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Posts Tagged ‘Deforestation’


Today, my alarm does not go off, so I cannot go birding. After breakfast we go to Rolando’s property to plant trees. On our route there, I spot a Southern Rough-winged Swallow sitting on a telephone wire and a Crane Hawk soaring, which I identified by a white stripe running down the wing near the tips. It is much easier going today as it is cooler in the shade and we only need to plant half as many trees as yesterday (it is still one hundred, but that is one hundred less than previously). We finish our last planting job in about an hour.

Southern Rough-winged Swallow

After lunch we go play soccer with the locals. Jeff, Sarah, Bryan, Jose, Luigi, Roy, Rolando, and I all played. I scored two goals again. About half an hour into the game, it begins to pour. This is not a rainstorm; it is a deluge. It is raining so intensely that the water stings my back. As it rains, a large tree branch collapses. A tremendous crack rings out and everyone turns around to see half of the 80 foot tree slough off. The tree falls away from the field and toward the bullring. By the end of the game, we are playing in two inches of water. The field is a swamp. Everyone slide tackles because you fly five meters, as the ground is like a slip-and-slide. You cannot dribble as the ball floats in the water. When it is kicked, it just dies on the ground. Everyone is splashing, falling, rolling, and sliding. This is one of those moments which I will never forget.

Sarah and I go on a night hike after the rain lets up. We see several spiders and wonder if spider silk strength at all correlates to spider size (especially per unit mass). We also wonder if the three dimensional webs that we see everywhere here are a result of the necessity for increased robustness to deal with rain and/or larger insects. The spiders here have far more insects to eat than those in the temperate forests, which only produce two dimensional webs. Another hypothesis, we learn, is that extra strands which may seem superfluous actually help birds to see the otherwise invisible webs. Creating these extra strands is much easier than having to produce a whole new web if a bird flies through it. Sarah also notes the water gathering adaptation of heliconia flowers. They are like little cups . A small frog jumps from leaf to leaf. Finally, we see a strange caterpillar creature. It is brown with lime-green splotches on its sides and tiny legs which do not seem to be particularly effective. Most noticeably, they have four long, pink antennae-like protrusions from their heads near their large black eyes. They are eating the leaves of a small sapling. Initially, we think that this may be a cordyceps fungi, which infect insects’ brains and drive them upwards where they die. The fungi then bursts out of the head and grows to a tip, which then splits, sending spores outward, infecting more insects. However, we see that there are two of the same kind and they are both eating calmly. Still, these are very strange creatures which look like a mishmash of various animals or aliens.

Weird...thing...

Spider making web

Wolf spider

Frog

Cicada

Anole

Unknown spider: Is it a Brown Recluse?

Tarantula

I head back and go to sleep, but not before almost stepping on a cane toad. The giant toads are very common here. If run over on a motorcycle, they pop. This is a popular game amongst Ticos, perhaps it is their version of bubble-wrap. The toads are simple creatures, they register the world in shadows. If the shadow is larger than them, they hop away. If the shadow is smaller, they try to eat it. Sometimes they do not know what is making the shadow so they run directly into you.

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Today we go birding. We see a Buff-throated Saldator in a cecropia. We also spot several kiskadees loudly calling and flying out of a thicket. We think that it may be a snake, which would cause the birds some consternation.

After breakfast we go to Johnny Diaz’s to work. I ride in the red truck. At one point, the radiator fails. So, Andrus, Oscar, and I hang onto the side of the SUV on our way up the mountain. It seems dangerous, but I believe that it is actually much safer and more comfortable than riding in the bed of the truck. The only problem is overhanging branches, which can, if you do not pay attention, smack you in the face. I feel like Indiana Jones (except without the Nazis). On our way up, we see a Blue Ground-dove, whose light blue coloration is surprisingly pretty.

At Johnny’s place, we chop, shovel, plant, and mark off two hundred trees. The work is exhausting, especially as more and more people seem to be falling victim to a viral infection.

