Archive for January, 2014

  • Blog
  • January 27th, 2014

All The News That Isn’t

By Joel M. Vance

The Middle East is in turmoil, so what else is new?  Egypt, land of the Pharoahs and the logo for Camel cigarettes, is seething with violence, Syria Is as dysfunctional as the United States Congress, every other African nation is involved in genocide and even Thailand, home of Anna and the King of Siam, is full of yelling, rock throwing malcontents.  Sounds like the U.S. in the 1960s or the Tea Party in the 2000s.

So it’s nice to know that some news items don’t involve bloodshed.  In fact from my grumpy old standpoint they’re downright funny.

Justin Bieber, the adenoidal poster child for arrested development, is being sued for throwing eggs at the home of a neighbor.  Kids used to TP the trees of a neighbor or, before that, tip over outhouses, but we live in an age of progress.  Oh, yeah, Bieber also is charged with DUI for racing his Lamborghini against a Porsche.  A teenager with a $250,000 car.  Back in Keytesville High School, one boy had a car—a Model A.  So I’m old and cranky. So sue me.

We can only hope that the combined legal problems will make the Bieber but a memory.  Justin Bieber, no matter  how fluttery he makes the hormones of developing girls, is a spoiled brat who would benefit from the paddle that our school superintendent, Mr. Sadler, kept behind his desk.  And no one in our high school drove a Lamborghini.  Most of the farm kids were far more comfortable with a John Deere tractor.  Furthermore, the kid with the Model A got drunk one night and turned it over on Main Street and ran all the way home (three miles) apparently not realizing that the authorities could figure out who owned the abandoned Model A.

When you get as old as I am (God was still in grad school), you remember when teenage heartthrobs were more of a phenomenon and less of a public menace.  Frank Sinatra, who weighed about twelve pounds as a young adult, had girls fainting in the audience when he crooned.  I’m pretty sure he never threw an egg at anyone, although he did throw a few punches over the years.  When he sang, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” teenage girls broke out in hives.

Elvis likewise caused wet panties among the teenyboppers, but threw no eggs and opted for Cadillacs as opposed to the type of cars that make the Barrett-Jackson auto auction bidders drool like dogs confronted with a steak.  Elvis’s biggest affront to civic propriety was to undulate like a human python in the throes of squeezing a prey animal to death.  Frankie looked soulful; Elvis looked coked, but both essentially were harmless.

Teenage heartthrobs come and go, like mayflies, ephemeral and with only one imperative in their brief lives-to attract willing females for mating.  Mayflies get eaten by trout; heartthrobs get eaten by their fading talent.

Wasn’t long ago that Ricky Martin was the darling of the adolescent girls.  He turned out to be gay which cooled his relationship with the bobby sox crowd.  He did dance with George W. Bush who is not gay, just stupid.  I would have preferred to see him throw eggs at W, although Martin later did have a political epiphany and  gave W the finger, causing consternation among right wing gay people (assuming there are any).

Macaulay Culkin was the darling of the day school set with his “Home Alone” movies.  The movies were funny and he was cute in a wise-ass way, but he failed to make the teenage cut and now labors in obscurity where, one hopes, he will soon welcome the young Mr. Bieber.

Of course we all remember Leonardo DiCaprio (didn’t he drown in the North Atlantic?) because he not only hasn’t been arrested, he hasn’t thrown any eggs or laid any career-wise, and has become a responsible adult.  And he still throbs the heart of the ladies, albeit ones who now are housewives with college degrees.  So it’s not a given that Bieber will drop into well-deserved obscurity.  Maybe he’ll take up Shakespeare and become the next Olivier.  Check your pigs for wings.

Of course there is Britney Spears and her doppelganger Lindsey Lohan who between them could fill the pages of any given supermarket tabloid rag every week for a year.  They aren’t so much heartthrobs as they are heartaches for those who are responsible for them.  Where is Mr. Sadler’s paddle when it’s most needed?

