Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004
A Native Oak Ridger Examines the Bush Appearance
Not being an employee of Oak Ridge National Laboratory or any of its affiliates, I could not enter the auditorium where Bush was speaking yesterday. After watching the speech on TV, however, I do have some comments:

1. Bush picked absolutely the worst place in the Southeast to mispronounce "nuclear". There are people around these parts who, if you're not fortunate enough to be surrounded by Secret Service agents, will start whalin' on you screaming "IT'S "NU-KLEE-ER", NOT "NU-CULE-LER", DAMMIT!"

2. Regarding those "weapons of murder": Who do you think makes 'em? That's right, some of the people in your audience do. I bet they felt real swell about you calling their work "weapons of murder", especially when the only nuclear weapons that have actually been used were partially built at ORNL. In short, you're calling the staff of the nuclear weapons programs at Y-12 murderers. Good way to get votes.

3. Bush's recitation of the speech was only slightly more inflected than a sixth grader's oral report on tree frogs. Does this indicate my personal biases for those who can speak well? Yes. Are these biases partially due to my high-end education, which has made me less and less tolerant of bad prose? Probably. Is Bush being a bad speechmaker on purpose, as a way to de-emphasize his Yale and Harvard education, or is he naturally not a talented speaker in a way highly educated people respond to? I'm not sure.

4. Was Hussein's regime in Iraq really "the worst government in the Middle East"? Personally, I'd nominate Saudi Arabia for that dishonor, but I don't really get the feeling Bush cares very much about women's issues or humane treatment of criminals--as long as the Texas tea keeps flowing.

5. Bush really doesn't react to criticism well. While he admitted that we haven't found weapons caches in Iraq, he insisted that "we were right to go into Iraq" because Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and an enemy of the United States. Well, Osama bin Laden is actively at war with the United States. Maybe we should concentrate on finding him first.

6. The infrastructure at Oak Ridge reveals that it's very difficult to find and enrich fissionable material. It took two and a half years to make enough U-238 and plutonium to create Fat Man and Little Boy--with three cities built especially for the project, hundreds of thousands of people working at these sites (almost all of them having no clue what exactly they were building), and billions of dollars from the United States government. Admittedly, this was using 1940s technology--but considering the embargo on Iraq, they probably couldn't have had state-of-the-art uranium refining plants. Good luck working with that yellowcake and not having any of our satellites pick up on your new gaseous diffusion plants.

The other option--obtaining already enriched uranium--is, as discussed by Matthew Yglesias in his The American Prospect article, a joke. Remember the great line from Back to the Future, where Doc Brown comments on plutonium being available at drugstores? You try finding a courier who's willing to transport U-238 to Iraq--I'm sorry, but androids aren't that sophisticated yet.

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