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Meteorological Darwinism

by ThatBritGuy Fri Sep 12th, 2008 at 07:36:26 PM EST

I'm currently watching live Ike coverage on a stream from ABC13. It's not reassuring. In spite of a NOAA public advisory literally guaranteeing certain death for people who don't evacuate, the roving journalists are interviewing people who are fooling around in the wind by the coast, their flimsy wooden beach-front houses behind them.


The coastal storm surge is predicted to be 15-17 ft, with up to 25 ft inland. At low tide 7 hours ahead of landfall, areas are already underwater and there's evidence of a surge of 9ft or so. So there's going to be at least another 6ft of water to come - at best - on top of the usual tidal variation. Plus an extra 5-10 ft from wave crests.

Even so, between 20-40% of the population have stayed behind. Some remember a 14 hour non-evac on a freeway ahead of Rita, and don't want to go through a similar experience again. Some are staying in tall stone buildings which are reasonably likely to survive.

But others are in one or two storey wooden boxes, and the anchors on ABC13 are stretching their ability to be euphemistically circumspect to their limits. Apparently these people are 'going to be in for a surprise', and staying 'really isn't a good idea.' The emergency services are 'frustrated' - sometimes even 'very frustrated' - with their attitude. There's been footage of people in a beach-side bar saying they'll be fine because their house is on stilts, followed by them hoping that the surge won't be more than ten feet because 'That would be bad.' One shopkeeper has stayed open for as long as possible, and a news crew faithfully shot video of water lapping over his sandals and feet as he served customers. (How far off the ground is mains wiring in the walls of Texas stores?)

I suppose anchors aren't allowed to say 'Get the fuck out or die, you lunatics.' But that's TV. In among a storm of blather, rescued labradors, and ZOMG!, a hard fact slips by every minute or three, and it's easy to miss it if you're feeling the awe.

Parallels to the election are obvious. It's impossible to think critically, and difficult to plan rationally, while watching news, because it's mainlined electronic ADHD. Trivia and essentials are equally weighted, and there's no time to think through consequences or implications because now it's over to the next segment with our roving reporter/meteorologist/significant re-used footage.

But it's also addictive. The unreality of reality, which includes the fact that on a bad day reality can kill you without blinking, is easily lost in a maze of reportage, maps, fast cuts, wobbly camera work, excitable anchors, and people in uniform making speeches.

Also, crawling text.

Before it turned into another free-market zombiefied corpo-bot, the BBC's aims were 'to educate, entertain, and inform.' These still seem like good goals today, but perhaps the language needs to change. Messages do still seem to percolate through today's twitch-media, and given the facts, most of Texas has decided to act rationally.

Some of the people who didn't get the story about Ike will die.

It's hard to guess what slow-news would look like, and harder still to speculate if they'd have had more of a chance in a slow-media culture. But for the future, it's worth wondering if tamer news presentation could perhaps be less distracting and more socially useful than today's traditional fact-squirt blip-media culture. It might also, at a wild guess, turn out to be better for participation and practical bottom-up democracy as well.

Display:
How far off the ground is mains wiring in the walls of Texas stores?

18 inches to 6 feet.  It won't matter.  Either the sub-stations will be wiped-out or the power company will have proactively shut them down to reduce damage.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Sep 12th, 2008 at 09:50:10 PM EST
This genius of opportunism may be running his bar on a back-up generator from the bed of a pick-up with risers.  Hope he doesn't get blown over when he tries to get out.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 07:52:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sadly, flags offer little protection against, well, almost anything.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 02:50:23 AM EST
They make a nice wind screen, sun canopy, or shawl when one is kicking back at the beach.

:-)

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 01:02:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]


You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 01:47:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's a little ditty to go with your post (no date or venue, unfortunately).



The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 01:55:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some will live, many (perhaps most) will die. But to put their staying put down solely to a refusal to recognize reality on account of media damage is, to my mind, too easy and too simplistic.

Consider those who fled: Once the storm has passed, they will come home to literally nothing. Their homes and all their possessions will have been utterly destroyed, leaving them with just the few things they packed in a hurry. I expect that in thousands of cases even the lots their homes once stood on will have been washed away.

I don't know about the rest of you, but in that situation I'd feel awful damned shitty.

I think many of those who remain are not merely in denial of the storm, but are unable to bear the prospective trauma of being refugees: homeless, helpless, hopeless, and dependent on others for the barest necessities.

