Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An Incident at Fukushima Daiichi, Part 3, The Earthquake

Foreshock  3-9-2011

   At 46 minutes after 2 o’clock in the afternoon of March 11, 2011, the Pacific Tectonic Plate (the Pacific Plate is an oceanic tectonic plate that lies beneath the Pacific Ocean. At 103 million square kilometers (3.9769e+7mi² square miles), it is the largest tectonic plate on the planet) subducted (moved under) what is probably the part of the North American Tectonic Plate that surrounds Japan (why would the North American Plate surround Japan? A small sliver of it just does... see the chart above), approximately 43 miles east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku, at a depth of 19.9 miles beneath the Earth’s surface. Most of the time, the two tectonic plates grind into each other storing up potential energy, but at some point that energy is released in the form of ground movement, some times in small amounts resulting in small earthquakes, or tremors, other times, such as in this instance, quite large amounts of energy are released, and a massive quake ensues. 
   The quake has been called the Great East Japan Earthquake, the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake, and the 3.11 Earthquake, and it subducted a lot, creating a magnitude 9.0 (Mw) quake which lasted at least 6 minutes in duration, the most powerful known quake ever to have hit Japan, and the fifth most powerful earthquake in the  entire world, at least since 1900 when they began recording such events. 
   The earthquake released a surface energy (Me) of 1.9 ± 0.5×1017 joules, dissipating as ground movement and tsunamic energy, which was nearly double that of the 9.1-magnitude 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that killed 230,000 people. 1.9 ± 0.5×1017 joules is enough energy to power Los Angeles for an entire year, including that billboard sized television monitor up at Citywalk. The total amount of energy released by the quake, known as the seismic moment (MO) was more than 200,000 times the surface energy and was calculated by the US Geological Survey at 3.9×1022 joules, which is a heck of a lot of joules, yet a little less than that displayed during the Indian Ocean quake, but still equivalent to 9,320 gigatons of TNT, or approximately 600 million times the energy of the Little Boy atomic bomb which we discussed in the last post.
   The force of the earthquake moved the northern parts of Japan closest to the quake’s epicenter approximately  7.9 to 13 feet closer to the United States, or east if you prefer, it also made Japan wider. A 250-mile-long coastal section of Japan dropped in altitude by as much as 2 feet, which unfortunately allowed the waters of the upcoming tsunami to travel farther and faster inland.  
   Like other powerful earthquakes the 2011 Japanese quake shifted the planet’s axis by estimates of between 4 and 10 inches. That deviation led to a number of other small, hardly noticeable planetary changes, including the length of a day, the tilt of the Earth, and the old Chandler wobble.
   The axial shift was caused by the redistribution of mass on the Earth's surface due to earth movement, which changed the planet's moment of inertia. Now as every fourth grader knows, because of the conservation of angular momentum, such changes of inertia result in small changes to a spinning body’s rate of rotation, in this case the Earth’s. The speed of the planet’s rotation increased which of course shortened the day by about 1.8 microseconds (one millionth of a second, or if you prefer, 1800 nanoseconds), which really pisses me off as there’s simply not enough time in the day as it is. 
   The Chandler wobble (discovered by American amateur mathematician and former alcohol and drug intern at the Pasadena Adult Rehabilitation Center and part time airline stewardess, Michelle Chandler) is a small deviation in the Earth's axis of rotation relative to the solid earth, and an example of the kind of motion that can occur for a spinning object that is not a perfect sphere (the Earth bulges near the equator). The earthquake shifted about 6.5 inches where the figure axis intersects the surface of the planet. That figure axis is near, but does not quite align with, the rotational axis that the Earth spins around. The inherent implications of this are too obvious and horrible to mention.
   The Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) unintentionally became the first seismograph in orbit when it detected sound waves (acoustical energy) generated by the earthquake. 
   The closest major city to the quakes epicenter was Sendai (38° 16′ 0″ N, 140° 52′ 0″ E), “The City of Trees," and the capital of the Miyagi Prefecture, retail and services accounting for two thirds of it’s economy, with a population of about 1 million people, mostly Japanese. Sendai lies about 81 miles from the source of the earthquake. Coastal areas of the city suffered catastrophic damage from the quake and the tsunami that followed. 
   Tokyo (35° 41′ 22.22″ N, 139° 41′ 30.12″ E), Japan’s capital, with a population of over 13 million, lies approximately 232 miles from the epicenter. 
   Tokyo enjoys earthquake resistant infrastructure (because the city and country have suffered a lot of past earthquakes), something I hope we have here in Los Angeles. Due to this, damage in Tokyo was minimal, relatively speaking, although the quake was felt and normal activity halted. The Bōsō Peninsula shielded the city from the worst effects of the tsunami, and the subsequent nuclear crisis caused by the tsunami initially left Tokyo mostly unaffected, although there were intermittent spikes in radiation levels (one minute before the earthquake was felt in Tokyo, the Earthquake Early Warning system, which includes more than 1,000 seismometers around the country, sent out warnings of impending strong shaking to millions of citizens. It is believed that this warning by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) saved an untold amount of lives). 
   There were foreshocks to the March 11th quake. A foreshock is a separate earthquake that occurs before a bigger one (the mainshock) and is related to the larger quake in both time and space. As far as I know this phenomena did not present itself before the Sylmar and Northridge quakes.
   Of course Japanese officials did not realize it at the time, but the first foreshock occurred 2 days before the “mainshock,” at 1:54PM on March 9th, a 7.2 Mw event, a huge earthquake in itself. It centered approximately 105 miles from Sendai, at a depth of 8.5 miles, about 24 miles from the epicenter of the March 11th quake. 
   A tsunami warning was issued, although the expected height of the wave was only a half meter, or one and a half feet. This quake lasted at least 3 minutes, and prompted the CNN news story above. 
   A 2 foot wave was first reported at Ofunato port half an hour after the quake without causing any damage.
   "We have confirmed that small tsunami have come up on the shores, but we have no reports of damage at this point," said Shinobu Nagano, an emergency and disaster response official in Iwate prefecture.
   Daniel Jaksa, senior duty seismologist at Geoscience Australia, said the earthquake would have been felt in Japan, "but it's not likely to cause any great distress".
   "7.2 earthquakes are quite common in the northern part of the Honshu. They get one of these every couple of years."
   Tohoku Electric Power said its Onagawa nuclear plant was operating normally after the quake. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) owner and operator of Fukushima Daiichi, also said there was no impact on its power plants in the region.
   That day, March 9th, another three quakes occurred that were in excess of 6.0 Mw. Those aren’t exactly what you would call minor events.
   Hundreds of aftershocks were reported after the main March 11th quake (this phenomena I have experienced here in Los Angeles, although not to this degree of severity), many of them extreme events in themselves. 
   A 7.0 Mw aftershock was reported at 3:06PM local time, after which a 7.4  Mw manifested 9 minutes later at 3:15, and a 7.2  Mw at 3:26. Over 800 aftershocks of magnitude 4.5  Mw or more occurred after the initial quake, including one on October 26th, this year (it being the last day of 2013... Happy New Year everyone!) of magnitude 7.3. 
   Back in 1894 seismologist Fusakichi Omori  published his work on the aftershocks of earthquakes, in which he stated that aftershock frequency decreases by roughly the reciprocal of time after the main shock, or as every fourth grader knows, n(t) =  K over c+t, where: n(t) is the rate of earthquakes measured in a certain time t after the main shock, K is the amplitude, and c is the "time offset" parameter. 
   Of course the modified version of Omori's law, which is now more commonly in use, was proposed by Prof. Tokuji Utsu in 1961, states n(t) = k over c+t)^p, where p modifies the decay rate and typically falls in the range 0.7–1.5. According to these equations, the rate of aftershocks decreases quickly with time. The rate of aftershocks is proportional to the inverse of time since the mainshock and this relationship can be used to estimate the probability of future aftershock occurrence. Thus whatever the probability of an aftershock is on the first day, the second day will have 1/2 the probability of the first day and the tenth day will have approximately 1/10 the probability of the first day (when p is of course equal to 1)
   So Japan has nothing to worry about... except major aftershocks that still occur several years after the initial quake and that don’t seem to follow Omori's law. 
   Other than those everything seems to be okay.
   In this post we’ve taken a quick look at the March 11th 9.0 Mw earthquake. In the next post we’ll examine the deadly tsunami (and the damage it caused) that followed about 30 minutes to an hour later.

