Brace Yourselves for the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)

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Brace Yourselves, New Yorkers, You’re Due for a Major Quake

A couple of hundred thousand years ago, an M 7.2 earthquake shook what is now New Hampshire. Just a few thousand years ago, an M 7.5 quake ruptured just off the coast of Massachusetts. And then there’s New York.

Since the first western settlers arrived there, the state has witnessed 200 quakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater, making it the third most seismically active state east of the Mississippi (Tennessee and South Carolina are ranked numbers one and two, respectively). About once a century, New York has also experienced an M 5.0 quake capable of doing real damage.

The most recent one near New York City occurred in August of 1884. Centered off Long Island’s Rockaway Beach, it was felt over 70,000 square miles. It also opened enormous crevices near the Brooklyn reservoir and knocked down chimneys and cracked walls in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Police on the Brooklyn Bridge said it swayed “as if struck by a hurricane” and worried the bridge’s towers would collapse. Meanwhile, residents throughout New York and New Jersey reported sounds that varied from explosions to loud rumblings, sometimes to comic effect. At the funeral of Lewis Ingler, a small group of mourners were watching as the priest began to pray. The quake cracked an enormous mirror behind the casket and knocked off a display of flowers that had been resting on top of it. When it began to shake the casket’s silver handles, the mourners decided the unholy return of Lewis Ingler was more than they could take and began flinging themselves out windows and doors.

Not all stories were so light. Two people died during the quake, both allegedly of fright. Out at sea, the captain of the brig Alice felt a heavy lurch that threw him and his crew, followed by a shaking that lasted nearly a minute. He was certain he had hit a wreck and was taking on water.

A day after the quake, the editors of The New York Times sought to allay readers’ fear. The quake, they said, was an unexpected fluke never to be repeated and not worth anyone’s attention: “History and the researches of scientific men indicate that great seismic disturbances occur only within geographical limits that are now well defined,” they wrote in an editorial. “The northeastern portion of the United States . . . is not within those limits.” The editors then went on to scoff at the histrionics displayed by New York residents when confronted by the quake: “They do not stop to reason or to recall the fact that earthquakes here are harmless phenomena. They only know that the solid earth, to whose immovability they have always turned with confidence when everything else seemed transitory, uncertain, and deceptive, is trembling and in motion, and the tremor ceases long before their disturbed minds become tranquil.”

That’s the kind of thing that drives Columbia’s Heather Savage nuts.

New York, she says, is positively vivisected by faults. Most of them fall into two groups—those running northeast and those running northwest. Combined they create a brittle grid underlying much of Manhattan.

Across town, Charles Merguerian has been studying these faults the old‐fashioned way: by getting down and dirty underground. He’s spent the past forty years sloshing through some of the city’s muckiest places: basements and foundations, sewers and tunnels, sometimes as deep as 750 feet belowground. His tools down there consist primarily of a pair of muck boots, a bright blue hard hat, and a pickax. In public presentations, he claims he is also ably abetted by an assistant hamster named Hammie, who maintains his own website, which includes, among other things, photos of the rodent taking down Godzilla.

That’s just one example why, if you were going to cast a sitcom starring two geophysicists, you’d want Savage and Merguerian to play the leading roles. Merguerian is as eccentric and flamboyant as Savage is earnest and understated. In his press materials, the former promises to arrive at lectures “fully clothed.” Photos of his “lab” depict a dingy porta‐john in an abandoned subway tunnel. He actively maintains an archive of vintage Chinese fireworks labels at least as extensive as his list of publications, and his professional website includes a discography of blues tunes particularly suitable for earthquakes. He calls female science writers “sweetheart” and somehow manages to do so in a way that kind of makes them like it (although they remain nevertheless somewhat embarrassed to admit it).

It’s Merguerian’s boots‐on‐the‐ground approach that has provided much of the information we need to understand just what’s going on underneath Gotham. By his count, Merguerian has walked the entire island of Manhattan: every street, every alley. He’s been in most of the tunnels there, too. His favorite one by far is the newest water tunnel in western Queens. Over the course of 150 days, Merguerian mapped all five miles of it. And that mapping has done much to inform what we know about seismicity in New York.

Most importantly, he says, it provided the first definitive proof of just how many faults really lie below the surface there. And as the city continues to excavate its subterranean limits, Merguerian is committed to following closely behind. It’s a messy business.

