Write to Big Dead Place via email or via this form:
28 May 2008
Wassapening man i’m 20 i’m about to be going to WyoTech to specialize in Diesel i wanna get a job working over there can you hook me up with some information thanks man
haha when i was reading the WIsh list of things you guys wish you woulda brought with you after arriving i was wondering as Los Angeles resident by drugs if you meant what i was thinking haha alright man
4 May 2008
I’m writing in response to the letter published on your site suggesting to bring lube. While I’m not judging the wisdom of lube, the author of that letter is mistaken in that McMurdo does indeed possess a sizeable supply of KY Jelly. However, like most valuable materials, it is much more easily accessible if you’re a grantee, and need it for “science”.
I think the clear lesson to be learned is that the ice ladies should think twice before passing up that geeky beaker.
—Printing the true name of a scientist will incur the wrath of NSF
9 April 2008
Here’s something I’d have added to your What to Bring list. The number one thing I always mention, especially to women:
Lube! Silicone lube, especially. That may seem like TMI (or wishful thinking) but if you get the opportunity to use it, you will wish you had some. Remember that you are living in a desert here. And, unlike almost anything else you find yourself needing in a pinch, you will NOT be able to get a cheap version of this from Gear Issue or the Galley, you can’t buy it in the Store (and won’t be able to any time soon – [someone] orders it every year; the program refuses to stock it), all the substitutes you CAN get your hands on degrade latex (I’ll refrain from listing examples), and you won’t conveniently stumble across any in Skua…or if you do, well, just trust me. Bring your own lube.
19 Feb 2008
[I'm a] Fucked up former winter person defending the fucked up sailors who service McMurdo & Palmer.
Well, Ice People, I was going to defend the sailors.
When I was down there in 2003-2004 we were warned with mass E-mails about the raping and pillaging that would take place as soon as the ships came in. It was recommended we lock all our doors, hide our booze, women, pets, and gear up for a visit from Satan’s minions. I was expecting toothless crackheads stealing our few women and violating our orifices.
Now that I am one of the sailors who frequent your continent, I would have to say unfortunately, this was good advice. Being both a sailor and a former Ice person, I cannot in good conscience defend my fellow crewmates.
While most have their teeth and do not do crack, the meeting of these two groups (sailors and smart people) is a recipe for disaster. Just last week, the captain of the NBP was fired and flown out of McMurdo for taking a punch at a Raytheon employee and breaking the leg of his crewmate.
While this is just another facet of the intricate paths that are crossed in the name of Science, I would be interested in your comments on this incident.
Also, [one of the McMurdo cooks] is a male nurse, and Boozy the Clown is a male figure skater.
A Fucked Up Icebreaker Sailor
Thanks for the letter, AFUIS.
This season I met some of the Navchaps who were waiting to board a plane. We talked for awhile and they were very friendly and curious. They asked how thick the ice shelf was, how far away McMurdo was, what the winters were like, and why were there so many beautiful women here, then after about 10 minutes one of them asked, “Why does everyone here hate us?” I told them that we hate them because of some long forgotten incident committed by the Navchaps which made NSF decide to close the bars whenever the Navchaps are in town. And that since the Navchaps aren’t here for the long-term like we are, we see them as loud thieving messy invaders. But I told them not to worry, as winter-overs feel the same way about summer people, and it’s probably just a tribal thing.
[Nick:] …While you are over there on semi-vacation, dodging bullets and suicidal goat-boys, we are back here doing our best to make sure our DVs have coffee without the dirty rotten staff stealing any of those precious high quality styrofoam cups. Don’t you feel a little guilty to not be back here, slugging it out in the trenches with us? [R - See attached...]
From: Den-All Announcements
Sent: Tuesday, December 12, 2006 6:08 AM
Subject: Coffee & Cups for Distinguished Visitor Meetings
In order to provide our Distinguished Visitors with coffee and water during meetings held at RPSC, we have implemented the following procedure:
Coffee, high quality Styrofoam cups (with lids), small plates and napkins will be stocked in three areas within the building. Access to these supplies will be limited. When you have need of these, please have a single POC, for the meeting, contact the following personnel:
First Floor Meeting Rooms and Auditoriums: [K...]
Main Floor Conference Rooms: [J...]
Second Floor Conference Rooms: [N...]
. Cream, sugar, and any other condiments will need to be purchased by departments hosting the meeting,
. Meeting POC’s are responsible for all meeting preparations and clean up.
If you have questions, please contact [N...]. “Thank You” to the individual who submitted the Anonymous Suggestion that brought this to our attention.
12 Dec 2006
For the longest time I thought that there were no other people like me (us) on the planet. See, I am a mechanic/chemist on a submarine out in Guam (side note, Guam may just be the tropical parallel to Antarctica ). After reading the stuff on bigdeadplace.com I have come to see some striking similarities among Submariners and Antarcticans. Sure, my ‘perspective’ may be a little skewed, but I am just calling it how I see it. Remember, this is Submariners in general, not me.
- Hate the Navy. (maybe that’s just us)
- Eat possibly the world’s worst food. (nevermind, erase possibly)
- Low guy to girl ratio (actually, ours is zero…)
- Crappy work for little pay (inport = 96 hours on a good week. underway = 168 hours a week, really)
- Make underground newspapers (The Shadow?) that everyone except Navy brass likes, and subsequently gets it taken away for fear of death or something worse.
- Get cryptic and strange emails from people asking ridiculous questions about what we do. For example:
- Can you see outside the boat? (no. apparently you cant see very well in Antarctica sometimes…)
- How do you breathe on a submarine? (inhale and exhale)
- Where does your poop go? (the poop goes overboard to the fishies, and the smell gets vented inboard)
- What happens if the boat goes down and can’t surface? (we die)
- How do you decompress when the boat surfaces? (…)
- Does radiation hurt? (yes)
- Do you cross-dress for fun? (yes, but in a borderline homosexual kind of way)
- Can you drink reactor coolant? (yes, but it tastes slippery)
- Have you ever made a mixed drink using reactor coolant? (yes.. i suppose it parallels the ice drinks)
- There are so many of them…
- Constantly wonder why you are doing this for a living. (???)
- Realize that trying to fix something makes it worse. (Navy ‘quality of life’ programs and surveys)
- 3 minute showers. (I wish I had your reverse osmosis units…goddamn evaporator)
- Still cant figure out why you are still doing this for a living. (item 7)
- Sometimes look at yourself and are amazed at your : cynicism, idea of ‘funny’, detachment from normal people and their normal world.Too many acronyms.
- Have a hard time figuring out how Raytheon became an umbrella corporation and is probably breeding a zombie army to be unleashed on humanity, since it is part of the contract they are under with the U.S. government and ironically enough a submarine and Antarctica are the two safest places to be in such a situation (when, not if, it happens).
- Birds attack you (topside)
- Don’t call it depression, it’s ‘disappointment’
- Massive amounts of drinking (we have to hide it underway though, thank god for sake, rice wine I mean: can’t smell it on your breath.. then again, operating a nuclear reactor or a submarine at all for that matter whilst being a little drunk is probably a bad idea, then again maybe it’s not.)
- Stark realization that New Zealand and Australia are fucking awesome.
- When our guys go nuts, they either kill themselves or catch a flight to god knows where (or sometimes fake their death). Maybe Antarticans don’t go crazy like that, but being underwater and super quiet for like 3 months will make you a little nutty.
Thats just a few. Anyhoo, I thought I would tell you guys (and girls) that you are not alone. Well, maybe we aren’t EXACTLY the same, but I gotta say, it seems damn close. By the way, I am looking forward to working down there and changing my hat from ‘Submariner’ to ‘Antarctican’.
1 Dec 2006
Dear Cold Persons,
I wish I could email you a bit of sunshine but it won’t fit into an attachment. Perhaps the Antartic wouldn’t be so harsh if you planted a few flowers, maybe grew a few indoor plants, and hung pictures of sunny places like Florida. Painting your walls yellow and green would be a pleasant offset to the white of the snow.
What do you do for entertainment, besides go quietly depressed and isolative? Do you have the materials to make hand puppets? I find hand puppets to be quiet entertaining and once several of them are constructed and dressed in period costume, I will put them in an elegant setting, such as an 18th C ballroom drawn with gold scrapbooking pens. They seem to come alive and are heartwarming company with their little voices and their anst-ridden lives. Perhaps you might concider hand puppets to keep you company?
But my best suggestion for making your lives more bearable in the Antartic is Blogs. Yes, blogging opens up a whole world of interaction with people everywhere. They have changed my life. I like the political blogs best, a forum that equals that of the old time gladiators who expend much blood and pain and effort with little effect to show for it. I really let the politicians have it, showing them exactly where they go wrong and how to fix it. You can too! Just a thought for you to concider as you lay face up on your bunk, staring at the ceiling of your future, listening to your roommate snore.
May Providence shine on you, even when the sun doesn’t.
Camryn Hall, a buxom 18 year old of the Sunshine State.
Oops, typo! What I meant was a boxed-in 81 year old of the Sunshine State Home.
Yes, hand puppets. Thanks Camryn.
8 Sep 2006
Raytheon is in a bit of a desperate situation as they are losing control of things within Raytheon Polar Services, which can be noted by their loss of 1/3 of their Denver Headquarters personnel in the last year and the 70% turnover rate for returning contract employees this summer season.
They’ve replaced Tom [Yelvington] with Sam Feola, who worked for the last 4 contract company’s down on the Ice, all of whom lost the rebid, and he gave a grand teleconference to McMurdo talking about how RPSC planned to rebid the contract and all the glorious things they planned to do.
Specifically he talked about the need for ethics and then, in nearly the same breath, he talked about how the company planned to have the food service subcontractor that Raytheon hired, NANA, report their own independent injury rates… seems that their high injury rates are bringing down RPSC’s numbers and makes them look bad so better to juggle the numbers again and see if the NSF doesn’t notice. He also noted that they would be looking to hire more Kiwis to work for NANA and he had a clever word for that, but I can’t quite remember what it was.
Sam also spoke on loyalty and acknowledged that while he understood that a lot of people were loyal to the Program, they needed to be loyal to Raytheon too.
Here’s the results of the January ’06 RPSC investigation (pdf) into why experienced people leave The Program.
24 Nov 2005
I just started reading Big Dead Place, it brings back many memories. I was with the Navy Antarctic Development Squadron 6 (VX-6) from 1968-1969. We deployed to a place called Williams Field. It was the air station just a little bit South of McMurdo. Don’t know if you ever talked to people who were on the Ice back in those days but some of what you describe was going on, of course a lot of it involved military folks rather than civilians. Also we had zero women. In fact the first civilian flight to land in Antarctica occurred during the summer season of 1968. I was a Navy Corpsman (medic) and the two other Corpsman and myself flipped a coin to see which of us would meet the plane with the Ambulance. We assumed there would be a female flight attendant. I won the coin toss, but there was only male flight attendants and the only women on the flight were a few elderly women. Very disappointing.
I was on the Parachute Rescue Team. If we did a jump after 6 pm, we counted it as a night jump even though the sun was shining.
19 Aug 2005
I just finished your book, and it was great. I presume Raytheon will no longer hire you.
I worked for Holmes & Narver for three summers, 1975 – 1978, and went to McMurdo and Pole the first two and Palmer the third, so got a pretty good view. Did general work and heavy equipment operation. Some of the acronyms have changed (USARP vs. USAP and GFA vs. GA), but otherwise it sounds the same. The names and incidents are different, but otherwise the absurdity is parallel. After a while back at McMurdo on the second trip, one of the seasoned guys said it felt like we had never left, just sent our red parkas out for dry cleaning.
I kept a disaster list the first year, and had 13 items on it by the end of the season. NSF found out about it but didn’t complain because it was all true. It included two deaths (one of them the electrocution of the sailor that you mentioned), a fire, an airplane crash and the usual self-destructive acts some people use as an excuse to get out early and try to save a marriage.
