Friday, August 22, 2008

Faith of the Heart

The past few years have been a series of disasters and sorrows that threaten to engulf us all. The chance of peace, liberty, and the general betterment of humanity that appeared at the end of the Cold War has either been squandered by greedy and narrow minded people or given the nature of Homo Sapiens was just a mirage from the start. But still, hope lingers for a better world and can never be quite extinguished. What hope? The hope that at some point all people will realize that we either stand together or will surely fall separately. That liberty and justice denied at the expense of some will in time come to mean liberty and justice denied to all. That enjoying security and prosperity while denying it to others is evil but that wallowing in ignorance and apathy and blaming others for it is just as bad. The hope that at some point the we will realize that the promises offered by those willing only for power and prestige are hollow and that we ourselves are the best agents of change for a better world. That true leadership seeks not to make history but to inspire others to work for a common good. The hope that at some point we will recognize that our differences make us stronger as long as people respect the beliefs of others who disagree with us and hold fast that in the end we all want to see our children grow up in peace.

All that is a tall order with nothing these days appearing to offer any chance of us seeing anything like that soon. But still we have to work toward those goals, hold fast to our courage and desire to see better days and have a little faith of the heart.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Coastal Dead Zones and the hairless primate

Map showing coastal dead zones. Map also showing range of hairless primate responsible for the dead zones.

Just when you thought all you had to worry about was terrorism, global warming, a new Cold War, economic recession, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, falling home prices, a failing health care system, and John McCain in the Oval Office butchering a Beach Boys song with his finger on the nuclear button as Cindy looks on in a Stepford wife daze smiling. I have one more item to fill you with cheer, at least if you have had your happy pills prescription filled and been doing your modern American duty and been taking them like good sheep.

In my last post I lamented how uncontrolled and careless development has wrecked much of the environment and the way of life of the southeast coastal areas. I also touched on how in the bizarre, at least to me, desire to imitate old English country estates huge amounts of fertilizer is used to keep those lawns nice and green. But the question never really seems to be asked by those using all that stuff is where does all those chemicals go once it has seeped down into the ground? The answer is the coastal waters that act as the base of the food chain and a nursery to much aquatic life we eat. That's right folks, those juicy shrimp you ate Red Lobster a few days ago just didn't materialize in their freezer but had to be born and develop in coastal waters. But with everything the United States already faces why should we be worried about just a bunch of little fishes and crustaceans? Well writing strictly from a bias point of view if the biospheres of the coastal waters collapse the ripple effect will move up the food chain to the hairless primate whose environment is an easy chair in front of the huge LCD screen mounted on the wall watching television. Maybe once something effects that primate's lifestyle beyond material goods like the SUV, the McMansion, or easy credit he or she might just pay some attention. But by that time it will be too late.

"Dead Zones" Multiplying Fast, Coastal Water Study Says
Anne Minardfor National Geographic News
August 14, 2008

