TBR News August 3, 2015

Aug 02 2015

The Voice of the White House

 Washington, D.C. August 1, 2015: “ I have just finished reading one of the most interesting, and entertainiing books I have read in a long time. Fiction, it is entitled “The Season of Evil” and covered the adventures of some of the most amoral people imaginabie. It is very humorous, but the humor is very black. Here is an excerpt to prove my point:

“The print shop was located in a strip mall, wedged between a pet shop that had a dead rabbit and live flies in its window and a telephone answering service with a bright pink door.

“Instaprint” had no one at the front desk when Cyril walked in but there was the sound of a loud argument in the back that indicated that the OPEN sign was not lying.

“You filthy fuck!” screamed one voice, “you buggered up the entire fucking order! Jesus, you should have stayed in the fucking nut house!!”

“It’s not my fault Myron, I told you we ran out of brown ink way last week and you didn’t reorder because you got no credit! And I’m not a nut either. I was in a hospital for my nerves! Don’t shout at me!”

Cyril rapped on the counter with his car keys.

“Hello! Anyone back there? I’m a customer.”

There was silence in the back and a tall, thin man with a large paunch came out of the back. He had protuberant, watery blue eyes and a receding chin and wore a filthy T-shirt that was spattered with multi-colored inks and looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.

He wiped his long, pale hands on pants that were once a light tan and now looked like the contents of a long-unflushed toilet.

“Customer! Can I help you? We are having some problems here, just problems.”

Cyril looked at the faded wedding announcements stuck to the walls with pieces of masking tape and decided to find another print shop.

“Actually…I don’t suppose you do stationary and business cards?” he said, hoping for a negative.

Another man, short and red of face wearing what looked like an apron stuck his head around the corner of the doorway to the back of the shop.

“Yes, we do, yes indeed. Stationary. Tell him about our special, Edwin.”

Edwin glared at him.

“You tell him, smartass. Just tell him about the ink!”

Cyril turned to go and Edwin shouted at him.

“No, I was only kidding, sir. We do lovely stationary here. This is a first class establishment. We were rehearsing for a play, that’s all.”

“Yes,” said the other one, “just a play.”

And he disappeared again.

Edwin produced a stained book with samples of letterheads, which Cyril reluctantly leafed through.

He found a sample that looked respectable and pointed at it.

“Can you do these?”

“Why that’s easy. A very nice choice if I do say so myself, and I do.”

He whinnied like a horse, displaying chipped teeth.

“I need five hundred letterheads and five hundred envelopes, all in this style.”

The printer nodded fiercely and then whirled around when something smashed in the back.

“Pardon me, pardon me, I have to attend.”

And he vanished leaving Cyril to contemplate a calendar showing a small child patting a large dog.

There was more shouting from the back in which both parties discussed the unmarried state of their respective parents, a discussion punctuated with breaking glass.

Just as Cyril was trying to open the door, Edwin reappeared.

“No problem, something broke. Now how soon do you want the job done? Not tomorrow but the next day perhaps?”

Cyril shrugged.

“That will be just fine. Let me write out the copy for you and give me a price.”

He put down the name of his late cousin, added the phrase, ‘Investment Counselor.’ This phrase seemed to rivet Edwin.

“Are you an investment counselor, sir? Are you actually one?”

Cyril felt as if he was attending a group therapy session filled with amphetamine addicts.

“Yes, I am.”

The printer leaned over the counter and whispered behind his stained hand,

“What do you invest in? Money?”

“Sometimes. How much will I owe you?”

“No, no, I might have a deal for you. Do you deal with foreign money? Like currency from other countries?”

Cyril had no idea what the lunatic Gutenberg was up to but he nodded carefully.

“Why I do handle foreign currency from time to time.”

The printer looked over his shoulder and then lowered his voice.

“Do you buy foreign currency, sir?”

“Depends on the price.”

Edwin nodded rapidly.

“Why of course, sir, I understand. I mean, do you buy foreign currency? Of course at a great discount, a very great discount.”

Cyril, who had absolutely no idea what this manic was about, nodded again.

“Ah yes, you do! I could see right away that you were a man who understands money. Foreign money. I can give you a terrible good price on foreign money.”

He leaned over the counter again and said very slowly,

“At a very good price!”

A loud voice boomed out from the back.

“Don’t sell it too cheap! You always sell things too cheap!”

Erwin wheeled around.

“You shut the fuck up, Myron! Let me handle this and clean up your Goddam mess back there!”

Cyril decided to follow the matter up. The lunatic no doubt had worthless Mexican pesos for sale. As a dollar was now worth six hundred pesos, he could envision a box of them for sale at face value.

The money turned out to be a large box full of Canadian twenty-dollar bills.

Edwin had locked the door and pulled down the broken venetian blind that covered its glass.

“Magnificent specimens, sir, the very best. And a special price just for you. Three dollars apiece. Just three dollars!”

Cyril picked up several samples and initially believed they were original because the serial numbers were different. If it was counterfeit, it was very good.

“There are thirty sets of numbers, sir. Thirty! No one else does this kind of work any more.”

Cyril held a bill up to the light and then looked at several more. They were of superb workmanship. Certainly fake because he found more with identical numbers but very good.

“Is this your work?” he asked, trying to estimate how many were in the box.

“Oh no, sir. It’s illegal to counterfeit. When my associate and I bought this place, we found this box hidden in the back of a closet. Under a grille as a matter of fact. The last owner was arrested by the Secret Service but they overlooked this box…”

He thumped the heavy box with one hand.

“Aren’t they beautiful pieces? An investment counselor would know what to do with these, wouldn’t he?”

“I’ll give you two dollars apiece for all of them. This is all of them?”

“Two dollars!” Myron roared from the back. “That’s robbery. Make it two fifty.”

They finally agreed on two twenty five and Cyril discovered that there were bills totaling three hundred thousand dollars in the old cardboard box.

He examined every one of the fifteen thousand pieces of paper with both Edwin and his gnome-like partner and finally, after an hour of bargaining, paid them thirty three thousand, seven hundred and fifty dollars in cash from a stash of hundred dollar bills he kept under the spare tire of his car.

Cyril took back the copy for his letterhead with his pseudonym and was happy to note that neither printer could see his car nor expressed any interest in noting down its license plate number.

When he left, Edwin and Myron were engaged in a fierce argument about how to divide the money and the last he heard was Edwin advising Myron that he would shove his head into the press and turn it on if he heard another word out of him on the subject.

On his way back to his new apartment, Cyril contemplated his latest venture into crime with some bemusement. Lunatic printers, old but very passable counterfeit at an excellent price. The question was where to pass it or whether or not to wholesale it to professionals at a profit.

If he did this, he could realize a profit of two dollars and seventy-five cents per bill and if he passed it himself, he risked being caught, a probable long jail sentence and a sixteen-dollar profit per bill if he was successful. Given that he would have to buy something with the money, something less suspicious than a package of chewing gum or a pencil, he could probably clear two hundred thousand if he was lucky. That sum, added to what he already had would give him a very nice bankroll indeed.

He balanced the risk against the quality of the money and the important fact that there were thirty different sets of serial numbers. The first bills would be detected by the banks probably the same day or at the latest, the next. That meant he had one full day and possibly part of another to pass nearly five hundred bills. If he could get Claude to pass half of them, that meant two hundred and fifty each. That was highly improbable so perhaps a better solution was to put together packets containing five different serial numbers and then buy expensive items that he could later convert to cash. Gold would do very well as would coins and stamps and there were also items that one could use like expensive luggage, watches, rings, some art, clothes, video equipment, computers and so on.

He would have to hit three major cities as quickly as possible and he thought that he could start in Vancouver and move his way back to Montreal and Ottawa before returning to the States via New York and Chicago.

That meant that there had to be a way to move the loot back to the United States and he decided that a parcel service that served both countries would be the best.

