Sliding scales

YOU MIGHT HAVE thought that our February 28 earthquake merited suitably world-class respect with its 6.8 rating on the Richter scale. Problem is, as newspapers and broadcasters discovered, that number doesn't seem so impressive compared to the destruction wrought by the 6.5 magnitude Northridge, Calif., quake of '94 or the 7.2 shock Kobe, Japan, suffered in '95. Worse yet, for non-science geeks, the Richter scale is a log scale, with each one-point increment being 10 times more powerful than the last—easy for Gary Locke to understand, but what about the rest of us? Fortunately, several other lesser-known scales make it simpler for laypeople to compare severity. Here's how we rate:

The Nesbitt Scale: Developed by Atlanta word processor Lois Nesbitt, this enumerates the number of typos caused in a given Word document by tremors. We get a 6.

The Melnick Scale: Originated by a Bay Area postman, this quantifies the number of drinks necessary to steady one's nerves after a big tremor. (The number after the decimal point indicates beer chasers.) We get a 4.6.

The Kinsey Scale: This little-known guide from the work of sex-researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey counts the number of postquake instances in which scared, relieved survivors—overjoyed to find themselves alive and unscathed—suddenly feel the immediate need to have sex with a co-worker beneath a conference table. We get a 34.

The Brown Scale: Thanks to San Francisco's effusive Mayor Willie Brown, the number of official mayoral hugs dispensed to shaken citizens is now an accepted barometer of trauma. (Nontelevised and nonphotographed hugs do not count.) We get a 112.

The Nudelman Scale: Devised by New Jersey housewife Mrs. Arthur Nudelman in 1962, this open-ended scale measures the precise number of tchotchkes that fall off the mantelpiece during a quake. We get a 3.

The Motherf*%#@r Scale: Popular and reliable, requiring no complicated scientific instruments or calculations to measure, this tally counts the number of "motherf*%#@rs" iterated in phrases like "We're all going to die in this motherf*%#@ing quake!" We get a 4,765.

The Mae Phim Scale: Newly developed with our own Nisqually earthquake, this records the quake-caused delay, in minutes, between ordering and receiving Thai food at the famously brusque and efficient Columbia street eatery. We get a zero.


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