Friday, March 14, 2003

SO, UM, WOW...

Because this week hasn't been weird enough yet, of course I had to get a phone call completely out of left field.

I was just asked if I would accept a nomination to serve on the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's Air Quality Complance Advisory Committee (let's see... that would be the WDEQAQCAC?).

I've never even heard of this board, the members of which are appointed by the governor, and I have no idea by what line of reasoning the powers that be decided that I would be a good candidate, but I went ahead and said OK. Once I firmly established that yes, this board only meets three or four times a year.

So all of you who have been sniggering at my remark that I have a pie for every finger and one or two toes as well are probably now sniggering indeed that I now would appear to have one for my nose as well.

Well, how else does one evaluate air quality?

Thursday, March 13, 2003


Some days I just get a reminder that it’s wise to trust my instincts.

I have certain bedrock prejudices that occasionally get me labeled closed-minded, a snob, an elitist, a coward – which means that every once in a while I feel compelled to try to violate them, to test them against reality, to see if they’re still justified.

Some are more justifiable than others.

For instance, I have this aversion that almost amounts to a phobia against being observed in possession of a book with the words “Now a major motion picture” on the cover. This is one of my less defensible prejudices; not even I, the great lit savant of Saratoga, learn of every novel or book-length work of journalism that is worth reading before it makes the big or the small screen, and I’ve almost missed out on some very good stuff by my slavish adherence to my no-movie-books dogma. I saw the PBS TV show of Cadillac Desert a year or so before I bought the book (and yes, my delay in buying the book was also due to my prejudice; if I absolutely have to buy a companion book or the novel on which a movie was based or whatever, at least I can delay this gratification long enough to where I cannot be accused of jumping any bandwagons. I fully stipulate that this is stupid, bordering on the insane, and totally a product of a monstrous ego, but naming my demon has brought me nowhere near conquering it), for example, and it was only after seeing Ray Lawrence’s wonderful film adaptation of Peter Carey’s Bliss that I discovered that fantastic novelist’s work.

Another deep aversion I have is toward films that have won Best Picture Oscars, at least those which have won them in my lifetime (I’ll not quibble a bit over stuff like Casablanca or Lawrence of Arabia, for instance, but it’s a sign of early decline in the critical faculties of the Academy that in 1941 How Green Was My Valley beat out Citizen Kane. No. Freaking. Way.). I still can’t bring myself to even look at the box for The English Patient, I occasionally subject myself to American Beauty only to give myself a painful reminder of how not to tell a story and of just how very, very annoying two hours of cliches really are, and I can’t even think about Platoon without channelling the tortured, screaming spirit of Sam Kinnison. And then I remember that Platoon beat out The Mission and pretty much just black out for the rest of the day. And don’t even get me started on Schindler’s List, Titanic, or Forrest Fucking Gump.

Now, I’m not saying that the Academy is an infallible guide for picking out the one motion picture each year that is most likely to make me physically ill. The Last Emperor was pretty good, and I have an unshakeable fondness for The Silence of the Lambs (though that’s mostly because of its High Insect Content, putting it on a plateau it shares with Creepshow and all of the Indiana Jones movies), but its track record in my lifetime is still, well, daunting. Daunting enough, at any rate, to regard the bestowing of Best Picture or Best Director honors on a film my gut has advised me to avoid anyway as a sure-fire sign that my best bet is to do my best to forget it was ever made.

Into this category I must thrust last year’s winner, A Beautiful Mind, which I slid into my VCR last night in a fit of I-don’t-know-what (I’m going to go ahead and blame the nuclear antibiotics and the cold medicine, okay?).

The warning signs had been there almost immediately. Ron Howard directed it, and we all know he’s a complete schlockmeister. Putting the story of a seriously troubled mathematical genius, famous for having believed aliens were communicating with him via the New York Times, for getting into messy bisexual affairs, and for being kind of an unpleasant person to know as well as for winning the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work in the challenging and wildly uncinematic realm of game theory was just a bad, bad, bad idea. And early reviews bore this out: Howard had butchered the story in impressively uninventive ways (what kind of yobbo finds it necessary to invent imaginary characters, for god’s sake? A yobbo who doesn’t think the audience can handle the messy unpleasantness of the real delusions the protagonist experienced) (oh, and he added a car chase with guns, a feat right on a par with James Cameron’s famous contortionist addition of two teenagers losing their virginity in the back of a car to the story of the sinking of the Titanic!), Russell Crowe totally didn’t understand the character he was playing, yah yah yah.

