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Showing posts from December, 2008

The Big Lie of Clean Coal

It was only a matter of time before there was another disaster, and just in time for Christmas we see the terrible results of coal burning further polluting the waters of the southeast.

"A wall holding back 80 acres of sludge from a coal plant in central Tennessee broke this week, spilling more than 500 million gallons of waste into the surrounding area.
The sludge, a byproduct of ash from coal combustion, was contained at a retention site at the Tennessee Valley Authority's power plant in Kingston, about 40 miles east of Knoxville, agency officials said.

The retention wall breached early Monday, sending the sludge downhill and damaging 15 homes. All the residents were evacuated, and three homes were deemed uninhabitable, a TVA spokesman told CNN.

The plant sits on a tributary of the Tennessee River called the Clinch River.

"We deeply regret that a retention wall for ash containment at our Kingston Fossil Plant failed, resulting in an ash slide and damage to nearby homes,&qu…

El Paso, the Paris of the southwest, or the Bhutan of the southwest, or something

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My experience in El Paso was both very favorable and very productive for my research, so I definitely can't complain.

That town has a very distinctive feel, which is just another reminder of the vastness and diversity of the U.S. and which makes the whole country so damn interesting. El Paso also feels a lot different from South Texas, which figures since it is 550 miles to San Antonio, for example, and I think it is different than other places I've been in the southwest. The look of the city, the feeling on its streets, the overall vibe in the places I visited all make for an interesting experience.

Lots of good murals, too, it is a visually interesting city despite the generally dusty and or rundown vibe in large parts of it. Some nice vistas when you get up in the mountains too.

The Sacred Heart Tortilleria




You could call this "the obligatory Virgin of the Guadalupe picture", but it is worth noting that this is on the side of the House of Pizza.



I need to go back…
I often suggest to people that they give money to the Heifer foundation, which supplies animals to people in the third world. I like this organization a lot, especially since they supply people with a hive of bees for a thirty dollar donation. Since that is less than half what a package of bees costs here (forgetting even about the cost of the equipment) this seemed like a hell of a deal.

So I was surprised to see that this charity spends its money in unwise ways. For example, the president Jo Luck earns $236,881. How is that a justifiable amount of money for a charity to pay someone, even one that raises a large amount of money? Especially one headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas? Even if a case could be made, I just keep thinking that that is 7,800 hives worth of annual compensation.

I checked some other charities I support. I got all of these figures from an useful website called Charity Navigator.

Appalachian Voices, an organization in Boone, NC that fights mountaintop rem…
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I am headed to El Paso to do some research on a fascinating case of extraterritorial crime from 1886 called the Cutting Case. I'll blog in greater detail about it from down there when I have some more time. In the meantime you can read up: Case of the American, A.K. Cutting.

You have to love Google books.

I did want to take this opportunity before leaving to propose a new promotional picture for Virginia Wesleyan:



This was taken a few days ago, when it was quite cold. The past few days have been very warm (60s-70s), which is far more welcome. Nice when the semester ends and there are some warm days to get into the hives. The bees are definitely enjoying the weather.

There really is no winter here, just brief pockets of chill. I have no complaints (It is warmer here than in El Paso at the moment).

The plants know this--my daffodils are already starting to come up, and there are buds on (a few) plants around as well.

There are really only about six more weeks before it is going to…
It's hard to tell if the Washington Post is being slyly critical or willfully simple in this article about the sudden realization that the Bush administration and Treasury department switched emphasis in a way that means Wall Street financiers get to sidestep the provisions outlined for executive compensation limits:


Executive Pay Limits May Prove Toothless
Loophole in Bailout Provision Leaves Enforcement in Doubt

"But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision, congressional aides said. The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money.

Now, however, the small change looks more like a giant loophole, according to lawmakers and legal experts. In a reversal, the Bush administration has not used auctions for any of the $335 billion committed so far fro…
Here is a modest and sensible proposal:

When Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office, one of the first things he did was end Prohibition. He did this for several reasons centered fundamentally on the fact that Prohibition was both bad and failed policy. Outlawing alcohol did virtually nothing to stop alcohol use in the United States, but it did produce severe social costs in terms of increased criminality among smugglers, lower tax revenues, and greater and more corrupt policing. Importantly, it also normalized illegal behavior by otherwise law abiding citizens, as reasonable people chose simply to ignore the unreasonable law so they could enjoy an adult beverage responsibly.

