Anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, in the middle of National Poetry Month

April 18, 2013

This is mostly an encore post.  Is there a good reason Paul Revere made his ride in the middle of National Poetry Month

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April 18 and 19. Do the dates have significance? Paul Revere's ride, from Paul Revere House

Among other things, April 19 is the date of the firing of the “shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots in the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, American Minutemen stood to protect arsenals they had created at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, against seizure by the British Army then occupying Boston.

April is National Poetry Month. What have we done to celebrate poetry?

What have we done to properly acknowledge the key events of April 18 and 19, 1775? Happily, poetry helps us out in history studies. Or it can do.

In contrast to my childhood, when we as students had poems to memorize weekly throughout our curriculum, modern students too often come to my classes seeming wholly unaware that rhyming and rhythm are used for anything other than celebrating materialist, establishment values obtained sub rosa. Poetry, to them, is mostly rhythm, certainly not for polite company, and never for learning.

Poetry has  slipped from our national curriculum, dropped away from our national consciousness.  No national test adequately covers poetry, not in English, not in social studies — certainly not in math or science.

That is one small part of the reason that Aprils in the past two decades turned instead to memorials to violence, and fear that violence will break out again. We have allowed darker ideas to dominate April, and especially the days around April 19.

You and I have failed to properly commemorate the good, I fear. We have a duty to pass along these cultural icons, as touchstones to understanding America.

So, reclaim the high ground. Reclaim the high cultural ground.

Read a poem today. Plan to be sure to have the commemorative reading of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in your classes on April 18 or 19, and “The Concord Hymn” on April 19.

We must work to be sure our heritage of freedom is remembered, lest we condemn our students, our children and grandchildren to having to relearn these lessons of history, as Santayana warned.

Texts of the poems are below the fold, though you may be much better off to use the links and see those sites, the Paul Revere House, and the Minuteman National Historical Park.

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West, Texas disaster: Emergency response can’t save as many lives as prevention

April 18, 2013

West Fertilizer Co. ruins after an April 17, explosion, in West, Texas.  Reuters photo by Mike Stone, via Business Insider.

West Fertilizer Co. ruins after an April 17, explosion, in West, Texas. Reuters photo by Mike Stone, via Business Insider.

A nasty fire, a small, brave band of volunteer firefighters, a commonly-used but very dangerous agriculture chemical, unfortunate winds, inadequate emergency response equipment, and bad siting, seem to have combined to make yet another cautionary tale from yet another explosion disaster in Texas (remembering the natural gas explosion in New London in 1937 that killed 300, mostly school kids, and the Texas City fertilizer explosions of 1947 that killed 576).

133 people were evacuated — safely, we hope — from the nearby nursing home.  The middle school caught fire, and school has been cancelled for at least two days.  166 people are known to have been treated for injuries at hospitals in three or four different counties, in a radius of 100 miles of West.  How many are dead?  That tragic toll is not yet known. (As of noon April 18, wire stories say “as many as 15 killed,” a wonderfully small number considering the size of the blast.

Gov. Rick Perry asks people to pray.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, a good guy, posted a Red Cross help link on his Facebook site — so people can donate blood. (Here’s the link:  http://www.redcross.org/news/article/West-TX-Disaster-Response-FAQs )

My faith in Texas’s governor and attorney general doing the right thing is very, very low.  So I took the opportunity to ask Mr. Watson, on his Facebook site, if more can’t be done, to prevent these disasters and their large impacts.

Is the Attorney General, Greg Abbott, or the governor going to do anything to check on the other fertilizer plants in Texas?  Texas CEQ asks to be alerted if anhydrous ammonia plants are within 3,000 feet of a school.  Two schools, a nursing home, and many homes were well within that radius of West Texas Fertilizer.

The West Disaster should be a lesson — but is anyone in state government learning from it?

Fire departments need special equipment and special training to fight these fires — but Gov. Perry whacked the hell out of the money to pay for volunteer fire departments, like West’s, two years ago.

