Giant spider community – in Texas, of course

August 30, 2007

Bug Girl has all the details — spiders being closer to her blog’s core topic — but this news is just about 90 minutes from here, much closer for North Dallasites.

Giant web at Lake Tawakoni State Park, Texas - Star-Telegram photo

Did you see the giant web at Lake Tawakoni State Park? It was on the CBS Evening News tonight, and it’s all over the blogs today. The Washington Post has this delightful quote (delightful to those of us who think of all the West Nile virus that won’t be spread):

“At first, it was so white it looked like fairyland,” said Donna Garde, superintendent of the [Lake Tawakoni State] park about 45 miles east of Dallas. “Now it’s filled with so many mosquitoes that it’s turned a little brown. There are times you can literally hear the screech of millions of mosquitoes caught in those webs.”

Ah, the screech of millions of mosquitoes, about to be eaten.

Map to Lake Tawakoni State Park, from Dallas

By the way, DDT kills these spider very well. DDT spraying, in such a case, is a favor to the mosquitoes — spiders can be significant contributors to pest control.

See Bug Girl’s post for all the science — her post is practically a lesson plan just waiting to be downloaded.

And, it’s pronounced tuh-WOK-uh-nee. Named after a local tribe of Native Americans, “a Caddoan tribe of the Wichita group.”

Life-saving mine communicators: No deal, operators say

August 30, 2007

Via The Pump Handle, a very good blog on public health issues, we get an article by Tom Bethell noting that a revolutionary mine communication system saved 45 lives in Utah during a mine fire in 1998.  Unfortunately, most U.S. mine operators refuse to use the system, including the Crandall Mine in Huntington Canyon, Utah, where nine miners have died in the last three weeks.

Bethell is an old United Mine Workers Union writer, and might be considered biased because of his past affiliations.  However, I’ve watched his work since I staffed the Senate committee that dealt with mine safety, and my experience is that his work is very good, tilted toward workers and increased safety for very good reasons.

Bethell’s article ran in the award-winning weekly newspaper, The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Kentucky — operated by Tom and Pat Gish since 1956.   Though nominally a small-town weekly, the newspaper’s influence is multiplied by solid reporting and followup on stories and issues that are vital to the local community.  Coal mining is a big part of life in that area of Kentucky.

I cannot improve on Bethell’s writing, nor on the drama his story has naturally from its topic and the tragedy it reveals.  Bethell’s article is below the fold:

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Historic moment: Texas commutes a death sentence

August 30, 2007

Gov. Rick Perry commuted a death sentence today. This is the first commutation in eight years so close to an execution. Any commutation recommendation is rare in Texas.

Is this just one commutation, or does it signal a change?

Gov. Perry’s press release:

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Preacher looks again: Did Hubble kill God?

August 30, 2007

Sometimes religion and science don’t clash at all.


Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image Reveals Galaxies Galore

[Update February 17, 2015:  Real Live Preacher is a dead blog.  Author Gordon Atkinson now writes here (and other places you can find from there); but most of these links won’t work.  My apologies for the passage of time . . .]

Unlike the last time we visited this remarkable photograph, some people of faith look at it and see beauty, insted of seeing conflict between reality and their holy books.

I know of a Real Live Preacher who doesn’t abuse the science in finding a religious message in the photo.

Image of man and stars, from Real Live Preacher

So first vertigo, then panic, then longing. After that I generally calm down a bit. My tiny mind and delicate emotions cannot bear even my small thoughts of the universe for more than a few minutes. I relax. Sometimes a shrinking reality can be a comfort. My sins, the things that I have done wrong and the ways that I cannot be what I should be, also shrink. I feel I can forgive myself for them, small man that I am. Why the hell not? Look at the size of the universe!

This forgiveness is the Grace that Christians speak of. The main story of our faith tells us that we must be forgiven and can be. Funny how it takes science to bring that reality to my guts.

For some reason, this experience always ends with a crazy happiness that I cannot easily explain. I become giddy with the knowledge that ultimate reality is so far beyond our grasp. This lets me off the hook, to a certain extent. We’ll never know reality. We’ll never even map our solar system, you and I. We’re small people, but we have grasped the idea of existence. We know love, seek knowledge, and recognize goodness and evil.

Our saintly scientists, single-minded and incredibly committed to the search for truth, draw down amazing pictures from the ancient light in the sky. These pictures help me to know that it is okay to be nothing more or less than what we are.

One might visit Real Live Preacher just for the art, too (see sample above). A remarkable site.

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