Never Nuclear!

Sometime in the late ’70s I learned about the greenhouse effect in geography class. Twenty years later in Kyoto world leaders agreed they ought to do something about climate change before the consequences grew too great, before the damage became too problematic.

So, in 2000, me, “Are we gonna build the zero-carbon generating capacity we can now?”

Them, “NO! Never nuclear.” was the answer. “We can make all the electricity with windmills and PV panels.”

Ten years later, me, “It has been a decade of increasing carbon output. We have made less than no progress on carbon emissions. Shouldn’t we start building some meaningful zero-carbon generating capacity?”

Them, “NO! Nuclear scares me! I don’t understand it. I have no useful sense of the risk/benefit ratio. NEVER nuclear. Besides wind and solar are getting cheaper. We can do this with ‘renewables.’”

Ten more years later, me, “Ok, another decade of increasing carbon emissions. Wind and solar have not magicked the problem away yet. They may someday. But right now we need to build lots and lots of zero-carbon generating capacity. Could we do that now? It has been 20 years of not doing anything useful. Can we please do something?”

Them, “NO! Nuclear is an archaic technology. With ‘renewables’ and ‘green energy’ investment we don’t need it. Besides even though wind and solar are only a tiny fraction of unreliable generating capacity we have this great biofuel technology in which we cut down forests to make wood chips. We cook those in bioreactors to make carbon fuel and burn it! It is ‘RENEWABLE!’”

Me, “OMG! that is a terrible idea! That is taking a low-energy-density fuel source that is otherwise a carbon sink and turning it into a source of additional carbon. Wood burning is already a major source of atmospheric carbon globally. We need to reduce its use, not increase it. This is making the problem worse, just with extra steps.”

Them, “But it is not nuclear. NEVER nuclear.”

Me, “My gods. We are never gonna start solving this problem are we?”

Them, “We already have. You just have to BELIEVE that a solar panel on the roof of an apartment block in Scandinavia in the winter at night can produce all the energy that building needs.”


I do not know that I will be alive or able to afford internet in ten years. But I would rather not go through another iteration of this pathetic fallacy.

Failure

Why do we continue to completely fail on climate-heating mitigation?

  1. People who actively think it is a malicious hoax and actively oppose measures.
  2. People who just don’t believe it is really happening, so no measures are warranted.
  3. People who misunderstand “climate change,” do not understand the unprecedented time scale, believe it is natural and inevitable and not a problem, certainly not one caused by us, or that can or should be mitigated by us.
  4. People who may believe that it is a problem but do not care.
  5. People who believe it is not their problem.
  6. People who know it is a problem but have some vested interest that they perceive to be threatened by mitigation. So actively oppose mitigation.
  7. People who know it is a problem, but think some absurd religious mumbo jumbo. Perhaps it is God’s will.
  8. People who understand that there is a problem, but expect a deus ex machina tech solution that requires no risk, compromise, sacrifice or effort on their parts.
  9. People who know and understand that the consequences of doing nothing are dire but are emotionally invested in particular developing technologies that cannot have a meaningful impact on crucial timescales. They insist that just another ten years, and another ten, and another will see their preferred technology Superman that climate emergency.
  10. People who urgently want mitigation, but not if it involves anything they fear, or anything they misunderstand, or anything they hate. (☠️nuclear power☠️)
  11. People who despair of 1–10 and are resigned to an eventually uninhabitable world because people are almost universally unpersuaded by data and facts.

Tolerance

I have been wishing for some way to influence these creatures since Mulroney. Will Rodney leaving his cabinet post change the government’s direction on fiscal or social policy? Of course not.

I am not fooled into thinking they care about petitions. People worth knowing already oppose them and Cons very much do not care. They laugh at “liberals” and give their mean-spirited ignorant base another stir. Protests, they just characterize as uncivil disobedience and the petty snowflakeishness of the “left.”

These people already know the majority of people oppose them, that their policies mostly make most things worse for most people. And they understand that protests and outrage serve their struggling underdog narrative. “If we are offending so many people, we must be doing something right.”

