Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Watching the steadily worsening nuclear reactor situation in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami has heightened my feelings of frustration with the world. Here is willful misinformation from official government sources due to political and social reasons. At each stage the dangers have been understated. Examples like "chest xrays" were used to make people feel better. Although I can't remember explosions the last time I had my chest xrayed, I can guess I would probably have left the vicinity of the xray room pretty quickly had there been any.

I guess I kind of expect government sources to be pretty unreliable most of the time. Politicians are often making comments that make no sense at all. They don't even have to correct themselves after the fact. George W. Bush's autobiography was so interesting as it was kind of a parallel universe to my previously understood world.

But when is it appropriate to do the political equivalent of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded, yet, furiously burning theater? Apparently it involves considerable political restraint. If you overestimate the number of people that need to be evacuated, you might suffer from overreaction to the crises which would harm the nuclear industry. But we have been here before. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl...  the press and government were found to be lacking in their publicized portrayal of the potential danger for people surrounding the area. Documentaries showed us later just how terrible and irresponsible it all was.

Newscasters appear on television and give their ideas about just how yucky it may well turn out. Many have been merely parroting the facts they have recently read about nuclear meltdowns. One anchor breathlessly said "Cooling systems were the fault in all three of these incidents." (I think this was CNBC and had to do with the stock market. Perhaps there was profit to be made in shorting cooling system companies.)

When the actual experts get on television they hesitantly tell how bad they think it could get. From an entirely different viewpoint than I had seen up until this time, midway through the crises, I heard one analyst say (I'm paraphrasing) "A meltdown is just that, a meltdown of the nuclear materials. If the containment shell holds up, this means nothing but a broken reactor." I guess that makes sense absent explosions and tsunamis and stuff. I want to see this guy go in there and hug the containment dome for all of us. No doubt he is probably right, but I'm not so sure we can trust him with my pet turtle, Gamera.

It's ok, everyone stay in your houses. The circle of people needing to evacuate kept growing. Some were told to stay in their houses and not go outside. Close the windows tight. Be sure to hang your laundry indoors. Hmm. Really? Are you totally sure it's not time for me to run for my life? Maybe it's too late to run for my life and the best I can do is stay indoors now?

I have watched a lot of seasons of the television program 24. Each time I watch a season I curse myself for watching something that seems to have as it's political agenda the justification of torture. Yet, I find myself intrigued by the "real time" thing and I watch. However, another political agenda that may be in the show, perhaps unintentionally, is the idea that we never want the public to panic. It seems to me that in one season, a nuclear bomb had actually exploded in Los Angeles and all the way leading up to the explosion, no one later to be killed was warned to be in panic mode.

I feel very paranoid about the world now. Oh, it may seem like paranoia to someone who is not paying attention. Car makers once thought we needed these headlights for our safety: 

headlights with little headlight windshield wipers. I saw one on my walk this afternoon on a Volvo parked along the road. At the time these headlights were made, drops of rain were considered dangerous in obscuring the light. But the hazy plastic covers of today?

Hey, no problem. Smoking cigarettes outdoors in New York, illegal. Roasting a goat on a spit on the corner of 5th Avenue, no problem.*

The question of who to trust and what danger lurks out there seems very real to me. This is because the people who are telling us about the danger appear to be untrustworthy and illogical. Later there will be a documentary on Japan's nuclear crises exposing just how untrustworthy and illogical (as with 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl.) But by that time it will have been too late. Similarly the same television that told you to be sure to contact your doctor about the need to take a particular drug will later be telling you to contact a lawyer if you took the drug.

Here is one of my favorite passages from Joseph Heller's Catch 22 set in World War II. This is when Yossarian is finally confronted with his constant paranoia that people are out to kill him: 
"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
"And what difference does that make?"
There is no sense in worrying why someone is not telling you the truth. You don't need to judge whether someone is lying (intentionally not telling the truth), is misinformed, doesn't have foresight, is misguided in ideology or is just a very trusting person who follows common wisdom. It is just not a value judgement when you are making the final decision about whether to flee for your life.

