Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, December 27, 2004

Tsunami

Hi Everyone,

Our intent in setting up this blog was to focus mainly on political issues. However, there are natural disasters that are so enormous in their devastating effect that they are impossible to ignore.

The day after Christmas one of the largest earthquakes the planet has ever experienced (the 4th largest since we started measuring and recording them) hit the sea floor west of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The quake spawned a series of tsunami that traveled at hundreds of miles per hour across the Indian ocean devastating the cost lines of countries from Indonesia and Thailand to India and Sri Lanka to Somalia and Kenya! Sri Lanka appears to be the worst hit. The current death count is over 21 thousand but many of the worst hit areas still are out of contact with the outside world. Also, the waves roll in, destroy everything and then suck it all out to sea so many victims will never be recovered. In countries without good census data, the true death toll may never be known. Over a million people are known to be homeless so far. There are entire islands in the Maldives that have been completely out of communication since the tsunami struck.

Destruction on this scale MUST have a political effect in the countries involved. These are some of the poorest parts of some very poor countries. Regional economies have literally been swept away. Some of the worst hit areas of Sri Lanka are not under government control but are under the control of the infamous Tamil Tiger terrorist group. This will likely disrupt efforts to determine the extent of the damage and deliver aid.

The truly sad part is that Americans will likely never hear of this event again after a few days. Consider the American reaction to 9/11 in which 3,000 people died. That relatively minor event sparked years of paranoia, political debate, nationalism, war and a surge in religious fundamentalism.

15 comments:

US West said...

While you are considering disasters that kill many, let us not forget Union Carbide in Bhopal that killed 3,800, permanently disabled approximately 40 people, and partially disabled approximately 2,800 others in 1984. People are still falling ill due to pollution in the area.

3000 people went to work in the capital of capitalism one day at the World Trade Center, and became victims of an unfortunate terrorist act. And somehow these people are considered heroes by the media and now by the general public. I will give the firemen and other rescue teams that title, I will not give victims that title.

According to Union Carbide, the gas leak that caused the deaths and injuries was a deliberate act and not a safety problem. It has taken the government of India over 15 years to release the restitution funds paid by Union Carbide to the victims.

The 9/11 attacks were nothing new to millions of people in the world who have suffered immeasurably from disasters of all kinds. This is somehow just news to to us. And had Americans been paying attention, the 9/11 attacks wouldn't have been news to us either.

On another note, considering the economic impact that the hurricanes have had on Florida and the Gulf Coast, you bet there will be big economic impacts on the global economy. A lot of cheap imports come from Thailand and Indonesia.

Raised By Republicans said...

Good points about Bophal.

And while we're talking about Florida...No one is really talking about the possibility that Florida could get hit by a much worse tsunami in our life times or the life times of the next generation. Just off the cost of Africa are the Canary Islands. One of them is a very unstable volcano that has sluffed off great chunks of moutain the past (kind of like the side of Mt. St. Helens sliding off but this time under water). It is due again "now" by geological standards. When it does sluff of a great chunk of the island into the ocean models predict a wall of water hundreds of feet high will race across the Atlantic towards Miami about hundreds of miles per hour. The wall of water will be higher than the highest point in Florida.

But why worry, this sort of thing only happens in less fashionable parts of world, right?

US West said...

Actually, the Canary Island's issue has major implications for Europe and North Africa as well. It is expected to go in our lifetimes from what I have heard.

Casablanca will also be sunk. My friend is telling me that his family living in Marrakech may well soon have ocean front property.

On a similar note, all of the California Coast (as part of the Pacific Rim, has tsunami plans. The big on that hit Alaska in 1964 effected coastline all the way into Northern, CA. My own community sits at the head of a deep underwater canyon that is monitored all the time for seismic activity. I have often stood at my window looking at the bay and wondering if I'd be safe from a 20 footer. I am on a hill, but tsunamis are not caused by earthquakes alone and they are not one big tidal wave. They are often a series of huge waves that hit over a period of days. So . . .

