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News and Commentary for Antarctic Stations

Report an incident, forward a memo, or make an observation about the state of the station.
If you work in Antarctica, you are the eyes and ears of Frontierwatch. Anonymity assured.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

IRS: "Antarctica is Not a Foreign Country" 

From IRS publication 1525:

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Latest on the Tax Case 

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals does the math.

Antarctica is:

"a foreign country for purposes of the [Federal Tort Claims Act]."


"a foreign country for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).


"not a foreign country within the [the IRS tax code]."

Seventh Circuit to Antarcticans: Get the fuck back to work.

Here's a pdf of the decision, and an article on the ruling.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


BDP on myspace (w/ one new video).

Also, some photos on Flickr.

Friday, December 01, 2006

New Llanos-watch Section 

It seems reports of the swashbuckling MSNBC reporter are already coming in, so this is a good time to unveil Big Dead Place's new "Llanos-watch" section.

Send observations of the icy horrors faced by the intrepid MSNBC reporter to: nick AT

Whine of the Llanos 

The reporter of this juicy article from highlights the sort of whimpering correspondent NSF gets when they keep sucking up to the big media to fob their glorious science stories.

In the article titled, "Tough start to long journey to Antarctica", reporter Miguel Llanos whines about these things:

*His NSF escort didn't PQ, so Llanos and his photographer friend were unable to have someone "help us through any other bureaucratic hurdles"

*There was no in-flight video on the C-17 from Christchurch to McMurdo

*The interior of the C-17 didn't "help establish a comfort zone"

*After he landed he had to get on the Terra Bus right away, rather than standing around in the middle of the airfield

*The parka and boots felt like a "full-body straightjacket"

*He had to go to a housing briefing upon arriving in McMurdo

*His roommate snores

*And, after only a few hours on the ice, he's already feeling dizzy from the "long exposure to daylight"

To Mr. Llanos:

1) Most people don't get personal NSF escorts. Only journalists, and others from cushy offices who might cry if they don't get one.

2) C-17s are military aircraft. They sometimes go into combat zones packed with soldiers ready to kill the bad people. They're not going to show videos. And they're not built to "help establish a comfort zone" which, by the way, is really superb HR-speak. Maybe you'll fit in after all. Did you call the Firehouse to report your roommate for snoring yet?

3) Airfields are busy places. You're not supposed to just stand around in the middle of them.

4) When it's -100F and you're spending much of the day outside, the parka and boots are your friend. You're like a diver bitching that he has to wear an oxygen tank.

5) So you've been on the ice a couple of hours and you're dizzy from exposure to sunlight? May I tell you a story? Thanks. It's a "human interest" story about a guy named Douglas Mawson. Much like you, he had a tough start when he came to Antarctica for adventure. Much like you, he was a very long way from Redmond, Washington when things started to go sour. Much like you, he was exposed to constant sunlight. Unlike you, his companion fell into a deep crevasse with most of their food, his other companion went mad and bit off his own finger, then Mawson ate all his dogs and crawled hundreds of miles back to base to get stuck wintering with a crewmember so insane they had to lock him in a closet. The end.

6) Unlike all these other points, I sympathize with you about all the inane briefings and the PQ incompetence. I really do. It's a nightmare. Medical loses everything. One day someone will open a drawer and find a decade worth of all the lost urine samples and x-rays. And all rational people would trade places with Mawson to avoid another Safety or All-Hands Meeting. Please tell the world of the cruelty ravaged upon Antarcticans.


Send him to Happy Camper, show him a penguin or two, he'll fall in line and start eating from your hand again. They always do.

To Y'all:

If you got any good Llanos-sightings, send 'em on in: nick AT

Friday, November 24, 2006

Tax Case in 7th Circuit Court of Appeals 

Here's a link to the mp3 file of the oral argument on Antarctic taxation before the 7th Circuit Court.

(If that doesn't work, follow this link and find case number 06-1934 from November 6, 2006.)

Filmmaker Needs Video Help 

Seeking videographers at McMurdo Station to help document the scientific
project BLAST, a balloon-bourn telescope scheduled to launch mid-
December, 2006. We would like to document significant event leading up to
the launch, the launch itself, and events immediately following the launch.

More information about the project at

Please contact Paul Devlin, 212-677-8581,

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Tax Decision Delayed Further 

from the accountant:

Nothing from Tax Court - Appears at this late date the Judge will not get the decision out by the end of May.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Cool photos of the Terra Bus at the Transition from '99 

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

IRS Update 

I barely understand the latest memo (.pdf 46k) regarding the IRS vs. Antarctica case, but it looks like more of the same.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Peaceful International Cooperation 

As we know, in exchange for the American Welcome Mat at the South Pole (so the Russians could retrieve their stranded bi-plane), the Americans have been offered the services of a Russian icebreaker to better destroy the unruly sheet ice that has accumulated behind the gargantuan iceberg B-15A and that has made it quite difficult to bring in the yearly supply of fuel and chicken nuggets.

