Category Archives: Science & Technology

Dave Brat’s Bizarre Statements

 By Peter Galuszka

Almost a year ago, Dave Brat, an obscure economics professor at Randolph- Macon College, made national headlines when he defeated Eric Cantor, the powerful House Majority Leader, in the 7th District Brat Republican primary.

Brat’s victory was regarded as a sensation since it showed how the GOP was splintered between Main Street traditionalists such as Cantor and radically conservative, Tea Party favorites such as Brat. His ascendance has fueled the polarization that has seized national politics and prevented much from being accomplished in Congress.

So, nearly a year later, what has Brat actually done? From reading headlines, not much, except for making a number of bizarre and often false statements.
A few examples:

  • When the House Education and Workforce Committee was working on reauthorizing a law that spends about $14 billion to teach low-income students, Brat said such funding may not be necessary because: “Socrates trained Plato in on a rock and the Plato trained Aristotle roughly speaking on a rock. So, huge funding is not necessary to achieve the greatest minds and the greatest intellects in history.”
  • Brat says that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is a step towards making the country be more like North Korea. He compares North and South Korea this way:  “. . . it’s the same culture, it’s the same people, look at a map at night, half the, one of the countries is not lit, there’s no lights, and the bottom free-market country, all Koreans is lit up. See you make your bet on which country you want to be, right? You want to go to the free market.” One problem with his argument:  Free market South Korea has had a single payer, government-subsidized health care system for 40 years. The conservative blog, BearingDrift, called him out on that one.
  • Politifact, the journalism group that tests the veracity of politicians’ statements, has been very busy with Brat. They have rated as “false” or “mostly false” such statements that repealing Obamacare would save the nation more than $3 trillion and that President Obama has issued 468,500 pages of regulations in the Federal Register. In the former case, Brat’s team used an old government report that estimated mandatory federal spending provisions for the ACA. In the latter case, Politifact found that there were actually more pages issued than Brat said, but they were not all regulations. They included notices about agency meetings and public comment periods. What’s more, during a comparable period under former President George W. Bush, the Federal Register had 465,948 pages, Politifact found. There were some cases, however, where Politifact verified what Brat said.
  • Last fall, after Obama issued an executive order that would protect up to five million undocumented aliens from arrest and deportation, Brat vowed that “not one thin dime” of public money should go to support Obama’s plan. He vowed to defund U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services but then was told he couldn’t do so because the agency was self-funded by fees from immigration applications. He then said he would examine how it spent its money.

The odd thing about Brat is that he has a doctorate in economics and has been a professor. Why is he making such bizarre, misleading and downright false statements?

Beware Stalling Growth in Northern Virginia

northern virginia mapBy Peter Galuszka

For at least a half a century, Fairfax County, Alexandria and Arlington County have been a growth engine that that has reshaped how things are in the Greater Washington area as well as the Old Dominion.

But now, apparently for the first time ever, these Northern Virginia localities have stopped growing, according to an intriguing article in The Washington Post.

In 2013, the county saw 4,673 arrivals but in 2014 saw 7,518 departures. For the same time period, Alexandria saw 493 arrivals and then 887 departures. Arlington County showed 2,004 arrivals in 2013 followed by 1,520 departures last year.

The chief reason appears to be sequestration and the reduction of federal spending. According to a George Mason University study, federal spending in the area was $11 billion less  last year than in 2010. From 2013 to 2014, the area lost 10,800 federal jobs and more private sectors ones that worked on government contracts. Many of the cuts are in defense which is being squeezed after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The most dramatic cuts appear to be in Fairfax which saw a huge burst of growth in 1970 when it had 450,000 people but has been slowing for the most part ever since. It still grew to 1.14 million people, but the negative growth last year is a vitally important trend.

Another reason for the drop offs is that residents are tired of the high cost and transit frustrations that living in Northern Virginia brings.

To be sure, Loudoun County still grew from 2013 to 2014, but the growth slowed last year from 8,904 newcomers in 2013 to 8,021 last year.

