Thursday, November 20, 2014

More on Our Collective Stupidity

The excrement is still hitting the media-powered fan over Jonathan Gruber’s remark that the American public is “stupid.”

Nobody likes to be called “stupid.”  Remember the playground bully who couldn’t spell his own name or add 2+2? He would bloody the nose of anyone who called him “stupid.”

The stupidity of the American electorate is one more inconvenient truth, one more fact that people don’t want to hear. Yet by virtually every accepted measure of social science, we are the second most stupid nation in the First World.  I won’t mention the only more stupid nation but here’s a hint: two males of this ethnicity are on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Part of the reason for our collective stupidity is educational: we have mismanaged public and higher education for too many years.  The schools don’t teach critical thinking.  Our masses are scientifically illiterate.  Our sanitized version of history  is a pious joke: we don’t know we’re racist because we were never taught the truth about slavery and institutionalized racism in the post-bellum south. 

Part of the reason for our collective stupidity is our mainstream media.  As fewer and fewer  huge corporations control more and more of the information providers, the profession of journalism is vanishing.  If we have an electorate devoid of critical thinking, we also have information providers incapable of asking critical questions.  They are stenographers.  They are manipulated.  They are propagandists.  They do not probe.  They parrot.

Part of the reason for our collective stupidity is our propensity for self-delusion.  We believe what makes us feel good.  We believe in a world of white hats and black hats where American exceptionalism rules.  Other guys, who have been assigned the black-hat role by our government and its media  propagandists, torture people; we do not.  Other guys, who have been assigned black hats by our government and its propagandists, commit war crimes, violate the territorial integrity of other nations, brutalize minorities and worship false gods; we do not.

Combine these factors and, in almost any random sampling of Americans, you would have a majority who believe that Iran is making weapons of mass destruction to use on us, but who can’t find Iran on a map of the world. You would have a large, strident minority who think every weather event is an “act of God” and who vigorously deny that anything humans have done or are doing could possibly produce something called climate change.  You would have a majority who believe that we should not  raise taxes on “job creators,” even as those so-called “job creators” continue to export 200,000 American jobs per month to other countries.

Polls suggest that a majority — 54% to 59% depending on the moment the poll was taken and the pollster to took it — of Americans favor the construction of a pipeline to conduct tar sand petroleum from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Louisiana and Texas.  The poll respondents have been told, and so believe, that the pipeline would create thousands of new jobs in an economy suffering from severe unemployment; would result in cheaper gasoline for their internal combustion machines and would “free us from dependence on foreign oil.”  None of this is true.  The jobs are phantoms: TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, originally said it would generate 5,000 to 6,500 jobs.  Even that number, according to an independent study by Cornell University, was high.  In exchange for the support of a powerful U.S. union, TransCanada signed a sweetheart deal with the Teamsters, who began propagating that 13,000 new jobs would result from the pipeline.  When other unions raised obvious environmental issues, the Teamsters upped the ante to 20,000 new jobs.  As the Senate prepared to vote on a proposal to mandate approval of the pipeline, its proponents magically divined 43,000 new jobs.  Absolutely nothing has changed since Trans Canada’s original bullshit guess of 5,000 to 6,500 new jobs.  But somehow the media accepted, and a majority of Americans believe, that 43,000 new jobs would be created out of thin air.  That’s stupid. 

Most Americans who believe in these phantom jobs haven’t the foggiest notion what would actually be conducted through the bloody pipeline.  Tar sands petroleum is NOT fluid; it’s a solid sludge loaded with carbon, the stuff that causes climate change when it’s discharged into the atmosphere.  The sludge has to be heated to more than 150 degrees f. and put under extremely high pressure to be forced through the 36-inch diameter pipeline.  The pipes are held together by seams.  Seams fail under high pressure.  And so, mile after mile, from Alberta to Louisiana, water tables and people on either side of the pipe seams are at  high risk of exposure to dangerous and extremely toxic leaks and spills.  A majority of Americans tell the pollsters they are in favor of this thing.

Which is not merely stupid.  It is utterly insane.

*   *   *

"The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance" --Benjamin Franklin









Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Please Don't Bother Us With Facts!


Americans love to be lied to.  This explains United States election results over the last four decades.

The less than perfect individual in the mirror takes on almost heroic dimensions amid unrelenting assurances that it is representative of American exceptionalism.  Wars that bleed our treasury and our youth seem almost noble amid unrelenting assurances that we’re making the world safe for democracy. Climate change is a lie made up by greedy  scientists who want big grants for their work.  Guns don’t kill, people do.  We are a Christian nation and God intended it that way.  Marriage is between a man and a woman; anything else is bestiality, as bad as buggering a donkey.  Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Iran is making weapons of mass destruction and Syria used chemical weapons on its dissidents.  Cops can and should shoot every young black male who runs away with his hands up, wears a hoodie or menaces the neighborhood with Skittles.  There’s no such thing as too much oregano.