The greatest thing about goodwill and peaceful international cooperation is that every culture has its own cute and quirky little way of describing the infinite harmony and brotherhood of our selfless respective nations.

There's the press release by Novosti, the Russian News and Information Agency, in which the huge American supply ship is called a "motor vessel", the U.S. icebreaker is "unable to handle" the job, and so "the US authorities turned to the Russian government for help" in which the Russians offered their "larger" icebreaker. The press release is exciting, but we really need read no more than the headline:


Thankfully, there's more objective sources of information, notably, American ones, like the always-cheerful Antarctic Sun that describes peaceful international cooperation much differently. In startling contrast to the shady ex-Soviet press release, we find in the objective American news coverage that the Americans merely "contracted" the Russian icebreaker to "assist". FYI, did you know that this will be the first time that our Russian pals and us have "worked together" on icebreaking operations since the Cold War? Now back to you, Fred.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, December 30, 2004 10:17 PM

SK92 departed South Pole Station for McMurdo at 30DEC04 2026 Local (30DEC04
0726 Zulu). Estimated time of arrival is 30DEC04 2326 Local (30DEC04 1026

2. Pax on Board:
Total Pax: 9

3. Cargo on Board:
9 Passengers with handcarry 2790 lbs.
3 Green Survival Bags 135 lbs.



Sex and Mind-Altering Drugs Are Inappropriate for Nonexistent Children 

On January 7, 2005, a former editor of the Antarctic Sun (NSF's official newsletter of the USAP) wrote a letter to the current Sun editors, cc'd to the head of NSF's Office of Polar Programs, concerning omissions from a recent Sun story (.pdf) about the present retrieval of the Russian bi-plane stranded at Pole in 2002. The meat of the letter reads:

One fact is that the U.S. flew Russian Antarctic hero Artur Chilingarov and his group back to New Zealand and later billed the Russian government $80,000 for the "rescue" flight (see the Reuters report archived at

The other fact is that the announcement that Chilingarov would be allowed to recover his plane came at almost exactly the same time the Russian government announced it would send an icebreaker to help break into McMurdo Station. (See the Russian government's press release at

This has led to widespread international speculation - and indeed, in places, outright assertion - that the U.S. and Russia struck a deal trading the airplane for the icebreaker.

It is deeply unfortunate that the National Science Foundation, apparently, feels the need to censor legitimate, true information from readers of the Antarctic Sun. I hope an explanation will be forthcoming for this action, which clearly runs counter to the scientific principles of openness and honest inquiry.

Jeff Inglis
Editor, Antarctic Sun (1999-2000)
Editor and contributor, Antarctic Sun (2000-2001)
South Portland, Maine

Of further concern were some winning stories for the Antarctic Sun Writing Contest that were selected by a panel of Artist and Writer's Grant judges but either denied publication in the Sun or edited to suit NSF sensibilities, with this disclaimer printed in the Sun:

Literature often delves into areas that are
controversial or inappropriate for children and
government-sponsored publications. After
being selected by independent judges, five of
the winning pieces of writing were deemed by
the National Science Foundation as unsuitable
for publishing in the original format because
of something in the content of the story.

When his letter concerning the Russians and the Writing Contest was not published, the former Sun editor contacted Valerie Carroll, RPSC's Communications Manager, and writes:

She said NSF "handled it well" when the stories selected by impartial judges were found to have content regarding drug and alcohol use, sex and in some cases - most notably the fiction stories - were "totally fiction and silly."

The stories were censored to protect the readers of the Sun, she said, and not because "of any free speech concerns."

She said the NSF allowed the Sun to print that it was "all their fault" that the stories couldn't run, and allowed them to include the Web address where readers could find the original text.

In one story, the word 'goddammit' was replaced with symbols: "$#@!&*#$%!"

In another story, the words "coupled with mind-altering drugs" were removed before the story was printed in the Sun.

And three stories - one about drinking, one about sex and one about finding long-dead frozen explorers (that one, Val told me, was "very silly") - were barred entirely from the publication. Next year, she said, it's likely there will be no writing contest - just photos."

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Recent Events 

Oh sure, Sir Edmund Hillary has been badmouthing U.S. plans to build a crevasse-free route to the Pole; NSF is adamant that iceberg B-15A in no way threatens to hinder station resupply; and a backroom deal between the U.S. and Russia has been made in which the Russians will provide the U.S. with icebreaker support in exchange for begrudgingly helping the Russians retrieve their abandandoned thriftstore plane from Pole; but the really interesting news in McMurdo is this:

Sent: Tuesday, November 23, 2004 4:51 PM
Subject: Missing Bottles


There are some bottles of compressed gas missing from the Crary OSA area. This area is just across from the BFC behind the SSC.

