Ed Abbey, White Courtesy Phone


Cholla Garden, Joshua Tree National Park

Here’s one of those little “slice of political life in the desert” things. There’s a road through Joshua Tree National Park called Pinto Basin Road that’s seen better days. It washed out rather badly a year ago, in a series of monsoon storms, and it was closed for months — leaving most of the park inaccessible to Winnebagos. Winnebagi? I can never remember which declension that is.

Anyway, the road was in rough shape even before the storms. It’s on alluvium and generally just a couple inches thick, which means that each time a passing Winnebagus rolls slightly off the edge of the pavement the roadbed deteriorates just a little. Some of the road’s stretches have limited sight distance due to going around alluvial fans and down into washes and such. It’s perfectly safe if you drive the posted limit, which never gets higher than 45 miles per hour, but no one ever drives the posted limit because it’s out in the middle of the godforsaken desert with “nothing to look at” except at the sanctioned pullouts, where you’re encouraged to pull out and look at a sign that explains to you that you’re in the middle of the godforsaken desert. So people try to drive at 55 mph or more, and every so often a speeding Winnebagum catches the edge of the road and rolls over into the desert. A few fatal accidents have resulted.

So the Park Service has been meaning to upgrade the road for a while: the 2011 storms merely made it mandatory.

The road, by the way, is perfectly wonderful as is. A few days before the storms broke it last year Annette and I drove it in her Mini Cooper, which has approximately seven ångströms of road clearance, and we did just fine. It was late at night — we’d been in the Park watching the Perseids — and we were the only people on the road for miles, driving at 35 mph, blocked from cell service and radio contact, finally able to bring in an AM radio station from the Navajo Reservation. It was a nice night.

Anyway: they’re widening the road by two feet, increasing the sight distance in some places, and presumably making the roadbed a bit more robust. I’d known about that for a few months.

What I didn’t know is this.

One of the sanctioned pullouts along the stretch of road is the Cholla Cactus Garden — a gorgeous patch of teddy-bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) that’s one of the most-visited spots in the Park. I took the photo above there 12-odd years ago. Annette and I went there on one of our first dates back in 2008, went for a walk through the cacti, and returned to find my (late lamented) Jeep full of hundreds of angry bees. (“This date is going well,” I thought to myself at the time.)

Since the spot is so popular, there’s a large-ish dirt parking lot there. And as part of the road project, they want to improve the parking lot. They’re going to pave it and stripe it, which is just and fitting. It’s way the hell out in the stinking desert, but the dictates of civilization must be obeyed.

But the Park Service also wants to “upgrade” the parking area. The plan is to bring it up to 20-30 auto spaces and add an area for drivers of Winnebagae to moor their crafts.

So they are going to expand the parking lot to allow people to get out and enjoy the cholla. In order to do so, they are pushing the parking lot about 30 feet into the Cholla Cactus Garden. And due to the Cauly Exclusion Principle, which states that a Winnebago and an arborescent cholla cannot occupy the same space simultaneously, the chollas have to move.

Which means that in order to facilitate tourists’ ability to get out and look at the chollas, the Park Service is putting a parking lot where the chollas are.

The park service starts digging up an acre of chollas October 15. They’re going to be replanted in another area of the cholla patch that the Park Service has declared in need of revegetation. According to the local magazine the Sun Runner, about 800 mature chollas will be moved out of the way of the Winneba[suffices], and as many as 600 of them are expected to survive replanting.

The National Park staff includes super-smart botanists who are very likely as competent to keep transplanted Cylindropuntia bigelovii alive as anyone on the planet. And I’m guessing those botanists didn’t come up with this idea.It’s not the biggest evil in the world, and the road project is definitely being paved with good intentions. But still.

Anyway: you have a week to see the Cholla Cactus Garden as it once was. When you park on the dirt, roll up your windows so the bees don’t get in.


Uh-oh, he’s on to us!

Rats. Paul Broun (Ridiculous, Ga) sees right through us.

All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.

So…this guy gets elected down there in Georgia?

Nerd life forever

Oh, no, there are more reasons I can never run for public office in the United States.

Colleen Lachowicz is a Democrat running for the state senate in Maine. The Republicans are running attack ads against her, arguing that she isn’t fit for office because she plays an orc rogue in World of Warcraft. It’s not clear whether she’d be OK if she’d been playing an elf paladin.

