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Many of you may have noticed this little gem floating around on the Internet over the last few days:

Charming, isn't she? Oh, and Miley's a real winner, too.

I've got to hand it to whomever put this meme together. You're one clever bastard, sir. It's a well-deserved cheap shot to not only our nation's obsession with celebrity culture, but those responsible for enabling it: the corporate media establishment. You might as well have inscribed panem et circenses on the damned thing while they were at it; this meme is positively dripping with indignation and outrage, and of course, it went viral almost immediately, spawning a host of variations on the theme, and making the rounds in all the usual spots.

It's often said that in cinema and literature, the best portrayals of villainy are the ones where the antagonist is utterly convinced not only of their own innate goodness, but also the righteousness of their cause. Our anonymous meme architect is one such villain. His creation - however well intended it may be – is drenched in hubris, and not only employs falsified information (perhaps even deliberately), but draws a number of false equivalences who's unintended consequences actually do more harm than good in terms of public discourse.

But first, let's talk about the evidence: the bottom image, courtesy of the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a chart showing the wave amplitudes of the Pacific Ocean during the 2011 tsunami, not the spread of radiation across those same waters as is implied in the meme. “Wave amplitudes,” eh? Sounds suspicious, doesn't it? Don't worry; it only refers to the height of the waves the tsunami created, nothing more.

Notice that the spectrum of colors presented on the map does not spread onto any land mass. If radiation knows no land boundaries, how is this even possible? Oh,'s not. Lastly(and this is where the real intellectual dishonesty comes in), any indicators of what the map represents have been removed, and a quote preaching our impending doom has been put in its place. The actual map looks a little something like this:

To quote Robert Heinlein, “The slickest way in the world to lie is to tell the right amount of truth at the right time, and then shut up.” By that standard, this meme is awesome. It's terrifying to behold, triggering an immediate desire to call up one's grandparents and see if they still have that Cold War-era bomb shelter they always talk about. But thankfully, it's completely bogus.

Now, for those among you who believe that I'm attempting to downplay the Fukushima incident as somehow inconsequential or undeserving of attention, I need you to all to stop typing right now. There is absolutely no denying what and ecological nightmare this is shaping up to be. Russia Today reports:

“Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has raised the rating of the radioactive water leak at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant to Level 3 – a "serious incident" on an international scale of radioactivity.

Level 3 indicates a serious threat on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), which goes from Level 0 (no threat) – to the highest level, 7, which was assigned to the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdowns following the March 2011 tsunami, and also to the Chernobyl catastrophe, which happened 25 years before the Japan disaster.”

Yes, this is an absolute disaster, but let's not prepare for Armageddon just yet, shall we? National Geographic just released a great report on the situation, and while it is indeed dire, we're hardly at the brink of apocalypse. Once people realized that they've been hoodwinked by false hysteria, that sense of betrayal will often backfires upon the messenger and the cause, dissuading individuals from engaging in the issue further through a combination of relief (after all, nobody's gunning for a nuclear disaster out of boredom) and the realization that others are failing to argue the matter in good faith. The creator of this meme is the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and now that it has been debunked, the townspeople are heading back into their homes to ignore the petulant cries of the hysterics. How is that helping?

Speaking of engaging the issue in good faith, there's no denying the weight of the allegations that our corporate media is engaged in a coordinated lie of omission over Fukushima. Mainstream American media outlets have devoted little time or space to the issue, and there are indeed allegations of malfeasance against Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) for downplaying the issue to the Japanese Nuclear Authority, a thing difficult to cover up despite their public efforts at contriteness. Again, panem et circenses; give the masses a series of buffoons like Miley Cyrus and Ben Affleck to point and laugh at, they'll forget all about how utterly horrible things are in Syria and Japan. It's a searing indictment, not to mention compelling bait for a low-information public.

But this begs a very important question: why would the American corporate media establishment want to cover this up? What would they stand to gain by doing so? Very little, as far as I can tell. While there is an undeniable sense of urgency surrounding events in Fukushima, it is more accurate to say that the  disaster has been all but completely overshadowed in the American media by other issues, namely the fiftieth anniversary of MLK's March On Washington and our mounting involvement with Syria. These are issues of great significance to the American public, while the Fukushima incident, despite its gravitas, is still very much a Japanese problem, at least for the time being.

False allegations of media blackouts actually work to excuse people's intellectual laziness and/or apathy, by insinuating that there's a history of media 'conditioning' that somehow prevents individuals from being able to discover information about things like Fukushima for themselves. The argument from brainwashing might have held water before the rise of the Internet, but in the Digital Age, ignorance is no longer an excuse for stupidity. There's an incredibly vast body of information available on this issue, and dozens of global media establishments have devoted a great degree of coverage to it.  It's easy enough to claim that there's a “media blackout” when the ones making that claim weren't curious enough to go find (and subsequently verify) that information for themselves in the first place. Must we always be told what to think, and when?