The boxes would have to go to several drop addresses with professional names attached so perhaps several parcel services could be used. The Canadian mail service was notoriously bad so one had to avoid it at all costs. There was no point in enriching criminally inclined Canadian postal employees with the products of his dishonesty.

Then there was the question of disguises. Claude would look much better with some kind of a mustache and he himself could grow a beard. Claude could bleach his dark hair and he could dye his black and no one would remember what they looked like. Fake glasses were a must and a distinctive, removable tattoo on the back of the hand would keep the attention of the victim on the other side of the counter. Perhaps a Masonic ring covered with diamonds would achieve the same effect. Or a fake scar on the side of the face or a clip-on earring with a glittering stone in it. Cyril knew that people would remember a tattoo, a fancy ring or a scar and nothing else. Both observers and their eyes were easily deceived.

And, he had to admit as he drove through the gates and past the friendly guard, the bills were of remarkable quality.

As he parked the car in his space, he calculated that he had a good week and perhaps a few days over, depending entirely on the press coverage. Claude was competent enough but would have to be instructed in the finer points of passing counterfeit money at the same time he was growing a mustache.

“Funny money,” Claude said, staring at the fetch of the Queen.

“Yes, lad, funny money. And very good funny money. Unless you have problem with all this, we are going to Canada and pass it. If we don’t get caught, we can make big money one way or the other. (And we can also pull big time one way or the other but we won’t discuss this with Claude, he thought.)

Vancouver was enjoying a pleasant autumn weekend when the pair drove their large, black rented Cadillac up to a Canadian customs post at Blaine, Washington. Claude had on a baseball hat, which topped his blonde hair, and Cyril looked vaguely professorial with his dark beard. To allay the suspicions of the customs, they had dark glasses, a cooler of soft drinks in a bed of melted ice, a cheap video camera and a trunk full of suitcases, bags and a mesh bag of elderly apples.

The area under the spare tire had been enlarged to accommodate bags of fake money, two handguns and three boxes of ammunition.

The props proved to be useless because the bored official waved them through without even bothering to check their identification. After the drive into Vancouver, they crossed the Burrard Bridge and into the city itself.

They checked into a quiet hotel on Granville Street, registering as the Reverend Marcus MacCall and Dr. Hermann Schacht, an OBGYN from Michigan. As there happened to be both a conference of Lutheran ministers as well as a medical convention in Vancouver at the time, Cyril felt another doctor and preacher would pass unnoticed in the crowd. He had obtained stick-on badges from the convention center at the Bayshore Inn and carefully inked in their new identities.

When they left their room, pockets stuffed with fake money, red and white convention badges stuck to their lapels, they were soberly dressed as befitting professional men and they walked out the front door of the hotel, prepared to add to the growing problem of Canadian inflation. After all, as Cyril pointed out over breakfast, governments print up money that has no backing whatsoever and this worthless paper is accepted on its psychological value alone. There was very little difference between counterfeit money and genuine except the latter was usually of superior quality.

The first stop was the Hudson Bay department store where Cyril bought a nice cashmere scarf, a pair of leather gloves, a Harris tweed sport jacket, an expensive Swiss watch and a leather travel kit. Claude, who had less sophistication and a good deal more anxiety, bought a belt, a box of handkerchiefs, a watch, two pair of expensive sunglasses, a black trench coat and a pair of suede loafers.

There was no problem with the money and Claude was called “Doctor” a number of times while Cyril was able to discuss theology with a graduate student from Simon Fraser University that was moonlighting as a clerk.

This successful initial foray encouraged them to expand their activities and once they had left their new purchases in their room, they returned to the city and its myriad of expensive shops. Between them they had acquired nearly a thousand dollars in change, a sum that rapidly increased as the day progressed.

Before lunch they had purchased twenty three gold coins, jade ornaments, six valuable Japanese ivory minuke including a pornographic one that Cyril put on his key ring, four valuable British and American stamps, a pair of binoculars, two computers, a portable CD player, twenty three CDs, two boxes of condoms with frilled attachments, four boxes of expensive Cuban cigars, several Haida Indian relics, (one of which was authentic), a small box of illegal ivory scrimshaw, a suede jacket, a pair of diamond-studded cufflinks, a large diamond engagement ring and several very rare comic books.

In addition to this, they had taken in a total of ten thousand dollars in return cash.

Their activities continued into the early evening and the hotel room was rapidly filling up with loot. That evening, the pair enjoyed a pleasant dinner of smoked salmon, Beluga caviar, a very dry champagne and chocolate bomb glace au chocolat for dessert.

The only unpleasantness of the day came when a fat man with thick glasses and a label proclaiming Doctor Nestlerod, a proctologist from Miami, encountered them as they left the restaurant and insisted that he knew Doctor Schacht from Stanford medical school. Cyril extracted his crime partner from what could have proven to be an embarrassing situation by saying, as he took Claude by the arm,

“Please excuse us but my friend made a terrible mistake and drank the water here. If we don’t get him back to the hotel, there will be a lake of shit all over this lovely carpet.”

The fat man blinked at him.

“Jeez, I thought the water in Mexico was bad, not here.”

“Oh yes,” said Cyril over his shoulder as they walked out into the night, “that used to be true but things have changed since they’ve been dumping mercury into the drinking water. And watch out for the women. They have more claps than a football crowd. This seems to be the new capital for the Chinese Fall-Apart syndrome.”

The check, which came to nearly five hundred dollars, was paid for with fake bills and the forty-dollar tip came from the same source.


Early the next morning, Cyril put on the television set in his room to watch the early edition of the local news. It was no surprise to discover that the both the RCMP and the Vancouver public safety department were issuing a warning about counterfeit twenty dollar bills. The earnest announcer held up a bill while behind him appeared a list of the serial numbers of identified counterfeits. Cyril hastily scribbled down the information on the inside of a Gideon Bible and while Claude was still deep in sleep, he went through his suitcase of bills and removed all the blown numbers.

The rest of the program was about a famous heart surgeon who had run his car into a crosswalk filled with small children while very drunk.

The possibility of successfully passing bills was rapidly diminishing because soon enough, no one would take a twenty anywhere in Vancouver. That much Cyril determined from the tenor of the broadcast. As usual, arrests were expected momentarily and again, as usual, Cyril contemplated this information and decided how best to profit by it.

Since these bills were of exceptional quality, he decided to try a gambit that very few would have attempted. When he and Claude went out that day, Cyril had packets of bills, all of them either genuine or fakes with safe numbers. His first stop was a branch of the Bank of Canada on Granville Street. Leaving a nervous Claude sitting on a bench at a bus stop, Cyril walked up to a teller and asked to see the manager.

A few minutes later, he was sitting across from a thin man with the healed scar of a harelip and a very bad hairpiece that looked very much like roadkill.

He was still wearing his convention label and to increase confidence, he wore a black suit and a minister’s collar and vest.

The assistant manager was properly polite.

“And how may we help you, sir?”

Cyril pulled a thick wad of bills out of his coat pocket and put them on the desk in front of him.

“In this way, sir. You see I came up here for the conference at the Bayshore Inn and I gave my talk on the Early Days of Jesus. I suppose you’ve heard about that because it was in the ‘Vancouver Sun.’ And when I got here, I changed my money into Canadian currency but now….” he waved his hand helplessly in a small circle, “now, with all this talk of counterfeit bills, I am having the Devil’s own time trying to buy anything. I mean, the clerks get out magnifying glasses and so on. Very embarrassing of course. So, what I wondered was; can I bring in my Canadian money here and exchange it for American money?”

The assistant manager, a Mr. Crowe, picked up the stack of bills and began to examine them. He took a list of serial numbers that the police had been circulating and began to check the bills against it. And in with the twenties were many other denomination bills, all of which were completely genuine.

Although Cyril had nerves of steel, he was very nervous when the bank official began to look at some of the bills with a small magnifying glass.

“Well, Reverend…” he looked at Cyril’s label…”MacCall, I can understand your apprehensions. There’s a flood of bad money all over town and it is causing grave anxiety to the authorities and, of course, the banking community. As far as your money is concerned, I see a very serious problem for you….”

