Seven Words You Can’t Say at the CDC

Acknowledging the impact of the great comedians on his policy agenda, Trump has singled-out George Carlin this week as having had profound influence by borrowing from The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television to craft new rules for the CDC and a modern, dystopian America.

Here is how Carlin may have updated this bit –

“There are some people that aren’t into all the words. There are some that would have you not use certain words. There are some 470,000 words in the English language, and there are 7 of them that you can’t use at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What a ratio that is- 469,993 to 7. They must really be bad. They’d have to be outrageous to be separated from a group that large.

Here are the heavy-seven: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based. These are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war. And ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based’ don’t even belong on the list. They’re such factual sounding words!

Actually none of the words belong on the list, but you can understand why some of them are there. I’m not completely insensitive to people’s feelings. Take ‘transgender’ – nothing can more quickly confuse a misogynist, bathroom-minded congressman than transgender…”

The Third Man

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Orson Wells in The Third Man.

The climatic scene of Carol Reed’s 1949 film noir The Third Man takes place in the tunnels beneath Vienna and is the perfect metaphor for the current state of U.S. politics – because both Democrats and Republicans are chasing each other through the sewers.

If the Democrats do not climb out of the gutter, Donald Trump will be reelected as President in 2020. Why? The Democrats have shown that they are equally adept at name-calling, and this merely entrenches both sides. It is not unlike being bogged down in the Western Front one-hundred years ago.

To win in 2020, Democrats need to speak to the issues that matter to those in swing states. Why, for instance, should coal miners be concerned about climate change? Why should steel workers see that trade agreements are good for business? Why does immigration help the economy?

The climatic scene of The Third Man.

Here is the interesting thing about climate change. One doesn’t have to agree with the premise of man-made global warming to end up supporting policies that are good for the environment and also reduce carbon emissions. The discussion just needs to be put in a different frame. What I mean is that you can deny the science behind global warming, but we can nevertheless end up agreeing to policies that have the same result, as if you actually did believe in global warming.

The point is best made by Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, otherwise known as the Skeptical Environmentalist. In a paper he submitted prior to the Paris climate summit he notes: “Instead of trying to make fossil fuels so expensive that no one wants them – which will never work – we should make green energy so cheap everybody will shift to it.” N’est-ce pas?

A subtle, yet important difference. Make green energy inexpensive compared to carbon fuels, and the market will sort it out. This will still take time and require the development of technologies not yet known. But why not cut out all the aggravation and energy wasted in the argument over global warming and begin rowing the boat in the same direction?

Can you remember the last time a world power set itself a task that was technically impossible at the time and required the pooling of many scientific disciplines and industries? It was accomplished when the following words were spoken: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Sure, it cost a lot of money. But the investment in the space program has paid off many times over, and the stimulus to science and the resultant technologies have provided immense benefits to the economy. What you are reading this blog on right now was developed by minds that were inspired by the space program.

My solution to the whole mess is to send a human mission to Mars – because this will require the development of the very technologies that will reduce carbon emissions. An international team would attract the interest of the world, and you could even include an astronaut of the Muslim faith. Take all the money we’ll be spending bombing the Middle East in the next year and the program would be budget neutral. Let the Middle East bomb itself for awhile. It will still be there once we have astonished the world once again, and the countries of the Middle East may even see the folly of it all once they see what can be accomplished when people work together instead of propagating hate and fear.

“Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

Tranquility Base.

Iran – Radicalism in the Age of Radicalization

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I am struck by images from the recent Iranian election and thought I would make a comparison of election images from other countries in the region. My methodology lacks scientific rigor, would be laughed out of any legitimate study, plus I’ll admit that I’ve stacked the deck somewhat. Nevertheless, to my eye, one country appears to lean more to the west than the others. And although images can be highly manipulative, they are often revealing.

Here is the test. Pick the images which correspond to the following countries: Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The inclusion of the Saudis is a slight deception, since the country is a monarchy, but they do sometimes have municipal elections. My contention is that you can see it in the eyes of the women, and although the plague of the ubiquitous cell phone is also evident, in Iran you see young people who look as though they would gladly cast off the theocracy and embrace freedom, if only given the chance.

