Enter The Fragile Ego – No Bubble!

Since when did we lose our ability to hold complex discussions without acting like children? No really. It’s near impossible to have a real conversation anymore. When did that happen? There has developed a barrage of rules about when certain topics are forbidden conversation:

  1. Don’t discuss sex or politics at dinner parties.
  2. Don’t discuss politics or religion at the bar.
  3. Don’t discuss diet at the dinner table.
  4. Never discuss personal matters at work.
  5. No sex or race or politics or religion on Facebook, please. (Cat pictures only!)

With all these rules, when can we ever really, seriously talk about anything at all?

It seems one cannot bring up thought provoking topics anymore without someone else becoming offended or throwing around accusations. Dare you state the obvious, and you are just being mean. Dare to infuse racial-sociological context, and you are being a troll. “You’re talking publicly about your disbelief in my god – that’s RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION!” “How dare you analyze my personal experiences in a political context you contentious bitch!” We’ve become so afraid of rocking the boat that even calling oneself a feminist has suddenly become controversial.

It’s hard to pin down from whence this fragile egotism originated. Is this a product of the white, fluffy cloud concept of political correctness? Are we so motivated by etiquette that we feel the need to censor face-to-face, written, scholarly and even web speech? Or is this inane treading on the shallow end of conversation pool manifest of a collective need not to pop our own comfortable bubbles of correctness?

The dumbing down rampant in our education system (along with a host of other problems) could be partially to blame. When education funding is razed, the first education programs to disappear with that funding tend to be the courses that facilitate independent scholarly reflection: literature, art, sociology or current events. When people do not get the well rounded education needed to autonomously think outside the box, how can we expect people to approach complex social or political issues in a constructive way?

Where do we land at the end of this tryst with superficiality? The result is a bedazzled populace more concerned with who Miley Cyrus is twerking on than whether extending unemployment benefits is beneficial to our economy. Such is a populace that also avoids discussing the influence of racism on our social-economic institutions, or how the exaltation of female virginity degrades and hurts women.

A culture of avoidance facilitates ignorance. Ignorance breeds isolation. Isolation breeds extremism. And goodness knows we’ve already too much of that. It’s high time to take off the rose glasses, pop the comfy bubble, and commence with the discourse of our lives.

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Thanksgiving Thanks

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. There just isn’t much not to like about Thanksgiving. And there is so much around to remind a person of how good they’ve got it.

Hence, the month of November brings with it a gravy wave of people expressing thankfulness. Some people make a daily public expression. I know one guy who makes a daily hate list. Some folks wait for the turkey’s last gobble before airing their laundry list of things to be thankful about.

I’m so thankful for my family and friends, the food on the table, this free country we live in, and etcetera.

Whence originates the conundrum serving as muse to this shenanigan of a post – thankful to whom? Thankful to what? Thankful to a god that likely doesn’t exist?

Uh, I don’t think so.

It is against my better nature to deny thanks where thanks is due. So instead of regaling my readers and friends with a diatribe of ethereal gratefulness, I’ve chosen a more direct approach.

I’m thankful to my wonderful parents for working so hard to provide for my sisters and me.

I’m thankful to my little sister for remembering all of the ways that I tortured her and my other sister when we were little. (Those are some funny stories.)

I’m thankful to my littlest sister for always skyping or calling me long distance.

I am thankful to Appa for scratching my back and being my best friend.

I’m thankful to whomever invented beer. (VERY thankful!)

I’m thankful to the engineers, scientists and doctors who’ve made it their life’s work to heal disease and improve the quality of life on this planet.

I’m thankful to my cats for showing me what a good bed I am, rubbing that cold, wet nose on my hand, shedding crap loads of soft fur all over my black pants, catching vermin and being so damn entertaining.

And I’m thankful to Shweeb for consistently picking me up when I am feeling beat down.

To whom are you thankful?

Religion – It’s What’s For Dinner….. er, School Lunch In Pennsylvania?

Oops, they did it again.

Well, not yet. And I hope they will not do it again. Everyone’s favorite, zealous Christian Representative, Rep. Rick Saccone has introduced yet another bill in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that blatantly disregards the Pennsylvania Constitution. His latest bill, House Bill 1728, would force every school in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania to display signage saying “In God We Trust” in classrooms and other areas in public school buildings

For the record, Rick Saccone is the same irreverent that successfully introduced legislation declaring 2012 the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania. (I wish you could see my face every time I think of this.) And his newest Bill states outright that the bill is motivated by “The Great Christian Governor” James Pollock. You know I could not let this legislation stand without putting in my two cents.

Dear Representative X,

Last year, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to name 2012 the year of the bible. As a non-believer, I doubt it within my ability to explain to you how disrespected and paltry that made me feel as a citizen of the Commonwealth.

Now, similarly flippant legislation has been introduced by the same person – Rep. Rick Saccone – to promote and display signs relaying Christian messages in our schools. I am shocked by House Bill 1728! I cannot believe that, contrary to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I and my children could once again be compelled to maintain such displays of religious nature. This bill is antithetical to everything that Section 3 of our Constitution stands for!

