Saturday, November 22, 2014

"If we're going to keep our young people in the state..."

"If we're going to keep our young people in the state....."

How often have you seen that phrase used by Wyoming politicians, community leaders and newspaper columnists?  I saw that phrase twice on the op-ed pages of this morning's paper.

"If we're going to keep our young people in the state we have to....."

We hear solutions. Diversify the economy. Transform our downtowns. Emphasize the state's "quality of life." Enhance our recreational opportunities. Give every UW grad a lifetime smartphone subscription and his/her own coffee shop or craft brewery.

I made up that last one. Although it's not bad, as ideas go. Wyoming has $2 billion in its rainy day fund and millions more stashed in coffee cans buried in Republican legislators' backyards. Let's take some of that dough and put it to work keeping our young people in the state and energizing the economy.

Alas, even this modest proposal is doomed to failure. There's more to life than crazy apps and pumpkin spice lattes and bitchin' IPAs.  Once these young people discover Wyoming's rapidly aging population, they will desert their funky new shops in Cheyenne to do what millennials do -- find other millennials to hang out with in FoCo and LoDo and Boulder and -- God help us all -- Greeley. Cheyenne could end up with legions of drunk, caffeine-infused oldsters tottering around downtown. Many of us will be flush with cash, recipients of those gold-plated state retirement plans. I, for one, plan to buy a gold-plated house and a gold-plated Caddy with all of my gold. I may even gild a lily or two and sell them in the Ye Olde Gilded Lily Emporium which I hope to open downtown.

It's hopeless, you see.

"If we're going to keep our young people in the state...."

In a pig's eye.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

New generation of book censors play the same old tune

Fiction must be very dangerous.

Why else would parents and school officials be trying to censor Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter, and A Farewell to Arms?

Parents of students at Highland Park High School in Texas must sign permission slips for their little darlings to read the above classics. I read all of them in Catholic school. Nobody ever asked my parents if it was OK to read such horrible stuff. Nuns and priests assigned them so they must have been just fine, right?

I could see Sister Miriam Catherine laughing with glee if my mother would have said, “Huckleberry Finn is a dangerous book.” And the good sister didn’t laugh easily. My mother would never had said that. She was too busy raising a passel of kids and working as a nurse. My father? When I was in the fourth grade, he invited me to read any book in his expansive library, courtesy of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Keep in mind that he was a conservative Catholic parent, an accountant by trade who read voraciously. Not read Huckleberry Finn? Don’t be absurd. He would have never said “don’t be absurd.” It’s something a character in a novel might say, an English classic such as “Wuthering Heights” (read it in grade school) or maybe one of the fake royalty riding the raft down the Mississippi with Huck Finn and Jim.

My parents and my four grandparents all were readers. Until my father went to college on the G.I. Bill, none had advanced farther than high school. They all would have considered it strange and un-American to tell us what not to read.

Soon at Highland Park, more books will be added to the list:
They are The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler.
I regret that I have only read two of the books on this list. Now I have added them to my reading list.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, rapidly trying to outpace Texas on the batshit-crazy list, teacher Dave Peterson is under fire for teaching “pornographic” literature to their children. The pornography includes classics, such as “Hills like White Elephants” by Hemingway and “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor, as well as gems of contemporary fiction by Junot Diaz, Amy Hempel, Tobias Wolff, Ron Carlson and Alice Walker. I’ve read the entire reading list which has been thoughtfully posted on Facebook. It tickles me that Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” is on the list, a tale about political correctness gone bonkers (did any of the critics actually read these pieces?). It’s a fine reading list, one that I printed out for my own edification. Peterson also included an introduction to his list which serves as both encouragement and a warning. This is obviously a responsible mentor to our children, which is more than I can say about his right-wing critics.

There is a petition on Facebook supporting Peterson. Go sign it, read his list and then go out and read all of the selections. My fellow fiction writers are counting on you.

Remember what Kurt Vonnegut wrote in a letter to the chairman of the Drake (N.C.) school board who had burned some of the author's books:
“If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in any favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible that they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hard-working men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. If was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.” 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rep. Mary Throne brings some Dem humor to the cancer fight

Rep. Mary Throne, Democrat of Laramie County, posted this sign on Facebook. She caught some grief for it, support too. It's funny in ways that only a Democrat in Wyoming can understand. We lose a lot of battles but we win some too, and those victories are sweet. And if Mary's post helps raise funds for cancer, who are Republicans to complain? Cowboy up, Repubs, and give to a good cause! Here are Mary's Facebook comments: "With the election behind me, our 3-day Komen trip is just around the corner. I am oh so close to reaching my fundraising goal--please consider a donation to get me over the top. Here's the link: For inspiration, I am posting my quote from our local Komen race."

