More strange journalism

This entry is not apropos of anything important. It’s just an example of the sort of odd and inexplicable thing you run into every day in the media.

The New York Times published this AP article on September 26:

Fla. Man Drowns While Attempting Birthday Bet
Published: September 26, 2010

DANIA BEACH, Fla. (AP)—Authorities say a South Florida man who bet $50 that he could swim across a canal behind his house drowned while attempting the feat.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release that Timothy Jordan of Dania Beach had been celebrating his birthday when he announced the bet. He would have turned 46 on Tuesday.

Deputies say Jordan was drunk when he stripped down to his boxer shorts and jumped into the canal. He made it about halfway across when he started struggling.

Divers recovered his body just after 4 a.m.

Two points: One, the AP story doesn’t tell us how wide the canal was. Was it 50 feet across? Was it 500 feet across? Did the man drown because he recklessly attempted to swim too far, or because he was intoxicated, or for some other reason? As it is written, the story is senseless.

Two, why did the Times choose to publish this senseless story? There are, I presume, several drownings in this country every day from May through September. Why was this drowning considered newsworthy by the august New York Times, when hundreds of others are not?

- end of initial entry -

Richard W. writes:

This article reports that the canal was only 50 yards wide, (but had a current). A standard sized YMCA pool is 50 yards longs. Why would anyone be interested in boasting about swimming fifty yards?

It would be like a New Yorker betting he could walk from First Avenue to Third Avenue.

A mile is 1760 yards, or 35 one way laps, or 17.5 round trips. There are thousands of people in the USA who regularly swim that much a few times a week. (Most kids on high school swim teams.)

I’ve noticed before that people who don’t swim (really, but can paddle around a little) are impressed with small swimming feats, like swimming 50 yards, while having no understanding what people with competence can do. I can only assume that this person was a weak swimmer, and thought that swimming 50 yards would be quite an achievement!

It is merely yet another sign of the depressing stupidity and lack of self-knowledge that is an epidemic in our society. The way to be able to swim confidently across a 50 yard canal is to swim a mile in a pool. Twice a week. For a year. Such dedication to the mundane is a disappearing trait. People would rather simulate swimming on a Playstation than actually learn to swim well.

It is also somewhat reminiscent of the Texas couple with the “No Fear” motto being killed by bandits when jet skiing onto the Mexican side of the lake. There is a huge difference between taking risks after preparing and rationally analyzing them, and being an idiot. America seems full of “Darwin Award” winners these days.

A few years ago I swam from the beach on the windward side of Oahu to Rabbit Island and back, a distance of about 1.5 miles round trip. I chatted up the lifeguard before starting off, so that he would understand I was a competent adult and not a fool. Rabbit Island, as seen from the beach. However, at 21 miles I would consider the English Channel above my ability and conditioning. The idea of knowing one’s personal limits just seems to be a lost art in the West these days.

Paul K. writes:

The canal is 50 yards wide. I learned this from a more complete article.

The AP article leaves out that piece of information.

This site has a picture of the canal and Tim Jordan’s “partner.” I would guess he also was black.

Eddie Jean looks over the canal where her partner
Tim Jordan drowned during his birthday party

LA replies:

It’s not entirely clear to me that Eddie Jean is a woman.

A reader writes:

About Eddie Jean: Her slender wrists and fingers appear to be those of a woman but her name, loose shirt, and very high forehead could cause one to believe otherwise.

October 10

Judith H. writes:

In 1969, as a high school teacher, I went as a chaperone on the senior class trip to Washington. Part of the trip included a boat ride on the Potomac. The school at that time was integrated and the trip, therefore, included both whites and blacks, possibly more whites. A young black student had been drinking, but he was allowed to go on the trip anyway because no one had the legal power to prevent it. On board the ship he declared that he could swim faster than “whitey,” and jumped overboard to prove it. Suddenly there was pandemonium—teachers running to the boat’s side (I don’t remember if anyone jumped in—I don’t think so), but it took the authorities a while to find the body. He had been caught in the undertow, though we had all been warned about things like that. His classmates had tried to stop him, but he insisted on stripping down to his shorts and jumping.

To my horror, they voted to go on with the trip. I couldn’t believe it, and looking back, it seems as shocking now as it did then. We had to visit the sites, have dinner and music, all the while knowing a member of the class had been killed in an infantile and racially motivated act (and the racism was on the part of a black student—though of course you couldn’t say that). The teachers had to hold on to his clothes and belongings (I was not one of them), turn them over to the principal who was waiting for us when we returned. It was one of the grimmest experiences—surreal. I was so relieved to get home. I never went on another class trip.

Your account of the drowning sounds almost like a replica—a bet is made by a drunken fellow who drowns from his incredible foolishness. Except that in Florida it was a 46-year old adult, and in my case it was a teen who had power over school authorities on the issue of alcohol.

I don’t know why the Florida story made the papers, but the 1969 incident got some publicity. I think that as a result, the schools were allowed to prevent students who were drunk from going on trips (not that it mattered much in terms of quality of education).

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 09, 2010 12:43 PM | Send

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