Archive for May, 2011

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (BBC documentary): a review

May 31, 2011

Saw the second part of this last night, having stumbled on the first part last week. It’s a documentary series by Adam Curtis, a film maker I hadn’t come across before— but on the evidence of these two programmes, someone with a distinctive and interesting slant on some Big Ideas. Last week it was about Ayn Rand, computers, the 2008/ongoing financial crisis, and Monica Lewinsky. The connections between some of these topics were more than a touch forced, but as a critical exploration of “out of individuals’ search for self-realisation, comes emergent social order, and you can use computers to help it along”-flavoured ideas, it was compelling. Dreamy visual images and melancholic music made it much more engaging than might be expected, given the heavyweight subject matter.

This week was just as intriguing, and perhaps a little more focused— only a little, mind— and opinionated, with more to disagree with as a consequence. All in a distinct and thought-provoking way; hence this post.


Vulnerability to natural hazards, and other linky stuff

May 17, 2011
More links/placeholders.

Economist reports Fukushima post mortem

May 6, 2011

See here.

The fact that Japan organised a prompt evacuation, provided iodine pills and kept radioactive material out of the food chain means that experts expect Fukushima to have a negligible public-health effect, at least in terms of radiation (stress, fear and being removed from one’s home are forms of harm less easily measured). Less widely acknowledged is how well safety procedures for the staff in the plant appear to have worked. According to Mr Masui, not a single worker at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant received a radiation dose of more than 250 milliSieverts, the raised limit for emergency responders set by government dispensation. That is five times the maximum annual dose for a nuclear worker, but it is well short of what is seen as a serious health risk. Given the circumstances—the lack of instrumentation, the explosions, the power outage, the psychological pressure, the possibility of bereavement and so on—the disciplined behaviour needed to avoid really bad exposures has been impressive. There is undoubtedly a lot wrong with the culture of Japan’s nuclear establishment, and various plants have had well-chronicled safety lapses. In this particular case, though, at least one part of the safety culture of the sorely tried workers seems to have held up remarkably.

Ash cloud and swine flu anniversaries: lessons on the polarisation of risk

May 1, 2011

It’s roughly the second anniversary of the kicking off of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and the first anniversary of the European ash cloud airspace closures.

There are some interesting parallels between these two events. Both were unexpected to some degree—in the case of the impact of the Eyjafjallajokull eruption, spectacularly so.