Saturday, January 24, 2015

I know what kind of state I want to live in

One of the highlights of Gov. Matt Mead’s State of the State speech on Jan. 13 was his proposed initiative called Wyoming Grown. It was prompted by the fact that Wyoming is “losing 60 percent of our greatest talent” when young people educated in Wyoming move elsewhere after graduation. Gov. Mead wants to “keep kids in Wyoming after graduation.” So, Wyoming Grown will recruit those “who have left the state and bring them back."

He was skimpy on the details, which I’m sure he supplied those in his budget request for this program. But it will include a new web page by the Tourism Office. It will strengthen businesses that will be able to hire these young people in Cheyenne and Casper, Lusk and Meeteetse.

Concluded the Governor: “Let’s open the door to get our young people home.”

Kudos to Gov. Mead. This goes along with his description of Wyomingites as builders, not hoarders. We all want to build the state, not see it wither away. The state is aging rapidly and we need new blood desperately. This Republican Governor is big on technology and infrastructure and new jobs. He promotes local economic development, which has led to a downtown resurgence in Rawlins, Casper, Rock Springs, Lander and many other communities. He’s also a supporter of the arts and creativity. 

I cannot speak for young people as I’m not young myself. I am a parent of two Millennials, one of whom – my son Kevin -- lives and works elsewhere, namely Tucson, Arizona. What would lure him back to Wyoming? Well, he likes the outdoors. He was a Boy Scout and is a dedicated camper and rock climber. His parents and sister live in Wyoming and we would like to see him more often.
 
But Tucson is a city with a lively arts and cultural scene. Kevin is involved in theatre and music and also is a dedicated gamer. He’s a big fan of public transportation due to the fact that he’s never had a very reliable car and, well, insurance and car payments really add up. Tucson has light rail and a marvelous bus system. A university with lots of cultural offerings. It’s warm, too. His first summer there he described as “hotter than the surface of the sun.” But he’s acclimated and, like most Tucsonans, ventures out in July only under cover of darkness. But January, well, that’s when his Wyoming family visits.

Wyoming really can’t compete with the lights of the big city. How you gonna keep ‘em down on the ranch after they’ve seen Portland and Austin and Nashville?  See, we’re not even talking about huge metropolises such as New York and L.A. It’s the urban mix that draws young people. If they aren’t progressive when they arrive, they tend to get that way by mixing with folks that aren’t like them. Different genders. Sometimes people who are bending the genders and shattering the status quo. Different ethnicities. People from different parts of the country – different parts of the world. To be a part of the urban mix, you need tolerance and flexibility. Curiosity, too, a sense that you’d like to know what makes your neighbors tick. Sure, you can say the same thing about city folks coming to Wyoming. They have to be flexible and respectful when living and working in a more conservative climate. Some are better with that than others.

Wyoming has one big problem that won’t go away anytime soon. Some of its residents think that they exist in a “Wyoming is what America was” bubble. Right-wing loonies air their prejudices and grievances as if it were 1915 rather than 2015. We live in a world when the dumbest ideas hit the airwaves with lightning speed. Witness how much fun the talk show hosts had with all of the many nonsensical Republican responses to Pres. Obama’s recent SOTU speech.

So, when a conservative legislator proposes an anti-gay piece of legislation, the news travels far and wide. Young people, the heaviest users of smart phones and social media, are privy to the news immediately and spread the word about those dumbbells in Wyoming. I don’t like it when the legislators in my adopted state get painted as wackos.

But if the shoe (or boot) fits….

So, our Republican legislators promote a “right to discriminate against people we don’t like” (HB83) bill and an “Agenda 21 is a U.N. commie plot” (HB133) bill. Rep. Jaggi from Uinta County speaks like a bit player in an old Hollywood western when he refers to Native Americans as “Injuns” in a public meeting. This makes me wonder if Republicans really care about bringing our young people back to the state. Maybe they are angling for a certain type of young person, one who is already a diehard Republican, watches only Fox News and already believes that it is OK to discriminate against those who don’t think/act/look like you do.

I don’t think that’s what Governor Mead has in mind. He is a college graduate, earning everything up to his J.D. His wife, our First Lady, is a college graduate and a strong supporter of education. They have two children who will go to college and may be the future leaders of the state just as Gov. Mead’s mother and grandfather were leaders. I think that Gov. Mead is thinking ahead to the kind of Wyoming he wants to leave to his children. That’s not the regressive version of the state that the extremist members of his own party envision, if it’s appropriate to use that term. To envision, you need a vision, not just a tendency to dig in your heels and say no to all change and all progress.   

