February 2023 in review

February might be short, but small packages may hold surprises

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

The economy

Inflation is slowly declining and the unemployment rate in February was the lowest the USA has seen in over 50 years.

Eggs dominated headlines. And family budgets.

Toward the end of the month, almost 4,000 cases of violations of child labor laws were reported. A variety of companies, from meat-packers to warehouses and factories have been employing children – even for night shifts. You can see more on this story here.


Here in western Washington, we had the driest January ever – with less than half of the average for the month. February was also dry – for February.

Nation-wide, February gave us temperatures in the 80s (F) in some states, with record-setting cold and snowfall in nearby areas. Snow on the famous Hollywood sign was just one indicator that this winter was anything but normal.

Frost quakes?

No, it’s not some kind of cold breakfast cereal, it’s a seismic event technically called a cryoseism, and they can happen when water underground freezes quickly and expands during a cold snap.

It has to get far below freezing for that to happen – which it did across New England and much of the Mid-West. It was so cold in fact that sap inside of trees can expand to the point of trees exploding.

New Hampshire’s Mount Washington felt more like Mars than planet Earth as wind chills dipped below an unimaginable minus 110 degrees, a new record for the coldest wind chill ever recorded in the US. On Mars that same week temperatures on the surface reached a balmy high of 16 degrees and a low of minus 105.

Balloons over us

In news that veered into the shrill, ridiculous and, at times comical, you couldn’t miss the story of the Chinese “weather” balloon that floated over US territory in early February.

That same balloon drifted over a corner of Canada without incident. And another Chinese balloon crossed over Latin America. And, as we found out recently, several other such balloons drifted over the USA in previous years – with no detection and no interference.

This particular balloon was part of a fleet of balloons that have been hovering over at least forty other nations on five continents.

Balloons have been used by students, researchers, scouts and amateur radio groups (among many others) for years.

In 2023, we see them as threats.


Microsoft released its AI-powered Bing search engine and Edge browser which will incorporate CHATGPT technology to deepen the possibilities of online searches, give more complete answers, and offers a new chat experience combined with the ability to generate (relatively) original content. You can see details here.

Google and Meta announced similar programs. What will we do with all of that intelligence?

Disease in Pierce County

Other parts of the country might have COVID or flu seasons, but we in Pierce County have tuberculosis – and seem to be proud of it.

Tuberculosis (TB) might be curable and preventable, but that didn’t stop one infected patient from refusing any treatment and multiple court orders to self-isolate.

TB is the 13th leading cause of death around the world. You can see the WHO fact sheet on TB here.

Who would ever imagine a situation where an ill person would refuse reasonable, proven and appropriate health care? And be willing to go to jail instead? Apparently that’s just how we do things here.

Disasters here and abroad

On February 3, approximately 50 train cars derailed in East Palestine, a small village near the Ohio–Pennsylvania border with a population of 4,800 residents. Out of the 141 cars on the train, 20 were carrying hazardous materials, with 14 of them carrying vinyl chloride.

Vinyl chloride is a colorless and flammable gas, and exposure to it has been associated with an increased risk of liver, brain and lung cancers, along with lymphoma and leukemia. When vinyl chloride is burned, like it was during the release, it produces chemicals such as hydrogen chloride and phosgene.

Phosgene was used “extensively” as a weapon during World War I, according to the CDC. Exposure to phosgene can lead to coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting and even death.

The fumes and leakage impacted five states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. That watershed supplies more than 5 million people with drinking water.

That derailment was, and will continue to be, catastrophic, but not rare. As of mid-February, the US Bureau of Transportation reported at least twelve derailments, about two each week. Longer term statistics show 54,539 train derailments between 1990 to 2021, an average of 1,704 per year.

Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

A series of earthquakes along a fault line impacting at least ten cities in Turkey and Syria hit beginning on February 5. A minimum of 6,000 buildings collapsed killing around 50,000 in both countries. That region is at an intersection of continental fault lines.

Politics in February?

Don’t we get any relief from national politics in February? We used to.

