Friday, November 14, 2008

Elizabeth Dole's Campaign Actually Backfired

It is doubtful that this was the only reason that Dole lost against Hagan but it does show that it making slurs against atheists in public is no longer being considered acceptable in some social spheres. Within a very short time of Dole airing her infamous ad, her political opponent soon began getting several thousand campaign contributions during a campaign fundraiser in Boston. These contributors were composed of not only disgruntled atheists, but also religious people who thought that Dole's ad was highly offensive and inappropriate even for a campaign ad.

Historically, in public polls atheists are regarded as being the least popular minority by the general populace in regards to being fit for political office. This is why "under God" was added during the Pledge of Allegiance during the red scare in order to distinguish Americans from the "godless" Soviet Union. I am glad to see that people are beginning to challenge the negative perception that atheists have in the US and I hope that atheism will no longer be regarded as a dirty word by many people.

Web Seminar Reactions

I listened to the free web seminar on nuclear energy that was broadcast yesterday. I was very impressed as it contained accurate information presented in a professional manner. I am glad that I had the opportunity to attend such a gathering.

The web seminar examined the current state of the nuclear industry worldwide and what should be done in terms of researching new nuclear technology. It also examined some of the economic drivers behind nuclear power development such as the projected ten year approval and construction time for new reactors. One reason why it takes so long is because this is an estimate based on market uncertainty because of the difficulty for proposed reactors to get loan guarantees. This is also in addition to assumptions about taking construction delays into account because of local opposition near the construction site. If both of these barriers could be mitigated, the process of licensing and construction of new reactors could proceed at a much faster pace.

I do have somewhat more hope for the development of nuclear power after listening to the seminar as I am glad to see that there is a serious effort being made to revive what was once a dying industry. I hope that people will learn to get over their fears about nuclear energy and embrace it as being the energy source of choice as opposed to coal. Finally, I offer my gratitude to Dan Yurman for doing such an excellent job reporting at the seminar.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Robert F Kennedy Junior?! Oh HELL NO!

There is an ugly rumor ciculating around that Obama is considering putting Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency. It is too early to confirm or deny the probability of this happening, but if it does the fate of energy production in the US is in BIG trouble. Not only was he fighting to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plant, but he also wants to phase out all fossil fuels INCLUDING nuclear power! He feels that solar, wind, and biomass would be enough to satisfy the growing US demand for energy!

This experiment has already been tried by Germany, and look what happened. Der Vaterland is now on its way to being covered by a massive grey cloud as a result of all of the coal smog that is being churned out. Germany outlawed the construction of new nuclear plants back in 1998. This caused a major energy shortage so now new lignite-burning coal plants are being built to take up the slack when the promise of renewable energy fails to deliver which is unfortunately most of the time. If we follow suit, it would be even worse than Germany since we do not have any nearby countries to buy electricity from since Germany is riding on France's nuclear infrastructure.

Why do "environmentalists" keep lumping nuclear power in with fossil fuels? I will say it now, and I will say it again, WE NEED NUCLEAR! Nuclear is the only option if we want to rid ourselves of fossil fuel dependence. If you care about the environment, you are going to have to support nuclear power. It is the only alternative that is free of emissions yet produces enough energy for base load power generation. Wind and solar actually lead to increased dependence on fossil fuels in the form of backup generators using natural gas. Wind and solar power are too unreliable to contribute to the energy grid in any practical fashion. Biomass is the exception in that while it is reliable, it also produces large amounts of pollution in the form of smog and particulate matter as it basically comes down to burning obscenely large amounts of wood and garbage on a daily basis.

I apologize if I have offended any of my dear readers here with my small emotional outburst but I am tired of bad science and bad economics being used to justify impractical energy policies for political expediency. I am not sure if Robert F. Kennedy Junior would make it through the Senate conformational hearing but this is exactly what I meant in my earlier post in regards to my fear of the anti-nuclear politicians of the extreme left.

