Monday, March 14, 2011

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Feeling small in Japan - by Nick van der Leek

Personally I have found the events of the past few days almost overwhelming. While one part of the world is reeling from ongoing Earthquakes, devastating Tsunamis and reactor meltdowns, people are flipping channels to watch cricket. Then there are protesters being snubbed in Saudi Arabia, or bombed in Libya.

Perhaps to escape all of this mayhem and chaos I went to watch a movie called Invasion Los Angeles. Peculiarly the flick opens with meteors falling over Tokyo, and refers to the world at war by August 2011. The escapism in INVASION is fun because the enemy are aliens, and of course in such a scenario, we don't have to do any honest soul searching.

Interestingly, the number one genre at the movies today, by far, is fantasy. And the core characters stepping forward right now are Superheroes, some of them even mythic superheroes, like Thor, and the superfantastical Green Lantern, who has a ring of power to shape his will any way he wishes. X-Men First class arrives in June, Captain America comes to cinemas in July, Tintin is also on the way, and Smurfs, Cowboys and Aliens,and in 2012 [if the world is still here by then] The Dark Knight Rises and Star Trek 2.
There's an insatiable appetite for fantasy, and for good reason. We have no clue how to deal with reality. And that's no accident. No one is sure what reality really is. And that's no accident either.

Whilst running in the gym earlier this evening, Skynews yellow ticker tape showed: Japanese government finds "no problem" with coolant system. Right beside that was a comment from an agency reporting a meltdown. A weather forecaster on CNN was giving wind direction as an indication for how contamination [that's radioactive contamination] might be circulating over Japan. When the forecaster finished, all the news reader could say was, "Oh my, I hope those poor people will be able to survive the cold weather."

It's also the official government line that's suspect:

Despite plans for the intentional release of radioactivity, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the 40-year-old plant was not leaking radiation.

"With evacuation in place and the ocean-bound wind, we can ensure the safety," Edano said at a televised news conference early Saturday.

It was unclear if the elevation of radioactivity around the reactor was known at the time he spoke.

The bottom line is humility is hard, if not impossible, if we're making excuses and lying to ourselves and each other. To truly be humble, you have to be honest. The world is having a hard time doing that. We're good at talking things up, selling ourselves, and spinning ourselves from pillar to post.

The public debate, or should that be, TV debate on the safety of nuclear power is pretty incredible for its ignorance. What sort of qualifications do journalists have these days, especially those commenting on the flux of events, live, to millions of people. Because that ignorance, that stupidity, then infects millions. Nuclear energy is about as safe as safe sex. It's not foolproof, but it's necessary. Not everyone believes in it, but the sensible know it generally works. With exceptions.

I found the images of vehicles dumped on rooftops, piles and piles of vehicles washed away, particularly vexing. Why? Because there's a metaphor in these images. Where our stuff instantly becomes the garbage that kills us. Those waves were filled with debris, houses and cars, and all this stuff basically smeared across villages, wiping - literally - entire neighborhoods off the map. It is difficult to think of a more effective scenario to describe our common conundrum on this planet because of our addiction to these very things, piles of cars and houses.

It may not be obvious, but the wealthy live increasingly at the expense of the poor.  Is the price of oil really worth just $115?  People with cars and homes and TV's live at the expense of the unemployed masses toiling in the streets of North Africa and the Middle East. The profits from those recources go to the elites - the correct term being dictators - of those governments, and have done so for decades. The rich live at the expense of the poor. We can continue to be proud conceited consumers, but if we can't change our habits, we will all reap the whirlwind. We already are.

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