Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Book Of Numbers

Lately I start each day writing and reporting stories about how many people in another part of the world are dead.

I'm used to it. In the news business you get jaded toward death and devastation.

In truth all of us do, folks in my business simply attempt to adjust to such horrors more quickly I think.

I mean how many of you are walking about in sack cloth and ashes mourning the thousands who died in the earthquake in Bam, Iran?

That was horrifying remember? Maybe you've was so long ago...One year exactly 365 days before the tsunami disaster.

The death toll figures from that tragedy swung wildly, at one point up to 60 thousand, eventually the Iranian government settled on 30,000 dead. We'll never really know.

I have listened to police and fire scanners eight hours a day almost every day for nearly the past 30 years. It is not uncommon for me to hear police called to a "shooting" only to find when they arrive that no shot was fired. Often these calls are made by people who know that if they call police saying, "someone stole my car stereo" it may be hours or days before an officer arrives, but if they report a "shooting" there will be a swarm of police in their neighborhood within minutes.

Impoverished people in my city call EMS all the time... "for headaches." They use the EMS system instead of going to a doctor, because they can't afford a doctor or don't want to wait in long lines or don't have transportation to free clinics. The city sends them a bill. Most don't ever pay, but they received a "check up" from a medical professional - what they needed. They used the tactics that work in the world in which they live.

I mention this only because if there is any imaginable way to offer a fragment of hope in tragedies such as what is happening in South Asia and East Africa, it must be framed in such cynicism. In countries like Iran or Indonesia where help was/is desperately needed - and needed urgently - it benefits no one to "under estimate" the degree of devastation. The more significant the horror, the faster and more plentiful aid arrives.

Please don't get me wrong, this is the economics of is a reality, not a value judgment.

News people, relief workers, public officials, emergency personnel and the general public are used to tacking a "death toll" to tragedy.

I truly believe this is one way we as a society assigning value we are able to embrace calamity and to grieve.
I fear though it's also basic math...death tolls, body counts, casualty figures...allow us to reduce the unfathomable to a jumble of numbers.

Some months ago, after noticing it on an email from an old friend, I added a link at the bottom of this blog to The Hunger Site. If you click on that link you will help feed hungry people. One click provides 1.1 cups of staple food donated by the site's sponsors.

1 click....1.1 cups of food.

I don't write stories or report those numbers every day...I wish I did though.


Addendum: I came back upstairs to print out some crossword puzzles and I thought, "Why couldn't I ask people to feed the hungry every day?" So now you'll notice under "Click here to leave a comment" is another link "Click here to fight hunger." If you read this blog's one or two extra clicks.

O Lord , by Your hand save me from such men, from men of this world whose reward is in this life. You still the hunger of those You cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children. - Psalm 17:14