Monthly Archives: January 2008

Isotope Reactor Followup

In a posting a few weeks ago, we detailed some of the issues with a Canadian medical isotope reactor in Chalk River that had been shut down for maintenance, leading to a shortage of medical isotopes worldwide.

Two weeks ago the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Linda Keen, got handed her head in a bag and was fired from her job as the chief of the nuclear safety watchdog agency.  Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn was the source of Linda Keen’s firing, the evening before she was scheduled to testify before a House of Commons committee about the reactor shut down.

In testimony yesterday, Keen identified that the National Reactor Universal (NRU) had been running without backup power for key systems for 17 months, exposing the public to undue risk of a catastrophic failure of the reactor.  Downside to keeping the NRU cold, was a shortage of medical isotopes, worldwide.

The Government lined up on the side of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), who make money producing the isotopes, in a reactor that AECL owns and is supposed to operate safely.  Since Linda Keen and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission was insisting AECL operate the reactor safely in accordance with the law, they were getting in the way of revenue. 

Ergo, Parliament passed temporary legislation telling the CNSC to piss off and then Gary Lunn fired Linda Keen for showing "a lack of leadership":  NRU went hot a few days later, providing medical isotopes again.  According to CTV, the backup power and pumps are now installed.

In the world of electrical appliances, as an example, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) says that there are standards regarding how appliances are wired, flammability, durability and safety.  Standards, like CSA, or Underwriters Laboratory in the US, mean you can buy an electric can opener and be certain you won’t get electrocuted, and the can opener won’t run amok slicing open your fridge if a switch fails. 

The manufacturer of the electric can opener has to build it to a standard to be allowed to sell it.  The standard means the manufacturer has to put in ‘expensive’ components, like safe electrical connections and provide documentation that the design is safe.  CSA then tests samples and, if all is good, issues a CSA number for the can opener.  As a consumer then, you can buy it and be reasonably certain that the electric can opener is safe to use for its intended purpose.

Ideally, a standards and safety organization, like CSA, TUV, UL and so on, operate in a friendly adversary atmosphere with the manufacturers.  The manufacturers may grumble about having to prove safety, but they also know that enforced safety standards mean good products and less likelihood of the manufacturer being sued.  The manufacturer also knows that without the CSA tag, they cannot sell their product legally.    

Here’s the disconnect:  The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is charged with making sure that reactors run safely, to the standards agreed to, in keeping with their mandate and legislation.  Atomic Energy of Canada Limited knows the standards and rules, as they helped write most of them. 

AECL decided to not follow the rules and the CNSC did what they are supposed to do:  Stop the operation of a potentially unsafe reactor.  For doing her job, Linda Keen got fired.  The smokescreen put up by the government was that lives were being put in jeopardy because of the shortage of medical isotopes. 

Which begs the question, what about the citizens of Chalk River, Deep River, Petawawa, Pembroke, Renfrew, Arnprior and Ottawa, being put at risk of the NRU going bad because of the safety equipment not being in place?  There’s only a million or so citizens in range. 

If the unthinkable had happened, Linda Keen would have her head handed to her on a platter because she didn’t insist on shutting down NRU for safety violations.  Presumably, Gary Lunn would have fired her for not showing leadership again. 

Funny how nobody is questioning the wisdom of AECL running their reactor without the needed equipment in place.  Yes, the folks at AECL know how to run reactors safely enough, but the idea of a standards organization acting as the watchdog, is to have sober second thought and review of things. 

Linda Keen did what she was supposed to do and got fired for it.

If you’ve got a opening for a senior executive in your company, you’d be well-served by someone like Linda Keen, who actually does the things she is supposed to do, instead of some meat-puppet like Gary Lunn who punishes the innocent.



Dr. King and Some Reflections

On this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, we can look back and see how far we’ve come.

In my personal memory, black people were hung from trees, lynched, simply because they were black. 

In my personal memory, people rioted in cities like Benton Harbour, Detroit, and Los Angeles, burning down whole sections of town, to protest their treatment at the hands of the police. 

In my personal memory Dr. King was assassinated by James Earl Ray. 

In my personal memory, John F. Kennedy was assassinated by persons unknown. 

In my personal memory Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. 

In my personal memory, George Wallace was crippled by Arthur Bremmer. 

As one lives a life, one sees the specter of racism, grow and then recede, grow again and recede again.  Eventually you come to the conclusion that humans have an infinite capacity to hate, as well as an infinite capacity to embrace.  I can still hope that we can get there, despite all the evidence to the contrary.  What keeps me hopeful is the last paragraph of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech:

“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Toronto Innocent Bystanders

Since Christmas, two innocent bystanders have been hit by rounds and killed in Toronto.  Both men killed had nothing to do with the original discussion that had degraded to pulling iron and banging away.  The Mayor, David Miller, is understandably upset:  Handgun violence is something that is somewhat alien to Toronto, or Canada for that matter. 

We have a fix, that we have talked about before, which is called the "Double-Double" rule and it is time to remind the politicians and lawmakers about it.

Firearms:  You can have as many as you want, as long as they’re longer than 18 inches.  Have as many long rifles and shotguns as you want, as long as you have a locking, secure gun vault in your home, register the weapons and take a firearms safety course.  Take prudent care of them, transport them unloaded, ammunition separate from the weapon, breech open or bolt out.  No full-auto unless you’re a museum.  No issue there.

