In November 1989, I asked a remarkable woman to marry me.
That didn’t go well.
So I drank myself into a stupor deepened by self-pity and hacked away all night long at a Macintosh SE (Remember those? Two floppy drives?). In the morning, I had an evil headache, more questions about women than I could ever answer, and a 30-page short story.
Such was the sulking, ignoble, drunken genesis of mapping Utah.
That story lay dormant for half a decade, buried in a chaotic array of papers accumulated during study for my master’s degree. It emerged from hiding in 1994 during research for my doctorate. I’d just finished my course work and was supposed to be working on my dissertation.
As all doc students know, aptly timed and brilliantly executed procrastination is a requirement for a successful dissertation. So I procrastinated. (May my adviser, Trager, forgive me.) The short story beget a longer story, about 100 pages. That, too, slunk into hibernation among copies of mass communication research articles I never wanted to face again.
In 1998, the longer story crept unbidden out of a box I had not unpacked since arriving at St. Bonaventure University in 1996. Hmm, I thought. Beats grading the inept writing of freshmen. So, night after night, I wrote more.
Thus begat Lesson No. 1: Don’t over think it. I had written as far as Kara’s desperate flight on her mountain bike from a rest area just west of Green River. Noah had yet to appear in the sky above her unconscious body in his ultralight aircraft.
But I kept rewriting and editing this first third of the book. My logic: Have to get it just right. It had to be perfect before I could continue. My friend Greg Stene intervened: “Why?” he asked.
Greg knows me well. He pressed me: “Why haven’t you moved on to introducing these two people?” I admitted I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what Noah would or should say to Kara and what Kara would or should say to Noah.
“Denny,” Greg said, “You’ve thought about these people for years. Just put them together and get the hell out of their way.”
He was right. I did not write the last two-thirds of mapping Utah. Kara and Noah did.
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CNN reporter Jeremy Desmond asked Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, under fire because of four deaths at his jail, for an interview. On Friday, Clarke replied on Twitter:
Donald Trump has labeled CNN as fake news. When Pres. Trump says CNN is ok again, then I might.
The sheriff — an elected public official — has refused to respond to a press request for an interview. This particular sheriff has a nationwide reputation as a supporter of President Donald and has been considered for a position in the Donald administration.
No law compels anyone, elected or not, to speak to a journalist. But those who voted for Clarke ought to wonder how, and by whom, his performance should be examined. More troubling, however, is this: Clarke is unlikely to be the last city, county, or state elected public official, feeling empowered by President Donald’s disdain for the press, to withhold information the public is lawfully entitled to.
Imagine a reporter in a small town in a state somewhere between the coasts. She asks the town clerk (an elected public official) for the agenda of the next meeting of the town council. The town clerk refuses — without explanation. The council itself decides to change its meeting date and time without posting a legally required public notice of its intent to meet. The reporter asks the town clerk for a copy of the minutes of the council’s unannounced meeting and is again refused. The reporter calls the chair of the town council and asks for an interview. She is rebuffed.
Expect occurrences of this scenario, which journalists have experienced time and again, to increase.
The end game of the heavily mediated engine driving American political strife boils down to these questions:
What is the appropriate size of the federal government? Who should decide that? Who should run the “right-sized” government based on what values determined by whom?
Big, big money was wagered in the 2016 election cycle on the outcome of this game as gazillionaires of the right and left poured donations (wonder how many are legal?) into competing PACs, SuperPACS, and 501C’s.
The Democrats shouted: We need social equality. In wealth. In health care. In opportunity. We need government to enable and enforce equality — as well as quality of goods and services. We need to protect those who cannot protect themselves. We need a better (perhaps larger) government. Control unfettered capitalism!
The Republicans shouted back: Damn Nanny-Staters. People should seek, strive, and work for opportunity. To those with the desire to work hard come rewards — so their reward, i.e. their wealth, should be greater than that of those who do not strive, who do not risk, who do not work hard. We must slash regulations to release the free-market engine of innovation. We need a smaller (as small as possible) government. Unshackle capitalism!
President Donald’s press secretary boldly and bluntly lied to the White House press corps last week. Yawn.
Well, so what? Politicians and their spear carriers have prevaricated, evaded, fibbed, misinformed, misdirected, and dissembled since the dawn of government.
