Thursday, October 27, 2011

Regulating Life

My father has renal cell carcinoma. His cancer has been traced back to his days spent working at a uranium mill in the Gas Hills of Wyoming in the early 1960’s. Many of the boys he worked with in the mines and the mills ended up developing cancer, and many of them are dying. My father is one of them.

Dad has always been a badass. I recall a memory of him getting cut off by a trucker somewhere outside of Crowheart, Wyoming. My father pulled into a rest stop following the trucker, who’d stopped to take a leak. The trucker sensed my father’s anger and he came after him. Before I knew it, Dad had a tire iron in his hand, and he was ready to let the guy know that he didn’t care for his driving. The trucker apparently wasn’t interested in the conversation after the tire iron came out. At the time, I was maybe six or seven years old.

This past winter, my father was unable to use his left arm to its full extent. He thought it was merely a pinched nerve, so he put off a visit to the doctor. When he finally went, the doctors found a tumor the size of a marble in my father’s left frontal lobe. He had defeated a bout of renal cancer in 2004; it turned out the cancer was back. He underwent radio-tactical therapy to eliminate the tumor, but the cancer kept coming. Radical chemo-therapy drugs left him chair bound. It was a miserable existence for a man who’d begun life in a tar-paper shack on the Wind River Indian Reservation and who later retired a self-made millionaire.

Here’s the unnerving part: My father got cancer because a business told him to disregard regulations and safety protocols. He was told to put his radiation badge away when he worked in Uranium mills making yellowcake to provide for the defense of the nation. Apparently, the Government was either looking the other way, or simply didn’t give a shit. Money and bombs had to be made.

See, there are a lot of reasons for regulations when it comes to environmental concerns. A great many of those reasons come in the form of human lives. My father, and many of the men that he worked with, are now suffering through the unending hell of cancer as part of that price.

Regulations that are decried by industries that make record profits off of public lands are no different than those who made profit off of my father’s life. Towns like Pinedale, Wyoming, have worse air qualities than Los Angeles. Pinedale is about as far from L.A. as you can get, both physically and metaphysically. Places like Poplar, Montana, have their water supply poisoned by fracking technology, and those who polluted the water fought the disclosure of what they were putting into the ground.

Regulations aren’t bad. Regulations are what manage wildlife populations. They’re supposed to be the glue that binds people to civilized behavior as opposed to the behavior of selfish, spoiled children. Unfortunately, there is a growing trend in America to believe that regulations are some kind of socialist plot to either kick people off the land, or give the land over to drug runners and terrorists. People who fight for clean air and sustainable energy development are vilified as anti-American, while the trade groups who do the vilifying send an army of lobbyists to the capitols of western states and Washington D.C. to ensure their will be done. Meanwhile, those of us who dare to speak out against the giants of industry are the ones accused of eroding freedom. The truth is this: you are in the way of their ambitions. You, as an honest, normal person who expects people to act decently, are standing between the companies that spend billions on lobbying, and on their cash cow – your public lands. Alexis DeTocqueville, a French political theorist and historian, once said:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

My father and I hunted together last weekend. It was the first time he can remember actually using a hunting license to obtain a deer. He grew up in an era where regulations were ignored and routinely flaunted. He was poor, and so was his family. He fed the family on poached deer and other game. When he got to the point where he could afford meat for his own young family, he hung up the guns, and focused on making money to get us out of poverty. This last year, with the cancer advancing, and his prosthetic leg bothering him, he sat in a haybale blind waiting for a whitetail to walk in front of him. He shot his first legal deer using an old J.P. Sauer Drilling in 8x57JR. It was a fantastic shot; 100 yards with open sights. “Accidents happen,” he said.

As I carried the doe on my back to our parked truck, I could feel my father lagging behind. His once immeasurable stamina was gone; his prosthetic leg was bothering him. On that 600 yard walk, he had to stop 3 times. We sat on the tailgate and watched the herd of bucks and mature does work to within 20 yards of us. He turned to me and said, “I’ve had a hell of a life.”

We smoked a full venison quarter last weekend. Dad had been talking about the time that his father did the same; the smoked quarter fed the family for a week. It was bittersweet. The bounty of wildlife that Montana currently enjoys (thanks to regulations enforced by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks) was now being eaten by a bunch of us near-Neanderthals, all of us covered in blaze orange (a color designed and regulated to keep us from shooting each other in the field). We sipped beers (which are highly regulated by the food and drug administration) as we sat inside a clean, well-constructed house (which was built to code) that was full of sated and sleepy hunters whose evening dreams would be regulated by the promise of the coming morning’s hunt .

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