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January 4, 2005

'The Year the Earth Fought Back'


Simon Winchester, author of "Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded," wrote a very interesting and provocative piece for last Wednesday's New York Times Op-Ed page about the December 26 earthquake.

He suggested that a kind of global, subterranean "Butterfly Effect" might well be at work, to link and possibly make more understandable the extraordinary seismic events of the past year.

Here's his essay.

    The Year the Earth Fought Back

    Like two bookends of calamity, earthquakes at Bam in Iran and off Sumatra in Indonesia have delineated a year of unusual seismic ferocity - a year, one might say, of living dangerously.

    Twelve months, almost to the very hour, before Sunday's extraordinary release of stress at the India-Burma tectonic plate boundary, a similar jolt at the boundary of the Arabian and the Eurasian Plates devastated one of the most celebrated of Persian caravan cities.

    The televised images of Bam's collapsed citadel and the sight of thousands of bodies being carried from the desert ruins haunted the world then just as the images of the drowned around the shores of the Bay of Bengal do today.

    But that has not been the half of it.

    True, these two disasters were, in terms of their numbers of casualties, by far the most lethal.

    But in the 12 months that separated them, there have been many other ruinous and seismically ominous events, occurring in places that seem at first blush to be entirely disconnected.

    This year just ending - which the all-too-seismically-aware Chinese will remind us has been that of the Monkey, and so generally much prone to terrestrial mischief - has seen killer earthquakes in Morocco in February and Japan's main island of Honshu in October.

    The Japan temblor left us with one widely published image - of a bullet-train, derailed and lying on its side - that was, in its own way, an augury of a very considerable power: no such locomotive had ever been brought low before, and the Japanese were properly vexed by its melancholy symbolism.

    In America, too, this year there have been some peculiar signs.

    Not only has Mount St. Helens been acting up in the most serious fashion since its devastating eruption of May 1980, but on one bright mid-autumn day in California this year the great San Andreas Fault, where the North American and Pacific Plates rub alongside one another, ruptured.

    It was on Sept. 28, early in the morning, near the town of Parkfield - where, by chance, a deep hole was being drilled directly down into the fault by geologists to try to discern the fault's inner mysteries.

    The rupture produced a quake of magnitude 6.0 - and though it did not kill anyone, it frightened millions, not least the government scientists who have the fault in their care.

    They had expected this particular quake to have occurred years beforehand - and had thought a seismic event so unlikely at the time that most were at a conference in Chicago when it happened.

    They rushed home, fascinated to examine their instruments, but eager also to allay fears that their drilling had anything to do with the tremors.

    As every American schoolchild knows, the most notorious rupture of this same fault occurred nearly a century ago, at 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906 - an occurrence now known around the world as the great San Francisco Earthquake.

    An entire city, a monument to the hopes and dreams of America's westward expansion, was destroyed by a mere 40 seconds of shaking.

    It was an occurrence possessed of a historical significance that may well be matched by the tragedy now unfolding on the far side of the world.

    But, curiously, it turns out that there were many other equally momentous seismic events taking place elsewhere in the world in 1906 as well.

    Ten weeks before the San Francisco quake there was one of magnitude 8.2 on the frontier between Colombia and Ecuador; then on Feb. 16 there was a violent rupture under the Caribbean island of St. Lucia;then on March 1, 200 people were killed by an earthquake on Formosa; and then, to pile Pelion upon Ossa, Mt. Vesuvius in Italy erupted, killing hundreds.

    But even then it wasn't over.

    The grand finale of the year's seismic upheaval took place in Chile in August, a quake that all but destroyed the port of Valparaiso.

    Twenty thousand people were killed.

    Small wonder that the Chinese, who invented the seismograph and who tend to take the long view of all historical happenings, note in their writings that 1906 was a highly unusual Year of the Fire Horse, when devastating consequences are wont to abound, worldwide.

    Given these cascades of disasters past and present, one can only wonder: might there be some kind of butterfly effect, latent and deadly, lying out in the seismic world?

