(This is a diary about politics, passion, anger and oh, yes, nuclear energy.)
When Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962 she was, by many accounts, exhausted. Since a youth marked by an odd mixture of profound emotional pain and priviledge, she had conducted her life in ways that would define moral courage as it had never been defined before or since. Now she was old and she was sick. She had aplastic anemia, was recovering from having been hit by a car, and the bone tuberculosis she had carried since 1919 - and was to be recorded as the cause of her death - was increasingly symptomatic. Characteristic of her passion though, her health wasn't what was really bothering her.
A man she regarded with great suspicion - that would be John F. Kennedy - was, to her great discomfort, President of the United States and, here, with the Civil Rights Movement moving inexorably to a climax - she was more or less disgusted with the equivocating (at best) response of the Federal Government that Kennedy administered. One of the last acts of Mrs. Roosevelt's political life was to organize an ad hoc group with a long winded name, the "Commission of Inquiry into the Administration of Justice in the Freedom Struggle."
Mrs. Roosevelt had been no friend to Mr. Kennedy's political ambitions. She was deeply suspicious of the close relations between Joe McCarthy - the ultimately censured Republican Senator of "Red Scare" fame - and the Kennedy family. (Robert F Kennedy Junior's godfather was Joe McCarthy: Yes, that Joe McCarthy.) Today, we may think that "hot button" votes on particular issues - like votes on authorization for the war in Iraq for instance - are a relatively new feature of our fast paced blogosphere driven political world, but this is not the case. Back in the 1950's any Democratic candidate for President could expect to have his vote on the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy rendered into something very much like today's sound bite or hit piece. There was no better way to alienate the "liberal," wing of the Democratic Party than to fail to vote for McCarthy's censure.
Only one Democratic Senator failed to vote to censure McCarthy: John F. Kennedy.
Although John Kennedy avoided the censure vote because he was hospitalized - some say the hospitalization was at least in part contrived to give Kennedy an excuse to miss the vote - Mrs. Roosevelt continued to press him on the issue, an issue which she considered a bellwether, just as, again, many Democrats today regard the Iraq war authorization vote as a bellwether. John F. Kennedy never addressed the issue of McCarthy to her satisfaction, long after the censure vote itself had become history.
Mrs. Roosevelt's distaste for John Kennedy was, however, not purely grounded in the particulars of the McCarthy matter, even though the Red Scare was a serious assault on the Constitution itself, unmatched in the 20th century, possibly matched historically only by the American Civil War and, of course, the recent assaults on the Constitution by Bush/Cheney. Mrs. Roosevelt's distaste and discomfiture with the entire Kennedy clan was personal.
Some background on the personal difficulty between Mrs. Roosevelt and the Kennedy clan:
During the Roosevelt administration, John F. Kennedy's father, Joseph Kennedy - a powerful Democratic party figure who was widely believed to exert a huge influence on, if not out right control of, what was then an important Democratic constituency, the Irish Catholic vote - had been sent by the Roosevelt administration as Ambassador to Great Britain.
The choice of Kennedy was a curious choice on many levels. First of all, many Irish-Americans of the time either were themselves or were recent descendents of those Irish oppressed by British rule of Ireland. Let's be clear, too, that it was oppressive rule, with Ireland functioning almost as a serf society serving almost malevolent British interests. Almost all of the Irish-Americans living in the United States in the twentieth century were either refugees from British rule themselves or descended from such refugees. Unsurprisingly then, Irish-American politics was almost instinctively anti-British.
Although a prominent Irish politician had previously served as the American Ambassador to the Court of Saint James - Patrick Collins had been appointed in 1892 by Grover Cleveland in part as a reward to the Irish politicians who helped restore Cleveland to the White House - it was hardly realistic to expect that even 40 years after Collins appointment, an Irish American politician to be sympathetic to British interests.
Even so, in 1938, when the appointment of Kennedy as ambassador to Britain, was made, Kennedy was popular with many elements of the British government, including Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain, many will recall, famously surrendered a country, Czechslovakia, to Nazi Germany without even soliciting the opinion of the Czechs and Slavs themselves.
Kennedy was popular with Chamberlain and his set because Kennedy was a strong advocate of the policy of appeasing Hitler. One can go even further. Joseph Kennedy was closely allied, if not overtly than at least philosophically, with what would become the powerful "America First" constituency that was mostly identified with aviator Charles Lindbergh. This group sought to keep the United States out of any British war against Nazi Germany, indeed any war against Nazism with or without the British.
