Le voyage en France 2011: Chapitre 1

Paris is always a good idea – The movie “Sabrina”

America is my country and Paris is my hometown – Gertrude Stein

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.-Ernest Hemingway

Other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in France, drunkenness is a consequence, never an intention. A drink is felt as the spinning out of a pleasure, not as the necessary cause of an effect which is sought: wine is not only a philtre, it is also the leisurely act of drinking.-Roland Barthes

The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older – intelligence and good manners.-F. Scott Fitzgerald

To err is human. To loaf is Parisian.-Victor Hugo

Boy, those French. They have a different word for everything.-Steve Martin

Here I am, just a country boy at heart, visiting France for the first time. Though, as my fellow submariners will tell you, I’ve literally been around the world, but sometimes I feel as if I never really left home. I have now. I have to say that I was quite nervous prior to leaving, not sure why, but I was. When the day finally came about, all was goo though. I got to Nashville airport quite early, but that is how I like it; I don’t mind waiting at the airport, I hate to be rushed. The trip to Atlanta was without much excitement. In Atlanta, my plane went directly to the same terminal I would be leaving from. Quite convenient. My layover was three hours and forty-five minutes; again, I don’t mind waiting. Boarding the Air France plane was like stepping into a spaceship, I felt the anticipation, could almost taste it. The flight to Paris was only forty percent full, so for weight and balance considerations, they had us take ‘temporary’ seats for the takeoff, but soon after we were allowed to take our assigned seats. My assigned seat was in the center section of four seats, but I had all four to myself! I could lay back with comfort! Soon after taking off, they served dinner, and I had the first of what would come to be a quite common verbal exchange. The flight attendant asked what I wanted for dinner, and I said, “Je veux un coca light.” She then said “Ahhhhh vous parlez Francais” Followed by a bunch of words that I totally did not understand! My bewildered look led her to say… “Do you speak English” at which I sighed, “yes.” This has happened a few times, mostly in Paris though. I was afraid I would not sleep on the flight, but luckily I did. I suppose the four seats I had made a bit of a difference, I certainly hope my flight home is similarly empty. I couldn’t easily look out the windows, but I did notice that Charles De Gaulle airport is surprisingly amidst the country! Lots of agriculture around the airport. I landed, and made my way to and through customs with little to no problems. The customs agent simply asked me to remove my hat to compare me to my passport photo. The first thing I did after customs was to find a French Telecom public phone and phone my shuttle service to ask for a pickup. No problem, the lady on the other end spoke a rather hurried English. Making my way to baggage claim, I found that my bag had just come out of the chute. Surprising luck. I then headed out to ‘sortie’ 8 and waited for my shuttle. I had to wait about twenty minutes…. But I was waiting IN PARIS! This phrase became my catchphrase during my entire stay in Paris. No matter what happened to me… it was happening In Paris! Now the shuttle… Wow, better than a Nascar In-Car camera, I felt every side slip, and bump the entire way to my hote. And interestingly the shuttle was a Prius. Not being driven in a fuel-efficient manner though. Most of the traffic was heading north, so we didn’t run into many slow downs until we came more into the center of Paris. Now the shuttle driver was playing a French pop radio station, and after recovering from the shock of an Indy 500 like start, I noticed “She’s a maniac” pumping out of the speakers. Hello eighties! It appears that mixing pop songs with French songs is ‘the’ thing in France. I think the French government requires they play something like thirty percent French music, but rest is some genre of American music. Paris traffic is rather crazy, and one thing that I noticed was that scooters and full-sized motorcycles are not just allowed, but encouraged to disregard any and all lanes! As ‘Love is a Battlefield’ wafted through my ears, I was amazed by the courage that these cycle drivers displayed weaving in and out of traffic, and between closely packed lanes of traffic! I did finally arrive at my hotel in one piece, and ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’ saw me out of the Prius, and onto the sidewalk. Checking in was easy, I had studied a few phrases of French for my arrival, and this was one. I paid for my three night stay in Paris, and got the key to my room. In the States, the fob on this key would have been appropriate for many a country gas station restroom key… not exactly a pocketable item. Hitting my room was a pleasure, I was ready to settle in, but I still had one task to perform. For anyone planning a trip to France, at Charles De Gaulle (CDG), there are no phone outlets in the arrival section. I had bought a GO phone in the USA, and my plan was to buy a French SIM card to put in it. I had already looked up the closest kiosk for this from my hotel, and had ‘walked’ to it via Google street view, but a brief conversation with the hotel attendant led me to a shopping mall called Italie 2. This was lucky, as the kiosk I had found on the internet was from a bygone era, well at least in internet terms. It was a closed up shop. But in Italie 2, I found a shop named Darty which is similar to a Best Buy. I went up and went through my little spiel… ‘Je veux un SIM carte s’il vous plait.’ I took my phone out, and took the back off and removed my USA SIM. He asked me something in French, but I recognized that he was asking if my phone was unlocked. I replied ‘Je pense que, oui.’ He took his SIM card out and tried it… no go. So I said ‘Pas problem’, I just asked for a prepaid phone, then he started asking a bunch of questions. I think my blank face initiated his, ‘Do you speak English’, and I said … ‘yes’. His English wasn’t perfect, but neither is mine, so we got along famously. Oh and another thing… That whole Jason Bourne buy a prepaid phone and slip it into someones pocket?? Nope…. Hollywood! I had to show my passport, they made a copy of my passport, and I had to sign lots of things… then I got my twenty-nine euro prepaid phone. But it all worked well! I called Ethan and he was on the train, heading to Paris, would arrive in a few hours, so I decided to fix my phone up and go have some beers and wait to go meet him. My hotel was only a kilometer and a half from Gare Austerlitz, one of the main train stations in Paris, so the plan was for me to walk up the street, and him down and we’d meet. Oh by the way… ‘Je veux un biere, s’il vous plait.’ Is a very important phrase to learn. So learn it well! I had four beers while waiting, and then headed out to meet Ethan. I called him, and got no answer… called him again, and went straight to voicemail. I’m just plodding up the street, and while fiddling in my pocket for my phone, who do I almost literally run into… Ethan! What a joyous meeting. by this time we had to hurry to get back to the hotel and hit the Metro to go to the Eiffel Tower. My good friend Joe Phillips (His new book, Vampire Management, is just being published, you should get one!) by some coincidence was going to be in Belgium, at about the time I was going to Paris, so he decided to fly back out of Paris. Because of the certainty of no telecoms, we had made plans to meet at the Eiffel Tower at 6:45 local time. We got there a little after seven, and saw dishearteningly that there was quite a throng of people, and the setting sun was sure to make our discovery of each other very difficult. I just happened to look in a certain direction, and saw someone who I swear had the same ‘back of the head’ as Joe. So with the country boy in me, I just hollered; “JOE”, and amazingly he stopped and came towards me. Seriously, this was very lucky, he had to have been fifty to seventy-five yards away. That Parisienne luck was still with us. So, we took a few pictures, and then decided to go have a beer and get a bite to eat. Knowing that everything was expensive near the Eiffel Tower, we walked away from it to try to find a place to sit down. The first place we stopped at, we had Kronenbourg beer, a French beer, and some frites and a cheese plate. “Frites and Fromage” That was the specialty I had! Here was where I described to Ethan and Joe my new catch phrase; “In Paris”. And we used that the rest of the night, nay, the rest of the trip! After here, we decided to then go do a little bar hopping. The next place we went to was a nice little place, they had homemade chips, and of course we had beer. There was an interesting American couple there: Nick and Katelyn. Katelyn was a very…. ummm how to put this… negative person. Yeah she was very negative. She was complaining about everything, her earlier meal had been bad, etc. Her boyfriend Nick, a really nice guy mind you, had brought them over with his work, so a paid vacation… To Paris! Ahh well. I suppose Paris doesn’t touch everyone’s heart. We had some beers here and talked with Nick and Katelyn for a bit, and then decided to find another place. We hadn’t walked a hundred yards when Joe and I felt bad for Nick… We stopped and conferred… And yes, we should give Nick the opportunity to escape. So we walked back and I distracted Katelyn with “Did I leave my glasses in here?” Followed by: “So you went to school in Ohio?” While Joe gave Nick the opportunity to slip off with us. Of course, Nick did decline with a laugh and he said Katelyn is a really good girl. And I’m sure she is, but I hope when he’s forty, he doesn’t look back and say… “Damn I wish I’d gone with those guys!” We then went to our last place for the night, had a glass of champagne, and another cheese plate, and called it a night. Joe took a cab, and Ethan and I made our way down to a Metro stop. The Hotel looked quite pleasant for a good night’s sleep. And I was definitely ready to sleep. In Paris!

