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Who is a Geologist?

Its been mildly amusing to see the kerfuffle over Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s claims to be a geologist, which even caught the attention of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. Of course this isn’t helped by his obvious dedication to the field, as documented in his autobiography:

“I studied geology [at the University of Oregon] as a result of closing my eyes and randomly pointing to a major from the academic catalog, and I never looked back. I am just glad I did not find electronics.”

Some of the criteria mentioned in some news stories make GG wonder if he, too, is not a geologist (GG is not enrolled as a member in the American Institute of Professional Geologists or the Association of State Boards of Geologists as one story suggests as a criterion). While the CNN story on this correctly says Zinke never held a job as a geologist, other news reports simply say he is not a geologist. Is that fair? Read More…

Journalists…

Sorry, had to point this out.  Anderson Cooper was here at CU and said that…

…he doesn’t know of another profession that tries as hard to “get it right,” and correct itself when it makes mistakes.

(This according to a Daily Camera story, which we know must be right because they are journalists and try to “get it right”….)

Oooh, ooh, let GG try to see if there might be other such professions!

Um, science, maybe? ‘Cause that is kind of the definition in many ways.

Probably a lot of engineering (hey, let’s rebuild the Tacoma Narrows bridge the same way!).

Bet airline pilots try hard to get it right.

How about rocket science? When was the last time NASA blew up a rocket because of frozen O-rings? Just once, right?

Sure, there are lots of fields where the same mistake happens over and over (can we say “food poisoning” and “Chipotle” and find them together in news stories from multiple years?). But you do sometimes wonder how much journalists actually notice about occupations other than politician and commentator….

Charitable (Mis)givings

The end of the year or start of the new year is when GG decides to catch up on annual giving to his family’s favorite charities.  He has long resisted their attempts to get a free pass to take money out of his bank account every month, but one wonders if there might be a perk–namely, a lot fewer mailings with large type on the envelope about MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL ENCLOSED or DON’T LET YOUR MEMBERSHIP EXPIRE.  There is something profoundly ironic about organizations that nominally are out there to protect the environment sending enough junk mail to give the mail carrier a hernia.

Now GG doesn’t want to forget his favorite charities when he finally pulls out the checkbook to write an annual donation, so he dutifully plops each new missive in a stack with the older ones. And now, pulling them all out and sorting them, it becomes clear that some organizations assume we all suffer from profound mailing-attention-deficit disorder, or, um, MADDer. When the stack of mail is high enough to create avalanches that launch cats up the stairs, you know some of these organizations really need to reexamine their priorities.

Here is GG’s take: the more mail a charity can send, the less it needs GG’s support. Keep putting that lowest value checkbox a full $100 over last year’s donation? Watch as GG discovers the little blank space where you can write in your own amount–which will likely be the same as last year or even lower. So, charity fund raisers, a suggestion: Don’t run your organization like a spambot.  One renewal request is plenty; if a month or two later you don’t hear back, another request is fine.  More than that? Well, I know I’ll be hearing from you again soon, so maybe I’ll just toss all the requests in the recycle bin (and yes, GG has done this with at least one annoying charity).

So who wins the title for least obnoxious? For GG, it is a three-way tie: The League To Save Lake Tahoe, Sequoia Parks Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Conservancy.  Bravo, gang: only one notice in the past year each. You get the first checks, when GG still has a positive bank balance and a more generous outlook.  Close behind were Meals on Wheel Boulder (2 notices) and Community Food Share (3 notices). And for your assumption GG is not in need of near-daily reminders that he gave you money (or apples, in Community Food Share’s case) last year, you also get links from this blog post.

The worst? How about an organization that acts as a consumer watchdog, that is always decrying misleading advertising and yet chooses to entice you to donate to them with prize drawings? Yes, it is the Consumer Reports Foundation (which is hard to pry apart from the magazine).  Maybe their idea of subtlety has been distorted by looking at so much advertising nonsense. A couple of national environmental groups are close behind.