Down below the city, Merguerian encounters muck of every flavor and variety. He power‐washes what he can and relies upon a diver’s halogen flashlight and a digital camera with a very, very good flash to make up the difference. And through this process, Merguerian has found thousands of faults, some of which were big enough to alter the course of the Bronx River after the last ice age.

His is a tricky kind of detective work. The center of a fault is primarily pulverized rock. For these New York faults, that gouge was the very first thing to be swept away by passing glaciers. To do his work, then, he’s primarily looking for what geologists call “offsets”—places where the types of rock don’t line up with one another. That kind of irregularity shows signs of movement over time—clear evidence of a fault.

Merguerian has found a lot of them underneath New York City.

These faults, he says, do a lot to explain the geological history of Manhattan and the surrounding area. They were created millions of years ago, when what is now the East Coast was the site of a violent subduction zone not unlike those present now in the Pacific’s Ring of Fire.

Each time that occurred, the land currently known as the Mid‐Atlantic underwent an accordion effect as it was violently folded into itself again and again. The process created immense mountains that have eroded over time and been further scoured by glaciers. What remains is a hodgepodge of geological conditions ranging from solid bedrock to glacial till to brittle rock still bearing the cracks of the collision. And, says Merguerian, any one of them could cause an earthquake.

You don’t have to follow him belowground to find these fractures. Even with all the development in our most built‐up metropolis, evidence of these faults can be found everywhere—from 42nd Street to Greenwich Village. But if you want the starkest example of all, hop the 1 train at Times Square and head uptown to Harlem. Not far from where the Columbia University bus collects people for the trip to the Lamont‐Doherty Earth Observatory, the subway tracks seem to pop out of the ground onto a trestle bridge before dropping back down to earth. That, however, is just an illusion. What actually happens there is that the ground drops out below the train at the site of one of New York’s largest faults. It’s known by geologists in the region as the Manhattanville or 125th Street Fault, and it runs all the way across the top of Central Park and, eventually, underneath Long Island City. Geologists have known about the fault since 1939, when the city undertook a massive subway mapping project, but it wasn’t until recently that they confirmed its potential for a significant quake.

In our lifetimes, a series of small earthquakes have been recorded on the Manhattanville Fault including, most recently, one on October 27, 2001. Its epicenter was located around 55th and 8th—directly beneath the original Original Soupman restaurant, owned by restaurateur Ali Yeganeh, the inspiration for Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. That fact delighted sitcom fans across the country, though few Manhattanites were in any mood to appreciate it.

The October 2001 quake itself was small—about M 2.6—but the effect on residents there was significant. Just six weeks prior, the city had been rocked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers. The team at Lamont‐Doherty has maintained a seismic network in the region since the ’70s. They registered the collapse of the first tower at M 2.1. Half an hour later, the second tower crumbled with even more force and registered M 2.3. In a city still shocked by that catastrophe, the early‐morning October quake—several times greater than the collapse of either tower—jolted millions of residents awake with both reminders of the tragedy and fear of yet another attack. 9‐1‐1 calls overwhelmed dispatchers and first responders with reports of shaking buildings and questions about safety in the city. For seismologists, though, that little quake was less about foreign threats to our soil and more about the possibility of larger tremors to come.

Remember: The Big Apple has experienced an M 5.0 quake about every hundred years. The last one was that 1884 event. And that, says Merguerian, means the city is overdue. Just how overdue?

“Gee whiz!” He laughs when I pose this question. “That’s the holy grail of seismicity, isn’t it?”

He says all we can do to answer that question is “take the pulse of what’s gone on in recorded history.” To really have an answer, we’d need to have about ten times as much data as we do today. But from what he’s seen, the faults below New York are very much alive.

“These guys are loaded,” he tells me.

He says he is also concerned about new studies of a previously unknown fault zone known as the Ramapo that runs not far from the city. Savage shares his concerns. They both think it’s capable of an M 6.0 quake or even higher—maybe even a 7.0. If and when, though, is really anybody’s guess.

“We literally have no idea what’s happening in our backyard,” says Savage.

