Saturday, November 27, 2010

Spanish Royal Academy, in an Effort at Austerity, Reduces Alphabet by Two Characters

As has been reported heavily in the press recently, some of the European Union countries are having financial difficulties. Greece and Ireland have already had there hands out and gotten bailouts from the EU and the IMF. As part of their bailout packages they have had to cut back on their domestic government spending. Many financial pundits have pointed to Portugal, Italy and Spain as other countries that will also most likely experience financial difficulties and have to go with hat in hand to the EU and IMF.

In a brave effort to stave off financial ruin, the Spanish Royal Academy in an unprecedented move has proactively initiated an austerity program whereby two of the characters of their 29 character alphabet have been removed. This represents a reduction of 6.9% in the Spanish alphabet. In a collateral move they have also eliminated accent marks on some words. While it is difficult to measure exactly what this reduction will mean, it is clearly a step in the right direction.

Even though the Spanish Royal Academy has reduced the size of the alphabet by eliminating the characters "CH" and "LL", this does not mean that all will go smoothly. There has been some resistance to the change from a variety of sources. Some hispanophiles were quick to point out that instead of removing the two letters from the alphabet, the Academy should have eliminated the practice of certain Castillians from pronouncing certain words with the "th" phoneme as has been common practice for a number of centuries now in Latin America, thereby fostering more standardization and, perhaps, an increase in trade with their linguistic brethren. Also, the authors of the "Reverse Dictionary of the Spanish Language" have stated that they have no intention of following the lead of the Academy "at this time". They are not going in the same direction.

In fact, there has even been speculation that the IMF will not even accept these reductions by Spain as a bonafide reduction since there was no attempt to remove any Arabic numerals and roll back to the more "European" Roman numerals which were in use earlier. The EU has decried this proposed measure since it is a very thinly veiled demonstration of islamophobia. Italian sources have claimed that adoption of the Roman numerals would be a very good development for Italy since it would produce more revenue for them based upon the increased usage of their numerals.

Some have suggested that the numeral "O" should be considered for removal first since the very concept of "zero" is not indigenous to Spain in the first place. The Arabs originally introduced "zero" to the number system and brought it with them when they emigrated to the Iberian peninsula starting in 711. Since the expulsion of the Mulsems from Spain in 1492, many think this addition to the number system should finally go with them leaving the Alhambra in Granada, Spain as the one lasting legacy of the Moorish occupation.

Also, the American Mathematical Association claims that nothing will be gained by actually tossing out "zero", but others are quick to point out that it is an extreme budget cutting method to reduce the Spanish government spending from 338,623,164,850 Euro to 33,862,316,485 Euro - a reduction of 90%.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Another Major Earthquake

In my post of January 19, 2010, in the aftermath of the Port-au-Prince 7.0 earthquake I posted a blog entry with a chart that I constructed of major earthquakes and the devastation that they caused.

It seems appropriate to amend that list with the latest quake information on the 8.8 earthquake outside Concepcion Chile on 2/27/2010.