    There is of course no hard scientific truth - no firm certainty that a rupture on a tectonic boundary in the western Pacific (in Honshu, say) can lead directly to a break in a boundary in the eastern Pacific (in Parkfield), or another in the eastern Indian ocean (off Sumatra, say).

    But anecdotally, as this year has so tragically shown, there is evidence aplenty.

    Plate tectonics as a science is less than 40 years old.

    It is possible that common sense suggests what science has yet to confirm: that the movement among the world's tectonic plates may be one part of enormous dynamic system, with effects of one plate's shifting more likely than not to spread far, far away, quite possibly clear across the surface of the globe.

    In recent decades, thanks largely to the controversial Gaia Theory developed by the British scientists James Lovelock, it has become ever more respectable to consider the planet as one immense and eternally interacting living system - the living planet, floating in space, every part of its great engine affecting every other, for good or for ill.

    Mr. Lovelock's notion, which he named after the earth goddess of the Ancient Greeks, makes much of the delicacy of the balance that mankind's environmental carelessness increasingly threatens.

    But his theory also acknowledges the somber necessity of natural happenings, many of which seem in human terms so tragically unjust, as part of a vast system of checks and balances.

    The events that this week destroyed the shores of the Indian Ocean, and which leveled the city of Bam a year ago, were of unmitigated horror: but they may also serve some deeper planetary purpose, one quite hidden to our own beliefs.

    It is worth noting that scientists have discovered that the geysers in Yellowstone National Park started to erupt much more frequently in the days immediately following a huge earthquake in central Alaska in 2002.

    There turned out to be a connection, one hitherto quite unrealized, that intimately linked places thousands of miles apart.

    Geologists are now looking for other possible links - sure in the knowledge that if real geological connections can be determined, then we may in due course be able to divine from events on one side of the planet indications that will allow us to warn people on the other - and so perhaps allow them to prepare, as those in today's Indian Ocean communities never were able, for the next time.

    For one thing is certain, and comfortless: on earth, eternally restless and alive, there will, and without a scintilla of doubt, be a next time.

January 4, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Lendemain de Fête


It means "the day after the party," and it's become a cult product for those in search of the new new thing for the face.

Made by Nickel, a French company, this lotion contains green coffee - the caffeine is said to "reactivate micro-circulation" - as well as menthol and Hamamelidacea (witch hazel) extract.

Don't laugh, unless you're the maker: they sold nearly 50,000 tubes last year at $40 a pop.

Let's see - considering the ingredients, packaging, etc. run about $2/tube max, that's a profit of $38/tube, x 50,000 = $1,900,000.

OK, let's allow that three-quarters of that sum goes to the various stores, middlemen, distributors, what-have-you: that leaves about a half-million dollars to party with.

Nicely done, Nickel.

Does the stuff work?

Come on, now - does that really matter?

From the website:

    Its natural wheat and soybean-based proteins give your skin back its radiance and softness.

    Its biomechanical properties have a stretching and firming effect on your skin.

    Everything you need to save face.

Remember your mantra, useful whenever encountering products of this genre: WWPD?*


*What would Paris Do?

January 4, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BiblePlayer - 'Read and listen to the Bible on your iPod'


Last month I featured Bible-2-Go - "The Word comes to your palmtop."

But what about those of us who can't stomach the idea of anything running on anything other than an Apple platform?

Relief, Mac addicts, is at hand.

Now comes BiblePlayer for the iPod.

Download version 1.13 free, or for $29 upgrade to Audio Bible Player Deluxe, which adds audio Bible and much more.


The choice is yours: you can hear it now - or you can hear it later.

A Baptist Top 1000 and Fundamental Top 500 selection.

January 4, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Chardin Exhibition - by Edward Hirsch

While I was studying the copper cistern
and the silver goblet, a soup tureen
with a cat stalking a partridge and a hare,

you were gulping down the morning light
and moving from the bedstand to the bureau,
from the shuttered window to the open door.

While I was taking my time over a pristine jar
of apricots and a basket of wild strawberries—
a pyramid leaning toward a faceted glass—

you were sitting at a low breakfast table
and eating a soft-boiled egg—just one—
from a tiny, hesitant, glittering spoon.

