Science! Zombie Ants & Rain

1. As readers of this blog no doubt recall, I have a deep and abiding interest in Nature, especially when it’s behaving in a blood-curdling, utterly horrifying way, such that it would make a slasher movie writer blanch. For purely scientific reasons, of course. Check here and here to whet your purely scientific curiosity.

Off hand, I don’t know what unspeakable horrors the innocent-looking carpenter ants have committed to deserve this, but check this out:

“How the Zombie Fungus Takes Over Ants’ Bodies to Control Their Minds.” As in:

Attacks of the Brain-Controlling Parasites | WIRED
This is a dead carpenter ant clinging to a leaf. That thing on its head is the fruiting body of a fungus. Said fungus infected the ant, took over its body, had it climb up high enough to maximize fungal growth and spore dispersion. Over an ant trail. It then converted ant-flesh to fungus and released its spores. The cycle repeats.

The subheading piles on thus: “The infamous parasite’s methods are more complex and more sinister than anyone suspected.”

Image result for count rugen
I’m sure you’ve discovered my deep and abiding interest in ants.

Okee-dokee, then. So Nature has produced, via, one supposes, the tender ministrations of Natural Selection, funguses that infect ants’ – oh, let’s just go there, cut to the chase – YOUR body, paralyze your mind so that you are reduced to a mute witness to your own long, horrid and painful destruction, causes you to shamble about for its own purposes – then devours you from the inside out, reducing your soft, Western-raised flesh to its own offspring – and then causes your body to sprout hideous protrusions to release them so that they may do the same to your loved ones. Got that?

More or less. I may have extrapolated a little. You  probably have nothing to worry about. For now. Sleep tight.

Here’s how the folks at the Atlantic put it:

When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn.

For the sake of brevity, we will let pass the question of if ants have minds in any meaningful sense (It is part of the modern project to insist that minds and brains are the same thing. The insistence is instantiated via pretending there isn’t any question.). The reason these poor ants are back in the news (how are they ever off the news, BTW? Why aren’t there 24×7 cable and YouTube channels devoted to this? Has Capitalism let me down *again*?!?) is that there also exists in Nature the kind of researchers who will a) devote their lives to the study of this fungus; b) gather infected ant bodies in the jungle; c) cut these bodies up into 50-micron thick slices; and d) study said slices under electron microscopes until they have some idea exactly how the fungus works its evil magic.

Turns out:

Whenever Hughes or anyone else discusses the zombie-ant fungus, they always talk about it as a single entity, which corrupts and subverts a host. But you could also think of the fungus as a colony, much like the ants it targets. Individual microscopic cells begin life alone but eventually come to cooperate, fusing into a superorganism. Together, these brainless cells can commandeer the brain of a much larger creature.

But surprisingly, they can do that without ever physically touching the brain itself. Hughes’s team found that fungal cells infiltrate the ant’s entire body, including its head, but they leave its brain untouched. There are other parasites that manipulate their hosts without destroying their brains, says Kelly Weinersmithfrom Rice University. For example, one flatworm forms a carpet-like layer over the brain of the California killifish, leaving the brain intact while forcing the fish to behave erratically and draw the attention of birds—the flatworm’s next host. “But manipulation of ants by Ophiocordyceps is so exquisitely precise that it is perhaps surprising that the fungus doesn’t invade the brain of its host,” Weinersmith says.

In retrospect, that makes sense. “If such parasites were merely invading and destroying neuronal tissue, I don’t think the manipulated behaviors that we observe would be as compelling as they are,” says Charissa de Bekker from the University of Central Florida. “Something much more intricate must be going on.” She notes that the fungus secretes a wide range of chemicals that could influence the brain from afar.

So what we have here is a hostile takeover of a uniquely malevolent kind. Enemy forces invading a host’s body and using that body like a walkie-talkie to communicate with each other and influence the brain from afar. Hughes thinks the fungus might also exert more direct control over the ant’s muscles, literally controlling them “as a puppeteer controls as a marionette doll.” Once an infection is underway, he says, the neurons in the ant’s body—the ones that give its brain control over its muscles—start to die. Hughes suspects that the fungus takes over. It effectively cuts the ant’s limbs off from its brain and inserts itself in place, releasing chemicals that force the muscles there to contract. If this is right, then the ant ends its life as a prisoner in its own body. Its brain is still in the driver’s seat, but the fungus has the wheel.