I was prepared for these outrages, but what I wasn’t prepared for was that even the small stuff would be so poorly handled. I mean, it’s one thing to plunk down a viewer or reader into an unfamiliar milieu and let him sort things out as the story unfolds, but quite another when the story never unfolds, is laden with McGuffins, packed with empty signifiers the way this film is.

For instance, in the first act, when Movie Nash is at Princeton, he sees an older man, obviously distinguished and revered, being presented with pen after pen. It’s obviously some kind of ritual, and, because this is a Big Hollywood Movie it’s obviously foreshadowing (and indeed, Movie Nash winds up getting pens in the penultimate act, awkwardly manouevered into that room by a stranger), but what’s supposed to be the significance of the pens? Why pens? Who are these people handing out pens? The implication is that those “in the know” about the Ivy League will understand exactly what’s going on, and the rest of us poor slobs should just take it for granted that it is a hallowed tradition among those Superior Smart People and shut up about it, except to thank Ron Howard et al for giving us this special, privileged peek at them.

Bullshit. Ain’t no such thang. I have friends who went to Princeton, and their reaction to that scene was, approximately, “Huh?” Similarly, Princeton mathematics Professor Hale Trotter said, in an article in the campus newspaper: "As far as I know that's a complete invention of the script writer. Nobody that I've come across has ever heard of it anywhere."

Why, why, why, why, why? Why? Dammit, why? What, then, is the point of these two scenes? Emotional manipulation, is all. Like conveniently leaving out Real Nash’s divorce from Real Alicia in the 1960s, like inserting an adorable moppet of an imaginary niece to look hurt and tearful when Movie Nash ignores her, like having Movie Nash give a speech at the Nobel ceremony, it’s all to make the story of an interesting, messed-up but important man fit nicely into an inspirational pre-cut Hollywood narrative about the power of the human will and the love of a good woman to overcome any and all odds.

So of course the Academy fell for it.

Never, ever again. I’ll plop down and watch the also-rans, like L.A. Confidential (see, Russell Crowe doesn’t suck, just the script and film he got stuck in last year), Pulp Fiction, Almost Famous, and oh, yeah, The Lord of the Rings, but if I haven't seen the film that has won Best Picture for a particular year, I'm going to avoid it like the plague, unless someone who's judgment I absolutely trust (maybe three of these people exist, all of them personal friends of mine who are not and never would be professional critics of any kind) says it's maybe not so bad and just possibly worth seeing some night when it's on HBO and you have insomnia.

Oh holy shit. I was just looking at the Academy’s home page and got another slap in the face. Guess which film won Best Screenplay (Adaptation) last year?

I think I need to lay down now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003


Finding of No Significant Impact on the Environmental Assessment for FHWA-WY-EA-99-01
Wyoming Highway 130 Saratoga-Centennial
Brush Creek Section - Phase I
Carbon County
Project 0103(33)

(Cheyenne, WY: US. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and Wyoming Department of Transportation, 2003)

The Finding of No Significant Impact on the Environmental Assessment for FHWA-WY-EA-99-01, (hereinafter referred to as “FONSI”), could really have used a good going-over by a competent editor, a marketing/publishing consultant, and a spell-checker... but all of those quibbles are made with an erroneous assumption in mind, that being that the authors actually wanted the public to read this thing. In that regard, its similarities to its larger and more imposing cousin, the Draft Proposed Land and Resource Management Plan for the Medicine Bow National Forest (hereinafter referred to as “25 Lbs. of Crap” in keeping with previous citations in this journal) are evident and amusing.

Since both documents have for these reasons gone largely unnoticed – no reviews of them appear on any of the major lit crit websites, and they don’t even have product entries on or other popular booksellers’ web pages – Your Humble Blogger and Book Reviewer has taken on the task or providing an appropriate critical response to, let’s face it, the publishing events of Winter, 2003!

Of the two, the FONSI stands out as a clearly superior publication despite its editorial and aesthetic inconsistencies, for while 25 Lbs. of Crap does use a single narrative voice and uniform typographical conventions, the FONSI’s multiple authors (some 45 by this reviewer’s count) all demonstrate a passing familiarity with the actual territory under discussion, a willingness to consider other possible points of view, and a basic grasp on reality that this reviewer finds sufficiently refreshing as to cause her to forgive its lesser production values and its occasional illegibility (which can, after all, be attributed to the well-known principle of replicative fading as the FONSI presents readers with direct facsimiles of the individual authors’ contributions in their original format).

In general, the FONSI outpaces 25 Lbs. of Crap in three important respects: drama, prose style, and overall content and guiding philosophy. The rest of this review will take up each of these topics in turn.


