August 26, 2002
1:28 PM   Subscribe

The other day a woman on the radio was promoting a charity walk for some disease and stated "every 9 minutes someone dies from this disease. That's a World Trade Center disaster every month" Considering myself on the cutting edge of units of measurement, I thought, have I lost that edge? I guess I Have.
posted by mss (21 comments total)
So I'll move to the forefront and propose the WTC unit of measure (pronounced maybe "wor-trac") and used like the astronomical unit.
Some examples (no metric conversion required):
Number of automobile deaths in 1997 14.5 WTCU
Number of US Presidents killed by guys with guns 1.3 milliWTCU
Number of dead people forever between 18 megaWCTU and 38 megaWCTU
posted by mss at 1:34 PM on August 26, 2002

If we fail to adopt the new Standard Unit of Disaster, then the terrorists have already won!
posted by nickmark at 1:39 PM on August 26, 2002

I disagree mss.

It would be pronounced "wit-tick".
posted by grum@work at 1:41 PM on August 26, 2002

How many megadukkhas in a megaWTCU?
posted by briank at 1:49 PM on August 26, 2002

if the WTCU is customary then the PU (pentagon unit :) should be metric! and like flight 93 could be a rod length or something :) btw rod length sounds like a porn star!
posted by kliuless at 1:59 PM on August 26, 2002

what's an arc second?
posted by kliuless at 2:01 PM on August 26, 2002

oh it's 1/3600th of a degree, about 30 meters. nevermind.
posted by kliuless at 2:04 PM on August 26, 2002

Hey, so long as we're trivializing human life, we might as well use the mass murder at the Nazi death camps as a unit for really large quantities of impersonal death. So, one Holo unit = ~2000 WTC units. Unless, of course, the Holocaust revisionists start complaining that the numbers are too high.
posted by Ayn Marx at 2:25 PM on August 26, 2002

98.73% of all statistics are bullshite.
posted by HTuttle at 3:12 PM on August 26, 2002

what's an arc second?
oh it's 1/3600th of a degree, about 30 meters. nevermind.

kliuless, I know you said "never mind," but for the sake of accuracy:

Yes, an arc second is 1/3600 of a degree. Each degree is divided into 60 arc minutes (or minutes of arc) and each arc minute is divided into 60 arc seconds (or seconds of arc).

However, it's not meaningful to say that an arc second is about 30 meters. That depends on the geometry involved. In the case of terrestrial geography, one arc second of latitude is indeed about 30 meters along the Earth's surface (at sea level), whereas one arc second of longitude is a different amount of distance along the surface, depending upon the latitude (it's 30 meters at the equator, but it's 0 meters at the poles). Note that at different altitudes (or on different sized planets) the exact figure will vary.

In Astronomy the arc second is the basis of the unit of distance known as the parsec. An object one parsec away appears to shift one arc second over six months (as the Earth moves to the opposite side of its orbit). It has a parallax of one arc second, hence "parsec."
posted by Songdog at 3:29 PM on August 26, 2002

Here in New Zealand we use rugby fields. For example, that horse track is four rugby fields long.
posted by holloway at 3:42 PM on August 26, 2002

I've heard the deaths being used as a metric almost since right after the attacks. I think the first reference I heard was to the deaths in Rwanda. It's unfortunate that as the death toll for the attacks was lowered, it became an even more useful measure for comparison.

And I'd ask, if it's not too demanding, that people who are able please refrain from being too flippant about the people who died in the attacks. I've got a pretty tough sense of humor, but I think we can probably be just as funny without this one topic to riff on.
posted by anildash at 4:10 PM on August 26, 2002

The other day a woman on the radio was promoting a charity walk for some disease and stated "every 9 minutes someone dies from this disease. That's a World Trade Center disaster every month"

Here's my real gripe: What happend at the WTC was about more than just people passing on. I'm stunned that anyone can make the equivelance of people dying over time from a disease with the willfull mass murder of civilians. Are we now all supposed to jump up and yell, "Let's roll!" as we fight this disease?

Maybe we should start comparing the numbers on teenage sexual activity with the Rape of Nanking. I mean, hey, it's the same thing, right?
posted by Ayn Marx at 5:38 PM on August 26, 2002

I have heard these types of comparisons before, and while it is interesting to put things is perspective the situations are (obviously?) vastly different.
A death is a death but to compare a disease, that in my eyes are another struggle in life, to a bent mind that caused deaths is ludicrous. Disease are an almost randomly occurring anomaly that just "is" and everyone (except maybe fundys) agrees we can stop them.
What I’m trying to say is disease doesn't discriminate or hate. People behind tragedy like WTC most certainly do.
posted by Dr_Octavius at 6:45 PM on August 26, 2002

Creative units of measurement are fascinating. Ever notice that (in the US) icebergs are measured in units of the State of Rhode Island?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 12:52 AM on August 27, 2002

More curious is that we apparently have no finer unit for ice measurement to cover the chasm between "the size of golf balls" and "the size of Rhode Island".
posted by anildash at 2:03 AM on August 27, 2002

Of the four links in the FPP, the first three are from sources which I personally find very biased. (Though I often share the bias expressed by CounterPunch.) The first site, for instance, in the section called "About Us", leads off their introduction with this rather revealing statement: "The Center for Consumer Freedom represents a coalition of restaurant operators and concerned individuals working together to defend your right to a full and varied menu of dining options. " In other words, they dispute statements about the dangers of drinking because many of their members are in the business of selling booze to customers who then get in their cars and drive home.

I wonder if the use of the "WTC" as a unit of measurement for carnage might serve also a second function in alerting more sophisticated readers to the presence of underlying bias or irrationality. Sort of a corollary to Godwin's Law, if you will.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 2:32 AM on August 27, 2002

thanks Songdog, that's really cool :) i was only looking at it from the perspective of earth, and didn't even think about the latitudinal/longitudinal difference!

i think it's really neat you can generalize planetary geography that way :) and essentially take "right eye/left eye" measurements to gauge distances over well, several parsecs i guess :)

i wonder if there's a relative equivalent to mass death? j/k! i don't know why i found that funny, if even for an arcsec, HA! i guess it depends on your point of view ;)
posted by kliuless at 5:53 AM on August 27, 2002

The use of the Trade Center deaths number as a unit of comparison is being used purely for shock value. The people using them know they are going to offend people, but are doing it to draw attention to their own causes or opinions, and I think it's kind of deplorable.

They could easily say 'as many people as a small town'.

Now, comparing like deaths to like deaths - Vietnam to World War II, say.. or the World Trade Center to the Korea War.. well, now.. I don't think that's inappropriate.
posted by rich at 6:20 AM on August 27, 2002

98.73% of all statistics are bullshite.

Forfty percent of people know that.
posted by saintsguy at 7:03 AM on August 27, 2002

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