Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tornado 101


©2013 by LeeZard
The Moore Tornado
We all have a respectful, fear-filled fascination with tornadoes and with good reason. Mondays top-of-the-scale EF-5 twister, two miles wide, hit Oklahoma City and roared through suburban Moore with top winds in excess of 250 MPH.
Tornadoes are one of nature’s most unstoppable forces, right up there with earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, blizzards and hurricanes. The thing about tornadoes, though, is that they are the most severe weather event possible and they occur a heckuva lot more often than other natural disasters. According to the National Weather Service there were 939 tornadoes in the U.S. last year, killing 553 people. The Moore tornado took 24 lives and left $6-billion worth of damage in its wake.
Moore, OK
Under the right conditions, tornadoes can happen anywhere on the planet - and they do. Ironically, in the early 1990s I was at a convention of the American Meteorologist Society in Anaheim, CA when a twister touched down near our hotel. Even though it was several blocks away it sounded light a freight train running right through my room. As a side note, this event furthered the legend that wherever the AMS meets, strange weather happens.


No place on earth suffers through more tornadoes, however, than America’s aptly named Tornado Alley which begins in central Texas and stretches northward into Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, and eastward into central Illinois and Indiana. The region’s weather and topography create the perfect breeding ground for these monster storms.


The Rocky Mountains block moist air from flowing eastward. This clears the way for frigid Arctic air to stream south from Canada over the Great Plains, where no mountains or forests can thwart a twister. These cold blasts then run into warm, humid air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. When these cold and warm air masses collide, they cause powerful rotating updrafts and downdrafts that can create dangerous thunderstorms known as "supercells," which in turn spawn powerful tornadoes.

Despite all the technology at their disposal, forecasters still have a tough time predicting the where and when. Residents of Moore had a little over 30-minutes to prepare for the onrushing disaster. The average warning time is actually less than half that. According to Popular Science:
“Hurricanes and blizzards show up on satellites days beforehand, but the conditions that favor tornados appear much more quickly and unexpectedly. Their paths are smaller and they last for shorter periods of time, so predicting any particular tornado requires a fine-grain understanding that's more difficult for scientists.”
I don’t know about you but I am very glad I did this research. I will be driving into the belly of the beast in June to visit my friends who live one hour north of Oklahoma City and help them with the wheat harvest. The good news is that the residents of Tornado Alley know what to look for under certain conditions and their awareness goes to its highest level.
The Los Angeles Times quotes one Tornado Alley resident:
"When spring comes, you watch the sky, and you learn the signs," he says. "First, bad storms have a certain look: Ominous, dark clouds, often with an odd greenish tint, which can indicate hail. Then, a sudden temperature drop — it can be near 100 degrees and sweltering one minute, almost cold the next. And most chilling of all, a stillness that's like nothing else I've ever experienced: From strong winds whipping the trees to a clammy calm in seconds. If you weren’t afraid before, you are then."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Inferno


©2013 by LeeZard
Two words immediately come to mind when I think about Dan Brown’s latest book Inferno, formulaic and enlightening. Formulaic because hero Robert Langdon hooks up with a beautiful young woman (again) and, utilizing his didactic memory and world-renowned knowledge of art and symbolism, (again) travels through Europe hunting a threat to mankind. Enlightening because Brown includes historical references and current scientific theory to further his story.
None of the above should be construed as negative criticism. Brown is so good at his craft that he makes the formula work (again). I sped through the 461 pages in two-and-a-half days. And, despite the formula, Brown includes enough twists and turns as the novel reaches its climactic conclusion to keep the reader turning the pages. It works.
I won’t give away enough to spoil your enjoyment of Inferno. Hopefully I will give away enough to make you want to read this enjoyable thriller.
The book’s title refers to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, his vision of Hell in The Divine Comedy. The central plot revolves around the very real probability that the human population will one day outstrip the earth’s ability to support it. The ensuing chaos would be beyond catastrophic. Hero Robert Langdon is searching for a genetically engineered “solution” created by a supposedly mad genius that decides to take matters into his own hands. The genius uses Dante’s classic work as the metaphor for his solution and Dante's Death Mask as a map to its location.

Dante's Death Mask
I’ll leave the synopsis there; it spoils nothing for you.
As for the book’s enlightenment, it is nearly as enjoyable as the plot. Brown informs us at the outset that, “All artwork, literature, science and historical references in this novel are real.” There is a dazzling array of those references - too many to enumerate here. Suffice it to say for starters that he takes us on art and architectural tours of such places as Florence, Venice and Istanbul. Add to that the science and politics behind population growth and control and you can find plenty to learn in Inferno.
St. Mark's Basilica in Venice plays a key role in Inferno




If you liked/loved any (or all) of Brown’s previous books, you will feel the same about inferno. If you’ve never read his books, Inferno will probably make you want to go find them.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Life After Life


