Monday, June 25, 2012

The Feds Versus Tombstone

This story is unbelievably like the plot of a classic Western movie, but it's all true.

New York Times

With Wild West Spirit, Tombstone Fights for Its Water

Published: June 23, 2012

TOMBSTONE, Ariz. — The rules were clear: no vehicles and no heavy machinery on the mountainside spot ravaged by fire and rain. Fixing the PVC pipe that carries water from a spring in the Coronado National Forest to this old frontier boomtown, the United States Forest Service decreed, would have to be done by hand. The volunteer posse is known as the Tombstone Shovel Brigade.

The town was once the setting of legendary gunfights between ragged bands of outlaws and lawmen — sometimes difficult to distinguish from one another, but that’s Tombstone for you. Now, this tourism outpost of dusty streets and restored saloons is waging a modern-day fight against an enemy its people say is just as threatening as the bad guys of the past: the federal government.

A colorful posse of volunteers from right here, and also from other places near and far, departed in a caravan one recent morning to make the repairs and prove a point. There were men with long beards and handlebar mustaches, men in cowboy boots and roughed-up hiking shoes. There was a city commissioner from Elko, Nev.; a state legislator from Utah; a rancher from Truth or Consequences, N.M.; and a Republican Congressional candidate from Arizona who is running to represent a district that is not Tombstone’s.

“Big government has underestimated this city,” said Mike Smith, president of the local Legion Riders, a motorcycle group, who took to the mountain in jeans and a leather vest. “They thought we might abandon the whole thing when they made it so difficult, but this is not the way Tombstone operates.”

Tombstone’s water system is as old as the city itself, and most of the parts that are functioning, which are few, were damaged last year by rocks and trees dragged downhill by runoff from the summer monsoons. The city set out to repair the system’s connections to three of the 25 springs to which it claims to have a right; connections to the other springs are inoperable or nonexistent.

Local officials were under the impression that a state of emergency declared because of a wildfire that came before the rains would make things easy. But after weighing the city’s predicament and the precarious state of the forest and its wildlife, Jim M. Upchurch, the forest supervisor at Coronado, issued a split decision: bulldozers and tractors would be allowed in the lowest of the damaged areas to move truck-size boulders that had crashed onto the pipe, but they could not be used elsewhere.

“We think there are other options to protecting your water source without being so disruptive on the environment,” Mr. Upchurch said as he hiked Miller Canyon, where the repairs were under way.

Near the work site, Grizz Mace, a volunteer who works as a blacksmith at the O.K. Corral, the site of the infamous 1881 gunfight and its daily re-enactment, put it bluntly. “Back when this was the land of the free, you could go down into the forest, cut it down and burn it for firewood,” he said. “Now you’ve got to ask the government.”

The underlying point of contention is an Old West conundrum: who has authority over water that flows from federal land?

Tombstone has roughly 1,500 residents, but up to 20,000 people could be walking its streets at any given moment, lured by its family-friendly Wild West feel, a sort of amusement park where characters carry guns (fake and otherwise). It gets its water from three wells, though two of them are not being used because arsenic has been found in their water, and the mountain springs.

For a “wooden town in the middle of the desert, in the middle of a drought,” access to water is a matter of survival, as Ken Ivory, the legislator from Utah, put it.

The city’s manager, George Barnes, said the springs that are now feeding the system do not supply enough water to safeguard the historic wooden structures that make up most of the homes, businesses and attractions here. He has asked fire departments in all surrounding towns to keep their tankers full and at the city’s disposal, just in case, and he has asked residents to give their plants just enough water to keep them alive.

“We did bite the bullet and filled the swimming pool because that’s about all the kids who live here have during the summer,” Mr. Barnes said.

The volunteer posse, known as the Tombstone Shovel Brigade, worked in teams, leaving from the base of Miller Canyon in half-hour intervals.

Dick Hengl, 74, from Green Valley, 94 miles west of here, lugged a cut saw on his shoulder, panting as he trudged through two miles of steep, rocky ground. The rancher from New Mexico, Mike Skidmore, 71, hauled a coupling to help seal a section of the pipe that had been leaking.

A packhorse carried bananas, water and nutrition bars, bought with donations mailed from all over — $5 and $10 mostly, but a $500 check came from Alabama. Supporters, alerted through social media and a Web site, also sent shovels, some of which still bore postage marks from their points of origin: Colville, Wash.; Camp Hill, Pa.; Tucson.

“If the government can do this to Tombstone, they can do it anyplace else in this country,” Mr. Skidmore said.