"Dead zones" are on the rise, says a new study that identified stark growth in the number of coastal areas where the water has too little oxygen to sustain marine life. There are now more than 400 known dead zones in coastal waters worldwide, compared to 305 in the 1990s, according to study author Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Those numbers are up from 162 in the 1980s, 87 in the 1970s, and 49 in the 1960s, Diaz said. In the 1910s, four dead zones had been identified.Diaz and co-author Rutger Rosenberg, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said in a press release that dead zones are now "the key stressor on marine ecosystems" and "rank with overfishing, habitat loss, and harmful algal blooms as global environmental problems."Their study appears in the August 15 issue of the journal Science.Dead ZonesDead zones occur when excess nutrients—usually nitrogen and phosphorus—from agriculture or the burning of fossil fuels seep into the water system and fertilize blooms of algae along the coast.As the microscopic plants die and sink to the ocean floor, they feed bacteria, which consume dissolved oxygen from surrounding waters. This limits oxygen availability for bottom-dwelling organisms and the fish that eat them.(Related story: "Ocean Dead Zones Growing; May Be Linked to Warming" [May 1, 2008])Many marine ecosystems experience low oxygen levels between spring and fall, Diaz said. But the lack of oxygen becomes persistent if nutrient levels stay high.Earth's largest dead zone, in the Baltic Sea, experiences oxygen deprivation year-round, the press release said. The second largest dead zone surrounds the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite decades of efforts to clean up U.S. rivers and lakes, high nitrogen levels are currently combining with strong water flow to make that dead zone larger than it has ever been.Government-supported scientists not involved with Diaz's review are forecasting an expansion of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone to a record 8,800 square miles (23,000 square kilometers), an area larger than New Jersey. (Related story: "Gulf of Mexico "Dead Zone" Is Size of New Jersey" [May 25, 2005])Nancy Rabalais, executive director and professor at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, said the paper "shows that there is a lot of lost production of [seafloor] animals—those living in the sediments—that could be food" for fishery stocks. Diaz and Rosenberg note in the press release that dead zones tend to be overlooked until they start to affect organisms that people eat. Mixed EffortsSome local and regional governments have stepped in with conservation and cleanup efforts to combat dead zones.Maryland, for instance, gives $18 million a year in grants to farmers who plant additional crops after their harvest to absorb leftover fertilizer before it ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. Rabalais, who was not involved in the Diaz review, said she has seen little sustained effort to combat nutrient runoff in the Mississippi River. "In the recent years of increased acreage of corn and biofuels, the amount of fertilizer used and the amount of nitrogen per volume of Mississippi River water has increased dramatically," Rabalais said. "What we have is this pulse of nutrients that are coming down our rivers every year," Diaz added. "Somehow we have to find a way to stop that. "The loss of fertilizer is an economic drain on the industry. It is not something the farming community wants to happen, and controlling it is the key to controlling the spread of dead zones."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lowcountry Blues

Driving along the southeast coast now it would be hard to understand the enormity of the changes that have come about due to the population shift southward and the resulting development as people made new lives in this region. Just in my lifetime I have seen the quality of life on several fronts improve greatly as new ideas and money from the north helped to enhance health care, education, and the general infrastructure of the south. As development increased new opportunities in the form of high paying jobs lifted many poor black and white folks out of poverty giving the children of these families a better chance at life. Yes, over the last forty years the south has benefited from all the people that have moved down here and the changes that came with them to what was once a hot, humid, backward place.

However, like all good things once you have too much of it at some point a line is crossed in which you begin to spoil, then destroy, the object of your affection whether it is a person, place, or a thing. As time has passed the development that lifted many of the locals out of poverty has strangely reversed and now forces many to leave the coast and near coastal areas because the building of high priced McMansions has raised property taxes and insurance costs beyond the reach of many. Families that have lived for generations on the coast making their livings from fishing, farming, or other enterprises are uprooted and sent elsewhere as condos, outlet malls, and golf courses take their place.

The local environment also suffers as residents seek to recreate miniature country estates with perpetual green lawns thinking nothing of the chemicals they spray and how it leeches back into the water and into the swamps, marshes, then the ocean. Swamps and marshes provide a much needed, but overworked these days, filter of what we in ignorance dump into the ocean and expose to the base of the oceanic food chain which always finds its way back to us. A recent study that aired on the Discover Channel made a connection between Bull shark attacks on humans and the pollution in those shallow waters which either drove away or killed the local aquatic life Bull sharks eat.

As construction for homes, golf courses and the likes have moved into lower lying areas such as swamps and marshes there has been an increase in how far tropical storms can move inland and retain their strength causing greater damage to lives and property. One of the factors that needs to be understood is how swamps and marshes provide a buffer against extreme weather. As a storm moves ashore they absorb much of the destructive surge of water as it moves further inland stealing much of its energy.

