Archive for the 'news' Category

Not Writing About

In my current foggy brain state, I thought I’d share with you things that are on my mind that I’m not going to write about because I can’t do them justice.

  • The easing of trade and travel restrictions with Cuba. This restriction has always seemed ludicrous to me, and I’m glad we’re opening the door.
  • The Obama’s new puppy. Breeder sourced or rescued, and will it make the breed too popular? Holy crap – in the scheme of things expected of a president, this is UTTERLY IMMATERIAL. Find some actual news to report on, people.
  • My sister’s workplace (a hospital) was evacuated today for a bomb threat to the adjacent pharmacy. Apparently a druggie couldn’t get his fix and left the bomb beside instead. The bomb squad actually detonated the not-particularly-lethal bomb. I’m very glad she and her colleagues are ok.
  • Taxes, which utterly suck.
  • Going through a lifetime’s accumulation of stuff, which also utterly sucks and I have not even begun on it.
  • Sleet (in Poulsbo) and snow (in Anchorage) in April is a really bad idea on the part of the weather gods.
  • My smug sons, one of whom is coping marvelously and the other of whom is driving me nuts. (no guesses needed)
  • The demise of WASL standardized testing and exit exams in Washington. (Yeah!) Which will probably be replaced with some other form of standardized testing. (Sigh.)
  • The incredible, enduring value of friends in my life.

Please feel free to add, subtract or elaborate on any of these subjects.

Posted on Monday, April 13th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: news, rant | 10 Comments »

Is the Sky Falling?

Spewing Increased seismic activity at Yellowstone National Park has scientists talking – and prophets of doom all worked up.

Why am I writing about this? Because

  1. I have lived the past six months immersed in volcanology research for the novel I’m writing
  2. I have a gee-whiz college minor in geology, 15 whopping 200-level credits of formal education in the field
  3. I really like Yellowstone and I’d hate to have roast buffalo burger raining down on me here in Seattle

The real expert, Dr. Jacob Lowenstern, Chief Scientist at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, says:

The most likely “bad” thing that could happen would be triggering of a larger earthquake or some sort of steam explosion set off beneath the lake. At this point, any kind of volcanic eruption is a long shot. That’s why we haven’t called for a volcano advisory. None of our other monitoring indicators show anything that is nearly so anomalous as the earthquakes. At this point, the most likely thing is that the swarm will continue, perhaps for weeks, and then will end without any other related activity.

First, let’s define our terms.

The seismic activity in question consists of multiple small, brief quakes over a period of time, and is normal for a dormant volcanic site. Average seismic activity at Yellowstone in the last 10 years is 1,000-2,000 tremors a year. Since December 27, the activity level monitored by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory has increased to hundreds of tremors, approximately 500 during the first week, only three of which were greater than 3.0 in magnitude.

Reports indicate that seismic activity has subsided, and is back to normal levels, for now.


The last major earthquake swarm was in 1985 and lasted three months. The observatory said similar swarms have occurred in the past without triggering steam explosions or volcanic activity.

Yellowstone is a supervolcano which last had a major, full-scale eruption 640,000 years ago. That eruption was a class 8 eruption, ejecting 240 cubic miles of rock and dust into the atmosphere and creating today’s Yellowstone Caldera, approximately 35 x 42 miles in diameter.

There have been other significant eruptions since, one as recently as 13,800 years ago – that’s just a blink of an eye in terms of geologic time.

Eruption Indicators

Indicators of in impending eruption can include:

  • Increased seismic activity – short and long period earthquakes & harmonic tremors
  • Gas emissions – in some cases a buildup, followed by a decrease as magma seals passages
  • Ground deformation – as monitored by elevation, tilt, slope & rate of change
  • Thermal monitoring – infrared satellite imaging, on-site thermometry
  • Hydrology – monitoring wells & boreholes, observing lahars & debris flows
  • Satellite-based remote sensing – thermal, ozone, INSaR differential radar
  • Mass movements and mass failures – monitoring using remote sensors like satellite imagery and acoustic flow monitors

In addition to the earthquake swarms, they’ve recorded upward movement of the Yellowstone caldera floor at almost 3 inches (7 centimeters) per year for the past three years, which is more than three times greater than previously observed since such measurements began in 1923.

