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Sides, Balance, and the Death of Truth


#1

Sides, Balance, and the Death of Truth

John Atcheson

Something I’m hearing a lot from thoughtful people these days is how we have to learn to communicate with the other side. They bemoan the degree to which the US has sunk into two camps, each entrenched in their own reality and separated by a chasm of ideological intolerance. “It is critical that we reach across the aisle; that we meet them halfway,” they’ll say. Well, in point of fact, it’s mostly liberals who say this. Corporations and rich folks, and the politicians they’ve bought and paid for, are more than happy with the status quo because it’s working just fine for them.


#2

The “other side” is gone. Literally.

Conspiracy to commit fraud of all sorts against the American People and steal from them, is unforgivable.

Communicate with them.

Perhaps, through the bars of their jail cell.


#3

Worse, both of those sides are manufactured non-reality. Neither side is right or real. Together they create the mother of all clusterfucks. The only reality is the rich destroying the poor. But that is the one reality it seems most people are not willing to confront. They would rather live within their manufactured realities of Republican versus Democrats that has been spoon fed to them from birth, then step outsides the line and view the simple and obvious truth of their oppression. At this point I have no sympathy. We are so fucked…


#4

I know for a fact that Atcheson is one of the brightest columnists around here, so I’m a little crestfallen at the shallowness of his analysis, where the death of truth is concerned. Truth died on April 4th 50 years ago when they killed the man who told us: Empire USA is the very source of global strife.

How in the world can USA “progressives” (don’t get me started on delusions of progress) work for truth? A sincere commitment to truth makes it difficult to obey all the unwritten rules about what’s unmentionable - genocide and slavery being the peculiarities of our institutions which persist today in making USA uniquely depraved, at home and abroad. Can “progressives” talk like this, or is it time to dump that bullshit and get radical?

Are you a patriot, John? I’m not. I don’t understand how I can be loyal to both a besieged Earth and to the monster devouring it.


#5

What? And reduce corporate media profits? Inconceivable! Remember when Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS, said back in early 2016, “[Trump’s campaign] may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

What we see is what we’re gonna continue to get.


#6

I’m reminded of a classic “Doonesbury” strip, which introduces us to White House Situational Science Advisor, Dr. Nathan Null. He urges young Stewie to challenge his school textbooks if they don’t line up with his beliefs, saying, “Situational science is about respecting both sides of a scientific argument, not just the one supported by facts. That’s why I always teach the controversy—like the climate controversy, the coal-slurry controversy, the GMO controversy, the tobacco controversy, the nuclear waste controversy…”

Young Stewie pushes his books aside, saying, “You’re right, Situational Science Man! I’ll never trust science again—it’s just too controversial!”


#7

If they (progressives) turn out in numbers sufficient enough to take back the House and the Senate, then we can begin to restore truth, accuracy and context to their rightful place in our national debate and restore government’s ability to stand up to the plutocrats instead of representing them.

That’s the problem. Take back the House and Senate and hand it back to whom? Schumer, Pelosi, Perez, the Blue Dogs, not to mention the Clinton and Obama-bots? How’d that work out, last time? No thanks.


#8

One of the most astute–and truthful–such essays that I have read lately. One can draw a straight line from the bankers’ plot of 1933-34 (sometimes called the “bankers’ coup,” although General Butler blew the whistle before it could be implemented), through the infamous Powell Memo (of which I see far too little mention these days), directly to the situation in which we find our nation today. Once again I strongly recommend Yale Historian Timothy Snyder’s little volume from last year, On Tyranny, especially his “lessons” nos. 1-3, 6, 9 (Be kind to our language), 10, and 17.

There IS a party controlled by Progressives (the Green Party), but it will somehow have to increase its growth rate tremendously in order to become a real player, hence the need for an “all of the above” strategy including finding and supporting progressive Democrats. There are quite a few working their way up despite election fraud and the party misleadership itself. But since that strategy too will take some time to become effective, we should also prepare ourselves to live under tyranny as fierce as any in the 20th century (Snyder’s specialty) for an extended period, unattractive as that is.


#9

Nuclear waste controversy? The people plying the anti-science side on that issue are more typically people on the Left. It no more belongs in that list than the vaccine controversy or the aircraft contrail controversy.

Was that even in the original Doonesbury strip, or was that part a fabrication? It would be no small irony to include fake information in a comment supporting an article about the death of truth.


#10

Your wording is a little unclear, but you seem to be saying that you believe nuclear waste is not a problem, and that there are genuine questions about climate science, coal slurry as a public health hazard, whether or not GMOs are “safe” (a meaningless question in the form in which it is usually asked), and either whether smoking tobacco has adverse health effects or whether the tobacco industry lied about whether smoking it has such effects.


#11

People follow the money, truth be damned.

Mammon rules.