25 Lbs. of Crap is, to put it quite simply, utterly lacking in this important textual and contextual consideration. This is largely attributable to its singular narrative voice, though this voice’s singular authoritarian tone may create a pleasing conflict within the reader’s experience of the text as the reader’s own objections are crushed under the literary jackboot of the author’s disregard for basic scientific and ethical principles. This minor sop to the need to keep the reader turning pages is revealed as a poor effort indeed, however, by the cracklingly dramatic format of the FONSI’s prologue, in which some 30 different commentator’s objections, requests for clarification, and general comments are each directly taken up, “point/counterpoint” style, by the document’s compilers.

A sterling example of this occurs in the entertaining play of ideas and perspectives illustrated in the compilers’ response to the comments of one Gary Glass, the Wyoming State Geologist, who expressed concern that none of the listed preparers in the preliminary documents was a geologist licensed to practice in Wyoming, that some of the data in use in preliminary reports was out of date, and that the potential for discovery and recovery of camel, horse, rhinoceros, mastodon, merycodont and other carnivore fossils was not adequately addressed.

I quote from the FONSI directly to share the tone and tenor of the preparers’ response to Mr. Glass:

1. The geology section of the EA was excerpted from the Geotechnical Engineering Report prepared for the project by Terracon Consultants Western under contract to AVI, p.c., the design consultants. This report was referenced in the geology section of the EA and a citation provided on Page 50 of the EA. The Terracon report was prepared by a professional geologist licensed to practice in Wyoming.

2. Although some of this material is apparently outdated, it was prepared in 1997, prior to the availability of the Mears (1998) publication. The material presented was intended only to provide a general overview of geological processes in the area, as it is i generally beyond the scope of an EA to provide a thorough discussion of geologic processes and formations.

3. Paleontological surveys are normally not required for highway improvement projects. The Class III cultural resource survey conducted provided thorough coverage of the area of potential ground disturbance, and exposed vertebrate fossils of any significance located during cultural surveys are normally recorded, but not evaluated (Dave Eckles. Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist, pers. commun.). Areas with the ROW of the state and BLM lands were previously disturbed during highway construction, and it is unlikely any vertebrate fossils would occur in this area. If vertebrate fossils are discovered during construction, the Wyoming State Geological Survey and the BLM will be notified so the appropriate steps may be taken to ensure the fossils are evaluated and protected.

The drama is further heightened later in the prologue when the issue of potentially re-routing Wyoming Highway 130 (aka the Snowy Range Road) out of the popular and beautiful Brush Creek Canyon is taken up by members of the public and adjacent landowners, whose overwhelming objections to said plan are duly noted and, stunningly, taken into account by decision makers, but I won’t spoil the outcome there, lest all incentive to read the document itself be removed by the inclusion of spoilers.


While both documents take great pains to use proper and legally accurate language, again the FONSI stands as the superior document for its inclusion of multiple and sometimes very colorful narrative voices, ranging from the angry to the indifferent, popping with folk wisdom and plain speech, providing a refreshing contrast to the document’s other sections of admittedly turgid governmentspeak. Thus passages like the following, written in a comment letter by a resident of the region who objected to the closing of Brush Creek Canyon to motorized traffic, “It won’t be so very many years, a blink really in the life of a road, that you or I might not be able to walk that footpath so well” coexists prettily in the same document as “This Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is based on the Environmental Assessment, Supplemental Environmental Assessment, and additional Alternatives Analysis document which have been independently evaluated by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and determined to adequately and accurately discuss the environmental issues and impacts of the proposed project and appropriate mitigation measures.”

(Further note: Your Humble Blogger had to scour the FONSI thoroughly to find the above hideous example of governmentspeak, while 25 Lbs. of Crap has even scarier examples of such on every single page!)

25 Lbs. of Crap, in contrast, consistently recycles phrases, sentences, sometimes entire paragraphs in its continued effort to meet its page, paper use, and weight quotas, though in its defense it must be said that at least this document has spared us the additional tonnage of weepy stump humper rhetoric its authors doubtless received in the process of preparing it.