You will let me know if any affirmative action suddenly has an effect on them after nearly fifty years of it not. Of them getting bolder and worse.

The only thing that is going to make a difference is to start saying, “NO!” every time a coworker regurgitates some regressive dogma. Telling family members and friends who spew racist shit to shut up or fuck off. Never tolerating any of the slow creep of nonsense we not-so-suddenly find up to our necks. Because it is our general tolerance of this extremism which has legitimized it. Just as four years of criminality by the trump administration has made sedition hardly newsworthy.

If you cannot do that, then this will keep getting worse here, as it did in the US, until we have our own trump. Fully acknowledging that Ford is but a short distance from that dumpster fire.

Innovation

Years ago I was at the Lonestar Restaurant in Pickering while a no doubt expensive consultant was coming through telling the management of a place that did one thing well, fajitas, all the things they needed to change about their layout and decoration and indeed it became evident, menu. After that the franchisee dumped more large sums into ripping up old texmex decor and replacing it with other texmex decor. They redesigned the place to make it look revised, superficially different. And they got rid of the delicious beans and replaced them with muck. They replaced most of the fajita sides with mean prefabricated portions. They replaced their in-house delicious corn chips with the same bagged ones you get in a grocery. And after their great reinvention everything that was unimportant, was samey. Much of what was bringing in customers was worse. After a while the proper beans came back. But it was sadly obvious that the menu changes made the food less desirable and poorer value.

And that is a classic example of “redesigns” today. Some branding or marketing idiot with “new” and “improved” on the brain, they come in and they stir the pot. We get redesigns that are only different, seldom better.

The new Apple laptops run a bit cooler. They are a bit faster, although that will never be apparent to almost every user. And they have longer battery life. They also have massive compatibility problems. Backward compatibility problems seem to be the new gold standard for Apple product “innovation.” And weirdly I have been here before. One argument against Macs in the 90’s was a lack of software support. Somewhere in the middle that was improved upon. But here we have come again full circle.

At least back then I could point out that Macs supported all the professional requirements of graphic designers and were at least the best choice for that. But PCs run Adobe Creative Suite and Opentype fonts are cross platform. So, increasingly I cannot figure out why anyone would buy a Mac when they can be annoyed by Windows, getting bigger drives and better CPUs and GPUs at a fraction of the price with better support and more compatibility; and in a proper computer case with a reasonable selection of I/O ports.

Is it something in the water that companies have been so intent this decade on undermining themselves?

Women in STEM

We have failed to provide opportunities for women to have careers in and contribute as much as they could to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. This is not just disenabling for women, but deprives our wider society of their valuable contributions in these critical fields.


A while back I encountered an instance in a book I was working on that replaced STEM with STEAM in discussing promoting opportunities for women. The ‘A’ was for Arts.

But we do not have a critical lack of participation in the arts by women. Women are not culturally excluded from and weeded out of the Arts to the grievous disadvantage of themselves and society. If anything women have historically been relegated to arts and crafts dismissively.

Certainly a lack of women’s participation in arts is not a serious limiting factor in our overall prosperity and ability to deal collectively with the challenges we face as a planet. But a lack of women in STEM subjects is.


Today I was listening to a good interview on BBC Inside Science with professor Linda Scott, author of The Double X Economy. I was surprised to hear her say that we only see a lack of women in STEM because of a narrow definition of Sciences in this context. Setting aside that this idea ignores Technology, Engineering and Maths, her argument was that it was wrong to just think of the Physical Sciences, and that lots of women dominate ‘other’ sciences.

Firstly I doubt that a majority of senior people in many science fields are women. That is the central problem we are generally discussing. But even were this women-in-different-sciences (and I regret that what she was referring to was mainly psychology) idea were true, the physical sciences are kind of the point in relation to Technology, Engineering and Maths. By her own argument women disappear out of a leaky pipe as they go along in these specific fields. And that is a terrible waste of human capital.