What we do know is that these quakes have the potential to do more damage than similar ones out West, mostly because they are occurring on far harder rock capable of propagating waves much farther. And because these quakes occur in places with higher population densities, these eastern events can affect a lot more people. Take the 2011 Virginia quake: Although it was only a moderate one, more Americans felt it than any other one in our nation’s history.

That’s the thing about the East Coast: Its earthquake hazard may be lower than that of the West Coast, but the total effect of any given quake is much higher. Disaster specialists talk about this in terms of risk, and they make sense of it with an equation that multiplies the potential hazard of an event by the cost of damage and the number of people harmed. When you take all of those factors into account, the earthquake risk in New York is much greater than, say, that in Alaska or Hawaii or even a lot of the area around the San Andreas Fault.

Merguerian has been sounding the alarm about earthquake risk in the city since the ’90s. He admits he hasn’t gotten much of a response. He says that when he first proposed the idea of seismic risk in New York City, his fellow scientists “booed and threw vegetables” at him. He volunteered his services to the city’s Office of Emergency Management but says his original offer also fell on deaf ears.

“So I backed away gently and went back to academia.”

Today, he says, the city isn’t much more responsive, but he’s getting a much better response from his peers.

He’s glad for that, he says, but it’s not enough. If anything, the events of 9/11, along with the devastation caused in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy, should tell us just how bad it could be there.

He and Savage agree that what makes the risk most troubling is just how little we know about it. When it comes right down to it, intraplate faults are the least understood. Some scientists think they might be caused by mantle flow deep below the earth’s crust. Others think they might be related to gravitational energy. Still others think quakes occurring there might be caused by the force of the Atlantic ridge as it pushes outward. Then again, it could be because the land is springing back after being compressed thousands of years ago by glaciers (a phenomenon geologists refer to as seismic rebound).

“We just have no consciousness towards earthquakes in the eastern United States,” says Merguerian. “And that’s a big mistake.”

Adapted from Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake by Kathryn Miles, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Kathryn Miles.

US Will Help Create the Saudi Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

The Editorial Board

The last thing the Middle East needs is another country with the potential to build nuclear weapons. Yet that could happen if the United States mishandles Saudi Arabia’s plans to enter the nuclear power business and erect as many as 16 nuclear reactors for electricity generation over 25 years.

The Saudis aren’t saying they want to become the second country, after Israel, to have a nuclear arsenal in the increasingly unstable region. They insist the reactors would be used only to generate energy for domestic purposes, so they can rely on their huge reserves of oil to generate income from overseas.

Still, there are growing signs that the Saudis want the option of building nuclear weapons to hedge against their archrival, Iran, which had a robust nuclear program before accepting severe curbs under a 2015 deal with the United States and other major powers.

Obama administration efforts to negotiate an agreement on transferring civil nuclear technology — required before a country can buy American nuclear technology — faltered over the Saudis’ refusal to make a legally binding commitment to forgo uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, which could be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons. The United Arab Emirates made a commitment like that in its 2009 agreement, setting the nonproliferation “gold standard” for civil nuclear cooperation deals.

Now new negotiations are being pursued under a president who caters to the needs of American business and aggressively courts Saudi leaders. In theory, Mr. Trump is well-placed to cajole the Saudis to accept the gold standard. He can argue that it makes more sense for Riyadh to buy enriched fuels for the reactors from relatively low-cost foreign suppliers than to produce it in Saudi Arabia. Such an agreement will further cement ties with the United States, which has promised to protect the kingdom from its enemies.

But there are questions about what limits the Trump administration would require, and the Saudis would accept, as part of the agreement the two sides are about to start negotiating.

Insisting on strict conditions could force the Saudis to buy instead from Russia or China, which don’t impose such nonproliferation rules, or from France and South Korea, thus penalizing a moribund American nuclear industry eager for the lucrative new business. Westinghouse and other American-based companies are discussing a consortium to bid on the multibillion-dollar project.

However, a failure to incorporate crucial restrictions in any deal would leave the Saudis free to repurpose the technology for nuclear weapons. That would undercut decades of American-led efforts to prevent the spread of these arms.

The United States has long been a leader in nuclear technology with its sales to other countries governed by bilateral civil nuclear agreements that require adherence to nine nonproliferation criteria.

They include guarantees that none of the nuclear materials provided by the United States will be used for nuclear explosives, that none of the technology or classified data will be transferred to third parties without American consent, and that the country involved in the agreement will not enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium.

