1906 san francisco earthquake map

Slate magazine is highlighting maps published shortly after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake that attempted to detail the intensity of the devastating seismic event.

The maps come from an atlas that accompanied the 1908 scientific report attempting to explain the causes and effects of the S.F. Earthquake, titled The California Earthquake of April 18, 1906: Report of the State Earthquake Investigation Committee, according to Slate.

The maps use the data that the commission collected to represent the earthquake’s intensity geographically, with one focusing on San Francisco and another on all of California and parts of Nevada and Oregon.

Susan Elizabeth Hough, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, points out that while government officials approved funding for the commission, they refused to pay for the publication of this report.

Susan Elizabeth Hough, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey suggested to Slate that the dominant political climate in the years after the quake, in which local businessmen and politicians tried hard to minimize reports of damage done, may have been to blame.

That climate was one of the main reasons that for many decades after the catastrophic event the quake’s death toll was reported at around 500, rather than the 3,000-plus who actually died, the figure that’s been generally accepted in recent years.

In the end, the Carnegie Institution provided financing for the report’s printing.

Besides reports on intensity of the quake, the committee included surveys of the effects on plants and animals, illustrations of damage inflicted and a map detailing the extensive fire damage that followed the quake.

“The commission used the Rossi-Forel scale, a now-outmoded measurement of earthquake intensity that incorporated seismograph readings (where available), human reports, and observed physical damage,” according to Slate. “Each map here refers to ‘apparent intensity’ of the effects – a term meant to remind the reader that the Rossi-Forel measurements had some degree of subjectivity to them.”

The Richter Scale, which is the best known of the measuring devices used to quantify earthquakes today, wasn’t created until the mid-1930s.

hector brito

In the Southeastern US, the word “bream” tends to be a catchall term applied to any number of sunfish with such varied monikers as “bluegill,” “sun perch,” “shellcrackers,” “warmouth” and, my favorite, “stump knockers.”

These are what one catches when taking kids fishing from the shore or a dock, using crickets or worms as bait. And a fish that weighs three-quarters of a pound is not only good size and puts up a nice fight, it’s excellent eating.

The upper end size-wise for bream is typically 12 inches in length and 2 pounds in weight.

All of which makes Hector Brito’s accomplishment even more amazing.

On Feb. 16, Brito, using a live nightcrawler for bait, landed a 5-pound, 12-ounce shellcracker, also known as a redear sunfish, while fishing in Arizona’s Lake Havasu. Brito’s fish, which appears to be a world record, was 17 inches long, and nearly as wide.

“(He) said he thought it was a catfish,” said John Galbraith, who weighed the fish on a certified scale.

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unknown

The journalism phrase “burying the lede” refers to the practice of beginning a story, or “lede” paragraph, with details of secondary importance while failing to relate more essential facts until much later in the article.

A more egregious sin would be “skipping the lede.” Take this bit from the Beaufort County (SC) Historical Resources Consortium:

“The only Confederate soldier interred in the Beaufort National Cemetery with a tombstone marked as unknown has been identified. Pvt. Haywood Treadwell of the 61st NC Volunteers, Co. G whose identity emerges after 150 years, will be recognized along with other Confederate soldiers on May 9-10, 2014.”

So far, so good.

The release then goes on to state that the event will include a Friday evening symposium and a Saturday memorial ceremony, with the unveiling of the new gravestone for Treadwell.

In addition, historians will trace the life of Treadwell, a turpentine farmer from Sampson County, NC, who was wounded and captured during the battle for Battery Wagner in Charleston Harbor, and who died in Union Hospital No. 4 in Beaufort and was buried Sept. 12, 1863.

It then adds details on the time and location of the symposium and information about an informal talk on Civil War medical practices, along with details for the following day’s memorial service at Beaufort National Cemetery.

Unmentioned anywhere in the eight-paragraph release are details about how Treadwell’s identify was revealed after more than a century and a half.

