American Elephants

Local News, National Reprecussions. by The Elephant's Child

Exciting times in Seattle. Not only has Seattle’s U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star diverted to the rescue of the climate scientist publicity seekers, the crew of the Russian ship Akademic Shokalskiy, which may turn over in the ice, the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) which is stuck, and then heads on over to McMurdo Sound to break a channel through to our researchers there.

Seattle has its own “big dig”, as it tries to dig a tunnel along the waterfront to replace an elevated roadway (The Alaskan Way Viaduct) along the waterfront that was an annoying eyesore for the expensive condominiums and high-priced office space that marred the view of Puget Sound and the Olympics. This has been a years-long battle between those who were concerned about cost and efficiency and those who owned the aforementioned property. The tunnel machine “Big Bertha” stopped working on December 3, when its cutting teeth hit an immovable object.

The object, subject of much speculation turned out to be a 119-foot steel pipe left buried in 2002 by one of Highway 99’s own research crews. So essentially the Department of Transportation neglected to tell the Department of Transportation that there was a long 8 foot diameter steel pipe there, meant to measure groundwater for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project. Now they have to decide what to do and how much it’s going to cost.

In the meantime, the Machinists Union finally, on Friday accepted a contract proposal from Boeing management by a slim 51 percent. The local leadership was sure that Boeing was bluffing and would not pick up their airplane business and take it to a more friendly business climate, and did not want to allow their membership to vote. Politicians and officials were pretty sure that Boeing was really, really tired of negotiations with the International Association of Machinists. Boeing will build the 777x jetliner in Everett and its wings will be fabricated nearby by Boeing machinists. Boeing was founded in Seattle and remains a major employer in the region, though company headquarters picked up and moved to Chicago a few years ago.

In an economy that has not recovered with millions of unemployed, bureaucratic bumbling and unions demanding ever more money and ever more benefits, things are going to get a little more tense, if not a lot more. Businesses will pick up and move. Overly costly employees will be replaced by robots. Government’s excessive regulation and general ignorance of economics and free market principles will play out on local battlefields with national repercussions. It’s a time when we can ill-afford an ill-informed public.

Antarctic Adventures Can Become Addictive by The Elephant's Child

1928: The cutter Bear, used by U.S. Admiral Richard Byrd on an expedition to the South Polar regions. (click to enlarge)

The Week has assembled a group of historic photographs of icebreakers here, from a much longer historical photography collection from the U.S.Coast Guard, showing icebreaking since the mid 1800s. You start getting interested in the Arctic and Antarctic, and explorations and rescues, and first thing you know, you’re collecting every book you can find about Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton’s Antarctic explorations and the Endurance, and then you get the 2002 Kenneth Branagh film (excellent) and books about the incredible expedition and examples of leadership, survival and courage, and you’re hooked.  You’ll be ordering up the whiskey reproduced from the Scotch Whiskey buried for a hundred years, in Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition Hut. There’s even a book about that.

The International Icebreaking Competition by The Elephant's Child


The more you read about the case of the climate scientist’s Antarctic publicity stunt, the more interesting it gets. The Seattle-based U.S.Coast Guard Polar Star is intended for servicing the National Science Foundation’s research stations at McMurdo Sound. It is a 339 foot powerhouse whose engines can deliver 75,000 horsepower. Its recently completed three-year overhaul cost about $90 million. With its specially designed hull, it can continuously break 6 feet of ice while moving at three knots, and break through a two-story wall of ice by backing up and ramming. It left Sydney, Australia on Saturday morning, and is expected to reach the icebound ships — about 1,500 miles south of Hobart, Tasmania — about January 12. Senators from Alaska and Washington State have requested funding for four new heavy duty icebreakers, but funding is not yet forthcoming. Polar Star is currently the only one in service, its twin Polar Sea is currently out of service, waiting for funding for refurbishing. And Australia is planning a new icebreaker. The Russians are building the world’s largest universal nuclear-powered icebreaker capable of navigating in the Arctic and in the shallow waters of Siberian rivers. The unique vessel will further increase Russia’s dominance in the region. It will be finished in 2017 and will be the highest ice class — 9— meaning that it can crack ice fields 3 meters thick, in the Arctic all year around. Atomflot has announced a $2.5 billion tender for the construction of two similar class icebreakers to be delivered sometime between 2018 and 2020. Nuclear powered ships cannot operate in the Antarctic, by law. The Russian military abandoned the Subarctic along the Northern Sea Route on the collapse of the Soviet Union. In September Russia’s Defense Ministry officially announced return of Russia’s military to the region, with a task group of 10 warships and support vessels to the western coast of Kotelny Island in the Novosibirsk Archipelago. They left the port of Severomorsk and had already covered 2,000 nautical miles crossing the Barents, Kara and Laptev seas.