It was a great experience for me (“Crazy Outdoorsie”), even though at that time there were so few women that only the helo pilots got any (they were at the top of THAT food chain), and even though the seamy underside that you talk about certainly did exist, even with a different NSF contractor.
Sent: Tuesday, May 24, 2005 1:51 AM
Subject: FW: Joe Ferraro on SPSM interior color scheme
Interior Color Selection:
The original concept for the SP Station’s design was, to distinctly represent the human presence on the pristine polar plateau. In developing the color pallet for the interior habitat, common areas were given a neutral background similar to the exterior polar environment with vibrant colors and pattern applied to distinct areas representing the seven chakras. These vibrant colors add energy to the habitat which helps to invigorate the occupants in this remote and isolated environment.
The word chakra is Sanskrit for wheel or disk and signifies one of seven basic energy centers in the body. Each of these centers correlates to major nerve ganglia branching forth from the spinal column. The chakras correlate to levels of consciousness, archetypal elements, developmental stages of life, colors, sounds, and body functions.
Joe Ferraro, AIA, LEED AP
Your guess is as good as mine why a bunch of new age weirdos from Hawaii were commissioned to design the new South Pole Station, but I bet it’s a good story. All I’m certain of is that the bar at the end of the galley creates a weird social atmosphere, that the interior color scheme made me want to drool on myself and eat crayons, and that, because there’s not enough food storage, the cooks have to store food in the laundry room downstairs. Omm.
In response to my request for a blurb (quote by esteemed professional for publicity purposes) for the Big Dead Place book, Larry Palinkas, renowned polar psychologist and certified good sport, responds to my published criticisms…
16 May 05
Nick: I did read your book and really enjoyed it. I thought you did a really good job of capturing a year on the ice in McMurdo. It certainly makes for more entertaining reading than I am usually forced to write for the academic journals.
As far as taking digs at me, I really don’t mind. I think you pretty much had it right in your criticisms. The issue of the severity of the environment is one which was cited in earlier research on crews of stations in more remote locations like Siple, Plateau, and South Pole, than at McMurdo. I, too, have never heard anyone at McMurdo say they would never return because the environment was too harsh. However, I have heard people at Pole complaining of the darkness and how changes in the atmospheric pressure bugged them. I think the effects of the environment are more physiological in nature than they are conscious elements of the Antarctic experience.
The values placed on certain types of characteristics like self-sufficiency, the ability to work alone, etc, pertain more to social interaction than they do to being rewarded by supervisors. I would stand by my statement that crewmembers give regard to their fellow crewmembers who are not demanding, needy, and generally a pain in the ass because their inability or unwillingness to do their jobs creates more work for everyone else. However, you are absolutely correct in stating that perhaps the main challenge (certainly at McMurdo) has been trying to fit a model of bureaucratic culture into a physical environment that is ill-suited to it. Complaining about NSF and RPSC and (in the old days) the Navy was one of the primary modes of coping with both the bureaucracy and the limited modes of face-to-face communication in the past. Some of it could be attributed to displacement (projecting your anger onto an external source), and some of it reflects the difficulty in interacting with people you can’t see. Studies I did at South Pole in the 90s generally showed that the more “bureaucratic” a station manager was, the less he was perceived as a leader, and the more social conflicts and psychological problems among the crew. I wrote about this tension in an earlier paper that appeared in 1992, but it wasn’t as eloquent as your book. One of my students, Julia Offen, also wrote about this in her 1992 Masters Thesis. The absence of that emphasis in the paper you cite was not, as you suggest, because my research was funded by NSF. While I may be sensitive to the feelings of others, I generally call em as I see em.
Lawrence A. Palinkas, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego
Sent: Monday, December 27, 2004 11:05 AM
Subject: Arrival of Russian Team
I hope you all enjoyed a relaxed and meaningful Holiday weekend.
New for this week…..
A team of Russian aircraft mechanics just left Christchurch for McMurdo. They will arrive at Pegasus about 3:30 pm today. A team of 12 experts, their tools and aircraft parts will immediately head on to South Pole where the “night” shift half of the team will begin directly to work on the AN-3. The team have targeted completing repairs in an ambitious week of work, with a test flight occurring on 4 January. Provided the AN-3 is determined to be airworthy, it will fly to McMurdo on 5 January for disassembly that day and exit from the continent the morning of 6 January.
A contingent of 11 of the Russian team will reside in McMurdo for the duration of the repairs and flight. They are principally specialists who may rotate into the group at South Pole, and media staff. The documentation of the repair and flight are very important to the Russian state. The aircraft repair has been approved by NSF as an official Russian Antarctic Program activity and thereby will be given the support afforded any other National program. The media element of the visit is a bit different, and has been provided with guidelines by NSF as negotiated with the Russian Antarctic Program.
I encourage you to welcome this Russian team to McMurdo as our guests. However, be aware that our interactions have the potential to become international news rather swiftly. While I have every confidence that the USAP communities in McMurdo, South Pole and Christchurch will demonstrate good will and diplomacy, I expect that all staff will be as circumspect in their comments and interactions as they would to any other media organization or distinguished visitors.
I am looking forward to working with the team to see that they re-patriate the AN-3 that flew to South Pole. I will keep you up to date on their progress.
NSF Representative, Antarctica
14 Dec 04
I noticed in your Review wish list that you are looking for someone to review the Artists and Writers Program. I am not qualified. However, I’ve been wondering what BDP thinks about the program, and the people therein. Are they seen as alien beings? Are they infringing and overprivileged, or are they sympathetic cohorts? Or are they all hacks? Does BDP think it should get some literary accolades?
Our ongoing request for reviews is intended as an invitation to people from all the little side-alleys and cul-de-sacs of The Program to share their perspectives. I don’t know much about the Artists and Writers Program, but there are people who do, and I’m interested in what they have to say. Regarding their status in the primary community, WOOs are generally considered to be privileged DVs as they receive exceptional travel opportunities and don’t have to work graveyard shifts. Reception to them is generally ambivalent, though if they make an effort are more readily accepted in daily conversations than Congressmen.
The first recipient of the Artist and Writers Program grant was a fellow named Charles Neider who, judging by his descriptions of whip-cream frost smothering ice-cave crevices and mounds and his abominable ass-obsessed book The Grotto Berg, was quite possibly insane. However, the Artist and Writers Program has fostered some invaluable work, most notably Stephen Pyne’s “The Ice” which, in the sad event that all but one tome from the Antarctic Library were to be burned forever, would get my vote for rescue. Sara Wheeler’s book is pretty good, David Rosenthal’s paintings are pleasant, and, though he’s not my cup of tea, Barry Lopez is fucking pro. One of the Artists and Writers came down as a photographer and is now an almost universally-respected upper tier manager at Pole. Excepting the latter, I haven’t met any of these people. It seems like most of the WOOs (Sara Wheeler’s term) I’ve met have been schoolteachers and/or children’s book authors, which I suspect is useful to NSF in the way that Happy Meals are useful to McDonald’s in establishing pleasant impressions for the life of the customer/taxpayer. In short, the Artists and Writers are certainly not all hacks, but nor is their selection without agenda.
Regarding literary accolades, the most treasured compliments I’ve received are those from new hires who say their bosses told them to read Big Dead Place to prepare for the job.
Sent: Tuesday, December 14, 2004 5:24 PM
This is this first word that came to mind when thinking of the person who vandalized the Arch Gym.
You know who you are.
Perhaps your parents allow you to finger-paint on the walls at home but a large number of Polies would appreciate you not using our gymnasium for your personal splatter-fest. Being responsible for splattered paint on the walls and floor, toxic fumes in the air, and a blatant disregard of all others who use the gym will not garner anyone a citizenship award. There is a reason a rather full schedule is posted for all the activities that take place in the Arch Gym.
Think of why.
When you are finished returning the Arch Gym to it’s prior state, which you will undertake and complete while others are not scheduled to use the gym, consider your privilege to use the gym over.
South Pole Station
Sent: Wednesday, November 24, 2004 2:03 PM
Subject: FW: Sir Edmund Hillary visit
As a follow-up to the earlier email we are going to limit this request to books and other appropriate memorabilia items. I realize many of you would like to get New Zealand Five Dollar notes signed but we simply can not deal with the large number of items this would generate and we can not deal with the large amount of cash. Sorry.
Please keep in mind “appropriate memorabilia”. Items that are deemed “inappropriate” will be returned. If you have a question in your mind if your item is or is not “appropriate”, you should consider another item. I will be the final authority on what is “appropriate”. Please bring your items to the Chalet before the 4:00 PM Thursday.
NSF Representative, Antarctica
An earlier email invited McMurdoites to present memorabilia to be signed by Sir Hillary. The concern for “appropriate” memorabilia is notable in that a previous time Sir Hillary went to Pole someone, not having any other memorabilia, asked him to sign her jeans. His press escort interrupted the encounter, but not before a photo was snapped of Hillary reaching out with his pen to sign a woman’s ass, which promptly made it to the New Zealand press and was followed by public outrage over American disrespect of a New Zealand national hero.
In response to a McMurdo-All announcing an All-Hands meeting in “the Galley”, so-and-so responded with this McM-All:
Sent: Wednesday, September 29, 2004
To: [MCM-RPSC All]
Subject: RE: All Hands Meeting
That’s a Dining Hall, not a Galley!
[Project Manager, Fire Protection, RPSC]
Thank god for those who stand up for what’s important. If not for such parrots squawking out each season’s new pet words and power phrases from Orientation, we might never charge boldly into the new era of ahistorical and milquetoast vocabulary, where Cargo Lines become “Outside Storage Areas” (or OSAs), where the Beer Can becomes “the Vertical Tower”, and where the Galley becomes…Hey, wait just a minute! That’s a Dining “Facility”, not a Dining Hall! Squawk! Polly wanna baked and salted wheat-ration! Squawk!
Sent: Wednesday, September 22, 2004 11:13 AM
Ice Cream in September
In the main break room it will stay
until we eat it all
See you there
Don’t forget we are collecting for school supplies
The school really needs help
The items will be delivered next week, Tuesday.
[President, Polar Morale Committee]
[Editor's Note: The Polar Morale Committee is based in a Denver office park, is named from the "Polar" in Raytheon Polar Services, and does not necessarily condone polar morale.]
15 Sep 04
I was sitting in my relatively new office, which is very similar to a dorm room at McMurdo, and I live in the other room. I was daydreaming a little bit and punched in “McMurdo” at Yahoo. I poked through a couple sites and then I opened up your site. After a few minutes I was stunned by what I read. It was the real history of my experience in Antartica. I worked there on and off from 1990 to 2000 and finally got disgusted with the entire program. Today I have read almost the entire site’s contents and have gotten caught up on all that has happened since I left, here in my living container at Camp Warhorse, Baqubah, Iraq.
My first job in Antarctica was to show up at the last minute and winter-over at South Pole as the H.E.M., and completed 9 contracts all together at S.P. and McMurdo. I probably know you and you probably know me. It’s true you never stop thinking about Antarctica—it changes you for the rest of your life. The other day someone here asked me if I would ever go back. I said “No, the bullshit there is probably deeper than the snow,” and after reading Frontierwatch I know that’s true. Now I’ve taken a job that’s every bit as extreme as wintering at Pole. It gets to 128 degrees in the daytime, we’re locked up in an area about the same size as the South Pole’s site, and you can’t go outside without your Kevlar vest and helmet on. Most of the people here, I mean civilian people and most military, have never had such an experience. We are surrounded by 15-foot berms and dirt-filled Hesco bags to protect us from exploding mortars and rockets, and there are plenty of bunkers.
A few of them complain constantly about running out of water, slow mail service, and rough working conditions. I tell them this is nothing—it could be a lot worse. I say “You can just quit and they will send you home; if you were at South Pole you would not get mail for 8 months; and you can take a shower almost every day. Trust me it could be worse.”