©2013 by LeeZard

It’s true; you reach a certain age and you do start to contemplate mortality. Not that I’m obsessing (although LeeZard does have the obsessive gene); I just haven’t reached that stage yet.
But, I had a dream last night and, while it didn’t get me on the mortality train, it did open discussion on a subject I rarely even consider. Are you ready? I am talking about life after life (as I prefer to call it - so much more positive).
The dream was about my late, wonderful pal Brando-the Wonder-Dog (http://leezardonlife.blogspot.com/2011/11/2011-by-lee-somerstein-brando-wonder.html?zx=cc93a7f38b29e815). Even more than two-years after I had to put him down, Brando is often in my conscious thoughts. And, he has appeared in a dream or two but not like last night.
In my dream, I was on a crowded beach with lots of family and friends (currently dead and/or alive). I was off toward the water with a ball to throw into the ocean for my two dogs, Trooper (alive and well today) and the late, great Brando. For most of the dream I threw the ball into the water and Brando, way over at the other end of the beach, took off like he always did as if he were shot from a cannon.
While he never actually brought the ball back to me, another one always appeared in my hand and we would repeat the process. Finally, at the end of the dream, Brando is walking at my side as we approach my large group of family and friends spread across many beach blankets. While I don’t remember exactly what I say to the group it immediately becomes apparent that none of them see Brando; only I can see him. That’s when I woke up.
I’m sure Freud, Jung, et al would have a field day with this but I’ve never been one for dream analysis. I subscribe to what is called The Absence of (Dream) Theory. According to Psychology Today, the Absence of Theory contends that:
“Dreams are the random firings of a brain that doesn't happen to be conscious at that time. The mind is still ‘functioning’ insofar as it's producing images, but there's no conscious sense behind the film. Perhaps it's only consciousness itself that wants to see some deep meaning in our brains at all times.”
At first waking - without thinking intellectually about the dream - I felt a surge of sadness for my lost buddy, my eyes filling with tears. After explaining the dream to Wende, however, her take on it had me thinking quite differently.
She said, “I think Brando was visiting you, checking in to see that you were ok.” In a way, that made perfect sense; that was Brando’s full-time job when he was alive, to keep a constant, caring and protective eye on me. That is the way of German Shepherds.
As I am apt to do, I quipped, “When I die, I want to go to doggie heaven.” As she is apt to do, Wende ignored my quip and went on to remind me of an old Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode in which an old man is walking slowly along an isolated country road with his dog at his side.
Suddenly and angel appears before him and tells him it is his time to go to heaven. Upon reaching the Gates of Heaven, though, he is stopped and told his dog is not allowed in. Resolutely, the man turns and walks away, unwilling to leave his faithful friend.
The Twilight Zone twist was that the angel was really the devil in disguise, trying to lure him into hell. How could anyplace be heaven without dogs?
“That’s fine,” I said to Wende, “assuming you actually believe there is a heaven.”
Without hesitation she replied, “I do. I think you go to a place where all your people (and pets) are and you get to be with them forever.”
I’m not ready, however, to make that leap of faith. In fact, getting back to my opening paragraph, I’ve only recently thought of my mortality and only once or twice about any possibility of an afterlife.
I guess once you realize you are indeed mortal you start to explore the idea -nay, the hope - that maybe there is something beyond life after all. I’ve reached that point in my life.
Dante's Divine Comedy by Giovanni di Paolo (1403-1482)
Here’s my theory (or is it my hope?). Firstly, I do not accept the traditional Judeo-Christian concepts of Heaven (and Hell). In each of us is that “life form” or energy. Some call it our soul. And I believe this is so for the higher animal species as well.  Whatever you want to call it, I don’t believe when the human “carbon-based unit” ceases to function that the life force dies as well. I can’t tell you what happens next but, I am certainly not alone.
Elisabeth Kubler Ross, in her seminal book On Death and Dying, says:
Death is simply a shedding of the physical body like the butterfly shedding its cocoon.  It is a transition to a higher state of consciousness where you continue to perceive, to understand, to laugh, and to be able to grow.”
My views are closer to those of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. According to Chapter Two, Verse Twenty of the Hindu Bhagavad Gita:
“The soul never takes birth and never dies at any time nor does it come into being again when the body is created. The soul is birthless, eternal, imperishable and timeless and is never terminated when the body is terminated.”
And, from Buddhanet.net:
“Most religions believe that the core of the person, the real person, is the soul, a non-material and eternal entity that survives in the afterlife. Buddhism on the other hand says that the person is made up of thoughts, feelings and perceptions interacting with the body in a dynamic and constantly changing way. At death this stream of mental energy is re-established in a new body. Thus Buddhism is able to explain the continuity of the individual without recourse to the belief in an "eternal soul", an idea that contradicts the universal truth of impermanence. The circumstance into which one is reborn is conditioned by the sum total of the karma created in the previous life.”
What do YOU think? Is there something else out there or does it just end?