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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Romney and the weakness of Nixon's electoral coalition

by John MacBeath Watkins

How bad a candidate is Mitt Romney? So bad, even this can't help him:

Under Douglas Hibbs' very simple model of elections, voters want peace and prosperity, and if the incumbent doesn't deliver, he's generally out the door. Thus, he tells us:

According to the Bread and Peace model postwar American presidential elections should be interpreted as a sequence of  referendums on the incumbent party’s record during its four-­‐year mandate period. In fact postwar aggregate votes for president are well explained by just two objectively measured fundamental determinants: (1) Weighted-­‐average growth of per capita real disposable personal income over the term, and (2) Cumulative US military fatalities due to unprovoked, hostile deployments of American armed forces in foreign wars. No other outside variable systematically affects postwar aggregate votes for president.

And, according to this model, Mitt Romney should be a shoe-in, with President Obama polling 47.5% to Romney's 52.5%.

The only post WW II elections this metric didn't work in are, as James Pethokoukis as AIE notes, are Bob Dole's race against Bill Clinton in 1996 and Al Gore's failure to hold the White House for the Democrats in 2000.

So Romney should be cruising unless he's a complete stiff, like Dole and Gore.

But he's the best the Republican Party had this year. We had a good, close look at his opponents in the primaries, and while a few could get the base fired up, none of the others had enough appeal to win in a general election.

Take a closer look at the field. None of them other than Romney had any real appeal outside of the South. Rick Santorum couldn't even get re-elected to the senate, Romney himself can't carry Massachusetts, and probably could not get elected governor there again.

In a year when there is every reason to suppose the challenger could unseat the incumbent, in a year when the incumbent is faced with about a 2% loss in support because of his race, the eventual nominee is having to pretend to be a completely different candidate than he pretended to be to get the nomination, just to have the voters take him seriously as an alternative.

 And we can expect a replay of the electoral map we saw in the McCain-Obama match in 2008:

Oops. Wrong map. Or was it?

History can move quickly, but culture changes sloowwww. To win the 1968 election, Richard Nixon came up with the Southern strategy, expanded on by Pat Buchanan in a notorious memo which he gave to George Packer for his seminal but premature article on the downfall of conservatism:

Buchanan gave me a copy of a seven-page confidential memorandum—“A little raw for today,” he warned—that he had written for Nixon in 1971, under the heading “Dividing the Democrats.” Drawn up with an acute understanding of the fragilities and fault lines in “the Old Roosevelt Coalition,” it recommended that the White House “exacerbate the ideological division” between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon’s policies; highlight “the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party”; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare. Finally, the memo recommended exploiting racial tensions among Democrats. “Bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country,” Buchanan wrote. “We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention.” Such gambits, he added, could “cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.”
It's been the Republican playbook since then. Such tactics worked very well in a society where whites were a clear majority, and feared loss of their privileged position in our society. As the demographics change and the party is tied more firmly to the South, Nixon's genius for setting people against each other is beginning to backfire on his party. We are finally reaching the phase where 40 years and more of success are followed by Republicans having the smaller half.

Romney, shedding his conservative skin and re-emerging as Moderate Mitt, has faced up to the fact that he cannot represent the Republican base and still be elected by the American people. He has chosen to pretend to be a different person than he pretended to be for the Republican base, and the fundamentals of bread and peace say that he should be able to pull it off. It appears those who bought the idea that he was "severe conservative" Mitt are willing to shut up and let him try to sell this new image, and hope their hold on him is strong enough to push their agenda through his administration.

If he can't pull it off, perhaps in four years we'll have a Republican candidate who doesn't need to shed his skin. At some point, the party has to adapt to the new demographic realities, and when it does, I'm betting it happens fairly quickly. Nixon reshaped the party in his image, and around his prejudices and resentments. We can only hope whoever reshapes the party to face the new realities can fashion a more attractive party.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tall ship down: The Bounty sinks in hurricane Sandy

by John MacBeath Watkins

The replica of the Bounty sank today with the loss of at least one crew member. Captain Robin Walbridge, 63, who made the fateful decision to take the 52-year-old tall ship out and attempt to make St. Petersburg, Florida, despite the approach of Hurricane Sandy, has not been found as of this writing.