Nitro Oxide - 200 lb cylinder x 1 - White

Pure Oxygen - 200 lb cylinder x 4 - Green without any white stripes

The cylinders missing are scheduled for science related activities and while all the bottles need to be returned, of greatest concern is the single bottle of pure Nitrous Oxide. Although this is used as a "Laughing Gas", in its pure form it is lethal and therein lies the concern. Would everyone please have a look around your work centers and if you suspect you have acquired it, please contact [Crary Lab].

[McMurdo Logistics Manager]

Monday, November 22, 2004

The Aftermath 

While many Antarcticans are presently enjoying the thrill and excitement of a new and promising summer season, a horde of spent winterovers are slinking back into society, meandering through the Botanical Gardens, basking on Fijian beaches, or spending thousands on gambling, booze, and strippers.

Forty-eight hours off the plane, as four unnamed Polees on surprisingly legal pills with a case of Heineken sat huffing nitrous oxide in an all-night head shop below a brothel, one of the gentleman relayed how he had not been off the plane for 24 hours before having a run-in with the Christchurch police. Walking down some questionable boulevard in the small hours, he was called over by four Maori blokes and invited to join them for beers on the street corner which, a short time later, the police arrived to take exception with. (Apparently, public drinking within "The Four Avenues" has in recent years become an infraction.) Fresh from a polar jail and now facing a clink more temperate, our hero explained to the Kiwi cops that he had only just arrived from a winter at the South Pole, and didn't know that this particular area was an alcohol-free zone.

Letting the South Pole adventurer off with merely a warning, the curious police asked "How cold is it down there?" as they arrested the other men and piled them in the back of the cop car.

Latest on the Tax Case 

From the accountant: ". . .our Attorney and the IRS attorney did meet with the Tax Court Judge for two hours. . . .At end the judge assigned issues to each to write a briefing paper on and to have back to the judge in 60 days which means Jan. 2005."

Monday, October 04, 2004

A Snowflake Primer is everything you ever wanted to know about snow, with an extensive collection of snowflake photos.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Adopt-a-Polie Program allows those in temperate latitudes to enrich the lives of those wretched Fourth-World beasts populating the South Pole.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

NSF Budget Request to Congress, FY 2005  

Ever wonder how much the icebreakers cost The Program in '04? ($6.7 million) Or the cost of transporting cargo and PAX? ($23.10 million) Or hiring the ANG? ($68.07 million) Or are you looking for classic quotes of omission?:

"...OPP and Raytheon continue to invest in methods to reduce injuries through, for example, safety training and awareness programs," which is of course translated on the ground into safety meetings on heatstroke when it's -80F outside, watching safety videos that remind us not to store pressurized gases at below -20F, and not going to the doc for fear your Sup will get in trouble.

If any of this interests you, you may want to check out NSF's 2005 Congressional Budget Request (.pdf 200+k).

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

"You are not mistaken! That is really any accessories toilet of womans."

Photo gallery from Ukraine's Vernadsky Station.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Got the winter blues? Unable to laugh like you used to? Try a visit to the Raytheon Business Ethics page!

" example and continuing diligence has created a company environment of respect and confidence that assures continuing high ethical performance..."

"...we must work according to our ethical principles and endeavor to conduct ourselves in a manner beyond reproach...."

"We treat others as we would want to be treated..."

"We are honest and forthright in our dealings with employees..."

Besides a slew of classic quotes, there's the Ethics Quick Test ("How would it look in the newspaper? Will it reflect poorly on the company?"), and don't miss the Raytheon Diversity Wheel!

Saturday, August 28, 2004

"A proposal for the new German Antarctic Station Neumayer-III..."

Friday, August 20, 2004

Remote South Pole Workers Trapped by Cold and Darkness, Denver Workers Trapped by Raytheon Security Doors  

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, August 19, 2004 3:50 PM
Subject: RE: Problem with Door Entrance Located on Ground Floor from the Kitchen Area

The below e-mail apparently has caused some confusion. The 'lever' referred in the original e-mail is the horizontal bar in the middle of the door. So the e-mail is changed to read:

Yesterday several of you were having a problem leaving the building when you used this door. I have had the motion detectors changed on the angle they are set on this morning. This should solve the problem, however if this happens to any of you again please send info to the Den-Helpdesk to issue a work order.

