May-June, 2010


Thunderbear.Unlike, say, the Roman Catholic Church, the National Park Service does not have an Index of Forbidden Books; tomes whose reading might damage the Faith or Morals of the Park going public.

Pity! There is nothing like a good Holy war to get the juices flowing!

The National Parks, our secular religion, and its uniformed clergy, the National Park Service, are sometimes subjected to the slings and arrows of outraged holy warriors who loudly wonder why the NPS does not allow the presentation of the "Other Side" in the book stores of the geological national parks, such as Grand Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, etc.

The "Other Side" being the alleged "biblical" creation of the planet 6,000 years ago, a somewhat shorter time line than that advanced by the National Park Service and other interested parties.

Understandably, the Creationists believe that they are being censored by godless parkies who not only claim that parts of Shenandoah National Park "exceed one billion years" in age, but also refuse to sell books depicting Noah and his ark shooting the rapids in Grand Canyon National Park.

The Creationists are correct: What's fair is fair; they have a right. We are censoring their beliefs. We are not giving them equal time!

Therefore, if you are running one of these geological parks, you are well advised to set aside a section in your cooperating association bookstore labeled the INSPIRATIONAL AND SPIRITUAL section. (Your irreverent staff may call it something else, but they are going to Hell.)

The I & S section would include all the imaginative alternatives to the stodgy dogma and dull stories handed down by the US Geological Survey and others of purveyors of boredom. The I & S section could also be used to avoid other areas of possible contention: If the wife (or husband) of an influential Congressman, a supporter of the park, has written a book of nature poetry that somehow had not made the NEW YORK TIMES best seller list, let not that person despair! There is a place for it in the I & S section. Has a beloved staff member written a cookbook of indigestible recipes: No matter! The I & S section casts a wide net; if the park is mentioned, the cookbook can be included.

However, the main use of the I & S section will be to defuse the ire of Creationists.

You will note that "defusing the ire" is the operative phrase, not "refuting the Creationists." Your job as a federal employee is not to hurt people's feelings or make them unhappy. Your job is to prevent unpleasant confrontations in the Visitor Center

That is where the INSPIRATION & SPIRITUAL section comes in. No Creation story, no matter how bizarre and outlandish, will be omitted. The Holy Bible (King James Version, in handsome imitation Morocco leather, suitable for waving, pointing, or thumping) will be sold along with the Book of Mormon and the Koran. The Hopi Creation Story will be marketed as well as the Jain, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian opinions on the subject. Scientology Creation beliefs will not be overlooked, nor will those of the Hindus.

Naturally, Ursinian creation beliefs can be offered to the park going public in form of a handsome two volume boxed set of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THUNDERBEAR.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THUNDERBEAR explains how the Universe REALLY works and why things are the way they are. (Yes, as you suspected, the Universe is a federal bureaucracy managed by a Supreme Bureaucrat.) You will learn among other things, that the Almighty's hobby is Evolution. (What did you think it was; collecting baseball cards?)

The INSPIRATION & SPIRITUAL SECTION will be a great boon to all the geological national park units, defusing the Creationist's charge of censorship and discrimination.

At this writing, only one geological national park story is accepted by the Creationists.

That would be Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, or "HAVO" as its friends chummily call it.

HAVO is easily the favorite national park of Creationists.


Well, for rather obvious reasons, it doesn't have any fossils; those confusing relics that the Almighty left lying around for reasons yet to be revealed.

Mostly, however, Creationists love HAVO because it shows the Almighty in a good light: A hardworking Republican Deity putting in a honest day's work laying down a mile long stretch of lava in a 24 hour period, not like some lazy welfare god that takes ten million years to deposit an inch of limestone, that SOME people worship.

Indeed, every Creationist film or television documentary on the Beginning always features archival footage of HAVO'S Kilauea volcano busily spewing out new land into the ocean in a speedy, lickety-split Book of Genesis manner.

Well now, does this mean that HAVO is off the hook regarding Censorship?

Actually, no.

According to one author, HAVO refuses to sell his book in the Park's cooperating association bookstore.

The author is a Mr. Andrew Doughty and the book in question is HAWAII: THE BIG ISLAND REVEALED.

Now neighbors, before the prurient among you rush down to Borders Bookstore for the inside dish on the licentiousness of Hawaiians, let me tell you it is not that kind of book.

Thunderbear.HAWAII: THE BIG ISLAND REVEALED is a guidebook on what to see and do on the largest island in the Hawaiian chain.

The book is accurate, informative, well organized and well written (The author has a wry sense of humor not unlike that other Hawaiian writer, Mark Twain). It is very popular and is now in its fourth edition

So what's the beef? Why doesn't HAVO offer Mr. Doughty's book in its bookstore?

Now neighbors, this is one case where the "INSPIRATION & SPIRITUAL SECTION will not work; we have a Safety & Liability issue rather than a religious issue.

For those who have never worked for the National Park Service, "Safety & Liability" is that secular agency's substitute for God. Safety & Liability is taken very, very seriously.

Indeed, Safety & Liability is the sole reason you are allowed to read THUNDERBEAR on government time. You are obviously searching for the "Safety Message", a cautionary safety article that occurs in each issue. As THUNDERBEAR has no table of contents, the reader is often forced to wade through pages of anti-administration balderdash before reaching the desired safety message. Such is life, but we digress.

Anyways, HAVO strongly believes the US government could be held liable if a visitor attempted some of the interesting activities suggested by Mr. Doughty in his guidebook and was killed or injured. A tort claim lawyer could suggest that the sale of a guidebook at an NPS controlled facility constituted tacit endorsement of the suggested activities; that is, the NPS was assisting the trusting visitor down the primrose path to doom and destruction.

"Tommyrot and poppycock!" Says Mr. Doughty (or words to that effect) According to Doughty:

"…Mother Nature is hard, slippery, sharp and unpredictable. If you go exploring and get into trouble, whether it's your ego that's bruised or something more tangible, please remember that neither the state, the private landowner nor this publication told you to go. You CHOSE to explore, which is what life, and this book are all about. And if you complain to or threaten someone controlling land, they'll rarely fix the problem you identified. They'll simply close it…and it will be gone for good."

