JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Friday, July 31, 2015


I want to share with you the lesson of the snowflake. Individually it is the lightest, most delicate, fragile thing in the world. It takes over 22,000 snowflakes to add up to a pound snow. A cubic foot of snow can weigh over 62 pounds. And 10 inches of fluffy snow floating down to cover an acre of ground weighs over a ton. 
And if you keep piling up snowflakes for something over 800,000 years, which has happened in Greenland, you get rivers of ice - 53 glaciers on the world's largest island. Winter after winter, century after century, for perhaps 15,000 years, the gentle, ethereal fresh snow compresses the older snow beneath it, until 50 feet below the surface it becomes solid ice, and 2 miles down it crushes the water molecules so their oxygen-hydrogen bonds lock together in long bands, making glacial ice sharp blue and hard enough to crush human lives.
The fastest of Greenland's “tortoise rivers” , the Jacobshaven glacier begins 300 miles from the western coast, at a 50 mile arc of 11,000 foot high snow ridges, 42,471 square miles of compressed snow flakes, fed by 118 inches of new snowflakes a year. The base of this 2 mile thick ice machine is lubricated by a thin sheen of melt water against the bedrock, allowing the glacier to be squeezed like toothpaste from a tube, rushing 40 miles to the coast at 70 – 110 feet a day toward the 3 mile wide Jacobshaven Fjord.
As late as 1983 the ice did not stop when it reached the water. Marine biologist Richard Brown could write, “The tongue of ice grows into a long, floating slab, anchored only by the hinge of ice at its landward end. But the hinge becomes more and more precarious as the ice pushes farther out and the tides begin to work on it, up and down, twice a day. The cracks...soon become crevasses....at last... the deepest crevasse breaks through with a roar which echoes off the sides of the fjord like a mountain in labor. 
"The slab crashes off the face of the glacier, scattering seabirds as it goes. A surge of water, three feet high, runs ahead of it and batters its way along the walls of the fjord. The ice berg is launched.”
It is called “calving”, and the 36 mile long fjord is jammed with thousands of newly born bergs, big and small, that scrape against the edges and bottom of the inlet. With the arrival of autumn, the air atop the ice sheet “...comes rushing down the fjord in a hurricane wind....(and) the bergs begin to move...until they are drifting almost as fast as a man can walk....grinding, jostling past the little port of Jackobshaven (above)  and out into the sea at last.”
Each year western Greenland produces 25- 40,000 icebergs, averaging 5-11 million tons each. Sunlight melts the surface, while the colder sea water protects the body of the berg. The berg becomes unbalanced, and repeatedly rolls over, offering a fresh face for the sun to attack. The bottom of Baffin Bay is coated with gravel and rocks scrapped off the hidden mountains of Greenland and dropped from rolling bergs like pennies slipping through a hole in your pocket. A few of hundred of these islands of fresh water ice in a salted sea make it through the Davis Strait and into the North Atlantic, to be shepherded south by the Labrador current.
This particular berg has battled storms and seas that would have destroyed anything made by humans. But now, on a moonless night, the berg is approaching a border. The ocean has gone calm and placid. The air, at the very center of a high pressure area, has gone still as well, the pressure so high there is no fog. Close to the water surface a faint obscuring mist has gathered, held down by the gulf air.
Approximately 380 miles south-south east of Cape Race, Newfoundland, in a meandering, swirling collision, the cold southbound Labrador water overrides the northbound warmer - up to 68 degrees Fahrenheit warmer – Caribbean air, heated by the approaching Gulf Stream current. And then, out of the still dark, flickering lights appear over the horizon, and quickly grow brighter and steadier. An object is approaching. It is dwarfed by the 2 million tons of the remaining berg, 200 feet long and 140 feet above the water line, meaning perhaps 1,000 feet below. 
A human witness, on board the approaching object says it resembles “the Rock of Gibraltar”. The human object was less than a thousand feet long, and sat just over 100 feet above the water. But is moving so quickly, pushing 52,000 tons of sea water aside as it plows through the water at 20 knots – 23 miles an hour, in a most unnatural straight line, on a collision course with the berg..
Abruptly, the object begins to emit noises, first clanging and then shrieks. The tenor of its thrashing changes. At last it begins to swing away from the ice, slowly, as if distracted by a voice faintly heard. But it is not enough. The berg feels the shudder of contact. But the human forged metal is no match for the glacier ice, compacted over a thousand years by hundreds of millions of tons of compressing snowflakes. The metal bends ever so slightly. A chunk of ice snaps off the surface of the berg, and shatters on to the deck of the Royal Mail Ship Titanic.