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The point I really wish to make is that the United States is yet again backing the wrong regime. Our relationship with the Saudis is a Cold War relic that will ultimately drag us into a much wider and devastating war.

But first, the key to the photographs: Afghanistan 1, 8, 13; Israel 4, 6, 10; Iran 2, 3, 5, 9, 12, 14; Saudi Arabia 7, 11. How did you do? What were your impressions?

I have no doubt you can find images to stack the deck your own way, creating a different impression – particularly if you go back to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Yet consider how the United States has historically treated Iran, and you begin to see where that chip on their shoulder comes from.

It was in 1953 that the CIA backed a coup which overthrew the Iranian government. Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Teddy and distant cousin of FDR, was the CIA’s man in Tehran. By now, you should realize that the United States merely follows the footsteps of the British throughout the entire region – treading over the same mistake strewn ground. The British staged their own Iranian coup in 1921. Then later, the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988, and may have even supplied some of the chemical weapons used by Iraq.

But let’s get back to Saudi Arabia. This is the home of the Wahhabi ideology whose followers attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 (although for a different interpretation, see this New York Times article). This sect of Islam was founded by Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792), who with Muhammad bin Saud established the first Saudi state in 1744. My argument is that Western Europe and the United States weaponized the Wahhabi ideology in a misguided attempt to thwart Russian ambitions. It begins some time ago, as you no-doubt guessed, with the British.

The British were in Afghanistan to protect their position in India, which officially began in 1600 when Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to the Honourable East India Company. The French also thought that India could be good for trade (opium, silk, cotton, tea, and so on) and formed a rival French East India Company. France and Britain fought each other for awhile on the subcontinent and elsewhere in the world including a little tiff in North America where a bothersome British colony had the cheek to declare independence. It was Clive of India who put paid to French ambitions in India in 1757 at the Battle of Plassey, and the French who returned the favor in North America by helping the colonists. Despite their North American losses, the British remained untouchable at sea, but were vulnerable by land. It was thought that Russia posed the next and greatest threat. Hence the British interest in Afghanistan and the resulting First Afghan War (1839 to 1842).

Almost since its inception at the beginning of the 7th century, Islam has been under siege from the West. Although to be fair, there was a time when Islam gave as good as it got. The Umayyad Caliphate expanded into the Iberian Peninsula in 711. Later, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. But in the nineteenth century, the Ottoman’s become the Sick Man of Europe leading into the First World War. Then Germany had an idea.

The First World War quickly bogged down in Flanders Fields, and powers on all sides tried to come up with alternative plans to break the stalemate. Churchill came up with Gallipoli. The Germans thought it would be a good idea to arm Irish nationalists. But it was the other German idea that was right out of the Great Game. The Germans realized that Britain could be destabilized by threatening their empire on the subcontinent. To this end, the Germans were in Kabul in 1915 with plans to start a holy war. Islam would be used as a weapon against the British.

Although the German idea didn’t work (they did loose the war), the United States thought it could use yet another failed European strategy to fight the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Communism does not abide religion. It is anathema to Communists. So the United States encouraged Saudi Arabia to spread its Wahhabist interpretation of Islam to fight the godless Communists. What else to do with all that oil money? It was a nice fit at the time, but would ultimately be bad for the United States.

In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. responded with covert operations against the Soviets (code named Operation Cyclone) in which the United States fought a proxy war by arming and supporting the Mujahideen (the word meaning “those engaged in Jihad”). Out of the Mujahideen grew the Taliban which was created by the Pakistani intelligence agency and funded by the United States. There was even a time when the United States felt it could do business with the Taliban. Union Oil Company of California was involved in negotiations with them to build an oil pipeline through Afghanistan. But the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi made it difficult for the United States to continue its support of Jihadists. And after 2001, well…

The West’s habit of stirring up trouble along Russia’s southern flank by enlisting the help of fundamentalist Islam has to be the most short-sighted and disastrous foreign policy in history. The strategy was deeply flawed and left the region from the Mediterranean to Pakistan awash in continual strife, cost trillions of dollars and millions of lives, and has begotten the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War.