Cyril decided he could make it to the door before the functionary could press any effective buttons under his desk.

“Yes, a problem. You see, the exchange rate is not favorable to you at this point. The Canadian dollar has gone down ten cents against the American dollar in the last two days. I am perfectly willing to exchange these bills for you, sir, but I am afraid you will be taking a small loss.”

Cyril exhaled and smiled. The bank would be taking a large loss instead.

When he came out of the bank, Claude was munching on his finger ends.

“How did it go?”

“It went and so did the money. Oh my, look at that, Claude.”

Eric turned and saw that Cyril was pointing at another bank in the next block.

“Shall we go, Doctor? Willy Sutton was asked once why he robbed banks and he said because that’s where the money is.”

And during the course of the day, the pair visited every bank in Vancouver with the same profitable results.

Before his identity was given to the police, who by now were in a state of animal frenzy, Cyril and Claude checked out of the hotel, pleased that they had worn light cotton gloves in the room so as not to leave any fingerprints, got their rented Cadillac now loaded with loot, out of the hotel garage and moved to the Bayshore Inn. They had different, more casual clothing and they had reversed their hair coloring. Claude was back to his original black hair and Cyril had redyed his hair blonde. They discarded the nametags and got out new identification from the stash in the trunk and became professional photographers covering the dual conventions for “Time” magazine.

Later that afternoon, the local television stations kept interrupting their regular programming to announce that apparently a huge ring of counterfeiters was at work in Vancouver and that Ottawa had sent an entire plane load of RCMP specialists to capture the miscreants. Roadblocks were now being set up at all exits from the city and all passengers leaving at the Vancouver airport were being searched. Cyril watched all of this muted frenzy while demolishing an excellent chicken salad sandwich that room service had just brought to their large suite.

“See how excited people are, Claude? I think I bit off more than I could chew this time. We may have to hole up in Vancouver for a month until the furor dies down. It’s really a provincial town but I don’t think it would be wise to bug out of here with a car stuffed with all kinds of expensive loot and a trunk full of American money. No, I think that would be most unwise. Still, perhaps I can give them something to keep them busy. Finish your hamburger and I think we can go out and dispose of all the rest of the funny money.”

Claude was apprehensive.

“I don’t think we can pass any more of that stuff, Cyril. I really don’t think we should try to do that.”

“No,” said Cyril as he brushed off pieces of chicken from his lap, ” I had in mind giving it away to the good people of Vancouver. I just can’t shake this minister thing. I seem to want to be a genuine Christian and enrich the lives of all the poor people out there, people just waiting for that miracle that will help them pay off their bills or buy training bras for their nubile daughters. I would say for their sons too but this isn’t San Francisco. Finish that up and we can at least be real Christians who believe it is much better to give than to receive.”

His plan, like all good plans, was very simple. There were many tens of thousands of counterfeit dollars left in their trunk. They were by now completely worthless and very dangerous to possess so it was his idea not to pass the money but to distribute it all over Vancouver in the hopes that others would find it, not be aware of the fake numbers and hopefully get caught passing it. This, he reasoned, would take the heat off of the real operation and besides, Cyril did enjoy a good, creative joke.

During the course of the day, fake money was left in various places in the public library, in the bus terminal, in telephone booths, in various retail stores, in public lavatories, on the floors of restaurants, on the shelves of bank ATMs and dropped into mail boxes all over the city.

After darkness fell, they still had a considerable number of bills left so they made a tour of the residential parts of the city, Cyril driving while a laughing Claude shoveled out handfuls of money through the back windows of the car. In the brisk evening winds that blew in from the Strait, hundreds of twenty-dollar bills fluttered up onto lawns and into the gutters of quiet residential streets like leaves in an early autumn.

They returned to the Bayshore Inn, very tired, had a good meal in the dining room and went to bed before midnight.

They next day, a large team of RCMP specialists arrived in Vancouver and began to completely seal off the city. Cars were searched as were their occupants, known counterfeiters homes were raided, terrified bank officials were relentlessly questioned by stone-faced Mounties and all over the city, innocent citizens were discovering truly amazing bonanzas in telephone booths, in the religious sections of the library and in other welcome places. Small children, on their way to school, found endless treasures on their streets and by noon the police were responding to frantic calls from local merchants who whispered that people as young as five were attempting to pass counterfeits in their stores.

Police cars raced up and down the streets, grabbing a seventy year old grandmother in one place, two Bulgarian immigrants who had found three thousand dollars Claude left in a lavatory at the train station in another, a number of young children who had attempted to buy candy, toy guns and comic books in various stores and a large assortment of the local citizenry who soon found themselves jammed into overcrowded cells at the police stations while being processed as part of what the media was now calling the largest organized crime ring in Canadian history.

Cyril may well have sown the wind but the police were now reaping the whirlwind as the arrests grew into the hundreds. The jail was filled with loudly protesting victims whose statements that they had found the money in telephone booths or on the sidewalks of Vancouver were greeted with rude and sarcastic commentary from both the police and the officers of the RCMP who were running in and out of the building like raiding ants. Lawyers, reporters, television crews, relatives and friends clogged the lobby and every telephone in the building was constantly in use. Police dragging in more suspects jostled reporters and there was now a problem as to where to house the dangerous criminals.

Above the din was heard the high-pitched wails from a mother,

“But he’s only eight years old! He doesn’t know anything about counterfeit money!”

She repeated this like a mantra to unheeding police who had now run out of ink for fingerprinting and were down to their last pack of film for mug shots. The RCMP professionals were triumphant in the knowledge that they now had most of the incredibly diverse gang under lock and key. More arrests were expected as a result of the stringent roadblocks and the airport controls and plans were being made to house the gang members in a high school gymnasium until they could be processed.

That evening, well aware of the havoc they had caused, Cyril and Claude were enjoying their dinner in the hotel dining room. It was filled with an assortment of doctors and members of the clergy as well as a number of uniformed police officials.

A plump woman in a chiffon dress was playing her version of music popular twenty years ago on a piano near the fireplace.

“How many people did they arrest so far, Cyril?” Claude asked as he carefully cut up his asparagus with the side of a fork.

“God knows. The last TV account said over a hundred and fifty but that was an hour ago. I told you this would create a diversion, didn’t I?”

“Will they stay in jail?”

“Of course. The police never make mistakes, Claude, never. And about half the people they execute down in the States are completely innocent but they never talk about that either. Policemen and priests are never wrong, lad, and don’t forget that. How’s your steak?”

“Very good. Do we use bad money to pay the bill?”

“Don’t be stupid. We have no funny money left, not even a souvenir for your mother. Have some more wine….”

He had drunk most of a bottle of very expensive Chateau Lafitte and was considering ordering another. After all, there was plenty of good money left and he had discovered that American money was certainly much more preferred as a medium of exchange by the businessmen of Vancouver than their own national product. Or even very good copies of it. Cyril had decided that there was no point in leaving Vancouver for at least a week or until the roadblocks were lifted. He did not anticipate any trouble getting into the United States but a great deal in leaving Canada.

As the evening wore on, Cyril became very expansive, telling a series of jokes to Claude that passed over the latter’s head since a number of them were epigrams in Latin and Claude sometimes had trouble with polysyllabic English.

One of the religious diners could be heard singing a hymn in a decidedly off-key voice.

“Listen to that, Claude. As flat as one of your pre-teen lovelies. I can do much better than that.”

And he got up and walked, unsteadily, toward the abandoned piano.

He struck several chords and quite unexpectedly began to sing a hymn in what proved to be a magnificent baritone.

“‘Brightly shines our Father’s mercy from His lighthouse evermore,

But to us he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be beaming,

Cast a gleam across the wave.

Some poor fainting, struggling seaman, you may rescue, you may save.'”

This recital went through a number of verses and the depth, volume and quality of the singing riveted the entire room.