Alas, I think I’m worse. I play an undead warlock. Also, I’m an atheist. Doooomed.

Oh, no! I just noticed in that picture…I’m also wearing a dress! Crap, I’m just going to have to resign myself to spending the rest of my life sucking at the public teat, never contributing anything, aren’t I? I’d move into my mother’s basement, but she doesn’t have one.

A pointless clarification

That dull, boring, moronic slimepitter ScentedNectar has put out a youtube video (which I will not link to) accusing me of nefarious and underhanded manipulation of the ads on FtB to get an unfair edge in revenues. I’d call it a lie, but it’s clearly a product of her stupidity and incompetence. Just to clarify: 1) I have absolutely no control over the ads here at all. Ed Brayton handles all the accounting and ad placement. I don’t even want to have to deal with ads. 2) All revenue from ads at FtB, without regard to their source, is put into a common pool and shared out to all blogs on the basis of their page views. If I were somehow gaming the system to bring in extra ad money, it would go into the pool and benefit everyone blogging here.

I don’t know why I’m bothering to respond, since she also whines that I’d just lie and make excuses anyway, so she’s not going to care about the facts. But I hate being accused of somehow scamming my colleagues here — this network is about building a cause, not lining my pockets. If I cared about nothing but the money, I would never have left Scienceblogs — their rates are much better!

Around FtB

Who needs to read any other site? Freethoughtblogs has it all.

  • Digital Cuttlefish has a poem about Texas cheerleaders. Don’t worry, it’s not porny at all!

  • Ophelia Benson finds Simon Singh in trouble again, being threatened with a lawsuit by quacks who don’t like him pointing out the duck-like nature of their voices.

  • Dana Hunter is searching for a notorious car — one that survived the eruption of Mt St Helens.

  • Ian Cromwell dissects gay conversion therapy and discovers something completely obvious about its proponents.

  • Sikivu Hutchinson also puts the smack down on the religious fanatics pushing gay conversion therapy.

  • Maryam Namazie notices that women are mysteriously disappearing from the pages of Ikea catalogs in Saudi Arabia. Turns out it’s a Swedish conspiracy.

  • Richard Carrier is going to Skepticon! So am I!

  • Mano Singham reveals the logo of our American drone program. Are we the baddies? Yes, we are.
    It’s not a joke. That’s really their logo.

  • Taslima Nasrin notes a recent archaeological discovery: Bronze Age women worked as metalsmiths. Must have been before the patriarchy took over.

  • Zinnia Jones makes my brain hurt. You MUST watch the video she posted; it’ll make you feel so good and happy. Then you can read the comments from the Religious Right about it, if you want to be whipsawed into fearing a large chunk of humanity. Or if you’d rather just wallow in despair, skip the heart-warming video and go straight to the Commentator Accountability Project.

Christian zealots really can’t identify with anyone else

The Canadian government is firing all their non-Christian prison chaplains. Not all their chaplains, which would be a move that would be both smart and fair, but just the ones who don’t love Jesus enough.

The federal government is cancelling the contracts of all non-Christian chaplains at federal prisons, CBC News has learned.

Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries.

Toews made headlines in September when he ordered the cancellation of a tender issued for a Wiccan priest for federal prisons in B.C.

Toews said he wasn’t convinced part-time chaplains from other religions were an appropriate use of taxpayer money and that he would review the policy.

In an email to CBC News, Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time Christian chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.

"The minister strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners,” the email states. “However, the government … is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding. The minister has concluded … [Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths."

I’d like to know how Vic Toews would react if all the Christian chaplains were kicked out of the prisons and all the Jebusites had to turn towards “interfaith” services provided by rabbis and imams. I suspect he’d suddenly see a major problem with such a decision.

One other interesting note: Canada has about 15,000 prisoners, and their religion breaks down like this:

There are nearly 15,000 inmates in federal custody and a large majority of them identify themselves as Christian:

  • 37.5% are Catholic.

  • 19.5% are Protestant.

  • 4.5% are Muslim.

  • 4% First Nations spirituality

  • 2% are Buddhist.

  • less than 1% are Jewish.

  • less than 1% are Sikh.

Hang on, that adds up to less than 70%. What are the other 30%? Polls show that less than 20% of the Canadian population has no religious affiliation (recent polls bring that up closer to 30%). Have we finally found a country where the criminals are as godless as the general population?