40 minutes' worth of driving, total, to obtain two meals
a trip to the bank to cash a check
spent 15 minutes on a minor home repair
spent 35 minutes on shaving and showering
spent 20 minutes on cat maintenance
And, really, the bulk of my week has been about like that: I'm awake for about 12 hours per day but I don't concentrate on any one thing; stuff gets done but I don't really think about it much, so at the end of the day it feels as if all I did was sleep.
Anyway, that makes me feel a bit better.