July 17, 2008

University of Arizona vs. Apaches

Here's the story of how the University of Arizona built an observatory on a mountain sacred to the Apache:

How John McCain Doomed Mount Graham

Star WhoresIt turns out that Mount Graham isn't a very good place to probe the secrets of the heavens. There are updrafts of warm air pushing off the desert that distort the images, making them as jittery as the first snaps that came back from the Hubble space telescope. Plus, Mount Graham is a sky island and though it rises out of one of the driest stretches of land on the continent it is often cloudy on the peak.

"Any Apache could have told the astronomers that," says Vittorio. "It is a stormbringer mountain, summoning up all the moisture from the desert below, pooling it at the peak in a nimbus of clouds."

In fact, the University of Arizona knew that Mount Graham was a poor choice for the deep space telescopes from the beginning. In 1986, a team from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory conducted a two-year investigation comparing Mount Graham and Mauna Kea, Hawai'i as possible telescope sites. The Arizona peak fell far short. "There was no comparison," concluded Mike Merrill, an astronomer at the NOAO. Indeed, the study advised that there were 37 other sites ranking better than Mount Graham for observing stars-even the smog-shrouded Mount Hopkins topped Mount Graham.

This troublesome bit of news didn't deter the University of Arizona. In 1988, it announced plans to turn Mount Graham into a kind of astronomical strip mall, featuring seven telescopes at a cost of more than $250 million. They rounded up a bevy of partners, including the Vatican, several universities in the US and Europe and the odious Max Planck Institute, which in an earlier incarnation as the Max Planck Society gave assistance to the murderous experiments of Dr. Mengele.
And how it was partly John McCain's fault:[T]he University got its way because it has powerful politicians in its pocket, ranging from Bruce Babbitt to John McCain, and they used them relentlessly, especially the vile McCain.

The university tapped McCain to push through congress the so-called Idaho and Arizona Conservation Act of 1988. This deceptively-titled law was actually a double-barrel blast at the environment: it gave the green light to illegal logging in the wildlands of Idaho and for the construction of the Mount Graham telescopes, shielding them from any kind of litigation by environmentalists or Apaches. To help sneak this malign measure through congress, the University shelled out more than a half-million dollars for the services of the powerhouse DC lobbying firm Patton, Boggs and Blow.

The bill passed in the dead of night and, in the words of one University of Arizona lawyer, it gave the astronomers the right to move forward "even if it killed every squirrel".

It also exempted the project from the National Historic Preservation Act and other laws that might have made it possible for the Apaches to assert their claims to the mountain, giving the University of Arizona the dubious honor of becoming the first academic institution to seek the right to trample on the religious freedoms of Native Americans.
Comment:  So much for McCain's pro-Indian credentials. I wonder how many times McCain has supported Indians when it meant going against the white establishment. I'm guessing not many.


Zora said...

This post has me thinking about McCain's opposition to civil rights for African Americans, and his long fight to keep MLK Day from being a holiday, plus his continued use of the word "gook" for the Viet Cong... Hardly seems likely to me that his attitudes about Native people are going to be sincerely supportive... (I suppose it's possible, but it seems rather unlikely.)

By the way I've really been enjoying your blog! (Though it's damned hard to keep up with all your posts - I don't always have time to read them all (sorry! work gets in the way!), so I have no idea how you manage to write it all, but I'm glad you do!)

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
It also is John McCain who wants the American Indian Trust debacle settled for $.03 on the dollar or less...
All Best
Russ Bates

dmarks said...

When has McCaon opposed civil rights for African-Americans? I'd like to find out about this.

Rob said...

McCain Stands By Vote Against '90 Civil Rights Act

McCain Won't Apologize For Vote Against Civil Rights Act

McCain Myth Buster: John McCain and Civil Rights

Time and time again, McCain was on the wrong side of key debates when it mattered most. In addition to his opposition to a federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., McCain was the deciding vote against overriding President Bush's veto of the 1990 Civil Rights Act--the first defeat of a major civil rights bill in a quarter of a century. To make matters worse, just last weekend McCain defended the vote by equating it to "quotas," even though the bill had nothing to do with quotas.

dmarks said...

Thanks. This bill appears to hinge on discrimination lawsuits. I'll have to check further to see if it did something like encourage frivolous lawsuits as opposed to more readily providing redress for actual discrimination.

I don't like either.