Again, I'm not trying to downplay the disaster and its ramifications, or excuse those who may actually be doing so. But let's face it: we're not about to go to war with a nuclear power plant, so let's apply the righteous indignation where it belongs: to our imperialist legislators who appear more than willing to drag us into yet another costly, quasi-legal war in the Middle East, and the corporate media establishment that defends and supports their agenda. That's a legitimate, visible conspiracy, low-hanging fruit for those looking to engage in political discourse that doesn't involve imaginary media blackouts, as our meme architect would have you believe about events in Fukushima.

Another purpose of this meme is to ply the viewer with pangs of guilt over being distracted by the “premeditated” distractions of our celebrity/entertainment culture. Being that the freakshow that was Miley Cyrus' VMA performance was one of the main trending topics on social media sites for several days after it happened, the critique is not completely unjustified. However, since when is it unacceptable to hold more than one thought in your head at the same time? Can we not be entertained/offended by Miley Cyrus' antics, yet simultaneously be concerned about events in Japan? Or are we expected to wring our hands and gnash our teeth from sunup until sundown over events half a world away that we have little actual power to remedy? I find it doubtful that our meme architect does so, making this a gross double-standard, among other things.

Cultivating faux outrage over imaginary conspiracies and pointing a guilty finger at a celebrity-obsessed proletariat is a great way to encourage people to engage in the issues of the day from a place of cynical superiority, while in actuality doing little to encourage those same people to effect any actual change. Cynicism is often seen as an end unto itself, as if to merely experience the feeling is sufficient enough to change the world. But to quote Alex Steffan, writer, journalist, and founder of, "Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in western popular culture, but in reality, our cynicism advances the desires of the powerful: cynicism is obedience."

Who the hell wants to advance the desires of the powerful, anyway?

Originally posted to Randle Aubrey on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Japan Nuclear Incident Liveblogs and Science Matters.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Why? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jm214, Randle Aubrey
    why would the American corporate media establishment want to cover this up? What would they stand to gain by doing so?
    Well, the media's purpose is just to make money by increasing viewership, even if it means appealing to prurient low-iq interests rather than actually reporting that stuff called "news."

    But their are other interests that would also like to see the Fukushima story downplayed.

    Aug 19, 2013: Consumer concerns about the safety of Japanese fish imports into Korea since the Fukushima nuclear disaster look to be justified as authorities here say over 3-thousand tonnes of fish from Japan have been found to contain levels of radioactive cesium since 2011. Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety on Sunday said there were 131 different cases in which fish containing traces of cesium were detected since March 2011. [...]
    I find possibility that we are going to end up eating just a little more radioactive cesium in every tuna fish sandwich for many decades to be far more newsworthy.

    Every year Miley Cyrus acts like a worse slut at the VMA awards in a bid to get attention from the media, and she gets it.  People should think about that and about what oatmeal we all have for brains.

    •  I don't disagree... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Be Skeptical, linkage

      ...that there are a lot of companies with a vested interest in people not paying too much attention to what's going on in Fukushima right now. At the same time, there's hardly a deliberate coordinated media blackout happening, either. This kind of hyperbole and straw-manning doesn't allow people to make informed decisions about how they might want to get involved, and the cynicism and guilt contained in the messaging serve to foster apathy, not reduce it.

    •  Except people don't understand what the levels (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      linkage, alain2112, terrypinder

      actually mean.  That's part of the problem.

      Looking at your source, none of the fish was found to have greater than the limits the Korean government considers "safe."  These are levels set by governments far below the point where there is actual danger to provide a sufficient buffer between the limit and where people are in fact being placed in danger.  It takes a large amount of radiation all at once to cause radiation sickness.  People on the west coast who flipped out and began taking iodine tablets like mad have given themselves a greater dose than they would have received from contamination leaking from Fukishima.

      "There are no atheists in foxholes" isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes. - James Morrow

      by kirrix on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 07:37:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good grief... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Randle Aubrey
        It takes a large amount of radiation all at once to cause radiation sickness.
        Yes.  You're right.  It takes a large amount of radiation ALL AT ONCE to cause RADIATION SICKNESS.  Can you see how that might not be the only or even the major concern?

        Prolonged exposure (not all at once) to elevated levels of radiation, but still lower levels of radiation than can cause radiation seickness, increases the chances of cancer and other mutagenic diseases.  Also, radioactive metals, once they get into the food chain, begin to concentrate in livers, with the carnivorous animals higher up the food chain getting the highest concentrations.  This is a problem that can intensify over the medium term, just as we've seen in the past with mercury poisoning in fish, which is still a big problem.  That's why pregnant women are advised to eat tuna and other seafood in moderation.  The FDA suggests that women eat no more than 12 ounces of low mercury fish a week, and not eat ANY high-mercury fish (like swordfish or shark).

        I think maybe the diarist has a point.  The picture was misleading.  By readdressing Fukushima as a danger, I don't want to suggest that I endorse the sloppy thinking of the image.  But, Fukushima really is a disaster affecting us all.  You don't have to get acute radiation poisoning to be affected adversely.

