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Gilbert and Sullivan meet the meltdowns

February 4, 2012

The zephyrs are restless

Tragedy happens. You could be next. How do you adjust?

One approach is to find grim humor in the situation.

Unfitting, you say? Yes, if done in a cruel manner.

But the exercise also can serve two (arguably) worthwhile purposes.

First, humor can keep despair away.

This is important. When you can put a horror into humorous perspective, that shows you have at least some control over perception of it, even if you cannot undo the harm and make everything as good as new again.

That’s better than nothing, isn’t it?

Second, the effort keeps your mind alert. Little acts of creativity can do much to keep the mind busy — and therefore more healthy — at times when despondency and collapse are temptations.

Of course, let no one ever make heartless jokes about others’ suffering.

But about one’s own situation … well, consider what happened to me last night.

While making dinner with Fukushima on my mind (shrimp on the manu, you know), I remembered the famous patter song “When you’re lying awake,” sometimes called “the nightmare song,” from Iolanthe by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Probably, you have heard it, for it’s all but the G&S song. If you haven’t, then check it out.

For it, I made up new lyrics, below:

Radioactive! That’s our way of life!
Radioisotopes! Their atoms are amassing
And concentrating everywhere around,
In hotter spots with every day that’s passing!

When you’re sitting upright in the deep of the night,
And the wind from Daiichi is blowing,
And you’re suffering stress, for you haven’t a guess
What the perilous zephyr is sowing,

Your noctural moods are a function of foods
That you had for your lunch or your dinner,
And you know for a fact of their radioact-
Ivity’s emissivity inner.

 So, you’re lacking a taste for irradiant waste
Turning up in sashimi and sushi,
As each nuclear ray turns a cell’s DNA
Into something fragmented and gooshy.

Your meter doth glow as you hold it to snow
Or to tuna, to shrimp, or a bear,
And it even gets very remarkably scary
To sample the stuff in the air.

Food is all but aglow at the markets you know,
With high-cesium produce on sale;
And a walk down the beach puts you soon within reach
Of a stranded and moribund whale.

You reflect all the while that an isotope vile
(For so goes the popular rumor)
In your gut or your heart will knock atoms apart
And result in a hideous tumor.

With your feet on the floor and your eyes on the door
Through which bits of the mess are arriving
From the wrecks by the sea at the sad Daiichi,
You’re computing your odds of surviving.

You’ve developed aversion to making conversion
Of becquerels, sieverts, and curies,
For the effort’s a pain, and it burdens your brain
Like a flock of malevolent furies.

Then the day comes along when an isotope strong,
Such as barium-133,
Does perceptible harm, like a leg or an arm
Where it wasn’t intended to be.

The gist of it all? This terrestrial ball,
With millennia-measured persistence,
Is arranging a way for advancing the day
Of escorting us out of existence.

“Alpha, beta, and gamma!” you heatedly stammer,
Addressing the stark radiation,
“You’re coming to stay, for you won’t go away
Till you’ve depopulated the nation!

“Look here: I insist you examine the list
Of the threats to enduring alive,
From tungsten-180 and, rather more weighty,

“Fission products that blew in the particle spew
From the multiple meltdowns ensuing
Cut more deeply than knives, and their lengthy half-lives
Are halving our lives in so doing!”

But you’re wasting your breath, for it’s evident Death
Isn’t greatly impressed that you’re sad and distressed,
For he’s business to do both with me and with you.
An appointment we’ve got with the particles hot,

In our lungs and our pelts, and most everywhere else.
We have got to allow that we can’t figure how
To keep barium-133 and its re-
Lated chemical kin such as Sn-110

From proceeding to foster a staggering roster
Of tragedies lesser and greater.
Of the Reaper, beware! We had better prepare!
Over there doth he stand, with his scythe in his hand —

And he’ll come for us sooner or later!


See? If you can find humor in a situation like this, then a pellet of something still glows inside you … and unlike plutonium, it just might help.

(c) 2012 David Ritchie

David Ritchie posts from Seoul, Korea. He welcomes correspondence and asks only that it be civil in tone. Contact kwriter (at)


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  1. Vicki permalink

    Very well written! Yes, sometimes you DO need to find grim humor in these hideously unfortunate current events.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Gilbert and Sullivan meet the meltdowns « The Good Life In San Clemente – Darin R. McClure

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