Saturday, March 15, 2008

Logjam Photos

I'm sure you've all been giddy with anticipation about the log jam visit. I know I was, and wow was I disappointed. These pics would have come up last week, except Blogger hates me. What logjam am I talking about? Oh, just that 3 mile one in the Neosho River a few weeks ago.

Let's get to the photoessay!

First of all, I picked a terrible day to go out there:

Literally the day before this it was almost 60 degrees and sunny, and the day I have schedule to go visit it is blowing freezing cold air from the north, snowing off and all, and below freezing all day. The next day it was sunny and 65. This is Kansas, in case you hadn't noticed. The pic above is from John Redmond Reservoir. Redmond is one of those huge Army Corps reservoirs that is filling in with silt, and messing up the river downstream. My understanding is that it probably had something to do with the log-jam being formed as well.

I stopped to grab a pic of the weather conditions, then spent about an hour trying to find the site from that map I showed the other day. Finally got there, and as I pulled up around 15 bald eagles just lifted up and took off. I tried to get my camera out, but only managed to get a few pics of a few that were sitting in trees. Actually, I'm not 100% certain they were all bald eagles, since it happened so fast. You can see that these guys are sitting just beyond the edge of my zoom ability. Probably didn't help that the camera was still on the 'baby pics' setting (click to enlarge).

As for the log jam itself: I didn't really get to see much. The whole river system was so flooded that I was limited to the road and what was left of the landing. The river is apparently in the process of cutting a new channel around the jam, and there was water everywhere. I had brought warm-weather waders, but nothing that I wanted to wear into that freezing water. Here's the best picture I could get of the logs near the landing. Apparently all that open water you see has logs just under the surface too (at least, that's what I've been told).

I tried driving to some other locations to get some other jammed areas, but the other landings were flooded even worse. In fact, I think within the past month or so the water was six feet higher than it is now. There was a line of debris in the trees at just about my height.

So that's it, unfortunately. That's a lot of large woody debris, but not as impressive as being about to walk the entire length of a 3 mile logjam. I'll have to come back when its less flooded.

At that point, I just started taking pictures of birds. Anyone know what these little guys are?

And for some reason I couldn't get the camera to focus perfectly on this gull flying around, but with the snow falling it still looks pretty cool.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Goose Missiles

Apparently last night a storm in Missouri turned a bunch of geese and ducks roosting on a little pond into missiles. Check out the damage to the houses! (sent to me by Eric Johnson)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Book Review: In Defense of Food

It's me, Paul Frost, again. After James' posted my essay on scientific terminology, I started thinking that I could contribute to his blog in other ways as well, such as writing short reviews of the scientifically oriented books that I enjoy reading. Here is my first book review of a very interesting and timely book.

Paul's Review of "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan.

Food is something that we all must eat. As simple as this may seem, we are now faced with an unprecedented number of food choices. Many of these choices are highly processed and marketed foods, which make the decision of just what to eat into something quite complicated. Here is a book that attacks the complexities underlying the simplistic problem of deciding what to eat and ultimately produces a set of relatively simple and sensible guidelines for the modern human eater.

Michael Pollan begins by making a convincing and troubling argument that many humans, especially those in industrialized Western nations, have a dysfunctional perspective on nutrition. The historical reasons for this are linked to one of my scientific heroes, Justig von Liebig, who helped initiate a reductionist approach to plant and animal nutrition. Reductionism in this case means we that look not at the food in toto but view each food item in terms of its content of carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals. This reductionist approach to food has been developed, extended, and well-marketed (especially over the last 30 or so years) to the point where most of us now view an orange not as a fruit but as a package of vitamin C. Look at your cereal box and you will learn about the 15-20 nutritional additives that make the food especially good for you. The trouble with this approach is that it: 1) largely ignores the interactions of multiple food components, 2) is often based on poor or misguided science, and 3) can lead to very poor dietary guidelines and decisions. In essence, this is leads to an important and valuable conclusion we should all consider- we don’t need to know what specifically makes a food healthy if we know that the food is indeed healthy.

What are the consequences of the reductionist food perspective? Michael Pollan argues that herein is, partially or completely, the root cause of the current evils plaguing Western societies. No, it’s not the cause of the evils resulting from the excessive influence of corporations on government policy, the decline of religious attendance, or the increased popularity of reality TV. Reductionism, says Pollan, is the fuel that fires the beastly problem of poor weight management and related metabolic disorders that are becoming increasingly common in Western societies. Could it be that recent changes to our diets, specially an increased number of calories originating from highly processed foods, account for the surge of weight and metabolic problems seen in America? Pollan provides interesting but mostly correlational evidence supporting this idea. For example, metabolic and weight disorders became more common after the proliferation of calories offered to American consumers, which resulted from changes to U.S. farm policy in the 1970’s. As a whole, I found his arguments and their empirical support convincing (although I am guessing skeptics will be ready with the obvious counter-arguments). It was convincing enough that I became increasingly hungry for Pollan’s advice on what to and what not to eat.

The last main portion of this book details a set of guidelines about how to manage your diet in a world of highly processed and over-advertised foodstuffs. There were many suggestions, almost too many because already I can’t remember them all. They were mostly rooted in common sense such as buy stuff that your great-Grandmother would recognize as food, buy more food from the periphery of the grocery store, and go to your farmer’s market. The take home message is that food processing is generally bad for nutritional quality as it breaks the food apart, takes nutrients away, and then repackages the food with a great many replacement additives. So you should eat less of these foods and more of the food that don’t typically receive advertising promotion, such as fruits and vegetables. It seems plausible that this will not only improve your health and that of your family but that you can make a strong economic vote in favor of returning to food basics and against more corporate tinkering with what we eat. The importance of these topics, providing yourself with good nutrition and defeating the global corporate puppeteers, makes this book a must read for everyone concerned about their modern diet and its implications for Earth. Luckily, Michael Pollan is skillful writer who makes digesting this story easy, entertaining, and educational.

Log jam in Neosho River

I bet you're wondering what I've been doing today. I'm going to tell
you. I've been thinking about a 2.75 mile long log jam in the Neosho
River. You can see the damned thing on aerial photographs:

View Larger Map

Hmm...I hope that embedding worked right.

There's a town nearby (Jacob's Creek), and a boat ramp, and the boat
ramp is apparently jammed in with logs, so that nobody in town can get
on the river. Apparently the log jam started decades ago, and they've
tried dynamite, fired, and a lot of hope to get rid of it...without
any luck. Now they're talking about dragging the logs out by truck.
Right now this area of the river etc. are kinda cut off, so I'm sure
the wildlife is loving it. I've personally never heard of something
like this, which is why I'm heading out there at the end of the week.
I want photos!