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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….

Robinson’s Carosel

To many, science fiction is light sabers and hyperdrives and space battles and other mind-numbing eye-candy.  Yeah, it is fun to watch, but it misses the heart of good sci-fi, the consideration of just what we are and where we are going. In that world of (mostly) written science fiction, authors tend to land in a particular part of the landscape.  This is in part because of the effort taken to build their future worlds, and in part just how the author feels about things.  Pick up a Ben Bova book and you may find a heavy-handed government dominated by religious zealots in his future, but the focus is on cleverer protagonists who can outmaneuver such folk to reach an optimistic conclusion. There are fewer authors who really twist around their futures to see dramatically different sides. One of interest to us in earth science is Kim Stanley Robinson.

Read More…

Weird World of Books

Already have been amused by the rank listed at Amazon for GG’s new book, but now that the book is listed as shipping, there are several companies offering the book as used! Wow.  Where might these used books come from? Do they buy them wholesale somewhere and then toss them around a room or something? (The publisher is only just now sending copies to reviewers).  Such a strange business….

Crazy Circles

Perhaps one of the most confounding things about American politics are the assertions of things that simply are not true and firestorms of anger over actions that are nearly immaterial.  Most of the time, most of us come up against these so late in the game that we have no idea how such misperceptions could have started, let alone become so powerful. But at the moment, here in Colorado, we can watch a vicious circle close on itself.

As has been widely reported, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has requested voter data from states. Created, apparently, out of Donald Trump’s insecurity over his Electoral College win and popular vote loss, the commission is charged with ferreting out voter fraud; its initial request appears to be an attempt to identify voters registered in multiple locations. Many such voters exist and include Steve Bannon,  Tiffany Trump, Sean Spicer and Jared Kushner. Multiple registrations are legal, though voting in multiple places is not. At present, one kind of voter fraud that would not be caught would be voting in multiple states for a national election; thus the most likely fraud the commission could uncover would be people who have been registered in multiple states who vote for president more than once.

Set aside for the moment that the request itself is not capable of yielding data that the commission could reasonably use for its goals and instead focus on the chain of responses….

In Colorado, the Republican Secretary of State said he would provide the commission the publicly available information but withhold confidential data. Specifically, the datafile contains full names, addresses, political party, and voting history (meaning having voted, not what the votes were). The data provided is the same file that anybody can get from the state for $50. Indeed, it is far less informative than the numerous commercial databases that are out there for companies to use to try to sell you stuff. Public sharing of this information was defended by a Democratic County Clerk as important for democracy. So, no big deal, right?

Well, it should be no big deal, but not surprisingly, many voters were unaware that the state routinely shares such data. And of course a number decided their privacy was being invaded, or they were at risk for identity theft, or that the release of data was to be used for politically unacceptable purposes. And so a few thousand voters have asked to be removed from the list of registered voters. As these are probably Democratic leaning voters, you might think that the GOP would simply celebrate a possibly inadvertently successful partisan voter suppression action and go on its way.

But one good overreaction deserves another, and so some conservatives have concluded that these people are actually illegal voters.  Never mind that the Secretary of State (currently a Republican) in Colorado has actively investigated possible voter fraud and found a total of 18 cases since 2000.

So now there are Democrats who would say that the president’s commission is violating their privacy (when it isn’t) and Republicans who say that widespread voter fraud is now proven (which it is not).  And what is left of the rational part of the country is left wondering how we came to this point….

Really??

The Denver Post profiles a group of (apparently earnest) Flat Earthers. They say they are persecuted for their beliefs.  Note to group: “ridicule” is not “persecution” [though to be fair, no member of the group is quoted using the word “persecution”].  It doesn’t sound like thugs are showing up to break up their meetings, for instance. In an age when a group of students can launch a balloon with a cell phone high enough to record the curvature of the earth, and thousands of years after the Greeks got a decent estimate of the size of the globe, it is embarrassing (on multiple levels) to hear somebody trained in software engineering say “I can’t prove the globe anymore.”

If a few folks can believe this stuff, is it any wonder that more complex ideas face stiff opposition?