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Dalles Mountain. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Last Saturday morning, I took off early for the high desert in search of prairie falcons, wildflowers and rock art. It had been a gray, drizzly week in the Willamette Valley and I craved sun. I crossed the Columbia on the Bridge of the Gods, then took Highway 14, which hugs the river tightly, too tightly in some places. The road took me east past Wind and Dog Mountains and the drone-software plant in Bingen to the mouth of the Klickitat River at Lyle, where 30 years earlier I’d been recruited by my old friend Chuck Williams (a descendent of the Chinook people and a member of the Grand Ronde tribal confederation) to help fight the construction of a sprawling wind-surfing resort on the site of an ancient (and still active) tribal fishing village. It was a prolonged and vicious battle, which is usually what it takes to fend off greed-head developers. There were many ups and down, but in the end we prevailed, a rare victory against staggering odds. But the road network remains, embedded into the basalt as a sign of just how close of the forces of darkness came to destroying one of the most culturally and environmentally significant sites in the Pacific Northwest.

Tribal salmon fishing platforms along the Columbia, Lyle, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

At Lyle, I turned north following the twists and turns of the racing Klickitat River, as dozens of osprey and bald eagles scanned the water for silver flashes of salmon and trout. I stopped at the little town of Klickitat, once the home of a large mill operated by International Paper and Champion, now a toxic waste site fenced off for public safety. The same old story in the industrial West, where timber companies scalp as much as they can and leave behind ruins coated in lead, arsenic, chlorine and asbestos. Don’t worry, the company told the people of this remote company town, as the executives decamped back to corporate HQ in Memphis: most of the toxins will leach away and that ground will be good as new in no time. And 30 years later, it’s still leaching: into the river, into the salmon, into the eagles and osprey and bears, into the tribal people, into the children of the town. Out of the past, into the bloodstream.

The place seemed haunted to me, a miniature version of the death zone in Libby, Montana. As I sat on the bumper of my car looking at the giant smokestack, a rusty pick-up truck pulled up next to me.

The driver, a man in his 70s, was wearing an oxygen mask. He pulled it down, gasped for breath and growled, “Hey, pal. You lost?”  Yes,  perhaps I am, I thought, as I got back in my car and drove east, across the river, and up a side canyon on a treacherous one-lane track, until I emerged on a plateau of rolling hills, sagebrush, cattle and wind turbines.

Gate to Klickitat mill site. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Klickitat mill site. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I zig-zagged another 20 miles down ranch roads to a narrow basalt slot canyon, where I parked and opened the door. Strike that. Tried to open the door. Yes, there was sun. But there was also wind. Wind so fierce it kept slamming the door shut in my face and on my legs. Prudently, I turned the car around. It rocked in the wind, but I was finally able to open the door long enough to get out. I checked the temperature. It was 37 degrees, not counting the wild chill. It was 50 when I left “chilly” Portland.  I came in search of sun and found a cold one.

Rimrock, Klickitat Plateau. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I scurried down into the canyon, hoping to escape the wind. But the blasts only seemed to accelerate and intensify in the black corridors. If there were any wildflowers left, they were probably freeze-dried by now. I’d been in this canyon on the backside of Dalles Mountain once before, years ago. It was a very enjoyable day, spent alone in a hidden chasm with only a couple of rattlesnakes, a chuckling coyote and prairie falcons as companions. When I told Chuck Williams about it, he said: “Did you see the rock art?” No, I hadn’t. “Yeah, there’s a panel of carvings and red ochre paintings in a rock shelter a couple of miles down.” Chuck said he’d never been there, but he’d heard about the ancient images from elders. A couple of miles down, eh? Chuck was often sending me on vaguely worded seek-and-ye-shall-find missions, that usually ended futilely.

Lichen on basalt. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I scanned the basalt cliffs closely, entranced by the gorgeous patterns of rock lichen and moss, but found nothing resembling a petroglyph or pictograph. After an hour or so, I was pretty close to frozen and my face was now being pelted with tiny crystals of ice. The sun was shining.  There were no storm clouds on the horizon. It was as if the wind had been scraping ice off the flanks of Mt Adams and launching them 40 miles at a moving target: me. The falcons were hunkering down and the wildflowers were battered and shorn of most of their blossom, only a hardy few desert parsley still hanging on for dear life in these bracing conditions.

Suksdorf’s Desert Parsley. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Columbia Desert Parsley. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I was ready to surrender. As I began my retreat, I heard a splash in the creek, very close. I turned and saw the reeds rustling. From the wind? Then I noticed a sleek, brown flash in the water. An otter, heading down stream, into the wind. I fumbled for my iPhone; my fingers too numb to enter the passcode. I tried to arrange my face so that the phone would recognize me and magically open. By the time, I could access the camera, the otter had disappeared. An otter? Up here in this tiny desert swale? Was I seeing things? A case of brain freeze?  If so, I just saw her again, scrambling over rocks where the creek had submerged. I sprinted after her–well, jogged into the wind. Two strides forward, one back. About five minutes later, I spotted her sluicing through the water right beneath me.

