Golly! Gollum jade plant

February 19, 2017

Yeah, like that Gollum.

In the sun, it’s a pleasant meditation on green luminescence.

Gollum jade plant

Gollum jade plant, Crassula ovata ‘Gollum,’ one of our indoor collection.

I know way too little about this thing, where it grows wild, why it evolved such unique leaves. But the sunlight passes over and through it as if they are old friends, and that gives me peace.

A single branch of Gollum jade. Photo by Ed Darrell, please share with attribution.

A single branch of Gollum jade. Photo by Ed Darrell, please share with attribution.

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Annals of Global Warming: Mexican plums blooming early in Dallas

February 17, 2017

Spring comes a few hours earlier every year as the planet warms; plants that used to blossom in March and April, now blossom in February. Mexican plum blossoms in Dallas, Texas, February 17, 2017. Photo by Ed Darrell, please share with attribution

Spring comes a few hours earlier every year as the planet warms; plants that used to blossom in March and April, now blossom in February. Mexican plum blossoms in Dallas, Texas, February 17, 2017. Photo by Ed Darrell, iPhone 6; please share with attribution.

Spring comes earlier every year in Dallas. Our Mexican plums used to blossom in March and April; for the past three years, we’ve had blossoms well before spring even comes. Last year we had a cold snap that took the young fruit out, after a premature blossoming.

It’s a sign of creeping global warming. Every year I marvel at Al Gore’s powers to convince our Mexican plum to blossom early, part of the “global warming conspiracy” so many fear.

That is, this is a symptom of global warming that cannot be faked, that is from observation, and not from models.

With flowers on fruit trees come hopes of a bountiful harvest. Dreading the underlying meaning of such an early blossom does not change our hopes, nor the birds’ hopes, for a good plum harvest.

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February 15 is Shoulders of Giants Day

February 15, 2017

February 15th is Shoulders of Giants Day (unless you’re still on the Julian calendar).

Or should be. 

Famous quotations often get cited to the wrong famous person. ‘Somebody said something about standing on the shoulders of giants — who was it? Edison? Lincoln? Einstein? Jefferson?’  It may be possible someday to use Google or a similar service to track down the misquotes.

The inspiration, perhaps

Robert Burton, author of "Anatomy of Melancholy"

Robert Burton, melancholy scholar at Oxford

A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself.

Robert Burton (February 8, 1577-January 25, 1640), vicar of Oxford University, who wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy to ward off his own depressions

The famous quote

Sir Isaac Newton, by Sir Godfrey Keller, 1689

Sir Isaac Newton, by Sir Godfrey Keller, 1689

If I have seen further (than you and Descartes) it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

Sir Isaac Newton, letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675, Julian/February 15, 1676, Gregorian

Newton consciously paid tribute to others who had plowed his science fields before, even if he came up with different crops, er, answers. All science is based on something that comes before it, and in the modern world science advances, oddly, by trying to disprove what scientists thought happened before.

But the sentiment applies equally well in business, in politics, in raising children. We are products of what we learn, and what we learn is a result of culture, which is a result of history. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

It’s our job to try to see farther, and not just look down, at how far up we are.

Someone will ask (since we so often discuss it), ‘can we fly our flags today?’

Of course you may fly your U.S. flag today. It’s not a day designated by law, but you may fly it in honor of Sir Isaac Newton’s letter if you wish. The U.S. flag code suggests times Americans may fly their flags, but does not require it, nor does law forbid flying the flag for other occasions, or just for every day.

Maybe better, climb to the top of the flag pole. What can you see, aided by a giant’s height?

Other references:

Inscription on the edge of Britain's 2-pound coin; in this photo, four coins are used, to show the entire inscription. Flickriver image

Inscription on the edge of Britain’s 2-pound coin; in this photo, four coins are used, to show the entire inscription. Flickriver image, 1875Brian

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience. But, nanos gigantum humeris insidentes.

