Doug Interviewed by the Religious News Service about God’s Role in Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami


Tuesday, March 22, I was interviewed by Nicole Neroulias about God’s role in Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Neroulias blogs for Beliefnet and writes for Religion News Service. She is a graduate of Cornell University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and she has written for The New York Times and other media.

Our conversation of about 40 minutes focused on a poll just conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. The institute and news service polled Americans for beliefs about God’s role in natural disasters. Neroulias recounted the results of the poll for me and asked for my reaction. Today her story went online here. Portions of our interview are summarized near the end of her article.

We discussed far more than could be included in her story. So I may be posting further about this interesting and important topic.

I welcome your reaction to the poll and comments on the article by Neroulias.

Notes & Updates:

  • Nicole Neroulias can be followed on twitter here.
  • The Religion News Service claims to be “the only secular news and photo service devoted to unbiased coverage of religion and ethics.”
  • The poll has also been noticed by CNN here.
  • Neroulias has also posted at Beliefnet here.
  • The Huffington Post is carrying the story by Neroulias here.

How Families Can Support Japan and Its People


Smart donors with deep pockets have a practice of matching donors’ gifts dollar-for-dollar. This is something parents can do with their children, no matter the ages of their children. If you have kids, they probably know about recent events in Japan. And they probably are concerned about the trials people are suffering. But is there anything they can do about it?

There is!

Young kids have great attitudes. They don’t often worry that their efforts, however small, are insignificant. This should inspire parents. And parents can build on the charitable inclinations of their kids. They can talk about concrete needs and specific organizations that are in the best position to assist with those needs. They can support their kids’ desire to help by offering to match their contributions by some multiple of every dollar they give or raise for charitable support.

Two organizations impress me as most worthy because they are best organized, most experienced, and most fiscally responsible and efficient. They are Samaritan’s Purse and the American Red Cross. So one option is for parents to invite their children to consider what they can give and tell them that whatever they give will be matched by five or ten or twenty or a hundred additional dollars.

If you have a seven-year-old who is prepared to sacrifice $5.00 he’s saved for something else, then you might offer to match it with $100 for each dollar. Explain to him how each dollar he donates creates an additional $100 of support to meet needs in Japan. This can sound a little abstract if you don’t illustrate with concrete goods that will be supplied or numbers of people who will be helped. So you’ll need to do your homework. Try to determine what your $100 will cover and communicate this to your kids in ways that will make sense to them.

Challenge your older children to give more. You may have to match their contributions with fewer dollars because of your budget.

Here’s another idea. Begin setting a portion of your charitable giving aside for emergencies that arise. Place this portion in a fund that will accrue interest or in a stock portfolio. As emergencies arise, you will already have available a measure of money designated for giving in times of emergency.

Fidelity Investments, for example, has a Charitable Gift Fund. You can open a Charitable Gift account, select the type of portfolio you wish to contribute to, then make deposits to this account according to your own schedule. The funds you deposit will rise and fall with the vagaries of the market and the portfolio you adopt. Your tax deduction for charitable giving is for the year in which you make the deposit. Once the money is deposited, it cannot be withdrawn. At the time of your choice, you decide whom to support and for how much. You then authorize Fidelity to post a check to the designee, charging your Charitable Gift account for the amount you have designated. It’s pretty simple and a great way to apportion your giving for special needs, whatever they may be.

Of course, you can combine this idea with the matching idea, and get your children involved in regular giving. They can help you decide when it’s time to give to a particular cause. And they will, no doubt, be sensitive to needs that aren’t on your radar.

If you have other ideas about how families can join in efforts to assist with emergency needs, especially during this time of trial for people in Japan, I welcome your suggestions.

By the way—I think this is also a way to inculcate your values into your family culture. Love, self-sacrifice, patriotism, and other values can be reinforced with careful attention to the motives that lie behind our concern for others less fortunate or differently blessed than ourselves.

Stock Market Responding to Japan’s Nuclear Crisis—The Role of American Media


The stock market is responding to Japan’s nuclear crisis, and the picture isn’t pretty. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 242 points today. The Nasdaq dropped by 51 points.

This is because the stock market doesn’t like uncertainty. And uncertainty is the hallmark of the current situation. Japan is in crisis. The American media are trying get to the bottom of things. But they have resorted to sheer speculation on the basis of doubtful evidence. I hold the irresponsible media partly responsible for our stock market malaise.

Japanese officials are holding their cards close to the vest. Is this because the news about their damaged nuclear reactors is far worse than they want the world to know? Or is it because the Japanese culture favors patient and cautious reporting rather than minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow updating? Who knows?