The body of Claudene Christian, 42, a direct descendent of Fletcher Christian, who lead the mutiny on the original Bounty, was recovered earlier today (Oct. 29.)

From the U.S. Coast Guard website, this final photograph:

I went aboard the vessel in happier times, while she was in port. She was as authentic a replica as the shipwrights of Lunenburg could make her, except that she was about 10% larger, so there would be room for the camera gear -- she was built for the film Mutiny on the Bounty, released in 1962.

My friends on the Wooden Boat forum greeted the decision to take her out despite the hurricane with anger and disbelief. Wallbridge argued that the ship was safer at sea, but his decision is still puzzling because the crew is safer in port, and their lives are worth far more than any vessel.

Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean and has killed 11 as of this writing in the U.S., but somehow, having been on the vessel, this makes it real to me.

Just a thought about Sandy...

Hurricane Sandy has already killed, has sunk a tall ship that I've stood on the deck of, and also could change the course of the election. If we get our first Mormon president because of an act of God, will people conclude that Joseph Smith got it right?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The lost library of the electronic book and the fate of future knowledge (Publishing in the twilight of the printed word)

by John MacBeath Watkins

In this post we discussed the way Amazon deleted George Orwell's 1984 from many peoples' Kindles without asking permission.

Now, Cory Doctorow brings us the story of an equally Orwellian case in which Amazon wiped out a customer's entire library without explanation:

According to Martin Bekkelund, a Norwegian Amazon customer identified only as Linn had her Kindle access revoked without warning or explanation. Her account was closed, and her Kindle was remotely wiped. Bekkelund has posted a string of emails that he says were sent to Linn by the company. They are a sort of Kafkaesque dumbshow of bureaucratic non-answering, culminating in the customer service version of "Die in a fire," to whit, "We wish you luck in locating a retailer better able to meet your needs and will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters," a comment signed by "Michael Murphy, Executive Customer Relations," 

This would appear to violate the conditions under which Amazon settled the lawsuit over 1984.

Of course, mistakes do happen, and they are particularly likely to happen in "open territory," as Doctorow explained:

"Open territory" is a publishing term describing places where no publisher holds exclusive retail rights. In English-language book-contracts, it's almost always the case that countries where English isn't the native or official language are "open territory," meaning that if a writer sells her English language rights in Canada and the US to Macmillan, and her UK/Australia/NZ/South African rights to Penguin, both Penguin and Macmillan are legally allowed to sell competing English print and electronic editions in Norway, Rwanda, India, China, and Russia.
However, the universal approach taken by ebook retailers to "open territory" is to pretend that it doesn't exist. If no publisher is registered as the exclusive provider of an edition in a given country, the ebook retailers just refuse to sell to people in those countries. I've spoken to e-rights people in the major publishing houses, and they hate this, because a) it just drives piracy; and b) it represents lost sales. But there's no shifting the etailers, apparently.
If my conjecture about Linn's offense is correct, then she has not violated copyright, nor has she done anything that would upset a publisher. She's merely violated the thousands of words of impossible fine-print that comes with your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iPad, as have all of us. This fine print will always have a clause that says you are a mere tenant farmer of your books, and not their owner, and your right to carry around your "purchases" (which are really conditional licenses, despite misleading buttons labelled with words like "Buy this with one click" -- I suppose "Conditionally license this with one click" is deemed too cumbersome for a button) can be revoked without notice or explanation (or, notably, refund) at any time.
What the screw-up reveals is that those who control electronic books downloaded from a central source have the power to remove them and possibly to modify them at any given time. Should our society become a dictatorship at some time, the Ministry of Information would no doubt seize this power.

If the bits and bytes we rely on to encode, preserve and communicate our knowledge are so easily controlled, what kind of society does this lead to? One in which the word on the page is the only reliable and unchanging source? One in which the samizdat must be an object, passed from hand to hand, rather than a file to be tracked, altered or deleted by the central power?

The invention of moveable type, and mass-produced written knowledge has revolutionized the world, and made new people (people, dear reader, such as you) whose minds are wider and deeper in their knowledge than our ancestors could ever have been. The invention of the e-book will change our world again.

