Cats in Crete and China, and evolution

October 23, 2010

Cretan Cat - photo by Kenny Darrell

A cat Kenny Darrell photographed in Crete -- notice each eye is a different color.

Darwin wondered about the genetic reasons behind white cats being blind deaf (though, of course, he didn’t call it “genetics” then).  Evolution in action:  White cats today usually can see hear.

Kenny found this cat in Crete, and got a good shot of its eyes, each of a different color — though of course, as soon as the focus was set, the cat leaned forward for a pet.

Kenny’s in China right now.  I wonder if China has cats and dogs on the streets like Crete?

Below the fold:  Darwin on white cats.

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Malaria deaths in India under-reported? Bad news for pro-DDT partisans

October 22, 2010

Nature graphic: News report on Lancet study that suggests mortality from malaria in India may be significantly higher than WHO reports indicate.

Nature graphic: News report on Lancet study that suggests mortality from malaria in India may be significantly higher than WHO reports indicate.

Good news from the war on malaria has been that annual deaths are calculated to be fewer than 1 million annually, as low as 880,000 a year — the lowest human death toll from malaria in human history.

Researchers in India suggest that deaths there are grossly underreported, however — not the 15,000 estimated by the World Health Organization, but closer to 200,000 deaths a year, nearly 15 times as great.

Reading that news, DDT partisans might get a little race of the pulse thinking that this might improve the urgency for the case for using more DDT, as advocated in several hoax health campaigns and media, such as the recent film “3 Billion and Counting.”

The problem, though, is that India is one of the few places where DDT manufacturing continues today, and India is one of the nations where DDT use is relatively unregulated and heavy.  In short, if DDT were the miracle powder it’s claimed to be, any finding that malaria deaths are 15 times greater than reported by WHO is nails in the coffin of DDT advocacy.

Bloomberg News reported:

Researchers based their estimate on interviews with family members of more than 122,000 people who died between 2001 and 2003. The numbers “greatly exceed” the WHO estimates of 15,000 malaria deaths in India each year, the researchers wrote in the study, published today in the journal The Lancet.

“It shows that malaria kills far more people than previously supposed,” said one of the study authors, Prabhat Jha of the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, in a statement. “This is the first nationwide study that has collected information on causes of death directly from communities.”

Remote regions may have an undocumented malaria burden, because conventional methods of tracking the disease are flawed, according to the authors. In India, the government malaria data, which is used by the Geneva-based WHO, only counts patients who had tested positive for the disease at a hospital or clinic. Others who died of symptoms closely resembling the malady but didn’t get a blood test aren’t included, co-author Vinod Sharma of the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi said in an interview today.

The lack of accurate data may hinder efforts by governments and aid organizations to provide diagnosis and treatment to the population at risk, the authors said.

Watch.  Advocates of poisoning Africa and Asia will claim scientists and environmental activists are somehow to blame for any underreporting, and they will call for more DDT use, claiming a ban has made India a refuge for malaria.  Those reports will fail to mention India’s heavy DDT use already, nor will they suggest an ineffectiveness of the nearly-sacred powder.

The article in the Lancet became available on-line on October 21 — it’s a 4.5 megabyte .pdf document:  “Adult and child malaria mortality in India: a nationally representative mortality survey.” A team of researchers is listed as authors of the study:  Neeraj Dhingra, Prabhat Jha, Vinod P Sharma, Alan A Cohen, Raju M Jotkar, Peter S Rodriguez, Diego G Bassani, Wilson Suraweera,Ramanan Laxminarayan, Richard Peto, for the Million Death Study Collaborators.

Accurate counts of infections and deaths provide essential information for effective programming of the fight against the disease.  Researchers point no particular fingers, but make the case in the article that better methods of counting and estimating malaria deaths must be found.

There are about 1·3 million deaths from infectious diseases before age 70 in rural areas in which fever is the main symptom. If there are large numbers of deaths from undiagnosed and untreated malaria in some parts of rural India then any method of estimating overall malaria deaths must rely, directly or indirectly, on evidence of uncertain reliability from non-medical informants and, although our method of estimating malaria mortality has weaknesses, indirect methods may be even less reliable. The major source of uncertainty in our estimates arises from the possible misclassifi cation of malaria deaths as deaths from other diseases, and vice versa. There is no wholly satisfactory method to quantify the inherent uncertainty in this, and indeed the use of statistical methods to quantify uncertainty can convey a false precision. However, even if we restrict our analyses to deaths immediately classifi ed by both physician coders as malaria, WHO estimates (15 000 deaths per year at all ages)1 are only one-eighth of our lower bound of malaria deaths in India (125 000 deaths below the age of 70 years; of which about 18 000 would have been in health-care facilities).

