Manmade Antarctica 2 (Antarctica photo essay 10)

We saw the British base and Norwegian whaling station at Deception Island on our first proper day in Antarctica. On our next-to-last day, we saw another, far more pleasant and even prosaic sign of man’s encounter with Antarctica: the British and Argentine “huts” at Damoy Point on Wiencke Island. What a place – unreal in that quintessentially Antarctic sense: snow, ice, ocean, mountains, clouds, sky… And of course seals and penguins.

Carleton “pax” checking out the gentoo penguins on the point,
with Minerva in the middle distance and
ho hum the mountains of Graham Land in the background.

The gentoo penguin colony was small

and, in the soft evening light, quite active. Many of the adults were tirelessly marching back and forth to collect more rocks for their nests.

Must. Get. More. Rocks.

On the long walking path between the landing beach and the huts themselves, a couple seals and a couple skuas were lounging, unperturbed by the parka’d pax going back and forth.

The huts themselves were tiny and charmingly rustic. The British hut was open to visitors and preserved more or less the way it had looked in the 1990s, when the Brits stopped using it as a station for scientific research and a base for supplying other nearby stations, like Port Lockroy (just a few kilometers over the ridge).

The British Hut, in Antarctic blue

A sign at the door said, in essence, please clean your boots before coming in, please don’t disturb or take anything, and please close the door when you leave. So small and crowded was it that I couldn’t get a good angle for photos, but it looked and smelled like just about every backwoods cabin you might’ve seen. Except, no woods outside. I could imagine spending months there quite happily, hiking over the snowfields all day and hiding from the weather as needed.

The even smaller Argentine hut wasn’t open for visitors (perhaps because it’s actually still in use?), but honestly they have a superior hut-decoration scheme. Nothing really beats los albicelestes, even battered by the weather.

Nothing except maybe the wider, wilder landscape itself. Dorian Bay was a good reminder of just how small and insignificant humans are and should be.

Sick about Trump

Someone (I wish I could remember who) pointed out in a fairly convincing way that President Trump and his coterie have already demonstrated (15 days into his would-be reign) many of the flaws that he so viciously accused others, especially Clinton, of possessing during the campaign.

Using secret unofficial email servers? Check. Needlessly endangering American troops? Check. Flirting with voting fraud? Check. Cozying up to Wall Street? Check. Seeming to obey unseemly foreign powers? CHECK. Using his official connections for personal enrichment? HELL YES CHECK. Surrounding himself with shady advisors who adhere tomun-American ideologies? DOUBLE HELL YES CHECK. Being nasty AF? TRIPLE HELL YES CHECK. 

This list could go on, but one accusation he hurled but hasn’t yet exhibited was that of Clinton being secretly ill. Like, dying. Practically dead! 

But Jesus on a tortilla, look at this guy! He does not look healthy! 

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla / Getty

And with whispering now about his taking a baldness drug, c’mon – how long will it be till we find out that in addition to being guilty of all the sins he laid on others, he’s actually suffering from all sorts of illnesses?

Snow Crush!

I had a good time today volunteering at the Snow Crush fatbike race sponsored by F-Town Brewing in Faribault. Our local mountain biking club, CROCT, helped stage the event, which we held on the gorgeous trails at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. We wound up getting about 80 racers across three divisions – a third more than last year!

Though I would have loved to be out on the trails, cranking, I enjoyed working at the finish line with my fellow CROTC members Aleasha and Kevin, counting racers’ laps and recording finish times. Almost everyone seemed to be having a good time, except maybe the front runners, who were working too hard to enjoy the sun, breeze, and snow. We did get to see a few good wipeouts as racers hit some mashed-potato snow as they headed back out for another lap, but slow-speed fatbike crashes are more hilarious than dangerous. 

Though laughs just added to the pleasure of spending two hours outside in bluebird conditions. Any time I can spend two hours outside in bluebird conditions, I’ll take it! I’d love to get back to River Bend sometime soon to ride the trails myself.

