Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Greatest Canard Of 2017? Being POTUS 45 Is Easy-Peasy...

The first 100 days of Il Douche's presidency will be entitled "Special Ed for the POTUS." In writing that epithet, this blogger realized why the writers of the Oval Office skits on Saturday Night Live" in 2017 have always ended with Alec Baldwin as Il Douche sitting at a kiddie desk alongside the "real" desk in the Oval Office. View any of the scenes here and take note of the desk where the "SNL" Il Douche proclaims, "Live from New York...." It is no accident that the "SNL" writers included a kiddie desk in their version of the Oval Office. The present occupant belongs in a pre-K classroom, not the real world. If this is a (fair & balanced) educational assessment, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Can President Trump Learn On The Job?
By Jeff Shesol


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“There’s just something about this job as President . . .” George W. Bush observed last week, in an interview with NPR. “You think one thing going in and then the pressures of the job or the realities of the world, you know, are different than you thought.” Bush wasn’t reminiscing about his own Presidency; he was “opining,” he said, about the current one. The reality that Bush had in mind—the one that he hopes President Trump will embrace—is that it is in America’s national interest “to be allies with Mexico and not alienate Mexico.”

Trump, of course, has invested a great deal of energy in denying that particular reality—along with many others, from the existence of climate change to the role of Russian meddling in last year’s Presidential election. Yet, in recent weeks, Trump has conceded that he might, in fact, have been wrong about a thing or two, and now stands corrected. “It turns out” and “nobody knew” are two of the signal phrases by which Trump indicates that an epiphany has arrived: that health-care policy is “so complicated,” or that North Korea is not a Chinese client state. “After listening [to President Xi Jinping, of China] for ten minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. Never mind the obviousness of these statements, or Trump’s weird guilelessness in presenting them as insights; they are being received, by some, as signs that Trump is growing in office. “I think President Trump is learning the job,” Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, said last week.

Learning the job, in fairness, is a big task for any new President. “Regardless of his prior training, nothing he has done will have prepared him for all the facets of that job,” Richard Neustadt, the great scholar of the American Presidency, wrote in Presidential Power, his influential study, in 1960. All Presidents, he argued, enter office ignorant, innocent, and arrogant—liabilities it can take two, three, or even six years for them to overcome. Some never do. Neustadt saw “a certain rhythm” in the Presidential learning process, and, indeed, in most cases, it follows a well-worn path: the chaotic cram session of the transition; the headiness and disappointments of the first year; the midterm elections in the second (a “shellacking” of the President’s party, as Barack Obama described it in 2010, tends to dispel any lingering arrogance); and, of course, the crises—domestic and foreign—that come without warning. The education of a President is episodic, driven by events. The results, as we know, are uneven. They depend not only on fate but on the answers to three basic questions: what are the “particulars of [a President’s] ignorance,” in Neustadt’s phrase; does he have the humility to acknowledge them; and does he have the capacity—political, moral, intellectual—to address them?

John F. Kennedy faced all these questions. He entered the White House well prepared despite his youth: he had served fourteen years on Capitol Hill, had commanded, with distinction, a Navy torpedo boat during the Second World War, and had spent the better part of his life studying and exercising power. Yet, during his first few months as President, his particular ignorance emerged: an excess of trust in the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who convinced him, despite his doubts, to approve an invasion of Communist Cuba by a brigade of exiles. Kennedy hesitated; he asked tough questions of his briefers, but, in the end, he acceded, taken in by their optimism. The instant and utter failure of the invasion at the Bay of Pigs, in April, 1961, filled Kennedy with self-doubt and self-blame. “It is a hell of a way to learn things,” he said over lunch with James Reston, of the Times, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. But he did learn things, and soon changed things, as well: he not only replaced the leaders of the CIA but also, from that point forward, regarded intelligence estimates and military plans with far greater skepticism. The historian Robert Dallek, in his biography of JFK (2003), writes that Kennedy saw his missteps as “object lessons in how to be more effective. His resolve stood him in good stead: he managed coming crises”—most significantly, the Cuban Missile Crisis of the following year—“with greater skill.”

Bill Clinton, too, stumbled out of the gate. “Clinton terrified me,” one of his policy advisers, Bill Galston, later confessed, “because he almost always knew a good deal more about the subject, or at least some aspect of the subject, than you did.” Yet the disorder of the White House during Clinton’s first year—the famously long meetings that circled an issue but never really resolved it—raised the question of whether his intellect was always an asset. Clinton had a lot to learn in a hurry: about managing (and allowing himself to be managed by) the White House staff; about the hostility of the press corps and the snobbery of the Washington establishment; about the ideological stalemate in Congress; and, not least, about US leadership in a shifting, often perplexing, post-Cold War world. Anthony Lake, his national-security adviser, and Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, urged Clinton to get more engaged in the foreign-policy process and to conduct himself as Commander-in-Chief. “It took a while for Clinton to do the commander bit, which is to say issuing orders crisply,” Lake recalled in an oral-history interview. “It’s in the little things.” It was also in the big things: in August, 1995, after two years of discussion and delay, the Clinton Administration decided to act against Serbian aggression in Bosnia, and led a successful NATO bombing campaign. By 1996, Clinton was more sure of his footing on the global stage. The Times—which had been quite critical of Clinton’s conduct of foreign policy—endorsed his bid for reëlection, noting that he was now “regarded internationally as a leader with a sophisticated grasp of a superpower’s obligation to help the world manage its conflicts and economic contests.”