Certainly, Yellowstone is displaying some of these indicators – but not all of them, and not, it seems from past history, an atypical pattern.

Scale of Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanologists have a very handy metric for identifying the scale of a volcanic eruption, the Volcanic Explosivity Index. The one I personally experienced, the 1980 Mt. St. Helen’s eruption, was pretty small potatoes. Others, before and since, have been much more significant – with Yellowstone at the top of the scale.

VEI Description Plume Ejecta volume Frequency Example
0 non-explosive < 100 m < 10,000 m³ daily Mauna Loa
1 gentle 100-1000 m > 10,000 m³ daily Stromboli
2 explosive 1-5 km > 1,000,000 m³ weekly Galeras (1993)
3 severe 3-15 km > 10,000,000 m³ yearly Koryaksky
4 cataclysmic 10-25 km > 0.1 km³ ≥ 10 yrs Mt. Spurr (1992)
5 paroxysmal > 25 km > 1 km³ ≥ 50 yrs St. Helens (1980)
6 colossal > 25 km > 10 km³ ≥ 100 yrs Mount Pinatubo (1991)
7 super-colossal > 25 km > 100 km³ ≥ 1000 yrs Mt. Tambora (1815)
8 mega-colossal > 25 km > 1,000 km³ ≥ 10,000 yrs Yellowstone

Prophets of Doom

Because Yellowstone’s original eruption was so spectacular, it’s long been a target for prophets of doom and paranoid survivalists. The following is excerpted from some fairly alarmist material about the possibility of Yellowstone erupting, put together long before this latest earthquake swarm.

If a major eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano occurs, everyone within 600 miles should be prepared for the sudden blast. There may be no precursor quakes prior to such a blast. If it blows, there will be no life within 600 miles except those people who have prepared a place underneath the ground. Millions of people would die – most within the surrounding 100 miles. Even airplanes within the area could be blown out of the sky. It will cause an immediate nuclear winter of dirt and ash in the air over the entire world for 2 years. No crops grown in the midwest U.S. for that same period of time. Our emergency services will be overloaded and unable to respond.

Let’s take a look at those statements, one at a time.

First, there aren’t millions of people within a 600 mile radius of Yellowstone, Wyoming – so that death rate is awfully melodramatic. The fatality radius for the Tambora eruption, a class 7, was about 40 miles, so it’s conceivable that a class 8 supervolcano eruption might wipe out all life within a 100 mile radius. Outside that range, the ashfall would be very heavy, but it would conceivably be survivable.

Yes, it’s possible that airplanes could be blown out of the sky, if they were in the exact wrong place at the wrong time. The same could apply to the recent Mt. Pinatubo and Mt. St. Helens eruptions – they both sent explosive clouds of superheated ash, gas and pumice into the stratosphere.

The nuclear winter argument is pretty accurate. In 1815, the class 7 Mt. Tambora eruption spewed 38.5 cubic miles of ash and gas into the atmosphere eruption, and it was known as the “year without a summer” with snow and frosts in June. 1816 was the second coldest year in a century. A supervolcano eruption, sending ten times the ash and rock into the atmosphere, would have proportionately a more severe effect on global climate.

Would US and global emergency services infrastructure be overloaded and unable to respond in the face of such a disaster? Uh, Hurricane Katrina. Hopefully, the powers-that-be had a very constructive lessons-learned session, but still, I’d recommend those in surrounding areas plan for self-reliance, instead.

Is the Sky Falling?

Probably not, per Dr. Lowenstern and host of other experts who are not issuing any kind of volcano watch at this time. The chances of it happening in any given year, in geologic time, are infinitesimal. Really. Relax and take pictures of the geyser.


