Weird Wyoming

Along with having the entire atmosphere pass through the state in any 24 hour period, Wyoming has some other attributes along with the wind.  I like Wyoming for its diversity and the fact it doesn’t have too many people.  The diversity also extends to the geology. Prairie in the east, Devil’s Tower and the beautiful country around there to some of the most spectacular alpine country anywhere, even if the mountains are lower than ours in Colorado.  Oh, and Yellowstone, our first National Park.

Wyoming Geology

I especially like the deserts, like the Great Divide Basin, aka the Red Desert, a depression rimmed by the Continental Divide.   Yellowstone is the largest and most dangerous volcano in the country.  There is coal, iron ore, oil and gas, uranium, and trona, to name a few.  Those resources are a double edged sword, leading to a boom and bust economy.  Ranching just soldiers along,  but it is a hard way to make a living.

A good portion of the economy comes from Greens (Coloradans, known for their green license plates).  It’s the topography that draws me.  Rivers flowing north, through mountain ranges, fed by hot springs.  A range of hills known as the gas hills, where methane comes out of the ground.  Mountain ranges running north and south as God intended, but the Snowy Range runs east-west and is the boundary between the ancient island arcs known as Colorado and the much more ancient Wyoming Craton.

The Wyoming Craton has some of the oldest rocks in North America, sharing the antiquity with the Canadian Shield.  Ages vary but are around 2.6 to 2.8 billion years old.  The oldest rocks in Colorado are around 1.7 billion years old and arrived as an island arc smashing into Wyoming, much as Indonesia and the Philippines are headed to Asia.

Wyoming has had a lot of activity down deep, shoving mountains up and sliding them around.  That pushing and shoving means areas where oil and gas get concentrated in the bends and corners, thus all the oil patch work there.  There is a lot of coal. The Union Pacific got its coal right near the tracks, and there is a tremendous amount of coal in the Powder River basin.  Coal is out of favor now, so Gillette is hurting, people leaving.

The reason Wyoming got famous is for two reasons, unruly Indians and the livestock business.  There was a lot of Indian fighting in the middle of the nineteenth century, what with the Oregon Trail crossing the region.  When the Indians were whipped, all that empty country became Home to cattle and sheep.  The livestock people still hold most of the political power – they also have oil and gas leases, so they aren’t very environment friendly.  Lots of cowboy legends came out of the place.

My favorite things are the rivers running through mountain ranges.  The textbook example are the Wind and Bighorn rivers.  They got their names because early explorers didn’t realize they are the same stream bisected by the Hot Springs Mountains.  The Bighorn flows south through Thermopolis and its hot springs and roses into a beautiful narrow canyon.  The Wind River flows out of the canyon.  The river was there, the mountains came up, and the river (rivers?) stayed in the same place, cutting the canyon as the uplift occurred.

Do I need to say the Wind River is aptly named?  Years ago in Colorado Springs I met a bicyclist doing a ride across the country.  He came across Wyoming.  He looked at me and in awe said,  “The Wind”.  He rode into the wind all across the state.  Another time I was driving from Laramie to Fort Collins after dark. It was Christmas time and the ground blizzard was in full song. I saw a VW bus along the road near Tie Siding. In conditions like that, you stop.  The occupant was from Australia and said “I’ve never encountered weather like this.”  It was around zero with 50 mph wind.  The VW had quit, probably a frozen gas line, and his wife got a ride into town to get help.  Shock and awe.  I just laughed and saw he was OK.  You know about the Wyoming Wind Gauge.  It’s a length of heavy chain hanging from a post.

Jackalope,, Wyoming State Animal

There is usually a Jackalope colony nearby.

There are three books I recommend:

Rising From the Plains, John McPhee; Roadside Guide to Wyoming Geology; and Wyoming Geologic Highway Map

Addiction

I am an addict. At various times they have been tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, food, the internet, and sex, to name a few.  Currently they are food and the internet via the iPad.  Addiction runs in the family.  My mother and her brother were alcoholics.  I have managed to leave some behind, namely tobacco and pot.

I started smoking in 1960 at the University of Colorado when the tobacco companies were giving cigarettes away in order to get people hooked.  I quit smoking in 1965, three packs a day of Camel straights.  I quit pot in 1982 when I noticed I was having trouble remembering what I did yesterday.