Remember Pearl Harbor, the Alamo and the Cold War:  Russians are bad.  Americans and their European puppets are good.  Thus when Obama and Putin rubbed shoulders the other day in China, even the supposedly left-leaning Huffington Post told us that relations between the two “have turned icy over Moscow’s backing of separatist violence” in Ukraine.  The AP reminded us of Russia's provocations in Ukraine.” 

A few inconvenient truths have been swept under the rug here.  Ukraine had a democratically-elected president who was more inclined to side with Russia than with the European Union and NATO.  The U.S. spent more than $5 billion — including sending a cadre of neo-Nazi thugs to Poland to be trained at a secret base in insurrectionist dirty tricks — to foment violence and effect a coup d’etat. The democratically-elected head of Ukraine sought asylum in Russia while the U.S. saw to the installation of Willie Wonka as its puppet in Kiev.  The people of Crimea, who have historically thought of themselves as Russian, voted — again, in  a fair, democratic process — to reattach themselves to the motherland.  The rest of the world knows this.  But Americans only know that the “problem” in Ukraine is Putin’s fault and, oh Pshaw!, we just might have to nuke the bastards.

Meanwhile, back in the zoo called Washington, Republicans think they have seized control of the legislative part of the government apparatus.  The same media who accept as fact Putin’s “provocations” in Ukraine have been telling us that this is so.  In fact, neither party controls much of anything. The country is run by same pack of filthy rich corporations and oligarchs who put Reagan in office. The government maintains a big, well-oiled machine that spews out for public consumption what the oligarchy wants us to hear.

A small part of that machine, called the  Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),  told us recently  that the unemployment rate has declined to 5.8% and that 214,000 new jobs were created in October.  That, the media lemmings told us, is good news. What the media do NOT tell us is  us that the BLS statistics do NOT take account of the millions of Americans who have

become so discouraged from looking for jobs that do not exist, that they have quit looking.They are unemployed but not counted as unemployed.

Dr. Paul C. Roberts, a treasury department official in a Republican administration, knows how these things work. He writes:  

The uncounted unemployed can be measured in the sharp 21st century decline in the labor force participation rate. It has declined because there are no jobs to participate in. But Washington (and) the media  lie. They say the participation rate is down because the baby boomers are retiring. However, he participation rate of baby boomers is actually the highest of all and the only one that is rising. The reason is that with the Federal Reserve’s sole concern with the welfare of a small handful of mega-banks —the ones that sit on the board of the New York Federal Reserve Bank — real interest rates are negative. Therefore, retirees have no income from their retirement savings. To supplement their Social Security pensions (a rigged CPI prevents or minimizes cost-of-living increases), retirees take the temporary, lowly paid jobs that are all that the US economy can produce. These jobs do not provide sufficient income with which to form a household.

The US economy no longer creates First World jobs. The US economy creates jobs for waitresses and bartenders, hospital orderlies, and retail clerks. The complexion of the US work force is becoming Third World.
Look at the BLS payroll jobs report for October 2014:  209 thousand private jobs created and five thousand government jobs created. Where are the private jobs? Almost all of them–181,000–are in lowly paid private services. Retail trade with 27,100 jobs, wholesale trade with 8,500 jobs, and transportation and warehousing with 13,300 jobs and 48,900 jobs. With middle class retail stores closing and even dollar stores failing and with consumer income (except for the rich) and credit (except for student loans) shrinking, do you really believe that consumer spending supported almost 50,000 new jobs in October?

Where is the money coming from?

The vast amount of money that the Fed has created has gone into the handful of mega-banks to support the banks. The banks are not buying consumer goods.

The BLS reports that 37,000 new jobs were created in October in professional and business services. Employment services, such as temporary help services, account for 24,000 or 65% of these jobs.
Another old standby is education and health care services, which provided 41,000 new jobs. Health care and social assistance provided 27,200 of these jobs and home health care services provided 7,400 of these jobs. Together lowly paid services provided 84% of the jobs in health care services.

The major jobs sector in America (is) waitresses and bartenders. Waitresses and bartenders are classified under “leisure and hospitality,” which claims 52,000 new jobs in October.

Here are some other hidden, but disturbing, facts: In October job cuts rose 68% from the previous month and 12 percent from the previous year. So far there have been 414,591 job eliminations in 2014 with 51,183 of these coming in October.

Where are the job cuts? Retail store closings have produced 38,948 retail job reductions in 2014 with 6,874 of those coming in October. Yet, the BLS reports consistent job growth in retail jobs.  Hewlett Packard cut 5,000 jobs in October, bringing its year’s total to 21,000 lost jobs. Microsoft eliminated 6,509 jobs in October for a year to date layoff of 55,511, a rise of 92 % from 2013. In October the electronics industry cut 1,648 jobs, bringing the year to date loss to 18,153. The telecommunications industry cut 5,217 jobs, bringing the year to date loss to 20,038, an increase of 81% from 2013.

In other words, good-paying jobs are being replaced by low-paying jobs.