(Note how we switch back to talking about brains without even pumping the breaks? That’s how moderns ‘win’ arguments – by pretending they don’t exist. But I digress…)

This article is so judgemental! The fungus is not ‘sinister’ or ‘malevolent’ or any other of the many harsh terms applied to it by the Atlantic writer. It’s just doing it’s thing – to ants we’d promptly wash away with bleach and rags if they set foot in our houses. Yet, here we are, all high and mighty! It’s stuff like this that separates the *real* nature lovers from squeamish posers!

Image result for captain picard
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Doctor, the sperm whale on Earth devours millions of cuttlefish as it roams the oceans. It is not evil; it is feeding. The same may be true of the Entity.
Dr. Kila Marr: That would be small comfort for those who have died to feed it. We’re not talking about cuttlefish; we’re talking about people!
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: I would argue that the Crystalline Entity has as much right to be here as we do. 
Dr. Kila Marr:  Well then, step the hell right up to the front of the lunch line, Captain Cuttlefish! Don’t let me and my unevolved survival instincts slow you down. (mumbles: Pompous ass…)*

*may not be the canonical version of that dialogue. But it should be.

2. Finally got some rain. Over an inch and a half in the last 24 hours, which in California nearly qualifies as a epic storm. All in, for the season we’re a couple inches into our supposed average of around 17 inches. Good start.

For my part, I’m predicting another 1862 event, as discussed briefly here by Michael Flynn. Why? Well, why not? First, I heard somewhere that weather years, just like daily weather, tend to travel in packs – the best predictor of tomorrow’s weather is today’s weather; the best predictor of next year’s weather is this year’s weather. If it’s cold and rainy today, it’s more than likely to be cold and rainy tomorrow, and so on.

Thus, since the 2016-2017 California rainy season was EPIC! I’m going with predicting the 2017-2018 season will be MEGA EPIC!! Why let the Bible-thumper End Times dudes have all the fun? Seriously, let’s hope not, as California’s infrastructure, especially the dams, irrigation canals, water systems and aging levees (you knew California has a LOT of levees, right? No?) are in no way ready for it, and would probably be destroyed. So, no, let’s not – except I want to be on record having predicted it, just in case. Consistency, hobgoblins, and all that.

How it works: every few hundred years, the educated guesses go, that whole atmospheric river thing starts dipping into its major stash of steroids, and you get, using the 1861-1862 season for example, 43 straight days of pounding rain spread across the entire state. You get 250% of the snowpack, and many feet of rain on the western slopes of the Sierra. The Central Valley, into which ALL the rivers coming out of the western slopes of the Sierra drain, and which, in turn drains ONLY out the Sacramento River Delta into San Francisco Bay, turns into a giant lake. Over the century and a half since 1862, miles and miles of levees have been built in the delta, turning hundreds of square miles of wetlands into farmland – much of which is below river level, and all of which is below flood level.

Meanwhile, many urban water systems have been built along the river and delta – the one my house gets its water from, for example – that, should the river flood and the old, poorly maintained levees break, would be washed away, clogged up, or, when the flood water recedes, flooded with the salt water that is what makes up the bulk of the San Francisco Bay Estuary and which is currently held back from reaching the drinking water supply by those same levees. And SoCal gets a huge portion of its water via aqueducts that are fed, ultimately, from the dams in the Sierra – which are not likely to survive a megastorm.

Ugly. Just like the drivers this morning who honked at me, first because I did not close the two car length gap that opened up on the light change with sufficient alacrity, second because I had the temerity to change lanes into the space the honker had let open up in front of him – the nerve! Californians do not, alas, respond well to the traffic jams these early storm inevitably create.


Raw Data:

Just some quick links. Amusing stuff gleaned from Twitter, where Raw Data gets some comeuppance:


Found here

The above seems to be in response to this. Tiny changes either way in tiny states; large changes either way in big states. Per capita numbers might be more interesting, maybe not. Raw data is just that – raw.


Woman's Pay
Found here  

Raw data also tells you that Chinese American and Japanese American women, in general, make more money than white men, in general. Adding geography – Are Asian women more likely to live in urban centers? Or do many live among the white males of Appalachia? – or education level – Do Asian women in general get more education than white men in general? –  might recalibrate the numbers. Would be interesting. Inquiring minds would want to know.

SciAm Reaches New Low?