I sometimes actually feel guilty that I researched particular things that others do not know. They get perturbed with me because my politics aren't the same as theirs and I usually won't give in. But... I have to make the call based on what I think is correct. I have only myself and my reasoning abilities to trust.

Since I was a young boy the question of Federal entitlement programs was a problem. I grew up in an atmosphere of thinking that Social Security, Medicare and all the rest would probably not be there when I was older unless we did something about the system. Not surprisingly, we didn't do much. No one wanted to give up some of their current money to plan for the future people that would also need money. Not only did they not want to even out the benefits over time, they actively tried to get their taxes cut so that now we have to add interest onto debt. It has reached it's tipping point as far as I am concerned. When you have borrowed tons of money in the past and now have to borrow to keep the whole system afloat, that is most likely the tipping point. When former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld was recently asked on David Letterman whether the budget could ever be balanced he replied in that folksy voice we had grown accustomed to at his news conferences (before being ushered out of town) "Well sure." He drew out the word "sure" in such a nice calming old person kind of way. "Well, sure..."

Mr. Rumsfeld's next arguments should logically be to support his "Well, sure." He stated that in his day, under President Jimmy Carter, I believe he said, (although it might have been President Ford) he remembered when people were all up in the air (he forgot to say "henny penny," I love that one) over the first time the entire budget had crossed the 150 billion mark. Now it was, what? In the trillions? Did Mr. Rumsfeld just tease me with calmness only to intensify things before inevitably turning on the juice to the electrodes attached to my nether regions? I didn't really understand his point if it was meant to calm. More likely, it was meant to subtly point out the perceived out of control (Obama) budget we now find ourselves in. Never mind the economic collapse and the money we were forced to spend to keep the economy afloat; never mind that Rumsfeld's wars were an intrinsic part of that collapse. Again, it doesn't matter why they are wrong. It only matters that you must choose when to run for your life.

I must admit it was relaxing while being lulled into complacency by President George W. Bush's autobiography. I secretly liked that alternate universe where everything fits into place neatly. I remember this as a child. Watergate seemed like a standard event. It's the feeling that everything in the world is just the way it is supposed to be. The war in Vietnam seemed just another example of an ordinary event that fit into a giant puzzle that my parents knew all about, or that someone must, if not them. It's that kind of childish feeling that everything is alright that gets lost with time and age and I feel the weight of responsibility that was on my parents' shoulders on my own shoulders.

At first I wondered why this Japanese nuclear thing seemed so central to my life. I was Googling the news even in the beginning when there was basically nothing new to read from one article to the next.  Now I realize why it touched a nerve with me. It's that fear that at any moment I myself will need to run for my life while others are lulled. That is the stress I have felt for a long time now.

Next I'm reading Donald Rumsfeld's book. Wish me luck. As I mentioned, he was on David Letterman a few weeks ago selling his book. He seemed very calming, and charming with is wide old man smile. Perhaps I will sleep better after everything is explained calmly and a little more thoroughly by someone from the alternate universe.

Rumsfeld has entitled his book Known and Unknown. One of his classic moments of his press conferences was when he laid out a system of intelligence. He said there were known knowns, things we know we know. There are known unknowns, things we know we don't know. And finally there are unknown unknowns, things we don't know that we don't know. He fears this last category the most. I beg to differ. I submit with the 2 words of his title switched around like that, there is one more category he intentionally did not consider that is much more fearsome. This would be the "unknown knowns." These would be things we think we know that we don't really know; or put another way, things we don't know that we think we know. These are the things that we are lulled into believing which are just incorrect. This category, not even mentioned by Rumsfeld was obviously neglected so that we could all sleep at night. It's one thing if the demon is things that we don't know about and have no way of knowing about. Really, just go on to sleep.There is no sense worrying about things you have no control over. However, it's another thing entirely to believe there might be known things that we are somehow missing, and that we truly need to stay up late at night and worry about. Maybe she was right. Maybe I do have bad breath and just haven't considered the possibility. Maybe economics books are correct and we can't keep borrowing and starting wars. Or our true peril might not be foreign enemies, but our own economy....  where is my Ambien?

*David Letterman.