Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pictures of the Kids'

So the new principal at Tooele’s East Elementary has been named instructional principal of the year for the state of Utah (UAESP). Shanz Leonelli’s story is one of meteoric success that resonates with current news sorties coming out of high schools across the nation.

East Elementary is in need of some good leadership, and It is interesting that they saw the leadership they needed in native Tooelian Shanz Leonelli. I’ve written about Tooele’s East Elementary before; it is the partially open classroom building where one of the teachers was sexually abusing little boys during school hours. Maybe I should say “allegedly” sexually abusing little boys, but that sounds hollow given the fact that the abuser plead guilty and is serving a 30-year sentence in the state pen.

Tooele is a small city, but it does appear to cough up more than its fair share of stories about sexually-themed criminality with minors. Every once in a while the stories are interesting enough to bring them to national attention. So was the case with the child pornographers of Tooele High’s baseball team. Shanz Leonelli played a supporting role in that drama.

It was March 2004, and Shanz had taken the THS baseball team to a game in St George Utah. It was a long drive so the team was staying in the Bluffs Inn Motel on the night of March 11th. Somehow a group of boys including Shanz’s 18-year-old cousin Shane were able to convince a 15-year old girl shortly after their arrival to have “sexual contact” with a group of six of them until 4am. One of the 15-year old boys videotaped the encounter for posterity. In 2004 this apparently involved actual videotape and a camcorder; everyone smiled for the camera.

I guess it was the smiles that lead Deputy Tooele County Attorney Gary Searle to say that the actions were consensual despite the fact that the girl at 15 was younger than Utah’s age of consent.

"It appears from our looking at the videotape she was somewhat hesitant to begin with, but as time went on those barriers were broken down," he said while stressing again that the incidents were consensual. "There was no force, no threats." – Deseret News July 2 2004 quoting Deputy Tooele County Attorney Gary Searle

Of course I’m getting ahead of myself. The guys played baseball in St. George, and it is difficult to find out who won, and by how much. I’m not really sure who they played…besides the 15-year-old girl. Some time went by before a startled Tooele Mom walked in on her son as he was playing a video on their TV. I picture her uttering these fateful words: “whatcha watchin there?”

The video, which may or may not have had several copies made, had been at least partially viewed by many members of the THS baseball team. Now it was reaching a wider audience. It was given to a someone in the school system where it percolated to members of the superintendent’s office, and the police.

Shanz was not the only school system employee to have a family member in a starring role on the tape. Rumors that administrators in the school system traveled to St. George to meet with the girl surfaced. How long the tape may have sat in the possession of school administrators before getting to the police was questioned. The only thing that was apparently not questioned was that Shanz was a young teacher who had just four years of teaching experience, and he was a good person.

"Mr. Leonelli is a fine young teacher at THS, is of high moral character and of unquestioned ethical standing. All information available to us leads us to believe that his work as baseball coach at THS was appropriate and honorable." – Tooele School Board

Shanz resigned under the apparent direction of Larry Shumway who was then superintendant of the Tooele School District. Larry would eventually become superintendant of the entire state school system.

"It looks like the actions of the administration were appropriate" – Larry Shumway Tooele School District Superintendant 2004

Shanz also got a terrific outpouring of support from the community. People lambasted the actions of the girl suggesting that her mistakes should not taint the future lives of the players. Two of the players were 18 so they faced felony charges as adults.

Then the story hit the national news. Unlike the Steubenville case that has caught everyone’s attention this one had its moment in the spotlight, and then faded away (it is interesting to point out that the Stubenville victim was 16, and none of her attackers were 18 yet). Still, as I well know, any bit of national spotlight causes a deer in the headlights moment in Tooele. Eventually Sandy Sheppard (previous THS principal) would leave the Tooele school system with the cloud of the THS baseball team scandal haunting her.

So imagine my surprise when the relatively new teacher/coach who had resigned under a cloud of national shame resurfaced as principal of the local Elementary school. Then he quickly earns statewide recognition as principal of the year (instructional). What had he been doing during the tenure of his resignation that had garnered him such important experience?

Shanz apparently had been working as a photographer.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston CoSGO

April, I am told, is the month of conspiracies. As proof I am given a list of horrible things that happened in April….Oklahoma City, Waco, and now the Boston Marathon Bombings. I am told that these are false flag operations just like 7/7 and 9/11; whose very names testify to the fact that they did not happen in April.

