Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Spill So Far

Jonah Goldberg objects to claims that the Deepwater Horizon disaster is "Obama's Katrina," on the grounds that Katrina wasn't that big a deal, and this spill probably won't be that big a deal either, when you look at it from the Historical Perspective (i.e., the point at which it stops being news and we all go back to worrying about celebrity sexaholism).

The only similarity, really, is that the media are getting people all upset for no good reason, just like they did back then.

Many outlets reported that rape gangs were rampant in New Orleans, that snipers were keeping the feds at bay, that the Superdome was littered with rotting bodies, that poor black people were left to die in disproportionate numbers. None of that was true....
Indeed. Poor black people were left to die in proportionate numbers, which is a whole different thing. As for the Superdome, you definitely can't say it was "littered with rotting bodies," because only six people died and their bodies weren't in the building long enough to rot. Although I haven't actually checked the statistics, I have a hunch that more Americans die in the bathtub every single day. But would any of us seriously argue that bathing should be outlawed? Besides hippies, I mean? Of course not.

Goldberg, you will recall, was the funny fellow who advised hurricane refugees in the Superdome to "hoard weapons, grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents." (I hasten to add that he wouldn't approve of calling them "refugees," because to do so would be to "sanctify them" with "victim status"; we need to save our sorrow and pity for people who deserve it, like Augusto Pinochet.)

Bygones, though. We were all a little upset back then, thanks to the media, and we all said things we didn't mean, or meant things we didn't say, or something. Now we have an oil slick to worry about, so it's time to stop worrying and put things in perspective. The spill is pretty big, area-wise. But who knows how deep it is, depth-wise? Suppose it's only a couple of...uh....micrometers thick and the whole thing would fit in a swimming pool or two?
Estimates of how much oil has been spilled have varied wildly, in part because satellite imaging is great at capturing the "sheen" from a spill but not so good at measuring its thickness. Even if the higher estimates turn out to be true, the spill so far is relatively minor in size compared with others in history.
Yes, even if the spill continues to get bigger, it's relatively minor so far. Hell, the Valdez spill wasn't that dramatic either, compared to lots of other disastrous oil spills. Let's keep things in perspective! Saddam Hussein dumped anywhere from 2 to 500 million barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf (views differ!), and all it did was kill a bunch of animals and plants and affect the regional economy in ways that are difficult to quantify and therefore irrelevant.

The point is, the sky didn't fall. And isn't that what really matters? Disasters are inevitable, but the future will remain bright so long as we refuse to learn from them.


PatriotPaul said...

Wow, I had never heard of this Jonah Goldberg. I was a So. Calif. tourist trapped in the Superdome. The Airport, Amtrak, and Greyhound all shut down 1 day prior to the evacuation and 2 days before Katrina so for many there was no escape.

We believed all the rumors of rapes and murders, but like you say they were merely rumors. Fear is an incredibly powerful emotion that governments and religious organizations have learned to control the people, not that in our case there was a conscious effort to do so.

Paul Harris
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

Phila said...

Wow, I had never heard of this Jonah Goldberg.

I envy you!

charley said...

I envy you!

you are a funny guy phila.