Kevin Rudd, project manager for the Tombstone pipeline, thanked “all Americans volunteering their time to do the right thing,” then issued marching orders. “Let’s move all the stuff from here,” he said, pointing at a gash in the earth filled by rocks, “and let’s use it to make a wall right along the pipe.”

The heavy rains will come, as they come every summer to the desert. The repairs, Mr. Rudd said, will bring temporary relief to Tombstone, “the town too tough to die.”

The ultimate goal is to get the connections to all 25 springs up and running, something that the Forest Service has opposed and that is the subject of litigation now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Goldwater Institute, a libertarian research group in Phoenix, has taken on the case, arguing that keeping Tombstone from accessing the water is a violation of the 10th Amendment, which reserves to the states powers not explicitly granted to the federal government.

“We’re not asking to build a superhighway, or to cut a path where there has never been a path,” Nick Dranias, the institute’s director of policy development and constitutional government, said in an interview. “We just want to be left alone to repair and restore fully the water system that Tombstone is entitled to maintain.”

We've known for some time that the federal govt. just plain doesn't like Arizona. Maybe our gun-control laws -- or lack thereof -- have something to do with it. Or maybe it's because our population just doesn't behave the way the official social scientists expect it to, and that worries the politicians.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cats, Slaves and Jefferson's Dream

Raising cats all these years, I've noticed something interesting about their behavior.

House-cats (common felis domesticus) are not really solitary creatures; they do have forms of society. In Nature, normally each adult individual will go out and establish a personal territory -- a hunting-ground, sufficient to feed him/herself, which also contains a safe den and its immediate den-yard. This is remarkably similar to a human's ranch or farm, farm/ranch-house, and farm-yard. The territories are normally staggered between the male's and the female's; that is, one female's territory will overlap those of two to four males, and vice-versa. This gives each female a good selection of males at mating-time, and the same for the males. The cats will then treat each other with a noticeable social equality. It's a neat, workable system.

However, when there's a large, reliable and centralized food-source -- such as a human with several bowls and lots of cat-food -- cats will form a different sort of society. When forced, by the food-supply, into this sort of communal society, the animals will form social hierarchies -- complete with the politics thereof. The males will form a hierarchy that depends on which tomcat can beat up all the others, and which tom-cat can beat up the next-biggest number of others, and so on. The females will form a more complicated hierarchy, one that depends not only on which female can beat up the others, but also on which female is pregnant or nursing; a nursing female automatically goes to the top of the hierarchy, with the toughest female taking second place, and so on. I've noticed that the hierarchy becomes obvious when the food is spread out for the group. The other cats will hang back until the top cat comes up, takes at least one ritual bite of the food, pronounces it good, and then withdraws -- whereupon the other cats will line up at the food-dish in order of rank. If the top-cat pronounces the food "not good" -- usually by taking a bite or sniff, then backing off and kicking dirt over it -- then the other cats won't touch it. Again, we can see similarities here to human societies.

In short, where each individual has his/her own territory that can provide for his/her survival, there is social equality. Where a population is dependent on a central food-source/territory, hierarchies (and politics) form.

No less a philosopher than Thomas Jefferson noticed something similar among human societies of his day, and remarked on it in his various writings. This is why, as President, he sent Lewis and Clark off to explore the "wilderness" in hopes of finding lots of potential farmland. This is also why he passed the Homesteading Act. His dream was to create a society where every individual had his/her own "territory" -- enough land to support his/her own family on his/her own labor, without dependence on somebody else. In his day there was enough unoccupied land that, he assumed, Americans would always have home-territories and be independent; all Americans would be "yeomen", and there would be no aristocracy -- and, hopefully, no more slaves. That was Jefferson's dream, and he tried hard to make it work.

It did work, after a fashion, for about a century. Then (once slavery was abolished, causing a shortage of cheap labor), wide-open (and encouraged) immigration, improved medicine that severely reduced infant mortality, and a social penchant for large numbers of children caused a population boom that nobody at the time could have foreseen. That's why today we have a national population of at least (the Census Department will freely tell you that they miss roughly 15%) 310 million, which is straining our natural and social resources.

That's why today most of our population is piled up in large cities, living in rental housing, owning no land, dependent on jobs provided by other people, and arranged in social hierarchies varying from the infamous 1% Super-Rich down to the desperately poor -- whose labor is about as cheap as that of slaves. I don't think this happened entirely by accident. There always were people who wanted to be aristocrats, and who hated Jefferson's Dream.

