Sunday, January 31, 2016

Religion and human prehistory

Christopher Hitchens

One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody---not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms---had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance, and other infantile needs). 

Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion, and one would like to think---though the connection is not a fully demonstrable one---that this is why they seem so uninterested in sending fellow humans to hell (Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything).

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Bernie Sanders demagogues the email issue

Sorry to see alleged straight-shooter Bernie Sanders flab-gabbing about Hillary's email:

"That is, I think, a very serious issue. There is a legal process taking place, I do not want to politicize that issue. It is not my style." He called the controversy "a serious issue" on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday as well, although again he said he wouldn't make personal attacks on Clinton. "I am not going to attack Hillary Clinton," Sanders told NBC's Chuck Todd. "The American people will have to make that judgment."

Bullshit. Calling her emails "a very serious issue" is in fact a personal and political attack on Clinton.

As a story on Vox points out, this is probably about overclassification, not a security breach by Clinton:

The problem, in other words, isn't that the rules for classification are too strict. It's that the rules are unclear, messy, or contradictory, to the degree that the rules exist at all, and individual people and agencies have learned to overclassify to stay on the safe side.

The problem has grown so severe that it has hampered even the ability of American intelligence officials and policymakers to access the information they need to do their jobs. The head of the 9/11 Commission, Richard Ben-Veniste, told Congress in 2005 that "the failure to share information was the single most important reason why the United States government failed to detect and disrupt the 9/11 plot." 

He warned, "Information has to flow more freely. Much more information needs to be declassified. A great deal of information should never be classified at all." (emphasis added)

See Paul Krugman's experience with the government's classification system.

See also Michael Tomasky's Bernie Sanders Isn’t Electable, and Here’s Why


Diablo Canyon: Poor design, poor location

by Steven Weissman:

The role that nuclear power could or should play in helping to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is worthy of serious debate, but the latest nuclear-related front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle is a head-scratcher. Above the fold, the headline reads “Nuclear plant’s surprise backers,” followed by the following subheading: “Environmentalists push for Diablo Canyon to stay open.” The accompanying article reports on a letter sent by a new coalition identifying itself as “Save Diablo Canyon,” calling on regulators to relicense the plant. 

The stated concern is that a closed nuclear plant would make it harder to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. Constructed on a cliff along the central California coast, Diablo is the last remaining commercial reactor in the state and it soon must either receive a new license or cease operation.

The mystery about the article is that it only mentions three of those who signed the letter, and each of those three has been on the public record for years as favoring nuclear power. So where is the surprise? Where is the news item?...

If we were to build a nuclear plant in California today, it wouldn’t be at Diablo Canyon. And if we were going to select the best nuclear plant to continue operating for an additional thirty years, it wouldn’t be this one. 

Diablo is perched on a relatively shallow cliff amidst a series of seismic fault lines. It is near a popular small city. It has no doubt led to the destruction of millions of sea creatures due to its massive cold water intake system and hot water reinjection. It was designed incorrectly at first, then retrofitted with beams and shock absorbers that make it a challenge to walk from one end of the facility to another, then discovered to have been erroneously redesigned so it had to be retrofit again. 

There have been reported incidents of faulty operation, such as the failure to notice that a pipe feeding a critical backup cooling system had been stuck in the closed position for over a year. 

In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami-induced Fukushima disaster, important questions were raised about the wisdom of continuing to operate a facility of this type in a coastal, earthquake-prone area. But there it stands, and if the state were to pursue a replacement nuclear plant, it would likely take a decade to get there.

See also this.

Later: The case for keeping Diablo open from Mother Jones: Closing This Nuclear Plant Could Cause an Environmental Disaster

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