There is no doubt that the Oklahoma City bombing was the result of a conspiracy. The Boston Marathon Bombings were also probably the work of a conspiracy. The bombs certainly did not assemble themselves and accidentally arrive at the finishing line. I suspect that the Boston bombers were part of some Patriot day/ tax day/ teabagger /psychopath group, but I have no evidence of this, and I’ve been wrong in the past. I should put this post up quickly as there are rumors that an arrest is imminent, and it is better to be wrong before there is enough widely available information to show you are wrong.

There is also the conspiracy-conspiracy associated with the Boston bombings. Pictures have popped up with explanations about what couldn’t have happened a certain way. I’ve seen several different versions of lists with titles like: “how to recognize a false-flag operation”. These items did not assemble themselves either. These conspirators are likely sprinkled around the nation. These conspirators hunch over their laptops in fast-food establishments which offer free Wi-Fi. The flow of their words is lubricated by their own unfocused fear, and a layer of trans-fat-laden grease on their keyboard. WE ALL NEED TO KNOW about what could have happened; even if it takes all their Photoshop skills to convince us to pay attention.

I personally like fantasies, and some of the mine are not entirely…well…not entirely… However, I have a keen sense of reality. I usually wear pants in public; even if they are sometimes spandex bicycle shorts.

I could, for instance, dream about riding unicorns through fields of glowing neon flowers, and then stopping at a mossy stream bank, where we could sit hand-in-hand listening to the sounds of sparkling water, and discus quantum physics and the fate of kings. It would be foolish, however, to insist that the dream was true simply because I could play with horse crap the next day and insist that it was unicorn poop. Nor would it be reasonable to imagine that the conversation would be any less wonderful simply because unicorns do not exist.

My little personal conspiracy sample suggests that belief is a big part of this conspiracy-conspiracy. None of the links down teabagger-paranoia-lane have yet failed to prominently feature references to “God” or “Jesus”. It appears as if these conspirators are motivated in part by their faith. It is tempting to suggest that people whose relationship to reality is already stretched by insisting that there is an invisible friend who always talks to them can easily be stretched to accommodate all sorts of paranoid delusions.

There is a well-worn saying that: “just because you are paranoid does not mean they aren’t out to get you”. I would offer as a corollary: “Just because it is April does not mean there is not a history of false flag operations”. In fact one of the most famous American false flag conspiracies occurred (well was supposed to occur) in April, and it had striking similarities to today’s Boston Marathon Bombing false flag conspiracy.

In 1971 Tower Publications, published a “The Scandal of Scientology”; a book about Scientology written a Harvard-educated author by the name of Paulette Cooper. The Church of Scientology was very unhappy with the book. They quickly set about suing Paulette for libel.

Uncomfortable with the prospect of relying on simple legal action the CoSGO (Church of Scientology Guardian Office) set about trying to discredit Paulette. CoSGO just knew she was a sexual deviant so they set about producing evidence of her deviance. They painted her name and phone number on walls so she would get obscene phone calls. They sent letters to her neighbors claiming that she had venereal diseases.

They knew she had it out for the Scientologists so they broke into her home, stole stationary that had her fingerprints on it, and then typed out bomb threats and sent them to themselves. For the bomb threats they had Paulette arrested, and a grand jury even indicted her. However, the best was yet to come; in April of 1976 the CoSGO began planning “Operation Freakout”.

In Operation Freakout CoSGO planned on making bomb threats to Arab embassies in Paulette’s name, send threatening letters with Paulette’s fingerprints to President Ford and Henry Kissinger, and then have a Paulette impersonator make incriminating statements in public. How believable would this conspiracy be as a plot element in a spy movie?

Unfortunately for CoSGO a couple of their agents got caught breaking into a courthouse to support a different conspiracy (Operation Snow White). This put a damper on CoSGO operations, but Operation Freakout planning documents were still on file when the FBI raided the LA CoSGO offices in July of 1977. Sometime later in 1977, after Operation Freakout came to light (According to an affidavit given by Margery Wakefield which became public in 1990), CoSGO was developing plans to assassinate Paulette. Luckily for Paulette they decided it was better to simply settle with her for an undisclosed amount of money in 1985.

It is natural for religiously-extremist Americans to envision conspiracies as they have played significant parts in them in the past. The same logic that allows the creation of stories of divine intervention in order to dupe converts can be used to create stories of evil intention to dupe other potential followers.

The uniquely perverse element is that the very people manufacturing the false proof that there is an intricate conspiracy may actually believe that there is one.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Birds and Bees

Earth day is fast approaching, and as it draws nearer the calls for civil action against the agricultural mega-corporation Monsanto grow louder and louder. It is a great and powerful buzzing. Like a giant hive of bees.

