Star Tribune from Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 4, 1987 · Page 25
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Star Tribune from Minneapolis, Minnesota · Page 25

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Issue Date:
Sunday, October 4, 1987
Page 25
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I ! I Star Tribune Sunday October 41987 25A . 5. rediciim earttauate Who's Who - u Editorials and additional commentary, 26-27A Science fiction and reality By George H. Shaw "EARTHQUAKE!" read the headlines as another shift of the Earth's crust shakes southern California. Earthquakes are news because they kill and cause damage, but perhaps more because they occur suddenly, without warning. They are a spectacular reminder of the degree to which our society is vulnerable to the forces of nature. Violent weather inspires some of the same feelings, but to a lesser extent because of the system of weather watch and prediction, which informs us of the hazards (although sometimes too late to prevent suffering). While imperfect, weather prediction gives us a sense of security that does not exist for those living in earthquake country. The success of weath er prediction, which is greater than we will usually admit, has led to efforts to predict other natural events, including earthquakes. Quake prediction used to be part of the realm of science fiction. It is still a fledgling and highly speculative science, but the potential benefits have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on research. This expenditure did not come about be-jcause of an increase in earthquake activity (although the very large 'earthquake near Anchorage, Alaska On Good Friday, 1964, provided a significant stimulus). Rather, our understanding of the Earth has improved in the last 20 years to the point where it is reasonable to expect 'progress in earthquake prediction through concerted study. In the earliest phases of the present efforts in prediction a bewildering, and in some cases almost bizarre, ivariety of studies was attempted. These ranged from detailed measurements of the properties of rocks as they were fractured in the laboratory 1o studies of the geographic distribution of earthquakes on a global scale. .There were even attempts to use cockroaches as "earthquake detectors." . While some of these studies may seem fantastic, there was a basis for virtually all of them. Generally this is the case in the beginning years of study of a previously poorly understood phenomenon. In such studies it is important to cast the scientific net wide, lest important lines of investigation be missed. In the case of earthquakes there was an abundant anecdotal natural history to draw upon, which suggested a highly varied research program. We have now left this early phase of investigation and many of these studies have been abandoned as unfruitful (for example, the cockroaches). Many promising lines of research have been followed in greater detail, and there have occasionally been hopeful statements made concerning progress toward the goal of earthquake prediction. Unfortunately, no breakthrough has taken place and we are still a long way from a method that comes even close to our ability to predict the weather. The most promising results to date involve studies of the distribution of earthquakes geographically and over time. Similar studies have been going on for decades, but the improvement in instrumentation, the amount of instrumentation available, and the accumulation of data are providing useful insights. We now have a rather crude ability to forecast earthquake occurrence Sausage maker grinds out a picture of American competence By George F. Will The Washington Post Boston If historian Barbara Tuchman is right about a rising tide of incompetence that is a symptom of national decadence, she should take heart from the example of David Nosiglia, sausage maker. In a recent essay, Tuchman decried "a deteriorating ethic in many spheres." Her focus is government the sending to the Persian Gulf of the frigate Stark, poorly officered and un-suited to its mission, and the Iran shambles in which government operatives plunged into strange nations "with no more serious thought than tourists off a cruise ship." Her examples of incompetence are Illustration that falls somewhere between climate prediction and weather prediction. The "climate" of earthquakes can be thought of as a general idea of which geographic areas are more likely than others to experience earthquakes. Minnesota, for instance, would be considered pretty balmy by earthquake standards, while southern California would be in the midst of the hurricane belt. With the increase in knowledge of the distribution of earthquakes over time, using historical records and detailed data from the last two to three decades, we can "forecast" approximately how often an earthquake-prone area is likely to experience an event of a given size. This means we may be able to say that part of a state may get, on the average, one earthquake of a given magnitude every few decades or so, but we can't as yet 'say just when it will occur. In the most highly studied areas there are signs that forecasting an event "within the next year" may soon become possible. We obviously still have a long way to go. In the meantime, some have begun to think about the practical aspects of our ability to forecast earthquakes. - Common sense should reveal the nature of this aspect of the problem. One of the reasons weather prediction is more advanced than earthquake prediction is the comparative fair, if obvious. But they arise from the plague of small incompetences from which the big ones rise products poorly made and carelessly repaired, restaurant meals sloppily served, services indifferently rendered all around us. A social climate of tolerance for incompetence breeds big botches by government Don't blame David Nosiglia. He is a 27-year-old who, from a nondescript building at IS Coventry St, Boston, manufactures sausages and other de-lectables. Nine years ago, with the single-mindedness