Alexander the Great lead his army through the Khyber Pass in 326 BCE in his failed attempt to capture India, becoming the first head-stone in this “Graveyard of Empires” known as Afghanistan. With over two-thousand years of examples, war proves that it is always an abysmal failure that only succeeds in setting up the next monstrous regime. Clearly, war as a strategy has failed to sort-out the region. Isn’t it time for a new approach?

The United States should drop its so-called ally, Saudi Arabia. ISIS-like, the Saudis continue to behead and stone to-death those who incur its disfavor or disagree with the regime. The Saudis are guilty of war crimes which, most notably in Yemen, are aided by the United States government. This includes the use of cluster munitions which are banned under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions and the use of white phosphorus on populated areas. The U.S. State Department has this to say about the Convention on Cluster Munitions – “Cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility. Their elimination from U.S. stockpiles would put the lives of its soldiers and those of its coalition partners at risk.” The lives of innocent civilians apparently do not figure into the State Department’s reasoning. Other countries that are not signatories to this Convention include: Saudi Arabia, Libya, Russia, North Korea, Iran and Yemen (other U.S. allies in the region also commit war crimes, see Israel’s use of white phosphorus in Gaza). Nice company. The most recent $100 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia is abhorrent. It will guarantee that the Saudis can continue to fan the parched flames of conflict in the Middle East for decades.

The second part of this new approach dictates that the United States embrace young Iranians who can truly become a moderating force throughout the region, once the shackles of theocracy are broken. Look at those pictures again at the beginning of this blog and see if there is a shift in your perspective.

Lastly, but no less important, a radical idea presents itself in Syria – or really next door in Lebanon. In Lebanon alone, there are upwards of one-million Syrian refugees, of which 200,000 are children in need of education. Do we teach them that the West is uncaring of their humanitarian plight, ignorant of their culture, and closed to asylum (visit any homeless camp along the urban river banks of American cities to get a sense of what life in a refugee camp is like – minus the water)? Or do we radicalize these children by providing an education? A foreigner looks at the United States and sees a country that incongruously loves its guns and bombs more than its children. Now is the time to change that perception and begin the long process of reconciliation.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice is taking the first important step in this direction, believing that “without education, this lost generation becomes not only a missed opportunity for the advancement of Lebanon but also a huge security threat in the region and beyond.” The Foundation plans to work with private sector partners to design “a program to provide out-of-school children in Lebanon, including Syrian refugees, a chance to go back to school.”

Rather than $100 billion of arms, imagine what $100 billion of education can do. Imagine what 200,000 children radicalized with education can accomplish…imagine the future.

Take up the White Man’s burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hope to nought.

-Kipling – The White Man’s Burden, 1899

Recommended reading:

Rachel Bronson, Thicker than Oil. America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia.
Diana Preston, The Dark Defile.
Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train.

More Tales of Ultra Running

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This was my second attempt at the 100k distance at the Canyons. At least it wasn’t raining this year. But after leaving Cal 2 and reaching the river with what I thought might be food-poisoning like nausea, something loud came barreling down the mountain through the understory – headed my direction.

“What now?” I thought.

A large brown bear landed squarely on the trail not ten feet in front of me and gave me a good looking over.

Fortunately, California bears are mellow – not like the grizzly bear in Alaska who still carries a grudge about the extermination of its cousins (ursus arctos californicus). I actually said “hello” out loud. Correctly reasoning that I was friendly, the bear executed what to my eye looked like a perfect pirouette and charged off in the other direction. I once heard it said that bears are not good down-hill runners. I am now in a position to refute this assumption.

But one-quarter mile later, I was on the ground for a different reason. The nausea was not improving, and I had abdominal pain. So I sat down. Then the rapid and shallow breathing that precedes a good technicolor yawn started. So I lay face down. That’s when other runners started coming by.

And this is what I find most endearing and comforting about the ultra-running community. To a person, everyone stopped and asked what had happened. Was I alright? Did I need water, s-caps, anything? Did I want them to stay and help in anyway? Runners were willing to give up their goals of finishing before cutoff to assist, which is why this is such a noble sport.

