Thursday, March 31, 2011

OMG, I [heart] the OED (LOL)

Okay Madame L, 


Now that I know you're not really a language purist (bah, humbug!), I still bet you won't like hearing that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has added some ridiculous new words and expressions, like "muffin top," "LOL", a heart-shaped icon to represent the word "love," and "OMG."


So, what do you think about that?




That's Me in the corner, Losing my English Language


Dear Losing your Language And/Or Sanity,


Madame L is very pleased that the Oxford English Dictionary has added these new words and expressions.


Madame L is not one of those who believe that the function of dictionaries is to preserve some idealized and antiquated version of a language without representing the way it is currently employed and enjoyed. 


Rather, she likes the idea that even a venerable institution of a dictionary like the OED is adding the words and phrases that English speakers are actually using. And she loves the fact that the OED retains words that have fallen out of usage.


In fact, Madame L loves to open her own print edition (1971) of the OED (gasp!) randomly to find words that are still listed there, even though she has never heard and hopes never to hear anyone living say them.


Some examples: jopper, laniation, malahack, mercaptide, nilling, ofrede...and those were just a few words from among 100s within a few pages of each other.


Inviting you to relax and enjoy the spoken and written word,


Madame L

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Silk, Mulberry Trees, and Brigham Young

Dear Madame Elle,

I have a question. I am learning how to sew, and I just bought some silk and this got me thinking, I've heard that there are mulberry trees in Utah because Brigham Young thought it would be a good idea for the pioneers to grow silkworms, which eat mulberry trees, so that they could have silk and be even more self-sufficient. My question is this: why isn't Utah a great silk producing area? What happened to this project?
Thank you for researching this for me.

Dear Mulberry,

Thank you for this interesting question and the chance to learn a little more about the history of the early LDS settlers of Utah. The mulberry trees of Utah are a living reminder of a phase of LDS history that lasted from about 1855 to 1905.

Brigham Young ordered 100,000 mulberry trees from France and had them planted all over the state. He also spent about $25,000 to import silkworms, and by 1870 most of the local Relief Societies in the state were involved in silk production.

Brigham gave his wife Zina D. H. Young responsibility for silk production. She hated the silkworms but she was obedient and, as the president of the Deseret Silk Association, traveled around helping women get their silkworms to hatch, eat mulberry leaves, and make silk. Madame L recommends this article about the home silk industry.

Susan B. Anthony wrote in a letter thanking a woman for a gift of silk fabric made from the Utah silkworms: "My pleasure in the rich brocaded silk is quadrupled because it was made by women politically equal with men. The fact that the mulberry trees grew in Utah, that the silkworms made their cocoons there, that women reeled and spun and colored and wove the silk in a free State, greatly enhances its value." (Quotation is from "The life and work of Susan B. Anthony: including public addresses," by Ida Husted Harper.) (Ms. Anthony went on in her letter to deplore other aspects of women's lives in Utah.)
Not everyone is a fan of mulberry trees. Madame L is a member of this non-fandom (Oh, please, OED pick up this word for a future edition!) because of the messy purple berries. Madame L also feels great sympathy for Zina Young in her abhorrence of silkworms (EEEeeeuuuuww, yuck!)

Scholarly articles, such as this one by Clark S. Monson, in Economic Botany, have been written about the Utah silk industry. The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers have placed a monument to the pioneer silk industry in Salt Lake City.

But, Dear Reader, you already knew all that, didn't you.

What you asked was why the Utah silk industry faded out by the early 20th century. According to this article from the St. George Temple Visitor Center, cheaper (though less fine) silk became available in Utah as the railroad made its way there, younger women weren't interested in the tedious work of raising the worms and producing the fabric, and the pioneer spirit of adventure and cooperation that fueled the Great Silk Experiment had waned.

Thanks again for your question. What, may Madame L ask, are you making of your silk fabric?


Madame L

Monday, March 28, 2011

Gwon. Axe her about it.

Gentle Readers,

Jeff wrote a comment responding to Madame L's first column about the English language. In his comment he mangled the language, for which Madame L forgives him but only because he did it on purpose, while complimenting Madame L and providing her an opportunity to give her readers an important public service message: 

Women, children, and men can learn self-defense skills that may save their lives if they ever have the misfortune to be attacked.

Jeff wrote: "Hey, don't be fooled by that gentle eddicated tone Da Madame uses in usage. She trashed several people on KATU-TV this past week. Gwon. Axe her about it."

Because Jeff runs a self-defense and jujitsu school in Vancouver, Washington, he was asked by a local TV station news reporter to comment on a recent incident in which a woman in nearby Salem, Oregon, was attacked while jogging. The woman did everything right, and the attacker ran off.