Perhaps I am overreacting. I do not regret my voting decision, but I am worried that we might see a return of the anti-nuclear brigade in Washington rather than a serious evaluation of our national energy policy. However, it is still better than facing another round of the neo-authoritarian religious right in the form of the current day Republican party. I digress.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thoughts on Obama...

The Democratic candidate, Obama triumphed over McCain in the national election last night. In addition, the Democrats also won a few more seats in the Senate. I admit that I voted for Obama and Senator Durbin in my state despite my strong disagreements with some of the more extreme elements of the Democratic party.

As I have said before in a previous post of mine, both parties are by no mean perfect, but the Republicans frightened me even more. Since the 1980's, the Republicans seem to have strongly allied themselves with the religious right which has taken every opportunity to insert itself into the public education system. As a result, we still have fundamentalist Christians challenging the teaching of evolution in public schools in addition to pushing bible study classes and school-led prayer. The quality of science education has suffered greatly under their attacks as many school districts are afraid to even mention evolution in biology class for fear of being shouted down.

Religious fundamentalists have been chipping away at the separation between church and state little by little since the Reagan administration. They could hardly have asked for a better candidate to further their agenda when George W. Bush took office in 2000. He was an ignorant, scientifically illiterate, easily influenced man who could serve as their mouthpiece as they moved their goals forward. This allowed such disasters as the "faith-based initiatives" to be passed in addition to denying public funding for stem cell research.

Trying to define an embryo as a person is nothing short of ridiculous. It does not have an active consciousness, and it is entirely dependent on the uterine environment for its existence. Biologically speaking, the closest thing it could be compared to is a parasite. This is because if the placental barrier ever broke down, the immune system of the mother serving as the host body would consider the embryo as a foreign invader and promptly destroy it.

An embryo could be best said to be a POTENTIAL child, as it is not a child. People do not seem to realize that potential is not the same as actual. Everybody in the world has the potential to win an Olympic medal as well as win the lottery or be involved in other potential scenarios but it would be absurd to say that these would be a realistic probability for most of the populace. There is also the fact that the spontaneous natural abortion rate of human embryos is quite high, due to innate flaws in the structure of many embryos that render them non-viable.

With that being said, the stem cell research ban is religiously motivated, rather than having any sort of scientific or rational justification for being in place. Because of the enormous potential to medical science that stem cell research represents, it is inexcusable that the US government is not dedicating public funding to this field. There are thousands of millions of people each year that are in need of an organ transplant or suffer the amputation of a body part. If we had the technology to grow and regenerate failing or lost body parts, we would eliminate a major source of suffering for many people world wide. Unfortunately, religious fundamentalists do not see it that way and are attempting to ruin it for everybody else much like the perpetual wet blanket at your birthday party. We should deal with them the same way by promptly showing them the door.

Another nightmarish aspect of the current day Republican party has been its stance on civil rights. I do not understand how the Republican party considers itself to be the party of "small government" yet creates bureaucratic messes such as the department of Homeland Security, passes bills such as the Patriot act and the FISA bill, as well as create such idiotic legislation such as Proposition 8 in California. During the Bush years, we have seen the steady erosion of the constitution and other safeguards on government power. The executive branch under Republican rule with the aid of a do-nothing Congress has grown into a bloated monster with little in its way to stop it from trampling all in its path.

Indeed, the Republican party has gleefully aided and abetted Bush as he created detention centers that hold and torture people without charges, even with little reason for those people to be there in the first place. The same Republicans that chastised Clinton for the abusive power and overuse of executive privilege did not seem to mind when the Bush administration claimed executive privilege in order to avoid turning over incriminating evidence by court order. Even Vice President Cheney became so bold as to practically claim that his office was in a "fourth branch of government" and therefore not subject to the demands of bothersome executive orders.

I once had hope for John McCain way back in 2000 when he seemed to be a refreshing change of pace from the assorted undesirables in the Republican party. However, he soon became a continuation of the same failed policies as the Bush administration as his voting record was 90% congruent with Bush. To make matters worse, McCain could be seen embracing Bush in a big open armed hug as if he decided to leave all of that silly talk of "change" behind. For all intents of purposes, the "maverick" had now become another Republican steer. Even worse, he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate after branding Obama as being "inexperienced.