“I’ll be fine. Thank you. Just nauseous. If you could mention that I might need help at the aid station. Don’t let me hold you up…I need to rest for a while before I get moving.” Since brevity is the sole of wit, I condensed things a bit to “nauseous, resting, will get going, thanks!”

It was relaxing in a way to lay face down on the trail. The river was making river sounds, there may have been some birds chirping…there were lots of mosquitoes (but again, California mosquitoes are mellow compared with Amazonian mosquitoes). I did, however, notice it was getting cold and dark. This thought had me sitting-up debating which direction I should start to walk. Where would help be coming from?

Do I head uphill for two and one-half miles in the dark, or west along five and one-half miles of nice rolling trail? Well, I knew what the answer had to be. It was just hard to convince the body that help would come from Cal 2 (uphill) rather than Rucky Chucky.

Within five minutes of moving, Lesley Dellamonica and Naomi Plasterer came barreling down the hill charging in a way that would have made that bear nod gently in reverent praise. Afterwards, they said my face was white as a ghost, which is a hard look to pull off with a sun-burn. But they placed me between them, and we slowly made our way uphill, occasionally trying to get me to drink some flat soda, and occasionally, me pausing to sit on the trail for a moment.

I could go into minutia about how the rest of the evening went, but I’ll just end by expressing my immense gratitude to everyone who assisted along the way. There was never any doubt that I would get back up that hill. And that was mainly due to the optimism and encouragement of my companions, Lesley and Naomi. They kept me moving. There was also Bill Hunter at Cal 2 who checked that I would be fine and eventually drove me and another bedraggled runner back to Foresthill. There was Carrol Lindsay, the nurse at Foresthill who let me rest on a cot with a warm blanket and tried to feed me various edible tidbits – all the while saying I was looking better as time passed. There was the volunteer who retrieved dry clothes from my car. And finally, there was the Race Director, Chaz, who showed compassion at Foresthill and put on one-hell-of-an-awesome event. All these precious pieces of the chain that pulled me up from the river and the darkness, all these awesome people, these awesome runners…these are the kind of people who get things done! Thank you for making the world a better place…

Will there be a third attempt next year? The adventure continues…

Since there is no photo of me laying prone on the trail, you’ll have to make do with this…

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“Running? up that Hill.” Photo courtesy of Naomi Plasterer.

We Love to Fly and it Shows

Welcome to the new friendly skies. United Airlines has set a new low for air travel. CEO Oscar Munoz must resign his post, as a start, so that the airline can begin to make amends to its customers. The fact that he has failed to recognize that the despicable ejection of a paying client is morally and ethically wrong, despite the legalities of the situation, is cause enough for United’s board to dismiss him. If they do not, Congress must investigate the sorry state of affairs that has come to be considered normal in air travel within the United States.

United employees must also be criticized for their failure to exercise common sense. They have allowed a computer to do their thinking, and have hidden behind a flawed rule book, because they were only following orders. They thoughtlessly passed responsibility to the goons at TSA (or whichever law enforcement agency did the shameful deed) who appeared to beat senseless a man who was morally correct in refusing to disembark.

This action must not be allowed to stand, and consequences should follow.

…and yes, in all probability, I’ll be looking forward to getting bumped from my next flight.

The Resurrection of Richard Nixon

The current bunch of ruffians running the government have managed to do something that until recently was thought impossible. They have managed to make Richard Nixon look good.

Richard Nixon signed an executive order which created the EPA in 1970 to implement a number of environmental laws in order to make America clean again. Republicans would like to reverse these Nixonian regulations and go back to a simpler, almost biblical time, when rivers burned and skies were scarred brown with the unchecked pollution of industry.

In 1969, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River burned for a 13th time. It was also in 1969, that California experienced its largest oil spill when a Union Oil offshore rig dumped oil along thirty-miles of Santa Barbara coast-line. Public outrage spurred Congress to pass the Clean Air Act of 1970 and to re-write the Federal Water Pollution Control Act into what has become known as the Clean Water Act.

