Monday, May 23, 2011

Choose Your Fears Wisely

[Issue date 3/23/11]

As I write this it’s Friday morning in Seattle and on the West Coast of the United States all the way down past San Diego, everyone is bracing for the radioactive plume from the Fukushima meltdown, and I’m highly amused.

There was recently an earthquake in Japan that was quite significant and might be a reminder to West Coast Americans of some unpleasant realities attached to their choice of coast. But instead of thinking about those realities they prefer to dwell upon the hazards of being exposed to radiation released by a nuclear disaster from which they are more than 4000 miles removed.

In my day, we had what was called A-bomb and H-bomb testing. My government blew up whole islands in the Pacific and turned Nevada desert lands to glass so dweebs could read radiation meters and mark the results on clipboards. We loved it because we were advancing into the future, one mutation at a time. I was going to be Spiderman.

Seriously, no, we were scared out of our minds. But, guess what? Even when they blew up whole islands, only nearby Pacific islanders and a few sailors (ironically, Japanese sailors) who got in the way were hurt by it. Nobody 4000 miles away came down with radiation sickness.

So, I ask, why has everyone around here shifted their attention so quickly and fully from one humongous magnitude 9.0 earthquake and horrific tsunami to the far-distant effects of a nuclear disaster, which, even in the country it is happening in, if it were an earthquake, would rate only 7.0, 7.5, tops?

I’ve already answered that question. West Coast Americans know they are sitting on some real shifty real estate. It is human nature not to want to hear genuine bad news, even when you already know it. So instead of hearing the genuine bad news (which is, that were all overdue to experience our ceilings meet our floors and make loose-meat sandwiches of us), we’d prefer hearing false bad news. News that scares us without actually involving anything really happening.

I am torn by this. Part of me, “humanistic angel Wes,” says, “human nature is inherently good, so if people don’t want to think about the fact that the big subduction quake that’s 50 years late will render mass transit unnecessary by eliminating the ‘mass,’ I should celebrate that nature, and keep quiet about such things.”

Another part of me, “three ways a bastard Wes,” says, “Let’s put all this in perspective until grown men tearfully beg for a return to flat representative art.”

As always “three ways” wins.

Perspectively speaking, Seattleites are likely to experience less additional accumulated radiation this week than they would suffer from if they spent the entire summer vacationing in a brick house in Denver.

On the other hand, if the big subduction doozie happens, while it’s true that the increased proximity of stone and brick and airborne stone and brick dust might elevate your radiation levels three or four times higher (I’m half guessing because it doesn’t matter), it wouldn’t matter.

I’m so lucky I live two blocks north of the fault line on a hill that probably wasn’t here before the last time the earth rocked that much. So, when the earthquake we’re all trying not to think about happens, my neurons will probably be crushed before they can apprise my brain of the situation.

However, if my luck fails, I can lie on my back dying with the relief of knowing that the local fire station is sitting on the same hill as I am and will also be part of a new improved, bigger, hill, and I won’t be disturbed by any more annoying sirens from them.

Or, let’s say the hill drops out from under me and I’m down around sea level. Then, the earthquake will rearrange the bottom of Elliott Bay and send a nice big wave to fetch me from the offensive sirens. Either way, free at last.

You Can't Buy Objectivity

[issue date 3/16/11]

I love liberalism. I love liberals. I married a liberal. Almost all of my best friends are liberals. But sometimes liberals can be horribly wrong. Let’s try to understand why!

A fantastic example of liberals off the deep end is seen in the current liberal hand-wringing over the fate of National Public Radio. I have had multitudinous liberal friends plea that I sign on to petitions to stop the federal defunding of NPR. This is wildly strange.

I won’t get started on the details of what defunding NPR really entails, such as the fact that NPR actually doesn’t have dedicated federal funding to speak of. We all know what we’re talking about is a principle of a thing. “Why, how dare they...”

Let’s visualize an average liberal and try to walk him through the decision whether to sign on to such a petition. For the sake of concreteness we should give our average liberal a name. My conservative friends clamor for “Ivan.” No offense intended, but, they’re all a bunch of out-of-touch freak buckets who think they’re reincarnations of Joe McCarthy or Roy Cohn. Like Reagan, they spent the 1980s in a delirium. They think The Rights of Man was written by a Russian. So I’ll call my average liberal “Steve” instead.

Steve keeps NPR on in the background at all times, only turning it down during Car Talk. Steve likes to get high while listening to Fresh Air. Steve has noticed that NPR news coverage has not been as liberal lately as it was during, say, the Carter Administration. But he clings to NPR anyway because it isn’t shrill conservative talk-radio à la Limbaugh or Glenn Beck.

Someone comes racing up the road on a horse and shouts, “The Tea Baggers are coming, the Tea Baggers are coming,” and, “They’re marching on Washington and planning to withdraw government funding for NPR!” What do you do Steve?

At first Steve thinks, “Oh no, if the last remaining liberal radio channel is not funded by taxpayers, our political perspective and our very way of life is threatened! I must stop this!”

Steve is quick to adjust his reasoning and insists that he couldn’t support government funding of NPR because it is liberal -- he knows that would be wrong. He knows the taxpayers can’t be expected to support biased news. Instead, he insists, he wants NPR to continue to be subsidized because all the other channels are biased.

In other words, Steve’s position, in essence, is, NPR should be funded for not being conservatively biased. More precisely, he believes that the only radio we will have, if NPR loses government funding, will be entertainment radio or conservatively biased radio.

It’s easy to feel that fear and run with it, isn’t it? Sure it is. Let’s all breathe deep, and draw that fear in. Draw that fear in through your 5th Chakra, and now down deep to your first chakra, and now let’s bounce it, bounce it good and hard, and see if we can’t get it to blow your Crown Chakra clean off.

How realistic is Steve’s fear?

Who cares? The government doesn’t have any business funding a radio network just because you or Steve are afraid that unbiased radio won’t happen.

There is in fact no way, whatsoever, that continued government funding can maintain unbiased news at NPR. The fact that its funding comes from taxpayers can’t be a guarantee of objectivity.

We have to resist setting government priorities based on gut fears. That got us two wars and Homeland Security and a never ending budget crisis that is feeding conservative talk radio far more than the trickle of dollars NPR gets is worth.

On the other side, how stupid is it that conservatives would cut off funding for NPR on the grounds that a funding desperate NPR has gone begging for money from Middle Eastern sources? “Oh no, let’s not give them any more money, they’ve been begging.” Where have I heard that before?