That, alas, is one of the inconvenient truths Americans don’t want to hear.  They want to hear the likes of Joni Ernst talk about her love affair with her 9 mm handgun.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Great American Snapshots

Somewhere in this benighted land a home is for sale — for $195 million and change.  Honest.  It’s owned, of course, by a one-percenter, an oligarch.  But despite its 5,000 square foot master bedroom suite (more than twice the size of my house), the owner never uses it.  He prefers his somewhat smaller ocean-front mansions.  He rents out the big place — for roughly half a million dollars per weekend.  Honest. The place has its own vineyard, but what you can do with a vineyard during a weekend rental I couldn’t say. 

The United States has more than 16 million children — nearly a quarter of all the children in the country — living in poverty.  They don’t get enough to eat. The electorate has just sent to its national legislature a slew of verifiable psychopaths dedicated to cutting off federal assistance to these kids.  

$195 million+ for a single house.  With a vineyard.

*  *  *


Joni Ernst recently said she believes “there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." A reporter asked what evidence she had. "My husband served in Saudi Arabia as the Army Central Command sergeant major for a year,” Ernst said.

Ernst was just elected to represent Iowa in the U.S. senate.


* * *


Oklahoma has been represented for a long time in the Senate by James Inhofe.  He has said, “Much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science.” He is about to become chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.  Be afraid. 

* * *


A fifth death has recently been registered as the result of a school shooting outside of Seattle.  Voters in the State of Washington last Tuesday approved stricter background checks on would-be gun purchasers.  Republican politicians are outraged at this violation of their rights.

* * *


I am not a scientist.  I want to chair the committee that approves the biology curriculum in my state’s high schools. 

* * *


My representative in Congress, who made his fortune in the oil and gas industry, opposes wind power.  Why? “Those windmills are ugly.” He was just re-elected.

* * *

A guy who served in Reagan’s cabinet says Nixon was actually a liberal.  I’m actually a conservative. I say, keep all that oil and gas in the ground, where it's safe from terrorists.

* * *


“I don't think it's government's job to find health care for people. I think it's the individual's job to find health care.”— Sen. Ted Cruz. “Frank” got down-sized out of a decent job just before his wife was diagnosed with an incurable terminal ailment. Now he’s pounding on doors asking for work — any kind of labor — to earn money for her treatments.  “Go out and find health care,” I told him.

* * *


No other country imposes the kind of costs on college and university students that the U.S. does, and nowhere else do loans cover so much of those costs. The $1.2 trillion in outstanding education debt in the U.S. is more than that of the rest of the world combined.

* * *


My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty  . . .”




Wednesday, November 5, 2014

It Is Time, My Grandchildren, to Go

My dear grandchildren:

I know that some of you worked hard to achieve a different result in  this election.  I know that most of you cast your ballots for the most qualified candidates.  I know that despite the overwhelming odds against you, you made some of the contests close.

But we awakened today needing to confront a sad reality.  None of you will ever live in a free, democratic United States.

I hope that those of you who can will become expatriates.  Political exile is not a formula for happiness, but it is arguably better than enslavement in a police state whose principal purpose is war and the engorgement of the richest few at the expense of the impoverished many.

Go, if you can.  Go to Holland, or France, or Germany or Switzerland. Go to one of the struggling Latin socialist democracies, struggling to keep our CIA from  from pulling off one of its dirty, ill-disguised coups de etat. Go to New Zealand. To Scotland. To Moscow, to work beside Edward Snowden. Anywhere that you can find breathing room. A remote Pacific island is no longer an option; soon it will lie beneath warmed, polluted seas. But go.

Here, there is no choice but to submit.  A weak, failed presidency is all that stands between you and enslavement.  The militarized police and octopoid national spy apparatus assure that no revolution can ever succeed. Protest or dissent will be ever more ruthlessly suppressed. The de facto legalization of torture will one day be formalized.  Stay and you will all become Winstons, betraying your Julias. Abstractions like justice, truth and ethical humanism will be banished from the state vocabulary as liberal treason, punishable by death or penal exile in some Guantanamo. There is no escape from this if you stay. It will only get worse, as it has been doing, with the process hastening, bit by bit, until we can realize the magnitude of our loss only by looking  far back in our history.  

The ruling oligarchy spent $3.7 billion or so — the most expensive election in our history, yet a paltry sum, petty cash, given their real wealth — to buy  this election.  The money wasn’t really spent, just recycled.  It was paid to the media to propagate lies, to brainwash a supine electorate.  Six huge companies, owned and run for the profit of oligarchs who are part of the ruling cabal, pocketed the money.  They will use it to perpetuate the mythology that blinds the people to the truth of how this country works, to continue the policies that make the rich richer, the poor poorer and to maintain an economy fed by the filthy lucre of endless war. It is a self-perpetuating machine, this ugly, dehumanizing system that governs us.

Stay and soon you will live in a nation without wildlife or wilderness, breathing increasingly polluted air and paying dearly for access to a privatized, diminishing supply of potable water.  This is a real fear, based in clinical probability, not the manufactured fear of bloody poop while being beheaded, as John Stewart mocked the lies to which we were recently exposed. Ebola?  What about frack-poisoned aquifers.  Radical Muslims?  What about radical, frighteningly ignorant right-wing politicians. 