When this happens and you cannot get through the last set of doors when you are leaving you need to press the red push button and hold it in while pushing on the horizontal bar in the middle of the door (at the same time). The red button releases the electronic lock and pushing the door while depressing the red button allows the door to be opened. These push buttons have been recently installed and are located at all door entrance areas.

Manager, USAP Logistics

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Uh, August (drool) 

"...approximately 5% of winterover personnel experience symptoms that fulfill DSM criteria (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) for a psychiatric disorder and are severe enough to warrant clinical intervention (Palinkas et al., 1995; Palinkas, Glogower, et al, in press). . . . Even among those who fail to meet DSM diagnostic criteria, The Ice tends to magnify seemingly trivial events and symptoms, transforming what would be viewed as mundane or unimportant in any other environment into something that is problematic and significant under conditions of isolation and confinement."

from On the Ice: Individual and Group Adaptation in Antarctica by Dr. Lawrence Palinkas (originator of the T3 study: Antarctica's Number One Source for Little Blue Pills and Shiny Red Lights!)

190 x 5% = 9.5 nutjobs at McMurdo!
75 x 5% = 3.75 control freaks at Pole!

Celebrate August with a slow (or rapid!) descent into self-perpetuating madness!

Friday, July 30, 2004

Recently two South Pole workers were threatened with future exile. The charge? No one knows. After being fed the line by a manager that "there have been several complaints" about their "inappropriate and offensive" behavior, the following exchange was reported:

Worker: "I don't know what I did that was offensive to anyone. Tell me what I did so I won't do it again."

Manager: "That's not the issue here."

This peculiar justification of punishment for its own sake, presumably to maintain a no-nonsense environment, has been used by power-grubbing scoundrels since our great nation played host to mindless witch-hunters, and one can almost imagine a Salem dialogue identical in form if not in consequence:

Salem scoundrel: "You're a witch. My friends and I are going to burn you."

Worker pilgrim: "How am I a witch?"

Salem scoundrel: "That's not the issue here."

Of course, everyone makes an occasional poor judgment, even managers, and the incident would hardly be noteworthy were there not a trend of such incidents. For example, the line that "there have been several complaints" was once a solid tactic difficult to refute, but has with overworked usage become quite dubious.

Who are all these people complaining up the chain? I can think of perhaps half a dozen, no more. And if all those complaints are coming from those people, then is it not they who need to learn to adjust? Another popular theory is that the "several complaints" are actually complaints passed from one manager (or his significant other) to another and, as everyone knows, the complaint of a manager holds three or four times the weight of an average grunt's complaint. Thus by the time an employee hears of it, one high-powered complaint has reproduced into "several", much like the spawn of any small fish in a teensy-weensy pond. The most generous theory says that everyone is complaining about everyone else equally. In this case wouldn't an experienced manager just ignore all the bitching? Unfortunately, we are stuck only with these theories, as everyone knows it is managerially unfashionable to disclose the identity of a mole, and in this way threats of disciplinary action for vague reasons as illustrated above can continue to be wielded efficiently.

This leads us to another tactic that has proven quite effective in turning the once-mighty South Pole into merely a cultural annex of Denver. Though we all have heard that what happens on station ideally stays on station, the maxim has turned out in practice to be less a South Pole code that gives winter more comaradarie than a weapon to go after people for anything that somehow, in some way, might make it to Denver and thus bring down the proverbial hammer. What is apparently lost in translation is that one who busts someone for something that "might make it to Denver" is not acting as a Denver shield, but is actively bringing Denver to South Pole, changing the place in the process.

Recently someone sent a Pole-All email notifying everyone on station of a "No Cussing Contest" to take place on Saturday. The email contained a standard selection of filthy words that would be forbidden that Saturday, under penalty of a one dollar fine for each swear word uttered, the money from which would be used to fund a party after work that day. Using photos and cartoon-type talk-bubbles, the email had pictures of different crew members swearing and reminding each other to put a dollar in the kitty. Citing that if someone in Denver saw the email, he might get in trouble, the Station Manager wrote-up the woman who sent the email, and also wrote-up the woman who helped her with Photoshop.

In writing these women up, he attached to the documents the "No Cussing Contest" email in its entirety, all to be sent to HR in Denver, meaning this: in order not to get in trouble for an email that might offend Denver, the Station Manager is sending the email to Denver.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 8:28 AM
Subject: Massage Therapist Update

Unfortunately the massage therapist is unable to make it this morning. He is planning on reschedule for next Tuesday. I will sent out another update when I know further information.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Roughly fifty years ago, the geodesic dome was invented by Buckminster Fuller; the U.S. Postal Service has issued this stamp:

Here's photos of the top ten largest domes in the world.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

"An Antarctic research ship has been fitted with machine guns..."

