Free land! May 20, 1862, the Homestead Act

April 30, 2013

A family off to find and settle their homestead, 1886. Photo from the National Archives

A family off to find and settle their homestead, 1886. Photo from the National Archives

History and demographics of the United States were forever changed when the Homestead Act became law early in the administration of President Abraham Lincoln, on May 20, 1862.

The bill that became the Homestead Act, H.R. 125, in the 37th Congress, 1862. Image from the U.S. National Archives

The bill that became the Homestead Act, H.R. 125, in the 37th Congress, 1862. Image from the U.S. National Archives

Here’s the history from the National Archives:

The notion that the United States government should give free land titles to settlers to encourage westward expansion became popular in the 1850s. During that time the U.S. House of Representatives passed numerous homestead bills but southern opposition in the Senate prevented enactment. In 1860, during the 36th Congress, the Senate narrowly passed a homestead act but President James Buchanan vetoed it and the Senate failed its override attempt.

When the 37th Congress convened for its brief summer session in 1861, now without members from seceded states, it was preoccupied with Civil War-related legislation. The House took up briefly the homestead issue in December but postponed further consideration of it until the following February. The House finally passed the Homestead Act on February 28, 1862 by the large margin of 107 to 16. The act worked its way through the Senate until May 6, 1862 when it passed easily by a vote of 33 to 7. After a few minor changes in conference committee—which both houses agreed to without controversy—Congress sent the final legislation to President Abraham Lincoln who signed the act into law on May 20, 1862.

The Homestead Act encouraged western migration by providing settlers with 160 acres of land in exchange for a nominal filing fee. Among its provisions was a five-year requirement of continuous residence before receiving the title to the land and the settlers had to be, or in the process of becoming, U.S. citizens. Through 1986, when the last claim was made in Alaska, the Homestead Act distributed 270 million acres of land in the United States making it arguably one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation in American history.

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April 30 – Fly flags for Louisiana Statehood

April 30, 2013

U.S. and Louisiana flags both should fly in Louisiana today.  Photo by Jack and Joann

U.S. and Louisiana flags both should fly in Louisiana today. Photo by Jack and Joann

Flags out in Louisiana today?  Under the U.S. Flag code, Louisianans (and anyone else so inclined) should fly their U.S. flags on April 30 in honor of Louisiana’s statehood, achieved on April 30, 1812.

On April 30, 1812, the United States admitted Louisiana as the 18th state into the Union. Louisiana was the first state to have a majority Catholic French- and Spanish-speaking population, reflecting its origins as a colony under France from 1699-1763 and Spain from 1763-1803. Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Louisiana’s road to statehood was not all smooth. Federal law required citizens of a newly admitted territory to apply to congress for statehood, and the admission of the Orleans Territory as the 18th state followed years of lobbying efforts by prominent citizens—both American and Creole (French-speaking Catholics). Men such as French-born congressman Julien Poydras and American attorney Edward Livingston sought the greater political rights that statehood bestowed and convinced Territorial Governor William C.C. Claiborne that the Orleans Territory qualified for statehood. Finally in 1811, Democratic President James Madison signed the bill allowing the people of Louisiana to form a state constitution. Following the state constitutional convention in New Orleans where 43 American and Creole leaders convened, on April 14, 1812, President Madison signed the bill approving statehood. The bill designated April 30, 1812, as the day of formal admission.

Seriously, where would the U.S. be without the stories of Huey Long, and without Tobasco Sauce?

More:

Map of the states and territories of the Unite...

Map of the states and territories of the United States as it was from April 1812 to May 1812. On April 30 1812, most of Orleans Territory was admitted as the state of Louisiana. On May 12 1812, the federal government assigned its annexed land of West Florida to Mississippi Territory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the U.S. National Archives: Joint Credentials for the State of Louisiana's First Senators, September 3, 1812

From the U.S. National Archives: Joint Credentials for the State of Louisiana’s First Senators, September 3, 1812 On September 3, 1812 Louisiana’s legislature elected Jean Noel Destréhan and Allan Bowie Magruder to serve as the new state’s first U.S. Senators. Destréhan resigned before being seated and was replaced by Thomas Posey. RG 46, Records of the U.S. Senate


Fly your flag April 28: Maryland statehood day

April 28, 2013

U.S. and Maryland flags flown together. Photo from the Maryland Secretary of State's office.

U.S. and Maryland flags flown together. Photo from the Maryland Secretary of State’s office.

