Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami: Does It All Matter Anymore?

To watch the unfolding of an on-going tragedy in the warmth of one's home is one of the most uncomfortable senses of being that I have ever experienced, so far. The tragedy that is hitting Japan today is a sad moment.

Christchurch and the other earthquake incidents were one-off. There was the quake, and a few tremors. Or, there was the tsunami, and all was gone. But to watch the earthquake and then the tsunami and then the unsteadiness of the nuclear plants and to see crowds of people with nowhere to go, hungry, cold and lost, and then to see the plain devastation of an entire village and town where thousands used to live and are there no more, that scene in my mind is the most heart wretching.

I watched the unfolding drama with my Japanese friend and his wife. They had the nervous laughter, unable to show their sadness in front of their guests, and forever trying to play the perfect host and hostess. Their two boys and a girl are in Tokyo and in the initial hours they could not keep contact. Finally, they found one son walking home seven kilometres, the daughter squeezing in among friends in fear, and the youngest son could only responded: "What, OK!" They have a fallout with their youngest son and my friend concluded that the one consolation of this disaster is that he and his wife could at the very least have some form of communication with their son.

I said to my youngest sister who I discovered has already passed forty when we were watching the tragedy on TV that this is a tragedy only because of the insignificance of the lives of human beings. The earth is nothing but a ball of fire and the other layer has cooled to form a crust which is in a constant state of flux, like the skull. The movement is constant, but in human terms, this is what the engineers called a once in a hundred year event. Well, if a moment for the earth is a hundred years for humans, then our individual lives do not last more than one moment each, in global terms, and probably far less than in cosmic terms. We are like insects that are born in the morning and die by night fall. And what do we do in this shortness of time. We fight, we lie, we cheat, we become generally unhappy with ourselves and everybody else. How silly are we all!

So, there is no big deal to this former prime minister of our who has again distinguished himself by writing a book of lies to justify his wrongdoings, and calling everybody else names. I have find it extremely unpleasant for supposed educated young and old men and women to degrade themselves as intellectual by extreme forms of arguments when good manners should have prevailed. Instead of focusing on the subject matter, they would focus on character assassination and calling people names. Sticking labels on people is one the easiest and lowest forms of human communication and I can see now where our young people are getting their bad manners from. Economists, unfortunately, have become extremely ill-mannered ever since Keynes published The General Theory. He argued that in order to get his argument across and to break through a tough convention, he had to be rude - in his words, to "convict" his opponent. Since then, economists have acquired very bad manners in their talking and writing. I have learned this little thing from my Malay colleagues when I was working in a major bank. The executive director told me: "You might be clever, but you must make people accept you first." I am eternally gratefully to this person, who unfortunately had fallen into disgrace due to his lack of good judgement in his work. If you want to know why economists do not agree, it is because they are rude, no matter how brainy they may imagine themselves to be.

So, what about the economy? I have refrained from making any comments on the economy because I have already said what I have wanted to say about it. The global economy stands in ruin because of the reckless pumping of fiat money by the irresponsible Fed of the US. That extra money is being used to keep its economy by the propagation of war around the world. The mountain of extra printed money flooded rapidly through the financial centres around the world making arrogant stockbrokers and bankers. They lend recklessly to speculators on real estate and financial assets. The pumping of more money to prevent these asset markets from correction and downward adjustment is now being lauded as the saviour of the global economy because economists do not have any new ideas to solve this economic disaster. Any correction of the asset markets would be a political and human disaster. The global economy now swims afloat a sea of greenbacks trying to find dry land. If the stock markets are recovering, do not believe that the global economy is recovering; it is bad money looking for good avenues to surface. In the meantime, China suffers from its own success and the world suffers from the scarce resources that China has the money to buy.

We know from history that the great wars are started by massive inflation especially with respect to food so that whoever or whatever promises to put on the tables of hungry fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, there is a revolution waiting to happen. China is not like the Middle East or the rest of the world, because China is communist and communists are supposed to live and die for the rakyat. China may yet find a narrow path out of the world of contending factions.


walla said...

It could have been worse. If the center of the shocks had moved a few hundred kilometers southwards, the Kanto plain might have been inundated today with immense loss of lives (http://is.gd/UrGaWb).

Nonetheless it is sad that anyone these days of seismic sensors could not have been saved for want of sufficient advanced notice.

And that seems to be the challenge. How does one erect a global warning system that can provide sufficient time for people to seek safety anywhere earthquakes and tsunami's can hit?

