Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Texas Waterfowl

With the degradation and disappearance of the inland and coastal habitats that these birds depend upon, the natural history of these waterfowl species provides a vital reminder of the interconnectedness and crucial importance of all wetlands.

In their new book Texas Waterfowl, William P. Johnson and Mark W. Lockwood describe the life histories of 45 species of ducks, geese, and swans that occur in Texas.

Cinnamon Teal (male).
Photograph by Greg Lasley, March 2, 2009,
Austin, Travis County, Texas

One such remarkable species is the Cinnamon Teal. This waterfowl’s nonbreeding plumage is almost identical to the Blue-winged Teal. These beautiful birds can be found in the High Plains and in El Paso County. However, they have also been seen in Bexar and Colorado Counties. During the winter, Cinnamon Teal migrate to the western side of the state.

Typically Cinnamon Teal eat invertebrates, seeds and aquatic plants. They also breed anywhere from southwestern Canada into western Mexico with their greatest density being around Great Salt Lake, Utah. Breeding pairs can be found in freshwater wetlands, such as stock ponds, wetlands, and marshes. Their nests are usually on the ground near water, and in short, dense grasses.

During breeding seasons, adult male Cinnamon Teals have a cinnamon red body color, hence the name, while the crown and back of their heads are dark brown to black. Their bellies also range from reddish brown to black. Their bills are a glossy black. Adult females are a mottled brown in appearance and have a slaty bill with black spotting near the edges. However, during nonbreeding times, both closer resemble females with mottled brown feathers.

For more on these beautiful creatures, check out our website or pick up your copy of Texas Waterfowl today!

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Father of Texas Botany

In 1801, Ferdinand Lindheimer was born in Frankfurt, Germany. He received scholarships and studied at universities in Wiesbaden, Jena, and Bonn. It wasn’t until Lindheimer was past the age of 30 when he immigrated to North America. But, after his in depth study of thousands of different plant specimens, the German native has become known as the Father of Texas Botany.

Before settling in Texas, Lindheimer lived in Illinois, Louisiana, and spent a year working on a banana plantation in Mexico. When Texas declared independence from Mexico, Lindheimer decided to fight with Texas against Mexico. Although he missed most of the action due to travel delays, he finally made it to Texas in 1835, finding a German colony to settle into—New Braunfels.

Lindheimer spent his free time delving into his newfound hobby—exploring the flowers, trees, and grasses of his new home. He began to collect plant specimens and sent them to an old friend, George Engelmann, who was studying medicine as well as botanical research. Using collected knowledge and available resources, Lindheimer logged the date, location, and habitat of each of the plant species he collected, giving them names and trying to sort them into the correct family.

By 1845, with the help of Engelmann and another professor, Asa Gray, Lindheimer’s work was published in the Boston Journal of Natural History. In 1846, Lindheimer married his wife, Eleanor Reinarz and they raised four children.

The texts of many letters written between Lindheimer and his colleagues, Engelmann and Gray, can be found in A Life Among the Texas Flora: Ferdinand Lindheimer’s Letters to George Engelmann (Texas A&M University Press,1991). Author Minetta Altgelt Goyne has written and lectured extensively about the German language and culture.

--Madeline Loving

Thursday, February 21, 2013

TAMU Press Authors Discover Humans Came to the Americas Earlier than Previously Thought

Congratulations to TAMU Press authors and anthropology professors Michael Waters and Ted Goebel, who made the cover story of the February issue of Smithsonian Magazine, for discovering that humans first migrated to the Americas earlier than previously thought! As mentioned by TAMU President Dr. R. Bowen Loftin in a campus email, the whole article can be accessed here.

Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University, has more than 30 years of experience in the field. He is also an author of Clovis Lithic Technology: Investigation of a Stratified Workshop at the Gault Site, Texas (TAMU Press, 2011). In a thorough synthesis of the evidence from this prehistoric “workshop,” Michael R. Waters and his coauthors provide the technical data needed to interpret and compare Excavation Area 8, or the Lindsey Pit, with other sites from the same period, illuminating the story of Clovis people in the Buttermilk Creek Valley.