We are close to life’s finish line, my mate and I.  “Our” government will gradually take away our retirement income, make our health care unaffordable and allow criminal bankers to raid our meager savings.  Odds are that we’ll die before the thugs can finish the job.

But you, beloved grandchildren, have a lot of life ahead of you.  Go while you can.  Go someplace where that life still has a bit of value beyond dollar signs.  There are better places than this.  Go to them.

  



Monday, September 22, 2014

Not One Red Cent from Me, Guys

Once, I confess, I opened my checkbook at every whimper of liberal lingo. I know better now, thanks primarily to Barack Obama.
Every day brings a flood of e-mail from Democratic candidates and fund-raisers telling me that disaster is just around the corner unless I give them money.  I consign their pleas to e-limbo without a murmur of compunction.
“Koch Brothers!” “Republican Senate!”  they shriek, the way Republicans howl “Benghazi!” and “Taxes!” A pox on all of them, say I.
What good, pray, has Democratic control of the Senate and the White House done for this floundering, sick, declining, hell-bent-for-war nation?  Democrats have not passed a meaningful piece of progressive legislation since the 1970s. The Constitution says only a simple majority is needed for passage in the Senate, just like the House. But the Democratic majority in the Senate has allowed the Republicans to pervert the filibuster to the extent that 60 votes are needed to accomplish anything. So much for democracy.
What about such liberal stalwarts as Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, Bernie Sanders . . . Puh-LEEZE!
On July 17, the Senate showed its true colors, cowering to AIPAC and voting 100-0 for a resolution in support of Israel’s murderous carnage against women, children, schools and hospitals in Gaza.  The so-called “Warren wing” of the democratic party was part of that willfully blind 100.
The other progressive in my county joined me for lunch the other day.  “Must I resign myself,” he asked, “to a Republican Senate next year and a Republican White House in 2016?”
I replied as honestly as I could: “Probably.  So what?”
Here’s what: Most of the truly awful legislation that’s passing the House would also clear the Senate. Obama might have the gumption to veto some of the worst of them.  But these actions, like those that have taken place on the Washington stage for the last 13 years, will be just a puppet show for the corporate string-pullers who actually run the country. Our lives will continue to get worse.  Our infrastructure will continue to decay.  The common folk will continue to stagger under the burden of endless war. The Bill of  Rights will be a memory.  
All of this is happening now and will continue to happen after the November vote.  
Chris Hedges, one of the most clear-sighted visionaries still writing, had this to say Saturday at the big climate march in New York:
“Bill Clinton found that by doing corporate bidding he could get corporate money -- thus NAFTA, the destruction of our welfare system, the explosion of mass incarceration under the [1994] omnibus bill, the deregulation of the FCC, turning the airwaves over to a half dozen corporations, and the revoking of FDR's 1933 Glass-Seagal reform that had protected our banking system from speculators. Clinton, in exchange for corporate money, transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. This was diabolically brilliant. It forced the Republican Party to shift so far to the right it became insane.”
Insane.  I hear the word ever more frequently these days. A writer friend noted the New York Times report today under the headline “U.S. ramps up major renewal of nuclear weapons." Our so-called leaders in Washington, he observed, “are insane.  Not just evil.  Insane.”
This ramping up would cost a trillion dollars or so. It would take place under the auspices of a president who was given the Nobel Peace Prize for making a couple of speeches, full of nice rhetorical flourishes, decrying nuclear proliferation.

Insane.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thanks for the Memories

You reach a certain age and each revisiting of a favorite place becomes precious -- because it might be your last.

We are in such a place. The red rock and canyon-pocked splendor of southeastern Utah deserves better than the state government that would enable its desecration. But then, all the special places in these United States deserve better than the political whores who allow them to be raped and pillaged.

Enjoy them while you can.

Green River. We overnighted there last night, in the same campground that was base camp for our first trip through Twenty-Nine-Mile canyon, whose collection of native American rock art has been called the world's finest outdoor art gallery. We ritually partook of the locally-grown melons without which no visit to Green River is complete. We remembered setting out from here for our first visit to the then-newly created Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument. Far out on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, Saxon, our canine companion then, turned Dance Hall Rock into his personal playground. Green River. S'long, old friend;if we never meet again, thanks for the memories.

Moab. My older brother Bob said, "If you are permitted only one national park in your lifetime, make sure it's Arches."  Amen. We pitched a tent in a park in Moab and rose before sunrise to photograph the wonders of Arches.  How proudly we introduced others -- Dave, Gene, Vicky, Joyce -- to the place that inspired Ed Abbey's finest work, "Desert Solitaire." Oh, the hikes we had in younger years in the LaSals and the desert surrounding Arches! What vicarious joy we took from David's conquest of the toughest slick rock mountain bike trail in this Lycra hard-body Mecca! Early on the loop he hooked up with three college kids from Texas. Already in his 50s, he led them to the crest of every climb. "You've been doing this for a while, haven't you?" one of the youngsters said. "How old are you?" Dave replied. Twice the size of the town where we first camped for Arches, Moab today has added sky diving and hot air ballooning and ATV adventures, zip lining, Hummer touring, paragliding; luxury resorts and glitz and zesty nightlife. We forgive you, you old tart.  And thanks for the memories.

