Quote Of The Day

One morning’s natural calamity has delivered tens of thousands of new VICTIMS. Should we be surprised to see the casualty figures climbing rapidly, as we bid-up our collective transnational guilt? Cynically, bodies mean dollars right now.

The body count has grown in direct proportion to the ever-increasing promises of AID. In the same day that Colin Powell appeared on media defending MY country’s contributions and promising more, the body count climbed from 25,000 to 35,000. In the ensuing three days it seems the number has coalesced around 110,000, a four hundred percent increase from the initial reports. Add in the predicted deaths from typhus, cholera et al and we should just figure for a million plus dead.

It’s funny (in a “spooky” way – to quote Dame Edna) that countries have developed, overnight, an accurate census-taking capability when, even now, they don’t have roads, pharmaceuticals, or sewage treatment plants in their major, and uneffected cities.


Steve’s comment, left in response to Ginny’s post Borlaug & Egeland, has been echoing eerily in my ears these last few days as I’ve watched the ‘death toll’ skyrocketing in Indonesia and beyond. Perhaps I’m too cynical for my own good, but it appears to me that Natural Law is at work here: namely, when you reward something, you get more of it. In this case, body counts that are rising exponentially as each day passes. At current rates, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the entire population of Asia dead or homeless within a month.

It also seems Mr. Egeland’s comments have also had their intended effect. We now have Americans racing to ‘prove’ how generous they are and nations competing with one another to see who can provide the highest percentage of aid. Which brings me to another quote:

Generous deed should not be checked by cold counsel. ~Tolkien

Good advice, under the circumstances. Let’s provide all the aid we can, however suspicious the numbers are. The actual numbers aren’t important right now. People need food and clean water to drink. Bodies need to be gathered and buried. Many people are suddenly without homes. Let’s get those things taken care of. But let’s distribute the aid and help based on the experienced eyes and assessments of reliable organizations, not local bureaucrats, whom I trust not at all. They, I suspect, simply want control of as much of this money as they can get and as quickly as they can manage it. For them, this catastrophe is a windfall. For the bureaucrats, dead bodies are a cash crop.

And yes, I include the UN in that group.

35 thoughts on “Quote Of The Day”

  1. What appears to be thoughtful speculation argues the number is much higher than even now acknowledged. Aceh Province, according to Command Post, may reach 400,000. And Ranjr blog (via Instapundit) quotes observers who feel Burma’s number is considerably underreported (for the kind of political reasons that Korea didn’t report its famine)

  2. Micheal,
    Thanks for validating my concerns, even while reminding me of Tolkien’s words.

    I felt the chill of my words even as I wrote them. Your point on giving as much as we can is well taken. I lived for eight years in southern Sumatra during my childhood, and felt some shame for my own “cold counsel”.

    However, my point does still stand. Any critic of unchecked government Welfare can be tarred as “uncaring”, cold, and yes, cynical. Call me anithumanitarian or overly logical. I plead, “Two parts heart, three parts head.”

    My cyncal view of welfare and “aid agencies” is not unfounded. During the ’80’s my father worked in the Somali oilfield. He reported that most of their rice was blackmarket Food Aid. Africans starved while Germans, Brits and Yanks forked UNICEF rice down, and went for seconds. The stories he told of missionaries and “do-gooders” he encountered in Papua New Guinea and Borneo would be funny if the murders and rapes didn’t discolor the misadventures.

    Thanks for your words and Chicagoboyz.
    Happy New Year

  3. this post is absolute nonsense. the death toll will probably end up being 4-5 times what it is now.

    the reason it is climbing is because you’re talking about very poor countries with large populations and bad infrastructure, communications, etc.

    how would these governments accurately measure the number of dead within a week or two? i’d love to hear suggestions. most of the people who have been killed probably don’t have any official form of identification or live in permanent housing.

    and of course it will continue to climb as people continue to die because of lack of drinking water, food, etc. anyone with a basic understanding of the region and of occam’s razor can see that this is the reason the numbers will continue to increase and not some silly conspiracy theory of mr. hiteshew’s.