To be continued. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

An Incident at Fukushima Daiichi, Part 2, Prelude to Disaster, Hiroshima & Nagasaki

Picture Legend:
1. Fourth Grader
2. Trinity Test
3. Japan attacks
4. Tokyo after March 10th
5. Map of the bombing runs
6. Little Boy
7. Hiroshima afterwards
8. Fat Man
9. The Explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki
10. Nagasaki afterwards
11. Tsutomu Yamaguchi
12. V-J Day

   On August 6th, 1945, the United States tested a nuclear device for the 2nd time. The first test had taken place 3 weeks earlier on July 16th, in the deserts of New Mexico using  an implosion-design plutonium device. The detonation, code named Trinity, produced the explosive power of approximately 20 kilotons of TNT (trinitrotoluene... C6H2 (NO2) 3CH3), which as every 4th grader knows equals approximately 56,000,000 mega (1 million) joules (equal to the energy expended (or work done) in applying a force of one newton (the amount of force  needed to accelerate 1 kilogram of mass at the rate of 1 meter per second squared) through a distance of one meter (1 newton meter, or Nm), or in passing an electric current of one ampere through a resistance of one ohm for one second) of explosive energy. The energy density of TNT is used as a reference-point for many types of explosives, including these new nuclear weapons, the energy content of which is measured in kilotons (~4.184 tera (trillion) joules) or megatons (~4.184 peta (quadrillion) joules) of TNT equivalent.
   The Trinity test worked so well (and didn’t ignite the atmosphere as some had speculated) that the powers that be decided to test it again, this time using uranium (140 pounds of uranium-235) as the fissionable (fission being either a nuclear reaction or a radioactive decay process in which the nucleus of a particle splits into smaller parts (lighter nuclei). The fission process often produces free neutrons and photons (in the form of gamma rays), and releases a very large amount of energy) material supplying the explosive force. As mentioned above they tested it on August 6th, at 8:15AM, at about 918 feet, plus or minus 65, over the Japanese city of  Hiroshima, an embarkation port and industrial center that was the site of a major military headquarters. 
   At first glance one could speculate that this action might have had adverse consequences for the Japanese populace over which this device exploded. Indeed, that is the case. As a matter of fact the American government, and it’s armed forces were counting on it. 
   You see the Japanese had previously been rather obstreperous by sneakily attacking the American navel base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii back in 1941, and thereby initiating America’s participation into World War II. You may have heard of it. Well we weren’t going to let something like that pass, so we declared war on Japan the very next day, December 8th. Germany and Italy, which had already started trouble in Europe, jumped on the old war bandwagon and declared war on us, then we declared war on them, so America was now involved in major conflicts on two fronts, the European and the Pacific. Fighting a war on two fronts is not at all cool, just ask Germany after it double crossed Russia and started fighting them on it’s eastern front while still fighting the rest of Europe on it’s western front. This eventually led to it’s demise in April and May of 1945. 
   Yet the United States had the advantage of having big oceans between itself and it’s adversaries, and we were never attacked again on our own soil during the war (although we thought the Japanese might, see  Steven Spielberg’s “1941“).  
   After Germany surrendered, the conflict in Europe ended, but the Japanese didn’t quit. Since the Battle of Midway we had slowly been taking back territory that they had previously taken by Japan. Saipan, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, on and on, to the point that we were able to run bombing missions on the Japanese homeland, and Tokyo, it’s capital. And we bombed the hell out of them causing horrendous damage to life and property. Japanese industrial production dropped as half of the built-up areas of 67 cities were destroyed by B-29 fire bombing raids. On March 9th through the 10th alone, approximately 100,000 people were killed in a firestorm caused by an attack on Tokyo, which was the single most deadly air raid of World War II. They still wouldn’d give up (the Japanese culture was probably the cause of that, being a point of pride to not surrender, preferring to die first). We had blockaded Japan’s trade routes, cutting off their food and oil supplies, and mined their harbors and waterways by air. Still they wouldn’t give up.   
   There were few conventional options remaining other than to launch an invasion of the Japanese homeland which would have been met with the greatest resistance yet seen in the war, with the loss of life, for both Japanese soldiers and citizens, and American and Allied troops too horrible to contemplate. 
   Fortunately, or unfortunately, which ever way you want to look at it, the United States had been developing an atomic weapon since 1942 (the development of this weapon was called the Manhattan Project (see the fine 1989 film “Fat Man and Little Boy,” starring Paul Newman and John Cusack), and was in direct response to Japan and Germany attempting to create their own bombs). After the success of the Trinity test the United States had a working atomic bomb, which President Truman used in  lieu of an invasion, and on August 6th, 1945, a Silverplate Boeing B-29 Superfortress named the “Enola Gay,” after the pilot’s mother, dropped it’s weapon, a device called “Little Boy,” and 140 pounds of uranium 235 converted into heat and radiation, exploding with the energy of 16 kilotons of TNT.  
   Some 70,000 to 80,000 people, or some 30% of the city’s population were killed by the blast and the firestorm that followed, some 20,000 of whom were soldiers. Another 70,000 were injured. Over 90% of the doctors and 93% of the nurses in Hiroshima were killed or injured.
   There were about 76,000 buildings in the city at the time, and 92% of these were destroyed by the blast and fire. The explosion was so powerful that it damaged 60% of the buildings over 3 miles away from the point on the ground over which the bomb exploded. It is said that only 6,180 buildings (8%) remained suitable for use in and around the city. An area of 5 square miles was transformed into a wide stretch of radioactive ruins.
   About 140,000 were dead by the end of December of that year; 90% of these were thought to have been killed within 2 weeks after the bombing.
   President Truman addressed the American people.
    "We may be grateful to Providence" that the German atomic bomb project had failed, and that the United States and its allies had "spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history—and won." Truman then addressed Japan:   
   “If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.”
   The Japanese government did not react. Emperor Hirohito, his ministers, and the War Department weighed their options, devising conditions for surrender. 
   Japanese physicists went to Hiroshima and examined the damage, reporting back to Tokyo that the city had indeed been felled by an atomic device. 
   Always ready to join a party, at two minutes past midnight on August 9th, Tokyo time, Russia declared war on Japan, sending it’s infantry, armor, and air forces into Japanese held Manchuria. Now Japan was at war on two fronts.
