Friday, September 09, 2005

Bush Takes the Over, Muttering, "I'm Getting *Something* Out of This."

I suppose I should be encouraged that my Google search for the existence of the opportunity to place an over/under bet on the number of NO dead resulted in no hits.

That was shame-facedly done. Still, there was a point there. It wasn't just a manifestation of professional callousness, the kind you are supposed to affect if you are a journalist. Though let's be honest: In this tragedy, some of the best moments came when the "objective" facade of reporters on the scene cracked and fell away and they showed the pain they felt. Their lapses would have meant nothing if their default setting had not been dispassion and distance.

But I do think it is reasonable to note that initial predictions of the number of dead do trend high, as I am far from the first to say. I recall the famous SF Chronicle headline after the '89 earthquake -- 'Hundreds of Dead' or words to that effect. It's all a form of butt covering of course. The immediate desire to minimize culpability drives the low estimate. On the other end, revulsion at the apologists, plus the natural hyperbole of those plunged, perhaps for the first time in their lives, into catastrophe plus the simple fact in an odd way underestimating the scale of a disaster suggests disrespect for those who suffer -- all contribute to the issuing of predictions most dire.

In the end, I think the long-term political damage comes most probably from seeming to underestimate the death toll. All that said the over/under is 4,500. But I'm making a point. I'm not covering any bets.

Addendum: And here's Jimmy Wolcott getting all smart and stuff about the numbers game. And, goddess please forgive me, my friend Deep Iron -- for he is the deepest in irony I know and it's difficult to pin him down to what he really thinks so hard, so icy, so clever, so cynical is his heart -- is confident no more than 500 died in New Orleans. I had to take the over.

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