    this theory also doesn’t really factor in domestic politics in these countries. authoritarian regimes are likely to underestimate the death toll for reasons that are so obvious i won’t even go into them.
    in certain countries, the hardest hit areas are those that have tense relations with the rest of the country: aceh province in indonesia, tamil eastern sri lanka, dravidian southern india. even though this is a natural disaster, the federal governments of these nations will face more problems the higher the death tolls are. one, because people are not rational and will probably come up with their own conspiracy theories (much like mr. h) blaming the government. two, because many people in the region are probably superstitious and may read
    a lot more into the deaths than many of us well educated folks would. three, because it’s difficult to separate deaths from actual tsunami from deaths from lack of things like water in the aftermath for which governments could legitimately be blamed to some extent.
    there could be rebellions, and governments could
    fall when people are killed on this scale. you don’t think opposition parties would use high death toll figures as proof of incompetence in the ruling parties?

    in other words, you sir are an idiot.

    i have plenty of money and relatives in the region, but i have not sent any money. if you need to justify your lack of donations with this preposterous junk, you’re a pathetic little man.

  4. let me just add that i’ve been reading this blog for a long time and it has totally gone downhill since the new bloggers were added. can these chumps even identify strauss or hayek in the photo lineup at the top of the site?

  5. And you sir, are a twit.

    how would these governments accurately measure the number of dead within a week or two?

    That is my question exactly. Hasn’t stopped the estimates from going through the roof, has it? Now why is that? Because, just possibly, there’s a gigantic pot of money at the end of those astronomical estimates? A pot from which, say, 10% divertered into some bureaucrats family “business” will hardly be missed in all the confusion. Corruption is rampant in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. I’m sure you’re aware. You can’t get a drivers license without bribing someone.

    If you’d controlled your temper long enough to finish my post, you’d have noticed I went on to say it doesn’t matter. You’d have noticed I said we should provide all the help that’s needed. My counsel, however, is that we should not trust the local governments. Hell, I don’t even trust many of the NGOs. I suggest we rely on USAID, Catholic Relief Services and other proven honest and reliable organizations.

    If you trust and prefer to hand your money to the UN or the Indian or Indonesian governments, no one is stopping you. I’ll stick with organizations I’ve found to be honest.

  6. Rahul,
    I’m sure that the abstract treatment of a great human tragedy must strike someone with closer ties to it as, well, offensive. Still, nothing in this post (nor mine) excuses not giving let alone encourages it. And I’d be surprised if most of the posters haven’t donated.

    As someone at whom I suspect your anger is directed (my post began this and I’m certainly not only a “new chump” but one generally ignorant of economics), I would also like to observe that my post also argued that we should give, we were comfortable, this was a great tragedy. I merely wanted to observe (at what to you may seem an inappropriate time, I must admit) that the India partnering with us in giving aid was the same country that was written off only two or three decades ago as a hopeless basket case. Although I’m generally seen as a cynical bitch, one of my arguments it that we need to acknowledge and appreciate what works if we are going to take care of what doesn’t (that is, where do we want to turn for help in dealing with this catastrophe – people like Borlaug are important factors).

    Nature is going to attack all nations; great or small, we are all going to need help. But the more productive our land is, the more modern our infrastructure, the more easily is trouble avoided and aid delivered appropriately. It seems to me that that position is more objectionable because of its obviousness than its offensiveness.

    I do hope that you notice that Gerwitz and Lexington continue to write. And I can’t imagine that what you found solid about them a year ago is any less solid now. There are just more voices. The nice thing about reading is that you can just tune us out.

  7. Ginny….”cynical bitch”….I don’t think so.

    Re. “poor communications” mentioned in Rahul’s comment: After hearing that 8 US Citizens were known dead initially and hearing, for 4 or 5 days, that number repeated, it was a bit of a shock to finally learn that some 2000 yanks are “missing”.

  8. Rahul,
    I sense your emotion and pain. And I share it.

    Based on the apparent strength of your emotions, if you invested them into reforming the affected nations into self-sufficient, accountable, modern states I would confidently predict a renaissance for the region.

    For now, it looks like the American, Japanese, and Australian taxpayers will have to erect the Tsunami warning system for this inert region.

    The simple, if skeptical point I wanted to make can be summed up with one rhetorical question: How many LIVING people inhabit the Indonesian capital of Jakarta today – margin of error plus or minus five thousand please?

