Hearst newspaper and sports quoteAs commercial outlets that purported to represent our communities drop like rats in a plague, people need to be clear that critically important news is constantly happening all around us; how can we organize ourselves to make sure that the loss of contemporary media, imperfect as it may be, does not turn into a permament decline in the quality of popularly available data?

Enquiring minds want to know…

Georgia Power’s Appeal for Front-loaded Funding of Its New Nuke Plant

If the people of Georgia are not tired of getting fleeced, then they are not paying attention. Every day, some new excess of the rich and powerful costs the common citizens of the Peach State dearly. A recent example of this is Georgia Power’s apparently successful insistence that it should receive advance financing for its new nuclear dreams at Plant Vogtle, in Eastern Georgia.  Though only through a miraculous meeting of its production schedule would ratepayers see a single watt of electricity before 2017, the corporate fiduciaries at our electricity monopoly want to start charging us for the hypothetical honor of a completed project no later than 2012.

Even if an informed citizenry might accept this political and technical decision to build a new reactor, paying for it up front is suboptimal for at least three reasons.
1) Business basics militate against such moves.
2) Georgia needs a strategic assessment of its energy needs and possibilities, including more alternatives, that is impossible to imagine in the context of both a multi-billion dollar additional utility debt and Georgia’s taxpayers already paying for a future that they neither chose nor participated in planning.
3) Questions of cost, safety and transparency need further discussion.
For these reasons and more, Georgians need to be very suspicious of this most recent instance of official presumption and, apparently, cupidity.

Surely the Southern Company wants to hold itself out as an honest organization.  Surely, then, the company is well aware that under provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, 80% new reactor loan guarantees are available from the federal governmet.  Moreover, French nuclear interests are discussing guaranteeing the remaining 20% of all loans.  Southern Company reps want more than 100% financing, apparently–more like 200% financing.  Interest on a guaranteed loan may hurt cash flow, but it does nothing to reduce long-term prospects, particularly if the underlying investment is not only viable but state-of-the-art peachy keen, as Southern Company execs and nuke supporters would have us believe.

Furthermore, the Southern Company and the Georgia legislature are structuring this deal inequitably in relation to different classes of customers.  Large commercial users will pay nothing extrato finance this new scheme–according to Senate Democratic Party leader Robert Brown, “they(big business)got a deal,”  whereas everyone else will get soaked.

Nuclear Bill Gets a Push in Georgia Finally, the whole situation has the whiff of the something fraudulent about it; on the one hand, the Southern Company wants Georgians to believe that this new power source is the best deal possible; on the other hand, 100% financing from the Feds is not enough to proceed with this great deal.  Why, in such a context, should Georgia’s citizens pay a second time for something that won’t be ready for 5 – 10 years?  Though very brief and rudimentary, even these points utterly undermine any sense of commercial trustworthiness in the Georgia Power position: it is either disingenuous falsehood or it is fraud.

As bad, or even criminally liable, as such misrepresentation is, far worse is willful ignorance. Any contemporary community without an energy plan is woefully ignorant.  At best, people who choose ignorance are unwise.

To avoid such a lack of intelligence, Georgia needs a strategic energy policy, not continued handouts to fatten already bloated corporations. Such an energy policy, at a minimum, would include a comprehensive energy audit of Georgia communities and businesses; at a minimum, it would include opportunities for immediate conservation by all state agencies, local government entities, and individuals and businesses; at a minimum, such a plan would include investigating all Georgia’s reasonable energy choices; at a minimum, such a plan would include raising the energy literacy of all Georgians, in elementary schools, in middle schools, in high schools, in colleges, and in communities; at a minimum, such a plan would include an ongoing debate about choices in which citizens played the leading role–this last is what differentiates a participatory democracy from a dollar dictatorship.  I’d personally feel more comfortable dishing out an extra $40 a month of my electric bill to finance those propositions, than to expand the bottom line of the already profitable Southern Company.

Southern Company and renewable energyLacking these and other elements of an energy plan, Georgia consigns itself at best to the good intentions of Georgia Power.  While such a decision is clearly in alignment with the army of Southern Company lobbyists who camp out in the legislature every Winter, for middle class and struggling Georgians, such a deal is a dubious proposition at best, a dubious proposition only attractive to the willfully ignorant.