Surviving the Rip Tides

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell

“Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.” – W. C. Fields

“Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Alva Edison

“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” – Albert Einstein

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” – Thomas Jefferson

There are so many metaphors that can be used for striving, and surviving in life. The ‘current’ of the ‘river of life’, ‘arms like wings’ riding the currents of wind, etc. All these metaphors are just ways of translating ideas, ideals, and concepts to aid us in this blind journey through life. And it is a blind journey as none of us can see into the future. Oh sure we can plan, and prepare for what we see as the most potential dangers that beset us. But all of life really is an assessment of the dangers of the present. This ‘risk assessment’ is something that we all do, though mostly subconsciously. When you are at an intersection you (hopefully!) look both ways before you pull out. So you see a car coming, immediately you assess; how fast it’s going, and knowing the performance your car you determine the odds of successfully negotiating the action. You may not realize you are doing this, but you are. Here’s another example:

Let’s say you are using a riding lawn mower on a yard that you are not quite familiar with. Going across the yard you encounter a rather steep slope of which you will be crossing perpendicularly. You stop, and assess the slope, and thinking of your mower you make a mental decision whether to go ahead, or to stop and do something different. This is where life’s decisions come to a head. You go forward and one of three things can happen: one is that there is no problem; the second is that you roll over and tumble down the slope, and the third is that the mower tilts up and to ‘that point’ and pauses. At that time, your mind is racing, and you realize you are in terrible danger. So either the mower continues over and you tumble down, or it slowly lowers back to the ground. At this point you have learned a valuable lesson. Well hopefully you have learned a lesson. And this will affect how you make future decisions.

Often we make decisions for the absolutely wrong reasons: In the lawnmower example (which is anecdotal by the way) perhaps it’s laziness, thinking “I just want to get this over and done”, and merely changing your mowing pattern takes too long, so you don’t. When negotiating traffic perhaps it’s that you need to be somewhere and didn’t allow enough time. Whatever, sometimes we don’t always think things through. And often times this is all based on our attitude. The bar fight started because one guy just didn’t “like” another guy. (See Abe’s quote above.) I could continue on with coming up with examples, but really it should be obvious that it is our ‘attitude’ that affects our decision making skills.