What is Trump’s particular ignorance? It is not a stretch to say that Trump knows less about policy, history, the workings of government, and world affairs than any of the men who preceded him as President. Trump’s ignorance sends historians and commentators scrambling for sufficient adverbs: to Daniel Bell of Princeton, Trump is “abysmally” ignorant; to Josh Marshall, of Talking Points Memo, he is “militant[ly]” so. “Proudly” is another popular one. Last summer, Trump told the Washington Post that he doesn’t need to read much because he makes great decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense.” The problem is not just what Trump doesn’t know; there is an expanding, alternative universe of things he imagines or insists to be true, from his claim that “millions” of illegal immigrants gave Hillary Clinton her victory in the popular vote to his charge that President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower. “He has made himself the stooge, the mark, for every crazy blogger, political quack, racial theorist, foreign leader or nutcase peddling a story that he might repackage to his benefit as a tweet, an appointment, an executive order or a policy,” the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote earlier this month. Trump is somehow both credulous and cynical; if he were “mugged by reality,” in the old, conservative cliché, he would pin it on Obama, or perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This is not to say that Trump is incapable of learning in office. His recent changes of tone, opinion, and direction—on the importance of NATO, for example, or US-China relations—might be signs that his thinking is evolving. They could also be tactical moves, or head-fakes, or further evidence that—unmoored from any core convictions—he is easily swayed by certain advisers. Whatever the case, it is one thing for Trump to acquaint himself with reality; it is another thing to know what to do about it. The singular burden of the Presidency is not merely to acknowledge obvious facts; it is, as Neustadt wrote, to determine a course of action “when conventional wisdom fails, the experts disagree and confusion dominates.” It turns out this job is not so easy. ###

[Jeff Shesol was a speechwriter for President William J. Clinton (1998-2001) and is the author of Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court (2010) and Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud That Defined a Decade (1997). Shesol received a BA (history) from Brown University and — as a Rhodes Scholar — received an MA (history) from Oxford University.]

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Meet The Czarina Of Égoïsme

At a time when US-Russia relations sits atop the news cycle, step back and look at gap between Communists, ex-Communists, and anti-Communists in the 1950s. Today's suspicion of Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election has a historical connection to the feverish suspicions of the 1950s. As Alphonse Karr put it: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.) If this is (fair & balanced) weltschmerz, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Ayn Rand’s Counter-Revolution
By Jennifer Burns


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The crowds jostling below, the soldiers marching down icy boulevards, the roar of a people possessed: All this a young Ayn Rand witnessed from her family’s apartment, perched high above the madness near Nevsky Prospekt, a central thoroughfare of Petrograd, the Russian city formerly known as St. Petersburg.

These February days were the first turn of a revolutionary cycle that would end in November and split world history into before and after, pitting soldier against citizen, republican against Bolshevik, Russian against Russian. But it wasn’t until Rand became a New Yorker, some 17 years later, that she realized the revolution had cleaved not only Russian society, but also intellectual life in her adopted homeland of the United States.

We usually think of the 1950s as the decade of anti-Communism, defined by Senator Joseph McCarthy [R-WI], the Hollywood blacklist and the purging of suspected Communists from unions, schools and universities. The prelude to all of that was the 1930s, when the nation’s intellectuals first grappled with the meaning and significance of Russia’s revolution. And it was in this decade that Ayn Rand came to political consciousness, reworking her opposition to Soviet Communism into a powerful defense of the individual that would inspire generations of American conservatives.

Rand is best known as the author of The Fountainhead (1943, 2005) and Atlas Shrugged (1957, 1996), but before these came We the Living (1936, 2011), the novel perhaps closest to her heart. It was certainly the novel closest to her life: The protagonist, a gifted engineering student named Kira Argounova, lived the life that might well have been Rand’s, had she stayed in the USSR. But whereas Kira died a dramatic death trying to escape over the snowy border into Latvia, Rand succeeded in emigrating in 1926 and soon made it to Hollywood, the “American movie city” she had written about as a Russian film student, which became her first home in the United States.

By the mid-1930s, after setting about a successful writing career and becoming an American citizen, Rand was ready to explain the country she left behind. We the Living depicted the quotidian gray of life after the drama of the October Revolution had faded. What was left was the cynical machinations of party insiders and the struggle to maintain a facade of gentility — one hostess served potato-skin cookies to guests, who “kept their arms pressed to their sides to hide the holes in their armpits; elbows motionless on their knees — to hide rubbed patches; feet deep under chairs — to hide worn felt boots.”

At the novel’s heart was the quiet despair of hopes crushed by new lines of class and caste, as students like Kira, punished for her family’s former prosperity, had their futures stripped away. For Rand, We the Living was more than a novel, it was a mission.

“No one has ever come out of Soviet Russia to tell it to the world,” she told her literary agent. “That was my job.”

Only, in 1930s America, few wanted to hear what she had to say. When the novel was published in 1936, capitalism itself was in crisis. The Great Depression had cast its dark shadow over the American dream. Bread lines snaked through the cities; Midwestern farms blew away in clouds of dust. Desperate men drifted across the country and filled up squatters’ camps of the homeless and workless on the outskirts of small towns, terrifying those who still had something to lose.

In this moment, Soviet Russia stood out to the nation’s thinking class as a sign of hope. Communism, it was believed, had helped Russia avoid the worst ravages of the crash. Tides of educated opinion began running strong to the left.

“These were the first quotas of the great drift from Columbia, Harvard and elsewhere,” the American writer — and former Soviet spy — Whittaker Chambers wrote in his 1952 book Witness. “A small intellectual army passed over to the Communist Party with scarcely any effort on its part.”

This intellectual army had little interest in a melodramatic novel about the sufferings of the bourgeoisie. Worse, views of the book reflected an ideological divide that Rand had not known existed. Rand had taken for granted there would be “pinks” in America, but she hadn’t known they would matter, certainly not in New York City, one of the literary capitals of the world.

But the champions she found were outsiders of that milieu, like the newspaper columnist H. L. Mencken. Even reviewers who enjoyed her writing, though, generally assumed Rand’s rendition of Soviet Russia in We the Living was exaggerated or no longer true, now that Communism had matured.

Rand had thus stumbled, unwittingly, into a drama that would shape American thought and politics for the rest of the century: a bitter love triangle between Communists, ex-Communists and anti-Communists.

First came the Communists, often literary men like Chambers, John Reed (of Ten Days That Shook the World [1919, 2011] fame) or Will Herberg. A handful of the most prominent Bolshevik enthusiasts were women, including the dancer Isadora Duncan and Gerda Lerner, a later pioneer of women’s history.

Next were the ex-Communists. For many, 1939 was the fateful year, when Soviet Russia signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany, previously its mortal enemy. The reversal was too much for all but the most hardened American leftists — after all, it was the fight against fascism that had drawn many to the cause in the first place. (In an interesting twist, Italian filmmakers produced a pirated film adaptation of We the Living as an anti-fascist statement, which was later banned by Mussolini’s government.) The great drift into the Communist Party USA became the great drift out of it.

Still, to be an ex-Communist was not necessarily to be an anti-Communist, at least not immediately. Rand was one of the first, and not because she had lost her faith, but because she was an émigré who had witnessed the Russian Revolution from the inside.

