Encore Post: Constitution Day!

September 17, 2008

Are you ready for it, teachers?

Howard Chandler Christy's painting of the Scene at the Signing of the Constitution

2008: I wasn’t ready to blog about it today.  Texas requires one day of instruction on the Constitution in every social studies class.  In government today, it happened to fit.  We discussed the Constitution earlier in world history, and we will return to it at various points through the year.

From the technology labs of John McCain

September 17, 2008

Al Gore bravely fought to save ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, and for his efforts got a campaign to turn his good work into a joke by Karl Rove and Bush campaign, in 2000.

John McCain’s tech guy claims McCain had role in inventing the Blackberry.

Obama laughed it off.

There’s a difference between Democrats and Republicans.  Have you noticed?

A day in the life of a teacher: One more life saved

September 17, 2008

Some do, some teach, some teach and do.

Kudos to Coach Russ Henrie in Delta, Utah (one of my mother’s home towns), for knowing CPR, and delivering it at a crucial time.

John Stossel: Wrong again, on DDT

September 17, 2008

John Stossel’s new book makes a detour to rail against the regulation of DDT and against Rachel Carson and her book, Silent Spring.

I’ve not read the book, but from what I’ve read about it, he’s got it dead wrong.  If the example offered by Grokmedia is their own, and not Stossel’s, shame on them.  (Stossel’s complained about DDT before, though, and gotten the facts as wrong as Grokmedia has them.)  The claims are unbelievable:

Consider the chemical DDT. I’m sure, if you’ve heard anything at all about DDT, it’s that it’s a horrible, deadly chemical, that must be banned to preserve the public’s safety. The truth is, the only thing DDT affects are mosquitos. Not humans. In fact, I’m old enough to remember trucks pulling through our neighborhood and spraying the stuff into the air, like gigantic clouds, bringing death – to the mosquito population. These clouds of DDT harmed no one. There were no great increases in any kind of cancer or other fatal diseases – and certainly none that could be associated with DDT. Enter the book, Silent Spring.

A woman by the name of Rachel Carson wrote a book that vilified DDT, and blamed our love of chemical solutions for her own cancer. (She died of breast cancer two years after the publication of her book.) Silent Spring is almost single-handedly credited with triggering a worldwide ban on DDT. The result of this ban has been, paradoxically enough, millions of deaths in countries like Ethiopia, where malaria kills due to mosquito infestations. U.S. aid policy bans sending money to any country that chooses to spray with DDT.

How did Silent Spring cause this wave of destruction? Marketing. The book was marketed by it’s publishers. The marketing efforts attracted the attention of a mainstream media hungry for stories that scare the populace to death. The unwashed masses Demanded That Something Be Done. Politicians, eager to grandstand (and free of conciences that might give them pause to think about the Law of Unintended Consequences) passed laws, and that was that.

Here’s what I wrote in comments to the post at Grokmedia, which appears to have gone into their own hell for any post that disagrees with their views:

Stossel said that about DDT?  Once again, he’s gone off the rails.

Do you seriously think that a book publisher with its meager PR budget could derail a multi-billion-dollar pesticide manufacturing industry that was led by several of America’s top 100 corporations?  Do you think corporations are really that incompetent at the public relations game?

The truth is that DDT was banned because of its harm to the environment, not due to its dangers to human health (though, to be perfectly accurate we should note that every cancer-fighting agency on Earth says DDT is a probably human carcinogen, and recent research has strengthened the links between cancer in people exposed to DDT in their mother’s breast milk and in utero, and that DDT is now known to be a rather nasty endocrine disruptor in all animals).  More than a thousand studies confirmed the dangers of DDT to birds and other predators higher up in food chains, especially in estuarine waters.

No one passed a law banning DDT.  If the action was popular, that was beside the point.  In 1962, in response to the half-million-dollar slander campaign against Carson by the pesticide manufacturers (don’t take my word for it — look it up), President Kennedy asked his Science Advisory Council to scrutinize the book.  In May 1963 they reported back that Carson was correct on all counts but one — they said Carson went too easy on the dangers of DDT, and that action needed to be taken right away to stop its use.  Kennedy dallied, however, and did little before he died.