   The Japanese military estimated that the Americans couldn’t have more than one or two more bombs, so they decided to endure one or two more attacks, acknowledging "there would be more destruction but the war would go on. (sounding like our own home grown neocons)" American code breakers intercepted the Japanese cabinets' messages and reported them back to Washington.
   At 11:01AM, August 9th, the same day the Soviets had declared war on Japan, the “Fat Man” device was dropped on one of the largest seaports in southern Japan, in the city of Nagasaki (Nagasaki had actually been the alternate target that day, cloud cover obscuring visibility over the primary target, the city of Kokura). 43 seconds later the bomb exploded 1,539 feet above the ground, transforming 14 pounds of plutonium into radioactive heat and energy, yielding the  equivalent of 21 kilotons of exploded TNT.
   For a radius of 1 mile directly below the detonation everything was destroyed. The explosion generated heat estimated at upwards of 7,050 °F, and winds at 624 MPH. Fires instantly broke out. 
   As far as the military targets were concerned approximately 58% of the Mitsubishi Arms Plant was damaged, 6,200 out of 7,500 Japanese employees were killed, including students who had been drafted into service there. The Mitsubishi Electric Works was  on the border of the main destruction zone and only suffered 10% damage. The plant that built the Type 91 torpedoes used at Pearl harbor, the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works, was completely destroyed.
   Total casualty estimates for immediate deaths that day range from 40,000 to 75,000. Total deaths by the end of the year may have reached as much as 80,000.
   About 160 people were directly affected by the explosions of both bombs, like Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who at the age of 28 had been in Hiroshima on business for his employer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (freaking Mitsubishi! Makes you want to go out and buy a Outlander Sport, doesn’t it?) and was actually on his way home on August 6th, but had forgotten the pass that allowed him to travel, and went back to work to get it when the Little Boy bomb exploded. The explosion ruptured his eardrums, blinded him temporarily, and left him with serious burns over the left side of the top half of his body. He rested for awhile before setting out to find his two colleagues who had also survived. They spent the night in a shelter before returning home the next day. Where did he live? He lived in Nagasaki, and after receiving medical treatment for his wounds he returned to work on August 9th. While describing the Hiroshima blast to his supervisor the Fat Man bomb exploded about 2 miles away. He survived that explosion unscathed, and lived to be the only Japanese citizen recognized by the government to have survived both explosions, in March of 2009.
    Late in his life, he began to suffer from radiation-related ailments, including cataracts and acute leukemia, and he died in 2010 of stomach cancer 71 days shy of his 94th birthday.
   It is estimated that about 1,900 cancer deaths could be attributed to the after effects of the two bombs. An epidemiology study by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) states that from 1950 to 2000, 46% of leukemia deaths and 11% of solid cancer deaths among the bomb survivors were due to radiation from those bombs.
   America was ready to drop more atomic bombs if needed, the next one would have been ready by August 19th, with 3 more in September. Fortunately the Japanese government decided to surrender (the Soviet Union having declared war on Japan was a large factor in that decision), and V-J (Victory over Japan Day) was celebrated in the United States on August 14th, the day the above picture of the woman in a white dress assaulting a sailor in New York took place. The occupation of Japan by American forces began on August 28th, and the Japanese formerly surrendered on September 2nd, on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor, where Godzilla lives.
   The atomic explosions and fire bombings of Japan during World War II were of course huge tragedies with the resulting loss of life in the hundreds of thousands. A man-made tragedy that could have been avoided in so much that war can be avoided.
   The United States occupied Japan until April 28th, 1952. During that time the secret police were abolished in October of 1945, women became involved in politics the next year, and reforms in education, and a move toward true democratization of the country took place (the Empire of Japan was dissolved on May 3rd, 1947). 
   In 1946 war crimes trials took place lasting over two and a half years, with twenty-eight Japanese military and political leaders charged with Class A crimes, and more than 5,700 Japanese nationals charged with Class B and C crimes, mostly involving prisoner abuse and torture.
   “Following World War II war crime trials were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which they were convicted was water boarding." -American political consultant Paul Begala
   I’m almost positive that the Japanese insisted they were just using enhanced interrogation techniques. 
   Emperor Hirohito and his family, even those actively in the military, were immune from war crimes investigations and never brought to trial, the reason being that the Allied Commander, General Douglas  MacArthur and President Truman wanted to continue to “look forward,” and not get bogged down in what may or may not have been atrocities committed in the messy past. 
   Japan has since become one of our greatest allies, joining the Western Bloc (countries allied with the United States and NATO against the Soviet Union and its allies during the Cold War) after the occupation ended. Japan demilitarized, relying on the United States for it’s defense needs (by this time the United States had advanced it’s nuclear weapon technology, deploying devices like the B41, a thermonuclear (a fusion device, driving it’s energy as our Sun does, where two or more atomic nuclei collide at a very high speed and join to form a new type of atomic nucleus. During this process, matter is not conserved because some of the mass of the fusing nuclei is converted to photons (energy)) weapon deployed by the Strategic Air Command in the early 1960s. It was the most powerful nuclear bomb ever developed by the United States, with a maximum yield of 25 megatons (The energy contained in 1 megaton of TNT is enough to power the average American household (with a refrigerator) for 103,474 years). 
   During the 1960s and early 1970s, Japan entered a period of rapid economic growth. Japanese companies and people were buying up American properties left and right, to the point that it became a national concern, and it was postulated that Japan was then doing economically what it hadn’t been able to do militarily during the war... taking over our country bit by bit. 
   And during this time Japan developed it’s own nuclear technology, to be used for peaceful purposes (just like Iran), building thermal and nuclear power plants, the most impressive being the Fukushima Daiichi NPP plant in the towns of Okuma and Futaba, which was first commissioned in 1971.
   The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are notable for being the only examples of nuclear weapons being used in war. As mentioned above these were man-made disasters. 
   The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 11th, 2011, was also a result of human error, or man-made if you will, which happened to be triggered by a 9.0 (MW) magnitude undersea earthquake. 
   9.0,  that’s a pretty hefty earthquake by anyone’s standards.