Finally, in the 1950s, anti-Communism became a full-fledged intellectual and political movement. Chambers made the most spectacular move from Communist to ex-Communist, to anti-Communist, revealing his participation in an espionage ring and implicating several high-ranking government employees, including Alger Hiss, the former State Department official who was accused of being a Soviet agent.

Chambers’s revelations helped touch off McCarthy’s crusade against suspected Communists in government. Rand herself got in on the action, testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee about Communist infiltration of Hollywood.

And here unfolded the last act of the drama: the eventual emergence of anti-anti-Communism. It was one thing to reject a political movement gone horribly wrong. It was something different to turn on one’s former friends and associates, in the process giving “aid and comfort to cold warriors,” as the writer and historian Tony Judt wrote. And so even as Communism fell out of favor, among intellectuals anti-Communism became as unfashionable as it had been in the 1930s.

Once again, Rand was a talismanic presence. By the 1950s, her anti-Communism had evolved into a full-throated celebration of capitalism, buttressed by her original credibility as a survivor of Soviet collectivism. She had traded in the elegiac historical fiction of We the Living for another Soviet inheritance: agitprop novels, dedicated to showcasing heroic individualists and entrepreneurs. By 1957, she had fully realized the form in Atlas Shrugged, an epic that weighed in at Tolstoyan proportions.

Rand had found her voice — and her audience. Atlas Shrugged became a best seller, despite poor reviews — Rand would never get the critical respect she craved. The gap between Rand and her fellow novelists and writers, first evident in the 1930s, would never close.

While originally manifest in the dynamics between Communism, ex-Communism and anti-Communism, this gap touched upon something more fundamental in American life. The Russian Revolution and its aftermath had exposed a “jagged fissure” between “the plain men and women of the nation,” as Chambers put it, “and those who affected to act, think and speak for them.”

One hundred years later, that fissure is with us still. ###

[Jennifer Burns is an associate professor of history at Stanford University and the author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (2009). Burns received an AB (history, magna cum laude) from Harvard University and both an MA and PhD (history) from the University of California at Berkeley.]

Copyright © 2016 The New York Times Company



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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Today: Cosmological Drollery & It's Not Even St. Pat's Day

If a blogger maintains a blog, then Calvin Trillin is a droller because whatever he writes (prose or poetry) there is always a healthy undercurrent of drollery in the mix. Today's post content is no exception as Droll Cal loops from climate-denial to constellation-denial. If this is a (fair & balanced) example of sly humor, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
The Irish Constellation
By Calvin Trillin


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Now that everybody’s confessing everything, I’m ready to confess that, until about five years ago, I was under the impression that the constellation Orion was the constellation O’Ryan. I thought of it as the Irish constellation, sort of the way that actors refer to “Macbeth” as “the Scottish play.” Had I never seen “Orion” in print? I had, in fact, but I suppose I thought it was pronounced “oar-e-un.” I thought it was some other constellation that had nothing to do with the constellation people were referring to when they pointed to the sky and said what I heard as “Do you see O’Ryan’s Belt?” This is not so crazy. I know somebody who, not having been read to much when he was a child, grew up thinking that “Pat the Bunny” was a book about a bunny named Pat. These things happen.

My customary answer to the question about whether I could see the belt, by the way, was “No.” I have been called a constellation denier. I don’t accept the term. Like many people who are called climate-change deniers—say, the people in our government who are now in charge of doing something about climate change—I prefer to say that the jury is still out. There may be definable clusters of stars up there which can be seen from Earth as constellations, or there may not be. If there are, I can’t make them out. When somebody asks me if I can see Orion’s Belt, I sometimes vary a simple “No” with something like “No, but if you look a bit to the left I think you can see Penelope’s Pants Suit.”

It was during one of those Penelope’s Pants Suit occasions that the misapprehension I’d been under was revealed to me. When asked if I could see the belt, I said, after shaking my head, “I always pictured an Irish guy wearing suspenders instead of a belt, anyway.”

“What Irish guy are you talking about?” my companion said.

I’d rather not relate the rest of the conversation. It still stings.

Before that revelation, how did I imagine a constellation had come to be named O’Ryan? I hadn’t given it much thought, but when I discovered a list of the eighty-eight recognized constellations that was compiled, in 1922, by the International Astronomical Union, I came up with a couple of ways it might have happened. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the people in charge of the meeting at which that list was adopted operated the way they would have operated as commissioners in New York’s City Hall. According to the New York way of keeping the peace, if you cancel alternate-side-of-the-street parking regulations on Yom Kippur, because Orthodox Jews are prohibited from driving on that day, then, fair being fair, you also cancel the regulations on the Feast of the Assumption, and on Greek Orthodox Holy Thursday, and, eventually, on Eid al-Adha. So someone could have stood up in the meeting of astronomers and said, “How come the Italians are the only ones with a constellation? Canes Venatici sounds like the newly elected mayor of Salerno.” At which point, the chairman starts handing out constellations to the Greeks (Camelopardalis) and the Spaniards (Dorado) and, eventually, the Irish.

But it’s difficult to picture astronomers as New York pols. And I don’t think an astronomer would quietly slip his girlfriend’s name onto a constellation—although I must say that the presence on the list of a constellation named Norma gives me pause.

It also may have been that constellations are sometimes named for the astronomers who discovered them, the way a medical researcher’s name is sometimes attached to the disease he managed to isolate. There’s one name on the list that supports this supposition. As I imagine it, the most distinguished astronomer at the meeting is Professor Szczepański, of the University of Lodz. It’s agreed to name a constellation he discovered for him—although, since there is some concern that his surname is too difficult to spell, they use his first name. Thus, the constellation Leo.

After Professor Szczepański’s graceful acceptance speech, a vote is about to be taken on a list of eighty-seven constellations. But a voice is heard from the back of the room: “Sure, and there’s one more.” The speaker is a small man with a striking resemblance to the Irish character actor Barry Fitzgerald. (As it happens, Fitzgerald was only half Irish and was born William Shields. But if you need to imagine a stage Irishman who starts sentences with “Sure, and” or “Begorra,” he’s your guy.) The comment is met with skepticism, but then the astronomers look up to where the Barry Fitzgerald character is pointing. (The meetings, for obvious reasons, are always held outdoors, at night.) For a while, nobody can make it out.

Then Leo Szczepański says, “I think I can see someone pointing.”

