The Samovar

USSR silver samovar
Photo by Yannick Trottier

In the Eighties, Anatoly Alexandrov told Mikhail Gorbachev that the Chernobyl power plant would be as safe as a samovar in the center of the Red Square. Unfortunately, it was not true.
Even Fukushima Daiichi power plant is not a quiet samovar. This was pretty known to some, but not to everyone. It was not evident to Tomoko-san, a woman who was eight when a samovar was installed in his backyard.
Tomoko-san, today mother of two, said until the disaster hit she had not realized any dangers, otherwise she would have fought against it. Hoping that the Japanese government make the children’s safety their priority, she delivered his Letter from a Fukushima mother to NYT journalist Hiroko Tabuchi, who did translated it in English.

The secrecy that has permeated all the nuclear programs in the world began in 1942 with the Manhattan Project, which created the firsts nuclear bombs, two of which were dropped in 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For security reasons, during the Cold War the secrecy was kept also regarding civilian nuclear plants. Along these lines was shaped the mentality still in use in civilian nuclear power industry.
In an article about the road not taken because of those historical facts, Kennette Benedict wonders if the Fukushima disaster can put us on a path toward nuclear transparency, and Cordula Meyer says on Spiegel International that the accident destroyed a power plant and destabilized the system on which the Japan’s nuclear industry is based. Maybe a turn coming on.

I remember how little information we had in Europe when the Chernobyl disaster occurred. From a media point of view the Fukushima case is completely different: the information flow through the Internet, compared to the news that circulated in 1986 is impressive and very fast, although often confused and uncertain. And of course Japan is not the USSR, which, with the incident of Chernobyl, took his first steps of glasnost and open the way to the end of the Cold War. With due differences, the two disasters have in common a problem of transparency.
Cordula Meyer compares the state of contemporary Japan’s democracy, with the omens of the book The Nuclear State, where in 1979 Robert Jungk described how a practice of secrecy in nuclear technology can erode a democracy. Since the Cold War is over, today the secrecy that surrounds the nuclear programs is no longer justified, nor sustainable. In a world almost reduced by technology and globalization to a backyard where people’s opinion becomes increasingly educated, honesty and openness are required. Would be desirable to take “the road not taken” to extend the glasnost in nuclear industry, in Japan and around the world.

The problems of energy supply is more and more important for economy, environment and health, but the decisions on energy sources cannot be exclusively economic or strategic. Probably the nuclear power plants will continue producing energy for the world for a long time. But as everyone knows, even when accidents do not occur, the nuclear energy that we use today also produces great risks and the high costs of nuclear waste management. This is the case today as it will be in the future, the problem of nuclear waste will remain way after the nuclear power plants have been shut down.
Until all goes well, nuclear technology is amazing and comfortable, but associated risks are difficult to manage and predict. In an article about the problem of assessing risks, the physicist M. V. Ramana explains why the method currently in use to prevent dangers is not reliable. If his arguments are valid, there is another reason to believe that today the world’s most dangerous technology has not become yet a safe technology. At least not as that of samovar.

Throughout history, human beings have used many technologies, replacing old ones with new ones. There is no reason not to think about changing and increasing the research for renewable energy sources. We should also consider, as reported by Asahi according to a study published in April 2011 by the Ministry of the Environment in Japan, the introduction of renewable energy in the Tohoku and Kanto regions, which could generate the equivalent amount of power of that produced by the current nuclear power plants existing in the two regions.

Germany has decided to abandon nuclear energy in 2022 and Switzerland in 2034.
Italy has already renounced once to nuclear power through a referendum in 1987. On June 12-13, 2011, the Italian people will express their choice with a new referendum. If the Italians have not changed their mind, the new vote will serve to convince those who never accepted the 1987 decision, such as ENEL, EDF, Areva, and two of their strongest supporters: Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy.
Berlusconi said that in 1987 Italians have hindered the road of the nuclear future and now he must ensure responsibly that does not happen again (Italian video). According to him and Anne Lauvergeon, CEO of Areva, it should not be decided regarding nuclear plans today, on the wave of emotions after Fukushima accident (French video). Please note that the Italian referendum of 1987 took place one year and half after the Chernobyl accident. Although the 2011 referendum was announced before the Fukushima accident occurred. Ironically, once again Italy will decide on the use of nuclear energy after a nuclear disaster.

We live in an interrelated technological society and we have to make decisions concerning our our common future, as complicated as this may be. For democracies it is a matter of fact. As in daily lives often happens, we need to decide in difficult times, on wave of emotions. For this reasons, we all need to be well informed. For those who love democracy, information is a right and also a civic duty.
In 1943, when public opinion had not yet confronted with the nuclear technology, Paul Valéry said that “the politics was originally the art of preventing people from interfering in what concern them and later became also the art of forcing people to decide on what they don’t understand”.
In these days the Italian mainstream media do not seem to be willing to pay much attention to nuclear problems, not to mention the up-coming June 2011 referendum. But how can a nation find the correct information to decide on such a sensitive issue, when a major Italian newspaper such as La Repubblica, among many other errors and inaccuracies, refers to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant as Fukushima Daiini?

As usual I guess the Italians will rely on their emotions. But what used to excite us?

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Human Powers

Is a naked human being disabled? Perhaps, he is incomplete… I have always considered the tools that I use for my job and in my daily life as extensions of my body. After all they are prosthesis. As parts of my human nature.

For ancient Greeks, the condition of Homer was sacred: his blindness was considered an out of the common introspective gift, carrier of a superior human conscience.

When in the summer of 2007 IAAF raised the problem of a possible life disqualification of Oscar Pistorius I felt discomfort, a feeling that I could not easily explain. Disable super-able, odd paradox. After seeing Aimee Mullins talking at the TED, and reading her article, together with the one about Hugh Herr, published on Wired Italia, I have clearly understood that the disqualification of Pistorius would have been a negation of what humanity has developed with time, the negation of the meaning of the word human as an adaptable and cultural being.

In the posting synesthesia I spoke about musicians who transcend their body through the use of technology. Perhaps, should I have said that they reinvent their bodies? Yes, because playing like a Monkey Drummer, more than overcoming one’s physical limits, means virtually reinventing one’s body through the use of artistic imagination.
The invention of any musical instrument is a re-formulation, a potentiality of the human body: through a musical instrument, the body can act in unusual and different ways. New technologies have further developed this possibility. This creative and technical impulse is produced by the necessity of adapting to life’s conditions and charged by an emotional, poetic and creative tension.

The aptitude to reinvent nature is a human peculiarity. A current definition of the word human must contemplate the tendency of humans in reinventing their own way of being and their own environment. From this point of view, we must absolutely look over the meaning of words such as nature, artifice, human, body and last, but not least, disabled.

Hugh Herr lost his legs in an accident. Consequently, his creativity and his spirit of adaptability have brought him to do an excellent job on prosthesis at the Media Lab.

I have always considered the tools that I use for my job and in my daily life as extensions of my body, after all they are prosthesis. I consider my prosthesis as parts of my human nature. How many of you wouldn’t feel disabled if deprived by your computer or mobile phone? These devices are prosthesises of our mind, extensions of our memory, processors of support to our thoughts and to communication.

Is a naked human being disabled? Perhaps, he is incomplete, considering that we live in symbiosis with our artificial extensions: we dress up not only with clothes, but also with tools that make our lives better.
Aimee Mullins points out that a disadvantage may be an occasion. In days of crisis like ours, I cannot believe that not few people would take into consideration the importance of a similar line of thought. She is not an icon of diversity, and she is not a cyborg, and even if she were all of us would be, too. Aimee Mullins is a brilliant manifestation of adaptable intelligence, she is the icon of human variety that expresses itself in new ways of using the body.

The contemporary civilization has developed instruments that offer wonderful occasions of knowledge and great opportunity of emancipation, in these conditions the varieties expressed by the diversities are huge sources for the cultural human development. With her way of being, Aimee Mullins vividly renders explicit certain human typicalities that are not very clear in everybody’s mind. In her article, she mentions the necessity of reconsidering the meaning of the word disabled, and she says that it is not only a semantic issue.

This is one of those cases in which our time puts us into the condition of rephrasing the ideas on identity and human nature. Beyond the way of using one’s body, the people mentioned in this article stand out for the way they use their brains and emotions, Hugh Herr, Aimee Mullins and Oscar Pistorius, with their enthusiastic presence, invite us once again to reconsider an old doubt: what does being human mean?
The issue does not just involve some few people and their way of living, but it concerns something that involves everyone, each one of us, it is a question of identity.

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Synesthesia

At times, while walking in the streets, it happens to me that I sense the events running in my eyes as if they were rhythmic patterns, music. Just like Blob, an Italian TV show, that reinterprets the television flow, my mind elaborates in real-time elements of movement in the hearing areas, attributing a rhythmic scheme to the casual happening of visual events. Synesthesia is a condition, non necessarily pathological, in which two or more sensorial experiences are associated to one another.

I would like to comment two well-known examples of works of art with which one can have amazing synesthetic audio-visual experiences.
The 3D video Monkey Drummer (2001) by Chris Cunningham shows us the music of Aphex Twin, enabling us to see drum’s each sounds, one by one.


Percussion instruments, (that perhaps flaunt physicality more than any other instrument) can become purely mental, and one single human being, the real musician, with the use of a drum machine can go beyond its own body through a mind-machine symbiosis. Something similar already occurred with the writing of a score, but an electronic written is more powerful, precise, and eventually, with the sampling becomes even hypertextual.

The second work of art is a digital animation that Alex Rutterford has carried out in 2002. It is an amazing video score that describes each sound and each minimum range of frequencies of Gantz Graf of the Autechre, literally allowing to see the music that looks like as if it is being generated by the images.

If you have never tried to imagine what happens while any possible God clears his voice before singing the Creation, Gantz Graf will surely give him a hand.

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