LOCATION DATE MAG. DAMAGE
Lituya Bay, Alaska 7/9/1958 NA Tsunami 1720 ft.
Upper Egypt 7/5/1201 NA 1,100,000 killed
Offshore Chile 5/22/1960 9.5 1655 killed
Anchorage, Alaska 3/27/1964 9.2 9 killed
Andreanof Islands,
Alaska 3/9/1957 9.1
Kamchatka,USSR 11/4/1952 9 no deaths
Offshore Sumatra,
Indonesia 12/26/2004 9.1 227,898 killed
Offshore Equador 1/31/1906 8.8 500-1500 killed
Concepcion, Chile 2/27/2010 8.8 700+ so far
Rat Islands, Alaska 2/4/1965 8.7 none reported
Northern Sumatra,
Indonesia 3/28/2005 8.7 1300 killed
Lisbon, Portugal 11/1/1755 8.6 60,000 killed
India/China Border
Tibet 8/15/1950 8.6 780 killed
Alaska 1957 8.6 none reported
Kamchatka,USSR 2/3/1923 8.5
South Sumatra 2007 8.5 21 killed
Kansu, China 12/16/1920 8.5 200,000 killed
Offshore Samoa 9/29/2009 8.3 34? killed
San Francisco,
California 4/18/1906 8.3 700 killed
Tokyo-Yokohama,
Japan 9/1/1923 8.3 143,000 killed
Mexico City, Mexico 9/19/1985 8.1 9,500 killed
Tangshan, China 7/27/1976 8 255,000 killed
Chile 3/3/1985 8
Chile 7/30/1995 8
BengKulu, Indonesia 6/4/2000 7.9 N/A
India/Pakistan
Border 1/26/2001 7.9 20,000+ killed
Gölcük, Turkey 8/17/1999 7.6 17,000 killed
Nantou, Taiwan 9/20/1999 7.6 1,800 killed
New Britain, PNG 11/16/2000 7.3 N/A
Loma Prieta,
California 10/17/1989 7 62 killed
Port-au-Prince,
Haiti 1/11/2010 7 200,000+ est.
Armenia, USSR 12/7/1988 6.8 25,000 killed
Northridge,
California 1/17/1994 6.8 60 killed
Kobe, Japan 1/16/1995 6.8 5,530 killed
Managua, Nicaragua 12/23/1972 6.2 9,800 killed
Agadir, Morocco 1/13/1960 5.9 12,500 killed

I can only reiterate the same comments as I made in my prior blog on this subject: that there is much that can be done in the name of humanity to improve responsiveness to natural disasters such as this. Please read my prior blog on this subject. Comments appreciated.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Suggests Approach to Make Joseph Priestley House a National Historic Site

In a correspondence received on February 16, 2010, from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as a response to my correspondence about the Joseph Priestley House, Reid has suggested that parties interested in having the Joseph Priestley House and Museum considered as a National Historic Site within the National Park Service contact the Senators within whose district the site is located. In this case, interested parties should contact Senators Casey and Specter of Pennsylvania. He has also forwarded my correspondence to the two Senators.

I include the addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of the two Senators below:

Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA)
393 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-6324
Toll Free: (866) 802-2833
Fax: (202) 228-0604

Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA)
711 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington , DC 20510
Main: 202-224-4254
Fax: 202-228-1229



Sunday, January 31, 2010

Joseph Priestley House Receives Financial Support from the National Chemical Society to Keep Joseph Priestley House and Museum Open

According to an article in Preservation, the official publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, published on January 25, 2010, Tom Bresenhan, President of the Friends of Joseph Priestley House indicated that "the National Chemical Society has chipped in to keep the home [Joseph Priestley House and Museum] open." He further stated that "Preserving it was an absolute necessity."

Perhaps the bandwagon of support is just starting to circle the Joseph Priestley House and protect it from distinction.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Correspondence from Tom Bresenhan about Joseph Priestley House and the National Park Service

I have now received a note from Tom Bresenhan, President of the Friends of Joseph Priestley House. I am encouraged by his confirmation that they will be speaking to the local congressional representatives about having the site evaluated by the National Park Service. The text of his note follows:

"Thanks for your note.

The Friends plan to conduct tours on weekend afternoons from mid-March to the end of November and special events such as Summer History Camp in July. We feel confident based on our experiences with tours and events in the fall of 2009. We expect to sign a Management Agreement with the PA Historical and Museum Commission in February which will continue state ownership and maintenance of the site as well as the utility bills. The Friends will be responsible for programming.

The Friends Board this year will be looking longer term, and your suggestion is one we will evaluate. I will contact our local Congressman's office to start the process with the National Park Service to evaluate the site and its circumstances.

As this moves forward we will keep in touch, through the newsletter and by email.

My sense now is, although the state's financial situation is precarious, it will improve this year leading to greater security in the PHMC [Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission] and more dependability in its relationships with management organizations. From this improved perspective we can then look toward the future with more certainty. This may lead to a greater role for the Park Service.

Thanks again for the note and your concern.

Tom Bresenhan"

Friday, January 22, 2010

Progress on Making The Joseph Priestley House Part of the National Park Service as a National Historic Site.

