Race, Zimmerman and One Small List

Since the slaying of Trayvon Martin hit the main stream air waves, the conversation about race in America has erupted in a maelstrom of heated commentary, misguided angst and cowardice. So many people are quick to label George Zimmerman a racist murderer, call Martin a deserving street thug, and deny the role race has played in the entire matter. Even seemingly honest conversations about the killing of Trayvon Martin get mired in this toxic cloud of politeness – political correctness.

But a shroud of dishonesty does not change the facts. George Zimmerman suspected Trayvon Marin of nefarious behavior in large part because of the color of his skin. But while Zimmerman is entirely guilty of taking the life of a promising young man, he is not solely to blame for his mistaking a Black teen for a troublemaker. The tendency to suspect Black male teenagers of illegal behavior is deeply engrained in our sociological fabric in the United States. And the fact that Zimmerman is hispanic does not make him immune to this tendency.

So when we are talking about race and the Zimmerman trial, to deny that race had anything to do with Martin’s death or the outcome of the trial is a bankrupt notion. Race played a part in both events.

Some media personalities see fit to stick it to those incensed by Zimmerman’s acquittal (and the Black community at large) by trying to diminish the significance of Martin’s killing. In response to outcry about Trayvon Martin’s death, they ask why no one is getting mad about Black-on-Black crime – which is COMPLETE bullshit. (This non-sequitur question even happened to me at work!) People ARE mad about Black-on-Black crime. We talk about Black-on-Black crime a lot. But before the Trayvon Martin’s death, you didn’t feel the need to make yourself a part of that conversation!

I was impressed by at least one tv aired conversation on race recently thanks to my number 2 tv crush – Don Lemon.

Don’s simple advice: 5 – dress respectfully, 4 – quit using the ‘n’ word, 3 – don’t trash your home, 2 – quit stigmatizing education, 1 – reduce the number of children born out of wedlock. Don Lemon is being honest. And he is right.

Diablo Canyon Shuts Down – Nuclear Industry Applauds

Yesterday, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Generating Station shut down after a leak was detected.


“At 2158 PDT, plant personnel identified a through-wall leak in a Diablo Canyon Power Plant Unit 1 socket weld inside containment that provides a flow path to a relief valve that protects a common portion of both trains of the Residual heat Removal (RHR) system. The as-found condition did not comply with the requirements of equipment control guideline 7.6 and the ASME acceptance criteria. PG&E accordingly declared both Unit 1 trains of RHR inoperable and initiated plant shutdown at 2237 PDT in accordance with requirements of Technical Specification 3.0.3.

“PG&E will complete shutdown to Mode 4 and will perform repairs to restore compliance with ASME code requirements.”

The licensee notified the NRC Resident Inspector.

The Residual Heat Removal (RHR) system is a safety-related system relied on to remove decay heat from the reactor core during normal shutdown operations and in the event of an accident. Because the RHR system is safety-related, technical specifications are applied to the system to specify the limiting conditions the systems must meet in order for the plant to legally keep the air conditioning running in our homes. (I refer to this state of powering our homes as being “at power.” Is it hot in here?)

The RHR system can be inspected, tested, and worked on while the plant is at power because the RHR does not need to operate in order to make power. Per the plant’s Technical Specifications, in order for the plant to produce power to charge my greedy cell phone at least one “train” of RHR must be operable – meaning the RHR must still be able to perform it’s safety functions even if part if the system is not working or is taken down for maintenance. Because the part of the RHR that leaked was part of the system that is shared between “trains,” and the leaking crack meant that the system couldn’t meet its design code standards, the minimum conditions the plant had to meet to keep our lights on were not met and the plant operators began an orderly shutdown of the plant.

Many people don’t realize – or in the case of nuclear DIS-informers, won’t admit – that a nuclear plant is a very clean place. If you visit a nuclear plant, you’ll notice a lot of freaking noise, and shiny, clean, dry floors, clean equipment and bright lights. We don’t keep up the cleanliness to impress visitors. A clean plant is also a plant where it is easier to detect when something mechanical has failed.

