Sunday, March 20, 2011
Japan's tragedy is one of those events. Already, it seems reasonable to surmise it could prove one of the most significant calamities of our time — one that shapes policies, economies, even philosophies for decades to come in an increasingly interconnected world.
There is the sheer, surreal force of the images emerging from afflicted zones: cars perched on rooftops, ships sitting in rice paddies, helicopters in a David-and-Goliath battle against radiation-spewing nuclear reactors.
And the way it haunts us with some of our most basic fears: Death by water. Or rubble. Or nuclear fallout.
Add to that, it's a crisis with an impact that will be felt around the planet: Japan is one of the most advanced countries in the world, its third-largest economy, its most successful car-seller and its second-most generous giver of foreign aid.
"This event has the potential to be the most globally disruptive natural hazard in modern times," said Rob Verchick, a disaster expert at Loyola University in New Orleans. "And it may just be, in the context of globalization, of all time."
The Asian tsunami of 2004 killed more people. The fall of the Twin Towers launched two wars. The collapse of the Berlin Wall spelled the end of an empire.
But in this event, psychological, even philosophical, shock over the confluence of human tragedy and nuclear catastrophe yields some fundamental questions. If a technological power like Japan can be so vulnerable, who's safe? Is even minimal risk, as with nuclear power, too much risk? Do we need to rethink the role of government in protecting the public?
Shaking us from modern-day hubris, we're forced to think about whether even the most advanced societies, with almost obsessively meticulous safety backstops, are still pitifully at the mercy of the elements.
But amid tragedy, Francis Fukuyama, the eminent Stanford philosopher and author of "The End of History and the Last Man," sees the possibility for the crisis to become a galvanizing force for political change in the world.
"It does seem to me a natural disaster like this, because it reminds everybody of how commonly vulnerable they are, could be used as an opportunity to reshape the whole tone and character of politics," Fukuyama told The Associated Press.
The unbelievable sight of rich Japan — famous for trains running like clockwork, state-of-the-art gadgets, concern for safety and order — laid low by a freak force of nature beyond human control has been a terrifying wake-up call. On Friday, Japan's government acknowledged that the triple blow of quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster completely overwhelmed even its elaborately laid out, and fastidiously practiced, emergency response systems.
"The unprecedented scale of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, frankly speaking, were among many things that happened that had not been anticipated under our disaster management contingency plans," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.
There's another great earthquake that changed the world: Lisbon, 1755. The tsunami-churning temblor flattened the Portuguese city, killed tens of thousands of people, and caused Enlightenment thinkers to re-imagine the role of government and community.
Experts say this crisis could become another historical turning point that may alter mankind's perception of its relationship to the world, and societies' relationship with one another in an age of globalization.
"What the Lisbon earthquake experience contributed to Western history (was) this move of government being responsible to its people and protecting them in a community-driven way," said Verchick. "Is there anything like that that might happen as a result of the Japan tsunami and earthquake and nuclear disaster? I think that the answer is yes. It's related to the idea of global community."
Already the crisis is triggering an urgent rethink of nuclear power around the world, from China to Germany, where pressure is building to sharply accelerate a plan to phase out nuclear energy.
"Fukushima, March 12: 15:36: The End of the Nuclear Age," read the cover of the Germany's prestigious Der Spiegel magazine — referring to the exact time an explosion rocked the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant where workers are racing to prevent a meltdown.
While the Asian tsunami and last year's earthquake in Haiti triggered an enormous outpouring of worldwide sympathy and aid, the Japan catastrophe is one where people in industrialized countries can more easily see themselves in the victims' shoes.
"One of the things that make this a unique situation is that it is a catastrophic event with incredible terrifying loss that's occurring in a country that is also wealthy," said Verchick, author of the book Facing Catastrophe: Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World.
Verchick said that in New Orleans, many people who lived through Hurricane Katrina are watching the scenes in Japan with a sense of gut-wrenching familiarity, with some even experiencing symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Japan tsunami will go down in history as the more significant disaster, according to James Orr, professor of East Asian studies at Bucknell University. Not because of any difference in suffering, but because its effects will be felt around the planet in a more direct way. "Katrina was very much a regional disaster," he said.
And that global punch is given more force from the historic speed with which the images of devastation reached every corner of the planet.
