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Big cities on shaky ground

[My story on seismic hazards in megacities.]

Megacities are something new on the planet. Earthquakes are something very old. The two are a lethal combination, as seen in the recent tragedy in Port-au-Prince, where more than 200,000 people perished -- a catastrophe that scientists say is certain to be repeated somewhere, and probably soon, with death tolls that once again stagger the mind.

In 1800, there was just one city with more than a million people -- Beijing. Now there are 381 urban areas with at least 1 million inhabitants. Urbanization crossed a threshold last year when, for the first time, more people lived in city settings than rural ones. About 403 million people live in cities that face significant seismic hazard, according to a recent study by seismologist Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado.

The next Big One could strike Tokyo, Istanbul, Tehran, Mexico City, New Delhi, Kathmandu or the two metropolises near California's San Andreas Fault, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Or it could devastate Dhaka, Jakarta, Karachi, Manila, Cairo, Osaka, Lima or Bogota. The list goes on and on.

"You can name about 25 cities that are like Port-au-Prince. They're not going to shake but every 250 years [on average]. But if you can name 25 of them, you're going to have an event like this every 10 years," said David Wald, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

In many vulnerable cities, people are effectively stacked on top of one another in buildings designed as if earthquakes don't happen. It is not the tremor that kills people in an earthquake but the buildings, routinely constructed on the cheap, using faulty designs and, in some cities, overseen by corrupt inspectors. The difference between life and death is often a matter of how much sand went into the cement or how much steel into a supporting column. Earthquakes might be viewed as acts of God, but their lethality is often a function of masonry.

"In recent earthquakes, buildings have acted as weapons of mass destruction," Bilham writes in the journal Nature.

For years, earthquake scientists have shouted their warnings about the strong likelihood that a major quake would level an impoverished city and kill hundreds of thousands of people. They have said, for example, that Kathmandu, where masonry structures expand so haphazardly that some eventually cantilever over narrow city streets, is every bit as vulnerable as the surrounding Himalayas are majestic. They have said that a million people could die in a major quake in Tehran.

What's impossible, however, is knowing precisely which of these cities will be the next to crumble. Or when. For all practical purposes, scientists can't predict earthquakes.

The theory of plate tectonics, largely developed since the 1960s, explains why earthquakes happen in general. The major plates of the earth's crust move constantly, creeping along at about the speed of fingernail growth. They rarely move smoothly past one another but are usually locked in place. On a strike-slip fault of the type that ruptured in Haiti, strain builds on the fault line for decades or centuries. The fault in Haiti had not ruptured in 240 years. An earthquake is a sudden, stress-relieving event. The fault is said to "break."

Scientists can map faults and estimate how much strain has accumulated since the last quake. What they can't do is say that a given fault will break tomorrow or next year or 10 years from now. Any calculation of earthquake probabilities has a lot of slop in the numbers.

"The problem is, the slop is huge on a human time scale," said Susan Hough, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "We're wired to deal with the immediate. We're not geared to plan and stress about things likely to happen in 30 years."

[Click here to keep reading.]


Bonus factoids: Roger Bilham, the seismologist who has done a great deal of work on seismic hazards in megacities, sent me a brief synopsis of what to do and what not to do in constructing buildings in earthquake-prone regions.

SAND The sand you buy down the road to mix with concrete is washed sharp sand. Quartz is good but any sand will work. THe correct mix is 3 parts sand to one part portland cement. The water should be added sparingly after the sand and cement are FIRST mixed. Too much water weakens the mix. A correct sand-cement-water-mix will stand upright in an inverted bucket with a little bit of a bulge, when the bucket is removed. Get the picture? Ignorant contractors start with the water, then add the sand and cement- its easire to mix when its slushy.

Add too much water and you halve the strength of the cement even if you add more cement to make the mix drier at the end.. Mix it with 4 or five parts of sand you halve the strength again.

PILLARS Each pillar has 4 or 6 vertical strips of steel. The steel should be as thick as a finger and should be ductile (it should stretch without breaking) and it should not be smooth- it needs corrugations to grip the cement so that you cannot pull the steel out in tension. Yes in tension!!! THe Haitians often used brittle steel that snapped instead of flowing.

The pillar is in compression in real life, but in an earthquake it is hammered in compression, and pulled in tension. Cement is strong in compression but too much compression will make the pillar bulge. Extreme compression will make it explode. Engineers put loops of steel around the pillar every 6-9 inches up the column to stop it exploding. Haitians used too few of these and made them from wire instead of steel bar. They probably thought that these bits of steel (stirrups) were there to hold the pillars apart while the cement was poured.

Finally, the steel must go though the joints, not end at them. The steel holds it all together only if it passes through the joints.

ASSEMBLY There must be no voids or bubbles in the cement. THIS is most important at the joints. That is why builders use a vibrating gadget to ensure that the cement mix flows like a liquid when it is poured.

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 23, 2010; 7:08 AM ET
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God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: cmyth4u | February 23, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

Morning, friends. JA, just a wonderful kit, and full of information. I have always been fascinated by the "plates", and the fact that they move, yet oh, so, slowly and without notice. I don't quite understand the concept of fault but the kit does shed light on some of the mysteries. I can also understand how the buildings can become weapons of mass destruction during an earthquake because that's what happens during a hurricane. Everything gets blown around and many times trees, porch furniture, you name it, becomes a deadly missile. Last year there were tremors in SC, and we felt them here.

Wake up guys, it's Science Tuesday. Mudge, Scotty, Martooni, Yoki, Lindaloo, and all the boodle, have a great day.

Slyness, it rained most of yesterday, hopefully the sun will come out today. Two men arrested here for child abuse. They were drunk and the kid wondered off and fell in someone's pool. Luckily a guardian angel saw this and performed CPR. The little one is in a hospital in your city now.

Posted by: cmyth4u | February 23, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

Hello Cassandra! I hope that you are scooting around easily enough now. I can't wait for enough of this mess to disappear so I can get out on my bike. Maybe by Wednesday or Thursday, the streets will be dry enough to just ride around in the neighborhoods and get some exercise.

There is a sense of movement by my own power that I miss (more than just walking).

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Great article. Scary as hell, but that's kinda the point, I guess.

I have a lot of loved ones who live in earthquake prone areas. Heck, many also live in the shadow of an active volcano just to make things extra interesting. And these are not foolish people. Instead they are making a conscious choice to tolerate the risk of an earthquake against the benefits of living where they do.

And a lot of this is what's going on with these megacities. The folks there probably understand the horror of earthquakes, if not the science, but are still pulled together by powerful salient forces. So slowing down the growth of these cities is probably not a realistic option.

So we are left with making the cities safer, which as Joel points out, is awfully hard to do without tearing down the old structures before they are torn down for us.

But there is a more subtle question here. As devastating as these earthquakes are, on a yearly average they kill far, far less people around the world than, say, childhood dehydration from poor drinking water. So if your criterion is simply to save lives, then earthquake proofing poverty-stricken cities wouldn't seem to be a good choice.

Except, of course, this is a false choice. We can, and should, do both. And with earthquakes we still have the luxury of geological time. That is, although the relative rarity of earthquakes can, as Joel points out, make them hard to take seriously, this rarity also gives us a little bit of breathing room.

But, from a purely parochial standpoint, the most interesting thing about this article, for me, was the observation that many regions, like New York, assumed to be safe might not actually be so.

But Northern Virginia is cool, right?

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Oh, yes, and congrats to all of you who live and work in Virginia!!! I just saw that your wonderful new governor has made a few changes to the dominion's executive directives against gender and possibly also sexual orientation discrimination.

That's just so good to see that the state has put discrimination back on the pedestal that it so deserves.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

I'm reminded of a number of people in conjunction with this article in Kit.

First off is Char Miller, whose talk kicked off the three-day water seminar at Trinity University, then John McPhee in his "Los Angeles Against the Mountains."

Miller mentioned that Natives had been living for centuries above the Edwards Aquifer here in Texas. They knew that the Earth gave up water, but knew nothing about aquifers, how they worked, or the size of the one sitting beneath them.

The same can be said of plate tectonics until Wegener. These shifting plates are now known, named, and scientists are increasingly getting a better understanding of their forces.

So much so that back in the 1980s, McPhee could write of my hometown Bakersfield, "The continuous tectonic front is where the North American and Pacific Plates are sliding past each other--where Bakersfield moves toward Mexico City while Burbank heads for Alaska." (So it probably was a good idea that some GATE curriculum designer had so that I had two years of Spanish in junior high school.)

Add to this, the paragraph that McPhee pennned tht occurs earlier in this long essay about the City of Angels: "A metropolis that exists in a semidesert, imports water three hundred miles, has inveterate flash floods [see McPhee on rainfall in the San Gabriels] is at the grinding edges of two tectonic plates, and has a microclimate tenacious of noxious oxides will have its priorities among the aspects of its environment that it attempts to control."

It seems the argument, as Joel has framed it are three: First, there are tectonic plates around the globe which are sometimes active, sometimes violently so for those above the crusts. Second, there are increasingly huge numbers of people clustered in small geographic areas around the globe. And, third, often these two scenarios--nature and people collide in space and time, causing mass casualties. Possibly, four, what to do about it--to control nature. Unfortunately, these overall pictures are often too simple.

Which means that it becomes important to look at the work of some other men. Malthus and Diamond, without question. Perhaps a dash of Tom Friedman. But later, after I--and my husband--are properly awake and refreshed with some food and drink (coffee, several cups of coffee).

Posted by: laloomis | February 23, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

A fascinating, though horrifying, Caribbean earthquake was the 1692 one in Port Royal, Jamaica. This one featured liquification of the ground, in which the sandy soil turned into quicksand. People literally sank into the ground. Perhaps even worse, were those who ended up partially trapped in the the ground when the soil solidified after the quake.

In addition to being a terrible human tragedy, this earthquake, some assert, helped change the geopolitical balance between Spain and England in the region.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

RD, though my post follows yours, my thoughts were not directed at you. It was just a blogincidence. RD, since you are here, I will pose to you the question that I have been thinking about, why are cities so important to our existance? I look at this question on both a group-think and then the individual side?

The old mill by the river and then the population gathering to work in the mill made sense in the old days. But, now, we have large groups of people who need services and, in most cases, it is easier to be a doctor or an accountant, etc, if you are local to the customers. I get that, but I am wondering where we are and should we think about spreading populations out a bit?

Infrastructure comes into play where you need to move all those folks around, so denseness is in play.

I ask this only because I am really tiring of the world as it is around here. With things as economically "sketchy" as they are for me and many of the people I know (not you guys, of course), I am wondering if I could be equally or better off some where more rural and relaxed and without the crush of property values and expensive lifestyles.

I assume that I am not alone in conjuring this.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

When I lived in Wyoming many years ago, some of the state's residents were already working in fields like accounting, for clients far away.

More recently, there seems to have been a phenomenon of working in California but living in Utah or Boise, thanks to low air fares.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 23, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Rural living has issues of its own, including dealing with wild animals, isolation, and putting up with the same people in town all the time.

Also, jobs are scarce (or the population would be bigger) and in many smaller towns they resent outsiders coming in and taking jobs.

