Hey, Congress! Fix the roads!

April 24, 2014

Just a crazy idea, I know: But do you think Congress could pass a bill to help the states fix potholes in federal highways, make the thousands of decrepit bridges, safe, and put a few thousands of people to work?

Economist wrote:

ONLY the drunk, they say, drive in a straight line in Chicago. The sober zigzag to avoid falling into the city’s axle-breaking potholes. This year the craters, caused by continual freezing and thawing, are worse than ever, and the spring thaw has brought three times the usual number of complaints from citizens.

As winter retreats, holes in roads and budgets are being revealed—especially in midwestern states, which were hit hard by the polar vortex. Those states with money have made emergency appropriations for repairs; those without will have to cut summer programmes. This means not mowing the grass in parks or picking up litter. It also means delaying resurfacing of highways or fixing guard rails, and putting off capital spending.

Looking after America’s roads is a persistent headache. Although $91 billion is spent on them every year, that is nowhere near enough to keep the country’s 4.1m miles (6.6m km) of public roadways in good nick. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion in capital investment is needed every year. Last year a report from a civil-engineering group said that 32% of America’s major roads were in poor or mediocre condition. Main roads through cities were in worst shape: almost half the miles travelled over urban interstates in 2013 were a bumpy ride. Ray LaHood, a former transport secretary, thinks the roads are probably in the worst shape they have ever been.

Is it too big a stretch to go back to the hopes in 2009, that we might get a jobs bill to fix this stuff?  Yeah, it’s 2014 — and the roads, and the American people, need a jobs bill more than ever.

Photo from The Atlantic

Photo from The Atlantic

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BLM’s statement on Red River management

April 23, 2014

You may have missed the press statement the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued yesterday, in response to press requests following the release of a letter from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.  Here it is.

On the Record

The BLM is categorically not expanding Federal holdings along the Red River.  The 140-acres in question were determined to be public land in 1986 when the U.S. District Court ruled on a case brought by two private landowners, each seeking to adjust boundary lines for their respective properties.  The BLM was not party to any litigation between the landowners.  The 140-acres were at no time held in private ownership.

On Background

During Westward expansion of the country, Texas and Oklahoma disputed their state line, particularly in relationship to where it fell on the Red River.  Once oil and gas was discovered, the dispute was elevated.

In 1923, the Supreme Court made a final determination on the State line and also clarified ownership by private landowners on each side of the river.  Subsequently in 1981 and 1984, Texas and Oklahoma landowners challenged this finding in U.S. District Court as it related to their private property and the changing course of the river.  In both cases, the District Court echoed the Supreme Court determination regarding private boundaries, ruling that the Oklahoma private landowner held property to the center of the river while the Texas landowner’s boundary stopped at the ordinary high water mark.  In 1986, the U.S. District Court established that the 140-acres are public lands.

The BLM is currently in the initial stages of developing options for management of public lands in an area that includes the Red River.  This is a transparent process with several opportunities for public input.

This issue has moved mostly underground, on radical right-wing on-line media, and Facebook and Twitter.

FYI.


A lot of people reading Piketty — the right ones? Enough to matter?

April 23, 2014

An article in the Washington Post calls Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, a “runaway best seller.”

Have you read it?

Thomas Piketty - Professor of Economics, Paris School of Economics; photo from The Next Deal

Thomas Piketty – Professor of Economics, Paris School of Economics; photo from The Next Deal

Are you aware of the contents?

Are the right people reading it — especially GOP Members of Congress whose minds need to be changed?  Or, are enough people reading it to make a difference in American politics?

There are presses cranking it out in the United States, India and Britain, and the book is in at least its fourth run. Even though the book was already a hit in its native France, it’s now taking off among English readers around the world, said Donnelly. She expects that sales in China, Hong Kong and Japan will also soon follow.

Piketty, already widely cited for his work on income inequality, has clearly touched a nerve. The book argues that the underlying mechanisms of capitalism tend towards massive inequality. Piketty argues that the era between 1930 and 1975 — often hailed for the way in which wealth was broadly shared — was actually a departure from the norm. That period of economic growth, he says, was the result of unusual circumstances like World War II, a global depression and the government’s actions in the aftermath of those events: strong policies raising taxes and increasing regulation. But now, with many of those policies rolled back, societies are reverting back to extreme inequality.

What do you think, read it or not?

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Dark Sky Week, Lyrid meteor shower – get outside!

April 23, 2014

From the Arches National Park Facebook page:  photo of Pine Tree Arch by Andy Porter)

From the Arches National Park Facebook page: photo of Pine Tree Arch and meteoroid by Andy Porter)

A few minutes before 9:00 p.m. Central on Tuesday, I saw a sizable fireball falling north to south, appearing from my vantage on the top of Cedar Hill to be over south Grand Prairie, Texas.  Best meteoroid I’ve seen for a while.