I have now received responses from both Senator Harry Reid and the National Park Service with regard to my suggestion to include The Joseph Priestley House as a National Historic Site as part of the National Park Service.
I include my latest letter to Senator Reid below and encourage all those of you who feel similarly to write to your congressmen supporting the idea.

Dear Senator Reid:
Thank you for having forwarded my email to you of Sept. 5, 2009 with regard to the Joseph Priestley House to the National Park Service. I have now received their response dated Nov. 5, 2009, and I note that they have copied you on that correspondence. I was encouraged to see that there is a way to proceed with the consideration of The Joseph Priestley House for inclusion as a National Historic Site in the National Park System. As indicated in that letter this is initiated through acts of Congress by first authorizing the NPS to conduct a special resource study.

I would like you to consider introducing legislation to authorize the NPS to conduct a special resource study as to whether the Joseph Priestley House is appropriate for inclusion in the NPS. I have read the pamphlet "Criteria for New National Parklands" that they included and I feel strongly that it meets the objectives set forth therein. I do not know what else I can provide you to help you move to the next step. I look forward to your suggestions.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Observations on the Human Condition

I watched with horror as the events unfolded about Port-Au-Prince, Haiti after the earthquake hit. It brought my thoughts back to another time and place: 1972 in Managua, Nicaragua to be more precise - when another people that could also ill afford the devastation of an earthquake were hit. At the time of the Managua quake I was a graduate student and my thoughts were to, in some way, help the people of Managua. I thought of somehow getting on a plane and travelling down there and doing whatever I could to help save lives.

I had previously worked as a volunteer for the Red Cross ten years earlier in Mexico City. I initially worked as an ambulance attendant and I had dealt with typical urban trauma events caused by accidents, human brutality and disease. I had even worked in a rescue effort when an earth slide had buried a community of poor Mexicans. We worked side by side with the fire department and other rescue workers, scratching at the dirt, trying to find people trapped in their homes under that horrible mountain of dirt. I remember, all too well, pulling young, lifeless bodies from the rubble and trying desperately to get them to come alive, performing CPR. We never revived most of the victims. Seeing the children die hurt the most. They were so innocent, what had they done to deserve the fate of being born into a community of people who lived in substandard housing on an unsafe hillside.

I didn't go to Managua at the time of the earthquake. I was already married and I had two very young children. I inquired and was advised that I would not really be welcome there -- that only professional rescue workers should go at that time. Roberto Clemente, the well known major league baseball player, gathered supplies and chartered a plane to take to Nicaragua, his plane crashed and he died on his way there. What a shame. The tragedy of Managua quieted down and the press stopped reporting so much about what happened there shortly thereafter.

I went in Managua for the first time in 1976 -- three and a half years later. I was on a mission sponsored by IBM to provide assistance to the Universidad Nacional de Managua. Upon arriving at the airport in Managua I was taken to the Intercontinental Hotel. The hotel is high on a hill. From that hill the terrain slopes downward toward the shores of Lake Managua a few miles away. The city of Managua spreads out between the hotel and the lake. I cannot convey the magnitude of the damage to the city that I saw from my window in the hotel. The grid of the city streets were all there. I could see only two buildings between the hotel and the lake that were still standing, and that also included as far as the eyes could see to the left and the right. Every other building was completely demolished. However, it wasn't until I decided to walk from the hotel to the lake that I realized the true enormity of the devastation. You cannot fathom how minuscule we are compared to the powers of nature until you confront a natural disaster event such as the aftermath of an earthquake. And to put it in perspective, I was not there during the intense period just after the quake. It must have been horrific.