“Begorra,” the Fitzgerald look-alike says. “It’s me uncle telling that gob-shite Callahan to keep his sheep on his side of the feckin’ fence.”

“And what is your uncle’s name?” Professor Szczepański asks.

“Sure and begorra, it’s O’Ryan.” ###

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. Trillin also has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker since 1963, when the magazine published “An Education in Georgia,” his account of the desegregation of the University of Georgia. More than three hundred of Trillin’s pieces have appeared in The New Yorker. His most recent book is Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff (2012). A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA (English) from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

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Monday, April 24, 2017

If Scheduled For A Trip To Washington DC, Be Sure To Include A Tranquilizer Gun & A Net In Your Suitcase

In a companion e-mail message with today's (04/24/2017) 'toon, Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) wrote:

This cartoon was initially inspired by Trump’s “Obama tapped my wires” tweets, and the subsequent GOP response. It was supposed to run a couple weeks ago, but I ended up bumping it for my last-minute cartoon on the Syria missile strike. Bannon had just been kicked off the NSC at that point; I’m slightly surprised that he remains in the White House at all, but it does allow me to still use the final panel with only slight editing. Of course, I’m traveling this weekend, so if it turns out that he finally gets the boot before you see this cartoon, bear with me — it’s really not easy staying ahead of the news these days.

One note about writing this cartoon: I wanted the inspiration for the tweet to come from Trump watching television, because in reality a lot of his tweeting is in response to what he sees on Fox News. I wanted him to be watching a show that was both dumb and culturally ubiquitious — the latter being why I had to go so far back in time. I realized when brainstorming this one that I don't really watch much current tv anymore, apart from a handful of shows like "The Americans," and as I started asking around, neither does anyone I know. I was concerned that "Gilligan's Island" might be too archaic a reference, but I checked with my 13-year-old, who assured me that *everyone* knows what Gilligan's Island is. So that's what I went with!...

Until next time,
Dan (aka Tom)

Each panel of today's 'toon portrays the array of Idiocratic Stupids babbling their canned nonsense. From Il Douche, to Spicy, on to House Speaker Cheesehead in tandem with Senate Majority Leader Mr. Turtle, with pair of interchangeable Faux News talking heads, and concluding with the Boy Who Would Be King (Kushner) with Steve Alt-Right and VP Ha'Pence. Idiocracy, indeed. If this is a (fair & balanced) portrayal of Stupidity (today's version of the GOP — Grand Old Party), so be it.

[x TMW]
How Government Works Now
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow." His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]


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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Today — An Echo From Earth Day 2017: We Are Toast... Wet, Soggy Toast

Here's a little accompaniment for today's post:

[x YouTube/EMImusic Channel[
"The Future's So Bright" (1986)
Timbuk 3

However, a minor modification is needed in the opening line from "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta West Shades" to "The Future's So Wet, I Gotta Wear A Wet Suit & Flippers." If this is a (fair & balanced) elegy to us, so be it.


[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
Our Climate Future Is Actually Our Climate Present
By Jon Mooallem


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A few years ago, a locally famous blogger in San Francisco, known as Burrito Justice, created an exquisitely disorienting map, with help from a cartographer named Brian Stokle, and started selling copies of it online. The map imagined the city in the year 2072, after 60 years of rapid sea-level rise totaling 200 feet. At present, San Francisco is a roughly square-shaped, peninsular city. But on the map, it is severed clean from the mainland and shaved into a long, fat smudge. The shape of the land resembles a sea bird diving underwater for prey, with odd bays chewing into the coastlines and, farther out, a sprawl of bulging and wispy islands that used to be hills. If you lived in San Francisco, it was a map of where you already were and, simultaneously, where you worried you might be heading. “The San Francisco Archipelago,” Burrito Justice called it — a formerly coherent city in shards.

The map wasn’t science; it didn’t even pretend to be. I want to be very clear about that, because I worry it’s reckless to inject any more false facts into a conversation about climate change. Projecting the effect of sea-level rise on a specific location typically involves recondite computer models and calculations; Burrito Justice was just a fascinated hobbyist, futzing around on his laptop in his backyard. His entire premise was unscientific; for now, it is unthinkable that seas will rise so high so quickly. Even as most credible scientific estimates keep increasing and the poles melt faster than imagined, those estimates currently reach only between six and eight feet by the year 2100. That’s still potentially cataclysmic: Water would push into numerous cities, like Shanghai, London and New York, and displace hundreds of millions of people. And yes, there are some fringe, perfect-storm thought experiments out there that can get you close to 200 feet by the end of the century. But in truth, Burrito Justice settled on that number only because that’s how high he needed to jack up the world’s oceans if he wanted to wash out a particular road near his house. He has a friendly rivalry with another blogger, who lives in an adjacent neighborhood known for being a cloistered hamlet, and Burrito Justice thought it would be funny to see it literally become an island. So again: The map wasn’t science. It didn’t pretend to be. The point, initially, was just to needle this other guy named Todd.

Still, the San Francisco Archipelago has always stuck with me, because, almost in spite of itself, it managed to convey something peculiar and destabilizing about our climatological future. Burrito Justice hadn’t just redrawn the geography of a place; he’d also carried a sense of that place forward in time. And by transposing some of the grit and silly shibboleths of contemporary city life onto that alternate landscape, the map (and the little blog posts he wrote to accompany it) prodded you to entertain the possibility that this ruined future might not feel like an emergency to those living it, that life in that archipelago might have all the richness, realness and inanity of ours.

There were, most obviously, the breezy, optimistic names given to every new feature of the redrawn city, as though its ever-peppy real estate agents had gone on rebranding neighborhoods as the landscape drowned. Climate change, in this scenario, had more in common with gentrification than with a natural disaster: a ceaseless upheaval of familiar spaces that left old-timers shaking their heads, then kept accelerating. Instead of Telegraph Hill rising north of Market Street downtown, Telegraph Island now offered a tranquil view of Market Shoals. Dolores Park was gone. But Cape Dolores jutted toward it, overlooking the submerged Mission District — now Mission Gulf. The former San Francisco Zoo, out at Ocean Beach, was labeled San Francisco Aquarium.