Sex.  What adolescent male isn’t a sex addict to some degree?  I just kept it up too long.

I have left alcohol behind several times, but after a period I would start drinking again.  I controlled the drinking for a while then slowly ramp up until I scared myself and quit again, only to repeat the cycle.  I have been sober for almost two years, and I think I have left booze behind.  I realized alcohol was going to kill me if I kept it up.  I think of George Thorogood  singing “When I drink alone, I want to be by myself.”  Scotch or bourbon, vodka when money was tight.

I started when I was fifteen, drinking 3.2% Coors.  Those were the binge years.  I remember four of us in a line outside a Grand Junction beer joint vomiting in unison.  One time we drank some beer after a field trip and went to football practice.  We would hold our breath when the coach came into the huddle.  In the army my buddies and I drank steadily.  Fridays in the enlisted men’s club beer was a nickel and mixed drinks were a dime.  That’s when I developed a taste for scotch.  The well bourbon was Ten High, which isn’t fit for cleaning floors.  See? I have discerning taste in choosing my poison.

I think I realized the danger of booze for me when I saw “Leaving Las Vegas.”  Nic Cages character had sold everything and was in Vegas deliberately drinking himself to death.  I saw myself.  It took years, however, to give the stuff up.

Food.  Chocolate and ice cream.  Ice cream craving came from my father.  He had a big bowl every evening.  Chocolate? Who doesn’t like chocolate?  In grade school, a friend and I came across a box of Hershey bars that fell off a delivery truck.  We snuck around and ate the entire box in one afternoon.  A few years ago, it was the ice cream sandwich summer.  I would buy a box of them, eat four or so, and ditch the rest.  It was cheaper than buying singles.  I gained fifteen pounds.

I have a gastric condition resulting from a lifetime of acid reflux.  Chocolate tends to cause reflux.  Alcohol, of course is the worst, especially straight whisky.  I am a lot better after quitting drinking and drastically reducing the chocolate intake.  Now I just pick Ice cream flavors that don’t have any chocolate.

The iPad.  Currently it is Words With Friends, Facebook, and You Tube.  I hate boxing, so of course I watched a lot of boxing and mixed martial arts.  I then went to car crashes.  There are lots of dash cams in Russia, and they are terrible drivers.  I like to watch Jeeps get mangled in the Utah red rock country.  Currently it is firefighting.  Urban fires, wild land fires, even car fires.  I was a volunteer firefighter for a while.  There is nothing more exciting than going into a burning building with a fire hose.  No better way to waste time.

Quite a list, isn’t it?  I have taken up Buddhism, and a major tenet is that craving is a root of suffering.  I guess suffering has been a big part of my life for a long time.

Trying to Make Sense of It

 

 

Our nation is changing, and it is not an easy process.  The Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal”.  Well what about the other half of the population?  Historically, most cultures are warrior cultures, with men at war.  Soldiers need leaders, and the men leading in the war tend to rule the culture.  The role of women is to pleasure the men, do the work, and have babies.  If the women can’t do all the work, it is up to slaves, usually captured as spoils of war.

That was the system used in most of our nation’s history.  Subservient women and slaves.  Half a million men died ending slavery, but the racist legacy lives on.   But times change.  Labor shortages during wars and birth control allowed women to leave the home and go to work for wages.

These changes seem to threaten the majority of men.  The traditional method for retaining dominance over others is muscle.  White men had the power, guns, clubs, and rope to keep the freed slaves in their place.  To attempt to retain dominance over women they used the same tools along with sex to keep their power.

Women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and recognizing what is right are profoundly changing the power structure.  Donald Trump represents the backlash to change.  “Make America Great Again”.  Great America and Fox News with men and big money in control.  He got elected, duping millions of people with lies and fear.  The nation has deep divisions.

Recently women started exposing how they were exploited by male predators in positions of power.  The predators are gone, going, or in hiding.  Race-based power is also under attack.  A racist pedophile just lost the election in Alabama, mainly due to the votes of African Americans.  This vote will also affect the balance of power in Congress.

Trump won, yes, but he can’t stop the process of change in a society transformed.  There will be strife.  Many men will literally go to war attempting to recover their lost dominance.  They will lose because the forces of progress have the law and numbers on their side.

