Sunday, September 21, 2014

The rich are different --- they want to destroy Wyoming's public pension plan

Thanks to fellow prog-blogger Rodger McDaniel for his excellent column yesterday in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and later reprinted on his Blowing in the Wyoming Wind blog. The newspaper's op-ed editor paraphrased a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald for the headline: "The rich think differently." Fitzgerald's quote comes from his short story "The Rich Boy" published in 1926 in Redbook Magazine:
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and kcynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. ”
The esteemed author had already artfully described how the rich are different in his 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald also had a bad case of wealth-envy. Maybe that's a trait we all possess, thinking that we shouldn't criticize the wealthy too harshly lest we hit it big on the Powerball or strike oil in our backyard.

Most of us are content to labor hard and retire comfortably. That's my philosophy, passed down to me from my father the accountant and my mother the nurse and scores of immigrant ancestors who worked on the railroad and in the factory or on the farm.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a state employee of 23 years and expect to retire some time in the next decade.

In Wyoming, rich out-of-staters want to dismantle our state employee pension plan because, well, just because they can -- or think they can. Canadian Maureen "The Hater" Bader of the Wyoming Liberty Group recently wrote a venomous op-ed describing the state retirement plan as "the gold-plated promise of retirement security." Our pension plan is the envy of many, not because it is "gold-plated" but because it has been managed so efficiently that "30-year projections show that the plan is on a trajectory leading to assets totalling 114.7 percent of benefit costs," writes Rodger.

The Liberty Group was founded by Susan Gore, wealthy Texas heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune. This group is a member of the State Policy Network which is a driver of the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, the organization that hands canned right-wing legislation to Wyoming legislators so they can sabotage the state's workers.

Wyoming Liberty Group's attack on Wyoming's pension plan is nothing more than a cookie cutter provided to them by ALEC and the Policy Network. 
The rich indeed are different. They're out to destroy the middle class. They're doing a fine job. The elimination of the state's pension plan would go a long way to making us lackeys of the oligarchs represented by ALEC, the State Policy Network and the Wyoming Liberty Group.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Day two of touristing on the high plains

At Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site: Mike Shay and Brian and Eileen Casey. Thousands of wagons passed this way during the heyday of the trails that cut through Wyoming. 
Why all of the sheriff’s cars at Hawk Springs Reservoir?

A Sunday drowning. But on Tuesday morning, I didn’t know that. We stopped at Hawk Springs to take in the reservoir and the bluffs beyond. We were touristing so stopped at almost every site we came across. When I travel Wyoming, I’m usually zipping to or from a destination and I need to be there at a certain time. Not just work trips but personal ones, too.

I used to be the guy who stopped at all in interesting things. What’s that marker? Where does that road go? Somewhere along the line, I lost that sense of adventure that drove my family crazy.

We stopped at Hawk Springs State Recreation Area because we were escorting my sister Eileen and her husband Brian on a Wyoming adventure. Can’t have an adventure unless you take the road less traveled. Our goal was Fort Laramie but we had all day, so why not stop?

It was quiet at Hawk Springs. Wind rattled the Cottonwood leaves. Some locals fished. We didn’t know it, but search parties scoured the reservoir for a drowned man. On Sunday, James “Jesse” Nelson of Torrington apparently dove into the reservoir to rescue another person who had fallen overboard. That person was rescued by another boat but Nelson was not.

Tragedies happen around us while we look the other way.

But on this day, we were roaming around southeast Wyoming. We stopped in the town of Hawk Springs to take some goofy photos. We met the proprietor of The Emporium, one of the few eating and drinking establishments along this stretch of state road. On this day was closed for a thorough cleaning after a busy summer catering to tourists and Sturgis-bound bikers. The owner invited us to return on the weekend to dine and watch a UW game.

Ever stopped at the Homesteader Museum along Torrington’s main drag? Me neither. You can’t miss it – it’s in the old train station across from the sugar plant. A big caboose sits adjacent to the museum. On the north side of the museum is an old homesteader cabin that once occupied good bottom land near Hawk Springs. It was moved when the dam was built and before the water rose high enough to drown people in 2014. A couple raised their three children in this windowless log cabin. Imagine. The museum grounds also included a one-room schoolhouse and a two-story rancher’s house, all moved from elsewhere in Goshen County. Settlement history in our part of the world may be recent, but there’s a lot of it.

Did you know that Jackson Hole is not the only hole in the state? This part of of Wyoming was historically referred to as "Goshen Hole?" A valley carved by rivers over thousands of years. You get the sense of "hole" when you top of rise of the highway and look down into the valley all the way to Nebraska. 