The final reason for not turning over hundreds of millions of dollars a month to Georgia Power from the wallets and purses and paychecks of working Georgians is that we need to consider several important issues about nuclear power that have not been a part of the debate thus far before the Senate.
The first concerns the lack of information and disclosure that characterizes the nuclear industry.  Nuclear advocates cannot simultaneously insist on secrecy at the same time that they insist on having their way.  When clean-up technicians participated in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident thirty years ago, General Public Utilities and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission insisted on signed confidentiality agreements and security clearances for all participants.  Over 20% or the early documentation of the formation of the Atomic Energy Commission–NRC’s predecessor–remain classified as many as sixty-odd years after the fact.  This environment of secrecy is compounded by the general lack of information about matters atomic, except if someone has the time and resources to file Freedom of Information requests and generally has the skill sets and patience of a top-notch bird-dog private investigator.

This lack of transparency affects other issues concerning nuclear power as well, such as questions about public health. Comprehensive tracking of populations adjacent to reactors is not standard operating procedure, for example, as it must be if we’re really concerned about the impacts of nukes.  We know–no reasonable scientist disputes–that low-level radiation causes cancer, birth defects, and heart disease, among many other negative health effects.  Only sporadically do long term studies happen at all; furthermore, when they do, the necessary data to track actual exposures and compare health outcomes is never available, so that population studies, which notoriously almost never yield definitive ‘proof’ of harm, are the only investigations that epidemiologists conduct.  We simply don’t know, though compelling evidence might suggest caution, what the real long-term outcomes are of living with a nuke in the neighborhood.  In such an environment, when clean and lower impact technologies are readily available, committing almost exclusively to atomic energy is paradoxical, except from the stand-point of profitability for corporate utilities.

Multiple other matters about nuclear reactors are troubling, or perhaps worse than troubling.  Reports from Europe suggest that nations that have followed the nuclear path have been surreptitiously dumping various levels of waste in the world’s oceans.  For fifteen years or more, American reactor operators have been availing themselves of opportunities to ‘recycle’ metals and other materials exposed to radiation and classified as ‘low-level’ waste, meaning that forks and spoons and braces might contain fission products that result from, or the unstable metals that make up, nuclear reactions that utilities use to deliver electricity.  To date, we have no proven mechanism for dealing with a growing cesspool of high level nuclear waste that, though theoretically possible to compress into a small volume, also has the theoretical capacity to cause tens of millions of fatalities or more.

A complete list of problematic considerations concerning nukes would be much longer.  Proliferation of nuclear weapons is also plausibly an inevitable accompaniment of nuclear power, as the case of India proves, and as our government’s concern about Iranian reactors strongly implies.  Investments in nukes unavoidably compromise opportunities to research and develop other techniques not so beset with issues of cost, health, and safety.  Investments in nukes preclude a longer-term commitment to sustainable technologies that require no further technical maturation to be applicable today at competitive or even superior prices–technologies such as wind power and solar heating, in particular.  And we haven’t even considered matters such as terorist threats or other catastrophic breakdowns to which radiation-generated power is liable.

True enough, we face stark choices about energy.  And we may have little option, at some juncture, other than to rub the nuclear lamp again and hope that the genie their turns out to be friendlier than we feared.  However, the present return, after a thirty year detour that followed in the aftermath of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, to a nuclear powered future is at the very least inappropriate without further democratic review.  And that’s at the very least.  At most, and significantly more likely, given the evidence that is available to anyone who does decide to pay attention, this represents another case of a fraud being foisted on a complacent and ignorant populace.  At the very best, we will be buying the new reactors at Plant Vogtle at a cost that is dear but about which we have little choice.  And that’s at the very best.  At worst, and much more likely, given even more copious data that the discerning can see, we are signing a death warrant for unknown legions of our children and grand children, all to enrich the already fabulously wealthy.

And they want us to pay in advance.  It’s crazy, at the best.


