Tuesday, March 15, 2011

About Japan

My friend Roger Green has reminded me that I haven’t said anything about the earthquake in Japan. Between work and a visit from my mother-in-law, I’ve been too busy to blog—and I really didn’t know what to say.

We watched live coverage on TV, often staring with complete disbelief, of course. We saw things about tsunamis we’d never seen before. Terrifying but, to be honest, completely fascinating, too.

But all that was in the moment, before it became clear the extent of the loss of life and destruction. Then it became so much more.

Eventually, we of course wondered about ourselves and, to be honest, civil defence information was useless: There was conflicting advice on whether New Zealand was at risk. Over an hour or so it was reported we were under a watch, then a warning, then nothing, a warning, a watch—all over the place. I have no idea whether this was media sloppiness—which there was plenty of, both in NZ and overseas—or if NZ Civil Defence advice was confused. I’m betting the problem was at least mostly with the media. This isn’t the first time that tsunami information for New Zealand was useless, but it’s shocking that it’s still happening, whoever’s at fault.

The media was similarly useless in discussing the stricken Japanese nuclear power plants. I’m guessing that none of them understood what was going on or what could happen, but what made it worse is that they seemed unable to find and evaluate credible experts to explain it to us. I heard that one US network (probably Fox) had an “expert” on explaining that this proves that the world should be using oil-fuelled power plants.

Yesterday I saw a video on the New Zealand Herald website (video above) explaining that even if there was a massive release of radiation from the reactors, it wouldn’t go to New Zealand because the prevailing winds would push it out to the North Pacific, toward an area with no people. The Herald has definitely had more useful information on all this than has TV News.

Last night, TVNZ’s “Close-up” programme featured a professor—NOT an expert in nuclear physics, but apparently someone chosen because he’d been to the plant. He said any radiation leak (which he said was completely unlikely) would remain in the Northern Hemisphere. I have to admit, my first thought was, “hasn’t he heard of On The Beach?” My second was more along the lines of “who is this guy, is he aligned with any industry, and why should I take his statements as credible?” The programme didn’t tell me.

Far more productive was that, once again, I was able to use the Internet to find out if folks I know in Japan—and, later, Hawaii—were okay (they were). This provided some welcome good news.

The overwhelming enormity of the tragedy in Japan has moved many people to act. New Zealand immediately sent an urban search and rescue team from Christchurch to Japan, helping a country that was quick to help us. People have donated to appeals for cash, even as Christchurch has continued to struggle. It’s been heartening to see.

Sometimes, good people do good things in the face of tragedy and despair. I hope that fact can help cheer the victims in Japan as it did those in Christchurch. Our shared humanity means we have to try to help.


Anonymous said...

Hi Arthur

It maybe worth checking this out for an explanation. At least it helps understand the media version of events


Arthur Schenck said...

Thanks for that. I'm pretty sure that I followed a link to the original post, and this IS useful. But it still would be nice if TV news did a better job of reporting on this.

On the other hand, this has given me a chance to compliment print journalists, and that can't be bad!