Life went on, in other words — albeit in some bleak and greatly diminished capacity. Taco boats replaced taco trucks, the public-transit agency’s “sea bus” system exaggerated its on-time performance statistics and the city government was offering to extend the notorious tax break it offered Twitter in 2011 if the tech company relocated to “disadvantaged Nob Island.” The only people who remembered us, or validated our earlier reality, came off as loopy, Nimby activists aiming to obstruct development on one of the new coasts. “Old San Francisco is still alive in our hearts and minds,” a statement from the Submerged Historic San Francisco Preservation Association insists, “even if only the tops of the buildings can be seen!”

The map was a joke. But the longer I looked at it, the less funny and more upsetting it got. I pictured the first apartment my wife and I rented in San Francisco, how I’d parked the car out front while, just home from the hospital, she carried our first baby up the stairs. Then I pictured that all under water, and a man pushing off in his kayak for a paddle far overhead.

The future we’ve been warned about is beginning to saturate the present. We tend to imagine climate change as a destroyer. But it also traffics in disruption, disarray: increasingly frequent and more powerful storms and droughts; heightened flooding; expanded ranges of pests turning forests into fuel for wildfires; stretches of inhospitable heat. So many facets of our existence — agriculture, transportation, cities and the architecture they spawned — were designed to suit specific environments. Now they are being slowly transplanted into different, more volatile ones, without ever actually moving.

We’re accustomed to hearing about the tragically straightforward cases of island nations that will simply disappear: countries like Tuvalu and Kiribati that face the possibility of having to broker the wholesale resettlement of their people in other countries. Yet there must also be, in any corner of the planet, and for each human living on it, a threshold at which a familiar place becomes an unfamiliar one: an altered atmosphere, inundated by differentness and weirdness, in which, on some level, we’ll live on, in exile. The Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht describes this feeling as “solastalgia”: “a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ”

Some communities will face new problems and varieties of weather; in others, existing ones will intensify. Already-vulnerable societies — the poor, the poorly governed — may be stressed to grim breaking points. Consider the mass starvation in South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia, where a total of nearly a million and a half children are predicted to die this year — and that climate change is projected to worsen the kind of droughts that caused it. Consider, too, a 2015 Department of Defense report, which framed climate change as a geopolitical “threat multiplier” that will “threaten domestic stability in a number of countries,” and cited a study showing how a five-year drought in Syria contributed to the outbreak of the current conflict there. Nonetheless, denial is coming back in fashion among the most powerful. We have a president who dismisses climate change as a hoax, and a budget director who belittles government programs to study and adapt to our new reality as a “waste of your money.”

Still, we insulate ourselves from the disorientation and alarm in other, more pernicious ways, too. We seem able to normalize catastrophes as we absorb them, a phenomenon that points to what Peter Kahn, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, calls “environmental generational amnesia.” Each generation, Kahn argues, can recognize only the ecological changes its members witness during their lifetimes. When we spoke recently, Kahn pointed to the living conditions in megacities like Kolkata, or in the highly polluted, impoverished areas affected by Houston’s oil refineries, where he conducted his initial research in the early ’90s. In Houston, Kahn found that two-thirds of the children he interviewed understood that air and water pollution were environmental issues. But only one-third believed their neighborhood was polluted. “People are born into this life,” Kahn told me, “and they think it’s normal.”

A University of British Columbia fisheries scientist, Daniel Pauly, hit upon essentially the same idea around the same time, recognizing that as populations of large fish collapsed, humanity had gone on obliviously fishing slightly smaller species. One result, Pauly wrote, was a “creeping disappearance” of overall fish stocks behind ever-changing and “inappropriate reference points.” He called this impaired vision “shifting baseline syndrome.”

There are, however, many subtler shifts in our awareness that can’t be as precisely demarcated. Scenarios that might sound dystopian or satirical as broad-strokes future projections unassumingly materialize as reality. Last year, melting permafrost in Siberia released a strain of anthrax, which had been sealed in a frozen reindeer carcass, sickening 100 people and killing one child. In July 2015, during the hottest month ever recorded on earth (until the following year), and the hottest day ever recorded in England (until the following summer), the Guardian newspaper had to shut down its live-blogging of the heat wave when the servers overheated. And low-lying cities around the world are experiencing increased “clear-sky flooding,” in which streets or entire neighborhoods are washed out temporarily by high tides and storm surges. Parts of Washington now experience flooding 30 days a year, a figure that has roughly quadrupled since 1960. In Wilmington, NC, the number is 90 days. But scientists and city planners have conjured a term of art that defuses that astonishing reality: “nuisance flooding,” they call it.

Kahn calls our environmental generational amnesia “one of the central psychological problems of our lifetime,” because it obscures the magnitude of so many concrete problems. You can wind up not looking away, exactly, but zoomed in too tightly to see things for what they are. Still, the tide is always rising in the background, swallowing something. And the longer you live, the more anxiously trapped you may feel between the losses already sustained and the ones you see coming.

Such shifting baselines muddle the idea of adaptation to climate change, too. Adaptation, Kahn notes, can mean anything from the human eye’s adjusting to a darker environment within a few milliseconds to wolves’ changing into dogs over thousands of years. It doesn’t always mean progress, he told me; “it’s possible to adapt and diminish the quality of human life.” Adapting to avoid or cope with the suffering wrought by climate change might gradually create other suffering. And because of environmental generational amnesia, we might never fully recognize its extent. Think of how Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree, nimbly accommodating each of the boy’s needs, eventually winds up a stump.

On the most fundamental level, Kahn argues, we are already adapting to climate change through a kind of tacit acquiescence, the way people in a city like Beijing accept that simply breathing the air outside can make them sick. “People are aware — they’re coughing and wheezing,” he told me, “but they’re not staging political revolutions.” Neither are we. And, Kahn went on, we risk imprisoning ourselves, through gradual adaptation, into a condition of “unfulfilled flourishing.” A wolf becomes a dog, genetically; it wants to fetch tennis balls and sleep at the foot of your bed. But imagine a dog that isn’t yet a dog, that still wants to be a wolf.

Sure, I told him, but at some point it would all be too much. Potentially, Kahn said. But assumptions about the future, no matter how self-evident they may feel, don’t automatically come true. “The amazing thing is that none of this seems to work the way we think it should. When I was growing up in the Bay Area in the 1970s, the traffic was really bad. And I said, If it just gets a little bit worse, you’re going to have a major upheaval in consciousness. And every five years it got worse.” He went silent for a second, then continued, “I’m just thinking about how many five-year periods I’ve lived through.”

