The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Reply to a Blog (Today, January 11, 2005)

This is in response to one of Taran's blog entries at - it may have been a rhetorical question he asked, but it demanded an answer from me, and I may as well share it here. I have been stunned by world events, and have been quiet here whilst I gathered my thoughts. Well, they are gathered (to date)

...and where the hell am I, and what am I doing in this handbasket?

unprose | 01/11/2005 - 13:24 | Here's Why...

You asked why warning systems were not in place before the Tsunami struck, and I can only shake my head. Like the 9/11 tragedy in the US, like the mudslides in California - no one could imagine such a thing. Sure, we know of the existence of natural disasters and those caused by humans. We also know we have the technology to warn people when such danger is imminent. The two do not collide until disaster strikes. No one could have imagined the disasters in any of those incidents. It just isn't in our minds, because each is something completely out of our experience, or out of our historical knowledge. No matter what the technology, the application does not become clear until hindsight directs it.

Like the aftermath of 9/11, we will set up systems and information centers that will predict and warn of -- exactly what has just happened in the Indian Ocean. We don't know to set our technology to use any other way. Unfortunately, tsunamis are not identical, any more than the next mudslide or the next terrorist attack. Earthquakes are trackable, and sometimes forseeable. Where the land can no longer take the onslaught of the elements is predictable. In the US we have areas labeled "flood plain" and it is reasonable to expect that flooding will occur there; warnings are taken seriously, and floods have become predictable in that area. Human nature is not predictable, especially when cultures do not see past themselves to understand other cultures. Human ingenuity is not predictable, either. All in all, the situation reminds me of an (thankfully defunct) insurance company I knew that did its underwriting at the time a claim was made.

What should have been available is the sort of information the Florida telephone books have: a grid of the area covered by that phone book showing evacuation areas, routes and codes - A, B, C - as many as necessary - in the event of a hurricane and storm surge. Each municipality should have had this in place so that after the earthquake the areas at risk would receive the alert to evacuate. That such an evacuation alert would have come in time is questionable, but certainly some people could have made it to safety with such a warning that did not.

And Another Thing

What I am reading now saddens me still further - accounts of cultures clashing, of greed, of con-men, of those who deface the dead in search of whatever treasures can be taken from bodies by whatever means it takes - cutting off hands for bangles, fingers for rings. I had idealistically hoped everyone would band together, sing Kumbyah, and help one another, but I am reading reports of thievery, of supplies and food being stolen to be sold rather than given to those in need. We hear of children being stolen and sold into dispicable slavery. There are still class distinctions, tribal (and non-tribal) distinctions, and everywhere a sea of need.

It is hard for me - and I imagine many like me - safe in our US homes and way of life - to know what it is really like to lose all that one owns, every coffee cup, every patch of weeds we call our own. These people have absolutely nothing - yet each, in so many instances I have read, become selfish, and critical of what help there is. I suppose this is because many afflicted have no idea how widespread the damage has been, how thinly spread the governments and volunteer aids from around the world really are. And, too, the mentality of one who has lost everything may well be to hold closely to himself whatever he can claim as his own - or what is due him, what is necessary to survive. Having nothing, surviving shifts from being one day at a time to thinking a week at a time, maybe, a month, or even a year is his only security. Multiply that by thousands.

The Indian Ocean Tsunami will not even begin to be healed soon. I ache at the faces the news reporters send us. It is an absolute disaster, as in perfect, complete, whole (Webster's New World Dictionary of American English, Third College Edition) and as such, recovery will take generations and decades.


The world is stunned. I know I am not the only one. Each of us does what he/she can do to help in whatever way he/she can. It is what makes us human.



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