Are You Smarter Than A Congressman?

Are you smarter than a Congressman? Answer one geography question, and let’s see. Is Guam a foreign country? With a 50/50 chance of getting the right answer, let’s hope you chose wisely. The answer is a resounding “NO!” If that was your response (guess?), you are smarter than at least one sitting federal legislator.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representing Georgia, learned a geography lesson the hard way. And by hard way, I mean she publicly made a geographic misstatement. Taylor’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (“CPAC”) in February included the statement, “…our hard-earned tax-dollars should just go for America not for what? China, Russia, the Middle East, Guam….” I’m not sure why little old Guam was lumped together with those large and daunting countries and a volatile world area, but Guam is definitely not foreign. Yes, Marjorie, Guam is part of the U.S.

Some folks may be scratching their heads and saying to themselves, “I know Guam is not one of the 50 states, so how can that be?” Answer? The United States is composed of more than just 50 states; in addition to states, Uncle Sam counts some territories, including Guam, as part of his homeland too. The island territory may not be a state, but its residents are U.S. citizens, and Guam sends a (non-voting) delegate to the U.S. Congress.

The current delegate from Guam to Congress is Michael F. Q. San Nicholas (“MFQSN” for short). Since he can’t vote, MFQSN has a bit more time on his hands than representatives in Congress. Accordingly, he arranged to provide an impromptu geography lesson to Rep. Greene. Accompanied by three dozen National Guard troops from Guam, MFQSN marched over to Greene’s office in the Capitol bearing a big basket containing cookies and guidebooks on Guam. The guidebooks, to no one’s surprise, made abundantly clear that Guam is a part of the United States. Unfortunately, Rep. Greene was absent from class that day, being out of her office at the time the Guamanians came a calling.

Although Rep. Greene has been criticized for her geographic blunder, I think she’s in a big boat of people who aren’t educated about Guam. My memory may have dimmed a bit over the years (OK, decades) since I was in high school, but I don’t recall ever studying Guam in geography. Additionally, I don’t remember helping my kids do geography homework concerning Guam. So, I think it is a safe assumption most Americans need a crash geography course, Guam 101. Guam, here we come!

How does one get to Guam? Westward ho! Guam is a jaunt of 5,800 miles from San Francisco to the western north Pacific Ocean. In fact, Guam is so far west that it’s actually the westernmost part of the United States. Due to its proximity to the International Date Line, this U.S. territory’s unofficial motto is “Where America’s Day Begins.”

The island, part of the Mariana Island archipelago in Micronesia, is volcanic in origin and is ringed with steep cliffs along its coast. Guam covers an area of 210 square miles and provides a home to an estimated 168,801 people and serves as the location for 19 villages. The capital, Hagatna (formerly known as Agana), is a bustling village of 1,051 residents. With a tropical rainforest climate , absolutely no one should be surprised that the territory’s economy is dependent primarily on tourism.

The indigenous people of the island are the Chamorros. Their language and English are the official languages of Guam. Presumably, the Chamorros are wonderful bakers as MFQSN filled his basket with Chamorro Chip Cookies to deliver to Rep. Greene. Baking supplies are not locally grown though; Guam must import most of its food.

Ferdinand Magellan, whom I am certain U.S. citizens studied about in school, arrived on Gaum on March 6, 1521. That day is celebrated as Discovery Day by Gaumanians. The Kingdom of Spain ruled Guam for about four centuries, but that European control ended when the U.S. occupied the island after Spain’s defeat in 1898 in the Spanish-American War. Japan occupied Guam during World War II.

Guam officially became a U.S. territory as a result of the Organic Act of 1950 (doesn’t that name make you think of food?), and its people were granted U.S. citizenship. As a result of Guam’s territorial status, its residents are U.S. citizens by birth. The islands’ official name is the U.S. Territory of Guam, and the U.S. dollar is its official currency.

Pouring big bucks into the island’s economy are the Department of Defense installations on Guam. The territory occupies a strategic location, and one-third of its land is owned by the U.S. armed forces. Military installations situated on Guam include Andersen AFB, which is the most important U.S. air base west of Hawaii, U.S. Naval Base Guam, and Marine Corps Base Blaz. Guam was a major base of operations for the Air Force and Navy during World War II.