Mr. Doughty has an excellent point.

However, so does the management of HAVO.

You see, The National Park Service fears Tort Claims like the Devil fears Holy Water.

And with good reason.

Unlike New Zealand, and to a lesser extent, Australia, who regard personal liability lawyers as opportunistic vultures and make their lives difficult, the American judicial system exalts the tort, or personal injury claims lawyer.

One need not watch television long before encountering an ad sponsored by the Personal Injury Law firm of Grabem & Sqeezem who exhort the viewer to sue anyone who has looked at them crossly.

And sue American do; the claimants may not always win, but the lawyers always do. So much so that Tort Claim lawyers are able to contribute handsomely to the political parties of their choice with plenty left over for the necessities of life such as excursions to Tahiti.

Naturally, while an author of a guidebook such as Mr. Doughty might be named as a defendant, his resources are limited. The Tort Claim lawyer will seek a co-defendant with deep pockets; that would be Uncle Sam in the form of HAVO.

Now, according to Mr. Doughty, what exactly did Doughty say or do that incurred the Tort Claim fears of HAVO.

Thunderbear."Sometimes our candor gets us into trouble" says Mr. Doughty, "For instance this book used to be the only guidebook sold at the Visitor Center at in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. After undergoing a rigorous multi-month review process by government bureaucrats, this book was deemed "The most accurate book we've ever seen for the Big Island." They even wanted to sell our Kauai book there, a first at the park because they liked the way we thoroughly research things. But thoroughness cuts both ways. When the same bureaucrats realized that we had revealed a secret but public trail (previously unknown to the general public) that led to the erupting Pu'u O'o vent through a beautiful forest, they stopped selling this book and fumed over the loss of control to the vent. (The trail is outside the park and therefore outside the control of the bureaucrats.) It's not the first time this book has been pulled from shelves for being too honest, and it won't be the last," Mr. Doughty concludes darkly.

Now that Mr. Doughty has established himself as the Salman Rushdie of guidebook writers, let us move on to possible safety & loss control problems that came with the Revelation of the Secret Trail.

The trail is indeed on state land through rain forest and is maintained mainly by people walking on it. Some of these walkers are pakalolo (marijuana) farmers. You may meet them. It can rain a yard a day with attendant visibility and hyperthermia problems. It is a long, arduous day trip, 8 hours if you don't get lost (Mr. Doughty, possibly a Republican, comments acidly on a party of park rangers who, according to him, got hopelessly lost and had to be rescued by a local guide.) The erupting vent is spectacular but dangerous, and Mr. Doughty warns against approaching. The trailhead where you will park your car is secluded and not patrolled. A number of Mr. Doughty's readers comment that their cars were vandalized by them as don't cotton to "outsiders" in this area.

Mr. Doughty does an admirable job at outlining all the risks in undertaking this trail, but in the end, one must agree with HAVO's fear of potential Tort claim action should the park seem to be endorsing the activities by selling his book in their bookstore.

On the other hand, HAVO has not discouraged others in selling Mr. Doughty's book, nor will a ranger denounce you if you show up with a copy of HAWAII REVEALED in hand, (as your editor has) and you can buy all the copies you need at Borders Bookstore in Hilo, so we can truthfully say that HAVO is merely practicing prudence not censorship.

Should you be heading for the state of Hawaii, you might like to pick up the appropriate copy of Mr. Doughty's REVEALED series. (He has one for each of the main islands, MAUI REVEALED, OAHU REVEALED etc. They are an informative read.)


Thunderbear.Volcanoes, along with earthquakes, are God's favorite attention getting devices. Volcanoes are The Deity's Celestial Doorbell, and, if you live near enough to one you'd better pay attention.

"Don't Have to!" You say, as you had the foresight to become superintendent of Herbert Hoover Birthplace National Historic Site in Iowa and thus avoid volcanoes. "Won't Work, partner! We got that angle covered!" Should you desire to attend a wedding in Europe, we'll just turn on a volcano with an unpronounceable name in Iceland and screw up your air flight plans!

Therefore you should learn more about volcanoes and volcanic eruptions.

Understandably, the last part, when they are erupting, is of most concern to you.

There are seven major types of volcanic eruptions; they are Hawaiian, Strombolian, Plinian, Vulcanian, Surtseyan, Phreatoplinian, and Cheneyan .

The Hawaiian Eruption is by far the most popular with tourists, Rotarians and Chambers of Commerce. It is immensely spectacular, with lakes, rivers, and even fountains of molten rock. And if that were not enough, lava pouring spectacularly into the sea! (Can't beat that with a stick, neighbors!) The Hawaiian Eruption has almost no negatives; no unexpected explosions, or clogging ash, relatively little poisonous gas, lava flows that can easily be avoided even if you are using a walker. Unfortunately, few volcanoes are wealthy enough to afford an almost continuous display of molten rock. Hawaii's Kilauea is one of them.

The Strombolian Eruption type is more common. It consists of firing red-hot rocks several hundred feet into the air at fairly predictable intervals, sort of like Old Faithful Geyser only with stones rather than water. The most famous example is its namesake, the Island of Stromboli, off the coast of Sicily, which has earned the name "The Lighthouse of the Mediterranean" for its impressive night display. Vulcan Picaya in Guatemala is a good example of a Strombolian type on this continent.

The Plinian Eruption type is Hollywood's favorite volcano. It's that seemingly innocent mountain sitting on the edge of Sin City, whose inhabitants are busily fornicating and committing adultery. It is the central character in such epics as "The Last Days of Pompeii." What makes the Plinean Eruption type so deadly is not lava, but the "Nuee Ardante" or "glowing cloud" a mass of superheated ash and gas that cascades down the slope of the volcano at speeds in excess of 100 mph. This eruptive type was named in honor of the Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, who died trying to rescue some friends in the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius at Pompeii. Mount Pelee, which took out the Capitol city of French Martinique in the Caribbean in 1903, is a good North American example.

Thunderbear.Vulcanian Eruption type. Yup, there really is a granddaddy of them all, a volcano named Vulcano. It is one of the Aeolian Islands off Sicily. The eruption is mainly steam fumaroles.

