The Great Divide

The day after The Election, I shared my rambling thoughts here.

Probably many of us felt like the election was an aberration, that those who voted for Trump would “wake up” and realize what unspeakable horrors he has brought to our country. That they would come to regret their vote.

This has not come to pass.

Why?

How can the rural poor so staunchly support this man, this party, whose policies seem to be in direct opposition to their interests?

Likewise, how can so many women support this man, and his party, that so clearly regard them as less than human?

On its face, it seems inexplicable.


When discussing the motivations of Republican politicians, I have liberal friends who have said that the motive behind certain policies or decisions is simply the desire to be evil, to cause harm.

Why did Reagan do so little to stop the AIDS crisis in the 1980s? Is it because he hated gay people? Is it because he wanted to cause pain and suffering? Is it because he was simply an evil man?

It may be somehow comforting to frame your opponents in this way. To explain away decisions as simply “evil”.

But it can’t be the true reason.

After all, no one thinks he is evil. Everyone is the hero in their own story. Everyone thinks they are doing the right thing.

Hitler didn’t think he was evil. He thought he was doing the right thing!


So how can so many people, who all think they are “good people”, be so divided?

I believe this book does offer an explanation: The Righteous Mind (Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion) by Jonathan Haidt.


When I have tried to explain this book to others who have not read it, I have been stymied in my efforts to convey what it says, and the implications of its message. I am writing this post in part to solidify my own understanding of the book, and to hopefully share it with others.

It challenges deeply held beliefs.

However, Haidt backs up these surprising insights into the human condition with rigorous experimental research. This book is not just a pet theory by some talking head. This is a book by a psychologist and a researcher, and is supported by many experiments in moral psychology.

It is separated into three main sections, each with a sometimes surprising and important fact about the human moral mind.


The first section’s surprising fact is that intuition comes first, and reasoning comes after.

When thinking of some moral question, we all intuit how we feel. When pressed for why we feel like we do, we come up with explanations for our initial intuition… but those are post hoc justifications, not the reason we feel or judge.

It seems surprising, but Haidt offers compelling evidence via many experiments that this is the case.

His analogy is the rider and an elephant. The mind is divided into the rider (the controlled processes) and the elephant (the automatic processes). Moral judgements come too quickly for the rider to be in control… yet it is from the rider what we hear the explanation of why the elephant is taking the path it is, even if the rider doesn’t really know.


The second section is about the underlying “tastes” of moral intuition, and how those differ in different groups. Of course, we know that those of different political stripes will have differing morals. But it’s also true between cultures… the western world versus the east, for example. What are these foundational aspects of morality and how do they differ between groups?

To put this all together: Moral Foundations Theory says that there (at least) six psychological systems that comprise the universal foundations of the world’s many moral matrices. (p.211)

They are:

The Care/Harm Foundation. We have an innate desire to help those of our family, our clan, our species. We want to protect them from harm. All other things being equal, any human is likely to want to keep another human from being hurt or killed. As they are closer to us, of course, the stronger such feelings are (I would choose to save my own son’s life over a stranger’s), but for people other than sociopaths, none of us wants to harm another for whom we have no antipathy.

The Fairness/Cheating Foundation. We live and evolved in social groups. If a member of that group is a freeloader who does not do his work to help the group, we are predisposed to shun that freeloader. Fairness means proportionality; people should get what they give. The idea of karma fits here too; we want to see cheaters punished and good people rewarded for their efforts.

The Loyalty/Betrayal Foundation. Our ancestors who worked in a cohesive group had an advantage over those who either worked alone, or worked in less cohesive groups. Being loyal to a group conferred an evolutionary advantage. This is the result; we demand loyalty to our groups. We can see this in politics… nationalism, and loyalty to a political party.

The Authority/Subversion Foundation. Demand for respect to our elders, to our leaders. Again, thinking of our evolution, we can see how a hierarchy would be helpful for group survival. Those groups which had a clear hierarchy would be more efficient than those who did not have a clear leader, or who were always fighting internally for leadership.

