Natures Ride the Rails for Your Pleasure and Sorrow

In many places, especially in the West, Amtrak leaves behind paved roads and the manmade landscape. © William P. Diven (click to enlarge)

The Cascade Range of southern Oregon is not bashful about rejecting the railroad carved into its flanks as it dares men, women and machinery to conduct business as usual. Looking out from Amtrak’s southbound Coast Starlight in August 2019, the right-of-way reveals fallen trees sawn to logs and shunted aside, boulders kicked away, shiny new utility boxes and dented old ones, and freshly scraped two-tracks squirming into the forest. Propane tanks lazing here and there await the remote call to ignite railside jets when sodden snow fouls connections between the main line and passing tracks.

If Mother Nature feels petulant, she turns these mountains into a formidable adversary. Most days the railroad — once Southern Pacific, now Union Pacific – negotiates for at least a draw and minimal drama beyond the effort needed by cab crews, distant dispatchers and maintenance teams to keep freight trains and Amtrak moving. On other days one of the 20 or so tunnels may collapse as halted traffic for weeks in 2018. Snow falling as white glue last year downed timber isolating the Coast Starlight and refusing to release nearly 200 passengers and crew for a day and a half. Travelers described their experience a nightmare, hell and surreal while also relating kindness toward each other and heroes among the Amtrak service staff.

To say this high forest inland from the coastal mountains is unforgiving is a truism given the limit on mistakes can be zero. There is a friendly side as well although complicated by human imprints farther down the line.

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Fear For Sale; Get Yours While It Lasts

That giggling you hear is terrorists watching our public discourse stampede us off a cliff like so many frightened sheep.

Given our paranoid past, we should know better after banning Chinese in the 1800s and rounding up Reds in 1919, drinkers in the ’20s, wanderers in the ’30s and citizens of Japanese descent in the ’40s.

Photo © William P. Diven

Photo © William P. Diven

In the ’50s we hunted communists under our beds while suspecting the folks next door. In the ’60s Abbie Hoffman’s threat to levitate the Pentagon spun J. Edgar’s FBI knickers into a twist. Popular belief in the ’70s, at least in my circle, held disco would trigger the apocalypse.

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Spinning U.S. History Until We’re Dangerously Dizzy

Symbols do matter whether it’s the flag of rebellion or the swastika of genocide. Take it from someone who’s been on the losing end of one of those arguments.

History matters as well, and we place our country at risk without consensus on the facts and meanings of our shared experience in all its glory and pain.


Confederate generals (from left) Stonewall Jackson, P. G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee in “Our heroes and our flags,” Southern Lithograph Company, ca. 1896. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-pga-03338. (Click image to enlarge)

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Bashing the Bearers of Bad News

While I miss some aspects of the 1970s, my hair and the Allman Brothers Band, for example, the Nixon zombies roaming Albuquerque City Hall are not welcome here in 2015.

Spiro Agnew (left), Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, image No. T25035c1-27; John Mitchell, photo by Steve Northrup in Time Magazine, April 30, 1973, author's collection.

Spiro Agnew (left), Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, image No. T25035c1-27; John Mitchell (right), photo by Steve Northrup in Time Magazine, April 30, 1973, author’s collection.

Among the undead is Attorney General John Mitchell, part of the team that shilled for President Nixon by attacking enemies real and imagined in and out of the news media. He’s the one who said Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham is “gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer” over exposing a connection between the Watergate burglary and the Nixon re-election campaign. By that time, Mitchell ran the Committee to Re-Elect the President, wonderfully known as CREEP. Continue reading

Mellow El Paso vs. Shoot-’em-up Albuquerque

If Albuquerque took a chill pill, it might act more like El Paso, Texas, a metro area of similar size but only half the violent crime.

Metro Albuquerque counts four times as many murders as El Paso, a city 250 miles down the Rio Grande opposite Cíudad Juarez, Mexico, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) for 2013. Albuquerque tallies twice as many rapes and in 2013 recorded 742 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, twice the national rate.


El Paso police cordon a downtown street to investigate a pedestrian fatality. Unlike Albuquerque, jaywalking laws are enforced here. Photo © William P. Diven

In comparison to the Wild West shootout occurring almost nightly in Albuquerque, El Paso might as well be Mayberry RFD.

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New Year, No Fear

Another year blows by like so many snow pellets riding a ferocious east wind. In crossing the artificial dateline on Pope Gregory’s calendar, how do you tally progress versus the countervailing forces of fear and greed?


Sideways snow falling in the foothills of New Mexico’s Sandia Mountains, Dec. 30, 2014. Photo © William P. Diven.

On balance the human species survived 2014 without actually destroying the planet. That counts as a positive although one friend isn’t so sure. Would be fine with her if Homo sapiens somehow erased itself leaving earth and the animal kingdom to proceed without our interference.

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Here’s What It’s Like To Discover You’re An Alien In Your Own Country

Let us marvel at what happens when a savvy citizen with strong views on the Constitution and border protection bumps head first into the reality of southern New Mexico.

Witness the tale of Tim Blomquist, insurance agency owner, former Army intelligence officer, and a stranger in this strange land.

Bordre Patrol K-9 Rudy sniffing out meds on I-10. © William P. Diven.

Border Patrol K-9 Rudy sniffing out meds on I-10. © William P. Diven. (Click to enlarge)

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