  1. This came to my attention via a tweet from Joe Gehret. The screen capture and the observation about the crazy chronology are his. Didn’t link earlier because I just now figured out how to link back to Twitter (obvious in retrospect). Apologies – I’m a Luddite. 
  2. Angelius tracked down both the original and the revised/’corrected’ versions – this really is from SciAm – as you can see in the comments. Thanks! 

I hesitate, as I don’t even know how to check the source – tweet? blog? where? – but having this spewed out by SciAm unfortunately doesn’t seem far-fetched:


How stupid is this? Let me count the ways:

  • 2500 years ago, there was no Alexandria – it was founded around 2300 years ago;
  • 2500 years ago, there were no bishops – that started just shy of 2000 years ago. Same goes for clerics;
  • Not the slightest evidence exists that the bishop ordered Hypatia’s death, or that he was offended she was a woman. He would naturally care she was a pagan, as that would mean she needed saving, but that would have made her one of many thousands in Alexandria to which that applied;
  • Re: Christian bigotry against educated women: About 100 years earlier, another woman scholar – Catherine of Alexandria – was also murdered. According to legend, she was a leading scholar of the time. In any event, she was martyred for being Catholic. (Also see this.)

Finally, if you want the real scoop on Hypatia, check out Mike Flynn here, as he’s helpfully assembled what is known and points out what is not known and contrary to fact. It takes a few minutes to read through and understand, thereby revealing Flynn’s bigotry against those with the attention span of squirrels and the intellectual depth of a coat of paint. You know, like the editors of SciAm. Nobody’s perfect.

Science! It’s Not Getting Better

Tales from the Old Wooden Art Table: Magical Movie Monday ...
Unlike Science! reporting, this former newt got better. 

After the cheery weekend of pizza, steak and ciabatta, was fortified to take a look at what passes for science – Science! – on the Google news feed.

It’s not getting better.

First up, USA Today – which we’d laugh off, except many people don’t – ran the usual breathless article on yet another giant iceberg breaking off an Antarctic glacier: Iceberg 4 times the size of Manhattan breaks off Antarctica. Now, back, way back, when I used to write jokes for an internet humor list and magazine, the joke was that peak USA Today would simply not have text at all, as its target audience was looking at the pictures and, presumably, hooting and perhaps jumping up and down.

As it is, the text remains minimal, and minimally useful. In this 7 paragraph, 10 sentence article (with 2 pictures and a video), we are of course given no context – are giant icebergs calving off even more giant antarctic glaciers good, bad or indifferent? How would we know? Nope, instead we get this:

The Washington Post reports the iceberg disconnected from Pine Island Glacier, a part of West Antarctica that already loses 45 billion tons of ice annually, contributing to sea level rises.

Is 45 billion tons of ice a lot? Is it increasing, decreasing or remaining constant? Over what period of time? Seems kind of important if one wanted to make any sense of these factoids. Also, so sea levels are rising? Thought the data was a bit ambiguous on that point; at least, the rate of rise is so small that, were it to continue (and why would we suppose that? How sure are we?)  we’d have many generations to address any inconveniences it might cause.

But I’m doubting this iceberg is doing much as far as raising sea level. The picture shows this:

That looks an awful lot like the leading edge of the glacier is already in the water back for miles – can’t be sure from the picture, but that’s what it looks like. What this would mean is that the ice is already displacing as much seawater as it’s going to displace when it melts, so that, like ice melting in your glass of ice tea, the change from ice to water in itself isn’t going to raise the water level. (Now, if the water melts and then heats up enough, then it would expand, and that might raise sea level, but the melting itself isn’t going to.)

Conclusion: information free article with pretty pictures. Useless.

Next up was advocacy disguised as reporting, where the discovery of bits of plastic in the arctic ice means we must immediately institute a totalitarian world government or we’re doomed – something like that, the reasoning was a little loose. Not gonna link.

Finally, somehow, some real science – well, material technology, really, but I’ll take it – made it past the keep it stupid filters: Nanoparticle Supersoap Creates ‘Bijel’ With Potential as Sculptable Fluid

A new two-dimensional film, made of polymers and nanoparticles and developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), can direct two different non-mixing liquids into a variety of exotic architectures. This finding could lead to soft robotics, liquid circuitry, shape-shifting fluids, and a host of new materials that use soft, rather than solid, substances.