But Saudi officials are still insisting that they have a right to enrichment and reprocessing under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which guaranteed nations access to such technologies if they forsake nuclear weapons.

If these disagreements stalemate negotiations, the United States could lose the opportunity to impose any nonproliferation, nuclear security and nuclear safety conditions on the Saudi program at all.

That is why a compromise proposed by Robert Einhorn, a former American nuclear negotiator, may be worth considering, but only if efforts to set stricter standards fail. It would require the Saudis to make a legally binding commitment to forgo enrichment and reprocessing for 15 years, not indefinitely, thus kicking tough questions down the road.

Ultimately, Congress must assert its right to have the final say on a deal, and set strict conditions if the administration does not. Those should include intrusive inspections of Saudi nuclear facilities, similar to those Iran has accepted.

Given Mr. Trump’s flip attitude toward nuclear weapons, Congress’s responsibility affects the nuclear future of not just Saudi Arabia, but the decisions that Turkey, Egypt and other countries make about acquiring nuclear power. Lawmakers need to put protections in place so more countries don’t edge closer to having nuclear weapons.

India Test Fires Another Nuclear Missile

“The missile launch and its flight performance were monitored from [Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO)] telemetry and radar facilities in the Odisha coast,” one official said. DRDO is responsible for the development of India’s indigenous defense platforms, including nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

The Dhanush uses liquid propellant and is a ship-launched ballistic missile (ShLBM) developed from India’s Prithvi-II ballistic missile. It is a single-stage missile capable of delivering one nuclear warhead.

In 2017, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee assessed that India had two launchers capable of launching the Dhanush ShLBM.

The U.S. assessment puts the Dhanush’s range capability at approximately 400 kilometers, but official Indian sources cite a shorter range capability of 350 kilometers with a 500 kilogram payload.

The Dhanush has been inducted into service with the Indian Navy. Analysts have noted that Dhanush may have been intended to fill a stopgap role until India could operationalize a secure undersea deterrent with the commissioning of INS Arihant, the country’s first nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).

Because it is a liquid-fueled missile, the Dhanush must be fueled prior to use at sea, limiting its effectiveness as a second strike tool. Moreover, the Sukyana-class OPVs are not particularly well-suited for evading detection. This latest test of the Dhanush comes following reports that INS Arihant is presently out of commission, following an accident last year. Without the Arihant, India currently has no SSBN capability.

Friday’s launch comes amid an unusually busy spate of Indian ballistic missile testing, which has in recent weeks included test-launches of the Agni-V intermediate-range ballistic missile, a user trial of the Agni-II medium-range ballistic missile, and two launches of the Prithvi-II close-range ballistic missile, including a night launch.

India – Pakistan Tensions Increase (Revelation 8)

Indian Border Security Force troops patrol along the Line of Control that divides Indian and Pakistani Kashmir Tauseef Mustafa/AFP

Hundreds of villagers residing at the border locations between India and Pakistan are fleeing to safer locations as the two sides trade border fire and yet again threaten the 15-year-old fragile ceasefire agreements.

Fresh fighting broke out in the volatile Uri sector of the Kashmir valley, a restive northern Indian region, which is the centre of a bitter territorial dispute, on Saturday, 24 February. It is still unclear who or what started it. The Pakistani side said the gunfire killed one civilian and left three others injured.

As this cross-border firing at the de facto frontier known as Line of Control (LoC) takes place days after a terror attack against an Indian army camp, tensions are running high in the region. Both India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed traditional rivals, usually blame each other for any kind of escalation in the sensitive frontiers.

“We are responding to ceasefire violations by Pakistan and will not budge even by a step. We are fighting back with our might and giving a response to Pakistan’s firing. And one day Pakistan will have to stop the violation of the ceasefire,” India’s junior minister for internal affairs Hansraj Ahir told reporters.

Indian forces used artillery fire, the first time such heavy guns have been used since 2003, though the region has witnessed frequent cross-border exchanges.

Ahir added that Islamabad’s action of shelling into the Indian territory “will prove to be Pakistan’s foolishness and will cost them dearly”.

From the Islamabad side, the country has summoned India’s deputy high commissioner JP Singh to condemn the latest round of firing at the border. This is the fifth time he is being summoned in a month.