I am not trying to be inflammatory here but there is considerable evidence that, in fact, this group was not only unopposed to Nazism, but cozy with Nazi ideas about approaches to government. In this circle there were many who considered Nazi government to be a success, because it provided "strong and decisive" leadership. In the 1930's many people who lived in democracies - including in the American and British democracies - thought them inefficient, wimpy and weak. To this group, a little fascism seemed a wise corrective to these perceived weaknesses. Whether Kennedy actually was an admirer of the Nazis himself is, maybe, questionable, but there is much to suggest that he was well comfortable with and connected to such people.
Any student of the times will know that well before the outbreak of hostilities, Roosevelt took the Nazi threat very seriously, even if he was severely constrained by the nature of American politics of the time, from directly addressing this threat. Like Woodrow Wilson before him - in whose administration Roosevelt had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy - Roosevelt was running, in 1940, a campaign promising to keep America out of war, even as he was privately convinced that Germany and its Nazism was a vast threat not only to the United States, but to all humanity as well. For this reason, Roosevelt (fortunately as it turned out) pursued a duplicitous policy in which he said one thing and did another. This he did without the support - or even the knowledge - of his Ambassador to Britain. Roosevelt's main purpose in appointing Kennedy Ambassador was to get him out of the country so that he would not interfere with Roosevelt's unprecedented ambition to be elected to a third term.
Not a man to be lightly marginalized, Kennedy seemed prepared to support the Republican candidate for President, in 1940, Weldon Wilkie. In 1940, with the US already extending significant clandestine aid to Britain, and about to embrace the open assistance defined by the "Lend Lease" policy - which Kennedy strongly opposed - Kennedy resigned from the Ambassadorship. No one knew what Kennedy would say when he returned to the United States, and many Democrats feared he would endorse Wilkie upon his return. By having Kennedy intercepted as soon as he arrived in the United States, and by having Kennedy whisked off to a private personal meeting in the White House, applying great personal charm and a liberal dose of promises of the world, Roosevelt managed to obtain Kennedy's support for his reelection to an unprecedented third term.
After Roosevelt won the 1940 election, he invited Kennedy to come to his home in Hyde Park and to stay for the weekend. The meeting has been described:
Eleanor Roosevelt met the morning train...and brought the ambassador straight to the president. The two men disappeared into the president’s tiny study...Source: Michael Beschloss, Kennedy and Roosevelt Norton, New York, copyright 1980, page 229.
...Kennedy's vision of a vanquished Britain and an America adjusting to an authoritarian world was no more provocative than his conversations with Breckenridge Long...the Hollywood executives, William Randolph Hearst, Herbert Hoover...But now the election had passed and Franklin Roosevelt was freer to indulge the frustrations he had pent up for months.
Not ten minutes elapsed before Mrs. Roosevelt was called back to the Big House. The President asked Kennedy to step out of the room. His wife had rare seen him so angry. His face was drained, his voice almost tremulously restrained:
"I never want to see that son of a bitch again as long as I live. Take his resignation and get him out of here!"
But Kennedy had been invited for the weekend she reminded him..."the train doesn't leave until two."
"Then you drive him around Hyde Park, give him a sandwich, and put him on that train!"
Mrs. Roosevelt could not understand her husband’s wrath, she told friends, until she lunched with the ambassador at her cottage at Val-Kill...
...Twenty years later, she would look back on the presidents' angry episode with Joseph Kennedy as "the most dreadful four hours of my life."
Roosevelt would in fact see Kennedy again, just before the 1944 election where Kennedy mused that Roosevelt might be defeated because of his advisors.
"They will write you down in history as incompetent"(Kennedy said) If Roosevelt lost the election, these men would be to blame. "They have surrounded you with Jews and Communists."(Ibid, page 257.)
Roosevelt, of course, died soon after.
Mrs. Roosevelt soldiered on until 1962, doing serious work on behalf of human dignity and human rights, serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and strengthening, with every action, her status a liberal icon in the very period in which John F. Kennedy rising - with the aid of his father - to the status of a Presidential candidate. (For his part at this time, Joseph Kennedy went around assuring powerful friends who were reluctant to support the ambassador's upstart son that no son of his would prove to be a liberal.)
In that time – although John F. Kennedy knew full well he could not become President without at least the tacit support of Mrs. Roosevelt – he and Mrs. Roosevelt suffered through a relationship that was only a few steps above open hostility, even though both were Democrats.
Kennedy did become President, of course, and Mrs. Roosevelt did, albeit grudgingly, campaign for his election. After he took office though, she was bitterly disappointed by the policies of the blundering cold warrior who would become, in my estimation, the most conservative Democratic president of the twentieth century.