The Sanctity/Degradation Foundation. As omnivores, humans have competing motives. Neophilia, the attraction to new things, confers an advantage to being able to find new sources of sustenance. Neophobia, a fear of new things, protects us from potentially dangerous foods. This foundation of sanctity was driven by the need to avoid pathogens and parasites and poison. We are disgusted by certain things… fecal matter near food, for example. This repugnance helped us survive, and it also formed into complex behaviours and expectations. In some cultures it is a great affront to offer your left (fecal-covered) hand to another. And religions, with explicitly codified morality, offer some very complex ideas of sanctity (halal/kosher foods, or the many other strictures some groups have on what foods are allowed or not).

The Liberty/Oppression Foundation. We notice and resent being dominated. We want to overthrow bullies and tyrants. We see this foundation on the left with egalitarianism and anti-authoritarianism. We see it on the right with a desire for small government.

What is particularly interesting about these moral matrices, and what begins to explain why we are where we are politically in this country and world, is that different groups stress different foundations. Keep in mind now that these conclusions are not just hypotheses, but have been tested empirically over and over.

Everyone cares about the Care/harm foundation, but liberals tend to care more. They are more disturbed by violence and suffering than conservatives and libertarians.

All groups care about Liberty/oppression. But each group treats it differently. Liberals tend to be most concerned about the rights of certain vulnerable groups (minorities, children, animals) and look to government to defend the weak. Conservatives tend to value the right to be left alone and resist caring for one group over another.

Likewise, all care about the Cheating/fairness foundation. People believe in proportionality and the law of karma. But conservatives tend to be more concerned with proportionality than liberals.

The above may not be so surprising. But understanding the differences between groups on the remaining three moral foundations helped me understand, if a little, what we see in society and politics today.

Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation. These are foundations embraced heavily by conservatives. Liberals tend to be ambivalent. Libertarians care even less.

Liberals have a three-foundation morality, whereas conservatives use all six. Liberal moral matrices rest on the Care/harm, Liberty/oppression, and Fairness/cheating foundations, although liberals are often willing to trade away fairness (as proportionality) when it conflicts with compassion or with their desire to fight oppression. Conservative morality rests on all six foundations, although conservatives are more willing than liberals to sacrifice Care and let some people get hurt in order to achieve their many other moral objectives. (p.214)


Finally, in part three, he explores why humans are so “groupish”. Natural selection was a force on the individual organism. But those who were cooperative with others had an advantage over those who were not, so natural selection is a force on a group level, as well.

We are not just a collection of individuals. We have always worked in groups. We have been successful as a species because we have done so. Religion is one such group. Those who shared a moral matrix and worked in cooperation with each other were more successful.

We are both chimps and bees.

There is individual competition within groups (chimps), but also with other groups (bees). When we work for a larger group, different behaviours emerge that cannot be explained at the individual level. Altruism, heroism, war, and genocide.

Once we are in a group with a shared moral matrix, we accept that, and tend to reject others.


There is no happy ending, I’m sorry. I hope you didn’t get this far expecting one.

Haidt may offer a cogent explanation why good people can disagree so much. But there’s no magic bullet; there is no recipe for fixing this mess we are in right now.

Personally, as I have thought about this book over many months, at least I see answers and understanding where there once was simply puzzlement and dismay.


Here are just three articles I’ve read in the past year which make much more sense to me now that I’ve read this book.

From an interview with Paul Auster:

Tumultuous as those times were, they weren’t as depressing as what’s going on today,” he reflects. “How little has changed in American life since then. Race is still a very big problem. Stupid foreign policy decisions are still being made. And the country is just as divided now as it was then. It seems as though America has always been split between the people who believe in the individual above everything else, and those people who believe we’re responsible for one another.

From a post by Brent Simmons:

I try — earnestly, with good faith — to understand the Republican ideologies.

And I think I’ve figured out one of them: they want to make life harder for poor people so that they have more incentive to become rich, and they want to make life better for rich people to reward success, since it should be rewarded, and since doing so provides even more incentive for poor people to become rich.

