50,000

China seeks earthquake aid from Japan – CNN.com

China is having problems with lakes dammed by earthquake debris. The natural dams will eventually burst, causing widespread flooding and death. China is trying to avoid that, of course. As it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around the sheer volume of water involved, a Chinese engineer helpfully provides a comparison for one of the new lakes:

The lake is holding 130 million cubic meters (170 million cubic yards) of water — equal to about 50,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to Liu Ning, chief engineer of the Ministry of Water Resources.

The main thing to notice about Mr Ning’s comparison is that it doesn’t help at all. 50,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools? I don’t comprehend 50,000 of anything. I don’t care if you stack them to the moon or line them up on the equator; you’re not helping me. 50,000 is just too many. And it’s cute how everything’s so goddamn Olympic over there right now. But the visual didn’t really make it, Mr Ning, I’m sorry.

“Wait, how about a stadium full of people. An Olympic stadium; perhaps a velodrome. That’s 50,000, right? Maybe more? You can see that, right? I mean, if you have a ticket?”

Sure, why not. Let each dot equal one person. Let each person equal one Olympic-sized swimming pool. That’s a shitload of water. I get that. I get that it’s a lot. But I can’t even visualize 50,000 people when I see them in a stadium. It’s just this seething mass of other. If we want to call that seething mass of other ‘50,000,’ that’s fine, just please don’t pretend that you’re really grokking how many people that is, or how many swimming pools they represent. You’re not, either, you know.

Also funny about that quote: the 130,000,000 cubic meters of water = 50,000 Olympic swimming pools equation is attributed to Mr Ning. As if AP or CNN has nobody on staff who could POSSIBLY verify that through the magic of mathematical calculation: “Well, Mr Ning says this equals that, but we really have no way we can think of to back that up. He seems like a very nice young man, though, so we quoted him.”

Is this what news agencies have come to? They have neither the time nor the resources to verify even the smallest, most easily verifiable factoid that crosses their desks?

This doesn’t lead me to fear for humanity, exactly, because humanity has undergone worse trials than overworked fact-checkers in the last couple thousand years. That’s true. But I used to assume things would get better as I got older. I think we all did. And it’s just not the case. There is an absurd number of lazy or dishonest people out there, and that number seems to be growing every day. Probably at least 50,000 of them by now.

Thank you! You’ve been great!

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