Sarah Palin was little more than a gimmick in an attempt to woo away bitter Hillary Clinton supporters from the Democratic party. By choosing a female Vice President, this was an  obvious ploy to take advantage of demographic politics. This proved to be a mistake, because Palin's personality could be described as "vapid" at best and she had even less experience than Obama. To make matters worse, she was a fundamentalist Christian who voiced her open support of the religious right and young Earth creationism at every opportunity. Even if I had wanted to vote for McCain, there would have been a very real possibility that he would have died before the end of his term from health related issues because of his age and past medical history. This would mean that Palin would finish his term, which would have been a disaster of EPIC proportions.

This is not to say that I am not without reservations in regards to Obama. I did not like the way that he voted "yes" on the FISA bill that gave telecommunication companies retroactive immunity in regards to warrantless wiretapping  investigations. I am also not sure what he plans to do about the future of energy production as demand is only going to grow in the US.

The green wing of the Democratic party has been heavily pushing solar, wind, ethanol, and other forms of alternative energy for several decades now. After billions of dollars being funneled into "alternative" energy, it remains clear that it is still not a viable alternative for energy production at all. The only realistic options at this point are coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear.

Nuclear would be the best choice as it provides low cost energy at a very efficient scale. As another advantage, it is a much cleaner form of energy compared to coal, oil, or natural gas. It does not produce emissions and the only byproduct of nuclear energy is a small amount of spent fuel that can easily be stored on site or in a geological repository like in Yucca Mountain. Uranium is as plentiful as tin and even at greatly increased levels of demand, it would last for millennia. The only reason why the price of uranium is going up at the moment is because much of the uranium fuel used in the US actually comes from decommissioned nuclear warheads and our stockpile is running low. The uranium industry is in shambles because of the rate of reduced demand since the 1970's which has artificially increased the relative scarcity of available uranium ore. If we actively pursued uranium exploration again and also reprocessed spent fuel instead of using a wasteful open fuel cycle, the price of uranium would once again drop dramatically.

Newer designs of reactors such as the molten salt reactor do not even have to use uranium as fuel, but can run on thorium instead (See my prior posts on the Molten Salt Reactor). Thorium is even more plentiful than uranium and a closed Thorium fuel cycle can be used to breed more fuel. Even better is the fact that the isotopes produced in the Thorium fuel cycle make it practically impossible to divert into producing fissile material for nuclear warheads. As an added bonus, the high heat of some of the newer designs of nuclear reactor can be taken advantage of to produce hydrogen for a fraction of the cost of conventional methods.

All is not rosy, however. The environmental movement which has allied itself with many members of the Democratic party remains vehemently anti-nuclear despite all of the benefits that nuclear power brings. It has used its lobbying clout to effectively kill off any active research into nuclear energy and set up multitudes of roadblocks in the way for the construction of new nuclear reactors since the 1970's. President Carter, a well-meaning but rather ignorant man, passed a ban on the reprocessing of spent fuel due to an irrational fear of his that it would lead to nuclear weapons proliferation. During the Clinton years, President Clinton cancelled all funding for the Integral Fast Reactor despite its advantages over the Light Water Reactor because of Clinton's anti-nuclear stance. The infamous Al Gore is also dead set against nuclear power as he continues to push for "alternative" energy that does not get anybody anywhere, except the natural gas industry. Indeed, the natural gas industry is rubbing its hands with glee as it sees business increase as natural gas powered generators are being built to take up the slack of wind and solar installations due to the unreliability of solar and wind power.

There is also the fact that in the US, coal is king. There is an existing incentive to build coal plants more than any other form of energy because of the cheap construction costs involved. Coal has massive external costs, but as with most things, short term goals are usually pursued over long term objectives no matter how much more sense it makes to think in the long run. Because coal is so deeply entrenched in our energy policy, the coal lobby has massive political clout in terms of influencing what paths to energy the US takes. Taking into account the amount of ignorance and gullibility as demonstrated by the average political leader as well as the average citizen, there is a very real possibility that the our main plan for the future will be investing heavily into the hoax that is "clean coal".