When the Catholic Church wanted to suppress William Tyndale's English-language translation of the Bible, the first to go back to the Hebrew and Greek, the Bishop of London tried to buy up all the copies and burn them all. The Venerable Bede had translated John into old English, John Wycliffe had translated the Vulgate Bible into English, but no one had gone back to the original, translated it into the most modern English of the time, until Tyndale did.

A merchant friend of Tyndale's facilitated the sale of an entire edition of his Bible to the Bishop, who had them burned. Tyndale used the money to print a new edition, with some corrections he had in mind. He printed a compact and easily smuggled edition, which arrived in England hidden in bolts of cloth, sacks of flour, in hidden compartments in the bottom of boxes. No one could trace the ones that arrived, or know how many had them, or who they were.

Prior to the printed word, people had been known to trade a cart of hay for a page of translated text from the Bible. People were burned at the stake for having read the Bible in their own language to a neighbor. Lollards gathered in the night in concealment, to read the Bible in hushed tones (the word is derived from a middle Dutch term for "mutterer") and were facing the death penalty if discovered.

The books that existed were often chained to their shelves, because it took 10 months of labor by a skilled clerk to copy out a Bible. The difficulty of making books had made it easy to chain the Word, to control printed texts, prior to the invention of moveable type and the printed book.

Now, books are more easily copied than ever -- yet more easily tracked, altered or deleted, as well. We have yet to see what sort of revolution we are seeing here, but it may be as profound as the one printed books brought us.

It would appear that one of the first things Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg printed with his invention of moveable type was indulgences, which the Catholic Church sold to those with coin to spare and a guilty conscience. Perhaps Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos can afford to buy one of those. And perhaps, should we find he has helped invent the centrally controlled record of human knowledge, he will need such forgiveness.

More on publishing in the twilight of the printed word: 

Moving books into the new Ballard store

by John MacBeath Watkins

Our Ballard location is still a long way away from opening, but I've started moving books into the basement there. It will probably be December before I can move shelves in, and late December or January before we can open, but we are making progress.

2001 Market St. is the address, and most of it will be occupied by Bauhaus Coffee.

The bearded chap above is me, not some anarchist associated with the Marinus van der Lubbe International Firebombing Society.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Where do the 47 percent live, and who will get their electoral college votes?

By John MacBeath Watkins

O, this is just too good. Via the Retirement Blues blog, I have seen the light in the form of a Tax Foundation map showing the ten states where people are most likely to pay income tax in blue and the ten in which the average resident is least likely to pay income tax in red.

With the exception of New Mexico and Florida, which are swing states, these states can all be expected to give their electoral college votes to Mitt Romney.

So, don't cry for me Mr. Romney, you've got plenty of support from the 47 percent.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Meerkat gets a Meerkart, and some sailing pix (Building Meerkat, a very small catboat)

by John MacBeath Watkins

I've decided that the boat's too heavy to carry on my back, so I've built a little cart for it out of scrap lumber and some wheels I got for $15 plus $15 shipping..

She's a breeze to launch now, but I need an axle that goes all the way across so the wheels don't sag inward at the top.

We decided to finally get some pix of the boat sailing, but there wasn't much wind:

In her usual fashion, Meerkat attracted attention. The skipper of the Thunderbird is building a similar boat to a Glen-L design, and wanted to ask about the boat.

I was having a blast, and the new, larger rudder works a treat, but I only had a very short sail.

More posts on this topic:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The end of empires: The role of social mobility, how we lose it and how we get it back

by John MacBeath Watkins

Some lessons take a long time to sink in. This one is about empire, and productive work, and how selfishness can make an empire fail when people care too much about themselves and their own, and too little about the society they belong to. This lesson started with a history lesson I learned in a muddy road below a rocky field.

Forty years ago, I went to Crete, and visited the Lassithi Plateau. It was a strange place, with fields sitting high above the muddy roads, each field walled with stone. The plateau has a bowl shape, and the rock below it is not easily permeable, so before the fields were raised, they tended to be muddy, and not very productive.