If you look at it just the right way, you can see it’s not entirely wrong.

From George Lakoff:

[…]when Lakoff repeatedly says that “voters don’t vote their self-interest, they vote their values,” progressive politicians continually ignore him. His ideas don’t fit in with their worldview, so they can’t hear him.


It may be cold comfort to have some small understanding of why someone chose to support Trump a year ago, and supports him even now.

Surely, however, the path to a better future is a better understanding of where we are today.

Mansplaining Pence

At midnight I sit restless, bothered by a Facebook thread on a friend’s page. Let me say as I begin this half-drunken essay, I don’t know this friend well. I’d actually describe her more as an acquaintance, though I think she and her family are lovely. This is to say, I don’t know their personal lives well, and much of what I say below is as an outside observer.

I will refer to her as Betsy, since that’s not her name and I haven’t asked permission to post any of this publicly.

I assume in reaction to the recent news about Mike Pence’s strict marital rules, she said that she had just a business lunch alone today with a male employee, and managed to have a productive meeting without impure thoughts.

A number of us chimed in, my own comment perhaps not on the right line of tasteful:

I hope you got all the business taken care of post-coitus!

Then someone waded in who I will refer to as Coach, since that’s how others in the thread referred to him. Someone who I infer actually is, or was, a coach to some of these people, or perhaps their kids. In other words, someone who has a big influence over childrens’ lives.

Coach posted, in part:

Wow – Pence and Billy Graham are really offensive to you all? That’s a head shaker.

Okay, let’s put a pin on this one, Coach. I think it’s worth exploring what actually could be offensive about Pence’s rules, when we unpack their implications.

But Betsy spoke for herself better than I can:

Hey coach! My perspective here- as a leader including those you mention above or any other position of leadership) it’s my responsibility to treat my people with respect and value what they bring to the relationship. And therefore would not think of them as a possible physical attraction, but a valued equally contributing human being. To allow some people accessibility that I wouldn’t allow others because they are the opposite sex is in fact sexist and I think poor leadership. Limiting access because you think there may be potential temptation creates barriers/limitations for those you lead and reinforces sexist dynamics between men and women.

Coach:

I am intrigued by all this limiting access nonsense.

Wait, what?

Coach, did you read what Betsy had to say? And you’re calling it nonsense??

She just got done explaining how she strives to value all humans as equally capable of contribution, and that limiting which genders are allowed to interact is a barrier and limitation.

Not only that, but this was in explanation to trying inform you on what the implication of Pence’s rules were to her. As a woman. And a leader.

Who started this whole thread informing you of a lunch meeting which was productive, yet violated those strictures. One which you seem to be arguing would be appropriate to disallow.

You just dismissed her informed, well-reasoned, articulate reasons as “limiting access nonsense”.

Coach went on:

Way too easy to throw out those neat little hot button terms.

Which hot button terms? Institutionalized sexism? Misogyny? No one said anything inflammatory.

I found it interesting to read through all the comments and thought it odd that this is at all worth bashing some good men over.

Bashing whom? Not a word was said bashing any man, that I saw!

Coach, I think you have some pretty thin skin.

So okay, I’m a little annoyed with this guy, but hey, it’s not my page. I’ll sit back and not stir the pot, since I already joked about Betsy and her employee fucking.

Betsy replied with:

Whoa Coach- I don’t call your thoughts/opinions nonsense. Maybe we should try this discussion another time.

The discussion continued a bit, with Coach defending Pence. And Betsy trying to explain why it was sexist, but still with deference and affection to Coach.

Well, myself, I have no affection for Coach. Nor do I feel deferential to him.

Coach, I don’t know you one tiny little bit, other than you are at least an acquaintance of an acquaintance.

Coach, I don’t know you, but I’ll bet you are not far from me in many ways. I am a white, middle aged, man, from a small midwest town.

Coach, I wish you would go back and re-read what Betsy said above. And think about the context of her meeting. And that if we accept your worldview, it means a lesser world for her.

Coach, I think we can both agree that we grew up in a male-dominated society. The twentieth century was one of patriarchy (as were most before). This is not controversial, one little bit, right?