But Sean Spicer lied. He did not disguise the lie. He told lies easily contravened. He did so acting as the representative of the president of the United States. He did so just days after promising he wouldn’t lie.
Media navel gazers pounced. The Washington Post’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, said Spicer’s lies represented “remarks made over the casket at the funeral of access journalism.” Ari Fleischer, press secretary to President George W. Bush, said on NPR, “The American people question whether the press report things accurately and fairly. … And so the press has invited this vulnerability onto itself, and we’re watching this live now on TV.”
The Trump transition team has yet to name all its executive branch officials, moving to fill only about 4 percent of positions needing Senate approval.
President Donald has yet to flesh out the rest of the executive branch despite Vice President Mike Pence’s claim that “We’re wrapping up this transition on schedule and under budget,” according to Politico’s Influence newsletter.
The heat of media scrutiny has fallen on top-level Cabinet posts, and deservedly so. But President Donald as of yesterday, when he was still president-elect, has moved to fill only 4 percent of the 690 executive branch appointments requiring Senate confirmation.
From an analysis by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein:
Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? It is one of two departments (along with, bizarrely, Commerce) where Trump has selected a deputy secretary. But no solicitor general, no one at civil rights, no one in the civil division, no one for the national security division.
And the same is true in department after department. Not to mention agencies without anyone at all nominated by the president-elect.
Competition is good. Free markets are good. Give everyone a shot at the brass ring. Get rid of regulations that stifle competition and opportunity.
Thus spake many a Republican (and often a Democratic) politician, saying they only want to hand business interests in America a clear road to economic growth and apparent prosperity for all.
So why do those same politicians, at federal and state levels, balk at attempts to introduce competitiveness in elections?
What, you say? American state and federal elections are not competitive? Senate re-election rates have averaged nearly 90 percent in the past 16 years; House rates are higher still. Two years ago, Congress had an 11 percent approval rating … but a 96 percent re-election rate.
Why is that? Gerrymandering — the manipulation of election districts to afford one political party an advantage over the other. Gerrymandering is the death of routinely competitive elections throughout the nation. Congressional districts are redrawn after the decennial census because of population shifts. That means the next round of political warfare over district boundaries begins in 2021. (Actually, it never ends. Redistricting is complicated and time-consuming, and the process varies from state to state.)
The National Democratic Redistricting Committee wants 2021 to lead to fairer district maps. (Caveat: Democrats are no mere innocents in redrawing districts; Republicans, however, have made advantageous redistricting into an art form.)
An inability to focus on consequences that do not center on him. Check. An absence of empathy for others. Check. A lack of impulse control coupled to a need to lash out at perceived offenses (and offenders). Check. A vainglorious view of himself. Check. An ever-present, almost childlike, need for praise. Check.
President-Elect Donald is a narcissist. That’s the conclusion of Alan J. Lipman, a clinical psychologist, chronicled in a commentary on CNN. But we already know that, don’t we? We’ve seen it repeatedly at his rallies and in his Twitter rants. But so far, he’s insulated himself from the consequences of his narcissism. Even past Republican critics, such as the speaker of the House, and big-money donors who did not support his candidacy are falling in line, creating an imaginary unity.
President-Elect Donald’s egregious behaviors have become acceptable because so many legislators and donors have too much at stake (power, influence, government contracts, etc.) to suggest the emperor-elect is naked.
But there’s one judge of presidential behavior, character, and leadership President-Elect Donald has yet to face — George Gallup’s question:
Do you approve or disapprove of the way ____ is handling his job as president?
President Donald wants to revive America’s coal industry. He says regulations, most notably from the Environmental Protection Agency, have forced coal plants to close. So he wants to do away with those damn unfriendly regulations (such as the mercury and air toxics standards, the proposed cross-state pollution standard and the proposed limitations of carbon dioxide emissions). After that, Appalachian coal will again be riven from the earth, reviving the industry.
Nope. Won’t happen. Coal lost. Natural gas, thanks to fracking, won.
Coal plants are old; their median age is 44 years old. More than 90 percent of coal plants were built in the 1980s or earlier. Those comprise 697 of the total 765 utility-level coal plants. In 2015, utilities closed 94 coal-fired generating plants with a capacity of more than 13,000 megawatts. Their average age at retirement was 58 years old. 2016 will see more than 5,000 megawatts of capacity closed at 41 coal plants.
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