Antarctica prepared me for this place. It did not prepare me for war shit, rocket attacks, or vehicles blown up by IEDs, but every job has its drawbacks. However, it does remind me of working in the program in the early days when getting something done meant something—there were traditions and purpose. So keep up the good work—I like reading about reality and the circus called the program.
—Once Toasted Now a Roasted Noncombatant
12 Sep 04
Thanks for printing the John Q Public letter [9 Sep 04] about ATS. Enjoyment was definitely the right word. I’m taking a few seasons off and that guy reminded me of some things that I don’t miss about working for ATS.
Another correction on his facts: Serco hasn’t had the ATS contract for years. Glad to know he’s so quick to defend an organization about which he has no current information. Maybe he’d like to defend my ticket in traffic court next week? I’m a veteran so apparently I can do no wrong.
Thanks for keeping up the site, too. It’s brilliant.
10 Sep 04
re: comments about pissing in the interview with jon johanson
i think it is demented that people piss all over the place that is supposed to be kept as free from human influence and destruction as possible. dumping shit in the ocean? into the ice at south pole? can you tell me that it is scientific fact that doing these things does not change or destroy the antarctic environment or ocean life? maybe i am wrong, and i hope so. i don’t know…but i found the careless attitude and seeming disrespect for that environment by the author of that interview to be disturbing.
not a waste expert, but one who respects the planet earth
One Who Respects the Planet Earth,
In your first email to Big Dead Place you asked whether, once you got a job here as a dishwasher, you’d be able to have some “adventure time” in Antarctica, and whether you’d have a chance to fly to Pole. Now you write that Antarctica is “the place that is supposed to be kept as free from human influence and destruction as possible.” Which is it?
Don’t you want to come down here and fly to Pole in a JP-8-burning aircraft that melts the ice away with its exhaust fumes? Don’t you want to take a giant diesel-burning Delta out to the fantastically beautiful ice caves? Don’t you want to work for the Raytheon Corporation? If you come down are you going to shit in your own duffel bag and take it back home with you? Well, are you? Or is it just that you prefer a pristine image to an unpleasant reality, and it’s fine that for so many years NSF dumped shit in the ocean, so long as you didn’t have to hear about it? “…the place that is supposed to be…”? According to whom? Newspapers? National Geographic? The National Science Foundation? You believed those jokers?
Moved by all the romantic imagery from National Geographic, you want to come here and experience it for yourself, then you turn around and get snippy over my disrespect of the romantic image that threatens to bring you here: to a place where those who don’t become fond of the smell of diesel usually don’t last more than one season. If you don’t want your image tarnished, avoid this website. If you want Antarctica to be free of human influence, stay home.
Antarctic recycling program expert
9 Sep 04
I’ve just finished reading one of the comments [Letters: 7 Feb 03] about SPAWAR’s Aviation Technical Services or ATS and the horrible “leading from the rear” type of management style portrayed in the letter.
First of all let me say that I was in Antarctica as a contractor under the leadership of ATS as an employee of SRC or Scientific Research Corporation for a few years. I spent a summer/winter back to back, then returned a year later, during the fateful “evacuate the doctor incident”. To set the record straight ATS was designated as the name for the SPAWAR detachment because SPAWAR stands for Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. The United States Antarctic Program as I understand it didn’t want SPAWAR to be a negative perception to anyone in Antarctica. (Probably because of all the conspiracy nuts out there giving all the hardworking organizations a bad name as it is.) So they came up with Aviation Technical Services which is just that. They provide weather, air traffic control and air traffic control ground electronics maintenance personnel in support of the United States Antarctic Program. We all know that USAP is the parenting body that provides government oversight for the United States in Antarctica. Well from an air traffic control standpoint the U.S Government doesn’t allow privatization of any air traffic control services without government oversight. The national airspace or NAS as it’s called is maintained by the government. The government trying to be as efficient as possible outsourced to an already established government agency, SPAWAR, that could provide the technical services needed to provide safe and orderly conduct of flights to and from Antarctica.
This nonsense I read in your article that ATS only provides support for the military is balony. Ask Al Borecks (forgive me if I spelled his name wrong) Twin Otter group or PHI Petroleun Helicopters Inc. of which both operate out of McMurdo. It just so happens that the military does most of the flying because it is difficult if not impossible for an airline to make a profit or even get insurance to run airlifts in such a hostile environment. You should be grateful for those brave men and women of the military for operating down there. Anyway SPAWAR’s ATS detachment deploys down there every year with a contigent of contractors from currently 2 different companies. SRC provides the weather observers, weather forcasters and ground electronics maintenance and SERCO provides air traffic controllers. They both merge to form ATS. I wasn’t involved in the contract negotiations and do not know the intricacies of why two different companies provide the services to ATS but I know it works.
I personally agree with some of your reasons why so many people, particularly air traffic controllers quit ATS. Hell, an air traffic controller is one of the highest paid positions in the federal government but only at certain high volume traffic locations. In Antarctica the traffic volume isn’t nearly as high as Chicago Center but it is just as important. I do want you to understand this. ATS is up front from the beginning with their employees and they know beforehand what they’re getting into (to a degree). Hey if we knew all the answers to everything life would be perfect. I believe because of the operational tempo set by USAP (they want round the clock air traffic control services so flight ops can provide supplies around the continent in the short summer they have and also because of the hostile weather patterns that can ground planes for days and even weeks on end) that SPAWAR’s ATS did what they did to get the job done, which was the reason for the 8 on, 8 off, 8 on and 32 off. As you well stated most of these men and women are former military.
Well I got news for you, be glad we have such mission oriented people trained that way in the service. If we didn’t we would all be speaking Russian/German/Japanese/Korean/Arabic or any of a hundred other languages that come to mind in this crazy hostile world. The very reason you are even allowed to have this web site and the freedom to express yourself is because of the sacrifices of those brave people. I don’t believe the SPAWAR community is a poorly led incompetant group of invividuals who lead from the rear. I believe they are a bunch of folks handed a mission and trying to do the best they can under the circumstances. Forgive me because I didn’t completely read all of your web site. I don’t know what your background is or if you’ve ever stepped foot on that harsh continent but I would say this. Before you fill people’s heads with half truths and conjecture about anyone, try getting all the facts together. Don’t trust my words either. I suggest you join the service for at least 4 years. Serve you country well. Then join ATS and serve a winter or two. Once that’s done make your own conclusions. That’s what I did. I don’t belong to the USAP, SPAWAR and am not a contractor anymore either. I’ve moved on with my life for my own reasons. I really feel that all this conspiracy hype and negativity is a bunch of crap. We’ve got brave men and women, military and civilian all over the world doing their best to serve this great nation. If some of them have a bad experience, well that’s life. I would hope they wouldn’t generalize and say their branch of the service, their company, their country or hell even their race is at fault. It’s probably an individual or two that are the root of their frustration. Let’s try not to be part of the problem and start being part of the solution.
John Q Public
Thanks for the letter. It’s long, but I don’t think ATS gets enough play on this website, so for their enjoyment, it’s printed in its entirety, as-is.
To assist other John Qs with their letters, I’ve come up with this template:
Dear Big Dead Place,
I’ve read ____________ on your site and I don’t like it. I know what I’m talking about because I was a ____________ in Antarctica for ____________ seasons. Because it’s on your website, you must agree with it, therefore I’m here to tell you that ______________ is not bad. _______________ is actually good. _______________ is good because of the brave ________ and _________ who stop the insane ____________, ___________, and commies from taking over and shutting down your website. The U.S. ___________ has not imprisoned you yet, so you should be thankful for your freedom. Freedom is like a fishing permit that should be begged for. Since you must be grateful to the brave _________ and __________ of ___________ for their _________ sacrifices, you should cease all critical or intellectual thought and just do what you’re told by your __________ organization, because critical thought is the same as conspiracy. Before you publish perspectives about __________ you should spend _________ years in the military like I did, which is why I know what I’m talking about. Everything is great for everyone, and if there’s evidence otherwise, I’ll point out the brave ______ and _________ of our great ________, so that whatever response you give will make you a _____________ theorist to people like me. And if, despite my best emotional pleas, anyone still finds their way to a non-promotional perspective or sour remark on your website, my lynchpin argument is, “__ _____, that’s the way it is!” Individuals are the problem, not companies, ___________, _____________, or other hard-working salt-of-the-earth organizations, which are our meal-tickets, and should thus be protected from ____________, just as whipped dogs still protect their master. By the way, even if I don’t have my easily-verifiable facts together about the K_nn Borek Twin Otter Group, I’ll tell you to get your facts together, because your published perspectives are the problem and my slogans are the solution.
Brave ____ or _______ of our great _________
1 Sep 04
Loved the “fuck a winter over” article but truth be known, winterovers get fucked a lot. Mostly by management in Denver.
I have not wintered since 97 but I do have 6 under my belt and it always seemed we got fucked somehow. One winter, I think it was 94, they needed to get rid of all the old Navy food, they served us such crap that people were hoarding cereal. The food was so rotten that they curried everything, including the ice cream! NO SHIT!! Ask around, story can be verified.
Another way they fuck you is that after the 3rd winter you receive NOTHING at the award ceremony. And then there is the summer bosses that come in and ask what the fuck did the winterover do all winter. HEY! Check it out we built a fucking science building and three fucking dorms.
I don’t winter anymore because I was fired for a season, or two, but then as it always is I got a promotion and came back. But it is only a summer gig and still not a high enough position to where I can fuck the winterover. Damn it.
And don’t print my fucking name.
23 August 04
I stumbled across your site and enjoyed reading it. It’s really fascinating, as this is something that most of the world doesn’t ever get to experience or even hear about usually. Also very funny.
Beyond reading enjoyment, I was excited to find your site because for the last few months I’ve been on a quest given to me by my boss to find someone or some people in Antarctica who would be interested in receiving a free membership to our organization, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).
Even though we say American, we’re really international with members on 6 continents. We want to be able to say that we have members on all 7. Can you help point us to someone who would be interested? In addition to training, we offer a lot of information and resources on organizational development, e-learning, and other related topics. Our site is
Right now I’m a little bit in the doghouse and if I could do this, I’d be employee of the year. So I’d be very grateful for any help.
T+D magazine and
24 August 04
I looked over your website for ten minutes or so and for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is that you actually do or sell. “E-learning”? “Competency models”? A “fire sale” for a “trainer’s library”? It’s all Greek to me, but I’m sure you’re filling a very timely industrial niche.
However, if I don’t understand the dialect of English you’re speaking, why would I want to become a member, and how could I explain to anyone else why they might want to become a member? In short, by way of membership, what are you offering the Antarctican who accepts your offer?
F. Scott Robert
26 August 04
You raise a very good question. It’s hard to describe exactly what we do in one sentence or so, but I’ll take a shot.
Mainly, we help improve the way employees work and, more specifically, learn, in a company. (learning = working better, smarter, faster, whatever).
Most of our members are corporate trainers who set up training for workers in companies. BUT, my mom, for instance, gets our magazine and finds a lot of useful info in it. We cover a lot of general business topics/trends as well.
Our main (and most popular) product is our magazine, but we also offer conferences, research, other stuff. I don’t know how the mail is to Antarctica, but I could send you a few copies of our magazine that you could look at and/or pass around to see if anyone is interested. Members receive the magazine for free every month.
How does that sound?
27 August 04
I’ve taken another look around your website, and I think I understand it a little better. Much of the tone of ASTD’s articles reminds me of the Outward Bound Ropes Course that South Pole Winterovers attended in order to prepare for the long winter together, which reminded me of some sort of Red Chinese indoctrination camp with Corporate Pep to replace Party Pride. After playing duck-duck-goose, which regressed us to primitive childlike states, we engaged in all manner of “learning” exercises that illustrated that the common denominator of all failure was disregard for the mores of the group, and in the end that success follows from adopting a herd mentality.