    When the Indonesian authorities can accurately count their living citizens, then, maybe their counts of the deceased can be trusted as a basis for our Nation’s charity – and our critic’s attacks on its size.

    Sadly, as Michael wrote correctly above, corruption, patronage, and self-aggrandizement stand for governance in many countries of this area, instead of rule-of-law, checks-and-balances and laissez-faire economics.

    Fatigued American Taxpayer

  9. The US military is the only entity in the world capable of addressing this multi-national tragedy. Particularly the US Navy with its ship borne helicopters and amphibious aircraft.

    The marines will be going ashore in their amtracs on many a remote and inaccessible beach–loaded with relief supplies and tangible physical aid.

    All the hand wringers and america blamers can use this tragedy as another excuse to hate the US even more, but the US military will do the job asked of them, the job only they can do.

    The UN can go to hell and the world would be better off. Instead the UN wants the world to go to hell so the UN will be better off.

  10. my god, this is just getting silly, what are you people even talking about? pretty much every response fails to address anything related to my comments regarding hiteshew’s silly little theory.

    hiteshew starts off by quoting me:
    “how would these governments accurately measure the number of dead within a week or two?”

    and responds:
    “That is my question exactly. Hasn’t stopped the estimates from going through the roof, has it?”

    dude, wtf? do you not understand the difference between “accurately measure” and “estimates”? if not, maybe we should just end this discussion now.

    that, plus “governments in the region, the UN, and many charities, are corrupt and not trustworthy” is your response? those governments are corrupt?? you don’t say. i hope you didn’t have to spend too many hours poring over the cia world factbook and back issues of the economist to come up with these gems.
    and i’m the twit? laughable, man…

    first of all, let’s separate this into two parts.
    hiteshow says i couldn’t control my temper long enough to read the second part of his post in which he encourages people to give money.

    i DID read it, but that point is not relevant to this discussion in any way. i don’t care if hiteshew gives money or not, read the last sentence of my post: i’m not giving any myself.

    mr. hiteshew, i wouldn’t want you to give any money if you can’t even afford to pay for your now-defunct typepad blog, or obviously for a decent law school or somewhere else where they could teach you how to make logical arguments.

    that also takes care of all the clinton-esque “i feel your pain” nonsense from ginny and steve. what pain, exactly? the pain i feel at having to read hiteshew’s illogical explanation for the rising death toll? because that’s the *real issue* here.

    hiteshew’s argument seems to be that the estimated number of dead is rising because corrupt governments and relief organizations see this as an opportunity to dupe bleeding heart westerners into donating a bunch of money.

    i seem to remember the estimated death toll rising steadily following september 11, and finally settling somewhere in the 4-5,000’s.
    the final number was something like 2,950, so what explains the high initial estimates?

    first, look at the rampant local government corruption: robert toricelli and other corrupt nj thugs, nj’s “gay american” governor, bernard kerik and all of his buddies/mistresses, that governor of ct or ri that got in trouble a little while back, and of course the new york city bureaucracy and the nypd, which have both had corruption issues going back centuries!

    second, there’s corruption relating to relief organizations such as the united way, something i don’t need to explain to anyone who watches “the o’reilly factor.”

    third, international outrage and large numbers of people willing to donate lots of money.

    so, put two and two together, and obviously what myself and my esteemed colleagues at the “occam’s razor is for pussies society” like to call “the hiteshew effect” was the reason for the high estimates!

    of course, everyone knows that a high estimate that dropped with time made complete sense for a disaster such as the one at the wtc. in the initial chaos of the first few weeks people are going to be unaccounted for, and the numbers will decrease as that changes.
    initial estimates would also start off being fairly accurate because they could be based on a simple formula such as number of people who work in the buildings minus the number of people who are known to not be dead (safe at home, in the hospital, etc).
    and an accurate body count could be reached relatively quickly because it’s a very small geographic area, the dead and missing are relatively wealthy people, and there is a pretty stable number of actual dead (the number of new deaths following the intial deaths will be very minimal, and would probably all die at places like hospitals where they would be accounted for).

    even a special education student at the “michael hiteshew school of harebrained conspiracy theories” should realize that with a disaster such as this tsunami, you’ll have both rising ESTIMATES and rising numbers of ACTUAL DEAD.