Our study suggests that the low WHO estimate of malaria deaths in India (and only 100 000 adult malaria deaths per year worldwide) should be reconsidered. If WHO estimates of malaria deaths in India or among adults worldwide are likely to be serious underestimates, this could substantially change disease control strategies, particularly in the rural parts of states with high malaria burden. Better estimates of malaria incidence and of malaria mortality in India, Africa, and elsewhere will provide a more rational foundation for the current debates about funding for preventive measures, about the need for more rapid access to malaria diagnosis, and about affordable access in the community to effective antimalarial drugs for children and adults.

More:


“142nd fastest gun in the West”

October 22, 2010

You’d probably have to probe the archives of Dr. Demento to find it, but there was a modest little hit in a humor song years ago, a parody of Jimmy Dean’s “Big John.”  The song praised the life of Irving, a Jewish cowboy who was “the 142nd fastest gun [RIMSHOT] in the West.”

I thought of it immediately when I learned that, according to Wikio, this blog, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub,  ranks 2,263.

No kidding.  Not even enough swat to rank in a category.

So, why is Anthony Watts so ticked at this measly little mosquito of a blog?

Wikio - Top Blogs


Reason enough to vote Bill White, Texas Governor: Robert Earl Keen fan

October 22, 2010

Every major newspaper in Texas endorsed Bill White for governor, over incumbent Republican Rick Perry.  For the rest of us, Robert Earl Keen’s endorsement should be reason enough, no?

 

Robert Earl Keen and a Texas highway - Keen endorsed Bill White for governor of Texas

Robert Earl Keen, in this publicity photo standing on a Texas highway, endorsed Bill White for Governor of Texas -- no doubt to keep the Texas road going on forever.

GO VOTE!

Release from Bill White’s campaign:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bill White bands together with Robert Earl Keen

White, Keen ask students to vote for Bill White

DENTON — On Friday, Bill White and Robert Earl Keen, legendary Texan singer and songwriter, will roll into Denton, Nacogdoches, College Station and San Marcos for special early vote concerts. The concerts are free and open to the public on a first come basis.

To see a list of where the concerts will be, visit: http://www.billwhitefortexas.com/blog/001712.php

“College students have a huge stake in the governor’s race,” Garry Jones, Students for Bill White Director, said. “For many of us, Rick Perry is the only governor that we’ve ever known, and we don’t like what we’ve seen. College tuition rates have jumped by 93 percent under Perry’s reign, and we understand that our teachers are being forced to teach us how to take multiple choice tests and not prepare us for college or careers.”

“Texas students are lucky that we have a candidate who will put our needs first,” continued Jones. “Someone who will be more concerned with fighting for our future here in Texas than battling the federal government to raise a national profile. That candidate is Bill White!”

Robert Earl Keen is one of Texas A&M’s most famous graduates. Last weekend, the Bryan-College Station Eagle, endorsed Bill White. The editorial board wrote:

“[W]hy any loyal Aggie would vote for Rick Perry is beyond us . . .  Ten years of Rick Perry as governor are more than enough. It is time for a change and Bill White is that change. He is a strong fiscal conservative who proved as mayor of Houston that it is possible to do more with less. We’ve had the less. Now it is time for the more.”

Early voting started Oct. 18 and continues through Friday, Oct. 29. To find a polling location near you, visit http://www.billwhitefortexas.com/ev/

###


Republican proposal: Double the deficits!

October 22, 2010

What’s worse that “double or nothing?”

Republican tax-cut proposals would double our deficits, some conservative sources report.

Robert Schesinger, in U.S. News and World Report:

In fact the GOP’s deficit-detonating tax-cut proposals make the Democrats with their spending look like pikers. The stimulus bill, remember, cost $787 billion. The tax-cut bill that Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled last week—a combination of making permanent the Bush tax cuts and throwing in a host of other tax credits—has a price tag of around $3.9 trillion. For those keeping score at home, the self-styled party of fiscal responsibility wants to blow a hole in the budget nearly five times larger than the alleged profligacy they have spent the last year or more condemning.

Who is listening to the facts anymore?


Literary mushrooms in Rockport, Maine

October 20, 2010

Greg Marley’s new book on mushrooms is out, and there is a launch party set for October 30, in Rockport, Maine.

Can you be there?

