Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mitt and Beryl

I am on Tybee Island as I peck on my iPad. Toured the historic district of Savannah yesterday. Dinner at The Old Pink House was simply wonderful. Today we hung out on the island, walking the beach and checking out the neighborhoods. Beryl has been blowing through with lots of sound and fury but not much real impact. Kind of reminds me of Mitt Romney who recently told his paid advertisers at Faux News that " I’m just a kid that wants to make a difference for America...."

Like Beryl, Mitt and friends are mostly gusty blowhards with little to offer the Shenandoah Valley or the nation. A windbag that will change direction and intensity tomorrow. A kid when we all need a grown up. Not right for the United States of America.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Suicide isn't painless

It happened on April 26 on I-81 near Mint Spring when a 53 year old Buena Vista woman purposely walked in front of a tractor trailer causing instant death. It happened again on May 19 on I-81 near Verona when a 60 year old Verona man did the same thing.

The lyrics of the theme song of M*A*S*H*, seem to justify or at least explain suicide -

The game of life is hard to play
I'm gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I'll someday lay
so this is all I have to say.
suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
The person who chose to end his or her life is gone and that earthly pain is over. But any suicide leaves family and friends with the enduring pain of sadness, loss, and perhaps many unanswered questions.

Suicide committed this way spreads the pain to the driver of the vehicle, who although totally blameless, will recall and question, and feel pain for the rest of his life. Suicide committed this way spreads the pain to first responders and other motorists and their families who witnessed the horrific event.

Vehicular suicide isn't painless. It is intentional. It is selfish. It is cruel and painful to all the innocents who are unwittingly forced to participate.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tom Morello - "my job is to steel the backbone of people on the front lines...."

From the time I went to college in the late 60s, protest songs, especially those with roots in folk music and rock, have always spoken to a part of my conscience and heart. Like many of my generation, I still have vinyl recordings of Woody Gutherie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, CCR, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and others.

Today, one of the most persistent and angry of those voices is Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and The Nightwatchman. A stellar guitarist, Morello lends his talents and voice to help galvanize grassroots rallies supporting unions and those in poverty from Madison, Wisconsin to May Day in New York City. His recent album, World Wide Rebel Songs was selected as one of the best of 2011.

Here, Morello puts his amazing skills on display along side Bruce Springsteen as they bring new life and energy to "Ghost of Tom Joad" at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert in 2009.

Harvard educated (political science) Morello could have gone a more traditional route, but he chose music, including pretty heavy rock and recently traditional folk music, to make a difference in causes for working people around the world. In this interview with Bill Moyers, Morello talks about his mission, message, and music... "my job is to steel the backbone of people on the front lines of social justice struggles and to put wind in the sails of those struggles...."

Friday, May 18, 2012

A day in Shenandoah National Park

A couple of days ago I spent time with family, and future family, on a day trip to Shenandoah National Park - one of the gems of our great system of national parks. Cruising the Skyline Drive midweek is optimal if you can do it - there is little traffic and the trails have fewer folks. We come to our national parks for solitude and to connect with something beyond the hustle and bustle of life - don't ruin it by coming here with half of NOVA!

Our first stop and hike was at the Bearfence Rock Scramble, a challenging 1.2 mile circuit hike in the Lewis Mountain area. The trailhead begins with an uphill grade typical of mountain terrain and after a short walk the path crosses the Appalachian Trail. Thereafter the blue blazes directed us up and down over sometimes slick and sometimes jagged rocks. This is not a hike for small children or anyone with mobility issues or fear of heights. Dogs are not permitted. Only the foolhardy would attempt this in rainy weather when the rocks are wet and slick. Good hiking boots, with ankle support, are recommended.

The reward for climbing over rough and sharp rocks is a stunning 360° view of the Shenandoah Valley and Virginia piedmont. Seeing the rich farmland and the Massanutten Mountain in the distance, we peered through the haze (historically produced by hydrocarbons released by trees) that gives the Blue Ridge its name  Unfortunately, the haze has gotten much worse and those pristine clear days fewer because of pollution from the region and from the tall spewing smoke stacks of the utilities and industries in the Ohio River Valley. Visibility has decreased by by up to 80% in summer months because of man-made pollution! All the more reason to support the proposed EPA standards for new power plants.

We took a time for a break at Big Meadows where we toured the Visitor Center exhibits and and enjoyed a quick lunch at one of the picnic tables. Even at this usually busy location, midweek was fairly quiet. A JMU van rolled up and parked and we heard several different languages, but our visit was relaxing compared to what it must me like on a pretty holiday weekend. Big Meadows was the site of the 1935 dedication of the Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We should celebrate forward looking progressives who thought and planned for future generations!

After lunch we hiked the Dark Hollow Falls Trail. Like our previous trek, pets are not allowed on this 1.5 mile round trip hike to a pretty 70' cascading waterfall. This is a fairly steep trail that works on old knees going down and the lungs coming back up. Take your time and enjoy the scenery while you listen to the babbling stream. You will work up a sweat, so take some water along.