Monday, June 28, 2004

A picture from space of the lava lake at the summit of Mt Erebus.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The LES-9 satellite has been commandeered from the USAP by the Department of Defense. That musty old satellite, that until now has served the progress of humanity by transmitting scientific data, facilitating comms, and serving up porn to hordes of frustrated winter males, has now joined the war effort. Farewell, LES-9.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

One of South Pole's construction crew has been instructed by the Station Manager not to play "inappropriate" music on the jobsite.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The South Pole Food Growth Chamber Project as described by the University of Arizona.

The Greenhouse That Doesn't Work as described by a Polee.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

NSF Press release: Television That's Good for You


"Supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), three of the most-viewed programs ZOOM, Cyberchase and DragonflyTV now share the airwaves with PEEP and the Big Wide World, a novel show that teaches toddlers to think like scientists."

"The mystery-adventure cartoon is a vehicle for teaching mathematics and problem-solving, with action centering around three kids and their avian sidekick Digit. . . .The kids use mathematics to foil their nemesis, Hacker. . ."

"Each weekly show introduces a new group of middle-school students from across the country as they conduct scientific investigations of favorite activities-from soccer-kicking experiments to studies of malformed frogs in back yards."

Friday, May 28, 2004

Raytheon Six Sigma Improves Health and Safety in the US Antarctic Program

"The total recordable injury rate was down 47 percent in the first six months of the project (savings of $273,000) and worker compensation claims were reduced by approximately $1.2 million for 2002."

(For commentary on these numbers from 2002, see The Scurvy Awareness Program.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Here's some photos from Black Island that illustrate why McMurdo will have no more TV signal for awhile.

Before storm

After storm

Monday, May 24, 2004

This winter McMurdo Medical has been answering community health questions in the form of a "Dr. Penguin" column that is periodically dispersed in stationwide emails. The most recent question was this:

Dear Dr. Penguin,

Help! Im having an awful time trying to get to sleep! I go to bed at night and have a hard time falling asleep. Then, when I do, I cant stay asleep. I wake up repeatedly during the night. This never happened to me back home. Im now tired and grumpy all day long. Im getting to the end of my rope. What can I do?

--Sleepless in McMurdo

The response from "Dr. Penguin" is a four page analysis of REM sleep, circadian rhythms, sleep hygiene, stress cycles, and sleep apnea, and will not be reprinted here. However, considering the April 10 medevac and the May 7 post (below), I thought these excerpts notable:

Dear Sleepless,

Im glad you asked. Youre not alone. Insomnia and sleep disorders are two of the most common medical concerns that have plagued Antarctic explores since humans set foot on the ice. And not just because of the harsh irritating fur of the reindeer sleeping bags! Never fear. We have solutions to your sleeplessness. . . .

Sleep deprivation can lead to fatigue and sluggishness during the day. Severe and ongoing sleep deprivation can lead to more profound symptoms, including poor judgment, decreased motor skills, and disorders of thought, including hallucinations and delusions.

Dear Dr. Penguin,

If insomnia has "plagued Antarctic explores[sic]" since the early days, and if sleep deprivation is scientifically recognized as leading to symptoms such as "disorders of thought, including hallucinations and delusions", then how do you know the difference between someone who's sleep deprived and someone who's schizophrenic? Is there a medical reference book that tells you if certain hallucinations and delusions (say, breathing walls and having the cosmos sprout from your wastebasket) indicate sleep deprivation while other hallucinations and delusions (say, the old camera-in-the-smoke-detector or God-is-watching-me-from-heaven classics) indicate schizophrenia?

On Roald Amundsen's first Antarctic expedition he swore that he heard a series of loud screams that no one else heard. On Shackleton's Endurance expedition, as he climbed mountains and slid down glaciers with his two companions, Shackleton wrote that he felt as if there was a fourth member of the party, a presence he couldn't explain. Presently at McMurdo and Pole, several winter subjects are involved in a study called "Prevention of environment-induced decrements in mood and cognitive performance" [NSF/OPP Project 00-90343] in which environment-induced insomnia is recognized, as well as being a source of funds for some NSF grantees. At what hypothetical point should the lessons of history and science be tossed aside so that business can get down to business? Is the present study on decreased winter cognitive performance entirely without scientific basis? If so, then why am I as a subject taking daily capsules of Levoxyl? If NSF is funding projects that scientifically recognize Antarctic toastiness, yet RPSC doctors don't recognize such, how many future lawsuits do you think it will be before that gap is closed? In your professional opinion, should Amundsen and Shackleton have been prescribed haloperidol?

Thanks, Dr. Penguin!

