Wednesday, September 14, 2016

1 in 5: Explaining World Miseries and Disasters

For decades, Hollywood has provided plenty of examples of psychopaths at the top of the corporate ladder, but a growing body of research is revealing the truth is similar to fiction 
We found one in five [people were] found to have clinically elevated levels of psychopathy.
Tool to screen for psychopaths

So much sweetness – (bitterness)
the city’s been anesthetized;
a skinny boy, who barely
takes up space on earth,
and a dog,
and I, a soldier in an unseen war,
and a river I love.
The lindens bloom

Adam Zagajewski

My sister-in-law Magda was pregnant during the Chernobyl incident. My nephew Tomas was born deaf and blind and passed away at the age of 24. Tomas gave my grandparents many many soulful family moments despite his disabilities - he was helpful around the carpetner's workshop with his detkom Jozom and creative in the kitchen with babickou Mariou who was a cook at the local school canteen.... Real stories are always stranger than fiction... It is not easy to explain some aspects of complexity of this life to all west corner of the Latitude  ... Tomas is missed by his brothers Lukas and Marcel and his lovely sister Aga - who was named after her auntie - Aga Junior was born a year and a day after her auntie died....


A Fishy Story

In 1986, the Soviet Union was struck by disaster as the core of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded. The surrounding areas became unsafe for humans due to the radioactive contamination, and officials created the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,” what is now a 1,000 square mile (2,600 km^2) area where, per Wikipedia, “fallout is highest.” With rare exception, people have been barred from the Zone since -- the perils of prolonged exposure to areas of high radiation aren’t well known, but they probably are probably best avoided. As a result, for the last thirty years, few humans have been in the area.

But animals? They’re harder to keep out. And sometimes, this happens.

That looks like a little shark, maybe -- but it's not. Even though it's more than two meters (nearly seven feet) long, rest assured: it's a catfish. A really, really big catfish.

The image above is a screenshot from this YouTube video and, if you watch it for long enough, you'll see a bunch of these huge catfish swimming around in what was formerly a cooling pool for the nuclear plant. Those pools were affected by the Chernobyl disaster, so yes, the fish and many other similarly big catfish have been subject to higher than typical radiation levels. But -- despite what many reports have implied -- they aren't mutants. In fact, they're probably quite healthy.

The monster fish are a species known as “wels catfish,” a rather common type native to Eastern Europe, including Ukraine. As Wikipedia notes, they’re larger than the catfish that others many be familiar with, although hardly as big as the monstrous one seen above -- they typically grow to be about five feet (1.5m) long and weigh about 40 lb (17 kg).

The one above is bigger, of course -- about 33% larger -- but radiation almost certainly isn’t the cause. First, the pools probably aren't all that radioactive. As one writer notes, a typical airplane flight exposes a person to about four times the radiation that the fish are being exposed to. And while the fish are exposed to these higher levels around the clock, typically, mutations and radiation poisoning would be more likely to make the fish weaker, not larger.

So what’s going on? Most likely, the cause for the giant catfish isn’t something that's in the Zone but rather, something that isn’t: predators.

By fencing off the 1,000 square mile area, the authorities may have kept people away from the radiation, but the rest of the animal kingdom hasn't been as cooperative. Many different species have remained in the area or entered since, as National Geographic notes, the dearth of people in the Zone has, unintentionally, turned the area into one of the world’s largest wildlife preserves. "Without people hunting them or ruining their habitat," Nat Geo explains, "wildlife is thriving despite high radiation levels."

For the catfish, we can go even one step further. As EarthThough News explains, "catfish are both active predators and scavengers, known to feed on fish, amphibians, worms, birds and even small mammals. In fact, the fish will eat just about anything – alive or dead – that can fit into their very large mouths, and here at Chernobyl, they have virtually no competition for food."

No predators, no competition for food -- that adds up. The net result is huge fish which aren't mutants -- they're just the beneficiaries of a natural disaster, and our species' collective resolve to not return to the site of that disaster.

Bonus fact: What does the Chernobyl exclusion zone look like today? It's hard, but not impossible, to get a permit to look around. But if you want to see for yourself without having to go through those steps, here are some photos from someone who did it for you. As the author notes, "it will take centuries before anything [at the disaster site] can safely be destroyed," due to the contamination. As a result, the area is frozen in time, but with three decades of natural decay.

From the Archives: Nuclear Teeth: How baby teeth helped show the harm of nuclear fallout.

Related: "Chernobyl 01:23:40: The Incredible True Story of the World's Worst Nuclear Disaster" by Andrew Leatherbarrow. 4.4 stars on 46 reviews and relatively new (released in April of this year).

Mad as hell and not going to take this anymore - Van Susteren’s justifiable rage offers a clear lesson in media branding:

Greta Van Susteren is unemployed but unbowed and taking to Facebook. She's right when it comes to the merits of her argument and notable in choosing her venue.

The former longtime Fox News host, who split amid the Roger Ailes sex harassment mess, posted a video expressing outrage with President Obama and the Justice Department for not indicting Wells Fargo executives for the outrageous scamming of consumers that resulted in regulatory fines of $185 million. Employees opened about 1.5 million bank accounts and applied for 565,000 credit cards not approved by customers. (USA Today)

"OK, you have every right to be enraged," she says in a home video whose modest production values resemble those of celebrity leaker Edward Snowden's early Hong Kong Period. "I am. It just never stops. And you and every other American gets cheated. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the Obama administration is once again letting you down. It happens again and again. And it's disgraceful. It's actually indecent."

Instead of being indicted, or even fired, the executive who ran the guilty division will retire with $124 million in stock, options and shares in the company. As Nell Minow, a prominent corporate governance expert, put it to me, "This is truly an outrage. It’s the exact same problem that got Sears Auto Repair and the subprime derivatives into trouble: paying people for the quantity of transactions and not the quality. The CEO should be fired, and the board members on the risk and compensation committees should resign."

Then there's Van Susteren's new vehicle for opining and potentially luring a chunk of her old audience (in the first 13 hours the video was up, she got 720,000 views). As Carol Fowler, a former news director at two major Chicago TV stations and now a consultant on branding and social media, says, "Using Facebook to stay connected and in view on news of the day makes perfect sense for Greta — or anyone else who loses their traditional stage. Smart."
"And in Greta's case, she clearly worked hard in her role at Fox News to build a Facebook (and Twitter) following, so why not? No one expects polish in the social space, so lacking a teleprompter is not a big deal. Go Greta!"