“This unprecedented escalation in ceasefire violations by India is continuing from the year 2017 when Indian forces committed more than 1,970 ceasefire violations,” said the Pakistani foreign ministry blaming Indian security forces for the “unprovoked ceasefire violations”.

Pakistani forces also made announcements via loudspeakers asking civilians to take shelter is safe spots or to flee.

Tensions in Kashmir Valley – a heavily disputed territory between India and Pakistan over which the two nuclear weapons-armed rivals have fought two major wars – have sharply escalated in recent years, primarily over protests against the presence and actions of Indian forces.

The Future of Iraq and the Antichrist (Revelation 13)

Reconstruction and the future of post-ISIS Iraq

Paul Davis

I became very upset recently over the state of mind that has settled over the very dangerous issues encompassing the Middle East.

I recently attended a panel discussion on the Iraq reconstruction conference held in Kuwait that ultimately became a discussion on the future of Iraq. The discussion was held at the Hudson Institute, a world-renowned think tank in Washington DC. I have attended many discussions at Hudson and other organizations and think tanks, and have walked away in disagreement with some of the panelists, although respecting their point of view. This time however I walk away with a feeling of dread and danger.

While the Hudson panelists Senior Fellow Jonas Parello-Plesner and Adjunct Fellow Michael Pregent spoke to facts on the ground and potential problems as well as solutions, the others were more political. While it can be expected that Iraqi Ambassador to the US Fareed Yesseen would mouth Iraqi government talking points, the statements from RAND Corporation Senior Analyst Linda Robinson were particularly disturbing.

The ambassador spoke of the increasing capabilities of the Iraqi Army and that it is not the same army that ran from ISIS. He pointed out that it was this new army that, with the aid of coalition forces, defeated ISIS – no mention of the Peshmerga who were the first to hold back the tide of ISIS aggression.

When asked about the upcoming elections and the fear of some that it will cement Iranian control of the Baghdad government, he pointed out that the outcome will be the decision of the Iraqi people in a fair election, with no mention of the reaction of Baghdad to the decision of the Kurdish people in a free and fair open election on independence.

He did say that he was at a recent meeting between “PM Abadi and Nechirvan Barzani” that was very cordial. I put the quotes around the statement to point out that while he said PM Abadi he did not use the title for Barzani. While this may sound petty it is a very serious insult in diplomatic terms.

Worst however was Ms. Robinson. Her credentials as a Woodrow Wilson Center Scholar and now a senior research analyst at RAND Corporation, which has strong ties to US policy makers, increase the danger of her comments and observations. The most dangerous notion she put out was her apparent support to the Popular Moralization Forces (PMF), also known as Hashd al-Shaabi.

She pointed out to the room that the PMF were incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces by law and were therefore under the control of Abadi. This last of course is a bad cover and was implemented long after the atrocities committed against Sunni civilians. An indication of the lie was when the PMF were incorporated into the assault on the Kurds in Kirkuk. Muqtada al-Sadr withdrew the Badr Corp units shortly afterwards, showing they were not under government control.

The most incredulous statement she made was at the end when she said in her travels she found many Iraqis that were happy to see the PMF enter their villages. I guess she forgot to talk to the families of victims and survivors of those Sunnis who were slaughtered by the PMF. I guess she also missed the PMF’s call for attacking US forces.

It was not all bad news. In the end a question was asked as to policy recommendations should the elections bring in a very pro-Iranian government. Mr. Pregent answered that his recommendation would be to move American assets such as Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) troops to Erbil.

An excellent follow up read to all this is Mr. Parello-Plesner’s paper co-authored with Peter Rough, a fellow of the Hudson Institute, titled “Reconstructing Iraq: A Test Case for Trumpian Burden-Sharing.”

Speaking to the fact that the US worked to help bring over 2,300 private companies to the Kuwait conference he points out: “Even so, the rebuilding of Iraq has a Sisyphean quality to it: After spending billions of dollars on reconstruction last decade, US partners are weary to sink money into the country again.”

Regardless of the ambassador’s words of a better, rebuilt Iraq, the world does not trust what is happening and fears the return of ISIS or some variant based on the actions of the Iraqi government.

Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence and former Soviet analyst. He is a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently he is the president of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington D.C.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.