The iceberg rocks a little from the force of the impact, spins a little, and keeps on drifting southward, changed only by a smear of red and black paint along one of its sides.”  The Titanic stops not far from the collision, and begins to make new sounds, and shed small pieces of itself. Then, within four hours, the Titanic is swallowed by the sea.
At dawn the next morning, another, even smaller object, approaches the berg. She is the R.M.S. Carpathia, soon to be joined by other similar objects. And for a few days the berg is surrounded by small human made objects. On one of these, the Russian-East Asiatic Steam Ship Birma, First Officer Alfred Nielsen takes a photograph of the iceberg (above), one of only three confirmed and mutually supportive photographs of the iceberg blamed for the loss of the R.M.S. Titanic. Then, one by one the ships move away. And for a time the berg and the detritus of the collision float together,  southward in a warming Labrador current..
Eventually, this berg crosses the border, “...a boundary between the cold, gray world of ice and seabirds and the warm blue one of flying fish and Sargasso weed. The sea on the other side is (41 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer, in a matter yards.”. As Richard Brown would later write, “The ice berg goes no further south than...300 miles north of Bermuda, and then it is nothing.”
The particular iceberg held responsible for sinking RMS Titanic, and drowning 1,500 human souls, was unusual. Of the 25,000 to 40,000 icebergs calved by the west Greenland glaciers each year, few make it into the North Atlantic. At least 1,000 icebergs crossed through the Davis Strait in 1909 and in 1912. 
That number was not equaled again until 7 years later - 1929 -  which saw 1,300 North Atlantic icebergs. It was not 15 years later - 1945 -  that number was equaled. But 22 year later - 1972 -  saw 1,500, and 1,300 in 1982, 10 years later. Just 2 years later, - in 1984 - there were 2,200 sited, 1,000 again one year later, and 1,900 12 years later - in 1997. 
The very next year - 1998 -  there were 1,300. A decade later there were another 1,000 Atlantic icebergs and over 1,200 in 2009.  The glaciers of Greenland have been calving bergs at increasing rates. The iceberg that “sank the Titanic” was an early warning of what humans were doing to the planet we depend upon for our breathable air and drinkable water.
The Jacobshaven has been in full retreat since 1850. And still we have refused to listen to its warnings.
Since 2003, the Greenland ice sheet has lost 10 billion tons of ice - each and every year. The Jacobshaven glacier has lost 15 feet of thickness every year, and in the last six years - since 2010 -  has retreated another 3 miles up the fjord. Once back on land, there will be no more icebergs from the Jacobshaven glacier, only a flood of fresh water. No longer will the ocean have to wait while the icebergs melt before their salty water is diluted. It is a tipping point, as if the berg was getting ready to roll over for the last time. After that, things speed up.
It will be a moment even a United States Senator, holding a February snowball in his hand, will not be able to deny.  The lesson of the snowflake is that small things eventually add up to very big things.  But, if you wait until the big thing is visible and obvious, it is usually too late to change course..
- 30 -
Note: All quotes from "Voyage of the Iceberg", the story of the iceberg that sank the Titanic"
By Richard Brown.  1983. James Lorimer and Company, Toronto,  Canada. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


I find it odd that although almost every American knows his name, almost no one knows he invented a device you use - we all use - several times a day. His father, the senior John Harington, was an acquisitive accountant, who for ten years relieved the King of money intended to feed the starving Royal army. Instead, Harington piped the funds into his own accounts, to buy a poo-pourri of properties for himself, far from suspicious noses - estates such as Oakham, Lordshold, Burley, Exton, Ridlington, Cottesmore, Stretton, Clipsham, Greetham, North Luffenham and Leighfield Forest . But these feculent felonies came to an abrupt end in 1548 when a religious fanatic named John Bradford turd him in, and Harington had to wash his hands of some of the money. His bum deal got worse in January 1549 when our patriarchal hero was arrested for treason, because of the stupidity and treason of his boss, Sir John Seymour.
Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
It took two swings of the ax to separate Seymour's treasonous head from his shoulders, but it proved even more difficult to taint John Harington as privy to any of Seymour's reginacidal plots. Harington was finally discharged in the spring of 1550, still holder of his properties, which were earning almost £6000 a year in rents. Out of power, Harington gambled, and inserted himself in the household of 15 year old Elizabeth Tudor, even writing her poetry when Bloody Queen Mary locked the Protestant princess in the Tower of London in 1554. Harington was ecstatic when Elizabeth was released a few months later, but I doubt he gave a shite when Bloody Mary sentenced his old servant, the moralistic John Bradford, to burn at the stake in 1555 (below)
Said he could wish, and did (as for his part) All Cuckolds (drown) in the Thames, with all his heart. But straight a pleasant Knight replied to him, I hope your Lordship learned how to swim.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
In 1559, John Harrington senior married Isabella Markham, Maid-of-Honor to now Queen Elizabeth Tudor. As a wedding present Good Queen Bess gave John an estate called Stoughton Grange (above), about 70 miles northwest of London. In was a small compared to those he had acquired with his ill gotten booty, but it was the royal thought that counts. Then, in 1661 Isabella Harington gave birth to a son, John junior, and Queen Elizabeth pledged at the boy's christening to stand as God Mother for her “Boy Jack”.
Best fishing in troubled waters.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
John Harington junior (above)  was educated in the law, but when John senior died in 1582, the ambitious and handsome young man dropped out of school and concentrated on becoming a success at court, where everything depended on Elizabeth's mood. He once wrote to a friend, “The Queen doth love to see me last (jacket) and said “Tis well enough to be cute." I will have another made liken to it.” Rising and falling by his wits and his poetic wit, he was alternately famous and infamous at court for his clever risque poetry and epigrams. After ten years of such effort John decided his family had passed through the sphincter of history , and come out smelling like a rose. And in 1596, John decided to share with humanity what he had learned in the passing.
A Courtier, kind in speech, cursed in condition, Fell to a flattering and most base submission, Vowing to kiss his foot, if he were bidden.My foot? (said he) nay, that were too submissive. But three foot higher you deserve to be kissing.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
John's most lasting work was titled “A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of the Ajax” - the Greek hero whose constipated ego (“No man but Ajax can conquer Ajax!”) drove him to fall on his own sword. According to John, the name Ajax was a synonym for “A Jake”, meaning a joke, and so often referring to toilet gags that the name became pseudonymous with the toilet itself. John noted in his essay on Jakes, “...many had recognized the problems of “a stinking privy” but little had been done to correct it” So in his little book John progressed from documenting “privy faults” to suggesting improvements to “privy vaults” - to the design of the Jake itself.  John believed that if he built a better toilet, the world would beat a path to his bathroom door.
New friends are no friends; how can that be true? The oldest friends that are, were sometimes new.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
John's instructions for a better toilet, what came to be called a “water closet”,  were relatively simple. “In the privy that annoys you, first cause a cistern... to be placed either in the room or above it, from whence the water may, by a small pipe...be conveyed under the seat in the hinder part thereof ... to which pipe you must have a small cock or washer, to yield water with some pretty strength...Next make a vessel of an oval form, as broad at the bottom as at the top...place this very close to your seat....” Even John had to admit that his water closet was not a radical new invention, writing   “...it is but a standing close-stool easily emptied”. But, “..this being well done, and orderly kept, your worst privy may be as sweet as your best chamber.”
Fair, rich, and young? How rare is her perfection, Were it not mingled with one foul infection. I mean, so proud a heart, so cursed a tongue, As makes her seem, not fair, nor rich, nor young.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
The book was immediately popular, and went into three printings. I can even imagine Queen Elizabeth (above), reading John's book while sitting on the flush John she had installed in her palace. But she thought John's John too noisy - it frightened her. And the book was also a failure as a sales tool for flush toilets.. You see, John was not a plumber, he was a poet. To poets, everything is an analogy, even poop. So John spent most of his book drawing the analogy between the sewage that clogged the Thames River, and the sewage that clogged the Queen's court. John considered his political opponents literal shits. But Queen Elizabeth had learned at an early age that to keep her head she could never completely trust or completely offend the powerful and wealthy egos constantly maneuvering for her affections. And John's “New Discourse” had offended too many. She ordered her “Boy John” to leave her court.
Fortune, men say, doth give too much to many: But yet she never gave enough to any.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
John was allowed back in a few years. Elizabeth could never stay mad at her “saucy Godson” for long. But neither could she trust him for long. Sent to keep an eye on an Irish military expedition headed by the Earl of Essex, John accepted a knighthood from the ambitious Earl.  The expedition was a failure, and Elizabeth suspected a plot was brewing. Essex was thrown in the Tower, and John was once again exiled from court.