Just like throwing Arts in with STEM, throwing Social Sciences in with the Physical Sciences misses the point. Women have not been excluded from painting, performing arts, social work or careers as therapists. They have been, are being, weeded out of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Technology, Engineering and Maths. STEM subjects are survival critical and society cannot afford this squandering of opportunity and talent in these specific areas. It is important not to lose sight of that fact.


There is such a thing as good design.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Avon Gorge and the River Avon, linking Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in North Somerset. — Wikipedia

You would think that once we had found an optimal solution for a problem we would stick to it. But no. And this is why we almost inexplicably keep having ridiculous and or failed instances of things that could have been, were, fine in past years, decades or even centuries.

Take bridges. The Clifton Suspension Bridge opened in ‎1864. It is fine. But we do not collectively want predictably built durable bridges. We want “world class” unique architectural bridges that inspire fantasy rather than confidence. I mean we know how to build bridges properly. But properly goes out the window as soon as a committee of marketing professionals and tourism yobbos start meeting.

This is precisely why the Morandi Bridge in Genoa collapsed. It was designed as architectural eyecandy without nearly enough thought being put into its engineering design. In the end Morandi’s world-class architectural design was brought down by, … the resonant pounding of rain. If Isambard Kingdom Brunel had designed it a century and a half ago, it would still be in operation.

I was asked today why I have stopped playing World of Warships. The answer was that the developers release frequent broken content updates. Sometimes every other release suffers from crashing, freezing and terrible lag. Sometimes a few in a row work. Sometimes a few in a row don’t. And the thing is. If they just stopped at a version that was stable, the game would be fine. But they have this mindset that everything must be updated and upgraded with feature bloat and more and more content. And you cannot keep doing that and expect the product to work.

I have a new client. And because we are new to each other I decided to minimize complications by doing their work in the current version of Adobe Illustrator (Creative Cloud 2020). And what I discovered is that the current version is the buggiest in more than a decade. In particular the snap-to is at least as unreliable as the previous worst version which was Illustrator 7. There is no way to trust it and it will betray you. But more frustrating still, the application is very laggy. Like laggy as a poorly optimized online multiplayer game might be. But without the excuse. And this causes multitudes of problems.

I was doing work for a regular client today and I was using CC 2018. It has 99.9% of the features of 2020, but without the broken snap-to and the lag. So what were the TWO update cycles since then for anyway? Pointlessly making the product worse!

In every design process, there comes a time when you have solved the essential problems you began with and have a reasonably optimal solution. You may have to revisit that problem if the goalposts move on you. But otherwise, at some point, if you do not stop making changes you are inevitably moving away from the reasonably optimal solution. You are making the design worse. I have often been in that moment were the client direction on a job had turned that corner and the project was on its highway to hell.

And if I could make one plea, it would be that we lose the fascination with updates, upgrades and novelty in the design of things we expect to work.

Sin and speeding

It is a traditional, particularly eighteenth and nineteenth century idea, that evil comes from sin and therefore punishment of sin is a righteous remedy to evil. And what could be more evil than a fatal car accident?

Drink maybe? Temperance arose out of the idea that the plight of the poor in the first centuries of industrialization was a result of sin; the evils of drink in particular. It was clear that the noble factory owner, excellent church attendance, good manners, wealth and status, he could not be at fault. No, poverty destitution and ruin among the working class had to be a consequence of their sinful intoxication. Enforced temperance would eliminate the sin of drunkenness and the poor would be uplifted. So we got prohibition.

Maybe promiscuity? It has long been understood by misogynists that the suffering of women is in large part a natural consequence of their feminine weakness. Women must restrict themselves to modest obedient behaviour. If they don’t, they must end in ruin, and the virtuous will be sure to see to that. Punishing and shaming, women who do not comply has been a remedy to sin. And so we get all the institutions and petty violences that have been set against women.

And it is well known that, “speed kills.” We have been habituated to the idea that the key to road safety is always slowing everyone down. Therefore it is naturally assumed that what we really need to make roads safer is to punish “speeders.” The act of enforcing posted speed limits by punishing the sin of speeding will set us free.

But the condition of the poor wasn’t a consequence of drunkenness. Drunkenness was a symptom of their outrageous exploitation despair and destitution.

