Gadfly: The Race Between Education And Disaster Intensifies

Ed Raymond

Last week I reviewed some evidence whether education will win out over ignorance based on Voltaire’s statement that “History is a race between education and disaster.” At the end of the column I expressed  hope the race was still tied. After this last week’s news one must wonder what is in the lead. The new evidence:

A few years ago the TV show “Baywatch” had two major reasons it was so popular, both possessed by the shy and retiring Pamela Anderson. Honest, I only caught her cavorting in the surf while I was surfing for a good documentary. She seemed to wear red swim suits most of the time while bouncing around in sand and surf. I hear she dropped the suit entirely for a “Playboy” shot, but I have never verified that. She did appear in a sex video that made the rounds, but her protests were not strong enough to stop the circulation of the tape. Her Boobus Americanus fans will be pleased to know she is trying to resurrect her career by playing The Virgin Mary in a Canadian TV special. This is like having J. Edgar Hoover playing the lead in “The Pink Panther.” Maybe the fact that Pamela is actually a Boobus Canadianus will improve her chances at resurrection. With Pamela’s selection “disaster” just took over the lead in the race. Perhaps Kim Kardashian, our Buttus Americanus, could add to the special by playing Mary Magdalene.

In Some Parts Of India Rats Are Reincarnated As Storytellers

A story in the LA Times caught my eye. Mumbai, India is a fairly sophisticated city of 20 million but it retains a tradition that started when Great Britain ruled India. In that Mumbai is a port city, ships from all over the world deliver and pick up goods. This means rats. The city depends upon 33 night rat killers to keep the rodents under control. Like the British, the Indians keep accurate records of the rat kills. Between January and July of 2011 214,848 rats were killed by the rat killers and by traps and poison. The rat killers were the most effective, recording 166,728 kills.

Most of the rat killers use bamboo poles about six ft.  long tipped by a metal hook. This is the traditional weapon. They truly “whack” the rats, to use an old Mafia term. They must kill 90 rats in three night shifts or they don’t get paid. The rat killers average $175 a month, a very good income for India’s lower classes. Hundreds seek to become rat killers. Candidates must be 18 to 30 years of age, have at least a 10th grade education (many candidates have college degrees), lift 110 pounds, pass an exam about rats, and make a video of their rat-killing skills. A dozen applicants are selected for each job opening. The one who kills the most rats in 15 minutes gets the job. The average winner kills 20 in that period.

When I first read about the rat killers, I thought: “There must be a better way!” But maybe there isn’t. Each night a few dead rats are tested for bubonic plague by combing them for fleas. The last big plague epidemic in India was 1896, killing many thousands. A single rat couple can produce and multiply to over 20 million offspring in three years. 

The system does provide some employment, and good rat killers are often promoted to better public service jobs. One 27-year-old rat killer is rather proud of his employment: “I’ve been introduced to a girl, and her parents think a rat catcher in the family is great. In fact, with this job I’m a bit of a catch.”  In the race I think education just nudged ahead of “disaster.”  If you are a Hindu, one must consider that good storyteller you just listened to may have been a rat–in history.

This Beachcombing Could Be Hazardous To Your Health

Corky and I lived just 20 feet from the Atlantic for two years on New Topsail Island, North Carolina, and we have beachcombed from there to Florida and around the Gulf through Texas. We have also walked many a beach on the Pacific side from Southern California to Alaska, picking up “priceless” things and junk. And now there will be more beachcombing possibilities coming to the West Coast.

The International Pacific Research Center at the U. of Hawaii has created a computer model of where an estimated 20 million tons of debris caused by the Japanese earthquake-tsunami, much of it radioactive, will be going.  It will loop across the Northern Pacific and Hawaii, hit our West Coast then go back to Hawaii.  The huge debris field will hit Midway Island, then Hawaii in 2012, and land on the West Coast in 2013. What is left of it will end up in the area southwest of Hawaii called the Pacific Garbage Patch, a sort of mucky Sargasso Sea of plastics and junk contaminating the entire area.

I was seven years old when Albert Einstein wrote his now famous letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dated August 2, 1939 containing this information: “ It may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and new radium-like elements would be generated...extremely powerful bombs of a new type...a single bomb might destroy the whole port...and the surrounding territory.”

Then came the Manhattan Project. Little Boy, and Fat Man. Little Boy killed an estimated 75,000 at Hiroshima and Fat Man at least 150,000 at Nagasaki. Then came the Cold War and about 40,000 nuclear missiles, all built to keep the peace.

The Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Is Still Very Hot

Over 3,000 workers are trying to keep the radiation contained from the earthquake-tsunami damaged Fukushima reactors. Workers must change protective clothing constantly because the area is so “hot.”  The waste pile of radioactive protective gear has now reached a volume of 4,000 cubic meters.