With all the iconography since November of 1963 people sometimes forget that when Martin Luther King gave the famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Kennedy was a few blocks away in the White House watching on television. The chief focus of Kennedy's interest was not involved so much in civil rights as an interest in how much trouble the March on Washington would stir up among segregationist interests in the Democratic party. This was, don't forget, before the advent of Nixon's Southern Strategy that would employ racist codes to wrench the "solid South" from the hands of the Democrats and to place it - where it has more or less remained - in the hands of the Republicans.
By getting shot in Dallas – where he was traveling to shore up Southern support - and becoming the subject of all sorts of conspiracy theories, including (but not limited to) right wing conspiracies, John F. Kennedy has become a liberal icon. This is unjustifiable in my view. Although he developed a flair for rhetoric - and let's be clear that it was not always liberal rhetoric - Kennedy often paid more attention to sybaritic excess than to the business of his country. One of the reasons for the Cuban missile crisis was that Nikita Khrushchev came away from the 1961 Vienna summit with Kennedy thinking that Kennedy was pure fluff, easy to push around. The outcome of the dopey Bay of Pigs invasion served only to heighten Khrushchev’s impression of a lightweight President. It would lead Khruschev to embark on a course of escalation that would lead almost to the incineration of the entire planet.
I was a child during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the memory of it represents for me my first exposure to the impact of politics on every day life. It informs everything I write.
This is not a diary about John Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joseph P. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt, however. This is a diary about nuclear energy. With rare exceptions, all of my diaries are about nuclear energy. With that in mind it must be said that John F. Kennedy, with all his flaws, was, along with Senator Al Gore Senior a friend to nuclear energy. So it may seem strange that someone who as much in favor of nuclear energy as I am would start with offhand criticism of John F. Kennedy and his family.
I've actually had this diary kicking around for some time, part of it transcribed, and part of it residing in my mind. Some of my diaries are serious and some of them I think of as "throwaway," diaries I compose in a matter of minutes. The latter type, the throwaways - they're almost always dripping with "spur of the moment" sarcasm - often get me in delicious trouble, the kind of trouble that leads to troll ratings and the like. My last diary was a "throwaway," and it was not, necessarily, my finest hour.
Oh well. I am who I am.
This is a serious diary. I've spent some serious time conceiving it.
For the months I've had this diary around - I originally constructed it to apologize to Meteor Blades and Adam Siegel not for my ideas, but for my tone - it has been called "The Nuclear Shill Apologizes."
Here is the problem with my tone: I am extremely arrogant, extremely conceited, dismissive, insulting, fierce and rude. Other than those small drawbacks, I think I'm a nice guy. I have, I think, a number of strengths, but modesty and grace aren't necessarily among them, even though by any independent standard, I'm no great shakes. I do not accumulate honors and awards; I am not famous; I am not rich; I am not more powerful than my ideas. I am the son of a laborer who did not finish the eighth grade, a man who needed to do some street fighting, and I have never completely escaped my roots.
All of this speaks to the great thing about the blogosphere of course: One is judged either favorably or unfavorably solely on the merits and demerits of what one says. It is the perfect sphere for the autodidact - especially the internal autodidact who has labored in relative isolation for long periods of time. In the blogosphere ideas are purely ideas and carry no baggage. They stand and fall on their own merit because in the blogosphere one can be anonymous.
In my most recent diary someone speculated in the comments section that I was "sick," and that I "needed" help, i.e. that I was crazy. One never knows whether to indulge these kinds of people - whether it is wise to engage them in any way - but I made a mistake and I engaged this person anyway. It was a big mistake, not only because I managed to bring out my own worst qualities because at the end of the day, my antagonist was pure fluff.
In full exercise of my inflated ego, I say that the diaries I write are not fluff. Although almost all of my diaries are about nuclear energy, I claim that I also include subtexts about the entire range of human experience, including history, war, suffering, injustice, poverty, science, art, failure, triumph, deceit, honesty, philosophy, faith, cynicism, betrayal, loyalty, suspicion and trust. I write about love and death and language and about meaning. I do this when I write about nuclear energy because I say that the decisions we make about nuclear energy right now will define the fate of humanity itself and thus all human issues and traits.
The person who suggested that I was crazy - she knows she says that I am crazy because she has a "friend" who is a "clinical psychologist," she says, who read my comments - does not really write diaries about the most profound human struggles. Instead she writes diaries about paying her phone bill and what a drag it is to be put on hold while trying to straighten out billing mistakes by stupid clerks. Of course I don't generally write about clerks, but I know something about clerkdom. As it happens, I have been a clerk, and I have also been a jet setting executive, and I assure you that there are many executives who are stupid and many clerks who are relative geniuses.
You wouldn't know that, of course, unless you have lived it.
