The Thursday Blog: Holy Crap! Edition

Tectonic plates carrying continents on their backs are in constant motion around the surface of our planet, slowly muddling their way hither and yon, climbing on each others’ backs like planetary turtles in a pond. Sometimes as they try to climb there is a rough patch out on the edge, and where one plate might have smoothly slid over another, it instead catches and hangs, temporarily ceasing its motion. But the rest of the colossal plate still wants to move, and it pushes harder and harder on that edge the longer its movement is stymied. Eventually that edge can no longer take the pressure and snaps off, allowing the rest of the plate to spring forward over the top of its neighbor the full distance of its previously hampered motion, inevitably causing earthquakes and tsunamis. The longer the plate has been held back, the further it jumps forward. Tectonic plates typically move between two and three and a half inches a year. The plate that caused the 9.0 Sendai Earthquake that hit Japan last Friday leapt somewhere between sixty six and one hundred and thirty feet.

It was ready to go.

The further from the edge of the plate, the less the movement. Honshu (the primary island of the group that makes Japan) was moved 2.4 meters. At the same time the tsunami was approaching, a two hundred and fifty mile stretch of Japanese coastline dropped two feet, magnifying the effect of the wave. The axis of the planet’s moved and our days got about two microseconds shorter. Chile, almost the furthest coastline from Japan on earth, got a seven foot tsunami wave from the event.

As of this writing, (and the figures rise minute by minute) the official number of confirmed dead is 4,314, with 2,282 injured, and 8,606 missing. (Expected casualty rates run into the multiple tens of thousands.) Aftershocks will likely continue for months, with over five hundred 4.5 or greater shocks already having hit since the initial quake. Although Japan was equipped with anti-tsunami seawalls as high as thirty nine feet over forty percent of its coastline, the wave just went right over them, tearing them down and washing them away.

Entire towns have been swept off the land they once occupied, boats, cars, trees, homes and office buildings brushed away by the force of the water. Six nuclear power stations have had significant problems, with a total of four explosions, two fires, and 230,000 people evacuated from the areas of potential contamination. While a Chernobyl-level event still seems unlikely, several Three Mile Islands are definitely in the cards. (Apparently the International Atomic Energy Agency warned the Japanese government that their safety procedures were dangerously out of date and that a strong earthquake would likely pose a “serious problem” for the stations.)

Limbaugh laughs at the shell-shocked survivors for trying to continue the motions of their everyday lives. Beck tells the world that this would never have happened if the Japanese had simply obeyed the Christian god’s commandments. YouTube is crazy with videos claiming that this is god’s vengeance for Pearl Harbor… and all of this despite the fact that Japan is there for us every time we have any kind of disaster, natural or manmade, with millions of dollars in cash, equipment, and manpower. (Personally I believe it’s the universe balancing the scales for the Japanese blurring out so much of their porn, but that’s just between you and me.)

There are no grand lessons to be learned here, no larger meanings to be absorbed. (Other than perhaps coastal property being seriously overpriced considering its potential for killing you.) There was a thing in the ocean, and it popped. A bunch of people were in the way when it happened. For us it is sad and those people deserve our compassion and support, and we should focus on that. God didn’t do it, and Gaia isn’t out for revenge.

Shit just… happens.

69 Responses to The Thursday Blog: Holy Crap! Edition

  1. Ooooooh yes.

    But, well, I think that, on one side, people saw this as a great opportunity to advance their political agendas (or make more money!!!), while, for the nutties everywhere, it was yet another proof that, whatever their beliefs, they were right, so more people should listen to them. Note the similarity between the 2.

    Although we’ve made some progresses, humanity is not yet up to the task of acting with compassion and maturity.

  2. Someone needs to tell these radio host “let he who is without since cast the first tectonic plate”!

        • I have not listened to them, at least not lately… but “Limbaugh laughs at the shell-shocked survivors for trying to continue the motions of their everyday lives. Beck tells the world that this would never have happened if the Japanese had simply obeyed the Christian god’s commandments. “?

          If they said that, the mainstream media would be playing the audio 24/7.

