Thursday, March 17, 2011

Japanese Heroes

In any disaster, there are heroes. Some rescue others at great risk to themselves. Some put themselves in harm’s way so that others might survive. I believe we are seeing that with the workers in the nuclear power plants. I can’t imagine what conditions are like for the workers in those plants. With no electricity and overheated nuclear fuel nearby, the ambient temperature in the control room must be very uncomfortable. Of course these workers don’t even know if they are going to live or die. Who knows how much radiation they have already been exposed to?

In addition, they must be under terrible stress to resolve the problem and prevent an even worse disaster. They’ve probably had very little sleep and food, and they probably don’t even know whether their families survived the tsunami. I can’t begin to appreciate what they are going through physically and emotionally. Moreover, if their families did survive, they must be worried sick about their loved ones working in those power plants under wretched conditions.

As we pray for the situation in Japan, let’s remember those workers and their families. They are the unsung heroes who may not even survive this tragedy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where Will Be the Next Earthquake?

Along the shore of the Pacific Ocean, known as the “Ring of Fire” because of its seismic and volcanic activity, there has been quite a bit of activity recently. This past week there has been the 9.0 earthquake in Japan. Earlier this year there was a 7.1 earthquake in Chile in January, a 5.4 magnitude quake in China on March 10, and a 6.3 quake in New Zealand in February. There were two significant off-shore quakes in Chile this year, both over 6.0, and some underwater quakes in the Pacific, again all this year. Although it’s not along the Pacific Rim, we had a 7.0 earthquake in Haiti last year. Scientists tell us that these quakes are not related to each other since they are thousands of miles apart, but still, I wonder.

I don’t know if this level of activity is typical, but I’m beginning to wonder if “the Big One” is going to hit some part of the U.S. soon. According to the seismologists, we are overdue for large quakes along the San Andreas fault in California and the New Madrid fault in the Midwest. In addition, there are a number of fault lines in and around Puget Sound in Washington State that could cause a significant earthquake and tsunami. To be prepared for any emergency, what can we do?

What we can do is be prepared for any number of possibilities, especially if you live in an area like California that has a number of disasters that can occur: forest fires, earthquakes, mudslides, floods, and tsunamis. First, we should pressure our government officials to make sure all nuclear power plants are adequately prepared and protected against earthquakes (and tsunamis if located on the coast or an inlet). Emergency plans should be in place and emergency personnel should be adequately trained for such emergencies. Millions of dollars from Homeland Security have been dispensed to states, counties, and municipalities since 9/11, so make your officials accountable for how that money is used.

Second, we and our families should be prepared for a number of possibilities. How? A number of ways:

(1) In any emergency, you may be stuck in your house for a while without power and maybe clean water. Have bottles of water in storage, non-perishable food on hand (enough to last for a while), powdered milk (if you have children), and several hundred dollars in cash since ATMs and credit card machines may be down. If you have a fireplace, keep an adequate supply of firewood so you can keep warm if the disaster strikes in the winter.

(2) You may have to evacuate, so you should be prepared to move quickly with the things you need. Either have a backpack filled with what you’ll need, or keep handy a list of items to quickly pack in case of emergency. Below are some suggestions:

Underwear and socks
Toilet paper/Kleenex
Toiletries, cash
Manual can opener, bottle opener, pocket knife
Change of clothes
Waterproof shoes
Umbrella, blanket
Appropriate jacket for the season
Bottles of water, prescription medications
Cap or warm hat, lighter or matches
Cell phones & chargers
Passports, wallets
Flashlight, extra batteries
Food: high protein breakfast bars, nuts, etc.
Sunglasses, bandages, sunscreen

Several changes of clothes
Blankets, pillows
Canned food, other food
Plastic bowels, dishes
Eating utensils
Cutting knives
Bottled drinks
Oil for car, gas can

Warm boots, wool socks
Heavy coat, jacket or parka
Scarf, knit cap, several pairs of gloves
Chapstick, heavy pants
Sweaters, long underwear

Turn down heat, notify friends/neighbors of your departure
Close and lock doors and windows
Throw out perishable food
Disconnect appliances and computer
Unplug and open refrigerator and freezer
Waterproof house as best you can if danger of flood
Sign on front door saying how you can be reached

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Japanese Tragedy

We have been witnessing a disaster of biblical proportions. The earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia and Thailand a while back were terribly destructive. Then Hurricane Katrina wiped out a large portion of an American city. Later the earthquake in Haiti destroyed a large portion of a country. More recently there were significant earthquakes in Chile and in New Zealand. Now we’ve seen a triple threat in Japan: an unbelievably severe earthquake, a terrible tsunami that did more damage than the earthquake, and now the nuclear threat from multiple power plants.