Attitude, the psychological term not the geometrical orientation along a plane (as in the attitude of the lawnmower about to tip over in the example above), is what I think affects so much of our decision making processes. Jung defined attitude as the “readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way”, which fits this hypothesis perfectly. I have always considered the ‘frame of mind’ as the fulcrum of the decision making scale, but Jung’s definition of attitude relates this concept to attitude. There have been many arguments and theories about what affects attitude, and perhaps one’s attitude is based on social, environmental, and genetic influences. I know that I have recognized that my attitude has been influenced by all of these factors. Growing up I had certain factors that were both experience and environment based that affected my attitude; both my decision making ability, and my opinions about the things in my life. In retrospect I can look at how I’ve lived my life and I can clearly see that my decision making paradigm was completely influenced by my attitude at the time. And that is a bit scary, because, though my attitude has changed radically in my lifetime, there are parts of my attitude that I see haven’t changed. I would like to think that I am an erudite person who calmly calculates the risks with everything that comes into and through the purview of my life… but I can assure you that many decisions I make are purely gut decisions. So generally I am nothing more than one big dumb muscle blindly responding to whatever stimuli happens to come within my reach. But… one thing that a big dumb muscle doesn’t have is introspection and awareness, and though I do not claim to be an intellect, I do try to judge myself and be aware. This is the biggest step to monitoring and trying to keep your attitude trimmed. (I’m using ‘trim’ as the spatial term here.) I have heard the phrase “your attitude affects your altitude”, and this is how trimming your attitude comes into play. Keeping one’s attitude positive is how we do this. Now on to this topic…

Maintaining a positive attitude is much easier said than done. I do believe that the attitude is built out of social, environmental and genetic influences. Genetic influence to attitude is something that we cannot modify. Sorry. Social and environmental influences are what we have to work with. Social is the easiest, if you hang around positive people then your attitude (especially when you are with them) will tend to be positive. For me, I tend to shy away from people who live at the ends of the spectrum; tea partiers, and ultra-liberal hate mongers always ‘bring me down’. Sorry Eeyore, but you’re bringing me down man. My mom used to call it “dwelling” as in “don’t dwell on that for too long or you’ll just want to cry.” So let’s not hang around cave ‘dwellers’. This leaves us with environmental influences, which is much harder to define. It is possible to argue that environmental and social are the same, but I feel that social more directly deals with the people you associate with and environmental is more the ‘situations’ you get into. But I do agree that social and environmental are closely related, the environmental situations you get yourself into will often either be driven by the people you hang around, and conversely, the people you hang around will often get you into situations! But I’m using environmental to define specifically one’s; financial situation, living situation, romantic situation, and etc. All of these are generally easy to ferret out. If you are upside in your car or home, your attitude will most definitely be negatively affected. Marry the wrong person… Standby by my friend, by you are going for an attitude ride. I’ll leave you all to fill in all the other examples for yourself.

So, what do we do? How do we proceed? Well, my friend, Tony Robbins I’m not. I can’t tell you what to do or how to do it. But I can say that here is what I’ve come up with: Think about what you are doing, and what you are going to do. Use risk assessment like I described above. Be careful who you associate with, or if you have certain friends or relatives who are ‘negative Neds/Nellies’ don’t subscribe to their attitudes. If you have negative friends or relatives who are argumentative, don’t argue. Be true to yourself, and be honest with yourself. Is it really important to get so worked up over a football game, or which cell phone carrier you use? Seriously, not a single multi-millionaire football player cares about you, and for the love of God not one damn company in the universe actually cares about you, you are nothing more than a tiny blip on a spreadsheet on someone’s computer.

Now this is what drove me to write this article… Do your best to adhere to a Zen mind.  To minimize; wants, desires, and cravings. To completely get into whatever it is you are doing, ‘walk while walking’. When you drive, drive. (Don’t text, daydream, or argue with the wife/husband.) I am new to this Zen idea, but am completely enthralled with the concept. What a way to become an empty vessel, and if you’re ‘empty’ then how can there be turmoil? Feel free to leave (hopefully constructive) comments. But if you think I’m just another idiot with a blog… ummm that will negatively affect my attitude. Sorry.

As you were.

Submariner’s Prayer


In the beginning there was a word; and the word was God.  All else was darkness and void without form. So God created the heavens and the earth. He created the sun and the moon and the stars, so that light may pierce the darkness.  The earth, God divided between the land and the sea and these He filled with many assorted creatures.

The dark, salty, slimy creatures that inhabited the seashore He called Royal Marines and He dressed them accordingly.  The flighty creatures of the air He called Airy Fairies and these He clothed in uniforms which were ruffled and foul. These creatures were not over popular, as their droppings fell on the earth below, but God forgave them because as He said, they knoweth not what they do.

The lower creatures of the sea, God called Skimmers, and with a twinkle in His eye, and a sense of humour that only He could have, God gave them big grey targets to go to sea in. He gave them very many splendid uniforms to wear. He gave them wonderful and exotic places to visit.  He gave them pen and paper so that they might write home every weekand He gave them make and mends at sea. He also gave them a laundry that they might keep their splendid uniforms clean. When you are God you tend to get carried away.

On the seventh day as you know God rested and on the eighth day at 0700Z God looked down upon the earth and God was not a Happy God.

