Thursday, August 15, 2002


Has been canceled due to a crisis of a most serious nature.

My arch enemy, Liver Sirloin, now an aviation attorney down in Dallas, TX (yes, yes, everyone is very proud that he found a way to combine his passions for airplanes with his innate talents for being a pain in the ass. If he ever finds a way to incorporate his equal passion for molotov cocktails and other recipes from The Anarchist Cookbook, look out), just hit town.

That garbled music you heard was the theme song to “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” being whistled inexpertly in the background by his mother as he strode through the saloon doors at the Saratoga/Platte Valley Kennel of Commerce.

Molly the Border Folly did not even bark. She took one look at each of us and ran under my desk to hide.

He’s coming over tonight for dueling wine glasses. He’s got a merlot, while I’ve got a fine, fine shiraz.

Two may enter, only one leaves.

Spectators are welcome at Kate’s Landing tonight as this clown once again tries to convince me to give up my libertine Libertarian ways and embrace the dark side (he was mortified indeed to see my Freudenthal for Governor signs) and that guy from Texas who lives in the White House.

Rest assured, LIANT readers, that our (ir)regular posting schedule will resume tomorrow... if I get done getting everything ready for the Steinley Cup. Or Saturday... if I survive running the Steinley Cup. Or Sunday... after the chili cook-off.

(God, I can’t wait for September)

Wednesday, August 14, 2002


"In parts of the US, 'three strikes, you're out' legislation is used to lock up repeat felons and throw away the key. In 1998, the township of Wayne, Pennsylvania, applied the same idea to corporate crime. In Wayne, any corporation with three or more regulatory violations within seven years is barred from setting up shop."

The above quotation comes from the latest online issue of Adbusters' Newsletter. It caught my eye for reasons that it won't be hard for long-time readers of Life in a Northern Town or recent readers of our local dead tree media outlet to figure out.

Back in November 2001, I published on this very blog my take on the issue of business licensing in Saratoga, which notion our beloved town clerk, Squeaky, and Superman, our zoning/streets/engineering guy, were insisting needed to be explored, implemented and enforced to protect the credulous citizens of our little town from voracious and unscrupulous out-of-town "fly by night" paving and roofing contractors (Never mind that, to my knowledge, no one has come crying to them, the police, the chamber of commerce, the mayor or anyone else who might conceivably be thought to occupy a position of authority to date begging for such "protection.")

You can read my original rant on this matter by clicking HERE and scrolling down to the entry for November 26 if you want a refresher; basically all of those arguments still stand, and indeed, once I published this opinion no more was heard in council chambers or on the street about the matter. No one seemed willing to even try to refute the logic with which I backed up by assertion that nowhere in Saratoga's Municipal Code was there language requiring everyone who does business in Saratoga to have a business license issued by our municipal government. The language that appears to say so actually does not when one takes even a cursory look at it, remembering at bottom that words mean what they mean and are arranged the way they are for a reason, especially when they're arranged to form a law.

Shocking, shocking, I know.

So as I said, not a peep about this was heard again, until Squeaky brought it up again last week. She had never given up on the idea and apparently just kept it weakly alive, nursing it deep within her bureaucratic widdle heart until presumably we dotards elected by the people who actually live in this town forgot all about it and she could bring it up like it was a brand new thang.

Well, not even the mayor had forgotten last November, and so he told her the first step in this process, if she really wanted to open this up again, would be to gather public input by throwing a few coffee hours at town hall and seeing what the people had to say.

Said coffee hours have since been planned and announced: the first is set for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20 (PRIMARY ELECTION DAY, EVERYBODY!!!!!) and the second for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 21, both in council chambers at the Saratoga Town Hall.

There's a cute little ad and also a back page story disclosing same. The story, however, leaves something to be desired.

Squeaky is quoted as saying that "the current ordinances require a register of businesses, a fee for business licenses, and renewal of licenses on a yearly basis."

Sorry to keep hammering on this, but LIKE HELL THEY DO.

So anyway, as the title of this entry might suggest, I have something of a counter-proposal to intruding more nosiness, bureacracy and tinpot dictator opportunities into Saratoga life.

If the issue really is out of town or other contractors doing the dirty on unsuspecting citizens, then maybe it's time people who need driveway paving or roofing or other contracting work either 1) accept the fact that in doing business with strangers they are accepting certain risks with which we can't really help them (we're never, through legislation or any other means, going to remove every single danger, potential for harm, or inconvenience out of life, everybody. Deal with it) or 2) start checking with, oh, say THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE when they're looking for someone to do the job. Pretty much everybody LOCAL who does this kind of work is a member of the chamber, and the chamber does receive feedback on their work from time to time, oh yes.