Coach, let’s try to unpack a little bit the implications of just what has been said. You seem to be supporting the idea that it is acceptable, admirable even, that a man would have a rule against meeting, alone, any woman. I think this is a fair estimation, no?

Coach, please put these ideas together:

1 – We still live in a society where men have a greater than even split of power (men vs. women in the US Senate right now is 83 – 17).

and

2 – We set up rules where:

A – Men can meet with men freely.

B – Women can only meet with men in certain very strict circumstances.

Then

1 + 2 == FUCK WOMEN

In other words, just as Betsy already articulated to you, this necessarily means that a woman’s accessibility to power is limited compared to a man’s.

Coach, your feelings may never change. However, I hope you have as much a sense of responsibility for the girls and young women you coach, as the boys and young men.

I don’t ask you to listen to me. I ask you to re-fucking-read what the women in that thread already told you.

Coach.

You owe it to whomever you are coaching.

Coach.

The Election

These are my ramblings today on The Election.

Winston Churchill, on democracy:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

True that, Winston.

But let us not forget his follow-up, also just as true:

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

How?

Weeks ago I read something that reassured me that I had the wisdom to know what was going to happen in this election. Not until deep into the evening last night did I really think it was possible, that this slow moving trainwreck was really happening.

That something was:

“There aren’t enough white men for Trump to win.”

Yes, we (white men) may be privileged, but we are still a minority gender. As of the last census, there are 5.2 million more women than men in the United States.

And when you look at the exit polls from the election, men did vote for Trump, as we expected:

Men 53T/41C
Women 54C/42T

Basically, there was a tie between the genders for each candidate. Not much of the other exit polling seems surprising to me, as I ponder the data tonight for the first time. The less educated vote was heavily Trump. The black vote was heavily Clinton.

The white vote was heavily Trump. Surprisingly heavily (58T/37C). But not too surprising, given you have both racism and sexism pulling in the same direction.

But then we come to this:

White Women 53T/43C

White women overwhelmingly voted for Trump! They favored him as much as men overall did.

White women did not want a white woman to be president!

White women either loved Trump, or hated Clinton, or both.

(All numbers above from here and here)


Representation

Trump does represent this country of ‘MERICA. He better represents us than Clinton does.

Consider: We are, as a country, racist (even minorities), sexist (even women), are hot-headed, and we believe we’ll eventually be rich, and vote as if we are.

We are not, as a country, smart, well educated, skeptical, or able to appreciate nuance.

Enough people are willing to believe the lies. In other words, Trump has no restrictions on him, no one he had to please. He was able to promise everything to everyone, from the wall to beating ISIS to “I’m good at business”. With literally nothing stopping him from promising anything he wanted, with his ability to believe his own lies, with the general lack of skepticism and critical thinking from the citizens, his ascent now seems almost inevitable.

We are Trump.

Trump is us.

We are a bunch of idiot mouth breaking yokels, and there’s no way an elite, hard-working, educated, smart, woman represents us better than a fake-tan sexist loud mouthed stubborn dumb sonfabitch reality TV star who managed to luck into a sweet life.

Come on, America is not anything like Hillary Clinton.

America is a lot like Donald Fucking Trump!


Protest

Trump tapped into a vast reservoir of dissatisfaction with the political elite. I share that dissatisfaction.

It was only through a failing of the incumbent political machines that allowed Trump to enter the national political stage. The Republican machine could not stop him, and then neither could the Democratic machine once he was nominated. None of the political elites wanted him.

But the people did. This was the ultimate protest vote. The people saw it not just as the usual “lesser of two evils” between people, between candidates… the people framed this as a “lesser of two evils” between the existing political machinery, and anything else.


W

Did anyone ever think they’d ever look fondly back on the days of George W. Bush as president?

I’m not there yet, but it suddenly seems possible.


Do

We can only do what we can do.

I am an upper-middle-class white man. I am considered a liberal by many outside of Madison and a libertarian or conservative by many inside Madison. I am no bleeding heart. But I am a believer in equality and justice. For all.

