Bloggers on how news spread about China's devastating earthquake.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
May 13 2008 3:52 PM

Disaster in China

Disaster in China: On Monday, southwest China suffered a devastating earthquake that has killed more than 13,000 and injured many more. The epicenter was in Sichuan Province, but tremors could be felt as far away as Thailand and Beijing. According to the New York Times, the earthquake, China's worst since 1876, "destroyed 80 percent of structures in some of the towns and small cities near its epicenter. ..."*  Despite the carnage, much of the talk in the blogosphere centers on how readers got their news about the natural disaster.

Online Journalism Blog is wowed by how quickly Web media jumped to cover the earthquake and scooped their mainstream counterparts: "How quickly would a journalist have found someone who speaks English and was affected by the quake? Or an image? (Of course, this needs verifying, but sourcing has already begun)."

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Peter Scoble of Scobleizer fame may have indeed broken the story: "I reported the major quake to my followers on Twitter before the USGS Website had a report up and about an hour before CNN or major press started talking about it. Now there's lots of info over on Google News. How did I do that? Well, I was watching Twitter on Google Talk. Several people in China reported to me they felt the quake WHILE IT WAS GOING ON!!!" Matthew Ingram at The Globe and Mail's Ingram 2.0 confirms: "I didn't get the news from the radio or TV—I got it from Twitter, a group-chat/instant messaging client that has been gaining in popularity as a real-time news application."

Not so fast, saysBetter Living Through Software: "It's silly in the extreme to act like twitter is somehow breaking news, though. Masses of people within China found out about the earthquake as it was happening via messages from friends on QQ (which is massively more popular than twitter), and CCTV carried the news almost instantly." Kaiser Kuo at Digital Watch agrees: "Twitter's immediacy was nice, but by no means unique. The whole time I was twittering, my wife was on her instant messengers, with both QQ and MSN Live open. She was also monitoring all the portals' news flashes on the quake. I didn't feel like I had any more information than she did."

Richard Spencer of the Telegraph's blog writes: "A friend points out that this may be a test of residual feudal superstition in China. The Tangshan earthquake in 1976 was said to be an omen of Mao's death two months later. This would be a bad year for a repeat, though there are no indications this is anything like on that scale."

Andrea Hsu of NPR's Chengdu Diary has interviewed survivors: "The first person I spoke to was 14-year-old Zheng Mingzhong, who was balancing himself with a bamboo pole as he stood on one foot, his other foot swollen and blistered. When we approached him, he immediately broke into tears."

Read more about the China quake.

Einstein's atheism: "The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish." So wrote Albert Einstein in a 1954 letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, delivering the bodkin to claims that the father of relativity believed in the divine. The letter is set to be auctioned in London this week.

Citizen Haines doesn't think the letter is conclusive: "My problem with all of this speculation is that when one is writing in a journal, it is often of his deepest, most inner thoughts and feelings. … [Y]ou could have someone write a thought down in 1954 and then read something from 1956 that completely contradicts what was said two years prior." Roger L. Simon is skeptical: "Einstein, titanically brilliant as he was, was … conflicted. That would be reasonable, wouldn't it? The people who have resolved this issue are the ones who scare me."

Scott Allan says the proof was in Einstein's life's work: "It was inconsistent and contradictory to believe that Einstein would accept faith as an explanation of the universe since he dedicated his life to proving that there is a scientific explanation or unified theory for how the universe worked."

Jason Carson posts: "This may change a few people's views on religion but it should put an end to religious people claiming one of the smartest people to ever live was a believer. There are a few scientists that admit to being Atheists and don't buy into religion but who better to be a trailblazer than one of the most popular scientists to ever live, Albert Einstein."

Who cares? asks Sailing to Byzantium. "What Einstein did or did not believe about God makes zero difference to the possible existence or non-existence of a God. To appeal to what Einstein said would be an empty appeal to authority."

At the Guardian's Comment Is Free, Andrew Brown tries to add a subtle psychological comment to Einstein's letter: "Einstein did flay in this letter almost everything that Gutkind believed in. The claim that Jews were special seemed to him absurd; the civilised interpretation of the Bible, an artificial distortion of the text; even the claim the humans have free will had been exposed by Spinoza. But he didn't regard these theological views as fundamental. He didn't really think they interfered with the 'striving to make life beautiful and noble,' and he meant those words."

Read more about Einstein's atheism.

The Southern St. Bernard: Pop artist Robert Rauschenberg died Monday at the age of 82. He melded and transcended traditional media—painting, sculpture, photography—and in his exploitation of the mundane embodied what Robert Hughes once called "supply-side aesthetics." An affable and charming Southerner, Rauschenberg was to 20th-century art rather what Allen Tate was to poetry.

Alex Pareene at Gawker mourns: "The Times describes him as a 'brash, garrulous, hard-drinking, open-faced Southerner.' People used to care way more about art when it was made by people like that instead of twee New School students."

Blixity writes, "Building on the work of Marcel Duchamp, Rauschenberg (together with his contemporaries John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and former partner Jasper Johns) opened the doors to chance and gave rise to generations of critical experiments with art, life, and American culture."

And artist Rob Myers confesses: "Rauschenberg's work had a massive impact on me when I first arrived at art school. His art was high stakes aesthetics in which either everything was transformed into art or … But it was always transformed into art. Rauschenberg convinced me that freedom was not only possible but worth pursuing in art, and that art could transform any materials while still (or possibly thereby) retaining a link to real life."

Read more Rauschenberg obits.

Correction, May 14, 2008: This article originally misstated that the New York Times reported that 80 percent of the buildings in Sichuan Province were destroyed by the earthquake. The newspaper reported that 80 percent of buildings in certain parts of the province were destroyed. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

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