 

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Suicide with DDT: DDT can kill humans

February 13, 2017

Label on a can of DDT. BigPictureEducation image

Label on a can of DDT. BigPictureEducation image

It’s a footnote, but an important one right now, when the anti-science, anti-environmental protection, anti-learning wing of American culture again gears up to attack the memory of Rachel Carson, the science findings that led to the ban on crop use of DDT in America, and upon health care and medicine and science in general.

DDT kills. DDT can kill humans.

Daily Beast, usually a sober-enough, accurate enough online news organ that has absorbed the old print magazine Newsweek, recently carried a column by Paul Offitt, repeating the hoax claims that DDT was banned contrary to science, by a conspiracy of power-made environmentalists, that DDT is harmless to humans, and that had DDT not been banned, millions of humans would have survived malaria.

Long-time readers of this organ know each of those points is false, hoaxes ginned up to impugn science, leftists, environmental protection, or just for the hell of it. Offitt’s is just the first of several of these hoax-based articles which will cause us all grief this spring, I predict.

Probably the most difficult-to-explain hoax claim is the one that says DDT is “harmless” to humans.

DDT usually doesn’t come in a dose great enough to kill humans outright.  That should not be mistaken for safety. DDT was known to kill early on, and as it turns out, it has become a method of human suicide across Asia. Unfortunately for policy study, those cases rarely get reported in science journals.

Some medical researcher should study the issue, to determine how widespread DDT suicide might be, what physicians do to save a person so poisoned, if they ever can. And I often wonder, is any suicide by insecticide reported as “DDT,” though it may be some other toxin?

I stumbled across the story of a DDT suicide in India some time back. It was a short report. I found no follow ups.

Some time ago I was surprised to hear an author talking about DDT suicide, which she had mentioned in one of her stories. The story was published in The New Yorker, “A Sheltered Woman.” The magazine interviewed the author, Yiyun Li; Li explained why she mentioned DDT suicide in the story.

This week’s story, “A Sheltered Woman,” is about a baby nurse named Auntie Mei, a Chinese immigrant who has established a solid career for herself looking after infants and their breast-feeding mothers in the Bay Area. When did the character of Auntie Mei first come to you?

A year ago, while rummaging through old things, I found a notebook that I had bought at a garage sale in Iowa City when I first came to America—I had paid five cents for it. The notebook was in a good shape; though it remained unused. A character occurred to me: she paid a dime and asked if there was a second notebook so she did not have to have the change back. Such greed, the character said, laughing at herself. From that moment on I knew I had a story.

Auntie Mei keeps a distance between herself and her charges, rarely staying longer than the first month of a baby’s life and establishing an orderly regime in the households she enters. Yet her disciplined approach starts to falter when she’s faced with Chanel, a disgruntled young mother, and her son. Why is Chanel able to unsettle Auntie Mei? Did you know this would happen when you starting thinking of the way the two characters would interact?

Auntie Mei’s life has a reliable pattern: the moment she enters a house to take care of a new set of mother and infant she can already see the exit point. But any pattern is breakable. When I started the story, I knew that the situation would change for Auntie Mei. Chanel, by not being ready to be a mother, forces Auntie Mei into a dilemma: When the baby in her charge is not loved by his parents, should she step in and offer her love? And what danger would she find herself in if she does not suppress that love?

You said in a recent interview that your characters don’t struggle as immigrants but are concerned rather with internal struggles and with the problems they’ve brought with them from China. That’s certainly the case here, where Auntie Mei is haunted by the legacy of the two women who raised her, her mother and her grandmother, who rejected the men in their lives. Does Auntie Mei’s childhood reflect anything in particular about Chinese-village life? Could you imagine a similar situation had she grown up in America?

