The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

Archive for August 2011

Why I Hate Reading the News

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I’ve been neglecting the Eye. But I can explain. First, I have work to do — the kind that pays the bills, and that’s important. Then, because I got terribly tired of the unceasing torrent of words about events, the stuff that the news is made of. I couldn’t stand the idea of shoveling my words into the cacophony.

Then came the flood. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s flood of 2011.

Thirty-six hours before the hurricane called Irene was due at our latitude, Bloomberg, who must be a hysteric, ordered up a large-scale evacuation and a shutdown of the transit system. This is unheard of. He also threatened to shut off electric service in various places.
(Normally, the wind knocks down the power lines, not the mayor, but our wiring is under ground!)

We are in the city, a huge, concrete and stone city with no history of weather disasters. The hurricane was big, but not that big, and it was aiming straight at North Carolina. Out at sea it was a category 2, but once near land, the experts dropped it down to category 1.

The news media loved it. The high-class version in the New York Times said on Sunday morning, “Hurricane Drives Toward New York With Deadly Fury.” The tabloids and television stations were worse. Bloomberg made an announcement around 9 or 10 in the morning that the most dangerous period was yet to begin. We looked out the window, and saw that the rain
was tapering off. A careful read of the National Weather Service’s excellent forecasts told us the storm had passed on by.

Before they sat down to concoct their stories for the Saturday night news and Sunday papers, I looked around on the web and found this in the Wilmington, N.C., Star News:

But from early reports, the consensus among emergency crews is that Hurricane Irene’s impact on the Wilmington area could have been much worse.

While it will likely take weeks to clean up, Irene appears to have left no catastrophic damage behind in Southeastern North Carolina.

That was where the storm first hit, the place where the damage is done. Yes, there were some victims. But the report has to make you wonder if somehow the threat was not overblown. Speaking of the towns near the coast, some people always stay in their flimsy beach houses. Others insist on driving around despite road washouts and fallen power lines.
None of this applies to us, dear mayor.

By the time the storm got to New York it was no longer a hurricane. The television cameras were trained on the suburbs of Long Beach and Atlantic Beach, nice towns with beaches and boardwalks, just east of JFK airport, where the eye of the storm was expected to pass over. The poor reporters had to stand in the rain and wind and make up something
dramatic. As we watched one, a lifeguard shack, a wood frame structure on the sand that looks like a kid’s clubhouse, lifted up and moved a few feet until it bumped into the boardwalk.

Wow.

For this, the mayor shut down the city. No subways, no movement, no business. Nothing after the little bit of panic buying on Friday night and Saturday morning. The subways stopped at noon Saturday, and won’t even be back tomorrow, according to the mayor at yet another grim-faced news conference, surrounded by his henchmen.

And what about these first-ever evacuations? In all, around 360,000 were told they had to leave their homes. The city shelters reported that they had 9,600 people. Where did all the others go — and how did they get there? My guess is that more than half stayed put, but maybe the average New Yorker has more best friends than I do.

The ones I feel sorry for are those who went to the shelters. Why, I wonder, is it better to be stranded in some high school gym with hundreds of others and some number of pets, sitting on fold-up cots than it is to be stranded for an afternoon in your own house?

To be completely fair, Bloomberg must feel some pressure from the news media to behave correctly in the face of danger. One of the biggest sins for a politicians is to be called out by the media following a natural disaster. Maybe Bloomberg was trying to get out in front of the curve, but there’s a risk there.

If some grave danger is perceived by the media and it fails to materialize, they just say, “threat averted” and move on. No one calls them to account. Bloomberg now has to reopen the city. And keep in mind all this happened a few days after the great earthquake. California is still laughing at us.

Written by theunbiasedeye

August 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Posted in Media, Politics