We have received positive comments on our little Strange But True items so we have decided to archive them for a while – in case you missed them on the home page.
July 7, 2010: The Mount St. Helens Eruption Was Not One of the Big Ones
In 1980 Mount St. Helens erupted and released about 2.7 square kilometers of volcanic rock and dust.
By comparison, the island of Krakatoa was blown apart by an enormous volcano in 1883. This blast was roughly seven times larger than the Mount St. Helens, and blasted 18 square kilometers of rock into the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that four square kilometers of debris reached the stratosphere where it remained for more than two years – cooling the planet and produced the most remarkable sunsets ever witnessed. But compared to earlier events, Kracatoa is hardly worth mentioning.
Long before modern humans were here to witness the event, an eruption in Yellowstone National Park formed the giant Yellow-stone crater. This eruption was 1100 times as great as Mount St. Helens. (From Night Comes to the Cretaceous , by James Powell.)
Scientists tell us that Yellowstone Park has been on a regular eruption cycle of 600,000 years. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago…so the next is overdue. The next eruption could be 2,500 times the size of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. Volcanologists have been tracking the movement of magma under the park and have calculated that in parts of Yellowstone the ground has risen over seventy centimeters during the last century.
June 27, 2010: Mass Extinction Events
The asteroid that collided with the Earth 65 million years ago made a big dent. It killed off the dinosaurs as well as all the larger animals, and about 70% of the species existing at that time. In Night Comes to the Cretaceous, by James Powell, he estimates that the power of the explosion was equal to 7 billion atomic bombs the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima – more than one per person on the entire planet, and equal to 10 for every square kilometer of the Earth’s surface. At another time, I will offer Powell’s description of how the Earth was damaged in that explosion.
June 6, 2010: In 2009 China surpassed the U.S. in car purchases. Car purchases in China are expected to grow straight up to 20 million units and double the United States. Obviously, China will continue to consume more and more oil in the years to come.
On the supply side, oil production peaked in the US in 1970, in Iran in 1974, in Russia in 1987, and in Mexico earlier in this decade. More than 75% of the world’s oil production comes from oil fields that are older than 25 years. In human years, these wells are in their late 50’s, and nearing retirement, after which they may work part time.
The BP oil catastrophe is the gulf will have an enormous environmental impact, and it will also result is less oil (and more costly oil) coming to market in the future.
The conclusion here is obvious, but not many people really want to hear it
May 23, 2010: Chicago 1892 – Those good old days.
Anonymous death came early and often…Everyday an average of two people were destroyed at the city’s rail crossings…Fires took dozens of lives each day…There was diphtheria, typhus, cholera, influenza. And there was murder. At the time of the fair the rate at which men and women killed one another rose sharply throughout the nation, but especially in Chicago…In the first six months of 1892 the city experienced nearly eight hundred violent deaths. Four a day.
From The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
May 9, 2010: Earned vs Inherited Wealth
According to The Millionaire Next Door, a very high percentage of U.S. millionaires are first generation “rich”. For example: (1) more than 80% received little or no inheritance (zero to 9% of net worth), and neither did these individuals receive trust fund gifts, (2) less than 10% received partial ownership of a family business, (3) nearly 50% earned every penny of college tuition on their own.
This has apparently always been the case in America. In 1892, The American Economy published the results of a study, carried out by Stanley Lebergott, in which 4047 American millionaires were interviewed. Lebergott reported that 84% of millionaires had gained their wealth without the benefit of an inheritance.
April 25, 2010: The Government Accountability Office [GAO] released a report on a $300 million Department of Energy program designed to promote commercial products that boast fashionable ‘green’ credentials. A team of GAO investigators with an uncharacteristically fine sense of humor submitted 20 bogus products to the department and walked away with Energy Star certification for 15 of them, including a gasoline-powered alarm clock.
The Washington Times, March 2010
April 11, 2010: The Difference between the Observable and the Actual Universe
The universe that exists today is different from the universe that astronomers actually observe. Astronomers look back in time when they look at distant objects because light (even though it’s very fast moving) takes time to travel through space. Thus, the universe astronomers observe is the universe of the past. . . . So, for example, when astronomers produce an image of a cluster of galaxies two billion light-years away, that image shows them what the cluster of galaxies was like two billion years ago.