Maryland’s convention to ratify the Constitution voted approval on April 28, 1788, the sixth of the former British colonies to ratify.

April 28 is considered Maryland’s statehood date.  According to the suggestions for proper times to fly the U.S. flag, Marylanders should fly their flags on April 28.

It’s only my opinion, but I think there is no grander display of a state and U.S. flag than with Maryland’s.  Maryland’s flag is a unique design in the state flags, and it features colors not common to state flags.  Our displays of both flags at our Maryland home often drew comments from passers-by (we lived on the street leading to the town’s Metro stop, so there was a lot of foot traffic.

Maryland’s flag features the two family crests of George Calvert, the First Lord Baltimore.  In Maryland law it’s described:

The Maryland flag is divided into four quarters. The first and fourth quarters consist of six vertical bars alternately yellow (representing gold) and black with a diagonal band on which the colors are reversed. The yellow and black quarters represent the family arms of the first proprietor of Maryland, George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore. The second and third quarters consist of a quartered field of red and white (representing silver) bearing a Greek cross with arms terminating in trefoils. The colors in the second and third quarters alternate, with red on the white ground and white on the red. The red and white quarters display the arms of Lord Baltimore’s maternal family, the Crosslands.

The flag was officially adopted only in 1904.  Maryland also has a detailed, but not too lengthy set of instructions on proper display and other care of the state flag.

Historic 15-star/15-stripe U.S. flag, and Maryland flag, in Baltimore

From the W&M Blogs: “American and Maryland flags flying high over downtown Baltimore. Just why does the American flag have 15 stars and stripes? Think about Baltimore’s Fort McHenry and Francis Scott Key.”

Baltimore Harbor is home to Fort McHenry, the fort whose siege inspired Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key to write a poem about the U.S. flag, which became our national anthem.  Partly due to this history, U.S. flags in Maryland often are the historic, 15-star/15-stripe flag that inspired Key.

More:

Maryland flag on the cover of a Justice League of America comic book.

Maryland flag on the cover of a Justice League of America comic book.

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A poem: “After I learned my flight was delayed four hours” (Gate A4)

April 27, 2013

Albuquerque International Airport, at Gate A4

Albuquerque International Airport, at Gate A4

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her—Southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
Questions.

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

Banner inside Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) showing the city's sister cities.  Wikipedia image

Banner inside Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) showing the city’s sister cities. Wikipedia image

The title of this poem is “Gate A4.”

Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952), “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal.” I think this poem may be making the rounds, this week, but that’s as it should be. (via

awelltraveledwoman) (Source: oliviacirce, via awelltraveledwoman)

Certainly this is copyrighted, and you’ll honor that by making sure that the name of the poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, remains attached to it.

It’s National Poetry Month.

Analyzing this piece, I’m not sure where the greater poetry is, whether the meter, or the story.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Kelly Sennholz, who Tweeted links.

Is this viral yet? (More, and resources):

What do you see when the Southwest Airlines craft finally takes off?

YouTube caption:

Published on Sep 25, 2013

A Southwest Airlines 737-700 takes off from Albuquerque, New Mexico (ABQ) for a flight to Chicago Midway (MDW) in September 2013.

Southwest's gates at Albuquerque International Airport

Southwest’s gates at Albuquerque International Airport, on Concourse A


Honk if you don’t get the joke

April 26, 2013

In Texas, Christian-themed bumper stickers outnumber all others by a huge number.

Some of the non-Christians have a better sense of humor, or at least a willingness to pun:

Ankh if you love Isis

“Ankh if you love Isis” bumper sticker in Texas. Photo by Ed Darrell

Of course, in order to get the homophone pun, and the joke, one needs to know a bit about world history and ancient Egyptian religions.  One faces the danger that people in the parking lot at the local Sam’s Club won’t know world history, won’t get the joke, and may take offense.

It’s a form of a test, to see who paid attention in world history and has a sense of humor, and who didn’t pay attention in world history.

I knew a librarian once, a good Christian woman, who hated those “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper stickers.  She said that she once sat on a crowded freeway and counted more than 25 of the things on cars that passed.  No one honked, however, and she feared that meant  people didn’t love Jesus.  Unintentional blasphemy by silence — only in Texas.

Honk if you don’t get the joke.  We’ll find a remedial world history class for you.