“We have come, or rather permanently returned, to where we belong, because it is originally Russian land,” said Army General Arkady Bakhin, Russia’s First Defense Minister.

The inactive military airfield on Kotelny Island is being reopened and modified, and the air connection will be regular, all-weather and year around. The Arctic seabed is believed to contain vast oil and gas resources. The five nations that border the Arctic Ocean — have bitterly disputed how to divide up the region. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, an economic zone belonging to a state is limited to 200 miles from the coastline, but the area can be extended if a country provides evidence that the continental shelf is a geological extension of its territory. The Russians have organized several expeditions to prove that an underwater Arctic mountain range, the Lomonosov Ridge is part of its own landmass, planting underwater flags by submarine. By 2020, Russia plans to deploy a combined-arms force — military, border and coastal guard units — to protect its economic and political interests in the Arctic.

Russia may lose its sovereignty in about 40 years if it fails to clearly set out its national interests in the Arctic, believes the country’s Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. … In his words, by the middle of 21st century the fight for resources between different states will turn completely “uncivilized.”

Vice Prime Minister Rogozin clearly believes that a warming climate will send everyone to the Arctic in a battle for resources. On the other hand, Russian scientists believe we may be in for another Little Ice Age, lasting one or two hundred years. ADDENDUM: The Xue Long and the Akademic Shokalskiy have notified the Australian authorities that the ice has opened up and they no longer need assistance. The Polar Star will proceed on to McMurdo, their original mission.

Al Qaeda Takes Fallujah, While Obama Plays Golf, Unconcerned. by The Elephant's Child

“A rejuvenated, al Qaeda-affiliated force has asserted control over the western Iraqi city of Fallujah on Friday, raising the black al Qaeda flag over government buildings and declaring an Islamic state in one of the most crucial areas that U.S. troops  fought to pacify before withdrawing from Iraq two years ago.”

Following his inauguration, President Obama withdrew troops from Iraq on the timetable agreed upon by President Bush. As the draw-down proceeded, it became clear that security would worsen  dangerously in the absence of American power. He refused to consider leaving even a small contingent of troops to help the young Iraqi government resist terrorist forces. The result has been an escalation of violence. Local tribes, Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-affiliated militants have been fighting for days in a confused and chaotic three-way war.

 “At the moment there is no presence of the Iraqi state in Fallujah,” a local journalist who asked not to be named because e fears for his safety. “The police and the army have abandoned the city, al Qaeda has taken down all the Iraqi flags and burned them, and it has raised its own flag on all the buildings.” The fighting has now spread to Ramadi.

Iraqi troops trying to retake Anbar province from a mixture of Islamist and tribal foes battled al Qaeda fighters in Ramadi on Saturday after shelling the western region’s other main city, Fallujah, overnight, tribal leaders and official said.

President Obama failed to secure a status of forces agreement in Iraq, and has expressed no interest in helping the beleaguered country. His original idea on coming into office seemed to be that all the problems in the Middle East were the result of the problems between Israel and Palestine. He would force an agreement between Israel and her neighbor, and that would end the problems of the entire region. Which seems to be what Secretary Kerry is up to. This is such a dimwitted supposition that it beggars belief, and shows no understanding at all of the entire region, but that’s what they seem to believe, and American foreign policy is the evidence.

Be nice if a few reporters asked some hard questions about the utter failure of his foreign policy, but that’s not what reporters do these days anyway. Perhaps the British press will ask the hard questions. They do a better job of it.

Disgraceful. Simply disgraceful.


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