Technological Hubris with Catastrophic Consequences

From a just-published nytimes.com article entitled “‘Safety Myth’ Left Japan Ripe for Nuclear Crisis“.  I quote a few excerpts below:

Near a nuclear power plant facing the Sea of Japan, a series of exhibitions in a large public relations building here extols the virtues of the energy source with some help from “Alice in Wonderland.”

“It’s terrible, just terrible,” the White Rabbit says in the first exhibit. “We’re running out of energy, Alice.”

A Dodo robot figure, swiveling to address Alice and the visitors to the building, declares that there is an “ace” form of energy called nuclear power. It is clean, safe and renewable if you reprocess uranium and plutonium, the Dodo says.

“Wow, you can even do that!” Alice says of nuclear power. “You could say that it’s optimal for resource-poor Japan!”

The government and the utilities encouraged the creation of many organizations that propagated the message of safety. One of the oldest, the Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, receives 40 percent of its financing from two ministries that oversee nuclear power and 60 percent from Japan’s plant operators. In addition to producing information promoting nuclear power, the organization sends nuclear power experts to speak at secondary schools and colleges, at no cost.

Mitsuhiro Yokote, 67, the executive managing director of the organization and a former nuclear engineer at the Kansai Electric Power Company, acknowledged that the experts conveyed the message that nuclear plants were absolutely safe.

After Chernobyl, the nuclear establishment made sure that Japanese kept believing in safety.

The plant operators built or renovated the public relations buildings — called “P.R. buildings” — attached to their plants. Before Chernobyl, the buildings were simple facilities intended to appeal to “adult men interested in technical matters,” said Noriya Sumihara, an anthropologist at Tenri University who has researched the facilities. Male guides wearing industrial uniforms took visitors around exhibits consisting mostly of wall panels.

But after Chernobyl, the facilities were transformed into elaborate theme parks geared toward young mothers, the group that research showed was most worried about nuclear plants and radiation, Mr. Sumihara said. Women of childbearing age, whose presence alone was meant to reassure the visitors, were hired as guides.

In Higashidori, a town in northern Japan, one of the country’s newest P.R. buildings is built on the theme of Tonttu, a forest with resident dwarfs. The buildings also holds events with anime characters to attract children and young parents, said Yoshiki Oikawa, a spokesman for the Tohoku Electric Power Company, which manages the site with Tepco.

Here in Shika, more than 100,000 guests last year visited the P.R. building where Alice discovers the wonders of nuclear power. The Caterpillar reassures Alice about radiation and the Cheshire Cat helps her learn about the energy source. Instead of going down a rabbit hole, Alice shrinks after eating a candy and enters a 1:25 scale model of the Shika nuclear plant nearby.

The nuclear establishment also made sure that government-mandated school textbooks underemphasized information that could cast doubt on the safety of nuclear power. In Parliament, the campaign was led by Tokio Kano, a Tepco vice president who became a lawmaker in 1998. Mr. Kano, who declined to be interviewed for this article, returned to Tepco as an adviser after retiring from Parliament last year.

In 2004, under the influence of Mr. Kano and other proponents of nuclear power, education officials ordered revisions to textbooks before endorsing them. In one junior high school social studies textbook, a reference to the growing antinuclear movement in Europe was deleted. In another, a reference to Chernobyl was relegated to a footnote.

The effect could be seen in opinion polls that even after Fukushima have indicated that young Japanese are the strongest proponents of nuclear power.

In the country that gave the world the word tsunami, few measures were taken at Fukushima Daiichi or elsewhere to protect plants against the giant waves. Neither the Dodo nor the Caterpillar makes any mention of tsunamis to Alice.

Heidegger once made a statement that the explosion of a hydrogen bomb, which (based on understanding at the time) might be enough to snuff out all life on Earth, was the “mere final emission of what has long since occurred”.  How many catastrophic things far worse than Fukushima exist, occurring right now in our midst?  How can we see?