You also run a serious risk of substandard health care if you have any major disease. Dialysis machines aren't everywhere, for instance.

Also, get used to measuring distances in tens to hundred of miles to get anywhere important.

Now, I like rural living, but I'm definitely ready for a slightly bigger town.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | February 23, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Repost from the earlier kit:

As far as earthquakes go, the 1755 Lisbon quake and subsequent tidal wave has to be the most significant natural disaster in history. It affected science, philosophy, and religion as well as eliminating Portugal as a major colonial power.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

RT - Don't worry, I knew you weren't directing your wrath at McDonnell at me.

I think there are, clearly, some good arguments for spreading the population out, not the least are the aesthetic ones. There is something soothing about that notion of a world of small towns. And as we move increasingly towards "telecommuting" I can see some of this happening, at least in the developed world.

But I also believe that the traditional forces of urbanization aren't going away. Industrialization, security, the need for high population densities, cultural exchange, and the perceived glamor of cities are still alive and well. Especially in the developed world. Further, I assert, the smaller ecological impact of well-designed cities will become an increasing factor in the future.

Everything I have read (and I find the topic oddly fascinating) leads me to believe that in another century we will be a planet composed of little but cities. And I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing.

Of course, that's before I started thinking about those earthquakes.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

The old concrete slump test. Nothing is more amusing than arriving at a construction site to see a row of upside down pails of drying concrete. They always look like some five year couldn't get the concept of sand castles quite right.

Water is by far the cheapest ingredient in concrete, so quality control is essential and frequently overlooked in developing areas. My memory is hazy, but John D. MacDonald's 'Condominium' dealt with the notoriously poor construction practices in coastal Florida.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Morning everybody. Glad the Canadian pair won last night, they were excellent. What is it with the Russians? The pair that won the bronze last night looked less than pleased about it. Quite a contrast to the joy of the Canadians and Americans, who were bursting with happiness.

In a perfect world we could rebuild the cities to withstand quakes, in reality we have to accept that the rebuilding will come after the tragedy. Alas.

Posted by: badsneakers | February 23, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Good morning boodle! Very, very, interesting article-but I have to say the concrete factoids were the best part.

Headed up to our fair county this afternoon for a long community meeting on the state of education in our area. After more than a year of one of our state's larger philanthropic organizations laying ground work to get the right people in the room, I hope at least the first baby steps toward progress will be made.

rt-Your musings about more rural life are interesting. Mr. F and I have always worked to keep Chez Frostbitten mortgage free as a kind of escape hatch out of city living. I am glad I've had the opportunity to experience it year around, and have found it cheaper to live there than in the city, but I wouldn't call it more relaxed. The less of a regular job you have, the less relaxing it is-one must still eat and gardening is less fun in July when you are thinking that you must also produce what will be eaten in January (just one example). I am looking forward very much to completing this mayoral term and retiring to an urban existence.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | February 23, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Shaky Ground:

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

SCC - I meant that these forces of urbanization are most powerful in the developing world. Which is why the megacities of the near future will increasingly be in poorer regions least likely to tolerate natural disasters, which is one of Joel's big points.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Wyomingites tend to dwell in towns with amenities like natural gas, water, and often nice indoor swimming pools.

In the concrete department, reinforcing bar tends to rust in beach environments. Supposedly it's less of a problem in newer buildings. It's a bit creepy to look at the new mini-Manhattan that is downtown Miami, and wonder how it'll fare in the next storm. One developer went to great lengths to erect a tall building that should suffer only minor cosmetic damage in a worst-case scenario.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 23, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Dave, I hate to see a tall ocean front building with running mascara, no matter the climatic conditions.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

There seems to be a natural architectural conflict between construction for weather oriented disasters and those from earthquake sorts. I do remember spending a couple of days in Cotati, CA during a cold spell and then wondering how they can possibly stay warm when you are pretty much insulated from the cold with plywood and tarpaper.

After the Haitian situation, I have gained a better understanding of the expression lesser of two evils.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of earthquake-proof buildings, has anyone heard of "The Qube"? It's a building in Vancouver BC suspended by cables from a central concrete core. I saw it in 1985 and can attest that it is, indeed, way-cool.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle.

Dave, rebar is *supposed* to rust. When it comes out of the steel mill, it is covered with some kind of machine oil; I'm not sure why. But if rebar and wire is still covered with oil when it is set in the cement, it won't adhere properly. This is why construction sites leave their rebar sitting outside in the elements for weeks (or months) at a time-- for the rain to wash the mill oil off and so the surfaces of the steel begins to rust. When a builder sees rust on the rebar, he knows that it is now ready to use. So in fact, signs of rust on rebar is not only a good thing, it is a very good thing.

When steel (rebar, wire, mesh, I-beams, whatever) is encased in cemenet and then "cured" (dried), the surface of the steel is no longer in contact with air, and therefore the rusting process (which is simple oxidation) stops. So if rebar has a bit of rust on the surface, it doesn't mean it is going to continue to rust inside the concrete; it doesn't. And the cement as it dries (it then becomes concrete ("cement" is the name of the powder, concrete is one of the names of the cured, dried, finished product) adheres to both the steel as well as the rust on the surface of the steel. You never want to pour cement onto bright, shiny, greasy-feeling steel. Not ever. Think of it simply as a problem of water and oil not mixing, which they don't. It's as simple as that.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

RD... Cool

"Over the years the cables have stretched so that today a pencil might roll off your desk if you're not paying attention."

... this is the reason that I always use pens with clip caps, since, once the cap is on the pen, they don't roll. Pencils, on the other hand, scare me.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

'morning all. What's this white stuff falling from the sky? We're having the first significant snowfall since New Year. About time.
The weather isn't great here but we are on solid ground. The Appalachian and the Canadian Shield meet nearby (i.e. the so-called Logan's fault that is not a fault at all) but they're both pretty lazy formations. The energy produced in the little movement they do is dispersed by small earthquakes in a number of local faults. At worst, pictures rattling on the wall wakes you at night and the fish get all exited by the waves in the fishtank.
I have family living near the most active of these faults, in the Charlevoix region. They had something like 3 magnitude 6 eartquakes in the past 100 years. There has been some rockslides, cracked masonry, pots falling from the shelves, hung mirror or pictures falling from the wall, etc. but the conditions for the Big One just aren't there.
Which is a good thing. But the lousy weather make them pay that small blessing a dear price.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 23, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Coincidently, I received an email this morning regarding how to survive an earthquake. The author, Doug Copp, is the Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of the American Rescue Team International.

“Simply stated, when buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings
falling upon the objects or furniture inside crushes these objects,
leaving a space or void next to them. This space is what I call the
"triangle of life". The larger the object, the stronger, the less it
will compact. The less the object compacts, the larger the void, the greater the probability that the person who is using this void for safety will not be injured. The next time you watch collapsed buildings, on television, count the "triangles" you see formed. They are everywhere. It is the most common shape, you will see, in a collapsed building.”

When I googled Copp’s name, an article by the American Red Cross came up which disagreed with Copp’s conclusions, at least for construction in the US. I don’t have time to do more research right now so I guess it’s one of those YMMV things. But still interesting.

Posted by: badsneakers | February 23, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Ask Mr. Mudge:

Dear sir, how do I keep my souffle from falling?

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Cement is just one ingredient in concrete, the others being sand and crushed stone. Cement itself is made of gypsum, limestone, metals and other ingredients. The cement when wetted bonds the sand and gravel together in a solid, hence why it is called cement. There are a lot of interesting effect that can be done by varying the size and composition of the rock within the concrete mix. The composition of the cement also affects the curing time and the ultimate strength of the concrete. The curing process itself is exothermic.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

In Petionville, the Hotel Montana's lobby desk saved a number of people.

I think salt manages to penetrate concrete. When a local hotel had to be stripped to the skeleton in 2004, it was interesting to see how many balconies had disappeared, and that bites had been taken out of the structure itself, chunks of floor, a few upright supports.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 23, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Normally, cured concrete is impervious to water. I say "normally," because there are lots of things that can happen. Dave mentions concrete "rusting" in beach environments. Yes and no. What has happened is that some sort of crack or even a microscopic crack has opened up and water has gotten inside the "skin" of the concrete, and has reached the steel. When this happens, the steel is once again exposed to both water and air, so the oxidation process now begins anew. This is what has happened anytime you see "concrete "weeping" with thos runny black stains down the side. If somehow you can "seal" the concrete, this keeps the water out and the structure keeps its integrity. But this is easier said than done. The hardest things to seal are the bottoms of those massive bridge pilings that sit in rivers and bays, or any other kind of concrete pilings, wharfs, etc, adjacent to water.

There are all sorts of products as well as methodologies to seal concrete--many of you have some sort of gunk on the floors of your garages, some on driveways and patios, and some even on the substrate of your houses, whether you are aware of it or not. Some kinds are applied after the cement has "cured" and some are liquids or solids that are added to the cement while it is in the cement mixer. Some work better than others, and some are tailored to specific kinds of jobs and applications. Obviously, one of the major variables is cost, and another is technique and skill level.

I keep putting the word "cure" in quotes, becasue cement/concrete actually never stops curing; it perpetually keeps getting stronger and stronger over the course of perhaps a hundred years or more. Of course, this cure happens on a curve, which happens pretty fast in the first 24 or 48 hours, slows down considerable after a week or two, and then increases by infintesimally small amounts forever after (absent something happeneing to it). So typically on day one a six-bag mix will have a compresive strength of, say, 3,000 psi. On day 2, 3,100 psi. On day 3, 3,150 psi. After week 1, 3,160 psi. After year 1, 3,170 psi. After year 20, 3,171 psi, after year 50, 3,172 psi. After year 200 (assuming a perfect environment around it) it might be 3,175 psi, always increasing albeit so incrementally small it has long ceased to matter.

In this regard, cement is one of the very few (if only) building material that increases in strength over time.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

The purpose of rebar in concrete is to aborb tension since concrete has great strength in compression but none in tension. As rebar rusts within concrete, the rust expands which can cause cracking or spalling, lowering the strength of the assembly. In corrosion susceptible environments, the rebar is often specified to be corrosion protected by being hot dip galvanized, made of stainless steel, or epoxy coated.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Salt doesn't doesn't penetrate concrete, per se, Dave, it is simply water that penetrates cracks, and if that water happens to be carrying salt, it is just coincidence. But because it is salty, people have thought for years the salt played some part in the process. Turns out, pretty much, it doesn't. It is basically just water damange, in which the water happens to be salty. The chemical that DOES affect concrete much worse is sulphur, in the form of sulphates. Much worse than any chlorine or sodium compounds.

The reason concrete degrades is because the water gets in to the metal and as I said, oxidation (rust) begins. Rust (iron oxide) molecules are larger than single iron atoms; thus the creation of rust means that larger molecules are being created which push outward to make room for themselves. It is this "expansion" of iron atoms into iron oxide that expands to break the bonds in the surrounding concrete. Think of a bottle of water that freezes, and the expanding ice makes the bottle crack apart. Basically the same phenomenon with degradation of concrete.

This is sometimes called "rust smacking," and it is what caused the collapse of, yes, I am not making this up, the Mianus River Bridge in 1983.

