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Samizdata quote of the day

As I mentioned earlier, the TV networks are giving this wall-to-wall coverage. TJ Holmes on CNN is repeatedly calling it a “monster storm”, and everyone is desperately trying not to mention that it has been downgraded to a category one hurricane, the weakest category in the Saffir-Simoson hurricane scale.

The politicians are falling over themselves to be seen to be doing something. The president, Barack Obama, called it a “historic” hurricane yesterday and has returned to the White House a day early from his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. He is desperate to avoid the mistakes of George Bush, who was slow to act over Hurricane Katrina.

Here in New York, mayor Bloomberg was slammed over his slow response to the big snow dump last year. City Hall is at the end of my street – they’ve been up all night there, co-ordinating the response to this.

Hurricane Irene is political, as well as meteorological.

Matthew Wells

44 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Andrew

    Amazing how a storm that might hit the north-east population belt is more important than those that regularly clobber those inbred hicks in the south.

  • Hurricane Irene is political, as well as meteorological.

    Meteorology has long been taken over by politics, so has medicine. Paleontology seems to be next in line.

  • llamas

    Andrew wrote:

    ‘Amazing how a storm that might hit the north-east population belt is more important than those that regularly clobber those inbred hicks in the south.’

    Hammer, meet nail. Nail, this is hammer.

    And specifically – New York, and the places where opinion-forming New Yorkers have their costly vacation homes, like, oh, let’s say – Martha’s Vineyard?

    And even-more directly – when the storm threatens places with high numbers of Democratic voters. Then, it’s a disaster.

    Watch for the usual suspects to take advantage. Let Indian Point go off-line as a safety precaution, and we’ll hear them howl about the coming nuclear Armaggedon and how we were just seconds from a meltdown.

    It’s weakeing by the minute. I suspect that we will end up with what amounts to an exceptionally wet weekend in Weehawken, where everyone has to play Monopoly by candle-light. Oh, the humanity . . . . !

    llater,

    llamas

  • Laird

    I don’t know if it’s political as much as economic. The 24-hour news stations (CNBC, Fox, Weather Channel. etc.) have a financial interest in ginning up public interest in this story (as they do in any emergency or story which captures the public interest: witness the Casey Anthony murder trial a month ago). Sensationalism sells, and the media (especially the broadcast media) will latch onto whatever happens to be the crisis du jour and milk it for all it’s worth. They don’t need politicians for that.

    And politicians trying to make hay out of natural disasters like this one walk a fine line. They’re pilloried if they are seen as under-reacting (as with Bush and Katrina), but they’re ridiculed if they over-react. Back in the ’70s the Governor of West Virginia preemptively closed down the state (offices, schools, etc.) in advance of a major blizzard which never materialized. He was still being ridiculed for it decades later.

    Incidentally, I own a beach house on a barrier island in New Jersey that’s directly in the path of this hurricane. Since I actually live 500 miles away from there it’s nice to have all this news coverage so I can track the storm’s progress and effects.

  • I don’t know if it’s political as much as economic.

    Same thing. I do agree with you about ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’ though – that’s just another reason why emergency services should be private, and why it should be up to individuals whether to evacuate or not etc.

  • RAB

    If we knew you were coming we’d have baked a cake…

    Not a bad idea really, and cover it with candles. Let’s see if Irene can even blow them out ;-)

    Spot of music while we’re waiting?

  • Laird

    Whose version of “Good Night Irene” is that? I can’t tell.

    Incidentally, the accompanying film clip is from “The Day After Tomorrow.” I always watch the beginning of that movie for that scene. The rest of it I usually skip, but that huge wave is magnificent.

  • ragingnick

    apparently hurricanes are only important if they are going to hit the blue states.

    remember how the whole country rallied the new yorks side after 9/11? – you can guarantee that had terrorists hit the south that the blue states would have ignored it – they would have been too busy with their fashion shows and ‘culture’ to bother with ordinary people

  • Nonsense, ragingnick. No one ignored Oklahoma City, for example (and yes, everyone blamed Arabs in the beginning).