"People all over the world have the ability to almost immediately see the disaster on the ground," said Verchick. "And that actually produces psychological and social changes in people and communities all over the world."
Friday, March 11, 2011
At least one person was killed and there were reports of several injuries in Tokyo, hundreds of miles (kilometers) away, where buildings shook violently through the main quake and the wave of massive aftershocks that followed. A tsunami warning was issued for dozens of Pacific countries, as far away as Chile.
Japan's meteorological agency said that within two hours, large tsunamis washed ashore into dozens of cities along a 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometer) stretch of the country's eastern shore — from the northern island of Hokkaido to central Wakayama prefecture.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the quake caused "major damage in broad areas" but nuclear power plants in the area were not affected. The government prepared to send troops to the quake-hit areas.
"This is a rare major quake, and damages could quickly rise by the minute," said Junichi Sawada, an official with Japan's Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
TV footage showed waves of muddy waters sweeping over farmland near the city of Sendai, carrying buildings, some on fire, inland as cars attempted to drive away. Sendai airport, north of Tokyo, was inundated with cars, trucks, buses and thick mud deposited over its runways. Fires spread through a section of the city, public broadcaster NHK reported.
The tsunami also roared over embankments in Sendai city, washing cars, houses and farm equipment inland before reversing directions and carrying them out to sea. Flames shot from some of the houses, probably because of burst gas pipes.
Elsewhere, large fishing boats lay upturned on land, some distance from the sea.
Officials were trying to assess damage, injuries and deaths but had no immediate details. Police said at least one person was killed in a house collapse in Ibaraki prefecture, just northeast of Tokyo.
A large fire erupted at the Cosmo oil refinery in Ichihara city in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo and was burning out of control with 100-foot (30 meter) -high flames whipping into the sky.
NHK showed footage of a large ship being swept away by the tsunami and ramming directly into a breakwater in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture.
In various locations along the coast, footage showed massive damage from the tsunami, with cars, boats and even buildings being carried along by waters. Partially submerged vehicles were seen bobbing in the water.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was a magnitude 8.9, while Japan's meteorological agency measured it at 8.4. It struck at 2:46 p.m. and was followed by 12 powerful aftershocks, seven of them at least 6.3, the size of the quake that struck New Zealand recently.
A tsunami warning was extended to a number of Pacific, Southeast Asian and Latin American nations, including Japan, Russia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Chile. In the Philippines, authorities said they expect a 3-foot (1-meter) high tsunami.
The quake struck at a depth of six miles (10 kilometers), about 80 miles (125 kilometers) off the eastern coast, the agency said. The area is 240 miles (380 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo.
In downtown Tokyo, large buildings shook violently and workers poured into the street for safety. TV footage showed a large building on fire and bellowing smoke in the Odaiba district of Tokyo.
Several nuclear plants along the coast were partially shut down, but there were no reports of any radioactive leakage.
In central Tokyo, trains were stopped and passengers walked along the tracks to platforms. NHK said more than 4 million buildings were without power in Tokyo and its suburbs.
The ceiling in Kudan Kaikan, a large hall in Tokyo, collapsed, injuring an unknown number of people, NHK said.
Osamu Akiya, 46, was working in Tokyo at his office in a trading company when the quake hit.
It sent bookshelves and computers crashing to the floor, and cracks appeared in the walls.
"I've been through many earthquakes, but I've never felt anything like this," he said. "I don't know if we'll be able to get home tonight."
Footage on NHK from their Sendai office showed employees stumbling around and books and papers crashing from desks. It also showed a glass shelter at a bus stop in Tokyo completely smashed by the quake and a weeping woman nearby being comforted by another woman.
Several quakes had hit the same region in recent days, including a 7.3 magnitude one on Wednesday.
Thirty minutes after the main quake, tall buildings were still swaying in Tokyo and mobile phone networks were not working. Japan's Coast Guard has set up a task force and officials are standing by for emergency contingencies, Coast Guard official Yosuke Oi said.
"I'm afraid we'll soon find out about damages, since the quake was so strong," he said.
In Tokyo, hundreds of people were evacuated from Shinjuku train station, the world's busiest, to a nearby park. Trains were halted.