    1)the tsunami had an impact on many different regions and countries.
    2)most of these countries are very poor and their citizens are very poor.
    3) many of these countries have large populations.
    4) people may have died in areas without good communications and transportation links to the rest of the world, one example being the nicobar islands.
    5) people may have died in places that are barely under government control: eastern sri lanka and aceh province in indonesia, maybe even somalia and northeastern madagascar for all i know. it makes sense that figures from such places would take longer to get out.
    6) it goes without saying that the number of dead from the actual tsunami will end up being just a fraction of the total dead. the death toll will rise because of lack of food and **drinking water**, and of course DISEASE because there are THOUSANDS OF DEAD BODIES laying around.

    and, as i mentioned in my earlier comment, there are many reasons for both authoritarian regimes and democratic governments to UNDERESTIMATE the number of dead. i won’t go into them again, but they are points which no one has addressed.

    are the estimates ACCURATE? no, why would they be (to also answer Steve’s equally irrelevant question regarding the population of jakarta)? and it’s just as likely that the estimates are underestimating the number of dead.

    does it make sense that the estimates are RISING? of course it does, because estimates from around the region are filtering in and more importantly, the ACTUAL NUMBER OF DEAD is rising.


  11. It is certain that 10 trillion persons were killed by the tsunami. Regrettable but true. I am underestimating. Give me money or you are stingy. Do not try to administer aid to victims yourself. You lack the moral authority. Only I have the authority. Give money and lots of money. My estimates will continue to rise until sufficient money is in my account. Until then you are a stingy.

  12. First Rahul, I’m not sure where you learned how to interact with other human beings, but you debate and argue like a spoiled, angry child. And that’s being generous.

    Second, you seem incapable of getting through a single paragraph without tossing out gratuitous insults at people you don’t know and who’ve treated you better than you deserve, considering the condescension and contempt you’ve shown to everyone here.

    For those reasons alone I’ve lost interest in accomodating your bad temper, your vile comments, and your insulting attacks on everyone here.

    So see yourself out. And don’t come back.

  13. Rahul,

    You make excellent points, but your manner of expressing your arguments are repellent. Are you interested in having readers examinine your thoughts and gaining from them, or are you simply masturbating at the keyboard?

    You clearly have a fine mind – please learn how to communicate with humans.



  14. Micheal, Natural Law rules altruism, too.
    The study of altruism – what we call charity – in animals is revealing. Acorn Woodpeckers, Vampire Bats and Bluebirds all actively share food or defense with other individuals. But only within the breeding females’ families.

    Dame Nature deems Genetic and energetic investiture in one’s own young an investment worth defending. In primates this energetic altruism may extend to inter-familial cooperation but alway as an end to protecting the original family line. The progressive’s abstracted and forced charity – Frederic Bastiat’s apt “legal plunder” – is alien to this natural order.

    Hillary’s “Village” would be deserted if clans had no need for it.

    UN Civil servants with Sorbonne degrees probably skipped advanced Biology and Thermodynamics on their way to courses like, “Ketchup, and Why It’s Not a Vegetable”, and “Capitalism, Why It’s Yucky”.

    Rajul, if you’re still out there after Michael boxed your ears for a naughty tongue, here’s a helpful hint: Embrace brevity. It culls needless diatribe, focuses thoughts, and when used correctly, naturally enforces courtesy. And switch to decaf.


  15. Rahul may drink strong coffee, but Hell we have all dished out and taken harsher comments than his. So, on the merits, I gotta say that his numbered bullet points setting out why the estimates and totals would be rising sound correct to me. I don’t particularly think the Indonesian government is honest or whatever, either, but I have no specific knowledge about how these numbers are generated.

    So I leave off with this query: Does anybody have any such knowledge? If we know how these numbers were derived, and by whom, we could find out if there is any basis for Mike’s imputatation of intentional dishonesty. Until then, I think it is advantage Rahul.

  16. Good question Lex,
    This may be the wrong time to ask the question, but who does validate such statistics? Kofi Annan, the media, human rights organizations, the guru Rahjnish purum?

    Rahul’s point is Ratheresque: the numbers are fake, but accurate. Usually this number spinning is relatively harmless.