          Now, HE did Laugh at how Diane Sawyer was talking about how they were still recycling, like that offsets the cost of human life… if you listen, SHE was laughing with excitement… and that is what he could not believe…Then he goes on to mock the belief in Gaia protecting those who recycle…

          And beck appears to just be talking about how there are earthquakes and how things are getting shaky. You know, “The end is near’ carp… I do not see where he said that Japan caused them because they were not Christian enough… Sure, he believes in his god, but you just jumped on Rush for mocking Gaia.

          Finally, these guys get paid to draw in controversy, but it annoys me when people misquote and mischaracterize others to make an easy strawman.

          Oh, and my sources, today I used ONLY MediaMatters.org, which is self described as “Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”

          i.e., more liberal than mainstream even… and it does not match up… Of course I actually listened to the videos and read the transcipts on their page, which even in a context to be unflattering, does not back that up. Sure, if you JUST read the headlines and have your mind made up before hand, then all bets are off.

          If we want people to treat our guys fairly, shouldn’t we treat their guys fairly? I mean, they DO say enough batpoop crazy stuff to not have to exagerate, don’t they?

          I call shenanigans.

  3. Well, we see the Japanese try to repair the power plants and everything else without complaining – and here in germany lots of people are on the streets complaining about our nuclear power plants. The oldest have been shut down “for revision”, and our politicians (who prolonged the use period of them) are babbling about the error of it all (as they always do, morons that they are).
    Well, the main problem for me is where to put the nuclear waste – unless that is cleared, it is not usable for me…

  4. I’ve told you we were all already doomed, didn’t I? DOOMED I TELL YOU!!!

    A part of me is truly enjoying this and everything else all too much, I have to admit, the part that’s not a bit worried, that is.
    I’m also enjoying the false tears and outcries about all these disasters, atrocities etc. I’ve lost all real hope for anything, there is nothing at all in the long run. The end is nigh! Peace at long last! 😆 As if… 🙄
    But as Chernobyl has taught us, life still goes on. Tenacious little buggers, those humans. 👿

    Yes, I’m allowed to go crazy from time to time, or all the time. :mrgreen:

    • Yeah, crazy.
      By the way, I haven’t thanked Kevin(or most probably, Lena) for reimplementing the “edit” option, so thanks.

  5. One of the things that stands out about this situation when compared to natural disasters elsewhere is the lack of news about looting on Japan’s streets. This is a disaster orders of magnitude greater than what happened during Hurricane Katrina. In New Orleans, we had looters. We had violence. Japan? Nothing like that at all. At least, nothing I could find via a quick Google search. I’m sure there have been some opportunists taking advantage of the situation, but not on the scale we had here.

    In New Orleans, it was every man for himself. While in Japan, the idea seems to be “we’re all in this together” and I think a lesson is there to be learned.

    • It is a cultural difference, however, I think it is also a happiness difference. Japan culture stimulates productivity, usefullness, and pride in your every day life. The demographic is also very dense almost forcing cooperation and leave little room for anti-social behaviors. Compare these aspects to cities such as New Orleans where you have segregated demographics of people who view themselves differently and full of dead end jobs that lead to dependance on Gov Aid.

      While it is true that not all Japanese are happy and that happiness is a relative condition I believe that they are happy enough to not want to hurt their neighbor because they know their neighbor will help them.

      • What does government aid have to do with looting? (Other than people on government aid being poverty stricken.)

        Other than that I disagree with the idea that Japanese are in any way happier, having the highest suicide rate in the world. However, I absolutely agree that population density and a culture of humility and hard work make them much less likely to run off on a disaster-inspired crime spree.

  6. You know,

    If you’re going to bash people, get your facts straight instead of making generalization about “what ” said, or relying on what someone else told you they said.

    Rush Limbaugh has commented on japan. His comments that I have heard have been along the lines of his having heard news men wanting to make the problems with the nuclear power plants ‘another chernobyl’. He then went on to comment on how the plants are so much better designed and how despite the earthquake, which they were designed to handle, they have not had the meltdown or containment issues chernobyl had.

    As for the Glen Beck show, its background noise some mornings. But I did happen to catch his remark about god and japan. He played the question a journalist asked in an interview which as I recall was something like “So, you believe in God. Do you believe that the earthquake in Japan means God is not all-powerful, and could not stop it, or that God is all-powerful and hates the Japanese?” He then made comments on the relevancy of the question,especially in regards to the ongoing disaster and the fallacy of the reasoning involved. I believe his comment on the question was along the lines of “wow that’s about as relevant as saying “do you believe the sky is water colors and rain is god painting an new sky, or is it just all a lie and we should hang all the painters?”

