19

Sometimes, the news from my old home state is horrible.

Yarnell, Arizona is a tiny little community along the Highway 89 corridor. It’s got less than a thousand people. It’s in dry country, just a little north of Phoenix, near Prescott. There’s been a drought, and record heat, and it’s the dry-lightning season, when everything’s ready to go up at a spark, and the clouds give bolts with no rain. This is the time of year when Arizona residents bite their lips and look worriedly at the wilderness, hoping against hope they won’t see the thin column of smoke that speaks of a conflagration to come.

Lightning struck. The winds picked up. And that dry chaparral around Yarnell went up like someone had doused it with gasoline and lit a match. [Read more...]

Japan

Collapsed House and Road, Japan

What words are there for something like this?  The power of the earthquake that struck Japan, the chaos it caused, seem beyond the ability of language to grasp.  Pictures and video convey some of what it means to be fragile bags of organic matter living on the skin of an earth that sometimes convulses.  But even they can’t make sense of it.  I suspect there’s no sense to be made, when it comes right down to it.  This is just geology, and it’s to be expected, and we do the best we can to hold on when the earth moves, then deal with the destruction left behind.  There’s no reason, no purpose, just a reality we have to live with.

So, all of you who’ve watched those doomsday earthquake programs on your teevees: this is what a megathrust earthquake looks like.  The plates slip, and the earth shakes so hard the whole planet moves, and an entire ocean is set in motion.  The only reason you won’t hear on the news that hundreds of thousands or millions of people died is because the Japanese were smart and looked into their future and realized that to live life on a subduction zone, you have to take some precautions.  So you can’t measure this disaster in the cost of human lives.  There were a lot of lives lost.  It could climb into the high thousands, the tens of thousands, before this is done, but because the Japanese looked into the future without flinching, and spent the money to harden themselves as a target, the lives lost won’t scale with the scope of this earthquake.  No, we’ll have to look at things like the fact an entire country got moved by several feet, or that entire coastlines got altered in an instant, wiped out, washed away, to see how truly enormous this is.

Had it happened here, you could have used human lives to scale it.  We in the northwestern bit of America haven’t hardened the target enough.  Can’t be bothered to spend the money or the political capital, can’t be bothered to face the future without flinching, would rather pretend it can’t happen here.  But oh, it can.  And it will.  The only question is when.  Today?  Tomorrow?  Next year, or decade, or century?  We don’t know.  Good Mother Earth probably gives us some warning when she’s about to lose her grip, but we don’t yet understand what she’s saying.  We’ll only know when the shaking starts, and by then it will be too late to build structures that can survive a megathrust earthquake, and to create the escape routes people will need when it’s time to move to high ground before the world has even stopped shaking.  Too late to mitigate the damage.  Too late.

So why live here? I asked myself as the tsunami rolled toward our shores and I had to face the fact that what had just happened half a world a way could just as easily been happening right here, right now, right this instant.

And the answer is that it’s worth the risk.  No guarantees anywhere.  No perfectly safe haven on this planet.  Maybe no subduction zone earthquake and tsunami in the interior of the continent, but other disasters await: drought, tornadoes, floods, fires, volcanoes, an out-of-control bus.  Nowhere on this earth am I guaranteed to live without catastrophe.  No place on the planet where something, whether natural or man-made, geological or biological, won’t be waiting to kill me.  So why not here?  Why not take this slightly higher risk in return for life in a fantastically beautiful place?  Why not?

It would just be nice if our building codes made the calculation of risk a little more friendly, is all.

In Japan, they prepared as best they could, and they’re people who know how to rise up from the ruins of a disaster and keep on going.  The country will never be the same.  But they’ll rescue the survivors, bury the dead, clean up the debris: they won’t give up, won’t give in to despair.  They’ll go on, they will, one of the most beautiful civilizations on the planet.  And after this is done, they’ll be a little bit more prepared for the next one, and if we’re wise, we’ll follow their example.

It’s just a catastrophe, is all. 

For those looking for good resources on the quake and its aftermath, Silver Fox has an excellent list o’ linksLockwood’s been collecting pictures, video, and has quite a few good thoughts on various matters.  Callan’s been on top of it from the first morning, not to mention the morning after, and has one of those read-it-or-else type of posts up on secondary effects.  Evelyn’s dad was kind enough to lend his expertise to the whole business of damaged nuclear reactors.  And Chris Rowan, of course, came through with one of his fantastic explanations of how the earth moved.  He’s like a geological medical examiner. 

Da-amn

Via Callan Bentley and many others, Christchurch moments after the earthquake struck:



That’s the dust of a city shaking apart.  Incredible.  If anyone finds out who took this, let me know so I can include proper credit.

Here’s another striking image, from friends of @monaeltahawy via a myriad of Twitter folk



All of this has put me very much in mind of the quote often attributed to Will Durant: “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”

Our own Chris Rowan was interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor for an article on the quake.  And don’t forget to check out his post, which he’s keeping updated.