Continuing our travels, we stopped at a couple overlooks to enjoy the scenery and look at Old Rag through the haze. About 40 years years ago I conquered Old Rag, but am not so sure I'd want to do it again. This popular hike is difficult and one of the most dangerous in Shenandoah National Park. Getting off the Skyline Drive at Rt. 211 we passed through Luray before finding a geocache in New Market and heading home with empty bellies and tired muscles.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Support the New Carbon Pollution Standard

The EPA has proposed the first national standard to limit carbon pollution - that's the nasty stuff causing the climate crisis. That weird, dirty weather you’ve been having – blame carbon pollution. Where does this pollution come from? The shocking answer: 40% of all carbon pollution in the United States comes from power plants.

If this rule goes into effect, no new dirty, climate-change-causing power plants will be built.

Will you tell the EPA you support the first-ever limit on carbon pollution? It’s easy. Just sign the petition at The Climate Reality Project to show your support.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Virginia Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load Watershed Implementation Plan, Phase II (Phase II WIP) was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency on March 30. A public comment period on the plan will end on May 31. The Virginia's Department of Conservation and Recreation is holding a series of public meetings on the Phase II WIP - two in the Shenandoah Valley area are:

James River
May 30, 2012 9:30 to 11:30 am
Alleghany Government Center
9212 Winterberry Avenue
Covington, VA 24426

Shenandoah River
May 31, 2012 9:30 to 11:30 AM
James Madison University Festival Conference Center - Highlands Room
1301 Carrier Drive Harrisonburg, VA 22807

The purpose of these meetings is to provide information on the status of the WIP Phase II and to provide local governments, planning district commissions, soil and water conservation districts, and stakeholders (that would be ALL of us) an opportunity to comment.

As I posted on April 6, WIP Phase 2 (PDF) is filled with vaguely hopeful phrases like "seek opportunities," "promote," and "encourage" and is so lacking in specific implementation actions and targets that it is virtually meaningless. It is kind of like a fellow saying he will graduate from college but not having any specific plans as to how to pay for it, what courses he will take, what major he will pursue, or even what college he will attend. Perhaps this is by design and decree of the McDonnell administration? He and his party have resisted many of the EPA's bay cleanup targets and strategies from the beginning.

If you can't attend one of the meetings, contact DCR and tell them the plan lacks so many specifics it really isn't a plan at all. Tell DCR to describe specific locality-by-locality plans that will make Chesapeake Bay cleanup a reality rather than a pipe dream. You can email comments to vabaytmdl@dcr.virginia.gov or mail them to James Davis-Martin, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, 900 East Main St., 8th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219. Be sure to include your name, address, and phone number in all correspondence.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hey Mark. Hey Jim. Virginians will be watching your vote on student loan interest

Take a moment this evening to remind Senator Mark Warner and Senator Jim Webb to stand with Virginia families and students by supporting the "Stop Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act" to stop the scheduled rate hike in July.

The average student graduates from college with $25,000 in debt, a burden on young families that drains their purchasing power and collectively has a negative impact on the American economy. Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his conservative allies want the double the interest rate on Stafford loans.

Contact senators Warner and Webb and tell them to do the right thing and support the "Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act."

Call Minority Leader McConnell and tell him to keep rates on Stafford loans at a more affordable 3.4% by supporting the "Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act."

We are all in this together

Climate change. Water pollution. Over population. Toxic wastes. Carbon and mercury emissions into the atmosphere. Everyone but the fringe science deniers who have become the Republican mainstream agree that these and other threats are challenging our planet and mankind. Now add to that list species extinction.

A recent report in Nature concludes that species extinction is equally threatening to our world and is a significant driver of global change. Studies over the past two decades have shown the biologically diverse ecosystems are more productive in producing life sustaining for all, including humans. The study's lead author, David Hooper of Western Washington University, states
Some people have assumed that biodiversity effects are relatively minor compared to other environmental stressors. Our new results show that future loss of species has the potential to reduce plant production just as much as global warming and pollution.
The chart, from Millennium Ecosystem Management, shows the interconnected relationship between biodiversity, ecosystems, and human well-being and illustrates how what we do locally can have far reaching impacts.

In short, what may as a inconsequential loss of a species here and a species there can add up to something larger impacting the life of the entire planet. As Richard Pearson of the American Museum of Natural History recently wrote in The New York Times as he pondered nearly 20,000 species facing extinction in the wild, "This should keep us up at night."

It is a local, regional, and global interconnection and in the pursuit of our interests we often unintentionally or intentionally don't connect the dots. For example, much of the air pollution affecting a national treasure like Shenandoah National Park comes industries and utilities in the Ohio River Valley - why do you think they build those tall smokestacks? So the emissions will be picked up by prevailing winds that carry the toxins away from the source.  The dirty air becomes a problem for everybody downwind.