    But, in the case of the tsunami relief, these “accurate” numbers are causing some inane commentary and driving our nation’s expensive response. Voicing the rabid anti-Americanism, reminiscient of that of Germany’s Joshka Fischer, Mr. Egeland, the Deputy Vice President of the UN, used the size of the casualty figures to accuse my country of being “stingy”.

    Second, the number of deceased, now around 140,000 are driving the largest global wealth redistribution in the world’s history. If you are an American taxpayer you are providing relief to the region. $135 M have been pledged so far by my government, and Collin Powell says it’s just a “Down Payment”. Where’s the funding for Social Security reform, School reform, funding Medicare drug prescriptions, and the democratic reformation of the Middle East?

    The numbers do matter. And, as an objectivist, I think statistical accuracy should be an unquestioned priority.

    The best, Steve

  17. Rahul,
    I have an Australian Shepherd, but even he is smart enough to avoid urinating on himself.

    At the risk of wasting my time, let me give you some pointers in civil discourse.

    1. Do not personally insult your intended reader. You seem to want me to consider your words, but since you place personal insults at the head of your post, you ask me to wade through a foul swamp in the hopes that I may find a pearl of wisdom hidden in your “muddy” diction.

    2. Embrace brevity. Everything you have tried to say could be summed up in two paragraphs. AKHMED (you witty chap!) did it in only one. And brevity has another benefit, it enforces courtesy. Concise, focused writing doesn’t afford page space to personal insults.

    3. Try drugs sometime. A legal nervine made up of alcohol tinctures of Vervain and Catnip, both are probably growing in your driveway, can be added to warm water (20-30 drops in a cup of liquid) and drunk as needed throughout your day.

    Off to Belmont Club,

  18. Me thinks Rahul knows Shatner’s hat size but not the kiss of a girl but hey, he raised some interesting points!

  19. Rahul’s arguments deserved respect; his approach does not. Nor did he only reach that level in his last post – he chose provocation in his first post. He didn’t need to tell us he was quite young: that may be a reason for his ad hominem and combative approach, but it is not an excuse. Obviously, G ewirtz and Steve have reached the kind of maturity where the argument is more important than the ego. Given that Rahul’s argument is solid, we can hope it doesn’t take him long to reach that understanding.

  20. I agree with Ginny. Rahul is the kind of commenter who should be rebuked for his tone, but whose substantive points can and should be responded to. It is all to the good if people take issue with our posts, and do so forcefully, and I hope we will hear from Rahul in the future, perhaps after having a glass of warm milk or a Pilsner Urquell rather than a double expresso. Let’s have thick skins and try to engage people on the merits, where there are merits. That said, if someone is merely abusive or otherwise adds nothing to the conversation, then I have no hesitation about deleting any such comments.

  21. but then what is the definition of “troll.”

    “This is the Scandanavian term for elf. Sometimes they are described as being hairy and ugly, although they are able to change their shape into anything they please.”

    is that an ad hominem attack?

  22. Digesting Rahul – Acknowledging that folks are inclined to say online what they would never say to each other’s faces, and driven by a desire to test-drive my own Naturalist views, I decided to analyse Rahul’s rebuttals to Michael’s provocative post.

    By my read Michael Hiteshaw is a dyed-in-the wool Naturalist. American Pragmatism is his school, and I think I share a bench with him. To respectfully ponder his post, and, incidently, the modern, capitalist American juggernaut, one must allow oneself to consider modern American Naturalism.

    That’s hard work for the defenders of cultures still hog-tied by rationalistic and epistemiological traditions. And, while Naturalism can help explain the cultural stoicism of S.E. Asia as well as it does India’s caste system, just to name two, it also prescribes stark reforms to those systems that promise tangible humanitarian benefits in today’s modern world.

    Cold calculation and sharp inquiry are hallmarks of this philosophy. They are also easily, if mistakenly, confused with anti-humanitarianism. TM Lucas writes: “Tough love is based on love…. You can see how some people are primed to get very angry about reform even when the reforms under discussion are designed to increase the number of people who can be helped out of whatever charity monies come in. “ Rahul is one of those “primed.”

    Summing up his prolific response is easy. The distillation of his content was arduous (Mishu, Ginny, Lex and Johnathan are correct, Rahul makes good points, and, why all neglected to detail any of them was obvious upon my attempt). I sum it up with a question to all: Have you ever peered deeper into a detractor’s argument only to see your own argument looking back at you?