If there is no steel inside the concrete, then it is simply a question of the water itself getting inside the structure at a molecule level, and then freezing and expanding. In short, your basic pothole. There is a differential in the freezing temps of fresh water versus saltwater, and that affects cracking, but that is a function of temperature, not chemistry.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

We usually specify that the inner surface of concrete water basins be water sealed with a coating since water will seep through the concrete. On a recent construction project, the GC proposed a special concrete mix that was completely water impervious and would not need a sealer. After the concrete was poured, some 12" diameter holes had to be drilled into the wall. Whatever made the concrete water tight also made it astoundingly hard. The driller ran through nearly a dozen bits cutting through 8 inches of this super-crete.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

All these points are cogent and even concrete, but I would like to share a moment... one song, that is absolutely headphone worthy:

It will get you linked up to the rest of a great set.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

yello, it is simply untrue that concrete has "no" tensile strength. The ratio tends to run around 10 percent: whatever the compresive strength is, the tensile will be about 10 percent of it.

Concrete tends to be pretty brittle, which is why steel is added to it in one way or another, to beef up the tensile property.

When cemenet is mixed about 75 percent of the water remains chemically bound inside the mix (the rest "dries" and evaporates away). It is the hydroxyl molecules that bind together the various carbonates and silicates in the cement to form the concrete. This is why concrete continues to "cure" forever, as new hydroxyl bonds are formed over time linking unattached carbonates together.

Concrete is good in compresion, because the force is being applied to push the hydroxyl bond together on itself, and this stress it can handle. What it can't handle is the shearing force that acts to bend or shear the bond, not compress it. This is where the hydroxyl bond is weak, in shear, and what happens is the sliding force of the particles, mainly the sand aggregate. If they are pressed together, they are find. When theyare sheered and slip sideways, that's when failure and bond breakage occurs. Thing of it like the rupture that occurs when two tectonic plates slide against each other, causing an earthquake. It is the sliding, shearing force between sand (aggregate) particles that breaks down. Hence a tensile strength about a tenth of compressive strength.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

The Wikipedia article on the Mianus Bridge collapse blames rusted pins that were subject to too much rainwater because the bri9dge's original drainage holes had been asphalted over.

If you look at many highway bridges, one side sits on a set of pins and the other side sits on steel rollers. This lets the bridge expand and contract with the weather.

Here's a picture of the collapsed bridge:

It shows the road bed supported by steel girders and trusses sitting on concrete piers.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, y'all.

In addition to all the technology there are probabilities to consider.

Is it appropriate to build a structure for a once-in-a-millennium event? A once-in-a-century event? And how reliable are these estimates anyway?

In 1987 some TWC suburbs experienced what was called a once-a-century flood. Confident that all was then well for another 50+ years, many residents decided not to upgrade their sump pumps or other residential infrastructure.

There have been 2 floods of similar or near-similar magnitude since.

Posted by: MsJS | February 23, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Isn't it true that concrete is actually a quickly-evolving technology? I recall reading some article about flexible concrete and all sorts of other variations.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

You are absolutely right, mudge. Concrete does have *some* tensile strength. I just wouldn't count on it in an emergency. Which is why the absence of rebar in so many buildings in Haiti was such a disaster.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I worked for five years (1978-1982) for a company that specialized in exotic, high-strength cement products and engineering, and for part of that time I was the "lab rat" who did the actual mixing and manufacturing of some pretty weird cement stuff. We eventually raised $8 million in R&D research grants, and proceded to do work for Boeing-Vertol, Pratt & Whitney, Burlington Industries and (we think, but we were never sure) maybe the CIA, on a job I can't talk about (if it was them, they went through a cutout).

What everyone has been talking about so far is plain old concrete using sand as the main aggregate. In general the problem with sand, all sand, is this: it is crystalline in structure. That means it has flat slab sides with sharp corners. Slab sides are fine, structurally, as they stick together very nicely. It is the sharp corners that are the problem: it is very hard to get atoms and molecules to stick at the corners, which is where the shearing occurs. As particles move, these sharp edges also cut adjacent bonds.

One of the things people do to improve strength using sand is to use uniform sand. Ordinary everyday construction tends to use "bank-run sand," which is sand scooped up from a river bank, and is not washed or seived or graded. It's just plain old sand. (Made up mainly of silica, some alumina, and sometimes some iron oxides. But mainly silica, in the form of crushed quartz or feldspar. There are other kinds, but not relevant to this discussion: gypsum, for instance.)

So thing of a giant cardboard box like your refrigerator came in, filled up with random-sized shoeboxes all jumped around haphazardly. The shoeboxes are rains of sand, and filling in the spaces is the cement/water mixyure "gluing everything together. If you flex that box, the solid will fracture along the sharp corners and edges of the show boxes.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Those residents need to study probability a little better. Particularly independence of random events. That said, 'hundred year floods' seem to be abnormally common making me suspect the methodology involved. In the Netherlands and other place where storm water management is even more critical, 'thousand year' events are more commonly used as the criteria. It's all how far out the bell curve you want to go.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Thinking aloud, Mudge. Why has the concrete the Romans used to construct all of those European aqueducts been so durable?

Posted by: -jack- | February 23, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Howdy and happy Science Tuesday! We breathed a sigh of relief when we left Southern California (motto: We Haven't Fallen Into the Ocean Yet) for Oklahoma. We may be living in a fool's paradise, though. I've mentioned that we've had a few dozen small earthquakes in Central Oklahoma in the past year. Now, I'm pretty sure we're not on a major fault or other risk - that would be too good a news story to bury - but it do make one wonder. We tend to worry about things coming from the sky (tornadoes, ice) more than the earth crumbling beneath our feet. I wonder if the construction standards necessary for tornado-proof building are compatible with earthquake standards.

Weed, there's a buncha relaxed rural living here. Most of the small town people commute to one of the larger areas for work, which can make for some long drives. Many small towns are rebuilding themselves through Internet access as work-at-home hubs. Aside from jobs, I'd say the next biggest drawback for small-town living here would be schools (we have hundreds of independent school districts; there is lots of distance and on-line learning, but smaller districts tend to offer less stuff).

I am loving the concrete/cement stuff.

Posted by: Ivansmom | February 23, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

"Concrete" seems about as generic a word today as "steel". The Romans would be impressed. I suppose Italian Renaissance architects even more so--those guys didn't seem to have Roman concrete technology available. Even Christopher Wren had trouble with mortar. A wall at Hampton Court fell and killed several workers because Wren's superiors were in a hurry. The Portland cement that came along later must have been a marvel. (Isn't San Antonio's Brackenridge Park built on the site of a Portland cement plant?)

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 23, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse for the hills!

Posted by: teddymzuri | February 23, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, it seems like the sharp corner problem might be alleviated if people varied the type of uniform sand. For instance, uniforms with epaullets might provide more small sticking surfaces at the corners. Lots of gold braid would help clog up those sharp corners. If the sand were caped, there'd be multiple folds. And of course, if the sand wore really good big hats, it's a whole new ball game. Think plumes.

Posted by: Ivansmom | February 23, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I dunno whether two hurricanes in three weeks was in any way random, no more than Louisiana's twofer a year later.

I recall that Raleigh NC got a splendid (and still splendid) shopping mall in the early 70s. It promptly flooded, then flooded again a year or so later. I assume some sort of flood protection's been rigged since then.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 23, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

All those great Roman feats of engineering involved designing so that there are only compressive loads (weight bears down on things) Once you get into tensile (forces pull on something) or moment (forces twist something) loads, you need steel (or wood, but that rots).

Frank Lloyd Wright got into and argument with his structural engineer over how much steel was needed in the floor of Fallingwater. The engineer wanted more steel and Wright wanted more concrete. Wright 'won' the argument and Fallingwater had to undergo an extremely complicated retrofit to the structural system in 2002.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

That Fallingwater retrofit seemed extraordinarily clever. Wright outsmarted.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 23, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Here is a map of U.S. earthquake risk zones. The one at South Carolina was a surprise to me; a friend was talking about this just a few days ago.

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 23, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

And we know to stay away from New Madrid. All sorts of things have happened there.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Padouk, the technology is fast evolving. The company I worked for circa 1978-82 was a pioneer in that work. We made some really spooky stuff.

Back to my lecture about the shoe boxes. To improve strength, what you do is get a whole bunch of smaller boxes, like jewerly boxes, so they fit into all the gaps between the larger shoe boxes. This helps keep those shoe boxes from shifting around and kinds of "jams" them together tighter. So strength improves when you flex the refrigwerator carton.

In cement work, you accomplish this by seiving the sand and dividing it up into grades of sand, by particle size. Then you mix the various grades of sand until you achieve an optimum assortment of grain sizes that fill as much of the empty spaces between particles. This is called "gap grading," and the percentage of sand (or shoe boxes) you can get into a volume is called the packing fraction. A refrig box filled with nothing but shoeboxes might be, say, 70& boxes and 30% air. If you add jewelry boxes, or smaller sand particles, you might bump that to 90% boxes/sand and only 10% air.

(This concept of "packing fraction" was developed out of research into how to make solid-fuel rocket propellent. Propellent is made up of stuff that burns, and stuff that provides oxygen. You want to be able to maximize the ratio of each one, and you do that by tinkering with the packing fraction (among other things) and optimizing particle size to control the rate of burn they way you want it to.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

No, Ivansmom, epaulets and braid don't work all that well. But buttons are great, the rounder the better, as are those little nubby things. However, "frogs" (the closure thingies, not the amphibians or the French people) are not very useful, either. The amphibians, in particular, are troublesome because you got to hold them down while they are turning in the cement mixer and trying to hop out.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Wooden houses, especially ones designed or retrofitted to withstand earthquakes are quite resistant to collapse. It is structures made of piled and glued together stones or bricks that fall down, especially those in the 5 to 10 story range that fit the harmonics of ground shaking during a quake.

Alas, the poor must build out of cheap and available materials, which are the stones lying around.

My own nightmare scenario is the recently discovered Cascadia subduction zone quakes which happen from Cape Mendocino north to Vancouver all at once and create huge tsunamis that could effect the entire Pacific basin. The last one happened in 1700 and evidence is that they occur on about 400 year intervals.

All of human creation is humbled by the power of Nature and we have built so much during an interval of her slumber.

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 23, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

yello: For better or worse, most of the developers in greater TWC look at 'once a century' probabilities as the general benchmark. And the concept of a bell curve is basically non-existent.

I-mom: Once we start talking different types of uniforms, we probably need CqP's expertise to bring weight to the discussion.

Posted by: MsJS | February 23, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Here are some concrete facts which often are not understood well:
Freeze-thaw damage is controlled by air entrainment. Up to 5% air voids, microscopic, are mixed in the concrete. It's also weaker, so more of it (not much, though) is used to achieve the same strength.

Codes specify rebar be completely enclosed by concrete. This is often not done correctly in practice. Also code states "excess rust OR oil shall be removed from rebar."

Cement is essentially calcium silicate. Lots of other ingredients, usually not desirable but not harmful either. Gypsum is allowed but only at certain levels; the sulfur tends to corrode steel. Concrete in critical areas MUST use low sulfur and low chlorides when oxidation must not exceed certain progression over time, or else life and property is endangered. Similarly areas of salt spray or salt treatment (foundations near salted roads) must use low corrosive cement mixes.