Those raised fields are like the islands of Venice, except that the water table is usually below the level of the roads, which are muddy because they are also drainage canals. This is not coincidental: Crete fell away from the crumbling Byzantine Empire, become a center for Muslim piratical activity, then after the Fourth Crusade the Venetians took over, and ruled from 1205 it well into the 17th century, when their own empire faded.

The Venetians saw the swampy land, realized that the same solution that had turned Venice from a swamp to a series of island farms, then city blocks, could work to turn Lassithi into productive farmland. A similar process turned the area west of Bangkok into a network of canals and gardens, which I documented in a photo essay here. The difference is only the level of the water table at Lassithi, and the fact that it is high in the middle of an island rather than at a position near river and sea suited to become a center of trade.

It's a reminder of the too-often forgotten empire that brought back the riches we now admire in Venice. The empire withered away as the vitality of its leaders was sapped by its selfish elites, who would not allow the sort of bold young merchants who had once joined their class to have a chance anymore. Now the city of Venice is a beautiful mausoleum that entombs the symbols of the empire it once ruled.

I've discussed the changes within Venetian society that caused there empire to wither in this post, based on my reading of some economists, including Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, who's book, Why Nations Fail, is to my way of thinking important, and one all of us should read. I discussed further the forces at work in our own country tending in the same direction in this post. The troubling fact is that while we once prided ourselves on being the land of opportunity, we now have less social mobility than most of Europe. The below chart comes from this story in The Gaurdian:

Each bar is a measure of how strong the link is between parents' income and their offspring's income. How high the bar is shows how high the bar is for anyone trying to rise out of their class. We can comfort ourselves that Italy and Great Britain have worse social mobility than we do.

In the case of Venice, it was a vibrant and growing empire as long as the engine of social mobility continued to revitalize its elites. Chrystia Freeland, author of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, links the fall of Venice to our present-day situation in an essay adapted from that book, published here, which I recommend you read. In it, she says:
It is no accident that in America today the gap between the very rich and everyone else is wider than at any time since the Gilded Age. Now, as then, the titans are seeking an even greater political voice to match their economic power. Now, as then, the inevitable danger is that they will confuse their own self-interest with the common good. The irony of the political rise of the plutocrats is that, like Venice’s oligarchs, they threaten the system that created them.
But of course, even as the system they destroy suffers, they will maintain their positional status and increased power to shape society. It is no accident that the party they finance, the Republican Party, has a standard-bearer who is one of their own, a man who when he thinks he is talking to his own kind shows contempt for those who are not part of his set.

How many times have I heard Republican politicians decry any effort to level the playing field as "class war?" At the other end of the chart from the US in The Guardian's chart above is Denmark, which has far greater social mobility. Do you suppose they lie awake at night worrying about class war? No, they provide opportunity for those of every class.

How is it done? Well, you need to provide a good education for everyone. It is one of the ironies of our system that while educators may want to give every one of their students the best opportunity possible, parents wants their own children to have a better opportunity than anyone else. They bid up the price of homes near good schools and send their children to the best schools they can afford, or if they don't do these things, they are viewed as bad parents. To provide an educated work force and open opportunity to people who aren't rich, we've decided to have public schools, both at the K-12 level and at higher levels.

But they are being starved for funds. The great lie of the tax revolt was that tax dollars don't build the economy. A society that educates its workforce will be more productive than one that doesn't. States subsidize colleges not merely because the individuals that go to them benefit, but because the society as a whole benefits. A bright young person may not have the money to finance a college education at a private school, but we know that educating that person will likely result in a productive person who can pay taxes to educate the next generation.

That means that state-subsidized higher education funding is as much a compact between the generations as Social Security is. It is one example of the paths to social mobility that we need to keep open, and open further.

Of course, there are other examples of what it takes to produce social mobility. Public health is important -- reducing the lead exposure of young children has a surprisingly large impact on academic achievement (PDF), which means that when lead was removed from gasoline because of ecological regulation, many children benefited from this in the same way getting lead out of their living quarters does. There's some evidence that children whose immune systems must fight off many diseases are developmentally disadvantaged.

That means that ecological legislation and public health efforts like water treatment and sewage treatment are important not just for keeping ordinary citizens alive, but for ensuring that you don't have to be rich to be healthy enough to compete in our society.