Firearms under 18 inches in length?  Not permitted.  End of sentence.  You can apply for a permit if you are a collector, but expect to be turned down unless you can demonstrate security of the weapons and that the weapons are legitimate collector pieces.  A 1911 pattern Colt from WWII would be fine, whereas a Glock G21 would not be considered a collector piece.  There might be the occasional exception, but it would consist of perhaps ten exceptions a year.

If you want to be a private collector of handguns, then you get to permanently disable the weapon by filling the end of the barrel with molten lead to block the barrel.  A trigger lock or breech lock would be mandatory on any ‘collector’ handgun that is currently legally owned, even after disabling the firearm.

The "Double-Double" part kicks in on the criminal and sentencing side.  If you are found with a firearm in your possession in the commission of a crime, your sentence doubles.

If you discharge the weapon, the sentence doubles again.

Or, succinctly, armed robbery:   What would be a 7 year sentence becomes 14 years for waving a gun around.  Let off one round, even accidentally, and it becomes 28 years.  No parole.  No mandatory release:  Twenty eight years in prison.

As for innocent bystanders?  Well, manslaughter usually convicts at 10 years, which just became 40 if done with a firearm under the "Double-Double".

Possession of an unregistered firearm under 18 inches in length, that has been fired at any time, would be 5 years, then under "Double-Double", instantly becomes 20 years.  Unless the barrel and breech are packed with Cosmoline and you’re on the way to the police to turn it in, the illegal firearm is considered to have been fired.

It would only take a few convictions to explain to the bad folks that very long prison time is the result of using any firearm less than 18 inches long.  It won’t stop the use of handguns, as professional criminals don’t care, but for those few occasions when someone merely stupid decides to escalate things, they might just decide to back off. 

As for possession of an illegal firearm?  It suddenly got very unattractive as you are looking at a solid 20 for having one to show to your buddies and make you think your dick is bigger than anyone else’s. 

Firearms less than 18 inches long, except under very specific circumstances, have no legitimate purposes in our society except to threaten or kill other humans.

We don’t need them.  We don’t want them.  Double-Double makes the users drop them. 




Iron My Shirts!

A few weeks ago a man, during an appearance by Hilary Clinton in Iowa, decided that showing up and yelling "Iron My Shirts!" would be an appropriate behavior.  Hilary, to her credit, laughed it off.  However, Christie Blatchford, in the Globe and Mail wrote about it with a new perspective, that I am going to paraphrase and use as a source.

Imagine this for a second:  Barak Obama on stage in Michigan during a primary appearance, doing his stump speech about Hope.  In the back of the hall someone yells:  "Stick to basketball!"  After the beating is stopped by the police, the remains of the shouter are given to the next of kin and the media starts a long discussion of the meaning of what was yelled and how the crowd reacted.

Continuing along Blatchford’s thinking, Hilary is going to lose because of her gender:  If she’s tough, she’s got no feelings:  An Ice Queen.  If she shows her feelings, then she’s weak, or overly emotional and not suitable to answer the red phone when the time comes. 

Some factoids for you:  51% of the population are female.  The vast majority of us were born of females, Dick Cheney being an exception.  (I want to see some kind of legal Certificate of Live Birth for Cheney and Keith Richards for that matter)

The only difference between males and females of this species, aside from the obvious parts-number discrepancies on the build list, are exactly none.  The rest is social conditioning and our propensity for letting the media make up our minds about things. 

The media punditry, of course, are all a-twitter about Hilary’s moment of emotional candour regarding the difficulty of campaigning for the Big Chair.  The whispered commentary being someone ’emotional’ is unsuitable for office, with access to the Big Red Button. 

Which means a pathological liar like Nixon was appropriate for office? 

Which means a barely literate, drunkard, frat-boy and known draft dodger was the right choice? 

The American media was all bent that JFK was a Catholic.  Who cares if JFK was a Catholic, or today, Mitt Romney, a Mormon?  It doesn’t matter.  John McCain is half deaf and probably has PTSD from his Viet Nam era captivity, but he’s running well for the office, in a doomed campaign.  Mike Huckabee is this hour’s flavour who will become Mike Who? shortly.  Then there is Barak Obama and John Edwards.  John Edwards can’t do it.  Barak Obama might.

Here’s the way it should play out.  Not the way it will, but the way it should:

Hilary should win the Democratic nomination.  Then, in a sudden outbreak of common sense, should ask Barak Obama to be her running mate.  The two will crush anyone the Republicans could put up, short of Jesus coming back and running on a Republican ticket with the exhumed remains of Herbert Hoover.

Hilary will get her two terms then another two terms for Barak Obama, as long as he doesn’t go native and become utterly corrupted by Washington.  If he’s smart, he’ll spend the time learning the ropes and building his profile slowly and competently.  Hilary will make the hard decisions needed in the next eight years and Obama will kick off another eight years of gradual economic recovery.

All of this based on what should happen.  Not what is going to happen.  At least until the American Voter tells the American Media to take a flying leap and actually votes for a woman, who despite your feelings regarding her, is actually the right person for the job.

Yes, I said Hilary is the right person for the job.  I don’t like it either, but Obama doesn’t have quite enough expertise yet.  Hilary does.  The Republicans have all jumped off the boat, knowing the economy under the watch of President JoJo The Idiot Boy has tanked. 

Done right, Hilary and Barak, can reign in the Military Industrial Complex that is selling America by the pound and transferring as many jobs as possible offshore in the name of ‘shareholder value’.  The Old White Men have nearly gutted the country.

Done wrong, whoever gets the Big Chair, will be the supervisor of the economic and social meltdown of America.