Quit saying “This is our Tsunami.”

Good grief. The mayor of Biloxi is being quoted again and again as having said “This is our Tsunami.”

I know things are bad down there in Louisana and Mississippi. I know people are dying. I know people are homeless. I’ve heard some of the individual tales of horror and loss, and I hurt for these people.


Millions of people GOT OUT OF THE WAY. Had Katrina hit while people were still in these coastal towns by the thousands, tens of thousands, and millions, THEN maybe Biloxi’s Mayor (and CNN, and every other reporting agency who keeps running this quote past us) could compare this to the December 26th Tsunami. Hey, many of you people HAVE INSURANCE. We can measure the damage done by the amounts paid out by the insurers and their underwriters, which was NOT an option in Southeast Asia last December. How do you assign value when an entire village is wiped off the map, its men, women, and children drowned in one very sudden and unexpected calamity? How do you assign it when it happens DOZENS of times on several coasts?

We’re not going to require a DIME of foreign aid to rebuild from this (although some of the money spent by insurers will come from overseas investors — such is the nature of the global market).

I’m not trying to downplay the extent of this hurricane. It’s a few orders of magnitude short of an Indian Ocean Tsunami right now, though. You see, the families of the Tsunami’s 226,000 victims have learned something that we can really benefit by — people are more important than things. Most of what we are losing to Katrina falls into the “things” category.

EDIT: Of course, 17 hours after posting this I tuned BACK in to the news, and found that the levees have broken, and the city of New Orleans is slowly drowning. I can’t say I blame the Mayor of Biloxi for a little bit of hyperbole — I just wish the Mass Media that spread his sound-bite to the four winds had the good sense to knock on wood first.

44 thoughts on “Quit saying “This is our Tsunami.””

  1. If he wants an equivalent to that tsunami, I’m sure that SOMEONE would be more than willing to provide one. 😛 Of course, since those people who got wiped out in the Indian Ocean were poor people or the occasional white person, I’m sure that they don’t matter nearly as much as the cars and houses which got damaged.

  2. Amen, Howard. And I wish the news outlets would quit reporting on how much money this is going to cost the insurance companies. Um, that’s what they’re there for. Let’s spend our time and concern on the people, not rich corporations.

  3. Unfortunately, we’ve become addicted to the sound bite, and one-word comparisons to other things make really good sound bites. It’s the same thing as saying the war in Iraq is “another Vietnam”, despite the overwhelming differences.

    1. It certainly doesn’t help that these days, the average attention span is approximately six seconds…which is exactly why those sound bites are so popular with radio and tv news.

        1. Soundbyte Mode

          Are the attention spans of average Americans low? Find out more on news at eleven!

          But first, a word from our sponsers…

          1. Re: Soundbyte Mode

            What’s really funny is this radio ad for “Do you have ADD?” on the air right now. Basically, it’s this 45-second long spot, where this woman is droning on (no background music, mind you) about what ADD is and how to tell if you have it.

            Thing is, if you have it, you’re going to just go “Commercial. Eh.” *click* “Ooh! Music!”

  4. Most of what we are losing to Katrina falls into the “things” category.

    Very fortunately. I learned this morning that an acquaintance in NOLA who I’d more or less written off as probably dead (her last LJ post at 0643 yesterday was that the building next door had just collapsed, “this one may go soon, wall missing, big cracks, been a good trip, love you”) is known to be alive. All things considered, the Gulf Coast got off relatively lightly as far as the cost in human lives; Camille killed four times as many people. (Though indications are Katrina may turn out to have been the most destructive Caribbean hurricane ever — and yes, if NOLA and the Mississippi coast hadn’t been evacuated, or if Katrina’s eyewall hadn’t fallen apart Sunday night, it could have been very, very much worse.)

    What worries me is that if global warming is progressing as rapidly as many signs now suggest, we’re going to be in for a lot more hurricanes a lot worse than Katrina in the coming decades.

    1. Along those lines, saw this article on Time. Conclusion seems basically sound, that we’ll be seeing about as many hurricanes as before but that they may be quite a bit nastier.