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Joachimsthal mine

One of the lesser-known aspects of the Soviet Gulag was the brutal slave labor camps located in the mountains of Czechoslovakia following World War II, where prisoners were exploited in order to provide uranium for the Soviets’ nascent atomic warfare program.

Shortly after the end of World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin – recognizing the advantage the US had with its possession of atomic weaponry – sent the Red Army to capture one of the few areas then known to possess material that could be used in the construction of atomic bombs.

The Ore Mountains, which then marked the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany, first gained fame in the late 15th century as the site of a major silver discovery, with the Bohemian town of Joachimsthal taking on special significance as a source of the metal.

Also discovered around this time was pitchblende, a radioactive, uranium-rich ore, which early miners discarded as a waste byproduct.

Only at the beginning of the 20th century was it learned that pitchblende was a valuable commodity in and of itself. Within pitchblende, a variety of uraninite, Marie Curie discovered the element radium, and until the First World War Joachimsthal pitchblende was the only known source of radium in the world.

Also found within pitchblende is uranium. Like other elements, uranium occurs in slightly differing forms known as isotopes. The most common form of uranium is U-238, which makes up more than 99 percent of natural uranium found in the Earth’s crust.

However, another uranium isotope, U-235, while it is makes up less than 1 percent of the Earth’s uranium, is important because under certain conditions it can readily be split, yielding a tremendous amount of energy.

The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 derived its explosive power from the nuclear fission of uranium-235.

In late 1945 Stalin pressured the Czechoslovak government to sign a confidential treaty that would give Moscow the rights to material from mine, according to Tom Zoellner’s outstanding 2009 work “Uranium.”

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fire ant raft

Fire ants are a major hazard in the Southern US. Whether you stumble onto a colony of these tiny stinging demons or simply stand too near a nest, you’ll likely end up with painful reminders of how appropriately these insects are named.

The mounds – which can approach a density of 1,000 per acre – are usually 1 to 3 inches tall and made of soft dirt, but can sometimes approach a full 12 inches in height. It’s not unusual for a medium-sized nest to hold tens of thousands of ants.

Among environments fire ants like to construct nests is along riverbanks and around ponds. As someone who likes to fish, I’ve discovered many a fire ant nest the hard way.

So, while I have a soft spot for most living things, it is with a child-like glee that, after a day of fishing, I will take occasion to carefully kick ant nests into the water when the opportunity presents itself.

The way I see it, anything that can harm me or my kids – along with any other living creature unfortunate enough to blunder along – is fair game. And if I can help cut down on these invasive pests, even better.

One thing that always caught my attention was how the ants, after being punted into the drink, would cling together. This is no accident, according to a recent study released by scientists from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

When faced with a flood, ants use their own bodies to form a raft and rely on the buoyancy of the brood and the recovery ability of workers to minimize injury or death, according to the study, released earlier this week. In addition, the queen ant is placed in the middle and protected on all sides by the rafting ants.

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HMS Discovery

More than six years after stumbling across a giant 9-foot barnacle-encrusted anchor in the muck of Puget Sound, Port Angeles, Wash., resident Doug Monk may shortly get confirmation whether his find is indeed one of the long-sought relics of European exploration in the Pacific Northwest.

Monk believes the anchor uncovered while diving for sea cucumbers in January 2008 belonged to a ship that accompanied Capt. George Vancouver’s famed exploration of Puget Sound in 1792.

Since his find, Monk and several others have sought to convince historians, scouring books and explorers’ journals, unearthing centuries-old patents and British court documents and even asking the government weather experts to recreate 18th-century currents, according to the Seattle Times.

Monk and his team will excavate the anchor – which they believe belonged to the HMS Chatham, an 80-foot survey brig that accompanied Vancouver’s ship, the HMS Discovery – this spring.

They hope to have it tested by experts at Texas A&M University, according to the publication.

Though the anchor’s monetary value is undetermined, its exact location is being withheld to prevent looting, according to the Whidbey News-Times. The find was officially recorded with the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation in 2009.

