Comparing apples to drowned people

The Rude Pundit on the dangers of comparing disasters.


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26 comments for “Comparing apples to drowned people

  1. Mary
    October 25, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    I would be cautious about how you worded that. In denouncing the comparing of two separate natural disasters, you have managed to do exactly what you are discouraging. Your own opinionated comparison of these two diasters rings loud and clear….

  2. zuzu
    October 25, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Your own opinionated comparison of these two diasters rings loud and clear….

    Pardon?

  3. Molly
    October 25, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    Damn right. The main comparisons I’ve been seeing have been more like “wow, look how much stuff the government’s willing to do for white people in southern California,” but that says something about my careful media selection more than about the actual mainstream discussion, sadly.

  4. kate
    October 25, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    What really boggles my mind is when you call a wingnut out as the racist pig that they are, they are completely stunned and incredulous. How could someone be devoid of understanding that comparing these two disasters is like, well, like comparing abandoned, water logged carcasses to thong wearing entertainers and email stations and saying they are both on equal footing?

    But then again, that’s what racists have been saying for the last 300 hundred years, why change now?

  5. evil fizz
    October 25, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    Mary, what exactly are you on about?

  6. Ellid
    October 25, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    Note that the Californians who are escaping the fire are by and large middle class, own cars, and are *white*. They have the money and the mobility to leave the disaster area, plus plenty of warning. The New Orleanians who were trapped by Katrina were largely poor, black, and didn’t have the money for bus fare, car rental, or anything else. They also did not know that the levees would fail, that the Superdome would not have adequate supplies of food and water, and that the government would basically sit on its ass for several days and do nothing to help them.

    These disasters are nothing alike. Nothing. And I’ll bet a week’s pay that the government helps the fire victims rebuild and go back to their homes instead of stuffing them into cheap trailers or cutting off their hotel subsidies.

  7. INotI
    October 25, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    I think Mary’s arguing that, if one says that you can’t compare the two disasters, then you can’t say that Katrina is worse than the fires, because that is a comparison. This is, of course, completely idiotic and an abjectly bad reading of what TRP is actually saying.

  8. Hector B.
    October 25, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    Your own opinionated comparison of these two diasters rings loud and clear….

    Pardon?

    Clearly, zuzu, you think that SoCalians are subhuman, not even animals, but plant matter; whereas you credit the humanity of the deceased New Orleanians.

    You reverse racist, you.

  9. October 26, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Wow, I got that one and where they are trying to lead it. *blinks*

    In the end, it just puts down tragic occurrences. More and more I’m leaning toward bowing out of the human race.

  10. October 26, 2007 at 12:41 am

    you know, reading some of the politicizing of the fires in CA by the compassionate Left, one gets the distinct impression they are all just thoroughly disappointed that “rich, racist, white rethuglican San Diegans” didn’t die in droves.

    Naw…. planning, competence and early execution (like over 270,000 “reverse 911” calls within 24 hours of the outbreak of fire in Ramona had NOTHING to do with it.

    So Cal to rest of the country… we are NOT all teh Malibu Colony. There are poor, rural areas and residents of modest means who got hit this time just like we got hit in 2003. You think anyone has the City of San Bernardino on their vacation itenerary? The fires are STILL burning (schools/colleges/government buildings in San Bernardino are closed through the end of the week because of the smoke from the Lake Arrowhead area fires)

    Yes, the disasters were different in kind but the comparison on preparation, leadtime and execution is apt. And scrambling to shift the blame from Nagin and Blanco is telling.

  11. zuzu
    October 26, 2007 at 1:10 am

    And you had practice in fucking it up in 2003, as well, Darleen. The disaster officials learned from that, and they did their jobs better this time out.

    you know, reading some of the politicizing of the fires in CA by the compassionate Left, one gets the distinct impression they are all just thoroughly disappointed that “rich, racist, white rethuglican San Diegans” didn’t die in droves.

    Name one person, just one, or don’t bother coming back here. Did anyone write a column about growing gills because it’s going to be Thunderdome at Qualcomm?

    Yeah, didn’t think so.

  12. October 26, 2007 at 1:40 am

    I live in San Diego County, and this has been a really strange week. I have not had to evacuate, but my workplace has closed down for the week because of air quality, and I’ve spent most of the week watching the news, at first just in case we DID have to evacuate, but then because there was nothing much else to do with the air so foul outside.

    The first hint of a comparison to Hurricane Katrina made me feel sick to my stomach. The one I’ve heard most is that the monetary damage here is higher than Katrina, but that is only because of inflated land values in southern California. Apples and oranges.

    I have been impressed with how well the county managed such a large number of evacuees, it’s much better in comparison to the big fire in 2003, especially since a lot of places were set up to accept horses, livestock and pets as wel as human evacuees. That was sorely missing in the 2003 Cedar fire. But the situation in a firestorm is so very very different from a hurricane.

