Sunday, December 28, 2003

death all over the place

Iraqi rebels kill at least thirteen and wound hundreds.

We've got mudslides in California, which seem to have claimed at least seven lives.

The earthquake death toll estimate in the unfortunately-named Iranian city of Bam has risen in 48 hours from an already-staggering 5,000 to a crushing 20,000 to a completely numbing 40,000.

Let's put this in perspective. I went to a suburban high school that had, in 1987, about 1,700 students. There are 23 high schools in my home county (Fairfax County), and they're all fairly comparable in size. Imagine every single student erased. That'd be about 40,000 people.

What makes this so nightmarish is that this is the opposite of the downturn that casualty estimates took in the 9/11 disaster. Estimates began with exaggerated speculation-- remember hearing that the terrorists might have killed well over 10,000 people? In the end, that number was reduced by more than half. My point isn't that 3-4,000 deaths are somehow "less tragic" than a speculative 10,000 deaths; rather, it's that we can expect our citizens and authorities to work in concert, face a grim task, and not give in to initial hysteria. The numbers came down as we got a clearer picture of the situation.

In Iran, it appears to be the opposite: the more we learn, the more grim the situation appears. I hope the estimates there also take a downturn. I remember a quake in Turkey that claimed 15,000 lives, and one in Kobe, Japan that killed around 5,000. These are staggering figures.

Terra firma, forsooth.

Good Christ, an avalanche in Utah.

Death is part of life, but that's little comfort when it visits us as tragedy-- sudden, unexpected. Life is fragile and impermanent; it's important, therefore, to treasure every moment. Not a profound sentiment, I realize, but one that sticks with you over the years because you know it's as simple and obvious as breathing.

GIBBERING THANATOS UPDATE: The mad cow's purchase has been traced to Canada. Will American beef remain banned? Will people cynically assume we're merely trying to pin blame on other countries? The BBC says, "Hold on a minute!" and warns the US not to be too hasty in tracing the thrashing bovine to Canada.


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