Pocket change

Josh Marshall links to this article on Sen. Clinton's health care proposals, summarizing the news this way: "Edwards campaign accuses Hillary of swiping his health care proposals."

Apart from the specifics of this particular instance, I've always wondered why candidates in the primaries didn't do more of this kind of "swiping." For example, Matthew Yglesias suggests that there's a lot to like in Gov. Bill Richardson's energy proposals. If Richardson's campaign never makes it past Ultra-Super-Bionic-Tuesday (or whatever the new, earlier-than-ever, mega-primary day is called) why should it have to mean that his ideas on energy policy are also left behind?

A bit of policy syncretism can be a good thing.

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How dumb do you have to be to believe, simultaneously, that: A) the Iranian government is the greatest threat to national, and international security; and B) the Iranian government's intelligence apparatus is far less competent than ABC News?

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Pharoute linked to this in comments: "The monumental task of warning future generations."

The monumental challenge is to address how warnings can be coherently conveyed for thousands of years into the future when human society and languages could change radically.

See also:

• "EPA Expected to Issue Million-Year-Long Regulation," from NPR

• "This Place Is Not a Place of Honor"

• "Danger! Do NOT Dig Here"

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Things I don't understand, Part MCXVI

Why would a state or local government lease a highway to a private operator?

Either the thing operates at a loss, in which case no sensible private operator would want to deal with it, or the thing is profitable, in which case leasing it out doesn't seem like a smart move.

Am I missing something? Or is the current enthusiasm for leasing out public infrastructure nothing more than the sleight-of-hand budgetary trick it appears to be?

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Matt also links to this April 1962 Atlantic Monthly article warning against the dangers of "Jukebox Piracy."

This reminded me of a recent installment of Little Steven's Underground Garage (warning: sound), in which he read excerpts from Gary Marmorstein' book The Label: The Story of Columbia Records. Part of Columbia's early success was due to its embrace of radio — which other labels feared would undermine record sales. After all, why would people buy their records when they could hear them for free on the radio? So while the other labels worked to keep their records out of the hands of radio DJs, Columbia started sending them records for free. Hmmm.

One of Little Steven's current heavy-rotation faves on the Garage is the new album from Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las. Weiss was 16 when "Leader of the Pack" hit No. 1 in 1964. Now it's 2007 and she's got a new record out and it rocks. Pretty cool.

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Via Carl at FoolBlog I learn that New York City's recent ban on aluminum bats didn't include funding for wooden bats to replace them. I second Carl's take on this: "Time for MLB and/or Louisville Slugger to step up."

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Not long after posting this — about the call by some Southern Baptists to pull all their children out of the public school system — I heard this NPR report from New Orleans:

Teacher Dorothy Riley is supposed to be retired, but she came back to teach kindergartners at Drew Elementary School in New Orleans' Ninth Ward.

"I felt as though if a child ever needed a teacher, it was after Katrina," Riley says. Riley lived with her mother in Lafayette after the hurricane, but she says she felt she had to return to New Orleans.

"I don't think it was my decision. I think it was a decision from the Lord to go down and touch somebody and bring these children up," she says.

Dorothy Riley's notion that teaching in public schools can be a kind of calling and a service to others is probably incomprehensible to the me-mine-ours moguls of the SBC and the religious right.

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Kevin Drum and Tamara Draut explain that it's not just me. Most people aren't as financially secure as their parents were.

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More evidence that the World's Worst Books are dangerous:

• Grist examines a poll on global warming and finds that 4 percent of Americans believe that climate change is due to "the coming end of the world or biblical prophecy."

• Will Bunch notes that "The No. 2 book on Amazon right now is a 'Christian' plea for attacking Iran." That would be The Final Move Beyond Iraq, by Mike Evans. Amazon says that people who bought this book also liked Evans' book, The American Prophecies: Ancient Scriptures Reveal Our Nation's Future.