After the work, Johnny takes us to gather some pejibayes. These orange, starchy fruit grows high up in palm trees in large clumps. Oscar climbs what must be 50 feet up the tree and is then handed a long pole to knock the fruit out of the tree. Back by the road, which leads to an absolutely gorgeous vista of the surrounding valley and hillsides, we walk back to the cars. I can only imaginewhat this place must have looked like without pastures and when it was covered by thick, dark, lush forest.

View of the surrounding valley

View of the surrounding valley

We realize that the SUV, which drove ahead, had Mary’s keys. So, we wait for Johnny to catch up to them on his quad. While waiting, we drink coconut milk, which is not as creamy as I expected. Instead, it is a slightly flavored water.

The ride back in the bed of the truck is very uncomfortable as we are surrounded by shovels, machetes, and buckets. Sitting on the edges hurts your tail bone and squatting in the bed kills your knees. On the side of the road, we see two three-foot-long iguanas and what I believe to be a basilisk lizard basking in the sun by the river. The iguanas are a dark greenish-black and have a brownish-red head.

After returning, I go to the watering hole. I wash and sit there like a lizard, warming myself on the hot rocks below and the sun above. While there, I see a bright, lime-green butterfly, a Ringed Kingfisher, and a bird I thought was a Black-crowned Tityra. Upon my return, Andrus thought it sounded like a Masked Tityra. I wish I had my binoculars so that I could see if it had a red bill and facial skin, the distinguishing mark of the latter bird.

Ringed Kingfisher

Back at base, we have a lecture on the causes of deforestation. The main reason the forests here are deforested is to simply get them out of the way of plantations and cattle ranches. Some of the wood is used, but it is largely done simply to clear land so that it can be used “efficiently.” After dinner, I go to sleep.

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Birdwatching today is a huge success. Any doubts about my aracari sighting yesterday are placated as I see two more today. They appeared to be a pair. Ricardo claims that the aracaris stir up the other birds. Perhaps he is right, because I also see another Bananaquit, a Dusky-capped Flycatcher, which I identified by its color, crest, and lack of visible wing ba rs, and a Red-legged Honeycreeper, whose reddish or pink legs pointed me in correct direction for identification.

Fiery-billed Aracari

Fiery-billed Aracari

After breakfast, we head to Playa Ballena. This is a relatively small beach and a national park. Immediately upon driving into the parking lot, we see howler monkeys. the howlers found here are the Golden-mantled Howler Monkey. The males have a dark gold collar of fur. They lie around lazily as howlers often do. Their characteristic, booming vocalizations are not heard. We see some males, females, and two babies. The latter are the most active. But, perhaps someone should provide them with more instruction, as Ricardo mentions that most monkey autopsies (I smell a CSI spinoff) reveal broken bones from poorly executed jumps.

Golden-mantled Howler Monkey (male)

Golden Mantled Howler Monkey mum and baby

The beach is much nicer than the one in Dominical. There are no other people here besides us, so we can enjoy the waves and swim around.   We have the beach all to ourselves. The blue green water rises and falls in a froth of bubbles resulting from the crashing waves breaking just offshore. The water is warm, so simply floating on ones back with the son on your face is a wonderful feeling, as you bob up and down on the waves.

Playa Ballena

Playa Ballena

After swimming, we begin our lesson. Ricardo points out an amarillon tree, which are natural to this area. They produce nuts which are known as beach almonds. The shells are hard to crack by any animal, save for the strong bills of macaws. The nearby coconut palms were planted, but their seeds can survive for long durations in the ocean, making them a very successful species here. Unfortunately, they do not hold the beach soil as well as the amarillon.

In the distance, we see several islands. There are three small ones to our left and one large one toward the right. These islands are classic sea bird nesting sites, because there are no predators, the birds can nest on the ground (their feet are adapted to paddling; not perching), and the sea breeze helps them hunt.

On our walk, we see breadfruit, which brings to mind Mutiny on the HMS Bounty, and Balsa wood, whose remarkably light wood feels hollow if rapped with your knuckles. We also spot crabs on a rock spot just a few feet off of the coast, as well as two Scarlet-rumped Cacique. They are generally insectivorous, but here, they seem to stare hungrily at hermit crabs scurrying from coconuts on the ground.

Scarlet Rumped Cacique (Photo by Greg A.)