Another plank in the plan is to have people who do go ahead and take the sucker offer made by whatever gypsy pavers come to town to share their tale of woe with me at the chamber so I can warn others and make appropriate recommendations if someone else calls me before accepting said sucker offer.

We don't have a Better Business Bureau here, but we are a small town and we do have a chamber of commerce, so what the hell, people?

And if this still isn't enough, we can adopt a "three strikes and you're out" rule for out-of-towners, can't we? Three legitimate complaints from customers or building inspectors and your company is banned from doing business here.

Superman says that would rule out our local contractors pretty quickly, but I don't think he's listening to the key modifier – legitimate – when he dismisses my suggestion. I'm not talking about three people whining about feeling they were overcharged or offended by someone's buttcrack or dissatisfied with the aesthetic quality of the workmanship. I'm talking about a real, actionable beef, one that poses a threat to safety, public infrastructure or neighboring property values.

Yeah, verifying the legitimacy of these "strikes" might create a bit more work for Superman, but like chasing down every business in Saratoga to get them "registered" wouldn't?

What do you want, folks?

Come to one of next week's coffee hours at town hall and tell 'em, dammit!

Tuesday, August 13, 2002


(Yes, yes, the title of this entry is ripped off wholly from items in William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. To quote good old Oscar Wilde “Immature artists borrow; mature artists steal.” And yes, I do claim to be mature, at least compared to most artists I know; how many of them have had to sit down and argue about whether or not to vote in a sewer rate increase?)

Last night I drove out to the gravel pits south of town at about 1 a.m. for a special event: the Perseid meteor shower, the best opportunity for viewing which was supposed to be last night at about 1 a.m. At first I was just amused at the thought of having ventured out to sit amongst piles of little rocks dug out of the ground so I could watch big rocks flying through the sky, but then, as so often happens, a companion’s remark set me off on another train of thought altogether.

She was astonished at how densely filled the sky above Wyoming is with stars; how clear the path of the Milky Way, how challenging to trace out are the outlines of the constellations when even the faintest stars are easily visible. And she told us that in her home town (Phoenix, AZ – poor thing!) her sky has maybe two or three stars in it. Pollution – air and light – obscures the rest.

How fortunate we are, though we’re high and dry and can grow little but cattle feed even in a wet year. How fortunate we are, though we pay higher prices for groceries and phone service and can’t rely on overnight deliveries to actually reach us overnight. How fortunate we are, though it’s a 42-mile drive to see even bad, overblown “blockbuster” movies and a 76- or 132-mile drive to see more unusual ones.

How fortunate we are because we can still gauge our place in the universe by looking up at the night sky.

Which, of course, got me thinking about why it is that we’re so fortunate. Why don’t we, who live in one of the loveliest little river valleys in the west, have a problem with light pollution, air pollution and all the west? What has kept us from turning into Steamboat or Jackson or any of those other places my townsfolk always jump to their Chicken Little conclusions about whenever that scary subject of (shh!) economic development comes up?

Well, water of course.

Every town, ranch, industrial operation or subdivision in our valley depends on the same little watershed, which is governed and allocated under the same set of rules and regulations and doctrines as the rest of Wyoming, with the ultimate authority being the doctrine of prior appropriation – that principle that water rights established earlier in time take precedence over those established later, no matter what those rights are used for. This principle only really makes itself felt in low water years like this one, as happened, for instance, this spring, when the Wyoming State Engineers office put a “call” on the North Platte River.

When a call is put on our North Platte River, what happens is that nobody can use his or her water rights unless those rights are older than 1914, which is the age of the water right on Pathfinder Reservoir, upon which irrigators downstream of us depend. Until that reservoir is filled up, hands off, everybody.

The town of Saratoga has, at present, rights on just enough water to meet our basic municipal needs (household water, lawn watering, fire suppression, etc.) to squeak through a call on the river without noticeable hardship (except on our water plant operator, who always sweats bullets), though sometimes we have to stop watering the grass in the town’s parks.

Our basic needs being pretty much enough to take care of the 1726 people who officially live in Saratoga according to the last census, that is.

More people than that and we have a small problem – not catastrophic because of course we can negotiate with other owners of “old” water rights to a certain degree (though there is also a doctrine in place in Wyoming water law that says you can’t separate a water right from the land to which it belongs, i.e. you can’t just buy Rancher X’s water right and use it someplace else. I believe you have to buy Rancher X’s land, too, and furthermore you have to somehow use it on that land, though this is something I’m going to have to look up), or we can buy another municipality’s surplus (we were preparing early this summer to try to buy some water out of Hog Park reservoir if need be, because Cheyenne doesn’t quite need all of it YET).