Trump and Pruitt see the EPA and its bothersome standards as an example of the federal government trampling on states’ rights. Which may be. But recall that one purpose of the U.S. Constitution is to “…promote the general Welfare…” This means that the federal government must sometimes intercede and protect us from our baser instincts.

So, if you would prefer not to be able to swim in your local rivers on a hot summer afternoon, to breathe the air without a respirator, to bathe on beaches uncontaminated with oil, or to eat food unladen with toxic chemicals, then Trump and Pruitt are the men to have on your side.

Workmen using pitchforks, rakes and shovels attempt to clean up oil-soaked straw from the beach at Santa Barbara Harbor, Calif., Feb. 7, 1969.  The oil, leaking from an off-shore well for over a week, covered local beaches and threatened many southern California shoreline areas.  (AP Photo)

Workmen using pitchforks, rakes and shovels attempt to clean up oil-soaked straw from the beach at Santa Barbara Harbor, Calif., Feb. 7, 1969.

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Cuyahoga river burns in 1952.

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Beijing.

Taxing Times

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If Trump is serious about lifting the prohibition against political activities on the part of churches, then they must be taxed. Churches, as well as other charitable organizations, are prohibited from engaging in political activities. This is not a gag on freedom of speech. Rather, it is a condition on receiving an exemption from income tax and a well established principle of law.

In 1934, Congress amended the statutory predecessor of §501(c)(3) to include the restriction that no substantial part of an organization’s activities may constitute carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation. The intent of the Finance Committee was to stop deductible contributions for legislative ends.

The prohibition of §501(c)(3) organizations from engaging in political activities came into being in 1954, when Lyndon Johnson proposed an amendment to the tax code in order to deny tax exempt status to not only those organizations “…who influence legislation but also to those who intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” Congress had previously contemplated inserting language in the code that would have prohibited organizations from participating in “partisan politics” back in 1934, but a draft provision was deleted, because it was thought to be overly broad. Nevertheless, that same year, Congress did amend the code to restrict lobbying activities.

In Regan v. Taxation With Representation of Washington, the Supreme Court upheld the congressional limitation on §501(c)(3) lobbying activities because an organization’s First Amendment rights are preserved through its ability to speak through an affiliated action fund. The Court stated “the IRS…requires only that the two groups be separately incorporated and keep records adequate to show that tax deductible contributions are not used to pay for lobbying. This is not unduly burdensome.”

In Branch Ministries v. Commissioner, the District Court of DC upheld the revocation of a church’s tax exemption under §501(c)(3), because the church had expressed its concern about the moral character of a candidate in the 1992 presidential elections. The church had placed advertisements in USA Today and the Washington Times, stating amongst other things that “…Clinton is promoting policies that are in rebellion to God’s laws,” and “tax deductible donations for this advertisement gladly accepted.”

The Internal Revenue Code treats churches differently from other tax-exempt organizations. While a church may file for Section 501(c)(3) status, it is not required to do so in order to be tax-exempt. A church may simply hold itself out as a church and claim exempt status pursuant to Section 508(c). However, partisan political activities are a direct violation of Section 501(c)(3). The Court noted that the

…plaintiffs have failed to establish that the revocation of the Church’s Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status substantially burdened its right to freely exercise its religion…The fact that plaintiffs may now have less money to spend on the religious activities as a result of their participation in a partisan political activity, however, is insufficient to establish a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion. [emphasis added]

There are situations where an organization may engage in advocacy which is essentially political, or where the political actions of others can be attributed to an organization.

In its 2002 Continuing Professional Education Manual, the IRS discussed the possibility that advocacy of an issue might cross the line into “participation or intervention” in a political campaign:

The concern is that an IRC 501(c)(3) organization may support or oppose a particular candidate in a political campaign without specifically naming the candidate by using code words to substitute for the candidate’s name in its messages, such as “conservative,” “liberal,” “pro-life,” “pro-choice,” “anti-choice,” “Republican,” “Democrat,” etc., coupled with a discussion of the candidacy or the election. When this occurs, it is quite evident what is happening– an intervention is taking place…the fundamental test that the Service uses to decide whether an IRC 501(c)(3) organization has engaged in political campaign intervention while advocating an issue is whether support for or opposition to a candidate is mentioned or indicated by a particular label used as a stand-in for a candidate.