To be continued. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

An Incident at Fukushima Daiichi, Part 1, the Sylmar & Northridge Earthquakes

   On  January 17th, in 1994 I was working as the residence manager at the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in Pasadena, California. At precisely 4:31 (PST) that morning my little room began to shake, and the books on the top shelf of my closet fell to the floor. That’s the extent of the damage I suffered from what is now known as the Northridge Earthquake. The earthquake lasted anywhere from 10 to 20 seconds, and had moment magnitude (the successor to the Richter magnitude scale) of 6.7, which is a pretty hefty earthquake by anyone’s standards. I had survived the Sylmar Earthquake 23 years previously, which was a 6.5 on the Richter scale, lasting approximately 12 seconds. Richard Nixon was president at the time (a California native, he experienced a quake of his own in Long Beach in 1933) and Ronald Reagan was governor. I survived by sleeping through it (the quake occurring at 42 seconds after 6:00 in the morning) with the family dog, Buttons, a long, brown dachshund, sleeping with me, firmly established in between my outstretched legs. The epicenter of that quake was some where north of Sylmar and south of Santa Clarita, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, at 34° 25' N, 118° 24' W,  at a depth of about 5 miles, about 10 miles from my bedroom in Sepulveda, which is now called North Hills, in the San Fernando Valley, adjacent to Northridge to the west. The immediate effects of this quake was to cause my asshole stepfather to abandon his family and run out of our house completely naked. It also caused 6 foot waves in our swimming pool, threw a lot of our dishes in the kitchen onto the floor, and created a few cracks around the house. There was some worry that the Van Norman Dam (the southern terminus of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, supplying drinking water to the city) to the north of our house, might rupture, spilling 3.6 billion gallons of water into the northern parts of the valley, where of course my house was located. Accordingly we were evacuated for 4 days (along with 80,000 other residents), until the water level could be lowered, thereby relieving pressure on the lower dam. We spent this time at our family’s friends Todd and Johnny’s house (their daughter used to babysit me and my sister). Fortunately the dam held, was repaired, and we had a house to come back to after the evacuation ended. The majority of the 58 to 64 deaths (the number depending on what is considered attributable to the quake, such as heart attacks initiated by the quake) that were attributed to the earthquake resulted from the structural failure of several health care facilities, such as the Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar, and the San Fernando Veteran’s Hospital, in San Fernando (which lies adjacent to Sylmar, and where 36 patients died and 10 staff members) along with roadway failures and the collapse of several major freeway interchanges. 2,543 were injured, with damage estimates anywhere from $553 million to several billion (first 3 pictures above, Veterans Hospital, freeway overpass, Van Norman Dam).
   My dear mother, after divorcing my asshole step father, would marry again and actually move to Sylmar with my dear sister, where I would visit her upon occasion. She and my sister would later abandon me altogether by moving to Bullhead City in Arizona where they don’t have earthquakes. 
   At least not yet.
   Now getting back to the Northridge quake, well that’s a whole different matter. 
   The Northridge Earthquake of 1994 was not centered in Northridge. The epicenter’s coordinates are given as 34°12′47″N 118°32′13″W 11MD, which as every 4th grader knows, lies between Arminta St. and Ingomar St. just west of Reseda Blvd, at a depth of 11 miles, in the city of Reseda, which is directly south of Northridge (see map above). Peak ground acceleration is a measure of how hard the earth shakes in a given geographic area. The Northridge quake’s  ground acceleration was one of the highest ever instrumentally recorded in an urban area in North America, measuring a whopping 1.8g (16.7 m/s2), and felt as far away as Las Vegas, Nevada, about 220 miles away from Reseda and Northridge. 33 people died immediately or within a few days from injuries sustained in the earthquake. The exact number of deaths is unknown but estimated to be between 60 to 72 (again counting some who died of cardiac arrest which was directly related to the quake), with the official count at 57. Overall fatalities were minimized due to the early hour of the quake, and also because that day, a Monday, happened to be a federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Earthquake damage occurred within a radius of 85 miles (although damage must have been minimized (despite the freeway damage) to a degree as because of the Sylmar earthquake, building codes had been updated and older non-compliant buildings refurbished), affecting the cities of Santa Monica, Simi Valley, and good old Santa Clarita. Approximately 8,700 were injured including 1,600 who required hospitalization. 11 hospitals suffered structural damage, some unusable after the earthquake. The Northridge Fashion Center, what we locals referred to as the Northridge Mall, where I first saw the Steven Spielberg film “E.T.,” was severely damaged, as was the California State University, Northridge (CSUN), where I used to go frolicking as a young boy. 16 people, who mostly lived on the 1st floor, were killed as they slept when the Northridge Meadows apartment complex collapsed on top of them (the 5th, 6th, and 7th picture above depict the Meadows apartments, the Bullock’s department store in the Northridge Fashion Center, and a parking structure at CSUN). The Newhall Pass interchange of the Golden State Freeway and the Antelope Valley Freeway, collapsed as it had in the Sylmar quake 23 years before, even though it had been rebuilt with improved structural components. Because it was dark when the earthquake occurred, LAPD motorcycle officer Clarence Wayne Dean did not realize the Newhall Pass elevated connector from southbound 14 to  the southbound I-5 had collapsed, and was not able to stop before falling to his death 40 feet to the ground. When it was rebuilt again one year later, it was renamed the Clarence Wayne Dean Memorial Interchange in his honor. The scoreboard at Anaheim Stadium collapsed onto several hundred seats below. Fortunately the stadium was empty at the time. The quake caused fires and landslides. It was just an awful mess with some estimates of total damage ranging as high as $25 billion making it one of the costliest natural disasters in United States history.
   Those who were beneficiaries at the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in Canoga Park (see map above) were forced to join the relief efforts or face termination from their program and be booted out to the streets. That always seemed fairly heavy handed to me. 
   Despite all of the loss of life, despite all of the damage, despite waking Buttons up in 1971, and knocking my books to the floor of my closet in 1994, all this was like a trip to Disneyland, Magic Mountain, and Knotts Berry Farm on your birthday, compared to what happened at 14:46 JST (Japan Standard Time) (09:46, Thursday PST) on the 11th of March, 2011, a Friday afternoon. What happened is referred to as the Tōhoku earthquake, and the tsunami that followed about an hour later.
   Compared to Tōhoku, Sylmar and Northridge were a walk in the park.

To be continued.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Skid Row Diary 20

23  August   2003   Saturday   Day 42

   I slept in late, very tired and lazy. My back was sore, probably due to the trampoline last night. 
   I had intended to head out to Trimar today and pick up some cash, as next week I would need to pay for both school registration, next months bus pass, and the movies on Friday. I decided against going though. I was still congested, and it wasn’t wise to keep siphoning off my precious bodily fluids while trying to get well. Thoughts of the long bus trip didn’t thrill me all that much either.
   I skipped breakfast and signed in. I showered and cleaned my room... partially cleaned my room. I didn’t want to get too over exuberant about it. 
   I wrote before lunch, and after. I listened to KLOS’s Block Party Weekend, recording a lot of Led Zeppelin and the Stones. 
   I’m beginning to get a little burnt out on Rock & Roll, and need to start listening to Whaling Songs again. There’s nothing like a rousing rendition of “Blow Ye Winds!”
   No John Manzano today. He’s up in the hills and far away.
   I passed Gary porch in the hallway. He didn’t seem to be drunk, which is good I guess.
   At 1:30 I put the writing down for a while and watched a movie on channel 7, “Castlerock,” a low budget survival movie starring Alana Austin and Ernest Borgnine as Nate. Frank Gorshin (The Riddler) was supposed to be in it but I didn’t see him by the time I fell asleep.
   I dreamt I was very little and standing on the sidewalk on Lankershim Boulevard after opening my first savings account at the Universal City branch of Bank of America. The bank was celebrating it’s grand opening, and some of the actors and actresses who were working in the studio at the time stopped by to make publicity appearances. 
   Ernest Borgnine came walking up to me on his way back to the set. He was wearing his uniform, that of a navel  Lieutenant Commander, for his show, “McHale's Navy,” which was a popular television show that I watched all of time. When he got near enough I asked him for his autograph, unafraid as only a small child can be when transcending established social strata. 
   I didn’t know or care that the man in front of me had won an Academy Award for Best Actor for a film he was in the year I was born (Paddy Chayefsky‘s “Marty”). I didn’t even know what an Academy Award was. Besides, he was Captain McHale (who was in fact the commanding officer of a PT Boat, just like John F Kennedy, and any CO is referred to as Captain while on their ship (or boat), no matter what their actual rank was) who would not hurt me.
   He stopped, looking down at me, smiling, a huge, bear of a man. I didn’t have anything for him to write on except for my newly acquired bank book, so I offered him that. He took it, still smiling.
   “What’s your name, son?” he asked.
   He wrote something down quickly in my savings account book and handed it back to me. I don’t remember what he wrote, and I remembered in my dream that I had lost that book a long time ago.
   “Be a good boy,” he said, continuing on his way.
   “Jumping torpedoes!” I exclaimed.
      “Castlerock,” was almost finished by the time I woke, with Ernest lying in a hospital bed, dying. It won’t be long, I thought to myself, when he really will be gone from us. 
   And that dream, strange as it may seem, was a recollection, as it really did happen when I was about 7 years old.
   I finished reading a short story by Stephen King called, “In the Deathroom,” and wished freedom to all political prisoners. 
   I watched the 8:00 broadcast of the film “Hexed,” starring the lovely and talented Claudia Christian, who seems especially suited for comedy, although the only things I’ve seen her in was the film, “The Hidden,” a science fiction movie which was the first she ever appeared in, and the sci fi television series, “Babylon 5.” Oh yeah, and a Playboy spread a few years ago. I did see her in that.
   I got reasonable reception on my TV and was able to record the movie, minus commercials.
   A little “Mad TV,” after “Hexed,” with a special appearance from “The Folksmen,” from the film, “A Mighty Wind.”
   “This song is dedicated to all of you who’ve  lost loved ones in train wrecks in coal mines.”
   I set my VCR timer to record “Across the Moon,” at 1:30, not knowing if it would work when the television was turned off. 
   Then I went to sleep.
   I dreamt I was on Babylon 5, a giant space vehicle built for diplomatic purposes, and being escorted by Susan Ivanova, the character on the show played exceptionally well by Claudia Christian, and Lilli Marlene, star of “Glamour Girls,” “I've Never Done This Before!,” and other fine films, to the ship’s brig. They threw me into a cell with Ernest Borgnine, then left.
   “See ya later Buckaroo,” Claudia said.
   “Yeah,” Lilli chipped in just before slamming the jail door shut.
   'Things aren’t looking too good, eh Rick?” Ernest inquired.
   “They’ve been better,” I answered.
   “What’ya in for?” he asked.
   “I don’t know,” I told him truthfully. “I don’t remember doing anything wrong.”
   Ernest belted out a laugh. “That’s what they all say, heh, heh. Might as well sit down. You’ll be here a while.”
   I continued to pace back and forth near the front of the cell.
   “But I really didn’t do anything,” I maintained. “The last I remember I was in my room watching Mad T.V.”
   “Mad T.V.!?” Ernest exclaimed. “That it explains it then. A clear case of viewing subversive material. I’m here for watching “Smothers Brothers” reruns.”
   “No, no, this can’t be. Maybe this is some sort of weird dream...”
   “Have it your own way kid,” laying back onto his modest and sparse bunk.
   Three hours and twenty seven minutes later Claudia and Lilli returned, dressed in black Dominatrix uniforms, with military caps and Nazi insignias displayed profusely. They each carried whips, chains, and assorted cylindrical objects.
   Claudia stood by the open door smiling at me.
   “Oh Buckaroo... punis... I mean interrogation time.”
   “Give em hell kid,” Ernest added helpfully, as the two ladies began to drag me away. “When’s it my turn again?”
   “Soon enough Ernie, you old hot dog you. Soon enough.”
   “And kid,” Ernest called out to me.
   The women stopped and let me look back.
   “I’m gonna be around for a long time yet. Don’t you worry.”
   “Have fun,” he said as the girls picked me up and carried me off.

