Who gets to say what, wave what flag and have what mascot?

Obama radio interview

 “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

You can’t tell what is politically correct without a program, but who the hell has the program?

Several years ago I wrote an editorial for the Las Vegas newspaper excoriating the bowdlerized version of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” that was being published then, because it changed the nickname of the character Jim to “slave” instead of that racial slur used by Twain 219 times in the novel. To avoid the obvious hypocrisy I spelled out the word.

The then-publisher spiked it after the one black employee he could find said it was offensive. He didn’t edit out the “offensive” word, he spiked it. That was his privilege.

So in the same week that everyone is talking about removing “racist” symbols, such as state flags and university team mascots, following the killing of black churchgoers in South Carolina, Obama goes on the radio and uses that offensive term, while claiming that racism is in our DNA.

“And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public,” Obama said. “That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. We have — societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

A black Las Vegas Councilman and UNLV-alum Ricky Barlow was on KXNT this morning. He opposed doing away the UNLV mascot known as Hey Reb, which was illustrated by the late-newspaper artist Mike Miller and sold to the school for a dollar.

Symbols and words don’t spur people to kill, being crazy does. We can’t gag everyone and prohibit ideas and debate because a few people are nuts.

Miller and mascot

The Las Vegas Sun has a story online saying Harry Reid did not call for UNLV to drop the Rebel name and mascot. Who are going to believe? Harry or your lying ears?

The R-J story has the same spokesman quoted by the Sun denying the stance confirming the position.




Newspaper column: Drunk with power, feds coming for our water

There may not be sufficient documentation to prove that Mark Twain ever said, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over,” but Nevada ranchers and farmers are having to fight over water with two branches of their own federal government. It’s enough to drive one to drink, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

First, the Environmental Protection Agency rewrote the rules for the Clean Water Act in such a way that gives it authority over just about any stream, dry creek bed or backyard wading pool in the country, even though the law as originally written was meant to protect navigable interstate waterways from pollution.

As if grabbing a claim on every drop of water on the surface were not enough insult and injury, the U.S. Forest Service, a division of the Agriculture Department, has published a “Proposed Directive on Groundwater Resource Management” that would give it virtual veto power over the use of any aquifer remotely connected to any land under Forest Service jurisdiction.

The Western Governors Association has sent a letter to Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack challenging his agency’s authority to carry out this proposal and asking for answers to a number of questions. The letter, signed by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and others, notes Congress gave states sole authority over groundwater in the Desert Land Act of 1877 and the Supreme Court upheld this exclusive authority in a 1935 court case.

Among the questions posed by the governors are: “Given the legislative and legal context, what is the legal basis for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and USFS assertion of federal authority in the context of the Proposed Directive?” and “How will USFS ensure that the Proposed Directive will not infringe upon, abrogate, or in any way interfere with states’ exclusive authority to allocate and administer rights to the use of groundwater?”

Additionally, several Western congressmen — including Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District Rep. Mark Amodei — are attempting to insert language in a 2015 appropriations bill that would protect privately held water rights from federal takings. The language was drafted by Amodei and Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado. It passed the House in March as the Water Rights Protection Act. Putting the language in the appropriations bill increases the chances it will be signed into law.

Amodei noted that in recent years various federal land agencies have made a concerted push to acquire water rights, including cases in which land managers demanded that water users apply for their water rights under state law in the name of the agency rather than for themselves.

In another letter to Vilsack signed by Western congressional members, including Amodei and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller but no other member of the Nevada delegation, the secretary is told the proposal would impose “a chilling effect on existing and future water resource development and the uses dependent on that development not only within NFS lands but outside these lands.”

The feds already control 87 percent of Nevada land, now they are coming for the water, too. Some are putting up a fight.

Read the entire column at Ely or Elko.

Newspaper carries on Twain’s practice of just ‘Roughing It’ when it comes to the facts

For want of an editor the facts were mangled.

Down a few paragraphs in a 2B Review-Journal story today highlighting Pershing County and the state’s sesquicentennial is this highly appropriate passing reference to the founding father of Nevada’s notoriously capricious practice of journalism:

“Mark Twain found the living conditions worthwhile. He lived in a cabin in Unionville, formerly the county seat of Humboldt County before Pershing was established.

“It was there he penned his novel ‘Roughing It,’ a book about his travels through the rough and wild West.”

First, one, including Twain, who in 1861 while in Unionville still used his given name of Samuel Clemens, would hardly call the living conditions in Unionville worthwhile. “We built a small, rude cabin in the side of the crevice and roofed it with canvas, leaving a corner open to serve as a chimney, through which the cattle used to tumble occasionally, at night, and mash our furniture and interrupt our sleep,” Twain wrote in “Roughing It” 10 years later, while living in New England, a comfortable distance away in space and time. “It was very cold weather and fuel was scarce. Indians brought brush and bushes several miles on their backs; and when we could catch a laden Indian it was well — and when we could not (which was the rule, not the exception), we shivered and bore it.”

And those pebbles Clemens took for gold, they were “nothing but a lot of granite rubbish and nasty glittering mica that isn’t worth ten cents an acre!” Hardly worthwhile.

The book, published in 1872, was intended to capitalize on the success of “Innocents Abroad,” his humorously dyspeptic account of his travels across Europe and the Holy Land, and serve as a prequel, highlighting his earlier travels in Nevada and California. Though the book clearly contains more than a few embellishments and probable fabrications, most libraries still shelve it under nonfiction and not fiction.

Clemens did not adopt the pen name of Twain until 1863, when he covered the territorial legislature for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City.

This is supposed to be Mark Twain’s Unionville cabin, though that is not a canvas roof.

I still prefer to believe one biographer’s account of how Clemens derived his pseudonym rather than the version he stuck to throughout his life. This is how one newspaper account related it:

“According to Twain biographer Andrew Hoffman, Twain told people he took up the pseudonym after Capt. Isaiah Sellers died and no longer needed it for his own byline in the New Orleans newspapers. Among the problems with that story, according to Hoffman in ‘Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens,’ are that Sellers did not die until months after Clemens started using the byline, and no one can find the name being used in any newspaper prior to those Enterprise dispatches.

“Because newspapering is parching work for penurious pay, a more Nevada centric and less clean-cut explanation might be closer to the truth, which Twain was seldom averse to stretching.

“‘People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,’ writes Hoffman.”



Newspaper column: What it was like here 150 years ago

To mark Nevada’s 150 years of statehood, the Sesquicentennial Commission has created “a year-long series of festivities and educational events which will highlight our state’s rich cultural heritage …”

Yes, Nevada was Battle Born in the waning days of the bloody Civil War — Oct. 31, 1864. It played a significant role in an important period, helping determine that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

But we have little concept today of what daily life was like for those hardy Nevadans 150 years ago, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press. Luckily we can still get glimpses of the hardscrabble lives of those first Nevadans from their letters and memoirs and newspaper dispatches written in a tone so foreign to our 21st century ear.

Take, for instance, J. Ross Browne’s description of a Washoe Zephyr in 1864:

“It happened thus one night. The wind was blowing in terrific gusts. In the midst of the general clatter on the subject of croppings, bargains, and indications, down came our next neighbor’s house on the top of us with a terrific crash. For a moment it was difficult to tell which house was the ruin. Amid projecting and shivered planks, the flapping of canvas, and the howling of the wind, it really seemed as if chaos had come again.”

And when lives and limbs were not at jeopardy, livelihoods were. The Reese River Reveille in Austin in 1864 complained mightily about how the miners were treated by the trustees in far off San Francisco:

“The great complaint at San Francisco relative to Reese River mines, is that although they are rich, yet our people are too shiftless to prospect them. The truth is they are not more thoroughly prospected for the reason that San Francisco vampires, high paid Secretaries and other officials absorb all the assessments levied to develop them. In claims incorporated in California the Trustees provide handsome salaries for the officers, collect assessments at the rate of fifty cents to $5 per foot, keeping such of the owners as reside here too poor to pay these heavy drains …”

Like today, in 1864 no man’s life, liberty, or property were safe while the legislature was in session, as Samuel Clemens, who by then had adopted the nom de pen of Mark Twain, did frequently attest in his dispatches in February of 1864 for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Here is one example:

“While I was absent a moment, yesterday, on important business, taking a drink, the House, with its accustomed engaging unanimity, knocked one of my pet bills higher than a kite, without a dissenting voice. I convened the members in extra session last night, and deluged them with blasphemy, after which I entered into a solemn compact with them, whereby, in consideration of their re-instating my bill, I was to make an ample apology for all the mean things I had said about them for passing that infamous, unchristian, infernal telegraph bill the other day.”

So, celebrate and commemorate Nevada’s sesquicentennial and the hardy and colorful men and women who founded her.

Read the entire column at Ely or Elko.

