Columbus’s most prized possession

September 28, 2010

Columbus feared that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella would not honor pledges they had made to him as recompense and honor for his great work of discovery on their behalf.  Before his final voyage, he assembled a legal document showing those promises made to him, and his work for Spain.

This illustrates, once again, the human dimension of the great drama of the age of exploration, of Columbus’s stumbling on to the America’s in his efforts to get to China.

The Library of Congress and the History Channel team up again to show off these grand snippets of history:

On January 5, 1502, prior to his fourth and final voyage to America, Columbus gathered several judges and notaries in his home in Seville. The purpose? To have them authorize copies of his archival collection of original documents through which Isabel and Fernando had granted titles, revenues, powers and privileges to Columbus and his descendants. These 36 documents are popularly called “Columbus’ Book of Privileges.” Four copies of his “Book” existed in 1502, three written on vellum and one on paper. The Library’s copy, one of the three on vellum, has a unique paper copy of the Papal Bull Dudum siquidem of September 26, 1493, which extended the Spanish claim for future explorations.

Borrowed with permission from Mr. Darrell’s Wayback Machine.

Debunking creationist claims of human and dinosaur footprints together . . .

September 26, 2010

. . . from 1983!

Steve Schafersman, now president of Texas Citizens for Science, played the yeoman then:

Description of the program:

Did humans coexist with dinosaurs? The tracks tell the tale. Dr. John R. Cole, Dr. Steven Schafersman, Dr. Laurie Godfrey, Dr. Ronnie Hastings, Lee Mansfield, and other scientists examine the claims and the evidence. Air date: 1983.

Tip of the old scrub brush to the National Center for Science Education.

A missed Bill of Rights anniversary, and the 27th Amendment

September 26, 2010

September 25, 1789, Congress had approved and enrolled the proposals, and sent twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution to the states for ratification.  Ten of the twelve amendments were approved, rather quickly, and by 1791 the were attached to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.

The two proposals that failed to earn the required approval of three-fourths of the 13 states fell into a special limbo for Constitutional amendments that became clear only in the late 1970s when Congress discussed how long to wait for states to approve the Equal Rights Amendment (this is a much-simplified explanation, I know).  Congress put deadlines on the ratification process in the late 20th century, but the first twelve proposals had no deadlines.  In the 1980s, Congress passed a law that said any amendments floating around, unapproved, would be considered dead after a date certain.

Before that date passed, more states took a look at one of James Madison’s 1789 proposals, liked it, and passed it.

That amendment became the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, on May 7, 1992, 203 years after it was proposed:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

H. W. Brands on the study of history, with technology

September 26, 2010

Spent half a day with H. W. Brands, professor of history at the University of Texas, and author of at least one of my favorite history books, The First American (and several others).

Brands banned the use of computers for notetaking in his classrooms this fall.  It’s not the notes he objects to, of course, but the students’ side-activities of checking e-mail, eBay, and ESPN, rather than paying attention to the lecture, and other activities in lieu of taking notes.

Nominally our discussion centered on the decade of 1890 to 1900, the Reckless Decade, as Brands’ book on the era titles it.   Brands took a larger, circular route to the topic, today.  These discussions come under the aegis of the Dallas Independent School District’s Teaching American History Grant, and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute chipped in today, too.  We are a polyglot group of teachers of American history, and a few other related social studies subjects, in Dallas high schools.

I asked about technology beyond lecture, or “direct instruction” as the curriculum and teacher berating  rubrics so dryly and inaccurately phrase it.   Brands focused on the effects of connected students in the lecture, a problem which we officially should not have in Dallas schools.  We discovered he’s using Blackboard (probably the electronic classroom standard for UT-Austin).  I’ve used Blackboard in college instruction, and a somewhat less luxurious version in high schools.  Blackboard works better than others I’ve tried.

Over several hours Brands said he teaches best when he performs well as a story teller — when the students put down their note-taking pencils and listen.  Two observations:  It helps to be a good story teller, and, second, that requires that one know a story to tell.

Our grant could give us better stories to tell.  Most educational enterprises produce great benefits as by-products of the original learning goal.  Our teacher studies of history are no different.

Tupper takes up the quill

September 23, 2010

Karl Tupper of the Pesticide Action Network started blogging at PAN’s site, GroundTruth, a few days ago.  His carefully-thought out, informative writing turns to the issue of bedbugs and DDT in his first post.

GroundTruth, the blog of the Pesticide Action Network

Is there room for another blog?  Any blogging about science, with accuracy, is always welcome.

Karl’s second post updates us on EPA’s hearings on atrazine, and the industry campaign to slander any agency who dares to ask the tough questions about chemical safety.  Shades of the 1962 campaign against Rachel Carson, eh?

What does urban sprawl look like?

