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March 25, 2011

Annals of Confusion

The war in Libya and the nuclear crisis in Japan remain atop the global news and even further from a satisfactory resolution. On a short trip to the supermarket I heard a snippet on CNN describing how rolling blackouts in the wake of the Japanese nuclear accident are hampering resumption of full production by Japanese industry and could thus have a prolonged ripple effect on the economies of both the United States and Japan. The reason is Japan's incompatible standards for electric power frequency: the Eastern part is on 50 Hz (220-240V) while the West is on the American standard of 60 Hz (110-120V). There are only three facilities for safely transferring power in the whole country; they are complicated and expensive to build, a situation that threatens to greatly increase the economic consequences of the March 11 tsunami at a time when the world can least afford it.

The situation in Libya is also confusing and uncertain, with mixed signals emanating from NATO. Apparently all member nations are on board with a no-fly zone, but some balk at what could be called offensive air operations. However the retired generals working for the various networks as consultants are unanimous that a single unified command will eventually be necessary, however the mission is eventually defined. Further, it will almost certainly become an American operation because we have the largest and most capable military; notwithstanding our continuing involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

All of which makes it clear that had President Obama not taken the time and trouble to obtain Arab League and UN support before committing American forces to Libya, the calls for his scalp would now be deafening. Yet, majority opinion also seems to be that Gadaffi's forces were poised to murder thousands, an outcome most would have found intolerable, even though his reign in Libya may still be a long way from over.

Finally; as far as the safety of nuclear energy is concerned, Fred Gardner, in his usual role of informed contrarian, reminds us that the health risks of gamma irradiation were being minimized even before our urgent development of nuclear weapons to hasten the end of World War Two, yet another reminder that humans have typically rushed to exploit the latest technology before its risks were fully understood.

Even though the major reason for our haste since 1946 has been runaway human population growth rather than global war, we remain armed to the teeth, intensely competitive, and just as oblivious to our own cognitive frailty as ever.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at March 25, 2011 03:39 AM