Monday, March 11, 2013

The Aesthetics of Earthquakes in Southern California

Well we finally had a decent earthquake after a long time. Not that great, but a 4.7 which is just ok. About 60 miles away. Pffft.  One good shock.  Is that it, I thought?  That's all you got?  Definitely not enough.

I may as well tell you that I have been very disappointed by the earthquakes I have experienced in S. California since I came back from the East Coast. Let me be blunt guys, its for your own good.  S. California is less than the East Coast in almost any measure one can use, its crummy weather, its crummy non-transit system.   Its failure to deal with civic planning.  The only thing it has going for it imho is earthquakes and a few other things like surfer girls and beachside Mexican restaurants.

Before I left for NY and Aspen in 1994 or so, I could count on a solid interesting earthquake every few months. One that would rattle the house, rattle the windows, annoy the dogs and set off the happy chirping of car alarms up and down Lookout Mountain. It was the car alarms and the barking that convinced the observer that the earthquakes were real and not just the result of a happy dream.

But since I have returned that old earthquake magic seems to be gone.  Dried up. Every once in a while  a dreary little rumble is felt, occasionally a shock to the house, more your imagination than anything substantial.

What happened?

No one knows. No one asks, No one cares.  Its like the rest of Los Angeles.  Dreary devolved robots, joyless, idealess, soulless.  Going through the motions.  Hoping that nothing will shatter the fragile illusion of normality that they clutch to their bosom so tightly.  That nothing will happen to make them fall into the abyss like so many of their friends, screaming soundlessly into the night, and then gone forever.

What constitutes a good earthquake? 

1. The earthquake should have structure, periods of intensity, periods of quietness. It shouldn't just be on and off.  One boom equals boring.  No, there should perhaps be a solid and dramatic initial shock to get your attention, then perhaps an anticipatory pause, then a good solid series of shakes building in amplitude to the point where you wonder if you should get out of bed to stand underneath a door jam. Then a pause again, and a few more shakes as a finale. Many variations on this theme are possible, this is not a hard and fast prescription. The general principle is that a good quake will reveal a structure and not just be one blow.

2. The earthquake should have solid aftershocks. After the main quake, in a minute or two, or five, or an hour, there should be another good earthquake or two. More than one if possible. Maybe not as ambitious and complicated as the first one, these could indeed be just one shock without structure, but an aftershock or two.  (1)

3. The house should demonstrate harmonics and vibrations. You should hear windows rattle, doors creak, and see or hear other examples of wave interactions.

4. The neighborhood should come alive with noise. Dogs barking, car alarms going, wind chimes chiming, radio announcers announcing.

MCA/Universal's Masterpiece starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner

5. Going beyond "good" to "excellent", an excellent earthquake should be violent.  It should wake you up and make you think.  It should make you wonder if this is it, if this is when you die, or someone you know dies, your existence forever extinguished.   An excellent earthquake makes you think about your own mortality.

6. After "good" and "excellent" of course is "Apocalyptic".    The "Wrath of God" Earthquake.  The one like the one you saw in disaster movies, but without the happy ending and Charlton Heston.   The earthquake that announces the "Last Days".  The one that demands your complete attention.  The one that does more than shake up your day.  The one that lasts a minute or two or five, is off the Richter scale, and leaves Los Angeles flattened, an even 1.5 or so feet of crushed plaster, with an oil derrick or two sticking out of the ruins and millions of BMWs, Mercedes, Lexus and Acura's alarms demanding attention but getting none until they finally run their battery down and one by one go silent.

Miles and miles of cars protruding above the crushed plaster, silent, motionless.

They stand silent forever, monuments to the shallow greed and the shallow graves of their former owners.

Soon, maybe, soon.

[Of course we do not really wish for the Apocalyptic earthquake to happen anytime soon, at least not until all the people we care about have sold their property in LA and moved out, especially the surfers and people who run beachside Mexican Restaurants. ]


LA Times Article on Today's Earthquake:

Information on 4.7 Earthquake

Information on All Recent Earthquakes

Earthquake (1974) on IMDB


1. The managed news media in S. California tells me that there were over 100 aftershakes after the one this morning.  Well, maybe.  But if so, I did not feel a *single* one.

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