At least 75 dead so far, hundreds missing. A man took a walk through the ruins, and said more than perhaps anyone can about the aftermath.

Disasters are just that – disastrous.  But the survivors will ensure something whole and beautiful rises from the rubble.  In time.

World Coming Down

I’d meant to get the next Oregon Geology post up, but instead have spent the past several days watching in bemusement, sometimes in horror, as the world changes.

In Wisconsin, the Cons in control have rather overplayed their hand.  I’m proud of the Dems there who left the state to deny a quorum, and incredibly proud of the tens of thousands of citizens who continue to protest.  It’s not just about the unions, either – if you read that noxious budget, you’ll find plenty of gems like Walker & the Cons’ plans to sell off the state one piece at a time to corporations.  Keep this in mind as you watch Cons in other states rush to follow suit.  If you were one of those who fell for the “where are the jobs?” schtick, I hope you feel a proper fool just now.  The Cons are never about the jobs.  They’re about theocracy and oligarchy, and they’re about breaking the backs of the common folk.

Unfortunately for them, they’ve chosen this moment in time to step on ordinary people.  It might have gone more smoothly for them if, at this very moment, the entire Middle East hadn’t flared up, with citizens pouring into the streets to topple dictator after dictator, no matter the personal cost.  After Egypt, ordinary folk aren’t quite as willing to abide quietly under the heels of their masters.  I hate to tell the Cons this, but as complacent and submissive, as easily distracted by shiny things, as Americans can be, I don’t think this is a good time to be trampling all over women, workers, science, and – well, everybody except for their corporate masters and religious right ringleaders.  Libyans are still out there demanding regime change after getting slaughtered.  Something tells me Americans might be a little more willing to risk a bit of inconvenience to prevent the GOP from decimating the country, considering nothing they do to us could be quite as bad.  We’d be fools just to meekly accept their shit.

What I’m saying is: have your sleeping bags ready and sign-making materials to hand, my fellow Americans, because the time is coming soon when we, like our mates in Wisconsin, may find it necessary to camp out at capitols in order to make our wishes clear.  Surely we can manage that much. 

What’s happening in Libya is horrific.  The government there has turned its weapons of war on its own people.  I’m hoping the UN and the US government will get off their asses and put a stop to it, because there are people getting blown to bits out there.  I clicked on a link to a photo today and saw the results of a despot desperate to stay in power: bodies cut in half.  Do not click this link if you can’t stand the sight of blood, because the people in this photo were butchered.  I almost wish I hadn’t seen it.  But you know what?  I needed to.  It gave me perspective on many things.  It showed me the violence our country hasn’t even attempted to stop, and it told me just how fantastically brave these people are, that they’d risk this to demonstrate for their freedom.  It showed me how much freedom is worth.  And it showed me that we’ve got a ways to go before it gets this bad here, but more importantly, that we need to ensure it never does.

Those folks in the Middle East going out right now to put an end to too many years of autocrats and dictators, those folks who are finding the power of peaceful protest, who are taking their destinies in their hands not with terrorism, but with courage, are so incredible.  I don’t know what future they’ll build, but at least they’ve got the strength to build it for themselves.  I hope all of them succeed.  I’m in awe of them.

So there’s the political world, all shaken up and in places toppling over, sometimes inspiring and sometimes horrific.  But that’s not the only news that’s crossed my Twitter feed and left me reeling.  There’s also Christchurch, New Zealand, which got hit nearly dead-on with an earthquake.  Buildings are down, people dead, and it’s a reminder that we are not as much in control of the world as we might like to believe.  Two earthquakes there in less than twelve months – and likely aftershocks to come.  I know they’re strong folk and that they’ll manage to rebuild, but I feel for them.  It’s not easy, living at a plate boundary.  Days like this are tragic.

Really does seem like the world’s coming down.  I just hope a better one rises up.

To My Australian Readers

Please take any and all steps necessary to avoid burning to death or drowning. It doesn’t look pretty Down Under at all.

That would be a NASA satellite photo of fires in Victoria that have killed upwards of 71 people. Not good.

And while bits of Australia fry to a crisp, other bits flood. As if this weren’t bad enough, I discover my Aussie friends now face chronic crocodiles, among worse dangers:

Local media said huge crocodiles in the centre of some towns around the Gulf of Carpentaria have hampered rescue efforts and large numbers have reportedly been seen swimming towards the 60 km-wide (37-mile) mouth of the flooded Norman River.

Manager of the Albion Hotel in Normanton, Donna Smith, said a four-metre (13ft) crocodile had been seen stalking residents and dogs in the flooded main street.

She also warned the town was expected to run out of beer in two days.

“We can put up with a lot of drama, no fruit and veggies, but nobody wants a pub with no beer,” Ms Smith told Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper.

Seriously, you guys. Stay safe. And should you need a couch, well, I’ve got one. Beer could certainly be arranged.

The Timothy McVeigh Finishing School

Fighting the terrorists over there so that the terrorists here gain valuable experience in killing brown people and blowing things up:

Two years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center ran a devastating report describing the infiltration of neo-Nazis into the ranks of the American military. The Pentagon’s official response was steadfast denial of the problem.