    And there are some lessons to be learned from what happened. One is that preparation for disaster will mitigate its impact. Japan was prepared for disaster. As terrible as the damage and loss of life are, they could have been magnitudes worse if this had happened in another area that was less prepared or where the power structure (New Orleans city govt) refuses to maintain the safety structures (levees) already in place and refuses to act when they know a disaster is underway.

    Another thing that this disaster has done, it has caused many nations that use nuclear power, to review their safety setups and disaster preparations and even shut down some of their own nuclear plants until they can be brought up to spec. Yeah its almost a day late and dollar short for these guys, but thankfully disaster did not yet take place.

    • Rush on the earthquake: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1366866/Rush-Limbaugh-mocks-Japan-earthquake-refugees-recycling-natural-disaster.html

      Beck on the earthquake: http://www.christianpost.com/news/glenn-beck-says-japan-quake-a-message-from-god-49436/

      You are right about preparedness, though that isn’t what I was talking about. It may or may not be possible to prepare to the point of truly being protected from events of this impact, but we can probably mitigate, which is the least of what we should shoot for.

      • Kevin,

        Thank you for those sources. Didn’t see/hear either show on the dates mentioned. I was told (which implies as much reliability on his regular listeners as does the Daily Mails slant) that Limbaugh was mocking Diane Sawyer because of her apparent astonishment that the Japanese refugees would take the time to keep the refugee camp clean (to the point of recycling goods) and went off on a satirical rant aimed at “green fundamentalists.” I’d guess that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of those two reports.

        As for Beck, looked at the transcripts of the shows (everyone seems to have them out there) and what he’s supposed to have said isn’t in the transcripts. Again, doesn’t mean it wasn’t said, but I’d like to see the context it was said in if it was said.

        I suppose its because I’ve been in the position of having people use statements of mine out of context (or just flat out make up words and stick them in my mouth) that I’m skeptical of single source reports from anything (including the bible). With the almost obsessive level of information collecting that takes place on the web, its usually pretty easy to get close to, or right on the original statement that started things and look for yourself/make up your own mind.

        **edit** of course now that I’ve said that, I see Bamko made the same point earlier today.

  7. I hope Americans are paying attention and learning some hard lessons about reactors in earthquake zones. We have several, and they could go ka-plooey at any time. When the San Andreas pops and L.A. is flattened, the Japanese will be among the first to come lend a hand rescuing people. Even though some of our own citizens are acting like total dicks with thier racist comments- the Japanese continue to act like grown ups (which is why there is no looting, hoarding, rape, murder, etc) even in the face of multi-pronged disaster. Mr. Limbaugh and Beck are douchbags, and probably always will be. It’s how they make money. When we have our own “Big One”, it’ll probably be the Liberal’s/Obama’s fault somehow and “god is punishing us for (fill in the blank)”. I’m glad there are lots of decent Americans who are donating to relief efforts, even though the recession is hitting us all pretty hard. One day, all the people we rush in to help may be coming to help US when it’s our turn for a major disaster.

  8. Rush on the earthquake: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1366866/Rush-Limbaugh-mocks-Japan-earthquake-refugees-recycling-natural-disaster.html

    Beck on the earthquake: http://www.christianpost.com/news/glenn-beck-says-japan-quake-a-message-from-god-49436/

    You are right about preparedness, though that isn’t what I was talking about. It may or may not be possible to prepare to the point of truly being protected from events of this impact, but we can probably mitigate, which is the least of what we should shoot for.

  9. Heard a nuclear engineer talking a couple days ago (one of the guys who designs nuclear plants) – and according to him, the nuclear plant was designed to withstand an 8.5 (Due to the logarighmic scale of the scale, a 9.0 is MANY times stronger) – and the plant survived the actual Earthquake relatively undamaged…it was the Tsunami that did the real damage.

