>> Monday, March 14, 2011
Short of being underground the last few days, I don't see how anyone could not know of Japan's latest cataclysm. I don't watch the news. I was out all weekend. And I know about it.
Actually, though I would have spotted it when I checked NYT (as I do every weekday morning), my boss (who is also a geologist) brought it to my attention Friday morning. March 11 is my youngest daughter's birthday, a sister's birthday, yet for thousands if not millions of people, it will be a reminder of tragedy. As I looked at the first videos and pictures, I wept, knowing that, for untold numbers of regular people, their lives would be changed forever. I wept for the children that would never be found, the parents swept out to sea or buried in their homes, never to be seen again. I wept for the books that would never be written and songs that would never be recorded, for the ideas never brought forward by minds that are no more. I wept for the futures so many would never have . . . and for the futures altered by those losses. Mother Nature can be a ruthless bitch.
Admittedly, there are few places where she's been more brutal than Japan, a crusty edge of earth thrust up from the ocean and battered by everything Mother Nature has in her arsenal, from typhoon to tsunami to earthquake to volcano, not just now but since time immemorial.
Just to give a scope of this cataclysm, the primary earthquake that set this off, portions of Japan moved nearly four meters (13 feet) closer to the West. The earthquake released nearly twice as much surface energy as the horrific Sumatran earthquake that set off those horrible tsunamis in 2004. Not impressed yet? Try this. This earthquake has increased the speed of rotation of the earth and altered it's axis by 25 cm. That's right, our day is now 1.8 microseconds shorter because of this. From a physics standpoint, that just blows my mind.
I cannot yet grasp the scope of the effect on the people of Japan. I'm half a world away but I know people I know and have met through work, people I know who have gone and married into families there. There are people who have created things that mean something to me, devices I depend on, space hardware I admire, manga and anime I've been speaking so fervently about the past few weeks. People from Japan have changed my life, largely for the better, have touched and intrigued me.
If I'm affected, I imagine, there aren't many in Japan who aren't touched by this, changed by this, either from their own personal experiences or family and friends who have lost something or someone to this tragic event.
I grieve for you.
But, as harsh it sounds, I also have to say there are few people better suited to withstand this tragedy than the ever adaptive Japanese. Honed and battered by natural (and unnatural) adversity, up to and including to nuclear blasts, no people are more responsive, more resilient or more prepared. No society understands patience better or how to organize for the best. If they were less prepared, much of Tokyo would have toppled and fewer people would have escaped. Before the earthquake even happened, warnings were going out. Not soon enough for everyone, but there are undoubtedly lives that were saved.
I'm not making light of this horror. I've sent money to the Red Cross and I'll probably send more. This is more than any one nation should have to handle alone. Still. I have a profound respect for the Japanese culture, even if we don't always see eye to eye (Why, for instance, can't the princess take the Chrysanthemum throne?). I respect a society that learns, curbing their own imperialism and pugnaciousness, responding to Nagasaki and Hiroshima with Sony and Toyota. We can argue which ones were of the greatest impact in the long run.
I believe that Japan will come through this, even though it will be painful. I believe they will be stronger than before, as has always been their wont. I certainly hope they do.
All honor to those working even now among the devastated.