Stomping Upon the Terra

Our people are slow to learn the wisdom of sending character instead of talent to Congress. Again and again they have sent a man of great acuteness, a fine scholar, a fine forensic orator, and some master of the brawls has crunched him up in his hands like a bit of paper.
                       – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I first saw Emil Franzi in a political science class in the early 1970s.  He was a guest speaker, covering for Conrad Joyner.  Dr. Joyner held local office, but his goal was Congress and Emil was the brawler to his scholar.  I don’t know if Dr. Joyner prepared a lesson plan, but it was a waste of time if he did.  The lesson was pure, unalloyed Franzi:  blunt, basking in the moment, bereft of political correctness.  It was the first time I saw Emil “stomp upon the terra,” to use Lord Buckley’s phrasing.  Conrad Joyner was gregarious, effervescent and entertaining.  He also wanted to be liked; that was important to him.  Suffice it to say Emil was less concerned about being liked.  While it’s accurate to describe Emil as a “scholar” because of his impressive intellect, he would have preferred “master of the brawls.”  I can’t say I liked him that first day, but I was damn sure impressed by the stomping.

Radio is an enemy, a ruthless enemy marching irresistibly forward, and any resistance is hopeless.
                      – Arnold Schoenberg

Later, I was honored not only to be Emil’s friend, but his radio co-host.  I transitioned from television production to radio news and public affairs in late 1973 and Conrad Joyner and Emil Franzi were valuable contacts.  Conrad Joyner was one of my (and everybody else’s) favorite interviews, famously “unavoidable for comment” while Emil had a preternatural talent for press relationships and an ability to cut through the sinews of political issues.  Emil’s currency was his word, and a valuable currency it was, since reporters live and die by their sources.  Emil was a walking political seminar, bursting with knowledge of politics and politicians and more than willing to share if you were willing to listen.  If political science courses were basic training, Emil was the commander on the front lines.

I co-hosted Emil’s “Inside Track” radio show in 2004 and 2005.  While many have appropriately focused on Emil’s incredible memory, intellect, and incandescent personality, his genius as a radio host is often overlooked.  While he didn’t have a so-called “radio voice,” Emil understood the medium.  From his haunting intro music (the soundtrack to “Quigley Down Under”) to his parables, Emil built and retained an audience that followed him from station to station, year after year, with loyal sponsors who supported the program.  “Inside Track” was a brokered program, meaning Emil bought a block of air time from the station and sold commercials to cover his cost.  Most brokered programs are “vanity radio” misadventures that attract neither audience nor sponsor.  Emil more than paid for his show; his radio longevity was Tucson’s reward.  He was interesting, challenging, compelling, infuriating, inspiring and impossible to turn off. 

“A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.”
                         – John Wayne

As I shared weekend co-hosting duties with the brilliant Tom Danehy, Emil replaced the final hour of “Inside Track” with a program called “Voices of the West.”  He focused not only on western history, of which he possessed encyclopedic knowledge, but also western books, television shows, movies and even soundtracks.  Most experts can rattle off the names of actors, directors, and writers … but composers?  Emil could.  One of his favorite guests on “Voices” was a make-up artist.  Emil was recognized in 2014 with the Western Writers of America Lariat Award, the first broadcaster honored in such a fashion.  There is talk of converting the first floor of the Old Pima County Courthouse to a branch of the Tucson Art Museum, featuring Western art.  If so, it should include a “Voices of the West” room, with a lending library of books, music, and movies.  The room should be named after Emil Franzi.

Lord, we give you Curly. Try not to piss him off.
                         – “City Slickers” (1991)

There are Renaissance men and women who master various and diverse subjects, but rarely juggle all of them simultaneously.  Usually, as a new topic is mastered, a previous one ebbs.  Not so with Emil, who mastered politics, government, journalism, classical music, opera, broadcasting and western lore.  All these disciplines coexisted brilliantly and faithfully in the starry starry night of Emil’s atomic mind. 

I last saw Emil two days before he died.  He was uncharacteristically soft spoken and distracted, and his emaciated vessel evidenced cancer’s death march.  He was more falling leaf than timber.  While I miss Emil, I will not mourn him.  Instead, I’ll honor him by helping stir the American slumgullion of political discourse, nodding to the empty chef’s hat nearby as the cauldron simmers.  And that is all I have to say about that, save one last comment:

Lord, we give you Emil…

© 2017 by Mike Tully


The Great Global Fart

The third planet from the sun has gas.  I’m not referring to atmospheric gases or natural gas that is fracked out of bedrock.  The Earth’s gas is deep within its bowels, the consequence of a slow-moving digestion over millions of years that converts organic material to methane.  Giant pockets of methane gas lie beneath the oceans and the Arctic ice shelf.  It has quietly leaked from the ocean floor for eons and small amounts of gas have escaped the Arctic shelf.  Recently, the gas leakage in the Arctic has been increasing and the steady rise in global temperatures leading to Arctic melting may release a massive burst of methane in a catastrophic event.  It has happened before.

