Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More Earthquakes

Bret Stephens writes in today's Wall Street Journal: "Earthquake magnitudes are measured on a logarithmic scale. The earthquake that hit Northridge in 1994 measured 6.7 on the Richter scale. But its seismic-energy yield was only half that of the 7.0 quake that hit Haiti in January, which was the equivalent of 2,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs exploding all at once.  By contrast, Saturday's earthquake in Chile measured 8.8. That's nearly 500 times more powerful than Haiti's, or about one million Hiroshimas. Yet Chile's reported death toll—711 as of this writing—was a tiny fraction of the 230,000 believed to have perished in Haiti."  Stephens goes on to extol Chile's superior building codes and far superior economy as explanation for the vastly different number of casualties.  I don't know enough about economic theory in general and Milton Friedman in particular to make a judgment on the question that he addresses.  But it is of course obvious to even the most casual of observers that Haiti is a deeply troubled country and that its extraordinary poverty is more to blame for the thousands of dead than January's "act of God."  Haiti has been plagued for centuries with a depth of misery that is compounded more by humans than by God.  That of course is part of Stephen's point.  The earthquake might have been an act of God, but it was made more miserable and more deadly by humans--and in Chile by contrast it was made less deadly by humans.  Still as I read this morning's paper my thoughts turned towards nature.  I remain overwhelmed by the earth's ferocious power.  With all of our human achievements and advancements, as well as our negligence and troubles, when the earth slips and shudders it is as if one million Hiroshimas explodes. Let this be a reminder that we will never be able to tame such a monster. We cannot control nature.  No matter how many earthquake proof buildings we build, the tempest will toss us around at will.  We have only choice left: to live with it, to live alongside nature.  Never forget nature's power!  Pablo Neruda, Chile's Nobel Prize winning poet, speaks of death as a quiet shipwreck.
Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
throat.
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.
Nature is both soothing and frightening.  It is the calming waves and the shipwreck.  It is the rustling of the leaves and the snapping of branches.  It is the sand under foot and the exploding of mountains.  It is the blossoming of spring flowers and the movement of tectonic plates.  It is death and it is life.  Let us again join together in prayer for the victims of yet another earthquake.

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