Jeff talked to the reporter on camera while Madame L and Cory showed some simple self-defense techniques that anyone can use against an attacker, even someone who is bigger, heaver, and/or stronger.

Madame L hopes all her readers will practice these techniques with a friend (at half-speed or slower), take advantage of local self-defense seminars to learn more techniques, and be aware of their surroundings whenever they are out in public.

Thanks to Adam Ghassemi and KATU News for not just reporting the story but informing the public about how people can defend themselves.


Madame L

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Irk! You've Changed Your Writing Style

Dear Madame L,

I thought that you were, like me, a fan of correct grammar and usage. You used to use the terms "Internet" and "Web site" and "e-mail," but now you just write "internet" and "website" and "email."

Is the world about to end, or what?



Dear Grammarian,

First, Madame L would like to point out that a REAL fan of correct grammar and usage would NEVER use the term "fan of correct grammar and usage," and would NEVER use the word "usage" within five words of the term "used to use." So there. 

Secondly, Madame L realizes that living languages, including our beloved English language, are constantly changing. Madame L used to use the word Internet for the Internet, e-mail for e-mail, and Web site for Web site because those were the proper terms. 

(Until recently, apparently, not everyone realized that "Web site" means "a computer connected to the internet that maintains a series of web pages on the World Wide Web," so a writer had to clarify by writing "Web site," and most everyone thought the Internet was some place that had to be referenced with a capital letter, like, say, the Pentagon, where it originated.)

Thirdly, Madame L recognizes that you are probably going to quibble over her usage of First, Secondly, and Thirdly, so she refers you to Webster's Dictionary of Usage, which notes that although it's more correct to use the parallel construction of First, Second, and Third --- or Firstly, Secondly, and Thirdly --- "consistency in this specific usage has not always had a particularly high regard with good writers."

(Is that not precious?)

The Associated Press maintains a style sheet or book, which many news organizations in the U.S. expect their writers to follow and which Madame L follows when she's unsure of proper usage. (Madame L admits that she makes mistakes mostly when she thinks she's sure of proper usage.)

If you're interested, Dear Grammarian, in some of the interesting, and correct, ways that English is being written nowadays, Madame L recommends the AP Stylebook Online's recent questions and answers.

If you want to quibble or make suggestions, AP Stylebook Online is asking for your help. 

You may be just the one to clarify for the Associated Press and the rest of us the proper past tense for the new usage of the verb "tweet" ("tweeted"? "twittered"? "wrote a tweet"?). Have at it!

Your mostly grammatically correct friend,

Madame L

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What About Population Control?

Here are two additional questions from the Comments section, submitted by Josie and Wayne:
Dear Madame L,
Is the earth becoming overpopulated with people? If so, should I plan my family accordingly?
Just wondering 

Dear Wondering,

Madame L is so glad you asked this question. Madame L's friends, knowing she has more than the politically correct number of 2 children, ask her similar questions quite frequently, so she has also been trying to come up with an appropriate and helpful answer. (Unfortunately, Madame L has no problem coming up with snappy but inappropriate and unhelpful answers.)

So Madame L went to the source: the prophets and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where she found a very helpful and appropriate answer in the April 2005 issue of the Liahona magazine of the church, and was written to help church members as they study "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." It reads, in part:

"...Probably a more relevant issue than population density is how we use the resources God has given us to support the population now and in the future. “For the earth is full,” He said, “and there is enough and to spare. … If any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment” (D&C 104:17-18). “The enemy of human happiness as well as the cause of poverty and starvation is not the birth of children,” said Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “It is the failure of people to do with the earth what God could teach them to do if only they would ask and then obey."

Relief Society General President Julie Beck writes in the March 2011 issue of the Ensign, "This generation will be called upon to defend the doctrine of the family as never before. If they don’t know the doctrine, they can’t defend it." 

Madame L encourages her readers to print out a copy of "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," study it, and teach it to their families.

Again, thanks for asking,

Madame L

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Real Plan for a Healthy Lifestyle

Dear Readers,

Madame L has enlisted the help of  a REAL fitness expert, Laura of LL Fitness Academy, to give a more complete answer to the question of why visualizing oneself losing weight doesn't seem to work. 

Here are Laura's thoughts on the subject:

Visualization, as Madame L says, is one of many steps in adopting a healthy lifestyle. However, just as a basketball player needs hours and hours of practice and muscle memory to make a free throw, any new habits and lifestyle changes also require hours and hours of practice and actually DOING it. Sure, someone stepping up to the free throw line may get lucky once in awhile if he's never practiced, just as someone who doesn't understand the basics of a healthy lifestyle may manage to lose weight by engaging in a fad diet. But you have to be willing to put into practice the mechanics of diet and exercise in order to realize any long term, permanent benefits.