More:

Some Texans were unhappy to learn “Don’t Mess With Texas” was an anti-litter slogan; some Texans take their bumper stickers way too seriously. Texas Public Radio image


Resources for World Malaria Day 2013

April 25, 2013

Not a word about condemning Rachel Carson.  No plea to use DDT to try to poison Africa or Asia to health.  That’s a great start.

More:

Mother and son under a protective bednet, the most efficient method to prevent malaria.  Columbia University MVSim image

Mother and son under a protective bednet, the most efficient method to prevent malaria. Columbia University MVSim image


April 25 is World Malaria Day — right, Bill?

April 24, 2013

He’s absolutely right.

English: World Malaria Day Button (english)

English: World Malaria Day Button (english) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are you doing to fight malaria today?

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National Infant Immunization Week, April 20-27, 2013

April 23, 2013

National Infant Immunization Week:  Find out about the power to protect with immunizations on http://www.vaccines.gov/

This week is National Infant Immunization Week designated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  Vaccinations worked miracles in extending human lifespans, and in making childhood much safer from disease, for those children who get vaccinated.

Information following comes directly from the CDC:

Protect Your Baby with Immunization

Photo: A mother and childImmunization is one of the best ways parents can protect their infants from 14 serious childhood diseases before age two. Check to see if your baby is up to date on immunizations.

It is important for children to be fully immunized. Diseases that can be prevented with vaccines can be very serious – even deadly – especially for infants and young children. For example, children younger than 2 years old are at the highest risk for serious pneumococcal disease like pneumonia, blood infection (sepsis), and meningitis. Before the pneumococcal vaccine was used routinely, an estimated 17,000 cases of severe types of pneumococcal infection, like meningitis, occurred each year.

Immunization. Power to Protect.

Immunizations have helped to greatly improve the health of children in the United States. Most parents today have never seen first-hand the devastating consequences that vaccine-preventable diseases have on a family or community. While most of these diseases are not common in the United States, they persist around the world. It is important that we continue to protect our children with vaccines because outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases can and do occasionally occur in this country.

For example, in 2010, there were 27,550 people reported to have “whooping cough” (pertussis) in the United States. Twenty-seven deaths were reported – 25 of these were in children younger than 1 year old. In 2011, 222 people were reported to have measles in the United States – that’s more than any year since 1996. Measles is brought into the United States by unvaccinated U.S. residents and foreign visitors who get infected when they are in other countries. Measles is still common in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. In fact, in France alone, more than 15,000 people were reported to have measles in 2011. Measles spreads easily, and it can be serious, causing hospitalization and even death. Young children are at highest risk for serious complications from measles.

Vaccinating your baby according to the recommended immunization schedule gives him or her the best protection against 14 serious childhood illnesses – like measles and whooping cough – before he is two years old. The recommended schedule is designed to protect infants and children early in life, when they are most vulnerable and before they are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases.

Vaccine Information for ParentsVisit CDC’s vaccine website for parents.

The Diseases Vaccines Prevent

The recommended immunization schedule for babies includes vaccination protection against all of the following diseases:

Vaccinate On Time, Every Time

Even though the United States experiences outbreaks of some vaccine-preventable diseases, the spread of disease usually slows or stops because of immunization. If we stopped vaccinating, even the few cases we have in this country could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases. Fortunately, most parents choose to vaccinate their children and immunization rates in this country are at or near record high levels. In fact, less than 1% of children do not receive any vaccines. However, some children have not received all of their vaccines and therefore are not fully immunized. It’s important that children receive all doses of the vaccines according to the recommended immunization schedule. Not receiving all doses of a vaccine leaves a child vulnerable to catching serious diseases.

That’s why it’s important to make sure that your child is up to date on his or her immunizations. Call your pediatrician to find out if your child is due for any vaccinations. Or, you can use this online tool to enter your child’s current record and quickly see if any doses have been skipped or missed. It is important to your child’s health to be up to date on immunizations.

Paying for Immunization

Photo: A babyMost health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccinations, but you should check with your insurance provider before going to the doctor. If you don’t have health insurance, or if your insurance does not cover vaccinations, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program may be able to help with the cost.

The VFC program helps families of eligible children who might not otherwise have access to immunization. The program provides vaccinations at no cost. Children younger than 19 years of age are eligible for VFC vaccines if they are:

  • Medicaid-eligible
  • Uninsured
  • American Indian or Alaska Native,
  • Underinsured and vaccinated in Federally Qualified Health Centers or Rural Health Clinics.