It was said that the people of Aceh and the villagers along the coastlines of India and Bangladesh could have been saved if a semicircle of earthquake sensors had been in place off Sumatra. Maybe it was but it was not working for want of funds.

Which comes to the matter of why Japan, an advanced country, didn't have such a warning system. Perhaps, as for Kobe, it had focused on land earthquakes and not tsunami's caused by sea earthquakes, that which had caused the Aceh devastation.

Since more billions will be spent on aftermath reconstruction, it might make sense to allocate more sensible amounts of funds for life-saving preventive measures such as a global seismic warning system that tracks both land and sea earthquakes.

Since it now appears tsunami's are an equal threat to land-borne earthquakes, perhaps some more research can be done into satellite mapping of signal changes in areas where subwater seismic activities are increasing in intensity. People using sophisticated oil-exploring simulation software may be able to also lend their insights.

Or maybe bombers can drop special energy-diffusing detonations to disperse the wavefronts of the tsunami's before they hit shores.

In any case, gone should be those days when the US had denied the PRC access to MIT-designed gyroscopes that were needed to detect earthquakes, one of which subsequently hitting Tangshan and causing the loss of over 250,000 lives, every single one of whom as pained as the loss of some 900,000 in Shaanxi in the 16th century. For all the wrong reasons, China seems to have suffered the most for all of mankind.

Whatever it is, other earthquakes and tsunami's will be happening. Certainly, major earthquakes happen like 150 times in a year. In Tonga, it was once recorded that nine richter five tremors had occurred in one day alone. Decidedly, shaken and not stirred.

This being the 21st century, one therefore asks why is all this still happening on this planet? Why are innocent lives snuffed out in an instant with such devastating fury by the very forces of nature which man would presumably have conquered with more focused ingenuity by now?

walla said...


Perhaps it is because man has been exerting himself too much instead on activities which finally invite the principle of levelling effects.

Rich and poor, simple and sophisticated, innocent and guilty, powerful and powerless, advanced and primitive, learned and unlearned, wise and foolish.....all get levelled by events beyond the ken of man's self-focused schemes.

The divine winds which had caused a tsunami to decimate the mongolian invasion fleet off Japan in an earlier century returns to decimate the same Japan today which had in the last century and, keqi aside, killed by human hand in over a period of just one month 300,000 civilians of Nanjing, more than those who had died from the Tangshan natural disaster and four times those who had died at the Wenchuan earthquake barely three years ago. If one chooses to remember.

Indeed, life is tragic. In one movie to remember those who had died at the Wenchuan earthquake, a rescuer had to face the most horrible of human dilemmas - he had to decide who to save between two twins for he could only save one. Such is the plight of mankind, the pain of being humans, the misery that afflicts all on this sombre planet, a dust-mite in the galaxy. A misery that transcends race.

Yet in places around we can still find some leaders clinging to their past in order to assuage their conscience that they remain right in the present when all facts reveal their damage already done to generations. For behind their stands are their own stakes. Yet like Hitler whose last words were still on communal extermination, these modern-day leaders are still exhorting their ilk to continue to live divisive lies and not be liberated by diversifying lives.

One would have thought that the immensity of suffering independent of race everywhere in the world would have ended the chauvinism of race-based exclusivity by now to usher a new era of inclusiveness under a more universal umbrella of humanity founded on compassion and wisdom and energized by cooperative development.

Instead, we see the use of power to fixate simple minds despite their education onto the need to rein in others for the reason one is too lazy and hazy to push oneself harder.

If the japanese in our look-east policy, for instance, can pay attention to details, work hard, and stay disciplined enough to develop their knowhow upwards without fear of meritocracy and quality excellence, how can we then, for instance, contradict ourselves by still advancing policies of racial division and cultural officialdom?

Surely such a morass of contradiction is a sign of illogical self-justification, hardly good stable material for leadership, especially for the moulding of future minds.

Especially minds needed to strike a sharper balance in a world beset by chaos. Take the present tragedy in Japan for instance. It sundered stock markets in the region. One would thus have expected more people to hoard gold which should have pushed its price up. It went down instead. And that because those who had bought equity had also bought gold and they needed to sell gold to pay off their losses in equity.

Complications are magnifying in this world as if to unseat the equilibrium caused by the principle of levelling effects. A long-tail echo.

Looking at how China's economists have been nimbly holding their own for so many decades, one should hardly be surprised they would be the ones to have also noted that echo from their long observation of human affairs.
That which has been running for over 5,000 years at last count.
Perhaps it is because as Communists running a market economy, they could tap both socialism and capitalism with a unique precise verve.