The IRS realizes that staff of public charities may become involved in political campaigns and may even endorse candidates. To avoid attribution, charities should ensure that their staff understand the rules, particularly since the use of a nonprofit’s “financial resources, facilities, or personnel” is indicative that the actions of the individual should be attributed to the organization.

The CPE Manual states:

The prohibition against political campaign activity does not prevent an organization’s officials from being involved in a political campaign, so long as those officials do not in any way utilize the organization’s financial resources, facilities, or personnel, and clearly and unambiguously indicate that the actions taken or the statements made are those of the individuals and not of the organization.

There may also be situations where candidates speak at charitable events in their capacity as public figures. Once again, the IRS CPE Manual provides guidance:

Candidates may also be invited to speak at events by IRC 501(c)(3) organizations in their capacity other than as a candidate. Many candidates are public figures for reasons other than their candidacy. For instance, a number of candidates either currently hold or formerly held public office or may be experts in a non-political field. A candidate also might be a public figure as a result of a prior career, such as an acting, military, legal, or public service career. When a candidate is invited to speak at an event in a capacity other than as a candidate, it is not necessary for the IRC 501(c)(3) organization to provide equal access to all candidates. However, the IRC 501(c)(3) organization must ensure that the candidate speaks only in the other capacity and not as a candidate, that no mention is made of the individual’s candidacy at the event, and that no campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate’s attendance at the event.

One example of the IRS position on organizational endorsements is a public statement which was negotiated with Jimmy Swaggart Ministries as a condition for recovering its tax-exemption:

When a minister of a religious organization endorses a candidate for public office at an official function of the organization…the endorsement will be considered an endorsement by the organization since the acts and statements of a religious organization’s ministers at official functions…and its official publications are the principal means by which a religious organization communicates its official views to its members and supporters.

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We the People

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Ratification of the U.S. Constitution was a closely run thing. In New York, the state’s ratifying convention to replace the Articles of Confederation with the proposed Constitution barely said ‘yes’ by a vote of 30 to 27. North Carolina and Rhode Island would not ratify until late 1789 and 1790, respectively. Thus, when George Washington became president in April 1789, there were just eleven United States. North Carolina and Rhode Island had the status of sovereign nations.

The Preamble wastes no time stating the intent of the Constitution – which is to “…establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty…”

The early arguments for ratification, The Federalist 2 – 8, emphasized defense as a selling point. European countries required large and costly standing armies to protect against incursions by their neighbors. “…the very strength of a united America would eliminate the need for a large standing army in peacetime. The result would be enormous peace dividends in both dollars and democracy” [Amar]. Individual states would have no need to maintain standing armies to protect against their neighbors in a United States. Hamilton closed out The Federalist series of papers with #85, noting that the Constitution would prevent “…extensive military establishments, which could not fail to grow out of wars between the States in a disunited situation.”

I’ll be summarizing key points from Akhil Reed Amar’s America’s Constitution – A Biography (2005) as I make my way through the book. But what is fascinating is how much of what occurred in our most recent election was by deliberate design. The moderates were swayed to ratify the Constitution “…not because they distrusted their own democratic state lawmakers…but rather because they needed to rein in other states’ legislatures” [Amar]. This is the very notion of “tyranny of the majority.” We may not like the outcome here in California, but the middle of the country sees that the electoral college has functioned as intended by checking the popular vote. In a very real sense, the rest of the country is reacting against the progressive platforms and legislators of the coastal United States.

Based on the “real” news I see daily, it is apparent that very few politicians understand the Constitution. Neither does the media, and it is to their everlasting shame that news sources do not take this opportunity to educate the country. My knowledge of the Constitution is weak at best. This stuff is vitally important, and the state of the country must not be left to the political parties and courts to sort out…they’ll just fuck it up some more. Hence this erudition and humble monograph. Remember the opening phrase of the Constitution – “We the People…”

Onward…Article I is next.