We live in an instant-gratification society where if we don't see immediate results we get frustrated and think that it doesn't work. Sadly, our health and living a healthy lifestyle is one thing that is not instant. It does take a lifetime of work. Even the word "lifestyle" should be a clue -- it's not about just losing a little bit of weight -- it's about getting to a healthy weight and maintaining that weight. So in our digital world of instant knowledge and tweets, if you want to change your lifestyle, the formula is the same it's always been -- eating right and being active.

Eating right (NOT dieting!!!!) can be as simple as making a few simple changes to what you eat.
    • Eat more fruit. Add it to your cereal, your salads or even your dinners.
    • Sneak in more veggies. Add them wherever you can--a tomato on your sandwich, peppers on your pizza, or extra veggies in your pasta sauce. Keep pre-cut or canned/frozen veggies ready for quick snacks.
    • Switch your salad dressing. If you eat full-fat dressing, switch to something lighter and you'll automatically eat less calories.
    • Eat low-fat or fat-free dairy. Switching to skim milk or fat free yogurt is another simple way to eat less calories without having to change too much in your diet.
    • Make some substitutes. Look through your cabinets or fridge and pick 3 foods you eat every day. Write down the nutritional content and, the next time you're at the store, find lower-calorie substitutes for just those 3 items.
    • Drink more water. Chances are, you're dehydrating yourself and you don't even know it! Having enough water on a daily basis can help you lose weight by assisting in the fat break-down cycle, help reduce headaches, makes you smarter (your brain is mostly made up of water, thus drinking water helps you think better, be more alert and more concentrate), regulates your body temperature which will help you exercise more efficiently, relieves fatigue, helps reduce cancer risk, and may even make you happier because your body is getting what it needs!
    • You can use the new Food Guide Pyramid to determine how many calories you need and what food groups you should focus on.
    • Log your food intake. That Food Guide Pyramid website will also help you in logging your food and caloric intake for the day. Sometimes we're just  now aware of how much we're actually eating until we write it down and make ourselves be aware of it.
    • Stop eating fast food! 'Nuff said. 
    •  Get moving! If you're not ready for a structured program, start small. Every little bit counts and it all adds up to burning more calories.
    • Turn off the TV. Once a week, turn off the TV and do something a little more physical with your family. Play games, take a walk...almost anything will be more active than sitting on the couch.
    • Walk more. Look for small ways to walk more. When you get the mail, take a walk around the block, take the dog for an extra outing each day or walk on your treadmill for 5 minutes before getting ready for work.
    • Do some chores. Shoveling snow, working in the garden, raking leaves, sweeping the floor...these kinds of activities may not be 'vigorous' exercise, but they can keep you moving while getting your house in order.
    • Pace while you talk. When you're on the phone, pace around or even do some cleaning while gabbing. This is a great way to stay moving while doing something you enjoy.
    • Be aware. Make a list of all the physical activities you do on a typical day. If you find that the bulk of your time is spent sitting, make another list of all the ways you could move more--getting up each hour to stretch or walk, walk the stairs at work, etc. 

      My first step to adopting a life-long healthy lifestyle was to start running. I was fairly overweight, so that wasn't an easy thing for me to do, at least not after the first time. But I felt better each time I did it -- I was not only accomplishing a goal for myself of trying to get back to the athletic, younger version of myself, but that activity made me want to eat healthier also. It was definitely a circle, but not a vicious one. Being more active made me want to eat better, and eating better made me better able to be more active.

      Remember -- it's about a healthy lifestyle, not a temporary fix. When it comes to your health, the good variety should never be temporary!

      Now, what are you doing at your computer? Go take a walk and eat an apple!

      Tuesday, March 22, 2011

      What is the Ring of Fire?

      For Madame L's readers who haven't checked the Comments lately, here's a question, posted by Cimblog (TM), and the answer, posted by Jeff, Madame L's intrepid explainer of all things geologic.
      I have a question for Madame L: Can you explain the Ring of Fire or Pacific Ring of Fire? Having had an earthquake in Chile, then New Zealand, and most recently Japan, how reliable is it to speculate the West Coast (particularly Los Angeles...heh) could be one of the next areas for a significant earthquake? 
      Jeff's answer was, in part: 

      The Coast is Toast. So is the center of the continent, where you can expect tornadoes, and the east and southeast, where you are about to die in a hurricane. If you try to hide in North Dakota, the Red River floods and sub-sub-freezing winters will get you. There is no escape. En serio, everyone living near a subduction or transform fault is at risk of a serious earthquake. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Including the Ring of Fire, south and southeast Asia, and the African Rift Valley...And Jeff continued along these lines, noting that we should all be prepared for various types of disasters.