Parents of uninsured or underinsured children who receive vaccines at no cost through the VFC Program should check with their health care providers about possible administration fees that might apply. These fees help providers cover the costs of giving the vaccines, including storing the vaccines and paying staff members to give vaccines to patients. However, VFC vaccines cannot be denied to an eligible child if a family can’t afford the fee.

Have Questions about Immunization?

  • Talk with your child’s health care professional, contact your local or state health department, or call the CDC at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).
  • Visit CDC’s vaccine website for parents

More Information

CDC works 24/7 saving lives and protecting people from health threats to have a more secure nation. A US federal agency, CDC helps make the healthy choice the easy choice by putting science and prevention into action. CDC works to help people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

Last syndicated: April 19, 2013
This content is brought to you by: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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Remembering Lindheimer’s muhly grass from last year’s garden

April 23, 2013

It’s spring.  The grasses are sprouting.

Texas is a good place for grasses.

Lindheimer's muhly grass, in the afternoon sun

Lindheimer’s muhly grass, Dallas, Texas, January 2013. Photo by Ed Darrell; horticultural adventures by Kathryn Knowles

Spring sunlight is spectacular on the new flowers; winter sunlight, in the afternoon, shows a different kind of spectacular.

Lindheimer’s muhly grass, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, shows beauty from soon after it sprouts until long after it’s gone dormant.  A garden is a year-around project, and joy.

History lives in those grasses, too.  You can find some at the Native Plant Society of Texas’s website, and its description of Lindheimer’s muhly.

This seems pretty dumb now, but many years ago when I first heard about so many grasses called “muley,” I was puzzled about that name. I’d heard of muley cattle such as polled Herefords, but not hornless grass! Needless to say, as soon as I looked up Lindheimer muhly, I could see it is in a genus named after a Mr. Muhlenberg.

Gotthilf Hunrich Ernst Muhlenberg lived from 1753 to 1815. He was born into a prominent Pennsylvania family, and his father and brothers were influential patriots during the Revolutionary War. Because of his family’s involvement in the Revolution, Muhlenberg was on the British hit list.

While he was hiding out in a rural area away from Philadelphia during the Revolution, Muhlenberg became interested in botany. Through his extensive collections, Muhlenberg made major contributions to botany, and many plants have been named in his honor. For example, among our local flora are several species of muhly grass (Muhlenbergia) and Chinquapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii).

Lindheimer muhly was named in honor of Ferdinand Lindheimer, the “Father of Texas Botany.” Many other plants native to the Texas Hill Country also bear the name “Lindheimer” or “Lindheimer’s.” Most of these plants were first collected by Lindheimer, who settled on the banks of the Comal River in New Braunfels in 1845.

Another entry in the Blackland Prairie Almanac, perhaps.

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Once again, the Earth Day/Lenin hoax trotted out: Earth Day honors Earth, our majestic home — not Lenin (2013 version)

April 22, 2013

This is mostly an encore post, repeated each year on April 22 — sad that it needs repeating.

You could write it off to pareidolia, once. Like faces in clouds, some people claimed to see a link. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, coincided with Lenin’s birthday. There was no link — Earth Day was scheduled for a spring Wednesday. Now, years later, with almost-annual repeats of the claim from the braying right wing, it’s just a cruel hoax.

No, there’s no link between Earth Day and the birthday of V. I. Lenin:

One surefire way to tell an Earth Day post is done by an Earth Day denialist: They’ll note that the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, was an anniversary of the birth of Lenin.

Coincidentally, yes, Lenin was born on April 22 (new style calendar; it was April 10 on the calendar when he was born — but that’s a digression for another day).

It’s a hoax. There is no meaning to the first Earth Day’s falling on Lenin’s birthday — Lenin was not prescient enough to plan his birthday to fall in the middle of Earth Week, a hundred years before Earth Week was even planned.

About.com explains why the idea of a link between Earth Day and Lenin is silly:

Does Earth Day Promote Communism?
Earth Day 1970 was initially conceived as a teach-in, modeled on the teach-ins used successfully by Vietnam War protesters to spread their message and generate support on U.S. college campuses. It is generally believed that April 22 was chosen for Earth Day because it was a Wednesday that fell between spring break and final exams—a day when a majority of college students would be able to participate.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the guy who dreamed up the nationwide teach-in that became Earth Day, once tried to put the whole “Earth Day as communist plot” idea into perspective.