Reports say that the Asian stock markets are being effected. No big surprise. A generation of people has been wiped out.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Last year, on Dec. 26th, 2003, a 6.3 earthquake struck the unfortunately-named city of "Bam" in Iran, killing more than 43,000. This year, on Dec. 26th, 2004, an 8.9 earthquake and associated tsunamis struck the Indian Ocean, killing more than 60,000 (and that total keeps rising).

Afterward, the Pope predictably called for everyone to pray for the victims. Alhough if prayer really does work, I'd say it's rather late to pray for the victims now. Instead, wouldn't it be more appropriate if the Pope instructed Christians to pray for no more devastating earthquakes on the day after Christmas? (Come to think of it, the Pope really ought to have done that last year...)

The Pope then took a moment to thank God for peace and warn of the danger of gay marriage. Ah yes: give God all the credit for the good stuff, give him none of the responsibility for the bad stuff, and bash everyone else. (Instead of organizing a prayer vigil, may I recommend using those resources to aid relief efforts? It may be less self-satisfying, but I suspect it will do more good.)

Merry Christmas... and God bless us, every one.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Reading it over, that last comment came out more bitter than I'd intended. I know that the Pope does not speak for all Christians, and that many Christians have been extremely generous in helping the victims of these catastrophes. No amount of hypocrisy by the religious elite can diminish the value of the efforts and good will of the billions of good people around the world of all faiths.

Raised By Republicans said...

The United States has pledged $35 million to relief efforts so far. The European Union has pledged another $30 million. The global total is about $75 million last I saw on CNN.

The Pope lives in a palace in Rome and presides over one the world's largest real estate empire most of which is held tax free. How much will the Catholic Church spend on relief? How much on defending child molesting priests?

And while we're at it, how much will the US spend per day in Iraq? How much will the European Union and the United States spend on wasteful agricultural subsidies?

Go ahead Master of Time and Space, be bitter.

Anonymous said...

Comments from Australia. There was a separate earthquake south of Tasmania and New Zealand a couple of days before Christmas, measuring around 8.5. Same plate: they say they could be linked in that the former may have triggered the latter.

There is no tsunami monitoring system in the Indian Ocean like there is in the Pacific Ocean. Apparently the sensors on Hawaii had a pretty good idea of what was about to happen, but who do you call in India? Thinking, as we all do, what could have been achieved with a few million dollars/pounds/rubles/baht on sensors and a warning system as opposed to missiles, it makes some of the war efforts even harder to take. I know the most useful item in the Australian Defence Force has already swung into action: Hercules with water, water purifiers and medicine.

There does get to a point where enough money just wouldn't be able to do anything. One high profile case here is of a 24-year AFL footballer on his honeymoon who is missing. These guys are as aerobically fit as anyone can get. If he couldn't survive, thank your stars you weren't there.

Raised By Republicans said...

Geez! 8.5 near Tasmania? I hope I'm right to assume that there wasn't much damage since you didn't mention any.

I was wondering what the Australian reaction would be. These are your neighbors after all. Did the west coast of Australia have any effects?

We just heard that Southern California had several inches of raised sea levels on the 28th because of the tsunami! No damage obviously but its gone all the way around the world!

US West said...

Interesting. Our friend from down under mentions what good a few million could have done. I agree. But the recipient of that few million would have to care enough to set up the system. It's not just money but will.

And while we are at it, what would sacrificing a single war plane do for education in inner city Chicago or starving Ethiopia (provided the government officials didn't suck it up to buy toys for themselves). Or what would a few million do for the AIDS epidemic in Africa?

I am convinced that if all there were to solving world problems was money, the world would be a much nicer place. If Americans could walk a little more and shop a little less, think of what new, amazing things we could focus our energies on?

Anonymous said...

No, no damage in Tasmania, although some shaking. Amazing that that could be a precursor. Having said that there is an article in Slashdot indicating that the earth's rotation has sped up as a result of the earthquake. Truely amazing. I have heard nothing about waves hitting Australia, which makes me think they were directed away from Aus. (USGS has lots of stuff including an animation of wave direction, as does Wikipedia.)