In some areas of the country the rock and sand must meet strength tests as well. (for large buildings and heavy loads) For example in Florida much of the available rock is limestone and other weak types and will not achieve a high-strength specified.

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 23, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Jack, Mudge has turned out to be quite the concrete maven-- among his many surprising talents. I'm keeping a sharp eye out for his next book, "The Concrete Mixer's Song" coming out in 2015.

But I can answer the Roman question. They didn't use sand, they used volcanic rock.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | February 23, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Quote from near the end of JA's full article:

"People who advocate diet and exercise are chumps, and heart surgeons are heroes," Tucker said.

Posted by: engelmann | February 23, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

*cold rain; big, fat, white snowflakes falling to our northwest around Kerrville and Fredericksburg, not collecting on roadways there yet. no hike-or-bike walk today, for sure*

So, before I mention Malthus and Diamond, I must digress for a moment and talk about Obama's recent State of the Union adress. He said two really, really smart things. First, he introduced Michelle Obama and talked about her new campaign to attempt to eliminate childhood obesity in the United States.

(I think of the Q&A at Trinity after David Liss and Andrew Porter read, and the fact, when both were asked about the best advice each had ever received, Liss mentioned his wife Clare, a professor at Trinity, as the person who gave him his best advice and how glad he was that she wasn't in the audience that night to hear him admit it. Telling about Liss's book will also lead to a mention of Friedman's theatrics. If I do tell the full Friedman back story one day, I'll even get to mention a broomstick--believe it or not.)

Second important thing that Obama called was the sound-bite media.

"Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. ...The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away. No wonder there's so much cynicism out there."


Posted by: laloomis | February 23, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

So how does one achieve a strength "breakthrough" with cement? It turns out to be easy and cheap (who'd a thunk). What you do is abandon sand altogether, and find an aggregate that has no sharp edges. In other words, no crystalline structure that shear at the edges. Is there such a thing? It turns out there is: fly ash.

In coal-burning electric plants, when they burn the coal there are two kinds of ash that form. "Fly ash" is light in weight and flies up the stack and out into the atmosphere (which is bad), and this is what coal plant pollution controls is all about: making the fly ash fall to the bottom insterad of being released into the atmosphere. Fly ash is essentially silicon dioxide and carbon oxide (and some trace stuff), the residue of burnt coal. And it is tiny round, hollow particles: essentially tiny basketballs, but very strong. This can be used to mix in with sand, filling in the tiniest gaps between grains of sand and making the mix stronger and more impervious to water (if you fill up all the gaps, there's no place for water to get in).

But there's something even better. Some of the second kind of ash that falls to the bottom are what are called cenospheres. These are tiny, hard, rigid, strong, waterproof balls that are hollow and so light in weight they float in water; they are bouyant (unlike sand). So if you make a concrete using *nothing* but cenospheres, you produce a concrete that is more than two or three times stronger than sand-based concrete, and significantly luighter in weight as well.

At the company I worked for, we used cenospheres as our "bread-and-butter" everyday aggregate. Ordinary concrete weights about 165 to 165 pounds per cubic foot; our stuff weighted about 95 to 98 pounds. Normal concrete runs about 3,000 to 3,500 psi; our stuff ran around 6,000 to 9,000 psi (depending on variables). I once made a batch that went over 11,000 psi.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

So, to talk about earthquakes and population is to also talk about Haiti's recent earthquake.

And to do that is to talk about sources of information other than the sound-bite media. And I must mention slow information versus fast information. And Canada's Martin Savidge.

Where did I learn of Haiti's dirt "cookies," bon bon terre? From Marty Savidge's PBS program WorldFocus. Where did I learn of Hispanola's copper-tainted fish that swim its coastline? From Marty Savidge's PBS program WorldFocus. Had I watched Marty when he used to report on NBC? Yes. Had I watched Marty when he reported on CNN? Yes. But WorldFocus is slow news, not lots of slick editing, with stories that last more than 90 or 120 seconds, with sometimes long face-to-face interviews with experts in her or his own field, people who contribute to a better understanding of the topic being scutinized or studied or dissected or discussed.

Newspapers are slow news a lot of the time. University lectures are slow talk. And books are even slower communication vehicles, full of rich, interesting complexity. Much like Anne Applebaum's recent column written from Switzerland about the economic forum in Davos.

Posted by: laloomis | February 23, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

SCC: that Obama called out

Posted by: laloomis | February 23, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

'Mudge, can you share that 11,000 psi recipe? You know me and baking. Always looking for new recipes.

Posted by: MsJS | February 23, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Very very late to this (with apologies) -- I didn't stay up to watch the ice dancing last night (choosing to read instead), but I want to give a big old shout out to my dear, oh-so-dear Canadian friends for your joyous win.

I sure wish our national anthem were as beautiful (and as easy to sing) as yours. To have almost the entire arena belting it out must have been absolutely glorious. I'm sure everyone at home was doing the same.

Don't know if I'll stay up to watch the women's short program tonight. I feel so badly for the one who lost her mother a couple of days ago. She'll get a standing ovation before, during and after her skate, I'll bet. Very emotional, and I hope she does well.

And, on that note, I shall regrettably depart to go do something billable (and terribly sad that the boodle isn't such). I'll try to get into it again with you guys later on.

Posted by: -ftb- | February 23, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

The next major variable is how you cure the concrete mix. Normally, people simply pour the stuff, spread it out, vibrate it, do whatever-- and then walk away for a day or two. As yello said, the cure is exothermic--it generates its own heat. And about 1/4 of the water evaporates or "dires," while 3/4 of the water remains chemically bound in the cement as "water of hydrolysis."

But here's what we found: if you enclose the cement in some sort of plastic tent or enclosure and run in some steam pipes, you can steam it for 18 to 24 hours (or longer) with steam, raising the temperature inside the "oven" to about 180 to 190 degrees. (This may sound difficult on large structures, but it really isn't if you've got all the right gear. The technology is dead simple.)

So if you essentially "steam-cook" the concrete for a couple days, you can achieve dramatic increases in strength, doubling and maybe even tripling it.

Soon after we started our advanced project, my boss told me to go find the two or three top experts in the entire world on concrete strengths. It took me a few days of research, but I found them, two British materials engineering scientists from the University of Leeds. I told the boss, and he said, "Call them. Get 'em here." (Money was no object; we had just secured $8 mil, and the boss spent it like a sailor on shore leave). So I called these guys up from my tiny little hovel of an office in Calvert County, introduced myself, asked if they consulted, and they said yes. So I hired them to come over for a week so we could pick their brains. When they arrived, my wife and I took them to dinner at the King of France Tavern in Annapolis, where we all ate lobster on the expense account. These guys cost us a mint, but they were worth every penny, and we wound up hiring on of them fulltime. He moved across the Atlantic to work for us.

Here's what these guys could do: they could make a deck of playing cards out of cement. The could make a block of cement that could float. They could make a "stick" of cement in the shape of a foot-long ruler that you could bend and flex like a stiff piece of rubber. They made a coil spring about a foot tall and about 6 inches in diameter that flexed like a steel torsion spring. It was simply mind-blowing -- and about as far from your backyard sackrete post-hole project as it was possible to be, yet still use the same material.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

So this is well within the current "state-of-the-art," and it isn't very expensive, and it isn't very difficult to do. But it will never happen in any kind of third-world country, because they can just barely throw together the buildings they have now using local materials and local skills, which aren't much.

It largely it won't happen in the US, either, because even though it isn't "that much" more expensive, it is still slightly more expensive than existing methods. If you can build a structure using 3,200 psi concrete, why build it at 4,500 psi even if it costs only, say 5% more? There is no reason. So save the 5% (unless you want to spend the extra money to earthquake-proof, which nobody does, because everybody knows it won't happen here).

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

"Cement" or "concrete?"

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 23, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

O.K., earthquakes and large populations, a complex--rather than a simple--subject. (I forgot to mention that it was also on Savidge's PBS WorldFocus program that I learned that Haiti's main fuel source is charcoal, made from trees--what few remain after the overwhelming deforestation of Haiti's side of the island--cut down, some legally and some illegally.)

To get to the heart of the matter--or the meat, or the kernel--it's easy enough just to go to the index of Jared Diamond's book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" and look up "population" and go to the pages where Diamond talks about this issue. (However, I would not stop at just looking up "population" in Diamond's index in "Collapse.")

But first, a mention of Malthus. One can pick up lots of books to find mentions of Malthus. Ones about Darwin come immediately to mind. But since I've Diamond's book directly in front me, let me pick up a few sentences from pp. 312-313:

" 1798 the English economist and demographer Thomas Malthus published a famous book in which he argued that human poulation gowth would tend to outrun the growth of food production. That's because (Malthus reasoned) population growth proceeds exponentially, while food production increases only arithmetically. ...The notion, still widespread today, that we can promote human happiness merely by increasing food production, without a simultaneous reining-in of population growth, is doomed to end in frustration--or so said Malthus.

"The validity of his [Malthus's] pessimistic argument has been much debated. Indeed, there are modern countries that have drastically reduced their population growth by means of voluntary (e.g., Italy and Japan) or government-ordered (China) birth control. But modern Rwanda [And Diamond did indeed mention Rwanda during his talk about three weeks ago at Trinity.] illustrates a case where Malthus's worst-case scenario does seem to have been right. More generally, both Malthus's supporters and his detractors could agree that population and environmental problems created by non-sustainable resource use will ultimately get solved in one way or another: if not by pleasant means of our own choice, than by unpleasant and unchosen means, such as the ones that Malthus intially envisoned."

*now, to turn back to Haiti*

Posted by: laloomis | February 23, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Reminder that Weingarten is chatting right now.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I remember talking to an Indian friend of mine, an engineer, about how some western engineers had developed a way to make the "pile of rocks" houses that are so prevalent in third world countries earthquake resistant, at least long enough for the residents to get out by installing a wire mesh that cost about $40.

His reply was that was a fine idea but that $40 was about as obtainable for the average Indian as a ticket to the ISS.

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 23, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

This startling confession from the Weingarten chat:

"[I] managed to be pompous, humorless, pedantic, bloated, and a total a-hole."

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Cement is the powder. It becomes concrete when you mix it with an aggregate and water. But people misuse it all the time: You have a cement patio, a cement driveway, you went to Home Depot to buy a bag of concrete, etc.

It's the difference between flour and bread or cake. However, "concrete mix" would be accurate, in the same sense that bread mix or cake mix is accurate.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, yello - was reading your discourse re. the Concrete Truth and thinking of that concrete ship sunk within visual distance of the eastern side of Cape May, NJ.

We can all benefit from the best possible construction standards and building materials -- so many lives that perhaps were need not lost from natural disasters and other events. Of course as we rebuilt the Gulf Coast, Indonesia, and now Haiti, I hope we can employ what we learned from those tragedies.

But I'm not aware that there's anyplace anywhere in the world that's 100% safe, not even a child in a mother's loving arms. But it's good that we feel that way, and to what we can to ensure it, even for awhile. At least we can get a peaceful night's sleep to face the new day, to do what's next and face whatever that day brings. Ready to live, ready to love.