Lest one think that Guam is nothing but tourists and military, think again. The island is home to the University of Guam, the only public university in the western Pacific. I’d imagine its students may be tempted to lounge on the island’s beaches sipping tuba, a local fermented coconut drink, rather than hitting the books though.

Tourists stream to the island through the island’s only public airport, the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport. And no matter how many tubas a tourist drinks, they ought to easily remember the airport code of GUM. If they imbibe too many tubas, tourists can claim they were merely verbalizing the USPS abbreviation for Guam, GU, when speaking incoherently.

In the end, perhaps freshman Rep. Greene’s geographical gaffe was a good thing. It provided a teachable moment (or 5 if you read this whole blog post) for Americans to learn more about their country. Surprise! The USA is bigger than you thought and includes exotic and faraway locations outside the continental U.S. such as Guam. Perhaps Rep. Greene’s biggest contribution to her constituents and other American citizens is not serving them but spurring them to have a greater geographical grasp of the country we call home–one of which Guam has been a part for many years whether we knew it or not. Hopefully all of us in addition to an embarrassed member of Congress are smarter geographically now.

Just WONDER-ing:

If you were given a globe, could you pick out Guam’s location? Were you aware Guam was a U.S. territory? After reading this blog post, do you deem your geographic education adequate? Why or why not?

The Border’s Flooding–With Children

Want tacos? According to a fast food ad, you should make a run for the border. Many Central Americans, however, simply want their kids to have a better, safer life, so minor offspring are sent on a trek for the U.S. border. As a result, vast quantities of unaccompanied minors have crossed the U.S./Mexico border, a boundary extending almost 2,000 miles, only to find themselves in the midst of chaos in their envisioned promised land. According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, their situation is a “humanitarian crisis.”

The stream of immigrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border, mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, is more aptly described as a flood. The numbers are on pace to hit a 20-year peak. Unaccompanied minors account for an astounding number of these illegal immigrants. In fact, the number of unaccompanied minors who illegally entered the U.S. in February reached the highest in U.S. history. But, this record is hardly anything any American wants to brag about.

Why has there been a sudden spike in children entering the U.S.? As with most things in life, multiple factors play a role. The immigration flood has been driving by the destruction left behind by two major hurricanes in 2020, the ravages of the pandemic, poverty, ongoing violence in home countries, food insecurity, and the relaxation in U.S. border enforcement with the change in administration. Unfortunately, while dire conditions were left behind in their home countries, crossing the U.S. border from Mexico has created chaos here. Surprise! They ran away from problems back home only to find new ones at their destination. Out of the frying pan and into the fire it seems.

But people of every age are affected by problems facing residents of Central American countries. Why are the huddled masses Uncle Sam is seeing made up of children? A change has occurred in the enforcement policy of the U.S. government. Instead of turning them away, the current administration is allowing children arriving on their own into this country to remain while a determination is made as to whether they have a legal claim to residency. Single adults and families are, however, turned away. Uncle Sam is implicitly saying, “Let the little children come to me.” Concern for these children is commendable, but the problem is what to do with them after they arrive. They have to go somewhere.

The U.S. isn’t faced with finding shelter for a just a handful of unaccompanied minors. No, sir. Throngs of these children have arrived numbering in the thousands. According to a March 10th report, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America rose over 60% from January to February to a whopping 9,400. Border agents are continuing to apprehend more than 400 children a day. Clearly government agencies are capable of capturing these children, but can they care for them? Apparently not.

When unaccompanied minors are taken into custody by the border patrol, they are required to be held in government facilities until connected with a sponsor. Unfortunately, there’s no room at the inn. As of March 9th, 2,800 apprehended children were awaiting placement in shelters, but less than 500 beds were available. So where do they sleep? Well, the floor’s available, often without a mat. The children are being put in jail-like detention centers at 100% capacity in disregard of COVID-19 protocols. The U.S. is indeed the land of opportunity–to catch a dread disease.

The Border Patrol is only supposed to detain children for no more than three days. This guideline is out the window, along with COVID protocols, because there is basically no space for them in the Health and Human Services System. The skyrocketing numbers of unaccompanied minors has severely strained (broken?) the system’s capacity to hold youths.