Let's talk further about what is and is not crazy. In another part of the comments section of my last diary - and let's be clear that this diary was not even remotely among my best - part in which I did not participate the person who has a "friend" who does clinical diagnoses by scanning comments sections of blogs - gets into an argument with a nuclear professional who has joined by diaries. What is the argument about? It is about the subject of whether zero people, 50 people or some other number of people were injured in the nearly thirty year old accident at Three Mile Island.
I have a lot of respect for the pronuclear correspondent who engaged this person on this subject, but I think that he was making a big mistake in taking this person remotely seriously, just as I was making such a mistake. The city of Harrisburg, PA where the reactor is still there and the citizens of that city still lead useful lives. The President of United States who walked through that reactor during the accident is still alive - even though, considering the deaths of his siblings, he would seem to have a genetic disposition to cancer. In fact that same President lived for a long time in immediate proximity to nuclear reactors even before he visited the Three Mile Island reactor, having served in the nuclear navy when it was in its infancy. He probably worked, slept and ate for weeks on end within a few meters of a reactor core. Many tens of thousands of American citizens - almost all of them serving the United States Navy - have done exactly the same thing.
Of course if the entire city of Harrisburg had been wiped out by Three Mile Island and if the President of the United States had been killed by radiation sickness, this would still have no bearing whatsoever on whether people are being killed right now - not thirty years ago - by the orgy of fossil fuels. It is entirely possible - no, it is certain - that 500 wiped out Harrisburgs would not equal the tragedy of fossil fuels has caused in just the last few years.
When pronuclear people get into debates about how many people may have been injured by Three Mile Island, they are accepting a criteria that is, well, crazy. I often refer to this criteria and this is it: Only nuclear energy must be perfect, while any other form of energy can be extremely dangerous, as dangerous as say, each of the fossil fuels, all three of which are rapidly destroying the planetary atmosphere through climate change and many other effects.
Hundreds of millions of people live in low lying areas threatened by climate change. The suffering from air pollution and water pollution and soil pollution caused by coal has impacted tens of millions of people around the world, including those who have merely subsisted on land that is now being parched and scourged by climate change. Great fisheries are dying, entire ecosystems - including the arctic ecosystems - are vanishing, islands in the Marshalls, in Bangladesh, a resource war is ravishing Iraq, and the meteorological stability of an entire planet is disappearing. Just a few days ago the UN said that again, in case anyone missed it: Hundreds of millions of people will suffer from melting ice alone. At the same time someone wants to have an argument about how many deaths might have resulted from Three Mile Island even though no one was obviously killed.
And I'm crazy?
I suppose I could have written many diaries here about my cell phone service or about the possibility someone some day might raise cloned pigs - the kind of diaries my antagonist writes - but I have not chosen to do so. I have elected to write about things like the Yangtze River, noting it is threatened by climate change. Being a rabid egotist, I quote myself:
Four hundred million people depend on the Yangtze. How many people is that? It is about 15 times the number of soldiers who died worldwide in World War II, more than 5 times the number of soldiers and civilians combined lost in this worst of all wars. It more than 60 times the number of people who died in Hitler's Holocaust. It is 200,000 World Trade Attacks, 400,000 Chernobyls...Still, someone wants to discuss whether 21 people, or zero people, or 233 people may have had "eventual" cancers that they would not have had without the Three Mile Island accident...
There is a kind of mentality that assumes that environmentalism is connected some kind of Kumbaya festival that involves driving to the mall at Christmas time with the kids, buying plastic with plastic, and during the trip, purchasing the Sierra Club calendar printed on recycled paper. It is fine, of course, to have a glossy photograph of the rock formations of Zion National Park. Still this conceit is different from NNadir conceit in as much as the NNadir conceit has taken a lot of work and the Sierra Club conceit - a consumerist conceit - just involves standing in a long line while Christmas shopping.
Recently I was interviewed on a podcast by Rod Adams, nuclear entrepreneur, who is the first person I have ever met in the flesh who has ever operated a nuclear reactor. I had suggested an agenda for our discussion but we didn't adhere to it at all and mostly our discussion fell into a kind of technical discourse about things like neptunium and technetium and the benefits and demerits of TRISO fuel and the scientific career of Ida Noddack. It was geek to geek talk. I loved it. (You may find the conversation esoteric.)
If you are interested in hearing the voice of mean old NNadir you can do so now. It turns out that I mumble quite a bit. I also say unhhhh and ahhhhh a lot.
During our talk, Rod talked briefly about what it is like to be the smartest person in the room. (Rod is very smart and while we were talking there was two people in the room.)
