10,000 Japanese Sing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”

Japan and Disaster, Forever

They’re twins joined at the hip.  As the staggering magnitude of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami sink in, I’m reminded of just how deeply interwoven natural disasters are in Japanese history, even in the Japanese psyche. 

One of my favorite authors is James Clavell, whose Asian Saga begins with Shogun, a novel about a European sailor colliding with the samurai culture in 1600.  One of the book’s primary themes is that, even in a land of ultimate beauty, violent destruction crouches ready to surprise anyone at any time.  This produces the Zen philosophy that the Japanese lived by, and is evident in both the stoicism, nihilism, and lust for life on every page of the book. 

That mindset is seen in many scenes of brutal, random violence, but perhaps is nowhere better shown than at the end of chapter 38, where a sudden earthquake ravages the island.  Rather than try to produce a short quote, here are two pages of characters reacting right after the disaster:


I can’t find a good enough passage right now, but Clavell mentions a few times that the chaos of major catastrophe is a mainstay of Japanese life. 

Continue reading

Repost: Stephen King Was Wrong About Nuclear Power

The alarming disaster in Japan and the possible tragedy of one of their nuclear power plants is certainly scary.  However, it’s also gotten me thinking of this post from a year and a half ago, where I analyzed some anti-nuclear predictions from the 80’s and found them wanting.  As real as the danger is in Japan, it might be good to review how safe nuclear power is overall, to temper our worries with some hope. 


When I was a kid, I read a lot of Stephen King.  One of my favorite sections of his novels was the ten page scene in The Tommyknockers where the dashing, rebellious writer confronts an obnoxious old energy executive with the shocking “truth” about the dangers of nuclear power.  I remember reading that for the first time and just tearing through it, amazed at the strength of the facts on the side of King’s hippie hero.  Surely, I thought, it must be clear to anyone with a brain that nuclear power is bad. 

Of course, I was a kid.  I was easily impressed by messages where emotional young rebels strike out at conservative caricatures.  Actually, that’s why I don’t read much King anymore: I got tired of the constant bashing of conservatives.  Seriously, where would King stories be without insane religious fundamentalists to be the bad guys in almost every book

Anyway, for some reason I thought of that scene recently, and I wondered how it held up with twenty years of hindsight (The Tommyknockers was published in 1987).  I looked it up (I have the original mass market paperback edition, which I think still has the same page numbering as the current editions), and was surprised by how vapid the argument was that I was so impressed by as a teen.  Here are the major points King makes in his screed:

  1. “When you examine the cancer-death stats for the areas surrounding every nuclear power facility in the country, you find anomalies, deaths that are way out of line with the norm.”  (page 101, repeated on 104)
  2. The explosion of the Russian facility at Kyshtym is used as a scare tactic, suggesting that similar things or worse would happen here.  (page 102)
  3. Waves of future cancer rates at Chernobyl are predicted.  (103)
  4. A 1964 AEC report is quoted predicting scary scenarios for US plant meltdowns.  (103)
  5. “At Chernobyl they killed the kids….Most may still be alive, but they are dying right now while we stand here with our drinks in our hands.  Some can’t even read yet.  Most will never kiss a girl in passion.”  (104)
  6. Continue reading

Michael Crichton: Ave Atque Vale

crighton75My friends and I passed around a single copy of Jurassic Park and all read it during our 8th grade year, in anticipation of the movie coming out.  The one copy sufficed because it only took each of us a few days to read it; it was impossible to put down. 

The author, Michael Crichton, died suddenly this week.  Crichton was the kind of author that you read for fun: when we English teachers talk about “lifelong reading” and “pleasure reading,” this is exactly what we mean.  Crichton novels don’t have deep universal themes or fancy, elevated language, but they do have quick plots packed with exciting surprises. 

People pick up a Crichton novel when they want to relax with a guaranteed roller coaster ride.  Rising Sun was one of the best detective procedurals I’ve ever read; it’s one of the few books I’ve devoured in just a day or two.  (Incidentally, I’m no expert, but I attribute the failure of Crichton’s gloomy predictions coming to pass on the implosion of the Southeast Asian stock market in 1998.  I could be wrong.) 

State of Fear Continue reading