This was followed up by,

“‘Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,

Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;

Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.'”

There was considerable applause when he had concluded and before he could start on another sarcastic venture, a thin woman with prominent teeth came up to the piano.

“Oh, you have such a magnificent voice, sir! Do you think you could sing something for me? I have a piece that I just love…”

Cyril, who was feeling little pain, nodded politely.

“Of course, if I know it.”

“It’s from an opera. You know the one about the woman who dies and her lover goes to the underworld to bring her back. I can’t think of…”

‘Che farò senza Euridice?’ Gluck’s ‘Orfeo.’ 1762. Here, let me play a few bars.”

She beamed.

“Oh yes! That’s it! Do you know it?”

“Madam, I cut my teeth on it. Let’s see if I remember how it goes…”

The aria was a fine showcase for his voice and he did it full justice with a performance that would have brought down the house at La Scala.

When he finished, the diners rose and applauded him, the woman was weeping into a cocktail napkin and Claude was staring at him in astonishment.

A man in a tuxedo, a very solid looking man with thinning hair joined the weeping woman.

“Excuse me sir,” he said in a very deep voice, “are you Welsh by any chance?”

Cyril shook his head.

“No sir, German and Irish. You?”

“I am Welsh and that was magnificent work, lad. I myself sing base baritone and my assistant over there, Inspector Jones, sings a very good tenor. We Welsh do enjoy singing, we do.”

These were obviously policemen and Cyril suddenly found himself becoming much more sober.

“Let’s try a nice Welch piece for you, sir.”

And he sang ‘The Ash Grove’ that had the other man weeping.

“Oh such a rendition, sir, such a treatment! Look now, do you know ‘Men of Harlech’?”

Cyril nodded and played a few notes.

“Oh yes, that’s it. Would you mind if my associate and I joined in with you?”

There was no problem and the baritone, base baritone and tenor joined in a very credible performance. The Welsh not only liked to sing but also were extremely proficient at it.

Following the concert, Cyril and Claude were invited to join the party of the Chief Inspector of the RCMP, Counterfeit Division, at his table. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Jones were so pleased with having had the opportunity to sing in public that they never considered that the master criminals they had flown across Canada to apprehend were sitting at their table in the dining room of the Bayshore Inn.

“How much longer are you going to be in Vancouver, Inspector?” Cyril asked as he finished off his bottle of wine.

“Oh my, just as long as it takes to clean up this mess. We had no idea it was such a widespread operation. Several hundred are now in custody and the good Lord only knows how many more will be apprehended. It’s a sad commentary on the state of our society when ten year old girls are forced into passing counterfeit money, very sad.”

Claude had visions of ten-year-old girls being forced into other activities but he kept his thoughts to himself. In the last few weeks, he had experienced things that he never even dreamed of. There was now enough money lying around hidden in various places to buy a dozen farms in Minnesota. Claude had never been ambitious in the past but the smell of money had a strong effect on him.

Cyril, on the other hand, had little interest in money other than to enjoy what it could buy and at the present time, he was considering how he could use his new base baritone friend to the best advantage.

“I would like to leave town as soon as I can, Chief Inspector, but I’m afraid that I would spend the whole day waiting for the traffic to move through your roadblocks.”

The Chief Inspector looked at the tenor.

“Well, I can see that we should be able to do something about that. Mr. Jones, why don’t you take one of the pool cars and accompany our friend here to the border and see to the roadblocks. Could you do that like a good lad?”

And so, with an official RCMP escort, Cyril drove his Cadillac loaded with loot and bundles of cash towards the State of Washington with Mr. Jones in front of him.

Traffic was indeed backed up for several miles but Mr. Jones drove on the shoulder of the road until finally stopped by grim visaged uniformed men.

He showed his identification and Cyril could hear every word.

“These men are on official business, Sergeant. I have authority to see them through to the U.S. Customs post over there. If you will be good enough to let us pass…”

After being escorted to the border, the tenor shook hands warmly with the baritone and the miscreants drove up to the U.S. side of the border.

There, the Customs officials were so impressed with the performance of the junior inspector that they waved Cyril through without let or hindrance.

“God must really love you,” Claude said as they drove towards Seattle.

“I don’t know about that, Claude, but just as long as He doesn’t interfere with me, I will do just fine.”

“I didn’t know you had such a good voice. I never heard you sing before.”

“I have many sides to my personality my norske friend. Picking locks and running away from frenzied female fatties are not all of my attributes. And now we have to consider what we will do next. I’m sure something will turn up soon enough.”

And all things being equal, it did.”



Earth could get just 12 hours’ warning of damaging solar storm

UK Cabinet Office report sets out risks of coronal mass ejections from the sun causing power outages, and disruption of GPS and communications

July 28, 2015

by Nadia Khomami and Holly Watt

The Guardian

Humanity would only have a 12-hour warning about the arrival of a “coronal mass ejection” that could damage the National Grid, pipelines and railway signals, according to a newly released document from the UK Cabinet Office.

In a report worthy of a Bruce Willis film, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has set out the nature of the risk to the UK from “severe space weather”, which it says results from various types of solar activity.

The report, the Space Weather Preparedness Strategy, states: “Solar activity can produce x-rays, high-energy particles and coronal mass ejections of plasma. Where such activity is directed towards Earth there is the potential to cause wide-ranging impacts. These include power loss, aviation disruption, communication loss, and disturbance to (or loss of) satellite systems.”

According to the Cabinet Office, the most concerning element of severe space weather is the coronal mass ejection – explosive eruptions on the sun which cause large parts of the corona to blast away. As a result, it has developed a “reasonable worst case scenario” based on the Carrington event of 1859, which included the strongest recorded incidents of coronal mass ejection, as well as solar flare-related x-rays and a radiation storm.

Coronal mass ejections are not emitted in the direction of Earth,” the report says. “Those that are typically take one to three days to reach us, and we can predict the arrival time to within about six hours. Predictions are currently less accurate due to degradation in the satellite capability available to forecasters.

“Generally speaking, the faster the ejection, the greater the potential impacts. The Carrington event, for example, travelled to Earth in as little as 18 hours. It is therefore likely that our reasonable worst case scenario would only allow us 12 hours from observation to impact.”

The Carrington event is often described as the perfect storm. The modern day effects of a similar event would include localised power outages; disruption of satellite operations, including to GPS and satellite communications; disruption to high-frequency communications; increased radiation to aircrew and passengers in flight, particularly over polar regions; and further disturbances to small-part electronic systems.

The UK’s approach to space weather preparedness is underpinned by three elements, according to the report: “Designing mitgation into infrastructure where possible, developing the ability to provide alerts and warnings of space weather and its potential impacts, and having in place plans to respond to severe events.”

Protocols have been developed between the Met Office and National Grid to warn of such an event and maximise the time for action to be taken – though there is no clear pattern on when an eruption happens.

While the sun has an approximately 11-year cycle of activity – the current cycle peaked in early 2014 – there is no evidence to suggest that the likelihood of severe space weather varies with the solar cycle.

There are actions that the National Grid can implement to better protect the power grid. These need time and the 30-minute warning limits the range of mitigating actions that National Grid can take. The National Grid is reliant on the predictions of the Met Office,” the report says.

BIS, the Met Office, the UK Space Agency, the Natural Environment Research Council and a wide range of departments across government including the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Transport, and the Ministry of Defence all have a role to play in managing and preparing for the risk of severe space weather.

They have been helping the UK prepare for such an event by building on existing emergency planning. The risk of severe space weather was added for the first time to the National Risk Assessment project in 2011. For example, the Met Office opened its 24/7 space weather forecasting centre in October 2014, and work has been done by National Grid to improve the resilience of its transmission network. The Cabinet Office also advises that the design of space weather-resistant technology be made a priority.

“Much more needs to be done to encourage potentially vulnerable sectors to adopt measures to mitigate the likely impacts,” the report states. “Communication with the public is an important component in preparing for and responding to an event … not all impacts may happen during every space weather event but pre-agreed messaging is important to allow rapid and effective communication from government, if and when they do happen.