September 22, 2010

Teachers looking for a good way to portray urban sprawl, for geography and history classes, should take a look at this photo essay at the New York Times; unfortunately for teachers, Christoph Gielen’s stunning aerial landscapes cannot be copied for PowerPoint.

Gielen’s work is well known, and many of those same images can be found at other sites.  Images to illustrate “urbanization” and “urban sprawl” from internet sources generally carry a lot more punch than the stock photos delivered with textbooks.  Mind the copyrights.

Untitled X Nevada, urban sprawl in Nevada, copyright Christoph Gielen

(Caption from New York Times presentation): Untitled XI Nevada, 2010 This Vegas-area community was built by the same company that designed the circular communities on the outskirts of Phoenix in “Untitled X / XII / XI.” Credit: Christoph Gielen (Go see the presentation at the Times site to see the other photos)

More resources:

Are we mice, or fully-functioning human brains?

September 21, 2010

I’m still smiling about Ed Brayton’s post at Dispatches from the Culture Wars — here in its entirety:

From the utterly delusional Christine O’Donnell [Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware], said on the Bill O’Reilly show in 2007:

“They are — they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains.”

Which gives those hypothetical mice a sizable leg up on O’Donnell.

Truth in a fair fight: Eli Rabett explains Gates Foundation’s good work against malaria

September 21, 2010

Good works are oft’ interred with the bones of the good workers, according to that Brutus Mark Antony guy — and at Watts Up With That, many work to bury any good workers, too.

So, a specially-scrubbed carrot is due Eli Rabett, who details the good works of the Gates Foundation against malaria, just to counteract the clamor of the howling at WUWT.

. . . since this started with an attack on Bill Gates, it is important to understand at least some of the interesting things that the Gates Foundation is doing to help fight malaria.

Among these, Affordable Medicines for Malaria (AMFM), is one of the cleverest, and may even work. The idea is that AMFM will buy ACT (artemisinin combination therapy – something else the Wattoids didn’t know about) drugs directly from the manufacturers in huge amounts at deep discount, and pass the drugs on to the distributors, public health agencies, private wholesale pharmacies, and NGOs at so far below cost that even counterfeit drugs cost more. The private wholesalers can take their profit.

One may hope someone will find the magic bullet to fight malaria.  There’s the Ghost of Santayana pacing the chalkboard again, however:  Our experience shows that magic is not real, no magic bullet has ever existed against malaria, and DDT is not now the magic bullet it never was in the first place.  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” Ghost of Santayana mutters.

A special place in hell is reserved for those who remember the past, but tell false tales about it instead.

Tony Horowitz on Ray Charles and chess

September 21, 2010

Trumpeter Tony Horowitz, one of those portrayed playing chess with Ray Charles, wrote in to compliment Charles on his chess acumen, and acumen at life in general.  Take a look again at Ray Charles and Tony Horowitz playing Chess Games of the Rich and Famous.

One more place to lose your heart, or stir it, near San Francisco

September 20, 2010

Did I mention that San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world?

A lot of reasons.  My father had businesses there (1930s?).  My parents wooed in and around there.  Our Favorite Aunt Linda did well in the area (Marin County, but that just adds to the beauty).

I was accepted at Hastings College of Law.  We figured we had enough saved that we could either pay tuition at Hastings, and live on what Kathryn could earn, if she could get a job; or we could buy a house in the D.C. area, keep our jobs on Senate staff, and pay tuition.

We had a wonderful week in San Francisco getting no job interviews.  On our last night we found a Tower Record Store and stocked up (back in the days of vinyl) for the next four years at George Washington, and sadly left the city.  In a fit of irony, Tower Records opened a store across the street from GW’s law school two years later.

Earlier, after the 1976 elections, I hid out at Aunt Linda’s joint, Red Robin Catering, tending bar, washing dishes, washing a lot of lettuce, and generally trying to make a car payment and enjoy San Francisco.  She catered the opening of the Marin/San Francisco ferry, which meant more than a dozen trips overall, as I recall, serving champagne mostly.  Now I look back on how unfair it was that my youth did not include electronic cameras.

Early mornings — and there were more than a few — the city is just unsurpassed in beauty.  Cousin Steve pushed me out of bed to go see the Muir Woods at near dawn (I confess I did not go often enough).  Some nights I’d just cruise across the Golden Gate Bridge for the views.

Like this one, a composition from several shots from the same place, woven together with the wonders of electronic camera software:

Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, and fog, from Marin County - Wikimedia image, panorama photo stitching by Mila Zinkova

Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, and fog, from Marin County - Wikimedia image, panorama photo stitching by Mila Zinkova

It’s shot from Marin County, west of the Golden Gate Bridge, I think — that’s the North Tower of the bridge, with the Bay Bridge and the city of San Francisco in the background.