My takeaways are these:

  • The slowing growth in NOVA will likely put the brakes on Virginia’s move from being a “red” to a “blue” state. In 2010, Fairfax had become more diverse and older, with the county’s racial and ethnic minority population growing by 43 percent. This has been part of the reason why Virginia went for Barack Obama in the last two elections and has Democrats in the U.S. Senate and as governor. Will this trend change?
  • Economically, this is bad news for the rest of Virginia since NOVA is the economic engine for the state and pumps in plenty of tax revenues that end up being used in other regions. Usually, when people talk about Virginia out-migration, they mean people moving from the declining furniture and tobacco areas of Southside or the southwestern coalfields.
  • A shift in land use patterns and development is inevitable. The continued strong growth of an outer county like Loudoun suggests that suburban and exurban land use patterns, many of them wasteful, will continue there. The danger is that inner localities such as Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria, will be stuck with more lower-income residents and deteriorating neighborhoods. The result will be that localities won’t have as much tax money to pay for better roads, schools and other services.
  • Virginia Republicans pay lip service to the evils of government spending and have championed sequestration. Well, look what a fine mess they have gotten us into.

The rest of the Washington area is seeing slowing growth, but appears to be better off. The District’s in-migration was cut in half from 2013 to 2014 but it is still on the plus side. Ditto Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.

NOVA has benefited enormously from both federal spending and the rise of telecommunications and Web-based businesses. It is uncertain where federal spending might go and maybe increased private sector investment could mitigate the decline. Another bad sign came in 2012 when ExxonMobil announced it was moving its headquarters from Fairfax to Houston.

In any event, this is very bad news for NOVA.

Two Cheers — Venture Funding Rebounds in D.C. Metroplex

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Good news/bad news business story out of the Washington area… Venture capital funding is rebounding. Washington-area companies scarfed up $330 million in funding during the first quarter — 55 percent more than in the same quarter of 2014 and the best first quarter since 2001, reports the Washington Business Journal. That’s just what the regional tech economy needs to shake off the effects of federal sequestration and to start growing again.

The not so good news is that the D.C. metropolex, which includes Northern Virginia, is a loooooong way from establishing national leadership in the venture space. The total funding for metro Washington barely amounted to a rounding error for Silicon Valley.

Broken down by state, Virginia ranked 12th in the country for venture funding in the 4th quarter of 2014 (the most recent data available online today), according to data compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association. The $156 million raised by Virginia firms compares to $7.6 billion for California and $1.9 billion for Massachusetts.

Why so little? Northern Virginia has the best educated population of any region in the United States and one of the most tech-savvy workforces. Supposedly, corporations and capital like to locate in markets where there is  a deep labor pool of technical talent. The usual response is that, well, California has Stanford and Berkeley, and Massachusetts has Harvard and MIT, and all Northern Virginia has is George Mason University… and… and… Marymount College. (OK, that’ s not entirely fair. The George Washington University engineering campus is in Loudoun County.)

But what world-class R&D powerhouses can be found in New York or Florida, both of which raised way more money? And how do you explain that Maryland, home to the Johns Hopkins University, which ranks No. 1 in R&D spending, ranks even lower than Virginia?

Clearly, the presence of a strong research university is an advantage when it comes to raising venture capital, but it’s hardly a prerequisite. I’m happy to be proven wrong on this, but I keep coming back to the fact that the corporate culture of Washington-area tech firms is geared to operating in sync with the metabolism of the federal government, not Silicon Valley. Yes, there are exceptions — and, I’d wager, they’re the ones getting the venture funding. But there don’t seem to be enough to change to fundamentally alter the nature of the Northern Virginia economy.

If Northern Virginia is ever going to wean itself from its dependence upon the federal government, we’re going to have to see a lot more venture funding than $150 million a quarter. As for the rest of Virginia, it would be nice to see any venture funding at all!

– JAB

Non-Coal Jobs Thriving in Energy Sector

Coal MinersBy Peter Galuszka

Is there a real “War on Coal” or is it part of a natural transition to more non-polluting and less destructive forms of energy? One way to find out is to track job creation.

A new study at Duke University shows that since 2008, more than 49,000 jobs in the coal industry have been lost. But, about 196,000 jobs – or four times as many – have been created in other energy sectors such as natural gas, solar and wind.

The study suggests that all the gnashing of teeth that President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are out to ruin the energy sector by killing off coal may be off base.

This has been the cry of Virginia’s utilities, and its few coal firms, along with some members of the business establishment that the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan to encourage cuts in carbon dioxide by 2030 are unworkable and too threatening to employment in the coal industry since some coal-fired power plants are likely to be shut down. (Of course, some of them have been in operation for 60 years, but never mind).

Overlooked is that as coal jobs die, more energy jobs have been created in natural gas thanks to hydraulic fracking and in renewables like solar and wind which are getting increasingly cheaper.

“Our study shows it has not been a one-for-one replacement,” says Lincoln Pratson, a Duke professor of earth and ocean sciences who is one of the report’s authors.