Over the next hour, she led me another mile or so down the canyon, sliding over small chutes, prancing over boulders, threading her way through alder and willow thickets, before finally disappearing into an emerald pool from which she didn’t emerge. Hopefully, she’d returned to her den.

The winds had died down and as I turned to finally head back, I noticed a small rock shelter, just down from the pool.

I crossed the frigid creek, climbed up the scree slope, assuming that no reasonable rattlesnake would be out in this weather, and finally reached the wall of the cliff. Now, I was the one who needed an oxygen mask. Then there it was, practically staring me in the face: Chuck’s panel of paintings.  Maybe a dozen distinct daubings. Most of the images had been washed away or faded in the sun and were now little more than ghostly red slashes.

But there in the middle the swirls of ochre and green clay was shimmering anthropomorphic figure. Let’s call him the Elk Man.

I got out my phone again and snapped (well, fingered) a few photos. Then I went to my contacts and scrolled to Chuck’s number. I couldn’t wait to tell him the news. Then it struck me cold. Chuck’s been dead for six years. In fact, he died not far away from here in a hospital in Goldendale. Yes, maybe this place is haunted. But, unlike the poisoned ground of Klickitat, haunted by spirits that still speak.

The inundated site of Celilo Falls, salmon-fishing mecca for tribes across the Northwest, including Chuck Williams’ ancestors, who lived a few miles down river–as seen from the summit of Dalles Mountain. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

***

+ Two police officers in the Minneapolis area, both with around 20 years experience as cops, killed black men detained for minor infractions. Both cops are culpable, but so is the system them that trained them and put them out on the street every day, year after year.

+ The cop who killed Daunte Wright was a “negotiator”–shoot first, talk if you survive.

+ Predictably, the local police union blamed Wright’s “non-compliance” for his own death, after a cop shot him with a handgun, thinking (allegedly) she had grabbed her taser.

+ Brooklyn Center, the small suburb of abandoned malls and deteriorating apartment complexes north of downtown Minneapolis, where Daunte Wright was killed by police is an economically distressed area, increasingly populated by people of color. Minneapolis itself is 60 percent white non-hispanic. By contrast, Brooklyn Center is 60 people of color, largely African-American.

+ In the last decade, Brooklyn Center cops have killed six people, four of them black. Wright’s killer was at the scene of two of the shootings and as head of the police union helped advise the shooters how to protect themselves from prosecution.

+ Derek Chauvin’s lawyers offering a video of a previous police stop, where George Floyd is a passenger confronted by screaming cops with guns drawn, who threaten to taser him even as he complies with their demands, doesn’t seem to do much, if anything, to help his defense, but is certainly ominous given the circumstances of the shooting of Daunte Wright.

+ If George Floyd was so incapacitated by drugs, why the urgent need to pin him down with a knee to his neck for 9 minutes?

+ When a cop is pointing a gun at you, as they were with George Floyd in a previous stop, and yells: “Undo your seatbelt” and “Keep your hands where I can see them.” What do you do?

+ Trash trashing trash…Predictably, Gen. David Petraeus has come out “trashing” Biden’s decision to unilaterally withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, if, in fact, that’s what Biden is really doing.

+ The troops may (or may not) be leaving Afghanistan in September, but the drones, robotic weapons and bomber overflights aren’t. Thus the killing will continue, even if the fingerprints of the killers are on joysticks back at Creech Airbase in Nevada.

+ Number of cases of blood clots which may be associated with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine: 6. Number of doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccine administered to date: 6.8 million. Americans have lost all understanding of statistics, one reasons why baseball has lost its status as the American pastime.

+ The British Medical Journal published a scathing editorial on the Bolonsaro’s regimes appallingly inept handling of the COVID crisis in Brazil, charging that it amounts to a “crime against humanity“:

Last week, nearly one third of all daily covid-19 fatalities in the world were in Brazil, although Brazil makes up only 2.7% of the world population. On 2 April, there were 12.8 million cases and over 325 thousand deaths. In the week 21-27 March, there was a daily 0.8% rise in cases and 1.9% rise in deaths; lethality has risen from 2% to 3.3% since late 2020.  The new variants circulating in Brazil have become a serious cause of concern to neighbouring countries.

+ Who needs Stephen Miller? According to a report by the International Rescue Committee, Biden is on track to accept the fewest refugees this year of any modern president, including Trump. The IRC estimates that the Biden administration will admit only about 4,510 refugees into the United States this fiscal year, less than half of the number admitted in Trump’s final year.