Bees are in fact a significant prop in this anti-Monsanto play.

Industrial agriculture has a long history of causing significant environmental damage.Rachel Carson's 1962  book “Silent Spring” helped to popularize the very idea of environmental damage with the story of how the organochlorine insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) might be causing damage to the ecosphere.

DDE is the toxic breakdown product of DDT that can be found in animal tissue. DDE is perhaps the most famous marker of food chain magnification of a toxic material. Since banning  of DDT others, like mercury and PCBs, have become famous as well.  Though DDT is not extremely toxic to vertebrates at the levels it was applied to crops DDE concentration would be magnified by food chain accumulation till high-level predators might have thousands of times the concentration initially applied to crops for insect control.

DDE was especially damaging to birds as at high enough concentrations it inhibits a key enzyme in eggshell formation.

The class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids made by Bayer are implicated as one of the factors that is applying stress to bees. These nicotine-related insecticides apparently do not magnify in the food chain like DDT/DDE.  The use of the neonicotinoid insecticides adds to the combined stresses on modern beehives which together are thought to be causing significant numbers of hive deaths; including those attributed to colony collapse disorder.

I know that I've not made a connection between Monsanto and the bees, but this is the road one must go down to understand where the connection comes from.

What Monsanto has done is successfully market genetically modified crops (GMO) for food use.

The very idea of GMOs offends the strongly held religious beliefs of many people. Man should not “play god” by creating “Frankenfoods”. Many people believe that tampering with the genetic code in a living organism is tampering with some divine plan, and it invites some unspecified divine retribution. The battle against GMOs has taken on the flavor of a jihad.

I personally think that the application of techniques for genetically modifying crop plants will result in wonderful foodstuffs for future consumption. I can imagine a wonderful world with decreased chemical contamination, and increased variety and flavor. Because of these utopian fantasies I have been branded a “Frankenfooder”. It sounds like an evil label.

Should I be worried that farmers armed with pitchforks and torches will storm my garden and mistakenly destroy my heirloom tomatoes? If they want to be effective they will have to get to them before the deer eat them,

Unfortunately the first few large-scale GMOs are not what I would have chosen. Though I like the idea that GMO processes can bring products from the laboratory to the table I think they could have chosen much more wisely.

The roundup ready soybeans were the first plants I noticed hitting the market. In order for this genetic modification to be useful the farmer has to also be ready to use roundup, and then he has to apply a bunch of it. The active ingredient in roundup is the enzyme inhibitor glyphosate (N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine). The genetic modification is the insertion of an enzyme that is resistant to glyphosate inhibition. The gene comes from a common soil bacterium

Inseertion of a bacterial gene is not the only way to combat glyphosate inhibition. I would assume there are all sorts of mutations in either the susceptible enzyme or the physiological processing of  glyphosate that can result in resistance. If I was to design a large-scale experiment to discover some new ways of relizing glyphosate resistance I would simply apply large quantities regularly to a large variety of weeds, and see what grew. This is in essence what growing roundup ready soybeans does. Unfortunately the farmer growing roundup ready soybeans cannot afford to simply collect some roundup resistant weeds, and declare a success. The farmer must apply more and larger quantities of roundup in the hopes of achieving a concentration that is just enough to kill off the resistant weeds, but not enough to kill off the soybeans. Natural selection at work.

The other GMO that I think is a mistake is MON810. MON810 is a corn transformed with Bacillus thuringensis toxin (BtT). BtT is a protein insecticide that specifically targets certain types of insects. It is extremely effective against lepidopterans (butterflies and moths)

I don't have the same problem with BtT transformed corn that I have with Roundup-ready soybeans, but natural selection is still the complicating factor in the use of this product.

In the typical soil of a farm one might expect to find several strains of crystal-protein producing Bacillus. It would be surprising to not find a BtT. Many farms use BtT as an effective organic insecticide. Some produce can apparently be labeled organic is only BtT is used as an insecticide on it. BtT can be aerially sprayed on people's homes. It has been repeatedly sprayed on several Washington Dc suburbs to control Gypsy Moth infestations; I bet there are several Monsanto lobbyists in those high-dollar neighborhoods. However, in all these cases the BtT is not chronically present in the environment in high enough concentrations to provide a constant selective pressure.

Unlike DDT BtT is a protein and its breakdown products are amino acids, and neither it nor its breakdown products bio-accumulate as toxic materials in the food-chain.

In the fields around a field of BtT GMO corn insects will come into contact with sub-lethal amounts of BtT. After the corn is harvested, and the stalks are plowed into the soil insects there will be exposed to sub-lethal concentrations of BtT.