For these, and other, reasons I haven’t been real thrilled these last few years at the billboards, television commercials, or bright glossy magazine ads that proclaim the construction of another grand condo or plantation development, golf course, or outlet mall. In 1990 while driving to college on the highway that connects Conway and Myrtle beach, South Carolina that then was hugely undeveloped I saw a young black bear come running out of the woods. He or she stopped right at the edge of the highway, looked both ways like some child getting ready to cross the road then thought better of crossing and ran back into the swampy woods he or she had just came out of without looking back. On a trip to Myrtle Beach a few years later after moving to Columbia I saw that the same road was covered with Burger Clown clones, convenience stores, strip and outlet malls, motels, and of course entrances to several “professionally designed” golf courses. Aghast at how each establishment butted up against the other I wondered about that juvenile bear and if the road itself sent in scurrying back into the woods then what in the world would all the multiple redundant businesses that seemed to sit atop each other do to it now? That is if that bear is even still in the proverbial, but shrinking, woods and not occupying some gray concrete chamber in some seedy zoo. While nature seems to be on a permanent retreat unable to stem the tide of civilization in the form of real estate agents, golf pros, or outlet store managers I do remember one incident in which nature at least fought it to a momentary standstill.

My in-laws had migrated down south themselves in the very late 80’s from Richmond, Virginia in search of the “easy life” after all their kids had left the nest for work and college. After searching several locations, including my hometown strangely enough before I had even meet Dragonwife, they settled at some plantation development (glorified over priced subdivision) just off Hilton Head Island and had purchased a small retail business located on the island. By 1994 Dragonwife and I were married and often came down from Columbia to see her folks and for several complicated reasons my wife liked to help at the retail store her parents owned. That left me able to amble around the island, usually at the beach, when Dragonwife didn’t have some chore for me to do.

During one visit in the summer of 1994 Dragonwife had volunteered to mind the store on a Saturday but wanted me to pick her father up from the golf course he was playing at around noon so we all could go get some lunch. I was to meet him at the bar located at the end of the golf course and when I walked into the place I knew I had made a slight mistake. I had spent that morning at the beach and while I had dropped by the in-law’s place to clean up and change I was still just wearing baggy shorts, an old surfer t-shirt, and sandals. Everyone else in the place was wearing fashionable, if not outright chic, golfing clothes. I don’t think a leper, a chain saw carrying psycho, or even worse for those already inside a progressive liberal Democrat would have drawn more stares or gasps as I did walking into the place. Never the less I made my way to the bar, ordered a beer, and began waiting for my father-in-law.

While I had nothing in common with the other customers other than breathing air and as far as they were concerned being a member of the same Hominidae family if scientific classification was an interest, the bar itself was pretty nice. It had lots of wood paneling with many of the tables in semi-private alcoves and with the booths offering outright privacy due to the way the paneling almost surrounded them. As it would be expected the lighting was muted giving the place a sense of mystery and secrecy. As I looked around I could tell there were several couples taking full advantage of the privacy offered by the booths with sensual female laughter and stifled male giggles coming from some every now and then. Closer to the bar I was sitting at a common area had several tables arranged around a large television mounted on the wall. Groups of people were sitting at the tables watching a golfing tournament completely engrossed in how the little white dimpled balls were finding their way into tiny cups with the aid of men with grossly expensive clubs that probably cost more than my car.

The bar itself held just me in front sitting on a stool and the African-American bartender working behind it. The bartender was always doing something, either rearranging the vast collection of bottles on the counter behind him or wiping down the bar. I, at least, had the luxury to do nothing and just to stare out the huge tinted plate glass window just above the back counter that held the collection of bottles the bartender rearranged and over looked the final segment of the golf course. In the distance I saw several ancient oak trees that had been incorporated into the design of the course. Long oak limbs from the trees lying close to the ground draped with Spanish moss gave me the impression of weary old ladies wearing lace. A little further off you could see a small segment of the marsh and thicker native vegetation standing on either side of that small segment almost standing guard against the bulldozers and developers with their dreams of endless condos. By sheer happenstance overhearing conversations on previous visits I knew that at one time the golf course and the bar I was in was once a “dark, nasty swamp full of snakes and gators.” With that knowledge I was already predisposed to see the excellently manicured grass of the golf course as an alien invader out to conquer all that was right and true on the Earth. Nevertheless, even the course itself held some aesthetically pleasing qualities as it rose and fell creating ridges and valleys with a couple of sand and water traps placed around the final hole marked by a tiny flag flapping in the breeze. Increasing the alien nature of the course lying just out of one of the water traps was a gator sunning himself.