I wanted to comprehend the relationship in size of the Managua earthquake of 1972 and the Port-Au-Prince earthquake and to other earthquakes as well. It turns out that when an earthquake occurs in the ocean it many times causes a tsunami. So, I looked up tsunamis also.
The following is a partial list of the most devastating earthquakes and tsunamis that I could put together from a quick Google search. It does not include volcanic explosions, pyroclastic flows, floods, hurricanes, fires, viral and bacteriological diseases, plagues or other disasters, natural or man made:


LOCATION DATE MAG. DAMAGE
Lituya Bay, Alaska 7/9/1958 NA Tsunami 1720 ft.
Upper Egypt 7/5/1201 NA 1,100,000 killed
Offshore Chile 5/22/1960 9.5 1655 killed
Anchorage, Alaska 3/27/1964 9.2 9 killed
Andreanof Islands,
Alaska 3/9/1957 9.1
Kamchatka,USSR 11/4/1952 9 no deaths
Offshore Sumatra,
Indonesia 12/26/2004 9.1 227,898 killed
Offshore Equador 1/31/1906 8.8 500-1500 killed
Rat Islands, Alaska 2/4/1965 8.7 none reported
Northern Sumatra,
Indonesia 3/28/2005 8.7 1300 killed
Lisbon, Portugal 11/1/1755 8.6 60,000 killed
India/China Border
Tibet 8/15/1950 8.6 780 killed
Alaska 1957 8.6 none reported
Kamchatka,USSR 2/3/1923 8.5
South Sumatra 2007 8.5 21 killed
Kansu, China 12/16/1920 8.5 200,000 killed
Offshore Samoa 9/29/2009 8.3 34? killed
San Francisco,
California 4/18/1906 8.3 700 killed
Tokyo-Yokohama,
Japan 9/1/1923 8.3 143,000 killed
Mexico City, Mexico 9/19/1985 8.1 9,500 killed
Tangshan, China 7/27/1976 8 255,000 killed
Chile 3/3/1985 8
Chile 7/30/1995 8
BengKulu, Indonesia 6/4/2000 7.9 N/A
India/Pakistan
Border 1/26/2001 7.9 20,000+ killed
Gölcük, Turkey 8/17/1999 7.6 17,000 killed
Nantou, Taiwan 9/20/1999 7.6 1,800 killed
New Britain, PNG 11/16/2000 7.3 N/A
Loma Prieta,
California 10/17/1989 7 62 killed
Port-au-Prince,
Haiti 1/11/2010 7 200,000+ est.
Armenia, USSR 12/7/1988 6.8 25,000 killed
Northridge,
California 1/17/1994 6.8 60 killed
Kobe, Japan 1/16/1995 6.8 5,530 killed
Managua, Nicaragua 12/23/1972 6.2 9,800 killed
Agadir, Morocco 1/13/1960 5.9 12,500 killed

The Port-Au-Prince quake is quite significant, both in magnitude, the amount of human life lost and physical destruction. The Managua quake seems minor in comparison.

As a counterpoint, while I was in Managua I had occasion to meet with Anastasio Somoza, the infamous and brutal dictator who ran that country like it was his private estate. While there, I noticed that most people were always looking over their shoulders in fear of being overheard while they were talking to me. They were afraid that someone from the government, or an informer, might be listening, even though the conversation was of no real consequence. Somoza was assasinated in Paraguay in 1980, after being deposed by the Sandanistas in 1979.

After looking at the list above I have a hunch that more individuals were killed by war and as a result of totalitarian regimes, just like Somoza's reign, just since the beginning of the 20th century than all the natural disasters of all time combined. I haven't done any rigorous calculations yet to support this hypothesis though.

So, the issues that I see are as follows:

First, while there is a tremendous outpouring of empathy and aid by peoples from around the world for the victims of natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, how come, when a man made disaster, like a war, or a despotic ruler's tyranny occurs, we just don't see the same response? Are the victims of man made disasters somehow not worthy of the same empathy? Were the victims in Sudan and Rwanda and Nicaragua somehow not worthy of our empathy and aid? Is there something we can do now, so that when one of these horrific man made events occurs, we are prepared to actually do something on a coordinated basis for the good of humanity?

Second, while we cannot predict where or when the next disaster will occur, we can predict that they will continue to occur in the future on a fairly regular basis. We, in the United States, presumably have an emergency response system (FEMA) which is designed to provide for just such contingencies (except it seems we blew it for hurricane Katrina). Wouldn't it make sense to have an organization like the UN coordinate global preparedness among its member nations to allow us to get a leg up on catastrophies like the earthquate in Haiti?

I'd like to hear what you think. Please post a comment on your thoughts.