The “ban” on DDT came nearly a decade later, in 1972.  It was not due to any “junk science” law (an interesting claim since it is based on junk science itself).  Two federal courts had ordered EPA to speed up its analysis of the registration of the pesticide, in lieu of simply ordering the stuff off the market after two entirely different lawsuits.  Pesticide manufacturers had been defendants in both lawsuits, and they put up a more than vigorous fight — but they lost on the science.

EPA dragged its feet, but finally acted against DDT in 1972, effectively banning the broadcast spraying of DDT on crops, but leaving it available for things like malaria control.  Of course the ruling was challenged in court, since under U.S. law, had the ruling been only popular, and not based on considerable evidence, the courts would have been obligated to nullify the ruling.  In two separate challenges, the courts ruled that EPA’s action was solidly based on the scientific evidence, and therefore would stand.

That’s quite a bit different from the picture Stossel paints, I gather.  Is this, perhaps, his first foray into fiction?

And, did you catch the contradictions?  The author claims mosquito abatement in Ethiopia is hampered by a lack of U.S. aid, as a result of Rachel Carson’s book in 1962.  Do they know that George Bush is president?  Do they really think Bush and Cheney are tools of Rachel Carson?  Do they know that bed nets have cut malaria rates by half where they were used in Ethiopia?

Looks like another example of DDT poisoning to me.

September 17, 490 B.C.: Athenians triumph at the Battle of Marathon

September 17, 2008

A smaller, less-highly regarded force of Athenians faced a larger, better trained, more experienced army of Persians.  Sparta’s promised reinforcements had not yet arrived.

And yet the Greeks triumphed over the Persians at Marathon.  How?

Historian Jason K. Fosten described the tactics, and the battle, in the February 2007 issue of Military History:

Two Greek generals followed the dictates of Santayana, whose ghost couldn’t exist because his corporeal existence was nearly 2,500 years in the future — they studied history, and they made plans to avoid the errors others had made in the past.

The two Athenian commanders, Callimachus and Miltiades (the latter having fought in the Persian army himself), used their knowledge of Persian battle tactics to turn the tide further in their favor. As the clatter of spears, swords and shields echoed through the valley, the Greeks had ensured that their best hoplites (heavily armed infantry) were on the flanks and that their ranks were thinned in the center. Persian battle doctrine dictated that their best troops, true Persians, fought in the center, while conscripts, pressed into service from tribute states, fought on the flanks. The Persian elite forces surged into the center of the fray, easily gaining the ascendancy. But this time it was a fatal mistake. The Persian conscripts whom the Hellenic hoplites faced on the flanks quickly broke into flight. The Greeks then made another crucial decision: Instead of pursuing their fleeing foes, they turned inward to aid their countrymen fighting in the center of the battle.

By then, the Persians were in a state of utter confusion. Their tactics had failed, their cavalry was absent and their archers were useless. Their more heavily armed and armored opponents, who could sense that victory was close, were attacking them from three sides and pushing them into the sea. The Persians fled back to their ships. Many of the Athenians, buoyed by their success, dragged several of the Persian vessels to shore, slaughtering those on board.

When the day was over, the Greeks had won one of history’s most famous victories, claiming to have killed about 6,400 Persians for the loss of only 192 Athenians. The Spartans eventually arrived, but only after the battle was long over. To assuage their disbelief in the Athenians’ victory, they toured the battlefield. To their amazement, they found the claim of victory was indeed true. The Athenians had defeated the most powerful empire in the Western world.

It was a great victory.  The Athenians had been so certain of defeat, however, that they had made plans to burn Athens and have Athenians left behind commit suicide rather than be captured by the Persians.  In order to prevent the plans from going through, they needed one more tremendous piece of history, and they called on their runner:

With time of the essence, the Athenians dispatched Pheidippides to inform Athens’ populace of their victory before the troops arrived. The tale goes that after running the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, Pheidippides exclaimed: “Rejoice! We conquer!” then died from exhaustion. Whether true or not, that is the source of the modern-day marathon race; the distance of the modern race reflects the distance Pheidippides ran.

