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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Jack Bauer’s Creators, We Need You—Mid-season Ruminations on 24


24-philosphyIf you’re a 24 fan and you haven’t yet seen tonight’s episode, you better save this post for later. It might reveal more than you want to know, which is ironic, given what I’m about to say.

This has been a remarkably engaging season, given the challenge its writers have faced to be fresh and unpredictable. Even more so given some other challenges it has set for itself. Some of these have to do with the writing, some have to do with the marketing.

The writing. Is the FBI really as inept as it’s portrayed here? Tactical differences between Jack Bauer and FBI personnel have made sense. Larry fits the stereotype. His objectivity is fogged by his interest in an admittedly attractive agent who’s working a little too closely with Bauer, but he hangs in there pretty well. His capacity for rage hints that he’s not altogether unlike Bauer, whom he so patently loathes. Tonight, though, I think the script may have dropped a couple of points on the credibility score. Larry’s real life counterpart wouldn’t have been so clumsy about tightening the net on FBI infiltrators . . . would he? Wouldn’t that seedy-looking Shawn—or Sean—chap have been a possible? You would think. But not Larry. At least not soon enough. Even for the FBI. I hope.

Next, Rosa’s death. This was predictable. How it would happen wasn’t. That was a good story thread. We’ve known of innocent, uncomplicated civilians acting with valor at personal risk to thwart terrorism. Rosa’s desperate attack on the driver, causing a fatal accident, is believable. Remember 9/11? But is she the completely sympathetic character she needs to be for us, the viewers, to relate vitally to the angst played out so elaborately by agent what’s-her-name (the one who looks like she could be Jaclyn Smith redivivus, . . . or Jaclyn Smith’s daughter)? The pretty and gritty agent’s sentiments are realistic enough. But what do they do to advance the plot? Isn’t it a little smarmy?

Finally, why the silly stock antics by Tony when he appears on the steps next to Jack at the end of tonight’s episode? He steps down, removes his shades, and tells Jack that “it’s not over.” Once he’s satisfied that he’s nearly convinced Jack, he dons the glasses and says, “I need you, Jack.” Very original.

Point being—the writers are much too clever to settle for these derivatives. The sensational TV series still works for me. I’ll be tuning in next week. But something’s crept in here that has nothing to do with exhausting the storyline potential of the show.

The marketing. Here I’m talking about the way the series is played up by the show’s engineers between episodes. Tonight we were told to expect, before the episode began, that this hour would provide some significant closure. This was risky. And it worked, I think. There was closure, which is unusual for the series. But it didn’t ruin the effect. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen often. But it was refreshing to experience it on this segment. Did it have to be pre-announced? I think it may have been constructive, since most of us probably watched with wariness about that prospect, and thus experienced a heightened sense of tension.

So what’s the problem? After watching a fully riveting episode, the producers think we have to be told virtually everything that will happen next week to get us to come back. I don’t care what happens in the next episode—I know they revealed too much at the conclusion of tonight’s show. It’s anticlimactic—unless you have short-term memory loss, in which case you probably aren’t sure what’s going on from one week to the next and aren’t tuning in for that reason.

It’s been rumored, maybe for marketing effect, that the writers work inside the series close to the release of each episode, not knowing all that much about where they’re headed from episode to episode. Their spectacular series 24 is more believable than that. But let’s pretend there’s still time for tinkering. I have a selfish request—ligthen up on the shibboleths and can the forecasting. Your program has attracted an intelligent audience. They’re your core. Don’t let them down.

In case you couldn’t resist reading this post before seeing tonight’s episode, awaiting playback on your Tivo, here’s my advice: stop watching immediately after Tony walks away toward Constitution and First. I think you’ll enjoy the next week’s installment more than I will.

Note: Evidence of my enthusiasm for 24 can be found in my chapter in the book 24 and Philosophy.

From Unbox to Amazon Video on Demand


Image representing Amazon Unbox as depicted in...

Image via CrunchBase

I’ve touted Amazon’s Unbox program for video rentals and purchases online. This program just got a new name and a new look. It’s now called Video on Demand.

You can purchase or rent movies and TV episodes. A recently added feature allows you to view the first two minutes of a movie for free before deciding whether to buy or rent. Prices, as you would expect, are very competitive.

I write about film at this blog and elsewhere. When I’m looking for a video, I start with Video on Demand. Their inventory is good and growing. If I can’t find what I’m looking for, I go to Netflix. The local Blockbuster store is my last recourse.

The greatest advantage of Video on Demand is that your selection can be downloaded to your computer or TiVo device. Within minutes you can be watching your choice of video, without leaving home.

To learn more, click here.

If you give it a whirl, let me know what you think.

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