Controlling the hysteria about Japan

The earthquake/tsunami/potential nuclear meltdown in Japan is one of the great disasters to hit the Western world.  It’s worth remembering, however, that the media is a visual engine that lives to convey disaster.

This post is an excellent antidote to that media tendency, as it carefully explains why the world is not ending in Japan.  This is Japan’s Katrina — not politically, of course, but in terms of the scope of the disaster.  It was a regional earthquake, not a national one.

Further, Japanese systems handled the quake itself fabulously.  There is nothing that can be done against a tsunami, though, and that’s where the real tragedies unfolded, as can be seen vividly in this NYT’s interactive feature.

Ten thousand dead, the current estimate, is a heartbreaking number, especially in a small county.  Nevertheless, when you think of a 9.1 earthquake, followed by a tsunami, followed by nuclear reactor problems, you realize that the number is actually exceedingly low.  It’s low because (a) Japan was prepared and (b) the earthquake and tsunami, thankfully, affected only a relatively small area of the country.

The media coverage reminds me of the 1989 earthquake coverage in San Francisco.  I was out of town when the quake hit, and was absolutely paralyzed with fear when I saw reports that made it look as if the City was in flames.  In fact, the City was inconvenienced by the power outages, but the damage was local:  a small part of downtown, the Marina district, the Nimitz freeway in the East Bay, a few square blocks near UCSF Medical School, and one collapsed segment of the Bay Bridge.  But the media couldn’t downplay it, it had to up-play it.  This was the same media that reported cannibalism after only two days in New Orleans.

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Comments

  1. Charles Martel says

    Book, I was out of town, too, the day of the 1989 quake. My wife, son and I had flown to Seattle that day to explore the possibility of moving there.

    Coming back from dinner with an old friend, we turned on the TV to check out the news and the first thing we heard was a news reader saying “…with the destruction of the Bay Bridge.” We were horrified. A quake big enough to destroy the Bay Bridge would have been big enough to annihilate San Francisco itself.

    Then, as we watched, we realized that we were looking at damage to one section of the bridge—as opposed to its “destruction”—and, as you pointed out, heavy damage in a few locations but not the horrendous damage that the media obviously craved.

    The thing about the Japanese quake is that thousands of non-journalists have been documenting it. Without the built-in biases and limitations of the “official” media, we’ve been given a truthful, straightforward glimpse of what has been going on. Thank God for the Internet and cheap (very good) Japanese and Korean video equipment. Without the filters of elite college communications majors to tell us what we’re looking at, we have an unembellished idea of the scope of the disaster. 

    What you said about the Japanese is true. They are highly organized and efficient, and there is probably no country on earth better equipped to respond to what’s happened. I told my wife this morning that it’s very likely that the Americans have offered all sorts of technical assistance, but that it’s even more likely that the Japanese have politely declined.

  2. says

    It’s worth remembering, however, that the media is a visual engine that lives to convey disaster.

    True. The media is an engine that serves to create propaganda and manipulate your perception of reality. You believe them at your own risk.

    I, for one, don’t believe a damn thing coming from the Leftist media organs. What happened in Japan is no cause for hysteria. But if it serves to ramp up their non existent ratings, why not.

    The thing about the Japanese quake is that thousands of non-journalists have been documenting it.

    Every japanese schoolgirl has a camera-phone. And no, they don’t have your picture on all of them, Martel. They only post pictures of people they admire or like, like their boyfriends, using them as wallpaper.

    Back in the last big disaster in Japan, Tokyo or some such, the yakuza got out emergency supplies first, ahead of delayed government (CYA) bureaucratic deadlock.

    That’s what “Japan” is. A place that is infinitely strange to Western or even Asian perceptions.

  3. says

    The Japanese culture is extremely hierarchical. Although the Kansai dialect in Kyoto and such seems to be more culturally direct in a business sort of fashion.
     
    This means that when it comes to centralized organization and social networking, everybody knows their “place” in the great plan. Schools are organized by both teachers and student councils which are often given extraordinary freedom in deciding matters by themselves, for the students.
     
    High school student council members, overseer junion HS students and activities. Junior and high school students then chaperone elementary kids.
     
    As with America, it’s not always the same quality throughout the nation. Some communities just are more “active” than others. And certainly Japan has their version of urban useless parasites, just like we do. But Japanese mainstream culture still places a heavy importance on “do it yourself” work ethics. Their lack of guns, however, means that males are looked after more to protect females from crime.