Something you might notice: the smaller charities with very specific goals aren’t so pesky.  Larger national groups seem more eager to inundate donors with mad alerts, upcoming renewal deadlines, renewal deadlines, “did you forget to renew” pleas, donate now for matching opportunity, special opportunity, special challenge, limited time special offer, or free gift inside! So maybe you too want to notice just how much attention your mailbox gets from the charities you like. (And as a reminder, for those national groups it is certainly worth looking through sites like CharityWatch to see if the cause is as good as it seems).

Memory Loss

As we all get older, we find it harder to remember things from the past (or names or words).  The same thing seems to be true of nations and their leaders–well, at least America (seems like some other nations cannot forget any slight). So as the generation that grew up in the Depression and fought WWII passes from this earth, we are left with a nation that has not known true economic devastation either from unbridled capitalism, as in the 1930s, or devastation from war, as US GIs witnessed in Europe. The result seems to be a delight in saber-rattling and glorifying the military at the expense of diplomacy and alliance-building, an unbending desire to remove all regulations, whether good or ill, from the private sector. It is easy to imagine plunging into some of the worst mistakes of the twentieth century by following such a course.

There are, perhaps, two cures.  One is to study history–not the hagiography of a noble nation that saves the world from tyranny, but to recognize the success and the failures.  To understand how the Marshall Plan worked when the League of Nations didn’t. To see the folly in restoring the French to Indochina after WWII and the Shah to the throne in Iran even as Nixon going to China and Reagan reaching an arms accord with the Soviet Union lessened world tensions. To really recognize the tremendous losses the Russian peoples suffered in WWII, which dwarfed the devastation even to the occupied Low Countries and France. To see Lincoln’s greatness as a war leader even as he failed to deal with atrocities against Native Americans. Even to discover that James Buchanan, whose South-favoring administration made the Civil War a near-certainty, gaining a backbone and choosing not to cede federal installations to states that seceded before Lincoln’s inauguration.

The other might well be cinema and perhaps television. Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice*, to name three WWII movies, bring home some of the horror of war in ways that books might fail. Watching these and similar movies is a far different experience than the anodyne violence of video games and some other media.  With many Americans becoming more isolated from members of the military who have experienced combat and suffered from it, the need for some kind of emotional reset is more necessary. Given too that modern wartime devastation is distant from the main tourist destinations, we need to viscerally understand the cost of war before bumbling into it. Americans should recall that the deaths in the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 were only about one tenth of the number of deaths on an average day during WWII.

War needs to be a last resort; regulations should not simply be a bad word. Those now leaving us learned these lessons the hard way so we wouldn’t have do.  Will we take advantage of their wisdom?

*well, OK, so two of these could also be understood as lessons in situations when the horror of war is justified.

Thanks

It is time here in the U.S. to have our national Thanksgiving Day, a day when ahistorical school reenactments, football games, and visits with overstuffed relatives vie with travel headaches, political arguments and Black Friday sales that start, um, on Thanksgiving to challenge the fortitude of Americans from coast to coast. And while trite, giving thanks for friends and family is worth at least a moment of our time.  But GG would like to suggest taking a giant step back and contemplate others deserving thanks.

We can give thanks that we have a voice in how our country is run, thanks to those who founded, nurtured, and protected our country.

Enjoyed time in a national park? Give thanks to those who fought to preserve those lands for your enjoyment.

Enjoyed watching the migration of birds? Give thanks that some lands, private and public, still exist in a state allowing these animals to continue to survive.

Enjoyed clear blue skies lately? Fishing in a clean river? Give thanks for those who fought for the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, for associated limits on pollution that made the air cleaner and the waters better able to support fish.

GG has more personal thanks, for a nation that has (generally) been willing to support the pursuit of science without the certainty of a specific reward. For colleagues willing to share time and resources, for students willing and eager to try something new.

You get the idea, and the list can go on and on–freedom to worship as you please, freedom to travel, freedom for most reading this blog from hunger.

But the last is thanks for the opportunity to pay it forward, to commit to doing the right thing even when it is hard. For it is well to reflect that tasks that today might be described as thankless might be the ones those in the future will thank us for.

Veterans Day

“Thank you for your service.”