It is the same shortsighted insanity that Rep. Bob Goodlatte's H.R. 4153 would inflict on the Chesapeake Bay. Like many politicians he makes only those connections that have to do with his constant campaign for perpetual reelection. When it comes to restoring the bay he is worse than clueless, he denies scientic facts and the realities of achieving regional goals in our federal system - all for his own political gain.

Species around the globe, even those which you and I may never see, can have dramatic positive benefits for our lives. Don't think a tiny animal on an exotic choral reef could change your life? Think again?

Get involved in your everyday life. Recycle when possible. Nurture wildlife in your neighborhood. Tell your congressman to oppose legislation like H.R. 4153 that would be a tragedy for the Chesapeake Bay. Adopt a choral reef.

This clip from the Institute of Biological Research, Alexander Von Humboldt, Bogotá, Colombia explains the importance of biodiversity.

As Aldo Leopold and later, Paul Ehrlich, remind us - the first rule to intelligent tinkering is save all the parts. Kudos to Mother Jones.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bobblehead Bob and the lunatic fringe

Bobblehead Bob Goodlatte (R-VA06) is at it again. Denying credible science, common sense, and any understanding of cooperative federalism "my congressman" (I may be a constituent but he certainly does not represent me or most of my friends) would throw oil in the waters of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

Let's peek into Bobblehead Bob's Republican world.  It is a strange world in which he marches lockstep to whatever orders come down from the GOP "brain trust." It matters not what is practical, what works, what is for the good of the people. What matters is following the party line even when it is detrimental to folks in the Shenandoah Valley and Virginia. For Bob, it is all about politics and obstruction.

In an April 27 Washington Post column, Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem, long time political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein conclude:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. 
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
If Republicans are the problem, then their loyal lapdog, Bobblehead Bob, is like a pimple on a compound wart on the notion of American democracy, a clean environment, and human rights. A recent example -  "my representative" introduced H.R. 4153, which through the magic of deceptive Republican double-speak, he dubbed the "Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization and Improvement Act." The Chesapeake Bay Foundation called this the "worst piece of legislation affecting the Chesapeake Bay ever introduced in Congress."

Bobblehead Bob Goodlatte has moved so far from the mainstream, even in the conservative Shenandoah Valley, that he is becoming a national embarrassment. This reactionary bill denies solid science, political reality, and any vestige of common sense. Why did he introduce it? Who knows? But is it pretty clear that Bobblehead Bob is beyond thinking for himself - the tea party wingnuts and the Eric Cantoristas pretty much tell him what to do.

Let Bob (or your congressman) know you oppose H.R. 4153 and other Republican bills (H.R. 4337) that will condemn the Chesapeake (and all the rivers and streams flowing into it) to increased pollution and a slow but sure death.

Megascops asio

The Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, is an owl that is common in the eastern United States. These nocturnal owls are fairly small, generally weighing 4 - 8 ounces and standing just 6 - 10 inches. Typically screech owls roost during the day in tree cavities and hunt various insects, invertebrates, and small mammals from dusk to dawn.

Although screech owls prefer natural or woodpecker-made cavities in trees, they will nest in manmade boxes such as the one pictured. Using plans published by the National Audubon Society I made this simple pine nesting box for less than $15 in an hour. I placed it in a maple about 12 feet above the ground in sight of our patio. After reading several blogs, it seems I may be in for a wait - some folks got nesting owls within the first year but many others wrote that it took several seasons, sometimes as many as five, before the box was inhabited by eastern screech owls.

Although screech owls are fairly abundant in our rural area - we hear them many evenings - it is pretty rare that we have a sighting. Our most memorable experience came a few years ago while camping at Shenandoah River State Park. Right at dusk, five or six screech owls perched on limbs above the campsite as we ate dinner. I am hopeful the nesting box will weather, look more natural and inviting, and bring an owl within view of our patio. Hopefully someday I have a photo with an owl looking back at me out of the opening.

If you give a hoot, there are a bunch of websites with information and pictures of Eastern Screech Owls. In addition to the National Audubon Society, I enjoyed the information at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Their "All About Birds" pages include sound files and videos. So if you've never seen an Eastern Screech Owl or if you've wondered what is making that strange tremolo or a shrill whinny in the patch of woods across the field, "All About Birds" is a good place to start.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fox in the henhouse

The powerful and secretive American Legislative Exchange Council sins have been documented in several posts on Coarse Cracked Corn. It is easy for individuals to feel powerless against such corporate back room shenanigans ALEC is robbing us of our democracy while dishonestly portraying itself as a "charity."

There are things you and I can do right here in Virginia. Contact Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and tell  him to investigate the tax-exempt status of ALEC. Tell him anyone or any business can lobby government officials, but they shouldn't get tax breaks for doing so.

Tell the attorney general there is a fox in the henhouse and he needs to get his gun!