Yucca, craps and games of chance

An older man stands at the far end of the craps table, chips on the pass line backed at appropriate times with free odds bets. He’s deliberate, focused. Slowly his pile of chips grows.

A younger man stands at the head of the table, rolling the dice. He’s wearing a Nevada license plate keychain around his neck that says “Randy.” He’s from Sonora, Calif.

Randy explains craps to a Georgia tourist, who’s recklessly tossing $5 chips around the board.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” the Georgia tourist says. A cocktail waitress delivers a Coors Light. He takes a sip, frowning. “I don’t know what this game is.”

“It’s easy,” Randy says. “There are only 12 numbers you can roll.”

In a recent piece in The New York Times Magazine, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt of Freakonomics fame, wryly blame Jane Fonda for global warming. In the 1979 film The China Syndrome, Fonda played a reporter digging into nuke cover-ups. Twelve days after the film opened came the Three Mile Island meltdown.

Americans panicked, stymieing the revolution in what Dubner and Levitt call “clean, cheap” nuclear energy. Dirty coal-fired power plants sprouted in green valleys. It’s Fonda’s fault.

Now nukes are making a comeback, Dubner and Levitt note gleefully. “There are plans for more than two dozen new reactors on the drawing board and billions of dollars in potential federal loan guarantees. Has fear of a meltdown subsided, or has it merely been replaced by the fear of global warming?”

Not addressed—high-level radioactive waste kept in cooling ponds and in storage buildings outside nuclear reactors in around 40 states. Also ignored—dangers of transporting 77,000 tons of waste across the country to Yucca Mountain or the reality that waste from two dozen new reactors will create need for another Yucca.

Jim Gibbons, Nevada’s democratically elected governor, claims he doesn’t support storing waste in Nevada. Recent actions don’t bear this out. When the Energy Department needed an extension on water drilling at the site, Gibbons granted it. (Wiser state leaders took the matter to the courts. A judge ruled this month that the state could cut off water drilling at Yucca.)

Gibbons tried to replace a feisty Yucca opponent’s place on the Nevada Nuclear Projects Commission with a strong Yucca advocate. When critics screamed bloody foul, the appointment was rescinded.

“This demonstrates to me that he either doesn’t know what he’s doing or he’s reversed his position,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., in a Las Vegas Sun article “Gibbons seen undermining a nuke-free Yucca.”

Democracy too frequently puts dice into the hands of uninformed people or those with ulterior motives (like greed).

I like to think people are capable of making solid choices based on the facts.

Sadly, too many uninformed people refuse to learn the game or calculate the odds. Misinformation abounds, and plenty of people will tell us what we want to hear.

And unlike casino table games, there’s no standing on the sidelines of self-government.

Rolling two dice results in 11 possible numeric totals, 36 possible permutations. Craps can involve more than 120 bets.

“I’ve lost $300,” Georgia complains. He lights a cigarette and takes the dice.

“What’s a good number to roll?” he asks Randy.

“Seven,” Randy replies.

“Seven!” Georgia yells.

A woman arrives, drink in hand. She fidgets at Georgia’s side.

“I’m down $300,” he tells her. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Randy bounces on his toes. He pushes his entire pile of chips to the field. If Georgia shakes a two, three, four, nine, 10, 11 or 12, Randy will win.

Georgia rolls a five.

As Randy’s chips go away, he throws his hands in the air.

“See you guys,” he mumbles and walks off.