And it means that those who chip away at support for higher education, a healthy environment, and other necessities aren't just cheapskates. They are trying to undermine the equality of opportunity that we say we want, in the interest of restricting opportunity to them and theirs. Often, they are the people who have been smart, hard working, and fortunate, and want to pass on the advantages they have gained to their children. This is the most natural thing imaginable, but it can, in the end, undermine the society that gave them their chance.

Social mobility doesn't happen by accident. It takes a corrupt social justification to enable the destruction of a society. In the Gilded Age, we had great inequality, justified by Social Darwinism. Now we have admirers of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy is essentially Social Darwinism without the bogus biology, claiming that we are a society divided into producers and takers. This way of thinking allows them to have contempt for the less fortunate, and to justify policies that result in the diminution of social mobility in the name of equality of opportunity.

That's the crossroads we face in this coming election. One election won't decide our entire future, but it will be a major decision point along the way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What is the soul of a man?

by John MacBeath Watkins

In the above Youtube selection, Blind Willie Johnson poses the musical question, what is the soul of a man?

Won't somebody tell me, answer if you can!
Want somebody tell me, what is the soul of a man
I'm going to ask the question, answer if you can

If anybody here can tell me, what is the soul of a man?
I've traveled in different countries, I've traveled foreign lands
I've found nobody to tell me, what is the soul of a man

I saw a crowd stand talking, I came up right on time
Were hearing the doctor and the lawyer, say a man ain't nothing but his mind
I read the bible often, I tries to read it right

As far as I can understand, a man is more than his mind
When Christ stood in the temple, the people stood amazed
Was showing the doctors and the lawyers, how to raise a body from the grave

That's not just a song, it's outsider philosophy. Blind Willie believed a man is more than a mind, that there is something that lives on after a person has died. Now, I'm no doctor of divinity, and I can't tell you if there is a spirit that lives on in a heaven and hell we cannot visit until we die. I can, however, talk about the strangeness of being human, and how we live on after death in this world.

As we discussed here and here, it's my belief that being human is a peculiar thing quite different from being any other sort of animal, because of the strange, symbolic world we have invented. Everything has a real existence and a symbolic existence for us. In Plato's cave, the symbolic is privileged above the real; the world we see with our eyes is but a shadow play of the real world of the ideal forms.

But what is our idea of a chair? Something made to sit on, to be sure, but since a great many things can be pressed into service for sitting on -- rocks, stumps, tuffets -- surely what we think of as a chair and choose to use as a chair and make as a chair becomes a chair. Plato's notion of the ideal form of a chair was reification of the meaning of "chair," the fallacy of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. It is not a mistake my cat would make, it is a mistake only a human could make, a mistake a cat would think was so far from truth as to be not even wrong. But to Plato, and to us, those ideal forms are very real.

In the same way, Blind Willie was exploring whether the soul is the reification of the mind. He chose the religious and mystical view, that "As far as I can understand, a man is more than his mind." His is an argument for the spiritual against the material.

Now, logic and evidence cannot tell us if such a supernatural world exists; if they could, it would be part of the natural world. But I claim that Blind Willie had a point even in an entirely materialistic view of the world, because a person does not die with his or her body. My mind is made up in part of every person I've ever met, or read, or had any contact with. I've learned from them, reacted to them for or against or merely counted them present. My father died April 22, 2011, but he lives on in me, because the structure of my thought was shaped more by him and my mother than by any other person.

Human culture is cumulative. Oh, it is possible for the voices of our ancestors to die, if enough of those who remember them die. But as we have become more numerous, and remember more, our symbolic world has grown in complexity, an ever-growing chorus of the dead who live on in us. The evil that men do and the good they do echoes down the years in us, lives on in our kindness and our cruelty, our tolerance and prejudice. History can change quickly, but culture changes slowly, because all the new people raised in a community are made up, to a great degree, of those who raised them.

That is why, when Germany experienced pogroms in the 1920s, 18 of the 19 towns that had them had a history of medieval violence toward Jews. The attitudes of the late 1340s, when many cities blamed the Jews for the Black Death, lived on in the descendents of medieval anti-Semites. In 1349, they blamed Jews for a plague that killed 30-60% of the population of Europe, in the 1920s they blamed Jews for the loss of the Great War. In cities where Jews were not killed for causing the Black Death, they were not killed for causing the loss of the Great War, in most cases.

