The Long View 2004-12-28: Disasters, Natural and Otherwise

The final death toll of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami came in somewhere around 250,000. Requiescat in pace.

This finishes up the year 2004 of the Long View, John J. Reilly's blog. I have been at this since February of 2014, and I intend to keep on with my project to re-post everything John hosted on his now defunct website,

Disasters, Natural and Otherwise

So how big was the recent Java Disaster in the Indian ocean? At this writing, the reported number of fatalities is just under 50,000. If that figure holds, loss of life would be less than in the Tokyo Earthquake of 1923, when at least 100,000 people were killed. However, it is very unlikely that the current figure will hold. We are talking about a quarter of the world's coastlines. Society was so disrupted in many places that estimates cannot be made yet.

A surprising point: the spectacular Krakatoa eruption of 1883 created a tsunami that killed just 37,000 people on the first day. Why such a relatively low figure? Partly because the reports were from Java; collating reports from the rest of the Indian Ocean could not be done in a 24-hour news cycle in those days. More important, though, there were far fewer people in those days. That's part of the reason each year's fresh disasters seems to elicit superlative casualty payouts from the insurance industry: there is more and more stuff to break.

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The Belmont Club made a connection that had separately occurred to me:

Although the geological record shows that large asteroids occasionally strike the earth and that tsunamis sometimes ravage coastal areas, the rarity of their occurrence often precludes the formation of a political consensus to sustain preparations against them.

And why am I thinking of asteroids? Because of this helpful Don't Panic advisory from the Near Earth Object folks at NASA:

A recently rediscovered 400-meter Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) is predicted to pass near the Earth on 13 April 2029. The flyby distance is uncertain and an Earth impact cannot yet be ruled out. The odds of impact, presently around 1 in 300, are unusual enough to merit special monitoring by astronomers, but should not be of public concern. These odds are likely to change on a day-to-day basis as new data are received. In all likelihood, the possibility of impact will eventually be eliminated as the asteroid continues to be tracked by astronomers around the world.

Should there be an impact, this object would not end the world, or even fatally disrupt civilization. It would, however certainly ruin everyone's day, and many days thereafter. As NASA points out, these alerts are generally just products of imprecise estimates: the danger evaporates as more information becomes available. Still, there are always new asteroids to worry about. You can track the latest reports here. Note, however, that should a notable impact occur in your lifetime, it will probably be some smaller body for which there will be just a few hours warning, if any.

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Should the news media broadcast the videos of attacks made by enemy units when the videos originate with the enemy, or with reporters working with them? Should the media broadcast public statements from the enemy? The Belmont Club, again, has citations-within-citations on the matter:

From JACK STOKES, director of media relations, Associated Press: [This is a solicited letter regarding Salon's "The Associated Press 'insurgency.'"] Several brave Iraqi photographers work for The Associated Press in places that only Iraqis can cover. Many are covering the communities they live in where family and tribal relations give them access that would not be available to Western photographers, or even Iraqi photographers who are not from the area.

Insurgents want their stories told as much as other people and some are willing to let Iraqi photographers take their pictures. It's important to note, though, that the photographers are not "embedded" with the insurgents. They do not have to swear allegiance or otherwise join up philosophically with them just to take their pictures.

There is a distinction between the reporting of military actions, including guerilla military actions, and the sort of bloody public displays that the Islamist-Baathist network in Iraq has been mounting. Public statements by enemy leaders, and the successes of enemy military units, should certainly be reported, with due disclaimers. Without that information, there is no way for the public to judge how the war is going. What the enemy has been doing in Iraq, however, is not a military campaign, and not even an insurgency. It is the Propaganda of the Deed. The beheadings and the bombings of civilians have no military objective; their essence is to cause terror and despair. To broadcast videos of these things has nothing to do with allowing the enemy "to tell their story." They are psychological conditioning, not information.

Having said that there is no journalist reason for showing images from the enemy to the domestic public, I would note that there could be a tactical one. The enemy is producing atrocity propaganda about itself.

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Finally, on another part of the Islamist Front, we note this bit of wishful thinking from the New York Times:

Europe's Muslims May Be Headed Where the Marxists Went Before

No, no: what's happening in Europe is the importation of the memet system. That is a kind of society in which one's confessional group is, for most purposes, one's nation. The law you live under depends on which group you belong to. Under that system, cities are divided into neighborhoods that might as well be different countries. The state becomes an instrument of hegemony by one of the confessional groups, a hegemony made tolerable by incompetence and corruption.

I am sure that Europe will recoil from this future before it is much farther advanced. The question is whether the Europeans will turn to nationalism or a more masculine form of Europeanism.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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