The Surtseyan Eruption type is an underwater eruption that goes through three separate stages as it rapidly reaches for the surface. When it did surface off the south of Iceland in 1963, it became the island of Surtsey, named after a Norse god of fire.

The Phreatoplinian eruption is the grand finale of God's Special Effects. He throws everything at you except the geologic kitchen sink. In a pheatoplinian eruption, huge amounts of water, usually from a melting glacier come in contact with upwelling magma. The resulting mega-explosion produces rock avalanches, millions of tons of ash, lahars, (fast moving rivers of mud) and of course, the ever popular "glowing cloud" of superheated gas and ash moving at you at 200 mph. Mount Saint Helens in Washington is an excellent example.

The Cheneyan Eruption type is an entirely new and unique volcanic phenomenon. It first appeared March 18, 2008 in the Halemaumau Crater of the Kilauea Caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and has continued on and on long past due date and visitor interest. It consists of a very destructive column of whitish-brown sulfur dioxide gas that mixes with water vapor to form "Vog" which poisons both agricultural and wild vegetation on the island of Hawaii and causes breathing difficulties for sensitive people as far away as Honolulu. It is said to produce 400-2000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day. This eruption type is unique in that it has no discernable redeeming characteristics. The Cheneyan Eruption type is named in honor of the former vice president of the United States.


Thunderbear.Your editor frequently receives odd begging letters from various charities. What is odd about them is that they have a penny or a nickel glued to the letter.

The psychology of this particular gimmick is the fond belief that no one would steal from a charity.

They just don't understand the psychology of this Christian Bureaucrat. I pocket the coin and toss the letter.

Recently, I received a letter from the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, the genteel folks who manage the home of our first president. Glued to the letter was a quarter. (Which gives you an idea of how wealthy this outfit is.) They are, I believe, the second oldest historical preservation group in the United States, established in 1858. (Only The Fort Ticonderoga Foundation is older. ) The Mount Vernon Ladies Association does excellent work and no visit to the Capital is complete without a visit to Mount Vernon.

I pocketed the quarter but read the letter. It was a rather mournful document, citing a general decline in popular knowledge and appreciation of George Washington.

According to Jim Rees, Executive Director of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association "Two out of three graduates of America's top universities cannot name George Washington as the American commanding general at the Battle of Yorktown." (What might be an even more interesting question is whether they could provide the name and nationality of the very useful allied commander at Yorktown.)

Jim gets a bit into senior citizen crankiness, when he nostalgically laments "Remember how when we were growing up, Washington's portrait was displayed in every classroom? NOT SO TODAY!"

Jim suggests that if your editor and others are generous, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association will remedy the above problems by providing schools with lesson plans that will teach and extol the virtues of our First President AND "With your generous support, we'll be able to send his portrait to schools nationwide so that children can literally look up to him once again."

Ah, yes! Jim does not seem to notice that the portrait-in-the-class room gimmick has been co-opted by every loathsome 20th century dictator from Joseph Stalin to "Dear Leader" Kim IL Sung.

Indeed, one of the modest Mr. Washington's most appealing qualities was his utter lack of the need to be worshipped.

Even his opponent, King George III was impressed with our George's modesty. "If he can resist the temptation to declare himself king, he will go down in history as one of History's greatest men." Washington did and did. He was perhaps the most successful revolutionary in history; so successful that he does not require commemoration.

So, aside from lack of portraits and poor teaching, are there any other threats to Washington's renown?

Well yes.

According to Jim, somebody is trying to knock George off the quarter.

Thunderbear."What does every quarter have in common? George Washington's image graces the front of every one. But the new Treasury Secretary may decide to follow an advisory committee's recommendation to replace Washington with an image of President Theodore Roosevelt on quarters minted to commemorate our National Park System."

Now neighbors, just who might this shadowy "Advisory Committee be"?

Are they the Jesuits, the Communists, the Masons, The Tri-lateral Commission, or any of the usual conspiratorial suspects? No: While Jim doesn't come right out and say so, circumstantial evidence seems to point in the direction of the National Park Service.

You see, a quarter with say, a depiction of Mount Rainier National Park on one side and George Washington on the other doesn't make much sense. Washington, with all his virtues, was a nation builder not an environmentalist or park founder.

Theodore Roosevelt, with all his faults (and they are many) WAS a naturalist and environmentalist, and it does make sense to put him on quarters depicting the National Parks.

However, the Mount Vernon Ladies and Jim fear that once Teddy charges up Capital Hill and gets on the quarter, he may be impossible to dislodge.

This legitimate fear can be assuaged by proper legislation. It is less than six years to the NPS Centennial, Congress could authorize the Roosevelt –National Parks quarter for a set period ending at the close of 2016. The National Parks could be granted all or part of the seigniorage during that time period.

What is seigniorage?

Briefly, it is a bit of genteel graft on the part of the government. Aside from the cost of design and dies for the coin, it costs the government only a few cents to make each coin. Subtract that cost from the face value of the coin and you have a substantial profit for the government. (True, it does cost two cents to make a penny, which is why some suggest that Lincoln be furloughed.) However it would be nice if the parks could arrange to tap into a possible Roosevelt quarter seigniorage.

In addition to seigniorage, there is a handsome profit to be made in the sale of proof sets. These are uncirculated coins mounted in an attractive container that are sold to coin collectors or investors who feel (correctly) that they will appreciate in value.

Now, not every state has a national park, but every state except Delaware has a unit of the National Park System, be it a national historic site, national monument, recreation area, seashore or whatever. (THUNDERBEAR will work with Joe Biden to eliminate the Delaware anomaly.)

This translates to a proof set of 50 Theodore Roosevelt quarters with a different NPS unit on the reverse of each coin. In addition to the U.S. mint's usual retail outlets, the proof sets would make a nice sales item in each park unit's cooperating association.

So, write your Congressperson. Tell them that you believe George Washington should have a well-earned leave of absence from the quarter (He will still be moonlighting on the dollar bill, so we'll not forget him). His sturdy replacement until 2017 will that champion environmentalist, Theodore Roosevelt (Your congressperson is not much of an environmentalist? Then remind him that TR was a fellow Republican!) The National Parks get the TR quarter seigniorage and the proof sets. Got that? Then, have at it!