+ Lucian Truscott, IV on Tucker Carlson: “He gives new meaning to the words, self-satisfied asshole. That’s a face that never missed a meal, never bounced a check, was never late with the rent, never picked up a fucking check. It’s the face of a putrescent, pusillanimous prick who hasn’t entertained a genuinely new thought in twenty years. The words pig-headed frat-boy don’t do him justice.”

+ According to a Washington Post study, since 2015, right-wing extremists have been involved in 267 plots or attacks and 91 fatalities, in the US. At the same time, attacks and plots ascribed to far-left views accounted for only 66 incidents leading to 19 deaths. But what does the Post consider “far-left violence?” Basically, anti-pipeline activism and BLM protest: “multiple attempts by extremists to derail trains to hinder oil pipeline construction and at least seven incidents in which police and their facilities were targeted with guns, firebombs and graffiti.”

+ Bernie Madoff died in prison this week at 82, one of the few apex financial fraudsters to end up behind bars. But the Wall Street casino he cruised like a sand shark plays on, burdened by fewer regulations now than then…

+ Biden said this week that he’s setting up a, wait for it, yes, presidential commission to study expanding the Supreme Court. Presidential commissions are a kind of contract killer for progressive ideas…

+ Berkeley philosopher Hans Sluga has eviscerated the recent allegation, metastasizing across rightwing media, that Michel Foucault sexually exploited young boys in Tunis in the early 1960s: “The sordid story is going around that Foucault sodomized little boys in Moslem graveyards while he was teaching at the University of Tunis in the late 1960’s. It is due to a certain Guy Sorman who describes himself as a “leading French intellectual” but is in reality a self-promoting right-wing hack who has spent his career lauding the miracle of unrestrained capitalism….”

+ What a truly vile creature Prince Philip was: “In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, to contribute something to solving overpopulation.”

+ Our Tech Overlords are apparently spending billions to prolong their lives by infusing the blood of young people into their systems (Maybe they should have been drinking the blood of the 99-year-old Duke of Edinburg.) Over to you, Peter Tosh…

Unnu old vampire
You don’t like to see youths prosper
Only like to see youths suffer
Unnu set of vampire
Unnu old vampire
Only trod upon creation
With your bloody medication
Unnu set of vampire

 

+ Western Oregon University, the oldest university in the state, abruptly announced this week that it is eliminating the school’s philosophy department and firing its tenured faculty…

+ Move over Wilt Chamberlain: According to Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s recent book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present,  Il Duce had sexual relations with an average of four women per day over his 23 years in power. Apparently, the trains weren’t the only things running on time in fascist Italy…

+ Biden has nominated Tracy Stone-Manning to head the troubled BLM. I first met  Stone-Manning (known as “Stone-Mining” by Montana environmental activists) back in the early 1990s at Big Sky during a conference on Greater Yellowstone put on by the free-market group, PERC. She was, like her husband Richard, a writer back then, but one promoting a collaborative, can’t-we-all-get-along approach to intractable issues like grizzlies, mining, and wolf reintroduction. She went on to work for Senator Jon Tester and the Montana DEQ, where her legacy is, frankly, pretty awful. She helped craft Tester’s industry friendly Forest Jobs & Recreation Act, which sacrificed huge swaths of federal land to logging as a trade off for a few uncontroversial wilderness parcels. Manning also pushed Tester’s noxious bill to transfer management (ie, killing) of wolves from the feds to the state of Montana. Hard to imagine a worse pick from Biden to head an agency that has become little more than a tool for the extractive industries…

+ Japan is pushing forward with its mad scheme to dump radioactive water from Fukushima into the Pacific Ocean. They ought to be dumping it in the swimming pools of Tepco executives…I’m sure George Monbiot will offer his services as their pool boy.

+ Despite the pandemic and the economic slowdown, global carbon and methane emissions continued to climb in 2020. The global surface average for carbon dioxide (CO2) was 412.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2020, rising by 2.6 ppm during the year, the fifth-highest rate of increase in NOAA’s 63-year record, following 1987, 1998, 2015 and 2016. The annual mean at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii was 414.4 ppm during 2020.

+ Climate-change driven wildfires in the western United States seem to be spreading rare fungal infections, like Valley Fever, which has increased more than sixfold in Arizona and California from 1998 to 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

+ It doesn’t seem to matter how well the grizzlies “behave,” the ranchers, and their government-sponsored death squads, are going to kill them anyway…So, let rip?

+ Yet another reason to hate golf…In southern Ohio, the Octogan Earthworks, cosmological mounds constructed 2,000 years ago by Native people, are now leased to a golf club and are used as part of the contours for its gold course, despite the fact that “America’s Stonehenge” is listed by UNESCO as one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.