According to one of my antagonists in my last diary - the antagonist who has a friend who is a clinical psychologist who does diagnoses by reading comments in blogs - egotism is a sickness and I suffer from it. So keep this in mind that when I tell you that there have been some occasions when I've been quite sure that I was the smartest person in a particular room. Of course, it has been relatively easy for me to do this because sometimes I have been in rooms where everybody is a clerk like the clerks who send out incorrect phone bills, thus forcing consumers to have to make phone calls where they are put on hold for long periods. Events like being put on hold for a phone bill are earth shattering and could hardly compare with the Yangtze River.
Be that as it may, there have been many occasions where I have clearly been the dumbest person in a room. I have sat in rooms where everybody is talking about the determining coupling constants involved in spin systems evoked by NMR spectra of polycyclic macromolecules through finding the solutions of associated equations derived from the secular determinants associated with the Hamiltonians generated from linear combinations of Slater orbitals of model subunits, whatever the hell that is. (No, this slew of jargon doesn't mean anything.)
This is the best way, I think, of ever hoping to be the smartest person in some room some day: Agree on many occasions to be the dumbest person in a room.
Anyway, before we get to the part where the nuclear shill apologizes, maybe we should go back to the beginning, to the part where the nuclear shill starts off talking about Eleanor Roosevelt and John Kennedy going at it. What the hell does that have to do with anything anyway?
In the 1940s, there were Democrats who were segregationists, like James Eastland and Strom Thurmond - yes Strom Thurmond was once a Democrat - there were Democrats who were wide eyed quasi socialists - Vice President Henry Wallace may have qualified in this class - Democrats who were fiercely concerned about equal opportunity and equal rights - Mrs. Roosevelt, for instance - and even Democrats who thought that the official policy of the United States government should be to make accommodations with the Nazis - Joseph P. Kennedy fits into this class.
I want to reflect for a minute in a somewhat silly way on Franklin Delano Roosevelt's personal behavior in dealing with Joseph Kennedy as I have described above. Think about it. Someone asks you to do a big favor - to support them - and, despite your misgivings, you do it. After you have done everything the person has asked, the person invites you to spend a weekend visiting him at his home. You pack your bags and you go. You meet the person and then after ten minutes, the person tells you that your ideas are disgusting and outrageous and kicks you out of his home, telling the person he has asked to get rid of you that he never wants to see your ugly face again.
Is that polite? No, it's not. Clearly Franklin Delano Roosevelt was being rude to a fellow Democrat.
I am rude sometimes.
Here in the blogosphere there are many people who act as if all Democrats must be share absolutely a particular set of viewpoints. Usually the blogging Democrat who is announcing such a thing is trying to represent his or her own personal view as the precise embodiment of what all Democrats should be.
For instance there is a subset of Democrats who wish to represent that because they are members of the consumer group Greenpeace, real Democrats should endorse the absurd views of Greenpeace. Mind you: the membership of Greenpeace is declining while membership in the Democratic Party is climbing. Even when membership was rising Greenpeace's membership never approached the tens of millions of people who are now Democrats, not even close, even though the Democratic Party is a national organization and that Greenpeace is an international organization. Thus by mere arithmetic the contention that the views of Greenpeace are identical to those of the Democratic Party can be disproved. There are many Democrats who have nothing to do with Greenpeace.
In fact, I object to the statement that "environmentalists sympathize with Greenpeace." Bullshit. Greenpeace is an organization that proudly announces that it is it acceptable to deal with half of the problem of climate change two full generations from now. Never mind that the means by which this dealing with half of the problem is dubious and has remained dubious for many decades in spite of similar past wishful thinking and cheering, or that energy demand should be expected to rise if we are to eliminate poverty, from where exactly does Greenpeace think that all the oil and coal and gas to cover the half they don't talk about is going to come? This is NOT an environmentalist position.
Greenpeace is an organization that files suits against nuclear power plants and then announces that nuclear power is too expensive because people file suits against nuclear power plants. Greenpeace is an organization that announces that so called "nuclear waste" cannot be shipped because there are Greenpeace activists - and might this not qualify in some cases for a Darwin award? - lying on the railroad tracks obstructing shipments of used nuclear fuel. Greenpeace is an organization that tries to claim that no nuclear energy expert is qualified to discuss nuclear energy because they are nuclear experts and that only Greenpeace is qualified to discuss nuclear energy because they have no direct involvement in the management of nuclear power.
Is this kind of thing Democratic or might it not involve some conceited over estimation of one's own opinions? Could one not even believe that this sort of approach might even be a little fascistic, inasmuch as it assumes that some minority who paints issues in black and white has the right to be deliberately obstructionist in the face of serious deliberation and discussion?