“On any given day, a lot of both good and bad people were born,” Nelson said. “A person many consider the world’s first environmentalist, Saint Francis of Assisi, was born on April 22. So was Queen Isabella. More importantly, so was my Aunt Tillie.”

April 22 is also the birthday of J. Sterling Morton, the Nebraska newspaper editor who founded Arbor Day (a national holiday devoted to planting trees) on April 22, 1872, when Lenin was still in diapers. Maybe April 22 was chosen to honor Morton and nobody knew. Maybe environmentalists were trying to send a subliminal message to the national subconscious that would transform people into tree-planting zombies. One birthday “plot” seems just about as likely as the other. What’s the chance that one person in a thousand could tell you when either of these guys were born.

My guess is that only a few really wacko conservatives know that April 22 is Lenin’s birthday (was it ever celebrated in the Soviet Union?). No one else bothers to think about it, or say anything about it, nor especially, to celebrate it.

Gaylord Nelson, Living Green image

Inventor of Earth Day teach-ins, former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson

Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, usually recognized as the founder and father of Earth Day, told how and why the organizers came to pick April 22:

Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an “environmental teach-in.” He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet; it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events—so he chose Wednesday, April 22.

In his own words, Nelson spoke of what he was trying to do:

After President Kennedy’s [conservation] tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called “teach-ins,” had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me – why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.

Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:

“Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems…is being planned for next spring…when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’…coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned….”

Nelson, a veteran of the U.S. armed services (Okinawa campaign), flag-waving ex-governor of Wisconsin (Sen. Joe McCarthy’s home state, but also the home of Aldo Leopold and birthplace of John Muir), was working to raise America’s consciousness and conscience about environmental issues.

Lenin on the environment? Think of the Aral Sea disaster, the horrible pollution from Soviet mines and mills, and the dreadful record of the Soviet Union on protecting any resource. Lenin believed in exploiting resources, not conservation.

So, why are all these conservative denialists claiming, against history and politics, that Lenin’s birthday has anything to do with Earth Day?

Can you say “propaganda?”  Can you say “political smear?”

2013 Resources and Good News:

Good information for 2012:

Good information from 2011:

Good information from 2010:

2013 Wall of Shame:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2012:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2011:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2010:

Spread the word.  Have you found someone spreading the hoax, claiming Earth Day honors Lenin instead?  Give us the link in comments.


Rachel Carson/DDT hoaxing from the Ayn Rand Institute

April 21, 2013

Welcome, refugees and truth-seekers from WUWT:  If this site seems a little unusual to you, you should know that at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we try to stick to science, and we don’t censor opposing opinions.  Genuinely interested in the DDT/Malaria issue?  See this collection.

______________

A couple of physicists get together in a podcast from the Ayn Rand Institute, Poke in Your Eye to Eye, and demonstrate that they don’t know biology well, they know less about history, but they don’t hesitate to tell whoppers about Rachel Carson and the value of DDT“Silent Spring 50 Years Later [a special Earth Day podcast].

English: An image of the main entrance of Rach...

A better indication of the legacy of Rachel Carson: Schools across America named after the woman, to inspire children to explore science, and to read and write. Here, the main entrance of Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, Virginia. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Earth Day must be coming up.  The usual suspects trot out their usual disinformation and hoax campaigns — and it will continue through Earth Day on April 22, International Malaria Day on April 25, through Rachel Carson’s birthday, and probably all summer.

Mencken warned us that hoaxes, once out of the bottle, can’t be put back.  Twain (and others) remind us that whopping falsehoods travel around the world “while truth is getting its boots on.”  Amanda Maxham, who is listed as an astrophysicist at the Rand site, interviewed physicist Keith Lockitch — and they repeat almost all the hoary old false fables invented by Gordon Edwards and Steven Milloy about malaria, DDT, and Rachel Carson.

A few of the errors committed by the polemicists at the Ayn Rand Institute:

  • ‘DDT doesn’t breed mosquitoes more resistant to the stuff, but instead weakens the population through reducing diversity.’  Absolutely wrong.  Turns out the new alleles mosquitoes pick up that makes them resistant and immune to DDT, are ALSO the alleles that make mosquitoes resistant to the whole class of chemicals, and thereby foul up efforts to develop new pesticides.