Think of a used car. If you look under the hood, and there’s lots of crud and black stuff everywhere, does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy about the next 100k miles? I think not! If your car is filthy under the hood, you are much less likely to notice if something is starting to fail. (It’s pretty hard to notice miniscule ethylene glycol deposits on a leaky, black engine block.) The same logic applies to a nuclear plant. In a clean plant, little deposits of born crystal are easier to spot.

The leak was discovered during routine maintenance. Diablo Canyon plant personnel discovered boron deposits on the outside of the RHR piping (where it should never be) and knew it was not supposed to be there thanks, in part, to their plant cleanliness programs. Undoubtedly, a timeout was called to investigate why such cruddy deposits would be there. This is absolutely the right thing to do. Diablo Canyon personnel performed well by keeping the safety performance of their plant in the highest priority; and demonstrating the robust nuclear safety culture of their organization.

Politicians like Barbara Boxer (who was instrumental in delaying restart and ultimately shutting down San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) may try to turn events like this into examples of nuclear plant failures. But in doing so, she does her constituents and all of us a disservice. Events such as the event at Diablo Canyon yesterday demonstrate how serious safety is to PG&E, to Diablo Canyon staff and to the nuclear industry.

Diablo Canyon personnel shut the plant down. Now they’ll repair the leak, study it’s root cause (how the leak happened), bring the plant back online (Turn the ac on, it’s hot in here!) and share their findings with the rest of the nuclear industry so that we can learn from it and prevent it happening again.

Keep up the good work guys.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Leave it to a spindly frog puppet* to encapsulate such deep wisdom into five simple words.


In a world where information travels as fast as light, and telling fact from fiction is more difficult than cooking a perfect soufflé, it can be extremely tough to know what to believe about climate science. But one thing is for sure, whether from anthropomorphic causes or tectonic activity beyond our control, our world is getting warmer. The real question is, do we ignore it and carry on like stupid creatures, or do we take a proactive approach to living with the environment, just in case?

Being green can be hard. Do you buy halogen, compact fluorescent or LED? Paper or plastic? Efficient gasoline fueled or hybrid? What about solar power? Wind? Hydro? Nuclear?


As energy demand rises, the prospects of an all-renewable energy sector grow ever more slight. The environmental impacts – biologically incompatible chemical bi-products, land consumption, capacity intermittentcy replacement needs (wind power has a capacity factor between 20-40%) – we would need to overcome in order to replace baseload nuclear power with solar panels and wind power are enormous. Nearly 2.3 billion earth-warming metric tons of carbon dioxide were pumped into the atmosphere by fossil fuel energy production in the U.S. alone in 2011. Nuclear energy helps avoid 650 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Politicians are right to tout an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy as the best option for sustaining the production needed to support economic growth and national security interests.

So frequently, “greens” and so-called environmentalists are loathe to embrace new energy development opportunities, and instead are more likely to criticize innovation for its possible negative environmental impact. But such impact is the consequence of improving the human existence. The trick is to balance the good with the not-so-good, and minimize the consequences of our work. Now, more and more environmentalists are acknowledging the important role nuclear power must play in ensuring the future of our country and the habitability of our planet.

Our planet has a sordid 4.5 billion-year history – human’s role in it a blink of the eye by comparison. But our influence on the future of this tiny rock should not be underestimated. If our species manages not extinct itself by other means – disease or war – it will grow ever more imperative to avoid actions that could contribute to a runaway greenhouse effect like that on Venus.

I am not too keen on the vision of a hot, baren, acid haloed Earth. But I like my smartphone, and my computer, and my car, and my big tv.

So instead of poo-pooing energy development – new Generation III+ nuclear plants, Keystone pipeline, oil-sands, wind farms, hydro dams, coal scrubbers – bring it on. As long as new capacity is developed with a mind to minimizing (not preventing, because that’s impossible) environmental impact, protecting the future of our planet is in lock step with new nuclear development.

*Or Jim Henson. Whatever…


  1. U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Electric Power Annual 2011.”
  2. Wind capacity factors: Wind Energy Center, University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Wind Power:  Capacity Factor, Intermittency,  and what happens when the wind doesn’t blow?”