Obama did mention that he is not ruling out nuclear for the future energy plan of the US, but it remains to be seen if he actually intends to follow through on that claim. There is also some disturbing evidence that he might instead listen to the "alternative energy" segment of the Democratic party and promptly ignore nuclear power entirely like previous Democratic leaders have. However, despite all of the reservations I might have about Obama I still feel that he is a significantly better choice rather than risking putting the Republican party in power again for the time being.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Some Suggestions, Please...

This is still a fairly new blog, so I am not sure if I have enough of a reader base to get many comments on this post. However, I am looking for some suggestions or feedback for reading material or things to take note of or pay attention to when it comes to environmental awareness. Please note, that although I frequently chastise the "Green movement" on my blogs, I do so not because I do not care about the environment. It is because I care about it enough to realize that most of the sorts of things that "environmentalists" waste time staging protests over are not the things that they should be worrying about.

Most of the time, environmentalist protests are mere publicity stunts that only accomplish in pissing people off without doing anything useful for the environment at all. The average "environmentalist" seems to be somebody who protests about issues that are a threat to a philosophy governed by neo-luddism; i.e. scaling back production and consumption because modern technology is "evil". This as opposed to a true environmentalist who is concerned enough about the environment to identify what the real problems are as derived by credible scientific research and suggests practical solutions to them, instead of wanting to drag everybody back to the middle ages.

I care about the environment not just because I am a biologist and I like plants and animals. It is also because from a pragmatic standpoint, you cannot isolate humanity from the natural environment. Whatever heavy metals leak into the water table or poisonous substances drift into the air, you and I will eventually ingest or inhale. There is no running away from that fact. Other species may long be affected before humans are by this phenomenon, but a dirty environment would not do anybody any favors. I also admit that for me, there is a bit of a sentimental dimension to this as well. I would much rather look at a beautiful forest or a rustic coastline, rather than miles of solar panels or wind turbines.

Anyway, the reason for this post is that I want to know what would be the best sources of information for credible environmental news or research? I do not consider myself an expert on this subject by any means. However it is often hard to determine what "big" issues are based on valid evidence and what are not as you read the daily news, as even otherwise intelligent leaders are buying into pseudoscience. The government mandated wasting of money in the form of subsidies for wind, solar, and ethanol across the world is a prime example of this. None of these three sources of energy are economically feasible. All they are doing is driving up costs for food and energy, in addition to destroying valuable or beautiful land just so the Greens and various politicians can feel good about themselves. The fact that even otherwise intelligent people have bought into this fiasco hook, line, and sinker disgusts me to no end.

I have been recommended a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg during a conversation with a friend of mine who is a respected geologist. I have not had a chance to read it yet. Has anybody else who is currently reading this blog read this book? What other recommendations would my readers make?

Scotch Tape Emits X-Rays! OH NOES!!11

Just when you thought that you were safe from radiation by boycotting the evils of nuclear power, along comes a report detailing how scotch tape actually produces a fairly large amount of X-rays when peeled. One of the researchers had successfully produced an X-ray image of his index finger using the emissions produced by this unusual phenomenon. So, to all of you Greenpeace lurkers out there, here is one more thing to add to your boycott list!

Well, okay, there is a limitation to generating X-rays using this method. Scotch tape only produces X-rays when peeled in a vacuum. This means that unless you have a vacuum chamber set up at your house, you will not get any X-ray exposure from peeling Scotch tape. So fear not, Christmas shoppers; you can now breathe a huge sigh of relief. Of course some of you (...cough, cough, Greenpeace members!..cough, cough) are still going to be boycotting Scotch tape after reading this anyway because of the paranoia surrounding radiation.

I should have posted this earlier, like on Halloween. Oddly enough, this was known for quite some time by Soviet researchers, but it sort of got lost in the shuffle. The interesting thing is, that this might have some useful scientific applications such as building disposable X-ray machines.