      Madame L adds:  
      Thank you for your question! Questions like these are interesting to all of Madame L's readers, and she appreciates Jeff's answer, too. Madame L provides some links, below, for those readers who want to know even more.

      While many earthquakes indeed occur around the Ring of Fire (and in other locations, as Jeff pointed out), and past earthquakes are a pretty good predictor of future ones, it's really hard (okay, impossible) to predict the TIME of an earthquake.

      Madame L has done a little reading up on this and was amazed, I say, AMAZED, at the number of websites with postings written by cranks, illiterate, pseudo-religious nutcases  purveyors of falsehoods.

      They can't do it. Not even the USGS claims to be able to do it. In fact, Madame L found a great web page written by USGS seismologist Susan Hough 12 years ago on this subject: Big Earthquakes, Predictions and the New Millennium.

      Dr. Hough begins, "There has been a certain apocalyptic feeling to the spate of recent earthquake activity worldwide. If it feels like the world is coming to an end, rest assured--it sometimes feels that way to the seismological community as well."
      She concludes, "Earth scientists cannot predict where or when the next large earthquake will strike. However, they can tell you with certainty that earthquakes as large and larger than recent events are to be expected on a regular basis. Plan accordingly."
      The USGS website is a great source of information on earthquakes, volcanoes, and other natural disasters. The site has a page of links to information about earthquake prediction.
      Thanks again for your question, and keep 'em coming,

      ---Madame L

      Monday, March 21, 2011

      What's a Green Card?

      Dear Madame Elle,

      I have a friend who recently became an American citizen. A Canadian by birth, her mother is an American. She and her mother had to collect anything they could--old school records and work recrods--to prove that her mother actually lived in the U.S. for 10 years or more around her 14th birthday, in order for my friend to be able to become a dual citizen. On her first trip with the "proof" to the American Consulate in Canada, she and her mother were rebuffed by the rude employee. But after gathering more information, her second trip was more productive, and she was able to repeat an oath to become a U.S. citizen.

      My question regards a green card. What is it? She talks about having had one during all these years of living in America, and how grateful she is to get a passport instead. She says, "Even the simple process of renewing my drivers license, setting up my will, or any legal procedure was a source of tension for me. Now, I can relax and my life will not have to be consumed with the protection of my green card." I never thought about her, or anyone else living near me, as needing special permission in the form of a green card in order to be my neighbor. Could you explain, please?


      Sheltered Liver. I mean, Sheltered Lifer. I mean, Not a World Traveler. 

      Dear Sheltered,

      A green card is a permanent resident card that lets a non-U.S. citizen show any questioning officials that he or she is legally residing in the U.S. It is issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), yes, those very same officials with whom your friend and Madame L and various family members have also had some rather unpleasant experiences.

      Getting a green card requires labyrinthing one's way through a bureaucratic maze, but at least the USCIS's website is available to help explain the procedures.

      The movie "Green Card," which was made in 1991 and released on DVD in 2003 (Walt Disney, PG-13), humorously illustrates some of the lengths people will go to for a green card. It's a cute romantic comedy starring Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell, fun to rent but not so great that Madame L has rushed out to buy it. 

      Saturday, March 19, 2011

      What's a Super Full Moon?

      Dear Madame L,

      What's a super full moon? I read that there's supposed to be one tonight. Also, will it cause super high tides?

      Dear Super,

      Yes, tonight, Saturday, March 19, 2011, people around the world (except in places like where Madame L lives, where clouds cover the sky night and day) will be able to see a super full moon.

      The Earth and moon are closer together than usual (they're at perigree) at full moon, so the moon may seem larger than usual. 

      This only happens about once every 18 years, according to NASA, which has a great explanation, complete with diagrams, on its Web site.

      This event  is not expected to produce higher high tides than usual, according to NOAA, which also explains  the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, scheduled for tomorrow.

      Visualizing Whirled Peas

      Dear Madame L,

      If basketball players in high school can improve their free-throw percentages simply by visualizing themselves stepping up to the free-throw line and making those shots, why can't I lose weight just by wanting to so badly?  I've even tried visualizing myself as a thin person, but it isn't working.

      What's the problem?

      Dear What Problem?

      It's complicated. 

      And none of the diet books on the subject is being honest with you in suggesting that it's a simple matter of will power, mind over body, or whatever.

      Have you ever noticed that in EVERY SINGLE AD showing a person who lost more than 7 pounds on whatever weight-loss plan, there's a little asterisk, directing you to a note below that says, "Results not typical."