The ruin of “loose” women was never a result of their having gotten unlucky in the course of natural sexual behaviour. It was a result of rampant abuse by men, the absence of reproductive health services and relentless persecution by the righteous.

I have argued elsewhere about the unreality of “speeding” being a widespread serious threat to road safety. So here I just want to make this point. While no one is likely to object to measures to improve road safety, arbitrary speed enforcement isn’t one. It is treating the speed of traffic as Salvationists would treat drinking or sex; as sin. And treating speed as sin, we seek in our vengeful simple-minded way to remedy a largely fantastic ill by punishing sinners.

There are lots of things we could do to improve road safety. Doubling and redoubling transit infrastructure would be best. Redesigning every city to have the kind of pedestrian infrastructure you can see working so well in Utrecht, that would be awesome. But those real measures would require capital investment in infrastructure and take decades to accomplish.

We could even require motor vehicle operators to be universally properly trained and periodically recertified. But that would be expensive and I think deemed intrusive.

So, for now we pretend that giving out more tickets with more automation will suffice. We will arbitrarily punish the imagined sinner and I expect it will work about as well as indulgence in persecution always does.

What is ‘speeding’ really?

I was Toronto bound on the QEW, muttering about the few pokey drivers obstructing traffic and causing occasional patches of congestion. A car raced up next to me, only avoiding rear-ending the car ahead on my right by deeking into my lane close in front of me. Then they accelerated into the left lane, shot up behind the next vehicle and cut back into the centre lane close in front of a vehicle two or three ahead of me. Then they dived into the right lane again and so on. Off they went. Thankfully I never saw them again that I know of.

That is a speeder.
That person is speeding.
That person is driving too fast and recklessly.

On the other hand, with the exception of the few pokey drivers, the rest of the body of traffic, through which the speeder sped, was traveling between 110 and 120, as is normally the case; as is always the case unless there is some slowdown or congestion that restricts the speed of traffic. And yet the posted limit is 100. So in a sense is everyone speeding? No! In normal traffic, in good weather, drivers choose their speed according to the road design and present conditions. And if the posted limit is 10–20 kmph slower, it is simply wrong.

In a context in which very little has been done to train drivers properly or really do anything that is not structural to make roads safer, governments and safety advocates have fallen on blaming speeding for danger. But if their definition of speeding is simply exceeding an unrealistic posted limit, then it cannot be the case that this speeding is a hazard that needs to be dealt with through enforcement.

Posted limits are arbitrary. If everyone were obeying them, you could make everyone speeders by just lowering the posted limit. And posted limits in Ontario are typically quite shy of the road design specs and what drivers agree by common consent should be the speed of traffic.

And the goal of reducing the speed of traffic is not worthwhile. If successful, reducing the speed of traffic would increase all driver’s trip times, increasing the amount of traffic, increasing congestion, and thus increasing the risk of collisions. And increased enforcement, as was the case when Ontario tried on photo radar, causes sudden abrupt changes in traffic flow, from normal to paranoid, which are themselves quite dangerous and create a feedback loop of worsening congestion.

So I come to Durham Region opting to spend no doubt considerable monies on automated speed enforcement. There is no way this can be an effective safety measure. But it is safety-policy signalling. And I am sure that some advocates imagine that they are working toward safer roads. What they are in fact doing is setting up a system for the regional municipality to automatically collect a stream of revenue by preying upon members of their own community without immediate purpose, and effectively without their victims having access to due process.

They say, “The best way to avoid a speeding ticket is to not speed at all.” but this is an entirely unrealistic expectation. It is not that most people are driving too fast, unsafely. It is that the posted limits are unrealistic. And it is self evident that most people, and the body of traffic as a whole, do not agree with them.

We have become habituated to the idea that speed kills through endless safety campaigns. So it can be expected that in response to fear or tragedy or even petulance, we return over again to the idea that slowing traffic will preclude tragedy. And that punishing people driving normally will put them in their place. And automating that persecution is clean and cheap and entirely unscrupulous. Governments should not automate any kind of enforcement. Every such effort is a dystopian nightmare in the making. Arbitrary justice is not justice. There should never be automated speed enforcement.