What’s a government to do? Why not have a camp out with the kids? That would be fun, right? A tent facility in Donna, Texas is now holding over 1,000 youth and teens with the youngest child being age four. The tent facility boasts packed conditions. Sleeping on the floor is part of the fun of camping, you know. And who needs to shower? Once every 5 days or so is acceptable. NOT!

Thus, the U.S. government went back to the drawing board. Aha! Let’s hold kids indoors. That would be better. Voila! The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas has been designated a detention center for up to 3,000 immigrant teens, boys ages 15-17. What could possibly go wrong with having THOUSANDS of teen boys with nothing but time on their hands and lots of testosterone in their systems? Great plan!!

Part of the problem is that thousands of children are going into detention, but they aren’t coming out–at least not very quickly. HHS currently takes an average of 37 days to release a child. Why? Good question when, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, 80% of the children being detained have a relative in the U.S. and 40% have a parent. Attorneys with the National Center for Youth Law have complained that the government is failing to release detained children to immediate family members already in this country. I’m sure those families would welcome their young relatives with open arms. Why should 4,200 unaccompanied immigrant children be in custody as of this weekend when many blood relations are here in the U.S.?

The U.S. government is finally seeing the light and recognizing it has a “big problem” (ya think?) according to the White House press secretary. So what’s the proposed solution? Homeland Security has directed FEMA to help manage and care for the kids crossing the border. Sure, more bureaucracy; that’ll help.

While numbers tell the sad story of the plight of minor children who have made it to the U.S. alone, behind those numbers are precious little children. Each one represents a life already filled with trauma and struggle. If Americans truly care about them, then action needs to be taken to taken. And, that action needs to be a considered and workable plan to deal with those who are let into our country. It is unacceptable to merely open the floodgates to a stream of immigrant children with no viable plan in place to deal with their needs–housing, food, reunification with relatives, etc. If proper assistance cannot be provided, then perhaps a second look at the current immigration policy is needed.

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware of the magnitude of this flood of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S.? How desperate must parents be to send young children off to a foreign country alone? If the U.S. government cannot properly care for unaccompanied minors, should these children be allowed to remain in the country in the first place?

Let’s Hear It For The Girls! — Women’s History Month

March is said to come in like a lion. How fitting then that Americans are giving a roar of approval to women this month by observing Women’s History Month. Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t that be HERstory rather than HIStory if the fairer sex is in the spotlight?

Taking time to recognize the contributions of women to our society is a fairly modern concept. Women’s History Month itself has only been observed annually in the United States since 1987. But the event started out on a much smaller scale–a quarter of that time, or a week, to be exact.

We can thank the education system for generating a time for folks to become educated about positives attributed to women. In 1978, the Sonoma County, California school district came up with the idea of highlighting women’s contributions during a weeklong celebration. This initiative was driven by the fact that there really was no women’s history included in K-12 curriculum.

But why limit a celebration to just one week when a month is available? Sonoma County’s project was such a success that in February 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared a National Women’s History Week for the week of March 8th. Seven years later, Congress designated March as Women’s History Month.

Since 1988, U.S. presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have annually proclaimed March to be Women’s History Month. And you thought the political parties couldn’t agree on anything, right? OK, there’s one thing they can both support–giving women (who can now vote) some recognition.

Why is a focus on women in our society apropos? In the first place, lots of women are out there. Sex ratios in the U.S. favor females. Women have accounted for 51.1% of our country’s population since 2013. As of July 2019, females in the U.S. numbered 166.6 million. And when it comes to the older generation, women 85 and over outnumber men approximately 2 to 1. Those, to quote singer Helen Reddy, are “numbers too big to ignore.”

Women make up 48% of this country’s workforce and earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees awarded. The bottom line is that plenty of educated women are in our society; they not only live in it, but they are productive in it. And, apparently, they tend to outlive the men.

Although superior in numbers, women have not always been treated well or found themselves in positions of power. Female authors, a group near and dear to this writer’s heart, often wrote under pen names when society deemed it inappropriate for them to contribute literarily. Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and Mary Ann Evans (more famously known by her male pen name of George Eliot), for example, utilized fake names. And it was not even until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 that women were authorized to obtain a credit card in their own name. Thank goodness, we women have CHARGED ahead past this hurdle.

