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Rand Simberg gets caustic about O’Reilly:

He opened his show tonight with the question: “What will be the unintended consequences of the Japanese earthquake for America and the rest of the world.”

It is a little amusing. As Simberg points out, it posits that the death and destruction we see on teevee was intended, and brings up mental pictures of a lair somewhere, with high-tech gear in the background and a villain selecting the proper target for the Earthquake Machine (while stroking a white cat, no doubt).

But I’m inclined to give O’Reilly at least a partial pass. Teh Newz learned from its inception that what sells is titillation, and when there’s death and destruction they race to get the bloodiest possible pictures and most breathless possible accounts, so as to attract the most eyeballs to the Depends™ ads. The result is a tearing rush to get something, anything, on the air, and in the process it’s probably pretty easy (indeed, almost inevitable) to make infelicitous word choices.

There will, in fact, be consequences that aren’t immediately obvious from the event itself. Big changes and momentous occurrences always have ripple effects that pass through society along paths that aren’t immediately evident, and an earthquake that size, affecting that many people and that much property and infrastructure in a critical nexus of world society and economy, definitely counts as a “momentous event”. We don’t really have a word or phrase in English that directly expresses that concept; “side effects” is correct but doesn’t carry the connotations of “consequence”, “unintended consequences” implies intent which doesn’t exist outside the fevered brains of conspiracy theorists, and “unforeseen consequences” brings in the equally laughable notion that earthquakes like that are foreseeable — which once again introduces the piggy-eyed, cat-petting villain, except of course he didn’t cause it, he just knew it was coming and didn’t warn anybody. (No doubt he intends to collect the insurance payout to finance the next step of World Domination®.) O’Reilly needed something short and immediate, and made a bad choice because there aren’t many good ones.

It does raise an interesting question: what side effects or un-immediate consequences can we expect from the earthquake? I can offer one of them: lots of poor brown people are going to go hungry, and you (and I) are going to be a bit chillier than we would really prefer.

Energy is fundamental. Energy grows our food and brings it to us; energy keeps us warm in winter and (in developed countries or among the rich, at least) lets us be cool, and therefore productive, in the hot summertime. For some reason opaque to me there is large and growing hostility to energy production in all forms, and nowhere is it shriller or more fervent than in opposition to nuclear power. Reactors are dangerous, no doubt about it, and the consequences when they break can be dire, but since the beginning with Stewart Brand and the anti-nuclear “movement” the projected dangers seem all out of proportion to the actual circumstances.

Japan uses a lot of nuclear power, as a consequence of its lack of oil, coal, and other energy sources. Several reactors in Japan have been damaged by the earthquake; it’s difficult to cut through the fog of breathless hysteria consequent to figure out just how badly. My usual procedure is to discount the first newz “bulletins” by about 90% and take at least the first week’s commentary with a truckload of salt, but even doing that the situation looks bad.

Reynolds gets an email describing the inevitable result:

Here’s what’s not happening, however, from the Wapo right now:

“The explosion at the reactor is certain to rattle confidence in nuclear power in Japan, victim of the only nuclear weapons explosions and where people have long been sensitized to the dangers of radioactive releases. In the United States, it will deal a severe blow to advocates of a nuclear power renaissance.”

Yup. Expect a new wave of “peaceful protesters” hurling firebombs (and worse) at nuclear power plants and their supporters, and for the Obama administration to seize upon the situation with the same delighted alacrity they displayed with the oil-platform blowout. The question isn’t whether operating licenses for nuclear power generators will be yanked and the plants shut down as a precaution against similar problems here, it’s how long it will take Sibelius & Co. and the good folks at the (Anti-) Energy Department to get the forms filled out. We all, it appears, will be required to live on “renewable” energy, which is to say little to none and that undependable, except of course that the New Nobility will get as much as they need to go about in style, telling us how privileged we are to have them protect us. Billions for windmills, and not one erg for air conditioning — or for tractors to cultivate food. Or home heating. Or electricity to run the Internet, for that matter.

The British have already been told that the days when they could flip the switch and expect light and heat are over. That ripple from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami is coming soon to a Presidential podium near you.

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When I Posted

March 2011