    Surprisingly Rahul’s content agrees with Michael’s underlying premise, while his tone and style do everything to suggest he rejects it. Condensed, his comments mirror Michael’s skepticism exactly. The moorage of Michael’s post, is his belief that modern collective humanitarianism is ineffective. As Ginny wrote: “It seems to me that [Michael’s] position is more objectionable because of its obviousness than its offensiveness.” It follows then that the onus is on our collective government, it’s aid conduits and, ultimately, the individual citizens of the effected countries to justify our collective expenditure by proving the verity of their statistics, and by reforming their systems to maximize the worth of our donations.

    Following Lex’s valid thesis: “If we know how these numbers were derived, and by whom, we could find out if there is any basis for Mike’s imputatation of intentional dishonesty.” Rahul’s comments provide the basis Lex seeks. In his numbered points he argues that accurate tolls are unattainable among the ruins. He says, “Most of these countries are very poor…have large populations… barely under government control…”. This is no salve to a skeptical Pragmatist’s concerns. He goes on to confirm corruption’s ill-effects on disbursement efficiencies by recalling our own fallible counting and allocation processes after 9/11, and by referencing O’Reilly’s public scrutiny of the United Way. When finally he does admit that regional corruption may warp casualty totals, Michael’s scary point stated intact, the trap has closed. Although he, illogically, only admits that corruption drives under-reporting of casualties (an assertion he supports by not listing all the “…reasons too obvious to go into”), he has conceded the fact that effected governments WILL play with the numbers.

    Here’s a distillation of Rahul’s rationalization, he calls it the “Micheal Hiteshaw Effect.”
    [Our corruption + relief org. corruption + numerous benefactors = high casualtly estimates.] I add in Rahul’s described recipient government corruption to get “Rahul’s Effect”: [Local Gov’t. corruption + Our corruption + relief org. corruption + numerous benefactors = high casualty estimates.] Of course, this is Michael’s initial point.

    Needlessly lengthening his thesis, Rahul spends a lot of energy pointing out the difference between estimates and accurate polls. He lingers long on the governmental and developmental lapses that account for the inaccuracies, and correctly points out that we have them in our own country. But, with every word, he is reaffirming Michael’s original premise that these numbers aren’t to be trusted, and revealing that he misses the key, overarching point of Michael’s post. Michael isn’t just questioning the growth of the illusive death toll, he is auditing the rate of the growth of promised government aid in proportion to these foggy tolls.

    So how do agreed-upon principles seem to lead to diametric understandings? Michael favors active oversight informed by suspicion. Rahul favors (I’m forced to guess because he does not say) relying on the authorities. It seems one of these minds takes an active, skeptical approach, while the other adopts a stoic posture in defense of a dysfuntional status quo.

    Rahul’s most impactful and valid point takes the form of a stinging, rhetorical swipe. Reflecting Ginny’s uncontroversial objection that Michael’s post seemed obvious, Rahul wrote, “trying to string together what little knowledge you have … into some sort of grand theory is harder than it seems.”

    This is Rahul’s valid challenge: “Go deeper”, learn more, and form the “Grand Theory.” In writing this he adopts the mantle of the wise mentor. This is a noble challenge – and I’d like to believe in its author’s sincerity. Only Rahul never gives this reader any reason to do so. He nevers respectfully expounds on Michael’s provocative post, nor suggests relevent directions of inquiry that might lead deeper. Nor, as I detailed above, does he ever substantively rebuke Michael’s basic premise either.

    Afterall, this posture is a mimic of Dame Nature’s daily challenge to us all. Get smart, forever hone your ideas, and learn from debating with others.

    I accept this challenge every day. That’s why I read ChicagoBoyz.


  23. Steve, I wrote an essay length response to your post last night. Unfortunatly, the server wouldn’t respond and I couldn’t post it. I left the comment window open all night, but lost my response when I viewed this post to see if the server had actually accepted the comment. Viewing the post refreshed the comment window and I lost everything I’d written. Very frustrating. I’ll try again tonight.