“Preparation is needed to the national level, with the support of local capabilities to deal with the consequences. This all requires international co-ordination.”

Members of the public have been advised to plan for the effects of severe space weather in the same way as they would for other natural hazards such as a flood or storm.


Channel Tunnel: ‘2,000 migrants’ tried to enter

28 July 2015


Some 2,000 migrants tried to enter the Channel Tunnel terminal in Calais on Monday night in an attempt to reach the UK, operator Eurotunnel has said.

A number of people were injured, a spokesman for Eurotunnel said, without elaborating.

Eurotunnel is facing a daily struggle with migrants who attempt to smuggle themselves into Britain, sometimes with fatal consequences.

The latest incident caused serious delays to Eurotunnel train services.

Passengers were held up for about an hour on the British side and 30 minutes on the French side on Tuesday, French news agency AFP reported.

Meanwhile, the UK has agreed to provide an extra £7m ($10.9m) towards efforts to step up security at the Channel Tunnel railhead in Calais, Home Secretary Theresa May has announced.

A spokesman for Eurotunnel said the migrants were trying to enter the site “between midnight and 6am”, adding: “It was the biggest incursion effort in the past month and a a half.”

ll our security personnel, that is nearly 200 people, as well as police were called in.”

Another Eurotunnel spokesman said: “There was some damage to our fences – which we’ll have to repair – as they tried to board shuttles. Fortunately, there wasn’t any damage to shuttles. Unfortunately, a number of people were injured.

“It is an almost nightly occurrence – we’re trying to run a travel business here.”

Human misery’

Eight migrants have died this summer trying to reach Britain through the Channel Tunnel.

There were delays to services last week when the body of a suspected migrant was found on the roof of a Eurotunnel train at the terminal in Folkestone, southern England.

AFP says an official count at the beginning of July found that about 3,000 migrants – mainly from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan – were camping in Calais and trying to get across the Channel.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve held talks in London on Tuesday with the UK home secretary on the migrant issue.

Speaking after their meeting, Ms May said: She said: “The French and UK governments are working in close collaboration and co-operation on this issue which affects us both.

“We are both clear that we need to ensure we are dealing with the terrible criminal gangs, the people smugglers, who are making a profit out of the human misery of many people.”

Eurotunnel is seeking compensation from the British and French governments for disruption caused by illegal migrants.

Channel gridlock after migrants make 2,000 attempts to storm Calais terminal

Eurotunnel reveals scale of disturbance caused by migrants on French soil as home secretary announces £7m in extra funds to help police the border

July 28, 2015

by Damien Gayle, Alan Travis and Jessica Elgot

The Guardian

Migrants made about 2,000 attempts to storm the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais, causing severe delays to cross-Channel rail services and gridlock on UK roads, it has been revealed.

The migrants’ attempts to enter the UK forced the tunnel operator to close the terminal early on Tuesday morning, disrupting rail services for up to an hour and having a knock-on effect on road tailbacks in Kent, Eurotunnel said.

On Tuesday evening, the tunnel operator revealed the scale of the incident, around 12 hours after Kent police reintroduced emergency measures to ease tailbacks on the county’s roads. HGVs heading for the continent were queueing on the M20, with junctions eight to 13 closed to non-freight traffic as part of Operation Stack.

Footage said to show migrants walking unchallenged towards the Eurotunnel terminal was posted online on Tuesday

The latest Channel disruption came as the home secretary, Theresa May, committed an extra £7m in UK government funding to help increase security at the Channel tunnel’s railhead at Coquelles.

At an Anglo-French conference on migration held in London on Tuesday evening, May also said a deal had been reached with the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, to step up removals of the Calais migrants.

Eurotunnel had initially only said Tuesday’s disruption was due to “migrant activity”. But the tunnel operator later said that, over the course of Monday night, around 2,000 migrants had tried to breach the fences of its Calais terminal. Authorities later clarified that the figure related to the number of attempted breaches, not total number of migrants making the attempts.

John Keefe, a spokesman for Eurotunnel, said the migrants had begun trying to gain access just before midnight. He said such activity had grown progressively worse in recent weeks after the number of migrants in the area had increased from about 600 in January to its current estimate of more than 5,00

“Just before midnight it starts, just after it begins to get dark. Then it goes on all night,” Keefe said. “They try to break through fences, make their way to the truck terminal, and climb aboard trucks and trains to make their way to the UK.”

French police had estimated the number of migrants attempting to invade the terminal, he added.

Keefe said the migrants were well organised and their actions clearly coordinated. “The attacks come in waves of hundreds of people at a time, so they are overwhelming for the police forces that are there and in the middle of it,” he said.

“We try to keep our services running but we can’t if there are people on the trains or on the tracks. We have to wait for police to clear the area and, at the moment, it takes a very long time because they just don’t have the resources to deal with so many people.”

The home secretary described the fresh moves to repatriate those gathering at the Channel port as “an important step forward”. May said: “We have had a constructive meeting with Bernard Cazeneuve and we have agreed on further work to ensure we can return migrants, particularly to west Africa, so we can help break the link between people making the perilous journey and thinking they can live in Britain,” she said after the London meeting.

There are no immediate details of how the repatriation scheme might work for those declared to be illegal migrants but one point agreed with the French was a move to open a support centre for migrants in Niger under the auspices of the International Organisation for Migration by the end of this year.

The extra £7m comes on top of the £12m of government money intended for increased Channel ports security announced last year which is being used to provide 1.2 miles of fencing at the Coquelles railhead to secure each side of the platform. The security fencing was last in use at a recent Nato summit in Newport and is due to be in place by the end of this month. The additional funding is also expected to be spent on CCTV cameras and sniffer dogs.

Eurotunnel is installing permanent fencing on both sides of the platform and is aiming to complete some key areas in July, concluding works in August.

It is also putting in 1 mile of permanent fencing on both sides of the freight approach road, which will be in place by September. The company will also introduce a secure truck zone early next year to enable 875 vehicles to wait safely within the port.

The latest attempted breach comes after British and French authorities successfully intercepted more than 8,000 attempted illicit crossings over a three-week period up to 11 July.

The work to build new fencing to secure the approaches to the port of Calais and to allow more tourist cars to queue within secure areas was due to be completed by this weekend.

Tuesday’s Channel tunnel disruption came as two Sudanese migrants were recovering in hospital after being struck by high-speed trains on Monday. A 35-year-old man was hit at about 4.30am as he tried to board a train in the Calais terminal, according to local media. A second man, 32, fell from a train about two hours later. Both were taken to hospital in Calais.

Earlier the same morning, up to seven more migrants, including one aged 14, were rescued from a water collection structure near the entrance to the tunnel. The four-metre-deep concrete basin, which collects storm water overflow, was emptied to ensure no more migrants were inside.

UK police said on Tuesday afternoon that Stack would continue for the rest of the day, but they refused to comment on plans for Wednesday.

A police spokesman said the operation was back in place because of continued disruption in Calais and the large number of lorries heading towards Dover. “Motorists are advised to plan their journeys carefully and allow plenty of extra time if travelling towards the east of the county,” police said.

On Monday, Highways England rejected the Freight Transport Association’s proposal for a contraflow system on the M20 to ease gridlock, saying it would present a significant and unacceptable safety risk to those required to work on it.

Matthew Balfour, Kent county council’s cabinet member for transport, said the chaos was costing the local economy £1.5m a day. “All the roads in east Kent get completely blocked up so people can’t go to the shops, they can’t get to the doctor, the hospital,” he told the BBC.

“They can’t pick up their children, queues are endless and it’s really insufferable. And it means that people who run shops in the towns and the villages don’t get their trade because people stay at home.”

This article was updated on 29 July 2015 to reflect later information that figures relating to incursions at the Eurotunnel site relate to individual attempts, not total number of migrants.