  4. says

    A “media memory” to share:

    Way back in 1979, way before the internet, way before the 24-hour cable news (even MTV was a couple of year away yet) I was in Taiwan when Jimmy Carter announced normalization of relations with Mainland China. Due to the lack of other sources, folks back in the US had only the BIG 3 networks for ”news.”  Well, based upon what folks back in the US were hearing and seeing, many told me later, they all thought that anti-American riots had broken out and that Americans were about to be lynched on the streets of Taipei. One classmate of mine received a telegram from her parents that they had purchased a plane ticket and that she should head to the airport to “get out of Taiwan –  pronto!”

    In reality, there were only two protests that I knew of.

    One was somewhat spontaneous as dozens of students from Taiwan National University pasted anti-Carter posters to the front gate and walls of that university.  I would like to emphasis that the posters were anti-Carter, not anti-American. A few were pro-Taiwan as if to say Taiwan can stand alone and still survive. I was there that day and in the days after; I felt perfectly safe; no one said anything rude to me or even gave me hostile looks. And it isn’t as if folks did NOT see me – being white, blond, blue-eyed, and over 6-feet tall really makes one stand out in a crowd of folks in Taiwan.

    The other “protest” was held outside a restaurant that was frequented by American Military personnel, mainly officers and their families.  This protest was really one in which a professor had all of his classes go there, each student with one sign and two eggs to throw at the front of the restaurant; no rocks, just raw eggs – very clearly organized. When class time was over the “protest” went away.

    That same day another American classmate of mine had spent the whole day running around town shopping and didn’t even know what had happened until the rest of us were all talking about it at dinner that night. She was disappointed that she “missed the excitement,” while the posters at Taiwan National University remained up for a couple of weeks, the protest outside the restaurant was a one-day only affair.

    The closest that I or any of my American classmates came to being “bothered” was when locals, even strangers on the street, would ask us what we thought of the situation, what did we think of Carter, Did we like him? These questions were NOT openers to start a fight, they were honest questions. The fact that with news so tightly controlled by the government the locals were truly curious about what was going on in the world.  We foreigners were a source for real news, not government-sponsored news. (Foreigners who had lived there for many years told me that very few in Taiwan had heard about Nixon’s trip to China, and that was by word-of-mouth from other foreigners coming back from Hong Kong. Taiwan News didn’t mention Nixon’s trip at all.)

    So while the news reports back in the US portrayed a “tense” situation in Taiwan, the reality was so much different.

    Shortly afterwards, the ROC (That’s the Republic of China – the Nationalist who were running Taiwan at that time) started a “person-to-person diplomacy” campaign stating that even though our countries might not had official relations our people could still connect on a person to person basis and that those ties are strong. That campaign did NOT make the news here in the US. And that’s a shame as that campaign was much greater and had a more lasting impact than the protests that one day.

  5. Danny Lemieux says

    My very bright and very wise spouse has a telling memory of the “race riots” in the city when she was growing up in the 1960s. There really wasn’t much of one but she does remember the MSM camera crews goading some black kids to pick up stones and throw them through store windows. That’s what made the evening news cycle.
     
    Then, of course, there is the image seared into my memory of FOX News’ favorite jackass Liberal talking head, Shep Smith, huffing and puffing about stories of child rape, mass shootings and cannibalism taking place in post-Katrina New Orleans. Putz!

  6. says

    Interestingly, an old friend of mine from high school who is now an uber-liberal, was incensed with the article explaining that, while the earthquake and tsunami were devastating, they were regional and that, overall, Japan’s quake systems worked perfectly.  He felt that the article was flip and diminished the tragedy. I’m not quite sure what to make of his reaction.  Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong, and maybe his reaction points to a larger difference between liberals and conservatives.

  7. Danny Lemieux says

    Book, do you think it was just that he was disappointed that it couldn’t be pointed to as one more failure of modern technology invoking the wrath of Gaia?

  8. says

    Then, of course, there is the image seared into my memory of FOX News’ favorite jackass Liberal talking head, Shep Smith, huffing and puffing about stories of child rape, mass shootings and cannibalism taking place in post-Katrina New Orleans. Putz!

    Lol. Touche

    Interestingly, an old friend of mine from high school who is now an uber-liberal, was incensed with the article explaining that, while the earthquake and tsunami were devastating, they were regional and that, overall, Japan’s quake systems worked perfectly.

    Libs need disasters to feel in control. IF there aren’t any, they will MAKE THEM happen.

