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April 15, 2018


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Steve L.

April 18 is also the 243rd anniversary of Paul Revere's ride.

Anthony Gaughan

That's a great point, Steve. I certainly hope and expect that Boston and the towns on Revere's path, such as Cambridge, Somerville, and Arlington, make a big deal of the 250th anniversary of Paul Revere's ride in 2025.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

This should remind us (apart from the Buddhist doctrine of ‘impermanence’ or classical Chinese conceptions of the nature of change) that these events are not adequately characterized as “natural disasters” (like famines, which were once seen as purely ‘natural’ occurrences owing, say, to a drought, floods, what have you; natural phenomena may be precipitating or causal factors, but in today’s world a famine is a decidedly socio-political and economic event, the responsibility for which is all-too-human), as earthquakes and hurricanes are often social disasters as well, particularly in the sense that we can anticipate, plan, and construct our built environments in ways that greatly the diminish the destruction, harm, and deaths that often result from such catastrophic events. Hurricane Katrina is a notorious example (see, for example, Disaster Law and Policy by Daniel Farber, Jim Chen, et al. (2nd ed., 2009), and the lessons learned in my lifetime from the 1971 Sylmar/San Fernando earthquake and the 1994 Northridge earthquake (I experienced the first, but had moved out of our family home by the time of the second) are another (sometimes even slight changes can make an enormous difference, as in housing construction).

All of this called to mind a few intriguing remarks on the integral interdependence of the “social” and the “natural”—as “my environment,” from Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (1943):

“I wish to arrive on my bicycle as quickly as possible at the next town. This project involves my personal ends, the appreciation of my place and of the distance from my place to the town, and the free adaptation of means (efforts) to the end pursued. But I have a flat tire, the sun is too hot, the wind is blowing against me, etc., all phenomena which I had not foreseen: these are the environment. Of course they manifest themselves in and through my principal project; it is through the project that the wind can appear as a head wind or as a ‘good’ wind, through the project that the sun is revealed as a propitious or an inconvenient warmth.”

Elsewhere, and more to the point, Sartre writes that “It is necessary … to recognize that destruction is an essentially human thing and that IT IS man who destroys his cities through the agency of earthquakes or directly, who destroys his ships through the agency of cyclones or directly.” Again, it is through man that “fragility comes into being,” “it is man who renders cities destructible,” and so forth and so on (depending on how much thought one gives to these remarks, they are either insipid or profound).

[Being a notorious procrastinator, this post called to mind the fact that I’ve yet to anchor my bookcases properly to the walls (and in one case, the ceiling).]

Anthony Gaughan

You are absolutely right, Patrick. The term "natural disaster" is a misnomer and your Jean-Paul Sartre quotations are great. As for the bookcase, I just watched over the weekend on Netflix a Midsomer Murders episode in which an unsecured bookcase plays a key role in one of DCI Barnaby's cases!

Deep State Special Legal Counsel

Speaking of natural disasters, does anybody know the brand of paper towels that President Donald John Trump tossed at the crowd gathered in the Country of Puerto Rico? Was it Brawny or Bounty, the quicker picker upper? Maybe Kirkland Signature to show bi-Parisian cooperation.

Deep State Special Legal Counsel

Can one imagine if that Earthquake were to happen today and our Great Leader were in charge? Illinois and Wisconsin suffered from identical flooding of the Fox river from past summer storms. In November 2017, FEMA aka TRUMP denied disaster assistance for Illinois yet granted it to Wisconsin.


The New York Times suggests building codes have not caught up with technology in the area of seismic risk:

Anthony Gaughan

Thank you for pointing out today's important NYT article on San Francisco's building codes, Anon. The panoramic photo of the 1906 destruction is striking. It surprises me that the city's building codes don't adequately account for the increased risk posed by skyscrapers. A year or two ago 60 Minutes did a piece on the sinking and leaning Millennium Tower, which is an incredible story. San Francisco is one of the truly great cities in the world, but it's deeply troubling to ponder the continuing risk posed to it by earthquakes.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

The Japanese government appears to have set an enviable standard for building earthquake-resistant structures of all kinds. I found this succinct summary online (and it appears engineers and architects are coming up with yet more imaginative design features in this regard):

[B]uildings are designated as either 耐震 (taishin), 制震 (seishin) or 免震(menshin):
(1) 耐震 (taishin, basic earthquake resistance): The walls and/or load-bearing pillars are reinforced with specific stiffening materials to make them stronger against shaking. (I think this method is dominant in the U.S., but if anyone knows differently, please let us know.)
(2) 制震 (seishin, vibration control): The building is equipped with dampening devices (like shock-absorbers) designed to dissipate kinetic energy.
(3) 免震 (menshin, base isolation): There is a device separating the building from the ground which prevents shock waves from being transmitted to the structure. (I think something like this would work well in residential construction.)

If I’m not mistaken, one of the biggest variables when it comes to earthquake risk in the San Francisco Bay area is the degree of susceptibility to soil liquefaction, for which there is no “solution” short of moving people off the most vulnerable sites (which of course will not happen).

Anthony Gaughan

I think that's exactly right Patrick about the ground liquefying. There is a map of San Francisco in the New York Times story today that shows the exact locations where the ground is most likely to liquefy. The Market Street, Financial District, and North Beach areas are among the areas at highest risk.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Thanks: I have to wait until next month to view that article as I've used up my page views for the month (and I did that some time ago!).

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Now "my" paper, the Los Angeles Times, is weighing in, with today's headline article: "East Bay fault is 'tectonic time bomb,' more dangerous than San Andreas, new study finds."

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