[ExI] [wta-talk] LA Times: Unlimited space for untold sorrow

Emlyn emlynoregan at gmail.com
Wed Feb 6 00:06:11 UTC 2008

On 05/02/2008, Amara Graps <amara at amara.com> wrote:
> PJ Manney
> >Today's Column One article is about The Los Angeles Times Homicide
> >Report, an unusual experiment in American newspapers where each and
> >every homicide in Los Angeles County is researched by a single
> >reporter and documented on a website which allows readers to post
> >comments.  Often the posters are their friends and families of the
> >victims that our culture would prefer to forget.
> Dear PJ, one of the biases in the US media is their unwillingness to
> show this particular face of death. As an alternative, I think that
> blogs, everywhere, are a personal face to people's triumphs and
> tragedies, which help folks to know that there are real people on the
> other side of that screen.
> I think that death should be portrayed by our human media as what it
> really is: an unnatural ending of a precious human life, where the
> impact on persons close to the deceased can be understood. Actions by
> the Los Angeles Time is an encouraging sign. Thanks for sharing that.
> Amara

I feel as though the media is already full of news about death and
tradgedy. As a result, many people seem to be overly fearful in what
really is a very safe world.

An example: I took my kids to the beach recently, meeting up with some
acquaintances and their kids. It was all cool, until we find out that
the acquaintances kids aren't allowed to swim in the water. Why?


Now I live in South Australia, which to be fair seems to have an
unusually high incidence of shark attack. Or at least I thought so,
because it's on the news a lot. It looks like we do, sort of, though
it'd be pretty tough trying to find any statistically significant
results in these numbers. From a paper by John West on Sydney's
Taronga Zoo board [1]:

"According to the ASAF, there have been 61 recorded human fatalities
due to shark attack in the last 50 years (as for Dec 2004). Of these,
22 have occurred in Queensland, 16 in South Australia, nine in New
South Wales, 7 in Western Australia, 4 in Tasmania, and 3 in Victoria.
No fatal attacks have been recorded in the Northern Territory in that
time period."

Let's compare this with lightning strikes. I found an abstract for
"Lightning fatalities in Australia, 1824–1991" [2] containing the
following quote:

"Records dating from 1803–1991 indicate that at least 650 persons have
been killed by lightning strikes."

That's roughly 170 fatalities due to lightning strikes in the last 50
years in Australia. As opposed to 61 fatal shark attacks.

Now, to get to the beach, we all parked, and walked down the road for
a way. It turns out that this was a vastly more dangerous act.
According to the Australian Transport Bureau [3] (well, according to a
graph here primarily which I've interpreted by eye, oh for a big table
of data...), approx 500 pedestrians die per year on the roads. So over
50 years, that's about 25,000 people. Even given that the average
person spends a lot more time walking down the street than swimming,
that's 3 orders of magnitude in difference.

All that illustrates the point that we dwell on the wrong dangers. But
I also think we dwell overly on dangers of death in any case. I think
we live in extraordinarily safe societies in the west, and have for
long enough that we have an expectation of total safety. Thus the few
remaining dangers are blown out of proportion.

Really, if we are going to freak out about anything, it should be
heart disease & cancer. If you want to publicise anything, forget
homicides, put the heart disease and cancer stats on the telly each
night. "The heart disease death toll so far this holiday season has
climbed to 40,000 across the United States, an improvement on the same
month last year." [4] But then, who'd want to watch that? Horrible.

[1] : Australian Shark Attacks, John West, 2005

[2]: Lightning fatalities in Australia, 1824–1991, Lucinda Coates,
Russell Blong and Frank Siciliano, 1993

[3]: Pedestrian Fatalities in Australia, Australian Transport Bureau,
1992 (http://www.atsb.gov.au/publications/1996/pdf/Ped_Crash_2.pdf)

[4]: Statistics about Coronary Heart Disease,



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