In a continuously expanding universe, the universe of the past is spatially smaller than the universe of the present…the actual universe of the present must be at least ten times larger than the universe astronomers observe via telescopes.
From Why the Universe is the Way It Is, Hugh Ross
March 29, 2010: We wrote previously of how scientists are making new breakthroughs as they better understand designs in nature, and then copy those designs.
In addition, through bioengineering, scientists are attempting to genetically modify living creatures in order to take advantage of “skills” these organisms have that we can not otherwise duplicate.
Spider webs, also known as spider silk, is a product of great interest. Scientists covet the capability of producing fibers as well as spiders do. Spider webs are three times as strong as steel (by weight) but also highly elastic as well as lightweight. As an aside, it is interesting that spider webs are about 30 times thinner than a human hair. We can’t do nearly this well on that score either.
Apparently some good progress is being made on the bioengineering front. From Get Smart About Synthetic Spider Silks by Katie Galloway
March 21, 2010: From the Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2009
The better model for ObamaCare is the original estimate for Medicare spending when it was passed in 1965, and what has happened since. That year, Congressional actuaries (CBO wasn’t around then) expected Medicare to cost $3.1 billion in 1970. In 1969, that estimate was pushed to $5 billion, and it really came in at $6.8 billion.
House Ways and Means analysts estimated in 1967 that Medicare would cost $12 billion in 1990. They were off by a factor of 10—actual spending was $110 billion—even as its benefits coverage failed to keep pace with standards in the private market.
Medicare spending in the first nine months of this fiscal year is $314 billion and growing by 10%.
March 12, 2010: Health care insurance costs will be the least of our worries if the current health care bill passes Congress. Nevertheless, the nonsensical claim by President Obama regarding health insurance costs was countered this week – not by a Republican – but by liberal Senator Durbin of Illinois.
On Monday, Barack Obama declared, “Our cost-cutting measures mirror most of the proposals in the current Senate bill, which reduces most people’s premiums.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) disagreed, “Anyone who would stand before you and say, ‘Well, if you pass health care reform next year’s health care premiums are going down, I don’t think is telling the truth.”
March 7, 2010: The Unimaginable Fine-tuning of the Universe – item one
Many of you are not going to believe the claim that follows – it seems too impossible. Whether you believe it or not, however, the amazing fine-tuning of the universe is accepted by the entire scientific community. Why the universe is so fine-tuned is debated, but not the fine-tuning itself. There are at least 30 different physical or cosmological parameters that must be precisely fine-tuned to build a Universe capable of sustaining life. This strange-but-true item covers just one of those parameters. The next two paragraphs are from…Why the Universe is the Way It Is, by Hugh Ross.
While stars and planets account for only about 1 percent of the total matter (hence mass) of the universe, even that small percentage must be extraordinarily fine-tuned for life to exist…
Right after the universe’s beginning, the possibility of life within it would have been destroyed by subtracting the mass of a single dime from the whole of the observable universe or by adding a single dime’s mass to it.
Feb 28, 2010: Robert Oppenheimer, who headed up the American effort to develop the nuclear bomb during WWII (The Manhattan Project), was a brilliant, but somewhat unstable individual. When he was nine he played a game with his older cousin, “Ask me a question in Latin and I will answer you in Greek.”
While at Harvard he was tutored by Dr. Patrick Blackett, who required Oppenheimer to do grunt work in the lab. Oppenheimer did not like working for Blackett, so he did what most of us only dream about; he tried to poison his boss. Fortunately he failed, or else someone else would have won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1948.
You are probably wondering how he ran the Manhattan Project from jail. Well, it turned out that Oppenheimer’s sentence for this criminal act was – probation – and not hard-time criminal probation, but probation from Harvard! So the brilliant are different from the rest of us. When they are found guilty of attempted murder, it stimulates their career opportunities.
Feb 21, 2010: The age of the universe is now well established at 13.73 billion years. Astronomers can actually peer out into the universe and see back 13 billion years to within a short time of the “in the beginning”. It took light, from that time, 13 billion years to reach us.