Monsters vs. Aliens (movie) B.O.B. in Monsters vs. Aliens ...
Dr. Cockroach Ph.D.: [about B.O.B] Forgive him, but as you can see, he has no brain.
B.O.B.: Turns out, you don’t need one. Totally overrated!
Sounds cool and sci-fi ready! Combine the usual apocalyptic AI stuff with goopy robots, and you get: B.O.B.!

Bijels. Pronounced By-Jells? Bee-Jills, just to be difficult?

The study, reported Sept. 25 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, presents the newest entry in a class of substances known as bicontinuous jammed emulsion gels, or bijels, which hold promise as a malleable liquid that can support catalytic reactions, electrical conductivity, and energy conversion.

This kind of stuff is really where it’s happening, and has long been. We love our Newtons and Einsteins, but it’s the schmucks working away in some lab trying to put cool ideas into practice who do the real heavy lifting as far a making life materially better. Everybody knows Galileo, who personally contributed next to nothing to astronomy that somebody else didn’t find at about the same time – he was part of a cohort of star-gazers who fell all over each other discovering the same stuff, often within days of each other. But who knows the names of the people who brought us the Green Revolution, nitrogen fixing tech and all these varieties of plants that now make famine the result of political and not natural problems?

And a hundred other things. Cell phones work – that should blow your mind. GPS works. CAT scans work. And on and on. All required a lot of basic science – but vastly more applied tech. Bijels seem a promising field for yet more cool and life-enhancing tech.

“Bijels are really a new material, and also excitingly weird in that they are kinetically arrested in these unusual configurations,” said study co-author Brett Helms, a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. “The discovery that you can make these bijels with simple ingredients is a surprise. We all have access to oils and water and nanocrystals, allowing broad tunability in bijel properties. This platform also allows us to experiment with new ways to control their shape and function since they are both responsive and reconfigurable.”



Brick Oven Blowout: Gearing Up

The last 3.5 posts have been like, heavy, man – death of God, Luther, bad Science!, even quoting Camille Paglia! Therefore, to keep the silly/light quotient adequately high:

Sunday, we’re going to go for a total Brick Oven/Summer’s Over Blowout. Should have the oven door completed by then, which opens up a whole new world of stuff you can bake. Going to fire up the oven around noon or even earlier, heat it for a good 3-4 hours, then, around 3:00 p.m., we’ll start in on pizzas. I’ve been researching recipes that use a brick oven, and have found plenty – not surprising for a 2,500+ year old technology. The goal, such as it is, is just to try stuff, see what works, and, in the process, get to know the oven better.

Been surfing the interwebs in search of ideas. In addition to pizzas, we’ll be trying:

  • Breads – at least pizza-dough style and some light rye, maybe sourdough and ciabatta.
  • Baked potatoes
  • Carrots – saw a roasted honey-glazed recipe that looked pretty good
  • Steaks – skirt steak, if I can find any
Charcoal and ash from a 90 minute burn. Will be shooting for a minimum 4 hour burn. To do real Italian-style bread properly, would probably require a minimum 6 hour burn – need to very thoroughly heat all that brick, mortar and concrete so it will hold the temp long enough to bake the bread. But that’s what this whole experiment is about.

The key to many of the vegetable items is cast iron cookware, of which we have some. You preheat the cast iron pans/pots in the oven, then add stuff, then let it bake/fry.

Saw Alton Brown do skirt steaks by simply throwing them – very briefly – directly onto 1000F charcoal. Sounds like fun.

We’ve invited maybe 15-20 people over. I’ve got 10lbs of brisket normalizing (soaking in plain water to pull some of the salt back out and even things up) after 6 days of brining, to make fresh pastrami. So we’ll need some brick oven bread suitable for sandwiches. There will be homemade sauerkraut and olives (from homegrown olives) as well as a few fresh off the vine tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers (late in the season, didn’t have very good volume this year). Hatch green chile is in the local Safeway, roasted a few pounds, so there will be authentic New Mexico style green chile sauce. What does one put authentic New Mexico style green chile sauce on? Just about anything!

