Quakeland: New York and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake

Roger Bilham

Given recent seismic activity — political as well as geological — it’s perhaps unsurprising that two books on earthquakes have arrived this season. One is as elegant as the score of a Beethoven symphony; the other resembles a diary of conversations overheard during a rock concert. Both are interesting, and both relate recent history to a shaky future.

Journalist Kathryn Miles’s Quakeland is a litany of bad things that happen when you provoke Earth to release its invisible but ubiquitous store of seismic-strain energy, either by removing fluids (oil, water, gas) or by adding them in copious quantities (when extracting shale gas in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or when injecting contaminated water or building reservoirs). To complete the picture, she describes at length the bad things that happen during unprovoked natural earthquakes. As its subtitle hints, the book takes the form of a road trip to visit seismic disasters both past and potential, and seismologists and earthquake engineers who have first-hand knowledge of them. Their colourful personalities, opinions and prejudices tell a story of scientific discovery and engineering remedy.

Miles poses some important societal questions. Aside from human intervention potentially triggering a really damaging earthquake, what is it actually like to live in neighbourhoods jolted daily by magnitude 1–3 earthquakes, or the occasional magnitude 5? Are these bumps in the night acceptable? And how can industries that perturb the highly stressed rocks beneath our feet deny obvious cause and effect? In 2015, the Oklahoma Geological Survey conceded that a quadrupling of the rate of magnitude-3 or more earthquakes in recent years, coinciding with a rise in fracking, was unlikely to represent a natural process. Miles does not take sides, but it’s difficult for the reader not to.

She visits New York City, marvelling at subway tunnels and unreinforced masonry almost certainly scheduled for destruction by the next moderate earthquake in the vicinity. She considers the perils of nuclear-waste storage in Nevada and Texas, and ponders the risks to Idaho miners of rock bursts — spontaneous fracture of the working face when the restraints of many million years of confinement are mined away. She contemplates the ups and downs of the Yellowstone Caldera — North America’s very own mid-continent supervolcano — and its magnificently uncertain future. Miles also touches on geothermal power plants in southern California’s Salton Sea and elsewhere; the vast US network of crumbling bridges, dams and oil-storage farms; and the magnitude 7–9 earthquakes that could hit California and the Cascadia coastline of Oregon and Washington state this century. Amid all this doom, a new elementary school on the coast near Westport, Washington, vulnerable to inbound tsunamis, is offered as a note of optimism. With foresight and much persuasion from its head teacher, it was engineered to become an elevated safe haven.

Miles briefly discusses earthquake prediction and the perils of getting it wrong (embarrassment in New Madrid, Missouri, where a quake was predicted but never materialized; prison in L’Aquila, Italy, where scientists failed to foresee a devastating seismic event) and the successes of early-warning systems, with which electronic alerts can be issued ahead of damaging seismic waves. Yes, it’s a lot to digest, but most of the book obeys the laws of physics, and it is a engaging read. One just can’t help wishing that Miles’s road trips had taken her somewhere that wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.

Catastrophic damage in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1964, caused by the second-largest earthquake in the global instrumental record.

In The Great Quake, journalist Henry Fountain provides us with a forthright and timely reminder of the startling historical consequences of North America’s largest known earthquake, which more than half a century ago devastated southern Alaska. With its epicentre in Prince William Sound, the 1964 quake reached magnitude 9.2, the second largest in the global instrumental record. It released more energy than either the 2004 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off Japan; and it generated almost as many pages of scientific commentary and description as aftershocks. Yet it has been forgotten by many.

The quake was scientifically important because it occurred at a time when plate tectonics was in transition from hypothesis to theory. Fountain expertly traces the theory’s historical development, and how the Alaska earthquake was pivotal in nailing down one of the most important predictions. The earthquake caused a fjordland region larger than England to subside, and a similarly huge region of islands offshore to rise by many metres; but its scientific implications were not obvious at the time. Eminent seismologists thought that a vertical fault had slipped, drowning forests and coastlines to its north and raising beaches and islands to its south. But this kind of fault should have reached the surface, and extended deep into Earth’s mantle. There was no geological evidence of a monster surface fault separating these two regions, nor any evidence for excessively deep aftershocks. The landslides and liquefied soils that collapsed houses, and the tsunami that severely damaged ports and infrastructure, offered no clues to the cause.

“Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about present-day vulnerability.” The hero of The Great Quake is the geologist George Plafker, who painstakingly mapped the height reached by barnacles lifted out of the intertidal zone along shorelines raised by the earthquake, and documented the depths of drowned forests. He deduced that the region of subsidence was the surface manifestation of previously compressed rocks springing apart, driving parts of Alaska up and southwards over the Pacific Plate. His finding confirmed a prediction of plate tectonics, that the leading edge of the Pacific Plate plunged beneath the southern edge of Alaska along a gently dipping thrust fault. That observation, once fully appreciated, was applauded by the geophysics community.

Fountain tells this story through the testimony of survivors, engineers and scientists, interweaving it with the fascinating history of Alaska, from early discovery by Europeans to purchase from Russia by the United States in 1867, and its recent development. Were the quake to occur now, it is not difficult to envisage that with increased infrastructure and larger populations, the death toll and price tag would be two orders of magnitude larger than the 139 fatalities and US$300-million economic cost recorded in 1964.

What is clear from these two books is that seismicity on the North American continent is guaranteed to deliver surprises, along with unprecedented economic and human losses. Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about the present-day vulnerability of US infrastructure and populations. Engineers and seismologists know how to mitigate the effects of future earthquakes (and, in mid-continent, would advise against the reckless injection of waste fluids known to trigger earthquakes). It is merely a matter of persuading city planners and politicians that if they are tempted to ignore the certainty of the continent’s seismic past, they should err on the side of caution when considering its seismic future.

Who is the Antichrist? (Revelation 13)


At the height of the US occupation of Iraq there were few figures American troops loathed more.

As a Shiite preacher, Moqtada Al Sadr used Friday sermons to rail against the invaders who deposed Saddam Hussein. „The little serpent has left and the great serpent has come,“ he told a western journalist in 2004.

It led to him being labelled a firebrand cleric and, eventually, almost three years of self-imposed exile in Iran.

It has not been the easiest journey but the shape-shifting 44-year-old, whose political alliance appears to have won the highest number of seats in Iraq’s election, is on the verge of a remarkable transformation.

The corruption that plagues Iraq appears to have created his political opening.

Cultivating an outsider image, Al Sadr has navigated shifting allegiances, military

Embracing an Iraqi nationalist identity, staunchly against foreign influence, made him stand out in a field of post-invasion leaders at one time or another seemingly beholden to foreign states.

He is now a potential king-maker.

Born in the religious city of Najaf, the young cleric came to prominence after 2003 by raising an insurgent army, leveraging his influence as the son of a revered Grand Ayatollah killed for opposing Saddam.

Armed with Kalashnikov rifles and improvised explosives, the Mahdi Army led the Shiite resistance against the American invasion.

During Iraq’s brutal sectarian war in 2006-2007, the militia was accused of running death squads, seeking to remove Sunnis from areas of Baghdad.

The Pentagon once declared that the group had „replaced Al Qaeda in Iraq as the most dangerous accelerant of potentially self-sustaining sectarian violence.“

Al Sadr later fell foul of the Iraqi government following violence between his militiamen and the rival Shiite group, the Badr Organisation.

It wasn’t until the Iraqi army cracked down on the Mahdi army in 2007 – years after an arrest warrant had been issued against Al Sadr – that the heat finally got too much.

He fled to Iran – studying to become an ayatollah at the preeminent Shiite religious centre in Qom – before returning in early 2011.

The Mahdi army remobilised as the Peace Companies in 2014 to fight against ISIS but today Al Sadr’s influence rests more on his ability to rouse his followers.

In 2016, he reasserted his political relevance when his supporters stormed Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone in protests demanding better services and an end to corruption.