A Letter to my Senator on PA HB818

Dear Senator,

When the Pennsylvania Senate reconvenes, you face an ominous choice. While I had hoped that a new chamber session would bring renewed focus on protecting Pennsylvania’s economic future, I am again disappointed that the focus has not been aimed where it should. Instead of discussing Governor Corbett’s state liquor privatization initiatives, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives chose to debate and pass legislation that would prohibit Pennsylvanian women from purchasing insurance plans that cover a medical procedure that some people have a religious objection to. I am sure you know I am talking about House Bill 818, which would prohibit the sale of insurance plans that cover abortion on the health insurance exchange market in Pennsylvania.
Proponents of HB818 have tried to sell the logic that this bill prevents government funding of abortion. But the crux of this rumination is illogical. Government funding of abortion is already illegal under existing law, which includes the new health care law. Proponents also say that, “since Pennsylvania would pay for the health insurance exchange, the state would be paying for abortions” by association. However, by this logic, since all Pennsylvanians fund public education and one of three Pennsylvania women will have an abortion for various reasons during her life, all Pennsylvanians are funding abortion with our education dollars. It is a transparent non-truth.
The health insurance exchange is simply a market stand for insurers to sell insurance plans. Whether an insurance plan covers abortion is not germane to the cost of administering the insurance market. When a person purchases private insurance, in no way does the state of Pennsylvania foot any part of the bill. If an abortion is performed and covered by an insurance provider as part of a private insurance plan, the cost of that abortion is paid directly by the insured and the insured’s employer if the employer shares costs.
Some try to tell a story of lost state revenue from the pretax nature of health care premiums. But this is a smoke and mirror tale as well.
I therefore reject the premise posited by proponents of HB818. I find the only logical objection to the sale of comprehensive insurance plans on the insurance exchange to be a religiously motivated logic set. And I therefore cannot support legislation in favor of this religious establishment.
As your constituent, I expect that you will consider my position carefully when you cast your vote on HB818 if it should come to the floor.

Sincerely yours,

Continue reading

The Prochoice Case Against Free Abortion

Access to abortion care is a vital aspect of comprehensive health care for women of reproductive age. Lack of access to abortion services leads to later term abortions that come with an increase in the risk of health complications like unmanageable pain or bleeding. Lack of access also opens the door for disreputable individuals to offer clandestine abortion services, which often lead to dangerous and deadly side effects.

Socioeconomic factors affecting abortion access are exacerbated by state-enacted, targeted regulation of abortion providers, or TRAP laws. TRAP laws are laws passed that apply only to abortion providers, which are often passed under the guise of protecting women’s health, while serving only to reduce the number of freestanding abortion clinics in a state, thus reducing access.

However, the primary and most immediate barrier to abortion care for many women is purely economic: the cost of an abortion. The cost for a surgical abortion in the first trimester ranges from $300 – $950. The cost for a medical abortion very early in pregnancy using an abortifacient like mifepristone costs $300 – $800. The price goes up week-per-week as a pregnancy progresses.

When I was a student working my way through college, taking the minimum student loans, and scraping by each month, raising an extra $600 in just a couple of weeks while still paying the rent and feeding myself would have been almost impossible! I’d have had to pick up extra shifts beyond the 30 hours a week I was already working. I think it would have taken me 5 or 6 weeks to earn the money. If I was diligent and found out I was pregnant at 6 weeks*, by the time I’d raised the money, made an appointment, and traversed the needlessly obligatory waiting period, the pregnancy could have progressed into the second trimester – and the price would have progressed right with it. And so I paint the picture of the unforgiving situation of chasing the cost of an abortion.

Because of this impact that cost chasing has on poor women, some prochoice activists advocate “abortion – free, on demand”. Other reproductive health care professionals advocate for increases and expansion of Medicaid coverage to pay for medically necessary as well as elective abortions for poorer Americans. But I, as a Prochoice activist, cannot fully support these position. To explain, I’ll break this motto up into two parts.

Abortion on demand!