Farewell, Silver City

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Subject: The End of an Era---Silver City Destroyed

Greetings All,

Silver City was destroyed in the Storm that hit McMurdo on Sunday, May 16, 2004. The roof of Silver City was blown off and has not yet been located. The front wall collapsed into the building. The Outhouse was blown over. Winds were measured as high as 160 mph at RadarSat and 188 mph at Arrival Heights.

It is truly the end of an era with the demise of Silver City. Many people enjoyed the use of Silver City throughout the years.

[RPSC Manager]

Thursday, May 20, 2004

More McMurdo storm damage

Thursday, May 20, 2004 

The 46,000 lb roof of the J-1 tank was blown off in one giant piece, 74 feet in diameter, and landed about 30 feet from the J-9 tank, which holds 2 million gallons of fuel. It then wedged itself like a crumpled chewing gum wrapper under the 6 fuel line that comes out of J-9.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The wind recently ripped the top off this fuel tank in McMurdo.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Sent: Tuesday, May 18, 2004 1:04 PM
Subject: [Big Storm Hits MCM]
Subject: McMurdo Weekly Summary for W/E 16 May 2004

McMurdo Station was hit by a series of powerful winter storms late in the
week, with the most powerful system bringing sustained hurricane force winds
to the McMurdo area for several hours on Sunday. Peak wind of 147 knots was
recorded at Black Island Sunday, maximum wind speed at McMurdo is a little
more difficult to pinpoint as we lost the wind instrument during the storm.
The highest wind measured before losing the McMurdo instrument was 82 knots,
though I'm pretty certain we exceeded that after the wind bird blew away.
At this writing we are between storms and our efforts are focused on
repairing downed lines and repairing the damage that has exposed the
interiors of some buildings to the elements, and getting things secured in
preparation for the next storm due to hit us Tuesday.
Yesterday's official weather summary:

Maximum Temperature: -10C / +14F
Minimum Temperature: -23C / -09F
Peak Wind (knots): 82
Lowest Wind Chill: -54C / -65F

This was a significant storm damage-wise. At this writing we haven't
been able to fully assess damages from this storm, though the preliminary
list on my desk includes 17 significant entries. Preliminary noted damage

We lost the bay doors on both ends of Building 140 and one bay
door at Building 143, the Vehicle Maintenance Facility. Carpenters are working now to frame in those holes. Portions of the siding was ripped from buildings including dormitories 211 and 203A, and some building windows broke (B211, B159 and B155). We lost all the windows on one side of an "airporter" shuttle bus, and nine windows from seven light trucks and vans. The shuttle bus stop in front of the dormitories (Derelict Junction) was moved by the wind and came to rest against a pickup truck parked nearby. A portion of the roof of Building 155 was peeled up over the boiler room area. Several overhead lines were downed. The pad liners for the Coast Guard helicopters were swept up by the wind from the helicopter pad and are now wrapped around portions of the Chalet. One of the flag poles on the Chalet deck was bent to a 45 degree list. A portion of the roof and a bay door were torn from Building 126. The roll-up door and roof were completely ripped from storage building J1. Television service is out (and I missed the Laker game). This is just a preliminary list of items and we will continue to quantify and assess the damage in the coming hours and days. Right now we are addressing the immediately vulnerable and dangerous items and bracing for the next storm. Scott Base similarly sustained some storm damage, losing a roll-up door, a peeled-up roof filling a building with snow, some broken windows, and some shipping containers flipped about. All hands at both stations are fine and healthy.

[NSF Rep]

Saturday, May 15, 2004

A credible source in the McMurdo grapevine relates that an RPSC manager in Denver recently made calls to certain on-ice managers asking them "to do something" about Big Dead Place.

Friday, May 07, 2004

As most of us already know, one of the evacuees on the recent McMurdo medevac did not want to be evacuated. Here is the perspective of one of his friends:

"As the sole PC tech in McMurdo (we have roughly 800 600 PCs in town), [C] had literally hundreds of PCs to move to warm storage for buildings that were closing, and about 50 work orders in his queue that stacked up in a week's time. Instead of seeking help from other staff in IT, he tried to do it all himself, worked about 18 hours a day and slept no more than about 30 minutes at a time. He started drinking to help him sleep, which was a bad idea in the end. After about 10 days of this, he had a sleep-deprived bout of paranoia, well honestly, he lost his shit one day, thought there was a camera in his smoke detector, and pulled it off the ceiling, which triggered an alarm to the firehouse. So he went to medical for some sleep aids. I'm not sure exactly what the Doc gave him to sleep, but I went to see him while he was still sleeping and the Doc told me, after one visit with [C], "I'm certain that he's either schizophrenic or bi-polar and will need to be on medication for the rest of his life." I've spent a lot of time with [C] on and off the ice and he's never had anything even remotely resembling a psychotic episode before.

