Monday, January 15, 2018

On being prepared

So of course the big news of the weekend was the crying-of-wolf (if it was that) in Hawaii. People got notified - apparently by text message and over the television, though those were two slightly different messages - that a missile was headed their way. It was only 38  minutes later they found out that was in error.

Think about that: 38 minutes.

That's an *awfully* long time. That's almost an entire class section for me (especially if you take into account the calling-roll and making-announcement time at the start, and the inevitable "people shuffling and putting papers away five to seven minutes before class is actually due to end")

It makes me wonder: what would I do? How would I react. I hope I don't EVER have to put it into practice. I admit my first inclination would be to call loved ones on the phone, to say goodbye and that I love them....though I also heard of people filling every container they could find with water, which also is probably a good use of the time (I suppose it comes down to: do you think you'll be vaporized - in which case, call your loved ones and forget water - or do you think maybe you'll make it by 'sheltering in place'?)

I guess also some parents were sending their kids into the storm sewers, in the absence of real shelters? There was some talk about "people would shelter in place for 24 hours" but based on what I read back in the 1980s - the problem would not be over then; there would still be fallout and doubtless a lot of things would be rendered unsafe because of radioactive dust.

I suppose another answer would be to get as FAR into the boonies (i.e., away from anything that would be a target) as possible. Might be hard to do on an island. (Based on some maps I've seen, if I could get to the Panhandle, or to southeast Missouri, or even a bit east of here in my own state, I'd be safer than much of the population. Though then again - unless my car would be a safe shelter I'd be pretty stuck.

So I don't know. My mental image - probably influenced by the fact that I was a tween/teen at the time - of the 1980s nuclear threat was that the Earth would become well-nigh unlivable after a nuclear war, and so unless you had a DEEP reinforced shelter with lots of stored food and water, you'd be done for. And also, the assumption was that it would be like the most dystopian dystopia ever, either with a strongman government taking hold, or with anarchy loosed upon the world, so that if you even HAD stored food, there was a chance you'd not wind up keeping it, not without serious firepower and no qualms about ending the lives of anyone around you....ultimately my conclusion was that I'd rather NOT be a survivor, seeing that the after-nukes world seemed to hold little promise: living off of dry rations, fighting over water, if you were young and reasonably healthy you'd be expected to produce the next generation....

But then again: Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only cities in the world that actually WERE bombed, and they are not sheets of glass. Yes, lots of people died in the detonation, and lots more died of various diseases brought on by the radiation. But Japan still prospers....

So I don't know. Maybe the filling of bottles of water makes ultimate sense here. And making sure you've got some canned food on the shelf (a good idea, anyway, especially in the winter when things like ice storms can happen).

But yeah. I don't want "what do we do if the Big One drops" to be added, once again, to the list of top-of-mind worries. I don't want to have to have "nuclear preparedness training" every fall on top of Active Shooter training and How Not To Harass Sexually training and How To Comply With Every New Government Mandate Training and everything else....

Granted, the risk of a nuclear attack happening is low compared to, say, the risk of being in a car wreck. But I can reduce my chance of a car wreck by driving carefully (and not driving at bad times, like on Saturday nights). And like the old t-shirt of my youth went, "One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day" - an unlikely risk, but a gigantic problem if it were to actually happen.


And a little more philosophical thinking (if you can call it that): In a way, don't we all essentially go around every day with a (figurative) bomb trained on us? Where that bomb might be a heart attack, or a car wreck, or a group of cancerous cells....but because we don't know FOR SURE when that bomb will "detonate," we can go around acting as if it never will. So perhaps the people who managed to keep doing "normal" things for that 38 minutes were the sanest, I don't know.

One of the curses humans live with is the knowledge (on some level) that we will die some day. The only thing that mitigates it for us is we generally don't know WHEN. (And yes, there are medical predictions made, though I know more than a few people who were told, with cancer, "you have at most three months left" and a year later they were still here, and were doing well enough to have what's called "quality of life"). Part of the horror - at least in my mind - of the idea of a capital sentence is that you WOULD would anticipate that evening when the chaplain showed up, and that last night, and when the knock came the next morning. (To me, that seems the most inhumane part of the death penalty, though maybe I over think it). Perhaps the reason we feel fewer qualms euthanizing pets when they get very old or very sick is that we tell ourselves they don't know what death is to fear it as we do....and that may be why the idea of doctor-mediated suicide is something that is a sticking point for many of us. (Though I don't know. There are a few conditions - Alzheimer's is one - where I might be inclined to say "a quick exit while I am still at least somewhat me" would not be such a terrible thing)

I tend to - mostly - be able to go about every day without that cursed knowledge intruding itself into my mind too much (though of late, it's not been so easy for me to feel it about loved ones. The hell of having aging parents is every odd-time phone call - late at night, early in the morning - can make your heart stop briefly.)

So I suppose the answer to "how do we live in a world where something like the 'you have a half-hour before the bomb hits' seems like a plausible sentence we might hear some time" is similar to that going about NOT thinking "someday I'll be felled by a stroke" or "there's a bus out there with my name on it" and try to live normally.

One of the questions I remember coming up in (I think it was) sophomore-level English in high school, where we were reading "Zorba the Greek," is "Is it better to live like you would live forever, or live like you expect to die tomorrow." I admit I disliked the question, and I came down on (and still do) the side of "like you will live forever" because...I don't know, if I knew I would die tomorrow I doubt I could enjoy anything TODAY, but if I can fool myself into figuring that my eventual end is still very far off (and that perhaps I won't see it coming), I can enjoy the day-to-day things - and even enjoy things like slacking off a little, whereas the "you might not be here soon!" raises all kinds of anxieties about "how can you possibly sleep a minute longer than the bare minimum to survive?" and the like.

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