#12

Or rather, your understanding is a little unclear, and you are inclined to put the blame for that on my wording.

“but you seem to be saying that you believe nuclear waste is not a problem,”

The Doonesbury cartoon was not about “problems”. As quoted here, the Dr. Nathan Null character says “Situational science is about respecting both sides of a scientific argument, not just the one supported by facts. That’s why I always teach the controversy” and then goes on to list example of such “controversies”. Although the quote here says nothing about evolution, that was where the very slogan “teach the controversy” originated (so I’m surprised it was not on the list) but what the examples have in common, generally, is that there is a scientific consensus about something (i.e. the position supported by facts), and then for reasons of religion, ideology, or corporate greed, agenda-driven fake science is ginned up to create an appearance of scientific controversy where none or hardly any actually existed. What they also have in common is that these have generally been instances where it was conservatives who put forward the fake science to counter the inconvenient real science.

But when it comes to nuclear waste, it is not conservatives who are using fake science to gin up a controversy against the mainstream scientific position. It is the anti-nukes who cite bogus, agenda-driven “science” conducted by cranks who have no scientific respectability. So the inclusion of nuclear waste in this list is incongruous–and every bit as strange as the omission of evolution. (I strongly suspect the actual list in the cartoon was different from what was quoted here.)

“and that there are genuine questions about climate science, coal slurry as a public health hazard,”

I said nuclear waste does not belong in that list. That means it does not fit in. It is not like the others. What is unclear about that?

“whether or not GMOs are “safe””

I have serious doubts that GMOs were on the Doonesbury list too. There is no mainstream scientific consensus that GMOs are inherently harmful or dangerous, and there is no ginned up fake science countering this. GMOs cover a broad range of modifications, some of which appear to be reasonably safe and benign, and some of which look like they could have serious ecological or health consequences, but overall, this is not an example of a fake controversy where only one side is supported by facts. This is a real scientific controversy.

“and either whether smoking tobacco has adverse health effects or whether the tobacco industry lied about whether smoking it has such effects.”

That one clearly belongs on the list. That, Creationism, and global warming are the archetypical examples of conservatives doing fake science to create the impression of a scientific controversy where there is none. Real controversies don’t belong on the list. (Nor do examples of liberals doing fake science to push their agenda.)


#13

In fact I was quoting from memory with no particular ax to grind, but you might have given me the benfit of the doubt.

The original list of “controversies,” as taken from the cartoon:
–evolution
–global warming
–tobacco
–mercury
–pesticides
–coal slurry
–dioxin
–everglades
–acid rain

That aside, do I understand you to imply that nuclear waste is NOT a long-term threat, given that it can remain radioactive (depending on the isotope) for many thousands of years, while we can’t even seem to build bridges that last a century? Who’s really the one with an unscientific agenda?


#14

Fear and false narratives are the way we got here, courage and reality are our last hope.
The courage part, IMO, is having the guts to not vote for the lesser of two evils. I can’t do anything to change the regressives but I can influence the D’s by doing everything I can to topple the New Democrat/Clintonite junta that’s stolen OUR party and used it to enrich themselves. The republicans and the agenda of the 1% will certainly destroy America. The current leadership, republican-lites and sheepdogs of the Vichy democrat party will only slow the death and extend the suffering. I’d imagine the Founding Fathers would rather have the house burned down and re-built rather than let it continue being a combination prison/whorehouse.
The false narrative is so convoluted and threadbare that it shouldn’t be much of a job tearing it up. The first step is simply speaking the truth. We the People can never beat them by playing the game by their rules. Thinking within the context of conservative vs. liberal does just that.
It should be obvious that no matter which “side” has control, the liberals and conservatives of the 1% always win while the rest of the liberals and conservatives always lose. Always.
The insane part of it all is that the conservative and liberal loser class of the 99% are all in the same boat. No matter our race, religion, sexuality or location, from Sea to shining Sea, we all have to work for a living and we are all being fked by the miniscule minority who don’t. It’s easy to understand and beyond dispute. When people seeking to represent us speak in those terms they will be worth supporting.
There are only two camps because we are foolish enough to let the enemy define us.


#15

In-bleepin’-deed.


#16

Astute, coherent, and focused.

“The first step is simply speaking the truth.”

Lesson no. 10 (with a hint of no. 9) in Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s important little book from 2017, On Tyranny.


#17

I didn’t accuse you of lying. I asked if it was a fabrication. A fabrication is simply something false that was created or inserted. It does not specify motive, and it makes no attribution as to whether the fabrication was yours, or somebody else’s, or was simply an erroneous memory fabrication. But all of those have been contributing factors in some of the false narratives Atcheson refers to. So your comment did wind up supporting what Atcheson was talking about, just not quite in the way you had intended.