I think the stay-behinds are mistaken, but I don't think they're (all) nuts or brain-damaged. And to the extent that they are sincerely unable face the trauma of being permanently uprooted, I can't find it in my heart to blame them.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 06:34:29 AM EST
I think that many captains have gone down with their ships for the very same reason....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 06:47:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
True, but I'm not blaming anyone, more making the point that:

  1. There's such a thing as media damage which is independent of media bias.

  2. If we're looking for reasons why people vote against their interests and are disconnected from reality, media damage is one place to start.

There's something very paradoxical about the way that this kind of media noise simultaneously diminishes and distances reality, while at the same time captivating attention so that there's no room for reality to creep in.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 11:35:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think one of the reasons I am no longer an avid consumer of daily news(papers) is that I realised most stories don't survive past the current news cycle and so are insignificant in the grand scheme of things and a distraction from important stuff. If an event is picked up and commented on by people I like to read or listen to, then it becomes worthwhile to spend some time going back and researching it.

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 11:38:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree that media damage is having a serious effect on people's ability to make decisions in their own interests. The John McCain candidacy is more evidence of this than I can contemplate in comfort.

I might go further: instead of media noise, I'd say what we have is a constant stream (or streams) of media signals designed to stimulate our orienting response:

An aspect of responding to environmental stimuli attending in which an organism's initial response to a change or novel stimulus makes the organism more sensitive to the stimulation [...]

Basically attention is usurped by a constant stream of media signals to the extent that there is no cognitive capacity left for perceiving other stimuli.

But of course, IANA behavioral psychologist.

What is interesting in this situation is that the signal stream for Ike has been both broad and lurid: huge winds! 25-foot surge!! run for your lives!!! Responding to the media urge would be the rational thing to do - yet the stay-behinds reject it.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 12:39:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
this kind of media noise simultaneously diminishes and distances reality, while at the same time captivating attention so that there's no room for reality to creep in.

i was just talking about this with a friend today. we concluded that it works like this...

we are hardwired to snap to a particular type of attention when presented with tragedy or emergency, it's absolutely not an intellectual or contemplative state of mind, it's too adrenalised for that, just as someone mentioned here a few days ago, evolution does not favour those whose response to a mastodon attack is thoughtful rumination.

so we respond to the media's incessant predispostions and proclivities to harp on the negative by shutting down areas of our brains and allowing this sad parade of pain to raise our subliminal level of angst, which then makes us crave release through hoovering up more media, a vicious cycle that can only be broken by letting go and re-merging back into a premediated state.

it's quite surprising how after a few days cut loose from the firehose, one's state of mind becomes more peaceful, one's senses of perspective and proportion are restored, and even one's relationship with time re-alters.

we are also hardwired to be attracted to novelty, our pattern recognition is tweaked by anything out of the ordinary, so to be better prepared for potentially fatal surprises.

the media, especially teevee, is the hearth around which our minds crouch passively, gazing into its plasma for the flickers of meaning that once we would harvest from contemplating the fires that warmed and nourished us for millennia.

if people don't free themselves from this passive hypnosis and back off enough to see the forest, not the trees, unmediated reality becomes as intolerable as civvy street to many war veterans, the nervous system does not ratchet down as easily as it ratchets up, better to be a little neurotically jumpy, than dead meat...

this self-perpetuating tightening of the spiral had let us to the the brittle, jerky, glassy-eyed puppet people who shrilly tabulate the day's tragedies, new levels of epic monstrosity, swiftly followed by tidbits of equally epic banality, all served up with a chilling, vapid lack of any sense of appropriate juxtapositioning, genocides along with a side salad of stupid dog tricks, crashing economies tossed casually with croutons of kibbled trivia and sports scores, all schizoid fodder, grist for the phantasmagoria mill.

increasingly deskilled in human relations that don't have concrete agendas, we turn to the familiar, unjudgemental company of the toob, which faithfully squeezes out society's zits for our perusal, our jacked, jaded nervous systems accumulating more accretions of corrosive factoids as our brains become ever more stupified by the lowest common denominator amongst us, presented as titillating nonsense, while real life is going by as if in another dimension.

to observe it dispassionately, and try to better it are the most difficult challenges we face as a society, right up there with food and shelter.

blogs are the best aid to interactive discrimination we have right now.

sorry for the length...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 06:15:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...genocides along with a side salad of stupid dog tricks, crashing economies tossed casually with croutons of kibbled trivia and sports scores, all schizoid fodder, grist for the phantasmagoria mill.

Brilliant, melo. ET is on a roll at the moment.


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 06:03:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
AP via Google: Massive Hurricane Ike ravages southeast Texas
A massive Hurricane Ike ravaged southeast Texas early Saturday, battering the coast with driving rain and ferocious wind gusts as residents who decided too late they should have heeded calls to evacuate made futile calls for rescue.

