“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”
— from President John F. Kennedy’s “Race for Space” speech delivered before students and faculty of Rice University in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962.
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the walk on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, an event witnessed on television by people around the world. The achievement after a decade of hard work and dedication by NASA personnel was enormous, of course, and as a prestigious accomplishment in science and engineering it has not been topped in the 50 years since July 20, 1969.
The feature that stands out after a half century is how little the actual landings on the moon, by Apollo 11 and by subsequent missions, has mattered in the lives of people on Earth. It was all the technological and scientific discoveries and advancements made along the way to landing astronauts on the moon which have made the most impact on the lives of many people. Giving astronauts prominence before the public and making them integral to the Apollo program garnered public support while increasing the expense and difficulty of the missions. Having the Apollo astronauts bound around the surface of the moon for a few hours and gather up some rocks made a comparatively small impact on the wealth of scientific and technical knowledge NASA reaped from the program, while keeping up public interest and support.
“Earthrise”, a photograph taken by astronaut Bill Anders aboard Apollo 8 on December 24, 1968.
Of all the insights common people gained from the Apollo program, perhaps none made a greater impression overall than the famous “Earthrise” photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. In the foreground is what astronaut Buzz Aldrin would seven months later call the “magnificent desolation” of the moon, and viewed from a distance of about 240,000 miles, in a perspective never before seen by anyone on Earth, is the partially sunlit Earth, our home, appearing fragile and jewel-like in the black emptiness of space.
That picture and the emotions it stirred gave impetus and urgency to the environmental movement, and before the end of 1970 people around the world recognized the first Earth Day and in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency began operations. To strive for a decade to land astronauts on the moon, increasing knowledge and spurring progress all along the way, and then to have those astronauts turn around and look back toward the earth, sharing that view with everyone, that was perhaps the greatest legacy of the Apollo space program.
The opening sequence of the 1982 meditative documentaryKoyaanisqatsi depicts the Holy Ghosts portion of the Great Gallery pictograph in Horseshoe Canyon in Utah, followed by the liftoff of Apollo 11 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969. Godfrey Reggio directed the film, Ron Fricke was the cinematographer, and Philip Glass wrote the music. The title comes from the Hopi language and the film makes oblique and direct references to Hopi prophecies, or warnings; and while the Great Gallery pictograph did not originate with the Hopi, they believe it and other pictographs in the Four Corners region are the work of their ancestors and they hold them sacred.
It’s hard to fathom how far to the right Republicans in particular, and the country generally, have moved in the past half century that people are surprised to be reminded, or to learn for the first time, that it was the Republican President Richard Nixon who established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. To be sure, Nixon was no environmentalist, and his establishment of the EPA was in his view a way to steal thunder from his political opposition on the left, where the environmental movement had been gathering momentum since the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962. Nonetheless, he signed the necessary papers and backed the new agency’s initiatives such as the Clean Air Act.
Fifty years later, Republicans abominate the EPA and associated environmentally protected areas around the country. The latest natural areas to come under attack are Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both in Utah. The current Republican administration, at the recommendation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, wants to reduce Bears Ears by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 50%, opening up the areas taken away from them for commercial and recreational use. The executive order mandating the change pleased Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch a great deal. The changes will undoubtedly be challenged in court by private environmental protection groups and by Native American tribes in the area.
Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, a painting by Frederic Remington (1861-1909).
When President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act at the end of 1970, he did so in the White House in front of a painting by Frederic Remington called Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, which prominently featured Theodore Roosevelt leading his regiment of volunteers at the 1898 battle. It was not the most politically correct staging of the signing of an important document by today’s standards, considering how the United States merely replaced Spain as the colonial power overseeing Cuba, rather than liberating the Cubans as American propaganda had it at the time of the Spanish-American War, but for the period around 1970 that aspect may have been overlooked by most bystanders to the signing in favor of the possibly intended point of celebrating Theodore Roosevelt and his championing of environmental protection, a first for an American president.
Contrast that rather sensitive staging with the completely insensitive, tone deaf staging by the current administration of a recent ceremony honoring Navajo code talkers and their contributions to American military efforts in World War II. Not only did the ceremony take place in front of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, infamous for his hostility to Native Americans and for his authorization of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, known as the Trail of Tears, but the current president added a completely irrelevant snide remark that doubled as a smear of one of his political opponents on the left as well as Pocahontas, a Native American woman notable as a mediator with the English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, in the early 1600s. The current president apparently mistook his comment for wit, because he laughed, while very few others at the ceremony did. Paying attention to the current president’s remarks in person and on Twitter gives us insight into his character, but his actions and his choice and use of symbols speak louder than his words and tell us what he and his administration are actually doing to this beautiful country and its people.
Portrait of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, painted by Ralph Eleasar Whiteside Earl (1785/88-1838).
