Open Thread #378

 Posted by on 20 January 2013 at 12:00 pm  Open Thread
Jan 202013

Scene from a journey through Lower Antelope Canyon

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  • Mike R. Smith


    I gather you support open immigration.

    Do you think there are any downsides to allowing virtually unlimited immigration into the US, Europe and Israel? Wouldn’t tens of milllions of immigrants in a decade overwhelm the legitimate services of government? How would we prevent Moslems who want to engage in terrorism from coming? It’s not as if they will advertise their beliefs.

    I don’t think Moslem immigration into the west has resulted in a single benefit. Is the UK better off because of the no go zones created by Asians and Afro Caribbeans?

  • John Pryce

    I don’t know if you ever watched it, Diana, but I am currently re-watching the entire series of Xena: Warrior Princess. Despite the corniness of much of the series (especially the fighting), I must admit to being surprised at how authentically ancient Greek the story feels at times; at other times, little bits of PC garbage make their way in. But what is REALLY surprising is how well obvious Americanisms mesh with the retouched Greek myths being told in this story. I knew I enjoyed watching this show when it first aired for a reason.

  • Jim May

    Here’s a hypothetical I’ve been wondering about. Read the first question, frame your reaction to it, and *then* read the second — I want to know if it changes your reaction to the first.

    1. Suppose that today someone invented a way to deliberately release all the energy stored in the San Andreas Fault at once, triggering “The Big One” (and destroying Los Angeles) on purpose, at any time we choose. Would it be a bad idea to set a date X years ahead to allow plenty of warning, and then do it?

    2. Given that “The Big One” is definitely going to happen at some point, would it be of benefit to us if we could know the exact date when it happens?

    This idea occurred to me after I read about some of the hysteria surrounding fracking — that it could “cause earthquakes”. Earthquakes involve far larger amounts of energy stored in the earth than is involved in fracking itself. If the latter could *cause* earthquakes, I reasoned, then all it amounts to doing is releasing energy already present in the Earth that was going to come out in an earthquake sooner or later.

    Then it hit me. If fracking really allowed us to deliberately trigger earthquakes, wouldn’t that be a boon to places like California and Japan? Wouldn’t we be better off if instead of waiting around for “The Big One” to happen at some unknown random date and time, we could deliberately “schedule” it to avoid loss of life?

    One thing is for certain: the public discussion about setting the date would be something to behold.

    • c_andrew

      Interesting question, Jim. Would such a set-off be a government function? If so, what level? In the case of San Andreas, the options would be city, county, state, or federal. Or is it something that could be contracted out to a private company? Or done, in the first Superman style, by a land developer? (The last question is tongue in cheek…)

      • James

        Current methods would dictate that it be done in agreement with all four levels, and a bunch more. The EIR for such a plan would be absolutely massive–and likely take a decade or more to write!

    • c_andrew

      Oh, and to address your original question, yes the second does affect the framing of the first. And in that context, I would assume that it would fall under mitigation – in a similar fashion to flood-control dams. The difference would be that flood control dams might, in the short term, deprive water rights holders of their property and such damage, in the case of agricultural holders would be secondary by means of crop loss. The earthquake property losses would be direct. So does it inform the discussion to ask if flood control dams are a legitimate function of government? Or should such structures, assuming private rivers, come down to an issue of private contract and tort?

      • c_andrew

        Another wrinkle in the analogy to flood control would be that it is possible that the water rights holders in river water might also be the (distributed) owners of that river and therefore might be shareholders in any flood control measures emplaced on that river in a private property scenario. Which would render the comparison moot unless there is some way to have “property rights” in a catastrophic event. Perhaps if we had the technology to capture and exploit the energy released in a seismic event one could hold property rights in it? But then look at the issue of damage to other property and the tort issues that would arise from that. I mean, after all, Italy is jailing seismologists who don’t correct predict earthquakes with present technology.

  • c_andrew

    Since Jim brought up fracking, I thought that this would be an opportune time to post information about “Frack Nation,” a documentary that was made to counter the falsehoods in “GasLand,” a hit piece on fracking by environmental interests.

    It is premiering tonight, January 22nd at 9:00 Easter on AXS TV to coincide with the release of Matt Damon’s “Promised Land.” AXS TV is Direct TV 340 and DISH 362 as well as AT&T U-verse 1106 and Verizon FiOS 569.

    Here are some links to some previews and op-eds of the documentary.

  • James

    Jim, there are several problems with your idea. First, there are multiple faults in both Japan and California capable of producing nasty earthquakes (for example, the Garlock Fault Zone is just as violent as the San Andreas Fault Zone). Second, if you notice I mentioned fault zones. That’s because the big faults aren’t singular structures–they’re actually zones of fractured rock, with enormous numbers of faults in them, more or less aligned (usually; they are incredibly complicated structures we still don’t fully understand). Releasing tension on one site may not have any impact on the tension at another. Finally, active fault systems are under stress–meaning that even if you could release “The Big One” (which is actually based on historical data, not current geophysical conditions) you’d have to do it over and over.

    A better idea might be a constant series of small quakes, which would allow for a release of stress without too much damage. It’s the difference between stopping your car by applying the breaks over a long distance, and stopping your car by slamming into a wall–slow reduction in energy over a relatively long period of time means far, far, far less damage.

  • Jim May

    James: my wife brought up the fact of multiple faults and fault systems after I’d posted that, and yes that’s yet another complication. She also mentioned that we don’t know where all the faults are, either.

    Regarding controlled releases, good luck with that. There’s simply no way we could stop the fault from dumping its energy should it “decide” to keep going once we started it — at least not without some really far future science-fiction tech. Releasing the energy is much simpler technically than attempting to control or redirect that release, the same way that a nuclear bomb is simpler than a nuclear reactor

  • James

    I said it’d be a better idea, not a simpler one. ;) The nuclear bomb/reactor analogy is very good–not only is a nuclear bomb simpler than a nuclear reactor (maybe; I don’t know of any natural nuclear bombs, while there are several natural reactors on Earth), but a nuclear bomb is more destructive than a nuclear reactor, even one that goes into meltdown. Similarly, releasing all the stored energy along a major fault system, if it can be done at all, would be incredibly destructive. Smaller releases wouldn’t be as damaging. In California, I’d say it’s a toss-up whether a nuclear bomb or a rapid release of energy along a fault would do more damage. Possibly the fault would–there’s some complex geology very close-by, which the Garlock Fault cuts through, and any release along the San Andreas would activate the Garlock. We could easily “ignite” a supervolcano under Las Vegas. Though that’s still the subject of some pretty intense debates.

    And both require sci-fi technology, so that’s a wash. We can’t do either one with our current technology (fracking releases much smaller, shallow faults, while the San Andreas represents the edge of two tectonic plates).

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