Let's leave aside for a moment the question of whether I demean myself when I get into shouting matches with people whose views differ from mine. Let's leave aside the question of my personal flaws - and I have never denied being flawed. Why should a discussion of nuclear energy be about me at all? Why do I matter?
Either fossil fuels are vastly more dangerous than nuclear energy or they are not. I argue repeatedly that it would take thousands of Chernobyls to equal the effects of the destruction of the Yangtze - and the Yangtze is indeed at risk from climate change and it is just one such river at such risk. Still everybody wants to talk about Chernobyl and nobody wants to talk about the Yangtze, even though what is happening on the Yangtze is happening now and Chernobyl was more than 20 years ago.
If I advance such an argument, the truth or falsity of the argument would remain unchanged if turned out that I had an unpleasant association with the death of Marilyn Monroe. It would not be changed if my father was an anti-Semite. It would not be changed if I thought that neither President Kennedy nor President Roosevelt were effective Presidents at fighting racism and that neither could hold a candle to Lyndon Johnson, even though Lyndon Johnson unnecessarily fought a war that he knew was wrong for solely political reasons. The truth of falsity of the argument would be unchanged if I am conceited. In fact the truth or falsity of the argument would be unchanged if I was crazy, if I believed for instance that my brain was being controlled by aliens from outer space. The truth or falsity of my argument would be unchanged if I forgave John Edwards for voting for voting for the Iraq War Authorization even though I always forcefully opposed that war.
The answer to question of whether the Yangtze’s destruction would outstrip tens of thousands of Chernobyls would remain unchanged if I was a nuclear shill..
Let’s turn once more to this question of whether or not I am a nuclear shill. I claim that if I published this diary several months ago when it was first written in palimpsest, I did not know personally a single person in the nuclear industry. Now I do. Last week, on Friday, I traveled to Washington and I met with a few representatives of the nuclear industry. Nice guys, by the way. They bought me lunch. I made a point of not ordering the cheapest thing on the menu by the way and it was a nice restaurant. The nuclear industry gave me a wonderful golf shirt and several very nice trade show trinkets. The night before I met with the nuclear industry I sat and talked with Rod Adams, who is a nuclear entrepreneur. You can hear almost everything I said to Rod Adams by the way on the internet, except for our opening discussions about Glenn Seaborg. (I asked him to delete that part because of my mumbling.)
Why did the nuclear industry buy me lunch? Because they like what I write.
Now. When the nuclear industry bought me lunch, this had no effect on anything I have ever written here. Not one of my speculations about
Al Gore's position on nuclear energy became lost validity, the radioisotopes found in The Oklo natural nuclear reactors did not migrate more than a few tens of meters over billions of years, and Otto Hahn's treatment of his colleague Lise Meitner did not become less shabby.
I claim that my rudeness and, sometimes, viciousness are about this subject are about passion. I claim that the current state of affairs is a vast emergency, just as the military conquests of Germany in 1940 represented a vast emergency as we now all know in retrospect. Franklin Roosevelt played an essential role in meeting this emergency, and we can now say that the things he endorsed with respect to this issue were the right things. Many powerful and important Democrats disagreed with him at the time, and sometimes his treatment of his opponents in his own party was shabby.
Such is my arrogance that I often imply that people who disagree with me are dumb and I am, in contrast, smart. This is wrong. Even if I am no way persuaded that those who disagree with me are right, it is unjust for me to imply that their opinions derive from stupidity. There are people who are unquestionably smarter than I am who disagree with me on various subjects.
I want to go a little further. I once went to a lecture on the chemistry of the element Einsteinium and sat next to Glenn Seaborg, Nobel Laureate, one of the smartest and most impressive Americans ever to have lived, the only scientist ever to have an element named for him while he was still alive. I dared not speak a word to him, so august was his status.
In general, talks about nuclear chemistry are not held in stadiums, as the subject is somewhat esoteric. There were maybe twenty or thirty people in the room. I have no doubt whatsoever that I was almost certainly the dumbest person in that small room, everyone else being prominent nuclear scientists of the first order.
Besides being one of the most important scientists of his time, Glenn Seaborg was an important political figure. Dr. Seaborg personally worked with every President from Harry S. Truman to Bill Clinton. (For a detailed account see Seaborg, A Chemist in the White House Published by the American Chemical Society, copyright 1998.)