There have always been people who hate cats, too.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Shameless Plug

Hey guys! My long-awaited Pagan CD, "Avalon is Risen", is finally back from the duplicators and is now shipping as of today. If you like my music, buy this CD! Pagan or not, you'll find songs that you'll love -- and the recordings are definitely some of the best I've ever made. The publisher is also offering a 25% discount on their other filk CDs purchased along with this album, valid through 6/15.

You can listen to and buy the album at:

Check it out!

Seriously, team, I just got my contributor's copies today, and I'm just drooling over the splendid job that Eli and Kristoph did on this. I don't think my voice and guitar have ever sounded better on any recording I've done, and that's not counting the really lovely back-up tracks. I'm just purring over how good it sounds.

And then there's the rare bit of luck, getting Bradley Schenk to do the artwork. If anybody remembers the original tape-casette album of "Cold Iron", and the songbook that was made from it, Bradley did the artwork on that, too. I've never seen anyone like him for doing Celtic knotwork, and in full color, yet.

About the songs: okay, this was originally going to be the CD reissue of my old Pagan/Fantasy tape-casette album, "Chickasaw Mountain", but some of the songs on the old album were Misty Lackey poems that I'd put music to, and Misty has been getting cranky in recent years about her old collaborations. We probably could have gotten mandatory mechanical licenses for them, but rather than deal with the whole legal hassle, we decided to drop them and add some new songs. Since that meant a technically different album, we gave it a new name and a lot of different arrangements. Personally, I think this made the album a helluva lot better. Well, when sh!t happens, make fertilizer and plant crops.

To all you fans who were disappointed when I didn't have this album for PantheaCon, it's here at last. Yes, in another month or two it'll be available through Random Factors and Ancient Ways, but right now you can get the discount by ordering it through Prometheus Music. Such a deal you don't get every day!

As to how magically effective these songs are, I've made note of the ones that can be used for such purposes. Hopefully, if this album sells well, we can go on to make the next two that we have planned: "Missa Paganus" and "Real Magic", about which more later.


--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Friday, June 1, 2012

Long-Term Smokers Have Reduced Risk of Parkinson's

Here's an article a friend sent me awhile ago. In view of the current news about tobacco-industry lobbying, I think it deserves consideration. IMHO, the executives of the tobacco companies are terminally stupid for not doing their own scientific studies right from the start.

<(March 11) -- In the heyday of cigarette smoking, a pack a day was "just what the doctor ordered." Of course, the purported health benefits of smoking have been largely debunked, and cigarettes today are associated with serious health hazards. But smoking may still have at least one advantage: protection against the development of Parkinson's disease. A large-scale study published in Wednesday's online edition of the journal Neurology further bolsters the connection and concludes that the longer you smoke, the less likely you are to develop the illness. In 2007, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed 11 separate studies and concluded that cigarette smoking protected against Parkinson's but that benefits waned once a smoker quit. But the effect was a strong one: Smokers were 73 percent less likely to suffer from Parkinson's than those who'd never lit up. The latest study, while showing less dramatic results, offers a larger sample of subjects and could yield new clues about the mechanism by which cigarettes improve the brain's resiliency to Parkinson's. A team at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences examined 305,000 men and women over age 50. At a 10-year follow-up, half of 1 percent of the study's participants had developed Parkinson's. More years of smoking were associated with less risk. Those who smoked for less than a decade had a 4 percent lower risk than nonsmokers, compared with a 41 percent reduced risk among participants who'd been lighting up daily for more than 30 years. The number of cigarettes smoked didn't appear to have any effect. The study's lead researcher, Dr. Honglei Chen, said he doesn't foresee tobacco or other cigarette ingredients being considered as potential treatments for Parkinson's. But the information "could guide the development of studies on various tobacco components ... to help understand the relationship between smoking and Parkinson's disease," he told Health Day. Further research could determine which chemicals are responsible for bolstering the brain against the illness, which targets the central nervous system and causes dozens of symptoms, of which physical tremors are the most obvious. The cause of Parkinson's still eludes researchers, but some suspect exposure to environmental toxins is to blame. One study of 143,000 adults concluded that those who'd been exposed to heavy doses of pesticides were 70 percent more likely to develop the disease. The new research is good news for ongoing efforts to better understand Parkinson's disease. But the cons of smoking still outweigh the pros, so the study's authors are advising against lighting up as a preventive measure. Filed under: Nation, Health>

...Y'know, I can make a suggestion to those researchers. Remember what I said in an earlier post about nicotine turning into nicotinic acid when it's oxydized/burned? *Sigh* What annoys me about modern scientific research is that not only does the left hand not know what the right hand doeth, but the thumb isn't sure what the fingers are up to.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(