Germany’s Merkel has chance of absolute majority, poll shows

August 2, 2015


BERLIN- Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership during the Greece crisis has given her conservatives a chance of winning an absolute majority if an election were held next week, an opinion poll on Sunday showed.

The results of the poll came a day after Der Spiegel news magazine said in an unsourced report that Merkel had decided to run for a fourth term and had started planning her 2017 re-election campaign.

The chancellor has ruled Germany since 2005 and now governs in coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD). Not since Konrad Adenauer’s third term as chancellor ended in 1961 has the CDU/CSU ruled with an absolute majority.

The Emnid poll for weekly newspaper Bild am Sonntag put support for Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), at 43 percent.

The survey of 1,860 people showed that for the first time since June 2005 support for the CDU/CSU was equal to that of all other parties that would surpass the 5-percent hurdle required to win seats in the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

Such a result would give Merkel’s conservatives a chance of winning an absolute majority if an election were held next week. The change came as support for the far-left Left party fell by one percentage point.

An absolute majority would give Merkel’s conservatives the chance to govern without compromising on issues such as pension reform and the minimum wage, as they have done with the SPD.

Merkel’s handling of the Greece crisis, in which she worked tirelessly to negotiate the blueprint of a deal with Athens, secured her support.

“During the Greece crisis, Merkel showed herself to the German people as a politician who can be relied on in difficult situations,” Torsten Schneider-Haas of Emnid told Bild am Sonntag.

Merkel also shared power with the SPD in her first term as chancellor. In her second term, she shared power with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

There are no term limits in Germany and the last CDU chancellor, Helmut Kohl, served for 16 years before losing his bid for a fifth term in 1998 to Gerhard Schroeder of the SPD. Neither were as popular among voters as Merkel.

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)


Edward Snowden Explains Why Apple Should Continue To Fight the Government on Encryption

July 31, 2015


As the Obama administration campaign to stop the commercialization of strong encryption heats up, National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is firing back on behalf of the companies like Apple and Google that are finding themselves under attack.

Technologists and companies working to protect ordinary citizens should be applauded, not sued or prosecuted,” Snowden wrote in an email through his lawyer.

Snowden was asked by The Intercept to respond to the contentious suggestion — made Thursday on a blog that frequently promotes the interests of the national security establishment — that companies like Apple and Google might in certain cases be found legally liable for providing material aid to a terrorist organization because they provide encryption services to their users.

In his email, Snowden explained how law enforcement officials who are demanding that U.S. companies build some sort of window into unbreakable end-to-end encryption — he calls that an “insecurity mandate” — haven’t thought things through.

The central problem with insecurity mandates has never been addressed by its proponents: if one government can demand access to private communications, all governments can,” Snowden wrote.

No matter how good the reason, if the U.S. sets the precedent that Apple has to compromise the security of a customer in response to a piece of government paper, what can they do when the government is China and the customer is the Dalai Lama?”

Weakened encryption would only drive people away from the American technology industry, Snowden wrote. “Putting the most important driver of our economy in a position where they have to deal with the devil or lose access to international markets is public policy that makes us less competitive and less safe.”

Snowden entrusted his archive of secret documents revealing the NSA’s massive warrantless spying programs all over the world to journalists in 2013. Two of those journalists — Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras — are founding editors of The Intercept.

Among Snowden’s many revelations are the CIA’s years-long efforts to break Apple’s security systems, and American and British spy agencies’ theft of a vast trove of private encryption keys. Snowden himself taught Greenwald the importance of using strong encryption to protect the materials.

FBI Director James Comey and others have repeatedly stated that law enforcement is “going dark” when it comes to the ability to track bad actors’ communications because of end-to-end encrypted messages, which can only be deciphered by the sender and the receiver. They have never provided evidence for that, however, and have put forth no technologically realistic alternative.

Meanwhile, Apple and Google are currently rolling out user-friendly end-to-end encryption for their customers, many of whom have demanded greater privacy protections — especially following Snowden’s disclosures.


Legionnaires outbreak: 4 dead, 65 infected, New York City on alert

August 2, 2015


New York City is in the midst of a deadly outbreak of a type of severe pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ Disease. Bronx residents have become anxious, as four people have succumbed to the illness and 65 others have been infected in the area since July 10.

According to hospital officials, fifty-five of the infected have been hospitalized.

The disease is spread by Legionella bacteria, which resides in some plumbing systems, including hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, and humidifiers. People can be infected by breathing in mist from the water. The bacteria cannot spread from person to person.

While this is not the first outbreak of the disease in New York City, the news has been spreading fear among locals. The current outbreak is regarded as very unusual as it involves five times more cases than the previous one, in which only 12 people fell sick.

Outbreaks usually occur in the summer or early fall. Some of the symptoms are coughing, fever, headaches and muscle pain.

To fight the disease, the local health department inspected 22 buildings in the Bronx, including 17 cooling towers.

Authorities found five infected buildings – Concourse Plaza mall, the historic Opera House Hotel, the Verizon office building, the Streamline Plastics Company, as well as the Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center. Disinfection processes have been carried out at all five locations.

NYC fountains, pools and drinking water have not been affected, officials said

Panic, anxiety in Bronx

The large number of people infected and a seemingly slow response from authorities have made Bronx residents particularly anxious.

While local officials are working to make changes to bylaws which would require cooling towers to be inspected for the bacteria, some people in the Bronx have already opted for drinking bottled water only for fear of coming down with the illness, according to the New York Times.

Health officials have been asking those infected where they work and live in order to understand where the disease originated.

Authorities tried to calm the situation on Saturday, stressing that the recent uptick in the number of Legionnaires cases does not mean there will be a sudden spread of the disease, but rather reflects a 10-day incubation period.

We expect the case count to rise over the next several days because it reflects what has happened in the past,” said deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Jay Varma. “We are confident the investigation we’ve done has identified all the potential sources of the infection.”

To be perfectly honest, we don’t know what it is about the cooling towers or the bacteria or the environment that led to this specific outbreak,” Varma added.

Those who have died from the illness were older and had other medical conditions besides Legionnaires, a press released published by the city said.

Anywhere between 8,000 and 18,000 people throughout the US are hospitalized each year due to the disease, according to CDC statistics.


Paradise Burning Why We All Need to Learn the Word “Anthropogenic”

by Subhankar Banerjee



The wettest rainforest in the continental United States had gone up in flames and the smoke was so thick, so blanketing, that you could see it miles away. Deep in Washington’s Olympic National Park, the aptly named Paradise Fire, undaunted by the dampness of it all, was eating the forest alive and destroying an ecological Eden. In this season of drought across the West, there have been far bigger blazes but none quite so symbolic or offering quite such grim news. It isn’t the size of the fire (though it is the largest in the park’s history), nor its intensity. It’s something else entirely — the fact that it shouldn’t have been burning at all. When fire can eat a rainforest in a relatively cool climate, you know the Earth is beginning to burn.

And here’s the thing: the Olympic Peninsula is my home. Its destruction is my personal nightmare and I couldn’t stay away.

Smoke Gets in My Eyes

What a bummer! Can’t even see Mount Olympus,” a disappointed tourist exclaimed from the Hurricane Ridge visitor center. Still pointing his camera at the hazy mountain-scape, he added that “on a sunny day like this” he would ordinarily have gotten a “clear shot of the range.” Indeed, on a good day, that vantage point guarantees you a postcard-perfect view of the Olympic Mountains and their glaciers, making Hurricane Ridge the most visited location in the park, with the Hoh rainforest coming in a close second. And a lot of people have taken photos there. With its more than three million annual visitors, the park barely trails its two more famous western cousins, Yosemite and Yellowstone, on the tourist circuit.

Days of rain had come the weekend before, soaking the rainforest without staunching the Paradise Fire. The wetness did, however, help create those massive clouds of smoke that wrecked the view miles away on that blazing hot Sunday, July 19th. Though no fire was visible from the visitor center — it was the old-growth rainforest of the Queets River Valley on the other side of Mount Olympus that was burning — massive plumes of smoke were rising from the Elwha River and Long Creek valleys.