So he thought about His labours and with His infinite wisdom, God created a divine creature, and this divine creature he called a Submariner. And these Submariners whom God created in His own image, were to be of the Deep.  He gave a white woolly jumper to keep them warm.  He gave them black steel messengers of death to roam the depths of the seas, waging war against the forces of Satan and evil.  He gave them hotels to welcome them when the grew weary of doing Gods will. He gave them subsistence that they may entertain the ladies on nights ashore and impress the hell out of the creatures called Skimmers.

At the end of the eighth day God looked down upon the earth and saw that all was well.  But still God was not happy, because, in the course of His labours, He had forgotten one thing.  He had not given Himself a Submariners white woolly jumper.  He thought long and hard and finally satisfied his mind . . .

. . . . .  .not just anybody can be a Submariner !!

Nothing I can add to this.

As you were.

May 21, 2011: rapture or party time?

May 21, 2011: rapture or party time? 

I just want to point out some interesting items from this story…

“To answer one popular question: Camping has not sold his Alameda home, nor has he given away his possessions, although media reports suggest a handful of believers have cashed in and pulled up stakes in anticipation of the final day.

Camping says God wants people to live every day humbly and as evenly as the next.”

So, by cracky, let’s hold on to those possessions, you never know when you might need them.

“New Zealanders will be the first to know, Camping said. At 6 p.m. their time – 11 p.m. Friday in the Bay Area – a great earthquake will shake the island asunder, triggering an apocalypse that rolls relentlessly our way.”

At least God respects time zones!

“His follower Evans plans to huddle at home with his wife and children. ‘I know I want to be with them when it happens, God have mercy,’ he said.”

‘Huddling’ at home and ‘God have mercy’? Sounds like fear has been instilled int this true believer… fear of a ‘loving’ God.

Oh my. And though it is not mentioned in this article I read in another that from tomorrow until September, Jesus was going to reign on the earth and torment and torture those left behind. Is this “For God so loved the world” sort of stuff? Just my thoughts.

Gee, I love my children so much I think I’m gonna go home and squeeze their fingers with pliers.

I apologize for my cynicism, but this is just silliness. If there is a God, then Camping and his followers’ actions are most definitely blasphemy of the highest sort.  Where are the mythbusters when you need them!

As you were.

Adios OBL

“It is not worthwhile to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible. “- Mark Twain

“To himself everyone is immortal; he may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead.” – Samuel Butler

“Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up.  I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something.  Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery.  People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap.  Who wants flowers when you’re dead?  Nobody. “ – J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1945

Sunday, May 1st is a day that will live on in our minds and hearts for quite some time. But even the memory of justice being served, and the world-wide acceptance of the death of one of the greatest mass murderers in our time, will fade as the years go by. Fade to the point of a footnote in history. Please don’t misunderstand me, Osama Bin Laden’s death is a good thing, in my opinion, and the world is a better place now that he is in Davey Jones’ locker; as much for his ability to incite masses of people to violence, as it was for his personal masterminding of the deaths of thousands. That is hard to type, one person being responsible for the death of thousands! Now he’s gone, and we will play the cards dealt for in a new hand.

OBL’s death is a news flash for some, but a poignant and pivotal moment in some people’s lives. OBL was responsible for thousands of deaths, and sadly, probably because of his recruitment many more deaths in the future and this is catastrophic. Death can be good and bad, all in how we rationalize it I suppose. I have served in the military, and I support all of our armed forces men and women without hesitation. Congratulations to the members of SEAL team six who put themselves in harm’s way, and the hundreds, if not thousands, that supported them on this mission, and everything leading up to May 1st.

I wish we as the human race could learn from history, collectively we do not, but I know that we won’t. I think Loki has cursed us to repeat our same failures over and over again. Driving today, I saw five older teenagers walking down the road, they were walking five-abreast, and cars were having to swerve around them. A car ahead of me honked at them, not unreasonable, and these teens flipped out, well flipped off anyway. Meaning they started flipping off the car, and if I could have heard them, I know they weren’t saying nice things. But honestly, if you look at this situation, this is the epitome  of human nature. We all tend to be self-centered, and feel that everything revolves around “us”. This will never change. Yeah, they were teenagers , which means they haven’t picked up their brains from the coat check yet, but still. I am very happy that OBL is no longer among the living, and I do feel that the world is a better place with him gone, but this will indeed pass, and we, all of us, will make the same mistakes again. Probably our great-great-great-grandchildren.

As you were.


A Real Deal Explanation of the Japanese Nuclear Disaster

The utter devastation that has been visited on Japan is heart-rending. I fear the death toll will do nothing but rise for the next few weeks. My mind boggles at the damage that is slowly being revealed. I am doing the only thing that I know to do, and that is to donate to the Red Cross.

Concerning the buzz around the nuclear plants, here is a comment posted by “Sam W.-3161669” on an MSNBC.com article. Generally speaking ALL journalists are totally unqualified to write an article about nuclear power incidents. They being ignorant and fearful, along with an innate desire to sensationalize, tend to amplify the bad news.

What is going on here?

In the aftermath of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, two nuclear power stations on the east coast of Japan have been experiencing problems. They are the Fukushima Daiichi (“daiichi” means “number one”) and Fukushima Daini (“number two”) sites, operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (or TEPCO). Site one has six reactors, and site two has four. The problematic reactors are #1, #2, and #3 at site one, which are the oldest of the ten and were due to be decommissioned this year.