Scarlet Rumped Cacique (Photo by Greg A.)

After lunch, we sit on the rocky beach, watching the waves. It is absolutely serene. The waves roll in, and as they go back out to sea, they pull pebbles with them, making a rumbling sound if the waves are not too close together.

Playa Ballena

Aptly named Blue Crabs

Just before we leave, a long, thin, green snake falls on my legs. Matter of factually, I say, “Oh, look…a snake just fell.” Sarah, who was sitting next to me, responded with, “Wait…what?” followed by kicking. The snake, now agitated, slithers up closer to me. Now, the situation is a bit out of control, so I shake it off of me.  Ricardo claims that it is a vine snake as it sends its head from branch to branch in the tree above us with great agility. It is not venomous. Had I known that, I may have grabbed it, but perhaps Sarah’s response was the safer one in that sudden situation.

Vine Snake

Vine Snake

Back at the base, I go for a hike. I learn about TFI’s money problems from Sarah, so we decide to try to get funding from the Student Association. We also see a female Blue-crowned Manakin. Admittedly, it is not a male, nor is it a lek, but an awesome find nonetheless. It was particularly astounding as she is very difficult to see due to her fantastic camouflaged green plumage. Perhaps the cryptic coloration of the female is another way to hide the nest. After the hike, we have further lectures on deforestation and go to sleep after a long day.

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I go birding today. I see a Stripe-throated Hermit whizzing around some trees. As far as hummingbirds go, it has relatively boring coloration. It is greyish tan.

After breakfast we go to San Isidro. There, I walk around for some time and see the church. The church is built in startling contrast to the one in Tres Piedras. It is much bigger, and although not particularly gilded, very neat and cleanly decorated.

Church at San Isidro

On the way back, I see a medium sized black bird sitting in a tree on the side of the road. The bird has something large and red in its beak. Upon second glance, however, I note that this red item is in fact its beak. It is a Fiery-billed Aracari! I am the only one who noticed him and I have yet another lifer to add to my list

I go on a hike. Today, I actually see the hummer in the nest. It is a Band-tailed Barbthroat. This is another rather drably dressed hummingbird. Further up, just before the bean field trail, I see a crashing of leaves. I catch up and strain to see through the undergrowth to find what may have caused the commotion. From the motion of the leaves, I estimate that it is at most two feet tall. Unfortunately, this does not limit the list. It could be a coati, a Capuchin monkey (they are the only species of monkey here to run across the ground. This is unlikely, however, as they would much prefer to go through the trees of the canopy.), or perhaps one of the small cats here. Lauren saw a jagarundi a few days back, and there are also marguay and ocelots in the region. However, I cannot tell what the creature was.

Soon after my encounter, I head back down for lecture regarding deforestation. Deforestation here is a particularly disastrous because it has a plethora of effects, from loss of habitat, to increased erosion, to loss of fixed carbon. Following dinner, we open the biochar pit. To our surprise there is nothing but ash. Our fire burned so hotly and for so long that it burned all of the wood. It must have received more air when, during last night’s storm, part of the pit’s covering collapsed, creating an opening. At any rate, Martin and I are still rather pleased with ourselves. We may not have created charcoal, but we did make a fire that survived two full nights of rainforest storms.

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Costa Rica Journal


Well folks, if you were wondering where I have been for the past month, let me clear that up.  I have been in Costa Rica for an internship/tropical ecology class/field work.  So, although I haven’t posted in quite a while, I think I can make it up to all of you by posting my experiences from my journal here.  I will add my pictures to that in order to show you the fantastic place I stayed and the wonderful ecosystem with which I fell in love.  Starting tomorrow, right here, I will post a day from the trip each day.  If you have been following this blog for long enough, then perhaps you remember my virtual trips through Africa and South America.  Well, this will be much like that, except it really happened.  I only hope I can convey, to one degree or another, just how spectacular this place is.  I hope you enjoy it.

Also, just let me know what you think of the new setup and tell me if you prefer this one or the old one.

The new one is up now and here is a picture of the old one.