From Monticello, just down Highway 191, we discovered Windwhistle campground, where we staged the west's greatest slumgullion breakfast for a hungry gaggle of fellow adventurers, then walked like Spiderman up the steep wall of a slickrock butte. We consumed our first Utah red trout in a cafe there, and shared tall tales of discovery with drivers in a Jeep rally. We read Newspaper Rock and ventured to the very edge of a wilderness high in the Canyon Rims overlooking Canyonlands National Park, merely the second-best one of all. This was The Last Adventure for Sandy, the cocker spaniel who allowed us to share fine trails with him East and West, North and South.

Blanding. At Edge of the Cedars museum we met the artist who was attempting to reproduce every piece of native art destroyed by the flooding of Glen Canyon to create Lake Powell. A noble spirit, he. From our tent in a meadow high up in the nearby Abajos, Sandy ventured out to make friends with a trio of cowboys, rounding up cattle to be taken down to their winter pasturage in the valley. A local cafe on another visit introduced us to Utah-brewed Polygamy Porter ("Why settle for just one?"). Farewell, Blanding, good-bye Monticello. If we never pass your way again, thanks for the memories.

Ah, Bluff. All three of our beloved dogs have camped with us in Butler Wash in the shadow of the great southwestern landmark called Comb Ridge. Aided by a newfangled gadget called GPS we traversed back-country slickrock to find our very own Anasazi ruin.  Others, of course, had found it before us, and one had taken a flat rock and made a kind of altar on which subsequent visitors placed found treasures -- potsherds and arrow tips: veneration to the spirits of the old ones who allowed us to visit their dwellings. We climbed to Cedar Mesa; we hiked around Natural Bridges; we explored the banks of the San Juan and its Gooseneck meanders.  Mexican Hat. Valley of the Gods. Monument Valley. The Sand Island petroglyphs. The old Mormon Trail. How reluctantly we leave you this time, Bluff. Thanks for the memories.

Remember the sunrise concert by the native American flute player on the remote trail in the Canyon Rims? The guitar -pickin' singer at Cowboy Blues? I wonder what became of the fine cook who tried to make a go of it serving continental cuisine on the corner of the back road to Cortez? Did we really lose a trailer hitch on the impassable last three miles of Hole-in-the-Rock road? How many times have we set up in the great high campsite overlooking the river valley to the east, the Straight Cliffs to the west?  So sorry we couldn't revisit the nearly life-sized shamans etched in the cliff side at Sego Canyon. How regally the pronghorn brushed past Saxon and me as if we were just another sagebrush on the high prairie! A pox on the asshole from California who (untruthfully) boasted of killing half a dozen rattlesnakes on Sunrise Rock trail. Was Rooster Rock the best campsite ever?

Brandi, the Rhodesian ridgeback who is the incumbent Trail Dog, welcomed the return to a desert environment after enduring the rainy mountain forests and strange critter-smells of the north.  On the way down to Bluff through the red rock cliffs, he became agitated.  Perhaps he remembered guiding us (me with a brand new metal hip) across the vast slickrock slope to the very foot of Comb Ridge.  More likely, he caught the scent of a nearby deer-crossing. "Turn me loose," he seemed to say, "and I'll hunt down our supper."

Never mind, mate. The Navajo Twins restaurant on the edge of town still serves a right good chile relleno. You can eat on the patio in good weather. But it's the rainy season here and they were predicting flash floods in some parts of the San Juan Valley.

Remember the time it rained all the way from Green River to Chinle?

Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but memories.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This Train Ain't Bound for Glory

Ferguson, Mo., is not the last stop on this line.

Maybe there is no last stop in deeply racist Amerika. I shared a Pulitzer Prize with the rest of the Detroit Free Press news staff for reporting on the riot in which 43 black citizens died while their city burned around them. Things would get better, we thought while tallying the terrible costs of this civil distress.  This was half a century ago. "Things" are not better.

A wise and respected friend remembers his teen and young adult years in his parents' ranch-style house in then all-white Ferguson.  It was half a block from the intersection of Lang Drive and West Florissant Ave. where, just a few days ago, the Ferguson police used military force -- tanks, tear gas -- to suppress a crowd exercising its First Amendment rights. They were protesting the death of an unarmed black Ferguson teen-ager fatally shot be a white Ferguson police officer even as the kid threw up his hands and pleaded for his life.

Ferguson, my friend recalls, was lily white when he lived there. Today it is two-thirds black.  Three of the 53 members of of its militarized police force are black.  There is something terribly wrong with this ratio. My friend,  who is in daily contact with St. Louisians familiar with the benighted suburb, says they describe the Ferguson police as "brutish, stupid and unlucky." They blundered into a McDonald's in their riot gear and racist zeal and arrested a small throng, which, alas, happened to include two working journalists.

My friend says he grew up in a place "so steeped in racism that it is difficult to imagine the Deep South as being all that different." He writes that "my own family was as steeped as any and frankly I have struggled all my life to dissolve with reason and experience the attitudes imbued in me almost before I was old enough to walk."

