Skip to content

Nuclear Arms Deal with Iran – War or Peace? Sunday: August 16 11 A.M. at: First Unitarian Society of Denver 1400 Lafayette Denver, CO

August 9, 2015

Iran Event

The Great Late Cretaceous Interior Seaway: A Visit to the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas

August 7, 2015
Gillicus inside Xiphacticus, or put another way - a little - well actually NOT SO little - fossil fish inside the belly of a larger one that has swallowed it hole. The

Look carefully and you will see it: Gillicus inside Xiphacticus, or put another way – a little – well actually NOT SO little – fossil fish inside the belly of a larger one that has swallowed it whole. The “Mona Lisa” of the Sternberg Museum

If possible, when I go to eastern Nebraska (Nebraska City, at the far eastern edge Nebraska near the Missouri River) on a visit, afterwards, I try to dip down and return through central Kansas. That is what I once again did this past week.

Leaving Nebraska City and stopping off at Holton, Kansas, from where a life long friend’s family hails, I wind up for a few relaxing – and always intellectually stimulating – few days with Margy Stewart and Ron Young at their Bird Runner Wild Life Refuge on Lower McDowell Creek, south of Exit 307 on I-70 ten miles east of Junction City. On route to Denver again, I find it difficult to bypass the small town Wilson, Kansas, whose welcome sign claims it to be the “Czech Capitol of Kansas” and whose sole grocery story offers the best hometown made sausage available in these parts, and for the most reasonable prices. Then it’s off east of Wilson to Hays, Kansas for what is one of the great thrills of the whole trip: a visit to the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.

The Sternberg is best known, among paleontologists, at least, for its extraordinary collection of what are referred to as “Kansas Cretaceous marine life” and specifically, the wonderfully preserved “fish-within-a-fish.” “Gillicus” is the six-foot long fish swallowed by the fourteen foot Xiphactinus some 70 million years ago. The suggestions are that while Xiphactinus was able to swallow Gillicus whole, no small feat for the ancient glutton, that the experience killed him, a prehistoric example of biting off more than you can chew. The extraordinarily well perserved fossilized skeletal remains of both predator and victim locked in a lethal display. For those interested enough, this fossil is just a gateway to a long-lost world.

As with most other museums, what is displayed is a small, if not tiny part of a much larger collection. In the Sternberg’s case, those displayed for viewing are a sliver of the museum’s 3,750,000 specimen collection. For those of you unfamiliar with the language of geological historical slices of time, don’t let words like “Cretaceous” scare you away. “Cretaceous” refers to a geological period beginning at about 145 million years ago extending to 66 million years past. The climate during this time was generally warm, with rising sea levels. The oceans and seas were populated with now extinct marine reptiles, ammonites and what are referred to as rudists; on the land this was the age of the dinosaurs while new species of mammals, birds and flowering plants came on the scene.

The Cretaceous itself is a part of “an era”, – a longer geologic stretch of time, known as the “Mesozoic.” These geological “periods” and “epochs” were first clearly delineated in the early 19th century by a number of scientists (Lyell and others), and with modern dating methods (tree ring, radio-active carbon ), scientists have been able to put very accurate dates on these timelines. The Cretaceous ends around 66 million years ago and is marked by what is referred to as the KT boundary. At that moment 66 million years back, a dramatic shift took place for life on earth that affected the planet. It is at that time that a large number of species went extinct – most well-known of which are the dinosaurs, that went the way of all flesh suddenly and forever after a long – 80 to 100 million year – run. Slam, bam – they’re gone. Less known is a whole variety of “mega” maritime life  (“mega” – meaning very, very large – big dinosaur sized) that were to the oceans what Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops were to the land.  Others left the scene suddenly too. Looking at the geological record, scholars have come to conclude that at that 66 million year ago moment, the world had experienced the fifth of a series of “mass extinctions”.

One of these earlier mass extinctions, referred to as the Great Permian Crash, some 248 million years ago, is estimated to have wiped out some 96% of all living things. In the Cretaceous ending case of the KT boundary 66 million years ago, for a long time it was unclear what might have caused such a sudden catastrophe, until in 1981, Luis and Walter Alvarez suggested it was the result of a giant asteroid fell in the Yucatán Peninsula, at Chicxulub, Mexico. It changed the earth’s atmosphere producing a dust cloud that kept out the sun, spiked global temperatures changing climatic conditions and killed off much of life on earth. Looked upon skeptically at first, with time, the hypothesis has gained strength and credibility as KT boundary layers have been discovered in many rock formations worldwide. As recently as 2010, a world conference of scientists endorsed the Alvarez hypothesis which is generally accepted as the cause of the dinosaur extinction.

North American Cretaceous Interior Seaway 90 million years ago

North American Cretaceous Interior Seaway 90 million years ago

Getting Back to Kansas…

The other animals that died out at the same time where the maritime mega-forms, as oxygen levels and water temperatures also plummeted. Many of these long-lost maritime species roamed the seas of Kansas (yes, that is not a mistake) and the fossilized remains of many of them have been continually uncovered over the course of the past 150 years throughout, especially, the western parts of Kansas.

Although it might goose the state’s influential – and increasingly wacko – Christian fundamentalists, the Kansas of today is quite different from its appearance 100-80 million years ago, that geological period known as the “late Cretaceous”. It was entirely under water as was much of the Great Plains. In fact what today is the Eastern United States was separated from West by what was known as the Cretaceous Interior Seaway that split the North American continent in two (and sometimes in three) sections). At its largest, it was 2,500 feet (760 m) deep, 600 miles (970 km) wide and over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) long. Its seashores fluctuated overtime, but through most of its long history what is today the state of Kansas, as well as much of the West up to the edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in eastern California was under water. The current generally flat-ish landscape of this region in western Kansas and the high plains of eastern Colorado was, 100 million years back, the bottom of the sea and one can still see not far from the surface in many places large quantities of the sand that made up the sea bottom.

Bison skulls piled high - 1870s

Bison skulls piled high – 1870s

The Western Dinosaur Hunters

The period of western expansion and development after the end of the American Civil War was marked by intense economic and political developments, “the closing of the frontier,” the decimation of the buffalo, and the wiping out of the last remnants of independent Native American culture (from the Sand Creek Massacre in 1865 to the Wounded Knee slaughter in 1890). It was in this period between the end of the Civil War and 1900 approximately that western regions of the United States from the Missouri River to eastern California were more intensively probed, settled and economically exploited.

Fossil hunting along with archaeological discoveries, such as the discovery and excavation of the Mesa Verde Anasazi site in SW Colorado were an integral part of the period. Hunting for the bones of dinosaurs of all sizes and shapes in the western regions – but especially Colorado, Wyoming and Western Nebraska intensified and was followed with some excitement in the national press. In these regions O.C. Marsh from Yale University in New Haven Connecticut and E.D. Cope of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia engaged in what became known as the “Bone Wars” in which each tried to discredit each other in the press the others discoveries, destroy each other’s discoveries with each claiming that their most recent dinosaur discovery outdid their competitors in evolutionary significance, a classic example of the utter stupidity of academic competition setting the stage for the future, although in the process, the two did make a significant number of dinosaur (and other) fossil discoveries, most of which had to be re-interpreted later by more sober analysts.

While Cope and Marsh were slugging it out intellectually, not far away, in Western Kansas, Dr. George M. Sternberg was making less publicized, but equally dramatic discoveries of maritime giants from the same period, the late Cretaceous. As the Sternberg Museum brochure – inexpensive but informative – explained:

Dr. George M. Sternberg, renowned Civil War surgeon and later Surgeon General of the United States Army, was assigned to Fort Harker (Fort Ellsworth), Kansas in 1866. While stationed in Kansas, Dr. Sternberg often visited poss along the Smoky Hill Trail. During his travels, Sternberg helped to identify fossil bones that had been found by soldiers on patrol in western Kansas.

Sternberg would stay in the region for the rest of his life and continued fossil collecting. Unlike Cope and Marsh whose collecting passions centered around “trophy fossils” and the press attention they garnered, Sternberg became interested in collecting fossil leaves found in the sandstone hills near his home. Many of these specimens are now a part of collections worldwide. George Sternberg passed on his interest in fossil collecting to his sons, George F., Levi and Charles M. At the tender age of 9 George F. had already made a major discovery, a fossil reptile called a plesiasaur, a giant carnivorous marine reptile, a kind of tyrannosaurus-rex of the seas. In 1952, George discovered the famous “fish-within-a-fish,” discussed above, the most complete specimen of its kind known. The museum in Hays, Kansas where Sternberg did much of his work was renamed in his honor after his 1969 death.

the quilted version of Xiphactus swallowing Gillipus in the museum lobby.

the quilted version of Xiphactus swallowing Gillipus in the museum lobby.