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives already spat all over Section 3 last year by establishing preference by law to an establishment of religion. I can only hope that you will not do it again. I urge you not to support House Bill 1728, and to vote against it if it should be put up for a vote.

Bias and Dishonest Journalism

Media bias is generally a very important topic when it comes to politics. We consumers generally rely on the media to give us the facts, not to dictate our opinions for us. It is important for media outlets to be fair and accurate in their treatment of news events, so that consumers are able to make informed opinions. In addition to media bias, we should discuss nuclear bias. Unusual events at nuclear power plants generally garner plenty of media attention. And, as I will demonstrate, some reports are better than others.

On Friday, October 4th during a routine inspection of the containment liner at Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport, PA, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company found and reported a hole in a rust-degraded area of the containment liner. The story was not widely reported. (I can’t know if it made the news, as I’ve sworn off cable.) But where it was reported, there exist noticeable differences in how the finding was portrayed.

Unfortunately, the first article I looked up to read about the Beaver Valley story showed clear signs of nuclear bias; and was not very informative to boot. The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s John Funk had plenty of negative light to shed on the hole found in the Unit 1 containment liner. The author appears to put words in the mouth of FirstEnergy’s spokesperson, saying the spokesperson attributed the corrosion to a piece of wood “carelessly left behind.” The author also states that the containment building is required to be air-tight, which is just plain wrong. Then the author dedicates a significant portion of the article to quotes from a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization that generally has nothing but negative things to say about the nuclear industry. Consequently, Mr. Funk’s article is riddled with negative connotation.

This same finding at Beaver Valley was reported in stellar fashion by Anya Litvak of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Not only did Ms. Litvak accurately portray the finding, she dug deep to reveal to her readers industry-wide findings related to degradation of containment liners. It was actually fascinating reading. Rachel Morgan at the TimesOnline did a good job reporting* the event as well, describing past degradation findings at the plant and going on to discuss another industrial safety event that occurred during the same refueling outage. One thing both of the aforementioned articles do is avoid the use of subjective descriptors. The writers also took the time to inform their readers about past experiences with containment liners and about related events – each reading like a statement of fact rather than a collection of opinions.

It is important to point out bias such as this. Readers deserve better from journalists. Journalists need to keep their personal opinions to themselves, and let their readers decide what kind of story the facts are telling.

*Article is behind a paywall. But I was able to bypass it on my mobile device.

What Atheists Are Missing

For a long time, I was so unsure of myself. I questioned whether I was good enough. I questioned whether what I wanted was the right thing to want. I questioned whether I was being selfish, whether I was being prideful. I felt if God wasn’t answering my prayers, it was my fault for being jealous, or hateful or secretive.

For a very long time, I thought I was doing it wrong. I wasn’t believing hard enough. I wasn’t singing hard enough. I wasn’t focusing all my energy on God. That’s why I had doubts. That’s why I looked around in church to emulate what others were feeling. That’s why I always went to the altar to recommit myself, to repent. That’s why when the preacher puts his big sweaty hand on my head, I fell down with the rest of them.

I remember the last time. I feinted a blessed swoon and lied still on the floor, only to realize I had lain there too long and was the last one to “wake.” It was the last time I sought what I now consider a very duplicitous act.

I remember loathing myself. I loathed my body. I loathed the body that wanted to be with boys. I hated that I thought all those nasty thoughts the teacher warned about in Sunday classes. I was jealous or other girls. I wanted to kiss boys, and more. I was a bad person. I would surely go to Hell.

I hated being a girl. I was dirty, filthy, unclean. My blood was a curse. And I brought sin onto others for not being clean or virtuous enough.

I was afraid I would burn in hell. That I would be ripped asunder over and over again for all of eternity because I wasn’t good or virtuous or obedient enough.

And now…

Now that I am an atheist, I am missing so many things. I am missing the doubt. I’m missing the sense of loneliness. I am missing the self-consciousness. I’m missing the pretense. I’m missing the self-disgust. I’m missing the self-loathing. I’m missing the fear.

I dropped the heavy burden of religion that I was holding onto for dear life and an eternity from hell.

And I don’t miss any of those things.

I am an atheist.

And I am free.

Race, Zimmerman and One Small List

Since the slaying of Trayvon Martin hit the main stream air waves, the conversation about race in America has erupted in a maelstrom of heated commentary, misguided angst and cowardice. So many people are quick to label George Zimmerman a racist murderer, call Martin a deserving street thug, and deny the role race has played in the entire matter. Even seemingly honest conversations about the killing of Trayvon Martin get mired in this toxic cloud of politeness – political correctness.

But a shroud of dishonesty does not change the facts. George Zimmerman suspected Trayvon Marin of nefarious behavior in large part because of the color of his skin. But while Zimmerman is entirely guilty of taking the life of a promising young man, he is not solely to blame for his mistaking a Black teen for a troublemaker. The tendency to suspect Black male teenagers of illegal behavior is deeply engrained in our sociological fabric in the United States. And the fact that Zimmerman is hispanic does not make him immune to this tendency.