Extremely Useful Organization Item: Hanging jewelry organizer

I decided to get a few different types of soft plastic jewelry organizers as an experiment.  The one that I like the most is the Household Essentials 01943 Ultra 80-Pocket Hanging Jewelry Organizer.

 

The actual quality of this organizer is very high.  It is not cheap, tacky plastic but very high-quality plastic.  It looks and feels like it was made very well, which it is.

I initially questioned how useful the format of something hanging in a closet would be for jewelry storage, but it has turned out to be an excellent storage format and the items are very accessible.

Emissions vs. Food Supply

This graphic was part of a recent OXFAM report “Growing a Better Future: Food justice in a resource-constrained world”

I checked on of the links listed as a reference: http://faostat.fao.org/site/368/DesktopDefault.aspx On this page you can select a country and get detailed data about the amounts of various crops produced by it.  At the top of the data is the row “Grand Total” and if you look to the right you will see the column heading “Food supply (kcal/capita/day)”.

I think this is the amount of calories of food produced or otherwise available in the selected country per person per day.  Those who are familiar with calorie restriction diets or just calorie counting may recognize these values.  Usually a person needs somewhere in the vicinity of 2100 calories/day plus or minus depending on age, weight, and activity level.  But it stands to reason that the available amount of calories per day should be higher than what is actually required by the body.  Therefore even if a country’s count of available calories per person per day seems to still be above what would required for daily maintenance, it may in fact be low.

One startling things about the graphic is that, while the USA only produces 194 kcal/person/day per 1 ton of total greenhouse gas emissions, Brazil manages to produce 1556 kcal/person/day producing the same ton of greenhouse gas emissions, over 8 times as much.

Cool New Instrument Installed on ISS

A cosmic ray detector called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer has just been installed on the International Space Station.  Cosmic rays are really cool even though most people don’t have a clue what they are.  What are they?  They are basically extremely high energy particles that have been accelerated to very high energies through interactions somewhere in the universe.  They are therefore not like light-rays or radio-waves.  They are actual particles of matter, usually protons and neutrons or electrons, sometimes antimatter particles.

We humans cannot experience them directly.  If we could, we would see them all over.  They are streaming in on us all the time.  On rare occasions there have been detections of extremely high energy cosmic rays, to the point that it shocked physicists.  Some of these can have energy that is 50 million times higher than the particles getting accelerated in the Large Hadron Collider.

I still wonder why that thing was built, given that there exists an abundance of highly accelerated particles for us to observe.

Cosmic rays are a reminder that we live in a world of radiation.  They are a severe hazard to people traveling in space.

They also can pose a severe threat to electronics systems and may have been responsible for at least one aircraft malfunction which caused numerous injuries when a craft’s systems experienced an unknown spike and tried to compensate.

According to Wikipedia “Studies by IBM in the 1990s suggest that computers typically experience about one cosmic-ray-induced error per 256 megabytes of RAM per month.”

How Open-Air Nuclear Testing Got Banned

I always suspected that there was something like this lying behind the motivation of the US, Russia, and the UK to ban open-air nuclear tests starting in 1963.

To think that humans did such stupid things blindly such as blowing up atomic weapons, which spread all kinds of nasty radioactive fallout, is just hard to fathom.  How could a species be so stupid?  If humans are a typical sort of organism for this planet, it doesn’t paint a very good picture of the life forms that inhabit it, when you think about it.  An outside observer could only conclude that life on Planet Earth is really warped.

So what was it that prompted the policy to ban open-air nuclear tests?  It was research done on baby teeth by a woman in St. Louis, Missouri, of all things.  Her research found that the levels of radioactive Strontium-90 was 50 times higher in baby teeth for infants born after the start of nuclear testing as before.  Strontium-90 behaves like calcium in the body hence would accumulate in bone and teeth.

