About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

taking it personally

Oh, the nuclear power industry. We tried scrubbing, we tried soaking, and still we have ring around the collar. The interesting thing from a risk management standpoint is that the old-fangled coal and gas plants kill people bit by bit from their emissions and the costs of getting the coal or the gas out of the ground. Over the course of 20 years, do we lose more people 22 in this coal mine disaster and another 6 there vs. how many might die from radiation exposure as a result of the Japanese disasters? It's impossible to tally all that up, especially when you add in the externalities of emissions, etc. But we do know that these occasional nuclear power disasters are very big and very noticeable and very disastrous. Hence, there is a perfectly good argument to make that nuclear is still an important and necessary part of our energy portfolio moving forward. I don't want to be the person who tries to make that argument with a straight face, even though it is there and legitimately made.

Libya. Idealistically yes please let's get rid of Qadaffi. However, the US doesn't have a good national security interest to make that happen. He does a perfectly good job of pumping the oil. In recent years (recent, we can't forget things like Lockerbie which are hardly ancient history but also not yesterday) he hasn't been an active exporter of violence that we know of. One of the only nuclear-trending regimes to give it up, in fact. No guarantee that the people who replace him will be better than he is, we've seen that tribal enmities in Africa don't die easily and that yesterday's savior (Mugabe) is tomorrow's disaster. It may not seem like the right thing to do, but as much as the US can sit this one right out we're likely better off to do so. Situation in Egypt was very different, in no small part because Egypt is essentially a 51st state, hugely dependent on the billions of dollars we give in aid. And it was also a little more abundantly clear there that Mubarak was going to go one way or the other in the near future, so getting it done better was in many more ways than in Libya a genuine need for American policy makers. It's very nice that the Arab League would support us in getting rid of Qadaffi, and I'm still not convinced we should rush to take them up on that invitation.

China. They're keeping the lid on the unrest, but they still run the risk of repeating the Soviet path. Why? Because they have to spend so much time, money, energy on protecting the regime that can be used for other things, and over time it gets to be very difficult to absorb those costs.

TSA. Which we don't seem to learn in the United States. We happily spend countless millions of dollars and lose enormous amounts of human time and energy and effort in order to fight -- well, who? what? Yes, the US will be victimized by another successful terrorist attack, sure as the sun will rise. But how many lives have been lost in the US due to terrorist attacks in the past nine years now and counting? Yet we give up our rights and our privacy and our freedom to guard against, and if the TSA has its way as it almost certainly will they want to make it less enjoyable to travel by train or by highway as well in the name of fighting this threat. On my most recent flight, I had a suspicious banana in my backpack, so I had to stand around for a few minutes and watch while my tax dollars paid for man to delicately paw through all the pockets on my backpack to retrieve a banana and then put the bag back thru the magnetometer. It's almost funny, except that it's really very very sad.

Liberty. But the right wing libertarians are more concerned about the government encroaching on their right to burn wasteful incandescent light bulbs. Why can't more of these people join me in the fight against unreasonable search and seizure, making the US more like the communist states we spent 50 years necessarily fighting where you had to have your papers to move about the country? Please. The incandescent light bulb is an ancient technology that turns electricity into more heat than light. Try and feel up one of those bulbs with your bare hands. There should be reasonable limits to the kind of nannying the state will indulge on our behalf, I think the argument that the health care mandate will lead to mandatory consumption of broccoli is, as straw man slippery slope arguments go, one of the more intriguing ones to puzzle over as a thought exercise. But I cannot see the defense of the incandescent light bulb as the last bastion of liberty. This is the exact kind of area where government regulation serves a powerful public good, keeping us from doing something that is cheaper to the individual and costlier to society. We are surrounded by examples of such. Flammable PJs might be cheaper to manufacture, but we aren't given that option. We survived the banning of CFCs in refrigerators. Please, pretty please, will you attack the TSA monstrosity instead of the compact fluorescent light bulb?

Building Codes. In fact these are a very good example of an area where good government regulation keeps us from things we might like to do or would find cheaper to do but which in the long term aren't such a good idea. Just like banning incandescent light bulbs!


CNHolmberg said...

Very good points, especially on nuclear power and the TSA. It gets a little ridiculous sometimes.

James Aach said...

Re: Your nuclear comments.

Wow, you made some really good connections there in just one paragraph on risk vs. reward vs. time in the energy biz. That's more than most commentators manage to do over a career on this issue. I can appreciate that, having followed the topic closely and also having written about it. (So I think the "wow" I started out with has some basis in fact.)

The current Japanese event is a very sad thing. I've worked in the US nuclear industry for 25 years. My novel "Rad Decision" happens to culminate in an event very similar to the Fukushima tragedy. Same reactor type, same initial problem - it's known as a station blackout with scram.

"Rad Decision" is an excellent source of perspective for the lay person -- as I've been hearing from readers for some time. The novel has been kicking around the internet for awhile, and it's currently available free online at RadDecision.blogspot.com
(Reader reviews are in the homepage comments.)

I believe there isn't a perfect energy solution - just options - each with their good and bad points. I think we'll make better choices about our future if we first understand our energy present. We could go with wind power or geothermal or squirrels on treadmills. As long as we know what we're getting into.

Sorry to read your submissions are currently closed. You seem to have a good feel for this topic, and I think I've got something to offer on it that needs the kind of outreach a mainstream publisher can provide.

Keep thinking.

James Aach


"I'd like to see Rad Decision widely read" - STEWART BRAND, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog.

“I got to about page four and I was hooked, I couldn’t put it down… It was very easy to read, the characters were well described, and they were vibrant.” - DAVID LEVY, noted science author and comet discoverer.

"...a gripping thriller..." - MARK STEVENSON, in the acknowledgements of "An Optimist's Tour of the Future"

POSTED LAST WEEK. Vicky said...

"Thanks for making this available online. I saw your link in a comment about the Japan earthquake/tsunami March/2011. Your novel explains the workings of a nuclear plant, so that a layperson can understand. A very suspenseful read!"