I don’t know if my children or grandchildren will live and work in Wyoming.


I do know what kind of state I want to live in.   

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dear Florida: Sorry we burned all of that coal but it couldn't be helped

The February issue of National Geographic features an excellent -- and scary -- article about the effects of global warming on south Florida. As the planet warms and sea levels rise, Miami is destined to be either 1. A floating city; 2. nonexistent. Some are planning for the inevitable. Many are not.

National Geographic maps show one of the worst-case scenarios for sea level rise. In 2100, a five-foot rise is expected, which would inundate most coastal areas.
If sea levels rise five feet, nearly one million of the current homes near the coast will be below the average day’s high tide.
--clip-- 
In total, some $390 billion worth of property could be damaged or lost—a sum fives times as great as Florida’s state budget.
I grew up in one of those sea-level homes a half block from "The World's Most Famous Beach." It's possible I learned my love of hyperbole from Daytona Beach boosters. I did learn to surf and love the ocean. At one time, I was thinking of becoming a marine biologist. My brothers and I arose every morning with dreams of good surf. Often we were disappointed. But we usually spent a part of every day in salt water -- or on it. I wasn't big on fishing but some of my brothers were. We were water people.  

I now live on an ancient seabed in Wyoming. Sometimes, when the wind blows from the southeast, I smell salt water. Sometimes I also smell the refinery, but that's another story. Parts of Wyoming's ancient seabed contain seams of coal produced by flora and fauna from those ancient seas and seashores. For a hundred years or so, we've been digging up the coal to burn in power plants that add pollutants to the air and warm the climate. In this way. we contribute to the sea gobbling up my old Florida home and, one day in the far future, providing some bitchin' surfing in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In Gov. Mead's State of the State speech this week, he received applause and enthusiastic huzzahs from legislators when he said this:
“In coming years, I will continue to work with bulldog determination on coal initiatives, port expansion, new technology, and value-added products. And in coming years, we don’t need to let up, we need to double down. We must assure coal’s continuity.”
Surf's up!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Avid baseball fan (and political organizer) Christine Pelosi to speak at Dems' dinner

Political organizer Christine Pelosi will be the special guest for the 2015 Nellie Tayloe Ross Gala put on by the Wyoming Democratic Party on Feb. 7 at the Holiday Inn in Cheyenne. Get your tix here.

I read Christine Pelosi's bio on Huffington Post, where she's a columnist. I absorbed all of the stuff about her famous mom, political organizing, the books she's written, and so on. But then I got to the important stuff: "An avid baseball fan, she lives within walking distance of her beloved World Champion San Francisco Giants."

OK, so I'm a Rockies fan and it may be decades before the Rox knock off the Giants for National League West dominance. But still -- walking distance of an MLB ballpark? Color me jealous. 

Here's the rest of the bio:
Attorney, author, and activist Christine Pelosi has a lifetime of grassroots organizing and public policy experience. She conducts leadership boot camps based on her books Campaign Boot Camp: Basic Training for Future Leaders (2007) and Campaign Boot Camp 2.0 (2012). Both books emerged from her years of grassroots activism and service with the AFSCME P.E.O.P.L.E. Congressional Candidates Boot Camp, which worked with approximately 120 challengers from 2006 to 2012, 33 of whom were elected to Congress. Her trainings with candidates, volunteers, and NGO leaders span over thirty American states and three foreign countries. She appears regularly on national television and radio. Her blog postings at the Huffington Post focus on current events as well as the role of social media networks, technology in politics and the unique leadership challenges for women candidates. Her next book, Women on the Run, will be released in 2014.
Christine holds a JD from the University of California Hastings College of the Law and a BSFS from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She has served as a prosecutor in San Francisco, a special counsel in the Clinton-Gore administration, and a chief of staff on Capitol Hill. A former executive director of the CA Democratic Party, Christine chairs the CA Democratic Party Women's Caucus, led the CA Democratic Party Platform Committee for thirteen years, has been elected five times to the Democratic National Committee, where she cofounded the DNC Veterans and Military Families Council and serves as a vice chair, and serves on the Stakeholder Board of the Young Democrats of America. 
An avid baseball fan, she lives within walking distance of her beloved World Champion San Francisco Giants and serves on the Giants Community Fund board of directors. She is married to Emmy-nominated filmmaker Peter Kaufman; their daughter Isabella was born in 2009. An advocate for working moms, Christine traveled with her infant daughter to 21 states and 3 foreign countries performing campaign boot camps to advance Democrats and democracy.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Thinking about extremists close to home

I've been offline for several days. Some gremlin in my Charter cable service. I called for assistance. The woman at Charter was very nice. She promised to send a repair crew to my house sometime in 2016.