On your website’s Performance Improvement Discussion Board, responding to someone’s question of how to get people to show up on time for department meetings, Mr. Willmore, who heads his own performance consulting group suggests: “Ask your HR Director the following question: “if I put a gun to each participant’s head and threatened to kill them if they didn’t show up on time, would they show up on time?” (or, if that’s too macabre, “if everyone who showed up on time won $10,000″). If the answer is “yes” then that shows they have the knowledge and skills necessary to accomplish the task.”
Elsewhere on your site, senior director of DiamondCluster International Mark Rosenberg says “E-learning is a corporate business strategy, an nfrastructure investment.”
You say that ASTD helps improve the way employees “learn” in a company.
Have you actually read my website? Are you sure you want me as a member of your organization? If so, I would be delighted to become a member of the American Society for Training and Development so that I may examine from within the variety of your corporate indoctrination strategies, which fascinate me to no end. In return, you will have a “member” on the seventh continent. Sound good?
F. Scott Robert
1 Sep 04
Thanks for your thoughts. What our members say on our discussion boards is entirely their responsibility. Their opinions don’t necessarily represent ours. Similarly, the way they provide training is entirely up to them. We simply provide resources: books, magazine articles, conferences, research, etc.
While we’d like to have a token Antarctican, we still want it to be someone who thinks they might benefit from the resources that we provide. I was hoping that if you wouldn’t find this helpful, you could point me to someone who would. But I’ll keep looking.
If you’re on the ice and you’d like to become a member of the American Society for Training and Development, contact the Associate Editor at email@example.com to discuss the matter. It would probably be helpful to her if you contacted her via your USAP account.
3 August 04
If lava is the blood of Mother Earth and the snow her whitewash, then McMurdo is surely a scabby wound with a bad infection of humanity she is desperately trying to hide. yup. still winter. still drunk.
—A concerned citizen
Weather for South Pole Station, July 30
-68.5 C -91.4 F
-90 C -130 F
9 kts Grid 078
661.9 mb (11314. ft)
Sent: Thursday, July 29, 2004 7:45 AM
Subject: Are you a little cold?
Our Maintenance Engineer is tearing down our boiler currently to determine if we need to replace it. No boiler – no heat.
It was 45 degrees outside this morning at six. It is currently is 55 degrees outside. Main floor area is at 62 degrees. All offices will be cold. This will be going on for a week or so. Who would have guessed it would be this cold in July.
Sorry for the inconvenience, but we need to determine if we’re replacing the boiler before it is fall/winter.
24 July 04
This made me laugh until my stomach hurt. I may have
You, sir, are a cockatrice, and fiendish to boot.
My hat is off to you. May you enjoy many winters in the Big Dead Place!
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004
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.
The following letter was sent by several jolly rogers of the South Pole Bar Club to the official Talk-like-a-Pirate-Day website:
Avast ye matey, we here at the long lost isle of the South Pole Bar Club wish to be recognized as an official port for TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY. Our voyage has lasted for 9 months now and our crew greatly awaits the festive holiday as it brings us that much closer to the end of our ice bound journey. All of our crew is aware of yon holiday and will revel in the bounty of our liquor. There will be no benign cocksuckery except for ye wenches, which are few and far between. The treasure here be slim but aargh before the sun strikes the yard arm it’s off to the isle of New Zealand for drunken debauchery. In closing, we the ice locked pirates of the South Pole, wish all ye swabs blue skies, a wind at ye stern, smooth sailing, good rum, and bountiful booty. —CLUB 90 SOUTH, PRIDE OF ANTARCTICA
June 19, 2004
On behalf of the U.S. Antarctic Program, I send warmest greetings and personal regards on this Midwinter’s Day.
Your labor in the harsh climate of Antarctica shows that each of you is willing to sacrifice comfort for the principles of the Antarctic Treaty and the advancement of scientific research. Like modern-day explorers, each of you thrives on challenge and discovery in a spirit of tolerance and collaboration. The hearty individuals working in Antarctica all make unique contributions to the world community — making possible the cutting-edge pursuit of scientific knowledge and the cooperative governance of an entire continent. Your perseverance and dedication inspires us all.
As you labor through the long winter’s darkness, know that our thoughts are with you. Midwinter’s Day moves us to celebrate your service and to wish you a safe and rewarding journey through the coming months and back to your loved ones.
Office of Polar Programs
National Science Foundation
July 4, 2004
Dear Dr. Erb,
Thank you for your Midwinter’s Day greeting. I wish you the best for July 4th, 2004.
I very much enjoyed your letter because, though it is a great letter in itself, for years I have been a fan of yours. In the library, poring through transcripts of congressional hearings before the Subcommittee on Basic Research, I often found myself asking, “This shit is fucking boring. Why am I doing this?” But whenever you took the stand before those clueless senators, all my doubts vanished and my enthusiasm returned. Like some Capitol Hill Merlin you would conjure such golden illusions that it would wake from their desks those dozing knights of public representation who, grateful for fresh visions of an American Frontier still red-blooded and sexy, would pour more money into your Office of Polar Programs, and back in the library I began merely to photocopy any documents bearing your name without first reading them, because I knew they would be good.
You are a commissioned artist working in a complex medium that draws the largest of sponsors, and your Midwinter’s Day letter to us is only a recent example of the consistently high-quality of your work. Because there are those who haven’t been exposed to your writings and orations, I trust you won’t mind if I interpret this most recent letter to illustrate the sophistication of your prose.
After the traditional down-to-earth regards of the first brief paragraph, you waste little time launching into the stratosphere. Not only do we learn that Antarctica is harsh, and that it is hard work being here, but that each of us has decided to be here for a Treaty that few have read, and for “the advancement of scientific research”; which is roughly as factual as saying that we are here to uphold the name of our good King Arthur and to breed magic blue dragons. Of course people have different reasons for coming here, but in years of informal lunchtable surveys I have yet to meet someone who has said, “I put all my stuff in a storage unit in Boise and came down here to uphold the principles of the Antarctic Treaty, and to try to rebuild diesel engines without the right parts in order to further the advancement of scientific research.” Maybe someone will say that one day. I wonder if that person will know how to rebuild diesel engines.
After determining our motives, you shower us with praise, likening us to “modern-day explorers” who thrive on “challenge and discovery in a spirit of tolerance and collaboration.” It certainly is a challenge to discover why the right parts for a diesel engine weren’t ordered, it requires much tolerance to explain to NSF that engines require parts, and the spirit of collaboration can be seen as mechanics help each other with their résumés looking elsewhere for jobs with the right parts and more pay. We truly are just like the explorers of old, venturing into the unknown in search of fatter deposits of gold.
After showering us with praise, you appeal to our interest in public duty, asserting that we all make possible “the cooperative governance of an entire continent.” Yes, Dr. Erb, I too hope that other nations cooperate with us as we attempt to govern the continent. I can’t wait for the day when we can remove the fake ceremonial pole (Argentina? Korea? South Africa? Why are these countries’ flags spoiling our show?) and maintain only the real pole, the one precisely at 90 degrees south. It is the real pole that is presently marked solely with an American flag, which the Raytheon Communications Director warned a gentleman here not to distribute photos of, as he writes monthly stories for his hometown paper. Do you know the most encouraging part about this? Do you know how this anecdote illustrates that eventually we will take our prize? The Raytheon Communications Director is not some cold-blooded spook receiving covert orders from Big Brother; no, the Raytheon Communications Director is a friendly soccer-mom type in the suburbs who is just trying to cover her ass. And in this era particularly, that nice multi-colored coalition of ceremonial flags appears much more photogenic than that lone flag of classic conquest. Everyone knows that. But we know what’s what, don’t we, Dr. Erb? Every landgrab in history has had its own brand of “ceremonial pole”, that spot from which our goals seem brightest to hometown papers and soccer moms.
The highlight of your letter lies in the last paragraph, when you acknowledge that Midwinter’s Day moves you to celebrate our “service”. To Antarcticans, Midwinter’s Day is an occasion that all but forces us to reflect on where we are, our decision to be here, our understanding of darkness, and the lost gravity of light. It is also quite simply a holiday, a reprieve from toil and a time to feast and get drunk. Unlike the imported occasions of Thanksgiving and Christmas and the Fourth of July, Midwinter’s Day is perhaps the only truly Antarctic holiday, based on the traditions of the first people who came here, who based their traditions on the particular nature of Antarctic seasons. To link Midwinter’s Day with “service” is the perfect Happy Ending in your circular fairy tale of our motives.
In closing, I again thank you for your fantastic letter, and I would like to return similar regards:
Know on the Fourth of July that some of us will have you in our thoughts, projecting from afar the purpose behind your activities, as you celebrate the birth of P.T. Barnum, the imprisonment of Galileo, and your vanquish of the Blue Dragons in the halls of the Temple of Bolshyt.
Your humble servant,
F. Scott Robert
THE WHITE HOUSE
June 17, 2004
I send greetings to those celebrating Midwinter’s Day in Antarctica on June 21, 2004.
Scientific research leads to progress in many important areas, and the international community in Antarctica improves our understanding of life, our world, and our universe. Your efforts continue the spirit of peaceful cooperation outlined in the Antarctic Treaty and advance humanity’s legacy of exploration and discovery.
I commend your vision and commitment to excellence in your fields. Your work enhances our quality of life and inspires new generations of innovators and pioneers.
Laura joins me in sending our best wishes on this special occasion.
George W. Bush
22 June 04
Subject: Parking Spaces
Many people in our building are concerned over the fact that we do not have adequate parking available for everyone at times in our parking lot, and that it appears that several of you are choosing to take 2 parking spaces up to protect your cars. Please be considerate and only use 1 space per car. We are bursting-at-the-seams with everyone in from the Ice and all our TDY/contract employees here. Parking is at a premium.
The City of Centennial does not allow street parking in this area, and please remember that the parking area north of the building does not belong to this property and we cannot park in that lot.
Please help us all.
11 June 04
I just read your study of Cubee the Aggregate. Puzzling. Considering the
thoroughness of the study, I was surprised that you failed to notice what stood out to me as the most striking feature of the whole image. The rays of the sun are from either Navel Orange or Orange Mango Raro; the mainstay of overworked McMurdo galley staff in search of a mild buzz to get through the day.
For a full on headrush, mix with expired Mountain Dew from the station store. The last I knew, Pole had yet to discover the joys of Raro, and pallets of the stuff were piling up at the end of Mainbody while the McMurdo supply dwindled. When winterovers got boondoggles to Pole before they began their Raro-less winter at McMurdo, they brought back fifty-one “Mega Packs” as gifts. Not as good as what the Polees brought to McMurdo on their boondoggles, but they both scratched an itch.
4 June 04
That was an excellent interview with Jon Johanson! Thanks for publishing it— I haven’t seen the whole story written out before and there is definitely a lot of misinformation out there!
But reading the rest of your site I’m getting more and more discouraged about living at the South Pole for a year. I may be coming down there this coming summer and staying through next winter to operate one of the experiments. I know that the climate is harsh, that there’s somewhat limited contact with the outside world and that people get weird after living for 6 months without light. But what sounds most discouraging is that the facilities are run like a Dilbert cartoon strip.
Do you have any words of encouragement, or have I pretty much hit the nail on the head?
Have you noticed in offices how Dilbert cartoons are stuck to almost every cubicle wall, and no boss in any office is concerned about that in the least? In Dilbert cartoons the office turmoil satirized usually limits itself to the characters’ fear of the immediate boss and their role as victims of the hierarchy. Dilbert is less a cutting satire of corporate culture than a salve for the office grunt’s frustration as a “victim” in that culture, though it’s kind of funny, and besides, how much can one expect from a three-panel cartoon strip? Nevertheless, if I were to reference fiction in describing American Antarctica, I would rather point to Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, or Francis Ford Coppolla’s Apocalypse Now as deft descriptions of parallel absurdity.