  24. no, that’s not what i was saying, i’ll state my point in v e r y simple terms…

    could the numbers be inflated for exactly the reasons hiteshew believes they are (corrupt un/govts/aid orgs)? yes.

    but NO evidence is provided, except that:
    1) the numbers ARE going up
    2) UN, govts, aid orgs ARE corrupt

    and, as lex points out yet again, do we even know WHO is generating these estimates in the first place and by what method? that seems like another thing that is central to hiteshew’s argument but that he doesn’t even touch on.

    i don’t dispute either point 1) or 2).
    is it possible that IS the reason the estimates are increasing? yes, it’s possible, but it’s not EVIDENCE that this is happening.

    yes, all three groups (un, govts, aid), may overestimate or underestimate to suit any ulterior motives they may have.

    the two points i make are:
    1) reasons both democratic governments and authoritarian regimes (like burma) MAY want to underestimate numbers. i’m not saying that they ARE, and i have about as much evidence as hiteshew, meaning ZERO evidence. i’m just throwing out the possibility.

    more importantly
    2) it makes complete sense that the estimates are increasing. in fact, it’s to be expected given the type of disaster and the type of region.
    forgetting the fifteen other reasons i provide for why the estimates are increasing, i’ll just restate one:
    X number of people died TODAY as a result of the tsunami.
    whatever X may be, does anyone dispute this? no.
    so then, wouldn’t adding X to whatever number is already out there mean an increase in the estimated number of dead? well, there you go.

    it all boils down to occam’s razor and the whole correlation vs causation thing.

    hiteshew is like homer simpson: “lisa, i’d like to buy your rock!”

  25. Dear “no”:

    You are using the same IP address as the person who left the “troll” comment above. Are you also Rahul? If you want to be anonymous, fine. But changing your ID from comment to comment looks deceptive, causes confusion and annoys me. We’ve put up with you so far because of your contributions to the exchange, but that fact doesn’t give you license to continue to act like a dickhead. If you want to be taken seriously, act serious. People aren’t going to pay attention to you indefinitely if you continue to be rude.

  26. Michael, I’ll watch for it .

    Lex, so many questions, so little time. Let me know when you find out.

  27. Alrighty then. Once more.

    Do I have a Grand Theory? No. What I have is a deep skepticism of the UN bureaucrats, and if folks like The Diplomad are to be believed, it’s well placed. I think we’re all aware of the ‘Toyota Taliban’ stories written about the UN in Afghanistan. UN staff driving around Kabul in their pearlescent white Landcruisers doing – nobody seems to know exactly what it is they actually do – their third world tours in maximum style. I’m sure I don’t need to go into the Oil-for-Fraud scandal. So I believe very little of what those folks tell me and I definitely do not want them controlling money that’s supposed to be going to help people.

    Corruption among civil servants in India, for example, is rampant. I’ve not only read that in newspapers, but I’ve heard it from Indians I’ve worked with. The police are corrupt as well. They’ll look the other way on almost any scam or crime as long as they’re getting a cut. Good for them, too bad for you. I’ve read of townships that were so corrupt they’re more akin to mafia fiefdoms than civil organizations. Would these folks lie to us to get ‘their share’ of aid money. You betcha. Without batting an eye.

    I was also fascinated with the growth of the death toll estimates. Over the course of a few days, I saw them go up as follows: 17,000 – 23,000 – 35,000 – 50,000 – 80,000 – 150,000 – 400,000 – 1,000,000+ with 400,000 in Aceh alone, and I asked myself, where are these numbers coming from? These folks wouldn’t be outbidding each other’s ‘death tolls’ in an attempt to get control of as much aid money as possible, would they? I mean, nobody would just pull numbers out of the sky if they thought they’d benefit from it; that would be just plain dishonest. And nobody would be dishonest if they thought they could suddenly get rich by that means, would they? Of course they would. People do it every day. Who’s gonna miss 10-20% of a couple million dollars in all that confusion?

    This is completely the opposite track from what the 9/11 casualty estimates took. I clearly remember on the morning of the crashes hearing estimates of around 50,000 possibly killed, since that was the approximate number of people in those buildings. By that evening, estimates were being revised sharply downwards to 10-20,000 killed. They continued to go down almost every day.

    So I said I’ll believe estimates when they start coming from people and organizations I trust. I also said I didn’t think it mattered what the actual numbers were and that we should provide all the assistance that was necessary and that we could give. I think we’re doing that and I support that, as I think we all do.