In short, the earthquake combined with the tsunami have impaired the cooling systems at these reactors, which has made it difficult for TEPCO to shut them down completely. Reactor #1 is now considered safe after crew flooded the reactor with sea water. Reactor #3 was starting this process as this was originally written (6:00PM CST/11:00PM GST on March 13th). Site crew began preparing to add sea water to reactor #2 around 7:30AM GMT on March 14th, if a cooling procedure does not work.

The four reactors at site two did not have their systems impaired and have shut down normally.

Can this cause a nuclear explosion?

No. It is physically impossible for a nuclear power station to explode like a nuclear weapon.

Nuclear bombs work by causing a supercritical fission reaction in a very small space in an unbelievably small amount of time. They do this by using precisely-designed explosive charges to combine two subcritical masses of nuclear material so quickly that they bypass the critical stage and go directly to supercritical, and with enough force that the resulting supercritical mass cannot melt or blow itself apart before all of the material is fissioned.

Current nuclear power plants are designed around subcritical masses of radioactive material, which are manipulated into achieving sustained fission through the use of neutron moderators. The heat from this fission is used to convert water to steam, which drives electric generator turbines. (This is a drastic simplification.) They are not capable of achieving supercritical levels; the nuclear fuel would melt before this could occur, and a supercritical reaction is required for an explosion to occur.

Making a nuclear bomb is very difficult, and it is completely impossible for a nuclear reactor to accidentally become a bomb. Secondary systems, like cooling or turbines, can explode due to pressure and stress problems, but these are not nuclear explosions.

Is this a meltdown?

Technically, yes, but not in the way that most people think.

The term “meltdown” is not used within the nuclear industry, because it is insufficiently specific. The popular image of a meltdown is when a nuclear reactor’s fuel core goes out of control and melts its way out of the containment facility. This has not happened and is unlikely to happen.

What has happened in reactor #1 and #3 is a “partial fuel melt”. This means that the fuel core has suffered damage from heat but is still largely intact. No fuel has escaped containment. Core #2 may have experienced heat damage as well, but the details are not known yet. It is confirmed that reactor #2’s containment has not been breached.

How did this happen? Aren’t there safety systems?

When the earthquakes in Japan occurred on March 11th, all ten reactor cores “scrammed”, which means that their control rods were inserted automatically. This shut down the active fission process, and the cores have remained shut down since then.

The problem is that even a scrammed reactor core generates “decay heat”, which requires cooling. When the tsunami arrived shortly after the earthquake, it damaged the external power generators that the sites used to power their cooling systems. This meant that while the cores were shut down, they were still boiling off the water used as coolant.

This caused two further problems. First, the steam caused pressure to build up within the containment vessel. Second, once the water level subsided, parts of the fuel rods were exposed to air, causing the heat to build up more quickly, leading to core damage from the heat.

What are they doing about it?

From the very beginning, TEPCO has had the option to flood the reactor chambers with sea water, which would end the problems immediately. Unfortunately, this also destroys the reactors permanently. Doing so would not only cost TEPCO (and Japanese taxpayers) billions of dollars, but it would make that reactor unavailable for generating electricity during a nationwide disaster. The sea water method is a “last resort” in this sense, but it has always been an option.

To avoid this, TEPCO first took steps to bring the cooling systems back online and to reduce the pressure on the inside of the containment vessel. This involved bringing in external portable generators, repairing damaged systems, and venting steam and gases from inside the containment vessel. These methods worked for reactor #2 at site one, prior to complications; reactors four through six were shut down before for inspection before the earthquake hit.

In the end, TEPCO decided to avoid further risk and flooded reactor #1 with sea water. It is now considered safely under control. Reactor #3 is currently undergoing this process, and reactor #2 may undergo it if a venting procedure fails.

The four reactors at site two did not have their external power damaged by the tsunami, and are therefore operating normally, albeit in a post-scram shutdown state. They have not required any venting, and reactor #3 is already in full cold shutdown.

Is a “China Syndrome” meltdown possible?

No, any fuel melt situation at Fukushima will be limited, because the fuel is physically incapable of having a runaway fission reaction. This is due to their light water reactor design.

In a light water reactor, water is used as both a coolant for the fuel core and as a “neutron moderator”. What a neutron moderator does is very technical (you can watch a lecture which includes this information here), but in short, when the neutron moderator is removed, the fission reaction will stop.

An LWR design limits the damage caused by a meltdown, because if all of the coolant is boiled away, the fission reaction will not keep going, because the coolant is also the moderator. The core will then only generate decay heat, which while dangerous and strong enough to melt the core, is not nearly as dangerous as an active fission reaction.

The containment vessel at Fukushima should be strong enough to resist breaching even during a decay heat meltdown. The amount of energy that could be produced by decay heat is easily calculated, and it is possible to design a container that will resist it. If it is not, and the core melts its way through the bottom of the vessel, it will end up in a large concrete barrier below the reactor. It is nearly impossible that a fuel melt caused by decay heat would penetrate this barrier. A containment vessel failure like this would result in a massive cleanup job but no leakage of nuclear material into the outside environment.

This is all moot, however, as flooding the reactor with sea water will prevent a fuel melt from progressing. TEPCO has already done this to reactor #1, and is in the process of doing it to #3. If any of the other reactors begin misbehaving, the sea water option will be available for those as well.