Thunderbear.Apparently, quite a bit, neighbors.

Way back in 1931, the Rotary Clubs of the Depression racked state of Montana and the equally depressed adjoining Canadian province of Alberta came up with a brilliant idea to promote tourism on the US-Canadian border.

Why not combine Glacier National Park in Montana with Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta to form one international park?

What would be the point?

The point would be Peace. It had never been done before; two sovereign nations voluntarily and peacefully setting aside their borders for the Higher Good: The preservation of Nature and the Environment (Also the publicity generated might be good for tourism and small businesses represented by Rotary on both sides of the border might pick up a few bucks.)

The idea for an International Peace Park was hugely popular (or at least it was non-controversial) and the measure speedily passed the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament and was signed into law by the President of the United States and the Premier of Canada in 1932.

In 1931, "Peace" seemed like a very good idea; 13 years had passed since the end of the Great War and even some of the flag wavers had come to the conclusion that the war was one of the most stupid fool's errand in the history of Mankind. The League of Nations had been formed in 1919to settle international disputes peacefully. In 1928 the Kellogg-Briand International Peace Pact forbidding war as a means of solving disputes had been signed by most of the world's sovereign nations, including Japan, Germany, Italy, The Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France and the United States.

Peace was a very popular idea; we didn't want to do the Other Thing ever again.

Or so we thought. Already by 1931, there were some very evil men shuffling about on the backstage of History.

Now let's fast-forward 79 years to the present.

We are back on the border; only it's the southern border, the one with Mexico.

Same game: we have a large wilderness park on the border; Big Bend National Park.

The Mexicans have four huge nature reserves totaling more than 4 and half million acres on their side of the Rio.

Do you suppose we could combine the various reserves and parks into one huge Chihuahua Desert Park?

This park would complement Waterton Lakes-Glacier International Peace Park as the southern half of a set of environmental bookends.

An international park on the southern border would have much to recommend it. Such a park would be a mirror image of the northern border park; the Mexican part of the park would be larger, wilder and much more majestic than the American Big Bend.

Indeed, the farsighted founder of Big Bend National Park, Texas Ranger Captain E.E.Townsend hoped that Mexico would create a park on their side of the Rio and that the two would be combined into a single International park, so the idea is not something radically new.

Yup, The Rotary organizations on both sides of the Rio like the idea; it would definitely help tourism and the local economy.

Of course, the Mexicans don't need our permission to create a park south of the Rio Grande, and it does look like there is some movement in that direction. Despite all Mexico's problems, there is a strong pride in the natural patrimony of the country and a desire to see it preserved.

In Mexico, the political and economic planets seem to be getting into alignment for the creation of a national park of world significance. It is by no means a done deal, but one of the private landowners in question, CEMEX, a public-spirited Mexican cement manufacturing company, believes that a deal could be struck. Other private landowners are similarly inclined toward the direction of a park.

Once the Mexican park is established, even if mainly on paper, there could be a movement to combine them into an International Peace Park.

Would there be objections on the part of the Mexicans?

Thunderbear.Probably not.

Would there be objections on the part of the Americans?

You bet! (Is Rush Limbaugh a Conservative?)

There would be claims of loss of national sovereignty (Yup! Them blue helmeted UN troops are at it again, Martha!) However, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park has not caused any slippage in the size of Montana since 1932.

Tea baggers might helpfully point out that our southern border is "different" than the northern one; a polite way of saying that the folks down there are of the Brown Persuasion and speak Spanish rather God's Language; Despite the efforts of antediluvian Arizonans, 400 years of Hispanic history cannot easily be erased and the Southwest and The Big Bend Country will remain stubbornly Indo-Iberian for the foreseeable future. That bothers some people.

Then there's the Law 'N Order Crowd and Problem.

You see, Northern Mexico, particularly the cities of Tijuana and Juarez have a bit of a violence problem. The Wild West never entirely ended on the Southern Border and that includes wilderness sections like the Big Bend Country.

There is no denying that the Tex-Mex Border can be a lot more interesting and downright exciting than the Montana –Alberta Border. That is part of its charm.

Recently some "Law 'N Order folks—retired US Border Patrol testified against wilderness designation for Forest Service land on the Mexican Border. The Border Patrol guys claimed that wilderness designation would prevent the Border Patrol from entering a wilderness after the Bad Guys. The Border Patrol Retirees must have had careers so active they didn't have time to read their Agency Manual. They are quite welcome to go after the Baddies in a Federal Wilderness area; they just have to go on foot or on horseback, no four-wheel drive, and air-conditioned law enforcement Limousines. (One wonders if the Texas Rangers had air-conditioned horses; I'll have to ask Dr. Bob Utley.)

On the other hand, one grizzled retired NPS law enforcement type with a fair amount of experience in the Big Bend Country recently interviewed some presently working Border Patrol people, showed them maps of proposed or actual wilderness areas, and told your kindly editor that the Border Patrol folks thought they could live with it.

Now it is probable that the both the Border Patrol and the National Park Service and their Mexican counterparts will have to buy a lot more horses and mules and train a lot more riders. (But Hey! That's why you joined the NPS rather than Wall Street, isn't it?)

But what about all those swarming, seething swarms of Mexicans who might cross via this International Peace Park?

Well neighbors, according to a recent issue of the highly respected ECONOMIST magazine, we will shortly be facing a worldwide shortage of Mexicans. That's right; they don't make 'em anymore; pretty soon there won't be enough Mexicans to go around! You see, without telling anyone, the Mexican birth rate has plummeted to one of the lowest in the world; just barely above replacement rate. If the trend continues, it will soon be below replacement rate.

"But what about all those illegals trying to cross?" You bet! Mexicans are poor, but hard working; they can get $10 a day in Mexico or $10 an hour in the US. What would be your choice?

My informants tell me that the going rate to cross the border is $3,000 per person for the Coyote to guide you across. One informant told me she walked 8 nights through the Sonoran desert with the rattlesnakes going off like castanets. She said it was easily the worst experience of her life.

Actually, when you think about it, maybe the US government should be collecting that $3,000 fee. If we had a guest worker program, the Mexican would cross the border on an air conditioned bus and spend half a day in a processing center, getting finger printed, DNA'ed and signed up for a group health insurance paid by part of that $3,000. Maybe it wouldn't even cost $3,000. I dunno. Just a thought, but it would keep them out of Organ Pipe Cactus and Big Bend National Park.