Hatch Green Chile
Hatch Green Chile, grown in and around Hatch, New Mexico, is only available fresh for a few weeks in the fall. In Santa Fe, a couple hour’s drive north of Hatch, people buy it in 40 lbs boxes at the local grocery stores. Guys will set up roasters – 50-gallon drums where much of the sides have been replaced by expanded metal, on a rotating spindle over a fire – in the parking lot. Throw them a few bucks, and they’ll dump your box of chile into the barrel, spin it over the flames for a few minutes, then dump it back into your box (lined with plastic – doesn’t seem to melt it). You take it home, wipe the charred skin off with a cloth, throw the chile into baggies, and toss the baggies into the freezer. You’re now set for all your green chile needs until next year – if you go easy on it, that is. 

In addition to making the door, I might make a little expanded metal grill-on-legs that one can put into the oven to suspend foods over the coals (some people seem to like that, others throw everything right on the hot bricks or coals) Also got a metal pizza peel with too short a handle for reaching breads toward the back – got a long wooden handle, which I’ll need to swap out.

Got some shopping to do. Should be fun.

On an entirely different and more serious note: my wife heard an interview on NPR (the CD player in the car was giving her trouble, turned on the radio and that’s what was on) wherein a reporter who wrote a book on the Trump campaign opined that denying the results of a Pew study, which Trump is said to have done, was the same as denying gravity – anti-Science! Oh no! Couldn’t find a transcript, just the audio of the interview – and haven’t the time nor stomach to listen through to get the exact quotation. Will try later, time permitting. Suffice it to say that anyone who thinks polling data demands anything like the agreement an honest man gives to the theory of gravity and all its beautiful and useful math is a helpless babe in the woods, to be lead wherever her betters choose to lead her.

And then she presumes to lead us. With a sneer. O dolour!

But the party will be fun!

Science! And Hilarity Ensued

Coincidentally, I was reading about the Permian–Triassic extinction event, where the CO2 level reached something like 2500 ppm, when the news broke that some people on the climate panic side of things were owning up to the reality that the ‘carbon budget’ was not quite so dire, that there’s no way by 2022 the earth will heat up by a total of the 1.5 C that the models predicted . Strangely – or not – this little bit of news, the 2nd item on the Google science news feed when I first saw it this morning, had disappeared entirely from the 20 page 1 science articles by this afternoon.

(Correction: it’s now item #14, but the emphasis has not so subtly changed: the article leading the charge is now We Can Still Reach The Most Optimistic Target of The Paris Climate Deal, Says New Study emphasizing not that the climate models have been wrong for 20+ years, but rather how the new less-panicky conclusions mean that we can still meet the Paris targets! In other words, rather than call the validity of the carbon targets themselves into question, we focus on how the fool’s errand of assuming people can manage world-wide climate now looks more promising, once we acknowledge that carbon dioxide doesn’t affect temperature nearly as much as we thought. The real question: in light of this admission of error new finding, does CO2 within any plausible range over the next century or two actually change anything for the worse? This is not addressed, even though it is surely the question inquiring minds would like to know. )

Wonder why? First off, looking at the bit of the abstract I can find without paying, the devil is in the details I can’t see. Quotes from the scientists involved are not very straight-forward, and are provided by Breitbart, which I gather is a tainted source. Here they are:

Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change at University College London and one of the study’s authors, admitted that his previous prediction had been wrong.

He stated during the climate summit in Paris in December 2015: “All the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5C is simply incompatible with democracy.”

Speaking to The Times, he said: “When the facts change, I change my mind, as Keynes said.

“It’s still likely to be very difficult to achieve these kind of changes quickly enough but we are in a better place than I thought.”


Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford and another author of the paper, said: “We haven’t seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models. We haven’t seen that in the observations.”

He said that the group of about a dozen computer models, produced by government research institutes and universities around the world, had been assembled a decade ago “so it’s not that surprising that it’s starting to divert a little bit from observations”.

He said that too many of the models used “were on the hot side”, meaning they forecast too much warming.

The reporters comments:

Note the disingenuousness here.

Grubb is claiming that the facts have changed. Which they haven’t. Climate skeptics have been saying for years that the IPCC climate models have been running “too hot.” Indeed, the Global Warming Policy Foundation produced a paper stating this three years ago. Naturally it was ignored by alarmists who have always sought to marginalize the GWPF as a denialist institution which they claim – erroneously – is in the pay of sinister fossil fuel interests.

If the pattern I’ve observed before recurs, the news will reappear once the proper spin has been worked up. (See correction above – they’re getting faster at this!) Or not – kind of hard to spin this, not that I doubt for a moment that it’s being worked on. (I’m wrong again! Spin rules!)

