July 2005

Finding the connections between all things

By Art Goodtimes

TELLURIDE HOMEOWNERS … Given the controversy over exterminating prairie dogs in an exclusive enclave above Telluride and the one-time shooting contest that Nucla used to brag about, I found it timely reading to find Jeff Rice’s piece “Talking Dogs” in the May issue of Salt Lake City’s stylish alternative monthly, Catalyst (www.catalystmagazine. net, $18 a year) … A cornucopia of great stories and fine columns, Greta and John deJong’s publication has been a mainstay in my mailbox for a dozen years. While focused on the Wasatch Front, its pieces often have relevance far beyond the Jordan River, and it’s an excellent antidote for those who think Utah means Mormons only. Catalyst is the mouthpiece for as lively an alternative community as anywhere in the Inner Basin West – including Denver or Albuquerque … Rice reports on the work of Dr. Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, who’s documented at least 20 distinct prairie-dog words. Says Rice, “A prairie dog can describe a coyote or a red-tailed hawk; there are chirps that denote the presence of humans, and even calls describing shapes and colors.” … And this isn’t just the stuff of popular culture. Dr. Slobodchikoff has published his findings over the last 20 years in the prestigious journal Animal Behavior and other scientific journals … And the irony, as Rice points out, is that just as we’re beginning to understand how interesting and intelligent these creatures are, they’re disappearing. Several species are on threatened or endangered lists. According to Dr. Slobodchikoff, “In a general sense, we now have about 2 percent of the prairie dogs we had 100 years ago.” Estimates from the 19th Century suggest there were once 5 billion of these talkative little creatures … Why is it that the human species finds it okay to poison non-human relatives of ours in the animal kindom [no, not “king”-dom], possibly even to extinction, without even examining their world? It’s a blindness for sure. Which was a big part of the message of Mountainfilm this year. If we really want to be sustainable, we need to understand the interconnectedness of all things. Even of our cousins the prairie dogs.

MOUNTAINFILM … Telluride’s first big festival of the summer season. A Memorial Day tradition.. New Director Arlene Burns did a great job following in Rick Silverman’s footsteps. She had a talented crew, including folks like Catherine Soutter, Jamie Morrison, Stash Winslocki and dozens of others, not to mention the hundreds of volunteers. And once again it was a very full weekend of serendipities, new friends and old friends connecting, plus very powerful cinema … My favorites didn’t track the official jury, except for Paul Fusco’s “Chernobyl Legacy” – a film that every politician ought to be required to see before they even think of resuscitating nuclear power in this country — or anywhere else … Of course, as an emcee at the Opera House and the Nugget, I was limited in what I saw (which is why I was sad they skipped the after-the-festival films this year). But there was a buzz around several films … Simone Duarte’s “En Route to Baghdad” offered up the amazing life of U.N. diplomat Sergio Viera de Mello, truly one of the great world leaders of our time. And ironically, one of my old seminary classmates, Gil Loescher, was caught in the same blast that killed de Mello. Gil lost both his legs … Velcrow Ripper (now there’s a funny name — coming out of its Goretex at you) had a gripping film in “Scared Sacred,” taking you to the sites of many of the world’s greatest tragedies and finding redemption and hope amid the unspeakable horrors of the past … I missed Neal Marlens and Carol Black’s “The Lost People of Mountain Village,” but the word was it was hilarious … Thor Freudenthal had a lovely little short in “Motel,” where the roles between roaches and humans get reversed … And then there were the speakers. Paul Stamets (borrowed from the Telluride Mushroom Festival and Bioneers) did a dazzling talk at the Moving Mountain Symposium, telling us all the ways that mushrooms could save the world. Including a species of forest conk, found only in the oldgrowth forests of the Pacific Northwest, that appears to have significant antiviral promise against the weaponizing of poxes (smallpox, monkeypox). Hence, Stamets’ brilliant conclusion (employing the kind of political aikido Michael Kinsley of Aspen has long preached) – we need to save old-growth forests in the name of national defense! … And some personal highpoints – meeting Jon Turk (former Tellurider who left about the time I came to town) and discussing his fascinating new book (which I bought), “In the Wake of the Jomon: Stone Age Mariners and a Voyage Across the Pacific.” Were the first humans on this continent seafarers, not land-bridge hunters? Check it out. Available at Between the Covers … And another high point was meeting Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson, whose incredible coffeetable book “Lost Africa” is a treasure all its own, also featured at our local bookstore … And all of that is just scratching the surface of a wonderful weekend – an opportunity to learn and view and listen and connect … For me, the Telluride summer is a season that begins with Mountainfilm and ends with Mushroom. My M&Ms.

WEEKLY QUOTA … “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” — President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954.

IF WE REALLY CARED ABOUT PEAK OIL … To break the regulatory stalemate between the U.S. government and the auto industry over increasing fuel efficiency standards for the U.S. vehicular fleet, we ought to do a bunch of things, including … SUBSIDIZE COST-EFFECTIVE OIL SAVINGS … The federal government currently gives $1.5 billion in annual subsidies to oil companies, regardless of whether or not they find or develop any new oil supplies (the oil depletion tax allowance). This is in spite of a projected 2004 net profit for the seven largest Western oil companies of $71.3 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. Instead, invest the $1.5 billion in innovative private-sector programs to save gasoline, paying 25 cents to 45 cents to the company based on each gallon of gas saved by the initiative of the company. This is substantially less than the subsidy currently paid for new oil discoveries. Programs to accelerate sales of efficient low-rolling-resistance tires and lower-friction motor-oil formulations look particularly promising.

Art Goodtimes is a San Miguel County commissioner.

Owed to Capital

O mushroom truck!
What luck that Betzi
paid that pig-farmer’s loan off
& brought you home to me.
Odi et amo.
I love you. I hate you.
But who in our midst doesn’t
dance that Marxian daisy chain
of car sales sex?
Market niche.
Corporate nirvana.
All of us on wheels
dispensing sweet toxins
with each tap of the shoe
on the accelerator.