My women friends, I support you. I will not stand for sexism.

My gay friends, my trans friends, I support you. I will not stand for your oppression.

My friends of color, I support you. I do not support racism.

I don’t know what’s coming in the next four years, but whatever does, I am your ally.

Here is something I can do. As a middle aged white male, I am privy to a world you don’t know. A world in which people are MUCH more likely to think it’s okay to say something casually racist, or sexist, or homophobic, and expect me to nod in agreement. “Locker room talk”.

It will not, ever, go unchallenged in my presence. I am your voice where you may not have one.


The Bet

I bet a friend weeks ago that Trump would win, and he gave me 5-1 on my $20.

I never wanted to win that bet. I thought that by placing it I would at least have gotten something out of Trump winning. A salve.

I must do something with that money. The ACLU? Planned Parenthood? Rape crisis center?

I should probably do one of those things. Instead my browser search history today now includes “cheap bulk dildos”.

I would really like to send someone a bag of dicks.


Progress

I am still a patriot. I believe in this American experiment.

I liken it to science.

People expect it to not get it wrong, ever. Perfection. But science makes mistakes. America makes mistakes. People make mistakes.

People expect America to do the right thing, and people often expect that science should have the right answer. Neither is always true. Science is often wrong. America is often wrong. You don’t have to look very far back in history to see the truth of what I am saying about either.

But what is great about both… what is great about the scientific method, the progress of science… what is great about America… is not that we are getting it right at any particular moment, but that we can step back and look to see an inexorable progress towards truth and justice.

Just as America institutionalized slavery, just as science said eugenics or bloodletting was the correct policy or healthiest treatment, we got it wrong. But in both cases, as time goes on, we progress towards our better selves.

Today was a hard day for those of us who believe in equality and justice. But let us not lose sight of the fact that we have slipped, that we have fallen… we have STILL climbed so far!

Two years ago it was illegal for gay people to marry in Wisconsin.

Nine years ago it was inconceivable that a black man could be president.

Twenty-five years ago I thought not a single negative thought about using the words faggot or nigger as a pejorative.

A hundred years ago women could not vote.

It was only 153 years ago that the Emancipation Proclamation finally made clear the path this great country would take in freeing those unjustly shackled.

Change comes slowly. Then it comes quickly.

We slip. We fall. But we still are walking in the right direction.

Ask yourself. Would you want to live in a previous time? A different country? When? Where? When and where would have been better? This is still a great time and great place to be alive, to exist. We are lucky.


Today. Tomorrow.

I still got food on the table. I still dealt with emergencies at work. I still went to my kid’s teacher conference. I still collaborated with my soon-to-be-ex-wife on getting the kid’s library books back to her (I’ll drop them in the morning).

Life moves on.

One foot in front of the other.

Love the ones you love.

Do what you can do. Don’t worry about what you can not affect.

Keep being awesome.

Not Another War, Please

 

“When I first saw the president speak in 2008 in a youtube clip posted to my Facebook page, I knew that he was going to be right all the time. So I support World War III. And IV. And any Moon War the president may want to start.”

The entire mainstream media seems to be of the mind that the United States is, and should be, the world police. Furthermore, they seem to be of the mind that if we don’t retaliate, we are going to lose our status as such. Why is being the world’s police force considered an admirable place for our country?

Yes, it’s awful that Assad is gassing his own people. How are some cruise missiles going to help? What is the plausible scenario in which bombing actually improves the situation for anyone?

It’s not like in Kosovo, where the UN (note that, UN, not US) bombings actually were to try and stop an ongoing genocide. In this case, the genocide has already occurred. And we explicitly can’t target the actual problem, the chemical weapons themselves, due to the risk of releasing them to cause more death. So all this would be is retaliation, punishment.

No, we should not be the world police, or judge, or jury, or executioner.

Syria’s a terrible mess. Bombs won’t help.

Sexually Assasulted by the TSA

I just passed through TSA security at Logan Airport, terminal C, in Boston.