Ted Goebel, associate director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans, is also the author of From the Yenisei to the Yukon: Interpreting Lithic Assemblage Variability in Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene Beringia (TAMU Press, 2011). Through a technological-organization approach, this volume permits investigation of the evolutionary process of adaptation as well as the historical processes of migration and cultural transmission. The result is a closer understanding of how humans adapted to the diverse and unique conditions of the late Pleistocene.

--Madeline Loving 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Texas State Parks and the CCC: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps

From Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle to Lake Corpus Christi on the coast, from Balmorhea in far West Texas to Caddo Lake near the Louisiana border, the state parks of Texas are home not only to breathtaking natural beauty, but also to historic buildings and other structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s.

In their new book Texas State Parks and the CCC: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Cynthia Brandimarte and Angela Reed worked together to compile a rich visual record of how this New Deal program left an indelible stamp on many of the parks we still enjoy today.

One such park is the Balmorhea State Park at Toyahville in Reeves County at the corner of State Highway 17 and Park Road 30. Between the years of 1934 and 1940, the CCC constructed entrance portals, concession buildings, bathhouses, cabins, a pool, bridges, as well as many others.

Pool at San Solomon Springs, Balmorhea State Park
(Photo by J. Griffis Smith, 2005, TxDOT) 

The San Solomon Springs, the focal point of the state park, were visited in 1583 by Spanish explorer Antonio de Espejo. Many years later, settlers turned the area into a farming community and built irrigation ditches. Beginning in the 20th century, a team of engineers and investors formed an irrigation company and ultimately named the town. Recognizing its ideal location, the State Parks Board bought the land in 1934. Within the next year, the CCC began constructing a swimming pool. Using local materials, residents built roads, buildings, bridges, and irrigation canals through the 43-acre park.

Not long after the CCC left in early 1940, Balmorhea State Park became a focus for travelers touring the area and as a gateway stop for those headed to the Davis Mountains.

The contributions the CCC made to the state of Texas have left a lasting impression. This remarkable group of people and their history are featured in an ongoing exhibit mounted at the Bullock State History Museum – in coordination with the release of this book.

For more information on the book, please click here. The full story on the exhibit can be found at this website.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Who was Saint Valentine?

What images does Valentine’s Day conjure for you? Red roses, chocolates, frilly love notes, candy hearts?  While some people love Valentine’s Day, others may dread the day; some even have deemed it “Single Awareness Day.” Whatever your opinion of Valentine’s Day, the romantic roots of the day might interest you.

Although there were people named Saint Valentine or Valentinus, the exact origin of Valentine’s Day is unclear. One story goes that Valentine was a priest in Rome during the third century, serving under Emperor Claudius II. Claudius had decided that single men were better soldiers than married men and fathers, and therefore had outlawed marriage. Valentine recognized the absurdity of this decree, and continued to marry lovers in private. When Claudius discovered Valentine’s defilements, he was put to death and became a martyr.

The other legends have suggested that Valentine died trying to help Christians escape persecution and harsh prisons during Roman rule. Supposedly in one story, while Valentine was captured in prison, he wrote the first “valentine” to a young girl he loved. Before he died, it was discovered that he signed it, “from your Valentine”—this expression is still in use today.
Although St. Valentine’s story is steeped in legend, it is obvious that he was a figure associated with selfless and heroic acts, and had a reputation of being a romantic figure.

In the 5th century, Pop Gelasius declared February 14 Valentine’s Day. During the Middle Ages, St. Valentine became a very popular figure, and it was believed that February 14 was the beginning of the birds’ mating season. It was in the Middle Ages that people embraced Valentine’s Day and the month of February became one of love and romance.

You can read more about the origins of Valentine’s Day and its history on History.com.
Happy Valentine’s Day from TAMU Press!