While I was absorbed in a duck hanging
by one leg and a hare with a powder flask
and a game bag, which you wanted me to see,

you were lying on the living-room couch
for a nap, one of your last, next to
a white porcelain vase with two carnations.

I wish I could have stood there with you
in front of Chardin's last self-portrait,
exclaiming over his turban with a bow

and the red splash of his pastel crayon—
a new medium—which he used, dearest,
to defy death on a sheet of blue paper.


January 4, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Laser Ball


Well, spring training's just around the corner, if you take the long view....

Everyone who's ever played ball is curious as to how fast they can throw.

We watch the Big Unit bring it in the high 90s and can't believe anyone could stand in there against him.

But how fast is that, exactly, compared to what you can do?

For a long time the only way to find out was using a radar gun.

Then someone had a bright idea: put the measuring device inside the ball.

And voila, the Laser Ball.

The countdown begins when the ball leaves your hand and stops when it's caught.

Not suitable for throwing into a wall and expecting an accurate - or any - reading.

Similarly, if you decide to play ball with it, one crack of the bat and you can kiss... this... baby's... electronics... good-bye!

Select from eight preset distances from 20 to 80 feet, including the official Major League pitching distance of 60 feet, 6 inches.

Comes with a handy measuring string to make sure your mound's at just the right distance.

Accurately measures speeds from 20 to 120 mph (!).

Auto-power-off after 2 minutes to conserve battery life.

Battery lasts 3-10 years (!).

$29.95 here.

Or, buy it on sale here for $14.99.

Nice job by my crack research team, working through the night to find and bring back a much nicer price.

January 4, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GuS - 'Grown-up Soda'


GuS is an acronym for Grown-Up Soda.

The Manhattan company is gaining traction now that world-class restaurants like Thomas Keller's French Laundry and Charlie Trotter's are featuring the sodas as part of food-nonalcoholic beverage pairings chosen by the restaurants for compatibility.


First I learned of it was in a story in the December 22 New York Times Dining Out section headlined "Juice for Caviar, Soda for Foie Gras."


The piece noted that the French Laundry serves lobster fricasee with GuS Meyer lemon soda.

More and more people are now avoiding alcohol at top restaurants, and GuS sodas is profiting mightily from the trend.

I went to the company's website to investigate, and found it very informative and easy to navigate.


They make five sodas, pictured in this post.

Best of all: the "Where To Buy GuS" link took me to Rebecca's in Charlottesville, a natural foods market about two miles down the street from me.


I'm definitely heading there to give these sodas a test drive.

January 4, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ellen Barkin - what a girl will do to be a trophy wife


I've watched the fascinating evolution of Ellen Barkin, a uniquely beautiful actress of the 80s and early 90s, into the arm candy/trophy wife of billionaire Ron Perelman.


Where once she appeared in the National Enquirer and People magazine with her boyfriend du jour, now she's more likely to be seen in Vogue or the New York Times Sunday Styles section.


What made her so memorable was her prizefighter's nose, back when she was a movie star.


That nose, flattened and askew, looked as if it had been through fifteen rounds with Hilary Swank in her "Million Dollar Baby" incarnation.

But that's ancient history.


After a series of surgical procedures over the last decade, Ellen's morphed.


All the plastic surgeons on Park Avenue couldn't quite straighten out her nose, though God knows they tried.

In doing so they created a predictable monster.


She now looks like the offspring of Mary Tyler Moore (top).

I'd advise quitting now - before it's too late - with the ongoing reshaping or she's gonna end up just like Mary Tyler Moore, whose eyes have migrated nearly to her temples.


But I suppose that's the price you pay if you want to live la vida loca.

January 4, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Salad Blaster Bowl - Phasers to 'Stun'


You better be ready before sitting down with your leafy greens if you decide to use this tricked-out salad bowl.

From the website:

    Crisp, fresh salad ready for you, and no bottles or packets of dressing to carry along.

    1) Just fill the bottom bowl with salad

    2) Fill the lid with a favorite dressing

    3) Press the knob to "blast" dressing over the greens."

    4) Shake and enjoy!

No more soggy, forlorn leaves staring up at you when you remove the lid.

$5.95 here.

January 4, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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