Feb 14, 2010: In 1900, horse accidents caused the deaths of 200 New Yorkers, 1 in every 17,000 residents. In 2007, 274 New York residents died in auto accidents, 1 such death for every 30,000 residents. Super Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner
Feb 8, 2010: The Hubble telescope has given astronomers a deeper window into the vastness of the Universe. Astronomers now estimate that there are roughly 20 billion galaxies that average 200 billion stars each, plus another 10 billion stars in dwarf galaxies… for a total of 50 billion trillion stars. From the book, Why the Universe is the Way It Is.
In recent years it was said that there are as many stars as there are grains of sand on all the beaches and deserts on all of Earth. Now we know that this former estimate understates the vastness of the Universe by a considerable degree.
Feb 2, 2010: The passage below is from Brave New World. You know the premise. The inhabitants of this new world are genetically altered and environmentally conditioned to work, think, and behave as prescribed by the designers of the society. Free will no longer exists, but since all needs are met, everyone is always “happy”.
Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the compensation for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand. Aldous Huxley
This passage encourages us to contemplate what true happiness is. It’s the challenges – even those that require us to fight through instability, misfortune, and doubt – that give life meaning, and make life grand.
Jan 27, 2010: “It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present which could ever have been present. But if (and oh what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc. present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed.” Charles darwin, 1871
“There isn’t any doubt that science, for the moment at least, is at a dead end. The optimism of the 1950s is gone. The mood at the 1999 international conference on origin of life was described as grim – full of frustration, pessimism, and desperation. Nobody pretends that any alternative provides a reasonable path of how life went unguided from simple chemicals, to proteins, to basic life forms.” Walter Bradley, Ph.D. Author of The Mystery of Life’s Origins
Jan 23, 2010: Each year more than 1,000 inebriated pedestrians die in traffic accidents. Statistically, on a per-mile basis, a drunk walker is 80 times more likely to be killed in an accident than a drunk driver. Drunk walkers, however, seldom are responsible for the deaths of others. From the book, Super Freakonomics.
Jan, 18, 2010: According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, approximately 40% of all Canadian hockey players that make it to the National Hockey League are born during the first three months of the year, while only 10% are born during the fourth quarter.
Can you guess why? It’s not astrology.
Jan 13, 2010: Scientists have strong evidence that points to the Earth being about 4.57 billion years old. When the Earth was new, it rotated so rapidly that days were much shorter, perhaps only about three hours long. Tidal interaction with the sun and moon gradually slowed the Earth’s rotation. These interactions are still operating to slow the Earth’s spin.
Jan 7, 2010: We hear in the media occasionally of scientists discovering fossils of our human ancestors, millions of years old. This “human” label is very misleading in that, in these examples, it refers to a number of pre-human hominids that walked on two feet. Actually, scientists are in agreement that modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) have only been around for roughly 50,000 to 150,000 years.
Scientists are convinced that modern humans descended from some of these pre-human species, but there is no apparent sequence of fossils that supports this conclusion. In fact, scientists were once convinced that humans descended from Neanderthals, a recent and relatively advanced hominid. Fortunately, DNA evidence came to our rescue and saved our reputation. There is no other hominid in the fossil record near the time we showed up that would qualify as a potential ancestor.
Jan 3, 2010: Evolutionary theory requires that there is no fundamental difference between human and non-human minds. Intellectual capacity is thought to have evolved such that our nearest non-extinct relatives, the great apes, should be intellectually superior to all other non-humans. Interesting then that J Bolhunis and C Wynne report in the scientific literature (Nature) that ravens and crows are smarter than the great apes – at least in regard to some tasks. Even crows, which are not as smart as ravens, are able to outperform the apes in two “tool use” tasks. How could that be?
Dec. 29, 2009: In the three months following the September 11 attacks, there were 1,000 additional traffic deaths in the United States; many of them clustered in the Northeast. Psychological studies suggest that the stress of the attacks resulted in a spike in alcohol abuse, and many more accidents. From the book Super Freaknomics by Levitt and Dubner.
Dec. 22, 2009: You thought our legal system was already overburdened with costly nuisance lawsuits. Just wait. Chuck Colson recently wrote of his concerns ht animal rights advocates were getting carried away, and noted:
… earlier this year President Obama appointed Cass Sunstein as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. It turns out that Sunstein believes animals should be afforded the same rights as humans. In fact, Sunstein believes that animals should be given human counsel and the ability to sue their human counterparts.