    I also am completely unconvinced by the assertion that it somehow benefits local officials or governments to UNDERestimate their death tolls or their damage. I’m told that OVERestimating the scale of disaster will lead to uprisings, revolutions, coups, what have you. Can someone provide me with some examples of the too-much-aid-therefore-revolution effect? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

    Clearly there is benefit from overstating. More money, more resources.

    By the way, I just finished reading Krakatoa, about the 1883 detonation of a volcano that obliterated that island. It lay in the same region, near the coast of Java, but on the opposite end of Sumatra from where the December earthquake occurred. It generated tsunamis over 100 feet in height. One steamship was carried over two miles inland. The total death toll was estimated to be around 50,000. What that tells us I’m not sure.

  28. Michael, I think we agree that feedback loops are nature’s way of forcing the modification of organismic behavior and form in biological systems. And Man is not exempted.

    I recall Indonesia forcefully relocated hundreds of thousands of its citizens to Central Sumatra, Borneo, and its part of New Guneau (Irian Jaya, sp?). And remember the mass-burning of the Indonesian rain forests in the nineties.

    Central planners, and bureaucrats usually don’t consider the historical reasons why an unpopulated area may be that way.

    Vector-borne diseases, drought, infrequent tidal waves, even semi-active volcanos, often preclude long-term human development. The dangers that prevented settlement of these areas long ago, are still active threats to that settlement today. (Just saw an excellent documentary on the Soviet’s forced population of Siberia, and the hardships the people face since the reduction of their state subsidy).

    Keep it up.

  29. Lex: Sources for Tsunami Casualty Reports

    To start, here’s a gem from the U.N.’s Statistics site (http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/sources/civilreg/default.htm). “[A] … lack of a culture that recognizes these errors as important to measure, assess and report about impl[ies] that non-sampling errors [ie. errors due to non-compliance], their measurement and assessment receive less attention in surveys carried out in developing or transition countries. This is not to say that most surveys carried out in developing or transition countries are of low quality, but rather to stress that WE KNOW LITTLE ABOUT THEIR QUALITY LEVELS.” (emphasis added) – P. Silva (In point 11, of Chapter 11 “Reporting and compensating for non-sampling errors for surveys in Brazil” )

    The U.N. receives its casualty statistics from the recipient governments or its relief agency surveys, then certain media outlets and the UN state these figures as the actual toll.

    Here’s one rexample: CNN Jan 12 report (NOTE: all search strings online were identical – “tsunami casualty reports” or “tsunami death tolls”). It’s reported death toll (www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/01/12/asia.tsunami/index.html) for Indonesia is “…at least 159,487 people. “ The headline reads “Relief officials are working to assess the death tolls… and, “Figures are from government officials or agencies unless otherwise indicated.”

    In Indonesia, glossing over a glaring statistical discrepancy between competing Indonesian ministries, CNN reports, “The [Government’s] Social Affairs Ministry puts the number of dead at 113,306. The United Nations has begun to use the Indonesian Social Ministry’s death toll for Indonesia, which has consistently run about 10,000 higher than the Health Ministry’s. In order to STAY MORE CLOSELY IN LINE with the United Nations (emphasis mine), CNN is now reporting the Social Ministry’s numbers.” I wonder if the U.N. had not chosen the higher “Social Ministry” number, which number would CNN have gone with?

    Reuter’s attributions resemble CNN’s. Where they offer any it is the U.N., or U.N. relief personnel. For example, in Tomi Soetjipto and Dean Yates’ Jan 3 article,
    Asia’s Tsunami Death Toll Hits 150,000 – U.N.: “Some 150,000 people are now known to have been killed by Asia’s tsunami, U.N. officials said on Monday…”

    They quote U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator (“Dr. Stingy”), Jan Egeland, “…what we operate with are the confirmed people who are identified as dead…”

    Earlier reports by the same journalists in, “Tsunami Toll 125,000, Huge Relief Effort Mobilized” (Fri Dec 31, 2004) offer no source for their numbers: “Indonesia, where 80,000 have died, said on Friday, it would host…” No attribution is given.

    AP and the WSJ have only paid archive access. So far, Fox news search turns up no “official tolls,” or offers no attribution for its numbers.


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