Saluda, NC

I’m a social democratic intellectual who has converted his Catholic upbringing into an agnostic humanism that seeks to find ways to serve humankind. I’ve taught, done legal research and investigation, and moved 35 million pounds(no fooling)of household goods all over Atlanta and the U.S. in order to support my writing habit when it did not provide the income to support the inevitable outgo of my existence. My goal is to have echoes of my work survive down the ages, long after my body has rotted back to the forest’s hummus from which our lives have sprung. I’ve published and produced a smattering of a hundred odd bits and pieces nationally, less than a per cent of the oceanic reservoir of material that I long to deliver to an audience, a vast audience that can imbibe the healing energy and insights of the stories which have come to me. That the world needs such tales and scenarios now seems like a no-brainer to me. Stories continue to inundate me. I live most days deep in God’s grace the sense of belonging right where I am in the midst of All-That-Is. I feel connection coming my way, almost in spite of my shy and intraverted nature, despite the fact that folks have long misunderstood my passion to have impact as arrogance and self-righteous know-it-all energy. I do know a lot, but part of the magic that has defined my life is an uncanny capacity to meet “ordinary” folks who reveal their most utterly extraordinary selves to me, in a fashion that compels me to ask that others pay attention and acknowledge the goddess gracious goodness that lives in all of us. At the least, as I say, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!!

More Advice for the Textually Challenged

For the past two weeks, I have offered tips, advice, and even prize-driven quizzes to my blog’s hypothetical readers, all in an attempt to shed some light on any linguistic or communication issues any such readers might struggle with. In the following weeks, I will be taking a different route for the rest of this blog’s life. Even though I will still occasionally post pedagogical materials, I will also include more things that are pertinent to fiction writing, more examples of my own work, and, as appropriate, interesting things I find in the media. In this respect, any readers are welcome to forward to me anything that they might consider noteworthy. I have already received one such invitation, which I am grateful for, and which I shall discuss sometime next week, when I have more time to properly digest it.

What follows is an initial template for would-be essayists. That structure, organization, form are critical to successful writing should be as obvious in writing as in home construction. Just as a pile of bricks and wood and nails and cement does not make a house, so a pile of words and sentences and ideas does not make a story.
The idea of organization is as simple as 1,2, 3. Ever since Aristotle, writers have noted that, rhetorically(which is to say, persuasively)a beginning, middle, and end of anything contain necessary, unique elements. This simple rubric, however, is never easy to achieve without diligent practice and focused attention to the logic of communication. A significant chunk of everything I teach concerns the straightforward complexity of structure. I take apart introduction, body, and conclusion for students and help them gain an organizational facility that is the first step toward mastery.
One of the ways that I do this is to “model” essays for folks. Below, readers will find such an effort. In one of my classes, pupils had an hour, more or less, to answer a two part question. “Why is peace so hard to achieve? Who or what is the greatest threat to world peace?” Clearly these are pertinent questions just now; but relevance and even interest do not necessarily guarantee an easy writing assignment.
Many of my young writers struggled with this topic. As is my wont, I also put myself under the gun in this case. I finished the overwritten, clunky, and otherwise far-from-perfect missive below in just over an hour. I worked for almost five minutes on a slip of an outline prior to starting. This step, one that is central to my teaching, guarantees, whenever a writer follows the steps as instructed, that he or she will produce something organized, something that a reader will find comprehensible if not elegant, polished, and piquant.
Thus, I do not recommend the writing in this draft. I would contend though that the ideas and development are both understandable and plausible here, precisely because I know how to create, and to teach, the simple profundity of beginning, middle, and end. So saying, I’ll hope to hear from some people who look this site over. I love thinking about language generally, and find myself inveterately excited about English in particular.

Advice to a young scribe

Thanks for the question. As in most things, in one’s choice of jobs, one should first ask, “What most interests me?” Maybe sports is the answer. Do an interview with the linebacker who broke his neck two years ago and will never play football again; or do an interview with the girls who didn’t make the cheerleading squad. Maybe you’re interested in school news. Write a general article about all of the candidates who didn’t win Senior Class President; write about the teacher in a neighboring school who won a prize or was caught smoking pot or having sex with a cheerleader. Maybe you’re interested in current events(with a student angle of course); write about the Clayton County schools losing its accreditation; write about the way that the Senate cut out schools from the national ‘stimulus bill’; write about how many kids take ADD or anti-depressant drugs. Maybe you’re interested in movies and TV or ‘lifestyle’ wtiting; same deal–choose some interesting topic, find out about it, and write a story.

Read a few newspapers before you give it a try. If it’s an essay, look at op-ed pieces, and work on a similar structure. If it’s a news story, use the ‘inverted triangle’ formula, with the lead containing the most important data and more analytical stuff, supporting ideas, at the end.