By then, I felt as if smoke had become my companion. I had first encountered it on another hot, sunny Sunday two weeks earlier.

On July 5th, I had gone to Hurricane Ridge with Finis Dunaway, historian of environmental visual culture and author of Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images. As this countryside is second nature to me, I felt the shock and sadness the moment we piled out of the car. In a season when the meadows and hills should have been lush green and carpeted by wildflowers, they were rusty brown and bone-dry.

Normally, even when such meadows are still covered in snow, glacier lilies still poke through. Avalanche lilies burst into riotous bloom as soon as the snow melts, followed by lupines, paintbrushes, tiger lilies, and the Sitka columbines, just to begin a list. Those meadows with their chorus of colors are a wonder to photograph, but the flowers also provide much needed nutrition to birds and animals, including the endemic Olympic marmots that prefer, as the National Park Service puts it, “fresh, tender, flowering plants such as lupine and glacier lilies.”

Snow normally lingers on these subalpine meadows until the end of June or early July, but last winter and spring were “anything but typical,” as the summer issue of the park’s quarterly newspaper, the Bugler, pointed out. January and February temperatures at the Hurricane Ridge station were “over six degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average.”

By late February, “less than three percent of normal” snowpack remained on the Olympic Mountains and the meadows, normally still covered by more than six feet of snow, “were bare.” As the Bugler also noted, recent data and scientific projections suggest that “this warming trend with less snowpack is something the Pacific Northwest should get used to… What does this mean for summer wildflowers, cold-water loving salmon, and myriad animals that depend on a flush of summer vegetation watered by melting snow?” The answer, unfortunately, isn’t complicated: it spells disaster for the ecology of the park.

Move on to the rainforest and the news is no less grim. This January, it got 14.07 inches of precipitation, which is 26% less than normal; February was 17% less; March was almost normal; and April was off by 23%. Worse yet, what precipitation there was generally fell as rain, not snow, and the culprit was those way-higher-than-average winter temperatures. Then the drought that already had much of the West Coast in its grip arrived in the rainforest. In May, precipitation fell to 75% less than normal and in June it was a staggering 96% less than normal, historic lows for those months. The forest floor dried up, as did the moss and lichens that hang in profusion from the trees, creating kindling galore and priming the forest for potential ignition by lightning.

That day, I was intent on showing Finis the spot along the Hurricane Hill trail where, in 1997, I had taken a picture of a black-tailed deer. That photo proved a turning point in my life, winning the Slide of the Year award from the Boeing photography club and leading me eventually to give up the security of a corporate career and start a conservation project in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As it happened, it wouldn’t be a day for nostalgia or for seeing much of anything. On reaching Hurricane Hill, we found that the Olympic Mountains were obscured by smoke from the Paradise Fire. Meanwhile, looking north toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Salish Sea, all that we could see was an amber-lit deep haze. More smoke, in other words, coming from more than 70 wildfires burning in British Columbia, Canada. As I write this, there are 14 active wildfires in Washington and five in Oregon, while British Columbia recently registered 185 of them.

So if you happen to live in the drought-stricken Southwest and are dreaming of relocating to the cool, moist Pacific Northwest, think again. On the Olympic Peninsula, it’s haze to the horizon and the worst drought since 1895.

A Rainforest In A National Park

For visitors to the Olympic Peninsula, it seems obvious that a temperate rainforest — itself a kind of natural wonder — should be in a national park. As it happens, getting it included proved to be one of the most drawn-out battles in American conservation history, which makes seeing it destroyed all the more bitter.

Two centuries ago, expanses of coastal temperate rainforests stretched from northern California to southern Alaska. Today, only about 4% of the California redwoods remain, while in Oregon and Washington, the forests are less than 10% of what they once were. Still, even in a degraded state, this eco-region, including British Columbia and Alaska, contains more than a quarter of the world’s remaining coastal temperate rainforest.

In the era of climate change, this matters, because the Pacific coastal rainforest is so productive that it has a much higher biomass than comparable areas of any tropical rainforest. In translation: the Pacific rainforests store an impressive amount of carbon in their wood and soil and so contribute to keeping the climate cool. However, when that wood goes up in flames, as it has recently, it releases the stored carbon into the atmosphere at a rapid rate. The massive plumes of smoke we saw at Hurricane Ridge offer visual testimony to a larger ecological disaster to come

The old-growth rainforest that stretches across the western valleys of the Olympic National Park is its crown jewel. As UNESCO wrote in recognizing the park as a World Heritage Site, it includes “the best example of intact and protected temperate rainforest in the Pacific Northwest.” In those river valleys, annual rainfall is measured not in inches but in feet, and it’s the wettest place in the continental United States. There you will find living giants: a Sitka spruce more than 1,000 years old; Douglas fir more than 300 feet tall; mountain hemlock at 150 feet; yellow cedars that are nearly 12 feet in diameter; and a western red cedar whose circumference is more than 60 feet.

The rainforest is home to innumerable species, most of which remain hidden from sight. Still, while walking its trails, you can sometimes hear the bugle or get a glimpse of Roosevelt elk amid moss-draped, fog-shrouded bigleaf maples. (The largest herd of wild elk in North America finds refuge here.) And when you do, you’ll know that you’ve entered a Tolkienesque landscape. Those elk, by the way, were named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt who, in 1909, protected 615,000 acres of the peninsula, as Mount Olympus National Monument.

Why not include a rainforest in a national park? That was the question being asked at the turn of the twentieth century and Henry Graves, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, answered it in definitive fashion this way: “It would be great mistake to include in parks great bodies of commercial timber.”

Despite the power of the timber industry and the Forest Service, however, five committed citizens with few resources somehow managed to protect the peninsula’s last remaining rainforest. “They did it by involving the public,” environmentalist and former park ranger Carsten Lien writes in his Olympic Battleground: Creating and Defending Olympic National Park. He adds, “Preserving the environment through direct citizen activism, as we know it today, had its beginnings in the Olympic National Park battle.”

In 1938, the national monument was converted to Olympic National Park and a significant amount of rainforest was included. As Lien would discover in the late 1950s, however, the Park Service, despite its rhetoric of stewardship, continued to let timber interests log there. Today, such practices are long past, though commercial logging continues to play a significant part in the economy of the peninsula in national, state, and private forests.

A Fire That Just Won’t Stop

Once the fire began, I just couldn’t keep away. On a rainy July 10th, for instance, listening to James Taylor’s Fire and Rain, I drove toward the Queets River Valley to learn more about the Paradise Fire so that I could “talk about things to come.”

At the Kalaloch campground, I asked the first park employee I ran into whether the rain, then coming down harder, might extinguish the fire? “It will slow down the fire’s spread,” she told me, “but won’t put it out. There’s too much fuel in that valley.”

The next morning, with the rain still falling steadily and the fire still burning, I stood at the trailhead to the valley thinking about what another park employee had told me. “The sad thing,” she said, “is that the fire is burning in the most primitive of the three river valleys.” In other words, I was standing mere miles away from the destruction of one of the most primeval parts of the forest. As Queets was also one of the more difficult locations to visit, less attention was being given to the fire than if, say, it were in the always popular Hoh valley.

In a sense, the Paradise Fire has been burning out of sight of the general public. Information about it has been coming from press releases and updates prepared by the National Park Service. Though it is doing a good job of sharing information, environmental disasters and their lessons often sink in most deeply when they are observed and absorbed into collective memory via the stories, fears, and hopes of ordinary citizens.

I had breakfast at the Kalaloch Lodge restaurant, not far from the Queets, while the rain was still falling. “When will the sun come out?” an elderly woman at the next table asked the waitress as if lodging a complaint with management. “The whole weekend we’ve been here it’s rained continuously.”

