Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Electile Dysfunction

If your election lasts longer than six months, call... someone.

It just dawned on me a moment ago that the Minnesota senatorial election between Norm Coleman and Al Franken is well into its fifth month. And according to Firedoglake, there's yet another month's worth of paper chasing before it might end. On the positive side, a recent tally of votes put Franken up by an additional 87 votes, and a number of conservative commentators have recommended that Coleman give it up.

Because, face it, a prolonged election like this is not only painful, it can lead to serious long-term consequences, including permanent impertinence. Or impudence. Or something like that.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Typo or Intentional?

News Item:
PROVO, Utah -- About 18,500 issues of the Daily Universe student newspaper at Brigham Young University were pulled from newsstands because a photo caption on the front page misidentified leaders of the Mormon church as apostates instead of apostles.
From Oregon Live. My guess, given the way things work these days, is that this started as a typo, and the spell checker suggested "apostate." The illiterate student "journalist" assumed that was the word he/she was after, and the illiterate "editor" didn't know any better. The frosting on this cake is that it was BYU.

Followup: Well, I should really finish reading an article before I post and speculate on it... even if posting it before I stop chuckling feels so good. The article states that my speculations about the cause were correct.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Doubtful Decision-Making at Redoubt

The Big Picture has a great gallery of photos from Alaska's Redoubt Volcano.

Though the above does not mention it, I've been meaning to post on the Drift River Oil Terminal for a while... briefly, it was badly damaged when Redoubt erupted 20 years ago. In their infinite wisdom, they decided to rebuild it...wait for it... in exactly the same place, ignoring the fact that Redoubt is a frequently active and violent volcano. The oil terminal is on the broad plain of the major drainage off the volcano. It's far enough from the vent that it's probably not directly at risk from an eruption, but volcanic mudflows, or "lahars," put the terminal at great risk. It was these lahars that caused the damage in 1989.

The news articles I've seen claim that the dikes protecting the tank farm have held and done the job they were intended to do. That may be true, but I find it hard to reconcile such statements with photos like this from the Alaska Volcano Observatory:Picture Date: March 23, 2009 Image Creator: Read, Cyrus;
Image courtesy of AVO/USGS.Please cite the photographer and the Alaska Volcano Observatory / U.S. Geological Survey when using this image.

...and this:Picture Date: March 23, 2009 Image Creator: McGimsey, Game;
Image courtesy of AVO/USGS.Please cite the photographer and the Alaska Volcano Observatory / U.S. Geological Survey when using this image.

The above picture is much reduced, but if you look carefully, that dark splotch in the middle of the dike that runs from the upper left to lower right, is a place where the lahar has ramped up against it and overtopped it. There's also some overflowing on the back dike, but it's hard to make out in this picture. All that dark watery looking stuff outside the dike is debris flow deposits. I can't figure out how to link to the full-sized pictures, but this search should allow you to find them. Fair warning: they're much scarier in full detail. This was a barely-dodged bullet, and the bullets are still flying.

Now the infuriating aspect of this is that Redoubt has been grumbling for about two months now... plenty of time to prepare. I wouldn't be the first to point out the odd correlation between Bobby Jindal's "something called volcano monitoring" comment and the first hints of restlessness at Redoubt. It's only been over the last couple of weeks that it's been venting major blasts. So how did they do with emptying the tanks? Well, they talked and talked and talked. Finally it was announced Thursday (9 days after the date on the above photos) that a tanker was on its way to empty the tanks on Saturday. Oh, and because of the way the tanks are designed, it's not safe to empty them more than half-way. They might float away if swamped.

Saturday, it was announced that due to a major volcanic explosion, it was unsafe for the tanker to approach the area, and it had been turned around.

There's six million gallons of crude sitting in the path of lahars from a dangerous, active volcano. Looks like the oil's stuck there for the forseeable future. Sounds like a really, really stupid disaster movie, doesn't it?

Stupid? You Betcha!
Disaster? This could make the Exxon Valdez look like patty-cakes.
Movie? Sorry. This is the real world.

Oops, forgot to stick in a link to the article that preciptated this rant...

What Happened?