Minutes later if the medium sized leftover saurian lying close to the water trap noticed he was under attack by a collection of small white dimpled balls he gave no indication. Two of the three balls landed closer to the tiny flag sticking out of the cup but one rolled to stop right next one of the gator’s legs. Looking further down the course I saw a golf cart with three men aboard approaching the gator and what I’m sure were the golf balls they had just sent down range. They stopped a decent distance away from the gator and seemed to be discussing something. The three guys were obliviously in their later years in life (certified old farts) and were dressed in stylish golf attire that I’m sure matched all those around me in the bar in expense. At some point the three golfing buddies came to some sort of decision concerning the golf ball almost resting between two of the gator’s claws. They began walking toward the reptile waving their arms and apparently making sounds that I couldn’t hear in an attempt scare the gator back in the water. Despite the assumption I usually make concerning the wisdom of older people, trying to scare a gator for whatever reason is never an astute move. Wally Gator allowed the three to approach very close before he strung to life raising his head and showing off his fine collection of sharp white teeth. Mere seconds later I saw the gator swing his tail around in an attempt to contact one of the three hairless, but finely clothed, primates bothering him. I don’t believe the tail contacted with anyone but one of the guys did fall down on the grass but his buddies quickly dropped everything grabbed the fallen comrade and left clubs, the golf cart, and the greater portion of their dignity behind.

I appeared to be the only one in the bar who had noticed the latest clash between the orders of Crocodilia and Primates with the latter and all their vaulted intelligence and opposable thumbs coming up short. The bartender, ever alert, must have heard me chuckle slightly and came up and glanced out the window then asked if “Charles” had been disturbed by the golfers. Assuming that Charles was the gator who was still in the same place next the water trap maybe wondering if his kind would out live the primates like they had the dinosaurs I told the bartender yes, that it seemed Charles didn’t particularly care for them playing through. The bartender laughed himself and without asking handed me another beer and said it was on the house. Minutes later the three guys came in the bar with one of the three looking for me. My father-in-law didn’t look to bad except for the slight grass stain on the rear of his pants he got from avoiding the gator's tail and as we left and got in the car I didn’t even begin to ask how his game went and he sure as hell didn’t tell.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Father and Daughter Sunday meanderings

Neither Miss Wiggles nor myself are much inclined to hang around the house on the weekends. Gas prices and Dragonwife prevent us from jumping in the car and say doing a simple day trip to Charleston or its nearby beaches. But that doesn't stop us from visiting our favorite haunt close to home, Riverbanks Zoo.
This particular Sunday Wiggles and I bumped into one of her day care classmates along with his mom and dad. This classmate was the same one I called Clooney in an earlier post. Once they saw each other they ran up and gave each other hugs and started walking the zoo like Clooney's parents and I were not even there. Their hand holding was automatic and they did it all through the zoo until time forced us to split off.

As we walked around a brief stop at the Lemur island had me confused. Unlike the highly energetic guys in the movie Madagascar none of these fellas seemed much inclined to "move it, move it." My only possible conclusion was that these Lemurs were born in the south and had long since adapted to the laid back, carefree, lazy attitude many still hold on to despite the increased pace of life. Now the penguins over in the bird house exhibit all had shifty eyes and like the movie seemed slightly psychotic. I had a hard time deciding which of the two I liked best.