When was the last time you walked into a doctor’s office who you’d never met, shook his or her hand and said “I want you to perform procedure X – which requires sedation, maybe a narcotic prescription, and possibly follow up – on me today.” I highly doubt you’d get what you want without an in-depth consultation at the least. Abortion in the first trimester is a minor procedure. But a patient history, pregnancy testing, and consultation is important for patient wellbeing for even minor procedures. Many states, including mine, have enacted a compulsory waiting period between the first appointment with an abortion care professional and the abortion being performed. However, a 24-hour waiting period may not be necessary (and is certainly not effective) for ensuring patient wellbeing.

Waiting periods are just another barrier. Decisions about patient care should be left to the doctor and the patient, without unwarranted intervention by the government. Compulsory waiting periods without careful consideration of and compensation for the burden such waiting periods would have on women with no childcare arrangements,  lacking private transportation or needing to travel great distances to access an abortion pose an undue burden.

Another aspect of abortions “on demand” is allowing abortion at any stage of pregnancy for any reason. Not many people support this position. The United States Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a state’s vested interest in the wellbeing of a fetus cannot override the interests of a pregnant woman until such time the fetus could be viable outside the womb – variably 22 – 24 weeks into pregnancy. Most states criminalize third trimester abortions, with exception for when the life of the mother is in danger. (One marked exception is Maryland, which has no such laws on the books and is home to one of the very few late-term abortion providers in the country.)

Though the antichoice movement would have one believe otherwise, the majority of prochoice activists support restrictions on third trimester abortions with exceptions for serious or life-threatening health circumstances and when lethal fetal anomalies are confirmed.

Abortion – for free?

Health care costs money. Many people disagree with the notion of health care as a civil right. Personally, I reject the philosophy that some lives are worth more than others if they have enough money. In my view, some fundamental level of health care is indeed a civil right. As health care costs money, a threshold exists where the obligation to protect the common wellbeing ends and a personal agenda of wellbeing begins.

There will be an estimated 56.9 million Americans enrolled in Medicaid in 2013**. In most states, Medicaid covers an abortion if it is a medically necessary health care procedure. But the majority abortions are arguably not medically necessary. The question in the case of non-medically indicated health care procedures becomes – who is obligated to fund your life? Is the government supposed to take care of you?

Under the Constitution, our government provides vital services for the indigent and those that cannot care for themselves. This does not mean the government (the people) should pay for laser eye surgery because a Medicaid recipient is burdened by wearing glasses. As another analogy, this also does not mean the government is obligated to pay for tubal ligation or vasectomy. Likewise, an elective, non-medically indicated medical procedure does not fall under the financial obligation of our government (the people) to protect the welfare and national security of our country.

The government does (the people do) , however, pay or free contraception access (and in some cases, tubal ligation sterilization procedures) for Medicaid recipients and other qualified persons. This is because our government (the people) takes advice from the medical industry and the experience of our and other countries, which shows that in the long term it is in our best interest to prevent disease and unintended pregnancy rather than fight the symptoms.

Contraception access and comprehensive sex education prevent unplanned pregnancies. Offering elective abortion for free is not a preventative measure, and does nothing to prevent future unplanned pregnancies. A switch from a curative health care system to a preventative health care system is the single most important step the people (the government) can take toward protecting the common welfare of our country.

Offering abortion for free could have additional indirect consequences. If there is no consequence (cost) for needing an abortion, then there is no incentive for preventing unplanned pregnancy in the first place. Sure, there is always the desire to prevent the more uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy. But if abortion were free, there would be no issue with pregnancy symptoms, because as soon as a woman found out she was unwelcomely pregnant, she could just jaunt right over, have an abortion within a day or two, and rid herself of the symptoms. Studies have shown money to be an effective incentive for eliciting many good behaviors – good grades and weight management for example. Why should avoiding pregnancy be any different?

Bad behavior with no consequences is no bad behavior at all. Personally, I worked quite well to make sure I never ended up pregnant unexpectedly. Neglecting contraceptive measures, getting pregnant, and then footing the people with your unnecessary medical bill is bad behavior. We should all be tasked with assuming a measure of personal responsibility when it comes to our health care. And when we choose to practice safe (or not) sex, we have accepted not only the protection, but also the risk that our chosen contraception method will fail. This is a calculated risk, one for which we should all be prepared to pay.