        •  Increased incidence of cancer is by far the (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          terrypinder, Randle Aubrey

          largest of the risks (mutagenic diseases and radiation sickness are of limited concern with the amount being released, as exemplified by the fact that the fish have lower than dangerous levels of contamination in their systems).  But from the amount of contamination being released, their are two things that will far more greatly decrease a person's chance of getting cancer: stop smoking and stop flying.  Those two acts represent the greatest sources of cancer in the modern world.  In a single airline flight I receive more radiation than I probably will from a nuclear reactor for my entire career in the Navy.

          "There are no atheists in foxholes" isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes. - James Morrow

          by kirrix on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 11:33:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I just heard some anti-nuke spokesman... (0+ / 0-)

        ...on today's episode of Counterspin not only call Fukushima "apocalyptic" moments before confessing he doesn't actually know the scope of the damage, and then straight up lying with the claim that we "can't eat fish out of the Pacific ocean any more." To quote VP Biden, what a bunch of fucking malarkey. They're basically trying to make nuclear energy look as bad as coal, which is an absolute lie. Look, I know nuclear power is not our most viable option for long-term sustainability, but this needless ratcheting up of people's fears is ridiculous. Until we have more concrete information, everything is speculative.

  •  An earthquake at Fukushima (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and according to Gunderson all bets are off.

    Fukushima is a grave threat.  

    •  And Gundeson is a snake oil saleman. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kirrix, terrypinder

      He lied about the SF Pond on Unit 4 "being on fire" and he was wrong about the "ongoing criticality" on the same unit's reactor. Why should I trust what he says now?

      I appreciate the diaryists attempt here to rope back the fear and crazyness about this.

      Also, so ya' all know, the Japanese regulatory agency has abused the INES standard to no end. It was never, ever meant as a rotating shot-in-the-dark predictor of how bad things are suppose to be. Here is what the World Nuclear Agency says about it's proper use:

      WNA: Context is key to nuclear incident communication
      29 August 2013

      "In Japan we have seen a nuclear incident turn into a communication disaster," said Agneta Rising, Director General of the World Nuclear Association. "Mistakes in applying and interpreting the INES scale have given it an exaggerated central role in coverage of nuclear safety."

      A serious incident occurred last week when radioactive water leaked from a storage tank at Fukushima Daiichi. This was cleared up in a matter of days without evidence of any pollution reaching the sea, and comprehensive measures are being taken to prevent this happening again. However, news of the event has been badly confused due to poor application and interpretation of the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), which has led to enormous international concern as well as real economic impact.

      INES ratings are intended for comparison of safety-related events at nuclear power plants in context, to draw distinction between events of real significance from lesser events. Repeated revisions by Japanese authorities have led to the opposite effect: giving the impression that INES is a 'nuclear threat level' that goes up and down to predict what might come next.

      "This cannot continue: if it is to have any role in public communication, INES must only be used in conjunction with plain-language explanations of the public implications - if any - of an incident," said Rising.

      WNA urges Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority to listen to the advice it has received from the International Atomic Energy Agency. "Frequent changes of rating will not help communicate the actual situation in a clear manner," said the IAEA in a document released by the NRA.

      IAEA told Japan: "One possible communication strategy, rather than using the INES scale as a communication tool to rate each event in a series of similar events, would be to elaborate an appropriate communication plan to explain the safety significance of these types of event."

      Since the leak was discovered, each announcement on INES ratings has been a new media event that implied a worsening situation. "This is a sad repeat of communication mistakes made during the Fukushima accident, when INES ratings were revised several times," said Rising. "This hurt the credibility of INES, the Japanese government and the entire nuclear sector - all while demoralising the Japanese people needlessly."

      "INES will continue to be used while international agreements between countries using nuclear power and the IAEA continue, but it represents only one technical dimension of communication and that has now been debased. Priority must be given to the context of a nuclear safety-related event and a focus on its effects, or not, on the public," said Rising.

      Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

      by davidwalters on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 07:46:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks. Republished. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ebohlman, terrypinder

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 06:37:46 PM PDT

  •  If there is anything constructive here at all, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Randle Aubrey, phonegery

    it's very well disguised.

    Too clever by at least half. (And the production values are incredibly professional.)

    There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

    by oldpotsmuggler on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 07:03:01 PM PDT

  •  Ripping off the NOAA (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LakeSuperior, kirrix

    --one of my favorite government agencies.  Distorting their data, misappropriating one of their cool maps...the nerve.

  •  thank you nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "To see both sides of a quarrel, is to judge without hate or alarm" - Richard Thompson

    by matching mole on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 04:33:51 AM PDT

  •  thank you. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I have a piece on radiation pending, hopefully this weekend.

    the concept of it seems to cause some people to fall into hysterics. Fukushima is not going to kill billions of people, or even millions. Thousands, perhaps, over a 50 to 100 year time span.

    Worth noting the disaster that led to this has been overlooked and almost everyone who died in that disaster drowned in the ocean, not from radiation poisoning.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility- mperiousRex.

    by terrypinder on Fri Aug 30, 2013 at 04:53:44 AM PDT

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