Earlier I said this was a disaster of biblical proportions, but I don’t mean to imply that this tragedy is God’s punishment of the Japanese. We live on planet earth and are subject to the laws of nature. We are affected by such things as weather patterns, El NiƱo, shifting tectonic plates, volcanic eruptions, sun spots, tornados, etc. These just happen because of the way the earth is constructed.

The effects of these natural phenomena are made worse by human error, stupidity, and sin. While the Japanese are well-prepared for earthquakes, living on earthquake-prone islands along the “Ring of Fire”, they weren’t as prepared for such a large tsunami. Their seawalls were breached by the 30+ foot wall of water. Their nuclear plants appear to have been built right on the ocean, close to sea level, so the plants would be vulnerable to any tsunami. It was the wall of water that rendered the two backup systems unusable, not the earthquake itself.

The local residents will hopefully not have to pay for the shortsightedness of the designers of these nuclear power plants. Let’s hope we’ve all learned lessons from this tragedy, and will take actions to upgrade nuclear power plants to withstand whatever risks there might be in the plant’s location.

Let’s pray that these at-risk Japanese power plants will be able to be cooled adequately and safely shut down, and that further disaster can be averted. Let’s also pray for the thousands who are homeless, those who are now without jobs, those who have lost loved ones, the brave plant workers whose lives are at risk, and the safety of those involved in relief efforts. Pray that such a tragedy will not happen here in the U.S., since we have significant potential for major earthquakes on the West Coast (mainly the San Andreas Fault) and in the middle of the country (the New Madrid Fault).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Free Speech Decision

Recently the U.S. Supreme Court determined that demonstrations at soldiers’ funerals are protected fee speech under the Constitution. While the Court (and most of us) find such demonstrations to be obnoxious, revolting, and cruel, they are protected (just as flag-burning is protected).

Some people are upset with this ruling because none of us likes to see the funeral of a fallen soldier disrupted by these hate-mongers from a church in Kansas. However, I believe the Supreme Court decision was the right one for a number of reasons.

First, the free speech and freedom of the press provisions are in the Constitution to protect protests against and criticism of the government and its policies. Americans are free to protest (within limits – no violence, for example) and to criticize without fear of arrest or retribution. Our Founding Fathers did everything they could to prevent abuses of power by the federal government, and to protect the rights of citizens.

Second, if the Court had voted the other way, we would have begun to slide down the slippery slope of censorship and government control of what we can say and not say. This would have been a dangerous precedent. While I find that church’s behavior reprehensible, it is and should be legal. Municipalities can limit the damage done by such demonstrators by passing laws that say no demonstration can take place within 1,000 feet of a soldier’s funeral. Such laws have been passed, and there is a precedent for such regulations. Similar limits have been put on demonstrators at abortion clinics.

Third, since these demonstrations are done by members of a church, it is especially important that their free speech be protected. If the decision had gone the other way, then there is the potential for censorship of sermons, Bible studies, and other religious activity. In particular, I’m referring to speech that isn’t politically correct and may be construed as “hate speech” by some. For example, if a pastor gives a sermon saying the practice of homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible, that speech is still protected by this Court decision.

By the way, that church is totally misguided. Their issue is the “acceptance” of homosexuality by our society. They feel, as I understand it, that God is punishing the United States for this every time a soldier is killed. So they show up at soldiers’ funerals with their hateful signs proclaiming God’s condemnation and rejoicing over another dead soldier. It is completely unchristian to cause additional grief for families as they mourn their loss, and to rejoice that another soldier has been killed. I believe these people are deranged, but nevertheless, their rights must still be protected. Let’s pray that they will finally come to their senses and realize that they have not been following the way of Jesus, who preached (and practiced) love, mercy, and forgiveness. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t preach about what the Bible says concerning various behaviors, but we must do so without hate and condemnation. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”