Russ Ringsak

NFL, GPS, Richter and Mercalli

January 26, 2010

Our good wishes for Brett Favre brought him little help yesterday. Would that something might be salvaged from the disaster and maybe there will be and I just can't see it yet. My own small benefit is that it brings on another Super Bowl I won't need to watch.

No interest in basketball or hockey any more, either college or pro, and not that much in baseball either. Never watched golf before Tiger and now don't again. Pete Sampras and the Williams sisters were the last interesting tennis players. Lost interest in the crooked-judge era of the Olympics, decades ago, and never went back. Mike Tyson put a lot of us off the boxing game. And now this pretty much does it for me and pro football.

It goes against my grain to spend energy and time on losing causes. Thirty-three years since their last Super Bowl drubbing — by Oakland, 34 to 14, Jan 9, 1977 — and five times to the conference championship since and a loss in every one. As if losing those four Super Bowls was so bitter it would be best to just not go back. No need to tie Buffalo's record.

But wait — there was a high point from the football season. My son took his son to the late-season Vikings drubbing of the New York Giants and they had a great time. They sat next to a couple of Englishmen, one of whom had never seen a real football game. They were chatting it up there in the Dome, noticing this and that on the field and talking about the rules and such, when the beer man came down the steep aisle steps. A man on the other side of them raised his hand and the beer guy poured and passed the big paper cup on down and here it came, hand to hand to hand. And back down the seats came a twenty dollar bill and then back again came the change, hand to hand to hand. The Englishmen were astonished.

"That cup wouldn't have had more than a sip left in it back home at a soccer match," said one, "and precious little money would have made the trip either."

The other spoke this remarkable sentence: "That was the single most civilized act I have ever witnessed."

My son said, "Heck, the same thing would happen at any football stadium in the country."

* * * *

As with FaceBook and Twitter and the rest of it, I don't do GPS. But an article caught my eye last October about the governor of New York wanting approval to make it a criminal charge with jail time and truck confiscation to a driver who hits an overpass. Here is a politician who at least knows who his enemies are. Most drivers have little respect for bigmouth politicians.

The core problem — the physical rather than the political — is the arrival of the GPS into the truck. In New York state there were 1400 'bridge strikes' in the last 15 years, including 46 just last year in suburban Westchester County. And that's as of October. One bridge there has been hit nine times.

My theory is these young guys get hooked on that GPS thing and don't look for the road signs. We old drivers operate under the ancient commandment that says thou shalt read every freakin' sign on the roadway including even unto the mile markers and thou shalt also take specific observance of the vertical clearance of yon overpass. Not unlike the sirens at the island of Scylla, the seductive female GPS voice says "turn right" in a tone that makes the hot-blooded trucker feel like he's heading to her place. Bang. Another low bridge strike.

So they're blaming it all on the lowest guy on the pole, as usual, instead of doing something about a system so garbled and so badly researched as to send an otherwise-legal truck into a low bridge. Time after time.

Not that I've never scraped anything, but even low tree branches get my undivided attention. Bridges built back in the horse years and scarred by a century's worth of tall trailers get my special attention. On a state highway near here there's an old bridge marked 13'-4" but the single warning sign is four city blocks before it, at a downtown intersection slathered with other signs. We regularly see semis stopped just short of the bridge, the driver on the ground or climbing the cab to see if it'll make it. The legal height limit is 13'-6". State highways should be made to clear that. How about jailing highway officials and legislators and impounding their cars?

I think that governor, if he actually wanted to fix a problem, ought to put somebody in touch with the GPS companies and somebody else on the highway itself and see if they can't improve the directions. New York is so plastered with generally worthless signs already maybe a driver would miss one that actually carried useful information. But you won't solve it by jailing a rookie driver or impounding a working truck. That's a fact.

* * * *

Now that I've partially absorbed the Viking disaster in New Orleans I recall a woman calling in to a sports radio station just before the game. She told the guys she didn't really buy into the Saints' campaign saying they needed to win the game because of the Katrina thing, because then why shouldn't the Vikings need to win it because of the Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis?

* * * *

It's seldom that we talk here about real calamity like Katrina or the bridge tragedy, or the immense disaster in Haiti that dominates the news lately. Too large for an ordinary person to grasp, but the recent film of the Cormac McCarthy novel "The Road" surely gave us a jolt of total devastation. One of the best films ever, in my view, and as true to the feel of the book as any ever done.

Which reminds one that when they talk about a bad quake they always say a number and a scale: "It was seven point three on the Richter scale." It's always the Richter but that implies there might be some other scale we'd be imagining our earthquake disasters by and we need to know which scale they're talking about. Does the talking head reading the TV news know about some other scale? Is it metric tons or regular tons or long tons? Is it Richter tons? It's like decibels, right?

They measure it logarithmic, so a 7.0 is ten times worse than a 6.0, which is already ten times worse than a 5.0. Like 90 decibels is ten times more intense than 80 decibels. But they don't say 80 on the decibel scale, it's just 80 decibels. So maybe it should be 7.3 Richters too, unless Richter himself wouldn't allow that.

Anyway, I checked to see if there was some other scale to imagine the cataclysm by. And what a shock. There is one. It's the Modified Mercalli Scale. It was built back in the late 1800s by a Swiss and an Italian, Torel and Rossi, and later improved by Guiseppe Mercalli. The improvement got modified a few times and was finally published in English in 1931 as the Modified Mercalli Scale.

Turns out that there are a number of grading systems in the geologists' world, but here's a little about the Modified Mercalli. It measures not the actual energy released but rather how the witnesses react to the event. And it's in Roman numerals. Like the Super Bowl. The one we're not going to.

A III is: "felt quite noticably indoors, especially on upper floors of buildings, but many people do not recognize it as an earthquake. Standing automobiles may rock slightly."

A V is: "felt by nearly everyone; many awakened. . . pendulum clocks may stop."

A VI however, is: "Felt by all, many frightened and run outdoors. Some heavy furniture moved; a few instances of fallen plaster and damaged ceilings."

In a VII: "Everybody runs outdoors. Damage negligible in buildings of good construction. . ."

In the maximum, the XII: "Damage total. Waves seen on ground surface. Lines of sight and level distorted. Objects thrown into the air."

The Richter scale is newer, developed in 1935 by Charles F. Richter of the California Institute of Technology. It measures magnitude by the seismic waves. It's about the energy and the Mercalli is about the intensity. They mostly just use the Richter now because it's numbers and not Roman numerals. They don't want to say on TV: "It measured a Vee-Aye-Aye-Aye on the Modified Mercalli scale."

"Honey, what's Vee-Aye-Aye-Aye in Roman numbers again?"
"I think maybe it's seven. Or eight. Is the Vee a four or a five? Or do ya subtract the ones? Maybe it's a two, ya think? I'm not sure."

* * * *

It would be trite and perhaps shameful to have a scale to measure the magnitude and intensity of a team defeat and I can't say I'm happy that I even thought of it; but whatever it is, the scale should be logarithmic. No Roman numerals. I'll leave the details of such an irreverency to someone with a stronger stomach.

You'll need it. Especially when the referees are as bad as that bunch were.

© R.Ringsak 2010

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