What was this about an explosion?

One of the byproducts of reactors like the ones at Fukushima is hydrogen. Normally this gas is vented and burned slowly. Due to the nature of the accident, the vented hydrogen gas was not properly burned as it was released. This led to a build up of hydrogen gas inside the reactor #1 building, but outside the containment vessel.

This gas ignited, causing the top of the largely cosmetic external shell to be blown off. This shell was made of sheet metal on a steel frame and did not require a great deal of force to be destroyed. The reactor itself was not damaged in this explosion, and there were only four minor injuries. This was a conventional chemical reaction and not a nuclear explosion.

You see what happened in the photo of the reactor housing. Note that other than losing the sheet metal covering on the top, the reactor building is intact. No containment breach has occurred.

At about 2:30AM GMT on March 14th, a similar explosion occurred at the reactor #3 building. This explosion was not unexpected, as TEPCO had warned that one might occur. The damage is still being assessed but it has been announced that the containment vessel was not breached and that the sea water process is continuing.

Around 7:30AM GMT on March 14th, it was announced that the explosion at reactor #2 has damaged the already limping cooling systems of reactor #2. It may also receive the sea water treatment if they are unable to use a venting procedure to restart the cooling systems.

Is there radiation leakage?

The radiation levels outside the plant are higher than usual due to the release of radioactive steam. These levels will go down and return to their normal levels, as no fuel has escaped containment.

For perspective, note that charts detailing detrimental radiation exposure start at 1 Gy, equivalent to 1 Sv; the radiation outside the problematic Fukushima reactors is being measured in micro-Svs per hour. The highest reported levels outside the Fukushima reactors has been around 1000 to 1500 micro-Svs per hour. This means that one would have to stay in this area for four to six weeks, 24 hours a day, without protection in order to experience the lowest level of radiation poisoning, which while unpleasant is not normally fatal. And this level will not stay where it is.

Also note the chart of normal radiation exposure levels from things like medical x-rays and airline flights.

There have also been very minor releases of radioactive reactor byproducts like iodine and cesium along with the steam. This material is less radioactive than the typical output of coal power plants. It is significant mainly as an indicator of the state of the reactor core.

I read that there’s a plume of radioactive material heading across the Pacific.

In its current state, the steam blowing east from Japan across the pacific is less dangerous than living in Denver for a year. If it makes it across the ocean, it will be almost undetectable by the time it arrives, and completely harmless as the dangerous elements in the steam will have decayed by then.

What’s this about fuel rods being exposed to the air?

When the coolant levels inside the reactor get low enough, the tops of the fuel rods will be exposed to the air inside the containment vessel. They have not been exposed to the external atmosphere and the containment vessels are all intact.

Can this end up like Chernobyl?

No, it cannot. for several reasons.

  • Chernobyl used graphite as a neutron moderator and water as a coolant. For complicated reasons, this meant that as the coolant heated up and converted to steam, the fission reaction intensified, converting even more water to steam, leading to a feedback effect. The Fukushima reactors use water as both the coolant and the neutron moderator, which means that as the water heats up and converts to steam, the reaction slows down instead. (The effect of the conversion of water coolant to steam on the performance of a nuclear reactor is known as the “void coefficient”, and can be either positive or negative.)
  • Chernobyl was designed so that as the nuclear fuel heated up, the fission reaction intensified, heating the core even further, causing another feedback effect. In the Fukushima reactors, the fission reaction slows down as the fuel heats up. (The effect of heating of the nuclear fuel on the performance of a nuclear reactor is known as the “temperature coefficient”, and can also be positive or negative.)
  • Chernobyl’s graphite moderator was flammable, and when the reactor exploded, the radioactive graphite burned and ended up in the atmosphere. The Fukushima reactors use water as a neutron moderator, which is obviously not flammable.

Note that while Chernobyl used light water as a coolant (as distinct from heavy water), it was not a “light water reactor”. The term LWR refers strictly to reactors that use light water for both cooling and neutron moderation.

The news said this was the worst nuclear power accident since Chernobyl, though.

It’s the only nuclear power plant accident of its type since Chernobyl. It’s easy to be the worst in a sample size of one.

Is this like Three Mile Island?

There are similarities. The final effect on the world is likely to be similar: no deaths, minimal external contamination, and a tremendous PR disaster for the nuclear industry due to bad reporting by the media.

How can I keep up with developments?

The western media has been very bad about reporting this event, due to a combination of sensationalist reporting, ignorance, and the use of inexact or unexplained terminology.

One of the safe sources of information is the TEPCO site, which has been posting press releases on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this site is often unresponsive due to the immense traffic it is receiving.

The important thing to remember is that most of the “experts” appearing on the news are engaging in speculation. Very few of them are restricting themselves to what they can be sure about, and those that are have often been misrepresented.