      As an event of destructive magnitude, Katrina is about on par with the tsunami; as an event of loss of life, we’re much luckier this time.

      1. Makes me glad I live in the mountains. Hurricanes? they usually don’t get this far. Earthquakes? Very rare and not destructive. Tsunamis? Never. Tornadoes? One in the last 20 years. Rock Slides? Well, there are those, but they’re usually a problem for the road workers to solve and not a real disaster. Floods? Just build high enough and off the flood plain. Global Warming? Brings the temperatures almost up to where the rest of the country was. 😉

        On a side note, I did hear that other hurricanes prior to Katrina have been much more destructive. It’s only a matter of where this one hit that is causing any increased property damage.

        1. Yup. More-or-less taking out New Orleans counts as a “lucky critical hit” on the scoreboard. (Though on the other hand, it probably also counts as “Well, it was only a matter of time.”)

      2. I saw that article, yes. I think what they’ve possibly missed is that if sea surface temperatures rise, hurricane-forming regions will grow both larger and “deeper”, which not only means that hurricanes are likely to grow bigger and nastier, but that more tropical depressions over a wider expanse of ocean will have the right conditions (and, for that matter, better conditions) to develop into hurricanes. Very little about climate is uniformly predictable, though — warming can mean more rain on one area and less on another, more hurricanes on one coast and less on another.

        For a very scary (albeit fictional) warming scenario, read Greg Barnes’ Mother of Storms.

        1. Just finished Kim Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain. He puts D.C. under water from storm surge. The Mall, in effect, becomes a shallow lake, and only the Capitol Building and the White House are left above water because they’re built on sligtly higher ground.

          His precipitating incident is the slowing and stalling of the thermohaline cycle as the result of too much fresh water from melting Greenland glaciers.

          1. Haven’t seen that one yet. I’ll see if the library has, or can get, a copy.

            Barnes’ trigger event is a massive release of methane resulting from a catastrophic collapse of clathrate beds off the North Slope, itself caused by the UN SecGen taking out someone’s illegal undersea missile installation with an orbital strike with CRAM warheads (“Compressed Reaction Anti-Matter”, commented in the book as being “aka nukes that are politically correct because they’re not technically called nukes”).

          2. Of course, in this context we should keep in mind that there’s projections of a massive methane release from the thaw of the Western Siberian permafrost, AND there’s evidence of the thermohaline cycle weakening and possibly heading towards shutdown because of — guess what — meltwater off the Greenland ice cap.

            We could be in deep sh… um, an abundance of manure.

        2. The point I was trying to draw attention to was the statistical analysis of what’s actually happened (global warming didn’t start this year, so we do have some data). What’s actually happened so far is that hurricanes are not more numerous, but are on average more powerful; the conclusion is that since global warming has already started, and we’re already seeing this trend, it is probable that said trend (more powerful, but equinumerous hurricanes) will continue.

      3. From the IPCC:”All previous and current research in the area of hurricane variability has shown no reliable, long-term trend up in the frequency or intensity of tropical cyclones, either in the Atlantic or any other basin. The IPCC assessments in 1995 and 2001 also concluded that there was no global warming signal found in the hurricane record.”

        This, despite members of the IPCC saying publicly that there’s global warming causes hurricanes. Quite famously, one of the scientists recently quit over this chicanery.

        When they speak to the public, scientists too often become politians, and are no longer scientists. This is especially true on the topic of global warming.

        ===|==============/ Level Head

        1. Thanks for the link, I didn’t have any information beyond the Time article and assumed that they wouldn’t get such a big part of their story wrong. For future reference, </i> doesn’t close an anchor tag 🙂

  5. Unfortunately, politicians and news people like to make things sound dramatic. They’ve been doing it forever and will continue to. Look at how many people compare things to Nazism, the Holocaust, etc.

    It’s one of the areas I’ve given up even complaining about, because it’s not going to change. For every number of sane people making reasonable comparisons, there is an exponentially increasing number of exaggerations.