But despite disparate treatment by society, women have risen above these challenges and accomplished much. Even a good woman couldn’t be kept down in ancient times. History records one, and only one, female pharaoh. That would be Hatshepsut who, though way less famous than King Tut, managed to reign quite a bit longer than he did. “Hat,” as I’ll call her, retained her throne for 20 years as the 5th pharaoh in the 18th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Her reign lasted twice as long as King Tut’s, but who do we hear more about?

In addition to governing, women can be as daring or as stupid as men. In June 1983 Sally Ride became the first woman in space. Should we perhaps call her an astronette? While Ms. Ride bravely rode up into the heavens, an earthly ride showed the less than smart side of a 43 year old female schoolteacher. In October 1901, Anne Edison Taylor thought it would be a great idea to go over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel. She was the first person to attempt this feat and, amazingly, she survived with only a small gash to her head. Apparently that injury knocked some sense into her as she didn’t try that foolishness again.

Other women are lauded not for taking on nature, but for maintaining order in society. In 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. If women can keep order in families, why not allow them to tackle doing the same for society in general?

Notorious RBG, a huge proponent of gender equality, followed the trail blazed by Sandra Day O’Connor to the high court. When Justice Ginsburg was asked in a 2014 interview with NPR when there would be “enough” women on the Supreme Court, she unhesitatingly responded when there was nine, i.e., every seat was held by a female. Explaining her seemingly outrageous answer, RGB noted that no one ever thought it strange when men occupied all the seats. Hmm. She had a point!

And leave it to 1940’s film star Hedy Lamarr, often called the most beautiful woman in film, to dispel the notion that a woman can’t be pretty and smart at the same time. Hedy, who appeared in 30 films in a career spanning 28 years, was pretty smart. How smart you ask? She was so smart that, in an effort to help the World War II effort, she developed a radio-controlled torpedo device using a frequency hopping technique to prevent signals from torpedoes from being jammed.

The U.S. is not the only country to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. March 8th is International Women’s Day, an event first observed by the United Nations in 1975. Nevertheless, the first IWD celebration was held in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, with over a million people marking the event. Leave it to Americans to expand the recognition of women to an entire month. We tend to supersize everything, not just our fries.

Although women are spotlighted and recognized during Women’s History Month, celebrating achievements should be an ongoing activity not limited merely to a specified timeframe. Likewise, EVERYONE deserves recognition for their achievements be they male or female, young or old, educated or uneducated, etc. If people take nothing away from Women’s History Month, let’s hope they comprehend that we need to accentuate the positives in this world. Enough negatives exist; let’s focus on successes instead.

Just WONDER-ing:

What achievements by women, if any, do you recall learning in school? How should Women’s History Month be celebrated? Have you read or heard anything about Women’s History Month or International Women’s Day during March? What woman do you believe is deserving of recognition for her achievements this month?

There She Blows–Etna’s Erupting!

On the Red Planet, Rover Perseverance is taking photos of a never before seen but pretty blah Martian landscape. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Mount Etna is providing a spectacular display with ongoing photo ops. While the majestic peak is a dazzling shot itself, fountains of lava spewing high into the air offer the chance to capture nature’s power and beauty. While most Earthlings’ attention is focused on a tiny coronavirus, Etna’s eruption is a reminder that there are big things which can pose a danger to humans as well.

For those of us who are not volcano experts, we should know that Mount Etna is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. It stays in an almost constant state of activity. This activity culminated in a summit eruption on February 16th. For days afterwards the volcano continued to belch lava, ash, and volcanic rock without even an apology for this rude behavior.

So, we know that the lava, ash, and rocks were up in the air, but where exactly is Mount Etna? The volcano is situated in eastern Sicily and is the largest of three active volcanoes in Italy. Towering over the landscape at 11,050 feet above sea level, Mount Etna is the highest peak in Italy south of the Alps. It is 2 1/2 times the height of Mount Vesuvius which took out Pompeii for those of you who have forgotten your world history.