  • Timeline and data sheets for the incident by the Nuclear Energy Institute : (nei.org)
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency is providing regular announcements
  • Wikipedia on light water reactors and nuclear weapon design
  • The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) Systems manual – the Fukushima reactors are BWRs, a subset of LWRs (nrc.gov)
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company site with press releases – currently hard to reach due to traffic (tepco.co.jp/en)


  • “Physics for Future Presidents” lecture ten, on nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors (Youtube search)
  • Footage of the hydrogen explosion at reactor #1


Righteousness in the name…

Speaking in the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, he argued that religion was a force for good, but its “manipulation” caused divisions and even violence. – Benedict XVI

“I think it’s perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don’t know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away. Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it’s because he’s ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they’re responsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I’d want nothing to do with them.” – Philip Pullman

“Every religion is ‘bizarre’ for those who do not accept its tenets.” – Anon

“We have lobbed verses of Scripture, like hand grenades, into the camps of others, convinced we only have truth.” – Most Rev. George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, 1997

“The bigotry of the nonbeliever is for me nearly as funny as the bigotry of the believer.” – Abert Einstein

“A man who is convinced of the truth of his religion is indeed never tolerant. At the least, he is to feel pity for the adherent of another religion but usually it does not stop there. The faithful adherent of a religion will try first of all to convince those that believe in another religion and usually he goes on to hatred if he is not successful. However, hatred then leads to persecution when the might of the majority is behind it.” – Albert Einstein

In March of 2009, three Americans spoke at a conference in Kampala Uganda. The conference theme was The theme of the event, according to Stephen Langa, its Ugandan organizer, was “the gay agenda – that whole hidden and dark agenda” – and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family.

The three americans: Scott Lively, a missionary who has written several books against homosexuality, including “7 Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child”; Caleb Lee Brundidge, a self-described former gay man who leads “healing seminars”; and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus International, whose mission is “mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality” should feel very proud of themselves and their legacy.

Today in Kampala Uganda, a Ugandan gay rights activist was bludgeoned to death. While the police “cannot confirm that David Kato was killed because he was gay, or whether it was an ordinary crime,” this murder simply underlines the issue that violent extremist; thoughts, actions, and teachings are not confined to the religion of Islam. As much as the bible belt would like to believe it, this evil exists. Here. Now. And sadly often with the approval of people we know.

Shame on you Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, and Don Schmierer!



How the media “feeding frenzy” overshadows, or taints real and compelling stories.

“A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great or beautiful cathedral. The extermination of the passenger pigeon meant that mankind was just so much poorer; exactly as in the case of the destruction of the cathedral at Rheims. And to lose the chance to see frigate-birds soaring in circles above the storm, or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in a shifting maze above the beach – why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists of old time.” – Theodore Roosevelt

“Few problems are less recognized, but more important than, the accelerating disappearance of the earth’s biological resources. In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it is perched.”  – Paul Ehrlich

“No one knows the diversity in the world, not even to the nearest order of magnitude. … We don’t know for sure how many species there are, where they can be found or how fast they’re disappearing. It’s like having astronomy without knowing where the stars are.”  – Edward O. Wilson

“So long as the fur of the beaver was extensively employed as a material for fine hats, it bore a very high price, and the chase of this quadruped was so keen that naturalists feared its speedy consideration. When a Parisian manufacturer invented the silk hat, which soon came into almost universal use, the demand for beavers’ fur fell off, and this animal – whose habits, as we have seen, are an important agency in the formation of bogs and other modifications of forest nature – immediately began to increase, reappeared in haunts which we had long abandoned, and can no longer be regarded as rare enough to be in immediate danger of extirpation. Thus the convenience or the caprice of Parisian fashion has unconsciously exercised an influence which may sensibly affect the physical geography of a distant continent.”  – George Perkins Marsh

“Life is extinct on other planets because their scientists were more advanced than ours.”  – Anonymous

In the past few days we’ve all read the stories, or at least the headlines, concerning the puzzling instant death of large numbers of animals. Starting on January 1st, reports of thousands of red-wing blackbirds mysteriously falling from the sky in Arkansas. My curiosity was definitely piqued. And my curiosity was quickly fed with a report that 100,000 fish were found dead below the Ozark dam. Very disconcerting, having grown up in east Tennessee and seen the ramifications of both the pollution, and the culminating law suit concerning the Pigeon River. Big business against the health and welfare of a town, and in rural Appalachia, this was huge. So, how did I make the leap from dead birds and fish to large scale pollution of a river? Other than “easy, I just typed it” I have to say that this vaporous connection was what was formed with little or no coercion from outside forces. And I’m sure I’m not alone in making that connection. In the days following I’ve learned of: one hundred tons of fish in Brazil; Millions of fish in Maryland; Five hundred birds in Louisiana;  Dead snapper in New Zealand; Hundreds of starlings and robins in Kentucky; Forty thousand crab in England; Fifty jackdaws in Sweden. All since New Year’s Eve! Conspiracy theorists are surely slavering at the thought of all the possibilities represented here. So am I one?

Alright why this blog post? Well, a week’s worth of dead animals is not necessarily a cause for alarm, even just looking at it statistically there are not enough data points to analyze. And if you dig just a bit, you’ll find that mass animal deaths are not a new or rare thing. And it is a big world out there; it sure could be just a strange coincidence. But the machine gun publishing of stories sure got us, well me, all stirred up. And now will come the debating. Scientific explanations will start being presented, some probably not so based on the scientific method, and of course the previously mentioned conspiracy theories. All these theories, explanations, and such will get misinterpreted, blended, mixed-up, mis-applied, and all sorts of other mis-things. And the media will continue grabbing our attention with more and more stories however so loosely connected to puzzling animal deaths: A poodle in Florida suddenly drops dead while eating scraps from the dinner table. All of this “white noise” raising the hysteria, and of course being completely shot down with (this time) plausible reasons and explanations. But is there… Could there be… a real trend forming here? It will be very hard to know. It will be so difficult to discern that pearl of truth in the bile of media feeding frenzy. Only the esoteric will have the ability to know. As for me, I am intelligent enough to know that species die out, just as new species are formed. I also know that the manufacturing plant down the road is not necessarily looking out for Gaia’s best interest! We must be aware. Not gullible, nor rigid in opinion, just aware.