Trying to keep my site family friendly and all that but click on the picture here and you might be able to see a Galápagos tortoise doing his duty trying to make baby tortoises. As I have written several times I am a regular at the zoo having first taken my son, Darth Spoilboy, until he thought it was uncool, and now Miss Wiggles many times. During our visits in the warmer months over the years I have seen this old coot constantly answering the call to reproductive duty. One thing can be certain is that the old coot is really enjoying himself given that you can hear his efforts all the way to the entrance of the zoo at times. Whether the lady tortoise receiving the old coot's energetic affection is enjoying it as much as him is highly doubtful since as we went around we saw she was drawn up inside her shell. What little we saw of her head suggested she was fast asleep as the old coot was doing his business. How this situation might cross species lines going all the way to marital relations between Homo Sapiens I will not touch.

Thought this was only going to be pictures at the zoo did you? No, after leaving the zoo, Wiggles and I traveled over to the South Carolina State Museum in which we have a membership as well. When I moved up to the Midlands in 1993 I resisted for months before checking the place out. I thought what in the hell could they have at that museum that would interest me? I was seriously wrong. One section has displays showing the various environments in the state from the mountains to the coast. This display is at least 180 degree around and has recorded beach sounds and right at the board walk sand dunes and sea oats. If you step right to the forward edge and look straight at the picture I have many times transported myself to my favorite place in the world, the south end of Pawleys Island.

Who said God or evolution didn't have a sense of humor? Another section shows recreations of various animals that lived in South Carolina that went extinct. This here fellow is a Glyptodont which lived in the marshy areas of South Carolina during the Pleistocene period. At the end of the last Ice Age they walked like a dinosaur into extinction due to the warming climate. Which begs the question of whether an equally bizarre creature called corporate republicans will go extinct as the world warms up again this time due to man-made global warming.

As Wiggles walked around the very small section displaying the reconstructed fossilized dinosaur bones I couldn't help but think the second worse place to be around a Tyrannosaurs Rex would be here at his or her rear end. Of course the worst place would be in front of a T. Rex as he or she flashed their toothy smile.

This is not a good picture I know, but no matter how I tried given the lighting of the museum I couldn't decent picture of this full scale replica of the C.S.S. Hunley. At least this one shows the small interior as the crew hand cranked the propeller. As someone who suffers from claustrophobia I just have a hard time seeing how eight guys could fit inside a small metal tube, hand crank the sub to move, and attack a naval vessel. After sinking the Housatonic in 1864, the Hunley was lost and became part of Civil War legend. The actual Hunley was found in 1995 and was raised in 2000.
The museum naturally has a huge section devoted just to the Civil War period covering the Antebellum lifestyle to the actual war and Reconstruction.

Currently at the SC State Museum is a section concerning the years of the Vietnam era and its effects on this state. I could have made a post just from what was on display concerning this era but just because the actions involved college students from the University of South Carolina and their surprising behavior during this time as compared to the students now I've tried to boil down the history. I had no idea about this anti-war movement at the University of South Carolina in the 1960's ever occurred. It strangely began in 1966 when a Captain Henry Levy, an army dermatologist serving at Fort Jackson, was charged with disobedience of lawful orders and promoting disloyalty among soldiers for advising troops not to serve in Vietnam. He was convicted by court martial and sentenced to three years in prison.
A year late an organization called "Summer of Support"opened up something called the UFO Cafe in Columbia to provide a place for soldiers, draftees and others "to speak freely about the war in Indo-China." Due to the UFO Cafe's nature, strong pressure was applied to force it to close and in 1970 after both the involvement of city police and FBI the owners were charged and it was closed.