BUT, if we wind up seriously growing, we start needing serious water, and at a certain point we will run up against the need to spend serious money to start pulling stunts like diverting other rivers or building dams or aqueducts and all of those other money sink horrors the tales of which make books like Cadillac Desert such chilling fun for budding Western politicians like me to read. Water follows money, we say out here in the west, but there has to be a critical mass of money that we are probably a long ways off from yet.

I take odd comfort in this, though as your Chamber chick and a member of the board of the Carbon County Economic Development Corporation I probably shouldn’t as such. I suppose I’m supposed to be all about growth and development and rah rah rah and I am to a degree, but it’s a very, very delicate balancing act; we need more people and more business to stablilize an economy that often feels on the brink of disaster (feels so even if it really isn’t, but that feeling is a very real issue when we’re talking about our much vaunted quality of life: how enjoyable is it to live here when one is always worrying about if it’s going to be possible to stay?), but we don’t... we don’t...

We don’t want to give up that beautiful night sky and our unparalleled view of those meteors streaking through it in strange silence, unreal looking and yet more real than anything we as a species have ever built, older by far than anything we see around us, still being flung about by forces set in motion before our sun could even glow.

Heavy stuff to be thinking about in the middle of a meteor shower, but if not then, when, I asked myself. And that’s when my memorable fancy overcame me.

There has been set in motion a study to take a look at every conceivable angle and aspect of our municipal water system here in Saratoga. A consulting engineer and a whole team of geologists, hydrologists, anthropologists, archeologists and lots of otherlogists are looking at everything from leaks in the water supply lines to billing procedures to evaporation rates in the ditches to the groundwater profile of our valley.


Groundwater is what originally made the amazing desert metropolises of Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles possible. Yes, they have diverted a lot of surface water, these cities, but they have also pumped up a million-year accumulation of groundwater that only gets replaced in the aquefers at a rate of something like 2% of the total per year, pumped up so much so fast that some parts of their territories have sunken visibly to the point where highway fissures burst open overnight as one section of land sank and another did not.

Groundwater makes a lot of idiocy and short-term thinking possible. Development of it is an easy fix when a sudden influx of new residents hits an area. And where there is one easy fix, there are others.

Groundwater could change everything.

As a particularly spectacular, even comet-like meteor streaked right over my head and frightened my dog under the car, I suddenly saw my valley lit up like the grid of Los Angeles. And I saw it sinking. I smelled auto exhaust and heard police sirens. I saw a megalopolis where the teeny, cute little towns of Riverside and Encampment and a lot of ranches had been.

It scared me witless.

I’ve never been so glad that so much of the water that is actually in our underground aquefers around here is basically alka selzer in my life.

Life in a Northern Town now proudly endorses its first ever non-Libertarian fringe party candidate! Never in LIANT’s whole long life did it ever suspect that one day it would be cheering on, of all things, a Green Party candidacy, but that was before your humble blogger read the latest issue of the Buffalo Beast, a spin-off of the world’s bitchiest alternative newspaper, the Exile over in Moscow (Russia, not Idaho), whose book was the first ever selection of the LIANT Book Club.

There it is, in the Beast’s fifth ever issue, just published on Aug. 2: Saying he has “nothing to hide” Erie County Green Party chairman Paul Fallon announced his candidacy for Buffalo, NY’s 26th Congressional District in the nude!

Furthermore, he offered free beer to reporters, but reportedly none of them took him up on that.

Furthermore, he nakedly stated in his opening remarks to the press that he was running because Republican incumbent Tom Reynolds (for whom state legislators created the 26th district special just to protect him from serious challenges) is “a big fucking asshole.”

As Beasteditor Matt Taibbi (fellow graduate of Beaudacious Bard College – overeducating iconoclastic, unproductive freaks without spending a dime of taxpayer money since 1934(tm)) observed in his coverage of this historic event, "No way a candidate with clothes on gets that on the air." (Fallon's remark, suitably bleeped over for public broadcast, was quoted on area radio and TV reports)

Taibbi's report continues: "What started out as a gimmick started to sound curiously like politics when, in response to a question about whether he was a credible candidate, he answered, 'Why not me? I represent actual people. How many of us have a mansion in Clarence like Tom Reynolds, or rich corporate friends who'll pay $5,000 a pop to play golf with you at Pebble Beach?'"

I’m so adding this to my own playbook.

(P.S. For the full story, click HERE. There's even a photo from the press conference!)