Part of the Lyrid Meteor Shower, perhaps?  The Lyrids coincide with Dark Sky Week this year.  Dark Sky Week’s egalitarian origins should inspire all of us to go outside and look up, no?  The celebration was invented by a high school student, Jennifer Barlow, in 2003.

I want people to be able to see the wonder of the night sky without the effects of light pollution. The universe is our view into our past and our vision into the future . . . I want to help preserve its wonder.” – Jennifer Barlow

The International Dark Sky Association promotes activities worldwide to encourage star-gazing and sky-watching.

Go out tonight, and look up!

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2014: STILL, again, Earth Day/Lenin hoax trotted out: Earth Day honors Earth, our majestic home — not Lenin

April 22, 2014

This is mostly an encore post, repeated each year on April 22 — sad that it needs repeating.

You could write it off to pareidolia, once. Like faces in clouds, some people claimed to see a link. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, coincided with Lenin’s birthday. There was no link — Earth Day was scheduled for a spring Wednesday. Now, years later, with almost-annual repeats of the claim from the braying right wing, it’s just a cruel hoax.

No, there’s no link between Earth Day and the birthday of V. I. Lenin:

One surefire way to tell an Earth Day post is done by an Earth Day denialist: They’ll note that the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, was an anniversary of the birth of Lenin.

Coincidentally, yes, Lenin was born on April 22 (new style calendar; it was April 10 on the calendar when he was born — one might accurately note that Lenin’s mother always said he was born on April 10).

It’s a hoax. There is no meaning to the first Earth Day’s falling on Lenin’s birthday — Lenin was not prescient enough to plan his birthday to fall in the middle of Earth Week, a hundred years before Earth Week was even planned.

About.com explains why the idea of a link between Earth Day and Lenin is silly:

Does Earth Day Promote Communism?
Earth Day 1970 was initially conceived as a teach-in, modeled on the teach-ins used successfully by Vietnam War protesters to spread their message and generate support on U.S. college campuses. It is generally believed that April 22 was chosen for Earth Day because it was a Wednesday that fell between spring break and final exams—a day when a majority of college students would be able to participate.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the guy who dreamed up the nationwide teach-in that became Earth Day, once tried to put the whole “Earth Day as communist plot” idea into perspective.

“On any given day, a lot of both good and bad people were born,” Nelson said. “A person many consider the world’s first environmentalist, Saint Francis of Assisi, was born on April 22. So was Queen Isabella. More importantly, so was my Aunt Tillie.”

April 22 is also the birthday of J. Sterling Morton, the Nebraska newspaper editor who founded Arbor Day (a national holiday devoted to planting trees) on April 22, 1872, when Lenin was still in diapers. Maybe April 22 was chosen to honor Morton and nobody knew. Maybe environmentalists were trying to send a subliminal message to the national subconscious that would transform people into tree-planting zombies. One birthday “plot” seems just about as likely as the other. What’s the chance that one person in a thousand could tell you when either of these guys were born.

My guess is that only a few really wacko conservatives know that April 22 is Lenin’s birthday (was it ever celebrated in the Soviet Union?). No one else bothers to think about it, or say anything about it, nor especially, to celebrate it.

Gaylord Nelson, Living Green image

Inventor of Earth Day teach-ins, former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson

Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, usually recognized as the founder and father of Earth Day, told how and why the organizers came to pick April 22:

Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an “environmental teach-in.” He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet; it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events—so he chose Wednesday, April 22.

In his own words, Nelson spoke of what he was trying to do:

After President Kennedy’s [conservation] tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called “teach-ins,” had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me – why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.

Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:

“Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems…is being planned for next spring…when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’…coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned….”

Nelson, a veteran of the U.S. armed services (Okinawa campaign), flag-waving ex-governor of Wisconsin (Sen. Joe McCarthy’s home state, but also the home of Aldo Leopold and birthplace of John Muir), was working to raise America’s consciousness and conscience about environmental issues.

Lenin on the environment? Think of the Aral Sea disaster, the horrible pollution from Soviet mines and mills, and the dreadful record of the Soviet Union on protecting any resource. Lenin believed in exploiting resources, not conservation.

So, why are all these conservative denialists claiming, against history and politics, that Lenin’s birthday has anything to do with Earth Day?

Can you say “propaganda?”  Can you say “political smear?”