Apparently the students didn't care for the strong-arm actions that caused the closing of the UFO Cafe and they became involved in protests. The local solicitor John Foard made things worse by instructed local law enforcement to enter the campus in search of drugs. As students protested the campus searches they increasingly began protesting the Vietnam war. In May of that year students staged a sit-in at a campus building. Students roamed the campus for two days throwing bottles, bricks, and rocks at the police and National Guard. What was thought to be students then occupied the main administration building causing extensive damage. Later evidence would come to light that it was actually government agents among the students that caused the destruction trying to frame the actual student protesters. The governor at the time imposed a curfew that many students ignored. At least 200 students were arrested and male students had their beards and heads shaved while they were in detention. Who in the hell would ever guess such activity would have ever occurred in South Carolina . Several times I have written that the reason I believe we don't see much anti-war activity now as compared to the 60's is because that not only did we have a draft then forcing a greater cross section of the country to serve, and possibly die, but more people had a direct connection with those serving bringing the effects of war straight to the home. From my observations the Iraq war has moved into the realm of simple episodic television to a great many of people who have no personal connection to the war and who change the channel whenever it gets boring, and for most Americans it has long since become boring.

A really cool display has a scale model of one of the Mars rovers that you can control from the station in the picture. I must admit that my attention drifted away from Miss Wiggles as I moved the rover over the mock Martian surface dreaming of exploring the Red planet. Miss Wiggles had been content to play with several of the science experiment displays in the next room with other children her age so while I was deploying the sensor on the rover I did not see her climb onto the mock Martian surface and try to talk with the rover in which she had confused with WALL-E. Go figure, in a way my daughter has walked the surface of Mars. Needless to say I got her off the planet before security brought us both back to Earth.

The Apollo space suit of a South Carolina native.
Charles M. Duke Jr., a former Air Force pilot, became an astronaut in 1966. He has degrees from the U.S. Naval Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Duke family lived in Pageland when he was born in 1935. He attended school in Lancaster, where his family still lives. Before becoming an astronaut, Duke was graduated from, and was an instructor at the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
He is the first astronaut from South Carolina and the only South Carolinian to walk on the moon. Well hell, my daughter walked on Mars just minutes before I took this picture.

Its very hard to get my son to understand that the lifestyle he knows was very different just a few decades ago. The high-tech washer and dryers of today that allow him just to throw in his clothes and a little detergent to get them clean anytime required a lot more effort not so long ago. Laundry was such a chore that something called "Blue Monday" came about since they had already worn their Sunday best the day before.
This washer is from 1910 and the wringer above was what you used to squeeze most of the water out the clothes before hanging them on a line to dry. One of my fondest memories was to see the clothes that my grandmother hung out on the line in her yard blow in the wind. I loved to smell them as well but if she found one of her bed sheets messed up from some little kid playing around them she would get as mad as a wet hen.

Another relic of a past world that far too many would find amazing. As a kid I remember Georgetown having a couple of phone booths on Front Street that I liked to play in while my mother shopped until one day the door on one got stuck and I couldn't get out. A local police officer saw me and got me out fairly quickly and after that phone booths sort of freaked me out, like clowns. Scary.
Later on when I was a "little older" me and a friend would call one of those phone booths just to see who would answer. When I told my son about this he gave me the usual look were I know he was wondering about my sanity. I just shrug it off and tell him that before video games kids were simply desperate for anything to do.

This display did its best to introduce the subject of slavery to visitors. I say introduce since its been way over a hundred years since the end of that "peculiar institution" and you might be chilled to the bone over the various people who even now will find ways to make excuses for it. And given how many would just as well ignore the whole subject I still don't believe enough of about the institution of slavery is taught and how it still affects the entire country.
Despite reading the history and at least understanding the principles of why slavery existed I find the concept of owning another human being about as outright alien as they come.

Believe it or not this outhouse is from a church in Spartanburg county and its was actively used until 1982 when the church that used it installed indoor plumbing. Yes, bitter cold or the hot humid summer days and nights made a trip to allow nature to work very uncomfortable. So the newspapers you see inside were not primarily there for reading material. And for those who don't know what I'm talking about no, the toilet paper ain't missing.