One unintended consequence of prohibition was a great investment in alcohol production and smuggling activity in Mexico. Some of the best known Mexican beer producers got their start directly as a result of the misguided decision on the part of the United States to squelch its domestic producers. As Gabriela Re…
The new Old Time Herald is out, with an annotated list of online digital traditional music archives that I put together. Most if not all of these links are listed on my music links webpage, but an enterprising OTH reader in New Mexico named Steve Langford has set up a page that has all of the list links on it. Nice effort on his part, much appreciated.
Agree with him or not, Charles Krauthammer often has some interesting things to say. This column nailed the moment Obama faces and the likely nature of his approach:

"A functioning financial system is a necessary condition for a successful Obama presidency. As in foreign policy, Obama wants experts and veterans to manage and pacify universes in which he has little experience and less personal commitment. Their job is to keep credit flowing and the world at bay so that Obama can address his real ambition: to effect a domestic transformation as grand and ambitious as Franklin Roosevelt's.
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The deepening recession creates the opportunity for federal intervention and government experimentation on a scale unseen since the New Deal. A Republican administration has already done the ideological groundwork with its unprecedented intervention, culminating in the forced partial nationalization of nine of the largest banks, the kind of stuff that happens in Peronist Argentina with a gu…
The Center for Public Integrity has put together this excellent if deeply depressing list of the many failures of the federal government. 128 of them, in fact. If you have had the sense that things just haven't been working right, here is some actual proof that you were right. (via Dan Froomkin)

It is worth noting that this is not a list of the usual bumbling government --this is flat-out malfeasance, some of it criminal, that has been enshrined by eight years of incompetence.

It isn't hard to come up with some glaring examples like a totally unnecessary and very costly war in Iraq or the wholesale decline of the American economy. But there are many, many others that bespeak a busted system. An example:

"The Bush Administration’s regulatory approach to toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants was struck down by a federal court that concluded the government flouted health law in a manner reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. The National Academies’ National Res…
I am asked pretty regularly these days if I think that the current financial crisis is going to become another Great Depression. Being a historian with a decent grasp of that time, I usually say the honest thing: I have no idea.

But the fundamentals surely don't look good, and a mismanaged country that has witlessly off-shored manufacturing jobs for close to two decades and failed to deliver increases in real incomes in a quarter century all the while witnessing the rise of an excessively rich overclass atop a financial sector that has collapsed shouldn't be overly optimistic about it being morning again in America in the morning.

Here is a historian, John Paul Rossi, who argues quite clearly that the makings of a depression are in place.
Here is an easy way to stop all conversations at your holiday parties this season: start opining about the looming global helium supply crisis. Be sure to start with the phrase, "I was just talking to an astrophysicist on a plane and he said..." It works, I've tried it.

(but helium is in short supply. According to the Globe and Mail, "half of the helium used in the U.S. comes from a WWII reserve stockpiled to fill blimps" and we may be out by 2017. Though about eight seconds of searching reveals that this was a news story two years ago. Theoretically that would mean there is a great supply crisis today, but just try to get people to be concerned, chicken little.
It is sad but true that there are always one or two knaves who plagiarize work at the end of any given semester. It is a terrible thing, a violation of the school honor code, a deeply stupid thing to do, and etc. But mostly it is a time consuming black hole for me, because as soon as it is clear that a student has plagiarized something it inevitably launches me on an intensive evidence gathering operation. This used to mean going to the library and paging through books, but technology changes everything. Google is the best tool for ferreting out the clowns. And, to be fair, most students are stunningly lazy in their style of plagiarism. It doesn't take much to find where they lifted information, it usually the first thing that comes up.

It occurs to me that a border collie might be better at plagiarizing.

Today I had an easy one--a student copied language directly from a webpage...and didn't even bother to strip the hyperlinks out of it.

But my personal favorite is still th…
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One the students in my Virginia class was describing African American students in 19th century Virginia who had to wrap their feet in guano bags to keep warm in the winter. Nobody knew what these were, and it launched a discussion of the meaning of 'guano' in VA and the South more broadly. No, it isn't too hard to get me talking about guano...the short answer is that "guano" became the universal term for fertilizer long after it was actually real guano.

I never ended up bringing a guano bag into class before the semester ended, so as promised I am posting a picture of one. This is from Tennessee, a 100 pound guano sack. It looks small in the picture, but it is almost three feet long.

The regular, casual, and frightening violence around Norfolk is so common that we don't always even note it, though the newspaper almost daily details child deaths, drug murders, random shootings, non-random shootings, shootings of missionaries, armed bank robberies, robbery +abductions car jackings, ex-cops charged with child rape, muggings, knifings, assaults, and other reminders of life here in the 757 (not to mention rampant property crimes and even the digging up of a Civil War grave for relics). The sheer amount of bank robberies is something I can't believe-it is almost every day. Here was a shooting yesterday about a half mile from my house and about four blocks from an elementary school (and polling place).

But sometimes certain horrifying events do warrant particular attention. Right before we left for Korea there was a mob killing of a navy man in Ocean View, led by three young teenage girls. They have just come to trial now, one of them just pleaded guilty to mu…
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I am starting to have a whole new appreciation for the Columbian Exchange with a daughter in daycare--every week some exotic new virus sweeps through the house and lays us all out. Since before Thanksgiving I have been nailed by some bug that has totally floored me and made me sleep upwards of 15 hours a day. This combined with the always-hectic last week of classes has been mighty rough. Suffice to say, blogging has not been in the works.

...which means I haven't yet had the chance to post a picture of a real milestone-- Lark's first hand turkey: