Thursday, June 30, 2016

Prairie Home Companion Finally Closing the Door on Midwestern Stereotypes

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Thankfully Prairie Home Companion is finally ending after 42 years of Midwestern stereotyping. You can read about the successful run of the show in this LA Times article by Robert Lloyd here.

As a native Midwesterner, I've never been comfortable with Prairie Home Companion. To me, it gave an overly rosy and simplistic look at a very complex region. I found the characters clownish, the music simplistic, and the overall tone smarmy. As the Times article noted, listening to it was like stepping into an all-year Christmas store--although in my case, it was like listening to it in a Christmas store while getting a root canal.

The first time I heard the show was back in 1982. I just started my master's degree at UW-Milwaukee, and one of my fellow graduate students, who was from Minnesota, was a fan of the show. One Saturday, early in the Fall Semester, he and his wife invited me over to their flat near campus to help them with a project. They turned on Prairie Home Companion and we listened as we worked. The love they had for the show was cult-like and their faces took on the look of true believers. They had mugs, hats, and t-shirts they purchased when they saw the show live in St. Paul. When the music segments came on the radio, they danced across their flat and encouraged me to jump in. I sat sullen and sipped my beer as the punk I was. My jaw dropped as I saw a very intelligent couple buy into an entirely unreal and cartoonish version of the Midwest. I did not want to get recruited to the strange apple cinnamon scented cult.

Several years later, I was invited for the first time to a friend's apartment in Tampa for a Saturday evening dinner party. To my horror, when we all arrived, she wanted everyone to listen to Prairie Home Companion before dinner. I was the only Midwesterner in the room and everyone wanted me to say words that sounded Midwestern donchaknow. The stereotype of simple living Midwest life was deep in the consciousness of the dinner guests. I tried to engage them in a conversation about the complexities of the region, but they were not having it. They saw the entirety of the place that was rosemaled in simple patterns and modest colors. They didn't see the complexities that led to industrial decline, Ferguson, and the loss of the family farm. They also didn't want to see the incredible universities, the diversity, the emerging economic strengths, and the strikingly different environments. They didn't want a menu of coffee. They wanted their coffee one way with lots of sugar and whitener.

Of course, Prairie Home Companion is mainly only known within the NPR crowd. University types love NPR and that dinner party is just one of many instances in which non-Midwesterners in my world tell me that they love the show after hearing I am from Wisconsin. I sometimes scratch my head as non-Midwesterners with PhDs who work on very complex issues get that cult like look of my graduate student friends when they talk about their love for the show.

Several years after this dinner party, I was in Minnesota visiting some friends in the Boundary Waters region when I ran into Garrison Keillor. He was sitting on a bench writing away on a notepad at a resort where we stopped to have dinner. As a writer myself, I didn't bother him as one could tell that he was deeply engaged with his work. He looked so happy in that setting--the dark green pines behind him and one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes nearby. Perhaps he didn't create a world around my Midwest, but around his imagination of the Midwest. Maybe my expectations were too high for the show.

Yet I cannot escape the lingering feeling that Prairie Home Companion sucked too much oxygen from the Midwestern creative zeitgeist. How could one express what it meant to be Midwestern when most saw it as the candy corny Prairie Home Companion? Nevertheless, congratulations to Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion folks for a very long blueberry cobbler run. I may not have loved the show, but many adored it donchaknow.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

We Don't Like It When Robots Are In Control: The Example of the Self Driving Car

Science magazine recently posted an interesting video (at the end of this post) that highlights a dilemma associated with self driving cars that gets at a major issue associated with human and robot interaction:

         Are we willing to let robots make life or death decisions for us?

This issue, in the context of self driving cars, is this: What should a self driving car do when faced with the following problem:

           A self driving car could either drive into a group of people and thus likely kill several of them or drive into a wall and thus likely kill the occupants of the car.

Focus groups all agree the ethical thing is to drive into the wall. However, focus groups are not consumers and consumers want the choice in their own hands. As a result of this, consumers do not want to buy self driving cars at this time, even though everyone agrees that self driving cars will be much safer than those we currently drive.

It might seem odd to consider the question in general. Why would a driverless car be in a position to hit a group of pedestrians? This brings to mind the idea of zoning driverless car areas. Certainly most multi lane limited access roadways are suitable for driverless cars. But on complex roads where bikes, cars, and pedestrians share spaces it may be appropriate for individuals, not robots, to make snap decisions. It is hard for us to give up control to a robot that is making decisions based on pre-programed life and death decision spreadsheets.

Regardless of the zoning issue, the driverless car question highlighted above is but one ethical issue we face as we start to enter a new machine age in which the programming we do today will make life and death decisions for us in years to come.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Summer Beach Reading and Listening Suggestions

Photo by Bob Brinkmann
It is distinctly beach weather here on Long Island and I already have my first minor sunburn from a pleasant day at the seaside. It's time for my annual tradition of providing suggestions for summer beach reading. Because I listen to so many books and podcasts, I also provide two listening options.


The Other Catholics. This book about the advent of independent Catholic churches that evolved without the supervision of the Pope was recently published by my Hofstra University colleague Julie Byrne to sparking reviews. I haven't read it yet, but I hope to over the summer. it reviews the many creative expressions of America's largest religion outside of the organization of Roman Catholic Church.

Freegans: Diving Into the Wealth of Food Waste in America. I recently reviewed this book by new author, Alex Barnard. It is a wonderful book that looks deeply into the freegan movement in New York City.

Moby Dick. When I first read this book, I thought it was way overblown and just a book about whales and whaling. When I read it a second time, I saw much deeper meaning. When I read it a third time, I found it to be a book about whales and whaling. What will I find in it in a fourth reading? Melville's masterpiece is a great addition to your beach tote. It's in mine. Or you could click the link to get access to Hofstra's Melville Electronic Library to see multiple versions of the text at the same time.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. While I have a very large social media presence compared to most academics, I really do not spend much time online. About 4 years ago, I started turning off the Internet and Email for large chunks of the day. Little did I know I was part of the Deep Work movement described in this book by Cal Newport who provides sound data and reasoning behind unplugging.

Listening Options

Bowery Boys New York History Podcast. I rarely watch TV or listen to the radio. Most of the time when I am not working, I am listening to a book or podcast. I stumbled upon this podcast this year and cannot stop listening to it. The Bowery Boys cover some of the most interesting aspects of New York History in this humorous banter-filled podcast. While being in the New York metro region provides context, the topics they cover make it of interest to anyone whether you live here or not.

The Vampire Archives. I love listening to short stories. I also love classic horror writers like Edgar Allan Poe. This audiobook (it's also available in traditional book form) brings together most of the famous short stories about vampires ever written. In many ways, it provides a temporal review of the short story form from the nineteenth century to the present in 61 bite sized hours.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

My review of Freegans: Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America by Alex Barnard

Freegans: Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America by Alex V. Barnard. University of Minnesota Press.

One of the great horrors of my early teen years was when I wasted a freezer full of meat.

That year, I spent most of the summer working with my father on our cabin (and soon to be his retirement home) in the northern woodlands of Wisconsin. The closest major grocery store was far away to the south in Green Bay and we shopped once a month or so. A freezer in a shed stored most of the meat we would use that summer. We purchased some of it over time as different cuts of meats came on sale at our local grocery store in our small village in southern Wisconsin. A considerable amount of the meat was wild game obtained during hunting trips. Some of the protein also included fish caught on memorable family outings on nearby lakes and streams. It was a carefully selected hoard that would keep us in meat for most of the summer.

One bright sunny day, my father realized we needed some special carpentry supplies and tools that we could only get back at our house in Waterford, about an hour southwest of Milwaukee. After driving the four and a half hours we would stay a few days. We had to shut off the power as we departed and it was my job to pack all of the perishable food in coolers so it could be properly stored for the long drive.

A picture of me outside of our cabin from the summer of the
great freezer disaster.
But, I forgot the freezer in the shed.

It was a hot summer, so when we got back from our brief southern sojourn for supplies, I could smell the rotting meat from the rolled down window as we drove the long bumpy driveway to the cabin.

I knew immediately that I forgot to pack the freezer and that this was a disaster of epic proportions. My father, to his credit, wasn’t truly angry. He was disappointed in me of course, and it was my job to clean out the maggoty freezer. But he could tell that I was as angry with myself as anyone could be.


One of our family foraging trips on our farm. I think we were out for
It’s simple. We grew up off the land. We hunted for a large percentage of our meat and we grew many of our fruits and vegetables. We also foraged on our farm and on public lands for mushrooms, wild berries, and nuts. We grew up understanding the value of food. The loss of the meat cut deep. It was a sin to waste such a bounty and it hurt me deeply to know that I was the cause for such a loss.

Fast forward from the murky days of the 1970’s to today. Statistically our country wastes approximately 40% of the food it produces. Think about this number a moment. All of the hard work and investment on farms. All of the distributions systems. All of the research and investment on how we can grow more food using GMOs, pesticides, or herbicides. All of that land. We waste 40% of that effort.

Because there is so much waste, there are, of course, people who are seeking to gain access to the waste so that it can be used for productive means and there are also those who seek to gain access to the food as a form of political protest.

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Alex V. Barnard’s new book, Freegans: Diving in the Wealth of Food Waste in America does a masterful job of delving into one particular group that sought to highlight the political and social dimensions of food waste in the United States, the freegans who were loosely organized in New York City under the Website. started in the late 90’s in New York City around a core group of individuals who were motivated to educate others on the issue of food waste in the U.S. They organized dumpster dives, public education events, bike workshops, and a variety of other activities that focused on building a non-capitalist alternative to that status quo. Other freegan groups formed about the same time in many corners of the world. However, the density of New York City provided a unique environment for New York’s own freegan community.

Barnard’s book is really an ethnographic study of the group in the 00’s and early 10’s which is accompanied in the text with a very strong case for the problematic role of neoliberal capitalism in creating an environment for the increasing amounts of food waste in the United States. Barnard worked with for several years and was deeply involved with the freegan movement in New York City. Thus, he brings tremendous experience and insight into the issues of food waste in urban settings.

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Barnard interviewed several people involved with for the book and he takes us through his experiences and the experiences of his interviewees into the world of dumpster diving, food sharing, and radical community building. We learn that was a community that consisted of a variety of individuals with very different backgrounds who came together around the issue of food waste.  One of the main goals of was to educate people about the problems of food waste within neoliberal capitalism. They sought to show people how food waste was used as an ex-commodity—something of value that loses value upon disposal. The very claiming of ex-commodities was a radical anti-capitalist statement and they wisely used media to highlight their cause. They became the subject of documentaries and made it into television and radio news stories. They became a “thing” and their trash tours and dumpster dives became rather popular. Through their efforts, they helped to inform millions about the problem of food waste in the United States.

The group was very intentional in their efforts and met regularly to discuss activities and the meaning of their work. However, we learn that the personal became political and conflicts emerged over subtle differing viewpoints about freeganism, capitalism, and the purpose of gathering ex-commodities.

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What is so fascinating about the book is that Barnard provides an honest and forthright assessment of the group at a time when many in the sustainability movement tend to treat these emerging critical social movements with light touches. Barnard’s book is refreshing in that he writes an important and thorough critique of food waste while also thoughtfully analyzing the aspects of that worked and that were problematic. Like many loosely organized radical social movements, subtle differences in viewpoint became magnified and caused conflicts.

While it is unclear as to the long-term success of freegan groups around the world, there is no doubt that they helped to shed light on international issues of food waste. I am not sure if we would be having a broader conversation on food waste in this country at this particular moment in time without the deep educational work of freegan groups.

When I lived in Florida, I was very aware of food waste issues associated with farms. Many people I knew worked on tomato and strawberry farms in various capacities. Pickers would be responsible for selecting only store-ready perfect tomatoes or strawberries (unless they were meant for canning). Many pickers did a secondary pick on off hours with the permission of farmers to get the imperfect vegetables or fruits that they would sell at roadside stands. They were able to find a way to limit the food waste on farms and turn it into a personal economic activity. Late last year, I wrote about a group of educated entrepreneurs who sought to co-opt this ugly produce in California by selling it for $13 a box. In other words, they were co-opting an ex commodity that was most likely used by poor farm workers to build a business selling ugly produce to foodies interested in paying $13 for a box "to solve the problem of food waste". I worry about these kinds of foodie start ups and their impact on alternative income sources for farm workers who struggle to find alternative sources of income.

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Since I moved to Long Island five years ago, I became much more aware of the urban issues associated with food waste. The region's many restaurants and grocery stores waste tremendous amounts of food. I have gotten to know the work of Long Island’s Food Not Bombs, a group that collects ex-commodities and redistributes them to the poor via pop up food pantries and cooked vegan meals. Each week they feed and provide food to many hundreds of people. Food Not Bombs has redefined freeganism in unexpected ways in the last decade.

Freegans: Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America is a must read for anyone involved in the sustainability movement. It is a good supplementary reading for a general undergraduate or graduate course and it is a solid supporting book for a course on food, urban problems, social movements, or urbanism.

My only critique of the book is that I wish it addressed the issue of freegan movements more thoroughly outside of New York City. Barnard refers to several other organizations, but doesn’t summarize the status or distribution of them. A systematic review would have added value to the book. Also, some may find the book geographically limiting. It intentionally focuses on Manhattan and its unique food waste issues. I kept wondering about the status of freeganism in other cities, suburbs, and rural communities. Many of the interviewees in the book have a distinctly New York outlook and I am not sure that this book should represent the definitive look at freeganism in the U.S.—or even the whole of New York City--since the book so heavily looks at issues in Manhattan.

Nevertheless, it was not the author’s intention to write the definitive book on freeganism and my critiques are not meant to detract from the overall value of the book. I highly recommend it.

Links to previous On the Brink book reviews are found below.

Southern Water Southern Power:  How the Politics of Cheap Energy and Water Scarcity Shaped a Region
Naked in the Woods: My Unexpected Years in a Hippie Commune 
William Cullen Bryant: Author of America

Thursday, June 16, 2016

10 Days of Karst: Day 10 -- Emerging Research Themes

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On this tenth and final day of karst I discuss emerging research themes in karst science. My previous essays on the 10 Days of Karst Series are linked at the bottom of this post.

Let me make something very clear. This is not your grandfather's karst science. While exploration remains important in many corners of the world, most researchers have moved away from exploration and now focus on high tech field and laboratory techniques to address some of most important research questions facing science today. Here are but a few emerging themes that I find very exciting.

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1. The role of karst in the carbon cycle. We know we have a problem with global climate change and that it is linked to anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We also know that carbonate rock and the solution of this rock are very much tied to atmospheric chemistry. How can we nudge the carbon cycle to help alleviate this problem? Can we find ways to use karst chemistry to scrub the atmosphere of excess carbon dioxide? Can carbonate rocks be created to store carbon dioxide? Can we find ways at carbon dioxide sources (power plants) to sequester carbon using karst chemistry?

2. Storage of pollutants in deep karst systems. There are many very deep carbonate systems in many portions of the world that contain extensive subsurface caverns. They have been looked at for years as places where we can store vexing pollutants like sewage. However, there is growing interest in looking at these systems as places for the storage of carbon dioxide. Where are these very deep karst systems? What is their potential for storing carbon dioxide? How safe is it? What are the chemical/pressure characteristics of these deep systems? How connected are they with overlying rocks?

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3. Martian settlement. The difficult climate of Mars makes establishing a permanent Martian research facility almost impossible. However, there are caves on Mars where conditions are mitigated by the subsurface environment. Where are caves on Mars? Is there potential for Martian life or water in them? How extensive are they (they are lava tubes)? Can we experiment with similar sites on Earth to replicate what it would take to set up a research station within a cave?

4. Drug discovery. In recent years, microbiologists have discovered many new microorganisms that live in the unique conditions found in caves that have the potential to provide a variety of opportunities for drug discovery. What microorganisms can be found in caves? What is their potential for replication under laboratory conditions? How can they be used to develop new drugs or new chemical compounds?

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5. Assessing prehistoric climate change. Caves store tremendous amounts of isotopic information in cave formations and sediments that help us puzzle out past climate change in specific geographic settings. How can we more accurately measure climate change using data collected from cave samples? How does climate change vary over long periods of time within specific geographic settings? Comparing data among caves, how variable is climate change within regions?

These are but a few of the kinds of emerging research issues that karst scientists are addressing. If you think I missed an important area, please add it to the comments of this post on the blog.

Below are links to previous posts in my 10 Days of Karst Series

Day 9. Major Research Themes

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

10 Days of Karst: Day 9 -- Major Research Themes

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On this ninth day of karst I discuss major research themes in karst science. My previous essays on the 10 Days of Karst Series are linked at the bottom of this post.

Most of what we know about the history of karst science in the western tradition tells us that it evolved after the enlightenment in Europe and expanded to other western regions, particularly North America, over time. It is a highly evolved area of inquiry in many karst regions of Europe and remains a relatively young field in the United States and in the Americas in general. Nevertheless, several important karst research themes evolved over the last several decades that serve as the fundamental material from which we base the discipline.