that is the father of excellence, he decided he wanted to make the best sausages the freshest, finest, healthiest in America. He does. His three-year journey to craftsman-. ship took him to apprenticeship to a mastgr butcher in West Germany, by Craig Macintosh ease of observation of the processes involved in the weather fronts, pressure centers, cloud systems. Weather is also a more everyday phenomenon. There is a lot more weather going on than there are earthquakes. This means that our experience of weather is intrinsically far greater. It also means that we are more accustomed to dealing with weather events, to the extent that even fairly severe weather is not likely to lead to widespread catastrophe. The same cannot be said for earthquakes. With that perspective in mind, consider the possible public responses to prediction in these two arenas. If rain is predicted one might carry an umbrella, or if a major storm is approaching one might stay under shelter. If the event does not materialize there is little harm done. On the other hand, the possible responses of earthquake prediction appear to be inherently more problematical, especially as the uncertainties are going to be much greater for a long time to come. It is simply impractical to evacuate an area (likely to be fairly large) for days at a time, to say nothing about weeks or even months. Even if we should develop the ability to make pinpoint predictions and carry out a successful evacuation (still a problem in urban areas), we will almost certainly have no greater reliability than the weatherman. You where he worked 14-hour days and half-days on Saturdays, and on Sundays he went to the factory to see how certain salamis are made. His travels took him to Switzerland and France and Milwaukee, and to Louisiana to learn Cajun cooking. At 17, he had decided that he, unlike his siblings, was a "hands-on" fellow who did not want to go to college. He did something that many young people now slogging without enthusiasm through college should do: He chose a craft, rather than the credentials chase. He now has a wife who, dressed as he is in jeans and a sweat shirt and leaning casually on a menacing-looking grinder, clearly has a heart for any fate. He and she and his father, with just three helpers, are making sausages (and smoked turkey, cheeses, trout and other things) in smaller quantities and with much might ask yourself what you would do, after going through three "earthquake alerts" resultant earthquakes, when the fourth alert was sounded. This is not to say that our efforts are pointless. Even with a fairly rudimentary predictive ability of very modest reliability, many useful responses are possible, although I doubt general evacuation will ever be one of them. For example, an alert might trigger a state of readiness and awareness in the emergency services. Utilities might be especially prepared to shut off trunk services to limit the outbreak of electrical and natural-gas fires. As our predictive tools improve, the intensity of readiness might be increased, resulting in better emergency response. This is where earthquake-prediction research is most likely to achieve gains. It is important for the public to realize this, rather than harbor the notion that earthquake prediction will enable them to pop out of town for the day and skip the earthquake. This latter idea is going to remain part of science fiction for the foreseeable future, and that's a prediction you can rely on. George H. Shaw is an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Minnesota. higher quality than is necessary. But both the small quantity and high quality are necessary to the Nosiglias. The quantity is a function of their insistence on quality, and the insistence itself is their vocation. A cynic has said that when people are free to do as they please, they usually are pleased to imitate each other. Not the Nosiglias. David Nosiglia spurns the categorical imperative of capitalism maximum expansion. Not for him ever-expanding production, more outlets, franchises. ,He will remain a micro-manufacturer because, as he says with the arresting eloquence of the severely plain-spoken, "I will always have to be in a sausage kitchen." And no matter to whom he might delegate authority, "They're never going to take the samt interest I do." anu Wi io iSi i l By Joe Queenan Tarrytown, N.Y. With the possible exception of the Sons of Peter Abelard, the Friends of Idi Amin and the League of Scintillating Philadelphia Conversationalists, there is probably no fraternity smaller than People Who Aren't in "Who's Who." Just about everyone I interview is listed in "Who's Who," as are most of the people I admire, virtually everyone I despise, and more than a handful of the people I foul in my Saturday afternoon pick-up basketball games. R.C. Webster is in "Who's Who" this year too, even though R.C. Webster doesn't exist. A few years ago, when I started editing American Business, Ralph Ginzburg's offbeat business publication, R.C. Webster had been a fixture on the masthead for some time. Though he may have started as somebody's nom de plume, by the time I got there he was turning up as managing editor, staff writer and general office help wherever we needed to fill a space on the masthead. Mostly, R.C. Webster was a handy name people at the magazine used to get rid of persistent salesmen, dunners or flacks. "Send it to R.C. Webster," our receptionist would say. "The only person who would know about that is R.C. Webster, and he's in Houston" was another familiar comment, as was "I'll have to ask Mr. Webster to get back to you on that one." In about 500 years. In any case, R.C. Webster, like half the other people on the planet, eventually turned up on the "Who's Who" mailing list, and was sent an application form inviting him to become a biogra-phee. So was Joe Queenan. This in itself was a trifle unusual, given that American Business had always given inordinate editorial priority to stories about floating brothels, burial in outer space, computerized solar doghouses and the investment value