24   August    Sunday     Day 43

   “Tomorrow and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
   Creeps in this pretty pace from day to day
   To the last syllable of recorded time,
   And all our yesterdays have lifted fools
   The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
   Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
   That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
   And then is heard no more: it is a tale
   Told by an idiot full of sound and fury,
   Signifying nothing.

   -R.H. Blyth

   I got up at 8:30, showered and decided I needed a meeting. Not wanting to get arrested I dressed before leaving, walking east on 6th to Gladys Park where the elite homeless hang out, and the location of the Skid Row Drifters A.A. meeting.
   The Orange County chapter of The Drifters came out in force. Up until today I didn’t know there were any drug addicts in the O.C. All I really know about the area is what Dean Koontz writes in his books. According to him it’s a very weird place filled monsters, and mutants who can teleport all over the place. A very scary place.
   And Disneyland! It’s in Orange County, and I’ve been there a few times. And Knotts Berry Farm, and it’s Halloween morph, Knotts Scary Farm (again, a very scary place, hence the name). 
   And Anaheim Stadium, where the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play baseball. I’ve been there a couple of times as well.
   Other than those three places I stay the hell out.
   While listening to Jessica, Maria, William, and others tell their stories I had coffee and two chocolate chip cookies for breakfast. Most of those who came from the O.C. were from Johnny’s Home for Women and Children, and didn’t have a whole bunch of sober time. All we really have is today though... and it’s always good to hear stories from those who are super enthusiastic about the program.
   I passed by Jack’s Market on the way back and bought a copy of the Sunday Times. Jack wasn’t there, just some Asian guy named Kim Lee.
   Jack’s never there.
   I spent a good part of the day reading that paper. I would find exactly one possible job opportunity in the Want Ads that I would act upon tomorrow.
   As I began to read up in my lonely room I switched on the radio to NPR, and listened to some leftist pinko programs that I hadn’t known existed. A guy named Blaze called in and called for an end to the “War System,” which he said made slaves of a significant percentage of our population and sends them off to be slaughtered, often for obscure reasons, or to solidify the personal goals of the current regime. How absurd! War has been a respectable way to settle differences between nations for centuries, why should we change now? Blaze also asked that the United States live up to it’s moral and financial commitments to the United Nations. He maintains that not to do so is in direct defiance of our own Constitution. Bullshit I say! The United States stands alone, as we demonstrated in Iraq (except for the United Kingdom, Australia, Poland, the Ukraine, Georgia, 
Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy, and Spain). We don’t need no stinking U.N.! A bunch of meddling bastards if you ask me, who need our guidance and unselfish wisdom in order to survive. And so what if our country is not in accordance with our own Constitution? It’s just a piece of paper... old paper at that. We have laws like The Patriot Act which prove our love for the Constitution and civil rights.
   Blaze also says we, the United States of America, should submit meekly to the World Court, and be held accountable by what they consider to be humane and justifiable. Hell, if they had their way they might consider the invasion of Iraq itself, and the suppression of it’s legitimate government a war crime in itself, and we can’t have that, not the old true and blue US of A! So what if they haven’t found those weapons of mass destruction, I’m almost positive they’re there. “I’m confident,” the President Bush said, “that they’ll be found eventually.” Those tricky Iraqi bastards sure did a good job of hiding them, I have to give them that. Anyway, we sure don’t want to send any of our boys over to those foreign devils at the World Court. The United States will always take care of our own, you can be sure of that.
   The next program was even worse. Hosted by some commie bastard named Ian Masters and his pinko sidekick, John Tapland. They had the nerve to infer that the current president was akin to a medievalist feudal lord whose only wish was to further the gap between the rich and the poor, turning the disadvantaged into surfs, born only to serve their masters into perpetuity.
   Well what’s wrong with that?! The rich deserve to have more advantages heaped upon them, after all... they’re rich, and worked hard for whatever they’ve got, if not truthfully, honestly, or legally. Isn’t that what the whole capitalist system is about? If you don’t have the wherewithal to  make it in the world and be successful, or have the benefit of having rich and powerful parents, then you can rot. We might not believe in Darwinian evolution, but we sure believe in Darwinian economics!  Fuck the poor!
   I get so mad listening to all of this intellectual clap trap. Give me fat, old marshmallow Rush Limbaugh anytime, so I don’t have to think and can be told what my reality is by his impeccable authority.
   I made a conscience decision to stop thinking and watch “Across the Moon,” starring the lovely and talented Christina Applegate and Elizabeth Pena. The film had a lot of problems, but I’m a big fan of Christina (although I could have done without the solo television show). Burgess Meredith got about a day’s worth of work in it. Michael McKean was involved as well. I saw him last night as a member of “The Folksmen,” and would see him later tonight on “The X-Files.”
   He’s very busy.*
   I read the paper then took a nap, which kept me busy enough. I had a dream involving Elizabeth Pena, Christina Applegate, 3 gallons of non-dairy whipped cream, a microwave oven, 12 quarts of 30 weight motor oil, a sandbox, 47 ball bearings, a protractor, 6 spiny-tail iguanas, a snow making machine, and a trampoline.
   I woke up screaming at 4:00PM. 
   Time to get up and start reading the paper some more. I did some yoga before going downstairs for dinner where I enjoyed enough discolored, pressed ham to make about half a sandwich. I supplemented this “meal” with a nice hot dog sandwich later in my room.     
   The boys who live in the Day Room 24/7 screwed up and left the one computer with a working word processor unoccupied long enough for me to get on it to update some of my files. My backup disks failed on me, so it took about an hour to make two more.**
   I also learned how to tape one program, and watch another on my new VCR. I taped the film “Hero,” starring Geena Davis, mostly because I liked the line shouted out by Dustin Hoffman after witnessing a jet liner crash near the bridge he had been driving on. 
   Dustin walked up to the railing on that dark and rainy night and looked down at the plane’s broken fuselage and listened to those passengers trapped inside, unable to exit the plane due to a stuck emergency exit, and screaming up at him for help. He looks over the situation for a moment, then shouts down, “What’s the problem pal?”
    I like this line too, “Keep a low profile, that’s my motto.”
   The rest of the movie fumbled along.
   While I was recording that I watched two episodes of “Futurama.” 
   I went to sleep after taping “Hero,” and watching the crash scene. I dreamt my wife, Geena Davis, was actually a spy for the United States with amnesia. Jessica Wylde, star of “Your the Boss,” and other fine films, was an enemy agent sent to terminate Geena before she regained her memory. 
   Jessica climbed in through our bedroom window while Geena was sleeping and was about to stab her with a ten inch switchblade, when I burst in to save my beloved. I karated Jessica until she was spent and helpless, tied her hands behind her back with her own long hair, and locked her in the closet. Geena woke up, regained her memory, remembered she had been ordered to marry me and find out all she could about my plans to end the world war system and subvert the imperialist girls Olympic gymnastic team, then kill me. She karated me until I was spent and helpless, then locked me in the closet with Jessica before taking off for The Hague, to blow up Paris and the World Court. 
   My alarm woke me at 10:58, so I watched and taped the 11:00 “X-Files” broadcast, featuring tonight The Lone Gunman (Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood, and Dean Haglund), then read an interesting book review concerning the life and brutal murder of Ramon Novarro, the silent film actor. Then I returned to sleep and dreamt I was on honeymoon with Gillian Anderson, the lovely and talented star of “The X-Files.” We stayed in a big hotel in Las Vegas, and she kept calling me “Cutie,” but wouldn’t come up to our room because she had gotten hooked on the slots and antihistamines.
   That’s the way it goes sometimes.

