Thursday, May 24, 2007

Peregrines, Long Island Sound and Rachel Carson's Centenary

Peregrine falcons have been nesting on the Throgs Neck Bridge for more than 25 years but for some reason the Times chose today to write a brief story about it.

To me, it's noteworthy for two things.

First, the story says the Throgs Neck Bridge is at the intersection of the East River and Long Island Sound. This is tiresome but ... a "sound" is a relatively narrow strip of water between an island and the mainland. Therefore Long Island Sound is the strip of water between Long Island and the Bronx, Westchester and Connecticut. Since Queens is on Long Island, the strip of water between Queens and the Bronx is Long Island Sound. It is not the East River. The East River separates Queens and Brooklyn from Manhattan, and it ends at Hell Gate (not Hell's Gate). As I've said before, I think this partially explains why people in Queens and the Bronx don't care that much about Long Island Sound -- because they're continually told that they live not near the Sound but near the East River. Oy.

Second, the story (which is so inconsequential it's apparently not even on the Times website, hence no link) refers to the connection between DDT and the decline of peregines, which reminds me that Sunday is the 100th anniversary of Rachel Carson's birth and also reminds me to link to this commentary about Carson and the Bush administration that Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in the current New Yorker:

As much as any book can, “Silent Spring” changed the world by describing it. An immediate best-seller, the book launched the modern environmental movement, which, in turn, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the passage of the Clean Air, the Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts, and the banning of a long list of pesticides, including dieldrin. Depending on how you look at it, Carson’s centenary couldn’t come at a better time—or a worse one.

Six years into the Bush Administration, it’s basically the ant wars all over again. At key agencies, a disregard for inconvenient evidence seems today to be a prerequisite. A memo prepared by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in mid-March, for example, revealed that officials of the White House Council on Environmental Quality had made more than a hundred and eighty changes to a status report on global warming, virtually all of which had the effect of exaggerating scientific uncertainties and minimizing certainties. (The official responsible for most of the changes, Philip Cooney, had come to the White House from the American Petroleum Institute and now works for Exxon Mobil.) A second report issued in March—this one by the Inspector General for the Department of the Interior—chronicled numerous instances in which a high-ranking department official, Julie MacDonald, had pressured government scientists to alter findings on threatened species. MacDonald, the report pointedly noted, had “no formal educational background in natural sciences, such as biology.” (MacDonald has since resigned.) As it happened, the report on MacDonald was released the same day that the former second-in-command at the Interior Department, J. Steven Griles, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

Meanwhile, the Administration has done its best to gut the safeguards put in place after “Silent Spring.” When, for instance, the E.P.A. proposed new rules on mercury emissions from power plants, the proposal turned out to contain several paragraphs lifted, virtually verbatim, from an industry lobbyist’s memos. (With minor changes, those regulations are now in effect.) Just last month, the Administration proposed new rules on the retrofitting of old power plants. The more or less explicit purpose of the rules is to accommodate a power company, Duke Energy, that the E.P.A. had itself sued for violating the Clean Air Act. Also last month, the E.P.A. announced that it would once again delay taking action on two drinking-water contaminants, perchlorate, an ingredient of rocket fuel, and M.T.B.E., a fuel additive.

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Blogger John said...

Aren't the East River and Harlem River also sounds? (Or at least something other than rivers?)

10:39 PM  
Blogger Tom Andersen said...

You're right, John -- they're definitely not rivers. The Harlem River is between Manhattan Island and the Bronx, so it meets the definition of a sound. The East River is really just a tidal strait.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Hey Tom, if you ever motored or sailed a boat through it in small boat, it does seem like Hell's Gate! The water boils worse than the Race, similar to some of your finer Maelstroms in Norway. Rocks and chunks of old wharves abound. If you lose control of your boat you could be going down the river - err, Sound - sideways or butt-first.

Technically a sound is as you say but has a nautical meaning to "be in soundings." Before the days of depth recorders, depth was measured with a lead weight on a line and thrown until it reached bottom. A small cup on the bottom contained tallow, which collected some of the bottom to see what was there ... for example, black mud might mean you were in soundings off Block Island, which I guess by a stretch of the imagination is called Block Island Sound.

No bottom and you were not in soundings and in water of over 100 fathoms, or 600 feet.

Those silly geographers!

12:52 PM  
Blogger Tom Andersen said...

Interesting. I'd never heard that derivation, nor that description of taking soundings.

My recollection (from having looked it up years ago) was that "sound" came from the Old Norse word "sund." says "sund" is Old Norse and also Old English. But it defines a sound as merely a long wide inlet, parallel to the coast; no mention if it being between and island and the mainland.

I forget which dictionary I found mt definition in, but I'm sticking to it!

1:01 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Sure there's a whole bunch of unusual nautical terms about sounding. "Mark twain" literally means two fathoms of water as measured by the guy near the bow with a weight and a rope - that meant 12 feet of water, barely enough for the larger vessels such as steamboats and sailing ships.

Soundings were always sung as if a song. It was a time of fear, such as being grounded and drowned, and joy such as returning to port to pay off the crew and do all those nasty things sailors loved to do. "Heave the lead-line and pull ye hearty mates, mark, mark, mark, three fathoms sir!"

Interesting that Taj Mahal did a movie called "Sounder" that had excellent blues in it. That actually had country roots, meaning a dog-hunt for racoons and pigs and things like that. The dogs would sing and bark like the lead-man on a ship, once they picked up the scent to their quarry.

Happy Memorial Day 2007,

2:33 PM  

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