Archive for April, 2013

As I write this, I don’t know what is going on in Boston right now and it appears that nobody I know is directly involved in the event. So I’m not going to write about it. What I am going to write about is a subject that I do have a fair bit of experience in — that is, reading the news.

If you are involved in the event yourself or may know people involved, your problems are somewhat different and I’m not going to cover them here. For the rest of us, whose function is mostly or entirely watching the news, here’s Tinker’s Simple Guide to Disaster for the Uninvolved:

  1. Shut your piehole. People are looking at the media, including social media, in order to understand what is going on and in some cases what to do — to leave the disaster area, to find their loved ones, or to know which stocks they should have sold. If you originate speculation or repeat unsourced information, you are part of the problem. This sort of stuff has a way of sticking around. I’m often shocked, with regard to events that I have some degree of knowledge about, that I can talk to people years later who still believe early speculation that was later thoroughly debunked — that the “Trenchcoat Mafia” was any sort of organization, for instance (it wasn’t), that fat people materially hindered evacuation from the Twin Towers (almost all deaths were dependent on one’s location within the building at the time of the plane striking), or that a whole bunch of people saw Kitty Genovese get stabbed and did not call 911 because they did not care (they did not see her and 911 did not exist). Make sure that the information that you repeat comes from a trustworthy source, and cite that source so that people can refer to it and not to their memory of your interpretation of something someone told you in the hall that they saw on the teevee.
  2. Be quiet. Particularly if you are selling something. Realistically, life does go on for those of us not directly involved. However, you probably do not want ads for your new low-carb diet juxtaposed against the news that 27 children and three cute puppies were just killed in a tragic molasses accident. Not all publicity is good publicity, so turn that shit off before you become the next time-filler feature.
  3. Keep your fucking mouth shut. Yes, okay, you’ve got some sort of little political kink that you’re really into — whatever it is. In the early phase of a disaster, DO NOT go around running your mouth about how somehow this thing just totally proves how you were right all along. One of two things is going to be true: you’ll be an asshole and right, or you’ll be an asshole and wrong. Even if you’re right, which attribute are people going to remember first — your incredible prescience, or the fact that your first thought upon observing a significant national tragedy was something involving the word “sheeple”? Hint: geniuses are often not recognized in their own lifetime.
  4. When news stops being news, STOP READING THE NEWS. For any event, there comes a time in between the initial propagation of what is known to have happened and the emergence of useful analysis and slower-moving data. During this time, nothing new can be learned of the event. However, if a reporter were to tell you “We know nothing more about the alien invasion, please come back tomorrow when scientists have had the chance to examine the pods” they would be sacked and the persons responsible for sacking them would be sacked. They will therefore not tell you this. Hence, you must do the job yourself. When the news people start repeating themselves, shut them off. At the least, you will be saved aggravation; probably also misinformation, by avoiding the point at which unsourced data starts to get spurious attribution.

When something happens far away from you, there often isn’t much you can do to help during the initial phase of the event. The only thing you may have an effect on is whether you aggravate yourself and whether you aggravate other people — and by following these four simple rules, you can make sure that your contribution (tiny though it may be) is the best that it can be.

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… so here is a picture of a kitten.

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