Would this be the case, if our ancestors did not live on in us? Would we see the pattern of slave states and the pattern of states that voted against President Obama resemble each other so closely? We do not need to know the names of our ancestors -- in fact, they need not be our biological ancestors -- for us to carry them within us.

And if we do not die completely when our bodies die, but our voices echo down through the years like someone calling from the top of a tall spiral stairway, well out of view, we will be part of the good or the evil those whose voices are in part our own do in the world.

So be careful who you are, and what you leave in your wake. You are responsible for the meaning of your life, and that meaning will go on after your death.

The strangeness of being human is a series of posts about the way language makes us human, giving us abstract categories we use to think and memes that make up much of what we are.

Night of the unread: Why do we flee from meaning?
The conspiracy of god, the well-intentioned lie, and the strangeness of being human
Spiritual pluralism and the fall of those who would be angels
Judging a book by its author: "Fiction is part confession, part lie."
What to do when the gods fall silent, or, the axis of ethics
Why do we need myths?  
Love, belief, and the truth we know alone

"Bohemians"-- The Journey of a Word

On being a ghost in a soft machine
On the illusion of the self

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Italian scientists on trial

by Jamie Lutton

I read online a few days ago that the Italian government is putting some of their seismologists on trial, for not predicting the big earthquake they had in 2009. The Italian government was charging these men with manslaughter, and they could get four years in prison;_ylt=A2KJjagqk2hQ3ngArVPQt

This trial has been going on for a full year! The Italian government is serious, and is trying to hang an act of God on hapless local scientists. From the story linked above:

At the controversial March 31 meeting in L'Aquila, earth scientist Enzo Boschi, now a defendant in the case, acknowledged the uncertainty, calling a large earthquake "unlikely," but saying that the possibility could not be excluded. In a post-meeting press conference, however, Department of Civil Protection official Bernardo De Bernardinis, also a defendant, told citizens there was "no danger."

Prosecutors have portrayed De Barnardinis as a victim of bad information from the team of seismologists, reported Nature News.
The absurdity of this claim made me want to educate readers a bit about earthquakes, and volcanoes    I had read a science article recently that linked earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.  When there is an earthquake of  a great magnitude in one region, if there are dormant volcanoes nearby, they can be jolted into activity .
My own interest in volcanoes came from a personal experience.

In May of 1980, I was living on the top floor of a college dormitory in Bellingham, north of Seattle by about 90 miles.  I heard Mt. St. Helens erupt, even though  I was a good 160 miles away.  The sound of the blast went over the hills, so that people in tall buildings, or on mountainsides could hear the blast. Everyone on my floor ran out of their apartments, flooding the switchboard with reports of a large blast.
It was like hearing a large dynamite blast a quarter mile away.  Later, reading the news stories and seeing the photos, I was struck by just how far I was from the mountain at the time.
And St. Helens is a small volcano, and this eruption was small on the historical scale   So, I over the years I collected books and articles about  volcanoes, past and present, all over the world, and the historical accounts of their eruptions.
One of the best is the account of Pliny the Younger, who recalls his father's journey to get closer to Mt. Vesuvius when it erupted in 79 A.D., out of scientific curiosity. ( Saying "Fortune favors the brave", he  perished in a heart attack from the thick ash fall of this eruption.

The Roman city, Pompeii, that was situated on the shoulder of Mt. Vesuvius did not have the modern scientific devices to be able to predict that there was an eruption imminent. So they perished, as they assumed the smoking and rumblings would come to nothing, as it had for decades before. There had not been an eruption of  Vesuvius in the Roman 'historical' lifetime.
 Look at Mt Rainer (if it is a clear day). That huge volcano is intermittently active.  Only 5,600 years ago (a blink in geological time) a lahar flow so large it has it's own name, the Osceola lahar. It buried the land where Tacoma and South Seattle is now with a 35 foot deep lahar  flow. That is a mudflow, viscous like flowing concrete, fueled by tons of rapidly melted glacier water.  Mt. Rainier did this once, and is fully capable of doing this again.

