Monthly Archives: November 2013

Buffalo National River

The Buffalo National River

Yet another fight to “save the Buffalo” is brewing near Mt Judea in Newton County. The first fight ended when the Corps’s of Engineers plans to build a dam near Gilbert Arkansas were abandoned. In 1972 Republican Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt sought federal protection and the nation’s first national river was created.

The Buffalo National River is is a national park which consists of a narrow band of land surrounding about one hundred thirty five miles of the river from Boxley at the upper end to its confluence with the White River. The land within the park boundaries, about one hundred fifty square miles, is managed as a natural environment.

Waterfall on a tributary of the Buffalo Rive

Waterfall on a tributary of the Buffalo River

The problem is that the park is only eleven per cent of the watershed, some one thousand four hundred square miles. Both Air and water pollution in the watershed but outside the park can easily enter the park, so preserving the natural environment becomes a much greater challenge.

The most recent challenge now comes from a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). C and H Hog Farm has be granted a general permit to maintain a six thousand five hundred animal feeder pig operation near Mt Judea. Issuance of a General Permit as apposed to a Individual Permit, is easier as it doesn’t have stringent requirements for public notice, or environmental impact assessment. There is also no consideration of local geology or proximity to public places such as parks or schools.

The farm is operated for Cargill, the largest privately held company in the United States. The farm, really an industrial operation, consists of the hog houses, lagoons for temporary containment of the liquid wastes, and several hundred acres of spray fields where the raw urine and feces will be dispersed.

And there is a lot to be dispersed. Each hog produces over a gallon of manure per day. The factory farm produces close to ten thousand gallons of waste a day, several million gallons per year. To put that in perspective it is equivalent to two times as much waste that is produced by Atkins and Dover combined.

The farm and spray fields are near Mt Judea public schools, and in the watershed of Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo.

Morning Fog on a Gravel Bar

Morning Fog on a Gravel Bar

Rainfall after application of the manure, or failure of the lagoons can cause bacterial contamination, including multiple drug resistant strains.

Exacerbating the risk of pollution reaching the Buffalo National Park is the local geology, referred to as Karst Topography. This limestone rich subsurface is laced with caves, sinkholes, and underground streams that could rapidly transport wastes to the river.

Cave demonstrating Karst Topography of the region

Cave demonstrating Karst Topography of the region

Regardless of weather and geologic conditions the nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorous will pollute the Buffalo, leading to increased algal growth.

Funding for the factory farm was aided by loan guarantees from the Farm Services Agency and the Small Business Administration. Four environmental groups are suing the United States Department of Agriculture which oversees the agencies that provided the loan guarantees. They are the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club and the National Parks Conservation Association. Earth Justice is the law firm representing the coalition of the four groups.


Republican Irresponsibility

The real irony of Republican pique over Obamacare is the fact that it is a Republican idea. The final form of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) relies on Americans to take personal responsibility for their healthcare. It is not a complex formula; buy insurance that covers for the eventualities we all face, be it accident or illness. For those who can’t afford it, costs are subsidized by tax payers according to a sliding income scale.

What conservatives now seem to be saying is that personal responsibility is an onerous burden and purchasing insurance which covers the full cost of accidental injury or illness shouldn’t be necessary. Conservatives think that cheap policies with limited coverage, high deductibles, large co-pays or caps on payments are just fine.

But what happens when these inferior policies fail to pay the cost of care? Then who pays? Currently very close to half of all bankruptcies involve medical costs. That’s no way to run a healthcare system. And conservatives know it, at least knew it. Even before President Clinton proposed a single payer “medicare for all” type of healthcare system, the Heritage Foundation proposed an individual mandate for the purchase of insurance, just like Obamacare. It included a minimum standard of coverage, just like Obamacare. It even included a mandate to insure those with pre-existing conditions, just like Obamacare.

Whether we’re talking about Romneycare, Obamacare, or the Heritage Foundation policy, they all keep the private for profit insurance market alive. They all reduce costs because greater coverage increases access to preventive care, the cheapest and most effective expenditure. And they all mandate that personal responsibility is the centerpiece for healthcare in the United States.

We collectively provide for our national defense, isn’t our national health just as important? We have a single payer military, where everybody, through income taxes, pays their share. We don’t get to choose just how much defense we want, we are mandated to buy the same military. And single payer courts, and single payer disaster relief, and on and on and on. It’s the personal responsibility to our general welfare. E Pluribus Unum – from many, one.

The focus of the Republican party has been to avoid any collective action on healthcare. Democrats since at least the Truman administration have tried to make healthcare more inclusive. To the point of adopting a Republican approach. They’re still not happy.

It’s About Time

Weights and measures including time, are immeasurably important to to our lives. Our food supply our depends on our knowledge of the seasons, and what we buy and sell is linked to our ability to measure what something weights, or its volume and myriad of other measures.

Measure of time comes in two ways, that set by some natural phenomena such as the time it takes the earth to travel around the sun and those times which are seemingly arbitrary – the length of a second, a minute and an hour.

The length a year is obvious, it is how long it takes the earth to circle the sun, about three hundred sixty five days. But not exactly because it is actually about a quarter of a day longer, hence the need for leap years which have three hundred sixty six days. There is actually another finer adjustment, because to keep the calendar in sync with the season, there is one more rule, a century year is not a leap year unless it is evenly divisible by four hundred. The year two thousand was but the next three century years will not be.

Winter soltice, Machu Pichu

Winter soltice, Machu Pichu

A day is governed by the time it takes the earth to rotate on its axis. The time it takes to make a full rotation is actually lengthening due to tidal forces which create drag and slow the rotation but not by much. A day gets a tiny fraction of a second longer in a century.