Greg’s book party:

Book Release Party and Mushroom Talk

Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares, by Greg Marley
Cover of Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares, by Greg Marley

Saturday, October 30 from 4-6:00 pm
at Farmers Fare on Route 90 in Rockport [Maine]
Light refreshments served and beverages available

Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares: The Love, Lore and Mystique of Mushrooms

Welcome a new book by Greg Marley, celebrating the wonder and mystery of mushrooms. Enjoy a readable, captivating and informative collection of great mushroom stories. From world-class edibles (with recipes) to the most deadly, learn about the mushrooms in your neighborhood and how to invite them into your life, or even how to grow your own.

 

Hey, if you’re in the neighborhood, drop in.


Broad Prize, for best urban schools, to Gwinnett County, Georgia

October 20, 2010

It’s a million-dollar gold star for the administrators and board of the school system in Gwinnett County, Georgia: They won the 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education.

The trophy for the Broad Prize for Urban Education

The trophy for the Broad Prize for Urban Education

(It’s pronounced with a long “o” as in “road.”)

NPR reported:

Gwinnett County beat out Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, and Socorro Independent School District and Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso, Texas, for the award.

The prize, created in 2002 by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in Los Angeles, is the nation’s largest education award given to school districts. It is designed to reward schools for increasing graduation rates, improving low-income students’ performance, and reducing differences in achievement rates between minority and white students. Winners are chosen from the country’s 100 largest school systems serving a large percentage of low-income and minority students.

This is big news to a select few in Dallas.  Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa urged Dallas teachers on to win the Broad Prize by 2010.  Dallas ISD did not count among the finalists this year, nor in any previous year.

News in many places is about the districts who gained the finalist list, but did not win.  Interesting prize.

Next year.  Next year.

More:


Relic bomb crater found in Darwin, Australia

October 20, 2010

A bit of World War II history:  Darwin, Australia, took more bombs than Pearl Harbor, during World War II.

We learn this from the Australian Broadcasting Corp. story on the recent rediscovery of a large bomb crater there:

Map of Australia

Map of Australia, from Australia.com

Bomb crater found in Darwin CBD

It has been confirmed that a large hole uncovered by earthworks in Darwin’s CBD is a bomb crater probably created during the first Japanese raid on Darwin in 1942.

The crater was spotted by a passing motorist who reported it to the Department of Heritage.

Archaeologist Silvano Jung has now investigated the site and says it is almost certainly a bomb crater.

“Judging by the diameter of the crater, it was probably a 1,000 pound bomb, or a 500 kilo bomb, dropped by a medium bomber either from Java or Ambon [in Indonesia],” he said.

“Most likely on February 19 [1942] as well.”

Mr Jung says the bomb crater will become a special part of Darwin’s history.

“Often it’s the small things in history that are really important and given that this is the only one, it makes it unique. It’s a unique hole in Darwin,” he said.

Darwin was subjected to 63 bombing raids during the war, with more bombs dropped on the city than Pearl Harbour.

Now we study bomb craters in archaeology.

According to some reports, it is the sole surviving bomb crater from the war, in Darwin:

Northern Territory heritage Minister Karl Hampton said the exciting discovery on McMinn Street provided a clear link with the past.

“World War II is an important part of the Territory’s history and identity,” Mr Hampton said in a statement released on Wednesday.

“Territorians are proud of our unique history, and we now have another attraction no other capital city can match – an authentic World War II bomb crater.”


Sam O’Hare’s brilliant film, The Sand Pit

October 18, 2010

You can learn a lot just by observing.

Sam O’Hare’s observations, captured with his Nikon D-300, can teach you a lot.

Or, you can sit back an enjoy the images.  Spectacular stuff.

A day in the life of New York City, in miniature.

Winner: Prix Ars Electronica Award of Distinction 2010

Original Music: composed by Human (humanworldwide.com), co-written by Rosi Golan and Alex Wong.

Geography bell ringer?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Kenny in Beijing.


Annals of DDT: Interior Dept compliments Rachel Carson’s research in Silent Spring

October 17, 2010

One of the most frequent hoax charges against Rachel Carson claims that she didn’t base Silent Spring on research.  Greater hoaxers claim that there is little or no evidence of harm to birds from DDT.

Rachel Carson's book stirs controversy, newspaper headlines

Rachel Carson’s book stirred controversy, as shown in newspaper headlines

These critics forget history, or they try to cover it up so you won’t know any better.  Carson provided more than 50 pages of citations to peer-reviewed research and communications with leading scientists in ornithology and chemistry about DDT and the damage it does.

Carson’s deep research won acknowledgment from the U.S. Department of the Interior, in this 1962 speech before the Audubon Society meeting in Corpus Christi, Texas, by the Special Assistant Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife Robert M. Paul.