But we build on its flanks, and like the Romans before us, whistle in the dark, hoping for the best.
On January 26, 1700 AD, the Pacific Northwest experienced a major earthquake  that caused a tsunami so large that it reached the Japanese shore on January 27. It is   noted in their historical records as an 'orphan tsunami', reaching 15 feet high, there had been no quake locally.

This quake, an 8.7 to 9.2, on the modern Richter scale,  was so severe that a large part of the coast dropped 10 to 15 feet, burying and smothering thousands of cedars on the coastline.  The Juan de Fuca fault violently moves every 300 + - years; so we are  due for another 9 point quake in the next fifty years -or one hundred.
Instead of cedar trees coming down, our brick, metal and glass structures will be shaken and shattered.    There will be probably be a high numbers of human casualties, depending on what time of day it is; more casualties when people are at home at night, when their houses and apartments collapse on them.
And we can do little about this. Modern science has not been able to predict when an earthquake will happen, only that, judging by the geological record, that it will happen.
A volcanic eruption, unlike an earthquake, can be forecast with at least some accuracy.  Many lives were saved in 1980 because the science of prediction had advanced to the point that thousands of people around St. Helens were evacuated before the eruption.  Sensors are now placed all over all known volcanoes in the world. These record 'distortions' of the mountain, signaling magma is moving far below the surface. There have been recent advances in vulcanology; so that estimations of the size of the magma chamber underground can be made.

All educated people, scientists and laymen, say this this trial in Italy is going to be  a travesty, as the science is not advanced enough to say how bad a quake is going to be, or when it will strike.  The government is making 'examples' of these scientists, to appease their (unfortunately) ignorant and angry citizens. It is quite alarming to me that a world government would be foolish and cruel enough to  punish these hard working seismologists because they could not predict the unpredictable.            

We should instead just insist on strict and improving building codes - and not put seismologists on some show trial.

So, we can build new buildings to standards to withstand quakes, and urge retrofitting of old ones.  We put monitors on all of our active volcanoes, so that we can have sufficient warning to evacuate the land around and below volcanoes.  We choose to live in the shadow of death, as volcanic soil is fertile, and the land is pleasant to live in.

We should educate citizens to have a healthy respect for Nature. for to remember an old saying "when Man makes plans, God laughs".

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Meerkat victorious! (Building Meerkat, a very small catboat)

by John MacBeath Watkins

Having sailed only once prior to her launching at the Center for Wooden Boats, Meerkat came into her first regatta something of a dark horse. After two days of racing in the Norm Blanchard Wooden One Design regatta, she has shown herself to be fast and able.

In the light winds of the first day, she was untouchable. Mind, she was only racing directly against a Beetle Cat and a Pelican, but there were about a dozen in the El Toro class starting behind us, all with better sails than my 45-year-old El Toro sail. In only one race did any of them record a better elapsed time for the course, and in that one, my class (small open one-design racing under Portsmouth Yardstick) was becalmed at the start and the wind filled about the time the El Toro fleet started.

The second day, the wind picked up, the Pelican didn't show, but two Beetle Cats did, and they were more competitive in the stronger winds. I still managed to win line honors in the first race, in the second race I was fouled at the start, then fouled the first mark and had to re-round, so the Beetle Cat that sailed a flawless race finished ahead.

In the final race, the Beetle Cats both quit, but I was very much in contention for fleet honors for the small boats, so the committee had me start with the El Toro fleet. I got a terrible start, but the course was twice around, so I climbed my way through the fleet and was about to take first at the end of the first time around, when the mast split vertically on  the glue line. I got a tow in, and had to be satisfied with winning my class.

One result is that there's now a provisional class rating for Meerkats that shows the design to be officially faster than an El Toro under Portsmouth Yardstick, as well as being, I believe, a more practical boat.

I can easily repair the mast, but it was bending rather alarmingly, so I've decided to get a new, stiffer one, which I believe will be better for withstanding the stresses of sailing with two or three people aboard. I'll repair this one as a spare.

I still don't have any pix of the boat under sail, but I do have some of her at the dock:

Of course, a lighter color would show off her lines better. Maybe I'll change it someday. The sail is terribly blown out.

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