  • RAB

    No Idea Laird, certainly not Leadbelly.

    No they are not ignoring it ragingnick, on the contrary, they appear to exaggerating it out of all proportion, to make themselves look cool and in control.

    This level of of Hurricane is considered a bit of a high breeze in Tornado and Hurricane prone States.

  • Dale Amon

    A bit of light rain north of DC along the Potomac. Nothing spectacular or even notable as a storm so far.

  • Alasdair Robinson

    I hear this regularly, that George Bush was slow to react to Katrina. What people seem to forget that the Federal government doesn’t have a heck of lot to do with natural disasters. It’s an issue for the States, until they request federal assistance.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Sorry Alisa but Oklahoma City is hardly the South.

  • Laird

    Where exactly do you think it is, Vinegar Joe?

  • Devilbunny

    Laird –

    I’d call it Great Plains; some might call it western or midwestern. The whole reason it has that panhandle is that the land was above the 36°30′ parallel and thus had to be excluded from Texas, the slave state.

  • I have a different take on the political implications of this storm. I live in Rhode Island, next to Connecticut and below Massachusetts. We get one of these small storms every half decade or so. But the response this time is ridiculous. My state had already declared a state of emergency by Saturday afternoon! (This wont be anything as dreadful as a good winter blizzard). We’ve had phone calls warning us of potential evacuation and mailers telling us we may have to seek shelter. The government is ALL over this. Parts of NY have been forcibly evacuated. The only conclusion I can draw based on decades of witnessing these wimpy summer storms on the Northeast is that (a) the political class has completely lost it or (b) the political class has completely lost it. Either they’re hyperparanoid about a disaster that will not occur, or more ominously, this is a dry run for a real disaster. If (a) or (b) they want to be sure they can handle a real world scenario of Marshall Law on the East coast. Either implication is unhappy to contemplate. IOW, the political class is preparing the population for potentially draconian instructions from on high. To get the Pavlovian response you have to train the sheep. When the real disaster comes (hint: economic in origin) it wont be meteorlogical.

  • andyinsdca

    One of the downsides (upside?) is that when this turns out to be the Al Capone’s Vault of weather events, the next time a hurricane or other disaster is COMING RIGHT FOR US, people will be very skeptical and tell the pols to bugger off.

  • Yes Vinegar Joe, it’s in the Midwest, I know that – the point is that the glitterati in NYC ragingnick was referring to don’t. But OK, you would agree that NO, LA is The South? Was Katrina ignored by that same media ragingnick is attacking (not that there aren’t other things to attack it for)? I mean really, the Left is nasty enough as it is, no need for hyperbole to make it seem even nastier.

  • I’m inclined to agree with xenophon’s different take.

  • Edward King

    From what I’m seeing of the effect in NYC, it doesn’t look any different from what happened when the city caught the back end of Ivan in 2004 when I was there. Raining stairrods, 100% humidity, blowing a bit, subway shut from floods; big deal. Ivan was Cat 5 of course, big as they get, while Irene’s only a Cat 1. Barely a hurricane at all.

  • Gareth

    This is a beneficial crisis for the statist urge to displace private self-reliance. It is also a case of the generals fighting the last war.(Bloomberg – last winter. Obama – Bush’s perceived slowness over Katrina.)

  • RickC

    And yet, Bloomberg and co. still seem incompetent at best.

    http://pajamasmedia.com/eddriscoll/2011/08/27/pretzel-logic-2/

    In short: Bloomberg orders evacuation of 370,000+ on Friday, closes down mass transit on Saturday. Genius.

    From comments:
    Bloomberg insists that you use government mass transit, works mightily to ensure that’s the only means of transportation you have, then orders you to evacuate, then takes away said government mass transit so you can’t evacuate.

  • RAB

    I agree Alisa. It is always valuable for the State to see how fast the populace jump when the Fear levers are pulled. But if this turns out to be the damp squib that most of us here think it is, people will be thinking they are crying wolf next time.