"But what about all those murders! Bodies stacked up like cordwood! Human heads lined up like Halloween pumpkins?" Surely we can't have an International Peace Park with things like that going on?

Surely Not!

So, let's end all that violence right now. The fight is not over drugs, but rather which cartel gets to sell them to us gringos. We can tell the cartels that, sorry, we are nationalizing the dope industry and making dope a US home grown government monopoly, with users treated as a public health issue rather than criminals."

OK. So after solving the drug violence problem, we solve the illegal immigrant problem instituting a rational guest worker program Prosperous, non-violent Mexico is soon on its way to becoming middle class; one of the prerequisites for a successful national park system; NOW can we have our International Peace Park?

Thunderbear.Not so fast, neighbor!

"What do we need?"

A name acceptable to all parties: The Mexicans favor their name for the river. They prefer to call it the "Rio Bravo."

"Excellent! We'll call it "Big Bend/Rio Bravo International Peace Park" Will that work?"


"Why not?"

According to my informant among Congressional staffers, The Republicans will vote against any park proposal that has the word "Peace" in it.

"My God! You mean to say that the Republicans are against "Peace?"

Of course not! The Republicans are for peace as much as anyone; after all, War destroys capital and makes it difficult to collect on loans.

"Then why can't we use "Peace" in the name of the proposed park, as in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park? Why can't we have a Big Bend-Rio Bravo International Peace Park?"

Unfortunately, due to lack of attention on the part of Liberals and Conservatives, during the Cold War, the Communists were able to capture all the Glory Words.

"Glory Words?"

Yup! Words, like "Democratic" or "People's " or "republic" or "Progressive" or "Peace" or Peace loving" were captured and commandeered by the Communists for use in their cause. You wound up with grotesque oxymorons like the "Democratic People's Republic of North Korea." Even a nice, neutral word like "Socialism" got kidnapped. In the U.S. the beneficial Democratic socialism of Sweden was equated with the totalitarian version of what the Soviets called "socialism." As for the word, "peace," The Soviets were always forming "peace" committees and "peace" initiatives and "peace" movements and so on. Had the American media had the guts or imagination to put apostrophes around these captive words during the Cold War, it might not have been so easy for the bad guys to capture them, and the word "Peace" might not be a dirty word among Republicans.

"But the Berlin Wall and Communism collapsed years ago. Only a handful of fanatical losers like North Korea and Cuba still enforce classic Communism. "Red" China has adopted Dickensian Capitalism with very little social welfare and hordes of millionaires. How could the Republicans be against "Peace"?

Ever wonder why the Elephant is the symbol of the G.O.P.?

"Because the Elephant never forgets anything?"

Bang on!

"But that's not fair!

Life is not fair, as JFK once observed.

"But International Peace Parks could be very useful in promoting both Peace and environmental Preservation!"

You are quite right. Using the model of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the U.S. State Department proposed that the governments of Israel and Egypt create an International Peace Park on the most scenic and environmentally sensitive portion of their mutual border. Sadly, the Egyptian premier was assassinated before the park could be established.

More recently, The American biologist, E.O. Wilson, and others have proposed that the Korean Demilitarized Zone now a de facto wildlife refuge, be turned into an international peace park for the benefit of all humanity.

"Sounds like a good idea!"

Indeed it does. Competitive environmentalism would be an excellent substitute for war.

"So why can't we have an International Peace Park on our southern border?"

We can: We just can't use the word "Peace" in the name.

"We can't?"

Nope. However, the Republicans are O.K. with the word "Friendship" or "Amistad" in Spanish. I am told that they can deal with "Big Bend-Rio Bravo International Friendship Park." The results will be the same. Remember, it's all in a word!


I was sleeping quite soundly at 5:55 AM on a Saturday morning in Hilo, Hawaii when the telephone rang.

"Good Morning, Mr. Ryan." It was the voice of our landlady, who resided in New Mexico. Odd, I thought, she must know the time difference.

"Are you awake?" She asked.

"I am now!" I replied irritably.

"Good! Now listen carefully. What I say is very important. In about five minutes time, you will hear a siren. It is the Tsunami alert. It is not a drill. This is the real thing. There has been category 9 earthquake in Chile. It has generated a Tsunami that is headed for Hilo at 500 mph. It will reach Hilo at 11:05 a.m. at which time it will turn into a mountain of water 40 to 50 feet high. You may wish to evacuate. Sorry to wake you."

I told her that was no problem at all.

Almost on cue, the Tsunami siren went off at 6 AM.

As our condominium fronted on the Pacific Ocean and was about ten feet above that body of water, evacuation was a very prudent suggestion.

Until recently, one reason natural disasters were such disasters was the surprise factor. No one could predict the exact arrival of a tornado; blizzard, hurricane, earthquake, flood, volcanic eruption or tsunami and people went to bed or about their business unaware that they were doomed.

Today, thanks to Doppler radar, satellite reconnaissance, advances in vulcanology, placement of deep-sea radio buoys, and high-speed communication, with the exception of earthquakes, we do have advance warning of God's little surprises.

We had almost precisely a leisurely 5 hours in which to flee for our lives.

We had our usual Saturday morning breakfast (blueberry pancakes and maple syrup and papayas on the side). We turned on the TV and found Hilo to be the Center of The Universe. A sober President Obama said he was praying for us all and the Nation was on our side. That was nice.

Joan is very efficient and it took her no more than an hour to pack all of our possessions. The furniture and art work were the property of our landlady.

Evacuation was voluntary, not compulsory, members of the Condo maintenance staff went door to door to alert tenants of the oncoming Tsunami. Sherry one of the members of the condominium governing board, an unsinkable Molly Brown type of lady, would stay with the ship, so to speak. After assuring that everyone who wanted to be evacuated was indeed evacuated, Sherry would wait an hour before the ETA of the Tsunami. She would send the maintenance staff home. She would then raise the elevators to the top (seventh floor) of the condo to prevent their destruction as the Tsunami surged through the lower floors of the building; that done she would begin throwing the main breakers, cutting off electricity and avoiding fire. Sherry would also close the main water valve to prevent flooding.