+ Can we just keep dogs out of the hands of politicians?

+ Even if you knew nothing about his personal life, Philip Johnson’s designs outed him as a fascist architect. His buildings were cold, heartless, sinister. But now we know, this stern modernist was a real Nazi, an open admirer of Hitler, who, even as late as 1990, was effusing about how electrified he was by hearing Hitler speak at a rally in Potsdam in 1932. Johnson told his biographer Franz Schulze that “you simply could not fail to be caught up in the excitement of it, by the marching songs, by the crescendo and climax of the whole thing, as Hitler came on at last to harangue the crowd….all those blond boys in black leather”. When Johnson returned to the states, the FBI began tracking him after Johnson told associates that he believed he could save the country by becoming America’s “Hitler.” He even planned to start his own political party, the Young Nationalists, whose emblem was a “flying wedge” similar to the swastika.

+ Call it the revenge of Frank Lloyd Wright, a much superior and humane architect, who Johnson smugly denounced as the “best architect of the 19th century.”

+ The New Scientist magazine is touting a new technique that allows art restorers to quickly remove graffiti without damaging the underlying art. But what if the graffiti is the art?

+ Film Comment has conducted an excellent, wide-ranging interview with Raoul Peck, director of the chilling HBO documentary, “Exterminate All the Brutes,” where Peck talks about growing up in Haiti, watching Hollywood films spread the gospel of colonialism:

In Haiti, when I was younger, there were like 10 drive-in theaters, and in every city there was a cinema. We got most of the American films, and some European films. I grew up watching Tarzan, Hopalong Cassidy, all the westerns. Later on, in Congo, it was the same. In France, it was the same. Don’t forget, Hollywood had invaded the world. After the war, there was not a single country that did not have hundreds of Hollywood films being shown every day. I grew up on those films. That’s the funny thing. People from the so-called Third World, minorities, even women, all their lives, have to change characters to someone they can understand because they don’t see themselves on the screen. But you’re an audience like any other, and you want to root for the good guy, so you have to find a way.

+ When Philip Roth went to Prague in the early 70s, the KGB tracked his every move after he left a meeting of dissident Czech writers, including Milan Kundera, but apparently had little idea who this strange American tourist was. His recently released KGB file described him as: “an unknown man, about 40 years old, 175cm tall, slender, with an elongated face, black thinning hair, light-rimmed glasses … carrying a paper board with a map of Prague.” Nothing about a pathological fixation with masturbation.

+ Merry Clayton, who has just released a terrific new record titled Beautiful Scars, on being asked by producer Jack Nitzsche, to sing back-up on the Rolling Stones’, “Gimme Shelter,” a song she said left a “bad taste in her mouth“:

I called Curtis: “These boys want me to sing about rape and murder.” I wanted them to hear me, talking real loud to my husband on the phone. But we got the gist – that it was part of the song and not something just flying out of the sky. I was tired, it was cold and my voice cracked. We listened back and they said: “Oh that’s bloody fabulous. Can you do it again?”

+ John Lennon, film director: “John was one of the most famous people in the world when he made a film called Self-Portrait (1969), which is nothing but a 15 minute close up of his semi-erect penis. ‘My prick, that’s all you see for a long time,’ John said, summarizing the plot. ‘The idea was for it to slowly rise and fall–but it didn’t.’ It seems strange to think that John made a movie starring his penis, yet the only reason anyone remembers is Yoko complaining, ‘The critics won’t touch it.’” (From Dreaming the Beatles by Rob Sheffield).

Don’t Forget What Your Good Book Said…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

The Subversive Simone Weil: a Life in Five Ideas
Robert Zaretsky
(University of Chicago)

Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again: Women and Desire in the Age of Consent
Katherine Angel
(Verso)

Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice (1967-1975)
Richard Thompson
(Algonquin Books)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Final Floor
Throttle Elevator Music
(Wild Hive)

Beautiful Scars
Merry Clayton
(Motown)

Uncommon Weather
The Reds, Pinks & Purples
(Slumberland)

The Wild Men in the Wings

“The term ‘intellectual’ in its modern sense was really developed during the years of the Dreyfus affair in late nineteenth-century France, when Émile Zola and other writers and intellectuals were criticizing the gross mistreatment of Alfred Dreyfus—his sentencing on fabricated charges. They were criticizing the army and the state. They were bitterly condemned by the immortals of the French Academy for daring to criticize these great institutions. They were the wild men in the wings. Zola had to flee France to escape the attacks, and others were jailed. This is history. If you’re a wild man in the wings, and you’re daring to go beyond obeisance to the powerful, you are likely to suffer in one way or another.” (Noam Chomsky, “Marx’s Old Mole is Right Beneath the Surface.”)

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