Witch-hunt

Donald Trump calls Bob Mueller’s report and Congressional impeachment inquiries “Witch-hunts.” Lest we be unsure about the term, by Trumping-up allegations regarding Hunter Biden our President provides a textbook example of a Witch-hunt.

Snow Globe

Mind is a snow globe, a crystal sphere with tiny people, animals, trees, houses inside.  Thoughts and feelings are snow flakes.

A child, I became obsessed with shaking my little globe, fascinated by the mini- blizzard, not realizing the swirling flakes make the people almost impossible to see.  So I build snow people, images of how I think others think, feel, believe, even I suspect, look.

I continue to shake, plan, scheme, worry, to build snow people.  What if I stopped?  If I allowed the snowflakes to settle, what would I see?

I’m told if I stopped creating my blizzard, let the flake settle, if I’d just sit and look, really look, I’d see others, and myself, as we really are.  Even in knee-deep drifts, snow on our heads, flakes on our noses, we’re all perfect just as we are.  No need for snow people.

The Crick

June 15, 1906, the night Mama was born, a Biddlecome girl drowned in Ferron Creek.  Mr. Biddlecome’s wagon was caught in a flash flood.

After finding the body, the searchers stopped at Grandpa’s cabin near the mouth of the canyon.  His daughter’s birth became wallpaper where the image of an alabaster body with hair fanned like a raven’s wings on a wagon’s floorboards hung like a gilt framed daguerreotype in Grandpa’s memory.

Ferron, Utah, owes its name to U.S. Deputy Land Surveyor A.D. Ferron, its settlement to Mormon faithful sent by Brigham Young to colonize a half-dozen, what many would call “God forsaken” outposts, on the east flank of a southern tip of Wasatch Range.  Ferron owes its existence to that slim green artery meandering among sandstone cliffs and clay hills.  Apart from an atmosphere, without water human survival here  is no different than on the gray landscape where Neil Armstrong took his “great leap for mankind.”

Most times Ferron creek meanders among sandbars, swirls around fallen tree trunks and limbs and pauses in pools barely large enough for suckers and minnows.  But once or twice in summer the northerly jet stream swings south pushing Pacific clouds over southern California and north.  When dark clouds bank up against Big Mountain, thunder reverberates down Ferron canyon and locals know a flash flood is coming.

If ten square miles catches a third of its annual rainfall in thirty minutes clay hills shed water like a duck’s back.  Raindrops form trickles and trickles grow to streams pushing eleven months’ leaves, twigs, branches, tree trunks, mud and rocks down the main canyon in a moving dam.  At the mouth of the canyon the six-foot tall morass surges over the creek banks in a flash flood!

To call a flash flood a “religious experience” is a stretch, but for me the first one came close.  With rain or snowmelt I expect a stream’s level to rise, slowly, sometimes quickly, never all at once.  First it’s a grumbling from upstream.  Then, under the cottonwood and willows branches or around a bend comes a rolling wall of debris.  An out-of-control display where men in straw hats pause beside half-loaded hay wagons and cat-skinners in hard hats throttle back to watch.

In summer I lived with Uncle Grant, the South Ditch Water Master.  When dark clouds banked up and thunder rumbled on Ferron Mountain, we’d drive to the head of the ditch to raise the “sand gate” so the flash flood would continue down the main creek, saving the South Ditch from being clogged when the debris dam rushed from the canyon.

Around age ten I became Keeper of the “Crick.”  After Daddy died Mama gave me his long-barreled, single-shot twenty-two.  In the coldest of winter I’d race home from school, grab my rifle, crawl through a barbed-wire fence and cross John Cook’s field to the Crick.

I knew every twist and bend, channel, sand bar, and pheasant roost.  I’d wriggle through secret rabbit runs under thickets of wild currant.  I checked out Louie’s cabin.  Epileptic and with one bad eye, Louie lived in a never-painted frame house at the crick bridge.  Built from scraps and driftwood with a clay bank for a back wall, Louie’s six-foot-square cabin was a cobbled-together affair with a small table, chair and  mud fireplace.  A hideout only a ten-year-old farm kid could appreciate.

Then, it was almost dark!  I had chores!  I’d leap the Crick, sprint across John Cook’s pasture, lean my twenty-two against the trunk of an apple tree and sneak to the woodpile to split kindling and fill coal buckets in the dark.

The Crick wasn’t about rabbit trails or Louie’s cabin.  It was about Being, here, now!  What you saw was what you got.  A dependable place where time stood still.  No agendas, no egos, no parents, no teachers!  On the Crick life made simple sense.  Even flash floods belonged.  Feelings I lost.