During my down time, magazine cartoonists and editors at a satiric journal in Paris were massacred by jihadis. A liberal blogger was flogged in Saudi Arabia for "insulting Islam." A bomb went off outside NAACP headquarters in Colorado Springs. 

Just another eventful few days on Planet Earth.

Hard to tell who planted the NAACP bomb. The FBI is offering a $10,000 award for information on a guy seen lurking around the building prior to the explosion. If it was 50 years ago, I would guess the KKK or similar racist organization was behind it. The Klan has a long history in Colorado, mostly in Denver. Ben Stapleton was the successful KKK candidate for mayor in 1923 and stacked city offices with Klan members. When I lived in Denver in the 1980s, it was a pleasure to drive down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into Stapleton International Airport. 

The Klan still exists. In June 2013, KKK recruitment flyers were distributed in Colorado Springs. Voters in the Springs recently elected a right-winger to the legislature, Gordon Klingenschmitt. He's the head of the Pray in Jesus Name Project, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Known mostly for his anti-LGBT screeds, he's also an Obama hater - he once wrote that Pres. Obama was ruled by at least 50 evil spirits. Just 50? He's a hater of Democrats in general. Here's a Klingenschmitt quote:
“Democrats like [openly gay Colorado congressman Jared] Polis want to bankrupt Christians who refuse to worship and endorse his sodomy. Next he’ll join ISIS in beheading Christians, but not just in Syria, right here in America.” 

There's no shortage of loonies right here in the U.S. We may have inept bombers, but at least we don't have France's problems -- not yet, anyway. 

And we're not flogging liberal bloggers, not even in Wyoming.

I have a right to speak my mind. Jihadis have a right to speak their minds, but not execute those who do likewise. Klingenschmitt has a right to speak his mind.

I have a right to ridicule your writings and utterings. You have a right to ridicule my attempts at satire, lampooning and humor.

#JeSuisCharlie.

And so are you.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

It's 1939 in Cheyenne, Wyoming -- what side are you on?

I'm working on a short story set in 1939 Cheyenne. I rarely venture this far back in time. Two stories in my first collection were set in post-World War II Wyoming and Colorado. I have gone far into the future with some of my sci-fi. But never back to the 1930s. I wasn't around then, but my parents were, both young people struggling through the Great Depression with their working-class families. I've read fiction set in the thirties. Nelson Algren, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Steinbeck, Eudora Welty, Irwin Shaw. The twenties and thirties may have been the golden age of the American short story. I've read hundreds of them. Big Blonde. How Beautiful with Shoes. A Rose for Emily. A Bottle of Milk for Mother. The Killers. Flowering Judas.

One of my favorites is Irwin Shaw's "Sailor Off the Bremen." Shaw is best known for his post-war novels such as "The Young Lions" and "Rich Man, Poor Man." But it's his stories that I've read and studied. They were collected into a volume, "Five Decades."

"Sailor Off the Bremen," published in The New Yorker in February 1939, is about international politics and revenge. In New York Harbor, communists stage an anti-Nazi demonstration aboard the German ship Bremen. A Nazi steward beats up a demonstrator, whose family and friends believe that the Nazi should pay. They find out who the steward is, trap and beat the crap out of him.

When I first read that story decades ago, I knew little about the years leading up to World War II. I was a student of the war. As was the case with many Baby Boomer boys, we watched movies and TV shows about the war our fathers fought in. Some of us read books, too, as my father had a great library. We knew war as boys know war. Names of battles, famous generals, types of airplanes and tanks.

What caused the war? Hitler and the damn Nazis. Tojo and the stinkin' Japs. Excuse my use of the term "Japs" -- that's how Americans spoke about residents of the Empire of Japan during the war and after it. That's about as far as it went until I got older and began reading about it. America was dragged kicking and screaming into it. I don't mean after Pearl Harbor, but before it, when many Americans had no reason to care what happened to French farmers and Chinese peasants. We'd been dragged into another European war in 1917, and many wondered why we had to bail out the French and the Brits once again. Isolationism was rampant, especially among those in the individualist-minded Rocky Mountain West. Many of the leading isolationists in Congress were from Montana and Idaho and South Dakota. Probably Wyoming, too, although I haven't done any research on the matter.