    So those running around like Chicken Little squawking that this means that nuclear plants anywhere near an Earthquake zone are unsafe are wrong. You don’t get Tsunamis 100 miles inland in California, for example. The plant survived an event that was WAY outside it’s design specifications…the Tsunami was adding insult to injury, since Tsunamis weren’t in the initial design plan “Oh, and make it so being hit by a wall of water loaded with debris won’t break it” just hadn’t been planned for.

    • Well… yeah, sort of. While you are right about non-coastal stations, earthquakes cause tsunamis 100% of the time, so the fact that they were prepared for the shaking and not the water seems a little underwhelming. Additionally, two of the affected power stations didn’t get hit with water at all, and had triple-redundancy systems knocked completely out. AND the fact that they had not built to a 9.0 when one was obviously in the offing doesn’t really inspire confidence either. I’m betting that it was a LOT cheaper to built to an 8.5 and they took a gamble.

      • No, they don’t…a strike slip fault like the ones in california quite often do NOT cause Tsunamis. Take some classes at your local college on Geophysics (I went to University of Alaska Fairbanks, which is closely tied to the Geophysical institute there) – Also, this plant was an old one that was due to be decomissioned this year.

        Are you sure that technology never, ever advances? Nuclear plants built today would be BETTER, not WORSE.

        And no, it is in no way comparable to Chernobyll. Chernobyll was completely different. It was an uncontained reactor, very poorly designed, and run by idiots who did exactly what the designer said in the manual “Never, Ever do this. The reactor will explode.” So what did they do? They decided to run a “Safety Test” and did it. D’OH!

    • Did you hear this on NPR, Elfguy? If so, I think I heard the same engineer. He did make a valid point about this being one of the “worst case” scenarios a nuclear power plant would ever be subjected to, and the plant didn’t have a meltdown (yet). I do feel that it does speak volumes about the durability of the plant. Hopefully, they can get everything back under control soon.

      • According to the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency; Fukushima I had very probably experienced three partial meltdowns (its second reactor has had it’s fuel rods fully exposed to open air last Sunday) in reactors 1,2, and 3, and four of the reactor buildings have now exploded.

        Thus far, things are still getting worse.

        • Actually, a “Meltdown” isn’t what you think. Fuel rods for nuclear plants consist of a metal tube (With a very carefully calibrated melting point) containing pellets of fuel. When the pellets are close together, they heat up and heat the surronding generate power. When they are spread out, they cool down. The fuel rods are DESIGNED to Melt if the reactor gets too hot so the pellets will fall out and scatter.

          Again, let’s not confuse “The China Syndrome” with Real life nuclear reactors…that’s a Stephen King type world where things go far more spectacularly wrong than could happen today, assuming a halfway competent engineer, designer, and plant operators.

  10. The earthquake is a message that we should stop putting our faith in false deities because they don’t exist and have no control over nature. We as a species are vulnerable to everything the laws of physics is capable of throwing at us – earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, meteorites, solar flares, galactic gamma ray bursts. One of these days nature will throw something at us that will affect every single person on the planet, regardless of who they worship.

    The message, if there is one, is to put our faith in science instead. Develop technologies to mitigate against the worst effects of nature. If this means we have to ultimately move off-planet, so be it, but it will be in cleverly engineered spacecraft, not rapturous chorii of angels and stairways to heaven.

  11. I heard the Fox 5 news report the other night talking about the Japanese power plants – they reported it would be another Chernobyl, which is impossible. My neighbor is a 35 year career nuclear physicist, and she raved at how blatantly wrong the entire news report was. She tried to call them but found no way of doing so.

    It isn’t God, Earth, or the pig flu that is going to kill us. It is Fox 5 news.

    • What happened at Chernobyl could not physically occur in Japan, but completely other things with very bad effects could. Three Mile Island (or even 3 Three Mile Islands) is a much better comparison.

    • I tend to think the media is over-sensationalizing this. I was listening to NPR (again!) this morning and they had an expert talking about 3 Mile Island, and she compared the amount of radiation the public was exposed to in that accident being roughly equivalent to getting two chest X-rays.

      • A chest x-ray is 0.1 milliseiverts (mSv) of radiation. The lowest dose for any statistical risk of cancer is 50 mSv. Radiation levels surrounding the plants in Japan have gone as high as 4,000 mSv.