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1. Karst geology and geomorphology. Of course the most fundamental question associated with karst landscapes relates to their formation. How do they form? What types of landforms result from karstification? What geologic and environmental conditions are associated with karst landscapes? Where are karst features found? What is the classification and nomenclature of karst landforms? What chemical reactions are associated with karst landscape formation?

2. Cave science. While karst is an overarching term that includes cave science, there is no doubt that speleology is worthy of mention as a theme on its own. How do caves and cave formations form? Where are caves found? What are the different forms of cave passageways? How do sediments in caves form and move? What minerals and biota are found in caves?

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3. Karst hydrology. Due to the complex nature of subsurface karst systems and the unusual surface landscape of karst terrains, hydrology emerged as a significant theme in the discipline. Many of the aquifer systems defy traditional groundwater models due to the complex porosities of the bedrock. How does groundwater move through karst systems? What are physical and chemical conditions associated with karst aquifers? What are the characteristics of surface waters in karst landscapes? How does surface water interact with groundwater?

4. Water resources. Development in karst areas can be problematic due to the complex nature of karst hydrology. Water tends to make its way quickly to groundwater reserves and are usually few surface water resources. Yet at the same time, karst aquifers are vulnerable to regional groundwater declines if pumping exceeds recharge. Where are karst water resources and what is their availability and volume? What is the rate of natural groundwater recharge? How much can communities take from karst aquifers without damaging the long-term sustainability of the system? What management tools are appropriate for karst waters?

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5. Pollution. Due to the interconnected nature of karst aquifers, they are particularly vulnerable to pollution. Plus, due to the rapid rate of recharge in most karst systems, pollution travels rapidly. One significant pollution event, or a slow steady one, can significantly damage a regional aquifer system. How can karst aquifers be protected from different forms of pollution? What tools can we use to clean regionally polluted karst aquifers? What management strategies are appropriate for the long-term sustainability of karst aquifers? How do we measure pollution and pollution risk in karst systems? Can we assess the vulnerability of karst lands to pollution and other threats?

6. Ground stability. We are all familiar with the risk of collapsing land surfaces in karst regions of the world. Why do collapses occur? Where? Can collapses be predicted? Are they associated with any antecedent conditions in weather or subsurface conditions? What policies are in place to protect life and property? How can we better design and build structures in high-risk areas?

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7. Archaeology. The Maya were active cave explorers and there is evidence that they saw the cavernous underworld as a deeply spiritual place. Plus, caves are great places to get out of the elements and were most certainly used by humans throughout the world throughout our time on this planet. What evidence is present to show that humans lived in or near caves? What artifacts are found in caves? What do these artifacts tell us about the people who interacted with cave environments?

These 7 themes provide the backbone of the cave and karst research world.  Am I missing any? If so, please note them in the comments on this blog.

Coming up on Day 10 of my 10 Days of Karst Series I will review emerging karst research themes.

Below are links to previous posts in my 10 Days of Karst Series

Saturday, June 11, 2016

President Obama to Visit Carlsbad Caverns

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Presidents have visited caves before, but I cannot remember a president of the U.S. ever visiting a cave in my lifetime. It is hard to imagine President Carter, Nixon, Clinton, or Reagan in a cave. But it was just announced that President Obama and the First Family will be visiting Carlsbad Caverns next week as part of the celebration of the centennial of the U.S. National Parks.

Carlsbad Caverns is an interesting choice for the President. It has to be one of the more out of the way national parks. It is hours from a major airport and the population in the area, while growing due to extensive natural gas and oil reserves, is relatively sparse compared to other parks closer to major population centers. However, Carlsbad is a wonderful choice due to its unique beauty. It is one of my favorite caves I have ever visited due to its massive size and spectacular formations.

This is a wonderful opportunity for the scientific community to highlight the significance of caves and karst in the U.S. This is our moment. Spread the word.

Friday, June 10, 2016

10 Days of Karst -- Day 8: The Grey Literature

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On this eighth day of karst I discuss the role of grey literature in karst. My previous essays on the 10 Days of Karst Series are linked at the bottom of this post.

If you are unfamiliar with the term grey literature it refers to documents that are not published by mainstream presses and that can be difficult to find in traditional reference searches. Below I highlight several sources of grey literature that provide substantive information for those interested in cave and karst topics. Of course, the challenge with the grey literature is that it varies considerably in quality. Yet, the grey literature can be so very important in particular situations, particularly applied research, where some of the only sources exist in this format.