Closer to the field of GMO corn, and perhaps near the roots in the soil around them insects will be exposed to lethal but sub-optimal concentrations of BtT.

This gradient of BtT will persist as long as the crop does; likely through generations of insects. This sets up a situation where, even in the absence of outright resistant insects to be selected for, BtT resistance will provide a clear selective advantage. Since insects can have thousands of offspring the ability for just a couple of resistant individuals to graze several acres of land made unsuitable to their closest competitors can result in huge numbers of resistant progeny in one generation. The synergies of partial and co-dominance could result in even more resistance in subsequent early generations.  The risk of resistance to BtT is very real.

BtT is a wonderful product. It is used for all sorts of things. The one used in MON810 is so very specific to lepidopterans that beekeepers can spray their bees directly with it to eradicate wax moths.

Unfortunately my objections to the current crop of GMOs involves invoking natural selection, which is an anathema to many people who religiously object to GMOs. It also does not paint the process of developing GMOs as evil, only the examples of having done it. For that reason these -I think reasonable- objections are not often given voice by those objecting to GMOs.

This is how the anti-GMO folks I know and I can effectively agree on controlling the use of current GMOs, and yet they can malign my position and label me a “Frankenfooder”. The fight against Monsanto apparently also resembles a religious movement in that purity of thought is highly valued.

So the relationship between Monsanto and bees is that Monsanto made MON810 which has an insecticide in it, and there is another group of insecticides made by another company which may be causing significant damage to beehives. To me this is not a very satisfying connection, but to many in the anti-GMO movement is is sufficient. Not a week goes by that I am not offered an article to read that implies a relationship, and simply refuses to point out that one does not exist.

I should point out that the lack of lethality of BtT toxins on bees is not simply inferred from lack of evidence. It is also not simply inferred from the fact that many beekeepers have for decades regularly applied large concentrations of BtT directly to their beehives with no deleterious effects. I infer it from controlled scientific experiments published in peer-reviewed literature.

Several European countries have apparently banned planting of MON810, and at least one has specifically cited protecting bees as the reason. In Poland protestors dumped about a hive of dead bees and a painted sculpture of a human skull on the steps of their Ministry of Agriculture. When the Polish minister of agriculture announced the MON810 ban he apparently mentioned the need to safeguard bees. He also apparently mentioned that MON810 had already produced millions of hectares of pesticide resistant “superweeds” in the US. The later is interesting because it not only does make use of the natural selection concerns it confuses the genetic modification in the MON810 with that in the roundup-ready soybeans.

Several of the articles mention work done by a bee researcher that linked MON810 to colony collapse disorder. The bee researcher's name was John McDonald who turns out to be a blogger-beekeeper from Pennsylvania whose haphazard experiments have earned him a byline in publications originating as far away as San Francisco.

John did run a couple of experiments where he put hives in interesting places, and then weighed them. Unfortunately the level of resolution he exercised in his control over the hives does not allow one to point to any particular cause for the difference between his strategically placed hives. If one interprets his results in light of the controlled laboratory experiments it appears as if something other than casual exposure to some MON810 pollen was the more likely cause of his problems.

John recognizes the limitations of his experiments, but instead of using Occam's razor to interpret them in the simplest way he imagines hidden effects appearing just bellow the surface of his results. Such speculation is actually fine for stimulating interest and investigation, but it does not rise to the level of actionable information that should inform policy.

“Is it not possible that while there is no lethal effect directly to the new bees, there might be some sublethal effect, such as immune suppression, acting as a slow killer? “ – John McDonald

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not opposed at all to restrictions on the use of these Monsanto GMOs. I just wish the road to deciding to restrict them was not so logically bumpy.

The most problematic fallout from this crusade might be the elimination of neonicotinoids. Without them what will farmers use? Will they go back to the organophosophates and carbamate insecticides they partially replaced? Neonicotinoids may be highly toxic to bees (bees are insects), but the organophosophates and carbamate insecticides are both highly toxic to bees, and humans...and all sorts of living things.

VX nerve gas, amongst the scariest of the weapons of mass destruction, is an organophosphate compound similar to the insecticides.

On the 2nd of December 1984 a plant making precursors for carbamate insecticides in Bhopol india had a leak which killed as many as 16,000 people (why are there not good numbers for things like this?), and injured over 500,000 others.