Finally, in the sphere of news that must have originated from someone’s psychotic episode, a group called One Million Moms is braying for the Geico Insurance Company to pull an ad featuring  a Chester White pig named Maxwell who is featured on an apparent date with a good-looking girl. They say the ad promotes bestiality.  One Million Moms, a conservative Christian group, has taken time out from opposing gay rights and abortion to assail dating pigs.  Watch out, Porky, your ass is grass.

The American Family Association, of which the Moms are part, also claims credit for getting Chevrolet to pull a commercial in which the awful word “damn” appeared.  Children, the Moms/Family thundered, would be corrupted by hearing such Godless profanity as well as seeing a pig on a date with a wholesome white girl.  At least she wasn’t dating some black guy or a Jew or, God forbid, an A-rab! And, although I wasn’t about to rush down to the Chevy dealer and trade for a new Silverado, I’ll stick with our geriatric vehicle made by Asian people who once fought us in World War Two.  No credit to Chevy for caving in to these fusty fundamentalists who, in former times, would have been burning witches.

Geico is sticking with their pig and so will I.  Pigs after all are among the more intelligent of animals—certainly smarter than the Moms who are so offended by the thought of one dating their daughters.  I suspect Maxwell would have higher standards than to date one of those Bible banging bigots anyway.

What is scary, once you get through laughing and shaking your head, is that presumably the Moms have kids by definition, and those children will grow up with the same values as their constipated mothers.  One can only hope that One Million Dads are down at the Pig ‘n Whistle Tavern, sucking down a long neck or ten, just to get away from the old lady.

One young woman who, to judge from her photo is very nice looking and I suspect would be rated dateworthy by Maxwell , ranted on a web site, “ I hate that nasty pig. I would like to see him served up with an apple in his mouth rather than out on a date with a human woman. Bestiality is not only disgusting but also against the law and totally immoral.”  Apparently it’s okay to cannibalize Maxwell, the Geico pig, but don’t date him.

The same young woman later posted: “There is nothing funny about that pig. He is annoying and would look much better covered in BQ sauce and served up with some potato salad.”  She seems to have a food fixation and I’d suggest a juicy pulled pork sandwich to cool her jets.

Fundamentalist Christians have been responsible over the ages for the most egregious assaults on humankind this side of the Marquis de Sade.  Remember the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Ku Klux Klan, Hitler’s Final Solution?  Not that other religions are immune from horrendous attacks on those who don’t agree with their warped views of morality, but how do these cramped folks live with themselves?  Their rigid and self-righteous philosophy is so anti-Christian, at least as I understand the professed Christian belief in tolerance, peace and love, that I wonder if their Bible wasn’t written by the Devil as a cruel joke.

And their kids are the ultimate victims.  Like some virulent disease, the sickness of bigotry spreads from parent to child and only occasionally does the rest of the world see how warped these folks are.  It takes a dating pig to bring out the silliness where everyone can see and laugh at it.  But the rest of the time they spread their venom through more insidious crusades.

Meanwhile, this being an early morning rant, I think I’ll cook up some bacon and eggs.  Or maybe country ham.  Take that, Maxwell, you porcine makeout artist you!

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  • Blog
  • January 14th, 2014

Dam It Anyway!

By Joel M. Vance

You’ve heard the saying “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”?  The same could be said of the Corps of Engineers, only in reverse with the “taketh” part coming first.

Corps projects often have decimated both wildlife habitat and wildlife.  The famous cartoon by George Fisher in the Arkansas Gazette depicts a couple of Corps engineers, wearing badges reading “keep busy,” atop a bluff, presumably in Arkansas, watching earth movers below busily channelizing a stream.  “This is the way God would have done it,” says one, “if He’d had the money.”

Much of that project money no doubt went to “mitigation,” a euphemism for buying off critics by giving the outraged and dispossessed something allegedly of equal value.  What brought it home to me is a new book by Leland and Crystal Payton called “Damming the Osage.”  It’s a terrific job of reporting the history of one of the Midwest’s most controversial and contentious Corps Projects—Truman Dam on the state’s third largest river behind the Missouri and Mississippi (which have seen their own troubles with Corps tinkering).

