After a month without television, I've done some catching up since Christmas. And I've seen TV do some catching up with current events.

The Indian Ocean tsunami disaster was something I heard about first as an afterthought during afternoon football games, and placed at low priority on the local nightly news (a snowstorm was settling in, and the post-holiday mall blitz was underway). But the initial report of 7000 dead, with assorted clips of foreign harbors, seemed absurdly out of place sandwiched between sports highlights and snowfall totals. It was anomalous, and I'd think about it later.

Now the number they're throwing around is 60,000. I try to imagine my town being wiped off the map, or a dozen 9/11's, but nothing really registers. Yet the disaster has gone from a neatly compartmentalized, abstract story, to something I can't stop thinking about.

The TV's coverage has reflected this change -- they've gone to full-court press. Is it because the networks finally got correspondents in place? Did they underestimate the story's traction? Or did they, too, have a hard time processing this far-away disaster? For all the suddenness of the tsunami, it seems to have taken a few days to realize this might be the most widespread catastrophe in our experience.

If it helps to think of the concrete, there's a second crisis looming as the disrupted water systems in 11 countries succumb to contamination. This time, at least, there's some warning, and an opportunity to intervene. It's at least something to do.