Here’s something we do know. When the American media bring the experts in to speculate about events unfolding in Japan, they are compelled to reflect “two sides” to the “issue.” (Maxim: “There http://douggeivett.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpare two sides to every issue.”) What’s the issue? “Just how bad is the situation and how much risk of spreading radiation is there right now?” So one expert is selected precisely for his relative optimism and another is selected for her more negative outlook. This does not ensure that the media retain individuals on each side who are equally competent to evaluate what little is known.

Case in point: Bill O-Reilly (Fox News) interviewed Professor Richard Muller, a physicist at UC Berkeley, and Rita King who, bless her heart, is a “former nuclear industry journalist.” Speculation without benefit of good data is bad enough. But speculation from a former journalist is painfully specious.

Gunther Oettinger

Cameras with direct feed into some American broadcast studio are an invitation to loose lips. Have you heard what Gunther Oettinger said today? Who’s Gunther Oettinger, you ask. He’s the European Union Energy Chief. Gunther said that Japan’s nuclear plant crisis is “out of control.” This was during a European Parliament committee meeting in Brussels. The stock market went nuclear; the sell-off in equities plunged deeper. Read about this here, where we’re told:

The EU energy commissioner’s spokeswoman, however, later clarified that Oettinger did not have any special or extra information on the situation in Japan.

There you have it. An escalation in alarmist talk with no correlative change in data.

Let’s face it. We don’t know what’s happening on the ground in Japan. Our typically American demand for immediate information and quick fixes isn’t getting us anywhere. Poor Shepard Smith, of Fox News, flew out to Japan to get first-hand information, and he’s learning more about what’s happening in Japan during his conversations with Fox anchors at home than he is from officials in Japan.

In American news reporting, there’s no such thing as keeping your powder dry and your mouth shut. But if there isn’t any more specific real news from Japan soon, the media may have to start covering other important issues and events happening in the world, like our national debt and the Congressional failure to produce a budget, the war in Afghanistan, and Muammar Gaddafi’s goofy and perilous antics in Libya.

Nuke Media Distortion with Facts—What to Believe about the Dangers of Japan’s Nuclear Reactors


Are you good at believing the things you believe? That’s my motto. So what are we supposed to believe about the danger of nuclear radiation following Japan’s recent 9.0 earthquake and damage to nuclear reactors at two locations?

Satellite view of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

First, why we need to know what is happening:

  • We care about the safety of the Japanese people.
  • We care about the safety about the world population.
  • We care about radiation drift toward North America.
  • We have energy needs that may be met with new reactors in the U.S., but only if they’re safe.

Second, why the mainstream media cannot be trusted for knowledge of what is happening:

  • The media are prone to sensationalize the “news” in order to boost their ratings.
  • The media have a liberal bias, which is already heavily invested in opposition to nuclear energy.
  • The media have no idea what a reactor is, how one works, and what terms mean when used to described behavior at a nuclear plant (e.g., “meltdown).
  • The media, even if they try for “balanced coverage” by “experts” with opposing views, are as likely to get crackpots having their own meltdown over what’s happening in Japan.

Third, the only way to nuke media distortion (whether deliberate or not) is with facts and critical reflection.

For facts, the internet is probably your best guide.

The most valuable report I’ve read so far comes from Dr. Josef Oehman, a research scientist in mechanical engineering and engineering systems at MIT. Read his analysis “Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors”. The cost of being well-informed is the effort of becoming informed. Oehman’s article is lengthy, but accessible. You can settle for sound bytes or get the facts in clear and cogent detail.

Oehman captures the threat level with this advice:

If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy.

I’ve started following Oehman on Twitter.

Of course, you want more than one doctor’s opinion. So switch off your TV and search out other reliable sources of real information. If you must monitor the TV coverage, be sure to note the names of specialists and experts who are interviewed, find out who they work for, and examine their credentials.

And listen carefully to the naive questions the journalists are asking. Watch for their own off-hand comments and simplistic reactions. Last night I watched Geraldo interview specialists about the news out of Japan. Geraldo marveled with near-panic that engineers had resorted to flooding their reactors with sea water in order to cool the over-heated reactors. Apparently he didn’t know that this is backup protocol when disaster strikes. (See the article by Oehman.)

Critics of nuclear energy will be sorely tempted to make good use of the disaster in Japan. But this could backfire on them if it turns out that the 9.0 earthquake demonstrates the safety and viability of nuclear power plants, even when disaster strikes.

Time will tell.

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