The line is open UPDATES | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The line is open UPDATES

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Tuesday thoughts? Fire away. Close-outs:


1) LR TAXES: Clayton J reports that the city board punted to the city manager tonight to come up with a sales tax increase of up to 1.5 to 2 cents on the dollar (against the current half-cent). City needs money. I'll be surprised if the ballot issue doesn't turn out a permanent half-cent for operations and a halef-cent, sunsetted, for capital needs. Not one penny for corporate welfare, I hope. Any plan should include a promise to end subsidizing the LR Chamber of Commercec.

2) DEBT CEILING: It turned out to be a meaningless show vote, but all Arkies in the U.S. House including DINO Mike Ross voted against the "clean" vote to raise the debt ceiling. Joplin needs money? Screw 'em.


* HUCKSTERING: Florida tax fugitive Mike Huckabee will shill his book at noon tomorrow at the Clinton School. He's also meeting, privately, in the morning with Republican constitutional officers. I'm sure he'd be happy to sell them a few copies, too. Wonder if they have to pay for the audience? The charge shouldn't be too high. Looks like the crowd for Huckabee hasn't required move of his talk to a bigger hall — as Rachel Maddow's did.

* FRACKED: You want to see shameless, check out the new Facebook page for the Legislative Shale Caucus. It urges readers to join "all our friendly shale gas producer friends" at a Fort Smith convention. Does a poll question on whether readers believe "tree huggers are destroying America." It almost reads like a put-on. And a tree-hugger currently has infiltrated the page with a substance dangerous to the Shale Caucus — the truth about environmental issues and fracking. On further reflection, maybe it is a put-on. But the ugly truth is no comedy.

* SOUND FAMILIAR?: I'm hearing whispers that some of the fiction resembles facts of life at a local accounting firm in this $2.99 Kindle-only novel, "Accountable to None," being sold on Amazon. Or maybe accounting firms all over have novel-worthy material and the resemblance to real-life local characters is strictly coincidental. I don't think you'll find author Ashley Fontainne in the Little Rock phone book. But she is on Facebook.

* SUPPORT VETERANS: A group of Arkansas veterans called a news conference today to highlight the work of a group that opposes Republican-backed cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

“Some people in Congress think that the way to balance the budget is through cuts to veterans benefits, Social Security and Medicare. We strongly disagree,” said Jim Lynch, Vietnam veteran. “Current talk about cutting Social Security benefits and destabilizing the economic security of our veterans is a disservice that veterans don’t deserve.”

* WHAT ME WORRY? Sen. John Boozman says he fears no backlash from voting to end Medicare as we know it. We shall see. That budget plan is just a starting place, he said. Yes, and an ending place. See Ernie Dumas' column this week on how little coverage will be afforded by the voucher system with which Republicans would end Medicare as we know it.

* EXAGGERATING STORMS: John Robinson of the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock has some interesting comments about the tendency to exaggerate the size of tornadoes, storm damage and flood damage. Even in Joplin. Read on the jump:

This year, more than any time in the past, we have been dealing with exaggerated storm reports.

Just last week, the tornado that occurred between Oil Trough and Jacksonport was reported to be "1/2 mile wide." This was completely untrue, as video evidence of the tornado showed. (Complete disclosure: Yes, we at the NWS fell for this report.)

Also last week, there were published reports that the Johnson Regional Medical Center in Clarksville had been badly damaged. This was incorrect; it was the old hospital that had been damaged.

Things were even worse during the Vilonia tornado. A report came out almost immediately that Vilonia had been "destroyed" or was "gone" (I forget the exact word.) In reality, there was a lot of damage in Vilonia but to use either of the adjectives mentioned was gross overstatement. In fact, some places in eastern Vilonia were untouched. We also had a report that the Valero gas station had been destroyed. Untrue again; the station was open the next day on generator power. (An old, abandoned gas station across the street had part of the second floor knocked off.) We had a report that the Harps grocery store was destroyed. This was untrue; it had some facade damage on the left side and the right-front corner.

A well-known storm chaser, Reed Timmer, apparently heard the overstated description of damage in Vilonia and later sent Tweets that said, "I bet Vilonia gets an EF5 rating. Very bad situation up there" and "Pavement scoured off just to our north in Vilonia. One of the strongest couplets I have ever seen on radar."

Many, many people took Reed's Tweets to indicate that he had seen the damage. Note, however, his wording "up there," not "here," and "just to our north in Vilonia." This wording clearly indicated that he was nearby but not in Vilonia. Nevertheless, with this being a well-known chaser and people assuming he had seen the damage, we got quite a bit of verbal abuse when we rated the tornado EF2. Among the comments on our office's Facebook page were that we didn't know what we were doing, that we were "government liars," and that we were underestimating the strength of the tornado so that insurance companies wouldn't pay off. (Of course, the rating of a tornado has nothing to do with whether insurance pays or not. In fact, it doesn't matter whether it was a severe thunderstorm or a tornado, a person with homeowner's insurance is covered.)

After the Joplin tornado some of the reports indicated the top three floors of the hospital were gone. Video immediately after the tornado showed this was untrue. There was a report that 70-75% of the city was gone. Even a moment of thought would have indicated this could not have been true. The population of Joplin is roughly the same as North Little Rock's. A tornado 1 mile wide or 1.5 miles wide would be incapable of destroying 70-75% of a city that covers so much area.

Yet, even the day after the tornado, one national news broadcast had the weather reporter (sitting in Joplin!) saying 70-75% of town had been destroyed (wrong), the tornado was wrapped in rain so people couldn't see it coming (the videos I have seen show the tornado very well), and that the town had virtually no warning (wrong again).

Even as late as May 28, six days after the tornado, this was posted on (a storm chaser's forum): "Very good friend and reliable source told me the number of deaths is grossly higher than the number being put out right now. A family member of my friend works for the coroner's office there and told her this. That because of so many unidentifiable corpses, they can't officially confirm someones death until they have been identified. She told me there's 2000+ dead. A lot of these come from the home depot and walmart and old neighborhoods." Reference: Message #227 on this site:

In the recent round of river flooding, there were rumors galore that various levees had broken (almost all of which were untrue, with a few exceptions in northeast Arkansas). Ever since I have been at this office (more than 35 years), every significant flood has brought numerous untrue rumors that a particular river would get at least several feet above what was forecast or that levees had broken or were about to break.

I can't help but wonder how much social media has played in some of these ridiculous, exaggerated reports making the rounds. True, social media is often first to bring word of a big event, but it appears it's often first to bring terribly erroneous reports as well. I wonder how many of these erroneous reports are actually complete falsehoods purposely started by someone to see what the reaction will be, much as some kid would falsely report a fire to see how many fire engines would come down the street.

Any thoughts?

John Robinson

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