Paul told the birders that Interior was proud of the fact that so much of the research in the book relied on Interior’s research, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

In addition, we are proud that so much of ‘Silent Spring“ is based on Fish and Wildlife Service research. And, with no modesty at all, we like to point out that Miss Carson is nobly carrying on a tradition that employees of the Department of the Interior, beginning with Walt Whitman nearly a century ago, have written some of the Nation’s most important books.

That’s quite the compliment to Carson, being compared even distantly to Walt Whitman.  It’s also a helluva brag for USFWS.

It’s also a 30-second response to the false charge that Carson’s work was not research based, or that research did not show DDT damage to wildlife.

Paul spoke to the Audubon Society about work to set up and operate the Federal Pest Control Board.

A .pdf of the speech can be found at the website for Interior, in a compilation of information from Interior about DDT between 1945 and 1998.  Full text below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Quote of the moment: Hamilton, on taxes and the Constitution, Federalist #30

October 16, 2010

They claim to be constitutionalists, and they claim to want to uphold the U.S. Constitution.  But here’s an excerpt from Federalist #30, in which Alexander Hamilton explains why it is necessary for a federal government to tax, and sometimes to tax heavily.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton: "Money is, with propriety, considered as the vital principle of the body politic; as that which sustains its life and motion, and enables it to perform its most essential functions."

This is the U.S. Constitution and the “Founding Fathers” the Tea Partiers hope you will never see, and this is the Constitution and Founders they work hard to hide (some highlights added):

IT HAS been already observed that the federal government ought to possess the power of providing for the support of the national forces; in which proposition was intended to be included the expense of raising troops, of building and equipping fleets, and all other expenses in any wise connected with military arrangements and operations. But these are not the only objects to which the jurisdiction of the Union, in respect to revenue, must necessarily be empowered to extend. It must embrace a provision for the support of the national civil list; for the payment of the national debts contracted, or that may be contracted; and, in general, for all those matters which will call for disbursements out of the national treasury. The conclusion is, that there must be interwoven, in the frame of the government, a general power of taxation, in one shape or another.

Money is, with propriety, considered as the vital principle of the body politic; as that which sustains its life and motion, and enables it to perform its most essential functions. A complete power, therefore, to procure a regular and adequate supply of it, as far as the resources of the community will permit, may be regarded as an indispensable ingredient in every constitution. From a deficiency in this particular, one of two evils must ensue; either the people must be subjected to continual plunder, as a substitute for a more eligible mode of supplying the public wants, or the government must sink into a fatal atrophy, and, in a short course of time, perish.

In the Ottoman or Turkish empire, the sovereign, though in other respects absolute master of the lives and fortunes of his subjects, has no right to impose a new tax. The consequence is that he permits the bashaws or governors of provinces to pillage the people without mercy; and, in turn, squeezes out of them the sums of which he stands in need, to satisfy his own exigencies and those of the state. In America, from a like cause, the government of the Union has gradually dwindled into a state of decay, approaching nearly to annihilation. Who can doubt, that the happiness of the people in both countries would be promoted by competent authorities in the proper hands, to provide the revenues which the necessities of the public might require?

The present Confederation, feeble as it is intended to repose in the United States, an unlimited power of providing for the pecuniary wants of the Union. But proceeding upon an erroneous principle, it has been done in such a manner as entirely to have frustrated the intention. Congress, by the articles which compose that compact (as has already been stated), are authorized to ascertain and call for any sums of money necessary, in their judgment, to the service of the United States; and their requisitions, if conformable to the rule of apportionment, are in every constitutional sense obligatory upon the States. These have no right to question the propriety of the demand; no discretion beyond that of devising the ways and means of furnishing the sums demanded. But though this be strictly and truly the case; though the assumption of such a right would be an infringement of the articles of Union; though it may seldom or never have been avowedly claimed, yet in practice it has been constantly exercised, and would continue to be so, as long as the revenues of the Confederacy should remain dependent on the intermediate agency of its members. What the consequences of this system have been, is within the knowledge of every man the least conversant in our public affairs, and has been amply unfolded in different parts of these inquiries. It is this which has chiefly contributed to reduce us to a situation, which affords ample cause both of mortification to ourselves, and of triumph to our enemies.

What remedy can there be for this situation, but in a change of the system which has produced it in a change of the fallacious and delusive system of quotas and requisitions? What substitute can there be imagined for this ignis fatuus in finance, but that of permitting the national government to raise its own revenues by the ordinary methods of taxation authorized in every well-ordered constitution of civil government? Ingenious men may declaim with plausibility on any subject; but no human ingenuity can point out any other expedient to rescue us from the inconveniences and embarrassments naturally resulting from defective supplies of the public treasury.

