Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ye Olde XXX News, Goddammit

A couple indignant e-mailers today griped that we carried an AP news story out of New Orleans in which an evacuee was quoted saying, "That's what so devastating, that goddamned levee breaking."

Two million people displaced or killed. Two million futures disrupted. Putrefying corpses floating in the streets like free-swimming day at the Styx. A modern city reduced to an uninhabitable, poisonous swamp. American confidence in its government's protective capability shaken. Our own oil security crimped while the oil-terrorists howl at our back door. An unprecedented recovery and cleanup that could exceed the GNP of most nations on Earth. A potential public health crisis looming ... and these folks worry about the Lord's name being taken in vain?

Face it, if God were reading the paper, we might have at least been spared from listening to Kanye West.

But the most interesting caller today wanted to know the origins of "-30-" ... a traditional symbol appearing at the end of hard-copy news stories in the "old" days (you know, back when we used typewriters.) For once, I actually knew! It derived from the days when out-of-town stories were literally transmitted by telegraph wire (thus, we still call them "wire services.") The telegrapher separated each item with a simple "XXX." And if you paid attention in Latin class or watched the Super Bowl 10 years ago, it looks a lot like the Roman numeral for 30. Over the years, under the green eyeshades of yore, "XXX" simply evolved to "-30-"

And as you can imagine, more than one old-time newspaperman's obit ended that way.

3 comments:

Gordon said...

OK, Ron.
The "30" bit was nice. Even for me, a former reporter/correspondent/teletyper for United Press, then United Press International. If I had known that, I'd forgotten it.
But your numbers were certainly wrong when referring to the lives disrupted in New Orleans...I think that was what you were referring to..."millions?" Pretty good for a city of 500,000.
Still I agree with you on the central point you made, sometimes swear words are the best way to go to express individual emotion. And I more clearly understood, at a gut level, how that quoted evacuee (not refugee) was feeling. I'm certain anyone's god (or God) would have forgiven the epithet. It's those over-righteous God has to watch out for.

Ron Franscell said...

Here's how I figured the population affected by Katrina. You can be forgiven because The Media (ack) has focused so much on New Orleans that many people forget the devastation beyond NOLA's city limits.

The New Orleans Metropolitan Statistical Area (a Census unit) has roughly 1.33 million people. That's New Orleans, Metairie, Slidell and all the contiguous communities around New Orleans -- all were affected.

The Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula MSA contains 385,000 souls, the Census says.

If we agree that everyone living in those two areas was affected by Katrina, then that's more than 1.7 million people. It's not really very risky to assume that another 300,000 people occupy Katrina's swath on the Gulf Coast, from Mobile, Ala., to Jackson, Miss.

Thus, my rough head-math arrives at 2 million affected.

And it doesn't count those immediate relatives who might not live in the area, but whose lives were disrupted by Katrina because they were suddenly pitched into a well of worry.

The number, whatever it ultimately proves to be, is frighteningly high.

Cill said...

You always bring a broader perspective that I appreciate. It seems there is so much focus on New Orleans we forget the rest of the area that was devastated. Thanks for reminding us.