On the one hand, Missouri and anglers/boaters got a 55,600-acre lake, highly popular and with good lake fishing.  On the other hand, it lost a river that once carried pioneer explorers like Zebulon Pike to the West.  On one hand Missouri got the economic benefits from a lake which unarguably generates more revenue than a river.  On the other hand, farmers lost their land; environmentalists lost their fight to stop the dam and the dam generated not only electric power for greedy folks, but also generated the largest fish kill in Missouri history (.

But the Corps giveth—in this case 58,133 acres of upland habitat, managed by the Conservation Department for the benefit of hunters and other wildlife benefits.  The Lord….er, the Corps giveth in hopes no one notices what got taken away.   The Corps also manages 50,000 acres for wildlife, including four wetland areas for duck hunting and a permit system for

The lake originally was named Kaysinger Bluff, but in view of the controversy over it, the PR types renamed it for Harry Truman, no doubt hoping that the former President’s increasing popularity would spill over into kind thoughts about a project which has a long string of problems ever since it finished in 1979, including fish kills, downstream flooding (it was built as a flood control dam), dispossessed landowners and destruction of all known spawning grounds for paddlefish, a highly popular trophy fish.

Fortunately fisheries managers at the Conservation Department developed a way to hatch paddlefish and save the fishery by stocking, but it was a near thing.   The dam took more than a decade because of lawsuits and some finagling that at times sounds like a political thriller.  All is documented in the Payton book which has been gathering awards since publication.  The Paytons have a number of other books that they enjoyed writing, but not this one which is far too close to home (Leland Payton was a leader in the losing fight to stop the dam).

The conservation lands around Truman have some of the best quail hunting in the state, not to mention deer, turkeys and other game.  The lake itself is popular with duck hunters who pick a point on the jagged shoreline (950 miles of it) and set up decoys.  The lake still is a lake, not a stream, and you never heard of a lake creating floods, fish kills and otherwise being antisocial.  On the other hand, a river is a living thing, ever restless, ever creative.  Mess with it at  your peril.

Dams are man’s often pitiful attempt to shape nature and often they have unexpected and unwelcome outcomes.  The Corps drowns thousands of acres, booting landowners off property that has been in the family for generations, drowning archeological treasures, destroying wildlife habitat.  But you get “mitigation” acres to make you feel real good.

The era of big dam projects likely is over and perhaps the Corps will return to its original mission of clearing snags out of the Mississippi River.  Or it could work to restore the Missouri River to a semblance of its original course, especially in the 500 miles through Missouri where the river has been channelized to a nine-foot depth by wing dikes and other channel structures.

In 1993 the Missouri went on an epic rampage, washing out levees along its length and making a mockery of a century of channel work.  In the aftermath of the flood landowners who decided to give up the fight against a river that always wins sold out to the Fish and  Wildlife Service and the Missouri Conservation Department to create the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge and a series of conservation areas open to hunters and anglers.

Once there was a proposal  to build two dams in the Grand Canyon.  The twin powerhouse combination of Western congressmen and their federal government clout plus greedy corporate interests already had built Glen Canyon Dam which created Lake Powell and flooded one of the most beautiful canyons on the face of the earth.   The dam came very close to failing in 1983 when a record snowmelt caused Lake Powell to rise very near overtopping the dam and destroying the spillways.

Had Glen Canyon failed, the resultant flood would have been catastrophic.  It likely would have overwhelmed Hoover Dam, putting out the lights in Las Vegas, and would have devastated California’s Imperial Valley, the state’s most important agricultural area.

Mitigation?  Boaters got a huge lake.  Hydropower flourished.  The only losers were Glen Canyon and those who cherished it, plus the Colorado River downstream of the dam which has seen ecological alteration from capricious water levels and the introduction of alien species like tamarisk trees.  The dam crisis is documented in a wonderful book “The Emerald Mile” by Kevin Fedarko.

Public outrage and pressure from the Sierra Club and other environmentalists stopped the Canyon Dams.  While it wasn’t the Corps who would have been behind the dams, the idea was the same—destruction of a priceless outdoor resource.  How do you mitigate the loss of the Grand Canyon?