“Life’s Sunny Side” by Harriet Patton

July 31, 2015
Harriet P - 2

Jim Davis, approximately the age of 9, in around 1938.  He’d made his own banjo out of the top of an axle grease bucket lid, a stick and bailing wire for strings. The fact that it didn’t work in no way deterred Jim from playing it and singing anyhow. His favorite song, appropriately enough in those hard times was “Keep On The Sunny Side.” He would sit on the south hay mow (part of a barn where the hay was stored) and sing with  siblings.

Harriet Patton lives alone in a pleasant track home just south of Chalk Creek in the shadow of Mount Princeton just outside of Nathrop, Colorado. Her daughter, Jo Ellen is Nancy and my life-long friend. We visited them and some of their family members this week in Nathrop, in the valley between Buena Vista and Salida, Colorado, near the headwaters of the Arkansas River. Chalk Creek runs into the Arkansas River at Nathrop. Harriet and her siblings grew up on a farm in the 1930s Dust Bowl era in Eastern Kansas. Hard times. People had to “make do” and with very little. – and did. Jim Davis, pictured here, was her brother. After receiving this picture from her sister, Harriet wrote a poem about that period to go along with the photo which is just below. Perhaps today when one hears story of people in this period who were “poor but happy,” people respond cynically, thinking that it is just nostalgia. But I have heard similar stories many times now of people growing up in the Depression Years (1929-1940 approximately) when life WAS hard, very hard, for everyone, rural or urban dwellers but that still, people had each other and a strong sense of the need to help one another. The social bonds, the sense of the importance of “service,” of “community” the manner in which people  were “there” for one another, in many ways appears today like a lost world. Of course, not to “glorify” it – there is nothing pretty about poverty, then or now – but there was something – and those of us who knew people who lived through that era – and the World War II that followed – know that the word’s in Harriet’s poem ring true. At 85 she is spry, sharp as ever. Patton

The Pope and the IMF Have Moved Left…and Oh Yes, There’s A Bridge In Brooklyn I’d Like To Sell You Cheap…

July 17, 2015
Bamako - a film that puts the IMF on trial done by Malian director Abderrahmane Sissako. There are many others.

Bamako – a Malian film by Aderrahmane Sissako – that puts the IMF on trial (literally), while showing the impact of its policies not just on Mali, but the whole African continent.

First the Pope, the head of what is arguably, perhaps the most conservative – nay reactionary – social movements in world history since Constantine legitimized its approach so long ago – doesn’t miss an opportunity to sound more leftist than Che Guevara…now the IMF is moving into the ranks of socialists….what is the world coming to? Genuine, deep going change or simple demagoguery? Do the Pope’s statements represent the beginning of a shift in the long history of that institution?;  does IMF position paper mean that much either.  Or are these gestures little more than recruitment tactics, and image polishing approaches, a bit like – as the old saying has it – putting make up on spiritual and economic corpses? Read more…

Tunisia: Seiffeddine Rezgui’s Last Break Dance

July 2, 2015
Sousse, Tunisia

Sousse, Tunisia


This also was published at Foreign Policy In Focus


The idea that Tunisia represents something of an Arab Spring success story  in contrast to the turmoil experienced elsewhere in the Middle East, has been an integral part of the Western media narrative about the region. Yet, from the outset, the post-Ben Ali Tunisian transformation has been a bumpy and frankly, fragile affair in many ways. True enough, the Ben Ali repressive yoke has been lifted. That much has changed for the better. However, the recent massacre of foreign tourists in Sousse underlines many of the thorny structural problems that remain. I mention this, by the way, as one who has confidence – boarding on faith – in the Tunisian people’s ability to overcome these difficulties in the long run.  RJP


Tunisians Back On The Streets Demonstrating Against Terrorism.

As they did right after the assassinations of Chokri Belaid (February, 2013) and Mohammed Brahmi (July, 2013) were assassinated and in the aftermath of the terrorist attack against (mostly) foreign tourists visiting the Bardo Museum in March of this year, Tunisians once again took the streets to protest the Friday, June 26, 2015 cold-blooded murder of 38 tourists at the Spanish-owned five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel, in the El Kantaoui district of the seaside resort city of Sousse, some 75 miles south of the capitol, Tunis. Carrying banners which read “Non au Terrorisme,” “Why,” the day after the slaughter, crowds of mourners and demonstrators gathered in both Sousse and Tunis to protest the killings.