  • the opoponax

    ok, look, if People In The Future want to believe in curses and all that stuff, that’s their problem. i mean, think of all the millenia we thought that magnets were the really cool parlor trick of the gods.
    though i’m gonna reiterate — maybe we have no business burying crateloads of toxic nuke-ya-ler waste underground out in Nevada…

  • KnigtHawk

    *sigh*
    I like how everyone tackled the purly acedemic problem of the toxic waste warning, while the article stating that this genertion isn’t as financially secure as the previous (a statment that directly describes my own experience) was ignored utterly, despite having a direct bearing on our own and our children’s lives.
    Love. Peace. Metallica.

  • Nick Lamb

    Just as “Go back in time to 2003 and prevent the invasion of Iraq” isn’t a useful answer to the question “How can we ensure a lasting peace in Iraq?”, so “Go back in time to the 1940s and terminate research on nuclear power and weapons” isn’t a useful answer to the question “How do we store our most dangerous radioactive waste?”
    Lots of this dangerous material is already being stored, in temporary facilities built over the past decades, awaiting the long hoped-for construction of a permanent depository. Wishing it away won’t make it stop existing. Indeed it won’t even stop production, unless you’re enthusiastic about either digging up and burning a lot more fossil fuels (with the inevitable accompanying increase of CO2 emissions) or wholesale reductions in energy use (e.g. power rationing, $10 per kWh tariffs)
    The choices presently available aren’t…
    A. bury crateloads of toxic nuke-ya-ler waste underground in Nevada
    vs B. hug a tree and sing the ‘I Love You’ song with Barney
    instead they’re closer to…
    A. bury crateloads of toxic nuke-ya-ler waste underground in Nevada
    vs B. leave crateloads of toxic nuke-ya-ler waste in dozens or hundreds of smaller temporary facilities until something so terrible happens that we change our minds and choose option A.

  • Kevin

    @KnightHawk
    You might also notice that people aren’t wearing enough hats.

  • 85% Duane

    ..sticking to the principles of the unofficial Internet motto “Welcome to the Internet where everyone knows everything and nobody likes anything”.
    Is there a name for this phenomenen like Godwin’s Law or Occam’s Razor or something? If not, can we name it?
    Sorry for the late response but I’ve been on vacation.

  • Dean Booth

    How a warning can be coherently conveyed for thousands of years: 1) Write it in Chinese and 2) Include the URL of a web site containing detailed information.

  • BustyBoots

    I don’t want to wait till the end of Summer :( , I want it now. Who with me?
    save your time and join me. ;)

  • X

    My proposal is along the lines of the ‘graceful failure’ suggestion: Make sure that if it IS opened it’s not that hard to reseal back up again. I mean, let’s say some future archaeologist cat is overcome by curiosity, and decides that darn it, it’s whip and fedora time, they’re going IN. Said archaeologist is likely to quickly become a wonderfully inanimate non-semiotically-complex clue that maybe the signs weren’t about crazy angry Gods after all – or at the very least, that the angry Gods are really best left at home alone with the door shut.
    The only major problem would be if they decided to drop an enormous bomb down there or something, that would squirt all the crap up into the atmosphere. And even then, it’d have to be a pretty fricking big bomb, and yet not such a big nuke that it would melt the rock and seal it’s contaminated gases in again (which is apparently what happens with the really big underground explosions – that this didn’t happen in N. Korea is partly how they could tell their bomb was a fizzle and/or not that great).

  • X

    My proposal is along the lines of the ‘graceful failure’ suggestion: Make sure that if it IS opened it’s not that hard to reseal back up again. I mean, let’s say some future archaeologist cat is overcome by curiosity, and decides that darn it, it’s whip and fedora time, they’re going IN. Said archaeologist is likely to quickly become a wonderfully inanimate non-semiotically-complex clue that maybe the signs weren’t about crazy angry Gods after all – or at the very least, that the angry Gods are really best left at home alone with the door shut.
    The only major problem would be if they decided to drop an enormous bomb down there or something, that would squirt all the crap up into the atmosphere. And even then, it’d have to be a pretty fricking big bomb, and yet not such a big nuke that it would melt the rock and seal it’s contaminated gases in again (which is apparently what happens with the really big underground explosions – that this didn’t happen in N. Korea is partly how they could tell their bomb was a fizzle and/or not that great).

