Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Science, the internet, acts of God and the inaction of man

I am outraged and bewildered by the fact that the beaches of South India and Sri Lanka were not cleared by local police in advance of Sunday's tsunami. There were over two hours between the time of the 9.0 earthquake off of Aceh and the arrival of the waves. In a world or affordable international phone calls and instant messaging how long does it take for news to spread? Didn't international news agencies know? Didn't anyone in Sri Lanka or Tamil Nadu have relatives in Sumatra with the wherewithal to figure out the danger and call them? At first, my attention was focused on the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and NOAA. Didn't they know? In the absence of an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning Center, couldn't they just pick up the phone? It didn't take me long to find www.tn.gov.in, the official web site of the government of Tamil Nadu, complete with direct telephone numbers to the local police. However, an article in today's New York Times, At Warning Center, Alert for the Quake, None for a Tsunami", presents their excuses (It was Christmas day in Honolulu, nobody was in the Center, and the initial information indicated a quake of 8.0, insufficient to send killer tsunamis across the Indian Ocean). But what about the Indian government? The Nicobar islands, Indian territory northeast of Sumatra, were certainly affected at least 90 minutes before the mainland. According to www.defenceindia.com, "During [the 1980's] the naval facilities at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, in the Nicobar Islands, and in Lakshadweep were significantly upgraded and modernized." Surely, Indian naval officers witnessed a tsunami there. Did the news reach authorities on the subcontinent? Why didn't those authorities realize what was happening? Putting an earthquake in Aceh together with a tsunami in the Nicobar islands to deduce that the mainland was at risk is within the capacity of anyone fit for service in any Navy. If the Indian Navy knew, why didn't they notify the appropriate local authorities? (www.indiannavy.nic.in , which was last updated on 21 December, has a page for press releases, but none since 29 October). I cannot imagine knowing about the risk, or just suspecting it, fearing it, and doing nothing. I remain bewildered and outraged.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Excuses, excuses, excuses..

The Fall 2004 semester is finally over. All of my grades, for two real courses and five others (mostly involving research of some kind) have been submitted. My goal for the next week is to get caught up on the many things other than teaching that I had hoped to do -- had promised to do -- during the semester. In some cases, these things are very late. I hope that one week will be enough. 50 tasks that take 10 minutes is one day of work. Several tasks that "shouldn't take long" will fill another day or two, and the rest of the week will be filled with the tasks that really are major. Perhaps you are among those who cannot understand how I can be so slow to get to what you want from me. If so, I want to say that you are not alone, that I really did expect to find the time to get to it much sooner, that it really does interest me, and that this week is different because I don't have class every morning.