In particular, Glenn Seaborg worked closely, very closely with President John F. Kennedy, playing an instrumental role in an important Kennedy accomplishment, the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban treaty that stopped American and Soviet open air nuclear weapons testing. Glenn Seaborg wrote a book all about his work with President Kennedy. It is called Kennedy, Khruschev and the Test Ban, University of California Press, 1981. In fact, Glenn Seaborg has personal recollections of all the players in these events, including Nikita Khrushchev. How did Dr. Seaborg come to know Khrushchev? Because Glenn Seaborg, having been a key player in the development of the test ban treaty – which he regarded as a part of an effort toward the broader goal of nuclear disarmament – was present at the signing ceremony, and got to know Khrushchev well enough to write thusly in his diary:
Khrushchev impressed me as a very able person. He had an amazingly good sense of timing and was a master of repartee. He semmed to be in the best of physical condition, full of bounce and in unfailing good humor.(Kennedy, Chruschev and the Test Ban, pg 261.
Anyway, not to steal any of Lloyd Benson’s thunder but...
Glenn Seaborg knew John Kennedy. John Kennedy was a friend of his.
Glenn Seaborg is gone now. In spite of a lifetime spent around radioactivity he died at the age of 87, from a stroke. It is very likely that were he alive, he would pay no note to an NNadir diary on DKos, since in his busy life he clearly had better things to do, but if he read the type of representations I have made here, he might say, “You, NNadir, are no John Kennedy!” It would be very unlikely that Dr. Seaborg would mean to be flattering towards in saying as much.
He might add, “NNadir, you’re being stupid when you write about Kennedy.” He might note that I am using specious arguments, like the logical fallacy of “guilt by association,” wherein I try to visit the sins of a father on to his son. If Glenn Seaborg called me “stupid,” he would be right, of course, because no matter how much time I might spend contemplating the structure of lithium plutonate, compared to Dr. Seaborg I have always been and always will be a dumbbell. By comparison I am stupid.
Glenn Seaborg was a lifelong Democrat and a lifetime worker for the expansion of the use of nuclear power. I am sure that, however Dr. Seaborg might feel about people who regard John F. Kennedy as I do, he would be in perfect accord with everything I have written about nuclear energy here and elsewhere. Let it be clear too that Glenn Seaborg had no problem with criticizing members of his own political party.
In 1988 he went to advise the staff of the Democratic Party candidate for President of the United States, the forgettable Michael Dukakis about the coming campaign. He writes about this in A Chemist in the White House (page 137-8)
I then rode with Richard Wilson (physicist, Harvard University) to the Democratic headquarters (105 Chauncey St.) where we met Christopher Edley (political aide to Governor Micheal Dukakis)...I told him why I think Dukakis cannot be elected on his present vociferous antinuclear power platform...I also told Edley the reasons for favoring a comprehensive test ban, gave him the reasons I favor funding the Superconducting Super Collider...(which) can be funded even on a level budget if military spending is decreased...I suggested that he could criticize the...Nuclear Regulatory Commission...but that he should do this in a positive manner...so that in the future we can have the nuclear power that we need for the welfare of our country...(The emphasis is mine.)
Michael Dukakis did not ever meet with Glenn Seaborg, the one American scientist who had the most direct experience of the interaction between science and Presidential politics and international politics. As we all now know, the 1988 election set in motion a series of tragic events – with a brief respite in the Clinton Gore years - from which the country has yet to recover. Maybe Mr. Dukakis chose not to meet with Glenn Seaborg because he was a nuclear shill. By the way, Glenn Seaborg was a nuclear shill. For his entire adult life he was paid to work on the development of nuclear energy. Dukakis was a disaster on a scale that Three Mile Island can never approach.
Some people say I am a “nuclear shill.” Those people will now be able to offer as evidence for their case the fact that the nuclear industry bought me lunch, and we’re not talking lunch at Burger King either. I have a golf shirt too, a gift from the nuclear industry, that I wore around town this week, generating more than one quizzical look. It says on the sleeve, “Nuclear. Clean air energy.” It’s a nice shirt. It fits me well.
It is purely absurd that the world of ideas and views can be arbitrarily stuffed into grab bags represented by two American political parties. We should expect therefore that American political parties will represent a broad range of views. If someone says “I am a Democrat,” it should not accord that person with instantaneous respect and forbearance. I believe if you look around DKos you will see many Democrats criticizing their fellow Democrats for their ideas. Try saying these words for instance, “Joe Biden,” or “Hillary Clinton,” or “Dennis Kucinich.”
I want the Democratic Party to run the country, but not for gratuitous reasons. I want my party to run the country so that it will offer my country the best opportunity it can have to succeed in the vital issues of our time. The most vital issue of our time is not the freaking war in Iraq any more than it is the nature of Paris Hilton’s punishment. The most vital issue of our time is climate change. It is an emergency at least on the scale of the emergency that Franklin Roosevelt faced in 1940, probably much larger in fact.