Mr. Watson, who is looking out for Texans, for our kids, for our businesses and communities?

These disasters are preventable, almost always; there are steps that can be taken to insure that damages and injuries will be kept to a minimum in the event of a disaster.

Who will step up to lead the disaster prevention efforts that were not followed prior to this disaster?

  • School siting needs to be checked, as well as other facilities.  West Independent School District (ISD) has five schools.  Two, the high school and the middle school, were close enough to the fertilizer plant to be damaged.  The middle school’s roof was crushed in by the blast, and heat from the blast appears to have started a fire at the school — it appears a complete loss.  The roof of the new high school collapsed.  At least 40% of the school facilities in West were wiped out.  Had the incident occurred during school hours, the scope of the human disaster would have been incalculable.
    From Google Maps, it’s clear the school is less than 100 feet from the Adair facility, and probably less than 300 feet from the storage tanks that exploded.  Texas Commission on Environmental Quality asks anhydrous ammonia handling facilities to state whether there are any schools within 3,000 feet of the facility, a distance I presume is related to blast radius.   A nursing home, and the town hospital, also were within that radius.  TCEQ rules appear designed to stop emissions of gases that pollute, and not designed to promote safety.  Other than the federal OSHA regulations, it is unclear to me whether any state agency actually looks at safety of these facilities.  If so, they were asleep on this one; this facility was sited in 1962, but even then it was too close to residences and schools.

    English: Firefighters Memorial in Texas City

    Firefighters Memorial in Texas City; the 1947 explosions killed every member of the volunteer fire department. Photo from Wikipedia

  • Fire department fire fighting capabilities and training must be up to date.  West has a volunteer fire department.  Two years ago, at the request of Gov. Perry, state funding to pay volunteer fire fighters, train them, and equip them, was slashed (oddly at the height of wildfire season).  Sad experience in the Texas City disaster should have been a clarion notice to all Texas firefighters NOT to use water to fight fires near or in ammonia concentrations (576 people died in 1947 when water was used in a futile attempt to distinguish fire in a fertilizer loaded ship; water contributes to the explosive qualities of the stuff).  Most volunteer fire departments in these small, agricultural-support towns, will have nothing but water to use to snuff out fires — even if that’s the wrong stuff to use.  In any case, training should be done so that especially volunteer fire fighters know when to run and when to fight, and what to use, when they fight.
  • Ammonia storage tanks and transfer facilities are common in agricultural areas.  How many local governments really have an idea of the dangers inherent with these businesses.  How many other facilities like the one in West are there dotted around Texas, where fertilizer compounds were unloaded from railroad cars and stored, and then loaded into tanks for farmers to take to their fields?

We don’t need to over react.  Compared to, say, gasoline, anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrates are pikers.  Gasoline is more explosive than TNT, loaded with different carcinogens, and its fumes are toxic to almost all forms of life.  And yet we safely move millions of gallons of the stuff every day, and you sit with about 12 gallons of the stuff under the rear seat of your car.  Hazardous substances can be handled safely.

Safe handling of hazardous and poisonous materials requires thought, education, and the spreading of information.

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‘Twas the 18th of April in ’75 . . . (Paul Revere’s Ride, 243rd anniversary)

April 18, 2013

The annual reminder:

Paul Reveretonight’s the anniversary of his famous ride.

John Copley's painting of Paul Revere

Paul Revere, 1768, by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)

John Copley painted all the bigwigs of revolutionary Boston, including this portrait of the famous horse-mounted alarm before he turned older and grayer.

And as April 18 is the anniversary of Revere’s ride, April 19 is the anniversary of the “shot heard ’round the world.”

Both events are celebrated in poetry; April is National Poetry Month. This could be a happy marriage for history and English classrooms.

Teachers, this is your cue to break out the Longfellow and Emerson and Whitman, and tie them together in the thread that runs from the French and Indian War clearly through the American Civil War, and we might hope, to today.  Give the kids some culture to get their mental juices flowing for the tests.

National Poetry Month 2013 poster

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