Former South Carolina (and first female) governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is running for President and is the first Republican candidate to challenge her previous boss, former President Donald Trump. In her opening candidacy, she described herself as someone who could win the popular vote. Republican candidates, she emphasized, have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. In short she indicated, as a woman, a minority, a self-made person, with an immigrant background, she embodies everything America used to represent.

Former President Trump has announced that, if re-elected, he would consider firing squads, hangings, and the guillotine, possibly even group executions, should he win in 2024.

Besides wanting to “sunset” Social Security and institute a 30% nationwide sales tax the GOP seems determined to maintain its record in terms of the popular vote.

Rupert Murdoch under oath

Rupert Murdoch, Fox News Channel’s controlling owner, admitted, as part of a lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems in a $1.6 billion defamation suit, that his network advocated election-denial lies that they, in their private statements, knew were false, both for ratings and fund-raising.

To put it simply, a “news” organization that puts profits and publicity above truth and integrity is not worthy of the name.

Good-bye to Dilbert

The once popular office-cubicle comic strip “Dilbert” by Scott Adams was abruptly cut by its distributor and about a hundred newspaper chains and publishers across the country after Adams called Black people “a hate group” and urged white people to “just get the hell away” from them during a YouTube livestream. Adams, besides writing cartoons, had a prominent online presence. Only time will tell if this is yet another case of “cancel-culture” or a good, if not necessary business decision.

February Holidays

Besides being the shortest month, February has some very strange holidays. Valentine’s Day is, for guys at least, the most uncomfortable holiday, fraught with all kinds of complications and interpretations alien to the male brain.

The other holiday that February holds is Presidents Day. To put it mildly, most of us do not hold current or former presidents in the positions of unadulterated honor that we once did. Most of us got the day off, but aren’t sure what we should do with it.

Over Presidents Day weekend we heard of former President Jimmy Carter, at age 98, going into hospice care at home.

US President Biden met, in Ukraine, with Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) resurrected her calls for a “national divorce”. Apparently she was not aware of the price her home state paid for that exact sentiment about 150 years ago. She also wants her “part” of the separated states of America to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day. Maybe she should review the “one nation, indivisible” section.

NARCAN vending machine in Tacoma’s Moore Library

Along with books and videos, patrons at local libraries can get a dose of NARCAN (aka naloxone) in the event of a perceived opioid overdose.

Naloxone has no effect on someone who doesn’t have opioids in their system and is not a treatment for opioid use disorder. It is used to reverse an overdose. Naloxone cannot be used recreationally.

NARCAN is also available at a few other sites in Pierce County. It has also been available in many other cities and states for several years.

Do we need it?

Drug poisonings and opioid-related emergencies have increased dramatically in Pierce County (and the rest of the country) over the last several years. Opioid-related overdose (mostly due to fentanyl) is the most common cause of accidental death here in Pierce County, outnumbering vehicle collisions and firearm deaths. You can see the numbers on local opioid deaths here.

Local crime

Seattle violent crime hit a 15-year high according to a study released in the middle of February. Most of the crime increase is related to homeless encampments. One has to wonder what the presumed causes were in 2008.

And local dysfunction

Pierce County is one of four counties in Washington with an independent county-run ferry system. That system, or at least the Pierce County version of it, came to a grinding halt for mechanical reasons for several days at the end of February. The ferry is the only connection between Anderson Island and the rest of us. A passenger ferry was called into service on an emergency basis.

Paying for social media?

Apparently taking a cue from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have set up an enhanced aspect (for a fee). We will see if many social media users are willing to pay for the privilege. So far, it does not look like it.

And in even more news we never would have expected

A hybrid breed of super pigs—a mix of a domestic pig and a wild boar—has been running wild in Canada. And now they are making their way to the United States – mostly to Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Michigan. These are cold-tolerant, omnivorous and superintelligent creatures that excel in evading hunters and eating almost anything. Bred by farmers in Canada, they were let loose as the market declined. Now they are on their way to a neighborhood near you.

Maybe we shouldn’t resurrect the woolly mammoth.