Hardest hit are the coalfields of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Small wonder. The coal is of excellent quality but easy-to-reach seams have been mined out and abundant shale gas has undercut its price power. Coal has also taken hits in Utah, the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, and Colorado. The biggest job increases are in the Northeast, Southwest, Midwest and West.

Where does Virginia fit in with renewables? Hardly anywhere just yet. Its neighboring states are much farther along. One reason is they have mandatory renewable portfolio standards to force shifts to wind and solar. Even coal-heavy West Virginia had mandatory standards although the legislature just dumped them.

Virginia is just gearing up with solar. As for wind, Dominion has plans for two turbines off Virginia Beach.

Remarkably, this vision of non-coal energy jobs growing four times the amount of coal jobs cut is left out of the debate as Dominion gets the General Assembly to freeze electricity rates and forego State Corporation Commission audits for several years on the theory that it doesn’t know what the EPA will do about carbon dioxide reduction.

And, to show you how bizarre the coal people are, and appeals court in the District of Columbia is ready to shoot down a coal-led attack on the EPA’s carbon rules. Among the plaintiffs is Robert Murray, the iconoclastic CEO of Murray Energy which has been picking up West Virginia coal properties from long-time operator Consol, which obviously is happy to unload them

During the 2012 presidential race, Murray ordered his workers to attend a rally for Mitt Romney under threat of firing. He insists that Obama is trying to put him out of business.

One problem the appeals judges have with his lawsuit is that the rules are only proposed rules. They are not official. EPA is asking for comment by this summer show it can make adjustments. So why is Murray suing?

It would be as if I were to sue Jim Bacon for an idea he might be envisioning. I know it’s a tempting idea, but it would be silly.

The Duke report was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Energy Policy.

Amateur Hour at the General Assembly

virginia_state_capitol502By Peter Galuszka

If you are an ordinary Virginian with deep concerns about how the General Assembly passes laws that impact you greatly, you are pretty much out of luck.

That’s the conclusion of a study by Transparency Virginia, an informal coalition of non-profit public interest groups in a report released this week. Their findings  came after members studied how the 2015 General Assembly operated.

Among their points:

  • Notice of committee hearings was so short in some instances that public participation was nearly impossible.
  • Scores of bills were never given hearings.
  • In the House of Delegates, committees and subcommittees did not bother to record votes on 76 percent of the bills they killed.

“Despite a House rule that all bills shall be considered, not all are. Despite a Senate rule that recorded votes are required, not all are,” states the 21-page report, whose main author is Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. Transparency Virginia is made up of 30 groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, the the Virginia Education Association and the League of Women Voters in Virginia.

The scathing report underscores just how amateurish the General Assembly can be. It only meets for only 45 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. The pay is pin money. Delegates make only $17,640 a year and senators earn $18,000 annually.

It is not surprising then that a part-time group of 100 delegates and 40 senators can’t seem to handle their 101 committees and subcommittees that determine whether the consideration of thousands bills proceeds fairly and efficiently.

“A Senate committee chair did not take comment on any bills on the agenda except for the testimony from the guests of two senators who were presenting bills,” the report states. In other cases, legislators were criticized by colleagues for having too many witnesses. Some cut off ongoing debate by motioning to table bills. Bills were “left in committee” never to be considered.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act requires that open public meetings be announced three working days in advance. A General Assembly session is considered one, long open session. But the FOIA is often subverted by sly legislators who manipulate the agendas of committees or subcommittees or general sessions.

Agendas of the General Assembly are not covered by the FOIA because there is too much work to cram in 45 or 60 days. In the case of local and state governments, similar meetings are, presumably because they meet more regularly. House and Senate rules do not stipulate how much notice needs to be given before a committee or subcommittee session. So, crucial meetings that could kill a bill are sometimes announced suddenly.

The setup favors professional lobbyists who stand guard in the Capitol ready to swoop in to give testimony and peddle influence, alerted by such tools as “Lobbyist-in-a-Box” that tracks the status of bills as they proceed through the legislature. When something important is up, their beepers go off while non-lobbyist citizens with serious interests in bills may be hours away by car.

The report states: “While most of Virginia’s lobbyists and advocates are never more than a few minutes from the statehouse halls, citizens and groups without an advocacy presence may need to travel long distances.” Some may need to reschedule work or family obligations, yet they may get only two hours’ notice of an important meeting. That’s not enough time if they live more than a two-hour drive from Richmond.