“The original list of “controversies,” as taken from the cartoon:
–evolution
–global warming
–tobacco
–mercury
–pesticides
–coal slurry
–dioxin
–everglades
–acid rain”

That makes more sense. Those are all examples where some conservatives (and predominantly conservatives) have pushed a bogus controversy against a scientific consensus.

“That aside, do I understand you to imply that nuclear waste is NOT a long-term threat,”

So much for no ax to grind.

Threat has a variety of meanings, usually referring to something or someone that is actively operating towards doing harm, and it isn’t clear nuclear waste has such agency. What is unambiguous is that nuclear waste is hazardous material. Hazard focuses on the nature of the potential health effects, and spent fuel is considered very hazardous because it has the capacity to kill in short order if you cozy up to it. But we are surrounded by hazards. Cars, trains, planes, combustible materials, electricity, water, sunshine, ice, animals, pathogens, pollution, poisons, factories, hospitals, construction sites, power tools, appliances, stairs, ladders, balconies, bathtubs, furniture, windows, window treatments and many more things have a demonstrated capacity to harm and kill under certain circumstances. The potential for those circumstances to occur is our exposure. Risk management seeks to minimize the exposure of assets (in this case, people) to hazards. Where the hazard exposure potential is zero, the result is perfect safety, no matter how hazardous the material is. Perfect safety is usually unattainable, so overall risk is a function of hazard, plus asset exposure management, plus vulnerabilities in that management.

So the question that matters is whether nuclear waste can be managed to produce minimal risk, and science, engineering, and evidence all indicate that this is a hazard we have the ability to manage very well. Spent fuel is the most hazardous form of nuclear waste, and it is at its most radioactive, and therefore most hazardous, right after it comes out of the reactor. And yet, in more than 50 years of handling and storing many thousands of tons of spent fuel in its most hazardous state, the aggregate spent fuel death toll still stands at zero. Very few heavy industries have a safety record that can even approach that.

“given that it can remain radioactive (depending on the isotope) for many thousands of years,”

Roughly 95% of spent fuel is uranium, most of which will be radioactive for many billions of years. But that is a low level concern 1) because the very long half life means it is only mildly radioactive, 2) because the dominant decay mode emits alpha particles, which is a form of radiation that has a very short effective range and is very easy to shield, and 3) because if any of that uranium leaks out, it will add a negligible amount to the many trillions of tons of uranium which is already in the Earth’s crust (or billions of tons in the oceans). So the main concern has to do with the remaining 5%–most of which will drop to ore-levels of radiation in about a thousand years.

“while we can’t even seem to build bridges that last a century?”

We can, but we don’t, because it doesn’t make economic sense. The main thing that kills modern bridges is corrosion. We could build them out of materials that won’t corrode for many centuries, but that raises the cost enormously, and our changing infrastructure needs will probably mean tearing them down again in a matter of decades anyway. In Finland, they’re making their final disposition casks out of copper. Those will easily resist corrosion until the spent fuel drops below ore-level radiation. But right now, we are also developing reactors which may be able to consume most of our spent fuel, which could greatly reduce both the volume and longevity of the waste, and increase the financial viability of deep borehole disposal, so it isn’t certain at this point that we’ll even need a very long-term sequester.

“Who’s really the one with an unscientific agenda?”

That is an excellent question to bear in mind, particularly when it comes to evaluating our own positions. From what I’ve seen, it looks like it is overwhelmingly the anti-nukes who follow cranks and charlatans, accept agenda-driven, cherry-picked studies, buy into scientifically-absurd theories, and conjure conspiracies to explain why mainstream scientific consensus does not support their position. But if anyone thinks they can make the case that it is actually the pro-nukes who are on the side against science, I’d be very interested to see that.


#18

Good work; clearly a thankless job.


#19

Wow. That’s a lot of typing.

The facts remain, however:

–Nuclear power, which once promised “electricity too cheap to meter,” has produced a financial windfall for giant corporations followed by public bailouts, mostly in the form of rate hikes to pay for plant decommissioning;

–The fuel cycle is toxic from beginning to end (your implication that “ore-level radioactivity” is of little concern would come as a surprise to miners, whose life expectancy after entering the mines is about 20 years);

–And then there’s the ever-present possibility of a catastrophic failure along the lines of Chernobyl and Fukushima Daichi, or a near-catastrophic failure such as Fermi and Three Mile Island, or a potential catastrophic failure such as Diablo Canyon, sited over a major earthquake fault for reasons which baffle me. The public is also on the hook for the aftermath of such incidents thanks to the Price-Anderson Act, because no private insurance companies, who are well aware of the risk, will underwrite them.

Renewable energy is the way to go long term. Nukes are a dying breed, the sooner the better.


#20

Yes, the science was clear very early, and the history is now widely available to the public. Thanks for taking the time to spell it out. “Trog” is evidently short for “troglodyte,” for which one official definition is “troll.”