CROCT member Jim Wellbrock took this great shot of the fast guys coming down the gravel pit hill, just one of dozens of great pictures in his full collection of race photos.

Leaders on the Gravel Pit Hill (photo by Jim Wellbrock)

Going Feral

Through the first part of the year, I read a bunch of books on buffalo, all of which inevitably included at least a brief treatment of the Great Slaughter, during which colonizing whites annihilated the North American herd of bison that had numbered at least 30 million (and possibly 50 million) as late as 1850. By 1900, only a couple dozen survived, hiding deep within the Yellowstone country in northwestern Wyoming.

By the end of the spring, I was simply tired of reading stories about this and other destructions of nature, and so I sought out some reading that offered a more hopeful, if not exactly positive, perspective on environmental history and on our current environmental situation. Gradually, I shifted my bison reading to material on the array of bison conservation and restoration efforts that are underway throughout North America – perhaps most importantly, on the American Prairie Reserve in north-central Montana, where conservationists hope to have a 12,000-head herd of wild, migratory bison by 2030.

I learned, in this reading, that these kinds of ambitious landscape-scale conservation efforts were called rewilding, and that under that rubric, many thoughtful, hard-working people all over the world are trying to reverse the arrow of human development (read: destruction) of the natural world and going back to something like the world that existed when humans were fewer, or absent.

Rewilding the Pastures of Goodhue County
Rewilding the Pastures of Goodhue County

By and by, this led me to George Monbiot’s Feral, an engrossing book on the idea and practice of rewilding. The concept could be merely romantic or misanthropically nihilistic, but Monbiot’s careful research and exceptional writing outlines a different vision. The kind of rewilding that Monbiot advocates rests on his particular perspective on nature (one learned from and shared with many others) and on his assertive, engrossing investigations of places where rewilding is already occurring, such as the nearly-lost Caledonian forest in Scotland.

More than anything else, Monbiot recommends – in a cleverly conservative way – that humans give up our drive to control nature (a drive that seems increasingly to doom us and nature) and recognize that nature is more complex, more obdurate, and more resilient than we can know. If – Monbiot argues and illustrates with powerful examples – people simply get out of the way, nature will take its course back to landscapes (and seascapes) that sustain a far wider range of non-human life than our arid cities and suburbs – and much more than even our “natural” areas such as denuded farmlands and largely un-natural parks.

Not only is this nature better for nature, but this nature would be better for humans, too – a world where we do not burden ourselves with the crime of destroying our home and where we can live in settings (forests, prairies, coasts) that look, feel, and are more like the places where we evolved. Of course, many can object – for good and bad reasons – to rewilding. It’s certainly just one scheme among many for living on Earth. But it’s one that resonates with me, and that I think makes more sense than a lot of other approaches to civilization that I see operating right now.


Field-Trip Thank Yous

I had fun a couple weeks ago chaperoning Genevieve and two of her classmates through the wonderful field trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The teachers do an amazing job of preparing their students for the trip, and the kids really enjoying seeing up close the art they’ve been learning about in class for weeks.

This year, I got thank-you cards from the three kids on the trip, which was even better than them offering me some of their lunches. Two cards showed pieces of art we saw at the MIA (Junius Brutus Stearns’ “A Fishing Party off Long Island” by one of Vivi’s friends and Georgia O’Keefe’s “Pedernal-From the Ranch #1” by Vivi). The third showed the four of us in the group, though it was clearly not scaled correctly. Proportionate to my body, my head is much, much bigger than shown.

Fishing off Long Island
Fishing off Long Island

Pedernal-From the Ranch #1
Pedernal-From the Ranch #1

Art Group
Art Group

“Pray for Newtown” (Sun Kil Moon)

Whether or not you’re okay with gun violence, I think this exceptional tune by Mark Kozelek (recording as Sun Kil Moon) will make you think again about Newtown – and other needless massacres in recent American history. Sadly beautiful, quietly angry. We’ve failed as a society in failing to act after Newtown to prevent more stupid killings.