You ask about the Australian reaction. Australians in general are in shock. There are a number of Australians missing and dead, but the scale of the disaster is horrifying. I personally do not think it is possible to comprehend the damage. 36,000 died from tsunamis when Krakatoa went off inbetween Sumatra and Java in 1883. (My great-grandmother told stories of the clouds that blotted out the sun in Tasmania from that.) I simply did not think there would be anything of that magnitude in my lifetime. How can you comprehend or empathise with what is going on? As the toll goes up, at least our government is increasing aid. Hopefully that can go some way to repairing our image with our neighbours.

Anonymous said...

I agree that money doesn't solve everything. But you have to admit, if there were money there, people would put effort in. Or are you assuming Boeing, Northrop, Halliburton, et al are doing things out of idealogy? Had to have a go...

US West said...

That is interesting about the effect on the earth's rotation. Does that mean Christmas might come even earlier next year? Sorry. Not fair to joke about something that serious. But I am interested to find out how that affects the weather patterns around the globe. And I have been thinking a lot about it as we have had 60-70 mph winds on the Central Coast and a lot of rain over the last week. This is part of the normal Pacific storm cycle that we get each year, but still it makes you understand the force of nature.

Here are some links to video of the waves hitting Sir Lanka and Thailand.
http://homepage.mac.com/jlgolson/sri-lanka-tsunami.wmv
http://homepage.mac.com/jlgolson/patong-beach.wmv

About money and corporations: It isn't up to Northrop or Halliburton and the like to provide for lesser countries (although they might benefit from the business). I agree that if Sir Lanka were a great place to earn a few billion, foreign companies would be seeking contracts. If these types of companies were to set up business, then perhaps we could have a discussion about corporate citizenship and corporate responsibility to the citizens of the countries involved. But my point isn't about that. My point is that if India wanted a monitoring system, if could have gotten together with its neighbors and built one; it could have put out a request for proposals and hired Northrop to install one. But I am assuming the government of India didn't do that, nor did its neighbors.

So this makes me wonder just how much these governments really seek to fulfill their responsibility as protector of their citizens. How much of this is a lack of resource, a lack of know how, or a lack of will? Why wasn't there a detection system in the Indian Ocean? Don't say it isn't because no one thought it was needed considering the seismic activity that is always going on in that part of the world. Even if there was an alert, the death toll would have been high. Still something is better than nothing. Some things you just can't prevent. And I am pleased that governments across the globe are sending money and assistance. That is what should happen in any event.

I guess what I am getting at is the more basic philosophical discussion that political scientists have been hashing over for centuries. What is the responsibility of a government to its people and what happens when it fails in that responsibility? And does the reason for the failure change the nature of the government's accountability?

Dr. Strangelove said...

Quick note on Earth's rotation: an article in Nature confirms that the day is now 3 microseconds shorter, and adds that the Earth now tilts slightly more on its axis--so the north pole now sits 2.5 cm farther away from where it would be if the Earth's equator were perfectly aligned with the ecliptic plane.

Meanwhile, the death toll surpasses 140,000. Here's some cold death statistics that may put this awesome figure in better perspective:

U.S. Combat Deaths in WWII, total: 260,000*
U.S. Combat & Non-Combat Deaths in Vietnam, total: 58,000
U.S. Car Accident Deaths per Year: 40,000
Krakatoa-related Deaths: 36,000
U.S. Murders Per Year: 15,000
Bloodiest day of war, July 1, 1916, Battle of Somme: 20,000**
Civilians killed by the U.S. in Iraq: 15,000-17,000***
Sept. 8-9, 1900 Gavleston Hurricane: 6,000-10,000
Sept. 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam: ~4,500
Sept. 11, 2001 (what is it with September?): 3,000
Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor: 2,500

...so, basically folks, 140,000 is a lot. Possibly the deadliest single disaster in human history. It should be noted, though, that the marked increase in casualties over the Krakatoa figure (36,000) can be attributed largely to the growing density of humans living in vulnerable areas--if Krakatoa happened today, it might dwarf the current disaster. So we'd better get good at responding, because I'm afraid this is only the beginning...

---
*The most U.S. deaths in any war. (The Civil War had more losses because of plague and famine, however)
**There were 58,000 casualties of which 1/3 were fatal.
***A widely reported estimate of 100,000 is based on questionable methodology--the 95% confidence estimate was actually incredibly broad, from 8,000 to 194,000.

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