This place has the most insane bureaucracy I have ever seen. Living in McMurdo is like living a real-world Catch 22 (in the sense of bureaucracy, not of the war scenario), and though South Pole is sane in comparison, it’s rapidly moving in that direction, hastened to a bureaucratic future by Pole’s fashionable dictator, who might be called tough, but who might also be called a tough lapdog of NSF, building from their blueprint a shinier Pole with safety glasses on every wall and a new rule for every situation. Yes sir, old-timers say that classic Pole has fallen, and though the new era may promise the comfort of a new station and upgraded facilities, it also promises to bring a new wave of paperpushers, policy-driven onlookers, and Dilbert cartoon strips hung in cubicles that overlook the geographic south pole. South Pole may be the “last frontier”, as it says on the souvenir t-shirts in the store, but it may also be the “last suburb.”
You asked for words of encouragement, though. I have plenty:
1. It sounds like you are either a grantee or a lab tech. That alone alleviates 80% of your responsibility to sub-contractor management, though you’ll still have some NSF hoops to jump through.
2. Though it is nearly impossible to exaggerate the absurdity that fluorishes here, that is not the whole story. Like any other media project, Big Dead Place has an angle, an inevitable bias. That bias would be different were I female, Russian, or in the upper levels of management rather than a lowly grunt. What is unique about Big Dead Place is that it fills a gap in Antarctic literature that for decades has been passed over in the rush by writers to document harsh weather, natural beauty, and remote deprivation. It is other writers’ phenomenally unanimous conformity to the classic Antarctic image that gives Big Dead Place the appeal of novel dissidence when, actually, these stories have been around since the beginning, but only in the oral history of those workers engaged in the Antarctic Program, whom professional journalists from the papers talk with for about five minutes before writing about blizzards and penguins and making do with instant coffee.
My point is this: Big Dead Place does not generally focus on natural beauty, rugged conditions, science, comaraderie in remote isolation, or any heroism that may be involved in the Antarctic lifestyle, because those topics have been steadily beaten like a dead pony for the past hundred years. Nonetheless, those stories are not necessarily false ones, and anyone really curious about Antarctic culture would best serve themselves by reading a wide variety of Antarctic literature, including the penguin and iceberg stuff, which omits the true stories I record as surely as I omit the true stories of penguins and icebergs. (For these omissions, Big Dead Place has received the criticism of being biased. Well, no shit. What these critics are really saying is: “Big Dead Place has a different bias than other Antarctic literature, which largely shares the same bias.” Just because a thousand people share the same bias does not mean their bias defines neutrality, any more than a thousand churches prove the existence of god.) A worker writing about some of the better activities here might result in NSF attempting to put a stop to them, so though Big Dead Place strives to record something of the overlooked truth about this place, I have also kept plenty of polar pleasures purposefully partitioned from the prying eyes of the public. This influence tints the site with an air of the Negative Nellie, which is a distortion, and which tells little of the curiosity and enthusiasm that drives this site. In short, it’s really beautiful here, there’s some good people, and the work can be interesting, so come on down.
3. Anyway, what’s so great about where you are now?
F. Scott Robert
P.S. I recognize that recent content has veered toward meta-journalism and away from fascinating Antarctic shenanigans, so here’s some pictures of an Aussie Hagglund that recently fell through the ice:
12 May 04
Subject: Office Attire from Human Resources
The weather is getting warm and the flowers are blooming so it is time to remind everyone about appropriate office attire for the summer season. While we do not have a formal dress code policy, we certainly expect our employees to dress for work and not the beach. Please be mindful that shorts and revealing clothes are not considered appropriate business attire. Just take a moment to look in the mirror before leaving for the office to insure that what you are wearing is appropriate for an office environment.
Thanks and have a great summer season!
Sr. Manager, Human Resources
12 May 04
Hi…I wintered at South Pole in 1977 as facilities engineer…what a trip that was…and I was construction superintendent for Siple Station in 1978-9…I enjoy reading the site…I found it funny the name you picked…one time when I was trying to describe Antarctica to a friend a long time ago, I recall stating that ‘it’s this big dead place’…hmmm, must be true if two of us think so! Anyway, continue to have fun along your journey.
Bill Koleto, OAE
9 May 04
…Everything is going along just fine here. I have one tenant I am trying to evict. He is a nut case and is getting worse by the day. He is verbally abusive to other tenants and to me and his apartment is totally trashed. Karen, the owner, is handling the eviction cause she doesn’t want me in harms way. If he comes after me I will call the police and they will come get him. They know all about him. He is manic depressive and does not take his meds. He builds things in his apartment and then takes them apart and throws everything in the dumpster. I planted lots of flowers around and he goes and pulls them up and puts them in his apartment….
[F. Scott Robert's Mom, who manages a suburban apartment complex]
21 April 04
In regards to your 03 April entry, I find myself falling in agreement with your stance and explanation of such. It is this sort of perspective that has enriched and sustained me thus far during my time in McMurdo. To recognize and find amusement in the contradictions of human nature; as noted, without this ability surely things would turn rather nasty in such a contained environment. Although, I am hesitant in relation to your relatively broad acceptance of weakness. I would like to think that more individuals would possess more strength; that they would play out the emotions of their esteems based on some sort of humanitarian ethics rather than simply bend over for a hierarchical structure. I would like to think that I find myself in the company of some “critical thinkers” who find more fun and creative ways to indulge in their inevitably selfish tendencies, rather than to just be systematic suckers. Would it hurt to raise the bar a little?
And while I’d rather not be dubbed as a PC nazi, I could not help but notice your gender exclusive use of pronouns. Forgive me, as I have been trained.
And where should the bar be held? Should we start by focusing on someone’s gender exclusive use of pronouns? Racial epithets? Inappropriate comments of any kind? Obviously the first thing we need to do then is come up with some sort of policy about what kinds of language are over the bar and what kinds are under the bar. While we’re making language tidy, let’s call the bar “humanitarian ethics” so that anyone who argues with our policies can be written off as “unethical” or “anti-humanitarian”, then we can lynch them in the square to an easy applause (if you’re not clapping, you might want to start soon). Well, that was easy…calibrate a few political maneuvers as the definitions of moral virtue and soon even our opponents are careful to use our vocabulary in public. Now we’ve almost got them beat! This is where our friends with the swords will come in. We may not think we have friends with swords, but once we have implemented our humanitarian policies they will appear, and they will share our desire to hold up the bar for humanity (which we care so deeply about), and they will be able to approach humanity in ways that we had not thought of. Don’t worry though, our friends with the swords will deal only with those unethical and anti-humanitarian types that are mucking around under the bar. Ethical and humanitarian “critical thinkers” will still be allowed to speak or write, as long as they make sure that each pronoun pays proper tribute to each gender, keeping everything Even-Steven and Even-Stephanie.
Raising the bar for anyone but yourself is an attack on others. The attack in itself is understandable, but inevitably this is the kind of attack that is smothered in stinking moral rationalizations that give the attacker a glaze-eyed purpose indiscernible from that of a fanged lizard smug in its camouflage. To attack and defend is part of the game we’ve signed on for merely by being born, but to reshape the outcome so that we are always on the grander side of morality requires some fancy hopscotching in the streets of denial.
My broad acceptance of weakness? I accept everything. Others are as they are. Institutions do what they do. I’ll attack or defend as suits me, but I won’t deny their qualities merely to build a thought-proof staging area for some moral crusade against the Other. Some people want to bend over for a hierarchical structure. Why shouldn’t they? It works for them; they’ll be rewarded. What are you offering but a different scheme of incentives?
Forgiveness is irrelevant. You’re an HR nazi. Get a job as a publicist for NSF and keep your little bar the fuck off me.
F. Scott Robert
[L. responds (3 June 04):]
I’m not wearing camouflage. Carhartts rather. And I have my fangs filed down on a regular basis. I never meant to suggest that I was trying to impose my “little bar” on you, or anyone else for that matter. Nor was my intent to fantasize about censoring the nature and actions of others. I think I am agreeing with you when I say that using morals as a form of control is contrived and does not result in any sort of change beyond that which is superficial.
But I do have my opinions, which as anyone’s, are based on morals and judgment. So I was not attempting to start a “crusade” but rather I was hoping to get a little more insight through a better understanding of your opinion.
I guess I was expressing a shred of my own idealism when I questioned to what degree people must be “strong” to not “transform into human cogs, robotic drones who exist only in a world of reaction, desensitized to anything but reward and punishment, and are thus easily manipulated by anyone with more power than they, and therefore should not be trusted.” This was the “acceptance of weakness” I was questioning. To suggest that I desire the installment of some sort of grand socio-political scheme would counteract my very hope that people are more inclined to think for themselves.
(Your point that you “accept everything” is well taken. I see now that acceptance itself does not necessarily imply judgment or resignation, but rather acknowledgment.)
And while I claim that personal idealism so expressed, I simultaneously (and realistically) acknowledge the “cross-over attributes” of others and myself, not only in relation to the hierarchical institution to which we hold membership cards, but also in the inherent characteristics of human nature itself.
So, I should have been more specific when I inquired about “raising the bar.”
I also should have been more specific when broaching the topic of gendered language. You’re right: “Forgiveness is irrelevant.” I wasn’t really asking for you to pardon me. That, and the reference to being a “PC nazi,” was an unfortunate attempt at dry humor misconstrued. And while I see my own uses (for my own personal agenda) for writing in gender inclusive tones, as stated above, I know better than to try and force such things upon others. As you have so eloquently demonstrated, such imposition inevitably results in backlash.
Again, my questioning of your writing (whether it be about conceptual content or pronoun usage) is not about crusading. Merely, it is an attempt at widening my perspective.
27 March 04
fuck, I’m drunk, McMurdo Winter. Alcohol. Drunk.
10 March 04
Hey F. Scott,
Great idea, a contest for developing scurvy. Truly honoring the history of Antarctica that is part of our heritage as overworked drunks. I have a few comments.
First: after my full-blown British Navy-grade case of scurvy has been properly diagnosed and documented, how the hell am I to chew Flintstones
chewable Vitamin C tablets with my teeth falling out of my bleeding swollen gums? Tell me that.
Less ranty: Polar explorers of the late 19th century, notable Dr. Frederick A. Cook, found that by eating fresh meat, scurvy could be kept at bay. They procured this meat locally by killing and eating seals and penguins. So I would advise any who attempt this to avoid freshly-killed penguin or seal meat. F. Scott the Original had access to the knowledge, but instead chose to follow the habits of the British Artic explorers whose grandiose expeditions were plagued by scurvy.
And while the Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson may have suffered from scurvy, he was more notably afflicted with excessive vitamin A poisoning (hypervitaminosis A). This he got from eating the livers of his dying sled dogs. The liver was apparently the only thing left on starving dogs with the appearance of vitality. The Greenland husky has a massive amount of Vitamin A in its liver. Mawson’s symptoms included skin sloughing off his feet and around his groin.
I propose as an alternative to a scurvy contest, BDP offer a Vitamin A poisoning contest.
Once an Antarctican, now just a corporate tool who remembers that he once did something interesting
Once an Antarctican,
Regarding the consumption of Flintstones chewable Vitamin C tablets with destroyed teeth, we recommend either dissolving the vitamins in warm water and drinking the solution through a Krazy Straw, or crushing up the tablets and snorting the powder with a fresh C-note.
As far as a Vitamin A poisoning contest, we did indeed consider this alternative, but decided that the attractive illness suffered by Sir Mawson, no matter how easily contracted, was not a widespread Antarctic affliction, and thus does not deserve “traditional” standing. Since we at Big Dead Place are conservative traditionalists, scurvy more handsomely fit the bill.
Thanks for the historical synopsis.