One more thing about Burrito Justice and the origins of his archipelago map: Shortly after moving to San Francisco in the early 2000s, he happened upon a map of the city from 1853. Like other cities — New York, Boston, Seattle — San Francisco expanded its natural coastline with thousands of acres of “made land,” filling in mud flats and harbors with phenomenal amounts of debris and sand. But much of this happened after 1853; on the map Burrito Justice was looking at, San Francisco was smaller — physically smaller. And he was struck by how much its former shape might resemble its future one. It wouldn’t take much water for climate change to unmake the made land. The city would revert to its previous version, as though leveled by some cosmic control-Z.

As Burrito Justice described this to me on the phone one recent afternoon, I thought of a woman in San Francisco named Pamela Buttery, whom I’d heard about on National Public Radio in January. Buttery owned a condo in the Millennium Tower, a waterfront skyscraper downtown. But the tower had started sinking at an irregular angle, even before its completion in 2010; by now, it has tilted six inches and sunk a foot into the hodgepodge Victorian landfill on which it was constructed. Buttery lived on the 57th floor. “I’ve moved on into a depression about it,” she said. Though she used to unwind by putting golf balls, the reporter noted that even this didn’t “give her the same joy it once did. No matter which way she hits them, they all end up in the same corner.” And I realized that if someone in 1853 had tried to anticipate the texture and oddities of future life in his artificially expanding city, and imagined a woman who can’t satisfactorily putt golf balls on the 57th floor because her luxury condo is sinking into old garbage — well, I probably would have bought a copy of that guy’s map, too.

The future is always somebody else’s present — it will very likely feel as authentic, and only as horrific, as our moment does to us. But the present is also somebody else’s future: We are already standing on someone else’s ludicrous map. Except none of us are in on the joke, and I’m guessing that it won’t feel funny any time soon. ###

[Jon Mooallem is a writer at large for this magazine and the author of the book Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America (2013). He received a BA (English) from Colorado College and an MJ (news writing) from the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.]

Copyright © 2017 The New York Times Company



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Saturday, April 22, 2017

You're Invited To Crawl Through A Blue-Blooded Tale On Earth Day 2017

Barry Commoner was a biological scientist and was one of the founders of the modern environmental movement. In his contribution to the movement that spawned Earth Day, The Closing Circle (1971), Commoner enunciated "Four Laws Of Ecology":

1. Everything is connected to everything else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.

2. Everything must go somewhere. There is no "waste" in nature and there is no "away" to which things can be thrown.

3. Nature knows best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, "likely to be detrimental to that system"

4. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.

Of these "laws," the 4th and last verity came to mind as this blogger prepared today's Earth Day post. The obtuse failure of the Federal Drug Administration to approve anything for the biomedical industry that eliminate the inexorable push to make Horseshoe Crabs extinct because the blood of that species is essential to the detection E. coli contamination in the global delivery of medical services. So this why the cerulean-hued blood must be harvested in ways that threaten the survival of a species. If this is tne (fair & balanced) refutation of the foolish assumption that there is always going to be a free lunch, so be it.

[x Popular Mechanics]
The Blood Of The Crab
By Caren Chesler


TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing

created at TagCrowd.com

Meghan Owings plucks a horseshoe crab out of a tank and bends its helmet-shaped shell in half to reveal a soft white membrane. Owings inserts a needle and draws a bit of blood. "See how blue it is," she says, holding the syringe up to the light. It really is. The liquid shines cerulean in the tube.

When she's done with the show and tell, Owings squirts the contents of the syringe back into the tank. I gasp. "That's thousands of dollars!" I exclaim, and can't help but think of the scene in "Annie Hall" when Woody Allen is trying cocaine for the first time and accidentally sneezes, blowing the coke everywhere.

I'm not crazy for my concern. The cost of crab blood has been quoted as high as $14,000 per quart.

Their distinctive blue blood is used to detect dangerous Gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli in injectable drugs such as insulin, implantable medical devices such as knee replacements, and hospital instruments such as scalpels and IVs. Components of this crab blood have a unique and invaluable talent for finding infection, and that has driven up an insatiable demand. Every year the medical testing industry catches a half-million horseshoe crabs to sample their blood.

But that demand cannot climb forever. There's a growing concern among scientists that the biomedical industry's bleeding of these crabs may be endangering a creature that's been around since dinosaur days. There are currently no quotas on how many crabs one can bleed because biomedical laboratories drain only a third of the crab's blood, then put them back into the water, alive. But no one really knows what happens to the crabs once they're slipped back into the sea. Do they survive? Are they ever the same?

Scientists like Owings and Win Watson, who teaches animal neurobiology and physiology at the University of New Hampshire, are trying to get to the bottom of it. They're worried about the toll on the creatures, from the amount of time crabs spend out of the water while in transit to the extreme temperatures they experience sitting on a hot boat deck or in a container in the back of a truck.

To that end, these two scientists are putting this strange catch to the test. The pair took 28 horseshoe crabs from the Great Bay Estuary behind their lab, left them out in the heat, then drove them around in a car for four hours and then left them in containers overnight to simulate what might happen in a bleeding facility. Then they bled half the crabs (so they'd have a control group that wasn't bled). All of the crabs remained in containers a second night, as would likely happen at a bleeding lab. The following day, Owings and Watson put $350 transmitters on their backs, attached them snugly with little zip ties, and put the crabs back into the bay to see if they could make their way. What they find might have a lot to say about the future of this odd routine.

The Potential



Horseshoe crab blood is an E. coli detective.

Scientists use the precious substance—specifically, the crab blood's clotting agent—to make a concoction called Limulus Amoebocyte Lysate (LAL). LAL is used to detect Gram-negative bacteria like Escherichia coli ("E. coli"), which can wreak havoc on humans.

Basically, you can divide the bacteria of the world into two groups based on a test developed by Christian Gram, a Danish physician of the late 1800s. The two classes differ physiologically, especially in the composition of their cell walls. Gram-negative bacteria like E. coli contain a type of sugar called an endotoxin in their cell walls, while Gram-positive types like Staphylococcus (of the Staph infection) do not. (The "positive" and "negative" refer to how the microorganisms reacts to a staining test Gram invented.)

Those endotoxins are harmful to human beings and can survive the high heat and harsh conditions under which drugs and medical devices are sterilized and tested. They persist like zombies. Endotoxins wreak havoc on the immune system and make humans susceptible to life-threatening conditions like sepsis. LAL detects these endotoxins by turning from a liquid to a clotted gel when they come in contact with those toxins.