The Sun Burning Out, or Julia Gingrich

After breakfast today, Julia asked me, “Do you know how long it takes light from the sun to reach the earth?” I said no, slightly ashamed that I didn’t. “Well, guess!” she told me.

“Uhh, one minute.”

“No, more. It’s a surprisingly long time.”

“An hour!”

“Way less.”

“Fifteen minutes.”


“Uhhh, seven and a half minutes.”

“Almost – it’s eight minutes.”

“Wow. That’s a lot longer than I thought!”

“Yeah, me too! But that’s what it is. That means that if the sun burned out, we would have eight minutes to migrate to a new planet. I think it would be fun to leave earth and move to a new planet.”

“Uhhhhh…” I said, thinking that sounded a lot like some craziness that Newt Gingrich would spout.

Reasonable People

Politically, I sit at the liberal-progressive end of the spectrum, but I try to keep from shoving my political beliefs in everyones’ faces. I think this is common to many progressives in Northfield, which – despite perhaps more local political drama than we need – tends toward moderate views, both progressive and conservative. Where zealotry erupts, though, it tends to come up on the right, as demonstrated by these jaw-dropping signs I’ve seen around town. I saw the first on the tailgate of a truck parked, ironically, next to the library:
Wow. This truck REALLY hates the president!

A few weeks later, I happened to bike past a house where that pickup truck was parked and this sign was out front:

A friend tells me that the creator of the signs was also the antagonist in the unseemly incident described in this letter to the editor of our paper.

Say what you will about the poisonous political atmosphere in the United States right now, but I don’t see many half-literate signs decrying, say, Michele Bachmann, or hear stories about liberals screaming at teenagers with opposing political views.

Thoughts and Links on bin Laden

Around ten on Sunday night, I’d finished watching part of the HBO miniseries The Pacific (spoiler alert: the hero dies). As I waited for the DVD to rewind, I checked Twitter, which was exploding with messages about the imminent announcement by the president that Osama bin Laden was dead. I immediately switched over to NBC, where – after a few minutes of the emptiest talking-head chatter I’ve seen this side of the Super Bowl – the president came on and delivered what I thought were level, careful, and grave remarks about bin Laden and about the American military operation that resulted in his killing in Pakistan. I was shocked and pleased – shocked that “we got him,” as the previous president might have said, and pleased that the killer had been killed.

Predictably, I spend good parts of Monday digesting material on the assassination, some of which was thought-provoking, some of which was informative, and some of which was celebratory. All this webstuff had two main effects:

  1. Draining some of the U-S-A!-ness from my reaction to the news, and replacing it with a sense of grim satisfaction in seeing the killer killed.
  2. A deepening interest in the details of how bin Laden was sheltered within Pakistan (presumably by elements of that country’s government) and how bin Laden was finally tracked down and killed.

Below is some of the more interesting webstuff I’ve seen so far. Other links are welcome.

Barack Obama, announcing bin Laden’s death

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.

Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.

As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Susan Piver, “Osama bin Laden is dead. One Buddhist’s response.”

Osama bin Laden is dead. We killed him. There really was no choice. We were clearly in an “us or them” situation and if we didn’t kill him, he was going to continue to do everything in his power to kill us.

As Buddhists, we are supposed to abhor all killing, but what do you do when someone is trying to kill you? Obviously great theologians have pondered this question for millennia and I’m not going to try to pile on with my point of view, which would be totally useless.

Instead, I’ll pose this question: How do you kill your enemy in a way that puts a stop to violence rather than escalates it?

Steve Coll, “Notes on the Death of Osama bin Laden” (

After President Obama took office, he and the new Central Intelligence Agency director, Leon Panetta, reorganized the team of analysts devoted to finding Osama bin Laden. The team worked out of ground-floor offices at the Langley headquarters. There were at least two-dozen of them. Some were older analysts who had been part of the C.I.A.’s various bin Laden-hunting efforts going back to the late nineteen-nineties. Others were newer recruits, too young to have been professionally active when bin Laden was first indicted as a fugitive from American justice.