More

IT HAS been already observed that the federal government ought to possess the power of providing for the support of the national forces; in which proposition was intended to be included the expense of raising troops, of building and equipping fleets, and all other expenses in any wise connected with military arrangements and operations. But these are not the only objects to which the jurisdiction of the Union, in respect to revenue, must necessarily be empowered to extend. It must embrace a provision for the support of the national civil list; for the payment of the national debts contracted, or that may be contracted; and, in general, for all those matters which will call for disbursements out of the national treasury. The conclusion is, that there must be interwoven, in the frame of the government, a general power of taxation, in one shape or another.Money is, with propriety, considered as the vital principle of the body politic; as that which sustains its life and motion, and enables it to perform its most essential functions. A complete power, therefore, to procure a regular and adequate supply of it, as far as the resources of the community will permit, may be regarded as an indispensable ingredient in every constitution. From a deficiency in this particular, one of two evils must ensue; either the people must be subjected to continual plunder, as a substitute for a more eligible mode of supplying the public wants, or the government must sink into a fatal atrophy, and, in a short course of time, perish.

In the Ottoman or Turkish empire, the sovereign, though in other respects absolute master of the lives and fortunes of his subjects, has no right to impose a new tax. The consequence is that he permits the bashaws or governors of provinces to pillage the people without mercy; and, in turn, squeezes out of them the sums of which he stands in need, to satisfy his own exigencies and those of the state. In America, from a like cause, the government of the Union has gradually dwindled into a state of decay, approaching nearly to annihilation. Who can doubt, that the happiness of the people in both countries would be promoted by competent authorities in the proper hands, to provide the revenues which the necessities of the public might require?

The present Confederation, feeble as it is intended to repose in the United States, an unlimited power of providing for the pecuniary wants of the Union. But proceeding upon an erroneous principle, it has been done in such a manner as entirely to have frustrated the intention. Congress, by the articles which compose that compact (as has already been stated), are authorized to ascertain and call for any sums of money necessary, in their judgment, to the service of the United States; and their requisitions, if conformable to the rule of apportionment, are in every constitutional sense obligatory upon the States. These have no right to question the propriety of the demand; no discretion beyond that of devising the ways and means of furnishing the sums demanded. But though this be strictly and truly the case; though the assumption of such a right would be an infringement of the articles of Union; though it may seldom or never have been avowedly claimed, yet in practice it has been constantly exercised, and would continue to be so, as long as the revenues of the Confederacy should remain dependent on the intermediate agency of its members. What the consequences of this system have been, is within the knowledge of every man the least conversant in our public affairs, and has been amply unfolded in different parts of these inquiries. It is this which has chiefly contributed to reduce us to a situation, which affords ample cause both of mortification to ourselves, and of triumph to our enemies.

What remedy can there be for this situation, but in a change of the system which has produced it in a change of the fallacious and delusive system of quotas and requisitions? What substitute can there be imagined for this ignis fatuus in finance, but that of permitting the national government to raise its own revenues by the ordinary methods of taxation authorized in every well-ordered constitution of civil government? Ingenious men may declaim with plausibility on any subject; but no human ingenuity can point out any other expedient to rescue us from the inconveniences and embarrassments naturally resulting from defective supplies of the public treasury.


October 14: Chuck Yeager/BOOM! Day

October 15, 2010

Rats. On October 14 I missed noting the anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s great feat, breaking the sound barrier in level flight.

BOOM! Day.

Greg Laden’s blog reminded me, “Happy Anniversary, the Breaking of the Barrier.” Below, what I wrote in 2007, mostly still accurate.

_____________

Panorama of the Mountains noted the 60th anniversary of the first known faster-than-sound flight by a human — October 14, 1947. Test pilot and all-around good guy Chuck Yeager did it.

Bell X-1, on display at National Air and Space Museum

Bell X-1 displayed at the National Air and Space Museum

This is a great post-World War II, Cold War story of technology that should pique interest in the time and the events for many students. For a 90 minute class, a solid lesson plan could be developed around the science and technology of the flight (yes, even in history — this is key stuff in the development of economics, too). The physics of sound, a brief history of flight and aircraft, the reasons for post-war development of such technologies, the political situation: There are a dozen hooks to get into the topic. Fair use would cover showing a clip from “The Right Stuff” about the flight, and there are some dramatic clips there. (The movie is 3 hours and 13 minutes; great stuff in a format too long for classroom use. Is there any possibility your kids would read the Tom Wolfe book?)

When will someone – the Air Force? NASA? an aircraft company? — put together a DVD with authorized film clips from the newsreels and the movie, and suggested warm ups and quiz questions?