A side effect of the power shift in America is the continuing decline of American dominance in world politics.  The progressive movement will weaken the big stick employed since WWII to dominate the third world.  Whether China and Russia will swing their sticks to retain patriarchal dominance is the big danger.  They will face increasing internal pressure, however, to curb their international ambitions.   The people of the third world have their own ambitions, and will tend to resist outside influence.  Let’s hope they succeed.

Wildfire Revisited

Ventura Fire

Things are hot in Southern California.  Earlier, it was hot in Santa Rosa and the Napa Valley.  When there is a high pressure system over the Great Basin and a low develops off the California Coast, the pressure gradient gives rise to hot downslope winds blowing from east to west.  The Santa Ana.  Wildfires proliferate in the mountainous chaparral country.  As the population continues to grow, the urban areas extend into the brush country.

That Great Basin high is also a fire maker for Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.  Here in Colorado, low pressure systems move down the Plains and the pressure gradient creates winds similar to California’s Santa Ana.  As with most natural phenomena, it is not if, but when.

It’s gonna burn, folks.

The brush country is that way because frequent wildfires prevent any significant tree growth.  When the brush burns, it tends to return in just a few years.  With trees, not so much.

Rawah Burn. Over 100 Years, Trees Have Not Returned

I remember backpacking through a 100 year old burn in the Rawah Wilderness here in Colorado.  The trees had not returned, and the topsoil was eroded away on the hilltops.  Fires in Colorado’s chaparral country such as west of Glenwood Springs burn and in five or ten years the brush is back, ready to burn again.

I have seen this happen in my lifetime.  The  ridges south of the Colorado River and west of Glenwood have burned at least twice.  Lightning causes some of the fires, but once a fire spread from the town dump.  The tragic 1994 fire that killed fourteen firefighters was north of the river and just west of Glenwood.  The fuel load was greater because the area had not burned for some time.

 

 

 

 

 

Storm King

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you go back to the Storm King fire area, you will see the brush returning.  It’s not ready to burn yet, but given some time and a few wet years, it will be ready to go again.  The town of Glenwood has built up right to the brush on both sides of the river.

Brush Returning

Back to California, the towns have grown up to the brush and those wanting a view are living in the brushy areas.  The canyons are more heavily wooded and full of houses.  All the coastal mountains from San Diego north are in the chaparral zone.  All the urbanization is also in those areas.  Quick commute? Live just below the hills in a canyon.  Nice view, build your house on the ridge.

Those examples of the urban-woodland interface are not unique to Western Colorado and California.  The Colorado Front Range is another example.  Fires have burned from west of Fort Collins to south of Colorado Springs.

Waldo Canyon Fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Waldo Canyon fire burned into town on Colorado Springs’ west side and into Manitou Springs.  The Black Forest Fire was in a different climate zone with Ponderosa Pine , but with lots of brush.  That area is wetter, but is also subject to drought and wildfire, just less often.

Arizona and Utah have similar country, and fire killed 19 firefighters in mixed brush and timber just outside Prescott.  I am waiting for a big fire just west of Denver.  It’s only going to get worse.  People are moving into the brush country in increasing numbers,  if you move to Colorado or California from Chicago, you want the mountain experience.  The jobs are in the cities, and the closest mountain areas are brush country.  Four Mile Canyon outside Boulder and Ojai, California are examples of what fire does to development in the chaparral.

Young people looking for an exciting career should look into wildland firefighting.  It is a growth industry.  Oh, I haven’t even mentioned climate change.  It will increase job opportunities.

Sexual Abuse

A hot topic these days, sexual abuse and harassment can cut both ways.  Men can be sexual abuse survivors as well.  I am.  As a child, my mother gave me enemas I did not need.  I remember my helplessness as she draped me over her lap and stuck the tip up my butt.

The act itself was bad enough, but what has stuck with me the most about the experience was the seductive tone of her voice.  I never heard that voice in any other context.  My physical sensation was somewhat erotic but was overshadowed by my feelings as I felt the water entering me.