"Upon waking, he was given Haldol, a drug given to schizophrenics with myriad side effects that range from Parkinson-like symptoms (that can be permanent), to insomnia and drooling. (Haloperidol is the actual drug name). None of these side effects were discussed with [C], in fact, they didn't even tell him what they were giving him. At first he didn't ask because he was groggy from sleeping for almost 2 days and trying to be a good little patient. But he started acting very strange, doing the "thorazine shuffle" (I'm sure you've seen 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest'), having a hard time keeping his thoughts organized, and he just wasn't himself. So he asked about the meds, and when the Doc told him what she'd given him, he wanted to stop taking them. She said if he didn't comply with treatment, he'd need to be medevac'd out. He spit the pills out, but later ate them anyway because he didn't want to leave. He was all screwed up again, so he stopped taking the Haldol and was back to normal in a couple of days. He was sleeping normally, getting caught up with work, drinking less, and back to the same old [C] I've known for years. The Doc was still talking medevac. [C] talked to the RPSC and NSF Station managers, Dr. Nicoletti, Dr. Shemenski, and let everyone know he wanted to stay, that he felt better, that he would quit drinking if that's what it took for him to stay. She set up a video teleconference with a psychiatrist in Texas, I actually sat in on it at his request. At the end of their conversation the psychiatrist said that he saw no indication that [C] was schizophrenic or bi-polar and saw no need for a medevac.

"Then another guy got sick, and once that plane was coming, [C], who was working and sleeping and back to normal, was going to be on it. He wrote formal letters and followed the RPSC procedure for disputing the action and never heard a word back. He asked for a copy of his medical records and the release form contained a paragraph that stated (I'm paraphrasing here but can get you a copy of it) "I won't use my medical records for any purpose other than treatment for my 'condition'" He said he'd sign it if that paragraph was ommitted, no dice. He still hasn't gotten a copy of his medical records.

"He tried to stay, but once that plane got here, he was on it. He was told that he'd be on his own in Christchruch, but the flight nurse, without giving him his plane ticket or bags, and without advance warning, drove him straight to a mental hospital. There he was given yet another psych eval, with the RPSC flight nurse in the room, and the psychiatrist told him there was no indication of mental illness. The RPSC flight nurse then asked to speak to the psychiatrist in private, and [C] saw them writing the medical report together, then they came back in the room and referred him to yet another doctor.

"That's how it all went down. Now there is a general feeling of mistrust in McMurdo of the local medical staff."

(Big Dead Place solicited the perspective of the McMurdo doctor without reply.)

Monday, April 12, 2004

The medevac flight on Saturday evacuated three people, with nary a blip in the U.S. media. "Rescue" flights are now officially old hat.

In February, Dr. Rita Colman retired from her post as NSF Director to go work for the Canon corporation. "During Dr. Colwell's term, NSF received the highest achievement ratings of any federal agency in performance on the President's Management Agenda and was named a 'model' agency by the White House."

Saturday, April 10, 2004

The annual U.S. Antarctic medevac is underway, with a plane scheduled for McMurdo today.

In the NSF press release, NSF prudently hedged its bets with the statement that the ANG would "evacuate several people from McMurdo Station", while last anyone heard at the lunchtables, the number of evacuees was to be two. Barring the unlikely event that NSF has been able to keep secret information concerning the number of evacuees, The overestimate is most likely a response to the winter 2001 medevac in which a few people were first scheduled for evacuation, but by the time the plane arrived, the number had risen to eleven. Because NSF chose not to comment to the press on the reasons for this large number of evacuees, conspiracy websites had a heyday, theorizing that a virus unleashed from Lake Vostok was wiping out people at Antarctic stations. The truth of the matter is that, after a medevac flight has been scheduled, anyone who seeks medical treatment for any reason whatsoever becomes a liability in the eyes of Raytheon's legal department, so Raytheon takes a "better safe than sorry" approach to terminating contracts mid-season. Paying off a lawsuit for contract violation is cheaper than sending down another plane later in the winter, especially if the doctor is deep in the company pocket and doesn't mind playing along, which makes things especially easy, as does the advent of telemedicine, by which the local McMurdo doctor can be cut out of the loop completely as Tom Yelvington yanks on the strings of some M.D. he purchased at a 2-for-1 sale in order to manufacture whichever diagnosis is legally convenient. Then there's the people who decide they hate their boss and want to leave, or a boss who decides he hates his people and wants to fire some of them. Or the fingees who just plain hate it and want out.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Interview with a Polee

BDP: So, what's the Standard Operating Procedure for getting dinner in the galley?

Polee: Typically, nutritional resupply involves the cooks putting out food at 1730, after which people eat it.

BDP: Do people rush to the food all at once?