This good man's confessional recall triggered an array of empathy in our online circle of writers, lawyers, teachers and philosophers. "You've got to be taught," Oscar Hammerstein III wrote, "to hate and fear, you've got to be taught, from year to year, it's got to drummed in you dear little ear."

My father's  racism was merely reflective of the common attitude in our all-white suburb of Cincinnati. Before kindergarten we knew there was, deep in The City, a place called "Niggertown," where people different from us in color and of lesser intelligence loitered insolently in deserved squalor. We knew the Niggers begrudged us our superior lifestyle, and if given the chance would take it from us by violence, which is why they had to be kept in Niggertown. In John and Dorothy Ashby's brilliantly satirical musical play about post-riot Detroit, "Three Six," the police would sing this prelude to a raid on a black numbers runner: "Ring around the ghetto, keep the Niggers in. Let them knife each other, fightin' over gin."

When the men of my suburban neighborhood joined my father in a tenperate glass of Heudepohl at the Westwood Inn, they never contemplated lynchings and fiery crosses, but they never either voiced disapproval of the depredations of the KKK not that far away in Terre Haute.  And when white hope Billy Conn fought black Joe Louis for the world's heavyweight boxing championship, not a penny was bet on Louis. The sons of these men went off to fight World War II in all-white units of a segregated army and most of those fortunate enough to return home in one piece liked the segregated United States they came home to and built Levittowns to keep it that way. Lyndon Johnson was condemned in the North, too, for letting Niggers have too big a piece of the Bill of Rights.

I spent my early years in journalism in Iowa, working often in towns where you could walk from end to end without seeing a black face, except perhaps laboring in the rail yards at the dirtiest and basest of jobs. My eldest son was swimming in the newly desegregated municipal pool when he saw his first black contemporary. For the briefest of moments he stared at the black kid in unbridled astonishment. Is there a glimmer of hope somewhere in this little event in that same son's life? That he was arrested protesting the Vietnam war in Washington DC. That he was stashed with thousands of others in RFK stadium before being shipped off randomly to storage in a precinct jail. That when I finally tracked him down in a precinct on a far edge of the district, and posted his bond, he refused release.  Why? "He's leading a protest," the jailer told me. "They say one of our officers insulted a black prisoner."

Like my writer friend, I have "struggled all my life to dissolve with reason and experience the attitudes imbued in me almost before I was old enough to walk." The great imperative of this struggle for me was to assure that the attitudes were not passed on to my children. Perhaps I succeeded. I hope I succeeded.

Even so, I have done little to slow the train that has just passed through Ferguson, this highballin' train of deeply racist America, this train that's bound not for glory, but for infamy.



Friday, August 15, 2014

The Magnetism of the Mountains

GOLDEN, BC, Canada -- Our northern cousins are as adept at Yellowstoning their treasures as we are. Routing major highways through the hearts of national parks makes it easy to love them to death.
Then, too, we blundered into Canada on the long weekend of their biggest national holiday. In the Rockies of Alberta and British Columbia, all of Canada, it seemed, was up and about.  The highway running through Kootenay National Park was a long narrow parking lot for the populace of Calgary, seeking relief from a heat wave that sent temperatures higher than those we had fled back home in New Mexico.

Visitors seeking the summit of Revelstoke on the wildflower Parkway,the ice fields of Glacier or the sun-drenched jewel that is Emerald Lake flounder in a sea of logging trucks, 18-wheelers, rental RVs and SUVs mounting kayaks and mountain bikes and canoes and camping gear. Venture onto a remote forest service road that's not on the tourist maps and you'll share it with Volvo-loads of escaped Windsorites looking for black bears, mobile drilling rigs looking for black-gold treasure, locals driving off-road vehicles at race-track speed. This is an area of brawny, beautiful mountains; of crystalline streams and trout-teeming rivers and lakes; of forests still nearly primeval.  Little wonder everyone wants their piece of it.

Although virtually all the campsites are occupied, we have a sense of peace and solitude, an island of tranquility among the trees of the Golden Eco Adventure Ranch and campground. We can walk to the vast mowed field where paragliders and other daredevils of the defy-gravity gang land after leaping off a rocky crag high on the slopes of Mount Seven.  World records for distance and speed have been set from this starting point.

Our campsite is surrounded by hundreds of miles of biking and hiking and equestrian trails.  You can ride a ski gondola almost to the summit of Kicking Horse Mountain and walk or bike down to the valley. But you'll share those trails with oodles of hard-bodied Canadians and queue up for most of the morning to get aboard that gondola. Just about everyone says the views make it worth the wait. Canada's mountain parks offer orgies of scenery that neither hordes nor rainstorms can despoil.
Time and the economy have taught the winter resort operators to become year-round destinations for tourists and vacationers. Two excellent German restaurants serve more than passable roladen, jagerspaetzle and blitz torte mit schlag to those who throng to the Kootenay Valley.