Posted by: -bc- | February 23, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Haiti had a devastating quake In January after several hundred years' time--we all know this because of the news, I state the obvious. But the obvious also includes the fact that the earthquake in Haiti revealed crumbled buildings and pancaking structures shaken down by the quake on top of Haiti's overwhelming miseries--the toppling was only the tip of the iceberg of Haiti's problems.

Early in Diamond's book, on page 6, he discusses ecocide and collapsing societies:

"It has long been suspected that many of those mysterious abandonments were at least partly triggered by ecological problems: people inadvertently destroying the environmental resources on which their society depended. This suspicion of unintended ecological suicide--ecocide--has been discovered in recent decades by archaelogists, climatologists, historians, paleontologists, and palynologists (pollen scientists). The processes through which past societies have undermined themselves by damaging their enviroments fall into eight categories: whose relative importance differs from case to case:

deforestation and habitat destruction [Haiti...I'm calling out Haiti purposefully, but you could put many other parts of the world in these parens as well]

soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses) [Haiti and California's San Joaquin Valley, for that matter]

water manage management problems [Haiti]



effects of introduced species on native species [Hispaniola, if I recall the chapter correctly]

human population growth [Haiti]

and increased per capita impact of people [Haiti, from funds sent home to the island and Americums, anyone?]

So, in my opinion, to talk about large cities and earthquakes by themselves is as ridiculous and too simple as talking about Los Angeles and earthquakes in isolation. As it is as ridiculous and too simple to talk about Haiti and earthquakes by themselves is ridiculous and too simple. And if one considers McPhee's writings about Los Angeles from the 1980s, the overarching need for Los Angeles on a daily basis is water, perhaps followed by catch basins for the boulders that tear down from the canyons (ABC's Sam Champion on La Canada-Flintridge, anyone?), followed by the occasional two-hundred year quake last. Smog, did I mention smog?

*taking a break*

Posted by: laloomis | February 23, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I meant, did the experts you saw make a spring from concrete, or cement?

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 23, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Another non-concrete link for the ears:


Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

My favorite concrete story. They sell quick-set concrete for setting posts, but it is kinda pricey compared to the regular kind that you must first mix up in a wheelbarrow.

Because I am frugal, when I had to re-set several posts in my fence, I purchased the less expensive concrete, figuring the exercise wouldn't hurt me.

But I soon regretted this decision because it was, apparently, viewed as such a foolish choice that just about everyone who passed by, including random homeless people, felt obligated to point out the existence of the previously-mentioned quick-set concrete.

This concludes my favorite concrete story.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I am so loving the boodle this morning. It proves my theory that we can geek out on *anything* here.

Other than that I have nothing concrete to offer.

Posted by: Raysmom | February 23, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Oh, bless you for that last line Raysmom. it made me laugh out loud.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Regarding de-urbanisation. Please don't. It would be like suburbs just more spread out.

If you want to get out of the rat race, the first thing you have to do is stop living the race that happens in your head.

Posted by: --dr-- | February 23, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

They used cement to make it. When it dried, it was concrete. (Actually, it might be more accurate to call it "mortar," or even "grout." These are all basically the same thing. If it has large aggregate, even including gravel, it is concrete. If it is finer and a little wetter, and is used to glue cinderblocks or bricks, it is called mortar. When it is very fine and used to put between tiles, it is called grout. Depends on the fineness of the aggregate, as well as how you use it.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Ridiculous? Really? As in absurb? Wow. Seems to me through research and study, thought and discussion, someone can come up with *something* of value, no?

Posted by: LostInThought | February 23, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Great point, dr.

I mean, sure, having a garden is nice, but the joys of suburbia really were oversold to me. My kids have never really appreciated having such a nice big yard. (Sure, the dog does, but she seldom really thanks me.)

I have often felt that in an ideal world I would live in a nice condo in the city. Maybe that Qube place in Vancouver.

Because of the earthquakes.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

So the cee-ment pond in The Beverly Hillbillies was really a concrete pond then?

Posted by: MsJS | February 23, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

RD, a story like yours makes me all warm and fuzzy, as it shows how quick folks are to be generous with advice and comment even to perfect strangers. I'm sure all that help made you feel much better about your project choices and execution.

Posted by: Ivansmom | February 23, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Great and educational discussion this morning, thanks to all!

I am a creature of the suburbs. I love having a yard, gardens of both flowers and vegetables, and even the weedy grass. I know that cities are vibrant and great for walking to everything from museums to restaurants and possibly to work also, but the daily living part is what would get to me. Transporting groceries and other large packages would seem to be a hassle.

Of course I'm lucky here as just about anything I need is within about six miles of my house and Boston is only 45 minutes away.

Posted by: badsneakers | February 23, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Keereckt, MsJS.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Love the content today; eavesdropping; thought I had nadda until this:

search on Google Images for "concrete poem"


Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 23, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

But would Weingarten consider them poetry since the don't rhyme or contain the word 'Nantucket'?

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I like Joel's article because it provides such a nice narrow focus on the issue. In general, I find natural disasters horribly refreshing because they are so concentrated. Certainly, the effect any given disaster may have on flora, fauna and denizens depends on any number of factors, including climate, ecostructure, infrastructure, and economic, social and cultural development. However, the natural disaster itself is what it is, and at that moment is overwhelmingly the issue. Big twisty wind, big straight wind, big wall of water, big swell of water, big snow, big crack in the ground, etc.

Of course, sometimes there are two natural disasters at once. Oddly,I don't think this blurs the experience of the event. It concentrates it even more.

Posted by: Ivansmom | February 23, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I really liked this article because it says as much about the way people think as it does earthquakes.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

BTW, unlike New Madrid, I had nothing whatsoever to do with the Lisbon earthquake. Not. A. Thing.

If anyone is having trouble falling asleep during their afternoon nap, or is about to undergo root canal and the dentist is out of laughing gas, I'd be glad to discuss "what is a composite material," what is a cementitious composite, the nature and properties of ferrocement, and that concrete (actually, ferrocement) cargo ship sunk off of Cape May.

It's your call; I can go either way. Or I can just sit here and eat my honeybell orange. I'm easy.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Don't taunt us with honeybells if you didn't bring enough for everybody.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

And another BTW: I just love this song. (Don't care for the version with Jay Z, though.)

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Go on, Mudge, talk on.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 23, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

*faxing yello a couple honeybell wedges*

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

It,s hard to get out of the race when you're surrounded by rats...what's the point?

Posted by: teddymzuri | February 23, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

A third BTW. I don't think I ever mentioned that today is my last day down here in Virginia. When I leave work tonight, I'm taking all my stuff with me (computer, monitor, editing books, stainless steel BBQ grill, pool table) and moving back to my old cubby downtown in the DOT next to Nat stadium. Seems the Cash for Clunkers peeps who dislodged us have mostly wound down and disappeared, and my unit is getting its old digs back. (However, just this morning my team lead told me the Cash/Clunks stole some of our alloted office furniture. Methinks there could be fisticuffs over this. Those rookies don't know who they are foolin' with.) So it'll be back to my morning and evening bus rides. Saves a little money, but costs me more time.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Composite materials are fun and interesting.

These are the things that you are supposed to put in your composite pile in the back yard. You know, stuff like banana peels and eggshells and other orgasmic stuff.

Sometimes you can add in bunny poop and even old newspapers. But you don't want to add bad stuff like stinky chemicals because this will hurt the composite.

That is why I think composite materials are fun and interesting

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Enjoy the orange, 'Mudge.

And we all know those rumors about you and the Lisbon quake were a total fabrication.

I thought composite material was the stuff of which boodles were made. Clearly, I got misled somewhere along the line.

'Mudge Presents Composite Material 101 -- on ice. Hmmmm.

Posted by: MsJS | February 23, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Or maybe Mudge means something else. He is quite clever, you know.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

And to think that, if asked, I would've supposed that builder's sand with sharp edges is super stuff precisely because of those angular edges. Regular Florida sand, the mineral kind, is fine and round. Very round. It's come all the way from the Piedmont or Appalachians.

Curmudgeon's tale of a concrete wizard available for trans-oceanic hire is astounding. In an efficient labor market, that individual would have been spoken for and generously renumerated to ensure he didn't wander off.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 23, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I keep notes in those composite books. You know, the ones with the black and white marbled covers.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Clearly the market for cementitious experts is illiquid.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

What did the fish say when he hit a concrete wall?


I actually heard on NPR news this morning: "Toyota has accelerated its PR efforts..."

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Great point on the Roman construction being all-compression all the time. Love those arches. Civil bridge design geek here. All I can add is that tension is my arch enemy.

Posted by: steveboyington | February 23, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

And speaking of RD's composite. Several years ago the Trans-Canada highway was being widened to four lanes through a part of Banff National Park. As part of the summer-season construction, the crews had spread straw along the bulldozed verges as, I assume, part of its dust-control strategy. When it came time to pave those sections, the straw was raked into large stacks on the roadside. It was extremely kewl to drive by them on a cold October day and see great vents of steam emerging from the peaks of the stacks. I doubt many home compost piles are big enough to produce such a dramatic display of the heat generated by decomposition.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

He was a university professor, Dave. You know how they are. (Ducking a brickbat coming from the College Park area.)

Plus, we fed him lobster. Brits will do anything for real food.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

You oughta see the smoke coming out my ears from the heat of composition some nights, Yoki. The Helotes mulch fire ain't in it.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Since omni and Snuke have fallen down on the job so badly, I suppose it is up to me to provide today's quiz. Have at it:

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

10/12. Missed two coin toss questions.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Me too.

Posted by: rickoshea1 | February 23, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Only question I got wrong, Mudge, was the one about oil imports--the only one I guessed at.

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

9 out of 12. Not too bad for a foreigner.

I was shocked on the results page to see that the largest grouping is people who got 2 right.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

11 out of 12 on the quiz and 100% on the bonus questions about my age and sex. I underestimated our foreign oil consumption.

Posted by: kguy1 | February 23, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

I was 12/12 until the age question.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Damn, kguy... leave my jokes alone.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Reverse Boodle-mining?

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse


This is interesting...

"On Question 3 — "which foreign country holds the most U.S. government debt?" — both China and Japan are now accepted as correct answers on our interactive quiz. China had been the major holder of U.S. government securities for more than a year, and was the correct answer according to then-available Treasury data when the quiz was administered in a nationally representative survey. But data released by the U.S. Treasury on Feb. 16, 2010 reveal that China sold a large block of its U.S. holdings in December so that Japan again became the top foreign holder of U.S. Treasury securities."

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I was amused that 5 out of the 12 questions were worded for a yes/no response and not multiple choice. Example: Do you happen to know who Stephen Colbert is?

Posted by: MsJS | February 23, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Wait - am I to understand Colbert is *not* a hip-hop artist?

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

12/12 here. I'd strut, but seeing the topic for today, I'd rather strut and tie.

Posted by: steveboyington | February 23, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I should get a life (12/12) and I lied on the age and gender questions. Sue me.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 23, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Totally off-topic (is anything, really?) but I found this link while searching through emails and can't remember if I ever posted it here or not. It cracks me up anyway. Must have sound... sorry...