Back in the bad old days one of my elementary school teachers did an entire morning on the speed of sound, aircraft engineering, and the history of faster-than-sound flight. I learned the accurate way to measure the distance to lightning by counting seconds to the thunder (it’s about a mile for every 5 seconds, not a mile for every second, as our school-yard lore had it).

Chuck Yeager at C. R. Smith Museum, 7-25-2010 - photo by Ed Darrell

Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager at the C. R. Smith Museum at American Airlines HQ, July 25, 2010. Photo by Ed Darrell

This program, to fly at the speed of sound, at what is now Edwards Air Force Base changed the way science of flight is done in the U.S. Yeager led the group of Air Force pilots who proved that military pilots could do the testing of aircraft; the project proved the value of conducting research with experimental aircraft on military time. The methods developed for testing, evaluating, redesigning and retesting are still used today. The drive for safety for the pilots also grew out of these early efforts at supersonic flight.

Yeager’s flight came when technology was cool, not just for the virtual reality role playing games (RPGs), which were still decades in the future, but because it was new, interesting, and it opened a world of possibilities. We all wanted to fly airplanes, especially small, fast airplanes. A sonic boom over southern Idaho produced a couple dozen calls to the local police and fire departments (long before 911 emergency calling systems), and a couple of paragraphs in the local newspaper.Later, when we moved to Utah County at the foot of Mt. Timpanogos, we kids relished the flights of fighter jets at 6,000 or 7,000 feet above MSL on their way to or from Hill AFB in Ogden, only a thousand feet or so above our heads in those mountain valleys.

Whether authorized to fly them or not, the fighter jocks recruited us kids with their ground-hugging forays. And if one jet occasionally passed the speed of sound, the school bus-stop would buzz with it for a couple of days, as we tried to determine whether anybody ever really lost a window to such fun and excitement as a sonic boom. We could hardly wait to be the pilots of those airplanes, giving a start and a thrill to housewives across America who worried their replica Ming vases and picture windows would crash to smithereens.

Supersonic transport excited me then, and still does. As a lover of the environment, perhaps I should have stood firmly against supersonic flights of the British-French Concord over the U.S., but I hoped a compromise could be reached. New York to Los Angeles in two hours seemed like a good idea to me at the time, and it still does. The U.S. legislated ban on supersonic passenger flights probably doomed the idea of supersonic transport. Boeing dropped its plans to build a competitor to the Concord. The Concord itself never got the support it needed to continue production and refinement of the idea. By the time the Concord was retired in October 2004, it was 50-year-old technology.

I wondered at the time what would have happened had research on passenger supersonic flight continued. Shutting off technology is a strange thing. Steam engine technology was poised to make a great leap forward in the early 20th century, some argue. Diesel and gasoline engine sales blocked the leap, especially the creation of the Diesel-electric railroad locomotive engine.

But make no mistake about it: The Concord was fun. My friend Perry W. Buffington — as amiable and useful a traveling companion as is known in the modern world — found a fantastic fare for a Concord flight for us over the Christmas-New Year’s holidays, 1978 and 1979. We flew to London on a Delta L-1011 on Christmas night; we spent a week in London getting cheap tickets to great shows (the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker, featuring a kid I knew from Spanish Fork, Utah; Pirates of Penzance at D’Oyly Carte; Evita in the first run, as I recall; a great revival of Oliver! Great stuff, cheap tickets). Then, to cap it off, the Concord from London to New York. Mach 2, on January 1.

It snowed record depths in all of southern England. On New Year’s Eve day, we skated the snow-packed streets to Harrod’s for last minute souvenir shopping, and bumped into Lauren Bacall. Then we sat in the bar of the hotel and watched the news reports of how the entire country was shut down by the snow, including the British Railroad. Our flight out seemed to be due a delay, at least. But we got a call from British Airways confirming the flight, later that night. So on January 1 we got a snowcat — not really, just a brave taxi — to the downtown check-in office of BA.

Then the show kicked in. The agent checking us in took our bags, reached into a drawer and pulled out a roll of pound notes. Without breaking his conversation with us, he beckoned over a woman who was helping passengers onto the shuttle bus to Heathrow, handed her the roll of bills and said simply, “Concord for these gentleman.” She sprinted to the curb outside and hailed a taxi. The agent had called the airport and informed us that while nothing else had flown, “The Concord will depart on schedule. Thank you for flying British Air — your taxi is waiting.” The woman at the curb held the door for us — no bus shuttle for Concord passengers!