    If it is Economic next time Xenophon, I’d love to see them try and evacuate low lying areas of New York for fear of being flooded by Quantitative Easing, wouldn’t you? :-)

  • RickC

    Oh, and as to the media treatment of Irene, nothing new. E.B. White, the great American writer, wrote an hilarious essay on the media (radio) coverage of a hurricane making it’s way up the eastern U. S. coast back in his day. Can’t remember the title, sorry. I remember he comes to the conclusion that the reporters’ voices betray a sense of disappointment when the disaster fails to materialize.

    My wife and I talk about this every time we watch The Weather Channel’s coverage of storms here in the U.S. One gets the distinct impression that they are disappointed when a storm comes up short in ferocity and carnage. Maybe it’s just us though.

  • Laird

    I agree that Xenophon’s take on this is worth considering. Certainly Bloomberg is both a power-mad would-be tyrant (he’s Vladimir Putin writ small) and thoroughly incompetent. But that doesn’t mean this storm was a non-issue. It’s only a “small storm” (Xenophon’s phrase) when you get as far north as the safety of Rhode Island. From Florida through the Carolinas these storms can be deadly serious. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo did massive amounts of damage in Charleston, SC, and killed several dozen people. The Outer Banks in NC jut out into the Atlantic and regularly take the brunt of these storms. In 1962, the little town where I have my beach house saw fully 60% of the houses completely destroyed (many washed out to sea without leaving a stick behind), and the ocean cut a channel clear through the island directly in front of my house. So while I don’t dispute that the news media love this sort of story and hype it for all it’s worth, and that politicians compete to see who can do the best impression of a headless chicken, none of that takes away from the fact that these storms are deadly serious and deserve very careful monitoring and public warning. An ounce of prevention and all that.

    This actually is a real news story (not like much of the tripe which fills up the typical news day), directly affecting the lives of a hundred million people. It deserves extensive media coverage.

  • No, what xenophon actually said is that disasters in the flyover country don’t get covered by the MSM – which could not be further from the truth.

  • Kristopher

    The August 2011 Earthquake and Hurricane Irene.

    We will rebuild!

    ( Jebus, what a bunch of Bos-Wash nancy-boys …. get back to me when it turns on DC and gives us a real body count )

  • jdm

    No, what xenophon actually said is that disasters in the flyover country don’t get covered by the MSM – which could not be further from the truth.

    Disasters in the Midwest (and South) don’t get covered as energetically by the MSM. It’s just a fact. The MSM doesn’t live here. They don’t care and they assume no one else (that they know) does either.

    There are exceptions to this. If there is something “interesting” (aka newsworthy) about the disaster, the energy level rises. If an earthquake occurs outside the usual earthquake areas, that’s newsworthy. Lots of deaths, huge amounts of damage are newsworthy. Also, if it is possible to use the disaster to score political points, the energy level rises (“right-wing terror” like McVeigh or “right-wing incompetence” like Bush’s FEMA during Katrina are perfect examples).

    I’m in the Midwest and I can tell you there is no recent disaster here that that has been covered like Irene. Yesterday, when we had NBC’s evening news on, the excessive coverage actually got to be annoying and we turned the channel. And as I recall, at that point in time, Irene hadn’t even hit the NY-NJ area yet.

  • And as I recall, at that point in time, Irene hadn’t even hit the NY-NJ area yet.

    Didn’t you just make my point for me right there, jdm?

    If there is something “interesting” (aka newsworthy) about the disaster, the energy level rises. If an earthquake occurs outside the usual earthquake areas, that’s newsworthy. Lots of deaths, huge amounts of damage are newsworthy. Also, if it is possible to use the disaster to score political points, the energy level rises

    Yes, and water is wet, shock and horror. None of this demonstrates that NYC (where most of the MSM are located – except for one minor player sitting smack in the middle of Atlanta) disasters are covered with any more hype than the rest of the country. Oklahoma City bombing was all over the news well before it became known that it was domestic terrorism, Katrina was all over MSM well before it even reached NO itself, let alone well before Bush had “blundered”. Sorry and nothing personal, but this is utter nonsense.

  • I’m in the Midwest and I can tell you there is no recent disaster here that that has been covered like Irene.