2014 Resources and Good News:

2013 Resources and Good News:

Good information for 2012:

Good information from 2011:

Good information from 2010:

2014’s Wall of Shame:

2013 Wall of Shame:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2012:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2011:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2010:

Spread the word.  Have you found someone spreading the hoax, claiming Earth Day honors Lenin instead?  Give us the link in comments.


April 19, 1775: Battle at Concord Bridge

April 19, 2014

Battle at Concord Bridge, April 19, 1775; National Guard Heritage Painting

Battle at Concord Bridge, April 19, 1775; National Guard Heritage Painting by Dominick D’Andrea.

For a story of the battle, and why the National Guard considers this part of its history, check out this story by Amelia Meyer at the National Guard Educational Foundation.

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Darwin’s death, April 19, 1882, and his legacy today

April 19, 2014

This is an encore post.

We shouldn’t pass April 19 — a day marked by significant historic events through the past couple hundred years — without remembering that it is also the anniversary of the death of Darwin.

Charles Darwin in 1881, by John Collier

Charles Darwin in 1881, portrait by John Collier; after a Collier painting hanging in the Royal Society

Immortality?  Regardless Darwin’s religious beliefs (I’ll argue he remained Christian, thank you, if you wish to argue), he achieved immortality solely on the strength of his brilliant work in science. Of course he’s best known for being the first to figure out that natural and sexual selection worked as tools to sculpt species over time, a theory whose announcement he shared with Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently arrived at almost exactly the same theory but without the deep evidentiary backup Darwin had amassed.

But had evolution turned out to be a bum theory, Darwin’s other works would have qualified him as one of the greatest scientists of all time, including:

Darwin's theory set out a sequence of coral re...

Darwin’s theory set out a sequence of coral reef formation around an extinct volcanic island, becoming an atoll as the island and ocean floor subsided. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

US Geological Survey graphic demonstrating how coral atolls form on the sinking remains of old volcanic sea mounts, as Darwin described. Wikimedia commons image

  • World’s greatest collector of biological samples:  During his five years’ voyage on HMS Beagle, Darwin collected the largest collection of diverse plant and animal life ever by one person (I believe the record still stands); solely on the strength of his providing actual examples to the British Museum of so much life in so many different ecosystems worldwide, before he was 30 Darwin won election to the Royal Society.  (His election was engineered partly by friends who wanted to make sure he stayed in science, and didn’t follow through on his earlier plan to become a preacher.)
  • Geology puzzle solver:  Coral atolls remained a great geological mystery.  Sampling showed coral foundations well below 50 feet deep, a usual limit for coral growth.  In some cased old, dead coral were hundreds of feet deep.  In the South Pacific, Darwin looked at a number of coral atolls, marvelous “islands” that form almost perfectly circular lagoons.  Inspired partly by Lyell’s new encyclopedic review of  world geology, Darwin realized that the atolls he saw were the peaks of volcanic mounts.  Darwin hypothesized that the volcanoes grew from the ocean floor to the surface, and then the islands were colonized by corals.  The round shape of the volcano gave the atoll its shape.  Then the volcanic mounts eroded back, or sank down, and corals continued to grow on the old foundations.  It was a perfectly workable, natural explanation for a long-standing geologic puzzle.  (See Darwin’s monograph, Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs.)
  • Patient watcher of flowers:  Another great mystery, this time in biology, concerned how vines twined themselves onto other plants, rocks and structures.  Darwin’s genius in designing experiments shone here:  He put a vine in his study, and watched it.  Over several hours, he observed vine tendrils flailing around, until they latched on to something, and then the circular flailing motion wrapped the tendril around a stick or twig. Simple observation, but no one had ever attempted it before.  (See On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants.)
  • Champion of earthworms, and leaf mould:  Darwin suspected the high fertilizer value of “leaf mould” might be related to the action of earthworms.  Again, through well-designed experiments and simple observation, Darwin demonstrated that worms moved and aerated soil, and converted organic matter into even richer fertilizer. (See The Formation of Vegetable Moulds Through the Action of Worms.)
  • Creation of methodological science:  In all of this work, Darwin explained his processes for designing experiments, and controls, and made almost as many notes on how to observe things, as the observations themselves.  Probably more than any other single man, Darwin invented and demonstrated the use of a series of processes we now call “the scientific method.”  He invented modern science.

Any of those accomplishments would have been a career-capping work for a scientist.  Darwin’s mountains of work still form foundations of geology and biology, and are touchstones for genetics.

Born within a few hours of Abraham Lincoln on February 12, 1809, Darwin survived 17 years longer — 17 extremely productive years.  Ill through much of his life with mystery ailments, perhaps Chaga’s Disease, or perhaps some other odd parasite or virus he picked up on his world travels, Darwin succumbed to heart disease on April 19, 1882.

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