Sunday, September 25, 2005

CNN in alternate universe

Made a big mistake. Wanted to get news about the big anti-war protest in Washington Saturday. Watched CNN. Entered alternate universe of CNN where nothing happened in Washington worth reporting on until today, when 400 pro-war demonstrators gathered.

My husband has been telling me for a year that CNN was just as pro-war as Fox News. I kept rationalizing it. Had to bow down today and admit, once again, that he's always right and I'm always wrong. I really hate it when that happens.

Noticed that ABC News had a good piece on-line. That's what most of the liberal/progressive/anti-war bloggers had linked in their pieces. It's date lined after 9 PM Eastern time. Did ABC cover it on the nightly news Saturday?

Will I go into class on Monday and find that none of my students (mostly Fox News and CNN watchers) are also in that alternate reality in which there are no large protest marches on Washington? I don't want to live in a reality in which 100,000 plus people can march in Washington and no one know about it. Obviously I'm hopelessly naive.

I know that all kinds of information lives in on the web, but I live and teach among people who are not web users (for anything other than the current NASCAR standings and their favorite pics of Britanny Spears). Makes it hard to communicate.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

GE eroticizes environmental rape

I've seen a lot of disgusting advertising in my day but the new General Electric spot to promote their "clean" coal technology is the most obscene piece of garbage I have ever encountered. The spot aired twice Saturday 9/17/05 during a three hour treat from AFI -- the top 100 movie lines ever (can you say "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn"?) . The program -- and ad -- aired on Bravo (one of the many media outlets owned by the behemoth GE).

The spot called "Model Miners" by GE says "Coal can be beautiful" and touts "Coal Gasification technology from GE Energy." You can view it for yourself at The ad fills the screen with images of buff, gorgeous, scantily clad women and men all dark and glistening, while the strains of the classic "Sixteen Tons" plays in the background. One woman gives us a smolderingly sexy look while holding a huge jackhammer between her legs. Your typical suave male announcer voices over the following: "Imagine that the 250 year supply of energy were right here at home. Now, thanks to emissions reducing technology from GE Energy, harnessing the power of coal is looking more beautiful everyday. Another product of ecoimagination. GE imagination at work."

Well, there certainly is somebody at GE with some imagination, because the only thing in that ad that bears any resemblance to reality are the (unsung) words to the song -- "sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt." I have spent the past 23 years of my life living among coal miners in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky. I'm here to tell you while many miners clean up right handsome, there's nothing sexy about a miner fresh out of the mine (apologies to my neighbor, Mike).

Here's what a real coal miner looks like:

Underground coal mining is a filthy, dangerous, debilitating job, that leaves most who do it for more than a few years with long term health problems and injuries. The daily grind involves unpleasant, cramped working conditions in dark places where one can never straighten up.

Then of course, there's strip mining, which is how most coal is parted from the earth these days. The job of the strip miner is a lot more pleasant than that of the underground miner, but the devastation to the surface is many times greater. There is a place I have to pass several times a week, that makes me want to weep. A few years ago there was a small county road that wandered up into a holler, with attractive houses along it. When we got 911 and had to have all the roads named, the folks in that holler asked for the road to be "Tranquil Lane" and so it was, in both name and essence. But then along came a coal company that had mined under those hills and now wanted to strip the surface. Sure, the home owners got a decent financial settlement and built elsewhere, but all of us were left to view barren hillsides of bulldozed rubble instead of the exquisite Tranquil Lane.

Some of the area has been "reclaimed" -- sprayed with fescue grass seed. So now we have barren, but green hillsides to look at. Hillsides that already, in less than a year from reclamation show serious signs of erosion. Then there's the long term impact on flooding of removing so much of the forest from the hillsides. There's very little flat land in this county. Reclamation without trees is an invitation to swollen creeks and flooding each time there is a heavy rain. Trees do a lot more than look good on a hillside. They are an essential part of a complex ecosystem.

Of course there are those, who see coal mining through mountain top removal as a solution to all those inconvenient hills and valleys. What are all those cities downstream from us going to do to replace the drinking water the get from the river that begins with us, when all our hills are flattened and the streams are buried?

And finally when they talk about reducing emissions, they are talking about the "dirty" stuff, not the CO2 that cannot be avoided any time that coal is turned into energy. The CO2 that fuels the global temperature increases, than just might, possibly have something to do with the increasing percentage of storms that reach category 4 and 5 status (like Katrina).

Friday, September 16, 2005

Botanist and Foresters -- global warming and autumn leaf anomalies

Hey, I think I'm beginning to catch on to this Blogging thing. If I want anyone to find these rantings I need to have important search terms in the title! So now you're thinking "uh, oh" this probably doesn't have anything to do with "global warming." The fact is I don't know, that's really my question. Are there any biologists out there -- especially botanists --- who can addres my questions about the changing of the autumn colors?

