Monthly Archives: April, 2011

The Buddha on Religion

If you find yourself in the middle of a rushing river, going down for the third time, and you reach out desperately and find a raft, you better climb on it.

And you can climb on that raft, and find your way to dry land. That raft saved your life.

Will you put it on your back, and carry it forever?

Easter

Plan for today– a little work, a little church and a lot of family time.

It’s wet outside, but looks likely to clear up and the trees are blooming, flowers are growing, Spring is finally making herself felt in soggy Southern New England.

Easter, Passover, Cambodian Year of the Rabbit– it’s party time.

Holy Saturday

Driving through Olneyville I saw a woman draping purple silk over a large wooden cross she had put up in front of her triple-decker. She had a folding table with flowers on it. I won’t be driving back there to see how she completed her temporary shrine, but what she had started was quite beautiful.

This is a day of contemplation for Catholics and many other Christians.

Good Friday

Some time ago a traveling preacher walked from town to town speaking to anyone who would listen about God and scripture and sin and salvation. He was one of many street preachers, but his words found a place in the hearts of the poor and the outcast. Soon crowds gathered wherever he appeared.

He renounced violence, but he lived in violent times. Segregation and discrimination oppressed his people, and the greater society saw them as troublemakers, if not terrorists. He had more than a few close calls, including a near-lynching, before his arrest.

His trial was fixed. Church and State had decided he needed to be gotten out of the way. The Church tried to murder his reputation and the State applied its most brutal method of execution to deter any would-be followers who might want to make him a cause.

Human nature being what it is, he still comes back and speaks his truth. He still dodges assassins, he endures a show trial, he sits in a cell, he dies. A just world where the good and innocent are not made to suffer is not the world we live in. Between noon and 3pm today many people will take time to reflect on this.

News Containment Effort Fails

I’m not a nuclear expert, and far from unbiased. I can’t silence anyone with tech talk or claim to be objective. I do have a bachelors in science and am fairly good at reading between the lines and noting what is not said. I’ve also worked in various jobs and see the same human dynamics in all of them– human error, corner-cutting, and shortsightedness. All these factors combined to make the Fukushima nuclear disaster much more damaging than the natural disaster dictated. Safety systems turned out to be poorly designed and the corporate response was disrespectful of the workers who bravely continue to work in the plant and the public who needed honest answers.

I hope that the six to nine month timeline for getting the nuclear reaction under control will be met. Japan and the world don’t need any more radioactive pollution. The new talking point is that radioactive pollution is no big deal (actually an old talking point with the industry), but as long as the story gets out events will prove that this disaster is really as bad as Chernobyl.

Here is the latest– low-level radiation over time is deadly, and the evacuation zone will be enforced. Residents allowed in will wear protective gear and undergo decontamination.

Almost six weeks after a devastating earthquake and tsunami sparked Japan’s worst-ever nuclear crisis, the country’s government is stepping up restrictions on the movement of people near the Fukushima Daiichi plant. From Friday, police will have the power to detain anyone with a 20-kilometer radius around the plant.

When the government first urged residents living near the plant to evacuate, a day after the March 11 disaster, few realized they would be gone for so long. Many fled unprepared for months away from home.

Rather than the anticipated sudden and large release of radiation, the Fukushima Daiichi plant has continued to emit harmful particles for weeks, albeit at lower levels.

The plant operator expects it will take up to nine months to bring the reactors under control, so the emissions could continue for some time.

Faced with the lower levels of radiation and a need to collect personal belongings, some residents have been making trips back.

Journalists have also been venturing into the area and their images of abandoned pets have sent some animal charities in.

The government has lacked the ability to enforce the evacuation order, but that is changing.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano announced the new policy.

Edano says the government is declaring the area off-limits under the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Law. It gives the police the power to detain anyone entering the zone for up to 30 days and imposes a fine of up $1,200.

In a concession to residents, the government will organize buses so that people can visit their houses. One family member will be allowed to travel in; they will have to wear a protective suit, and go through decontamination when they leave.

Each visit, of which several might be permitted, will last about two hours

So Many Opinions, So Little Time

Lots of running around with NPR 1290 on the radio– not so much paying work. I’ve got to do something about that, but I love what I’m doing. The more I learn about navigating the tangled mess of the various insurances– fiendishly complicated codes and requirements invented by bored office workers who wish they were nurses and want to punish us for having a fun job– the more material I will have for my novel. Whenever I get an idea for one and have time to take another writing class. Maybe I’ll stick to short stories.