The SPLC’s David Holthouse just published a follow-up report, and found, predictably, that the problem is getting worse as the conflict in Iraq drags on:

A new FBI report confirms that white supremacists are infiltrating the military for several reasons. According to the unclassified FBI Intelligence Assessment, “White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel Since 9/11,” which was released to law enforcement agencies nationwide: “Sensitive and reliable source reporting indicates supremacist leaders are encouraging followers who lack documented histories of neo-Nazi activity and overt racist insignia such as tattoos to infiltrate the military as ‘ghost skins,’ in order to recruit and receive training for the benefit of the extremist movement.”

The FBI report details more than a dozen investigative findings and criminal cases involving Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as well as active-duty personnel engaging in extremist activity in recent years. For example, in September 2006, the leader of the Celtic Knights, a central Texas splinter faction of the Hammerskins, a national racist skinhead organization, planned to obtain firearms and explosives from an active duty Army soldier in Fort Hood, Texas. That soldier, who served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, was a member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group.

Fantastic. As if we didn’t have enough of these insane fuckers to deal with, now we’ve handed them the training they need to be even more fucking dangerous.

And if you think we’re going to win Iraqi hearts and minds with a bunch of skinheads in the mix, think again:

One of the Blood & Honour members claiming to be an active-duty soldier taking part in combat operations in Iraq identified himself to Kennard as Jacob Berg. He did not disclose his rank or branch of service. “There are actually a lot more ‘skinheads,’ ‘nazis,’ white supremacists now [in the military] than there has been in a long time,” Berg wrote in an E-mail exchange with Kennard. “Us racists are actually getting into the military a lot now because if we don’t every one who already is [in the military] will take pity on killing sand niggers. Yes I have killed women, yes I have killed children and yes I have killed older people. But the biggest reason I’m so proud of my kills is because by killing a brown many white people will live to see a new dawn.”

Asking yourself how batshit insane haters like this ended up in the military, aren’t you?

The source of the problem, as the report explained, was the extreme pressure military recruiters were under to fill their recruitment quotas. “Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces,” said Barfield, “and commanders don’t remove them . . . even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members.” The military downplayed a neo-Nazi presence in the ranks, Barfield added, “because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they’ll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists.”

Well. Isn’t that just an excellent fucking reason not to do something about a problem that’s going to (literally) blow up in our faces? There aren’t enough cursewords in the dictionary to express what I’m thinking right now.

David Neiwert calls our military “the Timothy McVeigh Finishing School.” He’s absolutely right, and it’s absolutely appalling.

Yet another Bush-era mess we’ll be cleaning up for a long time to come.

Don’t Like Ike

I’m sitting here watching the numbers of customers without power in Houston tick up: 1.3 million, 1.6 million, 1.8 million…

I’m reading about the thousands of people who either ignored or couldn’t heed evacuation orders, and whose calls to 911 are now being answered with a sad, “We can’t help you.”

You don’t really think of things burning down in a flood and driving rain, but fires are burning: Galveston yacht basin, Brennan’s restaurant in downtown Houston, among others. It’s hard to respond to a fire when there’s eight feet of water on the road. The images are jarring: gray rain, gray floodwaters, bright orange flames.

The National Weather Service’s “face certain death” warning starts to look understated.

I have a friend in Houston. I hope he and his grandparents got out, or are in a somewhat safer area. At the moment, high ground and strong walls surely look inviting.

According to the pictures, some people find standing on sea walls watching waves crash is more inviting. There’s already one man dead because of it. When forecasters are predicting waves that will overtop the seawalls by several feet, it seems like a good time to slip your inner daredevil a mickey and get the fuck out of the area.

People do some damned fool things when floodwaters strike. When I lived in Arizona, we had one group of idiots die because they decided to take a backhoe out into a flooded wash in New River to see how deep the water was. Answer: deep enough to topple a backhoe and drown the people riding it. Another group of intrepid fools in Prescott decided that the best time to go canoeing on Willow Creek was at the height of a flood. They didn’t survive, either.

We don’t realize the power of water until it sweeps us away.

My ex-grandmother-in-common-law told me, after her vacation house in the Virgin Islands got destroyed by Hurricane Hugo, that she’d once had to ride out a hurricane in Hong Kong in a high-rise apartment building. She and the group with her spent a good portion of their evening bracing the wall, feeling the wind try to batter it down on them. The roar of wind and rain was nearly deafening, even inside. The glass wall groaned under the strain: they could feel it bowing under their hands. They were lucky to survive.

Houston’s high-rises look set to take a pretty hard hit, themselves. Reports say there’s already debris flying.

Water is pouring over levees in Louisiana. There’s only so much man-made structures can do to protect against storms like this. What Ike lacks in ferocity, it’s more than made up for in size, and when you’re talking about miles and miles of water being herded inland, size matters very much indeed.

At times like this, you understand that Mother Nature pwns humanity with ease.