He drew upon that same support base and anger to mobilise voters last weekend.

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr visits his father's grave after parliamentary election results were announced, in Najaf, Iraq on May 14, 2018. Alaa Al Marjani / Reuters Photo

Campaign slogans such as „corruption is terrorism“ resonated across Iraq, but particularly in neglected areas of Baghdad such as the sprawling working class neighbourhood that bears his family name.

Sadr City was once Saddam City but was renamed in memory of the protests which were crushed there following Al Sadr’s father’s murder in 1999. Uncollected rubbish piles and open sewers fuel resentment at the lack of development.

Like most Iraqis, his „Sadrist“ followers want change, lacking faith in the post-invasion political elite to deliver.

But whereas many Iraqis stayed home on Saturday, either as a boycott or from apathy – turnout was only 44.5 per cent – the Sadrists voted in force, believing in his determination to tackle corruption.

He had earlier cleaned house within his own ranks, banning current MPs – accused of corruption – from running.

Instead, Al Sadr formed an alliance with Iraqi communists and secularists, allowing him to inject new faces and complete his move from sectarian militia leader to Iraqi nationalist.

Iraqi supporters of Sairun list celebrate with Iraqi flags and a portrait of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr after results of Iraq's parliamentary election were announced in Baghdad, Iraq May 15, 2018. Thaier Al Sudani / Reuters Photo

The move worked, with his Sairoon bloc winning the nationwide popular vote with more than 1.3 million votes, and gaining an estimated 54 of parliament’s 329 seats.

„He has undergone a transformation – he is more mature now – but that’s also true of the atmosphere around him,“ said Dr Muhanad Seloom, associate lecturer in international relations at the University of Exeter.

„I don’t think he’s a different beast as people say, he’s the same person, he still holds the same convictions, political and religious, but he’s a nationalist.“

Al Sadr immediately began negotiations to form a coalition government, another role he is familiar with. In 2010, after the Sadrist bloc won 39 seats in parliament, Al Sadr showed his ability to bury the hatchet, playing coalition partner to former enemy Nouri Al Maliki. The pact allowed Al Maliki to retain the premiership.

This time Al Sadr will be in a stronger position, though political office is not his aim. As he did not stand as a candidate himself, he cannot be named prime minister.

And as in previous elections, when prime ministers have been selected with the consultation of both the US and Iran, Al Sadr’s bloc will have to contend with rivals.

The US will be wondering whether it can maintain influence with a man they once labelled a thug but may take solace in his strong stance against Iran.

Iran may be more inclined toward supporting Al Sadr’s rivals, Shiite militia leader Hadi Al Ameri, and, once again, Al Maliki.

Ahead of the election, a senior Iranian official said: “We will not allow liberals and communists to govern Iraq,” a reference to Sadr’s allies in the Sairoon bloc.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has given indications it would be willing to work with Al Sadr, who visited the kingdom last summer to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi minister of state for Arab Gulf affairs and former ambassador to Iraq, Thamer Al Sabhan congratulated Iraq on its elections, tweeting: „You are truly on marching toward wisdom, patriotism and solidarity. You’ve made the decision for change towards an Iraq that raises the banners of victory with its independence, Arabism and identity.”

If Al Sadr were able to form a government, it could be a step in the right direction for Iraq, Dr Seloom believes: „He wants a technocratic government, he wants Iraq to be democratic and he wants to fight corruption.“

One of Antichrist’s Men is Assassinated

Image result for peace brigades iraqCommander in Sadr’s militia assassinated: report

By Rudaw yesterday at 10:16

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A commander in the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr has been assassinated north of Baghdad, Iraqi media has reported.

Hussein Hijami, a commander in Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades) militia, was shot by unknown gunmen in the al-Shuala area on the northern edge of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad Today reported.

Hijami had been working with the Ministry of Health, an unnamed security source told the news outlet.

The Peace Brigades are a resurrection of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and were formed in 2014 in response to the rise of ISIS.