Of course it may not be a question of returning to using poison on our food in order to ban neonicotinoids so we can halt GMOs. We may all start sustaining ourselves with organically grown heirloom tomatoes, and fat-marbled suburban venison.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cat Killer

One thing that social media is good for is that it really helps one get in touch with the unqualified emotional attachment so many folks have to animals. There are horse people, and dog people, and other animal folks. I am constantly told of horrid cruelties, and reminded of the responsibilities we owe animal companions, and by constantly I mean a couple times a day; sometimes dozens.

Social media, being a product of the internet, has no animal more divine than the common house cat Felis catus. There are cat memes which are so often used to communicate the human condition that one might easily be lead to believe they do it better than is possible with human language.LolCats, Grumpy cat, cute little kittens, and cats dressed like humans looking annoyed; I've seen them all today.

With some people there is a manifest animal membrane through which one interacts with them. First it is their pets, then, if there is time, and there usually is not, there is a bit of human in their interactions. Some days I feel like there may be an animal membrane between me and my own thoughts.

While typing this the cat I named Lilith jumped into my lap, insisted on at least a few earnest ear scratchings, and then leaped off to prowl the halway.

In some mythology Lilith means “Night Monster”, and my Lilith insistently wakes me up most mornings. Purring with delight it punctures my skin with the needle-sharp claws it constantly sharpens on a few choice pieces of increasingly threadbare furniture. It always attacks just before dawn; pouncing on me from the shadows when I am most vulnerable.

AYD was almost named Lilith. In the Othijoth ben Sira Lilith is casually described as Adam's first wife. Made of the same earth as Adam; his equal. I've always thought that was an interesting concept which should have been much more fully developed.

So Felis catus is important in my life on many different levels. This makes it all the more disturbing that I am planning, at least by inactivity, to kill a cat.

It is not a mutant evil cat. In fact it is quite cute. Here is a photo of it staring up at a human in earnest.


There are people who have way too many animals. The “cat lady” is the classic type that defines that disorder. Some animal collectors find their homes awash in fecal material and sick animals. When the homes of these people are eventually decontaminated it is common to find freezers full of animal carcases. The animal collectors become so attached to their animal friends that they cannot let go of them even in death.

I have two cats, and I often think that is one too many. I have no room for a third cat. Cats, at least my cats, behave poorly in groups. My second cat is named “Yuki”. It is a Japanese name, and I usually pronounce it “Yucky”. It is a psychologically damaged cat, but otherwise generally functional. It is an obsessive-compulsive cat. I did not know Cats could be obsesive-compulsive till I saw this cat in action. AOD and AYD picked out the runt of the litter because it was “cute”. Yucky is not the cat whose untimely demise I am contemplating.

Lilith is also damaged; although more understandably so. I am also not planning an untimely end for Lilith. She was abandoned out near our house. A neighbor kid captured it, and brought it around to all the houses trying to find someone to take it in. Her family had refused to adopt it, and so did I. When they could not find a taker they turned her out, and warned it out of their yard with the hose. She ended up taking refuge in our back yard. This was summer.

For months I ignored it, and it would rub my legs and jump into my lap every time I went outside. When it became cold she would just stand at the back door looking inside. When it began to snow we fed it -”just a little 'cause it was so skinny”- and it would stand covered in snow at the back door waiting for more.

Eventually it was let inside, it was fed properly, and she went into heat. At some point this string of unfortunate occurrences became Lilith, and she is now portly, immunized, and fixed.

Summer is coming, and the soon to be late unrepaired male is busy marking the bushes. It rubs against one's leg when out on our porch. It is not skinny and cold since it has found the abundance of voles that this spring is producing, and it has also found the new cat-door to the garage. It has moved into the garage. I'm sure it has marked all sorts of things in the garage as well.

Our house backs up to the mountains. Deer sleep under our back porch. Coyotes and foxes prowl the fields my kitchen window overlooks. AOD and AYD clearly identified a mountain lion in our back yard one night; they were drawn to the frantic yelping of the two cats by the back door.

People often drop off their animals at the end of the road a few blocks around the corner from my house. I've seen many that I don't see for too long. I don't think they find their way home, but some might. Perhaps they are put in a sack and drowned at that point; isn't that the classic way to rid yourself of a cat?

Here is another picture of the cat whose only crime is managing to escape the very real perils of abandonment in the semi-wild. It is aware of the scary things it has sheltered itself in my garage to avoid. When it howls at night there is a hint of fear in its voice.

Look at how saucy-eyed it gets when it is petted.  You can almost see how loud it is purring.

Perhaps the fear is just me. I hear how much I dislike the idea of being forced to take care of someone else's cute little furball of a problem. But it is not just someone else's problem; I could have turned the hose on it before it moved in. I could have sprayed it with one of those awful anti-animal sprays. I could have done something. Now I am planning this cat's death, or at least I am thinking about planning this cat's death.