      Darn right they're not typical! And in too many cases, they last a short time and are ultimately unhealthy.

      Madame L urges you, urgently, to find a nutritionist, health coach, fitness coach, lifestyle coach, counselor and/or doctor who will help you find a reasonable weight-loss method.

      Visualizing yourself behaving with healthy habits is not a bad place to start, but it's one of many steps on your road to a healthy body. 


      Madame L

      Thursday, March 17, 2011

      Why do evangelicals hate Jesus?

      Dear Madame L,
      I just read about the results of a poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which claims to have found that white evangelical Christians actually are the people least likely to support policies and politicians that reflect Jesus Christ's actual teachings.

      I know you're a Mormon, and you say Mormons are Christians, so I was wondering what you think about this. 

      Do Mormons consider themselves evangelicals? Do they tend to support Christian policies and politicians?


      Still Confused About American Politics and Religions

      Dear Confused,

      Thanks for your new questions. This is a complicated issue, and Madame L declines to judge Christians as a group or as individuals, leaving, as she has mentioned before, judgment to the only One who is actually qualified to judge.

      Madame L's impression is that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tend not to think of themselves as evangelicals in the modern sense, and evangelical Christians in the U.S. tend not to accept LDS people as members of their organizations.

      Madame L is aware that LDS Church leaders ask church members to vote their own consciences and to support political and social groups that they, the individual members, find to be compatible with Christian teachings.
      Thus Madame L has LDS acquaintances who are Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party supporters, Independents, and Libertarians; all, Madame L presumes, believing they are reasonable and moral choices.

      Madame L has located online the Pew study you've asked about, and hopes you and her other readers will be interested enough to read the study and commentary themselves. 

      Madame L has also located a commentary on the study, with the provocative title which she has used here, which goes on to point out that evangelicals don't really hate Jesus...but Madame L again invites you to read this article, as it provides food for thought on the current state of politics and religion in the U.S.

      Sincerely and with hope for our future as a nation who serves God and loves our neighbors,
      Madame L

      Tuesday, March 15, 2011

      Should the U.S. help the Libyan rebels?

      Dear Madame L,

      Do you think the U.S., NATO, and other Arab states should be supporting the Libyan rebels?


      Qaddafi Sucks

      Dear Fellow Non-Fan of the Colonel,

      By the time you read this, the question may be moot. At the time that Madame L is writing this, it appears that Qaddafi's troops, with their modern weapons and air power, are taking back ground gained a few days ago by the rebels.

      While Madame L would have liked to see the rebellion succeed, and while she, like you, saw rebel leaders on TV pleading for help, she believes President Obama and his advisers were correct in declining to intervene.

      On the other hand, Madame L was happy to see the French, in the face of opposition from the rest of Europe, announce their support of the rebels.

      Did you hear that President Harry S. Truman asked for a one-handed economist, because he was tired of hearing them say, "On the one hand...but on the other."

      But Madame L digresses, and will get back on topic: Madame L wishes the U.S. had kept its messy machinations out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Venezuela...You name it, wherever the U.S. has meddled, on whatever pretext, the result has not been positive for the other country, its citizens, our loyal troops and their families, or pretty much anything else.

      Madame L is glad that the U.S. is sending aid to refugees from the fighting, and wishes all the best to those throughout the world who are fighting for democracy and freedom. She encourages them to keep on fighting while recognizing that they must fight that battle themselves, without our intervention.

      Sad but wiser,

      Madame L

      Monday, March 14, 2011

      Balancing the Budget? Really?

      Dear Madame L,

      I've been watching with interest the recent fight between Wisconsin Republican and Democratic legislators, and I was devastated to learn that the Republican majority in the State Assembly passed a bill stripping public-sector unions of their bargaining rights. 

      This makes me think that the Republican governor and legislators were not really interested in balancing the budget, but were using that as an excuse to push back on unions.

      Also, watching the goings-on in the U.S. Congress, I'm starting to think that the national Republican agenda is not really to balance the budget, either, but to keep supporting their rich contributors at the expense of the American middle class.

      What do you think?


      Losing Faith in the American Democratic Process

      Dear Losing Faith,

      Although Madame L is not an expert on politics and probably watches the same TV news broadcasts you watch, she is also doubting whether any elected officials have her, and your, interests at heart.

      However, in the Wisconsin, case, Madame L sincerely hopes, at least, that the original goal wasn't only to strip public workers of their bargaining rights. She's thinking that the Republican leaders used that vote "merely" to strike back at the Democratic legislators who left the state rather than participate in the travesty of that vote.

