Monday, January 03, 2005


I often find myself at a loss for words at times like this. The gap between what I want to say and what I can say is simply too large, and everything I try comes out trite and empty. I try to find perspective, but I can't.

The most destructive part of a hurricane is the storm surge, but it's effects are concentrated in the eye. The tsunami was vast. If a typical storm surge is 30 miles wide, this was like the storm surge of 30-60 cat 4-5 hurricanes hitting at once, without warning.

Three years ago, 3000 people died and it changed everything. As I write this, 155,000 are known dead. Some are taking the time to write about the benefits the tragedy will have for the local economy. I hope this will change something, that the world will build something better from this.

This is harder, though. There's no enemy to attack. There's no clear defense (warning systems are nice, but hurricane evacuations take hours and all the isolated communities would still be isolated). I haven't heard anyone stand up and say, "Today, we are all Indonesians. We are Sumatrans." Is that because the horror wasn't on live TV, because it happened someplace we care less about, or because it lacked the evil of human agency?

Could we build a Coast Guard Disaster Relief service with global reach, to respond to disasters of global scale? Could we support one, even though it might only be needed once a century? We spend trillions on defense, even though we've only been attacked twice in the last hundred years and those attacks were of much smaller scale. Could we invest in tsunami/flood/storm shelters in limited-access coastal areas? Would such shelters be an extravagance in poor communities where people struggle to feed themselves from day-to-day?

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