I felt fear, revulsion, humiliation, helplessness, and an inability to move.  I was paralyzed by my feelings.  The fear was most powerful.  I couldn’t stop her, but I wanted to have anything happen to me other than what she was doing.   My fear was constantly rekindled by seeing that red rubber enema bag hanging from the towel rack in the bathroom.  We had only one bathroom, so I could not avoid encountering the thing every time I went there.

The most revolting object in the universe for me is a red rubber enema bag.  I just looked, they still sell the things.  The enema bag was a constant reminder of my helplessness.  Mother was the most powerful person in my world and what she was doing to me was something I could not avoid.  I didn’t feel I had the right to hate what she was doing.  I just had to endure.

As I grew bigger, the enemas stopped.  I felt no sense of relief, I was doing my best to block the experience out.  I actually never thought about the enemas, but my body remembered.  From that time on I have had difficulty with anal fissures, probably from holding myself closed all the time.  I eventually had surgery to deal with the abscess that developed in my rectal canal.

I grew, there were no more enemas.  At puberty, my sexuality awakened, and like almost every young male I turned to masturbation.  I was afraid of girls and their potential power.  Masturbation was my outlet.  Safe.  Then, one day I was in my bed masturbating and my mother walked into the room.  As the door opened I stopped, yanked up the covers, and just laid there.  She came over and her hand went under the covers and then retreated.

She turned and walked out of the room.  As she walked out she said something in that seductive tone I had not heard since the enemas stopped.  Not long after she got ovarian cancer and died after wasting away for more than a year.  She died around the time of my sixteenth birthday.

The entire experience has dramatically affected my sexuality.  I am mostly incapable of sustaining a truly relational sexual relationship.  My recurring fantasies of being in total control almost always surface.  Sexual partners can sense my disconnect with them.  As I mentioned, I remain afraid of women where there is a potential for sexual attraction.  I am most comfortable with lesbians. As I have aged, the problem has diminished, but never left me despite years of therapy.

I was in a men’s therapy group for a while.  We were all sexual abuse survivors.  One evening a new member of the group mentioned he had the same enema experience as a child.  He wasn’t sure whether he needed the enemas or not.  Several of us simultaneously said “Have you ever had enemas since?”  Well, no.

Denver Basin

Denver Basin

The Denver Basin is a deep syncline just east of the Southern Rocky Mountains.  It started around 300 million years ago when the Ancestral Rocky Mountains were uplifted.  A little plate tectonics here, folks.  A tectonic plate is a huge plate of rock slowly moving on the earth’s mantle at or near the surface. When two tectonic plates collide, one of them often dives beneath the other.  As the plate subsides, it runs into hotter rocks at depth.  The subsiding plate has lots of water which lowers the melting point of the rock.  Then things really go on the move.

The subsidence zone, usually along a coastline, gets pretty active, meaning earthquakes, volcanos, and the intrusion of huge blobs of granite known as plutons.  New rock coming in from below means the overlying rocks get uplifted into mountain ranges.  The other side of this mountain building is known as the foreland and usually subsides as its mass goes into the new mountains.  As it subsides, the new basin fills with debris eroding from the mountains.

The Flatirons, Dakota Ridge, the Garden of the Gods, all are built from rocks buried thousands of feet deep just a few miles from the outcrops.  I am sitting here writing atop thousands of feet of mountain debris.

The mountains eventually get hauled away in rivers or dumped into the basin.  This happened twice here in my home country.  The second event occurred at the end of the Cretaceous and the early Paleogene, about 60 million years ago.  Our current Rockies came up, known as the Laramide Orogeny, came up again, and the foreland deepened even more.  It ended up being about 13000 feet deep, filled with the stuff washed and blown off the mountains.

This all took a while.  Rivers formed, seas came and went, and lots of life contributed organic material to the basin.  The result?  Coal, oil, and gas.  The first oil well was in Boulder County, producing from fractured Pierre Shale, which was deposited by an inland sea.  Now this Basin is big, extending into Nebraska and Wyoming.  Huge amounts of oil and gas have been produced, and horizontal drilling and fracking are releasing even more.  The Denver Basin is an oil patch.