Discussion at Wikimedia:  Those are crepuscular rays coming through the trees.  There’s an SAT vocabulary word for you:  Crepuscular.

More crepuscular rays from Marin County, Wikimedia photo by Mila Zinkova

More crepuscular rays from Marin County, Wikimedia photo by Mila Zinkova


  • More great shots of San Francisco at Heida Biddle’s Tales of 7, here, and especially here

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “273 words toward a new nation”

September 20, 2010

Librarians have it good, living among books.  Librarians at the Library of Congress have it best, with the amazingly complete collection of books, top-notch scholars, and just plain old curious stuff lying around.

Like copies of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Garry Wills argues that Lincoln rethought and recast America’s image in that speech, in less than two minutes — though it took a century before the recasting was complete.

The Library of Congress just has the history, and notes the power of the speech overall.

Still evil and wrong: McIlhinney still leads a cover up of malaria facts

September 20, 2010

U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) Africa Indoor Residual Spraying (AIRS) Project found this warehouse with 119 tons of leftover, surplus and expired DDT in Ethiopia. In total, PMI AIRS Progect found 930 tons of unused DDT in Ethiopia, in 1,600 tons of expired pesticides total. Other nations have other surplus DDT stocks. Africa never suffered a shortage of DDT.

U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) Africa Indoor Residual Spraying (AIRS) Project found this warehouse with 119 tons of leftover, surplus and expired DDT in Ethiopia. In total, PMI AIRS Progect found 930 tons of unused DDT in Ethiopia, in 1,600 tons of expired pesticides total. Other nations have other surplus DDT stocks. Africa never suffered a shortage of DDT.

Watch the video, and you can see God trying to stop her from talking, putting that frog in her throat.

Ann McIlhinney was wrong when she made the movie “Not Evil, Just Wrong,” and she’s still spreading false tales.  I found her diatribe, interestingly enough at a site called 2012 Doomsday Predictions.

I only respond to the first six minutes or so — you get the idea.  McIlhinney leaves no falsehood untold, no crazy charge not leveled at Rachel Carson and “environmentalists.”

Here’s the film clip of McIlhinney misleading the masses:

Here is my quick and dirty response:

1. Environmentalists are not calling for a ban on coal, oil or gas. Fear talk. Why would anyone tell such a whopping lie? How do we know the film lies? Who is this “environmentalist” they fear to name?

2. Rachel Carson was right — DDT kills ecosystems. Carson said we needed to restrict the use of DDT in order to keep it viable as a pesticide. But few listened (not McIlhinney, that’s for sure). Consequently, DDT became ineffective against mosquitoes that carry malaria, scuttling the World Health Organization’s ambitious campaign to eradicate malaria. Had that not happened, and had we eradicated malaria by 1975 as planned, millions of lives could have been saved. McIlhinney is the one with blood on her hands.

3. DDT has never been banned worldwide, was never banned in Africa, and is still used in those places it still works, under a special treaty signed in 2001. McIlhinney hopes you won’t know about that treaty, and fails to mention it herself. What’s she trying to hide?

4. Carson did not say DDT was the sole culprit for the decline of birds — but by 1962, it was the sole culprit preventing their recovery. Bald eagles and brown pelicans have come off the endangered species list, populations recovering in almost lock-step with the decline of DDT in the birds’ flesh — proof that Carson was right.

5. Under U.S. law, no agency could ban a useful pesticide without mountains of evidence that the pesticide was dangerous. Four separate court proceedings looked at DDT, two before the EPA acted, and two appeals after EPA banned DDT use on crops. All four courts found DDT to be dangerous and uncontrollable in the wild. The two appeals of EPA’s labeling change were both decided on summary judgment — the science was so powerfully on Carson’s side. In May 1963 the President’s Science Advisory Council reported on their fact checking of Carson’s book — they said Carson was dead right in everything but one: Carson was too easy on DDT. That panel, with its significant population of Nobel winners, called for quick action against DDT. Why doesn’t McIlhinney give the facts here?

6. The claim that EPA’s ban influenced WHO is pure bullfeathers. WHO had to end its malaria eradication campaign, using DDT, in 1965 — the mosquitoes were immune to the stuff. EPA didn’t act until seven years later, and EPA’s jurisdiction extends only to the borders of the U.S. In fact, EPA’s “ban” left DDT to be manufactured in the U.S. for export to Africa. Can’t McIlhinney read a calendar? The “ban” in 1972 did not travel back through time to stop WHO from using DDT. (For that matter, WHO never completely stopped DDT — wherever it could work, they used it, and still do.)

7. DDT has always been available for any government in Africa to use. What that guy in the film is really saying is racist: He’s claiming Africans were too stupid to use DDT, though it was cheap and available, and though it would save their lives. Don’t listen to him. Africans are not stupid: They’d use DDT were it effective and safe. Shame on McIlhinney for entertaining such a claim.

