Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Snail Darter and the God Committee

The snail darter is a small fish, about the size of a paper clip, that lives primarily in East Tennessee. It feeds on snails and providers food for larger fish like trout. In 1975 it was declared as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This is significant because when this happened, it halted the creation of the Telico Dam (which helps bring electricity to the valley). The construction of this dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) would alter the habitat of the river to the point of killing all of the snail darter. You would think this would have brought a stop to construction of the dam, considering destroying this fish would have an equally destructive affect on recreational fishing and the local economy: enter the God Committee.

Senator Howard Baker (R-TN) sponsored of an amendment to the Endangered Species Act that would allow some projects exempt. The Tellico Dam was the first of such projects. This "God Committee," made up of several cabinet members and at least one person from the state in question. This amendment was signed into with bi-partisan support in Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter.

As a side note, Baker was replaced by Al Gore in the US Senate in 1985. He was also asked by President Nixon to be on the US Supreme Court. Because he took too long to answer, Nixon picked Rehnquist instead. In 1976, he almost was picked to be Ford's running mate instead of Bob Dole. He ran for president in 1980 but dropped out after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. He was President Reagan's Chief of Staff from 1987 to 1988.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Stones at Altamont

I just finished watching the film Gimme Shelter. What a great film! I have always had an appreciation for the Rolling Stones, but I wouldn't call myself a big fan. Among other things, the film documents the concert at Altamont Speedway in the San Francisco area in 1969. I have never known much about the concert other than that someone was stabbed to death by the Hell's Angels at the concert.

The Stones have always had the image of being bad boys. It is just that ... an image. It is something they grabbed onto after their friend, The Beatles, got such an image of being squeaky clean. Mick Jagger, not only the lead of the band but the business man, thought having the Hell's Angels as body guards at the concert would be a nice stunt to bolster this bad boy image. I guess he didn't think of how much the Angels were the real thing ... bad boys ... or to put it more bluntly just a bunch of violent thugs. After the violence started, the Stones had no idea how badly people were injured and continued to play after several interuptions with the intention of calming the crowd. One of the Angels claims he had a gun on Keith Richards threatening him if he stopped playing.

The Altamont Free Concert featured the Stones as the headliners since they organized the event. It also featured Bay Area rockers, Jefferson Airplane and the Flying Burrito Brothers. The Grateful Dead were supposed to play but refused to go .. hearing that Marty Balin of the Airplane was assaulted by the Angels and knocked unconscious while he was playing. 300,000 people attended the concert. The stabbing death of Meredith Hunter was already known to me before I saw the film but what I didn't know that is that there were 3 other accidental deaths during the concert, two by car accident and one by drowning in an irrigation ditch. The stabbing and the assault on Balin are documented in the film, just a little hard to see in the commotion.

I find the coolest thing about the film is watching Jagger and Charlie Watts watching the news reports about the stabbing coming in. You can see in their faces, the regret and some shame. Charlie even had a tear. They just wanted to put on a great rock show. They didn't know what they were dealing with when it came to the Angels.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the city of Danzig

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact is the short name of the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in August 1939. The longer, more official name is Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was named after the two high ranking representatives from those nations, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The term non-aggression on its own sounds nice until you understand that it just meant that they weren't going to be aggressive to each other while they invaded the nations around them. Barely a week later on September 1st, Germany invaded Poland on their eastern border while the Soviets waited until September 17th to invade them from the other side. They both went on to invade the nations of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania splitting the land and resources into their respective spheres of influence. Only Finland was able to hold them off.

Under the Versailles Treaty after World War I, Poland was guaranteed access to the sea (the Baltic). So the city of Danzig was declared a free city under the auspice of the League of Nations. So this split Germany up with a small portion of the nation disconnected from the mainland (where Konigsberg is now). Not a good situation. The city had its own currency, stamps and national anthem. Germany wanted to build a highway connecting Konigsberg to the rest of Germany. When this did not happen, Germany demanded Danzig back. Poland, having recently signed the Anglo-Polish military alliance, pushed back believing that having England (and France) behind them, Germany wouldn't do anything about it. Hence, ... as it is said ... the rest is history.