Sept. 28, 2005

We live in an age filled with an unprecedented number of ways to exchange accurate information — e-mail, instant messaging, cell phones, blogs, you name it. But despite all of those technical marvels, inaccurate information can spread like wildfire anyway, just like a large-scale game of whisper-down-the-lane.

Remember all of those horrifying reports of murder, rape, and gang violence among the displaced residents of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina? Well, according to an eye-opening news story in the Times-Picayune (the daily newspaper in New Orleans), most of those grisly tales were unsubstantiated or simply not true.

For example, an initial report of 200 dead in the Superdome led to the discovery of just six deaths, none of which were caused by homicide. And the only verified shooting inside the facility turned out to be a self-inflicted injury — while a National Guardsman struggled with an attacker, the soldier accidentally shot himself in the leg. Furthermore:

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said authorities had confirmed only four murders in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina — making it a typical week in a city that anticipated more than 200 homicides this year. Jordan expressed outrage at reports from many national media outlets that suffering flood victims had turned into mobs of unchecked savages.
“I had the impression that at least 40 or 50 murders had occurred at the two sites,” he said. “It’s unfortunate we saw these kinds of stories saying crime had taken place on a massive scale when that wasn’t the case. And they [national media outlets] have done nothing to follow up on any of these cases, they just accepted what people [on the street] told them. … It’s not consistent with the highest standards of journalism.”
Source: Brian Thevenot and Gordon Russell, “Rumors of deaths greatly exaggerated” (The Times-Picayune, Sept. 26, 2005)

I don’t doubt that the post-Katrina scene in New Orleans must have been genuinely awful for thousands of people, and a small number of the unverified crimes may have actually taken place. But I also feel thoroughly deceived by the media outlets that accepted hysterical eyewitness accounts at face value.

Doesn’t the American public deserve better than the rumor mill for its news, especially during a time of crisis?

[ No. 204 ]

Sept. 26, 2005

This morning, my sister Jen sent me and the rest of our family some very sad news — the Lobster House, a very popular seafood restaurant in Cape May, N.J., for many years, was heavily damaged by fire overnight.

My family has a lot of history at the Lobster House — my parents have dined there since 1970, when they were still engaged, and our family had an tradition of getting dressed up and eating there at least once during each of our annual summer vacations in nearby Stone Harbor. Dinner at the Lobster House was an event for us — in fact, when my sisters and I were kids, we wouldn’t even mind leaving the beach early so we could arrive in time for the first seating.

Over the years, the food has remained excellent, and the atmosphere is perfect for the shore — the restaurant overlooks Cape May Harbor, and you can watch the boats pass by as you eat. It’s really a shame that the place might never be the same again. I just hope that they’ll be able to rebuild and restore the Lobster House to its former glory.

[ No. 203 ]

Sept. 22, 2005

A pair of observations from a weeknight trip into the city:

  1. After parking my car in a garage near 37th and Market Streets, I noticed the following sign* posted throughout the facility: FOR HELP / 1. PUSH RED BUTTON / 2. OR YELL
  2. Well, at least they thought of a backup plan.
  3. As my friend and I took a brief walk through the University of Pennsylvania bookstore, I was not surprised to see T-shirts that read, NOT PENN STATE.
  4. Penn, an Ivy League university, was founded 115 years earlier than PSU and clearly has a more prestigious academic reputation, so it’s pretty sad that Penn has to whine about being confused with a lowly state school. (For some strange reason, Penn’s business school, Wharton, probably has more name recognition than the overall institution.)
  5. The Quakers shouldn’t blame my alma mater for Penn’s identity crisis — that’s their own fault. And given that over 62,000 Penn State alumni live in the Philadelphia area, Penn students aren’t going to make many friends by wearing arrogant “we’re better than you” shirts around here.

* Note: I took the photo of the parking garage sign using my camera phone and sent the image to my e-mail account. Technology never ceases to amaze me!

[ No. 202 ]

Sept. 21, 2005

Happy birthday, KYW 1060 — home of “all news, all the time” in Philadelphia.

Forty years ago today, KYW switched to an all-news format on AM radio and has since become the longest-running single-format radio station in Philly. To celebrate the occasion, the station has posted a number of audio clips from their 40-year history on their recently launched podcast page.

On that page, scroll down to the “KYW 40th Anniversary” section for the audio clips. My favorite is “The Very Beginning of All News, All the Time,” which includes the station’s very first broadcast at noon on Sept. 21, 1965 (at the 3:29 mark), as well as hilarious instructions for setting one’s car radio to KYW (at 4:12). So, did every car radio have the same buttons back then?

When I was a kid, I would anxiously listen to KYW 1060 to find out whether or not my grade school, St. Aloysius, was closed for a snow day. If I heard the emergency snow code for my school (500) on the air, I knew that I was off for the day and could go back to bed!

[ No. 201 ]

Sept. 18, 2005

This was quite an action-packed summer — I spent every weekend but one at the Jersey shore, and the lone non-Avalon weekend found me visiting friends in the D.C. area. So yesterday, on my first Saturday at home since late May, I was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon with the Penn State/Central Michigan football game on TV.

Just one minor problem: even though I have access to hundreds of cable and pay-per-view channels, the PSU game was not available on any of them.

This isn’t the first time that a Penn State football game (especially a non-conference contest) wasn’t on TV, and I don’t think that PSU is entitled to have every one of their games televised. But here’s what kills me — a Temple game was televised on a local Comcast channel.

