07.31.06

BBC News: ‘Time to act’ on nuclear waste

Posted in , Energy, Society at 10:09 by RjZ

The United Kingdom has just noticed that it doesn’t have a satisfactory plan for dealing with nuclear waste. For over 30 years they have been producing this deadly poisonous hazardous waste from power plants with no effective way to keep it out of harm’s way. It’s about time they started doing something about it!

Just look at the numbers:

UK NUCLEAR WASTE – VOLUMES AS PACKAGED FOR DISPOSAL
High-level waste – 2,000 cubic metres
Intermediate-level waste – 350,000 cubic metres
Low-level waste – 30,000 cubic metres
Spent fuel – 10,000 cubic metres
Plutonium – 4,300 cubic metres
Uranium – 75,000 cubic metres

All together that’s 471,300 cubic meters of waste in 30 years. This chunk of waste has to be transferred to an, as yet not completed, underground facility that will likely cost more £10 billion to build.

Concerned yet?

This block of waste, and we’re including all of its hazardous packaging material, is 77 meters on a side. 30 years of waste would be an impressive block that would cover a Wrigley field in Chicago almost a 179 feet high (54.5 m). That’s six feet per year. The underground facility that must be built to house all this waste and whatever else produced for 65 years in the future. £10 billion ain’t cheap, but it’s about £105 million / year and that barely even shows up on budgets like the U.S. where we’ve spent more than $50 billion per year on the Iraq war (more than 250 times as much).

These aren’t tiny numbers. I don’t have an extra £105 million this year, nor a backyard with a six foot deep lake that’s the size of Wrigley field, but this is the nation’s entire nuclear output, all packaged up and ready to go. Compare this to the volumes of coal being consumed by a single coal plant (about 105 coal cars per day.) Maybe we shouldn’t be that worried about it after all.

Nuclear waste, by its sheer volume alone is vastly more manageable than fossil fuel for a nation’s energy needs. We’re spending $50 billion per year to rid Iraq of terrorism while we continue to be our own greatest threat.

(2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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07.20.06

It’s always “they”

Posted in at 13:25 by RjZ

During the G-8 Summit lunch, Bush had this to say about recent crisis in Lebanon “What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over!”

Now it’s bad enough that our proud born-again, evangelical President Bush let his potty mouth show even as he continues to play the innocent protector of human life elsewhere.

What is more disturbing is that the so-called leader of the free world feels that there should be some anonymous “they” to get Syria to act. An anonymous “they” who will “get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit.” Who in the hell does President Bush think that “they” is? Is he as powerless as the rest of us in the face of the anonymous “they” who should end the war in Iraq end? “They” should rebuild their homes in New Orleans. “They” should find some more oil in Alaska. What “they” need to do is get the doctors to charge less and people to be healthier and this health-care problem is over.

Mr. Bush, you and your colleagues around that table during the G-8 summit are “they”. If “they” are going to get anything done, then you and your fellow leaders will have to get the ball rolling. I am not forsaking my own responsibility by and leaving everything up to you, but I am asking that you play your part as a leader. If you can’t own up to your responsibility as President, perhaps you might consider stepping aside and letting someone who is willing to accept this terrifying and difficult position do it. There is no shortage of people who feel they are up to the challenge.
It’s well known that being the United States President is hardly an easy job. You weren’t expecting that “they” would make all the decisions for you, were you?

(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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07.13.06

How Bush won the war in Iraq

Posted in Society at 9:45 by RjZ

The fighting isn’t over and causalities continue to rise, but in at least one way, President Bush has already won the war in Iraq.

Just after 9-11 and after the United States invaded Afghanistan, I received a visit from a friend from Europe. Like many of us, he was upset that the United States appeared to be acting unilaterally in its run-up to war with Iraq. “You can’t do that!” he demanded. “You can’t just attack another country because you feel like it.” I was sympathetic with his complaints but I disagreed. “You may not like it, but what you say is not true. We can do anything we want.” I said, severely. He was outraged. “It’s not that we we necessarily should,” I continued, “but that doesn’t mean that we can’t and it’s a waste of time for you to suggest otherwise.”