When we start carving up a day we move into arbitrary units. Why twenty four hours in a day, sixty minutes in an hour and sixty seconds in a minute? The twenty four hour day has as its origin the observations of stars by the ancient Egyptians. This has little to nothing to do with modern time keeping, but it stuck. The same is true for the divisions of hours and minutes. In this case we look to the Babylonians who had a base sixty counting system. To the Babylonians numbers like six, twelve, sixty, and three hundred sixty were “round numbers” just like ten, one hundred, and one thousand are round numbers in our base ten decimal system.

Talk about stuck in a rut, we measure time based on an archaic, four thousand year old, base sixty system which is confusing and unnecessary.

Big Ben

Big Ben

Quick, tell me how many seconds in three hours. UGH – let’s see sixty times sixty times three. Like archaic measurements used in the United States, bushels and pecks, ounces and gallons, and ounces and pounds, these non-decimal calculations are tedious.

Scientist use the metric system for its simplicity. Virtually all units are in base ten EXCEPT
time. It’s about time for a change. The staff at “Keep Time-keeping Simple Inc” Propose the following: ten hour days, one hundred minute hours and one hundred second minutes. If you were keeping time with a one mississippi, two mississippi kind of notation it would work for decimal time, as doing the math shows the decimal second to be eighty six per cent as long as a Babylonian second.

Back to the previous challenge of how many seconds in three hours, no problem: one hundred times one hundred times three is thirty thousand. You can do it without pencil and paper.

Lunch is at five o’clock sharp, and if you don’t want to stay up for Johnny Carson, set the VCR to record at 9.375 and don’t worry about AM or PM, they don’t exist. Good night everybody

Sea Level Rise

Global warming is the result of somewhat complex atmospheric dynamics which can result in a warmer planet, stronger storms, both floods and droughts, political instability and elevated sea levels. Probably the simplest of these outcomes to understand is sea level rise. If it gets warmer ice melts to water and drains into the oceans, raising the global water level. Additionally as the oceans warm, the warmer water takes up more space and adds to sea level rise.

Those that deny the risks of global warming might say that melting icebergs or the melting of the north polar ice won’t change sea level and if that is all you consider, it is true. But there is much more ice trapped on land in the form of glaciers, the Greenland ice sheet and the vast Antarctic ice sheet. Enough in fact to raise the level of the seas eighty meters, or over two hundred and fifty feet.

A sea level rise of two hundred fifty feet would leave only Lady Liberty’s head above the New York Harbor. Only the tippy-tops of the skyscrapers in most coastal cities will be above water. The Atlantic coastal plain, South Florida, and the state of Louisiana will be fishing grounds.

This level of rising seas is the worst case scenario based on hundreds of years of unabated burning of fossil fuels, according the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So what about sea level rise in the near term, say within the twenty first century? There are people alive today who will see the turn of the next century. If the combustion of fossil fuels is not reined in, a modest projection is a two meter (over six feet) rise. If anything combustion of fossil fuels is accelerating due to advanced recovery techniques like horizontal drilling and fracturing.

The impact of a two meter rise in sea level varies from a minor nuisance to a catastrophe depending on location. Some islands in the South Pacific are already suffering from the one quarter of a meter rise over the past one hundred years or so.costal The combination of rising sea level and more severe storm surges due to global warming are causing coastal erosion. Increased salinity of the remaining soils which decreases agricultural productivity is as troublesome as the erosion.

The real catastrophe is the flooding of large coastal cities. Miami, New Orleans, and Tampa are three of those at greatest risk because most exist at sea level already, and are also sensitive to more flooding due to tropical storms and hurricanes. Estimates of fifty billion dollars per city per year may be necessary to prevent or mitigate damage due to flooding.

The most recent experience with severe coastal flooding was due to Hurricane Katrina. Economic losses to Louisiana and Mississippi are estimated to be over one hundred fifty billion dollars.
Our thrust for the cheapest energy up front may very well cost us a lot more when all the costs are accounted for. Solar, wind, and geothermal which don’t drive global warming are looking cheaper every day.

The Death of a Child

December 23, 2012

I originally wrote this brief piece right after President Obama’s speech earlier in Newtown. The community is rather affluent so I don’t know how I could help them other than with my deepest empathy with the loss of those children.  In all honesty, I also wrote it for myself, for my own catharsis. Our son Kane, 17 years old, died in an automobile accident over five years ago.

Tonight president Obama made a heartfelt speech in Newtown to the parents and community that lost so many children in a senseless violent attack on an elementary school. My heart goes out to them and the pain they are feeling.

I know a thing or two about that pain, the loss of a child. Any death, be it a stranger, neighbor or even a relative is painful. Most all of us, whether we want to think of it or not, will suffer the loss of our parents. We will bury them or deal with their death as we can. It is the natural order of things and somehow embedded in our DNA. It is hard and it hurts, but even harder, even more painful is the loss of a child. kane2

The death of a child is completely different. I don’t think how a child dies matters, be it illness, accident or homicide. Dead is dead. But losing a child is different fundamentally than any other death. The death of a child is the death of the future. You don’t get to see him grow up, rather he is frozen in time. She doesn’t grow up, he doesn’t go the prom, she doesn’t graduate, he doesn’t marry, she doesn’t have children. They don’t because they aren’t.

A dear friend commented “the Newtown parents have joined us in a club we would have given our lives to avoid belonging to. We know what they are feeling and we are sad for them and angry on their behalf. And we can honor them and our own lost children by staying that way.”

When your child dies, the future dies, and it hurts in a way that can’t be imagined. Tomorrow we can talk about how to work as a society to reduce these deaths. Tonight we grieve.