F. Scott Robert
14 Feb 04
Attached is a picture of one of our trucks parked by one of our long time beakers. The truck is now the only two wheel drive truck on station, as the front diff was ripped out.
Apparently the Beaker in question tried to move the truck, and instead of putting it in reverse, put it in drive and whilst wearing his bunny boots, hit the gas a bit harder than normal and popped over the concrete barrier.
No administrative action was taken against the beaker. However, if it had been an RPSC employee, they surely would have been disciplined.
8 Feb 04
I’m thinking about applying for a job for next summer, but the Raytheon website doesn’t list salaries for open positions. While working in Antarctica would be a pretty cool experience, I don’t want to take time off from school unless the money’s good enough to pay off some bills. Is there somewhere I can find out salary information, or is this some kind of secret?
Once you get the job, you’ll find out how much money you’ll make. It’s a faux pas to discuss compensation before you have committed to service. Wage lists are proprietary information, but my own wages are my business, so I can tell you this: In 1998 I got a job as a dishwasher making $375 a week in McMurdo, came back making $450 a week in a different job, then did a winter making $620 a week as an equipment operator. This year I turned down a job as a heavy equipment operator making $850 a week so I could check out Pole, where I make $525 a week. You work six days a week, roughly nine hours a day, you work in -80F temps, no haz pay, no overtime (because the Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t apply in a foreign country), and you must pay taxes on your wages (because Antarctica is not a foreign country.) However, there are almost no expenses, so you can keep what you make, and if you stay long enough, the money can be a significant addendum to the attractive lifestyle of long periods of intense work followed by long periods of savage leisure.
Hope that helps.
F. Scott Robert
3 Feb 04
The right job with the USAP makes for a more enjoyable stay. An enlistment in the armed forces in a computer/electronics career field will ensure you are in great demand when you seperate after 4 or 6 years. Some of the best jobs on the ICE demand this type of military background and most of these are not with RPSC. I come to the ICE to work and everything else is secondary. I can say the things that bother you about the program I’ve never really had to deal with to any extent.
Fair enough. The right job anywhere will make for a more enjoyable stay. Besides a 4 to 6 year enlistment in the armed forces, other things that make for a more enjoyable stay on the earth are money, control of one’s surroundings (power), health, and mating fulfillment. Yet, as attractive as it is to gather these ingredients for “the enjoyable stay”, in acquiring them it does not follow that individual success be the only possible yardstick for our cultural stories. I like my job too. I make enough money to suit me. I get action. In short, I also can say that what bothers me about The Program, I’ve never really had to deal with. But I deal with it anyway.
I’m always curious to hear how others deal with The Program. Thanks for writing.
F. Scott Robert
2 Feb 04
The [psychologists] are here now to conduct the pre-winter interviews for the people who will be wintering over. While we’ve had an initial brisk response, we still have a number left to be signed up. It would be helpful if you could encourage your team to come by the new medical facility and get signed up. The interview lasts 30 minutes each.
South Pole Station Physician
13 Jan 04
[The Thing] is as true to the novella as you can get. I just need to know something that has been bothering me. When Blair tells Mac to watch out for Clark he says, “believe we”. Is that a mistake cause he was drugged, or because every cell is its own entity?
Besides a grammatical passive voice, the substitution of “we” for the first-person pronoun of “me” or “I” is the most useful bureaucratic fluorish for evading responsibility of a direct action. As you may have read, the Big Dead Place essay on The Thing states that the most coherent interpretation of the film is as a commentary on the nature of bureaucracy, where a system of survival is put to work invading individuals, so that individuals (whether people or cells) are the only visible culprits of the stultifying havoc unleashed on society (represented by an Antarctic station). If Blair tells Mac “Believe we,” it is because he is a foreigner who has miscalculated the context of the situation, and has mistaken his tool shed for a Human Resources office. Revealing his true nature in the latter environment would give him an edge, but in the former environment, imprisoned in some filthy hut by a drunken helo pilot wearing a cowboy hat, the disclosure becomes a liability. Fortunately for The Thing, MacReady was either too slow or too merciful, so The Thing could get back to building its escape vessel unmolested.
13 Jan 04
There is no gentle way to say this. . .
The skylab lounge is for the enjoyment of everyone on the station. Please do not throw cigarette butts off the balcony or urinate off the balcony. This “litter” does not magically disappear but has to be cleaned up, usually by the science technicians who work in and out of the skylab building. There are butt cans on the balcony and U-barrels on the stairwell. Please be courteous so we can all enjoy the skylab lounge. Thank you. . .
Science Support Coordinator
Raytheon Polar Services Co.
South Pole Office
6 Jan 04
If working down in Antarctica sucks so much, why do a lot of you keep signing up year after year?
Because it doesn’t get any better than this.
Who’s love for a place is more stable: one whose love is dredged from a place despite a thousand antagonisms?; or one whose love is entirely contingent on a romantic interpretation of that place? Regarding Antarctica, and other places too, there is no shortage of the latter.
I, personally, never, ever, anywhere, said that Antarctica sucks. I love it here. And so do most of the contributors. No one in this world writes a thousand hours on a subject he hates. But regardless of the editor’s and many contributors’ curiosity and wonder considering humanity’s tragic and absurd and hilarious flash-in-the-pan endeavors through the lens of American Antarctica, Big Dead Place welcomes different perspectives, occasionally even those from apes and patriots whose binary criticism abides by the national policy of us/them, good/bad, like/dislike, or sucks/doesn’t-suck, and hereby reserves the right to affectionately publish the odd morsel from our bored and brainwashed brethren now and again. So, thanks for writing.
Those who want to answer the question of why they have returned to Antarctica year after year can do so on the Why I Have Returned to Antarctica Year After Year survey.
9 Dec 03
Hey, how are ya doing down there. I know you folks down there want to keep the rest of us away but you keep dragging us in with your web pages. The best way to keep your secret is to shut the fuck up. Wouldn’t you agree. It seems you each have a couple web pages and a thrice yearly article in National Geographic. I know it’s lonely down there but that’s what you went for right?
Your warm and toasty buddy in Pennsylvania,
Scorch the Electrician
Come on down, we need more straight-talking fuckers like you, even if you eventually get sent north for popping some dipshit in the head at a bad moment. 1-800-688-8606.
5 Dec 03
Protestant services will start this Sunday 07 DEC 2003. 11:30 in the upper part of the old galley.
Remember the reason for the season. Also, Prepare your heart through daily prayer and devotion.
Also, [Another of the Lord's Flock] and I are in discussion about non-denominational bible studdies[sic].
Know the reason for the hope we have.
[A Christian Who Found the Pole-All Email List]
5 Dec 03
I’m sitting here bored and drunk and due to get off duty in a couple of hours and I have a question. If the movie “The Thing” wasn’t real (and I think it was) then how do we know for sure we actually have people at the South Pole? Have you seen “Capricorn One”?
30 Nov 03
Merry pre-Christmas greetings!
The Christian community here at Pole would like to offer an opportunity to reflect upon the reason for the Christmas season. Beginning December 1st through December 23, each Monday through Friday at 12:30 pm and then repeated at 12:30 am, someone with a laptop will sit at a table in the galley and show a few scenes from the DVD movie Jesus of Nazareth, by Franco Zeffirelli. The scenes will be shown chronologically so that the entire film can be seen by Christmas. Anyone is invited to pull up a chair before, during, or after eating and watch and listen to the scenes on the small screen. You may watch as little or as much of the featured scenes as you like. All are warmly invited to participate. Thanks for allowing us this opportunity.
The Christian community here at Pole
28 Nov 03
There continues to be problems in the dorm spaces after evenings of socializing, frivolity and drinking. The ongoing issues of vomiting in bathrooms, halls and/or janitor closets and not being responsible and cleaning up after yourself is completely unacceptable. If you are one of the 2% group do the following;
1. If you are unable to “hold your liquor” reduce your intake.
2. If you find yourself getting sick, find the “white throne” and use it and then clean it and yourself up.
Any future issues will be dealt with accordingly but will begin with the following; If a problem occurs and it is not cleaned up by the responsible person or persons…..then all persons living on the floor of the affected dorm/living area will be brought back from work on Monday morning and they will, collectively, do the “house mouse” cleanup. It is not acceptable to place this disgusting task on the janitorial staff.
For those of you that find yourself in the 2% group, please demonstrate self control and personal responsibility. The other 98% will appreciate it. Thank you for your attention to this matter of personal and community health.
McMurdo Area Director
19 Nov 03
I am writing you from Finland, Scandinavia. I turn to you in a really odd case. For many years I’ve been fascinated by the idea to get something from me to the North Pole and to the South Pole. Last year, two of my “teeth of wisdom” (molars) were removed by a dental surgeon and those teeth were after that disinfected and sealed in a bag. Since then I’ve had this weird idea, that I definitely want to get one wisdom teeth to the maximum South and the other one to the maximum North. So, I would like to know, if there are any chance to get a wisdom-tooth of mine to be buried in the Antarctic? This must be the oddest request you have ever heard of, but I am sincerely asking this. Please keep this email confidenial.
We will gladly plunge that disinfected tooth of yours into the South Pole directly. Your seed thus planted in a mountain of shifting ice, it will begin its long creep to the Antarctic coast, accompanied by a thousand tons of raw American feces similarly hidden, and the impossible difficulties of ultimate glory will be yours to omit as you see fit. Send it to our contact at the South Pole: [name omitted], South Pole Station, PSC 468, Box 400, APO AP 96598. I agree that this is an “odd” request, but for reasons you may not have intended. Antarctic contract workers must have their wisdom teeth removed to be eligible for employment (a symbolic removal of undesirable faculties?), and I am amused at the prospect of a molarless American station importing wisdom teeth from another country. In the spirit of international cooperation, Big Dead Place agrees to underwrite your pathologically common jab at immortality, and will send you pictures of the proceedings.
F. Scott Robert
27 October 2003
[Letter recalled by request.]
16 September 2003
Please inform your employees that writing on the sides of the pickup trucks, even with your finger in accumulated snow or dirt, will cause the painted finish to be marred. It takes the VMF about three hours to buff out graffiti that people have written on the sides of the vehicles. Encourage your people to refrain from writing on vehicles. The vehicles are valued pieces of equipment and this type of activity reduces their value.
RPSC, McMurdo Station
9 September 2003
I’m going to be heading down to McMurdo in a couple of weeks. My title is, “Admin Coordinator,” or something equally disparaging. Do I have any idea what I will be doing? No… but, hey, it’s life’s little adventures that got me where I am today. Which is… well, living in a crappy apartment, working a crappy state accounting job, and, quite frankly, not at all where I thought my degree in history would get me. But I digress.
I’m excited for this little adventure, but equally determined to remind myself that it may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. I am, of course, going to be working for far less than minimum wage, going from one cold to another (Alaska is my current residence), and going to sorely miss my Vanilla Chai Tea Latte. However, after stumbling upon your site (amazing what happens when you google “Antarctica” and “Fucked Up”), I am glad to know that not all hope is lost, and that someone down there is already preparing for the rather dry and tasteless humor that has become my trademark personality.
I’ll have a cold one for you tonight. One that’s not expired.
7 Sep 2003
Hi there F,
Came across the letter from “A Kiwi Winterover” dated 29th March, wherein the writer did bitch and moan about “…an unthinking individual ‘grumping’ about a previous trip…” and how this somehow managed to curtail his right to a jolly good time hurtling all around the Ross Sea area. As the “grumping individual” mentioned I can say that if Antarctica New Zealand actually took notice of anything that I wrote or said then this would be a first. What was written was probably never even seen by the Antarctica New Zealand Board and if it was, I hardly think that it would have swayed them one way or another. The account was a humourous report on a trip to Cape Crozier that had more than its fair share of mechanical problems, which were all overcome safely. Not only that, our trip to Cape Crozier very nearly did not occur because of events of the previous winter –and “A Kiwi Winterover” would have intimate knowledge of that.