      Either way, though, the result is the same, and Madame L deplores the use of such political gamesmanship, which may lead to tragic results not only for teachers and public health workers but also for the young and sick and poor citizens of Wisconsin.


      That's Me in the Corner, Too, Losing My Faith in American Democracy

      Sunday, March 13, 2011

      What About the Earthquake in Japan?


      I have a question for the omniscient Madame L (finally!). Is it true that the Japan earthquake from this week moved the earth's axis 10.0 cm, moved Japan 8 feet and sped up the rotation of the earth?

      Dear Reader,

      Thanks for your confidence in Madame L, who only wishes she could characterize herself as omniscient.

      Madame L is fortunate to have a friend who is a geoscientist, to whom she relayed your question.

      Here is his response:

      Your questioner is both well informed and astute. Northern Japan DID shift roughly westward nearly 3 meters, and the Earth's axis DID shift 10 centimeters. To put things in perspective, the Earth's axis is slowly shifting all the time, but not by this much, nor this fast.

      To add another element to your questioner's perspective, a magnitude 9 earthquake event means that the crust east of Sendai Japan ripped at least 1000 kilometers laterally, and probably at least another 40+ kilometers down-dip in the direction of the thrust fault.

      While geologists have found bisected mountain ranges crossing the San Andreas Fault that have been shifted ~120 kilometers between what once were contiguous points, that sort of movement doesn't happen overnight --- or the Coast WOULD be Toast.

      The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 had a right-lateral tear nearly 6 meters (18 feet) in one place - but not over such a large distance.

      Perhaps more astounding to your geoscience advisor is the fact that there have now been over 150 aftershocks (and a few close-in foreshocks) with magnitudes from 5 to 8 associated with the Great Sendai Earthquake.

      Keep in mind that a magnitude 7 earthquake releases about 10 times more energy than a magnitude 6 event - the magnitude scale is logarithmic. Nevertheless, there was still a HUGE amount of energy released AFTER this event, now called the greatest crisis in Japan's history since WWII.

      If all those aftershocks had dumped their energy at the same time, I hesitate to think of how much worse it could have been. This event was also pretty shallow - aftershocks continuing this morning (I'm looking at an earthquake app on my Droid keyed to the USGS database) range from 5 km to 40 miles deep. The shallower the event, the less crustal dampening occurs.

      The only event I can think of that is comparable in magnitude is the 1960 Chile earthquake... which destroyed downtown Hilo, Hawaii (I've seen tsunami run-up markers 40 feet above sea-level in what is now a city park; a geologist friend calls it "unplanned urban renewal").

      Some people have been questioning why the nuclear reactors failed. Any engineer tries to design their creation to survive a certain level of event, but you could never plan for everything (like 767 aircraft flying into your building) or you could never afford to build ANYTHING.

      At this time, whole towns in NE Japan are unaccounted for, and the death toll may run into the multiple thousands.

      What worries THIS geoscience advisor more, however, is the fact that the Fukushima Daiichi reactor and perhaps at least one other may have been so fatally damaged that, even with all the fail-safes built into these things, their cores could go supercritical.

      Remember Chernobyl? The heat and pressure of this fatally-compromised old-style reactor blew out *upwards* and dusted most of Europe with enough radioactive iodine to contribute perhaps ~7,000 additional thyroid cancer deaths than would have been normal at this time.

      There is a (currently failing) protective concrete structure above (and at enormous risk and expense also below) the Chernobyl reactor.

      A core meltdown at Fukushima, however, is something else: it could melt its way down to the water table and even gain access to the sea, which would lead to an enormous steam explosion. In volcanology, we call water-touching magma events phreatic explosions - they blast huge tonnages of rock and ash to great altitudes and (under prevailing winds) lateral distances. Of all the dangerous radionuclides in a reactor core, however, plutonium is the most toxic - microgram for microgram, it is more toxic than botulin.

      Imagine large quantities of plutonium getting into the coastal waters off NE Japan, a seafood-consuming nation.

      It's too late to ask the engineers and planners "What were you thinking?" --- to build a nuclear reactor so close to a major subduction fault, but Japan didn't have all that much land to build one on in the first place - nor had the Japanese ever experienced an earthquake of this magnitude in all its recorded history.

      The general rule of thumb for volcanologists is that history is the key to the future: map the deposits and calculate the explosive force of previous eruptions, and you'll have a good idea of what to plan for in the future.

      Doesn't work always, of course. It sure didn't work for Japan.

      Nor are other energy solutions free of "sin" - antagonists to coal, tidal energy, solar energy, and especially windmills are legion. I once saw a bumper sticker in Tucson, around the time that a mining company wanted to develop a property, and a lot of environmentalists (for some, that's an alternative religion) fiercely objected. The bumper sticker said in large block letters "BAN MINING," and in smaller letters below that, "...Let the Bastards Freeze in the Dark."