We picnicked at the city park in Lingle. Mothers and their pre-K kids trooped into the park, set up some soccer nets and commenced a game. One of the younger kids clambered around on the bandshell that was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1941-42, just as the U.S. was entering WWII and men in those WPA and CCC crews were putting on uniforms. Beautiful red-white-and-blue concrete bandshell that’s probably been the home for many Fourth of July concerts with fireworks to follow. Across the front of it is this: “Small but proud.”

Fort Laramie was our next stop. I’ve written about it before. This National Historic Site was a favorite destination when the kids were young and we were looking for a jaunt into history. This frontier fort along the North Platte and Laramie rivers was a thriving place for much of the 19th century. It closed when the frontier was declared closed in 1890, which is also the year of the Wounded Knee massacre. The fort’s buildings almost disappeared from disuse and scavenging by citizens from the town of Fort Laramie. But, as often happens, the government stepped in and saved it. Drat that damn gubment. Now southeast Wyoming has a beautiful historic site to add to many others and an economic generator. Lots of cars and campers in the parking lot on this Sept. 16 afternoon. A big bus, too, filled with tourists anxious to explore history and plug some Euros into the Wyoming economy.

Chris and I has never been to the historic sites celebrating the wagon ruts and Register Cliff. The Oregon Trails Ruts State Historic Site marks the place where thousands of wagons and handcarts cut a swath through the side of a hill on the Oregon/Mormon/California trails. When you stand in the ruts, you can imagine the hard slog that these pioneers experienced. The major traffic would have been in June as they planned to reach Independence Rock near Casper by the Fourth of July. They already had glimpsed Laramie Peak shimmering in the distance and wondered, “How are we going to get over that?” But the trail turned northwest from here, following the path of the river through the relatively flat county on the way to Fort Caspar.

There’s a marker at the wagon ruts that celebrates the site in language a bit flowery for my tastes. A photo of it is included. I wanted to rewrite it in simple language, something a little more Hemingwayesque. Maybe you’d like to take a crack at it.

The marker at Register Cliff was a bit more to my liking, as it actually mentions the natives of this area, who also happened to etch petroglyphs into this site. Their signatures were destroyed by a sea of immigrants, a metaphor for what happened to their tribes as the wagons rolled West.   

"Wagon wheels cut solid rock, carving a memorial to Empire Builders." Not sure when this sign was installed but it could use a few updates.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Day one of touristing on the high plains

Hanging out at Esther Hobart Morris's statue at the Wyoming State Capitol with Brian and Eileen Casey.
My sister Eileen and her husband, Brian Casey, visited us this week in Cheyenne. They live in Orlando, Florida, and had never been to Wyoming. Eileen is a history buff and Brian likes trains. I told them, “You’ve come to the right place.”

Visitors from distant climes help me focus on the clime I’m in. I’ve lived in Cheyenne 23 years but have not seen everything there is to see. A human trait, to take for granted the place where you live.

On Monday, their first day in town, Eileen, Brian, my wife Chris and I toured Cheyenne. We exploited the state capitol building, which is in the beginning of a $250 million renovation. I saw Leslie in the Governor’s office and went in to say hi. She asked if we wanted to see the inner office, the place where Gov. Mead signs bills, and we said yes. She let Eileen and Brian sit in the Gov’s chair and I took photos. We wondered if we could walk into the Florida governor’s office, sit in his chair and take photos. Probably not. We toured the legislative chambers and viewed the art. I took time to actually view the art on the walls instead of just passing by. On the House side, the portrait of the 1913 group had a tear in the middle. The tear is about the width of a human head, which is due to the fact that one disgruntled legislator plucked the portrait off the wall and bashed it over the head of a colleague. Those are the kind of details that make history come alive.

We next toured the state museum. I’ve been in there a hundred times. But on this, the 101st visit, I saw things I didn’t know were there. It is a gift to have fresh eyes alight on a thing and say “I didn’t know that.” That’s what museums are all about, right? We ate lunch at the historic Albany and then toured the Depot Museum. Trains created Cheyenne. The magnificent depot was created in view of the State Capitol to remind legislators to not forget what side their bread was buttered on. These days, legislators don’t have a view of the Powder River Basin coal fields, but that lesson has a prominent place in their memory.

You can see the coal trains from the second-floor museum viewing room. It’s a busy rail yard, which delighted Brian almost as much as the big model train in the next room. You’re in choo-choo country, pardner!

Time flies when you’re touristing. We walked around the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, a place that I love. The flowers are in their last gasp of beauty before the frosts arrive and the snow falls. The folks at the gardens did a great job of resurrecting the flower beds after our June and July hailstorms. I showed off the architectural plans of the new building. I’m very proud of it, as I was one of the forward-thinking voters who approved it during the election of 2012. Without Chris and I and thousands of others, we wouldn’t be creating a city for our children and grandchildren. Take a bow, ya’ll.