How to Prevent Saudi Arabia from Getting Nuclear Weapons

DEC. 7 2018

Skeptics of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran warned that it could prompt a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. As they predicted, Saudi Arabia has been seeking assistance from the U.S. in obtaining civilian nuclear capabilities, while also speaking—in imitation of the Islamic Republic—of a “right” to enrich uranium, something it pledged not to do in a 2008 agreement with Washington. Were Riyadh to begin such enrichment, it could also produce the fuel necessary for nuclear weapons. Emily Landau and Shimon Stein warn of the dangers inherent in Saudi proliferation, and discuss how the U.S. and Israel should respond:

So long as the motivation to go nuclear remains strong, states are likely to find a way to develop [nuclear] capabilities, even if they have to pay a price for doing so. In Iran’s case, the major motivation for going nuclear is to enhance its hegemonic power in the Middle East. . . . But in the case of Saudi Arabia, if strong international powers . . . were to take a harsher stance toward Iran’s regional aggressions and missile developments and were to cooperate in order to improve the provisions of the [2015 nuclear deal], this would most likely have a direct and favorable impact on Saudi Arabia’s calculations about whether to develop nuclear capabilities.

A decision by the U.S. administration (or for that matter any other supplier) to allow Saudi Arabia to have enrichment capabilities will confront Israel with a dilemma.

On the one hand, it has been Israeli policy to do its utmost to deny any neighboring country with whom it does not have a peace treaty the means to acquire and develop a nuclear program. If Israel remains loyal to this approach, it should seek to deny Saudi Arabia enrichment capabilities. In practical terms this would imply making its opposition known in Washington.

On the other hand, given the “tactical alliance” with Saudi Arabia which has been primarily developed in response to the common Iranian threat, Israel could consider sacrificing its long-term interest in denying nuclear capabilities for the sake of its current interest in cultivating relations with the Saudis. Israel, [however], should support the traditional U.S. nonproliferation policies that allow states to have access to nuclear fuel for civilian purposes, while denying them the option to produce it themselves.

Russia Horn threatens to develop nuclear missiles

Putin threatens to develop nuclear missiles banned by US-Russia treaty

MOSCOW: A defiant Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened to develop nuclear missiles banned under a treaty with the United States after Washington gave Moscow a deadline to comply with the key arms control agreement.

The latest spike in tensions came a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would withdraw from a major Cold War treaty limiting mid-range nuclear arms within 60 days if Russia does not dismantle missiles that the US claims breach the deal.

Putin dismissed Pompeo’s statement as a smokescreen, saying Washington had already decided to ditch the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF).

“They thought we would not notice,” the Kremlin chief said, claiming the Pentagon has already earmarked an amount for the development of missiles banned by the treaty.

“We are against the destruction of this treaty. But if this happens, we will react accordingly.”

Putin said about a dozen countries were now producing mid-range missiles of the type banned by the INF treaty.

“Apparently now American partners believe the situation has changed so much that the United States should also have such weapons.

“What will be our answer? A simple one: we will also do this,” Putin said.

In Brussels, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini urged Russia and the US to save the treaty, warning that Europe did not want to become a battlefield for global powers once again, as it had been during the Cold War.

“The INF has guaranteed peace and security in European territory for 30 years now,” Mogherini said as she arrived for talks with NATO foreign ministers.

In October, President Donald Trump sparked concern globally by declaring the United States would pull out of the deal and build up America’s nuclear stockpile “until people come to their senses”.

Putin at the time warned that abandoning the treaty and failure to extend another key arms control agreement known as the New START, would unleash a new arms race and put Europe in danger.

On Monday, the US leader said he wants talks with Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping “to head off a major and uncontrollable arms race”.

Valery Gerasimov, head of Russia’s General Staff, said that Moscow would increase the capabilities of its ground-based strategic nuclear arms.

“One of the main destructive factors complicating the international situation is how the US is acting as it attempts to retain its dominant role in the world,” he said in comments released by the defence ministry.