A number of themes have converged to make Tunisia more of a target of terrorist attacks from ISIS-like radicals than in the past, much of a blow back from the NATO attack on Libya that brought an end to Khadaffi’s rule. Read more…

Reforming Popes – Moving The Mountain…Or Something Less?

June 15, 2015
Catholic Church, outside of Mora, New New Mexico (March, 2013)

Catholic Church, outside of Mora, New New Mexico (March, 2013)


note: also published at Foreign Policy In Focus


Popes…and Reforming the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is again stirring.

Among many of my Catholic friends, a sense of hope is replacing decades of resignation. They now cling to Pope Francis’ every word, looking forward to what the pontiff will say next. Although ideologically distinct from them, I have found myself working with and living next to Catholics all my life, especially those who have been associated with The Catholic Worker, Sisters of Loretto, some elements among present and former Jesuits. At times we have struggled to find the common ground…and have often succeeded.  Of course, it should come as no surprise that I find myself working more closely with those critical of, or trying to reform the institution. They are a serious, dedicated lot of present and former priests and nuns, some who refer to themselves as “reformed Catholics.”

Over the decades, especially here in Colorado, we have developed a pattern of cooperation and trust – and from my perspective at least, respect – in struggles for social justice, against racial and religious discrimination and for peace. They are long distance runners for social justice. They spilled blood (literally) in their efforts to close the Rocky Flats Nuclear Facility just northwest of Denver, work with the homeless and have been among the strongest critics of U.S. foreign policy worldwide, but especially in Latin America. One does not have to lecture them or explain what might be referred to as the shortcomings or inequities of capitalism; that they understand well. Some have taken on the Sisyphean task of democratizing, reforming their Church, others have, frankly, given up on that effort. Regardless – reformers and/or dropouts – it is their religious commitment, something deep in the spirit of their religious upbringing, which has shaped their values and commitment to social justice. Their commitment is genuine and enduring and has endured the ups and downs of Vatican policy shifts over the years.

As has been the case with previous statements over the past two years, there is both interest and no small degree of excitement over the expected papal statement by Pope Francis on global warming. The environmental movement is hopeful the Pope’s statements will give added “oomph” to the global efforts to bring CO-2 levels down. Conservative Republican Party hopefuls Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, Congressional snow ball king Jim Inhofe are all worried. Read more…

Harry Nier – Gone But Not Forgotten…At Least By Those Who Knew Him

June 12, 2015
Harry Nier - third on the left with the sign

September, 1979 – Harry Nier – third on the left with the sign “No rate hikes, cut the cost of utilities.” Immediately behind him, part hidden, Elaine Schell; behind her Dick Ayre. In front of Harry, Danny Graul, leading the pack with the sign “PSC stockholders get profits, PSC users get fuel cost adjustments” is Jack Galvin.

The news came to me this evening that Harry Nier, Denver lawyer, a lifelong socialist, secular Jew, with a particular love and knowledge of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, died this past Monday. I do not know the details beyond the fact that Harry suffered from Alzheimers for these past 4-5 years and that the condition overwhelmed him in the end. I believe that he was about 90 years of age.

The last time I saw Harry was at a Middle Eastern restaurant about five years ago on South Colorado Blvd, known to locals as “The Gaza Strip.” I was coming out with hummus and he and a friend were entering. It had been years since I’d seen him; but he recognized me and I, him; We spoke briefly; I made one of those mental notes to track him down, see him again, but as often happens, never got round to it and he died.

I especially thought of Harry when the Obama Administration announced it was going to end the more than half century economic blockade against Cuba, which Harry had worked so hard and persistently for all of his life. I wanted to drink a toast with him, to congratulate him on his commitment to improving U.S. Cuban relations. If I remember correctly, Harry Nier visited Cuba more than 20 times, during all those years when it was technically illegal to do so. On several occasions Harry met with and had long discussions with Cuban leader, Fidel Castro whom he knew personally.