After securing the building, Sherry would adjourn to the lanai of her fifth floor apartment, pour herself a glass of sherry and await the coming of the Tsunami from a ringside seat overlooking the Pacific.

Thunderbear.Sherry had made a careful study of the construction of this particular condo and felt that it could ride out the Tsunami and so could she.

Hilo is Tsunami City, USA. It has been struck twice by major " Great Harbor Waves" (Which is what "Tsunami" means in Japanese.) This experience has led to a certain style of architecture and town planning for Hilo.

For example, our Condo is missing the first floor; that is, the building is on stilts or pilings. This allows the Tsunami to flow through the structure, doing no harm. All new structures even private homes that front on the ocean must have this feature

Visitors to Hilo are pleasantly surprised by the amount of open space fronting the ocean downtown area; parks, playing fields, plenty of parking etc. This is not homage to Frederick Law Olmsted and the City Beautiful concept; rather it is homage to the power of the Tsunami. Before the Harbor Waves, this open space was filled with shops, warehouses and housing; not anymore.

The 1946 April Fool's Day Tsunami killed 96 people in Hilo.

The 1960 Tsunami killed 61 people in Hilo. This Tsunami was particularly tragic in that there was a Tsunami warning system in effect, but there was also some misinformation that the wave would not be as big as expected. In addition the first couple of waves were rather small. This attracted people to the seashore just in time for the arrival of the third wave, a 20-foot vertical wall of water.

It was now obvious that Tsunamis were a fact of life and the normally laid back, happy go lucky citizens of Hawaii's Second City take them very seriously indeed. Nobody goes down to the beach to see what's happening. Anybody with a small boat either trailered it to high ground or put out to sea. (Tsunamis are quite harmless if you have several hundred feet of water under your keel, something that happens pretty quickly less than a mile off shore in Hawaii.) .

We wished Sherry best of luck and may the Force be with her and loaded up our car. Aside from the obvious loss to the individual, another reason that the authorities want you to evacuate your car as well as yourself is that cars become floating battering rams as the successive waves flood and recede.

Police and emergency services were out in force, blocking off certain streets and directing traffic out of the Tsunami zone. We would wait out the Tsunami at a friend's house on a hillside above Hilo. Unlike other natural disasters, there is a clearly demarcated "Safe Zone" and "Zone of Total Destruction." It is important to be in the right one.

We passed over the Wailua River Bridge where townspeople were gathering to watch the tidal bore roar up the river gorge. The surface of the river was 30 feet below the bridge. Was that sufficient? I did not want to find out. We continued on to our friend's place.

Our friend had a TV set on and the local station had a camera focused on Coconut Island, a city park that is attached to the mainland by a pretty white bridge; the thinking being that it would make good disaster TV as the wave over washed the island, uprooting the coconut palms and smashing the bridge to flinders.

The clock ticked toward H-Hour, 11:05 Am, Hilo time.

The hour arrived. The TV people asked us to notice a sharp increase in sea level near the bridge. (If you say so!)

We waited for the Wall of Water.

Nothing happened. Oh, there was some swirling and sloshing back and forth, but nothing that a beginning surfer could not handle.

The TV reporters were obviously disappointed.

I suspect the Emergency Response personnel were not. In addition to a very realistic drill, they were richer by some $300,000 in overtime.

So what is the safety lesson in this narrative?

Aside from Better Safe than sorry, it would have to be "Better prepared than sorry."

You will recall that Joan and I had four hours to leisurely go through our belongings and take what we felt we would need.

That would not have been the case in, say, a locally generated Tsunami. Say that there had been a massive collapse of the Molokai sea cliffs or a local seaquake. We might have had less than ten minutes to evacuate.

This means you don't have time to hunt for the stuff you will need as a refugee

Instead, you need a grab bag. It can be a daypack or a simple nylon stuff sack with a drawstring. It should contain the stuff you will need for a day or seven days of disrupted living. First and foremost, would be a week's supply of everyone's prescription drugs. Pharmacies may not be open and do you have your prescriptions? A small radio and extra batteries is essential for finding out what's going on and what to do. It's a good idea to include a first aid kit and also matches and a lighter. You probably won't need to start a fire, but it's nice to know you can. Obviously a flashlight is useful as power may be out. We are assuming that those twin tools of daily life, your credit card and your ATM card are in your wallet or your purse, but remember if power is out, so is the ATM, so some folks recommend a cash stash for your grab bag. Very likely there will be water of some kind where you are going, but it may be contaminated, so experts suggest a bottle of iodine water purifier pills or better yet, a water filter with an iodine component. Don't forget you will need at least one container to mix and carry the water and purifier

You can go on and on about what you need, but keep it simple. You should be able to grab and lift it with one hand and you should always know where it is.

Since you probably will be making your escape in your car, the trunk is the obvious home for such a grab bag, though it is suggested that a twin grab bag hang just inside the front door in case Murphy's Law is operational and the car is not present at the moment of the emergency.

Now just a darn minute, you say. "I live in Grand Junction, Colorado, so it is unlikely that I'm going to experience a Tsunami even with global warming!"

That is true, but there is a disaster de jour for everyone.

In 1991, the fire departments of the major cities of Berkeley and Oakland, California were overwhelmed by an improbable event: a forest fire storm that roared out of the hills. The citizens literally had only minutes to flee for their lives; for more than a score of victims, that wasn't enough time.

What will you do when an excited Grand Junction Police Officer pounds on your door and tells you that a tank car of Chlorine gas has overturned and you have five minutes to get the hell out of Dodge! Will you be ready?


Thunderbear. The Urban Legend is what keeps WWW. SNOPES.COM in business. As anyone who uses the Internet knows, SNOPES is the Consumer Reports on rumors; the thin electronic line that separates the occasional grain of Truth from the chaff of Misinformation and Disinformation.

Urban Legends play on our fears and above all, on our prejudices. If we believe or wish something to be true; then before we know it, it's GOTTA be true.

The Urban Legend is long lived and endures apparently forever.