    For example, where I live, in El Cajon, we haven’t even had much smoke in the air. My windows are open right now, probably letting in a lot of undetectable carcinogenic vapours, but I can’t smell smoke. I’m in East county, North of one big fire and South of the other, and the biggest effect on my life has been that I got an impromptu week off work, so I got to knit a lot and I’m painting the kitchen. If this had been a hurricane there’s no way I could have been so unaffected. Firestorms are capricious and patchy. Even in the “devastated” areas there are many houses that are virtually unharmed, where the worst effect is the ash coating everything, and the lingering polluted air. When a hurricane has hit, and especially with the flooding in New Orleans, there is no possibility of going back after evacuation and discovering your home untouched. The areas that were evacuated during Katrina were completely ruined: flooded, filled with muck and mould and death. Some of the evacuated areas in San Diego County have been hit hard, with whole streets burned down, but most of them it’s houses here and there, embers are blown around and don’t always “take” where they land.

    I’m not sure it’s a wealthy & white versus poor & non-white issue really, well I guess it is, but it’s more that California in general has such a high proportion of well-off residents, and the type of disasters that hit here are spotty in their effect. Even earthquakes are surprisingly patchy in their effect. Everybody’s china gets smashed, but which buildings collapse is surprisingly haphazard. The point I’m trying to make (I think) is that the difference in how this disaster turned out is not purely due to money and privilege, it’s also due to the type of disaster, and the learning curve following the 2003 fires.

    I realize this sounds very naive. Ultimately I believe it is ridiculous to compare disasters, maybe compare fires with fires, and floods with floods, but not one with the other. It’s like trying to compare individuals’ pain and suffering, and I’m sure there has been good discussion here on how ridiculous that is.

  13. shinybear
    October 26, 2007 at 8:53 am

    Hey they’ve “learned a lot in two and a half years”!

    I loved that bit- I was under the impression that Presidents were elected to lead from the get go- I had no idea the office was actually meant to be a great place to learn how to lead- sort of like scouting!

    Keep on learning from your mistakes George!

    The White House has proven to be a great learning experience for him.

  14. Roy
    October 26, 2007 at 9:25 am

    you know, reading some of the politicizing of the fires in CA by the compassionate Left, one gets the distinct impression they are all just thoroughly disappointed that “rich, racist, white rethuglican San Diegans” didn’t die in droves.

    *blink*
    *blink*

    Really?

    That’s your take, for real?
    Wow.

  15. lucie
    October 26, 2007 at 9:54 am

    I did see an interview with the head of fema where the first question asked was “so you must just keep thinking to yourself… katrina?” and he replied “No, I keep thinking about how to keep people safe.”

    I thought it was a pretty good answer.

  16. October 26, 2007 at 11:01 am

    you know, reading some of the politicizing of the fires in CA by the compassionate Left, one gets the distinct impression they are all just thoroughly disappointed that “rich, racist, white rethuglican San Diegans” didn’t die in droves.

    Wow, persecution complex much? “Oh no — the lefties are glad that things went smoothly! That must mean they wanted us all to die a horrible fiery death!”

    Oh, and next time San Diego County asks for a bond measure to upgrade the 911 system, are you actually going to remember that the Reverse 911 system saved lives and vote for it, or are you going to bitch and moan about the government stealing your money for useless programs like fire and police protection?

  17. EG
    October 26, 2007 at 11:32 am

    one gets the distinct impression they are all just thoroughly disappointed that “rich, racist, white rethuglican San Diegans” didn’t die in droves.

    I always think that this sort of thing is projection on a huge scale. Rabid right-wingers don’t much care about the lives of people not like them–witness Katrina, the Iraq war, the destruction of welfare, the vetoing of SCHIP. Their more wacko attack dogs will come out and say things like “I wish a terrorist would blow up the NYT building” (Coulter). So they think that we must be the same.

  18. October 26, 2007 at 11:53 am

    Can we kill the nonsense world ‘evacuees’ now? I hate it. I hate that we stopped using ‘refugees’ during Katrina because of the ‘negative connotations’ of the word. There are no negative connotations to ‘refugees’ except amongst bigoted jerks who think that brown people who suffer hardship have earned their hardship. And people who flee a catastrophe to seek refuge elsewhere are refugees. Just because the catastrophe happens in the United States doesn’t require a different word to describe its victims.

  19. October 26, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    I think Mary’s arguing that, if one says that you can’t compare the two disasters, then you can’t say that Katrina is worse than the fires, because that is a comparison. This is, of course, completely idiotic and an abjectly bad reading of what TRP is actually saying.

    I wouldn’t call it completely idiotic. When I first read Zuzu’s title, I also thought, at first, that it was trivializing the damage in California. (It made sense after I read the article.) Mary came to a premature conclusion, yes, but I can see where it came from.