The Sierra Club had a history dating back a century in a dam fight—the Hetch Hetchy dam on California’s Tuolumne River, built as a response to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to provide the city with drinking water and, presumably, to fight fires when the next earthquake struck.  The dam flooded nearly 2,000 acres, some of which is within Yosemite National Park and was a glorious natural area.   A hundred years later there’s an ongoing fight to breech the dam and restore the valley to its original state, but that’s unlikely ever to happen.  As for mitigation, how do you compensate for the loss of a priceless natural resource?  Quick answer:  you don’t any more than you would compensate for the loss of the Mona Lisa with a kindergartner’s drawing of a cat.

And if the last sage grouse or lesser prairie chicken flushes into oblivion because of pressure from oil and gas development or construction of the Keystone Pipeline, how do you mitigate their loss?  What’s the pricetag for extinction these days?

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  • Blog
  • January 5th, 2014

Long Eared Horses

By Joel M. Vance

I have a thing for mules and I like to think they have a thing for me.  But who can tell with a mule?  They look like a horse, but a trained horse does what you tell it to do while a mule, trained or not, operates on mulesense.

Portrait of Andy Mule

Portrait of Andy Mule

I’ve been aboard mules when they ignored instructions from the wrangler and did what their innate commonsense told them to do.  Once in the Black Hills of Wyoming on a horse packing trip the wrangler led the horse string down a steep slope, sliding and struggling, across a small stream.

Andy, the mule assigned to me because I looked like a mule guy ( he was the only mule in a remuda of 26 animals) looked at his equine kin stumbling along, shook his long ears, and veered left, along a dim trail, probably created by previous mules, and used a shallow decline, no slipping or sliding.  We rejoined the horse string and Andy resumed his contemplation of the unfathomable stupidity of his fellow equines.

As most know a mule is a hybrid animal, a cross between a female horse (mare) and a male donkey (cross a stallion with a female donkey and you get a hinny).  The result is a creature with a horselike body, but a donkey face…and one that is almost always sterile.  Female mules are jennies; males are jacks.  The only sure way to get more mules is by crossbreeding horses and donkeys, but the occasional mule has more on his mind than his next bale of hay and the equipment to do something about it.

It may pain groupies of King Arthur and his noble knights to discover that, rather than riding noble steeds of the horse persuasion, knights of the era preferred mules because they are bigger and stronger than horses and it takes a big animal to tote a fully-clad knight.  They also have more endurance for those long rides of conquest.

There is a reason outfitters chose mules to transport folks from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top.  They are far less likely than a horse to step off a thousand-foot drop.  They don’t spook at imaginary ghosts and they get to the top with energy left over.

Ridin' Andy

Ridin’ Andy

I rode a mule laughingly named Ol’ Streak out of the Canyon, a five-hour trip on a trail that looked to me too narrow for obese tomcats.  The wrangler, a petite woman, was riding a Missouri jumping mule.   That’s not a breed; it’s an attribute.  Missourians have developed a strain of mules to ride to hounds, usually after coyotes which tend to go long distances in straight lines.  Long distances in Missouri inevitably means a barbed wire fence and the riders have trained their athletic mules to jump them.

It’s not genteel riding to hounds, with a scarlet-coated rider sharing leaps over fences.  Instead the mule rider dismounts, drapes a protective cover over the top wire, and the mule obediently leaps the fence.  Jumping mules have been known to leap nearly six feet high, so a four-foot fence is no challenge.

“Since this is a jumping mule,” I asked the wrangler, “don’t you worry that it’ll look into the Canyon and decide to make history with the longest mule jump ever?”

“Mules are smarter than that,” she said.  “My mule does like to stand on the edge and look down, though.”  So, I found, did all the mules.  “Don’t face them in,” the wrangler said. “A mule will never walk off the edge.  A horse might.  So face the mule over the edge.  They like to see the scenery.  But if you face him toward the inside he just might back off.”

So my mule faced out and enjoyed the glory of the Canyon, while Joel  Vance, an acrophobic shambles, kept his eyes tightly shut and prayed that, like the guy flying me in an airplane, my pilot would make a safe landing on top of the Canyon, not the bottom.

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