    Tanzania - Removing DDT

    Cleaning up DDT in Africa: 40 tons of 50 year old DDT were found in Menzel Bourguiba Hospital, Tanzania – FAO photo

  • ‘Rachel Carson didn’t account for the value of DDT in eradicating malaria.’  They start out claiming DDT ended malaria in the U.S. (it didn’t; CDC had won the fight will just mop up operations left, by 1939; DDT wasn’t even available for another seven years), and run through the false claim that DDT alone had almost eradicated malaria from Sri Lanka, but listening to Rachel Carson, the nation stopped spraying and malaria roared back (the nation stopped ALL of its malaria fighting efforts due to costs and civil war; when the fight was taken up again, DDT was not useful; largely without DDT, Sri Lanka has once again nearly wiped out malaria).
  • ‘Because of a lack of DDT use, malaria continues to ravage the world killing a million people a year.’  Actually, malaria is at the lowest level in human history, killing less than a million a year, with great progress being made against the disease using the methods Rachel Carson urged in 1962.  Had we listened to Carson earlier, we could have saved a few million more lives, and perhaps have eradicated malaria already.  Also, it’s important to remember that DDT was never banned in Africa nor Asia; the ban on use of DDT on cotton crops in the U.S. did not cause any increase in malaria anywhere; since the ban on DDT use in the U.S. malaria has constantly declined in incidence and deaths.
  • ‘DDT is very effective because it’s ALSO repellent to mosquitoes, after it ceases to kill them.’  So in the end, they urge the use of a poisonous-to-wildlife, mildly carcinogenic substance, because it repels mosquitoes?  Bednets are more effective, cheaper, not-poisonous to wildlife, and they aren’t even suspected of causing cancer.

Rachel Carson’s life is a model for budding scientists, aspiring journalists, and teachers of ethics.  That so many people spend so much time making up false claims against her, in favor of a deadly toxin, and against science, tells us much more about the subrosa intentions of the claim fakers than about Rachel Carson.

Want the facts about Rachel Carson?  Try William Souder’s marvelous biography from last year, On a Farther Shore.  Want facts on DDT?  Try EPA’s official DDT history online (or look at some of the posts here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub). Want the facts about malaria?  Check with the world’s longest running, most ambitious malaria fighting campaign operated by the good people at the World Health Organization, Roll Back Malaria,  or see Sonia Shah’s underappreciated history, The FeverHow malaria has ruled mankind for 500,000 years.

More:

Roll Back Malaria, World Malaria Day logo for 2013

Roll Back Malaria, World Malaria Day logo for 2013

Wall of Shame (hoax spreaders to watch out for this week):


4 million

April 21, 2013

About noon today Central Time, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub recorded its 4 millionth visit.

Thank you, Dear Reader.

Bring on the confetti and champagne.  Well, champagne, anyway.  Save the confetti money and send it instead to Nothing But Nets to fight malaria.

More notes on “4 million”:


Another great speech of the 21st century: Kiwi MP Williamson on the effects of gay marriage

April 20, 2013

Two great legislative speeches in about two months!  (Here’s the other one, from Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston.)

Maurice Williamson

Maurice Williamson (Photo credit: nznationalparty)

My faith in humanity’s ability to invent rhetoric to cause us to rise to an occasion is in danger of being restored.

Here’s New Zealand Member of Parliament Maurice Williamson, National-Pakuranga, making a case for a national law recognizing gay marriage (on April 17, 2013, I think):

The bill to recognize marriage between homosexual partners passed, 77-44.

New Zealand’s National Party is described as “center-right,” or like a U.S. Republican.  Can you imagine any member of the GOP in the U.S. House or the U.S. Senate having both the guts and the wit to make this speech?

Pakuranga is also leading the polls as the most humorous name for a political district, potentially displacing Cleveland for the first time.  It’s a Maori word, actually, with a beautiful definition, from Maori lore:  “Battle of the Sunlight.”

Tip of the old scrub brush to correspondent Devona Wyant, for finding the thing and sending a link.

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April 20, Glow Day (Marie and Pierre Curie)

April 20, 2013

Radium watch hands; Nobel Foundatin image
Caption from the Nobel.org site: “Radium hands from 1940-1950’s watches. (Photo licensed under Creative Commons, author: Mauswiesel, November 2011)”  The glowing watches to which these hands were attached sometimes caused problems; people who painted the radium on to the hands and the dial suffered a high degree of radiation-related diseases.  Modern watches that glow typically do not use radium.