One hundred twenty centuries ago – a Nano-second in geological time – methane gas burst from below the Barents Sea, leaving craters still visible today.  There are planetary bathtub bubbles in the Russian arctic region, blue lakes gurgling oddly in the land of the permafrost.  Scientists have not seen them before, indicating something strange and ominous is happening.  “Ominous” is an appropriate term, given a recent discovery by Canadian scientists that the planet’s climate was drastically altered 110 million years ago by what they referred to as a giant methane “burp.”  (Scientists prefer the polite term “burp” but, face it, we’re talking about methane.)  “That was when Earth transitioned from a cold climate to a warm climate,” said one of the researchers.  As discomfiting as that prospect is, planetary history includes a more dire outcome:  the Permian Mass Extinction that nearly wiped out every species on Earth.  A recent study in the scientific journal Paleoworld suggested that a sudden release of trapped methane caused the extinction.  While apocalyptic fears of an Arctic methane catastrophe are not uniformly accepted by the scientific community, many researchers consider the trapped methane to be a “time bomb” that can be released by global warming.  There is scientific consensus that the planetary climate is changing and human activity is the primary cause.  Whether or not global warming will trigger a catastrophic methane burst in the Arctic – a possibility that exists – human-caused climate change poses an elemental threat to every person on Earth.

Nonetheless, there are well-funded climate deniers, close cousins of the laughable Flat Earth Society in their willful disdain for the scientific method, logic, and facts.  While they will eventually be confined to the padded room of history that is reserved for cranks and miscreants, they are able to inflict great harm, thanks to dark money, as well as powerful enablers like the President of the United States.  When the President announced U. S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, he stated, “As of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”  This is Trumpian schizophrenic madness at its finest.  How can a “nonbinding” agreement impose “draconian” burdens? 

The most recent local diatribe against the Paris Climate Accord was in last week’s edition of The Southern Arizona News Examiner in which Dr. Jane Orient made wild and unsupported claims that transitioning to renewable energy would bring about a financial calamity and, in a loopy confluence of climate science and xenophobia, argued there will be a Malaria epidemic in Minnesota because of migrants from tropical countries.  Seriously.  She also claims that a transition to renewables would cause famines and water shortages because “energy is necessary for modern life itself.”  Here are the facts:  Global warming will increase illness through the proliferation of mosquito-borne diseases and will reduce the planetary supply of potable drinking water, causing famine and death.  Climate change will even relocate the North Pole closer to Paris (“Rudolph, the nez rouge reindeer…”)

Groups battling human-caused climate change include the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and many other respected scientific organizations.   President Trump’s personal views notwithstanding, NASA and the Defense Department have declared concern over the effects of climate change and vowed to combat it.  Secretary of Defense James Mattis has warned that global climate change is a national security challenge.  The deniers of global climate change, on the other hand, are a small but well-funded cadre of propagandists, some of them masquerading as experts, such as Paul Driessen, the only expert cited by Dr. Orient.  Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, who argues for eliminating any reference to global climate change in American policies, defunding climate research, and removing the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide.  He is a point man for industrial poison whose organization is funded by dark money groups such as Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, as well as the Koch Brothers.  In a world threatened by noxious gasses and pollutants, his emissions are among the most lethal.

© 2017 by Mike Tully


Teacher, Leave Them Kids Alone

Imagine the federal government decided to devote one and a quarter billion dollars a year to help state educational institutions train teachers.  These are many of the teachers who will spend time with our children, helping them learn the skills they will need to navigate the journey to adulthood.  It’s an important and challenging responsibility that not everybody can perform successfully.  They are charged with our nation’s future, one inquisitive mind at a time.  So, imagine the federal government understands the challenge and decides to help.  Would it not make sense to ensure the dollars dedicated to the process are spent wisely?


Donald J. Trump, Defendant

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
        –  Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8

Since he was sworn in, Donald Trump has violated the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, based on a plain reading of its text.  That seems clear, but what is less clear is what the consequences will be for the Trump Presidency or, more critically, the future of the American Republic.

The Foreign Emoluments Clause is one of the more arcane provisions of the Constitution, with no meaningful court decisions and few legal opinions addressing it. But Donald Trump, with his various domestic and international business interests and many potential conflicts, is bringing the ancient word “emoluments” into common parlance.  Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has sued him in federal court in New York for violating the Clause. 

While other matters, such as firing the FBI Director, dominate the headlines, the CREW lawsuit quietly abides, the pleadings not yet joined, and no motions or discovery requests filed.  However, the lawsuit may tread uncharted Constitutional territory that can shape the Presidency for decades.  Whether we regard the President as a public servant or monarch may be determined by its outcome.