  9. Charles Martel says

    Ymarsakar, the novelist Walker Percy in his quasi-philosophy book, “Lost in the Cosmos,” discussed how humans often thrive on disaster and catastrophe because it casts them into a state of timelessness and urgency where their courage and improvisational skills can emerge, heroes are made and all-important community ties are evoked and strengthened.

    So I think you’re very much on track when you point out how much some leftists thrive on disaster. It not only gives them an occasion to exercise control, it temporarily restores to them the kind of community and fellow-feeling that they have destroyed over the years with their endless political correctness and crusades against the family.  

  10. Mike Devx says

    Book notes: Interestingly, an old friend of mine from high school who is now an uber-liberal, was incensed with the article explaining that, while the earthquake and tsunami were devastating, they were regional and that, overall, Japan’s quake systems worked perfectly.  He felt that the article was flip and diminished the tragedy.

    Japan is a nation of over 127 million people.  The Tokyo metro area itself contains 30 million of them.  And in this incredibly large natural disaster, ten thousand have died.

    Ten thousand, out of 127 million.  That speaks volumes for the success of the Japanese in preparing for this kind of disaster and surviving it.  That is what the headlines should be saying.   While any loss of a life is a tragedy and heartbreak for those who loved them, the number of deaths in the face of this disaster is awe-inspiringly low.

    The reaction of your friend, Book, highlights something I’ve noticed about many on the left.  They have no sense of scale and proportion.  Ten thousand deaths is the same as a million to them.  They can’t reason their way through it; they appear to react only emotionally, and a picture of one grieving family is all they need to express their empathetic reaction.  That’s fine, and it’s nice.  But it is divorced from all logical reasoning; it is divorced from being able to JUDGE that the Japanese have done brilliantly!  They refuse to judge and to ponder.  All they wish to do is FEEEEEEEL.

  11. says

    Charles M – Cajun style? But, I thought Mayor Ray Nagin said that New Orelans was to be a chocolate city? (sorry, I know, I know, that was sooo uncalled for wasn’t it? My bad.)

  12. says

    Martel, humans used to struggle mightily against both nature and each other. They still do. But this time, the Left has taken the side of Nature vs Man, and they want Man to lose. While good and evil flourish in war and struggle, both the best and the worst of human elements, wanting the side of Man to lose says something interesting about the Leftist nihilistic vision of reality.

  13. bizcor says

    I read the interesting anecdote article Book linked to. That article then linked to a scientific article regarding the design of the nuclear power plants affected, why they are safe, and what actually caused the plants backup coolant systems to fail. It was the tsunami not the quake.  Very informative. I served aboard a nuclear submarine back in the 70’s and although I was not a nuclear technician I was required to learn how reactors work and how to react in the event of an incident. Also interesting to note the plants in Japan are level ll systems that require coolant to be pumped around the core. The level lll plants which are in the R&D stage do not require pumps. Were pumps not required in the Japanese plants there would have been no backup failure. The backup diesel power generators were sweep away by the tsunami. Of course most of the public is being led to believe there are now four nuclear bombs just moments away from exploding. Nope. A meltdown is not an explosion. Even Fox is hyping the potential disaster. O’Reilly had a very misinformed discussion last night. The Chernobyl plant was a completely different and poor design which is also explained in the scientific article. I wish people would do their homework instead of flying off the handle. Nuclear power plants are not potential bombs!

  14. suek says

    >>some leftists thrive on disaster. It not only gives them an occasion to exercise control, it temporarily restores to them the kind of community and fellow-feeling that they have destroyed over the years with their endless political correctness and crusades against the family.>>
     
    “Magnificent Seven” … at one point, when they’re in the epic battle with the banditos, the little boys come to one of them (forgot which one) and are obviously hero-worshipping him, and calling their fathers (the Mexican farmers of the village).  He rebukes them sternly, telling them that _he_ is not the hero – their fathers are.  That it takes only a momentary bravery to fight battles – even if the outcome may be death – but to work on the land, day after day, _being_ their fathers…day after day… _That’s_ bravery.  _That’s_ courage.
     
    Very touching scene.  First interpretation is that he’s just being a good guy.  Then you definitely get the feeling that _his_ father didn’t have that kind of courage… or that maybe he didn’t.
     
    Medal of Honor winners should never be diminished, but there are always others who should have their courage praised, and don’t.  Being a hero is always more appealing than being the guy who keeps things going without any recognition.  Liberals, I think, like being Superman…  They don’t want to be those peons who just keep things going.

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