For those unfamiliar with Temple, their football program is a disaster. Prior to their game against Toledo yesterday, the Owls had lost their first two games by scores of 63–16 and 65–0. (Toledo went on to rout Temple, 42–17, and Temple has now surrendered 170 points in just three games.)

Here’s the million-dollar question: how many Temple football fans could possibly want to watch the Owls play, especially compared to the number of Penn State fans and alumni in the Philadelphia area? The TV ratings certainly couldn’t have been very high, considering that a meager attendance of 9,055 bothered to watch the Temple game in person.

Anyway, I was reduced to listening to the PSU game on a local AM radio station and occasionally tracking the game’s progress using the impressive GameCast feature on ESPN’s Web site. I was pleased to hear that the Nittany Lions easily defeated Central Michigan, 40–3, but I have a renewed appreciation for the convenience of actually watching a game as it unfolds.

[ No. 200 ]

Sept. 12, 2005

Earlier tonight, a certain friend of mine informed me that he was pulled over for speeding on Route 49 in New Jersey on Labor Day. The policeman clocked him driving at a blistering 96 mph, nearly double the posted speed limit on any stretch of that road.

This was at least the fifth or sixth time over the last few years that this guy told me that he had been pulled over for speeding. When I asked him how many times he’d been nabbed, he said that he honestly didn’t know. But that’s not the worst part.

As with almost all of his other speeding violations, he simply received a verbal warning. No ticket, no fine, no points, and no written record of the infraction. On this particular occasion, he happened to recognize the cop’s last name from one of his classmates in law school. (Pause a moment to let that irony sink in.)

Granted, I’ve been known to have a lead foot myself. I’ve been caught speeding on a handful of occasions since my college days, I received a ticket almost every time, and there’s no question that I deserved to be punished for driving too fast. But my friend somehow manages to smooth-talk his way out of ticket after ticket — and he drives even faster than I do.

Hearing about this latest Houdini-esque escape made me furious, and I simply couldn’t hide my anger toward him over the phone. By now, he’s way overdue for a hefty fine, if not a suspended license. But I’m also worried that I’m going to receive a phone call one day and learn that my friend was killed in a high-speed car accident.

My friend assured me that he has learned his lesson this time, and that he’s going to really try to keep his driving to within 10 mph of the speed limit. I don’t mean to sound like a parent here, but until he faces any consequences for his behavior, I doubt that he’ll remember that lesson for very long.

[ No. 199 ]

Sept. 7, 2005

Back in July, at the end of a rant about the Yankees’ absurd $205.9 million payroll, I expressed some doubts about the Phillies and their chances for reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

With only a few weeks left in the season, those early doubts seem to be well-founded. Earlier tonight, the Houston Astros defeated the Phillies, 8–6, and completed a devastating three-game sweep. In the midst of a tight wild-card race, the Phillies have picked the worst possible time to enter a slump — they’ve lost five straight games and eight of their last 11, not to mention 12 straight to the Astros.

The AP story about the game makes sure to mention the fans’ anguish:

Despite the Phillies being in the playoff chase, only 29,026 turned out at Citizens Bank Park. Most fans spent the first seven innings voicing their displeasure with the Phillies. They booed manager Charlie Manuel when he walked out to the mound for a pitching change, chanted “E-A-G-L-E-S” randomly throughout the game and jeered whoever failed to deliver in clutch spots.

Well, can you blame them? For the last several years, the Phillies have followed a predictable pattern: play just well enough to stay in the playoff race, then perform a gut-wrenching September swoon when the games really matter.

But I have to admit that those Eagles chants are really annoying. Don’t even bother coming to a baseball game if you’re going to cheer for a different sport.

[ No. 198 ]

Sept. 1, 2005

The devastation and utter chaos left behind by Hurricane Katrina is nearly impossible to fathom — thousands of people are feared dead, tens of thousands have lost everything and are forced to live in domed stadiums for shelter, and the cities of New Orleans and Biloxi are lying in ruins.

I’m almost expecting to hear a televangelist announce that Katrina was actually God’s way of punishing New Orleans for its traditions of Mardi Gras and debauchery.* (Remember, the so-called Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on our evil, secular ways a mere two days after the attacks.)

Also, a related history lesson: the Galveston hurricane of 1900 claimed between 6,000 and 12,000 lives and has remained the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history for the last 105 years. Why hadn’t I heard about this until now?

* Update: As it turns out, I was on the right track — my friend Jim directed me to two examples of heartless religious zealots who actually blame the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the sinfulness of New Orleans and its residents:

  1. Pastor Wiley Bennett, leader of the Woodland Hills Baptist Church in Tyler, Tex., refuses to take down the sign outside his church that reads, THE BIG EASY IS THE MODERN-DAY SODOM AND GOMORRAH.
  2. According to an ominously named organization called These Last Days Ministries, Inc., the hurricane was simply God’s way of pre-empting a sinful festival, “Southern Decadence 2005,” from taking place in New Orleans.

Look, I have nothing against God-fearing people; I’m a practicing Catholic myself. But I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t look kindly upon people who arrogantly condemn the victims of a natural disaster. Leave the moral judgments to the man upstairs.

By the way, this insane mindset isn’t limited to just Christians. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq, marked the fourth anniversary of 9/11 with his own heartwarming explanation of Katrina’s wrath:

“I believe the devastating hurricane that hit the United States occurred because people in Iraq or Afghanistan … were praying for God and God accepted their prayers.”

I can’t even dignify that statement with a response.

Anyway, thanks for the links, Jim. Excellent rant-worthy material.

[ No. 197 ]