Saturday, March 24, 2018

Readin & Writin: Atomic Accidents, One Summer, The Way of All Flesh, O. Henry, James Gallant


Given the facts about the effects of the livestock industry on the life system, our health and the animals, meat-eaters are nudged toward vegetarianism, vegetarians towards veganism. Denial of course kicks in quickly for many. Given the facts about nuclear power and weapons, the devastating accidents, already upon us and hanging over us always potentially, with its expense, its mind-bogglingly long-term waste, its devilishly complicated design and proliferation issues, the average person shudders and takes a stand against. The average nuclear physicist or technician, enthralled with the intricate technical challenges, may acknowledge the dangers and expense but in the end, overwhelmingly, like the meat-eater, comes down in favor.

Thus comes down James Mahaffey in his book, Atomic Accidents, A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters. Despite Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima (and many others), all discussed quite objectively in the book, with just the slightest pro-nuke coloration, he jumps to a conclusion little different than the propaganda we've heard over the years. True, he is grounded in knowledge that allows him to pounce upon mis-readings and misunderstandings among the non-scientist opposition but still, we're talking about boiling water here. Well, and destroying civilization - the slow way or the fast way. But to the scientist, all this is understandably fascinating. It's a bit like religion. The first one that gets ahold of you, you usually stick to. Why isn't the challenge of intermittency for solar and wind as fascinating a challenge? Seems reasonable to assume that it could be met given the billions spent on nuclear. Some claim that it is already met. See Arjun Makhijani's, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, a free download at (Institute for Energy & Environmental Research). Then there is the disturbing fact Harvey Wasserman points out, that every nuclear reactor is a pre-positioned nuclear device to a terrorist.

Bill Bryson is an entertaining writer. His, A Brief History of Nearly Everything starts out by explaining that the Universe as we know it is rather roomy. And he does try to cover everthing the development of science has revealed. To keep it interesting he often lingers on dramatic threats, like the fact that the whole of Yellowstone is a potential magma explosion, perhaps relieved or delayed by the effusions of Old Faithful and the like. Were the explosion to occur we would have basically the same effect as nuclear winter with a massive dust cloud blocking the sun for longer than civilization can probably stand, at least the U.S. version. And this explosion happens to be well overdue if you believe in geologic patterns. His One Summer is lighter fare. Everything in the book pivots from some event that happened in the summer of 1927. Lindberg's crossing the Atlantic, Al Capone's corrupting presence in Chicago, talking movies, broadway plays and the exodus to Hollywood of its finest actors, Henry Ford's Model T and A, the decisions that locked in the coming stock market crash, Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt. And, as they say, more! A very fun read for your beach trip.

Now I had heard somehow of the book by Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh. At one time I scoured yard sales picking up paperback classics by anyone I ever heard of in the great book department. This I recently found in my collection, so yellowed and brittle that, after a few pages I decided to get a hardback copy from the library. I even wrote a song, stealing the title without having read it in 1990, The Way of the Flesh (see Well I've always been impressed by people who can talk, or write and this guy, Sam Butler is one, not as witty perhaps as Sam Clemens, but still, eloquent and knowledgeable enough to impress me, and keep me reading. He is constantly meandering off his story with little asides exploring human psychology, usually ending with an indeterminate dismissal of the subject as hopelessly controversial. As I'm only a few chapters into it I have little to report other than it fits into the late 19th century oeuvre of master writers, some claiming it as standing very near the tippy top of the genre.

Speaking of eloguence and mastery of language, I seem to remember an early television series called O. Henry, based on his short stories (real name William Sidney Porter). The writer, similar approximate time-frame to Butler, interestingly spent some time in prison where he began to develop the craft of, as my friend Jim Marsh calls it, scribbling. Poor bloke had only ten years to write, dying with 23 cents in his pocket. I put one of his books on library hold and when I picked it up needed help to carry it to the car. I can only take it a short story at a time for it weighs heavily on my lap. I've developed a callous and a crink in my left hand holding it up, turning the pages with my right. So far it is situated in Central America where the author spent some time. He is noted for his kind of Rod Serling-esgue twists in the endings without the metaphysical aspect. I am going to have to renew this one more than once, coming in at 1400 pages.

I'll end this sojourn with a reference to the new James Gallant e-book I've acquired, Whatever Happened to Ohio?. It has a wonderful hot-air baloon cover image to kind of lure you into the whimsical fantasy aspect of the tale. Said tale is highly populated, shifting from character to character in a tentativly bewildering mix which I trust, knowing Gallant's skills, will evolve into some mightily interesting, clever and satisfying resolution. The proof is in his earlier book, The Big Bust at Tyrone's Rooming House, set in my Atlanta neighborhood. This is the first e-book I've read and I do declare, it has some appealing features. It certainly isn't heavy in my lap.

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