I wonder about my last day on the Crick.  I couldn’t realize how supremely significant turning my back on it for the last time was.  Then I sat behind Janet Jenkins in seventh grade math and suddenly a brown-eyed freckled-faced girl with a black ponytail became somehow  .  .  .   different?

Ferron has grown but hasn’t really changed much.  The biggest change is the Millsite dam where the creek’s backed into a reservoir.  There’s a marina, even a golf course.  Up at the mouth of the Canyon, where the Biddlecome girl drowned.

A New Deal

With appreciation for Habitat For Humanity and others, and despite an urgent need, more homes for the homeless and prisons for the less fortunate is dumping more dirt on a dam.  As the reservoir’s area and depth increase a higher dam is futile.  Someone needs to say, “Hey!  Where the hell is all this water coming from?  Grab a canoe.  Let’s paddle upstream and see.  Maybe we can ditch the water to agriculture, industry, cities.”

With over half its workforce in bread lines, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave America “The New Deal”, the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Projects Administration (WPA) its Crown Jewels.  In the CCCs, for three hots, a cot and a stipend young men were set to work building

bridges, roads, trails, fire lookout towers, airport landing fields, dams, ditches, canals, camp and picnic grounds, lakes and ponds; worked in tree and shrub nurseries, on insect and plant disease control; in fire prevention, rangeland, and steam improvement; stocking fish and assorted emergency work.*

Works Projects Administration (WPA) employees constructed over a half-million miles of roads

10,000 bridges, airports and housing, schools, libraries, courthouses, hospitals, sidewalks, waterworks, and post-offices  .  .  .  museums, swimming pools, parks, community centers, playgrounds, coliseums, markets, fairground, tennis courts, zoos, botanical gardens, auditoriums, waterfronts, city halls, gyms, and university unions.  Most of these are still in use today.

It’s Tennesse Valley Authority constructed dams for electrical power and irrigation.*

I’m surprised and heartened to learn It didn’t stop with sweat work.  Under “Federal Project Number One” the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in its Federal Writers’ Project, (FWP), Historical Records Survey (HRS), Federal Theater Project (FTP), Federal Music Project (FMP), and Federal Art Project (FAP).  How’s that ?  Government dollars for artsy, fartsy nonsense!  Anathema!

I enumerate The New Deal’s projects and accomplishment to demonstrate where there’s a will there’s work.  Not “make work,” significant, substantial work.

Could today’s America stomach a New Deal?  As I see it, government employing the homeless would face three roadblocks: Bureaucracy, Free Enterprise, able and willing workers.

With five hundred of America’s most inflated egos pushing, shoving, schmoozing, cajoling, wheeling-dealing, and threatening, it’s astonishing anything gets done in Washington D.C—Some argue it doesn’t.  Fact is, without a heavy-duty shove from “K Street” any hope that Congress would pass legislation to help the homeless, dispossessed and mentally ill makes a Megabucks ticket seem a reasonable bet.

Roadblock two: On any suggestion of Government hiring folks for work it is not and otherwise would not do would trigger shrieks of “Communism!”, “Meddling in the Free Market!” from Business.

Roadblock three: Despite our homeless tragedy, finding able and willing workers is a challenge.  Folks sleeping on sidewalks in tents and under tarps appear to fall in three groups: workers who’s jobs were shipped to China, Mexico or India or were sacrificed to financial profit, those who have never been employed, and the mentally ill.

A century back  America’s work ethic was dramatically different.  Most of those in nineteen twenty-nine bread lines had worked, knew how to work and wanted to work.  Likewise, most of today’s laid-off workers would grab any chance of a paycheck.

I hope it’s only my prejudice but many of today’s homeless appear to have grown up where few people held steady jobs.  For these folks, learning to crawl out to a five-thirty alarm and show up eight hours a day five days a week would seem to demand cradle-up retraining.  The means to break this cycle demands wisdom far beyond my poor power.

Confronting America’s mental illness crisis is, to the contrary, a no-brainer.  When Ronald Reagan knocked funding for Federal mental health treatment and research in the head, the mentally ill were shoved off a cliff and have never climbed back up.

In the end, fixing homelessness, its causes, implications and consequences is a choice, a matter of will, i.e. Public dollars.  Do we give tax breaks to the top five percent or invest in the ten percent who, through happenstance, can’t or wont work or suffer brain diseases equivalent to cancer?  For a pittance of what we spend on rockets, satellites and space stations, for putting men on the Moon and Rovers on Mars, for Cassini’s snapshots of Pluto we could at least attempt to ingrate the homeless into the workforce here on Earth.