Tokyo's main airport was closed. A large section of the ceiling at the 1-year-old airport at Ibaraki, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, fell to the floor with a powerful crash.
Dozens of fires were reported in northern prefectures of Fukushima, Sendai, Iwate and Ibaraki. Collapsed homes and landslides were also reported in Miyagi.
Japan's worst previous quake was in 1923 in Canto, which killed 143,000 people, according to USGS. An earthquake in Kobe city in 1996 killed 5,502 people.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Since October 2009, Brennan, from Sulphur, Louisiana, has been battling embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma--a rare form of cancer in which muscular tumors attach themselves to bones, writer Rachel Reischling reports in the Fort Polk Guardian. Last month, doctors told his family there was nothing more they could do, and gave Brennan just weeks to live.
Brennan has always loved the Army. His mother had created a Facebook page--Brennan's Brigade--to keep family and friends informed of his condition. People from around the world, including soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, have left comments of encouragement and support. One group of soldiers in Afghanistan posted a picture of themselves holding an American flag, and told Brennan: "We're flying this flag in honor of you; we're here to back you. Stay Army strong."
Becky Prejean, who runs a charity for sick kids called Dreams Come True of Louisiana, heard about Brennan's illness, and got in touch with his mother, Kristy Daigle. Brennan's greatest wish, Daigle told Prejean, was to meet some soldiers in person, before his illness worsened. So the two women contacted the Fort Polk Community Relations Office, which put out a call for a few soldiers to attend Brennan's tenth birthday on Feb. 26.
Forty showed up.
Brennan had been told he was going fishing with his father. But when he got out of his dad's truck, he was greeted by a formation of 1st MEB soldiers, standing at attention in front of a National Guard Humvee. After a moment, they all shouted "Happy Birthday, Brennan!," and broke into applause.
Brennan was speechless, according to his mother. "All he could do was giggle," she said.
Brennan and his best friend Kaleb were invited to check out the Humvee, and Brennan sat behind the wheel. Then soldiers took the two boys out for a spin. Afterward, Brennan and Kaleb put their heads out the hatch on the vehicle's roof, while the crowd snapped pictures.
But it wasn't over. Brennan got out of the Humvee and was led to the front of the formation, where he shook hands with each soldier. He was inducted into the Army as an honorary member, then given a coin symbolizing merit and excellence, as well as a military jacket with his name on the pocket, and other Army-themed gifts.
"Brennan, you exemplify what personal courage means," Pfc. Kamesha Starkey, 1st MEB, told him.
Finally, the mayor of Sulphur, La., gave Brennan a key to the city, and the title of Honorary Mayor of the Day.
"Words can never express what I felt seeing all those soldiers there, knowing some of them had just come back from Iraq and still took time out for just one little boy," Kristy Daigle said. "Just to know that they care enough to give their all, to give their love and support to a little boy is phenomenal. It says so much about our men and women who serve our country in the armed forces."
Some of the soldiers said the event helped put things in perspective for them. "It was good to be able to give back," Pfc. Kyle Frederick said. "It opened my eyes to a lot of things: How I take my kids for granted, how lucky we are, how we complain on a day-to-day basis and we really have it good compared to others."
As for Brennan, it took a while for his new honor to sink in. The next day, he asked his mother, "Am I really in the Army?"
"You most certainly are," she answered. "They don't swear in just anyone."
"That's awesome," said Brennan.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
As the clock struck 7 a.m. Made Suastini awoke and began preparations for the Day of Silence, which starts on Saturday.
The 36-year-old woman went to her kitchen to prepare a complete breakfast of offerings for her ancestors, comprised of rice, fish, fruit, snacks and coffee.
She said the preparations differed from her usual offerings.
After preparing the offerings, Suastini, a textile seller at the Kuta Arts Market, said she would spend the rest of her Saturday in prayer.
That is more or less what all of Bali would do on Saturday, as the island's majority population of Balinese Hindus commemorate Nyepi, the Day of Silence, as reported by kompas.com.
All streets of Bali have been empty since 6 a.m., making the Island of the Gods look like a ghost town. No vehicles will be on the streets, no shops or offices will be open nor television or radio programs broadcast for 24 hours.
Bali will observe the Day of Silence until 6 a.m. on Sunday.
info The Jakarta Post
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
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