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Might be time to change that obnoxious county name

The always-interesting Meteor Blades reported Wednesday on Daily Kos some good news that came out of  Tuesday's election. Amongst reports about Berkeley, Calif., passing the first tax on soda pop and voters approving legal pot in Oregon, Alaska and D.C., was this from South Dakota:
It's Oglala Lakota County now: Voters in Shannon County, South Dakota, whose residents are 92 percent Oglala, a division of the Lakota (Sioux) people, voted overwhelmingly to change the name to Oglala Lakota County Tuesday. The vote was 2161 to 526. Shannon was the name of a guy who a lot to do with prying South Dakota land out of Indian hands.
This could be a trend. Wonder if that could ever happen in other counties around the West? Wyoming already has a county named for Chief Washakie of the Shoshone. Washakie is celebrated throughout the state, with a statue in front of the state capitol in Cheyenne and a monumental piece of the chief on horseback in front of the main dining hall at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Ever wonder how many Native Americans are in Washakie County? Approximately 46 out of 8,289 residents. There was a time, of course, when all of the people in what is now Washakie County were Native Americans.

It's only fitting when a balance comes to Western history. Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana used to be called Custer Battlefield. It's web site now acts to correct some of the history surrounding this place:
This area memorializes the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Indians last armed efforts to preserve their way of life. Here on June 25 and 26 of 1876, 263 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army, died fighting several thousand Lakota, and Cheyenne warriors. 
My town of Cheyenne, Wyoming, was first named Crow Creek Crossing by Gen. Grenville Dodge when he platted the place as a future railroad camp in 1857. Some of those who accompanied him on this expedition thought a better name was Cheyenne after the Cheyenne nation that traversed the area. I'm glad Cheyenne stuck, as Crow Creek Crossing sounds like the name for a gated community. Maybe there is one by that name. Not sure what Crow Creek looked like in 1857, but these days it's a quaint little stream that only gets significant during spring flash floods.

Our county is named for Jacques La Ramee, a French-Canadian fur trapper who frequented these parts. His name is attached to a Wyoming county, city, river and peak, among others.  

In Colorado, the name of Col. Chivington has been wiped from the map for his role in leading the Colorado militia that slaughtered Indians, many of them women and children, at the Sand Creek Massacre. The Sand Creek Massacre Trail now criss-crosses Wyoming and Colorado, its path marked by commemorative signs. Here's some info about it from the Miniscule Guide to Cheyenne blog:
The Sand Creek Massacre Trail in Wyoming follows the paths of the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne in the years after the massacre. It traces them to their supposed wintering on the Wind River Indian Reservation near Riverton in central Wyoming, where the Arapaho remain today. The trail passes through Cheyenne, Laramie, Casper, and Riverton en route to Ethete in Fremont County on the reservation. In recent years, Arapaho youth have taken to running the length of the trail as endurance tests to bring healing to their nation. Alexa Roberts, superintendent of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, has said that the trail represents a living portion of the history of the two tribes.
The Wind River Reservation butts up against Fremont County, Wyoming, and is named for John C. Fremont, celebrated in history books as "Pathfinder of the Rocky Mountains." He also was incredibly ambitious, passive-aggressive and impulsive. He was the Republican Party's first presidential nominee but lost in a three-way race against the Democrats and the Know Nothing Party, which accused Fremont of being a Catholic. This incited horrors in the Know Nothing's immigrant-hating followers. You see the same reaction in Tea Party members today. When the Civil War erupted, Lincoln appointed Fremont as general of the armies of the West. Lincoln fired Fremont for issuing his own Emancipation Proclamation, although two years later, Lincoln issued a similar one. 

Wyoming's Fremont Peak, Fremont Canyon and Pathfinder Reservoir all are named after John C. Fremont. The Pathfinder's expeditions certainly opened up the West for the exploitation of its native inhabitants. But if we changed all of the places in the West named for impulsive explorers and money-grubbers and Indian traders and Indian killers and land-grabbers, well, we'd have to change a lot of names.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Or you could just say "cowboy up!"