In the Permian die-off, the CO2 levels got very high, but it seems more likely than not that it was an effect, not a significant cause. Things did get hot – seas in the equatorial regions were probably over 100F for many thousands of years. But this was the time the Siberian Traps were forming as well, when a couple million square miles of Siberia were covered by a million cubic miles of lava over a very short time, geologically speaking – which could mess things up, one imagines. Dumping a lot of heat and gas into the air, for one thing.

At any rate, it seems sometimes that people need to be reminded that Star Trek was a fantasy. Socialism doesn’t really work. Oh, and the science was make-believe, too.

Quick Review: Osborn’s Rock & Roll: The New Madrid Fault System

Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System by [Osborn, Stephanie]Stephanie Osborn, that is.  Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System is a 50 or so page essay Dr. Osborn (who has a very Renaissance Woman vita: Rocket scientist? Check. Geologist? Check. Author? Yep. And so on.) on the basics of the New Madrid fault system.

Osborn takes us through a brief tour of earthquake dynamics and terminology – Horst and Graben might not work as a band name, but a law firm? Oh yea – on her way to telling us that everyone in the lower midwest (or whatever people call Missouri, Western Tennessee and all adjoining areas) are DOOMED TO BE SWALLOWED BY THE EARTH IN A CATASTROPHE OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS. Not to put too fine a point on it.

You see, not only is there this major fault system right there in and around New Madrid, but when it pops, the areas affected dwarf what goes on here in California, and you get more of the more interesting earthquake effects, such as dramatic surface waves that may OPEN HUGE YAWNING CRACKS AT YOUR FEET. As Osborn explains, the underlying geology in California is solid rock to a fairly good depth, so that while earthquakes can certainly be severe, the rigid structure tends to stop the movement fairly quickly, and to not propagate those nasty rolling earthquake waves very well, comparatively speaking.

The vast area in and around the New Madrid fault, by contrast, is fractured and unstable and therefore more elastic rock covered by many feet of sediment that has not been crushed yet into solid rock. And earthquake in California is like someone bumping

No, not this Osbourne – Rock n Roll, sure, but geology? Not so much.

a table; when the New Madrid faults pop, it’s like whacking a giant bowl of Jello. (My colorful analogy, not hers.)

So, yes, if you happen to live in the affected area, when the next Big One hits in Mid America, you will see you buildings, crops and livestock tossed into the air, rivers flowing backwards and forging new courses, all your building reduced to piles of rubble – at least, you’ll see it until THE EARTH BENEATH YOU OPENS UP LIKE THE MAW OF HELL AND SWALLOWS YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU LOVE BEFORE SNAPPING CLOSED LIKE THE MOUTH OF AN ENORMOUS CROCODILIAN DEMON-BEAST!!! While we out here in California will die more prosaic deaths such as being crushed by falling masonry or freeway overpases, midwesterners get the full Biblical style Judgement of the Most High there-one-moment-swallowed-up-and-vanished-the-next deaths. So, major style points to the Midwest.

Seems to happens every 3-4 centuries. Last really nasty earthquake swarm was 1811-1812. So, if you live there, you may be good for a few centuries. Or maybe not. Just be aware: Californians may be slow on the uptake, but after a few rounds of having building drop on people’s heads, we have taken many steps to keep that sort of thing to a minimum. Masonry building here are either a facade over a steel frame, or 75 or more years old (and small – the bigger building tend to be the ones more damaged in quakes.) Earthquake retrofitting, where typically steel and reinforced concrete are more or less discretely added to older buildings, is an industry here.

The Midwest, in my fairly extensive experience driving around there, seems to be infested with a LOT of brick and stone buildings. Lots and lots.

You’ll want to avoid those during a quake. To put it mildly.

Rock and Roll is by design and necessity a pretty light read, with a very extensive bibliography in case you want to dig deeper. (Osborn’s list of references is about 50% the number of pages as the essay itself.) As I mentioned earlier, it’s a bit like reading a very long Wikipedia article written by somebody with verve – it’s an easy and often charming read.

So, if you live in the frankly doomed, so doomed, area within a 1,000 miles of New Madrid, you might want to pick up a copy and give it a read. At the very least, it may cure you of any tendency to think how dumb Californians are for building right on top of major faults they just know are going to kill them all one day.

Ha. And the weather is really nice out here.