The report didn’t address ethics, but this system it portrays obviously favors lobbyists who benefit from Virginia’s historically light-touch approach when it comes to limited gifts. That issue will be addressed today when the General Assembly meets to consider Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s insistence that a new ethics bill address the problem of allowing consecutive gifts of less than $100 to delegates or senators.

The only long-term solution is for Virginia to consider creating a legislature that works for longer periods, is better paid, more professional and must adhere to tighter rules on bill passage. True, some 24 states have a system somewhat like Virginia and only New York, Pennsylvania and California have truly professional legislatures.

The current system was created back in Virginia was more rural and less sophisticated. But it has grown tremendously in population and importance. It’s a travesty that Virginia is stuck with amateur hour when it comes to considering legislation crucial to its citizens’ well-being.

How to Make UVa a Research Giant

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University of Virginia Research Park

by Wade Gilley

Recent news reports reveal that the governance problems at the University of Virginia continue to boil, as evidenced by accrediting issues, student protests, legislators considering the restructuring of the institution’s governing board and other news emerging both locally and nationally.

The problems recently surfacing at Virginia’s flagship university are due in part to changing global economics and a unique weakness in Virginia’s public and private higher education system. The commonwealth has an excellent public university/college system, but in the changing world of global economics one large and critical shortfall is economically challenging to Virginia in the 21st century. That shortfall is the lack of a major private research university.

North Carolina has Duke and Wake Forest, Georgia has Emory, Tennessee has Vanderbilt, and Maryland has Johns Hopkins University. These private universities win billions of dollars in competitive research grants and contracts each year in an age in which research is increasingly a key factor in economic development. Virginia does not have a major private research university, and that void may be responsible for the continuing debate about U.Va.’s future.

A recent report in the Chronicle of Higher Education on institutional success in competing for dollars from the federal government and other sources indicated that North Carolina’s institutions, both public and private, spend roughly $2.2 billion on research each year and Maryland’s universities spend $2.5 billion. In comparison, Virginia’s universities only spend about $950 million, or 40 percent of what institutions in neighboring/competing states spend.

Although $950 million is a lot of money, Virginia’s investment in research still lags dramatically behind our competitors. The difference is primarily due to the fact that North Carolina has both Wake Forest and Duke, while Maryland has Johns Hopkins.

Virginia’s research limitations have been evident for a long time, but no one has ever publicly recognized the problem, so now it is a 21st-century challenge. And one can see that challenge in the recent conflict regarding the mission of U.Va.

Virginia, perhaps subconsciously, has attempted to make up the difference by encouraging U.Va. to act like a private research university without providing the funds or the governing structure that would facilitate that transition.

There are a few simple solutions to this critical problem. First, create a partial privatization of U.Va. with a totally independent governing board, coupled with state assistance/scholarships for Virginians attending the university. This way, U.Va. would be state-supported, but not state-run, and would have both the freedom and additional resources to compete with major private universities across the country.

Second, the state needs to invest more money and resources to expand the research capabilities of all our research universities, especially U.Va. To achieve this, Virginia should offer significant and targeted incentive grants designed to dramatically increase the competitiveness of all our research universities, which is perhaps the most critical of the challenges facing the commonwealth in the new economy.

I am confident that, with freedom from excessive political oversight and encouragement to function more as a private research university, U.Va. could compete more effectively with Duke, Hopkins, Vanderbilt and — yes, over time — Harvard in the research arena. At the same time, our other major doctoral institutions could become increasingly competitive, resulting in a new and powerful economic force for Virginia in the 21st century.

Now is the time for Virginia to focus on building a larger and more competitive state higher education system, which in turn will make Virginia more competitive in the new global economy. With the coming slowdown in federal dollars gushing across the Potomac and down the bay, we need new and productive initiatives to expand Virginia’s economy.

Wade Gilley, a retired university president living in Reston, served as Virginia’s secretary of education from 1978 to 1982 and once served as chairman of the board of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Contact him at jwgilley@yahoo.com. This column was published originally in the Roanoke Times.

Not Just Any Old Resignation

Miller

Edward D. Miller

Edward D. Miller, former CEO of research powerhouse Johns Hopkins Medicine, will resign from the University of Virginia Board of Visitors effective June 30 — a year early. In an interview with the Daily Progress, he cited his frustration with rising tuition and falling research grants.

“I just felt there were issues I’d been advocating for that I didn’t think were getting traction,” Miller said. “I’d worked at it for four years and I wasn’t having much of an impact.”