The taxi rocketed to Heathrow. I don’t know how much BA paid, but the driver was extremely happy to move us at extreme speeds over slippery roads.

Concord waiting lounges provided the best amenities. Separated from even First Class lounges, the free champagne, and any other liquor, was served on the ground as well as in the air. For morning departures, a chef in the lounge created elaborate egg dishes to order, for breakfast.

Flying the Concord was always a celebrity experience. The festive feeling of our New Year’s Day flight zoomed considerably when Lauren Bacall breezed into the waiting room. (The only other time I got into a Concord lounge was at Dulles a few years later; Ray Charles checked in for the flight. He asked for a window seat.) We watched a television news report that all flights at Heathrow were delayed by the snow as we got the announcement the Concord was ready to board, on time. If our flight wasn’t the only flight leaving Heathrow that day, it was definitely the first. “Snow doesn’t bother the Concord,” one agent explained.

Supersonic flight passenger jets present special problems to air traffic control, especially with their speed. Plus, they fly better where the air is thinner. So instead of the normal 30,000 to 45,000 feet altitude of commercial airliners, Concords flew at about 70,000 feet. This becomes clear to a passenger on take off: Concords get off the ground, and then take a radically steeper climb that, from the inside, feels like going straight up. At cruising altitude, at about noon, a passenger looking out the window can look up to see the blue sky disappearing into darkness (a night flight with the Aurora Borealis must have been some great spectacle).

Concord’s cabin was not spacious. It held 100 passengers, a bit smaller than a modern 737. The food service was divine, with plenty of stewards on hand to attend to passengers. Among the best lamb chops I’ve ever had (and mind you, I come from sheep country). Complimentary champagne, wine, and cigars — “not Cuban, I’m sorry,” the steward explained. “U.S. rules.”

Sit back, sip the champagne, or puff a cigar and sip the port, and watch the Machmeter: “0.5 . . . 0.7 . . . 0.9 . . . 1.0 (Mach 1, the speed of sound).” The ride, smooth as it was, got a lot smoother. The entire aircraft was quieter. “1.3 . . . 1.7 . . . 2.0.” Twice the speed of sound is half as scary as Mach 1, once you’re already moving so fast.

Two hours from Heathrow to JFK. We flew faster than the time zones changed, landing a couple of hours earlier than our departure. Time travel!

(The week in London, airfare there, and the Concord back, was under $1,500 in 1978. Inflation affected the prices before the Concord retired.)

Two in my immediate family have flown faster than sound. My brother, Wes, flew F-4s. And champagne and steward service notwithstanding, he had the much better deal. He did it more often, and he had the stick.

Chuck Yeager did it first, in level flight (there is some conjecture that a British pilot had done it earlier, in a dive — but he didn’t recover from the dive).

How best to commemorate breaking the sound barrier? Do it again!

Photo of Astronauts Chuck Yeager and Dave Scott, with their co-pilots, prior to the 60th anniversary sound-barrier breaking flight, 2007 Edwards AFB

Astronauts Chuck Yeager and Dave Scott, with their co-pilots, prior to the 60th anniversary sound-barrier breaking flight, 2007 Edwards AFB

Edwards Air Force Base, September 21, 2007 – General Yeager flew a US Air Force F-16 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Breaking the Sound Barrier (October 14, 2007), the 60th anniversary of the United States Air Force (September 18, 2007) and 65 years of General Yeager flying in military cockpits. Yeager was part of a flight of four planes; two F-16’s with Gen. Chuck Yeager and Maj. Gen. Joe Engle aboard, and two T-38’s carrying F-15 pilot Fitz Fulton, NASA Astronaut Col. Dave Scott, and Commander Curt Bedke. Yeager and Engle’s F-16’s broke the sound barrier high above the Base Operations Center – a double sonic boom, then the four planes executed a slow straight through pass, pitched out, landed, and taxied up to the hanger where the 2007 Air Force Ball was about to begin, attended by more than 1,000. Hundreds of ball guests, in gowns, tuxedoes, and dress blues, were assembled to greet the flyers, who snapped on black bowties and strolled into the ball wearing their flight suits. Gen. Yeager was honored at the dinner with a 60th Anniversary Sound Barrier Busting cake.

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How evolution makes bedbugs resistant to DDT

October 12, 2010

Our internet’s best expert in bedbugs, Bug Girl, recently featured another post relating how DDT drove evolution of bedbugs, so that bedbugs are no longer susceptible to DDT.  You should go read what Bug Girl said.

And you can view the video here, too; let’s spread the word, eh?