This (or various permutations) is the phrase many letters to the editor, blog posts, editorials and social media messages are encouraging today (even a crossword puzzle!). But let GG tell a story…

Last summer, GG and his daughter hiked the John Muir Trail and met another hiker from Colorado named Nick.  Nick had a large American flag and Marine Corps flag hanging off his pack. He was on a personal mission to improve the lot of his fellow marines and other service members.  Each day he and a buddy would stop and do the “22 pushup challenge” to raise awareness of the prevalence of suicide among veterans, on a pass if they crossed one that day. We crossed paths a few more times, notably catching him and his buddy enlisting a Boy Scout troop in their pushups at Silver Pass. (Nick was a much faster hiker, but he and his buddy would head out for a day or so, giving us a chance to get ahead).

After the push-ups were done (Nick did 24, adding two for personal reasons), several of the adults came up and said to Nick “thank you for your service” before heading down the trail. And while GG chatted with Nick several times on that trip, not once did he utter that phrase.

Here’s why.

Nick was not there to call attention to himself. In fact it is unlikely many of those who spoke to him knew what he was doing.  He was advocating for connecting veterans with the outdoors as a means of healing them and cutting down on the number of suicides. He was showing what was important to him.

In fact, none of the veterans GG has ever known have sought recognition for their own service. For most, it was a phase of life and not what defined them.  Some, like the WWI veteran GG met in doing a field deployment, buried their service as an evil to be lost forever (he had burned his uniform and papers upon returning from that war). An uncle with a Purple Heart would never talk about his army days. They all knew they had done their part and answered their country’s call, voluntarily or through the draft. What they did often desire was support from the country to make up for the time or opportunities they lost or the injuries they suffered.

In an era of idolization of the military and empty but noisy patriotic tributes ranging from giant flags to camo sports jerseys, lapel flag pins to, yes, easy platitudes like “thank you for your service,” the men and women who have served deserve something better. So the next time you meet a veteran, after you say “thank you for your service,” ask what we can do to help make up for her or his sacrifice. Maybe it is helping at a retirement home, maybe it is helping a campaign to get VA services closer to a community, maybe it is writing Congressional representatives to urge an end to the disgraceful delays in providing medical help to many vets, maybe it is supporting programs to reintegrate vets into civilian society. Maybe it is even just asking how they are doing.

Sometimes you don’t have to ask.  GG has a pretty good idea what Nick might want and so needs to get busy…

P.S.  If you want to give to charities supporting veterans, be careful. Consumer Reports has some guidelines and pointers to resources, but there are a number of charities claiming to support vets that mainly support telemarketing and administration. (For instance, see CharityWatch’s discussion of the accounting at the popular Wounded Warrior Project)

Why worry? (off topic)

OK, so GG is not a military student or a proper historian or anything like that…but can’t quite find the reassurance that North Korea-U.S. saber rattling is going to end well, which is the popular consensus. Why so glum? Because modern wars start when two sides misunderstand the others’ goals, and this seems quite possible here.  The precept of the “don’t worry” crowd is that North Korea’s main interest is survival. But is it?  If it is only survival, then having a nuclear weapon they can shoot at Seoul or Tokyo is quite enough.  Why push to have one they can shoot at the U.S.?

What North Korea has said in their internal propaganda is that they want to reunify Korea under the North’s government. They have a huge army (twice the size of South Korea’s), so they might well think they could win a ground war if only other nations stayed out. How to keep the U.S. out? Simple: threaten nuclear retaliation.  Keep out of our little war and you get to keep your big metropolises. Hence the ICBMs.

This would be a grave miscalculation as what keeps the U.S. from a military strike is the prospect of a conventional assault on Seoul; the moment North Korea decides to launch an assault, the U.S. and South Korea would try to decapitate the regime and attack any recognized launch facilities. So why would North Korea make such a miscalculation? If they decide the U.S. is all bluster.  Repeated empty threats from the U.S. would encourage such thinking. And if they make this miscalculation, they would probably decide to launch the moment they see the U.S.A.F. heading their way.

Hopefully this is all wrong and all Pyongyang is up to is a new level of their old game of threaten in order to get something in return. But it is hard to look at playing with such high stakes–and looking at the behavior of the players involved–and not get nervous….