As we speak, somewhere in rural America, Billy Joe and Becky Sue are still parked in Lovers Lane and Billy Joe is still trying to unfasten Becky Sue's bra strap. The car radio is still announcing the escape of a one armed maniac. Becky Sue is still insisting that they leave. The still frustrated and angry Billy Joe roars away and Becky Sue is still screaming when she finds the maniac's prosthetic arm attached to her door handle. (This one keeps on going even when changes in door handle design makes the scenario improbable)

The above is an example of the cautionary urban legend; one with a moral to it.

Most urban legends are malignant; your least favorite minority group or religion (fill in the blank) are plotting to (fill in a horrible scenario) with an ironic twist that no one would suspect (again fill in the blanks)

Strangely enough, a few urban legends are benign or even kindly.

One example I recall from my youth in South Dakota.

It seems a farmer was driving along a snowy highway on a dark and stormy night. In his headlights he saw a car in the ditch and a Black woman with two children by the side of the road. He stopped and picked them up. They exchanged a few pleasantries; the lady asked where his farm was and what he grew and so on. He took them to a motel and arranged for a tow truck and that was that, or so the farmer thought and forgot about the incident.

A month lady, a UPS van unloaded a color TV (they were just coming in) at the farmer's house. In the box was a note saying "Thanks for the kindness you showed my wife and family. It was signed Nat King Cole (A popular Black entertainer of the time)

Heartwarming? Yes! True? No. Cole's publicist had to put together a form letter to be sent to earnest journalists who wanted to write an uplifting READERS DIGEST type story about the kindly South Dakota farmer; it seems that neither Nat nor any member of his family had ever been in South Dakota, thus Mrs. Cole was never rescued by the kindly farmer. The incident was simply not true. (Your editor suspects that the story made the rounds of a number of church pulpits to the effect that being a Good Samaritan could have tangible rewards!)

Then there is what might be termed the "Malignant/Benign hybrid Urban Legend."

In this one, a hapless Everyman is put upon by a faceless, cruel bureaucracy, but is rescued by the Deux ex machina interaction of a Famous Person. The "malignant "bureaucracy is smeared and the Benign Famous Person is deified.

Recently, Stewart Udall passed away at the age of 90. Udall was unusual, a Desert State liberal and environmentalist who served virtuously (mostly) as Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations.

A number of obituaries of Udall were penned by various environmental organizations and individuals and found their way onto the Internet.

All were laudatory, but one was strange.

Given the eternal life of Internet postings, this one has the makings of becoming a Malignant/Benign Urban Legend.

The author of this Urban Legend is a live, identifiable person. He is an East Coast journalist of middling fame in left wing media circles. To avoid interminable cyberspace micturation contests, we are going to call this journalist Sid Smith.

Like all of us, Sid was young once, and like every young man from Mark Twain to Jack London to Jack Kerouac, Sid developed a yen to hit the road and see the country. So, Sid and a fellow teen set out from the East coast to do just that.

Sid trusted enough to buy a truck from a salt of the earth solid citizen who was not entirely frank on the truck's oil consumption. It was not a diesel, but it might as well have been.

In between quarts of oil, they arrived in beautiful downtown Yosemite Valley. It was the late 1960's and the counter culture was beginning to burgeon in the industrial tourism portion of Yosemite National Park.

Our two young pilgrims had traveled across the fruited plain of the United States and noted that by and large, Interior America is pretty conservative.

According to Sid:

"This was the late '60's and a culture war was underway between long hairs like me and the Clean Cut American Silent Majority. My traveling companion and I were concerned that it would be tough scaring up much cash in the vast Republican stretches that lie between Nevada and Missouri. So when we passed through Yosemite National Park, we decided to spend a day in the Valley's main parking lot, raising donations from tourists."

(Now neighbors, Sid was nobody's fool. It was unlikely that a wayfaring long haired folk singer would be greeted with any degree of enthusiasm in America's Heartland. Those folk do Country Western, not Folk. The last Mid American "folk" singer was the late and decidedly leftist Woodrow "Woody" Guthrie. According to retired NPS Keeper of the National Registry of Historic Place, Jerry Rogers; when it was suggested that Guthrie's Oklahoma birthplace might be added to the Registry or even become a national historic park, His Okie neighbors responded by tearing the house down. Sid was right to be concerned.)

What happened next was not entirely Sid's fault.

Few Nature Pilgrims are prepared for the thundering cauldron of Capitalism in Eden that is Yosemite Valley in the summer. One could be forgiven for thinking that any reasonable attempt at private enterprise was A-OK if not downright praiseworthy. Indeed, if one were an Indian snake charmer, passing through with a flute and a basket of cobras, who would object if you set up in the parking lot and added a bit of color to the Yosemite carnival?

Sid realized the potential.

"I opened my guitar case and put up the "Gas Money" sign, and then started to play. The money poured in -- over a hundred dollars in a fairly short time. It was really astounding."

Then a park ranger appeared and arrested the two of them for "panhandling."

Thunderbear.They were taken to the Valley Ranger station

Sid noticed that there were two jail cells in the ranger station.

Sid then hears a loud "bang" and an excited "ex-Marine looking" ranger runs in searching for a first aid kit as he has just shot a marijuana user in the leg (user tried to run).

Sid understandably feels he is in the custody of the Dodge Sheriff and that "He is in a heap O' Trouble, Boy!"

Things only get worse. The ranger writes out $500 dollar citations for both Sid and his friend.

The ranger tells them not to try to dodge paying the fine, as it is a federal offense and the FBI will hunt them down with the doggedness of Inspector Javert chasing Jean Val Jean.

Sid is crushed. $500 was about all he had saved for next year's college.

So Sid writes a letter to the Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall and complains that it "was an outrage that an unarmed young man arrested on a minor drug charge would be shot in a National Park and that it was unfair to fine someone $500 for playing music in a park parking lot."

In true Urban Legend style, like the letter and color TV set from Nat King Cole, Sid gets his letter back from Stewart Udall. "On it, in red ink, Udall himself had written 'I AGREE. FORGET YOUR TICKET. IT'S BEEN TAKEN CARE OF. STEWART UDALL.'"

As noted, this is a Malignant/Benign hybrid Urban Legend.