Having a fairly good idea who would apportion blame for the curtailing of his pleasure on anybody except himself, I can say that this is quite what I would expect from such a self-agrandising person. It is indeed a pity that such people cannot apply themselves to honest pursuits as vigourously as they pillory others.
Still one good thing has come of this chance encounter – I will know better than to bend over in front of this person ever again.
Probably will still be,
2 September 2003
This letter is in response/addition to T’s letter on 29 August. I am the wife he refers to. I came across your website in my quest to learn info on my upcoming first trip to McMurdo to work as a galley princess. The truths presented in your website are so refreshing. Thank you.
I am looking forward to my stint at the dishsink on the Ice, but I will not be a PPP (Perky Pollyanna Person) thanks to the reality your site has shown me. I really can’t help but be so excited about going though. I am effervescent and bubbling over. Wish me luck. I understand from experience about hard work and mountains of food encrusted pots and pans.
How did you feel about your first trip there?
How many times have you been there?
Why do you keep going back, (assuming you do)?
P.S. T really does have a great sense of humor and everybody likes him, especially me. What a guy. He is not figuratively, but literally following me to the near end of the earth.
29 August 2003
LOVE THE WEBSITE SO WHY AM I GOING TO MAC RATHER THAN PALMER (LAST 2 SUMMERS AT PALMER)
MY WIFE WANTS TO GO GOT A JOB IN THE GALLEY AND I STUPIDLY AGREED TO ACCOMPANY HER
WE ARENT EVEN FLYING DOWN TO THE SHIT HOLE TOGETHER
4 DAYS APART FOR GODSAKE
I MAY PULL THE PIN AT THE LAST MINUTE. SHE CAN GO AND ILL FEED THE DOG. I CANT STAND DENVER NITWITS ANY WAY
WHAT HAVE I FUCKIN DONE
31 July 2003
God bless you for the work you do. This was witnessed by several people this week. I’m sorry I must remain anonymous.
There is a window display as you walk into the galley where prizes are displayed for bi-weekly bingo games. Instead of bingo prizes this week, the
Safety Girl has on display an extension cord that nearly contributed to the burning down of the coffee house.
The following message was slipped into her display during lunch. By the end of lunch, Safety Girl had hunted down [someone from] our recreation department and had the sign promptly removed from her extension cord display.
The sign said:
“This Week’s Morale Boosting Window Display Brought to you by McMurdo Safety–’We Won’t Help You Do Something Safe, But We’ll Catch You
When You Do It Wrong!’ Tune in for next week’s Morale Boosting Topic, ‘Remember When you Thought Your Vote Counted’ Or ‘Why you Won’t Get the One
Extra Day Off You Voted For Earlier This Season’ with guest Speaker Tom Yelvington (note: Tom Yelvington will not have the guts to address us
personally on this issue, so to boost morale at this Town Meeting we will sing ‘The Hokey Pokey’ instead.”
The extension cord display remains. What a sucky bingo prize.
I’m Not [the Station Manager]
31 July 2003
Your question was referred to me. There is no specific code that identifies incense in the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), and our candle fire report (attached) does not mention incense at all in its statistics. Incidentally, home candle fires were up to 15,040 in 1999.
Unfortunately, I can’t help you with any numbers on incense because we have no way of identifying or tracking these incidents.
Please let me know if I may be of any further assistance.
Fire Analysis Specialist
NFPA Fire Analysis and Research Division
27 July 2003
Three cheers to BDP! I only wish I’d known about it when I was wintering over. Then I could’ve been paid for the hours I pissed away reading it, rather than pissing away hours of my free time back in The World.
Keep up the good work!
(Fucked-up ex-South Pole Winterover)
19 July 2003
We continue to have problems with incense being burned in the dorms. As mentioned in prior emails, not everyone enjoys the smell of incense. Some people cannot tolerate the smoke and have had to leave their dorm room due to the excessive incense in the air from other rooms. This is simply unacceptable.
The rules prohibit burning incense. From here on out, I expect no one to burn incense. Anyone caught burning incense should expect swift disciplinary action to be taken.
[RPSC McMurdo Winter Site Manager]
29 May 2003
I was just reviewing your request to use several images from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Image Library on your website. I just went into your website and see that they are indeed being used. However, I do not see photo credits. None of the images in our library belong to NSF but we have permission to include them in our library provided we state how they should be credited and include special restrictions for use, if applicable. Some are even copyright.
Permission is granted to use images from the NSF Image Library website on the condition that (a) images are credit as stated on the image information screen (the screen containing caption, credit, etc.) and (b) any special restrictions that pertain to the image are adhered to.
Perhaps I am missing a credit page and if so, I apologize for troubling you. If the images are not credited however, you may not use them in any manner.
I’ve provided the appropriate credits below for the images you requested as well as restrictions that pertain to some of the images. I would appreciate a follow up e-mail letting me know how you proceed. Thanks very much.
Administrator, NSF Image Library
NSF Public Affairs Office
I have added credits to the photos in a more visible manner than they were credited previously, and will continue to do so in the future regarding any photos from the NSF library. Presently two photos from said library are posted on the Big Dead Place website.
It is convenient that you’ve contacted us, as I’ve recently spoken to a friend who is somewhat dismayed to find himself in one of the photos distributed via the NSF photo library. Looking through the employment contract for Antarctic workers I can find no model release clause that permits NSF to distribute promotional photos of workers engaged in the mandatory tasks of their daily employment.
Is the single photo perhaps an exception, or have all of the workers’ permissions in this regard been deemed irrelevant for NSF purposes?
Of course, the matter is just a technicality. A trifling and nearly inconsequential detail that I would be embarrassed to address were we not already on the subject.
F. Scott Robert
23 May 2003
Raytheon Polar Services Company conducts background checks on all personnel. This was a decision that was made in conjunction with the NSF to provide a safer working and living environment for our employees.
A link has been sent to your email address from Hireright.com for you to submit your background check online. The background check includes and is limited to a criminal check, social security verification, driving record and federal debarment list. NO credit check or other investigation is conducted as a part of this process….Your offer of employment with Raytheon is contingent upon satisfactory information being obtained for all the background check. You will not be allowed to begin work with RPSC until this step has been satisfactorily completed….If you have any questions or concerns about this process, please do not hesitate to call your department contact or Human Resources.
Raytheon Polar Services Company
Ah yes, ’tis good to see the Scott Base sign back up. For those not versed in New Zealand Wildlife, the furry beast perched on the top is a Possum, not a cat as is commonly thought. Our beloved leader at the time thought it would not be very PC to have the sign in view and cause possibly embarrassing questions when the visiting Kiwi DV’s were having drinkeys and nibbles with your hierarchy. Not the done thing you know.
Thankfully the Winter crew has rectified this error and struck a note for those of us who live in the real world!
Tally Ho – Enjoy The Winter
Fair play for the station manager. This past weekend he volunteered his time to help maintain the bouldering cave, a popular spot for climbing junkies and novices alike. He spent a couple hours removing and cleaning the holds with a toothbrush. Sure didn’t see that from any summer managers. He’s also been participating in community events, indicating he may retain many aspects of his humanity. (Don’t let Raytheon know).
Equal Opportunity Critic
Greetings from Scott Base, New Zealand’s effort to keep a political and military foot in the “strategic” door of Antarctica.
Unlike the US programme, we only have to suffer the inadequacies of one management body to remotely control us during the winter season….This does not, however, mean we are exempt from the problems that your programme is infested with, [such as] people who are more concerned with enjoying boondoggles to various conferences overseas…at the taxpayers’ expense to discuss things that could have taken place on the phone.
At present we have a new captain at the helm and there is some desperate hope that he might bring some positive changes to bear. At last count there were sixteen people at the Christchurch office in supervisory roles (they don’t always use “manager”, in an effort to hide the top-heavy nature of the department) compared with four mere underlings….Compare this to Scott Base winter numbers of twelve base staff supporting two science events over winter, as well as keeping the base operational, and you can begin to see the problem. I am not suggesting that we are understaffed, as we pride ourselves on being more than capable of fulfilling our assigned roles and still having time for a life, but it does make you wonder at the productivity of Christchurch.
One of the things the Kiwi programme seems to do well is to usually select a Scott Base crew who are dedicated to what they are doing, as well as looking out for ourselves and our fellow base staff. Unfortunately for Christchurch this also means employing people with intelligence and values and this must give them some sleepless nights. Imagine trying to go to sleep at night, knowing that there are people out there (down here) with the knowledge and perception to realise what a hash you are making of your job. I don’t hesitate to add that this does not apply to all our Christchurch people, but those whom it does apply to know who they are.
We at Scott Base are rightly perceived by the US programme as having a greater degree of freedom for recreational travel than you enjoy. This is a result of being a much smaller programme compared with the assets available to us, and is also an encouragement to people who would not normally consider working in this environment for the abysmal pay they provide. Recently we had our chances for recreational travel over winter severely curtailed by an unthinking individual “grumping” about a previous trip to Cape Crozier, during which he saw only the inside of a polar tent or the inside of a broken down Hagglund….Our esteemed Board Of Directors who, incidentally, are another burden on Antarctic New Zealand’s already stretched budget and have no in-depth experience of life here, decided that because of one whiner’s bad experience, we were to be denied the opportunity to experience this particular joy. I am sure that all of them have visited Cape Crozier or other more exotic places, courtesy of a nice reliable helo ride during their “DV” visits, which generally occur each year for a Board Meeting that could easily have taken place in NZ. Anyway, I guess we should count ourselves lucky that three of the management- types who control our professional and private lives here have at least had the wonderful experience of wintering over at Scott Base.
Kindest Regards, possibly see you on a Thursday [when the Scott Base bar is open to American visitors from McMurdo].
A Kiwi Winterover
19 Mar 2003
Dear Big Dead Place,
Dave Bresnahan didn’t have time to send this review to you before he left so he asked me to send it in (but I kind of forgot about it till now). So, here’s his long-promised review of Virus.
17 Mar 2003
I noticed that the NZ sign (with the black cat) on the road to Scott Base was taken down mid-season. I later found out from some Kiwis that the USAP pressured them to take the sign down, even though a McMurdo Station sign has sprung up on the same road, positioned closer to Scott Base than the Scott Base sign! How unbelievably petty can these guys be?
I’m not sure who in particular told Scott Base to take the sign down, but within hours after the last flight left the Scott Base sign went right back up. [The NSF Rep] was on that last flight….
Ashamed To Work For The USAP
Attention NSF Rep on the last flight: Did you pressure the Kiwis at Scott Base to take down their roadsign?
9 Feb 2003
ATS has lost yet another Air Traffic Controller, we’ve almost completely run out. The exact reason for the quitting is unknown, although the belief is that the work schedule is out of control and is only getting worse due to lack of personnel. The total of controllers lost this season is seven.
I have some info on the Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) that quit a month ago. All ATCs work for USAP under a subcontract. The hiring company is called Scientific Research Corporation, or SRC, based out of Charleston, SC, and is regulated by a government organization called Space and Naval Warfare Systems, or SPAWAR, and operates on the ice under the guise of Aviation Technical Services, or ATS. You can already see the problems of too many chiefs, not enough indians. SRC subcontractors have to answer to SPAWAR (govt) “managers” who are regulated by NSF (more govt) personnel. The problem with ATS (SRC & SPAWAR personnel) is that all of the people are former military, and have a bad habit of “leading from the rear”. Meaning most of the decisions made for ATS people on the ice are being made from behind a desk in balmy Charleston, SC.