Monday, August 12, 2002


Every once in a while, even your humble blogger gets curious about what fare is on offer on what Harlan Ellison memorably referred to as “the glass teat,” so last night I wandered over to a friend’s house to watch some cable TV...

...And found myself ankle deep in, what else, Wyoming politics!

Wyoming Public Radio and TV held a candidate forum last night to allow our bizarre range of would-be governors to sound off on the issues, and WOW. It was better than Monty Python at the Hollywood Bowl, better than the Flying Karamozov Brothers’ staging of The Comedy of Errors, better than an all-chicken cast performing The Bald Soprano.

I.E., silly, absurd and overwhelmingly surreal.

Or, as the Punk Martha Stewart memorably put it, “We should be watching this downtown in a bar getting blasted.”

And indeed, the spectacle before us begged to be turned into a drinking game. Every time Sheridan Shutupicrat John H. Self utters another incomprehensible two-word answer that has no bearing at all on the question, DRINK. Every time Ray Hunkins tries to use the fact that he was involved up to his neck in the litigation surrounding the school funding issue as a reason why he should be voted into office to fix it, DRINK. Every time Paul Hickey does the same thing, DRINK. Every time Ken Casner reveals he has no idea whatsoever what a governor even does, DRINK. Every time Steve Watt tries to play the “working class” card as an excuse for his ignorance on an issue, DRINK. Every time poor Toby Simpson gets scared and stops in the middle of a sentence, DRINK. Every time Eli Bebout expresses pride in his terrifying voting record as a member-for-life in the Wyoming state house, DRINK. Every time Bill Sniffin points to the amount of money he’s spent on advertising and what has amounted to paper spam as a reason why he’s our man, DRINK. Every time moderator Susan Anderson “accidentally” forgets to give Dave Freudenthal a chance to answer the question everyone else has been blathering about, DRINK.

On second thought, it’s probably a good thing we weren’t watching the forum downtown in a bar making a drinking game of it. We’d have both been hospitalized with alcohol poisoning. It would have been like playing the old “DUNE” drinking game my best friend and I invented in college to go along with the David Lynch film of that novel, in which one was to drink every time t he word “spice” was mentioned and in which one was guaranteed to be seeing at least two Baron Vladimir Harkonnens by the time Paul and his Daddy had left Planet Caladan.

There were some moments that will live long in my memory, such as when, called upon to give his answer to a horribly worded and open-ended question from an audience member – what would you as governor do to help women and children? (with what? window washing? choosing peanut butter? driving tractors? preventing lead poisoning from pencil chewing?) – and Mr. Self said "In Sheridan we have an organization for that. It's called the Salvation Army. That's it." By far my favorite statement of the entire event!!!!!

Another good one was when the Punk Martha Stewart made the astonishing observation that Ray Hunkins was wearing eye make-up. I had thought it was maybe just the light, but the PMS is a professional cosmetologist AND a videographer and she was unequivocal in her assessment of his appearance. Eyeliner a deep mauve, with blue shadow on his lids and mascara that is really too dark for his complexion. He must have a Mary Kay representative on his support team.

Oh well, the forum did, at least, confirm my choice and my priorities for the coming Primary Election Aug. 20. Freudenthal is the only person, Democrat or Republican (not that there’s much difference, especially in Wyoming; the way I usually tell them apart is largely tied in to the degree to which they want to shove me back into the kitchen where I belong) who seems to have even researched the requirements for the job for which he is interviewing. He was the only one honest and intelligent enough to point out that action on prescription medication prices for senior citizens is really not something that a Wyoming governor can take effectively without concurrent efforts on the part of the Federal government, for example (and also the only one to just come right out and say “Well, I’d like a different Congress and different Senate”). He’s also the only one who displayed any awareness that economic development is not a commodity that can just be obtained somewhere (I’d summarize most of the other candidates’ understanding of the concept as “If I was your governor, I’d sure enough go out and get us some of that there economic development” though their expressions of same might not be so fluently grammatical as that. I am a softy, I know, I know).

At this point the only other person I would even consider would probably be Toby Simpson, a former mayor of Greybull (I always prefer candidates who’ve spent time in the municipal trenches in which I currently wallow) who has some good ideas but is still too terrified or stage frightened to express them clearly. I sincerely hope he sticks with this a while, as all he needs is some polish and some confidence.

For this time around, though, it’s still Freudenthal for me (for more information about his campaign, surf over to His website at – gotta love that URL). I’ve made my decision about which of the two stupid major parties I shall sign on with come Primary Election Day, and it’s the donkeys so I can make sure he gets the nod.

So yes, you can call this a formal endorsement.

Pass the Guiness...