--Madeline Loving

Monday, February 11, 2013

This Month: Behold the Bald Eagle in America's National Parks

Thought to be America’s “best idea,” the national parks of the United States have long served up beautiful and breathtaking natural landscapes while also providing refuge for endangered animals.
In their new book Wildlife Watching in America's National Parks: A Seasonal Guide -- out this month -- National Park Service veterans Gary W. Vequist and Daniel S. Licht, focus on 12 animals that have been imperiled and at risk, but are now protected within the National Park System.
For the month of February, Vequist and Licht narrow in on the bald eagles of the Mississippi River.
What’s so great about the bald eagle? For one thing, it’s our country’s national symbol. Our Founding Fathers were very impressed by the power, beauty, and grandeur of the bird—it would be the perfect symbol of American ideals.
Despite the eagle being an American symbol, hunters and trappers have almost eliminated it in the past—shooting, trapping, poisoning, and persecuting it. When a societal shift occurred concerning wildlife, laws were passed to help protect the eagle and other imperiled species. Now, the bald eagle is not only a national symbol but also a wildlife conservation and environmental symbol.
Where is the best place to view bald eagles? The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, Minnesota. Established in 1988, this new breed of National Park Service is a 72-mile-long park that lies between the busy city life of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Although it’s located near civilization, the area is home to an amazing diversity of wildlife and has countless opportunities to view them.
Because there are so many outdoor activities available there, Vequist and Licht suggest checking out the park’s web page for a list of activities by season or by starting out at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The museum boasts dozens of galleries and exhibits specifically on the Mississippi River, that provide additional information on the region's wildlife, ecology, and history.
What is the best season for viewing bald eagles? During the winter months, bald eagles and waterfowl are the prime wildlife-viewing attraction. Vequist and Licht explain that these wintering bald eagles can be found anywhere in the park where there is open water. They note to look for them soaring overhead, perched in tall trees, or standing on the river ice. One of the great things about watching bald eagles during the winter is that there is hardly any other wildlife to watch!
If you would like to read more about viewing Bald Eagles, Gray Wolves, Black Bears, Sea Turtles, Gray Whales in national parks, read Wildlife Watching in America’s National Parks: A Seasonal Guide (TAMU Press, 2013).
--Madeline Loving

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tour an Educational Garden Tour with TAMU Press Author Doug Welsh Educational Garden June 3-10, 2013

Gardens with heritage, beauty, new and old world techniques, and back to the future inspiration await you in the nation’s Capital and surrounding regions.

Join horticulturist Doug Welsh, author of Texas A&M University Press’s Texas Garden Almanac, for an eight day educational trip to Washington, D.C. and neighboring counties. You will tour the gardens of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg, the Smithsonian Institution, the United States Botanic Gardens, the United States National Arboretum, and Dumbarton Oaks.

For more information, call Earthbound Expeditions at 800-723-8454, email at info@earthboundexpeditions.com , or visit https://www.earthboundexpeditions.com.

Monday, February 4, 2013

New, Hit Movie and Controversial Topic of Torture

Zero Dark Thirty, the controversial movie billed as “the story of history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man” opened in December to a mixture of rave reviews and criticism for its handling of subject matter involving interrogation and torture.

Glenn Greenwald, in The Guardian, stated that the film takes a pro-torture stance, describing it as “pernicious propaganda” and stating that it “presents torture as its CIA proponents and administrators see it: as a dirty, ugly business that is necessary to protect America”, while Frank Fruni similarly concluded that the film appears to suggest “No waterboarding, no Bin Laden.”

Here William Clark Latham Jr., author of Cold Days in Hell: American POWs in Korea and assistant professor at the Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, examines three lessons we have learned about the reliance on officially-sanctioned torture, through the lens of torture American soldiers suffered at the hands of North Korean allies.

At a critical point in the movie Zero Dark Thirty, an American CIA agent assures his victim, “In the end, everybody breaks. It’s biology.” The movie has inspired controversy because of its graphic depictions of rendition, enhanced interrogation, and torture, especially water boarding.  These depictions are based on actual events. In 2007, the CIA confirmed that it had used water boarding while interrogating three suspected terrorists. While the revelation was greeted by widespread condemnation in Congress and the media, some political pundits defended water boarding as a necessary and effective technique that led to the apprehension of Al Qaeda leaders.

 I cannot judge the movie’s accuracy, but the details in this scene ring true. The prisoner is filthy and exhausted, the interrogator is dispassionate and morally ambivalent, and perhaps most importantly, the information provided is dubious.

In the past 100 years, enemy forces have tortured captured Americans during at least four conflicts: World War Two, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm).  During the Korean War, Chinese officials routinely withheld sleep, food, shelter, and medical treatment (methods that some might define as “enhanced interrogation techniques”) to coerce captured American airmen to write and sign bogus confessions to germ warfare and other crimes.