While industry experts say the $14,000-a-quart estimate is high—the figure is more likely the price tag for the coveted amoebocytes that are extracted from the blood—it is testament to how precious LAL has become.

To make enough of it for LAL testing, the biomedical industry now bleeds about 500,000 crabs a year. Global pharmaceutical markets are expected to grow as much as 8 percent over the next year. The medical devices market in the Americas is expected to grow about 25 percent by 2020. The demand for crabs will only grow.

The Problem



When a species is impacted on land, it's easy to see the effects. When the adverse effects occur under water, we don't really know about it—or don't really care. It's why we used to dump garbage and toxic chemicals into the water. What happens under water stays under water.

As such, scientists don't know exactly what biomedical testing does to horseshoe crabs. But they know enough to be worried.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which sets global standards for species extinction, created a horseshoe crab subcommittee in 2012 to monitor the issue. The group decided last year that the American horseshoe crab is "vulnerable" to extinction—a higher level of danger compared to the last Red List assessment in 1996. "Vulnerable" is just one notch below "endangered," after all. Furthermore, the report said crab populations could fall 30 percent over the next 40 years. (This risk varies by region. While populations are increasing in the Southeast and stable in the Delaware Bay, spawning in the Gulf of Maine is no longer happening at some historic locations and the population continues to decline in New England, largely because of overharvesting.)

The same story plays out across the Pacific Ocean. The horseshoe crab native to Asia, called Tachypleus, produces a different but equally useful version of LAL called Tachypleus Amoebocyte Lysate, or TAL. But horseshoe crabs are already disappearing from beaches in China, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, places where they once thrived. Some fear that if the pharmaceutical industry continues to grow and horseshoe crabs disappear in Asia, companies producing bacteria identifiers there will set their sights on crabs here, further depleting the US population.

If the species were to dwindle, it wouldn't just be an issue for conservationists but for everyone, as LAL is currently the only substance able to detect gamma-negative bacteria in the health field. As one conservationist put it, "Every man, woman, and child and domestic animal on this planet that uses medical services is connected to the horseshoe crab."

The Pings



Owing's crab transmitters give off a series of acoustic pings every 45 seconds. When the crabs get within 300 to 400 meters of an underwater receiver, that gadget picks up and records the ping. Each ping is different—it indicates which crab was there, how deep it was, and how active it had been in the prior 45 seconds. Every week or two, Owings and Watson sail out in a boat to download the data, and move the receivers if they need to follow the crabs. I rode along on one of these voyages last fall.

The Great Bay Estuary is about 60 feet deep in the middle, though the crabs tend to hang out around the edges, foraging for food. As we drive around the waterway, the researchers gaze across the water looking for the moorings that hold the receivers. They nearly lost a receiver once when a boat ran over the rope that held it to the mooring. Nobody said science would be easy. Thankfully, a secondary rope had been attached that kept the device from dropping to the bottom of the bay.

About three minutes from the dock, we find the first one. Watson pulls a seaweed-covered rope out of the water with a hook and reels it in until he reaches the missile-shaped receiver. Owings takes it from him and inserts a key, enabling the Bluetooth device on her laptop to download the receiver data, a log of every time it detected a crab's ping.

"It's frozen," Owings says.

"The computer? Can you reboot?" Watson says.

"Trying," she says.

Nobody said technology would be easy, either.

The reboot works. As the data finishes downloading, Owings shouts, "19,000!", referring to the number of pings the receiver has picked up. She removes the key and drops the device back into the water to continue its task. The world needs that data.

The Catch



The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which manages the fishery resources along the Atlantic coast, has harvest quotas in place on bait fishermen who use horseshoe crabs to catch eels and conch. But not for biomedical laboratories. They can take as many crabs as they like, and that harvest continues to grow. The number of crabs harvested by the US biomedical industry jumped from an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 in the 1990s to more than 610,000 crabs in 2012, according to the ASMFC's latest stock assessment report.

"We were successful in exempting ourselves from quotas," said Thomas Novitsky, a scientist and former CEO of Associates of Cape Cod, an LAL company in East Falmouth, Mass. "We lobbied the ASMFC, telling them we're not hurting the crabs. We're putting them back. We have a very important medical application here, so give us a break and don't put the regulations on us."

The LAL labs argued that after the crabs are bled, they go back into the water and recover. That assumption is now being questioned. The ASMFC's decision not to restrict the biomedical industry assumed that some crabs, about 15 percent, would die. Now, that threshold has been broken in the last nine years. And evidence is accumulating that the death rate of bled horseshoe crabs is much higher (more like 29 percent versus 15 percent), that females may have an impaired ability to spawn, and that bled crabs become disoriented and debilitated for various lengths of time, Novitsky said. In Pleasant Bay on Cape Cod, where horseshoe crabs are known to be bled for biomedical use, he says fewer females are spawning than in other regions.

"There's been a dramatic effect," Novitsky said. "The industry will unite and say these studies were done in a lab, and you can't compare that with what's done in nature, but that argument doesn't hold water."

Restricting the biomedical harvest is no easy task, and it starts with the red tape. According to Michael Schmidtke, the Fishery Management Plan Coordinator for ASMFC, the stock assessments (a measure of how many crabs are out there in the first place) have not taken the biomedical crab harvest into account. That's about to change. The commission voted to allow biomedical data to be used in its assessment due in 2018.

But getting a more accurate count is only part of the equation. Even if there were a quota, there's no guarantee that the organization could enforce it. First there's the question of authority. "ASMFC has no jurisdiction over the biomedical industry. It's not a fishery. It's like ASMFC trying to monitor the tobacco industry," said Jeff Brust, a research scientist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

And then there's the pure damn necessity. While several companies have come up with synthetic alternatives for detecting the presence of endotoxins in vaccines, medicine, and medical instruments, LAL is still the only test that has received FDA approval.

The Stress



It's hard enough on a creature to lose a large quantity of blood and then survive in the wild. But that's only part of the problem for the crab. According to scientists like Owings and Watson, there's a growing body of evidence that factors related to the capture and transportation are hurting the crabs, too.

"I imagine when you put them back in the water, if you were to measure their breathing rate, it would be intense," Watson said, noting that their time spent out of the water has probably made them anaerobic for a while. "If I was put through a period where I couldn't breathe, and you put me back where you found me, I'd just sit there and breathe for a day."