Water from the mountains also entered the basin, creating aquifers producing lots of water.  We pump the water and because it is in an enclosed basin, it doesn’t recharge as fast as it is pumped.  Douglas County is going to run out of groundwater some day.  Then the water will have to come from the rivers, and the supply is limited.  Thus, seemingly crazy proposals to pump water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River in northern Utah to Eastern Colorado.  Problem: California and Arizona also want that water.

Climate change has the potential of reducing the available water as well, eventually ending population growth.  Amazon, Stay Away.  Mining started Colorado development, and today the money still comes from the ground, but is from oil and gas. As we transition to alternate energy sources, where is Colorado’s wealth going to come from?

Back to Fracking

I wrote about fracking before, but it seems to be the time to revisit the controversy.  The oil and gas business is paying for a media blitz saying fracking is a good thing: lower energy prices.

The opposition seems to believe fracking has concentrated all the evil in the world into a bunch of holes in the ground.  What is the reality here?  Both sides have strong arguments, but they are operating from separate assumptions.

Pro fracking advocates use the arguments that lower energy prices and tax revenue benefit us all.  Anti fracking advocates point to many accidents at drilling sites and groundwater contamination, along with drilling steadily encroaching on urban ares as a dangerous activity.

What about the benefits of fracking?  It’s true fracking has lowered energy costs and the conversion of coal fired power plants to has has lowered air pollution.  True on both counts.  But, fossil fuel is still being burned and greenhouse gasses are still going into the atmosphere.  It’s very possible fracking and increased low cost gas production is impeding the process of converting to alternative energy sources.

What about fracking itself?  It is not new technology.  My Fruita paper route doubled during the 1950’s energy boom in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah.  Fracking was part of the story then.  The real change is to horizontal drilling combined with fracking.

A deep vertical hole is drilled and then the bore hole is turned ninety degrees over the distance of a quarter mile.  The long horizontal bore is is perforated, explosive charges are detonated, fracturing rock usually fairly impervious to oil and gas flow.  The openings are then injected with water and sand, cracking more rock with the cracks held open by the sand.  Oil and gas can then flow into the bore hole and to the surface, then to your furnace and gas tank.

The fracking process uses a lot of water, from one to five million gallons.  About half or less of the water returns to the surface and is most often injected into another well (cheaper than treatment).  The water use can have a significant impact in arid regions.  Return water can be treated, but is expensive.

Probably the biggest objection to fracking is groundwater contamination.  Near Parachute CO, it was possible to light tap water on fire, there was so much gas in the water.  Most often the contamination comes from leaks in the vertical bore hole.  Proper casing and concrete injection readily prevents leaks, but as the work is done deep underground, it is easy to cheat, causing leaks.

My take on the issue?  Increased production from fracking lowers oil and gas prices and decreases our reliance on imported oil.  Coal fired power plants are being converted to gas, resulting in less greenhouse gas pollution from them.  Done properly, the technology is safe, but cheating seems to be the norm in the oil and gas business.  If we want to use fossil fuel, well regulated fracking is the way to go.  i think some of the opposition is because of the word fracking.  It seems to have an obscene connotation.

The big downside stems from the fact reduced fossil fuel costs are delaying the transition to alternative energy sources.  One estimate points out that cheap natural gas makes gas fired power plant power cheaper than wind or solar power.  The transition to alternative power may be slowed by twenty years or more.  In the short run, cheap gas is good.  In the long run, cheap gas may do more harm than good.  The planet can’t sequester enough carbon and the planet gets warmer.  Of course in the long run, we’re all dead.

The debate becomes political, and the oil business has the dollars to influence the decision.  Result, more gas gets burned and the long run comes earlier.  We will probably render our species extinct.

Wildfire

Some of the golden hills of California just turned black.  This time it is north around Santa Rosa and the wine country.  Usually it is the San Gabriel mountains or other Southern California areas.  The conditions leading to destructive wildfire are the same.  There are essentially two seasons; when it rains and when there is no rain.

This year there was a lot of rain in what passes for winter in all of California.  Everything greens up and grows.  It means good feed for cattle, and lots of fuel in the fall when it dries out.  You are probably familiar with the Santa Ana winds in Southern California.  The desert Great Basin east of the mountains cools off, creating an area of high pressure.  The pressure creates west-flowing winds, blowing to the coast.  As the winds hit the mountains, they rise, cool, then flow down the west side of the mountains, warming as they flow west.  Thus the Santa Ana winds, hot dry wind flowing west and drying all that foliage that grew during the rainy season.