The FONSI represents a reasoned and open-minded approach to planning and execution on the part of its authors, who placed all of their metaphorical cards on the metaphorical table and not only sought but listened to input from federal agencies, state agencies, landowners and land users throughout its decision making process, and presents the unassailable proof of this within the document itself. The document clearly proves that the overwhelming opposition to the re-alignment of that segment of WYO 130 that passes through Brush Creek Canyon was not only taken into account but ultimately produced the desired result; the road will stay where it is, with just a retaining wall built to mitigate potential damage to the attractive and bountiful wetlands area that draws so many members of the public to the road and thus to the communities that road feeds. It contains none of the junk science (such as references to concerns about harm to species that do not, in fact, even exist in the affected area), nebulous references to ways it will “improve” the economies of the affected towns (such as 25 Lbs. of Crap’s interesting arguments that it will produce a net increase in timber jobs despite its inherent net decrease in the amount of timber that will be made available for holders of those jobs to work on), or caving to the uninformed opinions of people who have never even seen the affected area but still hold paralogical beliefs about it (like the bozos who try to convince passersby that the top of Kennaday Peak – a spot well above the tree line – is actually a clear cut).

The FONSI, therefore, gets a full and hearty recommendation from LIANT for its readability, reasonable tone, and pleasing outcome. If you read only one thick, steaming government document this year, this one should definitely be your choice.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003


For the stupidest reasons!

Attend an e-mail I just got from Sen. Goodenough, who had the wacky idea that maybe making rodeo Wyoming’s official state sport wasn’t the most important or necessary item on this year’s legislative agenda, and is trying, along with good folks like Sam Western, to open our lovely state up to new ideas, new archetypes.

Goodenough proposed an amendment to the bill that established rodeo as Wyoming’s state sport. He wanted to replace “rodeo” with “dancing.” For the record, I think this a fine, fine idea. I know it’s shocking for some to contemplate, but not everyone in Wyoming is a Buckle Bunny (and not everyone who isn’t is a Democrat. I, for one, have never, ever liked rodeo in the slightest – as I’ve shared with you, my dear readers, on these pages before, the autistic fixation in my home state on all things Cowboy is one of the big reasons why I left with such alacrity back when I was 18).

But almost everyone, in some form or another, likes dancing. Dancing covers a lot more cultural ground than rodeo, for one thing. There are many forms of dancing, all of which are fun. Country swing is a blast (and this coming from somone who doesn’t really like country music all that much). Polka, don’t get me started (my third favorite way to wind up breathing hard)! Belly dancing has long been a favorite for me (sometimes I even do it to country music). Flamenco is nice and exuberant and noisy and includes a whole different range of nationalities in the mix. Tap... clogging... ballet...

Ballet, interestingly enough, is what at least two pundits who heard about this tiny controversy fixed on. Ballet and the French, though Goodenough insists he mentioned neither in his arguments against enshrining rodeo as Wyoming’s state sport.

Below is a snippet of the transcript of a recent episode of CNN’s “Crossfire.” Note: “CROSSTALK” is what transcribers insert when several people are talking at once or some other circumstances prevent transcription.

CARLSON: Wyoming is a proudly Western state. People in
Wyoming drive American cars. They don't drink a lot of
Chardonnay. They like rodeo. All this embarrasses Democrats
who believe in general Americans should be less like the
people of Wyoming and a lot more like the French. Wyoming
State Senator Keith Goodenough came out and said this the
other day.
When fellow legislators tried to make rodeo the official
sport of Wyoming, Goodenough objected. His suggestion for
the official sport, dance. That's right, dance. "Rodeo is
dangerous and uncivilized," he explained. "Plus," and this
of course was the real point, "no one in France rides
bulls. In France they pirouette and twirl around" which is
why the French are so, and I'm quoting now, "lean."
In the end the Democrats lost the argument. Drivers in
Wyoming will not have ballerinas on their driver's license
plates for now. But keep in mind, they tried.
CARLSON: Why don't you leave the people in Wyoming alone?
They like rodeo.
CARVILLE: I go to the rodeo in Wyoming.

Must have been a slow news day.

Monday, March 10, 2003


I’ve read a lot of funky stuff over the last few weeks, all purporting to explain why it’s a good or a bad thing to attack Iraq, but nothing has stuck with me as much as the following:

THE PENTAGON’S NEW MAP, by Thomas P.M. Barnett

I’m too high (got the crud again, and the attendant dependence on dextramothorphan hydrobromide-laden remedies in order to breathe) to comment properly on this right now, but I would urge all of you who came here today looking for something interesting to read to have a look at this instead.

It’s good stuff.

But try as I do to comment upon it, explain why I think it’s so good or interesting or germaine to what I usually write about on this here web page, I get nowhere near what I mean, except when I come out with the fact that I’m pondering what Wyoming’s place is within this larger framework and my thinking gets pretty far out at times.

And I’m not sure it’s all the cold medicine.