Watson says the companies catch so many crabs at one time that they can't keep them in tanks. There's just too many. And so the catchers just pile crabs out on the deck of the boat.

"Name me another marine creature who breathes under water who can survive on land the way they can," Watson says. "You can't do that with a fish, or a lobster. They're very hearty. But I think they pay a price for that."

The firms involved in this fishing will say they use best management practices in their harvesting, but it's totally voluntary, open-ended, and vague, Novitsky says, which isn't surprising. The rules were put forward by representatives of the LAL labs, which sit on ASMFC's committees. ASMFC has best practices spelled out, but they have neither enforcement nor surveillance capabilities.

"I was getting directives from the ownership that we weren't profitable enough, and you know how that goes," said Novitsky, who was actually pushed out of Cape Cod Associates after it was acquired by a Japanese firm.

Owings and Watson say they don't want to stop biomedical companies from bleeding crabs. They just want them to do it in a less damaging way. For instance: Companies may not know that when the crabs are bled—or even just held in the laboratory for a long period of time—they have a hard time replenishing their blood supply because their hemocyanin levels remain low, Watson says. Hemocyanin is a protein similar to hemoglobin that transports oxygen through the body. It's as if the crabs become anemic, and it happens by just taking them out of the water, whether you bleed them or not, though the recovery is worse if they've been bled. Their studies have shown that just being in captivity had a negative effect, Owings said.

"Imagine if you had a cow, and every time you milked it, it took a month before it had more milk. That's the problem here," Watson said, noting that if you take a quart of blood from a human, they recover within days. "In terms of the things we've found? That, to me, is a red flag. It's something that is a clear target that we can start to address."

Watson also worries that the needle itself impairs something that acts like a pacemaker in the crab's heart. In the biomedical lab, the needle is inserted in a soft membrane that runs along a hinge in the crab's shell. But that membrane runs across the crab's heart. If the needle hits the crab's pacemaker, it could disrupt its heartbeat permanently. Companies may not even know about that—Watson only does because of his thesis on horseshoe crab neurobiology.

One other thing: Horseshoe crabs have a strong tidal rhythm. They know when high tide is coming, and they move to the edge of the water. Watson tested this several years ago with a colleague, by building a version of a hamster wheel out of two five-gallon buckets with the openings facing each other but leaving just enough space in between for the crab's tail. They then placed it inside the buckets and found it would run every 12.4 hours, about the same cycle as the tides.

"It made us realize that the tides were more important to these guys than we thought. I thought it was just during mating season," he said. It was an important discovery because it meant they would lose that rhythm pretty quickly if you take them out of water and bring them into a lab. "It also made us realize we don't know what these guys do most of the year. No one observes these guys except when they're mating."

He'd like to eventually take some of his discoveries to the medical labs with the hope that they can improve their bleeding practices. If we know the bleeding process reduces the crab's hemocyanin, which compromises their immune system, feeding them a diet of copper before they are returned to the water might help bring their hemocyanin levels back up. He'd like to sell the idea to the bleeding labs. But to date, his attempts to reach them, he says—even to simply confirm that their bleeding simulations are accurate —have gone unanswered.

"I'm not trying to shut the companies down. I just want to see if there's a better way to do it," he said.

Finding Their Way



There are about a dozen receivers in the water, and when the crabs move far out of range—and they can move several miles in a day—the researchers have to relocate them to make sure the pings continue to be read.

"We've used this method for tracking lobsters in the ocean. But sometimes, you'd have to drive around for hours looking for them. At least in here, you can drive down the middle of the bay and find them," Watson said.

We're sitting in the boat and Owings is holding one of the receivers. She's trying to get me to hear one of the pings coming from a nearby crab.

"There's one!" Owings says.

"I didn't hear it," I said.

"There!" she said, hearing another ping.

It reminded me of when our smoke alarm battery was dying, and it kept beeping, but my husband and I couldn't find the detector. For two weeks, the beep would sound but never long enough for us to locate the device. Our dog eventually found it for us.

Watson puts the boat in gear and gets ready to drive off.

"We have to put the (receiver) back!" Owings says.

"Good point, Meghan," Watson says.

As we drive off, Watson remarks on how the crabs have a mysterious understanding of where they are in the estuary and where they need to be at different times of year. Horseshoe crabs like the shallow mudflats in the spring, summer, and fall, because they can forage for snails and worms there during high tide. In the cold winter months, they don't eat much if at all, so it's hard to know where they go once they descend into deeper darker waters.

"They disperse. I don't know how they find their way," Watson said.

And yet they do. There are four hot spots for crabs in the estuary, he says, and you'll see the same crabs there at certain times of year. He knows this because researchers have tagged them. There are certain spots where the females lay their eggs, the males fertilize them, and the eggs hatch 30 days later, he says, pointing to one of those spots along the shore. And yet the larvae must be carried off by the current to a different location because the juvenile crabs aren't usually found in the spawning site but rather somewhere else in the estuary, he says. It leads him to believe there's a complex pattern to their life cycle that we don't fully understand yet.

"There's a whole connectivity going on, where you reproduce, where the eggs hatch, where the larvae get carried," even where the birds come to eat the eggs, he said. "When the biomedical labs take the crabs out to bleed them and put them back in a different spot, it could disrupt that connectivity thing."

When we get back to shore, Watson says he is going scuba diving with two other students. They need to log a certain amount of time in the water to maintain their diving credentials. As he puts on his wet suit, he tells me about a camera system he and a colleague once mounted on a lobster trap to see what happened when they were caught. What they found was that all but about a tenth of the lobsters were able to escape.

"We were dumbfounded by the results," he says.

He puts on his weight belt, tank, fins, and goggles and walks to the end of the dock and steps into the water. He walks for a while in the shallow water, and for a time, I can still see the top of his head. But as he swims off, his head begins to disappear under the surface of the water, and he gets one more glimpse of what goes on in the darkness below. ###

[Caren Chesler is a contributing writer for the following periodicals: New Jersey Monthly, Private Wealth, and Financial Advisor. She also is a freelance writer for the Charter Financial Publishing Network; the article posted here was her third contribution to Popular Mechanics. Chesler received a BS (economics) with a minor field in English from Boston University.]

Copyright © 2017 Popular Mechanics/Hearst Communications



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