The New Deal demonstrates where there’s as willingness to make the effort, to invest the dollars, to think out of the box, there is worthwhile work for the homeless and otherwise unemployed.  Can that century-old model be exporter into twenty-first century America?  Given today’s Politics, Business and, despite available bodies, the questionable nature of an able, willing Workforce, the prospect appears bleak.

In an arctic or temperate climate a roof overhead is essential.  By itself, more housing treats only the symptom, not the root issues.  More dirt on the dam allows the reservoit to grow larger and deeper.  Switching metaphors, housing by itself is a band aid on a growing abscess.

*Wikipedia

The Iron Horse

For folks accustomed to Percherons and Clydesdales pulling heavy loads, steam-powered locomotives were the “Iron Horse.”  Draft teams did not shoot black smoke from their ears nor steam from under hoof, but for those who experienced both, the metaphor worked.

Maybe once a year, Mama and Daddy squeezed little sister Judy and me onto a blanket covered wooden box behind the seat of a forty-one Chevy coupe.  After battling the serpentine, rutted, mud-holed “road” up Indian Canyon, over Daniel’s Summit, and down to Price, Daddy delivered his brood to Grandma’s house in Ferron.

On one jarring dusty adventure, I first experience a massive, black, steel stallion with black smoke blasting straight up, dark pony-tail trailing over a chain of cars, steam jets shrouding its great steel wheels, and the relentless, chug-chug-chug of steel pistons forcing steels rims over steel rails: my first Iron Horse!  We waved at the seeming out-of-place man, his arm resting on the sill of a tiny window, who reigned and braked the great metal animal.  He waved back, once grasping his hands overhead.  Daddy said, seeing human life along those lonesome tracks snaking from Duchesne to Helper, the man in the little window feel happy.

Fact was, he was not alone.  A Fireman stoked coal into the furnace.  And far back at the end the Iron Horse pulled a cabin on wheels, a caboose with a crows nest where a brakeman kept an eye on things from behind.  Think on being a brakeman, in winter, Topeka to Denver say, back there all alone all night.  Not much to  see, even in daylight.  A small, wood burning stove to keep warm.  No TV, no cell, no telephone.  No space to jog or walk.  Did he read or just sit and gaze at the prairie, wait six hours to hop down, set the brakes and wave his red lantern?  If each of us spent half-an-hour a day like a brakeman alone his little cabin, humankind would be better off.

Decades later, our Wasilla house was across the highway from the railroad.  On hearing that sound, baby Marty’s first words were, “Chu, chu.”  Karen would pick her up to wave at the man in the little window.  He’d wave back.

My first train ride was a nineteen-fifties analogue of First Class air, a “Streamliner,” the California Zephyr!  Teenagers, Stewart, Howard, Kent and I, boarded in Price before daylight.  With subdued lighting, etched-glass panels at each end of each car, plush seats, little water fountains with little paper cups, the Zephyr’s opulence remained unimagined across the poor, parched farm country of Emery County.

The passengers were sleeping.  Only the conductor was awake.  Conductors never slept.  Rumor had it Streamliner Conductors were not born.  They were assembled in railroad shops, complete with a black, pill-box cap, silver “Denver and Rio Grande” or “Santa Fe” above its short beak, back or dark-blue uniform, ticket-puncher in a leather case on their belt and the steely-eyed authority a Marine Drill Sergeant, a Conductor was shipped with each twenty-five passenger coaches.

The California Zephyr Conductor tolerated adolescent boys on his train with the forbearance of an Orkin Man finding under-the-sink roaches.

In ten minutes we stopped in Helper.  A rail junction at the mouth of Price Canyon, Helper was distinguished for its whorehouse and “helper” engines to pull coal laden gondolas to Soldier Summit where they coasted the hundred miles to U.S. Steel’s plant on Utah Lake.  A rhythmic click-a-click, click-a-click, click-a-click and whisper of steel wheels on steel rails under foot, we started up Price Canyon.   Swaying side-to-side, holding onto seat-back in a carnival-like ride, dodging the Conductor, we made uncalled-for trips through the cars to the water cooler and tiny restroom.  Then it was down Spanish Fork Canyon and on to equally exotic adventures in Salt Lake City.

Karen and I took Amtrak from Portland, Oregon, to the Gulf and New England.  For extra bucks, a tiny “sleeper” affords comfort.  Amtrak feels safe and stress-free.  In our sleeper, the dining or lounge car, day and night, we sat and watched America’s forest, fields, mountains, meadows, shacks, homes and downtowns pass.