8. Malaria did not skyrocket after DDT was banned in the U.S. Mosquitoes don’t migrate that far. There was an uptick in malaria 20 years later, when the pharmaceuticals that cure malaria in humans, ceased to be effective.

But today, malaria rates are the lowest they’ve been in recorded history, and malaria death rates are the lowest they’ve been in human history. When the U.S. banned DDT spraying on cotton in 1972, about 2 million people a year died from malaria. Today, the death toll is under 900,000. Don’t be frightened or stampeded by erroneous, large figures.

In the end, we can’t poison Africa to health, and if we could, it would be immoral to do that instead of building health care to fight diseases.

Children die because hard-hearted politicos like Ann McIlhinney frustrate the work of malaria fighters, and mislead policy makers away from solutions that would save children’s lives.

Shame on her.

Texas poet: Edit out all the unwanted words . . . newspaper blackout

September 19, 2010

Great story about a Texas poet, Austin Kleon — and wouldn’t this be an interesting project for poetry study?  The method is called “newspaper blackout” in the story; a new genre of poetry?

From PBS’s Newshour, September 14, 2010 (transcript here):

I am reminded of the story of the sculptor who, when asked how he made such wonderful statues, said he merely chipped away from the stone everything that wasn’t the sculpture he wanted.  Who was that?

PBS Newshour provides the best coverage of literature and poetry of any major television news operation, another good reason to keep PBS well-funded.

Everybody works harder than Rick Perry

September 19, 2010

Bill White is rising in the polls, and, according to some watchers, has a good chance to unseat Texas Gov. Rick Perry, seeking an unprecedented fourth term in office (he succeeded George W. Bush when Bush won the presidency).

Perry is scared, as illustrated by his chickening out of debates (he said that he wouldn’t debate White unless white released tax returns dating back nearly two decades, more than Perry has by a long stretch; plus, the period covered includes White’s service in the federal government, which required an annual report of financial information more detailed than tax returns).

White’s been combing Perry’s record to document where he and Perry differ — and in the doing, White’s team discovered that the official records from the governor’s office show he puts in fewer than ten hours of work a week.

If just half the Texans who put in more work hours than Rick Perry were to vote for White, White would win in a landlside.

At a minimum, it makes for an interesting political ad.

DDT can’t fight bedbugs

September 19, 2010

Newsweek magazine, even in its much reduced form (bolstered by a good on-line site), still provides essential reporting.

A week or so ago Newsweek published a piece of reporting on the politics of bedbugs.  To wit:

  1. DDT doesn’t work against bedbugs, and hasn’t worked against them since the late 1950s.
  2. Astroturf organizations, so-called “think-tanks” set up by corporate interests jumped on bedbugs as another way of attacking the 46-years dead Rachel Carson, environmentalists, scientists and government — falsely.  The Heartland Institute is singled out as one group spreading false claims in favor of poison and against environmental protection.
  3. The recent resurgence of bedbugs is more related to changes in fighting other pests than in the discontinuation of DDT against them.  Had DDT been the magic answer, bedbugs should have made a resurgence in 1960 when DDT use against them was stopped, not 2010, a full half-century later.
  4. The many screeds in favor of DDT are politically driven, not science driven.

Think about that — every claim that we need DDT to fight bedbugs is a planted, political advertisement, and not a fact-based policy argument.  Each of those claims is based in a political smear, and not based on science.

The really weird part is that so many writers and bloggers spread the false claims without being paid.  Selling one’s soul for money is understandable; giving one’s soul away for nothing is stupid, or evil, or both.

Newsweek reported:

DDT “devastated” bedbug populations when it was introduced in the 1940s, says Richard Cooper, technical director for Cooper Pest Solutions and a widely quoted authority on bedbug control. Mattresses were soaked in it, wallpaper came pre-treated with it. It also killed boll weevils, which fed on cotton buds and flowers (by far, the majority of DDT was applied to cotton fields), and, incidentally, it killed bald eagles and numerous other species of birds, the phenomenon that gave Carson her title. In the laboratory, DDT can cause cancer in animals; its effect on human beings has long been debated, but since it accumulates up the food chain, and stays in the body for years, the consensus among public-health experts was that it was better to act before effects showed up in the population. But long before the United States banned most uses of it in 1972, DDT had lost its effectiveness against bedbugs—which, like many fast-breeding insects, are extremely adept at evolving resistance to pesticides. “Bloggers talk about bringing back DDT,” says Bob Rosenberg, director of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, “but we had stopped using it even before 1972.”


Evolution has bred DDT-resistant bedbugs. Chart from

Evolution has bred DDT-resistant bedbugs. Chart from “Understanding Evolution, Bed Bugs Bite Back Thanks to Evolution,”

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