Vancouver’s exploration of Puget Sound was but a small but important part of a 4-1/2 year voyage which took him and his crew around the globe between 1791 and 1795.

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usa-florida-python

If it’s true that fear of snakes is among the most common phobias known to humans – and personal experience would indicate this is the case among nearly every adult woman and most men – then the Greater Everglades Chamber of Commerce has some mighty big obstacles to overcome.

Earlier this week, officials in the Sunshine State said they shot and killed a Burmese python in the Everglades that stretched more than 18 feet and weighed 150 pounds.

If confirmed, it would make it the largest snake ever captured in the famed wetlands region of Florida, which is noted for its wildlife, particularly reptiles.

The Burmese python is able to thrive in the Everglades because it’s an invasive species with no natural predators in the area.

“The number of pythons has skyrocketed, with more than 300 pythons being removed from the Everglades every year since 2007,” according to the online publication LiveScience. “Researchers don’t know their true numbers but estimate at least tens of thousands of the giant snakes inhabit the National Everglades Park.”

Tens of thousands?!? Even non-herpetophobes get creeped out by those numbers.

The snakes are wiping out native wildlife like bobcats, foxes and raccoons, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

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child's grave

David Boaz of the Cato Institute pulls excerpts from three books to demonstrate how different – and difficult – life was not too many generations ago.

The first is from a Washington Post review of Flyover Lives, a family memoir by Diane Johnson, and describes, among other things, the once all-too-common reality of infant mortality:

It must be just about impossible for a denizen of middle-class 21st-century America to imagine the toil and suffering that Catharine Martin [born 1800] and her counterparts underwent every day: living in crude houses – mere huts when they first settled in Illinois and elsewhere – slaving at open fires to prepare food for their families, and worst of all watching children fall ill and having nothing in their powers to help them: ‘Within a year of her marriage, with the fated fertility of women then, Catharine had her first baby, and named her Catharine Anne, after herself. They called her Sissie. This baby was followed by Charlotte Augusta in 1830 and Martha Olivia in 1831. When they were one, three, and five years old, all three little girls died in the space of a week or two.’ Catharine herself was ill but survived to write many years later: ‘When I got up, my house was empty, three little prattlers all gone, not one left.’

Having walked through many an older cemetery and seen family plots with several infant gravestones – sometimes a half-dozen or more – next to those of their parents, I can only wonder at the grief previous generations often had to endure, and their ability to do so.

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first world problems

(HT: Miss Jordan Sims via Pintrest)

irish potato famineFew dispute that the Irish Potato Famine stacks up as one of modern history’s great calamities.

Beginning in 1845, potato blight destroyed a significant proportion of Ireland potato crop, ultimately leading to the deaths of more than 1 million individuals and the emigration of another 1-million plus.

Many today place blame for the tragedy on the British government of the 1840s, namely its adherence to a combination of laissez-faire relief efforts, trade laws that curtailed importation of grains that would have helped offset dwindling potato stocks and a general indifference to the fate of poor Catholic Irish by ruling Protestant British.

But, as Stephen Davies of the Foundation for Economic Education points out, the underpinnings of the Irish Potato Famine began at least 150 years before Phytophthora infestans first began attacking Irish potato crops.

Following the defeat of England’s last Catholic king, James II, by Protestant forces led by William of Orange in the Glorious Revolution in the late 17th century, a series of “penal laws” were passed by the Irish Parliament, which was dominated by the Protestant minority who had supported William.

The first law, passed in 1695, took away the right of Catholics to bear arms, while another forbade Catholics to leave the island for education and prohibited them from teaching or running schools within Ireland.

“The most important, however, was the Act to Prevent the Further Growth of Popery (1704),” according to Davies. “This prevented Catholics from buying land or inheriting it from Protestants, or from leasing land for more than 31 years. At about this time the potato was introduced as a major crop. The combination of the legislation and the new crop was ultimately disastrous.”

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