Part of Auntie Mei’s childhood reflects Chinese-village life. For instance, her mother threatened to kill herself with DDT. DDT was banned in the United States in 1972, but, when I grew up, it was widely used in China, and, in the countryside, suicides by DDT were common. The peculiarities of Auntie Mei’s grandmother and mother would have been less readily accepted had she grown up in America, or even in a big city in China. However, Auntie Mei’s struggle is not specific to China. I imagine it’s a situation that can happen in any country. Our knowledge of history in general is limited, but at least there are historians who strive to enlighten the public. The murkiest history is within one’s own family, and oftentimes things remain unexplored and unsaid, and what is said may be misrepresentation or even distortion. Auntie Mei is not alone in her struggle with a shadowy past. In fact, I wonder how many people are truly exempted from the past.

One more anecdote, but one we may put stock into. DDT suicide is a thing. DDT can kill humans acutely, when the dose is great enough. Statements that DDT is harmless are inaccurate.

It’s a good short story, by the way.


No, Rachel Carson didn’t cause an increase in malaria; bonus film to WGBH American Experience “Rachel Carson”

February 7, 2017

Rachel Carson at a microscope, American Experience/RetroReport image. Did Carson's work cause an increase in malaria? Is she to blame for continued malaria deaths? No, answers a short film bonus to "Rachel Carson," the 2017 PBS film.

Rachel Carson at a microscope, American Experience/RetroReport image. Did Carson’s work cause an increase in malaria? Is she to blame for continued malaria deaths? No, answers a short film bonus to “Rachel Carson,” the 2017 PBS film.

A straight up, historic look at the question of Rachel Carson’s fault in stopping malaria.

Anti-environmentalists and corporate hoaxsters argue that Rachel Carson should be blamed for an imaginary increase in malaria deaths, after the U.S. banned DDT use on crops.

In conjunction with WGBH’s American Experience film on Carson released early in 2017, this short film focusing on malaria as a continuing plague puts to rest the idea that Carson should be blamed at all.

Soaking in the bathtub, we find the film not strident enough in defense of Carson; but for those strident nuts who claim Carson a murderer, it may have some good effect. And of course, you, intelligent dear reader, will be persuaded more gently.

Where malaria is the question, DDT is not the answer. Where malaria still exists, it’s not Rachel Carson’s fault.

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Quote of the moment: Ali, ‘said I was the greatest even before I was’

February 3, 2017

Muhammad Ali, mural on business building on west Commerce Street, Dallas, Texas. Photo, Creative Commons copyright by Ed Darrell.

Muhammad Ali, mural on business building on west Commerce Street, Dallas, Texas. Photo, Creative Commons copyright by Ed Darrell.

It’s a tribute to self-confidence, a motivational-poster caption with a hundred different photos just featuring Muhammad Ali.

On the mural, Ali is quoted, I said I was even before I knew I was.” Here’s the more commonly-accepted version:

“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.”

Can you guess? It’s difficult to pin down a solid attribution for the quote. I have little doubt he said it — but can someone say where?

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Quote of the moment: Ann Richards, open doors of government, let people in

February 1, 2017

Texas Gov. Ann Richards in the Governor's Office, with the motorcycle she got on her birthday. Texas State Library image.

Texas Gov. Ann Richards in the Governor’s Office, with the motorcycle she got on her birthday. Texas State Library image.

Sarah Weddington wrote:

Ann now rests at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Her grave marker reads, “Today we have a vision of a Texas where opportunity knows no race, no gender, no color—a glimpse of what can happen in government if we simply open the doors and let the people in.”

Weddington wrote a remembrance to Richards in The Texas Observer, October 12, 2012. This quote comes from Richards’s speech at her inauguration as Texas Governor, January 15, 1991.

Richards served Texas as governor, 1991 to 1995.

Let the sunshine in, then!

Texas Gov. Ann Richards's grave marker in the Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas, reverse. Quote comes from her 1991 inaugural address. Image from Findagrave.com

Texas Gov. Ann Richards’s grave marker in the Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas, reverse. Quote comes from her 1991 inaugural address. Image from Findagrave.com

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