Category Archives: Antarctica

The Pencil Today:


“Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.” — Eugene McCarthy


One more observation from the sad tale of Diane Singleton, who was found dead near a creek Monday evening after wandering away from home earlier in the day.

More than 100 people volunteered to search for her Monday. The volunteers included friends, family, her fellow church-goers, her husband’s co-workers and students, and many others. Once again, Bloomington-folk have proven themselves to be caring and willing to go out of their way for their brothers and sisters.

Searching (photo by Jeremy Hogan/Herald Times)

Which is in stark contrast to the likely reaction of people in my old hometown Chicago. Sure, the word would have gotten around and people would have shaken their heads and clucked their tongues upon learning of the woman’s disappearance. “That’s a horrible shame,” a typical Chicagoan would have said. “I wish I could do something to help. Say, let’s get over to the Purple Pig for dinner — I’m dying to taste those prosciutto escarole bread balls.”


A lesser human than I am would become frustrated.

Once again, the world is refusing to listen to me. I mean, I’ve got all the answers, which I gladly share with the Earth’s seven billion residents on a daily basis here.

See, I’ve harped on this too many times to count already. Still, people continue to waste their time and effort doing things that…, that…, well, that are stupid.

To wit: someone named Felicity Aston has become the first woman to ski solo across the Antarctic. I remind you that the Antarctic is more than a thousand miles wide. It is the world’s largest desert. Mean temperatures during the summer (it’s the equivalent of late July there right now) range from -5 to -31F.


Locations in Antarctica experience a phenomenon known as whiteout. Here’s a description from an Antarctica travel site (go figure): “”Whiteouts are another peculiar Antarctica condition, in which there are no shadows or contrasts between objects. A uniformly gray or white sky over a snow-covered surface can yield these whiteouts, which cause a loss of depth perception — for both humans and wildlife.”

Early explorers learned to keep an eye on their fellow travelers, looking for signs of disorientation due to hypothermia. People can literally go mad in the frigid air and the howling winds.

Bet you’re itching to click on that site so you can plan next January’s vacation, no?

It’s in this frozen hell that Felicity Aston decided to ski, alone, for 59 days, in order to get from one end of the continent to the other.

A continent, by the way, that’s fairly well mapped, considering there’s nothing there.

So Felicity Aston isn’t doing the world a favor by pushing into an unknown land, striving to discover new flora and fauna, hoping to learn something about the biome that might benefit civilization.

No. She skied 1,084 miles, dragging her supplies on a couple of sleds behind her because…, well, because.


NPR Morning Edition’s Steve Inskeep interviewed her this morning as she waited for the last flight out of Antarctica before the weather turns bad (turns bad?) for the year. She spoke of days when she was unable even to see her feet because of the driving snow. She could only keep her head down and watch her compass as she schussed across the ice shelf on those days.

Inskeep asked her if she was happy to get back to base camp and interact with people again after nearly three months of solitude. She replied, unsurprisingly, no. She did say, though, that she had to remind herself not to pee wherever she felt like it, as she did during her journey.

Nice of her.

At the conclusion of the interview, Inskeep told her, “Congratulations.”

Lucky I wasn’t the interviewer. I would have told her, “So what?”


Mitch Daniels gave the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress last night.

When it comes time for the GOP to select a vice presidential candidate in August, the party could do a hell of a lot worse than Daniels. They probably will.



Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few weeks, you know that David Baker celebrated his 80th birthday on December 21st.

The Indiana University and Bloomington communities have been toasting him since November. The Jacobs School of Music threw a gala birthday bash for him Saturday night at the Musical Arts Center. Speeches were made, Michael McRobbie presented Baker with the President’s Medal of Excellence, students and fellow faculty members serenaded him, a proclamation by Mayor Kruzan was read declaring January 21st David Baker Day in Bloomington, and the Jacobs School announced the establishment of the David Baker Jazz Scholarship.

Baker, natch, is a legend and one of the top people in his field in the world.

So, troublemaker that I am, I decided to check the Herald Times database of public employee salaries, just — you know — for kicks.

Baker, as near as I can determine, made nearly $147,000 as a professor in the jazz department at the Jacobs school last year.

Good. I’m glad he gets paid handsomely for his contributions to that peculiarly American art form. I hope that the residents of the planet Kepler 22b, when they finally translate our radio transmissions, hear some of Baker’s music. They’ll get a good first impression of our crazy, mixed up world.

And how crazy and mixed up is it?