In Northern California, the winds are called Diablo winds, after the local Diablo mountains.  The high pressure west of the coastal region originates from high pressure following storms blowing into the basin from the stormy northwest.  The high pressure again creates west flowing wind howling down the west side of the mountains.  The fires are set or lightning started, and burn across the valleys.  That means the golden hills, vineyards, and Santa Rosa suburbs.

The fire triangle: fuel, heat, and oxygen.  The fuel grew, much heat comes with the wind, which also supplies plenty of oxygen.  Add an ignition point, and it burns.  The wind and fire blows down canyons, and people like to live in the canyons.  When all the space in the canyons is full, people move into the hills.  It is called the urban-wildland interface.  The entire American West is growing in population, and the new people moving in want to experience some open space.  The open space is open because it periodically burns, thus no forest, just chaparral and grassland.  And houses.  Destruction.

Is climate change partly responsible?  You decide.  California has always had destructive fire blowing in from the west, but is climate change exacerbating the natural phenomena?

Here in Colorado, we also have destructive wildland fires fanned by downslope winds.  Here the winds are from the west, hit the mountains, rise, cool, and roar down the eastern side of the mountains, fanning fires.  People are moving into the areas where the fires have always burned, and their houses burn.  The Plains east of Denver see huge grassland fires, especially after a wet spring.

Storm King Fire, Glenwood Springs CO

Western Colorado also has wind accelerated fires.  Westerly winds encounter the west side of the Rockies, rise, cool, and descend into the area around Glenwood Springs.  The country is the Colorado equivalent of California Chaparral.  The brush burns got, killing firefighters and threatening towns.  It is only a matter of time before things get hot in Glenwood, Newcastle, and Carbondale.

The West is a wonderful place, with open space, mountains, deserts, and a harsh climate.  People moving there beware, the conditions are more violent than in the well-watered East.  Oh, and don’t forger the landslides and avalanches where it is steep, along with fire.  There is lots of steep country.   There is steep country just west of all the people living along the Front Range.  The fires just might burn into town, just like Santa Rosa.

Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs has seen fire, along with Boulder.  Some day a fire may want to go downtown in a Front Range city. It is also likely a mountain town like Evergreen or Estes Park will burn.  The Mountain Pine Beetle has left a lot of standing dead trees ready to burn.

Why do I seem to be writing about fire, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other means of destruction? Maybe because I am confronting my own mortality.  I just turned 75.  I know it is surprising because I look so young.

John McPhee

John McPhee is my favorite writer.  He writes nonfiction for the New Yorker and has done so for fifty years.  He writes about whatever he wants to.  Alaska, the Pine Barrens, oranges, geology, transportation, and people.  Always, a topic is people.  He decides on a subject and searches out people engaged in his topic and weaves them into the narrative.

I read his stuff because of his subject matter (he has written extensively about geology).  He also has a warm and engaging style, his readers all fall in love with him.  The subject matter is always interesting, often because the people he seeks out are so colorful.

In Rising From the Plains, about Wyoming geology, McPhee found David Love, a USGS geologist from Laramie.  Gone now, Dr. Love was a renowned field geologist, focusing on Wyoming.  His  family is an integral part of Wyoming history.  His father started and ran a sheep outfit on Muskrat Creek in the Gas Hills, one of the most remote places in the lower forty eight.

The way McPhee portrays the man, his career, and Wyoming history makes one of the best books I have ever reread.  And reread, and give away.  If you have even the slightest interest in geology, read the book.  Rising From the Plains is a standalone book, and is part of Annals of the Former World, a collection of long pieces about geology mostly along I-80, skipping over the midwestern mud.  North America has fascinating geology and Annals gives a good overview.

Another book I like is The Control of Nature.  If you want to modify what nature produces, you get politicians to adopt the policy, then hire engineers to figure out what to do, then design the solution.  Sometimes they are asked to do the impossible, like keeping the eroding San Gabriel mountains from filling the Los Angeles Basin or control the lower Mississippi River.  Ask an engineer if something can be done and their answer is always “Yes.”  They make their money building stuff.  They may need lots of money, all the better.  Many of their projects fail at some time.  Don’t move to Morgan City, Louisiana.