I am reading a book on the subject. "Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's fight over World War II, 1939-1941," by Lynne Olson.  I just finished a section about the very close Congressional vote to extend the conscription act, a vote held four months before Dec. 7, 1941. Conscription had been passed a year before in which young men were drafted into the army for a year. That year was up and many of those young men wanted to go back home. They spent their time digging ditches and marching around with fake rifles and didn't see the point as the U.S. wasn't at war. So when Roosevelt and his interventionist allies tried to extend the draft, many in Congress weren't eager to sign on, including ,many Democrats. The final vote was 203 aye and 202 nays. And some of the ayes were about to change their votes when Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn closed the vote with an arcane procedural move. It took the U.S. a long time to mobilize after the Dec. 8 declaration of war. Imagine how long it would have taken if the draft had been abandoned? History can turn on a single vote.

One thing is clear -- even four months before we entered the war, isolationism was strong in this country. I wondered what it was like for the average joe, the guy who became G.I. Joe in the war years. The economy had picked up once we got into the 1940s, but problems of the Great Depression hadn't gone away. What made you an interventionist and what made you an isolationist? in 1941, there wasn't a bomber or missile that could reach the U.S. from potential enemies. But what would happen if Hitler took over the world and eventually threatened us? And what about all of those rumors of Nazis murdering Jews?

As always, I tried to put myself in that era in the form of a fictional character. And so goes my story and along with it, hours of research. Research can be addictive, especially in this age of unlimited accessibility to online sources. But I stopped myself and wrote the story. It's called "Ras Tafari in Cheyenne." I'm excerpting it on my blog because I don't know what else to do with it. If you have any ideas for markets, let me know. The excerpts will begin in mid-January -- I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 02, 2015

What makes Cheyenne Cheyenne?

One of the best things to happen to Wyoming communities in 2014 is a resurgence of downtown redevelopment. Wyoming Main Street gets some credit for that. But the energy to get the job done comes from within the community. That's the way it should be, don't you think?

Rock Springs, Gillette, Rawlins -- all communities that refurbished downtowns in the past year. They rebuilt streets and sidewalks, added new lighting and purchased public art. Rock Springs and Rawlins provided funds for businesses to redo their storefronts. All of these places added business to their central core, the traditional heart of their cities.

What do I-80 travelers think about when they buzz through Rawlins? Who would want to live there -- it's so desolate? Sure, on a bitter January day, Rawlins can look at bit intimidating. Sure, the state's hulking gray prison lurks just behind the bluffs to the south. The rock escarpments that ring the town may look a bit foreboding to coasters. And that 60 mph west wind that strips the enamel from your teeth? Not much to say but keep your mouth shut. I suppose that's good advice anytime.

But there's so much to see and do. The intriguing historic prison is downtown and the site for some entertaining candlelight tours during Halloween season. The old prison even appeared on an episode of "Ghost Adventures" in which Zak & Co. discovered that the exploration of a quirky local home was almost as exciting as the haunted prison. We acknowledge that the show is filled with P.T. Barnum hoopla -- but it also showcases some great historic tidbits. And how many nationally-televised shows get to Rawlins?

Rawlins recently revamped their downtown streetscape and added two beautiful hawk sculptures by Boulder's Joshua Wiener. Next time, get off the interstate and do some exploring -- and maybe some dining and shopping.

It's the people who make the place -- and those creative ventures that people undertake. Art, music, writing, sculpting, cooking, ghost adventuring, etc. You just have to ask yourself: what makes my community tick?

What makes Cheyenne Cheyenne? That's the question we're asking locally. Everyone knows about our Old West heritage. Every July, we stage a big party with that theme at its center. But Cheyenne also is about transportation -- railroads, highways and air travel. That last one may be a bit of a surprise, as our tiny airport is outshone by so many others in the region. But our town has a storied history when it comes to flying. The Carl Spaatz Flying Circus, Eddie Rickenbacker's crack-up, Lindbergh and the Army Airmail Service, the advent of United Airlines, etc. -- you can look it up.

Dinosaurs walked here -- and I'm not just talking about Republican legislators. Native Americans were the first human inhabitants and Cheyenne, as its name suggests, is rich in pre-white-settlement history. Buffalo soldiers? We had them at Fort D.A. Russell.

We are enriched by the arts. An article in Sunday's WTE celebrated a banner year in music for Cheyenne. Arts Cheyenne will engage in an "arts blitz" in 2015 to build interest for a downtown Artspace project that will rehab an old building and turn it into live-work spaces for artists and -- possibly -- offices for arts groups and visual arts and performing spaces. The Children's Museum project is really taking off.