Miller, a former UVa faculty member, said he disagreed with recent tuition increases, suggesting that the university should focus on cutting costs instead of raising tuition. “It’s hard for me to understand how you can continue to increase the rate of tuition [faster than] the rate of inflation year after year,” he said in comments that applied to higher education as a whole, not just UVa. “What business can survive that except colleges?”

In particular, Miller was dissatisfied with the way the university implemented its most recent, 11% tuition hike for new students. The plan was introduced and passed on the same day, with no outlet for public comment. “I had a feeling that the board wasn’t given an adequate amount of time to digest this information. … I had no idea what the plan was going to be until the day of the meeting. I was surprised it was done so quickly, without more discussion.”

Tuition increases may be tied to falling research revenues, Miller said  — exactly the issue that Bacon’s Rebellion raised last month in “UVa’s Silent Crisis.” If the university maintains the same number of faculty members doing research, but they’re bringing in less research funding, he said, the money has to come from somewhere else.

Miller, who knows something about what it takes to to build a world-class research program — Johns Hopkins ranks No. 1 in the country for R&D spending — said the UVa board needs to hear from top researchers what it takes to bring in grants. The UVa administration, he told the Daily Progress, also needs to identify which faculty members are not attracting their share of research funding.

Bacon’s bottom line: Make no mistake, Miller’s resignation is a major loss for UVa governance. Miller was not some know-nothing political appointee. As a former faculty member, he knows the university well. As CEO of the world’s most successful research university, he understands what it takes to grow R&D funding. His loss of expertise will be missed — well, maybe it won’t be missed, because it appears that no one was listening to him. But his loss should be missed. Submitting his resignation a year early and his willingness to go public with some of his concerns should be especially disturbing to those who worry where UVa is heading.

The university’s new slogan is “Affordable Excellence.” If the current direction isn’t soon reversed, that will have to be revised to “Unaffordable Mediocrity.”

– JAB

Scandal at the Royal Academy of Arts!!!!

Baconby James A. Bacon

So, the Bacon family visited the Royal Academy of Arts today to pay respects to a statue of Sir Francis Bacon, the brilliant philosopher who first articulated the scientific method and laid the foundation for all human progress ever since. With the possible exception of a certain charismatic, 1st-century Jewish holy man who wound up hanging on a cross, no one in the broad sweep of history has done more to propel mankind from the depths of superstition to enlightment than Bacon. Without Bacon, the vast majority of us would be mired in filth, poverty and depravity.

So, you imagine the tremulous excitement the Bacon family from Richmond, Virginia, felt upon approaching the Royal Academy of Arts, one of only two known locations in London to have statues commemorating the life of this great benefactor of mankind. Our enthusiasm was only slightly diminished when we entered the front court of the academy to encounter a statue dedicated to a certain Joshua Reynolds, whoever he was. When we inquired as to the whereabouts of the Bacon statue, the ignorant buffoons who greeted visitors had no knowledge of where it might be located. It was only when the lady at the information desk checked the Internet that we found that the statue of Bacon resided on the back side of the academy. We had to walk around the block to see it.

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Sir Francis Bacon

Breathless with anticipation, we pressed through the throng of pedestrians on Piccadilly to reach the rear of the building on some street no one has ever heard of. And there it was, the statue of Bacon along with renderings of five other great philosophers and scientists. We approached to pay our respects and give our obeisance. And to our horror, we perceived the head of the greatest philosopher since Aristotle to be covered in bird droppings. Yes! Bird droppings!!

Royal Academy of Arts, j’accuse! How long have you allowed this desecration to persist under your uncaring eye!

Now, I know that not everyone fully recognizes the monumental contributions that Bacon has made to mankind. But how about Adam Smith and John Locke, the progenitors of the American republic and the free-market system? How about Gottfried Leibnitz, one of the greatest mathematicians to live, second only to Isaac Newton, Georges Cuvier, the naturalist, and Carl Linnaeus, developer of the first taxonomy of species? All of them — all save Linnaeus — were covered in filth!

John Locke

John Locke

Here, look upon John Locke, arguably the most influential philosopher of the enlightenment, second only to Francis Bacon, who elaborated the social contract theory of governance, laying the groundwork for the American Revolution and, in case you’re a British reader, the primacy of Parliament over royalty. And there he stands with bird droppings running down his face like Indian war paint!