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All that Glitters is not Gold

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[another from the Antarctic course series]

Three days in an Antarctic blizzard on Mount Erebus with just a sleeping bag was good training for what would follow later in his life. Sir Raymond Edward Priestley was an expedition geologist with both Shackleton and Scott in the Antarctic – first with the Boss on the Nimrod expedition from 1907-1909, and then with Scott on the Terra Nova expedition from 1910-1913.

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The Northern Party after their long winter in the ice cave From left: Dickason, Campbell, Abbott, Priestley, Levick and Browning.

Although not particularly distinguished academically, Shackleton related that he choose the 20-year old Priestley for Nimrod because “…I can manage that fellow.” That, and Priestley had the correct answer to Shackleton’s question “would you know gold if you saw it?” The Boss always had an eye on the expedition finances. The interview with Shackleton had been arranged by Priestley’s brother. Priestley was in his second year at University College, Bristol, when his brother inquired whether he had an interest in Antarctica. “I’d do anywhere to get out of this damned place.”

There is no great geologic discovery that can be attributed directly to Priestley. From his attitude at Bristol, one would not expect much in the way of original science. Admittedly, he was “…not so hot in school.” And yet…His geology schooling would be in the field among the outcrops, rocks and glaciers of Antarctica. Strictly hands-on lithology. Edgeworth David would be his tutor.

In science, one stands on the shoulders of giants to see a little bit further. Such is the nature of Priestley’s contribution to the science of geology. From an inauspicious beginning, he would add to the geological survey of the Ferrar Glacier and further the understanding of the geology of Southern Victoria Land by publishing a monograph with David (Antarctic Horst of South Victoria Land). During sledging on Mount Erebus, he identified raised beaches and observed eruptions. It was while on Erebus that Priestley survived one of many blizzards, in this case, with just his sleeping bag. The full geological results of the work from the Nimrod expedition would be published with David in The Heart of the Antarctic.

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Camp on Mount Erebus. 1912 and 2012. Credit: Picture Library, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.

But it was his experience wintering in an ice cave with the Northern Party of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition on Inexpressible Island, in what Vivian Fuchs called “a story of human endurance which has rarely been equaled,” that puts Priestley in the same league as Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton. Cherry-Garrard would add his own wisdom to Priestley’s tale in a summation that is concise and packed with relevance to a twenty-first century audience. “The necessaries of civilization were luxuries to us: and as Priestley found under circumstances to which our life at Hut Point was a Sunday School treat, the luxuries of civilization satisfy only those wants which they themselves create.”

Priestley published an account of the Northen Party’s expedition in Antarctic Adventure: Scott’s Northern Party. At times, his writing is the equal of Scott or Cherry-Garrard:

“I think the coldest thing I ever remember to have seen was the aurora which met our eyes when we tumbled out of our tent that morning to fetch the primus and cooker. It looked absolutely the essence of frigidity, and I know well enough now what I shall mean in the future when I speak of a cold light. A single arch of brilliant greenish-grey, like the curved blade of an immense scimitar flashing in moonlight, stretched across the sky from south to north.”

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Plan of the Snow Cave – Priestley.

After his dark Antarctic winters, “…the Winter of the world with perishing great darkness” (Wilfred Owen) closed in on Priestley as the lights went out in Europe. Like many men from Shackelton’s Endurance expedition, Priestley served in World War One. He received the Military Cross for his involvement in taking the Riqueval Bridge on the Hindenburg Line (a German defensive position) in Northern France in 1918. On one-day, nearly one-million shells were fired during a twenty-four hour period. To Priestley, it must have seemed like the katabatic winds of Antarctica were shredding his tent once more, and that perhaps he was back on Erebus with just a sleeping bag.

After the war, he helped create the Scott Polar Research Institute in 1920, and followed that with the distinguished academic career he initially abandoned when he made his “Easting down” with Shackleton in 1907.

Priestley meet Roald Amundsen onboard the Fram in January 1911 when Terra Nova sailed into the Bay of Whales. Thus, he speaks with some authority when he compares the three great explorers of the Heroic age in what is perhaps the best analysis ever written, made all the more poignant for its brevity. “For scientific discovery, give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when you are seeing no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”

Though his science was not necessarily geologic gold, he can most certainly be considered one of the geologic glitterati.