All the dancing in the world, all the whining and crying about whether there have been 5 unexpected cancers from Three Mile Island or 55 unexpected cancers from Three Mile Island or even zero unexpected cancers from Three Mile Island have no meaning. No one will succeed at addressing the crisis of dangerous fossil fuel waste – carbon dioxide -without nuclear power. That is why I am here. I do not want my party, my country, my world to fail. It is absurd, I say, to attempt to isolate Three Mile Island from the Yangtze River, or the Rio Grande, or the Colorado River, rivers on which life depends.
Be that as it may, it is certainly true that I could exhibit better diplomatic skills, the sort of skills that Glenn Seaborg used when he named one of the elements he discovered after the greatest Russian chemist of all time, Mendeleyev. This act opened a lot of Russian minds to Dr. Seaborg’s intentions as a political figure.
I know a lot more about nuclear issues than the average person, I think. I’ve worked hard to do so in the context of intellectual curiosity and the unfulfilled striving for moral rectitude and faith and hope for the future.
I also think that the antinuclear industry is basically full of willful distortions about the purposes and effects of their activities. The religious philosopher Allan Watts once wrote of the early Christians – I paraphrase – that rather than adopt the religion of Jesus, the Christians chose to create a religion that was about Jesus. These are different things and have necessarily resulted in different consequences. I believe that many of the confrontations I have here are deliberate attempts to distract the reader from the arguments I make to a sensationalist representation of who I am while ignoring what I say.
The representatives of the nuclear industry who bought me lunch solicited my ideas on what the nuclear industry should do to promote itself, especially because the intellectually dishonest antinuclear industry refuses to believe anything the nuclear industry says on the grounds that the nuclear industry is saying it. I have no idea if the nuclear industry will take my advice – I hope they value it – but here is what I suggested: “Tell the truth, the whole truth, all the time” and “The truth will set you free” and similar things. I advised the nuclear industry to monitor what the anti-nuclear industry says and then to point out the nature of the truths that the anti-nuclear industry is avoiding, evading, spinning and misrepresenting.
The nuclear industry, of course, is not perfect. It’s just better than all of its alternatives. That’s the truth. It is the main truth that the nuclear industry must tell to sell itself to the world at large.
Of course, the nuclear industry has some difficulties pushing the unvarnished truth, one of which is that its customers (the utility industry) are also users and, in some cases, producers of fossil fuels. Thus it may be somewhat problematic for the nuclear industry to be as forceful about coal, for instance, as I am. (It is clear, by the way, that we cannot stop burning coal tomorrow but we must have a rational program for confronting coal long term – and Fischer-Tropsch chemistry which is being pushed by some political figures is not it.) It is difficult to negotiate this matter since one does not wish to offend one’s customers. Here is a place that wise government can help – if the politicians are honest during their tenure and are just not angling for jobs on the board of directors at Gazprom after they leave office. I propose that government mediate the issue of cost of dangerous fossil fuel waste so that industry can proceed in a way that serves the interests not just of stockholders, but humanity at large.
NNadir has something for which he needs to apologize, so let’s get to it after all of this gobbledygook. I believe that I am well educated, even though I have largely educated myself. On occasion my self congratulation on this score has led me to be dismissive and rude. I believe that some of my opponents here and elsewhere are involved on some occasions in deliberate obfuscation and that many of the things they say are not true and cannot be supported in any objective sense. However I have sometimes spoken in ways that imply that all of my opponents are either stupid, or dishonest, or immoral, or indifferent. These characterizations are unjust, unfair, unwarranted and unwise. There are many people who want to believe that renewable energy is enough who are smart, honest, ethical, and concerned. Saying this much is not the same as saying they are right of course, but they are nonetheless in many cases almost certainly better people as people than I am. In particular, I would like to say this much publicly of MeteorBlades and ASiegel – although I certainly would not limit myself in this apology to these two individuals, both of whom have been the subject of rudeness on my part.
I do not believe for a New York second that the Energize America program goes far enough to make a real difference in the immediate crisis of climate change, but certainly the program as constructed is an honest and thoughtful effort made by honest and thoughtful people, of whom the two mentioned are only an example. As such, it should not be subject to ridicule, not by me, not by anyone else. Even if it must be said that I hold some of my opponents in clear contempt - much as Mrs. Roosevelt held some of her opponents in contempt - it should also be said that good people can disagree without invective. When I have used invective, I have been weaker than when I have avoided it.
I am, of course, not the first Democrat to become extremely angry with fellow Democrats and hopefully I will not be the last Democrat to apologize for being so. I have no apology for my ideas, but I do apologize for my tone.
I am also sorry that this diary is so long, but I feel that what I said here needing saying. There was no succinct way for me to say it.