I’m so happy that finally we got three days of rain,” the waitress responded politely. “This year we got 12 inches. Usually we get about 12 feet. It’s been bad for trees and all the life in our area.” In fact, the peninsula has received over 51 inches of rain, mostly last winter, but her point couldn’t have been more on target. “It has been so dry that the salmon can’t move in the river,” she added. Her voice lit up a bit as she continued, “With this rain, the rivers will rise and the salmon will be able to go upriver to spawn. The salmon will return.”

I asked where she was from. “Quinault Nation,” she said, citing one of the local native tribes dependent both nutritionally and culturally on those salmon.

The Queets, the largest river flowing off the west side of the Olympics, is running at less than a third its normal volume,” the Seattle Times reported. “[B]ad news for the wild salmon runs, steelhead, bull trout, and cutthroat trout.” In addition to the disappearing snowpack and severe drought, the iconic glaciers of the Olympic Mountains are melting rapidly, which will likely someday spell doom for the park’s rivers and its vibrant ecology. According to Bill Baccus, a scientist at the park, over the last 30 years, those glaciers have shrunk by about 35%, a direct consequence of the impact of climate change.

After breakfast, I took off for the Hoh Valley. At its visitor center, a ranger described the battle underway with the Paradise Fire. Summing up how dire the situation was, he said, “Our goal is confinement, not containment.” Normally, success in fighting a wildfire is measured by what percentage of it has been contained, but not with the Paradise. “Safety of the firefighters and safety of the human communities are our two priorities right now,” the ranger explained. As a result, the National Park Service is letting the fire burn further into wilderness areas unfought, while trying to stop its spread toward human communities and into commercially valuable timberlands outside the park.

For firefighters, combating such a blaze in an old-growth rainforest with steep hills is, at best, an impossibly dangerous business. Large trees are “falling down regularly,” firefighter Dave Felsen told the Seattle Times. “You can hear cracking and you try to move, but it’s so thick in there that there is no escape route if something is coming at you.”

Besides, many of the traditional means of fighting wildfires don’t work against the Paradise. Dumping water from a helicopter, to take one example, is almost meaningless. As an NPR reporter noted, the rainforest canopy “is so dense that very little of the water will make it down to the fire burning in the underbrush below.” Worse yet, as the Washington Post reported, the large trees and thick growth “make it impossible to effectively cut a fire line” through the foliage to contain the spread of the flames.

With the moist lichens and mosses that usually give the rainforest its magical appearance shriveled and dried out, they now help spread the fire from tree to tree. When they burst into flames and fall to the ground, yet more of the dry underbrush catches, too. In other words, that forest, which normally would have suppressed a fire, has now been transformed into a tinderbox.

Few people in our profession have ever seen this kind of fire in this kind of ecosystem,” Bill Hahnenberg, the Paradise Fire incident commander, told his crew. “The information you gather could be really valuable.” He didn’t have to add the obvious: its value lies in offering hints as to how to fight such fires in a future that, as the region becomes drier and hotter, will be ever more amenable to them.

So far, the fire is smoldering, but as the summer heats up, the Seattle Times reports, “there is still the potential for a crown fire that can spread in dramatic fashion as treetops are engulfed in flames.” According to several park employees I spoke with, the Paradise Fire is likely to burn until the autumn rains return to the western valleys. As of July 23rd, it had eaten 1,781 acres, which sounds modest compared to other fires burning in the West, but you have to remind yourself that it’s not modest at all, not in a temperate rainforest. It also poses a challenge to the very American idea of land conservation.

Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, American environmentalists passionately fought to protect large swaths of public lands and waters. The national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and wildernesses they helped to create laid the basis for a new American identity. Nationalism aside, such publicly protected lands and waters also offered refuge for an incredible diversity of species, some of which would have otherwise found it difficult to survive at the edges of an expanding industrialized, consumerist society. Today, that diversity of life within these public lands and waters is increasingly endangered by climate change.

What, then, should environmental conservation look like in a twenty-first century in which the Paradise Fire could become something like the norm?

Tankers and Rigs

This is not an anthropogenic fire,” the ranger I spoke with at the Hoh visitor center insisted. In the most literal sense, that’s true. In late May, lightning struck a tree in the Queets Valley and started the fire, which then smoldered and slowly spread across the north bank of the river. It was finally detected in mid-June and firefighters were called in. That such a lightning strike disqualifies the Paradise Fire from being “anthropogenic” — human-caused — would once have been a given, but in a world being heated by the burning of fossil fuels, such definitions have to be reconsidered.

The very rarity of such fires speaks to the anthropogenic nature of the origins of this one. After all, a temperate rainforest as a vast collection of biomass and so a carbon sink is only possible thanks to the rarity of fire in such a habitat. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “With a unique combination of moderate temperatures and very high rainfall, the climate makes fires extremely rare” in such forests.

The natural fire cycle in these forests is about 500 to 800 years. In other words, once every half-millennium or more this forest may experience a moderate-sized fire. But that’s now changing. Mark Huff, who has been studying wildfires in the park since the late 1970s, told Seattle’s public radio station KUOW that in the past half-century there have already been “three modest-sized fires” here, including the Paradise, though the other two were less destructive. According to a National Park Service map (“Olympic National Park: Fire History 1896-2006”) in the western rainforest, during that century-plus, two lightning-caused fires burned more than 100 acres and another more than 500 acres.

If, however, fires in the rainforest become the new normal, comments Olympic National Park wildlife biologist Patti Happe, “then we may not have these forests.”

A team of international climate change and rainforest experts published a study earlier this year warning that, “without drastic and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and new forest protections, the world’s most expansive stretch of temperate rainforests from Alaska to the coast redwoods will experience irreparable losses.” In fact, says the study’s lead author, Dominick DellaSala, “In the Pacific Northwest… the climate may no longer support rainforest communities.”

Speaking of the anthropogenic, on our way back, Finis and I stopped in Port Angeles, the largest city on the peninsula. There we noted a Chevron oil tanker, the massive 904-foot Pegasus Voyager, moored in its harbor on the Salish Sea. It had arrived empty for “topside repair.” Today, only a modest number of oil tankers and barges come here for repair, refueling, and other services, but that could change dramatically if Canada’s tar sands extraction project really takes off and vast quantities of that particularly carbon-dirty energy product are exported to Asia.

That industry is already fighting to build two new pipelines from Alberta, the source of most of the country’s tar sands, to the coast of British Columbia. “Once this invasion of tar sands oil reaches the coast,” a Natural Resources Defense Council press release states, “up to 2,000 additional barges and tankers would be needed to carry the crude to Washington and California ports and international markets across the Pacific.” All of those barges and tankers would be moving through the Salish Sea and along Washington’s coast.

And let’s not forget that, in May, Shell Oil moored in Seattle’s harbor the Polar Pioneer, one of the two rigs the company plans to use this summer for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea of Arctic Alaska (a project only recently green-lighted by the Obama administration). In fact, Shell expects to use that harbor as the staging area for its Arctic drilling fleet. The arrival of Polar Pioneer inspired a “kayaktivist” campaign, which received national and international media coverage. It focused on drawing attention to the dangers of drilling in the melting Arctic Ocean, including the significant contribution such new energy extraction projects could make to climate change.

In other words, two of the most potentially climate-destroying fossil-fuel-extraction projects on Earth more or less bookend the burning Olympic Peninsula.

The harbors of Washington, a state that prides itself on its environmental stewardship, have already become a support base for one, and the other will likely join the crowd in the years to come. Washington’s residents will gradually become more accustomed to oil rigs and tankers and trains, while its rainforests burn in yet more paradisical fires.

In the meantime, the Olympic Peninsula is still wreathed in smoke, the West is still drought central, and anthropogenic is a word all of us had better learn soon.

Subhankar Banerjee is an internationally exhibited photographer and writer. His most recent book is Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point. A TomDispatch regular, he won a 2012 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Award. He has been deeply involved with the native tribes of the Arctic in trying to prevent the destruction of Arctic lands and seas.



No responses yet

Leave a Reply