    I lived in the Midwest for several years, and I know as well as you do that tornadoes and floods are as common in the summer as mosquitoes are. You can hardly expect the media (or anyone else) to be as excited by these as by a relatively rare possibility of a hurricane reaching Manhattan. Really, there are enough real issues to be pissed about with MSM, no need to make stuff up.

  • jdm

    Didn’t you just make my point for me right there, jdm?

    Actually, no – I’m just a bad writer. Apart from the news reports detailing the horrors about to descend on NY-NJ, the remainder of the reports were about the prep taking place in NY-NJ.

    In point of fact, I was trying to split the difference between the assertion of Midwest disasters not being covered at all and them being covered as if they were in the MSM’s backyard. That’s why I used the descriptor/qualifier energetically. So maybe it’s no surprise to you, but I thought I’d describe a “physics” of what is newsworthy, why it remains so, and in consequence how much energy is spent covering the item/event.

  • OK, but do you see my point?:-)

  • jdm

    I’ll see yours, if you see mine ;-)

  • Jacob

    Laird said:
    “This actually is a real news story (not like much of the tripe which fills up the typical news day), directly affecting the lives of a hundred million people. It deserves extensive media coverage.”

    It’s true.
    Add 4 or 5 million people without power for several days.
    It is a big story. The media covered it correctly. Bloomberg acted hysterical. The media covered that too. No media problem here.

  • Well, I just got back online after 46 hours with no electric. (I have a generator for the essentials, but that doesn’t include my computer and modem.)

    So it wasn’t exactly a minor storm. That having been said, the media were still hysterical in their coverage.

  • Richard Thomas

    Not to say much either way, just to mention that a couple of years ago, the mid-TN area suffered severe flooding, bridges out, homes lost, school buildings floating down the interstate and the national media made hardly a mention and the dear prez didn’t even mention it until a couple of days later.

  • Laird

    Not to denigrate the significance of that event, Richard, but it was very localized. Irene directly affected 1/3 of the population of the country. There is a difference.

  • Are we having some cases of disaster-envy complex on display here – or is it just a pis…er, raining contest? [ducking under the table for fear of a storm in a teapot…]

  • Richard Thomas

    Laird, no doubt Irene itself had more potential for impact but the issue is proportionality. The TN flooding was a pretty significant thing (though given the media response, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise).

    I wouldn’t say that the coverage for Irene was particularly out-of-line (though once I heard it had landed in the Carolinas, it was fairly clear that anything in NY would be a non-event) but there is definitely disproportionality with events away from media bases. Even Katrina was only an exception to the rule because of the political anglea and because looting always makes for a good story.

  • Laird

    There probably is “disproportionality with events away from media bases”, but Irene is not an illustration of it. And massive flooding, loss of electricity for 2+ days, etc., is hardly a “non-event”.

  • I wouldn’t say that the coverage for Irene was particularly out-of-line

    I would, and I say this as one of the people who had no electric for 46 hours.

    There was terrible panic-mongering going on by the national media, particularly the folks at The Weather Channel; every time Irene weakened, there was this subtext of “don’t think that’s a good thing, because we know it’s going to get stronger again”. And when it didn’t get stronger, one of their on-air people said that a colleague lamented the “category” system of rating the strength of hurricanes, because it meant that people wouldn’t take a Category 1 storm seriously (this after they’d been screaming for days about how it was going to be a Category 3). It was panic-mongering with little useful information.

    It wasn’t until about Friday afternoon that I was finally able to get some real information from the weatherman on one of the local TV stations out of Albany, whose forecast included a chart of how much rain the area was going to get, and how strong we could expect the highest wind gusts to be. Now, it turned out that both estimates were a bit off: the hurrican tracked further west than expected and only the wind strength decreased quickly, so that we had weaker winds but a lot more rain.

  • Even Katrina was only an exception to the rule because of the political angle and because looting always makes for a good story.

    Not as a news event it wasn’t, because it was widely covered even before it hit NO. After that it did become an exceptional news story, because the events that followed (looting and the rest) were, in fact, exceptional.