  20. October 26, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Can we kill the nonsense world ‘evacuees’ now?

    I do agree that using the word ‘refugee’ would bring more attention to the situation, but I kind of think the definition of ‘refugee’ is technically one who is externally displaced, outside of their home country, in another country. So if they had been evacuated to Mexico, then they would be refugees.

    At least I think that’s right.

  21. Mnemosyne
    October 26, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Can we kill the nonsense world ‘evacuees’ now?

    Well, no.

    An “evacuee” is someone who had to leave their home, but is able to return to it. It’s a temporary inconvenience.

    A “refugee” is someone who had to leave their home and due to the scale of the disaster is not able to return.

    Given the vagaries of how fires work, a lot of the people at the Qualcomm center will, fortunately, only be evacuees and will be able to return to their homes and their lives. However, some of them will have lost their homes and will be refugees.

    So, yes, many people who survived Katrina ended up as refugees because they were unable to return to their homes. I saw one on “Kitchen: Impossible” the other night cooking in Minneapolis with Robert Irvine. (Hopefully appearing on the show means he’ll get some extra credit at culinary school. ;-)

  22. Marle
    October 26, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    I did see an interview with the head of fema where the first question asked was “so you must just keep thinking to yourself… katrina?” and he replied “No, I keep thinking about how to keep people safe.”

    I thought it was a pretty good answer.

    Yeah. It’s a great answer. And a great question to lead to that answer. But, it’s not like FEMA would set up a fake press conference where the “reporters” are actually FEMA staff, so I’m sure he was just being honest.

  23. October 26, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    “Everybody’s china gets smashed, but which buildings collapse is surprisingly haphazard.”

    Not really. It’s only haphazard in the sense that earthquakes themselves are, and it’s not like we don’t know where the major faultlines are (usually). I mean, yeah, you get one house standing while the one next to it has collapsed, but that happens in every kind of natural disaster.

    Which buildings fall depends mostly on how old they are and how retrofitted they are – which, hey, is tied directly to affluence. How well our infrastructure holds up depends largely on how much money we put into it – the freeway collapses in 1989 were rightfully blamed on poor maintenance of public infrastructure. Lack of maintenance that – much like the levees in NO – certain people had been trying to warn the public about. Also, much like how the rapid growth in the San Diego area hasn’t been matched with corresponding growth in public services – like fire stations – the amount of recent development allowed on or near faultlines, or in places that experience liquifaction during earthquakes, will play a major role in the amount of life and property that will be lost during the next major quake.

  24. Laura
    October 26, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    I’m in exactly the same situation as Rosemary – I’m in San Diego County, my work has been shut down for the week, but I can’t even smell smoke, and I’ve spent the time off at the movies and in mall (enclosed spaces with airconditioned filtered air).

    What’s unique about wildfire disasters is that urban areas don’t burn. (I suppose they could if it got really, really bad, but they generally don’t.) It takes a lot of dried out grass and stuff to burn like this, and the city just doesn’t have enough tinder. So it’s places in San Diego like Barrio Logan that are safe.

    This is good for suburbanites, too, because it means that all the hospitals and central police stations and radio stations and all the emergency services can keep operating out of downtown, which is why Qualcomm looks like a big party.

    So Rosemary’s right that the worst consequences are patchy – even in the bad fire zones, it’s random which house will be burned to the ground and which will just be covered in soot. But the distribution of consequences is actually inverted from something like a terrorist attack, which hits the urban core. It’s not like a tornado, either, which usually seems to be worst for the rural poor, people who live in trailers or less sturdy housing.

    Fires are actually worst for the people who have lots of empty land. In San Diego County, where land is really, really expensive, there are very few real farmers or ranchers – nearly all the people with big properties, even largish backyards, are rich.

    And they didn’t show a whole lot of ability to learn from the fires of 2003. A friend of mine is a ecologist and educates local residents about fire safety, and so few people replanted their properties with better, more fire-safe plants, etc.

  25. Mnemosyne
    October 26, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    I noticed this afternoon when I went out for lunch that the smoke from the Santa Clarita fires (which are north of me in Los Angeles, and also pretty bad) has finally arrived. Now my eyes are burning and my lungs are very slightly constricted (stupid asthma).

  26. October 26, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    I had to evacuate due to the San Diego fires too. While it was scary, I can’t help but think it really didn’t compare to Katrina. I was one of the lucky ones, with my mother’s house to evacuate to, and my home intact after.

    The politics of the entire situation can drive you nuts. Just watching the various politicians talk about how they’re going to help get things rebuilt and wondering if they’ll really be all that effective. Then again, as many have noted, many affluent areas were hit, which is far different from who was hit hardest by Katrina.

    Things that annoyed me were the lessons not learned from the 2003 Cedar fires. And don’t get me started on the mess in Ramona with their water district. That one directly impacted my sister and a family friend, and we still don’t know when they’ll have drinkable water up there, never mind being able to use it.

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