USGS Volcano Site
Wikipedia on Volcanoes

Posted on Tuesday, January 6th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: news | 4 Comments »

Irony can Be Pretty Ironic Vol. 3

In the news today:

Bill Clinton Says he Understands Palin’s Appeal
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK — Bill Clinton said Monday he understands why Sarah Palin is popular in the heartland: because people relate to her.

“I come from Arkansas, I get why she’s hot out there,” Clinton said. “Why she’s doing well.”

Sometimes the comedy just writes itself.

Posted on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008 by Jeri
Under: humor, news | 1 Comment »

Sarah Palin

Sarah PalinWe’ve always tried, on this blog, to avoid politics. It’s divisive, and not really what the site is about. But I feel strongly about a politician, for the first time in a while, and wanted to write about it. So, we’ll set aside the rule for now.

As most of those of you who read here know, Jeri and I lived in Alaska before moving to Washington state in 2005. I’d lived there, off and on, for a big chunk of my life, from 1969 until we moved here. So yeah, I’m an Alaskan, even though I live in Washington. I’ll always identify with the place.

Alaska politics is odd mix of not immensely sophisticated and weirdly chaotic. Alaska has been a “red” state for many years, but with an odd penchant for mavericks and oddities. Sometimes relatively conservative Democrats do well there, perhaps the best example being ex-governor Tony Knowles, former governor and mayor of Anchorage. Of late, the Republican Party has been wracked with charges of corruption from state legislators up to Senator-for-Life Ted Stevens. The Alaska GOP has for years assumed its supremacy and often paid the price for that arrogance. Politics in Alaska have generally been a mix of amusing and exasperating. So, you know, like most places.

Me, politically? I tend a lot to sit on the fence, uncomfortably, as a moderate, but have leaned Republican and conservative for the most part. I split from the party here and there, somewhat strongly…gun control, for example. I totally agree with Obama’s point from his convention speech that we can still honor the First Amendment and keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I am not evangelical about politics (or most things, mind you), but I don’t suffer fools gladly, especially disingenuous politicians. I’m sick to death of rhetoric. I’m bone weary of two plus year long campaigns for federal office. I think most politicians – not all, but most – are suspect. I find Rush Limbaugh equally repellant as James Carville; I’m tired of the BS from both of them. Jon Stewart is absolutely my hero – even though I don’t agree with his politics – for going on CNN’s Crossfire a couple of years ago and telling those idiot pundits to shut the hell up: they were hurting America. And lo, CNN heard and cancelled, and it was good.

I went to high school for a couple of years with Sean Parnell, Sarah Palin’s Lt. Governor. Played football with him. I don’t consider Sean to be a close friend or claim any sort of “in” with him…I just like him; I think he’s a thoroughly decent guy who in my few dealings with him has been genuine and honest. I’ve never met Governor Palin, though, but I think she’s cut from the same cloth as Sean.

Enough background. I’ve decided, after some initial trepidation, that I am totally stoked about Sarah Palin being the Republican vice presidential candidate. Here’s why.

It’s not because she’s a woman, any more than I’d be stoked about Barack Obama being black, or me being a fat guy from Poulsbo. To me, that should be and is irrelevant, and I truly believe we are never, ever going to get over discrimination until we quit worrying about it and move the hell on. We’re different racially, religiously and sexually, and that’s sometimes interesting, sometimes troubling, it sometimes causes us to act differently, but worrying about that so much is about three-fourths of the problem. If the being a woman part of it impresses me, it’s because she frickin’ gave birth 4 months ago (men still can’t do that) and never skipped a beat doing her job. And I complain when my feet hurt! I do “get it” that being a woman puts her in a hole with some people. I just think that’s their problem, not mine.

