Like many other people, I've been following the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake. I've watched as the Japanese government hedged on the number of victims. They still seem to be holding back.
And then there's the nuclear reactors and the risk they may pose to people in Japan and elsewhere. So far all that has impressed me is how little real information has been given out.
This is probably the first time in my life where I've had a gut feeling that something big is being hidden from us ordinary folks. Perhaps I should explain why.
I lived in East Asia during the big economic meltdown of the late 1990s. Speaking from experience, I can honestly say that East Asians don't "do bad news" well. They will stall and stall and stall until they can no longer hide the truth.
Let me give you an example.
While I was in Seoul, my salary was guaranteed by the government although I worked for a private 'hagwan'. ('Hagwan' sort of means 'academy' in Korean.) My colleagues' pay, however, was not guaranteed at all. They relied on kids' tuition to pay their salaries.
As the economic situation worsened, their pay began to arrive late. Then it started to be short as well. A few days before I left the country, I learned that the number of students had been steadily dropping for months, and many parents were several months behind with tuition. At the same time, the man who owned the hagwan had leveraged everything he owned and had been paying salaries and expenses out of his own pocket. He was out of money and the school was closing within the next few days. He had used the last of his money to buy tickets home for everyone.
It's a cultural thing. In medicine, for example, it means that a doctor will almost never tell a dying patient that they are, in fact, dying. The rationale is that they're saving the patient unnecessary worry. The patient's family are usually accomplices in this bit of deception.
I was reminded of this today when I read that the Japanese Prime Minister had walked into a meeting with the company that runs the reactors and (apparently) said something like, "What the hell is really going on?"
I read that and I felt a chill that I hadn't experienced in more than a decade.
I hope I'm wrong.