Though it would be daybreak before the storm's toll was clear, already, the damage was extensive. Thousands of homes and government buildings had flooded, roads were washed out and several fires burned unabated as crews could not reach them. But the biggest fear was that tens of thousands of people had defied orders to flee and would need to be rescued from submerged homes and neighborhoods.

"The unfortunate truth is we're going to have to go in ... and put our people in the tough situation to save people who did not choose wisely. We'll probably do the largest search and rescue operation that's ever been conducted in the state of Texas," said Andrew Barlow, spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry.



A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 08:24:02 AM EST
update:
Wilson Shaffer, chief of the National Weather Service's evaluation division, said the storm surge was smaller than predicted, but the region wasn't out of the clear as the storm continued on its path. The highest surge Saturday morning was about 13.5 feet at Sabine Pass in Texas, according to tidal gauges. The surge at Galveston was 11 feet, about half of what was predicted.

Forecasters had warned that the surge could reach 25 feet, which would have been the highest in recorded history in Texas, above 1961's Hurricane Carla, a storm that brought a 22-foot wall of water.



A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 10:22:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a case to be made in some areas for remaining at home during a hurricane, but for those barrier islands like Galvestan staying is a non-starter.

My parents live about 30 miles inland from Dauphin Island and have weathered numerous hurricanes over the past 50 years including one direct hit in 1979. Following the direct hit by hurricane Frederic (see ref for photos) which they rode out, my father vowed never to remain through another one. He said the wind sounded like a freight train all night long.  Every house in town was damaged.  All needed completely new roofing and virtually every tree on his property and that of his neighbors was uprooted. Luckily none fell on his house, but the neighbor across the street wasn't so lucky.  A huge old pine flattened his roof.

Unfortunately time is not an ally of good judgement and they have remainded through several near misses since Frederic.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 11:25:21 AM EST
It's nothing new, though.  People have been doing hurricane parties in stupid places forever.

Usually it's people who don't quite understand what's coming at them.  Yuppies from the Midwest and the West who are too stupid to look at the television screen and think, "That big storm.  Big storm eat Krog.  Krog leave now."

One would've hoped Katrina had solved that problem, but, no, they'll simply think the death and destruction of Katrina was the result of NOLA being below sea level and all those Negroes refusing to go to their "summer homes" on higher ground.

The people in the bars in Galveston are probably dead.  They didn't have to be.  And any who survived after staying voluntarily -- as opposed to not having the ability, physical or financial, to leave -- have put the emergency personnel at risk needlessly and should be thrown in jail, quite honestly.

But, yes, the psychotic news is probably damaging, too.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 06:40:09 PM EST
And any who survived after staying voluntarily -- as opposed to not having the ability, physical or financial, to leave -- have put the emergency personnel at risk needlessly and should be thrown in jail, quite honestly

What are the legal implications of a mandatory evacuation order?

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 08:08:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no idea, since I've never lived in an evacuation zone.  I doubt there are any, at least in practice.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 08:32:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Baltimore Sun: 'People didn't leave'
By some estimates, as many as 140,000 of the nearly 1million residents ordered to leave low-lying areas along the coast elected to stay and brave the storm. Angry officials said their refusal to leave endangered rescue crews now tasked with using high-water vehicles, boats and helicopters to locate and retrieve stranded residents.

"There was a mandatory evacuation, and people didn't leave, and that is very frustrating because now we are having to deal with everybody who did not heed the order," said Steve LeBlanc, Galveston's city manager. "This is why we do it, and they had enough time to get out. It's just unfortunate that they decided to stay."

Perry said the state had mounted "the largest search-and-rescue capability in the history of Texas." LeBlanc estimated that perhaps 40 percent of Galveston's 157,000 residents ignored the evacuation order.

No, it's not just unfortunate. It's a clear case of moral hazard.

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 03:56:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Seems a bit silly to call it "mandatory" when it clearly is not.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 08:52:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A lot depends on whether you have some place to go.  

Trusting the government is a suckers game.  You may have no choice.  But in this century one is probably wiser to trust to the mercy of the hurricane.  

If you have friends or relatives, though--better to seek shelter with them.  

It also depends on many things--such as food and water.  If you are prepared to live many days with no markets, nothing coming out of the tap, no light and no power, that is very different than if you are not ready for these things.  A mistake can kill you very quickly.  

Will the roof blow off your house?  Living with no roof is surely miserable, but may not be fatal--IF you have thought it through.  