I have lived in eastern Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains for nine years -- for the geologists in the audience -- that's just to the west of the great uplift fault that forms at least part of the Kentucky/Virginia border. For seven years before that I lived just on the other side of that fault in Virginia. So I've had sixteen years of annual observation. And what I've observed over that time is a gradual earlier and earlier appearance of color. One particular type of tree has been my bellwhether; it shows brightly colored leaves earlier than other trees in the forest, and has demonstrated this pattern of earlier and earlier color over the past 16 years. Part of my problem is that I can't pin down the type of tree. I'm fairly certain I'm looking at something in the horse chesnut or buckeye family -- with five to seven obovate leaves in a fan like cluster. The catch is that the leaves of these trees turn scarlet -- not yellow -- and all the reference books depict bright yellow fall leaves for all of this tree family in my region. I was actually thought for a while thinking they were black tupelos (same leaf shape and red fall color, but the leaves aren't grouped in that tell-tail fan like configuration).

Putting aside for a moment what type of trees these are, I have been observing them begin to show branches of brilliant red as early as August in recent years, way ahead of the rest of the forest. Then this year, every example of these trees in my entire county fully turned color (flaming scarlet) from top to bottom by the first week in August. Other tree species, such as maple, which used to hit bright red in early to mid-October, are showing their colors now, in middle September. The sycamores, usually the last to go, have turned yellow everywhere.

That's the observation. Here's the questions. Why is this happening? It's not a one year phenomenon, but a decade long trend. What does this observation say about the mechanism of autumn color? As a school child I remember learning that it was "jack frost" (i.e. the first frost of the season) that brought out the brilliant colors (especially the reds and oranges). But this early color trend is appearing along side increasingly warmer Augusts and Septembers. We've got a lot of brilliant red color on the hills, and the night time temperatures have not dropped below 58 degrees at my altitude where I'm observing this color. Obviously it can't be shorter days (days in August and September are the same length they've always been).

Is it possible the autumn color change is triggered by any kind of stressor -- not just cold, but unusual heat, or drought? Or, here's my pet theory, does it have to do with the total amount of solar radiation (light) absorbed (rather than the length of day)? Some time in the past few months I read report by climatic scientists saying that the amount of sunlight reaching the norther hemisphere was actually declining due to increased water vapor and cloud cover (which itself might be due to warming).

While other types of indicators (animal migrations) seem to be suggesting a later start to fall in the far north of this continent, could other factors (environmental stressors or decreased sunlight) result in earlier fall colors and leaf loss?

My question of the day!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

O'Reilly Factored It Wrong

I love watching Fox News or accessing it through the internet. Can only take it in small doses. Nonetheless, I love finding out what the enemy is up to, and especially in finding flaws with their facts and reasoning. One of my favorite espionage targets is O'Reilly. Love those "talking points" memos -- a caricature of the pompous college professor with PowerPoint slides with special effects for every sentence he utters.
The "talking points" on-line today (9/14/05) was about America and the poor. O'Reilly compared government spending "on the poor" from 1996 (the first year of welfare reform) to last year. He used raw dollar amounts for his comparison (no adjustments for inflation), and showed a nearly 50 percent increase in spending. Now this stuff is my life -- I actually am a college professor (minus the PowerPoints because my Community College is too poor to support that technology in the classroom). I teach social problems and inequality and spend vast amounts of time mining this type of information from the vast federal bureaucracy.
O'Reilly's figures were not bogus, but highly misleading. The single biggest item in that "spending on the poor" is Medicaid. Money that benefits the poor, but certainly does not GO to the poor. It goes to physicians, psychiatrists, hospitals, drug companies, and many other affluent folks. And Medicaid is where almost every penny of that increase has gone. Spending on cash payments (loved it when O'Reilly said "that's free money") has declined. It has had to -- by law. You know that law everyone calls "welfare reform" from 1996. That law was very specific, it cut spending to state governments for direct cash payments to poor people every year for the past 10 years.
O'Reilly's point? America is generous to the poor. I'll grant that individual Americans are very generous in times of crisis. But the American government generous to the poor -- not. Generous to some parts of the medical community -- yes indeed.
My mom, poor dear, at 81 just figured out what a racket is being run between the medical equipment industry and Medicare (similiar to but different than Medicaid). They bought my 93 year old Dad a really fancy walker to go walking out side, with wheels and brakes and a seat from a discount store for about $80. Then the doctor recommended that for around the house my Dad needed a simpler version, without wheels, and wrote a prescription and told my mom to go to a particular medical equipment company that would do all the Medicare paperwork for her. The prescription was written for a "rental" of 999 months. After signing all the forms and paying the deductable, it dawned on my Mom that by "renting" the walker on a monthly basis, the medical equipment company would probably make several hundred dollars off this one item -- that certainly could not have cost more than the fancy wheel walker she had purchased outright. She was outraged. She asked me if the government "knows" about this, and was disgusted to discovered that, yes, indeedy, this was well known and understood by our government. Just another example of how generous our government is.