Sunday, January 17, 2010

The best and worst of responses to Haiti

From the HuffPo:
Recent comments by Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson and now US Senate candidate from California Chuck Devore's communication director regarding assistance to Haiti are so hateful, misguided, myopic and, in the case or Robertson, downright strange, that they obscure the question of what they are trying to accomplish by making these comments. Robertson's comments are extraordinarily insensitive, focusing not on the suffering and desperation of the innocent victims of the Haitian people, but on a belief that the earthquake was a form of supernatural intervention as Satan himself has finally extracted his deathly fee for help in liberating Haiti from France.

Limbaugh's comments were insensitive in a different way, demonstrating a failure to think about the people suffering in the earthquake and instead making the focus of this event President Obama..... For Limbaugh, the earthquake in Haiti was not a disaster to which compassion and assistance were the appropriate response but yet another opportunity to attack President Obama. ...

Josh Trevino is a far lower profile figure than either Limbaugh or Robertson, but his tweet about Haiti "(T)he best thing the int'l community can do is tend the wounded, bury the dead, and then LEAVE. That includes all UN and charity," is significant because Trevino serves as communications director, and therefore his comments may be interpreted as reflecting the views of Chuck DeVore, a Republican senate candidate from California, even though he was not speaking for DeVore in that tweet. Trevino's comments also betray an insensitivity to human suffering that is quite impressive. ....


Karen said...

These comments are so insensitive as to be incomprehensible. It just blows my mind to realize that no only do they think this, but are so comfortable with their bigotry that they can say such things in a public forum.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I think it's time to see Haiti less as somewhere else, but as the testing ground for what will probably be the outcome of the next earthquake in California...

IT said...

The Haiti Earthquake was magnitude 7.0 . A few days before that, a magnitude 6.5 hit far northern California; it was about 20 miles offshore. My brother reports that it was a doozy, but fortunately injuries were few and damage relatively light.

Perhaps a better comparison is the magnitude 6.9 1994 Northridge earthquake which hit southern California, right under the densely populated San Fernando valley. Damage was fairly severe, but only 57 people were killed. That's pretty close to the magnitude of the Haiti earthquake.

The magnitude 6.9 to7.0 Loma Prieta earthquake which hit the San Francisco bay area in 1989 had similar levels of death and destruction to Northridge.

While one can't account fully for differences in geograpy and geology at individual sites, the difference in the effect of these earthquakes is certainly in large part related to a first-world country with tight building codes for earthquakes, with sophisticated emergency crews and well-developed infrastructure, compared to an impoverished nation with no codes to speak of and no infrastructure.

Haiti's brutal suffering here is inextricably linked to what has gone before. which is, in itself, quite an indictment on the rest of us.

Karen said...


Yes, exactly. Natural disasters happen and will continue to happen. We can't control that. We do have a huge measure of control on the effects of these disasters. How do we connect the dots for people between that which has gone before and these effect? Fuzzy minded thinking is rampent in our culture.

JCF said...

Jon Stewart's response (which is AWESOME!)


I think comparison's to Loma Prieta or Northridge (in California) miss the mark: California's been working on this problem since 1906 (and "the Big One" still hasn't hit DIRECTLY under a really densely-populated area. Recall, also, that there's an order of magnitude difference between 6.9 and 7.0. Also, IIRC, Northridge was 13 miles underground, Haiti only 6).

Haiti hadn't had a significant earthquake for 200+ years.

No, put a 7.0 earthquake directly under Manhattan or Chicago, to see what would really happen here! [I don't for a second believe there would be a 100,000 dead, and then dying for a week afterwards. But there COULD be 10,000 dead, quite easily.]

I say this, because I've heard some commentators (respectable ones: David Brooks comes to mind) who've been doing this "Blame the Haitians" game (even if they're only blaming corrupt political elites---who ARE a problem, of course!)

This has been BOTH a calamity of nature, as well as a tragedy of lack-of-adequate infrastructure---and poverty.

IT said...

Not quite, JCF. The scale is a log scale, which means there an order of magnitude (factor of 10) between 6.0 and 7, NOT between 6.9 and 7. These are much closer in total energy.

See for example here.

You are right to note the differences in the geology, which I did mention. These are approximations.

I was also responding to Göran's point, about california. An equivalent energy release is unlikely to be as completely deadly in CA as in Haiti, for exactly the reasons you mention, which was my point: California has been working on this for years. There aren't even decent building standards for non-earthquake zones in haiti, so the disaster was catastrophic.

(And it is worth noting that the largest earthquake in US was in Missouri.)

JCF said...

Serves me right, to try to Get Scientific on ya, IT. ;-/

David |Dah • veed| said...

I posted this in the Chin Wag @ OCICBW... and was ignored.

"On a separate note, what needs to be done from now on in Haiti is that all of the charitable and the religious organizations need to start building the Haitians proper buildings. Because a lot of those churches, schools, hospitals, clinics, orphanages and charitable & religious organization headquarters buildings that collapsed and killed folks you lot built! Everything that I read and see on TV always mention how the extreme poverty in Haiti is what has lead them to foolishly or ignorantly build such flimsy buildings of cheap cinderblock and concrete. But those are the same structures you folks build for them out of your generosity because they are inexpensive for you to build. And when you slap enough plaster on them inside and out it covers a multitude of sins and they photograph so prettily to send home to the dioceses or parishes so folks can see and be proud of what their generosity has accomplished.

I will give you one example of which I know personally. My first seminary is Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. In a corner of the university sits the wealthiest United Methodist Church in the world. When we lived in Dallas in the mid 1980s the church, Highland Park United Methodist Church, gave their senior pastor a US$50,000.00 Mercedes Benz automobile for something like his 25th anniversary with them. They are now grieving a medical missionary in a mission group who was killed in the quake when the eye clinic in which she was serving collapsed. The clinic was a multistory structure made of cheap cinderblock and concrete. Four folks from their team were injured in the collapse and this woman later died from her injuries. May she rest in peace. The Dallas Morning News does not mention what may have happened to any of the Haitian staff when the building fell. HPUMC built the clinic themselves, originally in 1985 and an addition in 1999. Since my country is filled with these same types of structures I seriously doubt that they spent US$50,00.00 on the building. I sincerely believe that over these years that clinic helped a lot of Haitian people. Is it worth the trade? You tell me. But before you form an answer multiply this story the hundreds of times it is repeated all over Haiti where First World folks have built Third World folks Third World buildings and they are now flat as pancakes with dead folks inside.

Please do not misread me. This is not anger, this is not a rant, this is not to cause shame. This is pointing out the truth as I can see it. And I do not have to go far to see it. It is repeated all over this city where I live. There are the same cheap buildings that Canadians, Statesonians and Europeans have built all over Monterrey."

JCF said...

But Dahveed: those Texans might have built the SAME cheap structures in Texas! :-0

...but not in California. Certainly, re-building in Haiti MUST be done w/ Earthquake Awareness. However, I can't fault past non-aware construction---200 years w/o an earthquake, will get sub-California (or, say, Japan) code EVERYWHERE, not just in Haiti.

What's your seismic history in Monterrey?

David |Dah • veed| said...

JCF, Haiti is seismically active. No earthquakes for 200 years is a grand misstatement of the facts. Both nations on the island of Hispañola have suffered quakes over the last 200 years. The Dominican Republic had a quake in 1946 that was 8.0. Haiti has not had a quake of this magnitude in 200 years.

Monterrey is well away from the edges of the North Am tectonic plate. We do not have much activity here.