Lab Chief Quits Rather Than Lower Flag For Helms

A North Carolina state agriculture official quit his job rather than lower the flag for Jesse Helms, and more news worth an honorable mention.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MIKE PESCA, host:

Welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News, online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. BPP editor Trish McKinney is in the studio with me. She's kind of flitting about and somewhat bouncing off the walls. I notice the trajectory of your bounce, Trish, is kind of in a straight line.

PATRICIA MCKINNEY: Is it?

PESCA: Yeah. A little bit. You could plot it and actually figure out where the next one's going to go, like the game of Break Out on the computer. So, if you took a more circuitous route...

MCKINNEY: I was going for curvilinear.

PESCA: That would be more of a Ramble.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: Trish?

MCKINNEY: All right. So, did you know that June 2008 was the first ever Gypsy Roma Traveller Month in Great Britain?

PESCA: Really?

MCKINNEY: Yeah. That's, like, three words for one thing. I think that's because some of those three words are considered offensive, like the G word. We've been told that. We've had several - done several segments in our history about the Romany people, and they do not like the G word. However, that is...

PESCA: Yes. Well, what you have to do to make people know what you're talking about...

MCKINNEY: You have to say...

PESCA: Is to say gypsies, which are offensive.

MCKINNEY: Yes.

PESCA: So, we only say that so you know what we're talking about.

MCKINNEY: Right.

PESCA: We're talking about Roma.

MCKINNEY: Right.

PESCA: Which probably is a little inaccurate, so we're talking about travelers, which is also somewhat inaccurate, because you'll think we're talking about Fodor's, but now you know the people?

MCKINNEY: Now you know who they are, and I will have to say the G word again, but under duress only. OK, so a magazine was put out by the British government, distributed to schools and libraries. It was called Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month Magazine, and it was put out - and part of it was an effort to dispel some myths about those people, but it's creating more confusion because...

PESCA: Now, one of the myths is that they claim celebrities have Gypsy Roma Traveller heritage when they don't. How'd they do at that myth?

MCKINNEY: Correct. Elvis Presley, the king, is now apparently the king of the Gypsies. That's offensive. So, this magazine claims that he's descended from a line of German Roma who arrived in the U.S. in the early part of the 18th century. They also cite as proof that his mother's maiden name was Smith, which is a common last name for Roma families in Great Britain.

PESCA: And a common last name, period.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MCKINNEY: Exactly. So, that's why people are like, uh, I don't know. I don't know about that. And some other celebrities they claim are Charlie Chapin, Michael Caine and Rita Hayworth.

PESCA: Yeah. I have read that there is little to no evidence for any of those people as being Roma, and also that some people are upset that public tax dollars have gone to this magazine, making Roma claims about those who may not be Roma. In North Carolina - and the Romas maybe had nothing to do with it, just an overeager magazine editor.

MCKINNEY: Yeah.

PESCA: In North Carolina, flags have been flagging at half-staff in memory of Former Republican Senator Jesse Helms who died last Friday, but one guy gave up his job rather than lower the flag for the late senator. Director of the State Standards Laboratory, L. F. Eason III, told his staff to skip the flag lowering, saying he didn't think it was appropriate. In an email to staff, he said Senator Helms had, quote, "doctrine of negativity, hate, and prejudice."

His supervisors at the Department of Agriculture overruled his decision that they couldn't make him lower the flag. In an email to North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, Eason said he couldn't honor Helms in good conscience. Quote, "I don't see how anybody could celebrate his career," Eason told the Raleigh News Observer, citing Helms' opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and his attempt to stall the creation of a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King.

MCKINNEY: So, they said basically you can put up the flag or you can retire, and he retired.

PESCA: Yeah, you know, great stand. You go with it, in your retirement.

MCKINNEY: So, the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, Victoria Falls, they are among the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, but wait, there's more! UNESCO has announced eight new natural wonders. These are actually World Heritage Sites that they just proclaimed. So, a month...

PESCA: So, now we have 16?

MCKINNEY: Yeah. I mean, I think there's really not quite the same as the Seven Wonders of the World.

PESCA: Do they ever bump them off the list?

MCKINNEY: I don't think so. I think they just keep adding. They want more. More protection, more value.

PESCA: I believe the answer is that the eight wonders of the world are a very informal list...

MCKINNEY: I think so.

PESCA: And there's no official keeper of them.

MCKINNEY: Well, there was that whole contest awhile ago, but there you go. So, anyway, so among the newly designated sites are 100 kilometers northwest of Mexico City, where the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is. That's that site where billions, possibly, of monarch butterflies, travel thousands of miles from their birth places up here, up in the north, they travel down to Mexico for the winter. So, that's one of them.

Another one is Joggins Fossil Cliffs in Nova Scotia in Canada. They're known as the Galapagos of Coal Age, so I've got to see that. Also, one of my favorites is Surtsey. That's a small island off the coast of Iceland that was only formed recently. It was formed in the 1960s. So, they're looking at it as, you know, some interesting - it's interesting to see which animals are populating it.

PESCA: Yeah. I'd like to go Surtsey-ing (ph) there.

MCKINNEY: Ha, ha.

PESCA: And on the topic of making things grow - are we on that topic? Let's pretend we're on that topic. Scientists have found...

MCKINNEY: Yeah. At Surtsey we were.

PESCA: All right. There you go. Making ice grow. OK. Ice, there we go, and speaking of Iceland, before it's ice, it's water, and they found water on the Moon, or evidence of said water, deep beneath the Moon's surface. It could have some practical applications, like if there's a thirsty astronaut. It wasn't easy to find. They identified - NASA scientists identified the water in pebbles collected by NASA's Apollo spaceship 40 years ago.

They only got funding to do that after a different NASA vehicle, the Luna Prospector, seemed to strike ice back in 1999. They used high-power imaging to examine the pebbles. So, what is the practical application? A geologist from Brown who's been studying it says it could be important for future lunar missions or for future human colonies on the Moon. They could use the H20 to harvest oxygen to breathe and hydrogen for fuel.

MCKINNEY: What about the green cheese quotient?

PESCA: That has been dispelled.

MCKINNEY: Ah.

PESCA: It's blue cheese, very vein-y and...

MCKINNEY: Thank you.

PESCA: That's the Ramble. Links to these stories on more at our website, npr.org/bryantpark.

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