James Madison’s birthday, March 16

March 15, 2008

James Madison, portrait from Whitehouse.gov, and Wikimedia

Freedom of Conscience Day?

James Madison’s birth day is March 16, Sunday. He was born in 1751, in Conway, King George County, Virginia.

Father of the Constitution, fourth President of the U.S., Great Collaborator, and life-long champion for religious freedom and freedom of speech, press and thought: How should we mark his birthday?


War on Science: CDC publishes suppressed study

March 15, 2008

On the eve of a major conference on health effects of DDT, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control published a study it had suppressed for several months, detailing pollution effects in the Great Lakes area. The author of the study, demoted but still outspoken, was grudgingly granted permission to attend the Kenaga International Conference on DDT and Health, which opened yesterday at Alma College in Alma, Michigan.

Alma Conference logo

Science won the skirmish, getting the study pried out of CDC. News coverage of the conference stopped short of spectacular so far: Only local Michigan media outlets provided coverage. If we won the war, but no one knew . . . ?

The Morning Sun suggested that further studies of health effects in the area are required, and that no successful cleanup of a toxic site is ever done without health studies showing the need.

[Jane] Keon[, chairwoman of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force] hasn’t read the entire report but did read the portions about Gratiot County.

“There’s no new information, and everything mentioned is well-known and verified by ATSDR and CDC,” she said. “I understand that in addition to 200 researchers and much peer review the report data was reviewed by state and local health departments in the areas of concern without the complaint that the science was weak.

“We in the task force view the report as further proof that a full-blown health study is needed in Gratiot County. From our own studies we also know that communities with contaminated sites that have a health study to point to get very thorough cleanups, while communities that do not have a health study do not get thorough cleanups.”

The task force has twice applied for grants to perform a comprehensive local heath study but were turned down both times.

“The reasons offered (for rejection) seemed lame and illogical,” Keon said. “One time we were told that we didn’t have enough data, and yet that is why we desired the health study – to have a scientific collection of data.”

A citizens’ group in Washington, D.C., the Center for Public Integrity, obtained a copy of the study last year and made it available on the internet. There is no indication I can find of whether there were changes made in the study between the leaking and the formal publication.


Astronomy Day, May 10: Sponsors needed!

March 15, 2008

In all of Texas, only residents of El Paso have a sponsor for Astronomy Day activities (participating astronomy groups are the Gene Roddenberry Planetarium, El Paso Astronomy Club, and Junior League of El Paso, meeting at El Paso Desert Botanical Gardens at Keystone Heritage Park). Celebrate Astronomy Day on Saturday, May 10, 2008.

Why is this a big deal?

National Astronomy Day 2008 poster

Chiefly because I know there are students in Lubbock, Odessa, Killeen, Houston, Galveston, Victoria, Beaumont, Tyler, Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and San Antonio — plus starry spots in between — who should have a chance to see some stars on National Astronomy Day.

Plus, Astronomy Magazine has a deal with Meade Instruments 4M to give away a telescope at each sponsored site.

We need a sponsor here in Dallas!

“The Meade Instruments 4M Community will donate an ETX-80 telescope for each venue to give away and also provide a 8-inch LX 90 for the grand prize — Astronomy will pick the grand-prize winner from names collected at each venue.”

Where can you view? Check Meade’s site for a list of physical sites participating on May 10. Check Astronomy Magazine for an interactive map of sites.

Astronomy Day is a grass roots movement to share the joy of astronomy with the general population – “Bringing Astronomy to the People.” On Astronomy Day, thousands of people who have never looked through a telescope will have an opportunity to see first hand what has so many amateur and professional astronomers all excited. Astronomy clubs, science museums, observatories, universities, planetariums, laboratories, libraries, and nature centers host special events and activities to acquaint their population with local astronomical resources and facilities. It is an astronomical PR event that helps highlight ways the general public can get involved with astronomy – or at least get some of their questions about astronomy answered. Astronomy Week is the same concept as Astronomy Day except seven times long.

Novices get a chance to look at the stars, and one person at each site wins a telescope; one person in the nation gets a very nice 8-inch telescope. What are your chances? Last year 28 telescopes were given away; there were 3,700 people who registered to win the things.

Just for looking at the stars! What a deal.

Who will sponsor more sites? Where is the Texas Astronomical Society? The Fort Worth Astronomical Society? How about the Olympus Mons Astronomical Society (at UT-Arlington)? The Lockheed-Martin Astronomy Club?


Ann and Molly

March 15, 2008

I miss Ann Richards.

Ann Richards with her motorcycle
Photo of Ann Richards with her motorcycle, from the Texas State Library & Archives Commission, Prints and Photographs Collection

Here’s an excerpt from Molly Ivins’ column of September 18, 2006, the week after Ann died.

She knew how to deal with teenage egos: Instead of pointing out to a kid who was pouring charcoal lighter on a live fire that he was idiot, Ann said, “Honey, if you keep doing that, the fire is going to climb right back up to that can in your hand and explode and give you horrible injuries, and it will just ruin my entire weekend.”

She knew what it was like to have four young children and to be so tired you cried while folding the laundry. She knew and valued Wise Women like Virginia Whitten and Helen Hadley.

At a long-ago political do at Scholz Garten in Austin, everybody who was anybody was there meetin’ and greetin’ at a furious pace. A group of us got the tired feet and went to lean our butts against a table at the back wall of the bar. Perched like birds in a row were Bob Bullock, then state comptroller, moi, Charles Miles, the head of Bullock’s personnel department, and Ms. Ann Richards. Bullock, 20 years in Texas politics, knew every sorry, no good sumbitch in the entire state. Some old racist judge from East Texas came up to him, “Bob, my boy, how are you?”

Bullock said, “Judge, I’d like you to meet my friends: This is Molly Ivins with the Texas Observer.

The judge peered up at me and said, “How yew, little lady?”

Bullock, “And this is Charles Miles, the head of my personnel department.” Miles, who is black, stuck out his hand, and the judge got an expression on his face as though he had just stepped into a fresh cowpie. He reached out and touched Charlie’s palm with one finger, while turning eagerly to the pretty, blonde, blue-eyed Ann Richards. “And who is this lovely lady?”

Ann beamed and replied, “I am Mrs. Miles.”

One of the most moving memories I have of Ann is her sitting in a circle with a group of prisoners. Ann and Bullock had started a rehab program in prisons, the single most effective thing that can be done to cut recidivism (George W. Bush later destroyed the program). The governor of Texas looked at the cons and said, “My name is Ann, and I am an alcoholic.”

She devoted untold hours to helping other alcoholics, and anyone who ever heard her speak at an AA convention knows how close laughter and tears can be.

One to make history, one to record it.

I miss Molly Ivins.

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