I have been watching the Fukushima disaster, and want to write more about that, but locally a lot is happening. The Providence Police did fine work in getting the evidence for a conviction in a human trafficking case. ‘Closing the loophole’ will not accomplish this without political will and a real mission to stop trafficking, but so far, so good.

I have the front page of The Journal from a few days ago, with a picture of the Tea Party rally attended by, among others, a row of citizens in wheelchairs. Since my livelihood is serving the needs of the elderly and disabled, using gummint money, I’m wondering what direction they want for our health care system.

Nationally, the Ryan plan to replace Medicare with vouchers sounds a little like a Bush-era system where the government-funded student loan program was infested with middlemen who skimmed money and charged huge interest rates on young people just out of school. That was reformed, so more of the money goes to students. Inviting middlemen to profit from insuring elders sounds great for business, so I expect the billionaire base to come out in support. Gummint bad. Privatization good. That settles it.

Finally, the Liberty Elm is selling a lemon zest coffee cake that is very good grilled. The Cranston Urban Pond Procession is being planned to march again this year. And it’s not really that cold out today.

Bad Nurse

I’m watching ‘Nurse Jackie’ on DVD and enjoying it very much. As fiction.

Like any good soap opera, the show is all high drama and lots of quiet moments where characters bare their souls. Not like a real emergency room (and I have worked in one) where it’s more like McDonald’s at rush hour, or else you’re cleaning out the cabinets and checking inventory.

Dr. Rahul Parikh, a pediatrician, noticed a departure from reality and common sense when Jackie persuaded Dr.Coop to order a CT Scan on a child for no particular reason.

According to the study, published online in the journal Radiology, the number of CT scans performed on kids in the emergency room increased a whopping five-fold between 1995-2008, from about 330,000 to almost 1.7 million a year.

And that’s a problem, because CTs expose children to higher levels of ionizing radiation than any medical procedure, raising the risk — ever so slightly but very clearly — that some of those kids will develop cancer in their lifetimes. Here’s how one pediatric surgeon put it: “CT scans are like mini-Hiroshima bombs, four such scans on a kid are equivalent to the radiation exposure that the survivors were subjected to in 1945.”

Two serious and real-life problems with medicine today are unnecessary tests and accumulated radiation. There is ongoing research about the adverse effects of too many scans over a lifetime.

Medicare and most insurances won’t pay for any tests that can’t be justified. Good thing, because there’s pressure not to miss a diagnosis, and without some push-back some doctors would just test for everything, all the time.

A few years ago, for-profit businesses were peddling full-body CT Scans on a cash basis. I’ve written before why this is a terrible idea, and the fad seems to have passed. I thought then that the radiation exposure was not justified and might be something to regret later on. It looks like researchers are beginning to consider that possibility.

Another reason why ‘no immediate risk’ is not the same thing as ‘safe’.

Read the rest of Dr. Parikh’s article, and you’ll feel a lot less comfortable about the harmlessness of ‘a little’ radiation exposure.

And ‘Nurse Jackie’ rocks, but Edie Falco is not a nurse, she just plays one on TV.

Chernobyl Not Over Yet

This article from Bloomberg.com deals with the financial fallout from the Chernobyl disaster…

Chernobyl Leak Forces Ukraine to Seek $1 Billion After 25 Years
By James M. Gomez and Daryna Krasnolutska – Apr 17, 2011 5:01 PM ET
Ukraine is seeking $1 billion to seal Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, and concern is mounting the accident at Fukushima in Japan and a growing debt crisis may make it harder to raise the money.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych will host a conference starting tomorrow in Kiev to get funding for a new containment shelter 25 years after Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor exploded. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and European Commission President Jose Barroso, who arrives today, also will urge states to contribute as a venture involving France’s Vinci SA (DG) and Bouygues SA (EN) begins work on the foundations.

Japan’s battle to contain four damaged reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant has reignited the debate about Chernobyl, whose makeshift shelter has five years left in its lifespan and still leaks radiation. The Ukrainian government warned aid may fall short as governments cut spending and balk at a fund-raising effort that has been going on since 1997.