Mount Etna is estimated to be around 700,000 years old. Whew! And it still has energy to spew lava, ash, and rocks? Despite its advanced age, the volcano is the second most active one on Earth; only Mount Kilauea in Hawaii tops it. The reason Mount Etna is so active is because it’s situated between the African and Eurasian tectonic plates. This location contributes to the volcano generating nearly constant eruptions of varying degrees.

You’d think that with constant volcanic activity, it would be dangerous to hang around Mount Etna. But this stratovolcano, one that is a composite cone rising dramatically up towards the sky, provides a great venue for skiing. In fact, two ski resorts have been built on Etna for those desiring uncrowded slopes. Hmm. Perhaps those slopes are uncrowded for a reason. Hello! It’s an active volcano! Hope those skiers can fly down the slopes if some lava starts flowing towards them.

Despite the danger associated with volcanic eruptions, the Sicilians greatly benefit from Etna’s volcanic activity. The volcanic soil is fertile and supports extensive agriculture; vineyards and orchards (apple and citrus trees) cover the volcano’s lower slopes. Red and white wines produced from grapes grown on the volcanic slopes are some of the most popular of Sicilian wines.

In addition to the benefit agriculture derives from the volcanic activity, Sicily also rakes in big tourism bucks from the presence of Mount Etna. Besides skiing, backpacking and hiking are popular for tourists. For those who are less physically active, taking pictures of the mighty mount and sightseeing on a train going around the volcano’s 40 km diameter base are also fun. What an exciting rail ride; the train passengers might be coming around the mountain when the lava comes.

The most recent eruption of Mount Etna affects a number of Sicilian municipalities. The border of ten of them meet at the summit of Mount Etna. Volcanic ash, which reached an altitude of 30,000 feet, has blanketed nearby towns requiring lots and lots of dusting. Besides volcanic ash raining down, rocks have fallen from the sky on them as well.

Fortunately, no lava has threatened Sicilian residents. The fiery rivers of glowing lava have rolled down the eastern slope of Mount Etna towards the Bove Valley, an area which is three miles wide and five miles long. For good reason, this valley is uninhabited. No one could afford homeowner’s insurance there, I’m sure.

The lava which the mammoth volcano emits is known as primitive magma. That characterization has nothing to do with cavemen, but it does mean that the magma’s composition has changed little compared to what is found in the Earth’s mantle where it was formed. Since the lava is coming from a deep place, it has a greater charge of gas resulting in amazingly tall lava fountains. The flaming lava lights up the Sicilian night sky with brilliant oranges and red, providing a natural night light for the townsfolk residing below.

The burning rivers of lava flowing down the volcano’s side may be the basis for its name. Although there are several views on how Etna got its name, one thought is that it comes from a Greek word meaning “I burn.” That explanation is appealing to me. Burn baby, burn. Volcano inferno! And with millions of tons of lava coming forth from Etna, it’s a liquid inferno.

Although prior eruptions of Mount Etna have cause death and destruction, the current eruption has so far produced no injuries or loss of life. Certainly air quality has suffered with the ash being produced though. The amount of ash in the air has posed a danger for flying in the area. Thus, the airport in Catania, eastern Sicily’s largest city, has been forced to close at times. At least a volcano’s eruption is a reason passengers can accept for causing a flight delay.

In the past, it has come down to man versus the magma-producing mountain. Death and destruction was averted in 1992 when soldiers employed controlled explosions to divert lava streaming down Mount Etna’s slopes with the town of Zafferana in its path. Humans responded to the explosive volcanic eruptions with some manmade explosions.

Life on Earth will inevitably involve threats from nature for mankind. The natural foe may be as big as Mount Etna or as small as a coronavirus. Man must rise to these challenges or cease to exist. Volcanoes haven’t taken us out yet, so let’s enjoy the beauty of huge Mount Etna’s eruptions while giving healthy respect to this natural threat. And we need to keep a wary eye on the tiny coronavirus while we are at it.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Are you more concerned about a volcanic eruption or being infected by the coronavirus? Is it foolhardy to build ski resorts on the side of an active volcano? Would you visit a ski resort on Mount Etna if you had the opportunity? Why or why not? We can come up with a vaccine against the coronavirus, but what can we do to protect ourselves from volcanic eruptions?