As they reset their work, the analysts studied other long-term international fugitive hunts that had ended successfully, such as the operations that led to the death of the Medellín Cartel leader Pablo Escobar, in 1993. The analysts asked, Where did the breakthroughs in these other hunts come from? What were the clues that made the difference and how were the clues discovered? They tried to identify “signatures” of Osama bin Laden’s life style that might lead to such a clue: prescription medications that he might purchase, hobbies or other habits of shopping or movement that might give him away.

Lynn Sweet, “How the U.S. found, killed Osama bin Laden” (Chicago Sun-Times)

A summary of the planning and execution of the operation in Pakistan, this reads like the pitch for a Hollywood thriller. (I know that’s already a cliché, but nobody’s published a book on the operation yet. Mark Bowden, get moving!)

The inevitable counterreaction (Frank Cerabino, “Bin Laden kill sure to produce ‘The Deathers'”; Palm Beach Post)

If you really do believe that bin Laden is dead, but you don’t want to credit Obama in any way for this, Rush Limbaugh has shown you the way.

The order to kill bin Laden was made only because Obama realized his chances for reelection were slipping, Limbaugh told his audience on Monday.

“If he was a shoo-in for reelection, Osama bin Laden would still be alive today,” Limbaugh said. “There would have been no need to undertake the mission.”

Pointed silliness, part I:
"Sorry it took me so long, I was too busy killing Osama" Obama the joker

Pointed silliness, part II: Brendon Etter, What Osama Bin Laden Was Probably Doing Right Before He Was Killed

1 – Patiently waiting right in front of that one big window at exactly the agreed upon time for his new buddies to meet him for a couple beers.
2 – Trying one last time to fix that crappy beard trimmer…
5 – Feeding the poor…
8 – Slaughtering the recently fed poor…
11 – Wondering what that sound was.

Feeling Bad about Giving Away Money

I spent the morning serving with three other Northfielders on a panel convened by the area United Way to allocate some of the UW’s 2010 campaign funds. The community campaign was fairly successful, though it didn’t reach its half-million dollar goal. (Full disclosure: each fall, I help run the Carleton campaign, which last year raised a record-setting total of $80,276 on 237 pledges and gifts.) Our panel reviewed applications from four organizations focused on early-childhood education and development. All four organizations submitted excellent applications, and – it almost goes without saying – all four were immensely deserving of United Way grants for every cent they requested.

Unfortunately, we could not fund any of the applicants at the full level. There simply isn’t enough money to go around. This isn’t news – or rather it’s the main focus of news these days: budget cutting, deficits, “austerity,” and all that. While I was disappointed to be unable to help fund the community organizations at 100% of their requests (hell, even 75%!), I was also troubled by three interrelated facts.

First, many of these organizations’ needs are so great now because state and federal funding is declining or even disappearing. Second, many of these organizations’ needs are ludicrously tiny relative to the resources we use on campus – much less the relatively large sums used by public entities (city, state, and federal governments) or, worst of all, are outright wasted by bloated private enterprises. Third and worst, many of these organizations are serving the most vulnerable people in America – and doing it with a bit of money and a ton of effort.

It’s infuriating that our obscenely rich country is so goddamn terrible at providing its citizens with what they need to survive, much less to thrive.

Republican Nuttiness

I dunno what it was about Tax Day, but a lot of GOP-related nuttiness crossed my browser today:

First, last Friday, the Democrats in the House nearly tricked the GOP majority into voting for an even more extreme budget than Paul Ryan’s nutto budget.

Republicans were caught with their pants down Friday when Democrats pulled a fast one on the House floor. In the lead up to a vote on their controversial budget, Republicans nearly zapped it and replaced it with an even more conservative 10-year vision for the country — the right-wing Republican Study Committee’s budget alternative.

To recap, Democrats took a flyer.

They waited until the last minute, and then voted “present” on the RSC plan. That put the question of whether to swap out Paul Ryan’s plan for the RSC’s in GOP hands. At the last moment, Republicans realized that a majority of their party had voted for the farther-reaching budget and had to whip votes backwards to prevent it from passing accidentally. It was quite a scene.