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Counting me, that's three people that admit to missing the oil import question. Odd coincidence. Since 57% get that question right, that is like a hundred year storm.

The demographics are interesting. Republicans do better than Democrats (except on the Supreme Court question). Older people do better than younger people (except about Stephen Colbert). Men do better than women (no exceptions).

To get back to the demographics though I had to take the quiz again. So this time I got them all right and answered as a 18-year-old female high school graduate. That should improve the statistical validity.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Got to help the Tiffany demographics.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 23, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

11/12, finally a quiz I know (most) of the answers to!

Posted by: badsneakers | February 23, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Also.. I hear this place put the ol' "Cup O' Pizza" out of business!

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

G'day all!

Fun quiz. Wednesday trivia nights must be truly helping my retention of trivial knowledge. That and copious amounts of WaPo reading.

On Haitian/poor construction practices, often it is truly astounding what a small bit of knowledge can do to improve a situation. How to properly embed rebar or mix concrete doesn't take more resources or more money, just knowledge of using what they have to the best effect. I hope that in all of the material and money going into Haiti right now that the little nuggets of knowledge are going too.

Posted by: MoftheMountain | February 23, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

"Aren't you outraged that the Chinese are buying our country?"

"I didn't even know the Saudis were selling."

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

They wanted gender? I thought the question was about sex and answered "yes".

Posted by: kguy1 | February 23, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I got 12/12 on the quiz! I feel vindicated - this years-long internet/news addiction is finally paying off big! So how do I collect my prize?


I've been enjoying the cement/concrete discussion today. I know nothing about practical matters - there's really a concrete which doesn't have to be mixed at all? What do you do, pour it in the hole and then pour water on top? I owned a house a number of years ago with a gravel driveway on which someone had attempted something like this - there were large high patches of lumpy concrete where they had apparently just dumped bags of concrete and turned on the hose. It was Not A Good Thing.

Posted by: Wheezy11 | February 23, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

You are quite right, MoftheMountain. The trouble with technical assistance in many countries, not just Haiti, is that corruption in the government and business elites means that know-how often falls into a vacuum. You can teach willing students all kinds of good stuff, but if quality materials and money are skimmed off the top by those in a position to do so, the knowledge is ineffective because the resources at hand are so poor.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I missed the oil question, too. However, I *did* know that Japan has now eclipsed China in holding our debt. So I hope that *&%$# China-owns-us meme will lie dormant for a while. So 11/12.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Is that filibuster answer right? Aren't there ways to end the entire supermajority rule with a simple 51 vote?

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 23, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

The stats on this quiz are weird. First of all, as Yello points out, 57 percent got the oil question RIGHT when for most of us here was the only one we got WRONG. How is that possible?

And the same percentage of people who got 11 correct also got zero correct.

Maybe only 2 or 3 people had taken the quiz before us. Is there a total real number somewhere?

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Regular run of the mill concrete is a porous material. Concrete for highway/parking garage deck is subjected to the absolutely stoopidest test I know, the ponding test. It's to estimate the concrete's resistance to chloride penetration. In most concrete chemistries (there are exceptions, I know) chlorides greatly promotes re-bar corrosion so you don't want chlorides. The test goes something like that:
Pour two small slabs maybe 8-10in deep, keep wet for 2 weeks, then dry for a month for curing. Build a rubber/epoxy dam on half the slab and fill it with brine. Keep it filled with brine for about 3 months, it's not a turkey. Drain the brine and core a sample in both brined and un-brined section. Cut the cores in 1cm thick slices, crush, leach with a week acid and analyse each slice for chlorides. Draw a graphic of the chloride difference vs depth. Time elapsed: about 6 months, i.e. you don't do that on every truck of mix.

The faster method is driving current through a hockey puck of cured (fixed time wet&dry again) concrete for a given time (6 hrs?) and assuming that the negative "movers" were chloride ions, an assumption that ain't always true.

A clever electrochemist I knew 20 years ago duplicated the hockey puck results with electrochemical impedence analysis in mere minutes. I believe the technology is used in the field now.
Concrete is the material that keep all those engineering firms in business with all the remediation project. It's difficult to find a concrete structure that hasn't significant spalling and/or cracking. It's often saving a buck fifty now to pay a million 20 years later.

And that is here, in fairly controlled conditions. I bet the concrete in Haiti was made with beach sand and cement cut with clay, floor sweepings and dirt.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 23, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Cloture votes require 60 votes. Reconciliation is the alternative process, which does require a simple majority, but it's use is cumbersome.

Posted by: kguy1 | February 23, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Wiki on reconciliation-

To trigger the reconciliation process, Congress passes a concurrent resolution on the budget instructing one or more committees to report changes in law affecting the budget by a certain date. If the budget instructs more than one committee, then those committees send their recommendations to the Budget Committee of their House, and the Budget Committee packages the recommendations into a single omnibus bill. In the Senate, the reconciliation bill then gets only 20 hours of debate, and amendments are limited.

Byrd Rule

Reconciliation generally involves legislation that changes the budget deficit (or conceivably, the surplus). The "Byrd Rule" (2 U.S.C. § 644, named after Democratic Senator Robert Byrd) was adopted in 1985 and amended in 1990 to outline which provisions reconciliation can and cannot be used for. The Byrd Rule defines a provision to be "extraneous" (and therefore ineligible for reconciliation) in six cases:
if it does not produce a change in outlays or revenues;
if it produces an outlay increase or revenue decrease when the instructed committee is not in compliance with its instructions;
if it is outside the jurisdiction of the committee that submitted the title or provision for inclusion in the reconciliation measure;
if it produces a change in outlays or revenues which is merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision;
if it would increase the deficit for a fiscal year beyond those covered by the reconciliation measure, though the provisions in question may receive an exception if they in total in a Title of the measure net to a reduction in the deficit; and
if it recommends changes in Social Security.
Any senator may raise a procedural objection to a provision believed to be extraneous, which will then be ruled on by the Presiding Officer, customarily on the advice of the Senate Parliamentarian. A vote of 60 senators is required to overturn the ruling. The Presiding Officer of the Senate need not necessarily follow the advice of the Parliamentarian, and the Parliamentarian can be replaced by the Senate Majority Leader.

Yeah, right.

Posted by: kguy1 | February 23, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Count me also: Missed only the oil imports question.

Posted by: bobsewell | February 23, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I thought reconciliation was "technically possible." The Senate has long-standing rules but at any time a 51% majority can vote to suspend the rules. There are certain statutory requirements about budget.

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 23, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Jumper, I could be wrong on this, but my understanding is that the filibuster is part of the Senate rules, which can *normally* only be changed with a 2/3 vote of 67.

But I believe there is a Parlimentary trick called the "nuclear option" that Biden could implement to modify the Senate rules with a majority vote.

To make this permanent, Biden would have to do it *again* at the beginning of the next Congress in 2011.

The big question is whether or not the Democrats really truly want to lose the power of the filibuster, given the likelihood that they will not always have a majority.

The filibuster is a buffer, and is supposed to add stability to the system. Of course, too much stability is pretty much the same thing as doing nothing.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

"What do you do, pour it in the hole and then pour water on top? "

Essentially, yes. Of course for setting posts and mailboxes, etc., the hole should be dug to just below the frost line (about 18 inches in most places not run by Canuckis and wacko Sarah Palin types). And no, there shouldn't be a mound above ground. The top of the concrete ought to be at least a few inches below the surface, so you can fill it in with dirt and grow grass or whatever over it.

Admittedly, it won't be very strong, but then, it doesn't much have to be.

We really shouldn't be talking about cloture without CqP being here. That's her specialty, especially the French kind.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, my point was that even with ordinary concrete materials, a lack of knowledge will result in a more inferior result. The Haitians may not have a lot of quality sorted sands and such, and their rebar may not be as heavy-duty, but I would bet that a properly mixed pillar with rebar that goes through the joints would be better than (or equal to) a high-tech one whose rebar doesn't extend, was oily when anchored and contained too much water.

Posted by: MoftheMountain | February 23, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

I think the commonest way to ruin concrete is adding too much water. This is usually done because it's not used in time and it starts to set but they add too much water to keep it flowable even when they should discard it. It's expensive stuff.

I helped a sign maker install some posts and he just tightly tamped the dry ready mix around the posts. He assured me the concrete would absorb enough water to set in just a week or so, even without rain although obviously that would speed things up. He said he had taken down enough old signs he'd erected to know it worked. The average do-it-yourselfer would not find hauling some water on a one-time basis onerous.

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 23, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

My wife once went on one of those quasi Habitat-for-Humanity mission trips to help somebody build a home. I can't remember if it was to Puerto Rico, or to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (she went to both), but in one of them, they were building a cinderblock house. And the locals were so lacking in knowledge that they simply stacked the cinderblocks one over top of the other, rather than half-lapping them. So of course the structures were weaker than they should be, just from that alone. When they came to a corner, they just dead-butted the wall., and then building the perpendicular wall they started from scratch. The American crew had to teach them the simple art of overlapping blocks and turning corners.

When she came back and told me this I was flabbergasted. I swear, when I was four years old and playing on the floor with my building blocks I knew how to overlap blocks. (But then again, my father built the house we lived in, so I guess I grew up on --and living in-- a construction site. I was up on the roof nailing shingles when I was 10 or 11.) Helped install insulation in the walls back before fiberglass insulation was invented (we used a paper-type stuff called Kimsel).

But to this day I can't understand not even knowing how to overlap blocks. But they don't, in many cases. For one thing, it implies they've never even *seen* an overlapped cinderblock wall, or if they have seen it simply never retained what they were looking at. Maybe they thought it was just for decorative purposes, I dunno.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Of course the other problem with the filibuster is that they don't actually do it anymore, not the full on Jefferson Smith- Strom Thurman read the phone book til you drop, hold your bladder and never yield the floor way. They just say "filibuster, boo!" and the rest of those superannuated pompous bloviating gasbags curl into the fetal position and suck their collective thumbs. I say make Jim Demented DeMint and Mitch Mumbles McConnell talk for 12 hours straight while the country watches. Don't do away with the filibuster, just quit making it so convenient.

Posted by: kguy1 | February 23, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Yes, jumper, putting it in dry with no water works most places, too. I'm not sure about in some arid climate like Arizona or whatever, but around here, yes, easily. And one can often cut the expense by using gravel, since gravel usually costs less than an equivalent volume of cement. If there's rocks around, gather them up and throw them in, too, to kill space.

I find it also helps to place the body of a dead cat at the bottom of the hole first. Huck Finn taught me that trick. (Huck hated cats.)

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 23, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Garlic attracts vampires, well, leeches.

Now they tell us.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Why does the cat have to be dead? (I'm with Huck.)

Posted by: kguy1 | February 23, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, the entire problem is called capacity building. We assume so much, because of our relative stability over time; we can transfer knowledge in culture from generation to generation and between neighbors.

But, one caveat here is that people often know things that they no longer thing valuable. For example, in Samoa some communities are returning to fale houses build on stilts of soft materials, including coconut fibers....these houses can withstand a cyclone and be rebuilt rather quickly. Corrugated metal roofs fly off of cinder block houses, often becoming fatal flying objects.