The Mask

I have two masks for use in limiting the spread of COVID. I sewed them both. I have fabric for more but I need more elastic. I wear one of those masks whenever I might expose others to any theoretical undiagnosed infection in the droplets of my breathing.

So this is in no way an attack on mask wearing.


However I am increasingly alarmed by the fervour with which people, having latched onto the idea of masks, are willing to persecute others about them.

So let’s look at what masks are for and what they might do. When you breath or talk or any other gross function of your face holes, air comes out. Moist air, with which you may be “speaking moistly.” Tiny droplets that may contain virus spread out from your face. It is not impossible for some of those to get past a metre in front of you, but most will blow away or settle out or evaporate in less than a metre. And taking into account viral loading, if you are infectious, even if not obviously symptomatic, and another person is trapped in a confined space with you or within that 1m for long enough, generally 15 minutes or more, then you could pass that infection on to them.

Therefore, it seems reasonable that wearing a mask, when you are confined in poorly ventilated spaces with other people, is likely to restrict your face spray and possibly reduce your infectivity, if you are infectious.

More or Less yesterday, was discussing why fears of spikes in infections have not been realized following bank holidays and Black Lives Matter protests in the U.K. And the answer seems to be that along with warm weather, which SARS CoV2 apparently does not prefer, being outside in well ventilated conditions where people are social distancing and washing their hands a lot and using hand sanitizer, that behaviour does not constitute the same risk as getting to work every day spending 35 minutes on a crowded bus.

It is entirely possible that in particular circumstances everyone having the courtesy to wear a face mask may very well help limit the spread of COVID19. But calling for everyone to always wear a face mask if they are outside their home is unreasonable. If you are not in close proximity to others, not in enclosed spaces, not passing enough time to meet the requirements of viral loading, then there is not a transmission risk path that a mask can limit.

And some jurisdictions and many zealots are intent on people being fined or charged for not always wearing a mask. What this indicates to me is a clear lack of understanding of what the masks do and how they might help. A policy based more on desperation than understanding.

And I understand that people are feeling desperate. We all want there to be some way we can return to normal. And I think the ‘common sense’ idea that universal mask wearing will give us that is alluring. And I also recognize that there is a weakness in human nature that tempts many to the delights of persecuting others with enforcement of strict unconditional rules, whether those rules effect anything useful or not.

Masks may help limit the spread of the virus. If people are infectious but asymptomatic, or more likely if they are presymptomatic, them having the decency to wear a mask in confined spaces with other people for lengths of time will likely help. But requiring everyone to always wear a mask absolutely misses the point of masks and indulges a persecutorial impulse which we can ill afford to have compounding our problems right now. So stop it.

Plastic non-recycling

Reminder: By and large plastic is not recyclable, or at least not recycled. We have technology for reprocessing some plastic. Clean PET, that is pop bottles, thoroughly washed, with the lids and labels removed can be reprocessed into fibres that can be used to make fleece or shoddy tarp fabric or plastic wood. But that process is not ‘recycling.’ It does not cycle.

Some clean second generation materials can be reprocessed again into increasingly lower grade materials but inevitably such plastic is headed for the garbage, or the environment. In fact, reprocessing is an important stage in reducing whole plastic items to microplastics as the material is extruded as fibres.

But all of this is moot, since we never built the local facilities to reprocess plastic and instead rely on shipping our plastic garbage to vulnerable developing nations that also do not have the proper facilities to deal with our waste. Slave-wage workers there pick through literal mountains of wind-blown plastic to find economically salvageable bits. And because this is marginally more lucrative than subsistence farming, the local agricultural economy is undermined.

What garbage pickers can’t sell to reprocessing they sell as raw fuel to be burned uncleanly in local industries. Just burned in furnaces. No emission controls.

What should be happening to our plastic is that it should be incinerated locally in waste-to-energy facilities with state of the art emission control. But to do that we would have to build the infrastructure. And to build the infrastructure we would have to admit we have been talking bullshit about plastic recycling for decades.