Dire predictions can do wonders for a community

As I write this, a large portion of the central United States has not suffered a devastating earthquake, sending thousands to their deaths.

And, boy, are a lot of people in the media upset.


Hundreds of reporters had been dispatched to New Madrid, Mo., epicenter of the predicted quake, to witness the awesome destruction that was supposed to occur this week.

Think of what that meant: In scores of cities, editors and news directors had to choose which reporters they most wanted to be swallowed up by the earth.


I'll bet it was not an easy choice.

There was no question that the story had to be covered. Even if a news outlet didn't really believe that thousands of people were going to be squashed, crushed or torn asunder, it could always claim it was doing a "media" piece on how gullible the rest of the media was in believing that thousands of people were going to be squashed, crushed or torn asunder.

But where did this story originate? With a guy named Iben Browning, who predicted a 50-50 chance of a major quake this week along the New Madrid fault in the Midwest.

And just who is Iben Browning? Well, that depends on who you read. The Washington Post called him "a mysterious, iconoclastic business consultant." Yet TV Guide called him a "respected scientist." Newsday, AP, The Sun and Reuters decided he was "a New Mexico climatologist," while Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Barry Schlachter added this:

"Browning . . . studied at Southwestern Texas Teachers College in San Marcos and later got a doctorate in physiology, genetics ZTC and bacteriology at the University of Texas at Austin. He has no formal schooling in seismology, the study of earthquakes, and calls himself a climatologist and business consultant."

So why pay any attention to Iben Browning at all? Especially since he is in the business of selling $99 quake videos and $225 subscriptions to his personal newsletter?

Well, James Dorman, assistant director of an earthquake research center at Memphis State University, summed it up thusly:

"It's like Elvis. Is Elvis alive? It's a lot of fun." And, Dorman added, "the TV sweeps in November also kept this alive."



Sorry. Where was I. Oh, yeah, in fairness to the media there was one guy, David Stewart, director of the Center for Earthquake Studies at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, who said he was taking his children out of school Monday and Tuesday in case there was a quake and that Iben Browning was a brilliant guy.

But a lot of this brilliance seems to be based on the claim that Browning correctly predicted the San Francisco earthquake last year. This was repeated over and over on TV.

It doesn't seem to be precisely true, however.

A panel of 11 experts of the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council reviewed transcripts of the speeches in which Browning allegedly made the prediction and found "no reference to North America let alone the San Francisco Bay area."

The other "factoid" that was endlessly repeated by the media was that even if Browning was wrong this time, there "eventually" will be an earthquake on the New Madrid fault. Well, maybe. But in a similar vein our sun will "eventually" go nova, ending all life on the planet Earth.


But does that mean we should dispatch a TV satellite truck to cover it next Tuesday?

Let's look on the bright side: The media pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into New Madrid, population 3,200, a town that could use it.

So instead of complaining about the media, why don't we all dowhat the politicians do and use them?

Does your community need a little boost? Well, just invent a disaster. The following stories have not yet

been taken:

Winged Monkeys to Hover


over Ohio Valley!

CLEVELAND -- Noted scientist and replacement window salesman Dwight Hoople has predicted that flying, ape-like creatures will appear in the next two months over the nation's rust belt.

"There will be a tear in the time-space continuum or something like that," Hoople said Tuesday. "So I'd advise everybody to stay indoors for the next 72 days. And if you want to know more, send me a dollar."

Monster to Eat Part of East Coast!

Scientist Says So! Yes!

ATLANTIC CITY -- Thought by many to be merely a fictitious creature created for Japanese movies, Godzilla will appear off the Atlantic Coast next September and consume an entire city during the Miss America pageant, according to noted zoologist and TV repair person Edna St. Vincent Milieu.


"It has to do with the conjunction of the Earth and the moon and the fact that Mothra really did not defeat Godzilla, he was just faking," Ms. Milieu said. "But I've got to go now. Geraldo is waiting."

Ten Plagues to be Visited

upon New York!

NEW YORK -- Frogs, lice, flies, death of cattle, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, the turning of rivers to blood and the slaying of the firstborn will all occur in New York City in the next year, Donald Skeezix, a plague expert who claims to have been Shirley MacLaine in a previous life, said at a press conference Monday.

Asked for his comment, New York Mayor David Dinkins replied: "So? Who'd notice?"

Remember, these are just predictions. Though I think most of them have to happen eventually.