Last night, I skimmed over the news about the quake in Italy... one headline described it as a "disasterously powerful 6.7." Now 6.7 is not trivial, but neither, in most cases, is it going to be "disasterous." So I didn't read in detail, nor have I yet... I'm just startled that it's as big a mess as it is.
Photo reduced from Speigel; see the full gallery here.

My assumptions, as I skipped the details, were these: Italy is a relatively modernized country, with (I presumed) fairly decent and enforced building codes. I assumed that Italy has a long history of earthquakes, which on one hand gives experience in building resistant structures, and on the other, over time weeds out less resistant structures. Finally I assumed that culturally, the Italians were probably better prepared to cope, due to their experience with the shaking earth over the last two or three millenia.

As I'm trying to make clear, I really haven't read much in the way of details yet; I'm just reacting to the shock I'm feeling for so misunderestimating the situation as I tried to get my butt out of here last night. My reassment of my assumptions is more or less this: most of the collapsed buildings look to be masonary, with little reinforcement (I'm not seeing a lot twisted rebar sticking out of the rubble). They look to be older buildings, not modern. So building standards are clearly not what I was guessing. Perhaps there are fewer and less frequent earthquakes than I had assumed, at least in this region of the country.

I guess the point is, even a moderate earthquake can cause devastating results if a region isn't prepared. It's a good lesson for those of us in the Pacific Northwest, and one we should take to heart.

Followup, 5:50 PM: USGS is saying this was actually a 6.3; the Italian geological service is saying 5.8. Either way, it was less powerful than I first heard. Apparently, suspicions are that corruption, looking the other way for a bribe, played a role. And while it was less powerful than I first read, it was still more powerful than most earthquakes in the region. The most devastated areas were those with older (centuries older), unretrofitted buildings. I'm still a little stunned by the destruction from what to my mind is a fairly moderate event.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Funnies

Pull youself up, grab a cup of coffee and prepare to laugh... catapultist pig. (From Night Deposits, a recent find)
Forget all your woes. (From Criggo)
Yesterday, Connor (who has moved back to Portland, and only occasionally visits the coffee shop now) recommended The Perry Bible Fellowship. It's apparently inactive now, but very funny, and there are lots of archived comics. Dark, grim humor... the artist has a great takeoff on Edward Gorey (here's one example), and mimics his style beautifully, but the style of humor overall is reminiscent of Gorey. It's copyrighted, so I may be violating all sorts of homeland security laws, but I really liked this one:
Click here for full size.

Another find this week was "This is Why You're Fat (Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks)." Insanely decadent food...
"Bacon Wrapped Twinkie Stonehenge-" I don't think I could eat this, and I don't want to know what the foundation is. And below is the "Elvis Donut: Peanut butter glazed donut topped with bananas and bacon." I would try this, and I might even like it. I just noticed, as I was chasing links around, that they further describe the subject matter as "deliciously gross food." Perfect.I posted this picture back in (I think, but don't feel like tracking down the post) October, but I like the caption...
political pictures for your blog
see more Political Pictures

Gotta get a Lolcat or two in the mix...
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
This one may be obscure to younger readers... it refers to a classic Twilight Zone episode where a very young William Shatner is apparently hallucinating a goblin on the wing of the airplane he's traveling on. This episode was recreated for the Twilight Zone Movie. And while we're on the topic of "spooky," this clip can be taken as amusing or creepy, depending on your preferences...

Followup: I realized that there's no description... that's a racoon reaching through a knothole and taking catfood that has been laid down, presumably to attract racoons.
The resemblance is uncanny...
see more dog and puppy pictures

So that wraps it up for this edition. Hope your work week goes well...
From My [confined] Space, in this post.

Lawyers Guns and Money (For Driftglass)

One of my favorite bloggers, Driftglass, posted a great piece called "Indictable Boy." Another song from that album immediately came to mind... (Thanks, Driftglass)

I called my favorite patsy
The way I always do
How was I to know
His phone was wire tapped too
I was extorting down in Springfield
I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns and money
Man, get me out of this
I'm the innocent bystander
But somehow I got stuck
Between my hair and a hard place
And I'm down on my luck
But I do not give a fuck
Yeah, you can take a flying fuck
Now I'm hiding in Chicago
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan
Send lawyers, guns and money