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Summer 2005
 
City Journal Summer 2005.
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A Puzzled Prof

To the editor:
I read with great puzzlement Heather Mac Donald’s characterization of me as a “tenured white basher” [“Heralds of a Brighter Black Future,” Spring 2005]. Can you supply proof—not of my tenure, but of my white bashing?

Michael Eric Dyson
University of Pennsylvania

Heather Mac Donald responds:
I’m amused to read of Professor Dyson’s puzzlement at being called a white basher. He has made an entire career out of promoting the idea that blacks must constantly battle the “malevolent consequences of white supremacy.” Whites, according to Dyson, harm blacks by their “biased assumptions about what we cannot do. Think. Imagine. Compete. Sacrifice. Learn. Work.” Even as the white power structure keeps inviting him into its inner sanctums, Dyson is convinced that he is being treated as a “despised nigga.” When this self-described knife-toting gang member and teenage welfare dad was kicked out of prep school, it was because of racism (yet that racist prep school had admitted him in the first place).

Again, mysteriously, the white power structure invited him into another elite sanctum—Princeton—only to disrespect him: “White administrators tried to make me question my talent.”

Given the “psychic wounds” that Dyson claims our “racist, classist society” inflicts on black males, it’s amazing that he has kept himself together long enough to earn such perks as an Avalon Foundation professorship at the University of Pennsylvania. Just think how richly rewarded he would be in a non-racist society!

Give Us 22 Minutes?

To the editor:
Brian Anderson’s article about blogs vs. the old media is excellent [“In with the New,” Spring 2005]. The difference, I think, is even greater than he describes.

The old 6:30 news format gave us a mere 22 minutes of news—which would include celebrity footage and a human-interest story that might or might not have cast some light on a public issue.

Blog readers, on the other hand, can avoid the celebrity trial du jour, can pick their own human-interest stories, and can read for themselves many times what the remainder of the old media’s 22 minutes would provide. In half an hour, you can get six articles about Iraq, an article painstakingly analyzing the reporting on Iraq, a website featuring letters from the troops, and ferociously competent military analysis. Walter Cronkite—even if he had wanted to—couldn’t have delivered that much information on Vietnam in a week.

There is just no comparison.

Richard Aubrey
Via e-mail

Hail Brit-nanny-a

To the editor:
Theodore Dalrymple’s “The Roads to Serfdom” [Spring 2005] was excellent. I have visited England three times in the past three or four years and this is exactly what I saw—especially on the BBC. Every problem reported on, no matter how insignificant, had a government official promising to fix it. No mention of private property rights at all.

Barry Raymond
Via e-mail

The Nuclear Option

To the editor:
I love nuclear power, but we have to accept and deal with the radioactive mess it creates. In “Why the U.S. Needs More Nuclear Power” [Winter 2005], Peter Huber and Mark Mills concentrate on commercial nuclear power, but we must include defense nuclear waste (enough to fill five mountains) when calculating the total waste we have to contend with. Yes, spent fuel rods from commercial reactors will go in one deep, permanent storage site. And yes, that’s a lot less waste than the coal slag we’ve generated in the last 50 years—but coal slag doesn’t need armed escorts in transport, nor does it require 11 national sacrifice zones to store.

It would be nice if Huber and Mills’s assertion that repositories protect for millions of years were true. But computer extrapolations of lab data predict that storage canisters in rock disintegrate in 10,000 years. Thereafter, the rock is on its own to prevent escape of radioactive pollutants. And all rocks are cracked: Yucca Mountain has 39 fault-line fissures. It’s doubtful that any other rock would be much better.

We aren’t going to solve the problem by ignoring it.

Ron Bourgoin
Edgecombe Community College

To the editor:
Nuclear power is cheap because it is heavily subsidized. It’s clean because you glibly ignore the waste problem. It’s safe because everything is safe right up until it blows.

You create the premise that nothing can be done about demand, but efficiency gains can slash electricity demand to a point where expanded wind and solar power can supply mod- ern society.

Stephen Gloor
Via e-mail

Peter Huber & Mark Mills respond:
Mr. Bourgoin’s comments are typical of what too often substitutes for serious discussion of nuclear waste. Compared with all other practical forms of energy, spent nuclear fuel is unique in that it occupies such tiny volumes, and is so easy to transport, store, monitor, and manage. The solid, glass-like material is inherently stable, and when it is placed in a suitable repository, no plausible physical mechanism can migrate and disperse it in the environment for hundreds of thousands of years—by which time it will present less risk than other naturally occurring radioactive sources.

Mr. Gloor is correct: nuclear energy has indeed been subsidized. So have all other fuels and energy-capturing technologies. The subsidies roughly track the total amount of usable, affordable energy supplied at the end of the line. Renewables have received little support in absolute terms because they contribute so little. But per unit of useful energy actually supplied, renewables are more heavily subsidized than more practical and productive options.

On the demand side, the U.S. economy has doubled in overall energy efficiency since 1950, but total energy consumption has tripled. The great British economist Stanley Jevons exposed this paradox in 1865, and all experience since confirms that he was right: over the long term, better energy-transforming technologies don’t lower demand for raw fuel; they raise it.

 

 


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