1. Government Documents. There are many important karst documents published by federal, state, and local governments. In the dark ages when I did my graduate work, libraries created vast government repositories where one could page through tens of thousands of reports on cave and karst topics. Now, most of this material is available digitally. The U.S. Geological Survey publishes many important works as do other agencies of the U.S. government such as The National Park Service or the EPA. In my own work, I have used lots of documents from state sources. Just take a look at the list of reports available through the Florida Geological Survey here to get a sense of the range of documents that are available. When I start working in a new location, I always start by reading many of the documents published by state agencies. Many local or regional government organizations also publish important information. Take a look at the publication list from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to get a sense of the range of materials that they produce. Another example from the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan in Texas is here.

2. Conference Proceedings. Many conferences, particularly focused topical ones, publish conference proceedings. Sometimes they are published by a mainstream publisher and the proceedings are easily available via purchase or interlibrary loan. However, many conference proceedings end up being very rare and difficult to find since the organizers typically only print enough for attendees. For example, a series of 14 conference proceedings were published by organizations that developed sinkhole conferences over the last few decades. While it is relatively easy to find materials from later conferences online in digital format, the earlier conference proceedings are difficult to find. The Karst Information Portal, a project of the University of South Florida and the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, tries to capture as many of these proceedings as it can in order to preserve the information. In fact, a great deal of grey literature can be found in the portal which can be accessed here.

3. Private Sector Reports. Many industries related to cave and karst, particularly oil, gas, and water resource groups, publish reports that are either proprietary or available to the public. If you know of an affiliated industry working in your field area, it is worth reaching out to them to find out what documents or data they can make available to you.

4. Theses and Dissertations. There are untold numbers of theses and dissertations on karst related subjects. Most libraries provide search tools that allow one to search international data bases by keywords for theses and dissertations. Of course, it is always worth a visit to the local university where you are working to search the stacks for older documents that could be of use that do not make it into the databases.

5. Special Collections. Most libraries have sections of special collections where the amass great quantities of materials based on their regional expertise. Many libraries in karst regions have wonderful collections of rare books, data, photographs, films, or other materials that could be of interest to karst researchers.

6. Trip Reports and Newsletters. Many individuals and organizations in the cave and karst world publish newsletters and trip reports. The local grottos (see Day 5 of this series) will often have fantastic information that is useful. See this listing for an example.

7. Small Presses. There are many small presses that publish important documents. Cave Books and the Karst Waters Institute are two examples.

Am I missing any classes of grey literature? If so, please note them in the comments on this blog. I have found that grey literature provides some of the most valuable research sources--particularly for local applied work.

Coming up on Day 9 of my 10 Days of Karst Series I will review important karst research themes.

Below are links to previous posts in my 10 Days of Karst Series

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

10 Days of Karst -- Day 7: Tomes for the Karst Bookshelf

On this seventh day of karst I discuss important karst books. My previous essays on the 10 Days of Karst Series are linked at the bottom of this post.

If you walk into any karst scientist's office, you will find a group of books that everyone has on their bookshelf. Here are a few that most should be aware of as they build up their library. There are certainly other great ones out there so if I did not include a book that you think is worth mentioning, please add it to the comments.

Karst Hydrology and Geomorphology by Derek Ford and Paul Williams. This book has been around since 1989 and is currently in a revised edition. It is one of the classics in the field. By the way, Derek Ford is a Canadian national treasure and his contributions to the field of karst are immense.

Geomorphology and Hydrology of Karst Terrains by Will White is another classic of the field and was originally published in 1988. White, like Ford, is one of the venerable fathers of the field and is still making important contributions.

Cave Geology by Arthur Palmer was published in 2007 and became an instant classic in the field. The book culminates Palmer's many years as a cave an American cave scientist and one of the world's leading experts in the field.

Caves and Karst of the USA edited by Arthur Palmer and Margaret Palmer consists of multiple chapters on major karst regions of the US including a section on Florida co-written by your's truly.

Karst Management edited by Philip van Beynen brings together chapters on a variety of karst management issues. The book has an international focus and is useful for getting a sense of the challenges of living with karst.

Living with Karst by George Veni and others covers many of the issues in the van Beynen book, but within a more popular press style.

Land Use Policy and Practice on Karst Terrains: Living on Limestone by Spencer Fleury focuses on land use issues.

Sinkholes of Florida. Of course, I had to include my book, Sinkholes of Florida. It may not be on everyone's bookshelf, but it is on mine.