Their North Korean allies were less subtle, relying on physical beatings to gain cooperation. In one grisly example, guards used pliers to remove an officer’s finger nails in order to persuade him to broadcast a surrender appeal. When the officer refused, interrogators threatened to execute several dozen American POWs. At that point, the officer complied. After the war, a US Army court martial absolved the officer of wrong doing.

In my research about American prisoners of war captured during the Korean War, I spoke with several survivors of enemy torture. Subjected to extreme mental and physical abuse, most of these men eventually broke. To placate their captors, they wrote confessions, signed peace appeals, or made radio broadcasts depicting life in their prison camps as an inconvenient but not unpleasant ordeal. Based on their systematic torture of captured Americans, the communists did manage to fabricate credible germ warfare accusations against UN forces (accusations thoroughly de-bunked four decades later by declassified Soviet records). Aside from that hoax, however, the coerced statements and confessions seem to have had little impact on world opinion. The subsequent employment of torture by North Vietnamese and Iraqi interrogators against captured American pilots likewise did little to sway world opinion in the torturers’ favor. This record of inhumanity suggests at least three lessons about the reliance on officially-sanctioned torture.

First, torture rarely achieves the intended result.  The premier of Zero Dark Thirty has revived the debate about whether torture helped the CIA locate Bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders.  In this particular case, we may eventually reach the conclusion that torture did play an important role. Even if it did, and that issue is by no means resolved, other such triumphs are notorious by their absence.  French forces employed torture against their enemies during the Algerian civil war, but that measure could not save them from defeat. The Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, and the Soviet purges all produced their share of confessions, but these results say more about the efficiency of the torturers than the guilt of their victims.

Second, torture seems to be contagious.  During the early months of the Korean War, North Korean troops were under orders from Pyongyang to treat captured enemy personnel humanely, but North Korean forces ignored this guidance from the very start. Perhaps because they had become accustomed to brutality during Imperial Japanese occupation, Korean troops routinely mistreated prisoners, and in several cases summarily executed them. Unfortunately, the mistreatment of Iraqi and Afghan detainees by some American units, most notably the abuse at Abu Ghraib, has marred the otherwise magnificent performance of US armed forces in the past decade of conflict.  Meanwhile, our future adversaries will doubtless have no qualms about citing the CIA’s conduct as precedent for their own mistreatment of captured Americans.

Finally, torture undermines both the humanity and the influence of those nations who choose to employ it. Communist China was a pariah state for two decades after the Korean War, in part because of its mistreatment of captured Americans. North Vietnam endured similar reprobation for a generation after its war with the United States, and North Korea, which has employed its network of prison camps to work millions of its own citizens to death, remains an outcast from the global community. 

Whether the use of torture blackens our own national reputation for decades to come remains to be seen.  At the Tokyo trials after World War II, an Allied military tribunal found several Japanese soldiers guilty of committing war crimes, including water boarding, and sentenced them to death by hanging.  Sixty-five years later, the ongoing debate about torture raises serious questions about who we are and what we are willing to do for the sake of national security. American citizens owe that question more than an indifferent shrug.

--William C. Latham Jr, author of Cold Days in Hell: American POWS in Korea

Friday, February 1, 2013

Arrival of Book on Propulsion Technology Marks Anniversary of Space Exploration Breakthrough

The twin solid-rocket boosters on the Space Shuttle provided 71.4 percent of the thrust during liftoff and the initial stage of ascent of this remarkable space-launch vehicle during its more than 30 years of operation.

This February -- the same month J. D. Hunley's award-winning book The Development of Propulsion Technology for U. S. Space-Launch Vehicles, 1926-1991 is set to hit bookshelves in paperback -- will mark a significant month in these boosters' testing more than 30 years ago.

On February 17, 1979, the fourth and final developmental test of the huge booster had a successful firing, and less than a year later, on February 13, 1980, the final qualification test also was successful.

Hunley's book describes these and hundreds of other milestones in the development of propulsion technology for U. S. space-launch vehicles, which have enabled the launching of hundreds of satellites into orbit, of other space vehicles that carried American astronauts to the moon, and of space observatories like the Hubble Space Telescope with its amazing images of the universe, among many other feats.

"[Hunley's book] fills what is unquestionably a tremendous gap in the literature of space access [and] does a superb job of tracing the main lines of development of the major rocket technologies," said aerospace historian Roger Launius.

For more on Hunley’s book, click here.

--Paige Bukowski