McPhee has a wide range of interests.  He takes his storytelling skills to The Swiss army, to Loch Ness, to the Illinois River, California earthquake country, Alaska, and my least favorite book about a fish called shad. I read the book, but I still don’t care about the clammy, bony, tasteless things.  Not biased, though.

He is well into his eighties, and now writes mostly about writing.  His method is a complex blend of research, note taking, and building a structure to hold the piece together.  He is a real structure freak.  I have an idea, think about it a bit, and rip something out, editing as I go.  Of course he is producing around 50,000 words.  I do 500 to a thousand.  I have a structure as well, as I also learned how make outlines.  I tend to adapt the Army way: tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.  I like to introduce the subject, amplify it, then add my personal take.

Unlike McPhee, I tend to drift off topic into a rant or something mostly unrelated, but I like it.  “Oh look, a squirrel!”  Have I mentioned I have ADD?  I sometimes tend to bullshit; McPhee does not.  He has his extensive research and those wonderful New Yorker fact checkers.  I have my broken brain and Google.

Other McPhee assets are his sense of humor and his feel for dialect.  He is easy to read.

Activism

U. S. Customs House. Very welcoming.

I try to avoid writing about politics here, but recent events have driven me to be more active.  Usually the extent of my political action is giving money to causes I support.  I have to do more.  I think of my days at Colorado State when we would decide whether to go to the daily demonstration or do something else, like study.  The country was in turmoil over Vietnam and Watergate.  I did my small part.

Now I must again do my small part.  No more just watching Rachel Maddow and deploring the latest attempt at destroying at destroying anything remotely progressive.  I must act, take to the streets.  This won’t be the first time, I went to a rally supporting our Muslim neighbors and had fun wearing my Bad Hombre t-shirt.

Today it is the lunch time protest at Senator Cory Gardner’s office in downtown Denver.  I’m not sure these demonstrations and marches have a great impact, but they are a way to use my First Amendment rights, which seem to be under attack these days.  The current upheaval is in the NFL, and is a classic free speech issue.  The unfortunate result of the turmoil is increasing the polarization going on in our nation since the Reagan era.

I went downtown to a Federal office building where Senator Gardner has hidden his office.  As with most Federal buildings, you must go through security.  I always have to get wanded because my right knee is titanium.  I was alone in his office suite, no going beyond the closed door.  I talked to a nice young man acting as receptionist.  I stated my position and he took notes.  No drama.

The issues this week are about health care and race.  The Affordable Care Act needs work.  The impass in Congress is preventing any rational attempt at fixing the ACA.  Repeal attempts keep failing.  The reason for the attempts to repeal the ACA is, simply, race.  It is a black President’s program so it must go away.  Oh, and it is expensive.

When a new social welfare program goes into place there is always opposition, but. People begin to realize things are better for lots of people.  They just don’t get repealed, they get cleaned up.  Traditionally the Democrats come up with the programs and the Republicans do the housekeeping.  With race behind the Republican’s opposition they have blocked themselves from assuming their traditional role.  Nothing gets done and the status quo lurches along.

There is, of course, money involved as well.  Rich Republicans don’t want to pay for making poor people’s lives better.  Three reasons: greed, race, and Social Darwinism.  Republicans are always opposed to higher taxes.  They want to keep the money for themselves, even though they have plenty.  Poor blacks and hispanics don’t deserve a damn thing, they deserve to suffer.  The reason poor people are poor is because they are inferior to rich people.  Mitt Romney so much as said it.  It don’t work that way, folks.  Poor people are poor for lots of reasons, but not genetics.  The argument they are inferior is half a step from Naziism.

It’s not surprising the radical rightists are on the ascendancy.  We have always had them, but usually events shut them up.  They have to believe they are superior to others, usually because of a deep reservoir of shame.  They deserve our compassion.

There is the real problem.  Social welfare programs are a reflection of compassion.  Governments should be in the business of helping the people.  Good health care reflects compassion.  It is sad so many of our government’s resources are devoted to warfare, not compassion.  We are all in this together, so let’s give everyone a break, use loving kindness.   Hate and insensitivity are not the answer.

« Older Entries