I don’t know that Harry Nier ever joined this or that left group, but he was, even as a successful and prosperous lawyer, a life long socialist with a genuine commitment to poor and working class people. Harry Nier was born in New York City on August 13, 1926. At the age of six months his family came to Denver. He went to East High School and then to the University of Colorado in Boulder and then from University of Colorado Law School in 1950. Nier was a part of a group of extraordinary lawyers that included Rudy Schware, Gene Dykeman,Walter Gerash in the 1950s. Together they defended those Colorado Communists and leftists called before the House of Un-american Activities Committee; SDS, the Crusade For Justice, Vietnam draft resisters, etc. this they did successfully, virtually for free and Harry, as well as the others, stayed in Denver and built his practice and his life here.

I first met Harry in the summer of 1970.

I had been arrested, along with life-long friend and associate Jay Jurie as a part of what was then referred to as the Boulder 17. We were a part of a group on the University of Colorado Boulder campus protesting an ROTC drill. Most of us, myself included were arrested and charged at first with felonies. I went to jail. It was then that I met Harry. As a part of the National Lawyers’ Guild he represented me gratis, got me and others, out of jail on bail and through his work – along with that of Gene Dykeman – got the felony charges first reduced and the thrown out by a Boulder Federal Judge. At the same time the University of Colorado lodged charges against me as well which could have led to my expulsion from graduate school. Again, Harry Nier successfully represented me and won the case. I never paid him a penny for that legal representation.

During the years I knew and worked with him, Harry bounced around between this and that left group, never, at least to my knowledge, joining any – working with all. He belonged, identified with all of us, gave us support and never held back with his criticisms of what he understood to be our shortcomings I didn’t know much about his personal life although I saw him often enough, but I don’t believe he had a lifetime partner or was married.For a number of years he worked with the Denver International Film Festival to bring Cuban films to Denver.

I hear that Harry wants his ashes spread on Mt. Elbert in Colorado – which he climbed not once but frequently – and in Cuba. Harry…rest in peace. I regret that those of us who knew you and in spite of all your damned quirkiness – respected and loved you…couldn’t see you off on your journey to wherever.

I will add to this obituary as I collect information about Harry’s life. Yours was a lifetime of commitment to others,, a rare bird indeed. Harry Nier, Rudy Schware, Gene Dykeman, Walter Gerash…the likes of these in the Colorado legal profession are rare these days.,.and were then.

Harry rest in peace.

Rob P.


In order to help pay his way through law school, Harry Nier drove a cab...and thus was part of a tradition of radical Denverites who did a stint at the cab company. This is a copy of his cab driver's license. It is dated 1953

In order to help pay his way through law school, Harry Nier drove a cab…and thus was part of a tradition of radical Denverites who did a stint at the cab company. This is a copy of his cab driver’s license. It is dated 1953

This from Allan Hafley:

Richard Roth was kind enough to send me the link to Rob Prince’s blog concerning the death of Harry Nier.

Many of you knew Harry or knew of him and I thought you might like to see the tribute Rob wrote.

Harry and the other lawyers named in Rob’s piece were “Movement Lawyers” in the finest sense of the word and helped countless individuals and organizations.

I first met Harry in the fall of 1967. Shortly after the Day of Draft Resistance on 10/16/1967 I was indicted by the Feds for non-possession of my draft card. Harry and Gene Dykeman took on my case, filed a 75 page brief challenging the legality of the draft and the Vietnam War.

Within weeks the Department of Justice decided they did not want to argue the case and dropped the charges.

As Rob mentions Harry was passionate about the Cuban Revolution, loved to talk politics and to challenge us about what we doing and advocating. Because we were in Boulder and Harry was in Denver I did not really see him that often but considered him a friend who went out of his way to help when most people thought we should be imprisoned or worse.

When I Googled Harry’s name a batch of FBI documents came up from the Harold Weisberg Archive (the file was too large to attach to this email) . Weisberg was one of the early critics of the Warren Report and wrote a number of books on the JFK assassination. At the time of JFK’s
murder Harry was the head of Fair Play for Cuba in Colorado. The gist of the heavily redacted reports is that the FBI was trying to prove that Harry knew Lee Harvey Oswald. Of course it was all garbage, another attempt by the FBI to smear and/or indict innocent citizens.

As the years roll on it is easy to forget all the people who stepped forward to help in our hour of need.

Harry was one of the good guys.

Allan Haifley


Harry Nier, an avid mountain climber, here a top of Pico Turquino, Cuba's highest peak.

Harry Nier, an avid mountain climber, here a top a Cuban mountain.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 133 other followers