Archive for April, 2010

Iceland and Volcanoes

“Early in March[1875] there seemed to be a general upheaval of the earth in the whole central portion of the island….They split open at the top and vomited forth their burning contents upon the surface around them….Several hundred  persons are also reported to have perished….To show the distance to which volcanic materials may be carried by the wind…the west coast of Norway…was found covered with a pretty thick blanket of dust….” Such are some of the observations contained in the book An American in Iceland: an acount of  its scenery, people and history published in 1876(for those who like direct sources, the above quotes are found on pages 265-266). These words are verified by a London Times article reprinted in the August 23, 1875 issue of The New York Times entitled “Iceland; Woes of a Much-Tried Country” : “About 11 A.M. [Easter Monday, March 29, 1875]candles had to be lighted in houses; by noon the blackness was so close that out of doors a man could not distinguish the fingers of his hand at a few inches from the eye….” The article goes on to describe the ash coating everything up to a depth of eight inches. Both of these references are describing the Askja eruption, one of the largest in modern times. However, it pales in comparison to what is referred to as the Laki or Hecla or more properly the Grimsvotn eruption that produced the world’s largest known lava flow, devastated crops and animal herds and killed one-fifth of Iceland’s population. This explosion threw 122 megatons of sulfur dioxide into the lower atmosphere where steered by winds, it descended on England in the form of a “dry fog.”  The writer William Cowper describes it this way: “A foggy summer is likely to be attended with a sickly autumn; such multitudes are indisposed by fevers in this country…the labourers having been almost every day carried out of the field incapable of work; and many die.” In another letter he observes that : “The epidemic begins to be more mortal as the autum comes on….In Bedfordshire it is reported, how truly however I cannot say, to be nearly as fatal as the plague.”(Works of William Cowper, volume 3. 1854, pp.38-40.) Even the American polymath Benjamin Franklin who was in Europe at the time observed that: “During several of the summer months of the year 1783, when the effect of the sun’s rays to heat the earth in these northern regions should have been greater, there existed a constant fog over all Europe, and great part of North America.” He went on to speculate over the origins of this “fog” and opined that it might be caused by”…the vast quantity of smoke, long continuing; to issue during the summer from Hecla in Iceland….”  (“Meteorological Imaginations and Observations” from the Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester) Estimated death tolls in England range from around 10,000 to well over 20,000; even France experienced a large increase in additional deaths, estimated at over 16,000. So while the current problems with air transportation are newsworthy, let’s keep a proper perspective on this current eruption. Some additional sources of information: Global Volcanism Program from the Smithsonian (you can search by region, date, or name along with other data); the very enlightening article The Summer of Acid Rain (Economist);  Atmospheric and Environmental Effects of the 1783-1784 Laki Eruption: A Review and Assessment (Journal of Geophysical Research); Atmospheric Impact of the 1783-1784 Laki Eruotion: Part I Chemistry Modelling and Part II Climatic Effect of Sulphate Aerosol (both Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics);  The Effects and Consequences of Very Large Explosive Volcanic Eruptions (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A); Volcanic Eruptions and Their Impact on the Earth’s Climate (University of North Dakota);  New Evidence for Massive Pollution and Mortality in Europe in 1783-1784 May Have Bearing on Global Change and Mass Extinctions  (Comptes rendus geosciences); Human Sickness and Mortality Rates in Relation to the Distant Eruption of Volcanic Gases: Rural England and the 1783 Eruption of the Laki Fissure, Iceland (Geology and Health: Closing the Gap); and Modelling the Distal Impacts of Past Volcanic Gas Emissions. Evidence of Europe-wide Environmental Impacts from Gases Emitted During the Eruption of Italian and Icelandic Volcanoes in 1783 (Quaternaire). That there is volcanic activity in Iceland should come as no surprise;  Iceland has more than 200 volcanoes and has accounted for fully one-third of the world’s lava flow over the past 500 years.

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Fortune 500/1000 for 2010 Available

Wal-Mart is now at the head of the pack, beating out ExxonMobil. Many more interactive features are accessible in this report.

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Baseball Biographies

Well, it is spring after all, and that can only mean one thing -baseball! We are unreconstructed Brooklyn Dodger fans and even if this means dating ourselves, we remember The Silver Fox (aka Duke Snider to you uninitiated) patrolling the outer reaches of Ebbets Field, the shadow of which we grew up in. For those who like to indulge in tracking your favorite players, we hereby list for you some sites that prove of value. The Baseball Biography Project, sponsored by the Society for American Baseball Research, has as its goal to present in-depth articles on those who played, managed, or had an impact on baseball.  You can search or browse the list; the browse function allows you to narrow by achievement, demographics, era, or awards and honors. At the time of this writing there are about 1330 biographies present or soon to be completed; each one has a bibliography attached to it. As far as we can see, no current ballplayer is examined, but biographies are available for those who played in the “modern” (post 1976) era. Current players as well as past athletes are profiled in The Ballplayers: A Baseball Player Encyclopedia. The biographies are very brief, just “bare bones” so to speak, but their life stories are augmented with a veritable flood of statistics. If career statistics are more your priority, then check out Player Search from MLB. Searches can be conducted for either “active” players or “historical” players; then stand back for the numbers! Historic Baseball Player Biographies does what is says with links to The Ballplayers: A Baseball Player Encyclopedia site for the statistical side. Baseballlibrary.com presents The Ballplayers that has both active and inactive players. Each entry is hyperlinked and contains brief statistical information, a chronology, and “related info,” which is in reality links to full text articles on the player in question. For those who still cannot get enough, we recommend the Baseball Digest along with its issues back to July 1945.

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Executive Compensation

How much is too much as far as CEO salaries and benefits go? This site, Executive PayWatch, from the AFL-CIO allows us to search by company, by state, or by name to find out who is making what. For example, did you know that the average CEO pay in New Jersey is almost $4.5 million while the average pay for workers  is under $49,000; that the highest pay is almost $31 million for the CEO of Johnson & Johnson; or that you can sort these numbers by city(find out if Jersey City is listed). Additional sources of information include: The Economics of Corporate Executive Pay (CRS); Excessive CEO Pay: Background and Policy Approaches (CRS); Executive Compensation: SEC Regulations and Congressional Proposals (CRS); Executive Compensation: How Much Is Too Much? (House Hearing);  Conference Board Task Force on Executive Compensation (Conference Board); Remarks by the President on Executive Compensation (White House); Pay at the Top (interactive feature at The New York Times); America’s Bailout Barons (Institute for Policy Studies); and CEO Compensation (Forbes).

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Some People, Unlike Governor Christie, Love Libraries

Although this is National Library Week, in New Jersey it certainly does not feel like it. What with the governor’s 74% cut in state aid, coupled with the possible reduction of municipal funding for town public libraries, this most basic service faces hard times, even as the library becomes more important in so many communities. This can be seen in The State of America’s Libraries 2010 from the American Library Association. Who loves libraries? How about astronaut Sally Ride,  award-winning author Neil Gaiman, and guitarist Keith Richards, who says : “When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equaliser.”

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Gulf War and Health

This umbrella title collects together various reports issued by the Institute of Medicine on the health probelms and illnesses of those who served in the Gulf. The most recent volume, no.8, deals with existing health problems and possible future implications.

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2010 Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism

Courtesy of  The New York Times, this article contains the winners, finalists, and links to the nominated stories. Please read  The Pulitzers and the Future of Journalism from the Washington Post. All prize winners can be found here, including a special citation for Hank Williams, the legendary country music singer.

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