      There are people who object to clear-cutting old-growth forest. I suspect that they live in wooden houses, and would be willing to bet that they don't bike everywhere they have to go.

      I suppose I'm saying that we have to balance all things, and a *measured* dialog between interested parties will always work out some sort of optimum solution.  Note I didn't say *perfect* solution.

      The coast from Vancouver Island to California has its own mirror image of the Sendai subduction Fault. Cores of bouma (laminated mud) sequences off the Oregon and Washington coast tell us that huge M ~ 8 subduction events (that is, earthquakes caused by continental crust riding up and over a down-going slab of denser oceanic crust) have occurred at least 7 times in the past 3,500 years.

      The last one happened in 1700 AD, and sank whole forests near Seattle below sea level in Puget Sound. That event caused something called the Orphan Tsunami that came out of a clear blue sky sans earthquake (ergo, the name - the Japanese already knew to run to high ground if the earth shook) and obliterated a number of villages on this same Japanese coastline.

      Scientist know that earthquakes on major faults do NOT follow a clock-like regularity, so we could say that we are "due" a big event in the Pacific Northwest sometime.

      We still bought our house on a hill (for the view). We could spend our lives living in fear and trying to find some safe place to build our homes in this country... and there just ain't a place safe from all natural disasters. There are other ways to prepare, however, and we do these.

      So I will continue to savor my view each evening before I go to bed.

      I will also be contributing money to help my brothers and sisters in Japan, something that I expect they may very well do for me or my children in the future.

      We all live on the same planet. We're all part of the same family.

      Friday, March 11, 2011

      Who's the Christian?

      Madame L:

      So ... are Christians who bad-mouth Catholics and Muslims and Mormons really Christians?

      I knew a man once, Abdullah Showail, who was a devout Muslim. He always tried to help other people, no matter what their religion, and always gave to the poor and always prayed. 

      We also had a neighbor once who wouldn't let his kids play with our kids, "because you aren't Christians,"  excluded them from neighborhood play, and old them they were damned to Hell.

      So ... who's the Christian? 

      Dear "Who,"

      Madame L is puzzled, as you are, by the behavior of such holier-than-thou people; and is very relieved to know that she doesn't have to figure out who the real Christians are. It will be up to God Himself to decide and to judge all of us. He's the only one who knows us well enough, and loves us completely enough, to judge us.

      Madame L finds herself, every day of her life, struggling to act like a Christian.

      And so she asks you, "Who," and everyone else who would like to respond:

      How do YOU deal with anger, envy, and other such negative feelings? What helps you remember Christ and turn your thoughts and behavior to be more like Him? How do you fill your soul so full with the love of Christ that you don't have any room left for unkindness or unhappiness?

      Thanks for your question, and thanks in advance for your answers,

      Madame L

      Thursday, March 10, 2011

      Do you believe in global warming?

      Dear Madame L,

      Do you believe in global warming?

      Answer: Madame L does NOT "believe" in global warming.

      Madame L KNOWS that global climate change is a FACT.

      Madame L believes in physics....She also believes in God (of course!), and she believes scientific evidence for phenomena in the natural world. 

      And so she knows that global climate change is a fact, that it is the result of human activities over the past few hundred years, and that if we don't do something to slow it down, the Earth and successive generations will suffer consequences.


      Madame L

      Wednesday, March 9, 2011

      Are Mormons Christians?

      Dear Madame L,

      I have a friend at work who is a Mormon, and she says she's a Christian, but my minister says, "Those Mormons aren't really Christians."

      My friend wants me to talk with some missionaries from her church, but my minister says that's a bad idea and I should just rely on the Bible because everything we need to know is in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus.

      What do you say?



      Dear Wondering,

      Full disclosure: Madame L is one of those Mormons. 

      Madame L has noticed that among Mormons, as among other Christian denominations, there are some who do and some who don't really act like Christians. Does your friend act like a Christian? If she does, then Madame L believes she must be a Christian because Jesus himself said that it's our actions, not our professed beliefs, that show who we are.

      Madame L notes also that the real name of the Mormon Church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is, the very name of the church says that the Mormons preach of Christ.

      Madame L believes that a true Christian church not only preaches of Christ but also helps its members live a full Christian life; it works as a church and encourages its members to do whatever they can as individuals to relieve pain, poverty, and all kinds of suffering among all people (not only church members).By that definition too the Mormon Church is a Christian church.