No, I’m stoked about Sarah because I think she’s really, truly different as a politician. Her honesty is important to her. Getting the government out of people’s way, but using it as tool for the common good is important. Corruption, to her, is loathsome, and she doesn’t give a crap who the bad actor is, they deserve no place in government and she pushes them out. She appears (and I say “appears” because how the hell do you really know, absent direct inside knowledge) to be a great family person. As I watched her speech in Dayton accepting McCain’s offer, I was struck by the time out of that few minutes she had to be introduced to America that she took to talk about her family, in particular her husband and oldest son. Unlike many such platitudes from politicos running for office, it struck me as very genuine.

I also have feeling that while she would love to win this election, if she doesn’t, she’ll be quite content to go home and watch her husband Todd win another snowmobile race and, oh yeah, run the largest land mass state in the country, one loaded with natural resources we’re going to need to manage. Or maybe go shoot a moose. I doubt she’ll go off wailing and gnashing her teeth, gain weight, grow a beard (well, figuratively) and sulk. Why do I think this? Because before McCain called the last time she talked about the VP job she not only downplayed her chances, but laughed a bit about the office itself; the proper attitude, even though I do think the position is important given McCain’s age.

I like that the mistakes Palin makes, like maybe not being the best debater, not having the pat answer, seem to be mistakes of honesty, not lying. This thing with the ex-brother-in-law state trooper is an overblown piece of muckraking crap, with the chief rake-r being a guy she beat handily in the last election. My take on that whole thing: the trooper in question is a bad guy, who I wouldn’t want carrying a gun as a public protector. If she can’t force his firing, if that’s what happened, regardless of who he was married to, then what the hell is her job, anyway?

I do think experience is an issue. It’s one in her favor, ultimately, to me. She has no experience in Washington DC – and other than that meaning she’ll have to learn how to wade through the crap, I think that’s good. She’s been running a state the last two years while Obama, McCain, and Biden have been, well, running for President. She’s been in the executive branch; the other three are legislators…lawmakers, not leaders. Foreign policy? Well, other than personally having a multinational background genetically, what does Obama have more so than Palin – voting on State Department funding? Isn’t that why we have career diplomats and experts? The details are up to them, the policy is up to the President. It’s a wash, folks, at worst for Palin, in spite of what you’ll be hearing.

So, I’m dropping my overt political indifference to say, give Sarah Palin a look. Forget the pundits, the Fox News screamers, the Air America snits, and the Monday morning quarterbacks of the network news. I feel better about a national politician than I have in a long, long time.

I just hope I’m not jinxing her.

Note: For a different, but equally positive, take on Sarah Palin’s newly-minted candidacy, check out Alaskan blogger Jim Wright’s excellent summary at Stonekettle Station.

Posted on Saturday, August 30th, 2008 by Bryan
Under: Alaska, news, Politics, rant | 11 Comments »

Headlines of our Lives

I’m going to take a page from Nathan and suggest an Internet group activity.

Have you read Eric’s excellent blog post today about the nutbar woman who is a “Puppy-Cloning International Sex Fugitive With Three-Legged Horse Wanted In Tennessee”? It’s a great post. Just don’t read it while you’re drinking any sort of beverage – you don’t want to snort liquid out your nose.

Both Janiece and I commented that we think that our lives just don’t rate that kind of drama. Really, though, we’re all interesting people, and we’re all creative types.

Here’s my proposal. I challenge each UCF type – or innocent bystander – to visit a couple of others – or everyone! – and write them interesting and dramatic headlines about their lives. They don’t have to be correct, based in fact, or even related to the post at hand. Be imaginative. Exaggerate. Suck up. Bait the search engines.

After all, don’t we all live extraordinary lives? So let’s immortalize that in print, at least with prose as deathless as electronic media can be.

Update: I’m having better luck writing short bio paragraphs than headlines. I’m just too wordy. So that’s what you’re getting from me. Whatever works! :)

Posted on Sunday, August 17th, 2008 by Jeri
Under: news, ucf | 17 Comments »