One is left with a cold prickly feeling toward the Malevolent, Cruel, Violent, Narrow-minded National Park Service AND a warm, fuzzy feeling toward dear, saintly, ol' Stew Udall

Strangely enough, Sid hankers for the bad old days of his youth. It seems that the present day minions of the NPS and the Department of the Interior have not improved one iota.

Sid continues:

"I have tried to imagine that same situation happening today. First of all, the unfortunate hippie who got shot that time long ago would probably have been killed because the ranger would have been carrying a more high-powered weapon and wouldn't have even been aiming to disable. Second, my traveling companion and I would probably put on some database at the Pentagon, the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration, and would have been barred from flying or entering any national parks. (Oh! c'mon Sid!)

Sid then wonders how Bush Secretary of Interior appointees Kempthorne or Norton would have responded to his plaintive request for mercy. Would they have pulled a charitable deus ex machina like Saintly Ol' Stew? Sid thinks not.

He concludes his Urban Legend with "So even as we are all being reduced to a nation of panhandlers, it may be a long time before we can expect a handwritten letter from the Secretary of Interior, or for help in getting off an unfair ticket."

So, is Sid's Urban Legend True?

No, too many unlikelys.

As Jerry Rogers, former Chief of NPS Cultural Resources remarked, "Udall was too good of a lawyer to interfere in a judicial process. He might have requested more information, but it would have been on a formal, typed memo."

The Udall scrawl in red ink across Sid's letter is "suitable for framing," Antique Road Show Material; certainly family heirloom stuff that would normally be framed and hung on the living room or den wall. However, Sid does not allude to having it in his possession in the article.

Sid's copy of the $500 "ticket" is also something one hopes he hung on to so he could verify this story to skeptical retired rangers. $500 was a big chunk of money back in those days. Such heavy fines would only be levied after one had one's day in court. $500 seems a bit much for a first offense of "panhandling" or doing business without a permit. It is unlikely that Sid's companion, who was virtuously sleeping in back of the truck during the atrocious folk singing, would also have been given a fine. (The ranger seemed to have more power than the proverbial Dodge Sheriff.)

The young hippie shot in the leg is also highly unlikely. Shootings were and are rare in the National Parks. When they happen, the park basically shuts down till the issue is resolved. One does not simply apply a band-aid from the first aid kit. Meticulous records are made and kept. The NPS is the most gossipy agency in the federal government. Everyone hears about the shooting and the shooter. Your kindly editor, who was around at that time recalls no such shooting.

Sid also noticed two jail cells, presumably with bars. Funny, your editor noticed no such thing during his tenure.

Sid gets a bit gratuitous in claiming that today's hippie would likely be shot dead due to more lethal ammunition and more lethal rangers who would not "shoot to disable."

Actually, the .357 round of the period would produce a wound that in the words of Shakespeare's Mercutio would be "Not as deep as a well or wide as a church door, but t'will suffice." Also nobody, then or now, "shoots to disable." Only the Lone Ranger had much luck shooting guns out of the hands of the bad guys and he doesn't work for the NPS.

So is Sid a liar?

No, Sid is a journalist.

We Journalists never, ever lie.

But we do tell stories, and we do listen to stories, and sometimes those stories seemed to have happened to us, and sometimes we really, really wish that something that sort of happened was even bigger and more impressive than what actually happened (Politicians have a similar problem with military service).

So why is this important? Because the Urban Legend is immortal and the reputations of people and agencies are important.

Strangely enough, electrons are more permanent than anything written or engraved on parchment, papyrus, paper, bronze, granite or marble.

When an electronic statement is made, it is there for the duration of the human race. It cannot be erased, only commented upon.

While one cannot erase an Urban Legend, one should see your version of the truth is posted.


Thunderbear.Readers of THUNDERBEAR (and I suspect, present or former employees of the National Park Service) have often asked your kindly editor why the National Park Service is the most hide bound, slow to change, reactionary agency in the Federal Government?

First of all, is this accolade really deserved? Has the NPS really gone to the head of the class to win the Oscar for bureaucratic obfustication in the Federal Government?

Yup! It's true! We really are the best! Take it from an expert; nobody beats the NPS at Obstructionism.

The expert in question is none other than the former Inspector General of the Department of Interior, Earl Devaney.

Testifying before the Senate Committee on Finance on January 30, 2003, Inspector General Devaney remarked:

"Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I have served in the Federal Government for a little over 32 years. I have never seen an organization more unwilling to accept constructive criticism or embrace new ideas than the National Park Service. Their culture is to fight fiercely to protect the status quo and reject any idea not their own."

There you have it neighbors! Confirmation from the Man Himself.

Mr. Devaney has always been a worthy opponent and obviously speaks from the heart as well as bitter experience.

I think we can assure Congress that the NPS will maintain the status quo with Gibraltar like integrity and that the NPS will remain a graveyard of new ideas!

Now neighbors, achieving the acme of obstructionism didn't just happen! It required (and still requires) the constant, unceasing work of scores of dedicated men and women, laboring tirelessly behind the scenes to squelch new ideas.

This is the mission of the Office of Anachronistic Traditions, the largest, best funded and least known of all the offices of the NPS. It's objective, as Devaney ruefully observed, is to prevent change.

Perhaps you have always wondered about the curious Time Warp in the National Park Service; No matter what year it is in the rest of the federal bureaucracy, it is always 1957 in the National Park Service and Dwight Eisenhower is forever president. Yes, we have a sort of bureaucratic "Brigadoon" where nothing ever really changes.

We owe it all to the unending vigilance of the Office of Anachronistic Traditions.

They, and they alone had the foresight to preserve 1957 as the halcyon of bureaucratic Nirvana. Nothing that occurred after 1957 is desirable or good.

The Office of Anachronistic Traditions almost instinctively realized that there is no such thing as Constructive Criticism. There is only Treason, Sedition, treachery, and defiance of the will of superintendents, and the Regional Office

To embrace new ideas is an admission of failure; an admission that you never had an idea, even an old one! One of the primary missions of the Office of Anachronistic Traditions is the Prevention of Thought! Remember, Thought leads to Action, and Action leads to Results, We can't have that.

Devaney is correct! The Status Quo MUST is fiercely defended. It must always remain 1957.


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