IU football coach Kevin Wilson made half a mill last year for the singular accomplishment of leading the Hoosiers to a 1-11 record. Tom Crean, the basketball boss, made 600 Gs. Of course, Crean’s guys are a tad more adept than the gridders.

I’m just sayin’.


Miles Davis plays George Gershwin‘s tune from the opera, “Porgy and Bess.”

That’s all I need to say.

The Pencil Today:


Oy! Another week, albeit a short one.

Okay, let’s get it started with some trivia fun. Here’s the question:

Where in the world is the Isle of Langerhans?

You want to google it, I know, but hold off for a little while. Let Pencil fans from around the globe have a crack at it off the tops of their heads.

Then google it.

The first correct answer wins an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bypass Construction Zone.

The Grand Prize!

Hat tip to my old pal Andy Wallingford, Triviameister Emeritus of Wick’s Pizza-Goosecreek in Louisville, Kentucky, for the question.


Our first-ever Pencil Poll appeared Saturday. Our crack team of statisticians worked ceaselessly throughout the rest of the weekend in a valiant effort to keep up with the avalanche of responses. I’ve just been handed the latest results and they indicate a grand total of nearly two dozen people ventured their opinions on what should become of the various Occupy encampments around this holy land.

Man, no wonder the economy nearly came to a standstill over the last 72 hours!

Anyway, the majority of respondents want the camps to be left alone. Nearly a quarter of the fine folks who are loyal to this site think the Occupy people ought to do something more constructive. One person doesn’t care — in fact, that respondent doesn’t care so much that he went out of his way to answer an online poll to tell the world he doesn’t care. That’s certainty.

Oh, BTW: We got respondents from both coasts. And I’m not referring to the coasts of Lake Monroe. I mean the coast of the greatest nation in the history of humankind, this experiment in democracy, the United States of America.

Next goal — readers on all seven continents. In fact, we’re planning a marketing caravan to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica next year.

Watch us grow!

America’s Outpost In Antarctica


Oh, baby! This is too good to be true. Have you seen the pissing match between Alaska Rep. Don Young, a Republican, and the eminent historian Douglas Brinkley yet?

Brinkley actually lives out every thinking person’s fantasy when he goes toe to toe with the proto-human Young. The Republican Party has been trafficking in anti-intellectualism since the late 1970s when the Christian right organized to put a saint in the White House.

He’s In Heaven Now, With All Dogs And Randy “Macho Man” Savage

So, Congressman Young was attending a hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources, no doubt in his ongoing quest to allow multi-national corporations to sully every square inch of pristine wilderness in this holy land. Brinkley was testifying against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Young, natch, would prefer to see oil derricks are far as the eye can see there.

Suddenly, Young blows up at Brinkley. In fact, he’s so choleric that he calls him the wrong name and then…, well, watch.

Er, uh, don’t watch. I don’t know why, but C-SPAN won’t allow me to embed the video of the dramatic exchange. Maybe Rep. Young’s thugs got to the C-SPAN people (tee-hee).

Here’s my transcription of the Battle of the Century.

Young: “If you ever want to see an exercise in futility, it’s this hearing…. I call it garbage, Mr. Rice, that comes from the mouth….”

Brinkley: ‘It’s Dr. Brinkley. Rice is a university….”

Young: “Well….”

Brinkley: “You know, you went to Yuba College. You couldn’t graduate….”

Young: “I’ll call you anything I want to call you when you set (sic) in that chair!”

Brinkley: “Pardon?”

Young: “You just be quiet!”

Brinkley: “Why? You don’t own me! I pay your salary.”

Young: “I don’t own you but I’ll tell you right now….”

Here, the chairman tries to throw a bucket of cold water on the two baying dogs. Too late, they’ve got their teeth in each other’s necks.

Brinkley: “I work for the private sector; you work for the taxpayers!”

The chair continues to try to chill the angry Brinkley, who repeats his complaint that Young misidentified him and called his testimony garbage. The chair says the committee “see(s) a lot of people here and we make foo pahs.”

Well, that finally shut everybody up — for the moment. What on this green Earth is a foo pah?

Later, Young tears into Brinkley again, accusing him of living in an “ivory tower” and being part of the wealthy elite that sees Alaska only as their vacation playground. Young added — unnecessarily, I might add — that he is “pissed off,” presumably by smart guys, trees, wildlife, and perhaps democracy itself.

Anyway, go to C-Span to see this meeting of the minds. The exchange begins at 31:15 and lasts a little over a minute. My favorite part is the reaction of the blonde congressional aid whose eyes grow to the size of saucers when Brinkley tells Young, “you don’t own me.”

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