There has been much hullabaloo about the backscatter X-ray machines now being widely deployed, including right here at Logan. There are multiple reasons to be concerned. If you have seen the images that result then you know they effectively show you naked (albeit with your junk squashed by your clothing). Despite reassurances from the TSA, there is no doubt that these images can be saved, nor any doubt that they will be shared at some point.

Furthermore, there is a fundamental difference between the old metal detectors (magnetometers) and this new technology, which uses ionizing radiation. In other words you are now getting a small dose of something that is quite clearly adding to your risk of cancer.

Various people have estimated the risk and of course the TSA says they are safe. However the amount, it cannot be debated that they do add risk. Physicists I trust estimate its about the same as the chance of being hit by lightning.  Here’s the thing…that’s also the same as the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack. So we are not doing anything at all to increase overall safety; at best we’re shifting risk.

We can be absolutely certain that people WILL die as a result of X-rays from these devices. “So what?”, you may think. As you may be aware, you have the choice to opt out.

That is what I just did minutes ago.

I was sexually assaulted by a TSA agent.

I am not being hyperbolic. My scrotum was, four times, touched very vigorously by another man against my will.

It was explained beforehand to me that my upper thigh and everywhere else on my body would be touched. I expected what I have experienced dozens, perhaps hundred of other times, when I have been searched before, at airports and concert venues and elsewhere.

This was something altogether different. This was repeated strong touching of my groin and other areas that have been explored by no other person in my life… at least without at least dinner and a movie beforehand.

In any other context, I kid you not, this would definitely be classified as sexually assault.

The supporters of this security theater will say I had a choice, but I did not in any real way. I am traveling for work. I could choose not to work, but isn’t that like saying I could choose not to eat? I could chose not to feed my family?

I could choose to let them photograph me naked while subjecting myself to cancer risk…

..or I can be sexually assaulted.

This is no choice at all.

It it clear to me after experiencing it that this “pat down” procedure is meant to be punitive. They want to make damn sure if you opt out once, you will never do it again.

Just as I give my two year old son the false choice between “walking up by yourself to go to bed” or “having daddy help you”, the TSA is giving us the choice between naked cancer pictures and full-on sexually assault.

The government thinks we are stupid, and frankly, they are right if we keep accepting this along with the rest of the idiocy (like shoe removal) that seems to have been completely accepted by the flying public.

If I were planning to blow up an airplane then I would simply pack a bunch of explosives up my pooper and it would be undetectable by backscatter X-rays, metal detectors, and vigorous pat-downs. What will the TSA procedure be once the first terrorist does this?

This is all such obvious security theater and we all seem to know it yet we all seem to accept it.

Benjamin Franklin:

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

He was right. We deserve neither.

Edit: This is an excellent summary of the various articles and information about the situation as it sits now from security guru Bruce Schneier:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/11/tsa_backscatter.html

Edit 2: This is an article from a molecular biologist how the risks could be much, much worse than the TSA is saying:

http://myhelicaltryst.blogspot.com/2010/11/tsa-x-ray-backscatter-body-scanner.html

Edit 3: On the constitutionality of the scanners, and enhanced searches for those opting out:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/26/AR2010112604290.html

Dumbass Cheeseheads

(One note: I am a Cheesehead, even if I am ashamed sometimes)

I will not be as vitriolic as I was the last time Wisconsin politics disappointed me so much, but fer fuck’s sake, people, why did you let this happen?

FiveThirtyEight is predicting a 97% chance Russ Feingold will lose tonight, and if he does, it will be against a huge damnned douchenozzle.

When I saw the first ad for Ron Johnson, it was so completely packed with lies about Feingold, that I assumed it was a third party attack ad. Instead, at the end, the candidate appeared, saying it was paid for and approved by him.

You, sir, sicken me.

Feingold visits every Wisconsin county every year.

Feingold does not accept pay raises. He has returned over $70,000 in salary and $3.2 million in office expenses back to the state.

He raised money mostly from small donors, and has asked outside groups not to run negative ads against his opponent, who has refused to do anything in kind.