“It is for these purposes that Washington and its allies are taking comprehensive, concerted measures to contain Russia and discredit its role in international affairs.”

Signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, the INF resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals.

But it was a bilateral treaty between the US and the then Soviet Union, so it puts no restrictions on other major military actors like China.

Pompeo said at a meeting with fellow NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday that there was no reason why the US “should continue to cede this crucial military advantage” to rival powers.

NATO said it was now “up to Russia” to save the treaty.

The Trump administration has complained of Moscow’s deployment of Novator 9M729 missiles, which Washington says fall under the treaty’s ban on missiles that can travel distances of up to 5,500 kilometres (3,400 miles)

The nuclear-capable Russian cruise missiles are mobile and hard to detect and can hit cities in Europe with little or no warning, according to NATO, dramatically changing the security situation on the continent.

US-Russia ties are under deep strain over a number of crises including accusations Moscow meddled in the 2016 US presidential election.

The two Cold War enemies are also at odds over Russian support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.

Washington on Tuesday promised Russia more “pain” if Moscow did not release three Ukrainian vessels and 24 sailors captured off Crimea last last month.

America Prepares for War Against Iran

US sends aircraft carrier to Persian Gulf amid rising tensions with Iran

A small boat passes in front of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, seen anchored of the coast of Faliro, near Athens, on March 29, 2012. (Photo: AP)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – A US aircraft carrier strike group, led by the USS John C. Stennis, is scheduled to arrive in the waters of the Persian Gulf by the end of the week, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

The aircraft carrier had been exercising in the Philippine Sea, off the coast of China. When it arrives off the Iranian coast, that will end an eight month period in which no US carrier group has been stationed in the area.

That is the longest period in 20 years—since the Clinton administration bombed Iraq for blocking UN weapons inspections—in which the US has had no such force in the area.

The Pentagon has sought to reorient US military assets toward Russia and China and away from the Middle East, but the “emphasis at times has appeared out of step with the White House which repeatedly has called Iran a top national security threat,” the Journal noted.

The movement of the carrier group comes amid rising tensions with Iran. Last month, the US imposed tough new sanctions on Tehran’s energy, financial, and shipping sectors, and Tehran, for its part, has warned of retaliatory action.

On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened to halt all oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz.

The US “should know that we are selling our oil and will continue to sell it,” Rouhani asserted, but if the US “wishes to halt Iran’s oil export, then no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf.”

“The great Iranian nation has not bowed and will not bow to the United States,” he affirmed.

Later the same day, Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran, responded, to Rouhani’s threat, telling journalists, “The strait is an international waterway. The United States will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in international waterways.” (Hook earlier criticized Tehran for transferring missiles to militias in Iraq.)

On Saturday, shortly before heading to a NATO meeting in Brussels, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement denouncing a recent Iranian missile test.

Tehran “has just test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile,” capable of carrying multiple warheads, Pompeo stated. “The missile has a range that allows it to strike parts of Europe and anywhere in the Middle East.”

“This test violates UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that bans Iran from undertaking ‘any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons,’” he continued.

Speaking on Wednesday in Brussels, Pompeo added, “Tehran holds multiple American hostages” and has “lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors about its nuclear program.”

He also noted that Iranian banks had been recently disconnected from the payment network known as SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications), which handles most international money transfers.

Meanwhile, the competition for influence in Iraq between Washington and Tehran continues. On Thursday, Iraqi media published photos of Qasim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, meeting with a Sunni religious leader in Baghdad. Iraqi activists provided the pictures and said they were taken on Tuesday.

Eight cabinet-level positions remain unfilled in Iraq’s new government, including the Ministers of Interior and Defense. Parliament failed on Tuesday to approve Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s candidates, as the session degenerated into shouting and even fistfights.

A major source of dispute is the pro-Iranian orientation of the nominee for Interior Minister, and the unwillingness of some parties to accept him, including Sairoon, the largest electoral bloc, led by the Iraqi cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.

Editing by Nadia Riva