Again, there are many books that I could have listed on this list since there are so many wonderful books on karst.  Please add your suggestions to the comments.

Coming up in Day 8, karst and the grey literature.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Rebuild by Design 2 Years Out

One of the highlights of the event was an interview
with one of the thought leaders of Rebuild by Design,
Henk Ovink.
After major natural disasters, societies tend to want to rebuild more or less exactly what they had prior to the disaster. If coastal buildings or infrastructure are destroyed in a hurricane, for example, the tendency is to try to put it all back the way it was.

But this doesn't make sense.

Think about it. The places where natural disasters occur once are places where they are likely to occur again. In the case of weather related disasters, they are likely to increase in frequency and intensity given the changes we are seeing in climate and ocean properties.

That is why a few years ago some very thoughtful people encouraged the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to hold a design contest after Superstorm Sandy to rethink reconstruction in order to make hard hit areas more resilient. The project, called Rebuild by Design, received dozens and dozens of proposals, but seven were selected. The selected proposals focused on Staten Island, Hoboken, The Meadowlands, Hunts Point (the Bronx), the Lower East Side, Bridgeport, and Long Island.

Yesterday I attended a 2-year anniversary conference and celebration of the program at NYU where updates were given on each of the projects and some of the successes and challenges were highlighted. All of the projects are very close to the construction phase. Much of the design and community engagement work is complete for many of the projects and the construction phase will soon start on various elements that will improve community resiliency. You can read more about each of the projects here.

Several challenges to the projects were noted. First of all, the projects are different for many communities in that they are constructing new things that were not there prior to the storm. Thus, there is some tension in some of the communities about what was proposed. Community engagement and education has been critical to the success of the projects. Second, there are governmental challenges in that there are different levels of government involved in everything from permitting (particularly a challenge for work on coastal systems) to stakeholder assessment. This is especially challenging on Long Island where there are so many local governments involved.

Regardless of the challenges, the projects are moving forward at a relatively rapid clip and there is a sense that these projects, and the whole Rebuild by Design Process, is a new international model for post-disaster intervention and recovery that will make hard hit areas more resilient to the next disaster.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Shutting Down the Pseudoscience On King Tut's Meteorite Knife Before It Starts

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When news broke about King Tut's knife yesterday, I was intrigued immediately. I visited his tomb years ago and had the opportunity to see many artifacts from the tomb in the Cairo Museum.

It was very exciting that the Boy King had a knife made of an exotic meteorite. To me, it seemed like a plausible material to find in the tomb. The metal would have been a luxury product in ancient Egypt (as it is today) and the royalty certainly collected luxury materials.

I went on a few online forums to see what folks were saying about the knife and found many making claims that this was proof of the extraterrestrial influence on ancient Egyptian culture. Ugh.

I've always loathed the whole aliens influencing ancient culture meme. One can find people using it to describe any extinct culture that built unusual buildings or materials. Aztec pyramids? Aliens. Mounds in Wisconsin? Aliens. Meteorite knife in Egypt? Aliens. I have always found these explanations somewhat racist. Certainly the "others" from the past could not have built beautiful or amazing things. It must be aliens.

Of course archaeology shows us that these past cultures could indeed build remarkable things. We have their tools and many iterations of some of the masterpieces, such as the step pyramids in the Giza Plateau.

I think what drives some of this is the really bad television programming that has been promoted by National Geographic TV. I wrote about this in the past here. TV channels with somewhat scientific credos offer shows like Chasing Aliens, Ancient Aliens, Ghost Hunters, etc. Why wouldn't the public think that ancient Egypt was settled by aliens?

Let me try to put the whole exotic meteorite as alien artifact issue to bed. Meteorites fall regularly on our planet. They are hard to find in tropical and temperate areas because vegetation covers the ground and one cannot easily discern individual moss covered rocks. However, as meteorite hunters know, the best places to find meteorites are in areas without vegetation. Thus the Egyptian desert is a perfect place to find these exotic metal objects. Certainly prehistoric peoples in the region encountered them and found them useful object just like Native Americans encountered native copper in the northern Midwest where they fashioned it into a variety of decorative objects and tools. These materials were trade goods and native copper from the Midwest can be found all over North America just like rare shell materials from the Gulf Coast can be found in the Midwest.

Certainly some enterprising ancient Egyptian found the value of the meteorite and fashioned it into a luxury trade good. It wasn't aliens, but capitalism that was in the news yesterday.