Polee: Generally, no. It's usually a one-at-a-time affair, with one person filling his plate while the others wait behind him. At Pole we call it a "line". I think the Kiwis call it a "queue".

BDP: How do you decide who gets to be first in line?

Polee: Good question. Whoever gets in line first is the first in line.

BDP: Do you actually have to get in the line to be first in line? If you show up in the galley at 1700 and sit at a table, noting which people arrive after you, won't you be first in line when the food is finally spread out on the hot line?

Polee: That's kind of like calling "shotgun" before you start walking toward the car. What you're suggesting is closer to a "take a number" system of food disbursement with imaginary numbers. There's nothing intrisically wrong with such a system, of course, but that system isn't really recognized by anyone, and conflicts with the "line" system.

BDP: What if I want my food right now?

Polee: Then cut in line and take some food.

BDP: Oh good, I hate lines.

Polee: I should warn you though that utilizing food procurement standards unrecognized by others may have repercussions.

BDP: What repercussions?

Polee: People may get angry at you.

BDP: Why?

Polee: Like beasts at a watering hole, we all secretly want our food at the moment we want it, but because there is only a small area of real estate in which to stand while collecting the food, our collective conditioning has nudged us toward the "line" system as a standard to prevent other systems from erupting willy-nilly, avoiding injuries and/or loss of life at the galley hot line. When you cut in line, you are actively reminding those of us in line that we are willingly domesticated, which makes us angry. The object of our anger will be he who cut in line.

BDP: If someone gets angry at me for cutting in line, I'm just going to get angry right back.

Polee: Okay.

BDP: That'll show 'em.

Polee: Have you ever wintered before?

BDP: Maybe.

Polee: You'll do what you will, but remember this: you're going to live with this small group of people for the next year, and they're going to come to know you better than you know yourself. Some people choose to put on a false face, some throw decorum out the window, some put all their eggs in one basket and imagine their position of authority will determine their community standing, while others insulate themselves socially. These are all understandable means of adapting to being one of many rats in a box. It's foolish to pretend to like everybody, just as it's foolish to think that they all will like you. Obviously, there's no right or wrong way to winter, but you might want to consider how much personal energy it takes for the upkeep on a perpetual grudgematch as opposed to keeping a civil distance mutually nurtured. But if you think you'll have the energy in August, knock yourself out.

BDP: So, theoretically, if I think I have enough energy to maintain interpersonal battles, I can cut in line to get food?

Polee: Listen, just shut the fuck up and get in line like everybody else.

BDP: What about after leaving the line, cutting back in to get condiments?

Polee: If the person you're cutting in front of still has their hand on one of the utensils at the hot line, this is generally acceptable.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Seven days left to an injury-free month! People are afraid to go to the doctor at South Pole because he will ask them to fill out forms, which means their visit will be announced to their supervisor, who will have to fill out more paperwork, and the supervisor will then take heat from Denver or the Safety Representative, who are hell-bent on Injury-Free Months. A woman who went to Medical recently to get some hydrocortisone for a rash was told by the doctor that if he gave her hydrocortisone she would have to fill out the forms for a recordable injury. She asked if recording the injury would effect her bonus, and was told it might. She asked if she could just have a little hydrocortisone without the paperwork. The doctor said no, but offered some vaseline, which could be dispensed without paperwork. The woman with the rash left South Pole Medical, the only source of pharmaceuticals and medical care at Pole, with some vaseline. Seven days left to an injury-free month!

Sunday, March 21, 2004

The day after being kicked out of the kitchen by the cook for holding an unscheduled Safety Inspection just before a meal, the South Pole Safety Representative went to the Human Resources Representative to file a Sexual Harrassment grievance against the cook. The charge was that he had tickled her, thirty days earlier. Called into the HR office and read the accusation, the cook claimed that the charge was revenge for kicking the Safety Rep from the kitchen, and threatened to quit if the charge was taken seriously. Weighing the story of each party, the Summer Pole Manager dropped the matter except for the obligatory official warning to the accused. A week or so later, the Safety Representative returned to the kitchen, this time to demand that the kitchen door remain closed at all times, claiming it was a "fire door". The South Pole Dining Attendant, who did not relish the possibility of having to open the door each time he delivered a tray of dishes from the dishroom to the dining area, researched the matter and told the Safety Representative to consult the building plans, where the controversial door was proven not to be a fire door, but just a normal door, and thus exempt from her wheedling powerplay. The Safety Rep's next campaign against the galley staff was more successful, noting during one of her inspections some unlabeled food and, rather than alerting the galley staff of the problem for correction, sent the matter up the email chain to Denver, after which a container of unlabeled food returned as thunder. One Polee later remarked, "If she wants to play games, we can play games."

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