I opened world history this year asking how many had seen the movie “300.”  It produced some excitement, which I was glad to see.  Not enough students knew that it was based on a real battle.  We recounted the story of the victories at Thermopylae and Salamis, and then told the story of the set up for that war, the Greek victory at Marathon.  It was just after the Olympics closed — tying the battles to the last event of the Olympics, in honor of Pheidippides, made for a great class, for me.  For the students?  I hope so.

One of my intended learning points was that history is about the stories, not about memorizing dates and places.  Stories, they like.  Dates and places, not so much.

Another point:  History is all around us, even when we play couch potato and just watch the Olympics.

I knew I’d scored when a student asked me after class whether I knew when this year’s marathon would be rebroadcast, so she could watch it.

We live in truly historic times

September 17, 2008

My children lived to see a Boston Red Sox win in the World Series, already in their short lives.

100-year old Cubs fan Richard Savage, who saw the Cubs lose the World Series to the Boston Red Sox in 1918, hopes to see the Cubs win a World Series - AARP Bulletin Today

100-year old Cubs fan Richard Savage, who saw the Cubs lose the World Series to the Boston Red Sox in 1918, hopes to see the Cubs win a World Series - AARP Bulletin Today

More history is being writtenCould this be the Chicago Cubs’ year?  Their magic number is 4, after the Cubbies defeated the Brewers, 5-4, behind Kerry Woods’ ninth-inning heroics.

With the triumph, the Cubs pushed Milwaukee nine games back in the National League Central race and a half-game behind the New York Mets in the wild-card playoff race while reducing their own magic number to four.

“We just figure if we keep winning ballgames, good things will come for us,” Dempster said. “Don’t get caught up in the standings or numbers or anything like that. Just come to the ballpark and try to win every day. This is big.”

The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908.

More good news: Changes in the balloting procedures for the Baseball Hall of Fame improve the chances of previously-overlooked heroes like Ron Santo.

Now, about that Triple Crown . . . or even that one.

Disaster in Yellowstone Park: 20 years after the fires, it’s healing

September 17, 2008

High school students weren’t alive when Yellowstone burned in 1988. Do you remember?

NASA infrared satellite photograph of Yellowstone fires in 1988

NASA infrared satellite photograph of Yellowstone fires in 1988

It was a conflagration that made hell look like good picnicking. 1988 was a particularly dry summer, and hot. Lightning and human carelessness ignited fires across western North America. Five huge fires raged out of control, and burned huge swaths out of forests in Yellowstone National Park that probably hadn’t seen fire in 80 years, maybe longer.

The Salt Lake Tribune featured several stories about the fires and Yellowstone’s recovery today, “Yellowstone: Back from the ashes,” how wildland firefighting changed, a great chart on fire succession stages, and another chart on the effects of the fire on larger animals in the Yellowstone system.

Old Faithfull erupts against background of smoke from 1988 fires - NPS photo by Deanna Marie Dulen

Old Faithfull erupts against background of smoke from 1988 fires - NPS photo by Deanna Marie Dulen

The 1988 fires made history in several ways; it was the first time so many fires had burned simultaneously. Ultimately some of the fires merged into even greater conflagrations. The fires forced the shutdown of tourism and other activities in the Park. Inadequacies in fire fighting equipment, staffing and policies were highlighted and displayed in newspapers and on television for weeks, forcing changes in policies by cities, states and the federal government.

Some good came out of the fires. Much undergrowth and dead wood had choked off plant diversity in some places in the Park. The fires opened new meadows and offered opportunities for some species to expand their ranges.

Scientifically, a lot of information came out of the fires. The mystery of when aspen would seed out was solved — new aspen seedlings appeared in areas where the fires had sterilized the ground with extremely high temperatures that seemed to trigger the seeds to germinate.

Our visits in 1989 offered a lot of opportunities to look at very bleak landscapes.

Yellowstone National Park in 1989, a year after the big fires - Copyright 1989 and 2008, Ed Darrell

Yellowstone National Park in 1989, a year after the big fires - Copyright 1989 and 2008, Ed Darrell

Recover of the forested areas began rather quickly, but will take time to cover over all the scars of the fires.

Other resources:

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