We wrapped up the day with a barbecue at our house. A fitting end to a fine, late-summer day in the high prairie.

To be continued….

So you want to write a novel?

My friend Joanne Kennedy over at Joanne Kennedy Books on Facebook is teaming up with two other Cheyenne fiction writers for this:
Have you always wanted to write a novel? Laramie County Library is presenting Novel Writing University every Tuesday night for six weeks, beginning September 23. Classes will cover all elements of fiction writing, from getting started to writing dialogue, from characterization to resonant endings. Submitting to agents and editors will also be covered, along with self-publishing and marketing. Whether you're a beginner or a more experienced writer, these classes will help you improve your craft and understand the steps to publication. The class will be taught by multi-published authors Joanne Kennedy, Amanda Cabot, and Mary Gillgannon. Join us!
Joanne and Mary are my former critique partners at the Cheyenne Area Writers Group (CAWG). They are terrific teachers and know their way around a novel -- short stories, too, as I can testify. I've seen Amanda in action at several writing conferences, including the annual WWInc gathering. They all are kind and meticulous, a winning combination. Get more information at the Laramie County Public Library web site.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Join the "Shatter the Silence" walk Sept. 10 in Cheyenne

Join Stop Suicide Cheyenne, the VA Center, Prevention Management Organization, and Grace for 2 Brothers for the World Suicide Prevention Day Silent Walk on Wednesday September 10th. This event begins at 11:45 a.m. at the Depot Plaza in Cheyenne with keynote speakers to talk about suicide prevention. A silent walk will take place up Capitol Avenue to the Capitol Steps where there will be recognition of those lost to suicide.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Hemingway found a clean. well-lighted place to write in Wyoming

Me sitting at Hemingway's writing desk at Spear-O-Wigwam in the Big Horn Mountains.
Ernest Hemingway found something in Wyoming.

A book, or a way to finish a book. He wrote portions of A Farewell to Arms in Arkansas and Kansas and Sheridan, Wyo., eventually finishing it in a log cabin in Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains. Hemingway was a globetrotter back when it took a long time to get anywhere. You crossed oceans by ship and continents by rail. Travel was measured in days and weeks rather than hours. The author sojourned in Paris, Spain, Cuba, Africa, Canada and all over the U.S.: Chicago, Kansas City, Key West, Sheridan, Wyo. and Sun Valley, Idaho, to name a few. He hauled his typewriter and manuscripts along with him. After he became a successful author, he travelled with 26 suitcases, according to Valerie Hemingway, who served as Hemingway's secretary in the 1950s.

It's odd to think of a peripatetic author and war correspondent traveling with 26 suitcases. That's just one of the odd Hemingway facts you discover when hanging out at the Spear-O-Wigwam Mountain Campus near Sheridan with Val and other Hemingway fans. We were there to start the planning process for a 2018 Hemingway celebration. Why 2018? Since much of a A Farewell to Arms was written in Sheridan and the Big Horns, a 90th anniversary celebration is in order. The idea was hatched by Sheridan College's Susan Bigelow. Our August planning session coincided with the Spear-O-Wigwam presentation by Ms. Hemingway. More than 100 people traversed the rugged Red Grade Road for her afternoon talk.

A Farewell to Arms is based on Hemingway's experience as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I. If you didn't read the novel during one of your college survey courses, you may have caught up with it as an adult. Perhaps you saw one of A Farewell to Arms movies. Gary Cooper as Frederic Henry in 1932 pursuing Nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes). In 1957, Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones were the ill-fated couple. There were stage plays and radio plays as well.

After A Farewell to Arms was published in 1929, Hemingway was a success. He wrote one best-seller after another. He accumulated residences and books and suitcases. Other writers began to copy his spare style, which Gore Vidal called "the careful, artful, immaculate idiocy of tone that has marked Hemingway's prose." "Idiocy of tone?" What's Vidal mean by that? Is the accent on "idiocy" or on "tone?" Not only has the author been copied -- badly -- but satirized, too, by Alan Coren and Woody Allen. There is the annual Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition, with winners announced at the annual Hemingway Days in Key West, which also holds a Hemingway Look-Alike Contest and marlin fishing tournament. There are Write like Hemingway and the Six-Word Hemingway Story competitions.

Some of these tourism-themed events may seem excessive. But think about it? How many writers are celebrities these days?   Not just those celebrities who are famous for fame's sake, but those who actually have been engaged with the world and pioneered a new writing style in the process? I can't think of any contemporary writer who's done what Hemingway did. Wyoming's own Mark Jenkins is a globe-trotting, mountain-climbing adventurer and a fine writer. As far as I know, the only people calling him "Papa" are his two daughters. Sebastian Junger has written of adventure on the high seas and in the Afghan battlefields, and he's considered a hunk, but he's not Hemingway. Montana's Jim Harrrison and Tom McGuane can be considered celebrities in the writing world, but I'm not sure if your average person on the street would recognize those names.