Perhaps I should pack it up, and drive it to some distant end of some road. It might find a home; right? It worked for whomever put me in this position with this cat. It would almost be like I was not murdering it.

I will probably take it to some animal shelter, where it will get five days or so to be adopted, and then it will be gassed (or whatever they do).

Or maybe you want a new cat?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Told ya so

I love talking about spring partly because the additional words make it appear longer than it actually is. This spring I should be writing Haiku as it gathers only enough steam for short phrases cut by weather.

Yellow flowers show
 Heavy ice-snow falling now 
Flat daffodils lie

I should say that I predicted the crazy weather back in September. The autumnal equinox found the arctic sea ice at its lowest extent ever, and I said that the record arctic melt would: “force the jet stream into some sort of apocalyptic undulation that will intermittently bring shockingly cold air into southern latitudes”. Well, my predictions came true, and you should all acknowledge me as a climate scientist with enough prediction cred as to really stoke my ego furnace.

Unfortunately I also pointed out that it was not actually my prediction, and that my knowledge of climate science was too weak for me to assign any level of credibility to the prediction. I should learn not to deny credit for predictions until after they turn out to be wrong. However, my purpose has been to present some data, some potential ramifications of the data, and then re-visit it to see what the connections might mean. This post is the re-visiting part.

The wild weather rollercoaster that brought record snowfall almost everywhere apparently also brought a little more to some areas of Utah. The Alta ski resort reported receiving 403 inches of snow as of the 8th of April. Last year on the 11th of April they reported having received 353 inches.

However, the Utah snowpack is being reported at 73% of average today. Some of that increased snowfall must have melted away before its time. We are supposed to suffer another drought year with increased wildfire potential.

Warming-weather-wildfires…will this cycle be re-run with increasing power? I should make a prediction.

This week the arctic ice began its annual melt cycle in earnest. Last month’s vernal equinox brought sunshine to the north pole and ended the arctic’s long night. The thin edges of the arctic ice became brittle and calved icebergs into the northern parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Soon puddles will start to form on the ice, and it will fracture into billions of pieces; though if we are to have another record ice melt it will not be evident till late summer.

The overwhelming and accumulating evidence suggests that these cycles, meltings, and warmings are caused by accumulated greenhouse gasses –most significantly carbon dioxide- in the atmosphere. It may be time to talk about doing something about that gas accumulation. However, there are groups that are actively impeding response efforts.

Shortly after I made my prediction last year a former crew member of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior  named Russ George dumped 100 tons of iron rich ore into the north pacific. He did this despite the social stigma of having two first names.

100 tons of dust sounds like a lot, and it is. I don’t have enough closet space to store half that amount, and I’m often struck by how much dust is in my closets. But compared to annual runoff caused by tropical deforestation 100 tons is nothing; literally.

Haiti loses 13.1 million tons of soil into the sea through erosion every year, and that number would probably be much higher if they did not have such a long history of soil erosion. Costa Rica loses 860 million tons of soil annually. I have no idea how they even get numbers like these.  These are both tiny countries, but the amount of dust Russ put into the Pacific was much less than the measurement error for the soil spewed into the sea by either of them.Think of how much more is dumped into the sea by everyone; it is surely a mind-bogglingly huge amount. 

Russ was hoping to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom. The idea was that phytoplankton would fix carbon from the air, and the fixed carbon would be sequestered into more attractive forms than free-floating greenhouse gasses; some may hopefully end up as lox. I like lox a lot.

There are some serious questions about the overall efficacy of trudging iron ore dust from Alberta a couple hundred miles offshore and dumping it to fix a little carbon. I personally do not like the overall economy of this approach.

Despite the fact that iron fertilization may not work well enough for prime time Russ’s experiment apparently did work. The experiment resulted in Phytoplankton blooms that were visible from satellites.

This was not the first time Russ had set out to attempt a large-scale iron fertilization experiment.  Back in November of 2007 he and former Rainbow Warrior skipper Peter Willcox filled their ship Weatherbird with 50 tons of iron dust, and attempted to drop it into the Pacific somewhere west of the Galapagos Islands.

The 2007 experiment would not have been Peter Willcox's first time dumping large quantities of iron into the Pacific Ocean.  On 12 December 1987 the ship Rainbow Warrior was scuttled at Matauri Bay in the Cavalli Islands . Peter was captain of the ship when French intelligence agents critically damaged it with explosives in New Zealand.  One of Peter's 12 person crew, a photographer named Fernando Pereira, was killed in the attack.

