Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Problems with the poverty of induction

Since Hume, academic philosophers in the West have known how problematic induction is. There is no proof for it. Just because the last fire you touched was hot, and the fire before that, and every other fire you ever touched, was hot, it does not follow that the next fire you touch will be hot. Of course we can't live like that in the real, philosophically naive world. We would get helluva burned up for a start. But Hume successfully turned logic on its head and it's been that way ever since.

Since the Christchurch earthquake, i have felt less trustful of induction even at its most ingenuous. Just because i drove down that street yesterday, it does not follow that i can drive down it again today. Today, it may be blocked off because aftershocks have caused fissures in the road. It can take several attempts to get anywhere.

Here in New Zealand we have benefited from an incredibly stable and safe social and physical environment. We expect today to be the same as yesterday (although we hope we may be a little richer and a little thinner). The uncertainty of the earthquake and its aftermath, where some people still have no water and raw sewage arupts into people's houses, has shocked us.

If we lived almost anywehre else it the world we would perhaps be more flexible. Perhaps if i lived in Mexico it would be fairly ordinary to avoid a street one day because a new drug lord had taken it over. In parts of Vietnam, houses flood every year and everyone decamps to their top storeys for a few weeks until it is over.

Now it is our turn to trim sails and adapt and do life differently for a while.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The state of the police

Or the police state, given the number of them working in Christchurch since the earthquake. This has led to some interesting findings, as houses fall down and there are just so may police around. Somebody set up a P lab in an abandoned house - full marks for entrepreneurialism. One poor woman in her 50's tried to keep her cannabis plants alive with no water or power and was so relieved when the Police finally removed them.

Then there is the state of the police station. The building has always been on a bit of a lean, and i'm sure the lifts move sideways. Now they don't move at all. The top 4 floors of the 13 storey building are unusable due to earthquake damage.

The cells at the best of times are best described as a cross between an abbatoir and a submarine. A maze of concrete cells, the worstone being the 'tank' which is a concrete box with a drain. They put the prisoner in the recovery position with his/her face towards the drain, which then accommodates vomit/blood, shit etc and there is minimal cleaning afterwards. The cells always smell of vomit, blood, shit etc, and alcohol, and disinfectant and rotting rats. Rats appear in the cells at night, leading to people screaming and flinging themselves against the bars. Sometimes even the prisoners become alarmed.

Post earthquake, the cells, which are underground, have cracks in the walls and shake badly in the aftershocks. Several times a day they are plunged into darkness. There is a nasty ka-joonk noise, and all the watch house computers die, and by darkness i mean primal chaos type of darkness. Like, Darkness. That leads to people screaming and flinging themselves against the bars. Sometimes even the prisoners become alarmed.

Actually, what am i saying. Down in the cells people scream and fling themselves and rattle bars and hurl abuse all the time.

Another earthquake story. The girls of my daughter's high school are taught earthquake drill and how to get under their desks. Being plump Kiwi girls, most of them can't get under the desk, and crawl around the floor like snails.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

This old World War Two British motto has become a catchword for life after the earthquake (AE). It does seem to characterise how we are managing. Work goes on - currently people are painting my roof. My workplace is uninhabitable so we are camping in a crowded office in the suburbs. We have now had over 500 aftershocks and i sleep through most of the night ones. We can probably guess magnitude as the aftershocks happen - hmm, i would say that one was about 4.7.

i think i would handle it differently if i had had a terrible experience. If i had major damage to my house, or a narrow escape, or had toddlers who were frightened, i may be taumatised. One teenage girl is still managing her mother who continues to panic after each aftershock. One man struggled through the broken glass as the earth rocked, carrying his tddler under one arm and trying to get to the baby crying in his cot. His wife was away, in Wellington, and he feared that she had been in an even bigger earthquake, because Wellington is earthquake prone. Fearing her dead, he managed his panicking toddler until she could return. Some people are still without sewerage and using public port-a-loos. A hospital security guard is trying to carry on at work while struggling with his own constant panic. Lots of people are just plain over it.

The state of emergency was lifted today. There is still a very small cordon around some of the CBD. One of the most poignant sights for me was driving past the Peaches and Cream Adult Superstore at night. The building was cordoned off.and clearly damanged. A mannequin wearing pink bunny ears and a fluffy pink negligee still posed in the broken window, the little cute pink skirt fluttering sadly in the night breeze.

We now have celebrity geologists. The best website is Christchurch Quake Map which has excellent graphics showing the Big One and all the subsequent aftershocks with magnitude, depth and time. i look at it daily.

Everyone has an earthquake story. i like this one:

Ollie age 6 was looking forward to returning to school because he had News! Liam age 8 says to him, witheringly, 'It's not the eathquake, is it, because everybody's got that one'. No, says Ollie, patently lying, it is the Brick, the souvenir brick he took from the fallen chimney. When you are 6 your world is quite small, and the earthquake was special because it happened to you. When you are 8 your world is bigger, and you also get to be scathing.

i think Christchurch will never get back to normal in the sense of BE (before earthqauke). It's a bit like having a baby - you do get back to normal but it is a different normal and it is years after the birth.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Here everyone has an earthquake story. In fact we all have the same earthquake story, with minor variations. We all were woken by the earthquake at 4.30 on Saturday morning, damage was done, we all survived. It measured 7.1 and was centred 30 kms west of Christchurch. Some of us lost everything. i lost a mirror and the mizzen mast of a model sailing ship. The next day sand volcanoes sprung up at the end of the street and there were fissures and cracks to wander amongst. People really did check on their neighbours and lend each other things, and when i walked in the neighbourhood i overheard the same conversation from each house. Are you OK? What was it like? There was looting which got people pretty excited - i think what actually happened was two young men tried to throw bricks through a window but were caught in the act. It was a very restrained and Protestant emergency. The day after, everyone tried to contact friends. Despite authorities asking that people keep communication to a minimum most people phoned or texted or went on social networking sites - everyone must be accounted for. We have had 85 aftershocks that could be felt, and more that were too small. Some up to 4.whatsit. We were without power for 12 hours and the water is still contaminated. i know i am a girlie swot but i have collected about 33 litres of water and kept it more or less refreshed since 1999. We had torches and batteries and a radio which we eventually go going, and food for days and everything except hand sanitiser. The main issue now is waterborne disease. And of course the damage. This will be the day of the steel capped boot wearer who will rise up and speak out and demand ... triple time i'd say. Good on them.

My daughter pointed out how unique this was - everybody in the area had the same experience at the same time. Last time that happened was perhaps the big snow of 1992. Or maybe 9/11. But in a city this size, a small city but a city nevertheless, there is very little shared experience. When was the last time everybody watched an election on TV, for example, i mean everybody? That used to happen in the 1960's. Now, we are mobile and fluid and atomised.

i always said Christchurch is a model of Victorian positivist engineering. Drain the swamps! Tame the river! Build the bridge! Ready-to-consume suburbia complete with leafy avenues! But what amazing engineering it is. No lives lost, thousands of houses with little damage. If this was Haiti or Mexico we would be bleeding. There would be an international aid appeal! School children would send us their clothes! But no, here we are, and i am thankful for a law abiding, stable society and for hundreds of nameless engineers and builders and other workers who have done such a sterling job.