  • Mark Foxwell

    David and all others on the WIPP/radioisotopes tomb thread:
    Thanks David for the “Ten Thousand Years of Solitude” link first of all; that was indeed interesting.
    I want to point out what Ursula L came closest to saying, remarking that future people will be motivated to dig up “bad mojo” for purposes of inflicting it on their enemies.
    The possibility that someone would _deliberately_ unearth this stuff precisely because it is dangerous is one that Benford et al considered only to declare out of bounds of discussion:
    Under section 2, “Basis for Selecting Scenarios”
    “2. Only accidental intrusions are to be considered. That is, war, sabotage, terrorism, and similar activities are not to be addressed.”–p. 3
    The reasons for leaving these possibilities out of this study are obvious.
    But I humbly submit–in any serious consideration of the overall liabilities of nuclear power as we envision it for the foreseeable future (including possible breakthroughs in practical fusion power, as the fusion processes which forecasters think have any serious likelihood of being developed will produce a great deal of energetic neutrons as a major power stream, which would be most economically used to breed low-grade fissionable metals into plutonium or high-grade uranium, and will in any case produce low-grade bombardment isotope products in alternative shielding/thermal capture materials that might be chosen as a less risky though far less efficient alternative) by far the most likely scenario for release of dangerous radioactives into the ecosystem would be just such deliberate use of them as poison weaponry.
    If at some point in the future it becomes feasible to use some or most or all of the byproduct “wastes” in some productive way, well and good, but it hardly seems necessary to this hypothetical future economy to synthesize these products now, and leave them sitting around as waste until that date. Better, it seems to me, to wait, leaving the parent ores in the ground, and then if some of the current “wastes” are best obtained by running some kind of fission or fusion plant, to do it then, taking the power generated as a valuable side-benefit.
    If on the other hand we never find such uses (and we wouldn’t be calling all these products “wastes” now if we could identify uses today) but we absolutely need to produce them, then the liability of the nuclear power process must include the threat the wastes pose, and that estimate absolutely must envision the likelihood that someone or other at some time in the future will see them as useful weapons.
    As long as a high-tech USA or successor state controls the disposal site, presumeably that political entity won’t value the isotopes for that purpose, since we already have more effective weapons. But over the long haul the study envisions, we have to consider the likelihood that there will be a general deterioration of technical ability. As soon as whatever regime controlling the disposal sites loses the ability to make fission bombs, more effective poison gases, etc, then the wastes will beckon as a stockpile of effective poisons.
    Meanwhile there are “terrorists” of every description to consider, and this is a problem from the moment the stuff is synthesized. As soon as the materials are created there is the possibility that some clique with access to plant and disposal sites will subversively steal or hijack the stuff, either for some use of their own faction or to sell for mercenary reasons (including being blackmailed) to third parties; or that hostile parties will infiltrate the organization somehow again for either direct or mercenary reasons, or that hostiles will forcibly take temporary control for purposes of either stealing, or (if all else fails, as someone above alluded to by suggesting someone might blast the site somehow) to release it on the spot.
    Given the current social situation all over the world, these are hardly unlikely situations, especially when we take a 10,000 year time span.
    During the time the materials are dangerous to any degree, their nature being known _to any degree, however vague_, we run these risks. Suppose for instance there is a general collapse of technological society, which cannot re-establish itself due to the massive depletion of primary resources our current global economy has already accomplished. It seems most unlikely, given the tremendous dissemination of general technical knowledge around the world into just about every society, no matter how marginal in technical terms they are, that the general knowledge that there is such a thing as radioactivity and that radioactives are generally quite poisonous to ingest or even have in the general vicinity, would vanish completely. Perhaps we would have only straggling bands of the most primitive technical level surviving and in the general devastation we can expect in such a breakdown, unable to even establish Classical-Era population and technical levels. But if they have militarized, domination-oriented societies, they will have enough surplus to maintain some kind of lore, and surely they will have some memory of nuclear weapons. So such a gang of thugs would value a nuclear waste storage dump, and manage to dig down to it, by hand if necessary, and if this kills slaves or heroic volunteers, such is the will of the war gods and their glory.