Faustus finds fault, my Epigrams are short, Because to read them, he doth make some sport: I thank thee, Faustus, though thou judges wrong, Ere long I'll make thee swear they be too long.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
When good Queen Bess died in March of 1603, she was succeeded by James I, the son of Elizabeth's greatest rival, Mary Queen of Scots. John Harington tried to attach himself to the new king, but it was a bad fit, and he was never invited to court.. John Harington, inventor of the flush John, died in 1612. He left behind nine children. But his invention of the flush toilet never caught on because he had solved only half of the number one problem, which is where do you put number two. If humans were ever going to return to the Garden of Eden toilet, they must solve both halves. The pipe that carried the poo from the loo, would have to end someplace - meaning someplace else.
From your confessor, lawyer and physician, Hide not your case on no condition.”
Sir John Harington 1561 - 1612
- 30 - 

Sunday, July 26, 2015


I don't want to call the lady a liar, but I don't believe any of the stories Priscilla Grinder told about that night.. Maybe she was exhausted from another day of drudgery and wallowing in filth. Maybe she was drunk. Maybe she spoke out of fear of her husband, Robert, or of someone else, or maybe she concocted the unbelievable stories to cover her own sins. But whatever the truth was, I simply do not believe this woman heard two gunshots shatter the early morning darkness, heard her only guest begging for help at her door and never investigated. In short I can not say exactly what occurred that pitiless night. But maybe it was murder.
Grinder's Stand, as it was called, stood along the ridge route called the Natchez Trace or “The Devil's Backbone”. The road - to give it a generous title - began where the first high ground above New Orleans, touched the Mississippi River, at a human den of inequity called Natchez. Following ancient buffalo trails "The Trace" then meandered through a dense macabre forests 445 miles, twenty days by horse and foot, to Nashville, Tennessee, where it joined Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road to the east. Under the progressive President Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. Army was set to work clearing the trace to 8 feet wide and removing all tree stumps above 16 inches tall, so "The Trace" could be used by high riding Conestoga wagons. But each stream and river still had to be forded, even if the traveler could afford to pay a toll along those short parallel sections improved by local entrepreneurs
In 1802, when Louisiana was still French territory, the customs house in Natchez reported a million dollars worth of tobacco, flower, hemp, cider and whiskey on its way down the Mississippi to New Orleans. By 1804, after the Louisiana Purchase, "The Trace" saw as many as 1,000 travelers a year -  the crews of flatboats and rafts returning home on foot with their profits. And where there are profits, there are those who would steal them. Each ominous river and stream crossing on "The Trace" was reputed to be the unmarked graves of boatmen who had been set upon by gangs of “Land Pirates”. There was no law on "The Trace". And while the level of violence never approached the legends, meeting a group of strangers at an isolated ford or forest clearing, or blind turning in the trail was still be an unnerving experience.
Robert Evans Grinder and Priscilla Knight were each born within sight of Moore's knob (above), the 1,700 foot high granite mountain that looms over Stokes county, North Carolina. As teenagers they ran away together, and in 1799 were married in Nashville, about the time their daughter, Parthenia, was born. They were living examples of the new nation, young, illiterate, hard working and hungry to succeed.
So as the soldiers hacked and sawed their way south along "The Trace", the Grinder's followed. And in 1807 they came to the Tennessee “Barins”, high ground between the Duck and Tennessee Rivers, sixty miles southwest of Nashville. Here the Grinders enlarged and hacked out a couple of clearings amidst the oaks and dogwoods. Back in the woods they planted corn and rye, built a cabin, and a barn and a stable. In a clearing along "The Trace" they built three one-room structures. Two stood at right angles to each other, their front doors opening on "The Trace". The third building was a detached kitchen, and stood behind the first two. This was Grinder's Stand, one of seven such “Stands” along The Trace in 1807, where for thirty cents you could rent a bed or part of a bed or just a roof for the night. For a few cents more Priscilla could supply a bowl of warm gruel. But after a toll road by-pass opened, the Grinder's income dropped off. So the Grinders depended on their fall-back industry, selling corn mash whiskey to the Chickasaw Indians, whose nation's border lay just a few yards beyond Grinder's Stand's front door.
This failing wilderness hostel was unexpectedly confronted by a tall, gaunt man who materialized out of the gathering cold rainstorm, in the dusk of 10 October, 1809.  Priscilla Grinder must have greeted him warily. Why was this man in an expensive blue and white stripped duster, traveling alone? Why had he not taken the bypass when he could obviously afford it? According to Priscilla, he tried to set her mind at ease by telling her that his two servants should be arriving shortly with pack animals. But that only added to the mystery. And if she had known her weary visitor was one of the most famous men in North America, it likely would not have eased her mind .  In God's name, why was such a man stopping at her door, seeking the sad comforts that she could offer?
- 30 - 

Blog Archive