*And I wonder what message the screenwriter was trying to convey by placing all the adult male actors in jail at the end? Is this some type of feminist payback. Quite frankly, I’m outraged!
**Near 6:00 my left eye went blind for approximately 3 minutes. I could feel, sense is probably the more correct word, a slight change, a small “pop” within the vitreous chamber (like a pressure equalization), and my sight slowly blackened until the vision in that eye was completely gone. Black. I didn’t panic. This had been occurring occasionally since May of 2001, over 2 years now, and on every occasion the sight in that eye slowly creeps back from darkness and restored to normal.
    I’ve seen doctors about this. The technical term I’ve been told is Amaurosis fugax,  Latin fugax meaning fleeting, Greek amaurosis meaning darkening, dark, or obscure. The cause of my condition has not yet been ascertained. I once required housing for a few days, so I entered The Beast, USC Medical Center, or L.A.s General Hospital, a ghastly place, and was admitted there because of this condition. I was Cat Scanned, MRIed, ultra sounded, and x-rayed, all tests coming back normal. I was summarily discharged, a little earlier than I would have liked, with a “We’ve done all that we can do” and a “Unless it gets more serious.” 
   The best reasonable diagnosis anyone could come up with was that I was suffering from a painless migraine which was pinching my optic nerve, thus shutting off my vision temporarily. This was offered by the Neurology Department.
   I tend to believe that it’s something else. The migraine theory doesn’t explain that sudden “pop” feeling within the eye itself. But at this point I can’t pay to have it examined, and doctors only work real hard when their being paid.
   Fuck the poor!
   And as I’ve been told, unless it gets more serious. I’m not going to spend a great deal of time worrying about it.
   Worrying about things never helps. 

25 August 2003   Monday   Day 44

Giselle was back today, thank God! Pants though.
   At 7:30AM I went down to the cafeteria for some dry waffles for breakfast (message from next year, “Madam, we must have waffles! We must all have waffles forthwith!”). Syrup was provided, but the two lukewarm waffles soaked up all the little packet had to offer.
   Can’t beat the price though.
   At 8:00 I met Larry, the job developer for our much anticipated appointment... which lasted all of ten minutes.
   Larry faxed my resume to the one job I had found yesterday in the paper, and said he’d look into others he might have lying around somewhere. I asked him to look into CWT (Compensated Work Therapy) program at the Westwood V.A. He made a little note to himself to look into that. He also showed me the resource center room, which was locked up at the time, and invited me to use it anytime I wanted. He didn’t have the actual key to it just then, but told me I could find resources in there to help me find a job. The same stuff I could utilize at One Stop basically.
   And that was it. Short, concise, and to the point. Can’t complain about that. 
   I returned to my room and listened to regurgitated humor on the Mark and Brian Program, who were still on vacation... the lazy bastards.
   I need fresh humor, damn it!
   Whose ever job it was to choose the past segments to be aired was in high form. One example of “The Best of Mark and Brian,” was to listen over the telephone to a schnauzer licking it’s testicles.
   At 9:00 I took my $14 heavy duty collapsible dolly to the Service Spot in order to help Ron McCree move a television set to his apartment
   “Can I help you?” I was asked as I entered. I was asked by a dark haired young man talking to a short blonde lady.
   “Is Ron McCree here?” I asked.
   The blonde lady shook her head negatively.
   “He called in sick,” she said. “Your...”
   “Yes. He did say to come back tomorrow... at nine o’clock.” She smiled.
   “He did, did he?”
   I nodded. “Okay.” Then I left.
   I wrote for most of the day.
   At 12:00 I used the computer in the day room. The television news, or the Entertainment Today program actually, was in an uproar over who Freddie Kruger would fight next in the sequel to “Freddy Vs Jason.” Michael Myers from the “Halloween” franchise was named as the most likely candidate. The producers are in negotiations with Michael’s agent. 
   Alright, number one, I happen to like Michael Myers, and happen to believe he can kick anyone’s supernatural ass, especially that loud mouthed, obnoxious SOB, Freddy Kruger. Number two, Freddy didn’t win the fight with Jason... what’s up with that? Number three, all of them are already dead, for Christ’s sake! What are they going to do to each other? Put themselves into “Double Secret Death?”
    The actor who plays Freddy, Robert Englund, the nice lizard in the 1980s television mini-series “V” wants to battle Bruce Campbell’s possessed character from Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead,” movies. I have no problem with that, but I do with “V.” We’re supposed to believe that this whole big fleet of massive spaceships (that they ripped off from Arthur C Clark’s “Childhood’s End,” as did those bastards from “Independence Day”), piloted by evil space reptiles, came all the way across the gulf of interplanetary space to steal our water? And to use us for food?”
   Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Hell, the universe is almost all hydrogen! And oxygen isn’t particularly difficult to find. Those space lizards sure didn’t have to come all of the way here to get water. It’s everywhere! Water vapor is not uncommon. You could find more water on Jupiter probably than you can here on Earth. You just have to dig a little.
   And it would seem to me to be a whole lot easier to abduct a hundred or so of us, take us back to their planet and breed us, then eat us all up! Much, much easier than all of the trouble the space lizards went to in the series.
   These issues must be addressed!
   I made Kathy’s 1:00 meeting at the ASAP clinic. We talked about withdrawal symptoms. I asked her afterwards about the CWT program, and she told me Sam handled all of that. Sam was off today. 
   I’d rather not talk to Sam because I never attend his relapse prevention group, but I guess I’ll have to. He seems to be my best bet.
   I never go to his group because they never talk about relapse prevention in there. All they do in there is B.S. I can get a healthy dose of B.S. in the 5th floor day room anytime I want.
    I went up to the 3rd Floor to get my chest X-rayed. I hope I don’t hear anything back on that. No news is good news.
   So far my body has been fairly resilient to serious damage, or disease, despite all of the harmful things I’ve done to it, such as, let’s say, 35 years of smoking. I’ve been very, very lucky in that regard. Many are not.
   I had some medication waiting for me at the Post Office. I’ve been switched to simvastatin from lovastatin, to help control my high cholesterol. Hopefully the new meds will lower those pesky triglycerides.
   We shall see.
      I returned to my room and took a little nap. I dreamt I was surfing with Debbie Dunning, the beautiful and talented star of the television sit-com, “Home Improvement.” The last thing I remember is her string bikini (“How does that little thing hold those up?”), and being attacked by a great white shark. I woke at 4:00, sweat pouring off off of my well chiseled body.
   I finished up some writing, then watched “Home Improvement.”
   No John Manzano knocking on my door. I’m afraid he’s flown the coop without saying goodbye. I wish him well. He’s not really the type of guy I’d expect to hear from unless it was to his advantage. At least he’s back in Camarillo with his mom, and out of this hellhole.
   I spent the evening reading from Michel Eyquem ( “I am myself the matter of my book”) de Montaigne’s “Essays,” and watching “Paradise Hotel,” a silly Fox reality program, which in reality is a thinly veiled excuse to watch young, attractive, men and women flash each other, and make out in hotel rooms.
   I went to sleep late and dreamt I was working in a small radio station with the extraordinarily beautiful (and talented) Jan Smithers from “W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati (“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly”). I have nothing against Loni Anderson, but for my money she doesn’t hold a candle to Jan (and I prefer Mary Ann to Ginger).
   We were busy putting together the nightly news program, and Jan kept putting her hand on my knee.
   “Stop that, you naughty girl,” I admonished. After all, there is a time for work and a time for play.
   Everything was alright until there was a knock at the door.
   “Who is it?” I asked.
   “Mister Joooyyyc” the unseen visitor announced.
   “No one ordered a plummer here...”
   “Telegram for who?” I asked.
   “Candygram? Oh, okay then...”
   I opened the door and was instantly swallowed by the infamous land shark. “Thank God Jan got away,” was my last thought before being digested.
   Don’t think I haven’t noticed, perhaps you as well dear readers, I haven’t been experiencing a whole lot of good fortune in my dreams lately.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Congress’s Christmas Present to America