Further ongoing research by her Radiation and Public Health Project found that of a certain group of test subjects who were followed for a long time, those who died of cancer before the age of 50 had more than twice the average amount of Strontium-90 in their bodies as those who were healthy.

3,000 Year Old Temple of the Moon God

I’m still reading this book about the history of spices and the spice trade.  The book presents cumulative information from sources dating far back to ancient times relating to spices and their trade.  With almost every section on a different spice, it seems like it unlocks entire worlds.

The most recent world I am reading about is a land called either Sabea or Sheba, where the famous Queen of Sheba is said to come from.  It is mentioned in the bible that the Queen came to visit king Solomon, that she brought with her a gift of a balsam tree.

That would be Balsam of Mecca, Commiphora opobalsamum, which is also called Commiphora gileadensis or Balm of Gilead.  This very small tree is a sister plant of the myrrh tree, both of which are native to the southeastern part of the arabian peninsula, in what is now Yemen.

There are legends about this ancient place where the fragrant balsam trees grew, their scent wafting into the winds no doubt mystifying guests, sailors from far away lands, who encountered this world.

Over the past decade there has been work excavating a site of an ancient temple which is believed to have belonged to the Queen of Sheba, the Temple of the Moon God, Mahram Bilqis.

There have been numerous fragments found at this site with inscriptions in an ancient language.  It is important to remember that this temple is from a time which pre-dates Islam by something like 1,600 years.  People associate Islam with that region of the world and completely bypass another, ancient, grand history.

Some of the inscriptions that have been translated are magical, such as “…the universe of god’s house is produced from love…”

Interestingly it appears that this once highly valued Balsam of Mecca, which is an aromatic resin with a honey-like consistency, can no longer be found.  There are many substitutes based on trees from other parts of the world which are called Balm of Gilead but which are not.

46 nanometers less than a light year

A light year is very, very far.  About 10 trillion kilometers.  46 nanometers is extremely short.

On October 15, 1991 a particle detector operated by the University of Utah detected an extremely unusual event: a cosmic ray particle traveling at close to the speed of light.  This was a particle of matter, not a form of lightwave, an energy emission of any kind.  Light always travels at, well, the speed of light.
Matter is a different story.   This particle was matter.  Matter moving exceptionally fast.  So fast that, in the course of one year, it would have traveled only 46 nanometers less than a light year.
Such a phenomenon is called an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray.  “Cosmic ray” is a misnomer – there are actually only cosmic particles streaming at us, at every moment, from every direction, coming from all over the Universe.  This particular thing was a particle which got accelerated to an extraordinarily high velocity somewhere else in the Cosmos, only to pelt through the detector in Utah, enough to stun astrophysicists who dubbed it the “Oh My God Particle”.
According to the Wikipedia article on Ultra-high-energy cosmic rays such events are rare.  Only about 15 have subsequently been observed.

Significant New Experimental Clue Relating to Universe Formation

Researchers at the Fermilab Tevatron collider have conducted proton collision experiments in which the parity between matter and antimatter is violated, slightly in favor of matter.  During the formation of the Universe after the Big Bang, an as yet unknown process led to baryogenesis – the creation of baryonic matter which forms the basis of all matter in the Universe.  This present experiment is highly significant in that it is the first observed experimental evidence of a parity-violating physical process capable of producing sufficient amounts of matter to account for the Universe we inhabit today.  Prior to this there have only existed theories which predict parity violation at very low levels – not sufficient to result in enough matter to form our Universe.

The implication of this experiment, if it holds up under further verification, is that the present Standard Model to describe reality is insufficient and is missing some important elements.  According to the article “…the truly exciting implication is that the experiment implies that there is new physics, beyond the widely accepted Standard Model, that must be at work. If that’s the case, major scientific developments lie ahead.”

This, along with a resent reassessment of the WMAP survey of cosmic background radiation the result of which casts serious doubt upon the existence of dark energy to explain the accelerating expansion of the Universe, is highly significant as a lot of the accepted models that have been used for a long time may have to be fundamentally reworked.