So when we are talking about race and the Zimmerman trial, to deny that race had anything to do with Martin’s death or the outcome of the trial is a bankrupt notion. Race played a part in both events.

Some media personalities see fit to stick it to those incensed by Zimmerman’s acquittal (and the Black community at large) by trying to diminish the significance of Martin’s killing. In response to outcry about Trayvon Martin’s death, they ask why no one is getting mad about Black-on-Black crime – which is COMPLETE bullshit. (This non-sequitur question even happened to me at work!) People ARE mad about Black-on-Black crime. We talk about Black-on-Black crime a lot. But before the Trayvon Martin’s death, you didn’t feel the need to make yourself a part of that conversation!

I was impressed by at least one tv aired conversation on race recently thanks to my number 2 tv crush – Don Lemon.

Don’s simple advice: 5 – dress respectfully, 4 – quit using the ‘n’ word, 3 – don’t trash your home, 2 – quit stigmatizing education, 1 – reduce the number of children born out of wedlock. Don Lemon is being honest. And he is right.

Diablo Canyon Shuts Down – Nuclear Industry Applauds

Yesterday, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Generating Station shut down after a leak was detected.

PLANT SHUTDOWN REQUIRED DUE TO RHR SYSTEM SOCKET WELD LEAK

“At 2158 PDT, plant personnel identified a through-wall leak in a Diablo Canyon Power Plant Unit 1 socket weld inside containment that provides a flow path to a relief valve that protects a common portion of both trains of the Residual heat Removal (RHR) system. The as-found condition did not comply with the requirements of equipment control guideline 7.6 and the ASME acceptance criteria. PG&E accordingly declared both Unit 1 trains of RHR inoperable and initiated plant shutdown at 2237 PDT in accordance with requirements of Technical Specification 3.0.3.

“PG&E will complete shutdown to Mode 4 and will perform repairs to restore compliance with ASME code requirements.”

The licensee notified the NRC Resident Inspector.

The Residual Heat Removal (RHR) system is a safety-related system relied on to remove decay heat from the reactor core during normal shutdown operations and in the event of an accident. Because the RHR system is safety-related, technical specifications are applied to the system to specify the limiting conditions the systems must meet in order for the plant to legally keep the air conditioning running in our homes. (I refer to this state of powering our homes as being “at power.” Is it hot in here?)

The RHR system can be inspected, tested, and worked on while the plant is at power because the RHR does not need to operate in order to make power. Per the plant’s Technical Specifications, in order for the plant to produce power to charge my greedy cell phone at least one “train” of RHR must be operable – meaning the RHR must still be able to perform it’s safety functions even if part if the system is not working or is taken down for maintenance. Because the part of the RHR that leaked was part of the system that is shared between “trains,” and the leaking crack meant that the system couldn’t meet its design code standards, the minimum conditions the plant had to meet to keep our lights on were not met and the plant operators began an orderly shutdown of the plant.

Many people don’t realize – or in the case of nuclear DIS-informers, won’t admit – that a nuclear plant is a very clean place. If you visit a nuclear plant, you’ll notice a lot of freaking noise, and shiny, clean, dry floors, clean equipment and bright lights. We don’t keep up the cleanliness to impress visitors. A clean plant is also a plant where it is easier to detect when something mechanical has failed.

Think of a used car. If you look under the hood, and there’s lots of crud and black stuff everywhere, does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy about the next 100k miles? I think not! If your car is filthy under the hood, you are much less likely to notice if something is starting to fail. (It’s pretty hard to notice miniscule ethylene glycol deposits on a leaky, black engine block.) The same logic applies to a nuclear plant. In a clean plant, little deposits of born crystal are easier to spot.

The leak was discovered during routine maintenance. Diablo Canyon plant personnel discovered boron deposits on the outside of the RHR piping (where it should never be) and knew it was not supposed to be there thanks, in part, to their plant cleanliness programs. Undoubtedly, a timeout was called to investigate why such cruddy deposits would be there. This is absolutely the right thing to do. Diablo Canyon personnel performed well by keeping the safety performance of their plant in the highest priority; and demonstrating the robust nuclear safety culture of their organization.

Politicians like Barbara Boxer (who was instrumental in delaying restart and ultimately shutting down San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) may try to turn events like this into examples of nuclear plant failures. But in doing so, she does her constituents and all of us a disservice. Events such as the event at Diablo Canyon yesterday demonstrate how serious safety is to PG&E, to Diablo Canyon staff and to the nuclear industry.

Diablo Canyon personnel shut the plant down. Now they’ll repair the leak, study it’s root cause (how the leak happened), bring the plant back online (Turn the ac on, it’s hot in here!) and share their findings with the rest of the nuclear industry so that we can learn from it and prevent it happening again.

Keep up the good work guys.