Thursday, August 17, 2017

Free Speech in the Cross-Fire

Free speech - the cornerstone of American democracy and an increasing bane to government policy makers and others who would seek to control the parameters of acceptable conversation. 

The ACLU is under fire today in The New York Times for its support of free speech:
K-Sue Park (2017, August 17). The A.C.L.U. Needs to Rethink Free Speech. The New York Times,

The American Civil Liberties Union has a long history of defending the First Amendment rights of groups on both the far left and the far right. This commitment led the organization to successfully sue the city of Charlottesville, Va., last week on behalf of a white supremacist rally organizer. The rally ended with a Nazi sympathizer plowing his car into a crowd, killing a counterprotester and injuring many.

After the A.C.L.U. was excoriated for its stance, it responded that “preventing the government from controlling speech is absolutely necessary to the promotion of equality.” Of course that’s true. The hope is that by successfully defending hate groups, its legal victories will fortify free-speech rights across the board: A rising tide lifts all boats, as it goes.

While admirable in theory, this approach implies that the country is on a level playing field, that at some point it overcame its history of racial discrimination to achieve a real democracy, the cornerstone of which is freedom of expression.
The Wall Street Journal also contains today articles concerning proposed or actual restrictions on free speech:
Yoree Koh and Jacob Gershman (2017, August 17). US Tech firms are thrust into debate. The Wall Street Journal, B4.

...In the wake of weekend violence at a white supremacists' rally in Charlottesville, VA Alphabet Inc.'s Google and goDaddy Inc. stopped providing hosting support for the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site that the companies said violanted their terms of service...Uber Technologies blacklisted white supremacist James Allen...

Deeepa Seetharaman (2017, August 17). Facebook Closed Offensive Forum. The Wall Street Journal, B4.
Facebook Inc dismantled a popular anonymous discussion board for employees last year that had become a forum for conservative political debate...
What is the point of shutting down conversation? I am strongly OPPOSED to censorship because I feel it simply fuels discontent and will make rancorous conversations go underground where they will fester and become increasingly solipsistic.

However, although I support free speech, I have also noted with dismay increasingly incendiary language directed against "the left," "progressives," and "snowflakes" on Internet sites that used to host a variety of perspectives. The incendiary language is promoting violence, of that I have no doubt.

For example, take a look at the "Antifa" meme that is playing out on alt-right Internet sites. Antifa is emerging among the alt-right as the symbolic equivalent of "neo-nazis" on the left, leading to representations of the group as being akin to some sort of organized communist invasion. This framing encourages de-humanization and objectification of demonstrators. Read about this ploy here:
Rob Kall (2017, August 16). Face down the Antifa. Oped news.
Antifa gives the alt-right a label to represent and demonize those who they disagree with just as surely as the label "neo-nazi" is used by the center-left.

I strongly doubt that most demonstrating Americans support left or right radicalism aimed at revolutionary action, but the orchestrators of public opinion would have us believe that there is a toxic virus in our communities that can only be suppressed through censorship and increasing domestic "security" controls.

Indeed, growing civil strife provides authoritarians the perfect pretext for eliminating free speech altogther through the development and circulation of censoring algorithms on the web.

I propose that responsible communication dialogue, where people are held accountable for their opinions and policy proposals, is a better mechanism for tempering the growing toxicity of the Internet, but rational dialogue does not seem to the be end game here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fukushima's Ice Wall Nearing Completion

Fukushima Daiichi's ice wall is nearing completion. The Mainichi has a detailed and quite interesting article about the problems with the ice wall here:
High-priced Fukushima ice wall nears completion, but effectiveness doubtful August 16, 2017,

But while 34.5 billion yen from government coffers has already been invested in the wall, doubts remain about its effectiveness. Meanwhile, the issue of water contamination looms over decommissioning work.
The problems with the ice wall are myriad and were identified early on in the process, as noted in the article:
Furthermore, during screening by the NRA, which had approved the project, experts raised doubts about how effective the ice wall would be in blocking groundwater. The ironic reason for approving its full-scale operation, in the words of NRA acting head Toyoshi Fuketa, was that, "It has not been effective in blocking water, so we can go ahead with freezing with peace of mind" -- without worrying that the level of groundwater surrounding the reactor buildings will decrease, causing the contaminated water inside to flow out.  
So, the main problem with the ice wall seems to be that it is not effective in blocking radioactive water, which was its main design purpose.

That is the bad news. The good news is TEPCO reports success in reducing the volume of contaminated water produced everyday from 400 tons to approximately 130 tons.

Still, 130 tons is an inconceivable amount of contaminated water to produce daily. Much of this water is captured and filtered but TEPCO admits it can only remove some of the radionuclides found in the water:
Tainted water is treated using TEPCO's multi-nuclide removal equipment to remove 62 types of radioactive substances, but in principle, tritium cannot be removed during this process.
I've posted previously about the hazards of tritium (e.g., see here).

I imagine that tritium is not the only radioactive isotope that resists filtration. For a few years TEPCO could not filter strontium. The ALPS water treatment system allegedly was finally fixed so that strontium could be filtered but my bet is that plenty of strontium-laced water has ended up in the ocean and in the water table.

The completion of Fukushima's ice wall seems a hollow victory.

I'm a bit more optimistic about the new cover on unit 3, which seems to have reduced the visible atmospheric emissions from that area of the plant:

The new cover on unit 3 is visible in the background of this screenshot, behind the tall white vent stack.

Now if TEPCO can figure out a way to cool down the common spent fuel pool, whose building seems steamy recently: