Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wyoming Democrats respond

The Wyoming Democratic Party is fighting back in a timely manner, which I appreciate.

We are outnumbered by Republicans. That is true and will remain true in the foreseeable future. But that doesn't mean we should be relegated to a position of Repub Lite.

Dem Party Chief Robin Van Ausdall was on the front of Friday's Wyoming Tribune-Eagle urging Dems not to cross over in the Aug. 19 primary and vote for one-time moderate Gov. Matt Mead in his race vs. Tea Party loony Taylor Haynes and partially dismissed Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.

How did crossing over work for us in 2010?

WyoDems' communications director Javier Gamboa (right) with fellow Dems at Cheyenne Day house party (from left): Rep. Mary Throne, Senate District 9 candidate Dameione Cameron and activist Chris Shay. A good time was had by all, Dems, Repubs, Indies and even those who don't give a damn and just want to stomp and holler.

Taylor Haynes was all over social media on Friday slamming the Dream Act and Obama's immigration policy. Haynes doesn't like those nogoodnik immigrants. So Wyoming Democratic Party Communications Director Javier Gamboa wrote a response which I would share with you here except that my cut-and-paste tool is not working. This always saves me a lot of work actually writing my own stuff. But go to this link and read Javier's response:

It's not easy being a Democrat in this very red state. But it begins to lose all meaning when, lacking our own candidates, we throw our weight (what there is of it) behind the most moderate Republican. Problem is, a so-called moderate Republican governor has to deal with a legislature increasingly composed of extremist conservatives. Lots of reasons for this, including decades of gerrymandering by Republicans. But the moderates, such as Cale Case from Fremont County, are leaving. Those who remain are being pulled further to the right. At least two rural social-issue moderates have died in the past year: Rep. Sue Wallis of Campbell County and Sen John Schiffer of Johnson County. Wallis was replaced by a right-winger who once wrote that people with AIDS should be rounded up and put in concentration camps.

I've never crossed over. It can be a useful tool but what's the point? I already know a number of Democrats who register as Republicans just so they have someone to vote for in the primary. That skews the number of registered Democrats. And those people tend to not get involved in progressive politics, some because they're afraid of losing their jobs and others because they have their own businesses and fear that being a visible D in an R world would kill the bottom line. We have to live in the real world. Wyoming, for the most part, may be a tolerant place, but that tolerance only goes so far. I've never been shot at or beat up walking neighborhoods for Dem candidates. But if looks could kill? I'd be dead a thousand times over.

I'm glad that the Democratic Party continues to speak up long and loud. Being visible is a form of resistance against the status quo. It's sad to think that we live in a place where just registering and voting as a Democrat can be a radical act.

Monday, July 21, 2014

James M. Cain: "The world's great literature is peopled by thorough-going heels"

James M. Cain was a member of the California school of hard-boiled fiction in the 1930s and 1940s. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were his contemporaries. But while Hammett and Chandler explored the world through private eyes, Cain looked at it from the P.O.V. of a working class woman called Mildred Pierce with a viper for a daughter, and a bored roadhouse wife who lures a poor sap into killing her husband. Cain found drama in the lives of regular folks.

Maybe that's why he likes short stories. He wrote the intro to For Men Only, a book of stories by (mostly) men and for men fighting in World War II. This is part of World Publishing's "Books in Wartime" series, thinner and smaller books in service to the war effort. The 70-year-old volume did its job admirably, only now coming aparts at the seams. It has a handwritten inscription on the inside cover: "Bill -- Xmas Greetings 1945 -- Peg-o." Peg-o had nice handwriting. Wonder where she and Bill are now? Did they get hitched, or was this just a literary wartime fling?

In the intro to the anthology, Cain praised the short story.
In one respect, not usually noted, it is greatly superior to the novel, or at any rate the American novel. It is one type of fiction that need not, to please the American taste, deal with heroes.Our national curse, if so perfect a land can have such a thing, is the "sympathetic" character.
Cain's main characters were not sympathetic. And when I think of memorable short stories, it's not "sympathetic" characters that stand out but ones rife with human foibles. Think of the misfit and the grandmother in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Raymond Carver's stories are populated with an assortment of deluded humans, such as the fishing buddies in "So Much Water so Close to Home." Annie Proulx's Wyoming stories are filled with the most arresting array of barflies and cowboys and real estate speculators. You don't want to hug a one. In my story "Roadkill," a World War II veteran is faced with a moral choice that may change his life for the good -- or it may not.

Cain concludes his intro:
The world's great literature is peopled by thorough-going heels, and in this book you will find a beautiful bevy of them, with scarce a character among them you would let in the front door. I hope you like them. I think they are swell.
I do. And they are.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Music and melodrama and politics mix during Cheyenne Frontier Days

We are up to our eyeballs in Cheyenne Frontier Days.

CFD is a 10-day extravaganza of parades, rodeo and nighttime concerts by big-names such as Lady Antebellum, John Mellencamp and up-and-comers Florida-Georgia Line. I read yesterday that attendance for concerts now surpasses that of the rodeo, and that the CFD folks are expanding the size of the stage and updating the electronics. In the 1970s, Johnny Cash pulled up to CFD with a pickup towing a trailer filled with mikes, amps and speakers. These days, Brad Paisley hauls his gear and people around in a caravan of buses and semis. That’s what these big arenas shows require.

Chris and I don’t plan of going to any concerts. As is the case with most Cheyennites, we do our share of volunteering during the week. Tonight we’re at the Cheyenne Old-Fashioned Melodrama, now in its 58th year at downtown’s Historic Atlas Theatre. I manage the house while Chris manages the box office. All the barkeeps and waitrons are volunteers, although they do get a few tips in the course of the night. All the players are volunteers, too, as is the backstage crew. It takes a lot of people to put on a show. But it’s fun, and it’s a tradition that brings in the crowds to see a totally locally written and produced event. The melodrama also is a major fund-raiser for the Cheyenne Little Theatre Players, our community theatre which puts on a dozen productions annually.  Come on out and see the melodrama tonight, “The Merchant of Vengeance.” Another classic tale written by Rory Mack and Brooks Reeves.

Amidst all the revelry, political campaigns are raging. Primaries are Aug. 19, just a month away. Chris and I walking neighborhoods for Senate District 9 candidate Dameione Cameron. Dameione is uncontested in the primary but has a Republican challenger in the general election. The incumbent has dropped out, leaving the field wide open. We’ve had some interesting conversations, including one with a Dem who was pissed off that Pres. Obama is not taking a stronger stance with Vladimir Putin. It’s rare that anyone won’t talk at all, although we have been excused quickly by some when they learn that DC is a Democrat. DC is a local attorney and businessman --- he and his partner Troy Rumpf run the Morris House Bistro – and his support comes from an alliance of Dems, Repubs and Indies. His district is mostly urban, or as urban as we get around here, so his support is younger, more non-partisan and more ethnically diverse than one usually sees in Wyoming. His campaign manager is Jordan, a young African-American from DC’s home state of South Carolina.

Will this be a good year for Dem candidates? Could be, as we have a record number of Dems running for the legislature and two solid challengers in the statewide offices of Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction. The past few years have not been good for education in Wyoming. The legislature and Gov. Mead vs. Cindy Hill. Hill is not running again for superintendent. Instead, she has chosen to go after Mead in the Gov’s race. She sat out the recent debate, which is smart, considering she tends to say dumb things in public. The third Repub candidate, Tea Party fave Taylor Haynes, also says dumb things in public. In the debate, he said we should open Yellowstone National Park to oil and gas drilling. He later walked back those comments, but those of us paying attention know he gears most of his public utterances for the “Don’t Tread on Me” crowd. Wyoming’s economy would almost disappear if the three million summer tourists took their money to Rocky Mountain National Park or Yosemite. Casper and Cody and Lander and Evanston all bill themselves as stops along the way to Yellowstone. So does Cheyenne.

So, when Dems go to the polls on Aug. 19, we won’t find much in the way of contested races. We can check a number of D boxes and then walk away, knowing we’ve done our duty. Four years ago, Dems talked about switching party affiliation on election day and voting for a moderate such as Mead instead of wind-eyed ultra-rightists such as Ron Micheli. It was a close contest. Political pundits said that Mead owed his office to Ds in the state, as he went on to handily beat the Democratic challenger. We didn’t get much for our efforts. So no switching this time. And we really mean it. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Death may come for the archbishop, but old books live on

Just finished reading Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. For some reason, I have a hardcover copy of the book's 23rd printing in 1930 by Alfred A. Knopf. I must have picked it up at a garage sale or possibly the annual library book sale. I have it stashed in my old book shelf with my other old books, such as For Men Only, a "Books in Wartime" collection of short stories from 1944 with an introduction by James M. Cain; a 1930 Nancy Drew novel, The Mystery at the Lilac Inn; and Marching Through Georgia, an 1895 account of Sherman's March through the South during the Civil War. None of them are collectible, as far as I know. Most are missing their jackets, and some appear to have been gnawed on my the family dog or maybe a bibliophile with a taste for old book glue.

Death Comes for the Archbishop smells like an old book. 80-year-old paper has a distinctive smell. Musty, earthy, blessed. The book's in good shape. It's lived in the Rocky Mountain West for most of its life. In 1943, it was owned by Besse Abbott Houghton. Her name in very nice script is written on the inside front cover. On the bottom left of that page, is a sticker for Stationery Books & Gifts, J.F. Collins, Inc., Santa Fe, N.M. Santa Fe, of course, is the site of most of the action in Archbishop. 

The book has a note at the end about the history of the typeface: "Old Style No. 31 composed on a page gives a subdued color and even texture which makes it easily and comfortably read." The typeface originated in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1870s. The book was written by a U.S. author, born in Virginia but is best known for her Nebraska roots. The book was manufactured in the U.S., "set up, electrotyped, printed and bound by the Plimpton Press, Norwood, Mass. Paper made by W.C. Hamilton & Sons, Miquon, Penn."

And the book's innards? Fine writing by Willa Cather. Not sure why she turned to the Catholic history of New Mexico after spending most of her professional life writing about the Scandinavian Protestants of western Nebraska. She respects her subjects and writes with heart and soul, which is what I expect from a Cather book. The author traveled often to Santa Fe, visiting fellow authors Witter Bynner and D.H. Lawrence and exploring area history. These days, this book by Red Cloud, Nebraska's favorite daughter, is one of the best known novels about Santa Fe. There's even a Willa Cather Room at the city's Inn of the Turquoise Bear. I'd like to stay in that room. I'm a literary tourist. Show me a hotel room named for an author and I'd like to stay in it.

Time to find another book. Old or new, it doesn't matter.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dems hold a cakewalk fund-raiser today in Cheyenne

When is the last time you participated in a cakewalk? Not the metaphorical kind, such as "Iraq will be a cakewalk," but the actual kind, in which you walk around in a circle while music plays and when the music stops and you land on the right number, you win a cake. Today's cakewalk is a fund-raiser for the Laramie County Democrats Grassroots Coalition. It will be held amongst all the beautiful growing things in Joe's Amazing Garden at 3626 Dover Road in Cheyenne. Be there between 2-4 p.m. this afternoon and wear your cakewalking shoes. The event also features a 50/50 raffle. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Welcome to the West's wet years

This is one of those wet years that our great-grandfathers told us about. You know, "rain follows the plow" so why not plow up 320 acres of high plains prairie and just sit back and watch the heavens unleash its nourishing rain.

It's foggy when I awake this morning. Cool. Dew on the grass and on the car window. Reminds me of a central Florida July morning. Air so filled with moisture it's like walking through a cloud. Can still smell last night's rain. My plants, shredded in a June hailstorm, are roaring back. They're sucking in that moisture like there's no tomorrow because there may not be.

One-hundred years ago, settlers to the semi-arid West found awoke to similar mornings. "Dang, ol' Charles Dana Wilber sure was right about rain following the plow. Bumper crop this year!

And maybe the following year and the one after that. But, inevitably, nature's reality came calling in the form of the Dirty Thirties. The episode was beautifully told by Jonathan Raban in his book, Bad Land: An American Romance. Abandoned farms and ranches can still be found throughout the eastern expanses of MT, WY and CO. Ruined dreams live on in bitter memories that link giant corporations (railroads) and government with broken promises.

WY Gov. Matt Mead recently used the old excuse in blocking Medicaid expansion. We can't trust the federal government to pick up its share of the bill. Can't trust the gubment! Scientists say that global warming will increase the severity of droughts and of seasonal storms -- more blizzards and worse droughts. But 100 years ago, didn't scientists say that rain would follow the plow? Climatologists and meteorologists did say that very thing. So why should we trust them now?

History's a bitch. In 1914, German and Brit and French 18-year-olds were told that honor required them to confront barbed wire and poison gas and machine guns. Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori. The lost generation -- literally and metaphorically. My generation is still haunted by Vietnam. Our government wanted to kill us all pursuing a doomed policy. The "big lie" lived on during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

How do you overcome perceptions lodged in our DNA?

Meanwhile, the rain falls and the fog rolls in. That semi-arid prairie is as green as the Irish countryside.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sunday morning round-up

Half-awake on a January morning, I hear a lawnmower and think of summer. Then I'm fully awake and realize that my neighbor is clearing the ten inches of overnight snow with his snowblower.  The warmth of summer stays with me until I throw off the covers and begin the process of going to work on a winter morning. Certain sounds can recreate a July day. The whine of a lawnmower. The rumble as my neighbor Mike starts up his Harley. The hum of traffic from I-25 when a west wind blows. The shrieks of children playing. The drone of a small plane as it takes off from our neighbor, the airport. Dogs bark, doves coo. Late at night, I can hear that lonesome train whistle blow. The windows are wide open (no air conditioning) and the world comes in.

Javier Gamboa, Wyoming Democratic Party communications manager, wrote a thoughtful Fourth of July essay about his undocumented status and why immigration reform is crucial. It's one thing to stand on a Murrieta, California, road and yell epithets at Salvadoran children. It's yet another to actually know and work with someone who travelled the same hard road. Javier was 11 when he came to Wyoming from Mexico. He learned the language, graduated from high school and UW and now criss-crosses the state on behalf of Dem candidates. Read Javier's essay here. And then e-mail Rep. Cynthia Lummis and demand that she and her fellow Know Nothings get their butts in gear on immigration.   

So glad that I had a chance to see 1776 the movie on TCM Friday afternoon. I sat down with a turkey sandwich and switched on the tube, wondering if there wasn't some quirky, melodramatic 1940s film to pass the time between bites. Instead I got 1776, which I'd never seen, not on the stage nor on the screen. The film was released in 1972, when I was 21. Those hot and argumentative days of 1776 in Philly seemed a long way from those hot and argumentative days of summer 1972. Forty-some years later, the heat and the arguments only seem to be getting worse. But that's American history. Heat and light, substance and folly -- it's all there, if you only know where to look. Don't bother with school textbooks. All the life has been squeezed out of the stories you read about in fourth grade. Right-wing zeolots want to turn our founding fathers into cardboard saints. We lefties treat them as dysfunctional parents. In 1776, we see Franklin and Adams and Jefferson as humans. That was refreshing in its day and still is. Here's a Popwatch columnist writing about ten reasons to watch 1776 in 2014.

A final Fourth of July weekend note.... my garden, decimated by hail two weeks ago, is showing signs of recovery. My Homeslice tomato plant was sliced up by marbles of ice. One lone stem with one lone leaf  remained, but now another is growing out below. My Early Girl tomato is blooming and has at least one tiny green tomato showing. The season has been delayed but with a little TLC and a lot less hail, I will have veggies yet.