 But the culinary crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies is the Cedar House, a small, Swiss chalet-style place with a sunny side veranda overlooking Golden and Reflection Lake. Corey Fraser, trained at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver, is the latest in a line of superb chefs who have kept this restaurant on Canada's finest-dining lists for years.  Like many world-class eateries, Cedar House specializes in fresh local provender, prepared with consummate care and innovation. Its salads are visual works of art that join choice local fruits and vegetables in exotic flavor marriages. Fraser prepares regional delicacies --steelhead trout from the Columbia, duck that swam on Lake Loon, grass-fed Alberta beef, free-range Invermere chicken, Vancouver scallops -- with love, imagination and subtle sauces. Even a simple creme brûlée becomes a Cezanne still life in Fraser's kitchen, garnished with razor-thin slices of apple and peach, wild strawberries and blueberries, half a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream, half a scoop of tangy raspberry sorbet and a slather of something silky and chocolate. Come hungry. Stay long.

A refugee from Stateside clings only briefly to the stereotype of the hardy Canadian as perfect custodian of ecosystems and their wild denizens. Two well-intentioned amateur ecologists opened a shelter for homeless bred-in-captivity wolves a few miles outside of Golden. Visitors pay to watch and photograph the wolves and listen to lectures about wild creatures and environmental responsibility. The chap who took our entrance fee asked where we were from.  "New Mexico," I said, "where ranchers shoot grey wolves as fast as they can be re-introduced to the area where Aldo Leopold once wrote about the 'fierce green fire' in their eyes." "We're no better here," he said.  "We hunt them legally, with no restrictions whatsoever--pregnant females, pups, all fair game.  Some places offer bounties.  Others sterilize them. You'll learn the terrible truth about us if you stay for the next lecture." We stayed.

There is considerable allure in these parts for entrepreneurial outdoorsy types to set up small businesses that leave time free for snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, hunting, fishing -- or hang gliding.  But they, too,face terrible truths about their mountain paradise.

Sandra and her husband, who have owned and managed the local general store cum gas station for ten years, are selling out and heading south.  "Last winter was the last straw for us," said Sandra.  "Thirty below, not just for a day every now and then, but for weeks at a time. The cougars had no prey in the high country so they came down here in the valley and ate livestock and family pets. All our neighbors lost dogs to the cougars." She nodded toward the aging mongrel they found abandoned in the woods nearly a decade ago. "We kept that one indoors all winter," she said.  "Next winter we'll be in a place where he and our girls can run free in safety."

We topped off our gas tank and drove back to the Golden Eco Adventure campground.  We watched a paraglider land in the field.  He was from Toronto.  "This place is unique in the world," he said.  "Perfect thermals for flying.  Our whole club membership is planning to come up here next summer for two weeks."

The mountains will be waiting for them. Man has many ways to smother them with affection, but he can't really love them to death.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Far from the Crowd's Madness -- Briefly

The traveler welcomes his brief enislement from the marvelous modern tools of communication, his not having to face the morning diet of news reports and story lists for news aggregators.  His companion sagely says that reading them these days is "like peering into Hell."

Here on Horseshoe Bend of the Bighorn River, where rugged northeast Wyoming kisses tough old southeastern Montana, you can't access the Internet, pulling in an audible radio station isn't worth the effort, and who ever heard of television?

So like most of our countrymen, even those with the dubious blessing of total access, we turn our backs on Israel's genocide in Gaza, ignore the "lakes of blood" one newsman saw in Bibi's relentless war on nunneries, hospitals, mosques,schools and civilian homes. We are deaf to the unbelievable idiocy of Washington's buffoons, whores, half-wits and criminals.

We look instead for the great stallion Cloud and his herd of wild mustangs, somewhere in the wilderness of the Pryor Mountains. The legendary beast is getting old, but still roams his domain, still commands his mares, yearlings and colts. Recently a younger stallion challenged him for leadership of his herd and Cloud suffered severe wounds.  But, a BLM ranger assured us, he has recovered. 

Even here in this high, lush country a worldly thought intrudes: how like the stallion who challenged Cloud are the arrogant governments led by our own seeking to destroy Vladimir Putin's rule of the Russian herd. Rational thought does not provoke these intrusions on sovereignty; just animal power-lust, a raw and unbridled force of primitive nature. Man was thought to have risen above this.  What hubris!

There! Off less than a hundred yards from the rough, tortuous jeep track we are ascending! A bachelor stallion of the Pryor mustangs, grazing a grassy swale! As we aim our cameras, he obliges with a regal rearing on his hind legs, forelegs kicking high,deep black mane shaking. Then he vanishes behind a rocky crag.

Mission accomplished. We abandon the search for Cloud, turn around and head back toward Horseshoe Bend.

Going downhill, the reservoir behind Yellowtail Dam is an oval emerald, glistening in the hot mid-afternoon sun. Across the road we can see the rooftops of the fish hatchery. Because the day is clear, we can make out the settlement of Lovell, 14 miles distant.  Even here, in the domain of the wild horses, or at our campsite, where the sun paints the cliffs of Bighorn Canyon blood red every dead-silent dawn, the ugly truth of the real world is never far away.