4.5 Billion Year Old Earth Mantle Reservoir Discovered

Geological researchers have located a mantle reservoir based on the atypical ratio of the isotopes helium-3 to helium-4 in rocks found on an island in the canadian arctic.  Most helium-3 in Earth rocks has been outgassed over billions of years as the primitive Earth mantle that formed from space rocks got churned through volcanic processes.  The fact that this particular rock still contains high levels of helium-3 indicates that it has not gone through this process and represents a reservoir of very primitive material that dates back to a very early time in the Earth’s geologic formation, very shortly after it formed from the accumulation of space rocks or collisions of primitive astrological bodies.

Interestingly, this research calls into question ideas about how the early Earth rocks became differentiated from that of chondrites, which is the material that meteors are comprised of and from which the Earth is believed to have formed.  One possible explanation for that differentiation is that it occurred prior to the mantle formation which eventually became the crusts forming continents.

According to this hypothesis, the early rock might have differentiated chemically from chondrites very early on in what would have been a global magma ocean across the entire globe, after which mantle formed and volcanic processes occurred leading to the formation of continents.

Calorie Restriction Diet Calculator

This cool site has a calculator which can compute your Body Mass Index (BMI) and Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) based on your height and weight.  Based on your amount of activity, it can then calculate the optimum amount of daily caloric intake for you.  Consuming below that amount of daily caloric intake means your diet is “calorie restricted”, i.e. less than the amount that you actually burn each day, thereby leading to gradual weight loss.  Another site recommends consuming 500 calories/day less than the optimal in order to lose weight.

I used to never think about calories, yet out of curiosity and the desire to be ever more conscientious healthwise I decided to start computing my caloric intake, just to see what it was.

It turns out that my daily caloric intake is actually quite close to the optimum level.  I do notice that my weight fluctuates very modestly +/- about 3-4 lb.  Even at the gym, after an intense workout and a lot of sweating, I will notice a drop sometimes close to 2 lb.  If I go to the jacuzzi and/or sauna and gulp a lot of water, I can actually see the weight come back up slightly.  Quite interesting.

My weight has been more or less static for the past 25 years.  I am noticing slight changes.  I’m not sure if they are attributable to changing gender or age.  More than likely some combination of the two.  The major change is that I seem to need less calories, and my appetite is somewhat less ravenous than it was for many years.

One thing I have noticed is that the taste of foods, the enjoyment of them, seems to have skyrocketed.  I don’t know why, but often the meals that I prepare are just absolutely mind-blowing – not just in terms of the flavor, which to me is still a kind of superficial thing, but in terms of the overall energy coming from the food.  I wonder if the gender change may have something to do with this as maybe food taste and craving is related to hormones?

Anyhow, I just started a new “calorie journal”, a daily log of my caloric intake, yesterday.  At the top of the journal I wrote down my weight, height, BMR, and BMI.  Then I listed the 10 most common foods I eat and what their calorie count is.

Right away I learned some interesting things.  I tend to love very large green salads and it turns out that the calorie count for mixed greens alone is very, very low.  And I love to put a lot of olive oil on my salads and that is where the calories come it: about 120 calories per tablespoon.  That’s still quite reasonable when you consider that you’re eating a huge salad and getting all that health benefit.

One cup of brown basmati rice is about 200 calories – a bit higher than I would have thought.  That is not a negligible amount and I like to eat sometimes a couple of cups, with olive oil mixed in, plus a few nuts sprinkled in, plus sometimes sesame seeds and of course other vegetables added.  But still, considering that this will be one of my main daily meals, the calorie count is still quite reasonable and the nutritional benefit is very high.

Because I really don’t eat that much processed food, it makes the calculation easier.  I pretty much try to stick with the same themes of whole foods so I kind of know the ballpark of what I’m working with in terms of calories and nutritional value.

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