Here in America, we have looming expenses of decommissioning worn out nuclear plants and finding a safe place to store the waste. Twenty five years is not a very long time when dealing with radioactive elements that remain deadly for thousands of years. Still, it’s hard to bear the truth that we will pay for today’s electricity long after the power plants are closed.

Cheap Labor in the Hot Zone

Alternet posts this article from the site WhoWhatWhy.com The author, Russ Baker, cites a 1999 article from the Los Angeles Times exposing the unconscionable use of low-wage workers as a human resource to do the dirty and dangerous maintenance work that keeps nuclear power cheap.

Kunio Murai was a struggling farmer from the wrong side of the tracks when he was recruited to work as a day laborer in a nuclear power plant near this farm town. The pay was triple what he could make anywhere else, and he was told that the work would be janitorial.

One day in 1970, he and a co-worker were ordered into a room to mop up a leak of radioactive cooling water. They wore ordinary rubber gloves, but no masks or additional protection. Murai recalls wrapping a cleaning cloth around a pipe that was spewing steam. They worked for two hours, and afterward the needle on Murai’s radiation meter pointed off the scale.

“I thought it was broken,” Murai said. It wasn’t. Within six months, he said, his joints swelled painfully and his teeth and hair fell out.

Murai is one of tens of thousands of people who have worked over the years as subcontractors in Japanese nuclear power plants, doing the dirty, difficult and potentially dangerous jobs shunned by regular employees.

In the wake of Japan’s worst nuclear accident, a nuclear fission reaction Sept. 30 [1999] at a uranium processing plant in Tokaimura, ugly allegations have surfaced of labor abuses, lackadaisical attitudes toward safety, inadequate worker training and lax enforcement by regulators in the country’s nuclear industry.

Workers at the JCO Co. plant in Tokaimura, about 80 miles northeast of Tokyo, were mixing uranium by hand in stainless steel buckets to save time. The ensuing nuclear reaction exposed as many as 150 people to radiation, according to the final report issued this month by Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission. One worker died from a lethal dose of radiation, and another remains hospitalized.

As Russ Baker notes, this quote from the LA Times calls the accident in 1999 ‘the worst’. The accident has all the elements– expedience, exploitation of workers and neglect of safety– that took the life of Robert Peabody fifty years ago in Rhode Island. In fact, it is the same type of accident, a critical reaction caused by unwarned workers, leading to severe radiation exposure.

The proponents of nuclear power cite multiple safety systems, and the necessity for these systems is a measure of how potentially deadly the technology is– as we see today in Fukushima.

After Chernobyl, Russians who lived in the vicinity of the disaster were prey to panic and despair. They had not been honestly informed by the authorities, and had no way to measure the risk to themselves and their families. Substance abuse, abortion and even suicide followed. The people of Japan, whose suffering is so great, deserve an honest assessment of the damage. Measuring the effects of the accident on the population will require years of tracking a cohort of millions, and that is assuming that there is political will to obtain that information. The cancer statistics from Chernobyl and from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suggest that the increase in cancer risk is real, but so variable and affected by other factors that it takes groups of hundreds of thousands to measure. There’s reason to be optimistic that most individuals who live in the track of the radiation release will not personally suffer health effects.

And of course, there’s no immediate risk.

In our fifteen-minute news cycle the nuclear industry just has to hope nothing more blows up. As in the case of the top scientists who assured the public that the tobacco industry would never put an unsafe product on the market, the nuclear industry is keeping a narrow focus on the health effects so far. Hey, it’s not as bad as Chernobyl– that’s the new safety standard.

Reading about the heroic efforts of workers at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, I wondered why top scientists, trusted authorities, and people much smarter than me, could get workers into the most dangerous areas, but not bring in food, blankets or protective equipment for them. Even in this dire emergency there are priorities. Perhaps you’ve read about the Fukushima Fifty, who expect to give their lives, now or later, to save the public.

A complete and honest accounting will reveal that the nuclear industry, like all human enterprises, is subject to human error, expediency, shortsightedness and corner-cutting. There have been accidents and near-misses since the beginning. Human nature is not something we can change. We have no business creating radioactive hazards that will last for thousands of years, or putting cities in harm’s way. And this, for lack of will and imagination to find better answers.

Documentary on the Astroturf Tea Party

Watching this documentary makes me very sad for all the people who have been sucked into the right-wing astroturf propaganda machines that are driving the tea party movement.

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