Doing as it wishes, is a cornerstone in the Bush admininstration doctrine. However, the only reason we can attack anyone whom the Bush administration decides, with or without evidence, is dangerous, is because there are no consequences outside of our own economic costs and human casualties, neither of which, amazingly, seem to greatly concern our policy makers.

The United States sees itself as police for the whole world in part because they can, and in part because they must. European investment in NATO troops and machinery pales in comparison to U.S. investment, even though the primary role of the NATO forces is to defend Europe (and the U.S.). While Europeans fretted about conflict in Serbia, in their own backyard, but wouldn’t commit troops to NATO action, the United States, under Clinton, stepped in. It can be argued that Europe was waiting, still seeking a diplomatic solution, and the U.S. forced its hand, but here too, Europe and NATO did little if anything to oppose the situation.

Is Europe so powerless that anything and everything that the U.S. says goes unchallenged? That’s certainly how it appeared in the run-up to Iraq. Germany, France and Russia were essentially ignored when they criticized Bush and stated that they would not support the war. But what if, instead of complaining, Europe moved from words to action?

I asked my friend from Europe why, if the U.S. “can’t” just attack countries isn’t he doing anything about it? “What can we do? The U.S. is bigger and more powerful than we are. We can’t engage the U.S. in a war!” He’s right, of course. Europe is so comfortable with the U.S. role as world police that they continue to downsize their spending and reduce military investment, content that the U.S. economy can afford an armed forces bigger than all of NATO combined in order to defend them. “I would like nothing better than for Europe to actually start investing some of its citizens’ tax dollars in defense and stopped depending on the U.S. for it.”

We agreed, of course, that military action is hardly a solution to curbing U.S. bullying. “How about,” I asked, “if you stopped eating at McDonald’s and stopped buying Levi’s Jeans. How about if you stopped watching Hollywood movies and stopped listening to Brittany Spears?” After Canada, a combined Europe (Alone the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands) is the biggest trading partner with the U.S. If Europeans had the will to forego the economic benefit for the sake of their principals, they might be able to add some teeth to their grumbling.

It would be painful, indeed, for Europe to boycott U.S. products. Its effectiveness would be limited by the millions of links between the regions, but the message could be made clear: the United States will be held accountable for its actions.

Instead European leaders protested about U.S. actions like children grousing about injustices from bigger siblings, but later asking if they can borrow their toys. Unable to unify their objections, individual boycotts resulted in little else besides U.S. citizens changing the name of French fries to freedom fries.

George Bush arrogantly claimed that the U.S. may do as it wishes in order to defend itself and must not consult with other nations. He went against his father’s precedent to build a coalition that would be credible to the international community. He has lead the U.S. further in the role of a bully who may impress his will whenever and where ever he sees fit. Europeans don’t have to like this any more than many U.S. Americans do, but one thing is sure, Bush has won this battle and European inaction has contributed to his victory.

In the period preceding Europe’s economic union and in spite of significant, but isolated fears, I witnessed great optimism for the unified currency and the stature it would bring to Europe. There was fear too, from the U.S., that perhaps we would finally have to compete for economic dominance. So far, these predictions have not materialized. The world would likely be a safer place if power weren’t so concentrated in the hands of one country’s leaders. U.S. Americans can only hope that so friendly a rival as Europe finally grows up and becomes that competitor. Today the more likely contender appears to be China. Poor Europe might sink from younger sibling to forgotten step child!

Bush may have won this fight but Europe must stand up and become an equal to her bullying sibling. Even the U.S. is not impervious to every action; Europeans must develop the power that their unity confers to them and that strength cannot be expressed in words alone. Until then, it doesn’t look like there are any parents around to listen to the whining.

(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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07.12.06

Exchange between me and a panhandler

Posted in Society at 7:53 by RjZ

“Help a nomad with some change?”
Digging in my pockets for any change I might have and discovering none I say “I’m sorry, I haven’t got any change.”
“How about a dollar then?”
“I am pretty sure a dollar isn’t commonly known as change.”

What? Are we haggling with panhandlers now? Does this man actually have anything to bargain with?