 Congress has just passed a tiny bipartisan budget agreement, and the Federal Reserve has decided to wean the economy off artificially low interest rates. Both decisions reflect Washington’s (and Wall Street’s) assumption that the economy is almost back on track.
   But it’s not at all back on the track it was on more than three decades ago.
   It’s certainly not on track for the record 4 million Americans now unemployed for more than six months, or for the unprecedented 20 million American children in poverty (we now have the highest rate of child poverty of all developed nations other than Romania), or for the third of all working Americans whose jobs are now part-time or temporary, or for the majority of Americans whose real wages continue to drop.
How can the economy be back on track when 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent? 
   The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society? -Robert Reich, 12-20-13, former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton

   The Republican led House of Representatives worked 9 days in December and has been on a break since the 13th. 
   According to the 2014 legislative calendar, House members will work 113 days during the year, which is less than the 126 days they worked in 2013. 
   Granted the peculiar nature of the job of being a congressman requires that they return periodically to their home districts to consult with their constituents, and given that... and the pressing need to spend literally 50 to 60 percent of their time when actually at work, raising funds for reelection, well who can begrudge them so much seemingly time off as long as they get the business of the people done. 
   To be fair as far as the amount of time spent on the job goes, the Democratically controlled Senate isn’t any better. Both the House and Senate decide themselves how many days they will be in session, because they’re so responsible and all, yet still there’s that nagging problem of how much work they actually get done, which is normally reflected in how many public bills are passed and signed into law by the President (despite House Majority Leader Boehner’s bizarre tea partyish/libertarian notion that Congress should be judged by how many laws they repeal... well how many laws has Congress repealed? Answer... none). Not only that, but how many substantial bills are passed, because let’s face it, one can only rename so many post offices. Considering the partial list of problems currently facing the nation mentioned by Secretary Reich above, the 113th Congress had plenty of work to do.
   And they still do.
   I was watching the Rachel Maddow program last Friday night as I often do because I like to watch her introduce the various prison programs that MSNBC uses to fill in for the majority of the weekend. “Thank you for watching for the hour. We’ll will see you again next Monday night, but right now you must go to... prison.”    
   The prison programs and other reality shows MSNBC airs during the weekend (as I write this “Caught On Camera,” is on the air/cable, hosted by the lovely NBC correspondent Contessa Brewer) are very profitable for the network because they are popular and cheap to produce (relatively speaking). And we all know that news usually takes the weekend off. 
   Currently they’re finding more and more things to talk about news wise, I guess, and accordingly air programs such as “Weekends with Alex Witt,” “Up” with Steve Kornacki, “Melissa Harris-Perry” with... well I seem to have forgotten who hosts that program, the lovely Alex Witt again working a split shift, “MSNBC Live” hosted by whoever they can get to come in, and then “Disrupt with Karen Finney,” before we go back to prison or Contessa.
   Anyway, I just like to hear Rachel send me to prison. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
   On last Friday’s program Rachel just happened to mention that she and her staff had spent a good portion of that day inventing something wonderful. You can see what it was they invented in the second picture above, which is a graph really. 
   Rachel and her staff were all worried that people who looked at this graph, which represents different Congress’s from the time of President Harry Truman in 1947, up to our current 113th Congress, and the number of bills each one passed, wouldn’t be able to see the 113th’s contribution because it was so small, the smallest on the graph. So they invented that arrow, or rather, the yellow pulsating border that surrounds it, which I think is an amazing technological feat. I also think it’s kind of cute.
   They were just trying to be helpful. Now everyone who looks at it can’t help but notice that the 113th Congress has been the least productive since they started recording these things. 
   William Douglas writing for McClatchy DC points out: “The 113th Congress is heading home and into the history books with a record of legislative futility. By the time the Senate finishes its business, this Congress will have passed slightly more than 57 bills into law. It’s on course to surpass the first session of 104th Congress, which passed 88 bills into law, in terms of its low productivity.
   Critics say the current Congress makes the 80th Congress – dismissively dubbed by President Harry S Truman as the “Do Nothing Congress” – look like workaholics. That Congress enacted 395 public bills into law by the end of its first session, in December 1947, according to congressional records.”
   Senators and Congress people make  $174,000 a year (American dollars). They get health care, and receive a pension when they retire, none of that 401(K) nonsense. 
   Guess who pays for all of that, dear readers. Yeah, that’s right! You and I do, the taxpayer. I don’t think we’re getting a big enough bang for our hard earned buck. 
   As Tennessee Republican Congressman Stephen Fincher (no relation to David) quoted last June during a session of the House Agriculture Committee (while discussing whether or not to cut as much as $4.1 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), from  2 Thessalonians 3:10 (that’s in a book called the “Bible”): “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” By that criteria Congress itself should be subsisting on bread and water... if that (the author of 2 Thessalonians was actually referring to ancient Christians who had stopped working in anticipation of Jesus’ Second Coming, meaning don’t just wait around for Jesus, live on in active faith). 
   House Majority Leader John “The Orange One”  Boehner doesn’t seem to mind being the leader of an obstructionist House that is the main culprit for the shocking lack of accomplishments achieved during his “reign.” Why? Number one: He’s a sociopath (and I say that with love), and Number Two: like a child he attempts to divert blame toward himself and his party, blames others, and takes no responsibility for the situation.
    “The House continues to do its job,” he said. “It’s time for the Senate to get serious about doing theirs.”
   Yeah, really, he said that December 3rd when confronted with the fact that Congress has had one of the least productive sessions in history.
   “The House has continued to listen to the American people and to focus on their concerns [excuse me a second, I can’t seem to stop laughing... just a second... oh my, okay, I’m alright now I think]” Boehner told reporters. “Whether it’s the economy, whether it’s jobs, whether it’s protecting the American people from Obamacare – we’ve done our work.”
   This guy lives in La La Land (and I don’t mean Los Angeles). He’s outright lying and either knows he’s outright lying, or sadly actually believes the lies he’s telling are true, which I think is probably the case since most Republicans reinforce each others ideology to the point that real reality is meaningless to them.
   No jobs bills passed at all by the House, which if passed and signed into the law (if said bills actually increased the amount of jobs rather than decrease) probably would have the effect of stimulating the economy. Cutting food stamps, letting unemployment benefit expire next Saturday (as of the 28th, 1.35 million out-of-work people will receive no more compensation checks. And in 2014, another 3.6 million Americans who would have become eligible for EUC (Emergency Unemployment Compensation) will not receive its benefits), and doing everything they can to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, all tend to depress the economy and cost jobs. Now either the Republicans are really, really stupid, or they’re intentionally trying to hurt the American economy so they will look good in the next General Election in 2016. I think both, because they’re counting on the American people being really, really stupid by forgetting who were the main cause for the misery they’ve been experiencing since George W. Bush was in office. Well the American people proved they were not really, really stupid in 2012, when they spanked Mittens Romney and sent him back home to continue abusing his dog.