    1. KFI in Los Angeles on Sunday:

      “New Orleans will become a toxic lake with floating coffins.”
      “Tens of thousands of people will be killed.”
      “Every building that was not specifically built to withstand a Category V hurricane WILL be destroyed.”

      The tone of these pronouncements, which contained “probably” or “might be” early in the day, became progressively more strident and more certain each hour.

      ===|==============/ Level Head

      1. “New Orleans will become a toxic lake with floating coffins.”


        “Tens of thousands of people will be killed.”

        Getting there.

        “Every building that was not specifically built to withstand a Category V hurricane WILL be destroyed.”

        Oop, they missed this one — but possibly only because Katrina had dropped down to Cat IV by the time it hit.

        I guess that means that they were being irrationally alarmist for no good reason.

        1. Katrina has been, unquestionably, a major disaster, and we will be years recovering from it.

          It’s unfortunate for many reasons, almost all of which are more significant that making ALL such predictions by news media defensible as rational.

          But that is a small thing — much more important is helping those affected.

          ===|==============/ Level Head

  6. wow, get a grip

    The guy probably hasn’t slept in 72 hours. his city has been more or less wiped off the map. I think he can be forgiven a little hyperbole, don’t you?

    Largest disaster in the region in years: check
    Vast damage caused by large amounts of water: check
    Better comparisons in recent memory: uh… no check

    All things considered, I don’t think you’re justified jumping down the guy’s throat here. Yes, more people died in the tsunami. But at 200k+ that was still only 1/3 as many deaths as were caused by the American Civil War.

    And yet, I didn’t see too many people telling the Sri Lankans to suck it up and stop pretending they had a real disaster on their hands…

    1. Re: wow, get a grip

      I agreed with Howard initially. I was ticked that he was calling it that. But as the day has progressed it certainly seems like this disaster is more and more similar to the one in Asia… evacuating the evacuation shelters is always a bad sign. At least an order of magnitude off, if not orders off, like Howard said, but I don’t blame the man so much anymore.

      1. Re: wow, get a grip

        I agree Randy. Outside of the considerably better advanced warning, and resulting saving of lives… the devastation along the Mississippi coast was just as devastating as from the Tsunami, if not more.

      2. Re: wow, get a grip

        Y’know, sometimes in science, especially predictive sciences with a lot of variables, “within an order of magnitude” is often considered a pretty good stab.

    2. Fair point

      To be honest, I find it more irksome that the media has picked up this ball and ran with it than that the poor mayor said it in the first place. Even articles that have nothing to do with the quote are refering to the same metaphor. :/

    1. Re: Quit saying “This is our Tsunami.”

      hear hear. Not to say I don’t feel for the Londoners, but there’s just no comparison.

      And besides, I think Howard said it best- at least we had warning here. There was basically no warning whatsoever for the tsunami, and anyway, those who needed to know, would have had no access to the information. *sigh* Stupid mass media.

      1. Re: Quit saying “This is our Tsunami.”

        I’ll admit, the mass media has a lot of problems. But not getting information out there isn’t one of them. The problem is picking what information to go out there is, a subtle but important difference.

        How many murders/kidnappings/important global events weren’t covered because Michael jackson decided to diddle a little boy and not fess up? I mean, come on. Even us newscasters got sick of hearing about him on the first day, and Michael Jackson in the news is usually like being handed a fat steak and told, “Eat this.”

      2. Re: Quit saying “This is our Tsunami.”

        I suppose my point, in summary, is that there’s no concept of relative importance anymore. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the informal motto of many news sources, which is sad because so many good things aren’t covered. We never hear about the high school kid who did something amazing for his eagle scout project on the news; rather, we hear about shootings and killings and…depression.

  7. just things?

    100 people dead in one _county_ alone.
    And they’ve stopped counting for the moment as they concentrate on resucing living people from the floods as more levies fail.

    Numbers to numbers, not as bad as the Tsunami, sure.
    To the family of those 100 in that county is there a difference?

    1. Re: just things?

      Last I had heard the official count all-around was 80, with 50 of those being in Biloxi. I haven’t read much news since early today though.

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