(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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07.06.06

Travel tips, part 4, or how not to select a hotel

Posted in Travel at 16:03 by RjZ

I am a frugal traveller. Even when on a business trip, I try to spend the company money as if it were my own. But sometimes, a little tired after traveling, your judgement gets cloudy. All you want is a safe place to sleep. Just the same, it pays to pay attention to your surroundings. If I had done so, I might have gotten a bit more sleep before my business meeting the following day.

My meeting in Paris was rather early in the morning, so I drove down the night before from my home in Weert, in the south of Holland. It’s about six hours drive with traffic. Upon arriving on the outskirts of Paris I decided that the driving had taken its toll and that I needed to find a hotel. I didn’t want to add an extra hour to my trip driving round and round on the peripherique in Paris, so I pulled off the autoroute in a suburban village north of Paris.

I don’t like chain hotels or restaurants much. There’s no adventure in them and little character. So I decided to stop at a certain small hôtel with a neon sign and a café attached. There was only on street parking but it was a small enough village that finding something wasn’t too much of a struggle. Knowing whether or not my car would be there the next morning was another concern, but I pressed on.

It was before dusk, around 7 pm and the hôtel didn’t seem to have a reception area, so I wandered into the café, which turned out to be more of a dark bar where a few locals were hovering over their glasses and smoking. One older gentleman lazily raised his eyes to mine and asked in French what I wanted with a voice that also asked why was I disturbing him. “A room in the hotel,” I responded in strained French. He seemed to sneer at me a bit and spoke quickly to the barmaid.

She approached me and spoke but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I asked again, if they had any rooms. “For tonight?” she asked. I looked around and couldn’t imagine how this place was going to fill up so quickly that she might not have a room, and then repeated, maybe a little indignently, “Yes, one night, tonight.” She shrugged.

The men looked up from the drinks at me and shrugged as well. One of them chuckled. She asked the older gentleman something I couldn’t make out but I understood him as he asked her to show me to a room, a nice one, he said without smiling.

So she led me outside and up what seemed to me to be fire-escape stairs. Stairs on the outside of the building made of metal gratings that rattled as we climbed to the fourth floor. She opened the door to a dingy, but large room with its own bathroom and a view of pigeons and roofs of other buildings. “Eez it OK?” she asked in English. “Fine.”

I went back down to the bar and ordered a baguette sandwich and a beer. The smoking patrons drove me out at an early hour and I returned to my room to watch the sunset over the buildings from the screenless window in my room. A little exhausted, I lay down to go to bed after the sun had set completely and just before dozing off I heard steps climbing the metal stairs outside.

And then it started. I heard the door to the room beneath me open and close and moments later I could hear the springs of a worn bed squeaking rhythmically. Then her moaning, followed by his grunting, followed by her over enthusiastic wailing to crescendo. The bed stopped its complaining and I could hear the murmur of voices and the sound of the sink and toilet flushing.

Well. Hmm. That was exciting! At least my neighbors are having a good time! Oh well, too bad for me, alone on a business trip. I have to get up early anyway, so I’ll just go back to sleep. Except, a half hour later, I heard steps climbing up the stairs again. I heard the bed squeaking. I heard the moaning and grunting and wailing climbing to a crescendo. I heard the murmur of voices, the sink and the flush. Aren’t they a busy couple?

Then, half an hour later the stairs, squeaking, moaning, murmur, sink and flush. Another half an hour later and off we go: the stairs, squeaking, moaning, murmer, sink and flush and on it went, like clockwork every half hour. I couldn’t make out the murmuring after they were done each time, but by this time I could imagine the francs changing hands as they completed their transaction. Surely, you would have noticed a bit sooner than I did. Finally, around 2 am, I started to think dubiously, “maybe they don’t usually rent out these rooms for the whole night.” Perhaps you would have been more observant than I was when everyone shrugged at me as I asked for a room for the whole night. I’m slow. But you know, they were French! How was I to know this wasn’t just some living stereotype of rude Parisians?

Traveling on my own, I’ve continued to stay in some pretty sketchy places. Like I said, I am slow, but, one survives. Still, while I don’t spend my company’s money too extravagantly, I’ll stick with the big hotel chains from now on when I have to wake up fresh the next morning and put on a tie. Entertaining as it was, I’m sure you would too.

Bon nuit!

(3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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