Most of the damage on the Gulf Coast seems to be water damage.  (Totally unlike the Bahamas.)

The key question:  How high will the water go?  At this point Galveston seems to have lucked out.  Between Galveston and Port Arthur is a different story, though.  Reportedly Sabine Pass is simply gone--which means anyone who tried to stay there is gone too.    

Getting drunk at a beach bar has GOT to be a bad plan--by any measure.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 08:24:16 PM EST
If you've got a lot of canned food and bottled water, and aren't within striking distance of the conservative estimates of storm surge, staying is fine.

I'm guessing, though, that the kind of person who goes to a bar in Galveston during a hurricane is not the kind of person bright enough to follow those rules (having already violated them on grounds of storm surge).

Sabine Pass is, fortunately, very small.  And, fortunately, there simply isn't that much between Galveston and Port Arthur.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 08:49:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, there is the Houston ship channel.  Fortunately, the eye went almost directly over Galveston, so the worst of the winds and surge hit Port Arthur.  Had the hurricane hit about 25 miles south of Galveston, we might have gotten the 20'+ storm surge in the bay and channel.  That was where they thought it was going when they issued the warnings about 20'+ storm surges.  Small shifts can make big differences.  Hope not too many people draw the wrong lesions here.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 11:32:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fortunately, TS Ike appears to be headed just far enough west of my location in north central AR to spare us the worst. Knock on wood.  We did have tornado warnings with the suspect clouds passing `20 miles on either side of us.  Warning sirens and everything.  Glad of wunderground.com.  I can get real time tracking of serious storms so I don't have to overreact.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 11:36:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Trusting the government is a suckers game.  You may have no choice.  But in this century one is probably wiser to trust to the mercy of the hurricane.

This reminded me of a passage in Naomi Kleins The Shock Doctrine. It is a description of how many who fled from the 2004 Tsunami later was prevented form returning to their homes, the land (beachfront property!) instead being expropriated to corporations as part of "reform" packages.

Looters comes in different forms and seizes.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 05:24:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The death toll will be low, though.

The national weather service used the phrase "certain death" in their last bulletin in which leaving was still an option. The media seized the phrase, and I doubt anyone wasn't aware.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 11:35:11 PM EST
LLoyds DJ feed

"We are seeing more extensive damage," said David Caplan, a spokesman for Entergy, who estimated it could take more than three weeks to completely restore power to customers.

CenterPoint Energy Inc. (CNP), which delivers power to most of the Houston area, said 2.1 million of its 2.26 million customers were without power. The company's high-voltage power grid suffered damage as well. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's power grid, said 95 transmission lines in CenterPoint's territory had been disabled by the storm.  ...
Getting power back following Ike will be essential to restart oil refineries, many of which shut down ahead of Ike but appear to have suffered little damage from the storm. The U.S. Department of Energy estimated Friday that 3.55 million barrels a day of refining capacity in the Gulf has been shut in, or more than 20% of nationwide capacity of 17.6 million barrels a day.

The Colonial Pipeline (Houston - NY) was closed down Friday, 12 Sep, ahead of Ike's landfall.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 09:32:44 AM EST
I'd like to know what proportion of the people staying behind had-or didn't have-insurance.

And I'd like to see that compared to the figure for people who left.

Looting is always a big fear in this situation.  I remember when we (in Peterborough, UK) had our "century floods" in 1998, the flooded area was patrolled by police and security guards 24 hours a day.

That's not going to happen in a more widespread area-and one where, moreover, the lives of emergency services personnel would be put at risk by remaining.

But to anyone hanging on by their fingernails in a you-are-what-you-own society, (where manhood is measured in a different kind of inches), staying behind to protect your on-credit widescreen TV can start to look like a different kind of self-preservation.

Isn't it usually those with the most precarious status within the herd who risk the most to maintain it?

by Sassafras on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 10:08:49 AM EST
Looting is overstated after hurricanes.  That goes back to Katrina.  The right-wing used the video footage of looting as a means to distracting people from the unbelievable failure of the federal government.  It allowed the racist pigs to get angry with NOLA residents after it became clear no one was sympathizing with their "Why didn't they evacuate?" line (by then we were all well-acquainted with the extent of poverty in the city and could see clearly that blaming the victims on the evacuation was ridiculous).

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 10:33:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sure you're right.

However, when it comes to motivating fears, the perception matters more than the reality.

It's just an idea thrown into the mix, really.  But I would really like to see figures that show whether there's any correlation between insurance cover and the decision to stay.

by Sassafras on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 11:06:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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