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Science and Soul: Beyond Pestilent: BP Oil Leak Coverage


***UPDATE:  I will be updating this one post instead of writing twenty thousand little posts and continually adding to it.  So, if you wish to follow this, just scroll down and find out what you missed!***

###Update number 3 is up.###

For my first post back, I have decided to talk about BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  In order to understand what is going on now, we need to look to the past.

Certainly Not Beyond Politics

In 1913 the British took control of Iran’s Oil Fields though the Anglo Iranian Oil Company (AIOC).  The British government controlled 51% of the company’s stock.  In 1951, the Iranian people democratically elected progressive leader Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh.  Mossadegh ran a campaign whose main issue was the control oil fields.  Even though Iran had a huge amount of oil, the Iranian people weren’t getting their fair share of the profits from the AIOC.  So, when Mossadegh was elected, he made efforts to nationalize the oil fields.  Something along the lines of, “Iranian oil for Iranians.”  Not surprisingly, the AIOC wasn’t too happy about this.  In response, they funded SAVAK, the Iranian “domestic security and intelligence agency:” essentially a secret police infamous for its brutality.  In another interesting twist the CIA trained SAVAK forces and Washington DC gave them weapons.  In 1953, SAVAK helped Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi take control of the government in a military coup, essentially overthrowing a democratically elected leader with a military tyrant.  Guess what AIOC decided to rename itself forty years later?  If you guessed British Petroleum (BP), then you guessed right.

But BP didn’t only destroy political stability in the past, but the environment and local people as well.

“To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.” –John Muir

Many people remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill which occurred 11 years ago in Prince William Sound of Alaska as a Exxon oil tanker ran aground.  Oil leaked from the tanker, fouling 3,200 miles of shoreline and 10,000 square miles of ocean.  This destroyed local communities who depended on the ocean for their livelihoods, killed countless fish, sea birds, and ocean mammals, and possibly permanently disrupting the ecosystem.  Exxon promised to pay for the damages to local communities (sound familiar?).  They were originally ordered to pay 5 billion dollars.  But after many court appeals, they cut the fee to approximately 500 million dollars.

Collateral damage of our energy greed.

The tanker was bound south from the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline.  The pipeline ran 800 from the oil fields of the North Slope to the port city of Valdez where tanker ships were filled.  This pipeline was established by a group of companies, collectively known as Aleyeska, which included (cue the intro music) BP!  BP was a part of the decision-making process which allowed the spill to occur.  Ecologists long warned that navigating the area would guarantee a catastrophic spill.  Again, the executives of Aleyeska took no heed of the warnings and careened down a dangerous path which ended in tragedy.

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee…that says, fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me…you can’t get fooled again.”  –W

In 2005, one of BP’s oil refineries exploded in Texas City, Texas.  The explosion was caused by workers starting the process of separating light and heavy gasoline components without removing sufficient quantities of the resulting gasoline products.  A warning system which would have alerted the workers to the buildup of product was disabled.  The workers however, noticed the problem and opened the discharge valve, to little avail.  Combustible vapors leaked into the nearby area and a car’s ignition started the fire.  The fire and explosion killed 15 people and injured 170 more.  An analysis of the incident revealed that BP violated several safety measures.  Also, several similar incidents with combustible vapor leaks were reported, but corrective actions were not taken because funding was not approved to install safer systems.

Beyond Prosecution

Part of the Prudhoe Bay Oil Spill

In 2006, BP’s oil pipeline in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska leaked nearly 270,000 gallons of crude oil into the Alaskan tundra: the largest oil spill on the Alaskan North Slope.  The North Slope boasts high biodiversity, with many species endemic to the area.  It also contains most of Alaska’s oil.  Fortunately, if such a word can be used to describe an oil spill, the incident occurred during the winter while the land was frozen.  Had it occurred during the summer, cleanup would have been much more difficult with oil leaking into the Beaufort sea.  Analysis of the pipeline revealed large amounts of corrosion, to which management did not pay heed.  Warnings were sent by inspectors and workers.  BP claimed that the lack of action was caused by a lack of available funding.  Interesting, seeing as how they made $22,000,000,000 in profits that year.  Hmmm…it seems that BP has a habit of cutting costs without paying heed to the possible implications of their decisions.