As Bug Girl describes it:

I discovered that bed bug evolution–specifically resistance to pesticides–was also the subject of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center‘s podcast this month.  A FASCINATING interview with one of the grand old men of evolutionary genetics, James Crow.  He worked on DDT resistance back in the late 40s and 50s.

Watch, and increase your knowledge.


Texas State Fair: U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps

October 11, 2010

Fan makes a video of the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps at Texas State Fair, 10-8-10 - photo by Ed Darrell

A fan makes a video of the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps at Texas State Fair, 10-8-10 - photo by Ed Darrell

Friday evenings at the Marine Barracks near the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps performs publicly.  It’s a free concert.  It’s a delightful way to spend a spring or fall afternoon-into-evening.  An easy walk from our old apartment on East Capitol Street S.E., and now, offering a dozen venues for a good dinner on the return.

Except, September 24 through October 10 we had them here in Dallas, at the State Fair of Texas.

Statue at front of Texas Women's Museum looks over USMC Drum & Bugle Corps performance at Texas State Fair - photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

Statue at front of Texas Women's Museum looks over USMC Drum & Bugle Corps performance at Texas State Fair - photo by Ed Darrell

 

Kathryn and I took advantage of Dallas ISD’s State Fair Day to carry out a dozen errands including blood chemistry checks and a run to Kenny’s school, the University of Texas at Dallas, to finish some paperwork for his visa in China.  We arrived at the State Fair in mid-afternoon, in time to catch the USMC Drum and Bugle Corps’ entire performance in a venue quite different from their usual spit-and-polish home.

Under the aegis of Big Tex, they performed on the parade ground off to the side of the Texas Women’s Museum.  The grandstands were larger than D.C.’s, but covering only three sides and leaving the backdrop open for tourists wandering by to spoil, or add interest to, the photos of other fair goers.

A woman pauses, a man strolls, becoming part of the changing backdrop of the stage for the USMC Drum and Bugle Corps at the Texas State Fair - photo by Ed Darrell

A woman pauses, a man strolls, becoming part of the changing backdrop of the stage for the USMC Drum and Bugle Corps at the Texas State Fair - photo by Ed Darrell

 

The group’s performance sparkled with brilliant performances in the drum and bugle corps style — we’ve been spoiled by the Duncanville High School Marching Band’s constant level of near-perfection, but were not disappointed in the crisp musicality delivered by the Marines.  These were performances to make other musicians smile and clap with joy at the sound, but delivered without a smile or hint of satisfaction in Marine unsmiling style.  Such incongruence.

Solos featured young Marines from Texas, no doubt including several who had marched in competition against Duncanville for their Texas high schools.  Performances included a Sousa march, and several new compositions from the director honoring, among others, the Navy Medical Corpsmen.  In a tribute to Texas, the group played Elmer Bernstein’s “Theme from the Sons of Katie Elder,” a John Wayne movie shot in Clearwater, Texas, more than a generation ago.  There were percussion numbers, a calypso, a cover of Gloria Estefan.

The set performance closed out with Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be An American.”  This is one of my least favorite tunes to suffer through since most performances turn quickly to maudlin.  Not so here.  Confined to crisp drums and tight brass, the song avoided sappiness, even when the entire Corps put down their instruments for an a capella rendition of the vocal, sung quietly enough the crowd had to strain to be quiet to hear.  This lent a gravity to the lyric that is completely missing from a country band’s high-volume blast.

USMC Drum & Bugle Corps at Texas State Fair - Ed Darrell photo

In a drum and bugle corps, all the horns must function as bugles do -- valves are allowable, so trumpets appear in the group. But there are no slide trombones, no French horns. They are replaced instead by euphonium and mellophone. The groups use tubas with mouthpiece extensions to make them work like bugles, no Sousaphones. Note the tuba players hefting the horns on their shoulders. USMC Drum & Bugle Corps at Texas State Fair, October 8, 2010

 

In the midst of people who didn’t want to pay attention, watched over by the bare-breasted art-deco titaness guarding the Texas Women’s Museum, and in the heat of a Texas October, the USMC Drum and Bugle Corps played as tightly and honorably as they do at more sober and somber venues.  It was great.

I was surprised when the group marched off after an hour’s concert, to the “Marine Corps Hymn.”  They marched a half-mile to one of the fair’s midways, and performed another mini-concert.  Still no visible sweat in the heat.

USMC Drum and Bugle Corps drum major's baton rests while the Corps performs - photo by Ed Darrell

USMC Drum and Bugle Corps drum major's baton rests while the Corps performs - photo by Ed Darrell

 


Annals of DDT: Remembering Rachel Carson

October 8, 2010

From America.gov, the real story of Rachel Carson, in less than two minutes:

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