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Generally Recognized As True: March 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Japan's problems with nuclear have strengthened George Monbiot's positive opinion of it

In a Guardian column, environmental/green activist George Monbiot describes how the problems in Japan have strengthened his support for nuclear as a part of a power mix that includes renewables.

It is a balanced column that hits all the right notes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chernobyl wasn't as bad as most of us imagined it was

Chernobyl and Three Mile Island seem to be the benchmarks for measuring how bad the current Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor problem is, with Chernobyl being the worst-case and Three Mile Island being a best-case in popular assessment.

But, since there have been so few nuclear accidents and the meaning of the scale is therefore vague, it's worth asking how bad Chernobyl really was. Real Clear Science attempts an explanation:
It is worth putting even the UN’s low casualty figures in perspective. As the report notes, over 1,000 onsite reactor staff and emergency workers received heavy exposure to high levels of radiation on the first day of the accident, and some 200,000 workers were exposed in recovery operations from 1986-1987. But only 50 had died of cancer 20 years later.


Exposed children are more at risk from thyroid cancer, but the recovery rate – even in the Soviet Ukraine – was 99 percent. The health experts could find no evidence of increased rates of leukemia or other cancers among the affected residents.
A deficient reactor design, clear breach of operational protocol, possibly drunken operators... and this is the worst we have ever seen from nuclear.

Meanwhile, how many coal mining accidents do we have every year? How many people die protecting sources of oil? How many die from issues related to the fumes produced when we burn these things? How much carbon dioxide do we produce getting agitated and talking about carbon dioxide emissions?

That's why Seth Godin's graph that I posted yesterday has some merit.

Why can't the same people who criticize the imaginary fear of terrorist threat levels organize in the same way around the limp threat of nuclear energy? These fears come from the same place -- something that you can't see and don't understand that could attack you in ways you least expect.

And the people who say that the structural safety models of these plants are flawed and that the risks of failure are unknowable would also have to accept that the threat models that predict the consequences of such a failure are also flawed and vastly over-state the danger.

Glad for a lack of "meaningful" Canada Pension Plan reform

Although, like most people, I don't understand why we need another federal election in Canada, I am glad that the Minister of Finance didn't give in to certain demands from the NDP -- their only realistic source of saving grace in this cycle -- such as an overly-unrealistic increase in Canada Pension Plan benefits.

I'm not opposed to restructuring the Canada Pension Plan, but I am opposed to increasing payouts from the plan in a way that pays out to a person that isn't commensurate with the amount that that person paid in.

In other words, if they want to say that you have to contribute an extra X dollars to the plan every year and that, as a result, you'll receive Y more dollars in benefit when you are retired, then I am OK with that. But I'm not OK with saying that you've paid in X dollars all your life and were told you'd be getting Y dollars when you retire, but now that you're close to retirement and haven't put enough money aside, we're going to give you more than Y dollars without requiring you to make any significant additional contribution to the CPP, seeing as you don't have many working years left. The missing part of this story, of course, is that people like me would be footing the bill for it.

As I understand it, if you're an immigrant to this country who arrives in mid-life, you are allowed to participate in the pension plan to the extent that you've contributed. You wouldn't, for example, receive the same pension upon retirement as someone who had been contributing for their entire working life.

Why should it be any different for a non-immigrant?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nuclear energy: not only clean, but safe, too.

No doubt inspired by Japan's recent problems with their Fukushima nuclear plant, Seth Godin presents this interesting graph and accompanying post:


This type of thing is so difficult to measure, and he is a marketer, but having a bit of a think about it should lead you to believe that it's probably at least accurate in abstract and/or proportion.

Wind turbine propellers already kill a lot of birds. I doubt they kill many people (if any at all), but if one flying wind turbine propeller decapitated someone some day as a result of an earthquake, it'd be one more death than this Japanese issue has caused so far (but note that the wind energy installation in Japan survived the earthquake without any problems).

Visual proof that grains make you fat; grains make you unhealthy

Actually, it's not. It should make you question this idea that is a part of low-carb and Paleo diet thinking (although it's not really "thinking" if you don't ask these questions, is it?).


The picture is taken from the book "Hungry Planet", which is a coffee table book about the typical family diets in countries around the world.

I don't have any problem with the idea of reducing carbohydrates in your diet, but as always the wonks go over the top in an attempt to be as pure as an Islamist suicide bomber in their belief.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Low-carb scrambled eggs that won't make you miss the toast

I'm not really on a low carb diet or anything like that, but I have noticed a generally-better feeling since reducing the amount of carbs I eat -- particularly the bloated feeling after eating a meal. A plateful of cabbage and spinach leaves a far better feeling than a plateful of cabbage and carrots, for example. And making a chili where I keep the diced tomatoes but substitute a can of crushed tomatoes with beef broth makes a big difference, too, while having virtually no negative effect on the taste or texture.

But two things I have made a special effort to reduce are grains and sugar, so have been eating far less bread and bread-like baked things. The message of "starch with every meal" came from somewhere -- not sure where -- and I have been shouting it down to good effect. It does not seem necessary, so I'm not sure where the idea came from.

I quite like scrambled eggs on toast, but have tried a few different things over the past few months or so and, with this one, I don't really miss the toast at all -- and I'm not just saying that.

You need:
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 knob of butter
  • 1 knob of goat's cheese
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped spring onions
  • big handful of salad greens
  • 1 avocado
  • lemon juice
  • ground black pepper to taste
Scrambled eggs are easily, obviously. People probably have their own ways of doing it, but mine is to melt the butter in a small non-stick saucepan* on medium heat, add the eggs and scramble in the pan with a spatula, then reduce the heat slightly and stir periodically until they start to congeal a bit. Then, crumble the goat's cheese in and mix it in. Continue to cook and stir until they are nearly the consistency you want, and then add the onions and black pepper. Remove from the heat.

On a plate, make a bed of salad greens. Peel and roughly chop the avocado and put it on the side. Drizzle the greens and avocado wiith lemon juice. Mound the scrambled eggs on top of the salad greens.

That's about it. It is what I am starting to consider a healthy meal: low in carbs, low in processed contents, high in fat, and a good amount of protein.

* I don't use non-stick much, but I do keep a non-stick saucepan and skillet especially for eggs. The reason is that I like to undercook eggs a bit. Some people prefer them firm -- McDonalds style, as I think of them. If I liked them firm, a cast iron pan would be fine. But undercooked eggs in a cast iron frying pan makes a sticky mess, in my experience. I have only seen eggs in cast iron work when they are fully cooked and form a firm patina that won't stick to the pan.