The EPA was in charge of the investigation surrounding the spill.  Investigators learned that several workers along the pipeline were concerned about the corrosion and state of the pipeline and alerted authorities.  They did this at their own risk, as BP has a history as a vengeful company where workers who reported such issues could very well be laid off.  Unfortunately, there was little governmental oversight of the Alaskan pipeline at the time.  This information proved that the upper tiers of the company knew about the problems, but opted not to fix it, choosing instead for the risky cost-cutting strategy: criminal negligence.  EPA investigators dug deeper into the issues, but their efforts were constantly being undermined by BP’s stalling and cover-up.  When legal teams asked the workers who spoke up before, they were very unforthcoming, which is understandable, considering the vindictive nature of the company.  After the grand jury was used to obtain the witnesses’ testimonies, the legal team were forced to use a subpoena to obtain documents regarding the pipeline.  BP buried them in quite literally millions of pages of documents in order to slow down prosecutors, many of which were not necessary.  The final death blow to the investigation was dealt in August of next year.  The US State Attorney under Bush’s administration asked the EPA investigators what they could prove at that point in time.  The investigators admitted that due to BP’s efforts to hamper the process, they could only prove a criminal misdemeanor at that given time.  This was a far lesser offense than what could have and should have been tried.  They they added that they would still need more time to complete the investigation.  The State Attorney’s office then ordered them to close the investigation.  This was an unbelievable decision which was unheard of before that time.  An EPA investigator was never prevented from completing their course of action.  Well, unheard of before the Bush/Cheney years.  At any rate, BP later paid only $20,000,000 in fines out of the possible $800,000,000.  Apparently, this slap on the wrist did not really cause BP to change their ways.

It is worth mentioning that BP had 760 willful egregious safety violations in the last three years according the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.  Which is 759 more than Exxon (they had 1).  Exxon!

New Sheriff in Town

The Minerals Management Service is an agency of the Department of Interior charged with…

charged with the management of the renewable energy, oil and gas, and mineral resources on the federal outer continental shelf in an environmentally sound and safe manner, and to collect, verify, and distribute, in a timely fashion, mineral revenues generated from federal (onshore and offshore) land and Indian lands.

The agency is often accused of being in bed with oil, coal and gas industry corporations.  For example,  Paul Stang was a supervisor for the Mineral Management Service, or MMS, but later went on to work for Shell (an oil company).  Jim Mayberry was Special Assistant to the Associate Director of MMS for three years.  After he left, he created an energy consulting company and negotiated a contract with guess who: the MMS.  He was later convicted in violation of conflict of interest law. Other administrators received “gifts” from oil and gas execs.

Ken Salazar: New Sheriff in Town

But then everything was changed, because, in his words; not mine, Ken Salazar was, “the new sheriff in town.”   In reality, not much changed.  He allowed the Grey Wolf to be removed from the Endangered Species List in Montana and Idaho, opening them for hunting.  Evidently, 95 breeding pairs of wolves in the country is enough.  It’s not like they are incredibly important to the ecosystem or anything.  He also upheld the Bush junta decision not to allow greenhouse gases to be regulated by the Endangered Species Act.  Even though he himself said that melting sea ice due to global warming is the leading threat to polar bears, this was not the place or time to act.

The MMS has played a key role in the BP oil spill as well.  In March of 2008, they sold the rights to drill to oil in an action to BP.   In 2009, they decided that acoustically controlled shut off valves aren’t really required against underwater spills at the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling site.  It was only the deepest offshore well in history at 35,000 feet below water.  Finally, the MMS, exempted BP from having to file environmental impact statements.  The MMS justified this claiming that the risk from offshore oil drilling was practically nonexistent (to be fair, so did Obama; oops).  They also allowed BP, as well as other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without obtaining permits from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  NOAA assesses the threats of activities to endangered species.  Apparently, oil drilling is not very threatening.  The MMS overruled staff biologists and engineers who brought up issues about the safety and environmental impact of  drilling proposals in the Gulf of Mexico and on the North Slope of Alaska.  In fact, the MMS allowed industry officials to fill out their own inspection reports and file them.  In a final slap in the face, after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and spill, the MMS approved 27 new offshore drilling projects.  2 of them were for our favorites: BP.