This is what Cheyenne needs -- thinking and acting locally. For too long we have thrown up our hands and ceded arts and culture and music and beer to Fort Collins. For good reason -- FoCo almost invented the craft beer scene in the Rocky Mountain West. It also has a thriving arts scene. But it wasn't always that way. When I was a grad student there in the late 1980s, nobody called it FoCo but they did call it an aggie town or cowtown -- a sleepy place which young people deserted on weekends to go to Denver and Boulder and the mountains. Meanwhile, bored kids from Cheyenne were traveling to Fort Collins because that's where things were happening. Weird.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:
Collin Ingram, a musician himself, says he's been in Fort Collins for the past three years and, in that time, has seen the music scene grow and expects that to continue.  
The next big step, however, is the community determining the value it wants to place on the music scene in Fort Collins, Ingram said.  
"We need to decide if the scene is going to be a cool thing that happens here — with bands and a couple festivals every year — or if we're going to kind of move toward the scene being a quintessential part of what makes Fort Collins Fort Collins … the same way beer makes Fort Collins Fort Collins, or the way CSU makes Fort Collins Fort Collins."
What makes Cheyenne Cheyenne? You decide.

And what makes Wyoming Wyoming? Volunteerism and generosity. Neighbors helping neighbors.

News comes about a devastating Dec. 30-31 fire in Dubois that destroyed several historic downtown buildings. Needs of Dubois is handling contributions for relief efforts. Send checks to NOD, PO Box 865, Dubois, WY 82513, and please note "Dubois Fire" in the memo of the check. You can also contribute online at http://www.gofundme.com/duboisfire. Almost $10,000 had been raised by noon on Jan. 2.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 -- that was the year that was

A look back at this rapidly-fading year....

January

Wyoming Highway Patrol on the alert for legal Colorado pot crossing the border....The creeds and oaths of our youth....Medicaid expansion rally at Wyoming Capitol....Whale of a tale on a Florida beach....Artspace comes to Cheyenne....From beach boy to beach cowboy....Feeding your fiction-writing habit....Remembering Rep. Sue Wallis.

February

Cheyenne launches Artspace project....Unplanned winter off-roading in Wyoming....Halfway mark of painful legislative session....Colorado burger wranglers commute to Chey-town.

March

Courage v. Wyoming may force state to live up to Equality State brand....Irish or not?...Florida vs. Wyoming in retirement destination battle....Avoid politics in gardening discussions....Psychiatrists aren't crazy about living in Wyoming....Spring is lion time.

April

Welcome to the Magic City of the Plains....Cheyenne corners the market on Gov candidates.... Dumbing down state science standards....Wishing Colorado a happy 420 day....The future belongs to aggies and artists.... Revisiting the Great D&D Panic of the 1990s....Putting the community in community college.

May

Miss Atomic Bomb....Writers Speaking Out Loud....Wonky in Rock Springs....Famous for all of the wrong reasons....Cindy Hill's little red book.

June

Remembering my mother and the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps....Summertime in WYO....St. Michael in downtown Cheyenne....Visiting a sick friend....Lesson for politicians -- beware of poets....That was one super day.

July

How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm....Revisiting a 1970 pot protest in D.C....Welcome to the West's wet years....Old books live on....Music, melodrama and politics at CFD....Wyoming Democrats respond.

August

At the Music & Poetry Series in Casper....As I begin my tenth year of blogging liberally....Gov's science panel....Satire is in the eye of the beholder.

September

Hemingway found a clean, well-lighted place in Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains....Day one of touristing on the high plains.,..Day two of touristing on the high plains....The rich are different -- they want to destroy Wyoming's public pension plan....Americanism trumps conservatism in Colorado schools.

October

Envisioning the future of Cheyenne's downtown....Final words on Mental Health Awareness Week....Wyoming Liberty Group threatens state retirement plans....VOTE!....Book preview for "Living Behind the Carbon Curtain."

November

Lifting of Wyoming's same-sex marriage ban a big surprise....Might be time to change that obnoxious county name....New generation of book censors....If we're going to keep our young people in the state....No Black Friday for me....Yummy Gore-Tex for seniors.

December

This progressive wants to go to Mars...What happens when Wyoming tourists no longer want to drive?....Gubment-hating righties invade Wyoming.

So much to write about. So little time. Happy New Year!