Fearful schmucks

As usual, P. J. O’Rourke anticipated the present. From Republican Party Reptile, 1987:

Something is happening to America, not something dangerous but something all too safe. I see it in my lifelong friends. I am a child of the “baby boom”, a generation not known for its sane or cautious approach to things. Yet suddenly my peers are giving up drinking, giving up smoking, cutting down on coffee, sugar, and salt. They will not eat red meat and go now to restaurants whose menus have caused me to stand on a chair yelling, “Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, dinner is served!” This from the generation of LSD, Weather Underground, and Altamont Rock Festival! And all in the name of safety! Our nation has withstood many divisions — North and South, black and white, labor and management — but I do not know if the country can survive division into smoking and non-smoking sections.

The Big Scary Thing this week is nuclear power, the generation of which was interrupted in Japan by, oh, let’s call it the result of one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history. Two questions come immediately to mind, and fortunately for me and my indolence, they’ve already been asked. First, by Francis W. Porretto:

No one could build a reactor guaranteed to withstand any imaginable calamity, because such calamities are unbounded in magnitude. A significant meteorite impact — say, a nickel-iron rock 10 to 50 meters in diameter — would collapse the containment around any reactor and disperse the fissionables into the atmosphere. It would do even worse to a fossil-fueled power plant. Shall we, then, eschew electrical power generation altogether?

And the other, by Tam:

Remember back in ’50s and early ’60s, when we set off something like 900 atomic bombs in Nevada? And how we just let the fallout blow wherever and it landed all over the eastern US? And how it wiped out life as we know it and all that was left from Colorado to the Atlantic were six-legged rats battling two-headed cockroaches in the glowing ruins?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a banana, a good source of potassium — and, inevitably, a good source of potassium-40. For now, I offer this reminder: The only place on earth where you can’t be hurt is the graveyard. And don’t worry: you’ll get there soon enough.


  1. Little Nell »

    17 March 2011 · 10:38 pm

    | six-legged rats battling two-headed cockroaches in the glowing ruins

    I didn’t know the US Capitol glowed.

  2. Finestkind Clinic and fish market »

    19 March 2011 · 11:44 am

    Stuff below the fold…

    PJ O’Rourke on the Boomers, who used every chemical known to mankind and now are super worried over health issues for fear of harming their bodies…

  3. canadienne »

    20 March 2011 · 3:17 pm

    Have to point out that the problem with radiation is that it does not go away quickly, and the effect of the nuclear tests as well as the Chernobyl explosion has not been mutant rats, but a fairly well documented increase in the rate of cancer, which I think anyone would have to agree is a fairly scary thing.

  4. CGHill »

    20 March 2011 · 3:29 pm

    I look at it this way: everything on earth is now presumed to be a risk factor. I read something this past week about how some humongous percentage of common everyday drugs increases the risk of memory loss, or worse, as we get older. I’m not keen on memory loss either, but I’m making a point of tuning out any and all references to “premature death,” since you can’t find anyone between here and Novosibirsk who has no risk factors whatsoever.

    We can run all we want. We’ve never been able to hide, and we’re not going to be able to start now.

  5. canadienne »

    20 March 2011 · 5:10 pm

    I’m not suggesting that we can eliminate all risks – I know that when I step on a plane, it’s a risk, which I’m willing to take because it’s the only practical way to get off this continent. When I drive across town, it’s an even bigger risk because driving is statistically more likely to kill me than commercial flight. I know that we can’t know all the risk factors. There might be a terrorist on the plane, or some erratic drunk on the freeway. But I don’t see anything wrong with researching and evaluating the hazards as much as possible and adjusting behaviour accordingly. Surely there’s got to be some middle ground between hysteria and total disregard.

    I know we can’t get by without some nuclear power, but I would like to suggest that we recognize that radiation is bad, and take all possible precautions when siting, designing and building power plants.

  6. canadienne »

    20 March 2011 · 5:30 pm

    also, a nice radiation dose graphic:

  7. CGHill »

    20 March 2011 · 5:41 pm

    Saw that xkcd comic earlier today; very spiffy. (Probably should have thrown in the link myself, in fact.)

    But there’s a difference between “every possible precaution” and “every precaution possible.” You can plan for worst-case scenarios within the projected lifespan of the facility, but as a rule, we’re not especially good at imagining how much worse things can get, or how quickly. (On a smaller scale, we were sort of able to deal with the worst snowstorm in 100 years, back in December ’09; but nobody could have anticipated that we’d get a worse one within fourteen months.)

    So I’m not proposing we throw caution to the wind or anything — but I am proposing that we knock it off with the “OMG people are gonna die!” business. It does nothing for actual safety, and it spooks the public, which unfortunately is awfully damned easy to spook.

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