Interestingly here is a google map tracking the recent mass animal deaths.

As you were.

DADT Repealed… Humanity has just won another battle against ignorance!

“The [DADT] policy is an absurdity and borderline on being an obscenity. What it does is cause people to ask of themselves that they lie to themselves, that they pretend to be something that they are not. There is no empirical evidence that would indicate that it affects military cohesion. There is a lot of evidence to say that the biases of the past have been layered onto the United States Army.” – Former Secretary of the Army, Clifford Alexander

“You’re basically asserting that straight men and women in our military aren’t professional enough to serve openly with gay troops while completing their military missions. You know as a former Army officer I can tell you I think that’s an insult to me and to many of the soldiers. To answer your question, Mr. Jones, it was 24 countries that allow military personnel to serve openly without any detrimental impact on unit cohesion.” – Iraq War Veteran and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, challenging a witness during “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hearings in the U.S. House

“We have to correct this. It’s just not right.  I can remember being out there in command, and someone would come up to you and start to tell you — and you just want to say, no, I don’t want to lose you, you’re too good.” – Retired United States Navy Vice Admiral and U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak

“When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” – Epitaph of Leonard P. Matlovich, 1988

“It doesn’t matter what you do in the bedroom as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.” – Daphne Fielding, The Duchess of Jermyn Street

“Who would give a law to lovers?  Love is unto itself a higher law.” – Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, A.D. 524

“My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.” – W. Somerset Maugham

“For me it is enough to know that if you’ve found love, you’ve found something that no law or dogma can take from you.” – Marvin L. C. Hoffman

I am so glad that President Obama signed the repeal of the “don’t ask don’t tell” absurdity. Now will come the most difficult part. I was a young child in the ’60s, so I don’t really remember what it was like during the time after the enactment of 1964 Civil Rights Act. But just because it is legal, ignorance still exists. The first ones who come out I’m sure will receive harassment, but instead of using the UCMJ against them, I hope those brave souls will take the high road. Smothering the ignorant with love and kindness may help assuage the baseless fears. (May not be as satisfying as smothering them with a pillow, but I digress.) I am proud of our country for moving forward.

I served on a submarine, and …. ok, ok… I can hear all the jokes now…. “120 men go to sea… 60 couples come back”, “it’s not gay when you’re underway”. But seriously There was nothing more respected than a man who carried his own weight! If you did your job and supported your shipmates, that was all we wanted. Nobody cared if you were gay. As a matter of fact, one time a couple of shipmates were pub crawling in downtown Norfolk, and happened into a gay bar. While there they recognized a shipmate on the dance floor. So yeah this factoid was aired on rumor control airwaves, but honestly no one cared. He was a great shipmate, no one felt threatened by him (a typical homophobic reaction) and he more than did his job. He was a squared away sailor! And I’m glad he was able to serve.

And don’t worry all you homophobes out there… “it” won’t get on you. You’ll be alright.

As you were.

Life as an Equation

“A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.” – James Joyce  “Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde

“Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” – Kevin Arnold

“If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances may seem to be.” – John Heywood

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” – C.S. Lewis

Ok class… be seated. Today we will review a little nuclear physics theory, particularly a couple of things called Binding Energy, and Mass Defect.

From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_binding_energy)

“A general and simple description of nuclear binding energy is the energy required to break apart, split, or break down, the nucleus of the atom into its component parts (nucleons), i.e. neutrons and protons. If the binding energy for the products is higher when light nuclei fuse, or when heavy nuclei split, either of these processes will result in a release of the “extra” binding energy, and this energy is referred to as nuclear energy. It is also loosely called nuclear power.

The mass of the atom’s nucleus is always less than the sum of the individual masses of the constituent protons and neutrons. This notable difference is a measure of the nuclear binding energy, which is a result of forces that hold the nucleus together.”

What does this mean to us and our lives? Well, in my oh so humble opinion, I think that yes where we are in life is nothing more than a sum of all the experiences we have had. But if we were to weigh each and every experience, there’s something missing in our lives. We are a little less than the sum of the individual experiences. Why is this you may ask? I think the equivalent to the nuclear binding energy is love. And it’s love that takes each experience, both bad and good, and incorporates it into the core of our being, our heart if you will. I know that everything that has happened to me, and because of me, I can relate to and gain insight and wisdom from. How is this? A loved one lost, or a love lost, how can this work to the good? Well, probably not very quickly, we all have our periods of absorption, some periods longer than others maybe because of the hurtfulness of the experience, but eventually even the bad times are woven into the tapestry of the person we are! The Bayeux Tapestry is an important part of history, showing important details of history all painstakingly woven into the tapestry. Who and what would we be without this tapestry of our life?? Well, if you’ve ever seen a loveless person, you may start to understand. Without love, how can you see and weave these things into your life? I say you can’t.  And that is sad. As I grow older, I want to have a vivid and ornate tapestry, and I hope all who really know me, and occasionally see a part of that tapestry showing in my life… But most importantly, I want that tapestry to help guide me in the future. To not make as big of mistakes and errors… over and over again. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Now just make a mark on the Love — Fear line where you think this is.

As you were.