“We’re Never Out of Our Depth”

The Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig is owned by a company named Transocean, the world’s biggest offshore drilling contractor.  Their motto is: “We’re never out of our depth.”  Depsite the comforting slogan, Transocean has a checkered past (well, to be fair, most offshore drilling contractors do).  In 1979, a Transocean oil rig blew out in Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was capped just under a year later.  During that time 71,500 barrels of oil impacted 162 miles of U.S. beaches.  It was the third largest spill in history.  In six years before the Deepwater Horizon rig blowout, 12 people were killed in accidents on Transocean rigs.

Look Familiar: Bay of Campeche Oil Spill

Them Again?

Oh, and Halliburton is involved in all of this.  They were the service provider to the rig.  We all know about their business transgressions (you know, Cheney…CEO of Halliburton…Vice President…Iraq…service provider in Iraq…etc.  They also had a number of environmental transgressions.  Toxics Release Inventory reports show that Halliburton’s Farmington, New Mexico facility generated a toxic cloud of gas to evacuate their homes.  They have also been implicated in the oil spills in the Timor Sea in 2009.  They also had a part to play in the BP spill.

And They All Came Tumbling Down

In February of last year, BP filed an environmental impact plan for the Deepwater Horizon to the MMS.  The company came to the conclusion that even though a oil spill would occur as a result of drilling, the well was far enough offshore to prevent severe impacts.  Thanks to 2008 regulation changes, they did not have to file a contingency plan.   The BP well was fitted with a blowout preventer, but was not fitted with acoustically-activated alert triggers.

In March 2010, the oil rig had problems with drilling mud and gas releases.  In the same month, the blowout preventer was damaged.  This damage was never reported.  and it was found that the last inspection was in 2005.  Workers interviewed after the blowout said that they did see warning signs pointing to a potential catastrophe, but they were afraid of being fired if they alerted authorities.

sdf

Deepwater Horizon Burns

On April 20,2010, pressure in a marine riser, a temporary extension of a subsea oil well to a surface drilling facility, expanded the pipe, causing an explosion.  This was followed by an inferno.

According to an unnamed witness, Deepwater Horizon installation manager Jimmy Harrell, an employee of Transocean, was speaking to someone in Houston, Texas when the fire started, and was heard screaming, “Are you fucking happy? Are you fucking happy? The rig’s on fire! I told you this was gonna happen.”

The Coast Guard airlifted all but eleven workers out of the rig.  The remaining eleven, after intense searching, were declared dead.  The rig sank two days later.  The oil officially began to spill from the well on that day.  Two robotic submersibles tried to cap the well, but ultimately failed.

BP somehow only calculates 1,000 barrels leaking into the Gulf of Mexico each day.  In only three days, an oil slick covering 580 square miles was formed.  The slick was only 30 some odd miles from shore at that time.  Booms were set up to prevent the oil from hitting the coast.  Three days after that, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates the leak flowed at 5,000 barrels or 210,000 gallons each day.  It appears that BP made another slight miscalculation.  To cut their losses, BP tried to burn the oil off of the surface of the water.  It didn’t work.  And, on April 30, oil washed ashore at Venice, Louisiana.

In Memorium

Jason Anderson, 35, Midfield, Texas; Aaron Dale Burkeen, 37, Philadelphia, Mississippi; Donald Clark, 34, Newellton, Louisiana; Stephen Curtis, 39, Georgetown, Louisiana; Gordon Jones, 28, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Roy Wyatt Kemp, 27, Jonesville, Louisiana; Karl Klepping, 38, Natchez, Mississippi; Blair Manuel, 56, Eunice, Louisiana; Dewey Revette, 48, State Line, Mississippi; Shane Roshto, 22, Franklin County, Mississippi; and Adam Weise, 24, Yorktown, Texas.

Well, that takes us through April.  Next week, I will discuss the cleanup efforts that occured in May and June, and are still ongoing.

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John Cleese on Science


Sorry, so little to do and so much time.  Sorry.  Strike that.  Reverse it.  And we’re off…

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