Freeway traffic and mobs in airline terminals worry me.  What’s the rush?  Battling traffic Karen famously said, “Why are we in such a hurry?  We’re all going to the same place, and we’ll all get there.”  Life would better if more of us traveled by Amtrak.  The world would be better if, instead of cutting its funding, President Trump took a four-day Amtrak ride across his country.  I’d pay for a sleeper.

At the gym I met Walter, a retired locomotive engineer.  What a privilege!  Are they still called “Engineers”?  I’ll ask.  I guess anyone who operates an engine an engineer.  Walter tells me today’s freight trains, even the really long ones with engines in the middle or pushing behind, are operated by one little man—or maybe woman.  It’s odd how little different from the lonesome little man in the window of an Iron Horse over half-a-century back, except now no fireman, no brakeman.

We waved at the man at the little window of an Iron Horse.  Today I don’t.  I’d like to but today’s streamliners have a tinted engineer’s window high up front.  I can’t to see anyone inside.

With self-driving cars and trucks, self-driving locomotives must be slated.  Maybe they already are.  Will Walter’s gang follow Percheron and Clydesdale hostlers into the abyss of history?

Will it end there?  We have drone aircraft.  Self-flying airliners?  Would you fly Continental of Delta without a pilot?  Machines don’t have a “self,” which for me, means a mind, not necessarily a brain, but something making decisions based in human feelings, values and judgment.  I don’t trust “self-driving” anything.

We lost something important when we scrapped the Iron Horse for six-lane freeways, grid-lock and jumbo jets.   Engineers at their little windows, firemen and brakeman signified something hard to put in words.  When the last one retired or was canned, humankind lost something significant.

When we scrapped the last Iron Horse we scarped something important.  There was something good about rocking and swaying up Price canyon before daylight in the California Zephyr, the click-a-click, click-a-click, the whisper of steel wheels under foot, the robotic Conductor, the trees, utility poles, farms, homes and towns darting past windows.  As I’ve written before, now age eighty-two, I see what it was.

JUUL

Vaping is a Machiavellian assault on public health.  For me, it is impossible grasp the rationalization of non-sociopaths, inventing and marketing products intended to force toxic chemicals into human lungs.  A seeming absence of moral and ethical concern in those who aggressively markets such devices defies comprehension.

Of course, as always in the for-profit marketplace, it goes to the  “the bottom line,” the sine qua non, the sole goal of Capitalism: financial profit!  Anyone who denies this does not understand Capitalism, does not believe in Capitalism, or lies.  “Business ethics,” a definitive oxymoron: pointedly foolish.

Drugs—“dregs” from the bottom of the barrel—were here from the get-go.  Neanderthals had ‘em.  After tasting the odd leaf, berry or bug, if a caveman didn’t double up with cramps, puke or drop dead, it might became food or medicine.  Finding that certain organics and minerals alleviate physical pain and sometimes induce transcendent mental states, humankind tested and tweaked innumerable concoctions with scant concern for undesirable consequence.

As unfortunate and tragic outcomes became apparent, concerns for individual and communal health lead to monitoring, regulating and sometimes banning the use of certain products.  Today, science studies, tests and certifies “safe and effective” medicines.  The Federal Food and Drug Administration monitors and regulates what we eat, drink and ingest.  Medications are “prescribed” and dispensed by qualified professionals.

It doesn’t stop with food and drugs.  For the “common good,” from oil tankers to insecticides, air pollution to baby powder, canned corn to jet fuel we monitor and regulate.  We’re licensed to drive a vehicle or pilot an airplane.  We obey speed limits, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and stop signs.  The Occupational Health and Safety Administration protects workers from “on the job” injury or death.  The FAA assures aircraft don’t crash into mountains or each other.

Because we care about health and life we don’t build platforms on bridges and high-rise buildings to facilitate suicide! Knife makers don’t market “Wrist Slashers.” Restaurants don’t feature poisonous mushrooms.  And yet some entrepreneurs are free to create and market products potentially as destructive or lethal.

The vaping industry holds that using steam to introduce nicotine and other chemical into human lungs dodges the destructive impacts of tobacco smoke.  Trade hot toxic smoke for hot toxic vapor?  Now that’s progress!  With the burgeoning numbers of hospitalizations and deaths related to vaping, they argue that bootleg THC is the culprit.  No!  THC, no THC, it doesn’t matter.  It’s hot, toxic gasses in human lungs stupid!

Vaping is a game changer.  In our quest for food and potions, humankind groped through a dark forest, rarely guessing what waited around the next turn.  A Fairy Garden?  A Fire Belching Dragon?  Vaping followed a straight, paved, well-lit path to a door with a neon sign, “DANGER – Don’t go here!” above.  They went in, finding ER’s, hospital beds and funeral chapels.