What’s the difference between cowboy poets and all those poseurs?

“A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty
      — Lazarus Long

Since the 30th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko is less than a week off, I thought I’d recount a certain tale I heard recently about events at one of those gatherings that helps illustrate the difference between cowboy poetry and all those lesser kinds.

It seems that one year the organizers of the Gathering — it’s not a festival, mind you, and don’t let Harry try to tell you otherwise — decided to have a contest to find the best cowboy poet. A panel of judges rated every reading, sort of like an Olympic event, with points for humor, originality, authentic dialect and language, pathos and overall Western colorfulness.

When they got to the last day there was a tie, or so I’m told.

One of the finalists was a professorial type in a tweed jacket with patches on the sleeves. He was well versed in poetry, so to speak, and could quote Mark Twain, Will James and Badger Clark, as well as Chaucer, Shakespeare and

The other was a rather rough-hewn ranch hand with less than a high school education who wore scuffed boots, a wide belt with an even wider buckle, an oilskin duster and a felt hat that was a bit down in the mouth, if you know what I mean.

The tie-breaker, it was decided, or so I’m told, would have each of them write a poem on the spot, but it had to contain a word they’d be given at the last moment. To keep it fair, as each contestant recited his
off-the-cuff doggerel, the other would be in an isolation booth, like they used on those old black and white TV game shows.

The professor called heads on the coin toss and went first. The word he had to use was: Timbuktu.

After a few minutes he spoke with confidence:

Across the burning desert the camels ran, 
A wealthy prince leading his caravan,
His trusty compass kept the way true
As he headed for the grand bazaar in Timbuktu.

The scruffy fellow came out of the booth and was told his poem had to use the word Timbuktu.

He thought for a couple of minutes and then began to drawl:

Tim and me headed toward town
To see what ruckus could be found,
Down by the river three mustangs we spied.
“Let’s lassoo ‘em and break ‘em,” ol’ Tim cried,
Figuring we could buck ’em to a crawl
And still be to town befo’ last call.
Since they be three and we be two,
I bucked one and Tim buck two.

I never was told who won the contest. To be honest, it might’ve been drowned out by the laughter, because the version I heard was a rather bawdy one. I just cleaned it up a might. (A keyword search on the Internet will turn up several iterations of the bawdy version.)

On a more serious note, “cousin” Waddie Mitchell, Nevada’s undisputed poet lariat, has been named the Honorary Poet of the Silver State’s Sesquicentennial, which is Oct. 31. To mark the year-long celebration, Waddie will debut a poem he has written to mark the state’s 150th anniversary during “Home Means Nevada,” the first show of the Gathering on Jan. 27.

The title of the poem is “The Dame Nevada.” Can’t wait to hear it.

Waddie Mitchell is a major source of mustache envy. (Photo submitted to the Elko Daily Free Press.)

Deriding shams, exposing pretentious falsities by creating shams and falsities

Some public relations genius at the Obama White House came up with a foolproof way to engender good will among the little people and make them think their voices are heard. So they created a section on the whitehouse.gov website called We the People where said people could directly “petition” the president over various issues, and, if enough people sign the petition, the president’s staff would reply.

But fools always find a way to thwart the best laid plans, as I relate in this week’s newspaper column available online at The Ely Times.

After Obama’s re-election, “petitions” started calling for various states to secede from the Union in protest over federal usurpation of powers not enumerated in the Constitution. That’s a poke in the eye with your own stick.

The website now has petitions for secession from all 50 states. Nevada has two.

One is a cut-and-paste from previous petitions. The other actually spells out reasons Nevada has a right to secede. (http://wh.gov/9sJs)

It reads in part:

“Whereas, the State of Nevada was admitted into the union under the presumption and presidential declaration that it would be on equal footing with every other state previously admitted, but was extortionately required to include in its charter that all unappropriated lands within the boundaries of the state — more than 85 percent of the state — be forever placed under the control of the federal government.

“Therefore, all laws and ordinances by which the State of Nevada became a member of the Union would be repealed and all obligations on the part of the State or the people thereof to observe the same would be withdrawn.”

As one-time Nevadan Mark Twain said of writers: “ours is a useful trade, a worthy calling; that with all its lightness and frivolity it has one serious purpose, one aim, one specialty, and it is constant to it — the deriding of shams, the exposure of pretentious falsities, the laughing of stupid superstitions out of existence … the natural friend of human rights and human liberties.”

Read the full column here.

Why do you think they call us rebels?