Second,a freshman GOP representative from California seems to not quite understand the idea of “return on investment.”

A freshman California lawmaker made a big splash but barely broke even at a glitzy and controversial January GOP fundraiser featuring country singer Leann Rimes, new campaign filings show. Celebrity, it seems, comes at a cost. Rimes and her entourage made out well at the Jan. 4 fundraiser that served as Republican Rep. Jeff Denham’s big political debut in Washington. Between assorted fees, flowers, catering and other costs, Denham’s special fundraising committee reported spending $212,250 on the Rimes event. The committee, meanwhile, raised only $212,900 from outside contributors. Add it all up, and Denham’s special committee spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars to net a grand total of $650 in outside contributions.

Last, Michele Bachmann’s profile is now high enough that the German newspaper Spiegel interviewed her, capturing some of that special MN-6 crazy:

Spiegel: Last week, you voted against the budget compromise for 2011. The budget includes cuts worth $38 billion. Why are you so opposed?

Bachmann: The deal that was reached is a disappointment for me and for millions of Americans who expected $100 billion in cuts. Instead, we’ve been asked to settle for $39 billion in cuts. We’re missing the mandate given us by voters last November.

Spiegel: How deep would you like to see the cuts ultimately be?

Bachmann: I think that my opinion has been from the beginning that we need to have a defunding of Obamacare in any final agreement. There is no other issue like Obamacare that has unified people across America. We’re talking Democrats, independents, apolitical people, Libertarians, Republicans. All people want to see Obamacare defunded.

Spiegel: Yet the majority of Americans support the idea of universal health care.

Bachmann: Obamacare is a crime against democracy because a material part of that bill was not disclosed to the Senate nor to the House of Representatives. The funding was hidden in the bill. That was fraud and I can’t vote for any budget that fails to bring back that money from Obamacare.

Spiegel: The US is currently struggling with an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent. If the government slashes spending to the degree that you wish, would it not lead to a loss of jobs?

Bachmann: Job creation comes from the private sector. Job creation doesn’t come from the federal government creating more jobs.

Spiegel: But when the government slashes spending, jobs are lost.

Bachmann: Not at all. I do not believe that that is true. I think that the private sector will get a signal that they will be able to keep more of their money.

The Value of School

As we traipsed around the halls of Julia’s elementary school on Thursday, enjoying all the craziness of the “Beyond Words” literacy festival, I was more and more impressed by the quality of the materials that the students had prepared for the festival – from Julia’s poem poster and other written work to woodblock prints and other kinds of art. (The girls here are standing next to Julia’s poster. They’re supposed to be holding hands, but it looks like Vivi is the campaigning politician shaking the hand of a constituent.)

The students’ stuff was impressive on its own but also as proof of the really amazing teachers at Sibley – and, I’d say, at most public schools. Working with a hugely varied group of kids, the teachers manage to encourage, induce, coax, and compel the students to learn an immense amount – and in addition to acquiring the three Rs, to create a lot of really wonderful, beautiful work.

All of this goes to demonstrate one of the towering stupidities of American society: that the teachers who are literally responsible for shaping the next generations of Americans are grossly undervalued, both in absolute terms and in relative terms. I don’t think it’s excessively hyperbolic to say that any one of those elementary-school teachers does more good for America in a week than a Wall Street banker does in a year.

“War Work”

I spent the evening at the artists’ talks and opening of “War Work: Artists Engage the Iraq War and Other Wars,” the new show at the Carleton art gallery. The talks were delivered by John Risseeuw, who makes paper objects to decry the epidemic of land mines (and to raise money to help victims of land mines), and Megan Vossler, who teaches at the alma mater and makes drawings based on photographs of the Iraq War. The talks were great, and the show is fantastic, too – often in a depressing, intentionally revolting way, but also full of beautiful stuff. It’s well worth a visit.

Megan Vossler, Refugees, 2006
Megan Vossler, Refugees, 2006

John Risseeuw Ten Kilograms, 2004
John Risseeuw Ten Kilograms, 2004