    It seems more likely that at least small fractions of higher technology would be kept going for the benefit at least of elites, which would only make the threat to life on Earth in general that much greater.
    I think it is very good-spirited to attempt to warn off our descendents, if any, from inadvertent danger. But it is ridiculous to leave it up to their good judgement and consciences not to deliberately use the stuff just as poison, and multiply so to set aside the issue of much sooner descendents, and our own generation, to attempt this as well. The latter danger is so much greater than the danger of innocent blunders that the whole effort seems pathetic, especially when we consider that in piously warning off our more good-natured successors, we are announcing plainly to anyone with a harsher disposition just what weapons we have prepared for them, and where to find them, and even leave tips as to how to handle them.
    If we have to make this stuff, we have to either accept that sooner or later it will be released and do the worst damage it can, or that we have to provide somehow for keeping it permanantly unavailable, on a time scale of millenia.
    It strikes me as a powerful argument against committing to nuclear fission power, and even to refrain from foreseeable modes of fusion, if we can possibly develop any alternatives. Considering the great cost of making nuclear power even _appear_ to be economically viable, I find it very hard to believe that comparable investment in known alternatives, such as solar power and its variants (wind, ocean thermal, etc) won’t yield adequate results, especially if we attempt to estimate the true costs of nuclear development on a global scale. It is fine and good to develop nuclear research, I guess, though that has been costly enough and obviously risky. Perhaps someday we can make cleaner nuke plants or use up the byproducts quickly, thus minimizing the security risk.
    Even then, though, thus far nuclear power has I think run in the red economically speaking. The only reason that nuclear power seems profitable is that it is a way of recovering some of the huge investments nations make in nuclear _weapons_ programs. When you seek to make weapons-grade fissionables, you necessarily process far more ore that cannot be brought up to that level, but can be fissioned for power. Vice versa, a nuclear power program makes nuclear weaponry (including dirty bombs made from otherwise useless “wastes” of all kinds) much easier to obtain, unless some authority is watching all the detailed processes very carefully to prevent just such diversions.
    I suspect that if we somehow banned nuclear weaponry of all kinds effectively (or if say, Star-Trek like aliens such as the Organians came and imposed this restriction on us) all pretense that nuclear power is at all profitable, even ignoring the risk liabilities as our own programs here in the USA do for instance by legislative decree, would vanish. It will always be appropriate for niche purposes (such as powering submarines for instance, or advanced spacecraft venturing far from the Sun) but the notion of running the world on it would be laughable, compared to known alternatives that don’t pose those risks.
    I have hope that we can get past our current dominator-stage societies and develop societies that don’t rely on the principle of general, institutional terrorism, to organize themselves, and if that happens then perhaps we can rely on the future goodwill of our descendents not to deliberatly spread radioactive wastes in their quarrels. But until such a general social revolution, shifting the balance of power to people committed to deterring and defusing violence as such, the only smart thing to assume is that in the long run, people will do their worst eventually.

  • Melkor

    “Considering the great cost of making nuclear power even _appear_ to be economically viable, I find it very hard to believe that comparable investment in known alternatives, such as solar power and its variants (wind, ocean thermal, etc) won’t yield adequate results, especially if we attempt to estimate the true costs of nuclear development on a global scale”
    “Even then, though, thus far nuclear power has I think run in the red economically speaking.”
    Hmm. Tell that to the french who currently get some 75-80% of their electricity from nuclear power. Of course there’s issues with this but it’s not helpful to overlook the french counterexample to your assertions in this debate.


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