The Republicans have passed their tax bill in the House of Representatives, and next week it goes to the Senate for a vote. This week the Senate Finance Committee held hearings on the tax bill, and Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) became so upset with Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) criticism of the bill and of Republicans’ motives in trying to pass it, that he exclaimed “Bullcrap!” in response. “Bullcrap” seems to be a favored light curse among Republicans in public life. The last time the term made headlines was when a self-absorbed Republican representative from Oklahoma used it earlier this year to rebuke some critical constituents.
Senator Brown’s criticism of the bill was entirely accurate and to the point, which of course was why Senator Hatch called it “bullcrap”. No need to respond with strong language like “bullcrap” if Senator Brown’s remarks weren’t close enough to the mark that they might alert the slumbering masses they were about to be screwed so that a handful of wealthy people and corporations could stuff even more money in their pockets at the expense of everyone else. Like any old master at shilling for wealthy patrons, Senator Hatch understands that the game is pretty obvious to anyone who is halfway paying attention, even mainstream journalists, but it lacks decorum to point it out to the rubes, who must always be led to believe there is something in it for them.
An illustration of income inequality. Map by Stephen Ewen.
The tax bill plainly enough steals from the poor and gives to the rich. The question remains whether the Republicans will get away with it, not only by passing it in the Senate, thereby making it the law of the land once the Capitalist-in-Chief signs it, as he certainly will, but in the 2018 congressional elections. Americans have notoriously short memories, at least for the dry details of economics.
Orson Welles as the plutocrat Charles Foster Kane in his 1941 film Citizen Kane campaigns for governor of New York with the usual palaver about the “working man.”
The conventional wisdom says people vote their pocketbooks, but that has been disproved over and over again in recent elections. The wealthy vote their pocketbooks, but since there are relatively few of them and therefore their actual votes don’t amount to much, they open their pocketbooks to their favored candidates, who then convince the rubes to get fired up about social issues like gay marriage, and never mind that in the long run they are voting against their economic self-interest. Getting screwed by the very people who profess to be your friends has been a time honored strategy that works, just ask the Native Americans not long after the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrim settlers, and again and again to their misfortune through the years after that.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Salt Lake City Police Detective Jeff Payne may not know the law, but on July 26 at the University of Utah Hospital he was determined to do the bidding of his watch commander, Lieutenant James Tracy, who also does not know the law (making his order illegal), to draw a blood sample from the unconscious victim of a two vehicle crash so that police could determine whether he was impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash. Payne and Tracy were prevented from violating the constitutional rights of patient William Gray by Head Nurse Alex Wubbels, who informed them that it was against hospital policy, which follows the law, to allow police to draw blood from a patient without the patient’s consent, or without a warrant or the patient being under arrest. Ms. Wubbels’s line of legal reasoning did not set well with Mr. Payne, who grew frustrated with not getting his way and finally gave in to the temptation to abuse his authority by arresting the nurse, roughly slapping handcuffs on her, and frog marching her out to his squad car.
University of Utah Hospital in 2009. Photo by University of Utah Health Care.
Nurse Wubbels had to sit in the squad car for twenty minutes while police and hospital administrators sorted everything out, and then the cops let her go free. Ms. Wubbels held a press conference on August 31 with her lawyer, Karra Porter, where she showed portions of the police body camera videos from the July incident. The Salt Lake City police department placed Mr. Payne and another officer, probably Mr. Tracy, though they wouldn’t say, on paid administrative leave the following day. A paid vacation for behaving badly, usual police department internal procedure. Apparently the department hadn’t sought to discipline Mr. Payne at all before August 31, beyond temporarily taking him off the blood draw unit. If Wubbels and Porter hadn’t held their press conference and released the body cam videos, the police department and Payne and Tracy would most likely have gone about business as usual in short order. Now, because of all the stir this incident has belatedly created, they’ll have to wait a little longer. Ms. Wubbels has not yet pressed charges for assault and unlawful arrest.
Detective Payne apparently was claiming the right to draw blood without a warrant from the unconscious Mr. Gray under implied consent law, a police procedure which had been disallowed in Utah since 2007, and primarily used by police to gather evidence in drunk driving cases. Additionally, the Supreme Court of the United States in 2016 rolled back the part of implied consent relating to blood samples as too invasive. Police can still take breathalyzer samples without express consent. Payne and Tracy were either unaware of the change in the law or were so accustomed to rolling over hospital staff that the situation of a nurse challenging their authority had never presented itself to them before. In either case, the cops were in the wrong, making Detective Payne’s reaction even more outrageous.
A scene from the early 1960s television series Car 54, Where Are You? The dim witted Officer Gunther Toody, played by Joe E. Ross, is unimpressed by the discussion of high culture between his partner, Officer Francis Muldoon, played by Fred Gwynne, and the ride along cop in the back seat.