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Adam Smith

As if that were not blasphemous enough, the statue of Adam Smith stands in an equal state of defilement! The third greatest philosopher of all time, who not only made the economic case for free markets and limited government but the  moral case is likewise bedecked with bird poo. I dare say that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would not be treated with such disdain. (Speaking of Engels, has anyone ever noted how absurdly large his beard is? Click  on “more” to see what I’m talking about.)

To be fair, Leibnitz and Cuvier have been treated to the same cavalier disregard! They are worthy of high regard, but it’s not as if they were Englishmen. Leibnitz was German and Cuvier a Frenchman.

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Carl Linnaeus

Then there is the indecipherable matter of Linnaeus. Look at his statue — as pristine as a baby’s behind. Not a speck of bird poo to be seen. I suppose we’re supposed to be impressed by the fact that he was the father of taxonomy. It’s not like he was Darwin — he got a whole lot of stuff wrong. (Just read this: “The Poverty of Linnaean Hierarchy: A Study of Biological Taxonomy.”) And it’s not as if he was even English — he was Swedish, educated in the Netherlands. Yet somehow, the Royal Academy of Arts sees fit to clean his statue of bird poo while leaving the others peppered by guano?

The Royal Academy of Arts needs to do some serious soul searching, oh, yes it does. Right-thinking people cannot allow this desecration to persist! Continue reading

Jonnie R. Williams’ Mansion on Market for $4.9m

Williams

Williams

 By Peter Galuszka

It might be right out of the “Lifestyles of Richmond’s Rich and Famous.”

A trust controlled by Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the glad-handing vitamin salesman who was the chief witness against former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife Maureen, has put his 14,700 square foot mansion along with 61 acres of land up for sale for $4.9 million.

I have the story here in Style Weekly.
“1 Starwood Lane” has six bedroom suits, a paneled “executive” study, a pool, a gazebo, a billiards and media room and (what the truly wealthy really need) a state-of-the-art security vault. There must be trouble in paradise however, because the realtor says it was originally listed as a $5.5 million purchase with just the mansion and 28 acres of property. Later, they threw in 35 acres more and dropped the price.

Williams, who got immunity from prosecution for his testimony for the McDonnell trial and another, unrelated one involving securities fraud, has apparently left the Richmond area where his former company Star Scientific moved from Henrico County after renaming itself Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals. He gave the McDonnells $177,000 in cash, loans, gifts and stock in exchange for influence in peddling his products, according to testimony at the six-week trial last year.

The McDonnells were convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud and other felonies. McDonnell got two years and his wife was sentenced to a year and a day. They are appealing.

The McDonnell’s who have separated sold their home in a Short Pump subdivision. It was listed at $944,000 and sold in a week. Williams’ mansion is in the middle of the high cotton Hermitage Golf Course in Goochland County.

For more details, click on Style.

Sediment, Wetlands and Climate Change

Karen McGlathery. Photo credit: Virginia

Karen McGlathery at work. Photo credit: Virginia

Karen McGlathery, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Virginia who runs the Virginia Coastal Reserve Long Term Ecological Research program, is particularly taken with the study of marshes and wetlands.

Over the past century, worldwide sea levels have risen seven inches over the past century, and even faster in the Virginia Tidewater where subsidence has accelerated the rise. As noted in the new edition of “Virginia,” the UVa alumni magazine, marshes, barrier islands and oyster reefs are humans’ first line of defense against hurricanes and other violent storms.

“We know that, for millennia, marshes have kept pace with rising and falling sea levels as glaciers formed and melted,” McGlathery says. Marshes depend upon sediment flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries to keep up with rising waters. But human activities such as dam building and shoreline hardening could change that dynamic. If the replenishment of sediment is blocked, the marshes could die as water levels rise.

But there is good news. Says McGlathery: “One thing that we’ve learned is that in Virginia, on the Eastern Shore, many of the marshes are doing very well — they have the capacity to keep up with the current rising seas.”

Bacon’s bottom line: If Virginians are going to think seriously about resilience in the face of recurrent flooding and inundation, we need to better understand the fundamentals of how wetlands adapt to rising sea levels. On the one hand, higher levels of sediment from eroding rivers and streams creates a problem for Chesapeake Bay ecosystems, and is considered to be bad thing. Strict and expensive storm-water management regulations going into effect in Virginia is aimed at cleaning up the Bay. But, ironically, sediment in the right places — in threatened marshlands — can help Bay ecosystems adapt to rising sea levels.  Is it possible that there is “good” sediment and “bad” sediment? We may need to adopt a more nuanced approach toward sediment. McGlathery’s work will prove invaluable.

– JAB