Now to get to the point – Five ATCs quit a month ago. One got a job with the FAA; one quit due to a feared safety risk posed by the wretched and inhumane shift they were working (8 hrs on, 8 off, 8 on, 32 off, repeat.) The reason stated was that because of hours worked, [Runway] Tower Personnel were “walking zombies” and were going to make a mistake and cause an accident. He simply got out before it happened. The other three jumped on the quitting bandwagon stating they were “fed up with the bullshit”. ATS is a seperate entity from Raytheon and fear they are viewed by the rest of the “Raytheon community” as “elitist” because they don’t have to attend town meetings or put up with any of HR’s crap. Their workload is also not as high as many normal RPSC employees. Their job is strictly to support the guard/reserve in completing their sorties. It’s an unwanted job by Raytheon which is why it went to a subcontractor. Last year the contract came up for bid and the only other interested party was Raytheon. They looked at it and basically said they didn’t want to deal with it and so the contract remains with SPAWAR. It is the opinion of several ATS employees that if it weren’t for the gov’t (SPAWAR) overseers the job would get done just fine and there would be less quitting taking place. Since the quittings, the SPAWAR employees who are down here have had to start manning the tower as well as Mac Center instead of just managing from their desk. Almost overnight the schedule got changed to where the tower would close if there were a long enough break in schedulecd aircraft and they have since ceased that 8 on, 8 off shift. Just thought I’d give a little clarification on that whole issue.
6 Feb 03
Big Dead Place,
I have recently been liberated from the frozen pond and would like to relay an idyllic scene from the CDC [Clothing Distribution Center, in Christchurch]. Several of us were running with fully-loaded luggage carts, purposely crashing into each other. After one particularly nasty fall, an ex-grunt, bruised and bloody, joyously shouted from the ground, “I don’t have to be safe anymore!” It has been a happy few days.
Thanks for keeping it in perspective and reminding us why we don’t want to go back.
5 Feb 03
It lifts my spirits to see that you folks have created a site dedicated to the realities of the NSF and RPSC. Again I find myself experiencing flashbacks to DA life, crawling around the galley floor on hands and knees to pick up crab-leg pieces following 2002′s Christmas “dinner”.
Best of luck in your efforts,
4 Feb 03
BDP…here’s another one,
“Lunch for Four is being brought to you as part of the recommendations from the Teambuilding & Respect Employee Opinion Survey IPT. This will be maintained under the Polar Morale Committee.”
31 Jan 03
One morning, at about 6:30 AM, I walked into the Galley, ordered my eggs and, as is my custom, walked to the toaster while my eggs were being cooked. At the toaster I encountered a man whom I immediately assumed to be a DV because of the impeccable cleanliness of his clothing. He was wearing a sharp New York Yankees hat which I commented on since I was a fan in my youth.
The DV was bent at the waist and staring into the toaster. “I seem to have lost my toast,” he said. “Does that happen often?”
“Sure,” I replied, “now and then.” I figured either his toast had been stolen or else he’d failed to recognize it in its new ‘toasted’ state when it came out the bottom. This is where I told him what a nice hat he had. As I slid in front of him to place my two pieces of bread behind the little ‘safety bar’, he eyed me strangely, almost as if he were seeing things for the first time. Then he reached into the bread box, grabbed two slices of bread, and slid them into the toaster behind the safety bar. “I didn’t do THAT last time,” he said. “Well then,” I told him, “you definitely lost your toast.”
I walked back to the grill and picked up my eggs. Less than five minutes later the fire alarm went off and the entire galley was cleared. Plates were stacked high in the dish window, bewildered people walked downstairs in their pajamas, the firefighters showed up in full gear with steel pry bars and axes. A DA came out and unplugged the toaster. And the senator from New York rushed out the door, abandoning another serving of toast.
27 Jan 03
Great job with Big Dead Place, it’s a great companion to the “wow what a wonderful, beautiful place brimming with amazing and interesting people…” spams I send home. I now just refer people to your site.
Quick question, were the bathrooms [in Exploring Antarctica by Bathroom] ever rated for:
1. Best place to take a dump?
2. Best place to toss your cookies?
3. Best place to change a tampon (guess this wasn’t on the guy’s minds at the time, but I would be interested to know if brown paper bags were available in all bathrooms)?
4. Best place for a quick shag?
This would really help us all out immenseley, but may inadvertently turn the best places into the worst. Might you except bribes (my banana
from breakfast perhaps) for getting the info privately?
Gal on the way OUT (and back, and out and back…)
20 Jan 03
I drink pop. The cafeteria (I refuse to call it a “galley”) serves us water, orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemonade, ice tea, and fruit punch. No fountain pop! Why? Because they sell it in the store. So at least it’s available.
I am a Pepsi fan. I don’t like other colas. Except RC if it has Captain Morgan in it. One time I was in the VMF after a party and grabbed a Pepsi out of a trough. A friend I was with said “Oh, Pepsi! Living dangerously?” I didn’t understand until later when I cracked open the can. SCHPsshhhh. Sounded OK. Chug, chug, chug, ahhh refreshing cola chilled to perfection in the natural Antarctic fridge. Wait. Something didn’t seem quite right. Then I noticed the flavor. Sugar, acid, and some other flavor that I quite couldn’t place. It didn’t taste good. Unfortunately I was out in the wild with no place to dump it. I had no choice but to drink it. When I was done, I voiced my disgust. My friend said “Look at the date.” August 19, 2001. It was late December, 2002. A little past its expiration date.
When I went to the store to buy some cola, I checked the bottoms of the cans. All the Pepsi was expired. So I switched to Coke. I never drink Coke. But at least it was fresh…er. It tasted OK but not the best. Then a week ago I grabbed a six pack of Coke that looked a little different. Remember the ones from 2000 with Santa on the can? I didn’t either. I bought it even though it said 2000 on the front of the can. Santa was smiling; it had to be OK. Wrong. I went back to drinking the Pepsi. Now we have some that expired Aug, 2002. Tastes OK I guess. I have to wonder though… isn’t there a law about selling expired food products? Or is this yet another law meant to protect American Citizens that doesn’t apply here? Watch out for the boxed milk too.
Notice also that all the cigarettes sold in the store bear the seal “Tax Exempt For Sale Outside the U.S.” and that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not apply regarding overtime wages, while simultaneously the IRS is trying to squeeze Antarctic workers for domestic taxes.
19 Jan 03
…a quick but true story that occurred minutes before the LC-130 filled with the DVs left McMurdo…
The DV’s personal bags were seconds from being loaded on the Herc when I was made privy to the fact that we would have to open a bag to retrieve some personal item. Nothing new here so far, we do it all the time for eyeglasses, medicine, books, etc….But as it turns out, one of the Congressmen freaked out because he had remembered some TRAIL MIX left buried deep inside his new, unused, bright orange ECW bag. The dude was afraid that [New Zealand] Customs was going to give him an anal probe and arrest him on the spot for some snacks that were probably brought down from New Zealand in the first place. After explaining to him the concept of the amnesty box that would be made available to him in Christchurch, he freaked out again. So we pulled his bag from the stack, dug through his stuff (which included a black pair of hush puppies, a few striped button-down polo shirts, some dark brown dockers, and a packet of USAP info) to find a two-ounce bag of peanuts and raisins.
15 Jan 03
I just wanted to take a minute from my already extremely boring day to tell you how much my friends and I really love this web site. When family and friends back home ask what it’s like down here, I refer them to Big Dead Place.
12 Jan 03
Speaking as the Fire Tech and Duty Electrician here at South Pole Station, I would like to say just one thing, KEEP YOUR FILTHY RAT CLAWS OUT OF MY FIRE ALARM PANELS!!!
While working on the new station here I recently received a technician from Siemens, the system manufacturer. He’s from Chile and doesn’t have a very good grasp on English. Thank you Raytheon and NSF.
Pole Fire Tech
I hate to rain on your parade but the greatest ANTARCTIC MOVIE is VIRUS. I just happen to have a DVD copy here in my office and if a representative of your organization would like to view it I would consider loaning it out.
Of course I would not reveal the name of your agent!
David M. Bresnahan
NSF Representative, Antarctica
McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Mr. Bresnahan. We are honored by your offer, but it is far too risky to consider. We are giving you an assignment. Please write a review of the film in question. If this assignment is satisfactory, we may allow you an interview.
David M. Bresnahan
NSF Representative, Antarctica
McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Mr. Bresnahan. Reputable sources close to us report that “Virus” is a terrible movie without Antarctic merit of any kind. I eagerly await your review that proves otherwise.
Oh yes, bok bok. I will drop by the office to discuss vintage horror films if you allow Big Dead Place to unconditionally select next season’s Artist’s and Writer’s Grant recipients. They won’t be the usual assortment of doe-eyed preschool teachers that NSF prefers, but they’ll be professionals. Chicken?
Nice try, thanks for being a sport.
10 Jan 03
Hey, I don’t mind you using my name and I’ve protected the innocent as best I can. Thanks for a cool site. I cruise it more and more as I get toastier and toastier. 4 1/2 weeks! Then it’s draft beer that isn’t two years old, and sushi, and Thai food, and sex, and well, you know. Thanks again.
FNG Crane Operator
South Pole Station
9 Jan 03
Dear Mr. Robert,
How I enjoyed your blog on Antarctica! Beautiful writing! I smiled through the entire thing! However, in your penultimate paragraph labeled “Workers”, you refer to “the hoi polloi”. It should read “hoi polloi” or “the polloi” since “hoi” *is* the word for “the” in the nominative plural. “The hoi polloi” is redundant.
Thanks again for some great writing! How I would love to go down there sometime, but alas, can perform no scientific task.
Your very truly,
Lawrence S. Braden
Mr. Braden, thanks for your letter, especially regarding the usage of “hoi polloi”. I will make the correction at once. I appreciate your attention to language. However, that you have read this site and continue to believe that working in Antarctica requires a scientific background reveals either a failing on your part to actually read the site, or a failing on my part to describe the non-scientific majority that has inhabited the American stations since the beginning. Alas, you perform no scientific feats, but can you sterilize cutlery?
7 Jan 03
What a hoot! Love the show — carry on regardless.
Having sampled the soup from the other side of the hill and having seen what it does to people’s constitution, it is good the world should know.
Whoever you are — I suspect that iceberg-spotting figured highly in your work load — keep up the good work.
Grump [from New Zealand's Scott Base near McMurdo Station]
6 Jan 03
Wow, that’s a great website. I can tell that you put a lot of thought and work into it. I really liked the Chapter from your book. I do wish that I could have read this before I went down and had to watch fucking [so-and-so] try to install a fire detector with a case of CD [beer] on his shoulder. What a joke. I hear [the Quality Assurance Rep] is still down there as well. That fucking place has more unwarranted egos and backstabbing fucks then anywhere I have ever been.
Well, take care of yourself and keep it real. I hope to hear from you soon. Peace out.
5 Jan 03
Here’s a little ditty for your Frontierwatch…I think it was for the month of November:
“Head of Logistics awards “Employee of the Month” award to head of Supply department. Both continue to wonder why retention is poor in Supply.”
Thanks for the page. It’s a little fuzzy ray of sunshine in an otherwise…always light place.
4 Jan 03
Hi BDP, thanks for the entertainment.
Here’s an actual E-mail…Quote:
Effective immediately I will be the POC for NSF/RPSC work center regarding the Raytheon Polar Service sponsored T/R event process. Please see me regarding T/R event applications process, application amendments, and application status. My cubicle is currently located between HR and Finance. I look forward to working with all of you.
Thank you and wish you all happy holidays.
Greetings F. Scott,
The Cargo shack howled recently while viewing your website, Big Dead Place.
We look forward to subsequent updates and postings.
3 Jan 03
I have been in the program for 16 seasons now and this is GREAT! I love knowing what you are talking about and who it is too! I have not been this excited since 1990 when the original Shadow was being printed. Thanks, I need this laugh.
Thanks for the letter. If the editor of The Shadow is out there somewhere, please contact Big Dead Place. We’d like to interview you. I reckon that, unless John Behrendt has kept copies of The Daily Sandcrab from his winter during IGY, The Shadow is the strongest satire to have come from an American station and survived.