        • Were those spikes, or consistent readings? As of this morning, they were reporting that the only immediate danger from radiation is to personnel who are currently working at the site. Certainly there is no threat at all to residents of the western coast of the United States, but nonetheless, demand for Potassium Iodide pills has apparently jumped and the supply can’t keep up.

          • Those were spikes, but the “standard” level of radiation in unaffected zones right now is about 20 times higher than normal, and increases to around 400 times normal closer to the plants. Unfortunately the spikes have been happening fairly often.

      • The media sensationalizing, distorting and inventing news for better ratings? That’s crazy-talk, man! Lay off the conspiracy theories already.

        Or we’ll get you.

  12. I can’t believe you are falling for all that ‘earthquake’ hype. It is clear to any open minded person that GODZILLA has risen once again and the governments are hiding the fact from us. The radiation isn’t coming from the nuclear plants but from his radioactive fire breath. Officials are not sure where Godzilla is at the moment. That is why we have moved our navy ships further out to prevent them from being attacked by him.

    Okay, joking aside now. What happened in Japan could very well happen here, and I’m not talking about California. We have a major fault line running right through the middle of the united States called the New Madrid fault line. The last time this fault line had a massive movement was in 1812. The Mississippi River ran backwards for three days and church bells were reportedly rang as far away as Washington DC.

    A second potential danger area is Yosemite National Park. The volcanic caldera there is miles wide. It has not gone off badly in hundred of thousands of years (600 thousand I think without refreshing my memory.) But if it conforms to prehistoric norms you could see several feet of ash spread up to a thousand miles away.

    These are two potentially crippling disasters which are, by scientists accounts, overdue. So no matter where you live, be sure to keep a supply of resources on hand. At least 5 gallons of water you replace monthly so doesn’t go stale (or at least a case of bottled water.) Long term food stores in the form of canned and dry goods. These you can use for everyday life, just stock some extra and rotate their use so the oldest are going out first. An alternative cooking source. This can be as simple as what is called a twig camping stove up to a Coleman camp stove. I used a twig stove for 3 months one time while camping and doing some recreational gold mining. They fold flat, measure about 8″x5″ unfolded and burn small twigs up to pinky finger thickness. I wasn’t able to boil rice with it, but used for heating any canned food, making Ramen noodles, and making oatmeal and hot water for coffee and hot chocolate. In a pinch you can make a hobo stove from a large coffee can or #10 can size easily.

    I hope the people of Japan have the best of luck in their recovery.

  13. Concerning Japan…I am a tad worried about the information, or lack thereof, the Japanese Goverment supplied.

    The info they stubbornly clung to, like f.i the loss of life being less than 300 long after it was clear to all that there were no way the number of dead could be so low, must have undermined the trust in the information the japanese people got from their goverment.

    And if you can’t belive in their words, wouldn’t the belief in their actions also suffer?

    • That has become an increasing concern. There is a real worry that caring for all of those displaced people will become many times more problematic if they don’t believe what they’re being told. I do wonder if that is less of a phenomenon in Japan than it is here in the West though.

      • One of the local politicians expressed a heartfelt; ” Thank God the people of Japan are used to standing in line.”

        He felt this inbred cultural trait will FOR A TIME hinder the breakdown which would cause riots, panic and large scale looting in most western countries, should the same happen there.

        • Japanese culture is totally different…one man actually PUT BACK 8 of the 10 bottles of water he’d taken off the shelf because if he took all the water, no one else would be able to get water.

          Why? Because it was the right thing to do, and to deprive others of a limited resource in an emergency by hogging it all to yourself would be dishonorable.

          That won’t happen in western countries though, you can bet on that.

          • Of course it wouldn’t happen in the USA, that’s why shotguns(or as I like to call them, “crowd control”) were invented.

            I’ve read that in one store the owner used a generator to run the cash register and when that failed the customers that hadn’t bought their groceries yet returned them to the shelves.
            I say it was a peer-pressure fueled honor system, for once functioning for a good cause.

  14. Alls I know is that I used to date a Japanese girl (foreign exchange student) and I’m worried about her. I have no way of getting ahold of her, I haven’t seen her in years, but I really enjoyed the time I had with her and I really hope she and her family are doing okay.