Friday, March 11, 2011

The Strange Science of Fear

There was a terrible earthquake this morning in Japan, centered around Sendal, in the Miyagi prefecture. There is not much to say about the destruction the earthquake and subsequent Tsunami rought in the immediate region. Japanese television helicopter shots are awe-inspiring. Obviously, the disaster is of unspeakable proportions, and hard to understand in a human scale. Initial reports of a missing passenger-train should give you an idea of the apocalyptic disaster that took place there today. Further reports that it was big enough to shift the earth's axis 8cm paints a picture of cataclysmic proportions until we consider that this represents a shift in mass of approx. 10^-9, a number that is a little hard to visualize.
Looking around, I saw that early this morning the national newspaper of Nicaragua predicted an arrival time of 4:30pm today for the tsunami, and the fear started. It was about 9am when trucks started driving around broadcasting emergency preparedness and an evacuation plan, and the 4:30pm expected arrival time for the tsunami, detailing how the beach area must be evacuated and people should congregate along escape routs in higher ground.
When I heard about it, I looked up predicted arrival times and did my own calculations. Assuming a fairly constant rate of travel, the tsunami, traveling about 510mph, would have hit San Juan del Sur between 2:30pm and 3:42pm - well 45m shy of the time when the government suggested hyper-vigilance.
Well, it's 5pm now. I had a stroll through town 90m ago and the locals thought I was crazy, while Europeans were interested in my calculations and seemed to agree that it was pretty obvious that the nothing of much-ado notoriety had already passed by the time everyone was starting to run around like headless chickens. Still, despite advertised fatalism, real fatalism, or disregard permeated the city - a few very nervous people remained tense, trying to fgure out where to seek safety, with others not breaking step from their daily routine.
I came back home, trained a camera on the beach at the bottom of the street just in case something interesting happened, and proceeded to make myself some linguine with a chile cabro / garlic while-sauce, and write this.
In an era of up-to-the-minute reporting, and of desperation over Google page-ranks, is it possible that mejor media outlets and the blogosphere are equally committed to the "If it bleeds, it leads" philosophy of editorial integrity?
Here we are - in the next 3 hours a giant wall of water could theoretically engulf us, but there is really no rational analysis that would lead to that conclusion. Would there be a possibility that this is all subliminal brain-washing: a government bent on showing they were willing to help when they knew that it was a lot of nothing?

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