Hemingway was bigger than life and he liked it that way. He made a fine living as a writer and it enabled him to travel the world. Alas, he did have to find time and a place to write. In 1928, he tried sequestering himself at the Sheridan Inn before it was the Historic Sheridan Inn and just a hot and crowded hotel. So he rode up the mountains to Spear-O-Wigwam, sat down at a desk in a rustic cabin and finished the book that would make a splash over the next decade.

Hemingway killed himself -- did I mention that? He was bigger than life but in the end was felled by depression and a family trait. When Margaux Hemingway killed herself in 1996 in Santa Monica, she became the fifth generation of Hemingways to do so. We talk a lot about suicide but still it continues, by gun and rope and pills.

I sat at that desk in Hemingway's cabin. He wrote in longhand before breaking out the manual typewriter to do the finished draft. He'd do the revising on paper before getting down to the QWERTY keyboard. Wonder if the other guests at the ranch heard Hem's tap-tap-tap on the keys. Sounds like that writer fella -- says he's working on a novel about the war.

That was a small act by a big man. Left a lasting impression on the world. I think it's only right that the folks of Sheridan County want to celebrate it.

But how? There's the rub. And we have four years to figure out how to do it.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Human Rights Campaign holds reception in Cheyenne

This announcement comes from Wyoming Equality: 
HRC Wyoming: Cheyenne Community Reception 
Sept. 18, 6-8 p.m., at The Suite Bistro, 1901 Central Ave, Cheyenne
We are excited to invite you to an upcoming community reception with the Human Rights Campaign in Wyoming. You are invited to join us in Cheyenne for a community gathering with brief remarks from HRC Director of Programmatic Development, Brad Clark, followed by a reception including complimentary hors d'oeuvres and beverages. 
We hope you can join us and ask that you please RSVP in advance. Go to

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Satire is in the eye of the beholder

I love good satire. Problem is, readers don't often get it. Good satire is usually presented as a straightforward news article or opinion piece that can often be mistaken for your run-of-the-mill newspaper story. In satire, the subject is taken to an extreme, an exaggeration for what the writer hopes is a comic effect. Since there is so much craziness on the Internet already, it's hard to pick out satire unless it's labeled as such. This is why it is so helpful for Andy Borowitz to label his "The Borowitz Report" pieces in The New Yorker as "news satire." Here's a recent brilliant example:
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Across the United States on Wednesday, a heated national debate began on the extremely complex issue of children firing military weapons. 
“Every now and then, the nation debates an issue that is so complicated and tricky it defies easy answers,” says pollster Davis Logsdon. “Letting small children fire automatic weapons is such an issue.”
Logsdon says that the thorny controversy is reminiscent of another ongoing national debate, about whether it is a good idea to load a car with dynamite and drive it into a tree. 
“Many Americans think it’s a terrible idea, but others believe that with the correct supervision, it’s perfectly fine,” he says. “Who’s to say who’s right?” 
Similar, he says, is the national debate about using a flamethrower indoors. “There has been a long and contentious national conversation about this,” he says. “It’s another tough one.” 
Much like the long-running national debates about jumping off a roof, licking electrical sockets, and gargling with thumbtacks, the vexing question of whether children should fire military weapons does not appear headed for a swift resolution. 
“Like the issue of whether you should sneak up behind a bear and jab it with a hot poker, this won’t be settled any time soon,” he says. 
Get news satire from The Borowitz Report delivered to your inbox.
If this appeared as a standard news article in the local paper, I can easily see my neighbor, Tea Party Slim, reading it over his morning java and nodding his head in agreement. "Yes, children shooting automatic weapons is an extremely complex issue." Slim also reads loads of stuff on the Internet, as do I, where it is possible to mistake satire for another example of human weirdness -- or vice versa. Each of us carries baggage from our political POVs. I see Borowitz's piece as a terrific satire on our gun nut culture. Slim sees gun ownership and the firing of automatic weapons as a God-given right via the Constitution. He can't laugh at this because he'll be laughing at some of his own deeply-head beliefs.

Are there conservative satirists? P.J. O'Rourke comes to mind. He pokes fun at me and my fellow Liberals and I admit it gets under my skin sometimes but it is funny. Tom Wolfe made hay satirizing the hippie culture, the Black Panthers and the New Left back in the 60s and 70s. Ann Coulter is too heavy-handed to be an effective satirist, but sometimes I've found humor in her Liberal-baiting columns.

There must be some contemporary conservative satirists I haven't read because, frankly, I'd rather poke fun at the other guy. That's my God-given right under the Constitution. However, if a person can't laugh at himself, well.... that's really absurd.