During the protests against French nuclear testing in the mid-1980s Peter regularly piloted the Rainbow Warrior into harms way.  French commandos had already attacked the ship once, forcefully boarding it near the atoll of Moruroa.  That time they did not murder any of the crew.

The 2007 experiment did not take place.  The crew of the Weatherbird came under attack.  This time the attack was a passive-aggressive bureaucratic attack instigated by people who called themselves environmentalists and ocean stewards.

Chief amongst these were members of the organization Sea Shepperd.  These are the stars of the reality-TV show Whale Wars.  Sea Shepperd pilots its multimillion dollar fleet in front of cameras in a constant bid to stop whaling and attract donations.  They are very successful, and flashy, and oh so dedicated. 

Paul Watson is the founder of the Sea Shepperd Conservation Society, and Captain of their flagship The Steve Irwin.  Paul also credits himself as a founder of Greenpeace, a claim Greenpeace denies.  Paul calls Russ and Peter "Rapists" and "Insane" and "Dangerous ecological criminals".  Paul is a TV star so I'm sure he can defame their characters with dramatic zest.

Questions have been raised about large-scale iron fertilization of the ocean.  One important concern is the risk that the fertilization will cause toxigenic dinoflagalate blooms. 

Prior to last October's experiment there had been quite a few midi-scale experiments.  None of these was large enough to properly address the toxigenic dinoflagalate bloom.  The only real harm Russ and Peters large-scale experiment could have done was to show that the toxigenic dinoflagalate bloom risk was less than expected.

Paul's crusade against phytoplankton carbon sequestration appears to be more of a high definition multimedia defense of ignorance and fear.  If I was one to make predictions I might suggest that Sea Shepperd will be burning books next. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Pita

I was whooshing along with the flow of the faithful flushing towards sin city when I washed up in St George UT. St George has been transformed by real-estate money flowing into it from Mormon retirees escaping California who discovered that their modest homes were worth enough to fiance a lavish retirement in zion; though things have slowed since the housing bubble burst. Millions of dollars of that money has flowed back to CA in order to finance proposition 8, but what has been left over has caused impressive changes.

There are some areas of I-15 that now sport 80MPH speed limits. By the time I hit them the rain had become sunshine, and they made a sunny spring day all the more wonderful.

The little blue highway sign listing places to eat off of exit 10 also listed something new: “The Mad Pita”. There is a Greek food joint called “The Mad Greek” off the same I-15 in Baker CA where I've often stopped when coming or going to Death Valley or the Mojave Scenic area. I've got fond memories of eating there so I decided this mad restaurant would get some of my patronage.

I've had bad experiences when eating in St. George. The southwest is famous for various varieties of ethnic inspired food. The main culinary inspiration for food in St. George appears to be mayonnaise. At one “Mexican” restaurant in St George I was served a burrito that oozed a mixture of mayo-mushroom soup mix and rice when I stabbed it with a fork. My dining companions agreed with me when I described the seepage as having the consistency of maggot-riddled pus. It is difficult to balance images of surgery with ideas of lunch food.

If I had known that “The Mad Pita” was started by a local anesthesiologist (Josh Larson) I may have reconsidered my decision.

The food was not bad, but it was not inspired. AOD ordered a baklava which was microwaved until the crust was leathery, and the walnut filling was almost molten. In light of my other St George eating experiences I can say this may be the best restaurant in town!

However, the eating experience was not what I was interested in writing about.

Like many quickly-conceived eateries the staph wore T-shirts as a uniform. “The Mad Pita”s staph wore T-shirts with pithy sayings, and you could buy one for yourself if you wanted. My favorite uniform saying was: “Too Bad Ignorance Isn't Painful”.

Of course...finding out what some people believe is ignorant can be a little painful.

By the door, at eye level, was a rather large laminated chart labeled “The World History Chart”. I like history so I put on my reading glasses and squinted in to see what kind of events they thought worthy of including. There is so much in the rich history of people on this planet that what you include, and how you say it, can paint wildly differing pictures of our culture. For instance the words “some cave paintings” takes up about as much room as the name “William Shakespeare”.

I did not find the name “William Shakespeare” on this chart, but I did find some surprising things.

First off the whole chart began at 4000BC. One has to start a chart someplace. I've got history wall-charts that begin at 4.5 billion BC, and they don't have the name “William Shakespeare” on them either. One has to prioritize with limited space, and the farther out you go the less space you have. “The World History Chart” was assembled with separate rows for each major geographic area. The USA and Mexico had a row, so did Japan, So did parts of the middle east, so did China.

