Saving Texas’s only natural lake

August 3, 2007

Aptly named, Salvinia molesta threatens to choke Caddo Lake to death. As Caddo Lake is the only natural lake in Texas, and a site of outstanding beauty and great natural treasure, the friends of Caddo Lake are fighting back.

Spraying Salvinia molesta on Caddo Lake - NY Times photo by Michael Stravato

The New York Times features a lengthy story on the lake and the fight to save it in this week’s Science section (July 31, 2007 – Science is part of the Times every Tuesday).

Every Texas social studies teacher should know Caddo Lake and its stories as well as anything else. It’s the stuff memorable classes are made of.

1. It’s the only “natural” lake in Texas, though it is formed by a dam. The “only honest lake in Texas,” in the local lingo. The original lake was formed by a monumental log jam on the Red River, probably trees blown down by a massive hurricane several hundred years ago.

2. Caddo Lake is named after the Caddo Tribe, the tribe whose word for friend, “tejas,” gave the state its name. (See my earlier post on Caddoland.)

3. Caddo Lake straddles what was once “no man’s land,” or the Neutral Territory, a buffer zone between English/French, then American, and Spanish, then Mexican settlements. It was a haven for criminals, scalawags, filibusterers and revolutionaries. The area plays a large role in the decades of fighting to steal Texas from the Spain, and later from Mexico. Texas history is much better understood when one knows the lake.

4. Caddo Lake once was the means to make Jefferson, Texas, a port city. Until Col. Shreveport dynamited the logjam that made the lake in 1873, Jefferson was a bustling center of commerce. Today Jefferson boasts some wonderfully preserved historic remnants of that era, many converted to bed and breakfast inns, a great weekend getaway. Fishing is good, photography is great.

5. Ladybird Johnson was born nearby, and her family still lives in the area.

6. The Hughes Tool Company had its beginnings on Caddo Lake, where Howard Hughes, Sr., tested his drill bit, “the rock eater,” designed to cut through mud and rock to where the oil was; this is the home of the fortune that Howard Hughes, Jr., inherited, to build to one of the greatest fortunes in the world. That the younger Hughes was a rake, a mechanical genius, an air pioneer, daring movie producer, and weird as hell only makes the story better. Hughes named his movie production company after the lake, Caddo Productions.

6. Contrary to most of Texas’s political leanings, local people around Caddo Lake have rallied to efforts to protect the lake and conserve its rare beauty. The area is designated for protection as a Ramsar Treaty critical wetlands site — a designation that most conservative Texans ridicule and fear (at one point the Texas Republican Party platform opposed conservation easements to protect the lake bizarre). Latter-day Caddoans welcome the designation, and when we toured the area they sang the praises of Don Henley, the rock and roll musician who is aiding their efforts to save the lake. It’s an odd combination for any political work — uniquely Texas. (Here’s your chance to play the Eagles for your classes, teachers!)

7. When it comes to Texas botany, zoology, and biology in general, Caddo Lake provides the local angle for water quality, water shortages (one proposal is to steal water from the lake for Texas cities far away), wildlife management, and of course, the invasion of exotic species.

8. Everything about this area screams Texas quirkiness. Uncertain, Texas? An often-told story (accurate?) is that when the town applied for a post office, there was a dispute about what to call the town. The fellow who filled out the application wrote “uncertain” in the blank for the town’s name — and that’s how the U.S. Postal Service approved it. Another story holds that the name “Uncertain Landing” caught on because the landing was treacherous mooring for boats. You got a better story about your town’s name? I doubt it.

Save the article from the Times, teachers! You’ll be glad you have it later this year.

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Heather Burcham, 31 — campaigner for HPV vaccinations

August 3, 2007

Then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry introducing Heather Burcham to Texas reporters, in Austin, Texas, Feb. 19, 2007 (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry introducing Heather Burcham to Texas reporters, in Austin, Texas, Feb. 19, 2007 (AP Photo/LM Otero, via Houston Chronicle)

From The Dallas Morning News of July 25, 2007:

Heather Burcham, HPV vaccine advocate, who died July 21, 2007

Face of state’s HPV vaccine debate dies from cervical cancer

Burcham worked to keep girls from getting cancer that killed her

08:20 AM CDT on Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Associated Press AUSTIN – The 31-year-old woman who put a human face on the state debate over whether to require that schoolgirls be vaccinated against the virus that causes cervical cancer has died from the disease.

* * * * *

Earlier in this year’s legislative session, Ms. Burcham spoke to reporters about the issue at Mr. Perry’s request. She also tried to testify before a House committee considering the vaccine ban, but the hearing ran so late that she was unable to stay at the Capitol.

In a news conference to announce that he would not veto the bill, Mr. Perry closed with a video of Ms. Burcham speaking from her hospice bed.

With oxygen tubes snaking out of her nose, she spoke of the pain she had endured for four years. She also mourned for the husband she’ll never meet and the children she’ll never raise. “If I could help one child, take this cancer away from one child, it would mean the world to me,” she said. “If they knew what I was going through, how incredibly painful that this was … then I feel like I’ve done my job as a human on this earth.”

The governor said that Ms. Burcham “was intent on making a difference. Her life, she said, would not be in vain.”

The strains of HPV that the vaccine prevents cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. But opponents said the vaccine was still unproven, and some objected to a state mandate involving a sexually transmitted virus. Mr. Perry’s order would have allowed parents to decline to have their daughters inoculate.


I post this notice more than a week late. A discussion at Pharyngula revealed that many people either had not learned from the Texas discussion, or had already forgotten the key points. Then Only Crook provided the link to a homeschooler’s rant against the vaccine (read, “in favor of our children getting cancer”). Dear Reader: Remember Heather Burcham, and remember the facts about HPV vaccines.

Heather Burcham waiting to testify to the Texas lege

A thumbnail version of Heather Burcham’s photo by Eric Schlegelman

Update September 23, 2011:  Lots of hits on this post today, probably because of the association of Rick Perry with this issue.   Welcome, new readers.  I regret that the larger version of the photograph of Heather Burcham, by Eric Schlegelman of the Dallas Morning News, is no longer available at their website, to which I linked.  If you need a photo to publish, I urge you to contact the paper or Mr. Schlegelman to get a copy.

Quote of the Moment: “What is an American?” – Ferrara

August 3, 2007

This was written by Peter Ferrara, who was then an associate professor of law at George Mason University’s law school; it appeared in National Review Online on September 25, 2001, just two weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center.  Ferrara has moved from George Mason, but his opinion piece lives on.

Copies of the article circulate around the internet, claiming to have been written by an “Australian dentist,” or by some other non-American — to add authenticity, I suppose.  Here is the original, attributed the real author, as best I can determine.  


What is an American?  A primer 

ou probably missed it in the rush of news last week, but there was actually a report that someone in Pakistan had published in a newspaper there an offer of a reward to anyone who killed an American, any American.

So I just thought I would write to let them know what an American is, so they would know when they found one.

An American is English…or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek. An American may also be African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Iranian, Asian, or Arab, or Pakistani, or Afghan.

An American is Christian, or he could be Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim. In fact, there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan. The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them choose.

An American is also free to believe in no religion. For that he will answer only to God, not to the government, or to armed thugs claiming to speak for the government and for God.

Read the rest of this entry »

Instapundit plays politics with Iraq policy

August 3, 2007

Glenn Reynolds wants to be able to blame Democrats regardless what happens in Iraq. Instapundit jumps on a stretched, absurd claim that Democrats will “be in trouble” in the 2008 election if the surge in Iraq works.

Santayana’s ghost laughs.

First, one needs to remember what happened to George Bush I, whose approval ratings were north of 80% at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War, which liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. On February 28, 1991, George H. W. Bush looked to be a solid lock for winning the 1992 election campaign.

Bill Clinton defeated Bush handily just 22 months later. Among many other factors, with the nation not focused on war in the Middle East, the economy became a key issue. There are a few people deep in Democratic strongholds who are cynical enough to say the Iraq War could have been over by the end of 2003, but Karl Rove wanted a war to be sure Bush won in 2004, Rove having observed the lessons of 1992.

Read the rest of this entry »

Disasters, on sale

August 3, 2007

Cover of NYTimes book on disastersFollow-up on yesterday’s post on disasters:  Looking at the sale books at the New York Times site, I discovered this one on sale:  The New York Times Book of Natural Disasters.  $8.48, while supplies last.

Tuesday’s Science sections in the Times are weekly delights.  This series of books on one topic contains several that I use regularly (especially archaeology and fossils).  Generally these books hold some of the best articles by the stable of thoroughbred science writers on the topic at hand.

Did I say “science?”  Social studies teachers need to know science, too.

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