   “If you look at the number of bills passed by the House,” he continued, “and the paltry number of bills passed by the Senate, you can see where the problem is.” 
   Oh I agree. The cause of the problem is quite clear.
   Boehner pointed out that the House passed 150 bills during the year. 
   A large percentage of them, including about 42 bills designed to repeal the Affordable Care Act such as the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act of 2013, died in the Democratically controlled Senate, as the Republicans knew they would. But according to Boehner’s logic, if only the Democrats would forget that they won the election in 2012 to keep the Senate and Presidency, and do everything the Republicans wanted, then everything would just be hunky dory in the spirit of true Republican bipartisanship. 
    “By all objective measures, this is the worst Congress ever,” Tom Mann, a senior governance fellow at Washington’s Brookings Institution, said of the 113th. “But there are two main things: Important matters not addressed and destructive things done, like October’s government shutdown. They did a lot of stuff of no consequence. All the important stuff, they couldn’t get done.”
   And what about that government shutdown. 
   The Affordable Care Act is already a law. It’s even been ruled upon by the Supreme Court, a conservative court at that, and found constitutional. The Republicans in Congress, tea partiers, ultra-conservatives, whatever, seem not to care about the rule of law in this country. They demonstrated this by attempting to hold the country hostage by not enacting legislation to appropriate funds for the fiscal year 2014, or a continuing resolution for the interim authorization of appropriations for the fiscal year 2014 unless the Affordable Care Act was repealed. They were sooooooooo worried about the American people, the middle class and poor all of the sudden, and would do anything, seemingly to protect them from the horrible ravages of getting health insurance. Of course there is no way either the Senate or the President can repeal an existing law by themselves, even if they wanted to, which they didn’t. There is a way to repeal an existing law, a process, and the Republicans had tried it 42 or so times, but just because you try something it doesn’t mean it’s going to work. So from October 1st through the 16th, which is almost like 16 days, acting like little kids holding their breath until they got their own way, they effectively shutdown the government at an estimated cost to you and me, the tax payers, of 28 billion dollars (American... none of that Hong Kong crap). 28 billion dollars!    
   You know what you can buy with 28 billion dollars? A lot of Subway sandwiches that’s for sure.    You could even fund that $4.1 billion the Republicans’s wanted to take away from the Food Stamp Program and allow poor people to keep eating, and have a whole bunch of money left over for other good deeds. 
   So who’s going to pay us tax payers back those 28 billion? Megalomaniac Ted Cruz? Not likely. Michelle “Crazy as a Bat” Bachmann? Nope. I don’t think they have any plans whatsoever to pay us back, other than to keep sticking it to the middle class and poor as they’ve always done. 
   Like not extending unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed (over 27 weeks), as we mentioned above (it seems the majority of American are opposed to ending these benefits). 
   Now Republicans might not know this, or they may dispute it, but extending unemployment benefits are a good thing. 
   Why is that Sarah Ayres of The Center for American Progress?
   “Well Rick, This is because unemployment benefits are not just good for workers; they are also good for the economy. By putting money into the pockets of people who will spend it, unemployment benefits boost demand, spur economic growth, and create jobs. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has found that unemployment benefits are one of the most effective fiscal policies to increase economic growth and employment [just like food stamps]. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, has found that every $1 spent on unemployment insurance grows the economy by $1.55. All these dollars circulating through the economy create jobs. According to an Economic Policy Institute analysis, extending emergency unemployment benefits would create 310,000 additional jobs in 2014.”
   Thank you Sarah. 
   “You’re welcome Rick.”
   Even the Council of Economic Advisers and Department of Labor believe extending unemployment benefits is beneficial. They issued a report about it entitled “The Economic Benefits of Extending Unemployment Benefits.” Some of what they discovered include this:
    1. Including workers’ families, nearly 69 million people have been supported by extended UI (Unemployment Insurance) benefits, including almost 17 million children.
   2. In 2012 alone, UI benefits lifted an estimated 2.5 million people out of poverty.
   3. Failing to extend UI benefits would put a dent in job-seekers’ incomes, reducing demand and costing 240,000 jobs in 2014.
   4. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and JP Morgan suggest that without an extension of EUC, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) will be .2 to .4 percentage points lower.
   5. In 2011, the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) found that aid to the unemployed is among the policies with “the largest effects on output and employment per dollar of budgetary cost.”
   Nine out of the eleven times Republican lawmakers have resisted EUC benefits being renewed since it was first enacted in 2008. Their basic argument is unemployment compensation makes people lazy, and less likely to seek employment. That folks are living high off the hog on unemployment benefits (maximum weekly benefit amounts vary from state to state, from $235 in Mississippi to $653 in Massachusetts. Most recipients receive less than the maximum, like Cindy, a former airline contractor in Cincinnati. The maximum weekly benefit amount in Ohio is $524, and Cindy receives just $330. "I had no idea that you could freeze milk, but it turned out to be a brilliant discovery," said Cindy, who asked not to be identified for fear of people knowing she lost her job. "Milk is not cheap and being able to store it in the freezer has been incredibly helpful to manage my expenses." She buys it in bulk now). So taking away their benefits will naturally motivate them to get a job... in a job market with just one job opening available for every three jobs, a situation brought about by the economic policies of George W. Bush who was a Republican if I remember correctly (please remember that the majority of Republicans in Congress are not sociologists, so their argument that unemployment benefits make job seekers lazy, or any other argument concerning large groups of people, is not backed up by any empirical evidence whatsoever. They are pulling these ideas out of their collective idealogical asses, so to speak). 
    Congress did not extend unemployment benefits last week so they will expire on the 28th. What happens when unemployment benefits expire? Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan, used the North Carolina experience to give us an idea
   The unemployment rate will decrease it turns out, due to two factors. 
   “ Under the employment effect, people will take jobs even if the work pays less than the job seekers want. In the participation effect, people will drop out of the measured workforce since actively seeking a job (a criterion for being labeled officially unemployed) no longer carries an advantage of receiving jobless benefits.”
   In other words either the unemployed will be forced to seek and take jobs that pay less than their former occupations (remember one must have been employed previously to be eligible for unemployment benefits. This is not welfare), or they leave the workforce all together, which has the added effect of depressing the total economy.  
   To sum up, Congress has adjourned without extending unemployment benefits for 1.35 million fellow Americans, cutting off all financial aid to these people right at Christmas time (if I were one of them I would immediately apply for welfare assistance, which is funded by guess what? The same state and federal agencies that fund unemployment insurance). 
   It would seem that the third picture above is an apt symbol of the Congressional attitude toward America and it’s citizens. Let’s hope that they find it within themselves to do something to rectify this problem, and the many others we face as a nation when they come back to work.
   We shall see.

Krugman's take