We know that even as we thirstily drink in the beauty that surrounds us, wars that we instigated, whether overtly or indirectly by stealth, are sapping precious resources and snuffing innocent lives. We know that those who lavish our treasury on these wars callously refuse the pittances to feed hungry children in our own country. We know these things but are grateful for the diversions nature provides in this precious place.

From a high cliff above the river we can see Devil Canyon. The fickle river gorged this canyon millennia ago, then altered its meander leaving the old gouge high and dry. Now, 900 feet below, the Bighorn churns -- a rich green as viewed from above -- on its new course called Bighorn Canyon. No apologies offered, none requested.

This place is home to raptors. Cruising broad wing hawks drift brazenly overhead, so close it seems that we could reach up and grasp their razor-sharp claws. Brandi, our usually intrepid Rhodesian ridgeback, instinctively ducks behind a boulder.

We scan a circle, trying to spot a peregrine falcon on the hunt. These swift raptors nearly disappeared from the Bighorn high country, their eggs rendered infertile by the DDT they absorbed from consuming their prey. Along came Rachel Carson's disclosures in "Silent Spring" and the banning of the pesticide. The peregrine are back and thriving, although none chose to show themselves to us today. Never mind, it's comforting just to know they're there, somewhere, filling their appointed niche in Nature's scheme of things.

These days it's trendy for our elected clods and dunces to denigrate Carson and her research in clouds of revisionist non-science that suit their denial of climate change. A pox on them.

A pox, too, on the extractor oligarchs who would frack, drill, pillage, loot and destroy the very ground we're walking on, and the politicians who would allow them to do so. The fossil fuel lords have fooled too many people in these parts. They link their own prosperity, poor fools, to the fortunes of the drillers and diggers and despoilers.

Bighorn Lake is emerald, again, in the setting sun. What a beautiful planet this is, site of the spectacular accident that enabled life to form. How fortunate we humans are to have risen to our present place in the hierarchy of that life.  How little we have done to deserve such fortune. So little that one day all too soon we will have forfeited it.

Onward to Canada's Kootenay Valley.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thoughts Where the Wind and the Bighorn Marry

THERMOPOLIS, WY--This is the first time we have visited the beautiful Wind River canyon without seeing bighorn sheep. What else would you expect when it’s 104 degrees on the rocky slopes where they liked to frolic?

Weather extremes, a symptom of man-driven climate change, seem to be everywhere these days. Even in this hotbed of climate change deniers, Jesus freaks and Dick Cheney, 104 degrees is a little much.

In Mac's bar and package goods store, every stool and table was occupied at mid-afternoon the other day.  Most of the patrons would otherwise have been fishing for trout or gunning down wolves from low-flying helicopters.  It was just too damned hot for such manly pursuits. Nobody paid attention to the ball game on the wide screen TV -- who cared about the Pittsburgh friggin' Pirates? -- but the beer was flowing fast and some of the good ol' boys were heating up an argument about whether the water was a little cooler upstream in the Bighorn above where it merges with the Wind to roar through the canyon.

Over at Hot Springs state park, Dan'l's normally tireless border collie, Max, spurned her game of fetch and flopped down in the cool, green grass.  Our ridgeback, Brandi, took a sip of the Wind down in the canyon, then headed back to the truck to beg for some of the cold stuff he knew was there.

The north campground at Boyson Lake state park was virtually deserted despite the abundant shade.

All over the West, creatures are migrating from their traditional habitats because they have become inhospitable. Cooper's hawks no longer hunt from my back gate in New Mexico in the winter time; they've moved the southern limits of their range to higher, cooler ground. The very existence of some species is threatened now by the rapidity of climate change. The polar bear is the most famous example but far from the only one. Sea turtles,pikas, frogs, pandas,bees - these are just a few of the species that are vanishing all too quickly.

Down at Mac's the prevailing wisdom held that the trout of the Bighorn were simply to be too damned lazy with the heat to take bait these days, but don't try to sell that line to fishermen off the coast of Wales, who have seen some of their most profitable catch move hook, line and habitat to cooler North Sea waters.

Arrogantly proud of our ignorance, we humans have been turning our natural world inside-out and upside-down for far too long now. Maybe the day isn't that far off when we'll have to got to a zoo just to see a robin.

Yesterday, on the banks of the Wind, our macho lion-hunter Brandi was frightened away from a choice piece of shade by a hostile butterfly! Really.  They were all over the place.  Down south of where we live that used to the case with the regal monarch, too.  Now it's endangered.

Perhaps some day the human race will vanish, victim of its own follies,leaving the planet to the insects.  Lord knows there's plenty of those flittin' around in this heat!

There remain somewhat unspoiled a few magnificent places in the North American west, places I want to explore before I die.  We're headed for some of them -- Bighorn Canyon up the river where perhaps the water's a bit cooler; Kootenay lake, river and national park in Canada, where perhaps there's still an unmelted ice cave or bit of glacier.

At least Brandi will be safe from hostile butterflies up there.  But is that good? That could even be tomorrow's argument at Mac's bar.