It was interesting how little the writers of the WHC had to say about China or Japan back close to 4000BC. It was like the parts of a map where nothing interesting can be found. In the middle ages mapmakers would fill these areas with drawings of fanciful beasts or at least the words “here be monsters”. Just empty space on this chart.

Since the WHC starts so late in the development of human civilization it misses one of my favorite times. Interestingly that favorite time also takes place in china where there is ample space to write stuff on the WHC. It is the neolithic period of Chinese history. One reason I like this period so much is the way its existence has been preserved in intricately carved jade artifacts. The other is how the ornamentation of these artifacts shames the artistic sensibilities of Renaissance Europe. Holding up a picture of a jade carving from 8,000bc next to a two dimensional formulaic painting of a medieval Madonna makes the oppressive boot-heal of religious ignorance palpable.

Ignorance can be painful. It can feel like swollen buboes and cholera. It can take on the appearance of pus swimming with maggots. I would not think a shirt reminding people of ignorance would be an effective uniform for food handlers. I am reminded of famous figures in microbiology. People like typhoid Mary.

The WHC also featured vertical colored lines and arrows. These were the events that crossed geographic boundaries. I looked for the great plagues, and found, at about 2350bc, “the flood”.

Standing back a pace and squinting at the WHC gave a clearer picture of what the WHC authors were getting at. In order to make this more clear I went over a picture I took of it with a little color. I've shaded in the areas with text to make them stand out. I've circled the large empty areas where there was apparently no important history. I've also drawn a red line where I remember “the Flood” line occurring.

Perhaps the juxtaposition of the ignorance saying with the WHC is intended irony. It is certainly subtle enough to be a joke easily missed by those who might be offended by it. If it is not intended irony it is obviously a joke missed by the very people who assembled it.

Either way it was nice to have a little laugh with my falafel before hitting the road again.

Perhaps they should make T-shirts that say:

“If Ignorance Is Not Bliss Then I Don't Know What Is”

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Descent into Spring

There is a road near my house that connects the Tooele and Salt Lake City Valleys across the Oquirrh Mountains. On the western side it rises through Middle canyon, and on the eastern side it descends through Butterfield canyon. Before the road tips down it has risen to something like 9,000 feet. This is close to 3,500 feet above the mouth of the canyon.

Pavement has been steadily creeping up to the summit for years. On the Eastern side it is nearly at the top.

The road is closed in winter, and even though spring is pushing up through the ground all around the mouth of the canyon, winter lurks just a couple miles from the locked seasonal gate.

The road is marvelous this time of year. Up to the gate the roadside displays treasures collected for months in the snow. Unfortunately most of the treasures are beautiful only in the way broken beer bottles catch the sun; although there were a number of brightly colored former condoms that, in their new life as simple wadded latex flotsam, competed with early spring flowers in the underbrush.

Today I rode up beyond spring. I rode until winter settled in, and snow covered the road. It was the first time I’ve taken out my newly spiffed-up 29er so I did not ride until I could ride no further. ATVs and dirt-bikes had ridden groves in the snow that I could have easily followed.

In winter I improve my bikes. I try to only make slight improvements as I’ve had to discard so many come spring in order to enjoy riding. What sounds like a good idea when my major concerns involve melting yet another back tire on my trainer are less effective when I am sweating over the handlebars on an 11% grade.

I stopped where I stopped, and spent a minute listening to nothing in particular, and added a hint of nitrogen to the future snowmelt.

Then I descended into spring. I hit speeds my new “pavement ready” balloon tires complained about in corners (they even have a reflective stripe). I used the disk brakes a little more forcefully than I had planned; my newly installed used rotors (they were such a good deal) began to chirp in time with the rotation of the tire. I’m still not sure about the Thudbuster seat-post, but the new classic swept-back handlebars are a win.

I passed through early spring, and the snow patches disappeared. The road was dry, and the air was crisp. I hopped the gravely bypass around the seasonal gate, and the road straightened out as it fell farther and farther into spring.

My route took me up a few pitches and a bit earlier into spring before I made it home. I’ve set aside some time to examine deeper winter with a roadbike in a couple days. Maybe I’ll switch out the pavement balloon tires for knobbies and see just how much winter is still clinging to the mountain.

Sometimes spring clings to the top of the pass while summer scorches the valley floor.

Someplace to the south it is summer now. This weekend it is conference weekend for the Mormons. Twice a year the most holy prophets speak to their saints and most of them listen in absentia from Las Vegas.