      Madame L encourages you to keep asking about the Mormons and reassures you that talking to the missionaries will be a good way to find out more. They won't try to trick or deceive you. Their only goal is to help other people find the happiness they have found in knowing and practicing Christian principles. They'll encourage you to pray, and they'll encourage you to read the Book of Mormon, which doesn't claim to supplant the Bible but contains the same teachings found in the Bible, the teachings of Jesus.

      Madame L could write about this for hours but has a few other items on her agenda today. Also, Madame L  thinks answering your questions as you formulate them will be more helpful to you than overwhelming you with a lot of information you haven't even asked for. So she hopes you'll  ask her more as you continue your search for truth and happiness.

      Best wishes,

      Madame L

      Tuesday, March 8, 2011

      Happy International Women's Day

      Dear Readers,

      Today Madame L hopes you will join her in celebrating the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.

      Not so long ago in the United States, many women, as well as men, worked in deplorable conditions in factories and sweatshops. With no unions to support them, they worked long hours in unsafe conditions for minimal pay. 

      Just over 100 years ago the Triangle Shirt Factory caught on fire, and 146 workers, many of them women and the youngest 15 years old, died. They had no way out of the ninth floor of the building where they worked, as the doors were locked, some believe deliberately; firefighters' ladders couldn't reach that level, nor even could the streams of water from the hoses. Some of the women who died that day died as they jumped out of windows rather than burn alive.

      Here are some stories of survivors. Here's a list of those who lost their lives that day. The site of the fire has become a national landmark.

      Women make up more than half the work force but, even in the best of working conditions, earn only about 75% of what men in the same positions earn.

      Women make up most of the workers in the so-called public sector: That is, most teachers, social workers, and public health medical personnel are women. And public sector workers earn less than workers in the private sector. Even when you factor in education, experience, and benefits, government workers earn 4 to 11 percent less than private sector workers in similar jobs, according to studies by the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (Thanks to Leo W. Gerard for this information.)

      Yet several Republican governors (Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, Florida, to name a few) are claiming lately that people want public-sector workers' unions to be shut down, deprived of collective bargaining rights, and so on.

      But they're wrong: Even the conservative New York Times and USA Today/Gallup polls show that the over 60 percent of the American public want public servants to retain their rights.

      Maybe that's because most of us realize that our children need teachers with rights, our troubled teens need social workers with living wages to counsel with them, and our elderly parents need to be cared for by doctors and nurses whose pay is commensurate with their service. 

      Who will lose if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker beats down the public-service unions of his state? Mostly women and minorities,

      And all the rest of us.

      How will you celebrate the day? Madame L is going to celebrate by calling and e-mailing some women she knows, sending flowers to some, and wishing them all a happy day.

      Kari Henley suggests honoring the oldest woman you know. 
      Here are 100 women to think of, and thank, as we enjoy our rights today. 

      Madame L honors some women who made a difference for her and her family:

      And here's to our daughters and their future!


      Madame L

      Monday, March 7, 2011

      Bring in the Clowns

      Dear Madame L,

      Do you ever get the feeling that the Republicans who are claiming they might consider running for President in 2012 are just making the most of a conservative media frenzy for sometimes-fake news? 

      Do you see any difference between some of these clowns and, say, Charlie Sheen?


      Just Wondering

      Dear Wondering,

      Answer to second question: Not much. 

      Answer to first question: Yes. Let's review the clowns currently in the big tent:

      ---Newt Gingrich, whose second wife (yeah, she's bitter, but she's more believable than he is) says she thinks he keeps teasing the public with the idea of running just to keep piling in more money (check out his just-launched "exploratory Web site," with its "Donate Today" button the most prominent feature); 

      ---Mike Huckabee, who still can't give up playing the race and hate cards when he talks about Barack Obama, insisting President Obama was raised in Kenya by a family that hates all things Western;

      ---Donald Trump, whose name alone produces gales of laughter in political circles;

      ---Sarah Palin, who has made up a fake Facebook persona to "Like" everything the real Sarah Palin says;

      ---Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, who says he could win the nomination right now even though he has no chance of winning the actual election;

      ---Mitt Romney, who presided over the best state-sponsored health plan ever in the U.S. but now backs away from it to please the super-conservative party leaders;

      ---Buddy Roemer, whom Madame L has never heard of, either;

      ---David Petraeus, who as far as Madame L knows hasn't expressed any actual interest in the job;

      ---Jeb Bush, about whom Madame L can think of nothing positive to say, except he's not George W;

      ---Rudy Giuliani, in his dreams;

      ---Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, whom Madame L will always remember for thinking that volcano monitoring is not very important; 

      ---Charlie Crist and Lindsey Graham, oh, puh-leeze, give Madame L a break.

      Sincerely, while channeling Bobby Dylan ("Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right..."),

      Madame L