Bonus photo of the day

Just came across this on twitter:

Amazing shot of lightning striking the Willis Tower in Chicago tonight (Scott Olson/Getty)

The coolest thing you’ll see today

Love, love, love this post that conceptualizes what it would look like from different parts of the earth, if we had rings like Saturn.  So cool.  Here’s a couple.  Definitely check out the whole series.

If Earth Had a Ring Like Saturn

If Earth Had a Ring Like Saturn

Time for the nuclear option

Nope– not the ending of the filibuster for judicial nominations, but rather actually using nuclear energy to generate more of our electricity.  I’m all for it (and long have been).  There are certainly risks inherent in nuclear power, but to focus solely on them ignores the risks in other forms of power generation.  Very nice piece on the matter from the New Yorker’s Michael Specter:

But life is about choices, and we need to make one. We can let our ideals suffocate us or we can survive. Being opposed to nuclear power, as Rhodes points out, means being in favor of burning fossil fuel. It’s that simple. Nuclear energy—now in its fourth generation—is at least as safe as any other form of power. Fukushima was a disaster, but was it worse than the fact that our atmosphere now contains more than four hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide, a figure that many climate scientists believe assures catastrophe? Sadly, we may soon find out.

It would be different if we had alternatives. We do not—at least, not alternatives that will be scaled up and effective in time to serve the billions of people who will need power in the coming years.

Yep.  In discussing a documentary in which environmental activists promote nuclear power, Specter writes of the great technological progress:

“Pandora’s Promise” makes the point that the accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and, two years ago, Fukushima, horrifying as each was, were all caused by the same flaw: an inadequate cooling system. The film walks us through the way that reactors can now be engineered to shut themselves down before the cooling system becomes unable to do its job. Moreover, the newest reactors are capable of recycling their own waste.

I listened to a fascinating segment on the Candu nuclear reactor a while back on Quirks and Quarks.  The technology is such that you essentially need to have functioning power in order to prevent all the automatic shutdown/cooling procedures from happening.  You lose power and everything gets cooled (i.e., becomes harmless) and there’s not stopping it.  The problem with the old designs is that when you lose power, you may lose the ability to cool, which is obviously disastrous.

Seems to me what we need to do is either retrofit old reactors– or if too expensive, simply take them off-line– and invest in new reactor technologies.  It’s never going to be 100.0% safe, but given the alternative, I truly think more use of modern nuclear reactors makes a lot of sense for the future.  I’m totally open to cost-benefit arguments suggesting otherwise, but certainly not knee-jerk “nuclear power is bad and scary” which seems to drive policy all too often.  Nor to arguments that ignore the fact that additional nuclear power would almost all be replacing fossil-fuel based power.

Photo of the day

From a very, very cool National Geographic gallery of extreme adventure photos.  You know I’m a sucker for a cool surfing photo (there’s photos of cooler waves, but I love the lighting here):

Picture of Tiago Gil surfing a wave at dusk, Pipeline, Hawaii

Surfing the North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

Photograph by Matt Kurvin

Time for a “war on toddlers”?

Love the provocative headline of this post, “Toddlers Killed More Americans Than Terrorists Did This Year.”  And, it’s sadly very true.  And, how do you think toddlers were killing all these people?  It’s not with Elmo toys:

Americans hate terrorists and love our kids, right? So you might be shocked to know that preschoolers with guns have taken more lives so far this year than the single U.S. terrorist attack, which claimed four lives in Boston.

This is admittedly tongue-in-cheek, but one has to wonder if the NSA’s PRISM program would have saved more lives had it been monitoring toddlers – or gun owners [emphasis mine] – rather than suspected terrorists.

What follows is a sad list of the people who’ve been killed this year because of irresponsible gun owners letting their loaded guns fall into the hands of toddlers.  And, there’s not just deaths many more are shot but don’t die.  So:

We cannot deny that guns pose a real danger to innocent American lives and especially to children. While no one is “coming to take the guns” of responsible people, we still must reach a compromise to address gun violence. I do not have all the answers, but I know as responsible citizens we have to do something.

While some people refuse to accept any limits on gun ownership, we simply do not have the right in America to circumvent personal restrictions that protect society as a whole. We can drink and we can drive, but we cannot mix the two. We have free speech, but we cannot shout “fire” in a crowded theater. We have the Fourth Amendment, but we still submit to searches of our bodies and belongings for the sake of air safety.

People who worship the Second Amendment should recognize the “well-regulated” aspect of gun ownership that the forefathers intended. Instead, we have a gun lobby that pays off senators to vote against background checks and gun culture that welcomes a 3-year-old as a lifetime NRA member. I worry for that child’s playmates.

Yep.  It’s truly pathetic how unseriously as a society we take the issue.  Any time a child fires a gun at another person, an adult should be held criminally responsible.  Until that’s the case, adults will never learn.  Actually, I’d further that to say that simply allowing for the possibility, i.e., leaving a loaded, unsecured gun in a home where children are ever present, should be criminal.   And, heck, let’s just require some pretty basic technology.  My toddler would struggle hopelessly simply to successfully use my Advil or my Zyrtec through child-resistant packaging, but my same toddler could easily pick up a loaded gun and fire it.  That’s completely nuts.

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