Feingold was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act, because he actually read it.

He voted against the Communications Decency Act in 1996 because of its Constitutional infringements. It was later stuck down 9-0 as unconstitutional.

He was one of only 23 senators to oppose the Iraq War.

Feingold served our country well, and I hope we don’t decide tonight to trade him for a lying prick.

Edit: FUCK. You let a millionaire buy his way to a Senate seat with nothing more than bullshit.

Nuclear Energy in Wisconsin

I saw a sticker on the front of this week’s Isthmus, the free local weekly here in Madison. It reads:

Opposed to higher electricity bills?

Tell state legislators to KEEP our law governing new nuclear reactor construction in Wisconsin.

Oppose SB340 AB516

Call 608/250-9240 for more info or visit http://www.wnpj.org/cfnf to write a letter to your legislator opposing new nuclear power.

I visited the site, and they oppose repeal of a current Wisconsin law which requires a federal facility (a la Yucca Mountain) before any new nuclear plants can be built in Wisconsin.

For various reasons, this is silly. I think it’s a real shame that so many years ago that various environmental and anti-war movements linked in their own minds nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

I am opposed to the latter, but recognize, as anyone who takes a reasoned look at the issue, that nuclear power is the only reliable, clean, and safe technology we have right now to generate electricity.

There has never been a single death associated with nuclear energy in this country. Despite the hysteria over Three Mile Island, that incident did show that the safeguards put in place, the layers of protection, worked. No one was killed.

Today technology is much better, and we could build even safer, cheaper, reactors.

The waste issue is an important one, but also one we can solve. In fact, it does make more sense in many ways to store spent fuel in various distributed sites rather than in a central repository.

Furthermore, the total volume and mass of the waste is tiny in comparison to the volume and mass of, for example, the carbon emitted into the atmosphere by coal and gas plants.

The hippy-dippy types like to think we can get all of our energy from wind, solar, and hydrodynamic technology. It can be a part of the portfolio, but those technologies will simply not meet our needs, and they also come with their own set of unintended consequences (wind farms killing huge numbers of birds, for example).

What this means is that for the past 20 years, we’ve been building coal plants instead of nuclear plants. The pollution from such plants is terrible, and the human cost to mine the fuel is also high – the average is around 30 per year, even with modern safety equipment.

With all of that in mind, I used the WPNJ links to send this to my state representatives instead of the anti-nuke screed they drafted for me:

I am writing as a supporter of nuclear energy. I came to this page through an ad in my local weekly opposing AB 516 / SB 340.

However, I think the view opposing nuclear energy is misguided and not supported by the facts.

It is our cleanest way of generating reliable electricity, and should be pursued aggressively to help limit our carbon emissions. There has never been a single death associated with nuclear energy in the United States.

Please do what you can to end the restriction preventing the development of new nuclear plants in Wisconsin. Don’t let irrational fears stop the best source of energy we current have available.

I suggest you do the same.

Re-regulation – libertarian view

My wife just posed this question to me:

So as a libertarian, given this situation, where do you stand on un-deregulation?

Good question.

There certainly is evidence that the loosening of regulation did spur economic development in the 80’s and 90’s that would not have otherwise occurred.

But look where we are now… the fact that "banks" could make highly leveraged investments (meaning they only had a fraction of the money they were "investing", and could thus lose more than they actually had) meant the situation got much, much worse that it would otherwise have been.

I think my stance is this: regulate enough so you’re NOT ALLOWED TO LIE.

The main problem is that these jerks were playing with statistics and math in such a way that they claimed the securities were AAA safe, when in reality they were anything but.

Here’s how they did that.

I don’t know enough about the law to say for sure, but apparently all the lying they did with math was perfectly legal.

To this layman, it sounds like simple fraud to me, and the people that cooked the books like this should absolutely go to jail. But I’m not a lawyer. I just watch one on TV.

It seems to be if you’re not allowed to lie about the underlying risks of an investment, as these guys did, then there wouldn’t be much here to be screaming about now. So let’s make it a Big Deal to lie with numbers, and that should be enough.