On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie succeeded in isolating a chunk of the element radium, one of the earliest radioactive elements studied.

For this work they shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, with Henri Becquerel.

Pierre died in 1906, run over by a horse-drawn carriage. Marie won a second Nobel, in Chemistry, in 1911. Marie died in 1934 of aplastic anemia, a disease probably caused by her having received so much radiation over the course of her career.

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Darwin’s death, April 19, 1882

April 20, 2013

We shouldn’t get out of April 19 — a day marked by significant historic events through the past couple hundred years — without remembering that it is also the anniversary of the death of Darwin.

Charles Darwin in 1881, by John Collier

Charles Darwin in 1881, portrait by John Collier; after a Collier painting hanging in the Royal Society

Immortality?  Regardless Darwin’s religious beliefs (I’ll argue he remained Christian, thank you, if you wish to argue), he achieved immortality solely on the strength of his brilliant work in science. Of course he’s best known for being the first to figure out that natural and sexual selection worked as tools to sculpt species over time, a theory whose announcement he shared with Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently arrived at almost exactly the same theory but without the deep evidentiary backup Darwin had amassed.

But had evolution turned out to be a bum theory, Darwin’s other works would have qualified him as one of the greatest scientists of all time, including:

Darwin's theory set out a sequence of coral re...

Darwin’s theory set out a sequence of coral reef formation around an extinct volcanic island, becoming an atoll as the island and ocean floor subsided. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

US Geological Survey graphic demonstrating how coral atolls form on the sinking remains of old volcanic sea mounts, as Darwin described. Wikimedia commons image

  • World’s greatest collector of biological samples:  During his five years’ voyage on HMS Beagle, Darwin collected the largest collection of diverse plant and animal life ever by one person (I believe the record still stands); solely on the strength of his providing actual examples to the British Museum of so much life in so many different ecosystems worldwide, before he was 30 Darwin won election to the Royal Society.  (His election was engineered partly by friends who wanted to make sure he stayed in science, and didn’t follow through on his earlier plan to become a preacher.)
  • Geology puzzle solver:  Coral atolls remained a great geological mystery.  Sampling showed coral foundations well below 50 feet deep, a usual limit for coral growth.  In some cased old, dead coral were hundreds of feet deep.  In the South Pacific, Darwin looked at a number of coral atolls, marvelous “islands” that form almost perfectly circular lagoons.  Inspired partly by Lyell’s new encyclopedic review of  world geology, Darwin realized that the atolls he saw were the peaks of volcanic mounts.  Darwin hypothesized that the volcanoes grew from the ocean floor to the surface, and then the islands were colonized by corals.  The round shape of the volcano gave the atoll its shape.  Then the volcanic mounts eroded back, or sank down, and corals continued to grow on the old foundations.  It was a perfectly workable, natural explanation for a long-standing geologic puzzle.  (See Darwin’s monograph, Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs.)
  • Patient watcher of flowers:  Another great mystery, this time in biology, concerned how vines twined themselves onto other plants, rocks and structures.  Darwin’s genius in designing experiments shone here:  He put a vine in his study, and watched it.  Over several hours, he observed vine tendrils flailing around, until they latched on to something, and then the circular flailing motion wrapped the tendril around a stick or twig. Simple observation, but no one had ever attempted it before.  (See On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants.)
  • Champion of earthworms, and leaf mould:  Darwin suspected the high fertilizer value of “leaf mould” might be related to the action of earthworms.  Again, through well-designed experiments and simple observation, Darwin demonstrated that worms moved and aerated soil, and converted organic matter into even richer fertilizer. (See The Formation of Vegetable Moulds Through the Action of Worms.)
  • Creation of methodological science:  In all of this work, Darwin explained his processes for designing experiments, and controls, and made almost as many notes on how to observe things, as the observations themselves.  Probably more than any other single man, Darwin invented and demonstrated the use of a series of processes we now call “the scientific method.”  He invented modern science.

Any of those accomplishments would have been a career-capping work for a scientist.  Darwin’s mountains of work still form foundations of geology and biology, and are touchstones for genetics.

Born within a few hours of Abraham Lincoln on February 12, 1809, Darwin survived 17 years longer — 17 extremely productive years.  Ill through much of his life with mystery ailments, perhaps Chaga’s Disease, or perhaps some other odd parasite or virus he picked up on his world travels, Darwin succumbed to heart disease on April 19, 1882.

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