Imagine what could happen with old and new technology overlapping and yielding something better.

Another story concerns charred earth -- a way to make fertile soil in rainforests....but, must drive some dolphines off to swim....

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 23, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Here's the raw data on the original phone survey version of the quiz.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

The Parkster just reminded me of a scary moment that I had while growing up in Hawaii... I was maybe 8 or 9 and climbing in the neighborhood Banyan tree with lots of kids. It was fun because the wind was so strong. We looked over the sports field across the street. Off in the distance, we saw a corrugated metal sheet from some un-roofed car port come flying across (spinning like a frisbee) ... eventually missing a car driving by by no more than 30 feet. My mother was driving the car.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 23, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Poe's The Black Cat in entirety:

Scary and will bother the kitteh-luvin' muffins amoungst us....

off to drive the dryad and maenads.....or some such mer-creatures.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 23, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

I got the oil question wrong too. Also the Afghan death one.

I think I should be embedded in concrete and tossed into the Chesapeake. I've dishonored my family.

We're all know-it-alls.

Posted by: rickoshea1 | February 23, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Same ones I missed. I feel like I'm in good company.

As for earthquakes, with all these natural disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow, one about an earthquake hitting a major metropolitan area would be a no-brainer. Round up an all star cast, maybe add in some gimmicky sub-woofer sound system and you have a hit on your hands.

Shame Charlton Heston isn't around anymore. He'd have been perfect for it. Maybe George Kennedy is available.

But what to call it? Hmmmm....

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Family motto: Often wrong; never in doubt

Posted by: rickoshea1 | February 23, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I thought that was the Boodler Credo.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Puerto Ricans were building poured-concrete and lift-slab houses and apartments with poured-concrete roofs back around 1960. No idea whether the concrete was any good.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 23, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

We need to be donating more Lego to kids in developing countries.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

lol @ yello. I had that thought after Mudge's story.

Posted by: MoftheMountain | February 23, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Canada took gold in the ladies' ski cross.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations, Yoki! And everyone up in Canada!

Now, would somebody give me their concrete opinion?

Posted by: -ftb- | February 23, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Woo hoo - 12 out of 12!

Posted by: seasea1 | February 23, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Running off to dinner but have to say that I'm enjoying the concrete internet connect was down all afternoon so I'm just starting to catch up. TTYL!

Posted by: slyness | February 23, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Just watched the Canadian Men's Curling do in the Chinese. Impressive, especially after what the Chinese did to the 'mericans last night.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

But Yoki, the titles list is wrong. "Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes" is a fantastic title. Its an interesting subject. Mathematically titillating even.

And "The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease"? Caught my attention right off.

Posted by: --dr-- | February 23, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Off to watch the first period of the Canada/Germany game with friends, then back home to watch the figure skating and hockey at home. Skating will be so emotional tonight that I do not want to blubber in public. I hope Joannie is able to accomplish tonight whatever it is she feels she needs to do, and can take strength from the fans that will be there.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 23, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I fear we will only be winning over the Chinese for a few more years. These people are driven to know and win the game. I predict some excellent curlers coming out of Asia in the next few years

What I have never quite understood is why it doesn't catch on in a big way in Russia, Finland etc. It is the perfect game for isolated surroundings with low populations. Doesn't cost much to start playing, everyone at every fitness level can play and no body checks. Perfect ice sport.

Posted by: --dr-- | February 23, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

And who doesn't love the title Bacon: A Love Story?

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

Bacon, Yoki? Or beer can?

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: --dr-- | February 23, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

I just received an email from a friend of mine from law school.

I *know* he meant to type "public" . . . . . .

(if you know what I mean)

Posted by: -ftb- | February 23, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Go Canada

Posted by: teddymzuri | February 23, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

I am cheering for the Canadians. But I warn you. I have also cheered for the Nationals, the Redskins and, of course, the American Curling Teams.

So this might actually please the Germans.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 23, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

We just watched a wonderful show from PBS (via Netflix 'Watch Instantly') about the Civilian Conservation Corps.

What an amazing program the CCC was... no way could it happen now, but it had a huge impact on the country (continent?).

The show should be required viewing for anyone who rails against government...

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: teddymzuri | February 23, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

I think RD also cheers for the Washington Generals.

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

TBG -- growing up in Montana, I can tell you that I benefited from those works. Trails and ski lifts -- old rope tows -- were marked with metal signs as having been built by CCC. Huge numbers of tribal men were in CCCorps, too. Fingerprints of their forest culture, trail blazing, campground platting...all over the west.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 23, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

I think the German defense is holding up beautifully.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

My uncle (still alive and kickin'!) worked in CCC camps on the Eastern Shore. Said it was some of the best time in his life.

We've spent a lot of time in gorgeous, hand-crafted CCC cabins in the beautiful state parks in West Virginia. Shenandoah National Park is a perfect example of what the CCC has done for us here in the East.

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

It's only a matter of time, Yoki, then Russia, Thursday?

Posted by: teddymzuri | February 23, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Well, I wouldn't like to be accused (accursed?) of hubris, teddymzuri, but it sorta looks like it, doesn't it? IF the Canadians keep harassing in front of the German net and if Neidermeyer keeps doing what he's doing and if Iginla would play the way he's capable of... it's not sewn up yet.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Tony, Tony, Tony -- you know better!

Posted by: nellie4 | February 23, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

A typically Boodler misreading. I was just looking at the athletes' names, and one of the Swedish hockey players is called Johan Franzen. I immediately thought, 'huh, I didn't know Jonathan Franzen was an elite athlete!'

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

I don't see why Tony K would be suspended for that.

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

They'd better award it to Canada.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Snow possible Wednesday to Thursday: 2-4, 4-6.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 23, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

That's more like it, Jerome.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Well, that was interesting - in the Canada vs. Germany men's hockey game a Canadian shot whistled past the German goalie inside the upper right of the goal, through the goal net and out the back side, and play continued until the refs stopped play to review the video. Called a goal, and there were scuff marks on the goal net for further evidence.

Now, to catch up on the Boodle from this afternoon.

Saw that bit about Kornheiser's suspension from PTI. Ah well, he said some dumb stuff, and he's being held responsible for it. No doubt Wilbon will be the first of many to give him a tough time upon his return.


Posted by: -bc- | February 23, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Would it be 'hubris' to say Canada will probably score on a German P2? We may have seen the best of these Games.

Posted by: teddymzuri | February 23, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: teddymzuri | February 23, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

We deserved that German goal.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

For some reason, I'm not getting a signal on CNBC. And NBC is showing ski cross? We got one figure skater, from Turkey, but no more skating.

This is so obnoxious. Like the first weekend of March Madness, when CBS decides how much of each game to show.

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Howdy y'all. I think CCC built my high school way back when.

I'm with kguy on the filibuster. let 'em keep it but make 'em do it right.

There was something else I was going to say but I forget. Carry on.

Posted by: Ivansmom | February 23, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

Iginla is better on the first line than on the fourth, jeez, what a revelation.

Canada need a hot goaler. I don't know if Slovakia would lend us Halak. His salary is paid by the Canadien, that's only one letter off after all.

I loved snowboard cross and ski cross. That is really a winning TV event.

The Bald One dismantling the Chinese team was a lesson in curling. China's technically good but they have little experience and no feel for the game.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 23, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Ah, took the quiz (didn't look ahead at y'all's discussion of the answers - I knew There Will Be Argument.), ended up 12/12.

I'm sure I'm not the only one.

And no, I'm not going to use the "s" word, CQP. Oy. I literally just cleared the last snow off my deck and still have a a 5 x 10 ft. mound on my patio.


Posted by: -bc- | February 23, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Amen, Brother shriek

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to tape the NBC broadcast tonight for Mr seasea so he can see some figure skating. I guess I shouldn't bother starting before 9, eh? I'm sure the show will run till midnight again. (No, I have no DVR or Tivo - primitive VHS, where I can only tape what I'm watching - Comcast's fault.)

Posted by: seasea1 | February 23, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Tony has a point. The outfit was horrendous.

But then she can always change. Tony K. will always be a bald-headed brillo chin no matter what he wears.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

The curling games they showed were just slaughters and the one interesting match-up (Norway-Denmark?) they refused to cut to, instead interviewing the American skip on what a loser he was.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Does anybody ever pass in ski-cross or is the first person out of the half pipes automatically the winner?

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

They can pass in the first section, and there are two other permitted passing zones, but it is rare once out of that top terrain. If a skier interferes with a pass, they can be DQed

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

Women can now join the Silent Service.

I smell an Operation Petticoat remake.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the Tony K observation, yellojkt. What a maroon. I wish I had ever looked as good as Hannah Storm at any age, or dressed as well.

Posted by: seasea1 | February 23, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

That is mega-lame. I want Rollerball on skis.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

I've been to so many places that owe so much to the CCC. I often wonder if it could be done today. I can't imagine how.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 23, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

No.. the CCC couldn't be done today. It SHOULD be done today. Look at how much the Right scoffs at the "stimulus" (while they take the money). Imagine mobilizing thousands of young people in a short time and send them out to all the corners of the USA to improve the environment.

Did you see Jon Stewart last night show Glenn Beck railing against anything Progressive? Beck badmouthed Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt for their socialist and communist policies.

Then Beck said something along the lines of "where did I learn about this? I went to the library, where the books are free."

To this, Jon Stewart made one of his famous double-takes and said...

"Glenn, the library isn't free! It's paid for with tax money. Free public libraries are the result of the progressive movement to communally share books. The first public library was the Boston public library in 1854. It's statement of purpose: every citizen has the right to access community owned resources. Community owned? That sounds just like communist. You're a communist!"

See the video here...

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Oh dear. Poor Hecken looked absolutely stricken at her marks.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

I should add that I'm a Mr. Tony fan.

But he should know better than to call a co-worker out on her attire, no matter what he thinks of it.

yello, I've seen some passing in snowcross and snowboardcross; it's pretty cool stuff. Couple of elbow-augmented passes in the early rounds of the sbc. Not graceful, but pretty exciting.



Posted by: -bc- | February 23, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

I don't expect to ever see a better short program than Kim Yu-Na just skated.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 11:04 PM | Report abuse

Yoki -- ditto.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 23, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Agree Yoki, spectacular.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 23, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Rooting for the Korean skater. I love Korea and Korean food so why not? Plus the Bond music was cool.

Pop Frostbitten came to MN with the CCC. He always claimed he quit because he "didn't like the grub." "Pop, what did you do in the CCC?" "I was a cook." There are many, many buildings still in use in our fair national forest that were built by the CCC.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | February 23, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

TBG -- b/w photos of Oregon CCC

Thanks for the reminder of this great program; should come back in some form. Several western states run versions of these programs. If you see fabulous stone steps in a National Park or Forest, well, likely installed by CCC. The motto was,"We can take it."

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 23, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Glad Kim Yu-Na skated well - Brian Orser is her coach. Always liked him.

I was happy for the Canadian skaters last night. Tessa was so joyful, hopping up and down on the medal stand. Thought both American teams skated well, too. The Russians were awful.

No, sadly, no CCC now, although we could use one. The Republicans would complain about make-work government jobs.