*More commonly, women discover they are pregnant at between 6 and 12 weeks.

**U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Fiscal Year 2013 Budget in Brief, Strengthening Health and Opportunity for All Americans,” http://www.hhs.gov/budget/fy2013/budget-brief-fy2013.pdf

The Feminist Double Standard

When we talk about the influence of feminism on women’s rights, we often enter into the conversation about the double standards women are held to by society. Whether it is in our sex lives, our work/life balance, or our looks, feminists object to any unequal application of restrictive convention on women as a matter of basic principle. And the fact that we women are often judged by our looks over our intellect is a very sore point in that exchange.

So when President Obama introduced his good friend Kamala Harris this week during a DNC event, along with another elected official, many people were quick to call his remarks out as sexist.

“Congressman Mike Honda is here.  Where is Mike?  (Applause.)  He is around here somewhere.  There he is.  Yes, I mean, he’s not like a real tall guy, but he’s a great guy.  (Laughter.)

“Second of all, you have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake.  She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here.  (Applause.)  It’s true.  Come on.  (Laughter.)  And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years. ”

What is really wrong here is that, by chastising President Obama for remarking on Attorney General Harris’ looks (as opposed to the same about Mike Honda), we are really imposing a feministic double standard on him. President Obama makes flattering (or not so) comments about the physical appearance of accomplished and good looking people as a matter of habit. And for the most part, those accomplished folks upon whom he has heaped compliment have been men. President Obama is an equal opportunity flatterer.

Obama remarked over Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s appearance last year.

“A couple people I want to thank for their outstanding work. First of all, our Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, is in the house.  (Applause.)  He’s the guy in the nice-looking hat.  Not only does it look good, but it protects his head, because the hair has gotten a little thin up there.  (Laughter.)  He is a good-looking guy.”

If President Obama’s comments on Harris’ looks crossed the line, so should comments about every other politician’s looks he has ever made. The fact that Harris is a woman should not render comments or compliments about her looks taboo. Such a rule, in itself, is a double standard. To hold President Obama to a different standard when the subject of his praise is a woman undermines the goals of equal treatment, equal rights and equal opportunity for women and men.

I compare this situation to the flawed logic of me getting offended when my male coworkers fail to censor themselves in my presence. The fact that they would curse up a storm or tell jokes in casual conversation with me shows me that they do not view me in a different light. Some people may think they should watch what they say in front of a lady. But I say, “SCREW THAT! I want to hear the joke about the polar bear walking into a bar too.”

If the President’s remarks about good looking people are evenly uttered about men as well as women, I see no reason to censor the handsome conversationalist for the sake of feministic ideals.

Why Atheists Should Care About the Pope

Like many other atheists, I’m sure, I emitted a distinct air of indifference about all this pope selection business. I did think it was wise of the old guy to step down. Popin’ aint easy, ya know. And it is not like I could have had any influence whatsoever over the outcome of that conclave thing. Though I did think the @SistineSeagull thing was hilarious.

But in hindsight I find myself actually caring who becomes the next pope. Not because he is a spiritual leader. Not because he is the first non-European pope in eons. I care about who becomes pope because the man who assumes this position is given a very lofty soapbox. And what he uses that soapbox for can be really scary.

Will he use his soapbox to spread a message of love an tolerance? Will he use his soapbox to spread a message of respect and equality for women? When he dons that big white tiara, will he advocate for the freedom of homosexuals to live their lives as they see fit and experience love without persecution or violence? 

Atheists should care about these things. The pope has a billion faithful (to some degree or other) hanging on his every word. And these Catholic people run our schools, sit in our government (though, thank goodness we got rid of that Santorum craziness), and work on our police forces. A pope that uses his pulpit to bully and demean atheists as confused, contemptuous children who have been duped by Satan is a detriment to us all.

Here’s hoping he uses that soapbox for something constructive.