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The Really Deep Challenge

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[the following is from a paper I wrote for an Antarctic course last spring]

“Airborne platforms…are ideal for ice-shelf cavity exploration due to their…operational insensitivity to crevasses (compared to surface-based data acquisition) …” (Southern Ocean Observing System). This is the scientific way of explaining that whereas people can fall into crevasses, airplanes generally do not. The challenge for scientists has always been one of translation. How to take meaning-laden, complex words and concepts and, without losing the gist, set them in a context for public consumption and discussion. Newton had it easy. Although the inspiration was brilliant, his expository was simple. The apple fell from the tree.

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The Crossing of Antartica (Thames & Hudson)/George Lowe, Huw Lewis Jones, the 1957/58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Modern scientists have a harder challenge. Not only is the science more complex and difficult to understand, but the reality television mentality of many politicians and policy makers has promoted a culture that embraces ignorance. Witness Anderson Cooper’s comment to Donald Trump at a recent “debate” – “that’s the argument of a five year-old.” Such is the milieu in which the Challenge is set.

New Zealand is getting it right with its Deep South Challenge. Accepting that climate changes, the idea is to “adapt, manage risk and thrive in a changing climate.” To do so, and arrive at correct and economically viable decisions, a multi-disciplinary approach involving a positive feedback loop consisting of the public, educators, scientists and policy makers helps inform the science. For instance, what do civil engineers and architects need to know about extreme weather events when planning infrastructure; how do farmers manage crops in the face of more frequent droughts; how should tax and insurance policies be designed to benefit those communities most at risk to sea level rise so that the larger public good is not abused? This is the ground-truthing of public policy – using societal concerns and issues to prove the value of the science.

The Deep South Challenge has developed various engagement strategies to ensure that the science done in the Antarctic “…remains focused on and directed by societal needs.” Through lectures, seminars, briefing sessions and technical workshops, the Challenge responds “…to the most important national-scale issues.” Open and continuous communication is achieved by the use of online media, science festivals and public workshops among other tools. In this way, scientific priorities and research programs are established which lead back to the ground, or ice, in Antarctica.

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Antarctic sea ice. NASA.

Data and observations gathered on and around the continent help in the development of an earth system model which allows better management of climate risks. Climate observations in Antarctica help improve atmospheric models which in turn provide more reliable and precise weather forecasting. This allows the constituents of the Challenge to more effectively determine and plan for the impact of climate change on the economy and infrastructure. For instance, infrastructure decisions are improved by adding the stressors and risks associated with climate change to existing tectonic based models. It is well enough to understand what happens when the earth shakes, but you also need to know what energetic storms laden with heavy rain, wind, snowfall and resultant flooding can do to the roads.

Extreme weather events can be seen as beginning in Antarctica. In situ work on ice-shelf cavities, as an example, feed directly back into weather models and test the validity and predictive value of the computer programs. Ice sheets lose mass at their boundaries which are generally where ice meets water along the leading edge and underneath the sheet itself – the cavity. As warm water enters the cavity, the sheets thin and are more vulnerable to fracture. But unlike a dental cavity, you can’t X-ray an ice sheet cavity. Gravitational measurements taken from aircraft, and ship based radio echo sounding and magnetic data help to map the relevant geography. This complex interaction of water and ice is the beginning of a deep river that cascades off the continental shelf and drives global ocean currents. So it is important to understand this interaction and to have models that predict what is observed on the ice.

Models must also explain the apparent inconsistencies that are so often picked up and paraded in public by politicians and talk show hosts. If global warming exists, why has the extent of winter sea ice around Antarctica been increasing? Recent extreme winters on the east coast of the United States have been used by politicians as evidence that global warming does not exist, and a significant portion of the population follows along.

There was a brief time when science captured the imagination of the world. From that moment when man walked on the moon, an entire generation was motivated to achieve the astounding. The benefits of the science, research and education that flowed from the Apollo missions can still be seen today in medicine, communications and computer and earth sciences. Because of its global impact, the next wave of imagination can be stimulated by Antarctic science.

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Water circulation – Antarctica.