Posted by: seasea1 | February 23, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

More Raging Against the Hypocrisy... my cousin posted this on Facebook...

Posted by: -TBG- | February 23, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

Getting a bit emotional now...

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

Me too Yoki. hoping for angels on her skates.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 23, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

Holding my breath for her.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | February 23, 2010 11:28 PM | Report abuse

And there they were, dmd.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

I have never been more proud to be Canadian.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 23, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

Excellent, tears in my eyes, brave woman, she skated beautifully. Canadians have a right to be very proud!

Posted by: badsneakers | February 23, 2010 11:35 PM | Report abuse

Feel bad for Miki. She's had at least two cheats and two long rests.

Posted by: Yoki | February 23, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

'night Boodle. What a day for Canada in Vancouver. A gold, women curlers go take #1 in the round-robin, and a hero.

Posted by: Yoki | February 24, 2010 12:07 AM | Report abuse

Snowcast for Thurs is uncertain, but here is what the CapHillWeathGang says:

*The biggest risk of significant snow (exceeding 4") continues to be from around Baltimore and to the north and east.

*In the metro region, we will likely at least have some snow showers and flurries Wednesday night and Thursday (and possibly continuing through Thursday night), but the chance of steady, accumulating snow is just 50/50.

*It will very likely be quite windy Thursday into Friday (20-30 mph sustained, with gusts to near or over 50 mph possible especially on Thursday).

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 24, 2010 12:08 AM | Report abuse

Toodles boodle and sweet dreams. Congrats Canadians on both excellent and courageous performances today.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | February 24, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse

Off to recreate Joel's rail trip. Just not on a nice cushy Acela train.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 24, 2010 4:43 AM | Report abuse

Morning all, hey Cassandra. Ham biscuits on the ready room table, with appropriate beverages. I'm off to a 7:30 meeting, why do I agree to these things? Will check back in later...

Posted by: slyness | February 24, 2010 7:05 AM | Report abuse

The split cafe cars have extra wide seats. Very luxe. Scenery in Trenton no better. Pics and video to follow.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 24, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

How come Joel didn't give us any pictures from his return train trip? I feel cheated!

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 24, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

Not exactly disaster rebuilding, this story about the planned new U.S. embassy building in London was the most interesting thing I've read this morning:
Most interesting item - it's paid for completely by the sale of the 1960 embassy building, which already went for a pretty penny. New embassy being built in a run-down area.

Have a good day, all.

Posted by: Wheezy11 | February 24, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone else read the new Forever 21 store signs in malls as Forever XXL? Because teen girls do so want to be XXL?

Posted by: Wheezy11 | February 24, 2010 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I did the same thing when I first saw those signs, Wheezy. (Of course the really say XXI, but my eyes are going...)

I assumed the store was for militant plus-sized people.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 24, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Researchers removed a small sample of tree rings from a towering cypress along the banks of a river near Wimberley, Texas--nearer to Austin--in hopes the sample will provide a 500-year history of Texas rains and droughts. Article says that tree probably got its start when Joan of Arc was leading French troops in the Hundred Years' War.

Posted by: laloomis | February 24, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

good morning boodle! The sun has been up for hours and it is still -5F. It was obviously warm while I was away as the front walk would make a great, if short, luge run.

Wheezy and RD-glad to learn I'm not the only one with the Forever 21 dyslexia. Then again, every trip to the Mall of America totally confuses.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | February 24, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Last Thursday evening, I had taken the opportunity to shop at Half Price Books before heading to Trinity University where I had drunk a small carton of chocolate milk in the student Commons before trudging over to Chapman Auditorium for the Liss-Porter readings.

I had not gone without ulterior motive.

For short story writer Andrew Porter, an unknown to me, it was the opportunity to ask him him if he were possibly on the Porter branch of our family tree. With long story writer Liss, known to me (you may recall it was Liss who served me and my husband medieval-style coffee--coffee mixed with wine--and taught me about the unusual kopi luwak or civet cat coffee some years ago) attending meant the opportunity to talk with him about his friend, "Woodsburner" author John Pipkin in Austin.

When I stepped into the lobby of Chapman, there was the tall and very handsome Porter, breaking off a conversation with someone, and alone for a moment. I recognized him from a publicity photo. He shook hands warmly with me. Although press material said he hails from Lancaster, Pa., he said his family is from western Pennsylvania and had lived there for several generations. He believed his family came from Scotland--all this shared in response to my question of whether he descended from the Connecticut River Valley "River God" Porters. "If so, we're cousins!" I exclaimed. Prter quipped that all Porters were probably related at one time.

With about seven minutes before the presentation was to begin, I settled into a seat in the center of the seating area, and began to eavesdrop on the conversations occurring around me. One older gentleman was in the aisle to my right, talking to two others and raving about the Friedman presentation just two nights earlier. The words I caught were "showman," "theatrical" and "personal," and barely audible was something like "makes sense of serious issues." So I rose from my swivel seat to catch up with this gentleman to ask him about what he did or does for a living. David Middleton is a retired professor from Trinity's English department where his specialty was Shakespeare.

Posted by: laloomis | February 24, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Hidey Ho, all.

Lovely figure skating last night, and extremely emotional during Joannie Rochette's program. Hard to keep from crying for her, so I did.

Off to do some errands before the next storm decides to unleash on us. It's not supposed to be really bad, relatively speaking (as Einstein was wont to say), but I figure that since March is literally around the corner, I think it's high time that we got some crocuses -- and if *that's* not enough, some daffodils.

I suspect that I'm asking too much. Spring fever does indeed take its toll in the face of, well, snow. . . .


Posted by: -ftb- | February 24, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse


So, yes, Middleton was describing only Friedman's delivery last Tuesday, not the content of Friedman's talk. Friedman was really "on" last Tuesday on Trinity's big stage in Laurie Auditorium. I think the only time Friedman used the podium much was to grab a sip of water. Friedman was active, using both sides of the stage on opposite sides of the podium. I haven't seen anyone that proficient in using the space of the stage since FOX commentator Frank Luntz spoke at the very end of October last year at the Texas Book Festival in Austin.

Perhaps what humored me more than anything in the Friedman lecture, putting the category of content aside for a minute, was the way that Friedman could raise his voice an octave or more to inject humor into his presentation. It was almost like a poker player's "tell." Friedman's altered voice (should I call it girly-man?) was just about as funny as the comic bits that spilled from his lips. The high-pitch caught me totally off-guard and disarmed me and charmed me--more than once.

I did say that the stage was on my mind a lot at the end of last week. I read that on Saturday night, Roman Polanski took home best director honors at the Berlin film festival for his work on "The Ghostwriter." At the start of last week, on Monday and Tuesday nights, I burned hot through the midnight oil, gripped in the suspenseful telling of Robert Harris' "The Ghost," the novel the basis of the latest Polanski movie.

I can't help but think of Harris' character Adam Lang, the British prime minister, the shadow Tony Blair. British prime minister Lang is Robert Kaiser's Rorschach test writ large. One could project into the composite Lang, who graduated Oxford as a student of the stage, any number of American politicians. Most obvious is Reagan, the actor-turned-president. Or Obama, the charismatic young leader who reached past others toiling in the political trenches or backbenches to grab the political golden ring. Or Bill Clinton, the gladhander whose politically astute wife is the power behind the throne, so to speak. Am I looking forward to the Polanski movie opening here, hopefully soon? Yes.

We did steal away last night to see "Shutter Island." Scorcese plays a powerful narrative trick on the audience, not obvious until the final frames of the movie? Go see? Yes, definitely--worth the price of movie admission.

*On to Liss's latest story with its Austen-like voice sometime later.*

Posted by: laloomis | February 24, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, y'all.

Warm muffins, coffee and OJ on the table.

TWC has been getting a bit of snow about every other day for a while. Keeping the pedestrians and drivers on their toes, but very pretty to view from the warmth of one's living room.

Thanks to all who boodled to the Olys last night. I didn't watch any and it's fun to catch up on the boodle before reading the sports summaries.

Those in the DC area can take heart in knowing spring always comes to you far earlier than to TWC, and will do so again this year.

Posted by: MsJS | February 24, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I just saw the beginnings of daffodils on campus. Only one trying to bloom yet, and it didn't look too happy about the still cold nights, but plenty of stalks are up. Sorry, don't mean to gloat... I don't see any evidence of daffodils or crocuses in my yard our first spring here. I'm very curious to see what blooms when. I'll have to document photographically so I remember what I want to supplement where. Definitely need some nice early-blooming bulbs!

Posted by: -bia- | February 24, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

One last bit...Jared Diamond at the end of his recent talk at Trinity said that he's a cautious optimist about the future but only if we start taking important measures quite soon. Friedman is a member of this same club, Friedman explaining why the newspaper Haaretz runs his columns.

But bringing about meaningful change, globally or on Haiti, won't be easy and it won't be quick and it won't be cheap.

I mentioned that Friedman read from pp. 203-204 of "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" (and which I explained, for five minutes looked like it would be my copy of his book). The saving-the-planet part is tongue-in-cheek, a very good example where humor conveys the serious message, Here's Tom:

What do you mean? We're not having a green revolution? But I just picked up Working Mother magazine at the doctor's office and read the cover story: "205 Easy Ways to Save the Earth" (November 2007). It so whetted my appetite for easy ways to save the planet that I Googled for more books and magazine articles on this topic--and boy, did I find more: [here I'll drop Friedman's long paragraph format and his use of quotes for easier reading]

20 Easy Ways You Can Help the Earth
Easy Ways to Protect Our Planet
Simple Ways to Save the Earth
10 Ways to Save the Earth
20 Quick and Easy Ways to Save the Planet
Five Ways to Save the Earth
The 10 Easiest Ways to Green Your Home
365 Ways to Save the Earth
100 Ways You Can Save the Earth
1001 Ways to Save the Earth
101 Ways to Heal the Earth
10 Painless Ways to Save the Planet
21 Ways to Save the Earth and Make More Money
14 Easy Ways to Be an Everyday Environmentalist
Easy Ways to Go Green
40 Easy Ways to Save the Planet
10 Simple Ways to Save the Earth
Help Save the Planet: Easy Ways to Make a Difference
50 Ways to Save the Earth
50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth and Get Rich Trying
Top Ten Ways to Green Up Your Sex Life (vegan c*nd*ms, solar v!brators--I'm not making this up!)
Innovative Ways to Save Planet Earth
101 Things Designers Can Do to Save the Earth
Five Weird and Wacky Ways to Sve the Earth
Five Ways to Save the World

Posted by: laloomis | February 24, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Mornin', boodle.

MsJS, could you pass me one of those muffins. I rushed out without breakfast this morning.

Posted by: Sara54 | February 24, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Solar vibrators? How many people are going to make sure (or event want) to put their vibrators in the sun while they're out for the day?

Some things probably shouldn't go green. :)

Posted by: Sara54 | February 24, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

SCC: even.


Posted by: Sara54 | February 24, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

But Sara -- it's all about getting touch with Mother Nature.

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 24, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

**passing muffins Sara's way**

Posted by: MsJS | February 24, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

New kit!

Posted by: Raysmom | February 24, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

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