This neat graphic comes from Robot Hugs via Science Dump.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Lifting of same-sex marriage ban in Wyoming a big surprise

I don't know about you, but I am still stunned by October's news that same-sex marriage is now the law of the land in Wyoming. I never thought I would see that day. I'm a supporter and have been for many years. The same goes for my wife Chris. We've been married for 32 years. In February 2011, we attended a rally at the Capitol supporting marriage equality. Rev. Rodger McDaniel and his wife Pat were scheduled to burn a copy of their 34-year-old marriage license as were the rest of us married folks who turned out to support the cause. The authorities frowned on burning things on public property so McDaniel used a paper shredder instead. Not as picturesque but we got the point across. If our LGBT friends can't get married, our marriage licenses aren't worth the paper they are printed on.

Now they are.

Credit goes to Wyoming Equality for its efforts. Kudos to Jeran Artery for being the face of the movement in his home state. Jeran and his partner Mike will be married soon. Wishing much happiness to this loving couple.

As is often the case in our strange state, it wasn't just Democrats who stand up for marriage equality. Republicans and Libertarians are also in the mix. Sen. Cale Case and Rep. Sue Wallis spoke out publicly for the legislature's civil unions bill.

Wyoming has come a long way in a short amount of time. So has the country. So have I. I grew up in the South of the sixties. Gays and lesbians were safely in the closet. Those who attempted to live openly gay lives were tormented and beat up. It was nominally OK for gay guys to be hairdressers and florists. It was not OK for them to be teachers, coaches, doctors, carpenters or politicians. Queers. Homos. Faggots. You've heard all of the terms. Name-calling hurts. Getting punched in the face hurts too.

Why am I tolerant when others are not? I lived in cities where I had LGBT neighbors and friends. I worked in the arts where many LGBT people work. The arts has always called those with different sensibilities. I once interviewed a successful dancer for a story. He grew up in Casper. He was an athlete who wanted to be a dancer and not a football player. He had some wonderful teachers, but also had to endure a lot of abuse from classmates. He ended up attending an arts high school in Massachusetts, college in New York City and now is a principal at a Canadian dance company. Why was this Wyomingite called to be a dancer and not a cowboy? There's some mystery in that, but thank goodness he found out what his calling was and had a chance to pursue his dreams.

BTW, there are gay cowboys in Wyoming, and not just in Annie Proulx's short stories.

I like who I have become. An aging tolerant white guy. This puts me at odds with some of my demographic cohort, but it has always been thus. Baby Boomers are a cantankerous lot. All of the battles we fight now, we also fought back in the sixties and seventies. I was a peacenik who was supposed to be a warrior. I was tolerant when I was supposed to be a bigot. I am a feminist who was supposed to be a know-it-all patriarch. I'm a liberal from a conservative family, A writer who was trained to be a priest or a corporate board president or one of those blowhards you see on FOX.

By taking a different path, I took a different path.

And that has made all of the difference.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Wyoming ACLU shares some tips for election day

Many people in Wyoming have already voted. I'm not one of them, as I'm an election day voter kind of guy. Not sure why really. Voting has always been a pleasurable experience, even when the results don't turn out as you hoped. It is a civic duty, crucial to our democracy. Too bad that half of all Americans don't bother to vote. Wonder how they sleep at night?

I've heard all of the arguments. It doesn't matter who you vote for. It's all rigged. Democrats and Republicans are all the same. I can't get off work. That last one is a real problem, especially for those who work hourly jobs or more than one job or don't have their own transportation or speak English as their second language. Republicans have been working overtime to make voting harder.

Here are some voting tips from the Wyoming ACLU:
Are you ready for Election Day? With less than a week until Election Day, it’s important to remember that every vote counts! 
In order to participate in the democratic process all voters need to understand the rules in our state, register on time, and show up at the correct polling place.  
Follow these steps to make sure can vote in this year’s election:
  • Election Day is Tuesday, November 4
  • Wyoming polls are open from 7 am to 7 pm 
  • Make sure you are registered to vote. If you are not already registered, Wyoming allows qualified voters to register at the polls on Election Day. However, you must bring an acceptable form of ID to the polls for same day registration. (example: passport or Wyoming driver’s license)
  • Get to the polls early to avoid the rush
We encourage all Wyoming voters to make their voice heard and vote in the upcoming election.
Voting is one of our most basic rights, and it is the fundamental right which all of our civil liberties rest.