For those who believe the 432 nuclear power plants in the world are safe, I think you should read “Letter From Fukushima: The Fallout Seven Months Later” in the October 17th New Yorker magazine. Nuclear plant workers called “jumpers,” “dose fodder,” “Glow boys,” and “gamma sponges” “jumped” into action when the Japanese reactors were flooding from the tsunami. First they swallowed iodine tablets which would keep their bodies from absorbing radioactive material. Then they put on heavy firefighting suits with oxygen masks to keep out alpha and beta radiation and gamma rays. Internal organs are damaged heavily by both. A team of six had the responsibility of opening a valve to flood one reactor. The huge valve was controlled manually by a crank requiring hundreds of revolutions. But the radiation was so intense they could not do it in six minutes. Called the suicide squad, all received radiation doses way beyond the prescribed limits. By the way, they earned about the same money as a part-time worker at a Tokyo McDonald’s.

When the 5.8 earthquake hit our East Coast on August 23rd it affected 20 nuclear reactors. At the North Anna plant in Virginia concrete caskets weighing 117 tons containing spent nuclear fuel were shifted around a few inches.  We have nuclear fuel “waste” stored all around the country, some in very dangerous spots. Our politicians have never made a serious effort to solve the nuclear storage problem.

Einstein, who started this Buck Rogers-Star Wars mess with his e=mc squared formula, did not promise any quick solution in this quote: “The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.”  I think “disaster” has pulled ahead again. Einstein thought Russia and the U.S. might go MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). He often said WW IV would be fought with rocks.

Science, Research, And Facts Are Troublesome Things

For those who feel drivers can talk or text on a cellphone without being distracted should pay attention to what happened in Dubai when Blackberry service was interrupted for about three days. Traffic accidents in the whole country went down 20 percent while the largest city Abu Dhabi had a 40 percent reduction.  Facts can be real facts.

Minnesota is close to the national top in seatbelt usage at 93 percent. But rural folks seem to think they are tough enough to go through windshields and survive rollovers as the vehicles pass over their bodies. The northwest section of the state has the worst recorded usage at 65.87 percent. Over 80 percent of the unbelted traffic deaths in Minnesota occur outside the seven-county metro area. Who gets killed in these accidents? Unbelted drivers rolling off curves, hitting trees, or crossing two-lane markers while drunk. Unbelted passengers have also killed belted drivers by breaking heads and bodies while flying around inside the vehicle. One of the stupidest questions is “Why do they try to legislate my personal safety?”  Duh.  Einstein was right, Genius is limited, stupidity is not.

The Best Congress Money Can Buy Is Now Trying To Turn A Fruit Into A Vegetable

Ronald Reagan tried it once. In a battle over school lunch program costs poor Ronny turned Einstein’s theory of stupidity into hard fact by trying to pass a bill saying a tiny ketchup packet would constitute a vegetable in a school lunch.

The current Republicans in the House are proving again that those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it. They have added a provision in a bill turning pizza into a vegetable. The ghost of Albert is hovering over them. A slice of pizza has up to two tablespoons of tomato paste on it. That makes a veggie, right? The American Frozen Food Institute is pushing pizza as a veggie, so like lemmings being paid to go over a cliff, Republicans are actually proving to be lemmings going over a cliff for their corporate employers. The Department of Agriculture is trying to improve school lunches so children can eat more nutritious and less-fattening foods. So with the usual Republican unscientific who-gives-a-damn-about-kids attitude the House will certainly vote for pizza as a veggie. Einstein’s theory probably should be an amendment to the Constitution.

Actually, if Republicans had checked, they would pushing pizza as a fruit instead of a veggie. But they don’t pay any attention to science while earning a corporate paycheck. Tomatoes are fruits, like blueberries and oranges. Fruits develop from the ovary in the base of the flower. The ovary also contains the seeds of fruits like tomatoes. Vegetables are the other edible parts of plants such as cabbage leaves, celery stalks, and tubers. Check the difference between savoury and sweet cooking and it will begin to make sense. But money always conquers commonsense. “Disaster” seems to be gaining on the inside rail.

Political Ideology Sometimes Trumps Everything–Including The Truth

There are two big Republican lies spoken constantly on Capitol Hill: (1) “Government has never created a job,” (2) “Government regulations kill jobs.” FDR set up the Civil Works and The Works Progress Administration in 1933 because Great Depression unemployment reached 40 million. Harry Hopkins hired four million unemployed people immediately and put them to work building roads, bridges, buildings, electrical lines, parks, and hundreds of other projects. They painted murals on public walls, photographed the country, wrote and directed plays, and created art around the country. During 1935-38 three million new jobs were created each year. Two of the unemployed hired were Lars Sahlberg, father of Corky Raymond, and Jack Reagan, father of Ronald Reagan. If we had forgotten the Wall Street Casino at the beginning of our recession and hired the unemployed with “stimulus” funds we could have hired 21 million people to dramatically improve the infrastructure of the whole country.

World Bank research indicates that the U.S. is the fourth easiest country in the world to do business in–and that nations with regulations grow faster. Even former Reagan economists admit there is little evidence that regulations kill jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2010 only 0.3 percent of workers were laid off because of new regulations while 25 percent were laid off because of a drop in demand. House Republicans have identified ten “job-destroying” regulations they want to repeal. They should be disturbed by the facts, not ideological nonsense.