Tag Archives: disasters

Murder Hornets? Really?

Remember the opening from the 1980s Flash Gordon, where the villain has a dashboard with buttons labeled with various disasters? He used it like a sound effects board: Press the Earthquake button and it would trigger an earthquake. Press the Hurricane button and trigger a hurricane. Press the freaking Hot Hail button and it would trigger a fiery hailstorm. (seriously).

I kinda feel like “Murder Hornets” is another button on that patch board.

For what it’s worth, the Smithsonian has a more…measured take on them: No, Americans Do Not Need to Panic About ‘Murder Hornets’

The Asian giant hornet, seen for the first time in North America in 2019, is unlikely to murder you or U.S. bees, according to Smithsonian entomologist

Recycling the News

The practice of recycling old news articles still throws me off at times. For instance: here are two recent LA Times articles using big disasters as springboards to talk about possible giant earthquake scenarios in California. They start out talking about the Houston flooding from Harvey and yesterday’s quake in Mexico, then segue into Los Angeles disaster planning. By the end, they’ve segued into the same text. I was reading today’s and thinking, “I just read this, recently.” A ten-second search turned up the older article.

It’s not plagiarism. It’s the same reporter at the same newspaper. It’s basically the equivalent of stock footage, and it’s hardly the only example. It’s probably not even a new practice, just a lot easier to find now that everything’s online and searchable.

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In a word

I’m thinking of a word. The definition is “a feeling of shock, sadness, compassion and sometimes guilty relief in response to a disaster that happens somewhere else.” It’s not “horror,” “rage,” pity,” or “sympathy.” It could be German in origin. It’s what a good chunk of the world felt after last year’s tsunami, and it’s what a goodly number of Americans are feeling now about Hurricane Katrina.

And it doesn’t exist.

People are good at making up words. The variety of creations added to the OED each year, and the number of suggestions that are rejected, prove that beyond a doubt. We even make up words without meaning to, running together utterances like “bighuge” and “goaheadand.” We have a word—emo—for “loud, emotionally charged pop-punk music.” Some of us know the word schadenfreude and aren’t afraid to use it. If we can encapsulate stuff like this, we should be able to pick a word or two to define the enhanced survivors’ guilt and horrific fascination, laced with uncharacteristic compassion, gripping so many of us.

So far, we haven’t.

Disasters happen all the time, and always have. We’re just getting better at broadcasting them all. Before the age of telegraph and radio, it was often too late to send rescue-type aid by the time bad news arrived. Today, we can get the news in an instant, but the majority of us are simply unable to give the kind of aid—airlifts, rebuilding, law and order—we perceive as most meaningful. We are isolated by distance and circumstance, so we send money, and watch, and hope. The more we are able to watch, the more we need a word for what’s making us watch. So everybody who’s working on the projects for how to write “whole nother” and finding the modern negative of “used to,” you have a new assignment. Due date: next disaster.

Bringing out the best and the worst

It wasn’t enough for scum-sucking leeches to kidnap, defraud, rob, and rape survivors of last week’s tsunami. No, they have to go after victims’ families abroad. Sweden won’t release the names of hundreds of missing Swedes for fear that thieves will target their homes. Fake charities are springing up to siphon off donations. And one man inexplicably spammed worried family members “confirming” that their missing loved ones were dead.

Fortunately this isn’t the whole story. The outpouring of aid to stricken areas has been incredible. $350 million from the US government alone, not counting private donations, a staggering $500 million from Japan, with worldwide relief efforts reportedly reaching $2 billion. Doctors Without Borders has received enough donations to cover everything they expect to be able to do in the area, and are asking people to donate to their general fund instead, to help relieve other humanitarian crises. And there’s talk of both building a warning system in the Indian Ocean and improving the system in the Pacific [archive.org]. Robert Cringely has even suggested harnessing the Internet as a warning system, though in this case, many of the hardest-hit areas were still missing lines of communication.

Here’s a list of charities at MeyerWeb and the original at CNN.