As a case of police brutality and abuse of authority this is small potatoes compared to what police perpetrate elsewhere around the country every day and without accountability. What makes this case notable is firstly the video evidence from the cops themselves, and secondly how the obtuseness of Mr. Payne leads him to escalate to violence what should have been a simple administrative procedure. Would it be too far fetched to ask that law enforcement officers know and understand the law? Is it too much to ask that they behave with adult restraint when they don’t always get their way? Who will ultimately pay the price for Mr. Payne’s ignorance and unwarranted belligerence other than the citizens and taxpayers of Salt Lake City?
Most likely he won’t have to pay a price, considering the way police are not held personally accountable. He may even get away with pleading ignorance of the law, an excuse the Supreme Court has recently ruled can be valid for police, even though anyone else who claimed ignorance would get laughed out of court. That’s why cops like Mr. Payne behave the way they do, because at the back of their minds they know they will get away with it. His accomplice in ignorance, Lieutenant Tracy, has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Columbia College of Missouri, and he is currently studying to earn a master’s degree in the same subject from the same school. Payne himself attended college at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, where he became certified as an emergency medical technician. Maybe these schools are diploma mills, or maybe Payne and Tracy are uneducable beyond passing tests necessary to jump career hoops.
Near the end of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan as The Wizard grants a diploma to The Scarecrow, played by Ray Bolger, while the other members of the adventure look on. Despite his newfound brainpower, The Scarecrow still recites a famous mathematics theorem incorrectly.
Or they could just be stupid. Mr. Payne also works as an emergency medical technician for Gold Cross Ambulance. In one part of the video from Mr. Payne’s body cam, he is chatting amicably with other officers, apparently unconcerned over how his bullying has made Ms. Wubbels distraught as she sits in the police cruiser several feet away, and he remarks “I wonder how this will affect my Gold Cross job. I bring patients here.” And another officer says “Yeah, I don’t think they’re [who? the hospital staff? Gold Cross? probably both] going to be very happy with it.” Mr. Payne then declares “I’ll bring them all the transients and take good patients elsewhere.” There’s a 2012 nonfiction book by the philosopher Aaron James that Mr. Payne could read in order to further his studies and perhaps gain some insights into himself, and it’s called Assholes: A Theory.
Hikers in the nation’s parks and wilderness areas can find themselves in trouble due to accident or an unforeseen change in the weather for the worse, but all too often some of them find themselves in trouble due to their own carelessness and poor judgment. When search and rescue teams are called in to help reckless hikers, who should bear the cost?
Looking at the demographics of hikers, the majority are middle class or higher, and compared to the population as a whole they are wealthier and better educated than the average. Most hiking expeditions require expenses in travel and gear over $1,000, and available leisure time that doesn’t take away from the basic costs of living. Poor and working class people don’t have the wherewithal or the time for trips like that to the great outdoors. Since many of them are involved in physically demanding jobs, they are also probably less inclined to see the appeal in hiking around the backwoods during their free time.
Recreation spots in the nation’s Southwest are the busiest year after year for search and rescue operations, and with record setting heat there this summer, the need for search and rescue is greater than ever this year. If it’s hotter than ever, why are there not fewer search and rescue operations necessary? Considering the dangers, are there not fewer hikers out on the trails? Are not ill-prepared hikers, in particular, heeding the warnings and staying off the trails? Apparently not.
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, an 1817 painting by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).
When well-heeled people set off on an adventure they have the resources and time for, no one should interfere or try to stop them. The National Park Service (NPS), to name one organization administering hiking areas, has no desire to get caught up in the liability nightmare of being responsible for the well-being of every person visiting the areas under their jurisdiction. Visitors are on their own for the most part, and signs and literature to that effect are evident everywhere. The NPS and other organizations regularly post warnings on the premises about various hazards, including excessive heat. Still, they are loathe to close down trails on very bad days because of the inevitable outcry from visitors. Visitors are using up vacation time, and they want the park’s services and areas to be open and accessible during the time they have available.
From the 1983 movie National Lampoon’s Vacation, starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, a scene set in the locale made famous by the director John Ford in his westerns, Monument Valley, on the border of Utah and Arizona. Warning: foul language.
It seems, however, that some hikers take a libertarian attitude into the park when they set off from the trail head, but adopt a socialist attitude later, when they are lost, dehydrated, and woefully unprepared for the worst case scenario. Oddly enough, in Europe, where socialist policies are more prevalent than in the United States, making unprepared or reckless hikers pay for their own search and rescue operation is the norm. In this country, New Hampshire has struck a balance between taxpayer-funded search and rescue and reimbursement from rescued hikers. Other states and federal organizations could follow the New Hampshire model. It is entirely better than the Wall Street model much in use now, in which people of decent means or better embark on an endeavor of their own choosing, outside of the course of merely obtaining a living in order to accrue benefits beyond that, and when things go well for them they say it was all their own doing and they are entitled to all the benefits, but when things sour they seek to shed the blame and share the losses.