of haunted houses, carrying such headlines as: "Cocky bull breeder horns in on seed money"; "Nevada gambles on slime" and "Cafeterias eat it raw." But heck, these things happen. Joe Queenan sent in a reasonably legitimate application, though it is not true that he has published a book called "Only the Good Stay Dead." Then Joe Queenan sent in a bogus application for Mr. Webster, just to see how rigorous the screening process was. Not so rigorous. ' The people there didn't blink when they received a biography from a man who had been born on Sept. 1, 1939, in Arcis-sur-L" Abattoir; whose wife's name was Trish Abigail Boogen; whose children included Cassette, Lothar, Skippy and Boo-Boo; and who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from F&M T&A University They didn't think it odd that Mr. Webster should hold a bachelor's degree from Holy Indigents High School, doctorates from the University of Ron (Ron, France) and Quaker State University; and claim to be the author of such books as "Mars and Menials," "Jake and Pete," and "Mr. Sleazy in Zion." They didn't find anything unusual about a man whose professional associations include being treasur He quickly learned the futility of trying to sell to large supermarkets. The supermarkets' buyers all came quickly to the (to them) crucial question: "What's your price?" Nosiglia's prices are higher than those of the industry's giants. But a discerning minority of customers who care about high quality will seek out those who provide it. (One regular customer is after a particular quality; the customer is a mother who appears every Friday to purchase the strongly seasoned garlic sausages. She serves them to her daughter for supper on weekend date nights. The daughter has not yet caught on to the mother's motives.) A realist has said that although truth is scarce, the supply always seems to exceed demand. The same could be said about quality. But not in Boston, IX er of the Association of Men, the . Bureau of People and the Chris- -, . , tian Managing Editor Association; r secretary of the Better Club Assoj. ciation; and who has served as an , ,Vi officer of the North Bronx Dog Club and the Christian Dog Club..,, They didn't find it strange that ,. Mr. Webster should list "manage ;u ing editing" as one of his hobbies, ; or that his career should have in-r, ,'. eluded stints as editor of AmeVj' can Business, Latin American. ., , Business, The Business of Busi-, ,, X ness, Your Business and Our Business Monthly. And they didn't ask what a "Low ,;, Lutheran" was. (It's a sect of very , short Protestants who have been V '.' given an ecclesiastical dispensation to preach that God the Father. , -only stands 4 feet 6 inches, and vv that his son couldn't have had ;;ti much more than an inch on him.) ,t The "Who's Who" people put it ; " all in their computer. Did anyone from "Who's Who" ever contact Mr. Webster to check for authenticity? Yes, once he foC V ...u ..... um ten his master's degree. At this point, I changed F&M T&A to .. . Houston Polytechnical Institute, to see if anyone was paying attention. Nobody was. Hnwrnwr this uns tint thp last ' 4 ' time "Who's Who" contacted me or Mr. Webster. Actually, we Kota I steady stream of correspondence.! n noi 111115 mai uiv uviuit. vui- - tion" was going fast, so order soon. A galley proof warning that V ttiic u;q ttiA 1ict ttm a uia uisiiiIH K3b .V una naa vnv mai uiiiv ttv ttuuiu offered prepublication pnees. A warning that this was our last chance to get a copy, period. Ali 'v offer ofa mahogany wall plaque. An urgent verification request An invitation to be listed in "Who's, Who in U.S. Writers, Editors & ' Poets," followed by the same bar; rage of come-ons, though this . ' . time the wall plaque was made of sturdy, handsome walnut. . . -; , I did not respond to any of these overtures, and must say that the ' ' "Who's Who" people deserve ' ' r credit for not cutting Mr. Webster or me out of the book simply . j, because we failed to order a copy. . In any case, the 1986-87 edition of "Who's Who" is on library book-. shelves everywhere, and I'm list-; ed, as is my nonexistent sidekick,' - most of whose pertinent accom- , plishments appear in print. Actu- . ally, his entry is longer than mine; . . of course, his accomplishments j. .", are considerably more noteworthy. ..-,, Mr. Webster's listing seems to ' .suggest that the "Who's Who" .7 people don't do a whole lot in the . way of fact-checking. This being the case, my advice is: If you get . an invitation to submit yourbiog-,, raphy, embellish the hell out of it. Next year, God willing, I'm bail-. f ing out of this outfit and moving ; over to the editorship of Time. I'm going to say I not only gradu- -ated from Yale, but founded it'( J . I'm going to give myself eight '' Golden Gloves, two Wimbledon championships and the NBA v. r "'. slam-dunk title. I'm going to list J'' my previous jobs as secretary of ' defense, Senate majority leader,, director of the KGB, assistant pope, president of the Fraternal . Order of Iranian Moderates and"''!'-' ex-husband of Wallis Simpson. '! It'll all look good on my resume! ,''., Joe Queenan is a free-lance writer. This article is reprinted from the;, ' New Republic. ;;- where Sam Adams beer sells for much more than Budweiser, but sells, briskly. It is produced here by one of the new "micro-breweries;" they are another sign that individualism ' is alive and well, both on the supply side and the demand side. Boston, the cradle of American liberty, may now be the incubator ofa movement demanding quality. " " Today bookstore shelves groan be neath the weight of tomes telling us how to beat the Japanese at their own, game, which used to be our game;-quality manufacturing. Most of the. books stress managerial skills. Such;: skills are necessary, but are not substitutes for the pride that makes a man like Nosiglia pleased to stand in; sneakers in a work place that is small' but all his. He is of geopolitical sig-;; nificance: An infection ofyompe- tence can Tect even governif;nt

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